Saturday, October 31, 2009

Kakitama-jiru (clear soup with swirling yuba eggs)

One last October Japanese dish. This was inspired by the kakitama-jiru in Kimiko Barber's The Japanese Kitchen. You may recall that after I made the crisp yuba rolls from The Artful Vegan, I had some yuba trimmings left over, and that I had briefly experimented with texture changes by soaking them in water. This gave me an idea for an adaptation of a wonderful soup. Originally, you make this soup by creating a light dashi broth seasoned with a little sake, mirin, and soy sauce to taste, adding mushrooms (I used oyster and enoki and a few of the ever-present shiitake from making dashi), then pouring a beaten egg in through a strainer and stirring things around a bit so that the egg cooks into beautiful airy strands in the hot soup.

Anyway, the strips of fresh yuba make a soft, pale, lovely, and in my opinion quite comparable replacement for the egg; in fact, my picture is remarkably like the one in Kimiko Barber's book (though she has a very kewl spoon, silver with a bowl made from half a shell). The leftover yuba bits were in various shapes, so I rolled them up into a tight roll, which I then sliced finely, so the yuba came out in very fine long shreds, which I added to the soup along with the mushrooms. Now this was an inspiration, one that I would encourage everyone to try, if for no other reason that that it is so extremely easy and tasty.


So October is over, and with it my VeganMoFo 2009 Japanese challenge. Was it fun? Yes! Absolutely, and I have to thank everyone who has left comments on these posts: they were so encouraging!

Since no one's here to debrief me at the moment, let me debrief myself.

Was it all as effortless as you made it look?

Are you joking? I really knew next to nothing about Japanese cooking when I started, so far more time was spent researching and poring over recipe books and websites than I actually spent cooking and writing up the posts.

What did you like best about the Japanese dishes you made?

I have to say the requirement for attention to detail. Everything has to be just right—cooked just to the right texture and temperature, coordinated with everything else as to taste and appearance, and served attractively. By no means did I succeed every time, but the practice was invaluable.


What did you like least?

The sweetness. It's no wonder that there isn't really a concept of dessert in traditional Japanese cooking, since the main dishes are so often seasoned with mirin or sugar. It's refreshing at first, but then you need to balance it out. I think that's where the huge range of Japanese pickles comes in, which I, unfortunately, hardly did more than sample.


What did you miss most?

Bread! Oh, bread! And whole grains generally. I didn't realize how fiber-rich my diet had been until suddenly I was eating all this white rice and white pasta and feeling the need for something more substantial and wholesome. I admit I did sneak whole wheat pasta into my lunches now and again. Also, it was torture reading some of the other MoFo posts and wanting to make what they were having, but being under restrictions. I guess that's why there's a November ;-)



What was your favourite of all the things you made in October?

That's tough. Most of the dishes I tried I really liked, or at least they had some sort of an educational component that I appreciated. Nishime stands out, and just for weird and wonderful vegan adaptations, I would say the second thing I tried, the "braised omelet" donburi. For pure fun deliciousness, the gyoza (both kinds).


Least favourite?

The noodle cakes in my Cooking from ingredients post. Because for me the seaweed just wrecked what should have been a great noodle cake. The saddest thing about this month is that I never did develop a taste for wakame. The kombu taste in dashi, yes—I even got so I could tell the difference between several kinds of kombu. But wakame, not at all.


Neat stuff you had seldom or never tried before but which will become regular pantry items?

Lotus root
Shichimi togarashi
Mirin (the alcoholic kind for soups and so on, and the non-alcoholic kind as an affordable quite tasty replacement for brown rice syrup/agave nectar/corn syrup/honey, etc.)
Beech and king oyster mushrooms
Dashi
Pea shoots
Abura age (fried tofu, as an ingredient in soups and stews)


Recipes you'll be making again and again?

Miso soup
Clear soup (like the kind at the top of this post)
Japanese-type "arranged" soups and stews generally
Gyoza
Scrambled "eggs" with tofu
that fantastic nishime
and, of course, sushi

Did you lose weight?

I gained a little weight, my friends, but I blogged pretty much everything I ate, and think the gain was more because I spent so much time researching that I had (much) less time for exercise than because of anything in the actual food.

So, thank you for hanging out with me! The Airy Way now returns to its regularly scheduled programming—except there's a special on later today, though I might not be able to blog it until Sunday because of Halloween and all: my sister and I, as we have every year for almost a decade, are making our own soap…

Friday, October 30, 2009

Millet!

