Author Archives: Sissi

Spring Okonomiyaki (Japanese Savoury Pancake) with Wild Garlic

Okonomiyaki is one of the most frequent Japanese dishes in my house. From the beginning I took its name literally (it means roughly “grill what you want”) and never stopped improving, adapting to my changing palate and, of course, seasons. As a big garlic fan, I made crushed garlic the obligatory ingredient of every single batter. Last weekend I decided to add chopped wild garlic leaves instead and this seasonal twist made me discover one of the best versions (actually I wonder if it wasn’t even the best okonomiyaki in my life…). It’s definitely one of the best wild garlic dishes in my collection.

If you have never heard of okonomiyaki, it’s a kind of savoury pancake (sometimes called “Japanese pizza”), but the batter contains only a small amount of flour and lots of white cabbage. The magical side of every okonomiyaki is a generous choice of toppings added once it’s fried, and these usually include a special okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, katsuobushi (dried and shaved bonito), green onions, pickled ginger, ao nori (seaweed “flakes”)… The basic cabbage batter can also be played with and enriched with sliced pork, beef, raw calamar or dried shrimp and it is often topped with thinly sliced pork belly, fried when the pancake is flipped. There are two main variations of okonomiyaki: Kansai/Osaka-style (the one I “practice” and describe above), and a very filling Hiroshima style, which contains also cooked noodles and which I find too heavy. 

As I have mentioned, I have experimented a lot with both the batter and the toppings. Most modifications are surprisingly successful and I can only hope the pancakes I make can still be called okonomiyaki….

If you don’t have wild garlic/ramsons (click here to learn more about it), you might like one of these versions:

Okonomiyaki with Chorizo

with Chorizo

Okonomiyaki with Bok Choy and Chicken

with Bok Choy and Chicken

Okonomiyaki with Chicken

with Chicken

Okonomiyaki with Eringi Mushrooms and Bacon

with Eringi Mushrooms and Bacon

...with Red Cabbage and Garlic

with Red Cabbage and Garlic

Okonomiyaki with Green Onions

TIPS:

Okonomiyaki batter mixture: it can be bought in Japanese grocery shops or prepared from the scratch. Personally I am happy to prepare it from scratch since it takes two minutes and I’m sure it tastes better. I have seen different batter recipes; mine is composed of an egg, some flour, some dashi (Japanese stock), salt, pepper, baking powder and, last but not least, grated mountain yam (or yamaimo in Japanese), a slimy cousin of the potato (I find it in organic shops and I know Asian and Chinese grocery shops sell it).  It is not necessary, but in my opinion it largely improves the texture, making it lighter and fluffier. Yamaimo freezes very well (I freeze it peeled in individual portions and then grate when half thawed). When I don’t have yam, I skip it and when I don’t have dashi, I simply replace it, trying to keep the same pancake-like texture. The result is still delicious, albeit slightly different.

Okonomiyaki is always served with okonomiyaki sauce. I once bought it and it was much too sweet, so I was more than happy to learn from Hiroyuki how to make my own sauce, mixing ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce in desired proportions. (Nowadays I go even further, replacing sometimes this sauce with my homemade Indian style tomato chutney)

Okonomioyaki mixture can be prepared in advance and fried/grilled the following day. As an addict, I often make a double batch and have it two days in a row.

Okonomiyaki toppings: these usually include okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise and katsuobushi (flakes of dried bonito). Ao nori (powdered seaweed) is also very frequent, but I have noticed many Westerners dislike its “fishy” aroma. Personally I prefer to skip it and sprinkle with green onion or chives. Among my obligatory toppings are also taberu rayu (chilli oil with sediments) and very often tobanjan (Chinese chilli paste, which I buy in… Japanese shops and in Japan!). You can add of course whatever topping you like!

