Archive for the ‘Food Around the World’ Category
The problem is that in order to get a really good black cake, you have to begin the process at least several weeks in advance, and who’s thinking about Christmas in September? (Okay, well, many of you probably start your Christmas shopping in July, but the way my life has been going the past several years, my thoughts about Christmas have had me on the brink of nervous breakdowns trying to find gifts on Christmas Eve.)
But this year, I was determined to make a black cake, so I marked my calendar for September. That’s when I was going to initiate the process. And so I did.
Black cake/Christmas cake is also sometimes called plum pudding because it is derived from the traditional British Christmas cake of the same name. Plum pudding is basically fruit cake and the addition of brandy was to keep it fresh on long voyages across the seas (plus it tastes good). (Plum pudding is traditionally lit aflame at presentation time. I suspect that this was done the first time by accident as a result of someone getting a little too close to it with a candle or something.) When the British began trading through the Caribbean, the plum pudding went with them. But rum, rather than brandy, was the liquor available on the islands, and sugar and molasses became the sweeteners. The addition of allspice and nutmeg are more Island touches on the old recipe.
It is said that the original recipe for plum pudding dates to Medieval times, when it called for 13 ingredients—1 for Jesus Christ and 12 for his apostles—and was to be made on Christmas Eve. Since then, it’s become a more elaborate affair. As other fruit cakes, a black cake contains various dried fruits that are macerated in rum and, sometimes, port wine for weeks. The ideal time to bake it is a couple of weeks before Christmas, and as the days go by, it is occasionally basted with more booze.
So, in September, I put my fruit—raisins, golden raisins, plums, figs, dates, and cranberries—in a large container with a cover and poured in a wee bit of rum and port wine and let that sit until December. About a week before Christmas (I couldn’t get around to it before then), I baked the cake, basted it a few times, and brought it for Christmas Eve dinner. It came out fabulous. It was moist and incredibly flavorful, and even though it was loaded with alcohol, the rum and wine had mellowed into a fruity liqueur-like flavor. It’s not like any fruit cake you’ve ever had, I guarantee it. Normally, black cake is served as is, but I wanted it to look a little more festive so I iced it with a basic powdered sugar icing (which eventually melted). The only thing was that my cake was not as dark as it should be (it is called black cake, after all). So, I increased the browning in the recipe. Browning is also known as burnt sugar and can be found in West Indian markets.
I share this with you now so that you can prepare ahead of time for next Christmas. Enjoy!
|Jamaican Black Cake (aka Christmas Cake)|
- 4 cups mixed dried fruit (raisins, currents, prunes, citron, cherries, dates, figs, etc.)
- 1 cup white rum
- 1 pint port wine
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- 1 cup butter
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup packed brown sugar
- 6 eggs
- 3 tablespoons browning*
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 tablespoon molasses
- 2 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon allspice
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ginger
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 cup nuts
- Rinse the fruit under running water and drain well. Place in a sealable bowl and mix in the rum and port wine. Seal bowl and refrigerate and let sit for about 2 months. If the liquid gets completely soaked up, add more rum as needed.
- On the day of baking, drain the fruit over a bowl and reserve the liquid. Using a food processor or blender, grind half the fruit until it’s in small pieces (but not a paste).
- Grease a 10-inch cake pan; line it with parchment paper. (You can also use aluminum foil, but make sure to grease the foil.) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and baking powder; set aside.
- Using a mixer, beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and mix until batter is smooth.
- Add half the flour and mix in; add remaining flour and mix in.
- Add the browning, vanilla, almond, molasses, lemon juice, spices, and zest. Add 1 cup of the reserved liquid and beat until well blended.
- By hand, blend in all the fruit and nuts.
- Bake for one 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Begin checking it at 1 hour.
- When done, place pan on a cooking rack and let it sit for about an hour. Invert it and remove the paper. Let cool completely. Baste every now and then with leftover liquor until ready to serve.
Makes 1 10-inch cake.
* Browning, also known as burnt sugar, is available in Jamaican/West Indian markets and sometimes in markets that have a wide variety of ethnic products. It’s used mostly for coloring. If you can’t find it, double up on the molasses.
Last week, I had the opportunity to have dinner at Mari Vanna, a traditional Russian restaurant on E. 20th Street in Manhattan. It was my first “dine-around” dinner with the New York Women’s Culinary Alliance, and the date also happened to be my birthday. So, it was a nice way to celebrate.
