Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Cooking class 3: Karaage, cold miso and 2 vegetable side dishes

Photo courtesy of Malaka at Aloha Mahalo

As you know, I often moan about the length of time it takes to cook Japanese food (hence its general absence from our weekday menu). However, in my very first official cooking class with ABC, we made, ate and cleared up an entire Japanese meal in 2 hours!! 'Course, there was 4 of us, so it doesn't really compare to making things at home alone, but still, I thought it was a pretty good effort.

Traditionally, a Japanese meal is not complete without, at minimum, one soup, three side dishes and rice. And many times more than three dishes will be prepared. It's enough to have even card-carrying foodies ripping their hair out of an evening.

Our meal comprised hiyashi-jiru, a cold miso soup topped with cucumber and tomato from Miyazaki Prefecture; karaage, deep-fried morsels of chicken marinated in soy, sake and fresh ginger; potato chunks and edamame (fresh soy beans) smothered in wasabi-mayonnaise; and a simmered "salad" of carrot, aburage (a thin deep-fried tofu) and kiriboshi daikon (shredded dried daikon).

From this lesson I learned that when inserted into hot oil, a bamboo cooking chopstick (much longer than regular chopsticks and able to be put safely into boiling fat) will have small bubbles form around it in 3 seconds at 160 degrees C, the same small bubbles will form almost straight away at 170 degrees, and a great many bubbles will form vigourously immediately you put the chopstick in at 180 degrees.

You can also tell when your deep-fried goodies are ready with the tried and true Japanese method of holding the near-ready food in your cooking chopsticks and if you can feel a small vibration in your chopsticks, it's done. The teacher was keen to know how we Western cooks know when something is ready, but as I hardly ever deep-fry anything, she was asking the wrong person (g) . I reckon it's colour we usually look for, though.

Anyway, the day's menu was all very tasty. Karaage is an izakaya (Japanese tavern) staple, and we regularly order it. Now I can make it myself and have as much ginger in it as I like! The potato and edamame might make a good addition to a meze spread. The cold miso was a revelation to me, and the Young Man is quite intrigued by it, too. I'll be making it for him shortly, while we still need relief from the awful, muggy heat. Watch out for my take on the recipe then.


Khoresh-e gheimeh

Back in June, I said I'd make my dear Iranian friend Hw his favourite food as a birthday treat, thinking that would be ghormeh sabzi, that glorious dark citrusy stew that I thought was every Iranian's favourite. But no, he wanted gheimeh, something I hadn't quite mastered from the slightly unclear recipe in Najmieh khanom's The New Food of Life. Luckily, St Google offered up many recipes and I decided to go with this one, which I've made metric and adjusted for the pressure cooker.

Gheimeh, a rich, but lightly spiced stew of meat, tomatoes and dried limes, is traditionally served with chips (French fries) on top, but as I'm not one for deep frying, I added the potatoes, quartered, to the stew near the end of the cooking. Hw was fine about this innovation of his favourite dish; but it seems that Iranians are not so keen on potato skins. Next time peeling might be in order (g).

If you make my pressure cooker version, remember that split peas are notorious for getting burnt to the bottom of the pot. Give the pressure cooker a good shake at regular intervals during the cooking time in order to avoid this problem. Also, if you have the choice, use light coloured dried limes (limu Omani) in this dish, as they may break up in the cooking (or when you squeeze the concentrated liquid out of them at the end of the cooking), leaving what otherwise look like burnt scrapings from the bottom of the pan (!) in your lovely stew.

This has to be the easiest Iranian dish I've made yet, but the flavour is quite outstanding, and I'm sure it will become a favourite in this house, too.

Khoresh-e gheimeh

1 kg stewing beef or lamb cut into 2 cm cubes or smaller
1 large onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic chopped finely (optional, but recommended)
1 x 400 g can whole or crushed tomatoes or use 500 g fresh
1-2 tbsp tomato paste (optional)
1/2 cup yellow split peas
450 g potatoes
3 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
4-5 dried lemons
Lots of vegetable oil for frying

1 Fry the onions in about 2 tbsp of oil over med/high heat till they are lightly golden. Add the meat, raise the heat to high and keep frying till all the juices are absorbed. If you want to add any garlic, it may be added at the same time as the meat.

2 When the juices are absorbed, add the spices (salt, black pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper) and fry for a minute or so (don't over-fry). Add the canned tomatoes and bring to a simmer. If you use whole tomatoes, break them into big chunks with your wooden spoon.

3 Add the dried lemons, yellow split peas and about 400 ml water, bring to pressure and turn down the heat. Cook under low pressure, swirling the pot from time to time to prevent sticking, for about 45-50 min, or until the meat is done to your satisfaction (fork tender). If the sauce looks too thin, add the1-2 tbsp tomato paste to thicken it. If the sauce is too thick, add water as needed.

