There are few things that bring home Okinawan cooking to me more than Rafute, a meltingly tender and succulent braised pork belly that my dad calls “Okinawan bacon” (he’s Filipino, mom’s from Okinawa). He calls it that because 40-odd years ago his mother-in-law — unsure what to feed the new “foreign” son-in-law living in her tiny house in Shuri — used to make it for him for breakfast. With eggs and rice, of course.
Now, the uninitiated may look at pork belly and think, “I can’t eat that, it’s nothing but fat!” Aahh, but looks can be deceiving. In the case of rafute, the pork belly is first simmered for a long while in a seasoned bath of ginger, awamori or other alcohol, and water. The bath serves a dual purpose. First, to par-cook and remove the strong flavors of raw pork, thanks to the ginger and alcohol. Second, to remove a lot of the fat, which melts into the liquid and out of the pork. The pork can then be sliced and simmered again in a savory braising liquid that infuses flavor into the meat, and in the end glazes it and brings it to quivering tenderness. You think I exaggerate, but that’s only because you haven’t tried this yet.
Once fullly cooked and seasoned, rafute is a handy thing to have in the fridge to top those wonderful Okinawan soba noodles (photo bottom) you can find in Hawaii (or Okinawa, lucky you!), for yakisoba, as a side dish with tofu champuru — or yes, you can eat them for breakfast! (Uwajimaya in WA/OR carries Hawaii-made Okinawan style soba the last time we were in that area.) I also use rafute when making Abura Miso, but that’s a story for another day...
Rafute freezes well, too, if you can vacuum seal it somehow. Then you can whip up an Okinawan-style soba/ramen any time! After the pork belly is removed from the first simmering broth, chilling the broth will make it easier to discard the layer of lard that forms on the surface. (If you are more enterprising than I, you can put this pure pork lard aside for other cooking purposes, too.)
From “Okinawan Cookery and Culture” (1984), a wondertful spiral-bound collection of recipes and cultural anecdotes from members of Hawaii’s large Okinawan community, there are notes to several recipes that it’s the large proportion of alcohol that gives rafute its distinctive melting quality. I never had awamori, an Okinawan distilled spirit made from Thai-style long grain rice, to play with until we came to Oahu. Growing up, my mother used sake. Until now, I used whiskey or bourbon. But Don Quijote on Oahu carries small bottles of awamori that are cheap enough ($5 for 375ml) that we can cook with it quite liberally for now.
BTW, hashi are chopsticks.
3 lb. not too lean pork belly
2-inch length of ginger, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup (120ml) awamori or whiskey or sake
Gently bruise sliced ginger with the heel of your knife. Place pork belly and ginger in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add awamori or other alcohol, then cover meat with water by at least 1 inch. Over medium heat, bring just to a boil, then cover and immediately reduce heat to a simmer. (Don’t let the pot stay at a hard boil or the pork will “seize” and toughen the lean parts of the meat.) Simmer for 1 hour, checking occasionally to make sure water hasn’t boiled and left meat dry, and topping off with hot water to keep meat covered.
Remove pork from liquid. Chill broth and remove layer of lard on surface. When just cool enough to handle, slice pork 2-1/2 inches across and about 1/2 inch thick.
Initial Braising Liquid:
1 cup (240ml) broth from Par-cooking stage, or plain water
1 cup (240ml) awamori or sake
3/4 cup (160g) raw sugar
1 slice of ginger (optional)
Combine all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and add sliced pork. When heat returns to bubbling, reduce to barely a simmer, cover and cook for about 25 minutes.
Turn slices over, cover again and simmer another 20 minutes.
Add 1/4 cup shoyu and stir through to combine evenly with rest of braising liquid. Cook 15 minutes at the lowest simmer with no cover to allow the liquid to start evaporating. Turn slices over and continue cooking without a cover for another 15 minutes or so. Check texture, you should be able to cut through the meat, “fat,” and skin with a spoon. It should be akin to room temperature butter. If everything except the meat part is soft, it probably means the meat remained at a boil too long in the par-cooking stage and toughened — just continue on to the next step. If even the “fat” and skin give resistance, add 1/4 cup mirin-water mix, cover again and let simmer for 15-20 minutes, then check again.
Now the braising liquid is turning into a sticky glaze. Continue cooking without a cover for another 20-30 minutes, turning meat over every 5-7 minutes, depending on how quickly the glaze is forming. Before the glaze dries off completely, turn heat off, cover pan and let meat cool in glaze. Will keep in fridge for at least a week, months in the freezer if you can protect it from freezer burn.
To re-heat rafute, heat in an oiled skillet over medium heat until hot. Microwave re-heating can be tricky, and cause “burned” spots where the skin or areas near the skin turn into chicharrone (aka crackling) — a lesson learned the hard way. After spending such a long time to make these beauties, I prefer the pan for re-heating.
Our favorite way to use rafute — with Okinawan soba noodles and broth, and garnished with ginger, pre-cooked watercress, gai choy or choi sum, and way too many braised shiitake.
Ways to use Rafute: Abura Miso (Seasoned Miso Paste)
No arm-twisting was required to convince us to try this different take on the Miso Butterfish we love so much — Butterfish marinated with Kasu, or sake lees. Happily, butterfish (a.k.a. sablefish or black cod) is a “Best” (from Alaska) or “Good” (from U.S. West Coast) choice on the Seafood Watch list. (Read more about choosing safe fish and shellfish for Hawaii, the US, and around the world.)
I’ve had kasu on my list of things to try for well over a year now, but with no luck finding it in the shops. A month or so ago, I spotted a new package on the top shelf of the Japanese refrigerated goods section at DQ (not the ice cream place, the former Daiei). I recognized the brand symbol on the cover as a sake brand, so that bode well. Sure enough, it contained sheets of sake lees. Yes, sheets — flat, compressed and heavenly-scented sheets. Not what I was expecting either — I had been looking for a paste-like product resembling packaged miso.
