Wednesday, July 29, 2009

It's Harvest Time

I know what you’re thinking when you saw the photo above, “This is probably the ugliest avocados I have ever seen.” You might not even buy it if you see something like that at the farmer’s market. Well, I agree. They’re not the best looking avocados. I actually chose the ugliest photo. It’s either you’re laughing, frowning or even embarrass to see these avocados. I totally understand. They would actually be rejected by food stylists, food photographers, buyers, etc. But I really want to show what it really looks like on the outside and the inside which is rich, creamy, buttery, velvety, silky and sexy as well as nourishing and gratifying.

This was probably the fastest “photo shoot” I’ve even done and I felt like a professional photographer this morning. I just want to make sure they don't turn brown but they are actually forgiving as the flesh doesn’t oxidize quickly compared to other avocados. These are also thin-skinned avocados, so even if I’m careful in scooping them out, some of its inner layer skin will be hollowed out as well.

My brother is harvesting them by installment. He said that in order for the avocados to ripen beautifully and evenly, there should be a purple tinge on the skin before harvesting them. That is why that whenever I buy avocados from the grocery store, it would take them forever to ripen. And when they're already ripened, they don't taste like avocado at all.

We have our own manner of eating avocados. After I scoop them out into individual bowl, each person would pour milk and sprinkle some sugar (it's how we eat them in the Philippines). While the others would add ice and mix all the ingredients together until they’re combined, I would like to eat mine by layers then I would sprinkle more sugar until I’ve finished my bowl of avocado.

We used to blend avocados with evaporated milk and sugar. But right now everyone prefers to do it their own way. I find evaporated milk to be too rich for the avocados as well. I prefer to use sugar that are deeper in flavor such muscovado. You can also use demerara sugar or whatever interesting sugars you have except for white sugar.

You can also use some raw nut milk sweetened with dates. Avocados and raw nut milk will help to detoxify your body because of the enzyme protease from the avocados. This will lubricate your intestinal walls, allowing the toxins to be absorbed by the oil and eliminated by the body. Avocados also contain the enzyme lipase, which breaks down fat that is stored in the body, so it actually helps facilitate fat loss. Don’t expect to lose weight in a flash because it doesn’t work that way. But since it is in a raw state, the fat in avocado adapts to the contours of your body. Now, here’s where the problem is. When we discover something that is really good for us, we eat them in massive amounts every single day. It doesn’t work that way either. We still need to eat sensibly and move our body in order to fit into our clothes. Besides overeating avocados can lead to sluggishness, hyper-acid stomach and skin outbreaks. So, go easy as you really want to savor them until the last bite.

So far, I’ve counted 18 harvested avocados. My brother took four for his family, the other four were eaten the other night and there are four for today. I was actually thinking the other day if it were really possible to exchange this avocado tree with something else in another country, would I do the switch? I would probably exchange this avocado tree for all of your great ingredients at the farmer’s market. I could also go with the avocado tree but that depends where that might be. In meantime, I'll enjoy these avocados until supplies last.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Hail to Hijiki

One of the great brown seaweeds (sea vegetables), hijiki is known as the bearer of beauty and health in Japan as it nourishes the hair and helps reduce dryness and split ends. They used to be popular in Japanese homes but they are now being used all over the world in various dishes. They are typically sold in pre-cooked form, which means you only need to soak them for seven to ten minutes.

I couldn’t stress enough the healing properties of hijiki and other sea vegetables but here are just some of their healing benefits:
  • Detoxifies body tissues
  • Strengthens the intestines
  • Purifies the blood
  • Strengthen bones and teeth
  • Prevents osteoporosis
  • Strengthens glands
  • Balances blood pressure
  • Aids weight loss
  • Eases menopausal symptoms
  • Treats gynecological disorders
  • Treats breast and uterine fibroids
  • Eases congestion
  • Treats goiter
  • Inhibits tumors
  • Eases testicular pain and swelling
  • Nourishes the hair, skin and nails; aid aged and wrinkled skin, aids hair loss.
  • Lubricates the intestines the promote elimination

High-Calcium Brown Rice (with Sesame Seeds and Hijiki)

They are also almost complete in essential nutrients but certain nutrients stand out:
  • Calcium. Highest in all of the sea vegetable. One tablespoon equals the calcium in one glass of milk. As a calming mineral, it has a soothing effect on the nervous system and benefits those suffering from periods of nervousness and anxiety.
  • Fiber. It cleanses the colon and lubricates the intestine.
  • Algin. It’s a heavy metal detoxifier although some experts say that we’re not supposed to eat hijiki because it contains arsenic. It also depends where it came from so buy from reputable suppliers.
  • Iron. Hijiki is best consumed with other vegetables that are high in vitamin C in order to fully absorbed this mineral.
They are also rich in protein (10-20%), iodine, phosphorus, potassium, niacin, phytohormones, and vitamins A, B and C and many other nutrients.

