Sunday, March 23, 2008

Italy vs Japan

It has long been my opinion that Italian and Japanese are the top two cuisines in the world. Perhaps it is no coincidence then that most of our ex-pat friends in Sierra Leone are also from Italy or Japan.

Because there is a shortage of fun things to do in Freetown and the restaurant scene is quite limited (to put it mildly) we regularly have dinner parties for our friends on our balcony (definitely the best feature of the house we live in) from which there is a beautiful view and a stunning sunset.

The view from our balcony

Last night we had one for friends who were still around during the Easter break - the theme for the night - you guessed it, Japanese and Italian food. Toshi and I get a bit competitive at times and treated the event like a battle of the two cuisines. You can call us team ramen gyoza. In case anyone had any doubts about the high standing of the Japanese kitchen, Toshi was carrying around that newsweek magazine, which features Japan as the food capital of the world.

In total there were around 20 of us - Japanese friends mainly from UNDP and JICA and Italians from UNDP and also our neighbor Alessandro and his friends visiting him from Italy (including Gianandre - the food critic from Italy - as if our sense of competition wasn't fierce enough already!!). Oh, and we do allow other nationalities, like me for example.

Team Italy and Japan relaxing before the game

Most people brought something along - among others from team Italy we had rigatoni with shrimp, porcini and cream, tortellini in a tomato sauce and pizza. From team Japan we had chirashi zushi from Kuge san and from team ramen gyoza (that's Toshi and me in case you forgot) we were supposed to have ramen but after one and a half days of cooking this complex broth, unfortunately the weather was too hot and the soup turned sour while cooling down. Very, very upsetting. Turn to Plan B - because we had already made the ramen noodles - we decided to make hiyashi chuka - noodles summer style, we also had gyoza (Japanese dumplings), nasu dengaku (aubergine with miso) and for dessert I made two tarts, one coffee flavored and one green-tea flavored.

Team Italy tasting the food

It was excellent - even if I do say so myself. We were a little too busy to take proper pictures of the food, which is a shame. Gianandre the food critic was particularly impressed with the gyoza.

Gianandre and me

Hiyashi Chuka recipe

If you can buy good quality ramen noodles use these, we can't - so we made our own.

For the noodles (this will make 4 servings)
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt - a teaspoon
  • Water (start with three tablespoons, and add a little more as needed)
  1. Beat the egg and water together
  2. Mix flour and salt together
  3. Add egg mixture to flour mixture
  4. Mix and knead until smooth and glossy
  5. Cover in plastic wrap and let rest in fridge for 30 minutes
  6. Roll through pasta maker until thin and cut into reasonably fine noodles, or divide the dough into smaller pieces, roll out until thin, roll up and cut into reasonably fine noodles.
  7. Boil water, cook (only takes a few minutes) so that they are still quite firm between the teeth. Nothing worse than a soggy noodle.
  8. Drain, and quickly dunk in an iced bath - the noodles should be served very cold. They should be cooked not too long before serving.
For the condiments
  • Cucumbers, seeds removed, cut into thin strips
  • Ham, cut into thin strips
  • Eggs - cooked into a thin omelet, cut into thin strips
  • Tomato, seeds removed, cut into thin strips
For the sauce
  • Soy sauce (1 part)
  • Mirin (1 part)
  • Rice vinegar (1 part)
  • Sesame oil (1 part)
Toshi giving a tutorial on how to make hiyashi chuka sauce

To serve:
  1. Place cooked, cooled noodles on plate
  2. Nicely place the condiments on top of the noodles
  3. Squeeze some karashi (Japanese mustard) on the side of the plate
  4. Allow people to serve themselves, pouring on the sauce individually
  5. It's also really good with Japanese mayonnaise (kewpi brand)
It should look something like this

I pinched this picture from here

Gyoza recipe

These were so damn good, they disappeared in a flash.

This recipe will make around 50 pieces.

If you can buy ready-made gyoza wrappers, do so, they tend to be pretty good. We can't - so had to make our own.

