29 June 2010

Eggplants and Peppers in Miso

When we lived in Japan, we had a super tough time at first with the cooking. We didn't know what the ingredients in English-language Japanese cookbooks looked like, and we didn't know their names in Japanese. Japanese-language cookbooks were an even worse slog, requiring hours with the Kanji dictionary. Sucktastic!

But then we found this great cookbook, Stone Soup: Easy Japanese Home Cooking, published by Kodansha. On the cover in friendly katakana it proclaimed, "bilingual." And that's just what it was! Plus hand-drawn pictures! You can see one recipe a week from it at SheJapan.… I won't lie. It's a weird cookbook. Some recipes are great, but many involve tempura and cream cheese. I avoid those, plus any others that give you a heart attack just by reading them.

So today for lunch I made nasu to piman no miso itame, as my homestay Japanese mother would call it, or Eggplants and Peppers in Miso, as I would say it. I cut the recipe in half. This is the kind of dish that absolutely has to be a side. The flavor will overwhelm you if you eat it all by itself as an entree. It definitely needs to accompany rice plus maybe pickles and something savory or cooling. It's super fast to make and I used vegetables that are hanging all over my garden plus pantry ingredients I always have on hand.

If you're gluten-free, you have to be careful with miso paste because the Japanese don't do GF certification. Still, you're probably better off with their pastes than the kinds made in the U.S. in which the companies stuff all sorts of nasty wheat products in. Just check the ingredients and be careful. My miso paste has four ingredients: soybean, rice, salt, and water.

3 Japanese or small eggplants
2 small or 1 large pepper, any kind
1/2 Tablespoon oil, preferably sesame oil.
1/2 Tablespoon miso
1 Tablespoon sake
1 Tablesoon sugar (you could reduce this a little)

1. Cut off the eggplant caps and cut the eggplants into half-moons.
2. Soak the eggplants in water for 5 minutes to mellow their flavor. Drain.
3. Seed and julienne the pepper. Also, mix the miso, sake, and sugar.
4. Heat oil to medium heat in a fry pan and add eggplant. Sauté until tender. This could take a while, so you might want to lid the fry pan and stir often.
5. When the eggplants are tender, add the pepper. Cook 1 minute.
6. Add the miso mixture to the vegetables. Stir until thoroughly coated and heated through.
7. Serve hot, with rice and a bunch of other stuff.

More Sandwichy Goodness

I had leftovers from my vegetable sushi-making of the other night, and I didn't know what to do with them. Then I remembered how incredibly delicious warm, crusty Vietnamese sandwiches (called banh mi I think?) can be. I had some in Berkeley, CA that were only $2 and mouthwatering. Like I did for my last sandwich, I scrambled an egg, but frankly, I think this would be better with tofu. You could scramble tofu with a little turmeric, or you could sauté little crispy golden cubes of tofu. I wish I had some tofu! But I had eggs so this is what I did:

Sarah's Poor Banh Mi Subsitute Sandwich:

bread, GF or not, toasted (crusty baguette is the ideal)
Mayonnaise or my new eggless favorite substitute, Vegenaise (they sell this at Whole Foods)
small tomato, chopped
1 egg or a bunch of delicious tofu
cucumber, peeled, seeded, and sliced into matchsticks
carrot, peeled and sliced into matchsticks
lettuce, crispy (optional but awesome)

1. Slather mayo or Vegenaise on bread.
2. Meanwhile, scramble eggs or fry tofu with tomato.
3. Meanwhile, boil carrot matchsticks in heavily sugared boiling water until al dente. Drain.
4. On bread shovel some (lettuce and) eggs-tomato mixture. Top with as many crunchy carrots and cucumbers as possible.
5. Cram gleefully into mouth.

One egg equals roughly 3 sandwiches.

