Articles in Fish w/recipe

Sardinian Tomatoes. Credit: Kathy Hunt

 

Growing up with a father who suffered from cardiovascular disease, I learned at an early age how to eat healthfully. Hot dogs, fried chicken and steaks rarely graced our dinner table. Instead, we ate boatloads of low-fat and vitamin- and mineral-rich seafood, grains and produce.

Among the fish we consumed, sardines still top my list of favorite heart-healthy foods. Available in fresh and canned forms, these oily fish are chock-full of flavor and omega-3 fatty acids.

What’s so great about omega-3s? According to the American Heart Association, these fatty acids lessen the risk of abnormal heartbeats and reduce high triglyceride levels that may contribute to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. They also have a positive impact on high blood pressure and overall cardiovascular health.

“It has long been appreciated that societies who eat diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids have a lower incidence of heart disease. For example, prior to the western influences of fast-food chains, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia had a diet predominantly of fish and had very low heart disease rates. We discovered that one of the main components of the fish diet that was beneficial was omega-3,” says Dr. Paul Checchia, director of cardiovascular care at Texas Children’s Hospital.

Along with sardines’ wholesomeness, I love these petite, iridescent fish for their versatility. They go well with an array of other heart-healthy foods, including spinach, tomatoes, red bell peppers, carrots, walnuts, oranges, raisins, kidney beans, black beans and whole grains. They also partner with other omega-3-rich seafood such as anchovies.

Sardines lend themselves to many preparations, flavor pairings

When fresh, sardines can be grilled, broiled, baked, poached, sautéed or marinated. Their dark, oily flesh responds well to direct heat, making them the perfect fit for barbecues and charcoal grills.

Their bold flavor likewise engenders them to simple preparations. Sprinkle ground black pepper, vinegar or citrus juice over your cooked sardines and, in a snap, you’ve got a delicious repast.

Although they tend to be overlooked by today’s home cooks, sardines have a long and storied culinary past. Named for the island Sardinia, where they were found in abundance, they have supported generations of European fishermen.

Sardines live in both Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In fact, from the 1920s through the 1940s, they served as the backbone of America’s largest, most profitable Pacific Coast fisheries. Monterey, California’s, famed Cannery Row owes its success to sardines.

Canned sardines, in turn, owe their existence to the French and Napoleon Bonaparte, who needed a way to store and transport protein-rich rations for his troops. Through the ingenuity of French brewer Nicolas Appert and British merchant Peter Durand, sardines became the first canned fish and one of the first canned foods.

The French weren’t the only ones to benefit from sardine canning. In the 20th century these 10- to 14-inch fish fed American soldiers during two world wars. They also provided jobs for vast numbers of workers.

As is often the case, rampant popularity led to the sardine’s downfall. Overfishing and the ocean’s natural growth cycle depleted the supply. Without sardines in the supermarkets, shoppers turned to canned tuna for cheap, portable and easy-to-prepare meals.

In recent years sardine populations have rebounded in the Pacific. This is wonderful news for environmentally minded, health-conscious consumers. As small-sized bottom feeders who eat plankton, sardines don’t take on heavy metals and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) as other fish do. Low in contaminants and high in protein, vitamins B-12 and D, and omega-3s fatty acids, Pacific sardines have been deemed a “best choice” by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.

When shopping for sardines, I have the option of fresh or canned. With fresh sardines, I look for shiny, silvery skins; plump bodies; bright eyes; and firm, pinkish, moderately oily flesh.

Because these fish are fatty, they spoil easily. To ensure my sardines are safe to eat, I do a quick sniff test. If a sardine smells overly fishy or pungent, I skip that fish. Highly perishable, sardines should be cooked the day of purchase.

Packed in thick, clear oil, canned sardines possess expiration dates and should be consumed accordingly. Until I’m ready to use them, I store the cans in a cool spot in my kitchen and periodically flip them so all the fish are coated in oil.

If you peek into my kitchen cupboard, you’ll invariably see at least two tins of sardines tucked in there. I use them in everything from bread spreads and vegetable dips to pastas and pissaladières. When I crave an especially heart-healthy entrée, I make the following dish, Sardinian Tomatoes. Featuring lycopene- and beta-carotene-rich tomatoes; fiber- and iron-packed barley; vitamin C- and A-filled red bell peppers; and, of course, sardines, it’s a delightfully nutritious meal.

Sardinian Tomatoes

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: 8 stuffed tomatoes

Ingredients

8 large, ripe tomatoes

1 red bell pepper

1/2 small red onion

8 ounces canned sardines, drained and patted dry

1 1/2 cups cooked barley

1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley

3/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Juice of 1 lemon

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more for greasing the baking dish

1/4 cup panko bread crumbs

2 teaspoons granulated onion

1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a large baking dish with olive oil and set aside.

2. Slice off the tops of the tomatoes. Scoop out the seeds, leaving an inch of flesh inside the tomatoes.

3. Dice the red pepper and onion. Slice the sardines into bite-sized chunks and put them, along with the pepper and onion, into a mixing bowl. Add the barley to the bowl.

4. Roughly chop the parsley. Add it, the thyme and black pepper to the bowl and toss to combine. Drizzle the lemon juice and half of the olive oil over the mixture and toss again.

5. In a small bowl combine the bread crumbs, granulated onion and salt. Add the remaining olive oil and stir until all the crumbs are coated.

6. Put equal amounts of sardine-barley stuffing into each tomato, filling each to the top. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the filling. Place the stuffed tomatoes in the baking dish and bake, uncovered, for 12 to 15 minutes or until the tomatoes have softened slightly and the crumbs have browned. Remove and serve warm.

Main photo: Sardinian Tomatoes. Credit: Kathy Hunt

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Seafood on display for customers. Credit: Kathy Hunt

Whether you have vowed to eat more healthfully or are just contemplating the addition of seafood to your diet this year, eventually you may find yourself staring into a refrigerated seafood case, wondering which fish is not only safe and eco-friendly but also a pleasure to eat.

No need to wonder. I have a list of wholesome winners for you. The lineup includes a hearty fish that satisfies meat lovers; one for those preferring mild, “non-fishy” fish; and a versatile, no-fuss shellfish.

The perfect seafood for meat lovers

First on the menu is Atlantic mackerel. In the same family as tuna, the torpedo-shaped mackerel possesses firm, oily flesh and a rich, beefy taste. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, no fish offers more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids than mackerel.

