Washoku – five colors, five tastes

“Five tastes, or go mi, describes what the Japanese call anbai, the harmonious balance of flavors – salty, sour, sweet, bitter, and spicy – that ensures that our palates are pleasantly stimulated, but not overwhelmed.” — Elizabeth Andoh, Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen

I haven’t posted a washoku meal for a while now. I began my exploration of the Japanese “harmony of food” by attending to the five colors (red, yellow, green, black, and white) on my plate. Then I turned my attention to the principle of “five ways,” which encourages the cook to incorporate several different cooking methods in preparing the meal.

Today’s lunch focused on inclusion of the five flavors. I had sweet from the corn in the polenta and the mirin-sake-tamari-shitake broth in which the carrots had been simmered. Salty came from the miso in the goma miso dressing and spicy from the red pepper-yuzu condiment sprinkled on the broccoli. I made a little salad of radish, hijiki, black sesame seeds, and rice vinegar which pulled in bitter and sour notes to complement the rest of the meal.

Five colors were also represented – red from the carrot and radish, yellow from the polenta, green from the broccoli, black from the hijiki and sesame seeds, and white from the radish – as were five cooking methods – simmered carrots, steamed broccoli, dry-roasted sesame seeds in the goma miso sauce, and the radish salad which was somewhere between pickled and raw.

I had wondered if the polenta, which is fairly neutral but still tagged as “Mediterranean” in my mind, would go well with the Japanese flavors of the carrots and broccoli. As promised by washoku, however, somehow the radish salad, with its crisp texture and bright flavors, created a kind of flavor bridge that pulled the whole meal together, and indeed I found my palate “pleasantly stimulated, but not overwhelmed.”

Goma Miso Dressing
This is one of my favorite sauces. I can rarely resist ordering goma ae (goma miso sauce over cooked spinach) at Japanese restaurants. I hadn’t realized how easy it is to make at home!
Recipe is from Elizabeth Andoh’s Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen .

1/4 cup white sesame seeds
2 T. sweet, light miso
Scant 1/4 cup dashi (I used my mirin-sake-tamari broth instead)
pinch of salt, if needed

Heat a small, heavy skillet (dry, without oil) over medium-high heat and add sesame seeds. Stir with a wooden spatula or gently swirl pan occasionally. In about a minute the seeds will begin to darken and you’ll smell them – remove from heat and continue to stir seeds in pan for another 20-30 seconds. If the seeds look in danger of scorching, put them immediately into the food processor. (The seeds may pop quite a bit – I like to cover my pan with a splatter screen while roasting the seeds.)

Process still-warm seeds in a food processor until all the seeds have been evenly crushed. Add a tablespoon of the miso and two tablespoons of the broth and pulse until combined. Taste and adjust sweetness with salt, if needed. Scrape down the sides of the food processor bowl, add the remaining miso and broth, and pulse until smooth. Makes about 1/2 cup, which was way more than enough for three large stalks of broccoli.

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Culture Club: Winter Radish and Root Kimchee

It was Farmer B’s idea to start a club for people to get together and share knowledge and skills about fermenting, pickling, canning, and preserving. Then one night when I couldn’t sleep I sat there thinking idly of potential names, getting nuttier and nuttier in my sleep-deprived brain, and ultimately decided it would be called “Culture Club” (y’know, like the bacterial and yeast cultures that ferment foods…). The basic idea is for people of varying degrees of skill and experience to get together and make stuff, share tips and ideas, and end up going home with delicious treats.

The club did our first project on Sunday, a kind of dry-run with friends before we try opening up to the community at large. FB (as club president and all around most-knowledgeable leader) chose winter-appropriate Radish and Root Kimchee from Sandor Katz’s great book about live-culture foods, Wild Fermentation. We had an amazing time, from the gorgeous abundance of the Berkeley Bowl produce section (where else can you reliably count on finding burdock root, Jerusalem artichokes, and fresh horseradish?) to the end of the long day when we revisited the wacky-name-game and brainstormed silly titles for our gorgeous jars of kimchee. (The winner: The Root of Passion, for its root veggie content, fiery color, and the fact that we made it on Valentine’s Day!)

