Vegetarian/Vegan


Quick sesame-soy omelette

Leftovers from the meal we were too tired to cook

It’s been a long day in a long week in a bad month. I was too tired to cook when I stumbled home, and M was out until late. So we decided to get takeaway.

Unfortunately, I was also too tired to remember to order takeaway. So by the time M got home,  it was late, we were both hungry, and neither of us could be bothered waiting for home delivery to show up.

So what to do?

There was brown rice in the rice cooker, some eggs & baby spinach leaves in the fridge, and the kimchi that I made back in June. Ten minutes later, we were sitting down to dinner.

Arwen’s Japanese-style omelette rice

Ingredients

4 eggs

1 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp sesame oil

Method

Break the eggs into a bowl and whisk with a fork. Stir in the soy sauce. Heat a frypan over high heat and add the sesame oil. Once you can smell the oil, add half the egg. Use the fork to move the cooked egg aside and let raw egg flow in. Once the first half is cooked, push it to the side of the pan, and cook the second half the same way. Cut into strips, and serve on the rice. I added a handful of baby spinach leaves, and a good amount of kimchi as well.

All in all, it was quick, hot, tasty, and nutritious. Of course, we were too hungry and tired to think of photographing it, so instead you have a lunch-bento  of the leftovers, still looking delicious for tomorrow.

And then I went to bed (after a quick pause to post this, of course).

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Making your own pesto is much faster and easier than you'd expect

Most people don’t seem to think of pesto as a quick meal, unless you’re dolloping it out of a jar. Actually, though, fresh pesto is fast, simple, nutritious, and much, much tastier than any jar version you might have tried – even better than most restaurant versions.

I first encountered pesto from my Italian aunt, who used to babysit me until I was three years old. I then promptly forgot about it, of course, until a friend reintroduced me about sixteen or so years later. It surprised me to find out that most people think of pesto as something that comes out of jars. It’s actually very quick and easy to make at home – and so very much tastier than anything you’ll find in a jar.

There are many varients of pesto. I generally make a couple of different version, depending on what I have on hand. Basil pesto is my favourite, but you can also make very tasty versions from parsely or coriander. As well as using them on pasta, you can put dollops into soup, or on baked or grilled vegetables, into sandwiches, or as a salad dressing – or anywhere else you want a fresh tang of herbs and parmesan.

If you have a food processor, you can go from herbs on stalks to pesto in about 10 minutes, or less if you’re skipping the toasted pine nuts. If you only have a mortar and pestle, it may take a little longer – but some people think it’s even more delicious.

I’ve always read that pesto made in a mortar and pestle tastes much better than the food-processor made stuff. So just to keep things interesting, I made this pesto two ways. One in the food processor, the other in the mortar.

Basil pesto
The fresher the basil, the better the pesto. Make sure you don’t use the flower heads in your basil; they’ll make your pesto bitter. And remember, all the quantities in this recipe are approximate, feel free to modify them to your taste.

Fresh basil

Make sure you leave out the flower heads, or you'll end up with bitter pesto

Ingredients
1 bunch of fresh basil
a handful of pine nuts
1/4 cup of parmesan, grated
1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled
about 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup olive oil
Pinch of sea salt
Extra parmesan, to serve (optional)

Method
Pluck the leaves from the basil, and put in your food processor (or mortar). Toast the pinenuts in a dry frypan until they start to turn golden brown – watch them carefully as they can burn quickly. Pop them into the food processor as well, along with all the other ingredients (start with the smaller amount of olive oil). If you’re using a mortar and pestle, slice the garlic finely to make it easier to pound. Process your pesto until it becomes a very rough paste, either in a food processor or by giving it a good pounding with the pestle. Add more olive oil as needed.

Process until you get a chunky paste, adding more olive oil as needed

Serve tossed through fresh-cooked pasta, with a sprinkling of extra parmesan, if you feel like it.

