Tomato Noodle Salad with Shiso and Umeboshi Dressing

I made this salad just for fun today and because it turned out well I thought it worth sharing. My tomatoes tend not to ripen or color until the end of the summer.  They are still very much green and growing out in the garden but I'm finally starting to get some colors with them too!  

I highly recommend growing your own tomatoes or buying them from a local farmer's market.  You don't even need an outdoor garden to grow them.  Home grown tomatoes actually taste sweet and are full  of flavor.  I take a bite of them and am reminded that they are actually a fruit.  My kids don't like eating tomatoes from the store and I don't serve them unless I cook them with other things.  The store tomatoes are tasteless.  Tomatoes from stores NEVER taste like anything!  And it's sad and annoying and disappointing... so I grow my own!

I picked the ripe ones last week and made this tomato noodle salad to bring to a BBQ party at a friend's house.  I also picked some green shiso leaves.  I love shiso so much that I feel like I should campaign about it here. If you don't know shiso, it's usually used as garnish at nice sushi restaurants and it's like basil, but slightly citrusy.  By the way, in the photo here these are not shiso leaves on top of this salad. They are actually out of sight, under the tomatoes.  

I used Japanese somen noodles for this salad. You can't really see those either though because I wasn't thinking photos when I made this! Regardless, I wanted to let my tomatoes shine in a dish.  Somen is very delicate and nice, but it's also very quiet and can be quite bland. Somen is a thin white wheat noodle.  You can usually buy dried somen just like spaghetti.  It's just like Angel Hair noodles and cooks in a couple of minutes.  After cooking somen noodles in hot boiling water,  you rinse them under cold running water until the slight sliminess goes away.  You can eat them hot in a hot broth or  cold with dressing like this salad I made.  

For the dressing I made a soy sauce based vinaigrette.  Also a little surprise in this salad are the pink pieces found in it. Those are chopped umeboshi!  Umeboshi is a pickled plum and is very common in Japan.  It's usually cured with salt and picked with red shiso leaves which gives that pick color.  It tastes a bit like pickled lemon because of the citrus flavor from the shiso leaves, but it is usually extremely sour as well.  It tastes many times more sour than pickled lemon.  I bought some made with apricots instead of traditional plums, from a Japanese farmer at the farmer's market. I also put some chopped umeboshi in the dressing.  If you've never had umeboshi or are curious to try it,  some stores have them in Seattle or you can make it yourself!  It's on my list of things to do in the near future. 

*If you are going to try making cold somen salad, make sure to pour the dressing on only right before serving. Otherwise the noodles will be soggy. 

This salad turned out perfect to bring to the fall BBQ party on such a gorgeous summery day : ) 

Recipe: 5 servings

3 bundles of somen noodles
4 medium tomatoes and 10 petite tomatoes
5 green shiso leaves
2 umeboshi
mizena or any salad for garnish

2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon mirin or sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 clove of garlic minced
1 umeboshi minced
1 teaspoon lemon juice
salt and pepper

Bring water to boil in a large pan.  Cook somen noodles for 2-3 minutes in boiling hot water at medium heat.  Drain the water using a strainer.  Run cold water over somen in the strainer and wash noodles gently by hand until they are cool and no longer slimy.  Put the noodles in a serving bowl.  Julienne shiso leaves and spread over noodles.  Cut tomatoes into bite size and place over the noodles. Garnish the salad with minced umeboshi and a few green leaves.  Cover and let cool in the refrigerator.  

Mix all the ingredients for the dressing in a jar and shake it well.  Adjust the taste for your preference with salt and sugar.  Pour over the salad right before serving.  


Welcoming Fall with Lamb Roast

The summer is gone...!  The fall air has returned.  We were camping in Eastern Washington last week where it's dry (totally opposite of Seattle weather) and warm.  It wasn't as hot as we hoped for but still felt like we were enjoying the last bit of the summer weather.  Every year we camp at Banks lake where we are isolated from other campers and lived on the beach for 5 days.  I will post some photos here soon to show how we camped like champs.

