Apologies and Sabbaticals

Dear Fellow Lovers of Ethnic Cuisine,

 

I would like to apologize to you regarding my haphazard updates these past few months. My “real” life has changed dramatically these past few months, and I find myself wishing for more hours in the day. I have been overambitious in my project at work, and although it is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it is consuming more time than originally anticipated. It is a project that I am passionate about however, and I believe that upon completion it will take me to places I currently only dream of. I have also (somehow) increased my involvement in the community, taking on a second job almost. Luckily, I am also passionate about this🙂 I am also training for high-performance endurance competitions, which takes up a fair bit of time. The result of this is that I am spending far less time in the kitchen researching, creating, and exploring new ethnic cuisines. My limited time in the kitchen instead has been focused on old favourites, all of which I have already shared with you.

In light of my overambition and “real life” commitments, I will be taking a sabbatical from the blog. When I return, it will be with full force, a kitchen full of ethnic adventures, and more creative recipes than ever!

I wish you all the best in your culinary explorations.


The Revolution: How to Eat an Apple

While Canada is being reminded of why we are called “The Great White North” (Winter is my favourite season! 🙂 ), I was faced with a dilemma that led to an epiphany. The dilemma: after a tough workout at the gym, how was I to eat my pre-post-workout snack on my 60min walk home in -40dC weather? The idea of taking off my (double) gloves to hold the core while I searched for a garbage can was unappealing, to say the least. This dilemma led to the epiphany: How to Eat an Apple. Throw away the apple-eating rulebook, and change your life forever!

Steps:

1)      Hold the apple in your hand by the stem (or cradle it in your gloves), so that the “eye” is facing you

2)      Bite directly over the “eye”

3)      Eat the apple however you like, doing your best not to drop it (applicable for the double glove system). Whenever you take a bite in the centre, make sure you have a good amount of apple flesh. This way you won’t notice the core!

4)      When you come across seeds, spit them out like watermelon seeds. A fun game is the “distance challenge”.

5)      Discard the stem (again, with the double glove situation, once I had to eat the stem then spit it out like the seeds. This works too!)

Waste not, want not. And your hands stay roasty toasty! I’ve been cooking up some amazing dishes this winter, but this discovery is currently my number one. Mind blown. And as an added bonus, when it’s -40dC the apple is more like an applecicle. Delicious!


Lebanese Falafel

Lebanese Falafel served with Cucumber Tomato salad and Lemon Tahini dressing

Lebanese Falafel served with Cucumber Tomato salad and Lemon Tahini dressing

I am addicted to falafel. I judge a city by it’s falafel offerings, and can be quite picky. I have lived in two cities with sub-standard falafel, and during that time I honed in on the craft of making my own and demanded that my first meal back in my hometown was falafel. I am a walking example of the Canadian fusion girl: craving Middle Eastern cuisine with the physique of a Scandinavian.

I have tried many versions of this staple, making an effort to write down every tweak and change. Some batches were fit only for the garbage; some made me yearn for the sub-standard offerings. But through dedication and perseverance, I found The Falafel Recipe. The trick: do not cook the beans. This is true throughout the Middle East: In Lebanon and Israel, chickpeas are used. In Egypt, the chickpeas are replaced with fava beans or a combination of fava beans and chick peas (I call this garfava, because it’s fun to say). To make the falafel more Egyptian, the amount of fresh herbs should be doubled, to the point where the falafel looks green. Of course, you could also use a green such as spinach or Swiss chard to get the same effect. Lebanese falafel is the “Canadian” version of Egyptian and Israeli: enough fresh herbs for significant speckles of green, but enough cumin and spice to remind you of Israeli falafel. The uncooked beans give you the classic falafel texture. Not smooth, but grainy (about the size of uncooked quinoa seeds), with a firm bite. For a true classic version, these should be deep fried or pan fried, but I am well aware of my kitchen limitations, and know that hot oil and a stove is a recipe for disaster. Baking is much safer🙂

To serve these falafels, I have made the traditional falafel pita, made a deconstructed pita including a cucumber-tomato salad and tahini-lemon dressing (1:1 for tahini to lemon juice, mixed well. Add water for consistency as necessary, and some cayenne for spice) and pickled red onions, and eat them plain as snacks. These are by far the best falafels I have ever tasted, and well worth the cravings! (Note: I have not travelled to Israel, Lebanon, or Egypt. But when I do, one of my first stops will be a falafel stand!) Simple, easy, minimal dishes, freezer-friendly, and delicious, these falafels are worth their exalted status in my kitchen.

