Onigiri, Japanese rice balls packed full of wholesomeness.

There was one year during my elementary school years where I brought a bento box lunch as opposed to a brown bag lunch.  I say one year because I went to about 4 or 5 different elementary schools and for some particular reason I really remember lunch time at only one particular elementary school. 

This was the year my uncle, Iichigawa-san from Japan, came to stay with us.  He would make me rice balls stuffed with umeboshi, a Japanese pickled salt plum (my favorite) or fill them with pieces of salmon or ikura (salmon roe) for my bento lunch.  Sometimes they were round like a ball and sometimes they were shaped into triangles. Sometimes they were wrapped with nori (seaweed) and other times just sprinkled with furikake, mixed savory sprinkles.

This is when I had my Molly Ringwald moment from The Breakfast Club  "sushi lunch scene"—so if you can imagine what the kids' reactions were towards sushi in the 80's...I clearly wasn't the most envied one while chomping down into my black seaweed covered rice balls.

Seaweed is a health food and sushi has gone global.  I now make this with flavored rice, experimenting with different grains, beans, and seeds and adding shredded vegetables into the mix.   It's practical for picnics and makes a great snack.  Create your own onigiri according to your own tastebuds!

Onigiri (Japanese Rice Balls)

INGREDIENTS//Yields 4

• 2 cups Japanese short grain rice
• 1/2 cup roasted buckwheat groats (kasha)
• 1/2 cup adzuki bean flakes
•  1 small avocado
• 2 sheets of Korean style roasted seaweed
•  yukari (dried shiso leaf powder)
•  sesame seeds
• 1 tablespoon amaranth seed, popped


INSTRUCTIONS

In your removable rice cooker pot add the rice and rinse with water using your hands to swish the rice and water around.  The water will be cloudy.  RInse until it gets less cloudy.

Add the buckwheat and adzuki beans, and fill the pot with water to the point where indicated for 3 cups of water—I usually add 1/4-1/2 cup water more.

Place it back in your rice cooker and select the mode for cooking rice.

When cooked, using your rice spatula genlty flip through the rice to fluff it up a bit.

Let the rice cool down before handling.

If using a onigiri triangle mold, wet it beforehand so that the rice does not stick to it (remember to do it before each one).

Simply fill the mold with rice just below the halfway point and create a dent in the middle.

Scoop out a quarter of the avocado and place it in the middle.  Be careful not to overstuff.

Fill the top half with the rice mixture press down with the lid onto the rice.

Take the lid off, flip over the mold, and press down on the flexible backside to push out the rice.

You can also use your hands to mold the rice into balls or triangles: Keep your hands wet, spread the rice out on the palms of your hands, place the fillings in the center, fold up the rice around it, pack it tightly with your hands, and form it into the shape you like. 

Sprinkle it with some sesame seeds and/or yukari (adds a tangy and slightly salty taste), and popped amaranth seeds.

Cut your Korean roasted seaweed in half lengthwise, place the rice triangle in the middle and fold up the sides of the seaweed pressing the seaweed into the rice so that it sticks.  Bend the top flaps of the seaweed down along the sides of the triangle so that the rice triangle is entirely wrapped.

 

NOTE

I use Korean or Japanese seaweed.  Korean seaweed is more flavorful because it is roasted with oil and salt.  Check the ingredients list making sure it is short and not added with additional salt, sugar or artificial ingredients.

Japchae (Korean Sweet Potato Noodles with Veggies)

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My days in Koreatown in Manhattan and in Flushing, Queens are long gone.  Paris has its share of Korean restaurants but I can't say it compares to the plethora of choices given on a one block radius of Manhattan.  And this one block radius is just a tiny representation of the many blocks of which Korea Way stretches along, 5th Ave through to Broadway on W32 streets.   Apparently, it is paving its way in the other direction too— towards Madison. 

My penchant for discovering new ingredients or different ways to cook them up stems back to my youth: influenced by my parents, who love to eat, cook and dine out;  feeding my soul and stomach through my travels; and eating my way through NYC during my college years—lots of interesting 24/7 eateries to be discovered in the wee morning for after hours clubbing.  One of those stomach refuelling pit stops was at a Korean restaurant called Kang Suh.  Ahh, those were the days...

Fortunately, I have good Korean friends who can cook.  They have educated me and shared their recipes throughout the years.  Now I can whip up the Korean basics and just re-create the past.
 

Japchae (Korean Sweet Potato Noodles with Vegetables)

INGREDIENTS//Serves 4

• 200 grams (7 ounces) dangmyeon (Korean sweet potato noodles)
• 1 small onion, sliced thinly
• 1 carrot, julienned
• 1 pepper (red, yellow, or orange), sliced thinly
• 3-4 shiitake mushrooms, dried or 100 grams small white "button" mushrooms (aka champignon de Paris in France), sliced thinly
• 100 grams of bean sprouts
• 100 grams fresh spinach
• 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 egg, whole (optional, opt-out if going the vegan route)
• 1-2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Sauce
• 4 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari (gluten-free option)
• 1 1/2 tablespoon honey or 1 tablespoon brown sugar (vegan option)
• 1 tablespoon sesame oil
• 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

PREPARTION

If using dried shiitake mushrooms, you need to soak them at least a few hours (I soak them in the morning for evening use) in advance in room temperature water.  Put them in a bowl of water and swish them around with the stem side down.  Once they are plumped up and soft, give them a squeeze and set them aside for later use.

Slice and julienne all your vegetables: the mandoline comes in handy.

For the egg topping, seperate your egg yolk and white.  Fry them up seperately in a pan and then slice it up into matchstick pieces. 

INSTRUCTIONS

Prepare your sauce and rinse all your vegetables.

Bring a large pot of water to boil and then add your dangmyeon.  Follow the instuctions on the back for the time.  It's usually around 5-7 minutes.

