Foodiva's Kitchen: 2012

Friday, November 9, 2012

Saffron Rice with Golden Raisins and Almonds for 'An Edible Mosaic's' Virtual Cookbook Launch Party

I'm making an appearance after a few weeks of absence to bring you a very special post today. My friend Faith Gorsky from An Edible Mosaic just had her first cookbook released, entitled An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair. I’m incredibly honored and excited to be participating in her virtual book launch party and sharing a recipe from the book!

The book has over 100 Middle Eastern recipes, with a focus mainly on dishes from the Levant, but also a few recipes from other areas of the Middle East. Faith has a pretty unique story…after getting married, Faith spent six months living in the Middle East, where she fell in love with the culture and cuisine. Subsequently, she returned four more times for visits, each time delving deeper into the cuisine and deepening her passion for and appreciation of the region. Recipes in her book are authentic Middle Eastern (taught to Faith mostly by her mother-in-law, Sahar), but streamlined just a bit for the way we cook today, with unique ingredients demystified and cooking techniques anyone can follow. If you didn’t grow up eating Middle Eastern food, it can be a difficult art to master; Faith understands that, and explains complicated dishes in an approachable, easy-to-follow way. The book is available to order now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble!

The recipe from the book that I’m sharing with you today is for Saffron Rice with Golden Raisins and Pine Nuts, along with a variation for Mixed White and Yellow Rice. I actually made my own version of this dish above using her suggested spices of cardamom, cloves and cinnamon, while substituting the pine nuts with almonds. It was very simple to prepare, yet was deliciously fragrant from the addition of the spices. The nuts and raisins also added a welcome texture and sweetness to the dish. 

The recipe is vegan so you won’t have any trouble incorporating it into a vegan or vegetarian meal, but it is just as delicious served with chicken, beef, lamb, or seafood, and it would be really fantastic with just about any curry dish. I decided to serve mine with a tasty Squash and Okra Curry and in the cookbook, Faith recommends pairing this rice dish with Shrimp in Aromatic Tomato Sauce.  

After you check out the recipe below, please head over to Faith’s blog to check out her virtual book launch party to see the other bloggers who are participating. Also, as part of her virtual book launch, Faith is hosting a giveaway of a fabulous set of prizes. Be sure to head over and enter!

Saffron Rice with Golden Raisins and Pine Nuts, Pictured with Shrimp in Aromatic Tomato Sauce,  from An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair.

Saffron Rice with Golden Raisins and Pine Nuts

Recipe courtesy of An Edible Mosaic:  Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair by Faith Gorsky (Tuttle Publishing; Nov. 2012); reprinted with permission.

Serves 4 to 6
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes, plus 15 minutes to let the rice sit after cooking

1½ cups (325 g) basmati rice, rinsed
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1 onion, finely diced
4 tablespoons sultanas (golden raisins)
1¾ cups (425 ml) boiling water
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon saffron threads (or ½ teaspoon turmeric)

1.      Soak the rice in tepid water for 10 minutes; drain. While the rice is soaking, put half a kettle of water on to boil.
2.      Add the oil to a medium, thick-bottomed lidded saucepan over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and cook until golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Transfer the pine nuts to a small bowl and set aside.
3.      Add the onion to the saucepan you cooked the pine nuts in, and cook until softened and just starting to brown, about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the rice and cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the sultanas, boiling water, salt, and saffron (or turmeric), turn the heat up to high, and bring it to a rolling boil.
4.      Give the rice a stir, then cover the saucepan, turn the heat down to very low, and cook until tender, about 10 minutes (do not open the lid during this time). Turn the heat off and let the rice sit (covered) 15 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
5.      Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle the toasted pine nuts on top; serve.

OPTIONAL Add two pods of cardamom, two whole cloves, and one 2-inch (5 cm) piece of cinnamon stick at the same time that you add the rice.

