Roasted Stuffed Tomatoes


I know winter is the worst season for buying tomatoes. Living in Maryland, we know for certain they're not local or flavorful this time of year — too often they're firm to the point of being hard though they look pretty enough.

But there is a way to "make lemonade" from these lemons of a tomato, to use their flaw (hardness) as a strength by putting them to work as edible containers for a flavorful filling; and to concentrate and sweeten what small flavor they might have by roasting. The result is an inexpensive and utterly delicious meal for a family of four. When tomatoes go on sale for around $1.99/lb. this time of year, this meal comes together for about $5 (and that's using organic ground beef, even less if using regular ground beef) since you only use a half-pound of meat.

Since the ground beef we use is pre-packaged in 1 pound packages (from Costco), I usually brown the whole pound, and freeze or refrigerate half the cooked meat for another meal. Pre-cooked ground meat is a great freezer staple to make quick work of weekday meal planning. Throw it into a pasta sauce with olives or mushrooms for a quick bolognese, mix it with tofu and peas in a chili garlic sauce for 30-minute Spicy Mapo Tofu over rice, or scramble with eggs and your favorite greens (we love watercress or spinach) and fry as a fritatta. But I digress...

First the ground beef is browned with aromatics (onions and garlic) and herbs. Next the pan is deglazed with broth or water which is then added to the roasting pan, so maximum flavor is extracted from a mere half-pound of ground beef! When the beef is mixed with cooked rice and dried fruit, you have a versatile filling that is equally good stuffed in chayote squash, zucchini, and eggplants as in tomatoes. Whichever veg you use, be sure to have lots of bread to sop up the tasty sauce!



For the tomato shells:
8 medium tomatoes

Cut off top ¼ of each tomato and keep aside. Line a large plate with paper towels.

With a teaspoon, scoop out the seeds and insides of the tomatoes. Place each tomato upside down on the paper towels to drain. Chop up the tomato innards and keep for the sauce.

For Filling:
2 TBL olive oil
½ medium onion, finely diced
3-6 cloves garlic
sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried thyme
¼ tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
¼ -½ cup raisins or currants
4 cups cooked cold rice

To Roast:
1 cup broth or water
3 TBL olive oil


The Butcher's Turkey Vegetable Soup


So far this season, we've enjoyed an incredibly mild winter in Frederick County, Maryland — here and there a night of snowfall, maybe freezing rain and ice on a few mornings. On the whole it's been mostly sunny, with temps in the 40s and even 50s throughout December and January. Of course, this is after we had that freak snowstorm in October!

But today the sky is the color of slate, our high will be right at freezing, and it's snowing — not the pretty powder snow we've seen so far this winter, but heavy leaden flakes. And they're blowing horizontally! Winds are gusting about 45mph according to my Weatherbug app, but I think they really must be over 55mph — did I mention the snow is flying horizontally?! OK. So it's snowing, big deal. Punxsutawney Phil did predict 6 more weeks of winter, after all. And if you can't trust a groundhog to predict the weather, who can you trust?

So why am I whining about the weather? Maybe because the daffodils are beating out the crocuses in blooming this year; maybe because I've been stealth-purchasing seeds for herbs and greens already; maybe because my Pacific Rim roots are yearning for an ocean breeze. Whatever the reason, I'm in serious need of some comfort food. So I pulled open the freezer and found some turkey necks that I stocked up after Thanksgiving. Ah, yes… turkey vegetable soup. Simple, light, and loaded with vegetables. What could be better on a day like today?

I learned about using turkey necks to make soup when I was a student in the 80s (ahem… stop doing math in your head, please) from a kindly butcher at the Safeway supermarket near my school in Santa Clara, California. I was staring at the packaged necks in the display case and wondering to myself what on earth one would use turkey necks for, when the butcher came out to re-stock the meat display and saw me staring. "Soup," he said, reading my mind. "They make the best soup. Lots of bone and a little skin for flavor. And you'd be surprised how much meat is on them if you care to take the meat off the bones. Everybody loves chicken soup, but I think turkey makes the better broth. Do you make soup?" At that point in my life, I had never really made soup from scratch before. So he gave me a quick rundown of the basics of homemade broth, and sent me on my way armed with a pack of turkey necks. I've never looked back.

The biggest difference in the way my broth-making has evolved from the butcher's instructions is that I almost always include ginger in my broths, whether it's turkey, chicken, beef or pork. Ginger not only adds a nice flavor note, but it is a "warm" spice that many traditional medicinal practices (including TCM and Ayurveda) recognize as stimulating — heating the body from the inside out and supporting or even boosting the immune system. Could be just what the doctor orders when the mercury starts to head south...

Thank you, Mr. Butcher, whoever you are, for a lifetime of homemade soups that started with your generous and helpful suggestions that early winter morning in 1987.

Serves 4-5 people

So many folks are intimidated by the idea of making soup from scratch. No need! Soups are a great way to make hearty and heart-healthy meals from the toughest cuts of meat — or even better, bones! While it does take some time to extract the most flavor from bones and meat for a broth, much of the cooking time can be done on a back burner or even in a slow-cooker while you do other things. Or if you're very clever and set up a slow-cooker before you go to bed, while you're asleep! And while I often chill chicken, pork and beef broths so the fats solidify and are easy to remove, that step isn't necessary for this broth because turkey necks have very little skin and therefore almost no fat.

You'll notice that the soup has few seasonings other than onion and ginger in the broth, and sea salt, black pepper and chervil in the finished soup. Most of the rich flavor comes from the vegetables. Frozen vegetables are fine, but use as many fresh vegetables as you can since they will give the greatest depth and sweetness to the soup. In the soup pictured here, the zucchini, carrots, mushrooms and beans were fresh; the peas and corn were frozen.

3-4lbs. (about 1.3-1.8kg) turkey necks
1 large onion, halved and papery skin removed
3-4 fingers of ginger, sliced (to peel or not to peel is up to you)
1-2 bay leaves (optional, the butcher recommended this, but I usually don't use it for turkey broth anymore)

Place turkey necks, onion and ginger in a large Dutch oven or stock pot. Add enough cold water to cover the ingredients by an inch. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Once it starts to boil, turn heat down to medium low. As impurities rise and form a frothy scum, skim them off and discard. Once the broth is cleared of impurities, you can cover the pot, turn the heat down to low and attend to other things in the kitchen (prep the veggies for the soup, or maybe bake a loaf of bread) while time works its magic on the broth, about 4-5 hours.

If doing this in a slow-cooker, set the temperature to LOW and just ignore the whole thing for 8 hours.

Strain the broth, setting aside the necks and discarding the onion and ginger pieces. Remove as much meat from the bones as you can. Rough chop the meat and keep aside.

To Finish:
3-4 lbs (about 1.3-1.8kg) of fresh vegetables of your choice
(In the soup pictured here, we used 1lb. of zucchini/courgettes, ½lb. cremini mushrooms, ½lb. green beans, ¼lb. peas, 1lb. carrots and ½lb. corn niblets. If we had any broccoli or potatoes in the house today, I would have added them in too, and less of some of the other vegetables. Other veggies you might use: sweet potatoes, collard greens, kale, butternut squash, leeks, celery, cooked garbanzo or navy beans [any bean, really], parsnips, spinach, whatever vegetables you have on hand)
1 tsp. chervil (my choice),
or ½ tsp. oregano + 1 tsp. basil (the butcher's choice)
sea salt
fresh ground black pepper

Return strained broth and chopped meat to the pot, add vegetables and seasonings, and bring soup to a boil over medium-high heat. Once the soup is boiling, turn heat down to medium low and simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked through. Taste and correct seasoning.

Serve hot with slabs of a nice hearty bread like this is sourdough multi-grain (next post).
Nutty cheeses round out the meal — goat Gouda and raw milk Emmentaler from Trader Joe's.

More soup ideas?
German-style Green & White Beans Soup,
Potato, Leek & Rainbow Chard Soup,
Chicken Soup for the Soul,
Creamy Sweet Corn & Shrimp Soup,
Snert (Dutch Split Pea Soup),
Portuguese Bean Soup (it's really Hawaiian),
Krautsuppe (Orange-scented Sauerkraut Soup)


Wild Fermentation: Homemade Sauerkraut

If you're a regular reader here, you've seen my husband T. take a culinary turn a few times, most recently with those elegant crepes that we filled with homemade lemon curd and fresh blueberries. Often when T. steps into the culinary spotlight it involves a cool tool he covets — a professional crepe pan, for instance, or in this case an antique cabbage shredder that he has restored.

Shortly before we left Germany, T. spent a day with his colleague, Lamont (an American), who was famous for his homemade Sauerkraut in a land where Sauerkraut was quite ubiquitous. Not only was the kraut homemade, Lamont shredded the cabbage by hand using an antique shredder he had found in a flea market and restored to working condition (the Krautmeister and his shredder in photo at right). Their kraut-making day started shortly after dawn, as Lamont insisted on getting the freshest available cabbage from a farmers' market near Heidelberg, a 50-mile journey. (The fresher the cabbage, the higher its water content — an important factor in how much natural brine the cabbage will produce.)

Once they had secured two 30-gallon bags full of cabbage, they returned to Lamont's house for T's apprenticeship. Between the two of them, they shredded, salted and tamped enough cabbage to fill 4 large crocks with salted cabbage (photo, left). A common misperception is that Sauerkraut is made with vinegar; probably because it's so sour. Actually, Sauerkraut is made with only cabbage and non-iodized salt (the iodine in iodized salt interferes with the fermentation process), such as sea salt or kosher salt. After a short time, the cabbage will exude water, which mixes with the salt to create a natural brine that covers the cabbage. The brine creates an environment in which the cabbage can ferment safely.

Lamont generously gifted us with one of those crocks full of Sauerkraut-in-waiting, and coached T. on its maintenance. We patiently watched over our crock, taking care to check the kraut for surface "bloom" — an unsightly but mostly benign bacteria that can grow on the brine surface that should be removed — and keeping the well around the lid filled with clean water to create an air-tight seal. After the requisite 10-week fermentation period, it was quite a treat to eat fresh hand-made and homemade Sauerkraut! T. could not wait to try it again on his own. But just as he was planning to search for his own shredder, we learned we had one month to prepare for a move to Hawaii!

Now, three moves and six years later, we have found ourselves in a part of the U.S. that was settled by German immigrants — an area in which T. might finally find an antique cabbage shredder. For over a year, we scoured antique shops and flea markets in search of a functional shredder. Many of the antique shredders we saw were rendered unusable by paint, glue, or other decorative touches. He finally found one that was merely rusty, as well as a wooden tamper for pressing the cabbage in the crock. After disassembling the whole shredder, removing all the rust, sharpening the blades, and cleaning and finishing the wood with a food-grade oil, he was ready for his first batch of Sauerkraut.

For directions and safety guidelines for making Sauerkraut, he used several sources on the Web. Check out Wild Fermentation, Wedliny Domowe (a Polish culinary how-to site), and the Sauerkraut forum on The Garden Web for detailed information if you are inspired to try this at home.

T. insisted on doing this the old-fashioned (= hard) way, but you can absolutely
shred the cabbage with a modern mandoline or even a food processor.

Sea salt was mixed in as each cabbage was shredded
(any iodine-free salt will do).

It took 15 heads of cabbage to fill the crock! He used cabbage grown in
nearby Sharpsburg — locally grown produce will be freshest and
will have the highest water content to make a natural brine.

The salted cabbage was tamped down in the crock.

To keep the cabbage weighted so it stayed submerged,T. used bags of brine.
The brine was a precaution; if the bags accidentally broke, the salt water
would not interfere with fermentation.

This crock has a well around the lid that is filled with water to create a tight seal to keep out pathogens.
You have to check the lid every day or two to make sure the water hasn't evaporated.
Sometimes you can hear the crock "burping" when gas escapes from under the lid and through the water!

After 4 weeks: starting to ferment, but still crisp green — a cabbage/kraut hybrid.
T. was already sampling the kraut as a salad at this point.

T. enjoys Sauerkraut as a side dish, uncooked and ungarnished — which is the best way to gain the full benefit of fermented food. Sauerkraut is high in fiber and Vitamins C and K, and is a good source of lactic acid bacteria which contribute to a healthy digestive tract and immune system. To get the latter benefits, though, you should eat Sauerkraut raw and seek out brands that are unpasteurized. Or make it yourself, of course! But if you plan to cook the Sauerkraut, a pasteurized brand that is naturally fermented and packed in plastic or glass works fine.

Most of this first batch was given away to T's colleagues, who were intrigued with the whole idea of homemade kraut and wanted to taste for themselves. We did enjoy Apfelsauerkraut (recipe below) with turkey keilbasa a couple of times, but I was shocked to learn yesterday that the first crock of Sauerkraut is already history! So this can only mean one thing — a second batch is being planned, this time with other vegetables (carrots? Brussel sprouts? cauliflower?) thrown in as well. Of course, it will be at least a couple of months before another batch will be ready. Oh well, we still have kimchi when we need a fermented cabbage fix!

If you're in an especially adventurous mood, you might want to try this unusual and utterly delicious tomato-based soup laced with orange: Krautsuppe mit Krabben, Sauerkraut Soup with Shrimp. If you enjoy the Korean kimchi soup, Jigae, you might like this German take on a fermented cabbage soup.

Serves 4 persons

This recipe has won converts from sworn Sauerkraut-haters — the addition of apples and apple cider mellows the sourness of the kraut without erasing its characteristic flavor. Feel free to substitute apple juice, beer, dry white wine or chicken broth for the hard cider too.

Make this without any meats, to serve as a side dish with ham or salmon, or mix in with egg noodles for a non-meat meal.

4oz bacon or salt pork, diced (optional)
2 TBL light olive oil
1-2 tsp. caraway seeds
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
2-3 large, firm cooking apples, such as Cox-Pippin or Granny Smith
(about 1.5 lbs/750g), cored and sliced into 16-20 pieces
2 lbs/ 1kg fresh sauerkraut
1 cup hard apple cider

2 lbs sausage or wurst, or 4 pork loin chops, browned well (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C.

Place oil and bacon, if using, in oven-proof skillet large enough to hold sauerkraut and sausages/pork chops. Over medium high heat, render fat from bacon, if using, about 5 minutes. Remove browned bacon pieces from skillet.

Turn heat down to medium, add caraway seeds and stir until the seeds are fragrant, about 1 minute. Add sliced onions, and stir through, then cook slowly until onions just start to turn translucent, about 3 minutes.

Add sauerkraut and sliced apples, and stir through. Add pre-browned sausage or chops to top of sauerkraut. Pour cider around sauerkraut, and cover skillet with lid. Place in pre-heated oven for 25-40 minutes, or until meat is cooked through (sausage will cook faster than pork chops).

Apfelsauerkraut with turkey kielbasa and purchased
Kartoffelknoedel (Bavarian-style potato dumpling)


Soup's On: Potato, Leek & Rainbow Chard

Well here we are, more than half way through National Soup Month and this is only the first soup we've posted! Truth to tell, I didn't even remember January was set aside to honor soup until my SIL sent me a head's up about it yesterday. (Thanks, Tra!)

As yours probably does too, our soup consumption climbs as the thermometer starts to dip. And we've been near or below freezing for awhile in our corner of Maryland. Therefore, lots of soup.

And for some reason, we've had more than our usual share of potato-based soups lately. Maybe because these potato soup recipes usually don't require a lot of long-simmering stock and can be ready from knife to table in under an hour. Maybe because potatoes are both plentiful and filling in the winter. Maybe because we love potatoes. Probably all of the above.

When first snow, then ice kept this island girl indoors and away from driving last week, by Friday I was really eager to re-stock fresh greens in our larder. I spotted this bunch of rainbow chard from across the crowded produce department of our nearest Korean market, glimpsed in snatches between a shuffling mass of bundled shoppers (transported in 4 buses from a nearby retirement community) all jostling for the best produce. But the chard's bright colors were a technicolor beacon: Buy Me, it called. And I knew I would.

So now it's starring in this potato-based soup which I've dubbed Rainbow Soup, named for the colorful chard stalks that double as a healthy, low-cal "crouton" garnish. In addition to potatoes, there is a healthy helping of leeks and a whisper of cream. Hmmmm, you're saying to yourself, this sounds suspiciously like vichyssoise. And you're right! That is one of our favorite soups — chilled or not — so we're building on that flavor profile. The inspiration for throwing in the greens comes from another hearty favorite, Caldo Verde, the Portuguese-style potato and kale soup.

The rainbow inspiration also comes from waxing nostalgic about living on Oahu while putting on 3 layers of clothing every morning — and that's if I'm just staying home! (Did I mention I grew up on an island?) Hawaii is nicknamed the Rainbow State, for obvious reasons, and the vibrant color and crunch from these chard stems are a welcome splash of Aloha against the monotone in both the skies and our soup bowls. (Though I would prefer my Aloha-in-a-bowl in the form of a Loco-Moco, but that's another story...)

And since we're taking this 4800 mile segue anyway, I've been meaning to give a shout out to the folks at Hawaii's public radio station, KIPO, and one of our favorite local programs there, Aloha Shortsa weekly program hosted by Cedric Yamanka of short stories written by local authors and read before a live studio audience by local actors and story tellers. The best way to get your weekly dose of island flavor, short of the 12-hour flight from the East Coast! Aloha Shorts has long been available for live-streaming from the KIPO website, but for those of us who are not awake at midnight (EST) to catch the show live, Aloha Shorts is now available as a podcast from Bamboo Ridge Press on the iTunes store! As of this writing, there are 15 weeks worth of readings awaiting your listening pleasure. But there's a limited window of time during which each new episode is available, so get them while you can. You can also subscribe to the podcast so you won't miss any new shows. Unlike other podcasts, these aren't deleted from my iTunes library after the first listen-to so whenever I really need a dose of island sunshine it's as close as my computer or iPod.
(UPDATE 01/22/2011: I received a comment from one of the producers of Aloha Shorts with the happy news that you can find ALL of the shows episodes on the Bamboo Ridge Press website! You won't be able to download them from here, but you can stream any show on demand. In her own words:

"Please let your readers know that all the past episodes are available at  Just go to "Broadcast Archives" and click on "Show More."  We're happy to warming the hearts of those on the East Coast and around the world with the humor, memories, and wisdom of Hawaii's local literature.  We're also on Facebook at  Hau'oli Makahiki Hou.  ~  Phyllis Look"

Thank you for the info, Phyllis. And a great big Aloha to all the folks on the show!
So to recap, a rainbow in your soup bowl and tales of living Aloha in your earbuds... See, winter doesn't have to be so gray.

Happy National Soup Month, Tracey! Hope the soup's on in your home, too!

What's your favorite soup? Speaking of all things Aloha, this is mine.

Serves 4 persons

1 bunch of rainbow swiss chard
3 large leeks, sliced and washed well
4 TBL unsalted butter
2 TBL olive oil
4 large Russet potatoes, about 1½ lbs (680g), peeled and sliced thinly
sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
4 cups (1L) low-salt chicken or vegetable broth, or water
¼ cup (60ml) dry sherry or dry white wine, such as Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc
2 TBL light cream (optional)
3 TBL grated Parmesan, plus extra for garnish

Wash chard well in a mixture of 2 qt/L of cool water and 2 TBL of distilled white vinegar. Rinse under cold running water and drain in a colander. Separate the stalks from the greens and trim, then dice. Reserve a small handful of diced stalk (I chose some of each color) for garnish. Shred the chard greens.

In a large Dutch oven or small soup pot, saute leeks in butter and oil over medium heat. When leeks have softened, about 10 minutes, add chard stalks, potatoes, salt, pepper and broth. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until potatoes are completely soft.

Using a hand blender or potato masher (depending on whether you want a pureed soup or a more rustic version), blend the potatoes into the broth. Add sherry, Parmesan and chard greens, and simmer 10 minutes longer. Remove from heat and add cream, if using, and correct seasoning.

Ladle in individual bowls and garnish with reserved diced chard stalks and Parmesan.

This is very filling, and we skipped the breads we would usually have with soup.
A little ironic, given my current obsession with bread-baking...


5-A-Day: Roasted Brussels Sprouts

It seems to me that many winter vegetables get a bum rap. They're hearty enough to withstand the cool to cold weather so they're either thick-skinned, thick-leafed, or buried deep in the ground. This means they often require a bit more preparation to clean, peel and cook, but the pay-off is worth the extra effort.

We love winter greens, squashes and root vegetables as much as their more highly-touted spring and summer cousins. And among the best in season now are Brussels sprouts. At this time of year they are especially sweet, whether cooked or raw. And if you are lucky enough to live near the California Monterey Coast, where you can buy whole stalks directly from the growers, or near a Trader Joe's, where you can buy really fresh sprouts still on their stalks for only $3.49, then you are in for the best treat of all: Roasted Brussels Sprouts on the stalk!

OK, so the roasting-on-the-stalk bit might be a little over-the-top, but wouldn't this be a great way to serve them for a dinner party or buffet table. (Many thanks to the Trader Joe's associate who shared the idea of roasting on the stalk.) It's quite a dramatic presentation, and each guest can cut away the sprouts directly from the stalk. But even if you remove the sprouts prior to roasting, the concentrated sweetness and tender bite of roasted Brussels sprouts will win over even the most ardent cruciferous-veggie-hater.

Whereas 2 years ago we discovered the delight of roasted Kale Crisps, this year we'll be converting friends to these sprouts. The best part for the cook is that they are unbelievably easy to do: toss in oil, lay on baking sheet, sprinkle with sea salt, roast in 350F/180C oven for 20-35 minutes, depending on the size of the sprouts. I like to leave the sprouts whole, even when they're not on the stalk, but if you elect to cut them in half, you can roast them even more quickly.