Healthful, flavorful and flexible, this fish can be braised, broiled, grilled, poached, sautéed or seared as well as pickled, salted or smoked. Its bold flavor marries with acidic ingredients such as citrus, tomatoes and vinegar and balances out more mellow foods such as lentils, potatoes and mushrooms.

When shopping for Atlantic mackerel, I look for fish sourced from Canada. Caught using purse seines rather than fishing trawlers, it possesses the highest sustainability rating by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. Other mackerel varieties, such as Spanish and King, have elevated mercury levels, making them a less favorable choice.

A ‘gateway’ fish

I think of farmed, American channel catfish as the gateway to seafood consumption. Its subtly sweet, low-fat and pliable meat puts it on the opposite end of the flavor spectrum from mackerel. It also makes catfish an excellent choice for reluctant or picky fish eaters.

With a flattened head and eight long, whisker-like barbells dotting the region around its nose and mouth, this creature bears a strong resemblance to its namesake. Typically, though, I don’t see whole catfish, with whiskers intact, in markets. Instead, what I find are skinless catfish fillets. Iridescently white to off-white in color, they often get lumped into the broad category of “white fish.”

Virtually an all-purpose fish, catfish can be baked, braised, broiled, grilled, poached, sautéed, steamed and deep-, pan- or stir-fried. It goes well with countless ingredients, including avocados, bacon, chilies, olives, tomatoes, tomatillos and wine.

Farmed channel catfish from the U.S. is among the most sustainable seafood available today. Be sure to purchase U.S.-farmed rather than imported Asian catfish, which also goes by the names “swai” or “basa.” Although equally low in mercury, imported catfish is not as eco-friendly.

A shellfish to get you started

Maybe you prefer the colorful looks, flavor and texture of shellfish but also desire seafood low in cholesterol and mercury; high in protein, vitamins and minerals; and with moderate levels of omega-3 fatty acids. I have the bivalve for you: mussels.

Inside a mussel’s hard, oblong, green or blue-black shell rests creamy, sweet, juicy meat that tastes like lobster but lacks the high cholesterol or price tag of that crustacean. Rich in protein, vitamins B-12 and C, iron and omega-3s, this shellfish packs a powerful nutritional punch.

Yet another adaptable seafood, mussels may be baked, broiled, grilled, steamed, stewed or smoked. They partner with bold, tart, spicy or mild ingredients such as beer, garlic, mustard, lemon, tomatoes, wine, chilies, curry powder, paprika, pasta, rice and zucchini. They also pair with other seafood, including clams, shrimp, squid, John Dory, snapper and monkfish. If you’ve ever tried the Provencal seafood stew bouillabaisse or Californian cioppino, then you know how nicely mussels combine with these fish and shellfish.

Although dozens of mussel species exist, I usually find farmed blue or common mussels at markets. Grown in abundance and available year-round, farmed mussels garner the coveted “best choice” label from Seafood Watch.

More good seafood choices

Along with this nourishing trio, I would suggest adding littleneck clams, farmed rainbow trout and char to your must-try seafood list. They all possess high nutritional and sustainability ratings. Couple these rankings with ease of preparation and agreeable taste, and you’ve got three more champs to add to your dinner menus.

Fans of bolder foods should also check out Pacific sardines and trap-caught sablefish. Both receive rave environmental, nutritional and cooking reviews, and both provide ample flavor and need little, if any, seasonings to shine.

No matter which type of seafood you favor, aim to make 2015 your year of healthful, sustainable and succulent fish and shellfish.

Smoked Mackerel Jackets

Smoked Mackerel Jackets. Credit: Kathy Hunt

Smoked Mackerel Jackets. Credit: Kathy Hunt

From “Fish Market” (Running Press, 2013)

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: Makes 4 stuffed baked potatoes

Ingredients

4 large russet potatoes

1/3 cup skim milk, warmed

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese

1 bunch scallions, sliced

1 pound smoked mackerel fillets, flaked

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

2. Using a fork, poke holes in the potatoes. Microwave them on high for 8 to 10 minutes or until hot and softened.

3. Cut the potatoes in half and scoop out most of the flesh, leaving behind a small rim of potato in each skin.

4. Place the potato flesh in a large bowl and, using a fork or spoon, mash together lightly. Add the milk, butter, salt and pepper and mash again until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Add the cheese, scallions and flaked mackerel and stir to combine.

5. Spoon equal amounts of the potato-mackerel mixture back into the skins. Place the filled skins on a baking sheet and bake until warm and golden brown on top, 10 to 12 minutes. Serve immediately.

Main photo: Seafood on display for customers. Credit: Kathy Hunt

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Three easy salsas for a New Year's Eve party. Credit: Canyon Ranch Spa

This time of year, most of us make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight. To jump-start my own plans, and to help my friends who are all making the same resolution, I host a healthy New Year’s Eve party.

For advice and inspiration, I consulted the experts at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass., one of the country’s premier spas. I asked Stephen Betti, executive chef of Canyon Ranch, what beverages to serve.

He offered up several yummy Canyon Ranch “mocktails” (recipes below) — nonalcoholic, healthy drinks. All can be made ahead of time and set out in pitchers so guests can help themselves. Among my favorites is Almosjito, with a hint of maple sugar and intense citrus tang that’s so delicious that no one will miss the tequila.

Healthy New Year’s party foods

Next onto food: What to serve that’s delicious, fun to eat and good for you? Again, Betti came to the rescue with a slew of great nibble suggestions, starting with an assortment of homemade salsas, low-calorie and low-fat sauces made with chopped veggies, and even fruits that can be served as a dip for raw veggies, tortilla chips or boiled shrimp.

“Salsas are easy to make,” Betti explained. “They are also easy on the host, as salsa ingredients can be chopped in a food processor using the pulse button.” The yellow pepper salsa is delicious and surprising because it doesn’t use tomatoes, one of the most common salsa ingredients. This is an especially good recipe to enjoy in winter when tomatoes can be rock hard and flavorless. Instead, the yellow pepper salsa calls for jicama, a root vegetable. If you’ve never tasted jicama, you’re in for a treat. Jicama’s white crunchy flesh has a sweet, nutty flavor and is delicious served raw or cooked. Use what’s left of the jicama from the salsa recipe as one of the ingredients in a crudités platter.

