Osechi 2: Marinated smoked salmon and onion

In Japan, the first 3 days of new year is considered to be the new year holiday. The dreams from the first 3 days are called “hatsuyume” (first dreams) and are considered important indication of the coming year forecast. During this period, business is closed and kitchen is closed! Traditionally, families make Osechi (tradional new year foods) for 3 days of the new year because cooking during the first 3 days of the new year is considered unlucky. Personally, I think it is to give mothers a break from domestic work!

So I continue on with the osechi recipe #2: Marinated smoked salmon and onion. Since foods are prepared in a way that allow them to be enjoyed over those days, foods are typically grilled, sweetened, salted or marinated in vinegar. This recipe is a bit Westernized version of vinegar marinated dish, using smoked salmon.

Ingredients (2 servings)
1 onion thinly sliced
3-4 slices of smoked salmon
handful of parsely

2 tbsp White wine vinegar
1 tbsp Olive oil
1 squeeze of lemon
a pinch of salt
1 tsp sugar

1. Slice the onion very thinly and put it aside in abowl with pinch of salt. Leave it for 15-20 min
2. Rinse the onion and squeeze out the water
3. Add smoked salmon and marinade, cool it in the fridge for 1 hr
4. Serve with parsely

2012 is a year of dragon!



Happy new year: Onishime

Happy New Year! May this new year bring all the more happiness and delicious food for you!!

What did you do for your New Years? I was very lucky to be invited to my friend’s in Lausanne for new year eve, to her friend’s new year party for the countdown, and started the 1st January skiing in Verbier resort in the alps. On the 2nd, I went back to Zurich and prepared some traditional Japanese new year dishes (Osechi) and had cozy new year celebration with my friends’ in Zurich. I’m really happy to have great finish for 2011 and an amazing start of 2012 in Switzerland 🙂


The Japanese also celebrate the New Year,  in a BIG way. The official New Year falls on January 1st, like in the West but, in actuality the season itself runs from the 31st of December through the 3rd of January. New Year in Japan, is like Christmas in Switzerland. We have many traditions, customs, family events, and traditional food. This is the time I miss the family gathering at my grandma’s, the traditional new year food we eat with all my family. This year was made even more special with the announcement of my cousin’s pregnancy! Oh how I miss my family, and the food of course!

For the first time in my life, I prepared Osechi by myself. Osechi is a special traditional foods most of which require speciality regional/seasonal food, only available during this time of the year. Common dishes are kobumaki (simmered kombu rolls), kuromame (simmered black soy beans), kurikinton (mashed sweet potato with sweet chestnuts), tazukuri (candied dried sardines), and so on. Each dish and ingredient in osechi has meanings, such as good health, good harvest, happiness, prosperity, long life, and so on. I tried to keep the principle of Osechi, but with my motto being “cooking with Western ingredients” I cooked dishes that I can with the locally available ingredients, with some special Japanese ingredients bought in the Japanese shop.

The first one to introduce in this post is Onishime, a dish of sweet, soy-simmered root vegetables. You may prepare nishime in infinite ways, varying the mix and ratio of vegetables, and many families have their own favorite recipes, passed down from generation to generation…. but here is most simple one that I cooked.

Ingredients (3 servings)
3 chicken fillets chopped
Sesame oil for frying
10 Chinese peas cut in half
1 carrot, sliced
1/2 konyaku, teard into peieces
4 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in water until tender, and sliced
1/4 lotus roots, sliced
* Italics: speciality food to be bought in Japanese shop

3 tbs soy sauce
2 tbs sugar
4 tbs cooking sake
Dashi: 1 cup water + 1 tsp dashi stock

1. Cut chicken into bite-size pieces. Chop up the vegetables as indicated in the ingredients
2. In a large pot, fry the chicken in oil until light brown.
3. Add dashi, mushrooms, konnyaku, carrots, and lotus roots.
4. Cover and cook for 10 minutes.
5. Add soy sauce, sake, sugar, cover and cook until soup is nearly gone
6. Garnish with Chinese peas, cool it to soak the flavors, and serve


About Konnyaku… I think this mysterious food deserves some explanation for its own.  Konnyaku is a traditional Japanese jelly-like health food made from a kind of potato called “Konnyaku potato” which has been consumed as a part of important Japanese dishes for over 2000 years. The texture is bit like gummy bear, the flavor is not so strong, but it’s rich in dietary nutrition, also good for diet!


