Friday, November 5, 2010

Abekawa Mochi

Ahh, sweet memories of the Abekawa. Relaxing by the river flowing through Shizuoka, nibbling on the delicious mochi, rolled in sesame flour...

Autumn and winter are the perfect times to enjoy mochi. It's a chewy, rich treat that is difficult to describe to someone who hasn't had it. You could call it a cake. Plenty of people do. But it's not really the kind of cake that you might expect. It's not like, say, a chocolate cake. It's chewy, but not like caramel. It's both light and heavy at the same time.

The most typical of mochi, mochi daifuku, usually comes stuffed with an, which is a sweet red paste made of red beans. It's also called anko, because just saying 'an' can be confusing in a language where it's also an article! It's a little difficult to get stuffed mochi down if you've never made it before, or even if you have. You have to gauge the temperature and make sure you do things right so you don't hurt yourself or ruin the daifuku. It's also a more involved recipe.

However, abekawa mochi -- named after the Abekawa, or Abe River, that flows through Shizuoka -- is a very simple recipe that anyone can do. It was made popular during the Edo Period, a romantic period in Japanese history.

Some of the ingredients may be a little exotic, but fortunately they're not particularly perishable. So you can always order online with confidence that they won't be ruined by adverse weather conditions or lengthy shipping.

Abekawa Mochi


2 C mochiko
1 C sugar
1 3/4 C water
pinch salt

1) Combine the dry ingredients except kinako thoroughly. You may even want to run your fingers through the mixture and make sure there are no clumps.

2) Stir the water in gradually, and mix completely, until you have a silky batter.

3) Preheat your oven to 350 F or about 175 C. Using a cooking spray or oil, grease your pan. It should be a small, square pan. You can also use a muffin pan if you know how much you want. Note that mochi will not rise, so however tall the batter is in the pan, that's how thick the mochi will be.

4) Pour the batter evenly into the pan and let it even out.

5) Bake for 30 minutes to 1 hour. This baking time depends heavily on how small the pan is and how thick the batter is. If you bake it for longer than an hour, it will be dry on the top (though still moist otherwise) but some prefer it this way since the dry side is not sticky and doesn't generally interfere with the taste.

6) Remove from the oven and let cool. Turn it out on a plate and take a handful of kinako. Generously rub the kinako all across the moist mochi, careful to cover all surfaces of it.

7) Slice into however many pieces you like. Store in airtight container. Keeps for a few days.

Tips and Such

- If you find the mochi are too sweet for your tastes, reduce the sugar but be sure to compensate by adding more mochiko.

- Mochi are best enjoyed with sencha, Japanese green tea. It is a robust tea that is made without grinding the leaves, so the tenderness and richness is preserved. Although sencha is a favourite tea for mochi, most teas will complement the taste wonderfully.

- Mochi are best enjoyed soon after preparation. The taste of fresh mochi is incomparable. Though they can and do keep for quite some time, like most foods, they are best fresh.

- Mochi may be stored refrigerated, but this will make them firmer and harder to chew. They can be heated lightly to restore their tenderness.

- Do not leave mochi out in the open air for long periods of time. This will cause them to become tough or even rock-hard, which is not what you want...for teatime treats, anyway!

Ingredient Info

Mochiko is a flour made of glutinous rice. It is a great thickener that isn't a starch powder, but it is extremely sticky. It generally can't be used in the same way as wheat flour, which is the most common flour in much of the Western world.

Kinako is a powder, or flour, made of roasted sesame seed. It is extremely rich and fulfilling.

I hope you'll make and enjoy mochi this season! The cooler seasons are always perfect for its unique taste and texture. Enjoy abekawa mochi with a cup of delicious sencha and think of those lazy days by the river in Shizuoka...

};) Dhiar <3

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Plastic, Storage, and Considerations

Plastic containers are pretty much everywhere. You can't get away from them. Many manufacturers use plastic because it's inexpensive, difficult to break or damage, and easy to seal in a way that's clear to see. Unfortunately it's also something that stacks up pretty fast and needs to be recycled, reused, and in general reduced. So many foods come in plastic containers. I would wager to say even that most food at any grocery is packaged in plastic.

