A special treat awaits diners before they start eating their food at Yukiko Ishimura’s cafe and restaurant in Nara city.

The plates and bowls used for the servings, made with local ingredients, are part of a collection that Ishimura built through purchases at exhibitions held nationwide as well as workshops of ceramic artists.

“Food and the plates complement each other,” she says. “They are essential to serving dishes that are ‘feast to the eyes.’”

Ishimura owns and runs cafe Kuruminoki and restaurant Akishinonomori.

In course menus, dishes are usually served in one type of plate.

But that is not possible at her restaurant, which uses ceramics purchased in small quantities.

However, this has become one of the charms of the place.

The plates with individual looks intrigue the guests and broaden the conversation.

Ishimura tries to serve dishes that will surprise and please the guests twice. The first time is when the dishes are placed on the table, impressing guests with the plate’s layout and colors.

She treasures the next second moment, when the guests eat the food and cry out, “Tasty.”

This week’s “three kinds of ‘uhan’ croquette” is one such dish with surprising elements. Instead of potatoes, she uses uhan, a type of “satoimo” taro that is more glutinous.

Three sets of ingredients--“black pepper and Yamato toki leaves,” “ginger, shiso leaves and ‘chirimen-jako’ (salted and dried young sardines)” and “‘sansho’ (Japanese pepper), shiitake mushroom and shrimp”--are mixed with the uhan.

Yamoto toki is a plant of the “seri” (Apiaceae) family that has a smell similar to celery. The leaves are used in cooking, while the root is used as natural medicine.

When the reporter visited the restaurant, a black plate was used. Dark green “haran” (cast-iron-plant) leaf was laid, and three ball-like croquettes that were deep-fried until golden were placed on top. The colors created harmony, and the set of “three siblings” looked adorable.

The texture of uhan, which is unlike potatoes, plus the three distinct aromas can leave quite an impression.

The dish seems to go well with sake and wine, not to mention beer. The croquettes will also play a nice role in boxed lunches. Serves four.

INGREDIENTS

For croquette base:

600 grams uhan

3 cups dashi stock

2 Tbsp each of soy sauce and sugar

Some flour, breadcrumbs and oil

1 small egg

For “black pepper” type:

Ingredient A (black pepper and Yamato toki leaves), 40 grams Camembert cheese

For “ginger” type:

Some ginger, 4 shiso leaves, 8 grams deep-fried jako

For “sansho” type:

Some Japanese pepper simmered in soy sauce and mirin (marketed as “sansho no tsukuda-ni”), 4 shiitake mushrooms, 4 shrimps

METHOD

Peel uhan, boil in advance. Then simmer in dashi stock, soy sauce and sugar until soft. Cool then mash.

Peel shrimp and boil. Cut shrimp, Yamato toki leaves, shiitake, cheese and shiso leaves into appropriate size. Finely chop ginger.

Mix Ingredient A in a third of mashed uhan, shape into bite-sized balls with cheese in center.

Mix ginger, shiso and jako in other third; simmered Japanese pepper, shiitake and shrimp in remaining third. Shape into balls.

Coat with flour, egg, then breadcrumbs and deep-fry in oil heated to 180 degrees.

Yamato toki may be replaced by celery leaves. Either powdered Japanese pepper or “kinome” (young shoots of Japanese pepper) may be used instead of simmered Japanese pepper.

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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column