Japanese Cooking Classes Offer Lessons In Fresh Cuisine

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For many Americans, Japanese food means sushi, which is now so familiar that it's available at many grocery store delis.

But there's a lot more to Japanese cooking than spicy tuna rolls.

At Cooking in Athens, a new series of kitchen courses hosted by Kim Jordan, you’ll learn to create dishes such as hijiki salad with miso-ponzu dressing, miso soup, dashi soup stock made with kombu and bonito flakes, steam buns made with either ground pork or a sweet bean filling, nabe hot pot soup and rice balls.

Asian cuisine not your cup of barley tea? Jordan also offers some classes focused on Italian fare such as gnocchi and lasagna, as well as a mouth-watering cinnamon roll how-to.

Jordan learned the art of eastern cooking during the five years she lived in Japan. Although the names of the dishes she teaches may be unfamiliar, all of the ingredients can be found at international markets in Ohio, most of it right here in Athens.

The cooking techniques were accessible and feasible to learn in an afternoon, especially with Jordan's patient instruction.

Although it goes by several musical monikers and comes in numerous forms, one common ingredient in many Japanese dishes is dried seaweed. This ocean vegetable is considered to be highly nutritious and imparts a savory flavor, umami, or the fifth taste element, to food.

Dashi stock, the basis of a variety of Japanese soups, is made by boiling kombu, or thick strips of forest green kelp, in a pot with bonito flakes (dried smoked fish). As the kombu rehydrates, it unfurls and softens.

After simmering for a few minutes, the cook strains the vegetables and fish flakes to create the broth. For our soup, we added handcrafted tofu and more dried seaweed to create a clean, simple dish infused with that umami taste.

Our salad featured another sea vegetable, hijiki. The thin black threads are rehydrated and added to a salad of edamame (soy beans), carrot, cucumber and a dressing highlighted by white miso and citrus.

The steam buns were possibly the most intimidating of the trio to conquer. But while they do take a bit of time and several steps, the end result is worth the effort.

Dough is made from all-purpose flour and wrapped around two separate fillings: a ground pork spiced with fresh ginger and studded with diced cabbage, and a sweet red bean paste mixed with a black sesame paste.

The latter product, the only one that can be challenging to find in Asian markets as it’s not eaten outside of Japan, seemed like a cousin to tahini — or even peanut butter. The buns are cooked in a bamboo steamer on the stovetop.

Soon we had a lunchtime feast. The steam buns with pork, dipped in soy sauce and spicy mustard, were soft, juicy and savory. The bean buns were sweet, almost dessert-like treats.

The delicate dashi soup and the crisp, bright seaweed and vegetable salad were excellent counterpoints to the soft, doughy dumplings.

Not only are these dishes delicious, but they’re healthy, too. And if you eat them with chopsticks, you’ll slow down and savor every morsel, which enhances the overall dining experience.

For more information on Cooking in Athens, visit www.cookinginathens.com