However, most plastic is recyclable. Be sure you know where there's a recycling centre in your area, or recycling bins. If your service for rubbish or garbage accepts recyclables, look into their recycling programme. You can find plenty of information on recycling programmes near you simply by using your internet savvy and doing a search! Most places will have an accessible area for the public to bring their recyclables. If not, get some like-minded people together and appeal to the city to have one. Every place should have one. Now, more than ever, recycling is essential to the world and everyone and everything in it.

You can also reduce plastic waste by reusing plastic containers after they are emptied. Tubs of butter or margarine are easy to clean and keep, and they make great containers for holiday sweets, to give to a friend! They're also perfect economical storage for leftovers.

If you use plastic bags to store things, don't just throw them out or recycle them after one use! These can easily be cleaned and reused many times. If gently used and not used for particularly aromatic things for long periods of time, plastic bags can be used effectively for months or more.

But there is one thing you must never do, and it's true with glass containers as much as it is plastic and others:

Never store empty containers with their lids on!

You may have heard that plastic absorbs scents and flavours easily. It's true, it does. However, glass also has a memory of certain things stored in it, and if it's stored empty with a lid on, the aromas have time to waft around inside. This makes the scent much stronger, and it may affect food stored in it afterwards.

By storing containers with their lids stored separately, you reduce this. Be sure to keep the lids close by and make sure they're organised so that you can find a lid when you need one. But don't even place them over the top of the container; it will still trap in air and still make it stale and quickly scented. And that can affect the longevity of your containers.

Similarly, don't store plastic bags sealed, because the air can become stale in them, and if they ever stored anything with much of a scent, it can enhance that scent and make it difficult to get it out.

However, even if this happens, there are ways to work around it. For example, if you store something in a plastic container and the container is affected with the scent, store the same thing in it next time. It's especially handy if you regularly eat this food or use this ingredient. You can have containers dedicated to its storage!

If oil is left behind in a container, hot water will generally cut through it, with a good soap. You may have to soak some containers for a little while before washing. The hotter the water is, the better! But don't go to boiling, because some plastic can be melted if it becomes too hot. Glass, however, can be completely cleaned and sterilised by boiling it, just make sure the container is safe to be boiled. Most of the time, boiling glass containers will also eliminate any scents clinging to them.

So many things can be reused, again and again, before recycling. By reducing our consumption and by using things that we have, instead of continuing to buy more things we don't need, we'll help everyone and everything.

Just remember: lids don't belong on empty containers!

Until next time...

};) Dhiar <3

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Natto, Miracle Food

There are a lot of great foods out there, it's true. But one of the very best is natto.

Never heard of it? That's because it's well-known mainly in Japan, and even then it often gets a bad reputation because people don't give it a fair chance.

Natto is fermented soybeans, and it is well known for being stringy and having an odd texture to it. It has incredible health benefits, especially for vegetarians, but really natto is for everyone. If eaten only a few times a week, one can enjoy its amazing benefits. There has been an immense amount of research into this miraculous food, and everything has shown how fantastic it is.

One site online with more information about natto can be found here. You can make natto easily enough at home, but it's even easier to buy commercial natto. I would recommend going for Shirakiku brand with 'タレなし' which is to say, 'no tare'. Tare is a word meaning the sauce that is usually included with natto. Oftentimes the tare includes fish, which is something that isn't too good for those of us avoiding it. Usually it's limited to being a part of the sauce, which is contained in a separate packet and not pre-added to the natto (because the natto ferments in the package), but it's best to avoid it altogether. You can use your own preferred soy sauce, and then you'll be used to that aspect of the flavour already!

Shirakiku, as well as some other brands of natto, include a packet of mustard as well. Japanese mustard is different from Western mustard, and it has a different taste to it. I also find that Japanese mustard, mixed with natto, completely neutralises the flavour. It has pretty much no taste with the mustard mixed in, so the flavours must cancel each other out. It's very strange. But if you find yourself overwhelmed by the taste of natto, try adding the little mustard packet to it.

