Chorizo-Rice Stuffed Zucchini Boats with Queso Fresco

The first zucchini of the season is here! We usually like to grill it and serve it as a side dish, but we thought these zucchini deserved to be the main component of the meal. We halved them and scooped out the insides, which we added to a flavorful mixture of sautéed onion, garlic, jalapeño, crispy breadcrumbs, spinach, cooked rice, and the real star – House-cured Spanish chorizo from El Salchichero, which infused everything with a spicy and smokey flavor. We stuffed the zucchini boats with the chorizo-rice mixture, topped them with mild, slightly salty queso fresco (“fresh cheese”), and then they were ready to set sail – into the oven! This simple weeknight meal is easily adaptable. Feel free to add different kinds of chopped vegetables to the filling, or use browned ground beef, turkey, or pork in place of the chorizo. Serve with a green salad and enjoy the beginning of summer produce season!

Chorizo-Rice Zucchini Boats with Queso Fresco

(Serves 2-3)

4 medium zucchini (or 6 small), stems cut off and halved lengthwise

2 TBS. olive oil + more for drizzling
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small jalapeño, minced (discard seeds and membranes if you prefer less heat)
dried oregano, to taste
1 link of Spanish chorizo, diced
a couple big handfuls of baby spinach
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 cup cooked rice
salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 oz. queso fresco, or more to taste

  • Preheat oven to 375.
  • Over a medium bowl, use a spoon to scoop out the insides of each zucchini half. Reserve 1/2 the insides of the zucchini (you can compost the other half, or use in zucchini bread or muffins, etc). Place your zucchini “boats” on a foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Using your hands, rub the seasoned oil all over the zucchini halves. Set aside.
  • In a large skillet, heat 2 TBS. olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, 5-8 minutes. Add the garlic and jalapeño and sauté for 1-2 minutes more. Season with oregano.
  • Add the diced chorizo and cook until it’s golden on the edges, about 5 minutes. Stir in the reserved zucchini insides and the spinach, and cook until spinach wilts. Add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring, until they begin to turn golden. If the bottom of the pan becomes too dry, add a splash or two of liquid. Beer works well (if you happen to be enjoying one while cooking as we were), but so does water or chicken broth.
  • Stir in the cooked rice until well incorporated. Remove from heat. Taste and season with salt & pepper to your liking.
  • Fill the zucchini boats with spoonfuls of the chorizo-rice mixture. Using your fingers, top with crumbled queso fresco. Drizzle a little olive oil over the tops of the stuffed zucchini boats. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the zucchini is tender (test with a fork) and the cheese is lightly browned.

Cheesy Chicken & Rice Bake

Of course the day I choose to write about this dish, it’s like freaking 95 degrees outside and the last thing I want to think about is a baked comfort food dish. But once the sun goes down and the fog comes creeping in, I’ll remember why it was so good. Dustin created this for me when I requested something “comforting and cheesy, involving chicken and rice” (hence, the not-so-creative title). We rarely eat casserole-type dishes, so I’m no expert, but it tasted like something that a sweet old church lady would bring to a potluck (which is a good thing – I have fond memories of church potlucks). The little bits of bell pepper were a great addition, and you could add all sorts of chopped veggies, depending on what you have in your fridge. Next time maybe I’ll suggest we add some chopped broccoli.

1 chicken breast half
1 cup water or chicken stock*
1 cup of rice
2 cloves of garlic, 1 halved and 1 minced
1 small white onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
a splash of white wine
a few splashes of milk or cream
salt & pepper to taste
a generous amount of grated jack cheese

*we used the liquid in which we boiled the chicken

  • Butter a casserole dish. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Add some salt, a few peppercorns, a halved garlic clove (if desired) and any other spices you want. Add the chicken breast. Simmer until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken, shred, and set aside. Reserve the now-flavorful water.
  • In another saucepan, combine the rice with 1 cup of the reserved water. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat and simmer until rice is done, about 15-20 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, in a small frying pan, saute the garlic in a little olive oil for 1-2 minutes or until fragrant and golden. Add the onion and cook for another few minutes. Turn off the heat.
  • When the rice is done, fluff with a fork. Add the shredded chicken, diced bell pepper, sautéed garlic/onion, wine, milk (or cream), salt & pepper, and a small handful of cheese. Mix well. Scrape the rice mixture into the buttered casserole dish. Top with more cheese.
  • Bake, covered, for about 30 minutes. Finish it off under the broiler for a few minutes to make the cheese bubbly and slightly golden.  Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Ma-Po Tofu

