Cheat Okonomiyaki / Japanese savoury vegetables pancake 简易大阪烧

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Just that I haven’t emphasised enough, this is a cheating version of an okonomiyaki. Some Japanese people probably hate me right now for spoiling their recipe with one of the most popular foods in Osaka. It is embarrassing that I don’t have the key ingredient ‘Nagaimo’, a species of yam that I just cannot get in Finland, like many other things. So bear with me, this is my cheat and easy version of okonomiyaki. And seriously I think it is as good as those I ate in Osaka. (with a beer or sake in my hand of course)

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(Make 2 servings)

Ingredients:

130g Flour

110ml Water

2 Eggs

130g Cabbage, shredded

1 Small carrot, peeled and shredded

1 Chili, minced

1 Spring onion, minced

80g Mushroom of your choice, diced ( or pork, chicken, salmon, etc.)

1/4 tsp Salt

1/4 tsp Garlic powder

Dash of white pepper

1/4 tsp Soy sauce (optional)

Topping:

Homemade barbecue sauce:

  • 2 tbsp Ketchup
  • 1,5 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1,5 tbsp Oyster sauce/ Vegetarian stir fry sauce

Mayonnaise

Shicimi (Japanese spice mixture) / chili powder (optional)

Aonori (Japanese seaweed powder) / seaweed, ripped

Katsuobushi (Japanese bonito flakes)

Methods:

1) In a big bowl, slightly beat in  eggs, mix in water and flour and let it rest for 15 minutes.

2) Add the rest of the ingredients, stir lightly to mix well.

3) Heat up 2 tbsp oil in a frying pan. Pour out half the mixture into the pan and form a round shape. Turn heat to medium low. Let it fry until golden brown from the bottom, flip and continue to fry the other side. (Each side about 3-4 minutes)

4) To serve, spread 2 tbsp of homemade barbecue sauce on top of the pancake, follow by drizzling some mayonnaise, shicimi powder, ripped seaweed and bonito flakes. Serve immediately.

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Childhood memories of Lantern Festival / Piglet Biscuits (猪笼饼)

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Have you heard of lantern festival? A day when you might see Chinese children carry colourful lanterns, light up candles while the adults gather together and share a pot of tea with mooncakes? Well, I haven’t seen anything like that since I moved to Finland. Back then when I was little, lantern festival was one of the best days in my childhood.

I have the clearest memory when my sister and I were about 7-9 years old. Our primary school held DIY lanterns competition every year. A few days before that, we would run to a soft drinks shop next door and buy its ‘seasonal products’ like lanterns-making materials, and make our own lanterns with those shiny, colourful papers with glue and wires. We were pretty smart back then. I don’t remember much but I’ve always made a chicken lantern. I guess I only knew the shape of a chicken well since we always had chickens in our farm house. Not only lanterns, my sister and I also experienced making our own kites that flew high in the sky! It was so exciting!

About 300 meters away from my grandmother’s house (where I grew up) there is a Chinese temple called 三神庙 (Three gods temple). Each year there would be all kinds of celebration happening and so as lantern festival. Nearly all of the kids in the village, maybe even outside the village would come here together with their lanterns. If I remember right, there was like 100 kids or more. All of us held our lanterns with a bamboo stick, gathered as a giant circle along the basketball field located at the Chinese temple. Everybody waited for the classic song to play, which is 传灯, the direct translation is ‘to pass on the light’, meaning to pass down our culture to the next generation. When the song is played, we walked slowly in a clockwise circle, carefully held our bamboo stick so that the lantern wouldn’t fall, all the way until the song ended. (We supposed to sing a long too but I’ve never learned the lyrics at such age) And the most important part was when the ceremony ended, all of us would be getting a piglet biscuit as reward, and to me it was the best part of all!

Later on, the adults would be setting up the praying ceremony at home. There was a table in the front yard, where there would be mooncakes, fruits, tea and sometimes roasted chicken or pork. And the adults would light up some incense sticks, which is believed that the smoke raised up in the air carried the prayers to the gods. On the other hand, the children would be lighting up more lanterns all over the yard. We also loved to light up all the leftover candles that we had everywhere around the house. The night of lantern festival was one of those very few nights we’re allowed to stay up late.

It was so amazing. Too bad I don’t think our children would ever experience anything like that in the future, by the time when we have one.

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Golden syrup, recipe as below.

