Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Watermelon Radish: A Purple (Fuschia?) Pickle

Watermelon radishes entered my culinary life on a dismal, wet Sunday morning at the local farmer's market this winter.  From the outside these fist sized roots bear only a hint of their bright interiors; I almost passed them by in my haste to seek shelter from the rain.

Then I noticed that Asian American shoppers were quickly snapping them up in quantity. I took the hint that I had come upon a vegetable kingdom delicacy and brought some home for further exploration. As soon as I cut one open, I was inspired by its gorgeous color to turn the whole batch into watermelon radish pickles. The process was quick and easy and the finished product so delicious that I have been making them regularly ever since. You might want to double the recipe!


3 - 4  medium watermelon radishes
2 cups fresh water
1 teaspoon sea salt


Scrub radishes and trim off the tops and bottoms. Slice into rounds, then cut rounds into strips. In a bowl, dissolve sea salt in water. Pack radish pieces into a very clean glass jar and pour in the brine. If all the slices are not completely covered in liquid, make a little extra and add to the jar. As long as the vegetables are immersed in brine, only healthy microorganisms will multiply as fermentation begins.

Cover jar with a lid but do not tighten; a little breathing room is necessary for the gases produced by fermentation. Place jar on kitchen counter; your work is done!  The radishes will begin to ferment after a day or two, depending on the temperature of your kitchen and other atmospheric variables. In a few days the brine and the radishes will turn a uniformly deep purple - fuschia tint.

After four or five days, the radishes will have a pleasingly tart- sour flavor and will still be somewhat crunchy. I usually ferment the pickles for about five days; then I place the jar in the fridge where they will continue to ferment at a slower pace. They are edible at any stage. 

Pickled watermelon radish will compliment almost any vegetable dish. Lately I've been eating them with steamed vegetables like Brussels sprouts tossed with toasted sesame seeds and tofu cubes. Or add radishes to a steaming bowl of lentils or black beans as a garnish, or simply serve as a side dish.  Fermented radishes are packed with beneficial microorganisms and will add striking flavor and beauty to your meal.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Nori Goma Furikake? Sea Vegetable & Sesame Seed Condiment

Pan toasted sesame seeds are a mainstay in my diet. Although the seeds can be toasted in the oven, I prefer the ease of the stove top method which is faster and more energy efficient.  As soon as the seeds heat up and begin to expand, they make a popping sound which is the signal that it's time to shake the pan and watch the seeds carefully as they turn golden brown and fill the house with a delightful fragrance.

Nori Goma Furikake is one of many varieties of traditional Japanese sesame condiments which lend toasty, crunchy and satisfying flavor to savory foods.  Sesame seeds are packed with protein, minerals and healthy oils which stave off hunger and stabilize blood sugar.  Nori adds yet more nutrients and flavor. Almost any vegetable or plant based dish can be magically transformed by a sprinkling of freshly made Nori Goma Furikake.

Nori Goma Furikake: Ingredients

1/2 cup raw sesame seeds
1/4 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)
1 sheet nori sea vegetable


Place sesame seeds in a heavy skillet over medium heat. I use a black iron skillet which distributes heat evenly. As soon as seeds begin to pop, shake pan continuously until the seeds are fragrant and golden brown. Remove the pan from heat and quickly pour seeds into a dry bowl to cool.

Cut nori into strips with a scissors along perforations.

Stack the strips and cut into thin confetti.

When seeds are cool, combine with nori and sea salt. Store furikake in a clean glass jar with a tight lid. It is at its very best best when used within a few days but will keep well for several weeks. 


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Brussels Sprouts in Thai Basil Miso Broth

What to do with a handful of Brussels sprouts and little else on a dark winter evening when hunger is urgent?  Having traveled 3,000 miles across country I felt fortunate to find a few staples on hand and set to work with my chef's knife. In eight minutes I had improvised a light but warming, spicy and healthy meal which quickly eased the fatigue and hunger of long distance travel.

Brussels Sprouts in Thai Basil Miso Broth


12 medium Brussels sprouts, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup water
1 tablespoon light miso paste
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon dried Thai basil leaves, crushed
a few drops chile infused toasted sesame oil


Slice the sprouts thinly so that they will cook quickly.  In a saucepan with a lid, heat olive oil  and lightly saute shredded sprouts on a medium flame for a minute or two until fragrant and a few are just turning golden brown. Add one cup of water, cover immediately to retain steam and simmer gently on a low flame for two or three minutes.

Dissolve miso paste in about 1/4 cup water and add to pan. Sprinkle in basil leaves and a few drops of sesame oil, cover and remove from heat. Allow to rest a minute or two.  Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve in a heated bowl. Yield: One serving.