My jagged and imperfect omelet with hijiki, malunggay and Fontina cheese

Some uses of hijiki:
  • Simmer, steam, sauté or stir-fry with chicken, vegetables or noodles.
  • Add to salads, casseroles, stews, snack foods.
  • Cook with grains.
  • Chop fine and mix into burgers and meatloaf.
  • Use marinated or soaked and blended in dips and salad dressing.

Millet Patties (with carrots, hijiki, zucchini and Parmesan cheese)

Hijiki and Arsenic

There is a concern about hijiki containing certain amounts of arsenic. Well, let me relieve your fears: hijiki does contain naturally occurring arsenic. It’s a fact and it’s natural. But hijiki is also a good source of alginate or alginic acid which is a polysaccharide that helps bind and draw out any heavy metal toxins that are already stored in our bodies which lower the body’s burden in eliminating them. Alginic acid is also present in other brown sea vegetables such as wakame, kombu and arame.

My late-father loves to eat clams, raw oysters and mussels. But when he was diagnosed with cancer, I asked him to avoid it because of its arsenic content most especially oysters which are garbage eaters.

Soft Millet with Carrots and Hijiki

It is important to know that almost all food contains small amounts of toxic elements. Both good and bad elements are pulled out of the soil and become part of the plant. You cannot really avoid it because you get toxic elements in small amounts from your food, in your water, in the air you breathe (and the person beside you smoking), in your household products and in your amalgam fillings, etc. But God created living things (us and nature) with a great balance of essential elements. Have you ever wondered why the good elements (minerals) are needed in bigger amounts while the toxic elements are not needed at all and are actually harmless if we reduce our exposure to them?

To relieve more of your fears, here’s an article by Eden Foods about hijiki and arsenic.

Soaked Hijiki

If you’re still concern about hijiki’s arsenic content, here’s what you can do:
  • Soak hijiki. You can't use hijiki if you don't soak them but soaking removes some of it's strong odor and flavor.
  • Drain and rinse. Drain the hijiki through a strainer and rinse with water, soaking water out. Just throw the soaking liquid.
  • Consume hijiki in small amounts. You don’t need to consume something good in industrialized amounts even if it’s good for you. One tablespoon of soaked hijiki a day, 2-3 times a week is good enough. There are other sea vegetables that you can use. I don’t consume hijiki on a daily basis, sometimes even on a weekly basis except this past week. Even Japanese use them in small amounts as a little bit goes a long way.
  • Buy hijiki from a reputable source such as Eden Foods and Clearspring.
Enjoy eating hijiki.

Sources: Seaweed: Nature’s Secret to Balancing Your Metabolism, Fighting Disease and Revitalizing Body and Soul by Valerie Gennari Cooksley, RN; Healing with Whole Foods – Paul Pitchford; my notes

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Avocados, Almost There

I may have missed a great opportunity to work at the International Culinary Arts Academy of Cebu where a friend of mine is asking me to teach holistic nutrition/whole food cooking. I believe that job will find me again. But there’s one thing that I’m actually looking forward to here at home. It’s the avocados. I know that a good break is incomparable to a seasonal avocado but some simple joys are not meant to be passed by.

The avocados are ready to be gathered in just a few more weeks. It would actually take six months before the first fruits to show up and another six months to become fully mature avocados before they are ready to be harvested. My brother counted about 30 avocados but I was hoping that there would be around 50 or more just like last year. I would prefer several avocado trees than apple mango trees. A single apple mango tree (the small variety) can supply a neighborhood but a single avocado tree is only good enough us. It’s just because everyone loves avocados in the family.

