Tzatziki

tzatzikiLast time, I posted about making Greek (strained) yogurt at home, and here’s one of my favorite ways to use it. Tzatziki is a Mediterranean sauce or dip which is good with veggies, bread, or meat. It’s best after it sits for a night to let the flavors develop, so plan ahead if possible.

Ingredients
3/4 cup (180mL) Greek or strained yogurt
1/2 cucumber
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1 small clove garlic
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper

Instructions

Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and remove seeds with a spoon. If the cucumber has a thick peel, you may want to remove it, but it’s not necessary. Chop the remaining cucumber into small pieces.

Mix all ingredients together well. Let the tzatziki sit in the fridge for several hours or overnight. The flavors will get stronger as it sits, so don’t add more garlic until you taste it the next day. If some water collects on top of the tzatziki overnight, you can pour it off, or mix it back in.
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Some of my favorite ways to eat this are with pita bread or chips, with falafel, with chicken, or with rice dishes that have warm spices in them. In the picture above I have a homemade pita filled with sauteed chicken, tzatziki, red onion, broccoli sprouts, and extra cucumber.

Homemade Greek Yogurt

Making your own yogurt is quite simple! It does take a little time, but most of it is inactive. It’s a really fun, easy project to try at home at least once!

greek yogurtYou’ll need: 1 liter (4 cups) milk + 2 tbsp active culture yogurt + time

1. Heat the milk to about 77C (170F). If you don’t have a thermometer, then heat the milk until it just starts to simmer around the edges.

2. Cover the pot with a lid and let it cool down to 43C (110F). Then stir in the yogurt. Now you just have to keep the yogurt warm, and wait about 5-10 hours.

3. You can warm up your oven very slightly (to about 43C / 110F), turn off the oven and leave it in there. Or, if your oven has a setting for letting bread rise, you can use that. My oven in Japan has that kind of setting, called 発酵, hakkou, or ‘fermentation’, which will keep your oven temperature at 40C. I used that setting for a little while, then turned off the oven and left the pot in there with the door closed until it was done. Or, if you don’t have an oven or don’t want to use it, you can wrap the whole pot (with the lid on) in a heavy towel, and leave it in a warm spot. I’ve done it that way before with no problem.

4. Check the yogurt once in a while to see if the milk has congealed. There might be a little whey on top (a clear yellow-green liquid), which you can pour off. At this point, you’re done! If you want to make Greek/strained yogurt, you can strain it by putting cheesecloth or coffee filters in a strainer, setting it over a bowl, and letting it sit in the fridge overnight.

If you don’t strain your yogurt, you’ll get about the same amount of yogurt as the milk you started with. If you strain it, a lot of whey will come out. I started with a liter (4 cups) of milk, and ended up measuring 560mL (2-1/3 cups) of whey, leaving about 410g (1-2/3 cups) Greek yogurt. (It does depend how thick you like it, so your results may vary.)

So, is it worth it?

If you’re currently buying Greek yogurt, then it’s worth it. Or, if you don’t strain your yogurt, it’s worth it. In those two cases, making your own costs about 1/3 as much as buying in the store!

If you want to strain your yogurt, here are the numbers I got. This will, of course, vary slightly depending on the price of milk and yogurt in your area.

Buying Greek yogurt in the store: 1.35 yen/gram
Buying yogurt in the store and straining it: 0.5 yen/gram
Buying milk in the store, making yogurt, and straining it: 0.4 yen/gram

So it’s much cheaper than buying Greek yogurt, but only slightly cheaper than buying yogurt and straining it. If you add in the extra effort of making your own yogurt, each person will have to decide whether they think it’s worth it. For me personally, I probably won’t make yogurt every week, but once in a while I will.

How about taste? Well, I love the taste of the homemade yogurt. I don’t really like a very strong sour, yogurty taste, but the homemade yogurt is very mild. It tastes very fresh and pure. I like to eat it with a little honey and some toasted walnuts (like in the picture above), or mixed with fresh/dried fruit, jam, or nuts.

