Thursday 14 December 2017

A nikkei Xmas dessert

For me, the nikkei cuisine is one of the favourites, a perfect combination of food from countries I love. For those who don’t know, nikkei was a term coined to refer to emigrants of Japanese origin and their descendants. In South America, Peru was the first country to receive a great flux of Japanese workers at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, followed by Brazil. In the 80’s the name nikkei became a reference to Japanese cuisine cooked outside Japan using indigenous products. Today, this marriage of Peruvian, Brazilian and Japanese food is commonly known as nikkei cuisine. 

Last year, to try and learn more about it, I purchased a nikkei cookbook written by a Brazilian Londoner, who I had heard of because of his popular blog The London Foodie. Luiz Hara is a descendant of Japanese immigrants who arrived in the state of São Paulo in the early 1900’s. 

Many months later, our paths crossed during an opening evening at SOAS university for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition course. When we were divided into small groups I noticed that one of the faces looked familiar. When this gentle and soft-spoken guy started talking about his work, I realised he was Luiz Hara, the Nikkei cookbook author & The London Foodie. Luiz has been running his regular Japanese and Nikkei supperclubs in his home since 2012, and often welcomes other chefs.

I am one who believes in those ‘sliding doors’ moments we have in life. There we were: two Brazilians who had never met before but who have very similar interests. We found out later that we arrived in this country in exactly the same year.
Having discovered that I also have an enthusiasm for food, Luiz kindly asked me if I would like to volunteer in one of his supperclubs. I accepted it straight away. One day I received the message from him, and there I went with my apron in hand.

As I was helping chopping, slicing, cooking and prepping in general, Luiz and I didn't stop talking. We got on so well that the day passed very quickly. Frustratingly for me, I couldn't stay to try his food as I had another commitment that evening.

Finally, last Friday I had the pleasure to go back, this time to try Luiz’s nikkei cuisine. Both myself and my husband - and everyone else around us - were in awe of the food he served us.

The evening started with the guests being welcomed with a glass of G&T and shichimi (Japanese spice) flavoured popcorn, and leek and tofu gyoza for canapés. For me, the first impression counts. The nibbles were yummy, a taste for what was to come… very promising.

After mingling with the other guests, we were ushered to the basement where the dining tables were set next to Luiz’s impressive kitchen.
Luiz then introduced his menu to us: 5 starters, a very substantial main course with accompaniments, and a dessert.

The first starter: Salmon Sashimi South American way (a nikkei style ceviche) was refreshing, flavoursome with a mild kick of chilli. 

The second, and one of my favourites: Mentaiko Spaghetti (spaghetti in marinated spicy cod roe and black caviar sauce). Beautifully presented, looking like a creamy small bird’s nest ready to be explored. At the first mouthful, all my flavour senses were awoken. The small explosion of the cod roe and caviar with the creamy texture brought noises of pleasure to the table.

One of my other favourite dishes was the Shiitake Zosui with a
64ºC sous vide egg. The perfume of shiitake mushrooms was the first thing that hit my nose. The miso-mascarpone added a special umami taste.

The main courses were brought to the table to be shared between us. The Argentinian Picanha was perfectly salty and tender with a pleasant taste of garlic and citrus. Luiz brought us second, third and fourth servings of the meat and the Japanese three-mushroom rice. We behaved like famine vultures reaching for the plates and defending some of the pieces for ourselves. 

The dessert was a Panettone bread and butter pudding with Genmaicha custard. I loved it. The mild roasted brown rice and green tea flavour of the genmaicha custard toned down the richness of the bread and butter pudding. It was an unforgettable dinner. So much so that the flavours have stayed with me.

In this last post of the year, I sign off with a dessert inspired by Luiz's supperclub. It’s a winter recipe I normally make for Christmas but this time instead of adding citrus or spices I am flavouring it with genmaicha tea. I wish you a very happy and wholesome Christmas!

