Japanese-style Brussels sprouts, noodles and squash in a creamy miso sauce and coconut-flavored panna cotta with persimmon. Step out of your comfort zone and try delicious new flavors with familiar vegetables.
RAINY DAYS AND DARK FALL EVENINGS often make us crave comfort food. Comfort food may be synonymous with butter, cheese and carbs, but it is also possible to cook something mainly with vegetables without getting the feeling of missing out on something good. Here warm spices, umami-flavored ingredients and exotic flavors are the key. In these recipes, they are combined with the best of the harvest season. Next time you go to the grocery store, fill your basket with Brussels sprouts, squash and persimmons (also known as kaki or Sharon fruit).
Okonomiyaki is a Japanese dish that could be described as a cross between pizza and pancake. It often contains cabbage, but other vegetables, seafood or bacon can also be added to the batter. The cooked pancake is topped with okonomiyaki sauce, seaweed, katsuobushi fish flakes, mayonnaise and spring onion. The recipe below cuts some corners and only uses the delicious toppings to season the Brussels sprouts.
The best and easiest way to cook Brussels sprouts in season is to roast them in the oven until crisp. And when it comes to comfort food, roasted vegetables are perfect for it, since in the oven, they become crisp and caramelized, unlike when cooked or steamed. The sweet and savory taste of the okonomiyaki sauce and the richness of the mayonnaise bring the Brussels sprouts to a whole new level. Okonomiyaki sauce and Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise are sold in stores, but you can also make them yourself. It is easy to season basic mayonnaise to make it sweeter and add a little acidity using rice wine vinegar.
The nutty and sweet caramelized squash goes really well with the savory, rich noodles.
In addition to Brussels sprouts, squash also benefits from roasting. The nutty and sweet caramelized squash goes really well with the savory, rich noodles that get their creaminess from miso paste and tahini. You can use any noodles, but wheat noodles go best with the sauce. If you want to use rice noodles, select the wider ones. The extremely thin glass noodles only turn into mush with the sauce. You can roast the squash and boil the eggs in advance, but the noodles are at their best when they are hot and just added to the sauce.
Even though panna cotta, an Italian cream-based dessert, is sure to be one of the easiest desserts in the world, the taste is rewarding every time. Panna cotta is also great in that the taste can be varied almost endlessly and that it can – and should – be made in advance to wait for the hungry diners. For the winter season, you can season this dessert with coconut milk, for example, and serve it with persimmon wedges flavored with cardamom.
You can serve the dessert in small individual tumblers or in a large bowl. Persimmons become available in mid-October, and they are at their best when they are super soft and have some black specks. If you cannot find persimmons, you can also use mango or pineapple, for example.
Comfort food recipes:
Brussels sprouts okonomiyaki
Ingredients for four servings:
500 g Brussels sprouts + 1 tbsp oil and 1 tsp salt
190 g Kewpie mayonnaise or 190 g mayonnaise + 1 tsp rice wine vinegar and 1 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
Katsuobushi flakes, roasted and crushed nori seaweed, spring onion or chives, shiso leaves, pickled ginger
Dos as follows:
First, prepare all the ingredients and toppings. Mix the ingredients of the okonomiyaki sauce in a saucepan, and almost bring it to a boil, stirring constantly. Let the mixture cool. If you are not using ready-made Kewpie mayonnaise, mix the sugar and vinegar in a bowl and allow the sugar to dissolve. Add the mayonnaise and stir. Roast the nori seaweed sheets in a hot, dry pan and crush them. Chop the spring onion.
Preheat the oven to 225 °C. Rinse the Brussels sprouts, cut off the stems and halve the sprouts. Spread the Brussels sprouts over a baking sheet covered with baking paper and rub in the oil and salt. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes or until nicely browned. Drizzle the hot Brussels sprouts with zigzags of okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise. Add the rest of the desired toppings and enjoy right away.
Miso noodles with roasted squash
Ingredients for four servings:
1 squash (Hokkaido, butternut or kabocha squash)
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tsp salt
300 g wheat noodles
2–3 spring onions
1 fresh chili or 1–2 tsp dried chili flakes
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp roasted sesame oil
2 tbsp white miso
3 tbsp tahini
1–2 cloves of garlic, grated
1 tbsp sugar
1–2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
Do as follows:
Mix all the ingredients of the sauce. Rinse the squash and halve it. You need a large and sturdy knife, and you will have to use your strength to get through the skin. Remember to be careful so that only squash will end up on the baking sheet. Remove the seeds with a spoon and cut the squash into a few sections. Rub the oil and salt into the squash and roast at 200 °C for 30 minutes, or until it can be easily pierced with a fork. Let the squash cool for a while and separate the flesh from the skin. If you are using kabocha squash, there is no need the remove the skin after roasting, as the entire squash is edible.
Boil the eggs to the desired consistency. Boil the water in another pot and cook the noodles according to the instructions on the package. Collect a glassful of the water used for boiling the noodles and drain the noodles in a sieve. Mix the sauce and 2 tbsp of the water with the noodles. Add some water if you want the dish to be more moist. Serve the noodles with the squash, halved eggs and chopped spring onion. If you wish, you can sprinkle roasted sesame seeds and crushed nori seaweed on top of the dish.
Coconut panna cotta with persimmon
Ingredients for 4–6 servings:
1 can (400 ml) of coconut milk
200 ml double cream
85 g sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract or 1 vanilla pod
4 gelatin sheets
3 ripe persimmons
1 dl water
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cardamom
Do as follows:
Soak the gelatin sheets in cold water. Take out the tumblers or large bowl you will use for serving the panna cotta. Measure the coconut milk, double cream, sugar and vanilla into a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil while stirring, and take the pan off the stove when the liquid bubbles for the first time. Squeeze the gelatin sheets to remove extra water and add them to the hot liquid while stirring quickly and thoroughly. Pour the mixture immediately into the tumblers or the bowl. Put the dishes into the refrigerator and let the panna cotta cool for 5–6 hours or overnight.
Prepare the persimmons by rinsing them and removing the stems. Dice the persimmons. Add the sugar, cardamom, water and persimmon cubes into a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil. Then, reduce the heat and let simmer for 5–10 minutes. Let cool and serve with the panna cotta.
Set the table
Design Stories contributor Suvi Kesäläinen is a photographer, who loves to create dishes that are not only delicious but also fast and easy to make. She’s passionate about the best seasonal ingredients, local food and intriguing culinary trends.
Text and photos: Suvi Kesäläinen