U is for Udon Noodle Soup

Udon noodles are a popular food in Japan, especially in the southern parts of the country. Made with basic ingredients like wheat flour, water and salt, they are thicker than the regular noodles, and can be round or flat. Usually made into soup, udon can be enjoyed in hot or cold preparations. I’ve made this recipe of udon noodle soup with shrimp balls and a mix of vegetables.

Udon noodles have their origin in China. Legend has it that a monk from Kagawa on the Shikoku island went to China in the 7th century, for studies. When he returned to Japan, he brought back the recipe for udon noodles  which was common in China at that time. It is also mentioned that a stone relic in the Takinomiya Tenmangu shrine, called the Ryutoin-ato, marks the location where the first udon was made in Japan.

Fun fact: The dough for the udon noodles is tough and difficult to handle. So it is stomped on to make it pliable. 

Most of the Japanese soups have dashi as their base. Dashi is made from bonito (skipjack tuna) flakes or kombu (edible kelp, a large brown seaweed), or both. I used instant dashi powder (available online and in some east Asian grocery stores) for this recipe.

This soup is a delightful melding of flavors. Starting with the dashi which makes a lovely broth, and the shrimp balls flavored with ginger, garlic and scallions, to the sautéed mushrooms and the still crisp snow peas and radishes, it is totally enjoyable. And the boiled eggs provide a creamy satisfying rounding off of the flavors. And it is rather easy to put together, including making the shrimp balls.

This soup is a complete meal that includes protein, starch and vegetables. Usually it is served with just hot mustard on the side.

U is for Udon Noodle Soup

Difficulty:BeginnerServings:2 servings


    For shrimp balls

  • For the soup


  1. Using a food processor (or a chopping board and heavy knife), chop together ginger, garlic, scallions, and 6 of the shrimp, adding 1 teaspoon of rice vinegar to moisten.
  2. Cut the remaining shrimp into small pieces and add to the chopped mix. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. To the mix, add the cornstarch and enough of egg white to hold the mixture together.
  4. Form into uniform small balls and set aside.
  5. Heat the oil in a pot and add the mushrooms. Fry till light brown.
  6. Add 4 cups of water to the pot and bring to a boil Drop in the sliced radishes and the instant dashi powder. Cover and cook.
  7. When the radishes are cooked, in about 10 minutes, add the snap peas and cabbage. Continue to cook for two minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  8. Bring the heat down so that the liquid in the pot is on a slow simmer. Carefully add the shrimp balls to the pot and allow to cook for 3 minutes without disturbing.
  9. Add the cooked noodles and carefully mix together. Continue to cook for 3 more minutes.
  10. Take off the heat and serve in two bowls. Place two halves of boiled egg in each bowl.
  11. Serve with hot mustard or any other chili sauce on the side.
Keywords:Japanese, Shrimp, Udon soup

E is for Étouffée 

Étouffée (pronounced ay-too-fay) is a popular dish in the Creole cuisine of Luisiana and especially New Orleans. Creole cuisine combines European, African and native American traditions and is one of the distinctive styles of cooking in the United States.

The word étouffée means ‘smothered’ in French. Smothering is a process of cooking anything in its own juices with minimum addition of extra liquid. This is a commonly used technique in Creole cooking.

The flavor base for an étouffée is the ‘holy trinity’ of Creole (and Cajun, a similar cuisine, also developed in Louisiana) cooking: onion, celery and green pepper. Diced into uniform size, they are sautéed in butter to get a dish started. Sometimes the trinity is enhanced with garlic, parsley, or shallots. 

They form the base for other Creole-Cajun dishes like jambalaya and gumbo as well.

Étouffée can be made using different shellfish, though crawfish which are specific to Louisiana, are most often used. However, shrimp is an equally good replacement when crawfish are not available.

There are differences of opinion regarding the addition of tomatoes in an étouffée. Also, about roux. Even when there is agreement on the inclusion of roux, opinion differs as to do so at the beginning or towards the end. This version includes tomatoes and a roux, introduced half way through the recipe.

Creole seasoning elegantly blends an array of flavors to come up with a perfectly balanced spice mix. Make this a staple in your spice cabinet, as you can use it for fish, chicken or vegetables.