One thing that is important to note is that natto is best when it is cooler than room temperature. Natto is best not warmed, which is what some people don't understand. Even many Japanese people will traditionally heat natto. But it is best cool, from the refrigerator. Many people are turned off by the strong scent of natto when it is heated, but it need not be heated to be enjoyed. Greater nutritional benefits are said to be derived from cool natto.

Another thing to remember when you are first trying natto is this: do not stir it. At all. Eat it directly as it is. It may be stringy, but the strands are easily whipped around your chopsticks. Stirring natto makes it more gooey, which can be appealing to some. But it is an acquired taste and texture when stirred, whereas it is much easier to adjust to when not.

Opinions vary on how many times to stir natto. Some say that 30-50 times will produce an ideal natto texture. Others have insisted that 424 times will produce the best natto. If you want to try, you'll be sure to get some exercise out of it!

One way to serve natto that is very popular in Japan is to break a raw egg atop it and stir it all together. This reduces the gooey texture of natto and also complements the flavour. Typically soy sauce is also added to this. It is an even more nutritious dish when served this way, but remember not to heat the natto and not to let the egg get to room temperature. If you must try this, make sure your eggs are refrigerated and make sure your natto is chilled below room temperature. It is very important to take every care when consuming uncooked foods.

Natto has been called a 'vegetable cheese', which is essentially what it is. It has a rich taste that is especially enjoyable once one becomes accustomed to it, and it is a nutritious and exciting dish for breakfast or any time of the day. It is so healthy and so fun to eat...I hope you'll give it a try!

Just remember my tips and give it a chance. You don't have to eat all of it at one time. Eat it chilled, unstirred, and slowly ease into any other way of eating it. Add mustard if the taste is too much, at first. Don't forget to add soy sauce too, because that will round the flavour nicely.

Enjoy your healthy food!

};) Dhiar <3

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Big Thick Slab of...Well...

If you're like me, and I know I am, you like sandwiches in summer. It's one of those times of year where you get a craving for something fulfilling yet convenient, easy to put together, and generally healthy. It's something you can put together with whatever ingredients are on-hand.

But when you're a vegetarian or a vegan, it can be difficult to round off the ingredients. After all, most sandwiches have things we don't eat as ingredients. So it can be really frustrating. Even though it's easier and easier to find more substitutes in stores, most of the especially delicious ones -- like salami, which almost always works well as a substitute -- are rare, perpetually sold out, or not stocked.

However, it's not hard to make your own delicious meat substitutes, often called 'wheatmeat', right there at home! It also tends to be cheaper, and it works out saving you money anyway for not having to constantly ride the roads to check all the area supermarkets to see if they've actually managed to get in stock and keep in stock a single pack of veggie lunch meat you like that they won't have the next time you check.

And so, without further hesitation, I give you...

A Big Slab of Vegstrami


1 1/4 C vital wheat gluten
1/4 C nutritional yeast flakes
5-6 tbsp crushed tomatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
2 guajillo chillies
1-3 Asian chillies (optional)

splash balsamic vinegar
splash tamari

water, to desired consistency

to taste:

mustard seed
black pepper
white pepper
liquid smoke

1) Reconstitute any chillies that are dried. Drain and set aside.

2) Mix the dry ingredients together thoroughly in a bowl. Preheat your oven to 325 Fahrenheit.

3) Mix together oil, vinegar, tamari, and liquid smoke in a bowl that will hold your wet ingredients.

4) Puree tomatoes and all chillies together. If you would like a milder taste, empty out the seeds before you puree. Make sure they are smooth enough and mostly liquid, and add to the tamari mixture. Mix thoroughly.

5) Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and blend as thoroughly as possible. Add small amounts of water, a spoonful at a time, to desired consistency. It should be stretchy and not runny at all. It may help to simply knead it with your hands, to combine it thoroughly.

6) Shape the mixture into a cylindrical shape, as thick or as thin as you would ideally like. Wrap it tightly in tinfoil and twist the ends to be sure it's very tight, like a holiday cracker.

7) Bake at 325 for 1 1/2 hours.

8) Remove from the oven and let cool momentarily. When you are able, remove it from the foil and set it on a cooling rack.

9) Once the pastrami has cooled completely, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap or in a plastic bag. Refrigerate for at least a couple of hours, or ideally overnight.

