Monthly Archives: January 2008

>The ingredients of a dish.

>Ethnic foods tend to have a few ingredients that are found in every dish of that region and provide those distinct flavors that you associate with that type of food.

When cooking an ethnic dish I tend to think about these ingredients in two parts: the base of a dish (underlying flavors that are always there and that tend to be cooked first) and the top of a dish (these are sauces and garnishes that are added last)

So let’s look at 5 major world cuisines in terms of these requirements: the base flavors and the top flavors.

soy sauce
red chili

Kaffir Lime Leaves
these last 3 ingredients are cooked and then removed before serving- rather like a bay leaf)
red chili


base (called a mirepoix or “the trinity”)
green pepper
also add garlic
cayenne pepper

top (indian food is heavy in spices, so there are a variety of options)
cayenne pepper
mustard seeds
or curry powder (which tends to be a combination of some of these ingredients, especially cumin and turmeric)

So, if you want to create a dish in any one of these styles you will always start with creating the base flavor, then add whatever the bulk of your dish is (veggies, protein, carbs) and then finish with the top flavors- the point where the flavor is truly customizable.

Another interesting concept comes when you combine flavors from one region into a typical dish of another region. For example, an indian dish served in tortillas with cheese, sour cream, and salsa.

Experiment and be surprised. Or be ready to do the old “I experimented too much” fallback- ordering pizza.

I am thankful that in my life have only ordered one disaster relief pizza. It was the time that I was cooking a big indian curry and accidentally grabbed a container of herbs de Provence instead of a container of dried cilantro. It was really, truly disgusting.

>Michael Pollan on Good Food

>Michael Pollan is interviewed on the always wonderful Good Food on KCRW.

Listen for free online:

Come with me to see him speak on Feb 25!

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

>Imitation is the best sort of flattery.

>Ah. I wish someone read this thing, I don’t think anyone does. But that’s okay.

When we were in California this Dec we were able to meet up with the lovely Nadia who took us to this interesting upscale lunch joint. As in, this was practically fast food (certainly fast), but populated by business men in $1000 suits eating large salads that were certain not to add a single calorie to their expertly-sculpted-by-an-physical-trainer-bodies. Heck, they were pretty to look at, but I hope to never have a conversation with any of them.

This restaurant, called Medicine was apparently owned by some slightly obscure branch of Buddhist monks. They were formally a vegan restaurant, but had begun to serve fish. They were Japanese inspired, all the food was GOOD for you in some way or other, and you were supposed to eat with strangers at long tables (which would have been fine, if not for the snooty business men mentioned above).

I had the Miso-Glazed-Tofu Bento Box. Which was awesome. There was a salad made out of different kinds of seaweed (like hijiki- which I like and need to see if they sell anywhere around town), a rice mix of brown and PURPLE rice (which I’d never had before and was purdy), a small selection of fresh fruit including a very tart tiny tangerine, and then this chunk of tofu sitting on the rice- covered in a thick sweet miso paste.

This weekend I set out to recreate this bento. I wasn’t able to do it exactly- what with not having any hijiki, but I did manage to make a great salad and brown rice with a tofu chunk that tasted almost exactly like what I had at Medicine.

Now if I had been smart I would have visited their website (as I did just now) and realized 2 things:
1) I really thought the tofu was fried- but on the menu it says that it’s broiled. I actually did broil the tofu (I never fry- I don’t need to eat junk food at home), but it was sheer luck.
2) The menu description says “tofu broiled with pinenut and pistachio-miso glaze”. I am totally capable of putting pinenuts and pistachios in the food processor with the miso paste, if I’d read the ingredients ahead of time my copycat meal would have been more authentic.

This is what I did do:
1) I wanted to marinate the tofu, so a few hours ahead of time I put the tofu on a plate with another plate on top and a big heavy bowl full of water on top. I then went to the rink to skate laps. When I returned about an hour later the bottom plate was full of liquid and the tofu was considerably less damp. This process of removing moisture is the standard first step in marinating tofu. Always.

2) I don’t know if they actually marinated the tofu at Medicine, but unmarinated tofu served by itself (aka, not in a stir fry) tends to be totally boring. So I made a sweet asian marinade of my own invention (about 1 1/3 cup of liquid total).

To make
Sweet Asian Tofu Marinade

-soy sauce
-balsamic vinegar
-mirin (sweetened rice wine available in asian markets)
-sesame oil
-date molasses (I purchased a BIG jar of this stuff on a whim at 10th st market because it seemed interesting and cheaper than either maple syrup or honey (common liquid sweeteners, but they tend to be very expensive). It’s tasty stuff with a unique flavor and behaves just like other liquid sweeteners when you cook with it- plus the added flavor. Don’t worry about locating date molasses- just substitute with a different liquid sweetener (honey, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, agave nectar)).
-these 5 ingredients made up the main body of the liquid. Adjust to taste.

finely crushed szechuan peppercorns (also available at asian markets)
1 finely crushed star anise
red pepper flakes
some leftover hot sauce from my xmas presents last year: Fruit of the Doomed Pomegrante Jalapeno hot sauce
worchestchire sauce (sp?)- if you look at the cheaper brands they tend to exclude the nasty un-vegetarian anchiovys.
-these ingredients are all added for flavor

3) I poured the marinade over the tofu so that it covered as much of the tofu as possible and got in the shower. After I got out I turned the top layer of tofu over so that it would marinate all the way through and went to 10th st market with beatnik to do some shopping for the week.

