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Inspiration from the Far East

Inspiration from the Far East

Almost a month since I last posted but now I’m back – I wasn’t missing in action, I took a deliberate break from blogging to work on a special project for a month. All will be revealed in a few months, but suffice to say I didn’t have time or inspiration for any further writing. Although I did take advantage of some freezer meals during my ‘absence’ I haven’t lost the cooking muse, and I’ve been busy experimenting with various curries and spicy cuisines. That’s left me with loads of recipes to write up, too. Our late afternoon winter viewing was some re-runs of the Rick Stein Indian series which gave me lots of ideas. He does use meat in virtually every recipe, but I have found that most are very easy to veganize either just by eliminating the meat or replacing it with tofu.

Vegan and vegetarian food is definitely on the ascent here in France. Fruit d’Or have recently brought out a 100% vegetal spread and it’s being advertised at the moment on mainstream prime time TV. All three of our local supermarkets stock it, but it seems to sell out as soon as it’s in the fridge. No wonder, as the taste is great, and indistinguishable from good French pale creamy butter. It was at our local Intermarche that I found all the ingredients for my latest foray into Eastern cuisine – Japanese. This supermarket is a good example of the changing tastes amongst the French (I can’t believe the expats are buying everything). There’s a whole range of different soy sauces, sushi nori sheets, vinegars, noodles, six types of coconut cream, and even OH’s favourite chilli sauce.

Japanese cuisine – called washoku – is eminently suitable for vegans, with its base of rice, noodles and tofu. In fact, tofu in various guises is a staple of Buddhist vegan cuisine. The versatile soy bean is used to make a wide range of ingredients: tofu, miso, soy sauce, meat substitutes, soya milk, cream and cheese. The particular elements of Japanese cooking that I decided to try making were sushi, tempura, soy noodles and pickled vegetables. I procured some nori sheets, a tube of wasabi paste, soy sauce, chilli paste, and a pack of noodles. The remaining ingredients were just stuff I had in stock.

Traditional sushi is often based upon raw or preserved sea food, or vegetables. I’d never made it before, but it was surprisingly easy, even if the pack of nori did not come with the bamboo mat as the packet suggested. I just improvised with a piece of baking paper. I made a small saucepan of rice, just normal long grain Mediterranean rice as this tends to come out a bit sticky if you don’t wash it, and used some tiny slivers of avocado, cucumber and tomato. These fillers were a bit bland, so another time perhaps I’ll try peppers to pump up the spicing a bit, but the dipping sauce soon perked them up.

With the remaining cucumber I made some pickled vegetables. Just chopped up finely, sprinkled with salt and a little apple cider vinegar and left to marinate in the fridge whilst I prepared the rest of the feast. Tempura was introduced to Japan by the Portuguese in sixteenth century Nagasaki, it’s basically deep fried fish or vegetables in a light batter. Since we bought the deep fat fryer I’ve made tempura a few times and tried different variations of batter, with and without egg, and I have to say I don’t think the egg makes any difference, but using fizzy water certainly does. I just whisk together about 100g of plain flour with a pinch of salt and sugar and 200 ml of fizzy mineral water. Dunk the vegetables in, drain and pop into the fryer. This time I used some frozen cauliflower – a great, cheap standby – and some tiny sweet green Spanish peppers.

Eastern cuisines all utilise a wide variety of noodles. Japanese cooking includes udon noodles – thick wheat flour noodles, soba noodles which are thin, like spaghetti and made principally from buckwheat, and ramen noodles, which are the basis of the popular ramen noodle soup. I was amazed – all of these were on the shelves at the local supermarket. My Soy Noodles recipe is very similar to Chow Mein, without the onion or bean sprouts, but could be made into a more substantial main course by the addition of these or a few handfuls of frozen vegetables.

My next Japanese experiment will be a Japanese Curry. I was surprised to learn that curry has been popular in Japan since it was introduced in the Meiji period (1868–1912) when the Japanese started to import the ‘curry powder’ that Europeans had developed in India. A Japanese curry is usually based on leeks or green onions, potatoes, carrots, and meat, with a roux-based sauce that is thicker, less spicy and slightly sweeter than an Indian curry. This seems to embody the difference between Japanese and, say, Indian cuisine with its lighter, subtler flavourings.



Tempura Batter

100g plain flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
200 ml chilled fizzy water

Whisk together to make a light batter. Dip vegetables into batter, drain and deep fry.

Dipping sauce

4 tbsp vegetable oil or 2 tbsp vegetable/2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tsp chilli paste or sambal
1 tbsp maple syrup
Pinch of salt

Japanese Soy Noodles

2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp chilli paste
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves crushed
1 tbsp vegetable oil (to cook)

Mix first five ingredients to make a sauce. Cook noodles in boiling water and drain well. In a large wok or frying pan, heat one tablespoon vegetable oil and fry the crushed garlic until golden. Add the drained noodles and cook for a couple of minutes. Pour over the sauce and stir well until all the noodles are coated and the sauce thickens. [If adding beansprouts or vegetables, add to wok when garlic is cooked]

Comments (1)

Susan Keefe - 19/06/2017

Interesting article, thank you. As a lover of world cuisines I love finding new recipes and will certainly try pickling vegetables now I know how simple and quick it is.

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