Baby Spinach Salad with Sesame Seeds

spinachsalad_Recently I have been leafing through my old recipe notebook I had used for long years before the existence of this blog. I was surprised – and even shocked – to see so many fantastic but forgotten recipes. This simple salad of Asian inspiration is one of the many dishes I regret not having made for such a long time. I have no idea when and where I found this recipe, but I remember I used to prepare it already ten years ago. At the time raw spinach leaves were a completely novelty to me and most people I knew, not to mention toasted sesame seeds or the presence of soy sauce in the vinaigrette. All this made such a salad appear utterly exotic. Nowadays, raw young spinach leaves seem as natural as a lettuce, while sesame seeds and soy sauce have become a staple in my kitchen, but I’m glad I dug out this old recipe because I still enjoy the mixture of flavours as much as I did ten years ago.

TIPS:

When I prepared this salad ten years ago I certainly didn’t have rice vinegar or sesame oil, but since now I use both products regularly, I wanted to see if they would improve the taste. And they did. If you don’t have either of them, use any oil you like and any vinegar you have.

It is very important to toast the sesame seeds just before sprinkling them onto spinach leaves. It improves the flavours greatly and adds a lovely toasted aroma “old” toasted seeds no longer give.

The ratio of the vinaigrette’s ingredients is the one I prefer. Taste it and adjust to your own preferences (obviously, if using normal soy sauce, you might prefer to use a smaller amount).

Preparation: 15 minutes

Ingredients (serves two):

2 big handfuls of young (baby) spinach leaves

1 tablespoon (or more) white sesame seeds (not toasted)

Sesame vinaigrette:

low sodium soy sauce+sesame oil+rice vinegar in 1:1:1 ratio

freshly ground black pepper

Wash and dry the spinach leaves.

Place the sesame seeds at the bottom of a clean pan.

Warm the pan at low heat and when the seeds start to pop, cover the pan, wait ten more seconds and put aside.

Place the spinach leaves in a big bowl.

Pour the vinaigrette on them and stir delicately, coating all the leaves.

Transfer to a serving bowl.

Sprinkle with freshly toasted sesame seeds and serve.

Light Chicken Terrine with Green Peppercorns

pasztet3_

As a child I always liked Christmas celebrations but only because of the presents. When it came to food, Easter was my happiest festive time. Contrary to Polish fish-centred and vegetarian Christmas, Easter menus offered a bigger choice of dishes, including crazy amounts of eggs to indulge in (even when they were still considered unhealthy…) and homemade cold meats, pâtés or terrines. The approaching Easter is the perfect excuse to make my beloved chicken terrine I have recently modified by the addition of green peppercorns.

If you know French-style pâtés or terrines, I must explain how this Polish product differs from them, especially since French terms are used in English. First of all, both French pâtés and meat terrines are usually made with raw meat, while Polish terrine is baked with precooked meats. Another difference is the texture: while French products have a harsh texture (terrines have even very big chunks), Polish terrines are very smooth because everything is mixed or finely ground before being baked. Seasonings vary between cooks, but nutmeg is almost always present and its smell during the baking process always puts me in a festive mood.

I always hesitate about the name I should give this Polish product, but I think the chicken version should be called “terrine”, since I’ve never see chicken pâtés apart from those baked in pastry crust (“pâté en croûte”). To be frank, the difference between French “pâté” and “terrine” is quite blurry and even though there are some “strict” cases, one butcher can name “terrine” what another one labels as “pâté”. I must add here that, contrary to what is thought abroad, only a minority of French pâtés are made exclusively with liver, acting usually as secondary ingredient; most people are actually not fond of 100% liver pâtés and these are always called “pâté de foie” to differentiate them from “normal” pâtés (obviously, foie gras terrine is the exception, but it’s never called “pâté” anyway). “Terrine” is a very similar product, but with a broader meaning: apart from meat or/and liver, it can also be made with fish, seafood, vegetables or even fruit or chocolate (when served as a dessert). Terrine is usually prepared in a rectangular dish (called… “terrine”) and can be very light if made with seafood or chicken (for example “bound together” with jelly instead of fat or simply pressed).

Going back to the Polish terrine, I have been modifying my mum’s recipe for years and nowadays I usually prepare my terrine with chicken.  Shopping is easier and the result is lighter, so I can indulge in it without remorses. I have already posted here the basic poultry terrine recipe and this one is almost identical apart from the addition of pickled green peppercorns, which add a spicy kick. I have been eating French duck terrines and pork pâtés with green peppercorns for years, hence my idea to spice up the Polish terrine the same way.