Étouffée is mostly served with cooked white rice, but you can try mashed potatoes as well.

To make the Creole seasoning, mix together: 2 tbsp paprika, 1 tbsp onion powder, 1 tbsp garlic powder, 1 tbsp dried thyme, 1 tbsp dried oregano, 1 tbsp black pepper, 1 teaspoon cayenne, and 1 teaspoon salt.

E is for Étouffée 

Difficulty:BeginnerServings:4 servings



  1. Heat a pan over medium heat and add the butter.
  2. Add the onions, celery and back pepper. Cook till the onions turn transparent.
  3. Add the garlic and stir into the mix for 1 minute.
  4. Sprinkle the flour over the ingredients in the pan and stir well. Continue to cook for about three more minutes.
  5. Add the chopped tomatoes to the pan.
  6. Add the stock, Creole seasoning, and salt and pepper to taste. Continue to stir and cook till the liquid thickens. Simmer for 5 more minutes.
  7. Add the shrimp and continue to cook till the shrimp is fully cooked and turns pink, for another 5 minutes. Adjust seasoning if required.
Keywords:Creole, Etouffee, Seafood, Shrimp, Louisiana

Sinigang… the Tamarind Stew

What is with the onset of cold weather and comfort foods? Why don’t I crave comfort foods in the summer? And why are most comfort foods full of all those good things that we have been told over and over, are not good for us? Questions, questions…


Comfort foods are usually food items that we are familiar with, and I believe those that have strong associations with good times. So maybe we are trying to bring back those times, or at least memories of them, by eating the same foods. Yeah, the same old food therapy, looking to make things better with food! 🙂


Every culture has its own favourite comfort foods, which very often are not the best of their cuisine. And individual childhood memories also play into a person’s choice of comfort food.


However, there are common threads connecting all these food items, regardless of which part of the world you are from… they are invariably rich in calories and have high carb and fat levels. And also, they are mostly not complex and easy to prepare items. Say, fish and chips instead of bouillabaisse?


The term ‘comfort food’ was first used in 1977, according to Webster’s and Oxford English dictionaries. Whoever invented that, I like it very much; quite an evocative phrase!


I have a very straight forward approach to the concept… comfort food is for when you are uncomfortable. And what makes me uncomfortable right now is the slowly advancing cold weather. Which is the way it is every year. However, this year instead of going for my routine items, I’m planning to check out comfort food from different parts of the world.


Let’s see… Shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, bangers and mash and a jam roly-poly from the Brits, onion soup and a chicken liver pate from France, pierogies and potato latkes from Poland, blintz, borscht and vareniki from Russia, goulash and paprikash from Hungary, a seafood paella from Spain… the list goes on. Of course, not forgetting local mac and cheese, meatloaf, fried chicken and chicken pot pie.


And I’m starting with sinigang, a Filipino dish which truly deserves the name comfort food. A combination of many vegetables, it can include chicken, pork or beef. Fish goes well too, and shrimp sinigang is one of my favourites. The tanginess of tomatoes and tamarind combined with the hotness from black pepper, lots of it, will bid ‘paalam’ to any gloominess in no time! 🙂


Generally I prefer to prepare all my spice mixes at home, but in this case, I have used a packaged mix. In case you can’t find it, you can use the extracted juice of tamarind. A half-inch diameter round of tamarind or 1 tbsp of tamarind extract will work fine. And of course, as usual I have made some minor adjustments to the original recipe. 🙂


Now that you have read all that about comfort food, one question… do you believe comfort food makes you feel better? Here is a recent news item, reported right on NPR – National Public Radio! Interesting, right?



