Nori Roll-Ups: Messy to Eat, But Fun to Make

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I promise you, these are as amusing to make as they are to eat. Take a piece of sushi nori, pile on ingredients, roll it up and eat it kind of like a burrito.  Messy, but fun. My recipe calls for short grain brown rice, marinated tempeh, napa cabbage and carrot salad, ginger pickles and a creamy sesame dressing, but let your imagination loose. Who knows where it will lead? Get the basics ready in the kitchen, but bring all the components to the table and let your dining companions assemble their own roll-ups. Serve with a dipping sauce, if you like. Recipes after the jump.

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Summer’s Harvest: Three Sweet Berries Together in a Delicate Gel

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You don’t need me to tell you that it’s berry season. You’ll likely find lovely, ripe berries in abundance at your farm market. Eat them right out of the basket–what a pleasure. Pour on a little cream (or more likely, your favorite substitute), and if the berries are ripe and sweet,  you’ll have a memorable dessert.  But if you’re in the mood for something a little out of the ordinary, try this elegant summer gel made simply with fruit juice and agar agar, a sea vegetable used as a dessert gelling agent throughout Asia. Although it goes together quickly, make it at least a couple of hours ahead, so there’s time for the gel to cool and set. If you’re remembering the jello you ate as a kid, forget all that. This gel is so much more delicate and sophisticated. Make it in a loaf pan, then slice and garnish with additional fruit and something creamy. In the photo, the garnish is coconut cream, made by using a fork to whip only the thick part of canned coconut milk.  You can add a little sweetener if you like, but I didn’t and it worked well. The recipe, as usual, is after the jump.

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Japanese Food and Culture: A Vegetarian Menu to Celebrate Spring

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Clockwise from far left: short grain brown rice with aduki beans, hijiki with lotus root and carrot, shungiku and apple with walnut dressing, daikon and apricot sunomono, clear soup with brown shimeji mushrooms and watercress, tofu pouches stuffed with clear noodles and vegetables, with steamed asparagus. (Click on photo to enlarge)

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When Fumiko Arao and I came together recently to create this vegetarian meal, we brought very different backgrounds to her kitchen.  She grew up in Tokyo and learned cooking from her mother and grandmother.  I, long ago, lived in Japan and learned cooking as an apprentice in a six-table vegetarian restaurant in Osaka. But we agreed that the meal should be balanced, including rice, a sea vegetable, a pickle, soup, and an interesting entree, and that it should evoke the season, early spring. Also, we wanted it not to be so esoteric that you couldn’t reproduce it in your own kitchen. You will need to make a trip to a well-stocked Asian market such as Ranch 99, in the Bay Area, but if you do that, I’m pretty sure you’ll find all the ingredients you need.  And, of course there’s no need to reproduce the entire meal, pick and choose whatever seems interesting. Recipes and many more photos are after the jump. Continue reading

Sea Vegetables: Arame, Carrot, Eda Mame and Arugula Salad

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If there’s a sea vegetable that’s easy to get to know and to like it would be mild tasting arame.  A member of the kelp family, it is sold dried and shredded and can be reconstituted in only five minutes, and it cooks quickly as well. Like most sea vegetables, it is high in minerals such as calcium, iodine, iron and magnesium, as well as vitamin A. In Japan it might typically be sautéed with julienned carrots and seasoned with soy sauce and mirin and garnished with toasted sesame seeds. Here, I’ve elaborated on that by adding eda mame and arugula and tossing everything in a Japanese-style dressing.  Quick to make and easy to eat, this might be a good introductory dish for people who aren’t sure if they like sea vegetables (full recipe is after the jump). If you can’t find arame at your natural foods store, Eden Foods is a good mail-order source. I’ve posted previously about sea vegetables here.

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Sea Vegetables: Roasted Nori, An Addictive New Snack

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I found this roasted, seasoned nori at Trader Joe's. Irresistible!

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I almost hesitate to mention this new snack which appeared recently at Trader Joe’s, for fear that those of you with addictive personalities will blame me for hooking you on something new! But here it is: Roasted Seaweed Snack, consisting only of roasted nori seasoned with a little salt and sesame and canola oils.  A lighter, healthier snack would be hard to come by.  The package weighs .4 ounce–so you know it’s unlikely to pack on the pounds, and two pieces contain only 15 calories. Nori, of course, is one of those sea vegetables I’m so enamored with, and why not?  It tastes really good, and even kids who’ve never seen it before, quickly come to love it.  Nutritionally, you can’t go wrong as it contains nice quantities of vitamins A and B, as well as iodine, protein, carotene, calcium and iron. Although this product is Korean, Japan, which produces about 350,000 tons a year, is by far the largest producer and consumer of nori. You’ll see it wrapped inside or out of the maki rolls at your local sushi bar.  It’s grown in an elaborate system of racks in the water and finished in a process which resembles paper making. So, if you, like me, prefer your snacks slightly salty, I commend Roasted Seaweed Snacks to you. If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s nearby, many Asian markets sell a similar product, and as with almost everything else, you can order it online.

Full-sized sheets of nori (right), roasted, seasoned nori (left). Photo by Alice Weigand via Wikipedia.