Monthly Archives: June 2010

Korean-inspired Buckwheat Noodle Stirfry with Miso-Edamame salad

Last year, we spent a crazed 36 hours in Seoul. Korea had never been on my “list” of places to see, but when we booked our flight home from Uzbekistan and faced a 9 hour layover in Seoul, we decided to make it a bonafide stopover, and tear through the city in two days.

I had zero expectations for Seoul. In fact, having left China three weeks earlier, I was worried that due to its proximity to China, it would be like China (and I had had enough of China). It wasn’t – at all. We landed on an extremely hot, humid and rainy day – but there was something about the airport that told me this was going to be a great mini-trip. Maybe it was the raspberry yoghurt and skim milk I bought for breakfast (after being dairy deprived for 5 weeks), or perhaps it was the extreme efficiency with which everything ran, but I was impressed before even walking out of the airport.

We spent the next two days jet lagged beyond belief – taking turns falling asleep on the hop-on-hop-off bus, dodging torrential downpours in the relatively abandoned gates and palaces that dot the city landscape…and, of course, eating. Although Toronto is full of Korean restaurants, never had I thought of really exploring the culinary world of Korea! Oh for the wasted years! Our first real taste of Korean food was in Korea – perhaps that’s how it should always be – and it was love at first taste. It’s a very healthy cuisine overall – high on flavour and spice and low on fat and calories. Most Korean dishes seem to be centred around the spicy red pepper paste known as “gochujang” and on our flight from Tashkent to Seoul, we were given a small tube of it, which was our first real exposure to the wonderful world of gochujang.

Since returning from Korea, we have purchased a Korean cookbook and have experimented our way through barbecued Korean chicken, kimchi and bi bim bap. But today I want to share with you a slightly different recipe – this one was not found in our Korean cookbook. It’s a variation of a recipe I found on a blog called Fat Free Vegan Kitchen (original: I borrowed the concept from her, but experimented with the main ingredients.

Science tells us that humans can sense four different tastes: salty, sweet, sour and bitter. It was been suggested that savoury and spicy be added to this list. Culinary experts will tell you that a successful dish merges several of these elements. What I like about this recipe that follows is its balance between spicy, sweet and salty. The butternut squash provides the sweetness, the soy-marinated tofu the saltiness, and the gochujang turns up the heat.

I’ve prepared it with a very simple Japanese inspired edamame salad with miso-soy dressing – in part because Koreans and Japanese share and borrow many culinary traditions from one another (sushi being the obvious one that comes to mind).

You can get gochujang in the Korean section of any Asian grocery – it has a long fridge life, and is easily stored. Buckwheat soba noodles can also be found in the Korean or Japanese section of the grocery. Use any iron and fibre-rich green you wish – I used spinach because I always have it on hand. As for the tofu, you can sometimes find ginger-sesame marinated tofu. This works really well in the recipe – and if you use it instead, you can skip the soy sauce part.

½ butternut squash, peeled and diced

1 tsp olive oil

1/8 tsp sesame oil

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 tsp grated fresh ginger

8 oz extra-firm tofu, diced

2 Tbsp soy sauce

1 Tbsp water

½ package of buckwheat soba noodles, cooked

8 oz baby spinach

1 ½ tbsp gochujang

3 tbsp water

1 tsp honey

Sesame seeds to garnish

Sesame oil

Begin with tossing the butternut squash in small amount of oil. Put it in a pan and bake in the oven at 350 until tender (usually ½ hour). Remove.

Heat sesame oil in a wok and add tofu pieces with garlic and ginger. Toss gently for a moment or two. Add soy sauce and water and cook tofu until soy mixture is almost completely absorbed. (Remove the ginger and soy if you are using pre-marinated tofu). Remove to a plate.

Gently scrape butternut squash into the wok, then add the cooked buckwheat noodles and spinach. Meanwhile, use a whisk and blend the gochujang, water and honey until it is in a sauce-like consistency. Add it to the wok with spinach. Return tofu to the pan. Toss until noodles are coated. Transfer immediately to plates, and sprinkle sesame oil and seeds to garnish.

For the salad:


1 cup cooked edamame

4 spring onions, diced

Sesame seeds to garnish

½ avocado, diced


1-2 tbsp olive oil (or sunflower oil)

1 tsp soy sauce

11/2 tsp miso

2 tbsp rice wine vinegar

Spritz of lemon

1 crushed garlic clove

Assemble the salad and then mix dressing in a bowl, using a whisk to combine all ingredients. Pour dressing over salad just before eating.