Serves 2 hungry people.

Pasta with homemade pesto

Serve with a little extra parmesan, or just as is.

So which version is tastier? M and I sampled each, and the version made in the mortar won hands down. It had a more complex flavour, with the basil coming through much more clearly.

Pesto and pestle

The pesto made by hand had much more flavour and depth than the food processor batch

Does this mean I’ll be pounding my pesto from now on? I doubt it – it’s too labour-intensive for a fast meal. I may tip it into the mortar at the end, but the difference in flavour wasn’t large enough to make the extra effort worthwhile, except for extra-special occasions.

If you’ve ever eaten at a Korean restaurant, chances are you’ve eaten kimchi, the fermented chilli and Chinese cabbage pickle that tastes so, so much better than that description makes it sound. I love kimchi – I’ve been known to eat it by the spoonful. And, surprisingly enough, it’s pretty easy to make – well, this version is, anyway.

I’ve also discovered that some people haven’t encountered Chinese cabbage, or wombok, the main ingredient in most kimchi. It’s one of my favourite greens. It’s light and crisp, without the heavy sulfur tang of most Western varieties, but more robust than lettuce. It also lasts much better in the fridge than other Asian greens like bok choy or gai lan, and it cooks quickly in dishes like stirfries or stews. Chinese cabbage is one of the traditional ingredients in Japanese hotpots, too. For any Americans reading along, it seems to be known as Napa cabbage over there.

But if you’ve been staring at the remains of a Chinese cabbage in your fridge, wondering what on earth you’re going to do with it, tasty spicy bitey kimchi is a damn good option.

There are many, many different variations on kimchi. From ones that use different vegetables as the base, like daikon radish, or various greens, to different flavourings, like fish or soy sauce, or even fresh oysters. I like mine fairly basic, and didn’t happen to have any oysters lying around the house, so here is my version.

Arwen’s Simple Kimchi recipe

Korean chilli powder is normally a little milder than most others. I couldn’t find any when I went hunting through Asian supermarkets, so I just used normal chilli flakes, whizzed in my spice grinder until they were mostly powdered. If you’re using Korean powder, you may want to up your chilli quantity a little – or just leave it as it is for a slightly milder pickle.

The word ‘shmoosh’ appears frequently throughout this recipe. In case it’s not clear, I mean ‘give it a good squeezy mix with your hands’.

Ingredients

1/2 Chinese cabbage, cut into rough pieces

1/4 cup salt (don’t worry; it isn’t all ending up in the finished kimchi)

water

1/4 cup Korean chilli powder (or any other chilli powder)

3 spring onions, roughly sliced (optional)

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

2 teaspoons crushed fresh garlic (or 2 large cloves)

Method

Chopped Chinese Cabbage

Chopped cabbage, ready for brining

Pop the chopped Chinese cabbage into a non-metal bowl big enough to hold it comfortably. Dissolve the salt into about 2 cups of warm water, then pour the salty water over the cabbage. With clean hands, give the cabbage a good mix to make sure it’s all covered with the salt water, then pop a weight on top (I used a dinner plate) and leave it overnight (or for at least 4 hours) to brine.

Cabbage in brine

I used a dinner plate as a weight for my brining cabbage

The next day, drain the brine off the cabbage, and rinse it well, preferably two or three times. Let it drain. Mix the chilli powder, garlic, and ginger with enough water to make a paste. Pop your cabbage pack in its bowl, and add the chilli paste and the chopped spring onions.

Pre-shmooshed kimchi

Before shmooshing

Now put some food-safe gloves on! This is important – you’re going to be doing more shmoosing, and grinding chilli into your skin burns, even if you don’t accidentally wipe your face with a chilli-hand. I used disposable latex gloves.

Shmooshing the kimchi

Give it a good mix and squeeze - and I mean it about the gloves!

Once you’re gloved up, mix the kimchi up well, giving it a good shmoosh as you go, to further break the cell walls in the cabbage and help the chilli marinade penetrate it.

