Author Archives: Sissi

Chinese Cabbage Salad with Corn and Pickled Cucumber

When I was a teenager this simple salad was all the rage. I guess its popularity was first of all due to the new vegetable: Chinese/Napa cabbage. Even avowed lettuce haters liked its crunchiness, neutral sweetish taste and every home cook appreciated its long fridge life, its all-year availability, not to mention its low price. Some prepared this salad with vinaigrette, some with mayonnaise but my favourite sauce is a mixture of mayonnaise and yogurt with crushed fresh garlic. Though I prepare it all year round, I think of it as a typical winter salad: refreshing and light, but still quite filling.

After so many years I still love this salad and still wonder why the taste is so good because the ingredients are quite ordinary. The only explanation is a perfect combination of different flavours and textures: it’s crunchy (cabbage), sweet (corn), sour (pickled cucumber), with a slight pungency from the onion and the garlic and a creamy mayonnaise sauce finish. I always make sure to grind lots of black pepper for an awakening kick (actually I cannot imagine it without big amounts of pepper, no matter how weird it sounds…).

TIPS: If you want to transform this salad into a full meal, add some proteins such as cubes of hard cheese, hard-boiled eggs, ham, chicken breast or canned tuna.

I think salt-brined cucumbers are the best here, but if you cannot find them (they can be found in Polish, Russian or Ukrainian grocery shops, but I also find them in German organic shops), you can take the more international vinegared pickled cucumbers or even small cornichons. Do not use cucumbers pickled in a very sweet brine though. They must taste sour and sharp.

Preparation: 15 minutes

Ingredients (serves four as a side dish or two as a main course, if protein added (see TIPS above)):

1 small Chinese/Napa cabbage (bu small I mean weighing 1/2 kilo or about 1 lb)

1x 250 g (about oz) can of corn (or the equivalent of frozen/fresh and cooked for 5 minutes)

3 medium salt-brined or vinegar-pickled cucumbers

1 medium red onion (you can also use spring onion, but red onion looks nicer, I think)

mayonnaise or mayonnaise+yogurt (I use approx. 125 ml/ 1/2 cup of dressing)

2 medium garlic cloves, crushed

salt, pepper

Prepare the sauce with crushed garlic, salt, pepper, mayonnaise and yogurt (if using).

Chop the cabbage, slice finely the onion, cut up the cucumbers, drain and rinse the corn.

Give the salad a good stir and refrigerate.

If you don’t add the sauce immediately, the cut up vegetables will keep for several days (the sauce in a separate container too). It’s best to add the sauce one or two hours before serving; thus the flavours will mix better but don’t add the sauce as early as one day before.

Red Lentil Curry/Dal, South Indian Style

This is my absolute number one red lentil dal and I’m particularly proud to share my enthusiasm with you because it’s my own improvisation, based on typical ingredients of certain South Indian dishes I have recently learnt to cook (you’ll see big similarities with this Egg Curry). I have no idea if red lentil curry is popular in the South and, if yes, if it’s even seasoned this way, but I fell in love in this version with lighter, sharper flavours, so different from all the red lentil dals I know.

I love red lentils for their taste but also because they are quick to prepare (they don’t require soaking, in case you have never cooked them). Therefore, in my short Indian cooking experience I have tested several red lentil dal recipes from cookery books I otherwise appreciate a lot, but always with the feeling something was wrong with the seasoning. A couple of weeks ago I decided to do it my way, first with a small batch. I used very few ingredients, but only those I’m nowadays crazy for. The result was so good, I did the same with the remaining lentils and froze in several single portions (this is how i discovered red lentil curry is fantastic defrosted too!).

If you feel lazy (I often do) and don’t feel like preparing a second protein dish, you can add some pieces of chicken breast (or tofu, paneer, boiled eggs…) together with lentils and thus obtain a very filling one-pot meal. (You might notice the lentils above were cooked with chicken). I’d freeze the dal without additional proteins and then add them while it’s being reheated.

TIPS: You can cook the lentils in water well in advance (even several days before) and then taking the part you need, prepare the final dish.

Both unseasoned cooked lentils and the final dish freeze very well. If you are in a hurry, defrost them in a microwave up to the moment when it’s possible to transfer them to a pan and then reheat, covered (his is what I do most of the time). I usually add chicken or eggs when the dish is already boiling.

Curry leaves are best when fresh or frozen (dried ones are practically without scent and are very unpleasant to eat, while the fresh ones are edible, contrary to bay leaves). They can be bough in Indian or Sri Lankan shops but also online (I know certain people grow them commercially in the US). If you don’t find them, skip them because there is no substitute. The curry will be very good without them too.