In addition to the simple-to-make salsas, Betti shared Canyon Ranch recipes for chicken gyoza and spicy crab cakes (recipes below). Both can be made ahead and kept frozen until the day of the event, then heated in the oven just before serving. Both are easy-to-eat two-bite finger foods perfect for a party.

The gyoza, which are effortlessly prepared with ready-made wonton wrappers, are better than any I’ve tried from a restaurant. I used chicken but also leftover turkey, which I had frozen after Thanksgiving, but both are terrific. You can adjust the seasonings to suit your own taste too. For example, I added more ginger, less wasabi and substituted cilantro for the lemongrass in one batch for excellent results. It is one of those recipes that, no matter how much you tweak, the dish is delicious.

Five party tips

OK so let’s say you cannot host your own healthy feast. What can you do to jump-start your New Year’s resolution? I asked for help in how we can avoid overindulging from Lori Reamer, nutrition director for Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires. She had these five tips for coping with holiday parties:

1. Have a healthy snack an hour before arriving to the party

2. Offer to bring a fabulously delicious but low-cal, healthy dish to the event.

3. Eat from a small plate and drink from a small glass to control portion size and avoid overindulging.

4. Select only the most special dishes. Don’t waste calories on supermarket fare!

5. Don’t focus only on the food. Embrace the entire party experience — the company, decorations, music, conversation. Food is just one small part of the fun!

If you do happen to overindulge in food and drink on New Year’s Eve, all is not lost! You can repair come of the damage on New Year’s Day. According to Canyon Ranch’s Kevin Murray, a naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist, “The best ways to rid your body of last night’s alcohol is by drinking lots of water the next day, eating light and getting plenty of sweat-producing exercise.”

Mocktails

Courtesy of Canyon Ranch Spas

Almosjito

Prep time: 5 minutes

Yield: 1 drink

Ingredients
1/2 fresh lime

1/2 fresh orange

4 sprigs fresh mint

1/4 cup white grape juice

1/4 cup sparkling water

1 tablespoon pure maple syrup

1/3 cup crushed ice

Directions

Squeeze lime and orange into cocktail shaker. Add mint, white grape juice, water, maple syrup and ice. Shake and strain into glass.

Bloody Mary

Prep time: 5 minutes

Yield: 6

Ingredients

1 tablespoon horseradish

1 1/2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning

2 teaspoons celery seed

2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar

4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Pinch black pepper

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

4 cups low-sodium tomato juice

Directions

Combine all ingredients except for tomato juice in a blender container. Puree briefly. Add tomato juice and blend well. Serve over ice.

Margarita

Prep time: 5 minutes

Yield: 4

Ingredients

1/3 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups water

2/3 cup lime juice

2/3 cup orange juice

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Directions

Combine sugar and water and allow to dissolve. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Serve cold or over ice.

Pomatini

Prep time: 5 minutes

Yield: 6

Ingredients

3 cups white grape juice

3/4 cup pomegranate juice

6 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Pinch sea salt

12 fresh mint leaves

Directions

Combine grape juice, pomegranate juice, lime juice and salt in a large pitcher. For each beverage, add 3/4 cup juice mixture to a shaker with 2 mint leaves and 3 ounces of ice. Shake and pour into a glass.

H2 Tini

Prep time: 5 minutes

Yield: 1 drink

Ingredients

1 fresh lime wedge

1/2 cup fresh watermelon juice

1/4 cup sparkling pear or apple cider

4 sprigs cilantro

1/3 cup crushed ice

Directions

Squeeze lime into cocktail shaker and add peel. Add remaining ingredients and shake. Pour into martini glass. Garnish with a thin slice of watermelon.

Party Food Recipes

Adapted from “Canyon Ranch Cooks”

Yellow Pepper Salsa

Prep time: 15 minutes

Yield: 2 cups

Ingredients

1 large yellow bell pepper, diced

1/2 cup diced jicama

1/2 cup chopped scallions

1/4 cup orange juice

1/2 teaspoon minced, canned chipotle pepper

Pinch salt

Pinch pepper

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well.

Pico de Gallo

Prep time: 20 minutes

Yield: 3 cups

Ingredients

4 medium tomatoes, diced

1 1/2 cups canned, diced tomatoes

1/2 cup diced red onion

3 tablespoons chopped scallions

1/2 cup diced yellow bell pepper

1 tablespoon diced jalapeño pepper

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Directions

Place all ingredients in a food processor and mix briefly.

Chipotle Salsa

Prep time: 15 minutes

Yield: 2 cups

Ingredients

1 (15-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained

1/4 cup diced red onion

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

1/4 teaspoon minced chipotle pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

Pinch chili flakes

Directions

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender container and blend until smooth.

Spicy crab cakes make for great party foods. Credit: Canyon Ranch Spa

Spicy Crab Cakes can be made ahead and kept frozen until the day of the event. Credit: Canyon Ranch Spa

Spicy Crab Cakes with Tomato Herb Coulis

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Yield: 8

Ingredients

4 tablespoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon olive oil

6 Roma tomatoes, about 8 ounces, chopped

1 cup diced red onion

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

5 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 pound lump crabmeat

1/2 cup minced shallots

2 tablespoons diced scallions

1/4 cup minced red bell pepper

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 large egg plus 1 egg white, beaten

2 tablespoons low-sodium tamari or soy sauce

1 cup bread crumbs

1 teaspoon canola oil

Directions

1. To make the coulis, sauté garlic with olive oil in a medium pan over medium heat for about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, bring to a simmer,and cook about 5 minutes, until tomatoes begin to break apart. Add the red onion, basil, thyme, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, salt and pepper, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.

2. Remove from the heat, allow to cool slightly and transfer to a blender container. Puree the coulis until smooth and reserve.

3. To make the crab cakes, combine the crabmeat, shallots, scallions, red bell pepper, 3 remaining tablespoons of parsley, cayenne pepper, eggs, tamari sauce and bread crumbs in a large bowl and mix well. Make 2-inch patties using about 1/4 cup of mix each.

4. Heat a sauté pan until hot over medium heat. Lightly coat with the canola oil. Place crab cakes in pan and cook until golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Turn and continue to cook to golden brown.

