Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Spinach and fried tofu

I'm still at the stage where I usually cook from a recipe as opposed to winging it. I have some favorite cookbooks (but what cook doesn't?) and I bookmark recipes I want to try. Once I've cooked a dish, its page gets dog-eared and the bookmark moves on to another recipe or to another book entirely. Eventually, by cooking my way through the books, I get comfortable with the techniques and ingredients. I'm a long way from being able to make up recipes on the fly, but I can see that day off in the distance.

Tonight's effort was "Quick Simmered Spinach and Fried Tofu" from Hiroko Shimbo's The Japanese Kitchen. That required making dashi (stock) in advance, since I was out of it. I do have the little packets of dashi powder, but somehow I never end up using them. Making dashi from scratch is so simple, while deciphering the recommended measurements on the dashi concentrate package is challenging. Go figure. I made two quarts of it, enough for the spinach and plenty to save or freeze for other meals. With autumn's chill in the air, it's getting to be soup season again.

Appropriately enough, tonight’s meal turned out to be soup of a kind. I forgot how much spinach reduces when cooked. The idea is to boil the spinach and drain it, then to bring a cup and a half of dashi, two tablespoons of mirin, one tablespoon of shoyu and half a teaspoon of salt to a boil in a saucepan. Cook the fried tofu in the dashi etc. for a couple of minutes, then add the spinach, heat through and serve. After pouring the finished product into a bowl, I was inspired to add some spicy fat-free Italian croutons rather than the recommended five-spice powder (this is what comes of leaving boxes out on the counter where one can notice them at inopportune moments). The croutons dissolved fairly quickly, but to be fair, they’re meant to be sprinkled on salad, not dunked into soup. All in all, it was a nice light meal, though I’ll probably want a snack a little later.

Tonight's music to cook by: Greenhouse by Leo Kottke (1972). It’s really more stir-frying music than simmering music, especially his cover of John Fahey’s “Last Steam Engine Train.”

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