The welcome drinks and nibbles.
Salmon sashimi South American way.
Mentaiko Spaghetti.
Yasai no Agebitashi - deep fried and marinated vegetables in dashi, soy, sake and mirin.
Shiitake Zosui with a 64ºC sous vide egg.
Selection of tempura.
Deliciously tender Argentinian picanha with celeriac wasabi remoulade.
Three-mushroom rice.
Luiz demonstrating to the table how to put the dessert together.
Bread and butter pudding with genmaicha tea custard.
Nikkei inspired rice pudding

If you prefer a vegan rice pudding option, use cashew, coconut or almond milk instead of cow’s milk and replace the butter with coconut oil instead. I opted for the full-on dairy recipe as it gives a creamy texture and adds a lovely caramel flavour. And also, because it’s Christmas and this dessert reminds me of my childhood ;-).

The main ingredients.
Milk infused with genmaicha tea.
Melted butter and sugar mix...
...then add the re-hydrated goji berries.
My genmaicha flavoured rice pudding

1 litre organic whole full-fat milk (I used organic raw milk from Hook and Son)

4 teaspoons of organic genmaicha tea or 4 tea bags
30g organic butter
100g pudding rice 

70g organic raw sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

40g of goji berries (I re-hydrated them in lukewarm water for 5 minutes)
a pinch of sea-salt 


Preheat the oven to 130ºC.

In a medium size pan, pour in the milk and bring it to a simmer. Turn off the heat, add the tea and let it brew for 3 minutes. If you are using loose tea, sieve and reserve; if using tea bags, take them out and reserve.  

In another pan, melt the butter over a medium heat. Add the rice and stir to coat. Add the sugar and stir for 2 minutes or until the rice becomes sticky. Add the goji berries, stir.
Now, add the genmaicha-infused milk stirring well. Add the cream and vanilla and bring the mixture to a simmer. Once this is reached, give it a stir.

Transfer to an oven-proof dish and bake for about 1-1½ to 2 hour. If the mixture starts to turn  brown too quickly on the top, cover with a foil.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

A healthy note: genmaicha tea contains green tea leaves which studies have shown to help regulate blood pressure and fight hypertension. It also has brown rice, which contains selenium, a mineral that helps regulate thyroid hormones. It has antioxidant properties and has a compound, theanine, that has been shown to help with relaxation.
Raw cow’s milk, from a nutritional perspective, is superior to pasteurized milk in terms of its beneficial enzymes, but you need to check the source and make sure it is certified free of harmful microorganisms. Raw cow's milk contains fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamin A and D, calcium and other minerals. 

Goji Berry or Wolfberry (Lycium barbarum). Contains antioxidants and vitamin C. It boosts blood circulation, lowers elevated  blood sugar, increases HDL cholesterol levels (the good one) and reduces fatigue. 

Till next year!

Thursday 7 December 2017

A fab restaurant and a protein soup

As many of you may know, I enjoy cooking easy and simple foods. Those ones that don't take ages to prep and make, but at the same time are wholesome and hearty.

This week I am celebrating my 20th wedding anniversary. My husband booked a table at my current favourite restaurant in London: Lyle’s. The first time I went there I was so impressed with the dishes that I kept going on about it with Dean. So he (rightly) thought it would be a good idea for us to go back.

One thing that defines chef James Lowe’s food to me is flavour. He is former head-chef of St John Bread and Wine and part of the defunct Young Turks Collective. Oh my god, the man knows how to mix and match, creating surprising and intriguing meals - sweet, bitter, umami… - you count it. The restaurant has an à la carte menu during lunch time and a small 5 dish tasting menu for dinner (but with the little extras, you end up eating more than that).

I am not crazy about some game meat but I am always open to try whatever the chef proposes. Thank goodness that night wasn’t pheasant. I mentioned my dislike of the strong gamey taste to the ever so lovely waitress and she hesitated to bring me the first nibble. It was a small shortbread biscuit made with treacle and duck fat, filled with goose and mallard liver paté and damson jelly. It was rich (but not sickening), smooth and delicate. I was so glad she brought it for me to try.