Sushi for new year party

Happy end of 2011!!! Finally the day has come to share “The art of making sushi.” I think it is a perfect occasion for the last day of 2011. I will make the introduction brief since much of the post should focus on the rice, seaweed, tips for rolling,… so much to talk about.

To be honest, I never made sushi at home during the 5 years I lived in Tokyo. With plenty of sushi restaurants all around, and variety of maki available in super market, no one really makes an effort to make sushi. However, the popularity of maki-sushi abroad necessitates us Japanese to make home-made sushi the second we leave Japan. And there is a good reason to cook sushi in the Western countries – simply because everyone will love you and appreciate your presence and existance!

I can proudly say this: I make home-made sushi to make people smile. Sushi is the most welcomed passport into any party, social event, exclusive member only clubs. But the day has come to share the secret art of home-made sushi with widely available ingredeints: canned tuna, smoked salmon, and crab cakes.

Ingredients (10 servings of appetizer sushi, 10 small maki)
2 cups of rice
5 large peices of seaweed for maki -sushi
4-5 tbsp sushi vinegar
crab cakes
smoked salmon
1 can of tuna fish + mayonaise

Combination of ingredients

avocado and crab cakes, "California roll"

Smoked salmon and avocado

Mayonaise + Soysauce marinated tunafish and cucumber

About rice – Cooking proper sushi rice is crucial
1. Japanese rice: Firstly, please use Japanese rice, not Chinese, not Italian, not Thai jasmin rice. For proper sushi, you need Japanese rice.
2. Rice brand: My preference for brand of good Japanese rice is “Koshihikari” -the highest quality of rice, or “Akitakomachi” will also do.
3. Cooking rice: If you can, the best way to prepare sushi rice is with rice cooker. With rice cooker, you are guaranteed a good finish of sushi rice. If you don’t have rice cooker, refer to the tips for cooking rice here: http://makemysushi.com/index.php/Sushi-Preparations/sushi-rice.html
4. Seasoning rice: In order for the rice to taste like sushi rice, you need to add rice vinegar to it right after you take it out of the pot and cool the rice down to room temperature before rolling. For 2 cups of rice, add 4-5 table spoon of rice vinegar.

About seaweed, Nori
1. Japanese seaweed: Japan, Korea, China they all have their own seaweed production but they vary in flavor and seasoning. To make sushi, please buy Japanese seaweed available in local supermarket as “Sushi seaweed sheets” or in Japanese supermarket
2. Size does matter: The nori is not a perfect square. It is normally 7 inches (18 cm) in length and 8.4 in (21 cm) in width . The longer side is used for the length of the sushi roll. Cut the nori in half lengthwise.
3. Side does matter: Nori has two sides: One side is shinier than the other and the shinier side should always face outside, so the sushi rice is always applied on the rougher side. The sushi rice must be placed on the rougher side because it absorbs more moisture and sticks to the rice better.