There was a lot of chopping. We used turnips, daikon radish, carrot, red radish, burdock root, Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), and leeks as the base veggies, and blended up red onion, garlic, ginger, and horseradish for the seasoning. Farmer B had acquired particular Korean chili flakes made especially for kimchee, and we learned how to use them on the fly. We each took home a couple of jars of our spicy concoction (there are mild, medium, and hot variations), and will patiently check them each day to make sure they are still covered in brine while we wait for the miracle of fermentation to work its magic.

The whole process is very straightforward but does take a long time (about 4-5 hours for us, not including shopping), which is why it’s great to do with friends! Especially when one of them baked gluten-free chocolate ginger torte and another one brought Cranium Hoopla and you can sit around stuffing your face and playing games while you wait for the veggies to brine.

Kimchee would be a great thing to do with any CSA veggies that are fermentable. (I don’t know enough about fermentation to know if some are and some aren’t, or if anything goes.) I definitely started fantasizing about kimchee green beans while we were making this batch, and of course I love the traditional napa cabbage version as well.

Some fermentation tips Farmer B shared with us beginners:

  • Never use chlorinated water, as it kills off the cultures necessary for fermentation. You can use distilled water or purified water or boil the water and cool it to room temperature or just leave the desired amount of water sitting in the open air for 24 hours. (Britta-style filters only remove the taste of chlorine, not the chemical itself.)
  • Never use iodized salt, for the same reason. Non-iodized sea salt is good to use.
  • Things to use as weights: best are glass bottles (in a smaller jar) filled with water or plates (in a big crock) weighted down with a heavy jar or can. You want your weight to be as wide as possible, it should be almost the size of the mouth of your container. Some people use ziploc bags filled with brine (you want brine, not water, in case it leaks), but FB and I feel sketchy about leaching plastic into our food.
  • Make sure to check your batch daily as it sits, as the brine can sometimes evaporate unexpectedly. Any of your mixture above the brine level is in danger of molding, rather than fermenting. If this happens, you can just scoop off the moldy part and toss it, but the stuff still below the brine level will not be contaminated. To add more brine, mix up very salty water – saltier than you would feel comfortable drinking, is a good rule of thumb – and add it to your jar until the brine covers the top of your veggies again.

Radish and Roots Kimchee
This recipe is from the amazing live-culture foods book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. And of course, though kimchee is traditionally made with fish sauce, this recipe is completely vegan (and naturally gluten-free).

INGREDIENTS (makes ~ 2 quarts – what you see in the photos above is many times the recipe)

2 clean, dry quart jars, or 1 gallon jar
sea salt
1-2 daikon radishes
1 small burdock root
1-2 turnips
a few Jerusalem artichokes
2 carrots
a few small red radishes
1 small fresh horseradish root (or a tablespoon of prepared horseradish, without preservatives)
3 tablespoons (or more!) fresh grated gingerroot
3-4 cloves garlic (or more!)
1-2 onions/leeks/shallots/scallions
3-4 hot red chilies (or more!), depending on how peppery-hot you like food, or any form of hot pepper, fresh, dried, or in a sauce (without chemical preservatives!). We used hot chili flakes from the Korean market in the Richmond, with a picture of a kimchee napa cabbage on the label. If you are using these flakes, start by mixing about 1/4 cup with warm water to make a paste, and then add to taste. Kimchee can take a LOT of heat before it gets too spicy, so don’t be shy!

Before you begin: I recommend reading the “tips” section above if this is your first time fermenting!

1. Mix a brine of about 4 cups water and 3 tablespoons salt.

2. Slice daikons, burdock, turnip, Jerusalem artichokes, and carrots, and let them soak in the brine. If the roots are fresh and organic, leave the nutritious skins on. Slice the roots thin so the flavors will penetrate. I like to slice roots on a diagonal; you could also cut them into matchsticks. Leave the small red radishes whole, even with their greens attached, and soak them, too. Use a plate or other weight to keep the vegetables submerged until soft, a few hours or overnight.

