Greek Yogurt and Summer Vegetable Mezé/Spread

greek_mezepBrowsing through Katerina’s inspiring Culinary Flavors and looking for meat meal ideas, I saw these gorgeous souvlaki. I thought they would be my next meal, but then I noticed the yogurt mezé Katerina posted along the souvlaki recipe and… ended up making only this cooling side-dish (the skewers are still bookmarked though!). I like practically every yogurt spread/sauce I know, but this one has really surprised me with its complexity and its addictive side: once you start eating it, you will find it very hard to stop. If you plan it as a side-dish, prepare a double batch because you might easily end up with an empty bowl before you even serve the meal.

Contrary to the more famous – but equally delicious – tzatziki, this chunky mezé is not quick or effortless, but the final result is well worth it. Baked or grilled aubergine and pepper, olive-oil stir-fried tomato, thick yogurt and vinegar create together interesting flavours I didn’t really expect. It will keep in the fridge for a couple of days and I think it can be used in a very versatile way. In fact, it makes an excellent bread/cracker spread! I love it on thin crisp bread, both for breakfast and as an all-day snack (instead of the usual fresh goat cheese). It’s a perfect summer dish not only because it’s extremely cooling, but also because the vegetables it includes are now at their best. Thank you so much, Katerina, for making me discover one more delicious Greek treat!

Instead of Greek yogurt I have used smooth fresh cheese (aka quark). I have also slightly changed the amounts of ingredients, so make sure you check the original recipe at Culinary Flavors, an extremely creative blog full of inspiring Greek and international dishes.

TIP: The vegetables should be baked here, but if you prefer grilling them delicately, I’m sure the result will be equally good. Just make sure they are not scorched or the mezé will become bitter.

If you don’t have Greek yogurt, you can use smooth fresh cheese (quark) or any natural yogurt.

Preparation: about 1 hour + several hours in the fridge

Ingredients (serves two as a sauce/side dish with grilled meat):

1 small Western aubergine (or a medium Asian aubergine)

1 medium sweet pepper or bell pepper (I have used here light yellow long pepper and Katerina advised green pepper)

1 small tomato

1 teaspoon olive oil+some to brush vegetables before baking

250 ml (about 1 cup) Greek yogurt or smooth fresh cheese/quark or any natural yogurt

1 tablespoon vinegar (I’ve used Sherry vinegar)

1 big garlic clove, crushed

salt, pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Cut up the aubergine and the pepper into cubes (mine were roughly 1x1cm squares).

Sprinkles with salt and brush with olive oil.

Bake for about 15 minutes or more (until soft).

In the meantime remove the tomato seeds (you can also skin it if you don’t like skin, but putting it into boiling water for 30 seconds and then into a bowl with cold water).

Cut up the tomato into similarly-sized pieces.

Heat some oil in a pan and stir-fry the tomato for one minute until it softens a bit.

Put aside on a strainer to get rid of juices.

Let the baked vegetables cool down.

Combine the yogurt or quark with crushed garlic, add the cooled vegetables, season with vinegar, salt and pepper.

Refrigerate for a couple of hours.

Wobbly Astringent Matcha Dessert with Agar

matcha_agarpThe weather during my first two September trips to Japan was surprisingly hot and the humidity level unusually high, especially for a European. I soon discovered the best remedy: cold green tea from vending machines. I also quickly learnt to recognise the better-quality Japanese tea bottles and drank liters of this soothing beverage every day. Last week we experienced several particularly hot days and somehow it brought back the memories of green tea’s soothing power. This is how I decided to make this simple, light and quick dessert. Sharp-flavoured and highly astringent, this is probably a treat for matcha fans only, but if you are one of them, I hope you will like it as much as I did.

For those who have never heard about agar/agar-agar/kanten, it is a gelatinous substance obtained from certain seaweed varieties, usually sold in a form of powder or in long sticks (I always use the powdered form which seems easier to handle). It has been used by food industry all around the world and has been gaining popularity in Western households probably thanks to its vegetable origins and to its health benefits. In fact agar-agar contains water soluble agents, which help digestion and are considered excellent in slimming diets. Even though some people say agar-agar is a gelatin equivalent, I cannot agree with it. It sets food in a different way.

