Miso #3: Spicy Aka with Shirataki

This time the miso roulette has turned up aka (red) miso, and I think it’s my favorite so far.  It has a much stronger flavor that goes well with spicy things.  I made this for dinner in a rush last week and it was even a hit with the dad, who is morally opposed to miso.

The shirataki noodles may be alarming to those unfamiliar with them: they come packed in water and look rather like jellyfish tentacles.  They’re made from konnyaku, which I believe is some sort of yam, and somehow they manage to be totally calorie free.  The Japanese call them a “broom for the stomach”.  They have very little flavor of their own, but they have an nice texture and take on the flavor of whatever they’re cooked with.  Mysterious, but tasty.  Be sure when buying them that you don’t accidentally pick up tofu shirataki, which are an innovation of Western low-carb fanatics and in my opinion fairly vile.

  • 1.5 tbsp aka miso
  • 1 tbsp chili paste (I used sambal oelek, but gochujang would do as well)
  • 2 cup dashi stock
  • 1/2 package bunashimeji mushrooms
  • small handful enoki mushrooms
  • 1/4 yellow onion, sliced thin
  • 3 green onions, diced
  • 1 cup seaweed shirataki

The shirataki will smell slightly bitter when you open the package.  Rinse them thoroughly until the smell disappears.  Discard water.  Add mushrooms, yellow onion, and cover with dashi stock.  Simmer until the onion is soft.

In a separate bowl, mix the miso and chili paste with a few tablespoons of lukewarm water.  Add to soup just before serving.  Garnish with green onions.

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And Now For Something Completely Different: Bedouin Spiced Coffee

All I want is to spend the rest of my days drinking this and blowing up trains.

Two years ago I went to Israel.  I have been trying desperately to get back there ever since.

This is largely because of the coffee.

On the last day of our tour we stopped for a final dinner at Abu Ghosh, a little Arab town about halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.  Unfortunately I cannot remember the name of the restaurant, but it stood out for several reasons.  The first was that I finally got yogurt sauce with my kebabs (Perhaps I shall some other time discuss the experience of inadvertently keeping kosher for several weeks).  The second came in tiny paper cups at the end of the meal, and tasted of cardamom and Paradise.

At the time I was finishing up Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and till the end of that meal I had been somewhat puzzled by Lawrence’s favorable impression of the region’s coffee.  I had had Turkish coffee before, and found it fairly deadly.  It may have been because I was a wee lass of ten years with no great fondness for coffee, or it may have been that I wasn’t expecting the grounds at the bottom, or it may have been that I’m a die-hard tea person.  This coffee overcame my prejudice in no time.

My fellow travelers were surprised when I reached my third cup.  They became alarmed when I asked to speak to whoever it was made the coffee.

Fast-forward a year: I’m at sea in the North Atlantic aboard a little square-topsail schooner, circa 1918 (It is recognized that I have a funny sense of fun).  The crew consists of fifteen damp, grouchy, woefully under-caffeinated women.  Whatever it was that Captain bought when we sent her coffee-hunting in the last port is truly dreadful.  The night watches can barely keep their eyes open.  Not even Engie will drink it, and we’re reasonably confident that Engie subsists on diesel and Monster.

I subjected Captain’s apocalypse coffee to the treatment the restaurant owner had described, and nobody fell asleep on watch for the rest of the passage.

Nobody really slept for the rest of the passage at all.

  • 2 cups cold water
  • 1 cup unflavored coffee, finely ground
  • 5 tbsp cardamom, finely ground
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Turkish-style coffeepot

If, like me, you are without a proper pot, this can be prepared adequately in a small saucepan, but you will lose the foam that forms at the top as it boils.

Grind the coffee-beans and cardamom to a powder either with a grinder or by hand in a mortar if you’re feeling particularly authentic.  Add sugar to the grounds in the pot and pour the cold water in over the other ingredients.  Cover pot.  Bring to a boil.  Immediately remove from heat and let stand for five minutes.  Slowly return to boil.  Remove from heat and let stand again.  Add cinnamon and slowly return to a boil.

A variation for Dune fans: swap the cardamom for cinnamon and the cinnamon for cloves.  I don’t think it will turn your eyes blue but it never does to assume.

Unfortunately, I have neither the knowledge or the leisure to go into Bedouin coffee etiquette, but it is fascinating and worth your research time.  For us, it will do to serve it immediately in demitasse cups if you’re a civilized person or in enormous mugs if you’re a tall ship sailor like me.

Somewhere Auda abu Tayi is crying.

Nakji Bokum, or, Old Ones in the Sink

I dismembered, cooked, and ate a baby animal today. What worthwhile thing have you done with your life?

Scaring my mother with groceries is something of a guilty pleasure of mine.  It’s one of the few avenues of resistance left to a humble citizen of the People’s Republic of Food.  I’m also a big fan of the works of H. P. Lovecraft.  So when I passed the frozen fish section this week and spotted a package of baby octopus, I couldn’t resist.

I perhaps should have mentioned that I’ve got a gold medal in leaping before looking.