Especially in Japan, I use strained yogurt a lot – not only for eating, but also as a substitute for sour cream or cream cheese in certain applications. You can make dip with yogurt (mix with a little mayo and some seasoning) and no one can tell the difference. You can make tzatziki (a Greek yogurt cucumber sauce). You can also strain it a little further and make a spread for crackers that’s like cream cheese. You can even make cheesecake with it. You can put a spoonful of it in soup to make a creamy contrast; you can use it to make pasta sauce; you can use it in tacos or burritos; you can make a creamy salad dressing with it; you can…

Chicken Piccata

picattaChicken Piccata is a famous Italian version of a lemon chicken dish. In the recipe below, you can skip the lemon slices if you like – they make a pretty presentation, but you can’t really eat them. The only difficult ingredient for those living in Japan is the capers. I’ve found them at various supermarkets, so you may need to look around or try a larger store.

Ingredients (serves 2)
2 chicken cutlets
salt and pepper
1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic
60mL (1/4 cup) white wine
120mL (1/2 cup) low-sodium chicken broth
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp capers
1 tbsp butter
parsley
lemon slices, optional

Instructions

Season chicken cutlets with salt and pepper on both sides, and dust with the flour. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and brown the chicken on both sides. Remove to a plate.

Add the minced garlic and wine, and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth, lemon juice, and capers. Bring to a simmer. Return the chicken to the pan and cook for a minute or two on each side. Add the lemon slices and butter to the pan, and let the butter melt.

Pour the sauce over the cutlets to serve, and garnish with parsley.

Greens with Goma-ae

gomaaeIn Japanese, goma means ‘sesame’, and it is commonly used in all kind of cooking. This recipe is for a dressing called goma-ae which is sweet and salty, made with sesame, sugar, and soy sauce. It is great on all kinds of veggies, especially greens. In the picture above, I used shungiku, or chrysanthemum greens, but it’s also great on spinach, komatsuna, or other similar vegetables. It makes a great side dish. I especially like the contrast when eaten with something spicy.

Ingredients
1 handful green vegetables of your choice (shungiku, komatsuna, spinach, etc.)
1 tbsp ground sesame seeds*
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp water

*In Japan, you can buy sesame seeds already ground, but if you do it yourself with a mortar and pestle, the flavor is fresher. Either way is fine!

Instructions

Bring a pot of water to a boil on the stove. Also prepare a bowl of ice water.

When the water boils, put the greens in and let them blanch for 60 seconds. Then pull them out and immediately put them into the ice water to stop the cooking.

Mix the sesame seeds, sugar, soy sauce, and water in a small bowl.

Remove the greens from the water and squeeze out the excess moisture. If the pieces are large, you can cut the bundle of greens in half or thirds. Mix the greens with the sauce and serve.

Swedish Bread

swedish breadI love baking bread in the winter. It makes the whole house seem warmer and cozier, and warm homemade bread is one of my favorite things to eat. This is an old recipe that my Mom and I used to make when I was younger, and I hadn’t made in many years until this Christmas. It’s got egg, milk, and sugar in it, which make the dough rich and sweet, and it tastes like almonds. You can make regular loaves, or braid them like I did in the picture above if you want to be fancy!

Ingredients (makes 2 loaves)
½ cup (113g) melted butter or margarine
⅔ cup (133g) sugar
1 teaspoon salt
405 mL (2-1/4 cups) hot milk
2-1/4 tsp dry yeast
¼ cup (60mL) warm water
1 egg, well beaten
1 teaspoon almond extract
7 cups (910g) white flour (approximately)

Optional: 1 egg yolk, 1/4 cup almonds (for topping)

Instructions
Mix the butter, sugar, salt, and hot milk in a large bowl and let cool to lukewarm. Stir the yeast into the warm water and let it stand for 5 minutes to dissolve.

Add the dissolved yeast, egg, almond extract, and 3 cups (390g) of the flour to the milk mixture and mix vigorously. Add 3 more cups (390g) of flour and mix well.

