Thursday, August 27, 2009

Caponata / Ratatouille (Mediterranean Simmered Summer Vegetables)

Mediterranean Simmered Summer VegetablesI was about to make briami, which is an oven-baked summer vegetable dish and a traditional Greek food. However, baking this dish in the oven takes more than one hour. This discouraged me a great deal. Therefore, I decided to cook this dish in a large pan.

This simmered vegetable dish is called Caponata and/or Ratatouille. Caponata is a traditional Sicilian and Neapolitan dish. Ratatouille is the typical South French dish from the Proven├žal region. Even though these two dishes have some differences, both of these Mediterranean dishes use many different kinds of summer vegetables.

This Caponata / Ratatouille dish has many benefits. First of all, you can eat many various vegetables all at once. Second, it is very easy to prepare and delicious. Third, it can be served either hot or cold! Finally, it is very-very healthy.

Some people add sugar, vinegar, wine or bacon/meat in Caponata and Ratatouille. However, I like simply cooked summer vegetables with salt and pepper. These vegetables produce plenty of juices. The flavors of basil and oregano enhance these delicious summer vegetables. Thus, no need for additional seasoning.

Ingredients (4 servings):
2 ripe tomatoes
2 zucchinis
2 Japanese eggplants (or Holland eggplants)
1 squash
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
½ teaspoon of dry oregano
3 strings of basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
Optional: other summer vegetables!

1. Cut the eggplants into small pieces. Soak them into salty water for about 10 minutes. Then, drain them well.
2. Cut the tomatoes, zucchinis, eggplants, squash, and onion into small pieces. Cut the garlic finely. Wash the basil leaves.
3. Heat the olive oil in a large pot and fry the chopped onion and garlic. Add eggplants, squash, zucchinis and tomatoes. Add the dry oregano. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until all of the vegetables become soft.
4. Season with salt and black pepper. Before turn off the heat, add the basil leaves and cover the pot.
5. Transfer to the serving plates. Serve either hot or cold!

Monday, August 24, 2009


I had the first dim sum meal when I visited Hong Kong for the first time. It was still under British occupation. But once I entered the local dim sum restaurant, where my Hong Konger friend took me, I felt like I was in mainland China. The atmosphere was so vibrant. The waitresses passed by with carts shouting the names of the dim sum dishes they carried. All in the Chinese language. If you were shy or hesitant to stop them, you would not get any food to eat. I remember I enjoyed very much the ambiance of the restaurant along with many delicious dim sum dishes.

Dim sum is one of the traditional Chinese cuisines. It implies various kinds of steamed and fried foods. Steamed shumai is one of these dishes and my favorite dim sum dish. There are many kinds of shumai dishes available in dim sum, such as shrimp, crab, and pork shumai.

Shumai is also very popular in Japan. It regularly appears as one of side dishes in lunch and dinner tables.

My favorite shumai recipe is not the traditional Chinese dim sum. It is more like a Japanese version of homemade shumai. You can make a lot of the shumai pieces and steam them. Then, froze the pieces for later use. It can be stored in a refrigerator up to a several days.

Ingredients (For 4 servings):

Shumai filling:
1 lb ground pork
1 carrot
1 bunch of green onions
3 shitake mushrooms
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 tablespoon of oyster sauce
1 tablespoon of sesame oil
¼ cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon of freshly ground ginger
A pinch of salt and black pepper

1 pack of shumai skins or wanton skins

Dipping sauce:
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
1 teaspoon of rice vinegar or lemon juice
Optional: mustard

1. Cut the carrot, green onions and shitake mushrooms into very small pieces.
2. Place the ground pork in a large bowl. Add the chopped carrot, green onions, shitake mushrooms, and the rest of the ingredients for the shumai filling. Mix them well.
3. Put one teaspoon of the filling on the center of the shumai (or wanton skin) and wrap the filling.
4. Place the shumai pieces in the steamer. In order to prevent them from sticking on the steamer, I recommend you to blush oil on the bottom or place lettuce or cabbage. Steam them for about 15 minutes.
5. Transfer them to serving plates. Serve with dipping sauce with mustard!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Steamed Shrimps

Steamed ShrimpsThe other day, my husband and I went to the seafood restaurant that my friend had recommended. She said the restaurant served some good crabs and shrimps. So I trusted her recommendation.

We ordered king crabs, shrimps and some shellfish. Unfortunately, all of the dishes betrayed our expectations. They were over boiled or over steamed. I felt like I was chewing rubber bands.

Then, my husband and I decided to steam shrimps from the local seafood market. The market is well known about carrying super fresh and big shrimps from the Gulf Coast. We were so excited to get a few different kinds of fresh shrimps.

