In Eric Gower’s website and cookbooks, he introduces his readers to “breakaway” cooking. As he describes it, his cooking style uses “global ingredients and good produce in freewheeling and untraditional ways”. Asian, especially Japanese, influences are prevalent in his cooking. Most of his recipes look interesting, taking some traditional recipe and adding an unusual twist: for example, miso in chicken broth, maple syrup with umeboshi as an onigiri filling, rice cooked in carrot juice with mustard. These combinations (at least the ones I tried) really work, and this food is not complicated. My usual average time in cooking is 30 minutes per recipe, but I blazed through Eric’s recipes with almost half that average.
In Eric’s first book, The Breakaway Japanese Kitchen: Inspired New Tastes, he concentrates on Japanese tastes, but adds his own touches to end up with new and unrecognizable dishes. His “Shiitake Pesto” (page 46), which I have not made but intend to, “never fails to surprise [his] Japanese friends”. Eric certainly has his favorite ingredients and favorite kitchen techniques: he uses lots of carrot juice and loves to blend things. I had no problem finding the more exotic ingredients needed for Eric’s recipes here in Ann Arbor, although someone living in the middle of nowhere might have less luck. All the recipes I tried were delicious and easy.
I know that when I buy beets with the greens still attached I am supposed to use the greens, but I hardly ever do, since there is nothing really that I want to do with them. One of the many things I liked about “Beet Salad with Ginger, Smoked Trout, and Walnuts” (page 30) was that Eric tells us exactly what to do with those beet greens: cook them and use them in the salad. Although not a big fan of beets, the additional ingredients in this salad (ginger, trout, and walnuts) not only tamed the beets, but brought out the best in them. Oddly, Danny, who likes beets, was not as impressed with this salad as I was.
“White Fish with Shallots and Miso Apricot Glaze” (page 12) was a great treatment for tasteless fish. Eric recommends using rock cod, sea bass, orange roughy, or catfish; of those fish, the only one that was feasible was sea bass, but at the Whole Foods Market fish counter, sea bass was $29.99 per pound; tilapia was significantly less. Thus my white fish was tilapia. I do not know if Whole Foods Market still uses Colorado Correctional Industries as a tilapia source, but there are some issues here (e.g., the ethics of using prisoner slave labor). I may have to investigate this further before buying more tilapia. Prison labor issues aside, tilapia is a tasteless, inoffensive fish. Brushing it with a sauce of miso, apricot jam, sake and olive oil, topping with shallots, and broiling transforms this fish into a very tasty delicacy. [Go to the recipe.]
Although “Tofu Mushroom Casserole” (page 38) was the least successful dish I made from this cookbook, it was still good, and, crucially, I am looking forward to the leftovers. Mushrooms are embedded in a tofu-egg custard, which is blended with a bell pepper. I used a green bell pepper, since those were the only organic peppers I could find (and bell peppers are one of those vegetables that are covered in pesticides when grown nonorganically). This turned the custard a weird unappetizing green color. The texture of this dish was also somewhat odd, but when we ate this with the carrot juice rice (below), both the color and texture problems were solved.
Fruit often accompanies carrots: I have seen carrots with raisins or pineapple in carrot cake, carrots with dates or prunes in tzimmes, carrot orange juice in Whole Foods Market, and a carrot apricot dish from Joyce Goldstein. Although I doubt that Eric Gower invented the combination, his recipe “Cherried Carrots with Ginger” (page 98) was first recipe I had seen pairing carrots with cherries. Once I had picked out this recipe to try, there was a little problem: this is not the time of year for cherries. I thought about using cranberries instead of cherries, cranberries also being round and red, but then remembered that I had a jar of Tillen Farms Bada Bing cherries, which I proceeded to use. It turns out that cherries and carrots do go well together; I thought the dish was a tiny bit too sweet, but that problem probably would not have existed with fresh, not Bada Bing, cherries.
“Unplain Rice” (page 87) is, we learn, Eric’s standard rice treatment. This is rice cooked in carrot juice diluted with water, a few bay leaves, and some mustard. The rice turns a lovely pinkish orange color. I did not taste the mustard, but I think it added some background to the slight carrot juice flavor. I am less convinced that the bay leaves did much, but maybe my bay leaves are just past their prime. I liked this rice, and will think of it when I have some carrot juice needing to be used up.
Eric spreads his reach a bit further in The Breakaway Cook: Recipes That Break Away from the Ordinary, but Japanese influences still predominate. As in the previous book, the recipes are interesting, easy, and taste good (at least the ones I tried). This book is more comprehensive than The Breakaway Japanese Kitchen, including extensive introductory material on equipment and ingredients. This book also includes a brief section (eight recipes) on desserts, lacking in the first book. A couple of these desserts look mildly interesting, but the rest have no appeal for me. Eric still uses lots of carrot juice, and matcha tea features in a number of recipes.
