Sunday, June 20, 2010

Star of summer: bitter melon

 This brilliant green vegetable is called bitter melon (clearly because it`s BITTER) in English, or gouya (ゴーヤ) or nigauri in Japanese. I`m not sure if American or European dishes have this vegetable in their menus, but bitter melon is one of common vegetables in Asia. In Japan, bitter melon is one of those seasonal food and usually available in summer, except for Okinawa region which is considered as semi-tropical place and thus, bitter melon is available almost throughout the year (errr....if you happen to be Japanese, do let me know if this isn`t the correct fact).
So, back to the cooking. I usually stir-fry bitter melon with shrimp and chili, of course, as that`s how people in Indonesia usually serve it .
But lately I`ve been feeling like trying something different. So I came up with bitter melon rings with shrimp and mushroom for fillers.

If you notice in the previous photo, the bitter melon is cut into thin half circles. Why? Because that way is much easier to clean the white bitter (really bitter!) layers inside it. I was not sure I could clean the bitter layer if I want to cut it into rings. So what I did is, I cut it like 4-5 cm length, then I poke in my knife carefully to scrape out the white layer. I also used tea spoon for this.

After it`s clean, I cut it into 2 cm thick rings for these 2 reasons:
1. I was going to deep fry the ring with filler, so I want my filler to get properly cooked (it contains raw shrimp and egg) without overcooking the bitter melon.
2. This thickness gives a "bearable" level of bitterness for me. If you want more bitter rings, go for bigger slices, but remember about your fillers. But if you prefer milder taste, make them smaller. The downside is, it`s probably a bit difficult for thin rings to hold the fillers inside. You can just give it a try, though.

Then, for the fillers, I used:
  • raw shrimp, minced
  • fried garlic (I used to use raw garlic for fillers, but I found that using fried ones gave better taste)
  • fried tofu, chopped
  • mushroom, "head" part, chopped (I used the "body" part for sauce)
  • whole egg
  • corn starch

How to fill and fry the rings:
  • Place the rings on a plate or chopping board. It can be anything, as long as it is flat.
  • Using teaspoon, place a portion of filler inside the ring (make sure to that the fillers hold nicely inside it)
  • Heat the oil for deep-frying
  • Using your frying spatula, carefully bring the filled rings into the frying pan. Once the ring and the filler go safely inside the hot oil, they won`t break apart.
  • Fry for 3 minutes each side.

Now, the sauce. I figured that eating only the fried bitter melon, even with the fillers, is still too challenging for me. So, I prepared sweet-salty-hot sauce to make the bitterness a little bit milder.
For the sauce:
  • Mushroom stem, cut into long slices then brown them with olive oil
  • After the mushroom is getting browned, add chili
  • Add soybean sauce, brown sugar, and sesame oil
  • Add water and simmer it (adjust the consistency to your preference)

Finally, serve the rings with the sauce.

I could taste the bitterness of the ring and savoriness and sweetness of the filler and the sauce blending nicely in my mouth. Yummmmm...!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Mushroom sauce

One night I couldn`t sleep at all and out of nowhere "mushroom sauce" just popped in my head. Then my imagination on this sauce kept flowing...and next thing I knew I was writing down the ingredients and how to cook it.
Actually this is just a very simple sauce. Inspired by onion soup, I was thinking to make the creamy version of this soup, so creamy that makes it more like a sauce than a cream soup.
I chose shiitake and maitake mushrooms. Especially for maitake, I use this mushroom quite frequently in my cooking as it is cheap, easy to use (most of the time I just shred it with my hands, no need knife to do it), and also one of those mushrooms with anticarcinogenic benefits.

How to make:
- Chop the mushrooms (I used food processor to do this)
- Brown the chopped mushrooms with olive oil and garlic on medium heat, then set aside.
- Slice (or chop, if you prefer smaller chunks) onions. I used 2 medium sized onions.
- Caramelize them with olive oil in a sauce pan. It took about 30 mins on medium heat to get the onion beautifully caramelized and shrinks down like one third of the original volume.
Here is the onion at the beginning of the process:
And after 30 mins on medium heat:

- Add the mushroom and mix them well
- Here is just an OPTIONAL step, you may skip it of course: 
  add soybean sauce (Japanese shoyu) and butter.
I figured that I need to do something with the sauce because I`m not a fan of "sweet" soup and these 2 onions clearly bring out their sweetness to the mixture. So, the soybean sauce and butter will help to make this sauce a bit more savory.
- Then finally, add milk while adjusting the taste and consistency to your preference.
My first menu with this sauce is serving it with baked potato and parmesan cheese.Yum!

