Into the Kitchen

Into the Kitchen: Sushi Rolls

Sushi is a hallmark of Japanese cuisine. In a nutshell, sushi are usually rolls comprised of rice and various proteins and vegetables encompassed in a toasted sheet of seaweed (or soy paper). Some rolls are also topped with sauces, tobiko (fish roe), and/or crispy flakes. Thus there is a vast potential for different combinations of ingredients. Making truly exquisite sushi requires the skills, training, and knowledge of a sushi master, but homemade rolls actually aren’t that hard to make!

1. To make sushi rice, cook the medium-grain, premium Japanese sushi rice according to the instructions printed on the packaging. After rice is cooked, transfer to a wide, shallow bowl (or rimmed baking sheet); you want to be able to spread the rice out evenly so it can cool faster. Add sushi rice vinegar (as instructed on bottle and based on how many cups of rice you cooked) and gently and evenly combine into rice. Be careful not to mix aggressively. Cover with a damp towel until you are ready to proceed. Note: We like Mitsukan brand Sushi Seasoning & Nishiki brand sushi rice.

2. Prepare desired ingredients by cutting them into elongated strips. This is where you can be creative and make whatever you’re in the mood for. Avocados (tip: squeeze lemon juice over sliced pieces to prevent/delay browning), seedless cucumbers, imitation crab, and shrimp tempura are common favorite fillings.

3. To prevent the rice from sticking to your bamboo sushi mat, cover it with plastic wrap before proceeding to roll. Make “vinegar water” (combine 1/4 cup water with 2 tsp rice vinegar) to use to prevent rice from sticking to your hands when you are making the rolls.

4. Cut toasted seaweed (nori) sheet in half crosswise (follow the folds on sheet). Place the shiny side of the seaweed down onto the sushi mat. Spread your cooked sushi rice on top in an even and thin layer with your hands using the “vinegar water”.

5. Flip the seaweed over (meaning the rice now faces the bamboo mat and the shiny side of the seaweed faces you). Add your desired fillings in a long row near the bottom of the sheet. Do not overload; otherwise you will have a hard time rolling!

6. Roll your sushi tightly according to directions found on your sushi mat. If desired, sprinkle toasted sesame seeds (or other topping) on top.

7. To cut your finished roll, wipe some “vinegar water” onto your sharp knife and slice through. Clean your knife each time before cutting again.

8. Serve with Japanese soy sauce, wasabi (if you like it), and pickled ginger (generally available at Asian groceries).

For more specific instructions, including exact recipes for various rolls, sauces, and fillings, please check out Just One Cookbook.

We Say
Making sushi at home is definitely labor intensive… We’ll stick to ordering from the pros. :P But, making your own is certainly an option if you live far from a good Japanese restaurant! It’s also a fun couple/group activity every now and then.


Into the Kitchen: Vietnamese Summer Rolls

People are most familiar with fried egg/spring rolls, but a much lighter and healthier “version” exists in the Vietnamese cuisine. Summer rolls highlight the Vietnamese people’s adoration for fresh herbs and vegetables. They are absolutely delicious appetizers. The “prep” work for the numerous ingredients is labor intensive, but once you have everything ready, it is a very quick and easy step to roll one from the plate and straight into your hungry mouth!

Vietnamese Summer Rolls (multiple versions exist; below is a type called “bò bía”)

2-3 links of Chinese sausage (“lap cheung”/lạp xưởng)
1-2 eggs
2 tbsp rehydrated dried shrimp
1 jicama
1 large carrot
Large handful of fresh Thai basil
2 tsp minced garlic
Fried shallots (buy packaged at store)
Chopped roasted unsalted peanuts
Vietnamese rice paper

1. Boil Chinese sausage to cook for 5-7 minutes until done. Let cool and then slice oblong thinly.

2. Peel jicama and carrot and slice into thin matchsticks. Over low heat, add oil and stir fry garlic until fragrant. Add jicama and carrots. Sprinkle a pinch of salt. Cook until vegetables soften. Set aside to cool.

3. Beat egg(s) into a bowl. Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat with a little bit of oil until hot. Pour egg mixture into pan to form a single layer “egg sheet”. Pour excess egg back into bowl. Put pan back on the heat and cook until surface of egg is “dry”. Flip “egg sheet” onto a cutting board. Let cool, fold it into a loose roll and cut into strips. Repeat with remaining egg mixture until all of it is cooked.

