Vegan Spam Musubi

I suddenly found myself making vegan SPAM on Sunday. Trust me, I was as surprised as anyone. But then I had to figure out what to do with it. The only dish I have ever heard of that uses Spam is Spam musubi, that bizarre Japanese/Hawaiian hybrid of weirdness. So I did what any normal person would do: I visited the Spam website (Warning! Clicking on that link with your speakers on is…interesting.) There I found many, many Spam recipes, including one for, yes, Spam musubi. So, that, my friends, is exactly how I used up the first of what turned out to be more vegan Spam than I can handle. I was going to come up with my own recipe, but then I decided it would be funny to use the official SPAM recipe, which other than the SPAM itself, is vegan.

Vegan Spam Musubi

3 cups prepared sushi rice
1/3 – 1/2 recipe vegan Spam
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
olive oil for frying
1 -2 sheets sushi nori

Get the sushi rice cooking. (If you are not familiar with cooking sushi rice, see Maki’s tutorial on the excellent Just Hungry.)

Mix the soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, and ginger together in a small, shallow pan.

Cut four slices of vegan Spam (for a total of eight pieces of musubi). I found a serrated knife worked best.

Cut each slice in half, then cut off outermost part of the arc of each (save the small arc-shaped piece for another use):

Place the eight pieces of vegan Spam into the marinade and marinate for half an hour, turning over after 15 minutes.

Meanwhile cut the nori into 8 strips 1/2 to 1″ wide. My nori is perforated for 1″ strips.

When the rice is done, let it cool enough to handle.

Heat a frying pan over medium heat, add some olive oil and bring up to temperature. The Spam seemed to want to stick to my cast iron pot, which is well-seasoned and usually very stick-resistant, so I had to use a bit more oil than usual. (I still didn’t use the 2 tablespoons the SPAM website called for.) Brown the vegan Spam on both sides.

When the rice has cooled a bit, wet both of your hands and grab a handful, smooshing it into a log-ish shape about the length and width of your Spam pieces. (Don’t try to do this with dry hands.)

Place a piece of fried vegan Spam atop each rice log.

Wrap a strip of nori around each Spam/rice pile, moistening the nori slightly at the end to seal it.

Repeat for each piece of vegan Spam.

I steamed some broccoli and carrots, then tossed them in some of the leftover marinade. The SPAM site also suggests dipping the Spam musubi in the leftover marinade. I prepared some wasabi and soy sauce for dipping because Mark loves wasabi.

When the vegan Spam was frying, Mark announced it smelled like real SPAM. “I have no idea what SPAM smells like,” I responded, “but I’m guessing it does not smell good.” Then he picked a piece out of the frying pan and said it tasted like real Spam, to which I responded, “I have no idea what SPAM tastes like, but I’m guessing it’s not good either.”

Despite – or maybe due to – the fact that I doubt very much vegan Spam tastes (or smells) like real SPAM, this turned out well! Mark really liked it, and despite the fact that he’s a complete rice fiend, when I couldn’t eat my fourth musubi and asked him if he wanted it, he only wanted the Spam from it. He also said he may make a Spam sandwich for lunch tomorrow. This was definitely a fun experiment!

And I have so much more Spam left to work with! Prepare yourselves for a very spammy week.

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Cowboy Beans and Mexican-Seasoned Rice

Every so often I get it into my head that Mark and I aren’t eating enough iron. This weekend was one of those times. Then I found myself flipping through Simply Heavenly!, in which Abbott George Burke pretty much assures me eternal life if I eat dried beans cooked in a pressure cooker every day. Knowing that dried beans are a good source of iron, I decided to follow his advice and stocked up on several different kinds. The bean dish I made tonight is an adaptation of what he calls Cowboy Beans. I don’t know that I’ve ever had cowboy beans, to be honest with you, and googling it turned up a lot of recipes that call for smothering beans in barbecue sauce, and a few that seemed more like meatastic versions of this one, so I don’t know if there is some discrepancy about what cowboy beans are or what, but I’m going to go ahead and call ’em Cowboy Beans because it reminds me of the time my family and I went out west and pretended we were cowboys. And girls. I think the others may have eaten cowboy beans, but I was vegetarian at the time, so I stuck to the cowboy coffee.

Cowboy Beans

2 cups dried pinto or pink beans (I used pink)
4 cups vegan “chicken” broth
1/2 tsp liquid smoke
1 jalapeno pepper, minced (crushed red pepper is shown in the photograph because it’s what the original recipe called for, but a jalapeno made much more sense to me)
1/2 tsp rubbed sage
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/4 cup vegan “bacon” bits

Place beans in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes, then remove from heat and let sit for one hour. (Alternatively, soak in cold water overnight.) Drain beans.

