Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Cold soba noodle salad with tobiko, shiso and pickled ginger

I love Asian food, I love how different the flavors are and how the combinations always surprise my palate in the most wonderful way.




Japanese cuisine in particular is very appealing to me due to the freshness and simplicity of its dishes, as well as the strong presence of contrasting salty, sweet and umami flavors. Having had the pleasure to eat at a Japanese friend’s house numerous times, I also admire and am impressed by the mindful way in which Japanese people eat their meals. We could all learn something from that.




This dish is based on a traditional Japanese dish of cold soba noodles with dipping sauce, where you serve the two separately and dip the noodles in the sauce to eat them. Here, however, the noodles are tossed with the sauce, or rather the dressing, thus having a soba noodle salad of sorts; a cold soba noodle salad (or noodle bowl as some may call it) with tobiko, shiso and pickled ginger.




The sauce that’s usually served with cold noodles in Japan includes dashi, which is a stock made with kelp (type of seaweed) and dried bonito flakes among other things, and even though that would have been a good base for my dressing, I went with a simpler one including soy sauce, mirin, fresh ginger and sesame oil.




It is a super fresh salad with cooling, crunchy cucumbers, bright spring onions and shiso leaves that have a prickly texture and vibrant flavor that’s citrusy and herbaceous. The soba noodles, which are made from buckwheat flour, are earthy and nutty and pair beautifully with the slightly sweet and salty dressing that has smoky notes from the sesame oil, whereas the pickled ginger adds its zingy, sharp, vinegary and sweet flavors to the dish.




Tobiko is the Japanese name for flying fish roe, and those tiny, orange-colored eggs are very flavorful and give a great, crunchy texture as well as sweetness and saltiness to Japanese dishes. Their flavor is not at all overwhelming, and they surprise you with every bite in this salad as they pop in your mouth, releasing their salty juices.


It’s an absolutely refreshing, filling and hearty salad with sharp, sweet, salty, herbaceous and earthy notes that’s just the perfect dish to cool you down during these hot summer days.







Cold soba noodle salad with tobiko, shiso and pickled ginger

There are different kinds of soba noodles, made with various percentages of buckwheat flour. The kind I use is Hachi-wari Soba made with 70-80% buckwheat and 30-20% wheat flour. You can use whichever kind is available to you, but I wouldn’t use soba noodles made with 100% buckwheat flour (Ju-wari Soba) because they tend to be rough in texture and a bit dry.

If you can’t find tobiko you can substitute with salmon roe (Ikura in Japanese) even though it doesn’t have that same crunchy, pop-in the-mouth texture as tobiko.

Shiso (can be green or purple) is also known as perilla and is in the mint family so if you can’t find it, substitute with mint/peppermint or even Thai basil, even though none of these herbs is exactly the same as shiso.




Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

for the dressing
60 ml (4 Tbsp) soy sauce (low-sodium preferably)
60 ml (4 Tbsp) mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)
1 tsp Asian sesame oil
A thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated

for the salad
300 g dried soba noodles
4 spring onions, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced
100 g tobiko
150 g cucumber, peeled, deseeded and cut julienne (cut into matchsticks)
30 g pickled ginger, thinly sliced
4 fresh green shiso leaves, cut chiffonade (sliced into thin ribbons)
Asian sesame oil, for drizzling on top

Special equipment: rasp grater, colander


Preparation

for the dressing
In a small saucepan add all the ingredients for the dressing and mix well to combine. Bring to a gentle boil over a medium heat and immediately remove from the heat. Set aside to cool completely.

for the salad
Bring a large pot of water to the boil over a high heat. Don’t salt the water, soba noodles are not the same as pasta. When the water comes to a rolling boil, add the soba noodles and stir to fully submerge all the noodles. Cook them for the time prescribed in your packet instructions. They may take anywhere between 4-8 minutes to cook, so be careful and read your packet carefully. Soba noodles are not meant to be eaten al dente like pasta, they should be fully cooked but definitely not mushy.

When the noodles are ready, drain them in a colander and immediately put them under cold running water, stirring them around with your hands, tossing them and rubbing them very gently between your hands. This is done to wash off the excess starch from the noodles thus ensuring that their texture won’t be gummy. In the end, the water should run clear. Turn the water off and let the water from the noodles drain completely for a couple of minutes before using them in the recipe.

