A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.
Ganmodoki, a deep-fried tofu dumpling, are kind of a staple of Kyoto-style tofu cuisine, and find their way into nimono, among other things. I’ve made them before, but this time, I took a slightly different route.
Inspired by a crazy cheap deal on burdock root at Rising Sun Produce in Seattle’s International District, I decided to emulate a soup Hiromi and I tried years ago at Del Cook, a French restaurant in a rural extension of Osaka in the Nose valley, made with Japanese burdock root, called gobo.
I took bunch of burdock roots and roasted them in the oven with a bit of salt until the burdock softened up a bit, probably around 20-30 minutes. Then I broke out the blender and busted up the roasted roots with some milk and vegetable soup stock. The process took a bit longer than I would have liked, but even after all that pureeing, I discovered that the texture of the mixture was far chewier than I’d want in bisque-like soup. At first, in denial, I tried pressing on, seasoning the liquid with salt and some “Balinese Seasoning” that I first discovered at World Spice Merchants a few months ago, cooked in a bit of butter. But I realized chewy wasn’t going to work for this, and I needed to find some workaround.
So I pushed the liquid through a sieve, extracting as much as I could manage. I realized I had a lot of burdock fiber that might still be put to good use. If we eat all this roughage in kimpira-gobo, there must be some way to make it edible, right? That’s when ganmodoki came to mind. I got myself a block of momen-doufu, medium-firm tofu, broke it up, and mixed it with the solids from my sieving efforts, along with black and white sesame seeds. The ratio was probably about 1:1 burdock fiber and tofu, without considering the seasonings. Even before I fried them, the mixture tasted pretty nice, so I had some confidence that things would work out. The chewy texture that had caused me consternation in the soup was nicely mitigated by the custardy texture of the tofu, and in a solid form, whatever fiber in the texture remained was far less disconcerting.
Using a couple of spoons, I made small balls out of the solids and placed them into the deep fryer.
I was surprised at how deeply the ganmodoki browned. There’s a touch of sugar in the spice blend I used, and probably a reasonable amount of sugar in burdock root itself, but I have never had this kind of result when making more conventional ganmodoki. Even deeply browned, the little balls were pretty tender inside, and just barely held together.
I modified the soup from my original plan, incorporating some pureed cannelini for protein, so in many ways, save for my use of burdock root in place of the cheddar in the version of the soup that was recently featured in Seattle’s Japanese newspaper, Soy Source, it was not a huge departure from that. The roasted burdock totally transforms the flavor from rich to earthy, so they’re certainly not identical. Certainly, the little tweaks are proof that you can make very small changes to a dish and turn it into something nearly unrecognizable. The white beans contributed protein and some iron to a dish that would otherwise best serve as a small side dish, making it a more substantial part of dinner.
To serve, I ladled the liquid into onion soup bowls, and placed three pieces of the “gobodoki” (half gobo, half ganmodoki) on top. I was convinced Hiromi would groan at my bad Japanese wordplay when I unabashedly mashed two unrelated words together, but she embraced the name unreservedly.
To finish, I topped the soup with deep-fried, salt-sprinkled burdock root. We served it with some gnocchi alla romana, which I’ll try to feature in a future post. A little bread and a nice green vegetable side dish would make a nice alternative.
I really like the Balinese seasoning spice mixture that in my cream-style soups. I have no idea if it even resembles anything actually used in Indonesia, but that’s beside the point; the dishes I’ve made with it so far simply aren’t indigenous to any particular country, so I feel free to do whatever tastes good. I dig the shallot, lemongrass and peanut base notes that it provides in anything creamy. There’s a little cinnamon, white pepper, and chili in there, and a hint of dried ginger, so it adds a little magic to anything it touches.
Trying to be clever sometimes gets me into trouble.
I was planning to make a soup this week. I thought it would be a good idea to cook some black-eyed peas one night ahead of time, so that I'd be able to eat dinner at a reasonable hour when I went to prepare the soup the next evening.
I didn't soak the beans earlier in the day, so I pulled out my 70s-era slow cooker after dinner, and let it do its thing. Clever, yes?
Just before bedtime, I went to check on the peas. Disaster had struck.
The peas were way overcooked. The soup I had in mind was not based on a puree. Of course, I didn't want to let the effort, or the food, go to waste.
