Saturday, April 3, 2010

Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Bisque

I wasn't planning on blogging this recipe, but it was so delicious and so easy, I just had to share it. If you can get pre-roasted red peppers, you can knock it out in about 15 minutes. If you can't, it's really easy to roast your own, and it only adds 10 minutes or so. Also, even if you eat dairy, I really recommend trying it this way at least once. Soy milk + ground cashews may seem a poor substitute for heavy cream, but you'd be surprised how much creaminess the combination adds to this soup.


2 large red bell peppers
1 T olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
5 cloves garlic, sliced
2 cans tomatoes
2 cups soy milk
1/2 to 3/4 cup ground cashews
1 t dried basil
salt & ground black pepper to taste

Let's Go!
1. The easiest way to roast peppers is over fire. I have electric burners on my range, so I use a nabe burner. You can get a small wire grill cover from the 100 yen shop, but I just pull the rack out of my little fish broiler drawer and set it directly on the burner.

Put the peppers over the burner and turn the flame up medium high. They will almost instantly start to blister and turn black (and smell really, really good). Use tongs or chopsticks to turn the peppers every minute or so--don't pierce the flesh. Depending on your peppers and your set up, this will take about 5-10 minutes. When the outside is all black, they're done! Take them off the flame. The inside will keep cooking for a bit--some people wrap them in a paper bag or foil for 5 minutes, but the peppers in Japan are pretty thin, so I just let them cool on the counter for a few.

Under cold running water, gently rub the charred skin away from the flesh. Don't stress if you have some little black spots left. Just get most of the burnt part. The pepper will be tender, and you can pull away the stem, spines, and seeds from the inside very easily. Be careful when you open the pepper--the inside might still be steamy. That's it--easy!

2. Saute onions & garlic in a large skillet until tender.

3. Add roasted red peppers and canned tomatoes. Mix together.

4. Scoop the tomato mixture into a blender or food processor. Puree until smooth.

5. Heat pureed mixture in a stock pot over medium heat.

6. Stir in soy milk and ground cashews.

7. Stir in basil, salt, and pepper. Adjust to taste.


My soup was just part of a day of cooking things to eat with the rye bagels I baked. I made a yummy mushroom-pumpkin seed pate, modified from the second recipe on this page. This sweet potato spread was pretty tasty, too. And I eat this herbed tofu all the time.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pinto Beans

I've heard people complain about soaking dried beans, but I think that's silly. Dried beans really just take the tiniest bit of forethought, and I can give you 5 reasons right now why dried beans are better than canned: (1) seriously lower in sodium than canned beans (2) way easier to get your hands on in Japan (3) make your whole house smell earthy & yummy when they're cooking (4) taste better (5) cheaper. So, dried beans--don't be scared.

Anyway, beans in general are pretty awesome (tasty & super healthy), and i really wanted to finish off this bag of pintos. You could use black or whatever--just not adzuki. This recipe is seriously simple and just goes to show that you don't need a bunch of fancy ingredients to make something taste really really good.


6 cups water (or water + vegetable broth)
2 cups dried pinto beans
1 onion, diced
2 medium green bell peppers, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp tomato paste (1)
salt & pepper to taste

(1) トマトペースト

The pinto beans are from Corocao Do Brasil in Takaoka. The onion and peppers are from the yasaiya near Kosugi Station. Everything else is from Albis in Kosugi.

I listened to Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd-Jazz Samba while cooking this.

Let's Go!
1. Soaking your beans not only reduces cooking time and facilitates even cooking, it also reduces the amount of the indigestible sugars that cause gas. So soak your beans (2:1 water to bean ratio). All you have to do is put them in water the night before (if you're cooking in the morning) or before you go to work in the morning (for dinner time). Make sure you dump the soaking water (it's full of dirt & the aforementioned indigestible sugars) and give the beans a quick rinse when you're ready to cook. Before & after shot:

2. Bring your water (or vegetable broth + water) to a boil. Add beans, onion, pepper, celery, & garlic. Do not add salt, tomato, or anything acidy at this point. Your beans won't cook right. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.