 

Lebanese Falafel

2 cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in water

1 small onion, chopped OR ½ cup chives, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped

½ cup fresh parsley, chopped

2 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. ground coriander

½ tsp. paprika

¼ tsp. black pepper

4 tbsp. lemon juice

½ tsp. salt, or to taste

 

Directions:

1)      Drain soaked chickpeas. Rinse well and set aside.

2)      In food processor, add all ingredients. Process until reaches a consistency between couscous and hummus. *Note: Depending on the size of the food processor, may have to do this in batches

3)      Place 2 tbsp. of mixture in your hand, and roll into a ball. Place falafel on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat until no mixture left.

4)      Bake at 350oF for 20min. Carefully flip over falafel and bake an additional 10-15min, until falafel golden brown.

5)      Serve as a deconstructed falafel pita, as a topping for a salad, or plain!

 


Truffle Mania!

These past three months have been the most challenging three months of my life. They say bad things come in threes, and I believe that holds true for multiples of three as well. However, through sheer grit and determination, perseverance, and strength of will, I have survived. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Helping me these past months were these truffles. Very easy to make, they are no-bake little treats of bliss for when you need a pick me up. I went through a truffle phase after this, with a different combination entering the food processor every time. Here are two that I tweaked repeatedly until they were perfect. Carrot cake or Chocolate Maca – your choice. Enjoy!

*Notes* For freezing, the best method I have come up with is placing the truffles on a baking sheet and freezing them individually. Once frozen, I store them in Ziploc bags. If you skip the individual freeze step they still work, but sometimes they stick together in the bag.

I have added gluten free and nut free options for these recipes. I’ve tried them all, and these are the combinations with the best success. I actually prefer the gluten free truffles, as sometimes where I get my gluten free oats they are out of stock. But they always have quinoa flakes!

The Maca powder is a splurge item. It adds a carmel flavour to the truffles, and also assists in cell repair. Perfect for stress! I bought my bag of Maca powder at the health food store for $9 2 years ago – a little goes a very long way! If you don’t have any, omit the maca and have chocolate truffles instead🙂

Carrot Cake Truffles

1 ½ cups carrots, grated

12 dates, soaked in ½ cup water

1 cup oats (Certified Gluten Free if req. Substitutions that are fantastic: Quinoa flakes, millet flakes, or buckwheat flakes)

¼ cup coconut flour

¼ tsp. salt

1 tsp. vanilla

1” piece ginger, roughly chopped

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. cardamom

1 tbsp. lemon juice

Directions:

1)      In food processor, grate carrots. Remove and set aside.

2)      In food processor, puree dates until paste forms, adding soaking water as required.

3)      Add oats, coconut flour, salt, vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and lemon juice. Puree until well blended.

4)      Add 1 cup grated carrot and puree until smooth.

5)      Add remaining carrots and pulse to combine.

6)      Shape into 1 tbsp. truffles. (I just scooped and froze, but if you want to be fancy, roll them into balls) Freeze until ready to eat!

7)      Optional: These thaw quite quickly and become a bit mushy. To serve on dessert tray, bake at 375oF for 10min.

Makes 34 truffles

Chocolate Almond Maca Truffles 

1 cup oats (Certified Gluten Free if req. Substitutions that are fantastic: Quinoa flakes, millet flakes, or buckwheat flakes)

1 cup raw almonds (To make nut free, use raw sunflower seeds. Decadent nut free truffles – dry toast the sunflower seeds on medium heat in a sauce pan until golden and fragrant. Remove from heat and let cool in a bowl)

2 tbsp. dark cocoa powder

½ tbsp. maca powder

7 dried dates, soaked in ¼ cup water

1 tsp. vanilla

Pinch of salt

Cinnamon, nutmeg to taste 

Variations: add instant coffee, cardamom, and/or cayenne

 Directions:

1)      In small measuring cup, soak dates in ¼ cup water and vanilla.