A small disaster, yes, but I was disappointed. I lose interest in hearty soups the moment warm weather takes hold in Seattle, and there's not much time left before that happens (he says hopefully).
A rescue operation was in order.
I remembered having a sort of black-eyed pea hoppin' john (or is that johnnycake?) at Seattle's Kingfish Cafe several years ago, and then I thought that these overcooked beans might have a second chance at life. Not being a Southerner, in spite of a couple of years living in Knoxville, TN as a teenager, I'm not the right person to ask how to make the "real" thing, but I ground up a bunch of cumin, a little coriander seed, and even a touch of dried gobo (burdock root), only the first of which is terribly likely in any Southern version of this dish.
Although the beans were already pretty well mashed on their own, I used a fork on a little over half of the beans to make them a little more likely to hold together, and then worked in a couple of eggs, some panko, the spices, and salt.
The only kind of cornmeal I have around is instant masa, so I went ahead and used regular flour (an early experiment with the masa wasn't promising). I formed the bean mixture into patties, dusted each patty with the flour, and placed them one-by-one in an hot cast-iron pan. I used plenty of oil, more than coating the bottom of the pan, but not so much that the patties would be floating in it.
The patties are cooked until just a bit beyond golden brown.
To serve, I mixed up some harissa, a chili and garlic mixture with cumin, coriander, and a bit of olive oil, with some prepared mayonnaise. This went on each patty rather artlessly, as my squeeze bottle's tip fractured, leaving me to resort to a spoon. A little parsley made it almost look pretty.
From a near fiasco, I had a very high protein, fairly flavorful dish, built from the humblest of ingredients. Sometimes failure is rewarding.
After a run of Japanese food, I started craving pastas and breads again. Somehow an urge to do something with mustard greens kicked in. A weekend trip to the supermarket with no particular time pressure put me in a playful mood.
I thought about the Nagano specialty oyaki I sometimes make with mustard greens.
I tried making some beggar's purses on a whim, but realized the wrappers I rolled out were a little too thick. So for the next batch, I chose to make thinner, ravioli-like dumplings.
When I go through the trouble of making stuffed pasta at home, the last thing on my mind is recreating something that I could easily acquire at a supermarket or local Italian specialty shop. So I either go the route of using much better quality ingredients than I'd ever find in the fillings made by one of those fresh pasta making companies, or take the opportunity to play with combinations that I'd be unlikely to find anywhere else.
This was an occasion for the latter.
For the filling, I rub some washed mustard greens with coarse salt and let them sit for five or then minutes, then I come back to rinse them and squeeze out excess moisture. They shrink nicely, and I add some soft manouri cheese, a tangy sheep's milk cream cheese from Greece. I grate a little nutmeg in, then work an egg yolk into the mixture, along with a spoonful of bread crumbs. I might have added a little black pepper.
Soft ravioli filled with mustard greens and manouri cheese
I chose to make these with regular wheat, rather than hard semolina flour. Durum wheat pasta, or semolina pasta, is more common in the US, thanks in part to the strong southern Italian influence in Italian-American cuisine, not to mention its advantages to pasta manufacturers. But much of northern Italy actually prefers pasta made with ordinary wheat, and both Chinese and Eastern European cooking is full of noodles made with soft or hard all-purpose flour.
Unlike those with the luxury of an extravagant, beautiful exhibition-like kitchen, I have no room for a pasta maker in my home. I'm not really sure I even have room for the things already spilling out of my tiny cupboards. So I relied entirely on manual labor.
I start with a hand-kneaded pasta dough made from flour, egg yolks, a hint of freshly grated nutmeg, and a pinch of salt. The dough rests for an hour or so.
Then I divide the dough into manageable chunks that I can roll out on my limited counter-space, dusting with flour as needed to keep things from getting too sticky. I flip the dough a few times and do whatever I can to achieve a fairly even thickness.
A cookie-cutter comes to the rescue when I want to cut out round pasta shapes. Or rather, it would have, were I able to remember where my one round cookie cutter was stashed. The urgent need for improvisation leads me to a suitably-sized plastic lid from a spice jar, which has just enough sharpness to do the trick.
I top one half of the pasta circles with a small amount of filling, rub each outer edge with some water, and seal the ravioli shut with one of the unused circles.
