japanese series part 2

As promised, I'm writing about Japanese food again. And since I started with the basic dashi, we're going to make the dish I use dashi for the most, miso shiru--or miso soup. There are so many ways you can alter this soup, but the basic of the basic miso soup has 5 ingredients: dashi, miso, scallions, wakame, and tofu.

Don't let the exotic ingredient list scare you too much. Dashi you know how to make, miso is easy to find in the refrigerated section of any Asian market, and tofu you can find at any grocery store these days. Though I do prefer the silken tofu (House is my favorite brand you can buy in the US) you find at Asian markets to the kind you can buy at grocery stores. And I'm not saying that to be snobby. It really is just my personal preference. But when I'm too lazy to make my own tofu or to head to the Asian market, medium or firm tofu at the grocery store works great.
Miso is a prepared soy bean paste. It's earthy and salty, and when diluted in dashi, makes ... heaven. It's rich and light at the same time. I don't know how else to explain it. It comes in a variety of styles, but the most common are red and white. And you can buy them mixed together, which I find more versitile. But it's personal preference so get whichever you like and fits into your budget and palate.

Miso wasn't a flavor I was fond of as a kid. I know, you're thinking I'm so not Japanese, right? I've learned to love it as an adult, and I rarely go a week without it. It's my favorite.
Wakame is a specific type of seaweed. It's sold dried, sometimes in long strands and sometimes cut. I prefer the cut kind. I just reconstitute it right in the serving bowl. It happens really fast, so it's just easier for me that way. If you let it sit too long in liquid it can get slimy, which is probably what most people who don't like it have experieneced. When newly reconstituted, it's slippery but not slimy, and tastes like the ocean. A clean ocean. Not a stinky, fishy-smelling one.

This might be the hardest ingredient for you to find. It's with all of the other seaweeds, and you might just have to ask for help or go to an online source. If seaweed isn't your thing (though eventually I think you should give it a shot), substitute baby spinach.

miso soup
serves 4
1/4 block of tofu, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 teaspoons dried, cut wakame
2 scallions, sliced very thin
6 cups dashi
1.5 tablespoons red or white miso (or a combination of both)

  1. In a small sauce pan, heat the dashi. Add the miso, and stir in to combine until completely dissolved. Add the tofu just to heat it through.
  2. In the small serving bowls, equally distribute the wakame. Pour the hot miso broth over the wakame, and equally distribute the tofu. Garnish with the scallion. Serve hot along side rice.

creamy goodness

Recently for a lunch group I'm a part of, our theme was appetizers. On the morning of, I couldn't think of what to bring, but I had lots of bread dough, whole milk, and heavy cream in the fridge. So I made baguettes into crostini and home made ricotta cheese. It was really good, but definitely an indulgence. I sure felt it on my hips the next day.
 Remember when curdling the cheese to use an acid with light color and one that you like the flavor of. Your cheese will take on the flavor of the acid a little bit. I used a combination of white balsamic vinegar and lemon juice.
 True ricotta cheese is traditionally made from the leftover whey of other cheeses, in an effort to not waste it. Unfortunatley, though, this whey has to be used within an hour or so of making the other cheese, so unless you often make your own parmesan, you're probably not going to have any fresh whey on hand. Making it with milk and cream is a wonderful alternative, and results in a very creamy ricotta.

Homemade ricotta cheese
makes about 2 cups
5 cups whole milk
1 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup lemon juice, white wine vinegar, white balsamic vinegar, or other light colored acid that you like
  1. Set a large sieve or colander over a large bowl or clean food grade bucket. Dampen a large sheet of cheesecloth or butter muslin and lay it evenly in the colander.
  2. In a large stainless steel or enameled cast iron pot, combine the milk, cream, and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil and take off of the heat. Immediately add the acid and gently give it a stir. Allow the mixture to sit for about 1 minute to curdle.
  3. Carefully pour the mixture into the cheesecloth-lined colander. Let it drain for about 30 minutes. The longer you let it drain, the thicker the ricotta will be. Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
*if you want to make a lower fat version, I don't recommend using less than 2% milk. Even the 2% milk ricotta won't make a creamy, smooth cheese. It will be much more rubbery, and you won't want to strain it as long because the curds and whey will separate immediately. So, the first time you try it, stick with this recipe and alter as you get used to it.

makes about 24 crostini

1 baguette
1~2 cloves garlic
extra virgin olive oil
salt *optional
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Slice the baguettes 1/2 inch thick at a diagonal. Lay them in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet. Brush lightly with olive oil. Bake in the oven until crisp, about 8~10 minutes, flipping them over once during baking.
  2. Rub each slice with the garlic clove and sprinkle lightly with salt, if using. Serve with bruschetta, cheese, tapenade, or any other savory spread or topping. These can be served warm or at room temperature. If not using immediately, let cool completely and put them in an airtight bag. Use withing 2 days.