Vinegar Infused with Red Shiso (Perilla) 赤紫蘇酢

shiso_vinegarpAugust is the only time in the whole year where I am lucky to find shiso at my farmers’ market and I always find myself with huge bunches, cooking shiso dishes practically every day to profit from this precious moment. Having exhausted all the recipes I already knew (see below), I started to look for something new. This is how I discovered how to infuse vinegar, changing its flavours and colour. An unexpected way to use up my stock of shiso.

I found this recipe in my Japanese pickling book through which I go patiently and slowly, given my poor knowledge of kanji. I was a bit sceptical, so for my first batch I used cider vinegar (much cheaper than the rice vinegar I buy). Then I made another batch, this time with rice vinegar and though the flavours were more delicate and more sophisticated, both vinegars are fantastic, so I guess any neutral tasting vinegar will do. The taste changes to slightly herbaceous and pungent and, because of the first salting stage (see the instructions below) the vinegar becomes a bit salty. (As usually, I have slightly changed the ratio of ingredients, so if you read Japanese, check this amazing tsukemono book).

For those who don’t know this wonderful herb yet, shiso (紫蘇), or perilla, is an Asian aromatic dark red or green plant with an astringent taste and strong fragrance. Particularly appreciated in Japanese cuisine, it’s frequently used raw, cooked and its red variety is gives a reddish hue to pickles. Similar varieties of this herb are also used in Korea (ggaennip, 깻잎, though for me the taste and aroma are completely different in this case) and Vietnam (tía tô, more pungent, but closer to the Japanese variety). Apparently perilla is also appreciated in China.

Here are some other ways to use shiso (red or green):

Pork Rolls and Shiso in Tempura

Pork Rolls and Shiso in Tempura

Chicken and Shiso Dumplings

Chicken and Shiso Dumplings

Chicken and Shiso Balls

Chicken and Shiso Balls

Tomato and Shiso Salad

Teriyaki Pork Rolls with Shiso and Gochujang

Teriyaki Pork Rolls with Shiso and Gochujang

Shiso and Bacon Fried Rice

Shiso and Bacon Fried Rice

Garlic and Shiso Infused Soy Sauce

Garlic and Shiso Infused Soy Sauce

Cucumber Fried with Perilla (Shiso)

Cucumber Fried with Perilla (Shiso)

Ume Shiso Chicken Skewers

Ume Shiso Chicken Skewers

Preparation: 10 minutes + 1 week minimum

Ingredients:

1 handful of red shiso leaves (akajiso)

200 ml vinegar (rice vinegar or cider vinegar; do not use such strong vinegars as sherry or malt vinegar)

1/2 teaspoon salt

Put the leaves into a bowl. Sprinkle with salt and massage gently with your hands.

Leave for then minutes.

Massage once more, squashing then with your hands and discard the liquid.

Slowly, stirring with a chopstick or any other wooden tool, add the vinegar to the shiso leaves.

Transfer into a jar. Close it and keep for three weeks in the fridge.

Discard the shiso, strain the vinegar and it will keep forever.

 

Nasu no Asazuke (Japanese Raw Aubergine Salad)

nasu_zukepI did have salt-pickled aubergine in Japan several times, but I have never prepared it and, most of all, I have never suspected that salting it for ten minutes only would result in anything edible, not to mention such a surprisingly delicious thing. Briefly salted, raw aubergine retains some of its crunchiness, stays pleasantly fresh and possibly unrecognisable to those who have never tasted it salt-pickled. Shiso (perilla) leaves and raw ginger add a bold mixture of flavours, creating the most unusual aubergine dish I have ever tasted.

Salt-pickling is only one of the many Japanese pickling methods and this dish is an excellent example of the quickest, “instant” salt-pickling, typical of Japanese cuisine. I found this fantastic recipe on Youtube in an episode of the “3 minute cooking” (3 分 クッキング), an apparently very popular short Japanese tv program I have just discovered and about which you will probably read more here very soon because I’ve found lots of other promising recipes. I have slightly changed the ingredients’ ratio and used a Western, not Asian aubergine, so if you speak Japanese, you check the original なすの浅漬けrecipe here (no English subtitles).

TIPS: If you don’t have myoga, which visually ressembles slightly a shallot (but tastes completely different), simply skip it. Some people replace it with young ginger, but I think here, since ginger is one of the ingredients, it’s better to skip it (I had some frozen myoga, so I used it for the first time, but I skipped it for the dish I photographed). Here is what myoga looks like:

myoga_

If you can find the small Asian aubergine, it will certainly taste better, but I prepared this dish already twice with normal Western variety and it was delicious too.