Preparation: 40 minutes

Ingredients (serves 2):

Batter:

5 slightly heaped tablespoons flour

30 ml (about 1 oz) dashi (Japanese stock, home-made or instant) or a mixture of milk+dashi or good quality chicken stock or simply water (though the latter yields the least flavourful pancake)

1 egg

3 cm/about 1,2 in grated mountain yam (yamaimo) (can be omitted, but then less flour should be added)

salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

10  bok choy leaves and stalks (or more if the bok choy is small), chopped ; if your bok choy has more leaves than stalks, use only half of the leaves, otherwise the pancake will be too soft (at least for me)

1 big handful of chopped wild garlic leaves

1 chicken breast

1 tablespoon oil

Toppings:

dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi)

okonomiyaki sauce (or a mixture of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce) ; I have used here my Indian-style tomato chutney

mayonnaise

chopped chives or spring onions

2 tablespoons oil

(ao nori, or powdered seaweed)

(chili paste, oil or sauce, such as Taberu Rayu)

(pickled ginger)

(6 thin slices of smoked bacon, cut into bite-sized pieces)

Cut up the chicken breast into small cubes (1 cm x 1 cm). Season with salt and pepper, stir-fry until golden brown and put aside.

In a big bowl combine the batter ingredients. Adjust the consistency adding more liquids or more flour (the mixture should be very thick, not liquid and the batter should only bind the ingredients together and not dominate them).

Heat one tablespoon oil in a frying pan or on a smooth grill (called teppanyaki grill or la plancha).

Put half of the okonomiyaki mixture in a more or less round-shaped heap (you can adjust it on the pan).

Flatten delicately the pancake, but not too much. Otherwise it might fall into pieces when you turn it over. (My okonomiyaki is max. 1,5 cm/about 1/2 inch high).

If you use smoked bacon, place the pieces on top, cover the pan and let it fry at medium heat for 5 – 10 minutes until you see the upper part of batter set. If you use an old-fashioned pan (steel or iron), you might have to turn down the heat to the lowest because it might burn.

Flip the pancake over, cover once more and fry for another 5 minutes until the bacon is slightly browned.

Flip over onto a plate and add your favourite toppings.

Repeat the same with the remaining batter mixture.

Fresh Goat Cheese and Wild Garlic Spread/Dip

Wild garlic season is short, so I make sure I buy it every week while it lasts. Last Saturday, the nice lady who keeps my favourite goat cheese stall (at my French farmers’ market there are now three stalls selling exclusively goat cheese!) suggested I combine fresh goat cheese and wild garlic. As soon as I came home I made this simple spread and it was so perfectly delicious I still wonder why I haven’t thought about it earlier… If you’ve never tasted wild garlic, chopping it into a bowl of fresh cheese and spreading it on a slice of bread is a great starting point.

Ramsons, wild garlic, buckrams, bear’s garlic, bear paw garlic… (Allium Ursinum) is a wild, wide-leaved plant with a very distinct garlic scent and apparently a favourite of bears, who would dig out its bulbs (hence the name). Its edible long leaves are very similar to those of the lily of the valley and mixing them up is very dangerous, since the latter are toxic. The strong smell created when the leaves are rubbed is the only way to distinguish them if one is not an experienced forager. Planting its bulbs in one’s garden (the seeds are sold in Swiss gardening shops) or buying from a trustworthy market stall is even safer! … 

Wild garlic grows all around Europe but while its use in the kitchen is popular in certain countries, it is almost non-existent in the others and often limited to rural areas. In Switzerland it appears in April and disappears in May and is so popular, it can be found on many market stalls and even in supermarkets. It is extremely versatile and can be treated as a spinach or other leaf substitute but also as a condiment, a milder cousin of garlic. If you find yourself with a big bunch of wild garlic, here are some other ideas:

Chicken with Wild Garlic and Cashew Nuts

Chicken with Wild Garlic and Cashew Nuts

Wild Garlic Pillows

Wild Garlic Pillows

Wild Garlic Pesto

Wild Garlic Pesto

Mock Spanakopita Rolls with Wild Garlic

TIPS: I’ve used here fresh goat cheese but if you don’t have access to it (or don’t like it), you can use cow or ewe cheese instead (or thick yogurt, such as Greek yogurt). It just must be fresh and slightly tangy.

Preparation: about ten minutes

Ingredients (serves as a snack for two-three):

250 g fresh goat cheese (or cow/ewe fresh cheese)

125 ml yogurt or sour cream

10 big wild garlic leaves choppes

salt to taste

Combine all the ingredients, add more yogurt if the consistency is too thick (and maybe more wild garlic leaves).

You can serve it immediately, but the taste improves (becomes more garlicky) after several hours in the fridge.

This spread/dip will keep several days in the fridge.

