Who doesn’t enjoy all the indulgences of the holidays, but it is nice to get back to simpler healthier fare as the new year begins and winter sets in in earnest. Refocusing on vegetables and reinventing some tried and true soup favorites is a great place to begin.
For me, that was revisiting a favorite traditional hearty pea soup, but this time with a lighter touch. The idea of introducing Japanese flavors had been floating around in my head and from there all the ingredients fell into place. Using a traditional Japanese dashi broth in lieu of chicken stock was an obvious choice and got things rolling. Adding some Japanese mushrooms sauteed with grated ginger, a pinch of chile, and a splash of sake would surely ramp up the flavor quotient, and some Japanese rice to thicken the broth would bring the soup into its own.
This is a relatively easy recipe to make and, luckily, there are a few handy short cuts that you may find in your supermarket or Asian market. Instant Japanese dashi comes in convenient sachets as do dehydrated Japanese mushrooms packaged along with seasoning for soups. Using frozen peas is just fine for soups and also cuts down your prep time.
By all means serve this soup piping hot during the cold months, but this soup is equally delicious and refreshing served chilled during the hot months!
Japanese Inspired Pea Soup makes 2 liters
For the Dashi:
Heat approximately 2 liters of water and bring to a simmer. Add instant dashi powder as directed on the packaging for the quantity of water. Keep the dashi at a near simmer to add to the soup as needed.
If instant dashi is not available use the traditional Japanese recipe. (click here)
Prepare the dashi and set it over low heat on the stove top.
For the soup:
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 smallish onions, peeled and finely diced
- 4 celery ribs, peeled and finely diced
- ½ cup + 2 tablespoons sake
- 1 ¾ liters dashi broth
- 250 g / 9 oz frozen green peas
- ½ cup Japanese rice
- 225 g/8 oz small shitaki, enoke, or shimeji (pictured) mushrooms, trimmed
- 1 inch knob of fresh ginger root, peeled and very finely grated and including the juice
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and finely grated
- ½ to 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
- freshly ground white pepper
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon pure ground red chile powder
- thinly sliced green onions for garnish
Select a medium size stock pot and heat it over medium flame. Add 1 ½ tablespoons of the vegetable oil and 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil. When the oil is hot add the onions and celery and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring from time to time. Continue to cook until the onions and celery are very soft.
Add ½ cup sake to the pot and simmer while stirring until the sake is completely absorbed into the onion mixture. Add the peas and rice to the pot and stir to combine. Then add about 1 ½ liters of hot dashi broth, bring to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time so the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pot.
While the soup ingredients are simmering you can prepare the mushrooms.
Place a large skillet on the stove over medium heat. When the skillet is hot add the remaining 1 ½ tablespoons of vegetable oil and 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil. When the oil is hot add the mushrooms and saute while stirring for a couple of minutes until the mushrooms begin to give up their moisture and soften a bit. Stir in the grated ginger and juice, garlic, and fish sauce and saute briefly. Then add 2 tablespoons of sake and continue to saute until the mushrooms are well glazed with the pan juices and the skillet is nearly dry. Promptly remove the skillet fro the heat and transfer about a quarter of the mushrooms to a bowl and set aside to use later to garnish the soup.
Spoon the rest of the mushrooms into the pot of soup and continue to simmer until the broth is reduced and the contents feel thick when stirred, about 15 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool for a couple of minutes. Then, using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth.
Add the sea salt, freshly ground white pepper, and red chile and blend until combined. Taste and adjust seasoning including a dash more fish sauce if needed. Blend once again until incorporated and the soup is the consistency you prefer. Stir in a little hot dashi to thin the soup if needed.
Serve promptly or cool to room temperature before refrigerating for later use.
Ladle the hot soup into individual serving bowls and garnish with reserved sauteed mushrooms and very thinly sliced green onions scattered over the surface of the soup.
As mentioned, this soup is also lovely served cold during the hot season.
The Holidays are nearly upon us and we cooks are all no doubt busy planning parties and finalizing menus for holiday meals for our families and friends.
Every year I host a Christmas dinner for friends here in Chiang Mai, where Christmas is pretty much a non-event other than the usual retail angle. Early on I tried replicating a traditional western Christmas feast, which required a turkey imported from the US and winter root vegetables from Australia and New Zealand. It was complicated and expensive and, to be honest, rather ridiculous when it was all said and done. So from that point onward I have been creating holiday menus from various cuisines from around the world which are so much more interesting and fun for myself as well as for my friends. This year it is going to be a casual Spanish paella supper with various Spanish inspired accompaniments including this beat salad. At first glance this salad may not garner much attention. But that said, the earthiness of the beets combined with a sweet note from currants plumped in a hot Spanish sherry bath and the perfumed accent of toasted anise seeds magically reveals this salad’s hidden deliciousness.
