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.

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

Coconut Chickpea Curry

Some things in life are beyond description, like the shades of sky at sunset, smell of air after rain, or my first taste of coconut cream. Thicker than coconut milk, coconut cream is sensual, luxurious, and deeply satisfying.

Make this curry as spicy as you can take it, or keep it mild to let the other flavours shine through. Let your taste buds guide your exploration of this dish and many more.

Don’t be intimidated by the long list of ingredients. Most are spices and require only measuring. You can also substitute garam masala for the spices. If you do not have dried mango powder, I suggest trying lemon/ lime juice.
Chickpeas in Coconut Curry

Coconut Chickpea Curry

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight then boiled
  • 4 tbsp oil, divided
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 russet potato, diced (about 1.5 cm cubes)
  • 2 cups water, divided
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 black cardamom pods
  • 1.5 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1.5 tsp whole coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp grated/ minced fresh ginger
  • 2 whole dried red chilies
  • 1/2 tsp ground chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground fennel seed
  • 1 tsp dried mango powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 200 mL canned coconut cream
  • 2 small or 1 large tomato, diced

Method

  1. In a large pot, heat 1 tbsp oil and saute onion over medium heat until golden brown, add garlic and cook for 1 more minute.
  2. Add diced potatoes, 1 cup water, and some salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then simmer until potatoes are soft. Add more water to prevent burning if necessary.
  3. Add chickpeas to potatoes and continue to cook.
  4. Meanwhile, in a small sauce pan with a lid, heat remaining oil (3 tbsp) over medium-high heat. Add whole cardamom, mustard, coriander, and cumin seeds. Put a lid on the pan and let the spices splutter and pop. When the spluttering slows down, add ginger and whole chilies, stir for 15 seconds. Next, add the ground spices and cook for 15 seconds.
  5. To the spices, add coconut cream and the remaining 1 cup water.
  6. Pour the coconut and spice mixture into the pot with the chickpeas, add tomato(es). Simmer for 5-10 minutes to allow flavours to blend. Taste and adjust seasonings. Remove whole cardamom pods and chilies before serving with rice or a bread of your choosing.

Spicy and Sour Nappa Cabbage 酸辣白菜

When I was growing up, nappa cabbage sold for 30 cents per 1/2 kg during the fall harvest in Tianjin, China and became sustenance for the proletariat family throughout the winter months. Stacked in pyramids, it wasn’t uncommon for households to stash a pile beside their respective doors in the unheated apartment hallway cooled by the winter air. Brined and stewed with pork and potatoes, braised with chicken and shiitake mushrooms, stir-fried with tofu, or minced and mixed with meat as part of a dumpling, nappa cabbage was always there, a comforting ingredient, something to make a meal stretch and the belly happy.

I was lucky enough to be born into a family and a time without hunger. Unlike my father, as well as many others in his generation and the generations above him, I never associated (brined) nappa cabbage with being a famine food. Its presence on the dinner table grew as October turned into January, but skillfully prepared in a variety of ways, I always enjoyed seeing it there.

Since moving out of my parents’ place, I rarely ate nappa cabbage. But recently I’ve felt a growing affection (or perhaps nostalgia) for this vegetable. Searching up a recipe on a Chinese cooking website, I had a distinctly different experience from looking on a Western one. Precise measurements are rare and quantities are given as “a little”, “a small handful”, or “an appropriate amount”– frustrating and liberating all at the same time.
Sour and Spicy Nappa Cabbage 酸辣白菜I made this dish with my friend Christine. It was the last time she came over to my apartment before she left Vancouver. So there are memories of her embedded in this somewhere too.

Spicy and Sour Nappa Cabbage

Serves: 2-4

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp dried goji berries (optional)
  • 1/4 cup boiling hot water (optional)
  • 2-3 tbsp oil
  • 3-5 dried red chilies, in half
  • 1/2 head of nappa cabbage, cut into 1.5 x 2 inch  rectangles
  • 2-3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp salt (to taste)
  • 1-2 tsp corn starch

Method

  1. If using goji berries, soak in boiling hot water for 15 minutes, drain and set aside.
  2. Make a slurry by dissolving vinegar, salt, and corn starch, set aside.
  3. In a large wok, heat oil over high until hot, add dried chilies and cook until fragrant but not burning.
  4. Add nappa cabbage, stirring to ensure even cooking. Turn heat down to medium if needed.
  5. When cabbage is almost ready, add slurry and goji berries (if using). Stir and cook until cornstarch thickens the sauce, about a minute more. Serve immediately.

