Udon with tofu, bok choy, tomato and more…

Udon with bok choy, tomato, tofu, etc.

It’s been a while — far too long, really! — since I put up something I’ve cooked, and tonight was time to rectify that. Having picked up my latest basket and seen some baby bok choy, I wanted to do something with that, and a scrounge online turned up this really fantastic recipe — seriously, check it all out, lots of photos, plenty of detail, the works.

My big change here was to use udon rather than the thick rice noodle indicated, in that no such noodle as described was available in my local Japanese market (I could have easily have missed it). Other than that I went at it, adjusting portion sizes down for a single-person dish. (I used some minced ginger I had to hand as well rather than julienning, FWIW.)

Quite delicious, very filling — give it a whirl!

What to do with shiso aka perilla

About a year back I accidentally wrote what’s become the most popular post in this blog’s history — What to do with carrot tops aka carrot greens. I wouldn’t call this a sequel to that — and I will thank everyone who’s swung by that post and hope they found it of interest! — but the title of this post is a tip of the hat to that.

And what is shiso? As Wikipedia briefly notes, it’s something that’s long been common in a variety of Asian cultures and serves many different uses. To quote the start of the entry on the plants the name refers to, grouped and listed under its Latin genus name Perilla:

Perilla is a genus of annual herb that is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae. In mild climates the plant reseeds itself. There are both green-leafed and purple-leafed varieties which are generally recognized as separate species by botanists. The leaves resemble stinging nettle leaves, being slightly rounder in shape. It is also widely known as the Beefsteak plant. Its essential oils provide for a strong taste whose intensity might be compared to that of mint or fennel. It is considered rich in minerals and vitamins, has anti-inflammatory properties and is thought to help preserve and sterilize other foods.

Now speaking as one who loves both mint and fennel, I was all about this — but I came across the idea of exploring shiso by chance. Earlier this year as we planned for our garden, I read through a catalog that friend Stripey had provided and noted an entry for shiso (I believe spelled shisho but I could be wrong), describing both its strong taste and the fact that it apparently had a bit of natural salt taste to it. Intrigued, I made it one of my choices for ordering.

We ended up with purple shiso, or akajiso, which was probably all that was listed in the catalog to start with. I planted several seeds at the end of one of our beds and waited to see what would happen. Initially I thought it would be a bit of a disappointment — the seeds took some weeks to sprout, and when they did the plants looked fairly tame still after a couple more weeks, thus this photo from just before my June vacation:

Baby shiso, June 2010

As you can see, taken at something of a very close angle! So I was wondering if we would just get a few small leaves per plant.

Well, anything but — here’s the shiso from a month later:

Shiso, July 2010

And from just last Friday:

Shiso, late July 2010

So an unqualified success, really!

It was obviously time for me to harvest a few leaves and determine what to do with them. Purple shiso, it turns out, is less commonly used than green shiso in various recipes I’ve discovered so far, at least in terms of immediate preparation — but again, it all depends on what kind of dishes. It’s often used for coloring, as you might guess; the Chow site provides a brief description of possibilities. Often it can be used in drinks — this akajiso soda recipe at Jan Can Cook looks like a definite winner and I’ll probably try it out. Its strong flavor definitely suggests spicing and flavor options in general; experimentation will I think be key for me and my garden compatriots.

Shiso is apparently meant to be used when as fresh as possible, so I decided this should be done with something in a salad style. Besides the shiso I had also taken away many excellent tomatoes, so I searched to see if there was a way to combine the two. In doing so I discovered what looks to be an excellent blog in general, White on Rice Couple, cowritten by a couple as noted who describe their goal as:

We cook, consume and create from childhood comforts that our forefathers passed on through our heritage. But, we are not bound by it. Open to feeding both inside and outside our cultural comfort zones, we believe food holds few boundaries; so long as we understand and give respect/recognition to its origins. After many frustrations, failures and success, we continue to evolve at the stove and in our personal lives.

Couldn’t ask for a finer goal! So with that as a prompt, I chose to try their heirloom tomato and shiso salad recipe, which as they readily note in the entry actually comes from Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie feature.

In studying this recipe I realized I would have to make a couple of changes — first, while the tomatoes I had were of different varieties, they were all red and so would result in an inevitably monochromatic meal. Meanwhile, the recipe also clearly calls for the green shiso and not the red, so in a way I had to make the most of my random decision from some time previously.

However, I had tentatively tasted some of the raw leaf by this point, and while some comments on line had thought that akajiso was too bitter for them, I found it very flavorful, with the hints of salt I had heard mentioned for the plant as well. So I thought I might as well go for it — along the way making the shallot dressing recipe which had been recommended, since I had some fresh shallots around for such a purpose.

A little prep and marinading and more and the result:

Tomato and akajiso salad

A simple enough creation! But the combination of tastes was quite marvellous, and with a little bread made for a filling dinner.

I’ll yet try some more with the now thriving plants here — all suggestions welcomed of course. I’d definitely say you should give this a whirl for planting and cooking purposes, it’s a great little plant and I’m intrigued with where I can go with it now.

Spaghetti with tomato-braised kale

So this came about due to a desire to use up some of the last kale before the next basket arrives on Thursday. Also, I hadn’t made any pasta for a while, so why not? I’d initially thought to make a straight marinara for some pierogis while steaming the kale separately, but a random search turned up this recipe, so I gave it a whirl instead.

Two main substitutions — I had no pancetta to hand (and pancetta is one of the very few meats I’ll cook at home), so I diced some pressed tofu and sauteed it in olive oil, while rather than tomato puree I went for some already diced canned tomatoes I had to hand. End result: v. tasty.

