January 29, 2020

Dear friends,
I’d like to tell you about the wacky things happening here in Florida, cooped up in a 20-foot camper with my husband and dog, and I will. But this week I’m sharing a recipe I made a month ago, in preparation for a time like this. It’s my fallback recipe, although the flavor is anything but fallback.

The recipe sounds weird, but give it a chance. It is a Japanese-American mashup of a coney dog minus the bun, minus the hotdog and minus the coney sauce. But in spirit it’s a coney and it rocks. It is from my new favorite cookbook, “The Gaijin Cookbook” by Ivan Orkin and Chris Ying. I borrowed it from the library and liked so much I shelled out $30 for a copy.

Orkin, like me, is married to a Japanese. They own two hit restaurants, Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop and Ivan Ramen in New York City, and previously owned two ramen shops in Tokyo. This is Orkin’s second cookbook. The first, “Ivan Ramen,” is filled with recipes from his restaurant. “Gaijin” has recipes for lesser-known homestyle Japanese dishes such as spaghetti with ketchup-y red sauce, along with his own Japanese-inspired dishes such as the Tofu Coney Island I fell in love with.

I think the sauce Orkin ladles over fried squares of tofu is much better than coney sauce. As a coney dog lover, that’s a high accolade. The meatless sauce stars mushrooms cooked into a flavor rocket with onions, ginger, garlic, ketchup, miso and sake. If you don’t want to mess with cutting and frying tofu, spoon it over grilled chicken, scrambled eggs, steamed fish or even hot dogs. The tofu version is great, though, and worth the time it takes to fry the cubes in shallow oil. Use firm tofu.

Orkin uses button and beech or oyster mushrooms. I used all button (regular white supermarket mushrooms). Other ingredient notes: mirin is sweet Japanese cooking wine; you may substitute sherry. Buy One Cup Sake for cooking, a brand that comes in one-cup jars and is relatively inexpensive. The red miso is non-negotiable.

As Orkin says in his book, this recipe makes more than you’ll need for the tofu, but you’ll want extra. Top with chopped onions and a squiggle of mustard or not, your choice.

TOFU CONEY ISLAND

2 cups Mushroom Chili (recipe follows)
14 oz. firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup potato starch
6 to 8 cups vegetable oil for deep-frying (or shallow fry in 3/4-inch of oil as I did)
Kosher salt
For serving: Yellow mustard, finely diced onions

Make the mushroom chili and keep warm. Drain tofu squares on paper towels. Combine the cornstarch and potato starch in a bowl. Heat oil in a deep pan for deep frying or a deep, wide skillet for shallow frying. I shallow fried. Working in batches, dredge the tofu in the starch, shake off excess, and fry in hot oil until brown on all sides. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.

Arrange the fried tofu on a plate and spoon some of the mushroom chili on top. Finish with lots of yellow mustard and plenty of diced onion. Makes 2 servings (according to Jane).

MUSHROOM CHILI
1 lb. button mushrooms, trimmed
3/4 cup vegetable oil (Jane says 1/4 cup is plenty)
1 medium onion, diced
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 tbsp. minced or grated ginger
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup liquid from pickled garlic (made without katsubushi if you want to keep this recipe vegan)
1/4 cup red miso
3 tbsp. sake
3 tbsp. mirin
3 1/2 oz. shimeji or oyster mushrooms, trimmed (Jane just added extra button mushrooms)
1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

Pulse the button mushrooms in a food processor until they are uniformly broken up into about 1/8-inch pieces (or chop by hand).

Heat a large skillet or Dutch oven over low heat and add the oil. When the oil is warm, add the onion and salt and cook, stirring regularly, until the onion is softened and golden, about 30 minutes. Don’t rush. Add the ginger and garlic and cook until softened and aromatic, about 3 minutes.

Add the button mushrooms, raise the heat to medium and cook until the mushrooms have yielded their liquid and the mixture has become more or less dry 15 minutes or so. Stir in the ketchup, pickled garlic liquid, miso, sake and mirin. Bring to a simmer and cook for 7 minutes.

Add the other mushrooms (or more halved button mushrooms) and lemon juice and cook until the mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes more. Serve, or cook and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. Makes 4 cups.

From “The Gaijin Cookbook” by Ivan Orkin and Chris Ying.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Spicy ground venison, green bean and bell pepper stir fry; poached eggs with canned corned beef and toast; pork and green chile stew; pepper jack quesadillas.

What I ate in/from restaurants, etc.:
Jamaican chicken in brown sauce, fried sweet plantains, rice with pigeon peas, stewed cabbage and cauliflower at 876 Jerk in Jensen Beach, Fla.; long-roasted chicken and fresh-made corn tortillas (turned into soft tacos at home with grilled onions and salsa) from Tortilleria Gallo De Oro in Stuart, Fla.; bad coffee, Greek omelet, toast and grits at Dixie Cafe in Hobe Sound; Cuban sandwich and cafe con leche from Wow Cuban Cafe in Hobe Sound; gyoza, California roll, shrimp cocktail, pepper beef, fried sugared doughnut and melon and pineapple at Mikata Buffet in Jensen Beach; oyster shooters, grilled bacon-wrapped shrimp and shrimp and girts at the Port Salerno Seafood Festival.

THE MAILBAG

From Jean B.:
I have been enjoying the chatpatty at Family Groceries on North Main Street in Akron since you mentioned it in your newsletter. Unfortunately, the last time I stopped in the store, a sign was posted saying that chatpatty is no longer available. Can you suggest any other groceries in the area that offer chatpatty, and any other exotic ethnic foods? I love discovering interesting cuisines, and North Hill is rich in many delicious cultures.

Dear Jean:
No chatpatty?! I am sorry to hear it is gone. Maybe the cook migrated to another Nepalese store — there are quite a few now in North Hill. I have a few connections so I’ll ask around, but probably not before I return from Florida in March. If someone else who is reading this (Tin Win?) knows, could you send me an email?

Like you, I’m interested in hearing about ethnic food finds. I used to be up on every bit of food news in Northeast Ohio but I don’t get around as much since I retired. Have you been to the Mediterranean Grocery and Grill in Cuyahoga Falls? If not, that should be your next stop.

From Mary D.:
I’m guessing you forgot to add the link to the sweet potato and red lentil soup mentioned by Noreen S. in a previous newsletter. My lentils were purchased not too long ago for a dal recipe that never happened.

Dear Mary:
You are right. Sorry. Here’s the link:
https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/269427/sweet-potato-and-red-lentil-soup/.
Noreen says she swapped some of the spices for those on hand, so don’t be afraid to tinker.

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