Tuesday, March 8, 2016


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From the time I was 4 to 11 years old, my family lived in a winery in the beautiful Livermore Valley of California, just south of San Francisco (where we moved when I was 11).  My father, Alejandro Jaime Urbina, was the official host at the Cresta Blanca Winery (now Wente Brothers Vineyards).

A view of the vineyards with the Cresta Blanca (white crest) in the background.
My father, Alejandro Urbina, in white, hosting a group of visitors
Several families lived at the winery, and a few of the single employees, as well. One of my dad's colleagues was a young Japanese-American bachelor who used to sometimes come over and cook for us.  Our favorite meal that he cooked for us was a very simple but delicious dish of fresh green beans and hamburger in a sweet-ish soy-based sauce.  I later discovered that this dish is a common homemade favorite-- a type of okazu.  What is okazu, you might ask?

To explain, here is a quote from a little essay on okazu

"Most Japanese-English dictionaries translate okazu as side dish. This is not quite accurate...      
At a family dinner, a person normally eats three bowls of rice; seasoned food is eaten between bites of rice -- chopstick portions, to be precise. Okazu is an accompaniment in this sense; it plays a supporting role. But in substance, the dishes that constitute okazu correspond to what is called entrée in the western menu. Vegetables are usually designated as side dishes, and the staples like rice and potato are considered accompaniment to the main dish. By contrast, in Japan, each meal is called go-han, the word for cooked rice -- as opposed to raw rice, which is kome...

      So, a spouse may walk into the kitchen and ask: "What's for dinner?" A Japanese husband would ask his wife: "What is the okazu today?" Saying this, he is asking what's for dinner, not what's the side dish."

This particular okazu is very popular, and rightly so. It simple, quick and fresh (low in fat, too). In Japan, this is often made with ground pork, and in North America, with hamburger. It is so easy to veganize with a vegan hamburger crumble substitute, ground seitan, or even minced sauteed mushrooms, and makes a wonderful family meal.  As children, my sister Karin and I loved it. Here is my recipe, which I think is very like what I remember from my childhood.

Printable Recipe

Servings: 6

2 tsp oil
12  ounces commercial vegan ground meat sub (such as Yves "Ground Round") OR ground seitan (or even crumbled up veggie burgers)
NOTE: A possible GF and soy-free sub might be 2 packed cups sautéed minced mushrooms--measured after sautéing.
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 lbs small green beans, cut in half
3/4 cup hot water
3 Tbsp brown sugar
3 Tbs soy sauce/tamari
steamed short grain brown rice or converted/parboiled rice
Optional for serving: Sriracha sauce

Heat the oil in a medium skillet or sauté pan.  When hot, add the "Ground Round" or ground seitan, along with the garlic and ginger. Reduce heat to medium-high and stir-fry until it browns a bit.  Remove from the pan.

Add the water and green beans to the pan. Bring to a boil, then turn down to medium, cover and cook until they are just tender-- about 7 or 8 minutes.

There should be just a bit of water left in the pan.  Add the brown sugar and soy sauce and cook, uncovered, on high heat until it reduces a bit. Stir in "Ground Round" mixture.

Serve hot over steamed short-grain brown rice or converted/parboiled rice.

NOTE: Some versions of this dish call for a bit of chili in some form or other.  I don't remember it that way, but you can serve some Sriracha sauce on the side for those who like a bit of heat, if you wish.

Nutrition Facts
Nutrition (per serving): 144 calories, 19 calories from fat, 2.2g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 781.2mg sodium, 565.6mg potassium, 21g carbohydrates, 7.1g fiber, 9.4g sugar, 13.4g protein, 4.3 points.


1 comment:

Dana said...

I love learning the history behind this okazu! It's very similar to a dish my father made when I was young. He learned it as a Marine in WWII...perhaps the Japanese connection.