In a pressure cooker if you have one, or large pot if you don’t, combine broth, liquid smoke, sage, and oregano and bring to a boil. Add the beans. If using a pressure cooker, bring up to pressure and cook for 10-12 minutes. If not using a pressure cooker, cover and simmer for a long time, until beans are soft: maybe 3 hours?

Bring pressure cooker down from pressure if using, and uncover. If there is more broth remaining than is required to cover beans by about half an inch, ladle it out. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to medium and cook for 30 minutes. Liquid will have reduced, but will still be a little “brothy”.

Serve with seasoned rice (recipe follows).

Mexican-Seasoned Rice

4 cups cooked rice, medium grain preferred (all I had was brown jasmine but I survived), optionally cooked in vegan “chicken” stock
1/2 large onion, chopped
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/4 cup sofrito
chopped cilantro (I used a frozen cube from Trader Joe’s)

Cook the rice using your preferred method; mine is a rice cooker. Warm some olive oil in a medium-large pot, then add the onions and bell pepper and saute until onions are golden.

Add the garlic and sofrito (and if using frozen cilantro, the cilantro) and cook for another minute.

Stir in the rice and cilantro (if using fresh).

Serve with cowboy beans (recipe above).

This meal, particularly the beans, was very good. For reasons known only to him, when dinner was announced, Mark helped himself only to the rice – especially strange considering he informed me he’d had rice for lunch (“Rice and what?” I asked. “Just rice.”) – and returned to the dining room table and gobbled it up. Then he asked if he could taste some beans from my plate. “Oh my god!!” he exclaimed, swallowing, then darted into the kitchen as fast as his legs could take him. “These are amazing!” Then he burned his mouth trying to eat them too fast. There’s probably a lesson buried in there somewhere for him to learn, but I doubt he’ll find it. The lesson I learned is: cooking with dried beans doesn’t have to involve planning the night before and soaking them, and can actually be pretty fast (with a pressure cooker anyway), much more delicious than you might think, and of course cheap and healthy.

So where are the cats, you’re wondering? Well, I was wondering that myself when I was pulling this together, until I wandered into the library to check my messages and found this:

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Soy Chorizo, Beans, and Rice

Hello? Have you missed me? Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted. First it was my birthday, then Mark’s birthday, a visit to Mark’s family in Charleston…I’ve been very busy! And next up is our wedding anniversary! October is full of wonderful events, but they’ve all been keeping me out of the kitchen. Tonight I finally got to cook something decent.

I had purchased soy chorizo at Trader Joe’s before we went to Charleston and I decided that would be the basis of tonight’s meal. Basing meals around fake meat confounds me, though. Because I was vegetarian before I learned how to cook, I never had a repertoire of meat dishes I used to make or even that I miss, so when I, as I do every year or so, buy a bunch of fake meat from May Wah, for example, I’m at an absolute loss for what the heck to do with it. I found myself in a similar situation when confronted with the soy chorizo; in fact, it was exacerbated by the fact that I’ve never had real chorizo. I bought it because it seemed like something that would be right up Mark’s alley and would probably be the center of a pretty easy meal. But I have no idea what one does with chorizo. In the end I decided that you can’t go wrong adding it to beans and rice. And you certainly can’t go wrong wrapping the whole thing in a tortilla. So that’s what I did. Is it authentic? Who knows. Probably not. Is it good? Yes. So here you go:

Soy Chorizo, Beans, and Rice

1/2 large onion, diced
1/2 large green bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 anaheim chile, diced
1 dried pasilla oaxaca chile, rehydrated and chopped
2 links soy chorizo (remove casing if necessary)
1/2 can black beans, rinsed
1/2 can pinto beans, rinsed
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup water
1 small can salsa verde
hot sauce to taste
4 cups cooked rice

First get the rice cooking (unless you are using leftover rice). I used to be able to make perfect rice back when I had a glorious gas stove, but when we moved into our current, otherwise wonderful, house, I was forced to use an electric stove and suddenly lost the ability to make rice. Enter my new best friend:

While the rice is cooking, prepare the veggies, etc. Rehydrate the pasilla oaxaca in boiling water. I had to stick a tiny saucer on top of the chile to keep it from floating.

