summer

Small Stuffed Peppers With A Tiny Bite

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A mini-version of the usual stuffed peppers. continue reading...

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Goya Chanpuru or Champuru - Okinawan Stir Fry With Bitter Gourd

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About bitter gourd or bitter melon, called nigauri in Japanese and goya or go-ya- in Okinawan. Plus, a recipe for the most homey of Okinawan dishes, goya chanpuru or champuru. continue reading...

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Red, White and Blue Dessert

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(From the archives. If you're planning a big Fourth of July party, consider this very colorful, cool dessert, which I made for a party several years ago. There are a lot of steps involved, but you can cut corners with storebought meringue and sugar cookies if you prefer. Originally published in July 2006 (!))

I love outdoor parties in the summer, especially when it means a barbeque. July the 4th barbeque parties are the best, and I miss them sorely when I am not in the U.S. This year though, we are going to have a July the 4th party on Sunday (since the 4th is not a holiday here), complete with grilled hamburgers, wurst, and chicken. Someone else is going to do all that grilling, so I am making the dessert. continue reading...

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Pasta With Peaches and Basil

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Juucy fragrant peaches work surprisingly well in this summertime appetizer pasta. continue reading...

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Japanese-style cucumber salad with a very versatile sesame dressing

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The weather has finally gotten warm around these parts after a very cold spring, and we're eating more summertime food now. This is one of our favorite salad-type dishes. The sesame dressing is very versatile, and you can use it for any manner of things, but here I've just used it with cucumber.

Tip: the longer you let it rest before serving, the saltier the cucumber will get, so if you want to serve it as a salad you'd want to combine the cucumber with the dressing just before serving. On the other hand, if you let it marinate in the refrigerator the cucumber becomes assertive enough to eat with plain rice as part of a Japanese meal. continue reading...

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Mugicha (barley tea) is the flavor of summer in Japan

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From the archives: We apparently had the coldest spring on record in this area. It’s finally getting warm again, and today I started my first batch of mugicha this year. Here is a slightly updated article about mugicha, or toasted barley tea, my favorite non-alcoholic summer drink. This was originally published on May 10, 2007, and updated on June 10, 2008. I’ve added another update at the end.

When we were growing up, my mother frowned upon most sugary drinks for us kids. So things like sodas were generally not stocked in the house - an ice-filled cup of Coke was a great treat whenever we went out to eat. Things like Calpis, or when we lived in the U.S. Kool-Aid, were strictly rationed. The cool drink we always had in the refrigerator was mugicha, or barley tea. Even when we lived in White Plains, New York, there were always a couple of jugs of mugicha in the large American refrigerator.

Mugicha is traditionally made by briefly simmering roasted barley grains. It has a toasty taste, with slight bitter undertones, but much less so than tea made from tea leaves. To me, it’s much more refreshing to drink than plain water.

My anti-sugar mother always made sugarless mugicha, but my younger self craved the sweetened mugicha that most of my friends’ mothers seemed to make. I always begged my mother to make sweet mugicha, but she always refused. Some day, when I am the one making mugicha, I’ll put all the sugar I want in it, I used to think. So, when I reached my teen years, and my mother was back working full time, I used to pour rivers of sugar into the mugicha. My little sisters loved it. I’m not sure if it made them more hyper than usual, though I have vague memories of my younger sister sitting on my head when she got bored.

Now that I am nominally an adult, I much prefer unsweetened mugicha. I’m growing more like my mother as I get older, a rather scary thought. continue reading...

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Umeboshi (pickled 'plum') article in The Japan Times

Different kinds of umeboshi

This month’s Japan Times article is about umeboshi, the sour-salty pickled fruit (usually called a pickled plum, though it’s actually more related to an apricot) that’s practically a national symbol.

I’ve written quite a lot about umeboshi on these pages before of course, including how to make your own if you can get a hold of the fresh ume fruit, following my mother’s instructions. continue reading...

Kyoto jo-gashi (wagashi) and iced matcha in the Japan Times

Kagizen Yoshikusa, Kyoto

This month’s Japan Times article is about Kyoto sweets. continue reading...