Mixed White and Yellow Rice

Mixed White and Yellow Rice

Serves 4 to 6
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes, plus 15 minutes to let the rice sit after cooking

1½ cups (325 g) uncooked basmati rice, rinsed
2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 bay leaf
2 whole cloves
2 pods cardamom, cracked open
2 whole peppercorns
¾ teaspoon salt
1¾ cups (425 ml) boiling water
1-2 pinches saffron threads or ½ teaspoon turmeric dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water

1.      Soak the rice in tepid water for 10 minutes; drain. While the rice is soaking, put half a kettle of water on to boil.
2.      Add the oil to a medium, thick-bottomed lidded saucepan, cover and place over moderately high heat. Once hot, add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3.      Add the rice, bay leaf, cloves, cardamom pods, peppercorns, and salt, and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the boiling water to the rice, turn heat up to high, and bring it to a rolling boil. Give it a stir, cover the pot, turn heat down to very low, and cook 10 minutes (don’t open the lid during this time).
4.      After the rice is cooked, let the pot sit with the lid on for 15 minutes, then fluff the rice with a fork. Transfer 1/3 of the rice to a separate bowl.
5.      Stir the saffron or turmeric-colored water into 1/3 of the rice (the rice will turn yellow). Mix together the yellow rice and white rice; serve.

Friday, October 5, 2012

French Fridays With Dorie - Carrot Hummus

Your absence has gone through me like thread through a needle. Everything I do is stitched with its color. 

~ W.S. Merwin

I won't flatter myself by assuming that some of you might remember me, but I've been here awhile, I've also been gone awhile. Over the past few months/weeks, I had experienced the loss of several people closest to me, but on the other side of the coin, I had also been doing fun new things like getting fit, running races for charitable causes and cooking things up on Instagram (without having to blog for it, I awful).

But I'm back. Hopefully to stay a while longer. And this time, it's just to make a simple hummus for French Fridays with Dorie's weekly assignment. Oh, how I have missed cooking as part of this group!

Hummus won't be the very first thing we would think about when musing over French cuisine but according to Dorie, it had wiggled its way into the Gallic repertoire of dips alongside tzatziki and guacamole. And really, this Middle Eastern-inspired dip is nothing more than a simple and quick blending of chickpeas, garlic, tahini, lemon juice, cumin and seasonings in the blender. I added cooked carrots and Thai chili flakes to mine to switch and kick it up a little.

I also made very simple wholewheat crackers in four different flavors - matcha, black sesame, dragon fruit and mango - to go with the delicious dip. They make for an attractive and tasty addition to a hummus platter, so do try these next time you're inviting people over. Apologies for the picture quality on this post, I actually made the hummus and crackers a few weeks back and shared them on Instagram. The pictures were taken on my iPhone and not quite up to blog posting quality, but oh well, I hope you can still see how lovely it all looked put together.

I have the soulful Anthony Hamilton playing in my ear while I'm typing this post up, so let me share what's in my head (and heart) with you on this lovely Friday. 

Hope you'll all have a beautiful and peaceful weekend ahead!

Wholewheat Crackers
1/3 cup whole wheat flour for each flavor
1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon matcha powder
2 teaspoons black sesame powder
1/4 cup water (for the dry flavorings above)
1/4 cup dragonfruit puree
1/4 cup mango puree

1. For each flavor separately, place dry ingredients in a bowl and add olive oil to this. Rub flour with fingertips until you get a breadcrumb texture.
2. Then add water or fruit puree gradually and knead until a pliable and slightly moist dough forms. With a rolling pin, roll each dough very thinly and cut into strips with a pizza cutter.
3. Bake in a preheated oven at 325C/175F for 15 minutes until crisp. Once cooled, store in airtight containers.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Roasted Eggplant and Beetroot Smothered in Moroccan Chermoula Sauce

I am my best work... a series of road maps, reports, recipes,doodles, and prayers from the front lines. 
~Audre Lorde, poet

I made this for lunch recently and really hadn't planned on posting this recipe up on the blog, but sometimes life doesn't always let you have your way. What actually happened was, I had taken some shots of this dish using my iPhone and uploaded a picture onto Instagram just to share what I was eating with the bunch of people there (as one does). The number of inquiries I subsequently received about the recipe got to the point that I decided that well, maybe it was just better to record it on the blog so that everyone who wanted it could easily refer to it here. So here we are, a coincidental blog post!