Millet has little cachet in Japanese cuisine, it seems. According to my sources, it was the food of miserable peasants when they were unable to afford/forbidden to eat rice (one of my sources is a movie about Japan whose name I can't remember, where the peasants were all, "Oh, woe! We grow the rice for the cruel aristocrats, but all we're allowed to eat is this low-class millet"). In my local Asian market even today, several of the kinds of packets of millet I could buy are marketed as (anyway, this is the English) "mini rice."

I don't get the prejudice. I find millet really appealing, particularly after almost a whole month of rice. The only thing I can think of to justify it is that it's hard to eat millet gracefully with chopsticks. Anybody would look like a country clodhopper trying to scoop up the popcorn-like grains with two sticks. But get over it, already, and use a spoon. I'm sure I'm missing some huge cultural issue, though, since in all my Japanese-cuisine travels I have found a total of one Japanese recipe that involves millet, and in that recipe you boil the millet and then form it into balls, and put them into soups and such. Admittedly, this would make it easier to eat with chopsticks, but tonight I just cooked it according to the package directions, and ate it, though with a fork, like rice.

Tip on quick-cooking tasty tofu: you can always make a very swift tofu dish if you have any kind of oriental sauce—homemade or store bought, just so long as you like it—handy. Just slice some firm tofu into 1/3 inch pieces and lightly fry in a little canola oil until barely golden. Pour on your sauce—this can be as simple as just soy sauce, but the flavours improve with the ingredients, especially if they include sugar in some form—and flip the pieces around until the sauce caramelizes around the tofu. This takes just a minute or so. This was an extremely simple, but delicious, dish that, apart from the millet-cooking time, took approximately 5 minutes to make.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Kinpira gobo (with vegetable ribbon "meatballs")

This was a lot of fun to research. I still have several of these gnarly brown roots around—it seems like they will last for weeks in the refrigerator. Apparently, besides being a key vegetable in the Japanese repertoire, burdock root is beloved of herbalists, co-operative farmers, and foragers worldwide. And—how thrilling!—I had taken a picture of burdock flowers growing wild by the roadside back in July without knowing what they were:



According to Wikipedia, "Burdock is any of a group of biennial thistles in the genus Arctium, family Asteraceae. Native to the Old World, several species have been widely introduced worldwide…The taproot of young burdock plants can be harvested and eaten as a root vegetable. While generally out of favour in modern European cuisine, it remains popular in Asia, particularly in Japan where A. lappa (Greater burdock) is called gobō (牛蒡 or ゴボウ). Plants are cultivated for their slender roots, which can grow about 1 metre long and 2 cm across. Burdock root is very crisp and has a sweet, mild, and pungent flavour with a little muddy harshness that can be reduced by soaking julienne/shredded roots in water for five to ten minutes." Google "burdock root" or "burdock root recipes" for an entertaining and enlightening hour of reading.

Most of the culinary sites agree with what I said in my nishime post, that despite its rather unpromising appearance, burdock is quite pleasant both to work with and to eat. One thing I apparently did wrong was to use a vegetable peeler to peel the root; important nutrients, so the sources say, are concentrated near the outer layers, so you should use a brush instead.

The recipe I chose, from many that are available online, was this one.

Kinpira gobo
Serves 4 as a side dish

1/2 lb burdock root
1/4 lb carrot
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon sake (don't substitute)
1 teaspoon sesame seed
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Peel the burdock root and julienne it into matchstick-sized pieces; soak the burdock matchsticks in water for 30 minutes and drain well.


While the burdock is soaking, peel the carrot and julienne it into matchsticks of a similar size to the burdock root sticks.

Mix the sauce ingredients together and have them handy: this dish goes fast.

Heat a wok or frying pan to medium heat and, when hot, add the vegetable oil. Fry the burdock sticks for a few minutes. They're already starting to improve:

Add the carrot sticks and fry for one or two minutes longer, flipping the vegetables around constantly. You can see they're going to be good friends:

Pour in the sauce and stir well. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and chopped chives. Remove from heat and serve!

Okay, well, after all the hype, this was underwhelming. Perhaps the health benefits of gobo are such that they are now protecting me from H1N1 and all the other fall viruses going around—at least I hope so, and that I've now had a big enough dose, because I'm not likely to try this again. Your mileage may vary, but though I tried hard I didn't enjoy it that much. Burdock root was better in my opinion anonymously composing part of a stew.

