Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Japanese spinach with sesame dressing

As my adventures at Japanese cooking school continue, it is becoming apparent that I am not coming through on the second half of the bargain: actually making what I learn for the Young Man.

However, short of ideas for a veggie accompaniment to a non-Japanese meal, I remembered the recipe for veggies with 2 sesame dressings from a couple of months back. Horenso no goma-ae (spinach in sesame dressing) is an old favourite, and very easy to make. It is meant to be eaten cold or at room temperature and keeps well in the fridge, so feel free to make it in advance.

This is a "white" version is made with sesame paste, which visitors to this site with a Middle Eastern bent will likely have in the form of tahini, tahina or tahin, amongst its many regional names. It is slightly different in taste from Japanese sesame paste, but will do very well just the same. I use it myself.

The recipe also calls for lightly ground sesame seeds, which in Japan you can buy in packets ready-ground or in a special grinder. If you don have access to these, a quick blitz in a mini food processor will do it or, if you want a more "authentic" feel, grind them yourself in a suribachi (which looks like a ceramic bowl with a washboard inside). You don't want to grind them too fine, though. It won't matter if some seeds stay whole.

The spinach is blanched quickly in boiling water and then gently squeezed as dry as possible before cutting into lengths. Do yourself a favour and don't cut the roots off the spinach bunches until after you blanch them, as this will make it easier to keep the bunches together for wringing (you'll probably be surprised at the amount of liquid that comes out, but do squeeze it all out or you'll end up with a watery mess). Of course, if spinach is only available as loose leaves where you live, you'll just have to make do, I'm afraid. I think you'll find this earthy but fresh side is worth the trouble anyway.

Oh, and you can use the dressing on the half the weight of Japanese mushrooms (maitake or shiitake would be good) or boiled green beans cut on the diagonal.

Japanese spinach with sesame dressing

400 g spinach, roots attached
2 tbsp white sesame seeds, toasted and lightly ground
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp sesame paste or tahini
2 tsp Japanese soy sauce

1 Wash spinach very well and drain. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and blanch spinach until it wilts. Remove and drain until cool.

2 To make the dressing, mix together the remaining ingredients.

3 Gather up bunches of spinach and squeeze as much water out as possible. Think squeezing out long hair after washing. Remove the roots and cut into 4 cm lengths.

4 Add the spinach to the dressing and mix gently but thoroughly.


Thursday, 6 November 2008

Foodie weekend: Pumpkin pie

For too many years now, I've been promising to make my "traditional" Halloween pumpkin pie but not quite getting round to it.

I say traditional because although pumpkins, let alone pumpkin pie, were not part of my childhood Halloween in Scotland (or Australia, come to think of it), I did make this pie faithfully for many years when the Young Man was, well, younger (g).

This year, I thought I'd try it with the fragrant sweet spice blend instead of cinnamon. Especially since we were making the pie for a Halloween party hosted by a dear friend whose hubby is not partial to that spice. If you want to go this route, you'll probably want to double (or more) the "cinnamon" in the recipe. Just to be sure, taste it before filling your pie crust. Taste it twice or even three times if need be (g).

Given the price of butter in Japan these days, I followed my dear friend H's lead and made the pastry with half lard/half butter, with an extra pinch or two of salt to make up for the salt missing from the butter. Lard, sold in squeezable bottles here in Japan, is much easier to handle than butter, and gives a nice light crust.

I usually roll my pastry between two sheets of food wrap, which prevents it from sticking to the counter top and minimises cleanup afterwards. Double bonus!

The recipe is from a food column that Tamako Sakamoto had in the Japan Times many years ago (its seems to have ended in 1999!) . Even my photocopy is tatty round the edges and covered in stains. Evidence of many happy Halloweens past, and hopefully more to come in future.

I might not have grown up with pumpkin pie at Halloween, but fellow party-goer C, who hails from the US, pronounced the pie a success, even if it was a little light on the cinnamon (g).

Pumpkin pie

200 g plain flour
100 g butter (or 50 g butter + 50 lard + 2 extra pinches of salt)
Pinch of salt
5 tbsp cold water

300 g pumpkin, peeled weight
50 g butter
100 g sugar
2 egg yolks
150 ml heavy cream (also works with what is called "whip" in Japan)
1/2 tsp cinnamon (or 1 1/2 tsp fragrant sweet spices)
1/4 tsp allspice
Dash of vanilla extract

1 Sift flour and salt in large mixing bowl. Rub in the butter (& lard, if using). Alternatively, blitz flour, salt and fat in the food processor. Stir in water and blend until dough holds together. Wrap and chill until ready to use.

2 On a lightly floured board, roll out the pastry to a 5 mm thickness. Place the pastry in a lightly buttered 21-cm round pie dish. Prick the bottom of the shell with a fork and chill 30 minutes longer.

3 Now prepare the filling. Remove seeds from the pumpkin, wash and cover with food wrap. Microwave on high until very tender. Peel with a knife while warm. Push through a sieve or smooth in a food processor (you may need to add some of the cream to keep the blades whirring).

4 Cream butter in a mixing bowl and add pumpkin, sugar, egg yolks, remaining cream, cinnamon (or sweet fragrant spices), allspice and vanilla extract. Mix well..

5 Preheat the oven to 200 C. Line the shell with two layers of aluminium foil, weighted down with beans or aluminium pie weights. Bake in the oven for 10 min. Remove the foil and beans or weights Reduce heat to 180 C and continue baking for 15-20 min until the pastry turns lightly coloured.

6 Fill the shell with pumpkin mixture. Bake for 30 min or until set.


PS I wonder if the Scottish Halloween is still homemade, with tangerines, nuts and apples the "treats" of the day like it was in my day (god that makes me feel old), or if Halloween is the same commercial "event" that is has become here in Japan?...

PPS The bottle of South African wine in the photo was a terrific foil for the pie. Especially as it provided a ready excuse for our dear hostess to regale us with tales of when she visited said winery.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Foodie weekend: Cooking class 6: Borscht, priozhki and classic chocola

For my cooking class this month I didn't take the Japanese class, but the Russian one. Russian food has been on my radar for over a year, since finding out about Diana Henry's Roast Figs, Sugar Snow, the cold-weather partner to her book on Mediterranean, North African and Middle Eastern food, Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons. I count the latter as a treasure, and waited until October this year to receive what would have been a Christmas present last year!

Not content to leave it there (am I ever?), I ordered another book Russian cookbook (more on which later, as it is my cookbook of the year!) which I was in the midst of reading when ABC Cooking Studio offered a taste of Russia at school.

On the menu: borscht, which is more correctly Ukrainian cooking, gorgeous meat and egg-filled pirozhki and classic chocolat for dessert (not sure about any Russki origins there, but very tasty just the same).

The borscht was okaaay. The meat needed more cooking, but in the limited time available, you'd need a pressure cooker to do more. Once again it used the granulated "consomme" that I dislike so much. I reckon I'll be able to do much better. It was good to know that you can buy beetroot in Japan, even if only cooked in water in the can.

The pirozhki were terrific. The dough was really easy to make and fun to play with. You can make these in the oven, apparently, and I'll be investigating this option as a healthier and less smelly alternative to deep frying.

The classic chocolat was a revelation. I would never have thought you could make cake in such a short time (well, cupcakes anyway). This is a real keeper, and I think I'll look into making it a full-sized cake the next time.