Archive for the ‘Asian’ Category

Sydney Layover

Practically every time I want to leave Australia to go back to the US, I have to stopover in Sydney for a few hours. Sometimes I schedule my flights so that I have a whole day to hang out in Sydney before I board my (usually) evening flight home. This time, I decided not to spend the extra $$ and leave my small carry-on at airport luggage storage and lugged it around the city – bad idea. Living in Adelaide makes me forget what living in a really big city is like and I forgot that there are tons of people and lots of crazy freaky people as well. Dodging traffic and people while rolling my carry-on proved too exhausting so my jaunt lasted only a few hours. In the few hours, I was able to eat at my favorite Japanese hole-in-the-wall restaurant that I ALWAYS manage to eat at (at least once) whenever I go to Sydney.

KURA, Shop 3, 76 Ultimo Rd

Haymarket NSW 2000

Phone (02) 9212 5661

Located in Chinatown (Haymarket area) across from the famous (and tacky tourist trap) Paddy’s Market is a cash only, tiny (about 14 seat capacity) joint that often has a long queue at lunchtime. If people are waiting, you go inside to get a number and wait for your number to be called before going in. On this occasion, because I was alone, I was seated with another single young man in his early 20s eating his lunch. Normally it’s not a big deal to me being seated with a complete stranger but this table was so small that I was less than two feet from him! If I leaned over even slightly, I would be able to kiss his forehead! Needless to say, I didn’t complain but we were both rather uneasy with the intimate space we were sharing in complete silence. We didn’t even glance at each other nor did we make eye contact (he was listening to his iPod). The food is so good that I was willing to put up with this type of discomfort (and that’s saying a lot)! It isn’t gourmet but it is good quality, home-cooking at fantastic prices! Everything is good here but I especially come here to get either the chirashi or sushi combination with only costs about $10. They have daily lunch specials that come with miso soup and the takoyaki here is authentic and tasty.  This time I couldn’t help but get the six-piece aburi (lightly grilled on top but kept raw underneath) salmon sushi and mini udon special even though I knew I’d get fed soon on the plane. Yummy! This place is pretty authentic and is a great place for good Japanese food for a great price. Just remember that just like in busy restaurants in Japan, they want you to pay for your meal right after you order it so don’t be surprised by their polite request for you to do so!

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Every spring when I was a teenager, I remember watching Good Morning America and without fail, there was a cooking segment that introduced the asparagus season and whenever I saw the episode featuring asparagus, I knew that spring had officially arrived (since we didn’t have seasons in the tropics). I think that that morning show was where I learned how to choose the perfect spears and how to snap the woody bottom off so that only the tasty tender bit remained. Over the years I have eaten all colours – green, purple and white asparagus. As a child, my only experience with white asparagus (as with many of you) was in a can – gross and mushy, but I remember my mother revering it because it was so expensive and gourmet. Of course when I finally ate fresh white asparagus, it tasted nothing like the stuff in the can! In Barcelona’s La Bocaria market, white asparagus were piled high and so incredibly cheap that I couldn’t believe my eyes! Next time I visit Barcelona, I have vowed to stay in a serviced apartment to be able to cook those lovely beauties.

It seems like purple asparagus is even rarer to find and as it has a higher sugar content than its green relatives, it has a sweeter flavour. If you cook it quickly, it will retain most of its purple hue but if cooked for an extended period of time (like I once did), it turns green again (much like purple peppers/capsicums). When I worked as an apprentice at Chez Panisse, I remember purple asparagus on the menu a few times and I also remember that we peeled about 1/3 of the bottom of each spear to expose the tender bits and avoid the woody thicker skin at the bottom – it is one of the many images that I associate with that restaurant.

Asparagus is beautiful boiled/steamed and served with a little bit of sea salt, stir-fried with beef Asian style, accompanied with Hollandaise sauce or even used to make a chilled cream of asparagus soup topped with fresh crab. Mmmm…

Recently I have noticed beautiful bunches of green asparagus at my local greengrocers and although I wasn’t sure whether they were domestically grown or not (since it is autumn here), I couldn’t resist them and decided to use them to make easy and very tasty canapés. (I read some statistics recently that I found interesting – most of the asparagus grown in Australia is grown in Victoria and that 67% of Australia’s production is imported to Japan as opposed to 5% from California’s production.)

Digging into my Japanese repertoire, I decided to make teriyaki-marinated beef asparagus rolls. If you live in a city where you are able to get beautifully thin sukiyaki beef, by all means, use it because it’s precut and ready to roll. If however you live in a city like I do, where butchers stare at you in confusion if you ask for shabu-shabu or sukiyaki cuts of beef, then you may have to do what I did. I went to a local butcher and tried to explain what I wanted to do and then he offered me a piece of round that he butterflied and then offered to tenderise it. When I have told butchers here that I want the meat to be very THIN, NONE of them so far have understood that I want it to be PAPER thin, not 4 mm thin. Anyway, I got it home and decided to bash the meat (without pissing off my neighbours) to my desired thinness in preparation for marinating.

