It’s true, I’m back at home after a delicious little trip to Costa Rica. As soon as I sort through photos and notes, I’ll tell you about coffee production, gallo pinto, topes and toucans. But right now, it’s time to catch up on a few Rosi recipes and introduce you to a couple of dishes from a hot new cookbook (stay tuned for more on this one—soon), and to reacquaint you with one I’ve noted in the past.
I’m really not sure how this tofu came about, but I had a square of it in the fridge and I was in the mood to experiment a bit. Paging through One Taste, I came across a recipe for Japanese gomashio, a delicious sesame salt that can be used as a condiment in many ways. This particular recipe adds dried wakame, and with it, heaps of nutrition.
Let us begin. As usual, my notes are in italics:
Inspired by One Taste by Sharon Louise Crayton
1 T coarse sea salt
1 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup wakame, roasted in dry skillet, optional. (I used dried wakame.)
1 package firm tofu
1 2-inch piece of ginger, sliced very thinly
several cloves of garlic, sliced very thinly
peanut oil for frying
rice wine to taste
soy sauce to taste
First, I prepared the gomashio according to the One Taste instructions: Roast salt in a dry medium skillet over medium heat, 1 minute or until it begins to release a smell. In a suribachi (Japanese mortar and pestle) grind salt to a fine powder and set aside. An ordinary mortar and pestle will also work. Roast sesame seeds in a dry skillet, covered, over medium heat, shaking until they pop and are brown. Transfer sesame seeds to the suribachi and grind until two-thirds are crushed. (I pounded the dried, roasted wakame with the seeds.) Mix sesame seeds and salt (and wakame). Keep in a jar and use with meals.
The directions suggest marinating tofu in olive oil, tamari and gomashio. I worked with that idea and cut the tofu cube into squares, then rubbed them in a generous amount of gomashio, a glug of tamari and a glug of sesame oil until all sides of the tofu were covered. *A note to readers who prefer recipes with strict instructions: this one probably isn’t for you. I cooked by taste, smell and sight this time.
The tofu marinated overnight. The next day, I decided I could properly top the dish with crispy fried garlic and crispy fried ginger, thinking of a Chinese dish we ate in Kuala Lumpur several years ago. I sliced both ginger and garlic into the thinnest pieces possible, then filled the bottom of a wok with enough peanut oil to cover the ginger and garlic (fry separately in two batches). Crispy fried garlic is tricky; if it burns, it turns bitter. Heat oil on high, but lower the heat as soon as garlic begins to turn golden. Continue to fry until fully golden, heading toward brown but not burnt. Remove from heat and drain on a paper towel. The garlic will crisp as it dries. Repeat the same for the ginger, though it won’t turn bitter so easily.
When it came time for cooking the tofu, I fried the squares in a generous amount of oil, stirring so all sides could crisp without burning. I added tamari and rice wine for taste and continued to cook until crispy and flavorful. Then I topped with the crispy garlic and ginger.
Hmong Chile-Peanut Dipping Sauce (Kua-Kua Txob Xyaw Txiv Laum Huab Xeeb)
From Cooking from the Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America by Sami Scripter and Sheng Yang
2 T fish sauce
juice of 1 lime (I used 4 key limes)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp MSG, optional (MSG is common in Hmong and regional food, though it can be left out. I didn’t use it.)
1-2 fresh red chile peppers, minced (I used what I had: 2 T hot dried Burmese chile flakes and 3 fresh serranos to appease the biggest chile-lover in the crowd. This turned out HOT.)
1/4 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
4 green onions, white and green parts, finely chopped (I used 8 small garlic chives and 1 Egyptian walking onion from our garden)
1 small tomato or 6 cherry tomatoes, chopped (I used 15 grape tomatoes)
2 T chopped raw peanuts (I used roasted peanuts)
1 T peanut butter
In a small bowl, mix fish sauce, lime juice, salt, sugar and MSG if you are using it. Stir until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Next, add the chile peppers, cilantro, green onions, tomatoes and peanuts. add the peanut butter and stir until the sauce is of uniform consistency. (Full disclosure: I didn’t precisely measure the amount of fish sauce I used, and I used too much. The dish turned out way too salty so I added more of everything else to achieve a proper balance. It was hot, hot, hot but so tasty everyone at the table agree: this dip is the bomb.)
Garlicky Chinese Green Flower (Oilseed Rape)*
From Cooking from the Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America
*Chinese broccoli, bamboo mustard cabbage or bok choy can be substituted. I used baby bok choy
1 1/2 pounds oilseed rape, cut into 5-inch pieces
5 green onions, white and green parts, cut into 3-inch pieces
1/2 bunch cilantro, cut into 3-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
1 bunch baby dill, cut into 3-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup chopped garlic (about 6 cloves)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp salt
4 T soy sauce (I substituted wheat-free tamari)
You need a wide-bottomed nonstick pan with a lid for this dish. Be sure to have all of the ingredients ready before you begin cooking.
Clean and cut the oilseed rape. Cut the green onions, cilantro and dill and toss them together in a bowl. Chop the garlic. Heat the oil in a pan until it is fragrant and golden brown. Add the oilseed rape, salt and soy sauce. Stir-fry quickly for a few minutes, making sure the mixture does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Add a little water and cover the pan for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the lid, add the green onions, cilantro and dill and stir again. Do not overcook. The leaves should be limp, but the stems should still be a little crunchy.
This dish won me over. It immediately transplanted me into a Hmong village high in the hills of Laos or Thailand or Vietnam—the freshness of the greens, the abundance of fragrant herbs, the scent of the kitchen as I cooked. If a book can transport us to another world, it succeeds.
I find other things in my kitchen that do the same. What most takes me back to an Asian village? The smell of smoked bamboo. For the past several years, I have found my favorite bamboo strainers in Cambodia, and I always bring home a few. My latest batch had recently been smoked over a village fire and every time I wash them now, the kitchen fills with a damp smoky aroma that says to me one word: village. Likewise, I keep in my closet a brilliantly embroidered indigo jacket, which I bought in a Hmong village many years ago. It still smells of the smoke that filled the valleys of northern Vietnam, where the jacket was made—by hand, with the agile blue-stained fingers of a Hmong grandmother. Every time I sniff that jacket, I am worlds away.