Well, I'm definitely not making sushi.
August 3, 2011 12:06 PM   Subscribe

My husband invited a Japanese colleague and family over for dinner next week. What should I cook for them?

I am completely blanking on ideas for dinner. I'm a very competent cook and okay baker. I'd like to make something "American" and seasonal (but nicer than burgers and brats). I'll be hitting up the (upper Midwest) farmer's market this weekend and have access to a farm stand up to the last minute for super-fresh sweet corn, etc. We have a charcoal grill, but don't want to grill anything that takes more than a few minutes, since my husband is the family grillmaster and he won't be home for long before dinner.

The guest family is visiting from Japan. The wife attended college in the US. They have a toddler daughter (we have a toddler son the same age).

Help me with ideas! (And let me know if there's anything to generally avoid with Japanese guests.)
posted by rebeccabeagle to Food & Drink (32 answers total)
Why don't you just ask them which foods they love and go from there?
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:11 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

There isn't much finer than grilled corn (I like mine with chili butter and lime). You could pre-cook the ears and then throw them on the grill for the last minutes. With nice grass-fed steaks, baked sweet potatoes and a farmstand-fresh salad, maybe? Steaks don't take too long, either.
posted by cyndigo at 12:11 PM on August 3, 2011

Fruit salad and (sugar?) cookies for dessert - nice seasonal fruit. Or else a cobbler. Although IME sweet Japanese food is less sweet than sweet western food, so maybe not a super sugary cobbler?

Sweet corn on the cob would probably be nice - might be uncomfortably informal depending on the guests, though. We recently made an incredible sweet corn/tomato/lima bean/white bean/onion succotash with butter, salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder - and it was the fresh corn that really made it incredible. (Actually we used vegan imitation butter.) You can make all kinds of things with sweet corn cut off the cob.
posted by Frowner at 12:12 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Make You Wanna Slap Yo Momma Boston Butt?

Or some manner of slow-cooked pork, anyway. It's pretty easy and awfully good. Eat on fancy buns with a salad or roast vegetables and corn on the cob.
posted by thirteenkiller at 12:12 PM on August 3, 2011

Most Japanese folks I know like American-style hamburgers, so I wouldn't sell those short too quickly. I might avoid super-spicy dishes or really anything super-seasoned, since Japanese food tends to be a little more subtle, but aside from that, I'd say just relax and cook what you like. There's a fair amount of food diversity in Japan, so I doubt you're going to freak them out, particularly if the wife went to college in the U.S.
posted by Diagonalize at 12:13 PM on August 3, 2011

Corn chowder? The Cook's Illustrated recipe, at least rendered vegetarian as I made it, works well.

As a non-American I want to add "rolls" and "green bean casserole" (don't use soup -- Cook's Illustrated, again) to your menu, and something involving baked apples; a pie or cobbler.
posted by kmennie at 12:13 PM on August 3, 2011

And maybe a simple meat course - if by chance you're in MPLS, hit up Coastal Seafoods for some really good salmon and bake it, serve cold? Or does it take long to grill skin-on chicken breasts? Then maybe a light, rustic bread on the side plus maybe a salad with leafy seasonal greens.
posted by Frowner at 12:14 PM on August 3, 2011

(To triple post - to me the best thing would be to show off the best regional fruits and vegetables, especially ones that aren't super common in Japan. Although I am told that super premium beefy things tend to be especially popular there, so perhaps some really fancy free range hamburger or steak? (As a vegan, I have no idea about cooking times or difficulties for these, though.)
posted by Frowner at 12:16 PM on August 3, 2011

Spam sushi. Seriously, it's delicious, and I don't like Spam. Instant conversation.
posted by mkultra at 12:18 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

~90% of Asians are at least somewhat lactose intolerant (wikipedia) (although Japan is on the low end of that), so I would avoid any milk/cream-based anything, though generally a slice of cheese or something like that would be fine (i.e., Asians are, in general, not VERY lactose intolerant, just most Asians are somewhat)
posted by brainmouse at 12:22 PM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There are a lot of ways to overthink this. Seafood if you're in a landlocked state? No, Japan is an archipelago with an ancient and robust fishing culture. Beef? No, super-premium beef is A Thing in Japan. On and on.

