Thanks to Caleb for bringing up a point of concern and confusion...
Outside of Hawaii, the term “Warabi” is applied to the unfurled fronds of the Fernbracken (Pteridium aquilinum), also called simply Bracken (seen at left, with thanks to Crizzles). In the last 30 years or so, medical and chemical studies have linked chronic or excessive ingestion of Fernbracken by cattle and humans to esophageal and stomach tumors, and beriberi disease. Fernbracken can be found on every continent except Antartica, according to Wikipedia. It is used in traditional medicines of many cultures around the world, and is also a popular cooking ingredient (both the fronds and the rhizomes) in Japan and Korea. Recently concerns about a possible link between Fernbracken and gastric tumors has led authorities to caution people to limit their consumption of Fernbracken “warabi.” But according to the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, UH-Manoa, this does not apply to the Vegetable Fern below.
The frond of the Fernbracken looks different from that of its distant cousin, the Vegetable Fern (Diplazium esculentum, photo below), which is the focus of the original post below. Vegetable Fern (click on “5. Economic Uses” in this link) is found throughout Asia and Oceania (which includes Australia and Hawaii) and is a viable and safe food crop.
In Hawaii, the Vegetable Fern is sold as a fresh vegetable under the name “Ho‘i’o” or “Warabi,” which can lead to some confusion with the infamous Fernbracken. To make things even more confusing, in Hawaii (and elsewhere, including here in metro DC) you can find commercial preparations of pickled or cooked Fernbracken “Warabi” from Japan or Korea (in vacuum sealed packages) in the chilled aisles of Asian groceries — this is the warabi that should be consumed in limited amounts.
I will be very curious to see what is sold as fiddleheads in farmers’ markets in our new locale this spring. I don’t expect to see Vegetable Fern fronds, but maybe I’ll be in for a surprise!
As I've finally had a chance to sit down with one of the long-awaited cookbooks I received for Christmas, I've been haunted by the desire for wild greens. Laurie at Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska, has written a cookbook to benefit the building of her local church in Alaska. The cookbook, "Tastes Like Home," is filled with recipes from the church's Greek Orthodox parishioners and are brought to life in the stories and histories Laurie has captured here. The most captivating ones for me are always those that feature fresh greens, but there is special emphasis in this book on wild greens. And so I'm itching for something wild, something green. I confess I don't know the first thing about hunting wild greens, especially here in the Islands, but I always pounce on anything that remotely resembles a wild green in a market.
Which is how I came to know this fernhead green, sold locally as warabi. I love the kind of dragon-in-waiting feel the lone fiddlehead has. Warabi is easy to clean and prepare. Here we flash-cooked it with garlic, olive oil and sea salt (see Watercress post for cooking method). It lacks the bite, or slight bittterness, I crave with wild greens, but it's certainly a fun vegetable to work (and play) with! See also Sesame Warabi.
Next Thursday, February 7th, is the start of the year 4706 in the Chinese calendar and, as my niece's new T-shirt points out, is also called the Year of the Rat. People born in the Years of the Rat (1924, 1936, 1948. 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996 and this year) are said to be intelligent, just, balanced, orderly, and honest in personal relationships, or so says our all-knowing wall calendar! (Were you born in a Year of the Rat?) Festivities to welcome the new year are well underway in Honolulu's Chinatown and other Chinese communities around the island, but key festivities still remain (see side bar at bottom). Streets are festooned with colorful lanterns and signs bearing wishes for prosperity and long health; dragon-like lions wend their way through shops, banks, markets, and malls; and the air cracks with sharp reports of firecrackers to ward off evil spirits and bad luck. If you need a reason to venture into Chinatown, these last few days leading up to the New Year are a great time to visit this historic district at its prettiest and liveliest. Shops and restaurants are filled with special foods, prices can be even more competitive than ever, and there is just an air of celebration and anticipation.
As far as we're concerned, though, T and I think any day is a great day to be in Chinatown. As outlined in the earlier post, Honolulu's Chinatown: come see what you've been missing, we visit a couple of times a month for the freshest local produce, noodles, seafoods, smoothies (see Summer Frappe post) and ready-cooked meats, dumplings, and other goodies. Locations and some parking options were also covered earlier. Here we highlight some of our key finds.
Goji berries, aka wolfberries (Fructus lycii). We've used this medicinally for several years, but within the last year include wolfberries in our weekday daily breakfast oatmeal. Generous 1lb. packages retail between $4.50-$8.00 -- perhaps a third to half the retail cost we've seen elsewhere.
As mentioned in earlier posts, we prefer to shop for produce here because the turnover is so high that freshness is almost a given. We frequent many of the vegetable vendors, but our first stop is always a stall in the Kekaulike Mall marketplace called Cheap Market, Kahuku Farmers (right photo) for our leafy greens — watercress, choy sum, Chinese broccoli, baby bok choy, dill, herbs, and gai choy — but they have many others as well.
Kitchen tools I love: The julienne peeler (left), allows you to make julienne slices as easily as peeling a potato ($7-8), from Hong Fa Thai market on Maunakea/Pauahi. A Laotian rice steamer for sticky rice; the aluminum pot and bamboo basket are sold separately, and the assembly retails less than $20; also at Hong Fa. Vietnamese drip coffeemaker, a relaxing way to enjoy your favorite cup of joe on the weekend, with or without the traditional condensed milk accompaniment, retails less than $5 at most Vietnamese markets along King.
Kitchen collectibles: I have a weakness for wood kitchen articles, old and new. These antique mooncake molds and hand-grater are from Guan Hua (Chinese antiques and reproductions) on King.
