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Archive for June, 2012

Okonomiyaki

When we lived in Chicago, I had an awesome friend who used to drive me out of the city in search of random entertainment. This usually involved some kind of food, & one of our favorite destinations came to be Mitsuwa, a mega-store for all things Japanese. We’d stroll the aisles, trying to decipher product names & sneaking oddities into each other’s baskets (rainbow tapioca cubes? Pocari Sweat? I Think It’s Fish Paste?). Inevitably we’d end up at the food court, where K’s time teaching in Japan made her fairly adventurous in her lunch choices. I’d stick to safe but tasty tofu steaks, but she’d come back with all manner of things. I have vivid memories of the day she brought back okonomiyaki, aka Japanese pizza, covered in bonito flakes. The steam rising from the hot pancake made the translucent bonito flakes undulate & shiver, & it looked like her plate was crawling with winged insects… Once I got over the initial freak out (& the bonito stopped moving), it smelled really good – eggy & savory & satisfying.

Okonomiyaki (“your choice”) looks & feels like street food, the kind of thing you wouldn’t know you wanted until you smelled it wafting down the road after a long day of work/travel/drinking. It’s deeply satisfying, & surprisingly easy to put together. You can top it with all manner of things, bacon & Kewpie mayo being rather traditional, but I did ours garbage style, using odds & ends from the crisper drawer.

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Okonomiyaki, gaikoku no kata style

Makes 1 10-inch okonomiyaki, enough for 2-4 people

2 c thinly shredded cabbage (I used regular white/green, but I bet Napa would work well, too)

1 c thinly sliced leeks, rinsed well

2/3 c flour (I used half white, half whole wheat)

A few pinches of salt

2-3 eggs, beaten

Toss the cabbage & leeks with the flour & salt until evenly coated. Add most of the egg mixture, stirring with your hands to get everything evenly mixed & adding more egg if it seems dry. You want the veggies to have a light coating of batter, not too thick & pasty. When in doubt, add a bit more egg.

Heat a heavy 10-inch skillet over medium heat with about 3 T vegetable oil. When the pan is hot enough to scatter a drop of water flicked onto the surface, add the okonomiyaki batter, spreading it out evenly to cover the bottom of the pan & pressing it flat with the back of a spatula. You should hear it gently sizzling – turn the heat back if it seems to be cooking very quickly. Cover the pan with a lid or a spare plate & let it cook while you prepare your toppings & sauce:

I sauteed a julienned carrot & a handful of turnip greens in a bit of oil & soy til they were tender, then fried two eggs to slide on the top. The veggies added a nice bittersweet element, the eggs a bit of savory richness. Use what you have in the house – a few rashers of bacon or ham, some fried tofu, a few shrimp, or even just a pile of scallions. Whatever you decide, keep it warm until the okonomiyaki is ready.

Okonomiyaki sauce is easy to find if you have access to an Asian grocer, but I made my own out of pantry staples:

Okonomiyaki Sauce

3 T ketchup

4-5 T worcestershire sauce

1 T soy sauce

2 t sugar

Mix well in a small bowl & adjust for sweetness. It should be equally salty, sweet & vinegary. A blob of hoisin sauce might be nice, too.

 

After 5-8 minutes, check your kokonomiyaki. The top should look translucent & slightly set, the bottom golden & crisp. Put a clean plate over the pan & invert quickly & carefully; slide the okonomiyaki back into the pan, this time with the uncooked side down. (This isn’t as terrifying as it sounds, I promise.) Cover & cook for another 5 minutes or so. You’re looking for both sides to be deep gold & crisp, & the cabbage & leeks to have cooked through – undercooking leaves the flour raw & unpleasantly doughy.

When it’s cooked to your satisfaction, slide the okonomiyaki onto a large plate & pile on your toppings. Drizzle the whole thing with okonomiyaki sauce & a squiggle of mayonnaise, then cut it into wedges. Crack open a cold, pale beer. Enjoy.

 

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I’m going to be honest here – as much as I love the produce that comes with summer in the garden, the heat can go take a flying leap. It saps my energy, my appetite, & my creativity. All I want to do is sit in the A/C & watch Firefly…

But, life goes on & boys need to be fed, so after much whining on my part & the promise of a beer when I finish this post, here’s this week’s lineup:

We’ll be doing the Okonomiyaki tomorrow, by the looks of things – it was just too hot to fuss with the stove for the past few days. Thankfully a storm system’s rolling in, & we should have our appetites back by Saturday night.

I’ve got half a bag of quinoa leering at me from the pantry, so I’ll do Baked Haddock with Corny Quinoa & sauteed greens for our fish meal.

Avocadoes are gorgeous right now, & while I can eat them right out of the shell, Avocado, Tofu, Lettuce & Tomato Sandwiches sound even better. I’ll do the tofu along the same lines as last week’s, but cut thinner & baked longer for a bacony type texture.

Time for another round of Zucchini Feta Pancakes!

J is out of town for a few nights later in the week, & I’m thinking C & I will have a special dinner out – sushi, if he has his way. Not that I’m inclined to argue… C & I also need to get more quick lunch ideas rolling around – I normally eat leftovers when I’m home by myself, but a certain growing boy likes something a bit more interesting. Thinking of keeping some hummus, flatbreads, hardboiled eggs & different finger veggies on hand to supplement our standard cheese sticks, yoghurts, fruit, bagels & peanut butter snacking…

Keepers of Small Persons, what do your kids like to eat for lunch?

