Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Mushroom Avocado Pizzette "Scoops"

This is one of my favorite party dishes to make because it never fails to please the crowd and I always get a lot of compliments for it. These pretty little pizzette "scoops" are not only extremely easy to make but also very easy and not messy at all to eat at a party or gathering.


The thin pizza crust is awfully light with big air pockets inside, giving it  a delightful crunch that works perfectly with the creamy texture of the avocadoes and meaty texture of the Portobello mushrooms to give the guest an amazing mouth feel with every bite.

The lemony flavor in the avocado base also complements the umami flavor of the Portobello mushrooms wonderfully. The hint of black truffle oil at the end further highlights the intense umami flavor of the Portobello mushrooms in a way that no words can describe. Every bite is like a trip to culinary paradise.

Whether its for an intimate party of 4 or an exciting party of 20, this is an easy yet super elegant dish to make to impress your friends!

Makes about 20 little Pizzettes

Ingredients (for pizzette thin crust):
1. 250 grams Bob's Red Mill organic unbleached white flour
2. 175 grams warm water
3. 5 grams fine sea salt
4. 0.5 grams Bob's Red Mill active dry yeast

Method for pizzette thin crust:
1. To make the pizza dough crust, first dissolve yeast in about 2 tablespoons of the warm water.
2. Pour the rest of the water into a mixing bowl with the flour and mix until just combined.
3. Cover mixing bowl and let mixture sit for about 20 to 30 minutes. Sprinkle sea salt over dough. Then add yeast mixture and lightly knead to combine all ingredients.
4. Let dough proof/rise for about 1 hour before giving the dough a quick fold. Then let rise for another 8 to 10 hours until dough has doubled in size.
5. Once the dough is ready for shaping, preheat oven to 500F.
6. Portion out 20 portions of the dough (about 20 grams per portion) and shape them into round discs and lay them over the bottom of a mini muffin tray.
7. Bake in oven for about 10 minutes.


Ingredients (for pizzette "scoops" filling):
1. 4 big Portobello mushroom caps, diced
2. 5 cloves fresh garlic, minced
3. 1 tablespoon Eden Foods Spanish extra virgin olive oil
4. 2 large ripen avocados
5. Juice from half a lemon
6. Salt and pepper to taste
7. 1 cup micro greens, for garnish
8. Drizzle of black truffle oil

Method for pizzette filling:
1. Heat olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat and sauté mushrooms and garlic till mushrooms soften and becomes tender. Season with cayenne pepper, salt and pepper to taste.
2. In a separate bowl, mash avocadoes together with the fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Method for assembling pizzette "scoops":
1. Remove pizzette bowls from the muffin try and place on a dish.
2. Spoon about 1 tablespoon amount of avocado mixture into each pizzette bowl, then top with about 1 teaspoon amount of the sauté mushrooms and garnish with some micro greens.

 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Refreshing Spring Fruit Salad

Spring has been pretty late this year. To extend a warm welcome to our long awaited Spring, I brought together the seasons most colorful creations - strawberries, mangoes, avocadoes and pears, in a lovely refreshing fruit salad. Creamy avocadoes with sweet mangoes and strawberries and crunchy pears. To complement the natural sweetness of the mangoes and the creaminess of the avocadoes, I made a citrus roasted sesame vinaigrette to go with this delightful little treat.
 

Ingredients (serves about 6 to 8):
1. 1 large ripe mango, peeled and diced
2. 1 lb organic strawberries, sliced
3. 1 ripe avocado, peeled and diced
4. 1 ripe Bartlett pear, peeled and diced
 
Ingredients for Citrus Sesame Dressing:
1. Juice from 1 orange
2. Juice from 1 lemon
3. 2 teaspoon roasted sesame oil
4. ½ teaspoon fennel seeds, dry roasted and crushed
5. ¼ teaspoon fresh thyme, rough chopped
6. Salt and pepper to taste
7. Mixed sprouted micro greens, for garnish
 
Method:
1. Make dressing. Mix all ingredients for Citrus Sesame Dressing in a mixing bowl and whisk until a slight emulsion forms. Then set aside.
2. Dice mango and slice strawberries. Put diced mangoes in a large mixing bowl and set aside. Place strawberries in another bowl or plate and set aside.
3. Dice pear and avocado and add to mangoes in the large mixing bowl. Toss in a few tablespoons of the dressing. The citrus juices will prevent the avocado and pear from turning brown while you plate the salad.
4. Lay strawberry slices in a circular ring on a salad plate.
5. Spoon out a generous portion of the diced mangoes, avocadoes and pears and place in the center of the ring of strawberry slices. About 3 to 4 tablespoons.
6. Top with sprouted micro greens.
7. Then drizzle some of the citrus sesame dressing over the top.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Steamed Chinese Meatless Wontons

This is an award winning recipe! These amazing little pockets of joy won the recent nationwide recipe contest hosted by neat, a company located in Lancaster, PA that produces and sells a wonderful meat alternative product.
 
