Katsumi’s Kitchen is more than just cooking Japanese cuisine

After appearing on an HGTV show, Mori Willhite gets visitors to her Beech Grove kitchen from around the Midwest.

BEECH GROVE, Ind. — Mori Willhite is teaching authentic Japanese cooking from her kitchen in Beech Grove

She was born in Japan. Her mother was a cook who married her American father. She honors her heritage by sharing the cuisine she grew up with. 

“As kids, you never appreciate what you have until you’re out of the situation,” Willhite said. 

She grew up in San Diego, which has a vibrant Asian American community, but said she missed that culinary experience after going to college and joining the Army. 

Eventually, Willhite married a man from Indiana and put down roots. She’s fluent in Japanese and teaches the language outside the kitchen. 

Willhite stays close to home, caring for her mother, who moved in with her after developing dementia, and her son, who has autism. The pressure of caring for both of them had Willhite looking for an outlet. 

“I needed something to do or I was going to go crazy,” Willhite said. 

That’s how Katsumi’s Teaching Kitchen was born.

For several years, it was just a hobby. Then she was featured in an HGTV story. 

“I realized maybe a need to take this a little more seriously,” she said. 

Now, Willhite said people come from around the Midwest to see her, even skipping over similar classes in Chicago to find her. 

“I said, ‘Ma’am, I know they have classes in Chicago,'” Willhite said of one student who called her. “She said, ‘I know, but you have the best reviews.'”

Willhite’s class is a combination of classic Japanese cooking techniques, tips on finding ingredients that can be tough to track down in Indiana, and humor. 

Willhite said she enjoys honoring her ancestors and helping people discover how good Japanese food can be. But her favorite part is very clear.

“Every once in a while, I get a half-Japanese kid. One kid came in with his girlfriend and said he was half-Japanese and it was his birthday. I asked where his mom was, and he said she had died. So, he wanted to be close to mom. We had a really good time,” Willhite said.

RELATED: ‘My faith is at the center of who I am’ | Women4Change director discusses her heritage, faith during AAPI Month

Recipes

Yakisoba

  • ½ onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 green onions/scallions
  • 4 cabbage leaves
  • ¾ lb. meat and/or seafood of your choice
  • 2 Tbsp. neutral flavor oil (vegetable, canola, etc)
  • 1 package Yakisoba Noodles (comes with 3 servings, 16-17 oz. or 454-480 grams)
  • Yakisoba sauce with package
  • Thinly cut seaweed
  • Pickled red ginger
  1. Gather all the ingredients. Chop all the veggies and meat into bite size pieces. Heat a medium-sized pan at medium-high. Add 1 tablespoon of oil into pan.
  2. Sauté the meat and onions first for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the rest of the veggies until they are about 90% done.
  3. Make a hole in the center of the veggies and break up raw noodles from the Yakisoba package.
  4. Add the ounce of water onto the noodles and mix well. This is to rehydrate the noodles. When the noodles start to become translucent, then add the rest of the vegetables and protein.
  5. Mix everything together in the pan.
  6. Once the noodles look nearly done, then add half of the Yakisoba sauce package to the noodle dish in the pan. (The package has over 1200 mg of sodium.)
  7. When the pan-fried dish looks all coated, then you can put it on a regular dinner plate.
  8. Cut up seaweed and add Benishoga, or red pickled garlic, on the side.

Spring rolls

  • ¼” wedge lettuce
  • Cucumber sticks
  • Carrots
  • Mint leaves
  • Cilantro
  • Green onions
  • Imitation crab meat
  • Sesame seeds
  • Avocado
  • Rice paper wraps
  • 1 Tbsp. of crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 Tbsp. of hazelnut creamer
  • 1 Tbsp. light brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. light soy sauce
  • Sesame seed salad dressing
  • 1 Tbsp. sesame seeds
  • 1 Tbsp. light brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. Japanese soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. sesame seed oil
  • 1 or 2 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar

(Blend it all together! You may want to finely chop up green onions and add to this)

  1. Shred lettuce
  2. Cut cucumber and carrots into thin sticks
  3. Separate leaves from stem on the cilantro and mint, then rough cut
  4. Cut avocado in ½” wedges
  5. Imitation crab meat in a side
  6. Set everything aside on a large plate or platter.

