Growing up, some of my best memories are of all the delicious Japanese food my mother would make for us. She grew up in post-war Japan in a humble home with a retired Japanese general as her father and a quiet, soft-spoken, yet surprisingly firm mother.
Comfort food to me has nothing to do with meat and potatoes, and everything to do with rice, hot miso soup and Japanese curry rice.
This has been a cold week for June, so I was inspired to go to some of the foods that helped me warm my belly as a kid: Hot white rice, green beans with my home-made Japanese dressing, and agedashi tofu. Most people are usually familiar with tofu in things like miso soup, but perhaps not as much with agedashi tofu. Basically, it’s a lightly-breaded deep-fried tofu that you dip in a tangy/sweet/savory soy-sauce dip, accompanied by grated daikon, scallions, or whatever else you want.
I’ve always loved the combination of the hot, crisp crunch of the crust and the soft, smooth tofu. The tangy/sweet/savory sauce is a nice light contrast to the little fried pieces of soy, too. If you want something with umami, this sauce is it.
The Japanese-style dressing on the green beans is my interpretation of the dressing my mother used to make to put on top of a couple of vegetables like cooked spinach, green beans, and a few others. It adds a little life to your plain steamed vegetables. The warm flavors that come from the soy, sesame oil and rice wine vinegar add that nice little twist to the familiar and complements pretty much any Japanese or other Asian dishes well. My mother would grind up toasted sesame seeds and pile it on top of the vegetables. I didn’t happen to have any sesame seeds on hand, unfortunately, but next time I’ll plan to find some, toast them up and add them. Adds a nice dimension to the flavors of the vegetables and dressing.
A word on soy: When I first started ‘going vegetarian,’ my health-nut nephew warned me against eating it. He characterized it as dangerous and not a good healthy choice. Unfortunately, soy has recently gotten the stink-eye from the health industry due to our over-consumption of it by health enthusiasts and by those who opt out of meat.
Just like anything else, if you eat too much of it, it’s not good for you. Common sense should prevail here in our decision behind what to eat as vegetarians. If you feed a baby too many sweet potatoes, his or her skin will turn orange. If you eat too many fruits, the sugar content in those will catch up with you. If you don’t eat enough foods containing iron, you will become anemic. Not eating soy is not necessarily a good response to the drawbacks that have been found from its over-consumption. There is undeniable scientific evidence that soy has some highly beneficial properties.
We need to take an approach of moderation in all things we do. Our food choices need to also follow that path.
To find more information about the benefits and drawbacks of soy, go here: http://nutritionfacts.org/video/how-much-soy-is-too-much/
This is a great site with tons of reliable, research-based, NON-BIASED information. You’ll find information on what makes soy good, and at what point soy ‘turns bad’ and starts circulating as much ‘bad stuff’ in your body as those who eat meat.
OK, off of my soy soap box, and on to recipes!
For the agedashi tofu, I used a recipe I found on RasaMalaysia.com. Lots of really great recipes there, some vegetarian/vegan, some not. Here’s your link to agedashi tofu: http://rasamalaysia.com/agedashi-tofu-recipe-fried-tofu-in-dashi/
NOTE: In order to keep my dish vegetarian, I avoided using the dashi (bonito shaving, flakes or granules), which is fish-based, that is recommended to be used in the sauce. Instead, I replaced it with kombu-dashi, which is based on the use of seaweed for flavoring. The good thing about this, is that I can save the leftover kombu dashi to use in future dishes like miso soup, or home-made ramen. Just reserve enough of the kombu dashi to make your sauce for the agedashi tofu, stick the rest in a jar and refrigerate.
Here’s your kombu dashi and green bean with Japanese-ish dressing recipes. My family and I ate this today, minus the shaved bonito fish, and we loved it!
Kombu Dashi (to use in the “Tentsuyu” or dip for the agedashi tofu)
Note: It is very important not to let the water boil while the kombu (large sheets of dried Japanese seaweed) is in the water. This will cause the kombu, and therefore the dashi, to become bitter and slimy and lose its subtle, lovely flavor.
4 cups of water
1 four to six-inch piece of kombu
1) Put the water in a four-quart sauce pan and bring the water to just under a boil (Look for small, fast, bubbles, not large ones).
2) Take the water off of the heat and immediately put the kombu in the hot water. Let sit for about an hour. If you see some foamy bubbles on the surface of the water, skim it off. The water should take on a light, greenish-yellow tinge and become aromatic. The longer you leave the kombu in the water, the more potent the flavor. I left mine in for an hour and was quite happy with the taste. You can experiment to see what your preference is — and if you taste it on its own, don’t judge! When you add this to soups and sauces, it takes on a whole separate life of its own. Trust me.
3) Line a metal sieve with the cheese cloth and strain the dashi into jar or other glass container. I put mine into our French press and pressed the plunger down to strain out the fine bits. Yes, I’m a cheater.
The dashi can be used warm or cold, and can be re-heated and used in many Japanese dishes, or, you can experiment with it and have fun!
Green Beans with Japanese-style Dressing
16 oz bag of frozen green beans (choose your favorite style, I like the whole, uncut kind)
5 Tbsp of rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsp of soy sauce (use the Japanese kind, the Chinese type has a stronger flavor)
1 tsp Japanese-style sesame oil
1 or 2 Tbps toasted sesame seeds (optional)
1) Follow the package directions to steam or microwave your frozen green beans.
2) While the green beans cook, put the rest of the ingredients into a glass or ceramic dish and mix.
3) When the green beans have finished cooking, pour the dressing over the beans. Cover and let sit for about 10 to 15 minutes. Turn beans occasionally. This lets the dressing soak into the beans for a little bit. Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds over top just before serving, if desired.