Tag Archives: wheat-free

Yaki Onigiri

That’s fried rice balls to you and me. Now think about it…fried starch…sounding pretty good, eh?

My first experience of yaki onigiri was in Brussels at a Japanese restaurant called Kushetei. It was a great dinner, but things got a little weird when we got to dessert – no selection of exquisite Japanese sweets, but instead we got mochi filled with ice-cream. Straight from the packet, complete with cute anime-style characters. I am sure that this would be delightfully whimsical to aficionados of Japanese culture, but to me, back in the day, it just seemed a slightly odd way to complete a meal.

Of the many tasty things that I tried that night, what stood out for me were the fried rice balls. The staff did have an annoying habit of sprinkling fish flakes over them (I don’t think they got that fish flakes were not a vegetable), so each time a fresh batch arrived, the fish flakes had to be picked off with forensic precision. Once that was done, the rice balls were delicious.

Back in my Brussels kitchen I decide to try making them myself, but my early attempts went rather spectacularly badly. What went wrong? Well, I failed at almost the first hurdle. I reached into the cupboard for rice, any old rice, and it was a packet of the plain white stuff. I had put enough thought into the process to realise that the rice needs to be somewhat sticky so that it could be formed into balls, so I just boiled it until sort of soupy, drained, and proceeded on my way. Well, whatever I did, it didn’t really work and I ended up with rice balls that had a tendency to collapse. I ended up with a large plate of oily, partially-fried rice swimming in soy sauce. It just about tasted alright, but this was not something that would cause the skilled chef in a Japanese restaurant to lose sleep. If anything, he’s probably have attached me with a sushi knife for my lame efforts!

Fast forward more than half a decade. Putting aside the fact that time seems to fly past with increasingly alarming speed, I would be so bold as to suggest that I am now a better cook, but more fundamentally, I also have access to much better ingredients. Brussels had good shops, but if you really want to get hold of culinary items that are strange, niche or obscure, London will oblige (with the exception of yuzu fruit – still no trace of it!). I’ve blogged about my searches for peculiar raising agents for baking (like ammonium or pottasche). For the rice balls, I needed sushi rice. Well, luckily that’s actually pretty easy to come by in this town. So as they say in the movies, let’s do it again, but once more with feeling (and the correct rice).

This time, I am happy to report that my rice was obligingly sticky, the rice balls could be formed with ease (and very sticky hands), and the result was sensational. Utterly sensational. One of those it is so good I can’t stop at three types of dishes. My only regret is that I did not make double the amount, and this is definitely going to be one of my kitchen staples from now on. I mean – fried starch. We all love that, right?

The good news – all you need is rice, oil and soy sauce. You’re about an hour away from something utterly delicious!

To make Yaki Onigiri:

• sushi rice
• oil (I used grapeseed)
• soy sauce(*)

1. Cook the sushi rice according to the instructions on the packet. Assume 75g per person.

2. While the rice is still warm, shape into balls or cubes. It’s easiest to keep your hands very well-oiled, as the rice is super-sticky.

3. Fry the rice balls. You probably don’t need more oil – what’s on the balls should be enough. Once golden all over, remove and brush with soy sauce. Fry again until crispy. And that’s it! Just sit back and enjoy!

(*) If you are feeling adventurous, mix the soy sauce with other things – I added a dash of sambal to mine (Indonesian rather than Japanese, but never mind) for a tiny dash of heat, and a little sesame oil for a nutty flavour.

Worth making? Get the right rice, and O-M-G these work amazingly well. These are fantastic as part of a meal or as snacks with drinks. While utterly delicious, they are also vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free, so they should be a winner with everyone.

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Filed under Recipe, Savoury

Scottish food: Oatcakes

Do you do superfoods? Every week, it seems like there is something that we should all be eating by the bucket-load to ensure we are all in tip-top-shape. Blueberries, spinach, grapefruit, pumpkin seeds, wheatgrass, cranberries, magic hocus-pocus desert cactus oil…OK, that last one is clearly made up, but I find it quite funny that we keep looking for the silver bullet to solve all our problems. If you haven’t worked it out by now, I am a great believer in “a little bit of what you fancy and everything in moderation” coupled with “eat what’s in season as that’s when it’s best“.

Making a not-very-logical link, what is behind this little rant? Well, I just read a piece on superfoods, and it just got me a bit wound up. Being told about this wonderful thing called “oats” as if they have just been brought forth from the Amazonian jungle. Meh. I’ve known about them for years. Many a winter morning has been kick-started with porridge. But I do agree that oats are pretty darn good – gluten-free (but make sure you buy from the right supplier!), low GI (so they release their energy slowly, so you have energy throughout the day), as well as the less sexy considerations that they leave you feeling full and are rich in fibre. That, and they are very Scottish. I like that!

Two of the most well-known uses for oats are intimately linked with Scottish cuisine – porridge and oatcakes. I realise that the former is very personal (some like porridge with milk and sugar, some make it with cream and add honey and condensed milk, others make it with water and a pinch of salt), so I will instead turn to oatcakes. I absolutely love them. Indeed, they are my snack of choice at work. I usually always have a packet or two stashed at the back of my filing cabinet in case I get peckish during the day. Some might think this is an attempt to show off and look virtuous, but I do happen to find them very tasty and incredibly more-ish, so really rather good for me that they are also healthy.

