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last week’s eats

November 20, 2010
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I’ve been working my way though a pretty hefty backlog from last week, and today I thought I’d just write a quick post to share a couple of meals I recently cooked at home. One with a recipe and one without.

We did a lot of socializing earlier this fall, what with several of our friends visiting from out of town and all, but this week was relatively low-key in comparison, since most of our major social obligations have been fulfilled. I was very happy to be able to stay home and cook us dinner for most of the week.

I mentioned before that I’ve been eating a lot of oatmeal for breakfasts, but dinner has been a little more varied. I have been really craving rice as well as salty fermented things lately, so on Monday evening after work I put together an impromptu Japanese-style meal centering around those three things.

Smiley Japanese dinner: kinoko takikomi gohan (rice cooked with maitake mushrooms), yuzu-miso no nasu dengaku (citrus-miso glazed eggplant), and hiyayako (chilled soft tofu w/ ginger, negi, and soy sauce)

Well, sort of. It turns out that my recent kitchen purge, in which I rooted through and tossed everything that had expired in the dark recesses of my kitchen cabinets and fridge (including herbs and spices, etc) had left us without some of the staples of Japanese cooking. Specifically mirin (sweet rice wine vinegar), and sake. I had the presence of mind to grab sake on the way home after after coming up with a rough idea of what I would be making, but totally forgot about the mirin and had to have Eric bring it home later, at which point it was too late to add it to the rice.

I would have made a simple miso-shiru, to go with dinner, but unfortunately I had also lost the last remnants of my aka-miso (red miso) in the kitchen purge and did not want to run out and buy more as our travel plans were still up in the air and I was trying not to bring too many new items into the house.

This was actually the first time I have tried making nasu dengaku at home. It was simple and quick to make using the fish broiler on our stove, and came out quite well. I used an organic yuzu flavored miso that I purchased at a natural foods store a few weeks back, and it gave the glaze a really nice extra kick of flavor.

I packed up the leftovers with some nori so that we could make faux onigiri (rice balls) on the spot at work the next day. I considered actually forming the onigiri in advance, but the large pieces of maitake in the rice would have made them a bit too delicate to hold together on their own, and I did not want to wrap them up with nori in advance and lose the satisfying crunch that comes when the nori is added at the last possible moment before consumption.

I’d had other plans of what to make for dinner on Tuesday night, but it turns out that I was short one major ingredient (third victory for the kitchen purge!), so dinner ended up being another attempt to use up items that we had in the fridge before our potential trip home.

We happened to have an odd zucchini, two small eggplants, onions, garlic, basil, and piman (japanese green peppers) on hand, as well as the last bits of mozzarella from pizza night the week before, so I threw together a simple vegetable heavy tomato-based pasta sauce to have with whole wheat spaghetti and a nice hearty mixed grain bread.

This sauce is my basic  go-to tomato sauce. It is very flavorful and heavy on the vegetables, so it works perfectly as a stand alone on top of pasta. It also makes a pretty killer base for lasagna, but we only have that as a rare special occassion treat over here as cheese is pretty expensive to use in the amounts generally needed for a good lasagna.

Zucchini & Eggplant Tomato Sauce

    200 g eggplant
    200 g onion
    3 cloves garlic
    1/2 tbsp olive oil or butter
    150 g zucchini
    100 g piman or green bell pepper
    400 g canned tomatoes (1 can)
    1 tsp red chili flakes
    1/2 tsp dried oregano
    handful of basil leaves
    juice from 1/2 a lemon
    salt & back pepper to taste

When I cook with eggplant I usually like to pan-fry it separately in a hot pan coated with a small amount of oil before I start putting the other ingredients together. This is is not strictly necessary, but I like the flavor and texture of the toasted eggplant slices enough to take the extra step when making pasta and stir-fry dishes.

To begin the sauce, heat a skillet over medium heat and cook the onion and garlic in butter or oil for a few minutes until fragrant and just beginning to soften and turn transparent. Add in the chopped green peppers, zucchini, eggplant (if not pre-cooked), and chili flakes, and allow the vegetables to cook for a few minutes until just beginning to brown and soften.

Once the vegetables have begun to brown slightly, add the canned tomatoes (and eggplant, if pre-cooked) along with the lemon juice, and then cover with water and season moderately with salt, black pepper, and oregano. Once the sauce begins to bubble, lower the heat slightly and allow the sauce to simmer, covered, for about 15-20 minutes, adding water as needed to thin if the sauce thickens up too much.

Once the sauce has finished simmering, add the basil and adjust the seasonings as needed before removing from the heat. Makes four big veggie-filled servings if used straight as a pasta sauce.

More to come, but this is what I have time for at the moment.

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