summer

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A very easy way to treat yourself to tiny new potatoes.

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I am sort of the road this week, so it's hard to cook much. When I get settled back at home, the first thing I want to make is cold noodles. What I'm craving most right now:

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Keep reading Cold noodle time! →

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There are some food combinations that you think just shouldn't belong together, but do so well. Strawberries with sweet beans? Surely not, you think, until you taste an ichigo daifuku - a strawberry wrapped in some azuki an and thin gyuuhi, a dough made of rice. I've had ichigo daifuku on my mind lately but have been too lazy to make the dumplings. This is a very easy alternative. Arguably it's even better.

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I wrote about the use of kuzu powder in the _goma dofu_ (sesame tofu) recipe. This time it's a very traditional, simple sweet dish using kuzu.

Kuzumochi are sticky 'mochi' cakes made with just kuzu powder, sugar and water. The texture is somewhere in between gelatin and mochi made from rice flour - wobbly but not too sticky. It's traditionally served chilled, so it makes an interesting, gluten free (and vegan) summer dessert.

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The lemon verbena plant that I planted last year and almost lost to a summer storm, is now firmly established and positively thriving. Whenever I pass it I can't resist rubbing a leaf, because it smells so wonderful.

Transferring that wonderful lemony scent to taste is quite easy - simply steeping it in some boiling water for about 10 to 15 minutes does the trick. This granita is infused with the aroma of lemon verbena, soured with a little lemon juice, and sweetened with a delicate acacia honey. Any light colored honey will work here instead. It makes a wonderful light dessert or palate cleanser, or cooling summer snack.

After reading my instructions for tomato water yesterday, a reader in the UK told me that Jamie Oliver had also made tomato water on his new show, Jamie At Home. (We can see BBC and ITV here in Switzerland, but not Channel 4.) Through nefarious means I was able to get hold of a copy of the show - it was dedicated to tomato recipes, which all looked delicious. I guess they didn't film it this year though, because this hasn't been a good year for tomato growing at all, with lots of rain and cold temperatures. (Unless they cheated and took their 'home grown tomatoes' from a greenhouse...) In any case, Jamie made his tomato water by straining the tomato pulp with cheesecloth, which would work as well as my method of using a sieve and paper towels. He iced his water down by adding ice cubes (I don't think I'd do that since it would dilute the intense flavor) and sprinkled it with basil, celery and extra virgin olive oil, and spiked it with vodka. I hope you do try making tomato water at least once this tomato season - it's really something worth doing! Serve it to your friends without telling them what it is and watch their faces!

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Have you ever made tomato water? It's the clear liquid strained gently from a ripe tomato, and one of the best treats of summer. When made from juicy, vine-ripened tomatoes, it has a sweet yet green-tomatoey taste that is so intense that a little goes a very long way.

Making tomato water is very simple. All it requires is a blender or food processor, a fine mesh sieve, paper towels, and patience. What you do with the resulting water is up to your imagination. Here I have added a little gelatin to make it into a tomato gelée (or, to be non-fancy, jelly). Served on top is a tomato coulis made from the pulp that is left over after the water is strained. The only heat-adding cooking involved is in melting the gelatin. It fits in well with my minimal-cooking mood this summer.

This would make a very interesting first course for a summer meal, or an amuse-bouche if served in tiny portions. It would be a great in-between courses palate cleanser too, if you are having an elaborate meal.

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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.

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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.

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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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With summer just around the corner, I like to think of food that can be made well ahead and tastes great served cold, or at least cool, to keep me out of a hot kitchen. The vegetable part of this is usually taken care of with seasonal vegetable salads and the like. If the protein part means meat, I like to have pre-cooked pieces tucked away in the freezer.

One of my favorite cold meats is poached and marinated pork, or nibuta. (Ni means to cook in liquid, and buta is pig.) It's very easy to make, stores beautifully in the refrigerator for about a week or much longer in the freezer, and of course, tastes great - savory, slightly sweet, and very juicy. It can be sliced very thinly or julienned for one-dish meal salads or in sandwiches, or chopped up and added to stir-fries, wraps, and so on. It's a great addition to a bento box. It can be cubed or coarsely ground and used instead of char siu (roast pork) in steamed buns or bao. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

There's one unusual 'secret ingredient' in the poaching liquid, umeboshi or pickled plum. You can omit this if you like, but adding just one umeboshi seems to de-fat the meat a bit more than just poaching, plus making it taste a bit cleaner and fresher in an interesting way.

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