Japanese Bitter Gourd Salad

Bitter gourd, bitter melon, goya, karela, balsam-pear… this green, knobbly vegetable is actually known under many different names depending on where you are from! As per its name-sake the flavour of the flesh is very bitter and is an acquired taste at first-  but give it a go and you may never look back!SONY DSC

This cool and refreshing salad has a Japanese-inspired dressing that is rich with the umami of dashi fish stock, sweet mirin and fruity apple vinegar. Crunchy rings of bitter gourd are sweetened with small bursts of sweet tomato cubes and enlivened with fresh mint and lemon-basil leaves. It makes for a wonderful little side dish or appetizer whet the appetite!

Don’t be scared of the bitterness of the bitter gourd- the process of salting to remove some of the juices and then quickly blanching mellows the flavour considerably. If this is your first time trying this vegetable I hope this dish will have you return for seconds!

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Ingredients

For the salad:

  • 3 bitter gourds, cut into 5mm rings with seeds removed
  • 1 fresh tomato, de-seeded and cut into small dice
  • 1 handful of fresh mint leaves
  • 1 handful of fresh lemon-basil leaves
  • 1 large handful of dried bonito flakes

For the dressing:

  • 3″ square of dried kelp
  • 1 large handful of dried bonito flakes
  • 2-3 tsp instant dashi powder
  • 1 tbsp mirin
  • 1-2 tsp apple vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Method

  1. Make the dressing. Place the dried kelp in a small saucepan and add in enough water to just cover the kelp. Bring to the boil and add in the dried bonito flakes. Cover and remove saucepan from heat. Leave to cool completely, then pour the stock through a fine sieve to remove the kelp and bonito flakes. Reserve the stock and discard the kelp and bonito flakes. Add the mirin, vinegar, sugar and sea salt to the stock. Taste and adjust seasoning if required.
  2. Place the sliced bitter gourd in a colander and massage in approximately 2 teaspoons of salt. Leave to stand for 15 minutes.
  3. Rinse the bitter gourd to remove the salt. Bring to a boil some water (enough to cover the bitter gourd) with a little salt in a large saucepan. Blanch the bitter gourd in the boiling water for 1 minute then refresh in ice water. Transfer the bitter gourd to a colander to drain.
  4. Mix together the stock with the bitter gourd, mint and lemon-basil. Leave to marinate for a least 30 minutes.
  5. Just before serving, mix in the diced tomato and top with dried bonito flakes.

Get the Grill on for Yum-Yum Mussels!

It’s summer here in sunny Auckland and, for me, nothing beats getting the grill on for a feast of fresh seafood and smoky vegetables!

Grilled mussels are always popular but accompanied with this amazing Yum-Yum sauce makes it spectacular! It only takes minutes to make and is creamy, tangy and sweet with a hint of chili kick- you’ll want to put it on everything!

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Ingredients

  • 10 cooked mussels in half shell
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp tomato sauce
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1-2 tsp malt vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • A dash of chilli powder
  1. Combine mayonnaise, tomato sauce, sugar, vingear/lemon juice, paprika, garlic powder and chili powder to make the Yum Yum sauce. Adjust seasoning to taste.
  2. Top each mussel with the sauce and place under the grill until the sauce is bubbling hot. Serve immediately.

The Non-French Onion Soup

It’s a new year and it’s out with the old and in with the new! This decidedly Non-French Onion Soup re-invents the old tried-and-true recipe in a Japanese kitchen!

What is so special about this Onion Soup?

First of all, it is flavoured with a light but flavourful Japanese dashi stock that allows the sweet flavour of caramelized onions to really shine. A few dried porcini mushrooms are also added to give a deep, earthy savoriness to the broth. Finally, a few dashes of tart balsamic vinegar and a sprinkling of shichimi togarashi (Japanese 7-spice mix) completes the soup with a kick of spice, citrus and tartness!

Served with some crunchy rice crackers, this soup is wonderfully satisfying yet will not weigh you down- perfect for the warm summer months!

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Ingredients

  • 3 brown onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 600ml dashi stock
  • 6 slices of dried porcini mushrooms
  • a few drops of balsamic vinegar, to taste
  • 1 tsp cornstarch, dissolved in a little water (optional)
  • some shichimi togarashi (Japanese 7-spice mix), to serve
  • some rice crackers, to serve

Method

  1. In a saucepan with a little vegetable oil, slowly cook down the onion with the garlic and salt until very soft and caramelized. After approximately 15 minutes of cooking, add in the bay leaf and fresh thyme. Be sure to stir the mixture from time to time.
  2. In the meanwhile, soak the dried porcini mushrooms in the dashi stock
  3. When the onions have caramelized (after approximately 30 minutes of cooking), pour in the dashi stock and porcini mushrooms. Simmer for approximately 10 minutes.
  4. Remove the bay leaf and thyme. Add in balsamic vinegar to taste.
  5. Whisk in the cornstarch solution to lightly thicken the soup (optional)
  6. Serve hot with shichimi togarashi and some rice crackers on the side.