4) When I got home I made the sweet miso glaze:

Sweet Miso Glaze
Miso paste
mirin (to add sweetness and make the paste more liquidy)
cane sugar (just a little)
soy sauce (just a touch)

5) I preheated my toaster oven to about 500degrees. I took the little oven broiler plate and lined it with tinfoil and pulled the tofu out of the marinade and put it on the broiler plate. I smeared my sweet miso glaze over the top (only 4 pieces here) and (I don’t know why I did this- since Medicine is a mainly vegan restaurant, making this a dumb thing to do- not that it tasted bad) whisked an egg with a drop of soy and a little cane sugar. Then poured the egg over the glazed tofu where it promptly ran off and collected in the bottom of the pan.

6) I broiled the tofu for about 10-15min and the glaze crusted up nicely. I served it on some simple brown rice.

7) In the meantime I wanted to make an extremely healthy, entirely vegan salad, asian inspired salad.

Extremely Easy Asian Salad

1 orange peeled and sections cut into small bits
1 cup of pickled japanese radish (very yellow and found in asian grocery stores) diced
1 cup of edamame (from a bag of frozen edamamae- boiled one cup of beans in salted water until cooked but crunchy. Then chilled in an ice bath).
1 asian pear diced
1 ripe avocado diced
1 Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp mirin
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 Tbs vinegar juice from pickled ginger (juice from this classic asian condiment)
1 head romaine chopped and washed
pickled ginger for garnish
1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

To make: put lettuce in individual bowls. Mix all ingredients except the pickled ginger and sesame seeds. Spoon large helpings of vegetable mix over the lettuce and top with pickled ginger and sesame seeds.

Was it exactly like what I ate at Medicine?
-No. But the tofu was damn similar and now I have ideas on how to make it even closer. I think I was spot-on with using mirin as the main sweetner in the miso mix.

Did it fulfill the same kind of healthy asian inspired food requirement?
-Yes. Plus I got a big thumbs up from Beanik which means a lot to me. The salad couldn’t have been easier or healthier (practically raw), I will totally make it again without a lot of changes. And I’m going to enter the recipe in a vegan recipe contest- it’s that good.

>Cooking via substitution.

>Sometimes you would like to make a certain dish, but for whatever reason you are missing one or several of the major ingredients (you haven’t made it to the grocery store, the ingredient is hard-to-find or out of season or out of stock, your food budget is limited). In these cases you need to use your imagination and whatever you have in your pantry to approximate the dish you were hoping to make. Sometimes this faux-recipe will turn out even better than the original.

Let’s look at an example:

Here’s a dip that I love to make in it’s original version:

Spicy Mango Peanut Dip

Ingredients (Software)

Either 1 mango peeled and diced plus 1/8 cup mango juice
or 3/4-1 cup canned mango puree
1/2 cup canned coconut milk (shaken/stirred well)
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp hot pickled mango (if you can find it, otherwise add more hot sauce)
2 Tbps soy sauce
2 Tbps hot sauce or to taste (habanero or cayenne are best)
2 Tbps honey
1 Tbps chopped ginger
2 Tbps cilantro
1 scallion
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cumin

Equipment (hardware)
microwave safe dish
small food processor (or big food processor or blender or stick blender)

1) Heat coconut milk in microwave 1min.
2) Place all ingredients in food processor and blend until very smooth.
3) Adjust all ingredients to taste.

Why substitute?
I wanted to make this dip to use as a sauce for some plantain/black bean quesadillas I was planning to make, but I was missing several of the main ingredients- the ingredients that make up the body of the dish.

coconut milk (adds flavor, volume, liquid)
mango in either fresh or puree form (adds flavor, fruitiness, sweetness)

Spicy Tropical Peanut Sauce (Dip)

Substitute Ingredients

Coconut Milk for flavor: In my pantry I did have a lot of shredded coconut from a failed ice cream experiment- I’m not attached to it and it wasn’t getting any younger. So in my smallest saucepan (holds about 2 cups) I added about 3/4 cup of shredded coconut and 1/2 cup water and turned the heat on to medium-low.
Ginger: I have a lot of this wonderful chewy ginger candy (made by the esteemed Ginger People). I love it, but for some reason this bag of candies simply wasn’t getting eaten and were several years old. So I removed the wrappers from about 4 of the candies and added it to the coconut mixture on the stove. Stirred to disolve.
Mango: I do have some mango-habanero hot sauce that my friend Ben Hauger had given me some years back (yes, all these foods pretty much keep forever). I added some of the hot sauce to the food processor along with a mix of various fruit preserves that were also in the fridge- mainly a rhubarb chutney (brought by Paul from Pennsylvania) and a cranberry chutney (from Maine brought by Matt).
Coconut Milk for body: Since I didn’t have the creamy coconut milk I substituted about 1/3 cup mayonnaise.

1) Heat coconut, water, ginger candy in small saucepan. Allow candy to entirely dissolve, then strain coconut out with a small sieve, pressing on the coconut with a spoon to remove all liquid. Carefully reserve all the liquid and throw out shredded coconut (this is your coconut flavor).
2) Place all ingredients in food processor and blend until very smooth.
3) Adjust all ingredients to taste.

1) Because I had very ripe plantains that I was chopping to saute I threw a small piece of plantain into the food processor (added a little body/creaminess/flavor). Why not throw in stuff?
2) I would have loved to add some red chili chutney to this, but I haven’t had any in a long time. I did have a little bit of leftover Thai red curry paste, so I threw in some of that in as well. We like hot food.

I love BOTH versions of this dip. I can’t wait to eat leftovers for lunch.