27 June 2010

Of fish flakes and unfulfilled promise

I don't understand how a weekend with such promise can yield such mediocre results. After a lovely summer morning at the market on Saturday, I came home with big plans for cherries, for strawberries, for apricots. Out came the ingredients for clafoutis: boom. The cherries are bad. I don't know if it's due to all the cold and rain this spring up north, but cherries have been nothing but unfulfilled promise this year.

No matter, thought I—let's get to work with that half-flat of strawberries for a big batch of jam: foiled again. Some tricky farmer had layered beautiful specimens of late-season berries about halfway down—as far as I can pick through a box before I move from "thoughtful and concerned about her purchase" to "that, ahem, eccentric lady who fingers all the food"—leaving the bottom of the box with sad, slightly mushy, sometimes moldy individuals. A strawberry should never have such a lowly death.

All was not lost in the realm of summer fruit—I salvaged enough for a small batch of jam, and they are macerating in the fridge as I type. And the apricots, disappointing though their peers have been this June, are hanging out in the fruit bowl, fragrant and brimming with possibility.

Meanwhile, I contented myself with yet more Asian food for dinner:

I bought some dashi the other day when I was making tendon (tempura rice bowls), and there was a picture of a lovely little bowl of miso soup on the package. I set some seaweed to soaking, put some rice on, and 20 minutes later I had a meal.

Dashi is a Japanese stock most commonly made from kombu (a type of kelp) and dried bonito flakes. If I remember correctly, dashi was the first thing identified as tasting of umami, and that can't be a bad thing. While I normally like to make my stock at home whenever possible, the prepackaged stuff - I prefer the tubs of paste, very similar to demiglace, that live in the refrigerator - is pretty darned good, and a lot easier.

Super-Quick Miso Soup
Note: upon rereading, this post was unclear ... dashi is a stock made from kombu and bonito. The paste listed below is dashi-flavored miso (fermented soybean paste). If you have dashi on hand, which I sometimes do, you can replace the water with dashi and use plain miso. However, I like to keep dashi-flavored miso on hand for particularly lazy days.

1 qt water
3 T wakame (a type of dried seaweed)
1/4 C dashi miso (if using paste; usually about 1 oz of dry powders)
6 oz firm tofu, cut into half-inch cubes
1 scallion, finely sliced

Bring the water to boil in a a medium saucepan. Meanwhile, use kitchen shears to cut the wakame pieces into small bits. They expand a lot when reconstituted, so make them no more than 1/2" long. Place in a small bowl and cover with warm water for about ten minutes.

When the water is boiling, add the dashi and stir gently until completely dissolved. Add the tofu pieces and return the mixture to a boil.

When the wakame is a rich green color, drain and take a quick look to make sure you didn't miss any big pieces. Add, with the scallions, to the soup and heat for 2-4 minutes. Stir well before serving, as the stock will settle quickly.

Serve by itself, for a very light lunch, or with steamed rice and gyoza for a full meal. It's also a great way to fill out a meal of store bought sushi.

Serves 2-4

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