If you cannot find shiso, experiment with other boldly flavoured fresh herbs. There is no similarly tasting substitute for shiso, but I’m sure some other strongly scented leaves can make this “salad” taste great.

Do not be tempted to prepare this dish in advance. The taste gets worse and, most of all, the shiso leaves become really awful.

Preparation: about 15-20 minutes

Ingredients (serves three-four as a side dish):

1 small Western aubergine/eggplant (or two small Asian ones)

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon finely shredded ginger

4 – 5 myoga buds, finely shredded

5 big shiso leaves, finely sliced

1 tablespoon toasted white sesame seeds

2 tablespoons soy sauce (or more if you use low-sodium version)

1 teaspoon rice vinegar

Soak the shredded ginger and shiso in cold water.

Cut the Western aubergine in four lengthwise and then into thin slices.

If you use the Asian variety, cut it in two lengthwise and then cut into thin diagonal slices.

Place the aubergine slices in a bowl. Sprinkle with salt and mix delicately with your hands.

Put aside for ten minutes.

Squash the aubergine slices in your hands to remove the brownish liquid they will release.

Discard the liquid and pace the squashed slices into another bowl.

Add the remaining ingredients, give the salad a stir and serve immediately.

Summer Vegetable Pickling and Preserving Reminder

Although most summer vegetables will still be there at least until the end of September, the beginning of August is I think the best moment to start planning preserves, look for the cheapest and/or best quality sources, buy the missing jars, lids, check if the lids you have aren’t rusty and stock on sugar, vinegar, salt, herbs or spices the recipes call for.

I have chosen here my favourite summer vegetable preserves, those I keep on preparing every year and without which I cannot imagine going through a week of home meals. Most of them are long-term (i.e. you can keep them outside of the fridge, in a cool place such as pantry or cellar, for at least a year), some are short-term and need to be refrigerated, keeping thus for weeks or months. If you are afraid of long-term preserving or don’t have conditions to keep jars outside of the fridge for long months, you can transform those to short-term preserves skipping the last, hot water bath process and keeping your jars refrigerated.

Hot and sweet pepper

Hunan Salt-Pickled Chillies/Erös Pista

Hunan Salt-Pickled Chillies/Erös Pista

salt_chillipp

Salt-Brine Pickled Chilli

Peperoncini sott'olio (Chillies with garlic and Oil)

Peperoncini sott’olio (Chillies with garlic and Oil)

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

Vinegar-Pickled Chillies

Vinegar-Pickled Chillies

Pickled Sweet Peppers

Pickled Sweet Peppers

Chilli Jelly

Chilli Jelly

——————–

Tomato

Semi-Dried Tomatoes

Semi-Dried Tomatoes

Ketchup

Ketchup

Indian-Style Tomato Chutney

Indian-Style Tomato Chutney

——————–

Cucumber

Pickled Dill Cucumbers

Pickled Dill Cucumbers

Moomins' Pickled Cucumber Salad

Moomins’ Pickled Cucumber Salad

Drying Aubergine (in the Sun, over the Stove or in the Oven)

aubegine_driedAs you might have noticed, I am regularly drying fruits and vegetables. Thus, not only do I save slightly withered  produce from the bin, but above all I obtain better quality cheap homemade products. I prepare my own vegetable stock mixture, dried apples, pears and mushrooms, powdered garlic, half-dried tomatoes… Nonetheless, I must admit aubergine was one of the last vegetables I would think of drying (on the other hand, I was sceptical about dried daikon and discovered harihari zuke, one of my favourite pickles). When I read in Japanese Farm Food by Nancy Singleton Hachisu about the author’s mother-in-law aubergine drying process, I was so excited to try it, I prepared a small batch practically the following day. Once rehydrated and used in a soup, the aubergine tasted so good and acquired such a nice texture, I decided to carry on drying it throughout the summer.

From what I read in Japanese Farm Food and on internet, once rehydrated, aubergine can be added to soups, stews, sauces, pickled in vinegar… which already makes quite a list to experiment with. After the above-mentioned soup test I can say aubergine acquires a slightly “mushroomy” aroma, its flavours get concentrated and it becomes soft but slightly chewy without becoming mushy and it will certainly add an original touch to many slowly simmered winter dishes.  Aubergines are now delicious and cheap, so it’s the best moment to stock up our pantries. Look out for new ideas to eat dried aubergine I will certainly post in near future!