5. Serve crab cakes accompanied with the coulis.

Chicken gyoza are a terrific party good. Credit: Canyon Ranch Spa

Chicken Gyoza are effortlessly prepared with ready-made wonton wrappers. Credit: Canyon Ranch Spa

Chicken Gyoza With Wasabi Soy Sauce

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Yield: 24 servings

Ingredients

3 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

1 tablespoon diced lemongrass

1 tablespoon low-sodium tamari

1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon wasabi (Japanese horseradish)

1 sliced chicken breast, boned, skinned and defatted

2 tablespoons chopped scallions

1 large egg white

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Pinch salt

2 teaspoons olive oil

24 4-inch wonton skins

Canola oil

Directions

1. To make the wasabi soy sauce, bring 3/4 cup of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add 2 tablespoons of the ginger and 1 tablespoon of the garlic, reduce heat. and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Add the lemongrass and tamari and continue cooking until the liquid reduces to about 1/3 cup. Strain and cool.

3. Blend the sauce in a blender with the rice vinegar, lemon juice and wasabi until well combined. Reserve.

4. In a food processor, chop chicken breast at high speed, until finely minced. Add the remaining tablespoon of ginger and garlic, scallions, egg white, pepper, salt and oil and mix well.

5. Arrange wonton skins on a flat surface. Place 1 heaping teaspoon of chicken mixture in the center of each wonton. Brush edges with water. Fold into half-moons and lightly pinch edges together to ensure a good seal. (May be frozen at this time for future use.)

6. Lightly coat a large sauté pan with canola oil. Arrange wontons in a single layer in sauté pan. Sear bottoms only to a golden brown color. Transfer to steamer and steam for 3 to 5 minutes.

7. Serve the gyoza with the dipping sauce on the side.

Main photo: A trio of salsas — yellow pepper, pico de gallo and chipotle — make for easy, healthy party foods. Credit: Canyon Ranch Spa

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Aromatic Fish Meze. Credit: Cordell Barron

It’s that time of year again. Wherever I turn, I see beautiful and seductive images of food. When I’m tempted — and fortunate enough — to eat too much, I needn’t worry, for there’s plenty of dietary advice waiting for me. Somehow, though, in these short, dark days of our winter, the recipe suggestions accompanying that advice never seem quite so tantalizing as those lovely dishes I’d been tempted by. So what can I do? I can turn for help to those wise thinkers of Greek antiquity.

Mezes are often described as small plates of food made for sharing, and they are. But it’s not the whole picture. The origins of mezes can be traced to travelers in the ancient world, who relied for sustenance on the goodwill of the people they met on their journeys. Refreshments offered were simple — from the garden or hillsides, store-cupboard or pot — and no one was turned away from the table.

As these ancient societies developed political and social systems, and became wealthier, intellectual and cultural life developed, too. Since the days of classical Greece (5th century BC to 3rd century AD), the Western tradition has had the words to describe and give shape to many of the sciences – zoology, archaeology, anthropology, biology — including the art and science of good eating and drinking, or gastronomy.

What’s in a word?

Today, the word gastronomy can sometimes have disagreeable associations — of gluttony, waste and ostentatious wealth. But in its original meaning, it described a way of eating and drinking that led to health and enjoyment, a balance of science and art. For the ancients, this meant not only feeding our five senses — sight, sound, smell, taste, touch — but also the sense they considered most important of all, the spirit of connectedness with the food on the table and with each other. It was this feeling, they believed, that led to good digestion and thus to good health.

Those ancient thinkers had another word, too, whose meaning has changed over the centuries — diaita, or diet. The Oxford Dictionary tells us that diet means “a prescribed course of food” or to “restrict oneself to special food, especially to control weight.” But to the ancient Greeks, diaita meant “way of life.” And the meze table was right at the center of their way of life.

The meze table

Mezes, when enjoyed as a diaita, provide fulfillment in a whole, human, sense — they feed our senses as well as our stomachs. The meze table is a colorful place, full of enticing aromas and often surrounded by loud chatter. With bowls of olives, salates (dips), piles of small pies, stuffed leaves, crunchy nuts, bright vegetables, tangy cheeses and yogurt, meat tidbits or well-flavored fish, the six senses are well looked-after. Dishes are put together with thought and to complement each other: Little salt is needed when there are olives on the table; chewy currants add sweetness to stuffings; capers “lift” pulse dishes; crunchy, fresh cucumber and radishes lighten preserved foods; octopus, razor shells and sea urchins intrigue; herbs and olive oil aromatize and dazzle.

A meze table can be very simple — a few olives, fresh vegetables, cheese, something “left over” — or can comprise more complex dishes. It can be for one or two, or for many, and its few gastronomic principles make pleasurable work for the cook: Flavorings are used to supplement and enhance, not to overwhelm; fresh ingredients are seasonal, garnishes edible; and fine local foods are the most preferred. The meze table is a place where our modern understanding of the word diet is turned upside down. Instead of restricting ourselves to what we think we shouldn’t eat — full-fat, calorie-laden olive oil, cheese, nuts — we free ourselves to enjoy the beauty of good food, to wasting nothing and to experimenting with the wild (greens, game), fermented (homemade yogurt, pickles) and often-ignored foods we have nearby.

Meze basics

Preparing attractive mezes doesn’t mean hours in the kitchen working on fussy preparations and mastering complicated cooking techniques. Just find the best suppliers you can, choose food in prime condition, and have a few staples at hand — good-quality olive oil and wine vinegar, olives, almonds, honey, rigani (dried Greek oregano), capers, sea salt, preserved fish, spices, dried fruits.

Now, you’re ready to compose many quick and simple dishes to serve as part of a meze table, such as these small plates of preserved fish:

  • Drain canned sardines and sprinkle with coarse sea salt, freshly ground pepper, a few drops of red wine vinegar, chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley and extra virgin olive oil.
  • Drain canned tuna, separate into chunks and cover with thinly sliced red onion; sprinkle with sumac, extra virgin olive oil and coarse sea salt.
  • Sprinkle sun-dried mackerel with red wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and rigani, and serve with kalamata olives and slices of pickled or fresh cucumber.