10) Serve on crackers, sandwiches, or eat it by itself!

Tips and Such:

- Try to knead the mixture for at least a minute, not only to make sure you have everything mixed, but also because it helps to improve the texture of the finished dish. You'll find that kneaded substitute is generally more appealing than that which has barely been kneaded.

Guajillos are notoriously tricky to get reconstituted. They're usually sold in big bags full of the dehydrated peppers. You can either soak them in boiling water for around 30 minutes to 1 hour, or you can just toss them in a pressure cooker with enough water to cover them. Wait for the cooker to whistle a couple of times, then take it off heat. Let it cool down and, when it's ready, remove the peppers. The stems should come off easily and the peppers should be tender and able to be pureed.

Don't try to puree them without reconstituting them, because dried guajillos are very tough and not at all fit for consumption. Once they're reconstituted, however, they're full of delicious taste but only mild heat.

- Asian chillies are known by a variety of names. Sometimes they're Indian chillies, sometimes they're called Korean chillies -- they're small and usually in a variety of red and green, but typically mostly red. You can find these in any Asian grocery. They are rather hot, but they become less so if the seeds are emptied out, which is easy enough.

You can keep them in a paper bag in the refrigerator, and they will keep indefinitely. However, they do dry out after a point. If this has happened, simply throw them in with the guajillos to reconstitute them, and they will also easily become tender again.

- Like salsa and various other savoury foods, this pastrami is best when it has been allowed to rest and 'cure' for a while. If you can, leave it in the fridge overnight, wrapped in a plastic bag or plastic wrap. This will allow it to even out the flavours and to become more consistently delicious.

- If you don't have access to tamari or don't like the taste, substitute soy sauce. However, use more soy sauce than you would tamari, because tamari has a stronger flavour presence and a more robust addition to the overall taste.

Ingredient Info

Vital wheat gluten is basically natural protein occurring in wheat. Some people are allergic to gluten or omit it from their diets for personal reasons, but for most vegetarians it is an extremely nutritionally valuable substance. Many meat substitutes, or 'wheatmeats', are made from wheat gluten; in some cases these are called seitan, which is perhaps surprisingly pronounced pretty much the same as 'Satan'. Vital wheat gluten is typically added to bread dishes, to make them puff out more impressively and to give them a generally more attractive finished look. Because gluten is made up primarily of protein, it is a great substance to have around and it also serves very well as a substitute not only in taste and texture, but nutritionally as well.

Guajillo chillies are moderately hot peppers that are actually rather mild on the heat scale, and they can be made even milder by removing the seeds from them. Because they have a thick, tough skin, they have to be soaked longer than most dried peppers in order to reconstitute them. They have a delicious flavour, however, and are more than worth the trouble. They are especially good in salsas, and that is also where they are commonly found.

So there you have it! It doesn't have to be difficult at all to make your own wonderful meat substitutes at home. You can enjoy this pastrami on its own, on sandwiches, crackers, or pizzas! Let your imagination run and enjoy the versatility of a simple, rewarding ingredient.

Plus, you don't have to scour the vegetarian food section at the grocery store and groan in anguish that they don't stock one of the few really good ones...just make your own! It's easy, inexpensive, highly nutritious, and the best part of have full control over what goes in it. If it's too spicy, reduce the chillies next time. If it's not spicy enough, add more. If you want to throw in some citrus zest, do it!

And that's one of the best parts of cooking things yourself. You call the shots, you know what you put in your food, and it's all for you.

So get in the kitchen and get ready for sandwich season! I'll bet your mouth's watering already!

};) Dhiar <3

Friday, February 19, 2010

Eggless Egg Salad

Just because I did an article on eggs doesn't mean I've forgotten everyone who doesn't eat them. So today I thought I'd throw together a recipe that could satisfy all of those who still crave this comforting dish, yet don't want to take a chance on the eggs they get at their local grocery.

It's really easy to make, so without any further delay...voila!

Eleggant Salad


1 block firm or extra firm tofu
onion (sweet is best)
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
2 tbsp olive oil

splash tamari

to taste:

cumin seed, crushed
mustard seed, crushed
red chilli (cayenne) powder
black salt (kala namak)

1) Drain the water from the block of tofu and freeze it for only about 2-4 hours. When it seems a little frosty on the outside, remove it from the freezer and transfer it to the refrigerator until it has thawed. You can alternatively set it on the countertop to thaw quicker.