Preparation: about 1 hour

Ingredients (serves two as a main dish, especially if served with a vegetable side-dish, pickles and a carb source, such as rice, chapatti or simply bread):

200 g dry red lentils

400 ml (about ) water or stock

2 tablespoons oil (I’ve used coconut oil)

3-4 small Western shallots or 1 big onion, finely sliced

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

10-15 fresh curry leaves

2 medium-hot fresh green chillies (or more, if you want it hotter), sliced

3 garlic cloves, chopped

2 cm (about 3/4 in) fresh ginger, grated or finely chopped

2 medium tomatoes or 100 ml canned tomatoes, chopped (you may skin the fresh ones, but it’s not necessary)

1/2 teaspoon powdered turmeric

1 teaspoon medium-hot chilli powder (I have used Kashmiri chilli)

salt, freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon garam masala

coriander leaves

First cook the red lentils until soft, adding water if necessary (check often the water level).

It should take about 20-30 minutes.

You should obtain a mushy, not very appetising-looking thick gruel-like stuff.

If it’s too soupy, increase the heat and the excess water will evaporate.

In the meantime start preparing the final dish in a frying pan.

Warm some oil in a pan, add the mustard seeds and when they start popping, quickly add the shallots (or onions), green chilli and curry leaves.

Stir-fry at medium heat until the onions become golden and softened.

Add the garlic and the ginger and stir-fry for one minute.

Off the hob add the chilli powder and the turmeric and stir well.

Place back on the hob and add the tomatoes.

Stir-fry until the tomatoes thicken (about 1 minute).

Now finally add the cooked lentils, the garam masala, give the whole dish a good stir add salt and pepper to taste. (If you have made lentils beforehand, cover the pan and wait until they are well heated).

Serve sprinkled with fresh coriander leaves.

Breaded Pork and Shiso Rolls

These rolls are the result of an exceptional craving for tonkatsu (Japanese breaded pork cutlets) combined with a desperate need to do something with an abundant crop of shiso leaves. I sliced the pork very thinly, seasoned it, rolled tightly with the shiso leaves, breaded and deep-fried. These crisp and aromatic rolls were perfect to celebrate probably one of the last harvests of this year’s balcony-grown shiso.

TIPS: Shiso (or perilla) is a Japanese herb (though it’s also used in Thailand and a slightly differently scented variety also in Korea), which luckily becomes more and more popular abroad (my two local gardening shops have been selling it potted for the third year in row). It grows in most climates, even on a balcony, so if you cannot get the potted plant, try sowing it. Unfortunately, shiso isn’t similar to any other herb I know, so I have no idea what can be used here instead. Certainly a herb which is still aromatic and good after being cooked (maybe Thai basil?).

My favourite way to have these rolls is with a mixture of mayonnaise and sediments from chilli oil (Taberu rayu), but they are also very good with soy sauce and chilli oil and I guess any dipping sauce will be delicious.

You can ask the butcher to cut thin pork slices or use a big wide very sharp knife (I now always do it on my own, it takes 5 minutes).

Make sure you have enough shiso leaves to cover the whole surface (more or less) of the slices. Otherwise you won’t feel the taste of shiso once it’s fried.

If you can get Japanese panko breadcrumbs, use them here. They are crisper and seem to absorb less fat than standard or homemade breadcrumbs.

Click here if you look for other recipe ideas with shiso.

Preparation: about 40 minutes

Ingredients (serves as a main dish for 4-5, if served with rice and vegetables, or as a snack/appetiser for 6 or 7 at least):

1/2 kg (about 1 lb) pork loin, without fat, cut into thin (max. 2 mm) slices

big shiso leaves (as many as the number of slices or double the amount if the leaves are small; they should cover more or less the whole surface of the slices)

salt, pepper

1 egg, beaten with a fork

2 heaped tablespoons flour

2 big handfuls of breadcrumbs (use the Japanese panko if you can)

oil for deep-frying (I thought 400 ml oil was enough for this amount of rolls)

Prepare three bowls: one with breadcrumbs, one with flour and one with a beaten egg.

Start heating the oil in a small deep pan (I advise placing it as far from yourself as possible; I always deep-fry on a hob next to the wall).

In the meantime season each slice of pork with salt and pepper (on one side only).

Place the shiso leaf/leaves on the seasoned side and roll very tightly (no need for skewers; these rolls will somehow “stick” together during the frying process).