Fried cabbage on brown rice

Another recipe that came with the latest basket — enjoyable, might have needed more curry powder or seasoning to give it some extra punch but plenty filling!

1 sm Onion, finely chopped
6 tb Oil
1 lg Tomato, sliced
1/2 ts Salt
1/2 ts Curry powder
1 md Cabbage, shredded
2 ea Carrots, sliced into rounds
1 ea Green bell pepper, chopped

Over moderate heat, fry the onion in oil until lightly browned, stirring to prevent scorching. Add tomatoes, salt & curry powder & continue to stir-fry for 3 minutes.
Add cabbage, carrots & pepper & mix well. Pour in about 1/2 c water. Cover the pot, reduce heat & simmer until the liquid is abosrbed & the cabbage is still slightly crunchy.

Homemade gazpacho and homemade bread

The story behind this was pretty cool — the other day, when I came into the Avanti Cafe to pick up my latest basket of farm goods, I was very kindly given a container of tomato pureé ‘to show your creativity with,’ I was told! No looking of a gift horse in the mouth there, and after some thought I decided, given the weather, that a cold soup was the way to go.

There are a slew of gazpacho recipes out there but this one seemed of interest, and proved very enjoyable — the pureé appeared to be of roasted tomatoes, to add some bite to it, while I had just about all the other ingredients to hand to start with.

In the meantime I just made myself a nice homemade herb bread as well, with parsley, rosemary, onions, garlic and parmesan. The combination was a treat and I still have some left over!

What to do with carrot tops aka carrot greens

Or another lesson in how to make the Internet work for you.

I’d been dimly aware for some time that you can use carrot tops in cooking, but hadn’t really pursued anything about it until the start of July. At a small get-together in SF my friend M. White noted his frustration that so many American markets removed the tops of carrots when in his experience (based in part on having lived in France for a number of years) they were a perfectly natural part of any number of dishes.

Carrot tops’ reputation for being inedible doubtless results from two reasons — taste and (potentially) health reasons. In terms of taste, raw carrot tops can be fairly bitter — it has a carrot taste to it regardless, but it won’t be for everyone, though you can use them in salads easily enough if you have a mind. The larger question of health is one of the biggest question marks when it comes to using them — if you read this recent NY Times story, for instance, you might be inclined to run away from carrot tops as quickly as you can. But this site provides a much more balanced take:

They ARE edible and are highly nutritive, rich in protein, minerals and vitamins. The tops of the carrots are loaded with potassium which can make them bitter, so the use of them in food is limited, but there some ideas and recipes below.

However, it is edible, so you may mix some in with a mixed lettuce salad. You may also use it for garnish. Combine your common sense and your creative skills, and invent something! That’s what makes cooking fun. It is a form of art. Carrot greens are high in vitamin K, which is lacking in the carrot itself.

Carrot tops are an outstanding source of chlorophyll, the green pigment that studies have shown to combat the growth of tumours. Chlorophyll contains cleansing properties that purify the blood, lymph nodes, and adrenal glands. Scientists have been unable to synthesize chlorophyll in the laboratory, but green plant foods contain sufficient quantities to protect the human body.

The leaves do contain furocoumarins that may cause allergic contact dermatitis from the leaves, especially when wet. Later exposure to the sun may cause mild photodermatitis. (This is NOT the same as ‘poisonous’ – it will only affect susceptible people with allergies to the plant. Some people have the same reaction to yarrow, ragwort, chamomile etc.)

There is a distinct difference between toxins and allergens. Carrots (Daucus carota), whether wild or domesticated, are not toxic, they are allergenic. This is like peanuts, which are not toxic but can kill those who are allergic to them.

Which again may sound somewhat unfun, but the point is, essentially, know your allergies. A little experimentation might help.

Anyway I’ve spent part of the past month trying to work with the carrot tops I get via my CSA baskets, with the first attempt being a Tuscan carrot top and rice soup that you can find a recipe for pretty easily all over the net. But the other night, getting a slew of the magnificent carrots from my garden meant a LOT of fresh carrot tops, so I wanted to try some other things.

So a couple of nights ago, I found this recipe which had just gone up at the site Cheap Healthy Good — a carrot top scramble. And I gave it a whirl:
Carrot top scramble

I probably should have added more carrot top to it but it was nice, certainly strong when it came to flavor but very enjoyable through and through.

Last night, meanwhile, I did some further scrounging around and discovered another soup recipe via Tonopah Rob’s Vegetable Farm, a carrot top and quinoa soup. Since I had some quinoa around I wasn’t sure what to do with, this was a perfect thing to try:
Carrot top and quinoa soup

The strong flavor of the carrot tops meshed very well with the broth — the recipe suggests beef bouillon but I went as ever with vegetable instead and it tasted mighty fine. Currently got several servings of it on ice for later thawing and use.

There’s other ideas out there, but that’s a start! Give it a whirl and see what might happen!

[UPDATE NOVEMBER 2010 — thanks to everyone very much for your regular visits to this blog entry of mine, which to my gentle delight has become the most regularly read one on my site over these past few years. I wanted to take the opportunity to link to a couple of other fine spots out there providing more recipes and ideas:

Grilled Carrots with Carrot Greens Pesto — this recipe, with handy photos, comes courtesy of the excellent Not Eating Out in New York blog.

Salad of Edible Radish, Beet & Carrot Top Greens — a very inspired away around those ‘extra’ greens, courtesy of another killer blog, White On Rice Couple.

Feel free to keep posting ideas and suggestions in the comments as well! I deeply enjoy how this has become a resource for that over time and hope to see it continue.)

More garden photos and a new video!

As you can see in the quick video above, a number of things are starting to come in a bit and/or really thrive! New photos also now available at the photo set.