3. Chill out, prepare the rest of your meal, have a glass of wine. You can check to make sure your pan isn't dry from time to time, but if you are cooking on low heat, you should have enough water to finish. The beans should take 1-1 1/2 hours to cook.

4. When the beans are tender (not mushy), add tomato paste, salt, and pepper.

5. Now, this is the part that will give your beans that authentic southern style texture. Take a fork and smash some of the beans against the side of the pan. Give everything a stir, and now they're nice and thick. If you aren't sure how much to smash, you can scoop out about a cup of beans, mash them in a separate bowl, and then stir them back in. Remember, things will thicken up even more once you take the pan off the burner.


Perhaps the best way to eat these beans is with rice, but I go through serious rice hate from time to time in this country, so I just ate them with a bunch of vegetables, cornbread, and homemade vegan andouille. Perfect!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Jalapeño Cornbread

Where to get cornmeal in Japan? You might be able to get tiny bags of it in the baking section of your local supermarket. Also, I know you can order it online here, or, if your mom is awesome like mine, she can send you a big tub from America. I've gone through more cornmeal this summer than my entire time in Japan, mostly because I've been working on a little project. It involves inviting unsuspecting non-southerners over to my house and serving them a huge meal that includes a plate of fried okra. Almost every time it's about 20 times more delicious than they thought it would be. It's nice to see people smile like that. But seriously, talking to them really helps me to understand the kind of deprivation that people experience in other parts of the world.

Max: Yeah, I've never even seen fried okra before.
Me: Oh yeah? How do you eat okra in California?
Max: We don't.
Me: o_O

Anyway, I'm about fried okra-ed out, so when I made up a mess of beans for dinner, I didn't mind using most of my cornmeal to put in this lovely cornbread. My recipe is heavily based on this one, but I tweaked it a bit, mostly to make it sweeter & fluffier. It's still the densest cornbread I've ever eaten, but I really liked it. A little jalapeño powder gives it a nice kick.


2 cups soy milk (1)
2 tsp apple cider vinegar (2)
2 cups cornmeal (3)
1 cup flour (4)
3 tsp baking powder (5)
1 1/4 tsp jalapeño powder (6)
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup salad oil (canola, soybean, etc.) (7)
3 tbsp maple syrup

(1) 豆乳 (2) リンゴ酢 (3) コーンミール (4) 粉 (5) ベーキングパウダー (6) ハラペーニョペッパー (7)カノーラ油 ,大豆油

The flour is from Alishan. The cornmeal is from my mom. Everything else is from Albis in Kosugi.

I listened to the Fever Ray album while making this.

Let's Go!
1. Pour the apple cider vinegar into the soy milk and set aside.

2. Sift cornmeal, flour, baking powder, jalapeño powder, & salt into a big bowl.

3. Whisk oil and maple syrup into the milk & vinegar for a couple of minutes. It should be nice & bubbly.

4. Mix wet ingredients into dry.

5. You probably don't have a cast iron skillet, which would be ideal. I used a deep round cake pan. It worked just ok, but i would recommend something shallower. You can even use a muffin tin. Anyway, lightly oil whatever pan you use to keep your bread from sticking.

6. Bake at 180C for 35-40 minutes. You can do a toothpick test to make sure it's done.

Cornbread is definitely best hot. Beans are my favorite accompaniment for cornbread, but it goes well with soups or anything drippy that needs sopping up.

One of the best things to do with cornbread is dip it in a bit of molasses. I highly recommend you try this at some point, but make sure you're sitting down first.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Comfort Food

Everyone has their comfort foods--foods from childhood, foods from home, foods that remind us of our favorite people and places and times. The thing about growing up in Kentucky and the Carolinas is that my comfort foods are not always the best for me. My sweet dirty dirty. The gravy, the butter, the sugary smoky sauces. Fried pork chops, fried apples, and the completely seriously named chicken fried steak. The pie crusts are made with lard and the biscuits are made with buttermilk. There is no part of an animal that can't be fried or pickled, and there is no vegetable that can't be improved by boiling it for hours with something cut out of a pig. The church picnics and family reunions with their deviled eggs, buckets of fried chicken, and mayonnaise soaked salads topped off with sticky cobblers and cakes so rich and sweet your teeth hurt. Chicken and dumplings. Pimento cheese. Bacon.