The preparation is long, but very simple. Once it has cooled down, the pâté/terrine can be kept in the fridge for about one week or frozen until the day we want to use it, so if you make it for a bigger family, it’s worth preparing a double or triple batch. It can be served as a starter, as a snack, on small canapés or crackers and it goes particularly well with all kinds of pickles (pepper, chilli, gherkins, onions, beetroots and even kimchi!) and cranberry or bilberry jam/sauce. Personally I love it with a fiery horseradish sauce and/or my Pickled Sweet Peppers.

If you don’t like green peppercorns, you might like this basic milder version:

patepp

TIPS: As the recipe title suggests, nutmeg is the main seasoning, so unless you hate it, do not skip it (at least for the first time). Every time I tried omitting it and putting other seasonings instead, I was very disappointed. Do use freshly grated nutmeg because it loses its aroma very quickly.

The choice of lean poultry (chicken or turkey) unfortunately means a slightly less juicier terrine than the one made with pork and/or beef, since fat is absent. It doesn’t bother me at all, but if you do want to make sure it’s slightly fatty, add about 10 tablespoons of chicken or duck fat into the mixture before baking.

This terrine/pâté can be frozen in big or small portions and even though the crust will not be crunchy, the taste will stay more or less the same.

You can use either deboned, skinless turkey or chicken cuts or a whole small chicken. The latter version will of course take a bit more time, but it can prove cheaper. If you want, you can skin the chicken before the first, cooking stage. This way the stock you add to the pâté will be less fatty.

Preparation: 2,5 – 3 hours + cooling time

Ingredients (fills a 20 cm x 10 cm baking tin):

500 g/about 20 oz chicken breast, or a mixture of leg and breast meat or a whole small chicken (you can also use turkey cuts)

green part of 1 leek

1 parsley root or a couple of parsley branches

1/4 celeriac or 2 branches celery

1 big carrot

1 medium onion

100 g/about 4 oz chicken livers

2 slices white, sandwich bread

1/4 nutmeg (freshly grated)

3 heaped tablespoons semolina

2 teaspoons green pickled pepper corns

pepper, salt

2 eggs

2-3 tablespoons oil or duck fat

(dry breadcrumbs)

If you use a whole chicken, place it in a big pan filled with water. If you want, you can skin it beforehand. Add the carrot, the halved onion, the leek, the celeriac and the parsley. Season with salt and pepper and cook on a medium heat until the meat well cooked. The whole chicken will take much more time than cut up meat.

If you use separate meat cuts, cut the meat into equal chunks. Put them in a pan filled with water. Add the carrot, the halved onion, the leek, the celeriac and the parsley. Season with salt and pepper and cook on a medium heat until the carrot is very soft and the meat well cooked.

When the meat or the chicken are cooked, remove them from the stock and wait until they cool down.

Pour 500 ml/about 17 fl oz of the stock into a small pan and cook the livers for 15 minutes.

Put the livers aside.

Place delicately the bread slices in the stock remaining after the livers have been cooked and let them soak for one minute.

Put the livers, the meat (if you use the whole chicken, remove the meat from the carcass, making sure there are no bones or skin), the soaked bread, the carrot and the parsley root (discard the branches) in a food processor and mix into a smooth paste. (Do not throw away the stock in which the meat was cooked!).

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Put the mixed meat into a bowl.

Add the nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper and taste if there is enough salt (this is the best moment to taste; afterwards tasting might be a bit unpleasant with raw eggs and semolina). Be generous with ground black pepper: this poultry version tends to be a bit bland compared to the pork pâté for example, so freshly ground black pepper gives it more character.

Stir in the eggs, the semolina and about 125 ml (1/2 cup) of the stock in which the meat was cooked at the beginning.

Mix well with a spoon.

Line a baking tin with baking paper or grease it and sprinkle with breadcrumbs.

Spoon the terrine mixture into the baking tin, smooth the surface with a spoon and sprinkle it with oil or melted duck fat.

Bake about one hour until the top is golden brown and don’t pay attention to the unpleasant smell from the oven (it will be irresistible once the terrine has cooled down).

After it cools down either freeze it or keep it refrigerated (tightly wrapped in cling film) for one week.

Vietnamese Salad with Kohlrabi (or Mock Green Papaya Salad)

mockpapaya_Raw kohlrabi sticks have been my favourite healthy snack since early childhood. As an adult I tasted cooked kolhrabi and it was so awful, losing its refreshing crunchiness and delicate flavours, I was completely put off trying to incorporate it into any dish, even cold. When I saw Shu Han (from Mummy I can cook) make Thai salad with kolhrabi instead of the customary green papaya I found the idea extremely tempting, but then completely forgot about it. Luckily, kohlrabi is available most of the year, so it’s – almost – always a good moment to experiment.