Salad of French Green Beans, Romaine Lettuce, Avocados and Mandarin Oranges

Avocados are nutrient-dense food. They are almost complete in nutrients -carbohydrates, protein, fat, multiple vitamins and minerals and fiber. A regular-size avocado has about 300 calories alone mainly from fat which is monounsaturated fat that helps in controlling diabetes and lowering LDL cholesterol. Almost similar to nut except that the fat is easily digested which gives you those voluptuous curves.

They are higher in magnesium and potassium than bananas plus 14 other minerals. They are rich in B vitamins, vitamin E and K. They have one of the highest fiber content of any fruit. They are also rich in glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that attacks free radicals in the body by blocking intestinal absorption of certain fats. As a bonus, they are food for your skin and provide a refreshing alternative to over-the-counter facial products. Avocados are absolutely one of the best fruits in the world.

Avocados’ flavor is different from that of other fruit. They have a subtle nutty flavor instead of being sweet. But the beauty of avocado is not much of its flavor but because of its consistency. The buttery, creamy and silky texture is avocados trademark. This awesome fruit is added to many recipes and can be used in appetizers, salads, main course and desserts. At home, we scoop out the avocados into bowls and serve with cold milk and sugar.

There's one avocado that fell off the tree the other day. The flesh used to be vein-free and perfect but this one has flaws. Either way, these avocados in our garden are still the best I've tasted in the Philippines. They are also not picture perfect but to me when it comes to food photos, there is always something magnificent with any imperfection.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Celery, Wakame and Green Onion Salad

This healing dish concentrates on the medicinal properties as its first priority instead of choosing random ingredients to make a dish. This dish is actually for my brother who lives in Taiwan. He’s been living there for almost twenty years and life there is a little bit stressful compared to living in the Philippines which is actually a breeze for most people. Take out foods, canned foods and instant noodles became his diet for so many years until he developed gout which is quite serious compared to other people I know plus fatigue, headache and other different symptoms that is quite challenging to take care of. For his condition, the simplest yet healthy foods is what he needs right now.

This salad is one of the dishes that he’s going to eat. This is an easy yet powerful dish to make with only three ingredients and a dressing. When you serve it with wild salmon which is high in essential fatty acids, then it becomes an anti-inflammatory meal. However, there are some people who might react to salmon as they are moderately high in purines which can cause an increase in uric acid levels. But I haven't known anyone who reacts badly to this fatty fish (except maybe for sardines and mackerel) and this salad actually goes well with salmon.

Celery is widely used in making soups, stocks, stir-fries and in certain salads. There's a delicious celery salad with Medjool dates, walnuts and blue cheese. I'd like to use more celery not only as a background for certain dishes but as a main ingredient.

Celery is known for its high water content and is good in regulating blood pressure. Salt is linked to increasing blood pressure; it may seem ironic that celery has high organic sodium content that gives it a salty flavor. This organic sodium is actually important in keeping the lymph healthy and removing calcified build-ups in the joints. Organic sodium also helps hold calcium in the bone. When calcium comes out of the bone (from various reasons), crystals form in the joints, causing pain, inflammation and swelling. Refined and iodized tables salts also greatly contribute to this problem.

Wakame is of the highest sources of calcium among the sea vegetables. It aids in tissue repair and strengthening of bones. It also has a high iodine content which is doubled when eaten with fat (such as oil). When wakame is eaten with an acid such as vinegar, it helps in reducing the bad cholesterol from the body. The color of soaked wakame can sometimes range from dark moss green to dark bright green. You can also see some hints of blue and cyan.

The green onion helps speed up blood circulation and absorbs vitamin B1 which helps reduce stress and tiredness. They add bite and spicy undertones to the dish.

The dressing is very simple and can be tossed with Asian noodles. The miso provides some easily assimilated amino acids. You can adjust the flavor if you want more sourness, saltiness or sweetness on the dressing. This is an uncomplicated recipe but the celery needs to be sliced very thinly and choose the inner part of the vegetable as well. The amount for the ingredients can vary as we have different sizes of celery and green onions all over the world. I normally do 2 parts celery to 1 part soaked cut wakame and about ¼ part of the green onion.

Eat this dish about 4 times a week to reap the benefits for other arthritic and rheumatic conditions. Drinking fresh celery juice with some green apple and lemon alkalizes the body. It is also calming on the digestive system.

