The meat-centric Momofuku cookbook as a recipe source for vegetarians? Really? Well, yes! Not the whole cookbook, of course, but there are several delectable recipes that are suitable for vegetarians. Read on for one of my favorites.
David Chang's Momofuku cookbook is a umami-laden carnivore's delight, with pages and pages devoted to things like foie gras, country ham, pig's head torchon and something charmingly referred to as 'meat glue.' One couldn't get further from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest if one tried. But tucked in here and there are some stellar vegetarian recipes worthy of exploring. (Caution: Squeamish vegetarians may want to solicit help from their carnivorous friends as the photos throughout the book are far from vegetarian-friendly.)
The great thing about Mr. Chang's vegetarian recipes is that he approaches them with the same gusto, the same hard-core passion for big, luscious flavors, as he does his with meat-based creations. Consider a ranch dressing made with pickled ramps or Peas with Horseradish or the Roasted Mushroom Salad made with braised pistachios, pickled sunchokes and radishes.
The recipe for Momofuku's take on caprese salad that substitutes soft tofu for mozzarella and shiso for basil is legendary (and vegan!) This book is also an excellent source for pickle ideas, including an amazing pickled shiitake recipe.
Many of Mr. Chang's recipes call for broths or dashi that contain sneaky non-vegetarian ingredients like bonito flakes or fish sauce which vegetarians may not want to use. But often substitutions can be made (try a google search for vegetarian fish sauce recipes) and if you find one that works, the possibilities can really open up. (I doubt, however, that there will ever be a satisfying vegetarian substitute for pork belly.)
Here's one of may favorite Momofuku recipes for asparagus roasted in butter and served with a poached egg and something called miso butter. This is an excellent introduction to miso butter, a substance which I believe is as close as we can come to what the angels eat in heaven. The paragraphs introducing the recipe are written by Mr. Chang and offer some additional uses for this ambrosial stuff.
Pan-Roasted Asparagus, Poached Egg & Miso Butter
I love miso ramen. I ate a lot of it in the Sapporo region, where it was invented, when I was living in Japan. In many places, they'd finish it with a huge knob of butter and some canned corn as a garnish—totally ghetto, totally delicious. Daydreaming about that miso ramen got me to thinking about making a miso compound butter, which I'd never seen anywhere else. Butter + miso worked like crazy on those bowls of soup, so I mixed up a batch, adding more and more miso as I went. The end result was nutty and creamy, and it just tasted good—so good I licked it off my fingers, like cake frosting.
Quino was messing around with the miso butter one day and found that when he mixed it with an egg it tasted like carbonara—the fermented, salty tang of miso standing in for the pig. One day, I was trying to make a beurre monté based on sherry vinegar and the miso butter instead of water and plain butter. I mixed it with an egg and realized it tasted like hollandaise sauce—not so literally, but in a similar appealing fat-on-fat sort of way. We saw it had potential, and we put this dish together, to look like an asparagus-and-fried-egg dish you'd see at any rustico Italian market-driven restaurant in New York, but with the idea that nothing really prepared you for the flavor combination you get from that not-quite-hollandaise.
1⁄2 cup shiro (white) miso
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more if needed
1⁄2 pound thin to medium asparagus
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
4 poached eggs
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Make the miso butter: Combine the miso with 5 tablespoons of the butter in a small bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until well mixed; the butter should be one color, not a streaky mess. Reserve until needed; you can refrigerate it, well wrapped, for up to a few weeks.
2. Snap off the woodier bottom inch or so of each asparagus stalk. Use a vegetable peeler to shave away the tougher outer layer from each stalk, but don't get carried away: you probably won't need to peel the stalks more than 2 or so inches up from the trimmed end.
3. Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a wide skillet over medium-high heat. Line a plate with paper towels for draining the asparagus. When the butter sends up the first wisp of smoke, put the asparagus in the pan. (Do not overcrowd the pan; cook in batches if necessary, draining each one, and refreshing the butter if the butter from the first batch smells scorched.) When the asparagus start to take on some color, 2 to 3 minutes, season them with a generous pinch of salt and turn the heat down to medium. Turn them with a spoon or spatula so they can color on the second side, another few minutes. When the asparagus are nicely browned and tender (but not exactly soft), transfer them to the paper towels to drain.
4. While the asparagus are cooking, heat the sherry vinegar in a small saucepan over medium heat. After half a minute, add the miso butter, turn the heat to low, and stir to warm it through. When the butter has loosened slightly—it should still have a certain viscosity to it and shouldn't be melted—remove the pan from the burner and put it in a warm spot.
5. Season the cooked asparagus with another pinch of salt if needed. Smear a quarter of the warmed miso butter into a thickish puddle in the middle of each plate. Divide the asparagus among the plates and top each with an egg. Finish each dish with a few turns of black pepper, and serve at once.
note: If you have reason to make a larger quantity of miso butter—and there are many, because miso butter has a weeks-long shelf life and makes just about anything more delicious—mix together larger quantities of butter and miso in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
Reprinted from: MOMOFUKU Copyright (c) 2009 by David Chang and Peter Meehan. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of The Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.
Get the book: Momofuku, $25.31 at Amazon
(Images: Dana Velden)