For newer mooncake molds, check out Bo Wah on Maunkea. If you're discerning about hair care and insist on a boar-bristle brush, consider also using a wood, rather than plastic, comb. Wood is said to be less likely to pull (and therefore, weaken) hair; and to provide a massage-like feeling on the scalp to promote blood circulation. I love them — the top right 3 are mine, I have one at home and one in my purse, and one in my backpack; all the others are gifts for family. All the models shown retail less than $6, except for the 2-tone one which starts at $18 (depends on size and type of wood used). Available at the Americomb House on Maunkea/King — it's hard to miss with a giant wood comb in the window!
Char Hung Sut Manapua Factory's hand-made selection includes sweets and savories for every taste. Go early, things start selling out by mid-morning.
The selection of roasted chicken, char siu, pork, duck, as well as various kinds of offal at the ever-popular Wing Loy's BBQ on Maunakea. We also frequent Hong Kong style BBQ at the Far Eastern Center on King, and Nam Fong, also on Maunakea.
Fresh local and imported fruit selections are unparalleled. Visitors and picnickers looking for a ready-made taste of the islands will find cleaned and cut fruit bowls ranging from $2-4, depending on the fruits included. Chau's Fruits (middle) at the Hotel St. entrance to the Maunakea Markets, Summer Frappe in the Maunakea courtyard, and several vendors in the Food Court have ice-cold fruit bowls from which to choose. It's the best way to try a new fruit, too, if you're unsure how to prepare or eat it — everything from the common (in Hawaii) pineapples and mangos, to watermelon, rambutan, sapote, dragonfruit, jackfruit and durian (seasonal).
Here's a special find for connoisseurs of fish cakes. These are made daily from fresh spearfish/marlin at KC Meatball House, one of the stalls inside the Markets at Kekaulike Mall. KC also carries Asian-style (bound with cornstarch for a springy texture) pork meatballs that are one of T's favorites.
This factory on Likelike Mall produces hundreds of the thin, rolled rice sheet noodles in shrimp (tiny dried kind), plain and char siu flavors. Each roll is $1 or less, depending on the flavor. Recipe: Char-siu or Shrimp Funn with Chive Oil.
This small dark store-front on King Street, just ewa of Kekaulike Mall, belies the bustling noodle factory inside. Dozens of types of fresh-made wheat and egg noodles in varying thicknesses and forms, as well as wrappers for wonton, gyoza and mandoo are available. A price list is posted in the foyer just before you step down into the factory proper to place your order. Often there's a line here (but it moves quickly) so you may have time to peruse the list and make your selections before you get to the counter. Shown here are udon (left) and thick saimin noodles, both sell for $1.00/lb.
Ready for lunch? Dim sum at Good Luck Chinese restaurant at Mauna Kea/Beretania allows diners to select from dozens of steamed, fried and sauteed dishes from their traveling carts or off the extensive menu.
Pho 97 on Maunakea, near the Marketplace entrance, is our go-to stop for all Vietnamese meals: BBQ pork bun (left), Vietnamese mung bean crepe, or soups.
Want something faster than a sit-down restaurant affords? The food court at the Maunakea Marketplace has the most compelling assortment of Asian food stalls on Oahu: Singaporean, Malaysian, Thai, Laotian, Filipino, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese vendors offer fully-cooked meals ready to take, as well as short-order items like noodle soups cooked to order. Of the more than dozen stalls here, almost half offer Filipino foods so if you've ever been curious about Filipino foods, this is the place to sample different regional styles.
This is in no way a complete list, just a few of our favorites. We've only been exploring for 2 years, so if we've missed your favorite haunt or you know we're missing out on a great product, please share it with us by leaving a comment below. And if you've recently visited this vibrant district yourself, we'd love to hear what your experience was like.
We missed some of the festivities over the last 2 weekends, but a few remain this coming weekend:
Friday, February 1
First Friday Arts at Marks
Chinatown Open House at Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Chinatown District
Friday & Saturday, February 1 & 2
Chinese New Year Celebration at Chinatown Cultural Place
Friday: 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Saturday: 9:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Fireworks and lion-dances
Saturday, February 2
CMA Parade - 4:00 p.m.
Night In Chinatown - 9:00 a.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Thursday, February 7
Chinese New Year
As promised, the second part of the Table-top Cooking series features the ever-popular Sukiyaki. Like teppan-yaki style grilling (BBQ pork and bun post), there's no reason this entertaining communal style of dining has to be regulated to exotic evenings out at a Japanese restaurant. With the small investment of a single burner butane stove ($15-30, depending on your neighborhood), a few butane cartridges ($1-3 a piece), and some basic cookware, you can create this meal any time at home. A suitable pan for sukiyaki is one that is relatively low-brimmed and wide, with no long handles -- in this photo, we are using a paella-style pan.
Sukiyaki (SKI-yah-ki) is simply a braised meat and vegetable "stew" featuring thin-sliced beef, tofu, negi (Japanese leeks), enoki and shiitake mushrooms, spinach or shingiku (chrysanthemum leaves), and shirataki (yam noodles. a form of konnyaku). Traditionally, sukiyaki was a winter meal cooked over a charcoal brazier built in to a table. The brazier served both to warm the room and the diners, as well as to cook the meal. Usually one person is in charge of keeping the pot full and evenly cooked, and the other diners select cooked pieces from the bubbling pot to put first into an individual serving bowl. Often each diner has a second smaller bowl with a beaten raw egg in it —- the hot pieces of meat and vegetables are dipped into the beaten egg before being eaten with rice. The beaten egg serves 2 purposes, first to cool the hot food coming directly from the fire; second, to envelop each bite in a silken robe of deliciousness that (for me) is the signature of sukiyaki. The egg, however, is completely optional and, of course, should not be consumed by anyone with a compromised immune system, very young children, or pregnant persons. Use only the freshest eggs available, carefully washing each egg in a solution of 2 TBL. white vinegar in 1 quart/liter of water.