We enjoyed this dish several times in Japan. Ma-Po Tofu is to Japan what maybe Kung Pao Chicken or Chicken Chowmein is to America. In Japanese supermarkets you can buy an instant version of it in a box. You cook the pork and tofu and then squeeze in the little packet containing the flavorful sauce. Sort of gross, yeah, but we were guilty of trying it out once. Now that we’ve made the real thing, we’ve found that it’s really quite simple! We were excited to use the authentic red miso that one of our dear English students mailed us all the way from Japan. This rendition is from my favorite Iron Chef – Masaharu Morimoto – so I trust his Japanese twist on a Chinese classic. We served this dish on top of steamed short grain rice, homemade miso soup (the real thing this time – made with dashi stock instead of chicken! woo hoo!), and a cucumber salad with rice vinegar and sliced chilis.

Tofu & Spicy Pork Rice Bowls
(Slightly adapted from the book Morimoto – The New Art of Japanese Cooking)

1 large or 2 medium dried shitake mushrooms*
1 TBS. vegetable oil

2 cloves finely chopped garlic

1 TBS finely chopped peeled fresh ginger

1 scallion, white and green separated, finely chopped

1 TBS. finely chopped bamboo shoot**

1 TBS. finely chopped celery

12 ounces (250 g) ground pork

1 cup chicken (or vegetable) stock

1 TBS. red miso

1 TBS. Chinese hot chile sauce (
1 TBS. sugar

1 TBS. soy sauce

2 tsp. cornstarch, dissolved in 1 TBS. water

1 pound (450 g) firm tofu, diced

steamed rice

scallion, sliced, for garnish

* we used 3 medium fresh shitake mushrooms
** we could only find canned bamboo shoot in our store, but it worked out fine
*** we used Sriracha hot chili sauce

  • If using dried shitake mushrooms, soak in hot water to cover until soft, about 20 minutes. Drain, squeeze to remove as much liquid as possible. Remove stem and finely chop mushroom caps. If using fresh shitake mushrooms, simply remove the stem and finely chop the mushroom caps.
    • In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger, white part of the scallion, bamboo shoot, celery, and hopped shitake mushrooms. Cook, stirring often, until the garlic is tender, 2 to 3 minutes.
    • Add the pork and raise the heat to medium-high. Cook, breaking up any lumps of meat with the side of a spoon, until it is cooked through, with no trace of pink, about 7 minutes.
    • Add the chicken stock, red miso, chili sauce, sugar, and soy sauce and bring to a boil. Stir in the dissolved cornstarch and cook, stirring, until thickened, about 30 seconds.
    • Shortly before serving, add the tofu and gently stir to mix. Cook until it is heated through, about 3 minutes. Serve in bowls with steamed rice. Garnish with a little chopped scallion. Makes 4 servings.

    Coconut Rice Pudding

    This is my new default rice pudding recipe. I used to make it in Japan after we got home from our night classes, and we’d eat it in fancy Japanese rice bowls while watching something on TV (hopefully something in English; not dubbed in Japanese). Rice pudding also reminds me of my childhood. It has always been one of my favorite breakfasts, especially topped with cinnamon. This version, made with coconut milk, is a little different, but is still rich and delicious. It’s worth it to stand over the stove for 40 minutes. I personally enjoy stirring the mixture and watching it transform from cooked rice swimming in milk to thick, rich goodness. I make a few changes to the original recipe on Epicurious; more coconut milk and the addition of butter (like the rice pudding my Mom used to make me). Enjoy!

    1 1/2 cups cold unsalted cooked rice
    3/4 cups whole milk
    3/4 cups well-stirred canned unsweetened coconut milk
    2 TBS. butter

    1/3 cup sugar

    1/4 teaspoon salt

    1/2 teaspoon vanilla

    • Simmer rice, milk, coconut milk, butter, sugar and salt, uncovered, in a 2 1/2 – to 3 – quart heavy saucepan over medium heat.
    • Stir frequently until thickened, about 40 minutes.
    • Stir in vanilla
    • Serve warm, with toasted coconut on top (if you desire), or just on its own.

      Spicy Garlicky Stir Fry

      Stir fry is one of those great meals that doesn’t require a recipe. We make it so often, and it changes depending on what veggie looks fresh and what kind of protein we feel like throwing in, but I thought I’d write down our basic guidelines for this simple, delicious dinner. The only consistent thing is that we love it hot and garlicky; the first two things that get thrown in season the oil and set the stage for the rest of the ingredients.

      Start by getting your rice started. Place the rice in a bowl and cover with cold water. Mix the rice around in the water with your fingers and then pour out the water. Repeat until the water is clear when poured out, about 2-3 times. Combine 1 cup rice with just a little more than 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil, and simmer, covered for 15-20 minutes. Let sit off the heat for 5 minutes before removing lid.