If you have never bought kohlrabi, apparently also called “German turnip” or turnip cabbage”, it does look a bit like a big turnip, but has light green smooth skin and when you peel it and taste it, it might make you think of an extremely delicately flavoured radish (though if you wait too long after peeling, kohlrabi will start smelling a bit cabbagy). Some people cook it, but personally I think it’s the worst thing one can do with this vegetable. It loses its unusual freshness and becomes similar to any turnip really.  It also loses its precious vitamin C and maybe other healthy elements too.

Shu Han made a Thai green papaya salad. I made a Vietnamese one. Both are a bit similar and probably equally good (I have never tasted the Thai version). The famous Vietnamese green papaya salad is very simple to prepare, especially if you skip, like me, dried beef and fried shallots. Just like I do when making it with green papaya (see the post here), I followed the recipe from “Vietnamese Street Food” by Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl and I hope it’s at least close to the genuine thing.

While tasting this mock green papaya salad I was surprised to see how small the difference was. The kolhrabi is maybe slightly sweeter and less dense in texture, but otherwise I didn’t think it spoilt the original recipe in any way and I certainly liked it as much as the real thing. Thanks to this modification I was thrilled to use local organic vegetables instead of produce pumped with pesticides and probably also sprayed for transportation… (one of the reasons I try not to buy green papaya too often). Thank you so much, Shu Han, for this excellent idea!

TIPS: When buying kolhrabi, try to choose the one with the smoothest skin and don’t take the biggest specimens. The smaller it is and the smoothest the skin, the juicier and the crunchier it will be.

If you prepare the sauce in advance, bear in mind it becomes hotter with time. It also loses the lime’s fresh aroma, but keeps its acidity of course.

Preparation: 15 minutes

Ingredients (serves 2 as a side dish):

1 medium kolhrabi

a big handful of soybean/mung bean sprouts

3 Asian spring onions (white and whiteish parts only) or 1 Asian shallot (advised in the original recipe)

1 heaped tablespoon toasted and roughly crushed peanuts

1 heaped tablespoon fried onion/shallot (I have skipped it)

leaves from 4 branches of coriander

Sauce:

1 small bird’s-eye-chili, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, thinly sliced

2 flat tablespoons sugar or Agave syrup

1 tablespoon fish sauce

juice from 1/2 lime

(shredded dried beef)

Peel the kohlrabi and cut it into long matchstick threads or julienne it (a julienne peeler is the best tool here).

Combine it with the sprouts (you can cut them in two), chopped spring onions and coriander leaves.

Mix the sauce ingredients and pour them over the vegetables.

Stir well, sprinkle with peanuts and serve.

Chawan Mushi (Japanese Egg Custard) with Grilled Eringi Mushrooms

chawan_geringiI have written so much about this Japanese savoury custard, I don’t really know where to start…  I am still under its charm and my recently bought steamer set increased the frequency of my chawan mushi meals. Thanks to its incredible lightness, no matter how often I have chawan mushi, I don’t need to feel guilty, count calories or cut down on fats…  I simply enjoy it, playing with its ingredients as much as I want and share with you my most successful experiments, such as this one.

Mushrooms are among my favourite chawan mushi ingredients. If I have a choice among cultivated (the only ones available in spring), I would almost always pick eringi (also called king oyster mushrooms), which have a subtle taste and a meaty texture. I must have made at least a dozen of chawan mushi with them before realising I could improve immensely both the taste and the aroma by simply grilling them beforehand. Since the first time I tried this method I have never got back to “raw” version and I’m sure all the chawan mushi and/or eringi lovers would share my view.

For those who hear about chawan mushi (茶碗蒸し) for the first time, it is a light savoury egg and stock custard, steamed in individual cups. Chawan means “tea cup” and “mushi”  stands for “steamed”. I have fallen in love with it not only because it’s delicious and extremely light at the same time, but also because it’s one of the most versatile dishes I imagine. I have never managed to source the ingredients necessary to make the traditional version, but almost all the version I make up end up delicious. I definitely prefer it made with chicken or vegetable stock rather than the Japanese dashi. (The chicken stock version was suggested by renowned Shizuo Tsuji in “The Japanese Cooking. A Simple Art”, the source of this custard recipe, so I feel entitled to say this without feeling I spoil it). 

