Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Chawanmushi Improvs


This is a kind of Japanese custard which people think requires some remarkably complex technique. It’s actually easier to make than a poached egg. Its appeal lies primarily in the soft creamy texture, especially when contrasted with crunchy or chewy garnishes. In flavor it can be as delicate or as intense as you like in the morning, and is entirely dependent on the strength of the stock you use. The key to success, I discovered after much travail, is adhering to a simple formula and precise timing and after that you can use any ingredients you like. Here is a relatively classic version, though garnished according to my personal whim.

½ c dashi stock
1 jumbo egg
½ tsp mirin
½ tsp soy sauce
2 small pieces of lightly salted salmon

A few whisps of dill, Thin wedge of tomato, 1 shiitake mushroom, 1 tsp neutral oil

 If you can make dashi stock, by all means do. It is a handful of skipjack mackerel shavings and a piece of kombu steeped in hot water and strained. You can also find powdered dashi stock, just try to avoid the jarred instant hondashi powder. Put 3 inches of water in a small pot and bring to the boil. Break the egg gently into the room temperature stock, and stir with your finger. On no account should you beat this mixture, or you’ll have spongy scrambled eggs. Add the mirin and soy. With a small fine meshed sieve set over a small teacup, press the mixture through. This takes a few minutes, so be patient. Cover it with tin foil tightly. Lower the heat of the water as low as it will go, and place the tea cup in the pot and cover. Steam for exactly 12 minutes. If the water is over 170 degrees, the liquid stock will be pressed out of suspension and you’ll have wet scrambled eggs. Do don’t be tempted to turn the heat up or even peek at it.

Meanwhile cook your mushroom in oil, and char the tomato too, then set aside.

Remove the teacup from the pot and let rest 3 minutes. Remove the tin foil and arrange the garnishes on top. Serve at once with a spoon while still warm.

Now here’s the best part, you can use absolutely any kind of stock and any garnishes you like. An intense mushroom stock was remarkable with sour cream and chives and a few sliced of truffle for extravagance. Chicken stock was incredible in custard form, especially contrasted with crunchy sweet corn fried in butter, with a few chewy chicken meatballs to garnish. A shellfish stock with shrimp would be so delightful too. I leave this to your imagination. 

Friday, January 15, 2021

Amaranth Sushi with Smoked Trout


Amaranth Sushi 1/15/2021

Some grains simply don’t stick together well enough to hold together in a rolled sushi, but amaranth is an exception. The nutty flavor also goes so nicely with the fish that it doesn’t need any further embellishment.

¾ c water

1/8 tsp salt

½ c amaranth

1 smoked trout filet

1 tbs mayonnaise

2 sheets of nori


Bring the water to the boil in a small pot with the salt. Add the amaranth and lower the heat. Simmer very gently for 20 minutes covered. Remove the lid and let the steam rise in the hot pot, stirring now and then, until the amaranth is completely dry and cool. Mix the trout and mayonnaise. Briefly pass the sheets of seaweed over an open flame for just a second so they are toasty and crisp. Divide the amaranth between the two sheets and make a thin layer. Place the trout in a thin line along the middle. Then place the whole thing in a sushi rolling mat, and roll up tightly, pressing it in with the edge of the mat rolled around it. Remove the whole roll, cut into 4 parts with a serrated bread knife, very gently so you don’t squish out the contents. Repeat with the other sheet. Makes 8 small pieces.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Sev Nachos

 Among the most ingenious ways to transform chickpea flour is to extrude it through a brass device used in India to make sev – a kind of fried noodle that goes into a variety of dishes. There are various other machines that will work just as well, a small hand-held noodle extruder, a ricer and even a cookie press with a perforated die. Here I have obviously desecrated a revered snack food, but it is so remarkably delicious, I implore you to try it.

  • 1 c chickpea flour
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • 1/8 tsp paprika
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • Water (less than ¼ cup)
  • 2 inches of vegetable oil in a pan

  • 1 ounce mozzarella
  • 1 Roma tomato
  • 2 tbs sour cream
  • ¼ c fresh cilantro
  • 1 tbs milk
  • 1/8 tsp of salt


Mix the first 6 ingredients and add just enough water so it becomes a stiff dough. If necessary add a little more chickpea flour and form into a cylinder with your hands. Slide it into your press. There is no need to oil it, your hands, or anything. Now heat your oil in the pan. To test take a tiny bit of the dough and put it in the hot oil. See if it floats up. If it sinks and no bubbles form, it’s not hot enough, if it browns quickly, it’s too hot. Adjust heat accordingly. Then put the plunger in your extruder and turn the crank directly over the oil, filling the whole pan with noodles. With a pair of metal skewers, start turning them over. Cook on both sides about 5 minutes or until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon or strainer and place on paper towels to cool.