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(Make 19 piglet biscuits)

Recipe referred to Hong Kitchen

(You would need a mold for this dish)

Ingredients:

500g Flour

380g Golden syrup*

120ml Peanut oil

1 tbsp Alkaline water

1 Egg york

Methods:

1) Mix all the ingredients together (except the egg york) until it forms a smooth dough. Cover with cling wrap and let it rest in room temperature for at least 2 hours.

2) Divide the dough into 19 small parts, about 35g each.

3) Dust some flour on the mold (to prevent sticking), press the dough in and flatten the surface. Turn it around and then gently beat it out from the back side of the mold. Repeat until all the dough is used.

4) Place all the piglet biscuits on a baking sheet, bake in 160 celsius oven for 15 minutes. Take it out and brush the biscuits with beaten egg york. Bake for another 10 minutes in the oven.

5) When it is done, take it out from the oven, let it cool completely. Store them in container. Let it rest for at least 3 days before serving.

PS: I know. This is weird but it really works like this. You need to let the biscuit to ‘mature’ for at least 3 days until it is eatable, otherwise they are hard as rocks. I wanted to cheat but it was really not eatable on the first or second day, you can feel it with your fingers. But after 3 days, the biscuits have softened and developed this beautiful, syrupy aromas that make them so irresistible! It really tastes like the one I got back home.

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This is the same golden syrup to make traditional Cantonese mooncakes.

*Recipe for Golden Syrup 转化糖浆

(Make just enough for this piglet biscuits recipe)

Ingredients:

400g Sugar

200ml Water

50ml Fresh lemon juice

Methods:

1) In a saucepan, add sugar and water, stir and bring to boil. Add lemon juice and bring to boil again. Turn the heat to the lowest.

2) Let the syrup to cook at low heat for about 45 minutes to 1 hour (without stirring it). When the syrup becomes dark brown in colour and its density is similar to honey, remove from heat. Let it cool completely then store in a clean, air tight jar.

PS: It is suggested to let the golden syrup to ‘mature’ for a certain time before using it, e.g. the longer the better it brings out the aroma, like wine. This golden syrup could keep well in room temperature for up to a year. 

My beautiful, lovely Grandmother/ 外婆的咸肉粽/ Glutinous Rice Dumpling Wrapped in Bamboo Leaves

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I only started to appreciate traditions and festival foods after I came to live in Finland, a place that has winter more than 6 months, celebrates to the midnight sun during the summer that lasts no longer than 2 months. It is clearly different than where I came from, Malaysia. As Malaysian Chinese, we carried out many practices originated from China. Some food and cultures have been also created only in Malaysia partly influenced by the Malay, Indian and European cultures. To name, black pepper crabs, pork ribs in herb tea, fish head curry are becoming some of those signature dishes of Malaysia.

This dish I’m introducing today is one of those festival dishes originated from China. Making glutinous rice dumpling or ‘Zongzi’ in Chinese, during the Dragon Boat Festival remains one of those practices carried on from generation to generation. There is a nice story about the history of making glutinous rice dumpling. You may go ahead and google, all I will tell you is that this dish was supposed to be for fishes not human. 😀 Well, now it does not sound as tempting anymore, does it? No worries, this is not the same anymore compared to how it started. It is safe to be consumed by human and super delicious!

My grandmother, who I love to death used to make Zongzi every year. She would make countless bundles of these and hang them everywhere under the ceiling to cool. We always have too many Zongzi and enough to hand out some to the neighbours and relatives, it made me so proud. My grandmother used to have all the energy for it. But she stopped doing all these fun stuffs after she got that terrible stroke that made her body half paralysed. Before that she used to be out going, travelling to China, playing Ma Jong everywhere, running after me with bamboo stick real fast. I have been really sad to see that terrible change in her life. For over 20 years, she has been hiding from the society in her empty house, avoid meeting relatives and feeling ashamed of how she looks, not capable to walk properly. When me and my Finnish husband got married, I was excited to bring him back to the village I grew up in Johor Bahru and to meet my grandmother. I remembered while this white guy walked into her home, my grandmother immediately said that, ‘Oh no… there is nothing to see here, I’ve got nothing to show in my house, I’m a shamed!’

Should have correct her immediately that she is the only one and the most beautiful thing to be seen in that empty house.

