13 June, 2007

Pan-seared Vegetables

Yesterday, inspired by the great-looking Campfire Salsa over at Feed Your Vegetarian, and with memories of many years of camping with the family when they were young (we actually spent a whole summer camping all across Canada) I decided to see what I could make to satisfy that craving here in my kitchen in Japan.

It was already brunch time and I was too hungry to fool around with complicated recipes. Since the heat and humidity of the rainy season have hit, cooking has become a bit more of a chore and less of a pleasure. I have been craving a lot of salads and vegetables and fruits. And the way I want to eat them is often in the least complicated way. I saute them in olive oil or with herbs, with or without garlic, but always with the fresh sweet white new onions that are so plentiful now, and toss them onto the top of a bowl of genmai, organic brown rice, topped with white or black sesame seeds, or just sea salt and freshly-ground pepper. Sometimes I saute them in toasted sesame oil or splash a bit on top, and add some tamari if I want something Chinese-inspired.

Luckily I can get great genmai, organic short-grain brown rice, at my local Anew Store.

The other day I had a great bento. I picked up one of those little kits in the 100 yen shop. You know the kind if you live here. There's a small colourful plastic tub, with a clear top that locks down on both sides. You can even find a matching cloth bag and fork, knife and chopstick kit in its own plastic case. The lunch bag is just big enough to hold everything with room for a piece of fruit on top. I resisted them at first as being too cute, but they sure are handy if you need to pack lunches frequently, and the bright colour means they are easy to spot when you're in a hurry to catch the train.

The bento couldn't have been simpler. It was just brown rice, at hand in the rice cooker. I filled up the tub with it, put a smidge of sesame oil and salt on top then I fried/shredded an egg in sesame oil and put it on the rice. All around the edges of the rice I tucked small sections of fresh ripe tomatoes, and I drifted the top with a bit more salt and pepper. It was really, really, delicious when I ate it later at work, with a bit of green tea to wash it down. And I had tucked in two of the small golden kiwis available in the stores now. My bento proves that tasty food needn't always take time.

So when I was deciding on what to have for brunch yesterday, and feeling a bit of nostalgia for that campfire cooking, my mouth still watering from looking at the Campfire Salsa, I decided to make the closest thing I could -- pan-seared vegetables. I have some well-seasoned steel pans that have carbonized over the years and are almost like cast-iron, which is what I would use if I were in a North American kitchen with an electric stove. Here I am lucky enough to have gas, which gives fantastic heat and cooks quick and hot. So it's possible to sear-roast vegetables in the pan without burning them.

I threw a big pinch of sea salt in the pan and then added two small new white onions, cut in chunks (about eighths). I started them cooking while I cut up three Japanese eggplants. The best way I've found is to halve them and then cut across about three times. You can leave the skin on these small eggplants; it will soften right up. Then I added them to the pan along with a small drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, not enough to fry them, just to moisten, maybe about a tablespoon or two. I stirred them around and added one very ripe tomato chopped up in about inch-and-a-half-size chunks. I added a bit more salt and pepper and cooked, stirring now and then until everything was soft and browned. Of course I could have added garlic or some herbs at this point, but I didn't. The flavour depends on the carmelization of exceptionally fresh and tasty vegetables. And it is truly good put on top of some chewy, nutty genmai.

It was even good eaten picnic-style in front of the computer as I caught up on my blog reading. Shhh, don't tell.


Sea said...

Hi there! I came across your post at Ellen's blog and noticed you were in Japan. I lived in Chiba for two years myself. You might enjoy this blog. Although it is not vegetarian there are many vegetable recipes for classic Japanese things like tsukemono, corn soup, onigiri etc. http://justhungry.com/
I look forward to reading more of your blog!


PS My blog is: http://www.bookofyum.com/blog/
with mostly vegetarian, gluten free recipes. Come by sometime! :D

vegetablej said...

Thanks, sea. I'll take a look at the blog you recommended and be right over to The Book of Yum, which sounds....yummy. :)