Setsuden article in The Japan Times, plus suzumi or 'keeping cool' the traditional way

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This month in the Japan Times, I talk about setsuden (cutting down on electricity consumption) and suzumi (keeping cool). continue reading...

Single variety tomato sauce

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Minimalist tomato sauce, made from a single variety of heirloom tomatoes. continue reading...

Tomatoes, at what temperature? Plus a super-easy tomato recipe

Heirloom tomatoes for lunch

Ahh, tomatoes. What temperature is right for them? continue reading...

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Combatting Summer Fatigue article in The Japan Times

Chicken and shrimp soba salad with sesame sauce

There’s a new recipe from me, on another site - take a look! And a bit about the, uh, photo shoot… continue reading...

Tamago dofu: Cold savory egg custard

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(From the archives - something cool and easy, perfect for the summer. Originally published in July 2008.)

Previously, I explained how some dishes that are not tofu are called -tofu, because of the shape, texture or both. This is the case with tamago dofu, a smooth savory egg custard that’s served cold.

You can make it in a square mold, to make it look tofu-like. But I prefer to keep it a lot simpler by cooking the tamago dofu in the serving container it will be served in. This can be anything as long as it’s heat-proof. Here I have used some sturdy glass cups made of pressed glass, but I’ve also used little pudding molds, tiny glass bowls made for holding ingredients while you’re cooking, and even coffee cups.

There are very few ingredients in a tamago dofu: dashi or soup stock, eggs, and a few flavorings. Because of this, each component should be of top quality, because you’ll taste each one quite clearly. Traditionally the soup component is dashi, but I don’t really like the fish flavor of dashi when it’s cold. So I prefer to make a simple vegetable stock instead.

Tamago dofu should be served ice cold. It’s a great appetizer for a summer meal, or an interesting and soothing snack. I have been guilty of making 4 cups and ‘hiding’ them so I can eat them all by myself. continue reading...

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Strawberry Jam in copious detail

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I’ve left it until rather late in the season, but here is a recipe for a a very straightforward strawberry jam. continue reading...

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Zucchini (Courgettes) braised in rosemary infused olive oil

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I have not doing a lot of serious cooking lately, at least not the kind that results in a useful blog post. Most of my cooking energies have been expended on another project, which is wearing me down a bit (more on that at a later time). What I have been cooking for actual meals is very simple food, that requires minimal kitchen time, though not necessarily quick to cook.

The subject of this article is zucchini (courgette) slices that are slowly braised in a fragrant oil. It requires perhaps 10 minutes of actual kitchen time, but an hour or more to complete. Days even, if you choose one option. You don’t need to hover over the pan for that time, but you do have to be nearby, to keep an eye on the hot oil, not to mention any errant pets, children or clumsy adults that wander in.

The wait and vigilance are worth it though. The zucchini slices, scented with the pine-mintiness of rosemary, become brown and sticky and almost caramelized on the surface, and soft and creamy on the inside. It’s great as an accompaniment to roast or panfried meats or fish, or as part of a vegetarian meal (try it with pasta). I could have it every day, just on its own, if it weren’t for the rather ruinous effect it has on my waistline, even if the oil is good-for-you olive oil.

This is the taste of late summer in Provence for me. continue reading...

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The sweet, cultured taste of Calpis

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As your sometime guide to Japanese culinary culture, I would be remiss if I let another summer pass by without talking about Calpis.

Calpis is a sweetened fermented milk beverage. The label says:

“CALPIS” is a cultured milk drink, a refreshing gift from nature.

People tend to either love or hate Calpis. continue reading...

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Nasu no miso dengaku: Japanese slow-roasted eggplant with dengaku sauce

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It’s still summertime, but I can feel the cooler days of fall coming, especially in the evenings when the temperature is dropping just a bit more than it did a few weeks ago. This is one of the best times of the year for food lovers, especially if you love vegetables.

Eggplants (aubergines) are in high season now and will be around for at least another month or so. While you can get them year-round, they are at their best of course in their natural season.

This is a classic Japanese way of serving eggplant, and it’s really easy. All you do is to slowly roast the eggplant until tender, either in the oven or on the stovetop in a frying pan, then serve with a glossy, salty-sweet dengaku (田楽)sauce. I could eat this every day, with a bowl of plain rice and some cold mugicha to wash it down. continue reading...