Sinigang... the Tamarind Stew
Recipe type: Dinner
Cuisine: Filipino
  • 2 medium sized red onions
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • ½ lb yard long green beans (sitaw)
  • ½ lb radishes
  • 3 small red potatoes
  • 1 each red and green bell peppers
  • 2 banana peppers
  • 1 lb tail-on shrimp
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 packet tamarind seasoning mix (can be replaced with tamarind juice)
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  1. Slice the onions into thin wedges.
  2. Cut the yard long beans into 1 ½ inch pieces.
  3. Cut the tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers, and banana peppers into bite sized pieces.
  4. Slice the radishes thinly.
  5. Crush the garlic.
  6. In a large pan, heat the oil and sauté half the onions, cut tomatoes and crushed garlic.
  7. When the onions turn transparent, add the vegetables and sauté for five minutes.
  8. Add enough water to cook the vegetables.
  9. Add the fish sauce and crushed black pepper to taste.
  10. Cover and cook.
  11. When the vegetables are almost done, check that there is enough water left in the pan. There should be enough water to make it look like a soup.
  12. Add the shrimp and enough salt.
  13. Stir and allow to come to a boil.
  14. Cook for three more minutes or till the shrimp is cooked.
  15. Check seasoning and remove from heat.
  16. Serve over steamed/ boiled rice or thick slices of bread. No weather blues for a long while!

Shrimp and Avocado Salad with Cherry Tomatoes

There is this funny story about how humans first started cooking their meat… how a barn got burned down along with the animals in it and the sad owner burned his finger when he poked a dead (and apparently perfectly cooked) animal… and put the finger in his mouth… and went yummm… but I have not heard a story about how we started eating shrimp. Only thing I can say is, whoever started the trend, he or she must have been a courageous soul! To look at one of those grumpy looking things with all spindly legs and stalk eyed stare and think… “umm… that must taste lovely!” would have taken a truly adventurous mind.
Whoever it was, I’m eternally grateful to that person. For, that indeed tastes lovely! In fact, shrimp is the favourite of a majority of pescetarians.
The name ‘shrimp’ is used to describe a wide variety of species, often synonymously with ‘prawn’, though technically prawns are the larger cousins of shrimp. These days more than half of the shrimp in the commercial market is farmed and rather than caught in the wild.
Shrimp figures prominently in many cuisines like Chinese, Italian and Mexican. And the ways in which it can be prepared are so numerous. Elaborate preparations with complex flavours or simple salads with a basic dressing… shrimp can be the starring presence in any of them!
Here I combined the shrimp with avocado in a salad – a winning combination any day – along with some sugar snap peas.
And cherry tomatoes to add some colour, zucchini for a bit of body, and scallions for a mild heat.
Crushed garlic, dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar and olive oil make up the simple dressing.
Mix together all ingredients except the olive oil and slowly add the olive oil last and mix thoroughly.
It is an easy salad to make… just gently mix together all the prepared ingredients.
You have to be careful though, not to get the avocado pieces mushed by too much mixing.
Last step, just pour the creamy dressing over the mixed salad.
Ready to serve! A hearty salad willing to step in for a lunch any day!




Shrimp and Avocado Salad with Cherry Tomatoes
Recipe type: Salad
  • 12 -15 medium shrimp
  • 1 medium avocado
  • ½ lemon
  • 1 cup sugar snap peas
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1 small zucchini
  • 1 bunch scallions
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Prepare the shrimp leaving the tails on.
  2. In a pan, cook the shrimp, covered, adding two tablespoons of water and a pinch of salt, for 4 to 5 minutes, till all water is evaporated. Keep aside.
  3. Deseed the avocado and cut into bite size pieces. Squeeze the lemon over the avocado pieces to prevent discolouration.
  4. Bring a pot of water to boil and add 1 teaspoon of salt. Add the sugar snap peas to the boiling water and cook for three minutes. Drain and place in iced water right away. When thoroughly chilled, drain and keep aside.
  5. Cut the zucchini into bite size pieces. Place in a microwave safe dish with a pinch of salt, and sprinkle with a little water. Microwave for two minutes.
  6. Slice the scallions into thin rounds.
  7. Mix together the crushed garlic, mustard and balsamic vinegar. Slowly drizzle the olive oil and mix thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper.
  8. In a large bowl, mix together shrimp, pieces of avocado and zucchini, peas and sliced scallions. Add salt and pepper as required.
  9. Pour the dressing all over the mix and gently stir together.
  10. Chill in the refrigerator for an hour.
  11. Ready to serve!