4. Chop up dried shrimps. Heat a frying pan over medium low heat without oil. Add shrimps and “dry fry” to toast.

5. Get a large bowl of lukewarm water. Dip 1 rice paper into the water until the entire surface has been exposed to water. The paper will continue to soften/rehydrate as you work with it. Lay it flat onto a plate. Arrange the ingredients above as depicted below onto the rice paper:

6. Wrap summer rolls as depicted below:

7. Enjoy with peanut dipping sauce!

Cooking Tips
– These rolls are best eaten freshly rolled. The rice papers can stick together and worse, become hard in the fridge. You cannot microwave them. You can wait for them to warm up to room temperature (more palatable), but nothing compares to fresh rolls. We recommend only making enough to eat per meal time and storing the “filling” separately to assemble when ready (if you have extra filling).
– For this recipe we like to use “lạp xưởng Mai quế lộ”; this is a special type of Chinese sausage that is made with wine. It is sweeter and offers a unique taste.
– Feel free to modify the recipe according to your taste and available ingredients. The Vietnamese summer roll has these essential main components: (1) protein (i.e. grilled meats), (2) fresh herbs (i.e. Thai basil), (3) vegetables (i.e. pickled daikon/carrots, cucumbers), and (4) thin rice noodles. To minimize carbohydrate intake, some people opt not to have any noodles and pile on the herbs/vegetables.

How to Keep Your Groceries Fresh

It is no secret that I’m not a fan of the kitchen. I am even less so a fan of doing groceries. Worse, I have the memory of a gold fish when it comes to foods. So those once-in-a-blue-moon days when I shop for produce and meats? I often let them spoil… Fortunately, I am now armed with tips on making my groceries last longer!

First, let’s discuss what’s in season in April, i.e. what produce are on sale!
– Artichokes
– Asparagus
– Avocados
– Beets
– Broccoli
– Cabbages
– Carrots
– Grapefruits
– Mushrooms
– Onions
– Peas
– Strawberries

Now, how do we keep them fresh!?!

– Rinse berries with white or apple cider vinegar and water (1:10 ratio) to prolong their freshness.

– Store potatoes with apples to keep them from sprouting.

– Add a dab of butter to cut cheese to prevent dryness. Then, wrap in wax paper and store in the warmest area of your fridge.

– Store asparagus, cilantro, parsley, chives, basil, and most herbs in a watered vase/jar like fresh cut flowers. Cover with plastic and secure with a rubber band.

– Wrap the crown of bananas in plastic wrap and they will last a week longer!

– Wrap broccoli, lettuce, celery, and other stalky greens in foil before placing in the fridge. They will remain crisp for two weeks or more.

– Store tomatoes outside the fridge. (I always forget this one!)

– Place mushrooms in a paper bag or cardboard box – do not use a plastic container.

– Store a few slices of bread you know you will eat soon. Place the rest in the freezer.

– Chop your onions and gingers. Place them in a recycled water bottle or Tupperware and store in the freezer. They defrost quickly when you need them for cooking.

– Milk and yogurt need to remain in a cold environment. Do not store them on the refrigerator door as the constant opening and closing fluctuates the temperature.

Good luck and may your prolonged produce encourage you to cook more! :)

Into the Kitchen: Flan

Flan is probably one of our most favorite desserts. The combination of silky custard with caramel is heavenly. The ingredients are simple and it is so easy to make. We recommend using small ramekins (or small glass bowls) because, in our humble opinion, flan is best when eaten in small servings.

4 eggs
1/4 cup sugar (use 1/2 cup if you like your flan sweeter)
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For Caramel:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

1. Make caramel in a small sauce pan by mixing the sugar and water over medium heat. Keep stirring until it thickens and the syrup turns deep amber in color. Turn off the heat.

2. Add the caramel (in equal portions) into 4-6 ramekins/glass bowls. Make sure the caramel is coated evenly at the bottom. You can save some caramel for topping later if you want.

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

4. Add milk and sugar into a sauce pan over low heat and mix until the sugar dissolves, then turn off heat. In a big bowl, whisk the eggs until blended and add in the warm milk slowly. Add the vanilla extract and do a quick whisk.

5. Strain the custard mixture into the ramekins/bowls and place into a baking pan. *Please note that you should definitely strain the egg mixture before baking; otherwise you end up with bubbles/bumps like in the picture above.  It tastes fine, but makes for poor presentation.*

6. Pour hot water into the baking pan, about halfway up the sides of the ramekins/bowls. Bake for 50-60 minutes (until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean). Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature, then place into the fridge to chill for a few hours.

7. To serve, slide a knife around the side of each ramekin/bowl to loosen the flan, then invert onto a plate. Enjoy as is or top with extra caramel or fruits.

Recipe adapted from Rasa Malaysia

Into the Kitchen: Steamed Stuffed Buns

If you’re Asian, you most likely have had a steamed bun at least once in your lifetime. Whether they are plain or stuffed, these buns are addicting and extremely gratifying. The best buns are ones with a moist and soft exterior and a delectable filling (we prefer savory rather than sweet filling). While they are somewhat time consuming to make, the final product makes all of the hard work worthwhile! After you eat one, you can’t stop!