However, check out the side dish. As of today, I'm starting to segue out of the all-Japanese-all-the-time thing, just as I started to segue into it in September, so I made a couple of non-Japanese dishes to go with this, chief among which was vegetable ribbon meatballs. This sounded so silly that I just had to try it, and after having done so, I'm glad I did. I searched for about half an hour on the Internet, and though I found many recipes, hardly any of them had pictures, and those that did weren't all that impressive. Most of the recipes called for strips of zucchini, which (woe!) for the first time in months I don't have right now, and red pepper, which I do, but which seems utterly misplaced as a wrap item. So I improvised with sweet potato, carrot, and cucumber. The cucumber was a bit of a gamble, but one that really paid off.

You can use your favorite vegan meatball recipe. Mine was from the freezer, and was originally based on Bryanna Clark Grogan's polpetti recipes from her Nonna's Italian Kitchen, only I used ground up seitan instead of whatever she had originally recommended. As I've mentioned before, I tend to cook up seitan dishes with high hopes and then not like them, grind them into crumbles, and give them new life in chilies and balls. Basically, these balls were highly seasoned with fennel seed and something else really hot and scrumptious, probably as simple as lots of red pepper flakes. Bryanna's recipes are endlessly versatile, and my only comment on the one I used was that you should increase the gluten flour from 1/4 cup to 1/3 to get a firmer ball. I'll be making them again and again, and will be more specific later.


What you do to start your vegetable ribbon meatballs is slice strips of carrot and sweet potato with your vegetable peeler. I had long, thin, Asian-type sweet potatoes, but if you have the big ones, just cut them into fat 1-inch slices lengthwise first and you're good to go. Heat a pot of water to boiling, and drop in your strips, cooking the sweet potato and carrot separately for about 2 minutes each, just until barely tenderized, and in the case of the sweet potato, not likely to oxidize and lose colour. Oh, yum! Have I mentioned that my favorite colour is orange? Have I mentioned that as a toddler all I would eat was carrots, until to my mother's despair I turned orange? (Later I learned to tolerate other foods, and the orange colour faded, but carrots, ah, carrots—I still love you! What meal cannot be improved by the addition of carrots?) Obviously, though you slice the cucumber in the same way, you don't pre-boil it.

Meanwhile, brush your meatballs with a mixture of hoisin sauce and canola oil and bake them at 350F until the hoisin sauce has caramelized and the balls are heated through. I started with frozen meatballs, and this took about 15 minutes. Take them out of the oven and let them cool.

Once they're cool enough to handle, wrap each meatball in a slice of vegetable, securing it with a toothpick. Now check out my Japanese toothpicks, each of which was obviously hand-lathed and the whole pack still went for $1.49.

Brush or spray the completed meatball-vegetable things with canola oil and cook at 350F for a further 10 minutes, or until the vegetable coating has shrunk a little around the meatball and it's looking fantastic. Remove from the oven, and serve hot or—as I found, better—warm.

Yes, it's kind of dumb, but also fun, and quite cute. These would make great appetizers. Some of the recipes will tell you to serve them with a sauce, but mine were pretty rich and flavourful as is, and my advice would be to serve them plain.

I had them with very slow-roasted beets and fennel broiled in olive oil with the leftover strips…maybe a little too much broiling/baking involved in this meal, but I can't resist an oven that's already on…

Vegetable gyoza

You may remember that I made "pork" type gyoza earlier this month, using seitan. This is the vegetable version. I'm sure many combinations of vegetables would work great in gyoza—Marc over at No Recipes has a recipe and gorgeous photographs for vegetarian gyoza with quinoa that I'm eager to try. Because I'm never going to stop making these. Apart from the time it takes to sit and stuff them—while you're listening to music or an audiobook or talking with a friend—they're easy, delicious, and really impressive to serve to guests. My mom, sister and I had them with beer for an afternoon snack and they're a perfect appetizer. Which do I like better, the seitan version or this one? They're both delicious, though for the sake of explanations maybe these are better to serve to omnis.

My recipe is based on this one, but with a few substitutions from the fridge, and I left out the cilantro because my mom is a cilantro-hater, but if you're not, by all means put it in.