During this time, marinate your mushrooms in one tablespoon of the prepared sauce.

Transfer the cooked noodles to a colander and rinse under cold water, drain, and put them in a large mixing bowl.

Rinse out your pot, add water and bring it to a boil in order to blanche your spinach and your bean sprouts at the same time.  Basically you want to boil your spinach and your bean sprouts for a short amount of time (1-2 minutes), then quickly rinse it under cold water. 

In a seperate bowl, add the minced garlic and sea salt.  Squeeze out the remaining water from the spinach and the bean sprouts and rub it into the garlic and sea salt.  Let it sit.

In a single medium size pan, add some cooking oil to stir fry your vegetables seperately in this order: onion, pepper, carrot, and mushrooms. 

Transfer each ingredient after it's cooked to a bowl set aside.  The vegetables should not be cooked until limp.  It's nice when they keep their color and still have a slight crunch to them.  So keep the cook time short.

Add the prepared sauce into the mixing bowl with the noodles and stir in all your cooked ingredients. 

Garnish with lots of sesame seeds and your egg toppings (optional).

 

NOTE

I picked up an organic basket of veggies this week and I had a stalk of amaranth included in it.  I have only purchased the grains in the past so I didn't even know what the plant resembled.   It had some leafy greens on it, so I plucked them off and used it in place of the spinach.   It was a great substitution.

You can also add beef to this dish: slice up your beef, marinate it with prepared sauce in the same bowl with the mushrooms, and stir fry it together.

This is a dish that can be eaten cold, at room temperature, or hot.  If you want it hot, simply place all the ingredients back into the pan to heat up before serving.

 

Summer Soba Noodles

Green tea soba with seasonal vegetables and shredded nori.

Green tea soba with seasonal vegetables and shredded nori.

Alas, summer is here.  I wouldn't have guessed it, and neither would you if you had seen me recently walking around town with a light sweater, sleeveless-down vest and a scarf on—oh, and an umbrella to boot.  It wasn't until I got into the elevator when my neighbor greeted me and reminded me that summer has arrived, and then it began to dawn on me.

Peppy and eager, even through the thick of rain and gray clouds—ahh, but summer is here—to share my summer lovin' soba noodle dish with my family and friends, I bought some green tea soba noodles (photos above) and the typical buckwheat noodles (photos below) to add some fun for the kids. 

Soba Noodles with tofu strips

Soba Noodles with tofu strips

You can add your choice of vegetables and protein to make it your own perfect summer dish.  Alas, the sun is shining—for summer is here. 

いただきます! 

Itadakimasu!

Summer Soba Noodles

INGREDIENTS//Serves 4

•  400 grams soba noodles
•  1/2 red pepper, raw and sliced finely
•  1/2 orange pepper, raw and julienned
•  2 zucchini, raw and julienned entire length (think zoodles!)
• 200 grams tofu strips
• 2 scallions, finely sliced

Homemade tsuyu sauce

• 1/2 cup kaeshi
• 3/4 cup dashi

PREPARATION

Rinse and wash well your pepper, zucchini, and scallions.

Cut your pepper in half and rinse out the seeds.  Use a mandoline with just the blade (no teeth), slice finely your pepper.  Place it in a bowl and set it aside.

Peel alternating slices of the zucchini skin off to give it some texture and color.  Run it along a mandoline using the blade with the fine teeth blade lengthwise until you reach the seeds, then turn it and repeat.  Discard the seeds. Place it in a bowl and set it aside.

Slice your scallion.  Place it in a bowl and set it aside.

Sauce: Mix the two parts together and set it aside.

INSTRUCTIONS

Fill a large pot of water and bring it to boil.

Add the soba noodles following the instructions on the back of the package for cooking time.

Drain your noodles in a colander.  Transfer it back into the pot with running cold water.  Press the noodles down with your hand if they start coming up over the pot.  Use your hands to separate the noodles and aid the rinsing process to wash away the starch.  Drain the noodles again.  Begin to separate and place them in the four serving bowls.

Add a handful of zoodles, peppers, and tofu strips.  

Mix in your sauce and top it off with some scallion and sesame seeds.

NOTE

Tsuyu sauce can be found in most Asian stores.  It is usually sold concentrated.  Dilute it with water, just enough to keep its flavor but not so much that it tastes watered down.



 

Vegetarian Homemade Dashi

Steeped Kombu

Steeped Kombu

Dashi is the base of many Japanese dishes.  Found in many noodle soup bases and dips; one of my favorite Japanese noodle dish is zaru soba, the cold buckwheat noodles dipped into tsuyu sauce—such a hot-weather treat.  I've learned to make my own dashi over the years recalling how my mum did it when I was a kid.  Mostly, I remember eating the kombu (dried kelp) after it was pulled out of the stock and laid aside.  Maybe it was intended for the trash bin but it always ended up in my stomach.  I've always loved the taste of the sea and maybe that's where it began...in the kitchen.

Kombu Dashi Stock

Kombu Dashi Stock

This is a great vegetarian stock.  It is a light broth that is rich in glutamates, thus producing more umami (pleasant savory taste) flavors.  If you buy the packaged dashi which sells in powdered or granule form, and also packaged like tea sachets, they usually contain MSG.   So if you are allergic to MSG or just wince at the acronyms, you can whip it up at home naturally in large stock and freeze it for future use.   Just so you know MSG is synthesized to replicate the naturally occurring glutamates in kombu, so it's a synthesized flavor enhancer. 

 Kombu, dried bonito flakes, dried shiitake mushrooms, and small dried fish are other elements to making dashi.  The kombu used alone is the most basic dashi and a great vegetarian option.  Stay tuned for the next post on how to make katsuobushi dashi which is a fish-based dashi.

