Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Warm glass noodles with edamame

Life events have overtaken me lately and I've not been very inspired in the kitchen. In fact, I even lost my sense of taste for a while. Bad times, indeed. But like the gambling addict who always thinks his next big win is "just round the corner," I am determined to stay in the game!

Luckily for me, this Ottolenghi recipe from the Guardian caught my eye and I think I may have turned that corner at last.

Edamame, you say; from a Middle Eastern food specialist?! Well why not? The recipe is touted as Japanese-inspired on the Guardian site, but in reality, edamame, or young green soy beans, is the only Japanese influence. What really makes it is the blend of lip-smacking Southeast Asian flavours--galangal/ginger, tamarind and garlic--in the sauce. (You'll see from the photo above that I omitted the red chilli, but only out of respect for the Young Man's palate.)

This is a breeze to make, or rather it would be if you don't have to pod your edamame before you start. Here in Japan, edamame are a summertime treat served chilled in their pods after a light boiling and salting. Perfect with the big jugs of beer that are so popular here in the dog days of summer. Those days being far from nigh, I contented myself with frozen edamame, still in the pods. You'll want to defrost them in water before even attempting to extract the tasty green beans inside, so make sure to get them out of the freezer in good time (I'd pop them in the fridge in the morning before going to work next time). Having a YM in the house usually expedites such mundane but essential processes as podding, but in this case my YM was otherwise engaged with his studies.

I took Yotam Ottolenghi's advice about boosting this with some yaki dofu, or extra-firm tofu that's been grilled, giving it a lovely colour. This kind of tofu, if well drained (by placing a plate or other weight on top of it for about 10 minutes), stands up really well to stir-frying. You'll need to break it up a bit before you put it in the pan. I found that I didn't have enough sauce to really flavour the tofu (which really sucks up the flavours), and added some Thai fish sauce to compensate. Even making it more substantial with the tofu, you'll probably want another side dish or two to make this a meal.

Ottolenghi's warm glass noodles with edamame
Serves four

250g glass or cellophane noodles
1 pack firm tofu such as yaki dofu
2 tbsp sunflower oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
300g (net weight) cooked edamame beans, podded
3 spring onions, including the green parts, thinly sliced
1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped
3 tbsp coriander [cilantro] leaves, chopped, plus a few whole leaves for garnish
3 tbsp mint leaves, shredded
3 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted

For the sauce
2 tbsp grated galangal (or ginger)
4 limes, juiced
3 tbsp groundnut oil
2 tbsp palm sugar
2 tsp tamarind paste
1 tsp Tamari soy sauce
1 tsp fine sea salt

1 Soak the noodles in a bowl of hot water until soft - about five minutes. Be careful not to leave them in the water for too long because they can go soggy. Strain and leave to dry.

2 In a small bowl, whisk together all the sauce ingredients and set aside.

3 Heat the oil in a large frying pan or a wok and add the garlic (and drained tofu, if using). As it starts to turn golden, remove the pan from the heat and add the sauce and noodles. Gently mix together, add most of the edamame, the onions, chilli and fresh herbs. Stir while you return the pan to the heat for a few seconds, just to heat through, taste and add salt if you like.

4 Pile up the noodles on a large platter or in a shallow bowl, scatter over the reserved edamame and the sesame seeds, and garnish with the whole coriander leaves. You can also serve the dish at room temperature, in which case adjust the seasoning just before you do so.


Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Yogurtlu makarna: Turkish pasta with meat & yogurt-mint sauce

This pasta dish, according to Classical Turkish Cooking author Algar hanim, is a kind of cheats manti, or Turkish ravioli. It is absolutely delectable and super easy. If you are the type that tends to have mint around or even growing in the garden, you'll probably have everything to make this on a total whim. I know I did.

Unlike the Western way with spaghetti bolognese, meat is more of a condiment in this sauce. The real flavour, and it is bold and strident, is in the mint and the garlic. In fact, I would even go so far as to suggest that the recipe name be changed to pasta with meat & yogurt-garlic-mint sauce! If you have any objections at all to raw garlic in food, this may not be the recipe for you. Everyone else gather round, because this is a real treat.

