This is the story of a picnic that didn’t happen, twice.
We had full intentions of getting together with friends, having a picnic together on the island. However, after a weather forecast of 100% rain, the plans were abandoned. Rob and I stayed at home and relished in a relaxing afternoon together.
Together, we still continued with our picnic menu: Quinoa Salad with Sweet Potatoes and Dried Iranian Limes. I figured a grain salad would travel well but may not be too picnic-friendly (who was going to bring plates?) so I thought it would be neat to stuff it into a wrap. Rice paper rolls for company and kale wraps for me! I figured a tahini dipping sauce would bring this over the edge, so we plunged forward with our ornate plans.
Ottolenghi called this a quinoa salad, but really it is a quinoa-basmati-wild rice salad. The mix of grains tickles the tongue with the contrasting textures. They are paired with roasted sweet potatoes in a savoury dressing with sauteed sage and oregano and fresh mint. Oh, and dried Iranian lime. A hard to find ingredient that I picked up while in NYC at Kalustyan’s (although it is available locally). You can stop right here and have yourself a delicious salad. Perfectly balanced, it was a nice salad. Definitely Thanksgiving friendly, I might add.
However, I took the next step: tofu feta. Tofu marinaded in lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, garlic and miso, coupled with a creamy cashew sauce. I will admit that this does not taste at all like feta. It did, however, have a nice burst of lemony tartness and miso greatness. The cashew sauce added to the silkiness that was wonderful once we wrapped them up. I am definitely no stranger to wrapping up salads, having everything hit your palate at the same time.
So after the wrap, we took it one step further. A sweet tahini dipping sauce with garlic.
We had hit it: Gastronomic bliss.
By this time, though, it had started raining and we couldn’t do our own picnic, either. So we went upstairs and picnicked on the windowsill, watching it rain in all its glory. We do a little cheer every time it rains since it means we don’t have to water the garden.
We also found out that these were very messy rolls… and best to eat with a plate underneath.
My first meal after I arrived in Tokyo was okonomiyaki. It was from the closest restaurant to our hostel. We had no clue what we were ordering, pointing to pictures instead from a photo album. All the while, making sure there would be no shrimp (no ebi!). We ended up with an assortment of vegetable pancakes that were cooked up on a hot grill in front of us. Some with more flour, others with different vegetables. I remember one being bright pink (I forget what made it that colour). Once the server noticed we were eating them plain, he encouraged us to try the sauces on the side. To be honest, we left wondering what the hype was about okonomiyaki.
We persevered, though. When we went to Osaka, we tried okonomiyaki again, at a very popular hole-in-the-wall resto. We had to wait in line for 30 minutes, but when we finally snatched a seat in the tiny resto, we were able to watch our cabbage pancakes being made in front of us: thinly sliced cabbage and carrots were mixed with a seasoned flour and dashi stock batter, grilled and then topped with your chosen toppings- most of them with bacon- and then it was slathered with Japanese barbecue sauce (okonomi sauce), and later drizzled with Japanese mayonnaise, and sprinkled with parsley flakes. A crispy veggie pancake with a soft middle, topped with savoury sauces. Delicious. I was hooked.
Okonomiyaki literally means as you like it. Want yours with veggies? Want yours with sauce? Do you want your toppings in the batter with noodles (Hiroshima-style), or on top (Osaka-style)?
Or in my case, do I want mine vegan? Oh yes! I was bookmarked this recipe immediately from Big Vegan because it used tofu as the base instead of the traditional flour and eggs. While I have made Kevin’s okonomiyaki before, I found it hard to flip and keep intact while cooking. As such, I was thrilled to see this version. While already nontraditional, you bake it as a huge pancake instead of frying it on the stovetop. It took more like 60 minutes to bake but it was delicious. Alone, the tofu-miso-nooch batter was flavourful even before we cooked it. The consistency was a bit more heavier on the batter on the batter-cabbage ratio than I remember mine in Japan, but it was great as is. We would definitely make this again.
My version was topped simply with black sesame seeds and toasted shredded nori, whereas Rob went more all-out with some tonkatsu sauce, kewpie mayonnaise and bonito fish flakes. Remember, as you like it. If you want to try your hand at homemade mayo and okonomi sauces, there are recipes forthcoming in Terry’s new book. I haven’t tried them, though. Big Vegan also has suggestions for wasabi-mayo and tomato sauces. Or go simple like Heidi, who used almonds and chives to garnish her veggie pancake.
