Wednesday, April 6, 2011

#WBW72 - Helping Japan

When I saw the theme for #WBW72 that was posted I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I don’t have a lot of experience with Japanese food and don’t feel that I have discovered any local restaurants that would be worthy. Trying something new was the obvious conclusion, and I do that best at home.

The events that have unfolded after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear concerns in Japan are heart breaking. On the one had you want to think that we have come so far as a civilization that scenes like we saw shouldn’t have been so easy to create. Then you remember exactly how powerful nature is and how small we really are. Unfortunately the people of Japan have a long road back to a place close to where they were before all of this, and there is only so much any of us can do to speed that along. But we can help. And reaching out and lending a hand becomes of symbol of what we have in common and what we share no matter how much or how little our support changes the reality as it stands. At the bottom of this post is a link to the Red Cross donation site where you can lend support to those in need.

The plan I crafted was to make Miso Soup and Vegetable Tempura at home, neither of which I have done before. Sake would be a generally obvious choice for pairing, and with that in mind I decided I would do something else; two things actually. I decided to pair a homemade Belgian White beer with the soup and a Gruner Veltliner with the tempura.

I am lucky to work right on the edge of Boston’s Chinatown so picking up ingredients I don’t usually stock at home would be reasonably easy. Many of the packages in the C-Mart are labeled with a combination of Chinese ( I think) and English so finding certain ingredients can be a challenge. I did alright and found my seaweed, bouillon, tofu, tempura flour, miso paste and green tea during my lunch hour.

I made a pot of green tea for us to enjoy while we cooked our dinner. I find tea to be a really great way to drink water, and if you drink tea with no caffeine and minimal sugar there really isn’t any downside. On these cool in-between days of later winter and early spring a hot glass of tea can make a big difference!

Miso Soup
(makes 4 servings)
4 cups water
2 tsp chicken soup bouillon
1/2 cup miso paste
1 tablespoon dried Wakame seaweed, soaked in room temperature water
1/2 cup cubed tofu
3 chopped green onions

Bring the water to a boil. Dissolve the bouillon into the boiling water using a whisk. Turn the heat down to medium-low and add the cubed tofu.

Drain the seaweed and add to the pot. Simmer for several minutes. Turn off the heat and move the pot off the burner. Add the miso paste to the soup and whisk smooth.

Ladle into bowls and add the green onions. Serve immediately.

The soup was paired with a homemade Belgian White beer. I chose this pairing after seeing it pop up in a search for pairings with Japanese food. It caught my attention because it wasn’t something that was obvious to me, and I love to try new things. Believe me when I tell that this pairing worked beyond my imagination. The soup is salty and the creamy beer cut that salt incredibly well. The citrus and spices in the beer meshed in with the soup swimmingly and was a combination worth savoring.

When I crafted this plan I felt that by expanding my knowledge of Japanese cuisine and trying to some classic dishes at home I would be projecting a symbol of care and understanding in a small, but meaningful way. I hope this same bump in enlightenment is shared by all the folks involved in #WBW72. Who knows when roles will be reversed and we will be in need of the support of folks from afar.

The second part of our meal was vegetable tempura paired with the Durnberg 2008 Select Gruner Veltliner. First the wine review.

Durnberg Gruner Veltliner 2008

Light gold color, brilliant with a little sediment. Citrus & herbs showed up on the nose. I found citrus, green apple, minerality and a little spiciness in the mouth. Balanced acidity, with a clean medium length finish. I liked this Gruner but was surprised as the light amount of sediment in the glass. It didn’t affect my enjoyment of the wine, but I found it to be unusual. It presented itself as very food friendly with the balanced acidity that could go in different directions depending on the flavors in the food you paired with it.

For the vegetables we selected:
Red Pepper
Sweet Potato

The choice of avocado was done very late in the game after I happened to see a tweet from someone who mentioned having avocado tempura and loving it some much. I’ll try that!

The tempura batter was 2 cups of the tempura flour and 1 & ½ cups of ice cold water. I read that the two keys to tempura are using cold, cold water in the batter to suppress the gluten development and making sure the surface of the items to batter and fry is dry before battering it. I put the water in the freezer 20 minutes before using it and laid all the cleaned and cut up vegetables on paper towels and patted them dry.

The cooking oil, I used a clear soy-based frying oil, should be about 360 degrees before you being to fry anything and once you begin you will need to turn up the heat a bit to maintain the temperature. The process of frying is a visual one, you are looking for a light golden color to the finished product. Laying the fried items out on paper to soak up the excess oil is another excellent step in the process.

We also made a simple dipping sauce for the tempura using Tamari soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger and green onions. Just a little gives a nice zip to the fried vegetables.

Tempura is an art form and I am sure I didn’t get it as right as I will with more practice. What I can say is that it took longer than I thought to fry everything, but when it was done I was quite happy for the effort. The texture of the lightly breaded and fried avocado is pretty freakin’ amazing. That and the sweet potato paired with the wine were my favorites. The wine found solid matches with everything including the asparagus. Asparagus can be a tough wine pairing food, but I guess when you bread it, fry it and then pair it with a notoriously food-friendly wine you should expect to come up aces.

So it was with tempura in one hand and a well matched wine in the other that I sent kind thoughts of support to our friends struggling in Japan. To help them by supporting the mission of the Red Cross please use the link below to make a donation.




Karen said...

Two things I want to try: homemade miso soup and Gruner. Never done either. The instant miso that you can buy just doesn't cut it. And this sounds like a good Gruner to start off with...

travis said...

The food looks delicious, and I think these recipes are a great way of honoring those in Japan and their culture. Thanks for posting!