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.

Matcha Sushi Balls

Sushi rice balls or temari are easily becoming my new favorite tea meal. These colorful rice bites are a twist on ordinary cut sushi rolls, simpler to make (no sushi mat required!) and with an added touch of artistic flair. I love that you can make them using leftover tidbits of this and that, whatever you have on hand in the fridge. Like dim sum or a tea sandwich, they are delightful little delicacies, ideally served with a soothing cup of Japanese tea.

Sushi balls can be made with host of pre-prepped ingredients like lunch meats, cocktail shrimp, or even thinly sliced sushi grade fish. Here, I’ve used smoked salmon, which is easy to find and enhances the rich umami taste of the matcha flavored rice. Eaten together this way, you can taste the best of flavors from land and sea.

For vegetarian variations, you’ll want to showcase the beauty of your produce as much as possible. A cluster of carefully sliced green onions, thin pieces of ripe avocado, or vibrant orange carrot cut-outs add flavor and visual flair to your sushi game. Even Western ingredients like cheese, capers, and sliced olives make pretty embellishments.Above all, remember that creativity is key when making temari sushi. Try selecting colorful ingredients that are easily molded around the rice ball, not too bulky or too large. If you like your sushi more on the traditional side, you can nix the matcha power and make the rice balls plain, seasoned simply with sweetened rice vinegar. These crafty homemade sushi are ideal for parties, bento lunches, or even a romantic dinner. Serve them with emerald green gyokuro, grassy sencha, or caffeine-free soba cha and your artful Japanese tea meal is complete.
Matcha Sushi Balls

Makes 20 rice balls. 

Ingredients:

{Seasoned Rice}

2 cups sushi rice

3 cups water

2 Tbsp rice vinegar

1 1/2 Tbsp sugar

1 tsp salt

2 tsp matcha

{Toppings}

a few slices of smoked salmon

capers

furikake

avocado

masago or caviar

cocktail shrimp, halved down the spine

black sesame seeds

Equipment:

rice cooker or medium pot with cover

small pot

small sifter

wooden spoon

plastic wrap, a piece the size of a sheet of paper

small bowl of cold water

large plate or baking sheet

2 Tbsp cookie dough scoop

sharp paring knife, kitchen scissors, or mini vegetable cutters

Directions:

1.)  Place the rice in the pot, then wash it several times until the water runs clear. Drain off the water from the rice, then add the 3 cups of water. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat, then let the rice cook for 20 minutes on a low simmer until all the water is absorbed.

2.)  While the rice is cooking, prepare the seasoned vinegar. Warm the vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside.

3.)  When the rice has absorbed all the water, let it sit for 5 minutes, then add the sweet vinegar seasoning. Sift the matcha over the hot rice, then gently incorporate it with the wooden spoon.

4.)  To make the rice balls, dip the ice cream scoop into a bowl of cold water, then scoop out the seasoned rice onto a large plate or baking sheet. For the sushi balls to all be the same size, pack the rice into the scoop and level it off.

5.)  Place the toppings on each rice ball. Use a sharp paring knife, kitchen scissors, or mini vegetable cutters to cut the toppings into pretty shapes. The toppings you add at this point will end up lying flush against the surface of the rice ball. Shape the rice balls by placing one in the center of a piece of plastic wrap lightly damped with water. Use the plastic wrap to mold the topping against the rice ball, using your hand to create a smooth surface.6.)  Remove the rice ball from the plastic wrap and place on a serving platter. At this point, you can finish the temari with delicate finishes like capers, masago, furikake, or sesame seeds. Repeat steps 4-6 to create 20 sushi balls…enjoy!

Bite-Size Spam Musubi with Green Tea Furikake

There is no snack that Hawaiians and locals love more than SPAM Musubi.  I don’t make these very often as I have a love-hate relationship with SPAM, but whenever I head out to Hawaii I am always reminded of how iconic this specialty is in Hawaiian food culture.  And yes, as crazy as it is to say, SPAM musubi are incredibly tasty!

During my college years at UCLA, I participated in an exchange program to study Asian American culture at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.  Near my dorm, a local food truck would park itself along the pathway I took to my classes, well-stocked with piping hot SPAM musubis every morning.  I would often pick up a SPAM musubi on the way to sessions, wondering how a snack so seemingly odd could be so delicious.

If we are talking about Asian American food culture, there couldn’t be a specialty more representative of the idea than SPAM Musubi itself.  During WWII, American-made SPAM was actually shipped abroad to feed allied troops.  Musubi, also known as onigiri, refers to a Japanese white rice snack paired with something salty or sweet.  Who would have thought the two ingredients would make such a popular and iconic pairing?