4 Add the potatoes and pressure cook for a further 5 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.

5 When the meat is done, the sauce should be thick. Serve the stew in a large bowl. Serve with hot basmati rice.


Thursday, 21 August 2008

Bombay potatoes

Years back, my dear Friend H made a spicy potato concoction she called Bombay potatoes. Growing up in the UK, such Indian treats were commonplace to her, I guess, but we missed out on them Down Under. Anyway, it turns out that BP are so much part of the culinary fabric in the UK that you can even buy a packet mix at any supermarket!

I can't actually remember the last time I actually used a packet mix, but as you know, I do love to puddle about with spices in the kitchen. I like to think that this recipe is the real deal, but who really knows. It is another from India's 500 Best Recipes.

Talking about spices, when making recipes using quite a few, it is worthwhile measuring them out prior to starting the cooking so you'll then have them at the ready for adding at a moment's notice. Just be careful to keep spices that will be added at different times separate from one another (g).

Your potatoes will still be fabulous if you don't have onion seed (which I have yet to source here in Japan), and you could even skip the asafoetida (that stinky powder that also goes by the name hing). I don't add the dried chillies to keep the heat down, but the will add extra colour, if the heat is not a consideration for you. I chopped the onions finely this time, but this is also nice with the onions sliced thinly instead.

Bombay potatoes

For 4-6 as a side dish

2 onions
2 fresh green chillies
50 g fresh coriander
450 g new potatoes
1 tsp turmeric
60 ml vegetable oil
2 dried red chillies
6-8 curry leaves
1/4 tsp asafoetida
1/2 tsp each of cumin, mustard, onion, fennel and nigella seeds
lemon juice to taste [S: I used the juice of 1 lemon]

1 Chop the onions and chillies finely, and coarsely chop the coriander.

2 Scrub the potatoes under cold running water and cut them into smallish pieces.

3 Boil the potatoes in water with a little salt and 1.5 tsp of the turmeric for 10-15 min or until tender. Drain the potatoes well then fluff them up a bit in the dry pot over a low flame, then set aside.

4 Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the dried chillies and curry leaves until the chillies are nearly burnt.

5 Add the chopped onions, green chillies, fresh coriander and remaining turmeric to the pan, add the asafoetida, cumin, mustard, onion, fennel and nigella seeds. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft.

6 Fold in the potatoes and add a few drops of water. Cook over a low heat for about 10 min, stirring well to ensure the spices are evenly mixed.

7 Add lemon juice to taste, and serve immediately.


Sunday, 10 August 2008

A Middle Eastern afternoon 2: Gulf prawn balls in tomato & tamarind sauce

I've never tried to hide the fact that I am a cook book junkie. My collection, which once was confined to the cupboard under the phone, is now threatening to take over my sleeping space. And it's not just cook books. I always print out interesting sounding recipes from my favourite foodie haunts there and then. I mean how would you ever find them again otherwise??! So I really have no right or reason to continue buying more cook books.

I would not have even considered buying the source of today's recipe, The Complete Middle East Cookbook by Tess Mallos had I not read a little note in a blog on Bahraini cooking that made me stop and reconsider. I mean, can any cook book on such a culturally and culinarily diverse region ever be "complete", and can someone with a name like Tess actually know what she's talking about?? But here was a Bahraini telling me to check this book out for a cuisine that somehow had fallen through the cracks in my ME cook book collection.

Well you could have blown me over with a feather when I found out that not only is Tess a fellow Aussie (of Greek descent in her case), she is one of the most respected authors in the Mediterranean food world! Bit of a wake up call, I can tell you!

The book is very wide in scope, with chapters for 19 countries/regions (the Gulf states and the Levant are each treated as one). You could quibble with Tess' choice of countries (for instance can we include Egypt but leave out Morocco? Justify Greece but not Israel/Palestine?), but weighing in at almost 400 pages even with these omissions, I can understand the author wanting to finish the book already and get it off to the press! (You can read her reasons for the countries selected in the book.)

My other minor niggle is that while the photos are nice, their styling looks very Western (and circa 1980s) to my eyes. And I'm not even sure the picture for Iran's national dish Ghormeh sabzi is that dried lime-infused stew--what happened to that murky, brackish look we all know and love?! Then again, I'm sure the color plates will be welcomed by those that like that sort of thing in a cook book. Me, I'd rather use not knowing what the food' s supposed to look like as an excuse for visiting the country and finding out myself (g).

That aside, the author has really done her homework, even sourcing spice blend and bread recipes for us. With primers on the food, ingredients and cooking methods/utensils of each country, there's plenty to read here, even without the hundreds of recipes, and the book is as much at home by the bedside (for lusting over at bedtime, of course) as in the kitchen.