These are wonderful little snacks are great on their own or serve them with my spicy ginger sesame sauce or with your favorite gyoza sauce. Savory with a nice crunch from the water chestnuts, these are definitely crowd pleasers. So try them today and let me know what you think!


Ingredients (makes about 38 wontons):

1. 8 oz neat (original flavor), broken into crumbles
2. 6 oz canned water chestnuts, fine chopped
3. 2 tablespoons spring onion, chopped
4. 1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
5. 1 tablespoon shallots, minced
6. 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
7. 1 teaspoon soy sauce
8. 1 teaspoon roasted sesame oil
9. 1.5 teaspoon fine sea salt
10. 1.5 teaspoon ground white pepper
11. Egg-free wonton or potsticker wrappers
12. Water
13. Spring onion (green part), roughly chopped for garnish

Cooking Method :

1. Mix all ingredients (ingredients number 1 to 9) in a big mixing bowl until well combined.
2. Prepare dumpling assembling station:
       a.       Fill a small bowl or saucer with water and set aside
        b.      Place a small stack of wrappers on a plate
        c.       Set a teaspoon aside for scooping the filling onto the wrapper
3. Place a teaspoon amount of filling onto the center of a single sheet of wrapper. Dip your index finger into the bowl of water and lightly wet the wrapper all around.
4. Using 6 to 8 pleats, pleat the wrapper into the shape of a little basket without closing the top completely.
5. Bring to boil a pot of water with a steamer basket on top or use a bamboo steamer with a Chinese wok.
6. Steam dumplings for about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove steam basket from steamer and garnish with spring onion.
7. Enjoy them while they are warm! They are flavorful to be eaten on their own or try them with your favorite gyoza sauce.

 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Lentils Stuffed Tomatoes

These pretty little stuffed tomatoes not only look amazing but also taste amazing. My inspiration came from my recent trip to Istanbul. People in Istanbul and the Middle East eat a lot of lentils. My trip to the spice bazaar in the grand ancient city inspired my choices of spices in this lentils recipe. This savory appetizer is mildly spicy from the smoked paprika and cayenne pepper with a hint of refreshing earthiness from the ground coriander.
 
To give the dish a nice crunchy texture to complement the fresh tomatoes, I used a tri-colored quinoa inside the stuffing and coarsely ground nuts on top.
 
This recipe is currently in the running to win the Canadian Lentils Recipe Revelation Contest. So if you like this recipe, please like our recipe on the Canadian Lentils Facebook Page.
 

Ingredients (makes about 10 medium tomatoes):
1.       10 medium tomatoes-on-the-vine
2.       1 cup uncooked red lentils
3.       1 cup uncooked quinoa (can be white or red or black or tri colored)
4.       2 cups carrots, small diced
5.       2 cups baby Portobello mushrooms, small diced
6.       1.5 cups sweet yellow onions, small diced
7.       3 cups Lacinato kale (or your favorite leafy green), chopped
8.       3 cloves garlic, minced
9.       0.5 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
10.   2 teaspoon smoked paprika
11.   1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
12.   1 teaspoon onion powder
13.   1 teaspoon ground coriander
14.   1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
15.   Salt and pepper to taste
16.   0.25 cups coarsely ground mixed nuts
 
Method:
1. In a small pot bring lentils to boil in plenty of water and simmer for about 8 mins. Drain lentils into a mixing bowl and set aside.
2. In another pot, bring quinoa to boil with 2 cups of water and simmer covered for ~ 15 mins. With lid on, set aside to stand for ~ 10 mins before fluffing with a fork.
3. While quinoa cools, prepare other ingredients – dice carrots, mushrooms and onions. Mince garlic and chop kale.
4. In a sauté pan, heat up some olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, garlic and mushrooms and cook for about 2-3 minutes until onion starts to get translucent and mushrooms soften a little.
5. Add smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, onion powder and ground coriander and mix well.
6. Add kale and sauté until kale wilts nicely. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Turn heat off, add lemon juice and mix well.
7. Remove vegetables into a separate bowl to cool before adding to lentil and quinoa mixture.
8. Let vegetables cool. Using a paring knife, core tomatoes. Remove all seeds and juices.
 

