I have launched a new website: Mindful Nutrition. I will share new recipes and blog posts related to food, nutrition, and health on there. You can also find a few of my favourite recipes from this blog there as well! Please follow my posts, subscribe, and leave a comment if you’d like. I look forward to seeing your comments, and thanks so much for your continued support!
I was gifted a cookbook recently (thank you JC!): Born to Cook: A Passion for Flavour, written by Chef Victor Bongo, a Congolese chef whose global cuisine has won international acclaim.
When I cracked open its hardcover, I was greeted with mouthwatering photos of appetizers, soups, mains, and desserts. The book is not only a collection of drool-worthy recipes from around the world, it also tells the story of Chef Bongo: his love for food, his family, and the Congo.
If you’ve never tried African food, this is a great place to start! The African peanut soup recipe is relatively easy to prepare, yet it has a rich and complex flavour profile. I love the creaminess of the coconut milk, the smokiness of the allspice, and the crunch of the roasted peanut garnish. This soup also packs a nutrition punch, it has beta-carotene from the yam, vitamin C from bell peppers, and protein from the peanut butter. If lowering fat intake is a priority for you, try using 1/2 cup of fat-reduced coconut milk and increasing the amount of water or vegetable broth by 1/2 cup.
I made a few modifications to the original recipe: I used water in place of vegetable broth (yet it was still plenty flavourful), and I omitted green plantains and okra (points for authenticity if you include them). I also pureed the soup to better blend the flavours– Chef Bongo encouraged his readers to experiment, and I pass on the same message to you.
African Peanut Soup with Coconut Creme
Modified from: Born to Cook: A Passion for Flavour by Victor Bongo
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup onion, medium dice
1/2 cup each: carrots and celery, medium dice
3/4 cup yams, medium dice
1/4 cup each: red, orange, and green bell pepper, medium dice
1 tablespoon each: ginger and garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon each: ground coriander and ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon each: ground turmeric and cayenne pepper
1 cup coconut milk
2 cups water or vegetable broth
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (I used on that’s made with roasted peanuts and salt)
1 tbsp lime juice
salt and black pepper to taste
for garnish: finely diced mixed bell peppers, cilantro, and chopped roasted peanuts
To make the coconut creme, reduce coconut milk by half in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cool in fridge.
Once cool, mix in crème fraîche or sour cream. Refrigerate until ready to use.
To make the soup, heat vegetable oil in a large pot (with a lid) over medium, once hot, add onion and saute for 10-12 minutes, or until it is caramelized.
Add carrots, celery and yams, cook for 5-7 minutes with the lid on.
Add the 3 kinds of bell peppers, cook for 5 minutes with the lid on.
Add ginger and garlic, cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.
Add the spices, cook for 1 minute.
Add coconut milk and water (or vegetable broth), stir in tomato paste and peanut butter. With the lid on, bring soup to a boil over high heat then simmer until vegetables are tender (about 15 minutes).
Puree soup using a blender until no chunks remain, season with salt, pepper, and lime juice.
To serve, garnish with coconut creme, finely diced mixed bell peppers, cilantro and chopped roasted peanuts.
Have you tried it yet? Huy Fong Foods Chili Garlic Sauce.
I got a small bottle a few days ago and it’s already almost half gone. Yes, it is that good.
The ingredient list is short: chilies, salt, garlic, vinegar, a couple of preservatives and a thickener. The taste is nothing short of delicious. It’s not super spicy, and the garlic and vinegar gives it a depth that cannot achieved with chili peppers alone. I used it with stir fried rice noodles, and now it’s made its way into my eggplants.
This is a simple recipe, think weekday meal in a pinch. The soft eggplant is a perfect “sponge” for the chili garlic sauce. I imagine green beans, asparagus, and carrots would also do well here (although perhaps not altogether in one dish).
Eggplant with Chili Garlic Sauce
2 Chinese eggplants (the long, skinny kind), sliced
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp chili garlic sauce (for moderately-spicy, adjust as needed)
~400 g fried tofu, cut into cubes
4 Roma tomatoes, cut into 1/8th wedges
2-3 tbsp water for cooking
In a large bowl, mix together the salt and eggplant, allow them to sit for 15 minutes while you gather the rest of the ingredients.
In a wok or large saute pan, heat up the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and chili garlic sauce and cook until fragrant.
Add eggplant and tofu, stir to coat in the yummy sauce. Add 2-3 spoonfuls of water to prevent burning. Cook for ~ 8-10 minutes.
Add tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes. Taste and adjust salty/ spicy level as desired before serving.
