Lately, I’ve been working on some writing that is not for this blog, and it’s been consuming a great deal of my time. There are days when I’m so busy tapping away at the computer that I almost forget to eat lunch. Yesterday was one of those days. I realized it had been hours since breakfast and stumbled into the kitchen, weak-kneed and lightheaded.
After staring into the fridge for a few minutes, ideas for two dishes began to take shape: one would be a bold stir-fry, the other a cool, refreshing salad.
I pulled out some leftover pork belly, a mildly hot green pepper, ginger, half a leek, silken tofu, some miso, and a packet of red pickled ginger. From the cabinet, I retrieved ground toasted sesame seeds, mirin, sake, shoyu, and sesame oil. On the counter were garlic and a container of tiny, sweet cherry tomatoes. I grabbed those, too.
Then I set to work chopping, slicing, mincing, and mixing.
I washed the tomatoes, cubed the tofu, and piled both onto a plate. Next, I whisked together a blob of rustic red miso, a few tablespoons of sesame seeds, and a splash of mirin in a teacup. A few drops of rice vinegar balanced out the dressing, which I drizzled over the tofu and tomatoes. Voila: instant summer salad.
The salad waited while I prepared the stir-fry. Into a pan went a swirl of sesame oil, heated until it was nearly smoking. Sliced leek and julienned ginger followed, sputtering and turning crisp around the edges. I added the pork and tossed it around with a some black pepper until it began to lose its pink color and curl up with the heat. Next, sliced garlic and chopped green pepper mingled with the other ingredients just long enough to lose their raw bite. Finally, a pour of sake to deglaze the pan and some shoyu to coat the pork and veggies with a lovely, caramelized sheen. A pile of pickled red ginger next to the stir-fry added a pop of color and flavor. Lunch was served. It took about ten minutes to make and even less time to eat.
The great thing about Japanese food is that it’s ingredient-centric. You don’t need to do a lot to make a meal as long as your kitchen is stocked with some basic essentials. And while yesterday’s lunch wasn’t necessarily Japanese in the traditional sense, I managed to whip up a flavorful and nutritious midday repast with minimal effort and cooking time, all while using pantry staples and peak-of-the-season produce. After all, these are the key tenets of Japanese home cooking – resourcefulness, extracting maximum flavor from what’s available, seasonality. Simple, isn’t it?
Tofu and Tomato Salad with Miso-Sesame Dressing
This dressing is amazing on just about everything. Try using it as a dip for fresh vegetables, a dressing for a salad of peppery greens and thinly sliced radishes, or as a light sauce for cooked fish or chicken. You can easily increase the quantities and store a jar in your fridge, so that you always have some handy.
200 grams (7 ounces) very fresh silken tofu, cubed (Or more, or less, depending on how hungry you are.)
Ripe, sweet cherry tomatoes, halved if large
A large spoonful of miso (a rough, rustic variety is great here)
Two large spoonfuls of ground, toasted sesame seeds
A splash of mirin
Rice vinegar, to taste.
Arrange the tofu and tomatoes on a plate. Whisk together the next three ingredients. Add rice vinegar to taste. Taste and adjust flavors as needed. If your miso is particularly salty, you might need more mirin. If it’s quite sweet, up the vinegar. Pour dressing over tofu and tomatoes and eat immediately.
Gingery Pork and Pepper Stir-Fry
To put it simply: this is delicious and you should try it. Really.
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
Half a leek, white and light green parts only, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
A small-ish knob of ginger, julienned
About 70 grams (approx. 2 1/2 ounces) of thinly sliced pork belly (Use meat that has visible fat on it! If you use lean meat, it will be tough and generally gross.)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 medium-sized, mildly hot green pepper (such as anaheim or poblano), roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
A few tablespoons of sake
A drizzle of shoyu (Japanese soy sauce)
Beni shoga (pickled red ginger), to garnish (optional)
Heat the oil over high heat. Add the leek and ginger and stir-fry until beginning to brown around the edges. Add the pork and a few grinds of black pepper; toss until pork begins to lose its pink color. Add the green pepper and garlic and stir fry for a minute or so. Deglaze the pan with the sake and pour in the shoyu. Toss everything together for a few seconds, until the shoyu has reduced and coated the pork and veggies. If you like, serve with pickled red ginger and steamed white rice.