Ambiance is part of any great dining experience, even if it’s non-ambiance, as in the case of some mom-and-pop places where the food is the focal point. The word “ambiance” really doesn’t even fit Mari Vanna. They’ve created a sense of place. A world, in fact.
Upon entering Mari Vanna, you feel like you are entering a turn-of-the-19th-century shop/café, with its trinkets and small café tables. The furniture is mostly (I think) baroque and reminiscent of an Old World country home. There was one woman at our table who happened to be Russian (she’d been born in Moscow but moved here when she was 7) and she described the restaurant as “like going to grandma’s house.” Indeed, a china cabinet was jammed with plates, baking dishes, gravy boats, candy dishes, soup bowls, and an assortment of other culinary vessels and utensils. It was so much like many a grandma’s kitchen.
The layout of the place was interesting, too. The main dining room was separated from the kitchen by windows, which made it seem as if beyond those windows was a garden. You can easily peek in and watch the staff cooking your meal.
There was also kitsch. Along the buffet table, and throughout the place, there were examples of Russian folk art: dolls, toys, and colorfully painted bric-a-brack. It brought a sense of charm to a room that might otherwise seem a bit stuffy. I loved the bathrooms! With its old-school pump faucets and wall-mounted toilet tanks with the chain, you really felt as if you’d stepped into another world…except for the fact that there is graffiti all over—and I do mean ALL OVER—the walls and doors. This is part of the décor and I think they actually encourage guests to scribble their own personal messages. When you exit the bathrooms, there’s an old wall-mounted rotary phone, above which is an old Stalin-era military propaganda poster. I had no idea what it said, but it did give you a sense of the atmosphere in which Russians lived in that era.
I suppose I should talk about the food. The menu consists of traditional Russian dishes, from blini with caviar to cured herring and Siberian pelmini. However, for our group, the chef and one of the NYWCA women worked on a creating a special menu. We had:
Cocktails (choice of one)
Signature vodka shot or signature martini
Salo Plate (Assortment of salt-cured pork fatback)
Meat Plate (Assortment of cured meats and charcuterie)
Soleniya (housemade picked vegetables)
Blini with Red Caviar
Smetannik (signature dessert with strawberries and cream)
All are classic Russian dishes. The dilly bread, as well as the raisin bread and pickles, was a tasty starter. The Olivier (potatoes, Russian sausage, and sage mayo) is similar to American potato salad, in that it is made with mayo, but it has a different mixture of elements (sausage, peas, and, in this case, halved quail eggs). The salad has a Hollywood folktale attached to it. Legend has it that it was named for the actor Sir Lawrence Olivier. In truth, it was named for its creator, a Belgian chef named Lucien Olivier, who created it in the 1860s at his renowned Moscow restaurant, Hermitage. (For more info on it, click HERE.
The sunflower salad consisted of tomatoes, radishes, cucumbers, and—with a nod to more Western European ingredients—arugula, and topped with, of course, sunflower seeds. The vinegret was a kind of beet salad, and beets are a staple food of Eastern Europe. Speaking of beets, the borscht was exceptionally delicious and was my favorite dish of the evening. It was deeply flavored and warming (as opposed to the cold beet soup on the regular menu). By that point in the evening, though, I was already getting full and needed to leave room for everything else.
The pirogki, wheat dumplings stuffed with meat and potato-cabbage) were fun and so well balanced in cabbage and spice flavors. The blini were more like crepes than the little pancakes that are usually associated with blini, and were accompanied by red caviar and an assortment of condiments. They were light and delicate and buttery.
I’m not big on meat, but I did taste a bite of the beef stroganoff. The flavor was good, but the meat was a bit tough. The branzini, on the other hand, was delicate and cooked just right.
The desserts were all delicious, but I have to say that the Napoleon was not flaky. The smetanik was like a strawberry shortcake and cheesecake combined. The onegin was sort of like a Napoleon, but was more of a sponge cake with dried fruit and almonds.
The coordinator of the event, Wendy, was nice enough to have them put a candle in one of the cakes for my birthday. The entire staff came out with tambourines and sang a Russian song to me. I have no idea what they were saying, but it was enthusiastic and loud. As Wendy said, that’s something that will probably never happen to me again!
Of course, their specialty is their infused vodkas. There is a long list of choices and I’m sure you could spend a very long time trying out each one in a variety of ways. I had the cherry vodka with cherry soda. I thought it needed a bit more soda to sweeten it up a bit but I didn’t say anything because I was desperately fighting off a stomach bug and I didn’t think it wise to get crazy with the booze anyway. Although I did try a strawberry vodka shot after dessert. It was just so vibrantly red that I couldn’t resist. Delicious.
