Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Jom Makan: The Magic Teleporter

I discovered this restaurant on a rainy day on my first month in London. Hungry and frustrated, I was skipping the puddles: my left shoe started leaking and it was too late to go back. Lead-grey clouds were pissing a cold sprinkle on the stressed out urbanite crowds. As I moved along the grey gravitas of Pall Mall towards the National Gallery, I saw an unusually bright sign: Jom Makan, C'mon Let's Eat in Malay, sounded exactly the right kind of invitation.

Inside the minimalist post-modern cafe interior nothing told of what kind of sunny fest I was in for. With the first bite of rendang daging, beef slowly stewed in coconut milk with herbs, I was magically transported from soggy November London to sun-drenched Kuala Lumpur. Everything is made right: you could count grains in fluffy and fragrant coconut rice and teh tarek, Malaysia's national drink is "pulled" at the bar to form a frothy cap at the top of the glass.

Malay food is not very well known outside its country of origin and undeservedly so. It uses all the herbs of the neighbouring Thailand and the spices of its cultural cousin Indonesia, but with a unique twist of its own. Sitting exactly half-way on the main trading route between India and China, Malay cuisine seems to have very creatively absorbed influences from those culinary giants too. It all makes for a great mix, healthy, flavourful and exciting. However, even in London, the seat of Malaysia's former colonial master, Malay eateries are still far from being a familiar sight.

I have come to Jom Makan umpteen times since my first visit. I think I have tried every dish on the menu. They all have been consistently good, just the right bit easier on spices than in Malaysia, since hot food does go down as easy in a colder climate.

egedil, when cooked right, IS a big deal. It's a deep-fried curried potato dumpling. Do not let the word deep-fried put you off, it is done the Asian style so you end up with a crunchy crust and tender spice purée inside.

Nasi ayam hainan, chicken with rice Hainanese style: if spice is not your thing, you will like this. It is served with great sauce, mix of ginger and sweet chilli. A wee bowl of chicken broth that comes with it is to die for, mixing the flavours of toasted garlic, ginger and scallions.

Kari ikan, fish curry, is a great way to cook sea fish. Zesty from ginger and mildly sour from tomatoes, its spices only accentuate the flavours of okra and salmon. I remember in Malaysia they use red snapper or other white fish for this.

Kerabu daging is slivers of grilled beef on a bed of lettuce and asparagus sprinkled with Assam vinegar. Sometimes the asparagus is missing, sometimes the vinegar. When you get all the ducks lined up, you're in luck: it is a really great combination.

Chicken satay with peanut sauce on a bed of lettuce, a classic Malay street snack. Satay is said to derive from the Hokkienese word for "three pieces".

Rose-flavoured milky cold drink, air bandong, literally means "rose water".

Malay bread, roti canai, although fried in oil is not greasy. I could eat it plain, really, so tasty it is.

My favourite, nasi lemak, consists of a dollop of sambal cumi-cumi, belacan-based squid curry, and a dollop of rendang daging, beef stewed with coconut milk and spices. It comes served with fried peanuts and dried anchovies and a boiled egg and chicken or coconut rice.

This popular South East Asian dessert, tapioca pearls topped with coconut milk and palm sugar, is a bit of acquired taste. I love it with crushed ice because this is how they serve it in tropical climates.

This is a true chef-d'oeuvre: creamy mango and coconut sorbet in the shape of a boiled egg. Just the right amount of sweetness and full of original fruit flavour.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Pedro Jimenez: a Chilean pearl

The price of wine does not always reflect its quality. Hyped château produce can make you shrug in bewilderment, while a marked down bottle of supermarket wine can turn out supremely quaffable.

This one I unearthed a couple of years ago in, get ready for this, Lidl. Since then, year in year out, I have been relying on this rather obscure cultivar from Chile's Coquimbo region for white wine to accompany my spicy Asian dishes. It stands up amazingly good to the herbal exuberance of Thai cuisine.

For the best taste, allow it to oxidise in your glass a bit and don't drink it too chilled. It is what they call in French perlant (ever so slightly effervescent), not full-bodied (I don't fancy that in my whites anyway) with a pronounced minimalist passion fruit bouquet and minerally notes.