A few internet searches later, I knew a few things.  One: baby octopus is better than full-grown octopus (apparently the adults are a bit stringy).  Step ahead, as usual.  Two: either way they’re tough little sods and have to be tenderized.  The best way to do this is freezing them.  Step ahead again.  I mucked about on the Googles for a bit until I found the dish I was looking for.  One of the Korean restaurants in our neighborhood serves this dish, and I altered the online recipe somewhat to match what I recalled eating there.

When I brought said little sods out of the freezer this afternoon and left them into the sink to thaw, the Gastronomic Gestapo threw a hissy fit.  What the hell were those horrible tentacle monsters in her sink, get them out of there, oh god, o god, there were horrible tentacle monsters in her sink.  “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn,” I gurgled as best I could, but I don’t think the reference went through.

I had assumed when I bought the suckers (sorry) that they came cleaned.  Oh how wrong I was.  Now, mind, I’m not squeamish in a general way.  I’ve gutted many fish, squirrels, and other sundry critters without turning a hair.  But I hate eyeballs.  Eyeballs freak me out.  Octopus eyeballs are apparently worse than other sorts of eyeballs.  I gritted my teeth and cut around them.

My father, to my surprise, begged to try it when I brought it to the table.  I guess it provided a persuasive alternative to the bean soup we seem to live on most of the time.  I’ve been expecting my mother to yell “This! Is! Sparta!” any minute for a year.  He liked it, even though he’s no great seafood eater.

Mum wouldn’t touch the stuff with the bow of a steam yacht.

Here you can actually see the octopus.

      • 1 lb baby octopus, frozen (about six of the buggers)
      • 1/2 yellow onion
      • 2 fresh green chilies
      • 1 small red bell pepper
      • 4 to 6 shiitake mushrooms
      • 1 tablespoon sesame cooking oil
      • 2 1/2 tbsp gochujang (Korean chili paste)
      • 1 tbsp soy sauce
      • 1 tsp sesame oil
      • 5 cloves fresh garlic or 2 tbsp crushed garlic from a jar
      • 1 tbsp sesame cooking oil (usually a mixture of sesame oil and some kind of vegetable oil)
      • 1 tbsp sesame seeds
      • 2 green onions

Prep Time: 30-40 minutes

Thaw the octopuses by running water gently over it and then letting it sit for a few minutes in a lukewarm bath. Cut tentacles from head.  In the center of the tentacles will be the beak.  Pop it out and take care not to cut your fingers.  Cut tentacles into two-tentacle sections. Open head and remove the insides.  Discard guts, beak and eyes. Cut head into equal sized strips (quarters or eighths).

Cut onion in half from top to bottom, then thinly slice (about 1/8 inch thick). Remove stem from chili/jalapeño peppers, cut in half from top to bottom, and slice into thin slivers. Cut bell pepper in half from top to bottom, then thinly slice into strips. Thinly slice mushroom caps.  Discard stems. Crush or mince garlic into a medium mixing bowl.  Add soy sauce, sesame oil, and gochujang.  Mix well.  Let stand at least fifteen minutes. Add octopus to sauce and let stand for fifteen to twenty minutes.

Heat a stir fry pan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium.  Quickly add sesame cooking oil, onion and peppers.  Stir fry for one minute. Add all other ingredients and stir fry for about five minutes.  Octopus sections should curl up when thoroughly cooked.  Garnish with sesame seeds and sliced green onions.  Serve with rice.

Serves 2 with rice.  Riceless, I devoured the whole shebang myself.

In his house in my stomach dead Cthulhu lies dreaming.

Miso #2: Awase and Ginger

Going to the Asian grocery is always an exercise in memory loss.  When it comes time to buy a new carton of miso, I can never recall what kind I had last.  It doesn’t help that none of the packaging is in English.  Usually, I pick something at random.  The most recent result of the soup lottery is awase miso, or mixed miso.  It’s about equal parts shiro miso and aka miso, and it combines the best qualities of both.  The one I got has barley in it as well as soy and wheat, and it’s really tasty on a cold winter day.  This particular recipe came about from an otherwise bare refrigerator.  It was unexpectedly toothsome.

  • 1.5 tbsp awase miso
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup dashi stock
  • 8 button mushrooms, sliced
  • handful julienned carrots
  • 1/2 cup purple onion, diced
  • 2 tbsp minced ginger

Cook the vegetables and the ginger in two parts chicken and one part dashi stock.  As always, if you want to add some sort of noodle, cook it separately and add when the rest of the ingredients have cooked.

In a separate bowl, mix the miso with lukewarm water.  Add to soup just before serving.

Serves 1-2.

Tamagoyaki

Tamagoyaki, or, square yellow eggy stuffI have a bad habit of hanging around the counter at sushi restaurants, creepily watching the chef work his magic.  I don’t usually say anything, but every so often I remember that it’s less creepy to hang around watching people do their jobs if you make a bit of polite conversation.  In pursuance of which, “What the heck is that square yellow stuff?”  I ask one day.  The sushi chef gives me a funny look.  “Egg.”

