African Peanut Soup with Coconut Creme

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.

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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.

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African Peanut Soup with Coconut Creme

Modified from: Born to Cook: A Passion for Flavour by Victor Bongo

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

  1. To make the coconut creme, reduce coconut milk by half in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cool in fridge.
  2. Once cool, mix in crème fraîche or sour cream. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  3. 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.
  4. Add carrots, celery and yams, cook for 5-7 minutes with the lid on.
  5. Add the 3 kinds of bell peppers, cook for 5 minutes with the lid on.
  6. Add ginger and garlic, cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.
  7. Add the spices, cook for 1 minute.
  8. 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).
  9. Puree soup using a blender until no chunks remain, season with salt, pepper, and lime juice.
  10. To serve, garnish with coconut creme, finely diced mixed bell peppers, cilantro and chopped roasted peanuts.

Eggplant with Chili Garlic Sauce

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.
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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).

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Eggplant with Chili Garlic Sauce

Serves: 3-4

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4.  Add tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes. Taste and adjust salty/ spicy level as desired before serving.

Green Lentil & Wheat Berry Salad

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).

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Wheat berries! Each of them can grow into a wheat plant! 

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.

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Green Lentil & Wheat Berry Salad

Serves: 3-4

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. Garnish with toasted peanuts on top and serve.

Sweet and Salty Caramel Nut Bars

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.

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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.

Bon appetite!

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Sweet and Salty Caramel Nut Bars

Recipe modified from: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/rustic-nut-bars-233301

Yield: 40 squares

Ingredients:

Crust

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp table salt
  • 3/4 cup cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 egg, beaten

Topping

  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 tbsp whipping cream
  • 1 cup peanuts, toasted and salted
  • 2 cups cashews, toasted and salted
  • 1 cup pistachios, toasted and salted
  • 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
  • 2 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted

Method

  1. Grease a 9″x 13″ baking pan with butter, then line with parchment paper, set aside. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and table salt in a large bowl.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Add peanut butter, butter, and whipping cream, stir to dissolve, boil for 1 minute.
  7. Turn off the heat, add nuts and salt. Stir to coat nuts with peanut butter and caramel mixture.
  8. 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).
  9. Remove from the pan and cut into ~1.5″ squares.

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Channa Bateta (Chickpeas with Potato)

This recipe comes from Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s book, The Settler’s Cookbook– a memoir of love, migration and food.

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.

Chickpeas with potatoesSome 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 and food by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

  1. Pour boiling water over dates and tamarind, and soak overnight.
  2. Heat oil in a pan with whole chili and mustard seeds until they crackle.
  3. Add turmeric and chili powder and cook for a minute, stirring all the time.
  4. Add 1 pint of water and salt to taste. Bring to a boil.
  5. Now add diced potatoes and cook until nearly soft.
  6. Chuck in chickpeas and simmer.
  7. Meanwhile crush tamarind and dates with your fingers, then strain into the pot with the sugar.
  8. Stir the besan into a little water to make a paste, then stir into the simmering pot to thicken the mixture a little.
  9. Cook for another five minutes.
  10. Serve in bowls topped with Bombay Mix if you like

Chickpeas with potato

Ful Medames (Slow Cooked Fava Beans)

I’m a proud kitchen traveler.

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 (Egyptian fava beans)
Ful medames: just as good the next day too!

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. [1]

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)

Ingredients

  • 1 lb dry fava beans (small, round variety preferred, I used broad fava beans)
  • Water
  • 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)

Method

  1. 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.
  2. In a pressure cooker, cover beans with 2 inches of water and cook for 30 minutes.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

[1] Wright, C. (n.d.). Did You Know: Food History – Ful — The Egyptian National Dish. Retrieved September 14, 2015.

Sauteed Black Kale with Ricotta, Crispy Garlic, and Chilies

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.

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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.
Black Kale with Ricotta

Sauteed Black Kale with Ricotta, Crispy Garlic, and Chilies

Recipe from: http://www.rachaelrayshow.com/recipe/14247_Mario_Batalis_Black_Kale_with_Ricotta/

Serves: 2-4

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp canola or other neutral flavoured oil (such as sunflower or grape seed)
  • 1/2 red banana pepper, sliced thinly
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
  • 1 bunch black kale, stems and cores removed, chopped roughly
  • 1-2 tablespoons water
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Method

  1. Add oil to a pan over medium heat, cook chilies until they release their flavour (1-2 minutes), use a slotted spoon to remove the chilies from the oil and reserve in a small bowl for garnish.
  2. Add sliced garlic to the pan and fry until a golden crisp, be careful not to burn the garlic. Reserve in the same bowl as the chili peppers.
  3. Add chopped kale to the pan. Saute for ~10 minutes, or until they’re starting to wilt. Add water to help the kale cook and to prevent burning. Season with salt to taste.
  4. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese, olive oil, and black pepper.
  5. Dish the cooked kale on a platter. Dollop with ricotta mixture throughout, and top with fried chilies and crispy garlic.