A dish that truly honors the essence of delicate spring vegetables is chawanmushi, the equally delicate Japanese egg custard.
Three Little Halves blogger and illustrator Aleksandra Mojsilovic reimagines party prep with affordable, edible table displays.
Early spring is an exciting time for food lovers, putting the long winter and brown foods behind us. A dish that truly honors the essence of delicate spring vegetables is chawanmushi, the equally delicate Japanese egg custard. This version of chawanmushi is loaded with spring flavors: shelled fresh peas, asparagus, tender young scallions and button-sized mushrooms. I like to steam the custard in tiny three-ounce ramekins and hide the vegetables at the bottom; it’s a perfect bite-sized treasure hunt for spring parties.
Makes eight 3-ounce ramekins
3 large eggs
2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons instant kombu dashi powder
1 tablespoon mirin
1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/3 cup fresh peas, shelled
2 young scallions, whites and pale greens only, thinly sliced crosswise
16 to 24 medium shimeji (white beech) mushroom caps (about 2 to 3 caps per bowl of chawanmushi)
8 young green asparagus tips
4 young green asparagus spears
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1. Cut off and discard the dried ends of the asparagus spears. Using a vegetable peeler, peel off the skin from the bottom half of each spear. Slice the spears thinly crosswise.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk the dashi powder with warm water until it is dissolved. Once the dashi sediment settles, pour the clear dashi broth into another cup and discard the sediment.
3. Using chopsticks, gently mix the eggs until combined, without creating bubbles. Whisk in the dashi, soy sauce and mirin. Pour the mixture through a fine strainer or cheesecloth.
4. Oil a small skillet with the vegetable oil and heat it over medium heat. Add the mushroom caps and sauté for about 3 to 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender. Remove the mushrooms from the skillet and place them in a separate bowl. If needed, re-oil the skillet and heat until the oil is hot but not smoking. Add the asparagus tips and stir-fry for about 3 minutes. Add the asparagus spears and continue to stir-fry for another 30 seconds. Remove the skillet from the heat and immediately pour the asparagus mix into the bowl with the mushrooms.
5. In a steamer basket, steam the peas for about 2 minutes. Add the peas to the vegetable mixture, season with a tiny pinch of salt and toss gently.
6. Divide the vegetable mixture among eight 3-ounce heatproof bowls or ramekins. Pour the dashi custard over the vegetable mixture, dividing evenly. If needed, stir the custard gently with a chopstick to lift some of the vegetables to the surface and create a nice “pattern.”
7. Cover the bowls with a fitted lid, plastic wrap, or aluminum foil, and place them in a steamer basket set over boiling water. Steam for about 7 minutes, until the custards are just set and slightly jiggling in the center. (The cook time will depend on the size of the bowl, so watch carefully. These bowls are tiny and the custard will cook quickly.) Serve warm.