Tofu and Bacon Snacks

tofubrollsMost people, both vegetarians and carnivores, are so convinced that tofu is simply a meat substitute, they are utterly surprised when I say I like tofu most when it’s combined with meat. Mapo doufu, for example, is one of my favourite dishes and removing either meat or tofu from it, makes it lose all its charm. Therefore, I am thrilled to present you this sensational snack I have fallen in love with and cannot imagine with either of the two main ingredients removed or substituted.

Thanks to my recent progress in Japanese reading I dare more and more often the Japanese food web. Thus, not only do I find new cooking ideas, but at the same time I progress with my language level. Fun and studying in one! Anyway, browsing through Cookpad, the biggest source of recipes in Japanese, I stumbled upon very tempting-looking tofu and pork belly rolls. Even though I have substantially modified it, I kept the original tofu and meat combination idea, which I am so fond of.

First of all, since I didn’t have the pork belly, but plenty of smoked bacon, I used it instead. I have also made snack-sized cubes instead of the original bigger pieces. Accidentally, I happened to have smoked tofu too, so it was a double smoked modification. The author adds some seasoning and sauce, in which the rolls are quickly simmered, but smoked bacon doesn’t require any simmering, so I simply skipped this part. As a tofu and bacon fan, I knew it could only be good, but frankly I didn’t expect such an amazing taste. I am already planning to “trap” all the tofu haters I know with this delicious snack ;-) The author uses shiso (perilla) leaves, but since I only had mitsuba from my balcony (another aromatic Japanese herb), I decided to put it instead. As a chilli fan, I tried putting them instead of the herbs and it worked perfectly too, so feel free to add whatever you like between the meat and tofu cubes. Click here to check the original Kirakira’s recipe (I don’t know if there is an English translation yet).

Preparation: about 10-15 minutes

Ingredients (serves three as a snack or two if served with rice as a main course) :

200 g (about 7 oz) firm tofu (I have used smoked tofu)

12 very thin slices of smoked narrow bacon (mine width : 2 cm only) or less slices if they are wider

12 big leaves of shiso, mitsuba, edible chrysanthemum, Thai basil, chives/green onion cut into bigger strips or thinly cut fresh chilli peppers

sauce of your choice or chilli oil or nothing

Put the tofu into boiling water for two minutes.

Drain and pat dry with paper towels.

Cut the tofu into pieces as wide as the bacon slices. (As I have mentioned I had very narrow bacon, so I cut the tofu into 12 x 2 cm pieces).

Roll the tofu pieces first into bacon, inserting herbs or chilli between tofu and bacon strips.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a pan and pan-grill the rolls (or rather cubes in my case) 20- 30 seconds on each side (if you use raw pork belly, you should cook the rolls much longer).

Serve immediately with a sauce of your choice or brushed with chilli oil or serve them as they are.

Easy Bok Choy Kimchi/Mak Kimchi with Bok Choy

bokchoykimchiWhen you prepare your own first kimchi and realise how easy and rewarding a process it is, you are soon keen on experimenting with other vegetables. When the most popular versions (daikon (white radish), Chinese/Napa cabbage and cucumber) were already behind me, I tested celery with quite successful though ephemeral results. Bok choy kimchi is my most recent idea (although I quickly noticed a popular one among other food bloggers too) and if you like this vegetable’s subtle taste you will also enjoy this certainly spicy, but more delicate kimchi.

If you have never heard of kimchi (김치), it consist in fermenting vegetables with dried chili peppers and other seasonings and has a very long – apparently 3000 years old – history. Koreans didn’t know chili peppers until the XVIth century, so the beautiful red colour and fiery taste are quite recent. (In fact, there exists also a “white” kimchi version, without chili, originating from the Northern Korea, but as a chilli addict I haven’t tested it yet.) Apart from the chili, garlic, ginger and scallions are the most frequent ingredients of the most popular, fiery kimchi. It also always contains a fermentation “enhancer” such as fish sauce, raw shrimp, raw oysters or fermented fish.

Kimchi has a very powerful smell, but those who love it, never associate it with anything unpleasant. It is spicy, hot, sour and, like most fermented vegetables, very healthy. High in fiber, low in calories and fat, it is packed with vitamin C (thanks to the fermentation) and carotene. It also contains several other vitamins, helps digestion, is even said to prevent certain cancers… Its importance in the Korean cuisine cannot be compared to anything in any European food culture. Apart from being served as a side dish, kimchi is used in fried rice, stew and soups. Many Korean families have special kimchi refrigerators.

