The fresh autumn harvest at Juniper Farm last month. As a chef at Juniper Farm, Caroline uses the fresh, organic ingredients to make dishes like Japanese curry. Photo credit: Juniper Farm.
WAKEFIELD, Que. — Every culture has its comfort food. For the Japanese, I believe one is Japanese curry. Growing up in Toronto, I loved when my mother made Japanese curry for dinner, especially with Japanese rice and pickles. Later, I learned this is one of the favourite dishes of children in Japan. No wonder, with its rich, fruity, mild curry flavour, it is delicious and comforting.
When I want to introduce Japanese home cooking to customers, I start with Japanese curry. People are often surprised that Japan has a curry, and I tell them curry is one of the most popular dishes in Japan. It could be considered a national dish. There are restaurants and shops in Japan that specialize in curry. And beyond the beloved curry rice, several popular dishes have emerged, including curry udon and curry bread, a decadent curry-filled pastry.
The History of Japanese Curry
Indian curry spices came to Japan in the late 1800s. The Indian subcontinent was under British colonial rule, and the Royal Navy brought the spice mix called curry powder to Japan. Chefs began experimenting with the spices and serving kare raisu (curry rice) in restaurants. Diners loved the exotic and rich flavours.
What is curry?
Curry is not one spice. Instead, curry powder is a combination of many. It can include cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger, mustard seeds, fenugreek, cloves, and black pepper. British manufacturers created curry powder to be a ready-made version of the flavours of South India. Curry in Britain referred to a meat or vegetable dish cooked in a spiced gravy and served with rice. As a result of trade, each country, including Japan, created its version of curry to adapt to local tastes and ingredients.
My Japanese-inspired curry
I discovered that the packaged instant Japanese curry roux I grew up on often has monosodium glutamate (MSG) and other additives. So, I experimented to find a curry recipe that is healthier but with a similar taste. I either buy garam masala, a blend of ground spices used in Indian cuisine, or make my own. I add red lentils to thicken the sauce naturally and make the dish vegan. Sometimes I add chickpeas or tempeh (fermented soybeans).
As a chef at Juniper Farm, I love making Japanese curry. The organic vegetables I use change with the season. Lately, I’ve been roasting vegetables such as heirloom squash, pumpkin, rutabaga, turnips, and radishes and pour the curry sauce over them. If you want the curry spicier, you can add some hot sauce, either in the curry or on the side.
Chef Caroline Ishii’s Japanese-inspired curry (vegan, gluten-free)
Serves 4 to 6 people
2 onions, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced
3 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp. cayenne pepper (less if you want it mild, more if you want it spicy)
3 tbsp rice flour
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 carrots, medium diced
4 cups stock
2 potatoes, medium diced
1 apple, peeled, cored, and small diced
1 ripe banana, peeled and chopped
1 ½ cups dried red lentils, rinsed, drained
1 can of coconut milk
1. Heat vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
2. Sauté the onions until they are golden brown and caramelized, around 20 to 30 minutes.
3. Add the garam masala and cayenne pepper, stirring for a few minutes.
4. Add the rice flour, stirring for a few minutes.
5. Stir in the tomato paste, combining with other ingredients.
6. Add the carrots, potatoes, apple, banana, and red lentils.
7. Cover with the stock and bring to a boil.
8. Simmer for about 30 minutes, occasionally stirring, until the lentils and vegetables are tender. Stir in the coconut milk at the end.
9. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
10. Serve over rice. Add hot sauce on the side.
To learn more about Juniper Farm visit www.juniperfarm.ca.