So I was googling around on how to sort out a kombu broth for miso soup. Turns out that all you have to do is soak the kombu in water overnight, and you're set. So I actually tried it. I broke off what I thought was a tiny piece of the kombu kelp, and put it in about 1 1/2 litres of water overnight. The next morning, the thing had grown to fill the container!

I guess I didn't need quite so much. Next time, I'll cut it in half.

Another suggestion I read was to throw in a shiitake mushroom (dried) along with the kombu, and let the lot sit overnight. If you do try this suggestion, please make sure you wash it well. Otherwise you'll end up with a fair bit of grit in the bottom of the container. This goes for the kombu as well. Wash that thing under cold running water, to wash off the excess salt, and clear off any grit that's on the surface.

The point is that the next morning, all I had to do was to heat up the broth, add a tablespoon of miso paste, some sliced scallion (1 stalk), and 1/4 cube of tofu (cut into tiny tiny cubes--it was so cute!), and a touch of salt (I like things salty), and all was right with the world. I always have a pot of piping hot rice, because my rice cooker keeps the rice hot for three days without drying it out. It made a lovely breakfast.

What's even better is some enoki mushrooms put into the bottom of your soup bowl. They cook when you pour the hot miso soup over it.

The Japanese are definitely on to something. On a cold morning like today, when the snow is falling in fat flurries, there are few things as comforting as a bowl of piping hot miso soup, a bit of brown rice, and a couple of nice condiments to round out the meal nicely. It's also super quick to sort out, and fairly filling.


Red Lentils

Red lentils are like this magical bean. Why? They cook in about twenty minutes or so, and you don't need to soak them. They're also loaded with fibre, protein, and a respectable bit of iron. They’re also fairly low in calories (around 170 if you start with 1/4 cup of dry red lentils, which is a decent serving portion). And they /cook in 20 minutes or so, without soaking/. Please keep that in mind.

This means that during those weeknights that you’re running late, there’s really no excuse to call for delivery of bad junk food (or, for that matter, good junk food; it all costs a fortune). I live up in Washington Heights/Inwood, where vegan options in restaurants are fairly limited. It’s why when we do order delivery, it’s from this Chinese place that does every kind of mock meat you could think of, and then some. The food is not greasy at all, and when you ask for tofu, they don’t mess about. They give you some serious tofu load.

However, dinner for two can easily run $20. Ouch. Throw in tax and tip, and you’re talking around $25. Mind you, they’re extremely nice people. When I call up, the lady knows that I’m going to ask for vegan food, and knows my address. This year, however, I have resolved to stock my pantry with staples that I can whip up in a hurry, even if I’m running a bit late from work (since I work at Chow, it takes about 45 minutes, door to door, to get home).

I always have garlic and onions in the house. This is non-negotiable. In the rare times that I don’t, the bodega downstairs carries it. Even though it’s four flights of stairs down, I can deal with it. I also always have a few kilos of red lentils in my cupboard. Why? Because there are many a time when I get home, and am too tired to really do any cooking, but I don’t want to call in for delivery and spend a fortune.

Most places that you go, you can get red lentils for anywhere between $1 and $2 per pound, depending on which neighbourhood you buy from. If I’m in Jackson Heights, or in certain areas of Brookyln that cater to Middle Eastern folk, I can snag red lentils for around a dollar a pound, give or take. Anywhere else, and you’ll be veering towards the two dollar per pound range.

At the end of the day, however, it’s well worth the expense. If you’re looking to feed six people, you can easily do it for under $10 with red lentils on your side. A pound of decent onions should run you about $0.50, if you’re not shopping in the really expensive stores. Garlic is pretty cheap too. A tin of diced tomatoes would be about (if you’re spending a lot) $1. A pound of the red lentils (max) would be $2. All said and done, you haven’t even broken a fiver. Snag some bread, and you’re out another $2, give or take. If you’re in the mood, grab a lemon, some lettuce, a cucumber, and a bit of parsley, cilantro, or whatever other fresh herb you like. All told, you’ve got a good fair bit of food.

Combine the cucumber (sliced), lettuce (washed and shredded), herbs (washed, and chopped fine) together in a large bowl. Smash a clove of garlic, and mince it up finely. Add the juice and zest of the lemon to the garlic. Sprinkle on a bit of salt and pepper, and you’ve got a lovely low fat dressing.

Take a nonstick pot, and throw in a few drops of oil. Add a diced onion, a few cloves of smashed garlic (don’t bother chopping them; the flavour will be more mild) and cook over medium high heat until the garlic and onions are softened. You don’t need to bother browning them, because that takes too long. Throw in your red lentils, tomatoes, and just enough water to come up about half an index finger’s length above the red lentils. Set it to cook over medium high heat with a lid on, until it comes to the boil. Drop the heat to medium low, and clean up after yourself. If you rub the bread with a clove of garlic, then drizzle on a few drops of oil to the outside, then toast it under the broiler for 30 seconds to a minute (just before serving), you’ll get a lovely garlicky bread.

Once the red lentil stew does come to a boil, set a timer for 20 minutes. Then go off and relax for a bit, while dinner comes together. By the time the red lentils are cooked, you’d have had time for a quick freshen up in the washroom, and a bit of time to clear off your table.

Taste your red lentils to check for seasoning, and add salt and pepper as necessary. Remember that tinned tomatoes have a bit of salt in them already, so it’s best to wait for it to finish cooking before fussing with any more salt.

This is also a good base from which to build different soups. It takes up other aromatics (that you’d add with the garlic and onion) with the greatest of ease. Peppers, chiles, celery, carrots, whatever you have. When the lentils are cooked, you can add any variety of frozen or fresh vegetables you have. The point is that it’s very easy to put together, and should be one of the first things you really get comfortable with cooking, because it’s so forgiving. That’s the reason I didn’t provide specific amounts: you’re meant to customise this to your needs and liking.


Ginkgo Nuts

I remember sitting in freshman biology class in college, and the teacher explaining the major divisions of the seed bearing plants: pinophyta (pine trees, etc.), cycadophyta (often mistaken for palm trees, but are their own division), gnetophyta, magnoliophyta (flowering plants), and ginkgophyta (the ginkgo tree). Of all the divisions, the ginkgo is the only one with a single surviving species. Nothing else stuck out about the ginkophyta division, than the fact that it was its only member, and that it's ooooooold.

Nothing stuck out, until I tried the ginkgo nuts that Boss Man picked up from an excursion to Chinatown. You can find them all over the place in Chinatown, and they're relatively inexpensive. Inexpensive though they be, they're delicious.

They've got a firm texture, as well as a fairly neutral flavour, which happily soaks up whatever you're cooking with. What do we do with it at Chow? As if the Risotto wasn't Asian inspired enough (what with the flavourings of miso paste, and shoyu), in went the ginko And all of a sudden, the texture has a whole different dimension to it.

Risotto, as you may know, does have a tendency to be a bit on the soft side, which is why things like gingko nuts, vegetables of various shades and textures, nuts, etc go so well in risotto: the texture contrast is exquisite. Boss Man went on a trip to Chinatown this morning to get more yuba, a couple of other things, and passed by a little old lady peeling ginkgo nuts. He bought some from her, and she was so excited for him.

And now you can be excited for the risotto.