Grilled, Soy Sauce-Marinated Vegetables (野菜の焼き漬け)

yakizukepIf you have planned time-consuming festive meals, this quick, made in advance side-dish might be what you look for, especially since, in spite of its exotic appearance, it goes perfectly with Western warm main courses and also cold meats. If found this simple recipe while leafing through my big Japanese pickling book and since these pickled vegetables (Yasai no yaki zuke) instantly reminded me of Sakana no nanban zuke, one of my favourite ways to elevate bland fish to unexpected levels of deliciousness, I made them instantly and, just like I had expected, enjoyed them greatly.

Just like the vinegared fish I’ve mentioned above, this side-dish is probably inspired by Western cuisines (grilling and then marinating doesn’t seem to be a traditional Japanese way of pickling), which means that in spite of the obvious Japanese touch (dashi+soy sauce), this side-dish can become a part of many meals from all around the world. I also find it an interesting alternative to Western-style pickles, such as gherkins, served with both a warm meal as well as a cold meat buffet.

Like always, I have slightly modified the ratio of ingredients, so if you want to read the original recipe (provided you can read Japanese), check this wonderful cookery book, one of the best buys for my kitchen library.

TIPS: According to the author, these vegetables should be consumed the same day, but I tried it one and then two days afterwards and they were still delicious, so I’m sure you can keep them for two days in the fridge (at least).

You can use here any vegetables you like, but they have to stay crunchy (aubergine is not a good option here in my opinion).

Preparation: 20 minutes + 2 hours in the fridge

Ingredients:

1 long celery branch

1 medium carrot

2 small fresh red chillies or 1 bigger (you can use dried, rehydrated chillies too)

3 big garlic cloves

Marinade:

125 ml dashi (Japanese stock; can be bought powdered but it can also be easily made either with dried bonito+konbu or only with konbu, check my recipe here)

3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

3 tablespoons 4,5% vinegar (if your vinegar is stronger, use less and taste)

Combine the marinade ingredients.

Cut the carrot into four lengthwise and then into 3-4 pieces.

Cut the celery branch into similarly sized pieces.

Cut the garlic cloves in two lengthwise (in order to obtain halves flat on one side).

Brush the vegetables with oil and grill in a pan or on a grill.

Turn them once when slightly scorched and put into a shallow dish.

(Garlic will be ready first, so take care of not burning it).

Cover with the marinade and put into the fridge for at least two hours.

These vegetables will keep for two days in the fridge. After three days they start losing flavours and become very hot.

Kimchi Stew with Chicken, Poached Egg and Konnyaku Noodles

kimchi_konnyaku_Just like every year when I go on my Japan holidays, I promised myself to keep on blogging from my hotel room and… once more somehow it didn’t work. I hope you will excuse me this long absence here and from my friends’ blogs. The trip was, as always, very enriching (especially since this time I made a short stop in Seoul too!), so I’m looking forward to sharing with you some of most recent food inspirations and discoveries in the future.

This loose interpretation of a kimchi soup is a delicious, filling but very light – or even diet! – dish I made several times before my holidays. It is not a traditional Korean recipe (especially since it contains Japanese products…), but in my opinion it shows very well the complexity matured old kimchi adds to hot dishes. In fact, the flavours are so rich, there is no need to have stock or even to think of any additional seasoning. Slightly spicy, slightly salty, tangy… the result is always perfect and the preparation effortless. Whether you add the konyaku (aka “zero calorie”) noodles or any other kind of noodles, the stew is delicious, warming and light. In short, perfect for cold days, especially when one isn’t keen on speding hours in the kitchen. Now that I’m back I sincerely regret having no more kimchi in the fridge…

If you have never heard about konnyaku (or shirataki) noodles, they are made from konjac (Amorphophallus konjac, also called devil’s tongue) by drying its corm, which is then reduced to flour and mixed with water to obtain a gelatinous substance, formed into noodles, blocks, “gnocchi”, ball-shaped products… all sold in plastic bags filled with water (although konnyaku powder also exists and can be added to drinks). Konnyaku products are all very rich in fiber and help digestion (they are called “broom for the stomach”… so don’t exaggerate and don’t have them for every single meal!). Due to their high water content konnyaku is known as “zero calorie”. All the derived products have become famous outside of Japan (especially among people who want to lose weight) and nowadays can be found in many “standard” shops too, but watch out: some have tofu, vegetable extracts or other ingredients added which might change their nutritional values. In this stew I have used udon-shaped konnyaku noodles, i.e. thicker and chewier (my favourite of all the konnyaku products)and you can perfectly replace them with normal udon or any noodles of your choice.