But how to make oatcakes? Easy? Worth the effort? Well, it is an absolute doddle. You just boil up water and butter, add salt, and pour into some ground oats. This makes a dough, then cut out the oatcakes. Bake, and you end up with a pretty stack of savoury biscuits a lot like this:

Commercial oatcakes are fine, but one of the best things about making oatcakes yourself is that they are very crisp, and have a lovely toasted nuttiness. That, and they are crisp without being too dry.

I find their texture works very well when you pair them with cheese – and in my case, that would be slivers of very tangy, mature cheddar. Perfect after dinner, as a snack, or to nibble on in the evening when watching a film. If you’re feeling fancy, you can even make very small oatcakes, and use as the basis for canapés for…eh…those glamourous parties that we are all throwing these days.

Just be warned – one you start making them, you might find it difficult to stop and switch back to store-bought!

To make oatcakes (makes 16):

• 175g medium oats(*)
• pinch of bicarbonate of soda
• scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 15g butter
• 75ml water

Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F). Grease two baking trays with butter or non-stick spray.

Put the oats and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl and mix.

In a saucepan, heat the salt, butter and water. Bring to the boil, then pour into the oats. Mix to a soft dough using a spoon, then with your hands. The dough should be soft and hold together, but should not be sticky.

Sprinkle more oatmeal on a worktop, lay the dough on top, and roll out the dough to 2-3mm thickness. Use a round cutter (6cm diameter) to cut out the oatcakes, and transfer them to the baking sheets. Gather the scraps in a bowl, add a teaspoon of water if needed, and mix until you have a ball of dough. Use to cut out more oatcakes, and keep going until all the dough is used up.

Bake for 30 minutes until crisp and just lightly golden at the edges. Leave to cool on the baking tray. Store in an airtight container.

(*) Make sure you use medium oats. If they are fine oats, the dough will be too dry. And don’t use rolled oats, as the texture will be all wrong, and then the guests at your glamourous party expecting perfect canapés will be shocked, and we don’t want that…

Worth making? The oatcakes you can buy are nice, but these are much nicer! They have a more “toasted” taste and additional nuttiness, which goes extremely well with cheese after dinner. Definitely worth trying!

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Filed under Recipe, Savoury, Scottish Food

Zimtsterne (Cinnamon Stars)

My “twelve cookies of Christmas” series continues with one of my favourites, and again, there is a bit of a German theme going on here.

Today, we are making Zimtsterne (German cinnamon stars). I absolutely adore these ones, and they always prove very, very popular. How do I know this? I gave a box of them as a gift to a friend a couple of years ago, and her house-guest found and ate most of them. But hey, I can’t blame her, they are incredibly more-ish.

While they undoubtedly look impressive, they are relatively straightforward to make, with the only really tricky bit being perfecting the rolling of the dough, cutting the cookies and glazing them. The dough has lots of fresh ground almonds and sugar, flavoured with cinnamon, orange zest and just a touch of honey. The resulting cookies are crisp at the edges, but soft and chewy in the middle, and topped with a crisp sugary icing, which turns a gentle light golden colour in the oven. If you leave them out for a couple of days, they will get softer and even more chewy.

I like to make my Zimtsterne using whole almonds that I grind at home, as I think the flavour is better than using pre-ground nuts, and the brown speckling from the skin looks quite nice in the finished product. The nut mixture can also be tweaked a little, with a 50/50 mix of almonds and hazelnuts, or even all hazelnuts if that’s what floats your boat. You can also miss out the orange if you want, but I think this adds a pleasant extra aromatic note.

Finally, these are also wheat/gluten-free and contain no milk products. Not something that is usually top of my worry list, but it proved to be very helpful at the weekend – I had Christmas drinks where two guest were, in turn, gluten intolerant and dairy intolerant. Lucky I had these to serve. That, and the Germans in the room also seemed to be suitably impressed. Whew!

To make Zimtsterne (makes around 50)*

For the dough:

• 2 egg whites
• 500g unskinned almonds, finely ground(**)
• 300g icing sugar
• 2 tablespoons acacia honey
• 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• zest of 1 orange

For the glaze:

• 1 egg white
• 100g icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Line a metal tray with baking paper and grease with non-stick spray.

In a large bowl, lightly whip the egg whites until just frothy. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. The mixture might seem dry at first, but keep going (eventually using your hands) and it will come together into a soft dough.

Sprinkle the kitchen worktop generously with more icing sugar, and roll out portions of the dough to 1cm thickness. Cut out star shapes with a cutter and place the baking sheet. Make sure there is sufficient icing sugar under the dough to stop it sticking to the worktop (this I know from experience!).

Next make the glaze: whisk the egg white until just frothy, then add the icing sugar and mix until it is thick and syrupy. Spread thinly on the top of the stars (using the back of a teaspoon or a brush). Aim just to cover the tops, you will need a thinner layer than you think. If you add too much, it will bubble and blister, rather than forming a smooth surface.

Bake the stars for 10-15 minutes until the edges of icing are just starting to colour.

Once ready, remove from the oven and allow to sit for a minute before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

(*) Recipe can be easily halved, results are equally good.

(**) If you are grinding almonds, ideally use a coffee grinder to reduce them to a fine meal. If the almonds/nuts are too coarse, the stars will be too moist and lose their shape in the oven. If the dough seems very sticky, add most ground nuts and icing sugar.

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Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things