Steamed Stuffed Buns (A Consult the Couple Original Recipe)

1 package of “steamed bun” (bánh bao) flour mix
Milk (according to package instructions)
Vegetable/canola oil (according to package instructions & to stir fry)
Sugar (according to package instructions & to season)
All purpose flour (to sprinkle work area when kneading/shaping buns)
1/2 lb ground meat of your choice (we prefer chicken)
1/2-1 cup chopped/shredded Chinese tree mushrooms (dried or fresh)
1/4-1/2 cup frozen peas & carrots
Cooked quail eggs (canned or fresh)
1 link of Chinese sausage (“lap cheung”/lạp xưởng) sliced oblong thinly
1 sweet white onion (finely diced)
1-2 tsp sesame oil
Salt, pepper, and sugar to taste
White vinegar (for steaming water bath)

1. Prepare dough according to package instructions. We recommend the “Pyramide” brand. If you go to your local Asian grocery store, they should definitely have it in stock. It is a very popular and cheap item that most stores carry. You can also order it online.

2. Add oil to a wok/pan and heat until hot. Use medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until soft. Add mushrooms and cook. [If using dried mushrooms, make sure you have already rehydrated them with hot water and let drain.] Add frozen peas & carrots and stir fry until ingredients are all warmed through. Take off heat and let cool.

3. After vegetable mixture has cooled completely, add the ground meat to it. Season with salt, pepper, and sugar to taste. If you are a novice cook and are unsure how much to add, we recommend starting with 1 tsp of salt and 2 tsp of sugar. You can cook a little bit of the mixture in a pan with some oil and taste to see if it needs any extra seasoning. Once you are satisfied with the flavor, add a little bit of sesame oil to enhance the aroma.

4. Shape buns according to instructions as shown below. Add 1 quail egg and 1 piece of Chinese sausage with the filling. If you cannot find quail eggs, you can use hardboiled eggs and cut them into quarters. For Chinese sausage, we prefer “Kam Yen Jan” brand, in particular the Chicken & Pork variety (“Chinese Style Sausage made with Pork and Chicken”) – it is much “lighter” and more delicious.

(Image courtesy of Andrea Nguyen’s book, Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas, and More.)

5. Steam for 25 minutes. Add a little bit of distilled white vinegar (maybe 1-2 tsp) to the steaming water bath to get a “whiter” dough.

6. Enjoy!

Cooking Tips
– Cut small squares (4×4″) out of parchment paper to line each of your buns with.
– Do not steam too many buns at a time. Remember to give these buns room to expand!
– The most important thing when shaping the buns is to make sure they close at the top and the dough isn’t so thin that it will rip during steaming.
– The onion is very important because it helps ensure that the meat in the filling isn’t dry and also enhances the aroma.

Please feel free to ask clarification questions if needed! Good luck!

Into the Kitchen: Dan Dan Noodles

We first sampled these scrumptious noodles over 3 years ago at a restaurant in St. Paul, MN called Little Szechuan. If you’ve ever been to a Szechuan (Sichuan) restaurant, you will definitely see this item on the menu. Its rich aroma and taste are irresistible! Thanks to Appetite for China‘s recipe, we can now make these at home! She is celebrating the release of her book, The Chinese Takeout Cookbook: Quick and Easy Dishes to Prepare at Home, with a Virtual Potluck contest. We look forward to cooking up more “classic” Chinese takeout recipes from her!

Serves 4 as part of a multi-course meal, or 2 to 3 as a single dish

6 ounces ground pork or beef
1 tablespoon peanut oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 scallions, white and green parts chopped
2 tablespoons chopped Sichuan preserved vegetable (optional)
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon salt, or salt to taste
8 ounces dried Chinese egg noodles
1 handful dry-roasted peanuts, finely chopped

1/4 cup chicken stock or water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon Chinese sesame paste or tahini
1 tablespoon Chinese black rice vinegar, or substitute good quality balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons chili oil (adjust according to your tolerance of spiciness)
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper

1. Cook noodles of your choice according to instructions on the package. Transfer the noodles to a mixing bowl.

2. Mix all of the ingredients for the sauce together and toss with the noodles.

3. Heat a large wok or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the base and sides. Add the garlic, ginger, white parts of the scallions, and optional Sichuan preserved vegetable and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the meat and stir-fry until the meat is a little crispy on the outside and no longer pink. Add rice wine to deglaze the pan. Season with salt to taste. Turn off the heat.

4. Add the noodles into the wok and mix well with the cooked meat mixture. Spoon onto a serving platter and top with chopped scallions greens and chopped peanuts on top to serve.

Recipe adapted from Appetite for China