Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Various Sources: Beaten Cucumber, Braised Kabocha Squash, Asparagus with Sesame, Spinach with Bonito, Quail Eggs

I've always loved bentos. There's something about the fact that so many little tidbits are packed into such a small container. You get so many different choices and flavors, all in one neat package.

Well, I just went to a Japanese grocery store near me for the first time, so I stocked up on all sorts of fabulous goodies. It also seems like fate, since a couple of days before, I happened to pick up a couple of Japanese cookbooks that I liked. So with a full refrigerator and some great inspiration, I decided to make some side dishes for a great little bento to accompany my curry rice main dish.

In the picture, clockwise from the top, I made braised kabocha squash, "beaten" cucumbers, asparagus with sesame seeds (I was out of sesame seeds of course), quail eggs with toasted sesame salt, and spinach with bonito flakes.

Kabocha no Nimono (Braised Kabocha Squash)
From Debra Samuels

1 small or ½ medium kabocha squash
1 cup dashi stock
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon sake
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Dash of sea salt

Wash the squash and cut in half. With a spoon, scrape out the seeds and stringy parts of the squash.  Cut the squash into 2-inch chunks (they don’t have to be uniform), leaving the skin on.

In a medium saucepan, add the dashi stock and turn on heat to medium-high.  Add squash to the pan in one layer and then add the sugar and sake.  Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit just inside the pan (or use a wooden drop lid). Press atop the squash and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the squash is soft (a toothpick should go into the squash easily) and the liquid is almost entirely absorbed.

Add the soy sauce and salt and stir to coat the squash. Simmer an additional 2 minutes, covered again with the parchment (or drop lid).  Remove from the pan and use the reduced pan liquid as a glaze to brush on the cooked squash.

Kyuri no Tataki (Beaten Cucumber)
From Harumi Kurihara

3 Japanese cucumbers or 5 Persian cucumbers, ends trimmed
Scant ¼ cup (50ml) shoyu (soy sauce)
Scant ¼ cup (50ml) rice vinegar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons sesame oil
A couple pinches red pepper flakes

In a medium bowl, combine the shoyu, vinegar, sugar, and sesame oil. Whisk until sugar has dissolved and set aside.

With a rolling pin, smash the cucumbers, then cut into bite-sized pieces. Put the cucumbers in a plastic bag and pour in the shoyu mixture. Add the red pepper flakes and squeeze the air out as much as you can and seal the bag. Massage a bit, then place in the refrigerator for 2–3 hours.

Asparagasu no Goma Ae (Asparagus with White Sesame Seeds)
Adapted from Just Hungry blog

About 20 medium-thick asparagus stalks
3 tablespoons white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons mirin
2 tablespoons soy sauce

Trim the hard woody part off the base of the asparagus stalks. Cut the stalks in approximately 2-inch long pieces.

Bring a pan of slightly salted water to boil. Put in the asparagus stalk pieces in first, reserving the tips. Cook until bright green and still slightly crisp, a couple of minutes. Add the reserved asparagus tips and cook an additional couple of minutes. Drain, and blanch briefly in cold water. Drain well and set aside.

Roast the sesame seeds in a small dry frying pan over medium-high heat until the seeds start to pop. Immediately remove and leave a couple of minutes to let cool. Add the sugar, mirin, and soy sauce to the sesame seeds. Toss with the asparagus and serve.

Tōsutogoma Shio to Uzura no Tamago (Quail Eggs with Toasted Sesame Salt)
Adapted from Gourmet magazine, April 1999

¼ cup sesame seeds
Heaping ¼ teaspoon coarse salt
16 quail eggs

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a baking pan spread seeds evenly and toast, stirring once halfway through toasting, until deep golden, about 12 minutes. Cool seeds and in a food processor pulse with salt until coarsely ground. Sesame salt may be made 2 weeks ahead and kept, covered, at room temperature.

In a saucepan cover eggs with cold water by 1 inch and bring just to a boil. Remove pan from heat and let eggs stand, covered, for 7 minutes. Drain water from pan and run cold water over eggs, cracking shells against side of pan. Peel eggs. Serve eggs with salt.

Makes 4 servings

Horensou no Ohitashi (Spinach with Bonito Flakes)
From Setsuko Yoshizuka

1 pound fresh spinach, washed
2 tablespoons soy sauce
¼ cup dashi stock
½ cup katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes)

Boil lots of water in a large pot. Add a pinch of salt in the water. Put spinach in the boiling water from the stem side. Boil spinach for about one minute. Drain and soak the spinach in water to cool. Drain and squeeze the spinach to remove the excess liquid. Cut spinach into about 1 inch lengths. Serve spinach in a large bowl or into individual small bowls. Pour mixture of soy sauce and dashi over the spinach. Sprinkle katsuobushi on top.

Makes 4 servings

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