Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Samurai Story Time with Lt. Martin Castillo

I have quite a bit of fondness for Miami Vice, both the television show and the underrated big screen version. One of my favorite episodes of the original series is "Bushido," which for a change focused not on main characters Crockett and Tubbs (Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas) but on Lt. Martin Castillo (expertly played by Edward James Olmos), their mysterious, laconic boss. Despite being a man of few words, Castillo takes time to relate the following story to a young boy in his care:

"There's a special story I'd like you to know. The story about the samurai, Toshin. Toshin was the greatest swordsman of his clan. And all the other samurai revered him very much. And the shogun became jealous. The shogun ordered Toshin to murder all the people of a little fishing village as a test of his loyalty. Toshin refused, of course, to do something so wrong. It would have destroyed his honor.

He became an outcast to his clan, which turned against him and he lived with the wild animals in the mountains with his family. The clan sent assassins to try to kill them all but none of them ever came back. Toshin knew that one day they would kill him and his family. That not even he could win all the time. That his time would come.

Finally, the clan sent his best friend. A man closer than a brother to him. It was this man's duty to obey the clan. Toshin came down off the mountains onto the beach to meet his old friend. They faced each other with drawn swords. They loved each other very much. As they both struck with their swords Toshin, the master, was a little quicker but he only touched his friend's neck. Touching it but not cutting it. His friend could not stop in time. He struck Toshin once, killing him. Toshin died in honor. It is the way of the bushido, the way of the warrior. Toshin knew that his family would now be safe. But his friend's heart was broken."

(Note: As far as I can tell, this story comes not from old Japan, but from the Miami Vice scriptwriters. It's pretty cool anyway. And "toshin" refers to a Japanese sword's blade without any mounting. 

Recipe Wednesday: Miso Tahini Udon

If by some quirk of your taste buds you ever find yourself simultaneously craving both Japanese and Middle Eastern food, this recipe is for you.

Both miso and tahini have long culinary histories. Miso, a salty paste made from fermented soybeans, dates back at least to 6th century Japan, and earlier versions existed in China as far back as the 3rd century B.C. The origins of tahini, an oily paste derived from ground sesame seeds, are a bit unclear, though sesame has been cultivated in the Middle East for about 4,000 years.

Miso and tahini are also fantastically flexible foodstuffs. While miso often gets stuck in the soup ghetto, and tahini finds itself regulated to serving as a dip ingredient, they each can be used in a variety of dishes, such as this one.

There are actually quite a few variations of miso tahini sauces floating around. This recipe is a simplified version of one that originally appeared in Japanese Foods That Heal by John and Jan Belleme.

Miso Tahini Udon
(Serves 2-3)
1 package of udon noodles (usually about 9 ounces)
4 tablespoons of white miso
3-4 tablespoons of tahini
2 tablespoons of brown rice vinegar
1 tablespoon of mirin

Cook the udon according to the instructions on the package. I normally don’t recommend adding oil to the cooking water when making pasta, but udon is very sticky so it might be a good idea to add a tablespoon of olive oil or sesame seed oil. Right before the udon is finished cooking, scoop out a cup of the water and set it aside. When the udon is done, drain and rinse in cold water.

To make the miso tahini sauce, place the miso, tahini, brown rice vinegar, mirin, and half of the udon cooking water in a large, microwave safe bowl and stir. Microwave the mixture on high for 30 seconds, stir again, and heat for another 30 seconds. Repeat this process until the sauce is all gooey. It shouldn’t take more than two minutes total.

By the way, preparing the sauce in the microwave is just a suggestion. You can also prepare it in a pot on the stove, such as the pot you used to cook the udon. Just be careful not to overcook.

Add the cooked udon and the rest of the cooking water to the miso tahini mixture, and proceed to stir everything together. Serve immediately. To ramp up the Japanese side of this fusion dish, top with a generous sprinkle of furikake and green onion.

If you have leftovers (I rarely do), there is some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that miso tahini udon doesn’t always reheat well. The good news is it tastes really good cold.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Antigone Bezzerides on Why She Carries Knives

“Fundamental difference between the sexes is that one of them can kill the other with their bare hands. Man of any size lays hands on me, he’s going to bleed out in under a minute.”

Antigone Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), True Detective

(PS: Looks like she's doing the top half of a classic asterisk pattern. Nice!)