Monday, January 30, 2012

Sweet & Sour Asian Stew

Sweet & Sour Stew with Chicken & Veggies
Easy Recipes You Must Know to Eat Well and Impress Your Friends, Part 2

Here’s a so-easy
, so-scrumptious, always impressive Asian stew that can become a staple quickie meal for you and your lucky loved ones. The secret to this recipe is that you need to keep a few items on hand all the time—items you might not always have in your pantry. (I do because I am a confessed foodie--I buy toasted sesame oil and mirin by the gallon!). Make sure you have ginger root and rice vinegar, for instance.

1/3 cup Soy Sauce (shoyu) Do NOT use that pathetic watered down stuff that's advertised as "low sodium" soy sauce. What a crock! It's just soy sauce with water added—and for the same price. Buy regular soy sauce and add your own water, or simply use less soy sauce.
2/3 cup Water—more if needed
2/3 cup Mirin (if you don’t have mirin sweet rice cooking wine, you can substitute an equal amount of Sake plus two tablespoons of sugar)
3 tablespoons Rice Vinegar (Do not substitute another kind of vinegar—this must be rice vinegar! Rice vinegar is great to have around—it turns regular short-grained rice into sushi rice. It makes a lovely, light salad dressing all by itself—especially good with tomatoes and/or cucumbers. Rice vinegar RULES!)
6 slices Ginger Root (roughly peeled, but don't fuss too much over it)
6 cloves Garlic, crushed
4 pounds of Chicken Thighs or Legs, or Pork Chops, Bone-in. Be sure to choose meat WITH bones—meat is always more tender and juicy if cooked with bones. Boneless meat cooked in stews can become dry and stringy. Bones RULE! You could also make this dish vegetarian by using 1” cubes of Tempeh or Firm Tofu. If you opt for tempeh or tofu, add a tablespoon of sesame oil or vegetable oil to add umami, meat mouth-feel.
2 or 3 cups Vegetables of your choice, cut in bite-sized pieces: Carrots, Mushrooms, Green Beans, Potatoes, Rutabagas, Celery, Parsnips, Soybeans (edamame, shelled), Celery, etc.

  1. Throw everything in a sturdy pot. Let simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking. 
  2. Pick out the ginger pieces and any bones, and then serve over white rice. Ladle the delightful saucy sauce onto the rice too. Accept praise and admiration for your gourmet cooking efforts graciously, without divulging the secret that this recipe was obscenely easy to concoct.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Seaweed Demystified

Kelp, kombu, wakame, nori, laver, hijiki, dulse--what are all these sea greens? How do you tell them apart, and most importantly, what do you do with them? I lived in Japan for five years, so got a lot of exposure to nori, kelp, and hijiki, but dulse, for instance is more of a Canadian/European food, so is less familiar. Here's a seaweed primer—for you and for me.

The seaweed you are probably most familiar with is the one that goes in some sushi dishes: nori, or toasted laver. Highest in protein, nori makes a tasty and crispy snack. You can easily purchase packs of nori at almost any grocery store, but be careful of the Enjoy By date--nori goes stale quickly and isn't as fun to eat when not crispy

There many kinds of edible kelp, and among those, the three biggies are wakame, kombu, and arame.


Wakame is also fairly familiar as it is often served in miso soup. Tender, delicate, and delightful, wakame is the spinach of sea vegetables. It's also easy to work with. Throw a small amount of dried wakame into a hot beverage and poof!--in a minute or two, your wakame is ready to eat. Kids like wakame because it's fun to grab--slightly squirmy. Wakame has the most calcium of sea veggies, so it's a good one for anyone who is lactose intolerant or who restricts or does not consume dairy products.

Kombu is thick and comes in flat sheets. ALL kombu arrives with a light white dusty substance--just part of the gig. Usually in making kombu for Japanese soup stock base, the cooked kombu is thrown out before serving. But my family likes the mild taste and slight chewiness of kombu, so I slice it into thin slivers and put the kombu back in the soup after cooking it. Definitely a healthy food, kombu is a power house of minerals and vitamins. One only needs to use a little--a four-inch piece in a six-person serving of soup is plenty, so the package takes a while to use (and lasts seemingly forever).

Even for seaweed fans, arame is not a huge favorite. It's brownish rather than green and has a slight sliminess. If you know of good ways of incorporating arame into your diet, do let me know. I have lots to learn about it.

Hijiki is almost black and is firm strands with a stongish, oceany flavor. I'm not sure what to do with hijiki, other than to serve it in seaweed salads. My family turns their nose up at this healthy vegetable, so I don't get to eat it often.

Although not yet popular in the US, dulse has been around as a staple health/snack/fiber supplement in Canada, Ireland, and Iceland. Dulse has every trace element we humans need in order to thrive. Have a sluggish thyroid? Dulse will help you out.

Cucumber & Wakame Salad

  • 1 medium cucumber (or 1/2 English cucumber), sliced into thin rounds
  • A handful or 2 long pieces (if whole) rehydrated and softened wakame seaweed, cut into about 1" lengths
  • 3 Tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
  • A few shakes of Shiso Fumi furikake

Put wakame in a bowl and add enough water to cover the seaweed. Microwave for one or two minutes to heat the wakame and reconstitute it. Let sit for a few minutes and pour off any excess water. Add the other ingredients. Toss well and serve. Also good with a few shakes of irigoma (toasted sesame seeds).
  • This is a fat-free salad, but you could always sprinkle on a few drops of toasted sesame oil, if you like
  • This salad can also be made without furikake, but it's incredibly delicious with it.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

For the Love of Parsnips

Parsnips. One of those odd, under-loved, and let's admit it, humble vegetables. If we even know what they are, we might mutter something like, "Oh, those--aren't they white carrots?" At least this is true in the States. In the UK and other European countries, parsnips have much more of a culinary impact. In fact, for hundreds of years, parsnips were more popular--and better known--than the more common potato. Humans have been eating parsnips for more than 2,000 years. Rich in nutrients (vitamin C and folate among them) and said to help lower blood pressure as well as aid in recovery from colds, you could certainly eat parsnips as a health food.

But why eat them other than because of their availability and healthiness? Well, If all you've experienced of Patinaca sativa is the rubbery, ancient roots sold by most American grocers and tasting nothing incrementally different from soggy cardboard, then it's small wonder. Ah, but a freshly pulled parsnip is another thing altogether--honestly, like a completely different vegetable. I found this out when my husband, the garden and landscape genius, handed some parsnips to me, earth still clinging to them. I mustered little enthusiasm, until I actually bit into a tender morsel of licorice-butter parsnip. A potato, a carrot, fennel--all of those flavors are in a fresh parsnip. Mildly sweet (think, jicama sweetness level) and with a definite anise undertone, fresh parsnips are simply DIVINE.

What to do with parsnips:

Peel, cut into chunks, cut out any woody or dark areas, and toss them into . . .

—any soup or stew. Unlike carrots, parsnips maintain their flavor longer under the duress of liquid cooking.

—a roasting pan, dotted with butter, and then bake at 400 for 30 minutes--stirring occasionally--for a full-on savory treat (you can also drizzle on a bit of honey or maple syrup for added fun).

—a steamer with a bit of water (can also be sliced). Dress as you like and serve as a hearty side dish.