If roasting on the stalk, remember to give them a good dunk in vinegar-water solution (2 TBL vinegar for every quart/liter of water), then a rinse in clean running water and let them dry completely before roasting. I use a slightly lower oven temperature when roasting the whole stalk so the leaves don't burn before the centers cook, about 325F/170C. Lay on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, season, and roast for 40-60 minutes, rotating the stalk and turning the pan around at intervals during roasting to ensure individual sprout heads don't burn. Unlike the Kale Crisps, these sprouts should not be crunchy!

Why bother with Brussels sprouts, you ask? Because they, like most cruciferous veggies, are high in fiber and powerhouses in terms of beneficial nutrients. In study after study, cruciferous vegetables have been linked to reduced risks of heart disease and different types of cancer, including colon, lung, prostate, breast cancers. WebMD calls cruciferous vegetables the "Super Veggies."(a) We'll call them the "Super Crus." And the top 3 Super Veggies? Brussels sprouts, kale and broccoli — the Über-Super Crus! This is food as medicine at its best!

So if eating healthy or trying new foods is on your new year's resolution this year, put some or all the "Super Crus" on your must-try list — most are greens, some are root vegetables, a few (wasabi and mustard seeds) are seasoning agents: Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli, mustard greens and seeds, horseradish, collard greens, broccoli rabe, Chinese broccoli, kohlrabi, cauliflower, bok choy, mizuna, napa cabbage, turnip root & greens, rutabaga, tatsoi, arugula, watercress, red radish, daikon, wasabi.(b)

Now, if you've read through that list and are thinking to yourself, "Ick" or if memories of sour, grey-looking vegetables filled your mind's eye and nostrils, I hear you. I really do. Often the vegetables on this list are over-cooked, and by that I mean, boiled to death. When over-cooked, they can emit a strong odor — sulphurous and heady, and pretty unpleasant all around. The odors come from the very same nutrients and phytochemicals that provide all the health-protecting properties for which the Super Crus are so touted.

The good news is that it doesn't have to be that way. Roasting, gentle steaming, pan-frying, flash-cooking are all methods that generally keep the vegetables delicious smelling and tasting. So please don't give up on Brussels sprouts or any of the Super Crus just yet. Give this or any one of the recipes below a try. And if some of these vegetables are just plain unknown to you (Choi Who?), these recipes will also provide quick, easy and tasty introductions to some of the more tender Asian greens in the family Brassicaceae.

If you enjoy South Asian flavors and really want to give Brussels sprouts a go, also try Brussels Sprouts with Coconut & Mustard Seed (2 Super Crus for the price of one, photo above).

More posts featuring cruciferous veggies:
Kale Crisps
Sesame Chinese Broccoli with Wolfberries
Greek Plasto (Greens with Cornbread Crust), the slow-cooker version and the original
Choi Sum with Spicy Garlic Sauce
Indian-spiced Daikon, Carrot & Cauliflower Pickle (another two-fer)
Tian of Roasted Potatoes & Chinese Mustard Greens
Roasted Belgian Endive
Purple & Squeak (Red Cabbage & Okinawan Sweet Potatoes — it's very purple)
Warm Spiced Cabbage Salad (with or without the fish)
Greens & Cheese Pie
Flash-Cooked Watercress
Garlic Braised Chinese Mustard Greens
Aloo Gobi (Potatoes & Cauliflower)
Namasu (Daikon, Cucumber and Wakame Salad)
Sauerkraut Soup

(a), "The Super-Veggies: Cruciferous Vegetables," by Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
(b), "Taxonomy of Common Cruciferous Vegetables"


Sweet Potato Pie (with a Kiss of Likker)

All this talk about pie during the last few weeks while cajoling family, friends (we are still friends, right?), and colleagues to buy pies for the Food & Friends fundraiser brought to the forefront of my attention one sad fact: I've never actually tried sweet potato pie, which was one of the pies on offer during the "Buy Pies!" campaign.

Then the Universe, by way of our dear friends down the road, delivered unto us a sign that it was time to try sweet potato pie. A hard-to-resist sign. A huge sign. A really huge sign: a sweet potato larger than a spaghetti squash. See for yourself!

Crazy big, right? These sweet potato and spaghetti squash, along with 2 other of the squash's siblings, were delivered this weekend by the same folks who challenged us earlier to deal with the over-abundance of their CSA order. They also gave us a bagload of green tomatoes, but more on that next time. Of course, I washed and roasted everything — the sweet potato was roasted unpeeled and whole with a few well-placed piercings, and the squash were cut in half and de-seeded, and placed cut-side up on a baking sheet and drizzled with oil. After a little over an hour, everything was roasted and ready to keep. The sweet potato weighed in at a gob-smacking 1420g before roasting, and yielded over 7 cups of flesh scooped from shells! So not only did we have sweet potato pie this week, but we will also have mashed sweet potatoes as a side dish later this week, too!

This was a true sweet potato, as opposed to a yam — with firm, dense flesh even after roasting. Our favorite way to enjoy mashed sweet potatoes is with a kiss of liquor — whether it's bright purple Okinawan sweet potato mash with awamori or regular sweet potatoes with bourbon. So I couldn't resist slipping a little sour mash into the puree mix for this pie as well. The bourbon flavor was quite strong the first 24 hours after baking, but mellowed considerably after that. With fresh whipped cream, this was a scrumptious pie — perfect breakfast food! (Think about it... Pop Tarts are just toaster pies, aren't they?)

When looking up recipes for sweet potato pie, I was intrigued by ones that used buttermilk instead of evaporated or regular milk. We liked what buttermilk did for corn soup and thought this would be add a nice tang to this pie — it really didn't, or maybe the buttermilk tang was obscured by the bourbon. Either way, we could not taste the difference using buttermilk made, so I would say use evaporated milk, almond or soy milk, or whatever you have — but do try the bourbon! The crust, I confess, was not only commercial, it was pre-formed too! Pie crust and biscuits are 2 things which have largely eluded me — even after 9 months in a culinary institution. So I focus on the filling and leave the pie crust to the experts. (Yesterday, however, while handing out pies for the F&F fundraiser, a fellow volunteer shared her unusual pie crust recipe which she swears is fool proof. More on that soon, too.)

Serves 8-10 persons
While vaguely following the recipe on the back of a can of pumpkin puree, we were really trying for a pie that could not be confused with pumpkin in either texture or flavor. This is a dense pie whose sweet potato flavor really stands out — undertones of molasses and, of course, bourbon lightly sweeten and highlight the tuber's flavor.

1 prepared pie crust (use your favorite)
4 cups (about 700g) roasted sweet potato flesh, mashed well
2 eggs, beaten well
1 cup buttermilk, evaporated milk, almond milk, etc.
1/4 cup bourbon
3/4 cup raw sugar
2 TBL blackstrap molasses
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp sea salt
Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C.
Combine all ingredients and blend well, about 2 minutes on the medium setting on your mixer. The mixture will be very thick and not really like a custard. Pour into prepared pie crust, and bake in middle oven for 45-55 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes back clean. Cool completely on wire rack.

Highly recommend large dollops (or two) of homemade whipped cream when serving.

More desserts for the Holidays: Pumpkin Cheesecake


Veggie Challenge: Tomato-Summer Squash Tian

I love it when friends include me in their culinary adventures. Whether it's finding exotic ingredients in our neighborhood ("There's an Indian grocery store where?"), or sharing ideas for how to tackle the latest CSA delivery ("What do you do with a snake gourd?!"), or spreading a habit of eating rice for breakfast — that sense of discovery and genuine fun that comes when someone's eyes light up with wonder is truly a joy for me. One of the reasons T. calls me a food evangelist.

Of course on a purely selfish note, one of the most fun ways to join in a food adventure is to receive foodstuffs. Some are homemade or souvenir gifts, some are pantry excess — but they are always appreciated and sometimes a culinary challenge. Since our most recent move, we find ourselves within hollering distance of our good friends who subscribe to a CSA. With weekly deliveries of fresh produce and precious little time to deal with their bounty, they will send us their bounty's bounty with pleas of not having time to deal with the veggies before they go bad. A few weeks ago this meant the equivalent of 2 Trader Joe's bags-ful of produce which included cauliflower, broccoli stems, green beans, eggplants, bell peppers, fresh pepperoncini peppers, red potatoes and yellow summer squash from their CSA, and mountains of tomatoes, basil, chives from their garden! This week it was 3 spaghetti squashes and a sweet potato that was as big as a spaghetti squash! This is what I tell them, and is, in fact, what I do with a great deal of fresh vegetables that we don't have a specific plan to use and which is threatening to give us the stink-eye: Roast Them!

Let your oven do all the hard work of softening, sweetening, and gently dehydrating your produce so it will keep through the week and provide you with gourmet-quality pantry staples that will make weekday meal prep a snap! Eat as is as a side dish to another entree; or toss with pasta, potato, rice, couscous or your favorite grain or noodle and you have an instant meatless meal. Add cooked meats or fish or beans for extra protein. Or with a little extra effort, a provencale vegetable tian/casserole materializes from grated veggies, cheese and eggs!

This is just a quick look for how we dealt with the 2 bags of produce we received over that first weekend. You can do this! I hope you try it soon.

Clean and cut, if desired, and drizzle all with olive oil. The potatoes are pared just for a bit of aesthetic value.
Pierce whole vegetables like the peppers to allow steam to escape.

Roast at 375F. I don't even preheat the oven to roast veggies.
Start checking the smallest veggies after the first 35 minutes.
Remove vegetables as they become cooked through:
Potatoes pierce easily with fork,
Peppers and eggplants collapse,
Broccoli, asparagus, and cauliflower will brown on
the edges and become tender.

Green beans were added to pan with potatoes after 35 minutes
and the whole pan was removed after another 25 minutes.
Bell peppers and eggplants were turned after the first 35 minutes, and left for another 30.

Pepperoncini peppers were left whole,
and bell peppers were seeded and peeled
and everything was covered in more olive oil.
Eggplants were peeled for use within 2 days.
(Try in Grilled Eggplant Salad with Coconut Milk)
Potatoes, beans and roasted cauliflower were eaten as they were.

While the first batch of veggies were roasting, the yellow squash and some of the tomatoes were quickly grated and tossed with cold leftover rice, chives, eggs and cheese as an adaptation of one of our favorite dishes from the Canadian cookbook classic,1000 Classic Recipes — a tian of tomatoes and summer squash.

(Adapted from 1000 Classic Recipes, by Hermes House publishing)
Serves 4 persons as an entree, 6-8 as a side dish
This is the perfect end-of-summer dish that puts to best use those less-than-perfect summer veg — the will-not-sun-ripen tomatoes and the monster squashes that were lurking under the blanket of leaves! The rice makes this surprisingly light in texture, but the parmesan delivers a wallop of satisfying savoriness under the herb mixture.

3 medium yellow squash or courgettes, coarsely grated (avoid seedy core)
3 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
fistful of chives, minced
3-6 cloves garlic, minced
3 TBL olive oil
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
3/4 cup cooked rice
3 large eggs, beaten
3 TBL full-fat plain yogurt or sour cream
3/4 tsp dried oregano, 2 tsp fresh
pinch of dried or fresh thyme
5 TBL grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Pre-heat 375F/190C.

Place squash, tomatoes, chives and garlic in tian, or baking dish, and season to taste. Toss with oil and spread in baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes, or until water is drawn from vegetables and they soften.

Meanwhile combine rice, eggs, yogurt, herbs, cheese and season to taste. Remove vegetables from oven, and take out about 1/4 cup vegetables from baking dish. Stir hot vegetables into egg mixture to temper eggs, then pour all egg mixture into dish and mix well with vegetables. Redistribute mixture around dish, then return to oven for another 15-20 minutes or until eggs set and knife inserted in the center comes back clean.

Cool briefly then slice to serve. Shown here with more roasted vegetables
from this marathon session: cauliflower, red skin potatoes, and asparagus.
Garnished with roasted basil.


Dining In: Chilled Buttermilk Corn Soup

There’s still time to take advantage of sweet summer corn. Fresh steamed or grilled corn on the cob is hard to beat — and I admit I’ve had my fair share of the cob this summer.

But when I overheard a fellow volunteer at Food & Friends describing a corn soup she had served at her Fourth of July get-together, something caught my ear and imagination. Buttermilk. Buttermilk, she swore, was the key ingredient in her favorite chilled soups, including this corn one she devised for this party. Unlike other dairy products used in chilled soups — yogurt or sour cream, for instance, buttermilk, she told me, adds body without coating the palate. I had never used buttermilk in a chilled soup before so this was too intriguing to pass up. I begged the recipe from Dyane, which she generously shared, along with all her hints for tweaking the recipe.

This soup calls for 2 pounds (about 1kg) of corn, and I intended to use all fresh corn off the cob. Events conspired against me when we had a guest in town and I had to prepare the soup in advance but did not yet have fresh corn on hand. Instead I took Dyane’s cue to use frozen corn, namely Trader Joe’s Super Sweet Corn, for the base, which I cooked and pureed with the buttermilk, and chilled overnight. I added fresh corn off the cob and the reserved buttermilk (per Dyane’s tip) before serving — the tender kernels added texture and an extra touch of freshness to the finished soup.

We loved this soup, as did our visitor from Cyprus. Dyane was right about how buttermilk adds depth and creaminess without heaviness in texture or taste. I would like to make this soup again while fresh corn is in season, and try it with all fresh kernels. To be honest, though, the TJ’s frozen corn was pretty darn good in this soup and left no gummy kernel skins, which is what I was afraid frozen corn would do. Another nice note was the jalapeno — de-seeded, it added little heat, but really seemed to lift and highlight the buttermilk in a symbiotic way. Don’t leave it out even if you don’t like spicy foods — it really accents more than adds spiciness.

Best of all, this was easy enough I could do it in our tiny hotel kitchenette. So if I could do it here, you can definitely do this!

Thanks, Dyane, for sharing your wonderful recipe with us, and now everyone else!

Serves 6 persons
Except where noted, the rest of this post will be in Dyane’s voice, as I am reprinting her recipe (with her kind permission) as she sent it to me, with minor changes for syntax and to include metric measurements.

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium size onion coarsely chopped
½ lb (226g) tomatillos, husked, rinsed , and quartered
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
(I like a lot of garlic)
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
3-1/2 cups (28oz/830ml) chicken stock (or vegetable stock would work)
1 teaspoon ground cumin, plus a pinch for garnish
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro, plus some for garnish
1 cup (236ml) buttermilk
(I increase the buttermilk by another 1/4 to 1/2 cup (60-120ml) depending on soup consistency while blending)
Kosher salt and finely ground pepper
2 16 ounce (1kg) frozen bags  of corn which were unthawed,
you could you fresh, can, whatever combination to make up to 28-32 ounces
Lime, lime juice
1. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat if the onions being to brown (you don't want any brown color in this soup)

2. Add the tomatillos, garlic, and jalapeno and cook for 5 minutes. Add the corn cook for 3-5 minutes. Raise the heat to medium high, add the chicken stock, cumin, cilantro, and cook 5-7 minutes more. Remove from heat and cool.
3. Pour the mixture into a bowl of a food processor and puree until smooth. (Note from 3T: I used a hand, or stick blender) Add the buttermilk, salt and peeper and pulse to combine. Transfer to a bowl and chill in the refrigerator.
Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with cilantro and cumin.
When blending I did it in batches: 3/4 of the soup was blended with the buttermilk, 1/4 was not blended with the buttermilk and this was added to the end to not have the jalapeno diluted/cooled too much by the buttermilk. Also, because I like a little more heat I increased the jalapenos and increase the cilantro per my taste.  Adjust salt and pepper.Serve this chilled. Before you do hit it with a shot of lime juice to brighten the taste. Have lime also on the side so your guests can adjust accordingly.

Back to 3T:
More recipes with corn:
Creamy Ewa Sweet Corn Soup with Kauai Shrimp
Okra & Corn Stew with Jerk Salmon

Dining In: Plasto Revisited, the slow-cooker version

When things get hectic and I don’t want to think too much about meal-planning, there are certain recipes I reach for, metaphorically anyway because some of them I can do from muscle memory — I’ve made them so often! Piccata-style chicken or pork is one such dish, and pasta with tuna and capers is another (we really do like capers, don’t we?). Fortunately, I can still rely on these stand-bys even when cooking on a hotel (yes, we’re still here) two-burner cooktop.

Lately, though, we’ve had a hankering for another favorite that normally requires an oven — the Greek cornbread layered with greens known as Plasto (see photo). Plasto has been a regular part of our menus since we were first introduced to it way back in 2007 by Laurie at Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska. Following Laurie’s recipe, wild and other leafy greens are long-cooked with onions, garlic and herbs, then mixed with cheeses and sandwiched between layers of cornbread dough and baked. It’s a scrumptious meat-less meal, and is equally good warm from the oven or cold while hiking or traveling.

But being oven-less here in a hotel, we needed a way to adapt the recipe for a slow-cooker. Actually, I often cook the greens in a slow-cooker anyway when I’m planning to make Plasto. Once the greens are cooked and cooled, they will keep in the fridge for 2-3 days until the day I want to bake, then I have only to add the cheese, make the cornbread dough, and bake.

Although I had never tried one, I had seen recipes for quickbreads made in a slow-cooker so I was certain I could find a cornbread or cornmeal dumpling recipe that would work. I knew I wanted to cook the cornbread with the greens — part of what makes Plasto so tasty is that the bread absorbs some of the savory liquid from the soupy greens while it bakes, otherwise we’re just be eating greens with a side of cornbread. Don’t get me wrong, I love cornbread and greens, too, but Plasto is a different taste and texture experience. Anyway, a long perusal of the internet revealed one key difference between breads/biscuits that are baked in an oven, and those baked in a slow-cooker on top of a liquid — be they stews, soups, chili, or whatever: and that was 1/3 less chemical leavening, as the added steam from the liquid below it gives the dough a helpful lift as it also bakes.

And it worked! Once the greens were completely cooked and filled the room with their savory aroma and whiffs of dill and oregano, I stirred in feta cheese, then topped it with my usual cornbread dough minus one teaspoon of baking powder. The result was perfect — just the right mix of greens and cornbread to satisfy our craving for Plasto. The biggest difference we noticed was in the texture of the bread — it was much lighter and more moist due to the steam-action, but that wasn’t a bad thing. It was also different not to have the corn-y flavor coming from both sides of the greens, and of course this version is not as portable as the original either. But it’s definitely a keeper for days when I know I can cook the greens the same day the dish will be served. It is also a nice alternative to turning on an oven during the hot summer months.

Another concession I made in this Plasto, given the limits of the micro-kitchen, is that all the greens (turnip, collard, kale) were frozen. A time-saver and sanity saver when counter space is nonexistent and colanders are limited. One of the things that we love about Plasto is the complexity of flavor that comes from using a mix of greens, especially if a couple of them have a bitter edge like the mustards, endives, or kales. At minimum I try to use 3 different greens but have been known to use as many as 5, and at least 2 greens in the mix will always have a bite.

(With thanks to Laurie for introducing us to the original version, which is now firmly in our culinary DNA, and from which this is adapted)
Serves 4 persons

For the Greens:
3 lbs (1.36kg) cleaned weight mixture of greens: kale, spinach, collard, chicory, mustard, turnip, Chinese mustard, rapini, watercress, etc. (unless you’re using frozen vegetables that are already cleaned and weighed, you’re going to have to eye-ball the approximate pre-clean weight of each green: consider that kales, western mustard and turnip greens, and collards have heavy, thick stems that will be discarded; while almost the entire bunch of spinach, chicories, Asian greens, rapini and cresses is edible)
2-3 sprigs fresh oregano, or 1/2 tsp dried
4-5 sprigs fresh dill, or 1 tsp dried
1/2 cup (120ml) water or broth
sea salt to taste
fresh ground black pepper
1/2 - 1 tsp Aleppo pepper (Korean pepper flakes can substitute)
3 TBL olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced thinly
3-5 cloves garlic, minced

Combine all greens, oregano, dill, water, salt, and peppers in a 6qt/L slow-cooker, and set on LOW.

Meanwhile, cook onions and olive oil in a separate skillet set over medium heat until the onions are translucent, about 8-10 minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking until garlic is fragrant, abour 4 minutes. Add cooked aromatics to the greens and stir in well.

Cover and leave greens on LOW for 7-8 hours. When cooked, you can continue with the recipe below, or cool the greens completely and refrigerate until needed, then mix in the cheese and sandwich between layers of your favorite cornbread dough in an 8” round cake pan and bake.

To Finish:
1 cup (8oz/240g) sheep’s milk feta
1 quantity Cornbread Topping (below)

Once greens are cooked, combine crumbled feta with greens. TURN Slow-cooker to HIGH.

Top with cornbread dough, keeping away from the edges of the pot to give the dough room to rise as it bakes. Cover, and do not peek for at least 30 minutes. Check with toothpick to see if cornbread is cooked through. May need another 10 minutes to finish.

Remove cover to allow steam to escape so it does not drip back onto your bread while it cools and sets for 15 minutes.

Serve with extra feta and olives, or your favorite green salad.

1 cup (100g) all-purpose flour (do not substitute self-rising) 1 cup (170g) medium-grind cornmeal 3 TBL (36g) granulated sugar 2 tsp (7.5g) baking powder 1/3 cup (78ml) olive oil, or melted butter 1 cup (236ml) milk 1 lg. egg, beaten

Combine dry ingredients and mix well. Combine oil, milk and egg and beat well to blend. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix just enough to combine — do not overmix.