As I have already mentioned, the most popular are daikon, Chinese/Napa cabbage and cucumber kimchi, but many other vegetables can be fermented this way. Depending on the vegetables some kimchi versions have a longer life (cabbage, daikon) or a shorter one (cucumber, celery) and since the taste changes throughout the fermentation process, everyone has different “maturity” degree preferences. Very old kimchi is said to be best in soups and other hot dishes, but many people prefer it also raw. Bok choy kimchi didn’t have a particularly long life in my opinion, maybe because of its delicate texture and flavours. I would never keep it for months, the thing I often do with cabbage and daikon kimchi.

After several failures I abandoned forever the traditional Chinese cabbage kimchi method consisting in seasoning whole cabbage halves. I have been making easy version (which I like to call “lazy”) with pre-cut leaves because… well it’s easy and most of all it’s the only one that works for me. I have found it on Shu Han’s blog (an amazing inspiring place called Mummy, I can cook! you must visit if you don’t know it yet) and am extremely grateful to Shu for this clever method. Obviously I repeated the same method with bok choy. I have rejected most of the leaves because I don’t like them, but feel free to include them.

Here are some other kimchi versions you might like:

White Radish Kimchi (Kkakdugi)


Easy Chinese Cabbage Kimchi

Easy Cucumber Kimchi

Celery Kimchi

Celery Kimchi

You can serve kimchi raw, as a side dish, but it can also be included into warm dishes:

Fried Rice with Kimchi and Bacon

Fried Rice with Kimchi and Bacon

Kimchi Soup with Chicken and Potatoes

Kimchi Soup with Chicken and Potatoes

TIPS: Wear gloves if you manipulate kimchi with your hands (apart from the smelly side there is lots of chili in it).

Adjust the chilli amounts to your own heat resistance and/or taste.

Make sure to flatten the kimchi before fermenting in order to remove any air bubbles and make sure the container is well closed (I prefer to use glass containers with plastic lids). The less air there is between the lid and the kimchi, the better it is, so adapt the container to the amount of kimchi (you shouldn’t fill it up to the rim though because the vegetables release some more water during the fermentation and it might leak).

Preparation: 1 hour + minimum 2 days


3 big bok choy/pak choy (about 500 grams/about 1 lb or more if you intend to discard the leaves)

about 4 tablespoons coarse salt

2 heaped tablespoons Korean chili powder

1 tablespoon sugar (or 1/3 grated pear)

1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

2 scallions stalks, cut into 2 cm pieces

1 garlic clove, grated

2  tablespoons fish sauce (not necessarily Korean!)

2 flat tablespoons sweet (glutinous) rice flour

50 ml/about 1,7 fl oz water

1 small carrot, grated or julienned

Prepare the rice paste combining the rice flour with about 50 ml water. Let the mixture simmer until it thickens.

Put aside.

Remove the hard ends of stalks (and the leaves if, like me, you are not a big fan).

Cut up the bok choy into 3 cm more or less square pieces (I always discard the leaves, but feel free to keep them).

Sprinkle it with salt and leave for at least two hours. It will soften and release some water.

Drain the bok choy.

Put it into a big bowl and combine well with the remaining ingredients and the rice paste.

Taste and if you think it’s not salty enough, add some fish sauce. (It should be only a bit too salty, but definitely slightly too salty).

Transfer it into a container with a lid (the best would be if the size is as close to the volume of kimchi as possible).

Add a couple of tablespoons water to the big – now empty – bowl and “rinse off” the remains of chilli with it. Pour the water onto the kimchi.

Cover with the lid, press with your hands (wear gloves!) to remove the air from the bok choy and leave for 2 days to ferment in room temperature.

Put into the fridge after two days. In general it gets stronger and more acid every day.

You can refrigerate it only to make it cold and eat it straight away or you can wait several days or weeks to see how the flavours change and at which stage you prefer it.

You can keep mak kimchi in the fridge for several weeks, but I found it best for the first two weeks only. It is excellent added to rice dishes and soups (see above).




Shoyu Chicken with Gochujang (Chicken Simmered in Soy Sauce and Gochujang)

shoyu_goch_chickIf you ask me what I have been eating most often for the last three years, Shoyu Chicken would certainly be among the top ten. The frequency with which I prepare it is not only due to its irresistible taste and texture, but also – and maybe most of all – to its extremely low difficulty. Actually, I cannot recall any other equally effortless warm dish. Even though, after dozens of times, the original recipe is still my favourite in my house, I have obviously twisted it more than once. This gochujang (Korean chilli paste) version has also become a staple and is always welcome whenever the chilli addict in me requires an urgent dose of spicy food.

This recipe is based on the original Shoyu Chicken, a Hawaiian recipe found on a wonderful, inspiring blog Humble Bean, which is unfortunately no longer continued. “Shoyu” means “soy sauce “in Japanese and even though this dish comes from Hawaii it does have a Japanese influence of course. Since the first time I prepared it I have cut down on the soy sauce amounts (and always use the low-sodium version), but otherwise I still prepare it the same way and never get tired of it.