Obviously, I haven't been eating like this in Japan; that would be next to impossible. I think food like this is the very reason I hear Japanese people talk about smuggling in suitcases full of dashi and miso when they travel to the states. But that doesn't mean I wasn't trying. One of my biggest fears about going to a more plant based diet was losing my comfort foods, especially while I'm living abroad. Some days food is the thing you miss the most, and--judging by he laments of Brits without baked beans, Brazilians in stage 4 beef withdrawal, and Aussies setting up underground Vegemite-based economies--it's not just a southern thing

But I've been realizing that my comfort foods aren't all bad for me. I mean, after you take the pig (ok the mayonnaise, too) out of the equation, the foods I ate growing up were quite healthy. I took another look at the tables of my mother and grandmother's houses, the picnics, the barbecues, and I saw corn on the cob, black eyed peas, vinegared cucumbers & onions, beans and rice, and a huge watermelon staying cool in the creek. All the fresh raw fruits and vegetables we ate without even thinking about it. My time in the Carolinas was the first time I'd ever had seafood straight from the ocean, all steamed in a big pot with potatoes, carrots, and onions. Then there was all the stuff that was around when I was a kid that I wouldn't eat because I was a little weirdo--turnips and tomatoes and greens and beets--but my mom just kept serving them up.

Living in Japan and traveling in Asia has been awesome for my cooking. I make stuff I would have never dreamed of trying just a few years ago. But I always come back home. I'm trying hard to stay out of the mindset of eating the same but minus the meat, and I'm doing pretty good most of the time I think. In the end, though, you can take the girl out of the south, but, well, just ask me about the piggy-dawg some time. It sometimes feels like I could never make even my favorite non-meat foods without meat flavoring, but I'm finding that's not true. It's amazing how just a little touch of vinegar, molasses, hot sauce, cornmeal, or liquid smoke takes me back home. How much biting into still warm summer vegetables is just as satisfying when they're from my Kosugi yasaiya.

For some reason, summer makes me miss home more than any other season in Japan. Here's what I've been doing to keep myself sane.

My 4th of July Dinner. (1) Cole slaw. Red cabbage, carrots, & onion tossed in apple cider vinegar, honey, mustard seeds, and a soy milk-sunflower oil emulsification. (2) Baked beans. Pinto beans, onion, garlic, tomato paste, soy sauce, liquid smoke, molasses, mustard seed, & chili pepper, but there might have been one or two other things. (3) Shredded BBQ seitan. I can't remember exactly how I made the sauce, but mostly ketchup, sweet chili sauce, apple cider vinegar, liquid smoke, and chili pepper. (4) And of course, corn on the cob with a bit of S&P. Yummers!

The "I'm Homesick" Dinner I made for Max. (1) Okra soaked in soy milk, then dredged in a cornmeal mix and fried in sunflower oil. (2) Tomatoes are so good right now. (3) Sliced cucumbers and onion soaked in apple cider vinegar and honey. (4) Potatoes, green peppers, and onions pan fried in a bit of olive oil, then sprinkled with salt & pepper. (5) Tofu scramble.

One of my best food memories ever was going down to Rough River with my mom and Dave. We went out on the boat--a long, hot, fun day. Just as I was starting to feel peckish, my mom started pulling individually wrapped muffuletta sandwiches out of a cooler. It was the best thing I had ever eaten. Seriously. Just last week, when I replaced the stacks of salami and ham with roasted eggplant, mushrooms, and bell peppers, I realized that it wasn't the meat, but the olive relish that took me back to that day.

In a real-life example of how (not) to Southernize something, my mom used to love to eat a half an avocado with a spoon of mayo in the little bowl (surprisingly, she stayed quite slim). I thought it was gross at the time. These days I love avocados, though i like to fill mine with lime juice, chili pepper, & powdered garlic.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The History Of A Breakfast

This morning's breakfast was beast: tofu mushroom scramble, cucumber-tahini-miso dip, cucumber tomato couscous with sweet pomegranate vinaigrette, all scooped up into lettuce wraps and washed down with with a hot cup of yerba mate.

