Feather-Light Filo Tart with Plums

filoplumThis shapeless piece of tart might look quite ordinary, but it’s one of the best baked sweet treats I have made in years. Wondering what dessert might bring out the best in my beloved violet oval plums (the ones that become prunes), I substituted filo sheets for the usual tart crust, the solution I have been seeing quite often on internet. This change did all I had hoped for and even much more: the thin flaky layers of Greek pastry didn’t take attention away from the plums, didn’t bring useless heaviness, carbs, calories… but encased them with a crisp delicate “frame”. This lightest tart in my cooking experience was an unforgettable discovery that will certainly lead to further filo experiments with sweet dishes.

TIPS: Most cakes (made by family or friends or bought in pastry shops) are much too sweet for me, so whenever I bake, I cut down the sugar’s amount by half in most recipes. If you consider most cakes you are served or buy normally sweet, then you should double (at least) the sugar amount sprinkled on fruits.

This tart serves four to six people, but since it is a particularly light and thin, I’d recommend dividing it into six only if you serve it after a very rich meal.

Given the big amount of fruits and the thinness of filo sheets, this tart will be soft underneath, only sides will be crisp.

UPDATE: I made this tart a couple of days ago once again with plums from a different source. Given the results I don’t recommend preparing it with very watery and acid plums. Plums should be slightly “meaty”, sweet and firm. Otherwise, the tart becomes too mushy and much too acid. I recommend organic plums because these have given me extraordinary results.

Preparation: about one hour

Ingredients (serves four, max. six; fills a 22 x 14 cm/about 8,5 x 5,5 in dish):

3 sheets of filo pastry

4 tablespoons cane sugar

3 tablespoons melted butter

about 500 g stoned and halved oval violet plums

(1 tablespoon almond slivers)

Preheat the oven at 180°C.

Grease a baking dish with butter.

Spread a sheet of filo pastry, sprinkle half of it with 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Fold onto the sweetened part.

Butter the top of the sheet, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon sugar and cover with another sheet, prepared the same way.

Repeat with the third sheet the same way.

Place the three folded sheets into a baking dish.

Cut them to adjust to the dish’s shape (it should fit the dish’s bottom size + about 2 cm on all sides).

Brush the top layer of the filo pastry with butter and sprinkle some sugar again.

Place the halves of plums very tightly, overlaying each other on top of the tart.

Sprinkle with the rest of sugar and with almond slivers, if using.

Fold the edges inside, so that you obtain rounded edges (this is only for aesthetic reasons). Brush them with butter.

Bake until the edges are golden brown (after 30 minutes, check every ten minutes, so that it doesn’t burn).

Chicken Vindail

vindailp I usually start thinking about soups and thick sauces when it gets cold, but tomato-based dishes are an exception since even the best quality canned tomatoes will never taste as good as ripe, sweet, end-of-summer produce. With its refreshing tangy note, Chicken Vindail proved a perfect dish to enjoy the delicious seasonal tomatoes and to discover a particularly light chapter of the Indian cuisine.

I first read about Chicken Vindail in Rick Stein’s India. In Search of the Perfect Curry, an extraordinary collection of genuine Indian recipes the author discovered during a culinary trip to India during which he shot his series for BBC. The dish comes from Pondicherry, a city with French colonial past and French culinary influence. Its origins are however not clear. “Vindail” sounds similar to “vin d’alho”, a Portuguese dish, which was also an inspiration for the famous “vindaloo” (which also has a tangy note, but is slightly different). “Alho” on the other hand, means “garlic” and Vindail does contain quite an impressive amount of garlic… so personally I would opt for the theory I read somewhere evoking Portuguese roots and the dish being brought by the French from the Portuguese Goa, which resulted in a slight change of the name…

Anyway, regardless the origins, the dish is incredibly good and completely different from what is usually served in Indian restaurants I know. It is slightly tangy and hot at the same time. The rather moderate amount of spices give it a sharper and clearer flavours than most Indian dishes popular abroad. It’s also quite quick to prepare and even though it will taste great with canned tomatoes, I advise you all to hurry till the fresh ripe ones are still in season because they make quite a difference.

I loved the sauce so much when I first made it, I decided to double its amount forever. I have also transformed the dish to serve two people, so I strongly advice you buy Rick Stein’s India to check the original recipe and to discover this fantastic book.

