Feeding Hungry Ghosts

What do ghosts eat? It feels like a silly question to consider, but at the same time, deadly serious. Presenting such offerings to the dearly departed shows respect, and more importantly, our lasting love. Like living people, I’d imagine that ghosts have diverse tastes, unique to every individual spirit. Whatever might have brought them comfort during their lives would undoubtedly be the best gift. Perhaps it’s sort of a test to keep their memory alive; if you hold dear such comparatively trivial details, surely you could maintain a better picture of the person as a whole.

In any event, what you feed the deceased varies depending on their culture, though I’ve heard that particular dishes are more auspicious than others. For example, did you know that the Chinese originally set out soft tofu for spirits, since it was believed that ghosts have long lost their chins and jaws, making it difficult for them to chew hard or crunchy foods. If there’s anyone I’d trust with this practice, it’s them; tofu first appeared in China around 220 BCE. If that’s not a proven track record, I don’t know what is.

As a person with terrible teeth, I can relate. Besides, once our ancestors have had their fill, the living are meant to enjoy the leftovers, so we should consider making something that everyone would enjoy. That’s why mapo tofu bao are ideal for celebrating the Hungry Ghost Festival.

Also known as the Zhongyuan Festival in Taoism and the Yulanpen Festival in Buddhism, it’s essentially the Chinese version of Día de los Muertos, when family and friends who have left this world come back to visit. To treat our guests of honor, I’d like to suggest these fiery little snacks that are pungent enough to lift the spirits, no matter what state they’re in.

Soft cubes of tender tofu luxuriate in a spicy sea of black garlic, fermented bean paste, and plenty of mala Sichuan peppercorns. Wrapped in a pillowy shell of steamed white bread, each bite practically melts in your mouth, exploding into fireworks of flavor. I wish I could lay claim to such a brilliant culinary innovation, but I’m just as happy to share Chez Jorge‘s brilliant formula, already fine-tuned and perfected.

It takes some time and effort to prepare, but considering the fact that your guests of honor have been waiting all year to drop in, I think it’s worth your time. Besides, the ghosts are fairly generous when it comes to sharing; you’ll be grateful for all the extras when the party’s over.

Cucumber Confessional

I love cucumbers. Full stop. People profess their love to many types of foods, saying they could eat them everyday and never get bored. I actually do; everyday, I’ll eat at least one whole cucumber, sprinkled with just salt and pepper, or dipped in hummus, or chopped up in salad. Tiny Persian cucumbers, large English cucumbers, plain pickling cucumbers- I love them all.

Why hasn’t this obvious obsession factored more clearly into my writing or recipes? It’s not interesting, quite frankly. I’m not doing anything exciting with them, just eating them in mass quantities. Even this idea that I’m here sharing today is far from earth-shaking. Barely the tiniest twist on a time-honored classic, surely it’s been done before. However, it’s good enough that it bears repeating: Make shirazi salad while summer produce is at its peak, but replace the tomatoes with watermelon.

That’s it, that’s the whole recipe. Adding a whole recipe card with formal measurements is really overkill when so much of the dish is based on the produce itself and personal taste. If I can be honest and break down that fourth wall for a minute, the recipe card is for Google. For you, I trust you can figure it out.

Consider the chopping an opportunity to practice your knife skills, to meditate, or simply revel in the aroma of summer. The minute you slice into a cucumber or watermelon, that aroma floods the air, setting the mood like candles for a romantic evening, only with notes of whimsy, sunshine, and a cooling breeze.

To anyone complaining about the amount of liquid leftover at the bottom of the bowl: Congratulations! You completely missed the point. That heavenly elixir, my friend, is a beautiful meeting of the worlds, the best parts of fruits and vegetables, sweet and savory, existing in harmony as one. Don’t you dare dump it out. When you pick up the mostly empty bowl, the only option is to bring it to your lips and drink every last drop.

Continue reading “Cucumber Confessional”

Keema Curry for Keeps

To define shiitake as a Japanese ingredient would be correct, but also incredibly shortsighted. Umami transcends all cuisines and cultural boundaries, whether it’s added in the form of aged cheeses, seaweed, soy sauce, tomatoes, kimchi, green tea, and beyond. Shiitake can amplify those essential ingredients, harmonizing and accentuating their inherently rich flavors. What sets Sugimoto Shiitake apart from other umami powerhouses is the clarity and quality of savory depth, in addition to its uniquely meaty texture.

Previously, we’ve explored primarily western dishes like hearty hamburgers and comforting meatballs, bolstered with this plant-based dynamo. It’s about time we shifted focus to some more spicy fare. India, with an extensive history of vegetarianism, is ripe for an umami revolution.

Immediately, I thought of keema curry. Keema means “minced meat” in Urdu, which usually translates to ground lamb, goat, or sometimes beef when it comes to curry. The protein isn’t the defining factor of this dish, though; it’s the intense blend of pungent spices, tempered over a hot stove and then simmered gently, which unlocks a bold new world of flavor.

This is a great opportunity to use up any extra shiitake stems you might have been saving from other recipes. Minced finely, they add an ideal toothsome texture that approximates ground meat, working in concert with the walnuts and lentils to make a satisfying plant protein. Each bite is layered with nuanced, contrasting, yet complimentary textures and flavors using this easy approach.

