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.

Perk-up Smoked Chicken with a Miso-Alfredo Sauce!

Sure, smoked chicken tastes perfectly fine on it’s own but it’s just a bit plain and not very exciting at all…

It’s time for my mighty Miso-Alfredo Sauce to the rescue!

The strong flavour of the smoked chicken can really stand up to the creamy sauce flavoured with salty-sweet white miso paste and nutty Parmesan cheese. The miso takes Alfredo sauce to the next level by adding a depth of flavour that is quite hard to describe but is absolutely delicious! Be sure to serve this with plenty of rice or pasta (or orzo if you want both)

Smoked chicken has never tasted so good! Mission accomplished!

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Ingredients

  • 1 smoked chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp white miso paste mixed with 1 tbsp water
  • 1 1/2 cups evaporated milk or cream
  • 1-2 tsp cornflour dissolved in a little water, if required
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 2 green onions, finely sliced
  •  sugar, to taste
  • salt and white pepper, to taste
  1. Melt butter in a small saucepan and whisk in miso paste. When combined, add the evaporated milk or cream. Season with sugar, salt and white pepper to taste. If you would like a thicker sauce, whisk in the cornflour and cook over low heat until thickened.
  2. Add in smoked chicken and cook over low heat until chicken is warmed though.
  3. Scatter over green onions and serve immediately.

Miso-Glazed Salmon with Sesame Panko Crust

Wanting a change from my usual routine of pan-frying salmon fillets and seasoning with salt and pepper, I came up with this spur-of-the-moment dish inspired by Japanese flavours! This recipe is ridiculously easy and came out chopsticks-lickin’ good! Make this for your friends and I am sure they will be impressed (just keep this a secret between us)!

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A marinade of miso, mirin and soy sauce pairs perfectly with the rich fattiness of the salmon and caramalises to form a delicious sticky glaze under the grill. A crunchy golden crust of panko and sesame seeds sits atop the fillets, providing a lovely contrast against the soft, moist salmon flesh.

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Just garnish with finely chopped parsley and serve with more miso marinade as a dipping sauce.

Drooling yet? Try it out tonight!

65°C White Loaf

I have always wondered how Asian bakeries create the characteristic soft and fluffy yet chewy and springy bread loaves that are so addictively delicious! So when I found this recipe, I couldn’t wait to get started to make my own fresh loaf- perfect for breakfast or afternoon tea!

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The reason behind naming the loaf “65°C” is because it uses the “tangzhong” method where a roux made of  1 part bread flour to 5 parts water cooked to 65°C is added into the dough. This roux helps to the dough to absorb more moisture to produce softer, fluffier and higher-risen bread.

It is recommended by the recipe that you use a bread machine to knead the dough, as it is a very wet mixture. If you decide, like me, to knead the dough with your hands- be warned that it will be extremely sticky and wet! I actually thought that my batch would fail (and that my arms would fall off) as it was nearly impossible to knead. Thankfully after proofing, the dough came out right again.

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Read more: http://en.christinesrecipes.com/2010/03/japanese-style-bacon-and-cheese-bread.html#ixzz2rONZ1wYo

Roasted Onions Miso- Ras el Hanout

Having just gotten hold of the aromatic North African spice mix Ras el Hanout, I was excited to try it out today in a comforting dish of slow-roasted onions with ripe tomatoes and minced garlic, bathed in a Japanese-style miso sauce. After roasting for an hour and a half, the onions transformed from being sharp and pungent to melting-ly tender and sweet!

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The onions were simply peeled and halved, then a simple marinade of mirin, soy sauce, sesame oil and crushed garlic were spooned over each cut surface. Fresh tomato cubes are squeezed between the onion rounds and is baked (covered) after a liberal sprinkling of Ras el Hanout.

In the last 15 minutes of roasting, a mixture of miso, honey, mirin and soy sauce is poured over and allowed to caramelize over the onion edges, producing a delicious sauce! Who knew North African and Japanese flavours would marry so well together?

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Miso, Rosemary & Sesame Tonkatsu

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I have been toying-around with the idea of making tonkatsu for the first time- one of the top comfort foods of Japan! What’s not to love about a crunchy panko coating encasing a succulent pork fillet? With a bag of panko lying about in my pantry, I felt it was time to tackle this famed dish in time for dinner.

Of course, I couldn’t help but to add in a few twists of my own to the traditional recipe: the pork is first marinated in a mix of miso paste, mirin, sugar, soy sauce and garlic, and then is coated in panko that is spiked with toasted sesame seeds and finely-chopped rosemary. While the tonkatsu were baking in the oven, all that was left to do was to whip up a simple dipping sauce of lemony -garlic mayonnaise. Image

The miso marinade gave the pork an extra umami and the rosemary provided a soft fragrance to the coating. My favourite part of the dish were the sesame seeds that gave an extra crunch-factor with a delicious nutty flavour!

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.    

Rose and Mint Annin-Tofu with Boysenberry Coulis

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The first post of 2014- Happy New Year! I have just been away on a fantastic holiday in Tokyo and have had some of the best foods I have ever tasted: fresh sushi at Himawari Sushi, zaru-udon with a rich pork broth at The Ramen Museum, tempura at Tempura Tsunahachi, chanko-nabe (hotpot eaten by sumo wrestlers) in Ryogoku, zarusoba at Kobayashi-Soba, sukiyaki, yakitori with plenty of sake and shochu, hot takoyaki in the streets of Nakano…

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One dish that I didn’t expect to like but loved on my first mouthful was annin-tofu. The ones I have had in the past tasted like medicine, but annin-tofu in Japan was light and refreshing with none of the medicinal flavour! It was usually served with a sweet sauce, such as fruit jam or sesame paste.

This post wouldn’t be complete without a special mention to the konbini that were found everywhere in Tokyo and stocked all manner of snacks, bento, drinks (including canned wine!) and even stationary! I have lost count of the number of times I have visited konbini during my trip to sample an interesting drink (my favourite was the hot sweetcorn soup in a can), ice-cream mochi and fresh salads. What caught my attention in the dessert aisle were the varieties of purin (pudding) in many flavours, but sadly I did not have the chance to try them out.

My Rose and Mint Annin Tofu with Boysenberry Coulis is inspired by the annin-tofu and purin that I have encountered in Tokyo. It is soft, creamy yet light with the delicate fragrance of rose and fruity-tartness of boysenberry.

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Japanese Sunny-Side Up for One

A new take on the ordinary fried egg. Light and refreshing, the use of konbu tsuyu (light seaweed-infused soy sauce), dried bonito flakes and shichimi togarashi (7-spice powder) provide a delicious Japanese twist.  Make this dish for a special breakfast or brunch for the ones you love (or just for yourself)!

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Ingredients

  • 1 large egg
  • salt and white pepper
  • 1 medium tomato, cut into eighths
  • 1 handful of dried bonito flakes
  • 1 handful of seasoned seaweed, cut into strips
  • some thinly sliced spring onion
  • shichimi toragashi, to taste 
  • knobu tsuyuto taste
  • sweet chili sauce, to taste

Method

  1. In a small non-stick frying pan (16cm in diameter), pan-fry the egg until done to your liking over medium heat. Lightly season with salt and white pepper. Remove from heat.
  2. Arrange tomato pieces on top of the egg.
  3. Mound bonito flakes in the center and scatter over seaweed strips and sliced spring onion.
  4. Sprinkle over shichimi torigashi, konbu tsuyu and sweet chili sauce