Celery, Wakame and Green Onion Salad

Makes 2 servings

Miso Dressing
  • 6 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp shiro miso (or other unpasteurized miso)
  • 2 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • ½ cup dried wakame or 1 cup soaked cut wakame
  • 4 stalks celery
  • 3 green onion
  • 2 tsp sesame seeds
To prepare the dressing, whisk all the ingredients in a bowl until combined. Transfer to a jar and set aside until ready to use.

To prepare the salad, soak the wakame in water for 5-10 minutes depending on the size or about 15 minutes if you’re using whole wakame. Next, thinly slice the celery on a bias to make 2 cups. Then remove the root ends of the green onion and cut into 1-1/2 inch pieces.

When the wakame has softened, drain through a strainer and gently squeeze out the liquid. If you’re using whole wakame, cut into smaller pieces. There may be tough ribs that need to be removed but I find that it doesn’t cause any inconvenience at all so I leave it as is.

To finish the salad, combine the sliced celery, cut wakame and green onion in a bowl. Toss with the dressing until lightly coated. Garnish with sesame seeds and serve with grilled salmon or chicken and brown rice.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Red Cabbage, Jicama and Hijiki Salad

Not another cabbage salad recipe. I know there are many versions of these salad and endless variations can be still be made. The truth is, the first and the last time I’ve made a cabbage salad, rather slaw was in culinary school and I’ve never made one ever since. So, I’ll do my own version of a cabbage salad or slaw. Let’s just call it salad because it is a salad.

Red cabbages are available nowadays but they’re more expensive than the green ones. They have anti-cancer properties, high in antioxidants, relieves inflammation and a long list of healing benefits. However, if you have problems with your thyroid, it is best to avoid raw cabbage as they contain goitrogen, a naturally occurring substances in certain foods than can interfere with the functioning of the thyroid gland.

For this salad, instead of using apples or carrots, I'm going to pair it with some local and cheaper jicama which is high in water content. Jicama has an almost similar texture with water chestnuts. We usually eat it raw and is eaten if your mouth feels dehydrated.

Hijiki is a sea vegetable that has a strong flavor and fishy odor. I can’t eat hijiki on its own so adding them with the cabbage and the jicama would hide some of their strong taste without deceptively burying them from other people who hates them. My brother actually removed the hijiki from the other dish that I’ve made before because he thought that it was not edible.

Another ingredient that that I like to use more and more is kesong puti which adds a touch of creaminess and some sunflower seeds for that extra healthy fats that most people avoid. If you need some energy foods, sunflowers seeds is one of those finest pick-me-up foods that nature provides.

The dressing can be made from any type of acid and oil. If you don’t want to use another bowl, what you can do is combine the cabbage, jicama and the hijiki or whatever ingredient you’re using. Then, drizzle with some good quality oil and an acid such as lemon juice or apple cider vinegar and season with sea salt and black pepper. This is the simplest dressing you can make. However, you can also make a simple dressing in a bowl by adding a touch of honey or mustard or both. You might prefer a creamier dressing by using mayonnaise or yogurt and some fresh herbs.

The beauty of this salad is that it is so versatile you can change the ingredients without relinquishing good flavors. If you’re not fond of cabbage salads then you can try this Braised Red Cabbage Recipe by Steve.

Red Cabbage, Jicama and Hijiki Salad

Makes 4 Servings

Sultana-Lemon Dressing:

  • ¼ cup sultanas or currants
  • ¼ cup hot water
  • 1-2 tbsp apple cider 0r sherry vinegar
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • Unrefined sea salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 tbsp dried hijiki
  • 1 small red cabbage (about 300 grams)
  • 1 jicama (about 250 grams)
  • 3.5 ounces kesong puti (about 100 grams)
  • 3 tbsp raw sunflower seeds

To start the dressing, soak the sultanas in hot water for 20-30 minutes. In a blender, combine the softened sultanas with water, sherry vinegar and lemon juice. Blend until smooth and with motor running, slowly add the olive oil. Transfer to a bowl or jar and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside until ready to use.

To start the salad, soak the hijiki in water for 10 minutes. Next, cut the cabbage in half, remove the core and shred finely. Then, peel and cut the jicama into matchsticks. Drain and rinse the hijiki and shake off the excess water.