For the wrappers:
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup boiling water
  1. Mix flour and salt
  2. Pour in the boiling water
  3. Mix up as much as possible (watch out it's hot!)
  4. Get it into something resembling a ball
  5. Cover and let rest for 1 hour
  6. Knead for a few minutes, until smooth.
  7. Divide the dough into 4 parts
  8. Roll each part into a thin log so that you can cut each one into around 12 pieces
  9. Each small piece then needs to be rolled out into a thin circle
For the filling:
  • 200 grams ground pork (I can't get this so I used bacon instead)
  • 200 grams shrimps
  • I also had some leftover cooked chicken so I threw that in too - you could really play around with the meat content - use beef if you don't like pork, up to you really
  • 1 1/2 cups of cabbage - shredded and then blanched so it softens a little bit
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 3cm piece of ginger
  • 3 teaspoons of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup of chopped spring onion/scallion
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  1. Mix everything in a food processor - not too much, so that it still has some texture
  2. Put a spoonful of filling inside wrapper, fold wrapper in half and seal closed.
For the dipping sauce:
  • 1 part soy sauce
  • 1 part rice vinegar
  • A few drops of layu (sesame and chili oil)
To cook:
  1. In a hot frying pan, add a small amount of oil
  2. Put gyoza inside, cook until the bottom is browned
  3. Add enough water, so that it comes about half way up the height of the gyoza
  4. Place lid on top of frying pan, steam until all water has evaporated
  5. You may need to add a little more oil at the end to help remove the gyoza from the frying pan (depending on the frying pan)
  6. Serve immediately with dipping sauce
They should look something like this:

I pinched this picture from here

Nasu Dengaku recipe
  • Aubergine/eggplant (the long Japanese ones if you can get them, if not, any type will do)
  • Miso (white - although it's actually yellow)
  • Mirin
  1. Bash the aubergine against your kitchen base and then roll around a bit so that the insides become soft.
  2. Cut in half
  3. Bake in oven on baking sheet - 20 minutes, cut side down, turn over - then cook for a further 20 minutes
  4. Mix miso and mirin (3 parts miso, 1 part mirin)
  5. Remove aubergine from oven
  6. Spread miso paste over the cut side of the aubergine
  7. Put aubergine back in oven (cut side facing up) for another 15 minutes
  8. Serve immediately
It should look something like this:

I pinched this picture from here

Coffee/green tea tart recipe

For the pastry

Use your favorite sweet pastry recipe, or:
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 egg white
  1. With a mixer, beat the butter until softened, add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add egg - mix until just incorporated. Add flour and mix until the dough forms a ball.
  2. Flatten dough into a disk, cover with plastic wrap and put in fridge for 30 minutes.
  3. Roll out the dough on a floured surface until it reaches desired size.
  4. Roll dough onto your rolling pin and unroll on top of your tart pan, pressing gently into bottom and sides of pan. Prick the bottom of the dough. Cover and chill for 30 minutes.
  5. Place in a hot oven and bake for around 20 minutes until gently golden brown.
  6. Brush hot pastry with egg white.
For the filling
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 egg yolks, beaten
  • 3/8 cup white sugar
  • Ground coffee (3/4 tablespoon) or green tea leaves (1 1/2 tablespoons)
  1. Pour milk into saucepan, add coffee or tea leaves
  2. Heat until just boiling, turn heat off, let stand a while to develop flavor
  3. Strain milk mixture through a fine sieve
  4. Mix eggs and egg yolks
  5. Slowly pour in the milk mixture into egg mixture, whisking the entire time until everything is blended together
  6. Add sugar, mix
  7. Pour mixture into the pastry case
  8. Bake in medium oven until filling is set
  9. Cool before serving
Sorry no pictures of this one!


jose said...

I enjoy reading this blog, in fact I look forward to it. Lived thrity years in a rural environment and had a similar experience having to meet friends for a cooking experience and serious eating. Yes, Japanese and Italian cuisine are extraordinary, much more if enjoyed in the company of good friends and having fun.

Ewa said...

Thanks Jose! I'm so glad you enjoy reading my blog. I totally agree with you that good food is even better when shared with good friends. Maybe you could share one of your favorite recipes?