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.
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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.