And that was my interesting journey through a long-ago Russia. I recommend it for the experience alone–it will definitely be a memorable one.
41 East 20th Street
New York, NY 10003
Between Park Ave and Broadway
By phone 212-777-1955
I came to find out that what I was given was amaranth leaves.
Callaloo is the name of a dish that originated in West Africa but has become a traditional dish in many Caribbean nations, particularly Jamaica. As a result, greens that are used in callaloo are often referred to as callaloo as well. These greens are usually amaranth leaves or taro leaves. In other Caribbean countries, callaloo refers to something entirely different: In Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago, it’s the name for okra.
Callaloo the dish has many variations (depending on the country), but the star of the show isalways the greens. Other ingredients may or may not include coconut milk, okra, chiles, or yams.
Rather than make the traditional callaloo with my treasure, I decided to make something much simpler because I wanted to taste the leaves without too much obscuring its flavor. So, I treated them as I would spinach or chard or any other leafy green and sauteed them in garlic and olive oil. It was great. The leaves were tender, almost silky, and mild and had a slight spinach-like flavor. That was one night one.
On night two, I took some of that sauteed callaloo and combined it with cherry tomatoes from my garden, fresh barlotti beans that my mother had made, and tossed it with whole wheat spaghetti. I topped that with a good shaving of fresh Argentinean parmigiano cheese. It was tasty, filling, comforting, and it smoothed out the graininess of the whole wheat pasta.
Amaranth leaves can be found in Asian and Indian markets. I’ve seen it in both, except that I didn’t know what it was. It’s hard to say what name will be on the sign because they go by different names throughout different regions in Asia, Southeast Asia, and India. They are either solid green or green and beautifully streaked with purple. Taro leaves can also be found in Asian and Indian markets if you’re interested in making callaloo (the dish).
Here is my Whole Wheat Pasta and Callaloo recipe. I hope you like it. Note that ½ pound of leaves will look like a lot but it will shrink down a great deal.
|Whole Wheat Pasta and Callaloo|
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 6 large garlic cloves, sliced
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ½ pound callaloo (amaranth leaves)
- Sea salt to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1/4 pound whole wheat spaghetti
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- ½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup cooked barlotti (roman) beans (or other beans)
- 2 tablespoons grated parmigiano or pecorino romano
- Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a wide pan. Add half the garlic and saute just until it starts to brown; add the red pepper flakes (if using) and saute another few seconds. Add the paprika and quickly add the amaranth leaves. Add salt and pepper to taste. Lower the heat to medium-low and cover. (If the leaves don’t all fit, add half and wait until they cook down a little; then add the rest and stir it in.) Cook until leaves are tender, stirring occasionally.
- Take half the sauteed greens and set aside to have as is. Enjoy.
- Bring a medium pot of water to a boil; add the pasta and salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until pasta is al dente. Do not drain.
- Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil; add the remaining garlic and saute a minute. Add the tomatoes (watch for splattering) and saute one more minute. Add the remaining sauteed greens and the beans. Stir to combine cook until beans are heated through. If the pan gets really dry, add a little water from the cooking pasta. Adjust salt and pepper to your taste. Keep the flame on very low until pasta is cooked.
- When pasta is cooked, use tongs or a large pasta fork to remove it from the water; add it to the pan. Add about ¼ cup of the pasta water to the pan. Turn up the heat and stir. Keep it on the heat for about a minute.
- Sprinkle the cheese over the top and stir it in. (You can add more on top when serving, if you like.)
I had Tibetan food for the first time last week and I have to tell you, I enjoyed it immensely.
The Himalayan Yak is a quiet establishment just off the main hustle and bustle of Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights in Queens, New York. If it weren’t for the fairly large sign above it, you might not even realize that the restaurant is there. But once you notice the dark, ornately carved doors, you know something good must be behind them.
Stepping through those doors almost gives you a feeling of stepping into a Tibetan temple and that you should probably speak in hushed tones. More dark wood greets you inside, along with Tibetan artwork on the walls. A flat screen TV showing programs on Tibet is the one thing that seems out of place (well, that and the pop music coming through the speakers). But the atmosphere is not at all uncomfortable. Once settled into our seats, my lunch companion and I fell naturally into conversation.
On the table were copper water goblets, which we promptly filled from the cork-topped bottle of water that was brought to our table. That bit of exoticism was contrasted by the very modern, “clean” plating of our food. It was very difficult deciding what to order, since everything looked mouth-wateringly delicious.
