When I cook, I often ad lib or improvise, swapping ingredients here, loosely measuring there. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but that's the fun of cooking to me. Looking up the meaning of ad lib, it comes from the Latin ad libitum, translated as "at one's pleasure." I love that. That's what cooking is all about to me. Michael Ruhlman, in his latest book and blog, is trying to get people back to basics and to cook because it is simple and simply better. And it got me thinking about how I cook and what the purpose of my blog is because I haven't been posting as much. Part of the reason is because I try to add recipes to each post to go along with the photo of the dish I prepared so that it might entice others to make it. But many times, I don't cook from a recipe and trying to go back to estimate my measurements is difficult and then the dish may not be quite like how I made it. Quantities and proportions do make a difference but do they matter? Part of the difficulty of getting people to cook is that it is tedious and it can be, I know. If you have your mind set on a certain dish from a certain cookbook, you have to go out and get those ingredients, which takes time. Then you have to read the recipe, which takes time. Then you have to measure each ingredient, which takes time. After all that, no wonder people think they don't have time to cook! But the truth is that those types of time-consuming dishes can be reserved for special occasions or the weekend, when you have more leisure (if you don't have kids to shuttle around to their various activities). Cooking everyday meals shouldn't have to involve recipes, but rather ideas and usage of stocked items in the pantry or refrigerator.
Here's my case in point, tonight's dinner. I'm using endive I have growing in my planter upstairs, thinly sliced pork from the grocery store (I love Japan and their ultra-thin slices of meat!) and a favorite vegetable, lotus root, which I can get easily here in the grocery store along with garlic chives. Now if you're thinking, I can't get paper thin slices of meat from the grocery store nor can I get lotus root, so I can't even start to make this dish, then that's where the ad libbing comes in. Maybe you don't even have to use meat or if you do, slice the meat as thinly as you can; if you don't have lotus root, use another root vegetable you're likely to get easily, carrots, or if you want a similar crunch to the lotus root, water chestnuts; and no endive, then use iceberg lettuce or cabbage. Then just mix together a sauce, stirfry everything together, and you have dinner. In no time.
I actually considered not listing the measurements in the recipe below after the above post, but here's my best estimation of what I used. I also listed it in metric, and here's why. More food for thought: a really terrific article on kitchen scales from the NY Times.
If the US converted to the metric system, more people would have to use a scale. That's what happened to me because I live in Tokyo, and I'm the better for it. Cook at your pleasure!
1 small bunch of endive, torn into bite sized pieces
260g thinly sliced pork
1 garlic clove, chopped
About 2 cm chunk fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
Pinch of salt and pepper
Dash of soy sauce
Splash of Chinese wine or sake
300g lotus root, peeled, cut in half lengthwise and cut into about 5mm slices
4 bunches of garlic chives, cut into about 5 cm lengths
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon kochijan, a Korean chili paste
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese wine or sake
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
In a small bowl, put in the pork, garlic, ginger, salt, pepper, soy sauce and wine. Massage the pork well and set aside.
In another bowl filled with water and about 2 tablespoons of vinegar, add the peeled and cut lotus root to soak. This will keep the lotus root from turning purple during cooking and cleanses the root. About 10 minutes should do the trick.
Meanwhile, mix up the sauce in a small bowl and set aside.
Get a serving plate ready, and lay the torn endive directly on the serving plate.
Heat up a wok or frying pan on high heat. Add some vegetable oil, about 1 tablespoon and add the marinated pork. Fry until all the pieces are no longer pink and no liquid is in the wok. Add the drained lotus roots and stir fry a few minutes until the lotus roots turn slightly opalescent. Add in the garlic chives and continue to fry for just a minute and then add the sauce. Turn the heat down to medium-low and continue stirring so that everything is coated with the sauce. Pour immediately onto the endive.
Serve with rice.