Matcha (or maccha) tea has an incredible cult following. Briefly, matcha is ground green tea leaves; not so briefly, at least according to its cult followers, it is much much more: matcha enables its drinkers to rise in society, have super powers, and live forever. As a taste sensation, matcha is unparalleled, leaving the finest wine, the most expensive Scotch, and even a decent cup of coffee in the dust. Back in this sphere of existence, I have seen recipes using matcha, specifically matcha ice cream, but I was never too tempted since I do not particularly like tea. But it seemed only fair, given Eric’s enthusiasm for matcha, to finally give it a try. I wanted to try his recipe for tofu custard; matcha salt finishes the dish. Matcha salt is one of five flavored salts that appear in this book (page 36); to make it, just mix one teaspoon of matcha with ¼ cup of coarse sea salt. So far, I have not been bowled over by the matcha flavor. This, however, could be due to the fact that my matcha is not that good. I just bought Republic of Tea matcha at Whole Foods Market. Only afterwards did I read on Eric’s website that good matcha is “bright, bright, BRIGHT green. Electric green. Bad matcha will be a dull green;” alas: the matcha I bought was a dull green.
The other ingredient needed for tofu custard is “Umi-Pickled Fennel” (page 40). I have come to pickling rather late in life, but now really like making various pickles. This pickle was particularly simple: plum wine, vinegar, honey, and pickled plums are blended together and poured over thinly sliced fennel. I am not sure how good the plum wine I used was. Whole Foods Market only sold a fake plum wine, and the gentleman at Galleria, where I ended up getting the plum wine, was not terribly informative when I asked for a recommendation. The plum wine was fairly cheap, which is why I am suspicious. Nevertheless, the pickled fennel with its juice (cheap plum wine and all) was good. In addition to providing an essential ingredient for the tofu custard, the fennel itself makes an excellent salad addition.
With matcha salt and pickled fennel juice, as well as a package of soft silken tofu, I was finally ready to make tofu custard, simplicity itself: for each serving, ¼ cup of soft tofu, 2 teaspoons pickled fennel juice, topped with black pepper and matcha salt. I suggest here a little more pickle juice than Eric called for, as that is the best part of the dish, and I halved the size of a serving. This dish was elegant and subtle; perhaps I would have been more blown away had my matcha been fluorescent green.
In true breakaway spirit, Eric presents his recipe for “Miso Soup with Fennel and Ginger” (page 80), made not with dashi, but with chicken broth. (I, of course, used a vegetarian Better than Bullion broth.) Fennel, red onion, and ginger are cooked in butter and oil, then simmered in the chicken (vegetable) broth. The broth is strained, and a combination of light and dark miso is added. I found it necessary to strain the broth once more since my light miso was chunky and my dark miso was old and not dissolving very well. Miso soup in general is good, but this was great. I particularly like the miso combination; dark miso is too strong for my tastes, but light miso is a too wimpy. To serve, one can add tofu cubelettes and top with chives or minced scallion.
When first cooked, “Broccoli Rice” (page 199) was excellent. Very finely chopped broccoli and onion (for which I used the food processor) are cooked in olive oil and butter, then a small amount yogurt with orange juice and mint is added. On reheating, this dish tasted a little more like cooked broccoli, but was still very good. For leftovers, I liked this broccoli with the following rice triangles. [Go to the recipe.]
“Grilled Rice Triangles” (page 177), also known as yaki onigiri, are a very popular Japanese snack food, and this popularity is easy to understand. Onigiri are rice balls (or triangles, or some cute animal shapes), often stuffed, and sometimes decorated. Yaki onigiri are grilled (and so must forgo the decorations). Eric stuffs his rice triangles with a mix of umeboshi (pickled plums) and maple syrup, which was a very nice surprise hiding inside. There exist molds to make these, which I think would have been useful, as my filling kept poking out. Eric does not mention this, but it is much easier to form these triangles with wet hands.
Eric Gower has a new cookbook coming out soon: The Breakaway Vegetarian Cook, a book I am eagerly awaiting: a whole book full of wonderful recipes, any one of which will be suitable for my kitchen.
Apricot and Miso Fish
Adapted from Eric Gower, The Breakaway Japanese Kitchen
1 tablespoon light miso
1 tablespoon apricot jam
2 tablespoons sake
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ pound white fleshed fish fillets
1 small shallot, minced
Combine the miso, apricot jam, sake, and olive oil. Brush half of this sauce on one side of the fish and place the fish under the broiler. When the fish seems to be cooked half through (time will depend on how thick the fish is and how hot your broiler is), turn the fish over and brush on the remaining sauce. Sprinkle the shallots on top. Continue to broil until the fish is done. Check for doneness by seeing if the thickest part of the fish is flaky.
Adapted from Eric Gower, The Breakaway Cook
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 head broccoli
2 tablespoons yogurt
1 tablespoon orange juice
2 tablespoons minced mint
Melt the butter with the olive oil in a large skillet. Using the food processor (or, if you must, by hand), chop the onion finely. Add to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion becomes limp. Again using the food processor (or by hand), chop the broccoli florets and peeled stalk into small rice grain sized pieces. Add the broccoli to the skillet and cook until the broccoli softens. Remove from heat. Stir together the yogurt and orange juice, then stir into the broccoli. Stir in the mint. This is best eaten immediately, but is still great reheated.