How to roll
1. Cut the nori in half lengthwise. Use one sheet (shiny side down) and place on the edge of the sushi mat (makisu) and spread the sushi rice. Leave a strip of open space (1cm) on the top.
2. Place the ingredient in the center of  the sushi rice.
3. Support the ingredient with your fingers as you merge both ends of the sushi rice.
4. Roll the sushi away from you using the sushi mat and gripping tightly.
* Tips: wet your finger tips alittle to avoid rice sticking to your fingers – but not wet enough to moisten the seaweed

Stirfry basic: Chicken and string beans

As many of you already know, Zurich is an expensive city, actually ranked #6 most expensive city to live in. Hmm, according to the list, Tokyo is listed #1 but I always want to make an argument this is because rent / square meter is super expensive in Tokyo. But in terms of shopping, dining, and wining, Tokyo was great. Tokyo was actually the most cost-efficient city in terms of everyday luxury of shopping and dining. On the other hand, Zurich is super expensive in this aspect. A gin tonic costs more than $10 or 1200 JPY, a pack of cigarrets for $6 or 700 JPY, typical dinner with 1-2 glasses of wine costs minimum of $60 – $70. The bill at the end of the dinner shocks me and kills the pleasure of the dinner experience, I have stopped going to restaurants all together. Apprently, I just have to get used to it but I think this will take some time. The great thing about living in Zurich is the promiximity to OTHER cities where we can shop cheaper and eat and drink for less price. The experience of going to Milan, Berlin, Paris for weekend is truly amazing. I don’t mean to brag about it, but it is truly amazing 😀

So this is my plan: during the week, I try to save money and during the weekend, spend my money more effectively in other cities. One of the things I started to do for this purpose is cooking lunch. Preparing bento-box (lunch box) is pretty common tradition in Japan. But I had never done this simply because I never even bothered in Tokyo where variety of ready-made bendo box and cheap delicious lunch menu were plenty. I am also a morning runner so I never found the time to prepare lunch. But now I’m in an expensive city of Zurich, and the darkness and coldness of December morning has stopped my morning jog, I have bit of time to prepare simple lunch box. If bring lunch, I should be able to save 15 CHF x 5days x 4week = 300 CHF / month for my weekend trips!

5 essential Asian spices

This morning, I cooked a very simple stirfry for lunch – Chicken and string beans. Actually, this recipe uses all the 5 Asian spices that I mentioned in the new page I created this weekend, 5 essential Asian spices. This is the most simple and basic stirfry but it’s delicious and good for lunch or dinner.

my lunch

Ingredients (1 serving):
3 Chicken fillet
A handful of string beans
garlic and ginger chopped
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp starch

Spices: The 5 essential Asian spices
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp Chinese chicken stock powder* (nice to have)
3 tbsp water / beer
Salt and pepper

1. Chop up chicken and marinate in marinate mix for 5min (this will make chicken crispy outside and soft inside, I swear it’s worths the effort)
2. Heat the pan with sesame oil, garlic and giner
3. Add in chicken, stir-fry until cooked
4. Add in the the chopped string beans, cook for 5 min until tender and cooked
5. in the mean while, mix the spices, when the vegetable is cooked, add in the sauce
6. Stir-fry, mix well so everything is coated.
7. If you want extra thic sauce, add 5-6 tbsp water, when the sauce is boiling, add mix of 1 tsp of starch + 2 tbsp water/beer to thicken the sauce. Mix well so consistency is the same, stop the heat and serve on rice

the marinade will make the chicken crispy out and juicy in

you can see the marinade has made the chicken crispy


Noodle report 1: Moroheiya noodle with Tom Yum soup

This is a picture of instant noodle isle in an Asian store… I often feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of choices of noodles. I only recognize a few of them that I usually buy. There are just so many, mostly from China, some from Thailand, Indonesia, some are unrecognizable. I often avoid fried instant noodles because they are high in calorie and try to buy dried noodle. I also usually go for noodle with simple soup flavor, wonton flavor or fish soup. But there are also noodle with spicy soup, beef flavor soup, pork, tom yum kun, curry,… etc. But may be they are worth trying at least. I should not discriminate my beloved instant noodles. So I decided to try some of them. I will make a noodle report. Today, for my first report, I picked… molokheiya noodle with Tom Yum Kun soup.

