Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Whole Food Dishes: Nishime Style Vegetables

Nishime style cooking is a very comforting, relaxing way to cook. It's basically a Japanese slow braising technique that uses very little water, and increases the nutritional value by adding the sea vegetable kombu, or kelp.

Typically, items are cooked in odd numbers as odd numbers are considered more harmonious in macrobiotics, though you can, of course, cook two or four (or however many you'd like) vegetables at a time.

You start by soaking a piece of kombu in a small amount of water. This kombu will get slightly gelatinous, and help prevent the vegetables from sticking or burning. Next, you carefully arrange the vegetables in a heavy pot with a snug or heavy lid, taking note to use vegetables that have similar densities, or cutting the vegetables into sizes appropriate so that will all cook for the same amount of time. Next, you season and simmer over low, even heat, until everything is tender.

There are two schools of thought on how to arrange the vegetables. Personally, I like arranging them in vertical wedges, so that each third of the pot is filled with one vegetable. Some people prefer to layer the vegetables, with the most dense on the bottom, and the lightest on the top, or vice versa, but I feel that makes the vegetables on the bottom taste like the vegetables on top.

Part of the idea behind this style of slow cooking, is that you start with a very small amount of water, because you want don't want to dilute the vegetables' natural flavor. You're also trying to slowly draw the liquid out of the vegetables, and concentrate the flavor. You'll be amazed by how much liquid accumulates, and how sweet the end result is, especially if you start with vegetable that aren't typically though of as sweet.

One of my favorite types of nishime, this recipe includes mochi, which adds a satisfying richness. The mochi melts all over the cauliflower, which plays the perfect foil, with all of its nooks and crannies. All three of the vegetables are pungent or slightly peppery when raw, but become sweet and creamy when cooked in this way.
Winter White Nishime
by Christina Terriquez

2 square inches kombu
1 daikon radishes
1 medium or large white onion
1/4 head of cauliflower
sea salt
plain brown rice mochi

Place 1/2" of water in a heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid. Place kombu in water for at least 10 minutes to soften.

Cut diakon into 1 1/2" rounds, or 1 1/2" diagonals and set aside. Cut onion into 1/2 inch thick wedges, making sure to root end intact so wedges stay whole. Cut cauliflower into large florettes and set aside.

Once kombu is soft, remove it from water, and cut into 1/2" squares. Spread kombu squares out over bottom of cooking pot.

Carefully place daikon in a mound on one side of the pan. Add onion wedges next to daikon, leaving a vertical 1/3 space free. Carefully arrange cauliflower florettes in the remaining space, so that the top of each florette is pointing up. This is important so that the mochi can melt over the top of each florette.

Sprinkle a large pinch of sea salt over all of the vegetables and cook over low heat for 15 minutes.

While the vegetables are cooking, carefully slice the mochi into 1/4" thick slices, no bigger than 2"x2". After the vegetables have cooked for 15 minutes, carefully place the mochi slices over the cauliflower. Allow to simmer for 15 more minutes.

After a total of 30 minutes, sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of shoyu over the vegetables. Simmer for 5 more minutes or until tender.

This style of cooking is best during the fall and winter, since it takes a long time, and works best with the dense, hearty vegetables that are in season during the winter. But it is possible to use vegetables like zucchini and celery.

Try omitting the mochi.

Other vegetables that work well include: turnip, rutabaga, any winter squash or pumpkin, carrots, lotus root.

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