If you don’t have a pasilla oaxacaca, substitute another smoky chile, such as chipoltes in adobo sauce, or maybe some smoked paprika. Or just omit entirely. If using, chop it up when it’s soft:

Dice the onions, …

… the green pepper, …

and the anaheim chile.

Mince or press the garlic.

Soy chorizo (as, I suppose, real chorizo) usually comes in an inedible casing:

Remove it from this casing:

Rinse the beans. Instead of using half a can of each kind, you can use an entire can of one or the other. I couldn’t decide which I wanted, but now I’m stuck having to find another use for the leftovers!

You can start cooking about 10 minutes before the rice is ready; my rice cooker starts counting down at 10 minutes. Add some olive oil to a large, hot cast iron pan and add the onions when the oil is hot:

Saute for 3 minutes, then add the green peppers, garlic, and pasilla oxacaca:

Saute for another 3 minutes, then add the chorizo:

Saute for another 3 minutes, then add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and water:

Cook for a couple of minutes, then add the beans, salsa verde, and hot sauce:

Allow to simmer for about 5 minutes, then add the rice and heat through.

While the chorizo, beans, and rice mixture is cooking, whip up some optional guacamole. Since I was planning to shove it into a burrito, I didn’t make anything fancy: basically I just wanted to smush up the avocado. In a molcajete, I smashed about a tablespoon of minced onions and a clove of garlic:

Then I added the avocado:

Finally I added the juice of half a lime and some cilantro.

You can eat the soy chorizo, beans, and rice as is, but I’m a fan of carbalicious tortillas, so I decided to serve it in burrito form. I placed about 1/2 cup of the chorizo mixture in a neat line on a tortilla and topped it with some guac:

Then I rolled them up …

… which makes for an anti-climatic photo, but which was pretty darn tasty.

Brachtune watched me eat from her station on Mark’s laptop bag …

… until Tigger decided he wanted to sit there.

So then Brachtune went into her “Victorian lady” pose. I think it looks like she has a big bustle when she sits like this:

Then Tigger got in my face.

And I finished my burritos. The end.

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Scattered Sushi

Mark requested “tofu and rice” for dinner last night and looking for inspiration, I flipped through Asian Vegan Kitchen. I decided to make Scattered Sushi from that book. Wegmans didn’t have the lotus root called for, so I substituted dry tofu (which also satisfied Mark’s tofu request). At the author’s suggestion, I substituted bamboo shoots for the shiitakes because as previously discussed, I hate mushrooms.

Scattered Sushi

Before running up to the grocery store, I stuck a piece of kombu into 4 cups of water. This gave me enough dashi when I got home to prepare the meal below and make 2 servings of miso soup.

4 ounces dry tofu, cubed (original calls for 3.5 ounces lotus root, soaked in vinegared water)
1/2 cup dashi
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp sugar or 6 drops stevia
pinch of salt
1 medium carrot, julienned
4 Tbsp dashi
1/2 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sugar or 2 drops stevia
pinch of salt
1 8 oz can bamboo shoots, shredded (or 10 dried shiitake mushrooms)
2/3 cup dashi
3 Tbsp sugar or 18 drops stevia
2 Tbsp mirin
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 cup snow peas, strings removed, and chopped in half
sushi rice
1/2 cup white sesame seeds, toasted
pickled ginger for garnish
1 sheet toasted nori seawood, cut into strips, for garnish

Prepare sushi rice. I guess I should do a tutorial on this sometime, but all I do is cook it in a rice cooker, then cut in seasoned rice vinegar and salt with a rice paddle when it’s done. I don’t even measure those things, so it wouldn’t be much of a tutorial. Just follow the instructions on your package of sushi rice, then season with sushi vinegar and salt to taste.

Combine 1/2 cup dashi, 2 Tbsp rice vinegar, 1 Tbsp sugar or 6 drops stevia, and a pinch of salt in a small saucepan. Add the tofu or the soaked lotus root and cook for 3 to 4 minutes (until lotus root, if using, is tender). Drain and set aside.

Combine 4 Tbsp dashi, 1/2 tsp rice vinegar, 1 tsp sugar or 2 drops stevia, and a pinch of salt in the same small saucepan and cook for 2-3 minutes over medium heat, until the liquid is almost absorbed. Drain and set aside.

If using shiitakes, rinse and soak in water for 5 minutes, then remove hard stems. Place the mushrooms or the bamboo shoots in the small saucepan with 2/3 cup dashi, 3 Tbsp sugar or 18 drops stevia, mirin, and soy sauce and cook over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes. The liquid may be nearly or completed absorbed if you are using mushrooms, however, it probably won’t be with the bamboo shoots. Drain if necessary and set aside.

