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 !
As all cooks know, there are those times when you just have to buckle down and get on with making do with what you happen to have on hand. This time of year that means getting creative with the heartier autumn vegetables varieties that are available in your local farmers markets. As it happens I put this salad together on the day of the November full moon so aptly named an Autumn Moon Salad.
Maybe I’m taking some artistic license here, but indulge me. The cool weather and a brilliant full moon shimmering in the crisp autumn sky somehow seemed in sync with the earthy flavors of gold potatoes tossed with deep green Brussels sprouts and kale leaves spiked with chilies and fresh herbs. There are those times in the kitchen when everything seemingly just comes together effortlessly.
Autumn Moon Salad serves 4 to 6
- 4 gold potatoes aka Yukon gold potatoes
- 1 pound young Brussels sprouts
- 2 large bunches kale or collard greens
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ¾ cup sliced Spanish pickled red pimientos
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano ( marjoram or wild thyme)
- 2 teaspoons pepper corns, lightly toasted and coarsely crushed
- ½ teaspoon pure ground red chile powder
- flaked sea salt
- Greek yogurt
- za’atar (optional) For more information about za’atar and substitutes (click here)
Peel the potatoes and cut into bite size pieces. Place them in a sauce pan and cover with water. Add a pinch of salt, bring to a boil and reduce the heat and simmer. Cook until the potatoes are tender but not too soft. Transfer the potatoes to a colander, drain well, and set aside to cool.
Remove the outer leaves from the Brussels sprouts and discard. Then snap off a few layers of leaves and place them in a steamer basket. Divide the remaining more compact sprout heads into quarters lengthwise and place them on top of the sprout leaves in the steamer.
Cut the kale (or collard) leaves off the stems. Peel and thinly slice the stems and add them to the steamer basket. Using a very sharp knife, remove the central ribs of the leaves and discard. Slice the leaves in half and place them in the steamer basket.
Cover the steamer with the lid and place over medium heat. Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat to low and steam the contents until tender, but not limp. Then remove the steamer basket and set it aside to cool uncovered.
While the vegetables are steaming you can saute the onions and garlic. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil to a saute pan set over medium heat. When the oil is hot add the onions and reduce the heat a little bit. Saute until the onions are softened. Add the garlic and saute another couple of minutes and then set aside to cool.
In a large mixing bowl combine the cooked potatoes, steamed sprouts and kale (or collards) and toss. Add the sauteed onions and garlic and gently toss to evenly coat the potatoes and vegetables with the onions and garlic. Then fold in the pimientos.
Drizzle the vinegar and remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil over all and toss well. Scatter the oregano (marjoram or wild thyme), crushed pepper corns, ground red chile powder, and flaked sea salt over the surface. At this point I like to use my hands to combine the seasonings into the salad for a more even distribution without damaging the potatoes. Taste and add more salt if needed.
The salad is now ready to serve or it can be refrigerated for later use.
This salad is best served at near room temperature.
Place the salad in a shallow serving bowl or platter. Drizzle the surface with room temperature Greek yogurt and a good dusting of za.atar.
Clay pot cookery has been practised the world over ever since humans began cooking over open fires and sharing communal meals together. That seminal idea of shared one pot meals is still widely practised over much of the globe, even in our own modern 21st century home kitchens. In Asia particularly, clay pot cookery is still widely used at home as well as in restaurants. Japanese clay pot Shabu shabu and Sukiyaki restaurants are popular the world over, as are Cantonese clay pot chicken restaurants, and Korean Tubaegi Bulgogi shops.
Clay pot cookery in Asia has endured as a traditional way to prepare simple yet warming full bodied one pot meals during the fall and winter months. The donabe is one of Japan’s earliest traditional clay pot cooking vessels that is still used in most Japanese kitchens to this day. Likewise there are traditional clay pots used throughout South and Southeast Asia, China, Taiwan, and Korea. The flexibility of clay pot cookery is its appeal. The clay pot can be used directly over an open flame, on the stove top, in the oven, or set atop a portable gas burner placed on the dinning table which is a great way to involve everyone in cooking at the table during the meal, Asian style.