Homemade Dashi
 

INGREDIENTS//Yields approx. 1 liter

•  1 piece kombu (about 12 inches long)
•  1 liter water

PREPARATION

In a medium size glass mixing bowl, steep your kombu in the water and put it in the fridge overnight.  You can cut it down to fit your bowl.

INSTRUCTIONS

Take your bowl of steeped kombu and transfer it into a medium size pot along with the water.

On medium heat, simmer the kombu until boiling point.

Quickly fish out the kombu (set it aside for a second stock) and turn down the heat.

Turn off the heat and let it cool down.

Refigerate the stock in a tightly sealed container for use up to four days to a week. 

NOTE

The kombu can be used again (right away) after the first stock to make a second stock referred to as niban dashi.  The first stock is called ichiban dashi.




 

Roasted Baby Artichoke With Parmesan

Roasted Baby Artichoke With Parmesan

INGREDIENTS//Serves 2

• 6 fresh baby artichokes
• 1 lemon
• 1 tsp crushed garlic
• 2 tbsp olive oil
• 30g grated parmesan

INSTRUCTIONS

Prepare a bowl of water and lemon juice on the side enough to hold the baby artichokes. 

Cut off the spiky top bit of the baby artichoke and part of the stem.  Make sure to remove bottom and outer leaves and to leave a bit at the base.  The best thing about the baby artichoke is that you can eat everything inside—yes, even the choke as opposed to the ones in large artichokes. 

Cut each artichoke in half lengthwise and toss in the water lemon juice mixture.  This keeps the color of the artichoke from turning brown quickly. 

Drain the baby artichokes and put them in a steamer for about 15 minutes.  This gets them soft and tender.   Stab a fork in to do a quick check.

Take them out and place the steamed baby artichokes in a bowl, adding the olive oil, crushed garlic, some salt, pepper and lemon juice. 

Toss it all together and then place them on a baking sheet cut side up . 

Sprinkle some parmesan cheese on the baby artichokes and pop them in the oven at 210°C for about 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.  Thisgives them that slight crispness.

Five Veggie Soup

Walking home one day with another mother after picking up my kids from school, thoughts of dinner started to arise.  When I asked her what she was making, she told me: something very simple, vegetable soup.  I am a big fan of vegetable soups and a big fan of simplicty so I asked her how she made hers, and it's true, it is so simple and so healthy that the most complicated part was to remember the list of the five veggies.  After that, you just throw it all in a pot and toss in a bay leaf if you want.  Great thing is that you've got five different veggies in it and you can add more or less of one or another to achieve a slightly different variation in its taste, texture, and color; my kids think they are getting a different soup when they see that it's green.

FIVE VEGGIE SOUP

INGREDIENTS//Serves 4

• 3 zucchinis, chopped
• 2 carrots, chopped
• 1 leek, chopped
• 2 celery stalks, chopped
• 2 potatoes, medium size and chopped
• 1 bay leaf (optional)
• Salt (adjusted to taste)
• 3.5 cups water
INSTRUCTIONS

In a large pot, add 3.5 cups of water (or about 1 litre for a thinner soup consistency) and the potatoes. 

Bring it to a boil and then add the rest of the ingredients.

Cover the pot and simmer on low-medium heat until the vegetables soften. 

Let it cool and then pour it into a blender to liquify. 

If you need to re-heat the soup pour it back into the pot and re-heat on low heat.

NOTE

I added more carrots this particular time so the soup is more orange in color. 
To adjust the consistency of your soup, you can first add all the vegetables into the blender, and liquify it by gradually adding the amount of liquid left in your pot until you achieve the consistency you like.

 



 

Ratatouille Quesadilla

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I just got back from San Diego, where I was paying a visit to meet my newborn niece, Sabine.  Unbiased of course, she is gorgeous.  Her nickname is "Bean" because that's what came out of her older sister's mouth when she was all of one year old trying to pronounce "Sabine".   Ever since she started out as a 'lil bean in her mama's belly, she's been referred to as "Bean".

Bean has that baby smell that I quickly got addicted to.  Every early morning, 6 a.m. to be precise, I would wake up and head to the kitchen: to find her, hold her, press my nose against her head and then inhale her baby scent.  If you are wondering why the kitchen, it's because my brother-in-law has started his day and mine (bless his heart) with a whole other scent, the coffee dropJapanese style drip.  He has his tools in order: grinder, scale, and drip filter,

This is how my mornings played out until I got over my jet lag: rise and shine at 6 a.m. soon became rise and snooze til 9 a.m.  Although I still had Bean's baby scent to look forward to, gone was the aroma of the other bean the coffee beanMy brother-in-law was long gone and off to work.

Besides sniffing Bean's head and drinking coffee from the drip, I did eat a lot of Mexican food.  Afterall, San Diego is just next door.  I thought I knew it all from my days milling about at Mexican family soccer games in some Brooklyn park, where I could eat freshly made tortillas and salsa off their portable, makeshift grills right out of the backs and trunks of their cars, and buy Tecate beers straight from their coolers, all for two dollars.  Apparently not.
 

Ratatouille-quesadilla.jpg

I discovered an ingredient called hominy that I'll have to search for in Paris.  Once I find it, I'm keen on making a fish based or vegetarian based pozole which I'll share with you in the future.  As for now, I have French Provençale ratatouille leftovers that I've converted into a Mexican quesadilla dish.  Olé!

Ratatouille Quesadilla

INGREDIENTS//Serves 4

•  1 x 400 gram tin of red kidney beans or other bean of preference
• 1 shallot, chopped
• 1 tablespoon cumin
• 1 teaspoon chili powder
• 150 grams of emmental cheese
• 2 cups ratatouille or any vegetable filling
• 1/2 bunch fresh coriander (cilantro)
• 2 large flour tortillas
• Dallop of sour cream or crème fraîche

INSTRUCTIONS

Add some cooking oil in a pan and cook the shallots over medium heat until they have softened. 