Add as directed above, or use to top your favorite slow-cook chili, soup or stew. Cook as directed above.

To adapt this recipe for baking in a conventional oven, add 1 more tsp. of baking powder to the dry ingredients and bake in a square cake pan, or better yet, a pre-heated 8” skillet with 1 TBL of butter melted and swirled to coat the sides. Bake at 400F/200C for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes away clean.

5-A-Day: Sesame Chinese Broccoli with Wolfberries

A whole bowl full of goodness: dark green Chinese broccoli, soft wolfberries, toothsome shiitake mushrooms, crisp slices of woodear fungus, carrot coins and fresh whole ears of sweet baby corn. A vegetarian’s delight that could make a believer of the heartiest carnivore!

The preparation could not be simpler. Fresh vegetables and rehydrated fungi are stir-fried together with a kiss of sesame oil, sugar and salt for a total cooking time of about 6 minutes!

Chinese broccoli, or gai lan, is a member of the mustard family (Brassica) along with all those other favorites: cabbage, broccoli, choi sum, Brussel sprouts, mustard greens, and rapini. It can be confused with its cousin, choi sum, but there are a few cues in telling them apart. Like its more distant cousin, the Western broccoli, the sweetest part of the vegetable is actually its stem, though I suspect the leafy greens contain the best of its nutritional goodness. No matter, you’re going to enjoy the whole thing!

Wolfberries (lycium barbarum) are commercially marketed as “goji berries” and are available both in Chinese and Korean groceries, and in most health food stores. Some high end supermarkets may also carry them in the natural foods aisle. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), wolfberries are thought to strengthen, or tonify, the liver and kidneys, and Western science has shown that they contain nutritionally significant amounts of important nutrients including the anti-oxidants Vitamin C, linoleic acid, thiamine, beta-carotene, and riboflavin. In TCM, wolfberries are included in tonics to boost immune system function and for certain eye disorders, but most interestingly, it is also prescribed for the treatment of dry winter skin! We usually buy wolfberries in Chinese groceries (where it may often be sold by its pharmacological name, Fructus lycii), and all the packaging I’ve seen recommend that the berries be cooked before eating — so this is not something we eat out of hand either plain or in trail mix. We do, however, add them to cooked oatmeal, substitute them for raisins in oatmeal cookies, and throw them in to soups. When cooked or boiled, as in soup or oatmeal, the berries don’t really have a distinct flavor, but baked in the cookies they retain a mild tartness similar to cranberry.

Woodear, or black, fungus (might also be labelled as mok-yee) is most often sold dried. Once rehydrated in cool or warm water for 20-30 minutes, the fungus swells to 2-3 times its dried size, so a little goes a long way. Woodear does not really have a distinctive flavor, but is mostly added for the pleasant crunch it adds to stir-fries and soups. TCM also recognizes that woodear is useful to treat high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Together with fresh baby corn and carrots for additional sweetness and chew, these ingredients join for a dish as colorful as it is nutritious. And tasty!

(adapted from Breath of a Wok by Grace Young)

2-3 pieces of dried woodear
4-5 dried shiitake or other black mushroom
1 bundle of Chinese broccoli, about 1lb/450g
4-8oz. (113-226g) fresh baby corn, washed and cut in half
1 medium carrot
1/2 cup dried wolfberries
3-4 medium cloves of garlic, minced

Prepare the vegetables:
Soak shiitake and wood ear fungi in separate bowls for 45 minutes to an hour, or until all are fully re-hydrated (will depend on the size and thickness of the fungus).

Clean gai lan, baby corn and carrot using a mild vinegar solution. Peel and slice carrot crosswise, at a slight diagonal. Separate leaves of gai lan from stems, and cut thicker stem pieces into 2” pieces.

I like to rinse the wolfberries, with a gentle rubbing action to loosen any grit that may have settled on them during processing.

Prepare the Sauce:


Roasted Belgian Endive

Roasted Belgian endive is one of those dishes that is infinitely more nuanced and addictive than its name first implies. Both sweet and savory, and meltingly tender, this works equally well as a vegetarian entree served on top of mashed potatoes, or as a side dish with roast chicken. We used to live in a place where this vegetable was grown so it was abundant and cheap, and graced our dinner table a couple of times a month, at least. Now it is more of a treat, both in price and in availability — when he sees it on the table, T usually exclaims, “Roasted endives — is it my birthday?!”

If you know Belgian endive as a raw vegetable, you know it has a bitter edge. Some people seek out that edgy bite, many others shy away from it. But once baked this way, Belgian endive mellows, allowing the underlying sweetness of the raw vegetable to come through. It is assembled from a few common pantry staples, so when you spot this delectable vegetable in your market, you know you can put this together without searching out a lot of other ingredients. To make this dish, look for large spears that are creamy white, tinged with pale yellow at the tips.

Serves 4 as a side dish

1 slice of whole wheat bread
2 TBL fresh grated parmesan
1kg/2.2 Belgian endive
sea salt (optional)
fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup (120ml) vegetable or chicken broth
1/4 cup (60ml) very dry white wine or water
2 TBL. + olive oil

Tear bread slice into smaller pieces and place in the small bowl of a food processor with the parmesan. Process briefly to make coarse bread crumbs. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350F/180C.

Cut endive lengthwise in half, and lay with the cut side up in a baking dish that will hold all the tightly -packed cut vegetable halves. The endive will shrink as it bakes, so it’s okay to squeeze them in together even if they look uncomfortably tight in the dish, just keep the flat side facing up. Season with a few grinds of fresh pepper and salt (we usually omit the salt — the saltiness of the parmesan is enough for us). Pour broth and wine over and around endive. Scatter bread crumb mixture to cover the vegetable, then drizzle with olive oil to moisten the bread crumbs (you may need more than 2 TBL.)

Cover with a sheet of wax or parchment paper, then aluminum foil. Bake in pre-heated oven for 30 minutes, then remove foil and parchment, and continue roasting until vegetable becomes translucent and softens, and crust is golden brown, about another 10-15 minutes.


Chopped Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes & Sheep's Milk Feta

This has become our salad of choice lately — a simple chopped salad enhanced with tangy sheep’s milk feta and olives. If you’re BBQ-ing this weekend, this is your salad — it goes equally well with grilled or roasted meats as it does with pastas. And it can also turn pasta shapes (farfalle, rotini, even tortellini) into a cool and summery pasta salad that is perfect for picnicking and dining al fresco. You can also put this on top of baby greens for a combo salad — no extra dressing necessary. We recommend having a nice crusty bread handy, too, as the dressing that pools at the bottom of your bowl is a peppery amalgam of tomato juices, feta, peperoncini, olive oil and vinegar that just begs to be sopped up!

With tiny bite-size tomatoes from Trader Joe’s and that lovely Greek sheep’s milk feta from Costco, this comes together in a snap. The olives we use for this salad will vary depending on what is open in the pantry — there are kalamatas in this photo, but tonight’s version has tiny green olives called Perdignon (Goya brand, but bottled in Spain). Go with the flow — this is one of those recipes that is accepting of whatever goodies your pantry has in store. This is usually what goes in ours...

Serves 4-6 persons

1 large Japanese/English cucumber, about 1 lb/455g
1lb/455g grape, pear, cherry or other bite-size tomatoes
3.5 oz/100g sheep’s milk feta
10-20 kalamata or other olives
3-5 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves removed from stems
5-8 mild peperoncini (pickled peppers)
3-5 grinds of the peppermill
1-2 jiggers of red wine vinegar
drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil

Wash and pare cucumber. Cut lengthwise into quarters and remove seedy core. Dice into 1/2” cubes. Add to salad bowl.

Wash and dry tomatoes. Halve any tomatoes that are larger than a mouthful. Add to salad bowl.

Crumble feta into salad bowl, add olives and fresh oregano leaves. With kitchen shears, snip peperoncini directly into salad, allowing liquid in the center of the peppers to drizzle over salad.

Grind pepper over salad, then drizzle vinegar and oil over all. Mix well, and let sit at room temperature while you finish preparing dinner.

(Salt is usually not necessary because the feta, peperoncini and olives provide quite a bit of saltiness. But if you’re using different ingredients, you may want to taste for salt, too)

This is ready to serve immediately but I like the leftovers even better, so this is a great do-ahead salad to bring to a potluck or include in a buffet.

Have a safe Memorial Day weekend, Everyone!


JD's Zucchini Saute

Once upon a time there were two best friends — mechanical engineers by training and trade, and they were both named John Joseph. These best buddies loved to make people laugh, to dance, to take things apart and, most importantly for our purposes, to eat.

One John Joseph actually went by the Italian version of this name, Giovanni Giuseppe, as he was born in that faraway land and had come to the U.S. as a young boy; we met Gio last year in Remembrances of Caponatas Past. The other John Joseph was of Irish descent and here we’ll call him JD. Both men enjoyed being in the kitchen, but were very different kinds of cooks. Gio picked up a pot of his mama’s homemade ragu every week to use for his bachelor meals, most of which featured this ragu. (Hey, with homemade ragu, how can you go wrong?!) JD was more of an experimental cook, who thrived on innovation in the kitchen as well as the workshop. One of his signature original (he swears) dishes was a quick saute of zucchini that requires only the most basic pantry staples, yet produces an addictively tasty and easy vegetable side dish. I’ve been making JD’s saute for over 20 years now and everyone who tries it, wants the recipe and is amazed how simple it is to prepare. This is perfect both for quick weekday meals and for serving in your best dishes to guests.

Thanks, JD...

For 2 persons
Plan on 1 medium-sized zucchini per person, and this recipe easily doubles and triples

2 medium zucchini, about 1 lb/455g
1 TBL olive oil
1 medium to large clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp *dried basil
1/2 tsp *dried oregano
1/8 tsp *dried thyme
(* Someone once asked me why I don’t use fresh herbs for this, and the simple answer is that JD used dried herbs, and out of habit I do too with this particular recipe even when we have a garden full of basil, oregano and thyme...)
1-2 TBL unsalted butter
4-5 drops soy sauce, about 1/4 tsp (See Hint for controlling soy sauce drops below)
sea salt and ground black pepper to taste

Wash zucchini well, trim ends and slice to about 1/4” thickness.

In wok, or large skillet, heat oil and garlic over medium high heat until garlic is fragrant. Add sliced zucchini, and saute until zucchini just begin to become translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add dried herbs and butter, and stir to melt butter and distribute herbs. Continue cooking until zucchini almost reach desired doneness — we prefer them to be slightly translucent but not completely limp, about 5 minutes for 2 zucchini (longer cooking if making larger quantities). Sprinkle soy sauce over, and stir well, cook for another 30 seconds, then remove from heat and correct seasoning. The soy sauce has to “cook” a little to achieve the right flavor but you don’t want it to scorch.

Serve with your favorite pasta or roast chicken.

If you have any leftovers, add with leftover spaghetti or diced potatoes, and eggs to make a great frittata for lunch the next day!

Hint for controlling shoyu when pouring or dribbling: If you have one of these soy sauce servers (at most Asian markets, they are less than $2 filled, then you re-fill them when empty), it’s easy to control the amount of soy sauce you add when pouring or drizzling drops of soy sauce as you cook. Simply place your finger over one opening as you tilt the bottle to pour. By quickly lifting your finger from the opening, you allow either a stream of liquid or just a few drops through, depending on how long your finger is off the opening. By also keeping the angle of the bottle tilt shallow, you can literally control the liquid drop by drop!


Fettuccine with Spring Vegetables in Egg “Custard” Sauce

Once farmers’ markets re-open and spring vegetables appear, they seem such a luxury after months of root vegetables, squashes and winter greens! This is a simple and unusual preparation that seems more decadent and rich than it really is. I learned the method from a housemate in London who was also a student at Leith’s and hailed from Bari, Italy (near the “heel” of the Italian peninsula). It is a sensuous decadent pasta coated with melting slices of zucchini dressed in a "custard" of barely cooked eggs. Prepared correctly, this sauce will remind you of the best carbonara — a flavor-packed, unctous sauce clinging to every strand of pasta. And like carbonara, the ingredients are few, so quality is important.

Costi prepared his mother's recipe for this sauce with only 5 ingredients: zucchini, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, salt and fresh eggs. I’ve made this dish regularly since I learned it from him, but I also include a touch of garlic as a personal preference (but Costi would not approve). In this instance, I’ve also added asparagus because it was also seasonal and its flavors would marry well with the other ingredients.

The method is simple: thinly sliced zucchini are gently sauteed in copious amounts of olive oil until translucent, then the hot cooked pasta is heated through with the vegetable. Off the flame, beaten eggs are added and gently stirred through to combine. And when I say "copious amounts of olive oil," I mean enough to make most people faint at the thought of it — when I helped Costi make this dish for a dinner party thrown by our host family in London, he used almost a liter of oil for an 8-person serving! The hostess almost had a heart attack watching him devastate a prized bottle of olive oil she had brought back with her from their family’s last trip to Italy.

I cut back a bit on the amount of olive oil here, but this is about as far down as you can take it and still retain the creaminess of the original. I rationalize the amount of oil in this dish by thinking that 1) olive oil is at least a monounsaturated oil, approved by the American Heart Association for reducing bad cholesterol, and 2) we have this only once a year.

The freshness of the eggs is especially important in this dish, because the eggs are just barely cooked so they retain their creamy texture and do not “set” or scramble. I actually prepared this last spring when we were still on Oahu and zucchini, asparagus, and eggs were all local and fresh. When buying “farm fresh” eggs at the farm or market, let the proprietor know that you plan to use the eggs in a semi-cooked state and ask for the freshest they have on hand. Until I can find all these again in our new local area, I’ll wait and continue to dream of our next taste…

Serves 4 persons
This dish contains semi-cooked eggs and, even when using the freshest eggs possible, should not be consumed by pregnant women, young children, the elderly or anyone with a compromised or weakened immune system (including those who are taking or have recently taken a course of antibiotics) without first consulting your physician.

1 lb. fresh or dried fettuccine, or other flat pasta

½ lb. zucchini
1 lb. asparagus spears
1 clove garlic, minced
1 ½ cup olive oil (not a typo)
sea salt to taste
fresh grated Parmesan, about ½ cup, plus extra for the table
4 large very fresh eggs, preferably organic and without antibiotics

Bring water to boil for pasta. Warm pasta bowls/plates. (See hints for warming plates below.)

Wash and dry the zucchini and asparagus well, preferably in a vinegar wash. (See original Gai Choy post about cleaning vegetables to remove pesticides, wax and dirt and a link to an NPR story about cleaning vegetables.)

Slice the zucchini cross-wise on the diagonal. Using a vegetable peeler, slice the asparagus lengthwise into thin strips or ribbons.

Wash eggs well, and dry. Beat eggs together with ¼ cup oil. Set aside.

In a skillet or wok large enough to hold both the sauce and pasta, heat ½ cup olive oil and garlic over medium heat until garlic becomes fragrant. Add another ½ cup oil and zucchini, and stir gently to coat vegetable with oil. As zucchini absorbs oil, add another ¼ cup and allow vegetable to absorb new amount. Continue cooking until zucchini just starts to become translucent, about 10-12 minutes. Meanwhile, cook pasta (remember to salt the water just before adding your pasta).

Add asparagus ribbons, salt to taste (but remember that the Parmesan will add saltiness too), and combine to coat asparagus with oil. Continue to cook until asparagus just becomes bright green, about 4-5 minutes. Add Parmesan and stir.

Drain pasta, but do not rinse, and add hot pasta directly to skillet with the vegetables, and stir through to combine. Immediately pour beaten eggs over everything, and stir well but gently. Cover for 5 minutes.

Serve in warmed pasta bowls, garnished with extra Parmesan if desired. (If you don’t always warm your pasta bowl or plate — *guilty!* — this is one dish where you really want to take that extra step.)

With a garlicky bruschetta and glasses of Pinot Grigio or Soave, you’re set for a spring fling al fresco! Happy Spring!

Hints for Warming Bowls/Plates:
* If you’re making garlic bread, put your plates in the oven as it’s pre-heating. Remove them from the oven to put in the garlic bread, and keep covered with a clean towel. Or if you’re like us and use a toaster oven for this task, put the stacked plates on top of the toaster oven while making your garlic bread — if you have 4 or more plates, you may have to rotate the plates around to get them all warm.
* Bring a kettle of water to a boil, and pour ½ cup into each bowl just before serving. Set aside for 1 minute, pour off water and dry.
* Find your warming tray and put it to use! We have one that uses 2 votive candles to keep serving dishes warm at the table, but it can pull double duty here by warming your pasta bowls while you are preparing the meal.
* In the microwave, place a 1/4 cup or so of water in each bowl, stack them and place in microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute, depending on your oven. Remove water and dry.


For the Lunar New Year: Watercress Dumplings

Happy New Year, again!

Yesterday was the first day of weeks-long celebrations of the beginning of the Year of the Ox. It’s snowing today and tomorrow, so we hope for better weather by Sunday when D.C.’s Chinatown will host a parade, lion dance and other festivities.

To start the celebrations of Lunar New Year 4707, we opted for a cozy dinner at home with spicy garlic eggplant, dry-fried Sichuan-style long beans, hot & sour soup, and watercress dumplings.

I use the term “dumpling” deliberately because these little packets of happiness can’t really be classified as Japanese gyoza, nor as Chinese wontons, Korean mandoo, Polish pierogi, Italian ravioli, or any other filled “pasta pocket.” But they are “ono,” nonetheless. When I learned this recipe from my mom, we used to make them with spinach, but watercress is definitely better. The slight bitter undertones of the vegetable counters the fattiness of the meat and balances the dumpling. Earlier this month we made these dumplings with pork instead of turkey for a dinner party, and the contrast between the savory veg and fatty meat was even more appreciated.

The watercress we’ve found since we moved away from the Islands are quite a bit smaller than what we were used to finding on Oahu. The stems and leaves are smaller, and are sold in smaller bunches than their Hawaiian cousins. We need 2-3 bunches of these smaller cress to equal the amounts we are accustomed to for our soups or flash-cooked greens. But for this recipe, one bunch is just about right.

Dumplings are often thought of as appetizers, but we often make a dinner of them with just rice and miso soup. And this is a great project for the kids or a group of friends — the additional hands make quick work of filling and folding all the little pouches.

The cooking method described below combines the best of pan-frying and steaming: the dumpling is crispy on one side from initial pan-frying, and juicy and cooked through by steam. You will need a large flat bottomed skillet with a fitted lid for this. For a more calorie-conscious dish, you can line a steamer with lettuce leaves or wax paper and just steam them (about 5 minutes or until meat is cooked through), or you can add them to simmering broth to make a full-meal soup. Steamed or fried, alone or as part of a larger meal, these dumplings have tried and true appeal with children and adults alike.

50+ dumplings, plus extra filling

1 small bunch watercress, about 1/2 lb (225g)

Wash well and drain, but do not completely dry. Remove thickest stems. Pre-heat wok over medium-high heat. Add watercress with any water on leaves after washing to hot wok. Stir through until vegetable is just wilted and still bright green. Remove from pan, and allow to cool completely. Finely mince leaves and remaining smaller stems, and set aside until needed. This can be done up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated until needed.

1lb (450g) ground turkey or pork
3-4 stems scallions, thinly sliced
2 tsp. sake or very dry white wine
1/4 tsp. sugar
1 slice (coin-size) of fresh ginger, minced (about 1/2 tsp)
1 large clove garlic, minced
generous seasoning with sea salt and ground black pepper

Combine meat and all seasonings, and massage well to incorporate. Set aside in fridge for at least one hour, and up to 24 hours, to allow flavors to marry. Add cooled cooked and minced watercress, and combine well.

To Finish:
1 package round gyoza wrappers, about 10 oz/ 280g (50-60 sheets)
small bowl of water

Place a scant teaspoonful of filling in the center of one wrapper. Dip your finger in water, and wet the edge of top half of wrapper. Bring bottom half of wrapper over the filling and press the center down to seal. Pleat the sides of the wrapper around the center, then press down to seal. Because the filling is rounded, the sides will naturally want to fold over each other. Set aside and continue until filling or wrappers run out.

To Pan-fry:
Have ready: a lid that fits snugly over the skillet you are using, a small container of oil for easy pouring, and a small cup of water.

Pre-heat large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 TBL. oil to pan, and swirl to coat entire bottom of pan. Place dumplings in pan, making sure they do not touch (or they will stick together), and gently press the filled center against the pan. Let fry about 30 seconds, then add about 2 TBL of water directly into the pan — trying not to pour water onto the dumplings themselves — and immediately cover with lid.
Turn heat down to medium, and let cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until pan stops steaming. Do not remove cover while steaming!

Carefully remove lid and check whether filling is thoroughly cooked by gently pressing on the meat-filled center: it will feel firm when the meat is cooked through. Using spatula or small fish slice (UK), remove dumplings to serving plate and cover to keep warm.

Turn heat back up to medium-high, and add 1 TBL oil to pan, coating bottom evenly. Add more dumplings, and cook as you did the first batch. Repeat until all dumplings are cooked.

Serve with rice, miso or other light soup, and Dipping Sauce (below) for a light meal. Or serve as an appetizer or part of a buffet.