Relax! Just cook high-quality things that are local to you in the simplest way that will show them off. In midsummer I'm inclined to say chicken under a brick—source some good local chicken, spatchcok, stuff some herbs under its skin, and put on the grill weighted with a cast iron pan or some foil wrapped bricks—and a gigantic pile of farm-fresh vegetables oiled, herbed, and grilled. Maybe with some fresh mozzarella or ricotta. Grilled potato salad dressed with vinaigrette, not mayonnaise. Good rustic bread. Very ripe, very cold melon for dessert.
posted by peachfuzz at 12:29 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

On the theory that it is hard to go wrong with fresh sweet corn and most people from not-the-midwest find it a special treat, I say go with buffalo/bison burgers if you want something different from a "regular" burger that's more "American." It's all grass-fed so it tastes delicious. Maybe homemade steak fries? I usually do two batches, one with salt-and-pepper seasoning and one spicy.

(Also I sort-of think you should make an American flag jello cake, just for fun. I don't think anyone thinks they taste that good, but boy howdy are they 50s kitschy Americana. Any recipe that includes the phrase "any red flavor" is alarming.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:51 PM on August 3, 2011

If you do live in Minnesota, you can look for Thousand Hills beef, which comes from grass-fed cattle and is also popular among better eateries in the Twin Cities area. You can make burgers, a la Juicy Lucy.

If corn on the cob is too messy, think about corn and chive popovers. I really want to get a popover pan so I can make this recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

Zucchini is also coming in now, and a zucchini carpaccio is a lot of fun to eat. I have made this with just zucchini, salt, lemon, and olive oil.

A nice refreshing summer beverage would be ginger limeade; you can add vodka or Hendrick's gin for an adult twist.
posted by mlo at 12:51 PM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I actually think the grilling idea is great. My family entertained Japanese colleagues last year and they really enjoyed a summer grill with brats and burgers and potato salad and fruit salad. It's very American in a good way.

When I lived in Japan, people went nuts for watermelon, so that may be a good dessert.

In general, I'd avoid anything really spicy or really sweet. The flavor palette tends to be mild.
posted by *s at 12:58 PM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Simple, local fresh food, nothing too spicy, stay away from dairy. I think that's about it.

What's going to seem boring and down-home-y to you is going to be new and exotic to them. Potato or Macaroni salad, Succotash, Fresh Corn, Burgers, whatever. Make something authentic to you.

I think including cross-cultural like edamame or sushi rice in the mix would be a really good idea, too (though i gather that it's hard to make authentic sushi rice, so it might be better to just make american-style rice).
posted by empath at 1:01 PM on August 3, 2011

Best answer: Don't diss brats! I personally would be disappointed to come to the upper midwest and not have brats. The Grilled Brats from Cook's Country are outrageously good -- like talk-about-them-for-years good -- and come with very, very specific instructions so even if you are not the grillmaster you can pull them off with ease. Add some peach cobbler. Corn. Tomato salad with fresh herbs. Locally brewed beer.
posted by apparently at 1:01 PM on August 3, 2011

Oh yeah, definitely have melons or a fruit salad.

Something like this would be really good...
posted by empath at 1:03 PM on August 3, 2011

My only advice is to avoid too much salt, and too much sugar. North American food is unbearably sweet to my Japanese-trained palate.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:09 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you fear corn on the cob is too messy, how 'bout cutting the kernels off the ears and using them raw in a simple corn-basil-tomato-avocado-balsamic vinaigrette salad? There will probably be delicious fresh ingredients at the farmer's market. I like it with mozzerella, but Martha Stewart's version has ricotta, which might also be good. Or feta.

What about a rhubarb crisp for desert? Very midwest and less sweet than many. Persimmons might be another local delicacy that would be new to them. Watermelon is a classic and you can't go wrong with peaches either.
posted by carmicha at 1:33 PM on August 3, 2011

I feel like an idiot saying this, but my husband (and everyone else over here) considers meatloaf to be exotic American cuisine. It really, really isn't served anywhere outside North America I'm familiar with. It might be a hamburger alternative.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:34 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think a cherry tomato salad with farmer's market tomatoes cut in half, with a little basil to be one of the best salads ever, (and it shows up on Chez Panisse's menu when the tomatos are good) and the midwest has awesome tomatoes.

