Hokkaido Home Cooking: Broth for Risotto and Dhal

Last month’s column was for the carnivores; this month’s is for the vegetarians, and for those looking for a lighter meal. We’ll start off with Vegetable Broth, which forms the basis of any number of recipes. Of course, you can also serve this as-is.

Vegetable broth is a great way to use leftover vegetables, scraps, all those forgotten refrigerator dwellers before they go bad, etc. You really can toss in almost anything you have on hand. Carrots, celery, garlic, mushroom stems, onions, parings, parsnips, peelings, peppers, spinach, zucchini — it’s all good as long you follow two simple rules: (1) Don’t use beets, or anything that will give the broth an unappetizing color and (2) Don’t use cabbage, or anything that will give the broth a similar off-flavor, like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, or broccoli.

Vegetable Broth

3 large carrots, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces

6 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces (also use the leaves if they’re attached to the stalks)

1 large onion, halved

6 whole button mushrooms, cleaned and halved

1/2 bunch fresh parsley, tied together with plain white cotton string

1 TSP (4 g) whole black peppercorns

2 bay leaves

3 garlic cloves

1 TBSP (11 g) salt (coarse or sea salt is best)
To make a stronger, richer broth, first toss all vegetables in about a TBSP (15 ml or so) of olive oil and roast in a 400F (200C) oven until slightly browned, about 15 minutes. Then proceed as follows or, for a lighter broth, just start here. Place all ingredients except for salt into a large pot and cover with 12 cups (about 3 liters) of water.  Bring to a boil, then add salt and simmer gently for 45 minutes.  Strain the broth through a fine sieve, lightly pressing the vegetables hard enough to release their juices but softly enough so that they don’t go through the sieve and into the broth. Yield is about 2 quarts (2 liters); the broth will keep covered in the refrigerator for 4 days, or frozen for a month.
Yellow Split Pea Dhal is an excellent way to use your broth.  It’s extremely easy and inexpensive to make, it tastes good, it’s extremely nutritious, and it freezes well.


Yellow Split Pea Dhal

1 cup (240 ml) yellow split peas, uncooked

2 to 3 cups (480 to 720 ml) vegetable broth

1 TSP (4 g) turmeric

1/4 TSP (1 g) cayenne pepper

1/2 TSP (2 g) salt

1 TBSP (11 g) butter

1 onion, finely diced

1 1/2 TSP (6 g) ground cumin

1/2 TSP (2 g) ground cloves

Rinse the peas and then put them into a large pot with the broth and bring to a slow simmer. Add the turmeric, cayenne pepper, and salt, and cover. Continue slowly simmering for around 40 minutes, or until the peas are tender and edible. In a skillet sauté onion, cumin, and cloves in the butter until the onions are soft, about 4 to 6 minutes. Add this mixture to the peas, bring the peas back to a simmer, and continue simmering for a least 5 more minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve. Dhal goes perfectly with white rice; a healthy dollop of plain yogurt is an ideal topping. This recipe yields 4 servings.

Now on to risotto.  Traditionally risotto is made with beef broth, but beef broth is a bit of a chore to make for yourself (and in Japan it’s an expensive chore to boot). You can substitute canned beef broth but it’s just not the same, and those bouillon cubes are even worse. Both homemade vegetable and chicken broths, however, work very nicely.

Risotto alla parmigiana

5 cups (1.2 liters) vegetable broth

2 TBSP (22 ml) finely chopped shallots

3 TBSP (33 ml) butter

2 TBSP (22 ml) olive oil

1 1/2 cups (350 g) raw Arborio or Daichi no Hoshi rice

1/2 heaping cup (+120 g) freshly grated parmesan cheese

salt if necessary
Bring broth to a steady simmer. In a separate heavy-bottomed casserole, place shallots with 2 TBSP (22 ml) butter and all the oil and sauté over medium-high heat until translucent but not browned. Add the rice to the shallot mixture and stir until well coated, sautéing for 1 to 2 minutes.

Begin adding the simmering broth, about 1/2 cup (120 ml) at a time. Stir constantly, wiping the sides of the pot clean and making sure to regularly scrape the bottom to dislodge all the rice there (otherwise it will stick and burn). When all the broth has been absorbed and the rice begins to dry, add another 1/2 cup (120 ml). Keep constantly stirring throughout the process, adding more simmering broth every time the rice has absorbed the previous batch. But don’t add too much — risotto is not boiled rice!

Pay close attention to your cooking temperature. The broth should be lively in the pot, but not so lively that it evaporates instead of being absorbed (the rice will then cook unevenly and will be hard on the inside). But if the broth is not lively enough (i.e., the heat is too low), the risotto becomes like glue. Until you’re more experienced with the recipe, it’s safer after the first 20 minutes of cooking and stirring to reduce the dose of the broth to 1/4 cup (55 ml) at a time, adding it at more frequent intervals. In any case, watch and adjust the heat so that your risotto finishes cooking in about 30 minutes — it’s done when the rice is tender and creamy, with an al dente consistency.

For Risotto alla parmigiana — the purest and finest of all risottos — 5 minutes before completion add all the grated cheese and the remaining 1 TBSP (11 ml) of butter. Mix well, taste and correct for salt. Serve with additional grated Parmesan cheese on the side. Yield is 4 servings.

I did most of the shopping for these recipes at Foods Variety Sugihara. The quality of their fruits and vegetables is the best I’ve seen in Sapporo. It’s a family business that’s been around forever; the current manager, the grandson of the founder, has been named a “Vegetable Sommelier” by the Japan Vegetable and Fruit Meister Association.  You can find them in Chuo-ku at 3-13, 1 Jo 9 Chome, Miyanomori, about a 10 minutes’ walk from Maruyama Koen station, through Maruyama Park and past the Hokkaido Shrine  (online at http://www.f-sugihara.com).  I also bought the rice for the risotto there — Daichi no Hoshi rice from Wassam in northern Hokkaido. This rice also works well in paella.

The peas, turmeric, and cloves came from WATAN Sapporo Halal Food, in Kita-ku at 1-20 Kita 19 Nishi 3 (online at http://watan.pepper.jp), just a few minutes’ walk from the Kita 18 station (Kita Juhachi Jo) on the Namboku Line.  WATAN seems to be Sapporo’s only source for Indian and Middle Eastern groceries, so I’m pleased to report that its selection is good and its prices quite reasonable.

A number of people have asked me where to buy spices in Sapporo (especially the chili powder from last month’s recipe). My recommendation is Tomizawa, on the fourth floor of Stellar Place, next to the Sapporo JR Station (online at http://www.tomizawa.co.jp/).  Tomizawa is great for baking supplies and has a very useful selection of imported foods; luckily enough, there’s even a kitchen equipment store right next door.

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