I must say, I am fascinated by Chermoula sauce, which is typically used as a marinade for fish in Morocco and the North African region, but can also be used as a stuffing or sauce. Its uses are endless, apart from being a marinade, you can also serve it over roasted vegetables like squash, potatoes, chickpeas and like in here, I chose to spoon it over roasted  eggplant and beetroot.

There are a number of variations of Chermoula. Some use only cilantro while others include parsley, while I used both (what the hell, just live a little!). Some use preserved lemon, while others prefer just the fresh juice; then you can use powdered ginger, but I used fresh; and use smoked paprika as opposed to regular paprika. Just feel free to adapt it to your mood and what you have available.

The best thing about Chermoula is that it requires you to do nothing more than put all the ingredients in a mini-food processor and blend them until you reach the desired consistency. Ideally, this should be still a little rough, not fully pureed. It will taste even better if you make it an hour or so in advance to let the flavors develop. The traditional way to blend Chermoula is in a mortar and pestle, apparently the result is incomparably better than anything made in an electrical blending gadget. But I wouldn't know because I was too lazy to work my arm muscles out the day I made this. 

The sauce-smothered vegetables can be served over fluffy cous cous, but I chose to personalize the dish by serving it over shredded iceberg lettuce... and yes, it did make me feel better doing this, thanks for wondering. I added sliced oranges, pumpkin seeds and extra cilantro as garnishes. Just a quickie meal, but satisfaction's guaranteed! :)

Have a fab weekend all!

Roasted Eggplant and Beetroot with Chermoula Sauce
(Vegetarian, Vegan, and Gluten-Free)
Yields about 3/4 cup
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: none!

Chermoula Sauce
1 bunch of cilantro, leaves and tender stems only, well washed
1 handful flat-leaf parsley leaves
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 tablespoon cumin power
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
big pinch of saffron
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
3 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1 lemon or 1/2 of a preserved lemon, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon Kosher salt

Vegetable and garnishes
1 medium beetroot, peeled
2 medium sized eggplants
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 orange, peeled and sliced thinly or chunkily
a fistful of cilantro leaves and stem, chopped
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted

1. Combine all ingredients in a mini-food processor, spice grinder, or mortar and pestle. Process until a thick, moderately rough sauce is formed. Set aside, covered, for one hour before use.
2. In the meantime, preheat oven to 350F/180C and prepare the vegetables and garnishes. Cut eggplants and beetroot into 1/2 inch thick slices and brush both sides with olive oil. Place on a lined baking sheet and  roast for 20-25 minutes until softened but not dried. remove from oven and set aside.
3. Warm up a skillet over medium heat and carefully toast the roasted vegetables until crisp on the cut sides, about one minute each side. Leave to cool before plating.
4. Stir the Chermoula sauce and spoon or drizzle on top of each vegetable slice. Garnish with orange, cilantro and pumpkin seeds. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

5-Star Makeover - Bakewell Tart Samosas and Sticky Toffee Pudding Purses

Right after the Olympics theme of last month's 5-Star Makeover Challenge, we find ourselves back in the UK again, this time chilling out over high tea, British style. Tea Party is the theme of this month's 5-Star Makeover. Of course this brought back memories of my student days over there, the many times when my friends and I used to traipse over to our favorite tea room, Bettys, either in York or Harrogate (I was at a University up North). Dressed in our weekend student gear - which really wasn't much different from the weekday clothes, really -  we would feel somewhat elegant surrounded by the cafe's quaint decor, while sipping our fancy-flavored teas and biting into the baked desserts and delicate sandwiches positioned just so between the thumb, index and  and middle finger. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration there, but you get the picture. :)