      Heat some sesame oil (or peanut or canola oil) in a wok until hot. Add a clove or two of minced garlic and some red pepper flakes (or chile paste) and saute for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add boneless skinless chicken breast meat that’s been cut into pieces (or beef, pork, firm tofu, whatever) and saute until cooked through, stirring frequently. Add veggies cut into similar sized pieces. Bell peppers and snow peas are good options. Saute for a few minutes, stirring frequently.

      Now make the meat and veggies come alive. Add a few swigs of soy sauce around the pan. Then one swig of of rice vinegar and 1 small spoonful of brown sugar. Taste and season with salt and pepper and see what else it needs. If you like cashews, this is a good time to throw in a handful. I like my cashews still kind of crunchy.

      Simply top your steamed rice with your delicious concoction! What could be simpler? We were excited to use our chopsticks and chopstick holders from Japan for this meal!

      Good Kitty.

      Roll Out!

      It doesn’t get much simpler than fresh raw fish. Add crisp nori, fresh lettuce leaves, a bowl of sushi rice and a variety of sliced vegetables and you have temaki-sushi: a typical weekday do-it-yourself dinner for many Japanese families. Unlike other Japanese meals, it’s ok to use your hands. In fact, it’s encouraged!

      We had our first hand-rolled sushi experience at my student Rei’s house. There were so many slices of various things on the table that we had to take cues from Rei’s daughter, trying to inconspicuously imitate her combinations as the meal unfolded: First, isaki (sea bream), cucumber, shiso leaf (a pungent herb reminiscent of basil). Got it. Next. Hamachi (yellowtail) with slice of sweet omlette. Put a squeeze of wasabi at the side of dish. Don’t mix into soy sauce with chopsticks. Check. Lastly, salmon (pronounced sa-moh-n) and avocado on a lettuce leaf.

      We came home and tried it out a few weeks later, adding new combinations: tempura sweet potato, cucumber, avocado.

      Tempura prawn, shiso, and cucumber.

      And tuna and avocado.

      The combinations are endless, really. Each square of nori and leaf of lettuce is a blank canvas awaiting our creativity.

      Shiso leaves (photo from gourmet sleuth).

      Sushi Rice

      1 cup short grain rice
      1 cup water, plus more for rinsing
      1 tablespoon sushi vinegar (rice vinegar)
      1 tablespoons sugar

      1 tsp. salt plus more to taste

      • Place the rice in a bowl and cover with cold water. Mix the rice around in the water with your fingers and then poor out the water. Repeat until the water is clear when poured out, 2-3 times.
      • Put rinsed rice and 1 cup of water into a medium saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, uncovered. When it begins to boil, reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for another 10 minutes.
      • Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine vinegar, sugar and salt. Heat in microwave for about 30-45 seconds.
      • When the rice is done, put it into a large wooden or glass bowl. Gradually add the vinegar mixture, folding into the rice with a rice paddle or spatula. Taste and add more salt if needed. Allow to cool before making sushi. Makes about 2 cups – perfect for 2 people.

        Hand-Rolled Sushi

        12 3×5 inch squares of nori (seaweed) and/or large romaine lettuce leaves, rinsed and dried.
        A variety of thinly-sliced sushi grade tuna, salmon, yellowtail, and sea bream
        Any of the following:
        1 large cucumber, cut into 3 inch long sticks
        1 avocado, sliced
        6 shiso leaves
        3 tempura sweet potatoes, sliced into 3 inch long sticks
        2 tempura prawns

        • Take a square of nori. Place a spoonful of rice in the middle. Top with any combination of fish and veggies.
        • Gently pick up both sides of the nori, fold together the best you can, and eat!
        • Serve with soy sauce and wasabi in small dishes, but don’t mix together 🙂

          Wild Rice and Chicken-Stuffed Peppers

          When I was home last August, I went shopping in my parents’ pantry – or rather, was looking for last minute food items to fill up the empty spaces in my suitcase. Among many things, I ended up with a bag of wild rice. We prepared it a few nights ago, and this is what we did with the leftovers. You could probably stuff a lot of different things with this filling. Get creative. We used Piman (pronounced PEA-MAHN), the Japanese green pepper that’s much smaller than green bells in the States. I got the idea for this recipe from Rachael Ray, but she stuffs giant tomatoes instead of peppers.