How Can You Made Keema Curry Your Own?

No two cooks make the same exact keema curry. Spices are always highly subjective, so don’t be afraid to season to taste. There are plenty of other options to explore, including:

  • For a lower-carb recipe, you can either omit the potatoes or swap them for fresh cauliflower florets.
  • Bump up the beefy experience by using a meatless ground beef substitute instead of lentils. Be sure to brown it along with the onion before proceeding with the recipe.
  • If you’re working with a limited spice rack, you can use about 3 – 4 tablespoons garam masala instead of the whole and ground individual spices.
  • When tomatoes are in season, go ahead and use fresh (1 1/2 – 2 cups diced) instead of canned.
  • For those who like it hot, add diced Serrano peppers or crushed red pepper flakes, to taste.

While keema curry is brilliant right after cooking, it actually improves over time. If you can plan ahead and make your curry in advance, the spices can mingle and meld, becoming richer and more harmonious when reheated. Stored in an airtight container in the fridge, leftover should keep for 5 – 7 days. Consider doubling the recipe to fully appreciate it, now and later.

Continue reading “Keema Curry for Keeps”

Party Like a Sushi Chef

When it comes to celebratory meals, sushi is always at the top of my list. For birthdays, anniversaries, and other milestones, nothing could do proper justice to the event like a glorious platter of carefully rolled maki or dainty nigiri. From childhood to this very day, it’s still my number one request for a fancy treat.

Of course, sushi is not the kind of indulgence one can splurge on casually or in great volume. While I’d like to invite everyone I know and love to join me in such revelry, quite frankly, I don’t make that kind of money. I do, however, make that kind of food, which is why I’ve come to realize that throwing a sushi party at home is an even greater sort of celebration.

How can you throw a sushi party at home?

There are many ways to go about this. First, consider whether you want guests to be able to roll their own sushi or simply eat what your prepare. I think it’s a whole lot more fun to have a hands-on activity, and it puts much less stress on the host if they’re not doing all the work.

Don’t have enough sushi mats for everyone?

Don’t worry; I don’t even use mine anymore. Lay down sheets of parchment paper to help everyone roll up their sushi creations, and simply throw them away when it’s all said and done. Use compostable parchment paper to prevent excess waste.

How much sushi rice should you make?

Let’s work backwards to figure out portion sizes. The average sushi roll uses about 1/3 cup of cooked rice, and let’s say most people will eat 2 – 3 rolls each. That means we want at least 1 cup of cooked sushi per guest. My basic formula makes 4 cups, which you can halve, double, or triple accordingly, always erring on the side of extra. Leftovers are great for making fried rice or ochazuke the next day.

Yield: Makes 4 Cups

Easy Sushi Rice

Easy Sushi Rice

For perfect maki sushi or nigiri, this simple formula for easy homemade sushi rice will never do you wrong!

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Additional Time 30 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 Cups Sushi Rice
  • 2 1/2 Cups Water
  • 2 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon Granulated Sugar
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt

Instructions

  1. Rinse the rice in a fine mesh sieve until the water runs clear. Transfer to a medium saucepan and add the water.
  2. Bring rice to a boil over medium heat; immediately turn heat to low, and cover. Cook for 10 minutes, remove from heat and let sit, covered, 15 minutes, undisturbed.
  3. Mix together the vinegar, sugar, and salt and add it to the rice. Gently fold with a spatula to incorporate. Let sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes longer, until just warm to the touch.

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

4

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 132Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 415mgCarbohydrates: 28gFiber: 0gSugar: 6gProtein: 2g

All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on BitterSweetBlog.com should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimations.

What kind of fillings are best for a sushi party?

The luxury of making your own sushi is having endless options for fillings, freed from traditional, tired, or simply uncreative menus. You could truly put anything in the middle of your maki, including veggie burgers and guacamole, if you so wished. Go ahead, use this as an opportunity to empty out your fridge, freezer, and pantry if you’re entertaining on a shoestring budget! For more thematic options, my favorites include:

Don’t forget the sushi toppings and condiments!

If you don’t have some sort of soy sauce or tamari for dipping, that’s a crime and I’m never coming to any of your parties again. Beyond that, there’s plenty of room for different ways to finish off your rolls with style:

Prepare ample snacks for those who come early or late.

It might take some time before everyone can finish rolling their own, so don’t leave anyone hungry while they wait. You can prepare all sorts of small bites and starters well in advance so you can stress less.

  • Edamame, warm, chilled, spicy, truffled, or pan-fried
  • Gyoza, steamed or pan-fried
  • Miso soup
  • Chuka ika sansai (calamari salad)
  • Seaweed salad

Finally, don’t forget the drinks.

When in doubt, good old ice water has never done me wrong. If you’d like something a bit more festive to say “kampai!” with, consider both spirited and sober options.

  • Green tea, hot or iced
  • Iced mugicha (barley tea)
  • Ramune soda
  • Sake, hot or cold
  • Shochu
  • Japanese beer

Are you ready to start rolling?

If you’d like some more inspiration to get this party started, here are a few more recipes you’ll love:

San Francisco, California Roll
Sush-Easy Creative Vegetable Sushi
Sushi Cups