TIPS: The use of wine vinegar is not a Westernisation of this Indian dish, but the European influence it has kept.

Rick Stein advises using Kashmiri chilli powder, but I haven’t found it here, so I use simply any chilli powder I have.

Taste the dish at the end. If the tomatoes are very sweet, you might need more vinegar, so that you feel a slight acidity.

If you cook Indian food regularly, it’s a good idea to invest in a cheap coffee grinder. I bought one several months ago and have been grinding spices in it successfully and quickly (it gets a bit complicated if you want to grind coffee in it too…). Freshly ground spices do make a big difference, especially in the Indian cuisine…

Preparation: 1 hour- 1h30

Ingredients (serves two):

2 medium chicken legs, skinned and cut in two pieces (with bones)

500 g/a bit more than 1lb roughly sliced tomatoes (you can skin them or leave the skin on; the skin adds more flavour, but some might dislike it)

10 cloves garlic (crushed)

2 cm/about 3/4 inch cinnamon stick

1 whole clove

1 whole star anise

2 medium onions (chopped)

1 tablespoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons chilli powder (or more)

1/2 toasted and ground fenugreek seeds

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon salt+ more to taste

1 teaspoon sugar

1 – 2 tablespoons wine vinegar (or more); I have used red wine vinegar, but the author advises white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon oil

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a pan.

Fry the cinnamon, the clove and the star anise for one minute at medium heat.

Add the onions and fry, constantly stirring, for about 15 minutes until they are browned but not burnt (lower the flame, if they start browning too quickly).

Add the garlic and the cumin powder and fry them for 2 minutes.

Add the chilli, the fenugreek, the turmeric and salt and fry for 30 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and cook them for about 5 more minutes.

Finally, add the chicken, about 200 ml water, cover with a lid and simmer until the chicken is soft (I like mine falling off the bone, so it takes sometimes almost an hour).

Check if the dish doesn’t burn and add water if necessary.

Just before serving, add the vinegar and the sugar and remove the lid, so that the sauce thickens.

Heat for five minutes (or more if the sauce is too watery), check the acidity and the saltiness and adjust the flavours, if necessary. Heat for one more minute and serve.

 

Tsukune つくね (Grilled Chicken Meatballs) with Lemon Zest

tsukunecitronpTsukune, in appearance a humble meat patty, is the first thing I order in a yakitori-serving restaurant in Japan because its taste and texture reflect the cook’s skills and/or imagination. My favourite tsukune in Tokyo contained aromatic yuzu (Japanese citrus) zest. Trying to copy them with locally available fruits I have added lemon zest and, even though they couldn’t hold a candle to the yuzu version, my tsukune turned out delicious and original.

The name “tsukune (捏ね or つくね)” apparently comes from the verb “tsukuneru” (to knead) and refers to the fact that the patties shaping process involves more or less kneading. Even though they are usually made with chicken, other meats can also be used or a mixture of meats. The shape also varies: while most yakitori-serving restaurants give them an oval shape and grill them on skewers, tsukune can also be round and pan-fried or simmered in soups. The grilled skewered version is the only one I tasted during my two trips to Tokyo, so I tried to copy this one for now.

This simple recipe comes from the fascinating Izakaya: the Japanese Pub Cookbook by Mark Robinson where I discovered not only interesting dishes and snacks, but, most of all, fantastic Tokyo izakayas, one of which serves the above-mentioned yuzu tsukune I will never forget. Since Mark Robinson was given tsukune instructions from my beloved izakaya, I couldn’t imagine a better recipe source. I found it surprisingly effortless and simple: no binders (such as egg), no fillers, but simply good juicy meat, onion and yuzu zest. The author says that the main secrets are the use of various chicken parts (such as skin, offal or cartilage) and long meat kneading, but I decided to use simply skinned leg meat, which is relatively easy to mince at home and didn’t knead it really. My tsukune were not perfectly shaped and couldn’t even compare to the ones from the Tokyo izakaya, but they turned out juicy, aromatic and extremely flavoursome.

If you don’t like the lemon zest idea or are simply looking for other options and inspiration, you should check Nami’s gorgeous tsukune with shiso/perilla leaves (on Just One Cookbook blog).

TIPS : For optimal results do not use ground chicken breast here, unless they are the minority of the ground meat. The second time I prepared these tsukune with a mixture of chicken breast and legs (1:1): they were slightly dry and not even half as good as those made with leg meat only.

