Salmon Poke on Baked Wonton Crisps

There’s something about fair food that brings out the gluttonous evil twin in people. Foods that we normally wouldn’t touch all of a sudden become strangely enticing (cronut ice cream sandwiches, anyone?), despite how fantastically bad they are for you. Out of all the naughty foods at the OC Night Market last weekend, there was one snack that stood out from the rest as being not only delicious but healthy too…poke!
While my hubby was waiting for his order of Garlic Crab Fries to come out, I peered into the adjacent booth to find some fresh fish poke (pronounced POH-kay) being prepared. Wonton skins, seaweed salad, and fleshy chunks of fresh salmon…I watched these beautiful bites being stacked together and immediately thought that I’d have to make them once I got home.
Poke is basically marinated sushi-grade fish. In Hawaii, the dish is commonly served on its own like a salad, similar to the way ceviche is served. Soy sauce, fresh ginger, and roasted sesame oil pack a ton of Asian flavor and keep the dish tasting light and bright. Here, I’ve made a slimmed down version of the dish by baking the wrappers instead of frying them. The skins turn out just as golden and crunchy as the deep-fried version.

Salmon Poke on Baked Wonton Crisps is so incredibly fast and easy to make. The hardest task is finding a well-stocked Asian market to get sushi-grade fish and ready-made seaweed salad. Sencha or gyokuro do a delicious job of highlighting the fresh sea flavors in these healthy gourmet treats. Serve the tea hot and the savory umami tastes become richer. Serve the tea iced and the contrasting soft and crunchy textures will stand out that much more.  
Salmon Poke on Baked Wonton Crisps

Makes 12 crisps.

Ingredients:

8 oz. sashimi grade salmon or tuna

1 tsp grated ginger

1 Tbsp soy sauce

1/2 tsp sesame oil

squeeze fresh lemon juice

shichimi togarashi, to taste (optional)

12 potsticker wrappers

non-stick vegetable oil spray

1 cup seaweed salad

1/4 cup sliced green onion (green parts only)

1 Tbsp black and regular sesame seeds

1 Tbsp masago or fish roe

Equipment:

sharp knife

large bowl

grater

large baking sheet lined with foil

Directions:

1.)  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the salmon into 3/4″ chunks. To make the poke, place the chunks into a large bowl and mix them together with the soy sauce, ginger, sesame oil, lemon juice, and shichimi togarashi (if using). Set aside.

2.)  Spray the foil lined baking sheet with vegetable oil spray. Place the 12 potsticker wrappers on the baking sheet, then spray the tops of the wrappers with an even layer of vegetable oil spray. Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes or until the wrappers are golden brown and crisp. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the crisps cool for a few minutes.

3.)  Place a rounded Tbsp of seaweed salad on a crisp and spread it out evenly, leaving a 1/2″ unfilled border. Now place a rounded Tbsp of the poke on top of the seaweed salad. Top the poke with a scattering of sliced green onion and a tiny dollop of masago or fish roe. Finish with a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Repeat this step to make 12 finished poke crisps.

Tea of the Week: Den’s Tea’s Gyokuro Suimei

My hubby and I are planning on moving into a new home this summer. Choosing cabinets, comparing countertops, rethinking paint samples…it’s been an exciting process. Figuring out what to do with our yard is officially next up on our to-do list. With the wretched California drought staring us in the face, we’re actually having to consider the option of synthetic grass now (boo!). I’m not sure what will become of our yard, but with Den’s Tea’s Gyokuro Suimei I know I can always count on an authentically grassy experience–drought or no drought.
The thin, string-like needles of Den’s Tea’s Gyokuro Suimei produce a richly vibrant green liquor that’s bursting with spring vegetable flavor. One of the marked characteristics of this tea is the color of the brew, which looks and tastes as if the tea was juiced not just steeped. If you like your green tea to brew to true green (not yellow, amber, or brown), then this is definitely the cup for you. 
I love to treat this Japanese green tea as one of my very special green teas, not for the everyday. It’s a slightly pricier tea but absolutely worth it if you are an avid green tea lover. As the days get warmer, this is delicious when prepared as an overnight, cold brew. Enjoying it this way will help to accentuate the fresh, bright qualities of this tea…super refreshing and crisp to the last drop!