          10 Piman peppers (or 4 large green bell peppers)
          2 TBS. olive oil (or 2 swigs around the pan)
          3/4 cup prepared wild rice
          1 small onion, chopped
          1 clove garlic, chopped
          a few handfuls of mushrooms (about 4 oz.), coarsely chopped
          1 lb. ground chicken
          1 TBS. paprika
          1/2 cup sour cream (we used plain yogurt because it actually tastes more like sour cream than Japanese sour cream does)
          salt & pepper

          • Preheat oven to 350 degrees (180 C)
          • Cut the tops off the peppers, and remove the seeds and membranes.
          • Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook the onion and garlic until onion softens and garlic is just barely light brown.
          • Add the mushrooms and cook for a minute more.
          • Add the ground chicken and cook until done, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon until crumbly.
          • Stir in the paprika. Remove pan from heat and stir in the sour cream (or yogurt), and prepared wild rice. Add salt & pepper to taste.
          • Fill the peppers with the chicken-wild rice mixture and place upright in a baking dish. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the peppers are tender and the top of the filling is lightly browned. Serves 2 hungry people.

            Chipotle Tomato Rice

            Looking for the perfect side dish for tacos or other Mexican fare? So was I. So I found this recipe for Mexican Red Beans & Rice, but omitted the beans because I didn’t have them. I also added some more chipotle pepper than called for to make it extra smokin.’ Adapted from the 12 Best Foods Cookbook.

            1 cup cooked rice
            1 TBS. canola oil

            half a white onion, chopped
            1 clove of garlic, chopped

            1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (or 1/2 tsp. chipotle powder)

            1/2 tsp. dried oregano

            half of a 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes, with liquid

            salt & pepper to taste
            chopped cilantro, for garnish

            • Prepare the rice by combining 1/3 cup uncooked rice with 1 cup of water in a rice cooker or in a sauce pan (adjust ratio according to type of rice and/or directions for rice cooker). When done, set aside.
            • In a frying pan, heat the canola oil over medium high heat. Cook the onion until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more.
            • Stir in the chipotle and oregano.
            • Add the canned tomatoes with liquid, reduce heat, and simmer until some of the liquid has evaporated, about 8 minutes.
            • Add the cooked rice, and stir until combined and heated through. Season to taste with salt & pepper and serve. Garnish with some fresh chopped cilantro if you have some (In Japan I didn’t, but now I do! Hurray!)

            Spiced Lentils & Rice with Caramelized Onions

            It’s cooled down a lot this past week. We’ve taken our sweaters and scarves out of the closet, and next week we’ll probably add our jackets and gloves to the mix. This dinner was warm and satisfying and gave me the energy to teach one last night class on the past perfect tense. The caramelized onions are our favorite part of this meal, and really tie together all the flavors quite nicely. The first time we made this dish we didn’t have a parsley plant yet, but this time we were aesthetically pleased by specks of green on top of our lentils.

            1 1/2 TBS. olive oil

            1 onion (half of it chopped, the other half sliced into rings)
            1 clove minced garlic
            1 1/2 tsp. cumin
            1/2 tsp. coriander
            salt & pepper to taste
            1 cup lentils
            3 cups chicken (or veggie) broth
            1/2 cup rice
            chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish

            • Heat a 1/2 TBS. of oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook until it softens, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, coriander, salt & pepper, and cook for 3 minutes more. Stir in the lentils, then add 1 cup of the broth.
            • Cook, stirring occasionally for about 20 min. or until the lentils start to soften. Add the rest of the broth (so the lentils are completely covered). Stir in the rice. Cover and reduce heat to low.
            • In the meantime, cook the remaining onion slices in 1 TBS. of oil over medium high heat, stirring often, until they turn dark brown and become caramelized (about 15 min.) Drain on paper towels while the lentil and rice finish cooking.
            • When the rice and lentils are both tender (if not, add more liquid, cover, and continue cooking for a few minutes), garnish with the caramelized onions and fresh parsley.

            Omuraisu & what NOT to put in Sushi

            I’m going to take a quick respite from the usual recipe-posting to talk about something really serious: Egg salad in a sushi roll. We bought it merely out of curiosity. Now, I’m a pretty tame sushi eater. I’ll eat salmon, tuna, shrimp, and veggies in my sushi, and generally stay away from things that have either legs or a sketchy texture (aka difficult to swallow, like baby squid or nato –fermented soybeans). So I thought that since egg salad is a safe, familiar food item, how bad can it be paired with vinegar rice and seaweed? Really bad. I wouldn’t recommend it. Don’t let the pictures deceive you. The salmon and the crab tasted good, though.

