January 21, 2013: Here There Be Dragons

January 21, 2013

Brussel Sprout & Miso-WalnutI suppose, all in all, I have had my few brave moments. I did manage to get the “highest initials in the oak tree” (our childhood game/challenge) when I was a younger. True, I was lighter than most of the boys in the neighborhood, but I reached those top, thin, swaying branches on pure guts. Then, in college, there was rock-climbing. I was always the first one up…and off, the cliff. These days, with my precarious economic condition, I suffer a kind of enforced day-to-day bravery, so I find I tend to seek less challenges. There is, however, a built-in safety net with cooking. Food, to me, is a kind of mini-adventure: it will most likely not kill you unless you do something really bad, so I am more apt to try more weird stuff.

Last weekend I was dying to try my miso-walnut sauce once again, and having all the ingredients, it was just a matter of finding another worthy vegetable. My first choice was pearl onions. I suspected that the natural glossy texture of these onions would not hold the sauce as well, but I wanted to give it a try. I still think this could work, but after the holidays my store no longer stocked pearl onions. Rats. I guess I was still in “small, round, veggie mode” because what I finally settled on was Brussel Sprouts.I know that I have lost about half of you right there because I am aware that Brussel Sprouts are a bit of an acquired taste. I knew it would be a weird East-meets-West combination, but I also thought it just might be weird and wonderful East-meets-West combination.

Brussel Sprouts with Miso-Walnut Sauce
The brussel sprouts are the easy part of dish. I took a bag of frozen sprouts and put them in boiling, salted H2O for about three minutes. Drain and add Miso-Walnut Sauce. I topped this off with toasted white sesame seeds and toasted nori crumbles.

Miso-Walnut Dressing:  Toast 1/2C. walnuts in pan on stove top on low-medium heat, turning often until toasted, but not black. Grind walnuts in suribachi or any other mortar and pestle (or grind in food processor) until smooth-ish. Add 3 Tblsp. dashi or veggie broth; 1 Tblsp. mirin; 1 Tblsp. sweet white miso; 2 Tblsp. shoyu; and 1/4 teasp. sal de mer. Whisk.

I was fairly pleased with the combination. I think the onions might have been a better mix overall, but this recipe was indeed a weird and wonderful second. Last weekend, I got a very nice visit by my good friend Teja, who grew up in Japan, so I wanted to give him a taste of my latest concoction. Poor Teja. One taste and he almost gagged! As he is handing back the bowl, he said “Sorry.” and I replied, “No…no. For years now, I’ve been begging you guys to give me good feedback on how my recipes are coming along, and I just got the most clear opinion ever!” But now comes the hard part: Why didn’t he like? At first, I thought it being a “leftover” may have changed the taste, but no…the sauce had separated somewhat, but the taste was fine (to me.) “Are you just unfamiliar with brussel sprouts” I asked him. Turns out, that he regularly grills sprouts for the girls, so that wasn’t it. So, then I asked him to taste the sauce alone, and that was it! He thought the combination was just awful! The sauce…while certainly my variation, was derived from a bona-fide Japanese recipe. Now, Teja will freely admit that despite growing up in Japan, he like most people, limited himself to the food there that he knew but he certainly knew that my dish was not for him!

I feel bad for making Teja into a guinea pig in an experiment where it all goes wrong for the pig, but I really think that in this case it is was just a matter of individual taste. The one thing a cook cannot control. To Teja, whom I’ve made many, many delicious feasts, I promise to do better the next time, for you. I however, really enjoyed the leftovers!

Here There Be DragonsLook, if you are a cook and you want a safe recipe, make chocolate cake. I’ve tasted all sorts of “bad” chocolate cakes in my day…dry ones, squishy ones, even vegan ones and all of them were just fine and more than edible!

But the cooking world needs pioneers. People who stir the pot (metaphorically and actually) the other way. It’s like that (probably apocryphal) story of the cartographer’s map from the ancient mariner days which read “Here There Be Dragons” when the charts were unknown. The explorers who went ahead anyway, you read about in eighth grade history. The rest, turned back to the harbor and to obscurity, presumably munching on their chocolate cake (OK…it was more like a chocolate biscotti, back then… a chocolate hardtack if you will, but you get the point.) It’s also like the moral to the old Aesop’s fable, “Do Bravely What You Do At All.”


One comment

  1. This is right up our street. This recipe looks so interesting! Brussell sprouts are unfortunately so underrated. Well done for reinvigorating them!

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