Thick Andhra Chicken Curry with Green Asparagus

Some people say asparagus is extremely delicate, should be barely seasoned and treated with caution when it comes to spices. Don’t believe them! In this fiery, bold-flavoured curry the asparagus reigns over the remaining ingredients and neither the chilli, nor the other Indian spices have lessened its distinct flavours I’m so fond of. Everything worked so perfectly together, I’m sure it will not be my last Indian experiment with this delicious vegetable.

This dish is a thickened variation of the Chicken with Curry Leaves from Andhra Pradesh (Kodi Gasi), based on a recipe from The Essential Andhra Cookbook: with Hyderabadi and Telengana Specialities by Bilkees I. Latif. As usually I have modified the recipe and the ingredients’ amounts (e.g. making the “sauce” thicker and slimming it down), so make sure you check the original recipe and this fascinating collection of regional dishes.

If you look for other asparagus dishes, you might like some of these:

Asparagus with Chicken and Miso

Asparagus with Chicken and Miso

Asparagus Maki Sushi

Asparagus Maki Sushi

Bread Tartlet with Egg and Asparagus

Bread Tartlet with Egg and Asparagus

Asparagus Teriyaki Pork Rolls

Asparagus Teriyaki Pork Rolls

Chawan Mushi (Egg Custard) with Asparagus

Chawan Mushi (Egg Custard) with Asparagus

Asparagus Tempura

Asparagus Tempura

Filo Rolls with Asparagus, Chorizo and Parmesan

Filo Rolls with Asparagus, Chorizo and Parmesan

Tama Konnyaku with Asparagus

Tama Konnyaku with Asparagus

Rice, Asparagus and Fried Egg

Rice, Asparagus and Fried Egg

Asparagus with Cashew Nuts and Chicken

Asparagus with Cashew Nuts and Chicken

asp_springrollsp

Spring Rolls with Asparagus and Chicken

Asparagus and Bacon Rolls

TIPS:

If you realise you like this curry a lot, I advise preparing a big batch of masala and either keeping it in the fridge (it will keep for five days) or even freezing it in small portions. Then you stir fry onions and curry leaves (if you have them), take a protein source (meat, seafood or paneer, and why not tofu?) or/and a vegetable to the masala, add some water and the quick delicious meal is ready in no time at all!

I always slim down coconut milk-based curries and I did this one too, so if you want to make it creamier, add coconut milk instead of the 100 ml water in the cooking process.

You can obviously adjust the heat level to your preferences and use half mild peppers and half hot peppers, or even use only mild peppers.

You can skip the curry leaves, but do try them if you can get them (I wrote a bit about them here). They will make this dish unforgettable. If you worry about buying a big bag of curry leaves (they are usually sold in big packages), divide them into small portions, wrap tightly in plastic film (or, if you have the vacuum packing machine, vacuum pack them) and freeze. Do not dry them. Dried curry leaves have lost almost all of their aroma, so it’s better to skip them than use dried. Fresh curry leaves can be bought by internet (look for them on Amazon or Ebay).

You can serve this dish topped with fried onion/shallot and curry leaves (the original chicken dish calls for those).

Obviously, you can make this dish vegetarian, skipping the chicken breast.

Preparation: about 30 minutes

Ingredients (serves four):

2 medium chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces

approx. 300g of green asparagus spurs, lower tough parts removed

2 tablespoons coconut fat (or any oil of your choice)

3 big European shallots, finely sliced

15 curry leaves (fresh or frozen)

salt, water

Masala:

150 ml coconut milk

4 long fresh red chilli peppers (choose the variety according to your heat resistance), sliced

1 1/2 tablespoon coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

1 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon crushed garlic (about 3 medium garlic cloves)

4 black peppercorns

2 teaspoons turmeric powder

4 shallots, sliced

1 teaspoon salt

First prepare the masala. Roast the whole spices in a pan (make sure they don’t burn and take the pan off the heat as soon as they start to yield a strong but pleasant smell).

Grind the spices in a coffee grinder, spice grinder or in a mortar.

Mix well with the remaining ingredients in a food processor until you obtain a thick sauce.

Cut up the asparagus spears into bite-sized pieces. Divide into two groups: thick pieces and thin pieces. You will add the latter at the end of the cooking process.

Heat the oil in a shallow pan and stir-fry approx. 2/3 of the shallots with half of the curry leaves.