For this challenge, I really wanted to do a spin on classic British desserts. The first one that came first and foremost to my mind was Bakewell Tart, a buttery tart with a slick of bright raspberry jam underneath a toasty baked almond frangipane filling, originating from Bakewell in Derbyshire. The only thing was, I didn't feel like baking a tart, as visions of substituting butter with something else for the crust just didn't appeal to me. I decided to use filo (phyllo) pastry dough instead to seal the almond and raspberry flavors in and glaze it with lemon-scented confectionery sugar. I've seen some individual-portioned Bakewell Tarts being topped with half a cherry but I didn't have any so I made do with cranberry.   

The second sweet treat I opted to make was based on a modern British 'classic',  Sticky Toffee Pudding, sometimes also known as Sticky Date Pudding. It's a steamed dessert consisting of a very moist sponge cake, made with finely chopped dates or prunes, covered in a toffee sauce and often served with a vanilla custard or vanilla ice-cream. Since I was on a roll with the filo, I thought well why not capture the flavors of the pudding using filo too?

You could use luscious Medjool dates for filling the toffee pudding purses, but I had these yellow dates on hand. I used the browned, soft and ripened ones instead of the fresh yellow ones as the latter are not as sweet and can even be slightly tart.

For the filling, I blended toasted cashews with the ripened dates and added elements of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger to enhance the sweet flavor. I made a vegan toffee cream sauce to accompany the parcels out of vegan butter, dark brown sugar and cashew cream. The purses were baked and each one placed in the center of its own pool of thick toffee sauce. So it was all a matter of dip, bite, dip and bite until all the crisp and crumbly morsels are finished...and then you reach out for another one!

If you've ever lived in the United Kingdom, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the British reach out for their 'cuppa' every time they need to destress or resolve life's dilemmas. Well, you won't be far wrong. Having a bad day? Let's brew some tea. The weather's cold and wet... here's a cuppa to warm you up. Your favorite football (or soccer) team lost, or your sweetheart/handyman/publisher (insert relationship preference here) just let you down again... grab this cuppa in between your palms and tell me all about it. Feeling all posh and Fancy Nancy? What are you waiting for...let's head off to high tea!

Bakewell Tart Samosas
Makes: 12-15
1/2 cup toasted & ground almonds
2 tablespoons sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil (or olive oil)
1/4 cup raspberry conserve
15 filo sheets, thawed and cut into 7in X 2in 
1/2 cup confectionery sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
15 dried cherry halves (or dried cranberries)

1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Place almonds, sugar, zest and oil in a small food processor and process mixture until it forms into a moist and pliable dough.
2. Cut filo dough into 7 X 2 in strips. Place half a teaspoon of raspberry conserve on one end of the filo strip. Top this with a teaspoon of almond mixture, flatten slightly for easier folding. Take one corner of the filo strip and fold it over the filling into a triangle shape. Continue folding down the length of the strip, samosa-style, and seal the end with a dab of water. Do this with all the strips and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet.
3. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until they are golden brown and crisp. Leave to cool for 5 minutes.
4. To make the glaze, sift confectionery sugar into a small bowl. Add lemon juice gradually to get a thick glaze consistency. Dip one side of each samosa in the glaze and place a cherry half on top. Leave to set before serving.

Sticky Toffee Pudding Purses
Makes: 8 
1/2 cup toasted & ground cashew nuts
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup soft dates (Medjool, or ripe yellow dates)
8 square filo sheets,  thawed and cut into 4in X 4in
filo strips, for the 'ribbons'

Cashew Toffee Cream
1/4 cup ground cashew nuts
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup vegan butter (Earth Balance)
1/4 cup brown sugar

