July 2007


Continuing with my light and quick summer dishes:

This year we got a bit more serious than usual about our garden, and planted three zucchini plants. If you have a garden with zucchinis, you know that sometime around midsummer they start to produce babies like crazy. We've had a rather cold and rainy summer here up until now, but this week our three innocent looking zucchini plants have gone into high gear, and we're picking them as fast as we can before they turn into seedy, tasteless baseball bat sized monsters.

Zucchini pancakes are one way to use up a lot at once. This version uses chickpea flour instead of wheat flour or eggs, with a little bit of spice in it. It's great hot or cold, and is a perfect snack, side dish or complete vegan main dish, since the chickpea flour is such a terrific source of protein and carbs (nutritional info). Serve it with a salsa, curry, or just on its own. Here I just served them with some super-ripe tomato wedges. The shredded zucchini adds moisture and a rather creamy texture, which I love.

Chickpea flour is used in Mediterranean and Indian cooking. I get mine from a local Indian grocery store, where it's sold as gram flour; it's also known as besan, ceci flour, and so on.


Reading this post on Serious Eats about the different ways in which municipalities in the U.S. are trying to reduce shopping bag usage, I couldn't help comparing it to the way Switzerland copes with the issue. Here there is no banning of plastic bags or anything aggressive like that. Instead, shoppers are given two choices of disposable containers for their groceries at the checkout counter: free but really flimsy and small plastic bags, which are barely big enough to hold a packet of sandwiches and a drink; or a sturdy paper bag - that costs 30 Rappen each, which is about 25 US cents. I think this is a really smart solution, because having to pay even that small amount for a shopping bag really discourages people from using them. (The supermarket shopping bags are so attractive it seems to Japanese people that they are even sold for more than 10 times what they cost as accessories!)

In Zürich, everyone carries cloth shopping bags, backpacks, and so on to do their shopping as a matter of course, and people with just a little to buy will stuff their purchases wherever they can - I've seen elegant women with vegetables peeking out of their expensive handbags, and businessmen putting groceries into their briefcases. That may be the key really: who says that we need to put groceries, most of which are packed in various forms of plastic anyway, into separate, special bags? (Granted, I would have never thought of this when I lived in the U.S.)

They do things similarly in France too, though there they have plastic disposable bags instead of paper ones. French supermarkets also carry canvas bags, which aren't that widely seen in Switzerland, as well as sturdy plastic bags of Ikea bag quality.

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I haven't been posting a lot of recipes here recently. This is mainly because I haven't actually been doing a lot of full-on cooking, as in hauling out a lot of pots and pans and having the oven full blast and so on. It's summer after all, and I've been enjoying fruits and vegetables as close to their natural, fresh, ripe state as possible. So this week I'll be posting a few such recipes - requiring minimal active cooking, full of fresh summer vegetables, and nice to have on a warm summer day or evening.

The first one is my standard recipe for tabbouleh, with a twist - instead of using mint, I use shiso (perilla). Shiso has a slightly minty but wholly unique flavor which I really like in just about anything. I also make it with a lot less olive oil than most recipes call for, which I think adds to the fresh taste. We love to have a bowl of tabbouleh in the fridge for easy self-service lunch and snacks throughout the day - it tastes so healthy and is quite filling. It's also a great side dish for a barbeque.


Fresh tomatoes are the key to a great tabbouleh in my opinion. You need ones that are ripe and full of flavor, yet firm. One of my favorite tomatoes at the moment are an heirloom Swiss variety called Berner Rosen - they are a rosy pink when ripe, and full of juice and flavor. (If you're in Switzerland, Berner Rosen are all over the place at the markets right now.) If you can't get hold of a good heirloom variety like this, use cherry tomatoes, which are usually reliably firm yet flavorful.

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There were not one but two Op-Ed articles in the New York Times yesterday about sushi. Two! It always amazes me how fast sushi has become mainstream in the U.S. in particular and 'the West' in general, but I guess this is some sort of proof.

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I may either have a short memory, or have been lucky, but I can count the number of bad experiences I've had at restaurants, and still remember, on one hand. Unless the offense has been quite obvious - say, a big green caterpillar in my salad (happened once!), or a hair in my soup - I've never felt like lodging a direct complaint. The most I do is to call it a 'three-time experience' (an in-house joke) - the first, last and only time I'll go there.

I do wonder though if complaining would have done anything. I tend to shy away from confrontation, but eating out, especially at a high end restaurant, is a very special, not to mention expensive, occasion. When such an experience is screwed up, as it was for this commenter, it can be very frustrating to say the least.

What do you do when you have a bad restaurant experience? In this case I'm not talking about merely mediocre or bad food, but something really off-putting in some way, such as exceptionally bad service, or something amiss with the food, or anything that really makes you angry. Do you simply go away or complain about it, and if you have complained, has it made any difference?

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Following up to the potato chip post: the availability of any kind of packaged food around the world is iffy, with the exception of a handful of really global brands, and even they (e.g. Coke) change their formulas from place to place sometimes. But as Roanne's comment reminded me, there is one kind of good potato chip that is available all around the world - Svenska Lantchips, aka Ikea chips. If you have an Ikea near you, next time you're there pick up a bag of these - a trifle on the greasy side, but these are tasty, sturdy chips, the type I really like. When I was at Ikea Spreitenbach a few days ago they had plain salted and unsalted; previously I've seen sour cream flavored ones too. Don't you just love Ikea?

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If I had to pick just one snack food (to bring to me on that proverbial desert island) it would be potato chips. I love chips but I'm very picky about them too. The New York Times has a feature on chips in today's Dining section, in which they list their top 10 chips (in the Multimedia feature). Sadly they don't mention my favorite brand, Terra Chips.

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Some time ago, when there were blog memes galore, I vowed never to do another meme again. Then I got tagged by Mei from mei eats, a really fun food blog from Taipei. So since this gives me a good excuse to link to Mei, here are some non-food facts about your humble author, other than what's on my about page.

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As anyone who has been to Japan knows, Japanese convenience stores, aka konbini, are nothing like convenience stores elsewhere. Insted of being rather sad places with ersatz food and overpriced groceries, they are like small fun palaces for foodies with loads of interesting goodies, many services, and so on. It's a very competitive area of retail.

Seven Eleven recently made a splash by making over 12 of its stores (11 in the U.S., one in Canada) to Kwik-E Marts a la The Simpsons. Here's a list of all the U.S. remade stores; the Canadian one is in Vancouver. Judging from the photos of one of them, the attention to detail is terrific. As a matter of fact, it's about as much as is lavished on a typical konbini in Japan. Seven Eleven Japan actually owns Seven Eleven U.S. (there was an NHK docudrama a while back that showed how this happened...it was quite dramatic in a payback kind of way, since originally Seven Eleven had rejected the Japanese request for franchise rights.) Anyway, they recently announced that they are planning to spend $2.4 billion in a big U.S. expansion. I can't help but wonder if they'd make at least some of those new stores konbini-like in terms of selection, attention to detail, and just the 'fun' factor. I'm sure that Americans would love it.

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In case you left a comment here in the past few days and wondered where why it wasn't approved - I suddenly stopped getting comment notifications, which is why I didn't even know they were there. My apologies as I try to figure out if Drupal, Gmail or another interweb gremlin is at fault.

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