Before you start, get your yogurt out of the fridge as it needs to be at room temperature. Mine wasn't, and didn't get close to it before the pasta was ready, so I actually tossed the pasta-meat mixture with the yogurt sauce in the pan and heated it, very gently, through.

I also bypassed the paprika-butter flourish (so-called by the doyenne of North African and Mediterranean cooking, Paula Wolfert), mainly due to the cost of butter in Japan these days. But I know from my time in Turkey (where I saw butter in logs that must have easily weighed 2 kg!), that toppings like this add a real richness and flavour to a dish. Given the small amount of meat in the dish, I'd say that if butter is not a luxury item in your neighbourhood then you should definitely go for it!

Yogurtlu makarna: Turkish pasta with meat & yogurt-mint sauce

Serves 4

Meat sauce
3 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup chopped onions
250 g minced meat
1-2 chillies, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
2 sprigs thyme
Handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Yogurt-mint sauce
3 cups yogurt, at room temperature
2-3 tsp crushed garlic
2 tsp fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

450 g penne or rigatoni (S: I used fusili)

Butter paprika topping
5 tbsp butter
3/4 tsp Hungarian paprika
Pinch of cayenne

Fresh mint leaves for garnish

1 To make the sauce, cook the onions in olive oil until soft. Add meat, chillies (if using), thyme, and parsley and brown the meat. Stir in a few tablespoons of water, season with salt and pepper, cover, and simmer 10 minutes, adding more water, if necessary.

2 To make the yogurt-mint sauce, put all ingredients in a bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is very creamy. Set aside on a warm spot on the stove.

3 Cook and strain the pasta, and reheat the meat sauce. Toss the pasta with the hot meat sauce and place in a serving bowl. Pour the yogurt-mint sauce over it.

4 For the topping, heat the butter until frothy, add the paprika and cayenne, wait one second, and drizzle it over the yogurt-mint sauce. Sprinkle the top with mint leaves cut into ribbons and serve hot.


Cooking class 8: Buri-daikon, daikon salad, osuimono

I learned a great favourite of Japanese winter cuisine at my last cooking class: buri-daikon, or yellowtail simmered with long Japanese radish. Buri is my go-to fish in the winter. It's flesh is always juicy and the dark part a real delicacy. Plus it's one of the few fishes that the Young Man will deign to eat (g).

We had it with a mild clear Japanese broth (osuimono), which was a little on the bland side for me. The gu, or filling ingredients in osuimono can be virtually anything, but the broth is probably always based on ichibandashi, a stock made from kombu (dried kelp) and katsuobushi (bonito shavings). The redeeming feature of the one we made was a special egg concoction called shimetamago, or "squeezed" egg. This was made by pouring a prepared egg mixture through a slotted spoon so that it falls into a pan of hot water in ribbons, then gathering up the cooked eggy threads in a cotton cloth and rolling it in a sushi mat to produce a light, fluffy egg cylinder. It's a little bit of a performance, but a handy technique to know for when we find a killer suimono recipe (g).

With the theme of daikon, those long white radishes that you might have seen in Asian (i.e. Far Eastern) shops, we naturally had another rendition of daikon salad. I really liked the dressing for this one, which also features pulped daikon. Dikon overkill? Not really. Oxidization works on the pulped (actually grated so finely it becomes a slush) daikon, making it hotter so it's quite a different taste from the crunchy straws in the salad itself.

In the NHK science and food program Tameshite gatten, they found that pulped daikon stays sweet for the first 3 minutes, and then grows hotter, peaking at 6 minutes, after which the heat goes down slowly. So there you go. You can decide how hot you want your dressing and time the pulping accordingly. If you don't have an oroshigane, a metal or ceramic dish with raised "bubbles" that turn daikon, ginger, apple and other such things into pulp, I'm guessing a quick whizz in a small food processor would also do the trick.

And speaking of tricks, this was a clever way of using up the dried bonito flakes used in the dashi for the broth. Stir-fry them with some mild shishito Japanese chillies! There are no fans of shishito at our house, but I imagine you could substitute any other soft veggie with good results.