1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F. To make the filling, process nuts, spices, vanilla and dates until it becomes a moist dough. Take a heaped teaspoon and roll into a packed ball in your palms. Do this with the rest of the dough.
2. To make the purse, take a ball and place it in the centre of a filo square. Brush the filo just around the ball area with a little water to help seal it. 
3. Take 2 opposite corners of the sheet and bring them together. Do the same with the remaining two corners. Wrap filo around the ball circumference and twist to seal. Tie filo ribbon along the twisted part to secure further.
4. Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes until the tops are golden brown and crisp. Leave to cool for a few minutes before serving.
5. For the toffee cream, blend the cashews with water to form a thick cream. Strain though a fine sieve and set aside.
6. Melt the vegan butter and brown sugar in a pan, then add the cashew cream and bring gently to the boil. Leave to simmer for a few minutes on low heat until it reaches the desired consistency. Add more water if the sauce is too thick.
7. To serve, spoon a teaspoon of toffee cream on an individual serving plate and place a Sticky Toffee Pudding Purse on top. Serve immediately.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

100th FFWD Recipe - Peach Melba

I know you’ve got my back. I know that you know how intensely my heart burns, how sweet is the honey at the center of my center, how much I am capable of. And God knows (that’d be you) how game I am to collaborate with you to make good stuff happen. 

- Danielle La Porte, A Prayer for Recovering Expectation Addicts

I tried to write this post for two days, but no clever words came. It's already Sunday now, and still no smart or funny prose, but I'm going to go ahead and write this anyway. Show up. Shine. And let it go. That's just become my mantra for my high expectations :).

So it's good old Peach Melba for this week's French Fridays with Dorie. A special occasion marking our 100th recipe assignment (although I must confess that I've done only a paltry number out of the 100). It's a  remarkable milestone and although I joined this online cooking group quite late, in April 2011, I've been welcomed with open arms by everyone. This is a global community of warm, supportive, witty and brilliant cooks/bloggers and we all have something new (cooking or otherwise) to learn from each other every week. Words cannot adequately describe how much I adore my fellow Doristas!

So yes, the peach melba. My version is a vegan, tropical twist to the one Dorie originally had in mind (apologies again, Dorie). Peaches and raspberries are not the easiest fruits to get over here, and even when they do appear in the stores, they're no longer bursting with freshness. So I resorted to using whatever fruits we currently have in season and abundance. My mango tree is currently blooming, I picked them three-quarters ripe - if they are left to ripen on the tree, the monkeys and bugs will devour them before we do (just in case you were wondering) - and used a slightly underripe mango to simulate the peach. Its firm texture is excellent for poaching with vanilla, yet it's sweet enough not to have to add any extra sugar to the poaching liquid.

The raspberries were substituted with dragon fruit balls I scooped out with my trusty melon baller. You simply stick that gadget into any soft fruit, give it a little twist, and it instantly makes any fruit look whimsical. The rest of the fruit with the holes in it got turned into a delicious smoothie, so nothing was wasted.

For the ice cream, I simply employed the easy vegan trick of blending completely frozen banana slices. To make it a bit more creamier, I soaked a handful of raw cashew nuts in water overnight, drained and blended them to make a thick cashew cream. Then I added this to the frozen banana in a powerful blender and blitzed it into ice cream consistency. In this hot weather though, my 2-ingredient ice cream quickly turned to soft serve, and gave me a hard time to photograph it and make it look anywhere near good.

I'm also going to mention that I had been well-organized enough to have made last week's Cafe-Style Grated Carrot Salad, but disorganized enough to have not posted it up. I decided to make carrot ribbons instead of grating it, the advantage being that the ribbons hardly 'wept' and the salad held its form much longer after adding the mustard vinaigrette dressing. Instead of raisins, I added sliced soft, dried figs for that bit of sweetness required to cut into the tangy and savory salad. A sprinkling of toasted walnuts and cilantro completed the dish. Although it might not be truly French-style, I hope I will be forgiven by the French when I say that this was as equally delicious as their traditional version.

So last week was the start of Eid in Brunei and marked a month-long celebration with many gatherings amongst family and friends, and plenty of food. Like with any festivity, it's the children who enjoy it the most because it's probably the one time in the year when they have permission to go on a (fairly unrestricted) sugar high from feasting on all the lovely and colorful cakes made especially for Eid.

