Thursday, August 30, 2012

Goya Champloo (guaranteed samurai-free!) *

Are you familiar with goya?

...LOL nope, not this Goya either! 

What I mean is: goya, the vegetable. The weird one that looks like zucchini with a bad case of acne. 
This one. 

Better known as bitter melon or bitter squash in English, it is a tropical variety of the Cucurbitaceae family. It is a widely used ingredient in the Caribbeans, Asia and Africa; for us who live in other parts of the world it is not easy to get hold of it, but Asian and South-American groceries stock it on a regular basis, so a visit to your local Chinatown might be your best chance (and hey, it's always fun!) 
The Japanese call it nigauri, but in the Okinawan dialect it is called goya, and the name kind of stuck. 

 "China hereJapan hereOkinawa here."

The geography lesson is on me, peeps. Feel free to thank me later. And yes, of course I did it just for the sake of throwing in a gratuitous Mr Miyagi quote!
What was I saying again? 
Oh. Right., in short, goya is to Okinawa what potatoes are to Ireland, or something like that. And since Okinawans are proverbially long-lived, the rest of Japan had to wonder: could goya be their secret? 
(Now, while the Japanese are as hungry as anyone else for reputedly magical food that will make them fit and healthy with zero effort, goya actually is good for your health. I won't delve into the scientifical stuff here; that's what Wikipedia is for, right?)

Let's slice our goya in half. You will see the white pith inside, with seeds in it. Get rid of it, then wash your goya accurately, pat it dry, and slice it. 

If your fruit (yes, it's technicaly fruit) is slightly more ripe, the rind will be a greenish yellow and you'll find that the pith has turned red - you still don't want it in your Champloo, but it is now sweet and delicious to eat as-is, or you can throw it into a salad (mind the seeds though!)
One of my goya was at that stage but I forgot to snap a pic of it, until after I had absent-mindedly devoured its soft, squishy insides (ewww, gross!) while slicing the rind. 

Now for the actual recipe... 

Goya Champloo

Ingredients (serves 4):

* two goya fruits
* shima-dofu (Okinawan tofu), one block
* 150 g bacon, thinly cut
* 1 Tbsp instant dashi stock powder
* 1/2 tsp salt
* ground black pepper

(shima-dofu is a firm, savory kind of tofu. If you can't find it, you can use ricotta salata or a similar cheese instead, or simply substitute silk tofu - that's what I did myself!)

1.  Fry the bacon slices in a pan. When it's done, add the sliced goya and let it fry with the meat. 

2.  Add the dashi powder and salt. Stir with a wooden spoon, and adjust salt if needed. 

3.  Break the tofu block with your fingers and throw it into the mix. Let it soak up the flavours for a couple minutes. 

4.  Remove from heat. You can grind some black pepper on it if you like. You're done!

You can enjoy your Goya Champloo while it's warm, or cold from the fridge. It is yummy on its own, but I like to pour it over brown rice; I find it makes a perfect lunchbox meal since it is filling and satisfying, but not too heavy. I mostly eat it in the summer as a welcome alternative to the usual rice salad, because the bitterness from the goya gives it a very refreshing quality. 

Why, yes - goya is bitter, as the smartest among you may have surmised. If you really hate it, I guess you could swap it for plain old zucchini or cucumbers, but trust me on this - give it a try!
It might taste unpleasant at first, as the bitterness is all you'll perceive, but after a few mouthfuls you will find that it sort of recedes in the background, and the other flavours and textures - the sweetness of the rice, the salty, crispy bacon, and the delicate tofu - are incredibly heightened by it. 

Once you're familiar with the basic recipe, feel free to play around with it - fried eggs are a popular addition; your fave veggies would fit right into it, as would different spices. 
Champloo, or champuru, means "mixed up" or "stirred together" in the dialect of Okinawa, so... do it! Be creative!

* = some of you may be old enough to remember the word from the title of the anime Samurai Champloo. It was a weird but cool series, indeed mixing up traditional samurai tales with modern elements such as pop music (much like in Cowboy Bebop, which ended up being far more popular in the long run).

Samurai Champloo belongs to  ShinichirĊ Watanabe and Manglobe

Apart from this bit of linguistic trivia, this is totally unrelated to the recipe above - I just thought I'd better state clearly that no samurai where hurt in the making of this Champloo.  You know, just to be on the safe side! 

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