Category Archives: Snacks, Appetisers, Finger food

Armenian Cucumber Kimchi

This is the most recent kimchi recipe in my collection, and, most of all, a short report on my recent vegetable – or rather a fruit – discovery. A week ago I saw Armenian cucumbers for the first time in my life. I had never tasted them before, the shop assistant either, but they were locally grown and organic, so I was even more tempted. First, avoiding risks, I served half of it as a simple side-dish with vinaigrette and it was so good, I decided to try the remaining part in kimchi. Freshly made and after four days, it was particularly crunchy, refreshing and perfect for the summer heat, but I am also sure that, contrary to standard cucumber, this one might keep crunchy for long months…

Armenian cucumber (Cucumis melo var. flexuosus), also known as snake cucumber or serpent cucumber, is apparently closest to muskmelon, but also related to standard cucumbers. As its name suggests, it apparently originated in Armenia but nowadays is cultivated in many countries, such as USA or Japan. (From what I have noticed online Japanese uri look a bit different and all have smooth skin, though probably share the same texture and flavours) Armenian cucumber is less watery and much crunchier than any standard cucumber variety (the texture is closer to a small young courgette). It has a very thin skin which makes peeling unnecessary (though I never peel cucumbers anyway) and, though its taste bears some resemblance  to the cucumber, its flavours are more delicate and it’s much crunchier. I already see myself experimenting a lot with this new summer discovery, so I hope I’ll be able to see it on sale more often!

For those who have never heard of kimchi (김치), it is a preparation of fermented vegetables with dried chili peppers and other seasonings and has a very long history, though chilli was added only in XVIth century. (In fact, there exists also a “white” kimchi version, without chilli). Apart from the chili, garlic, ginger and scallions are the most frequent seasoning ingredients. 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 once you taste it and love it, the smell will never be associated with anything unpleasant. It is spicy, hot, sour and, like most fermented vegetables, very healthy. Apart from being served as a side dish, kimchi (matured one) is used in fried rice, stew and soups. 

Many vegetables can be made into kimchi, but Napa cabbage is the most popular and from my experience it can be kept in the fridge even for a year. I have already prepared daikon (white radish) kimchi, celery kimchi, white cabbage kimchi and cucumber kimchi which is my number one in the summer because it’s refreshing and particularly good when young, i.e. one or two weeks old. 

If you don’t have Armenian cucumber, you might like one of these versions of kimchi:

Easy Cucumber Kimchi (Oi Kimchi)

Bok choy/Pak choy kimchi

Mak Kimchi (Easy Napa Cabbage Kimchi)

White Radish Kimchi (Kkakdugi)

Celery Kimchi

TIPS: If you make kimchi for the first time, make sure you find Korean chilli flakes. Powdered chilli of any other origin will not do here unfortunately. You probably won’t have any problems finding the remaining ingredients (I use Thaï fish sauce, which is available in practically all the Asian shops).

If your kimchi grows mould or has an weird smell after fermenting (though sometimes to recognise it you must be familiar with the normal kimchi smell…), it means the container is not airtight. Apart from special kimchi containers, I strongly recommend Lock&Lock containers, which are airtight, keep for years and are BPA free. They are available all around the world, I think (I buy them online though).

This kimchi is quite versatile: it can be eaten straight away as a kind of spicy side-dish or fermented for two days and kept for a long time in the fridge (see below).

Do not peel Armenian cucumbers. The skin is very thin, delicious and probably packed with fibers.

Carrot is optional. I add it from time to time. Toasted sesame seeds are also optional. You can add them while preparing kimchi or just before serving.

Preparation: 45 minutes + chilling time or, if you ferment it, minimum 1 week

Ingredients:

500 g (about 2 lb) Armenian cucumber

1 tablespoon coarse salt

1-2 teaspoons garlic (grated or crushed)

1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

3-4 heaped tablespoons Korean chili flakes

1 tablespoon fish sauce

3 green onion stalks, cut into 2 cm pieces

(1 small carrot, julienned)

(toasted sesame seeds)

Cut the cucumber in two lengthwise. Remove the seeds with a special spoon or simply scratch this soft part with a spoon.  Then cut the pieces once more in two lengthwise and then into thick slices.

Sprinkle the cucumber pieces with salt and leave them for 30 minutes.

Drain the cucumber, but do not rinse it.

Add all the seasoning ingredients and combine with the cucumber.

