November 11, 2004

breakaway not-so-Japanese cooking: experiment underway

Sunday, November 7

After boozy potatoes and dried mushroom pesto, I still have a lot of recipes I want to try from Eric Gower's book The Breakaway Japanese Kitchen: Inspired New Tastes (Kodansha International, 2003). Since I couldn't quite choose one to try next, I decided to make two recipes at one time: one tofu dish and one pasta dish, both of them coincidentally with pesto, though a lot different kinds.

A combination of pistachio and mint in Baked Tofu with Pistachio and Mint sounded like a whole new idea to me - it just never occurred to me. As is the case with many other pesto recipes of Eric's, this one was quite straightforward to make - combine the ingredients (raw pistachio, mint, olive oil, etc.) in a blender and process until all milled, and spread the pesto over tofu in a baking dish and bake in an oven. I could have added a twist or two to the recipe, but I basically followed it instead, except for one major no-no [off the record: that I used firm tofu instead of silken tofu, which the author clearly and strongly advises readers to use - because firm one was the only tofu I could find at a store on the day I was shopping ].

While tofu was baking I made Asian Pesto Udon. It was a bit more complicated than the other pesto of the day, in terms of ingredients which included fresh ginger, vinegar, nuts, coconut milk, etc, although the process was about as simple as the other one: put them all in a blender and run. Here I substituted some of the ingredients called for, such as hazelnuts for almonds and white balsamic vinegar for brown rice vinegar.

My pistachio-mint pesto seemed to have been a bit too dry before going into the oven, and it came out even drier when it came out; I had either used too much pistachios (I did measured them, though) or the tofu wasn't waterly enough to give out necessary water while cooking. It was nevertheless delicious. I have never been a big fan of mint in cooking, but this one somehow wasn't overy minty and just blended right with pistachios. I would almost think that this pesto could go well with pasta, but I guess it would make quite another dish without tofu; tofu, plain-tasting as people may think, did play its own role and completed this dish.

For the udon noodle with "Asian" pesto, the recipe says this dish can be served either hot or cold, so I first tried it cold. It tasted very refreshing, in contrast to my initial thought that it might be quite heavy with a lot of added coconut milk, a nice surprise. Then I found it tasting quite different when served hot as I had another portion later; the taste of ginger became more prominent in this way, and I personally liked it better this way.

It is hard to explain exactly how these pestoes taste like, it is certainly not just patchwork made of bits and pieces of different ingredients, but more of one seamless layer of taste with all the goodies incorporated in unity - only if you know what I mean (which you probably won't, but you will see when you try it).


Reid said...

Hi Chika,

Thanks for posting these. I've seen Eric Gower's book and wanted to see more "real" life examples of the food before taking the plunge. I've ordered the book and can't wait to start cooking. =)

chika said...

Hi Reid,
Good thing you are getting the book yourself... you won't be disappointed! :)