In each dipping bowl, combine the following ingredients:
3 TBL rice vinegar
2 tsp soy
1/4 tsp sugar (optional)
3-5 drops chili oil

We don’t often have wine, other than sake, with Asian meals. But we’ve been waiting for an excuse to try this French wine called “Wasabi White” from the amusing Now & Zen label (Alsace). We both love the wines of Alsace but were a little skeptical about the cutesy label. Wasabi White proved to be in keeping with our expectations of Alsatian wines as being food wines first and foremost. It was both dry yet with enough fruit to tame and round out the rich and spicy notes in our meal, especially the garlic eggplant. In keeping with the Asian theme, we used large teacups instead of wine glasses!

Like watercress as much as we do? More recipes with watercress:
Green Papaya Soup (Tinola)
Portuguese Bean Soup
Flash-cooked Watercress


5-A-Day: Kale Crisps

Kale Crisps. This is one of the best food ideas ever. And so easy! Since we were first introduced to the concept on recipezaar in early December, we’ve adapted it and made it five times.

It’s great on its own — as a snack food as addictive as potato chips/crisps (we dare you to eat just one...), but it also makes a nice crunchy side dish for a sandwich or a buffet, and even a garnish for soups.

And it’s good for you: Kale, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt — baked for 10 minutes in an oven.

Are you wrinkling your nose? Are you thinking, “I don’t like greens, this isn’t for me.” Would you believe me if I told you they actually taste like potato chips? They even smell like potato chips when they’re baking. I don’t know what alchemy or magic is going on here, but it’s true. These crisps come out of the oven light as air and seem to melt in your mouth after the first satisfying KAA-runch!

This dish is going out to Ramki at the imaginative
One Page Cookbooks who is sponsoring the “Recipes for the Rest of Us” Event — a blog event to encourage newbies to try their hand at cooking. He’s accepting entries until Jan 10th, so there’s still time to join the fun! Ramki’s site features literal one-page cookbooks (some have 1001 recipes on them!) that can be printed in their entirety on a single sheet of A-4 paper (European standard). If this recipe were in one of Ramki’s books it would be something like: Wash kale well, tear off leaves, dry leaves, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake.

Whether you already love greens of all kinds — as we do, or it’s part of your New Year’s resolution to learn to like greens, or you’re cooking for someone(s) who would wrinkle their nose at any thing leafy or green, one nibble is all it will take...

1 bunch of kale (about 1 lb/450g)
A drizzle of olive oil — no more than 1 TBL.
sea salt

The key here is to wash the kale, as with any green, well. We prefer the vinegar wash to remove as much pesticide/fertilizer residue and dirt as possible. Simply add a couple of teaspoons of vinegar to a non-metal container (glass or heavy plastic) with 2-3 quarts/liters of water. Have a second container of 2-3 quarts/liters clean cool water. Plunge the kale leaves in the vinegar solution, massaging the leafy parts gently. Remove, and rinse in the clean water, swishing gently. Now rinse a handful of leaves at a time in running water. Allow to drain.

Remove the leaves from the stems. You can cut them off, but I prefer to tear them. Hold a branch with the stem side up, and gently (always gently) tear away bite size pieces of leaves from the branch.

Spin or pat the leaves dry. Or air dry. Any method works, just as long as the leaves are completely dry before you continue.

**Preheat oven to 325 F/180C.
Place completely dry leaves on a large baking sheet (cookie sheet or jelly roll pan), and drizzle regular or light olive oil over the top. Massage — gently, of course — the oil through the pile of leaves, then spread out on the pan. (You may need 2 pans or to do this in 2 batches for 1 lb. of kale.)

Sprinkle with sea salt to taste (we use about a 1/4 teaspoon for each pan). Bake in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the leaves turn from jade green to dark forest green, and take on a translucent look. You’ll notice the potato chip-like aroma emanating from your oven, too.

Allow to cool on pan, about 2 minutes... if you can resist them for that long!

Enjoy guilt-free munching all through the New Year!

We haven’t featured a recipe that I could serve to my father, who suffers from gout, in a long while. Since kale and sea salt are considered moderately alkaline (better for gout-sufferers), and olive oil is a neutral, I would feel comfortable offering this to him as an alternative snack to the peanuts he loves but which are highly acidic and therefore a no-no. This will be included in the
GDC Round-up.

Other recipes featuring cooking greens similar to kale:
Brussels Sprouts with Coconut
Garlic Braised Mustard Cabbage (aka Gai Choi)
Tian of Potatoes and Mustard Greens
Flash-cooked Watercress
Greens and Cheese Pie
Choi Sum with Spicy Garlic Sauce
Pasta with Sweet & Tangy Beetgreens


Healthy Oceans, Healthy Choices: Kabocha Salmon Patties

One of the things that often gets lost in our busy lives is time — time to listen, to read, to watch, to learn. We barely have enough time to do what needs to be done in 24 hours — forget researching things that may or may not directly affect us, our families, our health.

If you have 7-1/2 minutes to spare today, pour yourself a cup of tea or coffee while you check out this video from
Oceana, a global non-profit organization committed to healthy oceans and sustainable fishing. It’s about the mercury lurking in some of our seafood and some of the warning signs of mercury poisoning we may be feeling in ourselves or seeing in our loved ones without realizing what they mean. Fatigued? Problems concentrating? It may not just be stress.

The point here is not to scare you off from seafood and fish — it’s important to include these in your diet on a regular basis. It’s equally important, though, to know what types of fish may pose a hazard to you or your family.

Last spring, we highlighted the convenience of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s
Seafood Watch fish guides. These guides are tailored for each distinct region in the U.S., so we recently ordered the guides for our new area. (Guides are also available for other countries in Europe and Asia, see earlier post for more information) If you have a mobile phone, you can save a tree and download the guides directly to your phone! The Seafood Watch guides provide at-a-glance, easy-to-decipher information about which species are farmed or fished in a sustainable manner (green is good, yellow is acceptable, red is bad), and which ones are known to have high levels of mercury (flagged).

Now we’d like to point you to another useful resource, Oceana’s “Green List” of national supermarket and warehouse chains that provide the FDA Advisory on mercury contamination at their fish counter. The stores on the List (including Shoppers, Safeway, Costco, Harris Teeter and Trader Joe’s here in the DC metro area) voluntarily post the FDA Advisory at their fish counters and canned seafood aisles (called point-of-sale advisories) to remind consumers which fish may be at risk for mercury contamination, and what the safe limits are for consuming some at-risk fish.

Why is this important? Because it provides a reminder for you and all shoppers that some varieties of fish (including swordfish, tuna, king mackerel and tilefish) are known to have high levels of mercury in their flesh, and that people at-risk (including children, older people, pregnant women) should limit how much they eat of these varieties, or avoid them. But that leaves many other wonderful fish varieties to choose from! The point of sale advisories help you as a consumer so you don’t have to struggle to remember which varieties are at-risk when you’re standing in the grocery.

Is the grocery chain where you shop on the Green List? Find out by following
this link, which will also show you the Red List (which includes Giant and Super Fresh in our area) that do NOT post the Advisory.

Another cool tool on the Oceana website is an
interactive grocery store map that allows you to input your area code, and click “Find My Grocer!” — a Google Map pops open with color-coded points showing you all the Green List and Red List grocery stores in your area. If you click on the colored point, the name and address of the store will appear. Finding your closest Green List grocer is just a click away!

Note to Hawaii consumers, the Oceana Lists only include national chains. The Hawaiian Islands have unique grocery store chains that are not on these lists. I used to check the seafood counters at Don Quijote, Star Market and Foodland on Oahu regularly and found no FDA advisories and only sporadic country of origin notices. Both Monterey Bay Aquarium and Oceana have campaigns that allow you to bring your concerns to the store management’s attention. Join the MBA’s campaign on labelling fish and seafood with country of origin and/or Oceana’s campaign on the FDA warning about mercury at the point of sale.

Following recommendations from both MBA and Oceana, we see that Alaskan wild salmon remain one of the best fish choices for the table. Both the fresh filets and canned varieties have healthy amounts of omega-3 fatty acids that reduce blood pressure and cholesterol and are fished in commercially sustainable ways.

Salmon patties made with canned Alaskan salmon and mashed potatoes are a delicious and economical way to eat healthy and stretch your budget dollar, too. The basic recipe is made with leftover mashed potatoes, but if you let your imagination roam, other interesting alternatives will come to mind. How about mashed tofu, if you want to cut down on the carbohydrates in your meal? Or sweet potatoes or yams, instead of russets? We especially like the sweet potato substitution with spicy notes like curry powder, garam masala, or jerk spices.

Here’s one version we did over the summer with leftover roasted kabocha and wasabi peas, and served with wasabi cocktail sauce. The crunchy peas add some texture to an otherwise very uniform patty, but the wasabi flavor was very mild — hence the need for the extra spicy cocktail sauce! Use fresh or frozen peas when wasabi peas are not available — they’ll add color and extra nutrition, if not texture.

Substitute any roasted or cooked hard squash in season for the kabocha: buttercup, butternut, Hubbard, blue and acorn are all in season now! Even pumpkin would be a nice medium for salmon patties.

*Note: Wasabi peas are a Japanese snack food of fried or freeze-dried green peas coated with crunchy wasabi-flavored rice flour. Look for them in Asian groceries and Trader Joe’s.

2 cups (360g) mashed roasted kabocha
1/2 medium onion, minced (optional)
1 large egg, beaten
sea salt and ground black pepper
1 small can (7.5 oz, 215g) Alaskan red salmon, drained and mashed
1 cup (120g) wasabi peas
1 quantity Wasabi Cocktail Sauce (below)

Add egg and onion to mashed sweet potatoes. Season well, and blend thoroughly. Add salmon, and roughly combine (we like to leave chunks of salmon noticeable in the patty, but you can combine to a smooth consistency if you prefer). Make a well in the center of the mixture, and add wasabi peas. Combine well. Shape into 2 large patties.

Preheat oven to 350F/180C, and preheat cast iron or other heavy oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat on the stove. Add about 1 TBL olive oil to the pan, and add patties to pan, pressing lightly. Turn heat to medium, and brown well, about 1-2 minutes. (Note: kabocha and sweet potatoes have more sugar than regular potatoes, and may darken and even burn more easily) Flip patty over, press lightly again, and move pan to pre-heated oven. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until patties are firm to the touch. Meanwhile prepare cocktail sauce.

Serve hot with cocktail sauce, salad or your favorite cooked greens, and rice or rolls.
If you serve this with some type of corn — cornbread, polenta, succotash,
corn chowder, etc. you would have a wonderful meal combining the “Three Sisters.” More on that soon.

1 TBL prepared wasabi paste
1 TBL lemon juice
1/4 cup ketchup
dash Tabasco
2-3 TBL capers, drained and rinsed

Combine all ingredients. Set aside.


Learning from Our Friends: Going Meatless with Kitchiri

Finally, we’re back in real time on this site...It’s been a long haul and we’re still not 100% settled. This is by far the most difficult move we’ve had to make, and glad it’s almost over. One of the things that starts to signal a return to normalcy is when familiar things show up in the pantry again — old friends like these preserved lemons! This is a jar I just started 5 days ago and topped up with olive oil this morning. As we know by now, it’ll be 4+ weeks before this batch is ready to use. That’s okay, it’s worth the wait.

Preparing these lemons was bittersweet, too. It was a reminder of the preserved lemon torta we prepared last summer and sent as part of the appeal to raise money for our fellow blogger, Briana Brownlow at Figs with Bri. The appeal was to help Bri pay for the costs of her treatments in her second battle with breast cancer. During our hiatus, we learned from the fundraiser’s organizers at Jugalbandi that Bri died on October 26, 2008, at the too young age of 32. I will always think of the sunny optimism Bri’s site and her personality inspired, and associate that with the bright yellow and sunny flavor of lemons. Our deepest condolences and prayers go to Marc and all Bri’s family and friends. Thank you for allowing us to share in her warmth and optimism.

One of the things that Bri, as well as Bee and Jai, Shilpa and Dhivya, and other vegetarian bloggers continue to teach us is that modern vegetarian cooking is incredibly diverse and imaginative. It’s not all tofu and brown rice! And while we haven’t made the leap to vegetarianism ourselves, we continue to strive for 2-3 meatless meals each week. Kitchiri or Khichdi, the basis for the British dish called Kedgeree, is one of our favorites: usually a mix of lentils or split peas with rice in a spice-laden porridge, this is one of the most versatile and tasty dishes around (Shilpa even has a version with tapioca and potatoes that is on our to-try list).

After sampling many different versions from the Web and from cookbooks since April, we’ve evolved a version of our own that can be thrown together without reference to a recipe (aahhh, The Way of Cooking continues): using 3 parts pulses (dried split peas or lentils) to 2 parts rice cooked with turmeric and ground cumin, a seasoned oil topping (the tadka or tarka), and usually grated coconut (it’s not only yummy, it’s supposed to be helpful with T’s thyroid condition) and a mix of other vegetables (squash, hard or summer; corn; greens; even breadfruit). Although the basics are the same from week to week, changing the type of pea or lentil used, and the availability of seasonal vegetables keeps us from getting bored with this wonderful dish. Choose a split pea or lentil for faster cooking and Even in Hawaii’s hot summer months, kitchiri was a warm and welcome meal at the end of the day, but it’s especially beloved now as the days get shorter and the evenings colder here in metro DC. It also makes a hearty and filling alternative to oatmeal or other hot cereal in the morning — we often have the previous night’s leftovers for breakfast. Add a little broth or water when you re-heat the kitchiri, as it will thicken as it sits.

Serves 4-6 persons

1-1/2 cups split lentils or peas
1 cup rice, medium or long grain
2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. ground cumin
6 cups water
1 tsp. sea salt

Wash well and check for small pebbles in lentils or peas. Separately wash and rinse rice. Combine pulses, rice and water in large dutch oven. Bring to boil over high heat, removing foam as it rises to surface. When water reaches a boil, turn heat down to medium, add turmeric, cumin, and salt, and allow to simmer 20-30 minutes, or until pulses just begin to soften. Meanwhile, prepare the tarka.

The tarka, or seasoned oil, is another area where you can be creative about what combination of spices you use. But if you’ve never tried popped brown or black mustard seeds, I urge you to search them out at an Indian or Asian grocer — I’ve even found them in Chinese markets. The aroma and flavor of popped mustard seeds does not really have an equal in the culinary world, and adds a wonderful dimension to this and many other dishes (see also Chaat Potatoes for another great use of this ingredient). Whatever combination of spices you choose, cooking them in oil with the onions and garlic will add another depth to the flavors you are creating. As for the asafoetida, it also has a flavor that can’t be substituted, and it has the added benefit of reducing the “gassy” effects of the pulses — Leave it out at your own peril!

2 TBL. olive oil, or other light-tasting oil
1 TBL. brown mustard seed
1 medium onion, diced fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
5-6 curry leaves (optional)
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. amchur, ground green mango powder
1/4 tsp. ground asafoetida
1 tsp. garam masala
2” stick cinnamon
1-3 serrano peppers, seeded and sliced (optional, we have to leave this out on the advice of our acupuncturist)

Heat oil over medium-high heat. Add brown mustard seeds to oil, and as soon as they start popping and releasing their popcorn-like aroma (which is usually immediately), add onions and garlic. Turn heat down to medium, cover, and cook until onions are translucent and soft, about 10 minutes.

Add curry leaves, coriander powder, amchur, asafoetida, garam masala, and cinnamon stick. Stir together and cook until spices are fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Add tarka to simmering pulses and rice. Check water level, you may need to add 1/2 cup to 1 cup more water (will depend on type of lentil/peas used). Stir spices through, cover and continue cooking over medium heat for 10 minutes.

To Finish:
Sea salt, to taste
4 oz. frozen or fresh grated coconut
8 oz. roasted or cooked kabocha, butternut, acorn, or other hard squash
or any combination of summer squashes (zucchini, yellow), corn, upo or other gourd, fresh green beans or peas, or raw or flash-cooked greens (see Flash-cooked Chinese mustard greens or Watercress). We’ve also used roasted breadfruit, edamame, frozen spinach, and lima beans — let your imagination and seasonal vegetables be your guide! This may also be a way to sneak in vegetables people THINK they don’t like... sneaky, yes, but sometimes necessary. (Note to my MIL and FIL: I would NEVER do this to you guys! Everyone else takes their chances in my kitchen...)

Taste mixture, and season with salt as necessary.
Add a mix of vegetables from the list above to the pot, and continue cooking until pulses are cooked soft, about another 20-30 minutes, check water level after 15 minutes, and add more as needed.

Garnish with minced cilantro or green onion, and serve with naan, roti or other flatbread, and maybe a yogurt raita.

Kitchiri with yellow split peas, brown rice, coconut and roasted acorn squash

See also Preserving the Perfume of Lemons for a step-by-step guide to making preserved lemons at home, and the Lemon Vigil for a weekly view of lemons during their 5-week journey from fresh to preserved. A new recipe using preserved lemons coming next.


Sweet & Tangy Beetgreens Sauce for Pasta

Whole fresh bunches of beets are a fleeting treat, so when we saw them recently, they were immediately snapped up. As much as we love beetroot, the greens and stalk stems are wonderful vegetables on their own. Granted, the stems lend more color and crunch than flavor to a meal, but they do readily take on strong flavors and hold them deeply. Usually I simply slice the stems on the diagonal and throw them in the wok, but this summer I’ve been inspired by the ingenious and creative ways that Helen, at Food Storeies, has with vegetables! The woman handles a vegetable peeler with the skilled finesse of a sushi chef. Anyway, I opted to attempt to julienne the stalks, but found them very stringy and fibrous — this is why they are usually cut along the width, to cut the fibers down to edible size. But undaunted, and 45 long minutes later, the stalks were finally “de-veined” and julienned — they made quite a pretty picture with their deep burgundy color. But you can definitely skip this step and do the diagonal slices instead!

Beet greens are a mild, quick-cooking green that is suitable for stir-frying or simple flash-cooking, similar to spinach. They do have a slight musky quality that allows them to stand up to strong flavors, such as the vinegar and garlic in this pasta — which is actually derived from a southern Italian style pasta that features cauliflower. The combination of currants, garlic, and red wine vinegar with the vegetables will give you a sweet and tangy (sour) sauce. The addition of pork is my own twist, but certainly leave it out and you will have a fresh and colorful vegetarian pasta.

I’ve been neglecting Dad’s Gout Diet Challenge lately, but the vegetarian version of this recipe (no pork) with its healthy doses of greens, vinegar and garlic would be a nice change of addition to Dad’s repetoire of gout-friendly recipes. So this will be included in the

For 2 persons

Stalks and greens from 6 beets

Wash and rinse stalks and greens. Cut along both sides of each stalk to separate the greens. Roll the greens lengthwise and cut along the width into 1-inch pieces. Either slice the stalks in thin slices on the diagonal, or cut into 4-inch lengths, then de-vein each length (similar to cleaning celery fibers). Slice each length into 5-6 long pieces.

3-4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 TBL. + 1 TBL. olive oil
3 oz. (85g) lean pork, cut into slivers 1-inch long (optional)
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup (40g) currants
1 tsp. raw sugar
1/3 cup (80ml) red wine vinegar
12 oz. dried pasta

Start water for pasta.

Heat first 2 TBL. oil in large skillet (large enough to hold pasta too) over medium heat. Add garlic, and cook until fragrant and lightly browned. Add pork, if using, and cook until browned, about 4-5 minutes. Add beet stalks and salt, and stir well to coat with oil. Cover pan and allow to cook until stalks begin to wilt, about 3 minutes. Increase hat to medium-high, and add beet greens and 1 TBL oil, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Remove cover and sprinkle sugar and currants over greens, stir through. Make a hole in the center of the greens, and pour vinegar in hole. Stir everything through, and allow to cook for another 8-10 minutes or until greens are bright green and softened. Taste and correct seasoning, and keep sauce warm until pasta is cooked.

Salt water and add pasta — cook to al dente. Drain well but do not rinse. Add pasta to sauce. Increase heat under skillet to medium-high, and stir through to combine pasta and sauce ingredients. Serve in warmed bowls/plates, garnish with squeeze of lemon, if desired.


Okra & Corn Stew with Jerk Salmon

Okra. It’s one of those “bright line” foods — you either love it or you really, re-e-ally don’t. I only crossed over to the “love it” camp as an adult, and now I’m firmly entrenched there. In Hawaii we’re lucky to find fresh okra most of the year, but because it’s a vegetable that doesn’t hold well when fresh, we still often have a bag of frozen okra in the freezer so we can make this ultra-easy Okra & Corn Stew.

In fact, it was this stew that bridged the way for me to cross into the okra-loving camp. A friend in college whipped this up in seconds from frozen and canned components and then let it simmer for an hour or so while we worked with our study group. At the end of the hour, a purchased bucket of fried chicken and biscuits rounded out our meal and four hungry, harried students were happily sated. To be honest, at first I balked at the sight of okra with the corn and tomatoes, but my friend dared me to “just one taste.” I’ve been hooked ever since, and when I make this stew, it’s always exactly as she told me how to do it.

As much as we advocate fresh local produce, there is still a place for frozen produce in our pantry too. Vegetables that have been minimally processed and left “naked” (no seasonings or other ingredients added) are frozen staples that allow us to prepare dishes we love when time is a premium. The okra in this photo is of thawed frozen okra.

Another favorite dish at our house in which okra plays a prominent role is a Filipino vegetable stew called
pinakbet, but for some reason, we couldn’t imagine making that dish with frozen okra. For some reason that dish seems to require fresh okra pods, especially smaller ones. But I digress...

Here Okra & Corn Stew is paired with jerked fish fillets, made with a purchased jerk seasoning and frozen Alaskan sockeye salmon. The salmon are just browned in a separate pan, then added to the stew to finish cooking. The spicy fish fillets contrast with the sweetness of the stew for a satisfying, no-fuss meal. Of course, my favorite pairing with this stew will always be fried chicken!