As soon as I could get my hands on a few butterfish fillets, we’d be set. The store I was in does not usually carry fresh butterfish so I made a mental note to look in Chinatown on our next visit. But when I wandered over to the fresh fish displays, there they were — butterfish steaks! And they were on sale that week. It was definitely a sign. Fillets would have been nice, but butterfish does not have many small pins or bones, so I left the steaks whole.
What exactly are sake lees? “Lees” is a nice word for the silty precipitate of dead yeast — and, in the case of sake, rice — that settles out from wine in the production process. It sounds much more palatable than “dregs,” doesn’t it? Sake lees, or kasu, have an incredibly intoxicating aroma. It is easy to see why sake vintners would be loath to simply discard the fragrant paste. Besides its use as a culinary ingredient, kasu can be further commercially processed to make a distilled liquor and a vinegar.
We have now tried both the marinated fish and a heady soup in which kasu was the star ingredient. Both were delicious and thoroughly addictive. (We’ll share more about the soup during soup season.) You can also try your hand at making pickled vegetables with kasu at home, but the most intriguing home use for kasu I found is as a moisturizing face masque! It is supposed to leave your skin baby-soft. And delicious smelling, too, no doubt! Kasu keeps for a long time, so buy it when you see it and tuck it away in the fridge until you need it.
This particular recipe requires long planning — 10 days of marination. There are a slew of recipes with much shorter marinating times, but most of them also include miso paste, sake or mirin, shoyu and other ingredients. I wanted to let the pure kasu flavor through so I devised this one after much reading. If you’d like a more subtle kasu flavor, I’ve had this recipe from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin bookmarked for months to try in future.
You can cook this after 4 days, but patience will be rewarded (here’s looking at you, Italy).
(inspired by an artice on esake.com)
1 TBL. sea salt
1/2 cup kasu paste, about 2 sheets
3 TBL. raw sugar
1/3 cup water
2 butterfish steaks or fillets with skin on, about 6-8oz. each
Combine kasu, salt, sugar and water, and stir to make a thick paste. Place half of paste in the bottom of a glass or other non-reactive pan.
Wash and pat dry the butterfish, and place on the kasu mixture. Cover fish with remaining kasu mixture. Cover tightly and put away in a corner of the fridge for 10 days.
When ready to cook, remove fish from refrigerator and bring to room temperature. Remove fish from kasu, and with a paper towel, gently wipe away most of the paste.
Pre-heat skillet over medium heat. Add 2 TBL. oil to pan. Season fish with salt (I used alaea salt, that’s the pink grains you can see past the water drop on my lens), then add to skillet, salted side down. Season the second side of the fish. Cook, uncovered, for 4-5 minutes — fillets will cook quicker than steaks. Turn over and cook another 5-6 minutes, or until fish is cooked through (will flake with a fork).
Serve with rice, pickled ginger, and flash-cooked greens dressed with sesame or ponzu dressing.
Have you tried Piri-piri Chicken? If not, you’re in for a treat. There is a chicken franchise in the U.S. called El Pollo Loco that prepares chicken in a similar way — marinaded in citrus and spices for a few days, then grilled low and slow, and basted with more flavor. I was a big fan. Then we moved overseas, and I tried to duplicate the flavors of EPL chicken at home, but with no luck.
One day I happened upon a Nando’s chicken restaurant in London (at Earl’s Court) and fell in love all over again. Nando’s is a South African restaurant franchise that serves a Portuguese-style piri-piri chicken BBQ (I know, it’s confusing — it has to do with historical migration patterns but never mind that now). Piri-piri (Nando’s spells it differently) is a zestier, tastier and more succulent BBQ chicken than even EPL, so the urgency to grill chicken at home was temporarily quashed — I could just nip over to Nando’s for a grilled chicken fix! When we later moved to Boston, we were treated to even better home-style piri-piri chicken in some of the small Portuguese-run eateries around Cambridge, the best was at a tiny 6-table cafe in Inman Square.
Since that long ago time we’ve found a primo marinade recipe to make at home because we’ve lived the last 6 years out of reach of ready-made piri-piri chicken. The name piri-piri comes from the sauce made with small red chile peppers, called malagueta, that are the key flavor ingredient in the marinade. Finding the right pepper sauce, also called molho de malagueta, is the first and hardest part of making this recipe. Look for it in Brazilian or Portuguese markets in your area — it is a thick, deep red sauce usually sold in a tapered bottle. There is also a clear vinegar sauce with whole peppers floating in the bottle that is also labelled molha de malagueta or piri-piri sauce, but that’s not what we use.
Also, the malagueta chile pepper used in this sauce is not the same as the melegueta pepper, also known as “grains of paradise.”
The original recipe from which this is adapted says you can substitute Tabasco (brand) sauce for the real thing, but the chicken will taste very different when made with Tabasco (and by different, I mean “wrong”). The Portuguese sauce is much thicker than Tabasco, and has a wholly different flavor. If you don’t care for very “hot” foods, don’t worry. The cooked chicken does not enflame your mouth with pepper-heat — the piri-piri sauce is primarily a flavoring agent. You can, of course, increase the heat by adding larger amounts of piri-piri sauce to the marinade.
This recipe is more like the home-spun piri-piri chickens we enjoyed around Cambridge than the commercial versions. Plan to prepare the marinade at least 24 hours before you intend to start grilling. If you can give it a 2-day headstart, you will be richly rewarded.
Warning: once you do try this chicken, you may become as obsessed with its addictive flavor as we have!
Adapted from The Barbecue! Bible (1998) by Steven Raichlen
For the Marinade:
1/4 cup olive oil
4 TBL. unsalted butter
1 whole lemon, juiced and rind cut into 10 pieces
1 TBL. red wine vinegar
2-3 TBL. Piri-piri sauce (use minimum 2 TBL. to get the piri-piri flavor)
2 tsp. sweet paprika
3/4 tsp. ground coriander seed
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 scallions, washed and thinly sliced
3 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, washed and leaves separated from stems
1” piece of ginger, peeled and slivered
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
Place all marinade ingredients except lemon rinds into a blender or food processor. Puree until smooth. Taste and correct for salt, especially if using larger quantity of piri-piri sauce. Put half of marinade and the lemon rinds into a non-reactive bowl, or a large plastic zipper bag.
