Friday, 24 July 2009

Chilled tan-tan men

I've decided not to continue with my cooking classes at ABC Cooking Studio, despite quite a bit of arm-twisting in March, when they wanted me to sign up for an additional year of their new offerings, without first telling us what those might be. I think I made the right decision, as it turns out that the Japanese dish offerings, which were my main reason for taking the classes to begin with, would be reduced, and those they did present would tend to be of a more basic nature. That's the reason I didn't take a class in June, and why I am taking two this month to finish off the last of my prepaid lessons before they expire at the end of the month.

As it turns out, ABC are doing chilled tan-tan men, something I would really like to have done, NEXT month. Typical, really (g). Never fear. I had a look round the net for a recipe, and found the one I translated below on a fan site for the Japanese TV program Danshi Gohan (meals for men).

If you've been reading along, you'll know that I've already featured one recipe for tan-tan men, that great Japanese take on a spicy mince-topped noodle dish from Sichuan, China, on S&L. This recipe is a totally different beast, and not just because it is chilled (a popular presentation for noodles in the hot and sticky Japanese summer). Unlike the earlier version, sesame is quite predominant in this recipe. In seed, oil and paste form!

Highly nutritious, sesame is used extensively in Japanese cooking. There are white and black versions of both seeds and paste. White ones are used in this recipe. If you can't get Japanese sesame paste (or Chinese zhima jiang), you can always substitute tahini. The taste will be slightly different as, unlike the Japanese version, tahini is made from un-toasted sesame seeds. It will still be delicious, I promise.

Negi (Japanese leeks) and nira (garlic chives) may also be problematic sourcing in other countries. Western leeks are not a good substitute for negi, but at a pinch, you could use the white innermost core (Japanese leeks are only around 2 cm in diameter), or substitute finely sliced spring onions. Nira is not absolutely essential, you could easily garnish with some nice cooked spinach or bok choi, more spring onions or any other green thing you fancy.

The soup in this rendering strikes just the right balance between lightness and flavour for a summer's dish. The flavour comes from a shelfful of lovely condiments. If you don't make a lot of Japanese or Chinese food, you might not have some of these, but they are all pretty much staples in any Japanese kitchen. Just in case, you'll definitely want to read the recipe before attempting this!

Also, the recipe is for two, so don't forget to scale up if you've got more mouths to feed. Oh, and this makes a great lunch the next day. I took the cooked noodles-and-meat topping and soup in separate (leak proof!) containers and supped contentedly, catching up on news of the new Iranian revolution, at my desk at work.

Chilled tan-tan men

Serves 2

2 single-serve packs of fresh Chinese noodles

For the soup
500 ml cold water
3 tbsp white sesame paste (or tahini)
2 tbsp toasted white sesame seeds, roughly ground
1.5 tbsp EACH miso paste, oyster sauce, rice vinegar
1 tbsp EACH sugar, sesame oil, soy sauce
1-2 tsp tobanjan (douban jiang in Chinese) or other chilli-garlic paste, or to taste (optional)

For the meat topping
120 g minced pork
10 cm negi Japanese leek, very finely diced [S: or 2 tbsp finely sliced spring onions]
2 cloves garlic, very finely diced
1 knob fresh ginger, as big as your thumb, very finely diced
0.5 tbsp sesame oil
1-2 tbsp toasted white sesame seeds, roughly ground
1 tbsp EACH cooking sake, soy sauce and oyster sauce
Salt and pepper

To serve
Nira (garlic chives), snipped
Rayu (layou in Chinese) chilli oil

1. Prepare the soup. Mix white sesame paste, lightly ground sesame seeds, and miso paste in a large bowl, then gradually add the water, stirring until well blended. Add remaining soup ingredients and stir well. Check the seasoning, and adjust if necessary. Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate until needed.

2 Heat sesame oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Stir-fry the Japanese leek, ginger and garlic until soft. Add the minced pork and break up with a wooden spoon. Once browned all over, add the sake, then the soy sauce, oyster sauce and lightly ground white sesame seeds. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

3 Bring a large pot of water to the boil and cook the noodles according to the package directions (typically for 1.5-2 minutes), drain and plunge immediately into ice cold water to cool.

4 Once cool, drain the noodles and arrange in two large noodle bowls. Pour half of the soup into each bowl, top with half the meat topping and garnish with garlic chives.


Just the thing for the mantlepiece: A square watermelon

Snapped in a Shibuya, Tokyo fruit shop window

In Japan, fruit is a favourite gift when visiting friends' homes, people in hospital and during the summer gift-giving season called Ochugen. If fruit is given, it is usually beautifully perfect specimens costing rather a lot more than one would normally pay when buying for oneself. And it should taste fantastic.

