Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Harumi's autumnal Japan 3: Spinachi and shimeji shiroae

Here's another of Kurihara Harumi's autumn delights from Haru-mi magazine. It is a kind of spinach and fungi salad dressed with tofu and sesame. Packing two veggies, a protein and sesame, this is the kind of cooking which earned Japanese cuisine its sometimes undeserved ;) reputation for healthiness.

Note, though, that this one dish does not dinner make. I would suggest a meat dish and another veggie side or soup, maybe even from this "autumnal Japan" series, plus steamed rice if you want an authentic Japanese restaurant "set menu" effect.

If you can't get hold of shimeji mushrooms, try any other variety. As before, usukuchi soy sauce is preferred here for its lighter color (shiroae literally means "white-dressed", after all). It is not essential, though, so use regular Japanese soy sauce if that is what you have.

Spinach and shimeji shiroae

Serves 4 as a side dish with other Japanese foods and rice

1 block of silken tofu (320 g)
1 pack shimeji mushrooms
1/2 tbsp cooking sake
1 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp usukuchi soy sauce
1 buch spinach (200 g)
2 tbsp sesame paste [S: tahini will do]
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
pinch of salt

1 Wrap tofu in a paper towel and weigh it down for 10 min to remove the water. Aim to have the tofu weigh about 40% less after this process.

2 Remove the base of the shimeji, separate the fungi and slice in half across the middle.

3 In a small saucepan, bring the cooking sake, mirin and usukuchi soy sauce to the boil. Add the shimeji and cook until all the liquid is gone, stirring constantly.

4 Divide the spinach into leaves and stems and slice into 2 cm lengths. Blanch quickly in boiling water, stems first, drain then revive in cold water. Wring out as much water as possible.

5 Pat the tofu dry and blend it to a pulp in a bowl. Add the sesame paste, sugar and salt, and blend well.

6 Add the shimeji and spinach and mix thoroughly. Adjust the seasoning, if necessary.


Harumi's autumnal Japan 2: Hearty shiitake and ginger broth

Continuing with selections from Haru-mi magazine, here is a hearty shiitake mushroom and ginger broth with the surprising addition of minced chicken. Besides citrus, especially my beloved lemons, I don't think there's a flavour that does it for me as much as ginger. I really love the stuff. You might not have thought about putting it in soup before, but it really warming. This this broth will take you right through to winter.

At my place, dashi is made from bought "dashi packs"--teabag-like sachets that you just add to cold water, bring to the boil and leave to steep off the heat for a couple of minutes. Granulated dashi is also available but as it is already seasoned, you may need to exercise caution with the soy/salt if you use the granules instead. At a push, I suppose a chicken stock cube (and much reworking of the soy sauce) may also work, but the flavour profile would be totally different.

Usukuchi soy sauce (meaning "light flavoured") is a bit of a misnomer. The salt content is actually higher than regular Japanese soy, but the colour is lighter, so it is used when dark colouring is not desired. You are probably not going to want to buy a bottle just for this recipe, so go ahead and use regular Japanese soy. I won't tell if you don't.

Katakuriko is dogtooth violet starch powder in English, apparently (no, I've never heard of it either!). Cornstarch would work just as well. You want to just take the "liquidity" off the broth, not turn it into a sauce, so use with caution (g).

Hearty shiitake and ginger broth

Serves 4

100 g chicken mince
2 dried shiitake
1 knob of fresh ginger [S: or to taste]
4 cups (800 ml) dashi
2 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp usukuchi soy sauce [S: or regular Japanese soy sauce]
1 tbsp cooking sake
1/3 tsp salt [S: optional]
2 tsp katakuriko dissolved in 2 tsp water

1 Rinse shiitake and reconstitute in water. Gently squeeze out most of the water, then cut off the stalks and slice the top into 1 mm strips. Peel the fresh ginger and slice into matchsticks about 3 cm long.