2)      In food processor, pulse ¾ cup oats until a flour

3)      Add almonds. Pulse until mealy in texture

4)      Add date mixture. Pulse until dates pureed.

5)      Add all remaining ingredients. Puree until dough forms, adding water as necessary

6)      Shape into 1 tbsp. truffles (Again, if you want to be fancy, roll them into balls). Freeze until ready to eat! 

Makes 28 truffles


Roasted Tomato and Root Vegetable Soup

You'll never look at tomato soup the same way again

You’ll never look at tomato soup the same way again

This is not the Tomato Soup of your childhood. There is no Campbell’s product anywhere (unless you have a painting of the Andy Warhol soup can in your kitchen), and cream is not involved. More importantly, nothing is pureed. What this soup is however, is a roasted tomato bowl of pure bliss. Simple, fresh flavours highlighted by roasting and completely addicting.

This soup was first born in my ongoing growth in the kitchen to try and overcome my childhood aversions – tomato soup in this case. Clearly, I strayed a bit. From the market I got a giant bag of plum tomatoes, as well as the seasonal root vegetables of rutabaga, kohlrabi, and beets. Inspired by a tomato soup recipe in Eric Tucker’s Millennium cookbook and my ciambotta recipe, I set out experimenting. The end result is a soup that is quite possibly the recipe of Fall 2013. The roasted tomatoes add such depth and flavour to the soup it’s surprising. Roasted garlic is never a bad thing, and roasting the onions is an optional but highly recommended step. The beets add a gorgeous deep red hue to the soup, making the bowl look even more ‘tomatoey’. The rutabaga and kohlrabi add some nice contrast in both colour and crunch, and the swiss chard at the end looks like bright green ribbons. The root vegetables used here could be completely interchangeable, depending on your preference. Parsnips, turnips, potatoes … anything. Mushrooms would also be a nice addition to the soup. The roasted vegetables are helped along with some fresh thyme, rosemary, fennel, and oregano. A splash of balsamic at the end for some acid, and you’re ready to slurp. The best part is that the soup almost cooks itself. The roasting does all the hard work – you just have to throw it all together in a pot after and let the flavours marry.

Although I failed to conquer my tomato soup aversion from my childhood, in the process I’ve discovered the tomato soup recipe of the year, and one that I will be making again and again!

 

Roasted Tomato and Root Vegetable Soup

1 medium onion, cut into ⅛ ‘moons’

1 bulb garlic, top cut off and loose skin removed

27 small plum tomatoes, halved (~10¾ cup)

2 medium beets, cut into ¼” cubes

1 rutabaga, cut into ¼” cubes*

2 kohlrabi, cut into ¼” cubes*

½ tsp. black pepper

2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

12 cups water, as necessary

1 tsp. dried thyme OR 1 tbsp. fresh

½ tsp. dried rosemary

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 tsp. fennel seeds

1 tsp. red pepper flakes

4 cups swiss chard, chiffonade

2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

*Root vegetables should amount to ~3 cups. Seasonal pickings!

Directions:

1) Line a 9”x13” baking pan and two cookie sheets with parchment paper. (*Note* If you don’t have parchment, spray your pan and trays with a lot of oil. The caramelization is what gives the vegetables flavour, but it’ll also guarantee hours scrubbing the pan if you forget either to line or oil the pans!)

2) In baking pan add onion, garlic, beets, and root vegetables.

3) On cookie trays, lay the halved tomatoes skin side down in a single layer.

4) Sprinkle all vegetables with pepper.

5) Roast all vegetables at 425oF for 40-45min, flipping the pans halfway.

6) Once vegetables are roasted, cut onion, garlic, and tomatoes into bite-sized pieces.

7) In large stockpot, add roasted onion and garlic, apple cider vinegar, and ½ cup water. Bring to a boil and let simmer ~5min.

8) Add root vegetables, all remaining herbs and spices, and 8 cups of water. Stir, cover, and bring to a boil. Let simmer ~10 min.

9) Add roasted tomatoes. Gently pour 4 cups of water over baking trays, and tip trays into the stockpot – we want the roasted juices! Stir, cover, and bring to a boil. Let simmer ~15min.