White Fish With Vinegar and Herbs

Any fresh fish can be cooked this way — small sea bass fillets are a favorite, but the preparation suits more coarsely fleshed, and cheaper, whole white fish or fillets, too. A light dusting of flour keeps the fish from splitting and flaking during cooking and cuts down fish odors in the kitchen.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes fillets, 20 minutes whole fish

Total time: 15 to 25 minutes

Yield: 6 meze servings

Ingredients

1 pound fish fillets or 6 small white fish, heads discarded, gutted and scaled

1 teaspoon coarse-grain sea salt, or to taste

1/2 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper, or to taste

3 tablespoons garbanzo bean flour and 1 tablespoon plain flour or 4 tablespoons plain flour

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, or to taste

3 tablespoons good-quality wine vinegar

2 tablespoons hot water

2 tablespoons rigani (dried Greek oregano) or fresh rosemary

3 bay leaves

For serving

Small sprigs of rigani or fresh rosemary

Small black olives such as Greek Elitses or Niçoise

Directions

1. Wipe both sides of the fillets with a damp cloth or rinse whole fish and pat dry. Dust with half the salt and pepper and 2 tablespoons of the flour, cover, and set aside for 30 minutes.

2. Place a large heavy sauté pan over medium-low heat and add half the olive oil. Dust the fish again with half the remaining flour and shake off any excess. When the olive oil is hot but not smoking, gently fry the fish on both sides until pale golden, about 10 minutes for fillets, 15 to 20 minutes for whole fish. The fish is cooked if it flakes easily when you insert a thin knife blade into the thickest part of it; it should be an even white all the way through. Drain between layers of kitchen paper. Strain the frying oil through 2 layers of muslin to remove any residue and set aside.

3. Wipe the pan with kitchen paper and return to low heat. Sprinkle the remaining flour over the bottom of the pan and stir a minute or two with a wooden spoon, until deep golden brown. Stir in the reserved frying oil and the remaining olive oil. The flour and oil will not blend together, but the flour will flavor and color the oil. Add the vinegar, water, rigani, bay leaves and remaining salt and pepper. Stir to mix, and simmer for 2 minutes.

4. Return the fish to the sauté pan, cover and heat through. Transfer to a warm dish, pour over the pan juices and surround with the rigani sprigs. Serve warm or at room temperature, with olives.

Note: To serve later, transfer the fish and sauce to a shallow glass or china dish, add olive oil, tightly cover the dish and refrigerate overnight or for up to 2 days. Turn the fish in the marinade once or twice. Bring to room temperature for serving.

Main photo: Aromatic fish meze. Credit: Cordell Barron

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A live Dungeness crab. Credit: David Gomez/iStock

As Americans there are certain holiday food traditions many of us share: turkey at Thanksgiving, gingerbread at Christmas. But in addition to these commonalities, regional specialties, from tamales in Texas to kalua turkeys in Hawaii, contribute local flavor to our celebrations. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the holiday table wouldn’t be complete without Dungeness crabs.

This succulent bottom-feeder was first harvested commercially from the San Francisco/Bodega Bay waters in the mid-1800s, and Bay Area residents have been feasting on its sweet meat ever since.

The region’s commercial crab fishing season opens just before Thanksgiving and lasts only as long as the crabs do. Often, the supply runs out not long after the ringing in of the New Year. With such a short season, Northern Californians strive to eat as many Dungeness crabs as possible before they disappear — and what better time to do it than the holidays?

Unlike the ubiquitous Thanksgiving turkey, Dungeness crabs are not associated with a particular winter holiday. Some people have them for Christmas, others for New Year’s Eve, or even Black Friday.

For Joy Sterling, whose family owns Iron Horse Vineyards in western Sonoma County, Thanksgiving is the best time for crabs. “Our tradition is to start with cold, cracked Dungeness crab fresh from Bodega Bay, just 13 miles from us as the crow flies,” she said. It’s served buffet style, as a pre-turkey appetizer, along with the winery’s unoaked Chardonnay. “We like a traditional Louis dressing, which is a Northern California invention, sliced Meyer lemons, bright Rangpur limes and regular limes.”

At the Stony Point location of Oliver’s Market in Santa Rosa, people begin lining up at 6:30 a.m. on Christmas Eve to buy Dungeness crabs for their holiday feasts. Before the day is over, the store will easily sell 1,000 pounds of crab. “It takes at least an hour to get through the line,” crab-lover Kelly Keagy of Santa Rosa said, “but people are nice and in a good mood.”

Keagy’s family has been eating crabs on Christmas Eve for the last 10 years, accompanied by warm sourdough bread and salad. “When the kids were little, crab wouldn’t have been high on their list of favorite foods,” she said. “Now that everybody is older, crab and Champagne are the highlights of our Christmas Eve.”

Supply and demand

Having a family tradition of eating Dungeness crabs at Thanksgiving can be a bit risky, due to supply fluctuations. Some would even call it foodhardy.

“Three things can affect availability at Thanksgiving,” said Scott Lenhart, founder of San Francisco Crabs, which supplies live Dungeness crabs to individuals, restaurants and retailers. “One is a bad crab season, or something like the oil spill a few years ago where they don’t catch any. Second, there can be strikes, when crab fishermen are negotiating for pricing. Then you can also have horrendous weather.”

International orders can also cut into the local crab supply. “China’s taken a huge amount of crab from us, and that’s one reason the prices are going up,” Lenhart said. “There’s a huge Asian market for Dungeness crab for special occasions, and for the rising middle class.”

Nick’s Cove crab cakes. Credit: Justin Lewis.

Nick’s Cove crab cakes. Credit: Justin Lewis

And because Northern California’s Dungeness crab season opens before those in Oregon and Alaska, out-of-state crabbers head south to get an early start. “They come to our waters and scour our crabs,” Lenhart said.

Even so, he always has Dungeness crabs on his Thanksgiving table. “I’ve been having Dungeness crab with turkey for a long time,” he said. The crabs are simply boiled with a little sea salt, and eaten without embellishment. “You don’t need garlic or butter. It’s good right out of the pot as soon as it’s cool enough to eat.”

Getting creative with crabs

At Nick’s Cove Restaurant, in the town of Marshall on Tomales Bay, executive chef Austin Perkins gives Dungeness crabs a gourmet twist. For the restaurant’s annual Thanksgiving dinner, as an alternative to the traditional turkey entrée, he serves up wood-fired whole Dungeness crab with fingerling potatoes and rosemary butter.

“Dungeness is a little bit sweeter and a lot milder than most other types of crab,” Perkins said. “We use it in many different ways at the restaurant, from crab cakes to our Dungeness crab mac and cheese.”

For those boiling crabs at home, he offered this advice: “After cooking, you need to remove the top part of the crab’s shell and remove all the intestines. After that, look for grayish gills on the sides and scrape those away as well.” Then the crab is ready to crack and eat, or use in a recipe.