            Our lunch wasn’t all disappointing, though! Dustin had one of our favorite Japanese foods called Omuraisu:

            Can you catch the English words being scrunched together? “Omelet Rice,” an omelet filled with ketchup-flavored rice.  The dish originated in Tokyo. It’s a popular food item in Japan, but you can’t find it in any of the Japanese restaurants that I’ve been to in the States. Here it’s considered a “western dish” that has been altered to suit Japanese palates (because omelets and ketchup are “western”). Dustin usually orders it when we go out to eat, or he buys it from the prepared foods section of our grocery store. We’ve never made it at home, but I want to try it sometime so I found a recipe that looks promising (and has good pictures) here. Also take note of the decorative “grass” that can always be found in take-out food containers. Proof of Japanese authenticity.

            Weeknight Rosemary-Lemon Chicken Breasts with Baked Tomatoes

            The rainy season has bombarded us in Osaka with humidity and 90 degree heat. It’s zapped the energy out of us, so our meals have been especially low maintenance lately. This dinner was really good, and we both made it up as we went along. We also made rice pilaf again with a few new additions to our original recipe: First, we sautéed half a diced onion in the oil before adding the rice. Second, we broke up about 10 uncooked spaghetti noodles and added them with the rice, and thirdly, we added half a shredded carrot before adding the chicken broth.

            Baked Tomatoes

            2 medium tomatoes, halved
            panko bread crumbs
            garlic powder
            salt & pepper
            Parmesan cheese, grated
            olive oil

            • Preheat the oven to around 400.
            • Place the 4 tomato halves in an oiled baking dish. Season the tops with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
            • Sprinkle them with the parmesan cheese, and breadcrumbs (as much as you like).
            • Drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil. Bake for about 30-40 minutes, while you prepare the main component of your dinner.

            Pan Fried Rosemary Chicken Breast

            • Season 1 boneless chicken breast (with skin) with salt, pepper, minced garlic and rosemary.
            • Heat a frying pan with olive oil, and when it’s hot, add the chicken breast skin-side down.  Cook for about 5 minutes. Cover the pan and continue cooking until the chicken is cooked through (flipping twice) about 10-15 minutes. Remove from pan and cover with foil to keep warm. When ready to serve, slice chicken breast and divide between 2 plates.

            Lemon Sauce

            2 tsp. flour
            1/2 cup chicken broth
            2 TBS. lemon juice
            splash of white wine

            • In a small bowl, whisk the flour and the chicken broth together. Add the lemon juice and chicken broth/flour mixture to the pan that you cooked the chicken in. Add the white wine. Whisk until the sauce thickens a little, making sure to scrape up the little bits from the bottom of the pan. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if needed.
            • Spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve with rice pilaf and baked tomatoes.

            Lemon-Butter-Garlic Shrimp with Rice Pilaf

            I refuse to eat things that have eyes. The fish section in our grocery store is plentiful (as one would expect in a country that’s surrounded by water), but when everything is looking at me, it creeps me out!! When we were in Greece for our honeymoon, I was equally disturbed when I ordered grilled shrimp and they came whole! The shrimp for this dinner, luckily, didn’t have eyes when we bought them. This recipe is really quick, about 5 minutes for the shrimp and 15 for the rice pilaf. It’s a good weekday meal. Oh, and Dustin gets the credit for this one. He made it up. I just made the rice. We also made some spinach as our vegetable accompaniment: just sautéed with some olive oil, lemon juice, some raisins and a dash of nutmeg. (But we didn’t take a picture of it!)

            What we drank: From France, La Poule Blanche 2004 from Sacha Lichine Vins Sans Frontieres

            For the Rice Pilaf:

            3/4 cup rice, uncooked
            1 1/2 cups of chicken broth, heated to almost boiling
            1 TBS butter or olive oil
            1 bayleaf
            salt and pepper

            • Melt the butter in a pan that can be covered.
            • Add the rice and stir until coated with butter for 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add the bay leaf. Turn the heat down to low and add the hot chicken broth. Cover the pan.
            • Cook for about 15 minutes or until rice is tender and the broth is absorbed. Season again if needed and serve alongside the shrimp.

            For the Shrimp:

            18 medium-sized shrimp, shelled and devained
            1 1/2 TBS of butter
            juice of 1 lemon
            1 clove of garlic, chopped
            a splash of white wine
            chili pepper (to taste)
            salt & pepper (to taste)

            • In a frying pan over medium heat, melt the butter and add the garlic. Cook until it’s fragrant and light brown. Add the shrimp, the lemon juice, the wine, and the chili powder and salt and pepper. Cook until shrimp turns pink.
            • Remove shrimp from pan. Return the pan to the stove and turn up the heat. Reduce the sauce, stirring continuously for 2-4 minutes. Poor over the shrimp.