Sukiyaki is more a method than a recipe, like the Way to Cook. Besides cleaning and prepping all the ingredients, the only thing requiring a recipe is the braising sauce in which all the ingredients are cooked. Because the ingredients may be a little strange to most people, a brief description and tips for prepping each are included below. If some ingredients are not available to you, suggestions for substitutions are included.
Substitutions: really, only konnyaku, which is in block form, is a substitute; you can slice it lengthwise into a noodle-like shape, or try the decorative style used in another Japanese classic, Oden or Kombu (directions here). Konnyaku and shirataki are always kept in the chilled section of your market -- on Oahu, virtually every grocery store carries it. Because of its new-found popularity, you may be able to find konnyaku, if not shirataki, in a health food store if you don't have a well-stocked Oriental market nearby.
NEGI: Japanese leek, has a sharper flavor and firmer texture than the more familiar leek. Rinse whole leek, especially the root ends, then begin slicing on a sharp diagonal up to the light green tips. Fill a large non-reactive container with a solution of 1 TBL. white vinegar for every 1 quart/liter of water used, and place sliced leeks in this solution. Swish around gently, then let sit for about one minute. Swish again, then gently lift out all the leeks and place in a colander. Rinse well with running water and drain well. (Use this method for cleaning regular leeks as well). Substitutions: regular leeks (if neither is available, thinly sliced yellow onions may be used)
SHIITAKE: Dried Shiitake Mushrooms, see Braised Mushroom post for how-to prepare. Substitutions: any earthy fresh mushroom might work, shiitake, portobella, cremini, even oyster.
ENOKI MUSHROOM: Fresh tendril-like enoki are another sponge-like ingredient that readily absorbs the braising sauce. To prepare, rinse gently under running water and pat dry. Substitutions: shimeji mushrooms or leave out all together.
TOFU: Firm or extra-firm plain tofu found in the chilled area of the grocery/health store. To prepare, remove and drain, then wrap tightly in a clean kitchen towel and place in a container with a heavy dish pressing on the tofu (you're trying to extract as mush water as possible from the tofu). Leave in fridge for at least 2 hours. Remove toweling, and cut tofu into 1.5" (8cm) blocks. Tofu is a sponge for flavor, and the savory broth and braising liquid in sukiyaki makes bland tofu quite delicious and meaty-tasting.
When cleaned and prepped, assemble these ingredients in a large platter.
BEEF: Paper-thin slices of very lean beef are traditionally used. In Japan, as in most Asian cultures, meat is used as a flavoring agent rather than a focus of a meal. Therefore, 1/2lb. (250g) is enough for 4 persons. Almost every grocery on Oahu carries sukiyaki-sliced beef (it's actually labelled that way), but I've found the leanest and thinnest slices from Star Market. Elsewhere, Vietnamese and Korean markets have similarly sliced cuts. If you don't have an Asian butcher in the vicinity, ask your butcher to slice a round roast into paper-thin slices (about the thickness of deli-meats). Substitutions: maybe pork or chicken (haven't tried it). Place meat on a separate platter.
GREENS: Spinach and/or Shingiku are the traditional greens used. See Gai Choy post for cleaning and prepping leafy greens. This photo shows spinach and watercress. Substitutions: any quick-cooking leafy green or combination of greens. Place drained greens in a large bowl.
In Japan, diners begin their meal with a saying that is part exclamation, part blessing, "Itadakimasu!" (EE-tah-dah-kee-mas'). There is no direct English translation, but it is an older expression meaning, "I will receive" and is said to express the diners' thankfulness for the food about to be consumed — gratitude not only for the actual food, but also for the sacrifices and hard work (in the farm, field and kitchen) that produced the meal. I hope this meal will inspire a mood of both celebration and thankfulness at your table too!
(for 4 persons)
Prepare the braising sauce:
1 packet instant dashi no moto (dashi broth)
3 cups hot water
5 TBL. brown sugar
6 TBL. soy sauce
6 TBL. mirin
3 TBL. sake
In a small sauce pan, dissolve dashi no moto in hot water, then add sugar to blend completely. Add soy, mirin and sake, stir to blend. Set aside to cool while preparing vegetables (see above) and plating meat (see above). When ready to begin, put braising sauce in a pitcher-like container for easy pouring at the table. You can keep refilling the small table-side pitcher as needed from the sauce pan.
To set the table:
Place butane stove and pan at center of table, closest to the designated cook. Each diner will need a rice bowl, a wide shallow bowl for their individual serving, a smaller cup-like bowl for the beaten egg (if using), and chopsticks. The cook will need to have close at hand:
long chopsticks or tongs
the assembled ingredients
the braising sauce
cooking oil (only at the start of the cooking)
a tall cold drink (this is going to be hot work, tending the pot and watching everyone else eat!)
To begin, pre-heat the pan over a medium fire then add a scant 2TBL. olive oil and 3-4 slices of beef, and allow to brown very well. It's okay if the meat sticks slightly to the pan, but don't let it burn. Those browned bits are an important flavor base for your sauce. Once the meat has browned, add 1/3 of the negi (leeks), 3-4 more slices of beef, and enough braising sauce to come up about half way up the ingredients in the pan. Now add small handfuls of each of the other ingredients to the pan and keep the braising liquid simmering — you'll have to turn the heat up as you add ingredients and sauce, then back down as things get cooked. Try to keep similar ingredients together, both for aesthetic reasons and to help the diners locate what they're hungry for next! When adding more raw meat to the mix, I try to push all the fully cooked ingredients to the other end of the pan, as far away as possible.
To eat, the cook can either serve each person a portion of all the cooked bits in their individual serving bowls, or the diners can fill their own bowls with what they like. A note about etiquette at the sukiyaki table: diners should not dip their chopsticks into the sauce, or touch food that they do not put into their own bowl (i.e., don't use your chopsticks to move food around in the pan). One way around this is to have a set of serving chopsticks or tongs to allow diners to choose foods from the pan, or allow the chef to use the cooking 'sticks to fill bowls. Of course, when it's just family, who's gonna tell on you, right? : ) From their individual bowls, diners can then dip each mouthful in a beaten egg, and savor.
