I only met my maternal grandmother once, when I was two years old. We – my parents and I – went back to my mom’s hometown because her mom was in hospital. My parents said that they booked an emergency flight, and no one in her family knew we were coming. My dad got out of the taxi first, much to the confusion of my mom’s family. They had no idea how he – or I – looked.
There’s a bit of a gap in the story, the way my parents tell it. I don’t know when we made it to the hospital. I think it must have been relatively quick, because I do know that my grandmother hadn’t been told we were visiting. My grandmother was in the ICU and I was a little, germy being, so the hospital wouldn’t allow me to see her. Specifically, the nurse on duty wouldn’t allow me to visit. The way my parents tell it, I picture her to be plumped up with a sense of importance, an over-bureaucratic type. Of course, they’re biased against her, because she wouldn’t buy into any of their arguments of how they’d come all the way from America, how I’d never met my grandmother, or how I might not have another chance to do so. My parents and the nurse argued, so intensely and for so long that they’d forgotten about me. The two-year-old me got bored, and wandered off. I think it took them a while to notice, and raised a hue and cry – so I’d imagine, a toddler missing in a foreign land – and go searching for me. And – can you guess where they found me? Somehow, I’d climbed up the stairs, found the right room, and was sitting in my grandmother’s bed.
The story always ends there. I have been told that it was the only time I saw her, because she did not make it out of the hospital. I’ve only seen a few photographs of her, snapshots that are faded or blurry, or with her face turned half away. I have no memory of that day, or of her. No idea what I was thinking, or how I found her. Was it a chance meeting, mere coincidence? Or one of those magic instances of things that were “meant to be”, was it something that had to happen so that we would meet? Who knows? It’s a tiny reminder, to me, that sometimes the amazing and miraculous happens, and everything works out perfectly, just as we hoped it would. Just as it should.
Roasted Shiitake + Tofu Rolls
Makes roughly 12 rolls
1 lb. firm tofu
1 ¼ – 1 ½ lb shiitake mushrooms
¾ lb. carrots
¼ lb. lettuce (I used little gems)
¼ lb. cabbage or other dark leafy green
1 bunch basil
1 bunch mint
2 tablespoons white miso
¼ cup hot water
1 large garlic clove, minced
About 12 rice paper wrappers (Amazon carries them, but I found at at Asian grocery store for 1/4 of the price)
Wrap the tofu in paper towels or a clean dish cloth, and weigh down with a heavy item for at least 20 minutes. This will squeeze out the excess moisture. Preheat oven to 400°F. Cover a large rimmed baking sheet with a sheet of foil.
In the meantime, slice the shiitakes into roughly ½ inch thick slices. Use a mandoline or vegetable slicer to cut the carrots into thin noodle-like strips. Wash and separate the leaves of lettuce basil, and mint. Wash and thinly slice the cabbage or other leafy green.
When the excess moisture has drained from the tofu, cut it into ½ by 2 inch pieces. In a small bowl, dissolve miso paste into hot water, and add minced garlic. Put the tofu and sliced shiitakes into a large bowl, and toss with the miso-garlic combine. Pour onto the prepped baking sheet. Roast the tofu and shittakes for about 20 minutes, or until the edges have caramelized.
To make the rolls, gather all of the filling ingredients near a clean work surface. You’ll have to fill each roll quickly. Fill a large bowl with warm water. Soak a rice paper wrapper for about 15 seconds, remove from water very carefully and lay as flatly as possible on your clean surface. Work as fast as possible: lay down the lettuce in a row, then the sliced greens, then the tofu and shiitake, then the herbs, lastly the shredded carrot. Clean surface, and repeat until the rolls are assembled. Serve with the sesame sauce (below) and sriracha.
1 tablespoon miso
2 tablespoons warm water
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
Juice of ½ lime
2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
½ cup tahini*
1 – 2 serrano chilis, minced and seeded and depithed according to your heat preference
2 tablespoons minced chives
In a small bowl, dissolve the miso paste into the warm water. Add the vinegar, lime juice, soy sauce. Whisk in the tahini, ginger, minced chilis, and chives.
*I used homemade, unsalted tahini – so much cheaper – see this recipe