Thursday, May 20, 2010

Vegetarian Dashi for Miso Soup

(kombu and arame seaweed)

Japanese cuisine exudes flavor, texture, and beauty...which is probably why I've never felt adequately versed to do much of it in my own kitchen. However, newly inspired by a recent lunch at a Japanese restaurant, I decided that miso soup might be a fairly un-intimidating place to begin.

Several years ago, I worked in a vegetarian restaurant where we served miso soup. At this restaurant, the method was as follows: the cook would pour boiled water into a large pot, toss in tofu cubes, sliced green onion, and some wakame seaweed. She would keep the water warm over a bain-marie, and just before service began, drop in a huge ladle of red miso. Apparently, it is essential not to cook the miso; this will not only spoil the flavor, but also alter the healthy properties.

That soup always lacked flavor in my opinion. I often ate it on my lunch break, but would usually add soy sauce and vinegar to give it a boost. That particular way of making miso soup was missing an essential element: a stock base.

With a bit of reading online, I learned that the traditional way to prepare miso is by adding it to a dashi stock. I’m sure most people already know this, but from what I read, there are a few variations of dashi that form the foundation for many Japanese dishes.

I read that the type of dashi commonly used for miso is made from kombu seaweed and bonito flakes (dried tuna). I was glad to find that out. If you want to keep vegan/vegetarian in a Japanese restaurant, it’s probably a good idea to ask whether they use any fish ingredients in their dashi broth.

For obvious reasons, I wasn’t interested in preparing a traditional-style dashi with bonito. Instead, I found this recipe, which suggests a vegetarian workaround for dashi stock by substituting either bean sprouts or mushrooms for the bonito. I went with the bean sprouts in this case; I thought it was an interesting idea and was curious to find out what sort of flavor the sprouts would impart…

...the dashi turned out very mild.

And as for the soup?...

I didn't have to add any soy sauce or vinegar to give it flavor; it was fairly tasty.  But all said, I think I have a ways to go before I achieve that perfect bowl of miso soup that is subtley rich and beautifully balanced in flavor. In future, I think I'll be trying out some different brands of miso paste--as I'm sure they are not all created equal--and I'll work on producing a more flavorful dashi base.

Here's what I made:

6 cups vegetarian dashi (kombu  and bean sprouts)
6 tablespoons miso (mixture of red and white)
firm tofu cut into small cubes and green onion finely chopped for garnish
1 cup arame seaweed (wakame is traditional, but I had arame in the cupboard)

Roseann LaPonte
Rosanne Tobin

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Fava Tips

My first taste of fava leaves, or tips as they are also called, was about five years ago, when a woman I worked with at the time shared some from her garden. Through the generosity of one or two other kind gardeners, I have munched on them once or twice since then, but haven't had the opportunity to eat any from my own garden until now. I'm growing favas for the first time this year, and although my primary goal is a bean harvest, I wanted to sample some leaves in the meantime. If you've never had fava tips before, they are similar to pea shoots: tender with a fresh leguminous taste.
The plants are just beginning to set their flowers, so in the interest of not disturbing them too much, I only harvested a few leaves. They made perfectly bite-sized rolls for snacking, filled with nut cheese and various other little treats such as cherry tomatoes, kalamatas, and shallot scapes. The rolls with olive and scapes were especially tasty.

If you have access to fava leaves, don't let this seasonal treat pass you by. The leaves are perfect for salads;  eat them raw to best capture the fresh flavor. I've also seen recipes for them in pesto, wilted salads, or stir much the same way you might use spinach greens or pea shoots.

The nut cheese filling is adapted from a recipe for lemon-pignoli "ricotta", which I use all the time. It is perfect for lasagne or any time you want a ricotta-like filling.

Walnut-pignoli filling (~ 1/2 cup):

1/2 cup raw walnuts
1/2 cup raw pine nuts
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Soak the walnuts and pine nuts in water for an hour (or more if you want), strain off the water and blend with the rest of ingredients. You may want to add a little water to adjust the consistency.

All in all, favas seem to be a pretty easy-going plant. In my garden, they are in part shade, and even so,  have been growing at a rate of at least 2-3 inches a week. The soil is not particularly rich either; the bed they're in is native soil, which tends to be clay, acidic, and not terribly nutritious. Amending with compost and growing the odd cover crop, I've been able to improve the soil quality of this bed somewhat: it started out as predominantly clay, but now is more of a clay-loam.

All going well, I'm expecting a bean harvest in mid- to late-June. After, (hopefully) harvesting the beans, I'll cut down the stalks and turn them into the soil as green manure.

FAVA UPDATE: Some of the first flowers opened this afternoon. They look like bumble bees:

 fava blossoms

Roseann LaPonte
Rosanne Tobin

Friday, May 14, 2010

Strawberry, Rhubarb & Frozen Banana Dessert + Dinners in Review

I've been waiting patiently for local organic rhubarb to come onto the scene here, and this past week, I finally got my wish. (The strawberries are still from California, but it shouldn't be too much longer!) I tossed ideas around for a couple days about what to do with the rhubarb...I was tempted to do something savory, but ended up with the simple combo of  rhubarb compote, frozen bananas, and fresh strawberries.

Photo-wise, I was disappointed in that the rhubarb did not appear prominent, but there are much bigger problems in the world than that! Originally, I meant to fold the rhubarb into the frozen banana, but I forgot, so I placed it underneath instead.