3. Prepare the spices: If you are using chili flakes, mix with warm water sufficient to form a paste and set aside. Then grate the ginger; chop the garlic and onion; if you are using whole chilis, remove seeds from the chilies and chop or crush, or throw them in whole. Kimchi can absorb a lot of spice. Experiment with quantities and don’t worry too much about them. Mix spices into a paste, adding grated horseradish. (We prepped everything in a food processor, and if you are using chili paste, you actually will want to apply it separately from the other ginger/onion/etc paste.)

4. Drain brine off vegetables, reserving brine. Taste vegetables for saltiness. You want them to taste decidedly salty, but not unpleasantly so. If they are too salty, rinse them. If you cannot taste salt, sprinkle with a couple of teaspoons of salt and mix.

5. (It’s best to mix and stuff jars with your hands here, but if you are using chili paste you probably want to wear gloves.) Mix the vegetables with the chili paste first, if you are using chili paste, until you reach your desired level of heat. Then mix in spice paste. Mix everything together thoroughly and stuff it into a clean quart jar. Pack it tightly into the jar, pressing down until brine rises. If necessary, add a little of the reserved vegetable-soaking brine to submerge the vegetables. Weight the vegetables down with a smaller jar, or with a zip-lock bag filled with some brine. Every day, use your (clean!) finger to push the vegetables back under the brine. Cover the jar with a clean dishtowel or other cloth to keep out dust and flies.

6. Ferment in your kitchen or other warm place. Taste the kimchi every day. After about a week of fermentation, when it tastes ripe, move it to the refrigerator.

Eating with the season on a vegan, gluten-free Menu Plan Monday

I’ve just arrived home from a fascinating four days at the Hazon Food Conference in Pacific Grove. The conference explored all kinds of interesting intersections, between environmentalism and food systems, Judaism and food ethics, social justice and foodie culture, personal financial investment and sustainable agriculture, and many more. I learned so much, both from the sessions and panels I attended as well as all the informal conversations I had with fellow conference-goers. You can read more about my time there here and here. I feel deep gratitude to the Joyce and Irving Goldman Family Foundation for sponsoring around 40 young adults, including me, providing full scholarships for all of us to the conference.

The Local Foods Wheel

On Sunday, right before we left for home, the conference had a big marketplace where folks could give out info and sell books they’d written or published, foods they’d made, and so on. At one of the tables I came across one of my favorite things ever, the San Francisco Bay Area Local Foods Wheel, being sold by one of the wheel’s creators. I first encountered the wheel, which is a stunning combination of gorgeous artwork and design with intriguing, well-presented information, on a refrigerator in the Spirit Rock kitchen when I was working back there during a retreat. (You’re not supposed to read anything on retreat, but who could resist those tiny, perfect line drawings with their little cursive labels?) Now it’s the most popular item on our refrigerator; every guest and visitor is magnetically drawn to it and we usually have to pull them away – they just want to stand there spinning it and spinning it and looking at every picture! The wheel shows on its top layer all the foods that are in season year-round in the Bay Area (and we’re lucky – there are so many of them!). Then you spin the top layer around to match up with the current time of year, and the bottom layer reveals the foods in season at this time.

Our CSA keeps us local and seasonal at every meal, but we’re not getting a box this week, so I turned to the wheel to help me plan this week’s menu. (My other goal for the week: use up all the lettuces from our box we’ve been keeping on life support for the past couple of weeks!)

For an assemblage of great, gluten-free menu plans, check out this week’s Gluten-Free Menu Swap over at The GF CF Cookbook. (The theme for this week’s swap is leftover ham, which, as a vegetarian, I can’t contribute to at all. I do have smoky beans and tempeh bacon this week, though, which are kind of the same flavor profile.) And, as always, for a huge round-up of menu plans from all over the web – and the world – check out the giant MPM compendium over at orgjunkie.

