The weather has been fabulous for spring so far in Toronto. A great time to start riding the bike! Warmer weather, though, brings cooler dishes, which is why I loved this dish. It melds a variety of Asian flavours together with my one of my favourite noodles, soba. The fresh green veggies, including baby bok choy, snow peas and spinach, are lightly steamed, then combined with cool silken tofu in chunks and smothered with a ponzu soy sauce.
But what is ponzu? It is an Asian sauce made from mirin, rice vinegar, bonito flakes and kombu, and occasionally soy-based, with a note of citrus tang from yuzu. But what is yuzu? It is a citrus fruit from East Asia, that looks like a small grapefruit but tastes like grapefruit and mandarin orange. It is difficult to find yuzu here, so it can be substituted with a blend of juices from other citrus fruits (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, etc). There are recipes to make your own ponzu sauce as well but I buy mine from the store.
I have discussed other Asian ingredients and where to find them in Toronto, in previous posts here and here, and ponzu sauce can also be found at Asian markets like Bestwin and T&T. I can’t say I’ve seen it at Loblaws and the like, but I haven’t checked. I found it on amazon as well.
Ponzu sauce is nice as a replacement for soy sauce in many Asian dishes and has the added benefit of less sodium. It is also a great dipping sauce for gyoza (Japanese dumplings).
This dish was adapted from Gourmet (July 2008), and despite having a long ingredient list and many directions, is quite simple to prepare but does leave many dirty dishes to clean. However, it is definitely worth it. You can use an assortment of seasonal Asian vegetables, steam them until crisp but retain their colour (blanch them if you are incredibly worried, but I chose not to dip anything into ice water and it was fine). The noodles can be cooked under the steaming vegetables, to save time. The sauce is nice but the ponzu flavour is not overwhelming. If you cannot find the ponzu sauce, substitute it with a bit more soy sauce, or omit completely. It makes a lot of sauce, which is tasty but could likely also be decreased by 3/4 or more. The crowning touch is the chilled silken tofu which melts in your mouth and brings that coolness to your palate. I found the dish best when served completely chilled the next day as leftovers, when the sauce is added just before serving.
I am submitting this glorious spring dish to a few places this time: my second submission to Health Nut Challenge 5 featuring Cruciferous Vegetables, hosted by Yasmeen Health Nut, to Presto Pasta Nights hosted by Thyme for Cooking and to Ivonne at Cream Puffs in Venice for Magazine Mondays.
I love wandering through ethnic grocery stores. There are always fruits and vegetables I don’t recognize. I wonder what they taste like, how to cook them, where they are grown, etc. One of my favourite grocery stores is Bestwin, which I like to describe as a low-cost Asian and Indian grocer. Since I started cooking Japanese, it has been a great way to find affordable Asian ingredients. My goal is actually to try every wacky fruit, vegetable and herb there.
The first one I will tackle is Nira, also known as Chinese chives or Garlic chives. It is in the same family as garlic and is similar to garlic more than chives. It is sold in big bundles but unfortunately doesn’t keep very long. It is common in Asian cooking (Chinese, Japanese and Korean) as well as fusion cuisine. Some other recipes with Nira, that I can’t wait to try, include Miso Soup with Nira, Spring Garlic Chive Soup, Yaki Gyoza (Japanese Dumplings), Japanese Iri Doufu (Scrambled Tofu with Nira), Scrambled Eggs with Garlic Chives, Pancakes with Garlic Chives and Ground Pork, Stir-fried Chinese Chives and Pork, Orecchiette with Fresh Mozzarella, Grape Tomatoes, and Garlic Chives, and Pan seared Halibut with Garlic Chives-Ginger-Coconut Sauce.
I recently got together with a friend who shared delicious Japanese spring rolls at a potluck. It is hard to get excited about spring rolls, but these were special. They were the best spring roll I had ever tasted. I needed to know what went inside those crispy layers, and thankfully she shared it with me. I am not sure what makes them so special, but I think the secret ingredients are the dried shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots and nira which balance out the flavours and bring crunch. Enjoy!
As well, this week I am hosting my first blogging event! I have been a fairly regular contributor to Weekend Herb Blogging, and figured it was about time for me to participate as a host. So here I go with WHB #231! These Japanese spring rolls are my contribution this week.
Weekend Herb Blogging, now hosted by Haalo, is all about sharing information and recipes about any herb, fruit, vegetable, nut, grain, seed, flower or plant. For complete rules, check them out here. Otherwise, send me your name, name of dish, post url, location and photo until Sunday, May 2 at 5pm EST at saveur11 AT yahoo DOT ca.
Here is a lovely easy and simple carrot soup with a bit of pizazz from cumin to give you a Moroccan flavour. Since returning from a trip to Turkey, I have been craving Turkish food which melds Greek, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine all into itself. As I investigate a few of the Turkish cookbooks out there, help yourself to a bowl of this delicious carrot soup. It was adapted from the original recipe in April 2010′s issue of Bon Appétit but also spotted here and here. Don’t skip the yogurt as it makes it nice and creamy. I didn’t roast the cumin, but I am sure it would add another dimension of flavour, as the carrots work well with the lemon and allspice.
Crêpes are incredibly versatile as they can envelope any good food and make it taste great. There are restaurants entirely devoted to crêpes with different fillings. In fact, one of my favourite places for crêpes in Toronto is the Art Square Cafe, across from the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), where they have imaginative and tasty crêpes like grilled chicken and mayan organic dark chocolate (yes, they are together!). I also really like their chocolate and pistachio dessert crêpe. I can only eat one or the other though, as they are so filling. Incredibly yummy with the real chocolate!