Here are some proofs of my big passion for this fantastic dish and, as you see, for these particular cups because I love them so much I cannot make myself use any other model… (the shrimp chawan mushi photograph was taken before I bought them):

Chawan Mushi (Egg Custard) with Asparagus

Chawan Mushi (Egg Custard) with Asparagus

Shungiku no Chawan Mushi (Egg Custard with Chrysanthemum Leaves)

Shungiku no Chawan Mushi (Egg Custard with Chrysanthemum Leaves)

Chawan Mushi with Shrimp and Green Peas

Chawan Mushi with Shrimp and Green Peas

Chawan Mushi with Chicken and Thai Basil (Horapha)

Chawan Mushi with Chicken and Thai Basil (Horapha)

Chawan Mushi with Chanterelle

Chawan Mushi with Chanterelle

TIPS: You can make this custard only with eringi or reduce their amount and add some chicken breast (marinate its bite-sized pieces in sake, if possible, for ten minutes). I often do it.

As I have mentioned above, I prefer by far chicken stock rather than Japanese seaweed and dried bonito dashi, but you can use whichever you prefer. Obviously, homemade chicken stock is the best here since, contrary to more elaborate dishes, you do feel its taste clearly here.

Even though chawan mushi is easier to prepare in a steamer, Shizuo Tsuji’s suggestion to use a water bath in the oven gives excellent results, if you don’t have a steamer. (I have been preparing it for years in the oven).

If you don’t have a nearby Japanese grocery shop, individual, but high heatproof cups may be difficult to get. First, I found very good ones at IKEA (even though without lids, which can be substituted with tightly wrapped aluminium foil), but as soon as I got hold of the beautiful Japanese chawan mushi cups you see above, I stopped using the old ones. You can also use ramekins or mini-soufflé dishes, tightly covered with aluminium foil of course..

Chawan mushi can be served with a salad and bread (or rice and pickles) as a light main course, but it’s also a fantastic starter, a delicious breakfast or snack for any time of the day.

Chawan mushi can be reheated in a microwave. Depending on the ingredients it will lose more or less of its flavours, but it’s still delicious and handy as a quick snack or breakfast.

Mistuba is the traditional herb used in chawan mushi. It goes perfectly practically with every version of this dish, but if you cannot get it, use green onion, chives or any fresh herb that you like (or nothing).

A pinch of turmeric is my own invention. It doesn’t really change the taste, but it does bring a yellower hue if your eggs are pale (quite normal at this time of the year…). I haven’t added it here, but if you want to make your chawan mushi brighter, try adding turmeric.

I find taberu rayu (thick chilli and garlic oil) a perfect company for chawan mushi, so if you like hot dishes, I advise putting some of it on top (or actually any chilli oil).

Special equipment:

individual heatproof cups (at least 6 cm high, mine were 6,5 cm high, with a 7,5 cm diameter) with lids or without lids + aluminium foil to cover them

Preparation: 45 minutes

Ingredients (yields 4 cups):

1 tablespoon oil 

300 g/about1/2 lb eringi mushrooms (or 200 g eringi and 150 g chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces, then marinated in sake for ten minutes)

salt, freshly ground pepper

(a pinch of turmeric)

(mitsuba leaves or green onion or other fresh herbs)

Custard:

2 eggs

300 ml/about 10 oz homemade chicken stock or, if you are a vegetarian, a vegetable stock (normally I would say you can use also dashithe Japanese stock, but I believe here it will not enhance the chanterelle’s flavours) 

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sake or mirin (with mirin the custard will be slightly sweetish)

1 teaspoon soy sauce

Preheat the oven to 220°C (or prepare your steamer).

Slice the eringi. Cut bigger sliced into bite-sized pieces.

Heat the oil in a pan or on a grill and quickly grill the slices on both sides.

Season with salt and pepper.

Put aside.

If you use the hot water bath method boil a lot of water and prepare a big baking dish at least as high as the heatproof cups.

Mix the eggs very delicately in a bowl. In another bowl combine the chicken stock, salt (it depends on how salty your stock is), sake/mirin and soy sauce. Pour the stock mixture over the eggs and stir well, without beating.

Divide the mushrooms and the chicken breast equally into the four cups.

Strain the custard mixture and pour into the garnished cups (make sure there is at least 1 cm free space at the top because the custards will slightly rise).

Cover the cups with aluminium foil or the lids if you have special cups with lids.

If you use the oven, place the cups in a big baking dish. Fill the dish with hot water (not boiling). The water should arrive up till 3/4 of the cups’ height.

Put the dish in the oven and let the custards bake for 15-20 minutes until they are wobbly but already set.

