Variations on Japanese spinach (2) hourensou no gomaae

I can’t believe I put the first variation on my blog in 2013. Eeeek!

My friend S-L got me into a site called Just Bento long ago. S-L is a diligent Bento Box preparer, I’m not. I don’t know if this is an explanation or an excuse, but I don’t leave the house to go to my work desk. Cooking lunch in my kitchen is a normal part of my routine. That doesn’t mean I don’t use the recipes. In summer we often have a simple bowl of rice and spinach done one way or another. Last night it was as follows.

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbs. white sesame seeds toasted and roughly ground. Reserve a few whole to decorate the top of the dish before serving.
  • 1/2 Tbs. mirin
  • 1/2 Tbs. sugar
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce (I use Tamari)
  • spinach for two, washed and blanched, squeezed to rid it of excess liquid and chopped
  • rice

Method

The spinach can be prepared ahead. It can be blanched with just a teensy amount of water added, length of time will depend on the age of the spinach. We like it chilled, but it can be room temperature.

While the rice is cooking, make the sesame dressing – in fact we had enough spinach that I made a double quantity. It’s all terribly moreish. Mix the seeds, mirin, sugar and soy. I make this with Thai Jasmine rice lightly salted.

We also have these spinach dishes with Soba Noodle Salad Stephanie Alexander style.

Just Bento points out that Westerners often eat spinach raw, whereas Japanese people never do. Yes, she says, some nutrients are lost, but on the other hand, a lot more spinach is eaten. True. We ate far more cooked last night than we would have eaten raw. My understanding is that cooking spinach helps the absorption by the body of some of the goodness, so in fact maybe this means a balance of raw and cooked spinach is the best path.

leek vinaigrette repurposed

You must imagine the scene. Large wide white bowl, a mix of salad leaves on the bottom, with artfully placed hard boiled quartered eggs and leeks on top, and drizzled over them the vinaigrette. That’s the photo.

In practice, I chopped up the salad leaves and leeks, adding to them the same weird cold soft-boiled eggs that have to be scooped out of their shells that I mentioned in my previous post. Mixed in the left over vinaigrette. Tasted divine. Looked like a vegetarian dog’s dinner.

Tip: the salad is better without bits of egg shell in it.

leek vinaigrette

One of my favourite English writer-cooks is Simon Hopkinson whose hand is equally deft with words as with ingredients. I recently acquired his Roast Chicken and Other Stories, merely 25 years or so past its first publication date. It is still fresh and charming…and still in print.

One reads Hopkinson’s books for pleasure, unlike some which are strictly recipe books, even if occasionally padded out with extraneous words. That’s not to say cooking will not follow and tonight we had one of his summer vegetable dishes, Leek Vinaigrette. I happened to find his recipe online in a column he wrote in the nineties. It is much the same as it appears in the book.

Leeks vinaigrette, serves 4

This is a dressing you will get used to making – a little more oil here, a little more water there, until it seems just right. The quantity here is more than you are going to need. Fret not. Put it in a screw-top jar in the fridge and it will keep for a few weeks – remove from the fridge about half an hour before using it. I find this creamy vinaigrette very versatile and it is particularly good on hot vegetables, particularly potatoes served with a Continental boiling sausage.

Ingredients

  • 8 large leeks, trimmed and sliced into 2.5 cm/ 1″ lengths and thoroughly washed. Or you could use 16 smaller ones and leave them whole
  • salt
  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 300-450ml/ 12-34 pint groundnut or other flavourless oil
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs
  •  1 tbsp chopped chives
  • black pepper

Method

Boil the leeks in plenty of salted water. When they are done (just slightly less cooked than in the previous recipe), lift them out carefully with a slotted spoon and neatly put to drain on a tea towel.

While the leeks are cooling, make the dressing. Put the mustard, vinegar and salt in a blender with 4-5 tablespoons of warm water. Switch on and blend. With the motor running, add the oil in a thin stream until homogenised. If you think the dressing is too thick, add a little more water; if too thin, add more oil and perhaps a smidgen more mustard. The final consistency should be one of loose salad cream.

Arrange the leeks attractively in a suitable dish and spoon over the vinaigrette. Scatter with grated egg and chives, grind a little pepper over and serve with crusty bread. This dish is also good when served warm, and topped with a poached egg instead.

To Hopkinson’s words, I will add that the book doesn’t mention the idea of warm, though it sounds delightful for the colder weather. And as for ‘just slightly less cooked than in the previous recipe’, this is a reference to:

…cook for between five and ten minutes, depending on how thick your leeks are; test with a small, sharp knife for tenderness. You don’t want crunchy leeks, but neither do you want sloppy ones. Drain carefully in a colander for a good ten minutes to ensure that all the water has drained away.

I confess, I didn’t have my usual neutral grapeseed oil to hand, so I used olive oil instead and we found that fine. I made a half quantity for 8 leeks, and still had half of it left. When I went to grate the eggs, I found, upon taking them out of the fridge, that I’d managed to make cold soft-boiled eggs. Grating was impossible, instead they were sort of inelegantly scooped and slopped onto the leeks. You can imagine what the photo would look like.

A fine addition to a summer menu, the leeks can be cooked a day or two ahead and the vinaigrette can be done any time, it takes a few minutes to make.

 

Salad with falafel and eggs

Ingredients

  • mixed salad leafs, or baby spinach washed and dried
  • eggs boiled until soft-hard, one per person
  • cooked falafels, a few, broken into small pieces
  • yogurt
  • tahini
  • lemon juice
  • finely chopped/crushed garlic
  • salt and pepper
  • roasted ground cumin

Method

Put the salad leaves in a serving bowl, mix in the falafels – I took them from the fridge, left over from yesterday, and broke them up by gently crushing them.

For the dressing: mix the rest of the ingredients, I used several tablespoons of yoghurt and 2 teasps of tahini. It’s all to taste.

Mix the dressing into the salad.

Cut the tops of the eggs and scoop the egg into the salad, gently mix again.

That’s it. The toast addict had it on top of toast. I had it on its own.

The economy of chicken pieces

I prefer chicken pieces to whole chickens as I never feel like breast is indispensable. A packed of what Americans call Maryland pieces, 4 x thigh + drumstick, lasts two of us for several meals.

This last time I’ve made

  • Chicken salad with rocket, walnuts and apple in a yoghurt based dressing (no oil).
  • Japanese soup noodles
  • A variation on each of the above

Because I boil the chicken, I have a good quality stock to do something with as well. It was the basis for the soup noodles on this occasion.

Good quality chicken in Geneva is wildly expensive, so I use bog standard from Manor. (Although in Australia I buy organic, free range.) But that aside, best quality fruit, best quality nuts, and salad greens. I think you get more for your money if you have to make these choices.

And the salad dressing will be happy with types of things in the cupboard and the fridge. This time, some yoghurt, some cumquat chutney I’d brought back from Australia, a little Worcestershire sauce, a little Japanese rice vinegar, some English mustard powder mixed into a paste, and then the main dressing added to it slowly until it was thin enough to add to the dressing without it not mixing in properly. That was about it.