Last weekend, I finished reading Matthew Amster-Burton’s Pretty Good Number One, a travelogue slash memoir slash love letter to Japanese food. Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, it’s a book I’m sad to say I missed getting on board with, but I’ve now done my part by putting down $4.99 on Amazon. More on the book in second, but needless to say, it was the inspiration for the chicken katsu we had last night for dinner and for the asparagus w/ sesame-miso vinaigrette in today’s post.
As I said in my review on Goodreads:
You don’t have to be a Japanophile to be sucked in to Matthew Amster-Burton’s Pretty Good Number One, but you might become one after you’ve read the book. Each chapter takes you through quintessential Japanese foods and food experiences and leaves you wanting…to book the first plane out for a bowl of ramen, or a crunchy bite of tempura, or a cup of green tea from a café with a floor for matcha and another for sencha.
This is no foodier than thou memoir. He shares stories of regular noodle and okonomiyaki joints, a pachinko parlor and the takoyaki museum. He talks about grocery shopping and trying to sort your recyclables (the specificity of which blows my American mind, but has my half Japanese side nodding knowingly). It bypasses the usual adulation and reporting of the middle of the night visit to witness the buying and selling at Tsukiji Fish Market, and instead tells a sweet story about a shopkeeper who got their day started right, talks about wandering around the market and having sashimi for breakfast.
And if you’re not already drawn in by the food, the stories about life in Japan that round out the book, about the friendliness of its people and the freedom (without worry) that kids have, will get you. Amster-Burton is totally charmed by Japan and you can’t help but be charmed by this book.
While white (shiro) miso is milder than its red counterpart, it still packs an umami punch. It’s the miso you’ll want to use for miso soup and can also be used as a marinade for fish. In this asparagus and tofu “salad,” it serves as the main component of the dressing, along with a bit of lemon juice, mirin and brown sugar. Portioned to serve two as a side, if you want to skip the tofu and double the asparagus, that works, too. Or add some soba for a more substantial lunch. Once asparagus season has passed us by, the dressing is also great with green beans.
- ½ block extra firm tofu, cut into cubes
- ½ lb. asparagus, woody ends snapped and cut on the diagonal into 1 inch pieces
- 2 t. shiro (white) miso paste
- 1 t. lemon juice
- 1 t. brown sugar
- 1 t. mirin
- ¼ t. toasted sesame oil
- toasted sesame seeds (aka goma) for garnish
- Prepare an ice bath in a small mixing bowl and set aside.
- Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook asparagus for 2-3 minutes until bright green, but still crunchy.
- Blanch the asparagus and pour off the ice water. You want to stop the cooking, but you don't want the asparagus to get waterlogged.
- In a small bowl whisk together the miso paste, lemon juice, brown sugar, mirin and sesame oil.
- In a medium bowl gently toss together the asparagus, tofu and dressing until evenly coated. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds and serve chilled.