I remember the days when whole grains were the latest and greatest food trend.
First, there was an explosion of whole grain breads, the options beyond “white” and “whole wheat” multiplied overnight. Other food products soon followed suit: pasta, tortilla chips, granola bars, popcorn, and breakfast cereal all claimed to be “made with whole grains” to appeal to the health conscious consumer (regardless of their actual nutritional content).
With time, the hype around whole grains faded, and the spotlight shifted to other foods. But unlike some passing food trends, whole grains have earned a spot in my heart. They are a diverse bunch: their tastes, textures, and appearances vary greatly. Generally speaking, they’re more filling due to their higher fibre content, and contain more protein, minerals and vitamins compared to their refined counterparts.
The whole grain I picked up at the store was wheat. Yup, that’s right, the same wheat that’s used to make wheat flour. Each wheat berry is made up of the bran (outer brown shell), the germ (the part which will become the plant if the grain germinates), and the endosperm (starchy part which is often ground into white flour).
This salad is made with wheat berries, lentils, fresh cucumbers, and tomatoes. It’s seasoned with a pomegranate dressing, and topped with spiced peanuts to garnish. This recipe is so easy to toss together, super satisfying, and tastes better the next day. Served slightly warm or cold, the tangy dressing, chewy grains, and crunchy nuts make an unforgettable meal.
Green Lentil & Wheat Berry Salad
3/4 cup wheat berries, soaked for 3-5 hours at room temperature, or overnight in the fridge.
3/4 cup green lentils
1/2 English cucumber, seeds removed (optional) and diced
3-4 Roma tomatoes, seeds removed (optional) and diced
1/3 cup blanched skinless peanuts, roughly chopped
Salt, cayenne pepper, and cumin to taste
2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp sugar
In a medium sized pot, bring 3 cups of water and the wheat berries to a boil over high heat. Turn heat down to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
To the same pot, add the green lentils and cook for 20 more minutes. The wheat berries and lentils should be tender, but not mushy. Drain well, and return the lentils and wheat berries to the pot.
While the lentils and wheat berries are cooking, toast the peanuts in a skillet over medium-low heat. When they are golden brown, turn off the heat. Add salt, cayenne pepper, and cumin to taste. Reserve for garnish.
Add diced cucumbers and tomatoes, pomegranate molasses, olive oil, and sugar to the cooked lentils and wheat berries. Mix well, season with salt to taste (I used about 1/2 tsp of salt).
Crunchy, nutty, chewy. Sweet enough to satisfy a craving, but not so rich to be overwhelming. A grown-up version of a Nature Valley Nut Bar.
I was looking for a dessert to bring to my boyfriend’s family Christmas dinner. It was the first time that I’d be meeting his parents, along with 20 of his closest relatives. I wanted a recipe that would please a crowd, and I think I found it.
My inspiration was the cashew nut, which grows from a tree that also produces the cashew apple. In recent years, research (some of it funded by nut farmers) has shown that eating nuts can lower LDL and total cholesterol. There is not enough evidence about how nuts affect overall cardiovascular health (risks of heart attack, stroke, etc). But really, the point isn’t how “good for you” these bars are — it’s about savouring every nutty bite when you choose to treat yourself.
Roasting the nuts ahead of time produces their signature aroma and flavour. If you can’t find pre-roasted nuts, toasting them on the stove top or in the oven using low heat is well worth the time. Another tip is to seal any seams in the bottom crust very well (pinch it together with your fingers), otherwise the crust will crack during baking and the caramel-nut mixture will seep through.
Grease a 9″x 13″ baking pan with butter, then line with parchment paper, set aside. Preheat oven to 375° F.
Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and table salt in a large bowl.
Use a fork or a pastry cutter to rub the butter into the flour mixture until the butter is rice-sized and evenly distributed throughout.
Add the beaten egg to form a dough, and press the dough evenly into the pan (just the bottom, not up the sides). Bake at 375 ° F for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges are light brown and pulling away from the sides of the pan. Cool for 30 minutes before proceeding with the rest of the recipe.
In a large pot over medium heat, bring the sugar and honey to a boil, stir to dissolve the sugar, then boil for 2 minutes. The mixture will foam and froth– use a large pot to prevent it from boiling over.
Add peanut butter, butter, and whipping cream, stir to dissolve, boil for 1 minute.
Turn off the heat, add nuts and salt. Stir to coat nuts with peanut butter and caramel mixture.