Even though I’m just now getting it together with my nutrition for the rest of the day, my breakfast game has been on point for some time now. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day--that’s what they say, right? And even though I know in my head that it’s true, it’s hard to feel that way when I am stumbling around my kitchen in a state that could in no way be described as lucid. I have never in my life been a morning person. Whether I go to bed at 9PM or 1AM, whether I work 1st shift or 3rd shift, whether I exercise regularly or binge drink regularly, that first hour after I wake up, no matter the time, is one filled with feelings ranging from anger to confusion to near catatonia.

That’s why I like to keep quick, easy breakfast foods around, things I can throw together while waiting for my teapot to boil. I’ve found a good mix of fiber & protein is best for getting me through the bike ride to work, waking me up in time for first period, and keeping me going all the way through to lunch. I generally mix and match from 3 groups—granola/bran flakes/oatmeal/rice + yogurt/soy milk/eggs + banana/apple/orange/berries. I throw in little treats like coconut milk, honey, Sriracha, nuts, sesame paste, dried fruit, spices, shredded coconut, etc, and I really don’t get bored. Anyway, this is my least picky eating time of the day.

You might have noticed eggs in that second group. Well, I’m off eggs now. I didn’t really eat eggs that often, so it’s not a huge deal, but I do like them. I’ve been reading about tofu scrambles for a while now, and this one looked promising especially, but still I’ve been incredibly wary. I just kept thinking that the sadness of biting into a disappointing animal product analogue first thing in the morning might be too much to bear. Plus the whole production is about 5 more steps than I’d like to take for breakfast. But last night I realized I had all the ingredients, and I decided I’d go for it in the morning.

OK I’m getting ahead of myself. This breakfast didn’t start with a scramble. It started with cucumbers—a Sunday morning craving brought on by one wild Saturday night (a night that quite weirdly yielded me 2 big limes, but that’s something else). By some serendipitous turn, Monday happened to be cucumber harvest day in the garden at my visiting school, and a 100 yen coin in the jar in the teacher’s room bought me 5 huge (for japan) ones. All I wanted was to combine these cucumbers with 3 things--green cardamom pods, pomegranate juice, and whole wheat couscous (due to an online shopping spree last pay day, every space in my kitchen is packed with ingredients exotic by southern United States standards and unheard of in rural Japan), but I couldn’t find a good recipe. So 1 lime, 2 cucumbers, 3 green cardamom pods, and a whole bunch of experimenting later, I had an enormous bowl of cool, sweet, tart, crunchy, yummy couscous. I’ll blog the recipe eventually, but I’m not exactly sure what I did, so I need to do a complete remake.

Tuesday night, I shredded the rest of my cucumbers and added them to this tahini miso dip. Normally I don’t like to use my blender after 9PM since I live in an apartment made of paper, but after listening to my upstairs neighbor’s kid switch between practicing judo and working on his best banshee scream while I was trying to watch Weeds, I didn’t feel so bad. This dip was supposed to be for the Toyama Book Club Meeting on Wednesday night (my choice this month—Geek Love—best book ever, but don’t read it while eating this, or anything), but I had to give it a little testaroo at breakfast.

So, back to breakfast. I had one serving of couscous left--I eat leftovers for breakfast sometimes, too—and a huge bowl of cucumber-tahini-miso dip, so no hassle there. But the scramble, well actually it was quite easy. The night before, I left the tofu with a plate on top to press out the moisture, cut up my onions & mushrooms and a little wedge of lime for the juice, and pulled all the spices I’d need and sat them next to the stove. And the result was….amazing! So good, no kidding. The texture was great—I use eringi mushrooms, which are kind of fibrous and chewy, and the drier, meatier yaki tofu was a good choice for this recipe, I think. The turmeric and paprika gave the scramble a beautiful color. And the flavor was just ridiculous—thyme, cumin & lime—never would have thought of it, but it totally worked. The nutritional yeast gave it the bit of umami it needed. But the real star, and really the whole reason I wrote about this breakfast, was black salt.