For Cari

for 4 persons
For the fish:
4 4-6oz. (113 - 170g) fillets of Alaskan sockeye salmon (or halibut, or snapper)
Purchased jerk seasoning powdered rub
Juice of 1 lime
sea salt

Pat fillets dry. Sprinkle with lime juice, then coat both sides of fish with jerk rub. Allow to marinate while you start the stew.

For the stew:
1 bag frozen cut okra (1 lb/450g)
1 bag frozen sweet corn (1 lb/450g)
1 15oz (425g) can diced tomatoes (we use Muir organic from Costco)
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 cup (120ml) water or broth
sea salt, to taste
ground black pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a skillet (large enough to hold all the fish fillets too). Bring stew to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how well you like your okra done.

After the stew has simmered for 30 minutes, pre-heat a second skillet for the fish. Season fish fillets with salt to taste (remember the stew has salt too). Add oil, then fish to the pan and allow the seasonings to brown (it will look like Cajun blackened fish), about 2 minutes. Brown the other side of the fillets (they will not be cooked through).

Check stew and correct seasoning, adding a little water or broth if it looks dry. Add fish on top, just below the surface of the stew. Cover and cook for the last 10 minutes.

Serve with biscuits or garlic bread.


Grilled Eggplant Salad in Coconut Milk

(click on logo to learn more on the CTAHR site)

During our celebration of Guam’s Liberation Day last week, our fiesta plate with Red Rice and Guam BBQ Chicken was served with this grilled salad of eggplant in a spicy lemon and coconut marinade, called Finadene Birenghenas in Guam’s native language, Chamorro (from Leblon Finatinas para Guam [Guam Cookbook]). The best eggplant for this salad are the long thin Oriental eggplant seen here. These can be found in abundance in the Islands most of the year. Off-island, Asian markets will usually carry them.

When we lived overseas, I often longed for these thin-skinned and quick cooking eggplants, which do not require skinning or salting as their round Continental cousins might. Our favorite way to prepare them is to grill them. Whenever we grill, T will also throw on 5-6 of these beauties even when they will not be part of that day’s meal. Once cooled, the eggplants are peeled and ready in the fridge for a variety of future salads and meals. When peeling, avoid the temptation to rinse the eggplants under running water — rinsing will wash out much of the prized smoke flavor in the vegetable. This is true for all grilled or char-broiled vegetables you peel before using, such as bell peppers or tomatoes.

I think of this dish as a salad, but it’s not the kind of salad you would want to eat alone. Usually this is served as part of rice meal with barbecued or roasted meats and seafood, although I love it with just a big scoop of red rice and finadene sauce, too. The smoky flavor of the grilled eggplant is first tamed with the sweet coconut milk, then lifted with the lemon juice and peppers. It is surprisingly light-tasting and refreshing, despite its seemingly heavy ingredients. If you already like the smoky, meaty flavor of eggplants in
baba ghanoush, you might enjoy the variation on that flavor which this salad will bring to your table.

This recipe is going out to the award-winning Sig at
Live to Eat, who is hosting the “Grill It!” event for the Monthly Mingle begun by Meeta at What’s for Lunch, Honey? Grill fever can’t help but sweep the northern Hemisphere while the short weeks of summer are in full swing, and I hope this delicious salad will too!

Adapted from
Leblon Finatinas para Guam [Guam Cookbook]
For 3-4 servings

6-7 large thin eggplants (about 1.5 lbs/680g)
oil to coat eggplant

Pre-heat grill.

With a sharp knife, pierce skin of each eggplant in 4-5 places to prevent the eggplants from bursting while on the grill. Lightly coat each eggplant with olive oil.

Place eggplants over high heat to char, and cook until eggplant is completely soft, with no spongy areas (spongy = still not cooked through). Time will depend on the size of the vegetables. Remove from heat and allow to cool enough to handle. Holding the stem end, remove peel by pulling downwards — peel should come away easily, leaving the vegetable flesh intact. Once eggplants are peeled, they can be refrigerated 3-4 days for later use.

To finish salad:
1/2 to 1 onion, sliced thinly
Juice of 1 lemon
sea salt to taste
ground black pepper, to taste
1-3 donne peppers, aka Thai bird chilies (optional)
1/2 cup coconut milk
scallions for garnish

Combine onions, lemon, salt, peppers, and coconut milk. Allow to sit for 30 minutes while you prepare eggplants.

Cut peeled eggplants crosswise into bite-size chunks. Taste coconut milk mixture and correct for salt, if necessary — it sould be lemony and slightly sweet. Add eggplants and gently combine to distribute flavors. Garnish with green onion rings.

Serve with roasted or grilled meats and seafood, and rice. (Serve with
Red Rice and Guam BBQ Chicken for a real Guam fiesta experience.)

Other Island Fresh produce on this site: Melons, Watercress, Mustard Cabbage, Warabi, Daikon, Beef, Corn, and Choi Sum


5-A-Day: Choi Sum

(Click on the logo for another choi sum recipe)

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of all the local greens around here — watercress, Chinese mustard cabbage (gai choy), and fiddleheads (warabi) have been touched on earlier. Two other versatile and highly nutritious locally grown vegetables are choi sum (Brassica parachinensis) and Chinese broccoli, or gai lan (Brassica oleracea), both also members of the cabbage family.

At the markets these two are sometimes confused for the other — shoppers looking for Chinese broccoli will pick up choi sum, and vice versa. Both vegetables have long stems with large lobe-shaped leaves and flowers at the end. The trick to telling them apart is that Chinese broccoli has thick, waxy-looking stems and leaves, and white flowers (right); while choi sum stems and leaves look more tender, and it has dark yellow flowers (left). When the flowering tip of Chinese broccoli is tightly closed, it can also be confused with its Continental cousin, broccoli rabe or
rapini — but broccoli rabe has serrated leaf edges (photo on Wikipedia).

Chinese broccoli stems and flowers are similar in flavor to western broccoli; but it has the added nutritional value of having edible leaves as well. Chinese broccoli requires some peeling and sorting (stems from leaves) after washing, and so requires some extra prep work before cooking. We’ll take a closer look at it soon.

For now, let’s just focus on choi sum. Every part of choi sum is edible, and the stems are relatively soft and fast-cooking so whether you separate the stems from the leaves or leave it whole will depend on what you want to do with the vegetable. One of the easiest and most versatile ways to prepare choi sum is to simply steam the entire bunch. Once steamed, the vegetable can be kept in the fridge for 3-4 days until needed. It can be served cold with a
sesame or other dressing, or re-heated with pan sauce such as the Spicy Garlic Sauce below.

We also like to use choi sum greens in fried noodle dishes, including Japanese yakisoba and Korean chap chae. In this case, separate the leaves from the stems/flowers. Now you can julienne the leaves for the noodles and steam the stems whole for a separate vegetable dish. We recently made chap chae using choi sum leaves already steamed in a bunch — the cooked leaves were simply separated, then added after the meat and other vegetables were cooked too.

Choi sum is a very mild-tasting green when cooked (similar to spinach), and easily absorbs dressings, sauces and aromatics around it. It has none of the bitterness that watercress, mustard cabbage or other similar greens have, so it’s a good choice for someone who might be exploring Asian greens for the first time. It is also easy to clean and prep, and cooks fast which also make it a great candidate as a “gateway vegetable.”

As with any vegetable, organic or not, a good bath in a vinegar-water solution (2 TBL. vinegar for every 1 quart/liter water) and several rinses with cool water is a good way to start. Trim any discolored or questionable parts, then lay in a prepared steamer once the steam is at its peak (careful not to burn yourself). Cover and allow to steam for about 4-5 minutes, then immediately remove from steamer onto a large plate to cool — spread stems into a single layer on the plate. It should be a dark vibrant green, and the stems almost translucent. Once the greens are cool enough to handle, bring into a bunch and gently squeeze out excess moisture — you don’t want to wring it dry, just keep it from being dripping wet. These photos show the cooked vegetable after cooling, but before (left) and after (right) squeezing.

Now you’re ready to have your way with them! Cut into chopstick-friendly pieces, they can grace the top of your saimin/ramen soup; drizzled with sesame or citrus dressing it’s a quick and delicious side dish to any meal; chopped up and scrambled with eggs or quiche it’s a nice change from spinach; or top it off with this spicy garlic-rich sauce if you really want to kick it up a notch!

The folks at the “Island Fresh” campaign also have a soup recipe using fresh choi sum, just click on their logo at the top to check it out.

For one pound of choi sum, watercress, or warabi (or any hearty green)

4-5 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 TBL. olive oil
1 tsp. raw sugar
1-3 tsp. sriracha chili sauce
1-1/2 TBL. fermented soy beans (dao jiao), mashed with a fork
1 TBL. soy sauce
2 TBL. Thai-style fish sauce (or patis, less if using a Vietnamese brand)
2 TBL. rice, coconut or apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 TBL. cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup water
ground black pepper

1 lb. of cooked choi sum or other green

In a wok or large skillet, cook garlic in oil over medium heat until garlic is fragrant. Sprinkle with sugar and mix through. Add sriracha, mashed soy beans, soy sauce, fish sauce, vinegar, and water, and mix well to combine. Increase heat to medium high and allow mixture to come to a boil. Turn heat back down to medium, add cooked greens, and simmer for 5 minutes.

Make a hole in the center of wok/pan, and add dissolved cornstarch to center. Cook until sauce thickens, and coat greens with sauce.

Remove greens to serving plate, and pour sauce over. We had this as a side dish with the
Kasu-marinated Butterfish last month.

Other Island Fresh produce on this site:
Melons, Watercress, Mustard Cabbage, Warabi, Daikon, Eggplant, Corn, and Beef.


Date & Tamarind Cake

I liked everyone’s ideas for making use of the tamarind nectar and chopped dates I found in the pantry — all of them were much healthier suggestions than what I had come up with: a cake.

The cake idea was first inspired by a recipe I’ve been meaning to try for a cake with dates and chocolate from Death By Chocolate, by Marcel Desaulniers. But when I found the tamarind nectar, too, my mind wandered to the tamarind-date chutney we had just sampled. Tangy tamarind and sweet dates in a cake? What would that taste like?

Of course, when making chutney one would use tamarind pods or paste instead of nectar, but I only wanted to borrow some of the flavor components from tamarind-date chutney: cumin and coriander. Cayenne, or red chili powder, was the third key flavor in the chutney, but I thought that was going too far in a cake!

The proportions and method for making the cake, including the chocolate and nut topping on half the cake, came from the book.

I didn’t get much feedback on the cake except through the grapevine. It seemed the consensus was that the cake with the chocolate and nuts was too sweet, although I cut back 1/4 cup of sugar from the original recipe and was using less-sweet raw sugar. The topless version of the cake was lightly sweet and moist, with a hint of exotic from the cumin — probably one of the last spices you might expect in a cake! I think it makes a wonderful snack cake, especially with dark coffee.

If I were making this only for our family, I would not have put the chocolate and nuts on the cake because we are not big consumers of sweets. But I have to confess that a sliver of cake with the topping was trimmed during slicing and saved as a “chef’s perk” for later. That evening we were enjoying another pantry item that needed to be consumed — port wine, and we were delighted to find that the combination of port with the nuts, chocolate and spices in the cake was a real winner!

We will make this cake again, probably without the topping unless we’re expecting to share it again. I would like to try the plain cake again with nuts mixed into the batter, too.

Thanks again to everyone who played along!

(inspired by a chutney and a recipe from Death By Chocolate (1992), Marcel Desaulniers)

1 1/2 cups tamarind nectar
2 cups (225g) chopped dates
1 cup (225g) unsalted butter
2 cups (200g) whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cumin powder
2 tsp. coriander powder
1-1/4 cup (220g) raw sugar, (240g) regular sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Optional Topping: (See 2d set of baking instructions)
3 cups dark chocolate chips or chunks
1 cup chopped macadamia or walnuts

Grease and flour 9x13 inch pan. (I don’t have a 9x13 pan so I used a 9” square cake pan and a 6-muffin tin.)

Heat tamarind nectar to just boiling. Pour over dates. Let cool completely and set aside until needed.

Combine flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Sift to combine.

Cream together butter and sugar until light.

Add eggs, one at a time and beat on high until completely combined each time (about 15 seconds). Scrape down bowl. Beat on high for 20 seconds.

Add vanilla, and beat again for 15 seconds. Scrape down, then add flour mixture. Stir to combine, then beat on low for 15 seconds.

Add cooled date-tamarind mixture, and beat on medium speed for 20 seconds to combine. With rubber spatula, finish combining, then pour into prepared pan.

Bake in middle rack of pre-heated oven for 10 40-45 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Let cool on rack 30-40 minutes before turning out to cool completely.

If using optional topping: Bake in middle rack of pre-heated oven for 20 minutes, then sprinkle chocolate and nuts over cake and return to oven for another 20-25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Let cool on rack 30-40 minutes, then place in fridge for at least 20 minutes to firm up (but not harden) chocolate before slicing.

If cake chills completely in fridge (so that chocolate hardens), leave out for 30 minutes before attempting to slice the cake, or the dark chocolate will be almost impossible to cut through, even with a serrated knife. I managed to mangle the first piece when I tried to saw through the chocolate topping when the cake was still cold. It may not be so difficult to cut the cake when it’s cold if you opt for milk chocolate or semi-sweet chips instead.


Going Naked: Crustless Quiche w/Asparagus, Cress & Surimi

A summer brunch dish that tastes naughty, but is nicer to your figure and heart than its pastry-enrobed sibling. Quiche by its nature is not a dieter’s friend — flaky pastry, butter, heavy cream, eggs, and cheese can wreak havoc on the waist and the cholesterol count. But here’s the thing: we like eggs, we like cream, and we lo-o-ve cheese, but don’t like the “fat-free” versions of anything. I even begrudge low-fat versions.

But there are choices we can make that allow us to indulge in a Sunday treat like this without resorting to fat-free products — eliminating the crust, using egg whites in place of some of the whole eggs in the recipe, using light cream and yogurt instead of heavy cream, and using half the amount of cheese and twice the amount of vegetables. I’m not a dietician, and I don’t know if we can call this “healthy” but it’s at least healthi

For this quiche we used surimi, more widely known, unfortunately, as “fake crab.” I guess I had surimi on the brain because I just received a monthly update from a well-known cooking magazine, wherein surimi was roundly rejected as a poor substitute for crabmeat. Of course. It’s not crabmeat, it’s fishcake. One reason I dislike the term “fake crab” is that the term implies that surimi can be used interchangeably with real crabmeat, and of course, it can’t. The magazine article reviewed surimi as a substitute for crab in making crabcakes! Are you kidding me, crabcakes?! Honestly, reading this gave me a headache. There was no mention of a proper use of surimi, or it’s use for hundreds of years in China, Japan, Korea and all over Asia. Nothing. Just, “don’t use it to make crabcakes.” Okay, thanks. Noted. Once I stopped hyperventilating and huffing around the kitchen, I refelcted on the poor examples of surimi being used as if it actually were a substitue for crab — you know them, too, the pasta salads, omelets, sandwiches, and sushi touted as “crab,” without the the quotation marks.

So what, exactly, is surimi? It’s the name for both the raw fish paste that is used to make a variety of different fishcakes, and the red-and-white stick fishcake with that unhelpful “fake crab (or lobster)” label. Surimi paste is seasoned and shaped according to different cultural preferences across Asia. In Japan, products made from surimi are called Kamaboko (kah-mah-BO-ko), and the variety of shapes, colors, additional ingredients are many — tubes, sticks, half moons, patties; stuffed, hollow, plain, with vegetables; brown, white, neon pink or green. The other day we tried a wonderful kamaboko from Japan with actual pieces of snow crabmeat in it; it was the perfect complement to the homemade broth, fresh noodles and vegetables in our ramen lunch. The stick surimi used in this quiche has a distinctive bundled-threadlike appearance. It pulls apart easily in long strips the way string cheese does (photo above). I remember having to do this as a kid to help my mom prepare omelets or somen salads. Whenever I use the stick surimi, I still immediately shred it like this. Habit, I guess.

Whether you chunk it or shred it, I hope you give surimi a chance, and use it for what it is — a tasty fishcake that can lighten and liven up your meals in its own right. Hawaii is lucky to have several kamaboko manufacturers, and we know of one local purveyor of Taiwanese-style fishballs that (they advertise) is made fresh daily from kajiki (aka blue marlin; most commercial fishcake in the U.S. is made of pollock or whiting) (see
Chinatown Buys). But save those goodies for the stews, soups and fried noodles, for this recipe you’ll need the shredding kind.

The key to making a creamy quiche is “low and slow” — it’s basically a savory custard, so treat it with the same gentleness of whisk and heat with which you pamper a flan, bread pudding, or creme anglaise.
(Serves 2)

Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C.

For the custard:
handful of garlic chives (about 20g), chopped fine
1 TBL. unsalted butter

Saute the chives in butter over medium heat until they just become fragrant. Keep aside.

6 large eggs (3 whole and 3 egg whites only)
1/2 cup (120ml) light cream or half-and-half
3 TBL. plain yogurt
2 TBL. mirin (seasoned rice wine for cooking), or dry sherry
1/2 tsp. dried chervil
sea salt
white pepper
one pass of nutmeg on a grater (over custard)

Whisk together the egg whites and whole eggs until thoroughly blended. Add cream,
yogurt and mirin, and whisk again, being careful not to incorporate too much air. Add sauteed chives, chervil and seasonings, to taste. Grate nutmeg over custard. Stir to incorporate.

For the filling:
12 stalks of cooked asparagus, preferably grilled, cut into 1” pieces (can keep a few whole to decorate the top)
(I used steamed asparagus, and even after a gentle squeeze and paper toweling, they still gave off liquid as the quiche cooked and left the filling looking like soft-cooked eggs even though the egg is cooked through)
1/2 cup flash-cooked watercress, squeezed dry and chopped
4 sticks of surimi, pat dry and pulled into shreds
1/2 cup (55g) grated mozzarella

Fill a 4-cup/1L baking dish with the vegetables and surimi, distributing them evenly in the dish. Add cheese. Slowly pour custard over fillings, lifting ingredients at the bottom slightly to make certain the custard gets all the way down to the bottom and covers the vegetables. Gently tap dish on counter to release bubbles and settle the custard.

REDUCE HEAT to 325F/160C. Place baking pan in oven and cook for 40-45 minutes, or until top is pale golden and a knife inserted in the middle comes out moist, but with no film of egg on it. Remove quiche from oven, cover and allow to set for at least 20 minutes in the pan before slicing. Custard will continue to cook as it sets.

Note: Cooking time is for a 4-cup/1L baking dish. If using a larger baking vessel (where the custard spreads out more), check the quiche after 30 minutes. If it still needs time, cover lightly with foil and keep checking at 5 minute intervals. If using a smaller baking dish (filling is more than 3” deep), keep temperature at 325F/160C, lightly cover top of quiche with foil after 30 minutes, and cook for a total of 50 minutes to 1 hour. Test with knife, as above.


Indian Spiced Cauliflower, Daikon & Carrot Pickle

While we're waiting on the Preserved Lemons to finish curing, here's a pickle that is addictive to eat as it is easy to make. This carrot, radish and cauliflower pickle is tangy sweet with a mild bite of mustard from the mustard oil and brown mustard seeds in the brine. Similar to a chow-chow or mustard piccallili, or even an Italian giardinera, this flavorful veggie combo can serve as a side dish accent to a main meal or as a condiment or ingredient in other dishes. We crave it with almost every Indian meal, but also serve with grilled or roasted meats, and chop it up and stir into tuna, pasta and grain salads. For pasta, rice or grain salads, I've also used the unctuous spicy brine as a shortcut to making a dressing for the salad. In the photo below, chopped vegetable pickles and the brine were added to sweet potatoes, peas, pineapple and couscous to make a filling for stuffed artichokes. This is a pantry staple for us now, too — it's versatility seems to know no bounds!

Flavors of India by Madhur Jaffrey)
1 cup (240ml) mustard oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 small coin of ginger, peeled and julienned
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 medium cauliflower, washed and divided into florets
1 small daikon (1 lb/450g), peeled and cut into 1-in/2.5cm cubes
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1-in/2.5cm cubes
2 tsp. garam masala
1-2 TBL cayenne pepper powder
4 tsp. ground cumin
2 TBL. brown mustard seeds, gently crushed
1 TBL. kosher or sea salt
2/3 cup (130g) raw sugar
1/2 cup (120ml) white vinegar

Heat mustard oil in wok or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onions, reduce heat to medium and cook until onions lightly brown. Add ginger and garlic, and stir fry 1 minute.
Add cauliflower, daikon and carrots and fry together 1 minute. Add garam masala, pepper, cumin, mustard seeds and salt, and stir through. Mix sugar into vinegar, then add to pan. Stir through and cook for 30 seconds. Remove from heat, and allow to cool.

Sterilize a large quart jar, and transfer pickle to jar. Cover with cheesecloth or paper towel secured with a rubber band to allow excess moisture to evaporate.. Keep jar in a dry, sunny spot for 2 days. Occasionally shake the jars to distribute spices. On the third day, remove the cheesecloth and seal with a tight-fitting lid. Leave on countertop in a warm, sunny spot for another 4-7 days. Once pickle has soured a little, it is ready and can be kept in the refrigerator after use.