You can tell from these SPAM musubi pillows in the window of a gift shop in Downtown Honolulu that I really wasn’t kidding then I said that this snack is much-loved in Hawaii.  I was really tempted to get one of these, but made the adult decision not to.  If I got a few of them, how fun would my next pillow fight be!?

There isn’t much to making a musubi, the most difficult thing is getting a musubi maker to make all sushi pieces look nice and neat.  I’ve mini-fied my musubis, where 1 regular sized musubi is cut into 3 smaller ones.  These are perfect for a summer party or luau.

I got my musubi maker at Marukai, a Japanese grocery store in Los Angeles.  If you can’t find one, no biggie–just shape the rice into rectangular pieces about the size of a tic tac box, perhaps a bit thicker.

In Japanese cooking, furikake is a condiment that’s commonly scattered over hot rice.  The most common furikake seasonings have flakes of nori (dried seaweed), sesame seeds, or even bonito flakes in the mix, and are commonly used in musubi making.

sencha tin for furikakeWhat makes my musubi recipe extra special is my Green Tea Furikake that’s used to sprinkle over the rice layer of this onigiri.  As you can see from my Homemade Washi Tea Tin, the mix is made with sencha green tea, a steamed Japanese green tea with a spinach-like taste.  Korean red pepper flakes and toasted sesame seeds are also in my Green Tea Furikake, which I originally used to scatter over popcorn as a snack.  Here, sprinkling this mixture over hot or warm rice helps to soften and bloom the tea, and the result is a musubi with a slight vegetal taste and boost of umami flavor.

And if you are feeling a bit lazy like I often do, you can skip the sushi making entirely and just place all the cooked musubi ingredients into a bowl.  I got the idea to do this after Ngan over at Ngan Made It fried up some Panko Breaded Shrimp the other day.  All the same tastes without the fuss–what a clever idea Ngan!

If you want a true taste of Hawaii, this is the recipe where it starts.  Wrapped in little musubi packages or tossed in a bowl, these Bite-Size Spam Musubi are a simple way to appreciate the melding of Asian and American cultures in the islands.  Be generous with the Green Tea Furikake–it’s that little something special that makes these local treats taste over-the-top amazing!

Bite-Size Spam Musubi with Green Tea Furikake

Makes 24 mini musubis.

Ingredients:  

1 can of Lite SPAM

3 Tbsp low-sodium teriyaki sauce or 3 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce mixed with 1-2 tsp of brown sugar

4 cups just-cooked medium or short grain white rice (I used Calrose), cooled to a temperature where you can handle it with your hands

4 sheets Nori dried seaweed

Green Tea Furikake

Equipment:

sharp chef’s knife

frying pan

small bowl

large piece of plastic wrap

scissors

musubi maker (optional)

bowl of water for making sushi

worksurface

Directions:

1.)  Cut the SPAM.  From each can of SPAM, you should get 8 large pieces (and 24 small pieces, enough for 24 Bite-Size Musubi).  Slide the meat out of the package, then cut once in the middle to create two halves.

Cut each half into half again, then each of those halves into half again.

Since we are making Bite-Size/Mini Spam Musubi, now sit the pieces up on their base and cut so that you get 3 pieces of mini SPAM from each of the regular size pieces.

2.)  Dunk each slice of meat in to some teriyaki sauce.  Just lighty coat the pieces and shake off any excess.

3.)  Pan fry the slices on a hot pan set on low heat for 5-7 minutes, or until you get a bit of a glazed crust on each piece.

4.)  Prep a work surface by laying down a large sheet of plastic wrap.  With wet hands, scoop some of the prepared rice into a musubi maker that has just been run under cold water (this prevents sticking).  Place enough rice in the mold so that when it is evenly compressed, it reaches 1″ up the mold.  For my mold, I used about a 1/2 cup of cooked rice.

rice in musubi maker5.)  Push the rice block out of the mold using the top piece of the musubi maker.

6.)  Generously sprinkle the Green Tea Furikake on the rice block.

7.)  Place the pan-fried pieces of SPAM on the furikake sprinkled rice block, then use a sharp knife just run under cold water to cut out 3 mini musubis.

8.)  Roll each musubi in a 1″ strip of nori cut with scissors, using dabs of water to adhere and seal the nori around the musubi.

Try these Bite-Size Spam Musubi with some of Lupicia Fresh Tea’s Hua Ki tropical Hawaiian Blend and mahalo for stopping by!!