things have been quiet on the cooking front around here for the past three weeks or so for no good reason except that in my perpetual swing between extremes i've strayed precariously close to the edge. the no good-food-eatin', all-joy-of-life-crushing, tastebud-dyin' edge. the macrobiotic edge. not intentionally mind you, it's just that after a long bout of whipping up things like linzertorte (latest cooks illustrated-yummy!), brownie bite cookies, ice cream, and basket after basket of almost sour enough sourdough bread, well, i just got a little burnt out and felt the call to eat and cook a little closer to the source. no, that does not mean foraging in the bulk snack bins at the local supermarket. i'm referring to whole grains, steamed vegetables, brown rice and a lot of unpalatable looking stews that we fondly refer to as "vegan gruel"...nothing sexy enough to write about.
but then i had a lil' ephiphany that life is not one big hollywood movie and every scene isn't about youth and sex and money and bad plastic surgery. that with the turning of the seasons a steaming bowl of baby-pooh looking, almost predigested gruel may appeal to a few of you out there (no teeth required!). that maybe, in preparation for the holiday eating frenzy, some of you may be trying to cut back a little on the good stuff in order to lessen the tsunami of guilt to come. and do not fear, too near the macrobiotic edge i shall not stray. i hold my over-stimulating spices in too high regard.
so this post is dedicated to what we call "roots" at my house. it's a variation of a japanese hot pot dish called oden which is eaten during the cold months. in japan you can find street vendors with giant caldrons of the stuff steaming away during the winter, along with vendors selling fresh roasted chestnuts and roasted sweet potatoes. i just love all these earthy, hearty winter flavors.
the base of the oden is a konbu dashi or seaweed stock. you can make your own by simmering strips of konbu in water for about 30 minutes, then removing them, or you can do like me and buy little tubes of the stuff. i use this dashi in all my japanese dishes, especially miso soup, it really imparts a strong yet not overpowering flavor. into this stock goes a variety of weird and wonderful roots and vegetables. probably the strangest of which is konnyaku which, in it's traditional brown brick form, i absolutely hate due to its rubbery texture and kinda nasty look. it is made from the root of the konnyaku plant, also known as devil's tongue (why, i don't know), and can be purchased as a brown brick, a white brick, or as little noodles, either white or brown. the noodle shapes are called shirataki. i recommend the white noodles 'cause they're prettier and less reminiscent of a devil's tongue, which may very well be a gnarly brown, gelantinous slab peppered with black dots throughout. when you open the package there is a strong, sea-like smell which can be removed with a few good rinsings. in my oden i like to use: daikon, the long white japanese radish that cooks up quite tender and juicy with a slightly sweet flavor (but unfortunately, to my nose, smells a little like slightly fetid gym socks as it cooks); gobo, otherwise known as burdock root that lends an earthy flavor and fibrous texture; the ever beautiful renkon, or lotus root, with it's intricate flower like pattern and crunchy texture, and potatoes, both sato imo (small taro) and the small waxy ones you can find in the grocery store; carrots; shitake mushrooms; and finally my favorite part, the ganmodoki...you can substitute any type of fried tofu that tickles your fancy. in non vegetarian versions of oden you will usually find a few shelled hard boiled eggs and some form of fishcake. if you have access to an asian market you can find most of these ingredients frozen, sometimes all together in a little baggie.
for other takes on this classic japanese comfort food, go here or here.
1 daikon radish, peeled and cut into chunks
6-7 frozen taro potatoes AND/OR 1-2 regular potatoes peeled and cubed
1 long piece of burdock root, or gobo, peeled and cut into angled chunks
1 can bamboo shoots, cut into chunks (may use frozen)
1 package ganmodoki OR aburage OR smoked tofu
2 carrots, peeled and cut into angled chunks
7-8 sliced pieces of renkon (lotus root) either frozen or fresh
1 package konnyaku (or shirataki)
5-6 shitake mushrooms, fresh or dried/reconstituted
in a large pot bring enough konbu dashi to just cover the ingredients to a boil. layer in the ingredients in order of cooking time, longest to shortest. i usually put raw gobo in first, then daikon, renkon, potatoes then the rest. make sure the broth just covers the ingredients. simmer on very low heat until everthing is tender. at this point i like to adjust seasonings with soy sauce and sake to taste. i like to serve this with steamed white rice and those little pickled onions.