1 whole chicken (3.5-4lbs/1.5-1.8kg), cleaned, backbone removed, and cut into quarters
Cut partially through the leg joints where the the drum and thigh meet. Carefully slide a finger under the skin and loosen skin from flesh. Add leg portions to marinade, and insinuate some marinade between skin and flesh.
Cut partially through the joint between wing and breast. Carefully separate skin and flesh around the breast, and make a pocket between the tenderloin and the top of breast. Add to marinade, and also incorporate marinade under skin and next to tenderloin. Add remaining marinade, cover and let marinate in fridge for at leat 24 hours. 48 is better. The best we’ve made at home was marinated for 60.
Prepare your BBQ or grill for cooking with indirect heat. (Learn how from the master himself at Steve Raichlen’s site)
Oil your grate well. Add chicken pieces to the grill, skin-side up. Baste with remaining marinade, cover grill and cook for 30 minutes. Uncover and baste again with marinade. Discard any remaining marinade. (Do not use marinade to baste in the last 10 minutes of grilling.) Cover grill and cook another 20-40 minutes, or until the juices run clear in the thickest part of the thigh and breast (instant-read thrermometer will show 180F). Leg joints may cook faster than breast quarters, so start checking them first.
If you want to crisp up the skin, cook over direct heat for the last 5-8 minutes of grilling time.
Cut into serving pieces. In every restaurant we’ve ever had piri-piri chicken, it is served with fried or roasted potatoes, but at home we prefer rice! Offer extra piri-piri sauce and lemon wedges on the side.
When it comes to food from the deep and the reef, the waters have gotten very murky lately, literally and figuratively. Literally, since it seems every week there is a report identifying another fish species as having dangerously high levels of mercury, PCBs, and other toxins from fertilizer run-offs and other pollutants in the nation’s oceans and rivers; and figuratively when, along with the warnings, health advocates encourage consumers to incorporate more fish — rich in omega-3 fatty acids and lean protein — into their diet. And as if this weren’t confusing enough, environmentalists want consumers to be aware of the dangers of over-fishing and poor fisheries management both at home and abroad, too! It’s enough to paralyze even the most want-to-be-informed consumer.
Finally, there’s help. A pocket-sized take-along guide for your wallet or purse identifying safe fish choices for both you and the environment from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch website. Separate guides are available for each region in the U.S. (West Coast, Northeast, Hawaii, Southeast, Central, and Southwest) and they are color-coded to red-flag fish species that are currently found to carry unacceptably high toxin levels, and to highlight non-toxic species that are sustainably managed. The charts are available in English or Spanish for the U.S. There is also a searchable on-line database for different fish varieties that provides all the necessary information to assist you in making an informed choice about your seafood, and also offers alternatives if your first choice is either unhealthy or unsustainable.
Seafood Watch (SFW) also provides links to similar charts prepared by the World Wildlife Fund or an environmental organization in the respective country for Italy, Germany, Canada, the UK, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Australia, France, South Africa, and New Zealand. From similar sites, here are also links to fish guides for Finland, the Netherlands, Poland, Norway, and Switzerland (available in 3 languages). (The guides for Spain seem to have been removed from that country’s WWF website.) Most of these sites have a printable color guide that you can carry in your purse or wallet that make it easy to find non-toxic, sustainable choices in seafood; most also have a searchable database of fish varieties; some however, provide only an on-line database but no take-along guide.
Lastly, SFW has also teamed up with the Environmental Defense Fund in producing a searchable national database and take-along guide for your mobile phone! Check it out on the EDF’s site here.
So whether you live in the US or one of these llisted countries, or are planning a visit to them, take along a portable guide to help you make wise choices for your health and the health of the environment.
And if all this reading has made you hungry, here’s an exceptionally flavorful and easy way to bake fish that will help keep it moist and infuse flavor. Monchong, or sickle pomfret, (see top photo and left) is listed as a “Good Alternative” in the SFW database, and it is a meaty, mild-tasting fish that readily compliments strong flavors. We all know hummous (bottom, right in photo) as a thick, savory dip of pureed chickpeas, sesame paste (tahini), lemon juice, olive oil and salt.
Usually eaten with pita or vegetables as part of a Middle Eastern mezze table, here hummous pulls double-duty as a crust for the baked fish. You can use a commercially prepared dip, but hummous, like the preserved lemons, costs a mere fraction of the commercial product AND is so easy to make at home. Try this recipe and you’ll never want to buy a pre-made product again. It’s worth the effort to boil your chickpeas from dried beans, and keep them frozen with some of the cooking liquid until you need them. But canned low-salt chickpeas are a good pantry staple for whipping up quick weeknight meals like this or when you’re asked to bring a dip to tomorrow’s function at work, and you don’t have time to soak beans overnight. Of course, you can substitute any of the other firm, white or oily flesh fish in the SFW “Best” or “Good Alternative” list for the monchong — the first time we tried this hummous crust on fish 9 years ago, it was with salmon and that was especially ono.
BAKED MONCHONG WITH HUMMOUS CRUST
For the Hummous:
1 cup of dried chickpeas, soaked in water to cover at least 8 hours
Drain chickpeas, place in 4-quart or larger saucepan, and cover with by the least 2” of clean water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer and cook for 1 hour. Add 1/2 tsp. of sea salt, and cook for another 30 minutes or until beans are easily pierced with a toothpick but not mushy (cooking time will depend on the hardness of your water). Turn off heat, cover and let cool in pan.