We ordered tsel momo, vegetable-filled, pan-fried dumplings; tzel nezom, a sautéed vegetable dish with tofu; shoku khatsa (aloo dum), a dish of pan-fried potatoes in a spicy chili sauce, served with bhaleb, a flatbread similar to naan, only thicker; and a tingmo, a Tibetan steamed bun.
When we received the tsel momo, they looked absolutely scrumptious. I cut into one and immediately said to my friend, “I think they gave us meat.” Indeed, they had. What we got instead was sha bakleb, which are patties filled with beef. Since this was my first time eating in a Tibetan restaurant, I didn’t pick up the fact that tsel momo dumplings look different than the patties. (like Chinese dumplings).
The sautéed vegetables was a combination of peppers, mushrooms, baby corn, bok choy, carrots, and some kind of green in a light but very flavorful brown sauce. That came with a beautifully cooked bowl of rice. The one problem I had with this dish is that it was supposed to have tofu in it and it did not. The potato dish was excellent, although I find it odd that it would be a main entrée because that’s all there was to the dish—potatoes. The fact that it came with bread is also odd. Maybe you’re supposed to use it to mop up the leftover sauce at the end, but it was an awful lot of bread just to do that. But the bread itself was fluffy and addictive. I used it to pick up the sauces that came to the table with our food. There were three sauces, each one a different heat level: a mild green sauce that was almost like a Latin salsa verde (much more green than the picture shows); a medium, orange one that had a creamy consistency; and a spicy, fiery red one. All of them were rich and savory.
Besides the errors in our orders, my complaint comes in the timing. It took them about 45 minutes to serve us. In a way, that’s good because it means that they don’t have the food already prepared and waiting to just be warmed up. I suspect that the food was made fresh. And they probably don’t cater to the typical “lunch crowd” —i.e., people who only have an hour to get there, eat, and get back. However, the restaurant was hardly crowded. Other than us, there were only 2 other tables with customers, so I can’t help but feel that 45 minutes was a bit much. We had to call our supervisor and tell her what was happening and ask for more time.
Because our food came so late, one we did get it and I realized the errors (the wrong appetizer and missing tofu), there was just no time to send them back and wait for new dishes. We probably would have been there another half hour waiting. So, instead, we ate what we got and enjoyed it regardless.
The server was very nice, however, and we did not punish her for the wait time by undertipping. (You should never do that, by the way, because it is not the server’s fault if your food is not coming out of the kitchen. Now, if your server is standing around chatting while your dishes are waiting to be picked up, that’s another story. But chances are, if he/she is that lazy, you’re getting bad service right from the start.) I get the feeling that dinner is when they really get hopping, and I’ve heard they have live music.
Despite the missteps, we plan on going back, but on a day when we know we can linger a little longer. Either that, or we’ll order ahead. As far as the food goes, I highly recommend it. Just prepared to be there a while, and check your order when you get it.
Once again, I found myself in Patel Brothers, the big Indian market in Jackson Heights, looking at something I’d never seen or heard of before. This time, it was samo seeds, also known as jungle rice and morio. These seeds are from a wild grass that grows in tropical Asia and are commonly eaten in times of famine. But samo is also eaten during a fasting period called Ekadasee, which occurs twice a month, once when the moon is closest to the earth and once when it’s the farthest. Samo seeds have an earthy flavor and once cooked, looks much like couscous or millet. Uncooked, they could almost pass for white grits.
I found a few recipes for samo seed pulav (pilaf) and this is one version below. I’m going to try a few different other versions, but for now, here’s a recipe for a basic samo seed pilaf, great for a side dish to just about anything.
Samo Seed Pulav
1 cup samo seeds
2 tablespoons ghee or coconut oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 cup peanuts, skinned
1 chile, minced
1 medium potato, peeled and diced small
Salt to taste
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup minced cilantro
1. Place the samo seeds in a bowl of water and let it soak for about 5 to 10 minutes. Drain, rise, and drain well.
2. Heat the ghee or oil in a wide pan over medium heat; add the cumin seeds and toast for a minute. Add the peanuts and sauté until they are browned. Add the chile and sauté another minute. Add the potatoes and sauté about 3 minutes more, stirring often to prevent sticking.
3. Add the samo seeds and cook, stirring often, to dry it out.
4. Add the salt and 2 cups water. Cover the pot and bring to a boil; lower the heat and simmer until water is absorbed and seeds are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.