Anyway, we came home to much cooler Seattle and needed some sort of comfort food after the big camping trip.  My husband who doesn't like grocery shopping came home one day with a big piece of lamb leg.  He said he happened to be at the store and bought it because I never buy lamb.  Well it's true.  I love lamb and order food with lamb all the time, but I don't think about cooking it at all at home.   I think it's because I didn't grow up eating lamb or using over for cooking.  In Japan, such things are uncommon at households.  Anyway, despite all my excuses, my husband insisted that it's time for me to cook that leg of lamb.  I agreed.  

I was still very much tired physically and emotionally from the camping, so I decided to go simple with the roast.  I grabbed a few fresh rosemary stems, put them all around the lamb and rubbed it with generous amount of sea salt, lemon juice, garlic and olive oil.

I really do enjoy simple rustic cooking.  This roasting session was extremely refreshing and calming.  I often hesitate or feel troubled when I make roasts, but I just had to give an initial tender loving care and the oven did the rest for me.  

I didn't brine the lamb but slow cooked it for three and an half hours covered in the oven.  So the meat was very tender and moist.  The whole house smelled amazing and everyone was happy and felt comforted.  

There was so much left over.  I sliced some of the meat thinly and also cut some in chunks so that I can freeze and use them for other things like sandwiches, stir-fries or curries for later on.  Love roasting.  I should do it more often...



Peach Nectarine Plum Buttermilk Sorbet with Shiso

Peaches, nectarines, plum are everywhere right now and they makes me happy to see them.  All together so called Stone Fruits - because their seeds are big and hard like stones - are probably my favorite fruits of all.  Well... at least I think that around  this season.  I'm not a huge fun of cooked stone fruits like jams or pies.  I much prefer them fresh in smoothies or ice cream.    

I grabbed a bunch of assorted kinds of stone fruits and decided to go for making buttermilk sorbet.  Sorbet with stone fruits.  Not very original but it just makes sense.  I have been itching to make it lately.  My super talented amazing chef friend Junko Mine who was nominated for James Beard Award earlier this year, gave me a batch of buttermilk and thyme sorbet she made at work a while ago.  It was honestly mind blowing good.  Amazingly refreshing and so light. It really is a perfect summer dessert.

So I also had a bunch of red and green shiso leaves from my garden.  Some of them were dried.  I wasn't sure what to do with them.  Now there is a little twist to make it more interesting.  I got the idea from Junko's thyme sorbet and decided to sprinkle some dried ones in sorbet.  

Speaking of shiso, it's a wildly used herb in Japan.  It's also called beefsteak plant here in the States.  If you don' know why it is or never had any,  you are lucky to learn about it now.  I always wondered why they aren't spread yet in America but I think it's starting to get popular as I see the starter plants sold at nurseries and grocery stores this year.   You might see green ones used as garnish with sashimi at Japanese restaurants.  My absolute favorite herb and I can't say enough nice things about it.  It's sort of like Japanese basil.  Smells wonderful, tastes almost citrusy and tad sweet.  Please don't waste and try to eat it next time you see it on your sashimi plate.  I used red shiso instead of green because red ones are used more for dessert in Japan.  Maybe they have more sweetness than green ones and they also make nice pink color.  

My little helper Cassis was anxious to try the sorbet and started to lick the scooper.  Cute. Can't blame her.  It smelled wonderful and looked so pretty.  It's such an exciting dessert to make but super easy as well.  Highly recommended to make for parties or with your kids.  

Recipe:  10 large scoops

3 cups of buttermilk

3 cups of puréed stone fruits 
(3 saturn or any peaches puréed + 3 nectarines puréed + 3 plums puréed)

1 teaspoon of lemon zest

1/2 cup of honey or light agave syrup

a pinch of salt

3 large shiso leaves dried and powdered

Bring water to boil in a deep pan. Turn the heat off and put fruits in the hot water and let them sit for a couple of minutes.  Drain the hot water and put fruits in a large bowl.  After the fruits are cooled down, carefully peel skins off as well as the seeds.  Put the skinned and seeded fruits in a blender.  Add honey, salt and blend it until it's smooth.  

Put the dried shiso leaves and grind them into powder in a grinder.