2 TBL. liquid reserved from cooking chickpeas (if using canned chickpeas, use plain water, not the liquid in the cans)
1/2 tsp. sea salt
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
5 TBL lemon juice
4 TBL olive oil
1/3 cup tahini, a.k.a. sesame butter/paste, stirred well before measuring
Place ingredients in the order listed above into food processor or blender. Last, add drained cooked chickpeas or 2 15 oz. canned low-salt chickpeas. If you prefer your hummous with a little texture, reserve a 1/4 cup of chickpeas. Puree the mix until smooth. If using a blender and the mixture is too thick, taste a little and see if it needs more lemon juice or water, and add accordingly. If you’ve reserved some chickpeas, add them in and pulse briefly to break them up a bit. Taste again and correct for salt, lemon juice or olive oil. Set aside for at least an hour if using as a dip.
For the Fish:
2 6 oz. filets of monchong, cleaned and patted dry
ground black pepper
To coat fish, season fish fillet with sea salt and ground black pepper. Layer a generous amount of hummous to one side of the fish. Measure the thickness of the fillets at the thickest point. Set aside for at least 30 minutes while oven and pan pre-heat.
Pre-heat oven and oven-proof skillet or baking dish to 450F/230C.
Add 2 TBL. olive oil to heated skillet or baking dish, and place fillets, hummous-side up, on the skillet or dish. Place in pre-heated oven and bake for 10 minutes for every 1” of fish. If top crust has not sufficiently browned by the time fish is cooked, set oven to broil for a minute to brown the hummous crust. Garnish with a pinch of paprika or chili (red pepper) powder, if desired. Serve with your choice of starch and vegetable.
Download and print a seafood guide for your region here.
Other “Good” or “Best” Fish Choices for Hawaii (according to the SWF) that have been featured on this site:
Surimi (surprise!): Crustless Quiche with Asparagus, Cress & Surimi
Clams: Linguine with Clams, Pork, Clam & Periwinkle Stew
Alaskan Cod: Curry-glazed Cod w/ Wasabi-Sesame Soba Salad
Opakapaka: Pan-Fried Opakapaka with Warm Spiced Cabbage Salad
Ehu: Grilled Ehu in Banana Leaf
Kajiki: Kajiki with Pomegranate-Ogo
Wild Alaskan Salmon: Alaskan Salmon with Pomegranate Sauce
Butterfish/Sablefish/Black Cod: Miso Butterfish, Kasu-Marinated Butterfish
Dungeness Crab: Crab Cioppino
Mahimahi: Fish Tacos, Mahimahi Patties w/Lemongrass & Lime Leaf
To learn more about other nutrition issues for Hawaii and Asian diets,
see If you are what you eat ...
We were tagged by Rowena — she with the Rubber Slippers on the Italian Peninsula — to post 10 of our favorite photos. OK, technically, they’re supposed to be food photos. This is a meme begun in April by Anna of Anna’s Kitchen Table. Well, photos are not my strong suit, so this was a bit of a challenge. So much so that some of these photos did not appear in blog posts, but rather on static pages around this site. And it’s not all food porn, one involves feathers. There’s even fur (albeit gratuitous). You’ve been warned...
A thing of the past *deep sigh*:
Assorted Ahi & Tako Poke Platter
Fiddleheads, a.k.a. Warabi
What is Char Siu Pork?
Waimea Valley Audubon’s official greeter
Nothing beats simple: Blue Cheese & Pear Salad
Sukiyaki at home
The one & only Soutzou-Moco:
Greek meatballs in sauce with eggs over rice
Walu & Shrimp Hash Lumpia with Papaya Coulis
Green Tea Shortbread
See Rowena’s favorites
And now to spread the love! Here are 3 gourmands with much better lens control than I — can they pick just 10 favorite food (or not) photos on their sites?
Helen @ Food Stories
Marvin @ Burnt Lumpia (when he returns)
Dhivya @ DK’s Culinary Bazaar
And now for some wholly uncalled-for cat pics... They’ve been getting jealous seeing other felines and canines with their own weekend blogs.
Laika at her salad bar in Lohnsfeld, Kiowea — the dapper new kid on the block, and Haiku with her catnip pillow
Fresh ingredients, lightly cooked, eaten ooutdoors. Pour the Soave, let’s eat.
LINGUINE WITH CLAMS
(Adapted from Marcella’s Italian Kitchen by Marcella Hazan)
for 2 people
Warm 2 plates in the toaster oven set to 200F/95C.
12 live Manila clams
Scrub clam shells with brush. Discard any clams that do not close during cleaning.
9 oz. (255g) dried linguine (12 oz./340g, fresh)
Bring water for pasta to boil, while you start the sauce.
3 TBL. extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 oz (100g) sugar snap peas
ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
few sprigs flat-leaf parsley, minced
Put garlic and oil in large skillet or wok — something that will be large enough to hold both the sauce and pasta. Heat pan over medium flame, and saute garlic until it softens and becomes aromatic. Add peas, salt and pepper, stir to coat with oil, and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until peas become bright green. Increase heat to high, and quickly add cleaned clams and wine, and immediately cover the pan. Cook for 4-5 minutes with cover closed, shaking pan occasionally.
Add a good handful of coarse salt to boiling water for pasta, and add linguine. Return to boil and cook until barely firm to the bite, maybe 5 minutes for dried, and 2 for fresh. I try to slightly undercook it at this stage, because the pasta will still cook with the sauce.
Check sauce. Turn heat down to medium, and remove peas and any clams that are opened to a warmed plate, and keep covered (this will keep them from over-cooking). Continue to remove clams as they open. When all clams are opened (or after another 4-5 minutes, discard any clams that don’t open), add parsley to sauce. Drain pasta but do not rinse. Add pasta to pan, and stir well to combine with sauce. Return peas and clams to pan, cover, turn off heat and let pan sit for 3-4 minutes while wine is poured and outside table is set.
Divide pasta and clams between two warmed bowls, garnish with more parsley, a grind of pepper and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Carry bowls outside. Mangia!
We actually had this meal 2 weekends ago, and afterwards I was craving a cake, which I rarely do. In fact, the cake I was craving was a polenta torta so the next day I made the version with preserved lemon and almond here. Unlike many lemon desserts, the preserved lemon cake is well-suited to a rich cup of coffee!
(Read more about choosing safe fish and shellfish for Hawaii, the US, and around the world.)
