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.

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Summer Yoghurt and Green Pea Soup

Madhur Jaffrey’s Cookbook Food for Family and Friends sees a different side of this heavily relied upon author-cook. It constructs menus which are for a Western dinner table, but of course with a strong South Asian and Asian accent.

I first had something like this in Geneva, where, as is often the case hereabouts, restaurants/cafes have a very heavy hand with soups. Stodgy in winter, so thick in summer one could turn the plate upside down and it would sit there unmoved. I like soups to be much lighter, at least some of the time, and surely in summer. About a drinking-out-of-cup-thinness. Certainly not the ‘eat this soup with a fork approach’ so often seen in Geneva.

Ingredients

  • 1 medium potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 small onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds, tied in cheesecloth or inside a tea-ball
  • a knob of peeled fresh ginger chopped – 1/2 an inch or so
  • 4 cups chicken stock (or vegetarian equivalent)
  • fresh green (for colour consistency) chilli to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups (200g) shelled peas, fresh or frozen
  • 30g/1 lightly packed cup fresh green coriander
  • 12 good sized fresh mint leaves
  • 150 ml plain yoghurt blended until smooth with 4 tablespoons of water
  • salt to taste

Method 

Put the potato, onion, cumin, ginger, stock and chilli in a large pot, bring to the boil. Cover and lower to a simmer for 30 minutes. Take out the cumin and add the peas. Bring to the boil, and then to a simmer for 2 minutes. Add the coriander and mint. Turn off the heat.

Blend/puree the soup until smooth. Pour the soup into a clean bowl, and after it is cool add the yoghurt and mix. Season with the salt. Cover and chill in the fridge. Serve cold.

In retrospect, I wonder if the coriander should perhaps be added, and the soup pureed, after it has cooled somewhat. Simon Hopkinson is totally against the idea of cooking fresh coriander and I can see why. Ditto with basil.

This is lovely and unaccountably I have failed to make it this summer.

 

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.

 

Hummus

One can enter any number of disputes as to the right way to make hummus. I haven’t made it for ages, but looked up a Malouf recipe in order to arrive at the following. Ideally you would use dried, soaked and cooked chickpeas, but at a moment’s notice, you can do this….

hummus (2)

Ingredients

  • 1 can chickpeas, thoroughly drained and rinsed
  • 100 ml tahini
  • 1 small clove of garlic mashed with 1 teasp of salt
  • lemon juice – I used lime because it was what I had, one in all
  • water

Method

  • do skin the chickpeas, it makes all the difference
  • with a stick blender (or such like) blend to a cream, adding water because it will be too thick

That’s it. Refrigerate. Serve with a little olive oil and freshly ground pepper on top.

We’ve been eating it for breakfast on bread from the fabulous Christophe Berger with cheese, soft hard-boiled eggs and other accompaniments.

Actually, we’ve been eating it for lunch too. Today I tried adding yoghurt and it is a great variation, lighter and creamier.  I read somewhere that pureeing olives into it is another good touch, yet to be tried in our household. Also cumin.

Now, if only I had a way of charring eggplants here to make baba ganoush….

Belinda Jeffery’s absolutely scrumptious pork pie

absolutely scrumptious pork, thyme and apple pie Belinda Jeffery

aka her family’s ‘Christmas pie’ which is when I make it too

Serves 6-8.

ingredients

  • shortcrust pastry (she makes her own, I buy it)
  • 500g pork mince
  • 2 medium apples, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 180g bacon, rind removed, cut fairly finely
  • 3 teasp finely chopped thyme or oregano
  • 2 tblesp finely chopped parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • nutmeg or ground mace to taste (try 1/4 teasp)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 4 small eggs, hard-boiled and peeled (I use quail)
  • milk to brush the pastry top (she uses an egg yolk and water)

to serve:

  • red cabbage or beetroot pickle
  • tomato or apricot chutney

method

  • Preheat oven to 200C and lightly butter a 24cm springform cake tin. Put aside.
  • Mix the filling ingredients except for the small eggs.
  • Line the tin with pastry, leaving a 2 cm overhang. Half-fill tin with mixture and smooth it out. Make 4 little hollows in which the eggs go. Cover with the remaining filling.
  • Dampen the edges of the pastry overhang, add a pastry lid and pinch edges together tightly to seal. Crimp and trim the edges as you please.
  • Brush the top with the milk or eggwash. Prick holes into the top to allow steam to escape. You can embellish the top with left over pastry trim in shapes to taste if you haven’t already eaten it.
  • Put the pie on an oven tray and bake for 15 minutes. Lower temperature to 180C and cook for another 50 minutes. Belinda’s advice is that ‘If the juices bubble up in the final stages of cooking, just mop them up with paper towel and return the pie to the oven to dry out for a few minutes.’ When cooked, leave out to cook in the tin and then chill, preferably overnight.

To serve: run a blunt knife around the edges of the tin to loosen the pie, then release and remove the sides of the tin. Sit on a platter or board in thick slices with the pickles and/or chutney.

It keeps in the fridge for up to 5 days.