If you want to discover Japanese countryside eating habits and to learn Nancy Singleton Hachisu’s creative ways to handle local culinary traditions, I strongly encourage you to buy Japanese Farm Food, one of the most inspiring cookery books I know.

TIPS: Nancy Hachisu Singleton recalls her mother-in-law drying aubergine outside. If you don’t have conditions to do it (I don’t), I have explained below other drying options.

Obviously your dried aubergine will be more Japanese if you use Asian smaller variety. I don’t have access to those, so I have just used standard Western aubergines and it worked too.

You can dry the aubergine either cut into thick slices or into thick short strips (for example 2 cm x 6-7cm). The former is the quickest and easiest way to do it, but the small strips will save you the cutting steps when you use them dehydrated.

When you want to use your dried aubergine pieces, place them in a bowl of hot water and wait until they become soft. If you have big slices, I advise cutting them into bite-sized pieces before cooking or frying or pickling.

Preparation: one day – several days, depending on the drying method

Ingredients:

aubergines, leaves and stalks removed

Cut the aubergines into thick (2cm/about3/4 in slices) or thick strips (2 cm thick and 2cmx6-7cm long (about 3/4inx2,5-3in)).

You can dry them either in the sun or above the stove or in the oven. The oven method is the quickest (you will dry them in one day) but it’s the only one which costs money.

———DRYING IN THE SUN:

Place the aubergine pieces on a piece of baking paper making sure they do not touch each other.

Put the baking paper sheets in the full sun either outside (balcony, porch, garden table…) protecting them from the wind and animals or inside of your house, for example on a window sill.

Taste them every day to check the dryness and texture. They must be completely dry.

Put the dried, cool aubergine pieces in a jar with a lid. They will keep at least for a year (no need to refrigerate).

———DRYING IN THE OVEN:

Preheat the oven to 50°C (122°F).

Place the aubergine pieces on baking paper, making sure they do not touch each other.

Taste them every 4-5 hours to check the dryness and texture. They must be completely dry and hard.

The drying process can be divided into several days.

Put the dried, cool aubergine pieces in a jar with a lid. They will keep at least for a year (no need to refrigerate).

———DRYING OVER THE STOVE (works best with gas stove):

Put the aubergine pieces on a thick thread and hang high above the stove.

The aubergine slices will dry while you cook, so of course this process should be divided into several days.

Taste them every day to check the dryness and texture. They must be completely dry and hard.

Put the dried, cool aubergines in a jar with a lid. They will keep at least for a year (no need to refrigerate).

 

Sour Indian Tomato and Black Pepper Soup

sourtomatosouppI know what you think. I also almost never think of hot soups during the summer, but this tone is very special. First of all, as every tomato soup, is never tastes as good as when made with fresh ripe tomatoes. Secondly and above all, it is sour, the quality which for me places it among the dishes I typically crave when temperatures go up. It is also particularly light, easy and quick to prepare, three additional characteristics that make it a perfect summer soup. One of my favourite discoveries from Rick Stein’s India.

As usually, I have made some modifications, the most important one being the use of homemade chicken stock instead of water and I must say, even though it’s not a genuine Indian touch, it makes the final result even better. Make sure you check the original recipe in Rick Stein’s unique book I consider among several best cookery books.

TIP: If you think the tomato taste is not strong enough, add some tomato paste, as I did.

Asafoetida is sold powdered in every Indian shop in my city, so I guess it’s not difficult to find. It has a very strong aroma and changes the flavours considerably.

Preparation: about 40 minutes

Ingredients (serves two as the main course):

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 dried chilli torn into pieces (the best will be Kashmiri chilli)

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon asafoetida

a small handful of curry leaves

4 big tomatoes

3 fresh green chillies

about 1 heaped teaspoon grated ginger

3 tablespoons red lentils

3 cm piece of tamarind block

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

salt to taste

500 ml homemade chicken/vegetable stock or water

(1 tablespoon tomato paste)

coriander leaves

1 tablespoon oil (I didn’t have the ghee, indicated in the recipe)

Chop the tomatoes. Slice the chillies diagonally.

Pour 50 ml hot water it onto the tamarind piece. Leave for fifteen minutes. (In the meantime start preparing the masala paste and the curry). After this time, mix it well and strain leaving the seeds.

Fry the first three ingredients in a tablespoon of ghee or oil  until the mustard starts popping.

Add the black pepper and asafoetida and stir-fry for 30 seconds.

Add the rest and let the soup simmer for about 20 minutes or more (until the lentils are tender).

Sprinkle with coriander leaves just before serving.