Tasting Notes for Den’s Tea’s Gyokuro Suimei:

BREWING TIPS:  Brew at 140 degrees F for 2 1/2 minutes for the first steep. Increase the brew temperature to 160 degrees F for 1 minute for the 2nd steep.
THE TEA:  Rich, dark, needle-thin green leaves. The tea looks like perfectly preserved, cut grass.
THE SCENT:  The scent is reminiscent of seaweed and fresh-cut green vegetables like bok choy, asparagus, or baby kale.
THE STEEP:  The brew steeps to a brilliant, dark, emerald green, as if it were a clear version of matcha. It’s taste is a balance between sweet and savory. The tea is rich with pronounced umami flavor, almost like a green vegetable broth. Mildly sweet and very slightly bitter.
GET IT:  At Den’s Tea’s website.
FOOD PAIRING:  The steeped leaves of this tea are so tender and flavorful that you can actually eat them! I love throwing them into steamed rice that’s paired with light Asian dishes. Try using them in my White Cut Chicken with Ginger Scallion Oil and Tea Rice or as a replacement for matcha when making Matcha Sushi Balls. For dessert, try a cup of this vibrant brew with Coconut Milk Pudding.

Azuki Bunny Buns

Soft, fluffy, sweet, and classically Asian. There’s no other way to describe red bean buns. Where Americans have chocolate chip cookies, the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans have their red bean buns. Whether it’s someone’s birthday or time for an afternoon snack, in Asian food culture red bean buns are always a welcome treat.

Maybe it’s the American in me, but I don’t find red bean buns nearly as appealing as chocolate chip cookies. After all, they’re made with–of all things–beans! Everything changed this past week when I did some tweaking on my recipe for savory steamed buns. Inspired by spring, I sought out to make an Easter bunny-themed variation, with the perfect mild sweetness and tender texture. The results are some seriously yummy buns that can easily steal the spotlight from those chocolate chip cookies.

Azuki buns are so popular that you’ll often find them ready-made in the freezer or fridge section in Asian markets. The tell-tale sign of a mediocre (or bad) azuki bun is that it’s chokingly dry and dense. And a good one? Tender and slightly chewy with just the right amount of filling. 
I based this recipe on the dough used for my Steamed BBQ Pork Buns and Chinese Fold-Over Buns, with a few changes. Instead of using Hong Kong flour, which is harder to find, I use regular all-purpose flour here. I also swap out the powdered sugar for superfine sugar, which creates a chewier, slightly heavier dough that steams up with a perfectly thin skin and smooth surface.

Decorated with a pair of bunny ears and a nubby nose made from soft candies, the humble buns are instantly transformed into wagashi-like Easter treats. You can also just scatter some sesame seeds in the center of each rounded bun before steaming. The buns will look elegant and easy, ideal for no-nonsense adults who aren’t in to adorably chubby bunnies. Enjoy these with Japanese green teas like a pale jade gyokuo, a toasty genmaicha, or a delicate sencha like Palais des Thés Tawaramine Shincha. Any tea that’s light, grassy, and fresh on the palette is ideal with the classic Asian flavor and look of these buns. Some may say that these Azuki Bunny Buns are too cute to eat, but as you can see I clearly don’t agree!Azuki Bunny Buns

Makes 10 buns.

Ingredients:

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup superfine sugar

1 tsp SAF instant yeast

1 tsp baking powder

1 Tbsp non-fat dry milk powder

1/8 tsp salt

1 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil

6 Tbsp lukewarm water + 1-2 tsp water more (if needed)

1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp sweetened smooth red bean paste (koshian)

black sesame seeds, for bunny eyes

soft, pink chewy candies, for bunny ears and noses (I used Hi-Chews)

non-stick spray or oil, for coating proofing bowl

Equipment:

stand mixer with dough hook attachment

large bowl

plastic wrap

work surface

chef’s knife

Tbsp measure

large bamboo steamer

wok with slightly larger diameter than steamer OR a stockpot with exactly the same diameter as the steamer

parchment paper, cut into 2 1/2″ squares

small cupcake liners (optional)

Japanese bento grass (optional)

Directions:

1.)  Place all dry dough ingredients into the bowl of a large stand mixer. Start the mixer on low, then gradually add the water and oil. About 3 minutes in, the shaggy dough should come together to form a ball. If it does not, add 1-2 tsp of water until the dough comes together. Let the dough continue to mix on low for 10 minutes, until you get a soft and supple ball of dough.