For the last in the series about the experience of receiving acupuncture in the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) setting, a brief look at how treatment carries over from the acupuncture clinic to your kitchen and home. You can choose to supplement acupuncture treatments with herbal “teas” — more properly called decoctions, but even the herbalists call them teas so we’ll continue using that term too. Of course, you can also opt to skip acupuncture entirely, and get a consultation for herbal therapies only. It will take longer to resolve any imbalances, but you might decide acupuncture is not for you. As we left the clinic in the second part of the series, the clinic’s herbalist had weighed and mixed batches of herbs for us to boil and drink at home.
A closer inspection at home reveals that the term “herbal” is not really descriptive either, since grains, fruit, bark, and even what appears to be chalk, has been included in some of our mixes. Dr. Wong has explained that it’s not enough to know that certain plants are beneficial for treating imbalances or illness, but also that the different parts of a plant (roots, stems, flower, fruit, leaves, inner or outer bark) are used for different illnesses. Even the time of day or the season for harvesting can affect a plant’s medicinal properties. Further processing — such as drying, fermenting, cooking, and glazing with honey — will alter healing properties even more. Whew! Well, all we have to know is how to boil the mixes and when to drink them.
Many cultures around the world have long traditions of using local herbs and other materials for healing. Perhaps what sets this therapy apart in China is a written record begun over 2000 years ago, and which now includes almost 6000 herbal “prescriptions” for various illnesses. But again, illness is perceived differently in TCM than in Western medicine — TCM focuses on the cause of illness (imbalances in the meridians) more than the manifest symptoms and condition (e.g., gout or migraines).
Boiling the teas requires a stainless steel or other non-reactive (i.e., not aluminum or copper) pot large enough to contain the herbs and at least 5-7 cups of water. You can also choose a ceramic teapot designed for this purpose (photo, left top). After several months of using the asparagus steamer (photo, left, bottom — hey, we believe in tools doing double duty whenever possible!) to boil our teas, we finally looked in to getting the special teapot. (Also, it’s asparagus season now, so we needed that steamer back.)
It was surprisingly affordable — this 8 cup size was less than $10, and there are both smaller and larger sizes, as well as unglazed models. The first thing we did after washing the pot was to test it for lead. A simple swab test kit is available at City Mill, but other hardware stores might carry it too. Be certain to check the unglazed areas (the lid and rim of our pot, for instance), as well as the interior. With my suspicious nature, I even checked it twice. All was copacetic.
To make our teas, we tip the contents of one bag into the pot, add the requisite amount of water and let everything re-hydrate for about 20 minutes. Then bring to a boil (we have to pay attention here because once it comes to a boil, the heat has to be turned right down) and let simmer until the liquid is reduced as noted in your instructions from the herbalist (this can take 60-90 minutes). Once the proper reduction is reached, we pour off the tea through a strainer (to catch any stray grains, seeds or twigs), then return the contents of the strainer to the pot, add more water (amount included in herbalist’s notes) and boil at full boil for 20 minutes again. The second pour is cooled to drink later or the next day.
These teas should be drunk on an empty stomach, and at least warm, if not hot. In TCM, cold liquids in general are frowned upon since it is thought they “cool the stomach’s fire” (i.e., that they make digestion and absorption of nutrients more difficult). This is especially true for my condition which is characterized as caused by damp — I”ve had to cut back on food and drinks that are physically cold (like ice cream and iced teas) or that have cool or cold chi properties (such as water chestnuts or bamboo). But, I admit, they’ve not been eliminated ... I love ice cream. But I digress...
We find the aroma of the teas simmering very pleasant, but that may have to do with the particular mixes we get, too. Not only are T’s mixes very different from mine, but the combinations we get will change with almost every visit, too. The changes in the herbal mix reflect not only the progress we may or may not be making with the acupuncture, but also additional stresses or factors that may have come into play since the last clinic visit, or even changes in weather patterns! As the Islands moved from their wet to dry season, T’s mixture changed at one point because the strong winds to which his condition is susceptible had died down.
How do the teas taste? Like you would expect a medicinal decoction that’s supposed to be good for you to taste — like a medicine. Unfortunately for him, T’s original condition required the addition of bitter tastes to balance his chi, and so at first his teas were really quite hard to swallow (sorry for the pun). (Yes, even tastes — bitter, sweet, salty, sour, and spicy — affect the flow of chi in the meridians.) Our “prescriptions” always come with a handful of chan pui mui (a 5-spice flavored dried plum that is enjoyed as a snack in many parts of Asia as well as here in Hawaii) to counter the bitterness or other unpleasant flavors that may be in the teas. “Hold your nose, drink, then chew on a mui” was his routine for a while.
As his condition has improved, I’ve noticed that his teas now include some kind of honey-dipped root or bark (the dark flat pieces that look like slate in this photo) that go a long way to making the teas more palatable. My condition requires the addition of naturally sweet things, so I’ve been lucky to have some kind of sweetener like the honey bark or dried fruit as part of my teas. (But that doesn’t mean I pass up on the mui afterwards!) *wink*
If the mui is not enough to make the tea palatable, it’s important to discuss options with the herbalist. Sweetening the tea itself is not advised because, as with T’s original condition, the sweetener may acutally work against your health objectives. And because in TCM different sweeteners also have different properties (brown sugar is considered warming, while honey is neutral), it’s best to let your doctor or herbalist recommend alternatives to complement your condition.
So, not your everyday sort of “cuppa.” But it can grow to be a comfortable part of a week’s routine, and definitely merits satisfaction in the knowledge that it is a cup as unique as you are. Malama pono, Everyone!
And now that we’ve shared our experiences “under the needle” and by the cupful with you, we’d love to hear about your experiences with acupuncture or herbal remedies — Chinese, Ayurvedic, Kampo, or Grandma/Lola/Oma/Nana/Bubbie’s time-tested home-cure for colic! — we’re interested in them all!