Then arrange on a baking sheet covered with tin foil, sprinkle on the cheese and the tomato, chopped. Place in a toaster oven at 350 degrees until the cheese is melted. While that is heating, mix the sour cream, chopped cilantro and salt, thin with milk until it’s pourable. Take the nachos out of the oven a drizzle with the sour cream mixture. Be forwarned: it’s awfully messy, but there’s no other way to eat it but with your fingers.


Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Boyos (Sephardic Rolls with Rabe and Feta)

“My grandma was the best cook ever!” says anyone who has ever been interested in cooking and eating. I say the same thing myself. For years I have been trying to replicate her recipes from memory. She died when I was 13, so it’s mostly guesswork. One of these is boyos – a kind of round roll with spinach and feta filling. There were also other fillings, like onion and egg, ground beef too. I recall vividly one day exclaiming how much I liked them, so whenever I saw her, she would have made dozens just for me, to put in the freezer and have for breakfast every day. In all honesty, they were a bit dense and since she was Mediterranean at heart, she poured olive oil on top. My father would become incensed; he liked them fine without oil, but she insisted.

After a little sleuthing I found that boyoz, as they are spelled in Turkey, are still made in the city of Izmir (Smyrna) where my grandmother’s family came from, and they are still associated with the Sephardic Jewish community. Of course the name is bollo – and they come originally from Spain. They are often unfilled in Turkey and are made of a pulled filo dough, light like a croissant. Nothing like my grandmother’s.

So with this recipe I thought about how much better they would be light and flaky, so I made a simple yeasted and laminated croissant-like dough with butter. I also used broccoli rabe instead of spinach, because the oxalic acid in the latter strips the enamel off my teeth and makes them feel chalky. And because rabe is the best vegetable on earth, period. Use a good creamy feta too, ideally from Bulgaria, but French feta can be great too.   


1 c pastry flour
1/8 tsp sea salt
1 tsp instant yeast
1/3 c water, plus a little more for kneading
6 tbs salted butter
1 bunch broccoli rabe
3 tbs olive oil
1 tsp salt
6 oz feta cheese
1 egg
1 tsp each black and white sesame seeds


Mix the flour, salt, yeast and water and knead for about 10 minutes, keeping your hands wet with extra water (rather than dry with flour). Place pats of the cold butter on a sheet of plastic wrap and put another sheet on top. Roll it out into a thin square. Roll out the dough on a large wooden board, this time floured. Remove the top sheet of plastic from the butter and set it directly on the dough; then remove the other sheet. Fold the dough over the butter like a book and roll out. Repeat folding over and rolling out 4 or 5 times more, wrap the dough in the plastic and let rest in the fridge for an hour.

Chop the broccoli rabe, discarding the thick ends of the stems. Fry in the oil and season with salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring now and then, for about 15 minutes. Remove from the pan and place in a bowl to cool. Then crumble in the feta and add ¾ of the egg. Mix well. And set aside until the dough is finished resting in the fridge.

Roll out the dough on a floured board. Cut into four pieces. Place the filling in the center of each piece and fold over the sides, encasing the filling. Then turn them over, so the top is smooth. Brush with the remaining egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Then heat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake the boyos for 10 minutes and then lower the heat to 350 and cook another 20 minutes until browned. Eat them hot, for breakfast of course. 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Recipe Testing