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Nicoise Salad – Cajun Style

Nicoise salad - awaiting the catfish

Nicoise salad is a famous French salad made with green beans, hard boiled eggs, potatoes and tuna. One day we wondered how it would taste with a Cajun twist, using blackened catfish in place of the tuna, and changing the flavours of the salad just a bit. Afterall, Cajuns are descendants of Acadians, who were early French settlers in Eastern Canada; their cuisine is a fusion of French, Spanish and Afro-Caribbean flavours, so it seemed to us that a nicoise salad would lend itself perfectly to a little “Cajunization”. And it did. This remains one of our favourite meals for a hot summer’s evening – eaten on the patio with a glass of Perrier and lime…fantastique!

Warning – this is not for the faint-hearted. Blackening spice is extremely hot and even when used with moderation, can trigger a heart attack in the unsuspecting. If you don’t have a tolerance for spice, don’t ditch the recipe altogether; buy some off-the-shelf Cajun marinade for your fish and get a taste for the meal nonetheless. But if you do like spicy food, then you are in luck! Normally, blackened fish is cooked on a cast iron pan over extremely high heat on the bar b q. But we also like it cooked for a few minutes in foil, and then directly on the grill for another minute or two. If you don’t want to use a lot of oil, then the latter is recommended.

I’ve replaced the typical basil used in a nicoise salad with fresh tarragon. I absolutely love the mildly licoricey flavour of this herb when fresh. But if you really don’t like it, then by all means, use basil.

For the salad:

Baby romaine or other lettuce leaves

Fresh green beans (1 cup), julienned

2 cups halved baby red potatoes

½ cucumber, sliced

20 pitted kalamata olives (not canned!)

1 hard boiled egg

5 stalks of fresh tarragon

3-4 plum tomatoes, sliced into sixths, lengthwise

12 asparagus stalks, brushed lightly with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper


For the dressing:

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 clove minced garlic

Generous spritz of lemon juice

1 tsp dijon mustard

Sald and pepper to taste

For the fish:

 4 filets of fresh catfish

Juice of ½ lemon

Blackening spice:

1 – 2 Tbsp white flour

1 tbsp garlic powder

1tbsp onion powder

2 tsp white paper (don’t skip this – it’s essential)

2 tsp cracked black pepper

2 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

(combine all but the flour in a small container and shake)

  1. Boil the potatoes until tender, and steam the green beans. When both are done, allow to cool, or gently toss under cold water if you are pressed for time.
  2. Arrange the salad with lettuce on the bottom, and tarragon leaves mixed in, followed by beans and potatoes, then cucumber, tomatoes, hard boiled egg and olives
  3. Grill asparagus on a heated grill for only 2-3 minutes; be careful not to over cook
  4. Whisk all the dressing ingredients together and set aside
  5. Spritz a lemon over your catfish filets and then turn the filets through the flour first, then the blackening spice, coating them evenly (you don’t need to use all the blackening spice – in fact, don’t use it all).
  6. Wrap filets in tin foil and place on barbecue for approximately 5 minutes. Un wrap them and grill them for another 2 or until fish flakes and is cooked through centre
  7. Add grilled asparagus and whole salon filets on places, and then add salad, spooning over the dressing

 Here’s a nice vegetarian alternative, if catfish is not your thing. Instead of using baby red potatoes, use large white baking potatoes. Slice them into potato wedges, toss them in 2 tbsp olive oil and then the blackening spices. Grill them on the barbecue or cook them on a cookie sheet in the oven until soft and tender. Serve them over the salad in lieu of the fish.

And now...put it all together

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Paella on the barbeque

Vegetarian paella on the BBQ

 Picture this. It’s a hot and sunny evening in Madrid. Your feet ache from conquering the city and its abundant art galleries and your head is spinning after a pitcher of sangria. You’re sitting in a fantastically ambient outdoor plaza awash with that warm glow of sunlight you find only on perfect summer evenings. Crisp white linen flutters on dozens of tables, bottles of wine and plates of olives are shared as conversations and laughter unfold in a language you barely understand. The baroque facades of buildings – dripping in vines and flowers – begin to impart their shady relief on you, and it is a perfect evening for…paella.

 I fell in love with paella in Spain. Doesn’t everyone? Truth be told, I had never tried real paella before, because I don’t eat pig or seafood. In Canada, it seems the only paella people eat is the one with chicken and chorizo, and the one with seafood and chorizo. Most would argue that this is the only way to eat paella, but I beg to differ. To me, the real flavour of paella comes from the plump ripe tomatoes, rich saffron and tangy lemon zest. You don’t need meat to indulge – and in fact the traditional way of preparing this Valencian dish is with rabbit, not pork, so even the chorizo-lovers are veering from tradition.