5. Fluff up the grains with a fork, then mix in the lemon juice and cilantro. Serve hot or warm.
Cassoulet is a traditional French dish containing various kinds of meat and beans cooked in a casserole dish. Originally from southwestern France, cassoulet is a rich and hearty dish and is usually labor-intensive. You can take a few shortcuts for a quicker, easier cassoulet, but it will turn out rather flat. It’s meant to be a complex, savory dish and you won’t get that depth of flavor if you take shortcuts, so it’s worth taking the time to prepare each component. It’s not that complicated—you just have to be a little patient. Just taking the extra step to cook the beans alone will give a layer of flavor that you simply won’t get from canned beans.
In the U.S., cassoulet often refers to any number of bean dishes cooked in a casserole dish. The word cassoulet comes from cassole, an earthenware casserole dish in which cassoulet was first made. For a great historical account of cassoulet, visit Clifford Wright’s site HERE.
What makes this vegetarian version of cassoulet so delectable is roasting the vegetables. Roasting coaxes the sugar out of vegetables, turning them into something divine. Keep an eye on your veggies and stir them occasionally for an even browning.
What I used in this recipe is brown vegetable stock, which is wonderful to use in many dishes. It’s worth sit to spend the time making it—then just throw it in your freezer for when you need it. However, I know that time is a precious thing these days, so you’ll see that the recipe just calls for vegetable stock. The end product won’t be as rich, but it will be good.
As I said, the beans are made from scratch—that is, you start off with dried beans and cook them until tender. This will give you a much better quality and better tasting dish. You’ll want to throw a piece of kombu in with the beans.
Kombu is a type of seaweed—algae, to be specific. Adding a piece of kombu to a pot of cooking beans makes it more digestible because the amino acids soften the beans’ skin and eliminates some of the gassiness. Kombu is a mild-tasting seaweed so it won’t impart a fishy taste to your dish, as long as you use only a small piece, which is all you need anyway.
Yield 6-8 servings
1 cup dried lima or white beans (navy, Great Northern, cannellini), soaked 12 hours or overnight
5 cups vegetable stock
1 piece kombu (1 to 2 inches)
Sachet (sprig rosemary, 2 bay leaves, few peppercorns)
6 tbsp plus 1 tsp olive oil
3 large carrots, cut into ½-inch chunks
3 large parsnips, cut into ½-inch chunks
1 small sweet potato, cut into ½-inch chunks
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 onion, thinly sliced
4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
salt and pepper to taste
3 tbsp finely chopped parsley
¼ tsp fresh thyme
¼ tsp crushed dried oregano
¾ cup whole wheat bread crumbs
3 tbsp olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Drain and rinse the beans and place them in a medium to large pot, along with the kombu, vegetable stock, and sachet. Bring to a boil; lower the heat, cover the pot, and simmer until beans are tender (1 to 2 hours, depending on the bean).
3. Toss the carrots, parsnips, sweet potato, and garlic with 2 tablespoons of the oil, salt, and pepper. Spread out onto a greased baking sheet in a single layer and roast until browned. Stir occasionally. Pick out the garlic and finely chop or mash (they will be very soft). Set aside.
4. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil and a medium pan. Add the onions and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until they are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Turn up the heat to medium-high and continue cooking until they are nicely browned. Transfer to a bowl.
5. In the same pan, heat 1 teaspoon oil. Add the tomatoes and roasted garlic and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.
6. In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, 2 tablespoons of oil, parsley, thyme, and oregano. Set aside.
7. When beans are cooked, add the onions and tomatoes to the pot and simmer another 5 minutes. Set a mesh strainer over a bowl and drain the bean mixture; remove the sachet and kombu and discard. Reserve the liquid. Pour the liquid back into the pot and cook down over medium heat until thick (it should coat the back of a spoon).
8. Return the bean mixture to the pot and mix. Simmer another 5 minutes. Transfer to a medium casserole dish (about 9 x 6). Spread the roasted vegetables on top of the beans. Finally, sprinkle the bread crumb mixture evenly over the top.
9. Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes or until browned.
I was recently browsing the Gourmet Garage, a high end market in Greenwich Village, and came across a product I’d never heard of or seen before: Kañiwa. As I often do when I encounter a new product, I bought it. (Although I can’t afford to shop regularly in gourmet markets, I like to browse the aisles because I know that I will usually find something that is not commonly found in most other markets.)
Kañiwa , also spelled cañihua or canihua, is a tiny grain, about the size of a poppy seed. It is a species of goosefoot and is related to quinoa. Like quinoa, it is a whole grain native to the Andean mountains of Peru. Also like quinoa, when cooked, kañiwa seeds have little threads around them. Unlike quinoa, they do not contain saponins, which is the compound that gives quinoa its bitter taste. (If you ever cooked quinoa without rinsing it first, you know what I’m talking about.)