Turn out onto a slightly floured board, knead for a minute or two, and let rest for 10 minutes. Adding the remaining flour only if the dough is too sticky, resume kneading until smooth and elastic. Put the dough in a large bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until double in bulk. Punch down, knead for a minute or two, and shape into two loaves. Place in two buttered 9×5 inch loaf pans, cover, and let rise until double in bulk again. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake bread for 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from pans and cool on racks.

For Braided Bread: After the dough has risen for the first time, punch it down, knead for a minute or two, and divide it into six equal pieces. Stretch and roll each piece with your hands until you have six long rolls of uniform size. Make two braids with them, pinching the three piece of dough firmly together when you start braiding and again when you finish. Tuck each end underneath the loaf. Place on greased cookie sheets, cover, and allow to rise until double in size. Brush with 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon cold water, and sprinkle with chopped almonds. Bake for only 25 to 30 minutes.

Caramel Hot Cocoa

caramel hot cocoaThis past weekend, the Tokyo area was hit by a “blizzard”. I put it in quotations because I grew up in the Northeast U.S., where 4 inches of snow is not even worth mentioning. But here in eastern Japan, snow is unusual – once or twice a year at most – and usually just a dusting. Anyway, all usual transportation stopped for a day or two, and everyone was finding alternate ways to get where they needed to go, and doing a lot of walking in the snow and slush in shoes that were not intended for that kind of use. It seems like everything has been cold and wet, and when I come home to my non-heated house, the first thing I want is hot cocoa. This caramel hot cocoa is my recent favorite – if you want it to taste more like “salted caramel”, you can add a little extra salt!

Ingredients (serves 1)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp cream
1 tbsp cocoa
3/4 cup milk
1/8 tsp vanilla
sprinkle of salt (or more to taste)

Instructions

Put the sugar in a dry saucepan over medium heat until it begins to melt. Let the sugar melt and caramelize into a brown liquid. Don’t stir – but you can swirl the pan a little if it doesn’t melt evenly. Don’t walk away – it happens very quickly and the caramel can burn in an instant.

When the sugar is melted and has turned a reddish-brown, turn off the heat and add the cream carefully. It may splatter a little bit. Immediately whisk or stir, but don’t worry if it hardens up on you.* Add the cocoa and mix it into the caramel.

Add the milk and turn the heat back on medium-low. Whisk until the milk heats up and begins to steam. Then add the vanilla and salt.

* If the caramel completely hardens, just add the milk first, turn the heat on, and the caramel will melt into the milk. Then you can add the cocoa powder afterwards.

Simple Donburi (Rice Bowl)

donburi (simple)
Donburi literally means a type of bowl, and the dish called donburi is what is served in it! This dish is basically a bowl of rice with some kind of topping – meat, vegetables, etc. Another example of donburi on this site is gyuudon (beef rice bowl). But this version is very simple, quick to put together, and helps me use up what I have around the house. You can serve it alone, with another veggie side dish, or with a bowl of soup.

Ingredients (serves 2)
100 grams (1/4 lb) ground meat – beef, pork, chicken, or a mixture
2 tbsp yakiniku sauce or your favorite meat seasoning sauce
a large handful of leafy greens: spinach, komatsuna, chingensai (bok choy) etc.
2 eggs (optional)
sesame seeds (optional)

Cooked rice for serving

Instructions

If you don’t have cooked rice already, start the rice first. While it’s cooking, make the toppings.

Saute the ground meat in a frying pan until nearly done. Add the yakiniku sauce and continue cooking and stirring until the meat is done and most of the liquid is gone.

Blanch the green vegetables: Put them into a pot of salted boiling water for 60 seconds, then remove to a bowl of ice water. Let cool, then remove the greens and squeeze out the excess water.

Fry eggs, if using. You can use the same frying pan from the meat, if you remove it to another dish. Crack the eggs gently into the pan and cook over medium heat until they reach your preferred level of doneness.

Finally, assemble the dish. Put some cooked rice into two bowls. Divide the cooked greens and arrange them on top of the rice. Next, add the cooked meat. I like to cover or partially cover the greens, so they get some flavor on them. If desired, sprinkle some sesame seeds on the meat. Finally, add the fried egg on top!