Umami is one of those words that gets evoked a lot in the food writing of yonder present times. Unlike many popular and overused words (“om”, “nom”, “nom”, and variations thereof), umami is a perfect and quite irreplaceable term from Japan which refers to the mysteriously savoury. That unmistakeable but pretty elusive quality that makes fried mushrooms and miso soup and soy sauce and gruyere cheese and worcestershire sauce particularly fascinating, and fascinatingly particular. Also can I just step back and point out from this short distance and say that I’ve made, and will make recipes that illustrate the concept of umami SO MUCH BETTER than these two but I liked the title that I came up with and so insisted on making this all fit.
Make these noodles once and then commit the concept to memory and ignore the recipe because they’re a perfect go-to, fallback meal when you feel like something resembling this end result, and you really don’t need to live or die by the below quantities. As it is, what I’ve written below is not Nigella’s original recipe – she was a little more restrained with the sesame oil than I, but it’s such an incredible flavour that I just wanted more. They’re cold and slippery and nutty and salty and delicious and many other positive adjectives besides.
Sesame Soba Noodles
Adapted just barely from Nigella Lawson’s excellent book Forever Summer
200g soba noodles (although they sometimes come in 90g packs, so y’know, two of those is fine.)
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
5 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
75g sesame seeds, or sunflower seeds like I did. Or peanuts. Or nothing.
Chives or spring onions to serve.
If you’ve got sesame seeds or whatever, toast them in a dry pan over a low heat, shaking or stirring often to prevent them burning. It will seem to take forever and then they’ll burn all of a sudden, so stay patient and you’ll be rewarded with a rich golden brown colour.
Cook the soba noodles according to packet instructions in boiling water. This probably won’t take long. Drain, running under cold water while you do so. Mix together the remaining ingredients and stir them into the slightly cooled, drained noodles. Finely slice the chives or green onions, and sprinkle over the top. Serves two.
Apologies that my photos are so weak this week, I adore winter but am in denial about the bad lighting it brings. Will try to do something about it so you can return to the kinda-decent photos you deserve.
Surprise second recipe, it’s something I just thought into existence all casual-like, with the hopes that it would work. Oh, how it worked. The butter sizzles in the oven emphasising its – all together now – umami properties, deepening and darkening its already amply pleasing taste. The rum is sweet and sticky and rich but not overpowering, matching the sweetness of the pumpkin and parsnip and making them taste like the best vegetables on earth. Mustard helps it not all taste like pudding, and thyme is my favourite herb (well, that and mint) and I’ve managed not to kill my potplant of it yet and so I thought I’d throw some in as well.
Pumpkin and Parsnips roasted in Butter and Rum
A recipe by myself. Serves 3-4, or two of us with leftovers.
1 small pumpkin (or butternut, or a couple of kumara)
2 medium parsnips
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon golden rum
Half a handful of thyme leaves (or one handful if your hands are tiny-tiny like mine.)
Set the oven to 190 C. Remove the skin from the pumpkin if you like, and slice it into thick chunks. Slice the parsnips into thick sticks. Place in a large roasting dish. Cube the butter and dot it over, then spoon over the mustard. Sprinkle with salt and roast for about 40 minutes, until the vegetables are a little browned and very tender. Pour over the rum and a little more salt, and return to the oven for another ten minutes. Serve.
Another thing I did on my birthday was – okay, after the whiskey and Aperol – only drink a tiny bit of cider while watching the marriage equality vote, because I had a tattoo booked the next day. Do you want to see it? Well, you can’t. It’s currently not fit to be seen, as a result of the long, fascinating, but ultimately sorta gross healing process. As Led Zeppelin and Johnny Cash played on the stereo I went through three solid hours of absurd pain, pausing only to have a fizzy drink or inhale deeply on a small bottle of pepperminty essential oils (which didn’t necessarily do that much, but did put my brain squarely back where it should be and made me feel all medieval) while Tim held my hand, and later, hands plural, which also didn’t seem to do anything as far as pain-assuaging and yet made me feel better. I was with Gill at Tattoo Machine, and he was brilliant. Super brilliant. And I mean, of course it’s going to hurt. I found it very interesting identifying the different kinds of pain – sometimes slicing, sometimes like a small yet mightily-toothed animal was chewing on me, sometimes an odd sensation like a tiny flaming vacuum was moving over my leg, and sometimes more straightforward: like a needle plunging deep into me. I felt weirdly powerful while I was lying there, thinking look what I can do, look what I’m capable of withstanding just because I want to. It’s also possible these are things that the brain tells itself while something like this is happening. At not one point, even during the most intense pain, did I think oh no this was the wrong choice. And now: I love it. I’m completely enraptured with it. Also probably 85 billion percent of people in New Zealand have a tattoo so maybe I’m rambling away on something that’s not particularly ground-breaking. But I’m very, very happy with mine.
Post-tattoo, while I lay on the couch with stabbed leg aloft, Tim trudged round town in the still-there rain and returned home with Voltarin, Bepanthen, a pie and a bunch of roses. He then made this platter of cheese (oh hey, umami), grapes and crackers to eat while we waited for the pies to heat up and poured me a whisky and patiently waited while I hobbled over to the table and took several goes to instagram the moment to my sufficient liking. Frankly, I’m surprised someone else didn’t try to marry him already with behaviour like that, but I’m glad it’s going to be, and can be, me.
Title via that gleaming beacon of handsomeness, LL Cool J with Mama Said Knock You Out. Don’t call it a comeback!
Gavin Creel must’ve bought his voice at the good voice shop or something, because damn son, he renders me unable to write a decent sentence about how great he sounds while singing Going Down from the musical Hair. I love this song anyway, he embiggens it like wo.
Garbage, Push It. Not sure how I missed how utterly terrifying this video was during the 90s. As far as those 90s-scary-subversive music videos go, this one has aged well. The song is brilliant, I bet there’s a version with just a static image if you’re reading this alone and in the dark. (PS thanks Kate for reminding me how excellent this is.)
Next time: something photographed in better lighting, if I can. Got a yearning to make cookies, and also basically everything, so we’ll see.