So to our first foray into the Tess Mallos' world of Middle Eastern cooking...

As I said, I was looking for some Gulf cooking ideas. What joy, then, to find out that Gulf cooking has some favourite ingredients, like dried limes (loomi in the Gulf, limu Omani in Iran, and noomi in Iraq), tamarind and copious amounts of seafood (think: location, location, location). This recipe for prawn balls has all three and immediately caught my eye. The girls agreed and this became the basis for a fun day of cooking, eating and belly dancing (to work it all off again (g)).

And our findings? The sauce the prawn balls are cooked in is absolutely to die for! It will go well with lots of other seafood concoctions and braised vegetables. The prawn balls I thought maybe needed a little tweaking. Perhaps a little less ground rice, or maybe a change of spicing. Or maybe I should have used the more expensive prawns (!). Then again, I may be being a bit hard on the recipe as the girls were happy with them and jumped on the opportunity to take some home for later (g).

I served this with some lovely Bahraini rice perfumed with rosewater, saffron and cardamom that the girls could not stop raving about. It's known as pearl divers' rice, and reading Tess' notes on its history, I realized with a start that she was talking about male pearl divers. In Japan it is women who have traditionally dived for pearls and I'd not considered any other possibility! Another cultural blind spot bites the dust thanks to a cook book.

(There are more pictures and commentary (in Japanese) on our exploration of Gulf cooking, Oriental dance and Persian poets here.)

And without further ado, the recipe.

Tess provides a baharat (spice) blend, but I mixed up my own based on this recipe. You should do this before you start anything else. This is a lovely blend that has a real citrus tang from the dried lime. It is well worth seeking this out if you are interested in any of the three cuisines mentioned above. Claudia Roden even suggests that you can make your own by drying out limes or lemons on a radiator until they turn dark and sound hollow when tapped. In the Middle East, of course, they are left to dry naturally on the tree (g).

Kebsa spice mix (Gulf baharat)

1 tbsp red pepper
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp loomi (powdered dried lime)
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp saffron threads (crushed in a mortar and pestle)

Chebeh Rubyan (Gulf prawn balls in tomato & tamarind)

For 4-6

1 kg uncooked prawns
1/4 cup coriander leaves
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground loomi (dried lime)
2/4 cup ground rice
1 tsp salt

1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp Gulf baharat
1/2 tsp ground loomi (dried lime)

Tamarind sauce
2 tbsp tamarind paste
2 cups warm water
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp oil
1 large tomato, chopped (and peeled if you insist)
1 tsp Gulf baharat
1/4 --1/2 hot chilli pepper
2 tsp sugar

coriander sprigs to garnish

1 Shell and devein prawns, rinse and dry well. Mix prawns with coriander leaves and process to a paste in food processor.

2. Combine prawn mixture with turmeric, loomi and ground rice. Add salt and mix well by band until thoroughly blended. Cover and refrigerate until required.

3. In a pan gently fry onion in oil until transparent, stir in Gulf baharat and loomi. Remove from heat and set aside.

4. In a large, wide-based pot or tall-sided frying pan gently fry small chopped onion in oil until transparent. Add water and tamarind paste, tomato, spices, salt to taste and sugar. Cover and gently simmer for 15-20 min.

6. While sauce is simmering, make chebeh. Take about 1 tbsp of prawn paste and flatten in moistened palm. Place 1 tsp of onion filling in the center and close up, shaping into a ball. Keep hands moist during shaping. Repeat until ingredients are used.

7. Drop completed chebeh into simmering sauce. Cover and simmer gently for 35-40 min. Chebeh will swell during cooking. Serve hot with sweet rice scented with saffron, cardamom and rose water.


A Middle Eastern afternoon 1: Quail eggs with fresh herbs and hazelnut dukkah

For the longest time I've been meaning to make dukkah, the chickpea or hazelnut, sesame and spice mix originally from Egypt that has enjoyed roaring success in the Antipodes the last couple of years. I even brought some hazelnuts back from Turkey last summer for this very purpose!But somehow I just hadn't got round to it--until now.

There are recipes for dukkah all over the net if you care to look (101 Cookbooks has a version from The Spicy Food Lover's Bible that I'm planning on trying next). Nigel also has one in his The 30 Minute Cook, which he cheerfully admits nicking from Claudia's The New Book of Middle Eastern Cooking. That book has been in print since the 60s (my 2nd revised edition was published in 1986!), so I'm not too sure why the "sudden" interest, but such are the vagaries of the cooking world, I suppose.

Anyway, I got the hazelnut dukkah recipe below from Australia's own Stephanie Alexander, who is right up there in my foodie hall of fame and the author of many of the Middle Eastern recipes on Cuisine.

