Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Meatballs with Rice in Tomato Sauce

Meatballs with Rice in Tomato SauceTomato sauce was my grandfather-in-law’s favorite. He loved tomato sauce with a lot of extra virgin olive oil and black pepper. Whenever I make tomato sauce, I think of him with high regard, a person I have never met and have known only through my husband’s descriptions.

My grandfather-in-law was born in northern Greece when it was still under the Ottoman Empire’s occupation. Including his native language, Greek, he fluently spoke, wrote and read English, French, Slavic and Turkish, and he was able to read and understand Ancient Greek, Latin, and Arabic. While none of the people in his village hold a high school degree, he earned a college degree in Education. Later he became an elementary school teacher. He was excessively simple, honest and faithful for his entire life.

This simple man loved gardening, the “Les Misérables” by the famous French author Victor Hugo, and tomato sauce. Because of the Ottoman influence on the cuisine in his region, he especially loved spicy tomato sauce.

I usually cook meatballs with rice in spicy tomato sauce, which became our family’s standard. Certainly, a lot of extra virgin olive oil and black pepper are essential. I enjoy this dish under the blue sky indulging myself in imagination of my grandfather-in-law’s humble life.

3 potatoes
3 cups finely chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Meatballs (about 40 meatballs):
1 lb ground beef
1 finely chopped onion
2 cloves of garlic
¼ cup finely chopped mint
1 egg
½ cup rice
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
½ cup all-purpose flour

1. Place all of the ingredients except the all-purpose flour for meatballs in a large bowl. Mix them well.
2. Break off pieces of the mixture and make very small meatballs (the size of walnuts). Coat the meatballs with the all-purpose flour.
3. Peal the skins of the potatoes and chop them small squares.
4. Heat the olive oil in a fry pan and fry the chopped potatoes for around 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and stir them well.
5. Add 2 to 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Add the meatballs one by one. Add more water if all of the meatballs are not covered by water.
6. Season with salt. Simmer and stir time to time for about 30-40 minutes.
7. Serve them hot!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sweet Kidney Beans

I do not remember the name of the fresh beans I purchased from a farmer at the local farmer’s market. But I am sure this is a kind of kidney beans. They are two to three times bigger than regular red kidney beans, which are frequently used in Cajun/Creole cuisine in Louisiana.

First, I cooked a Cajun bean soup using these beans. It was very good. However, when I tasted them, I immediately felt they might also be good for sweet beans.

Usually, Japanese black beans are used for this dish. These simmered sweet beans are considered a special dish and typically are served in the New Year’s Day. I love these black sweet beans since I was a kid. Therefore, my mother cooked this dish for a few times a year.

My instinct was correct. These particular kidney beans went very well with the sugar and soy sauce. They can be served as a great appetizer or nice cold dessert.

1 and ½ cups fresh or dried kidney beans
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons of soy sauce

1. If you use dried kidney beans, soak them in water overnight.
2. Wash the beans well. Put them in a large pot and water until all of the beans are covered by water.
3. Bring to a boil. Then discard the water. In order to remove the harshness of the beans, repeat this process for two to three times.
4. After step 3 is done, add water until all of the beans are covered by water. Also add the sugar and soy sauce. Bring to a boil. After boiling, lower the heat. Simmer for one hour to one and half hours until the beans become very soft.
5. Refrigerate the simmered sweet beans and serve them cold!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Linguine in Pesto Sauce

Linguine in Pesto Sauce
Basil, whose name comes from the Greek word for “king,” is one of the most essential herbs in Mediterranean cousin. However, the origin of this herb is none of the Mediterranean countries. According to Wikipedia, “Basil is originally native to Iran, India and other tropical regions of Asia, having been cultivated there for more than 5,000 years.” No wonder that this herb is used in many dishes from India, Thai and Vietnamese cousins.
In fact, basil was brought by Alexander the Great during his expedition to India.

Recently, there are many kinds of basil seeds and plants available in stores. Yet, my most favorite basil is sweet and aromatic Genovese basil from Genoa region in Italy. This basil reminds me of summer and this simple, yet, delicious pesto sauce.

Pesto is not only tasty but also very healthy food. Basil is high in vitamin K, which helps a body absorb calcium and other beneficial minerals to improve the bones. Parmesan and Romano cheese are excellent sources of calcium. In addition, pine nuts are rich in Vitamin B1 and B3.

Since my basil pants are big enough to be harvested, I decided to make lots of pesto sauce. It can be tossed with pasta or used as spread on crispy bread. Also pesto goes well with meat and fish. It can be stored in a refrigerator up to a several days.

BasilIngredients (4-5 Servings):
3 bunch of fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup pine nuts
½ grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
3 cloves of garlic
A pinch of salt
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lb linguine

1. Wash the basil leaves and drain them well.
2. Add all of the ingredients in the blender or food processor to grind them until they become creamy.
3. Boil water in a large pot and cook the linguine for 8 to 10 minutes or al dente.

4. Toss and mix the linguine with the pesto sauce. Serve with a piece of crispy bread!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Steamed Rice with Hijiki Seaweed (Hijiki Gohan)

Steamed Rice with Hijiki SeaweedWhen I came to New York City for the first time in the early 90’s, eating healthy Asian food was already a boom among yuppies. I found out numbers of trendy restaurants serving seaweed, including hijiki, and other exotic Asian foods. However, I had noticed that many chefs were still learning and experimenting on how to cook using such ingredients. I realized that when I tried some tasteless hijiki because it had not been soaked or spiced enough by the chef. This happened in one of the most stylish restaurants in New York City.