Vegetable gyoza
Makes approximately 40

1 tbsp canola or peanut oil
1 onion, red or white, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 cup sliced shiitake mushroom (I used reconstituted dried ones leftover from making dashi)
1 1/2 cups Chinese or savoy cabbage, shredded
1 cup carrot, grated
1 cup chopped garlic sprouts, chives, or green onions
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (optional)
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tbsp soy sauce

1 package egg-free round wonton skins, also called gyoza (my package contained I believe 40 wrappers)
canola oil

In a wok or large sauté pan, heat the oil and, when hot, sauté the onions, garlic and ginger until the onions are beginning to turn translucent. Add the mushrooms and sauté another 30 seconds. Add the cabbage, carrot, and chives and continue to stir fry until the vegetables are tender and they have given up any excess water—there should be no water in the pan; the original recipe calls for the filling to be placed in a colander and drained; I didn't have to do this, but do whatever you need to to ensure that your filling is relatively dry.


Let the filling cool a little, then put it all into a food processor, add the pepper, sesame oil, soy sauce, and cilantro (if using) and pulse the mixture a couple of times so that everything is well-mixed and in small pieces. It should not be a paste. If you don't have a food processor or don't want to use one, just chop it all up finely. Put the completed filling into a bowl, and clean the kitchen while it finishes cooling (you'll be glad you did).

To form the gyoza, place about a teaspoonful of filling in the centre of a gyoza wrapper and dab water along the edge of half the wrapper. Make a semicircle, gathering the front side of the wrapper and sealing the top. Make four or five folds in the gyoza as demonstrated here. Put the completed gyoza on a plate to await cooking or freezing. If you plan to freeze them, have a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper or parchment paper handy (the lining is important as, without it, your frozen gyoza will stick to the bare pan), and put each gyoza on it as it's completed. They shouldn't touch.


At this point, you can freeze the dumplings for later by simply taking your lined pan and placing it in the freezer for a few hours until they're frozen solid, then carefully storing the frozen dumplings in a container or plastic bag.

To cook them, add about 2 tbsp canola oil to a medium-sized frying pan, non-stick or well-seasoned cast iron, heated to medium heat. Arrange the gyoza in the pan, not touching, and cook on medium heat until the bottoms are beginning to turn golden. The tops will still look raw. Pour 1/4 cup water into the pan, cover the pan, and let steam for about 10 minutes, covered all the time but you can check on them periodically to make sure they're not burning, until the dumpling wrappers are cooked and translucent. If, when the dumplings are cooked, there's still a little water in the pan, remove the cover and let it boil off.


Serve with the dipping sauce of your choice. Mine was a mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, grated ginger, and semi-crushed sesame seeds.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New potatoes with sweet-spicy miso

You know how sometimes you find a recipe that looks good and think that you could improve on it? Sometimes this works out great, but some recipes you just shouldn't mess with. This is one.

New potatoes with sweet-spicy miso
from JustHungry

About 500g / 1 lb tiny organic new potatoes, washed and unpeeled
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp miso, preferably red miso, but any miso will do
1 tbsp kochujang (spicy Korean bean paste; I used Chinese brown bean paste)
3 tbsp raw cane sugar or light brown sugar
1 large garlic clove, grated
1 piece (about twice the size of the garlic clove) fresh ginger, grated
Chopped green onions for garnish

Boil the potatoes in their skins until they are tender.

Heat up a large frying pan and add the sesame oil. When hot, add the potatoes, and pan-fry them until they turn brown and crispy.

In the meantime, combine the miso, kochujang, sugar, grated garlic and ginger in a bowl with enough water to make it into a smooth, loose paste, about the consistency of ketchup.

I had the idea of putting in cauliflower, so I parboiled some in the hot potato water, added it to the pan, and thought I was genius. See how nice the two vegetables looked together just before the sauce was poured in:


Next, add the paste to the hot pan and toss the potatoes around rapidly to coat them well. The water will evaporate and the sauce will turn very sticky. Take off the heat before the miso burns.

The mess was just epic. Something in the sauce (salt, I'm guessing) immediately leeched all of the water out of the cauliflower and into the pan, so I had to cook everything for much longer than I should have until it all boiled off, and it spit sticky, sugary sauce all over the stove, the floor, and me the whole time. It tasted pretty good, though. I'd make this again, but next time would just follow Maki's recipe.

