Sunday, May 30, 2010

Japan - Rice, Miso Soup, Tamago, and Tsukemono

We found a good reference for Japanese breakfasts in a New York Times article by David Kahn from 1992. It provided a lot of ideas about what the meal should include. We chose not to include fish because we could not find any that was reasonably priced and fresh.
We used recipes from Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji for the miso soup and rolled omelet. The pickled vegetables, plums, fresh tofu, and various other side dishes were purchased at a specialty Japanese market, though some suitable items are probably available at most Asian markets. We also added natto(1, 2) to the menu for something traditional and adventurous.

  • Rice - Short grain white rice, steamed in rice cooker
  • Miso Soup - Many miso soup recipes exist online. We feel no need to add to the clutter. A useful technique in Japanese Cooking that is worth passing along is to mix the miso with half as much stock to break up lumps, before mixing it into the soup.
  • Dashi-maki Tamago (Rolled Omelet) - Making a rolled omelet is difficult to describe after a single attempt. We recommend the reader consult a Japanese cookbook for illustrations of the techniques. The basic idea of the Japanese omelet is to roll an omelet and then pour another omelet and let the uncooked egg attach to the base of the rolled omelet and then roll them together. The process is repeated until you use up all of your egg mixture. The omelet is then shaped in a bamboo mat and allowed to cool for a minute. It is them sliced and served topped with shredded daikon that has been marinated in soy sauce.
    Making this omelet is an acquired skill. First, the pan used to make the omelet is a special pan that shapes the omelet. Mistakes I made in this attempt were over cooking the egg. A four egg omelet may also have been too large for the pan. In future attempts I would use 2 or 3 eggs. I anticipate making several more attempts before I get the hang of it.
  • Natto - We got advice for preparing natto from Natto Land.
  • Nori
  • Tsukemono (Pickles) - cucumbers, bamboo shoots, eggplants, and plums (umeboshi)
  • Green tea and orange juice

Results and Discussion
This breakfast very easy with the exception of the omelet. Purchasing all of the pickled dishes saves a lot of time (but costs a lot of money). The miso soups goes together very quickly. Only rice takes time to prepare.
The omelet is not difficult to do if you have made omelets before. The difficulty lies in combining the rolls into a single continuous piece. Messing this part up only affects the cook's pride but not the taste.
I was very neutral about the natto. The texture was slimy but nothing gross. The taste is a little sour and salty but nothing really special. I will probably not seek out natto again but I would eat it if someone served it to me. The pickled plums had a very strong taste that came in short tart burst. The pickled cucumbers tasted like regular pickles but much crunchier. We were planning on having guests so we invested a little more in this meal. In the future we would skip the sides and just have the omelet, rice, and soup.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Russia - Blinchiki, Oladushki, Sirniki, and Makivnek

For this week, we were fortunate enough to get Please to the Table, by Anya von Bremzen and John Welchman.  This is my favorite cookbook so far, not least because it has an entire chapter devoted to breakfast in Russia and the now-former Soviet states. (The book was first published in 1990, and so has a map of the USSR in the front, something I'd not seen for quite some time!).  We will probably be returning to this book later on as we get to some of the other post-USSR countries.

Before we get to the breakfast itself, take a look at the Wikipedia entry for samovar, which explains why there are two teapots on our breakfast table.

For the meal itself, the authors describe weekend brunch:
These occasions will include a variety of little pancakes or fritters (oladyi); sirniki—sweet cheese patties; blinchiki—mouthwatering filled crêpes; and freshly baked rolls and buns eaten with fruity homemade preserves. (464)
With the plan so neatly set out for us, we couldn't really leave anything out.  I have adapted all of the recipes to make a more sensible amount of food for us, but honestly we could have fed four with no problem.  We were pretty pleased with everything, with the sirniki being the big favorite.  But the thing we'll probably make again is the bread; the recipe is so adaptable, and the bit of lemon in the makes it really special.  And don't worry, Whit is saving the extra pancakes for tomorrow, and I'll take the remaining poppy-seed bread to work tonight, so nothing went to waste!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Nigeria - Gari Foto

This recipe from the cookbook A Taste of Africa by Dorinda Hafner. It is an excellent book that provides a survey of the major cuisines of Africa. Unfortunately Kitty was unable to find a good cookbook at our local libraries; I found this one in a university library that does not let you check out books. It seems to be out of print but a few copies are available on

The major ingredient in the dish is foto which is a staple in West Africa. This dish is eaten for breakfast or as a side dish in a dinner. Foto is a coarse cassava powder, which we found in the Brazilian section of a regular supermarket labeled coarse manioc flour. (This product goes under many names.) We also made some fried plantains.