Egg.  Of course.  I should have guessed.

Square yellow eggy stuff, it turns out, is called tamagoyaki (fried egg) by those in the know.  In the US, it is usually seen cold as part of nigiri sushi, on top of a hunk of rice and secured with a strip of nori, but my Dex stat isn’t high enough to make nigiri, so I’m not going to talk about that.  In Japan it is often served hot, as a sort of simple omelet.  It’s great cold as a bento box staple: I’ll make a huge one on Monday when I’m working at the sailing camp in the summer and eat it all week.  Despite its somewhat daunting appearance, it is actually relatively simple to make, and exceptionally tasty.

Ingredients:

  • 4 Eggs
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp mirin
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • cooking spray

Scramble everything (well, okay, not the cooking spray) together with a fork until the colour is uniform.  Liberally coat your frying pan in cooking spray.  Traditionally a square pan is used for this, but most of us don’t have square pans, so don’t worry about it.

Send everyone else out of the kitchen.  This is impossible to do in the presence of others, particularly overly-curious housewives.  Pour a very thin layer of egg into the pan.  As soon as it begins to set, roll it up from one side with a spatula or a pair of chopsticks.  Pour in a second layer.  Roll the first layer back across the new one.  Continue this process until you’ve used up all your eggs.

Turn the blob out onto a sushi mat.  The first few times it will be a blob, but with practice you’ll be able to roll out flawless tamagoyaki in minutes.  Squish it until it’s vaguely rectangular, slice it up, and serve.  If you aren’t going to eat it right away, leave it to cool in the sushi mat before refrigerating it.

I don’t know what the traditional condiments for this are, or if there are any, but I like it with gari and ponzu sauce.

The Miso Soup Post

Miso hungry.... okay I'm done now.

Right, then.  Miso soup is made from dashi stock and miso paste.  Miso paste is made from fermented rice, barley, soy beans, and salt.  Rather like yogurt, it is apparently teeming with beneficial microbes, and in consequence is much beloved of the probiotics crowd.  You can buy it at any Asian grocery, and it comes in three varieties: white (shiro), red (aka), and mixed (awase).  I have been using white miso, which is milder than red, and also easier to get.

The lovely thing about miso soup is that you can put in it whatever you please.  The list below is what I put in my standard breakfast miso, but feel free to experiment.  The food ninjas will not come for you.  I promise.  If they do, let me know and I’ll have a word with them.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon white miso
  • 2 cups dashi stock
  • Bunapi mushrooms
  • Shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • Extra-firm tofu
  • Spring onion, sliced
  • Mung bean sprouts
  • Udon noodles, prepared according to package (Optional.  I don’t actually put these in unless I’ve made this for dinner, which has happened all of once, as my father despises miso)

Prep time: max 10 minutes

First you’re going to prepare the miso.  If you just spoon it in right out of the jar, you’ll wind up with unpleasant globs throughout your soup.  That is not what we want.  Instead, mix the miso with a couple of tablespoons of water until it’s thin and runny but still opaque.  Set this aside for now.

Cook the mushrooms and tofu in the dashi stock.  Once they’re cooked to your taste and the water is boiling, add the spring onions.  Remove the pot from the heat and add the miso.  Stir it a little bit to disperse, and then serve immediately, over your noodles if you included those.  If the soup is left to sit, the miso will cook and all of those wonderful probiotic properties will be destroyed (tragedy, no?).  More importantly, it will go grainy and taste weird.

Add the mung bean sprouts at the table.  They also get weird if left in the hot soup too long before eating.

Stop reading this.  Now.  Go make yourself some soup.

But first….

Dashi stock.  This clear broth is ubiquitous in Japanese cooking, and is my first order of recipe business.  I advise anyone who intends to be cooking a lot of this kind of thing to keep a quart or so of it around at all times.  You never know where it will turn up.

Yeah, pretty bizarre. I know.

Konbu

Ingredients:

  • A 6″ square piece of Konbu
  • A generous handful of Katsuobushi
  • 6 cups of water

Toss the konbu and the water into a pot and allow the seaweed to soak for at least 20 minutes.  It will take in water and become something now recognizable as a vegetable.  When it has thoroughly reconstituted, turn the stove on and bring everything to a boil.

Fish the konbu out of the pot and reserve it for later.  It’s good in miso soup or as part of a stir fry; once my mother bagged a piece while I wasn’t looking and just ate it on its own, which she regretted immediately.

Fish shavings. Yum.

Katsuobushi

Remove the pot from the heat and drop the handful of katsuobushi right into the pale green liquid the konbu has left behind.  There will be a strong smell of fish: don’t worry, it dissipates quickly.  Immediately strain the katsuobushi out of the broth and squeeze all of the liquid out of it.  Discard.

If you don’t want to use the fish, vegan konbu dashi is easily made simply by omitting all of the fish steps.

This keeps well in the fridge for a couple of days, although it does lose pungency over time.

Huzzah.  Now we can talk about miso.