Blanch the snow peas in salted boiling water. Drain and set aside.

The book didn’t suggest serving the scattered sushi with the typical soy sauce and wasabi you’d eat regular sushi with, but I wanted to try out the real wasabi I’d gotten from Penzey’s, so before assembling the sushi, I mixed some up so it could sit for a few minutes:

To assemble the dish, place sushi rice in a bowl, then “scatter” with sesame seeds, the prepared vegetables, pickled ginger, and nori slivers. Serve at room temperature.

Best served with miso soup and pickle!

Mark rated this meal as “simple but very good” and gobbled it up very quickly. Speaking of Mark, as much as I loved being in San Francisco, it was very good to be back in my own kitchen with my two favorite boys:

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Carolina Red Rice

Although his father used to spend days planning huge vegan feasts whenever we’d visit my in-laws, Mark’s mother doesn’t enjoy cooking any more than my mother does, so I’m not going to be getting a lot of family recipes from her. What I did get for Christmas from her this year, however, was a big ole bag of South Carolina food stuffs.

Most of Mark’s family moved to Charleston a couple of years ago. Some people, when I tell them I’m heading down there for a visit, will say, “oh, the food is so good down there!” I haven’t found that to be the case, however. Not only is it rather meat-centric, but EVERYTHING is fried. One time, somewhat out of desperation, Mark ordered a BLT sans the B and was shocked to discover the tomatoes were fried! On his sandwich! It was…disturbing. Asian restaurants are few and far between, and not of the quality we’re used to up here in our little Asian wonderland of Northern Virginia. There actually are a few veggie-friendly restaurants on James Island, where they live, including a couple that have vegan things right on the menu, so it’s not completely hopeless, but it is a lot different than it is here. And if you stray too far from the more populous locales, the vegan food situation gets sketchy quickly. Which is too bad because once you get past all the meat and the fried stuff, there’s something to be said for Southern cuisine.

Anyway, my mother-in-law frequently gives me Charleston-related food items, which I love. The jalapeno jelly I often slather on my bagels over cream cheese came from her. And tonight while putting away groceries, I found an adorable little bag of Carolina rice that she had given me for Christmas. I’d been puzzling over what to make for dinner, and in fact, had planned to just pick something up from the hot bar at Whole Foods before finding it decidedly un-vegan-friendly this evening. And since Smark is a riceasaurus, and the recipe on the back of the rice bag called for bacon, which meant I could use up some of that leftover UnPork from last night, I figured it would be the perfect thing to throw together tonight.

Here’s the bag of rice:

Isn’t it cute?! I’m trying to think of something crafty to do with the bag once the rice is all gone. The only thing I’ve come up with so far is a pin cushion, or it’s a pretty good size for making into a cold pack. Funnily enough, I’d fill it with rice for such an application.

If you can’t get your hands on genuine South Carolina heirloom rice like this, any long grain rice should suffice. It’s cool to use non-mass marketed stuff like this though. The following recipe comes directly from the back of the bag of rice. Ordinarily I’m a very throw-whatever-together kind of chef, but it seems like this week I’ve been a slave to recipes! I’m really having fun with it, though. So here we go:

Carolina Red Rice

1 1/4 cup Carolina Gold rice (or any long grain white rice)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 small jalapeno pepper, diced (I used two because that’s how we do things in our household)
1 1/2 cup good quality canned crushed tomato (I used 1 14.5 ounce can fire-roasted)
1 cup vegan chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 thin slices UnPork, diced (optional)
2 Tbsp vegan “bacon bits”
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme or 1/4 tsp dried
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 Tbsp sugar (or 15 drops stevia – I find it so much more convenient than dragging out the sugar canister)
6 dashes Tabasco (or to taste)
2 tsp salt (or to taste)
1 tsp black pepper

The UnPork is optional because the bacon bits will sub for the bacon that is called for in the original recipe and provide all the taste you need. But since I had the leftover UnPork I threw it in to provide a little bacon-like texture, which the bacon bits don’t really do as they don’t get crispy. Possibly you could just fry them instead of the UnPork and they’d get crispy. I don’t know.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. If you do use the UnPork, put the olive oil into a frying pan, bring it up to temperature, and then add the diced UnPork:

When it’s crispy …

… add the onions, jalapeno peppers, thyme, bay leaf, soy sauce, “bacon bits”, salt, and pepper (or if you didn’t use the UnPork, just throw all of this into the pan to start with).