 

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Hot damn, this was a good meal…

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C & I spirited J off to a riverside park for a Father’s Day picnic on Sunday, a welcome respite from the occasional claustrophobia that accompanies life in the city. We needed something tasty & packable for lunch, & I was inspired to try my hand at a vegetarian version of the ubiquitous bánh mì.

While the final assembly was fairly simple, I did a bit of advance prep on Saturday afternoon & stumbled upon a pretty fantastic treatment for tofu…

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Spicy Glazed Tofu

Makes enough for 4 bánh mì

Preheat the oven to 425F

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper & give it a light misting of oil

1 pound extra firm tofu, drained

1/2 c barbeque sauce (we used an extra spicy bottle from our Texas relatives)

1/4 c ketchup

1 T soy sauce

1 T vegetarian worcestershire sauce

Maple syrup or honey to taste

Slice tofu into 8 vertical slices & press between paper towels for 10 minutes to drain excess moisture.

Combine marinade ingredients, adjusting quantities as needed to yield a sweet/spicy/savory sauce. Paint 8 wide stripes of marinade on the oiled parchment, top each stripe with a strip of tofu, & spread the rest of the marinade evenly over the tofu.

Bake for 20 minutes, flipping the tofu strips halfway through. (Watch them carefully, as a sweeter glaze is prone to burning.) Let cool & chill.

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Marinated Carrots

1 large carrot, cut or shredded into fine julienne

1/2 c water

1/4 c sugar

1/4 c rice vinegar

Pinch salt

Bring the water, sugar, vinegar & salt to a boil in a small sauce pan. Pour over the shredded carrots, let cool to room temperature & chill.

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To assemble the bánh mì:

4 large steak rolls

Mayonnaise

Thinly sliced cucumber

Marinated carrots

Optional julienned daikon radish

Glazed tofu, cut into 1/4-inch strips

Fresh cilantro

Split the steak rolls, pulling out a bit of the interior to allow for ample filling. Spread mayonnaise on each side, then layer the cucumber, carrot & tofu. Top with fresh cilantro. Wrap each roll tightly in foil & chill for an hour or two.

Enjoy. Heaven knows, we did – expect to see bánh mì popping up on our summer What’s for Dinner lists…

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Alright, let’s fire it up! Some classics & some crazy new stuff this week…

We’ll do another round of home made pizza (last week’s impromptu pie with fresh mozzarella & basil was awesome), & our ubiquitous baked fish/oven fries/steamed veg dinner (mahi mahi this week). I didn’t do Too Hot to Cook Salad last week, so we’ll try it again, but over corn chips with avocadoes diced over the top by request.

New stuff:

Greek Faux Meatballs with Roasted/Grilled Veg & Orzo  (We use a great soy meat substitute for the times we really want that taste & texture, bolstered with fresh onions & spinach & herbs & pan fried into tasty meatballs. I’ll grab a few squash & peppers at market & throw them under the broiler or on the grill as the weather dictates.)

Coronation Tofu Salad on crusty rolls with salad (Coronation chicken is one of those classic English/Indian hybrid dishes that gets trotted out for posh dinner parties & whatnot. I’ve revamped it to go easier on the mayo, bigger on the spices, & sub extra firm tofu for the chicken. Makes a delicious cold salad for sandwiches, or stuffed in vol au vents…)

Okonomiyaki with brown rice & fried eggs (Technically winter ingredients, but I stumbled across this recipe & now can’t think of anything else.)

C & I have some fun & tasty treats planned for J for Father’s Day – if it all turns out, I’ll take pictures. Provided it lasts that long…

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Dirty Nori Rice

We’re always looking for new & interesting ways to eat whole grains, including brown rice. There’s a certain charm to it served plain & unadorned, reminding me of my hippy college days & the vegan plate at a favorite old Chicago haunt. But sometimes I’m looking for a little pizzazz…

I love this served on the side with seared tuna & steamed asparagus or green beans. Adding finely diced veggies & tofu transforms it into a light entree, perfect for a weekday dinner. Finding nori, rice vinegar & black sesame seeds (& the optional edamame, which adds great protein) will be easier in some parts of the country than in others; I can find all three at the local grocery store, but you may need to venture further afield to track these down.

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Dirty Nori Rice

Makes 4 side servings, easily doubled for an entree

1 1/2 c long grain brown rice

1 sheet nori seaweed

2-3 t soy sauce

1 t rice vinegar

1-2 T black sesame seeds

Optional: 1 c shelled fresh/frozen edamame

Soak, cook & steam the rice according to my directions here. While the rice is cooking, toast your sheet of nori. Wave it gently & carefully over an open flame (gas burner, charcoal grill, candle, lighter, whathaveyou), rotating the sheet so all part are evenly heated. As it begins to toast, it will change color from black/green to a beautiful olive bronze; it’ll also start to smell lovely & toasty. When the whole sheet is evenly colored & feels crisp to the touch, it’s ready. (I would imagine you could do this in a very hot oven, under the broiler, or in a toaster oven in a pinch, but I’ve never tried it.)

If you’re using edamame, toss them in with the boiling rice just before it’s done, to heat the beans through. Drain & steam as you would plain rice.

When your rice is steamed, give it a fluff with a fork, & crumple the toasted nori into the pot. Really smash it up into a nice fine shower of flakes. Add the soy, rice vinegar & sesame seeds & fluff with the fork to combine. Add a bit more soy or vinegar if you feel it needs it.

And there you are. Toasty, salty, tangy, chewy rice, with a gentle whiff of the ocean. I really want to make it into rolls some day, wrapped in untoasted nori with slivers of fresh tuna & avocado.

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