Interestingly enough, the grape it is made from, Pedro Jimenez, is one of those original European cultivars that were wiped out by the phylloxera epidemic of the 1860s. The distance spared Chilean vines then and now they are the only few remnants of Europe's original viticultural glory.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Kenkey: Ghanaian magic corn bread

What are these?" Just as I was checking out from my favourite grocer at Brixton Market, I noticed a big basket with corn husk bundles on the counter. The lovely Somalian check-out lady, wrapped in beautifully coloured kerchiefs very much like the bundles in the basket, shrugged: "I don't know, must be Jamaican." "Very well, I'll have one." "But you don't know what it is, do you?" "So much the more, I'll have one!"

This time culinary serendipity has brought me face to face with kenkey, a Ghanaian staple. It is also known as dokonu or komi. To make it, dampened cornmeal is wrapped in corn husks and left to ferment for a couple of days. According to
the Reading University Home Economics and Agricultural research station, the resulting sourdough contains more protein and in a more digestible and available form than the original cornmeal that was used to make it.

"Are you Ghanaian or what?!" When I came home I fixed hkantenkwan, Ghanaian groundnut stew, spiced up more than usual and took it to my Nigerian neighbours. Their suprise was boundless. Two hours of cooking were well worth it.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Fish sauce: South East Asia's favourite condiment

Acquired taste takes some exposure and experience. You need to have lived enough to appreciate decadence. There are precious few people who take to runny French cheeses, coffee or caviar as a kid. I remember how disgusted I was when I tried olives for the first time. A six-year-old would really rather have had a cake.

I was twenty when I got the first sniff of fish sauce but I did not yet have enough mileage. I was instantly turned off. The concept of just-one-notch-before-decay fragrance was too advanced for me. The fact that I just started treading the militant vegan path did not help either. It took me a few years before I learnt to appreciate nam pla's (that's what they call fish sauce in Thailand) flavour.

Fish sauce is made by mixing anchovy-like fish, salt and water and let nature take its course. The result is a clear brownish liquid with a pungent flavour. It has a wide coinage in mainland South East Asia and the Philippines as well as in parts of Southern China were it is referred to as "fish dew" (
魚露). South and west of the Thai border it, however, suddenly loses popularity. Only ethnic Chinese use it in cooking there.

These days I can't imagine cooking without it. A bit of fish sauce improves nearly any savoury dish, even some European ones, but shush, don't tell anyone!

Fish sauce is known as nước mắm in Vietnam, aek jot (어장) in Korea, teuk trei in Cambodia, patis in the Philippines, nam pa in Laos.


Thai language school and translation agency in Bangkok, Thailand offering Thai, Chinese, English, Japanese, Russian and Laotian (Lao, Isarn, Isaan) language courses.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Congee: Asian breakfast gruel (粥/おかゆ)

Rice with seaweed and egg?" Marina flinches back, half in astonishment, half in politely hidden disgust. This lovely Russian girl is displaying surefire symptoms of an early gastritis, so I have made her congee or okayu (おかゆ) - a watery rice gruel reinforced with a beaten egg and some shredded kelp for nutrition. This is what is given to children and sick people in Pacific Rim Asia from Japan to Indonesia. But for Marina this is a sacrilege. The Russian rice kasha she is more used to is made with milk, sugar and butter, a far cry from my low-calorie savoury concoction.

Variations of this breakfast gruel are encountered wherever rice is a dietary staple. It is more on the watery side in China, flavoured with fish sauce in Thailand, rather bland in Korea, made with coconut milk in South India. In  Singapore I had it with frog meat, in Hong Kong with a thousand-year egg. The recipe below features in my breakfast at least a couple of times every week.
So here how it goes.
  1. Rinse a handful of rice in running water. Add half a handful of shredded kombu, whatever dried mushrooms you have (torn in small pieces) and 6-8 cups of water. If you have some cooked rice leftovers, use those without rinsing.

  2. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce fire and simmer until it reaches the porridge texture.
  3. Add a beaten egg and a handful of green leafy vegetables.
  4. Once cooked, flavour with fish sauce or shoyu,  garlic powder and finely chopped ginger.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Kombu: Japanese kelp

I n Russian, it is called "sea cabbage" or laminaria and is normally the base ingredient for an uninspired pickled salad. When Yeltsin and his cronies were busy plundering Soviet assets, canned laminaria salad was one of the few items always available in food shops. This seaweed's taste would have forever associated for me with Yeltin's hunger winters, had I not rediscovered it upon moving to Japan. The Japanese know a myriad highly delectably uses for it and it is in Japan that I grew to love this multifarious kelp.