When the shallots start becoming soft, add the chicken pieces, salt them and stir-fry until slightly browned.

Add the masala, the thicker pieces of asparagus spears, about 100 ml water and let the dish simmer until the chicken is cooked.

Five minutes before the end add the thinner parts of asparagus. Thus, the asparagus will remind crunchy.

(You can serve this curry with fried shallots and curry leaves on top.)

 

 

 

 

Chapatti, or Versatile Indian Flatbreads

Before embarking on this flatbread adventure I had never tasted chapatti or even seen them in “real” life. I had read about them, seen on blogs and in cookery books, but had no idea (and still don’t have!) what texture and taste I should obtain. These chapatti are soft, taste slightly nutty and are absolutely delicious, in spite of their weird forms and scary look (normally chapatti are of course perfectly round, but I have never managed to roll them out properly…). They are quick to prepare, easy to reheat or defrost and so surprisingly versatile, I now treat them as international wraps (these above were perfect with feta and bacon for my office lunch) and wonder how I could eat the store-bought tortillas all these years…

Chapatti/chapati are, after naans, the second Indian flatbread recipe I learnt. (Maybe one day I’ll show you my naans… but they look even worse than my chapatti). Indian cuisine has a big array of breads, but I chose chapatti because I read somewhere they were to Indians what tortillas were to Mexicans. I also liked the fact that they are made simply in a pan (not in a super hot tandoori!) and are relatively quick to prepare. As I browsed through recipes, I found they were all similar (i.e. called for water and flour), but I also realised that many Indian home cooks obtain dry tough chapatti and seek for advice. I stumbled upon a chapatti thread on Indus Ladies where some advised to add curd and oil. I added yogurt instead of the curd, played a bit with the amounts and the resulting flatbreads proved soft, easy to cook and addictive. I am too scared to try and compare the traditional flour and water recipe, so I’ll stick to this one. Following Meera Sodha’s advice in Made in India. Cooked in Britain, I used half wholemeal and half white flour, the mixture which is apparently closest to the Indian chapatti flour (I think this adds slightly nutty flavours, keeping the dough acceptable for those who hate wholemeal products).

TIPS:

Even if you don’t cook Indian, I strongly advise testing chapatti as an alternative to store-bought tortillas (I plan to make those too one day, inspired by MJ’s beautiful perfectly round corn tortillas). I use them to wrap everything I find in the fridge: raw cucumbers, peppers, chillies, fresh herbs, chicken, ham, feta, tofu… and add Greek yogurt, sriracha (it’s perfect!) and pickles. They are of course delicious with Indian curries…

It’s difficult to say exactly how thick chapatti should be. I roll out mine about 1 mm – 1.5 mm thick. (If they are very too thin, slightly transparent, they will become crisp, not soft!).

Once prepared, chapatti will keep for two-three days in the fridge, tightly wrapped in plastic. They can also be frozen, but make sure you divide them, otherwise you’ll have to defrost the whole batch. I heat the refrigerated chapatti for 10 seconds in the microwave and defrost those from the freezer for about 20 seconds.

When frying the second side of chapatti you should press it and the best tool I found for that is a potato press.

Many sources advise leaving dough for 30 minutes (or even more) before rolling out, so that it becomes softer. I try to do it, but when I am in a hurry, I start grilling chapatti straight away and they are soft anyway (maybe not as soft as with the 30 minutes waiting, but the difference is small).

Preparation: about 30 minutes (+30 min for the dough to become softer, but it’s not absolutely necessary)

Ingredients (makes about 10-12 chapatti):

125 g white flour

125 wholemeal flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 heaped tablespoons yogurt

3 tablespoons neutrally-tasting oil or coconut oil (I prefer coconut oil)

100 ml water (or a bit more, see below)

In a bowl combine all the ingredients and start kneading them.

If the mixture is too dry, add water by spoonfuls. If you add too much water chapatti will be drier, so don’t exaggerate.

Knead the mixture about 5-10 minutes until the dough is smooth and soft. Cover with plastic film and leave for 30 minutes (this is not necessary, but if you have time, do it because it makes the dough softer).

Divide the dough into big apricot-sized balls and cover them so that they don’t dry out.

In the meantime heat a big frying pan brushed with some oil (again, I use here coconut oil).