 Now most people who eat paella in Spain get duped into eating what is probably akin to the McCain’s frozen pizza. Restaurants catering to uninitiated tourists churn out individual paella made of turmeric (cheating!) and cooked in a plastic pan that roughly resembles a paella pan. The way you know if you are getting the real thing is in the time. If the waiter tells you it will take 45 minutes to an hour, you are getting the real thing. And it is worth the wait. A real paella is prepared fresh for you, and comes to you in the paella pan in which it is cooked, hot and steamy. The more people sharing, the larger the pan. I remember being a little woozy on sangria and cerveza, and incredibly tired and hot, and thinking that maybe I would just slip into that gelato shop and get something to tie me over, but the saffron marinated olives and artichokes and crusty bread kept magically appearing just when I thought I couldn’t wait a moment longer. Before I knew it, I was plunging into a rich aromatic paella and vying for the soccarat – the crispy crust of rice that everyone gently pryes from the bottom of the pan.

 Since that magical evening in Madrid, I have worked diligently at honing my paella making skills. It’s actually harder than one would think. First of all, I had to buy a paella pan, which I found at Creative Cookware ( Then I had to find bomba rice, the traditional rice from Valencia that is used in paella. I have seen a million recipes (okay, will maybe more like dozens) online that call for brown rice or jasmine or basmati. Those are imposters! A real paella is made from bomba rice, and it’s not as easy to find in Toronto as you would think. Most paella rice is sold as a prepared food, with flavours and dried herbs and vegetables already mixed in. I eventually found pure, unadulterated bomba rice in the St. Lawrence market, at one of the gourmet/imported food stalls in the basement.

My last challenge was in getting the rice to cook evenly. No matter what I tried, it seemed that the centre of my paella cooked well, and the rice on the edges was far to al dente to be considered acceptable. I was getting frustrated. And then I read that traditionally paella is cooked over an open flame. My stove-top probably didn’t distribute heat evenly enough along my wide paella pan. So, I had the idea of trying it on the barbeque, and, not wanting to over cook the organic halal chicken that cost me a fortune, I created my own vegetarian version by default. The result: perfectly cooked rice and a richly satisfying vegetarian meal.

Here is my vegetarian paella recipe. If you don’t get bomba rice, I am told you can come close by using good quality arborio rice (the short grain rice used in risotto). If you don’t have a paella pan…thanks for coming out (just kidding). You can get by with a cast iron pan (and if you like the results, invest in a paella pan, they aren’t really that expensive).

When you prepare the ingredients, chop them all up ahead of time. The actual cooking process moves very rapidly and doesn’t afford you the time to chop/cook/chop/cook.

I’ve grouped the ingredients by stage, so you can put each set on a separate plate or bowl, ready to be dumped in.

Olive oil

1 red onion (chopped in wedges)

1 red pepper (chopped into 1-inch pieces)

1 tsp Spanish paprika

1 tbsp dried rosemary

3 plum tomatoes (halved, seeds removed, flesh grated and skins discarded – pulp)

3 cloves garlic, minced

6 oz sliced mushrooms

2 tbsp lemon zest

1 cup fresh or frozen green fava beans

1 cup of green beans, julienned

1 cup bomba rice

1 generous pinch of saffron, soaked in 2 tbsp hot water

2 cups vegetable stock

1 jar Spanish marinated artichoke hearts

2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

12 grape tomatoes, sliced lengthways

Lemon wedges and green olives to serve

  1. After chopping everything and putting them into separate “holding” bowls or plates, turn the barbeque on high, and allow to heat for about 8 minutes
  2. Reduce heat to medium and put your paella pan with anywhere from 1 tbsp to ¼ cup olive oil (depending on how low-fat you want it) over the flame
  3. Add onions and red pepper and sauté, being careful to avoid splattering oil (reduce heat further if necessary)
  4. Remove onions and peppers, and add second bowl with the mushrooms, garlic and lemon zest. Saute, stirring constantly.
  5. Add tomato zest and spices and bring to a gentle boil
  6. Return the onions and peppers to the pan and add both beans
  7. Add rice on it’s own and stir vigorously for a minute or two, until it starts to soak up liquid
  8. Add saffron and stir. At this point, you need to add the stock. When you’ve poured it evenly over the pan, you can gently press down on the rice to make sure it is all submerged
  9. Scatter the artichoke and parsley over the top and resist the urge to stir
  10. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Cook for approximately 20-25 minutes. Don’t worry about the rice sticking; as long as it’s not too hot, this will form the soccarat, a delicacy
  11. With only a few minutes remaining, scatter the grape tomatoes on top
  12. Serve with a mixture of olives and lemon wedges (if you are not serving it for guests, use the lemon you took the zest from; the lemon will not keep well after the zest has been removed)

    The finished product

  13.  This also goes really well with a crusty multigrain baguette and dipping oil made with 3 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar and a pinch of chili flakes

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