Although Lenhart of San Francisco Crabs prefers his Dungeness crabs unadorned, he said he also likes them deep fried, or simmered in cioppino, San Francisco’s signature fish stew. “There’s nothing wrong with ginger crab at a nice Chinese restaurant, either,” he said. “But for Thanksgiving, you don’t need any sauces. You just can’t beat it.”

Nick’s Cove Dungeness Crab Cakes

Cooking Time: About 6 minutes per batch (3 minutes per side)

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

3/4 pound Dungeness crab meat, cooked and shelled

2 cups mayonnaise

2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 cup panko bread crumbs, plus an additional 1/2 cup for coating

Oil for pan frying (preferably rice bran oil or vegetable oil)

For garnish:

Spicy Paprika Aioli (recipe below)

Arugula and shaved fennel

Directions

1. Place all ingredients in a large bowl and combine with hands until thoroughly mixed.

2. Weigh out 1 1/2 ounce portions and form them into cakes.

3. Roll cakes to coat in more panko, and brown them on the top and bottom surfaces in a hot sauté pan coated with oil (about 3 tablespoons, enough to cover the bottom of the pan).

4. Serve with Spicy Paprika Aioli, arugula and shaved fennel.

Spicy Paprika Aioli

Yield: About 1 cup

Ingredients

1 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons smoked paprika

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1/2 tablespoon salt

Directions

Whisk everything together to combine.

Main photo: A live Dungeness crab. Credit: David Gomez/iStock

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Salmon in pastry is an alternative Thanksgiving dish. Credit:

Lots of our traditional Thanksgiving dishes come from the English. Food we think of as American, like apple pie and turkey with stuffing, originated in Elizabethan England in the time of Shakespeare.

Pies, both sweet and savory, were popular back then. Savory pies were always a part of  festivities and were often made into the shape of the ingredients inside. I especially love the fish pie dishes from that era, which were made into the shape of lobster, crab or salmon with the crust embellished with elaborate pastry scales, fins, gills and other details.

This salmon in pastry recipe is a real showstopper, gorgeous and delicious. The recipe includes artichokes and asparagus, both considered aphrodisiacs in Elizabethan England and expensive delicacies in Shakespeare’s day, enjoyed only by the nobility and wealthy. The ingredients paired with the salmon here are unusual — grapes, asparagus, pistachios and oysters — but surprisingly the flavors work wonderfully together, creating a memorable dish. Perfect for Thanksgiving!

Salmon in Pastry

From: “Shakespeare’s Kitchen” by Francine Segan (Random House)

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Bake Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 55 minutes

Yield: 12 servings

Ingredients

Store-bought or homemade pie dough

4 artichoke bottoms

1 salmon fillet, cut into twelve 2- by 3-inch pieces (about 1 1/2 pounds)

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon coarsely milled black pepper

1 dozen medium oysters or 1 can smoked oysters

12 thin asparagus stalks, cut into 1 inch pieces

24 green seedless grapes

1/4 cup coarsely chopped pistachios

1/4 cup finely ground pistachios

1 large egg, beaten

3 lemons, cut in wedges

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 375° F.

2. Roll out slightly less than one-half of the dough into a 5- by 13-inch rectangle about 1/4 inch thick and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

3. Place the artichoke bottoms in a long line down the center of the crust. Sprinkle the salmon with the salt and pepper and put over the artichokes. Arrange the oysters, asparagus stalks, green grapes, and both the coarsely and finely chopped pistachios over the salmon.

4. Roll out the remaining dough into a 5- by 13-inch rectangle and place on top of the ingredients. Trim the dough into the shape of a fish and pinch the edges to seal. Using the excess dough, add fish details, such as an eye or fin. Using a teaspoon, imprint scale and tail marks on the dough, being careful not to cut through the dough. Brush with the egg.

5. Bake the salmon for 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve with lemon wedges.

Main photo: A salmon in pastry dish is a real showstopper, gorgeous and delicious. Credit: “Shakespeare’s Kitchen” by Francine Segan (Random House)

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Savoy cabbage, a winter vegetable, is a milder and sweeter alternative to green and red cabbage varieties. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

For years, I thought Savoy cabbage was a specialty of the great London hotel of that name, a way of cooking the vegetable that transformed it into a dish fit for kings. Even today, frilly Savoy cabbage remains, in my eyes at least, the classiest brassica on the block, a glamorous, swanky sibling to pale, pointy spring or hard white winter cabbages. Less aggressive than kale, more versatile than red, a good Savoy bursting with squeaky-clean health and goodness, is a far cry from the flabby cabbage-swamp clichés of British school dinners that linger long in collective memory.

The evolution of the great family of brassica cabbage cultivars, which also includes broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, originated in spindly, “headless” plants that were known throughout the ancient world. The Greeks cultivated such headless cabbages, believing they originally came from the sweat of Zeus, chief of the Gods (it must have been something to do with their, er, pungent smell when over-cooked).

However, generations of children who have been told to eat their greens to a refrain of cabbage-is-good-for-you (an unpopular, as opposed to a popular saying) can really blame the Romans. Cato, in the 2nd century BC, devoted a long passage to the plant in “De Re Rustica.” And Pliny the Elder, in “Historia Naturalis,” described a swollen-stemmed plant (perhaps another brassica, kohlrabi) and an exaggerated reference to “headed” cabbages 30 centimeters (about 12 inches) across, as well as 87 cabbage-related medicines.

The lore about cabbage

Over the centuries, cabbage has been credited with many medicinal properties, from curing snake bites, to growing hair on bald spots and preventing drunkenness (wrong!).

Savoy, as a newly developed variety with a loose “head,” came to prominence in medieval Germany, the great center of cabbage culture, although the name suggests an earlier French or northern Italian origin, with a possible link to Catherine de’ Medici.

Slow-growing Savoys are particularly good after the first frosts. They are hardy enough to stay in the ground through the winter, and bring a swathe of colorful, ruffled cheer to the stews, casseroles and thick soups of the winter months. Cabbage soup is a rustic favorite still in France and Germany, cooked with pickled pork or confit goose and duck.

