I drove down recently to Fumiko (Fumi) Arao’s home in the lush hills above Silicon Valley where we planned to test recipes for our upcoming cooking class. When I arrived, to my great pleasure, Fumi told me she was putting the finishing touches on lunch which we were to share with her husband, Ken. In a way, it was a simple lunch, but even so, it was apparent that Fumi had expended no small amount of thought and preparation time. Eating Fumi’s food is always interesting because she subtly combines traditional techniques she learned from her mother and grandmother in Japan with the principles of macrobiotics she’s studied in the U.S. Into this mix, of course, is the reality that Fumi is well-travelled and has been exposed to a rich mix of cuisines.
On a cool, rainy day, lunch consisted of warming foods, well cooked and seasoned. There was kabocha squash, baked and stuffed with seasoned tofu, thick fried tofu simmered with red wine, soy sauce and dried figs, blanched kale tossed with olive oil, umeboshi vinegar and toasted pumpkin seeds, and short grain brown rice cooked with ample quantities of fresh ginger. Well satisfied, we headed into the kitchen to work on recipes for the class. But that is a story for another post. Fumi’s recipes are after the jump…
Photos: Top–Fumi smoothes the tofu filling in the kabocha squash. Above: Our lunch of stuffed squash, thick fried tofu and figs simmered in red wine, and blanched kale with pumpkin seeds, with rice in a separate bowl.
BAKED, STUFFED KABOCHA SQUASH
Fumi relates that this is her grandmother’s recipe.
Preheat oven to 400˚F
For the squash: You will need a medium sized kabocha or similar squash. Wash it, then cut off the top as you would when carving a halloween pumpkin and scoop out the seeds and fibers in the middle. Replace the top, then soak the whole squash in salted water to cover for at least 30 minutes (water should be salty enough to taste like sea water). Thoroughly drain the squash, place in a baking pan and bake in a preheated 400˚F oven about an hour, or until sweet and nearly tender to the touch.
For the filling: Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Cut one carrot into small quarter rounds and an 8-inch piece of burdock the same way. Steam in shallow water seasoned to taste with mirin and soy sauce until tender. Cut a handful of green beans into small rounds and blanch in boiling water for 3-4 minutes. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the veggies, 20 ounces of drained, mashed medium tofu, 2 tablespoons of toasted, ground sesame seeds with soy sauce and mirin to taste. Mix this together well.
To Finish: Once the squash is almost tender, remove from the oven, stuff with the tofu mixture, replace the lid and then bake another 20 minutes or so, or until the stuffing is heated through and the squash is fully tender.
To serve: slice into wedges and accompany with sauce.
For the sauce: In a small sauce pan, heat one cup of kombu dashi, season to taste with salt and soy sauce. Dissolve one tablespoon powered kuzu in 2 tablespoons cold water. Whisk this slurry into the ingredients in the sauce pan. Cook for a couple of minutes or until the sauce thickens and becomes clear. Spoon sauce around the squash wedges.
TOFU SIMMERED WITH FIGS AND RED WINE
Fumi notes that she doesn’t consider this dish macrobiotic, but I would add that it is delicious and a great way to use up that little bit of left-over wine.
For this dish, Fumi purchased very high quality atsu age (thick, deep-fried tofu). She rinsed the tofu with boiling water to remove excess oil and then simmered the age pieces along with dried figs in red wine and water seasoned with soy sauce and julienned pieces of ginger. Fumi’s technique for this involves using a drop lid (otoshi buta in Japanese). You can imitate this technique by using a smaller lid which sits directly on what you are cooking, then covering all with the lid which perfectly fits your pan. The point is to cook more efficiently by keeping the steam closer to the food. Allow about 20 minutes of gentle simmering and turn the tofu pieces over half way through. Just at the end, stir in one half tablespoon of light miso.
KALE WITH TOASTED PUMPKIN SEEDS
Wash, and then chop the kale into bite-sized pieces. Blanch briefly in boiling water until the kale achieves the degree of doneness you prefer. Drain well. In a serving bowl, toss with a little bit of olive oil and umeboshi vinegar to taste. Mix in 2 tablespoons or so of toasted pumpkins seeds. Serve.
Photos: Top–Fumi stirs the kuzu sauce for the squash. Middle–the stuffed squash is ready. Bottom–the tofu simmered in red wine and soy sauce with dried figs.