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Traditional Japanese strategies for combatting natsubate, or the dog days of summer

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A cat of our acquaintance’s natsubate strategy: All-day naps in the shade.

August is particularly bad in the Tokyo area where I’m from, as it is in most parts of Japan except for the northern parts of Hokkaido. It gets really hot, and the high humidity makes everything and everyone moist, sticky and generally nasty. There’s a bit of relief in the form of a brief evening thunderstorm (夕立 ゆうだち yuudachi) most days, but the respite is temporary. Getting a decent night’s sleep without air conditioning is pretty much impossible.

The term to describe the stage of lethargy and fatigue brought on by this hot, humid weather is 夏バテ (なつばて natsubabe; literally ‘summer fatigue’). Japanese people have devised various ways of combatting it. Some are food related, and some aren’t, but here are some of my favorites. continue reading...

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Postcards from Southwestern France: Gazpacho or cold soup, Cassoulet, Albi, Moissac, Conques

Conques, France

We left Provence this week for a little trip to the Midi-Pyrénées in the southwestern part of France. We’ve been trying to save money by cooking at home most of the time since we started our nomadic existence in France (see previously; not that that’s much of a hardship, since the produce and other foodstuffs in Provence are spectacular). But this week we’ve been staying in an apartment in a 17th century townhouse right around the corner from the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum in the heart of Albi, the capital of the Tarn Department. Since there are tons of great little restaurants here, we’ve been indulging ourselves a bit. continue reading...

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Basics: Cold soba noodles with dipping sauce

I’ve updated this very popular article a little bit and pushed it up from the archives, since it is the season for cold noodles now. I’ll also have a followup recipe soon for the perfect accompaniment to zaru soba. Originally published in May 2007.

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Most of Japan gets very hot and humid in the summer. To combat the heat, a number of dishes meant to be eaten cold have been developed. One of the main cold summer dishes is cold noodles.

Soba noodles, made of soba (buckwheat), are available all year round but are really popular when the heat turns unbearable. As with other cold noodles, they are prepared in a way that may seem strange if you’re used to pasta and other Western-style noodles. Unlike pasta, most Japanese noodles, including soba, are rinsed rather vigorously in cold running water. This not only cools them down but gets rid of excess starch, which adversely affects the flavor of the noodles. Many recipes written in English omit this critical rinsing step: you don’t just plunge it in cold water, as many directions incorrectly state, but you actively wash the noodles. Once you’ve done this once, you will definitely notice the difference. I’ve given detailed instructions for this procedure below.

Dipped into a properly made sauce or soba tsuyu, with plenty of spicy condiments or yakumi, there’s nothing more refreshing to eat on a hot summer evening. continue reading...

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Homemade Umeshu (plum wine) and Ume Hachimitsu Sour (ume honey-vinegar drink)

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Since so many people liked my mom’s umeboshi recipe, here are two more recipes using ume plums from her. She doesn’t have photos for these, so I’ve taken a picture of her notes, with a little illustration she did of how to layer the ume and sugar for the umeshu (plum wine). continue reading...

Sweet onion and soba salad with fat-free umeboshi dressing

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We still haven’t found a house to buy (though we may getting close), and due to the way things work in France, we are probably going to be nomads for at least 4 more months even if we put in an offer for a place tomorrow. I’ve gotten more used to cooking in tiny holiday home kitchens, but I’m still not up to anything too complicated - or in other words anything that requires the use of more than 2 burners at a time.

Fortunately it’s now summer, which means lighter, less complicated meals anyway. This salad, which can be a meal on its own, a starter or a light side dish, features sweet salad onions (spring is the season for them, at least around these parts), sliced paper-thin and refreshed in ice cold water. The tart dressing features umeboshi (pickled plums) and uses no oil, so this is an almost fat-free, fairly low calorie dish, that’s vegan to boot. continue reading...

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Corn on the cob with butter and soy sauce

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I have to admit that I’ve been quite taken aback by how popular the new potatoes with butter and soy sauce recipe has been. Butter and soy sauce are so familiar to me as a tasty combination that I hadn’t quite realized that it would be new and exciting to a lot of people.