 
9. Preheat oven to 370 degrees Fahrenheit.
10. Mix vegetables and quinoa with lentils in mixing bowl.
 
 
11. Stuff each tomato generously and lay on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
12. Sprinkle ground nuts on tops of each stuffed tomato and drizzle with some extra-virgin olive oil.
13. Bake in oven for 20-25 mins until tomato has softened slightly and some skin starts to pull away.

Enjoy it warm with your friends and family! This is a dish fun to make and fun to eat as an appetizer, an entertaining snack or like my boyfriend, as his entrée for dinner.
 
Again, this recipe is currently in the running to win the Canadian Lentils Recipe Revelation Contest. So if you like this recipe, please like our recipe on the Canadian Lentils Facebook Page. Thank you so much!
 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Thyme Country Style Biscuits

Biscuits as Americans know them, are soft baked goods. They are not the crunchy cracker-like biscuits that some of us grew up with. I learnt how to make the traditional country style biscuits in one of my baking classes at culinary school. I love the flakiness of the biscuit but because it was made with refined sugar and butter, I couldn't bring myself to eat them. They smell awesome though.

So I decided to try making country style biscuits my way...using coconut oil instead of butter and using maple sugar crystals instead of refined sugar. And to kick up the flavor another notch, I added thyme to the dough and also at the end of the baking process to give the biscuits a little hint of fresh lemony flavor without the tartness of lemon.


Ingredients (makes about 18 biscuits):
1. 600 g pastry flour
2. 12 g salt
3. 15 g maple sugar crystals
4. 30 g baking powder
5. 15 g fresh thyme, chopped (leave some to sprinkle on top)
6. 200 g coconut oil, solid break into chunks
7. 360 ml water

Method:
1. Sift dry ingredients together into a mixing bowl, making sure they are blended thoroughly.
2. Cut in the chunks of coconut oil. Cutting in means - add coconut oil chunks into the bowl of dry ingredients. Then using your finger tips, swiftly and gently break up the coconut oil chunks into smaller pieces about the size of a green pea. The mixture should look mealy. Do not overmix.
3. Add water into the mixing bowl and stir with a wooden spoon, combining only until the mixture holds together.
4. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Knead gently until it forms one mass, should take only about 5 to 6 kneadings. Do not use to much force like you would when kneading a bread dough.
5. Roll out the dough to a thickness of about 1 cm. Cut with a floured cutter and placed the biscuits on a paper-lined sheet pan.
5. Bake at 400F until the tops are light brown, the sides almost white and the interiors still moist. This should take about 10 to 12 minutes.
6. Remove biscuits from oven and sprinkle fresh thyme over the biscuits.
7. Allow the biscuits to cool slightly on a wire rack before serving.

Nutritional value of this recipe:
This is a nice little treat for yourself. Coconut oil is high in saturated fat but bear in mind, the saturated fat in coconut oil is not the same as the saturated fat in butter. The saturated fat in coconut oil consist of medium chains of carbon and are therefore more easily digested by the human body and converted into energy.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Asparagus Leek and Parsley Soup

We had a warm spell in the middle of March here in Chicago and now we are back to reality. The weather "suddenly" turned cold again and makes one crave for some good old heart warming soup. So I actually tried a similar soup at an organic vegan breakfast place here in Chicago the other day and loved it. The menu listed asparagus, leeks and parsley. So based on these 3 key ingredients and my wonderful taste buds, I combined the key ingredients and recreated the deliciousness at home. And here's the result and it's definitely yummy! Savoury soup with a mild leek taste against the earthy flavor of asparagus and the fresh flavor of parsley....it's a perfect partner for a piece of whole grain toast.


Ingredients (serves 5 to 6):
1. 1 lb fresh green asparagus, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2. 1 lb fresh leeks, sliced, washed and drained
3. 1 small or medium russet potato, cut into 1-inch pieces
4. 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
5. 2 cups low sodium vegetable stock
6. 1 cup water
7. 2 teaspoon grapeseed oil
8. Salt and pepper to taste

Method:
1. Heat grapeseed oil in a soup pot and sweat leeks for a few minutes until soften but no browning.
2. Add potatoes and season with salt and pepper and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes.
3. Add vegetable stock and water, bring to boil. Then reduce to simmer and cover and cook until potatoes are tender. About 10 to 15 minutes.
4. Add asparagus and parsley and cook uncovered over simmer until asparagus soften. About another 10 to 15 minutes.
5. Transfer soup to a blended and blend until smooth.
6. Return soup to pot and season to taste over simmering heat.
7. Ready to serve warm!