Peanut Sauce instructions

  1. Place crunchy peanut in a small bowl and microwave for 10 seconds
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients: soy sauce, light brown sugar and hazelnut creamer
  3. Mix it all together
  4. Adjust the balance of the salt and the sweetness
  5. You may add Sriracha sauce for spiciness

Assembly of Spring Roll preparations

  • Large bowl of lukewarm water
  • Cutting board
  • Knife
  • Rice paper wraps
  1. Take one sheet of rice paper wraps and dip in the lukewarm water
  2. Rough side of wrap facing up, place wrap in the center of the cutting board
  3. Load up the veggies and imitation crab meat
  4. Dash of lime and sprinkles of sesame seed
  5. Wrap up the spring rolls (as instructed in class)
  6. Cut in half and serve

California roll

  • 2 cups premium short grain rice  
  • 2 cups + 1/4 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp. Kikkoman sushi rice vinegar
  • 1″x2″ (inches) kombu (dried seaweed for broth umami enchancement)
  • 8 oz. imitation crab meat
  • 4TBS mayonnaise (kewpie, any light mayo or sour cream)
  • ¼ lime (optional)
  • Sriracha (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • ½ cucumber
  • ½ sheets of nori (dried seaweed sheets)
  •  Half avocado
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • Non-stick spray

Remember: Pre-measure, Pre-check, Pre-Rinse, Pre-soak, and final Prep before cooking.

  1. Pre-measure 1+1/2  cups  Japanese premium short grain rice or measure 2 cups with the rice cooker measuring cup (1 cup = 200 cc) into the rice cooker pot
  2. Pre-rinse the rice at least 4 times (1 cup of rice = 2 rinses)
  3. Pre-soak rice in fresh water for minimum 20 minutes in cold-to-room-temperature water. (Do not soak in warm/hot water. Steam will then make the rice mushy)
  4. Drain the rice in a colander
  5. Place the rice in a rice cooker and add cold water just covering over the rice (About ¼ inch of water sitting on top of the rice)
  6. Throw the 1″x2″ piece of kombu into the rice cooker. (The kombu will add the umami flavor into the rice.)
  7. Close the rice cooker lid and press “COOK”

Remember: INSTANTPOT should be set to “Manual, High, 2 minutes”

The rice should be done in the next 15 to 20 minutes

While the rice is cooking we prepare the center ingredients for the California rolls:

  1. You can peel the imitation crab meat into strips. Set aside on veggie plate.
  2. Cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch wide strips. Using a spoon, scrape out the seeds from the cucumber. Cut into long, thin sticks. Set aside on veggie plate.
  3. Peel, remove seeds and cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch wide strips 1 and a half avocado. Set aside on veggie platter.

Place a sushi rolling mat (makisu) on your working surface. 

Cover the mat with a sheet of plastic wrap. (It would benefit you to wrap the rolling mat in plastic because the rice grain and seaweed could easily be caught in between the straws and rip out the sushi roll.)

  1. Spread the cooked hot rice into a large bowl. 
  2. Add 1 capful of Kikkoman rice vineger per ½ cup of rice.
  3. Cut and fold the lumps of rice into small pieces so the vinegar will be evenly fold into rice. Mix quickly while the rice is hot. Avoid unnecessary smashing or pressing motions. (You want to add the vinegar while the rice is still warm so that the pores of the rice will absorb the vinegar well.)

    Watch out for the hot steam from the rice hitting your face. It is easier to mix hot/warm rice vs cold rice.

  4. Cover the rice with a plastic and set aside. This is to keep the rice moist.
  1. Place your ½ sheet of seaweed on the rolling mat.
  2. Spray your fingers with non-stick spray.
  3. While the rice is warm, spread the rice thinly and evenly over the seaweed.
  4. Sprinkle the black sesame seeds evenly over the rice area. Then pick up the sushi roll as a unit and flip over.  
  5. Then on one end of the nori, add a strip of crab, sliced cucumber and a few slices of avocado.
  6. Start rolling from the side with the filling, lifting up the rolling mat and pushing the filling with your finger tips so that they will not fall out. 
  7. When the starting edge of the roll touches the seaweed (nori), start pulling the plastic sheet and rolling mat away from the sushi roll because you do not want to include the plastic wrap and rolling mat in your sushi roll . 
  8. Keep rolling forward as you pull the plastic sheet and rolling mat away from the sushi roll. After rolling all the way, open the mat, place the roll in the middle of the mat and give the final squeeze to make the rice stick together. Open the mat and remove the plastic sheet.
  9. Place the roll and mat on the board. Use the rolling mat to hold the sushi roll in place while you cut it.  
  10. Spray the knife with non-stick spray to prevent the rice from sticking to the knife.
  11. Arrange the cut pieces nicely on a plate.

Wasabi


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajr2-cQwIJk

  • 1 or 2 TBS of hot water
  • Wasabi powder
  1. Add a tablespoon of the powder wasabi into a bowl.
  2. Add hot water and mix until you get the texture of creamy peanut butter.

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