Serve as part of an Indian meal, or with roasted or grilled chicken. Add to couscous, rice or other grains, along with vegetables of your choice to make a quick salad or stuffing for cooked and de-choked artichokes.


Pan-Fried Opakapaka with Warm Spiced Cabbage Salad

This entire meal came together in under an hour, including the time to defrost and marinate the fish. The ingredients for the warm salad may seem exotic, but dals and brown mustard seeds can often be found in the bulk section of well-stocked health food stores so you may not have to look too far afield to find what you need for this salad. It may seem an unusual way to use lentils and beans — to dry fry them instead of boiling them — but once you get a taste for the nutty crunch and spice they lend to foods you, too, will find reasons to serve them again! The combination of cabbage and coconut is one we fell in love with when we first tried Brussels Sprouts with Coconut last fall, so this was an easy sell even if it weren't so quick to assemble and cook.

3 TBL. mustard oil, or olive oil (not EVOO)
2 tsp. channa dal
2 tsp. urad dal
1 tsp. brown mustard seeds
20 fresh curry leaves (optional)
1-4 serrano chiles, seeded and sliced
3 cups finely shredded cabbage
1 carrot, julienned or grated
sea salt
1/2 cup grated coconut

Heat oil in wok or large skillet over medium high heat. Add dals and mustard seeds, and fry until mustard seeds start to pop (about 10 seconds). Add curry leaves, if using, and stir through. Add chiles
and stir through, then cabbage, carrots and sea salt. Cover and reduce heat to low and cook until cabbage just wilts, about 8-10 minutes. Add coconut, and stir to heat through. Turn off heat and leave covered until ready to serve.

Crimson red snapper, known locally as opakapaka, is found in Hawaiian waters but is one of several species that are still under a fishing ban in the main Islands. The local fisheries council instituted the ban in 2006 to allow the opakapaka population to recover from over-fishing. The only opakapaka available here now arrives flash-frozen from Asia and the northern Hawaiian Islands. Of course, most "fresh" fish in supermarkets and fishmongers arrives frozen, and what we are buying is actually thawed fish. As long as frozen fish is protected from freezer burn, as with these shrink-wrapped individual fillets, you can always have "fresh" fish in your freezer and available at a moment's notice. In these photos, the frozen fillets were thawed in 15 minutes in a cool salt bath, towel-dried and produced the fillets on the right. I use about 1/3 cup coarse sea salt to 1.5 qt/L. of cold water, stirred vigorously to dissolve the salt. Frozen fillets are added to the water and left for 15-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. The trick is not to leave the fillets in longer than this or they can become water-logged. Pat dry the fish, and use immediately.

2 fillets opakapaka, or other snapper, fillets (with skin on)
1 tsp. ground coriander seeds
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground yellow mustard powder (e.g., Coleman's)
4 tsp. fresh lime or lemon juice
fine sea salt
oil for cooking

Combine coriander and mustard powders. Sprinkle spices onto skinless side of fish, and gently massage. Drizzle 2 tsp. of lemon juice on each fillet. Set aside for 15 minutes.

Pre-heat skillet large enough to hold both fillets over medium-high heat. Add oil to skillet. Season fillets with sea salt, and place skinless side down on skillet. Cook for 1 minute and turn heat down to medium. Cook another 2-3 minutes, or until browned crust forms and releases from pan. Turn fish over and cook another 2-3 minutes, depending on thickness of fish. It will flake easily when cooked.

To assemble, mound cabbage onto plate and place fish on top. Serve with rice or mashed potatoes.


Pears, Blue Cheese & Walnuts w/Baby Greens

We don't have green salads very often, but our hands-down favorite is this pear, blue cheese & toasted walnuts on a bed of baby greens. Now pears, nuts and cheeses can also serve as a or pre-dessert or dessert course, and I actually prefer this salad after the entree. The acriditiy in the walnuts and mustardy, nutty vinaigrette is the perfect foil for the play between the sweet pears and salty, musky cheese. This is another one of those dishes where the synergy in the whole surpasses the sum of the individual parts.

Of course, the star here is the blue cheese so use the best quality you can find, Maytag and Amish blues are our favorites in the US; Roquefort (Papillon brand, if available) in the Continent. The pears, too are important; search out ones with a creamy texture when ripe such as Bartletts/Williams or Packhams. Oriental/nashi pears are delicious, but the synergy is not present when we tried this combination. And don't forget the walnuts. I don't like walnuts — in any recipe where I can substitute another nut or omit them completely, I will do it in a New Your minute! But there's something about the tannins in the skins and the slightly sweet taste brought on by the toasting that makes the walnuts a crucial part of the synergy. The salad seems "flat" without them — see, we did try to leave them out once!

For 2 people
Place salad plates in refrigerator to chill for at least an hour.

1/2 cup walnuts
Preheat small counter top oven to 400F/200C. Position oven rack to the highest tier. Chop nuts coarsely and place them on a tray. When oven is fully pre-heated, place nuts in top rack and roast for one minute, then turn off heat and lave oven door closed until pan completely cools. Meanwhile, prepare vinaigrette and salad.

For the Hazelnut Vinaigrette:
1 tsp. Dijon-style mustard
1/4 tsp. sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. raw sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. white or red wine vinegar
1/4 cup hazelnut oil (or walnut oil)

In a small bowl, put mustard, salt, pepper, sugar and lemon juice and whisk well to dissolve salt and sugar. Add vinegar and whisk again until incorporated. Add all of the oil, and whisk vigorously to emulsify. Set aside.

2 firm-ripe Bartlett, or other creamy type, pears
4 cups of baby greens, or mache
2 oz. chunk of Maytag or other quality blue cheese

Peel pears, then quarter lengthwise and remove core. Slice each quarter lengthwise into 3-4 pieces.
Place 2 cups of greens on each chilled plate. and lay 2 quarters (1/2 pear) over greens.
With a fork, separate small chunks of cheese and scatter over salad. Add cooled walnuts.
Drizzle Vinaigrette over all and serve immediately with or without sliced baguettes on the side.


5-A-Day: Tian of Roasted Potatoes & Chinese Mustard Greens

With yesterday's meal of Portuguese-influenced pork, clam and periwinkle stew, we wanted to serve the traditional accompaniment of roasted or pan-fried sliced potatoes, but we also wanted a vegetable with some bitterness to punctuate the rich and spicy broth in the stew. Rather than make 2 side dishes, I opted to ease my workload and make only one dish.

One of our favorite vegetables is a simple oven-braised endive, wherein Belgian endive or Italian radicchio are cooked to melting tenderness while retaining their characteristic bite. I gambled that by layering bitter Chinese mustard cabbage under potato slices in the manner of a tian, I could get a bed of tender braised greens and crispy potatoes on top. Eureka! It worked.

A tian, like the cataplana in
yesterday's post, is the name of both a type of dish and the vessel in which it is traditionally cooked. Here, the original cookware is a bowl-shaped earthenware vessel, often unglazed, although in the hypermarches in France we saw oval or rectangular heavy ceramic dishes with 5-inch sides also sold as "tians." Tian recipes feature layered vegetables, sometimes combined with cheeses and/or grains, and often topped with breadcrumbs. In this version, it was all about the veggies with only a little broth, olive oil, garlic and sea salt for enhancement. I would gladly have substituted endive or radicchio for the mustard cabbage — as always, use what's local and in season in your area.

Although the seafood and pork stew is a definite no-no for anyone coping with gout, I think this vegetarian dish (especially when prepared with vegetable broth) would be suitable for a gout-management diet and so will be included in the

(serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as an entree)

2 medium potatoes, scrubbed and peeled

Slice potatoes cross-wise into thin slices. Toss with olive oil to prevent browning. Then sprinkle with sea salt and ground black or white pepper.
Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C.

Olive oil
1 large head of Chinese mustard greens, washed well
(or 2 lbs. of any bitter green: radicchio, endive, dandelions, etc.)
4-6 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
Sea salt, to taste
Gound black pepper, or white pepper

After washing greens well, separate thick stems from leaves. Slice stems in julienne. Cut leaves lengthwise, then finely shred
— you should have 8-10 cups of leaves. Place stems, then leaves in large (10-12 cup) oven-safe casserole. Add garlic, broth, 2 TBL. of olive oil and seasoning to taste. Layer potatoes over greens in overlapping rings. You may have to press to fit the potatoes atop the greens; but as they cook, the greens will wilt. (Alternatively, place the leaves in a large colander and pour boiling water over until the greens are just wilted, then layer over stems and proceed as above.)

Place in pre-heated oven and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. If potatoes start to brown too quickly, lightly cover with foil (do not seal or potatoes will steam and not stay crisp).

Although this dish was devised to accompany the
seafood stew, its flavors will also accentuate any rich stew — meat or vegetarian, as well as roasted chicken, game fowl, or pork.

More about Chinese mustard greens, or gai choy


Stuffed Artichokes with Italian-style Dressing

Spring has come! And here is a bowl of one of my favorite spring buds. No jaunty jonquils, irises or tulips here. We're talking thistles — to wit, artichokes, the green, spiny, tight yet tender, buds of the thistle plant. Artichokes are much beloved in our house, even more so after we discovered the delicious and therapeutic drink one makes by simply boiling the 'chokes to prepare them for the plate (see Artichoke "Tea"). I was first enticed to make artichokes at home by Patricia Ballard's "Artichokes Italian" recipe. It was an instant favorite, and is still the first artichoke meal we have when the new season's crop first appears. It is quintessential San Francisco-style Italian — fresh ingredients mixed with seafood and cured meats in a piquant sauce. Served with a San Francisco sourdough to catch the addictive dressing, and a bottle of your favorite pinot noir, it is the perfect meal to welcome spring.

To make a vegetarian version, I would double the amount of mushrooms, and substitute 1/2 cup diced firm tofu for the tuna, allowing tofu to marinate with the vegetables.

(adapted from "Wine in Everyday Cooking")
Marinade for Dressing:
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red-wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 TBL. sea salt
1 tsp. raw sugar
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dry mustard
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
3 large cloves garlic, finely minced

small head of cauliflower, divided into small florets
1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms, quartered
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced thin

Bring all Marinade ingredients to boil in a large saucepan, and allow to boil over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning — it should taste very vinegary and the herbs quite pronounced since this is a vegetable marinade for a dish that will be eaten cool or at room temperature. After 5 minutes, add vegetables and bring back to a boil for no more than 3 minutes (or vegetables will become mushy and unpalatable as they sit in the hot dressing).

Let cool completely, then refrigerate for at least 3-4 hours, but preferably overnight.

Prepare artichokes:
4 medium globe artichokes
1 tsp. sea salt (optional)
1 TBL. olive oil (optional)
couple of lemon slices (optional)

Clean artichokes by soaking in a solution of 1 gallon of water and 1/4 cup of white vinegar for about 2 minutes. Rinse well. Trim tops and side leaves, if desired (this is an aesthetic step and does not affect the final flavor; I like the "petal effect" the untrimmed leaves gives the final dish, but it can be a bit prickly for novice artichoke diners so I would trim them if serving for company).

In large dutch oven or 16 qt. soup pot, place artichokes stem side down in water that comes half-way up the sides of the vegetables. If you have no intention of using the cooking liquid as a "tea" (
benefits of artichoke "tea"), you can season the water with the optional ingredients. Bring water to a boil, then turn heat down to medium and simmer for 30-45 mnutes, or until the base is tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from water and drain upside-down in colander.

If using cooking liquid as a beverage, strain carefully and enjoy as a hot or cool beverage.

When artichokes have cooled, spread leaves open and remove spiny interior leaves surrounding the hairy center "choke." Using a small teaspoon, gently scrape out the choke to create a vessel for the dressing. Artichokes can be cooked ahead, refrigerated, and brought to room temperature 30 minutes before serving, or while the Dressing is completed.

Finish the Dressing:
1/2 cup green or black olives, halved
10 slices of prosciutto or 12 slices of salami
1 7 oz, can of tuna in olive oil (do not drain)

Combine marinated vegetables, olives, cured meat and tuna. Stir through carefully and set aside at least 30 minutes.

Traditionally, these artichokes are served in wide shallow bowls, such as a pasta bowl. I prefer a deep bowl like the cafe au lait bowl in the photo below because it supports the stuffed artichoke and has the added advantage of allowing the dressing to pool on the bottom and season the artichoke heart as you feast your way to the bottom. Spoon the Dressing into the center of each artichoke. Add any remaining dressing around each stuffed vegetable, and drizzle the remaining marinade between the artichoke leaves. Serves 4 as a first course, or 2 as an entree.

Best served with a tangy sourdough loaf, but any good artisan bread will do. We found it helps to begin with the inner leaves of the artichoke, and eat your way to the outside. You'll find each leaf base is already "dipped" in the savory Dressing marinade.

One of our favorite uses for left-over Dressing is to hollow out the bottom of a small baguette or other hoagie-type roll, fill it with the Dressing (and cold cuts, if you want a real carnivore's delight), then encase it with plastic wrap for at least an hour — the oil-vinegar dressing soaks the bread to create a muffaletta-type sandwich. For a less-messy option, combine Dressing with cooked tubular or small shell pastas, or brown rice for a quick lunch salad.


A Caponata to Feed the Soul

Caponata alla Siciliana

It was when I first tasted the Italian appetizer Caponata that I decided I must have been Italian in another life. It spoke to me — this unctuous relish, calling me home to a distant Mediterranean shore I had yet to visit. Everything about it was at once familiar and a revelation.

I was determined to find the definitive recipe. In those pre-Web days (I'm dating myself now), it took a bit of work to track down cookbooks and scour magazines. During the trial for the second recipe I found, a friend who had emigrated to the US from Sicily happened to stop by so he was a natural target for my efforts. I loved this version, but what would a real Italian think?

"I'm testing a caponata recipe, will you taste it and tell me what you think?" I asked. Eying me with a combination of curiosity and suspicion (what does this girl from Guam know about caponata?), he asked me how I even knew about caponata. I told him I had tried it in a restaurant in The City (San Francisco). With bemused indulgence, he accepted the proffered baguette slice and heaped a generous dab of the chunky relish. One bite. Surprise. Delight. A second bite. Approval.

"Wow, are you sure you're not Italian?" he joked. I confessed my suspicions about having lived a previous incarnation in Italia. Munching through a second caponata-laden baguette, he crowed, "Not just Italian, Baby, you must have been Sicilian!" There is no higher praise.

(adapted from a
San Jose Mercury News clipping)
2 medium eggplant (1.25lb total), peeled and diced
1.5 tsp. salt (for optional step)
1/3 cup olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
3 ribs celery, diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
2 lbs ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
(or 1 15oz can diced tomatoes with juice)
2 TBL. red wine vinegar
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. sea salt
1/3 cup black olives, pitted and chopped
2 TBL. capers, drained
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted (optional)
2 TBL. parsley, minced
sea salt and ground black pepper

(Optional Step: I used to do this because it was in the original recipe, but have found that if the eggplant is properly browned, this step is unnecessary.) Toss eggplant with salt and drain in colander 30 min. Rinse and pat dry.

In large skillet, brown eggplant in 1/4 cup oil over medium-high heat until all sides are golden brown. Remove from pan.

In remaining oil, saute onion, garlic, celery and carrots until vegetables are soft, but not colored. Add tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, salt and olives, bring mix to a boil. Lower heat, return browned eggplant, and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally

Add capers, nuts and parsley. Transfer to bowl to cool. Chill overnight. Season to taste before serving at room temperature with thick slices of sourdough baguette.

for Giovanni Giuseppe


Mid-East meets Mid-Pac: Kajiki with Pomegranate-Ogo (Sea grass)

Kajiki with Pomegranate-Ogo

Once we had discovered the delightful marriage of pomegranate and fish in the Salmon in Pomegranate Sauce, we wondered how the pairing would work with other fish. We had more fillets in the fridge to play with this time firm white-fleshed Kajiki, or Pacific blue marlin. Rather than marinate the fish, I seasoned it shortly before cooking with some of the Middle Eastern flavors we usually associated with pomegranate namely cumin and coriander. I then used the base ingredients for the marinade to make a sauce and a dressing instead.
Pomegranate molasses

The key flavor ingredient here, pomegranate molasses, is an intensely fruitful and tart syrup with the dense viscosity of, well . . . molasses. Used primarily in savory dishes in Persian and Turkish cuisines, it's finding greater uses in Western kitchens with the rise in popularity and availability of all things pomegranate. On Oahu, your best source for pomegranate molasses is India Market, near the University. Elsewhere, check a Turkish or Middle Eastern dry goods store, or your local health food store.

Sea grasses of all kinds, including the limu ogo we use here, are ubiquitous in Hawaii. You find it in salads, soups, pokes (POH-kays), and as a raw ingredient by the bagful in many supermarkets. Among the diverse Asian population here, consuming sea grass is par for the course. US and other Western populations are also discovering sea grasses, lured by their "superfood" status for their high nutritional and mineral content, and low calorie load. I hope we begin to see sea grasses also more widely available and utilized in innovative ways. We had a bag of fresh ogo on hand, so I wanted to include that in this presentation. We actually made this meal when my dad was visiting last month, and sea grasses were one of the top foods in the list of low-purine foods for his gout-management diet.
Raw ogoBlanched ogo
Fresh ogo appears dark brown or reddish-brown (photo at left), when raw. After blanching, it turns a bright forest green. Although blanching is not necessary when using ogo as a salad or with other seafood preparations, since we were pairing it with some non-traditional flavors I wanted to reduce its normal brininess just a tad. The brief hot shower did no damage to the ogo's pleasing crunch a surprising contrast to the firm texture of the fish. The pomegranate and ogo complimented each other well the sea grass absorbed the punchy, mineral flavors of the pomegranate and Manuka honey and delivered them intact to the fish. We will try this combination again.

For the Fish:
2 4 oz. (120g) skinless fillets of kajiki, ahi, or other firm-fleshed fish
1/2 tsp. cumin powder
1/2 tsp. coriander powder
ground black pepper
sea salt

Combine cumin and coriander powders, and gently massage or rub into fish. Set aside for at least 30 minutes.

For the Ogo:
Take one large fist-ful of raw ogo and place in colander. Rinse well. Bring 4 cups of water to a hard boil, then pour over ogo in colander. Shake and drain well, then rinse with cold water. Leave to dry while you prepare the dressing.

For the Sauce and Dressing:
(adapted from Laurie's
Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska)
4 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 tsp. coriander powder
1/2 tsp. Aleppo pepper
TBL. pomegranate molasses
TBL. Manuka or other non-flowery honey (raw honey, if watching your gout)
sea salt, to taste

TBL. red wine or raspberry vinegar
TBL. olive oil
sea salt, to taste

In a small saucepan set over low heat, sweat garlic in oil until softened, about 5-7 minutes. Add wine, and turn heat up to medium-high. Add coriander and pepper, and cook until spices are fragrant and alcohol has burned off, about 1 minute. Add molasses, honey and
sea salt, and stir through. Cook together for about 1 minute.

Remove 2
TBL. of sauce to a small mixing bowl and whisk in vinegar and oil. Taste and correct for salt. Using kitchen shears, cut ogo into 2-inch pieces. Add to dressing and mix well. Set aside.

Heat skillet with 2 TBL. oil over high heat. Salt fish fillets, then immediately add to pan, salted side down. When fillets release from pan, turn them over and reduce heat to medium. Cook until flesh will flake with a fork (or until desired doneness
if using ahi or wahoo, some people may prefer to leave the center sashimi-esque, like the Ahi with Peppercorns).

For service, spoon a pool of sauce on the plate and place a fillet in the center. Top with the dressed ogo, and serve with smashed potatoes and roasted broccoli.

For a gout-management diet, be certain to use skinless fillets and raw honey for the fish, and serve with whole roasted or smashed potatoes (i.e., with the skin on). This will be included in the
GDC round-up.

Confetti Potato Salad

Confetti Potato Salad

When we found a package of mixed new potatoes in the market, I couldn't pass up the chance to play with the lively colors for the Potato Fe(a)st Event at DK's Culinary Bazaar.
Although my first instinct with new potatoes is always to roast them, I knew from past experience that roasting, while intensifying the flavor, dulled the vibrant colors. Potato Feast logo

(Raw and steamed Okinawan purple sweet and Peruvian purple new potatoes)

Steaming would preserve the color and keep them firm, but they would require some strong flavors to punch through that waxy texture. Since T has never been a fan of mayonnaise-based salads, I'm always keen to try any potato salad without mayo. The sharp mix of lemon and feta in this recipe seemed the perfect foil for the bland potatoes, but the original called for kalamata olives, which we didn't have. I've substituted capers for the olives, and so hesitate to call this Moldavian Potato Salad, which is what it was titled in the library book I borrowed. At any rate, I was happy with the rich colors and sassy flavor that comes through in the end.

This salad joins "Purple & Squeak," made with the Okinawan sweets, in going out to DK for her event celebrating the International Year of the Potato.

(heavily adapted from
The Potato Cookbook)

For the potatoes:
2.2 lb. (1kg) total of mixed red, Yukon gold, and Peruvian purple potatoes
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
TBL. olive oil
sea salt
ground black pepper

Wash potatoes well, including a soak in a solution of 1
TBL. white vinegar for every 2 qt./liter clean water. Scrub, rinse and place whole, unpeeled potatoes in large steamer that can hold potatoes in single layer. Cook over medium high steam until potatoes are easily pierced with a knife blade. You might have to remove smaller potatoes earlier so they do not become water-logged.

Combine minced garlic and oil. While potatoes are hot, cube them into 1/2-inch (1.5-2cm) cubes, place in large bowl, and dress with garlic oil. Season to taste with sea salt and ground black pepper. Allow to cool to room temperature.

