Let me set the scene for you. It is 5:16 pm on Monday evening. It is very dark out. I am still wearing my pajama top under my sweater, because I never got around to showering today. The boys had to stay home from school and Kita today and you know how these things go. Mom's personal hygiene is always the first to go unless Mom insists on showering, everyone else be damned, and sometimes that small indulgence ("indulgence") is just a hill too far. (Is that the right metaphor? I'm tired.) (Also, "Mom"? Sigh.)
The boys are watching a movie. They watched a movie yesterday too. And the day before that too. I no longer really care that they're watching a movie a day multiple times a week. I mean, objectively, I know it's not great? But I don't care anymore. I'm sitting here next to them, making pretend that we're spending time together and that I'm present, but I'm typing away here, trying to work, trying to achieve something. ("Achieve." Sob.)
Choosing the stupid movie was a struggle. Voices were raised. Tears were shed. Rooms were left. The older child doesn't want to watch what the younger child wants to watch and the younger child sometimes just wants to get its way and one of them is intractable and the other one is mostly agreeable and I try to be fair and balanced and sometimes I end up getting so mad about the stupidity of all of the arguing and complaining and anyway, wasn't acquiescing to a movie about me trying to practice some form of self-care and now it feels like it's backfiring and omg get me out of here, no, really, I need to leave the house, but I can't and also, I'm wearing yesterday's underpants and ten-year-old sweatpants.
(If it sounds like I am on this parenting experience solo right now, well, I am, because despite the fact that the poor man has worked from our utility room since March 2020 and basically never leaves the house anymore, Max had a positive PCR test last week and has been in masked isolation in a separate room in our apartment since Thursday evening (THURSDAY EVENING), which basically feels like a benevolent yet still hungry-three-times-a-day ghost has moved in and my husband has moved out. Mercifully/miraculously, the boys and I are negative!)
But! Let's focus on good things, shall we? This recipe! Which I first made several weeks ago, not thinking much of it, just needing to use up some wilty bok choy and funny-looking shiitakes that I'd bought as a special at the grocery store and then forgotten in the fridge for nearly a week, urgh. I even declined to take a photo, just in case, because I just figured it would be whatever, and then it went and straight up blew our minds and I didn't see that coming at all!
To make it, you first blanch some bok choy. Before blanching, you cut off the ends of the bok choy so that you're left with individual leaves rather than little bulbs. You drain these and let them cool, then arrange them in a serving dish.
Next you deal with the mushrooms. You stem the shiitakes, but leave them whole, and fry them together with some kind of chile (the first time, I used one hot fresh Turkish chile, which was delicious; the next time I used one tiny dried Calabrian chile and it was also delicious - but in both cases, one chile was plenty for making this fiery enough that small children wouldn't be able to eat it and grown-ups would get a runny nose). Then you add minced garlic and ginger and what seems like a lot of soy sauce as well as sugar and sesame oil. This boils down, glazing the mushrooms and making them incredibly savory and delicious.
This mixture is scraped over the blanched bok choy and then topped with sesame seeds (and scallions, if you like, but I find it richly flavored enough without the scallions adding another layer of allium flavor). You need to serve it with rice to soak up the delicious sauce and provide a bit of soothing balance to the punchy, moreish flavor of the mushrooms.
Most thrillingly, if you, like me, have a grown person in your household who thinks they hate mushrooms, this will possibly be the dish that finally makes them change their mind. Yes, really! I don't know why this feels like such a triumph to me, but it does. For years, I've been trying to find a way to change his mind and this finally did it.
The nicest thing about the whole thing is that it's so satisfying and delicious that you don't have to make anything else for dinner (besides rice, yes, and fried eggs and toast for your children who refuse glazed mushrooms and bok choy no matter how wonderful they are). Win win win.
But now it's 6:14 pm and the movie is over and the boys are bickering again and it's even darker outside than it was before and once more I don't know what to make for dinner! Off I go...
David Tanis's Glazed Shiitakes with Bok Choy
Adapted from the New York Times
Serves 2 as a main course with rice, or 3 to 4 as a side dish
1-2 pounds baby bok choy
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small dry red Calabrian pepper or one fresh red chile pepper
1 pound shiitake mushrooms (about 4 dozen), stems removed
Salt and pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
6 scallions, sliced diagonally, for garnish (optional)
1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds for garnish (optional)
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cut off and discard stem ends of bok choy. Separate leaves, rinse and drain. Drop leaves into boiling water and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until barely cooked. Immediately remove and drain. Arrange leaves on a serving platter, then set aside.
2. Put a large wok or cast-iron skillet over high heat. Add oil and heat until nearly smoking, then add hot peppers and shiitake caps, stirring to coat. Stir-fry for 2 minutes. Reduce heat slightly and add garlic, ginger, sugar, sesame oil and tamari. Stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes more.
3. Spoon shiitake and pan juices over reserved cooked bok choy. Garnish with scallions and sesame seeds, if using. Serve immediately or at room temperature.