Posts Tagged ‘Japanese’

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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.

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It s’easy. (HIJIKI AVOCADO SALAD)

July 20, 2009

hijiki_salad
We have lots of enthusiasm for seaweed when wolfing down sushi rolls or slurping miso soup but most people don’t give it much thought outside of a Japanese food context. Too bad! Since it is such an easy product to incorporate into a meal, packed with major health benefits, and there are both overt and covert ways of working with it for those who lack said enthusiasm. Sea vegetables are known to stabilize blood sugar, alkalize the blood and help your body to eliminate heavy metals: led, mercury and aluminum which are toxins from the environment, otherwise tough to get rid of. They also cleanse the lymphatic system which is responsible for the health of all the other systems. Uh-oh, I feel a ‘superfood’ rant coming on… luckily superfoods are one of my favorite things to rant about, especially when this easy aaaaand good for you to eat. Need I say delicious too?

Harvested in many parts of the world, so long as the waters are clean, sea vegetables are an age-old food not only in Asian traditions but in most sea-accessible parts of the world like Scandinavia, the UK, coasts of Australia, New Zealand and South America. In the US, seaweed is hand gathered from the cold, dark waters off the northern east and west coasts. Canada too. Unless you are at one of these sources, you will be very likely to purchase edible seaweed in dried form. It is widely available in health food stores, Asian markets and those really expensive bodegas-turned-gourmet shops in certain parts of Brooklyn… however convenient. Since it is dried, the shelf life is indefinite, which is great because you can keep a package of seaweed as a pantry item and use it when you wish. Varieties such as wakame, kombu, hijiki and arame need only to be rinsed and rehydrated in hot water and they grow like sea monkeys, up to three times the original volume (vegetarian sea monkeys). Others are eaten without rehydration and remain sort of crunchy like nori and dulse.

To subtly incorporate seaweed in a meal, start by adding a two inch piece of kombu to a pot of cooking water for beans, pasta, rice or grains. The nutrients in the seaweed which include vitamins A, B, C, E, and minerals like potassium, protein, fiber and calcium will fortify the water and the good water will be absorbed by the food in the pot. At the end, you can chop and eat the kombu or simply consider your duty done and remove it from the pot and toss it. Carrageen and agar are both sea products that are used as gelatin would be in helping both sweet and savory dishes to thicken and set. Great for panna cotta, puddings, glazes and the like, no one the wiser.

There are better tasting and textured seaweeds for eating straight, try a small handful of wakame or arame in a soup. Thinly sliced nori makes a lovely garnish on salads or soups as well. If you want a large helping, follow the recipe below for a briny hijiki salad coupled with smooth, silky avocado. The key is to marinate overnight in a great vinaigrette with a few crunchy carrots to round it out and sweeten the deal.

HIJIKI AVOCADO SALAD

1/2 cup dried hijiki seaweed
boiling water

1 tablespoon shallot, finely chopped
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon or lime
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
salt and pepper

2 carrots, medium dice
2 avocados

  • Place hijiki in a bowl and pour boiling water over it to generously cover. Let stand 20-30 minutes or until tender. Drain thoroughly.
  • Meanwhile, place dressing ingredients: shallot, vinegar, oil, lemon juice, sugar, mustard, salt and pepper in a lidded jar or container and shake until well combined. Taste for seasoning, adjust.
  • Add chopped carrots to drained seaweed and pour on the vinaigrette. Place in the fridge covered for at least one hour, preferably overnight.
  • When ready to eat, half the avocados (remove seed) and slice the flesh lengthwise into about 5 strips inside the avocado skin, without piercing the skin. Using a spoon, lift out the strips in one scoop as intact as possible and lay them on a plate (4 servings).
  • Mound a heaping spoonful of marinated hijiki salad on top of each sliced avocado half. Pour on a little extra dressing if desired.

I almost forgot the rant!! Seaweed also has anti-cancer, anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-boredom (i added that last one) properties. All that info is before even consulting wikipedia, which claims seaweed used in medicine fights tuberculosis, influenza, arthritis and even tumors. I hear it also helps dissolve cysts. It has no fat or calories, and combats sluggishness as it performs a house-cleaning on your insides. The only people who should steer clear of the sea crop are those who have a hyper-thyroid condition because the concentrated iodine content might cause trouble. For the rest of us, it means anti-goiter.

For the ultimate ease, try a seaweed shake… not the kind you drink with a straw, the kind you shake over things. Pictured here is a dulse and garlic shake which adds a great burst of flavor on top of soups, salads, roasted vegetables, stirfrys, popcorn, rice or just about anywhere you need a little seasoning. Other types may also contain sesame seeds, hot pepper flakes, salt, pepper. You can make your own combo with different ground seaweeds and the flavorings of your choice. Store in an airtight jar and shake! Use frequently. Enjoy.

hijiki_2seaweeds