There was a point towards the end of my book-making process when Stacy remarked that one of the recipes we were working on didn’t really seem very much like me. I was slightly bummed to hear that. But she was absolutely right. Here’s the thing: taking on a project of such scale made me stupidly anxious. I believed that I had to make the most original, biggest and best of everything for this book to be the kind of cookbook that has weight in the world. Towards the end there, I kind of forgot one of the things that had drawn me to home cooking in the first place: its simplicity.
This is not to say that I don’t love every single recipe that I made for my cookbook. I do. Even those few that are a little more fussy. But there’s a lesson here, about following my own north star and being faithful to what’s essentially me. The seriousness of taking on a book caused me to lose sight of that a little bit.
To be fair, there’s also this creative itch that I have, and brainstorming creative recipe ideas scratches that itch. It’s one of my favorite things to do on long walks: think about flavors and ingredients and how they might pair together. But there’s also this special magical place where creative flavors pair together in a really accessible way. And that’s what I want to hang on to.
At the end of the day, the book is a labor of love and an experiment. I think that I had to cross that threshold – venturing into complicated cooking territory – to be reminded how much I love simplicity in food, to be reminded that not every recipe I produce must be the most wildly creative recipe ever. Having spent time away from cooking since submitting my manuscript, I’m glad to be reminded of the power of a simple dish. I believe that this lies at the heart of home cooking. Most nights, my vegetables are sautéed and tossed with salt and pepper. And that’s enough.
(P.S.: Save the squash seeds and roast them.)
SAKE-STEAMED KABOCHA SQUASH WITH MISO
adapted from Japanese Farm Food
It’s a testament to the quiet beauty of this book that my dad wound up buying two copies: one for me, and one for my stepmom, because she loved my copy so much. This recipe epitomizes simplicity. Nancy Singleton Hachisu has a deep love for and understanding of Japanese home cooking; the book is a gem. I’m a huge fan of the intense umami flavors of miso. You can buy a small quantity of it in bulk at a natural foods store if you’re not ready to commit to a whole tub of miso. But if you are ready to commit to a whole tub of it, adding a tablespoon of the paste to a bowl of hot water and throwing in some veggies and protein makes for the easiest soup ever. And guess what? You don’t need to peel kabocha squash. Hallelujah.
3 tablespoons miso
6 tablespoons sake
1 small kabocha squash, about 1.5 pounds, seeds removed
3 tablespoons sesame oil (or use your favorite neutral oil)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Gomasio, optional, for garnish
In a small bowl, muddle the miso with 3 tablespoons of the sake. Slice the kabocha lengthwise into thin wedges. (Hachisu recommends 1/8-inch thick, but I found that very challenging with this dense squash.) Slice those wedges in half.
In a large skillet over medium-low heat, warm the oil with the red pepper flakes. When the oil is hot, add the squash and toss to coat. Add the remaining sake and toss again. Cover and cook until the squash is tender, stirring occasionally, about 6-10 minutes. Add the miso-sake paste, stirring carefully to evenly coat the squash.
Garnish with a little gomasio if desired. Serve warm.