In a bowl, add buttermilk and cooled puréed fruits together.  Mix them well and add powered shiso leaves and lemon zest.   Mix it again.

Pour the mixture in any ice cream container of choice, cover and leave it in the freezer. 

Serve it with more shiso sprinkled.  

* I dried shiso leaves by putting them separately between book pages for a week.  Or you can do this with any paper napkins. 


Smoked Salmon and Cod Chowder

We eat a lot of salmon and cod because we live in Pacific Northwest.  We buy a whole sales box straight from the fish buyer twice a year, so I have some always available in my freezer and cook them frequently.  I try to cook them in various ways. We love eating salmon simply grilled or baked, but we tend to get bored with grilled/baked cod because cod is more plain tasting.  Over the years, I tried different ways to eat salmon and cod.  I should be posting more of those recipes here. There are a few really good ones that I want to post in the near future.  But for today I present chowder.  My all time favorite.

To make it a bit different than usual, sometime we smoke fish and make them into different dishes.  Smoking fish is so great and so fun because it preserves the fish really well and it's super easy to do.  We have a smoker but you don't even need a smoker.  Just have to be creative and use what you got around the kitchen like this for example.  You just need some sort of a stainless steel or metal container, aluminum foil, metal wire and wood chips. I love doing this in my backyard or while camping.  If you do it indoor, make sure the fan is turned on all the way up!  

Anyway we usually put a few different rubs on them, spicy one for the grown-ups, sweet one for the kids, hrby one for everyone.   

I often make fish cakes like crab cakes, salmon dip, and soup with left overs.  The chowder was almost better with smoked fish.  It's also slightly healthier version because I didn't use any bacon since there was that smoked flavor from the fish.  I do love bacon for the record.


Rustic Mushroom Soup with Prawns


Here is a dish with two of my favorite ingredients. I made it for my lunch the other day.  Often, I don't know what to cook.  I cook almost everyday, at least twice a day, but now and then I am totally lost. Sometimes I just don't have the inspiration for a menu.  That is when I find myself almost always making some kind of soup.  I love soup. Who doesn't love soup.  Soup is genius.

I eat a lot of leftovers for lunch.  But I don't always like to eat the same thing from the evening before.  It gets to be so boring.  So I give it a little twist and make them into soup.  You can do this with lots of different vegetable dishes.  Any roasted veggies, seafood, meat... Anything can be put in a soup and it can turn into an exciting meal.   

This time, I had some portobello mushrooms cooked with white wine sitting in the fridge.  I chopped some onions, celery and sautéed them.  Then I added some chicken broth, cream, left over mushrooms and a few chanterelles we harvested last year.   I simmered it for 15 minutes and then blended it together until it was smooth.  Then I poached some frozen prawns and added into the soup, which only took a few minutes. 

This was a very satisfying lunch and I only spent about 20 minutes making it.  

A little note. A short time ago I went to this amazing wheat research facility called Bread Lab in Mt. Vernon, North of Seattle.  I took photos for a book that was soon published in Japan called Bread Lab (the editors were so impressed by the place that they named the book after the facility).  Some images I took for the shoot will also be published in print and online for DIE ZEIT in Germany in their next issue.  Bread Lab is operated by Dr. Steve Jones under Washington State University and their research is focused on the growth and usage of local wheats  for culinary creations. They also grow 40,000 different kinds of wheat from all around the world for their research.  If you are interested in being educated about everything related to wheat and also what's happening with this gluten intolerance syndrome around the world, you will find more cutting edge information here.  


Congratulations to My Friend!

My friend Junko is the most multi-talented, hardworking, generous and humble person that I know.  She is a passionate baker and  patisserie.  She began working for Holly Smith at Cafe Juanita in Kirkland, WA about a year ago.  She already received a rising start award from Star Chefs 2015 in Seattle last December amongst many talented chefs like Brady Williams of Canlis, Marie Rutherford of The Whale Wins,  Edouardo Jordan of Salary to name a few.  She was also recently nominated as a semifinalist for the James Beard Award 2016.  Huge congratulations to her!  Thanks for your inspiration, friendship and support!
The photos are taken at the Star Chef events back in December. 

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