When I am at home, though, sometimes I like to keep things simple with my crêpes. As a child, I used to layer the crêpe with homemade jam before rolling it up, or use canned peaches as a filling. I suppose my tastes were quite bland as a kid! Now, I love to use Nutella (a chocolate hazelnut spread) as a base to line the crêpe, then top with seasonal fruit and sprinkle with toasted sliced almonds. You can add the Nutella to a warm or cold crêpe, and find yourself with melted or normal Nutella – tasty either way! Kiwi is one of my favourite pairings with Nutella in a crêpe, but other fruit works well too, like mango, strawberry, banana, blueberry, apple, etc.
These crêpes are great for sweet fillings as they are light and fluffy. I wonder whether anyone can recommend a good whole-wheat crêpe recipe? Do they exist?
One of my favourite dishes that was prepared during the Tastes of Tomorrow events was a delectable risotto made by Chef Morgan Wilson from Trios Bistro in Toronto. We gobbled up at least 4 servings of the risotto (nevermind the citrus-poached halibut and tomato, lemon and olive relish) and left contently stuffed. However, I know the secret to delicious risotto: a tasty fish broth, good quality Arborio rice, butter and lots of Parmesan cheese. The recipe says just to add Parmesan to taste, but I saw how much he added! LOTS!
Unfortunately, I probably ate my entire week’s caloric intake that night, and I knew it would have to be a very special occasion (ie. after my upcoming 70km charity bike ride would be ideal ;)) before I tackle it myself. For the other days, I need to find something a bit less artery clogging.
I found a lovely oyster mushroom and barley risotto, which I slightly adapted from the Mayo Clinic Williams-Sonoma Cookbook. Each serving cup is 178 calories which is much easier to handle.
The dish is only for serious mushroom lovers. If you only kind of like mushrooms, this is not for you. Both the shiitakes and oyster mushrooms provided a meaty feel, almost akin to seafood. There was a nice earthy flavour to the dish and I liked the combination of barley with the short-grain sushi rice. There was enough cheese for flavour and texture and I liked the subtle difference Asiago brought to the meal. However, I won’t lie. It wasn’t nearly as creamy as my butter and cheese-laden risotto friend. But I am willing to make these sacrifices for my own health.
In my last post, I commented that I could have a hard time making up a tasty meal without advance warning. That’s usually because I buy my produce for each dish and then work around what I have and need for my meals. I don’t tend to make too many meals that are completely from pantry staples (I did during my university days, though!).
However, there is something to say about tasty meals that can be whipped together from stuff in your cupboards. I recently returned from a trip and came home to an empty fridge. What to make? Then I knew it! The chickpea and artichoke salad!
I initially spotted this recipe through the No Crouton’s Required round-up about chickpeas (with two variations from the same original recipe from Vegan Yum Yum by Lauren Ulm (also posted here)). My variation is adapted from Diet, Dessert and Dogs.
While I may not always be a fan of chickpeas, this was delicious. The fried chickpeas had a nutty, toasted flavour that worked well with the slightly tangy lemon and herb dressing, the mellow artichokes that were scorched nicely and the toasted almonds with their crunch and flavour wrapped up the salad beautifully. This is definitely a salad that shows how all the flavour is in that brown stuff at the bottom of the frypan.
The pantry staples for this dish will definitely be squirreled away in my cupboards for that emergency salad fix for unexpected guests. Who should be more excited – me or my guests?
Friends like to ask me about my signature dish and I have a tough time answering because I try so many different recipes. A few of the goodies get repeated, but I also feel that variety is the spice of life and it may be months to years before I retry a recipe. But the truth be told, my favourite repeated dishes are salmon teriyaki and my wheat berry salad with almonds and cranberries in a citrus dressing. They are a bit different and are a treat for guests.
However, I can’t just whip the dishes out of thin air as they aren’t made with pantry staples. I need some advance notice to head to the grocery store before I make them.
But what happens if I have unexpected guests? Well, to be honest, they will likely go hungry if they don’t want leftovers. My grandmother, wise in her years, has staples she can whip up in no time. Cream puffs are her emergency dessert and if pressed, she’ll ask her guests to come with the whipping cream for a stellar dessert.
I never knew cream puffs, light and delicious pastry filled with vanilla whipped cream and smothered with chocolate, could be considered easy. So I put my grandmother’s recipe to the test, to figure out how foolproof it was to make cream puffs.
The cream puff pastry (aka pâte à choux – cabbage paste!) is nice because the ingredients are all pantry staples and you can make it without a machine. You need to whip it really hard and fast until it pulls from the side of the pan, but no problemo! Next you drop them onto a cookie sheet and bake until they are browned and hollow in the middle. The moist dough allows steam to puff the pastry. Cut them in half, remove any soft dough (still tastes yummy!) and let cool. The pastry can easily be frozen at this point, and later reheated in a 350F oven for a few minutes prior to filling and dressing.
Next, once your guests arrive with the whipping cream, and the cream puffs are cool, stuff them with the whipped cream and top with chocolate ganache. Serve to astonished guests because it was actually quite simple to make, just many small steps towards a delicious dessert.
Cream puffs are incredibly versatile, using any combination of fillings and toppings. Filled with ice cream, they are known as profiteroles, but one could equally fill with savoury vegetables for an impressive lunch. What a powerhouse!
This is my submission to this month’s Tea Time Treats for French desserts.