Complete sugar high!

Most of the traditional food served during Eid is non-vegan, so for the first time, I found myself at the sidelines, just watching people eat while I stuck to my greens and fruits. The upside was that for once, my waistline measurement didn't budge and my stomach didn't groan and over-react from eating all that rich food. Here I share with you a few shots of my family and friends on the first day of Eid.

Clockwise from top left: With local DJ and close friend, Frankie;  Greek family friends; good friends from Dubai who returned home for the week, and local cookies.

L: My ex-colleagues Mimi and Lena, who'd flown in from London for Eid visits     
R: My cousins enjoying homemade satay

Have a gorgeous weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Speculoos Whole Wheat Churros (Vegan)

Browsing through my previous posts, I noted that the last seven have all been about savory recipes. Now that's pretty troubling for someone with a sweet tooth as big as mine. So I opted to do myself (and probably you) a favor and make this post a sweet one. In fact, it's sweeter than sweet. This is the very reason why I blog, to connect with people, to share my recipes and stories. And occasionally, those people I connect with via this leisurely past time make it to Brunei and they suddenly become real, in-the-flesh people. Or in this case, the real spouse of a fellow blogger.

Sometime last year, I connected with Lilly of Fuzz Free Food blog and our very similar sense of humor made us fast friends. To cut a long story short, her husband Joe has come over to Brunei to work here for several months and she'd sent some foodie gifts from the Netherlands via Joe.

This is Joe, I made him pose for Lilly (taken by iPhone). 

When I finally met Joe, I got the chance to speak to Lilly on Joe's phone and guess what - her energy reverberated across the distance and she sounded exactly as I'd imagined her, full of exuberance and warmth. Later on, I managed to pry from Joe the story about how they had met and I'm sure they wouldn't mind me re-telling this to the whole world because it really is interesting! Joe, an American from Texas, was attending his sister's wedding in Italy (she'd met her Italian husband on a plane - now that's another great story). He'd had some free time around the wedding so decided to tour Europe. Not knowing anyone there, he went on an online forum asking if anyone would be willing to show him around, and Lilly responded to his request! The rest, as they say, is history :). Proof that true love can exist anywhere if you open your heart to possibilities.

So one of the items Lilly sent me was Speculoos spice powder for baking cakes and cookies. The spice blend is made up of cinnamonnutmegclovesgingercardamom and white pepper. The very smell of it reminds me of Christmas treats in Germany, Belgium, France and the Netherlands. Nowadays, of course, speculoos cookies are available the whole year round and apart from that, some clever guy somewhere had also invented Speculoos peanut butter-like spread (Biscoff)... yay! Unfortunately we can't get any of these (spice and spread) in Brunei, so boo! 

I didn't want to go down the usual cookie route, so I settled on these Speculoos Churros instead. To convince myself that they should be somewhat healthier, I fashioned them out of whole wheat flour and substituted the usual butter with olive oil. Of course, that was before I deep-fried them, dusted them with sugar and dipped them in bittersweet chocolate! Life should be all about balance, I think.

The only issue I had with these churros was that I couldn't pipe them, the whole wheat dough just wasn't as soft as a regular buttery choux. Well I tried, and busted my piping bags three times before it occured to me that maybe they would look as good if I simply rolled them. Much, much easier and they still tasted really good, which was the important thing.

So, many thanks again Lilly, for your lovely friendship and gifts. This recipe wouldn't have been created if I hadn't gotten to know you (and by proxy, Joe) and this is the kind of thing that makes my blogging journey much more meaningful in the long run.