Fry for a couple of minutes, then add the tomatoes, sugar or stevia, and Tabasco:

Cook for five minutes, then add the stock or water and the rice. Bring to a simmer again.

Pour everything into an oven-safe casserole dish:

Place a lid on it or cover with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes or until rice is done. Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes, then remove bay leaf and fluff with a fork.

While the rice was cooking, I wondered what I could serve with it. I had harvested these adorable purple peppers from our garden earlier in the day:

Okay, that’s a lie. The horrible gardening skills I had before have done nothing but get worse this summer. I’m pathetic, really. I got those cute peppers from the farmer’s market.

God, I’m such a liar. Although I LOVE farmer’s markets, I hardly ever drag myself out of bed before 11 a.m. on weekends, which makes them next to impossible for me attend. I bought those peppers at Whole Foods. I will have you know, however, that they ARE from a local farmer. If you consider Pennsylvania local to Northern Virginia. I’m going to pretend that I do.

I bought them because they were cute, cheap, and organic. They seemed like they’d be a good accompaniment to the rice because Southern cuisine calls for bell pepper in practically everything as part of the “holy trinity”. I’d have considered stuffing the peppers with the rice, but that would delay dinner for too long, so I decided to simply roast the peppers and serve them NEXT to the rice. Same basic taste, right?

Check out my pepper roaster:

My collection of kitchen gadgets knows no bounds, does it? This one was little neater when I had a gas stove (how I miss thee, gas stove), but to my surprise, it works with the electric stove nearly as well. And actually before I had this gadget, I used to roast peppers directly on the gas burners, although that required one burner per pepper. You could also use a broiler, or probably a grill.

What I was not expecting was for the process of roasting to roast the purple right off those peppers!

They started to turn green as their skin charred!

After about 10 minutes of turning the peppers until they were uniformly charred (by the way, I can report that our smoke detector IS working) …

… I put them into a brown paper bag …

… for 10 more minutes. Then I rinsed them under running water and washed the blackened skins off:

Then I de-seeded them and just pulled them apart into bite-sized pieces.

And here’s the meal:

This was really good! Mark loved it. He ate all his peppers up before I even sat down next to him (I had to take the above picture before I could sit down to eat, of course), and when he started in on the rice, he was ecstatic. It was very flavorful and, since I used two jalapenos, nice and hot. I’m making a mental note to consider making this meal for his whole extended family during our next Charleston beach week!

In other news, here is my new invention:

It’s called the Anti-Tigger Shield. Hidden beneath those two domes are three proofing loaves of ciabatta bread. Tigger is FOREVER sitting on my bread dough, pizza dough, freshly-baked muffins…you name it. If it’s a baked good in any stage of its life cycle, Tigger wants to sit or walk on it. WELL NO MORE. TAKE THAT, TIGGER!

Aww, but he’s so cute I can’t stand it. Ok, you can walk on my dough, Tiggs.

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Dolsot Bibimbap

My mother-in-law is staying with us a few days in conjunction with a family wedding. She and I were swimming today as I was thinking about dinner possibilities, which lead me to decide on one of my favorite meals, a sizzling Korean concoction called dolsot bibimbap. As I mentioned in my kimchi post, Mark’s parents lived in Korea for a while just before he was born, and they were responsible for introducing me to Korean food. It’s also a pretty easy meal to make and doesn’t take much longer than it does to make rice (although you have to work the whole time the rice is cooking). So I dragged myself out of the pool and was off to Super H to get a few ingredients.

Bibimbap is a pretty well-known Korean meal consisting of various things – usually including meat of some sort – stirred into rice. A dolsot is a heavy stone bowl that can be heated over fire. Dolsot bibimbap, then, is bibimbap that is partially cooked and served in a dolsot. In my opinion, dolsot bibimbap is much better than regular old bibimbap because a) it makes noise (it sizzles) and b) the rice gets crunchy. The problem some of you are going to have is finding dolsots. I’m fortunate to live in amongst many Korean stores, so dolsots were no problem for me. You may be able to find them online but you’ll pay a fortune in shipping if you do because they weigh a ton. I imagine you could try cooking the rice in a cast iron pot and then transferring it to a serving dish when it’s crunchy, although honestly that’s not nearly as fun. I have two smaller iron pots that are, I believe, Chinese that I used before I bought the dolsots, and while this worked somewhat, the result wasn’t nearly as good as it is in a real dolsot. Here is what my dolsots look like:

As far as the tray under the dolsot is concerned, you definitely need one and this is one of the very few times I’ll tell you you want the plastic kind over the wooden kind. I originally had wooden trays for my dolsots, but they were laminated and the hot dolsots stuck to them so now I have a plasticky goo on the bottom of my dolsots that smells really bad and gets all over my burners when hot. Bizarrely, the plastic kind doesn’t melt while the wooden kind does (at least the wooden kind I had).