If you cannot find ground chicken legs, you can easily mix them in a food processor (this is what I did; I also debone chicken legs because it’s cheaper and really quick). After grinding, remove any long stringy white bits you see (unless you have a real meat grinder; then the result should be perfect). You can grind the meat almost to a pulp, if you wish, but personally I liked the slightly chunky texture too.

I prefer my teriyaki glaze less sweet than the one usually served in Japanese restaurants, but feel free to add more mirin or sugar.

Special equipment: skewers (I have used 8) and a brush

Preparation:

Ingredients (serves two as a snack):

ground meat from 2 medium chicken legs (about 250 - 300 g/9 – 10 oz)

1 small onion (I have used a shallot)

grated zest from one big lemon (preferably organic)

salt, pepper

oil

Teriyaki glaze:

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon sake

1 tablespoon mirin (sweet cooking sake)

Chop the onion and combine with the zest, the salt and the pepper.

Refrigerate for one hour (you can skip this step if you are in a hurry, but it lets the flavours mix better together).

15 minutes before grilling or pan-frying, soak the skewers (if you use wooden ones) in water.

Form equal balls in your palms, slightly kneading the meat.

Give the balls an oval shape and “stick” them around the skewers, pressing with your palm, making sure they don’t fall off the skewer (I was worried they would fall, but mine never did).

Heat the glaze ingredients in a pan until it thickens.

Put aside.

Grill the skewers on a grill or on a pan, turning them regularly.

If you grill them on a pan, I advise keeping the pan covered, so that you don’t end up with raw meat inside and burnt outside. I turned them four times (as if they had four sides), each time after about a minute.

Just before serving, warm the teriyaki glaze a bit and brush the skewers with it. I have also sprinkled them with ground black pepper.

Filo Rolls with Chanterelle Mushrooms and Goat Cheese

chant_filoppEvery year, when I see first chanterelles on the market, I am looking forward to baking my chanterelle and goat cheese tart, the most delicious way I can imagine to prepare this wonderful mushroom. This year however, as a follow up of my recent filo experiments, I decided to fill these Greek pastry sheets with the mixture I usually put into the tart/tartlets, thus creating a lighter and slightly quicker way to enjoy my beloved chanterelle and goat cheese combination.

For those who don’t know chanterelle (Cantarellus Cibarius), it’s an orange/yellow trumpet-shaped wild mushroom with a delicate aroma and taste. Chanterelle picking it is a very rewarding activity, since this mushroom is well visible thanks to its bright colour; moreover, it tends to grow in groups. I haven’t picked mushrooms for ages, but luckily, when season comes, certain varieties, such as chanterelles, are abundant here on markets and even in supermarkets. In spite of its delicate flavours, chanterelle pairs perfectly with goat cheese and fresh marjoram, so I encourage all those who can buy it to try this surprisingly good mixture of flavours. Thin, flaky filo/phyllo pastry sheets are a perfect light and neutral company for this delicious filling. 

TIPS: If you cannot get chanterelle, try replacing it with any other wild mushroom as long as it has a delicate taste and keeps firm after being cooked (I wouldn’t use here the farmed button mushroom/crimini, or whatever it’s called in your country).

I prefer to use here only fresh goat cheese or half fresh cheese and half ripening cheese. If you use only ripening goat cheese, the result will be very rich, fattier and much heavier, but of course it’s up to you (a Greek goat cheese, which has a feta consistency, is also a good option, though it’s very salty, so adjust the salt added to the mushrooms accordingly or maybe combine it with another, less salty cheese).

Fresh marjoram can be replaced with fresh oregano or fresh thyme, but if you cannot get either, do not add dried herbs because they are slightly bitter and will completely spoil this unique combination. 

Preparation: about one hour

Ingredients (yields 5 filo rolls):

5 filo/phyllo sheets

200 g fresh chanterelle mushrooms (cleaned)

150 g fresh goat cheese or a mixture of fresh cheese and ripening cheese

3 tablespoons cream or Greek yogurt

1 shallot or small onion, chopped

fresh marjoram or oregano or thyme (leaves only)

salt, pepper

1 tablespoon butter

Heat the oven at 190°C.

Wash the chanterelles and cut the bigger ones into pieces.

Heat some oil in a pan and at low heat fry the shallot.

When it softens a bit, add the chanterelles and fry at medium heat until they lose their juices.