Preparing Beef

Bashing the beef into submission…a great stress reliever.

Looks like Oz

Odd, I didn’t try to create a map of Australia!

Beef strips ready for the marinade.

Beef strips in teriyaki marinade.

Teriyaki Marinade

1/3 c. Japanese soy sauce (Kikkoman, Yamasa)

2 Tbsp. sugar

2 Tbsp. mirin

2 Tbsp. sake

1 large clove of garlic

1 Tbsp. mince or grated fresh ginger

1 tsp. sesame oil (optional)

2 Tbsp. chopped green onion (optional)

Instructions:  Slice thin meat into 1 to 1.5 in. (2.5 to 3.5 cm) wide x 4 in. (10 cm) thin slices (long enough to wrap around the stacked asparagus).

Mix all the marinade ingredients together making sure that the sugar is dissolved before placing beef in the marinade. You may double or triple this recipe to suit a larger amount of meat. The piece of meat I used was only about 250g (about 1/2 lb). Leave in marinade for at least an hour before cooking.

To make canapés: Blanche asparagus spears whole in boiling water until nearly cooked. Place immediately under cold water to stop cooking. Cut uniformly into 2.5 in / 5 cm pieces and place three pieces of asparagus in each stack. Place marinated beef pieces on a flat surface and roll around the asparagus clusters. Pan fry the stacks with the join on the bottom to be seared initially, so that the cooked beef doesn’t start to unravel when turned over to cook the other side. Serve hot or at room temperature.

These canapés look harder than they are, are very tasty, make great conversation pieces and you may even eat them as a meal with hot rice!

This recipe is also featured at:

Asparagus Canapes

See Asparagus Canapes on Key Ingredient.

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Fresh Ginkgo

Beautiful Mature Ginkgo in Washington D.C.

Fresh Fallen Ginkgo

As a child, I treasured my grandmother’s chawan mushi, or savory Japanese custard with lots of goodies in it like shrimp, chicken and fish cake. Whenever she’d make it, I always asked for seconds so she started to make extra to anticipate my greedy request for more. The only thing that I didn’t find pleasurable when eating my chawan mushi was finding the one little yellow ginkgo seed (ぎんなん ginnan in Japanese) at the bottom. It was bitter and sort of squishy and the only thing it reminded me of was Chinese bitter melon (which I also didn’t like). But as I grew older, I started to look forward to the ginkgo (often sold as “white nuts” in Chinese grocery stores in tins) at the bottom of the dish and even liked them skewered and sprinkled with salt on a stick at yakiniku restaurants.

Ginkgo nuts are grown on beautiful trees that turn an amazing bright yellow in the autumn and brighten up the dullest rainy days. From the information I could find on Ginkgo trees, they have been around for over 200 million years and have done little evolutionary change during that time. In western cultures, ginkgo biloba is created as a supplement (often in energy drinks) to aid memory – the plant definitely has been found to contain phytochemicals. In all the years that I have seen ginkgo biloba trees, I have never seen it bearing fruit until about a month ago when I drove through a tiny lane in my neighborhood and saw a ginkgo tree (on the sidewalk) with a great big orange sticky mess under it. I immediately pulled over the car and ran towards it and realized that it was indeed ginkgo seeds! I was so excited that I crabbed a plastic bag from my car (I always carry them) and started to load up on these orange, wrinkly cherry-like seeds from the road. I honestly didn’t understand why I was so excited because I don’t even love them but I think just the novelty of them made me giddy.  Actually, I felt a little sorry for the people who owned the house in front of the tree because it was making a huge mess everywhere and it spilled onto the tarmac as well.  I can tell from the mess around the tree that no one was picking these or cared to – probably because of their smell or because their use is not common in western cuisine.

For those of you who have ever smelled what fresh ginkgo seeds, you know what I’m talking about. The fresh pulpy orange fruit that surrounds the seed (nut) tastes a bit like orange and apricot with a dash of Angostura bitters but it smells sort of like…how do I say this nicely?  It smells like fresh sweet vomit. When I got it home, I didn’t even notice the vile scent coming from the bag because I was so excited to even collect fresh ginkgo but my husband stayed very far away from the kitchen when I was removing the seeds from the pulp. So far, I have about a couple of kilograms of ginkgo seeds and I truly am not sure what I’ll do with them apart from using a few in chawan mushi (I know that the Chinese make soup with ginkgo seeds) so if anyone can send over some recipes to use these ginkgos, I’d certainly appreciate it!! 🙂

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