Nutritional value of this recipe:
One serving of this recipe is only less than 100 calories but gives you 45%* of your daily required vitamin A, 37%* of your daily required vitamin C and 20%* of your daily required iron. And of course not forgetting the whopping almost 4 grams of fiber that comes along with a hearty bowl of soup. What can be better than that?

* based on a 2,000 calories a day diet

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Spagetti with Mushroom and Leeks in Sake Sauce

Saw some really nice pretty leeks in the supermarket the other day and can't help but put them in my grocery basket. I love leeks for their mild oniony flavor and their cool name. I wasn't sure what to do with them that night. If leeks is the male lead for tonight's show, then I know I needed a strong female lead. Mushrooms and leeks pair easily and well together. So got some crimini (i.e. baby portobello). Then got a plum tomato for a splash of color for the overall dish. Then instead of using traditional white wine for a white wine sauce, I thought...why not use sake instead? I still have some left at home. :).


Ingredients (serves 2):
1. 1 stalk leek, sliced about 1/4-inch width wise, then washed and drained
2. 2 cups crimini mushrooms, sliced
3. 1 plum tomato, seeded and diced
4. 3 cloves garlic, minced
5. 1 cup sake
6. Salt and pepper to taste
7. A few spritz of grapeseed oil
8. Flaxseed spagetti (or your favorite pasta), cooked to almost al dente (pasta water reserved)

Method:
1. Heat grapeseed oil in a saute pan on high heat and saute mushrooms for about 2 minutes before adding leeks and continue to saute till mushrooms are caramalized and leeks are softened. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Add minced garlic and mix well. Cook for another minute before adding sake to deglaze the pan.
3. Once the sizzle is gone, add tomatoes and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes before adding cooked pasta and about 1/4 cup pasta water. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Cook for another 3 to 4 minutes till pasta is al dente.
5. Plate and ready to serve!

Nutritional value of this recipe:
Depending on how much pasta you use for 1 serving, the total amount of calories in 1 serving of this recipe can range from 450 to 525 calories. The rest of the ingredients used in this recipe will provide about 2 g of fiber per serving but you can always up the fiber content of this dish by choosing whole grain pasta. 1 serving of this recipe also provides at least 20%* of your daily required iron and 20%* of your daily required vitamin A, 18% of your daily required vitamin C and about 7%* of your daily required calcium. Not bad for a simple weeknight dinner without meat!

* based on a 2,000 calories a day diet


Saturday, February 25, 2012

My Take on Rice and Beans

Rice and beans is a very popular dish in Latin America and the Carribean. Given the basic nature of its ingredients and wide availability, there are numerous variations of rice and bean dishes and they are also a staple food in many regions of the world.

This recipe is my take on rice and beans. Simple enough to make as an everyday complete meal but still satisfy your taste buds. Savoury and hearty...I promise you are not going to miss the meat!


Ingredients (serves 3 to 4):
1. 1 cup black beans, cooked
2. 1 small onion, diced
3. 1 tablespoon sun-dried tomatoes, diced
4. 1.5 cups cooked brown rice
5. 2 cups spinach, chopped
6. 1 teaspoon onion powder
7. 1 teaspoon garlic powder
8. 1/4 teaspoon curry powder
9. 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
10. Salt and pepper to taste
11. Grapeseed oil, a few spritz
12. 2 tablespoons sake

Method:
1. Heat grapeseed oil in a saute pan and saute onions and sun-dried tomatoes for about 4 to 5 minutes until fragrant.
2. Deglaze pan with sake.
3. Add spinach and cook for about 1 to 2 minutes until spinach has wilted a little.
4. Add cooked black beans and all seasonings and mix well. Cook for about 3 to 4 minutes. Add water if necessary to prevent pan from drying out.
5. Add cooked brown rice and water is necessary to prevent pan from drying out.
6. Mix well and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes.
7. Ready to serve!

Nutritional value of recipe:
At about 450 calories per serving, chowing down this rice and beans will give you a good 10g of dietary fiber and 16g of protein (from the black beans), a good 24%* of your daily required iron, 29%* of your daily required vitamin A and 11%* of your daily required calcium. Beans and rice has never been healthier!

* based on a 2,000 calories a day diet

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Vegetable Stir-fry with Roasted Cashew Nuts

As a kid, I have never liked eggplant (or aubergine in French and UK, brinjal in India and Africa). The purple color vegetable that has a somewhat soft mushy texture when cooked. But ever since I stopped eating meat, dairy and sugar, I developed appreciation and a taste for a lot of vegetables that I didn't use to like. Eggplant is one of them.