I was planning on talking about Mixed Diet relationships in this post, but I think I will save that for my next post.
It all started when I basically made my own tahini with freshly roasted sesame seeds to go with sauteed spinach for Terry’s oshitashi recipe (Sesame Wow Greens). So good, yet so simple.
Then, I discovered tahini heaven. I had heard that tahini could taste so good that one could eat it straight from the jar. Not so with my previous brand. But now I am a tahini-convert after spreading my way through Prince’s tahini: smooth, rich and creamy with a deep sesame flavour. I love it! I want to eat it with everything! I honestly wonder if I should try out Deb’s Warm Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad again (I found it too bitter the first time) because my tahini was probably at fault.
This time, I went heavy with the tahini. I spotted this recipe in The 30-Minute Vegan’s Taste of the East (recipe here) and thought 1/3 cup of tahini would be great simmered with tempeh and green beans. I liked it but it wasn’t as sesame heavy as I was anticipating. The dressing, of course, also had lemon juice, broth, tamari and mirin, creating a more complex flavour palate. Nice and light, and quite soupy, too, and easy to put together. The tempeh was a bit more meaty and juicy because I pre-steamed it, dry-fried it to lock in the shape and then simmered in the sesame broth. The green beans were a perfect match. Serve with quinoa so that you can savour this down to the last drop of sauce.
Barring hummus, what is your favourite way to use tahini?
Here are some other tahini recipes I’ve had my eye on:
Miso Tahini Magic Sauce from Fresh Young Coconut
Smoky Red Pepper, Chickpea and Tahini Dressing from Choosing Raw
Miso Sesame Dressing from Choosing Raw
Low-Fat Tahini-Chickpea Dressing from Fat Free Vegan
Orange-Miso-Tahini Gravy from My New Roots
Carrot Ginger Tahini Soup from Kahakai Kitchen
Beet, Tahini and Pomegranate Dip (Mama Dall’ou’ah) from Taste of Beirut
Roasted Carrot Hummus from Enlightened Cooking
Tofu Tahini Scramble from Choosing Raw
Burnt Eggplant with Tahini and Pomegrante from Ottolenghi
Noodles with a Lemon-Miso-Tahini Sauce from ExtraVeganZa
Tangy Tahini Noodles with Tempeh and Vegetables from Julia’s Vegan Kitchen
Nearly Raw Tahini Noodles from Vegan Yum Yum
Creamy Kale Soup with Tahini from Vegan Yum Yum
Quinoa Pilaf with Spiced Miso Tahini Sauce from Sweet Potato Soul
Spinach, Chickpea and Tahini Soup from Soup Chick
If you compare meat and vegetables, which are more expensive? Meat, right?
I hear people complaining how costly fresh vegetables are, but really it isn’t that bad. The problem is that they are perishable and don’t necessarily keep that long. I suppose the same is true with meat, but it can easily be frozen without adverse effects.
Now tell me what the cheapest vegetable is….
Courtesy of Sunny-rrific sales:
Carrots: $1 for 4 lb is pretty good. 25c/lb.
I’ve bought a head of cabbage for 50c. That’s like 20c/lb.
Kohlrabi is cheap, too. I’ve bought it on sale for 19c/lb at Sunny’s. Probably because no one has a clue what to do with it.
When I see butternut squash on sale for 19c/lb, I stock up!
But no, I’ve seen fresh veggies even cheaper than 19c/lb.
Daikon! For 9c/lb!
Daikon is also known as a white radish and is relatively mild but still has a peppery punch. While I have cooked with daikon in my Japanese Winter Stew, I don’t have that many daikon recipes. I couldn’t help myself, though, and grabbed a handful of daikon for the road. As a root vegetable, they keep extremely well in the refrigerator.
A quick search led me to Miss Figgy’s daikon braised in mirin and tamari, which she adapted from The Kind Diet (original recipe posted here). The long braise was supposed to turn the normally pungent white radish into sea scallops. Not that I really know what sea scallops taste like, but I can imagine the texture.
Let me tell you, I would not have even guessed this was daikon. After the long braise in mirin, tamari and kombu, you create a subtly sweet and salty treat. There was no trace of spicy radish here. The radish was just a vehicle for the sauce. These are great warm, fresh from their long braise, but also chilled as leftovers.
Now please tell me how you prepare daikon. I think I have one left.