Add drained noodles to a large bowl, pour over the cooled down dressing, add the sliced spring onions and half of the tobiko, and toss them gently to coat all of the noodles with the dressing.

Serve the noodles in individual bowls and top with the sliced cucumbers, the remaining tobiko, the pickled ginger, the shiso leaves and to finish, drizzle with a little bit of sesame oil; not too much because it can be overpowering. Serve immediately.




Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Gigantes plaki (Greek baked giant beans) with homemade labneh on sourdough toast

This was our dinner last night. Classic gigantes, Greek giant beans baked in the oven with lots of olive oil, tomatoes, onions and peppers that I got at the market the other day when I was overwhelmed with excitement at the sight of said peppers and came back home with two bags full of them instead of the two peppers that I actually needed. Other women do this with shoes and handbags, I do this with vegetables. That’s me.




But I digress. This meal. Last evening. When the temperature was about 30°C (and today is around 40°C) and all I could think of was a beach hammock and clear blue seas. This too will come, soon…
I didn’t heat up the beans, we had them at room temp. The beauty of cooking with olive oil…


I toasted some slices of sourdough, not homemade this time, and on top I laid the buttery, meaty, plump and ultra flavorful giant beans, surrounded by the rich, thick and slightly spicy sauce that made them even more irresistible to me. Because gigantes are my favorite legumes in the whole world, have I told you that? And I could eat them all the time, which I actually do, because I make a huge tray every two to three weeks.




I had also made labneh for another dish— I will talk to you about that soon enough— and had some leftover in the fridge, which was serendipitous because I had never traded feta for any other cheese to pair with my legumes before and to my surprise, the super tangy quality and creaminess of the labneh was a perfect match to the rich, sweet beans. Some fresh parsley scattered on top, not for show but for freshness, and a bit more dried chilli, because spice rules the world.

Here you go. Enjoy!








Gigantes plaki (Greek baked giant beans) with homemade labneh on sourdough toast

Here is the recipe for the gigantes plaki and here for the labneh.




Servings: 2

Ingredients
4-6 sourdough bread slices, toasted
Gigantes plaki (Greek baked giant beans), at room temp preferably
Labneh, homemade (or store-bought)
Fresh, flat-leaf parsley, leaves only
Extra virgin olive oil
Chilli powder


Preparation
If you prefer the beans to be hot, keep in mind that they may soak your sourdough if you don’t eat it straight away.

Lay the beans (as many as you want) on top of the toasted bread, adding the thick sauce as well. My recipe for the gigantes makes a thick, rich sauce. If you don’t follow my recipe and your sauce is thinner, don’t add a lot of it or your toast will be soggy.
Add some pieces of labneh on top of the beans and scatter some parsley leaves. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle some chilli on top.
Eat immediately.




Thursday, July 13, 2017

Cherry and almond cake with amaretto glaze

I’m not done with cherries just yet, no. I am obsessed with them and I’m dragging you down this road with me; this time with a cherry bundt cake.




It was only recently that I talked to you about bundt cakes with this almond and chocolate marble cake, but one can never have too many bundt cake recipes, right?




The protagonists in this bundt cake are two; cherries and almonds. The cherries are present in two forms, fresh, sweet dark cherries and glacé cherries, those bright, crunchy, red ones that give another flavor dimension to the cake. The almonds are present in four forms, ground almonds and almond extract in the cake batter, almond liqueur in the glaze and flaked almonds scattered over the top.




The fresh and glacé cherries are blended to make a purée which is then swirled into the fluffy cake batter and even though the cherry flavor is not intense, it is undoubtedly present. The cake is dense and smooth but not heavy at all. It’s soft, moist, a little crunchy from the ground almonds and a little sticky where the cherry purée has caramelized at the sides of the cake.




It’s ultra buttery and the cherry flavor marries beautifully with the almond. The glaze on top is sweet, with the amaretto enhancing the nut flavor even more, and it is great served with a few fresh cherries on the side to accentuate the cherry purée in the cake.




It’s a cake that keeps very well due to the addition of ground almonds that keep it moist and tender for longer, and it is even tastier the next day and the day after that.









Cherry and almond cake with amaretto glaze
Adapted from Stirring Slowly by Georgina Hayden

I’d say that the glaze is optional. The cake is adequately sweet without it but it does add a certain je ne sais quoi in flavor and appearance.