For hundreds of years
in Buddhist Japan a ban on meat consumption ban was in force, so people had to come up with something else than veal or chicken stock for cooking. Kombu, as it is known in Japan, is one of the three main soup bases (dashi). It is of gentler flavour than the other two, which are made of dried flakes of skipper mackerel (katsuo) and shiitake.

When it is sold dry it comes in two ways: shredded (on the picture) or in sheets. It is always covered with sharp-tasting residual sea salt and hence is high in iodine. When consumed over a long period of time, kombu is known to reduce grey hair and darken your natural hair hue. Thanks to it, through the years I have gone from light brown to dark brown with not a silver hair in sight.

I use it to make stock for miso-shiru, to make congee or o-kayu for breakfast, to prepare delicious beer snack tsukudani.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tayyabs: North Indian/Pakistani restaurant, London

This is another London's paradox. Just like you can't find edible Chinese food in Chinatown, so you will be hard pressed for a half-decent curry on Brick Lane. You need to know someone in the know to take you to the right place. Luckily, I know Stephen who has eaten his way through most restaurants in the Big Smoke.

If you don't mind queuing for an hour to get cramped into a munchkin-size seat while waiters dash around with sizzling hotplates right above your head, enveloping you in clouds of aromatic vapours, Tayyabs is your place for quite munchable Punjabi grub (Northern Indian/Pakistani).

The moment you plop your derrière on the chair , you are served an excellent crunchy poppadom, a very fresh salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and onions and two little bowls of chutneys, just flavourful enough to perk up your appetite (provided you need that after all the queuing!). Relax, that is not added yo your bill!

Considered how ridiculously hectic the place is, service is excellent. Orders don't get mixed, the waiters are friendly (if not obsequious as some might like it), and everything arrives in the correct sequence (starters, mains, etc.)

A jug of salty lassi (£5) - light, cumin-flavoured and pleasantly frothy. It's perfect to quench the curry fire in your mouth and it also provides the safety lining that protects your stomach from too much spice.

Lamb chops (£5.50): with all the hype about them I expected nothing short of a revelation. They proved quite okay, not too heavy on spices, but on the skinny side and too well done, t my liking. The presentation on sizzling hot plates makes good for their drawbacks. Four hearty pieces of fileted salmon and sea perch in masala coating (£5.50), come on the same cast-iron plate as the chops. Their crunchy spicy exterior belies the fluffy juicy insides.

Curries didn't prove Tayyabs' forte. Wednesday's special - mughal korma (£6), lamb curry was somewhat spicier than your common-or-garden korma, but also on the oily side instead of korma's usual Mariah Carey-like creaminess.

Karahi bhindi (£5) - okra curry that we ordered to make good for all the meat indulgence, turned out the same: spicy, which I can actually enjoy, and oily, which I won't.

Peshawari nan (£2.50) was utterly sublime: half of it disappeared before I took out the camera. Sublimely delectable, deliciously seared thin crust stuffed with straw-yellow raisins apricots. I would never get tired of it, had I to have it every day.

Plain nan (£1.80) was baked to perfection too, sprinkled with melted butter.

Malai kulfi (£2.50) is an Indian frozen dessert that tastes like rich old-fashioned ice-cream. Never mind what it reminds you of, visually it has a very pleasant moderate sweetness to it as well as a deliciously solid texture.

Tayyabs, 83-89, Fieldgate St. London E1 1JU

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mirin: Japanese cooking rice wine (みりん)

One late student night last century, in a Nagoya neighbourhood my mates and yours truly ran out of beer. Somebody suggested drinking mirin and, as intended, caused a massive brouhaha.

These days mirin (みりん), mildly alcoholic (14%) syrup is used exclusively for cooking. No one would think of drinking it. However, some 200 years ago, in Edo Period, mirin was a fancy booze. If you try it, you will understand why. For a cooking wine it tastes quite nice, rather like low-alcohol muscat. Mirin-based herbal liquors like toso (屠蘇) and yomeishu (養命酒) still have some currency in Japan but no one has yet thought of marketing them abroad as a novel Oriental drink.

As it has quite a particular flavour you can't just substitute it with white wine and sugar (although you can try!). Mirin is absolutely essential for cooking such Japanese classics as unagi-don or teriyaki sauce.

To avoid paying the alcohol tax on mirin sales, there are two close substitutes in the market: shio-mirin (塩みりん) with 1.5% added salt that supposedly makes it unquaffable and mirin-fu (みりん風調味料, on the picture above), which tastes the same but only contains 1% of alcohol. It may take quite in effort to buy real stuff, hon-mirin (本みりん), abroad, but the substitutes are actually not that bad at all.

