Japchae: Korean stir-fried glass noodles with vegetables and beef

Japchae

Sampling foods you’ve never had before is for me one of the tastiest aspect of traveling to a new place. But even better than eating at restaurants or markets is taking a cooking class. Being taught by a pro is especially useful if you’re trying to learn about unfamiliar ingredients and techniques, as ‘regular’ locals can often be ignorant of their own cuisine, having eaten and taken it for granted their entire lives. Last year, for example, I took a 3-day intensive course on traditional Japanese cookingwashoku (和食) – in Tokyo with Elizabeth Andoh. Chef Andoh is originally from America but has lived in Japan and cooked Japanese food for so long that she could easily put most locals, even professionals, to shame with her knowledge and mastery of washoku.

Puff pastry with Gujarati-style lentil filling

Lentil-stuffed puff pastry

The one and only time I tried making puff pastry from scratch, the results weren’t anything to write home – or blog – about. It consumed the better part of a weekend, endlessly rolling, folding and refrigerating flour and butter. A lot of butter. Perhaps more than I’d consume in a decade. If I lived in France. You get the idea. And lets not even talk about the cleaning up. Imagine my joy then at discovering one can actually buy this stuff ready made, and very good quality at that. It is easy to use, too: just defrost and roll out!

Courgette (zucchini) soup

Courgette/Zucchini Soup

The British are famously a nation of gardeners. Where else do you have a reality show on TV pitting amateur gardeners against each other?! Or, rather, allotment-holders. Allotments are small parcels of land rented out by the local government to those with the itch to garden but without one. This is apparently a competitive business with demand far exceeding supply. I learned all this from my friend Man-Yee who started an allotment this past year and, after months of toiling, has been rewarded by an abundance of fresh veg and fruit. Or, as she put it, by drowning in a sea of courgettes (zucchini, as they’re known on the other side of the Pond)!

Pasta with kale pesto

Pasta with kale pesto

Kale must be one of the most versatile vegetable that I know of, and certainly the most commonly featured on this blog. I’ve used it in everything from Korean-influenced tteokbokki to Mediterranean-style fritters. But pesto? It just didn’t seem right and, I’ll be honest, I didn’t have high hopes. But from the moment I spied this recipe in a recent issue of Food and Wine Magazine I just knew I had to try it. The verdict? Lets just say I may never make ‘regular’ basil pesto again! It is that tasty. Best of all, unlike basil, which bruises easily and turns an unattractive brown color, kale yields a vibrant and beautiful green pesto with a much longer shelf life. The original recipe calls for pecorino cheese, which I omitted and didn’t miss at all, and Aleppo pepper, for which I subbed plain old crushed red chile.

Doenjang jjigae: Korean stew with fermented soy bean paste and seafood

Doenjang jjigae

There are some people who can make even cell phone pictures look good. I, alas, am not one of them as the photo above of doenjang jjigae, one of the most popular comfort foods in Korea, testifies. But I assure you it tastes far better than it looks and, as a bonus, it is so easy that it practically cooks itself!