Combine the cabbage, jicama and hijiki in a large bowl. Toss with enough dressing and season with more salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a large platter. Crumble the cheese over the salad and sprinkle with sunflower seeds.

I do wash the halved cabbage before shredding. They might be enclosed but you’ll never know what’s inside.

To save some time, prepare the ingredients for the salad while the sultanas and jicama are soaking.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

White Bean and Roasted Garlic Soup

What would you do with overcooked white beans? I overcooked mine yesterday and they’re not good enough to be used for salads or as a main dish. There are two things I can do: a puree or a soup. I remember the white bean and fennel mash that Dawn made at Rouxbe. I would never forget that dish that has golden beets, braised kale and pan-fried sole. I haven’t done it although I could imagine how good it is.

I have about two cups of overcooked white beans (I am using Great Northern beans), a few slender sticks of celery, some shrimps and enough chicken stock to make a soup. If you live in the Philippines, you need about 2-3 stalks of celery but if you live in North America you only need one. Since I don’t have any onions left, I roasted some whole garlic that would go well with the white beans. Here’s the recipe for Roasted Garlic.

Actually, the cooked rosemary scented beans are good enough to eat on its own with a little bit of unrefined sea salt and extra-virgin olive oil. But a soup even in the middle of this prolonged summer heat is always good to have in the fridge for those unpredictable hunger pangs. Cook the beans the same way as chickpeas. Adding rosemary breaks down the starch of the beans making them easier to digest.

Beans in general are a good source of fiber and have a low glycemic index which provides a sustained energy while slowly being released into your bloodstream. If you're diabetic and you want to lose weight, include beans into your diet. Beans also contain a good source of protein, B vitamins, calcium, folate and potassium. Although celery is usually used for stocks and as a base for soups, they are good for salads, stir-fries and appetizers. They have the perfect balance of potassium and sodium that the body needs and it's great for water retention.

Adjust the consistency of the soup by adding or reducing the amount of stock that you use. You can leave this soup as is or puree half or all of it. I also added some seared large shrimps. White beans and shrimps or prawns go well together. If you some smoked bacon and parmesan cheese in the fridge, that would go well too.

White Bean and Roasted Garlic Soup

Serves 3-4
  • 1 large stalk celery or 2-3 small stalks celery
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil plus 1 tbsp (light) olive oil
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups cooked white beans
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 head roasted garlic
  • 9-12 large shrimps
  • Unrefined sea salt to taste
  • Parsley, for garnish

To start the soup, cut the celery into medium-dice pieces. Heat a medium pot over low heat. Add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil followed by the celery and a pinch of salt. Sweat the celery for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables soften but do not brown. Add the chili pepper flakes and cook for another minute.

Add the cooked white beans and the chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Then, squeeze out the garlic onto the soup discarding the skin. Simmer the soup for about 10-15 minutes.

While the soup is simmering, peel and devein the shrimps.

To puree the soup, save about a cup of the liquid. Working in batches, puree three-fourths of the soup in blender until smooth and transfer each batch to a clean pot. Add the stock if the soup is too thick and adjust the consistency according to your taste.

Bring the soup back to a simmer and season with salt to taste. Then heat a pan on medium high heat. Season the shrimps with salt and pepper on both sides. When the pan is hot, add the light olive oil, and then sear the shrimps on both sides until just cooked through. I usually take them out when they’re three-fourths cooked. You can serve the shrimps whole or cut them into pieces.

Taste the soup again for seasoning. Ladle onto bowls and garnish with shrimps, a little extra-virgin olive oil and if desired, some chopped parsley.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What You See is What You Get

I’m supposed to register last two weeks ago for the Food Styling Seminar by Dolores Custer on July 25th. I was actually sure that I wanted to attend even if I already knew how things are going to turn out. Her name has been familiar to me since my college days through Restaurants and Institutions Magazine. I just thought I could gain some knowledge and meet a few people by attending this seminar. Who knows, I could even meet some potential employers who could hire me for my unique abilities - whatever that is. So, what do I have to lose? Well, I will lose P3, 500.00 and I could use that money to buy some bowls, plates, cutleries and other accessories.