  • 1 cup of foto
  • 1 tsp salt, dissolved in 2 cups of water
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 red chilis
  • 1 (15 oz) can of diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 egg, scrambled in a little oil
  • lettuce leaves
  • sliced fresh tomatoes
  1. Soak the foto in the salted water for 10 to 15 minutes. You may need more or less liquid depending on the humidity.
  2. Finely chop the onions and chilies.
  3. Heat oil in a deep saute pan and cook the onions and chilies until the onions begin to brown.
  4. Add the diced tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes.
  5. Add the tomato paste, 1/4 cup water, salt and pepper to taste and stir constantly for 4-5 minutes.
  6. Fluff the foto, then add to the pan, along with the egg, and mix.
  7. Serve on lettuce leaves garnished with sliced tomatoes.
Fried Plantain
  • Peel and slice one plantain.
  • Fill a pot with enough oil such that the plantains will not touch the bottom.
  • Heat the oil.
  • Put plantain slices into the oil and cook until the are golden.
  • Remove from oil and place on paper towel to drain.

Results and Discussion
This breakfast was a great success. The foto has a very thick texture that makes it easy to eat with your hands. The tomatoes provide a nice sweetness and the chilies add a nice spice. The plantains are simple to make and have a very nice texture. Despite have many ingredients going at once this dish is very simple and fast. I think we will encounter foto again as we revisit west Africa and I look forward to the many variations.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Bangladesh - Luchi, Aloor Dum, and Soojir Halvah

Honestly, I did not think we were going to have so much trouble with cookbooks this early in! But this is week three where neither the local library or the BPL were any help to us. I suppose this is inevitable given how recently Americans started eating even westernized Indian food, but still, it's cramping our style.

Anyway, we were further complicated by a scarcity of Bangladeshi recipes online. In the end, we have decided to cheat a bit and use some Indian Bengali recipes.  This isn't a perfect solution; my limited research says that there is plenty of diversity in Bengali cuisine, plus what divergence has occurred since partition, but given the lack of proper source material, we must call it close enough to our basic purpose of eating a lot of things that are not french toast.

  • Aloor Dum (Spicy Potato Curry) - We cut these into smaller cubes as I was Ready To Eat before we even started cooking.  This got them cooked in about twenty minutes as we were preparing the other two dishes.  I think we used too much potato for the spices called for, but all in all very good and rather different from our breakfast potatoes last week.
  • Luchi (Deep-fried Flatbread) - My husband is becoming an expert in fry breads. :)  They do not look as pretty and white as they are supposed to; this is because we are still too scared to deep-fry our bread for breakfast!  But shallow-fried they are still rich and flaky.
  • Soojir Halvah (Semolina Pudding) - This was definitely the star of the show!  I could eat this every day.  Very easy to put together too.  I used one cup of water where the recipe did not specify and it turned out beautifully.  I should like to try these with cranberries and pecans in the fall.

Today's recipes are by Jayashree Mandal of Spice and Curry, who we sincerely hope does not mind our culinary border-crossing here.  For our part, after tasting her Soojir Halvah, we have lost any frustration we had this week!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Pakistan - Cholay, Aloo ki Bhujya, and Puri

We should start by stating that we did this breakfast on the Sunday after a major water main in Boston broke. Fortunately for us lots of these recipes require us to boil water.

The breakfast was three very simple dishes we got from an amazing recipe depositor The Desi Cookbook. [We did skip the fourth dish, the halva, as we were reluctant to dirty a pan with sugar given the water restrictions. -Kitty]

  • Cholay (Chick Peas)
  • Aaloo Ki Bhujya (Spiced Mashed Potato)
  • Puri (Deep-fried Flatbread)

Results and Discussion
We were fortunate in that our recipes required lots of boiling water. All and all this was a success. The chick peas had a great texture and are well spiced. Put the chick peas into a food processor and you would get an excellent hummus. The Aaloo ki bhujya is a much more flavorful variation on mashed potatoes. The puri is best served warm and is a fragrant and crispy version of toast.