Kimchi; after shmoosing

And after shmooshing.

When mixed well, put the kimchi into your container (make sure you wash it well first!). Leave it out for 1 – 2 days to start to ferment, then pop it into the fridge. The longer you leave it, the more sour your final kimchi will be. You can eat it any time after it’s ready for the fridge;  and it should last several months.

Note: it’s best to use a glass or ceramic jar to store your kimchi in, as the chilli can stain plastic. I had neither on hand, so I’ve resigned myself to a red-stained container.

Finished Kimchi

The finished kimchi. Over the next few days, the liquid will go red, and the kimchi will get tastier and tastier.

I’ll make sure I post pictures of the final kimchi when it’s ready to eat, and hopefully a recipe as well.

I’m told that some people have tried and liked the lamb shanks recipe – hooray! Be sure and post your experience if you’ve tried out any of the recipes here. I’m looking at the commenting system to see if I can make it a bit easier; I’m new at WordPress, so I’m still working out the options.

I’ve also been asked to post some more recipes. Whether that’s so there’s more tasties to try, or people would prefer not to read me meandering along about wholefoods, I’m not sure.

Either way, here’s an easy and simple recipe that I cooked last night. It’s vegetarian/vegan, unless you do as I did and add chicken breast at the end, and takes quite literally 5 minutes to prepare, then cooks itself. Well, if you own a rice cooker, anyway. There’s slightly more supervision involved if you don’t.

Personally, our rice cooker is our most-used kitchen item. 5 meals out of seven will involve rice, or sometimes quinoa, cooked in the rice cooker. And on weeknights it’s a life saver. Come home, pop rice in the rice cooker, then cook the rest of the meal when the rice is done – it’ll wait. Or, in the case of this recipe, chop for 5 minutes, toss things in the rice cooker, then eat when it’s done.

So simple.

Chestnut & Shiitake rice

I really, really love my rice cooker - it cooks me meals like this!

I used packaged chestnuts for this – I usually pick up a bag or two when I’m in Chinatown, for snacks. You could also use dried chestnuts; I haven’t tried it myself, but I think the cooking time would be enough to rehydrate them. Or you can use fresh chestnuts if you want – the amount of effort it takes to roast and peel them usually means I just eat them on the spot, personally, but if you happen to have more than you can easily shovel in your gob, you can use them here.

Pre-packaged chestnuts

These are the chestnuts I generally buy

If you don’t have chestnuts, you could substitute green peas or beans. It would change the final dish, and make it much less autumnal and sweet, but it would still be damn tasty.

Shiitake and Chestnut rice

Ingredients

1 rice-cooker cup of brown rice (or about 1/2 a metric cup, if you don’t have a rice cooker)

4-5 shiitake mushrooms

1 stick of celery

4-5 chestnuts

A couple of handfuls of baby spinach leaves, washed

Prep time

Prep time!

Method

Chop the mushrooms, celery, and chestnuts – it doesn’t have to be too fine, just even slices. Put everything but the baby spinach into the ricecooker, or saucepan, and add the recommended amount of water. If you’re not using the rice cooker, add water to the depth of your second knuckle from the tip of your index finger. Cook normally. (if anyone needs instructions on cooking rice by absorption on the stove, comment and let me know – it’s pretty straight forward). Once cooked, stir the spinach leaves through.

Serve as is, or do as I did, and top with chicken breast, which I poached then quickly fried with a little soy sauce. Or you could add some Asian-style eggs quickly cooked in the wok with soy sauce and sesame oil.

If you want more flavour in your rice, you could partially or wholly replace the cooking water with chicken stock or Japanese dashi stock.

Chicken breast on chestnut & shiitake rice

Chestnut & shiitake rice with chicken breast

Serves 1 on its own, or 2 as part of a larger meal.

Enjoy cooking, and your food!