I've mentioned my admiration for Arashi before, and I've admitted before that I do not speak Japanese, although I know probably a couple hundred words or so (mostly unexciting stuff like tabun [meaning probably] and ninjin [carrot] ). Because I truly enjoy Arashi's TV shows, I don't let my lack of the language stop me and I watch anyway.
I especially enjoy anything with Arashi member Aiba Masaki--he's funny, determined, cheerful, curious, energetic, kind, earnest--so I never miss an episode of his show Aiba Manabu (manabu means learning, to study). On the show, he investigates lots of interesting things (like how to make thermometers or how large ships unload cargo) and he also pays a great deal of attention to food--where to find it, how to catch it, different ways to prepare it, the importance of eating seasonally. It was no surprise then that the most recent episode featured a visit to a market in Chiba Prefecture. The Manabu team was going to create a variety of food items for traditional 9-section wooden obento (lunch) boxes.
They discussed the various fresh seasonal foods available and then they got cooking. Vegetarian me, I'm not too exited about filleting fish but I was fascinated to see a different way of cooking spaghetti squash (somen kabocha)--much more effective than the unsatisfying methods I have used. Slice into rings and boil--it separates very nicely and easily into noodle-like strands. I will certainly be trying this!
And then they got to the pretty green bell peppers (pima) that Aiba had chosen. He very finely chopped mackerel (saba) and onion (negibouzu), then added a small amount of cooked rice (gohan) and miso . The chopped mixture was stuffed tightly into sliced bell pepper rings (about 1 inch thick). The stuffed rings were pan-fried. Aiba referred to them as being like a mackerel hamburger (the Japanese for hamburger is, well, hamburger--it's a loan word). It looked so tasty!
Of course, I won't be cooking or eating fish. But I watched the scene over again (it's at about 13 minutes on this video link), and I thought about the peppers that were waiting in my small refrigerator. I wondered if I could make my own vegetarian version, and I began to plot.
Onions, ok. Rice, ok. No miso but I have the basic soup stock that I made a couple of months ago and that has nice flavor. What could take the place of mackerel? The fish would be juicy, I reasoned, and the rest of the ingredients were essentially dry. Zucchini or summer squash could be good--those have lots of moisture content. Eggplant would work. And so could mushrooms--that would probably be the tastiest choice. Maybe add a bit of cheese.
Of course, I wanted to go to the grocery store right away! But I sensibly remembered the Pretend Ratatouille (in other words, eggplant) that's in portion-serving sizes in the freezer. When you experiment, it makes sense to use whatever is on hand first. I also don't have the sort of rice I would prefer (an Arborio type would be best) but I just bought a small bag of brown rice because it was clearance price--that would add different flavor. Or I could jump out of the box altogether and put a pepper ring around one of my homemade lentil burgers (there are still 9 or 10 of those left in the freezer).
No, I haven't tried yet. I'm still eating my breakfast while I type. It's so much fun to be creative with stuff like this--I bet that half of the enjoyment is in just planning and plotting and imagining.
Lunch is gonna be interesting. Arigatou, Aiba-chan!
.....updating to add that I made stuffed pepper rings using just what I had on hand: onion (which I sautéed before adding), rice, ratatouille, and parmesean. I sautéed the pepper patties in butter. Added just a little water and covered the pan to simmer for about 6 minutes or so, turning the pepper patties over just once--it takes a bit of caution to keep all together.
Result? Oishii! (That means tasty.)
I will plan to experiment with this idea again soon using other ingredients. Mushrooms next, I hope.