To finish salad:
4 scallions (green onions), white and light green parts only (save the dark green for garnish), sliced thin
1/2 cup feta, crumbled
1/2 cup capers, rinsed and drained
1 sprig of fresh dill (about 1/4 cup)
Juice of 1 lemon

When potatoes have cooled, add scallions, feta, capers, dill and lemon juice, and toss gently to combine. Taste and correct seasoning
it should be lemony and salty-tart from the cheese and capers. Serve at room temperature. Can be chilled if made ahead, but allow to come to room temperature before serving. Garnish with reserved scallion greens, if desired.

Plate alongside your favorite finger sandwiches or quiche for an elegant tea or brunch, or fried chicken for a picnic in the park. Also makes a terrific sandwich filling stuffed in a pita with tomatoes and cucumbers, or rolled in a tortilla wrap with a smear of hummus to bind (I didn't have hummus for the wrap seen here, but was wishing I did).

By keeping the skins on the potatoes, this salad seems to fit the criteria for dad's gout management diet, so it will be included in the Gout Diet Challenge round-up for him.


"Bubble & Squeak" tweaked . . .

Purple & Squeak

When I received DK's invitation to participate in her first sponsored event at DK's Culinary Bazaar celebrating the year of the potato, I thought this might be the time to try something that's been lurking in the back of my mind for some time. I've always loved the combination of potatoes and cabbage, whether it's as Haluschka (potatoes, cabbage, onion and caraway) or the delightfully named Bubble & Squeak (mashed potatoes and cooked cabbage). And it's the latter that has been tickling my imagination for as long as we've had access to the gorgeous dark purple Okinawan sweet potatoes here in Hawaii what if you combined purple potatoes with purple (i.e., red) cabbage and red onions? You would have, of course, Purple & Squeak (you can see in the photo that even the mustard seeds took on a red tinge after they popped, so as to blend with today's color scheme).
Sweet and savory potato varietiesSweet Potatoes and Yam
Hawaii has a wondrous bounty of sweet potato varieties. At left, basketfuls of taro (upper left), russets, and two varieties of Okinawan sweet potatoes crowd a display at Kekaulike Mall in Chinatown. At right, 3 varieties of sweet potato (US, top left; Okinawan white, bottom right; and Okinawan purple) and 1 yam (bottom left). The Okinawan varieties have a firmer flesh than the US regular sweet potato.

In Britain, Bubble & Squeak is a dish designed to make-over mashed potatoes and cabbage left from the previous day's Sunday roast; in this case we had leftover
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Awamori (but without the evaporated milk called for in that recipe) and I cooked the red cabbage to make this dish. Given the natural sweetness of the Okinawan purple sweet potato, and the added sweetness of cooked cabbage, I wanted to balance those with a little heat and spice in the form of popped mustard seeds, cumin, chaat masala and a chopped jalapeno (seeded). We enjoyed this dish very much, and will make it again. We had it first with grilled fish and couscous, but loved it even more simply wrapped in a warm whole wheat tortilla with cilantro sprigs tucked in the middle.

DK's Potato Fe(a)st is open until Feb. 29th. If you enjoy potatoes, both savory and sweet, as much as I do, check out her site to enter or to see the Round-up soon.

1 quantity of
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Awamori (2 lbs. of sweet potatoes)

TBL. olive oil
TBL. brown mustard seeds
1 medium red onion, diced
1 serrano or jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
2 tsp. cumin powder
1 medium red cabbage (about 2 lbs/1kg), sliced lengthwise into 1-inch (2.5cm) wide slices
sea salt

1 tsp. chaat masala
cilantro for garnish

Heat oil over medium high heat in large saute pan or wok. When hot, add mustard seeds and stir until they begin popping, then immediately add onion. Stir to coat onion, then cover pan and turn heat to low. Allow onions to cook until translucent, about 8-10 minutes. Remove cover and return heat to medium high. Move onions aside, creating a space in the middle of the pan, and add cumin powder to the center, stirring well to cook through for 1 minute. Add peppers, and saute for another 5 minutes. Add cabbage and 1 tsp. sea salt, mix well. Cover and cook until cabbage is tender, about 15 minutes.

Stir in prepared Mashed Sweet Potatoes and mix well to combine. Cover and heat through completely. Sprinkle with chaat masala and garnish with minced cilantro. Serve with any grilled fish or meat. Or eat either rolled in or atop (like a pizza) your favorite homemade or purchased flatbread. You can also shape into patties and pan fry with olive oil
the stickier texture of the sweet potato means no egg is required for binding for entree-type cutlets.

Purple & Squeak as a side dish

Skinless potatoes should be eaten less frequently by those with gout conditions, although potatoes with skin are considered good for those on a gout management diet. I wouldn't imagine eating the purple sweet variety with its skin, since it tends to be a bit tough after cooking; although the Okinawan white-flesh sweet variety could be mashed with the skin.

Cabbage is also high on the list of good foods for gout management. I would include this in dad's low-purine regimen by using a larger percentage of the cabbage mixture to sweet potato, and ensuring the other elements of the meal were especially low-purine, such as quinoa and lemon roasted chicken.


If you are what you eat . . .

Idako (baby octopus)
. . . better know what you're eating, yeah?!

One of the trickiest issues I've come across while researching the management of a gout-friendly kitchen is the lack of resources when it comes to the nutritional values of less common Asian vegetables and fruits, and prepared ethnic foods. While some, like konnyaku and kelp (kombu) have made in-roads into the US and other Western markets as health foods, many others remain on the fringe. One resource I've found is not related to gout in particular, but is enlightening nonetheless about the nutrition content of foods common in Hawaii.

The "
Hawai'i Foods: Nutrition with Aloha" website, sponsored by the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) at the University of Hawaii, provides a breakdown of the total calories, protein, carbohydrate, fat, cholesterol, and vitamin & mineral content of popular fruits, vegetables, and cooked foods in the Islands. One recipe that was featured earlier here on ThreeTastes, Chicken and Green Papaya Soup (Chicken Tinola), is one of the cooked dishes listed on the site: a 1-cup serving of Chicken Tinola has 97 calories, 7g of protein, 4g of carbohydrates, 1g of fiber, 6g of total fat (only 1g is saturated), 23mg cholesterol, as well as Vitamins A & C, niacin, folate, calcium, magnesium, zinc, potassium and phosphorus; and 363mg sodium. Pretty healthy, all things considered, and the sodium content can be controlled by the amount of fish sauce (patis) you add while cooking.

Other dishes include ahi poke, kim chee, spam musubi, macaroni salad (included with almost every plate lunch in the Islands), char siu pork, chicken katsu, guinataan, pinakbet, mochi, laulau, kalua pork, poi, teriyaki beef, and chap chae. If you're familiar with these dishes, it's kind of fun
and sometimes scary to see the actual nutritional breakdown of these foods. (I have to seriously re-think how much poke we eat . . . too sad)

Also on the site are less common fruits and vegetables, such as apple banana, watercress, taro, string beans, Okinawan sweet potato, tamarind, soursop, mustard cabbage, mountain apple, papaya, marunggay leaves, lychee, jackfruit, guava, wing beans (listed as"goa bean"), bok choy, choi sum, and bittermelon.

Another great asset is the Recipe page which features more modern recipes using local ingredients: Watercress & Pork (saute), Pineapple Chicken, Apple Banana Bread, Daikon & Potato Soup, Chicken Noodle Choi Sum, and Okinawan Sweet Potato Hash, among many others. The nutrition breakdown for each recipe is also provided.
Go there, or click "Discover" on the main page. I'd like to sample some of these recipes for this site, so stay tuned.

Also on the site is a tool called "My Diet, or PacTrac (short for Pacific Tracker)" which is supposed to allow the user to gauge the nutrition content of their actual diet. It allows you to enter the foods you've eaten in the last 24 hours and receive back a report on how healthy that one-day diet was. The first problem I encountered was that when I entered "oatmeal" as the first item, I was given a list of 6 dry or instant oatmeal cereals to choose from, but no cooked oatmeals, so I could not proceed. It's a great idea, but it may need a little more work on that score. To see PacTrac for yourself, go there now, or click "Learn" on the "Hawai'i Foods" main page.

Finally, you can access and download (as PDF files) quite a few different UH publications that look at the history and nutrition of local foods, as well as guides on how to choose a more healthy diet among foods available locally (
Go there). One guide in particular seemed very practical and helpful: Hawaiian Food Choices for Healthful Living. This 39-page booklet breaks down the US government's recommended foods pyramid (Starch, Calcium/Milk, Fruit, Vegetable, Meat, and Fat), and includes local foods in each food group, including saloon crackers, arare (listed as mochi crunch), coconut, soba noodles, ramen, breadfruit, lotus root, pigeon peas, lychee, poha berries, ume, parrotfish (ulu), milkfish (bangus), skipjack tuna (aku), fish sauce, and Tabasco.

However, my favorite sections begin at page 28 (to page 33) of the booklet: these sections detail how some local favorites make up the total servings from each of the food groups the USDA recommends (2 servings of Calcium/Milk, 3 Vegetables, 4 Fruit, 8 Starch, 5 Meat, 4 Fat). For example, 1 cup of Portuguese Bean Soup (see photo) provides 1/2 of one Vegetable serving, and 2 Meat; 1/2 cup of Halo-Halo (Filipino mixed fruit and ice dessert) has 1/2 Fruit serving, 1 Starch, and 1 fat; and 1 cup of Bibimbap (Korean rice topped with vegetables and beef) has 1 Starch, 1-1/2 Vegetable, 1/2 Meat, 1/2 Fat. But ask yourself, do you really have only 1 cup of Portuguese Bean Soup or Bibimbap? Portion sizes in the Islands are very generous so calculate that in as well. I know my soup bowl probably holds about 2 cups of soup and don't forget about the cornbread you might have on the side, too!

The CTAHR at the University launched this site last year, and I've enjoyed using these tools and have learned a lot about the foods we eat here in Hawaii. I can't say we've banished anything from our table because of something we've learned on this site
— moderation is saner than total denial (especially when there are so many ono foods). But if knowledge is power, then the CTAHR has certainly empowered us to make intelligent choices about what we can enjoy in the Islands.

So "Mahalo nui loa" to all the researchers and staff at CTAHR who made this site possible!

For information on how to choose seafood and fish in Hawaii and around the world that are safe for both you and the environment,
read more here.


The GDC: Chicken, Green Beans & Cherries in Tomato Sauce

Chicken Meatballs in Tomato-Green Bean Stew

While looking for interesting ways to cope with dad's diet limitations (our Gout Diet Challenge, GDC) as he works to reduce the visible uric crystal deposits (called tophi) on his hands and knees, the flavors of the Mediterranean still resound most strongly. We took a cruise through the Greek Islands many years ago with my parents, stopping in ports only long enough for T and I to make a mad dash through any groceries and bakeries we could find while my parents and aunt took the ship-sponsored tours or hung out in harbor-side cafes. The cruise only emphasized how fruitless it was for us to take a big-ship cruise through these wondrous islands, since you spend no quality time on any island.

It was long enough, however, to introduce us to new flavors. One that has remained a staple in our house since that cruise is Fassoulakia me Domates, Green Beans with Tomatoes. We found a small cafe at the harbor in Hydra and ordered some food to take back with us to the ship, and once on board, skipped the formal ship dinner to feast on our local finds. To be honest, I don't remember much about the other foods we ordered, there were stuffed vegetables, fish, lamb, etc., but the lovely stewed beans in tangy tomato sauce was something I had to duplicate when we returned home.

At that time, I had one Greek cookbook, "Greek Cooking for the Gods," by Eva Zane. It had come highly recommended by a friend who regularly cooked from it for her Greek boyfriend, and it was my stand-by for moussaka, spanakopita, and the Easter bread that I loved. The recipe for Fassoulakia me Domates in this book looked promising, but it did not include currants, which had been in the beans we tried from Hydra. I included currants in our first try, and it was a pretty close match. Since then, I've also used raisins, sultanas, even diced apricots, and loved the results; and even omitting dried fruit altogether is delicious.

To adapt this recipe for the GDC, I used dried tart cherries (black tart cherries are recommended for gout management) instead of currants. And I added cooked chicken (chicken is better than turkey for gout-sufferers) meatballs to make it a one-dish meal. Without meat, it is an easy side dish for roasted or grilled meats, or a very filling vegetarian entree served with couscous or to stuff a baked potato. Or as a flatbread pizza topping (that's for bee and Jai)!
(See the new
GDC Round-up for more gout-friendly recipes)

Chicken, Beans and Cherries in Tomato Sauce

(Inspired by the gorgeous island of Hydra and heavily adapted from "Greek Cooking for the Gods")

Chicken Meatballs
1 lb. (450g) ground chicken
1/2 medium onion, minced
1 clove garlic
1 large egg
1 tsp. paprika
2 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. Aleppo pepper (optional)
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients and shape into golf-ball sized rounds. Saute in pan lined with 1/2-inch oil until browned on all sides, or place on baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and bake in tabletop oven for 20 minutes. Add hot to sauce, or cool completely and freeze to make ahead (add to sauce frozen after beans have simmered for 20 minutes, then cook for another 40 minutes).

To use fresh chicken, use 1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breast or thigh meat cut into 1-inch cubes. Combine paprika, cumin, peppers and salt (omit oregano) listed in Meatball recipe above, and coat diced chicken in dry mixture. Set aside 30 minutes, then add to Tomato Sauce below after beans have simmered for 20 minutes, then continue cooking for the remaining 40 minutes in the original recipe.

Tomato Sauce
TBL. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup dried cherries (or currants, raisins, sultanas)
1 TBL. dried oregano
tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried dill (optional)

6 ripe tomatoes, or 1 28oz. (780g) canned tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup dry white wine, or chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 bunch fresh Italian parsley (flat-leaf), about 1 cup chopped
1 bay leaf
1 lb. green beans

In large saute pan set over low heat, sweat onions in olive oil until transparent (take your time, this will take 8-10 minutes at least). Add garlic and dried cherries, and cook until both are just softened. Add oregano, thyme and dill (if using), and mix through onion mixture and leave to cook about 2 minutes, or until herbs become fragrant.

Turn heat up to medium high and immediately add tomatoes, wine/broth, parsley and bay leaf. (If you omit the dried fruit completely, add 1/2
tsp. brown sugar to sauce.) Partially cover, and leave to simmer 20 minutes while you prepare beans.

Wash and tip green beans to remove stringy spine. Leave whole or cut into 2-inch lengths, it's up to your own aesthetics and who you are cooking for. Add to tomato sauce, cover completely and let simmer over low heat for 30-40 minutes. Add cooked meatballs, cover and simmer another 30 minutes.

Serve with couscous, quinoa or amaranth (the latter two are very beneficial for the management of gout), fresh pita or other flatbread, or
Mestizo Rice. In the photo, it is plated with cinnamon couscous.

The Gout Diet Challenge: Greens & Cheese Pie

UPDATE: Visit the new GDC Round-up for other gout-friendly recipes

While my dad is still here recuperating comfortably from his cataract surgery, I'm challenged with cooking with the limitations of his chronic gout condition, which includes bans on red meats, turkey, cured meats, black tea, preserved meats, shellfish, yeast breads, cauliflower, coffee, chocolate, refined sugars, refined salts, certain legumes, small fatty fish (anchovies, sardines, herring), carbonated drinks, white vinegar, fish sauce, and fried foods; as well as limiting amounts of asparagus, and mushrooms. (Thankfully the pre-op restriction on garlic is no longer in place.) Dad was a bit depressed on learning about all these dietary restrictions because he's an inveterate improviser in the kitchen and he loves all kinds of foods. (Guess who inherited these traits?) I want to show him that these limits don't condemn him to a life of bland meals. On the contrary, it's often helpful to look to other cultures and cuisine to discover delicious new ways to incorporate the foods that support his management of gout. (See a complete list of foods to avoid and foods to help eliminate uric acid at

Just a brief word about gout (the condensed version of what I've learned in the last week). Gout is a form of arthritis distinguished by extremely high levels of uric acid in the blood that may cause sudden painful attacks in the joints. Uric acid is the metabloic by-product of purines, a naturally occurring substance in our body tissue and in some foods we eat. Normally uric acid is safely secreted out of the body by the kidneys, but if one's metabolism is impaired (by medications, age, or disease) or if one consumes a consistently high purine diet with little exercise and insufficient water intake, gout can take hold. Unfortunately, dad's condition has been poorly managed and has resulted in the formation of tophi, or deposits of uric acid crystals in the joints, which are particularly painful. Since he has been found to be allergic to the more aggressive pharmaceuticals to treat gout, proper diet management is his best resort now.
Cooked red amaranth

So what foods assist in the management of this condition? Well, one of the best foods is Watercress always a favorite around here anyway (see Flash-cooked Watercress post) and another is Amaranth. We sometimes see fresh amaranth at our favorite greengrocer, and we were in luck this week. At right is red amaranth, both raw and flash-cooked for the recipe below. Along with some watercress, and low-sodium cheeses (dairy also aids gout management) , the amaranth went in to a "pie" that is a variation one of our favorite stand-bys, Spanakopita. But I've recently learned that there is also a wild greens and cheese pie called Hortopita, which this will more closely resemble. With all due apologies to the real Greek chefs out there, this version will use a regular pie crust instead of filo, and cottage cheese instead of ricotta so it is something that can be duplicated when dad returns to Guam.

Because this pie is for the two most important men in my life, I decided to make it my early Valentines for them as well. This will be my entry to zorra's "
Heart for your Valentine" event at 1x umrühren bitte. If you're looking for sweet or savory Valentine's Day treats, check out zorra's event for some wonderful ideas from all over the world (the round-up is updated as new entries come in, so check back often until the 16th).

I (heart) you, Dad and T!!!

(Inspired by
Tastes LIke Home cookbook)

2 pie crusts or pate brisees (use your favorite recipe or commercial brand)

1 small tub (12oz, 340g) low-fat cottage cheese
Set a strainer over a bowl and drain cheese for at least 8 hours, or overnight, in refrigerator.

1 lb. fresh amaranth, cleaned
1 lb. fresh watercress, cleaned and trimmed
(or use 2 lb. of your favorite greens: kale, endive, dandelions, nettles, wild garlic (Baerlauch), mustard greens, etc.)
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
TBL. olive oil
sea salt

Cut greens into 2-in. (3cm) lengths. Heat wok over medium-high heat, swirl oil around edges and add garlic. Cook until just fragrant, do not brown. Remove garlic and add greens to pan. Season with salt, and continue to saute over medium heat. Cover and cook for 5-8 minutes, or until vegetables are bright green and just tender. Add garlic back and remove from heat. When cool enough to handle, squeeze gently to remove excess water. Set aside. This can be done up to 2 days in advance.

PRE-HEAT OVEN to 400F (200C).

4-8 oz. of feta cheese
2 large eggs
2 tsp. dillweed
2 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. chervil (optional)
1 cup fresh minced parsley
1 bunch green onions, chopped (about 1 cup, 150g)
sea salt and ground black pepper
Greens and Cheese Pie
Combine drained cottage and feta cheeses, eggs, herbs and green onions. Add drained, cooked greens, and sea salt and ground black pepper to taste (it will depend on the saltiness of the cheeses you use).

Roll out one pie crust and mound filling onto crust to within 1-inch (5cm) of the edge of the crust. Place second crust over filling and crimp bottom crust over the top. Brush with olive oil.
(For Heart-shaped pies, divide each pie crust into fourths (you will have 8 quarter-circles). Fold each quarter-circle down its center, and using scissors, cut out a heart shape. Repeat with other quarter-circles. Fill with about 1 cup filling for each heart, leaving about 1/2-inch edge. Cover with top heart crust, bring bottom crust over, and crimp. Brush with olive oil.)

Bake on middle shelf of pre-heated oven for 10 minutes, then turn oven down to 350F/180C. Bake another 35 minutes or until crust is golden brown. (Heart-shaped pies, bake another 15-20 minutes, until golden brown.) Cool before slicing. Makes a wonderful meat-less meal with a crusty bread and crisp white wine, or a vegetable accompaniment to a simple roast chicken or fish.

Healthy and Delicious Greens and Cheese Pie


As wild as I can get: Warabi (Fiddlehead ferns)


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!

Original Post

Warabi: fern or dragon?

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.
Raw warabiFlash-cooked warabi with garlic

Table-top Cooking: Sukiyaki

Sukiyaki: Tabletop cooking at its finest

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.

Rinsed and drained shirataki
SHIRATAKI: A form of konnyaku, shaped as "noodles"; konnyaku is a gelatin-like product made from the root of the "devil's tongue plant," a relative of the sweet potato. Konnyaku and shirataki have been gaining ground in Western kitchens as health and diet food because they have virtually no calories, and are flavorless on their own so will absorb the flavors of whatever medium they are cooked in. Konnyaku (and shirataki) is also recognized for its ability to rid the body of toxins -- in Japan, it is known as "the broom of the body" as it contains a dietary fiber that is indigestible yet gentle to the stomach and intestines, sweeping away undigested food and other sediment on its journey through the system. Both shirataki and konnyaku come in white and brown varieties; since it is flavorless, choice is a matter of your aesthetic, but the white form is more often used. Shirataki has a definite gelatinous quality imagine if you could cut jello into strips and pick them up with chopsticks and some people balk at this texture. Think of them as noodles, though, and they may be less objectionable. Remove from package and rinse well under running water and drain. Cut into roughly 3" lengths.
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.