Aahhh, sukiyaki in the comfort of your own home. "Itadakimasu," indeed!
I"ve received a couple of emails about the use of udon noodles with sukiyaki. We always added cooked udon noodles at the very end of cooking, after most of the diners were sated and the last of the ingredients were fully cooked in the pan. The noodles sit in the braising liquid overnight in the refrigerator and fully absorb all the flavors of the pan by morning. You will have a wonderful breakfast or bento once re-heated fully in a microwave or by returning the pan to the fire. I always understood using udon as a way of not wasting the flavor-laden sauce at the end. I suppose you could include udon earlier in the process as well, and enjoy it as a substitute for, or in addition to, plain rice. Thanks to Debi and to Karl for your questions!
Still starved for fresh greens, I bought 3 large bunches of watercress in Chinatown. The photo here shows 1 bunch of cleaned, trimmed cress. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that before coming to Hawaii I only considered cress for 2 things: tea sandwiches and a plate garnish. Pretty sad, no? Both these ideas came from my training in London, but I'm glad I've overcome these limitations in my thinking and have embraced watercress for the versatile, nutritious vegetable it truly is.
Watercress, like mustard greens (see earlier post), is a cruciferous vegetable and like its cousins broccoli and cabbage, has long been recognized as an important source of calcium, iron and folic acid. According to Wikipedia, it is one of the oldest known leaf greens eaten by humans (read more). Eaten raw, watercress is prized for its peppery flavor; but when cooked, it takes on a more savory, almost tangy character, that stands up well like to strong flavors such as garlic or fermented black bean sauce, both popular preparations in restaurants serving knowledgeable Chinese clientele. Again, if you like strong flavored greens such as endive, chicory or broccoli rabe, there's a good chance you will enjoy watercress both raw and cooked.
Perhaps the best incentive to add this delicious green to your culinary repetoire is the exciting research coming out of the University of Ulster (UK) in the last year about the anti-cancer properties of watercress. That study found that daily intake of a modest amount of watercress (about 85g) can significantly reduce an important cancer trigger, namely DNA damage to white blood cells; as well as lowering cholesterol and improving absorption of lutein and beta-carotene, key minerals for eye health and the prevention of age-related conditions such as cataracts. Read more about this on the Medical News Today site.
If you're lucky enough to live near Alresford, Hampshire, UK, you can attend the Watercress Festival on Sunday, May 11, 2008. There is also a newer festival in the US that celebrates watercress in Osceola, Wisconsin — the third annual fest should be in late spring (no details available yet).
Here on Oahu, watercress grows in a most amazing locale. This close view of the Sumida Farms in Aiea (at right) shows us the lush vegetation amid irrigation culverts one would expect in a watercress farm.
But the larger view reveals that this beautifully cultivated and landscaped oasis of edible green fronts one of the major east-west thoroughfares on Oahu, Farrington Highway, and is bounded on its other three side by a large shopping mall, Pearlridge Center! The first photo is taken from the highway, which sits right beside the northernmost end of Pearl Harbor, and looks to the northeast corner of the farm. The second photo is taken from the northern (mauka) side of the shopping center, looking back towards Pearl Harbor (makai) and the highway side of the farm. Cultivation and harvest is year-round, as evidenced by the taller dark green patches adjacent to apparently harvested lighter colored patches. What a poetic resource!
So how to incorporate watercress into your diet? Well, instead of looking for specific recipes for watercress, again I would recommend using it in your own favorite preparations for fresh spinach or braised greens. Of the 3 bunches we bought, one was braised with garlic using the same method as for the Mustard Greens (see post), one was used along with spinach in Sukiyaki (coming soon), and one was flash-cooked for later use as a topping for Okinawan soba or ramen. When we buy very perishable greens such as watercress or mustard greens, I will usually either garlic-braise or flash-cook them within a day of purchase. Cooked, the greens take up less precious fridge space and are no longer susceptible to wilting. I've also provided myself with some handy timesavers for mid-week meals: with cold potatoes and eggs, we can have a frittata in 20 minutes, or an omelet in 10; with a few additional spices and perhaps a sauce, we will have a great pasta; with a sesame dressing, we have a cooked salad to accompany any meal; after a 10 second buzz in a microwave, we have a great topping for ramen; or it can provide a healthy boost to your favorite soup recipe — a couple of nights ago we added some flash-cooked watercress in the last 10 minutes of cooking a homemade chicken vegetable soup. One recipe still on the back burner in my mind is to substitute all of the spinach in a spinach dip with watercress — I'll get back to you on that one, but if someone out there does it sooner, I'd love to hear how that worked for you!
Until then, here is my method for flash-cooking watercress, or any easy-to-cook green.
1 large bunch watercress, about 1lb (450g)
2-4 TBL. olive oil
2-5 cloves garlic, diced (optional)
sea salt (optional)
Trim hollow stems of watercress to about 1-inch (5cm) of the leafy parts. Wash thoroughly in clean water, and vinegar-water solution (see Mustard Greens post for detailed directions on washing leafy greens). Cut into 2-inch (10cm) lengths.
Heat wok or other large pot just to smoking point. Add enough olive oil to coat wok/pot, then add garlic, if using, and let gently brown (about 10-15 seconds), then remove from pan.
Add watercress, and using 2 wooden spoons or spatulas, turn to coat with oil. Add more oil to the sides of the wok, if necessary, but not directly on the greens. Continue cooking on medium-high to high heat until the cress wilts and becomes bright green. Remove from heat and add salt to taste, if using (I don't use salt if I'm not using the greens right away). Cover and leave in pan another 5 minutes.