Name: Moroheiya Noodles Tomyum Vegetable
Origin: Thailand
Contents: Noodle, soup powder, chili paste
Ingredients: Wheat, tapioka starch, organic morheiya powder, salt,
Type: Non-fried, non-artificial color, non-msg, non-egg
Review: 3/5 stars

I chose this noodle because it said on the bag in bold “Non-fried, non-artificial color, non-msg, non-egg” This is very rare in the world of instant noodles. Most are cooked with powder soup which usually contain MSG as flavor enhancer, which I also try to avoid. If you didn’t realize until now, I am a health conscious instant noodle consumer 😉 This noodle is also unique because the noodle has moroheiya in it. Moroheiya, or Molokheiya is a vegetable from Egypt which contains a lot of nutrition including B-carotene, vitamin-B/E, iron, calcium which are essential for our lives. The value of the nutrition is the highest than all other vegetables… Isn’t that interesting. You can see the presence of Moloheiya in the noodle, but I couldn’t really taste it – hence 4/5.

Since the soup is tom yum kun from thailand, I chose to use Thai-ish ingredients for noodle topping. There is of course bean sprouts, the ultimate sidekick for any instant noodle, scallion, shrimp, thai basil leaves, koriander, and chinese cabbage. I put in the herbs and Chinese cabbage because they are leftover from lastweek. If you don’t have much in the fridge, of course you can cook a simplest version – bean sprouts and scallion.

The result was pretty good. I like it – the best part is how healthy it is. But I guess the healthiness of it compromises the excitement of instant noodle. The soup is bit weak, I’m glad my topping was flavorful with herbs. The soup does have tom yum flavor, but not as spicy as I would have liked it to be. I actually added a tiny bit of chicken soup stock half-way through eating and it enhanced the flavor. Bit more chilly would be appreciated for my taste. I could not taste the moroheiya in the noodle, it is like any other noodle, may be less consistent than normal egg noodle. So I give it 3 out of 5 stars for this one.

Moroheiya instant noodle
4-5 shrimp
2-3 leaves of Chinese cabbage
handful of bean sprouts
1 scallion chopped
koriander, Thai Sweet basil leaves (if you have any)
salt and pepper to season

1. Prepare the topping – stirfry everything, season with salt and pepper
2. put the noodle into420ml of boiling water. Simmer 3 min, stir occasionally
3. remove from heat, stir in contents of seasoning sachet
4. Serve in a bowl with topping on top

Shrimp avocado tartar style appetizer

It’s Christmas time!! To be exact, 1 more week till Christmas but tonight, I had the pleasure of going to a family Pre-Christmas dinner at my friend’s. To be exact, it’s the dinner for the 4th advent Sunday but we had the Christmas tree decorated, Christmas cookies, and present exchange, all the beautiful tasty parts of Swiss Christmas. I had a lovely warm evening. What a treat to enjoy a real Swiss Christmas dinner 🙂

For dinner, we had fondue Chinoise. My first time to eat fondue Chinoise. Chinese fondue is a type of fondue where meat and vegetables are cooked in a shared pot of broth. There were 5-6 home made delicious sauces to spice the cooked meet. They were all absolutely delicious, especially amazing was spiced fruit jam with hint of curry. I was always wondering why the dish is called Chinese fondue but it comes from the Chinese hotpot, aaah. In Japan we also have various hotpot called nabe, most famous in the West being Sukiyaki. All over the world, this type of dinner is perfect for the winter family time. Nothing is better than sitting around warm food with rich wine and endless conversation and laughter.

