Recipe: Sautéed Watercress with Fermented Black Beans and XO Sauce

I’ve made this watercress dish over the years using only XO sauce, but recently, when there was only a teaspoon of XO left in the jar, and two bunches of watercress to cook, I had to come up with some substitutions, or rather additions. I had oyster sauce and fermented black bean sauce on hand. The result turned out tastier than the original recipe. An added benefit is that not much XO sauce is needed, important because it’s so expensive. The watercress I use is the kind I can get at Uwajimaya (nasturtium officinale), an Asian supermarket in the Seattle area, instead of what seems more commonly available elsewhere with the broad pond-lily leaves and thin stems.

watercress - 1

Field watercress (nasturtium officinale)

The important step is to cook away almost all the water during the sautéing process, otherwise the sauce will become diluted.

watercress - 2

In the final step, cook down almost all the liquid

Sautéed Watercress with Fermented Black Beans and XO Sauce

  • Servings: 2
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2 bunches watercress
2 tbsp. canola oil or light olive oil
1 tsp. XO sauce
1 tsp. oyster sauce
1 tbsp. fermented black bean sauce (such as Master brand)

Note: Be careful not to use more of any sauce called for above at the risk of making this dish too salty.

Rinse watercress thoroughly and spin-dry. Pinch off smaller stems from thick ones, leaving smaller stems attached to leaves.

Combine sauces and black beans.

Heat oil over medium heat in 10″ nonstick skillet until shimmering, add watercress, stirring occasionally until watercress cooks down and is almost dry, about 10 minutes. Add sauce mixture, stirring occasionally to incorporate sauce thoroughly (most easily done with long cooking chopsticks), about 5 minutes longer, until additional liquid evaporates. The volume of watercress will be reduced greatly. Serve.

Spicy Umami Miso Ramen at Jinya Ramen Bar

For me, few things are an antidote to cold weather than hot ramen. Over a week ago, the Seattle area experienced temperatures in the low 40s, a good excuse to hop into Jinya Ramen Bar for a hot lunch while my wife and I were running errands in the Crossroads area of Bellevue.

Though my favorite bowl there is the Jinya Tonkotsu Black, what caught my eye was Spicy Umami Miso Ramen. The description reveals Chinese influence of ground pork and chile oil (rayu/layu). It’s also the only ramen on the menu to include bok choy. Kudos to the kitchen for eliminating the pebbliness that often typifies ground pork. The mince is very fine. Instead, the pork plays second fiddle to the noodles that are thick and curly, good foils for the spicy pork broth. Jinya isn’t kidding about umami, which the broth has in spades. The noodles were perfect. The only complaint I had was the saltiness, not surprising for a sturdy, thick miso broth. Otherwise, this is a terrific choice for those who love robust ramen. (☆☆☆½)


Jinya Ramen Bar
15600 NE 8th St
Bellevue, WA 98008

No S**t, Kukai Changes Its Name

A friend posted on his Facebook page that Kukai changed its name.

The reason?

It turns out that kukai means shit in Hawaiian. This would’ve been a sticky move for the company if they wanted to set up business on the Islands. This probably means they were considering just such an expansion when the kukai hit the fan. What’s surprising is that no one has alerted them to this long ago. Maybe someone had, but it took this long to do something about it. In Japan, their name is Kookai, which would’ve been perfectly acceptable on these shores (maybe even in Hawaii) except that there is a French company doing business under that name here, according to their website.

So, now Kukai has changed its name to Kizuki Ramen & Izakaya. Anyway, welcome again to a good friend.


(Image from

Making Kuromame—Remembering My Father-in-Law

My father-in-law passed away earlier this year.

Beloved patriarch of the family, he lived to be just shy of 99 years. Dad was a very intelligent man, alert to the end, avid sports fan, gardener, tinkerer who had a knack for doing things instinctively. He grew a bounty of vegetables in soil amended with compost he created from kitchen scraps and yard waste. Where most people his age are intimidated by electronic gear, he cobbled together a Rube Goldberg system of interconnecting multiple TV sets, VCR, satellite TV and DVR recorder that suited his needs. Using a plethora of remotes was trifling to him. Dad also was a tinkerer in the kitchen, not once referring to any recipe that I ever saw. He cooked by feel, instinct, always the experimenter. He’s the kind of cook who sticks a finger in a sauce to taste before making adjustments and rarely used measures. He was ever pickling vegetables (tsukemono). Come oshogatsu, he played just as active a part in preparing osechi-ryori as anyone.