I told Jeremy, a friend of mine who offered me a job to be one of his culinary instructors teaching health and nutrition at the International Culinary Arts Academy of Cebu. So, here I am certain to attend this course when I received an email from him advising me not to register because of various reasons. When he mentioned that, I did realize that he’s right and I should always listen to my inner voice.


I believe most of us are familiar what food stylists do. Paint this with wood stain, paste that with Elmer’s glue, spray this with glycerin or pour that with motor oil and many other tricks of the trade to make food really appealing to the public eye but what you see on the photo is not what you always get. By the end of the day, they have to throw the food away because they are not fit for human consumption. But then again, there's new trends for food styling where they use more edible ingredients to style their foods. I do respect what they do but it’s not what I want and it’s definitely who I am.

What I want is a “what you see is what you get” kind of food photos which are untouched by inedible materials but using the freshest ingredients which are enhanced by a lot of natural soft lighting, right angle and clear shots. What I actually need is a food photography class. But they are also expensive and it’s something that I couldn’t afford right now. Practice is the only thing I that could do at the moment. There are times that I enjoyed taking photos more than cooking the food itself. For me, it was a therapeutic experience.

adzuki bean sprout

I know that I haven’t really done a lot of complicated dishes on this blog but I could honestly say that most cookbook authors and food bloggers doesn’t need a food stylist who uses that kind of technique to bring out the best in their food. It's also challenging to do everything by yourself. I could honestly say that I enjoyed that too because I have this sense of freedom and openness. I do have limited resources, space and set-up and even limited in really good ingredients. Maybe I was looking for berries of all kinds, fennel, heirloom tomatoes, artichokes, some cherries, peaches, figs and many others which are not available here. Maybe some carrots, red radish and beets with their green tops on would be great, not cut-off and wrapped in plastic. But even with inadequate resources, I was still able to take decent shots of food, both raw and cooked. Not bad for someone who doesn’t have any training in photography but of course I’m grateful for Jehan who encouraged me to create this blog, to my sister Susana for taking some of the photos and for lending me her camera (which is almost mine now) and to my brother-in-law Carl for the professional tricks and tips to help me get started last year.

Although this blog is not all about recipes with step-by-step photos of each procedure, I guess it would be a challenge for me to post more complex dishes for those people who are supporting this blog. And guess what, there are more soup recipes to come.

So, when there's a chance that I can cook for you, I'll make sure that what you see on the photo is what you will actually receive from my kitchen.

Thank you.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Toasted Sesame Seed and Miso Dressing

sesame seed dressing

This dressing is so versatile you can use it as a sauce for grilled chicken, fish, scallops or prawns, for thin slices of pork or beef and toss with blanched green beans, broccoli or cauliflower.

dried_cooked soba

I love pairing this dressing with soba noodles. The noodles and the dressing can be prepared ahead of time and stored in the fridge for up to a week. I love pasta but sometimes I experience fatigue and weakness after eating because of its gluten content so I opt for soba noodles instead.

toasted sesame seeds

Toasting sesame seeds over low heat will bring out the fragrant aroma of the seeds. High heat will burn the seeds quite easily. Instead of a spice grinder or a mini food processor, I am using the Japanese mortar and pestle. The mortar is called suribachi while the pestle is surikogi. The inside of the bowl has a ridged pattern to facilitate grinding. The pestle is made from wood and keeps it from wearing down the ridges in the mortar. They come in different sizes and I have the smallest one. When using the mortar, I always place a cloth underneath as the bottom of the bowl is unglazed. This sirabachi can only grind about ¼ cup of sesame seeds and as you grind the seeds in a circular motion, the seeds transform into a rough and flaky texture. It does take time to grind the seeds with the smallest suribachi though. Actually, with this suribachi this small, I could only grind sesame seeds.

crushed sesame seeds

You can vary this dressing by using a different type of miso such as chickpea, barley or rice miso. You can even use brown rice vinegar instead of just rice vinegar. The type of soy sauce will vary in flavor but I stick with Japanese soy sauce as well as wheat- and gluten-free soy sauce.

miso paste

For an easy salad, I simply tossed the noodles with same blanched vegetables such as asparagus, sugar snap peas and bok choy. The problem with cooked soba noodles is that the stick together if you don’t use it right away. So I rinse them quickly with cold water and drain them very well before adding the dressing and the vegetables.

