Beef & Potatoes -- Inspired by the Samurai

Beef & Potatoes -- Inspired by the Samurai

Explore the world of Japanese cookbooks and their unique blend of traditional values and contemporary ingredients. Discover the history of Japanese cuisine and get a taste of an easy and delicious recipe for a versatile beef and potato dish.

One of my favorite things to do in Japan is to browse the cookbook racks at a local bookstore. Unlike ours in America, most Japanese cookbooks resemble a cross between a magazine and book ("mook" as they're called). They're not dense tomes like typical American cookbooks, and I assume much less expensive to produce, so you can find a staggering number of cooking titles in any decent Japanese bookstore. But less expensive doesn't mean lower quality -- the photography and food styling in these books are incredible. And the process shots and structure of the recipes are also amazing. And don't forget, I'm saying this as a complete illiterate in Japanese! Just looking at the images in these books helps me understand Japanese cooking better. I always lug a ton of Japanese cookbooks home from every trip to Japan. Of course, reading the text can have, uh, certain advantages, so with the help of a super-sharp Japanese student here in NY, I'm finally digging deeper into my books.

The dish in the picture above came from a book I have called "Table of the Bushi" (Bushi meaning warrior or samurai.) The book talks about traditional values in Japanese cooking, things like eating according to the season, and the importance of the origin, taste, shape and color of foods. But I thought it was strange for a book on food from the samurai era to feature such contemporary ingredients -- beef was not part of the Japanese diet until after the samurai era, and red peppers and potatoes are Western foods. The author, though, says that potatoes arrived in Japan in the 16th century and became a popular, nutritious food that spread through the country. So maybe the samurai actually ate potatoes! (Would have made my grandmother happy; the woman loved potatoes.) In any case, this dish was delicious and easy to prepare and versatile, too; you can easily substitute the potatoes and pepper for green beans, broccoli, or as my wife Momo suggested to me, asparagus. Momo also thought that grated ginger would work well in this dish, too. Totally agree. Here's the recipe:

1 all-natural beef bouillon cube
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 pound shaved beef
1 medium potato, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 red pepper, julienned
1 tablespoon potato starch

Combine the bouillon, water, oyster sauce, soy sauce, salt and pepper in a bowl and set aside. Add the oil to a skillet (I use cast iron) and place on a burner over high heat. While the oil is heating, sprinkle the potato starch on the beef. Add the beef to the skillet, and stir and cook for about 30 seconds or until the beef turns color. Add the potato and red pepper , stir and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the seasoning mixture from the bowl. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook for about 10 minutes or until the potatoes are tender but not mushy ("shaki-shaki" is the term in Japanese), stirring occasionally. Serve hot with a bowl of white rice on the side.