Jedi Temple Festival Feast
George Lucas once stated that as a religion, since he lived in Marin, California, he was -- almost by default -- a Buddhist. He's also been very open about being inspired by the films of Akira Kurosawa, as well as by Japanese culture in general. Darth Vader's armor is almost an exact copy of Samurai armor on view in Kyoto; Luke's outfit, when we first meet him as a young man, is derived from farmer's work clothing common in Japan; and most significantly, the Jedi Order is heavily derived from basic traditions and concepts present in Japanese Buddhism (see Diana's essay, Don't Cry for Corran Horn for insight into this argument).
Like the Clones of Ep1 being "Kiwis" by virtue of actor Temuera Morrison's citizenship (see Clone Hangi), the Jedi can claim to be at least marginally Japanese. Though there is little reference to Shinto religion -- the faith of festivals and agrarian ceremonies in Japan -- undoubtedly the Jedi might have had holidays and feast days to celebrate their own significant milestones. What would a festival dinner consist of for the Jedi? They might have broken the austere nature of their regular meals for more complex or more carnal dishes -- they are not without aesthetic concern. Look at the library in Ep2! Have you ever seen a more beautiful archive environment?
The Japanese have festival dishes that are traditional street fare, hawked by vendors, some who have permanent places outside of temples, where business is best. The Jedi would not celebrate out in the streets, but would use the large gardens within the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. The older Jedi would mumble about the younglings needing diversions and entertainments, but the elders are seen to enjoy the games, food, and displays as much as the more youthful ones.
It's also an occasion to gather the Jedi together -- at least spiritually if not in body -- to commemorate the dead, the fallen, the newly ordained, and the newly accepted. It was for this festival that the maverick Qui-Gon Jinn returned to the Temple annually to pay homage and respects. It was during such a time that Yoda manipulated the sullen, brooding man into accepting his third -- and greatest -- padawan, Obi-wan Kenobi (see the Jedi Apprentice series, by Judith Watson). Qui-Gon had lost Xanatos, his second apprentice, to the Dark Side, and had sworn he would never take another. So these festivals can be times for redemption and second chances, too!
As for what drew the lonely, far-flung Jedi back every year ... was it the urge to bask in Yoda's great wisdom? Oh, c'mon -- it's the food, of course!
Tonkatsu -- Breaded Pork Cutlets
In the GFFA, they'd use gornt. On earth, we use pork cutlets, chops, or loin steaks. To be strictly Buddhist, the fare should be vegetarian, but the Jedi do not turn down food of any sort, especially when offered by a grateful host. (Probably George Lucas didn't want to base his Jedi too closely on the Buddhists, or make them too separate and inaccessible. Anyhow, a pork cutlet cooked in this manner is simply too good to pass up for any reason, religious or secular!)
Season the pork with salt and pepper, then coat with flour, shaking off the excess. Dredge the floured cutlets in the egg mixture, then lay on the Panko bread crumbs, and sprinkle crumbs over the top and press down to coat well. Set aside in the fourth container till all cutlets are coated. You can refrigerate the cutlets for a couple of hours if you wish, at this point.
Heat the oil to 350°F/160°C. These are large pieces of cold, wet meat, so don't put too many into the pan at once, or you'll lower the temperature so they absorb oil, don't fry properly and might cause an oil explosion. Be careful! Maybe two at a time is about right. They are done when they are a deep golden brown. If you choose to shallow fry, turn the cutlets over carefully so you don't lose the breading, and brown on both sides. Be sure that if you replenish the oil, you let it heat up before adding more cutlets.
To serve: Slice the cutlets into ½ inch wide strips, then reform into a whole steak. Serve with white rice, fresh cabbage slaw, and Dex's Miracle Sauce.
Dex's Miracle Sauce
This ketchupy savory and sweet dipping sauce got it's moniker because it makes just about anything edible! Obi-wan Kenobi had gone to Dexter Jettster's Diner after one particularly horrible meal dished up at the Temple dining hall. Obi-wan soon realized that Dex was not much better as a cook, but he possessed a sort of brownish "special sauce" that he served with EVERYTHING that made it taste good. It wasn't really what you could call subtle, but it was really tasty; customers would come from far and wide, and good-naturedly grumbled that there must've been some addictive substance in the sauce!
The young Jedi Knight spent all his spare time at the diner, trying to surmise how Dex made this sauce. The large Besalisk soon realized the nature of Obi-wan's obsession and enjoyed playing mind games on him. Dexter had done a lot of mining in his past, and thought of various sluice fluids and lubricants as he made the sauce. These thoughts were picked up by Obi-wan, and so desperate was he for the sauce recipe that the actually tried buying these ingredients!