Although kañiwa is new to the U.S., it’s actually an ancient grain and health experts are now saying that kañiwa is the next big “super grain.” Nutritional facts about kañiwa are not yet available from the USDA, but considering that the people of the Andes have sustained themselves for thousands of years in part with kañiwa, it’s safe to say that kañiwa has something going for it. In fact, it’s high in protein (it’s 16% protein) and antioxidants, and also contains fiber, iron, calcium, and zinc. And it’s a gluten-free grain.
How to use Kañiwa
Again, kañiwa does not need to be rinsed. Most sources that I’ve consulted recommend toasting. Because it’s so small, it can be incorporated into many things, but is particularly popular made into a porridge. Kaniwa.org provides this recipe (with my edits):
Basic Kañiwa Porridge:
Cook one cup of kañiwa with two cups of water. Bring to a boil; lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the water is absorbed. Just like quinoa, it will sprout little tails when done. Fluff with a fork. Serve the kañiwa with butter and a sweetener, such as maple syrup or Rapadura. This will make about two cups of cooked kañiwa.
Right now, kañiwa is hard to find, although you can order it online. I paid $5 for 12 oz., so it’s not cheap but not over-the-top expensive.
The texture of kañiwa is almost like grits, but firmer and crunchier. It’s quite unique. Below is a recipe that I created. It’s a very simple recipe with simple ingredients. It’s great for a party and it will definitely have people asking, “What is this?” In a good way. Enjoy!
Warm Kañiwa Salad
Makes 6 servings.
1/2 cup kañiwa
1 cup vegetable broth
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic
1/4 finely chopped shallots or scallions
1 cup mushrooms (any kind)
2 cups cooked white beans
1/4 cup minced parsley
1 tbsp stone-ground Dijon mustard
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Toast kañiwa in a dry pot, stirring frequently, until it has a nutty aromna, about 2 minutes.
2. Pour in vegetable broth. Bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer, covered until liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork and transfer to a large bowl.
3. Meanwhile, heat oil in a medium skillet. Add garlic and shallots and cook for 1 minute. Add mushrooms and cook until mushrooms release liquid and start to brown. Add beans and cook until warmed through. Add this to kañiwa in bowl. Sprinkle in parsley.
4. Make dressing. Whisk all ingredients together until well blended. Pour over kañiwa. Toss to mix well. Adjust seasoning as desired.
Those of you who have heard of durian have probably also heard of its rep. Its bad rep. Well, bad in some ways, good in others. The flesh of a durian fruit is prized in other parts of the world, particularly Southeast Asia, where it is native and people pick and eat them fresh off the plant. Its custardy, yellow flesh is plucked right out of the shell and eaten in hand.
The problem with durian is that it stinks. I mean really stinks. Hotels in Asia post signs forbidding guests from bringing in durian. I read a story once about a traveler who had gone to Malaysia and attempted to bring a durian aboard a plane to take it home with him. He and his durian were kicked off the plane and he was reprimanded. And it wasn’t even in the main passenger cabin—he had packed it and it was stored in the fuselage. That’s how strong the odor of a durian is.
What does it smell like? The best way I can describe the smell is dirty baby diapers that have been sitting in the pail too long. Seriously. The stuff stinks.
I’d always been curious about durian but was afraid to buy it because of its purported strong smell. I didn’t want to stink up my house. And because they are an imported tropical fruit, they’re also expensive and I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on something that I might dislike.
Then, one day, my friend Elaine at work, who is from Malaysia, brought in a durian. It had been her mission for some time to introduce me to it and she finally got the chance. After work, we went outside and sat on a bench on the property of my job. As soon as she opened the bag, I smelled the baby poop. I was not deterred. Using a pair of scissors, she prodded open the hard, bumpy shell to reveal the kidney-shaped flesh. It looks firm, but when you touch it, it is soft and viscous, like thick yogurt that is separating. I scooped some with my finger and tasted it. I let it linger in my mouth so that I could get a good sense of its flavor. The first thing I tasted was banana with a faint pineapple undertone. After swallowing, the lingering flavor was garlicky/oniony. And the more I tasted, the more I began picking up notes of coffee and mocha. I don’t know why a stinky fruit that is banned from hotels and airplanes should taste like coffee and mocha, but there it was.