This recipe is a very classic way of preparing eggplant in chinese cuisine - stirfry. This dish is only mildly spicy from the chili pepper flakes. And for a more interesting texture to the overall dish, I added roasted cashew nuts. Every bit of this dish gives you a slightly different degree of crunch and sweetness from the vegetables - from crunchy broccoli and cauliflower to soft eggplant and garlic. Try it with warm brown rice or over your favorite dry noodles. It's awesome!


Ingredients (serves 3 to 4):
1. 1 medium eggplant (about 1 lb), cut into bite size pieces
2. 1 small carrot, cut into bite size pieces
3. 1 cup broccoli, cut into bite size pieces
4. 1 cup cauliflower, but into bite size pieces
5. 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
6. 1/2 cup cashew nuts, dry roasted
7. 3 tablespoons tomato paste
8. 2 tablespoon sake (optional)
9. 1 teaspoon chili pepper flakes
10. Salt and pepper to taste
11. Grapeseed oil

Method:
1. Be sure to cut all vegetables into similar size for even cooking time at the end.
2. Dry roast cashew nuts in 375F oven for about 7 to 8 minutes until fragrant and slightly brown.
3. Heat up a few spritz of grapeseed oil in a saute pan. Saute eggplant for about 6 minutes until slightly soften and slightly brown. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Add garlic and saute for another 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
4. If needed add a few more spritz of grapeseed oil into the saute pan. Saute broccoli with salt and pepper for about 3 to 4 minutes until tender but not soft. Remove from pan and set aside.
5. If needed, add a few more spritz of grapeseed oil into the saute pan. Saute cauliflower and carrots with salt and pepper for about 4 to 5 minutes. Deglaze pan with a few splashes of sake if using. Continue to cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
6. Put all vegetables back into the pan and cook over medium heat. Mix tomatoe paste with 1/2 cup of water and add to pan. Mix well. Season with chili pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste.
7. Turn off heat. Add cashew nuts and mix well. Serve hot with rice.

Nutritional value of this recipe:
One serving of this recipe will only set you back by 210 calories. But you also get almost 5g of fiber from it, all the Vitamin A you need for the day, 60%* of your daily Vitamin C needs, 11%* of your daily iron requirements and 5%* of your daily calcium needs.

* based on a 2,000 calories per day diet

Friday, November 25, 2011

Pan-fried Thyme Crusted Cod


One of my favorite fish - cod. Saw some wild caught fresh cod on sale in the supermarket the other day. Got some fresh herbs and decided to indulge in some nice cod fish that is crusty on the outside and soft and moist on the inside. The best thing I love about cod is that when it is cooked properly, it melts in your mouth. The texture of the fish is just unbelievable!

Try cooking cod this way and you will know what I am talking about. :)

Ingredients (makes about 10 pieces):
1. 6 oz fresh cod, cut into bite size cubes and pad dry with a kitchen towel
2. 1 large egg, beaten
3. 1-2 cups panko bread crumbs
4. 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
5. 3 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
6. 1 teaspoon salt
7. 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8. 1/4 cup grapeseed oil

Method:
1. Prepare a classic breading station:
     a. In a small bowl, mix well bread crumbs, chopped fresh herbs, salt and pepper
     b. Place beaten egg in another bowl
3. Heat grapeseed oil in a shallow saute pan.
4. Dip a piece of cod in the egg wash and then into the bowl of bread crumbs with herb mixture. Make sure the piece of cod is fully coated. Then place it straight into the hot pan.
5. Repeat step 4 for the rest of the cod pieces.
6. Pan fry each side until golden brown. Each side should not take more than 2-3 minutes to brown up.

Note: Do not pre-bread the cod. Exposing the cod to salt too much in advance of cooking will draw out the natural moisture in the cod fish.

Nutritional value of this recipe:
All right, a serving of this recipe may be a little high on the calorie count at about 450. But as I always say, make your calories count and not count your calories. A serving of this recipe also boast more than 20g of low fat protein, 31%* of your daily required iron, 16%* of your daily required calcium and about 3g of fiber.

* based on a 2,000 calories a day diet

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fresh Cherry Tomatoes with Oregano

This is a simple rustic dish that I whipped up one day for breakfast when I only had tomatoes and fresh oregano in my fridge. Tomatoes are usually paired with basil but since I only had oregano that day, I thought why not try that combination and see how it turns out. It was wonderful! And it didn't take me more than a few minutes to put together. The earthy rustic flavor of fresh oregano against the sweet refreshing taste of the cherry tomatoes...it is another match made in heaven.