2 In a saucepan, bring the dashi, mirin, usukushi soy sauce, sake and salt (if using) to the boil.

3 Place the minced chicken in a medium bowl. Pour 1 cup of the dashi mixture over the chicken, while quickly breaking up the meat with cooking chopsticks or a wooden spoon.

4 Retur the chicken-dashi mixture to the saucepan and return to the boil, removing the scum that forms. Add the sliced shiitake and ginger and cook for 1 min.

5 Thicken the soup with the katakuriko and water, then ladle into warmed bowls.


Harumi's autumnal Japan 1: Gingered pork

I had some spare time when the Young Man was otherwise occupied and had a wander to the many local bookshops to find a seasonal Japanese "cookmook" I'd seen advertised in a magazine while waiting at the dentist's.

It's a funny thing, but most of the small book stockists in my area only have trashy weeklies, dodgy manga and the inevitable Back Section. Not really my kinds of places, which is probably why cooking mook pickings were also slim. Surprisingly, I found the advertised mook at the little bookshop in front of my local train station. It looked so-so, so I went with Haru-mi, the eponymous title by Kurihara Harumi, the doyenne of Japanese cooking. Think of her as Japan's answer to Martha.

I've said before that cooking Japanese on weeknights can be quite stressful. Ingredient lists tend to be long, recipes full of intricate steps, and worse, you need several such dishes to make one meal. There are not any short-cuts with that one, but this little dish is easy to put together and coordinate with others. It is the most basic version of the Japanese classic shoga-yaki I have yet to come across.

In Japan, wafer-thin slices of meat are sold at any supermarket. Meat has always been a luxury, and this is one way to make a little go further. The easiest way to replicate this would be to use your sharpest knife to shave slices off a block of semi-frozen meat. Luckily you don't need much. On which note, notice that 300 g of meat serves 4 people. Adjust accordingly if Japanese appetites are not found at your place.

Fresh ginger is essential to the recipe, and powdered ginger is not a substitute. It's fresh, zestiness is a good foil for the soy and mirin. A ceramic oroshigane grater like the ones here is what you need to get the ginger slush, but the finest side of a box grater will do as well. The Japanese herb shiso (aka ooba) (perilla) is not necessary here. If you don't have any, some thinly sliced basil would work, or just leave the cabbage plain to soak up the juices.

Harumi's gingered pork

Serves 4

300 g thinly sliced pork shoulder
3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp mirin
1/2 - 1 tbsp fresh ginger finely grated to a slush
1 tbsp vegetable oil

To garnish
shredded cabbage
3 shiso leaves, shredded finely (optional)

1 In a small bowl, mix the soy sauce, mirin and ginger slush. Set aside until ready to cook the pork.

2 Immediately before frying, spread out pork slices in a single layer and cover with the soy sauce mixture.

3 Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan. Take the pork out of the soy mix and fry quickly on both sides.

4 Mix the shredded cabbage and shiso and create a bed on a small dish. Place the cooked pork on top and serve immediately.


Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Djaj bil karmous wal joz: Moroccan tagine of chicken, figs and walnuts

Always luscious, well herbed and spiced, and often, though not here, featuring my beloved lemon, Moroccan food is an all-time favourite at the Saffron household. But even given all that, this dish is nothing short of alchemy.

It has just a handful of ingredients and only a smidgen of spice, and cooks up in just over 40 minutes. Oh, but the result!

With warm spices cinnamon and ginger, honey and caramelized figs, you might expect this braise to on the sweet side. Instead, it is deeply savoury and autumnal, especially with the added crunch of walnuts. Using little water, this would also be perfect to make in an actual tagine, if you are lucky enough to own one. (I am holding off on getting one, as the Saffron kitchen is already groaning under the weight of too much foodie paraphernalia.)

We had this with totally inauthentic rice for the sake of speed, but I'd love to do it again with a nice fruited and nutted couscous.

The original recipe is from Claudia Roden's Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon, which sometimes gets a bit overlooked in my collection, standing alongside Claudia's major works A New Book of Middle Eastern Food and The Book of Jewish Food.

