I recently acquired a copy of Kansha, an elegant new cookbook on Japanese vegetarian cuisine by Elizabeth Andoh, who is widely thought to be the eminent person writing in English about Japanese food. I’ll review the book in another post, but for today I want to share the menu it inspired which James Holloway and I cooked last night in Palo Alto. In addition to the three dishes in the photo, there was soup with red and white miso, a salad of mixed baby greens with wakame, and we ended with apple pie, which had nothing to do with the menu’s theme, but which I just felt like making because I hadn’t made pie in a long time! Details about this week’s meal after the jump…
Braised Vegetables with Tofu was the main dish, and one you could make any time of year, except in the hottest weather. Because I cook in large quantities, I prepped and simmered each of the components separately before combining and warming them all together, but you could simmer them together from beginning to end. Most importantly, you will need thick fried tofu. For economy and freshness, I fried my own in canola oil on a griddle, but you should be able to find it wherever Asian foods are sold. The other ingredients were: peeled and sliced onions, carrots cut in a roll-cut style, dried shiitake mushrooms (soaked in very hot water to hydrate), konnyaku and edamame. People asked me what in the world konnyaku is (it’s the brown speckled triangle in the lower far left in the photo). Yes it’s a bit esoteric here, but konnyaku is a pretty common food in Japan–it’s made from Japanese yam with bits of hijiki seaweed mixed in. Low in calories and highly nutritious, the gelatinous texture can be difficult for some people to like, but I think it’s an interesting and authentic addition to a Japanese meal. A flavorful broth is essential to the success of this dish. I used the broth from soaking the shiitake mushrooms and a stock made with kombu and vegetable cuttings, combined, and seasoned with salt, soy sauce and mirin. To make Japanese stock at home, simply have two quarts of water, into one put a four-inch piece of kombu, into the other, 5-6 dried shiitake mushrooms, cover and refrigerate over night.
To make this dish, add all the ingredients (except the edamame) to the simmering broth. Simmer long and on a gentle heat, one hour at least, and one and a half hours might not be too much. You want everything to be very tender and well flavored. During the final ten minutes of cooking, toss in frozen, shelled edamame. Garnish with slivered green onions, if you like. Make plenty, like many stewy dishes, it can be even better the next day.
Warm and Spicy Cabbage Slaw— technically, I suppose this is not actually a slaw since it is lightly cooked, but this is how James Holloway put it together: Using a wok, he heated a mixture of sesame and canola oils, tossed in a bit of minced onion and fresh ginger, stirred those around for a minute or two. Then he tossed in finely shredded savoy and regular green cabbage, a pinch of salt, a few red chili flakes and a dash of mirin. This he tossed for a minute or two. Finally, he added one tablespoon of white miso dissolved in two tablespoons broth, and a splash of umeboshi vinegar. That’s it! For home cooking, use half a large head of cabbage to feed three to four people.
Short Grain Brown Rice with Fresh Bamboo Shoots–If you are lucky, you may find fresh bamboo shoots in your local market (they’re in season now and I found them at Berkeley Bowl West in Berkeley), if not, use the plastic-wrapped, precooked ones in the produce section. I’d recommend against using canned. If you find fresh ones, peel off all the brown outer leaves, down to the white inner part. Dice this up and simmer in a broth like the one in the braised vegetable dish above, 10-15 minutes should be enough. You will want to season the precooked bamboo shoots this way as well. Japanese style rice is meant to be tender and a little sticky. To achieve this, soak the brown rice in water to cover for at least an hour, or even over night. For cooking small quantities, one or two cups, cook it in twice as much water with a pinch of salt, preferably in a thick pot with a tight fitting lid. Bring the rice and water just to the boil, add the seasoned bamboo shoots, cover and simmer on low heat about 50 minutes or until the rice is very moist and tender. For maximum plumpness, keep covered, turn off the heat and let it rest ten minutes before serving.