Served here with a lightly stir fried mixture of grated sweet potato and carrot and pan fried golden tofu, topped with grated cucumber and chopped green onions and a little sauce of soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, and crushed sesame seeds. In the spirit of the way my kitchen looked just then, I just jumbled everything up together…

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Nishime

Nishime is a Japanese dish of vegetables that is slowly braised until almost all the liquid is gone. Oh, woo hoo! This dish is so nice. I'm quite sure that I'm not getting the nuances of these stews and soups across to my readers; truly, you have to make them for yourselves to appreciate them. I showed the picture of this dish from Kimiko Barber's The Japanese Kitchen to my sister today while she was snuffling up vegetable gyozas (a later post, I promise, with recipe) and beer, and she said, "Oh, that doesn't appeal to me," and went off to make her date some chicken dish with Campbell's mushroom soup. To each her own. However…well, however, this is just great!

I have to admit that I cheated yesterday. I went out for lunch with my friend and ordered falafel and enjoyed it enormously—the first time I've eaten wheat bread (in the form of pita) for three whole weeks. And I'm not going to lie: you won't be seeing rice of any kind on this blog for a little while because I've just had enough. Asians can eat rice every day perhaps just as I could eat yeasted wheat bread every day, and never tire of it: but I am really, really tired of rice. That said, the falafel meal, oddly, only whetted my appetite for more Japanese dishes, like I was missing some Western nutrient which the falafel provided, and now that I've ingested it, I'm good to go, and my cravings are all about miso and shiitake mushrooms rather than this "bread and milk" thing that's been obsessing me since I read a scene involving same in William Morris's The Well at the World's End (available for free at Project Gutenberg, but my advice would be to read The Wood Beyond the World first).

Tabled business: daikon and renko (lotus root) want to be stored in the refrigerator, not on the counter, as I have learned to my grief. After two days on the counter, only about one quarter of the #2 lotus root was usable, and the lovely green daikon had become rubbery and sad. Just put them in the fridge, and don't be like me and have to learn from experience. I had such big plans for my remaining lotus root, and it was pathetic just to have to cut the good parts out and chuck them into a stew.

New business: gobo (burdock root), the rooty-looking brown thing in the photograph above, I was expecting from various descriptions of it (focussing mainly on its medicinal uses) to be rather awful, but actually it was rather nice, sweet and crisp, a little like parsnip.

Man, was this meal good. The recipe I can give you, since it is an adaptation by me of three recipes, Kimiko Barber's Nishime, and her Daikon to buta no nimono (simmered daikon with pork), and the Kabocha-udon winter stew from Veganomicon, which contributed the abura age (deep-fried tofu) and the kabocha squash. Kimiko would have added 2 tbsp of granulated sugar, but for me the dish was quite sweet enough with only the mirin. What I did was this:

Nishime
Serves 4

4 reconstituted dried shiitake mushrooms
1/2 cup dry Soy Curls, reconstituted in warm water
3 abura age (deep fried tofu pieces), in slices
2 tbsp canola oil
1/2 medium-small kabocha squash, in slices, peeled
2/3 cup renkon (lotus root), peeled, sliced, and quartered
6 inches gobo (burdock root), peeled and cut into ¾ inch pieces
2 inches daikon, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 cups mushroom kombu dashi
1/2 cup mirin (the kind with alcohol)
1/4 cup light soy sauce

For garnish:
1/4 cup sweet red pepper, finely sliced
1 cup pea shoots or snow peas
1 green onion, finely sliced on the diagonal
enoki mushrooms
oshinko (Japanese pickled cabbage) or kimchee

Start by reconstituting the shiitake mushrooms (if you need to) and Soy Curls, separately.

Heat a large shallow saucepan over medium heat and add the oil. When hot, add the Soy Curls; cook for 2 minutes, then add the other vegetables and sauté for 3 minutes. Deglaze the pan with sake if things start to stick or burn.

Add the dashi, mirin, soy sauce, and abura age, and reduce the heat to minimum. Simmer for an hour or until almost all the liquid has evaporated. When nearly done, add the red pepper and pea shoots and cook just until the pea shoots are wilted. Remove from heat and serve hot, garnished with the enoki and green onion.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Kitsune udon (and a word about mirin)

I was out with a friend for most of the day, and didn't have time to prepare anything fancy, but I did have some dashi in the refrigerator, as well as some abura age (deep fried tofu) from last weekend's inari sushi, so this dish seemed appropriate. It's adapted from Kimiko Barber's The Japanese Kitchen.