Anyway, here’s another extremely simple yet delicious way of using this magic combination on another summer vegetable - sweet corn. Here in Europe, eating corn on the cob is a relatively new custom imported from the U.S. - corn around here is either dried and ground up (as polenta and so on), or used as animal feed. So it’s not always possible to buy great, very fresh sweet corn. This treatment can perk up even an ordinary supermarket-bought corn on the cob, and will really shine with corn that you’ve just picked from your own garden. continue reading...

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Steamed eggplants (aubergines) with spicy peanut sauce

[From the archives: This eggplant/aubergine dish is really nice served cold, though it can be served warm too. It doesn’t heat up the kitchen since it’s made in the microwave (yes, the microwave, and it works great!) so it’s great to make on a steamy hot summer evening, with in-season eggplant. Originally published July 2007.]

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Here is another summer dish. I love eggplants (aubergines), but cooking them without using a lot of oil can be a bit tricky. I read about this method of steam-cooking eggplants in the microwave in a Japanese magazine some time ago, and ever since it’s one of my favorite ways of preparing these rather spongy vegetables - they’re done in just 5 minutes without heating up the kitchen, which is hard to beat on a hot summer’s day. The whole dish takes less than 10 minutes to prepare.

Here they are served cold with a spicy peanut sauce, which makes it a very nice vegetarian/vegan main dish. Serve with rice or cold noodles. continue reading...

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Chilled wintermelon and shrimp soup

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These days, the house generally looks like a warzone because of the packing, and I am not in the mood for involved cooking. So I’m making very simple bentos, and mostly one-dish/one-pot type of things for dinner. A great one-pot meal is soup of course, but it is also summer, when we aren’t always in the mood for a steaming hot bowlful.

The answer is chilled soup that can be made ahead and just taken out at dinnertime. This one is really easy to make too, which is a big plus. Winter melon has a inherently cooling quality according to old (Chinese) medicine, so this is really nice to have on a warm evening. continue reading...

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Real breakfast: Summer breakfast smoothie

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Full fruity smoothies are a summer indulgence. continue reading...

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New potatoes with butter and soy sauce (Shinjaga shouyu bataa)

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A very easy way to treat yourself to tiny new potatoes. continue reading...

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Cold noodle time!

I am sort of the road this week, so it’s hard to cook much. When I get settled back at home, the first thing I want to make is cold noodles. What I’m craving most right now:

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That is hiyashi chuuka, or Chinese style cold noodles. It’s a meal in one, as refreshing as a salad. I love the salty-tangy sauce. continue reading...

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Strawberries, tsubuan, ice cream

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There are some food combinations that you think just shouldn’t belong together, but do so well. Strawberries with sweet beans? Surely not, you think, until you taste an ichigo daifuku - a strawberry wrapped in some azuki an and thin gyuuhi, a dough made of rice. I’ve had ichigo daifuku on my mind lately but have been too lazy to make the dumplings. This is a very easy alternative. Arguably it’s even better. continue reading...

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Kuzumochi, a cool sweet summer dessert

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I wrote about the use of kuzu powder in the goma dofu (sesame tofu) recipe. This time it’s a very traditional, simple sweet dish using kuzu.

Kuzumochi are sticky ‘mochi’ cakes made with just kuzu powder, sugar and water. The texture is somewhere in between gelatin and mochi made from rice flour - wobbly but not too sticky. It’s traditionally served chilled, so it makes an interesting, gluten free (and vegan) summer dessert. continue reading...

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Lemon verbena and honey granita

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The lemon verbena plant that I planted last year and almost lost to a summer storm, is now firmly established and positively thriving. Whenever I pass it I can’t resist rubbing a leaf, because it smells so wonderful.

Transferring that wonderful lemony scent to taste is quite easy - simply steeping it in some boiling water for about 10 to 15 minutes does the trick. This granita is infused with the aroma of lemon verbena, soured with a little lemon juice, and sweetened with a delicate acacia honey. Any light colored honey will work here instead. It makes a wonderful light dessert or palate cleanser, or cooling summer snack. continue reading...

