THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Summer downtime



It has been an eventful first half of the year to say the least. This year has been filled with one heartbreak after another, starting with those raging wildfires Down Under, followed by a global pandemic. And now the ongoing social issues that society never resolved during the ‘60s have only heightened with recent transgressions by law enforcement against people of color. If you closely follow what’s going on — to quote Marvin Gay — it can place a heavy emotional toll on your heart.

So how do we balance reality and sanity? Normally, we might socialize with close friends over a nice meal and perhaps a bottle of wine, but the ongoing pandemic, including spikes in COVID-19 cases due to the gradual reopening of society, nixes those plans. So, the other half and I have a little understanding. We watch light-hearted food-centric shows on either the Cooking Channel or the Food Network while consuming our evening meal. I then adjourn to the computer so she can watch CNN to her heart’s content while I view my personal replacement for Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” series on YouTube, “What’s Cookin’.”

‘What’s Cookin’
I probably stumbled onto this 39-episode series on YouTube while looking for full episodes of “A Chef’s Tour,” “No Reservations” and “Parts Unknown” after Bourdain’s premature death. His shows were a regular part of our weekly Sunday evenings. We were lost between series as the Food Network and CNN didn’t fill the void between his series. So, I found a new visual repast on YouTube.

The series focuses on various families in Europe that are creating regional food favorites, including procuring or raising the necessary ingredients. Since most out-of-state travel can either start with a 14-day quarantine upon arrival and/or end with another 14-day quarantine upon return, a virtual visit via YouTube is a better option. These virtual visits focus on my favorite pastime, food.

Of course, I also unwind by viewing old episodes of Bourdain’s shows on YouTube.

Variations on a Gin Tonic
I’ll often sip a cocktail during these excursions on YouTube and several years ago, I thought I had sampled the pinnacle of the perfect marriage of that juniper-infused libation or gin combined with that cinchona bark-infused sparkling water or tonic water when I mixed one part of the blue tinged Magellan or floral Nolet gin with two and a half parts of Q Tonic Water. It is herbal, slightly bitter and very refreshing, especially when the mercury starts approaching triple digits. While having lunch at Bottega in Yountville, Calif. some time ago, I sampled Chef Chiarello’s Italian gin and tonic — served in a balloon glass that is usually reserved for Pinot Noir — with limoncello, fresh grapes and a sprig of fresh rosemary. Wow! Who knew that a gussied up gin and tonic could be just as good, if not better?
So, I started creating my own special versions of the standard gin and tonic with the Negroni and tonic. If you’ve read this column before, you know one of my favorite libations is the Negroni, which combines equal parts of gin, Campari and vermouth. Of course, this concoction is “all thrilla, no filla” as all three parts contain alcohol, and sometimes you want something less alcoholic, so I simply use equal parts Negroni and tonic water, which cuts the alcohol in half. When the drink is served on the rocks, this further dilutes the cocktail so you don’t end up with a lampshade on your head.

Aperol Spritz. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

I also relax with Ms. S’ favorite cocktail, an Aperol Spritz, which is a simple cocktail that includes Aperol (or Campari’s less alcoholic, less bitter and sweeter sibling) and Prosecco, which is then topped with sparkling water.

Served in a large balloon glass on the rocks and garnished with a slice of orange, it is perfect for those warm evenings (or even great as a brunch beverage). However, unlike Ms. S, I might also include a splash of Campari or gin and a couple of dashes of orange bitters.

Variations of a French 75
This classic marriage of gin, lemon juice, sugar and Champagne created a century ago in New York — and supposedly named as such because it hit you like a French 75mm cannon — combines two of my favorite adult beverages, Champagne and gin. I’ve also sampled variations of the classic, including the Fete 75, named after one of our favorite restaurants here in the 50th. Their version combines gin, lemon juice and elderflower liqueur topped with Prosecco instead of Champagne. Either way, both are refreshing libations to temporarily relieve you of the problems in the world.

I also still partake in my local riff on the French 75, my Hawai‘i 2.5, which replaces the gin for a lychee infused vodka, lychee and ginger liqueurs and a sparkling Rose. I use Maui Wine Lokelani Rose to keep it local, but you can use any sparkling Rose.

Summertime Grub
Finally, those libations pair perfectly with light, summertime salads. One of my favorite salads is the Panzanella or bread salad. For starters, this is a great way to use leftover bread, specifically stale baguettes, as the dried bread soaks up the flavorful vinaigrette, which also flavors the grilled veggies. Simply slice your favorite assortment of fresh vegetables — I like the quarter zucchini — lengthwise. Slice thick rings of red onions and thick slices of red, green and orange bell peppers and skewer mushrooms. Toss them in your favorite oil and vinegar salad dressing, then place them on a hot grill until they’re charred but not fully cooked. Then dice them into bite-sized pieces. Place bite-sized pieces of your stale bread in the bottom of a large mixing bowl, then top them with the grilled veggies and cover with Saran Wrap. As the grilled veggies release their steam and fluids, this softens the bread. Additional vinaigrette can be added once the Panzanella cools, though I usually also toss it with drained capers, sliced cured olives and fresh herbs. You can also add grilled chicken to the mix for a complete meal and the Panzanella is great at room temperature or chilled the next day.

Panzanella. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

I also enjoy my chilled lentil salad for those warm summer months. I got the idea from the UC Medical Center’s cafeteria more than 30 years ago. Their version contained cooked lentils, carrots and fresh herbs tossed in a vinaigrette. I’ve been making my version just as long, and because lentils are a good source of protein (as well as fiber and vitamins), no additional animal protein is required.

Lentil Salad
1 lb. dried lentils (lentil du puy holds shape better than brown lentils)
1 small red onion, cut into 6-8 wedges then finely sliced
2 carrots, peeled and julienned (I use a “Japanese” mandoline with a large julienne attachment)
Green onion, thinly sliced, about 1/2 cup (about 1/2 bunch)
Fresh mint, chopped, about 2/3 cup (all the leaves in an average bunch)

Lentil Salad. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

1/4 c red wine vinegar (I use half balsamic, half red wine vinegar)
Salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
3/4 c extra virgin olive oil (I usually add 2-3 tbsp of flavored olive oil)

Boil lentils for about 20 minutes (if I have dried mint, I fill a tea infuser and boil with the lentils). Drain and rinse. Mix cooked lentils with vegetables and herbs. Whisk together the next three ingredients, then pour over lentil mixture. (You can add the vinaigrette of your choice as the dressing.)

I usually use a garlic-infused olive oil, but cilantro or red pepper oils are also good. You can add chopped red peppers if you use a red pepper oil.
So, if the current world events seem to be dragging you down and you just need a break, watch something light-hearted, enjoy a cocktail with a simple, summertime meal and escape if just for an hour or two.

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at Views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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