If you like matcha desserts, you might find some of these interesting:

Moist Poppy Cake with Matcha Ganache

Moist Poppy Cake with Matcha Ganache

Light Matcha Cream

Light Matcha Cream

Light Matcha Crème Brûlée

Light Matcha Crème Brûlée

Matcha and Coconut Wobbly Cream

Matcha and Coconut Wobbly Cream

Matcha and Oat Truffles

Matcha and Oat Truffles

Matcha and White Chocolate Truffles

Matcha and White Chocolate Truffles

And if you wonder what to do with agar…

Coconut and Strawberry Wobbly Cream with Agar

Coconut and Strawberry Wobbly Cream with Agar

Light Almond Cream with Plums

Light Almond Cream with Plums

Coffee and Coconut Wobbly Cream with Agar

Coffee and Coconut Wobbly Cream with Agar

Matcha and Coconut Wobbly Cream

Matcha and Coconut Wobbly Cream

Wobbly Rhubarb Delight

Wobbly Rhubarb Delight

Chocolate and Coconut Cream with Agar

Chocolate and Coconut Cream with Agar

Light Coconut Cream with Canned Peaches

Light Coconut Cream with Canned Peaches

Wobbly Cream with Pear and Lime Zest

Wobbly Cream with Pear and Lime Zest

TIPS: I wanted this dessert to be barely sweet, so it might not be sweet enough for most people. Taste the mixture just after adding matcha and adjust to your preferences.

If you have never used agar (aka kanten), beware: it’s very easy to overdose and you will end up with something a brick-hard block of inedible stuff. Every pinch counts, so measure it out with caution. Look closely at your agar package instructions. On mine 1/2 teaspoon is said to set 500 ml/2 cups liquid to a jelly. I use only 1/3 teaspoon and obtain a wobbly, “falling off the spoon” consistency. If you prefer a well-set jelly, use the amount advised on the package.

Do not wait until the liquid becomes cold before pouring it into serving glasses because agar sets at room temperature and once disturbed, it will not reset properly!

Sprinkle the dessert with pure matcha powder only if you are a huge fan. I did it but it makes the astringency level extremely high, so beware!

Preparation: about 15 minutes+ a couple of hours in the fridge

Ingredients (serves four):

500 ml (about two cups) water

2 flat teaspoons matcha powder

2 tablespoons sugar or honey or syrup

1/3 flat teaspoon pure agar powder (check the TIPS above to make sure you add a good amount of agar)

Pour the water into a pan.

Add the powdered agar and the sugar.

Bring to a boil, constantly stirring.

Add the matcha powder.

Simmer for about two minutes, still stirring.

Taste and add more sweetener if needed (heat for one more minute if you have added anything).

Mix in a food processor until matcha dissolves completely.

Pour into individual dishes and refrigerate for at least two hours.

The desserts will keep for several days in the fridge.

Just before serving you can add some coconut cream, whipped cream, sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar or some matcha powder, but the latter option will make the dessert even more astringent.

Grilled Aubergine with Miso Glaze (Nasu Dengaku なす田楽)

nasudengakupI must have seen this dish dozens or maybe hundreds of times in the past years but never tried making it. I haven’t had any occasion to taste it during my trips to Japan either, so I had no idea what to expect from it. I worried about the slight sweetness of the miso glaze, but it was just perfect to enhance the delicate slightly smokey flavours and soft texture of the aubergine. The process was surprisingly quick, easy and feasible even with my simple oven grill, so I think I have just found a new delicious summer vegetable side-dish.

I have learnt from my precious Japanese cuisine source (Japanese Cooking. A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji) that the word dengaku (田楽) comes from medieval public entertainment during agricultural festivals and celebrations. At the time “dengaku houshi” was the name given to dancers on tilts. Nowadays this words refers to grilled vegetables or tofu covered in a miso glaze, usually grilled on one thick skewer, reminiscent of these dancers. Shizuo Tsuji’s book contains two miso glaze types (red and white miso-based) and both call for egg yolks. Since the use of egg yolk requires a bigger batch of glaze, I decided to skip it (especially since most recipes found online didn’t mention it). Apart from this, I have also skipped sugar because I didn’t want my glaze to be excessively sweet. I have also mixed my white miso with black miso (I’m not fan of them separately, but they taste better together). Even such a modified aubergine/eggplant dengaku was fantastic. I encourage you to visit Shizuo Tsuji’s extraordinary book to check not only this recipe, but to learn much more about the world of Japanese cuisine.