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Tomato water is trendy

After reading my instructions for tomato water yesterday, a reader in the UK told me that Jamie Oliver had also made tomato water on his new show, Jamie At Home. (We can see BBC and ITV here in Switzerland, but not Channel 4.) Through nefarious means I was able to get hold of a copy of the show - it was dedicated to tomato recipes, which all looked delicious. I guess they didn’t film it this year though, because this hasn’t been a good year for tomato growing at all, with lots of rain and cold temperatures. (Unless they cheated and took their ‘home grown tomatoes’ from a greenhouse…) In any case, Jamie made his tomato water by straining the tomato pulp with cheesecloth, which would work as well as my method of using a sieve and paper towels. He iced his water down by adding ice cubes (I don’t think I’d do that since it would dilute the intense flavor) and sprinkled it with basil, celery and extra virgin olive oil, and spiked it with vodka. I hope you do try making tomato water at least once this tomato season - it’s really something worth doing! Serve it to your friends without telling them what it is and watch their faces! continue reading...

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Deconstructed Tomato: Tomato gelée with tomato coulis

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Have you ever made tomato water? It’s the clear liquid strained gently from a ripe tomato, and one of the best treats of summer. When made from juicy, vine-ripened tomatoes, it has a sweet yet green-tomatoey taste that is so intense that a little goes a very long way.

Making tomato water is very simple. All it requires is a blender or food processor, a fine mesh sieve, paper towels, and patience. What you do with the resulting water is up to your imagination. Here I have added a little gelatin to make it into a tomato gelée (or, to be non-fancy, jelly). Served on top is a tomato coulis made from the pulp that is left over after the water is strained. The only heat-adding cooking involved is in melting the gelatin. It fits in well with my minimal-cooking mood this summer.

This would make a very interesting first course for a summer meal, or an amuse-bouche if served in tiny portions. It would be a great in-between courses palate cleanser too, if you are having an elaborate meal. continue reading...

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Zucchini and chickpea pancakes

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Continuing with my light and quick summer dishes:

This year we got a bit more serious than usual about our garden, and planted three zucchini plants. If you have a garden with zucchinis, you know that sometime around midsummer they start to produce babies like crazy. We’ve had a rather cold and rainy summer here up until now, but this week our three innocent looking zucchini plants have gone into high gear, and we’re picking them as fast as we can before they turn into seedy, tasteless baseball bat sized monsters.

Zucchini pancakes are one way to use up a lot at once. This version uses chickpea flour instead of wheat flour or eggs, with a little bit of spice in it. It’s great hot or cold, and is a perfect snack, side dish or complete vegan main dish, since the chickpea flour is such a terrific source of protein and carbs (nutritional info). Serve it with a salsa, curry, or just on its own. Here I just served them with some super-ripe tomato wedges. The shredded zucchini adds moisture and a rather creamy texture, which I love.

Chickpea flour is used in Mediterranean and Indian cooking. I get mine from a local Indian grocery store, where it’s sold as gram flour; it’s also known as besan, ceci flour, and so on. continue reading...

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Tabbouleh with heirloom tomatoes and shiso

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I haven’t been posting a lot of recipes here recently. This is mainly because I haven’t actually been doing a lot of full-on cooking, as in hauling out a lot of pots and pans and having the oven full blast and so on. It’s summer after all, and I’ve been enjoying fruits and vegetables as close to their natural, fresh, ripe state as possible. So this week I’ll be posting a few such recipes - requiring minimal active cooking, full of fresh summer vegetables, and nice to have on a warm summer day or evening.

The first one is my standard recipe for tabbouleh, with a twist - instead of using mint, I use shiso (perilla). Shiso has a slightly minty but wholly unique flavor which I really like in just about anything. I also make it with a lot less olive oil than most recipes call for, which I think adds to the fresh taste. We love to have a bowl of tabbouleh in the fridge for easy self-service lunch and snacks throughout the day - it tastes so healthy and is quite filling. It’s also a great side dish for a barbeque.

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Fresh tomatoes are the key to a great tabbouleh in my opinion. You need ones that are ripe and full of flavor, yet firm. One of my favorite tomatoes at the moment are an heirloom Swiss variety called Berner Rosen - they are a rosy pink when ripe, and full of juice and flavor. (If you’re in Switzerland, Berner Rosen are all over the place at the markets right now.) If you can’t get hold of a good heirloom variety like this, use cherry tomatoes, which are usually reliably firm yet flavorful. continue reading...

