Omu-rice (short for "omelet rice") -- a true Japanese classic. Strange that a dish that features hot dogs and ketchup would be a Japanese nursery favorite, but there you have it.
As odd as omu-rice may look or sound, I think it sums up what this site is about --- namely, being open, flexible and creative with what you have. And making delicious food with it. In the post-War era, the Japanese took strange, but ubiquitous, ingredients (ketchup and hot dogs) introduced by the American military and combined them with the long-learned Chinese technique of chowing, or stir-frying, to create a uniquely Japanese dish.
The Tao Te Ching tells us to be like water, to flow around obstacles rather than to stop short before them; and to make the most of what we find, and leave something better in our wake.
The Way of Cooking is a way to cook with this Taoist perspective. Take what you know, adapt it, create something different. Other times it may be a matter of just changing our perspective on a "problem."
I remember one time when T and I were with his parents at their lakeside camp in north Maine and my mother-in-law (G) was preparing spaghetti bolognese for that evening. As we sat down to table, she mentioned that she had made a serious mistake while cooking, and that we may not be able to eat what she had prepared. She had mistaken the cinnamon bottle for something else, and added it to the sauce before she caught her mistake. If we couldn't bring ourselves to eat it, she said, she would understand and take no offense. When we tasted the sauce, however, we could detect only a hint of cinnamon in the perfectly seasoned sauce. I told G that the Greeks make a pasta with a cinnamon-laced meat sauce called pastitsio. She hadn't made a mistake, she had just made a different dish! (OK, it didn't have a bechamel topping, but let's call that a technicality).
Since Omu-rice is used as the example of the Way of Cooking in action, I've taken the basics of it's underlying method, frying rice, for the first Way of Cooking Basic Method.
The Way of Cooking considers these elements:
1. Essence: what defines the dish, what method or combination of ingredients give the dish its character.
2. Components: what are the basic ingredients
3. Proportion: how much of each ingredient is needed
The Essence of Fried Rice is, of course, rice, oil, aromatics and seasonings quickly cooked in a hot wok; fillings are optional, but often included.
The secret to fried rice, no matter the ingredients used, is this: you have to season and cook the fillings (aromatics, meats, vegetables) before you add the rice.
Completely different styles of fried rice all have the same basic Components
Meat and/or Vegetable Fillings
that are quickly cooked in a hot pan. Change the rice, the seasonings, the filllings, even the oil, and your finished rice is a wholly different product. Most people have had fried rice as a side dish with a Chinese meal, but there are also Indonesian nasi goreng, Korean kimchi bokkum bap, Japanese omu-rice, pineapple rice, and breakfast fried rice (SPAM, ham or sausage with vegetables).
The Way allows for doubling, tripling --- as much as needed. The amounts given are only to give you a sense of the Proportion of the ingredients, but the whole point is to put more or less according to your own taste and what you have on hand. I have only ever used a wok to make fried rice, and I think the wok’s sloping sides help the dish come together. It's a worthy investment (not just for fried rice, of course).
(Side note: don't buy a non-stick wok --- it is an oxymoron of the highest order. More on this later.)
The Way of Cooking: FRIED RICE
(Meal for 2 persons, side dish for 4)
4 cups (1/2 kg) cold Rice (refrigerator-cold works best – hot rice, especially medium or short grains, can come out clumped and sticky for novice cooks)
2-3 TBL (15-20 ml) Oil
½ cup (250g) Aromatics (One or all: onions, shallots, garlic)
1-2 tsp (15-30ml) Basic Seasoning
(Choose: salt AND/OR ketchup, soy sauce OR kecap manis)
(Meats and Veg/Fruit should total about 1½ - 2 cups together):
½ -1 tsp (7-15ml) total Additional Seasoning
(Choose one or mix: pepper, curry powder, turmeric, black or brown mustard seed, onion seed, cumin, coriander, etc.)
½-1 cup (125-250g) Meat (Chinese sausage, SPAM, hot dog, char siu pork,
beef, chicken, shrimp, etc.)
½-1 cup (125-250g) Vegetable/Fruit (mixed vegetables, peas, edamame,
pineapple, bamboo, bean sprouts, raisins, beans, kimchee, etc.)
egg (hard-boiled, fried, scrambled in)
green onions or chives, cilantro
Heat oil and cook any raw meat/sausage.
Add Aromatics and cook until softened and transparent.
Add cooked meats (if using), vegetables and HALF of Basic Seasonings and ALL of Additional Seasoning.
Cook together 3-5 minutes, until everything is seasoned and heated through.
