Friday, July 3, 2009

Speaking of tender and delicious...

Lately I've been having a string of successes in the kitchen!

Gazpacho Soup:

I've been a huge fan of the British TV show Red Dwarf for a long time, possibly since I was too young to even get some of the jokes. One of the characters, it is revealed, died with the last words "gazpacho soup!" and since then, I'd wanted to try it. I was less enthusiastic when I learned that the main ingredient is tomatoes, which I hate, and so that ambition rested in peace for a long time.

Cue this summer, when cold soup sounds just about perfect. And since I've come to Japan I've, obviously, gotten into the habit of eating a lot of things I would refused to before. I have many childish traits, and one of them is letting a disliked component ruin the overall experience for me. "I don't like tomatoes," says the child, "so I'm not going to like this dish with tomatoes in it," and is predisposed to dislike it. But when I became a man, I put aside childish things, etc. The trick is considering the overall impression of a dish. Is it well-balanced and intricate? Does it become more than the sum of its component ingredients? And if the answer is yes, bon appétit. Which is not to say I'm going to be eating BLTs that include the Ts anytime soon. But also not going to turn my nose at a good soup with some finely chopped Ts slipped in.

Gazpacho calls for a blender - I have none, but this isn't a huge problem as I could just chop everything finely. A major problem, however, was that there is no cilantro in Japan. It turned out fairly good - cold, clear, soothing - but it would have been far better with that miracle ingredient. Chopped a few tomatoes and added a can as well, grated some cucumbers - on the very strange grater that turns everything into mush, which is bad when I'm trying to do cheese but was perfect for this. Half a purple onion, some small green peppers, alternately drizzled to taste lemon juice, vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil. Very colorful. And then I went and forgot to take a picture.


Pesce all'Acqua Pazza:

Because how do you resist a dish named "Fish in Crazy Water"? Put two fish fillets in a pan, poured enough mirin to cover - the original recipe said water but all the comments said they did white wine instead so I did something in between - sprinkled with salt and pepper, added two cups of chopped tomatoes - can you tell I like using up leftovers? - drizzled olive oil and dropped some capers on top. Simmered until the fish was cooked, moved it to a plate, and boiled the left-behind sauce until it was thick.



It's really a crying shame that I've gone more than a year without hummus in my life. There are, however, several tall obstacles on the road to bliss. One, there is no hummus in Japan. Two, I've never made it for myself. Three, I don't have a blender. Four, garbanzo beans can only be found at the import food store in the city. Five, there is no tahini in Japan. So, you know. This is no longer an easy snack food.

But tahini is only sesame seeds, right? Which I have aplenty. I ground up a couple spoonfulls in my lovely little mortar and pestle. Then I mushed up my hard-earned chickpeas in a bowl using my rice paddle, which seemed better suited than a normal spoon. I chopped with the edge and pressed with the back while watching TV. It was an entire program, so about an hour, before I was satisfied with the texture - my hand was about to fall off. Then I added extra-virgin olive oil till it was nicely smooth, chopped garlic and lemon juice to taste.

With this hummus I could, dare I say it, rule the world.



I should probably end on that delicious note, but I still had a lot of peppers left over from the gazpacho. I remembered a recipe we tried at home before I came. Yahata-maki, in this recipe, is a thin slice of beef rolled around assorted vegetables, but our knives at home weren't sharp enough to cut the meat that thin. Here in Japan, of course, thin is the only way meat comes - a thick steak is a thing of fantasy only (everyone thinks it's the only thing we eat in America.) So I mad matchsticks out of my peppers and some carrots, and cut up some green onions. I tried rolling them tightly, but some still fell apart and became that night's dinner.

The recipe advises using wide pieces of meat and then cutting them, placing them on end so you get the pretty green-orange contrast. These thin pieces, however, were on sale, so it wasn't quite as slightly but I can't bring myself to care when I'm cooking for just me and it's still delicious.


And then I broke my string tonight by being trashy and having rice topped with tuna and pickles - the poor girl's version of a tuna sandwich - which is in itself the poor girl's version of something.

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