Since over boiling or over steaming was the reason of the failure of the shrimps at the restaurant, I was very careful about how long they should be steamed. So, we put the shrimps in the steamer and took them out immediately after all of them had changed their color to red. Do not use cocktail sauce but simply lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil to season them. My husband, who is a native of Greece, said, “I feel like I am on a Mediterranean island” while eating the butter-like very tender and juicy shrimps.

Local Seafood Market

Local Seafood MarketIngredients:
1 lb shrimps with their heads and shells on
Lemon juice
Extra virgin olive oil

1. Wash the shrimps well and cut off their whiskers.
2. Steam the shrimps until their color changes to red. Do not over cook!
3. Transfer them to the serving plates. Sprinkle with lemon juice and add the olive oil.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sweet Pork Butt Roast (Yakibuta)

To tell the truth, before I moved to Louisiana I was a horrible cook. I still recall the many times that I was feeling desperate of my cooking skills and my food.

When I was in Japan, I lived with my family. So I had hardly cooked for myself or somebody else. There was always someone who could prepare something nice for me to eat. However, after I moved to New York City and lived alone, I realized that I had to learn cooking. My family is gourmet and great cooks. So I used to the delicious and healthy homemade cooking, which made me picky of what to eat. Therefore, taking out junky food or purchasing frozen food was unacceptable. Buying fresh and healthy vegetables, meat and fishes and cooking for myself was the only option I could think of keeping myself on healthy eating habits.

Unfortunately, my very busy life in New York City (just think of “Sex and the City” to get an idea of what I mean) prevented me from spending time to learn how to cook. As a result, I had cried so many times alone about my awful food.

After I moved to Louisiana, I have more time to cook for my family, friends and myself. Their compliments and suggestions about my food encouraged me and improved my cooking skills tremendously. Actually, beyond my wildest dreams!

This sweet pork butt roast is one of the dishes I learned after I moved to Louisiana. It is very easy to prepare and delicious. I am wondering why I had never tried to cook this while I was in NYC. Maybe cooking healthy and tasty food is not that difficult or time consuming after all. It may be a matter of attitude towards how serious you are about what you eat and how to prepare.

Ingredients (for 4-5 servings):
2.5 lb pork shoulder / butt roast
1/2 cup of soy sauce
1/4 cup of sugar
3 tablespoons of sake (rice wine) or white wine
1 teaspoon of freshly ground ginger
Optional: 1 clove of sliced garlic

1. Add the soy sauce, sugar, sake, oyster sauce, ginger and garlic (optional) in a large bowl. Mix them well.
2. Cut the pork butt roast half if it is a big piece. Place the meat in the bowl and marinate the meat with the mixture overnight to three days in the refrigerator (I recommend you to marinate for three days. So that the meat becomes tender and tasty).
3. Preheat the oven to 370 F degrees. Place the pork butt roast along with the mixture on the oven pan and bake it for 30 to 40 minutes until the meat is cooked.
4. Slice the meat and transfer to serving plates. Pour the sauce from the oven pan.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Grilled Chicken with Rosemary

Grilled Chicken with RosemaryWhen I was a kid, eating chicken legs with bare hands was one of my ultimate pleasures. While I bit into the chicken legs I felt like I was one of the ancient wild Viking fighters. The chicken legs were simply seasoned with salt and pepper and grilled or fried. But using bare hands added a special flavor on this simply dish.

So when I found freshly harvested young chickens and hens at the local farmers’ market, I suggested grilling the whole chicken and/or hens on charcoal and eating them with bare hands like the Vikings. My husband agreed. Therefore, we purchased one chicken and two hens.

Since our rosemary tree (it is huge and no longer called just a plant!) is having a lot of new leaves, I decided to use them for seasoning the chicken. Rosemary originally came from the Mediterranean area. This plant has been variously used for medical purposes and cooking. This healthy herb is necessary in the Mediterranean cuisine.

Rosemary’s remarkable flavor matched with the wine marinated chicken and hens. The chicken and hens were incredibly tender and juicy with a marvelous charcoal aroma. My husband and I enjoy the amazing taste and also eating them with bare hands like the wild fighters, which satisfied not only my stomach but also one of my childhood fantasies.

