let's start with the basics

I've had a lot of people ask me about Japanese food lately. And I wish I could have all of you meet my family in Japan. It'll change your life. Healthy food is their cultural lifestyle, not something they're deliberately doing. And guess what! It's delicious! So I want to do a series for you. And we're starting with the basic of basics in Japanese cooking. Dashi. (pronounced "dah-shee" ... sort of. That's the best I can do without actually saying it for you)
 Dashi is a Japanese stock made with dried bonito flakes, kombu kelp, and water. And really, don't let the ingredient list scare you. You can find these ingredients really easily in any Asian market, and I promise they aren't fishy or scary or as unappetizing as you might think. In fact, the term "umami" was created because of this very basic Japanese dish. It was delicious enough to earn a 5th taste:)

I use dashi as a base for soup or just to simmer something in--every time we have Japanese food for dinner. So I thought it was a good place to start.
There are 2 stages of dashi you can get out of one set of ingredients. You can make the "first" dashi, which is more pure and has the best flavor. I set that aside for more delicate dishes like clear soups and simple simmered dishes that rely heavily on the clean flavor of the dashi. The "second" dashi is when you use the same amount of water with the already used, strained bonito flakes and kombu. This is what I use for miso soup and less delicate dishes.

basic dashi
makes about 4 cups (8 cups if you make second dashi)

4 1/2 cups water (another 4 1/2 cups for second dashi)
2 cups dried bonito flakes
1 4x4 inch (or smaller, if you like a lighter flavor) sheet of kombu
  1. for first dashi: Fill a medium saucepan with 4 1/2 cups water. Add the kombu. (do not wipe off or rinse off the white powder, this is where all the extra nutrition is!) Heat over high heat until the water almost reaches a boil. remove the kombu and add the bonito flakes. Bring the liquid to a boil and immediately strain the bonito flakes with a fine mesh sieve. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or freeze in small portions.
  2. for second dashi: Add the bonito flakes and kombu back into the saucepan. Add 4 1/2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and discard the solids. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days or freeze in small portions.

to health

The mister and I have been talking a lot about health lately. We've made a lot of changes to our lifestyle in the few years we've been married, which I think have improved our health a lot, but we can definitely do better. I often make a 100% whole grain brown rice loaf from the sequel to my favorite bread book, because it really is delicious and you feel so good eating it. I had some dough and a bunch of produce in my fridge, so I decided to make a fresh, light, healthy pizza. And it was awesome! The dough crisped up just right, and the veggies charred just right in the super hot oven. And I felt good eating it. And the best part was that it was delicious. What's the point in healthy food if it isn't good to eat, right? I loved that you could see everything that was on there. Of course with my almost 3 year old, it meant she could pick off what she didn't want, but she actually ate most of it because I let her help me put the toppings on.
It was so tasty, in fact, that I invited my health-foodie friend Melissa over for lunch a few days later and made it again. We had a lot of fun changing up flavors and textures. I'm in love.
I used pecorino romano cheese because you get so much flavor in just a little bit, and since I was going for a healthy pizza, I didn't want to be weighed down by cheese.
For longer cooking vegetables like eggplant and super water-logged vegetables like mushrooms, please take the time the sauté them ahead of time. (I used Japanese eggplant and plain old white button mushrooms, but any eggplant or mushroom varieties would be delicious!) Otherwise your eggplant will be spongy instead of buttery, and your mushrooms will release a puddle of water on top of your pizza. And when sautéeing mushrooms, do it in batches. There should always be enough room for the mushroom slices to be in a single layer in your pan or they will not brown, they will steam. And you want a little caramelization. Mmmm.

Please keep in mind that this is a VERY flexible recipe. Whatever looks good at your farmer's market or local grocer's produce section is what you should use. If your shallots are smushy but the red onions are firm and glossy and perfect, go with the onions. If the spinach is wilty but the arugula looks perky, go with the arugula! Or skip it all together. Pick what looks fresh and entices you. And have fun doing it.

Weeknight healthy pizza
makes 2 10~12 inch pizzas
 1/2 lb fresh whole wheat pizza dough (if you need ideas on where to go for a good pizza dough recipe, email me. I will hook you up)

1 Japanese eggplant (or 1/3 medium globe eggplant), diced small and sautéed
4 ounced white button mushrooms, sliced and sautéed until golden brown
1 bunch broccoli rabe or broccoli, trimmed, (in the case of broccoli, stems removed), and sautéed lighty, if desired
handful of baby spinach leaves, torn into little pieces
2 shallots, sliced VERY thin
1/4 c pecorino romano cheese, grated
10~15 cherry (or grape) tomatoes,  cut in half
2~3 small sweet tomatoes, sliced thin and pulp and seeds removed
any other veggies you like:)
garlic infused olive oil
fresh herbs such as parsley and basil

for the sauce:
10~12 sweet tomatoes, quartered
2 cloves garlic, grated or minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt to taste
  1. Heat a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and garlic for the sauce, and cook until garlic is fragrant. Add tomatoes. Cook, stirring often until tomatoes break down and thicken. Add salt to taste. Set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven (with a pizza stone or upside down cookie sheet) to 500°F. Cut the pizza dough in half and roll out as thin as you can without tearing. Place gently on a pizza peel prepared with cornmeal. Spread on about 3 tablespoons of the tomato sauce, sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of cheese, then add whatever vegetables you like. Add tomatoes and shallots last to ensure good caramelization. Quickly slide pizza off of the pizza peel onto the stone and bake for about 10 minutes, or when crust is crisp and vegetables are browned. Add fresh herbs. Repeat with second pizza. Let cool slightly before serving.