As thanks for reading this far, here I will reveal Japanese housewives' little secret: marinade of equal shares of mirin, sake and shoyu enhances the taste of white fish without interfering with its flavour. Just soak fish filets for half an hour and cook as usual.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Jaeyuk bokkeum: spicy Korean pork stir-fry (재육볶음)

Jaeyuk Bokkeum Korean Spicy Stir-fried PorkWhen it is gloomy and raining outside, I like to spice up my day with hot food. For myself, I would normally whip up something quick like Thai phad phak ruam mit or Korean gochujang-flavoured udon. For guests, I go to greater lengths. When Muhabbat and Jitte came to visit me from Amsterdam, I treated them to jaeyuk bokkeum.

Jaeyuk bokkeum (재육볶음) is a Korean stir-fried pork. Basically, you marinate thinly sliced pork and vegetables, stir-fry them and serve with lettuce, seaweed, and bean sprouts.
  1. Slice thinly 400 g lean pork (or veal for Jews and Muslims), 1 big carrot, 1 big onion, 6 shiitake mushrooms pre-soaked and 1 green bell pepper.
  2. In a large bowl mix 2 tbsp gochujang (less if you are not into spicy food), 2 tbsp shoyu, 2 tbsp rice wine (dry white wine may also do), 1 tsp brown sugar, 4-5 cloves chopped garlic, 2-inch piece of ginger finely shredded, 1 tsp black sesame and 1 tsp white sesame. I also add 1 tsp kapi paste but this is not obligatory.
  3. Mix 1 and 2 well and leave to marinate for at least 40 minutes.
  4. Heat well a thick-bottomed cast-iron skillet. Add 1 tbsp sesame oil and fry 3 until the pork is done.
  5. Serve with lettuce, seaweed, bean sprouts and freshly cooked rice.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Cajun ham with asparagus on a bed of lettuce

When you have to cook a romantic dinner, inspiration comes easy. Whether it is down to the serotonin rush or the years spent practising the art of cookery, I am so glad I can whip up perfect dishes in almost no time.

This is what I came up with
just fridge leftovers: Cajun ham with asparagus on a bed of lettuce with mustard and honey dressing.
  1. First, I marinated ham slices in Cajun mix and aceto balsamico bianco.
  2. Then I boiled asparagus. The trick is to make them soft enough to chew but still crunchy. Once out of the boiling water, cool down the asparagus with cold water to stop the cooking process, otherwise it will come out overcooked and lame.
  3. Now down to the dressing: a dash of salt, a dash of freshly ground black pepper, a dash of garlic granules, a glog of aceto balsamico bianco, same quantity of extra virgin olive oil, a tbsp of mustard, a tbsp of honey. The exact proportions really depend on what taste you want to achieve. Ideally, it should well balanced sweet-sour. Shake all well until homogeneous.
  4. Sear the ham on a very hot skillet with butter: basically it is the Cajun noirci technique.
  5. Now arrange the asparagus and ham on a bed of lettuce and sprinkle with the dressing!
This was just the starter. The main dish turned out infinitely better but that has nothing with the culinary topic of this blog.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Time to get cracking: American boiled lobster

Lobsters are the ultimate luxury food, just one notch below caviar. Or, at least, when they are served in restaurants at overinflated prices.

This day and age, however, even Lidl carries lobsters as standard fare, eight quid a pop. Seven if you wait for a sale. At the same price, it may not be as satisfying as a Tesco grilled chicken, a family-size bag of crisps and a gallon of generic Cola for dinner but, hey, there's no perfection in this world!

Frozen lobster is not exactly quite like fresh Maine lobster but it is a very good and honest approximation, especially if you consider the price difference. The Dutch in me can't help getting micro-orgasms just thinking that I pay thirty quid less for the same pleasure as some hedge fund manager in a posh Chelsea eatery. That's how socialism corrupts you.

elebrity chefs keep coming up with more and more convoluted and far-fetched ways of cooking lobster to please the jaded gourmet but I prefer the good old American boiling. Why interfere with the sweet succulence of God's created crustacean when you only need too accentuate it with melted butter and, perhaps, some dry white wine?

The recipe? Boil, melt, crack, eat, be grateful!

P.S. In our age of luxuries becoming commodities, there is probably only one way to tell a real culinary aesthete from a casual supermarket hound. You can only claim to be true blue-blood food connoisseur, if you have the right utensils to eat fancy food in your kitchen drawer.

