Quarantine Cooking, Part II

Japanese-Inspired Dinner with Creamy Tofu Sauce and Whole-Grain, Plant-Based Sushi

The situation is getting more dire by the day, with talk of a shelter in place mandate in New York, but that’s basically what we’re already doing. Both of the restaurants where I was working have shut down for now, and as of today, my partner is also working from home. I’m excited to spend more time with him, but I also just asked him to stop talking to me while I’m writing. I suggested yesterday that we should develop a schedule for the use of spaces (luckily we have a 2 bedroom), but this was declared extreme. We’ll see.

During my trip to Hong Kong Grocery last week (see the previous post for more on that), I picked up a huge bunch of greens that I hadn’t tried before, with long, pointy leaves and thin stems. I googled “Chinese greens long pointy leaves” and found out that this is known as kangkong, or water spinach, because it has hollow shoots that allow it to grow in mud, though it is more closely related to the sweet potato than to western spinach. Since I was planning to make sushi and miso soup, I wanted to do a Japanese-inspired preparation for the water spinach, but something more interesting than just tossing it with sesame oil and soy sauce.

kangkong, or water spinach

I’m currently reading Elizabeth Andoh’s Kansha, which is about traditional Japanese vegetarian cooking, and I decided to do a riff on her recipe for Chrysanthemum Greens with Nutty Tofu Sauce. To make the sauce, you just blend up some tofu, miso, tahini, and dashi. Honestly I eyeballed the amounts and tasted the sauce for adjustments, but I’ll include the original instructions below. The sauce was thick and creamy, with a subtly, slightly tangy flavor. I steamed the greens and let them cool before mixing in the sauce, then sprinkled them with sesame seeds and served them at room temperature. The leaves themselves were very tender, but the hollow stems had a wonderful crunch. The end result reminded me of a Japanese creamed spinach. I love using tofu to add body to a sauce, to avoid using mayo or added oils, and also get the extra protein boost. This sauce would work with any steamed greens, but you could also use it as a dressing for a cold salad, or as a dip.

Kangkong with Nutty Tofu Sauce

Normally, instead of making sushi, I just lay out rice, vegetables, and nori, and we make handrolls, because it’s fast and easy. I don’t even have sushi mat or any experience making sushi, but given that I don’t have a job right now, it felt like the right time to step up my game. I did some cursory internet research and wound up using a silicon mat to roll the sushi, because I imagined it would be roughly as flexible as a sushi mat. It worked surprisingly well. I used black rice, because it’s a nutritious whole grain, and has a delicious sweet sticky quality. I also used a Korean yam and a ripe avocado, because that’s what I had on hand. To make the sushi rice, I boiled a tablespoon of rice vinegar with a teaspoon of honey and a few pinches of salt, and mixed the solution into cooked, cooled black rice. I cut the yam into long strips and simmered it with dashi and soy sauce. Then I fumbled my way through rolling the sushi like the amateur I am, and served it with soy sauce and wasabi.

Since Kansha is a vegetarian cookbook, this recipe calls for a kelp dashi, made with just seaweed. I had made a traditional dashi with kombu and katsuobushi (dried cured fish flakes) for miso soup, so I used that. I also bumped up the miso and dashi proportions, for more flavor. Steamed or blanched greens may have some extra water clinging to them, so keep that in mind when you adjust the thickness of the sauce.


Nutty Tofu Sauce, from Elizabeth Andoh’s Kansha: Celebrating Japan’s Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions

4 oz firm tofu, well drained

Pinch of salt

1 tsp white sesame paste

½ tsp white miso, optional

1 tbsp kelp stock or water

1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted

Process all ingredients except the sesame seeds in a food processor until smooth. You should wind up with a thick, creamy sauce. Toss with greens and garnish with sesame seeds.

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