Buta-don with Gobo and Koya-dofu Miso Soup

butadon and miso soup

Pork on rice with burdock root and Dried tofu miso soup

This is a two in one! Two recipes in one post. Consider yourself blessed… or just think about the fact that most Japanese meals are made up of many small dishes, and making two dishes like this is considered a fast and easy meal compared to the normal 2 to 4 dishes plus a separate bowl of white, sticky, yummy rice. But I don't have so much time during the week, so I made donburi and miso soup. Yummy!

What's donburi? It's a dish that means stuff on top of rice. It can be egg and chicken (Oyako-don), fried tofu (Kitsune-don), pork cutlet (Katsu-don), beef (Gyu-don), or for those scared of BSE or those living in countries where beef prices are astronomical because of the BSE scare, pork (Buta-don). Do you see a pattern? Hint: Don, don, don, don, don… (pronounced "done")

Now you may be wondering what the purple stuff on top of my Buta-don is, right? Pickles. One of many different kinds of traditional pickled things, which Kyoto is particularly famous for. This one happens to be cucumber colored with shiso and is called shiba-zuke.

My Buta-don is decidedly Kyoto-style. Not only did I top it with pickles, but I also put my favorite root vegetable, gobo (burdock root), in with the onion and pork. Kyoto is famous for its vegetable dishes, being land-locked and surrounded by mountains on three sides. Gobo is one of such special Kyoto vegetables. It gave the dish an extra crunchy texture next to the soft onions and the somewhat chewy meat.

So, yesterday there was a special on TV about the dietary value of miso soup. One would think having a program like that on Japanese TV would be like preaching to the choir, but apparently the miso diet started in the US. They also mentioned Koya-dofu (dried tofu) is really healthy, and since I really like it I went out and bought it today in Nishiki market along with some wakame seaweed for a super-healthy and yummy bowl of miso soup. Naturally, I have to make up for the palmiers we had on the weekend.

The first time I had Koya-dofu is when I was a student and brought some back from the Buddhist temple complex on Mt. Koya. I love the Japanese tradition of giving food as a consolation to your friends after you've gone on a trip. So I brought something back from Mt. Koya for my hostfamily, without really knowing what it was myself. I found it in my miso soup that night. It's got a firmer, spongier texture than fresh tofu, but with a tofu-like flavor. Now I know that Koya-dofu was developed in the monasteries of Mt. Koya, because monks are not allowed to eat meat. Koya-dofu is perhaps a popular ingredient in shojin-ryori, a vegetarian version of Japanese food that has Buddhist meanings.

So I paired a vegetarian dish with good kharma, the Koya-dofu miso soup, with a meat dish that has a nice dollop of bad kharma, the Buta-don. I wonder if that means anything.

Buta-don with Gobo root
(makes one very big serving)

100g thinly sliced pork, chopped into bite sized pieces

1/4 burdock root (or more, makes about 1/3 cup)

1/4 onion halved and then sliced in half circles

2 1/2 tsp dashi* (steal some from the miso pot… before you put in the miso)

1 1/2 tsp mirin

1 tsp soy sauce

a large bowl of rice

green onion, thinly chopped

a few pieces of shiba-zuke pickles

Put the meat, onion, and gobo in a small frying pan, carefully pealing apart the slices of meat. Let them brown a bit. Then add the dashi, mirin, and soy sauce, and let it simmer until the flavor (and color) has soaked into the meat, onions, and gobo.

Put everything on top of the rice and drizzle all the liquid in the pan over the the top. The liquid will seep into the rice and give it a delicious sweet and salty flavor that in my mind is super Japanese.

Koya-dofu and Wakame Miso Soup
(serves one)

1 piece koya-dofu

2 tsp miso paste

1 cup katsuo dashi stock* (plus 3 teaspoons for the Buta-don recipe)

a small handful dried wakame seaweed

green onion, thinly chopped

Put the whole block of koya-dofu into the dashi for a few minutes. When the tofu is soft, pull it out of the stock and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Put the tofu back in the pot. Add the wakame to the pot overmedium heat until the wakame unfurles and the whole soup is hot. Turn off the heat.

Add the miso paste by plunging a spoonful of it into the dashi and agitating the edges of the miso with your cooking chopsticks. The miso will slowly dissolve into the stock as you poke at it. Try not to turn the heat back on without good reason, because the flavor of the miso will diminish.

*To make katsuo dashi stock, Put 1 cup water into a small pot with a 2 inch by 2 inch square piece of konbu seaweed and a small handful of katsuo-bushi (fish flakes). Let simmer (not boil!) for about 5 minutes until the water has taken on flavor. (Or you can cheat and use instant dashi powder.)