10) Add swiss chard and balsamic vinegar. Stir and cook until chard bright green and wilted, ~5min.

11) Serve!


Ma Po Tofu and Eggplant Stew

Ma-Po Eggplant Tofu Stew

Ma Po Tofu and Eggplant Stew, served with a fresh Japanese Turnip Pickle

It started with the turnips. Japanese turnips, fresh from the garden. This inspired me to use the fermented black beans, which I picked up at an Asian grocery store on a whim one (+) year ago. Sometimes my food-association astounds me. The fermented black beans led me to the question: “What do I do with these?”. Apparently not a whole lot that I could find. It is however the main ingredient of Doubanjiang, a Sichuan Chili Bean Sauce. Doubanjiang is also the star ingredient for Ma Po Tofu, a spicy wok tofu dish from the Sichuan province. And thus the dish was born! To add to the difficulty, I could not find a recipe for Doubanjiang, as apparently it is much more sane common to use the pre-made sauce. Doubanjiang is also called toban djan, lado ban jiang, or Sichuan Chili Bean Sauce. After much searching, I found a base recipe that looked to match the ingredient label of a common pre-made sauce. The end result of this inspiration was a spicy hot-and-sour soup alternative that is addictive and delicious. Sometimes my crazy food-association games turn out better than even I could dream of!

As I do not own a wok, I didn’t want to compromise my first Ma Po Tofu experience with sub-par equipment, so I turned the concept into a stew. To help this I added eggplant and bok choy, with the final result of a spicy hot and sour soup type dish. The results were amazing. It will warm your soul, tickle your taste buds, and clear your sinuses. The soft tofu is almost unnoticeable (a concern for me and my texture issues). The eggplant and dried mushrooms add some texture, the greens colour, and the consommé (fancy word for clear broth) is absolutely divine. It will trick anybody into thinking that you slaved over a hot stove for hours building complex flavour, instead of the 45min. that it takes. I served the stew with a quick turnip pickle, to highlight the turnip inspiration. The robust flavour is due to the homemade Doubanjiang, and the fermented black beans. Of course, you can use the bought sauce – I’m sure it’d be just as delicious, and perhaps even more true to the Ma Po Tofu inspiration.

The Doubanjiang took less than 15min. to make, and most of that was rinsing the black beans. The black beans are fermented in salt, and right out of the package they’re like eating a salt lick. Make sure you rinse them very very well! The amount of Thai chilis seem excessive for only 2/3 cup of sauce, but if you think of the sauce as a spicy soy sauce, its more reasonable. I didn’t have the yellow rice wine or the dark rice vinegar, so I googled “appropriate” substitutions more common in my kitchen. Next time I will try to make the recipe as written, but this version was fantastic. The sauce itself was like a spicy vinegar soy sauce which was quite thick. I am not in the habit of having pre-made stir fry sauces on hand, but I am assuming this’d be fantastic with a quick Asian vegetable stir-fry. I tailored the recipe to use the full amount in the stew, and it was perfect!

This dish is sure to impress. Different and exotic, it is one I will be making again!

 

Ma Po Tofu and Eggplant Stew

4 dried flower mushrooms

6 cloves garlic, minced

⅔ cup doubanjiang sauce (lado ban jiang, toban djan; Sichuan Chili Bean Sauce)

4 cups eggplant, diced into ½” cubes (1 med.)

350g. soft tofu, drained and diced into ½” cubes

4+ cups water

2 tbsp. rice vinegar

3 cups bok choy, chopped

2 tbsp. Sriracha

4 scallions, green parts only, thinly sliced

Directions:

1) In small bowl, cover dried mushrooms with 1” boiling water. Let soak for 30min., until soft.

2) In large pot, sauté garlic in 2 tbsp. of water on high, stirring frequently. Sauté until garlic slightly brown.

3) Stir in doubanjiang. Sauté for 1min.

4) Add the eggplant, stir. Cover and sauté until eggplant begins to get soft, approx. 5min. Add water as necessary to prevent sticking.

5) Add tofu and water. Stir very gently, so as to not break the tofu. Bring to a low boil.

6) Drain the mushrooms and slice into bite-sized pieces.