Word got back to Dex of the young Jedi's attempted purchases. Feeling responsible for the potential indigestion of his friend and good customer, he sent human waitress Hermione Bagwa to the Temple with a big case of the sauce for Obi-wan (Hermione had a crush on the handsome Jedi, by the way). With it, written on a piece of biodegradable foodboard, Dex had provided the simple formula to produce it. The note also demanded that Obi-wan commit the recipe to memory and that he eat the unprocessed board immediately!
Hermione was able to report to the amused Dexter that Obi-wan had chewed and swallowed the note on the spot! When it was discovered that he knew the formula for this "miracle sauce," he was told to produce it for the festival dishes. Obi-wan was forever grateful to his large four-armed friend and kept his promise to keep the recipe a secret, instead making batches of the sauce by himself for the festival every year. A lot of work, but worth Dexter's trust!
There was an additional benefit: years later, living in poverty on Tatooine, Obi-wan bottled this sauce for trading among the locals. It allowed him to eke out a meager living on the hostile planet while he performed his greatest duty as Jedi Knight.
Pour into a clean bottle or jar. Let the sauce cool, then cap and refrigerate. It will keep for up to a month if kept cold and covered.
Makes about 3 cups of sauce.
Fresh, Crispy Cabbage Slaw
This is an extremely simple "salad" -- there are only two ingredients, if you count the ice water the cabbage soaks in. It not only appeals to the Jedi sense of austerity, but it's delicious served with the rich Tonkatsu Cutlets and poured over with Dex's Miracle Sauce. Simple fare that's good for the soul, and it tastes pretty good, too!
Some of the Jedi do feel guilty about eating the meat cutlets, and instead opt for vegetables. This tempura is a wondrous compromise -- healthy, non-carnal vegetables, but deep fat fried with a batter. But oh, what a special batter! It's crispy, light, frangible ... and even if the sometimes careless Temple cooks mess up and it comes out greasy and sodden, it's still delicious, and they can't keep up with the orders! Follow the instructions carefully, and you won't need a Jedi mind trick to get your guests to eat these faster than they can be fried up.
Anything can be made as tempura: seafood, steak, cheese, even bananas or ice cream ... but here are the Jedi favorites.
The other way is to stick a bamboo (must be bamboo, not wood or plastic!) chopstick to almost the bottom of the pot of oil. A stream of air bubbles should rise rapidly out of the bottom of the chopstick. If the bubbles move slowly, heat some more. Then again, you can always use a frying or candy thermometer.
In terms of how to batter the vegetables, again, you have a choice here. You can simple take a slice or a bunch of match-sticks and dredge quickly through the batter -- you do not need to coat everything thoroughly, just like of dip it in, then plonk carefully into a vat of 350°F/160°C oil. It's actually not a good idea to overmix the batter or overcoat the vegetables. The vegetables are done when the tempura floats to the surface, plus a minute or so. You will see steam puffing out, indicating the food inside has reached boiling temperature. You can let it brown slightly, if you want to be sure.
Or you can make what's called "kaki-age" or a mixed, disc-shaped fritter -- take a mix of vegetables, mix lightly into the batter, and drop a dessert spoonful of the fritter into the hot oil. Let it boil in the oil till it crisps up and starts steaming. Turn it over to continue cooking.
Remove the tempura from the oil with a slotted spoon or spider, and drain on a rack. Traditionally, tempura is served on a piece of unstained white paper, to show the eater that the tempura is not greasy.
Gyoza -- Potsticker Dumplings
It seems every culture has a dumpling recipe, a way to stretch food, and to provide a titbit that is more than its component parts. This elegant dumpling can be boiled and put into soups as a sort of wonton, served drizzled with soy sauce and/or sesame oil and/or vinegar. But at the festival, it's most popular panfried -- not deep fried -- yielding a crispy and chewy texture. Use Dex's Miracle Sauce for dipping, or make the simple, more austere sauce limned below. Either way, the Jedi receive paper cones filled with the delicacies, so they can walk and chew. Many hoard them and eat them for supper the next day.
Using a small spoon, place a scant amount of filling off-center of the wrapper. Dab water along the edges of the wrapper, then crimp to seal the edges. Repeat till all the wrappers or the filling are gone.
Heat a tablespoon or two of vegetable in a frying pan. Place the gyoza in the pan and fry over medium-high heat till the gyoza blisters on the bottom and the steam within the dumpling causes it to puff up (a bit like a bullfrog!). Turn over and repeat.
