27 Jun 2014

Weekday Cooking: Tomato and Lentil Soup

As much as I love my go-to weekday dishes, I don't usually write about them here. Many times it is due to the lack of decent photography or actually the lack of any photos. If I've been patient enough to cook after day's work, I will not be patient enough to even take a snap, let alone plan a shoot. The photos I get are usually of below-mediocre quality so usually I just don't even bother to take my camera but just eat it up. This time makes no exception in photography...

If you are wondering about my choice of a warming soup at this time of a year, you haven't been in Finland lately: it's been freezing cold here (exceptionally cold even for Finland). It's almost July and the daytime temperatures have been as low as 10 C (today's exception), despite the sunshine (there can be rainy or cloudy summer days when the temperature might go as low, but also on sunny days???). It would be nice to go for a drink after work and to enjoy the long white nights, but not if it's so cold you'll be needing mittens!!! This soup will warm you up!

Tomato and Lentil Soup (serves 4-6)

2 onions, diced
3 cloves of garlic,grated
dried chili flakes
2 cans (800 g) chopped tomatoes
dried basil and oregano
1 tsp sugar
100 g red lentils, washed and drained
1 tsp salt (or according to taste)

Heat some vegetable oil in a pot and saute onions and garlic. Add the chili flakes and saute a minute or two more (don't let them burn). Add the tomatoes, herbs and sugar. Add 1-2 cans water (use the emptied tomato can for measurement) to make a thin soup (lentils will thicken it up later). Bring the soup to boil and then reduce heat to simmer. Let cook at least 10 minutes (the longer you cook, the better the taste gets). Add lentils and cook according to package's instructions (use the shortest time they've given, if you don't want the lentils to go mushy. I cooked them 5 minutes). Season with salt.

23 Jun 2014

Okonomiyaki the easy way

I just love spring cabbage: the green loose leaves and the softer texture than autumn cabbage. While autumn cabbage is great for kaalilaatikko (Finnish cabbage casserole, which is my all-time most popular post, can you believe it :D), spring cabbage is better for this. The cabbages in Japan tend to be this spring sort all year round, while we can enjoy them until June-July perhaps (imported from Hungary, so are there any Finnish spring cabbages I wonder...). Maybe they can grow them all year round in Japan, so there can always be fresh newly-grown cabbages on the market?

"Easy way" in the topic is not referring to making the food but rather to obtaining the ingredients (the easy way to make it would be to go to a Japanese supermarket, buy okonomiyaki flour, sauce and finely shredded cabbage (yes, they do sell it in plastic bags!!). It seems that lately I've been cooking foods from my previous posts (but that I already knew, as I tend to eat the same foods all over again). I've been eating okonomiyaki (my previous post about okonomiyaki here) nearly every day for the past week (excluding Midsummer) and still haven't gotten enough of it.  Now I'm out of cabbage, so I haven't been able to make it.

I've found that all-purpose flour spiked with dashi (or instant dashi granules) gives a tasty, authentic pancake. I don't know if okonomiyaki flour mixes have any raising agent, but I tried adding a spoonful of baking powder on the batter and it made the pancake lighter and fluffier. I also prefer using lots of cabbage and not so much batter, which also makes lighter pancakes in my opinion. I add batter only to the amount as to keep the pancake from crumbling.

Okonomiyaki is sometimes called as Japanese pizza. I think it resembles more of a savoury pancake. My first try on okonomiyaki was in my home kitchen years before I went to Japan. I hadn't even tasted it anywhere. I made it according to a recipe by Emi Kazuko and it involved cheese on top, which would make it seem like a pizza. I had forgotten all about using cheese in okonomiyaki as a substitute for pork belly. The cheese slices fry really crisp under the okonomiyaki and are a great alternative if you want to make vegetarian okonomiyaki. Using these ingredients you don't need any special ingredients. Even Heinz's sweet barbecue sauce works well as western "okonomiyaki sauce". I haven't really been able to figure how to substitute for bonito flakes which are an essential on my okonomiyaki but to some other they might not be that important (in one restaurant in Japan they didn't serve any bonito flakes at all). So consider the flakes optional, but you could try substituting nori flakes, which are much easier to obtain here in Finland at least, thanks to the recent years of sushi boom.