TIPS: Use any miso you like. I have mixed here white and black, but you can use red miso too.

Adapt the sake, mirin and miso ratio to your taste.

It’s probably better to use Asian aubergine/eggplant here, but I had only the Western one (medium size) and the result was delicious too.

The thing I love about this recipe is that you can make it either on a real grill or under the oven grill/broiler or even on a pan. I found the oven broiler great not only because I simply don’t have an outside grill; it was also practical the second, glaze-grilling stage.

Preparation: about 30 minutes

Ingredients (serves two as a side dish):

1 medium Western aubergine cut in half lengthwise (or two Asian aubergines, cut likewise)

Miso glaze:

2 slightly heaped tablespoons red miso (or any other miso you have;I have mixed here white and black miso)

2 tablespoons dashi (Japanese stock) or water

1 tablespoon mirin (sweet cooking sake)

1 tablespoon sake (you can double the mirin content if you don’t have normal sake, but the result will be sweeter)

sesame oil

toasted sesame seeds, dry furikake, green herbs…

Make a criss-cross pattern over the interior part of the aubergine halves.

Preheat the grill (or the oven grill).

Brush the aubergine with oil just before grilling (on both sides).

Grill first the cut side until dark golden (not burnt!).

In the meantime heat the glaze ingredients, stirring until dissolved.

Flop the aubergine halves and grill on the skin side for max. 5 minutes.

Place the aubergine on baking paper, cut side up.

Brush with miso glaze.

Grill until the miso glaze start bubbling (it took me 3 minutes under the oven grill).

Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds or furikake or whatever you like.

Garlic Pickled in Miso (にんにくのみそ漬け)  

miso_garlicpOn Sunday, a week ago, I felt an urgent need to preserve something and since it was too early to pickle my staple yearly batch of peppers, chillies or tomatoes, I decided to do something new with the fresh tender garlic I had bought at the market. Leafing through the pickling book I bought last year in Japan (Japanese only) I proudly embarked on my very first miso zuke (miso pickling) adventure. The pickles should be ready to taste in a month’s time, so I cannot share with you my impressions yet, but since young garlic is quickly growing tougher, I thought I’d post it as soon as I can in case you want to experiment with softer garlic cloves too.

Many people associate Japanese pickling with short-term techniques, some requiring only one hour, but the Japanese world of preserves is very rich and apart from instant or short-term pickles (one to several days), there are a lot of long-term preserving methods, which require some patience, and this recipe is one of their best examples. Miso (fermented soy sauce paste, used in the famous miso soups) is often mixed with some other ingredients, creating a so called “miso bed” or marinade (misodoko), but my recipe called for miso alone. Vegetables are simply burrowed in the miso bed and fermentation process changes their taste. I haven’t tasted the results yet (I’ll update this post as soon as I do), but the garlic pickled in miso I tasted in Japan was sensational, so I hope I’ll like my experimental first batch too.

If this experiment works, it will be a memorable moment because it was also the first time I used a book bought last year in Japan (click here), driven by an ambitious decision to practice my reading and learn new recipes at the same time, obviously with a little help from my Japanese friends… I am a bit ashamed to say that it was the first time I tried a recipe from it, but such a simple one was a very encouraging start.

If you look for new ways to use miso, check WHAT TO DO WITH MISO? page featuring more than a dozen recipes.

TIPS: Young, soft garlic cloves are advised here, but older “standard” garlic keeps for longer, so if you want to keep your pickled garlic for many months, taking them out gradually, it’s maybe even better to use older specimens.  They might only take more time to “ripen” (according to what I read on internet, you should wait two months before tasting older garlic).