One of the great things about vegetarian bibimbap, and making bibimbap at home, is you can put whatever you want in it. It’s good for using up leftovers, although I usually just go to Super H and grab some veggies there. The Super H near me often has prepared seasoned bibimbap veggies that save on prep time. I ordinarily wouldn’t buy prepared veggies like that except the packages they have contain traditional items like bellflower root and bracken fern that I can’t always find fresh and unprepared. But don’t be alarmed if you don’t have a Korean store nearby where you can get these items. You can put any type of veggie into your bibimbap as long as you can chop it up into nice pieces. So the following is really more a few suggestions than an actual recipe.

Dolsot Bibimbap

short or medium grain rice (I use sushi rice), one serving per person
gochujang (chili pepper paste) sauce: about 1/4 cup per person (recipe follows)

various vegetables and tofu, depicted above is:
1 large or 2 small carrots, julienned thinly
1 bunch baby broccoli: an example of a non-traditional ingredient that worked well for me
mung bean sprouts
bracken fern
bellflower root
Korean or Chinese chives (which I didn’t end up using because I had enough other stuff)
Korean radish or daikon
tofu, cubed

Also suggested:
mushrooms if you can stand them
really any strange vegetables you see in an Asian grocery store and can’t identify

For the veggie marinade:
3 Tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
9 drop stevia or 1 Tbsp sugar

Prepare the rice according to the package. I use a rice cooker. While the rice is cooking, prepare the veggies. “Hard” vegetables such as carrots, radish, and zucchini should be julienned thinly. I used a julienne peeler on this carrot:

Leafy vegetables should be roughly chopped if necessary. Blanch veggies like carrots, broccoli, bean sprouts, and radish in boiling water for 30 seconds to one minute depending on how hard they are then rinse under cold water to stop cooking. Don’t overcook them.

Leafy items like spinach can be microwaved for one minute or lightly steamed. Zucchini can be lightly sauteed or just used raw. Chives, lettuce, and tofu can be used raw. I honestly don’t know know how to prepare mushrooms because I don’t eat those nasty things.

Stir together the marinade ingredients in a small bowl.

Keeping each vegetable in a separate bowl, toss each with a small amount of the marinade. If you like, toss in some sesame seeds:

Next make the sauce:

Gochujang Sauce

(Makes enough for three generous servings.)

1/2 cup gochujang (spicy chili pepper paste, available in Korean markets)
3 Tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
9 drops stevia or 1 Tbsp sugar
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 tsp sesame oil

Gochujang is a very thick paste that looks like this:

We want to make it a bit more “stir-able”, so to it add the other ingredients:

Then whisk together. You’ll need a sturdy whisk.

Divide the gochujang into small individual bowls (I used Chinese teacups), one for each serving. Set aside.

Meanwhile, as the rice is finishing up, prepare the dolsots. Set each dolsot directly on a burner. Gas is probably really better but I don’t have a problem using my electric stove. Pour about 1/2 tsp sesame oil into each, then use a paper towel to rub the oil all over the interior surface, wiping away any excess oil. Bibimbap is not at all a greasy dish, but the sesame oil causes the rice to brown and turn crispy, so a thin layer is necessary. Turn each dolsotted burner on medium heat. Allow the dolsots to come up to temperature for a couple of minutes, then spread one serving of the cooked, hot rice into each dolsot, covering the bottom of the dolsot and partially going up the sides.

Allow the rice to cook in the dolsots for about 10-15 minutes, checking periodically that it is not burning. You can serve it in a range of states from lightly brown and slightly crunchy to golden brown and very crunchy. Meanwhile, as the rice is cooking in the dolsots, warm up each of the marinating veggies. I simply stuck each small bowl into the microwave for 30 seconds to one minute. You can also individually saute them for a minute or so each. They shouldn’t need to cook any further, you just want to warm them up a bit.

As you finish warming each veggie, distribute it amongst each of the dolsots. I always put the tofu in the middle (where, by the way, a raw egg would be cracked in a traditional dolsot bibimbap dish; it cooks as you later stir it into the sizzling hot rice) and have each of the veggies radiating out from it. Try not to place the same colors next to each other.

