My name, Sanaë, in Japanese means little rice seedling. It seems fitting that my mother raised me on a diet of rice, rice three times a day from breakfast to dinner. The way I know rice is brown, or short-grain and white, prepared in a rice-cooker. Rather than being the colorful centerpiece, rice was our base, the necessary binding ingredient that held the vegetables and fish together. And so, it was a familiar but often dull or under-appreciated part of the meal. I was always thrilled when my mother chose to dress it up and sauté the rice in minced carrots, onions and olive oil before cooking. On those nights the kitchen filled with the caramel notes of a carrot-onion infused rice. It was the kind that I could eat by the spoonful without accompaniment.
But I still resort to cooking rice the simple way, in a rice cooker where I can let it sit for hours. It requires little attention and the smell of steaming rice is as close to home as I can get on most days. So I was delighted when I found a new way to cook rice: with chicken. By this I mean, cooking the rice and the chicken together in the same pot. It seems like an obvious combination, but until I came across the recipe in Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi I’d never tried my hand at it. A friend once told me about a Thai street food dish of chicken cooked in rice. He described it with so much enthusiasm (the rice has the light flavor of chicken broth — but it’s so much more!), and yet I couldn’t understand what was so exciting. Then I discovered a recipe of rice cooked in sea bream in a Japanese cookbook, which happens to be a popular dish with its salty flavors and delicate dashi stock.
We have been meaning to write brief reviews of a few gems in our neighborhood, and instead we return as diners during our short breaks from work and school, and we grow somewhat lazy. But they are coming, we promise, soon!
A friend gave me beautiful Muji cat cookie cutters and I made these: (some of the chocolate cats have wrinkles, but I think Murakami would approve)
It seems that a night of snow and wild winds battering at my window requires that I turn on the oven and bring out the chocolate. And what is better than a cookie bursting with spices, currents, and chocolate? I’ll be brief here, because biting into this cookie is a velvety experience. Like overturning fresh snow with your shoes, it’s quite satisfying. The holiday season may be long gone, but with one of these, you will find yourself transported to the mulled wine and spiced cakes of winter eves. And I’ve never tasted a cookie quite like this one, with its snow-capped lemon icing and spicy, moist interior. I find they are best eaten the day of, but you can keep them a day or two in an air-tight container.
It’s difficult to not become slightly enamored with the eggplant when you peruse Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks. His eggplant is a crowning piece, resplendent and as he coins it, “mighty.” This is a sensuous, regal eggplant, proudly dressed in a purple casing. Smooth and glossy with firm skin and a spongy, creamy interior, its shape reminds me of womanly curves. When I think of eggplants, though, three images come to mind: ratatouille, the decadent eggplant chunks hidden in the falafel and shawarma from L’As du Falafel, and the Japanese ginger soy sauce dish my mother always prepares. The eggplant is my favorite component of a ratatouille. At L’As du Falafel it is deep fried and swelling with oil and spices: the pieces melt in your mouth like the best jamon iberico. My mother sautés eggplant with copious amounts of fresh ginger for a spicy finish, and serves the dish in a delicate porcelain bowl.
I recommend soaking eggplant pieces in cold water for ten minutes to remove the bitter flavors. Soaking it in salted water also prevents oxidization (I do the same with cut apples), or if you like you can sprinkle salt on the slices of eggplant, wait a half hour or so, squeeze some of the liquid out, and rinse. I’ve had a few bad days with the eggplant, when its deceptive skin hides a browned interior. You’ve probably mostly seen large emu-egg shaped eggplants, though they do vary in color and size. Their coloration ranges from white and light violet to darker purple shades. There are the small round eggplants, the medium-sized Italian kind, or the Japanese, which are narrow and slender.
Last week a tiny princess was born. My niece, Nina, with dark-grey-blue slanted eyes, beautifully carries a hint of her ¼ Japanese heritage. For the occasion, feeling like the proudest aunt in the world, I reserved a train ticket, packed gifts in a suitcase (including two small, magnificent pieces of art by the talented Elena Megalos) and set off for Washington, D.C.
My mother had already decided what she would cook today: Chinese stewed meatballs with cabbage. My train departed at eight in the morning, and I was too frazzled to think about breakfast, a rare occurrence, so I arrived starved. The meal was ten minutes from being finished. I haven’t felt this relieved, and thankful, in a long time. So though I didn’t cook the dish – my mother receives full credit – I had her walk me through the steps so I could share it with you. I did spend the last ten minutes watching the meatballs, smelling their delicate shoyu fragrance and poking at the soft bed of cabbage. True, I was hungry, and perhaps not the best judge of flavor (by this point anything could have satisfied me), but the meal was a dream. The meatballs, made with beef, were firm but tender and easily broke apart with the back of a fork. The leeks added a creamy flavor, less obtrusive than onion, and the ginger brought depth and heat. The broth, made with white wine and soy sauce, was a perfect, discrete backdrop. I spooned my last grains of rice drenched in sauce. I was most amazed by the softness of the dish: the flavors were subtle, the Chinese cabbage melted in my mouth, and I was left feeling pleasantly full, entirely satisfied.
I spy Hugo’s drawings in my mother’s kitchen:
Brought to you via the Walkin Kitchen by Jared Frazer creator of Tribute SF
Started by three friends, Avedano’s butcher shop pursues the purest forms of butchery while providing San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood with sustainably raised meat and fish. It is easy to be inspired and educated by the cleaver-wielding bunch behind the counter. Avedano’s is a place of business where craftsmen (and women) are “perserving the art of butchery”.