Indian Squid Curry

squid_currypI grew up without the slightest idea of what squid tasted like and when I finally had a chance to eat it, I fell in love with its delicate flavours and addictive texture. Simply grilled, served in a Thai salad or Korean stir-fried dish, squid never disappoints me. This curry was no exception: it was simply sensational and made me very keen on learning more Indian seafood dishes.

As I have already mentioned while writing about Chicken Vindail, I have been totally hooked on Rick Stein’s India. In Search of the Perfect Curry, which is one of the best cookery books I have ever owned (and I include here all the national cuisines). This curry has immediately caught my eye not only because I love squid, but also because it is the last thing I expected to see in an Indian cookery book (and I have never seen squid on the menu of any Indian restaurant in Europe). It turned out so excellent and so perfectly paired with squid, I still find it difficult to imagine how such an extraordinary recipe can come from Karkera Canteen in Fort Mumbai and not from an elegant expensive restaurant.

I have slightly modified certain ingredients’ amounts and used coconut milk instead of grated fresh coconut, so I strongly invite you to check Rick Stein’s wonderful book for the original recipe and also to discover other fabulous Indian recipes.

TIPS: Do not increase the amounts of any spices (except for chilli), at least for the first time, otherwise you might end up with a slightly bitter sauce.

Preparation: about 30 minutes

Ingredients (serves two):

Masala paste:

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

5 cloves garlic (peeled)

3 fresh red chillies

1 teaspoon powdered turmeric

100 ml/about 1.4 fl oz coconut milk or cream (or, if you can use fresh or frozen grated coconut, combine 50 g of it with 50 ml water)

400 g/about 14 oz cleaned (thawed if using frozen) squid

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1 small onion, sliced

5 garlic cloves, sliced

3 cm ginger, grated into a pulp

2 fresh green chillies, sliced

1/2 Kashmiri chilli powder (or any chilli powder you have)

1 small tomato, chopped (skinned or not)

1 teaspoon salt

3 cm tamarind block piece

1 teaspoon  jaggery or 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar (not the coloured one!)

fresh coriander leaves, chopped

Pour 50 ml hot water it onto the tamarind piece. Leave for fifteen minutes. (In the meantime start preparing the masala paste and the curry). After this time, mix it well and strain leaving the seeds.

Prepare the squid.

Either cut it into rings (the author’s suggestion) or (the way I prefer squid): make a big vertical cut through the body, spreading it flat and score it diagonally in two directions, on the interior side. Cut the squid into long 2 cm thick strips. Then cut the strips and tentacles into bite-sized pieces.

Put aside.

Prepare the masala paste. Grind all the seeds into a powder in a spice or coffee grinder (you can of course use a pestle and mortar). Add the remaining ingredients and mix well in a food processor (baby food processor is very useful for such pastes).

Heat the oil and fry mustard seeds at medium heat until they start popping. Add the onion and stir-fry it for five minutes. Add the garlic, the ginger, the green chilli and fry for one minute. Finally, add the masala paste, the squid, the chilli powder, the tomato, salt and simmer for 3 minutes until the squid is cooked (i.e. no longer translucent). Add the tamarind water and sugar. Heat for 30 seconds.

Serve sprinkled with coriander leaves.



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).