Then, today I was too lazy to cook and when he asked,"Do we have anything to eat?", I started gathering leftovers. Yeeess...I know, I`m a horrible wife, but hey, at least I was doing some efforts here :p
Anyway, I found rice, THIS SAUCE, and cheese in the kitchen.
Bake them in preheated oven at 180 C for 40 mins and those items would be Doria. Rice gratin in English perhaps? 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sweaty Sunday

Here it comes, my confession. I was telling you about martabak in my previous post, and I actually did make them. The savory one, failed on first attempt, and went so so on the second one. Not really happy with the result, but it`s just alright. Then, on the same day, I gave a try for the sweet one. D-i-s-a-s-t-e-r. I can`t even describe what`s wrong with it, because everything in it was just wrong. I hated it.Husband had been very sweet by telling me that it wasn`t that bad and he liked it. Poor him :(((
Anyway, I moved on.
Today I woke up, opened my fridge to check what I had, turned on my PC, and browsed some recipes for today`s menu. After changing plans for many times, I made my decision. Chicken tom yum soup and roasted vegetables (i.e. potatoes, carrot, and asparagus). Those menus did not go along well, but I had a pile of vegetables in my kitchen. So the tom yum would be the main dish and roasted vegetables would be for our afternoon snacks. Aaaand, unlike my usual cooking and taking pictures habits, after reading and learning about what so called food photography, I tried to improve the lighting. I put a table near the window to get a good natural lighting, although I ended up using my desk lamp because it was 6 pm in Japan and it started getting dark.
So here is what I`ve got:

Roasted vegetables:
- Cut potatoes and carrots into round pieces.
- Cut the lower part of asparagus
- Mix the vegetables with olive oil, pepper, salt, and garlic powder
- Arrange the potatoes on a baking dish and roast it in an oven (preheated at 200 C) for 15 mins
- Take out the baking dish, place the carrots, and put it back to oven for 10 mins
- Take out the baking dish again, place the asparagus, and put it back to oven for another 5 mins.
- Garnish with benito flakes (that`s what I`ve got in my kitchen) or anything else you like.

The smell (and the taste, of course!)of potato and carrots combined veeery nicely with the garlic. The asparagus were perfectly crunchy and sweet. Try to make this yourself! Try with other vegetables too ;)

And now the main dish. Chicken tom yum soup for dinner:
- Brown garlic and chilli with olive oil
- Set aside some garlic for garnish
- Put in chicken breast (I always trim the skin and fat)
- Slightly brown the chicken
- Add ginger, fish oil and kaffir lime leaves
- Add tom yum instant mix (yes, this is not 100% me cooking the soup. I`d be happy to leave that instant mix after I got all those Asian ingredients, though ;))
- Add water and bring it to boil
- After the chicken is cooked, put it out and shred with fork
- Put the shredded chicken back in
- Add tamarind  (I don`t have tamarind, so I used Japanese umeboshi for a substitute. Loved it!)
- Add coconut milk (in fact, I was running out of coconut milk, so I used milk instead. Worked fine ;))
-  Add mushroom
-  Adjust the taste with salt, brown sugar (very very little!), and vinegar.
 - Turn off the heat, place some asparagus and red bell pepper, and cover with the lid for 5 mins. The steam will cook them enough.
- For finishing, garnish with parsley and sprinkle with fried garlic.
- Serve with fish oil with chilli inside

Husband got all sweaty eating this (chilli and ginger were doing their jobs very well :D) and the temperature outside did not help him. Today was quite hotter than usual. Good news: I`m happy with my soup. Bad news: We both overate. But I`ll just keep remembering the good news :)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

My to-cook list

1. Martabak telur (savory pastry filled with egg and ground beef) - DONE
2. Martabak manis (thick pancake) - this evening
3. Macarons - errr....soon
4. Eclair - soon
5. シュークリーム (cream puff) - soon
6. 梅干(umeboshi, or Japanese pickled plum) - when I don`t have any umeboshi left

p.s. soon = when my brain cells and hormones tell me to cook ;)