Not all nuts are created equal. I have a particular fondness for almonds, pistachios and even hazelnuts on a good day. I adore cashews as well, although they have saturated fats. Walnuts, I do not like as much. Pecans, neither.
But I still use walnuts in my meals. All those omega-3s are good for me, right? Beyond their health benefits, I find they can whip up to be nice and creamy, and have worked well in my energy balls and create a nice base for muhammara, the delicious Middle Eastern roasted red pepper and walnut dip. However, I find that baklava is brought to the next level when you substitute the (traditional) walnuts for pistachios.
With my recent adoration of all things miso, I decided to forge ahead and combine miso with walnuts in this warm asparagus and carrot salad. Adapted from Color Me Vegan, you create a lovely miso-walnut dip with mirin, tamari and rice vinegar. It was sweet and creamy and spread nicely over the warm vegetables. Thankfully in Southwestern Ontario, local asparagus can still be found! It paired well with the asparagus and carrots, but do not let that stop you from trying other vegetables.
I also loved this as a cold dip with freshly-cut vegetables as well (again, carrots worked well!). However, then you’ll need to make a lot more of the dip, because it will disappear quickly!
When I go to a restaurant, I usually like to order stuff at restaurants that I can’t make at home.. because I know I can make it better. Salmon teriyaki is one of those dishes, especially when you go to the cheaper Japanese restos. It can be anywhere from charred, blackened, dry and ooky sweet. But it is really easy to make at home, so now I don’t even bother with it when I go out.
First of all, I combined recipes from numerous sources, including many of Kimiko Barber’s cookbooks (The Japanese Kitchen, Yo Sushi, Japanese Pure and Simple), where each had different ratios for her teriyaki sauce. I like this ratio of soy sauce, sake, mirin and sugar (3:3:3:1), although each portion can be changed depending on tastes. I found this recipe to create a light, flaky, tender salmon with a sweet glaze. There is enough teriyaki sauce for more than the salmon (the recipe can be halved, as long as you keep the same ratios). We drizzled it over spinach as a side salad and it was incredible. The sauce can keep for up to 2 months in the fridge.
While there are only 5 ingredients, and simple to make, it can be daunting as the ingredients are not pantry staples (unless you cook Japanese regularly). I highly encourage you to try this simple dish, so for those in Toronto, this is where I shop:
Soy sauce – I like Japanese soy sauce, which tends to run a bit sweeter, but also best for Japanese dishes. Furthermore, there are different kinds of Japanese soy sauce – regular dark, light, reduced-sodium and tamari. Light is only light in colour if you don’t want to discolor a dish. I typically buy regular dark or reduced-sodium and prefer Yamasa and Kikkoman, which aren’t that expensive. They can be found at any Asian market, including T&T, BestWin and J-Town. Shops in Chinatown should have it too.
Mirin – Mirin is a sweet rice wine, used as a sweetener and to add a glossy shine to foods. There are a few types of mirin, including aji-mirin (“mirin taste”) and mirin-fu chomiryo (“a kind of mirin”) as well as hon-mirin (“true mirin”). Hon-mirin has simpler ingredients; true hon-mirin has alcohol and no salt, and shio-mirin has alcohol with 1.5% salt. The difference is the alcoholic content. Shin-mirin (“new mirin”) has less than 1% alcohol, but still has the same flavour. Whereas the aji-mirin or mirin style sweet cooking seasoning has an ingredient list that starts with corn syrup and 8 other ingredients. I was only able to find aji-mirin at T&T and even J-Town, but found shin-mirin (basically look at the ingredient list- water, rice, koji (aspergillus oryzae) and sea salt) at Whole Foods and Noah’s. I think P.A.T. might also carry shin-mirin, and it looks like hon-mirin is impossible to find in Toronto. I’d love to know if anyone has found it elsewhere, and cheaper. I store my mirin in the refrigerator once opened.
Sake – Sake is a Japanese rice wine. I mistakenly bought a cooking sake from T&T, but I think it was just a mislabeled chinese cooking wine. Now I go to the LCBO to get sake. There is a bigger bottle, cheaper on the per mL basis which is what I get (Gekkeikan, 750mL). I store it in the refrigerator and it lasts pretty long.
Salmon – There are different kinds of salmon, but from a sustainability point-of-view wild Pacific salmon is the best way to go as per SeaChoice. I don’t know what T&T carries, likely Atlantic farmed, as the price is always reasonable ($6-7/lb).