Add the tin of beans and stir.

Throw in your spices: cumin, chili powder.   Stir it up a bit.

Then transfer it to a small mixing bowl and mash it up with a fork or a masher.

Since I had ratatouille left over, you can choose any combination of vegetables; just cook it beforehand.   My kids love this with spinach, so I simply steam the spinach.

Lay out your tortilla and spread half of it with the bean mash, and the other half with your vegetable filling of choice.  Be careful not to add too much filling otherwise it will fall out.  Try to keep it thinly spread.  Sprinkle some coriander over the cheese.

Grab two to three handfuls of cheese and spread over the beans.

Place it on a large cooking pan over medium heat and cook until the bottom of the tortilla warms up and starts to speckle up golden brown.

Using a spatula, fold the quesadilla in half.  Press down on the quesadilla with the back side of the spatula and cook until the whole side is golden brown and then flip and repeat.

Transfer to a cutting board and cut them into wedges.

Serve along witha dallop of sour cream or crème fraîche (depending on which country you live in) and garnish with coriandre.


 

Chickpea Sweet Corn Veggie Power Patty

When it comes to serving a veggie patty chez moi, I have to dress it up for my husband.  He's been raised a true carnivore and he's ambivalent towards words like "veggie patty".  It's not that he doesn't like his veggies, he does; he just doesn't need them to be meat replacements.  So no interpretations needed for a burger at ours.  I just serve him the whole veggie plate experience.  There's sustenance to these power patties and they go great on a salad and keep you nourished for hours.  

Veggie patties are wonderful since you can mix any veggies you want in it along with any spices, beans, grains, or tofu, and usually some breadcrumbs and nuts.  I played around and grounded whole oats to use as my binder.  This replaced the breadcrumbs.  This recipe is just one of many that you can conjure up in your own magic mixing bowl. 

Chickpea Sweet Corn Carrot Veggie Patty

BAKE TIME

Total bake time is 20 minutes at 200° C (390° F). 
10 minutes per side.

INGREDIENTS//yields 12 medium size patties or 16 small patties

• 3 cups chickpeas (2 x 400 gram tinned chickpeas)
• 2 teaspoon cumin
• 2 teaspoon paprika
• 3 clove garlic, minced
• 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
• 2 cups sweet corn (15 oz tin or 425 ml tin)
• 1 carrot, grated (optional)
• 50 grams of almonds, finely chopped
• 1/2 bunch of fresh flat parsley, finely chopped
• 1 shallot, chopped
• 100 grams of roasted kasha (buckwheat) groats, blended into crumbs
• 50 grams whole oats, blended into flour
• 200 grams feta cheese (optional)
• Salt (adjust according to taste)

PREPARATION

Blend your whole oats and almonds separately and put it in aside.
In a food processor, finely chop your parsley and shallot.  Lay it aside in small bowl.

INSTRUCTIONS

In a small size pan, heat up some cooking oil, and cook the grated carrots until softened.  Then set it aside to cool.

In a large mixing bowl add the chickpeas and mash by hand using a masher making sure no whole pieces are left.  Mash until soft but with some coarse texture left in it.

Mix in your spices: cumin, paprika, chili powder, garlic.

Add the sweet corn and the cooled cooked carrots.  Combine together.

Add the blended oats.

Crumble the feta cheese and add it into the mix (optional).

Stir in the almonds, shallots, and the parsley.

Add salt according to taste.

Scoop the mixture with wet hands to form your patties.

Using a basting brush, slightly brush the sides of the patty with olive oil.

Pre-heat your oven and line your baking tray with parchment paper.

Coat your patty lightly in the blended roasted kasha and place on the baking tray.

Put it in the oven and bake at 200°C for 20 minutes.


NOTE

I did have some dried herb called ache de montagne on hand so I crumpled some up for seasoning.  It happened to be one of those seasonal herbs added into an organic basket from the local farmers.  I did some research and it's called lovage in English.  It has an unsubtle taste, much like celery. 

 

Tzaziki


INGREDIENTS

• 1/2 English cucumber (long green ones), deseeded and grated (preferably organic so you can keep the skin on)
• 150 grams of Greek yogurt
• 1/4 clove garlic, crushed and minced
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1/2 tablesoon lemon juice
•  1 tablespoon chives, diced
•  Salt (according to taste)

INSTRUCTIONS

If you are using an organic cucumber there is no need to peel it.  However, with a conventional cucumber I usually peel the skin off.  Halve the cucumber lengthwise.  Take a teaspoon and scrape out the seeds. 

Grate the cucumber using the large hole of a box grater.

Salt the deseeded and grated cucumber and let sit for 15 minutes so that the water comes out of it. 

Mix the garlic, olive oil and lemon juice into the yogurt.  Stir well. 

Squeeze the excess water out of the cucumbers using your hand or a cheesecloth and then add the cucumbers into the yogurt mix.

Add the chives and salt to taste.
 

Tarte aux Épinards

This is one of my first, self-impressed French dishes I have ever made.  I learned it from ma belle-mère—yep, my mother-in-law— that's how we address our mother-in-laws in France.  It can be so ironic for many, but I got lucky; I truly do have a belle-mère. 

The kids call her "Mamie Jacotte", an affectionate term rather than the literal translation, "grand-mère";  Jacotte is shortened from Jacqueline.  She's not only a fantastic belle-mère and grand-mère, but a wonderful cook.  I have picked up many of her tips and recipes in cooking and this is just one of many. 

Ma belle-mère makes simple and intricate dishes.  I usually opt for the former recipes.

