Monday, February 4, 2013

Thinking big

There are some vegetables that fascinate me but I don't think I'm going to have a go at growing them. Top of that list is this large white person, the daikon, or Japanese radish. It's a daunting sight, that enormous white root 18 inches long. I always feel that growing long, straight carrots and parsnips is a pretty good effort, but I suspect daikon may well be that 'root vegie too far' for my heavyish, loamy-clay soiled garden.

One minute of Googling 'daikon' tells me that this Japanese word means 'big root' – and, well, slap my forehead and stun me into slack-jawed silence, that's a surprise!

What brought me to trying daikon was simply browsing for new flavours. I wanted to cook something with prawns (shrimp) yesterday, but something new that I haven't tried before. So I went browsing through my Asian cookbooks and found two nice recipes in the Korean section of my old, favourite Asian standby, 'The Complete Asian Cookbook' by Charmaine Solomon. One recipe is for a daikon and apple salad, and the other is for a green bean and prawn stir-fry. With steamed rice on the side, I had a dinner for two!

The silly thing about my local greengrocer is
that they don't sell individual daikons. You have
to buy a bunch of two. At least that was only
$2.99. And when a recipe calls for apples,
I almost always get Granny Smiths, one of
Australia's (and Sydney's) most popular
contributions to world food supplies.

However, I'm getting ahead of myself. Crushed toasted sesame
seeds are a staple ingredient in so many Korean dishes,
including both that I cooked last night, so I made a batch
in the afternoon, crushing them in a mortar and pestle.
I've really grown to love my mortar and pestle, preferring
it over my whizz-fast blender and electric coffee grinder.

The slightly tricky bit is dry-toasting the seeds in an oil-less
frypan. Letting the seeds burn is the big boo boo, and
constantly stirring and checking them for colour is the
main task. Over medium heat, toasting takes a few minutes.

Next step is to get the salad started. First, finely slice the apple
into julienne strips then soak in chilled water to which you've
added lemon juice, to stop the apple browning. As you can see
by the inconsistency of the julienne pieces, I used a knife.
The daikon itself is soft to cut, like other radishes
and has a typically radishy zing to its flavour, but
it's not too hot, as some radishes can tend to be.

Then slice the daikon into matchsticks. 

And slice two spring onions crossways, finely,
both the white and green parts being used.

For the salad make the dressing in a bowl. It consists of light
soy sauce, vegetable oil, sesame oil, vinegar, crushed toasted
sesame seeds, chopped chilli, salt and sugar. The flavours are 

balanced but the lingering taste is, of course, of sesame.

Toss the salad components together well, cover and chill in
the refrigerator while you make the stir-fry (and cook the rice).

The big thing with so many Asian dishes is the preparation, the
slicing, dicing, mixing and getting ready. The cooking itself
often takes just 5 or 10 minutes. Washing up the next morning
always involves washing more 'ingredients bowls' than
serving dishes or cooking utensils. This is the makings for the
Korean-style prawns and green beans stir-fry.

One finely sliced white onion.

A blend of vegetable oil and sesame oil.

400g green beans, trimmed, sliced on the diagonal.

400g green (uncooked) prawns, each cut
in half lengthways, then crossways, to make
the 'small prawns' the recipe asked for
but which I couldn't find.

The sauce for the stir-fry, which consists of light soy sauce,
sugar and those crushed toasted sesame seeds.

I'm amazed I found time to grab the camera and do a hot wok
action shot as it quickly cooked. The basic are easy. Heat the
wok, add the oils, toss in the onion, stir-fry that 1 minute.
Then toss in the prawns, stir-fry 1 minute more. Then toss
in the beans, stir-fry 1 minutes more. Add the sauce, toss
well, cover with a lid, turn down the heat. Then, about
2 minutes later, take a bean out and try it. If it's nicely
crunchy-yet-tender as you like it, it's all ready to serve.