Gently squeeze greens to remove excess moisture, and either dress and use right away, or store in fridge for up to 3 days. If storing, be certain the greens will be cooked again (as in soup, Plasto, tortilla, etc.). If using as a ramen topping or side dish, microwave briefly to heat through before serving.
2-4 cloves garlic, finely minced
3 TBL. toasted (aka "dark) sesame oil
1 TBL. raw sugar
1 tsp. sea salt
2 TBL. mirin, sake, or sherry
1 tsp. soy sauce
Sesame seeds for garnish (optional)
Mix together sugar, salt, mirin and soy sauce. Stir to dissolve sugar. Pour over cooked cress and garnish with sesame seeds.
Watercress and vegetable tempura kamaboko top this ramen for an easy, nutritious one-bowl meal.
Whew . . . !! After 7 days away — 4 and 1/2 of which were spent in a car or plane, or at an airport — it is GOOD to be back home. In addition to the stress of travel, we were traveling to a funeral so there was the added emotional toll as well. Having arrived home after too many meals that were deep-fried or involved hamburgers, I am really craving greens of any kind! A leisurely trip to Chinatown yesterday allowed us to pick up some of our favorites at their freshest -- watercress, Chinese mustard cabbage, and baby bok choy.
It's true that all these greens are available at most of the groceries around the island, so why do we trek 25 miles into town and pay for parking to shop in Chinatown? Selection. Quality. Prices are also generally 20-40 percent cheaper than at the supermarkets, too, but unless you are buying in quantity or buying a lot of groceries, the savings may not make up what you will pay to park your car (see earlier post about Chinatown for details). The main reason we like the produce in Chinatown is the incredibly high turnover rate of both fruits and vegetables in almost all the markets there. What is put on the shelves at 7 or 8 a.m. is generally gone before lunch time! This translates to produce that is really fresh, and hasn't been sitting on a too-cold supermarket produce counter for days. Many vendors continue to replenish their tables until lunch, but by the afternoon the remaining produce has been pretty picked over.
Today will highlight the first of two lovely green vegetables that deserve a larger place in our vegetable repetoire, Chinese mustard cabbage. The next post will highlight our all-time favorite, Watercress.
Chinese mustard greens, also called gai choi, is a peppery variety of the cabbage family. The specimen in this photo is fully mature and should be cooked. Both the stems and leaves are edible and will cook to a pungent, peppery finish. If slow-cooked, it will become meltingly tender, like collards or mustard greens, but will keep its peppery bite. If you like broccoli rabe, arugula ("rocket" to our friends in the UK), or Belgian endive, you will probably like gai choy. Younger gai choy will have slender, straight, dark green stems, and can be eaten raw as a salad green, or quickly stir-fried. It has less of a bite than a fully mature cabbage, more like a nibble.
Cleaning Vegetables in a Vinegar Wash
To prepare mature gai choy for cooking, remove stems from core and wash well first in clean container of water, rubbing away the soil and grit at the bottom of the stems. Remove vegetables from water, drain water and fill container with a solution of 2 TBL. white vinegar and 2 quarts/liters cool water. Rinse stems and leaves thoroughly in this solution. Lift out of water, swishing leaves gently as you lift (avoid dumping water out of container while greens are still in the water — it is easier for grit and dirt to remain on your greens. Rinse again with clean water. Drain in colander.
Separate stems and leafy parts. Halve and julienne leafy greens; and halve and dice stems. If using for braised dishes or soups, add thick stem pieces early to cook down, and leafy bits in the last 15-20 minutes of cooking. Recipes previously posted that would work well with gai choy: Portuguese Bean Soup, or Chicken Tinola (Chicken and Green Papaya soup) or Plasto (Greek cornbread and greens). Or try substituting gai choy for all or half the regular greens in your favorite recipe for slow-cooked Collard Greens or Mustard Greens. Here is a quick and simple way to cook gai choy: Garlic Braised Mustard Cabbage.
GARLIC BRAISED MUSTARD CABBAGE
I large bunch mustard cabbage, or gai choy, cleaned, stemmed and diced/julienned (see above)
2-3 TBL. olive oil
4-6 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth, or water
1/2 tsp. sea salt (optional)
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper (optional)
Heat oil in wok over medium-high heat. Add garlic and stir to release fragrance and gently brown, then remove garlic and keep aside. Add cleaned mustard greens stem pieces to oil, add broth, cover and let cook 10-20 minutes, or until beginning to soften. Stir to mix well, then add leafy parts of cabbage, cover and cook another 5-8 minutes, or until leafy parts are bright green. Remove cover and allow broth to reduce by half. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper, if using. Remove to serving plate and garnish with browned garlic.
We serve this as a side dish with any meal, from meatloaf and mashed potatoes, to rice and pan-seared tofu (Okinawan Champuru). I especially enjoy gai choy prepared this way and served with its garlicky pan gravy on top of mashed potatoes for a filling and delicious non-meat meal.
More recipes with Mustard Cabbage: Tian of Roasted Potatoes & Chinese Mustard Greens
My bento is ready to go and so am I. An unexpected trip to the Bayou State has presented itself and I will be away one week. Airline meals being what they are, I usually pack my own when I can, like this easy meal of rice, pickled plum, (umeboshi), pickled ginger, sesame burdock and carrots (kinpira) and miso-glazed chicken. Simple flavors, lots of rice and ginger for a sometimes queasy stomach, and I'm good to go. Miso glazed chicken is quick and easy enough for weeknight meals, but elegant enough as well for your next dinner party.
1lb (450g) boneless chicken
3/4 cup (375ml) water
1/2 cup sake, or dry sherry, or apple juice
1 slice fresh ginger
2 TBL. mirin
3 TBL. sugar
4 TBL. white (aka "shiro") miso paste
Combine water, sake and ginger in saute pan. Lay chicken in pan, and bring liquid to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cook about 5 minutes.