26 June 2010

Garden Scrambled Egg Sandwich

I amassed quite the haul from my garden picking this morning, so I decided to make some delicious food for the person who deserves it most: me.

a couple of underripe tomatoes, chopped
a hot pepper
basil, washed
garlic, however many cloves you like, smashed
eggs, beaten
2 slices bread (GF okay), toasted
some cheese (feta is good)
fresh ground pepper
optional: everything, plus mayonnaise/Vegenaise and crispy lettuce

1. Put on gloves. Wash and cut up the hot pepper.
2. Heat up a frypan. Add oil.
3. Add the hot pepper. Cook until fragrant
4. Add the tomatoes. Cook a while.
5. Add the garlic. Move everything around.
6. Add however many eggs you like; 2 is reasonable. Cook and move around until they start to set. Grate fresh ground pepper on it.
7. Add cheese chunks.
8. When done, put on toast. (Mayo/ Vegenaise plus lettuce is optional) Add fresh basil on top.
Serves 2 or more.

I found this pretty tasty, and when I asked my opinion on the subject, I agreed with myself. So it's unanimous.

16 June 2010

Pea Shoots

I caved in to peer pressure on Saturday. George and I were strolling through the Durham Farmers' Market and I heard people in line at one stand cooing about "pea shoots." They discussed how great it was for this stand to be selling pea shoots, and they kept looking covetously at the pea shoots, so I looked too. Only three bags remained, at $3 each, and for some reason I felt compelled to snatch one up immediately. I merged with the queue of pea-shoot lovers and asked George if he thought pea shoots were a good idea. He shrugged in a supportive way.

Of course I had no idea what pea shoots were. So I asked my college buddies what to do. Joy said she eats them raw in salads and sandwiches. Quyen told me she sautés them quickly with garlic scapes in oil. Mark Bittman agrees with Quyen. I didn't have garlic scapes, but I did have fresh garlic from the farmers' market plus a bunch of new shallots from our garden. So after soaking the pea shoots in water to clean them, I made this recipe:

Garlicky Pea Shoots

canola oil
5 medium cloves garlic, chopped
6-10 tiny shallots, chopped. Or some chopped leek.
0.5 cubic feet/ about four large handfuls of pea shoots
salt to taste

Fill a fry pan with about 1/4 inch of oil. Heat up. Add garlic and shallots. Cook about 2 minutes until softened and fragrant. Add pea shoots. Sauté quickly until wilted but still bright green. Serve hot with salt to taste.

Sautéed pea shoots have a nice spinachy texture and a bright grassy (in a good way) flavor. This recipe reminds me of some of my favorite Chinese restaurant cooking, so I bet it would pair well with dumplings or wine-cooked mushrooms or spicy noodles or fried rice.

11 June 2010

How to Choose and Treat the Perfect Tomato

Gourmet that you are, you've noticed that the best imported tomatoes at your local grocery store still hang gently "on the vine." But if you want to enter the pearly gates of true Tomato Heaven, you must grow your own—or nip over to a famers' market or local grocer. If you are lucky, you will face an array of heirloom tomatoes of all colors and shapes. Which ones to pick?

First, make sure they are firm but not hard. Next, I recommend Black Prince (from our garden, pictured left), Green Zebra, Stripe German, Cherokee Purple, Ugly Tomatoes, and Early Girl, but even these are not always good; they have to be in season. If you don't like a variety, you might want to try it two weeks later.

Do NOT stick your precious tomato treasures in the refrigerator! Chilling ruins the texture (dessert tomatoes are the exception—add sugar and serve half frozen). The best savory tomatoes remain room temperature or sun-warmed until they are eaten.

Consider not cooking them. There are many delicious ways to enjoy raw tomatoes: caprese salad, in tacos, on bruschetta, in sandwiches, or even just sprinkle the tiniest amount of salt on a thick slab and cram it lovingly into your maw.

07 June 2010

Baking Soda

If you run out of toothpaste, you can use baking soda. Also, for the next science fair you can make a homemade volcano that explodes when you mix baking soda and vinegar. This is well known. For cleanliness and eruption, baking soda is your friend.