Acupuncture, Part I: An Overview
Acupuncture, Part II: The Clinic Visit
Some Web sources we have found helpful in learning about TCM and some of the current studies involving TCM and other alternative therapies include:
the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, and
the Institute on Traditonal Medicine (which touches on Kampo, Ayurveda, and has an interesting account of how TCM is integrated with modern practice in Italy, too.)
We love a good fish patty. This is playing with your food in the best way — you can use fresh, dried or canned fish; potatoes, rice or tofu to bind; and any number of herb and spice combinations to evoke flavors of Asia, the Americas, Africa, Europe, wherever you wish! One of our favorites is a deep-fried fish patty, bright with the tangy flavors of wild lime and lemongrass. In an effort to make them healthier so we could have them more often, I pan-fried them with olive oil instead of deep-frying. Still tasty, but honestly, it wasn’t soul-satisfying the way the deep-fried version is. So, I guess, like so many things, you have to choose your poison ...
This recipe starts with fresh fish (this time we used frozen mahi), but if saltcod were not so expensive here, I would love to try this again with that. The two mostprominent aromatics in this — the wild lime leaves and lemongrass — are available in many groceries now (as well as ethnic markets), and they freeze very well. So buy them when you see them, and freeze until needed. Just wash and dry the leaves, and store in a zippered plastic bag in the freezer. The lemongrass can be washed, and the tough outer leaves removed and trimmed, then zippered and frozen.
The double-lobed wild lime, or makrut, (in top photo) is more widely known by the unfortunate moniker, “kaffir” — which evidently carries quite a bit of historical baggage as a derogatory and offensive term for black Africans, or to denote something as inferior. From The Oxford Companion to Food, University Press, 1999. page 424:
“Kaffir: an epithet which has been used, especially in southern Africa, of certain plant foods, for which it is now preferable to use names less likely to cause offense... In southern Africa the term came to mean what would now be called ‘black African’, sometimes applying to a particular group and sometimes in a general sense. In most contexts it now has a pejorative sense, to such an extent that its use can be actionable in S. Africa ... Since the fruit in question is of some importance in a number of SE Asian cuisines, it is in books about them that one is most apt to find references to it ... it would be a reasonable assumption that the term has its origin in southern Africa and may have reached Malaysia and Indonesia from there through the Cape Malays, and then travelled westwards to Thailand.”
The description of the the lime itself is listed in the OCF under “Makrut Lime.” We use the term “wild lime,” borrowed from Alford & Duguid’s Hot Sour Salty Sweet.
Whenever we want to have these or any type of fish patty, I’ve always had to plan to have mashed potatoes around, which can be a hindrance if you don’t want to take the extra step of mashing potatoes just for this. On a whim once, I substituted cold cooked rice for the potatoes and the results were really good. I prefer the potatoes because I like the creamy texture they provide, but T prefers the rice texture, which was firmer. These are a bite-size version that make a great buffet dish or appetizer. You can shape them larger, for an entree- or bun-sized patty; but for a “burger” size, I would add 2-3 teaspoons of the sweet chili sauce (used as a dip here) into the mix before shaping and cooking.
MAHIMAHI PATTIES W/ LEMONGRASS & LIME LEAF
Makes 24-30 appetizer patties
1 lb. (455g) mahi fillets, or any firm white fish, bones and pins removed
small handful (about 4 oz/110g) of snow peas, de-veined and julienned
1/2 small carrot, peeled and finely grated (optional)
1 stalk lemongrass, peeled and minced
1 wild lime leaf (2 lobes), de-veined and minced
1 bird’s eye chili (donne or boonie pepper), seeded and minced
1/4-1/2 tsp. raw sugar (will depend if fish sauce used already contains sugar, check label)
Roughly chop 3/4 of fish, and place in small food processor bowl. Chop remaining 1/4 of fish into pieces no larger than 1/2 inch. Add half of snow peas and carrots, and all of lemongrass, lime leaf and chili to processor, and very briefly pulse to combine. Remove contents of processor to mixing bowl, and add remaining finely chopped fish and vegetables.
1-2 TBL. fish sauce (will depend on brand and country of origin, Vietnamese brands are saltier and more pungent than Thai, Filipino or other brands)
few sprigs of cilantro, finely minced (about 1 TBL)
1 cup (210g) mashed potatoes, or cooled cooked rice
1 large egg, beaten
Add fish sauce and cilantro to mixed fish, and knead well to combine flavors. Add mashed potato and egg, and knead through again. Set aside for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat skillet over medium-high heat. Pre-heat toaster oven to 300F.
Shape mixture into 2” oval patties. Add 2-3 TBL. olive oil to coat pan well, and fry patties about 3-4 minutes on each side. Keep warm in toaster oven until all patties are cooked.
You can also deep-fry these patties, but dust them with corn or potato starch before frying.
Serve with fresh lime and sweet chili sauce (available commercially, or try this version from Recipezaar). With potatoes in the mixture, these do not freeze well since the potatoes develop a mealy texture when thawed. Haven’t tried freezing the version with rice yet...
A summer brunch dish that tastes naughty, but is nicer to your figure and heart than its pastry-enrobed sibling. Quiche by its nature is not a dieter’s friend — flaky pastry, butter, heavy cream, eggs, and cheese can wreak havoc on the waist and the cholesterol count. But here’s the thing: we like eggs, we like cream, and we lo-o-ve cheese, but don’t like the “fat-free” versions of anything. I even begrudge low-fat versions.
But there are choices we can make that allow us to indulge in a Sunday treat like this without resorting to fat-free products — eliminating the crust, using egg whites in place of some of the whole eggs in the recipe, using light cream and yogurt instead of heavy cream, and using half the amount of cheese and twice the amount of vegetables. I’m not a dietician, and I don’t know if we can call this “healthy” but it’s at least healthier.