Shrimp paste: kapi, belacan, terasi

hatever people can make out of what Nature gives us! Kapi shrimp paste represents a totally different approach to using seafood than crevettes mayonnaise. Here, weeny shrimp that otherwise would be too small to consume is fermented into a condiment. It has a solid homogeneous consistency and intense flavour.

It took me a while to get used to it. For someone brought up halfway between Moscow and Alaska, the heady smell of sun-rotten shrimp ground into paste was just too overpowering.

ime heals everything, even aversion to exotic condiments. These days I add a wee dram even to some dishes that are not supposed to contain it, like Korean jaeyook bokkeum. It works amazingly good.

I call this shrimp paste by its Thai name kapi because I first encountered it in Thailand. It is called the same way in Laotian and Khmer but its native range actually spans from Southern China to Indonesia. In Malaysia it is called belacan, in Indonesia - terasi. They make an intensely fragrant sauce out of it, sambal belacan or sambal terasi that tastes amazing with squid (sambal cumi-cumi). The same thing is called nam phrik kapi (น้ำพริกกะปิ) in Thailand and used as a dip.


Thai language school and translation agency in Bangkok, Thailand offering Thai, Chinese, English, Japanese, Russian and Laotian (Lao, Isarn, Isaan) language courses.

Crevettes mayonnaise: a grown-up's lunch

Best things in life are simple. This reduced version of my beloved assiette de fruits de mer is one of those. Crevettes mayonnaise takes next to no preparation and makes a great lunch or a light supper. It is also served as appetiser on the Normandy coast.

The quality of ingredients here is crucial. I use cooked Greenland shrimp - it is by far the sweetest and most succulent. I bought this batch on the spur of the moment at Waitrose but your local fishmonger should be at least just as good.

The right kind of baguette is crucial to this experience. There are very few bakers outside the Francophone area who understand what a good baguette entails. Crunchy on the outside, fluffy inside - that sounds like a simple principle to follow, but, perhaps, the temptation to bake mud cakes is too strong for many. Your best bet in London would be Paul, if you can afford it, although Marks & Spencer's baguettes are also decent when consumed on the same day.

Now for mayonnaise. Just reading the labels of commercially sold mayonnaise turns me off from food. The amount of chemicals they splice it with is amazing. But there is salvation: mayonnaise, in fact, is super easy to make at home. It takes not more than three minutes to whip your own.
  1. Mix yolk of one egg with a teaspoonful of Dijon mustard, a pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper.
  2. Very slowly trickle a glass of odourless vegetable oil into the mixture, whilst whisking it continuously.
  3. Add a dash of white wine vinegar and beat it into the mixture. That's it!
A glass of dry white wine to go with this meal will make you feel like a civilised adult. What a feeling!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Miso: Japanese soya bean paste (味噌)

I n the olden days of self-isolation, Japan was a strictly Buddhist country. In culinary terms it meant that meat consumption was banned. For protein, the Japanese had to rely on fish and beans. When others would be content chewing on fried fish and boiled beans, the Japanese went to great lengths to diversify their diet. Beans alone come in a myriad of often unrecognisable, yet very delicious guises.

Miso is one of those. Essentially, it is salted bean paste fermented with Japan's official national micro-organism, Aspergillus oryzae, known in Japanese as kouji-kin (
麴菌). The paste is also augmented with ground grain such as rice, barley, mullet or buckwheat. Fermentation makes beans more easily digestible and, in fact, even medicinal. Miso consumption is credited with a slew of health benefits starting from hypertension control to curing radiation sickness.