Then again, you might just choose a square watermelon instead! For just 15,000 yen (over US$150) you too can have a melon that fits in a box without rattling around. Just don't get your hopes up about the taste of such a rarefied melon. There's a disclaimer specifically disavowing any flavour guarantee.

Just what you always wanted, eh?


Cooking class 11: Oil free cooking

For my next-to-last cooking class at ABC, the theme was oil-free cooking. On the menu were fluffy tofu-chicken balls topped with onsen tamago ("hot spring eggs", which are cooked slowly at a low temperature so the yolk sets and the white is runny; a soft-boiled egg in reverse) on a bed of rice with 16 grains, three salads, chicken soup made with the cooking water from the chicken balls and an acerola drink with aloe vera.

The main dish of tofu-chicken balls was a take on the yakitori favourite tsukune chicken balls, but simmered rather than grilled. Served with a sweet soya sauce based dressing, the runny egg and strands of nori, which look a little bedraggled in my photo :(, the dish was very tasty.

I'd seen the little bags of mixed grains that you cook together with white rice to boost nutrients and flavour, but never bought any as they can be pricey. Having tried it now, I think I might just get myself a bag as, aside from flavour and nutrition, I really liked the different textures. Overall, this was top nosh.

I don't know what the 16 grains are, but a similar thing, containing glutinous proso millet, pressed barley, red rice, purple rice, hulled barley, soybean, green soybean, azuki bean, germinated brown rice, pressed glutinous barley, sorghum, foxtail millet, Japanese barnyard millet, Job's tears and amaranth, is on sale at Amazon under the name "16-Grain Rice Booster".

ABC often offers classes that put the same ingredients in multiple uses. They call it "eco-cooking". Here tofu got the workout, appearing not only in the chicken balls, but also in the dressings for two of the three salads: gobo (burdock) salad with tofu dressing, mixed bean salad with curry-tofu dressing and mizuna and smallfry with ginger dressing. I especially liked the soy-vinegar-ginger dressing.

The acerola juice with aloe was a bit nondescript to me (I like my tart juices full on, not sweetened into nothingness). The addition of some ginger from the salad livelied it up a bit, and gave my class mates something to gawp at (g).

Monday, 13 July 2009

Macrobiotic apple crumble cake

I am not one of the world's best bakers. In fact, I very rarely make anything resembling dessert except on very special occasions. Despite all this, I seem to have surrounded myself with some of the world's biggest sweet tooths, who have all learned to bring dessert with them when they visit, as they know they'll probably miss out otherwise (g).

And one, dear A, brought this cake, which while lush with apple and rich with a spicy crumble topping, is not overly sweet, and quite suitable for the non-sweet tooths among us.

Being macrobiotic, there are some unusual things about this recipe, which comes from Nakashima Shiho's Mocchiri chiffon sakkuri cookie dosshiri cake (Springy chiffon cakes, crunchy cookies, substantial cakes).

For one, it is made with tensaito, or beet sugar, which has lots of lovely minerals, is less sweet and said to be much healthier than refined sugar. Tensaito might be hard to come across outside Japan, but here it was right with the other sugars, and probably had been forever, I'd just never noticed it before (not being much of a baker... (g)). I don't suppose it would matter if you used any other kind of unrefined sugar if tensaito is not available. I won't tell if you don't.

Next, the fat in the cake is not butter or margarine, but the supposedly healthier rapeseed oil or canola oil.

And if all that novelty wasn't enough, a bain-marie is used when you whip the eggs! The original Japanese recipe just said to use a "water bath", so I improvised with a stainless steel bowl over a pot of boiling water. Since you will have a hand-held mixer whirring away on high when you do this, use common sense and put the bain-marie set up on a flat surface.

This might just be the strangest cake recipe I've come across, but I am quite enamoured with this results. And it made an unusual birthday/farewell cake for my dear Indian friend Sm, who was off back to India for 6 months. Too bad he came to our little farewell bash already laden with lots of leftover cakes from his work farewell. These kept us fed for the next two days. Waaay more sweetness than we in the Saffron household are use to!

Macrobiotic apple crumble cake

140 g plain flour

2 medium eggs
50 g maple sugar
60 ml rapeseed or canola oil

For the apple jam
2 large apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
2 tbsp tensaito (beet sugar)

2 tbsp raisins, plumped up in rum for 1 day

For the crumble
50 g plain flour
50 g walnuts, chopped fairly fine
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp rapeseed or canola oil
1 tbsp maple syrup

1 Lightly oil and line an 18 cm spring form cake tin with greaseproof paper.

2 Make the apple jam. Place apple pieces in a small pan and sprinkle the tensaito/beet sugar over the top. Place over medium heat. Once the apples begin to release their juice, turn the heat up to high and cook until the apples begin to lose their shape and all the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

3 Make the crumble. Place the flour, chopped walnuts and cinnamon in a small bowl. Stir a few times, then stir in the rapeseed or canola oil and the maple syrup. Stir until the mixture becomes crumbly.