You could leave the cherry purée unswirled (is that a word?) inside the cake in order to get a more concentrated cherry flavor, because the swirling/rippling dissipates the flavor of the cherry a bit throughout the cake.

This recipe makes a lot of batter and thus cake. I used a large bundt pan (2.4 liters / ~10½ cups capacity) and it overflowed while baking. So, the second time I made the cake, I filled my bundt pan by ¾ (which is what is advisable anyway when it comes to filling cake pans) and baked the rest in a small, individual cake pan as I didn’t want to adjust the recipe and nor should you. So I would advise you to do the same unless you have a larger bundt pan than mine.




Yield: 16-18 pieces

Ingredients

for the cake
250 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing the pan
350 g all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting the pan
150 g fresh sweet dark cherries, rinsed and pitted
75 g red glacé cherries
2 tsp baking powder
500 g caster sugar
6 large eggs
½ tsp almond extract
¼ tsp salt
300 ml fresh whole milk
75 g ground almonds

for the glaze
100 g icing sugar
1-2* Tbsp amaretto (almond liqueur)

1-2 Tbsp flaked almonds, for topping the cake

* Use 1 Tbsp if you want a thick glaze or 2 Tbsp if you want a thinner one. I used 2 Tbsp.

Special equipment: large bundt pan (at least 2.4 liters / ~10½ cups capacity), pastry brush (optional), small food processor, stand mixer or electric hand-held mixer


Preparation

for the cake
Preheat your oven to 180°C.

Using a pastry brush or your hands, grease the inside of your baking pan very well with some softened butter, being careful not to leave small pieces of butter in the pan walls. Sprinkle some flour inside the greased pan and tap it to go all over the inside of the pan. Tap out the excess flour.

In the bowl of your food processor, add the fresh, pitted cherries and the glacé cherries, and process to a smooth and creamy purée. Set aside.

In a bowl, add the flour and baking powder and mix with a spoon.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl), add the butter and sugar and beat with the paddle attachment (or with a hand-held mixer) on high speed until creamy, light and fluffy, for about 8 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time beating well on high speed after each addition, fully incorporating each egg in the mixture before adding the next. When you have finished with all the eggs, add the almond extract and salt and beat well.
Add the flour-baking powder mixture and milk alternatively in 3 batches, starting and finishing with the flour, and beating the ingredients until just combined in the mixture on medium speed. You don’t want to overbeat the mixture or the cake will be tough. Finally, add the ground almonds and beat on low speed until just mixed through.

Note: Before you start adding the two mixtures into the pan, please be aware that you shouldn’t fill your pan more than ¾ up. Eyeball it and if you have see that you have excess cake batter (not purée, you should add all of that) empty it in an individual cake pan and bake it next to the cake otherwise you will run the risk of the batter spilling over while baking.

Take your prepared bundt pan and using a large spoon add 1/3 of the cake batter into the pan. Using another spoon, pour 1/3 of the cherry purée on top of the batter and using a skewer or the back of the spoon, swirl the purée into the cake batter gently. Add another 1/3 of the cake batter on top and 1/3 of the cherry purée and swirl it, making sure not to reach all the way down, you only want to swirl the top layer. Then, add the remaining 1/3 of the batter and the remaining 1/3 of the cherry purée and swirl again the top layer only. Don’t overdo the swirling.

Note: You can just add the purée without swirling it, in which case you will have a more concentrated flavor and presence of the cherry purée in the cake. The choice is yours.


Place the pan on the lower rack of the preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes. Then transfer to the middle rack and bake for a further 15 minutes or until or a wooden skewer inserted into the deepest part of the cake comes out clean. Please be aware that not all ovens bake the same and not all bundt pans are the same, some have thinner or thicker wall, and are made from different materials, which make baking times differ. This cake takes between 50 and 60 minutes to bake (mine takes 60 minutes). You can start checking it from 50 minutes onward to make sure.

Remove the pan from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for at least 20 minutes. Then, take the cake carefully out of the pan and onto the wire rack and let cool completely. When it has cooled, you can pour the glaze over it.


for the glaze
In a small bowl, add the icing sugar and the almond liqueur and mix well with a wire whisk until smooth and creamy.