Tarte aux Épinards

• 1 puff pastry
• 500 grams spinach, frozen or 700 grams of spinach, fresh
• 1 clove garlic, minced and sauté
• 4 eggs
• 4 heaping tablespoons crème fraîche
• 100 grams of emmental cheese
• a pinch of nutmeg
• Salt and pepper according to taste

INSTRUCTIONS//serves 4-6

Take your tart or quiche pan (around 10 inches in diameter, 1-1/2 to 2 inches deep or 25 cm in diameter, 4 cm deep) and roll out the puff pastry and place it into the pan.  Press the pastry into the sides of the pan. 

Use a fork to poke some holes into the bottom of the puff pastry to release any trapped air and to keep it from puffing up when baking. 

Once your oven is pre-heated at 190° C (375°F), place it in the oven to bake for around 10 minutes or until the puff pastry changes color to a golden brown.   This step is called blind baking; It partially cooks the pastry dough to prevent a soggy crust.  Check often during the duration of this time so that if you catch your pastry puffing up, just slide it out of the oven, take a fork to poke more holes and press the pastry back down into place, and place back into the oven.  Some people use ceramic beans or dried beans to keep the pastry from puffing up. 

Take it out of the oven and place the spinach filling inside.

Spinach Filling:

If you are using frozen spinach, cook it down on low heat until it thaws.  Drain out the excess liquid.  If you are using fresh spinach, begin with the the next step.

Sauté your garlic in a pan with a half tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. 

Then add your spinach and toss it around with the garlic.  Sauté for a couple of minutes and add some salt.  With fresh spinach, sauté and then cover the pan with a lid to let cook for 5-10 minutes or until wilted.  It should be a nice, saturated green.  With a pair of tongs, take out the cooked spinach and place it in a bowl and leave it aside to cool down.  Push down with the pair of tongs or a fork to get rid of excess liquid.

In a medium size mixing bowl, beat in 4 whole eggs.

Add your heaping dallops of crème fraîche and mix.

Stir in the emmental cheese.

Then a pinch of nutmeg, some salt and pepper according to taste.

Mix the spinach in with the egg, crème fraîche, cheese batter.  Stir until the spinach is evenly mixed in.

Pour this mixture into your blind baked puff pastry and place it in the oven for 40-45 minutes at 190° C (375° F).
 

NOTE

I have used both fresh and frozen spinach for this recipe.  It just depends on what I have in my fridge.  In France, I buy the frozen spinanch with their stems (épinards en branche).  If I use fresh spinach I trim the thicker part of the stems and keep an inch or two below the leaf.  You can also use 125 grams of yogurt to replace the crème fraîche. 

Spring Watercress Soup

Welcome spring, oh how I've been waiting for you to arrive.  I'm craving spring greens like watercress but somehow the salad route is not the way I want to go.  It's still pretty gray and cold these days in Paris so I think a warm detox soup is in order.  Watercress is apparently a powerhouse veggie, high in many nutirents especially vitamin K and vitamin A—good for the bones and the eyes, and a versatile vegetable that can be steamed, eaten raw as a salad, and liquidized into soup.

Watercress Soup (Soupe au Cresson)
 

INGREDIENTS//Serves 6

• 40 grams butter
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 1 shallot, chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, crushed
• 4 potatoes (small to medium), rough chop
• 1.5 litres of vegetable stock
• 2 bunches watercress, rough chop


INSTRUCTIONS

In a large saucepan, heat up your butter and then toss in the onion, shallot, and garlic.  Sauté for about a minute or two.

Add the potatoes and sauté them all together until translucent.

Add 1.5 liters of vegetable broth to the ingredients, cover, and bring it to a boil.  Then lower the heat and simmer until the potatoes are soft.

Rinse the watercress clean.  Tear off about a half inch of the ends and rough chop the rest.

Add the watercress.  Cook for a few minutes or until the watercress has wilted.

Allow the soup to cool.  Using a hand blender, mix until smooth. 

Rewarm over low heat before serving.  Serve with a drizzle of olive oil or a dallop of crème fraîche with some toasted pine nuts.

NOTE

I never ate so much butter until I arrived in France.  It's just superior to the American one.  Simple as that.  No competition.  I use butter to sauté my alliums and potatoes in this recipe but you can choose your oil of preference.

 

Céleri Rave Crab Salad

Céleri Rave, Celery Root, Celeriac

Céleri Rave, Celery Root, Celeriac

There's a great quote by Diana Vreeland,  something along the lines about "accentuating a model's flaws".   There is superficial beauty but then there is all that other beauty:  that one offbeat mole, a freckle-filled face, scars, and lines between your eyebrows, on top of your forehead, and around the eyes from lifetime narratives.  

I guess that's what happened when I saw the celeriac—even its name sounds ill-favored (but not ill-flavored)—with all its warty exterior and bumpy bulges, it piqued my interest enough to wonder what was inside of it and what it tasted like. 

The celeriac is a root vegetable and is commonly served in France as a céleri rémoulade— sounds fancy, n'est-ce pas?  It's basically grated celery root mixed in with lemon juice to keep its color white, and mixed in with some mayonnaise.   The taste of it brought back memories of the Waldorf salad that I actually ate at the Waldorf Astoria back in the day.   Maybe the fancy name?  More likely, the celery based taste.  So I had to toss in the apple, the crab meat and the walnuts, making it a slight upgrade to the basic céleri rémoulade.  If you like the Waldorf salad, you'll enjoy this one.

Céleri Rave Crab Salad

INGREDIENTS//Serves 4-6

• 500 grams of céleri rave, grated
• 1/2 lemon, juiced
• 2 carrots, grated
• 1 teaspoon paprika
• 1/2 teaspoon ginger, fresh and grated
• 2/3 cup homemade mayonnaise or store bought mayo
• 170 grams crab meat, shredded (6 ounce tin), or 1/2 cup
• 1 red apple or granny smith depending on your taste, grated
• 70 grams walnuts, crushed
• 1 bunch dill
• 1 scallion


INSTRUCTIONS

Peel and rinse your céleri rave.