Wait for 20-30 minutes and serve straight away (chilled) or leave for two days in an airtight jar or other non-reactive container to ferment in room temperature and then keep in the fridge for months.

If you decide to ferment them, after placing the cucumber mixture in a container, rinse the bowl in which you have mixed it with about 100 ml water and pour it over the tightly packed cucumber chunks.

 

Korean Mung Bean Pancake with Ground Meat and Kimchi

A very kind friend has recently offered me Our Korean Kitchen, a beautifully illustrated home cookery book written by Jordan Bourke and Rejina Pyo, an Irish-Korean couple. It’s not my first Korean cookery book, but in this one everything looks appetising and effortless at the same time, so I couldn’t wait more than one day to put it into practice. A mung bean-based pancake batter sounded  particularly intriguing, quite different from all the Korean dishes I know and I happened to have every single ingredient, so the choice was easy. The pancake was rich and filling, but didn’t feel heavy at all and I loved the idea of a healthier, not wheat flour- but bean-based pancake. It might not look very exciting, but I promise it was absolutely delicious!

As usually, I have slightly modified the recipe (e.g. used a mixture of pork & beef I prefer instead of beef alone or adding baking powder), so check the original recipe in Our Korean Kitchen which is a fantastic source to have a peek into easy and delicious Korean home cooking.

TIPS: Dried mung beans are small, have a green khaki colour and are slightly oval in shape. They can be found now in many “normal” supermarkets, but you can look for them in organic or Asian shops, and of course, online.

The cooking process is really easy, though you have to plan the pancake a day ahead (the beans must be soaked overnight) or at least in the morning, if you want to have the pancake for the dinner. The only tricky part is frying this thick pancake without burning it and without leaving it raw inside (especially if you use pork or chicken). I did it on low heat with a cover on so that the top of the pancake cooked a bit too before the flipping over.

The baking powder is my own idea because I believe it makes such a filling pancake a bit fluffier (it does the same to the Japanese okonomiyaki). You can skip it of course.

The whole batter (apart from the meat) can be made ahead and wait one or two days in the fridge before the addition of meat and frying process.

The recipe calls for chopped kimchi (preferably from an old batch), but if you don’t have it, you can add some Korean medium-hot powdered chilli, an additional crushed garlic clove and an equal amount of a chopped cucumber, courgette or bok choy. It won’t really be a substitution, but it will lighten the pancake and add some spicy kick to it.

Even though this recipe calls for minced meat, I can easily imagine other proteins such as shrimp, mushrooms or cheese… and why not some vegetables ?

Preparation: about 40 minutes+overnight (beans soaking time)

Ingredients (serves two if eaten with several kinds of pickles and/or a green salad):

150g/about 5.3 oz mung beans

100g/3.5 oz Chinese cabbage kimchi (at least several weeks old) + 2 tablespoons kimchi juice

50 g-60g/about 1.7-2.1 oz minced meat (I have used pork and beef, but you can use any meat of your choice) mixed with 1/4 teaspoon salt

2 garlic cloves, crushed

several tablespoons of spring onion leaves, chopped + some more to sprinkle on top before serving

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce (or less if you use normal soy sauce)

1 cm/0.4 in grated fresh ginger

2 tablespoons glutinous rice flour or wheat flour

1 flat teaspoon baking powder

(sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds or Japanese garlic and chilli oil)

Soak the beans overnight.

Drain them and mix in a food processor with the kimchi juice,  adding some water (about 50 – 70 ml) until you obtain a thick batter. (My batter was quite smooth, but it had still some bits of mung beans and I liked it a lot).

Combine with the remaining ingredients (apart from the sesame oil or taberu rayu, if using).

Heat some oil in a pan and spread a 1.5cm – 2 cm layer of batter (you might need to adapt the pan’s size, but don’t make the pancake too thin, 1.5 cm is a minimum; I have used the smallest pan I have).

Cover the pan and fry the pancake at low heat until it becomes golden brown at the bottom. It took me about ten minutes.

Flip the pancake over and increase the heat to medium.

Fry the second side for about 5 minutes (check with a fork if the batter is fully cooked, especially the meat).

Repeat the frying process with the remaining batter.

Serve cut up into pieces (if eating with chopsticks), with some green onion, sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds on top. I thought it was fantastic with some Japanese garlic and chilli oil (taberu rayu).

 

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.

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.