She attacked the food - cucumber salad and soupy rice with eggs - with gusto.
Kitchen, Banana Yoshimoto
Four days ago, autumn began in earnest. To be fair, we've been approaching it for weeks now. In my flat, this is always welcomed: cardigans move to the top of my drawers, dark nail polish is welcomed back into circulation and 60 denier tights start luring me in. Wardrobe aside, nowhere is this change in season more obvious than in my kitchen. The long evenings of the summer months lend themselves to salads and fish, to fresh leafy herbs and cold griddled vegetables. Lately, as I wander home in my boots (yes, they've been brought out already), I imagine coming home to warming pastas, soups and stews, eaten before retiring with a book/Bake Off/The West Wing. It will be many weeks before I need to add a blanket to this picture (or even a coat to walk home in), but I like to get into training early.
On autumn evenings, after long days and cold toes, food that comforts is what's needed. When I was young, it was my mum's tuna pasta bake, or superlative pea and ham (or chicken) soup. In my early 20s, new to London, it was pasta with 'meatballs' - sausages cut out of their skins and torn into balls. In my late 20s, more often than not its noodles, the rich umami of a ramen, or sharp, sour heat of a Vietnamese broth. This winter, I will be adding Okayu to this list.
On a recent weekend away with family in the Cotswolds, I was introduced to a new game: Ex Libris. It's simple - a pile of books no one playing has read are selected from the bookshelves, the blurb and title are read out, and all players write down what they imagine could be the opening sentence. All sentences are then read out, alongside the actual opening sentence. Points are given when you guess the true opening, and when someone guesses your fake line. It's an outstanding game.
It also introduced me to Kitchen - it was my turn to curate the game, I started reading it and by the time everyone had turned in their sentences, I was hooked. Early in the book Mikage Sakurai makes this soupy rice for Yuichi's mother Eriko, after moving in with them, and is asked to continue making it in lieu of rent. I knew I had to try it out. This is a dish you can do on the most homesick/poorly/exhausted/run down/grey of evenings. It requires no effort at all, when you consider that both the egg and cucumber salad are very much optional. And it's true comfort in a bowl.
Okayu and Cucumber
50g sushi rice
250ml stock (chicken, vegetable or dashi)
1 small cucumber
60ml rice wine vinegar
1tsp caster sugar
1/2tsp coarse sea salt
2tbsp toasted sesame seeds (I used half black sesame seeds)
1. Wash the rice three times and then cover with water. Leave to soak for half an hour. Preheat your oven to 180C.
2. Drain the rice, then add it and the stock to a saucepan. Cover and place over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat right down and simmer gently for 25 minutes. Keep the lid on the whole time. Once 25 minutes have passed, turn off the heat and steam for five minutes.
3. Transfer the rice to a heatproof bowl, make a slight well in the rice and then crack the egg in. Bake for 10 minutes, until the white is cooked but the yolk is still runny.
4. While the egg is cooking, slice the cucumbers thinly using a vegetable peeler. Pat down with kitchen towel to remove some of their moisture. Combine the other salad ingredients (except the sesame seeds) in a bowl and swirl around so that the salt and sugar dissolve in the vinegar. Add the cucumber ribbons, toss, sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve immediately with the rice.