Now that he’s gone, things were not the same. The family profoundly felt his absence. Osechi-ryori, the preparation of the New Year repast, and oshogatsu were important to him, more than any other holiday.

Every family member will tell you that his barbecued pork and chicken wings were the best. These additions to our osechi-ryori reflect our assimilation into the American culinary melting pot, and no one did them better than dad.

One of the traditional dishes he always made was kuromame. I decided to do them in his stead. I never asked about or watched him make this dish. I did observe that he never fussed with the beans (meaning they had to be pretty much left alone) and cooked them very gently, at almost a bare simmer. Other than that, I was on my own. I did what anyone else would do these days—searched the internet for recipes.

Kuromame (sweet simmered black soy beans)

Dad’s kuromame

First, I had to find the right beans. Kuromame are a soy bean cultivar, prized for depth of flavor and tenderness and are not what we here regard as dried black (turtle) beans. When I first started on this endeavor, I thought I’d change things up a little by making sweet black beans in the Korean style (kongjaban), which I enjoy as part of banchan. Kongjaban are small, firm but not crunchy. I found small black beans at 99 Ranch Market (the package even had some hangul labeling). While they tasted fine, they were an aesthetic disaster, the skins having sloughed off most of the beans. Dad would have winced at the presentation. I gathered these little beans weren’t suited to kuromame’s long soaking and cooking times. In the end, I decided to use the ‘right’ beans, stick to tradition and strive for authenticity—glossy black, wrinkle-free and tender beans.

The most prized beans come from the Tamba region near Kyoto. Spherical when dry, they have the purported advantage of being sweet and maintaining tenderness without getting mushy, even through long cooking times. But they command steep prices. A small 150g (5oz) package costs $10. These must have been the beans dad decided were too expensive during one pre-osechi shopping trip. Fortunately, there are cheaper alternatives, including one marketed by JFC, which I purchased. They were bean-shaped, not round.

One ideal is to make the beans as black as possible. Somewhere along the line, someone discovered that cooking them with rusty nails made the beans darker. Dad said he used them once or twice. The reaction between iron oxide and tannin (in the beans) is responsible for the chemical sleight-of-hand, not unlike the ancient process for making black dyes. Nowadays, cooks seem wary of adding ‘rust’ to their food, so they do without. Cooking the beans in a cast-iron pan supposedly does the same thing, but at the risk of picking up off-flavors from previous use unless the pan is scrupulously cleaned. Some cooks instead add baking soda to the soak, a metallic salt that does something similar. That’s what I settled on, too. The beans have to soak for a good 10-12 hours.

Adding kombu seemed in keeping with traditional Japanese cooking methods, though its inclusion in kuromame is optional. The dried kelp is used in a lot of Japanese cooking and is an essential part of the broth called dashi. My sister-in-law thinks her father used it occasionally in his black beans, so I decided to include it, too.

The long cooking over two hours required constant attention. Every 15 minutes or so as needed, there was skimming of foam, making sure that the broth was kept at a bare simmer, adding water, much as what dad did. To guarantee wrinkle-free beans, which requires that the beans always be submerged in liquid, I used a wooden drop-lid (otoshibuta).

My beans came out decently. They weren’t the ideal jet black. Some skins split but the beans were glossy and pleasantly tender. After long simmering, the kombu completely dissolved to impart a slimy viscosity that didn’t suit some family members and made the broth too lumpy.

The making of kuromame this year was an attempt to fill a gap left by my father-in-law’s passing. Replicating his recipe was not the important thing so much as the act of making them, the observance and continuation of a family tradition, which was important to him. I’ll tinker with the recipe next year to improve it. I might even add a rusty nail or two.

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