What’s in season:

Monday: Winter greens
Wine braised lentils over toast with Tuscan kale and pearl onions (Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Suppers)
Red leaf salad

Wine braised lentils over gluten-free quinoa toast with Tuscan kale and pearl onions

Tuesday: Butternut squash
Vegan “mac and cheese” made with butternut squash “cheese” and Tinkyada brown rice spirals
Romaine lettuce salad with balsamic vinaigrette

Wednesday: Brussel sprouts and wild mushrooms
Brussels sprouts and mushroom ragout with herbed vegan, GF dumplings (Vegetarian Suppers)
Mixed lettuces salad

Brussels sprouts ragout with wild mushrooms and herbed gluten-free dumplings

Thursday: From Duck’s mom’s garden!
Simple oven-roasted butternut squash
Arugula salad with sauteed red onions and toasted walnuts
Tangy red lentils
Quinoa with coconut oil

Friday: Savoy cabbage
Savoy cabbage gratin with tempeh bacon
Baked sweet potato
Homemade smoky pinto beans

Savoy cabbage gratin with tempeh bacon

Saturday: Parsnips, winter radishes, rutabegas
Roasted root vegetables with home-grown rosemary
Chard and walnut yum
Impressionist cauliflower

Sunday: Meyer lemons
Roasted broccoli with meyer lemon zest and pine nuts
“Sloppy” sushi with balsamic-glazed portobello mushrooms

Seasonal extras: Turnips and pomelos
Middle Eastern-style turnip pickles

A fresh batch of turnip pickles (with beet for color)

Candied pomelo peel

Candied Pomelo Rinds Dipped in Bittersweet Chocolate

Sweet potato and kale

When I think of sweet potato and kale soup, I think of winter, no question. It sounds like a healthy but still sturdy and comforting dish to make when the temperatures drop and just going outside seems to take more energy than usual. But one of the nice things about my box is that it keeps me truly seasonal. And this doesn’t just mean swearing off tomatoes for eight months of the year. It also means discovering that sweet potatoes and kale can be spring/summer seasonal vegetables. How do I know this? Well, there’s no hothouse at Eatwell, and it’s currently June, and there are the tenderest, most adorable sweet potatoes and a beautiful bunch of kale in my box.

Considering that I’m in San Francisco, summer is sadly often the time when you need a hearty, warming meal. Haven’t you heard the quote, widely attributed to Mark Twain? “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”

Sweet Potato and Kale Soup with Fennel Seed and Ginger

In addition to the sweet potatoes and kale, my box this week also included a newsletter featuring a recipe for sweet potato and kale soup. Duck and I decided this wasn’t the best use of our gorgeous bunch of purple-tinged kale (we love it so much plain – no, we crave it plain – that the box can’t even keep up with our appetite for plain kale, much less have anything leftover to be sticking in soups) but then Duck went out of town before we could eat the kale and I just couldn’t stop thinking about this soup.

I decided to make a batch of it, and I am really, really glad I did. The recipe brings out perfectly the sweetness of both the kale and the sweet potatoes, and the fennel seed manages to be interesting without being overpowering. I slightly tweaked the original recipe, which seems to be a home-invented one from another Eatweller. I changed the proportions and only blended part of the soup, so the texture I ended up with may be rather different from the original intent, but I thought it was perfect. I also worked a little FASS magic and added a touch of lemon juice – the dish is already perfect on the sweet and salty, and the cheese or yogurt or cream at the end takes care of fat, but it needed just a hint of acid for my tastes.

The recipe follows… Continue reading

Spring! Spring! Spring!

Part of why I have struggled so much with a constant excess of lettuce since I started getting my box is that, well, I just don’t like lettuce that much. I’m still not very good at making salad dressing (it’s always too oily or too vinegary or too flowery or too something), and, without some kind of interesting accessories, plain lettuce just doesn’t get me all that excited. But there haven’t been very many things in my box this winter that lend themselves to salad fixin’ – radishes occasionally, and carrots, of course, and apples and oranges if I want to get creative, but that’s been about it, besides the lettuce that arrives relentlessly each week, whether I have something to toss it with or not.