But baking soda can save your ass in other, less obvious ways. For example, you could accidentally leave a pile of potatoes somewhere and then they could rot and cause a huge stink. Baking soda to the rescue! Just throw out the potatoes and pour a small mountain of baking soda on the place they rotted. The odor will vanish. If your kitchen sink disposal starts to reek, again baking soda and a small drip of water will make it all better. If your vacuum smells, vacuum up some baking soda. But if you smell, don't roll in baking soda. Just take a shower.

What if you have a hard time getting stains out of your gas range's white porcelain top or a non-stick pan, but you don't want to scratch the delicate surface with a scary abrasive pad? Just pour on a lot of dry baking soda, add a tiny amount of water, a cloth rag, and a huge amount of elbow grease, and rub, rub, rub. That should do the trick. If it doesn't, do what I do and ask someone Hulk-like to step in.

Sometimes baking soda is good for, well, baking. But that's a story for another day.

02 June 2010

How Mushroom Can You Go?

Gravy, at its best, richly coats the gullet with intensely savory flavors. It enlivens the blandest mashed potatoes, the most dried-out turkey, and…whatever else people sauce up. That is why the best gravy ever invented melds together dried mushrooms, fresh mushrooms, butter, wine, and salty vegetable stock.

George invented this gravy, an instant classic, and now Mark Bittman is mooching off his genius! The last two mushroom dishes I researched in Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian both suggested the combination of dried mushrooms and fresh mushrooms for that extra mushroomy goodness. This sort of combo is admittedly a trick of the trade. Cook a soup with dried thyme and top it with fresh thyme. Sauté garlic into a pasta sauce and add a touch of raw minced garlic. You intensify and sophisticate (not a verb, I know) the flavor when you double it up.

But the mushroom idea was definitely George's first. He should have patented it, except of course you can't patent an idea, only a specific expression of it. (Thanks, grad school copyright law tutorial!) Despite Bittman's intellectual thievery and apparent bugging of our kitchen, I gave his two ideas a chance.

First I tried Sautéed Mushrooms. We hosted a pot luck and people planned to bring macaroni and cheese, wine, and we didn't know what else, so we decided mushrooms would be a nice side that could go with a lot of things. George and I made it together. First we soaked a few dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water for a half hour until the mushrooms were soft. Then we sliced them up thinly because they were waaay too chewy. (Mark Bittman recommends dried porcini instead and he's probably right, but we buy dried shiitakes super cheaply at East Asian markets, so that's what we had in the pantry.) We sliced up a pound of ordinary mushrooms too, then heated up a mixture of oil and butter in a pan (you can stick with oil if you're vegan) and sautéed the mushrooms together until they were tender and browned.

At this point George added 1/4 cup sake (Bittman recommends dry white wine but wine turns to vinegar fast and sake doesn't so that's what we always have on hand). It bubbled for a minute and then George turned down the heat and added a minced garlic clove or two. He cooked another minute, added salt and pepper, and set it aside. We served it room temperature. People liked it. The mixed texture made it enjoyable to chew, and the mushrooms were quite flavorful and extra mushroomy. Also, it paired well with mac n' cheese.

Score 1 for a Bittman-George collaboration. As in George's gravy, combine oil or butter, wine, and fresh and dried mushrooms and it's hard to fail.

The second dish didn't go down as well. I made a Mushroom Linguine. I boiled and drained one pound of good quality whole wheat linguini. Again I soaked dried shiitakes in hot water and chopped 'em up, but this time I strained and reserved the mushroom-soaking water. I used a pound of button mushrooms, also chopped up. I sautéed the fresh and dried mushrooms together with some minced garlic. Then I tossed together the hot pasta, plenty of the mushroom water, and the mushrooms. I added some salt.

The flavor of the pasta surprised me. It was what I had thought I wanted: deeply earthy and mushroomy, with the earthiness of the whole wheat linguine adding to the overall, well, earthiness. Earthy as in soil. It tasted like essence of mushroom and soil.

George ate some but didn't bother with seconds. I don't blame him. The dish just needed some livening up. An earthy base is fine but bright notes on top should balance it out. Some feta cheese made a huge difference. Also, I think a lot of fresh lemon or lime juice might have helped, or fresh cilantro and hot spice. Something fresh. Suggestions, anyone?
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