Moroccan tagine of chicken, figs and walnuts

25 g butter
1 tbsp sunflower oil
2 large onions
1 tsp ground ginger
good pinch saffron threads
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 chicken, jointed
salt & black pepper
1-1 1/2 tbsp clear honey
50 g walnut halves
4-8 fresh figs, peeled, or washed, and cut in half (4 in case of black ones, 8 in case of little green ones)
Squeeze of 1 lemon
Castor sugar

1 Heat butter and oil in a large pan. Put in the onions, cover and let them soften slowly over a medium heat, stirring from time to time. When they begin to colour, stir in the ginger, saffron and cinnamon. Put in the chicken pieces, season with salt and pepper, and turn to brown them lightly all over.

2 Add 250 ml water and cook, covered, turning the chicken pieces over at least once. Lift out the breasts when they are done, after about 15-20 min, and put them on one side. Lift out the remaining chicken pieces about 25 min later, when the are very tender.

3 Let the onions reduce to a rich brown sauce. Stir in the honey and taste to make sure you have enough salt to balance the sweetness and enough pepper to mitigate it. Add walnuts.

4 Meanwhile, sprinkle fig halves with a little lemon juice and a little castor sugar, and put them under the grill for a few minutes to barely caramelize. Serve them as a garnish on top of the chicken pieces.


Chef Wan's Malaysian prawn and noodle salad

Though he'd not been on my radar before then, Rick Stein was suddenly everywhere this summer.

This recipe is from an excerpt from Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey in the September 2009 edition of Sainsbury's Magazine, which I picked up at a Sainsbury's supermarket in Glasgow during our trip. And what a great magazine it is! It was 1.40 GBP (around 210 yen) and chock full of recipes from my favourite British food writers. The only let down for me was seeing Diana Henry, who was so instrumental in sparking this global food journey I'm on with Crazy Water Pickled Lemons, spruiking the supermarket's wares. Still, we gotta do what we gotta do, I suppose. Incidentally, it is actually possible to subscribe to SM, though they don't make their subscription site easy to find. For Japan, it's 59 GBP for 12 issues (1 year). Tempting, very tempting...

But back to this recipe. It can be summed up in two words: Easy and Yum! It's a no-brainer.

You will need some Thai/Malaysian groceries, though, so plan ahead. I didn't have any dried shrimp, the last lot having been forgotten at the back of the fridge and looking slightly dodgy. I substituted prawn/shrimp paste. This is probably the less easy to find ingredient, but I'm all about weird ingredients. A little goes a long way. If you seek it out, you'll know from the aroma coming from the sealed jar whether it is going to be for you. Now that I've opened mine, I suppose I'll need to buy that Thai cookbook I've been lusting over... (G)

This substitution, plus the reduction in the chilli I had to make in order to feed this to the Young Man, made my sauce more like a soup. It tasted fab anyway, but next time I will deseed the tomatoes and see how that goes.

Chef Wan's Malaysian prawn and noodle salad

125 g dried rice noodles
few drops vegetable oil
300 g large, cooked prawns [Saffron: for preference; I used smaller ones]
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
large handful of mixed coriander leaves, mint leaves and chives, torn
100 g roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
1 stem lemongrass, outer leaves removed and core finely chopped
juice of 2 limes
3 tbsp Thai fish sauce

For the sauce
1 red chilli, deseeded and thinly sliced
2 fat cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp Thai prawn paste [S: in lieu of 25 g dried shrimp, soaked in hot water for 30 min], optional
3 ripe tomatoes, deseeded and sliced
4 tbsp palm sugar

1 Bring a pan of unsalted water to the boil. Meanwhile, put the ingredients for the sauce into a food processor or blender and grind, using the pulse button, into a coarse, wet paste [S: it will be more like a soup if you follow my method].

2 Drop the noodles into the pan of boiling water, remove from the heat and leave to soak for 1 1/2 min, or until just tender. [The timing will depend on the thickness of the noodles.] Don't overcook them as they will soften a little more in the salad later on. Drain and refresh under cold water. Toss with a few drops of vegetable oil to stop the strands sticking together, then leave in a colander to drain really well.