Cut into large chunks and grate your céleri rave using the large hole side of a grater box.

In a mixing bowl with the céleri rave, add the lemon juice.

Grate your carrots with the large hole side of a grater box.

Combine with the celery root, and add paprika and fresh ginger.

Mix in the mayonnaise.

Grate your apple with the large hole of the grater box, and add it to the combined ingredients.

Chop up your scallions and dill, crush your walnuts, and add them to the salad.  Stir in well and and then season with salt and pepper according to taste.

 

Homemade Mayo

INGREDIENTS//Yields 2/3 cup

• 1 egg, yellow
• 1 heaping teaspoon of Dijon mustard
• 1/2 cup of oil, neutral
• 2 tablespoons vinegar, apple cider or white wine vinegar
• Pinch of salt and pepper

INSTRUCTIONS

In a small mixing bowl, add your egg yellow and whisk.  

Then whisk in the mustard.

When a creamy texture starts to form, gradually add in some oil (up to half) and continue to whisk at the same time.  The mayo will start to thicken.

When half the oil is used, add in a tablespoon of the vinegar and continue to whisk together.  The mayo will loosen up.

Then gradually add in the remaining oil, whisking, and finishing off the second tablespoon of vinegar, whisking it continuosly.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

NOTE

Since the homemade mayo is so easy to make, I haven't bothered trying the store bought mayo for this recipe. 

 

Velouté de Panais

ParsnipOnionSoup.jpg

I love being reintroduced to a vegetable.  I must admit, I put parsnip on the back burner for a while.  I just got tired of roasting them or mixing them up with potatoes that I just plain 'ole forgot about 'em—out of sight, out of mind.   Most recently, I came across this delicious soup and I had to share because it's so simple to make and it's simply nutritious.  Via Brussels,  this recipe has landed on the right table.  Remember Lady Jo from the ginger biscuit recipe?  Well, this one is from another Jo (-hanna) and it's all in the family.

Velouté de Panais (Parsnip Soup)

INGREDIENTS//Serves 4

• 2 large parsnips or 4 medium size parsnips, chopped
• 1 onion, sliced
• 1 litre vegetable stock ( 1 vegetable stock cube)

INSTRUCTIONS

Wash and peel your parnsips. 

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat and cook the onions for a couple of minutes before tossing in the parsnips.  The onions should be translucent and the parsnips should turn golden brown.

Add a litre of water to the parnsip and onion mix and add a vegetable stock cube.

Bring it to a boil over medium heat and then lower heat to simmer until the parsnips are tender.

Let it cool slightly.  With a slotted spoon scoop out the parsnips and the onions, and put it in the blender adding half the vegetable broth.  Purée until smooth and keep adding some vegetable broth that's left over and blend together until you get the soup consistency that you like.  The more broth you add, the thinner your soup will be.
 

NOTE

I was wondering what the soup would taste like without adding a vegetable stock cube.  So in my second batch of soup I omitted it.  The flavor of the parsnip is robust, sweet like a carrot but with a consistency of butternut squash.  It's like drinking a warm sweet nectar—too sweet for me.  The vegetable stock brought out the savoriness of the soup which was the perfect balance.
 

Hijiki Tofu Patty

Reminiscing my Dojo days in NYC...

Back in the 80's and early 90's, vegetarian restaurants were few and far between to be found in New York.  As far as I could recollect there was Dojo which was a vegetarian friendly restaurant, Angelica's Kitchen, a vegetarian restaurant and Souen, a macrobiotic restaurant.   I ate at these places so often when I was a student at NYU that it has pretty much shaped the way I eat regularly.  I love all things tofu, sea vegetables, rice, beans, and veggies.  Give me a hijiki tofu burger from Dojo's or a dragon bowl from Angelica's anyday.

Since Dojo's hijiki tofu burger and their carrot ginger dressing recipe are top secret,  I can only do a rendition of it— but it's oooh, so goodThis is one of my fave comfort foods and it runs in the family. 

Serve it along with some brown rice, fresh raw veggies, topped off with Dojo style carrot ginger dressing. 

DRIED HIJIKI

DRIED HIJIKI

The yin and the yang of food...

Growing up my mum always told me "oh, you're too yin",  meaning that my body was deficient in qi or vital energy.  I always had cold hands and feet no matter how hot and humid it was on a summer day which is a symptom of yin.  I even wore socks under my duvet covers.   She would place bowls of tonic soups in front of me urging me to eat.  Soups such as yam and ginger slices, and Chinese herbal chicken soup comprising of korean ginseng, red dates (jujubes or hong zao), astragalus root (huang qi), codonopsis root (dang shen), and Chinese yam (huai shan) . Then there were the tea concoctions such as astragalus, red dates, and goji berries.   These replenishing soups and teas were to increase my yang in order to restore the balance in my body.  If I had chapped lips, I was suddenly told "oh, you're too yang", and that was quickly followed up with more soups and teas such as the green bean soup (mung beans or lu duo) with rock sugar and the chrysanthemum tea to increase my yin.

The relative levels of yin and yang in our bodies are continuously changing and they need to coexist harmoniously.  Most of us are naturally more yin or yang.   When out of balance symptoms can be observed like those cold feet and chapped lips of mine.

Hijiki is one of hundreds of seaweed types that can be classified as a brown seaweed and is considered yang.  Seaweeds break down into three broad basic categories: red algae, green algae and brown algae.  You can buy dried hijiki at any of the Japanese or Korean food stores on or near rue St Anne in the 1er or 2e arrondisement of Paris.  It is first soaked in water and then drained to use in cooking with other ingredients.