During the summer I often want lighter sauces than I typically rely on during colder weather. So rather than some heavy cream sauce, or even a big marinara sauce that might compete with the flavor of the filling, I played with a sauce constructed upon an inexpensive, moderately dry Chateau Ste. Michelle Gewurztraminer.
I simmer the wine with a little porcini-kombu soup stock for several minutes, then added some butter and salt. Initially, the flavor is a bit acidic, but the butter goes a long way to mellow out the wine. As the pasta boils, I toss some shimeji mushrooms into the wine sauce.
When the pasta looks ready to go, I strain the ravioli and let them simmer briefly in the sauce.
You may want to add a little shaved parmesan or black pepper. Since dinner had other sources of cheese, I kept it simple.
The sauce is lively with slightly herbal notes, and just rich enough to cut the acidity of the wine without weighing it down.
The Gewurztraminer has enough complexity to mitigate the need for aromatics like garlic or onions, especially with those intense mustard greens. I also had an audience that appreciates light, sappari flavors and I was serving a few other dishes to provide a balance of intense and light flavors.
However, if you wanted this to be the main focal point a meal you might work in some caramelized shallots, either finely minced and worked into the sauce, or simply sliced and presented as a final touch to top the pasta.
I don't really know what these little cakes should be called, but in Germany something similar was called a Frikadelle... traditionally something like a flat meatball, but sometimes an alternative version was listed the token vegetarian dish at the university cafeteria.
These were my first home-cooked meal after returning to Seattle from Japan... I really didn't have much in my refrigerator, and only arranged to obtain some lettuce and a little Manchego cheese on my way home... The rest depended on my pantry.
I just crushed canned cannelini beans, added some masa harina (ground cal-treated cornmeal), salt, chilies, and some shallots sauteed with cumin, mustard seeds, and a little turmeric for color. I formed three small patties and pan-fried them until crispy on both sides.
They're served on rice with some tonkatsu sauce and a simple salad with Manchego cheese.
It sounds offensively fusiony, but tasted surprisingly decent. It also took only about 10 minutes of effort (and some cooking time)... and the corn flavor worked pretty well with the cannelini. I had planned to use canned black beans or pintos, but none were handy; fortunately, the slightly sweet flavor of the cannelini worked to a small advantage.
Sometimes, in order to make a bit of progress at something, you almost have to invite disaster. Tonight I invited disaster home, into my kitchen. To be fair, I did it responsibly. I did minimize the number of potential victims... In spite of popular opinion to the contrary, for a passionate cook there is more than one reason to cook for oneself... taking risks is one.
Many people think me more adventurous or inventive in cuisine than I see myself. I'm perhaps obsessive, but I work within a certain vocabulary. The spectrum of flavors and techniques I work with is perhaps broader than average, especially in an age of convenience, but generally I'm quite content to work from well-understood, classic techniques and flavor combinations. Basil and tomato never gets old for me. I feel the same about ume and shiso.
I'm quite content playing with my food within familiar parameters... Although I push the boundaries often enough, usually simplicity wins out over novelty.
Sometimes I do simplicity with a little novelty.
That's all this was... I was at the supermarket tonight, and I saw kumquats for a reasonable price... I thought, "Hey! kumquats! Suddenly, I feel like cooking with kumquats."
My usual non-dessert impulse would probably be to put them into a salad or something. Then I remembered I bought asparagus a few days ago, and I really ought to use it up.
I wondered, "hmm... what can I do with kumquats and asparagus?"
Well... citrus... butter... it works for artichokes, why not asparagus? Lemon, kumquat, close enough, right? Hollandaise sauce can be made with lemon juice, and asparagus likes hollandaise... Ah, that settles it.
So I sort of simmered the kumquats in way too much butter for several minutes to mellow them out, and added a bit of salt. I tossed in a few slices of shiitake because they were handy, and I had nothing better to sacrifice them to. Later, I added the asparagus, tossed them around in the pan a bit, and covered them for a few minutes. I added some nira (sometimes called garlic chives). After adjusting seasoning a bit, I pronounced the dish done.
It worked. It turned out to be a good combination. The shiitake proved to be more a distraction than anything else, but I'll definitely be repeating the kumquat butter combination, and since asparagus season is just kicking off, I have a feeling the trio will be back in my life soon.