(Unfortunately, Elaine also brought vacuum-sealed durian fruit into the office and it strangely gave off an odor that resembled petroleum gas. More than one person came running through the area asking if there was a gas leak.)
So, that was my first durian experience. I don’t know that I will ever seek it out, but I love trying new foods, especially fruits and vegetables, and so I was happy to give it a go. If you’re brave or adventurous and would like to give durian a try, you will generally find it whole in the freezer case in Asian markets, and it’s often wrapped in a mesh bag. You can also find the flesh frozen. If you can get past the smell, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I suggest, though, that if you’re going to be around people afterward, chew on some parsley or pop a few Tic Tacs. The recipe below is courtesy of IncredibleSmoothies.com. Let me know what you think.
Lemon-Ginger Durian Smoothie
- 1 cup durian
- 1 whole banana, peeled
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- a squeeze of lemon juice
- 4-6 ounces of water
Add all ingredients and then blend on high until creamy and thoroughly mixed. Add additional lemon and/or ginger to taste, if desired.
I had to go into Manhattan the other day, to Broadway Panhandlers (a kitchen supply store), for some things that I needed. It was a frigidly cold day, and I had nowhere else to be (for the first time in a very long time), so I decided that afterwards, I would stop in somewhere and get a cup of coffee. Well, after I did my shopping, my bladder began warning me that if I decided to have any beverage with ties to Ethiopia, it would boldly protest. And because I hate using public restrooms, I decided to forgo the coffee. I was a little hungry, though, so I went in search of something that I could nibble on while riding home on the train.
A block away from Broadway Panhandlers, I spotted a Financiers, a French coffee/pastry shop, on Astor Place. There’s a Financiers around the corner from my school and I had stopped in there just about every week for a cup of Saturday afternoon coffee, but I had never tried one of their baked goods. So, here was my opportunity. I walked in and checked out the selection in the display case, and found it oddly sparse. I don’t know if this was normal for a Saturday afternoon or if they had gotten a huge influx of people stopping in for something warm and a bite to eat on this bitter January day, but there was not much of a selection. I almost walked out.
Then something caught my eye. Something labeled a galette de rois. With my very limited knowledge of French, I knew that this meant “king cake,” which was reinforced in my mind when I realized what time of the year it was.
King Cake is puff pastry filled with frangipane cream and is associated with the Christian festival of Epiphany. The feast of the Epiphany, traditionally falling on January 6, is the celebration of the revelation of Christ in human form. For Christians in the Western world, this more specifically celebrates the visitation of the Three Kings on the Baby Jesus, which is why the holiday also goes by the name of Three Kings Day. In the East, it revolves around the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. In the United States, the king cake is also eaten in celebration of Mardi Gras, as it is wherever Carnival takes place. Traditionally, a little ceramic baby (representing the Baby Jesus), or some other trinket, is baked inside the cake. The person who gets the little prize is responsible for hosting the following year’s Epiphany celebration. The English tradition is to put a bean in the cake, which is why it also goes by the name Bean Cake. (By the way, there’s a different kind of king cake that is actually a stuffed bread and which is decorated with bright Mardi Gras-type colors. That’s not the kind of king cake I’m talking about.) In the French tradition, a large king cake is topped with a paper crown.
Love Live the King
When I stepped onto my train, I sat down and reached into my bag for a bite of my galette de rois. I tried to break off a mouthful but as I pinched the crisp pastry, I discovered that it was so flaky that it crumbled in my fingers. And it was so buttery that my fingers came away with the pastry glued to my fingers. I knew that if I made any further attempts at breaking off a piece, I would be covered in puff pastry flakes. My king cake had to wait until I got home.
So, now I was home. I made myself some espresso and cut into my cake. The flakey layers crackled slightly as the knife went through them, which promised me a light crunch between my teeth. I wasn’t disappointed. The puff pastry was indeed light, flaky, and buttery, but not sickeningly so (when something is too buttery, it makes me nauseated). The frangipane cream was sweet but not cloying, and had floral, fruity notes. Frangipane is an almond pastry cream made from butter, eggs, sugar, and almonds. It is sometimes enhanced by almond or vanilla extract, or other flavorings. It was really a delicious dessert.
If you want to try making king cake yourself, it’s really quite easy, and here’s a recipe that I made up myself. Although king cake is usually for the Epiphany, I think it will go over very well any time of year.
Galette de Rois (King Cake)*
1/2 cup ground almonds
½ cup softened butter
2/3 cup organic sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract
1 package puff pastry (thawed if frozen)
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Combine all frangipane cream ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth and creamy.
