After pitching Japanese shiso leaves to my editor, I learned he is a fan of all things Japanese. So I made a mental note to keep an eye out for Japanese-related food topics.
Right around that time, I happened to visit a restaurant in Rockport, Mass., that featured a cod dish sprinkled with shichimi togarashi — which was completely new to me. When I inquired, the server described it as “Japanese seven-spice powder with a mellow heat.” It was an apt characterization, and I thoroughly enjoyed the dish.
Upon returning to Philadelphia, I more or less forgot about the spice until a recent ramble through The Head Nut in Ardmore. A large tub of this spectacular seasoning greeted me and, of course, I had to procure a packet.
The blend dates to the 17th century, likely created when chiles were introduced to Japan from China via trade. It contains red chile pepper (“togarashi” in Japanese), roasted orange peel, yellow and black sesame seeds, Japanese pepper, seaweed and ginger. It is commonly used in soups, on noodles, and as a seasoning for rice cakes and crackers. But, to me, this is an underuse of the splendid stuff.
To date, I have used it in the following ways:
Roasted sweet potatoes: Peel and cut four medium-sized sweet potatoes into bite- sized chunks. Toss with two tablespoons canola oil and two teaspoons shichimi togarashi. Roast on a baking sheet at 400 degrees until crispy, about 30 minutes.
Dusted salmon: Brush salmon filets with canola or grapeseed oil. Sprinkle with shichimi togarashi. Roast at 425 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes until cooked to desired doneness.
Cucumber salad: Peel and chop two large cucumbers. Toss in a bowl with two teaspoons sesame oil, one teaspoon rice vinegar, one teaspoon soy sauce, and ½ teaspoon shichimi togarashi. Allow it to sit for several minutes (or overnight) and serve chilled or at room temperature.