Turn chicken over in pan, and add mirin, sugar and miso paste. Cover and simmer another 5 minutes.
Remove cover and continue cooking until liquid thickens and coats chicken. Turn meat to glaze both sides. Remove from heat. Garnish with green onions, or sesame seeds.
First was a dried fruit and nutcake that just happened to also be vegan. I say it that way because there's a misconception that vegan desserts = "dry, crumbly and and uninteresting." I confess, I've thought that myself. But done right, and with recipes developed by people who love good food, vegan sweets are light, luscious and very ono. The vegan butterscotch quick bread by Hannah of Bittersweet that we made in October (see post) proved that point, and so did this brandy-soaked dried fruit and nut cake from bee and Jai at Jugalbandi. Their recipe provided enough batter for a gift cake (shown here, made with a Gugelhupf pan — smaller than a Bundt) and a 8x8 cake for us. Bee recommended soaking the dried fruits in rum for a month before baking!
We were invited to a wonderful Italian-American Christmas dinner with our friends Laurie and Brian and their family. Chef Brian prepared stromboli, veal parmesan, and spaghetti with meatballs, all from scratch — he was prepping into the wee hours of Christmas morning, bless him! I offered to make Tiramisu for dessert, in keeping with their Italian menu. Laurie is expecting their third child in February so the raw eggs in my usual recipe were out of the question. Instead, I tried a creme anglaise base so the eggs were cooked before adding the other custard ingredients, and proceeded as usual. I was impressed how close this came to the original, without the worry of having to use raw eggs! This may be my recipe of choice in future because it does eliminate the concern about the eggs. Don't be tempted to substitute cocoa powder for the grated chocolate in this recipe. Chalky powder (no matter which brand) can't compete with the creamy texture and taste grated dark chocolate lends this recipe. Tiramisu, custard-based recipe. Our thanks and love to Brian and Laurie for sharing their family celebration this year — Chef B, you're the best!
This was an alternative recipe for sweet spiced nuts (see post) that does not use egg whites. It's actually more like the candied walnuts (minus the sugar coating) we had with the spicy prawns at our favorite Chinese restaurant, and they are certainly tasty. But (you knew there was a "but" coming) they're cooked first in a sugar syrup, cooled in syrup overnight, dried another night, deep-fried, and coated in sugar. It's pretty time-consuming, and very laden with fat and sugar. With that word to the wise, here's the recipe for Crispy Sweet Walnuts.
For our second consecutive Christmas Eve we had Dungeness crab cioppino. Little piece of heaven. Until we moved to Hawaii 3 years ago, I had not had Dungeness in 10 years, and T had never tried it. Having grown up in Maine and around lobster boats as a teen, dear hubby was of the opinion that no crab was worth the effort of all the work it took to eat it. He had never tried Dungeness. Let's just say, in the immortal words of "The Borg": he was assimilated. This is the first time we've included fresh clams — their extra sweetness was a delight, but not necessary if they're not available where you are. Dungeness crab cioppino recipe.
Just for today,
I will not anger
I will not worry
I will be grateful
I will work hard on myself
I will be kind to others
- Five Principles of Reiki
Thank you to every person who has written to share their experiences with Reiki, either on New Year’s Eve or elsewhere, or their genuine interest to learn more about it. I just wanted to take a moment to share with everyone a few resources for those who would like to learn more about Reiki in general, to find a practitioner for hands-on healing.
When asked, many people say they aren’t sure if they felt anything during their session, whether hands-on or distant. This is not unusual. As a recipient of Reiki from other people, I always experience a sense of deep relaxation, and usually also a sensation of energy in motion, whether as undulating or pulsing waves, or warmth traveling from the site of the practitioner’s hands to other parts of my body. One practitioner sent cool energy from her hands which was still deeply relaxing. As a practitioner, I often feel very warm internally (as if I’ve been doing intense core exercises), and my hands and feet feel very cool, although when doing in-person treatments, I’m always told my hands feel like a heating pad.
For a description of what you can expect during Reiki hands-on treatment, I recommend the book, Reiki: Healing Yourself & Others, by Reiki Master Marsha Burack. I chose this book for my home library recently because it’s beautifully illustrated and includes photographs of each Reiki hand placement. On the Web, Reiki Master David Herron offers a description of Reiki treatments and the hand positions on his site, The Reiki Page.
For a more clinical description of Reiki, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) provides an introduction to Reiki as it is understood by their scientists on their site.
In this scientific vein, perhaps one of the most exciting developments about Reiki is its use in clinical trials sponsored by the NIH. There are currently 5 different scientific studies funded by the NIH that are looking at the effects of Reiki on stress, advanced AIDS, fibromyalgia, prostate cancer, and the effects of diabetes (painful neuropathy & cardiovascular risk). (Learn more or volunteer — 2 of the studies are still recruiting). I’ve also found a reference to, but haven’t read, a journal article about the use of Reiki in managing pain in advanced stage cancer patients: "A phase II trial of reiki for the management of pain in advanced cancer patients," Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, Volume 26, Issue 5, November 2003, pages 990-997. Karin Olson RN, PhD, John Hanson MSc, and Mary Michaud RN.
Even without the hard empirical evidence, many hospitals, treatment centers and hospices now have patient treatment programs, mostly staffed with volunteers. Learn more about the Reiki In Hospitals project.
And more recently, nurses in many states can earn continuing education credits when learning Reiki. Reiki’s benefits to both patients and nurses (as self-treatment) is widely recognized in that profession. See individual states for requirements.
If you would like to find a Reiki practitioner for a hands-on session, the International Association of Reiki Practitioners (I am not a member) has a site available in English, French and Spanish that will assist you in finding one of their members near you.
If you’d like to continue distance healing, the Free Reiki Project accepts requests for Reiki healing, and is staffed by volunteers. You can reach the Project on RM David Herron’s site.
