Monday, 17 May 2010

Persian cooking class 2: Nan-cheese-herbs, fesenjan & rose jam

I was super excited about my most recent Persian cooking class, as it was fesenjaan again! After my success with Najmieh Batmanglij's recipe in February, and after seeing our instructor Reza cooking this version on the NHK program Asia Crossroads, I was more than ready for another plate of Iran's classic party dish.

Reza's version, which somehow came to be dubbed "pomegranate curry" in Japanese, is certainly simpler than Najmieh khanom's. Onions and chicken are sauteed, and then spices and roughly chopped walnuts added. The chicken is removed, water added and the onion-nut mixture left to simmer for 20 min. It is then ground into a paste in a food processor or blender, making the sauce base. The chicken is returned, pomegranate paste and saffron water added and the lot left to simmer some more. The food processing bit seemed a bit radical to me, but certainly resulted in a smooth and dark sauce, so it looks like a winner.

None of my Japanese classmates had had fesenjaan before and were, I think, very pleasantly surprised by the combination of pomegranate and walnuts. In any event, there was a great deal of chatter about it round the table. Sour notes are not especially well represented in main dishes here, other than vinegared dishes like sushi, I suppose. No doubt an Iranian would probably have a similar reaction when presented with vinegared rice!

Speaking of rice, saffron rice was also on the menu, and the Iranian way with rice was another hot topic with my classmates. Japan is no stranger to rice, of course, but I can't think of any dish where boiling and draining the rice occurs. Grains that just hold together are preferred to separate grains, which would be much more difficult to corral with Japan's pointed chopsticks.

All of us had a surprise with our teacher's chosen method of cooking the nan for nan panir sabzi (bread, cheese and herbs), which was the appetizer for the evening. Flour tortillas (which being readily available, do duty as all kinds of flat breads) were toasted on a stove-top griller that's normally used for grilling fish here in Japan. Apparently it's the best way he's found of crisping up nan in Japan. There's a bit of a knack to getting the tortillas to puff up, but it works a treat. Must tell my dear Indian friend Sm next time he's in Japan!

Our last treat for the evening was rose jam. How wonderful to know that you can make jam from dried rose petals (or even rose "tea"! The roses here (even in Yokohama, which claims the bloom as it's city floral emblem) don't have a lot of perfume, let alone taste...

The dried rose petals are soaked in water for 3 hours, so you need to plan a bit in advance. Other than that, it's just sugar, rosewater and lemon or lime juice. But oh, oh! What a flavour. Although we had it with ice cream, rose jam is equally delicious on pancakes, bread and stirred into yogurt.

In Iran, of course, fresh rose petals are used, and it seems that when they are in season you get them from the veggie shop. How great would that be??!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Bonito bowl with Japanese aromatics and chilled miso soup with summer vegetables

This is a recipe I learned around this time last year at the Japanese cooking classes I was taking at ABC Cooking Studio. It's a blow-you-away explosion of flavour that really wakes the tastebuds up!

Unfortunately, it contains some traditional Japanese aromatics that might be difficult to find outside the country. For green perilla (shiso), you could try substituting basil or even Thai basil, but there's not really any substitute for myoga (the bud of a ginger plant) that I know of. I've seen celery suggested, but other than a little crunch, I don't see any commonalities with myoga. Certainly, I wouldn't want celery with this dish, but to each their own. You'll also want to seek out ponzu or make your own instant ponzu by combining citrus juice (citron juice, for preference), soy sauce and unsalted dashi stock in a ratio of 1:1:1. (Or you could go the whole hog and make bottleable ponzu using this recipe, but that might be one to save until autumn, when citron is in season (g)) .

Katsuo no tataki, or bonito that has been seared on the outside and dunked in an ice bath to ensure that it is still raw inside, is sold in triangular ready-to-use blocks at Japanese supermarkets. You could try tuna or horse mackerel if bonito is not available, but there's no need to do the searing and ice bathing routine for this recipe, as the fish will be lightly fried in any case.

This went very nicely with chilled miso soup with summer vegetables, another ABC recipe. Chilled miso is a specialty of Miyazaki Prefecture, although this recipe seems to be a pared back version. There's no cooking involved in this, so it's perfect for a muggy Japanese summer's evening. I say the recipe is for 3-4. ABC recipes are often so calibrated that the portions of each dish can be rather small. The original recipe is for 4, but the Young Man and I pretty much polished this off between us in one sitting. Greedy guts that we are (g).

Just a quick note about surigoma or ground sesame seeds. You can buy ready-ground sesame seeds in Japanese supermarkets, but the flavour is better if you toast and grind them to a fine powder yourself.

Bonito bowl with Japanese aromatics

Serves 3-4

200 g katsuo tataki or tuna or horse mackerel
1 tsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp ponzu

200 ml short-grain rice
200 ml water

For the aromatics
4 green perilla leaves (ao-jiso)
12 g fresh ginger
1 myoga (aka myoga ginger)

1 g shredded nori (optional)
12 g garlic, sliced and deep fried (optional)

4 tsp ponzu

1 Wash rice 4-5 times until the water runs clear. Cover with water and leave to soak for around 30 minutes, drain, then cook in a rice cooker with the measured water.

2 Prepare the aromatics. Cut the stalk out of the perilla leaves, stack one on top of the other and roll together to form a "cigar". Slice finely into shreds. Peel the ginger and finely julienne. Soak briefly in water, then drain. Cut the stalk off the myoga, halve lengthwise and slice finely on the diagonal. If using garlic chips, peel each clove and slice into rounds. Punch out any green part with a chopstick. Deep fry until golden brown at 160 degrees C, then drain on kitchen paper.

3 Cut slices from the bonito block about 7 mm thick. Heat vegetable oil in a large frying pan and cook bonito slices briefly, turn and cook the other side (about 2 min total). Remove to a bowl and pour over 2 tbsp ponzu.

4 To assemble, divide rice between bowls, top with bonito slices, shiso, ginger and myoga. Garnish with shredded nori and garlic chips, if using, and sprinkle 1 tsp of ponzu over each bowl.

Chilled miso soup with summer vegetables

For the soup
2 g dashi konbu (dried kelp for stock)
220 ml water
24 g miso paste (mixed miso, for preference)
2 tbsp white surigoma (roasted sesame seeds ground to a course powder)
1/2 tsp raw sugar

2 ripe fruit tomatoes or other mid-sized tomatoes, peeled
1/2 Japanese cucumber (around 50 g)
1 myoga bud

1 Make the dashi. Wipe the kombu with a damp cloth and make cuts in 2-3 places to help the flavour come out. Place in the water and leave for at least 30 min.

2 Prepare the vegetables. With a sharp knife, cut the tomatoes in half through the stalk end, then cut shallow crosses in the rounded side of each tomato half. Slice the cucumber thinly on the diagonal, then cut the slices lengthwise into shreds. Cut the stalk off the myoga and halve lengthwise. Cut each half into thin slices on the diagonal.

3 Make the soup. With a whisk, blend the miso, sesame paste or tahini and raw sugar until smooth. Gradually stir in the kombu dashi. Chill until ready to serve.

4 To serve, place tomato halves in four bowls with the rounded side upwards. Divide the soup between the bowls and top each tomato half with the cucumber and myoga.