Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Soup and three, plus one

In the introduction, Tsuji talks about a traditional Japanese meal as "soup and three", with the "three" consisting of three different, not-soup items. My wife talks about Southern meat and threes, as places that serve a meat plus three sides. I think there must be a cross-cultural connection with combinations of four, paired with a taboo against saying "four things on a plate".

Anyhow, an example of a Soup & 3: miso soup with rice, sashimi, and yakitori. Or you could have udon noodle soup with sashimi, yakimono and nimono. This sentiment was echoed in the excellent video series on Japanese food put out by the Japanese government, to be posted later. (Who doesn’t love a good food video from Japan?)

For Valentine's Day, I decided to make a soup and three, plus one, for my wife. Three of the four courses were easy. Miso soup, rice, and sashimi were simplicity itself.

Strangely, the hard part was the fourth piece: the salad. I already mentioned that Tsuji had a typo in his red miso dressing. I decided to take a safer tack and try his sesame dressing with lettuce. The problem: to do this right, I need a Japanese mortar and pestle. Not one of those smooth marble things, but a bigger, slightly more rough one for mixing and pulverizing ingredients.

I tried smashing the toasted sesame seeds with a pie server on a plate. No dice. Eventually, I decided on my coffee grinder. It worked. Perhaps, it worked a little too well. The sesame seeds were turned to dust nearly instantly. The recipe indicated that some flakes and hulls should still be visible. This was mixed with some dashi and soy to make a dressing to be mixed with spinach. Spinach was, in this case spelled: romaine.

In the end, it tasted pretty good, but it isn't a dressing I would make again. I'm not a huge fan of sesame, so that's part of the problem. The other part is this damn mortar and pestle issue. We spent way too much time cleaning the coffee grinder to make this a worthwhile application.

Meanwhile, I could have used "H’s” salad dressing instead. Next time.

“Wait,” you say, “You're not done with the post. What's this ‘plus one’ business?“

Well, dear reader, that was the beef and burdock roll, served as a final course for the evening.

All in all, it was a delicious meal. Pulling together four dishes at once was surprisingly easy with a little forethought. And Valentine's Day was a success toasted with sake.

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