First, though, a word about mirin. Mirin is usually described as "sweet Japanese cooking wine," and Kimiko Barber says it can have as high an alcohol content as 22 percent. The first bottle of mirin that I bought, however, had no alcohol content, and tasted much like a mixture of corn syrup and rice vinegar—not unpleasant, but not particularly special. I could see, using this, why some recipes will just tell you to substitute 1 tsp of sugar for 1 tbsp mirin if you don't have mirin.

But then I went back to the market and picked this up.

This is much more like it! It really does have a particular taste, one that adds something very good to the dishes it is a part of. You would never want to drink it on its own—it is far too syrupy and sweet—but as a cooking ingredient, it's fantastic.


Kitsune udon (udon noodle broth with deep-fried tofu)
adapted from The Japanese Kitchen
Serves 1 as a main dish or 2 as a side dish soup

2 pieces of abura age
a quarter's width of dried udon noodles

Tofu broth:
½ cup mushroom dashi
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp mirin
1 tsp light soy sauce

Noodle broth:
2 cups mushroom dashi
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 ½ tsp mirin
pinch salt
pinch granulated sugar

For garnish:
2 scallions, finely chopped
1 reconstituted dried shiitake mushroom, sliced
pea shoots or other greens
Shichimi togarashi, to taste

Blanch the tofu in boiling water to remove excess oil, and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Combine the tofu with the tofu broth ingredients and bring to a boil; simmer the tofu pieces in the broth until the liquid is reduced by half, then set aside.

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and cook the noodles. Add a cup of cold water when the water returns to the boil—you may have to do this three or four times—until the noodles are done. Drain the noodles, rinse them, and divide them between two bowls.

Heat all the ingredients for the noodle broth in a separate saucepan, but don't bring to a boil. When it is hot, arrange the tofu in its broth and the sliced mushrooms over the noodles in the bowls, ladle on the noodle broth, and top with the chopped scallions and shichimi togarashi. Serve at once.

This did take three saucepans to make, but I am really getting to like these little soups. When the dashi is already done—I had made it in the morning—they're super easy to put together with whatever you have in the fridge, and they're beautiful and very tasty.

Stir-fried lotus root with sesame and green onions

Kimiko Barber writes about this vegetable in her The Japanese Kitchen: "The lotus, a perennial aquatic plant and a member of the water lily family, is a native of Asia. It has long been associated with Buddhism and statues of Buddha are always seated on a cushion that depicts a lotus flower. Man's struggle to redeem himself and to rise above the material world to realise his divine potential of purity is reflected in how the lotus grows in a muddy pond and yet produces the most beautiful flowers."

It is also surprisingly tasty. I'd been trying to get fresh lotus root from my local Asian market after seeing them there one day, but not buying. The next few times I went, the ones they had were small and oxidized brown and old-looking. Finally, hurray, some fresh ones arrived! I bought two connected pieces to show you how they grow, and made this recipe from JustHungry with one of the pieces.

What does it taste like? Raw, it's crunchy, slightly sweet, slightly bitter with tannins (the same sort of tannins that make tea or red wine slightly bitter), and fibrous enough that I personally don't think I would eat it raw. When you cook it, the bitterness disappears but the crunchy sweetness remains, and it's quite delicious lightly fried even without a sauce of any kind. I would buy this again, and I would like to try it in Western dishes as well as Asian ones.

So here's the recipe, exactly as Maki wrote it. If you click on the link below you'll see she has some great pictures, and her image of the finished dish is much better than mine. I doubled it so I could use up one whole piece, since sliced lotus root discolours like apples if it's not soaked in rice vinegar and water after slicing. Use the soy sauce sparingly, tasting as you go, so the dish doesn't become too salty (mine was a little too salty).

Stir-fried lotus root with sesame and green onions
from JustHungry
Serves 2 as a side dish

1/2 lotus root, sliced very thinly
1 piece of fresh ginger about 1 inch / 2 cm or so long, peeled and chopped
2 garlic clove, peeled and chopped
1 1/2 cups of roughly chopped green onions
2 tbsp hot red chili pepper, finely chopped
Oil
Vinegar for the lotus root water
1 tbsp sesame seeds
Pepper
1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil

Put the sliced lotus root into vinegar water as you slice it, as described above. Drain well just before cooking.

Heat up a large frying pan with the oil. Add ginger and garlic, and stir fry until the oil is very fragrant. Add the drained lotus root slices in a single layer. Cook until the lotus root slices start to change color - they turn a bit translucent looking. Turn over and cook a couple more minutes.