As it always goes with food in Japan, there are hundreds of regional varieties. They all can be divided into four big categories:
  1. shiro-miso, which is of a blonder hue as in the top picture,
  2. aka-miso, which is dark(er) brown,
  3. kuro-miso is the darkest of them all,
  4. hatcho-miso has the strongest flavour.
Most famous regional varieties include:
  • Hatchou miso (八丁味噌) - Aichi Prefecture
  • Nagoya miso (名古屋味噌) - Aichi Prefecture
  • Sanshu miso (三州味噌), slightly bitterirsh miso widely used in kaiseki dishes - Nagoya Prefecture
  • Kujo miso (郡上味噌), based on a mix of barley and beans - Gifu Prefecture
  • Gozen miso (御膳味噌), red sweet-tasting miso with a high content of ground rice - Tokushima Prefecture
  • Kinzanji miso (金山寺味噌, 径山寺味噌), the base paste is made from beans, rice barley and vegetables - Wakayama Prefecture
  • Aijiro miso (相白味噌), blonde sweet-tasting miso - Shizuoka Prefecture
  • Hokkaido miso (北海道味噌) - Hokkaido Prefecture
  • Tsugaru miso (津軽味噌), spicy-tasting red miso - Aomori Prefecture
  • Akita miso (秋田味噌) - Akita Prefecture
  • Sendai miso (仙台味噌), spicy tasting miso with rice and with coarsely ground beans, can be consumed raw - Miyagi Prefecture
  • Aizu miso (会津味噌) - Fukushima Prefecture
  • Echigo miso( 越後味噌) - Niigata Prefecture
  • Sado miso (佐渡味噌) - Niigata Prefecture
  • Etchu miso (越中味噌), light miso with whole rice grains, aka "water miso" - Toyama Prefecture
  • Kaga miso (加賀味噌) - Ishikawa Prefecture
  • Seikyou miso (西京味噌) - Kyoto Prefecture
  • Fuchu miso (府中味噌) - Hiroshima Prefecture
  • Sanuki miso (讃岐味噌) - Kagawa Prefecture
  • Shimabara miso (島原味噌), barley-based - Nagasaki Prefecture
  • Satsuma miso (薩摩味噌), sweet-tasting barley-based miso - Kagoshima Prefecture
  • Edo Amamiso (江戸甘味噌) - Tokyo Prefecture
  • Shinshu Miso (信州味噌) - Nagano Prefecture
  • Sakura Miso (桜味噌) - Osaka Prefecture
  • Akadashi (赤だし) - Kyoto Prefecture - 豆・米調味味噌
  • Sotetsu miso (蘇鉄味噌) or Nari miso (なり味噌), made from detoxified cycad fruit - Okinawa Prefecture and Amami Islands in Kagoshima Prefecture
Apart from its main role as the base of miso-shiru soup, miso is a very versatile condiment. One of the effects of fermentation is the increased content of amino acids that our taste buds perceive as savoury. This makes it a welcome ingredient in many dishes. It is used to pickle vegetables in the marinade called miso-zuke.

Other ways to use miso in cooking include:
  • miso udon
  • basting mix for dengaku, yakimochi and corn on the cob
  • marinades
  • misoyaki sauce

Edamame: Japanese beans in the pod (枝豆, えだまめ)

hen the Japanese go out to drink, it always involves lots of food. That would surprise London's office crowd who customarily guzzle their after-hours beer straight on top of their lunch Prêt-a-Manger sandwiches.

In Japan, you eat and drink. Once again, unlike greasy chips, fatty chicken wings and salty nuts so popular in the West, Japanese beer snacks are the epitome of wholesomeness. In fact, many of them sound like the dream food of some health-obsessed Californian vegan. Take hiyayakko (冷奴), silken tofu with seaweed, or kimpira-gobou (きんぴら牛蒡), stewed burdock and carrots salad.

In the Japanese equivalent of the pub, izakaya, you are also very likely to be served your beer with
edamame (枝豆), steamed beans in the pod. They are very easy to prepare: just steam them for a few minutes and sprinkle with sea salt. Some like to boil them in salty water but, in my perception, it leeches out the gentle flavour.

You can also marinate edamame in miso paste. Just cover the beans with miso and leave for about 8 hours without pods or twice that time in pods. Rinse off the miso before consumption. Serve with beer or sake.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Persian delight: rose petal tea (چای گلبرگ رز)

There are very few people who don't enjoy the scent of dry rose petal potpourri, even if secretly. Iranians, a nation so old that they used to go to war with Ancient Greece, make a gently scented tea out of it. It is no wonder, as they are also credited with giving the world the garden rose as we know it.

I discovered rose petal tea (چای گلبرگ رز) in my neighbourhood Persian shop. I love to drop by there and get light-headed from the overpowering aromas of spices. On that day I was cycling by, when I saw shelves with marked down products standing outside. The Dutch in me couldn't resist that.

When I was a kid, we had rose petal jam from Moldavia. That is why when I saw a bag with "rose petal tea" written on it, the idea of roses as food didn't strike me as outlandish.

ebsites selling alternative medicines claim that rose petal tea cures about anything from sweaty feet to adult attention deficiency syndrome. I don't know if it is true or not, I simply enjoy its soothing effect and how well it goes with Middle Eastern sweets.