Bake at 375 ° F for 15-25 minutes. Allow to cool before drizzling with melted chocolate (I melted the chocolate in the microwave and put it inside a ziplock bag with a corner snipped off as a makeshift piping bag).
The calendar is creeping closer to the 25th of December. From carols on the radio to shoppers in crowded malls; from holiday parties to houses lit up red and green, Christmas in Canada is hard to miss.
When my parents and I first immigrated here from China, we didn’t really celebrate Christmas. It felt foreign. We didn’t have any emotional connection with Christmas traditions. How could we when we’ve never experienced any of it before? The stories, the lights, the presents– it belonged to people who grew up here, people who had family and friends to celebrate with, people who were not us. So we observed Christmas from a distance.
As the years passed, Christmas became more familiar, and it seemed like fun! Even if we didn’t believe in Christianity, maybe we could share the holiday spirit. My mom was a big supporter of celebrating Christmas. She bought Christmas decorations, put up a Christmas tree, and gave me Christmas gifts. My dad took a liking to hanging up Christmas lights. Since we didn’t have extended family in Canada, my parents would invite family friends over for a Chinese-style Christmas dinner, many of whom were immigrants like ourselves. One year, we even roasted a turkey.
Looking back, I think part of the reason that my parents (especially my mom) chose to celebrate this holiday was to provide me with a “Canadian” experience of Christmas. Because of these fond memories, I’ve grown to enjoy certain Christmas rituals, like putting up a Christmas tree, and eating delicious Chinese food.
When I was booking my ticket back home this holiday season, my mom confessed that Christmas didn’t mean much to her before, but now it does, because it’s when she would get to see me. I agree– Christmas wouldn’t be meaningful without my family. They gave me a reason to celebrate a strange new holiday when I was growing up, and I’m overjoyed to continue creating and sharing loving memories with them now.
This recipe comes from Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s book, The Settler’s Cookbook– a memoir of love, migration andfood.
Born in Uganda, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is of East-Indian descent. Her book shares the stories of East-Indians in Uganda, along with the foods and recipes that accompanied these experiences. From celebrating birthdays and marriages, to the lunches of railway workers, it is a vivid compilation of East-Indians’ lives in Uganda.
To provide context for these personal experiences, Alibhai-Brown discusses the collective histories of East-Indian Ugandans. Answering questions like, “How did Indians end up in Uganda?” she talks about being an ethnic minority in a British colony during the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as the impacts of East-Indians on the physical, social, and economic fabric of their country.
Being an immigrant to a colonized land myself, I felt a certain connection to the author. As I read the book, it became clear to me that that we shared the belief that food is more than just food– it’s culture, it’s comfort, it’s connection to the past, present, and future. It’s amazing how much a bowl of chickpeas and potatoes can say if we listen.
Some recipes in this book are a fusion of Indian and Ugandan cuisines. However, I think this dish stayed true to its Indian roots. The tamarind and date paste provides a sweet and sour backdrop and the chili gives just enough heat to warm you up on a cold day. The garnish on top is Bombay mix, a salty, sour, and spicy mixture of fried peas, peanuts, lentils, and chickpea flour noodles typically eaten as a snack, or as part of a meal. I got mine from the Real Canadian Superstore in Vancouver.
Masi’s Channa Babeta
From: The Settler’s Cookbook– a memoir of love, migration andfood by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
3 tins chickpeas
2 tbsp dried tamarind
½ tsp turmeric
1 large dried red chili
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 lb potatoes
6 dried dates
Red chili powder to taste
2 tsp channa flour (besan– chickpea flour)
½ tsp sugar
Pour boiling water over dates and tamarind, and soak overnight.
Heat oil in a pan with whole chili and mustard seeds until they crackle.
Add turmeric and chili powder and cook for a minute, stirring all the time.
Add 1 pint of water and salt to taste. Bring to a boil.
Now add diced potatoes and cook until nearly soft.
Chuck in chickpeas and simmer.
Meanwhile crush tamarind and dates with your fingers, then strain into the pot with the sugar.
Stir the besan into a little water to make a paste, then stir into the simmering pot to thicken the mixture a little.
I’ve been practicing yoga more regularly as of late, and I’m on a mission to master arm balances and inversions (headstands and handstands). These poses rely on a lot more core and upper body strength than what I have now.
There’s something inherently satisfying about working towards a goal, whether that’s doing a headstand, saving money for a vacation, or finishing a project. Each time I make progress in a pose I’ve been thinking and dreaming about, joy and pride bubbles up. The gratification is addictive.
Until one day, something that was once challenging becomes second nature.