Add the chili pepper and green onions, and stir-fry. Add the sesame seeds, pepper, soy sauce and sesame oil. The lotus roots should get a bit caramelized from the soy sauce. Serve hot or cold.

I had it both hot and cold, and it was very good both ways. Served here with a quick cucumber-cabbage pickle, steamed broccoli with soy sauce and sesame seeds, a simmered mushroom dish from The Japanese Kitchen, a slice of very fresh tofu with white sesame sauce, and brown rice.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Leftovers, Japanese style

Over the last several days I've accumulated a number of bits and scraps that really needed to be used, so today I made a stir fry, but in the spirit of my Japanese 2009 VeganMoFo challenge, I did it in a way that I, at least, think of by now as quintessentially Japanese.

In the past, a stir fry meant adding one thing to the common wok after the other, attempting to time everything right so every ingredient was cooked just right. Japanese style, however, means not only that it's cooked right and tastes good, but that it looks beautiful and harmonious.

So I stir fried all of the vegetables separately, except for a very few like the shiitake mushrooms, recycled from making dashi and fried with garlic, ginger, green onions, and chive buds because they all compliment one another. My ingredients today were:

1 Japanese eggplant
1/3 giant Chinese carrot, shredded with a vegetable peeler (I am ashamed that I have been buying carrots imported all the way from China, but I have needed them really big for various purposes)
1/2 cup shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted for dashi, then saved and finely sliced
2 green onions
5 chive buds
1 cup chopped watercress
1 medium bok choy
1 cup bean sprouts
2 tbsp kimchee
1 tbsp chopped ginger
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup Soy Curls, reconstituted
1 portion soba noodles

And, finally, the piece de resistance, a mixture of several tablespoons of miscellaneous leftover dipping sauces, mixed with water to taste plus a little cornstarch (make sure the mixture is not too salty).

I left enough for tomorrow's lunch, so this "recipe" would serve two, or one person for two meals.

Fry each ingredient except the greens separately until perfectly done, and set aside.

Cook the soba noodles in boiling water, adding a cup of cold water each time the pot threatens to boil over, up to three times, until the noodles are tender. Remove from heat, drain, and rinse.

Mix together approximately 3 tbsp dipping sauces (depending on their strength) with enough water or dashi to make one cup, then add 1 tbsp cornstarch and mix well. Put the greens and bean sprouts into a hot skillet, and add the sauce immediately; cook over medium-high heat until the greens are wilted and the sauce is translucent.

Now scoop up some of the soba noodles and arrange them in an attractive pattern in the bowl. Add the other stir-fried vegetables and the Soy Curls, arranging them as pleasingly as you can over the noodles. Finally, pour on some of the sauce and greens, top with sesame seeds, and serve immediately.

Now I've vented the fridge of its musty superfluity; tomorrow we begin a new mini-series: Japanese vegetables you may never have tried. First up: renkon (lotus root).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A veganic gardener prepares for winter

We've already had some seriously cold weather, -12C last week, which translates to 10.4F, and I was caught somewhat unprepared, at least for the snow and rain which filled my big rain barrel, which then froze into a giant ice cube. Not good. I love my barrels and don't want them to split open. However, we have had a bit of a thaw, and some more rain, and what with one thing and the other, the water melted, mostly, so I was able to remove it and store the dry barrels for the winter. What else do I do to prepare my garden for the great Canadian five-month freeze?

1. I keep two compost bins, one for last year's compost, fallen leaves, and the stuff from the spring, which is not inconsiderable since spring is when I do my big cleanup—in fact, usually I need both bins for spring cleanup until the compost has cooked down somewhat—and one for ongoing, fresh kitchen and garden scraps.




So in the fall, I empty the bin of perfected compost, top dressing the garden where I think it's most needed, and then move over what's left in the newer bin to the other, to aerate it mainly, and keep things neat. This time I disturbed a bunch of earthworms in the "new" bin—usually I don't get earthworms in my bins, don't know why, but this time there were lots—and a mouse, who panicked and escaped with amazing panache down a hole he dug ex tempore, which was when I stopped with the digging around, so as not to spear up the rest of his family should they happen to live in there.

