Steamed Mushrooms with Yams

Steamed Mushrooms with YamThis simple dish is unimaginably good, and I can imagine some pretty good things.  It’s origins are in Japanese temple cuisine and it is just one example that showcases how incredibly satisfying and flavorful vegetarian food can be. The Japanese monks and nuns that originated this type of cooking, called shojin ryori, did not eat anything that could consciously try to avoid being eaten, such as animals.  As a result of this restriction, they developed a cuisine that is highly dependent on wild plants, seasonal vegetables, and of course, soy products.

To those skeptics out there, this type of cooking is very different from the type of food that is typically associated with western vegetarian or vegan cooking.  There is no attempt in this cuisine to recreate a meat-like effect using plant products.  No veggie burgers or Tofurkey to be found here. Instead, these are direct formulations that are devoid of some of the forced, strained, or desperate feeling that I get when I look at recipes from a lot of the western vegetarian/vegan movement.  I admit that I have a strong bias against a bunch of the crap food that has come out of folks trying to be vegetarians in America.  I am sympathetic to the desire for people to do as their conscience (or health) dictates, but a lot of it seems forced.  If you don’t like eating meat, stop trying to recreate it in soy and gluten…. 

Read More »

Green Beans with Creamy Sesame Sauce

Green Beans with Sesame SauceThis one falls in the category of simple and tasty.  Green beans are blanched, then cooled and dressed with a lovely sauce of sweetened tahini.   The slight bitter quality of the tahini combines with the saltiness of the soy to make a really delightful combination.  In the photo above, the dish is garnished with fried tofu cubes, which I really like.  If you are pressed for time, simply substitute some type of almond.  My personal favorites are the Marcona almonds that Brinn gets from Trader Joe’s, but simple slivered ones will work just fine.

Dishes like this are a very good reason to keep a small garden.  That way yo can be a little bit discriminating about what types of beans you cook.  Although there is a wide variety of beans to select from in the grocery stores around here, I know that this is not the case in many parts of the country.  We prefer french filet-type beans for blanching and eating fresh, but you may prefer something more strongly flavored.  In a pinch, blue lake green beans will do, but they get a little tough if they get too large.  I am really looking forward to about a month from now when beans from the garden are available.  If you have even a small area that you can till up or even a large pot, I encourage you to grow some beans.  It is easy and you will get the type you like to eat.  Baker Creek Seeds is a great vendor…still not too late to give either bush or pole beans a go…. 

Read More »

Turnip and Roast Sesame Soup

Turnip Sesame SoupI tend to forget how much I like this soup and don’t make it frequently enough.  The turnips and roasted sesame seeds give the soup an astringent, almost bitter quality that is brought back just a little bit by the broth, which is very slightly sweet.  The small portion of greens that is added may seem like a minor touch, but because this soup is so austere, they play an important role in providing a touch of additional flavor variety.  I like some of the more spicy or bitter greens such as mizuna or shungiku (a type of edible chrysanthemum), but spinach would be nice too.  In this iteration of the soup, I added a pinch of Sichuan pepper to provide just a little bit of bite to the flavor.  I think a pinch of nutmeg would also be a good, but slightly unconventional addition, although I haven’t tried it…. 

Read More »

Soba Noodles with Peanut and Chili Sauce

Soba with Peanut and Chili SauceSoba noodles are typically eaten cold, with some kind of dipping sauce.  In this case, I just took the easy route and decided to just plate the noodle with the sauce.  After I started heading down the road of sloth, I went all in; the sauce to go with the noodles is particularly idiot-proof.  It requires no cooking and contains four ingredients, all of which come out of either a bottle or a jar.  Despite the relative simplicity, this dish does pretty well in the taste category.  There is not a lot of subtly, just a blast of vinegar and chili flavor with a bit of peanut to bring it back in line.  I think that you really need some form of garnish to compete with the sauce and I found that sliced scallion provided a hint of something natural and kept the dish from being monotonous. … 

Read More »

Concentrated Soy Sauce

Concentrated Soy SauceThere are two sauces that go on our table with virtually every meal.  One is the ubiquitous chili sauce Sriracha and this is the other one.  There are several versions or formulations of concentrated soy, depending on the country of origin.  The one the we make for our use is the Japanese variety.  It is rich and complex in flavor, slightly smoky, and a little bit bitter.  It lacks the garlic and chili overtones of its Korean cousin and is not as astoundingly sweet as the Indonesian types.

We use this sauce as a standard table-top condiment to accent the flavor of meat, rice, and tofu dishes.  It is richly flavored enough to transform simple ingredients into a meal.  For example, eating a slab of plain tofu is simply not very exciting; drizzle this stuff over the top, add some scallions and nuts to garnish and you have created something worthy of stuffing in your face.  Good additions to round out the experience are a bowl of soup and a small bowl of rice.  Very tasty and just right for a fast lunch if you are pressed for time.  If you are trying to clean up or simplify your diet, this sauce is helpful because it provides enough flavor to make even bark dust interesting…. 

Read More »