This is an easy and deeply colorful salad that is not only a perfect addition to a holiday menu, but to serve throughout the rest of the year as well.
Roasted Beet Salad with Currants and Anise serves 4-6
- 6 medium size beets, roasted
- ¼ cup dark dried currants
- 3 tablespoon sweet sherry (Madeira, or Marsala)
1 small red onion, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons anise seeds, lightly toasted
1 teaspoon flaked sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- radicchio leaves
- flat leaf parsley sprigs
For instructions on roasting beets (click here)
You can also simply boil the beets if you prefer. Place the beets a in large sauce pan and add water to cover. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cook until the beets are tender but not too soft, about 30-40 minutes. Test by slipping a sharp knife into the flesh. Drain off the water and set the beets aside to cool.
In either case, when the beets are cool enough to handle slip off the skin and discard. Cut the beets into thin slices. Stack the slices and cut into batons crosswise and place them in a large bowl.
Place the currants in a small sauce pan and add the sherry. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sherry is absorbed. Add the plumped currants to the bowl with the beets.
Add the sliced onions, 1 ½ teaspoons anise seeds, , sea salt, and pepper. Toss until the ingredients are well combined. Add the vinegar and olive oil and toss until evenly coating the beets. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to your liking.
Cover the beet salad with cling film and refrigerate until well chilled.
Remove the beet salad from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving. Serving the salad at room temperature allows the flavors of the salad to bloom.
Arrange the radicchio leaves on a serving platter or individual plates. Nestle the beet salad over the radicchio leaves. Sprinkle the remaining anise seeds over the beets and garnish with parsley sprigs.
Delicioso . . . to the very last bite !
I have been a great fan of Rick Stein’s varied food oriented travel series over the years. His curios nature and infectious passion for regional foods combined with simple cooking methods makes for compelling viewing that has you itching to get right into the kitchen and do some newly inspired cookery of your own.
His recipe for Sumac Roasted Chicken from Turkey appeared in Rick Stein, From Venice to Istanbul which aired in 2015. I have cooked similar recipes in the past (see here), but with a stash of Sumac and pomegranate molasses already on hand I was raring to give Rick’s recipe a try.
Sumac is a wild shrub that grows thought the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Sumac’s deep red berries are dried and ground into a powdered seasoning with an assertive citrus like flavor. Sumac is also combined with other herbs and seeds for another popular regional seasoning mix called za’atar (See here). Both are ideal seasonings for various salads, grilled vegetables, meats, poultry, soups, and stews. Also an ideal finishing flourish for hummus (see here) and muhamara (see here) that I like to serve along with this dish.
Sumac is available at Middle Eastern shops and online.
For the recipe that follows I have made a few adjustments that ramp up the flavors a bit, but otherwise true to the regional recipe. I like serving it with a simple cooked Bulgar wheat with fried onions and red peppers along with a side of zesty hummus or muhammara to compliment the chicken.
Sumac Roasted Chicken serves 4 to 5
For the chicken:
- 1 whole chicken or 5 skin on breasts
- olive oil for drizzling
- sesame seeds
Rinse the chicken well, remove the backbone, and cut the chicken into 10 pieces. If you are using chicken breasts, slice the breasts in half crosswise.
If you are using a whole chicken, rather than discarding the backbone and trimmings why not make a stock for cooking the bulgur and for the marinade.
Place the backbone and trimmings in a stock pot and fill with water. Add a chopped onion, 3 bay leaves, a teaspoon of whole peppercorns and a teaspoon of dried thyme. Simmer for about 1 hour or until the stock has reduced by a little more than half.
For the marinade:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated
- 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons ground sumac
- 1 teaspoon pure ground red chile powder
- 1/3 teaspoon chile flakes
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
- 1 ½ teaspoon flaked sea salt
- 1 or 2 tablespoons chicken stock
Combine all the marinade ingredients except the stock in a non-reactive bowl large enough to hold all the chicken. Stir until all the ingredients are completely combined. The consistency of the marinade will be quite thick and sticky. Ideally you want the marinade to stick to the chicken, but you might want to thin it out just a bit with a little chicken stock.
If you are squeamish you may want to use disposable plastic cloves for massaging the marinade into the chicken pieces, otherwise use your bare hands as I do. Take your time and press the marinade into each piece of chicken and patting it over the surface so it sticks to the flesh.
