h1

The law of least effort. (DASHI)

January 30, 2011

As in Western cooking, many Asian dishes begin with a type of flavorful stock. One of the most basic is a Japanese stock called dashi.  Like many other culinary conveniences, dashi can also be purchased in a dehydrated form, a bouillon cube, powder or concentrate, but to use it in this way is to forfeit its many health-supportive characteristics. And there is no excuse for that given the simplicity of its preparation. Homemade dashi consists of three ingredients: kombu, bonito flakes and water. That’s it! Of course there are endless things that can be added to the stock to make it more elaborate; dried mushrooms, chilies, ginger, garlic, miso and so on. But, basics first.

Kombu is a type of sea vegetable similar to kelp. It is the backbone of dashi and, like many varieties of seaweed, it is high in iodine, potassium, calcium, vitamins A and C and low in calories. Stored as a dried ingredient it has an indefinite shelf life and can be incorporated into any pot of boiling liquid to release its mineral value. It is also useful placed into a pot with cooking beans because it contains enzymes that help to break down the sugars that infamously cause gas and bloating. After it rehydrates, growing in sea monkey proportions, it can be sliced and added to your preparation. Texturally, it is not the most appealing of all sea vegetables, so if this is already more seaweed than you can handle, it can be strained out and discarded… only you will know.

Bonito, as labeled in Asian cultures, is a type of small tuna. Bonito flake is smoked and dried, then shaved into thin pieces. (Not to be confused with bonito from the Atlantic which is a relative of mackerel.) Another dry ingredient, bonito flakes also have an indefinite shelf life but during the winter when soups are king, you may find yourself purchasing bags of it at the Japanese market* more often than usual.

To make dashi, kombu is boiled in water (1-2 inches of kombu for every 2 cups of water) for 15 minutes. One-half cup of bonito flakes are added to the kombu-water mixture after it is taken off the heat. When the flakes sink to the bottom of the pot, the stock is ready to be strained and used. Vegetarian dashi simply leaves out the bonito, a minimalist creation.

Stock in every culture is just a starting point, taste-wise it is nothing much to speak of until enhanced by other ingredients. A quick and easy way to flavor the dashi is with miso, a paste made from soybeans that have been fermented with a grain, usually rice or barley. Miso can range in flavor from rich and savory (dark) to sweet and mellow (light). It lasts a year or more when stored airtight in the fridge and has immense nutritive value. By adding two tablespoons or so to your freshly made dashi, it will put to shame any powdered instant miso packet you might have had otherwise.

Miso paste should be whisked into the strained dashi just before you are serving. Boiling miso will kill its beneficial enzymes so, if reheating is necessary, do not bring to a full boil. Adding some chopped scallion, wakame (seaweed) and tofu cubes will give you the well-known Japanese restaurant starter but the addition of creative ingredients on the part of you, the chef, like noodles, meat, fish or veggies can turn this simple building block into satisfying meal.

* Japanese Markets in NYC:

Sunrise MartM2MKatagiri

Oftentimes Korean markets will carry above-mentioned items as well as Whole Foods.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: