Thinking of Japan...

Despite how much Wisconsin is absorbed by local politics these days (the academic freedom of one of my mentors on the chopping block, childish GOP taunts of a local judge are on all sides, and there are upcoming State Supreme Court elections to worry about, and all the rest), our weekly Monday Night Dinner crew decided to take a culinary trip to Japan, in order to reflect on those who continue to struggle with the effects of March's earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis. (Donate through the Red Cross here).

Ingredients for miso soup:

Sushi rolls, with quinoa (so delicious!), roasted sweet potato, scallions, avocado, cucumber, and a toasted sesame oil-soy sauce combo.

And DU's homemade botamochi, or sweet rice balls, made somewhat in accordance with this recipe:

But since I didn't manage to capture a photo of my favorite dish of all, I thought I'd share the recipe in its place. This dish is warm and soothing, almost velvety in its consistency. It somehow managed to be mild and flavorful all at once, and to hit all the right spots on a chilly March night in Madison. Enjoy!

Soft Japanese Omelet and Bean Curd over Rice: Tofu Donburi 
from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian
8 ounces firm bean curd
Peanut or canola oil
2 cups vegetable stock
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons sake
3 tablespoons sugar
6 eggs, lightly beaten
2 scallions, thinly sliced (both white and green sections)
1/2 cup peas (defrosted if frozen, parboiled if fresh)
2 cups Japanese short-grain rice, cooked

  1. Put the bean curd on a double layer of paper towels. Cover with another double layer of paper towels. Put a board or a large plate on top and put a 5-pound weight on top of that. Set aside for 30 minutes. Remove the weight and paper towels. Pat dry and cut into 3/4-inch squares. (I often skip this step, just squeezing the tofu with my hands and doing my best to extract as much moisture as possible. But if you have the time and inclination, definitely do the longer drying--but you can also use clean kitchen towels instead of paper!)
  2. Put 1/8 inch of oil in a 7- to 8-inch frying pan and set over medium heat. When hot, put in the bean curd pieces. Stir and fry until the pieces are golden red. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain thoroughly. (I've also had success sauteing or baking the tofu (even a toaster oven sometimes!), to reduce the amount of oil needed--the key is just to get a nice firm crust on all sides, whatever method you use).
  3. Empty the frying pan (save the oil for another use) and wipe it out well. Combine the stock, soy sauce, sake, and sugar in the pan and bring to boil. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for a minute. Now put in the bean curd, bring to a simmer,and cook gently for 5 minutes. Now put in the bean curd, bring to a simmer, and cook gently for 5 minutes. Add the beaten eggs all at once, as well as the scallions and peas. Continue heating until the mixture begins to bubble around the edges. Cover, turn the heat down to low, and cook about 3 minutes, or until the eggs are just set. Uncover and remove from heat.
  4. Divide the cooked rice among the serving bowls. Use a large spoon to divide and lift up the solids--and some of the liquid--from the pan and lay on top of the rice. Moisten the rice with as much more of the liquid as you like and serve immediately.  Serves 3 to 4.