Push ingredients up the sides of wok/pan, creating a space in the center of the wok.
Add a touch more oil if necessary, then other half of Basic Seasoning, then cold Rice.
Using a flat spatula, GENTLY press the rice in the center, and bring the filling ingredients over from the sides of the wok, onto the top of the rice.
Press through again, cut through and over the center of the pan, and again bring over the ingredients that have pushed up the sides of the wok.
Work all the way around the wok. The motion is similar to folding in egg whites to a cake batter.
Repeat until all ingredients are blended thoroughly and rice is heated through.
We have rice with our evening meals at least 3 times a week, and even with T taking left-overs for lunch, we often have cold rice in the fridge. With the exception of the glutinous rices, cold rice becomes fried rice for at least one other meal. We have made fried rice with short grain, medium grain, long grain, Basmati, jasmine, and brown rices. Lately we have been using our own blend of brown and white rices as our basic rice, and have found that it makes a great pineapple fried rice. The chewiness of the brown rice complements the sweet tartness of pineapple, while the white rice absorbs the flavors of the seasonings to carry them through the dish. If you're not ready for fried rice for breakfast yet, pineapple fried rice is a delicious side dish with grilled or roasted meats.
Now to get you riffing on your own, the Fried Rice Chart has some variations to get you started. Remember the important things are to look at what you have in your well-stocked pantry, and taste as you go along.
If you didn't grow up with a Japanese mother or have never been to Japan, Omu-Rice will sound pretty strange, but if you try it, I think you will find it quite addictive.
One of the joys of living on a tropical island is being able to enjoy a sunrise or sunset on the beach. Or both. On the same day. Even on the same beach.
Yesterday morning we decided we hadn’t had breakfast on the beach for awhile, and so we went --- a jug of coffee, fresh fruit and fried rice in hand. T opted for a run and swim before breakfast, while I practiced deep breathing meditation then revelled in a steaming cup of french roast while surveying the other denizens of the beach. The paths were already busy with walkers and joggers, singles and buddies all keeping a good aerobic clip. A few day trippers ---- mostly families with young children, coolers, boogie boards, inflatables, and sand tools in tow --- were also arriving and staking out their patch of sand or shade. (One give-away about the locals vs. visitors on the beach: locals generally look for a shady spot on grass, while visitors seek out sunny places in the sand.) The south-facing shore was just warming up in the early morning rays – the sun had just cleared the Ko’olau mountains in the east, and whatever warmth the spring morning sun had to offer was clipped by a brisk trade breeze (blowing from the northeast).
An added joy of any visit to Hawaii’s beaches is the close encounters with the wildlife. At this particular shore we are always visisted by the local cardinals, mynahs, bulbuls and doves looking for a free hand-out. The little zebra doves will stay close but they don’t openly beg, they appear to keep themselves nonchalantly busy while keeping a sharp eye for errant or proferred crumbs. Meanwhile a red-crested cardinal planted himself right in my line of sight, caught my eye and began chirping melodically – I don’t know if he was singing for his breakfast or just making inquiries, but it was a pleasant encounter either way. Then, came the mafia — which is how I always think of the mynah birds. They have a certain reptilian look about them to begin with, but after I first witnessed a gang of mynahs actually surround a single one of their member, and then beat him up(!) the characterization has always stuck in my mind. Of course I’ve seen birds dominate others of their species in territorial battles, but I’d never seen this type of “gang behavior” before. Mynahs also have a way of landing among a group of other birds and strutting around as if “taking over a joint” that lends itself to this characterization. They are certainly fun to watch.
Less frequently, but with regularity we also see monk seals and green sea turtles (honu) near shore, dolphins spinning and fishing off-shore, and today – whales breeching and blowing about a half-mile off-shore! The smallish whales would leap and land on their backs causing huge splashes, followed by spouts of blown water. We watched the show move from west to east at about 10 minute intervals for half an hour. We couldn’t tell if these were humpback whales, but if they were, they are due to return to their summer feeding grounds in the north this month so we were happy to catch a sighting this late in the season.
The thing that astonished me most while we marveled at this close-shore display was this: no one else on the beach saw it. As we cheered and looked around after the first splash, we noticed that our fellow beach-goers were engrossed in activity and oblivious to the show --- headphones in place, eating, chatting, playing, swimming, running, walking . . . . doing. They were missing such a treat.
As we packed to leave a little while later, I hoped that the others on the beach that morning each found some time before they returned to their busy lives to be still and to see. To listen to and connect with the other residents of our islands; to feel themselves a part of nature.
Fried rice with pineapple, sausage, edamame and three onions.