For this quiche we used surimi, more widely known, unfortunately, as “fake crab.” I guess I had surimi on the brain because I just received a monthly update from a well-known cooking magazine, wherein surimi was roundly rejected as a poor substitute for crabmeat. Of course. It’s not crabmeat, it’s fishcake. One reason I dislike the term “fake crab” is that the term implies that surimi can be used interchangeably with real crabmeat, and of course, it can’t. The magazine article reviewed surimi as a substitute for crab in making crabcakes! Are you kidding me, crabcakes?! Honestly, reading this gave me a headache. There was no mention of a proper use of surimi, or it’s use for hundreds of years in China, Japan, Korea and all over Asia. Nothing. Just, “don’t use it to make crabcakes.” Okay, thanks. Noted. Once I stopped hyperventilating and huffing around the kitchen, I refelcted on the poor examples of surimi being used as if it actually were a substitue for crab — you know them, too, the pasta salads, omelets, sandwiches, and sushi touted as “crab,” without the the quotation marks.
So what, exactly, is surimi? It’s the name for both the raw fish paste that is used to make a variety of different fishcakes, and the red-and-white stick fishcake with that unhelpful “fake crab (or lobster)” label. Surimi paste is seasoned and shaped according to different cultural preferences across Asia. In Japan, products made from surimi are called Kamaboko (kah-mah-BO-ko), and the variety of shapes, colors, additional ingredients are many — tubes, sticks, half moons, patties; stuffed, hollow, plain, with vegetables; brown, white, neon pink or green. The other day we tried a wonderful kamaboko from Japan with actual pieces of snow crabmeat in it; it was the perfect complement to the homemade broth, fresh noodles and vegetables in our ramen lunch. The stick surimi used in this quiche has a distinctive bundled-threadlike appearance. It pulls apart easily in long strips the way string cheese does (photo above). I remember having to do this as a kid to help my mom prepare omelets or somen salads. Whenever I use the stick surimi, I still immediately shred it like this. Habit, I guess.
Whether you chunk it or shred it, I hope you give surimi a chance, and use it for what it is — a tasty fishcake that can lighten and liven up your meals in its own right. Hawaii is lucky to have several kamaboko manufacturers, and we know of one local purveyor of Taiwanese-style fishballs that (they advertise) is made fresh daily from kajiki (aka blue marlin; most commercial fishcake in the U.S. is made of pollock or whiting) (see Chinatown Buys). But save those goodies for the stews, soups and fried noodles, for this recipe you’ll need the shredding kind.
CRUSTLESS QUICHE w/ASPARAGUS, CRESS & SURIMI
The key to making a creamy quiche is “low and slow” — it’s basically a savory custard, so treat it with the same gentleness of whisk and heat with which you pamper a flan, bread pudding, or creme anglaise.
Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C.
For the custard:
handful of garlic chives (about 20g), chopped fine
1 TBL. unsalted butter
Saute the chives in butter over medium heat until they just become fragrant. Keep aside.
6 large eggs (3 whole and 3 egg whites only)
1/2 cup (120ml) light cream or half-and-half
3 TBL. plain yogurt
2 TBL. mirin (seasoned rice wine for cooking), or dry sherry
1/2 tsp. dried chervil
one pass of nutmeg on a grater (over custard)
Whisk together the egg whites and whole eggs until thoroughly blended. Add cream, yogurt and mirin, and whisk again, being careful not to incorporate too much air. Add sauteed chives, chervil and seasonings, to taste. Grate nutmeg over custard. Stir to incorporate.
For the filling:
12 stalks of cooked asparagus, preferably grilled, cut into 1” pieces (can keep a few whole to decorate the top)
(I used steamed asparagus, and even after a gentle squeeze and paper toweling, they still gave off liquid as the quiche cooked and left the filling looking like soft-cooked eggs even though the egg is cooked through)
1/2 cup flash-cooked watercress, squeezed dry and chopped
4 sticks of surimi, pat dry and pulled into shreds
1/2 cup (55g) grated mozzarella
Fill a 4-cup/1L baking dish with the vegetables and surimi, distributing them evenly in the dish. Add cheese. Slowly pour custard over fillings, lifting ingredients at the bottom slightly to make certain the custard gets all the way down to the bottom and covers the vegetables. Gently tap dish on counter to release bubbles and settle the custard.
REDUCE HEAT to 325F/160C. Place baking pan in oven and cook for 40-45 minutes, or until top is pale golden and a knife inserted in the middle comes out moist, but with no film of egg on it. Remove quiche from oven, cover and allow to set for at least 20 minutes in the pan before slicing. Custard will continue to cook as it sets.
Note: Cooking time is for a 4-cup/1L baking dish. If using a larger baking vessel (where the custard spreads out more), check the quiche after 30 minutes. If it still needs time, cover lightly with foil and keep checking at 5 minute intervals. If using a smaller baking dish (filling is more than 3” deep), keep temperature at 325F/160C, lightly cover top of quiche with foil after 30 minutes, and cook for a total of 50 minutes to 1 hour. Test with knife, as above.
This is an appeal on behalf of a group of food bloggers who are friends of Briana Brownlow @ Figs With Bri.
Bri was diagnosed with breast cancer two and half years ago. A mastectomy, chemotherapy and two years of relatively good health later, the cancer is back. It has metastasized to other parts of her body. At the age of 15, Bri lost her 41-year old mother to the disease. Now, she’s waging her own war against breast cancer. More about it here.
She is going through intensive chemo and other treatments and needs to focus single-mindedly on healing and finding what treatment works best for her. Her health insurance, unfortunately, does not cover holistic alternatives which she would like to try. Bri and her husband Marc have enough on their plates right now in addition to worrying about her medical bills.
The team organising the JUNE edition of CLICK at Jugalbandi has organised a fundraiser to help Bri and her family meet her out-of-pocket medical costs for ONE YEAR.
CLICK is a monthly theme-based photography contest hosted by Jugalbandi. This month’s theme is: YELLOW for Bri
Yellow is the colour of hope. Through the work of the LiveStrong Foundation, it has also come to signify the fight against cancer.
The entries can be viewed HERE. The deadline for entries is June 30, 2008. The fundraiser will extend until July 15, 2008.
The target amount is 12,000 U.S. dollars. We appeal to our fellow bloggers and readers to help us achieve this. Bri deserves a chance to explore all options, even if her insurance company thinks otherwise.