If you cannot find gochujang or don’t feel like having a spicy meal, try this mild version:

Shoyu Chicken

Shoyu Chicken

TIPS: If you like soft chicken skin, leave the skin on, but for me the result was much too fatty, so I did it only once and have always skinned the legs since then (it’s really very easy and takes maximum five minutes for two legs).

Try to use chicken pieces with bones, which add lots of flavour.

I strongly advise using low-sodium soy sauce. You will have less salt in the final dish, but more of the wonderful soy sauce taste.

Do not skip the vinegar. The dish will not be sour, but the vinegar adds a certain je-ne-sais-quoi you will like. (You can use any vinegar you have, unless it’s something like raspberry vinegar, etc. of course).

It’s obviously delicious served with kimchi.

Preparation: about 1 hour – 1h30

Ingredients (serves 2 – 4 people depending on the size of the legs):

2 chicken legs (cut into two pieces) with or without skin

100 ml (about 3 fl oz) low-sodium Japanese soy sauce (or 70 ml of “normal” soy sauce)

300 ml (about 10 fl oz) water

60 ml (about 2 fl oz) agave syrup or honey

2 tablespoons rice vinegar (or any other vinegar)

2 heaped tablespoons gochujang (Korean chilli paste)

2 big garlic cloves chopped or sliced

toasted sesame seeds

(1-2 tablespoons sesame oil)

Bring all the sauce ingredients to a boil (apart from the sesame seeds and oil).

Lower the heat, put the chicken into the sauce, cover (add more water if needed) and let it simmer for at least one hour until the meat falls apart from the bones.

Finish cooking it uncovered until the sauce thickens.

Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and with sesame oil.

Serve with rice (and kimchi, if you have it).





Eringi Mushrooms, Buckwheat Groats and Teriyaki Sauce

eringi_buckpSome dishes suffer from even the tiniest modification, but sometimes what seems a daring crazy fusion idea proves one of the most natural harmony of flavours and textures. Such was the case with buckwheat groats with eringi mushrooms, both seasoned with teriyaki glaze.

Buckwheat grains/groats (sometimes labelled “kasha”) are dried, slightly triangular seeds of a plant (Fagopyrum genus) which is not a grass, nor a cereal, even though it looks like one and is not related to wheat. They are very rich in protein, contain minerals, antioxydants, iron and are gluten free, so they can be consumed by people who don’t tolerate it or try to reduce it. They are particularly popular in certain Eastern and Central European countries, usually consumed in a toasted, nutty tasting version. Reduced to flour, buckwheat is consumed in other countries too and soba noodles are probably now the best known product.

Even though soba noodles are widely consumed, all the Japanese I asked have never tasted untransformed groats. Porridge-like dishes, made with non-toasted groats do exist in Japan (thank you, Hiroyuki, for the links), but I guess it’s difficult to find their fans… Meanwhile, in several Eastern and Central European countries buckwheat groats have been a part of traditional diet for a long time, often served with dishes in sauce, as a carb side-meal, instead of potatoes or bread. Their toasted version is the one most people prefer and know (actually I discovered the non-toasted one only some years ago, finding it utterly bland and pointless). When cooked, they have a smokey, nutty aroma, a slightly crunchy texture (there is a certain resemblance to quinoa or barley) and are perfect with mushroom dishes.

Obviously, I wasn’t surprised that eringi (also called king oyster mushroom, Pleurotus Eryngii), as a particularly versatile mushroom, went well with both buckwheat and teriyaki sauce. Luckily the latter also proved a dream seasoning for buckwheat groats. In short, a simple but delicious autumn recipe I’ll be making with other mushrooms too.

In case you wonder what else to do with buckwheat, you can also fry it like you do with leftover rice:

Fried Buckwheat Groats

Fried Buckwheat Groats

TIPS: Buckwheat groats are not such a crowd-pleaser as white rice, for example, mainly because of their texture, but also because of the strong flavour, so don’t be surprised if you don’t like them (if you are a quinoa/barley fan, there are more chances you like them).

I strongly advise against buying non-toasted, light greenish buckwheat groats. Most buckwheat groats lovers (including me) hate this bland, softer form. Toasted buckwheat groats are luckily easy to recognise: they are simply brown.

Buckwheat groats are easy to overcook (mushy ones are not good at all…), so respect the cooking time and don’t worry if it doesn’t work for the first time. Sometimes it depends on the brand, on the pan, etc..

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

Preparation: about 30 minutes

Ingredients (serves two):

150 g/about 5,3 oz toasted buckwheat groats

1/2 teaspoon salt

300 g/about 10,5 oz eringi (king oyster) mushrooms, sliced

Teriyaki sauce:

9 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

3 tablespoons sake

3 tablespoons mirin (sweet cooking sake)

(freshly ground pepper)

Put the buckwheat groats into a cup.