I was looking for some unusual cold meze-type dishes for the girls, who were coming over for some Middle Eastern cooking at my non-air conditioned flat on a swelteringly hot summer's day. These scrummy little eggs with dukkah looked like a good bet because they would be ready in a flash--especially as I had pre-roasted hazelnuts (g), leaving the egg-peeling as the only vaguely time-consuming element--and they could be cooked ahead of time and kept in the fridge till the appointed hour. In the end I wasn't quite that organized, and had to delegate the egg peeling and herb chopping to my dear friends after they arrived. But I reckon that only added to the dish's appeal (g).

I cooked my eggs a little differently from the method in the original recipe (using a technique I picked up from Heather at 101 Cookbooks), and substituted a little cumin seed for some of the coriander seed (mainly because I didn't have enough of the former, but also knowing that the latter is often included in dukkah). I added some of the dukkah mix to the herbs as per the OR, but thought it would be more fun to dip the eggs in the nutty mixture ourselves, hence the little dish you see in the photo above.

As quail eggs are very small, I would count on about 4-5 per person. You might want to scale up the eggs accordingly. You will have plenty of dukkah and herbs (I halved the amount of herbs below and still had some left over), so there's probably no need to scale either of these up unless you're going to more than triple the recipe.

I completed our little snack with Claudia's luscious boiled carrot dip (which the girls also raved about) and some tortillas warmed up in the microwave. That left plenty of room for the Gulf prawn balls in tomato-tamarind sauce that was to be the headline act of the day. More on that shortly...

Quail eggs with fresh herbs and hazelnut dukkah

12 quail eggs or 4 bantam eggs
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp chopped chives [S: spring onions will also work]
1 tsp chopped mint
1 clove garlic

(This will make more than is needed for this dish but the rest can be stored in a screw-top jar. It is difficult to make much less)

25g hazelnuts
50g sesame seeds
20g coriander seeds
5g cumin seeds
sea salt

Bring eggs to a gentle boil in a saucepan of lightly salted water, turn off the heat and cover for 5 minutes (quail eggs) or 7 minutes (bantam eggs). Drain and immediately crumple the shells of the quail eggs with light pressure of your hands. Tap the shells of the bantam eggs to allow air to get in under the membrane. This makes the eggs easier to shell later on. Leave to cool.

Mix the chopped herbs together. Chop the garlic very finely and mix with the herbs.

To make dukkah
Heat oven to 180C and roast the hazelnuts until pale golden. Rub in a clean tea-towel to remove most of the brown skins. Chop coarsely or process for a few seconds only and tip into a bowl.

In a small non-stick frying pan, toast the sesame seeds, stirring with a wooden spoon until golden. Transfer to a mortar and pestle and grind just a little. Tip the crushed seeds into the bowl with the hazelnuts.

Wipe out the pan and dry-toast the coriander seeds. Transfer to a mortar and pestle and grind coarsely. Combine with sesame seeds and hazelnuts. Repeat with the cumin seeds.

Mix half of the seed-nut mixture with the herb and garlic mixture. Add sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Store remaining dukkah in a screw-top jar for another day.

Peel the eggs. (Quail eggs have a very tough membrane under the shell so be patient. Once you have pierced this membrane the shell will peel away very easily). Brush the eggs with the olive oil and halve lengthwise. Brush the cut side of the eggs with a little olive oil to prevent the surface from drying. Roll the eggs thickly in the herb and seed mixture and arrange on a shallow plate.


Thursday, 7 August 2008

Thai tom yum noodles

Photo courtesy of Malaka at Aloha Mahalo

I went out for lunch with my dear friend Malaka from Aloha Mahalo a couple of weeks back. We'd been planning on a Vietnamese banquet, but there was not even room to wait inside the restaurant we'd chosen, so we went to Thailand instead! Or at least an authentic hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant (Tinun @ Akasaka) . The rainy season was just officially over, and that meant blazing heat to add to the joys of high humidity. Just like in Thailand (g). We got a seat close to the open door, and with naught but a fan to keep us cool, we might as well have been in the Kingdom itself.

Malaka and I both ended up ordering tom yum noodles: Chinese-style egg noodles for her, and fat rice noodles for me. And they were superb. Really just what the doctor ordered. The lovely Tinun people didn't even scrimp on the coriander. Yeah!!

Anyway, I happen to know that tom yum fat rice noodles is on the menu today on the Ajiwai Cooking section of NHK program Asia Crossroads, and so watch this space for one rendition (in Japanese) of this Thai classic later today.

Good job I went to my favourite Thai shop not long ago; I feel another Thai food fixation coming on. I'll let you know when I get a good recipe for you...