2.)  Lightly spray a large bowl with non-stick spray, coating the top surface of the dough with some of the same oil. Place the dough ball in the large bowl, then cover it with plastic wrap and place it in a draft free place to rise until almost doubled in volume.

3.)  After the first rise, take the dough out onto a work surface. Give the dough a few light kneadings, then portion it out into 10 equal pieces using a chef’s knife. Shape each dough piece into a ball, then flatten each ball into a disk about 3 1/2″ in diameter and fill it with 1 Tbsp of red bean paste. Gather the edges of the flattened dough disk, pinching them together to seal. Flip the filled dough ball over, then roll it into a slightly oval circle. Place this shaped bun on a small square of parchment paper.

4.)  Attach the eyes of the bunnies with the slightly wetted tip of a toothpick. Place the bun into the bamboo steamer. Shape a total of 10 buns, placing them at least 1″ apart in the steamer. Cover the steamer and let the buns rise for about 15 minutes, until just slightly puffy. Meanwhile, boil some water in a wok or stockpot so that the water is at least 2″ deep in the pot. 5.)  Steam the buns for 12 minutes over water at a full boil. After the buns have finished steaming, let them cool before decorating them with soft, pink candies (I used Strawberry Hi-Chews, but you could use any soft pink candy). Cut a candy crosswise, in 1/4″ thick pieces. Shape the pieces (see below) into elongated bunny ears. Use the center pink part of the candies to make tiny balls to make the bunny noses. Attach the candies to the surface of the cooled, steamed buns using light dabs of water. Decorate these buns just before serving as the attached candies get soft and sticky after being adhered to the buns. Place the buns on cupcake liners decorated with bento grass for a festive Easter finish.

Miso Chive Gyoza

Everytime my hubby and I go out for Japanese food, we’re always offered some miso soup to slurp along with our meal. Although I love drinking miso soup with my meal (which is often a chirashi bowl), I don’t actually like it when it’s served before my meal. By itself, miso soup can be really salty, especially when it only has a few scant cubes of tofu to balance out its pungent brininess.

The deliciousness of miso is most apparent when it’s used with a variety of bland, one-note ingredients. Tofu, noodles, and vegetables all benefit from miso’s almost meaty flavor, which is exactly why I’ve mixed all these ingredients together to create a veggie-based version of everyone’s favorite Japanese dish…gyoza!

Miso is very much like a thicker, full-bodied soy sauce. Instead of using the thick paste version of miso to make these gyoza, I’ve opted to use miso concentrate, which is a lighter, liquid version of real miso. The thinner consistency of miso concentrate means that it melds with the rest of the filling ingredients easily and evenly.

Another great thing about miso concentrate is that you can find it without making a special trip to the Japanese market. Since it’s not a refrigerated product (before opening), it can be found in the Asian section of well-stocked markets or even online. If you want to use regular miso paste in this recipe, use less of it and dilute it with 1-2 teaspoons of hot water before proceeding with the recipe.

Flowering chives are the main veggie showcased in these Miso Chive Gyoza. These chives are thicker and sturdier than the more common version of Chinese chives, and have a small white bud attached at each tip. In my opinion, flowering chives have a much more pronounced garlic flavor compared to the flat chives that look like super long blades of grass. Both types of chives will work in this recipe, so feel free to switch up using either variety depending on which type you find (or which one is cheaper, because Asian chives are never cheap!).