1 whole small chicken
2 cloves of sliced garlic
¼ cup of red wine
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary or 2 tablespoon of dried rosemary
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Lemon juice

Chickens and hens with RosemaryDirections:
1. Wash the chicken and drain well. Put it in the large oven pan or bowl.
2. Insert the sliced garlic between the chicken skin and meat.
3. Pour the red wind and olive oil over the chicken. Season with salt and black pepper. Add the 2 springs of fresh rosemary and marinate it for one hour in the room temperature.
4. Prepare the charcoal for barbecue.
5. Before grilling, insert the rosemary between the chicken skin and meat.
6. Grill the chicken until it is well done.
7. Transfer the grilled chicken to a serving plate and sprinkle them with lemon juice. Serve with French fries and salad!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Eggplants in Tomato Sauce (Melanzane a fungetiello)

Eggplants in Tomato SauceIt was a cozy neighborhood restaurant in my parents’ hometown where I first tasted eggplants in tomato sauce (Melanzane a fungetiello). I found out very recently that this restaurant is one of the first Italian restaurants in whole Japan, if not the very first one. Mr. Abela from Sicily, Italy, found the restaurant in 1946 and since then “Amore Abela” (as the restaurant is called) has been successfully run by the Abela family.

At this historical restaurant, I had very delicious spaghetti with eggplants in tomato sauce for the first time. It was more than two decades ago but I still clearly recall the little surprise I felt about the combination of eggplants and tomato sauce. Our family had never thought that they could turn out so well with each other on top of pasta. After that, pasta with eggplants in tomato sauce became one of our family’s favorite dishes.

When I recently found small eggplants in the local farmers’ market, I immediately recalled my favorite dish, pasta with eggplants in tomato sauce, and decided to cook this dish. I added fresh mozzarella cheese to enhance the tasty flavor of eggplants, tomato sauce and basil leaves. You should try it too. Buon appetito!

Ingredients (4-5 servings):
7-10 small eggplants
1 finely chopped onion
3 cloves of garlic
3 cups of finely chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
½ cup of fresh basil leaves
8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
1 lb linguine

1. Wash the eggplants and slice them. Place them in a large bowl and add water to cover the sliced eggplants. Add a pinch of salt. Leave them for about 15 to 30 minutes.
2. Heat 3-4 tbsp of olive oil in a large fry pan. Place the eggplants, finely chopped onion and garlic in the pan and fry them well until the eggplants become soft and onion becomes transparent.
3. Add the chopped tomatoes and tomato paste. Simmer them for 15 to 20 minutes.
4. Slice the mozzarella cheese. Chop the basil leaves.
5. Add the mozzarella cheese and chopped basil on the top of the sauce and turn off the heat. Cover the pan and leave it for 5 to 10 minutes until the sliced mozzarella cheese melts.
6. Boil water in a large pot and cook the linguine in the pot for 8 to 10 minutes or al dente. Drain the linguine well. Toss them with 2 to 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.
7. Transfer the serving plates and pour the sauce. Serve with pieces of crispy bread! Buon appetito!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Grilled Eggplants (Yaki Nasu)

Yaki NasuSince I moved to Louisiana, I have tried several varieties of eggplants that I had never seen before. I found them in the local farmers’ market.

My great neighbor, Janet, told me about this farmers’ market. This market opens on Saturdays at the downtown in Baton Rouge and Tuesday and Thursday in two different locations. Many local farmers sell their newly picked vegetables, fruits, and flowers and freshly harvested eggs, fishes and meats. Also baked delicious bread, cakes and deserts are available there.

Among many of the eggplants I have tasted, I particularly like two kinds. One type is a very small size of eggplants. They have white and dark purple striped skins. Because of their tiny size, it is easy to grill and bake them. I also like their taste. They have a milder flavor and less harshness than the big American eggplants or Holland eggplants I usually buy from regular markets.

The other one is a big round-shaped eggplant. Their skins are dark purple and the taste is also mild with no bitterness.

Unfortunately, I am not able to remember their names. Therefore, if some of you know their names, please kindly let me know. I would appreciate your help very much.

Grilled eggplants (yaki nasu) were essential on my family’s dinner table during summer time when I was a kid in Japan. Bonito flakes may be difficult to obtain if no Asian grocery store or Whole Foods Market is around your neighborhood. Without bonito flakes, these grilled eggplants are still delicious. This dish is very simple but flavorsome and can be a great cold appetizer.

Ingredients (2 servings):
10 small eggplants or 2 big round-shaped eggplants
2-3 tablespoons of bonito flakes
¼ teaspoon of freshly ground ginger
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 teaspoon of lemon juice

1. Wash the eggplants and dry them well.
2. Prepare the charcoal for the barbeque.
3. Grill the eggplants until they become soft and well done.
4. Remove the eggplants from the grill and transfer them to a glass bowl. Let them cool for 20 to 30 minutes and remove the skins.
5. Put the eggplants in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
6. Place the eggplants in the serving plats. Place the bonito flakes and ginger on the top of the eggplants and pour the soy sauce and lemon juice.