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Poached and marinated pork (Nibuta)

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With summer just around the corner, I like to think of food that can be made well ahead and tastes great served cold, or at least cool, to keep me out of a hot kitchen. The vegetable part of this is usually taken care of with seasonal vegetable salads and the like. If the protein part means meat, I like to have pre-cooked pieces tucked away in the freezer.

One of my favorite cold meats is poached and marinated pork, or nibuta. (Ni means to cook in liquid, and buta is pig.) It’s very easy to make, stores beautifully in the refrigerator for about a week or much longer in the freezer, and of course, tastes great - savory, slightly sweet, and very juicy. It can be sliced very thinly or julienned for one-dish meal salads or in sandwiches, or chopped up and added to stir-fries, wraps, and so on. It’s a great addition to a bento box. It can be cubed or coarsely ground and used instead of char siu (roast pork) in steamed buns or bao. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

There’s one unusual ‘secret ingredient’ in the poaching liquid, umeboshi or pickled plum. You can omit this if you like, but adding just one umeboshi seems to de-fat the meat a bit more than just poaching, plus making it taste a bit cleaner and fresher in an interesting way. continue reading...

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Produce: Plums, plus plum jam

To me, plums are like the last gasp of summer before fall settles in. They are related to other summer stone fruit, like peaches and apricots, but they have a much more elusive flavor.

Plums continue reading...

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Summer berry and lemon verbena jelly

The tall, willowy plant with the long, narrow leaves waved around in the breeze, behind the rows of neat balls of mini-basil. Wondering what it was, I stretched out a hand and rubbed a leaf.

Immediately, my senses were filled with a lemony, refined aroma. It was like a lemon scented geranium, but not quite. It was like lemon balm, but not as minty. The sunburned, kindly faced owner of the market stall said that it was verveine. He went into a long explanation, of which I understood perhaps half, about how to care for the plant. I nodded ernestly and took notes. continue reading...

Weekend project: Peaches poached in red wine

Summer is slowly drawing to a close. Sure it's mid-August, and the weather here has actually warmed up since the cold spell we had around the beginning of the month. But I can tell that summer is now an old lady because the taste of some produce is already changing. Peaches for instance. They were so sweet and juicy just a few days ago, but the ones I've bought the last few days are already either a bit too hard, a bit too sour, or rather mushy (showing they've been 'ripened' after being picked). continue reading...

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Tomato granita

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Is it still steaming hot where you are? It has finally cooled down a bit here - yesterday it rained all day, and right now it's comfortably cool. We may yet have a heatwave though, and I'm still craving icy things to eat. continue reading...

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Animals need ice treats too

You may have already seen this story about the animals in the Zürich Zoo being fed frozen meat and fruit "alternative ice cream" to cool them down. It seems that this isn't so uncommon. 20 Minuten, a free paper that's distributed in Zürich and other Swiss cities, has a great slide show on their web site of animals cooling down, using ice treats and other ways. continue reading...

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Hiyashi chuuka: Japanese Chinese-style cold noodles

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Summer in most parts of Japan is hot and very humid, so cold foods are very popular. There are a lot of cold noodle dishes, such as chilled soba noodles and thin wheat noodes (hiyamugi or so-men). I love them all, but I think my favorite is hiyashi chuuka, which is Chinese-style cold noodles as interpreted by the Japanese. continue reading...

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Back Home, and the Essence of June

I'm back home after spending an amazing two weeks in Provence, not to mention the three days before that in the Bourgogne (Burgundy). My sunburned skin feels a wee bit tender and is about the color of milk tea - brown with a decided reddish undertone. My head is bursting with ideas and thoughts and recipes, and I have more than 4,000 photos to sort through (not all of them of food, but a good amount are!) Chances are, you'll be reading a lot of these beautiful areas of France in the next few days around here. continue reading...

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Fantasy Strawberries

Although we can get mediocre strawberries now year-round, and even decent ones from warmer climates starting in late April or so, around these parts and in many of the chillier areas of the northern hemisphere, June marks the real start of the season. continue reading...

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