I tried to call her every week and if not, I feel guilty and regret that I didn’t. Too bad there is a thing called time zone differences in the world. It makes it rather difficult to reach her before her bedtime. I’m sure my grandma would be very proud of me for making these rice dumpling all by myself. Oh well, my sister helped a little. 😉 I can’t see but next time when I tell her this, I’m sure she will be smiling like this.

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I did not realise that Popo, my grandmother looks much older than the picture in my head. 😦 Last phone call she said that she has a reason to feel happy again because she heard my voice. (Cried…)

Here is to my Popo, my beloved grandmother.

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(Make 50-60 bite sized Zongzi)

WARNING! THIS IS A VERY COMPLICATED AND TIME CONSUMING DISH!

Ingredients A:

1 kilo Glutinous rice

400g Peeled split mung bean

200g Dried chestnut

200g/ 1/2 pack Dried bamboo leaves

15-20 pieces Dried shiitake mushroom

4 Tbsp Oyster/Mushroom sauce

4 Tbsp Seseme oil

4 Tbsp Soy sauce

2 Tbsp Deep fried shallot (optional)

Several salted duck eggs (optional)

Plastic stings or hemp, cut into 50cm long and tight into bundles (I used wool thread :-P)

 

Ingredients B for Carnivores:

500g Pork belly, cut into biteable cubes

100g Dried Shrimp (optional)

2 cloves Garlic, minced

2 Tbsp Oyster sauce

1 Tbsp Soy sauce

1 Tbsp Dark soy sauce

1 Tsp 5 spice powder

 

Ingredients C for Vegetarians:

300g Seitan, cut into biteable cubes

150g Peanut, soaked in water (Can be replaced by canned peanut)

50g Chinese preserved kale/ vegetable (optional)

2 cloves Garlic, minced

2 Tbsp Mushroom sauce

1 Tbsp Soy sauce

1Tbsp Dark soy sauce

1 Tsp 5 spice powder

 

Methods:

1) (Ingredients A) Soak glutinous rice, peeled split mung bean, dried chestnut, dried bamboo leaves and dried shiitake mushroom in water separately overnight. Washed and drained. Mix glutinous rice and mung bean together with 2 tbsp oyster/mushroom sauce, 2 tbsp sesame oil and 2 tbsp soy sauce and deep-fried shallot in a bowl. Set aside.

2) Heat up oil in wok pan, stir fry mushroom and chestnut separately with the rest of the sauces, place also separately.

(The reason to place ingredients separately is to make sure that you get a piece of everything wrapped into every rice dumplings one by one.)

For Carnivores (Ingredients B):

2) Fry pork in oil with garlic, add oyster sauce, soy sauce, dark soy sauce and 5 spice powder until cooked. Meanwhile, toast dried shrimp in hot pan with a little bit of oil until fragrant. Set aside.

For Vegetarians (Ingredients C):

2) Fry seitan in oil with garlic, add in mushroom sauce, soy sauce, dark soy sauce and 5 spice powder and mix well. Meanwhile toast peanut with a little bit oil and salt. Set aside.

3) To make a rice dumpling, placed 2 bamboo leaves together horizontally and put both ends together to make a pocket. Put in 1 tbsp of rice-mung bean filling, add one piece of everything on top: mushroom, chestnut, pork/seitan, peanut, some Chinese preserved kale (optional) and salted duck egg (optional). Top up more rice-mung bean filling to cover up. Fold the leaves to closure, wrap the dumpling tightly with strings.

4) Cook rice dumplings in a deep cooking pot with enough water that covers them. Add 1 Tbsp of salt. Bring to boil, turn the heat to medium low, cook the dumplings for 4 hours. Enjoy as breakfast, lunch, snack or dinner.

I froze most of the dumplings in freezer and whenever I feel like it, I take it out and steam it for 10-15 minutes. I have let my Finnish, Chinese and Russian friends tried too, some said that one is definitely not enough! 😀

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It is important to tight the rice dumpling well and firm in order to prevent leaking during cooking process. FYI, 2 of mine leaked.

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 Here is my vegetarian version of Zongzi.

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With a pressure cooker, it only takes 40 minutes to cook the glutinous rice dumpling (Zongzi) ready.

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There are many ways to wrap a rice dumpling. Be creative and make your own style! No stress.

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If you may wonder, the main flavour of this dish comes from the fragrance of the bamboo leaves: woody, tea like aromas, hard to describe, very unique indeed!

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 Now you may understand why I think my Popo would be proud of me for making this dish. 😉

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