Serve with the following sauce:
On the other hand, these are good even cold the next day, without sauce!
Yakitori -- Chicken On A Stick
This marinated chicken is delicious cooked over a charcoal grill. The small pieces of chicken are a perfect snack on the go, but the Jedi don't get very far from the grills after sampling their first bites. These are ideal with beer or a hard liquor, on the rocks. It's a very merry band of Jedi who imbibe and end up singing silly lyrics, bellowing along to popular karaoke melodies ...
In a large, covered container, toss the chicken pieces in the marinade and refrigerate from 4 to 12 hours. Using bamboo skewers, jab a scallion piece crosswise, followed by a piece of chicken, then another scallion. If you want to make them more substantial, alternate chicken and scallions till you've filled the skewer to your liking. However, as an appetizer, one piece of chicken and two of scallion is good.
If you want a dipping sauce, boil the leftover marinade, then strain it to remove the coagulated chicken proteins.
Fire up a charcoal grill and let the coals burn till they are covered with white ash. Place the skewered chicken directly on the grill for a minute or so, till the chicken starts to sear and brown, then flip it over and cook on the other side till done. It's great hot off the grill. Or if you don't have a grill, bake in a 350°F/160°C oven for about 15 minutes or till lightly browned and the scallions are wilted.
If you serve this as a meal, serve over white rice, and the Fresh, Crispy Cabbage Slaw. But it really is best with drinks!
Karaage -- Ginger Marinated Picnic Chicken Morsels
This is one festival offering that is prepared well in advance, rather than being cooked on the spot. These tasty, bite-sized chicken pieces are fantastic at room temperature -- some claim its so much better than when its hot and fresh. The cooks cool white rice to room temperature and place it in 1 pint containers, filling them about halfway. They place as many pieces of the room temperature chicken over it and place the lid on that. The Jedi grab a box along with an eating utensil and enjoy their snack while watching sports and other events. Some spread a blanket down by the manmade lake in the Temple garden and lie back to relax till their stomachs growl and mouths water, demanding to be fed the best fried chicken, ever!
Drain the chicken and discard the garlic. Toss with potato starch and beaten egg till evenly coated. Heat two inches of oil in a deep pot -- it should not more than half-fill the pot -- to 375°F/175°C. Carefull transfer the chicken morsels, a few pieces at a time, into the oil. It will foam up immediately, and the steam will burn you, so be careful! Fry for about 2 minutes -- the chicken will go a dark brown. Place on a wire rack to drain.
Reheat the oil, then return the chicken to the pot and cook for another minute until crispy and dark golden brown. Drain on a wire rack. Serve hot with white rice and Fresh Crispy Cabbage Slaw, or serve at room temperature. Cooled (but not chilled), they make terrific picnic fare. Make little lunchboxes by layering these chicken pieces over cold (but never refrigerated!) rice.
Two Sweet Potato Desserts
These recipes are the results of a cooking contest, au Iron Chef. Tahl had claimed that girls were natural cooks and improvisers, whereas boys did things strictly by the book and were essentially uncreative in the kitchen. Young Qui-Gon denied it and challenged her to a one-on-one culinary duel, boldly stating that he could create a better dish than she could, given any ingredient. Master Yoda, hearing the two youngsters, decreed that the two would have a cook-off during the annual festival to settle the bet, and that the gathered Jedi would vote on the results. No slouch as a cook himself, Yoda chose the humble sweet potato as the key ingredient, and gave them an hour to each produce a single dessert dish for the masses.
The two recipes produced were delicious and the voting was close. No one really knows who won, for Yoda declared it a tie and congratulated the two young padawans for their efforts.
Ever after close friends, neither spoke of the competition results, even between each other. They had refused independent credit for the two recipes, claiming that the living Force had produced the dishes! Well, no one could disagree with that, and everyone was simply grateful that an argument could produce such delicious desserts!
Many, many years later, the two Jedi had planned to marry, and they both knew they wanted these desserts in lieu of wedding cake. But Tahl was killed, and Qui-Gon swore he would never taste these recipes again. It's a shame -- these dishes really are very good and might have helped heal the pain he carried with him without Tahl.
In a large saucepan, mix together the sugar, soy sauce and water and put over low heat. Stir till the mixture grows thick and sticky. Quickly remove from the heat and add the cooked potatoes, rapidly mixing in the sticky sugar. Sprinkle the sesame seeds over the potatoes and serve.
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