Here are all three dolsots that I prepared tonight waiting on the stove as I set the table and arranged the banchan (side dishes):

When you are ready to serve the dolsot bibimbap, use oven mitts to transfer each dolsot to its plastic tray, then carry to the table. They should be sizzling; the rice will continue to cook even after you remove it from the heat.

The pictures I took of the table were overexposed and not very good, but here’s an idea of what it looked like:

When you are ready to eat, each diner adds the gochujang sauce to their taste. It is quite spicy, so be forewarned. Mix everything together, then enjoy!

My mother-in-law said it was very good (and cleaned her dolsot), and Mark told me to think of the most horrible tasting food in the world and said that it was the exact opposite of that. Once you know what you are doing, it’s really a very easy and fairly fast dish to make, and it ranks as one of my all-time favorite meals.

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Sushi Bowl

Mark went to a friend’s house tonight, leaving me on my own for dinner. I embrace such evenings as opportunities to eat stuff he won’t eat, so tonight found me flipping through a few cookbooks in search of inspiration. I ended up with Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and found myself intrigued by a very Bittman-esque table of “sushi bowl ideas”, the idea being you take a bowl of sushi rice, add a topping from column A, a sauce from column B, and a garnish from column C. Fast, easy, flexible, and scalable, i.e., good for a one-person meal. The only problem with the whole idea of a sushi bowl is Mark would have loved it. This is the boy who at least once a day claims he’s going on an “all-rice diet” (an idea I keep rejecting: “you need to eat a balanced diet”). Nonetheless I was getting hungry, so sushi bowl it was.

I am a fan of tsukemono, Japanese pickles. I make them sometimes, although not as often as I want to. I mean to start making them more often, but in the meantime, I usually have a few packaged kinds on hand to eat as sides with noodles, my go-to dinner when I don’t feel like really cooking. I have a bunch of such tsukemono in the refrigerator, so I chose that suggestion from Bittman’s column A. In column B for that row was something like “seaweed ‘mayo'”, which I almost completely ignored as I wasn’t about to put mayo on my sushi bowl, even if it DOES sounds like something the Japanese would do. But curiosity got to me and I checked out the recipe for “seaweed ‘mayo'”…and was surprised to find out it was not only vegan, but really just seaweed (arame) pureed with a tiny bit of oil and sake. So I whipped that up.

Column C was slivered scallions in this case, but I also added shredded nori and shredded shiso. To shred the nori and shiso, I rolled each up lengthwise, made two cuts lengthwise on the nori and one on the shiso, then snipped the rolls up into small pieces (like chiffonading).

Sushi Bowl

1 1/2 cups sushi rice, prepared
1/2 cup different kinds of tsukemono (Japanese pickle)
2 Tbsp “seaweed ‘mayo'” or other mild sauce
2 Tbsp chopped scallions
2 Tbsp shredded shiso (optional)
1 Tbsp shredded nori (optional)

Cook the rice in a rice cooker or on the stovetop and prepare as if for sushi (cut in sushi vinegar and salt to taste). For the sauce, choose something mild that won’t clash with the pickles, but also non-salty (the pickles are really salty, so a soy sauce-based sauce is probably a bad idea). Place the rice in a bowl, top with the tsukemono, then the sauce, then the garnishes.

Serves 1.

Here’s what it looked like after mixing it all up:

I served it with miso soup, which is incredibly easy to pull together. I discussed in an earlier post how to make dashi. Simply soak a piece of kombu in some water for at least half an hour. If you are in a hurry, you can simmer it instead for 15 minutes. Here’s how I usually make miso soup:

Miso Soup

2 cups water
1 3″ piece of kombu
1 tsp dried wakame
1 splash mirin
1 splash seasoned rice vinegar
2 Tbsp light miso
2 Tbsp chopped scallions
1/4 cup chopped tofu

Soak the kombu in the water for 1-24 hours (refrigerate if longer than a couple of hours), or, simmer it gently for 15 minutes. Remove kombu. This is the dashi. Rehydrate wakame by soaking in warm water for 10 minutes. It will expand considerably, so don’t use too much and give it enough room. Heat dashi in a small saucepan. Add a splash of mirin and a splash of seasoned rice vinegar. Remove 2 Tbsp of the dashi and place in a small bowl. Set aside. Add the scallions, rehydrated wakame, and tofu to the pot.

Add the miso to the reserved 2 Tbsp of dashi and stir until smooth. Add to the pot.