Hijiki Tofu Patty

PREPARATION

Soak hijiki in 2 cups of water for 30 minutes.
Press and drain tofu for 20-30 minutes.

INGREDIENTS//yields 8-10 patties or 4 burger-size patties

• 5 grams dried hijiki seaweed
• 12 ounces firm tofu
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 teaspoon ginger, fresh and finely grated
• 1 medium carrot, grated
• pinch of ground white pepper
• 1 tablespoon white miso
• 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
• 1 teaspoon tamari sauce
• 2 scallions (white and light green parts finely chopped)
• 2 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted

INSTRUCTIONS

Soak dried hijiki in warm water for 30 minutes, rinse and then drain.  Set it aside.

To rinse and drain liquid from the tofu.  Cut through tofu in 1/2 inch slices and press between heavy cutting boards to drain any excess water for about 30 minutes or simply use a cheese cloth to squeeze out the excess water.  The tofu will be crumbled anyway.

Sauté the carrots, garlic, and ginger in a tablespoon of vegetable oil until the carrots are limp.  Add a pinch of white pepper.  In a bowl, add the miso and crumble the tofu.  Use your hands to mix the crumbled tofu and the miso paste together. 

Stir in the cooked carrots and the hijiki.  Then add the tamari sauce, sesame oil, scallions, and sesame seeds. 
Mix it all together.

Form the mixture into round patties and place them on a baking sheet.  Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes at 175° C (350° F).

Carrot Ginger Dressing
 

INGREDIENTS//yields 1.5 cup dressing

• 3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
• 1 large shallot, peeled and chopped
• 1/2 thumbs length fresh ginger
• 1 tablespoon sweet white miso
• 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
• 2 tablespoons roasted sesame seed oil
• 1/4 cup grapeseed oil, olive oil, or vegetable oil
•  4 tablespoons water

INSTRUCTIONS

In a blender or food processor add the carrots, shallot, and ginger and pulse until finely chopped.

Scrape down the sides with a spatula.  Add the miso, vinegar and sesame seed oil and blend together.

Add some water and slowly drizzle in the oil. 


NOTE 

I also like to add zucchini to the hijiki tofu patty mix.  You can simply add a half zucchini (grated) in with the carrot and sauté together.   Then follow the rest of the directions.  As I've said before any extra veggies I can sneak into a recipe makes me feel good, especially when I watch my kids gobble it up!

 

White Asparagus and Fennel Butter

White asparagus with compound fennel butter.

I must be missing NYC these days.  There are loads of recipes on how to cook white asparagus but the one that caught my eye was the one from Prune restaurant in the East Village.  My first thought was "Oh my gosh, it's still there".  Bits of NYC establishments are slowly being erased from when I knew it due to rent increase.  I get a pang in my heart when I read about any old haunts of mine closed down to be replaced by global retail or supermarket chains.  So happy to see that Prune is alive and kicking. 

Watch Martha Stewart and chef Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune restaurant making this delicious asparagus starter.

White Asparagus and Fennel Butter

INGREDIENTS//serves 2-3

• 1 bunch fresh white asparagus
• 1 lemon, divided (zest in compound butter and juice for asparagus)

COMPOUND BUTTER

• 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
• 1 whole fennel, finely sliced (including fronds, chopped)
• Lemon zest
• Pinch of salt
• Dash of pastis liquor

INSTRUCTIONS

To prepare your asparagus, snap off the stems where it naturally breaks and peel off the tough skin.

Prepare the lemon zest using a microplane or a flat or box grater with fine holes.  Then use the remainder of the lemon for juice you'll add into the pot of boiling water to cook the asparagus.  Save some juice to be squeezed just before serving the dish.

I don't have an asparagus cooker/steamer so I bundle the asparagus together with parcel string and I cook it in a pot.  Tie the parcel string around the bottom of the bunch of asparagus and tie further up to hold the asparagus in place so that it tries to stand.  To keep the asparagus in place and standing in the pot, brace it with two long skewers through the bundle of asparagus (cross through the bundle with a skewer forming an "X"). 

In a pot, add about 4 inches of water or enough so that the base of the asparagus will be covered.   Squeeze lemon juice and add salt to the water.  Bring it to a boil.

Add the asparagus and cover with a lid for about 30 minutes.  Make sure the asparagus is nice and soft and that the tips are steamed. 

Strain the asparagus, let it cool and serve on a plate with shavings of the fennel butter.  Drizzle some olive oil for extra delicious fat and salt to taste with a squeeze of lemon.

COMPOUND BUTTER

Finely slice your fennel and chop up the fronds. 

Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan and caramelize your fennel for about 30 minutes on medium heat letting the natural sugars come out on its own.  During this time add whole of lemon zest to the fennel and add the fronds. Then add some salt and pepper.

When caramelized, splash a dash of pastis liquor and ignite it.  When the flame burns out let the fennel cool down. 

After cooling, in a food processor add your fennel and chop it down until fine.  Then take the rest of your softened butter and add in chunks at a time. 

Remove butter compound mixture from bowl and spoon onto parchment paper or plastic wrap and roll into a log.  Put it in the freezer until ready to use in a plastic ziplock bag to keep it airtight.  Use a mandoline or the large hole-side of a box grater for butter shavings.

 

Beetroot Hummus Dip

Living under the influence of a little girl, the color pink has made its way onto my table.  I never thought of my daughter as a pink kind of girl.  She's the kind that jumps into a mud hole and has uncontrollable laughs when she's covered in dirt.  She eats her whole carrot stick with a grip so hard, no one can pry it away from her even if your life depended on it.  She enjoys wrestling her brother to the ground, screaming at the top of her lungs, and coming home with grass stains on each and every possible limb.  Yet, she also loves to dress in pink and eat anything pink.  Preferably a cloud fluffy full of cotton candy pink.