Japanese leeks, Negi

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)

Dried shiitake
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 mushrooms
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.

Thin sliced beef for sukiyaki
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.

Spinach and watercress
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
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.
Setting the table for sukiyaki

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 2
TBL. 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.
Starting sukiyaki

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!


5-A-Day: Flash-Cooked Watercress

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!
View of Sumida Farms from highwayView of Sumida Farms watercress

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)
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.
Sesame Watercress

2-4 cloves garlic, finely minced
TBL. toasted (aka "dark) sesame oil
1 TBL. raw sugar
tsp. sea salt
2 TBL. mirin, sake, or sherry
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.
Okinawan Soba with cress and kamaboko

More Recipes with Watercress:
Watercress Dumplings
Portuguese Bean Soup
Green Papaya Soup (Tinola)


5-A-Day: Chinese mustard greens (Gai Choy)

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 Greens

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
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

Go Home, Cook Rice: Laulau Uncovered

Ehrr, what were Santa and the Mrs. tucking in to in the Honolulu City Lights display two days ago laulau? Looks very exotic and strange. Kinda scary, too, all wrapped up in one leaf! Well, do you like smoked pork? How about slow-cooked greens? Yeah?! You'll love laulau! Smoky pull-apart pork shoulder or butt are wrapped in meltingly tender greens (taro leaves, to be exact) and encased in non-edible ti leaves for steaming and presentation. A tiny piece of salted butterfish is included for seasoning, but does not impart a fish taste or smell to the meat or greens. Untie and remove the ti leaves to reveal a delicious ready-made meal.

Here in the islands, almost every supermarket carries vacuum-packed pre-cooked packages of laulau (3 in a pack) in the chilled section that need only a 30-minute steam or a shorter ride in the microwave-go-round. Cook a pot of rice, or pick up a bag or tub of poi (also in the chilled counter), and you have a nutritious instant meal (we have both poi and rice -- it's all about the starch . . .). We keep laulau in the freezer for those REALLY lazy days when even chopping onions or washing salad greens is too laborious, and T takes them to work for lunch too. (Separate the laulau into individual quart-size freezer bags unless you plan to cook 3 at a time).

If you're visiting the islands, many local drive-inns and the bento counters of the supermarkets will have hot, ready-to-eat laulau. On the Mainland, I've seen laulau both at the bento counter and in the frozen section at the Uwajimaya chain of Japanese/Asian groceries in the Northwest. I'd love to know if other Mainland markets, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, carry laulau, too. (You can leave a comment below or email me thanks!) There is also a local fast-food chain, L&L Drive-inn, that has locations along the West Coast I haven't tried them outside of Hawaii, but they might carry laulau as well.

What did you think of laulau the first time you tried it? Would you try it if you saw it after reading this?

Game Day: Portuguese Bean Soup

Rainy days on Oahu

The weather is quite dreary here this weekend and will remain so into the middle of next week, if you believe the weather guy. Our poor hibiscus looks quite weighed down by the heavy rains we got yesterday, doesn’t she?

Nevertheless, there’s a big game today at Aloha Stadium — the undefeated (11-0) University of Hawaii Warriors face off against the Washington Huskies in the last game of the regular season. The excitement on Oahu is palpable and infectious, even sweeping in sometimes-sports fans like yours truly. We casually tuned in to last week’s televised game against Boise State and then sat glued to the TV to the end. Luckily we still had Thanksgiving leftovers (ala tetrazzini) then because I was too into the game to cook.

(You can listen to today's game via the UH website here or watch on ESPN2)

This week we’re prepared with the perfect Hawaiian TV football-watching food: the venerable Portuguese bean soup. And judging by the empty Portuguese sausage shelf and dearth of ham hocks and shanks at my local supermarket yesterday, I’m guessing there are lots of soup pots bubbling away right now. This ultra-hearty spicy island classic rivals American style chili con carne in its variations and plain down-home comfort. For me the key ingredient is Hawaiian style Portuguese sausage, it’s quite distinct from its European ancestor and whatever the blend of spices they use here, it’s uniquely Hawaii. And ono. When we lived in Europe, I made this soup a couple of times using sausages (chouricos) from Portugal and those were good too, but in my heart I felt like something was missing.
Our favorite Portuguese sausage

The method I use for this (and most soups) is different in that I use a slow-cooker. This will require that you start at least 48 hours before you plan to serve, if you also want to de-fat the broth (which I do), at least 36 hours if you skip the cooling process. It does take a while, but I like the fact that I’m not tied to the stove making the broth or soup. In Europe we found a slow-cooker made in the U.K. that was 220-volt, and eliminated the need for a voltage-converter for a 110 volt machine. And the multiple draining and rinsing may seem like a bother, but according to Aliza Green in "
The Bean Bible," this process, along with the parboiling, reduces the beans’ propensity to cause flatulence so skip this step at your own peril! ; P

The substitution of mustard greens for cabbage is a new thing in the evolution of this soup for us — we tried this variation in a soup we had near Hilo on the Big Island a couple of years ago. The slightly bitter green brings a nice balance to the spicy meaty soup.

Making broth for soup

Make the broth:
1 large smoked ham shank, whole
1 medium onion, peeled but left whole, or halved
4 whole cloves
4 celery heart branches, with leaves
2 large bay leaves
2 carrots, peeled and cut in large chunks

Stick cloves in onion halves or whole. Place all ingredients in 5 quart or larger slow-cooker. Cover with water, at least to 4/5 of the ham shank. Set slow cooker to High and cover. After an hour or so, check and remove scum rising to the surface. When water comes to a boil, turn setting to Low and leave for 8-10 hours, or until the meat is falling off the bone.

Meanwhile, soak 8 oz. (225g) of rinsed red kidney beans in 8 cups (2L) cool water. After 4 hours, drain the water, rinse, and cover with 6 cups (1.5L) cool water. Repeat after 4 more hours.

When the broth is done, remove the ham shank and all the vegetables. Debone and shred or chop the meat, and return to broth. You can either cool the broth overnight and remove the fat in the morning, or proceed to finish the soup as is. These pictures show the cooled and defatted broth.
Broth after coolingBroth after de-fatting
If you choose to cool the soup, after de-fatting, return to slow-cooker and set on High for one hour before proceeding.

For the soup:
10 oz of Hawaiian Portuguese sausage, halved lengthwise, then sliced into half-moons
4 cloves of garlic, diced
2 cups water
1 15oz can of diced tomatoes, including juice
1 6oz can of tomato paste
1-½ tsp. paprika
1 tsp. black pepper
2 carrots, peeled and diced

1 large potato, peeled and diced
1 medium bunch Chinese mustard greens, Italian chicory, endive, or other bitter green, chopped
4 oz. (113g) dry elbow macaroni, or other small pasta shape

Drain and rinse beans. Bring 6 cups of water to boil, then add rehydrated beans and boil for 15 minutes. Leave in water until ready to use. Then drain, rinse and add to hot broth.
Portuguese bean soup
Mmmm, soup . . . .
Over medium heat, pan fry the sliced sausage until browned, then add to hot broth. Remove the excess fat from the pan, then add garlic and cook until just fragrant. Turn heat to high and add water to pan and deglaze, add to broth with tomatoes, tomato paste, pepper and paprika. Turn slow-cooker to Low and let cook about 4 hours. Add potatoes, carrots, stem parts of cabbage, and uncooked macaroni. Cook on Low another 1-½ to 2 hours, or until potatoes and beans are tender. (Add tender green parts of cabbage last half hour.) Correct seasoning (salt will depend on type of sausage or smoked shank/hocks used) and serve with cornbread, hawaiian sweet bread, or garlic bread.

If you want to use cooked pasta or macaroni, reduce water to 1 cup, and add cooked pasta with tender cabbage greens, in the last half-hour of cooking.

For a great step-by-step pictorial on how to make Portuguese bean soup local kine, check out Pomai’s site at The Tasty Island.

For a European take on this island favorite, see local girl Rowena cooking in Italy at
Rubber Slippers in Italy.

Update: The Warriors took it in a come-from-behind, nail-biting finish, 35-28. . .

See also
Portuguese-style pork, clam and periwinkle stew


At the movies: Aloo Gobi

Potato and Cauliflower Curry

When I think about my favorite food-related movies, one of the first to mind is "Bend It Like Beckham." What? What does a movie about girls playing football/soccer have to do with food? Well, there's an iconic line in the movie when the protagonist, Jesminder, says, "Anyone can cook aloo gobi, but who can bend a ball like Beckham?" Jesminder is a bit of a soccer fiend, but in order to play she has to overcome stereotypes about women's roles in her culture say, as makers of aloo gobi (a spicy potato and cauliflower).

As the oldest and only girl in my family, I sympathized with Jesminder's plight, to be sure (I heard "Young ladies don't scuba dive"), but the aloo gobi reference really hit home when I found Director Gurinder Chadha's "how-to-cook aloo gobi" featurette at the end of the DVD. She provides a wonderful peek into her family and her kitchen technique when she makes aloo gobi with her mother and aunt "supervising" in the background. I laughed so hard I cried the first time I saw this because it reminded me so much of cooking with my own mother — me trying to take shortcuts and improvise, mom insisting it had to be "done the right. way." Aloo gobi has been one of my favorite dishes for over 15 years, and the dish on the screen looked so good that I wanted to try Director Chadha's recipe. I took notes on the recipe and technique directly from the DVD, pausing and writing, rewinding often to capture it just so.

This is the recipe I use every time now, and it's what we had for T's b-day dinner last night. It's a nice balance of heat (we only use 2 serrano chilies) and spice, and definitely my favorite use of cauliflower! If Indian cooking is new to you, this is a good introduction because it doesn't require some of the more exotic spices (like fenugreek, kalonji, or brown mustard seeds) in other traditional recipes. If you're leery of peppers and heat in your food, try using hot paprika instead of sweet paprika and leave out the serranos altogether, but some small measure of heat is necessary to balance out the dish. Enjoy!

Aloo Gobi

(as prepared by Gurinder Chadha)

Ghee or unsalted butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
Medium cauliflower, quartered, then sliced
2 large potatoes, quartered then sliced
1 TBL cumin seeds
1-3 green (serrano) chilies, sliced
2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp salt
2-inch piece ginger, sliced
3-6 garlic cloves, diced
1 tsp sweet (regular) paprika
3 canned tomatoes, and juice
handful cilantro, chop stems and pick off leaves for garnish
1 1/2 tsp garam masala

Heat ghee, add cumin seeds, then onion and cilantro stems. Cook until translucent ("creamy golden").
Add chilies, turmeric, salt. Add paprika, then tomatoes. Stir in.
Add ginger, garlic cook about 1 min.
Add potatoes, cook 5 minutes
Add cauliflower and 2 TBL water, cover and cook 10 minutes.
Add garam masala cook 10 more minutes until cauliflower is tender, but not mushy.
Add cilantro leaves. Cover, turn off heat and leave 10 minutes.

Serve with naan or basmati rice. We had this with
vindaloo (meat curry) and tarka dal (spiced lentils). Also excellent cold the next day as a sandwich or tortilla wrap.

Go, Broncos! (SCU)


A Taste of Greece: Plasto

Greek Plasto

The day before Thanksgiving our trusty toaster oven gave up the ghost after 50 months of nearly daily use. We really test the limits of our table-top ovens — roasts, casseroles, tians, cakes, brownies, and yes, even, toast are produced each day in its energy-efficient cave. I had intended to roast the 9lb. organic turkey breast we secured for turkey day in the toaster, instead T was called upon to work his Grillmeister skills on the bird that day. We also had to do our Friday night turkey tetrazzini on the grill, and that worked pretty well.

Thanksgiving bird on the grill Turkey tetrazzini ala grill

We were all set to prepare Monday's new recipe on the grill as well when lo and behold, the FedEx man came with my new DeLonghi convection oven with rotisserie. Yay! This is the third DeLonghi toaster oven we've had, the first with either convection function or a rotisserie. I thought about baking this dish on the grill anyway to go into more detail about using a grill as an alternative oven, but let's be serious, I wanted to play with my new oven! : P
Plasto baking in our new oven!

So the inaugural meal from the new toaster oven was from Laurie at Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska — Laurie writes about Greek cooking from her home in Alaska. She speaks with the perspective of a native Greek chef (she has a second home in the islands there), and she's adapted traditional Greek recipes to the North American kitchen. Her posts include history, anecdotes, and cultural insight (distilled from 400 Greek cookbooks in her collection!) into the many dishes she prepares and shares. I love those sort of details, don't you? The first of the many recipes I've earmarked to try is called Plasto, but Laurie notes it has many other names as well. Basically it's a braise of mixed greens and cheeses enveloped in a cornbread crust. Doesn't sound like a typical Greek dish you'd find in a restaurant, does it? We love greens, we love cheese, I love corn — this recipe had our names written all over it. Here is Laurie's recipe.
Greek cornbread and greens: Plasto
The beauty of this dish is that it seems so adaptable. Change the greens, change the cheese and you'll have a different experience. We used Chinese broccoli, watercress and garlic chives for the greens, and a mild sheep's milk cheese (Ossau-Irarty) this time. It was a delicious combination of savory (greens) and sweet (cornbread). If you like collard greens and pot likker with cornbread, it's kind of like that, but in a casserole. And Laurie notes that this dish is equally good cold, and it is — you can eat it like a sandwich. Brilliant!

What Brussels sprouts inspired

We found some incredibly fresh brussels sprouts at a market recently. They aren't local, but it's been so long since we've seen such fresh brussels sprouts that we had to buy them. I've always liked the German name for them, Rosenkohl, which means "rose cabbage." They do look like little green roses, don't they?

When they're so fresh, I like to cook sprouts in minimal amount of time so they retain their bright green color, crunch and sweet fresh flavor. So many people wrinkle their noses when they hear "brussels sprouts" — I know how they feel because I used to be one of them! If the only sprouts you've tried were boiled to death and a smelly flaccid green, then I hope one day you'll give them a second chance. They can and should be crunchy, sweet and full of healthful, cancer-busting goodness that their cruciferous cousins broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower also have.

So what to do with these little beauties? We felt overdue for a non-meat meal, so I began to think South Asian. We had made a dish once with cabbage and coconut so it seemed a natural to substitute the sprouts. The pantry turned up split yellow mung beans and potatoes so we settled on the following menu: a dry curry with brussels sprouts and coconut, tarka dal, and chaat potatoes. And store-bought naan (was in the freezer). The sprouts were wonderful prepared this way. I just wish I had had fresh coconut on hand (living on a tropical island, you'd think coconuts would be falling out of trees, wouldn't you? ... well, actually they do, but I didn't do the husking, cracking, grating thing for this ... sorry)

The best thing about having left over tarka dal is making a tortilla wrap with it the next day. It is so-o-o good. I actually put all these bits in a spinach tortilla and it was delicious. Cold, no need to heat anything up. Even better is if you make an aloo gobi and tarka dal wrap the next day. (Mmmm, guess what will appearing soon?)
Brussel sprouts with coconut and mustard seed

Brussels sprouts with coconut
1.25 lbs. (1/2 kilo) brussels sprouts, cleaned and trimmed
2 TBL unsalted butter (or ghee if you have it)
1 TBL black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp ground coriander seed
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
3-5 TBL dried unsweetened coconut, or 1/2 cup fresh grated
3 TBL coconut milk (optional) - this is not in the cabbage recipe, I added it for liquid to help cook the sprouts

Boil water and briefly blanch sprouts (no more than a couple of minutes). Drain (keep some of the water) and cool. (I skipped this step)

Heat butter in pan and add mustard seeds. When seeds begin to pop (I love the smell of popping mustard seeds! It's like spicy popcorn), add ground coriander, cumin, turmeric, salt and coconut. Warm spices.

If using coconut milk, add now. Add sprouts and coat with spices. Cover and lower heat.

If not using coconut milk, add sprouts and coat with spice mixture. Keep mixture moving in pan so spices don't burn. You may want to add some water from the blanching if the pan is too dry.

Cook until sprouts are just tender and still bright green. Remove from heat immediately.

Tarka dal

Tarka Dal
2/3 cup (160g) lentils, split peas or mung beans
2 cups (500ml) water
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt

For the Tarka
3-4 TBL unsalted butter
1 medium onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic
1-3 dried red chilies (had to leave these out this time)

Boil together the pulses, water, spices and salt. When the water reaches a boil, lower heat and simmer about 20 minutes or until the pulse reaches a soft consistency.

Meanwhile, prepare the tarka. Saute onions and garlic in butter until onions are translucent and starting to brown. Add crushed chilies and warm through. Remove from heat.

Add half of tarka to cooked dal and stir well. Remove dal to serving bowl and garnish top with remaining tarka.

Chaat Potatoes
2 large baking potatoes (about 1lb/.5kg)
3 TBL unsalted butter

2 TBL Bhel chutney, or date chutney
1 tsp honey
2 tsp chaat masala
1 tsp cayenne powder

Peel and cut potatoes into 1 inch dice. Melt butter in pan and fry potatoes on all sides.

Mix together chutney and honey in large bowl.
Combine chaat masala and cayenne powder.

Remove cooked potato cubes into bowl with chutney/honey mix, and coat well. Immediately sprinkle masala/chili mix and mix to coat well. Let cool a bit so flavors will blend.

These make a great drinks appetizer, too. Just serve with toothpicks.
Spicy chaat potatoes

Anyone CAN cook!

"Anyone can cook!" is the light-hearted and joyous message echoing through movie theaters across the country in the new animated movie, "Ratatouille (rat-a-too-ee)" --- about a rat who loves to cook, in spite of himself.

If a rat can do it, you can too, right? Granted, Remy is a no odinary rodent -- his gourmet's palate can pair a found morel mushroom with a bit of discarded gruyere cheese, and when he is serendipitously struck by lightning -- voila! a gougere aux forestiere. And Remy can read cookbooks, too!

"Anyone CAN cook" is the philosophy behind
the Way of Cooking too. Bringing the Tao's flexibility to the kitchen usually means adapting ingredients and methods, as the Way of Cooking encourages us to do. Other times it may be a matter of changing our perspective on a perceived "problem."

I remember one summer when T and I were with his parents at their lakeside camp in north Maine and my mother-in-law (G) was preparing spaghetti bolognese for dinner. As we sat down, G mentioned that she had made a serious mistake while cooking, and that we might not be able to eat what she had prepared. She had mistaken the cinnamon bottle for another spice, and had added it to the sauce before she caught herself. If we couldn't bring ourselves to eat it, she said, she would understand and take no offense. When we tasted the sauce, however, we could detect only a hint of cinnamon in the perfectly seasoned sauce. I told G that the Greeks make a pasta with a cinnamon-laced meat sauce called pastitsio. She hadn't made a mistake, she had just made a different dish! (OK, it didn't have a bechamel topping, but let's call that a technicality).

So be easy on yourself and be open to new things --- and you may surprise even you! But most importantly, cook for and nourish yourself, and for and with the ones you love. Even in spite of yourself. In the climax of "Ratatouille," one of the characters takes a bite of the eponymous eggplant-and-zucchini dish and is transported back to a long-forgotten time when he felt loved and secure and cared-for. Food is so often connected to memories. Not only grand holiday and special occasion meals, but also baking pies with mom when your older brother and sister are at school, or watching dad make his secret spaghetti sauce. Cook often. Cook with and for the people you love. Just cook. Anyone can cook.

After watching Remy's movie twice this summer, I couldn't help but search out my favorite ratatouiile recipe and take advantage of Oahu's locally grown zucchini, eggplant, onions and tomatoes to make a more traditionally rustic version of this Provencal classic. This is a terrific meal for people who think they don't like vegetables. It is toothsome and filling, and easy to mistake the sauteed eggplant for meat. Best of all, the cold leftovers make a great sandwich on a toasted baguette or rolled up in a flour tortilla with a little shredded Mozarella.

There are as many versions of this vegetable entree as there are cooks, but I think the key is to saute the eggplant and zucchini separately and allow each vegetable to caramelize lightly. It brings an added depth of flavor that's missed when all the vegetables are added at the same time and simply simmered in sauce. But if you're pressed for time, better to forego the added step of frying the vegetables separately than to talk yourself out of trying this wonderful dish.


(adapted from a recipe from my alma mater, Leith's School of Food and Wine, London)

Serves 2

olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. long Japanese eggplant, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 1/2 lbs. small or medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. white pepper
1 1/2 lbs. Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
1/4 cup julienned fresh basil
2 Tbl. minced fresh Italian parsley
sea salt to tate

Preheat large saute pan on medium heat. Add enough oil to coat bottom of pan, and add eggplant to cover pan (may have to do in batches). Lightly brown both sides and remove from heat. Add more oil and repeat with rest of eggplant. Repeat process with zucchini.

Lower heat and in the same pan cook onion until translucent (this may take 8-10 minutes). Add garlic and bell pepper after first 5 minutes. When onions are translucent, add coriander and white pepper and cook another 1 minute.

Raise heat to medium-high and add tomatoes, basil and parsley, and cook uncovered 10 minutes. Taste sauce and season with salt.

Add back eggplant and zucchini, cover and simmer 15-20 minutes or until vegetables are tender, but not falling apart.

A crispy, light baguette (on Oahu, St. Germain's demi-baguettes are the closest to the real thing we've found) and a nice pinot noir or syrah (depending on your tolerance for tannin) will round out your meal.

While we would absolutely love to pair this with a wine from France's Bourgogne or Rhone regions, we try to drink as close to home as possible. Since Hawaii doesn't (yet) have a robust home-grown viticulture, we look to West Coast and Australian wines to fill the bill for now.