More questions? Let's talk about it — leave a comment below or email me.
On Etouffee: I have permission to print Paula's wonderful Crawfish Etouffee recipe. (See updated post)
On Fried Olives stuffing: we filled more olives, but also sweet peppers and mushrooms. (See updated post)
Taking advantage of the abundant fresh fish and shellfish available here, we often turn first to the classics. When it comes to fresh shrimp, few things can top this simple preparation often called "scampi" in seafood and Italian restaurants: whole shrimp sauteed in garlic oil and spices, and finished in a light buttery cream sauce. And when it comes to garlic, the highest authority on my shelves is the The Garlic Lovers' Cookbook (see book review) by the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association. Gilroy, California proudly claims itself the "Garlic Capital of the World" and during the last weekend in July for the last 30 years, over one hundred thousand visitors to its 3-day festival make it so. The Gilroy Garlic Festival serves up everything from its Gourmet Alley classics like calamari salad, garlic bread and this scampi, to the more unusual garlic wine, ice cream, chocolates, and "mountain oysters." All profits from the festival go to local charities. It's a delicious win-win for everyone. This year the Festival will take place July 25-27th at Christopher Ranch in Gilroy. If you're planning your first trip there, a word to the wise: go early, and don't let the garlic ice cream be the first thing you try that day! Until you can stroll Gourmet Alley for yourself, these finger-lickin' ono shrimp will tide you over.
GARLICKY SHRIMP IN BUTTER SAUCE
(adapted from The Garlic Lovers' Cookbook)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, finely mince
4 oz. clam juice or fish stock
2 TBL. flour
2 tsp. minced parsley
1/4 cup (60 ml) dry white wine
2 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. dry basil
Dash of nutmeg
1/4 cup (60 ml) half-and-half, or light cream
sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
Over very gentle heat, saute garlic in butter (don't let butter brown). Combine clam juice, flour, and parsley, and stir until smooth. Add to pan and blend well. Add wine, lemon juice, basil and nutmeg, blend well. Slowly add dairy, and stir until thickened. Simmer gently 30 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning.
2 TBL. butter
2 TBL. olive oil
3-5 cloves garlic, minced
Juice and zest from 1/2 lemon
1 TBL. parsley, minced
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 tsp. minced fresh basil
1/4 cup (60 ml) dry white wine
Dash of sherry
1 lb. shrimp
sea salt and ground black pepper
Heat butter and oil over medium heat, add garlic and cook to soften. Add lemon juice, parsley, pepper, basil, wine, sherry, and salt and pepper, and cook for about 2 minutes, until fragrant. Add shrimp, and lemon zest, and toss to combine. Cook until shrimp are just firm, and turning pink. Pour Butter Sauce over and heat through. Immediately remove from heat and serve with Bruschetta or over long pasta (linguine, spaghetti, etc.) to soak up the delicious sauce.
New Year's Day foods have to be special, even when they're not the traditional Japanese fare we usually have (previous post). And since we decided to postpone making sukiyaki until dad's upcoming visit, something equally special had to fill those proverbial shoes. But what? Well, the University of Hawaii Warriors were playing in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day — first time ever in this Bowl game — and the island was caught up in the excitement of this momentous game. The game was in New Orleans so it seemed natural to make our favorite dish from the Big Easy — Crawfish Etouffee (EH-too-fay).
I've never been to New Orleans, so everything I know about it, I learned in my first bowl of crawfish etouffee — It's earthy and spicy, and little bit naughty. My dear friend Paula, a Nawlins native now residing in Cambridge, Mass., shared her family's recipe for etouffee with us when she wanted to introduce us to the joys of crawfish. The shellfish in question was already cooked, peeled and frozen -- ready to be added to a prepared sauce. This is the only type of crawfish I've ever had, but it's pretty darn tasty — and the frozen pack is a full pound of solid tail meat, no shells. A trick I learned from Paula is to add the frozen crawfish unthawed to the simmering sauce so the all-important liquid "fat" is added to the sauce too. This will add a lot of flavor to your finished dish. (To find crawfish on Oahu, see Honolulu Chinatown post)
In their native habitat, crawfish are actually small lobster-like crustaceans (see drawing on package) similar to langoustines on the Continent, and they are wildly popular in Louisiana — boiled in a spicy brew in vast quantities and eaten from the shell. I've not had the pleasure of this Big Easy experience, but until I do, the etouffee will keep us happy.
PAULA'S CRAWFISH ETOUFFEE
(The real McCoy)
For the Roux (roo):
3 TBL. butter
3 TBL. flour
Combine butter and flour in heavy-bottomed pan (cast-iron is ideal) and cook on very low heat, stirring constantly, for 40 to 50 minutes, or until it achieves a nutty color.
An internet version says you can skip making the roux because it makes the etouffee heavy. This might be true of a short-cooked roux, but the longer a roux is cooked, the less binding power it has because the flour is browning and losing its glutinous quality. Instead, the long-cooked roux lends a nutty flavor and buttery finish that is completely lost if this step is omitted. It's worth the time, trust me.
2 TBL. EACH oil and unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely diced (about 3/4 cup, 150g)
1/2 bell pepper, finely diced (about 1/2 cup, 85g)
1 large stalk celery, finely diced (about 1/2 cup, 85g)
3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 TBL.)
1 cup (160g) minced tomatoes
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 TBL. paprika
1 tsp. thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1/2 bunch scallions, chopped (about 3/4 cup, 37g)
1 TBL. Worcestershire sauce
1 TBL. minced parsley
1 1/2 cup (375ml) fish or chicken stock
1/2 cup (120ml) dry white wine
1 lb. (450g) crawfish tail meat, with fat
Heat the butter/oil in a pan and saute the onion, bell pepper and celery over medium-low heat until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, green onions, thyme, bay leaves, tomato, parsley, salt, and both peppers. Add stock and white wine to the roux and stir to combine, then add to sauce. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Add frozen crawfish or cleaned tail meat, cover and simmer another 10 minutes or until heated through.
