Adventures in (Post) Gradland

Thoughts on life after the PhD

Three Easy Weeknight Recipes

As the temperature plunges in Tokyo I find myself wanting to leave the house less and less unless the destination is a bath house or a shabu-shabu restaurant (or really anywhere with good heaters and hot food).  And since the market where I get a lot of the ingredients for more complicated dishes is a lot further than the local Japanese market, I’ve been relying on the latter a lot more.  Here are a few recipes that I’ve found to be simple, healthy, and filling on a cold night.

1. Roast kabocha and gorgonzola salad. Okay, so maybe this one isn’t quite hearty enough for a full meal, but it makes a great side dish.  Modified from


1 quarter (probably less) of kabocha, sliced into segments about 1 cm thick and 4-5 cm long
olive oil for roasting
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cups baby spinach leaves, washed & dried
150g Gorgonzola (or blue cheese of your choice)
3 tbsp olive oil
1.5 tbsp balsamic vinegar (I used spiced fig balsamic vinegar)

1/4 cup walnuts
Salt and black pepper


Toss the  kabocha slices with olive oil and cinnamon, then spread out on a piece of parchment paper.  Bake in the toaster oven for about 10 minutes.

Place washed spinach leaves in a large bowl.  Top with crumbled gorgonzola, kabocha and nuts.  Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.  Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, toss, and eat.

2. Roger Ebert’s Chicken with Fragrant Rice. Not only does Roger Ebert write an amazing blog (with comments that are both polite and well-written instead of the usual trolling), he also recently wrote a book called The Pot and How to Use It, devoted entirely to recipes that can be made in a rice cooker.  Here’s one of his recipes, courtesy of

(Note: the flavor might be a little bland for some people; if so top with a little  Sriracha hot chili sauce.)


  • 1 cube chicken bouillon
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1 1/2 cups jasmine or basmati rice
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 boneless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (omit or substitute with tofu if you’re not a meat-eater)
  • 2 to 3 cups cut vegetables such as bell pepper, broccoli, carrots, etc (I chose carrots and broccoli)

Dissolve the bouillon cube in the water and combine rice in the rice cooker with the oils, salt, garlic, and ginger. Stir well, then place the chicken and vegetables on top. Turn on the rice cooker and allow it to cook until finished. (This recipe could also be prepared in a medium saucepan with a lid: proceed by bringing to a boil and simmering over low heat until the rice is cooked.)

Once ready, stir the ingredients well to coat the rice with oil and serve.

3. Nikujaga (Japanese meat and potato stew). This one’s a little more involved, but once everything’s in the pot you can pretty much leave it alone.  Of all the variations I’ve tried, this one from The Little Teochew is the one I like the best.  She notes that the meat for nikujaga is usually sliced super-thin (which I prefer), but like her I don’t have the skill or the patience to slice my meat super-thin if it hasn’t already been done for me (which in Asian supermarkets it usually has), so you can use cubed beef if necessary.  Dashi and mirin should be available in most Asian groceries, but if you can’t find dashi, as she points out you can use diluted chicken stock.  Her recipe also calls for dark soy, but I didn’t have any so I just used regular soy sauce.  Finally, I like my nikujaga fairly soupy, so I usually add a cup or two of water in the beginning to fully cover all the ingredients, and add more water & seasonings near the end if things are drying out.  Afterward if you’ve got some leftover rice or noodles lying around they taste grate mixed with the broth.


– 200g lean pork or beef (in my case, I used pork since we don’t eat beef)*
* It seems many Nikujaga recipes call for the meat to be sliced as thinly as bacon strips. However, I am lacking in the slicing department and so, decided on the easy way out … I cut them into small chunks.

– 1 white onion, cut into 6 wedges

– 1 large carrot, cut into bite-sized chunks

– 4 potatoes, cut into bite-sized chunks

– 1 large soup bowl dashi stock (I didn’t have this unfortunately, so I subbed with regular chicken stock diluted with water, ie, half stock + half water)

– 2 tbsp mirin

– 2 tbsp brown sugar

– 4 tbsp Kikkoman soy sauce (more or less, if desired)

– 2 tbsp dark soy sauce (more or less, if desired)
1. Heat up some oil in a medium-sized pot. Add in meat, followed by onions. Fry till meat is nicely browned. About 5 mins.

2. Add in carrots and potatoes, and saute for another 5 mins.

3. Pour diluted stock and the rest of the seasonings. Stir well.

4. Cover pot and allow everything to simmer for about 40mins, or until the meat is tender and the hardy vegetables are cooked through.

Arrrgh, the camera isn’t letting me upload a photo of my nikujaga, but trust me, it’s delicious. The Little Teochew provides this very pretty picture (though as I said, I like mine with more soup).

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This entry was posted on January 9, 2011 by in Food!, Japan and tagged , , , .
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Thoughts on life after the PhD

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