27 October 2009

Amble in the Rain. Ramble on the Blog.

I may have mentioned it before, but I'm a fan of the sun. And right about now, this little fan is turned off, because it's rainy and cold and mucky. And of course, it doesn't help that I have to go out in said muck to get to work, back into the muck when I run errands, and back again to get back home. Trust me, as soon as I get home, I'm curling up with a steaming hot bowl of rice, and piling it high with roasted vegetables. Our CSA gave us a bunch of different beets (no thanks; I'll leave that for Puppy), potatoes (yes, please!), and celeriac (mmmmm). I strongly dislike celery, but the celery root isn't quite so offensive.

I find that if I treat it like a potato (with regards to cooking), peel off the knobby outside skin with my trusty vegetable peeler, and just roast it with a bit of oil, I'm golden (get it? golden? roasted?)!

Yes, it's simple, but I've found myself scaling back on the spicing and the aromatics (garlic, onions, what have you) when I've got such top-notch produce from my CSA. Yes, Indians love their spices, but they also really love clean flavours, where the vegetable comes out by itself. For most of my life, I couldn't really afford the organic vegetables. The CSA made it possible for me to discover those unsung heroes of the plant kingdom (I'd never heard of mizuna, used kohlrabi, had five different varieties of chard and kale in one sitting, or seen that many different kinds of potatoes), and really let the flavours come through. Thus far, for me, Kale meant that curly stuff that's ever so yummy with all the attendant spices and cooking in the oven.

You know the type. You add a bit of curry powder and salt and a head of garlic to 3 kg of chopped kale (stems and all, of course). Then you throw in a tin of cocounut milk. Then you wash out that tin once or twice with water, and pour that into your dish too. Then you pop it into the 350ºF oven for 25 - 40 minutes, until it's as tender as you'd like for it to be.

Well, as I started to get different varieties, I started to cut back on the amount of spices. Then, I cut back on the salt. Then I cut out the garlic. Before I knew it, it was just water, coconut milk, and kale going into the baking dish, and simmering away tantalisingly. It's not that I'd grown to dislike spices. Far from it, actually. It was more that I started to notice that I craved more of the kale's own taste coming through. I also noticed that doing very little to the vegetable made it "safe" for a wider variety of people.

I've had people eat at my house who can't have various spices, pepper, etc. Some are on low salt diets. Some are watching their caloric intake. All said and done, I still cook very flavourful food. It's just that I'm relying on different techniques from what I used to.

Take my daikon. All I did was julienne a large daikon radish, sprinkle it with black sesame seeds, and a bit of sesame oil, and popped it into the oven for about 10 minutes. That's really all it needed. I could have done it on the stove, but I feel like I would have ended up getting it mashed, and would have lost the texture of the julienne that I worked so hard to create (actually, it wasn't that hard).

By the by, if you find yourself the lucky recipient of lots of daikon, use it to practise your chopping techniques. It's the perfect shape and size to do any number of pretty cuts. Just peel off the outer skin real quick, and chop off the top and bottom pieces. Then, slice a thin slice from the bottom of the circle to give yourself a steady base from which to work. Then, slice the daikon into rounds. The thinner you slice them the finer your final chop will be. I sliced mine about 1/8 inch thick. Then, stack up the rounds, and make vertical slices, so you have a fine little julienne. If you decided to go a little larger, and make 1 inch rounds, you can then slice 1 inch vertical slices, and end up with 1 inch wide daikon "french fries". Just rub a little oil onto a parchment lined baking sheet (or use silpat, or use a nonstick baking sheet with a bit of oil), sprinkle a bit of black sesame, and bake at 350 for about 10 - 15 minutes. They're quite yummy on their own, or dipped in a bit of soy sauce combined with sriracha and a touch of ketchup.

Then, once you've got your stick shapes, it's just a few more cross wise cuts to make an adorable dice! Easy peasy. And because the daikon is uniform in width throughout (unlike those stubborn carrots and parsnips), you'll have a fairly easy time in keeping everything uniform. I actually had fun while dicing everything up the other day, because it looked sooooo cute when I was done.

Yes, I'm easily amused.

OK, let me be honest now.

I'm totally /not/ in the mood for roasted vegetables. I want soup, damnit.

When I get home, I envision that giant head of cabbage that Puppy brought home with that CSA haul. I'm going to pop some black mustard seeds, and some cumin seeds in some hot fat. Then, I'll throw in the sliced cabbage. In a separate pot, I'll boil up some udon noodles (the thick ones that I love so much). Once the cabbage is all coated in the spices, I'll add in just enough water to cover. By the time the water for my udon comes to a boil, and the noodles cook through, the cabbage will be tender and savoury smelling. I'll finish it with a bit of red chili flakes and salt, and pour it over a bowl of hot, freshly boiled noodles.

Or maybe I'll be lazy and have it with rice.

And then top it off with some shredded carrots. Mmmm. Carrots.

Ohh! Ohh! And a clove of minced garlic. And I stir it all through to combine the flavours and aromas. And then I shall promptly sink into a pile of fluffy pillows, cover myself with a few layers of thick fleece blankets, and grab a book to read.

And life will be good.