I agree that corn would be good to feature, too, but cut off the cob. The succotash idea sounds good, to me, if you're using really good farmer's market stuff.

In my experience, the higher end cuisine you aim for, the more likely it'll be unpalatable to people not use to it. (True for every culture, seems like.)

(Chez Panisse's menus are good for ideas because they use such simple, seasonal things.)
posted by small_ruminant at 1:50 PM on August 3, 2011

Best answer: I'm going to vote against things like green bean casserole and mayonnaise-y potato or pasta salad. (Green bean casserole's not a summer thing, is it?) I didn't grow up eating that sort of thing and it's really hard for me to imagine someone wanting to eat it. (Seriously, I bought some potato salad at the grocery stores a while back almost out of curiosity. It was a good grocery store, so it was nice enough, but not something I'm in a hurry to eat again.) In a similar vein, I do tend to find cobblers and pies a bit too sweet.

Even as a vegetarian, I think steaks on the grill are a good idea. Plus a salad of some kind. Or grilled vegetables and a salad to start. I vote for fruit salad and maybe some ice cream or sorbet for dessert.
posted by hoyland at 1:55 PM on August 3, 2011

DarlingBri: "meatloaf to be exotic American cuisine"

I can second this -- it exists only here.
posted by theredpen at 2:04 PM on August 3, 2011

Years ago I made my brother's Japanese girlfriend something that featured blue cheese. She was pretty sure I was trying to kill her.

Don't do that.
posted by pantarei70 at 2:07 PM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

(In Japan right now).
A nice steak or some sort of roast red meat (NOT pork) is a good idea. What beef they have here is nice and fatty but anything more than a thin slice gets expensive quickly, so it'd be a treat to have big pieces of meat. Burgers have also gone well over here, but I have only brought them to BBQs.

Also, they have mayonnaise-y potato salad in Japan. And mayonnaise on pizza, for that matter. That's one condiment that doesn't need an ambassador. They also have persimmons in Japan. They're just coming into season.
posted by Muttoneer at 2:07 PM on August 3, 2011

Why not pork?
posted by small_ruminant at 2:22 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Definitely the fresh corn-on-the-cob. In Japan, corn-on-the-cob is common, and always grilled (some would say burned) with a little soy sauce. Whatever way you serve it will be fine, the freshness will be appreciated. (And you may be complimented lavishly if you have the little prongs which make handling the cobs easier -- I was just at a party with my Japanese buddies, and to some, those little holders were a New Thing.)

I wouldn't avoid anything -- just serve what you like, with enough options that something can be skipped without bringing on undue attention.
posted by Rash at 3:04 PM on August 3, 2011

Steak is good, vis-a-vis Muttoneer's suggestion. Maybe a roast of some sort, like a rib roast. This probably won't feed a toddler, though.

I know about the whole lactose-intolerant thing, but for some reason hearty baked lasagna, as well as cheesecake, go over like gangbusters for all overseas Asians I know.

Also, good fried chicken is universally loved by all.
posted by jabberjaw at 4:51 PM on August 3, 2011

Nthing corn. The Japanese beat us in quality for a lot of fruits and veggies, but OMG our sweetcorn is SO much better.

Chili and cornbread has also been a big hit when I've served it to Japanese visitors over here.
posted by Caravantea at 5:27 PM on August 3, 2011

Whatever you do, don't serve root beer. Japanese people hate root beer.
posted by signalnine at 8:20 PM on August 3, 2011

Artichokes. So they can tell the story for years back in Japan.
posted by ecourbanist at 8:39 PM on August 3, 2011

Response by poster: Seems like steaks are the way to go (though I'm now reconsidering brats). I can get some really lovely grass-fed beef at the farmer's market this weekend. Definitely sweet corn, probably in a salad with tomatoes. Maybe a vinaigrette dressed potato salad ('cause that's how I like it). Watermelon and cookies (y'know, for the kids) for dessert.

Thanks all!
posted by rebeccabeagle at 8:34 PM on August 5, 2011

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