Roll each roll in flour, then in the egg and finally in breadcrumbs.

Deep-fry until golden. (The oil is ready for deep-frying when some breadcrumbs thrown into it instantly change colour and stay at the surface).

Serve them either as a snack, a starter or a main dish. They need a dipping sauce (see the TIPS above).

South Indian Egg and Onion Curry

Are you an egg lover? Do you tend to add twice – or thrice – as much onions as written in recipes? If you have answered “yes” to both questions, then you’ve come to the right place! In this Indian curry onions are not just a typical seasoning but, once softened, they act like a thick sauce or maybe even as a second main ingredient… If you are used to what I’d call a “mainstream abroad version of Indian cuisine”, you will also be surprised by the sharpness and freshness of the flavours I have found in other South Indian dishes.

This recipe is based on a video published by Mina Street Food channel (on Youtube it’s called Grandma’s Village Style Egg Curry) Videos are not my favourite source of new recipes, but I loved this one and quickly got addicted to the whole series of an older lady’s cooking sessions, which feature an ancient outdoor cooking method and a cutting tool I was mesmerised by (or rather by the dexterity with which the lady uses it).

The video didn’t list the ingredients, not to mention the amounts, but for me it has made the whole dish even more attractive! Once I started to cook what I hope is at least similar, it was one of those rare moments in my Indian cooking experience where I had a total freedom! I don’t know how close my result was to the genuine south Indian dish (especially since I’ve also also slightly modified what I saw, for example adding coconut milk…), so if you want to see the genuine recipe, check the video to see Grandma cooking sensational “village-style” Indian food!

TIP: Curry leaves make this dish very special, since they are a typical ingredient of South Indian cuisine. There is unfortunately no substitute for them. If you don’t have fresh curry leaves (sold in Indian or Sri Lankan grocery shops), skip them. My experience with dried ones is very bad (practically tasteless), so I cannot advise them. If one day you stumble upon fresh curry leaves, freeze them. They are totally acceptable preserved this way.

If you don’t have curry leaves, you might be interested by this Egg Molee which doesn’t require any and which is even easier than this curry:

Egg Molee

Preparation: about 40 minutes

Ingredients (serves two as a main dish served with some pickles/vegetables and rice or Indian bread):

4 hard-boiled eggs

2 tablespoons oil

1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds

2 big onions or 8 big shallots, finely sliced

4-6 medium-hot fresh green chillies (sliced horizontally or lengthwise, if they are short)

2 big garlic cloves, crushed

about 2 cm fresh ginger, grated

about 20 curry leaves

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

1-2 teaspoons powdered medium hot chilli (I have used Kashmiri chilli)

1/2 teaspoon garam masala 

fresh coriander leaves

(50 ml coconut milk+50 ml water)

Heat the oil in a big pan.

Add the mustard seeds and when they start to pop (it takes 30 seconds to 1 minute), add the onions, the chillies and the curry leaves. Stir-fry for ten minutes at medium heat.

Add the garlic and the ginger and stir-fry for two more minutes.

Now add the turmeric and the powdered chilli and stir-fry for several more minutes.

If you wish, you can now add 50 ml of coconut milk+50 ml water to make the dish creamier, but it’s not necessary.

Now add the shelled eggs and continue frying, delicately turning them until the onions soften completely.

Finally sprinkle with some garam masala, give the dish a final stir and serve with fresh coriander leaves on top.

 

Baked Lamb and Potato Croquettes, Indian/Sri Lankan Style, or the Best Korokke Ever

I still hesitate if I should start my post with the Japanese croquettes (korokke), Sri Lankan “lamb rolls” or South-Indian seasoning… To make the explanations as simple as possible, the lamb rolls I saw in  Sri Lanka. The Cookbook looked to me like European croquettes, which in turn made me think of Japanese korokke and when I finally decided to make my own modified and simplified version of these Sri Lankan snacks, I realised my  improvised seasoning was inspired by certain “village-style” South-Indian recipes… All this sounds like a crazy triple fusion, but the first bite of these croquettes was so obvious, so good, so comforting…. I couldn’t believe my tastebuds! I don’t know if it was the presence of lamb, the refreshingly hot fresh green chilli, the mixture of spices… or the combination of all, but these were by far the best croquettes of my life! In short, if you like lamb, potatoes and green chilli, these soft spicy balls with crisp crust will become your favourite comfort food.