Yeah, I didn’t know what it was, either. During my online spendorama, I was feeling adventurous, so I ordered a bunch of mystery ingredients from indojin. Turns out black salt comes from volcanic rock and smells like sulfur, which, you know all too well if you’ve ever been to a sulfur bath, smells like eggs. I read it’s sometimes used to give egg flavor to a vegan dish, but come on, not really, right? I added a bit to this recipe out of curiosity, and BLACK SALT ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME? It’s magic egg rock. I’m not playing. Don’t wait another day--make this recipe, add some black salt, and blow your mouth’s mind.

So yeah, that was breakfast.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


things have been happening in my kitchen lately that have kept me from posting. the short story is that i've been slowly moving away from an animal-centric diet, and things sped up quite a bit in the last month or so. but don't worry, i definitely will keep posting super yum recipes. and for now, i have some awesome pics of what i've been up to. but first, a bit of an explanation.

that other time

i gave up meat from 8th grade until my freshman year in university. i can't remember what reason i gave people at the time, but it wasn't really about changing the way i ate. i was more obsessed with the deprivation aspect--it's a long story. whatever my family & friends ate, i ate, but without the animal flesh. burger king whoppers with no burger, beef & broccoli, hold the beef, tunaless tuna salad. and not that there's anything that wrong with what was leftover, really, but the point is that my diet after giving up meat was almost unchanged from my diet before, except that there was less joy in eating. it wasn't super healthy, it wasn't very fun, and what i'm doing now is nothing like that experience.

so i'm done with meat

and milk, butter, cheese, sugar, processed foods, out of season strawberries that have to be shipped in from chile--kind of. i'm not saying i'll never meat again. as a matter of fact, i'm saying i will definitely eat meat again. the point is that i want these kinds of things to be a pleasure, not a staple. in my mind, i've taken them out of the box where rice and onion and tomatoes live and put them in with birthday cake and root beer floats. or at least i'm working on it.

so, yeah, not vegetarian, not vegan. i think it would be a tragedy to live in japan and never eat seafood. it's so, so good and good for you. i don't see myself giving up yogurt any time soon, either, though i am making my own now. ooh ooh bacteria parties!

it's about smart choices, too. if i'm leaving work, and i want cucumbers, should i go to the big supermarket and get cucumbers grown who knows where and wrapped in 3 different kinds of plastic, or should i head to the stand down the street, and get the toyama-grown stuff from the adorable obachan? can i use olive oil instead of butter or honey instead of sugar in that recipe? if a fly wouldn't touch that prepackaged snacky thing, does it have any business in my mouth?

i'm not really thinking in terms of what i am and am not allowed to eat. it's more of a paradigm shift--a thoughtful, conscious way of meal planning that has at its center fresh vegetables, fruits, & grains.

if this all seems kind of unfocused and rambling, it may well be because it's not a dogma for me. there's no rules, just a different way of thinking. a day to day learning process. a dedicated effort to inject more joy in my life.

i do have my reasons

first, it's just healthier. there's so much research that finds positive correlations between diets low in animal products & processed food and high in fresh fruits, veggies, & grains and decreased risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. i've been thinking about this lately--my parents & grandparents have all had brushes with one or more of these diseases, i've been a drinking, smoking, partying wild thing for the last 10 years, i've put on a lot of weight in the last 3 years, and now i'm officially in my 30s. i want to live. and on an even more basic level, when i eat healthy food, i just feel better.

the second reason started with a seed that was planted back when i was in university, when a combination of lectures, readings, films, and one really amazing nun forced me consider the relationship between what i consume and a whole host of ecological, economic, and social problems. when i think about what a deep, soulful experience that cooking and eating can be for me, it just seems appropriate to bring my consumption more in line with my values.

also, i'm so bored with my own cooking. i feel like i basically know how to make three things. i make them quite well, but still, i'm over it. i'm ready to take it to the next level, and i think this is the kind of challenge i need to get excited about cooking again.