Speculoos Whole Wheat Churros (Vegan)
Makes: 4 spirals

1 cup water
2 tablespoons raw sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil (or canola)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon Speculoos spice powder
canola oil for frying

For dusting:
1/3 c. raw sugar or confectionary/icing sugar

1. In a saucepan, stir together water, two tablespoons of sugar, salt, and tablespoon of oil. Bring to a gentle boil, and remove from heat.
2. Dump in flour and stir to make a dough. Let dough cool for a few minutes, work while it is still warm, not cold or it won't be pliable.
3. Divide dough into 4 equal portions. Using your hands, roll each dough on a clean surface into a long cylinder (about 1/2-inch thick), then twist to form a spiral. (Due to the absorbant wholewheat flour, this dough is too thick to pipe. I tried and my piping bags just kept bursting open!)
4. In a deep wok, frying pan or deep-fryer, heat frying oil to 350F (or medium high heat).
5. Lift the spirals using a slotted spoon and gently slide into the pan. Fry the strips for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until the outsides are a deep, golden brown. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove from oil, and drain on paper towels.
6. Stir together remaining sugar and cinnamon, then roll drained churros in sugar mixture. Serve warm, and enjoy! 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Warm (Faux) Scallop Salad with Corn, Persimmon and Basil

I’ll continue to climb trying to reach the top…but no one knows where the top is.
~Jiro Ono, world's greatest sushi chef

I was watching the inspirational documentary/movie, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, about 85 year-old Jiro Ono, the first 3-Michelin star sushi chef in the world and owner of a 10-seat restaurant located in a Tokyo subway. This is a beautiful, thoughtful and engrossing movie of his life but what's amazing about it is the humbling lesson I took away from Jiro. As brilliant as he is, he has never lost track of his craft and is always striving to do better. 

In this day and age, many of us creatives on the other hand, tend to get caught up in social media and all of the other time wasters that technology has brought us (yes, I'm guilty too!) and then we forget the very reason why we're doing what we're doing in the first place. So I've decided, from now on, I am not going to forget. I've come such a long way from 2 years ago when I couldn't cook zilch to now, and will continue to push boundaries with my cooking. Let me tell you something, this is actually very easy to do when you don't know very much to start with and are not limited by rules. The story of my life...

Well, I don't know where my vegan journey will eventually take me but I'm willing to jump in at the deep end and see how far I can make things work by being extra creative in the kitchen. Like for this week's French Fridays with Dorie's assignment, for example, Warm Scallop Salad with Corn, Nectarine and Basil. It's a beautiful assortment of fresh, raw and minimally seared ingredients tossed together to make an exotic salad.

Not so long ago, when I ate seafood, I rarely ate scallops. Now that I'm trying to give it up entirely, I struggle to recall what scallop tasted like and had to think what ingredient I could possibly use to substitute it with. Those giant oyster mushrooms would be a good choice, except that I couldn't find any. Firm tofu is also suitable, but I'm bored of eating so much tofu lately. Then it came to me....eggplant!

Yes, I simply cut out scallop-shaped eggplant pieces with a round cookie cutter, marinated them in a mixture of miso paste and aren syrup that helped with the caramelization process during searing. Maple syrup would be a good one to use for this purpose as well, as it adds a bit of sweetness to the saltiness of the miso and earthiness of the eggplant.

I had persimmon on hand and since it had a very similar texture to nectarine, I used that instead. The persimmon was already sweet, so I didn't bother searing it but left it raw. I actually missed out reading Dorie's instructions about grilling the fruit, but you didn't think I was going to admit that, did you? :) I was concerned that there may be too many sweet elements in my salad - persimmon, eggplant scallop and the sweet corn. But I worried needlessly, because the tangy chili lime dressing and fresh basil coulis balanced this salad out quite beautifully.

Dorie was right in saying that the exotic star of this dish was the raw corn. I absolutely adore raw corn and eat it in many dishes and desserts. However, my other shining ingredient here has got to be the eggplant scallop. It might not have had the exact scent of the sea, but it was close enough in texture and appearance that I'm happy to imagine it was the real deal. It really is worth checking out how the other Doristas interpreted this recipe here.

