As we approach Thanksgiving, there is much that Harboring Hearts and I are thankful for. Most importantly, our community of supporters and beneficiaries that constantly remind us of the strength of the human spirit and its ability to be compassionate towards others. Thank you for being part of our heart community.
The start of the holiday season always reminds me of family and traditions. Growing up in rural America and raised by Japanese parents led to some interesting traditions for our family. For quite some time, Thanksgiving at the Kotani residence meant an elaborate sushi dinner. After repeated requests from my siblings and I to have an American Thanksgiving, my parents gave into our wishes and baked a turkey with sides of mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing, sushi, and azuki soup. Well, it was not the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving that we had in mind but it was our family’s version of Thanksgiving – a Japanese-American dinner.
Most nights, like our Thanksgiving dinners, dinner was usually a fusion of Japanese and other worldly cuisines. It is interesting looking back at my childhood because many of the current nutritional studies in the US are on the benefits of Japanese produce and cooking. I cannot remember a time when I did not eat tofu (great source of protein and low in calories), drink green tea (antioxidants and heart health benefits), eat wakame (for healthy hair and skin), and eat rice (cholesterol free, low in calorie and gluten-free).
Food has always been an important part of my upbringing and my mom was very conscientious about our family eating all the necessary nutrients to be healthy. Unintentionally (or maybe it was intentional), she taught us what foods were high in nutritional value while low in calories and trained us to eat in moderation from nourishing foods to sweets.
One piece of advice from my mom that always surfaces when I cook is to make my plate colorful. To make a plate colorful, you will always need to include vegetables and fruits.
As I shopped at the grocery store last night after work, I could hear her voice in my head. For dinner that night, I started off with a small spinach salad with tomatoes and homemade lemon vinaigrette dressing (green and red). Then I baked salmon (warm orange) with a wedge of lemon (yellow), sautéed some asparagus (green), and cooked some brown rice (tan). To finish off the meal, I indulged in two pieces of raspberry dark chocolate.
While I did not take to everything my mother taught me in my youth, I am fortunate to have been given a head start in heart healthy eating thanks to the good habits she instilled in me through her choices of what to serve at our table. After my father was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and ultimately received a heart transplant, I became ever more attentive to what I put in my body. I firmly believe in the importance of eating properly for the sake of my body, my heart and even for my family and friends.
Luckily, I enjoy cooking and I like to think that I am a competent chef but most importantly, I appreciate having the responsibility involved with cooking healthy foods for loved ones. In keeping with the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my mother for instilling in me the joy of cooking healthy foods for my family and friends because it can impact their personal eating habits and heart health in the future.
What I decide to put on my table for Thanksgiving this year affects not only me, but my loved ones as well.
Please consider contributing here to continue to show support for Harboring Hearts this holiday season. Thank you in advance for supporting our cause and helping heart patients and families in need.
Here are two Japanese inspired side dishes to try during this holiday season!
Sesame-Soy Green Beans
- 1 lb of green beans
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 tablespoons tamari sauce (gluten-free) or you can use regular soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
Cut the green beans in half to get 2-3 inch pieces. Place the green beans in boiling water for 5 minutes, then drain beans. In a skillet, heat olive oil, add the beans and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add the tamari/soy sauce and sesame oil and transfer to a serving dish. Garnish with sesame seeds and serve. (Inspired by Rachel Ray’s recipe)
Asian Sweet Potato Salad with Cucumber, Dates and Arugula
Serves 4 to 6
- 4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
- Kosher salt
Carrot Ginger Dressing
- 1/2 cup grated carrot
- 1 tablespoon grated ginger
- 2 tablespoons Japanese rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons mirin rice wine
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari sauce (gluten-free)
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil (Regular sesame oil will work)
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise (For a lighter alternative, use Japanese style mayonnaise with rice vinegar – Kewpie Mayonnaise)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Begin by peeling and dicing sweet potatoes. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the potatoes, reduce heat and cook until just tender but still have a little bite. Drain and place in a bowl to cool.
Combine the dressing ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Once potatoes are cool toss with dressing and set aside on salad platter.
- 4 cups lightly packed arugula
- Cucumber, finely sliced
- 1 cup dates, pitted and cut in 1/2
- 1 lemon, juiced
- Olive Oil
- Splash soy/tamari sauce
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Combine ingredients in a large mixing bowl and dress with lemon juice, olive oil, to taste, a splash of soy sauce, and a little salt and pepper. Toss well and place on top of the sweet potatoes to serve as a complete salad. (Inspired by Tyler Florence’s recipe)