If you don't have basil leaves, herbs such as fresh or dried marjoram, mint, parsley or cilantro will work well.  Garnish with your choice of sliced fresh ginger root, lime or lemon juice, toasted sesame seeds, red pepper flakes or sliced scallion.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

You Say "Tomato", I Say "Puttanesca!"

It's late autumn and the Northern California tomato harvest is winding down quickly.  Heirloom, cherry and dry farmed tomatoes are still available at some farmer's markets but soon they will vanish completely, leaving tomato lovers bereft of the luscious "pomme d'amour" until the ripening of next summer's crop.

To prolong the pleasures of tomato season, each fall I amass a collection of dry farmed tomatoes, which keep well in the fridge and are intensely flavorful eaten raw or cooked. Inevitably, some ripen quickly which is why I'm simmering a pot of sugo alla puttanesca, the legendary spicy Italian tomato sauce whose name is challenging to translate (I'll leave that to the experts) and whose origins are subject to much amusing conjecture. 

Whatever the linguistics, puttanesca is delicious, simple to make and requires just a handful of ingredients. Most recipes for puttanesca call for a combination of fresh or canned tomatoes, onion, garlic, olives, capers and hot red pepper flakes; anchovies are frequently added too. There are many regional and family variations on the theme, but with good quality ingredients, anyone can make a terrific sugo alla puttanesca to enjoy far into the winter months when vine ripened tomatoes are but a dream.

My own New Jersey/ California fusion rendition takes only minutes to assemble and does not need lengthy cooking.  Don't hesitate to improvise on this recipe to suit your own taste.

Sugo Alla Puttanesca


2- 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2- 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28 ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, with juice
1- 2 pounds fresh ripe tomatoes, chopped
1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/3 cup olives, pitted and chopped
sea salt to taste

Heat olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot. Add onion and garlic and saute until fragrant. Add canned tomatoes and about half of their juice. Using a large spoon or potato masher, crush the plum tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Add fresh tomatoes, red pepper flakes and basil. Partially cover and simmer the sauce on low to medium heat until fresh tomatoes are just tender, about ten minutes. If there is too much liquid allow sauce to simmer uncovered for a few more minutes. Stir in olives, taste and adjust seasoning. Remove from heat and allow to rest briefly before serving.  Sauce can be frozen for later use. If stored in fridge, sauce will keep for several days.

Serving suggestions:
Sugo alla puttanesca  will pair perfectly with your favorite steamed, sauteed or roasted vegetables, cooked grain or pasta. 


Monday, October 21, 2013

Fuyu Gaki! (Winter Persimmon)

The fuyu persimmon season began early this year in Northern California. Vendors at my local farmer's market inform me that the crop is plentiful and of high quality but the season will be short, so now is the time to gather a generous supply of persimmons for the winter. 

Store fuyus in a cool place (not the fridge where they will get mushy). Fuyus keep well and will continue to ripen and soften a bit as their color deepens. The deeper the color the sweeter the fruit!  Be patient! Eat a nutritious delicious fuyu gaki smoothie every day to ensure good health this winter.

Fuyu Gaki Smoothie:

To make a single serving smoothie, place one cut up fuyu and one cup plain, unsweetened almond milk in blender and process until smooth, adding a little more almond milk if mixture is too thick. Garnish with freshly ground nutmeg.

Serve in a bowl.  Meditate on the beautiful orange color of the Fuyu Gaki, the Winter Persimmon!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Autumn Energy: The Pivoting Point

The passage from summer to autumn and winter is not an easy one for many people. Cooler weather and the diminution of daylight create physical and psychological changes which though subtle require adaptation of habits and mind set. The Yellow Emperor,  Huang Di, (3rd Century BCE)  left us this advice about how to adjust comfortably as summer turns into fall:

"In the three months of autumn all things in nature reach their full maturity. The grains ripen and harvesting occurs. The heavenly energy cools, as does the weather. The wind begins to stir. This is the changing or pivoting point when the yang, or active, phase turns to its opposite, the yin, or passive, phase.

One should retire with the sunset and arise with the dawn. Just as the weather in autumn turns harsh, so does the emotional climate. It is therefore important to remain calm and peaceful, refraining from depression so that one can make the transition to winter smoothly. This is the time to gather one's spirit and energy, be more focused, and not allow desires to run wild.

One must keep the lung energy full, clean and quiet. This means practicing breathing exercises to enhance lung qi [energy]. Also, one should refrain from smoking and grief, the emotion of the lung. This will prevent kidney and lung problems in winter. If this natural order is violated, damage will occur to the lungs..."

- From The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine: A New Translation of the Neijing Suwen with Commentary by Maoshing Ni, Ph. D. (Shambahla Publications)