3 Put the cooked noodles into a bowl and add the sauce, followed by the other ingredients one by one, mixing them briefly before adding the next, easing the noodle strands apart as you do so, as they have a tendency to stick together in one clump. Serve immediately.


Thursday, 1 October 2009

Rick Stein's Bangladeshi eggplant curry with tomatoes, ginger and fennel seeds

It's been a while between posts. Sorry to anyone who's opened up to the not-so-photogenic noodles below these last 2 months.

It's not that I took a break from cooking, more that life got very busy, then the Young Man and I took a two-week trip to the Old Country--Scotland, home of all manner of unhealthy eats that it is perhaps good that we don't have on a regular basis (g). Mid-trip, I managed to break my ever trusty Canon digital camera, which though quickly replaced by a swanky new Ricoh on our return to Japan, is yet to produce any blog piccies due to SD card incompatibility issues. Sigh.

But we are back now!

This is a tasty and really easy curry that was in an excerpt from Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey on the Guardian website (no longer available due to an expired copyright). I'd not really come across the recipes of British food personality Rick Stein before. Mainly because he's been busy winning awards for seafood cookery books. But after this curry, and a toovar dal with tamarind, tomatoes and curry leaves that is just like one my dear Indian friend Sa makes, I'll be keeping an eye out for more on the East from him.

If you will pardon a "language policing" moment, I was intrigued by the "Far Eastern" in the title. To my (Australian) sensibilities, though slightly old-fashioned, the term definitely conjures up the China-Korea-Japan corner of Asia. But perhaps it was an editorial decision, as Rick himself mentions the oddness of "Far Eastern" in the Meet the Author video at the Amazon link above. In actual fact, the book covers South-East Asia (no China-Korea-Japan!) + Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. A book-naming conundrum, indeed!

This curry is a cinch but really packs flavour. Make some quick before the end of the eggplant season!

I forgot to write down how many cloves of garlic and what size piece of ginger was needed, but will update the recipe when I make it again, as I think most will be like me and not want to bother weighing these. I used Japanese eggplants, which weigh about 100 g each.

The technique of brushing the eggplant halves with oil rather than heating it up in the pan is a good one. Eggplants are oil-sucking demons!

Bangladeshi eggplant curry with tomatoes, ginger and fennel seeds

Serves 4

600 g eggplants, ideally Asian finger eggplants
150 ml vegetable oil
40 g peeled ginger, roughly chopped
40 g garlic, roughly chopped
2 green cayenne chillies, finely chopped
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp freshly ground coriander seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
400 g chopped tomatoes, fresh or from a can
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp each of chopped fresh coriander and mint

1 Top and tail the eggplants and cut in half lengthways. If using larger Mediterranean-style eggplants, cut each one across in half and then each piece lengthways into 6–8 wedges. Toss them with ½ tsp salt and set aside in a colander for 10 min.

2 Heat a large frying pan over a high heat. Pour the oil into a shallow dish. Brush the aubergine pieces, a few at a time, with oil, put them in the frying pan and cook for 3–4 min on each side until richly browned. Cooking the eggplants in this way helps prevent them from absorbing too much oil, which would make the finished dish greasy. Set aside in a bowl and repeat with the remaining eggplants.

3 Put the ginger, garlic and chilli into a mini food processor with 2–3 tbsp water and whizz to a smooth paste.

4 Put 2 tbsp of the remaining oil into the frying pan and add the fennel and cumin seeds. Leave them to sizzle for a few seconds, then add the ginger and garlic paste and leave this to fry for a further 2-3 min. Add the coriander and turmeric, fry for 1 min and then add the tomatoes, black pepper, 3 tbsp water and ½ tbsp salt. Cover and leave to simmer for 8–10 min until reduced and thickened slightly. Return the fried eggplant slices to the pan and stir well to coat in the sauce. Simmer for five minutes, then stir in the fresh coriander and mint and serve.