Here’s to a New Year like this Strawberry Salad!

Wishing you a HAPPY NEW YEAR, my friends!

I am welcoming in the new year with this scrumptious Strawberry Salad that embodies all I am wishing for: a Healthy, Fresh start filled with Sweet moments, Vibrant experiences and new Gastronomic DelightsSONY DSC

Without a doubt this has become my favourite salads of all time! Ripe sweet strawberries and cherry tomatoes, cool crunchy cucumber and fragrant basil with a tart balsamic reduction is simply heaven on a plate!

Ingredients

  • 6 ripe strawberries, halved
  • 6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • Approximately 6cm cucumber, thinly sliced and seeds removed
  • A handful of fresh basil leaves
  • Approximately 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • Flaky sea salt and black pepper
  • Light olive oil
  1. To make the balsamic reduction, bring the balsamic vinegar to a boil in a small saucepan and turn down to a simmer until reduced to a syrupy consistency. Remove from heat and let cool.
  2. Arrange strawberries, tomatoes, cucumber and basil on a plate. Drizzle over the balsamic reduction ans olive oil. Season well with salt and black pepper. Enjoy!

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Veged-Out Cauliflower ‘Pastry’ Tart

Here’s a tart that your vegetarian/gluten-free/ low-carb/paleo/ vege-loving friends can enjoy! What’s the secret? It’s the crust that is made using processed cauliflower, pressed into a tart mold and baked until crisp!

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Originally I was going to name this the “Caramelized Onion, Roasted Mushroom, Capsicum and Tomato Cauliflower ‘Pastry’ Tart”, but this was obviously too long and I didn’t want you falling asleep before you even start to read this post!

Let me just say that this is one amazingly delicious tart packed full of flavour. There is a thick layer of sweet, soft caramelized onion with strips of roasted capsicum, Portobello mushrooms sautéed with minced garlic and roasted cherry tomatoes sitting atop. The cauliflower crust is thin and crispy with a hint of thyme, garlic and cracked pepper. For the finishing touch- fragrant basil leaves from the garden are scattered over the tart as it comes fresh out of the oven!

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Tangy Hummus (with a Secret Ingredient)

Making the most of the sunny weather and clear blue skies of late, my friends decided on a last-minute picnic in the park! I had planned to prepare a simple tomato and feta salad but, sadly, the tomatoes at the supermarket were not particularly fresh. Thinking on my feet I decided on making hummus, served with crunchy corn chips and crudités- perfect fingerfood for relaxing in the afternoon sun!

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This hummus is addictively tangy from a rich spoonful of tomato paste and the juice of a fresh lemon. It is also packed with flavour, blending in two heads of caramelized roasted garlic, the nuttiness of roastedsesame seeds, and the warmth of cumin and paprika.

Oh I almost forgot… there is one secret ingredient to making this hummus- can you guess what it is?

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White miso paste! It lends a rich, savory background note (you wouldn’t detect it if I didn’t tell you), but it just makes the hummus that much more delicious! Try it out for yourself!

Honey Balsamic Buttercup Skins

Having scooped out all of the flavoursome chicken and prawn stuffing and tender flesh of my Surf and Turf Buttercup, I was left with the green thin- skinned shell of the squash. Thinking that it would be tough and unpleasant to eat, I was just about to throw it into the bin when out of curiosity, I broke of a small piece for a taste…To my surprise, it was soft yet still retaining a slight pleasant crunch!

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Drawing from the inspiration of crispy potato skins, I created these delightful and healthy baked buttercup skins brushed with a tangy-sweet glaze of honey and balsamic vinegar, topped with nutty sesame seeds

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Did you know that the skin of the buttercup has 22% more calcium than the same weight if milk and compares with lean red meat as a good source of iron? From now on I will never throw out this delicious and nutritious part the vegetable again!

Scallop Dashi Jelly with Marinated Shiitake and Cucumber Salad

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Yet another dish inspired by my recent travels in Tokyo! Tonight’s dinner began with my experimental starter of scallops encased in a soft dashi jelly, served with shiitake mushrooms simmered in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin and sugar, and a zingy cucumber salad lightly pickled in apple vinegar.

I was hoping that you can see the scallop encased in the jelly, but unfortunately the jelly wasn’t clear enough. Next time I will try another technique to see if it will give a better result!

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All in all, it was a winner with my family! I think this would make an elegant starter to any dinner party.