Add salt, pepper, marjoram leaves and combine with goat cheese (crumbled if it’s hard) and with cream/yogurt.

Divide into 5 equal portions and roll into individual filo sheets.

Brush every sheet with melted butter and bake until golden (about 10 minutes).

Udon and Spring Onion Burger

udonburgerpMost of you probably regularly eat noodles and ground meat (not necessarily together), but would you ever think of combining them in a burger patty? I certainly wouldn’t and was sincerely surprised that such a crazy idea can yield an amazingly luscious burger. A huge amount of green onions – though less surprising - might also contribute to the final taste results, but in my opinion, the presence of chopped udon noodles is what makes the difference.

For those who have never heard of udon, it’s thick wheat flour variety of Japanese noodles, usually eaten in light soups. I am particularly fond of their chewy, slightly bouncy texture and always have a package in stock, but I would have never even dreamt of including them into a burger. Actually, I stumbled upon this recipe while looking for new ideas to use the abundance of Japanese green onions growing on my balcony. My long search led me as far as Kawaga prefecture’s official website and their filmed recipes.

Kagawa is apparenty famous for its udon (sanuki udon, to be precise) and its inhabitants are said to be addicted to these noodles (if you saw the film “Udon”, you know what I mean…). I have no doubts that only big passion for udon could have led to the creation of such an unusual idea. Ms Toshiko Tsukuda, from Kagawa prefecture’s research council group, presented this recipe (click here), aimed at using local green onion, under the name of (roughly translated, please correct me, if I’m wrong) “grilled green onion and udon surprise” (びっくりネギ焼きうどん). I was completely blown away by the idea of chopped udon in burger patties (not to mention being able to use a huge bunch of my green onions), so I bought the beef and prepared them as soon as possible. The burgers were incredibly juicy, surprisingly light and I particularly appreciated a slightly chewy typical udon “touch”.

As it often happens, I have modified this recipe already at the first cooking session. I changed the ingredients’ ratio (mainly increasing the beef amount), added crushed garlic clove and ground cumin to spice up the beef a bit and I also decided to glaze the burgers with teriyaki sauce (or rather my own, less sweet version of it). For the original recipe, check Kagawa Prefecture’s official website (unfortunately I haven’t found an English version, the video is in Japanese only, I think). (UPDATE: Thanks to Hiroyuki, I have found out this recipe is almost identical to Udon Gyoza, the specialty of Takatsuki).

TIPS: The patties are quite delicate, but surprisingly, they keep well the shape, if you form a ball in your hand, roll it a bit to make sure the ingredients “stick” and then slightly flatten it. Of course they should be turned very carefully.

If you use the “fresh” precooked udon (not the dried noodles), you don’t need to warm it or boil before chopping and including into the patty. Just unpack it and chop.

My teriyaki glaze is only slightly sweet (compared to the standard teriyaki glaze), so add more mirin and/or sugar if you want it typically sweet.

You can use any green onions or chives you have. I find Japanese green onions more delicate than Western ones.

Preparation: about 30 – 40 minutes

Ingredients (serves 3):

200g (about 7 oz) cooked udon or “fresh”, precooked udon: you don’t need to cook this one here; just take it out of the package and chop it

200 g (about 7 oz) ground beef

a big bunch of chopped spring onion or chives (the volume equal to udon’s volume)

salt, pepper (I have added 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper)

ground cumin (I have added 1/2 teaspoon)

1 crushed garlic clove

1 egg

oil

Teriyaki glaze:

6 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons mirin (sweet cooking sake)

Chop the udon as finely as possible (but don’t make a paste out of it!).

In a bowl combine the chopped udon, the spring onion/chives, the beef, the egg, salt, pepper, cumin and garlic.

Mix well with your hand or with a fork.

Put aside for ten minutes.

Heat the oil in a pan or heat a grill.

Form patties (beware: they are delicate and cannot be as flat as beef-only patties).

Fry or grill the burgers as much as you prefer (even completely cooked inside they were still juicy though). I fry them, putting a lid over the pan, so that the upper part is slightly cooked before I flip them (this way they are well cooked inside – I don’t like rare burgers – but not dry). Of course if you want them rare inside, don’t cover the pan.

In the meantime warm the teriyaki glaze in a small pan and make it boil until it thickens (watch the pan because it burns easily).

Before serving, brush the sauce over each burger.

Serve immediately.