Serve with boiled long-grain rice, and a side of french bread or Bruschetta. Hot sauce on the table for the brave. Paula also recommends potato salad with this. Now that's good eatin'!!
I just had to share this bit I heard on the morning news about the Warriors game at the Superdome. It's a testament to the spirit of Aloha that this state can personify.
Tens of thousands of fans from Hawaii flew out to New Orleans for this historic game. Optimism for another win to top off the Warriors' undefeated season was raging. Unfortunately, the Georgia Bulldogs have a bite nastier than their bark, and the Warriors faced a crushing 10-41 defeat. Although it seemed clear by the 4th quarter that the Warriors would not be able to rally back to win, and despite the late hour (it was after midnight CST), the overwhelming majority of Hawaii fans stayed to cheer their team. At the game's end, as the team started to leave the field, the fans gave them a raucous standing ovation. You could see the surprise light up the team's faces as they stopped dead in their tracks to acknowledge the applause. Now that's taking care of your ohana (family). In the dark disappointment of the night, Hawaii had brought their Warriors . . . a rainbow.
Usually, New Year's Day is a day filled with Japanese symbols and foods in our home. Maybe it's because it was the one holiday we celebrated when I was growing up that was specifically Japanese. Back in the day, Guam's Okinawan, Japanese, and other Asian cultures did not have ready access to many of the foodstuffs and decorations they would have liked to celebrate the New Year the way it is celebrated in their countries of origin. One stand-by that was available for the holiday, but often hoarded and in short supply, was fresh mochi, especially daifuku (seen here) -- the pillowy soft rice cake filled with sweet beans. In later years, grocers started carrying the special ingredients necessary for sukiyakc during the holiday season: fresh spinach, shirataki, Japanese leeks, paper-thin slices of beef, in addition to the readily available dried shiitake and fresh tofu.
In Japan and places where there is a substantial population with Japanese ancestry, it is customary to prepare an elaborate and highly-specialized multi-course (as many as 30!) meal called osechi-ryori (see photos on bento.com) during the new year period. On Guam this was usually only available at the finest Japanese restaurant on the island and ran about $100 per person. Here on Oahu, one can buy the ingredients, either raw or already prepared, to prepare this special feast at home. Once after I had returned to Guam as an adult, I went to lunch with my mother for this special New Year's meal, and just could not appreciate many of the strong flavors and unusual foods. After that year, mom went with my aunt and other friends. Dinner, though, was still sukiyaki.
This year T and I opted to wait for my dad's visit here in a couple of weeks to make the sukiyaki. But to keep the Japanese theme, we had Okinawan kombu and sekihan (adzuki beans and mochi rice) for new year's eve, and we started the new year with the traditional Japanese New Year's soup called ozoni, in which grilled or steamed plain mochi (no fillings) swims in a light dashi (broth), along with some shiitake, greens, and kamaboko (fishcake). This soup (sorry, no photos this year) symbolizes long-life and good health for the new year. Some people say you should pull the mochi away as you bite it (visualize warm mozzarella on a pizza as you take a bite) — and the longer the "string" of mochi that you pull away, the longer your life. Afterwards, we switched gears and enjoyed a rich breakfast of organic french roast coffee, sweet rolls, and for me (T left for a hike) pickled eggs and sausage.
But since we weren't having sukiyaki, what about dinner? Well, we picked a New Orleans-style specialty since we were planning to watch the UH Warriors play at the Superdome today (tomorrow's post). And we started the meal with a new recipe we've been dying to try — Italian stuffed and fried olives. We first saw these little gems at Rowena's Rubber Slippers in Italy early last month — meaty green olives filled with meat and cheese, lightly breaded and deep-fried! We both LOVE olives, but had never seen such a decadent use of the savory wonders so, of course, it had to be made and sampled!
One thing you should know about me: I hate deep-frying. I love deep-fried foods, no question — but if I can find someone else to do the frying, I'll take the option every time. Tempura, fish and chips, fried calamari — love them! Don't cook them myself, though. Which is a testament to how good these looked and how much we wanted to taste them. On her site, Rowena offers tips on slicing the olives for optimal filling (note my attempt to follow her directions, not always with success), a recipe for a lamb and beef filling, and do-ahead tips for entertaining. I had to substitute ground pork and feta, instead of the meats and parmesan specified, due to time constraints, but otherwise followed her directions to a "T." Rowena's delectable Ascolana-style Fried Olives recipe is here.
I only made 9 since it was just us two and they were only supposed to be a precursor to the etouffee. Two words: unbelievably ono. We each wolfed down our allotted share with thick slabs of sourdough bread, and considered stealing some off our spouse. They were everything you think they might be. Maybe more. I think I would keep to the parmesan cheese next time — the feta was delicious, but with the other seasonings used, especially the white wine, I think the parmesan will blend better. I have lots more filling and olives to do this again on the weekend. I also have some miniature sweet peppers that we will try with the same filling and cooking method. Bottom line: this recipe went straight in to the Family Favorites folder of my files.
UPDATE (Jan. 8, 2008): Couldn't resist making more olives over the weekend, as well as sweet peppers and mushrooms with the same filling. The mushrooms were stuffed, then given a sprinkling of bread crumbs, drizzle of olive oil, and bath of chicken broth and sherry (about 1/3 of the way up the mushrooms) and baked. The peppers were simply stuffed, drizzled and baked.
They were all good, but I think this filling best suits the briny-ness of the olives. Next time, I would add something salty or briny to the remaining filling before using it for another vegetable — perhaps some minced olives or capers, or maybe some anchovies. A delicious experiment, nonetheless.