Pour the glaze over the cake and scatter the flaked almonds on top.

Serve with a few fresh cherries on the side.

The cake keeps well for 4-5 days, at room temperature. Because it contains ground almonds that become moist as days go by (due to the oils in the almonds), they keep the cake from drying out so it stays fresh for longer.




Saturday, July 8, 2017

Cherry balsamic sorbet

Since we started talking about cherries with this sourdough cherry bruschetta with miso dressing the other day, let’s now go to the sweet side and to sorbet ice pops because it’s hot and we could all use an icy treat right about now, no?




I was so glad when I found calippo molds being sold at a store here in The Hague and of course I got a bunch of them. It’s so much fun eating ice cream out of these molds and it always reminds me of long vacations in the Greek islands or our summer house outside of Athens, where a Calippo ice cream would be the first thing I’d go for at the beach taverna/bar after a whole day swimming in the sea.




Cherry sorbet has long been a favorite of mine. I even shared a recipe for it in popsicle form some years ago here on the blog. This, however, is an evolution of that sorbet as I have omitted the fresh vanilla bean from the sugar syrup and opted to macerate the cherries in balsamic vinegar and some Demerara sugar in order to make it even more tempting and irresistible —because that’s exactly what this sorbet is to me, irresistible!




The flavor of this sorbet is clearly that of sweet dark cherries which is intensified by the balsamic vinegar that complements the fruit so well. The flavor of the vinegar is not overwhelming, but the quality of the balsamic is of utmost importance otherwise it can be too aggressive and acidic like most pour quality vinegars are. Real balsamic vinegar is made with wine vinegar and the addition of cooked grape-must which adds the sweetness, muskiness and depth of flavor that makes balsamic the great vinegar that it is.




Together with the freshness of the cherries and the sweetness of the sugar, this cherry-balsamic sorbet is the stuff summer dreams are made of. If you want to really savor the taste of cherries this summer, do try it; I guarantee you will be as excited about it as I am.









Cherry balsamic sorbet

Luckily, I am able to find Greek, sweet, dark cherries here in the Netherlands that are plump, juicy and oh so delicious, and they also make me feel closer to home. Make sure to use the best, sweetest and most flavorsome cherries you can find as nothing matters more than that in the outcome of this (or any other) sorbet. The cherries you use shouldn’t be tart at all otherwise the flavor balance will be off.

I used liquid glucose (which is an inverted sugar) in the syrup in order to avoid crystallization of the sugar, however, I have made this syrup before (as instructed in this sorbet recipe) without glucose and it works great; you just need to be a bit more vigilant when you make it without the glucose and follow the instructions.
Liquid glucose also controls the formation of ice crystals in frozen desserts which essentially prevents them from freezing solid (decreases the freezing point) which is another plus.
If you can’t find it, you could substitute with corn syrup, which is not exactly the same but acts almost the same way.




Yield: 7 popsicles (70 ml-capacity calippo molds)

Ingredients

for the sugar syrup
185 g granulated white sugar
85 g water
1 tsp liquid glucose (or corn syrup)

500-520 g fresh sweet dark cherries, rinsed and pitted
1½ Tbsp good quality balsamic vinegar
15 g Demerara sugar

Special equipment: large food processor (or blender), calippo ice cream molds or other popsicle molds


Preparation

for the sugar syrup
in a small saucepan, add the sugar, water and glucose and heat over a medium heat, stirring continuously until the sugar dissolves, then, bring to a simmer, and continue simmering over a medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and empty the sugar syrup into a bowl. Allow to cool completely and then put it in the fridge, covered with cling film, to chill.

In the meantime, place the pitted cherries in a medium-sized bowl together with the balsamic vinegar and the demerara sugar and mix well with a spoon. Leave to macerate for 30 minutes or up to 1 hour.

Add the macerated cherries in your food processor (or in a blender) making sure to scrape all the juices and sugar from the bowl they macerated in and puree them. There will still be pieces of cherry skin visible which is absolutely fine and it’s what gives texture and flavor to the sorbet. Add the chilled syrup and pulse a couple of times to combine.
Pour the sorbet mixture into individual calippo or popsicle molds and place in the freezer overnight.

Alternatively, you could also churn this in an ice cream machine, empty it in a container suitable for the freezer and serve it scooped in individual bowls.