Thursday, August 18, 2011

How Many Cookbooks Do You Own?

Seems to me every blogger who gets asked that questions admits to owning dozens if not hundreds of cookbooks, containing more recipes than they could ever hope to make in their lifetime.

Me? I have two. One of which you see above. I bought this book just this past spring, which means for the first six months or so after I left my parents' home for good, I only had ONE cookbook (another vegetarian book).

Honestly, I get most of the recipes I use online, or occasionally from the pages of a magazine. When I’m looking for something to cook I almost always turn first to either Google or one of several trusted food blogs. I have a problem with spending money you see (some may call this being cheap; I call it being thrifty), and hearing from other food bloggers how they don’t really use a good majority of their cookbooks (this is probably not true for everyone, of course, but seems to be the case most of the time for the bloggers I follow) makes me not want to splurge on a book unless I’m positive I’m going to use it.

Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian is one of those books. I got the non-vegetarian version for my sister for Christmas, then found myself thumbing through my mom’s copy of the veggie version and decided to order one for myself. I haven’t actually cooked many things from it yet, but I have used it as a resource several times, looking up ingredients and cooking techniques (it's already got the food stains to prove it). Bittman’s writing style makes it a great book to simply read through as well. The man knows his stuff (and he’s a runner, like me!), and the book really does cover just about every ingredient there is (except meat, of course).

So when we Todd unearthed a God-knows-how-old package of dried nori sheets while we were packing up our Riverside kitchen, I turned to this hefty green tome to figure out something to do with them. Like most people, when I think “nori” I think “sushi,” but it turns out you can use it as a seasoning as well as just a wrapper for rice.

 I decided to try my hand at Bittman’s “Nori Shake” recipe, which sounded ridiculously simple: first you toast two nori sheets in a skillet just until they start to turn green, which the recipe says should happen very quickly, just a few seconds per side. Well, my first sheet took a lot longer than that – in fact for a while it refused to turn green, so I cranked the hit up a bit, which worked well.

Unfortunately that kind of screwed me for the next step, which is to toast a tablespoon of sesame seeds in the same skillet. Ever wonder what happens when you pour sesame seeds into a hot skillet? They start shooting into the air like tiny Mexican jumping beans, scattering all over the stovetop and counters. I took the skillet off the heat and stirred frantically while trying not to get pelted in the eye by flying seeds, and soon they were fragrant and golden per the recipe specifications. Into a bowl they went with a teaspoon of salt and a bit of cayenne pepper, and then I crumbled the nori on top.

Or tried to. The recipe suggests the alternative of whizzing the toasted nori in a spice grinder to make it finer, and I really suggest you do this, because I spent a good 10 minutes trying to tear the nori into tiny enough pieces so that it would mix with the seeds and salt. I got it pretty small, but the sesame seeds still wanted to collect at the bottom of the bowl rather than disperse evenly with the seaweed. Eventually I gave up and decided that, rather than sprinkle the nori shake over the finished dish, as I think is intended, I would mix a few tablespoons in with the rice.

 Like so. I used California brown rice, a short grain rice that is a bit reminiscent of Japanese sushi rice, though it’s not sticky like good white sushi rice should be. It’s what we had, though, and it worked.

On top of the rice I put some vegetables I had sautéed with teriyaki sauce (I know, I know, I cheated – I would’ve made my own sauce but we have an ancient bottle of the Kikkoman stuff in the fridge that I’m trying to use up.). 

There you’ve got mushrooms, onion, broccoli and bell peppers, along with two cloves of garlic. Sautee til almost tender, then pour a few tablespoons of teriyaki sauce (or plain soy sauce if you prefer) over and sauté until the veggies are completely cooked and coated in sauce. Pile onto the rice in a bowl and serve, preferably topped with pickled ginger (you can find it at Whole Foods and, for a better price, at Cost Plus World Market).

And there you have it, a yummy bowl of Japanese-flavored goodness. You can vary the veggies any way you want (I’m gonna try asparagus, red onion and crimini mushrooms next), and use sushi rice if you want to be more authentic. I'll give you a quick version of the nori shake recipe here, since I am unsure about posting recipes from a cookbook online without permission. Hopefully Mr. Bittman won't mind me telling you this much - if you want the actual recipe, buy the book! (Seriously, there's a lot of good stuff in here, it's worth a look.)

Nori Shake Seasoning

Toast two sheets of dried nori, one at a time, until they start to turn green, a few seconds per side. Remove and let cool. Meanwhile toast 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds in same skillet til golden, then add to a bowl with 2 teaspoons and salt and a bit of cayenne pepper if you want some kick. Crumble the nori into the bowl, or use a spice grinder to grind the nori more finely (recommended), and mix it into the seeds and salt. Store for up to a week.

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