Ingredients (serves 2 to 3):
1. 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halfed
2. 2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
3. 2 to 3 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
4. Salt and black pepper to taste

Method:
1. Mix all ingredients gently in a bowl and serve right away at room temperature.

Nutritional value of this recipe:
A generous serving of this recipe will cost you only a mere 90 calories but provide you with almost 4 grams of fiber, 35%* of your daily required Vitamin C, 13%* of iron and 31%* of Vitamin A.

* based on a 2,000 calories a day diet

Note: Do not substitute dried herbs for fresh herbs in a salad recipe like this one. The mouth feel and flavor of dried herbs are just not comparable to fresh ones in recipes like this one.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Japanese Cuisine

Japanese cuisine is known for its emphasis on light clean flavors, seasonality of food, quality of ingredients and presentation. Like Korean cuisine, the evolution of Japanese cuisine was also influenced by Chinese cuisine and the introduction of Buddhism. Surrounded by water, Japanese cuisine also uses an abundance of fish and seafood.

Before the introduction of Buddhism, meat eating in was rather common in Japan. Since the introduction of the religion, meat eating has become quite rare. However, strictly vegetarian food is uncommon because most vegetable dishes are still flavored with dashi stock, which is made of seafood (typically dried skipjack tuna flakes called katsuobushi). Vegetable consumption has also dwindled with the rise in popularity of processed foods and the general increase in the costs of groceries.

Japanese cuisine also offers a vast array of regional specialties, many of them originating from dishes prepared using traditional recipes with local ingredients. 2 main regional cuisines include Kanto region and Kansai region. Kanto region foods are stronger in taste. For instance, the dashi-based broth for serving udon noodles is uses the heavier dark soy sauce. Kansai cuisine on the other hand is lightly seasoned with clear udon noodles made with light soy sauce.

Rice and noodles are the two common staple starches in Japanese cuisine. They are usually served with side dishes that can be made up of ingredients such as fish, meat, vegetables and tofu. Dishes are typically flavored with dashi, miso and soy sauce that are low in fat and somewhat high in salt.

A typical meal in Japan consists of a starch accompanies by 3 sides and a soup (ichiju-sansai). Different cooking techniques are applied to each of the three side dishes. These side dishes can be sashimi (raw), grilled, simmered, boiled, steamed, deep fried or dressed.

Common Japanese Sauces and Flavors

Mirin
Mirin is a clear sweet Japanese cooking wine that is used to add a mild sweetness and nice aroma to many Japanese dishes especially fish and seafood. It typically contains about 14% of alcohol and is made from glutinous rice (mocha-gome), cultured rice (kome-koji) and a distilled alcoholic beverage (shochu), that are mixed together and fermented for about 2 months. Mirin made this way is known as hon-mirin, which is different from mirin-fu chomiryo made from ingredients to resemble the flavor of mirin. Mirin-fu chomiryo contains less than 1% of alcohol and are usually cheaper than hon-mirin. Well known brands of hon-mirin include Takara and Mitsukan.

Yuzu
Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit that is quite tart with overtones of mandarin oranges, resembling that of the grapefruit. It looks like a tangerine with an uneven skin and can be either yellow or green depending on the degree of ripeness.

Although a fruit, it is rarely eaten as such. Instead, the rind is commonly used to flavor various dishes such as vegetables, fish or noodles. The juice is used commonly as a seasoning, somewhat like the way lemon is used in other cuisines. It is an integral ingredient in ponzu and yuzu vinegar. Yuzu can also be used to make various sweet treats such as marmalade and cake. It is also used to make a spicy Japanese sauce called Yuzu Kosho. Silvered rind is also used to garnish the Chawanmushi (a savory egg custard/pudding dish) and miso soup.

Ponzu
Ponzu basically refers to a mixture of citrus juices with soy sauce and other flavoring ingredients such as rice vinegar and dashi.

Miso
Miso is a soy bean paste that is an essential condiment in Japanese cuisine. It is made from fermenting soy beans with salt and cultured grains such as rice and barley.

There are many kinds of miso, ranging from darker colored ones to lighter colored ones. The taste can also vary from sweet to salty. The most commonly available miso are white (light yellow) miso and aka (red) miso. The white varieties are light yellow in color and have a sweet taste. The red varieties are darker brown and are more savory. Awase miso are mixtures of different types of miso.

Dashi
Dashi refers to Japanese stock and is used as a base for many Japanese dishes such as soup, dipping sauce and simmered dishes. There are different variations of dashi. Dashi can be made from kelp, dried bonito flakes, dried small sardines, dried shiitake mushrooms and more. Dashi made from kelp and shiitake mushrooms are considered vegetarian stocks.

