Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Week 7 - Black and White

It was difficult for me to figure out what to make for the black and white challenge, mostly because I love cooking with color and didn't want to make dessert. I had absolutely no idea what to do and was pondering just putting a simple white fish on top of black rice, when A had a good idea - cacio e pepe.  I thought that would work, but wasn't 100% into it because I would have to buy white pasta (try to avoid that for health reasons) and it would be predominantly white with just black pepper for the black side of the challenge. Before a visit to a Chinese grocery store, I mentioned to A that I was considering something different, a soup with black rice, tofu or fish balls, and maybe some white vegetables, like daikon. His response was, "Oh, you mean oden?" Yeah, oden would pretty much be the natural evolution of the soup I was considering. With that idea in mind, everything came together much more easily.

The ingredients for our version of oden were:

for the broth (we used a recipe from The Kitchn as the basis for the ratios):
- 8 cups of water ($0)
- Hondashi soup stock granules, to taste ($0.40)
- 8 tbsp soy sauce ($0.60)
- 2 tsp sugar ($0.20)
- 4 tbsp sake ($0.60)

the rest of the ingredients:
- lotus root (about 1.5 lbs) ($2.65)
- daikon radish (we had a 4 lb daikon (yes, seriously) and used about 2/3) ($1.64)
- a couple of handfuls of dried wood ear mushrooms ($0.76)
- 1 small winter bamboo root ($1.91)
- 1 block of firm tofu ($1.32)
- 1 package of pollock fish balls ($1.99)
- 2 small packages of enoki/seafood mushrooms ($1.98)
- olive oil for sautéing ($0.10)

on the side:
- 1 cup uncooked black rice ($1)

Not the cheapest meal, coming in at $15.15, but probably less expensive than most oden recipes since a lot of them include a lot of seafood or fish balls. We went for simple but hearty for a cold night, and it made enough that we had enough leftovers for another dinner.

The steps for making the oden were:

1. Soak wood ear mushrooms in warm water to rehydrate. (By the time I was ready to chop these, it was at least 20 minutes later.)

2. Start the broth with the water and the dashi in a large soup pot.

3. Prep work - peel and chop daikon, peel and chop lotus root, peel and chop bamboo root (this was our first time doing this and quite an adventure as we kept peeling and peeling and didn't know when to stop and ended up with very little bamboo shoots), press tofu to release water and then slice, chop wood ear mushrooms once rehydrated, chop mushrooms.

4. Boil water in small separate pot and cook bamboo shoot until tender. (We had no idea what to do with this root but one site we read mentioned that it could be bitter and the water might need to be changed, which we really couldn't do with the soup stock.)

5. Heat olive oil in small skillet, and begin searing the tofu in batches (just to make sure it doesn't break up in the soup pot).

[Since A and I were doing this together, a lot of these prep steps overlapped.]

6. Add the other broth ingredients to the stock.

7. Once the broth tastes right, start adding the vegetables, fish balls, and tofu to the pot. (We did it in order of how long we thought things would need to cook, like lotus root first.) Simmer for about an hour (or more).

8. At some point while the soup is cooking, make the black rice. (Took about 40 minutes.)

We were really happy with how the oden turned out. Was it perfectly authentic? No, probably not, but it made use of what we had and what looked good at the store, and it had to be within the confines of the challenge, so only ingredients that were black and white. The soy-based broth was really good, very clean and light and healthy, and the entire stew just felt right for winter. Although oden often has large pieces of vegetables, I think next time I would chop the daikon and the lotus root into pieces a little bit smaller so that they mesh better in size with the other ingredients, and we would leave out the bamboo shoots (at least the fresh kind) since they were barely in here anyway. We would definitely make this again, maybe with different/more ingredients when we have the flexibility to have color!

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