Once upon a time, eons ago, in the days when I lived in Sydney and my daughter was not far away, I cooked a dinner of immense simplicity and extraordinary flavours. It was a celebration dinner, being admitted to the (in legal terms) bar is no small thing, and my daughter had celebrated long into the previous night. The family was gathering, she needed all of her willpower to make it through the evening, but as I cooked I gave her this recipe and asked her to put it together.
It was the first time that we had made this dish. We cook together often and we have a wonderful kitchen dance, as we call it. Even in the tiniest of spaces, we who both love the touch and smell of our ingredients, can operate without bumping into each other, almost knowing instinctively what the other is thinking, what the other is doing.
She served this dish to the gathering family and all went silent as we ate, tasted, could not get the words from our tastebuds to our brain to our mouths. Silent eating, always the mark of a great dish.
This wonderful dish, full of the flavours of Japan without being Japanese, the flavours of SE Asia without being South East Asian, was constructed that night and became an instant family success. We made it often, but somehow, as we no longer all live so close together, it has fallen from our menus. Tonight I made it again. I had two helpings!
It makes a great first course – or a light meal. Enjoy!
The ingredients can all be purchased from an Asian/Oriental food market. These days often supermarkets and organic shops will stock the ingredients as well.
Use a good quality soy sauce. I used shoyu this time and loved it.
If you are buying miso paste for the first time, you will find that there are a range of types, from white through yellow to darker miso. There is also rice miso and barley miso. The darker the colour the more intense the flavour. For this recipe use a lighter miso, yellow or white.
If you don’t have or can’t find sambal oelek, use a chilli paste (bought or home made). Modify the amount to suit your heat preferences.
Jaggery or Palm Sugar is so very good in this dish. If you cannot source either, use a brown or raw sugar.
Sesame Oil comes in light or toasted. Both have their uses – toasted has a more intense flavour and goes well in this dish.
Pickled Ginger – I have used umeboshi plum paste with a splash of lemon juice in place of pickled ginger when I haven’t been able to get any. It is a different taste but it works a treat.
Spinach and Tofu Napoleons
Source : inspired by a recipe in Blue Ginger by Min Tsai
Cuisine: Japanese and Asian in flavours
Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 0 mins
Serves: 4 people, depending how you use it (2 or 3 for a light lunch)
4 Tblspn rice wine vinegar
1 Tblspn soy sauce
2 Tblspn yellow miso (could be called light miso)
1 Tblspn sambal oelek (if you have a REALLY hot brand, use less)
0.25 Tblspn jaggery or palm sugar
2 Tblspn pickled ginger
1 Tblspn toasted sesame oil
120ml canola (rapseed) oil, or other oil
1 bunch spring onions (called scallions in the US)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
115g baby spinach leaves
450g firm tofu
4 pieces pickled ginger
1 Tblspn sesame seeds
First, slice the spinach leaves into 1/2cm slices (gather a handful together and slice). Chop the spring onions. Slice the tofu into thin slices – you will need 12 slices for 4 people. Put the spinach and tofu aside as you make the dressing.
In a blender, combine the rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, miso paste, sambal oelek, palm sugar and pickled ginger into a food processor or blender and blend. Drizzle in the sesame and canola oils to form an emulsion with the blender running, Season with salt and pepper, reserve 4 Tblspn and transfer rest to a large bowl.
Add the spring onions and spinach to the bowl with the dressing and gently combine.
Toast the sesame seeds in a dry pan over medium heat. Watch carefully, shaking the pan, and remove from the heat as they begin to colour. Pour onto a plate to stop them cooking further.
To shape the Napoleons, place a slice of tofu on a plate and add a layer of spinach. Top with a second slice of tofu, and a second layer of spinach. Finish with a layer of tofu. Make 4 Napoleons this way, directly on the plates. Drizzle each serving with 1 Tblspn reserved dressing and garnish with the whole pickled ginger and toasted sesame seeds.
Serve in the middle of large white square plates.
The Japanese Series