I acquired my first Japanese donabe nearly 40 years ago and I am still using it today as pictured. If you do not have a clay pot I urge you to go out and find one. Unlike the endless array of quirky unnecessary kitchen gadgets or the latest trending cooking equipment or appliances that you may use a couple of times and then shove to the back of a kitchen cabinet, a clay pot is a kitchen treasure you will use regularly. Clay pots are available in shops in Asian communities and online.
A few tips when purchasing a clay pot. As mentioned I prefer the Japanese donabe above all others. Donabes are heavy, durable, and they retain heat well. They are lightly glazed both inside and out. Some cooks prefer a more rustic unglazed clay pots, claiming they add flavor to what you are cooking. That claim is debatable. Unglazed pots are porous and require pre-soaking in water before each use to avoid cracking. Staining and durability is also continuing issue with unglazed clay pots.
If you are unable to find a retailer where you live you might check out Toiro Kitchen’s selection of Japanese donabes (click here) They are as beautiful as they are utilitarian.
When cooking with all clay pots, always begin cooking over a low flame at first with a little liquid, or oil if frying, in the bottom of the pot. Once the pot is heated you can then raise the flame gradually to the required temperature for cooking and simmering. To avoid cracking, always cool the pot after cooking and before submerging it in water for cleaning. Best to clean with warm water only, or at least avoid using soap in the interior of the pot.
The recipe that follows is one of my easy interpretations of a simple Chinese clay pot meal that includes cabbage, carrots, daikon radish, and lop cheong (Chinese hard sausage.) This is a basic combination of Asian vegetables infused with a beguiling slightly sweet smoky flavor of the sausage. Rice or noodles are often included in clay pot cooked meals as well. So throw caution to the wind and don’t worry too much about authenticity. There are endless possibilities at the discretion of the creative cook in all of us!
Asian Clay Pot Vegetables with Lop Cheong serves 4
- 4 to 6 lop cheong (dry Chinese sausage), casing removed,thinly sliced on the diagonal
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 large onion, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
- 1 large head Chinese or green cabbage, outer leaves removed, quartered, core removed, and very thinly sliced
- 1 large daikon radish, peeled, quartered, and cut into bite size pieces
- 2 carrots, peeled, thinly sliced and cut into thin batons
- 2 inch knob fresh ginger, peeled, thinly sliced, and finely diced
- hot stock to just cover ingredients
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 3 tablespoons light soy sauce + more to taste
- 1 to 2 teaspoons Szechuan pepper corns, lightly toasted and ground
- ¼ teaspoon five spice powder
- 1 teaspoon pure red chile powder or more to taste
As the lop cheong sausage is quite fatty I like to simmer the sliced sausage in a skillet with water for about 15 minutes to release some of the fat which you can spoon off the surface of the water and discard. Reserve the cooking liquid to add to the simmering pot later.
Preheat the oven to 350F/180c (if using the oven)
Place the clay pot on the stove top over low heat. Add the oil and after five minutes raise the heat to medium low and add the onions. Cook the onions until softened. Then add the cabbage and cook while tossing until the cabbage is wilted. Then add the daikon , carrots, and ginger. Cook while tossing the ingredients until slightly wilted. Then fold in the precooked sliced sausage until well combined.
Add the honey, 3 tablespoons light soy sauce, ground Szechuan pepper, five spice powder, and red chile powder. Toss until all the ingredients are well combined.
Add enough hot stock, including the reserved broth from the precooked sausage, to the pot to just reach the top of the ingredients. Cover the pot with the lid and simmer on the stove top, or transfer the pot to the oven, and cook for 30 minutes.
Check the level of the stock which should be just visible when a spoon is inserted into the vegetables. Add a little more stock if it is looking dry. Cover and continue to cook on the stove top, or return the pot to the oven, for another 30 minutes
Remove the lid and check the contents. The liquid should be reduced by about two thirds and the vegetables around the edges of the pot may just be beginning to color. If there is still excess liquid cook another 15 to 20 minutes. Taste and season with additional light soy sauce and red chile to taste and cover and set aside until you are ready to serve.
Transfer the clay pot to the table and serve with steamed rice.
Another lop Cheong recipe you might like to try (click here for recipe)