How to do Recipe Testing

First get on your sturdy hiking shoes and a good hat and a little blue backpack from Disney Word with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit on it. Set out early, but not too much before stores open. Head north. Don’t forget your earbuds. Prepare to spend about 4 hours listening to Trout Fishing in America, which will lull your brain into a state of hypnosis. This will help you focus on the recipe at hand, still as yet unimagined. Drop into a little party supply store that is almost always closed, and for no good reason buy a few 3-inch tinned brioche molds for $2.40 each. Keep going north. Stop in the famous San Francisco Boudin Bakery chain, which you haven’t been in for about a decade, when your son was taking guitar lessons and the other son wanted clam chowder in a sourdough bowl. Buy some sourdough and wonder, as always, how that the particular lactobacillus strain can survive the heat of Stockton. Keep walking north. Imagine stuffing the bread into the brioche molds. Pick up some vodka (best to plan ahead) and put it in Oswald. Buy some olive oil, the last drop of which you used last night. The backpack will begin to sag by now. Richard Brautigan will make you say Trout Fishing in America when the person at the cash register asks if this is credit or debit. When you finally get home, cut the sourdough into thin three-inch rounds with crust all around. Butter every surface, including the sides, your hands, and the top of your head. Suddenly remember that although you have no trout, there are chunks of salmon, well salted, strewn with dill and splashed with Linie Aquavit, which is better than any other because it has crossed the equator. Unlike the salmon, who only went upstream. But they didn’t have a ship, which is why they die after spawning. The people who bring Linie Aquavit across the equator, they do not die after spawning. Squish your buttered bread, but not your head, into the brioche molds and fill with a few nubbins of cured salmon. Nibble on the salmon, then remember that you put the vodka in the freezer and make a drink with lime, sugar and lime-flavored seltzer so you can bear out the 15 minutes you arbitrarily decide will be the time this recipe takes to bake. Preheat the toaster oven. Crack and egg, add a pinch of salt and pour into the molds. Whisk the brioche molds into the toaster oven and sip your cocktail. When the bell goes off, remove them, take a few pictures and pry them out of the molds and take a few more. Eat the whatchamacallits with your cocktail. Oh just call them Trout Fishing in America. Mayonaise.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Idli with Almond Butter and Persimmon Chutney

Were I to tell you that this recipe is highly reminiscent of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you probably wouldn’t believe me, but it’s true. Idli, from Southern India, are soft cakey rounds that are oddly like white bread but pleasantly sour and made entirely from fermented rice and beans. Almond butter is more nuanced than peanut but either would work well, and the chutney is infinitely more vibrant than jelly. Combining these ingredients also came to me entirely serendipitously. About a decade ago I planted a little persimmon tree at the corner of my house, where it received next to no light and even less water. I vaguely remembered it was there, but it never bore fruit and never grew. This past season we trimmed back nearby trees and fixed the sprinkler. I happened to be poking around in front of the house mid October, and what do you know? Three gorgeous fuyu persimmons, crisp and sweet and ready to go on the idli I had just steamed for breakfast.

In terms of cost, I bought a large bag of basmati rice for $5.99 and beans $2.99. To make the idli batter, I used about a dollar’s worth of rice and 50 cents for the beans. The almond butter was already in the cabinet and the persimmon, free. So breakfast for me, just a cup of the batter, of which I had about 7 cups, so that means this cost 21 cents. I tested it a few times to get the cooking time right, so let’s be fair and say 63 cents to test and 25 cents for the other ingredients – a shallot and a few raisins, a spoon of almond butter. Eminently affordable, unusual, and quick. The only thing you need to start ahead of time is the batter, but it takes very little effort.


2 c basmati rice

½ c urad dahl (tiny white black gram beans with the outer coating removed – not lentils)

Spring water or filtered tap water

½ tbs butter

1 tbs almond butter

   Put the rice in one large bowl and the beans in another. Barely cover each with water. Cover with a dish cloth and allow them to ferment for 2 days. Next put them together in a blender and process until smooth and the consistency of cream. Return to the larger bowl and cover. Let ferment another two days, stirring a few times each day. Don’t be alarmed by any errant aromas the bowl may emit. It cannot go bad. It’s simply adjusting to your house and the lactobacilli are multiplying, fending off other bacteria. At this point it should be frothy and thick and resembles whipped egg whites. If your house is hot it may go quicker and the opposite if cold.

Then generously butter a small bowl about 4 inches in diameter and pour in some batter, about half way up. Place the bowl into a steamer and cook for 12 minutes. A smaller bowl will take a little less time, larger more. Remove from the steamer and let cool for a few minutes. Run a knife around the perimeter to loosen the idli and turn out onto a board. Slice the idli horizontally so you have a top and bottom, like a little bun. Spread the almond butter on one side.


Persimmon Chutney

2 tbs neutral oil

1 small shallot

1 knob of ginger

1 small fuyu persimmon

About 20 golden raisins

1 tbs vinegar

    When you put your idli in to steam, peel and chop the shallot and start to cook gently in the oil. Peel the ginger with a spoon, slice and dice finely, then add to the pan. Chop the persimmon finely and add. Likewise chop the raisins and add them. Splash with vinegar. Ideally this should be cooked just enough by the time your idli are done, about 12 minutes. Or let cook a few minutes longer if necessary. Put a good dollop of the chutney on top of the almond butter, close and serve up, just as you would a PB&J sandwich.