Which is why I am just so indescribably excited about spring. Spring means asparagus and sugar snap peas and fennel, just to name a few things with the power to turn a bowl of lettuce into a tasty meal. So many colors and textures and so much sweetness and crunch. Today’s salad looked like an Easter basket with asparagus, sugar snap peas, red cabbage, carrots, purple spring onions, and radishes marinated in rice vinegar, sesame oil, and black sesame seeds, with a light, sweet, rice vinegar and sesame oil dressing. I think that weekly bag of lettuce just got a whole lot more exciting…

Scrap Stock

Some kind of revolution took place before I was born, or at least before the chef side of me was born into consciousness. By the time I made my first forays into vegetarian cooking, there was a kind of stock backlash happening in the pages of all the cookbooks I read. According to all these veg-empowerment cookbooks, people used to make their stock from scraps and trimmings, but now, especially for a vegetarian cook without simmering bones and flavorful marrow to add to the pot, this was highly discouraged. We are worth it!, these books proclaimed. Worth a delicious, savory stock made from whole vegetables and bundles of aromatic herbs. I made vegetable stock from one of these recipes once. I almost cried to see pounds and pounds of beautiful vegetables reduced to a heap of mush and a pot of broth.

All the scraps, ready to go into the stock

And so the scrap stock experiment was born. For a bit more than a week I saved all the trimmings from every vegetable I ate. Brown or yellow bits went straight into the compost, but everything else was washed and put into a tightly sealed plastic tub in the fridge. At the end of the week, I made an experimental stock. I had no idea how it might turn out. Really bitter, I suspected, because the majority of the heap consisted of the green, almost leathery tops of leeks, green garlic, and spring onions. But I figured, what do I have to lose? All I’m really wasting is the water I’m adding – everything else was compost-bound. At the last minute I almost chickened out and added a whole onion, a whole carrot, just a few things to boost the flavor, but I decided to really go for it this first time and just see what happened.

Here’s what ended up going into my scrap stock pot:

Leek greens and ends
Green garlic greens and ends
Spring onion greens and ends
Swiss chard stalks
Onion ends and peels from red and white onions
Red cabbage leaves from the outside of the cabbage
Spinach crowns
Garlic ends and peels
Thyme stalks
Carrot leaves and trimmings
Cauliflower leaves
Kale stalks
Radish trimmings
Sugar snap pea tops and strings

All the scraps in a pot, turning into stock

I cut everything into pieces and then first sauteed the allium trimmings (leeks, garlic, onions) for a bit in 2 teaspoons olive oil, then threw everything into the pot and stirred it over pretty high heat for about ten minutes. Then I added 3 quarts of water, 2 1/2 teaspoons of salt, 3 bay leaves and a few peppercorns, brought it to a boil, turned it down to a simmer, and simmered it, uncovered, for about half an hour. I let it settle for a few minutes and then strained it right way (I’ve heard stock can get bitter if you let the bits sit in the broth too long after cooking). And I have to say, it is quite, quite tasty. Certainly head and shoulders above the bitter brews that pass for vegetable broth in those vacuum-boxes. I can’t wait to freeze it and have it on hand the next time I need veggie broth for something. Best of all I am so tickled to have created something really valuable from something I’ve been throwing away. There may have been a broth revolution, but I guess I’m just an old-fashioned girl.

The stock, rich and flavorful, made totally from scraps!

Spinach, Radish, Mandarin

Spinach and Pumpkin Seed Pesto Omelette with Radish Salad and Mandarin Orange

What a breakfast!

Today I sauteed the entire bag of “crocodile” spinach with some garlic and olive oil. Then I tucked that inside an omelette (made from my CSA eggs, of course) with some leftover pumpkin-seed pesto. It was completely luxurious – my omelette browned and fluffy and full of iron and other good-for-me stuff.

And check out that radish salad! How gorgeous is that? I made it from a recipe that came in the CSA newsletter. I think the black sesame seeds (which I subbed for regular sesame seeds) are an especially nice touch with the red and white of the radishes. And there was this one radish that was white on the outside with red stripes inside. Food this lovely is why I subscribed to a CSA.

The recipe for the radishes was basically a few tablespoons of rice vinegar, some sugar, some salt, and some black sesame seeds, poured over two bunches of thinly sliced radishes which were marinated overnight. Then the liquid was drained off (I saved mine for future salad dressing) and a tablespoon of sesame oil was added. Toss, chill, serve. The radishes are not bitter at all – they are quite tender and sweet from their time stewing in the vinegar. A perfect, if unusual, breakfast side.