TIPS: If you have never used konnyaku products, take them out of their bag and rinse well. (Don’t be put off by the fishy smell. It will disappear.) Put the noodles (or any other konnyaku product) into a pan of boiling water and boil for 5 minutes. Rinse well under cold water and put aside. Now they are ready to be added to your stew or stir-fry.

The poached egg is not an obligatory item here of course, but as a big egg lover I was thrilled to discover dolsot (the Korean pot you see above) in which I can cook my soup, poach my egg and then bring to the table. In short, if you want the egg white to set in your soup, you will need either dolsot or a Japanese nabe dish or a small cast iron casserole/dutch oven (make sure it can be safely used on the stovetop, not only in the oven!).

If you don’t have any of these, I advise making the soup in a normal pan and poaching the egg in another one (or frying it), then adding it to the serving bowl. If you don’t mind the egg white being still wobbly and transparent, you can break the egg to your bowl just before serving.

You don’t have to stir-fry the chicken pieces, but I think it improves flavours of both the soup and the chicken meat.

Preparation: 20 minutes

Ingredients (serves one):

1 teaspoon oil

1/2 small chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 small onion or shallot, sliced

3-4 heaped tablespoons of old (very sour) kimchi, cut into pieces

some kimchi juice (depends on how hot you want your stew)

500 ml – 750 ml (about 2-3 cups) hot water

1/2 portion of konnyaku noodles, rinsed and parboiled (see the TIPS above) or a whole package if you manage to eat it

1/3 courgette, 1/2 small sweet pepper or any vegetables of your choice, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 egg

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

green onions, chives or edible chrysanthemum leaves (I used these here)

Heat the oil in your bowl or casserole.

Stir-fry the chicken pieces and the onion slices at medium heat until the chicken is half cooked.

Lower the heat and add the kimchi.

Stir fry for a minute.

Add the water and the noodles and let the soup simmer for ten minutes.

(TIP: If you want your vegetables soft, you can add them now, but if you want them to remain crunchy, add them at the same time you break the egg into the dish).

Afterwards, add the vegetables, make a “nest” in the middle of the dish and delicately break an egg into it.

Cover with a lid and cook until the egg white is half-set (it will continue cooking, so if you want your yolk to remain runny, take the dish off the stovetop at this stage).

Sprinkle with chives, green onion or edible chrysanthemum leaves and add a teasponful of sesame oil just before serving.

I have also sprinkled some furikake (Japanese rice topping) on top. You can use freshly ground black pepper instead or powdered chilli or shichimi togarashi (Japanese spicy seasoning).

Indian Roasted Cauliflower

indian_cauliflReceived in the morning, extensively bookmarked in the evening and put into practice – with a successful result – the following day: this is my idea of a well-chosen and highly promising cookery book. This is not the case of the majority of my buys, so I was thrilled when the recipe I tested barely 24 hours after opening Made in India: Cooked in Britain. Recipes from an Indian Family Kitchen by Meera Sodha proved fantastic. Simple, quick and perfect as a weekday side-dish, this roasted cauliflower is exactly what I had expected from this book.

As usually, I have changed the ratio of ingredients and also slightly the procedure, so, if you want to read the original, I encourage you to buy Made in India, a beautifully illustrated book full of luscious-looking, but relatively easy – or seeming literally effortless – home dishes.

TIPS: If you often cook Indian dishes, I advise buying a very cheap coffee grinder (that I wouldn’t advise for coffee, by the way…). Freshly ground spices make a big difference in the final aromatic and taste results. Using mortar every time might be off-putting, especially if we are in a hurry.

