Wednesday, April 13, 2011

April 2-3, 2011: Asparagus by Oishinbo

When Matt visited us last month, he brought us a few cute gifts from Tokyo - most notably a copy of Oishinbo: Vegetables.  Oishinbo translates as 'the Gourmet', and it's the title of a long-running manga series following the adventures of food writers Shirō Yamaoka and Yūko Kurita.  The series has recently been repackaged into English, with each volume following a theme - things like ramen, fish, rice, and as Matt astutely picked out for us, vegetables.

The plots combine slapstick and cheesy jokes with high drama, Iron Chef-style contests and a generous dose of moralising, particularly regarding the dangers of herbicides and pesticides (go organic!).  After taking a full 10 minutes to work out the reading sequence (right to left, top to bottom), I giggled my way through the entire volume while travelling to Canberra and came home keen to make the two accompanying recipes, which are inspired by dishes served within the story.

Both use asparagus, and we found that some baby late-season stalks were still available at the markets.  In the first recipe they're lightly boiled, then topped with a rich and savoury walnut dressing - we ate these with toast for a weekend lunch.  We couldn't access any veg-friendly dashi when we needed it (though I believe Radical Grocery stocks it) so I replaced it with a broth made from dulse flakes.  I would definitely make this again, it's simple and so tasty that Michael scraped the sauce jar clean.

We prepared the grilled asparagus the following night, as an appetiser to share with our mate Mike.  It was much more difficult to skewer the baby stalks than it would be for standard-sized ones, but of course this didn't have us missing out on any of the flavour.  We replaced the sake with dry sherry for convenience and sprinkled our glazed and charred asparagus with shichimi togarashi - we enjoyed sprinkling this spice mix on our snacks at Ebi, then spotted and bought a shaker of it at the Therry St Minh Phat a few days later.

Oishinbo proved to be doubly delightful!

Asparagus with walnut dressing
(adapted slightly from Oishinbo: Vegetables)

2 bunches asparagus
1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup shiro miso
1/4 cup dashi, or 1 teaspoon dulse flakes stirred into 1/4 cup boiling water

Trim the tough ends off the asparagus and cut the stalks into 5cm lengths.  Boil the asparagus until they're tender, but still firm and a vibrant green.  Drain the asparagus and spread them out to air-dry.

In a food processor or mortar and pestle, grind the walnuts.  Thoroughly mix in the shiro miso and dashi to obtain a thick sauce.

Serve the asparagus topped with the walnut sauce.

Asparagus grilled kabayaki-style
(adapted slightly from Oishinbo: Vegetables)

2 bunches asparagus
1/2 cup tamari
1/2 cup mirin
1/2 cup sake or dry sherry
sancho pepper, Sichuan pepper or shichimi togarashi

Trim the tough ends off the asparagus.  Line the stalks up neatly in a row and secure them with bamboo skewers, piercing them at right angles.

Place the remaining ingredients in a small saucepan.  Bring them to the boil and allow them to simmer for 5 minutes.

Cook the asparagus skewers on a hot plate - ideally a charcoal grill, though we just used a non-stick frypan - until it's tender and a little charred.  Brush the asparagus frequently with the sauce as it cooks.

Serve the asparagus with a sprinkling of pepper.


  1. I like the sound of the grilled asparagus and love the sound of the book, Oishinbo: Vegetables. The Japanese have done it all!

  2. Wow that fills me with new admiration for manga - hidden depths! The sauces sounds interesting - I have tried a miso sauce on asparagus before that didn't impress but I like the sound of these

  3. There's some crazy manga out there. This makes me appreciate it more.

  4. fantastic - you'll have to show me one day!

    shiro miso, all over this, cindy.

  5. These both sound great. I love shichimi togarashi - sadly no-one else at home seems to care for it. :(

    I'm already hanging out for our next asparagus season!

  6. I remember my brother telling me about this series when he was teaching English in Japan! I wonder if there's an Oishinbo: Kit Kats edition? :P

  7. Welcome Keely! I reckon the Japanese have a pretty unique perspective. :-)

    Johanna, the walnuts and broth serve to keep the miso in its place. Do you use a light miso or a dark one? I'm learning that it really makes a difference.

    Jess - sure is! I had no idea there was PG-rated food drama, though. :-)

    Lucy - I have just got into shiro miso for the first time and cannot get enough. It's gonna be my new vegan cheese alternative I think.

    Ah, Mel - you can easily keep one of those little shakers to yourself. I've been seasoning crackers & dip with it lately. :-)

    Hannah - ha! If there isn't, I'm sure you and tummyrumbles could put your heads together and write one.