Monday, April 30, 2012

Gluttonous Weekend

This last weekend was a good one for both home cooking and restaurant visits. Let me just dive into the recipes, then:

Udon, Tofu and Bok Choy in Soup

Where to buy ingredients: Sun Oriental Market has the best selection of Korean and Japanese ingredients I've found so far in Portland. And lots of vendors at the Portland Farmers Market are coming up with bok choy.


  • 1 piece of kombu (dried kelp), about 4 inches square
  • 4 cups of cold water
  • 1 small pouch of bonito flakes
  • neutral cooking oil (e.g. grapeseed, peanut, or canola)
  • 1 piece of fresh ginger, about 1 inch long, peeled and minced
  • 3 Tablespoons of light soy sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons of mirin
  • 1 block of firm tofu, cut into half-inch cubes
  • 1 head of bok choy, washed and roughly chopped
  • 1 lb of frozen udon noodles
  • Green parts of 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil


  1. Place kombu in a cooking pot and soak in cold water for 20 minutes.
  2. Bring to a boil, then add the bonito flakes and remove from the heat.
  3. Let stand for 5 minutes, then drain with a fine mesh strainer, pressing the solids. Reserve the broth (dashi).
  4. In a clean cooking pot, heat just enough oil to film the bottom over medium-high heat. Add the minced ginger and saute for a minute.
  5. Add the broth, soy sauce and mirin and bring to a boil. Add the tofu cubes and reduce to a simmer.
  6. Simmer for 5 minutes, then add the bok choy and simmer for 3 minutes more.
  7. In a separate pot, cook the udon according to the package instructions (usually, 1 minute in boiling water), then strain and add to the soup.
  8. Once the soup comes back to a simmer, remove from heat and add the scallions and sesame oil, stirring to incorporate. Serve hot.

The other meal combines two dishes from opposite ends of the Middle East, a "tagine" from Algeria and a "sabzi" from Iran. I'm using scare quotes because this meal was improvised, based on recipes I've cooked before, dishes I have eaten, and ingredients I had readily available to me. I do not vouch for their strict authenticity--though they both tasted pretty good to me.

Lamb Shank "Tagine"


  • 2 whole lamb shanks
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 teaspoon each of: whole coriander seed, whole cumin seed, and whole fennel seed
  • 1 onion, sliced thin
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 4 carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup dry, robust red wine
  • 1 large can of tomatoes, hand crushed
  • 1 cup of whole prunes


  1. Preheat oven to 325.
  2. Season the shanks with salt and pepper.
  3. In a large, heavy kettle or casserole (preferably ceramic or enamelized cast iron, though I did it in regular cast iron and it worked fine), heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Sear the shanks on all sides, then set them aside.
  4. Lower the heat to medium and add the whole spices. Stir a few seconds until just fragrant.
  5. Add the onions, garlic and carrots. Saute until the onions are slightly caramelized.
  6. Add wine, turn up the heat to high until reduced by half.
  7. Add the shanks and the tomatoes, cover, and put in oven.
  8. After an hour and fifteen minutes, turn the shanks over and add the prunes. Return to oven and cook for another hour.
  9. Serve with cooked basmati rice and "Sabzi" (see next recipe)

"Sabzi" (Iranian-Style Braised Mixed Greens)


    Several handfuls of fresh spinach, washed and stemmed
  • 3 scallions, sliced thinly, white and green parts separated
  • 2 Tablespoons of butter
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon (or so) of dried mint
  • 1/2 cup of chopped fresh parsley
  • handful of radish microgreens (available at Portland Farmers Market--if you can't find them, mix regular-sized radish greens with spinach and cook the same as the spinach)


  1. Melt butter in a large pan over medium heat.
  2. Add white parts of scallions and cook for a minute.
  3. Add spinach and cook, stirring, until all leaves are wilted, about 5 minutes.
  4. Season with salt, pepper and mint.
  5. Add green parts of scallions and parsley and continue cooking, stirring, for a minute.
  6. Remove from heat, add the radish microgreens, and stir in.
  7. Serve with lemon wedges.

As for restaurants:

  • Though both pho and Hanoi are in its name, the real thing to seek out at Pho Ha Noi may be a specialty of the city of Hue, bun bo Hue dac biet: A spicy broth with thick, wheat-based noodles, various cuts of beef, slices of slightly spongy pork meatballs and, my favorite, chunks of gelatinous tendon.
  • Two visits to the Sunday buffet at Aroma, and no disappointments yet. Protip: The pongal may look like baby food, but it's not, unless your baby likes red chiles, whole peppercorns and curry leaves. Top it with the sambar, and you'll be loving it until your next trip to the bathroom.

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