lastly, would be remiss if i didn't admit the influence of my peers. for some reason, vegetarians always irritated me. i guess it's hard to cook in a restaurant and not feel this way from time to time. i don't know if i've changed, or if i've just met some less irritating vegetarians, but it really started to get in my head about a year ago. there's been a bit of a health craze sweeping through my friend base, perhaps inspired by warm weather and winter bellies. it's all i've been hearing about lately--kind of like when someone first joins a new church or aa, and, with the best intentions, they completely overestimate your interest in the subject. luckily, one friend was actually able to inspire me, quite unintentionally i think. she doesn't talk a whole lot about not eating meat. what she does talk about is her experiments with new ingredients, new techniques, new ways of planning meals. she's doing crazy things, making mistakes, making miracles, and making it all seem totally doable. the food she brings to social gatherings is inventive and incredibly yummy. so, yeah, i want that.

i don't really have any recipes ready to go.

first, i don't exactly know what i'm doing. and what i am doing...there's just not a lot of me in there yet. i've been relying pretty heavily on other people's recipes. i got two new cook books to help me along. veganomicon is by the creators of post punk kitchen, a site that has been getting me really excited, and helping me along the way. the other is called the enlightened kitchen, inspired by the amazing tradition of vegetarian food served in buddhist temples in japan. it's nice to have a cookbook with ingredients i can get anywhere in my town. and when i discovered vegan crunk, i almost cried with joy at the realization that the flavors of my beloved southern cuisine didn't have to be lost to me.

second, the whole point of this blog was to give recipes that could easily be made by people in my position. that meant food that could be bought in the middle of nowhere in japan. but i've been cooking with a lot of food from, an organic food distributor, and, an indian food distributor. both of these companies do everything in online, in english, ship c.o.d., deliver in a day or two, and are quite reasonably priced, so i guess it could be said that foods from these places still hold to the original spirit. i haven't decided yet, but i think the blog might have to evolve along with me.

an lastly, this is all taking a lot of work right now. but i'm finding ways to be more efficient, developing new habits, and coming up with strategies to make this a practical lifestyle change. i'm really excited about what i've been doing. i think you're really gonna like it, too, so i'm gonna get some recipes up as soon as possible. but for now, here's some pictures, with some links to online recipes.

making vegetable stock from scraps

homemade stuff: stocks (vegetable, konbu, & shitake), ginger syrup, yogurt

Sunday, May 24, 2009

jalapeño dill lotus chips with spicy honey yogurt

i bought some fresh dill the other day with no idea of what i would do with it. all i could think about was grippo's hot dill pickle chips, an admittedly lesser but still under appreciated member of the grippo's family. i don't know how it works in the rest of the country, but if anyone in louisville, ky (that's america btw) asks you to pick up some bbq potato chips on your way over, you better show up with grippo's. i think about them way too much. yummmm. anyway, hot dill chips--i had some lotus root hanging around, so why not? i whipped up a little yogurt dipping sauce, and it turned out to be a lovely snack.

ingredients for chips
20 cm lotus root, sliced (1)
6 sprigs fresh dill, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp jalapeño powder

ingredients for sauce
2 tbsp plain sweet yogurt
1 tsp sriracha chili sauce
1/2 tsp honey

(1) 蓮根, れんこん

i got the sriracha at yamaya in takaoka. everything else is from e-town in kosugi.

i made this while listening to this american life

let's go!
1. mix olive oil, dill, jalapeño powder, paprika, and garlic powder together in a bowl.

2. i used pre-sliced lotus root, but if you buy it fresh, follow the steps 1 & 2 in this recipe to prepare it. pat it dry with a paper towel.

3. add lotus root to olive oil mixture. toss until fully coated.

4. place lotus root in a single layer on a baking sheet.

5. broil in your fish drawer on high until golden, about 4 or 5 minutes.

6. place on paper towels to absorb excess oil. sprinkle with salt and extra jalapeño powder as needed.

7. for the dipping sauce, strain yogurt (as described in step 1 of this recipe). mix sriracha and honey into yogurt.