Do you ever wonder why chives are always used in Asian dumplings? The simple answer is that thin veggies like chives make flavorful fillings without one having to go chop crazy. A pierced dumpling means that flavor will be lost, so it’s important that a filling be relatively homogenous and not bulky so that it won’t poke out through the soft dumpling skins.

Feel free to use this dumpling filling with store-bought wrappers–the dumplings will turn out every bit as delicious. To finish these yummy pan-fried pockets, dunk them into some homemade Ponzu Dipping Sauce, which gives the veggie filling a hit of salty citrus. Instead of making ponzu the traditional way, by boiling the sauce with konbu and dashi stock, I make an easy version by throwing in some seaweed furikake and bonito flakes with the other sauce ingredients just before serving.

These Miso Chive Gyoza are just perfect when served with a crisp Matcha Mojito or some grassy, bold Japanese green tea. If the summer heat has you craving a chic meal with lots of fresh and bright flavors, then this is definitely the meal for you! I’ve decided to bring these over to celebrate Fiesta Friday over at my friend Angie’s beautiful site, The Novice Gardener.  It’s my first time showing up to the party, so I’m ready for a good time!

Miso Chive Gyoza with Ponzu Dipping Sauce

Makes 32 dumplings.

Ingredients:

{Dumpling Skins}

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup glutinous rice flour

1 tsp sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1 1/4 cup hot water

bench flour

{Filling}

2 Tbsp peanut or canola oil

1/3 lb. garlic chives (nira), finely cut into 1/4″ pieces

5 large, dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated in warm water for 2 hours, then finely diced into 1/4″ pieces

1/4 block extra-firm tofu, drained, dried, then cut into 1/4″ pieces

1 oz saifun (bean thread noodles), softened in warm water for 15 minutes, then drained and finely cut into 1/4″ pieces

1 tsp garlic, grated

1 tsp ginger, grated

1/2 Tbsp michu (rice wine)

1/2 Tbsp mirin

1/2 Tbsp soy sauce

1/2 tsp sugar

1/4 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp chile oil

1/2 tsp sesame oil

4 Tbsp miso concentrate

{Ponzu Dipping Sauce}

2 Tbsp soy sauce

2 Tbsp lemon juice

1 Tbsp mirin

1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar

{Garnishes- to taste}

shichimi togarashi

furikake

bonito flakes (optional)

Equipment:

stand mixer with dough attachment

large zip top bag

Asian rolling-pin 

work surface

1 Tbsp measure

large skillet with lid

large sheet pan

spatula or tongs

Directions:

1.)  Make the Dumpling Skins. Combine all the dry ingredients for the skins together into the bowl of a stand mixer. Turn mixer on low and add 1 cup and 2 Tbsp of hot water in a steady stream. When the dough starts to come together after a few minutes, check the dough. If the dough looks dry, add the last 2 Tbsp of hot water as necessary, so that the dough just comes together to form a ball. Let the dough mix for a total of 5-7 minutes on low until the dough is soft and supple and doesn’t stick to your finger when you touch the surface. Place the finished dough into a large zip top bag to rest for at least a half hour and up to 1 day before using. If you plan on using the dough the next day, place it in the fridge after placing into the zip top bag.

2.)  Make the Filling. Place the chopped chives in a large mixing bowl. Mix the michu, mirin, soy, sugar, pepper, chile oil, sesame oil, and miso concentrate in a small bowl. Heat 2 Tbsp of oil on high heat in a large saucepan until the oil just starts to ripple. Add the mushrooms, garlic, and ginger and stir fry for 2 minutes. Add the tofu, then cook for another 2 minutes. Now add the saifun and cook for another minute before adding the miso liquid mixture. Cook for another 2 minutes, then take off the heat and place the mixture on top of the chopped chives in the mixing bowl. Mix everything together evenly.

