Flash back two years ago and my favourite breakfast was oatmeal with ponzu sauce and flax seeds. I know it sounds like the oddest combination, but I loved it. Savoury oats for breakfast.
Yet somehow, I seemed to skip over posting my most repeated recipe in lieu of other savoury oatmeal concoctions: soy sauce and nutritional yeast, goji berries, nori and ponzu sauce and a savoury oatmeal that I would eat for dinner with vegetables, miso and nutritional yeast.
NATURALLY BREWED SOY SAUCE (WATER, WHEAT, SOYBEANS, SALT), WATER, SUGAR, VINEGAR, SALT, BONITO EXTRACT (FISH), LACTIC ACID, LEMON JUICE, AUTOLYZED YEAST EXTRACT, NATURAL LEMON AND ORANGE FLAVORS WITH OTHER NATURAL FLAVORS, SUCCINIC ACID, DISODIUM INOSINATE, DISODIUM GUANYLATE, SODIUM BENZOATE: LESS THAN 1/10 OF 1% AS A PRESERVATIVE.
Forget the sugar and preservatives, but it isn’t even vegan! Oopsies!
So I ventured to make my own homemade vegan ponzu sauce, without all the fluff… and the fish. My recipe is adapted from Taste of the East. The core is a base of tamari (sadly, Braggs couldn’t compete) along with juices from both lemon and lime. Yuzu is more traditional but even I can admit that I have never seen yuzu for sale. While I don’t think ponzu sauce tastes fishy, a dashi flavoured broth is created from arame and added to the ponzu. I skipped mirin, a common Japanese sweet rice wine, not only because I am challenging myself to go sweetener-free, but also because I thought it tasted fine without it. I tried it with less tamari, but found it lacking without it. Since I only use 1-2 tsp for my oatmeal, I find a little goes a long way.
While I typically eat steel-cut oats, I treated myself to some extra thick rolled oats. Pillow soft, it worked well with the ponzu sauce. More as a textural contrast, and also for its health benefits (omega 3s, lignans and fiber), I added flax seeds. I highly prefer yellow or golden flax seeds which are more mild tasting than brown flax. However, to unlock flax’s prowess, freshly grinding them is the way to go. Otherwise, they may not be absorbed at all. :(
When you eat alone, you may eat things that are odd. Cereal for dinner? I did that one too many times while in university. So quick and easy! Unless you are making steel cut oatmeal, regular or quick cooking oatmeal falls into the same category: quick and easy meal. Since exploring savoury oatmeal for breakfast, I didn’t think twice about whipping up a batch of oatmeal after coming home from Vancouver and then again for breakfast the next day. I was craving something warm and homey, after eating a lot of raw foods last week.
With Vancouver still on my mind (the sushi capital of Canada), I decided to spice up my ponzu-flavoured savoury oatmeal with strips of toasted nori and goji berries. Seemingly odd ingredients, but all hailing from somewhere in Asia, it worked really well together! The goji berries plumped up nicely and offered a hint of sweetness with some chewiness. The nori brought a comforting sushi-flavour to the dish, the citrus from the ponzu was light and refreshing and the quick-cooking oatmeal was slightly lumpy, but in a good reminds-me-of-rice kind of way.
I have been experimenting with more unusual ingredients lately: maca, delicious! Carob, yup. And now goji berries. Can I blame Tess’ new cookbook all about superfoods? Perhaps… but blame isn’t the right word, praise is more like it. :) While I also believe that common fruits and vegetables are superfoods with all their vitamins and minerals, it is nice to spice things up with new ingredients. Taste is the most important, though, which is something I will never sacrifice (the health benefits of goji berries may be overstated).
But let me share a secret: these wacky “superfoods” don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Even seaweed (nori, etc) and dried mushrooms can be expensive at health food stores. However, people have been eating seaweed and goji berries for years. Head to where they are native to find cheap supplies – and no, I don’t mean China. Head to Chinatown or your favourite Asian grocery store (Sunny!). Here, goji berries may be labelled as red medlar, though, which is why they have gone under my radar until now. Goji berries are so much cheaper, only a buck or two, whereas I know Whole Foods charges a lot more.
While goji berries are a bit lackluster straight from the bag – they taste like a tart cherry in the guise of a dried raisin – they are much better once they are plumped up in the oatmeal. Because they aren’t cloyingly sweet like most dried fruit, this paired well with the savoury nori and ponzu sauce.
The weather has been fabulous for spring so far in Toronto. A great time to start riding the bike! Warmer weather, though, brings cooler dishes, which is why I loved this dish. It melds a variety of Asian flavours together with my one of my favourite noodles, soba. The fresh green veggies, including baby bok choy, snow peas and spinach, are lightly steamed, then combined with cool silken tofu in chunks and smothered with a ponzu soy sauce.
But what is ponzu? It is an Asian sauce made from mirin, rice vinegar, bonito flakes and kombu, and occasionally soy-based, with a note of citrus tang from yuzu. But what is yuzu? It is a citrus fruit from East Asia, that looks like a small grapefruit but tastes like grapefruit and mandarin orange. It is difficult to find yuzu here, so it can be substituted with a blend of juices from other citrus fruits (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, etc). There are recipes to make your own ponzu sauce as well but I buy mine from the store.
I have discussed other Asian ingredients and where to find them in Toronto, in previous posts here and here, and ponzu sauce can also be found at Asian markets like Bestwin and T&T. I can’t say I’ve seen it at Loblaws and the like, but I haven’t checked. I found it on amazon as well.
Ponzu sauce is nice as a replacement for soy sauce in many Asian dishes and has the added benefit of less sodium. It is also a great dipping sauce for gyoza (Japanese dumplings).
This dish was adapted from Gourmet (July 2008), and despite having a long ingredient list and many directions, is quite simple to prepare but does leave many dirty dishes to clean. However, it is definitely worth it. You can use an assortment of seasonal Asian vegetables, steam them until crisp but retain their colour (blanch them if you are incredibly worried, but I chose not to dip anything into ice water and it was fine). The noodles can be cooked under the steaming vegetables, to save time. The sauce is nice but the ponzu flavour is not overwhelming. If you cannot find the ponzu sauce, substitute it with a bit more soy sauce, or omit completely. It makes a lot of sauce, which is tasty but could likely also be decreased by 3/4 or more. The crowning touch is the chilled silken tofu which melts in your mouth and brings that coolness to your palate. I found the dish best when served completely chilled the next day as leftovers, when the sauce is added just before serving.
I am submitting this glorious spring dish to a few places this time: my second submission to Health Nut Challenge 5 featuring Cruciferous Vegetables, hosted by Yasmeen Health Nut, to Presto Pasta Nights hosted by Thyme for Cooking and to Ivonne at Cream Puffs in Venice for Magazine Mondays.