I also choose to cook some chicken yakitori to go with it. They are usually served as appetizers but with soba noodles, it makes a light and wonderful dish. Hope you like it.


Toasted Sesame Seed and Miso Dressing

Makes about 1/2 cup
  • ¼ cup white sesame seed
  • 3 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp shoyu
  • 1 tbsp sake
  • 1 tbsp shiro miso (miso paste)
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • ½ tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • shichimi-togarashi (7-spice powder) to taste
To start the dressing, place the sesame seeds into a frying pan. Turn heat to low and toast sesame seeds shaking the pan occasionally until light golden brown. Transfer to plate and allow to cool.

In another bowl, combine the rice vinegar, shoyu, sake, shiro miso, honey, sesame oil and togarashi with a wire whisk.

When the sesame seeds have cooled down transfer to a spice grinder and pulse until coarsely ground. I prefer not to grind the sesame seeds into a powder.

Add the flaked sesame seeds with the other ingredients and whisk until combined. Transfer to a bowl or a jar. Set aside until ready to use. This recipe can be doubled or tripled. Stir with a spoon before using.

In Search of Ingredients

These past few months, I’ve been aiming in substituting processed and refined ingredients with healthier, unrefined and whole ingredients. It wasn’t easy as most of the ingredients that I like to work with are not available here. They may be available at health food stores but some of them cost a fortune and the selection is still quite few.

(image from Hart Foods - Whole Spices)

I’m talking about whole grains in different colors and sizes; whole-grain flours that ranges from spotless white to sandy brown and their different textures; an array of beautiful patterned beans; a dozen variety of mineral-rich dried seaweeds; those unrefined cold-pressed fats and oils; some healthy nuts and seeds. Of course, what is food without the revolution of sweeteners that ranges in diverse shades and flavors and the regionally harvested artisan salts. And cooking would never be the same without the addition of fragrant herbs and colorful spices. Don’t you think I should be living in another continent?

(image from Active Rain - An Adventure in Groceries - Checking Out the Whole Foods Market)

There are few people who do buy a different types of grain. But when it comes to the other categories, whole grain flours for instance, it’s still foreign to use quinoa or amaranth flour in baking. I think we have more brands of clothes and beauty products brought in from different parts of the globe than these kinds of food. I do agree in buying local and seasonal foods and they are the fruits and vegetables and other perishable foods such as your various meats, fish, shellfish, poultry and eggs. But building a natural foods pantry from unrefined ingredients deserves to be mentioned as well. I understand the geographic impact as well as the culture and traditions we have here. Maybe I should have my own farm and grow my own food, and then I’ll have this Farm-to-Table Restaurant in the middle of the city. It's probably the reason why I want to live in Vancouver because you can find an organic market or an organic farm in the middle of the city without the need to travel for long periods of time. They are everywhere in the city and you could reach a farm by 30-minute drive, 15-minute bike ride or a 10-minute walk. You can even do some volunteer work.

(image from UBC Farm at the University of British Columbia - UBC Farm Market)

I think I would rather go to a whole food store than go shopping for clothes or shoes. I don't think I am alone in this. (Just one of those days, I guess). I am fascinated by bins of whole grains lined up in one row, and another row for whole grain flours, beans, nuts and seeds and many other ingredients. I’m not a vegetarian but building recipes with plant-based ingredients is one of those things that I would like to add to my repertoire which I started last year. Just wondering why I didn’t start sooner. Of course, I’m not against meat and other flesh animals but sometimes we eat way too much of it.

(image from The Farm - Gallery - Environment)

I’m also looking for that day where I could buy freshly stone-ground whole grain flour or affordable organic produce and more variety of beets, potatoes, tomatoes and even salad greens beyond lollo rosso and romaine lettuce. Well, not only for me for all people of all class levels. Growing organic food takes a community and it's actually better than depending on vast agricultural lands that grows mediocre ingredients and the money coming in doesn't even benefit the farmers. Smaller farms are good. We could start in our own backyard and whatever we grow we share with our neighbors. I think this is the future of food. Anything is possible. After all, we are blessed with a good fertile land.

I just thought if I'm missing something because I’ve been inactive at the workforce for quite a long time or is it because I’m not just aware of what we have in this country? I guess it’s time to hit the farmer’s market for some new inspiration or maybe travel out of the country..