The flavor of Savoy is nutty, and the texture crisp and firm (when not, of course, boiled lifeless), although a slow braise with rich flavorings, such as beef stock, Marsala wine and thyme, can also work well. Its natural color ranges from acid yellow to Day-Glo lime and from vivid emerald to deep forest green. The wrinkled leaves are supple and strong enough to be stuffed with meat and rice and rolled, before being bathed and baked in rich tomato and sour cream sauces spiked with caraway seeds or paprika. One of the greatest spectacles of the East European repertoire is a stuffed whole cabbage winched like a missionary’s head from a cannibal’s pot.

Simplicity of cabbage

But you don’t have to attempt this culinary equivalent of climbing Mont Blanc to enjoy a Savoy. If you wish, and have time, soak the leaves in cold water for a few hours before cooking to crisp them up further, then simply remove the tough central stalk and chop roughly. Steam or cook in plenty of water at a rolling boil with the lid off to retain the bright green color for a few minutes before tossing in butter, sea salt and black pepper. Or, just slice and cook briefly in butter. Leftovers can make a splendid bubble and squeak (see recipe below).

Savoy is also excellent and surprisingly sophisticated when shredded and stir-fried with seasonings such as red chile, sesame, garlic, ginger and soy sauce. It also goes well with aniseed flavors such as tarragon, fennel and Chinese five-spice powder.

The Savoy is the cabbage that even cabbage-haters can learn to love. If all else fails, try calling it an adorable petit choux, because everything sounds better in French, of course. Even cabbage.

cabbagehead

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The leaves of Savoy cabbage are very distinctive, a combination of green hues combined with a distinctive crinkled texture. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

Stir-Fried Savoy Cabbage

A quick and vibrant dish that perks up the taste buds. Add garlic and/or 5-spice powder if you like, but the key thing is not to overcook it.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 15 minutes

Yield: 2 servings, as a side dish

Ingredients

Half a small Savoy cabbage

1 tablespoon sesame oil

4 green onions, sliced

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely chopped

1 small fresh red chile, de-seeded and finely chopped

Soy sauce to taste

Directions

1. Shred the cabbage leaves, wash and drain well. Set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a wok until sizzling, then add the green onions, ginger and chile. Stir-fry briefly, then add the cabbage.

3. Stir-fry over medium heat for about 5 minutes until the cabbage is tender but still has a little crunch.

4. Season with soy sauce and serve immediately.

Buttery Braised Savoy Cabbage

An excellent dish to serve with meatballs or chops.

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes

Yield: 4 servings, as a side dish

Ingredients

1 Savoy cabbage

3 tablespoons butter

1 onion, chopped

2 large tomatoes, skinned, de-seeded and chopped

1 tablespoon paprika

2 tablespoons freshly chopped fennel leaves or dill leaves

Juice of half a lemon

Salt and black pepper

2 tablespoons toasted almonds

Directions

1. Discard the very coarse, outer leaves of the cabbage, then cut into quarters and then into thin strips.

2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and stir in the onion, tomatoes and paprika.

3. Add the cabbage, fennel and lemon juice and mix well together. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Cover the pan and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the cabbage is tender. Add a splash of water or a little more butter if the cabbage mixture seems to be drying out.

5. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds just before serving.

White Fish, Green Cabbage

A surprisingly delicate dish that gives an interesting edge to simply baked white fish.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

6 thick fillets of white fish

1 large Savoy cabbage cut into wedges

1/3 cup butter

Juice of half a lemon

2 two-ounce tins of anchovies in olive oil

14 fluid ounces sour cream

Black pepper

1 bunch of parsley, chopped

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 392 F (200 C).

2. Arrange the fish in a well-buttered oven dish. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and dot with flakes of butter. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.

3. Steam or microwave the cabbage wedges until tender.

4. Put the anchovy fillets and their oil into a small pan. Gently mash with a wooden spoon over low heat until the anchovies disintegrate. Add the sour cream and black pepper and stir well. Simmer for a few minutes.

5. Arrange the fish and cabbage wedges on a warm serving platter or individual plates. Pour some of the sauce over the fish and scatter with parsley. Serve the remaining sauce separately.

Bubble and Squeak

Originally, this old-fashioned British dish of cooked potatoes and cabbage fried together, was made with leftover beef and cabbage. Potatoes appeared in 19th-century recipes and the beef was discarded. The name supposedly refers to the noise made by the vegetables as they fry in the pan.

Prep Time: 10 minutes (30 minutes if not using leftovers)

Cooking Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes

Yield: 8 servings, as an accompaniment

Ingredients (Amounts are variable, depending on how much leftovers you have.)

1 small Savoy cabbage, shredded, cooked and set aside

2 pounds leftover mashed potatoes

1 onion, thinly sliced

4 to 5 tablespoons butter, drippings or goose fat

Salt and pepper

Directions

1. Mix the cabbage and potatoes together.

2. In a large frying pan, heat some of the fat and fry the onion slowly until soft. Mix into the cabbage and potatoes. Season well.

3. Add the remaining fat to the pan and spoon in the cabbage, potato and onion mixture. Press down with a wooden spoon or spatula until it makes a flat cake. Fry over medium heat until the bottom crisps.

4. Stir to mix the crust into the vegetables, pack down again and then fry to make another crust. Continue until the crisp brown pieces are well mixed with the cabbage and potato. This should take about 20 minutes. Serve hot.

Main photo: Savoy cabbage, a winter vegetable, is a milder and sweeter alternative to other green and red cabbage varieties. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

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Brown rice can serve as the base for delicious sushi rolls. Credit: Sonoko Sakai

Hideo Ono, a lean 65-year-old with deep crow’s feet around his eyes and a farmer’s tan, has been growing rice in the village of Tajima, Niigata, in the northwestern part of Japan for 20 years. The region is known for growing the best rice because of its distinct four seasons and good water that filters down from the surrounding snow-capped mountains.

Despite being a late comer to his career as a farmer, Ono is the founder of Joint Farm, a co-op that grows one of the most sought-after premium-grade heirloom short-grain rice varieties, known as Koshihikari rice. The varietal is sold under several labels, including Gensenmai and Mugenmai. Compared to the insect-resistant, higher-yielding, modern strain of the Koshihikari BL varietal most Niigata farmers are cultivating these days, Ono prefers the heirloom Koshihikari because of its distinct flavor and fragrance.

Koshihikari rice is sold in milled and unmilled styles, but if Ono had his way, everyone would eat brown rice, the unmilled variety. In fact, when Ono is not in the fields working, you will find him on the road, doing brown rice cooking demonstrations and tasting events all over the country and overseas.

