Melon Vs. Melon

OK, so the winter squash, my first (curcubit) love, is long gone for the year, and it will be months until it returns*.

But, we soldier on, and there are summer squashes, melons, and other interesting squash relations to try.

Today I made winter melon soup, basically a simple, light scallion and ginger broth with shiitakes and cilantro, good for summer and also suitable for this subtle-flavoured melon. So, winter melon, aka ash gourd: once it was cooked in the soup, it just tasted like the broth but had a texture similar to raw cantaloupe. It was enjoyable but not earth-shattering. I wouldn’t mind eating it again, but probably won’t go out of my way. I did taste a chunk of it raw, and liked it a lot more – I could taste the fresh, delicate flavour sort of like an unsweetened honeydew melon but crunchy like a watermelon. I would use it in a fruit salad, or make a salsa of it with tomatoes and cilantro, or add it to a vegetable salad.

 

*On the plus side, one of my favourite squash farmers has planted (for the first time) and agreed to pre-sell me as many tiger stripe butternut squash as I want, come the Fall

The Final Squash

The last local winter squash ran out a little while ago but I ate my final squash today; it was the miso-fermented squash I put away in early March.

The inspiration for the recipe came from the book Preserving the Japanese Way – an amazing book (available at the Toronto Public Library) full of unusual fermentation recipes. I just left it a lot longer than the book called for. The sliced squash basically just sat in two types of miso, a little salt, and homemade Japanese 7-spice for 4 months, which soften, flavoured, and soured the squash over time in the fridge. It’s not pretty, but it’s tasty.

Popcorn Koji/Miso

So, usually koji is made using soybeans, rice or barley, and then the koji, inoculated with spores also called koji, is mixed with (more) soybeans, chickpeas or some other legume to make miso, or used to make something else like amazake or some types of vegetable ferments.

But the Momofuku cookbook gives a brief mention to popcorn miso, made of unpopped kernels, and tasting of popcorn. It also mentions pistachio miso. So there are a lot of possibilities when you’re making your own koji, and I am determined to try some of them, despite my relatively poor history of being able to make miso. I have made sweet (i.e. 3 month) miso before, and just began a barley koji sweet miso a week or two ago. That’s manageable. But I really want to try 1-3+ year salty misos, and so far I have always managed to freeze or bake these while moving or living off-grid or whatever. But hope springs eternal, so I am trying again, using spores intended for red rice sendai (6-12 month) miso. At least by making my own koji, just buying spores instead of the inoculated rice, I end up with a lot more koji for a lot less cost.

So anyway, above are pictures of the koji in process. To make the koji you need to steam the popcorn (pre-soaked for 24 hours) until soft. I used bamboo steamers lined with cheesecloth, and had to do the steaming in two batches. Then when it had cooled down a little, I sprinkled the spores mixed with flour onto the koji, wrapped it all up in towels to insulate it, and stuck a thermometre in so I could monitor the temperature. So far both the barley and the popcorn koji have been good at keeping within the right temperature range without me having to do much. After 24 hours, I moved it to a pan and made furrows in the pan. After a day of inoculating, it gives off more heat, so while it still needs to be incubated a bit, it also would be easy to overdo it, hence spreading it out more and adding furrows. You can see in the second picture in the tray how much more white mold there was in the morning, compared to the night before, so it’s growing well.

Lately I have been branching out in how I use miso too. Travis introduced me to miso in savoury oatmeal, which I love for breakfast (sometimes with seaweed). I have also started adding sweet shiro miso to the one-ingredient frozen banana “ice cream” (that I always seem to bring up) for a salty-caramel-y flavour.

Fermented Tofu – Step-by-Step

I have made this fermented tofu a couple of times now, and I am so into it. It starts out as extra firm tofu and ends as a soft, spicy, cheesy spread after a month or so. It’s inexpensive, easy, and I like it better than the store-bought fermented tofu I tried (though I like that too).

To make this, all I did was press the tofu between plates lined with cloths to get rid of excess liquid (I put a weight on top of the plates, and left it for an hour).

Next, I cut up the tofu and put it in pans, then covered them with plastic and poked a few holes in the plastic with a fork for a bit of air circulation. I left them to go moldy for a few days on top of the fridge. They need to get yellow mold, smell a little, and get  slimy before they are ready for the wine. The book I got this process from, Asian Tofu by Andrea Nguyen, says that some grey fuzzy mold is OK too, and just means it’s time to move on to the next step.

The next step is dipping them in non-iodized salt mixed with hot peppers, packing them in a jar, and covering with Shaoxing cooking wine ($3-4 at Kei Wei on Spadina) mixed with water. Then it all just sits in the fridge for a month.

I wanted to share this because it’s delicious and I don’t know anyone else who has been making this.

My miso fermented tofu and sunshine squash are still coming along nicely  – the tofu tastes great but is not that soft yet, and the sunshine squash is also still softening. My next project (in process) is making popcorn koji so that I can make a miso made of popcorn (plus a legume) in place of the rice normally in miso. The popcorn is in its second day of incubating, and is nicely covered in white koji mold. So check back soon for pictures of that.

Fermented Tofu and Sunshine Squash

 

Admittedly some of these pictures aren’t pretty, but I am really happy with the results so far, flavour-wise. Up here I have fermented tofu in rice wine, Sunshine squash fermenting in miso and Japanese 7-spice, and tofu fermenting in miso, mirin and cooking wine. The latter two are still in progress, while the rice wine tofu is done. It’s my first time fermenting tofu and I couldn’t be happier with the result: it’s tangy, soft and spreadable, cheesy and a little spicy. I like the store-bought fermented tofu, but this is way tastier in my humble opinion. The process was interesting – I had to let extra-firm tofu go moldy over a few days, then leave it in rice wine in the fridge for a month, basically. The recipe is from the book Asian Tofu by Andrea Nguyen. I’ll update about the other two when they are done. I’m also making barley koji right now to use for miso and some other ferments, and it seems to be working. My apartment has a pleasant koji smell right now.

Burger Wars: No Meat Athlete Grill-Worthy Burgers

These burgers are based on this recipe: http://www.nomeatathlete.com/cookout-veggie-burgers, with some modifications. It’s the best burger I’ve tried to date, and I’ve made 3 batches of 18 small, hearty burgers so far. This burger is delicious, firm, toothsome, full of protein, and uses common ingredients. The ratio of legumes to gluten give it the perfect texture, and walnuts add a satisfying crunch. That’s not something I thought I wanted in a burger until I tried it, and I am really into it. The recipe seems somewhat flexible, especially considering I have already modified it a bit – you can change up the type of legume, nuts, and mushrooms easily, at least.

Simplicity: 7/10

Flavour: 9/10

Protein: 9/10

Texture: 10/10

Recipe Flexibility: 7/10

Below is the recipe for the version I have been making (original linked above).

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