3 Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C (160 if using gas).

4 Bring a large saucepan half filled with water to a rolling boil and turn off the heat. In a large, heatproof bowl that will fit neatly into the saucepan, beat the eggs and maple sugar with an electric mixer on low speed. Place the bowl on top of the saucepan of hot water and continue to beat at high speed.

5 Once the egg-sugar mixture comes to body temperature, remove the bowl from the saucepan. Continue to whip until stiff peaks form.

6 Turn the mixer down to low and gradually beat in the rapeseed or canola oil. With a rubber spatula, gently fold in the cooled apple jam and rum raisins.

7 Sift the four into the bowl and fold in gently with the rubber spatula. Pour into the prepared cake tin, spread the crumble mixture evenly over the top, and bake for 40 min, or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.


Allegra's bigger than big chicken, pumpkin & borlotti beans

I've been watching British chef Allegra McEvedy at the Guardian for some time. When her book Leon: Ingredients and Recipes, came out, the Guardian did a series of excerpts, here, here and here and this recipe. Allegra's food is a lot like the woman (to judge by the blurb she gets in the first excerpt, above): bold, feisty and full of zest. I've made the chilli con carne, the meatballs and now this pumpkin, bean and chicken medley, and they've all been great. Good honest grub, with lots of inspiration from the places where food is sustenance for more than just the stomach. The sort of places that I visit a lot on this blog, and some others like Spain and Mexico, which I'm saving for a rainy day (g).

While this dish feels more autumn/winter, I made it on a warm spring day, and loved its bold, sassy flavours anyway. You do need the oven on, though, so this post is probably better timed for those in the Southern Hemisphere (Saffron Papa?).

You'll also need to marinate the chicken and get your beans soaking in the morning or even night before. And if you have a pressure cooker (and I think everyone needs at least one!), this is doable on a weeknight. If not, you might want to save it for the weekend. If you do use the pressure cooker, do not add the cooked beans in step 4 or they will disintegrate. Add them at the end with the pumpkin.

Oh and the book? Well I checked it out in Australia last Christmas, and its retro, homemade look and chummy tone totally won me over, but I'm sitting tight until it comes out in
paperback. I think Allegra's recipes will be appearing here from time to time, so I've given her her own tag. Welcome to my favourite food writers club, Allegra.

Allegra's bigger than big chicken, pumpkin and borlotti beans

Serves 4 (generously)

2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
1½ tbsp clear honey
½ teaspoon dried chilli flakes
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
¾ tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp dried oregano
2 bay leaves
3 tsp extra virgin olive oil

500g boneless chicken thighs, cut into large dice
120g dried borlotti beans (or 1 x 400g tin, drained, added at the same point in the recipe)
1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
1 medium leek, thickly sliced and washed well
500ml chicken stock
1 heaped tbsp chopped sage
250g pumpkin, peeled and cut into 4cm dice
salt and pepper

1 Put the vinegar, mustard, honey, chilli, garlic, fennel seed, oregano, bay leaves and olive oil into a dish and roll the chicken around in it Put into the fridge to marinade overnight. At the same time, soak the borlotti beans overnight in plenty of cold water.

2 Next day, drain the borlotti, cover with fresh water and simmer until cooked - about 1½ hours. [Saffron: Alternatively, place drained beans in a medium pressure cooker, cover with water and the perforated inner lid or rack (if your pressure cooker has one), to keep the beans down. Put the lid on and bring to pressure, then reduce the heat and cook for 2-2.5 min. Unseal straight away to prevent beans from overcooking.]

3 When the beans are pretty much cooked, fry the chicken with the marinade in a dry, medium hot, heavy-bottomed saucepan - you don't need any oil as it's already in the marinade.
Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally; be careful about it catching on the bottom of the pan - caramelising good, burning bad.

4 Preheat the oven to 210C/410F/gas mark 6½.
Add the tomatoes, leek, cooked drained beans [S: unless using a pressure cooker, in which case, add them with the pumpkin at the end], stock and sage to the chicken, stir well and simmer for about half an hour. [S: Alternatively, cook under low pressure for 7-10 min.]

5 Roll the pumpkin cubes in a little olive oil and some seasoning, lay them out on a baking tray and roast in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes, shuffling them once - you want them to have a bit of colour.

6 Once the pumpkin is done turn the chicken off and stir the pumpkin into it. Add a generous splosh of great olive oil to finish - it's even better the next day.