If you you like coconut aroma, use coconut oil instead of normal oil. This is what I did and it made a big difference.

The author suggests blanching cauliflower before baking, but, as a lazy cook, I preferred to bake the raw florets. It’s up to you to choose.

I served it with grilled chicken breast and a yoghurt-based sauce, but I guess this cauliflower will go with many dishes, not only Indian.

Preparation: 40 minutes – 1 hour, depending on how soft you want your cauliflower to be

Ingredients (serves three-four as a side dish):

1 big cauliflower

2 tablespoons cumin seeds

1 heaped teaspoon powdered turmeric

2 tablespoons medium hot chilli powder (or a mixture of very hot and mild)

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons coconut oil (or any other oil supporting high temperatures)

juice from one lemon (you can skip it if you don’t have lemons; even before the juice’s addition the cauliflower is irresistibly good)

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Roast the cumin seeds on a clean frying pan and grind them in a coffee/spice grinder or in a mortar. (You can of course buy powdered cumin, but this short roasting makes a big difference in taste).

Divide the cauliflower into bite-sized florets, cutting off the wider stalks.

Place the spices and the coconut oil in a big baking dish or tray (you should be able to spread the florets easily).

Put the cauliflower florets into the baking dish and dredge in the oil and spice mixture, using your hands (use gloves if you are afraid of turmeric stains on your fingers).

Bake for at least 30 minutes, turning once or twice.

I like my cauliflower very crunchy, so 30 minutes of baking was enough, but if you prefer it soft prepare yourself rather for fifty minutes – one hour.

Squeeze lemon juice over the cauliflower just before serving (if you have it).

 

Tzatziki with Fennel (Greek Yogurt, Cucumber and Fennel Dip)

tzatziki_fennel_I know most of us have been looking for warming, filling autumn dishes, but maybe, just like me, from time to time you need something fresh, something bringing back sunny summer memories… What about a new version of tzatziki? I found it while reading my latest buy: Food of the Greek Islands by Aglaia Kremezi and as a relatively recent fennel convert, I was thrilled to add it to my recipes’ list. It’s light, refreshing, crunchy and if you slice the fennel very finely (with a mandolin for example), I bet your fennel-hating guests will love it and some won’t even guess what they are eating. Serve it with grilled skewers, meats and vegetables, as a party dip or as a healthy bread spread. Most of all, hurry up before the fennel season ends!

As usually, I have modified the ingredients’ amounts and their ratio, so check Aglaia Kremezi’s original recipe. If you are interested in Greek food, I strongly advise her fascinating book, written with passion and deep knowledge of the culinary heritage and traditions of Greek islands, but most of all full of luscious-looking recipes.

TIP: If you use chilli pepper, black pepper is not necessary in my opinion.

Preparation: 10 minutes + cooling time

Ingredients:

250 g (about 1/2 cup) Greek yogurt or any natural yogurt you have

1 small cucumber or 1/3 long cucumber

1 small fennel

salt, (ground black pepper)

juice from 1/2 lemon

1 garlic clove

(1 fresh small chilli pepper)

3 heaped tablespoons fresh chopped dill or fennel fronds

olive oil

Grate the cucumber (you can peel it or not, I prefer it unpeeled) and squash well to remove the juices.

Place in a bowl.

Slice the fennel very finely (the easiest way to obtain it is with a mandolin).

Place the fennel in the same bowl, add the crushed or grated garlic, the salt, the pepper (if using), the finely sliced chilli (if using), the lemon juice, the dill or fennel fronds and mix well. Refrigerate for at least two hours.

Sprinkle with olive oil just before serving.

Furikake (Rice Seasoning) with Chilli and Prune

ts_furikakeFurikake is one of the – still not famous enough – wonders of the Japanese cuisine. It’s usually translated as “seasoning” or “topping”, but to be precise it comes from the verb “furikakeru”, which means “to sprinkle” and is supposed to be sprinkled just before eating, usually on rice. If you don’t like the taste of pure white rice and are fed up with soaking it in soy sauce (so many of us, Westerners, do it…), furikake is your friend. Japanese supermarkets carry dozens of different furikake kinds, so most people never prepare them at home. Most brands add preservatives, MSG or tons of salt, but if you go to a small shop selling its own mixtures or those from smaller producers, you might discover delicious unique creations and soon get addicted to them.