Measure the double of the buckwheat’s volume in water.

Pour the water into a pan. Bring it to a boil, add the salt.

Throw the buckwheat into the pan and let it cook partially covered at medium heat for about ten minutes.

Lower the heat and let it simmer, fully covered, for about 5 more minutes.

The water should be completely absorbed by the grains. If it’s not absorbed yet, put the pan aside, leave the cover on and it will get absorbed without cooking too. (If it’s absorbed, cover the pan anyway and put it aside keeping it warm).

Heat the glaze ingredients in a pan until it thickens.

Put aside.

Grill the mushrooms on a grill or hot pan brushed with oil.

Turn them after 5 minutes and cook 3 more minutes.

Warm the teriyaki glaze while grilling the mushrooms. Mix 2/3 of it with buckwheat groats and 1/3 with mushrooms.

Taste the buckwheat and add some more soy sauce if it’s not salty enough.

Serve the mushrooms on top of buckwheat.

(Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper).


Hira Yachi (Rolled Okinawan Pancake with Green Onion and Canned Tuna)

hira_yachipThe abundance of chives and green onion on my balcony garden has led me once more to look for new dish ideas. As a result I found one of most original ways to cook canned tuna and made my very first Okinawan dish. This deliciously addictive pancake proved also an excellent occasion to take out the rectangular pan previously used only for Tamagoyaki (Japanese rolled omelette) and practice the tricky rolling process.

Encouraged by the fantastic Udon and Spring Onion Burgers, I decided to continue browsing through Japanese recipe sources. When I read this pancake had Okinawan origins, I was thrilled to learn a Japanese regional dish. I learnt from this website that “Hira Yachi” (ヒラヤーチー) is the Okinawan dialect version of the term “hirayaki”, which means roughly “flatly fried”. In fact, all the other Hira Yachi I saw on internet are fried in one thin layer, so I guess I was lucky to stumble upon this unusual rolled version published on Cookpad by Kirakira. Of course, this pancake can be made flat and then rolled on a plate, but finding a second use for my tamagoyaki pan was such an exciting perspective, I wouldn’t even consider skipping this step!

It’s difficult to describe the flavours of this pancake, but it tasted much better than I imagined. Most of all it is really pleasantly chewy and slightly bouncy, so a pure delight if, like me, you are a fan of such textures. I love dried bonito flakes, but instead of adding it into the batter I sprinkled them on top.  The author suggests Worcestershire-style sauce or okonomiyaki sauce, but I found thick chilli oil (taberu rayu) the ideal pairing. I have also used much less flour, so go to Cookpad to see the original Kirakira’s recipe and the step-by-step photographs (here is the Japanese version in case you are interested; strongly recommended for all the Japanese learners who are also passionate cooks).

TIPS: If you cannot get garlic chives, use normal chives or green onion leaves and grate one small garlic clove (this is what I did).

If you don’t want to roll this pancake, simply fry it flat making several thin pancakes (the amount will of course depend on the pan size).

Preparation: about 15 – 20 minutes

Ingredients (serves two as a snack):

sesame oil (or any cooking oil) to fry

100 g flour

1 egg

pinch of salt

150 ml Japanese dashi stock (I have used this “emergency” shortcut dashi recipe)

80 g (a small can) drained tuna (I buy only white tuna, but any tuna would be ok here)

katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes)

several leaves of garlic chives (nira); I have used green onions and small garlic clove instead (see the TIPS)

(chilli oil with sediments, aka taberu rayu)

In a bowl combine the flour, the egg, the stock, the salt, the tuna and the chopped garlic chives.

You should obtain a pancake batter consistency, so adjust the flour or stock amounts accordingly.

Heat some oil in a pan and heat it (the best would be rectangular, but a round pan will do the job too).

Pour a thin layer of the batter and cook it al low heat; when it’s half set, lift the pan from the heat and start rolling the pancake. (I found that rolling in the direction towards me was easier.)

(Either finish here your rolled pancake and continue the same way with the rest of the batter or, like me, roll the second layer.)

Push the roll towards one side of the pan (the the handle side is more practical).

Grease the pan once more, holding the soaked paper towel in chopsticks.

Pour once more the same amount of the batter. Spread it evenly, moving the pan.

Make sure it arrives under the rolled first part of the pancake (lift the roll slightly while spreading the mixture).

When this portion is almost cooked, lift the pan from the heat and roll the pancake, starting with the roll you have previously made. Take the roll out of the pan.

(Do not make a third layer or the pancake will become too thick and soft – I have tested it -, so if you are left with some more batter, make a second rolled pancake.)

Squash slightly the roll with a wide spatula, transfer it onto a chopping board.

Let it cool down slightly and cut into equal pieces.

Serve with katsuobushi, green onions and chilli oil if you like it.