If you use a steamer, steam for about 20 minutes. Check with a toothpick if the custard is set below the surface.

Garnish with fresh herbs.

Serve hot or cold with bread/toast for breakfast, with a salad for a lunch, as a snack or as a starter. If you like chilli, I find chawan mushi excellent with chili oil (especially the Japanese thick chilli oil: taberu rayu).

Open Omurice with Hot Gochujang Sauce and Mushrooms

omurice_My favourite omelette is the French-style, rugby ball-shaped fluffy one, which apparently gives a very clear idea of a professional chef’s skills. I often order it for lunch in France, but I haven’t mastered it yet, so whenever I make an omelette, it has to be the easiest flat one. The famous Japanese omurice (fried rice with an omelette) has two main versions: rice wrapped into a round thin omelette or topped with the fluffy thick one. I was glad to discover that Japanese Soul Cooking, from which I sourced my very first omurice, features the former version. Yesterday I decided to “koreanise” it a bit and replaced the customary ketchup with hot gochujang sauce. It proved such a great idea, I couldn’t wait to share it with you. Actually, I think I will never go back to the standard mild omurice!

For those who have never heard about this dish, omurice/omuraisu (オムライス) belongs to “youshoku” (洋食), Japanised Western dishes, the category which includes such dishes as korokke (croquettes).  The dish was apparently invented in Tokyo at the beginning of the XXth century and its name is a contraction of “omelette” and “rice”. As I have mentioned, it consists of two parts: “chikin rice” (cooked rice, fried with chicken, onion and carrot, then seasoned with ketchup) and the omelette, either wrapped around the rice or made into a fluffy shape and put on top. Whatever the version, the dish is served either with more ketchup on top or with a generous amount of demi-glace sauce.

The omurice where fluffy soft omelette served on top of the rice is often called “Tampopo omurice”, with reference to the legendary Japanese film “Tampopo” (if you like Japanese cuisine, you must see it, not only because of omurice!). See the beautiful Hiroyuki’s Tampopo omurice here.

I have never tasted omurice in Japan and while preparing my first homemade version I was afraid double presence of ketchup would spoil the rather promising result, but maybe because I’ve used my own homemade ketchup, I found it surprisingly good. On one hand, I was thrilled to discover another egg dish in my long collection, but at the same time this way of using leftover rice is a nice alternative for fried rice or rice-based salads I’ve been making for years.

Apart from the gochujang sauce, I have also changed the “chikin rice” ingredients, skipping the carrot and peas and replacing them with mushrooms. As you see above, I have also made too much “stuffing” to close the omelette properly (by “properly closed” I mean something like Nami’s perfect Omurice you can admire here), so I named it “open” 😉  If you want to follow the original recipe, I invite you to buy the wonderful Japanese Soul Cooking by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat.

TIPS: If you are don’t like ginger, you can skip it and the gochujang sauce will be equally good (I liked it here though; it added a nice fresh kick).

Egg dishes get cold very quickly, so I strongly advise serving omurice on a warmed plate (heated in the oven, set at lowest temperature).

Whenever using leftover cooked rice I always warm it a bit in the microwave. Thus grains are easier to separate.

Preparation: about 30 minutes

Ingredients (serves one):

1/4 chicken breast

3 medium or big button mushrooms (called cremini, when dark)

1 small onion or shallot

3 heaped tablespoons steamed Japanese rice

3 tablespoons chicken stock

oil

Omelette:

2 eggs

3 tablespoons of milk or cream

salt, pepper

Gochujang sauce:

2 tablespoons gochujang

1 tablespoon sake

1 tablespoon honey or syrup

1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce or 1 teaspoon normal soy sauce

1 garlic clove, crushed or grated

(1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger)

toasted sesame seeds

Cut the chicken and the mushrooms into small pieces.

Slice the onion finely.

Put a bowl and a plate to warm in a cool oven (set at lowest temperature).

Fry the chicken bits, the onion and the mushrooms.

Add the rice, the gochujang sauce and the stock.

Simmer at low heat until everything is hot (make the liquids thicken if the sauce is not thick enough).

Place the rice mixture into the warm bowl and keep in the oven until needed.

Prepare the omelette mixture.

Heat some oil in a pan and fry the omelette, destroying the bubbles which will form.

When the top of the omelette is almost set, put the pan aside.

Place the omelette on the heated plate.

Place the rice stuffing at the half of the omelette. (You can also do it in the pan but I found the transferring process very difficult).

Cover it with the other half, spread some gochujang sauce on top and sprinkle with sesame seeds.