• Kombu Dashi - for clear soup, nabe (hot pot dishes), and more.
• Katsuo Dashi - for nimono (simmered dishes), clear soup, noodle soup, and more.
• Kombu and Katsuobushi Dashi - for clear soup, nimono, noodle soup, and more.
• Niboshi Dashi Recipe - for miso soup, nimono, and more.
• Hoshi-shiitake Dashi - for nimono, and more.

Dashi is best used on the day it’s made.

Sashimi
Sashimi refers to raw meat usually fish, sliced into thin slices and is a delicacy in Japanese cuisine. Not all raw fish are suitable to be served as sashimi. Sashimi grade fish is harvested and prepared in a certain way. Sashimi grade fish is caught by individual handline and as soon as the fish is landed, its brain is pierced with a sharp spike and is place in ice slurry. This process minimizes the amount of lactic acid produced and will allow the fish to keep fresh for about 10 days without turning white or degrade.

Sashimi is often served as a first course in a formal Japanese meal but it can also be served as a main course with rice and miso soup in separate bowls. The sliced seafood is typically draped over a garnish of long thin strands of white radish (daikon), accompanied by a green perilla leaf per slice. Wasabi paste is sometimes mixed directly into the soy sauce as a dipping sauce.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Lemongrass

September is approaching and that means summer is coming to and end very soon and fall will be here very soon. And with every change in the season, one of the things I like to do is to make sure that my immune system is in tip-top position. Seasonal allergies are common here and the cooler weather makes it easy for one to get sick.

My kind of preventive measures? Lots of exercise and lots of lemongrass tea. Lemongrass is an amazing immune system booster. It’s not a miracle drug but overtime, lemongrass helps improve one’s immune system.



Here's a super simple recipe to help you add lemongrass into your diet!

Ingredients:
1. 2 stalks fresh lemongrass
2. 2-3 teaspoons honey (prefer mild ones)
3. 4 cups boiling water

Method:
1. Bruise lemongrass with the back of your knife, then cut into 1-inch strips.
2. Place lemongrass in a heat proof container such as a glass measuring cup or a stainless steel flask.
3. Pour boiling water into container or flask.
4. Let steep for about an hour. Then add honey and stir to mix well.
5. Let cool further for another hour before chilling in the fridge.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Feel a Little of the Korean Waves


Korean cuisine in general exhibits a lot of influence from her neighbors – China and Japan. Korean cuisine, like Chinese cuisine, practices food/nutrition therapy. In addition to the awareness that every food ingredient is either yin (cold) or yang (heat), each food ingredient in composition with other food ingredients also exudes positive and negative impacts on the wellbeing of the human body. This awareness is based on the belief of the natural powers of yin and yang, and the five elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water. The five elements are represented by food ingredients of five different natural colors – green, red, yellow, white and black. An example of a common dish that reflects the application of the five elements is the Biminpap or mixed rice; rice topped with meat and vegetables of different colors.

Korean cuisine is also typically more extravagant with a large number of dishes served and is definitely more heavily seasoned. The seasonings commonly used are similar to those used in Chinese cuisine and includes garlic, ginger, green onions, sesame, soy sauce and red and black peppers. Compared to Japanese cuisine, Korean cuisine uses more vegetables and dishes are usually prepared in larger quantities.

Korea’s abundant coastline contributes to a cuisine that is rich in seafood. The inner parts of Korea are made up of rugged mountains and narrow valleys that provide fertile ground for a large variety of vegetables, fruits and grains.

Typical Korean Meal
While modern Korean homes now have a more western kitchen/dining room with high tables and chairs, meals are often still served at a low table with dinners sitting on cushions on the floor. A typical Korean meal is usually served family style. Dishes are shared as opposed to individual plates of a complete meal. It usually comprises of a starch dish as a base and an impressive assortment of small pickled and fresh vegetables, seafood and meat dishes.

Starches are usually rice or noodles. The assortment of side dishes, also known as the Ban Chan, are usually prepared and presented in a certain order according to temperature, taste, texture or color to harmonize the entire meal experience. They are arranged around the main dish called the Changkuksang.

A traditional extravagant Korean meal is like a display of a cooks culinary skills and usually consists rice, a soup, kimchi, a seasoned vegetable dish (namuru), a stewed dish (chige), a steamed dish (chimu), a grilled dish (kui), a fried dish (pokkumum, a boiled dish (chorimu), a seared dish (chon), a sashimi or raw fish dish (fe), a salty dish (chokkaru) and more.