7) Add the sliced mushrooms and rice vinegar. Bring to a simmer and cook until eggplant tender, approx. 10min.

8) Add the bok choy and Sriracha. Stir and bring to a simmer.

9) Turn off heat, stir in scallions.

10) Serve with rice or Asian noodles of choice.

 

Doubanjiang Sauce (Lado Ban Jiang, Toban Djan; Sichuan Chili Bean Sauce)

10 fresh red Thai chilis, minced

⅓ cup fermented black beans

1 tbsp. yellow rice wine (sub: gin, white wine; I used rice vinegar)

2 tsp. dark rice vinegar (sub: balsamic vinegar)

½ tsp. Sucanet

Directions:

1) With a fine mesh strainer, rinse the black beans really well, to remove all excess salt.

2) In small saucepan, sauté chilis and black beans in 2 tbsp. water on medium-low until fragrant, approx. 2-3min.

3) Add rice wine and rice vinegar. Simmer 3min. Add water as necessary for consistency.

4) Stir in Sucanet and remove from heat. Let cool completely

5) Store in mason jar in fridge: will keep for 3 weeks

Makes ⅔ cups of sauce


Midsummer Corn Chowder

Midsummer Corn Chowder

I grew up in a climate where the constant threat of frost or snow from May – August prevented abundant crops. In fact, the only thing that we could successfully grow was rhubarb. Thus, when I first read through Veganomicon (like a novel, as one should do with a new cookbook), I was instantly filled with awe and wonder at the recipe entitled Midsummer Corn Chowder. The description starts with the line “This soup just screams “I just came back from the Farmer’s Market! Look at my bulging canvas sack!””, and the concept of being able to buy corn, tomatoes, basil, and fennel at the farmer’s market in the middle of summer was so completely foreign to me I thought they were making it up. So imagine my joy and excitement when I came back from my weekly CSA share last week (admittedly mid-September) with a bulging backpack of corn, heirloom tomatoes, basil, onions, and other goodies! I had arrived at that mythical land, and so I knew I had to make this chowder.

I will admit I have never had “real” corn chowder before, due to my corn issues, but since I have somewhat overcome them with the Chickpea Pastel de Choclo, I thought I was ready to tackle the chowder. Although calling mid-September “midsummer” is a bit of a stretch, I kept to the spirit of the recipe and adapted it to accommodate my bulging backpack of CSA vegetables. To the soup I added zucchini (last of the season), collard greens, and extra carrots (to make up for lack of celery. To this day growing celery is a bit of a mystery to me). I am not a jet setter, but I am lazy, so I didn’t make the corn stock as suggested. Instead, I simmered the soup with the corn cobs and the top of the fennel fronds, which added a nice depth to the stock. I did have to buy potatoes and fennel to complete the dish, but that’s not too bad! I also modified the cooking instructions slightly: Instead of sautéing in oil, I sautéed the vegetables using water. I have discovered that if you add the onions to the pan with a splash of water and cover, it lets them sweat and caramelize way better than if you use oil. To prevent sticking, add splashes of water periodically. I did this technique for all the vegetables, resulting in caramelized garlic, onions, and fennel which added smoky depth and deliciousness. The soup is simply seasoned with the fresh basil and dried thyme – no additional seasonings required! Let the fresh produce shine through. I did add a healthy splash of Habanero Hot Sauce, because the habaneros also came from the garden and I didn’t want them to be neglected.

The end result is a surprisingly light stew that does scream “farmer’s market bulging sack of goodies”. Fresh and vibrant, it is worth turning the stove on if it’s +30dC, or it will remind you of the fleeting days of summer if it’s mid-September and pumpkin season is just around the corner. Delicious, creamy, and vibrant, I believe this soup has terminated my corn-issues for good! Reminisce of the fleeting days of summer and honour your farmer’s market haul.

(Note: the soup freezes wonderfully, so if you are like me and enthusiastically waiting for pumpkin season and thoroughly sick of summer produce, make this soup fresh today, then save the leftovers for December, when all you want is a garden-fresh zucchini.)

The recipe can be found on page 144 of Veganomicon, or in the Google Book Preview here: Midsummer Corn Chowder with Basil, Tomato, and Fennel

 


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