2. Empty the rain barrels as noted above.


3. Rake up the fallen leaves (but there will be lots more).

4. Shut off the inside valve to my hose so the pipes won't burst.

5. Um, actually, that's about it. This was what it looked like when I was done. This photograph was taken in "foliage" mode but is otherwise un-meddled-with, but it still looks greener than it appears to the naked eye. You can see that despite the chilly weather, there's still a lot going on:

How long did it all take? Approximately an hour. Veganic gardening just kills me it's so easy. Why didn't I start with this system twenty years ago instead of four?

The idea is that for the remainder of fall and in the spring when they awake, the earthworms and other digging critters will carry the compost down into the soil, aerating it and mixing it in. Meanwhile, I assist by not digging up their homes and disturbing and slaying them and other beings that are bedded down in the soil. There are hardly any bugs around now, so those that haven't died of cold are in hibernation.

Anyone who has been following my blog from the beginning will remember—or if you haven't, you can go back into the archives and see—that I'd done a lot of insect photography earlier in the summer, particularly of ants and aphids. I stopped with the aphid pictures basically because the micro-ecosystem in my yard took care of them so they didn't become a problem, and in fact they disappeared in mid-summer. I had no insect problems whatsoever this year.

While I am no horticulturalist and am not even following a book but just winging it on my own, this system is working well for me. I pick weeds during the spring and summer and keep the small patches of lawn mowed and water with rainwater from my barrels, but that's about it. You can see that most of the garden is perennial flowers or plants that reseed themselves, but I also let green onions go to seed each year and grow in amongst everything else so I have plenty all spring and summer long, and have chives, oregano, thyme, parsley, cilantro, and sorrel that I eat. The plants grow more or less as they will, with a little help from me moving things around from time to time, so the effect is tangly and interesting (and a little overcrowded this year I admit), but that's what I like outside. Inside, I am all about order and simplicity. Outside, some chaos—or let's say complex interconnected systems—is nice.

Apart from anything else, it gives me something to study, and in the winter, a little textural interest to what would otherwise be just a big blank rectangle of snow. Plus, the sight of chickadees hanging upside down from the bobbing sunflower heads picking the sunflower seeds out is just so incredibly cute…

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Japanese-style scrambled eggs with bean curd

Though…we're vegan here, so it's more Japanese-style scrambled bean curd with bean curd. Seriously, though, this was delicious, and for the eggs I subbed half a recipe of the omelet from Vegan Brunch (see below; I found the recipe here so I reproduce it for you, but I own the book and recommend that you buy it too, it has so many good things in it), leaving out the optional garlic and the cornstarch. I have to say once again, what a versatile recipe this is! Isa, I bow down! I was after comfort food pure and simple after a hard, sad day at work, and you delivered, again. So, thanks.

The rest of the recipe is adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's Japanese/Korean-Style Scrambled Eggs with Bean Curd from World Vegetarian. According to Mrs. Jaffrey, "Such egg dishes exist all over East Asia and are nearly always eaten with plain rice." I'd had enough of plain, white rice lately, so I served it with brown rice. Here's what I did:

Scrambled "eggs" with bean curd
Serves 1 hungry person

1/2 omelet recipe from Vegan Brunch (see below: leave out the garlic and the cornstarch)
1 tsp canola oil
2 scallions, finely sliced
2 tbsp carrot, finely diced
2 tbsp sweet red pepper, finely diced
1/2 cup firm tofu, crumbled
1/4 cup enoki mushrooms (optional)
Sauce of your choice (I used an equal amount of tamari/sambal olek)

Vegan Brunch omelet (but remember, you're just making half of it for this recipe):

2 garlic cloves
1 pound soft tofu, lightly drained
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp fine black salt or sea salt
1/2 cup chickpea flour
1 tbsp arrowroot or cornstarch

Grind it all up in a food processor or blender. I find it necessary to add up to half a cup of water or unsweetened soy milk to make it all blend, but that never seems to hurt anything.

Mix up the omelet recipe and set aside for now.


Heat the canola oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, and, when hot, add one scallion, the carrot, and the red pepper, and stir fry for approximately two minutes—you want to tenderize the vegetables, but not have them caramelized. Add the crumbled tofu and enoki mushrooms (if using) and stir fry an additional minute until heated. I also added a little watercress at this point.

Now pour in the omelet mixture and continue to stir and fry (stirring only infrequently however, since you want large "curds" of omelet to form) for about seven minutes, until the omelet has firmed up and everything is looking delectable.

Serve with rice, topped with roasted sesame seeds and the other finely sliced green onion, and the sauce.


This will go a little way towards curing what ails you, I promise…