When I first tried yoga, synchronizing my breath with each movement of the Sun Salutations took all my concentration. I’m pretty sure I was out of breath most of the time, and probably took just as many “wrong” breaths as I did the “right” ones. Yoga was hard.
I don’t remember when I became comfortable with the Sun Salutations. When I do them, I don’t think about the fact that I once struggled with this familiar sequence of movements and breathing. It’s astonishing how quickly my perception changed. As soon as I felt comfortable with that task, I classified it as “easy”, whereas moments before, I would’ve thought it was “so hard”. Over time, I forgot about the struggles and believed that I’ve always been competent (it is “easy” after all).
As I sat in a forward bend in yoga class today, I wondered if I’ll ever get to a point where arm balances and inversions become second nature. Maybe then, I’ll say to myself “Ah, look how easy these poses are!”
Cooking from countries across the world, I learn about their histories, climates, and geographies. While I may not have been to these places in real life, I feel like I’m connecting with a tiny part of their culture. And when I do travel, I find that I can instantly bond with anyone over food.
Ful medames, also known as ful, took me to Egypt. The history of ful can be traced back to the Middle Ages (at least!). During this time, to maximize fuel efficiency, ful was cooked overnight using heat from dying embers which warmed bathwater in public bathhouses. Hence, the small, round of fava beans earned its name– bath beans (fūl hammām), and the merchants near the bath houses gained a near monopoly on ful. 
I searched long and hard in Vancouver for dried small fava beans– I visited my beloved Persia Foods and Donald’s Market, large grocery chains, and even Indian markets– but I was out of luck everywhere. Eventually, I settled for dry broad fava beans instead.
To mimic the effects of simmering the beans overnight, I pressure cooked these beans to help soften the skin and physically break them down. I also simmered them for a few hours to get it to the desired (uber soft) consistency. When boiling beans, it’s important to never add salt to the water. The salt causes the skins of beans to harden, which is undesirable. Salt can be added to the dish once the beans are fully cooked.
Researching this recipe, I came across quite a few seasonings and accompaniments that can go with ful: clarified butter, lemon juice, cumin, olive oil, eggs (fried or boiled), chili powder, bechamel sauce, tomato sauce, onions, pepper sauce, tahini and parsley. I added thinly sliced red onions, lemon juice, cumin, olive oil, and salt.
Here’s a version made with red lentils:
Ful Medames (Slow Cooked Fava Beans)
Yield: ~2 L (a lot)
1 lb dry fava beans (small, round variety preferred, I used broad fava beans)
Salt to taste (~1 tsp)
Lemon juice to taste (~1/4 cup)
Ground cumin to taste (~1-2 tsp)
Olive oil to taste (~1/4 cup)
Red onion, thinly sliced (to garnish)
Soak the fava beans in water for at least 8 hours at room temperature. Or in the fridge for 1-2 days. Drain the soaking water and rinse.
In a pressure cooker, cover beans with 2 inches of water and cook for 30 minutes.
Transfer everything (including the liquid) to a pot, and simmer for 2-3 hours, make sure the beans are mostly submerged, add more water as needed. My beans turned into a homogeneous brown mass as they simmered, I think that’s a good sign. I also cooked mine with the lid off for to evaporate excess water and help the ful to thicken up.
When the bean mixture is thick and soft, season with salt (~1 tsp), lemon juice (1-2 lemons), ground cumin (1-2 tsp), and olive oil (~1/4 cup). Mix well. Garnish with thinly sliced red onions and serve with Middle Eastern bread and lemon wedges.
 Wright, C. (n.d.). Did You Know: Food History – Ful The Egyptian National Dish. Retrieved September 14, 2015.
Black kale, also know as dinosaur kale, is a gorgeous member of the cabbage family. Like many dark green leafy vegetables, it’s rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, calcium, vitamin C, beta-carotene, and folate. It also contains fibre, which gives a feeling of satiety. Beyond its impressive nutrition content, I love black kale for its mild flavour and tender texture. As a bonus, it can be grown locally in BC and it’s easily found in farmers’ markets in the Lower Mainland area during the summer and fall months.
The recipe is from Mario Batali, one of my favourite celebrity chefs. Its simplicity showcases the natural flavours of the ingredients, and it’s super easy to make for a quick weeknight supper.
I carefully fried thinly sliced garlic and hot chilies to a crisp. This process infuses their flavour into the oil (which permeates the rest of the dish), and provides a texture contrast with the soft kale and ricotta cheese.
Sauteed Black Kale with Ricotta, Crispy Garlic, and Chilies