Thursday, October 15, 2009

Crisp yuba rolls with nori, shiitakes, hijiki, and barley

My copy of The Artful Vegan: Fresh Flavours from The Millennium Restaurant cookbook was given to me by my favourite aunt, whom I love dearly, and I was just thrilled to receive it. After some serious perusal and attempts at several of the recipes, though, I wish I were less conflicted about it. On the one hand, it's outrageously pretentious; on the other hand, it's not meant to be a manual of down home cookin' but as vegan haute cuisine, which I totally applaud. On the one hand, sometimes the recipes are sublime (the beet reduction, for instance, or the roasted corn-avocado abdi, or the ultimate vegan nog); but on the other hand sometimes they just crash and burn (for instance the non-macho cornbread, which is so very non-macho that it utterly refuses to rise). On the one hand, as a book it is quite beautiful; on the other hand, for a cookbook from a restaurant that is famous for its plating, the pictures of the actual dishes are very few and far between, and instead we are mostly treated to images of the capitals of columns, mushrooms, curtains, the authors sniffing produce in markets, the restaurant as seen from the back, etc. It is the last that I mostly have against this book, which on the whole I want so very much to like. It isn't fair: I mean, these dishes are usually quite complex, each involving three or four separate recipes. The book itself is packed with illustrations: why not illustrations of the freaking food?

This recipe I made today, while likely not exactly traditionally Japanese, is at least Japanese in spirit. The entire recipe, an exact scan from the book, can be found at Google Books, so I won't reproduce it here. But for an example of the kind of frustration I'm talking about, take a look at the ingredients. They call for 1 1/2 cups cooked hulled or pearled barley, or 1/4 cup cooked barley and 1/4 cup cooked black barley. Does that make sense? Come on! A total of 1/2 cup raw barley (black or hulled or whatever) will yield you 1 1/2 cups of cooked barley, just the right amount for this recipe, as I proved today, but this is a serious typo.

'Nough crabbing. I haven't given up on it yet, and there are a few more Japanese-inspired recipes in this book that I want to try before the month is out.

I was faithful to the recipe for the yuba rolls, except that for the life of me I haven't been able to find hijiki in my local Asian market, or anywhere else but at Superstore, where it is in the "health food" section for about $8.00 per ounce, which I just can't bring myself to pay. Not sure why this is…the Asian market is packed with wakame and kelp, just no hijiki. So I used this very finely shredded kelp, called "sea tangle" on the packet, instead.

The filling rocked. I'm usually not much of a barley fan, and wondered why the recipe would call for barley instead of rice, but actually it was really good. I would have enjoyed it just on its own.

But you don't eat it on its own; you roll it up in a double layer of yuba and nori, glaze it with a mixture of canola oil, sesame oil, and tamari, and bake it for 20 minutes. The result sounds great, and looked good, but the outer parts were quite tough.

This is the kind of yuba I used:

You can see how big the sheets are by the comparison with a pint jar, so I cut one of them into four pieces the same size as the nori. It's frozen fresh, so it's soft and very cuttable with scissors. The recipe refers to "reconstituted yuba", so I'm thinking now that it means the dried flat sheets, which you would have to soak in water and which would perhaps turn out more tender than the kind I used. Or you could use the fresh, wrap everything up like a spring roll, and deep fry it. I'm a reluctant deep fryer, but in this case it would probably have turned out a better product.

I also tried cutting it in horizontal rolls, and this worked out better, for eating, though it wasn't quite as pretty:

The recipe suggests serving it with a salad of bean sprouts, onion sprouts, daikon or radish sprouts, grated carrot, shredded mint leaves, and lime juice. Oh, man, last week I was swimming in radish sprouts, but this week I don't have any, so I shredded daikon and carrot and went with that.

It also refers to a spicy, sweet, and sour kumquat-lime dressing. I live in Canada and although we are fairly well provided for, grocery-wise, I haven't seen kumquats since the 70s, when people used to grow them as houseplants. Anyway, I have this:

This was a disaster as hot pepper jelly, since it didn't jell, but has been a godsend as hot pepper syrup; so I added some extra red pepper flakes, salt, and lime juice and was good (enough) to go; I also served the rolls with a dollop of the Japanese peanut sauce from the other day, which complimented the dish very well and gave a satisfying fusion-feeling to the meal (my instinctive tastes are in a fusion-related direction).

On the whole: an interesting experiment, one that I would like to repeat, with certain modifications. Very fun to make, and not as hard as maybe all this makes it sound…


  1. Those rolls look delicious especially with Japanese peanut sauce

  2. Those Yuba rolls look fantastic! What a pretty plate of food.
    " which is so very non-macho that it utterly refuses to rise" LOL!

  3. Ok, I'm not that in to Japanese food, but I think you'll have me converted by the end of Mofo. As usual, looks lovely, sounds amazing...I know what you mean about recipes that call for all sorts of extravagant and random ingredients, but the result here looks great.

    Thanks for the blog!!