I stewed the rhubarb with a small amount of water and agave to taste...roughly 2 tablespoons agave to 6 stalks of came out fairly tart. Separately,  I blended 4 large frozen bananas, 3 pitted dates, and  ~ 1/2 cup oat milk in my food processor until it was smooth ( I think you can see where I dipped my finger in for a taste :) :


Then spooned the frozen mixture into open-ended molds and popped them  into the freezer to set up:

I let it set for only 20 minutes or so; I didn't want it to freeze through and start to turn icy. Incidentally, this probably wasn't the best way to mold up frozen things because de-molding is a little tricky...I think there exist plastic molds designed for frozen desserts that you simply pull away from the frozen stuff once it's set. In this case, I  got the molds off by wrapping a hot cloth around each mold for about 30 - 40 seconds and they slid right off without hassle.

I sat the frozen banana on a bed of rhubarb compote and then came the fun part of decorating it.  The result was fresh-tasting, not too sweet, and full of fruity and rhubarby flavor and textures.

I'm not exactly prolific when it comes to blogging--I'm a sporadic blogger at best,  but this week I did manage to snap some pics of our dinners, and here's a little review.

Monday: BBQ tofu with baked yam, baked potato, and red chard. It was a feast!

Tuesday: Vegetable soup... I used veggies that I have around most of the time: green cabbage, potato, carrot, celery, parsley, leek, garlic, and some garbanzo and kidney beans.

Wednesday: Pasta! This is one of my favorite quick meals: Saute cherry tomatoes with  slivered garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes until the tomatoes start to "pop" from the heat, then deglaze the pan with plenty of white wine, add some reserved pasta water and salt and pepper to taste, toss with spinach pasta and top with fresh parsley. Simple and flavorful.

Pho Thursday: Vegan Phở. I've never had the traditional kind, but when I saw  Naomi Rose of  The Gluttonous Vegan Loves You post this recipe, I was literally salivating, so I had to try it. I followed the recipe to the 't', except that I added the miso at the end of cooking, and I didn't have any cinnamon stick on hand so subbed some red chilis and ginger instead for the spice sachet:

And GV is right, the house does smell heavenly while this is simmering. My pic doesn't do it justice...definitely check out the original...this was aromatic, noodley, very satisfying to taste and fun to make....easily this week's favorite meal in our house. Thanks Naomi Rose!

I'll sign off with some of my happy little viola and pansy friends...they always make me feel brighter when I look at them:

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Garden Salad and Tomato Galettes

I devised this salad while working in the garden.  I don't know whether it seems like an odd combination or not, but it's pretty. And, while my significant other is not really in to eating flowers---he makes faces like he's just bit into a thistle--I don't mind at all. So, after the carrot-orange soup last night, this is what we ate. The greens are some second-growth baby kale  that I wanted to use up so I can re-purpose the pot. It was still quite tender and mild.

The chives and dandelions were within easy reach, dandelions abound in my garden :). The strawberries weren't from the garden though...they came from California. For the dressing, I used Meatless Mama's  orange/raspberry dressing recipe that she posted with a dandelion salad earlier this week. The dressing was a perfect compliment to this foraged affair...Thanks Janet!

A recent find in my freezer was some puff pastry from times gone by...can't remember when I used it last, but it must have been in there a while. The galettes were a simple effort to use this pastry up. I topped them with some fresh rosemary, oregano, and thyme. All in all, it was a delightful meal if I do say so myself.  The husband was left a bit peckish though, so after all that, he tucked into some leftover lentil pie, while I moved on to dessert. I picked up a Maui Gold pineapple this week. I could happily live on it; it is so delectably sweet and juicy.

Wait a minute, that's not all, we also had some of this Theo dark chocolate:


AdHoc Note:
To anyone who may be wondering...unless you buy puff pastry from a bakery or some really upscale posh stuff, store-bought  frozen puff pastry is generally vegan. Obviously, it's not exactly health food....but traditional puff pastry made with butter is not either. The puff pastry I buy is from the Aussie Bakery, a locally run business round these parts, and the pastry is vegan. Ciao :)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Orange, Carrot & Yam Soup w/ Tarragon and Brandy

Here's another bowl of orange food, and it is indeed very orange. It's based on a soup that my mom mentioned to me last week and had really enjoyed. Her version did not have the yam, but other than that, I used the same ingredients she described.

This  may be a "90's-esque" soup--not sure why, but I remember the carrot/orange combo popping up on menus all over the place in the 90's...anyone else have that same memory? Anyway, 90's or not,  it's very tasty—sweet, savory, and slightly acidic all at once.

Serves 4

1 large yam
6 large carrots
1 large onion (~ 1 generous cup finely chopped)
6 cups water/veggie broth (I used 2 cups veggie broth and 4 cups water)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon brandy (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
plenty of fresh tarragon
dollop of soy yogurt for garnish

Chop the carrot, onion, and sweet potato and saute with a pinch of chili flakes in a little oil or water until the onion becomes translucent. Add the water/broth, bring to a boil and cook until carrots and potato are tender. Transfer to blender and blend until smooth. Return to pot, add salt and pepper to taste.

Just before serving, stir in the fresh orange juice and brandy (if using). Top with plenty of fresh tarragon and some soy yogurt.

The result is a delicious meal that comes together quickly with simple ingredients. The brandy is not essential...I am not sure whether I can taste it in there at all. I imagine this would be nice with cinnamon too.

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