As I have mentioned above, the Lamb Rolls recipe that inspired me comes from the recently bought  Sri Lanka. The Cookbook by Prakash N Sivanathan &  Niranja M Ellawa, a beautifully illustrated collection of fantastic recipes from this barely known fascinating culinary heritage (I’ve already tested four or five and all proved exceptionally good). As I have mentioned above, I didn’t stick to the recipe at all, changed and reduced the number of spices, skipped the croquette “skins” and, as always, simplified the procedure as much as I could, so check  Sri Lanka. The Cookbook if you want to make genuine Lamb Rolls (these cannot even bear this name in my opinion… and the seasoning brings them probably closer to South Indian dishes than Sri Lankan cuisine).

If you want to make first the famous Japanese korokke, here’s my favourite recipe:

Japanese croquettes (korokke コロッケ)

TIPS: This recipe is not the quickest one, but potato boiling, meat frying and bread crumb browning processes can be made well in advance. You can cook the potatoes in advance and then reheat in a microwave just before forming balls. You can prepare the meat mixture, fry it and then refrigerate for several days or even freeze. The breadcrumbs can be toasted even a week before!

These croquettes can be reheated in a microwave and even though they are best freshly made, I think the microwaved version is still delicious.

I have baked these croquettes because I try to slim down dishes as long as they stay delicious, but you can of course deep-fry them.

PANKO is the Japanese version of breadcrumbs, but it looks like crisp flakes, absorbs less oil when deep-fried and stays crunchier than any Western form of breadcrumbs. For me it’s simply the best! Luckily you can buy panko on internet (Amazon sells it) and in many Asian, not only Japanese grocery shops. If you cannot get Japanese panko, use normal dry breadcrumbs, but when toasting them, heat some oil first in the pan.

I have used a mixture of ground lamb and beef, but you can use lamb only (or beef or pork or half beef half pork, if you don’t like lamb; for me the lamb’s presence is crucial though).

As much as I love fresh coriander, I must say apart from looking nice, it didn’t change the taste so much, so skip it if you don’t have it or don’t like it particularly.

These croquettes taste great with one or several of those: mayonnaise (yes!!! but good quality one), chilli oil, chilli oil+mayonnaise (why not?), tzatziki or any yogurt-based sauce, sriracha…

Preparation: about 2 hours

Ingredients (makes about 12-13 croquettes; serves three-four people if served with a salad or a vegetable side-dish):

1/2 kg (about 1,1 lb) ground lamb and beef mixture or lamb only

750 g (about 1.6 lb) potatoes (I prefer here waxy, not floury potatoes)

1 big onion, roughly cut into several pieces

4-5 fresh medium hot green chillies (I loved jalapeños here)

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon medium-hot powdered chilli (optional)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

3 big garlic cloves

3 cm grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon mustard seeds (I used black, but white is ok too)

salt, pepper

1 big egg or 2 small

about 300 ml container filled with panko or dry breadcrumbs

10 tablespoons wheat flour

(chopped fresh coriander leaves-optional, combined with the toasted breadcrumbs)

First toast the panko/breadcrumbs.

Heat an empty big pan at medium heat and spread a layer of panko (if you use breadcrumbs, heat one tablespoon oil first; panko already contains some fat so it’s not necessary).

Watch it closely without stirring and when it starts changing colour, stir it, so that it becomes a more or less uniform golden (I’ve never managed a uniform colour) and so that it doesn’t burn.

Depending on the size of your pan you might need two batches. (The layer of panko should be very thin, maximum 1/2 cm).

Place the onion, the garlic, the ginger and the ground spices (not the mustard seeds!) in a food processor and mix them (a small baby food processor is perfect here).

Put the meat into a big bowl and mix well with spices (the best is using your hand).

Put into the fridge.

In the meantime cook the potatoes until soft (without peeling them).

When the potatoes are cooked, drain them and wait until they are cool enough to be handled.

Take the meat out of the fridge.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a big pan.

Throw the mustard seeds into the pan and fry at low heat until they start popping.

Now add the meat and, stirring, fry it until it’s well cooked, separating well the lumps with a fork.

Put the meat into a big bowl.

Peel the potatoes and mash them roughly with a fork or with a potato masher (I think they taste better when not too smooth), season with salt.

Combine the potatoes and the meat.

Preheat the oven to 190°C.

Prepare three plates: one with beaten egg, one with flour and one with panko (or breadcrumbs).

Shape flattish round patties (mine had a 6 cm diameter), coat them first in flour, then in the egg and then in panko.

Place the balls on a baking sheet and bake for about 30 minutes until they start changing colour and are well heated inside.