Sunday, May 21, 2006

Eating Local - Featuring Spring Vegetables

My second Washoku adventure began much like the first: browsing through Elizabeth Andoh's cookbook to identify a few potential recipes, going to the farmers' market and buying a variety of produce, then figuring out what to do with it all. This time the "Temple Garden Chowder" in Andoh's book was the only seasonal and local recipe that jumped out at me. On this day at the market, Spring vegetables were out in full force (spinach, asparagus, sugar snap pea) and the mushroom stand had a special on a mix of shiitake and royal trumpet mushrooms. I also grabbed some winter hold-overs like cabbage and beets. With the washoku principles in mind, I created the following menu:

  • Spring vegetable soup. Carrot, mushroom, asparagus, and sugar snap pea in a Japanese vegetarian dashi (broth), flavored with locally-made mirin (Takara brand) and non-local soy sauce. My adaptation of Andoh's Temple Garden Chowder is below.
  • Vegetable pancakes. Inspired by the okonomiyaki I love so much, these pancakes were shredded cabbage, carrot, and home-made pickled ginger, in a batter of eggs, rice flour and wheat flour. I didn't follow a recipe, and the result was disappointing. Vegetable pancakes require a careful balance between dough and vegetable, and I didn't have it.
  • Sauteed spinach with garlic. After getting through the drudgery of cleaning the spinach, this comes together in a few minutes.
  • Seared royal trumpet mushrooms. Cooked over high heat in a Calpahlon skillet until golden-brown, then flavored with a splash of soy sauce and sake.
  • Pickled beets. I cooked the beets in boiling water, let them cool, then cut them into long, narrow rectangles (1 cm x 1 cm x 7 cm), and soaked the pieces overnight in a mixture of rice vinegar, water, salt and sugar. I
  • Steamed White Rice

How did I do on the five washoku principles this time?
  • Five colors: red (beets, red cabbage), green (snap peas, spinach, asparagus), white (rice, mushrooms), black (nothing), and yellow (carrots).
  • Five tastes: I only had four. I had sour, sweet, salty, bitter, but nothing spicy.
  • Five ways of cooking: I had four. There was searing (mushrooms), simmering (vegetable soup), steaming (rice), and sauteing (pancakes). I'm just starting to learn how to make quick pickles, and the beets I made don't really count as "raw" since they were cooked before soaking, so I was missing that element.
  • Five senses: sound (the crunch of the vegetables), sight (the variety of colors), smell (the mushrooms were intensely aromatic), touch (crunch again, and the softness of the cooked spinach), and taste (everything).

Although my meal was lacking a few of the washoku elements, it was harmonious and delicious. I think I am getting a handle on what Ms. Andoh called a "flow" in the kitchen at her San Francisco lecture. I don't know if I can explain it yet, but the meals like the one listed above and in my earlier post are built of a combination of ultra-simple and more complex dishes, with a variety of shared ingredients. For example, the vegetarian dashi is used in several dishes and the mushrooms appear in two dishes. This sharing simplifies preparation, as does the idea of including dishes in the menu that are served at room temperature and can therefore be completed early in the process. In many of the meals I cook, I go a little crazy over planning the final sequence of steps so that everything is done at the same moment. Learning to find my kitchen flow through washoku cooking might bring some calm to those last moments of other meals.


Spring Vegetable Soup
Inspired by Elizabeth Andoh's Temple Garden Chowder in Washoku

Ingredients
3 cups vegetarian dashi stock (see note below)

Approximately 4 cups of vegetables, placed in different bowls based on the time they require to cook so they can be added to the stock at the right time. For the soup mentioned above, I used asparagus (cut into 3/4 inch lengths), carrots (cut in half length-wise, then into 1/2 inch lengths), sugar snap peas (cut in half at an angle), and mushrooms (cut into bit-size pieces). The carrots and mushrooms went in one bowl, the asparagus in another, and the snap peas in their own bowl.

2 tablespoons mirin

2 tablespoons soy sauce (or to taste)


Method
Make the dashi, then pour it into a medium sauce pan. Add the mirin and soy sauce.

Add the slower cooking vegetables to the stock and bring the mixture to a low simmer. When the vegetables are close to being done, add the quicker cooking vegetables in a sequence and with the timing that will allow them to be cooked properly when you are ready to serve. For example, the asparagus might go in 10 minutes after the carrots and mushrooms, and then the snap peas for the last 3 or 4 minutes. The goal is to have each vegetable at its perfect level of doneness when you serve the soup.


Note
To make a vegetarian dashi stock, place a piece of kombu sea vegetable and several dried shiitake mushrooms into some cool water. The ratio that Andoh uses is 15-20 square inches of kombu and three mushrooms to 4 1/4 cups of water. Let this mixture steep as long as possible in the refrigerator, preferably overnight. A long soaking allows the natural glutamates (flavor enhancers) to go into the water. When ready to make the stock, put the mixture in a pan over medium heat. Bring it almost to a boil, then reduce the heat slightly to keep it at a low simmer. Keep it at this point for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat. Let the mixture steep for 5 minutes more, and then strain into a saucepan.


The Sources


#1 - Vacaville (37 mi), Solano Mushrooms: shiitake and royal trumpet mushrooms
#2 - Santa Rosa (50 mi), Ludwig Avenue Farm: eggs
#3 - Guinda (67 mi), Riverdog Farm: aparagus, cabbage
#4 - Winters (50 mi), Terra Firma Farm: beets, spinach, carrots
#5 - Sacramento (70 mi), Bariani: olive oil.
#6 - San Juan Batista (84 mi), Happy Boy Farm: Leeks
#7 - South Dos Palos (105 mi), Koda Farms: rice
#8 - Clovis (155 mi), Vong Farms: ginger root
#9 - Chowchilla (120 mi), Happy Boy Farm: snap peas
#10 - Mendocino (130 mi), Seabreeze Seavegetables: kombu seaweed
Not shown: Sake and mirin from Takara Sake in Berkeley (made from Sacramento Valley rice)


Indexed under Japan, Eat Local Challenge
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1 comment:

Catherine said...

Great piece! The soup with asparagus looks delicious.