The second nibble was a 24-hour fermented sourdough flatbread with roasted Cornish mussels, neal’s yard cheese and chervil. Really good!  

Other excellent dishes we ate: pollack and turnip tops, quail, grumolo (a mini variety of radicchio) and pickled quince. Dessert was a delicious coffee and caramel (coffee and raw goat’s milk ice-cream).

To drink, we ordered a robust and full-bodied red with a refreshing taste of black berry fruits: Cuvée Des Drilles 2016.

But the highlight to me was the first dish: pumpkin and whey broth. On my first mouthful, angels descended from heaven.

The next day, I had to try and recreate it at home in the form of a soup. I conveniently had a Crown Prince pumpkin that came with my farmer’s veggie box this week, and I also had some whey liquid leftover from the labneh (see a recipe here and another here) I made two days before. I had no idea how it would turn out or if the amounts of ingredients were right, but I gave it a go. *

To wrap up the evening at Lyle’s we ordered a fresh peppermint tea which came accompanied by the most delicious mince pies - no exaggeration here.

If you haven’t visited Lyle’s yet and do appreciate good food, make your reservation now.

* James Lowe generously shared his method with me this morning, but my dish was already done at that stage and I didn’t have the time or the ingredients to cook another batch. His ratio of pumpkin to whey is nothing like the one I used in my soup. He also used delicate pumpkin which is slightly milder and lighter in colour than the Crown Prince. But I was happy with the result. The flavour was all about the pumpkin.

Dinner menu
The rich but light shortbread with mallard and grouse liver pate.
Roasted Cornish mussels on sourdough bread.
The delectable pumpkin and whey broth.
Coffee and caramel. Yum!
My husband's dessert: Pear, oats and Innes Bur cheese.
To wrap up, the best mince pies ever!

Roast pumpkin and whey soup

The whey liquid lends a protein boost to this hearty soup. It’s now on my regular winter menu.

The stars of the soup
The pumpkin wedges smeared with butter, seasoned with sea-salt and "bathed" in whey.

Roasting the pumpkin wedges and seeds.
Roasting is ready.
My pumpkin and whey soup with roasted pumpkin seeds and pumpkin oil.


For the roast
1 Crown Prince pumpkin – 1.3kg
1 cup of organic whey liquid
15g organic butter, room temperature

for the soup
1 medium onion
2 cloves of garlic
30g organic butter
850ml vegetable stock
sea-salt, pepper and nutmeg to season


Preheat the oven to 190C. Halve the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds (you can roast the seeds too, if you like). Cut into wedges, rub some of the butter on the flesh, season and run the whey liquid over them. Roast for 45-50 minutes or longer, until the pumpkin is easily pierced through with a fork. Set it aside.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the onion and let it cook for about 5 minutes, add the garlic and cook a bit more, stirring occasionally, until translucent.

Turn the heat down, add the stock to the onion and garlic mixture, and let it simmer. Now add the flesh of pumpkin (no skin), season with salt and pepper. Cook for 10 more minutes. Blend it, add more water if you wish. I like mine a bit creamier.

A healthy note: Pumpkin (Curcubita pepo): is a great source of carotene, vitamin C, vitamins B1, B5, B3, B6, folic acid, potassium, and dietary fibre.

Greek doctors considered Whey as “healing water.” It contains probiotic organisms that help maintain a good balance of the digestive system, encouraging repair of digestive problems. Whey contains potassium and other minerals and vitamins. It allows protein to become more available for muscle repair and muscle building, that’s why is a great choice for athletes, especially after workouts.

You can drink it straight or mix it in your juices, teas, soups or smoothies; freeze it into ice cubes then add it to your smoothies. You can also add some whey liquid to the water you are soaking legumes (beans, lentils etc) or cooking grains in to improve digestibility.

Till next week!
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