3.)  Wrap the Dumplings. Divide the dough into 32 equal pieces. The easiest way to do this is to roll the dough into a log, then cut it in half. Cut each half into half again to make a total of 4 large dough balls. Roll each dough ball into a log, then cut each log into 8 equal pieces. Each dough piece will be roughly the size of a cherry tomato, and will make 1 dumpling. Use an Asian rolling-pin to roll each ball into a 4″ circle/slight oval with a slightly puffy center. With an oval piece of dough laid flat in one of your hands, fill the center with 1 Tbsp of the filling, then use your other hand to seal the wrapper into half-moon dumpling. At this point, you can add pleats to your dumplings, or simply prop them up on a sheet pan lightly scattered with bench flour. If you are looking for ways to improve on dumpling making, please check out my Tips for Making Asian Dumplings!

4.)  Cook the Dumplings. Heat 2 Tbsp of peanut or canola oil in a large skillet. Distribute the oil evenly in the pan. When the oil starts to shimmer, carefully place the gyoza in the pan. It does not matter if they touch or not. After you’ve placed all the gyoza in the pan (a large skillet should fit about 16 dumplings), let them cook for 30 seconds, then pour 3/4 cup of cold water into the pan. Immediately cover the pan with the lid, and continue to cook the gyoza on high heat for about 8 minutes, until the bottoms are golden brown and easily pull away from the skillet.

5.)  Make the Ponzu Sauce. Mix all the Ponzu Sauce ingredients together in a small bowl. If you like, scatter some togarashi, furikake, or bonito flakes on top of  the gyoza or in the Ponzu Sauce itself just before serving.

Kokeshi Easter Eggs

So it turns out that this week I’m heading over to the place in the world that I love the most…Hawaii!  Hawaii has always been my inspiration and comfort, my home away from home.

If you are familiar with Oahu and the Honolulu area, you probably know about Ala Moana.  There are so many unique Asian and Hawaiian treasures at Ala Moana.  My favorites include the island-style tea shop Lupicia, a colorful mochi stand in their food court called Kansai Yamato, and finally Shirokiya, a Japanese department store with the most amazing selection of kokeshi dolls.

Kokeshi are wooden lacquered Japanese dolls painted in colorful kimonos.  The kimonos range from bright and vibrant to earth-toned and natural looking.  As they are entirely made of wood, the dolls are often quite heavy.  They sometimes have an egg-like shape, which is exactly why I ended up creating these exotic Kokeshi Doll Easter Eggs this year!

What’s intriguing about these Kokeshi Easter Eggs is that they are dyed and decorated with common everyday spices and 2 of my favorite teas, pu-erh and matcha!

Pu-erh Tea is a very dark fermented Chinese black tea, also known as bo-lay in Cantonese.  Many consider pu-erh tea an acquired taste because of its earthy and slightly musty richness.  This is a very dark chocolate colored tea, making it ideal for dyeing eggs.  Using pu-erh to dye eggs gives them a peachy flesh skin tone coloring within a few minutes of boiling.  In a pinch, you can use some rustic brown eggs instead, but since I am never short on tea, I went ahead boiled my white eggs in a concentrated pu-erh tea steep.

Thanks to our friends over in England and Spain, mustard and paprika become the basis for clothing our egg dolls.  The spices give off the most brilliant shades of sunshine yellow and fiery red in the kimonos, especially when they’ve bloomed after being mixed with a bit of corn syrup.  And as you may already know from my Matcha Monday posts, there is nothing better than getting that perfect shade of leaf green color from a good-quality matcha powder.

After the corn syrup paint hardens to a lacquer like shine, it’s time to embellish!  Accessories complete any look, so I’ve dotted pastel flower sprinkles on the kimonos, attaching them with tiny dabs of the same corn syrup used to create the kimonos.  And if you aren’t planning on eating these on the same day, use hollowed out eggs to decorate with (tea dye just the shells), as the corn syrup tends to soften when taken in and out of the fridge (i.e. because of condensation).

With Hawaii on my mind, I added one last flower sprinkle to the left hairline of each Kokeshi Egg.  In Hawaiian culture, a flower over the left ear means that the gal is taken–that is, married or no longer available.  Feel free to switch sides!

I can’t wait to visit Shirokiya in Honolulu this weekend!  Kimonos and kokeshi dolls will be in plenty, and I’ll probably be looking at the beautiful Japanese fabrics and designs thinking of different ways to dress up these Kokeshi Easter Eggs next year.