After adding the miso, do not allow the soup to boil. Serve when it has been warmed through.

Makes two servings.

Brachtune read V For Vendetta while we ate. And by “read”, I mean “licked the cover of”.

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Thai Sticky Rice and Sauces

Thai sticky rice is a fun food you can eat with your hands and flavor with a variety of different sauces. You want to buy rice labeled “sweet rice” or “glutinous rice”. Shown is a store brand I currently have on hand, but I usually buy a Thai brand from the Thai grocery store. This is a short grain, glutinous rice, but it is not the same as sushi rice, so if you are unsure about what you are buying, you may want to ask a clerk. I have found the clerks in Asian grocery stores to be extremely helpful, despite the fact that I’m ordinarily very shy, so don’t be afraid to ask. In fact, everything I am about to show you about making Thai sticky rice, I learned from the very helpful lady at the Thai grocery store.

I cook most of my rice in an electric rice cooker after moving into a home with an electric stove (from one with a gas stove) and finding myself no longer capable of cooking rice properly, however, this type of rice can not be made in a rice cooker (although sushi rice, which is also sticky, can be). Instead, you will need a special steaming basket, which is available in Thai grocery stores and looks like this:

They are inexpensive and you can order them online, from sites such as this one, although you can probably just use a regular steamer if you don’t want to buy one.

First you need to soak the rice. Most of the instructions I have found online have given soaking times between 4 and 6 hours, however, the very nice lady at the Thai grocery promised me two hours was sufficient, and I’ve never had a problem soaking for as little as two hours. If I think of it earlier, I soak for longer, but two hours is fine. Figure on about 1/2 a cup dry rice per serving.

Here is my soaked rice:

Drain the rice. Get a piece of cheesecloth or muslin about 12″ by 12″ and mound the rice into the center of it. In the photo, I thought I would be clever by lining my sieve with the muslin and pouring the soaked rice into it, thinking the water would drain quickly through the fabric and save me a step, however it didn’t really work: the water didn’t drain quickly enough for me and I ended up pouring it out.

After mounding the rice in the center of the cheesecloth or muslin, fold it up into a neat little package:

Place the rice package into the steaming basket:

Put a few inches of water into the pot and place the basket on the pot (make sure the water doesn’t touch the basket). Place a snugly-fitting lid over the rice package:

Steam over medium heat. How long the rice takes to steam will depend on how long it was soaked and how much you are making. I have found it usually takes about 45 minutes, although I start checking it after half an hour. To check for doneness, remove the rice package from the basket, unfold, and try to grab a bit with chopsticks. If the rice is still hard and not sticking together, you still have a while to go. If it is clumping together, test a small amount in your hand and see if it feels soft and sticky. It’s never done the first time I check, but the bottom of the package is usually stickier than the top, so I’ll usually return the package to the basket upside down so it uniformly steams.

When the rice is done, remove from the basket and use a wooden rice paddle to remove from the cheesecloth or muslin.

Traditionally, the rice would be moved to a lidded serving basket, but I for some reason seem to not yet have acquired one of those. Sounds like a trip to the Thai grocery store is in order…

To eat, take a small amount of rice in your hands and dip it in a sauce. Here are a couple of sauce recipes:

Sweet and Sour Dipping Sauce

I got this recipe off the internet somewhere a long time ago: it is not my recipe. For my husband and I, I usually halve these amounts.

1/2 cup white or rice vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tsp red chili pepper flakes
1/2 tsp salt

Heat the vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Meanwhile, crush the garlic with the pepper flakes and salt with a mortar and pestle.

Stir this paste into the vinegar and sugar solution. Bring to room temperature and serve.

Peanut Sauce

This is my very simple and easy peanut sauce recipe that I use for everything from sticky rice to noodles. The bottle on the right in the photo is my homemade chili oil, which looks strange because there is gunk that marinates in it and I actually ran out of the oil and only had some gunk left. Looks like I’ll be making chili oil tomorrow. I managed to get 1 tsp out of it and made up for the remainder of the heat by using sriracha.

1/4 cup peanut butter
1 clove garlic, pressed
2 Tbsp of seasoned rice vinegar
2 tsp of chili oil
1/2 cup water

Process all ingredients in a mini-chopper, blender, food processor, immersion blender…or just whisk them all together.

Here’s everything I made for dinner tonight (peanut sauce not shown):

The spicy tofu + sticky rice meal is popular around here. My best friend considers this his favorite, and it’s one of my favorites too.

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