Monday, June 5, 2017

Week 19 - Tea

We have a lot of tea at home, but when the tea challenge came up, I really wasn't sure what to make. I didn't want to make dessert, and nothing really inspired me until I looked through what other people submitted for the challenge and saw something I had never heard of called ochazuke. A simple Japanese dish, it's made by pouring tea (or dashi or a combination) over rice and savory ingredients. After reading more about it, it reminded me a lot of a dish we had gotten in Vancouver, but we just hadn't known this was what it was called.

Since ochazuke is usually made with green tea, I decided to use genmaicha, in part because it's one of my favorites and in part because I thought the roasted rice flavor would go well with the cooked rice. (If you're unfamiliar with genmaicha, it's green tea combined with roasted brown rice.) Apparently the other common teas used besides genmaicha are sencha and hojicha, and I'm not sure if we even have either of those at the moment. I wasn't sure how the savory ingredients would go with the tea alone, so I decided to experiment and for each of our two bowls, make one with just tea and one with a tea/dashi mix.

The ingredients for the ochazuke were:

- 2 cups (uncooked) brown rice ($2)
- smoked salmon ($7.26)
- 3 green onions ($0.30)
- 1 package of Maui onion seaweed snacks ($0.33)
- 1/2 tsp of sesame seeds ($0.10)
- 3 genmaicha tea bags ($0.50)
- small spoonful of Hondashi mixed with water ($0.15)

On the side, I also made sunomono (based on a Japanese Cooking 101 recipe) because I wasn't sure there would be enough vegetable matter in the ochazuke alone. Unfortunately, the time I went to Trader Joe's they were out of the non-organic Persian cucumbers, so I had to go with a regular hothouse cucumber, which probably contributed to this not being as good as we had hoped. I probably also made too much sauce for it and should have drizzled it in instead of pouring in the whole bowl at once, as the salad was a little too drenched. It tasted fine, but just like cucumbers with soy sauce and vinegar, nothing we need to do again. I mention all this now because I was so unenthused about it that I forgot to even take a picture of the finished product. Anyway, the ingredients were:

- 1 hothouse cucumber ($1.29)
- about 1 tbsp sugar ($0.10)
- 3 tbsp rice vinegar ($0.25)
- splash of soy sauce ($0.05)
- a few shakes of sesame seeds ($0.10)

Combined with the ochazuke, that put the grand total for dinner at approximately $12.43, but that wasn't surprising since smoked salmon isn't cheap. We need to eat more fish on a regular basis though, so no complaints.

The first thing we did for this was start the rice since that would take the longest to cook. While the rice was cooking, I made the sunomono and also did prep for the ochazuke. The prep steps were to chop the scallions, tear up the sheets of seaweed, toast the sesame seeds, make the dashi, and of course to steep the tea.

I remembered one of the sites that I had looked at about ochazuke talked about cooking the rice so it would get some nice browning. We tried doing that with some rice patties, but it didn't really make much difference so we only did it for the first bowl.

This dish was basically all about prep, and once everything was prepped, it was easy. A ball of rice at the bottom, and then layer on the toppings of salmon, scallions, seaweed, and sesame seeds. (I just realized those all start with S!)

After everything is in the bowl, you pour over the tea (and/or dashi) and then let all the ingredients soak in the broth. It ends up being kind of like having soup.

The ochazuke wasn't bad - very light and healthy tasting - but also not amazingly flavorful outside of the delicious smoked salmon. The tea didn't have as much flavor as we thought it would, and it definitely tasted better once we added the dashi. It was good though to have such a healthy, simple dinner.

I don't know that I would plan to make this again since it was good but not amazing, but outside of the smoked salmon, we have pretty much all the ingredients on hand most of the time, so it might work as a good way to use up ingredients sometime. What this dinner really did more than anything else was remind me that I should incorporate smoked salmon into more dishes. So much flavor, and a little bit goes a long way. It's basically the fish equivalent of bacon.

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