Roll out the dough into 1 mm thickness and grill at medium heat until bubbles show up (start rolling out another chapatti while the previous one fries).

At this point turn the chapatti over and fry for about 10 seconds, pressing it (a potato masher is perfect for that).

Place on a plate and proceed in the same way with other balls, brushing the pan with oil every second chapatti.

Cover the plate with plastic film and keep at room temperature until they cool down.

Then you can keep them for several days in the fridge or freeze them.

 

Fresh Goat Cheese Spread/Dip with Chives

I’ve always loved fresh goat cheese, but it has really become my daily fare since I met a lovely young woman selling her organic goat cheese at my French farmers market. The taste has nothing to do with any shop-bought version (organic or not), the cheese freshest possible (produced the same morning) and the price is so low, I let her fill up a big tupperware and enjoy it almost every single day during the goat milking season, i.e. all year round apart from most of the winter (they became all pregnant – I know there must be a proper word for that in English too… – hence the halt in cheese production until baby goats are born).

Even though I had frozen big amounts of this cheese (the texture changes a bit but they still beat whatever one can find in shops), I ran out of them quite a long time ago and was very impatient to start buying it again. Coming back home the very first thing I did was devouring a whole one with a spoon, but just after that I made this delicious spread that makes me feel springtime is already here and reminds me of my childhood.

Actually, it’s an almost identical copy of the simple fresh cow cheese and chives spread I used to eat often as a child and which is very popular in Poland. In countries where goat cheese is expensive, this goat version would be a luxury, but luckily I live close to France where fresh goat cheese is extremely popular and obviously not expensive. The only personal twist I’ve added to my mum’s recipe is garlic, but chives remain the crucial element that makes this spread irresistible.

I usually have this spread on my favourite breakfast bread (this Finnish super thin “diet” one), not only in the morning but also as an afternoon snack. You can also serve it at a party, as a dip with nachos or raw vegetables and it’s delicious on dark/wholemeal bread canapés (if you like pumpernickel, you will love the combination).

If you don’t find fresh goat cheese (or if it’s expensive where you live or if you simply don’t like it), you can use fresh cow or ewe cheese (often called cottage cheese, but make sure it’s all natural).

Here are some other spreads you might like:

Baba Ghanouj/M'tabal (Aubergine Dip)

Baba Ghanouj/M’tabal (Aubergine Dip)

Yogurt/Quark Spread with Caramelised Onion

Yogurt/Quark Spread with Caramelised Onion

Tzatziki with Fennel

Tzatziki with Fennel

Bulgarian Dill Salad/Dip (Dry Tarator)

Bulgarian Dill Salad/Dip (Dry Tarator)

Taramosalata (Fish Roe Dip)

Taramosalata (Fish Roe Dip)

TIPS: While you can perfectly replace goat cheese with cow cheese (the taste is different, of course), I do not advise replacing chives with thick spring onions. They are too aggressive, too “oniony” and at the same time are not as aromatic as chives (I did try once and regretted my experiment). If you have access to the Japanese ao negi (slightly thicker than chives and less pungent), it will be a perfect replacement and you can use more of if, since it’s more delicate.

If you have a source of good quality fresh goat cheese, but it’s far away, buy it in big amounts and freeze it in well wrapped portions. Strangely the texture changes only a bit and the taste is practically the same. It becomes maybe less moist, but I still find it delicious mixed with yogurt and used as a spread. (My experiments in freezing cheese are sometimes surprising: I have always thought hard cheese freezes well, but I recently saw gruyère’s texture become horribly crumbly and dry, while the famous French blue cheese roquefort stayed in perfect shape… though I must say I always vacuum pack my cheese before freezing it, apart from the fresh one which is too soft).

Obviously, if you don’t like garlic, skip it. As I said, fresh cheese and chives are the key to the delightful flavours.

Yogurt is used here only to loosen the texture, so its amount depends on the texture of the cheese.

Preparation: 10 minutes

Ingredients (makes approximately a 250 ml jar of spread):

300 g of fresh goat cheese

125 ml natural yogurt (cow or goat milk yogurt will be ok), or more/less; see the TIPS above

6 heaped tablespoons chopped chives (or more)

1 big clove garlic

salt (to taste)

Combine the ingredients and refrigerate or eat it straight away.

This spread will keep for several days in the fridge.