Brown rice the better choice for good health

Why is he so passionate about spreading the gospel of brown rice? Ono advocates brown rice instead of white rice because of its many health benefits. Brown rice is known to lower the risk of developing diabetes, and it’s high in fiber, which promotes cardiovascular health. It is also a good source of minerals that support bone health, and its oil has been known to lower cholesterol. Finally, it can also help prevent weight gain.

Ono attributes his well-being to eating a diet full of brown rice, but he said he was not always so healthy.

On a recent visit to Ono’s rice farm, he pulled his wallet out of his pocket and showed me a faded photo of him taken with a sumo wrestler nearly 20 years ago. “Can you guess which one is me?” Ono asked. At first glance, I could not tell because both men were heavy. Ono pointed to the man on the right and said, laughing, “That’s me. I am fatter than the sumo wrestler.”

In a flashback to his days as a furniture salesman in the 1980s, Ono said that in his 40s he suffered from obesity and high blood pressure. Warned by his doctor that he was a walking time bomb, he knew he would die early if he kept up his excessive drinking and poor eating habits. That’s when Ono decided to restore his health through a diet centered on vegetables and brown rice. At the same time he took up farming, a much more physical job. He went to apprentice with a local farmer and never looked back.

While pursuing his new lifestyle, Ono met Atsuko. They got married and moved to Tagami, where they started their rice farm.

Ono and the farmers in the Joint Farm co-op grow rice sustainably and organically; they make fertilizer pellets from naturally recycled rice bran; coffee grinds; tea leaves; minerals; and okara, which are soybean curds that occur as a byproduct of tofu. He is against using animal manure in farming because the feed given to fertilizer-producing animals can contain a number of chemicals which, if used, would inevitably pass through to the rice.

“The fertility of soil and quality of fertilizer together play important roles with regards to the quality of the rice,” Ono said.

One of the highlights of the visit was the farm-to-table suppers at Ono’s farmhouse. His friend, chef Fumihiko Ono (no relation) from the Yagi Culinary Institute, joined us from Tokyo for what turned into a two-day feast. It began with a trip to the market to buy local fish to make sushi.

Tagami is about 45 minutes inland from the Sea of Japan, which is known for its abundance of seafood. We bought a whole young Isaki (baby yellowtail), Hachime (a local fish that looks like a small snapper) and a wiggly leg of an octopus with the biggest suction cups I have ever seen.

sushi6

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Japanese rice farmer Hideo Ono in his fields. Credit: Sonoko Sakai

Back at Ono’s farm, Chef Ono cleaned the fish and prepared sashimi while the rest of us harvested tomatoes, eggplant, okra and cucumbers from the farm. We also enjoyed regional delicacies the Onos had prepared in advance, but the unique part of the sushi supper was the rice.

We made it using short-grain brown rice, which would be considered heresy to most Japanese people, who are accustomed to eating short-grain white rice with sushi.

To make the sushi rice, the brown rice was seasoned with vinegar and salt, but no sugar. Chef Ono arranged the sashimi for the temaki-zushi (sushi hand rolls). The vegetables were washed in cool well water and left whole for us to bite into.

The diners all made their own hand rolls, starting with a stack of nori seaweed. The fillings along with soy sauce, wasabi paste and pickled ginger were passed around so everyone could create their own sushi rolls.

The brown rice sushi tasted nutty and sweet and paired very well with the seafood, vegetables and sake. We spent two days feasting, visiting a nearby egg farmer, a soy sauce artisan and Ono’s majestic rice fields.

When it was time to leave, Ono said, “Come back to Tajima during harvest time,” filling his face with a wrinkly smile. The distinct flavor and texture of the brown rice lingers. I appreciate what it takes to make such exquisiteness.

Brown Rice Hand Rolls

For the best results, follow the rice-to-water ratio recommended by the rice manufacturer. Pickled ginger and plum vinegar are sold at Asian grocery stores. Plum vinegar is a byproduct of making pickled plums. The vinegar is salty, so no salt is needed to season the sushi rice.

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

Yield: Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

For the brown rice:

2 cups short-grain brown sushi rice

1 strip of konbu seaweed, about 3 inches long

3½ cups water

4 tablespoons plum vinegar, or add more to taste

For making and serving the sushi:

12 sheets nori seaweed, toasted and cut in half lengthwise

4 tablespoons wasabi paste

Soy sauce (Japanese-style koikuchi shoyu)

Pickled ginger (optional)

Filling ideas:

2 Persian or Japanese cucumbers, cut into sticks ¼ inch by 4  inches

2 ripe avocados, peeled, seeded and cut into eighths

1 pound albacore tuna, cut into slices ¼ inch by 4 inches

4 kiwis, peeled and sliced

8 ounces salmon roe

8 medium shrimp, cooked and peeled

½ pound smoked salmon, thinly sliced and cut into strips

2 bunch of sprouts (daikon, scallions, kale or any sprouts you like)

½ cup roasted sesame seeds

1 bunch green scallions, julienned about 2 inches long

Directions

To make the brown rice and sushi fillings:

1. Combine rice, konbu seaweed and water in a heavy pot and let stand overnight.

2. Bring rice to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover with a tight-fitting lid, reduce heat to a low simmer and cook 45 minutes. (No peeking.) Remove from heat, without peeking, and let it continue to steam for 10 minutes.

3. Season the cooked brown rice with plum vinegar, then transfer it to a large bowl. Prepare the rice as close to serving time as possible.

4. To arrange the sushi platter, slice up as many fillings as you like to make a colorful presentation. Store in the refrigerator until just before serving, and then prepare the sushi rolls as close to serving time as possible.

To assemble temaki-zushi:

1. Each roll is made of half a toasted nori seaweed sheet. If smaller rolls are preferred, cut the seaweed sheets in quarters. The roll should contain about 2 tablespoons of sushi brown rice, or enough to grasp with one hand.

2. With a spoon or chopsticks, scoop up the rice and lay it onto the sheet of nori. Spread with hands chopsticks or a spoon.

3. Dab the nori with a little wasabi paste, then lay 2 to 3 fillings on top of the bed of rice.

4. Wrap the seaweed sheet and its contents into a roll.

5. Dip it in soy sauce and eat. Freshen your palate with a few bites of pickled ginger.

Main photo: Brown rice can serve as the base for delicious sushi rolls. Credit: Sonoko Sakai

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