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Borscht

Just another borscht recipe … but this one has a twist!

One benefit of fall is the glut of beets and potatoes. And in my part of the country this means one thing: Borscht. Borscht is an Eastern European soup made (coincidently) predominately of beets, potatoes, and cabbage. Like cabbage rolls (holubtsi) there great variations of borscht between the Ukrainians, Russians, Poles … kind of like the war of pizza between the US and Italy! I am not claiming that this soup is authentic, but I do know it’s delicious. Upon discussion with my Ukrainian friend, this soup closely resembles the Ukrainian version, which is usually vegetarian, served with a dollop of sour cream.

This version is based on the “Beet, Barley, and Black Soybean Soup” recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. Form there I got the ingenious idea of the secret ingredient: tamarind pulp! Traditional borscht tastes very earthy and is minimally seasoned. The tamarind adds a nice tang to the soup that is unexpected, unique, and makes you crave more. To me, it turned blah borscht into two+ bowl borscht. The addition of beans adds some protein to the soup, making it a complete Eastern European meal.

My version of the recipe is below. I have not served it to my Ukrainian friend, for fear that it strays so far from the family recipe that it is pronounced “not borscht”. In which case, think of it as beet, potato, cabbage, and tamarind soup!

 

Borscht

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped (~2 cups)
3 cloves garlic
2 tsp. dried tarragon
A few dashes of fresh pepper
8 cups water
4 medium beets, peeled, cut in half, sliced 1/4″ thick (~4 cups)
~4 cups potatoes, cut in quarters (roughly same size as beets)
¼ cup tamarind
1 (19oz.) can black eyed peas, rinsed (1½ cups cooked)
~4 cups cabbage, shredded
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar

Directions:
1) In a stockpot, sauté onions in oil for ~5min.
2) Add garlic, tarragon, and pepper; sauté until smells very nice (~1min)
3) Add water, beets, potatoes, and tamarind. Cover and bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer. Simmer ~30min.
4) Add black eyed peas and cabbage. Simmer ~10-15min.
5) Add vinegar, stir, and serve!


El Salvador Feast: Black Bean and Plantain Pupusa, Curdito, and Simple Tomato Sauce

Components: Curdito in the bowl; Pupusa topped with Simple Latin Tomato Sauce and sliced avocado sprinkled with chili powder on the plate.

 

The hot weather made me do it. I finally got around to trying Terry Hope Romero’s cookbook Viva Vegan! a tomb of 200 Latin American recipes. I quickly learned in my 3h read through of the book that what I thought was Latin American was actually Tex-Mex, and everything I hate about Tex-Mex has no bearing in authentic Latin American food. It was one of the more expensive library trips for me – what started as a 20-recipe ‘must try NOW’ list plus an additional 20-recipe ‘must make within the month’ resulted in me purchasing the only copy of the cookbook in my city. And thus began the Latin Cooking Extravaganza!

 

I will be honest, I didn’t know much about Latin American food, aside from the aforementioned Tex-Mex. Tacos, Enchiladas, and Mole sauce and I was out. This is just the tip of the iceberg, with plenty more to be explored! Viva Vegan! is a fantastic resource for the uninitiated and adventurous – such as myself. It has recipes from all over Central and South America, with plenty of tips on how to properly roast chilies, when to use the special ingredients and when you can get away with substitutions (especially important for chili powders!), as well as well written step-by-step instructions on how to make your own Latin kitchen staples, such as tortillas. The best part of cooking Latin was that with my pantry stocked with Middle Eastern, Indian, and Asian spices, I could cook almost every recipe in the cookbook without a special trip to the grocery store. But where is the fun in experimenting if it doesn’t come with a trip to the ethnic market? Three kinds of chili powder, two kinds of dried chilies, a bottle of habanero hot sauce, and a Mexican spice called Epazote that smells like gasoline later and I was set.

 

Opening the fest was Black Bean and Plantain Pupusas (pg. 162), Curdito (pg. 79), and Simple Tomato Sauce (pg. 46). Pulled together in under an hour, Latin weekend opened with a bang of flavour! The Curdito is the same as the coleslaw recipe for the Baja Tacos in Veganomicon, and my favourite coleslaw recipe ever. The Simple Tomato Sauce is exactly that – simple and delicious. It amazed me how something with such few ingredients could taste so fantastic! I used green onions and garlic scrapes from my CSA vegetables which made the sauce fresh and bright even though I used canned tomatoes. I ate the sauce straight from the saucepan, until I deployed some measure of restraint to serve it with the pupusa.

 

The Pupusas are very easy to make, and require no time at all to cook! The dough is just masa flour and water, which turns into the consistency of homemade PlayDoh making the pupusas very easy (and fun!) to shape, mould, stuff, and close. The filling for this batch was the suggested black bean and plantain filling with a sprinkling of Daiya cheese. This combination was heavenly, and when served with the tomato sauce tasted like a Latin Pizza Pocket, only 100x better! So successful were these pupusas they have inspired my creativity, and I am planning a future themed evening of other variations – including a dessert pupusa. Cocoa powder added to the dough, and stuffed with a cinnamon-nut crumble with plantains. Mmmm… The leftover pupusas froze very well, and were very travel-friendly for meals-on-the-go. Of course, they didn’t hurt with a quick warm-up in the microwave/pan and served with some more sauce!

 

If you do not have the cookbook, I strongly urge you to check it out of the library. For a taster, the recipes for this delectable meal can be found here: Pupusas, Curdito, and Salsa Rojo. Previews of the cookbook are also available on Google Books, found here: Viva Vegan!  You will be surprised at how easy and delicious this seemingly complex dish is. Plus, you get to play with ‘PlayDoh’ dough. So roll up those sleeves, get creative with the stuffing, and enjoy!


Ethiopian Feast

The complete feast!

For Christmas I gave myself one of the best present’s ever – Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian Food, by Kittee Berns.

I could barely wait to try out the recipes – Papa Tofu lived on my nightstand for a week, and every night my dream menu changed. Finally, I made some tough decisions and cooked 6 dishes. The result? AMAZING. One review was “just as good as any Ethiopian you will get in a restaurant”. I take that as high praise indeed, and so should Kittee Berns!

The menu was as follows:

Selata (the necessary green salad with the stray jalapeno seed), Ye’Abesha Gomen (Collard Greens, made with spinach – it is difficult to find collared greens in Canada in January!), Ingudai T’ibs (Sauteed Mushrooms), Ye’Takelt Allecha (Gingery Roasted Vegetables), Ye’kik Allecha (Mild Split Peas), and Ye’Meiser W’et (Spicy Red Lentils).

Platter 1: Ye'Miser W'et (top), Ingudai T'ibs (right), Ye'Takelt Allecha (left), salad piled on top

Platter 2: Ye'Kik Allecha (top), Ye'Abesha Gomen (left), more Ye'Takelt Allecha (bottom), and more salad on top

Everything was fantastic! And since I made enough food to feed a small army, I have enough leftovers to last me through the week.W’et sandwiches with injera bread? Yes please!

I highly recommend this zine to anybody – from Ethiopian food lover to those who don’t know where Ethiopia is. The zine is clearly a labour of love, with hand-drawn titles and cute pictures sprinkled throughout. Included are instructions on how to make all those mystery ‘extra’ ingredients like niter kibbeh and berber. It’s the extras that make the difference! Humourous and educational, this is a zine that you can tweak to your taste buds!


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