2) Using a food processor or a good sharp knife (be careful!) and a cutting board, mince a few stalks of celery and 1/2 to 1 whole onion, depending on your tastes. Place them in a mixing bowl.

3) Squeeze as much water as you can from the block of tofu, then cut it into cubes, adding it to the bowl.

4) Use a potato masher to mash the tofu. Don't get it too smooth -- chunky and rough is what we're looking for here, to give that eggy texture.

5) Add olive oil and spices, to taste. Keep in mind you're going to need probably at least 2 tbsp of each to add sufficient flavour, and possibly more.

6) Mix thoroughly, until a uniformity is achieved.

7) Place in covered container and refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.

Tips and Such:

- Although black salt may take a little more effort to find, it's worth it. Its sulfurous bouquet adds a very authentic eggy element to the mix, making it an extremely true taste.

- Letting mixtures like this salad and salsa, for example, rest in the refrigerator will enhance their taste. The longer mixtures like this are allowed to sit, the more the various seasonings are able to mingle and absorb. It should be left to rest for at least one hour, but ideally the whole morning, afternoon, or overnight.

- Because of the turmeric, the colour of this dish is also very true. For an extra added touch of authenticity, garnish with paprika sprinkled along the top.

- If you want a hint of sourness, try adding a little dash of your favourite vinegar. Malt vinegar works beautifully with this, and rice vinegar is also an ideal option.

Ingredient Info

Tamari is a type of soy sauce that is typically made without the wheat-soy mixture that goes into regular soy sauce, also called shouyu. Tamari is much richer and has a more intense, fuller flavour, so a little goes a very long way.

This recipe is so easy to make. It takes only about 10 minutes at most and can be prepared quickly the night before and left to let the tastes mingle. It's fantastic comfort food, just like the original recipe, but it's much healthier overall. The ingredients all have something to contribute, and they all have health benefits that cannot be denied. Comforting and can't go wrong!

So I hope that all of you will give this a try. Even if you're a big fan of its eggy cousin, my eleggant salad is a great alternative when you're watching your diet. You can guiltlessly enjoy a whole sandwich of it without being too worried about what you're eating.

So there you have it. Options for everyone, healthy meals for all!

Until next time, happy cooking as always!

};) Dhiar <3

Friday, February 5, 2010

Tofu Lettuce Wraps

Light and easy recipes are always great, especially since so many are health-conscious and diet-conscious these days. And that's great! Add 'inexpensive' to the formula and it's a guaranteed winner. This recipe is all those and more.

This is a truly simple dish to prepare beforehand and finish just when you want it. You can get everything ready in just a few minutes and then keep it refrigerated for later enjoyment, whenever you want. It's so quick and easy to fix that it even serves well for an unexpected guest!

Tofu Lettuce Wraps


1/2 block firm or extra-firm tofu, frozen and thawed
Leaf lettuce
3 flour tortillas


Sesame oil
Soy sauce
orange juice
cumin powder
chilli (cayenne) powder
black salt (optional)

1) Drain the water from the tofu package and then freeze it. Once it has frozen, thaw it.

2) Once the tofu has thawed, squeeze out excess water. After tofu is frozen and thawed, you should be able to do this easily enough with your hands as long as you apply even pressure.

3) Cut the tofu in half and save the other half for later, refrigerated. Slice the remaining half into smaller pieces, cubes or strips. Place in flat dish.

4) Mix the marinade together, mixing the dry ingredients together to taste, then adding little sesame oil, a splash of soy sauce, and the remainder with orange juice, until there is enough to pour over the tofu pieces. Mix thoroughly.

5) Let the tofu mixture soak up the marinade, spooning it over the tofu pieces every few minutes. The longer you let it soak, the more flavour it will have.

6) Cook the tofu pieces with the marinade over medium to medium-high heat until the marinade is cooked in. Serve warm on shredded lettuce rolled in flour tortillas.

