Japanese-style grilled avocado stuffed with okara

Japanese-style grilled avocado stuffed with okara

From quirky emoji to sophisticated countertop washing machines, the Japanese are a famously inventive people. Nowhere is that more apparent than when it comes to reducing waste. Japanese appliances are a byword of efficiency, and anyone who has spent time in Japan will have experienced the excrutiatingly detailed and strict rules on rubbish disposal and recycling. Not surprising then that they’ve spent significant effort on figuring out what to do with the mountains of okara produced every day. Okara, as you may know (especially if you read this blog), is a byproduct of making tofu. In a tofu-obsessed country that is not a minor problem and, while most okara-which is highly nutritious by the way-gets used as agricultural feed, an entire culinary ‘genre’ has been invented to deal with it. Luckily, there are countless cookbooks dedicated to okara. A good thing too because otherwise my freezer would quickly fill up with the stuff!

New York-style ‘everything’ bagels

Everything bagels
As any New Yorker will attest, theirs is a city obsessed with bagels. A Sunday in New York would be incomplete without the ritual of a toasted bagel with a schmear of cream cheese and lox while reading the weekend New York Times. But there was a time not too long ago that few North Americans outside cities like New York and Montreal with large Jewish populations knew what a bagel was. Indeed, such was it’s obscurity that in 1960 the New York Times Magazine had to explain to its national readers what it was (“an unsweetened doughnut with rigormortis”). I learnt this from an article in the New York Times last week reporting on the death of Daniel Thompson, whose bagel-making machine changed this situation and put bagels on the culinary world map. But, as the Times noted, not all of us think this has been a boon. Mass-produced bagels are as a rule quite awful. Luckily for us bagel purists, one can still buy excellent bagels in New York.

Meen kulambu: South Indian fish curry

Meen kulambu-South Indian fish curry

All kids have heroes and role models they want to grow up to become: Superman, astronauts, spies and the like. Mine was probably David Attenborough, whose BBC nature documentaries, notable “Life on Earth” had me in thrall and glued in front of a TV for much of my youth. (We’ll pass over my less-than-healthy addiction to cartoons.) I couldn’t believe one could get paid for traipsing around the wild discovering new flora and fauna. Such was his influence that I eventually ended up pursuing a highly unlikely (given my mediocre grades in school) academic career in a related field. It is saying something then that I think of Rick Stein as the culinary equivalent of David Attenborough, not only in how his various BBC series hold me in thrall, but also in his very academic style of presenting (food TV that both educates and entertains). And, just like his predecessor, he has had a massive impact on me, this time on my culinary interests.

Marathopsomo: Greek fennel bread

Marathopsomo-Greek fennel bread

I grew up eating fennel seeds in India where they serve as both an after-meal mouth freshener and digestive. The seeds are also occasionally used as a spice, for example in the Bengali spice mix known as panch phoron (literally “five spices”). But fennel, the vegetable, is a relatively new addition to my kitchen and it has quickly risen to the top of my list of ingredients to eat. Until recently though I tended to eat it raw, typically in salads, but a trip to Greece opened up a world of new and delicious possibilities such as marathopita, a pie made from wild fennel. Alas in the UK it is difficult to even buy fennel bulbs with their fronds still attached, let alone wild fennel! So last week, when browsing in the cookbook section of the Oxfordshire library I came across a recipe for fennel bread that could be made with seeds, I couldn’t wait to try it. The results didn’t disappoint!

South Korea’s kimchi crisis

Video: Preserving Korea’s Kimchi

You only have to spend a few hours in South Korea to realize how important kimchi is to that nation’s identity. No meal–from breakfast on–is complete without some form of this fermented dish. It comes as a surprise then, as the New York Times reported recently, that there is a kimchi crisis of sorts in Korea. In brief, as in many other industries cheaper Chinese goods have completely overwhelmed local producers, many mom-and-pop outfits selling their homemade kimchi in local street markets (as in the NY Times video above). What is more, the trade is entirely in one direction: while China exports over $100 million-worth of kimchi to South Korea, it only imports a minuscule $16,000 from the country of it’s origin! This is because China classifies kimchi as a pickled good which, because of the high bacterial content, violates it’s hygiene standards. Moreover, most of the basic ingredients that go into kimchi, from the red chile pepper known as gochugaru to garlic and even cabbage, come from China. Adding to the crisis is South Korea’s rapid industrialization–known as the ‘miracle on the Han River’–as a result of which few young people have the time or interest to make their own kimchi. Even if China opens up its market to Korean kimchi the loss of tradition and knowledge may prove irreversible.