The Christmas tree was decorated so beautifully. After dinner, we lighted the candles on the Christmas tee. Unlike the electric Christmas lights usually decorated on Christmas trees in the US, Swiss decorate the tree with real candles. This give Christmas tree beautiful warm lights. My very first Swiss Christmas tree experience 😉  Another special thing worth mentioning is Christmas cookies. All through December, bakeries and homes alike are filled with the wonderful fragrances of “Guetzli” the baking of Christmas cookies. Most families have their own specialties and family recipe, and I sure enjoyed them all… Actually having written this, I am convinced I should also start posting Western recipes that I learn in Switzerland, I will do that 😉

For such special occasion, it was very challenging for me to pick the right recipe of appetizer to bring over for the dinner. I spent the entire Saturday morning going through various cooking books and websites and finally concluded to make my sister’s specialty appetizer: Shrimp avocado tartar style appetizer. I love this dish because it’s simple, nothing too spicy or ethnic, goes very well with thin slices of baguett. It is a light, healthy, tasty appetizer that also looks pretty!

1 avocado chopped
9-10 shrimps
1/2 onion chopped

1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp wasabi (or mustard)
1 tbsp mayonaise
2 tbsp sour cream
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper to season

1. Grill the shrimp, season with salt and pepper. When cooked, chop them up.
2. Chop up avocado and onion.
3. Mix them all – avocado, onion, shrimp, and all the spice
4. Place the tartar in a ball, you can push them in so when you serve it on a plate, it will have a nice shape. Keep it in the fridge until served
5.  Serve it with slices of baguette

Stirfried vermicelli with Nikumiso

As adventurous person as I am, I am also the kind of person who gets addicted to things when I really like something. For example, my favorite Japanese snacks have long been Ebisen (shrimp crackers) and pocky (sold as Mikado in Europe), my superhero has always been Indiana Jones since the age of 5, and since I fell in love with Cheburashka, I have been a big fan for years. When it comes to cooking, rice vermicelli is an ingredients that I have been using very regularly in the last 2-3 years, it appears on my dinner plate at least 3-4 times a month.

Vermicelli are thin noodles made from rice and are a form of rice noodles. They are sometimes referred to as rice noodles, often eaten as part of a soup dish, stir fry, or salad, popular in various cousines: Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Malaysia and Singapore. It became specially popular among Japanese women when instant cup vermicelli noodle was introduced as low-fat-healthy-instant-food for busy business women’s snack. While instant noodle with traditional fried egg noodle is over 500 calories, vermicelli is only 100 + calories. Since then, I have started to cook with vermicelli at home and fell in love with 1) its ease in cooking – soaking in warm water for 2min would do, 2) ease of flavoring – 1-2 min stir fry with the vegetable would flavor it nicely, 3) and its low calories.

Lastnight, before goingto German class, I decided to make stirfried vermicelli for dinner with my leftover Nikumiso (Spiced pork). It was so good. I don’t mind eating it again, I though, on the way home from work today. In fact, I do wanna eat it again, it was so good! So I decided to make the same thing again for dinner – which is economical and efficient for a single girl living alone since making various dishes leads to overstock of food and often end up with dying vegetable in the fridge. So it’s win-win situation: eat what I love, while being economical and efficient. And I can’t stress enough that Nikumiso (Spiced pork) is a great stock food to prepare once in a while. It is truly versatile and puts nice flavor to everything – fried noodle, fried rice, topping for ramen noodle.

– 1 small bag of vermicelli
– 2-3 leaves of chinese cabbage/Napa cabbage
– 4-5 tbsp generous servings of  Nikumiso (Spiced pork)
– handful of beansprouts
– small peices of garlic and giner chopped

– 1 tbsp sesame oil
– 1 tbsp oyster sauce
– 1 tsp sugar
– 2 tbsp soysauce
– 1 tsp chinese chicken soup stock powder
– salt and pepper to taste

1. Boil water in a pot. When boiled, stop the heat and add rice noodles, and soak it in the water for 1-2 minutes or until al dente; do not overcook, or they will become mushy. Drain.
2. Heat the pan with sesame oil, garlic, and giger
3. Stir-fry the vegetable and spiced pork
4. When the vegetable is cooked, add the vermicelli and the spices, mixed together
5. Adding splash of beer is nice, and  mix them all until the spice is spread evenly
6. Stop the heat, serve on a plate with chopped koriander* and beer (*koriander is nice to have)