Last year I bought several different furikake bags from a small high-quality grocery shop in Tokyo and loved all of them. I even managed to copy (more or less…) my favourite of them all (see the recipe here) and it was the beginning of my homemade furikake adventures. Nowadays I constantly have at least two kinds of furikake in my kitchen and cannot imagine running out of them.

The story behind this second furikake is a bit different since I haven’t tasted the original, basing my recipe on the description and ingredients’ list found on Food Sake Tokyo. The furikake called “taberu togarashi”, bought by Yukari (the author of the blog) at the famous Tokyo fish market seemed so fabulous, I  started to work on my own copy straight away. (In the meantime I have put down “Karaimonoya” (からいもの屋, meaning “spicy food shop”), the name of the shop where Yukari bought it, for my next trip to Tokyo). I had to work out my own ratio of the ingredients and replaced dried apricot with prune, but the result was a stunning explosion of flavours. Apart from the typical furikake products (dried bonito flakes, sesame seeds or seaweed), this one gets a mighty kick from chilli powder, a sour touch from yukari (see the TIPS), while the sweet and tangy prune adds to the complexity of flavours and makes it simply addictive. You can use it on rice, noodles, omelettes, meat, fish… the possibilities are endless, but I always prefer steamed white rice.

Food Sake Tokyo is one of the best sources – if not the best one –  to find gourmet and unique eating, food shopping or drinking spots in Tokyo, with a big part dedicated to Tsukiji fish market. Yukari (the author) has also written a Tokyo food guide and organises Tokyo food tours, so make sure you visit her blog. If you don’t plan trips to Japan, she will at least make you dream.

TIPS: Some of you might not be familiar with “yukari”, one of the ingredients of this furikake. Yukari is a very dark furikake made from salt and red shiso/perilla leftover from Japanese plum pickling process. You can find it in every Japanese grocery shop (at least here), but if you don’t have access to it, replace it with sumac which is also sour and then maybe adjust the salt content.

This particular furikake is dry, so it can be made in big amounts, stored at room temperature and also easily carried to work, on trips or family visits (now you know it: I am one of those crazy people who travel with their own spices and seasoning).

-Obtaining ground dried fruit
The preparation of this furikake is very quick, apart from the ground prunes (or apricots, if you want to be closer to the original recipe), which are crucial here. In order to obtain this form you must dry the already dried fruit in the oven (lowest temperature) until it toughens a bit (don’t burn it!). You can also leave it in a dry warm spot in the kitchen and wait several days until it dries enough to be ground. Then you can reduce it into powder with a spice or coffee grinder or a food processor. The “powder” will be slightly chunky and slightly soft. I haven ever tried grinding very soft dried fruit, so I cannot say if it works without an additional drying stage. Another method to obtain the ground dried fruit is to mix it in a food processor and then dry for some time. After that, you can reduce it into powder in a coffee or spice grinder.

Since I have invented the ingredients’ ratio on my own, feel free to modify it and adapt to your taste.

Preparation: about 10 minutes if you have already dried the fruit enough to be ground

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon toasted white sesame seeds

1 tablespoon black sesame seeds

1 big sheet of nori (the seaweed used to make maki sushi)

2 heaped tablespoons ground dried prunes or apricots (see the TIPS above)

1 heaped tablespoon medium hot chilli powder or flakes (I have used Korean chilli)

1 tablespoon yukari (slightly sour, red shiso and salt-based seasoning; can be replaced with sumac, see the TIPS above)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes), smaller bits or big ones mixed in a grinder

Cut the nori sheet into pieces and grind them in a coffee or spice grinder.

Combine all the ingredients. Taste and adjust the amounts.

Store in a closed jar at room temperature (it will keep for a very long time).