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.
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.