There’s a raffle with exciting prizes on offer. After viewing the list, you may make your donation HERE or at the Chip-In button on any participating site.
Your donation can be made securely through credit card or Pay Pal and goes directly to Bri’s account.
This month’s photo contest also has some prizes. Details HERE.
You can support this campaign by donating to the fundraiser, by participating in CLICK: the photo event, and by publicising this campaign.
This is an appeal on behalf of a group of food bloggers who are friends of Briana Brownlow @ Figs With Bri.
They’re ready, at last. The lemons have transformed and are ready to play with. But how? We’ve seen them in a savory dish, Chicken with Preserved Lemons & Olives, but how do they fare in sweets?
I went on a search for a lemon almond polenta torta many years ago after reading about a production of the play, “Dinner with Friends,” in which this cake plays a starring role. The play (now also a movie) is about a food-writing couple, just returned from vacationing in Italy, who want to re-create some of the wonderful meals they enjoyed during their travels with their two closest friends, another couple. During the dessert course, trouble ensues. Anyway, the director in the review I was reading raves about the authentic lemon almond polenta cake he baked for his cast, but doesn’t actually offer a recipe, and so I searched.
I came across this dense Italian version in the Boston Globe, featured in a story that was actually about olive oil, and using olive oil in place of butter in baking sweets. It was a novel concept to me at the time, but one I’ve since adopted for much of our cake baking. But this was the recipe that started it all. It was intriguing in so many ways, it contained no flour, no butter, and used an entire lemon — pith, pulp and peel! The final result is bright, lemony, dense and decadent cake. The Globe article quotes American-born pastry chef, Faith Willinger saying, “People use olive oil because it is healthier [than the alternatives], and it lets the genuine flavors stand up for what they are. Butter coats the whole palate and makes everything sweeter. Olive oil complements, rather than hides, flavor." Chef Willinger has taught cooking classes and writes about food for over 25 years from her home base in Florence.
To celebrate the end of our five weeks of patience, it seemed appropriate to use these precious lemons for a cake. By the way, last week I found preserved lemons in a local supermarket: it was over $10 a bottle for 2 small lemons! It’s so easy to make at home, I hope more people try this themselves. (Learn how)
Since the lemons are preserved in salt, I simply elminated the salt in the original recipe. I also used some of the olive oil that was sealing the lemon brine to make up part of the olive oil used in the recipe (and topped off the lemon jar with additional oil), but that’s optional. I did use the almond extract this time, as I had done with the original raw lemon version, but I would not use it again if using preservd lemons. With the raw lemon, the extract blended well with the bright citrus in the lemon; but the preserved lemon gave the cake a rounder lemon flavor, still intense but without the acidity, and the extract is noticeably distinct and remains apart from the lemon. The biggest difference for me is this: I can enjoy the preserved lemon version with coffee, something I couldn’t do with the original. Again, it’s the acidity. I have to admit that I don’t like the combination of coffee and citrus — the citrus changes the taste of my lovely coffee (black, no sugar so other flavors really affect it). However, with the volatile oils softened after 5 weeks in brine, I can enjoy the lemon flavor in the cake and still savor my coffee. The two versions are different enough that I would consider serving them at different times, different occasions — the original for a Sunday brunch, served with iced or hot tea, and maybe a shot of Limoncello, or even a lemonade; the preserved version after dinner, with coffee and later a digestif.
That’s what food always comes back to, isn’t it — creating your best for family and friends. And with that thought, this cake goes with our love and prayers to Briana Brownlow at Figs with Bri, via Jugalbandi’s special CLICK event for June — a yellow culinary theme that doubles as a fundraiser to help Bri meet her costs for medical treatments. Normally Bri creates with and writes about organic foods on her site, but understandably is focusing her considerable energy on this second bout with breast cancer that has mestatasized into her lungs and lymph nodes. Jugalbandi’s bee and Jai have organized an account payable directly to Bri to allow her to explore medical options that her insurance company refuses to cover. They are asking for $25 donations from 500 people to help Bri cover these costs. If you would like to help, and to learn more about Bri’s fight, visit Jugalbandi or Figs with Bri.
Take care, dear Bri, and God Bless!
PRESERVED LEMON & ALMOND POLENTA TORTA
(adapted from the Boston Globe, Oct. 15, 2003)
4-6 pieces of preserved lemon, enough to equal one whole lemon
1/2 cup (85g) cornmeal
2 tsp baking powder
1-1/4 cups (250g) blanched almonds
1 + 1/4 (190g + 48g) cups raw sugar (coarse granulated or demerara)
1/2 cup (120ml) fruity olive oil (optional: use some from the top of the preserved lemons)
1/2 cup (120ml) evaporated milk
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
Confectioners' sugar, for garnish
Drained full-fat yogurt, for garnish
Pre-heat oven tp 350F/180C.
Oil a 9-inch round cake pan, line with wax or parchment paper cut to fit, and oil the paper.
In a bowl mix together the cornmeal and baking powder.
In a food processor, pulse the almonds with 1 cup of sugar to make a slightly coarse mixture.
Cut each preserved lemon piece in half, and remove any remaining seeds. Add to the ground almond mixture. Pulse again until the mixture forms a heavy puree. Taste for sweetness and add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, if necessary. Add the oil, milk, eggs, and (if using) almond extract. Process for 1 to 2 minutes or until just combined. Add the cornmeal mixture and pulse just briefly to combine.
Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until golden brown and slightly moist in the center.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Run a knife around the cake, invert it onto a cake plate, then invert back onto another plate so the baked side is on top. Dust with confectioners' sugar. Serve with drained yogurt and fresh fruit, if desired. The original is served with ricotta cream, see Boston Globe article for recipe.
For a lighter version of lemon almond polenta cake, see Nic’s beautiful creation at Cherrapeno.
Other recipes with preserved lemons: Chicken with Preserved Lemons & Olives, Fig-Stuffed Roast Lamb with Mushroom & Port Gravy, and Lamb Shanks with Preserved Lemons and Gremolata