And as a side note, if you love Japanese tea and culture like I do, my blogger friend, Buri-chan, over at San’in Monogatari has an incredible blog.  She just finished participating in the 2014 World Kimono Competition last week, where according to Buri-chan, casual, formal (tomesode), and flashier (furisode) style kimonos were each judged in different competitions.  Buri-chan tied for 4th place at the event…check out her gorgeous outfit here I’m beginning to wonder if my kokeshi dolls would be cute enough to enter the competition?

Add a bit of Hawaiian flair to your Easter Egg hunt this year!  Natural looking and beach ready, these babes will add just the right touch of sunshine to all your Easter celebrations!

Kokeshi Doll Easter Eggs

Makes 8 eggs.

What You’ll Need:

2 Tbsp loose pu-erh tea

4 cups of water

8 eggs

medium pot for boiling eggs

slotted spoon

tea towel

edible food color marker

1 Tbsp corn syrup, plus extra for glueing on hair, eyes, and flower sprinkles

matcha green tea powder, paprika powder, and mustard powder

black decorating sugar

small bowl or teacup

16 black sesame seeds

1 Tbsp of dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips

toothpicks

small bowl filled up 2″ with rice to help with decorating (optional)

 Step-By-Step:

1.)  Boil the Eggs.

Bring water to a boil over high heat and throw in the tea to steep.  Allow the water to continue to boil while the tea is steeping.  When tea looks dark brown, add in eggs and boil for 5 minutes.  After 5 minutes, turn heat off and let eggs steep an extra 5 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, remove eggs from the tea steep onto a tea towel and wipe dry.  Allow to cool completely before decorating.

2..)  Draw the Lines.

There are 3 simple lines you need to draw to create the kokeshi doll.

Using a black food marker, draw a “Y” on the center of an egg.  As you can see, it doesn’t need to be perfect.

Now draw a sweeping hairline/left side hair part on kokeshi above the “Y” and join the edges.

Turn the egg around to its back side.  Draw a big “U” shape, joining the tips of the “U” shape to the point where the “Y” met the hairline that you drew before.

3.)  Make the Kimonos.

Mix the matcha, mustard, or paprika with corn syrup to create a thick-like edible paint.  The ratio is 1 tsp of corn syrup to a 1/2 tsp of the powdered tea or spice.  Gently use your finger to mix a bit of the tea/spice into the corn syrup a little at a time.   The thicker the “paint” the more color the kimonos will have.

Use your finger to apply the tea/spice paint in an even, thin layer in gentle swirl motions.  The kimono should be painted below the “Y” area previously drawn.

Keep the “face” area (where my thumb is) as clean as possible.

In an egg crate or some rice in a small bowl, prop the egg upside down to allow for kimono to dry.  This should take about 2 hours.

4.)  Make the Hair.  

With a fully dried kimono, now create a full looking hairdo for the kokeshi.

Place black sanding sugar in a small bowl or teacup.  Paint the area between the hairline and the “U” shape with a thin layer of plain corn syrup.  You can see below that the kimono paint dripped onto the hair area, which will be easily covered!

Dip the just painted, sticky hair section of kokeshi in the black decorating sugar.  If it is easier for you, you can just paint one side of the hair at a time.  Right side of hair…

Left side of hair…

Feel free to use extra dabs of corn syrup and black sugar to fill in any bald spots.

5.)  Make a Face.  Your kokeshi is now ready to have black sesame eyes.

Use a toothpick to dab a bit of corn syrup onto the location for the eyes on the egg.  You can use the same toothpick now to pick up a black sesame and attach it to the egg.

The Kokeshi Egg Doll is almost finished!

6.)  Give Them Some Style.

Outline the “Y” on the kimonos with melted chocolate, applied in a thin line with a toothpick.

Add some flower sprinkles to the kimono to create a fun print.  And if you are wanting for them to go Hawaiian style, add a flower sprinkle to the right or left side of their hairline.  Attach sprinkles with tiny dabs of corn syrup.

The beautiful Kokeshi Doll Eggs are all dressed and ready to shine!  Happy Easter egg decorating!