This is dedicated to my little girl.  A variation to the basic hummus recipe that includes a veggie, the beetroot!  Any extra veg I can get in a day makes me feel good.  I have snuck this one into the hummus dip.  No secret about it, the color itself screams out loud.  It's an eye-popper and attention grabber that's perfect for parties.  I like to have this for breakfast, lunch or a snack on a piece of whole grain bread with slices of avocado and black radish.  So does Mila, but sans radis for now.

Beetroot Hummus Dip

PREPARATION

Soak the dried chickpeas overnight with a cover.  Be sure to add more than enough water to cover the chickpeas because they swell up to almost double their size. 

INGREDIENTS//yields 2.5 cups

• 1 cup dried chickpeas (yields about 3 cups cooked, 1 cup cooked=150 grams)
• 2.5 cloves garlic
• 1.5 teaspoons cumin
• 1.5 teaspoons sea salt (adjust accordingly to personal taste)
• 3.5 tablespoons tahini paste
• 1 small beetroot (boiled until soft), about 70 grams
• 1.5 lemon, juiced
• Olive oil, drizzle

INSTRUCTIONS

Drain and transfer your soaked chickpeas to a large cooking pot.  Fill it up with water with about an inch or two to cover. 

Bring it to a boil and then turn down the heat to a slow simmer for at least two hours.  If you see some white foam during this time, just scoop it out.  Taste check every 10 minutes afterwards to see if is firm enough on the outside and tender on the inside.  Next drain and rinse them under cold water. 

Optional:  I have heard of people peeling skin off of each and every chickpea before adding it into the food processor.  Apparently, the dip comes out smoother.  I don't know.  I never seem to have the time to do this.

Add all your ingredients into the food processor and turn it on.  Use your spatula to swipe along the sides occasionally so that you get every bit of it to blend together for a smooth consistency.  You can add water to the batch if it is too thick. 

Top it off with a generous drizzle of olive oil.

NOTE

I am a garlic fan.  I like my hummus and beetroot hummus with a sharp garlicky taste and a slight citrusy twang to it.  If you want a milder recipe just use 2 cloves of garlic and the sweet flavor of the beetroot will come through.  Add enough water as needed to achieve the consistency you like.  I added nearly a half cup of water to this recipe.
 

Heartwarming Red Split Lentil Soup

RedLentilSoup.jpg

Brrr, winter season is right around the corner and this soup fills me up and keeps me nice and toasty.  One of the best things I love about Paris is that it is full of ethnic diversities.  You can find pockets of many ethnic communities spread thoughout this city.  I love the idea of being able to dash over to the 15th arrondisement just to pick up a date syrup at a Persian grocery store.  This is where you will find a restaurant row of Persian cuisine and grocery stores a.k.a Petite Perse or Little Téhéran.  As I enter the grocery store, my sensory receptors are instantly heightened, things seem foreign and I am intrigued.  This is where I can easily pass an hour picking up every jar and package to decipher its labels, discover ingredients and wonder how these things are used.  What gives me pleasure is the feeling of having purchased my date syrup straight from Persia—minus the cost of airfare and flight time!  I appreciate every drop of syrup that comes out of the jar because I know it has traveled a long way.  Plus, it's a nice conversation piece.  "Oh, the date syrup? I bought that from  ̶P̶e̶r̶s̶i̶a̶,  umm—I mean the Persian grocers in the 15th..."

I can carry on about other goodies that I buy from Litte Africa (Chateau Rouge in the 18e), Chinatown (Ave de Choisy in the 13e, Arts et Métiers in the 3e, Belleville in the 10e, and Little Tokyo (rue St. Anne in the 1er and 2e) but it'll be a long list.  Today I was in La Chapelle (Little India in the 10e) for a baby bump portrait session.   I was early so I picked up some mangoes and red split lentils for this recipe and made a pit stop at the no-frills Indian take-out joint for its chai.  With my hands cupped around the chai, I stepped out in the cold and hovered over it.   I took in the scent of spices wafting up from my masala chai, lifting my head towards the streets in front of me and with a long exhalation felt removed from wherever it is that I come from.  It didn't matter. 
Today, I was in India.

Red Split Lentil Soup


INGREDIENTS//serves 6

• 1 tablespoon of olive oil
• 3 carrots, diced
• 2 stalks celery, diced
• 1 onion, diced
• 1 clove garlic, minced
• 1 bay leaf
• 1.5 teaspoons coarse salt (adapt according to taste)
• 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
• 1 tablespoon tomato paste
• 1.5 liters vegetable or chicken broth
• 2 cups lentil (red or yellow split lentils)
• 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
• 1/2 teaspoon curcuma (or tumeric powder)
• Bunch of fresh coriander (cilantro)
• 1 wedge of lime

INSTRUCTIONS

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a medium Dutch oven or heavy pot.  Then add the diced carrots, celery, onion, minced garlic and bay leaf.  Add some salt and mix.  Cover the pot and let it cook for 5 minutes.  

Uncover and add the cumin seeds, stirring it around.  Then add the tomato paste, the liter of vegetable broth and lentils.  Bring it to a boil. 

Turn down the heat to a low simmer.  Add the curry powder and curcuma.  Cover and let it simmer for about         15 minutes or until the lentils are soft. 

I usually take a cup of the soup and pour it in the blender with a small handful of fresh coriander.  Then I stir this back in with the rest of the pot.  It gives it a chunkier consistency.  Squeeze a bit of lime and garnish with fresh coriander.

NOTE

It's kind of a cross between lentil soup and lentil curry.  You can add more liquid to it for a soupier mix or less liquid for a thicker consistency.  If you opt for the thicker consistency, you can top it over some basmati rice for a more filling and curry like meal.

P.S.  I just had to throw this one in the mix...