Now, I'll have you know that I don't do 'plating up'. I put food
on plates, and I think it shows. Thank goodness I don't
cook competitively ("Plating up, minus 3!" I can hear the
terrifying judge in the cravat say with disdain.) And thank
goodness I'm not looking for a job as a food stylist.
How was it? Yummy all round, I even got the rice just right. The dominating flavour in the daikon and apple salad, at first bite, turned out to be the slightly tart apple, but as the meal progressed that slightly peppery zing of the daikon worked its way forward.
The prawn and bean stir-fry was also very easy to eat. 

Pam and I love to eat Korean food but we're not really interested at the ubiquitous 'cook at the table' barbecue which is what you find almost everywhere. Korean food has so much more to offer than that admittedly delicious barbecued fare. I also make the famous Korean rice and vegetable dish 'Bi-Bim-Bap', and I love their seafood pancakes and shallot pancakes, too. Such an interesting, robust, different cuisine!

And so, for the recipes, here goes

Mu Saingchai – white radish salad

1 giant white radishes
1 crisp cooking apple
lemon juice
2 spring onions

1 1/2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon salad oil
1 teaspoons sesame oil
1/ 1/2 tablespoons mild vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon toasted, crushed sesame seeds
1/2 fresh red chilli, seeded and finely chopped

Peel radishes and cut into matchstick strips. Peel apples and cut into similar strips, and soak in cold water with a good squeeze of lemon juice to prevent discolouration. Slice the spring onions very finely, including white and green portions. Combine all remaining ingredients and toss with the radish, well-drained apple and spring onions. Cover and chill before serving.

Saewoo Bokum - green beans with prawns

400g small prawns
400g tender green beans
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 medium onion, finely sliced
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
3 teaspoons toasted, crushed sesame seeds

Method: Shell and de-vein prawns, chop them roughly and set aside. Top and tail the beans, remove strings and with a sharp knife cut into thin diagonal slices. Heat oils in a wok and str-fry the onion for 1 minute, add prawns and stir-fry 1 minute, add beans and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add seasoning and mix well, cover and simmer on low heat for 3-4 minutes more. The beans shouldn't be overcooked, so take out one after a while to taste test it for 'doneness' and if it's ready, take it all from the heat and serve with steamed rice and the daikon salad.

Remember, both recipes are from Charmaine Solomon's best-selling 'The Complete Asian Cookbook', my old standby from way, way back. I've halved the quantities for the daikon salad (and even that still made enough for four) and I've changed the method slightly in the green beans and prawns stir fries.

To finish, might as well show you this. My
copy of 'The Complete Asian Cookbook' is
the paperback 1978 edition. Its pages are
filled with spice stains! Back in 1996, while
working on House & Garden magazine,
I went to Charmaine's house for a photo
shoot, and so I took along my already very
battered, much loved copy of her book and
asked her to autograph it for me. I'm such
a groupie! She was a very lovely and
gracious person, and her cookbook really
is my Asian food bible still. Charmaine seemed
to enjoy flicking through my copy of her book,
picking out my favourite recipes by the extent
to which the pages were coloured with saffron,
turmeric, chilli powder and other ingredients.


Sue O said...

Speaking of large vegetables, have you ever grown or seen a kabocha pumpkin vine? It's of Japanese origin, is very sweet, and the vine is GIGANTIC! I started three vines one year and had to rip two out because they were so huge, they were taking over my garden. The pumpkins themselves are not large, but they have a great texture and flavour.

Lithopsland said...

That looks incredibly delicious! Lucky you & Pam. Looking forward to trying out this recipe one day. Thanks! :)

Chartreuse said...

My mouth is watering. I have Charmaine's book and love it. I inherited my copy from a colleague when we both worked in Asia. My friend left before me and gave me the book because she couldn't fit it into her trunk. I made sure there was space in my trunk when it came time for me to leave. Recently that old friend moved up here to the Sunshine Coast. I suppose I should offer to return her book....but I'll wait for her to ask!

Jamie said...

Sue, no I have never heard of kabocha pumpkin vine. Sounds like just one vine might cover my whole garden!

Lithopsland, it's all quite easy to do, just takes time with all the slicing and preparation.

And Chartreuse, it's one of those cookbooks that fits into the category of "If I was allowed to have just one cookbook...." All the recipes work, so much effort must have gone into creating it.