Like Chinese and Japanese cuisine, in Korean cuisine, soups are served as part of the main course rather than at the beginning or at the end of the meal. It can also be served as the main course itself, known as tang.

The format of presentation is called sancharimu and dates back to the Choson dynasty. It is based on the number of dishes to be served, which can range from anywhere between 3 and 12. The number of dishes served reflects the social status of a household; the more dishes served, the higher the social status.

Korean Cuisine Highlights
There are 4 basic sauces that make Korean cuisine taste Korean. They are soy sauce, bean paste, barley paste and red pepper paste. Soy sauce and bean paste are made with cured soy bean malts. The barely paste is made with barley malts. The red pepper paste is made with red pepper powder and malts made of glutinous rice, bean and rice.

Besides the kimchi, another signature element of Korean cuisine is the rice cakes, made of rice, beans and other grains. Normally associated with ceremonies, rice cakes are also quite commonly eaten at normal meal times. There are many variations of rice cakes in terms of flavor but they are generally classified into 3 categories based on their cooking methods – steamed, hand-pounded or fried.

And of course, kimchi comes to mind when one talks about Korean food. Kimchi is a fermented vegetable dish that can come in hundreds of different variations in terms of flavor and choice of vegetable. They can be served straight up (which is usually the case) or be used in the preparation of other dishes. Kimchi is considered a healthy food because fermented food contains a high quantity of lactobacilli, a beneficial probiotic strain that aids digestion. The fermentation process is also said to boost the amount of vitamins and minerals naturally present in the vegetables.

The geographical terrain definitely influenced the preparation of kimchi overtime. In ancient times, kimchi was mainly cabbage pickled with only salt or salt with alcohol mixture. Because of Korea’s abundant coastline, salt and seafood are 2 ingredients that are amply available, making salted fish organs a large part of Korean cuisine. The inclusion of salted fish organs overtime, added variety to kimchi. The amino acids which break down the proteins in salted fish organs help bring out the variety of flavors in pickled vegetables.

As different types of seasonings including chili are introduced to Korea, the kimchi took on more and more different flavor profiles. The use of spicy red peppers as seasoning became another distinctive characteristic of Korean cuisine. Capsaicin, a component in the red pepper that makes it spicy acts as a food preservative when used to make kimchi. Garlic is another common seasoning used in kimchi and many other Korean dishes. Garlic not only lends a subtle flavor to kimchi, the Alicin component found in garlic acts as a natural preservative.

The climatic differences in the different regions in the country also influence the taste of the kimchi from that region. In warmer places, in order to better preserve the kimchi, chili and fish or shellfish paste (also called the Chotkal) is used. In colder areas, on the other hand, the kimchi is less salty and pungent. Today, the kimchi most people are familiar with is the spicy kind with a pungent kick, made with spicy red pepper paste (kochujan).

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Macadamia Nut and Herb Crusted Salmon

I love being the matchmaker; love marrying my favorite ingredients. It was a cool June night here in Chicago when I made this dish. No, I didn’t make this for 2 people. I had the other piece for dinner the next night and it still taste really good.

The fatty hearty salmon is the perfect fish to carry off this wonderful savory crust with a hint of sweetness from the mild honey. Serve this as part of a complete meal with a side of vegetables and rice or noodles.


Ingredients (serves 1 to 2):
1. 6 oz salmon fillet (2 portions)
2. ¼ cup raw macadamia nuts, chopped
3. ¼ cup Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
4. 1 tablespoon mild honey
5. Salt and pepper to taste
6. 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil

Method:
1. Mix all ingredients except salmon and grapeseed oil in a bowl
2. Coat each fillet with a generous serving of the mixture on one side. Then let chill in the fridge on a sheet tray or plate for about 30 mins to 1 hour.
3. Heat a flat sauté pan with grapeseed oil. When pan is hot, lay salmon fillets, crusted side down and sear for about 4 to 6 minutes until the nut/herb crust is golden brown depending on the thickness of your salmon fillets.
4. Turn fillets to the other side and sear for another 4 to 6 minutes depending on the thickness of your salmon fillets.
5. Cover sauté pan and let the salmon fillets cook for about 2 to 3 minutes for desired doneness.
6. Serve with your favorite starches, can be rice, potatoes or noodles!

Nutritional value of this recipe:
1 serving of this recipe is about 350 calories and boasts 20 g of protein and 1.5 g of dietary fiber. It also contains a good amount of vitamin B12 and selenium.

* based on a 2,000 calories a day diet