Have a lovely and fun-filled weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Vegan Bún Chay (Vietnamese Noodle Salad) with Tofu Cheese Balls

What garlic is to salad, insanity is to art.
~ Augustus Saint-Gaudens

A few years ago, I was in Ho Chi Minh on a girls' trip away and I remember eating plenty of street food over that period in time (our Asian tummies are well trained for that sort of hardcore feasting). What I enjoyed most about Vietnamese cuisine is its range, the delightfully complex flavors of many of its dishes showcasing contrasts of taste and texture, as well as heat against cold.

So when my Instagram buddy, Joe, challenged me to take a classic Vietnamese dish and put my own spin on it, I immediately thought of this flavorful, yet incredibly simple to create, Bún Chay, or noodle salad. Usually it's made with vermicelli rice noodles, a generous handful of fragrant herbs, julienned vegetables, crunchy bean sprouts, a savory protein such as tofu, and a salty-sour-sweet sauce.

Basil, cilantro & Vietnamese mint

My spin on this was on two aspects: one was to make a more flavorful version of the tofu, in the form of Tofu Cheese Balls. I filled these up with the homemade vegan cheese from my last post and also contained Shiitake mushrooms which gave them a certain depth in flavor. Once fried, they are crisp on the outside and soft on the inside and provided that lovely contrast of heat against the coolness of the salad. 

I'd like you to think of this more as an inspiration and a rough guide than a recipe. The tofu cheese balls can be prepared ahead of time and reheated, but if you are strapped for time, you can simply serve the bún with deep fried sliced tofu, which is quick and easy to cook. Variations could include marinated tofu to add more flavor, baked tofu for a healthier version, or adding meat or seafood for a non-vegetarian version. Just feel free to include more or omit some vegetables, use any herbs you like and have available, but most of all, be creative and enjoy creating your customized bún chay.

My second spin on this dish involves a tweak on the sauce. Traditionally, bún is served with a sauce called nuoc cham, which includes nuoc mam, or fish sauce. Here, I've made a quick vegan version using soy sauce and minced nori. This is a trick I've learnt (from watching Heston Blumenthal's Mission Impossible food series) to introduce umami to the sauce and enhance the intensity of its flavor. The nori can work surprisingly well in a variety of other dishes too, and I can't wait to show you in future posts. In the meantime, enjoy!

Vegan Bún Chay (Vietnamese Noodle Salad) with Tofu Cheese Balls
Serves: 2 to 3

100g/4 oz dried rice sticks or vermicelli

1 1/2 cups shredded red cabbage and/or lettuce
1/2 cup mung bean sprouts
1/2 cup julienned cucumber (I made ribbons)
1/2 cup julienned carrots (I cut mine using flower cutters)
Large handful of mixed herbs, coarsely chopped or torn (basil, mint, cilantro; if available, rau răm or Vietnamese mint)
1 large red pepper, deseeded and julienned

1 sheet nori, minced finely in a blender
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons water
1 clove garlic, crushed

Tofu Cheese Balls:
Makes: 15
450g/15oz firm tofu, well drained
150g/5oz soft cheese (I used vegan mozzarella)
1 cup Shiitake mushrooms, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, sliced finely
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
oil, for deep frying

2-3 tablespoons roasted peanuts, chopped

For the noodles
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add rice sticks. Stir and cook until noodles are white and tender but still firm, about 3-5 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold water, fluffing the noodles to separate the strands. Drain again completely.

For the greens
Prepare the greens and set aside. (May be prepared ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator.)

For the sauce
In a small bowl, whisk together ingredients for sauce. Set aside. (May be prepared ahead of time kept in the refrigerator.)

For the tofu balls
1. Place all ingredients (except oil) in a food processor and blend until homogeneous.
2. Place about 1 tablespoon of tofu mixture on palm of hand and roll into a ball. If mixture is too sticky, moisten palms with a little water before rolling.
3. Heat oil to 350F/175C and deep fry balls until golden brown. Drain excess oil on paper towel and serve hot.

To serve:
Divide the noodles between two bowls. Arrange greens and tofu balls on top or the sides and garnish with peanuts. Just before eating, drizzle with sauce to taste and toss.
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