This recipe is for the Osaka-style okonomiyaki (although probably I should have named this Finnish-style okonomiyaki). In Hiroshima version the ingredients are cooked in separate layers though they will eventually form one pile.

Okonomiyaki for 2-3

100 g all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp dashi granules + 100 ml water
 or 100 ml dashi stock/fish stock
1/2-1 tsp baking powder
1 egg
n. 250-300 g finely shredded (spring) cabbage (I like my okonomiyaki with lots of cabbage!)
1-2 spring onions, sliced

Fillings: anything you like (as the name okonomi suggests)
my favorites are mochi (dense rice cake) in small cubes, octopus (tako) and calamari (ika). You can also add prawns or any other seafood, or even small pieces of tofu.

On top: thinly sliced pork belly or bacon or cheese

To serve with:
okonomiyaki sauce or sweet barbeque sauce
bonito flakes
aonori flakes

Mix the flour with dashi, (water), egg and baking powder. Add the finely shredded cabbage and sliced spring onion. Add fillings. Warm up a frying pan, grease with vegetable oil. Add half of the mixture, flatten it with a spatula to 1,5-2 cm thickness. Fry on medium heat for 3-4 minutes, until golden brown. Add a couple slices (cheese, pork...) on top and flip the pancake over (the slices will then be on the bottom. Fry for 3-4 more minutes and flip over when ready. Season with sauce, bonito flakes and aonori.

4 Jun 2014

桜の花の塩漬 - Salted cherry blossoms

Cherry blossoms are so pretty it's almost a crime to rip them from tree. I remember watching a certain tree near my home last autumn. I was quite sure it might be a cherry tree. Then during the dark winter I unfortunately forgot about it until one fine spring day I looked from the living room window and saw some whitish pink flowers on one tree. It didn't look very impressing, the leaves had started growing already. I'm sure the leaves and blossoms came at the same time, so it wasn't the most impressive bloom I've seen. Next morning I crept there with Foxtail to pick some blossoms (the corgi obviously wasn't very interested in flowers).

I had my suspicions about the blossoms, as they weren't Yaezakura, but instead a simple mountain cherry, though a Japanese variety in any case. And I didn't have ume vinegar (白梅酢) the recipe asked for. I washed them and sprinkled some salt on top and put them under weight in fridge. After a few days in salt, they started exudating liquid and a strong sakura aroma rose from the container. I put them on a paper towel and left them to dry. Next day they were ready to be put into a jar. Now I've got a small jar preserving the essence of spring ♫. I'm planning numerous dishes and bakes I could use them on... more on that later, maybe.

Salted cherry blossoms

50 g cherry blossoms, rinsed and patted dry (Yaezakura is the best, but other Japanese varieties ok, too) picked before full bloom (from tiny buds to 70% full bloom)
1,5 tsp salt + some more
1,5 tsp ume vinegar, optional

Rinse the blossoms and let them dry a while in a colander. Pat them dry with a paper tower. Sprinkle on 1,5 tsp salt. Cover with a light plate etc and let sit in the fridge for 1-3 days until liquid seeps out. Remove the liquid (you could use it for cooking, I accidently poured it down the drain).

(If you have ume vinegar, now it's time to use it: add 1,5 tsp vinegar to the blossoms and let them sit in fridge for 3 days. Then remove the liquid again.)

Spread the blossoms on a tray etc and let dry in shade (it took only 1 day, but it depends on the humidity, temperature..). Preserve in a glass jar. Sprinkle on some more salt. Soak in water for some time to reduce saltiness prior to use.

Edit 5.6.14: I just noticed that this was my 100th post! It seems unbelievable! So on average I've posted once a week as the blog's 2nd birthday is soon approaching!
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