3. Cut four 4-inch circles in the puff pastry sheet. Place two of them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
4. Place equal amounts of the cream in the center of the two circles. Top each one with the remaining puff pastry rounds. Pinch them gently around the edges to seal.
5. Beat the egg with a little water and brush the egg wash over the tops of each galette.
6. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown. If it gets too dark too fast, lower the heat to 350 and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes.
* For a traditional celebration, make several batches and place a little ceramic baby, bean or trinket in one of them. Share them with family and friends and whoever gets the prize will have to make them next year. You can also make little paper crowns and top each cake with one.
We had our next to last class at the Natural Gourmet Institute—Indian cuisine. It was an amazing feast filled with beautiful, deeply flavored dishes.
First, we had the usual lecture to introduce us to the cuisine of India and how it varies from region to region, and we were introduced to some of the common elements, seasonings, and utensils of Indian cooking. Indian cuisine has evolved over thousands of years and influenced by many cultures that passed through the country.
The most common seasonings used are black mustard seeds, chiles, cumin, cardamom, fennel, coriander, turmeric, coriander, and fenugreek. Common herbs are cilantro, kaffir lime leaves, curry leaves, and mint.
The nice thing about Indian food is that it’s great for vegetarians. Thanks to Buddhism, Hinduism, and Janism, vegetarianism is commonplace throughout the country and anywhere one goes in India, a vegetarian will always find plenty to eat.
India has a very distinct flavor profile—complex flavors and lots of spices—but it is similar to other countries in that the use of spices and heat levels vary from region to region. The more south you go, the hotter the food, which is the same way it is in Italy, the U.S., and many other countries. That’s because the more south you go, the hotter it is and eating spicy foods make you sweat, which cools you off. See, it all makes sense.
For the class, we concentrated on Moghul (or Mughlai) cuisine, which is the upscale Northern Indian cuisine that is most commonly found in Indian restaurants in the Western world. The Moghul Empire in India was extremely influential in many areas. This is from Cuisinenet.com:
The Moghuls were Persian Muslim princes, descended from both Genghis Khan and Tamburlaine, and nothing they did was anything less than glorious. They built the lavish and ambitious palace fortresses, mosques, and tombs that have become emblematic of the country, the most famous example of which is the Taj Mahal, the tomb built by Shah Jahan to honor his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. At its height, the Moghul dynasty was known for its cultured tolerance, even enthusiastic support of and participation in, local customs, arts, and religions.
This lavishness extended to food as well, and to this day, Northern Indian cuisine reigns as the standard Indian cuisine.
So, we spent the next few hours cooking dal, vegetable biriyani, golden cabbage, vegetable curry, spiced spinach and mushrooms, spiced chickpeas, sambaar, dosai, masala dosais filling, raisin tamarind sauce, pakoras, mint relish, cucumber raita, cilantro-onion relish, chicken tandoori, chapati, almond milk fudge, firni, chai tea, and mango punch.
I made the cucumber raita and cilantro-onion relish and tried my hand at a dosa, which is like a crepe. It’s filled with various ingredients, or it’s rolled up and used much like we would use bread. Learning to make dosai is a tricky thing—you have to make the batter the right consistency, then spread it in a pan with a ladle-like spoon (they have a special utensil just to do this) to the proper thickness, then flip it over. In between dosas, we greased the pan with an onion half dipped in oil for extra flavor.
I think my favorite dish of the day was the spiced chickpeas.
And because it’s one of the easiest Indian dishes to make, I’m offering you the recipe below. Enjoy!
Note: If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can cook the chickpeas in a pot. If you don’t want to make chickpeas from scratch, use two 15- or 16-oz. cans.
Copyright ©Jenny Matthau/NGI
2 cups chickpeas, soaked and drained
6 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded* and chopped
6 tbsp coconut oil
2 onions, cut into small dice
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp turmeric
1 large pinch cayenne
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
½ cup bean liquid
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 bunch cilantro, minced
- Rinse chickpeas thoroughly and place in pressure cooker with 2 inches of water to cover. Bring to full pressure, lower heat and cook for 30 minutes or until very soft. Reserve bean liquid.
- Fry onion in oil until soft.
- Add garlic and spices. Cook a few more minutes
- Add tomatoes, tomato juice and salt. Cook for 5 minutes.
- Add chickpeas and bean liquid. Simmer, covered for 15 minutes.
- Remove cover and cook on medium flame until thickened, if too thin.
- Remove from heat. Stir in lemon juice and cilantro.
* Press seeds through a sieve and reserve the juice; discard seeds.