Once all the marinade coated chicken is in the bowl compress it so the marinade reaches every crevasse. Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside for at least 1 hour or ideally 2 hours at room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 400 f/ 205 c
Select a baking pan large enough to hold all the chicken pieces in a single layer without crowding. Lightly oil the dish and place the marinated chicken skin side up in the pan. Spoon any remaining marinade over the chicken and spread it out evenly. Scatter sesame seeds over the chicken and lightly drizzle with a little olive oil.
Transfer the pan to the oven and roast for 30 minutes. The chicken and sesame seeds should be nicely colored and the chicken just done. If not, give it another 5 or 10 minutes depending on the size of the chicken pieces.
Remove from the oven and cover loosely with foil for 5 minutes before serving.
Transfer the chicken to a platter or several pieces of chicken onto each individual plate. Add a generous portion of warm bulgur and a good dollop of hummus or muhammara.
When cold weather comes around I really long for some simple hearty one pot meals like braised pork with cabbage and potatoes. It’s got its northern European roots, Poland comes to mind, but surprisingly it’s a combination you will find, with regional adaptations, in northern Asian countries as well.
With a recent cold snap, well relatively speaking that is here in northern Thailand, my mind was made up. I was having a braising pot of pork, cabbage and potatoes on the stove steaming up the windows by sundown.
The recipe that follows is decidedly Asian in flavor but otherwise much like a traditional western version in that it embodies the idea of hearty cold weather fare.
Fennel Spiced Braised Pork with Cabbage, and Potatoes serves 4
- 2.2 pounds/ 1 kilo pork tenderloin
- 2 tablespoons sea salt
- 1 ½ tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 4 bay leaves
- water to cover
Place the salt, sugar, thyme, and bay leaves in a large non-reactive bowl. Fill the bowl about half full with warm water and stir until the salt and sugar has completely dissolved. Let the water cool to room temperature and then submerge the pork into the brine, adding more water if needed to completely cover the pork. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate overnight.
Fennel seasoning mix
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns (or black peppercorns)
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
Combine the fennel seeds, peppercorns, and sea salt in a small mortar. Coarsely grind with a pestle and set aside to use later.
Braised pork, cabbage, and potatoes
Needed: a large braising pan or Dutch oven with lid
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 rashers bacon, thinly sliced
- brined pork loin, patted dry
- fennel seasoning mix
- 2 cups finely diced onions
- 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 4 large heads Chinese cabbage, trimmed, halved, and thinly sliced crosswise
- ½ cup Chinese Shao Hshing cooking wine (or white wine)
- 1 additional teaspoons fennel seasoning mix
- 2.2 pounds /1 kilo small gold potatoes, unpeeled, cut into bite size wedges
- hot chicken stock or water
- sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 f/ 180 c
Place a large braising pan or Dutch oven on the stove top over medium heat. When hot add the olive oil. When the oil is hot add the bacon. Stir and turn the bacon frequently so the fat is rendered and the bacon is evenly lightly browned. Promptly remove the bacon from the pan and set aside on a plate to use later. Lower the heat briefly while you season the pork.
Remove the pork from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Discard the brine.
Generously rub the pork tenderloin with fennel seasoning mix, firmly pressing the seasoning mix into the surface of the pork on all sides, so it sticks to the flesh.
Turn the heat up to medium high. When the fat is hot add the seasoned pork and brown on all sides. When evenly browned remove the pork to a platter and set aside.
Lower the heat to medium low and add the onions and garlic to the pan. Stir frequently until the onions soften and become translucent, about 5 minutes.
Then begin adding the sliced cabbage by the hand full, stirring until it wilts before adding the next hand full. Continue adding the remaining cabbage until it is all in the pan and wilted. Stir in the Shao Hshing wine (or white wine) and the reserved cooked bacon. Fold the bacon into the cabbage until evenly distributed. Season the mixture with 1 additional teaspoons of the fennel seasoning and stir to combine.
Place the pork tenderloin loosely coiled over the cabbage in the center of the pan and tuck the potato wedges pushed in and around the edges and in between the pork loin. Add enough hot stock or water to reach the top of the contents in the pan and bring to a simmer. Cover the pan and transfer it to the oven and cook for 45 minutes.
Check the pan after 45 minutes and add more hot stock to again to reach the top of the contents in the pan. Cover and return the pan to the oven for another 45 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and remove the lid. The pork should be very tender and easily pulled apart with a fork. Taste the broth and season with more salt and pepper if needed and stir to combine.
Set the pot aside, covered, for 10 minutes.
Spoon the cabbage and potatoes onto individual plates. Using two forks pull chunks of the pork apart and place them in the center of the potatoes and cabbage. Generously spoon both over all and serve.