Tips and Such:

- If you can't get black salt, you can always use regular salt or tamari. Black salt, however, has a unique and robust taste that adds a great deal of substance to this dish, and it contributes beautifully to the marinade.

- You can use whatever lettuce you like, but don't omit it. The lettuce adds the perfect light crunch, the perfect background for the rich, robust tofu. Fresh, cool lettuce is best for this recipe, absolutely ideal.

- If you don't want to use flour tortillas, you can use sandwich wraps. Use a flat bread of some kind that won't overpower the flavours mingling with this dish.

And there you have it! These wraps are fantastic alone, but they're superb paired up with a nice pickle, a refreshing salad, or some light crisps. They're wonderful in winter, spring, summer, or fall, and they're so simple and inexpensive, yet always fulfilling for a meal.

I hope you'll enjoy them as much as I have.

Until next time!

};) Dhiar <3

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Nest Eggs

I do try to keep this blog vegetarian and vegan-friendly, so before I get started on this entry I'll explain why I'm featuring eggs.

Lately there have been more and more people who are taking care of chickens themselves and personally overseeing the process of egg-laying, discovering as well how intelligent and interesting chickens are. With the immense recent push towards local, organic, free range, and ethical farming -- rather than the horrible factory farming that has been so widespread for so long -- it is becoming easier to find eggs that aren't tainted with guilt and cruelty.

I will say that if you eat eggs, avoid factory farms and avoid, above all, eggs from battery hens: these are immensely cruel and completely unethical. True free-range eggs should generally note this on the package, but you can do research into any company online and see if they're free-range and ethical, or not. It is the age of information, so please take advantage of that information at your fingertips. There's an immense amount of data out there for you to enjoy, which wasn't so readily available even a mere two decades ago.

That having been said, if you have access to some cruelty-free eggs and want to put them to good use, one of the simplest and most delicious methods is a fried egg, ideally over medium. 'Over medium' means that the egg is fully cooked, but the yolk is still a little bit runny. It's thick, however, and not watery. That's generally the ideal. Serve two of these with a little salt and pepper, and you've got breakfast in five minutes.

Fried Eggs


2 eggs

1) Break the eggs into a bowl. This is so you can inspect them easily for any kind of impurity. Blood in the yolk, burst yolk, and so forth will mean you need to discard the egg. However, small impurities like a little shell fragment can be picked out and the egg salvaged. Handle them gently.

2) Oil a medium-sized frypan. You can also use cooking spray. Heat it to medium-high heat. When it's hot enough (it should take a few minutes, you can start it heating while you prepare the eggs), pour the eggs in. The whites should become...well, white...immediately.

3) Cover the frypan and let cook for 3-5 minutes.

4) Remove lid and inspect. Yolks should be golden yellow, and you should be able to touch the top of the whites at any point and not have it come off on your finger or spatula.

5) Remove from heat and slide them off onto a plate, carefully using a spatula. Garnish with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, because they cool quickly.

Tips and Such:

- It's best to use eggs that aren't fresh, when you're doing almost anything with them. Fresh eggs are harder to break and the yolks are easier to burst. Let eggs sit refrigerated for a couple of days before using them.

- Never let eggs sit out too long. Certain cooks call for them to come to room temperature, which is fine as long as you use them immediately. If you break open an egg, use it as soon as possible.

- You can use two separate small bowls or individual cups to break the eggs into, to avoid having to throw both away in case the second one is bad. If you break an egg directly into the frypan, you will run the risk of having a bad egg (no pun intended) cooking the moment it hits the surface. You'll have to throw out whatever's in there and wash the frypan, and start over, which takes time and wastes materials.

- If you cook the eggs for too long, the yolks will look milky. They aren't bad, this just tends to mean that most of the yolk has been cooked and will be solid. These are called 'over hard' naturally I can get behind that!

- Use exotic spices to make them even more enjoyable.

I hope you'll enjoy this quick little recipe. You can easily prepare eggs anytime, for a quick bit of nutrition and taste. Although you may not get them perfectly over medium the first time, with practise and experience you'll be able to make a perfect egg without even thinking. It's a quick, easy breakfast or dish any time of the day!

Until next time, keep on cooking!

};) Dhiar <3