August 27, 2004

old and new favorites

Thursday, August 19

For today's dinner I made my "signature" pumpkin salad and gingered pork with cheese, an old childhood favorite of mine.

The pumpkin salad has been the most frequently-appearing salad on our table here. Both he and I like it, and so does everyone else who has had it.

The pork, which I made for the first time in possible last 20 years or so, was one of the dishes my mother used to make every so often when I was a kid. Stir-fried pork flavored with grated fresh ginger and soy sauce is a very common dish in Japan, but this was with cheese - kids always like cheese, and I was no exception.

I have always believed that this is a dish for pork, and so I had taken the frozen pork out of freezer and thawed before I dropped a line to my mother just to make sure how to make it, and I came to realize the truth; my mother would, she said, make the dish with beef rather than pork. I didn't remember having it with beef, but she said she would use pork sometime but beef is better. And my mother is the one who wouldn't care for beef in gereral, which means that really must be better with beef... well, the pork had already been thawed for today, so I made it a go.

We would use very thin pieces of meat for this dish as we need to roll the cheese with them, but over here I don't find readily thinly-sliced beef or pork everywhere. So I bravely tried and sliced pork chops, only to have unevenly shaped pieces of meat (whatever). I anyways wrapped slices of mozzarella cheese with those pieces and ended up having four rolls. I carefully fried the rolls in a skillet trying to keep the shape, but somehow the cheese melted and ran out of the rolls, left a cavity in the rolls of pork. They sure weren't the way they were supposed to be, but even the run-away cheese was captured in the ginger sauce in the skillet, and we had it with pork in the end.

Years having been past and I am not a kid any longer, I still loved the dish; and so did he, who doesn't like pork much (and who remembered that my mother served us the same dish when we visited her earlier this year, and it was with beef).

For those who are interested in my two favorites, here are the recipes to share with you; please note that all the quantities are approximate, as I never measure the ingredients for this kind of dishes.

My Signature Kabocha Pumpkin Salad

I first had this salad at one of my friends'. All I remembered was that there were grilled kabocha, roasted walnuts, grated parmigiano, and rocket salad, or better known as arugula in it, and I loved it at the first bite. Although I asked how to make it, I somehow forgot it and it wasn't until last year when I tried to reproduce it myself. It worked, and I have since made the salad in my way, even though it is not exactly the same as the one I had had.


For topping:
1/2 lb. kabocha, trimmed (but not peeled), seeded, and cut into 3-5 mm (1/8-1/5 inch) slices
1/4 - 1/2 onion, preferably sweet onion (such as vidalia, maui), very thinly sliced
A fistful of walnuts, roasted and coarsely chopped
2 Tbs. grated parmigiano reggiano cheese, plus extra for garnish
1 Tbs. lemon juice
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for finishing
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For salad:
Mesculin salad mix or your choice of salad greens (I prefer to include arugula), rinsed and dried


1. Preheat oven to 350F. To make the topping, spread the slices of kabocha in a single layer on a microwave-safe large plate. Wrap and microwave it for about 2-3 minutes, flip them over in 2 minutes into heating, if necessary (this is to reduce the oven-baking time, as kabocha takes long to cook). Transfer the kabocha to a non-stick cookie sheet (I use non-stick aluminum foil) and bake in the preheated oven until tender and crisp, or about 20-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

2. If using regular yellow onion, soak the slices in cold water for about 15-20 minutes so that they won't taste too strong. Squeeze excess water. Sweet onions don't need soaking.

3. Walnuts can be roasted aside with the pumpkin, but also be roasted in a toaster oven; in this case, spread the walnuts on a half of a piece of aluminum foil, and fold the foil into half so that walnuts were covered. Toast the covered nuts for 5-10 minutes. Chop and let cool.

4. In a bowl combine the onion, lemon juice, oil, walnuts, and cheese. Grind the pepper generously, and salt to taste (do not put too much salt, as the cheese is quite salty). Mix in the kabocha.

5. Spread the greens on a large plate and place the topping on top. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with more grated cheese (optional). Grind the pepper. Serve the topping and green together. Serves 2.

We probably make double the amount of topping and reserve the leftover (if any) in the fridge and have it next day.

Kabocha is a very common type of squash widely available in Japan, with dark green skin and bright orangy yellow flesh. Pumpkins generally available in the US are somehow different from this particular kind, and I have never tried this dish with other than kabocha, so I am not sure if it works.

Gingered Pork Rolls with Cheese


4 large very thin pieces pork (or 8 small pieces)
4 thick slices of cheese
1 Tbs. flour
4 Tbs. peeled and grated fresh ginger
1 Tbs. soy sauce or to taste
Vegetable oil for stir-frying


1. Place a piece of cheese on each large piece (or 2 small pieces) of pork. Roll meat so cheese is completely enclosed. Dredge rolls with flour.

2. Heat the oil in a large fry pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the floured pork rolls on both sides until golden brown. NOTE: Pork MUST be cooked thoroughly.

3. Remove the fully cooked pork rolls to a plate. In the same pan, stir in the grated ginger and soy sauce at once and heat until the mixture start bubbling. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the reserved rolls back in the pan and cover with the ginger sauce. Serve immediately with vegetables. Serves 2.

As I mentioned above, this can be made with beef as well.
At my family we would use Cheddar-based processed cheese, and this time I used mozzarella. Cheddar or Monterey Jack would also work.


Santos said...


you know, every time you mention your pumpkin salad, i drool, and i didn't even know what was in it; now that i do, it's even more drool-worthy.

it's funny that you should post about the gingered pork with cheese, i had a bento last week with what i *thought* was fried pork with cheese and ginger, but after carefully deconstructing a piece, it turned out to be thinly butterflied chicken thigh. otherwise, i'm positive it was the same recipe as yours. deelish.

Anonymous said...

Your Kabocha salad sounds wonderful! Kabocha was one of my top 5 favorite food discoveries when I lived in Japan. Ume's right up there too :-)


chika said...

Hi there,

Santos - I never thought about making the dish with chicken, but now that you have mentioned it, hum, why not? After all, I had always thought it was pork even when my mom was actually making it with beef. The only thing is, I am negative I can make thin butterflied chicken myself :(

Janet - yeah, I love kabocha and am so glad I can easily find them over here, too. Wonder what the other three things among your top 5 food discoveries in Japan are :-)

Santos said...

i'm not v. good at it myself, but i do okay. if you should ever decide to try it, you'll need a very sharp knife. i use one that has a broad thin blade. i also use boneless, skinless pieces (breasts are easier than thighs) that are partially defrosted--it's easier to cut.

another thing you can do is just pound out the meat until it is thin, as for a paillard--get some aggression out with that mallet :-)

chika said...

Hi Santos - thanks for the tips. Using partially thawed meat will make it easier, that't true. I actually tried to pound the pork with the bottom of a bottle and back of a blade of a knife the last time, which didn't quite work. But it should usually work with chicken, so I'll remember that when I try it. ;)