Lately, not only professional chefs but also many regular people are already familiar with these Asian vegetables and food items. When I discovered a delicious hijiki salad, which was prepared by a non-Asian and non-professional cook, in a potluck party in New York City, I was amazed and pleased at that same time.

Hijiki is a kind of seaweed and it is an ultra nutritious food item. It is very rich in calcium. Actually, it contains 10 times more calcium than whole milk. Also, it is an excellent source for iron. It has 5 times more iron than chicken livers. In addition, it is high in dietary fiber.

Using a rice cooker, this dish of steamed rice with hijiki seaweed is extremely easy and healthy. If you do not have a rice cooker, use a large pot and cook and steam the rice along with the other ingredients. This dish also contributes a nice color opportunity to your table.
Shiitake MushroomsIngredients (4 servings):
2 cups rice
1 carrot
2 tablespoons of hijiki (seaweed)
¼ cup of fresh/frozen soybeans (or fresh/frozen baby lima beans)
2-4 dried/fresh shiitake mushrooms
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
1 tablespoon of mirin (rice wine without alcohol)
1 tablespoon of sake (famous Japanese rice wine)A pinch of sugar

Chopped CarrotDirections:
1. Wash the rice and put it in the rice cooker. Add 1½ cups of water.
2. Soak the hijiki seaweed in cold water for about 30 minutes (or follow the instructions on the hijiki package). Drain it well.
3. If you use dried shiitake mushrooms, soak them in cold water for about 30 minutes (or follow the instructions on their package). Drain them well. Cut off their stems. Chop them into small cubes.
4. Chop the carrot into small pieces.
The mixture5. If frozen soybeans or frozen baby lima beans are to be used, defrost them.
6. Put the chopped carrot, soaked hijiki seaweed, the beans, the chopped shiitake mushrooms, soy sauce, mirin, sake and sugar in the rice cooker. Mix them well with the rice.
7. Cook them in a rice cooker or a large pot. Serve them hot!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Udon Salad

Udon SaladJuly 7th was tanabata, a star festival, in Japan. This seasonal festival originally came from China. It is a sad but lovely story behind this celebration.

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful lady, named Orihime, who was a daughter of the Empire of the Sky and an excellent cloth waver living on one side of the Milky Way. One day she met Hikoboshi, who was a hard-working cow keeper and lived on the other side of the Milky Way. They immediately fell in love with each other. Soon after their encounter, with the Empire’s permission, they happily wedded. However, soon after that they abandoned their working duties. Orihime stopped waving clothes and Hikoboshi let his cows free, which made the Empire extremely angered. Therefore, he separated them across the Milky Way. Yet, the Empire only permitted them to see each other once a year on July 7th. For that reason, you can see Orihime (Vega) and Hikoboshi (Altair) meet in the middle of the Milky Way once a year on the 7th of July. But, in general it is raining on that day, which makes the lovers’ rendezvous private. So you are not able to see the two stars approaching each other.

This was the story I have known throughout my childhood from my mother. I was a little astronomy geek when I was a kid. Therefore, I was enormously fascinated about these two bright stars, Vega and Altair, coming across each other. I remember that I stared at the sky for hours to try to locate this amazing phenomenon once a year. However, of course, it never saw it myself. Plus, unfortunately it was very difficult to see any stars in the light polluted Japanese urban sky. Soon enough, I realized that it was just one of the many mythologies, which disappointed me very much.

July 7th of this year, I prepared this udon salad dish to celebrate this star festival. I used udon to resemble the Milky Way and vegetables and wakame (seaweed) to make look like stars (too much twisted?!). This cold udon salad can be an excellent dish for one hot summer day.

Japanese green perillaIngredients (2-3 servings):
3 bunch of udon
1 tomato
½ cucumber
2 tablespoons of wakame (seaweed)
5-7 leaves of Japanese green perilla or 2-3 tablespoons of finely chopped green onions
¼ teaspoons of wasabi or freshly ground ginger

4 cups of water
3 square inches of dried kombu sheet (dried seaweed)
¼ cup of dried bonito flakes
½ cup of mirin
½ cup of soy sauce
1. Put 3 cups of the water for soup in a large pot. Put the kombu sheet and leave it for about 1 hours. Bring to a boil. Before it is boiling, take out the kombu from the pot. Add the dried bonito flakes. Lower the heat and cook for a minutes. Turn off the heat. Take out the bonito flakes. Add the rest of the ingredients for the soup. Mix them well and leave the mixture in a refrigerator from 30 minutes to one hour.
2. Soak the wakame into cold water for about 30 minutes (or follow the instruction on the wakame package).
3. Boil water in a large pot. While it is boiling, add the udon. Cook them for about 10 minutes (or follow the instruction on the udon package). After it is done, place them in a bowl filled up with cold water and ice cubes. Drain them well.
4. Cut the tomato and cucumber into pieces. Chop the Japanese green perilla or green onions.
5. Put the udon in serving plates and decorate them with the tomato, cucumber, wakame and Japanese green perilla. Put the wasabi or ginger in the soup and mix well. Pour the soup on the udon and vegetables.
6. Before you eat, mix them well with this delicious soup!