You can easily reuse this miso for next pickling batch or simply the way you would use “new” miso (soups, marinades, stir-fries). I wonder if the miso “bed” becomes garlicky… I hope it does! (I’ll update this information when the tasting time comes).

You can use any miso you have. I have used red miso here.

NOTE: In case you are wondering, the red spots you see at the photograph are not chilli flakes (surprising in my case… I know!), but red koji (“koji” is a mould used to ferment soybeans). The red koji’s presence is the reason why I brought this miso (it was the first time I saw such a miso), among others, from Japan. I don’t know if it’s thanks to red koji, but it’s excellent, so I will buy several packages next time. In case you travel to Japan, I have bought the miso in Mitsukoshi department store (Nihonbashi, Tokyo) and strongly recommend it.

Preparation: 5 minutes (ready to eat in one month)

Ingredients:

peeled garlic cloves (preferably young; if you use older garlic, cut off the tough ends too)

miso (without any additives; check well the ingredients!); an amount necessary to cover completely garlic cloves

Place a layer of miso in a jar or another glass or ceramic container with a lid (avoid plastic!).

Put the cloves over the miso (so that they don’t touch the bottom of the container) and cover with another layer of miso (you shouldn’t be able to see the garlic).

Squash well the miso with a spoon to make sure there are no air bubbles (I did it just after making this photographs, so the air bubbles you see were eliminated).

Place in a cool place (I have put it in the warmest place in the fridge) and taste after one month or minimum two, if you use older garlic.

Sichuanese Chicken Salad with Chilli Oil

chickenchillioilI always like being positively surprised by recipes I don’t expect much from, particularly if they are as simple as this one. You steam or boil a chicken breast, slice it, add some green onion, drizzle it with chilli oil sauce and you obtain a light, cooling summer dish with a spicy kick that completely transforms the delicate white meat. When I took the first bite I couldn’t believe such a complex taste can be obtained in such a short time, with so few ingredients and with hardly any effort.

This cold chicken dish that I have allowed myself to call a salad is another discovery from Sichuan Cookery by Fuchsia Dunlop, a book written with a huge passion for the culinary heritage of this Chinese region and full of fascinating recipes that always give delicious results. Sichuan Cookery contains several cold chicken dishes and I want to try them all this summer, so I simply started with the first on the list. I have slightly changed the amounts, so check her book to read the original recipe. Fuchsia Dunlop’s recipe doesn’t contain lots of oil (I still have reduced the amounts a bit…), but from what I see on internet, this Sichuanese cold chicken is often served literally drowned in oil. If you like this dish more greasy, feel free to adapt the oil sauce’s amount.

TIP: Since my homemade chilli oil (Japanese, but definitely Chinese-inspired Taberu Rayu) is made partly with sesame oil, I have used only chilli oil, but if your hot oil is different, make sure you add some sesame oil too. It makes a huge difference in taste.

If you don’t have chilli oil with sediment, it’s very easy to prepare its simplest version: pour very hot oil (not boiling!) over chilli powder or flakes and let it cool down. The oil with have more taste every day, but you can use it as soon as it is cold.

You can used here either boiled or steamed chicken breast or sliced meat from a whole chicken.

I find this salad very flexible: it is as good served with rice as it is with bread or any carb you choose (cold noodles, tortillas, crêpes…). It works perfectly as a “topping” in a bowl of green salad leaves and as a sandwich filling.

Fuchsia Dunlop says the chicken and onion bits should be equally sized, but as you can see, I haven’t managed to do it.

Since the oil goes immediately down to the bowl’s  bottom and you are left with sediment on top of chicken pieces, I would advise serving this dish on a flat plate or adding oil at the table.

Preparation: 5 minutes

Ingredients (serves one):

1 small chicken breast (boiled or steamed) or the equivalent of parts from a whole chicken, cooled and sliced diagonally

Sauce :

1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar (agave syrup or honey)

1 teaspoon chili oil with sediment (but if your oil is without sediment, just use your clear oil)

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil (or double the chilli oil amount if it contains sesame oil too)

1 spring onion, cut into bite-sized pieces

Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl stirring until the sugar is well dissolved (if using sugar).

Combine the sauce with the chicken and spring onion and serve.