Falafel Pita Pockets

Originating from Egypt, the idea of a bean-based fritter spread from the Arab world to the Middle East. In Israel, chickpea became the legume of choice and this is the version of the falafel we made.

Falafels Pita Pockets

The fate of the falafel isn’t always to be wrapped up in warm pita bread. You can try dipping it in tahini  sauce (tahini paste, lemon juice and water), or hummus.

Recipe: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/my-favorite-falafel-231755 

  • I had cooked chickpeas on hand so we used those, but I think using soaked raw chickpeas would probably lead to a fluffier, less mushy fritter — I definitely want to try that version next time!
  • I was very impressed with the overall taste. The spices and seasonings flavoured each bite without being overwhelming.
  • We made a tzatziki sauce with ~ 1/2 cup drained yogurt, 1/2 shredded cucumber (salted with 1/8 tsp salt, and excessive water squeezed out),  2 tbsp chopped cilantro and parsley, 2 cloves minced garlic, salt, and pepper to garnish the pita. A more traditional condiment (which happens to be vegan) would be tahini sauce.
  • Next time, I would add the baking powder after refrigerating the falafel mixture so the balls puff up more during frying.

Falafel Dinner

Vegetables in Soy Sauce

The original recipe was called “market vegetables cooked in a clay pot”. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a clay pot in which to cook, but a stainless steel pot did the job pretty well. There’s such a wide variety of vegetables which would be suitable for this dish, for example, cauliflower, bok choy, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, daikon, lotus root, chayote… Feel free to use your favourites.

The soy sauce, sugar, and sesame seed oil provided a perfect balance of salty, sweet, and umami. Just be careful not to overcook the vegetables.

Vegetables in Soy Sauce

Vegetables in Soy Sauce

Adapted from: http://www.sbs.com.au/food/recipes/market-vegetables-cooked-clay-pot-u-cu-tay-cam

Serves: 2-4

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tbsp minced garlic
  • 4 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 4-5 tofu puff (fried tofu), sliced thinly
  • 200 g enoki mushrooms, cut in half
  • 100 g green beans, 1.5 inch pieces, blanched
  • 150 g broccoli florets, blanched
  • 2 carrots, 1/2 inch pieces, blanched
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper 
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced

Method

  1. In a medium-sized pot (clay if you have it) over medium-high heat, fry minced garlic in vegetable oil until fragrant.
  2. Add soy sauce, sugar, and water, bring to a boil.
  3. Add tofu puff, mushrooms, and simmer for 5 minutes.
  4. Add blanched vegetables, ground pepper, sesame oil, and green onions.
  5. Heat through and serve.

What I would do differently

  • To save time, I would cook the green beans, broccoli, carrots in the soy sauce-water mixture rather than separately blanching them ahead of time.

Crisp Tofu in Tomato-Pepper Sauce (Dau Hu Sot Ca)

Here’s another episode in my food adventures with Christine! I love trying new recipes with friends because it’s so much fun to cook and taste new foods. And if the recipe doesn’t work out, you’ve at least shared a good laugh together.

tofu in tomato-pepper sauce

We made two Vietnamese dishes: crisp tofu in tomato-pepper sauce, and vegetables cooked in soy-sauce (recipe to follow). I would highly recommend both of these dishes if you’re looking for something a little different, but not too difficult.

Start by deep frying the tofu in 2 batches. Frying the tofu is probably the most time-intensive and technically challenging part (oil splatters during deep frying are not fun). You could try to coat the tofu in vegetable oil and baking it if you’re so inclined–maybe 425° F for 10-15 min, turning once during the cooking process. The sauce involves boiling tomatoes and a bunch of other seasonings together. The fried tofu gets coated in the tomato sauce, and the whole thing is garnished with thinly sliced scallions and cilantro.

For vegetarian and vegan-friendly version, substitute soy sauce for fish sauce.

What makes this dish so good? It’s the contrast of flavours and textures. The acidic tomatoes with salty fish sauce, slight hint of heat from the chili flakes, and mellowness from the sugar — everything is in perfect balance. The boldness of the ingredients work well with tofu, which is essentially a blank canvas for flavour. Deep frying tofu forms a crisp exterior with tiny bumps, which helps the sauce to cling on.

Crisp Tofu in Tomato-Pepper Sauce

Crisp Tofu in Tomato-Pepper Sauce

Recipe adapted from: http://www.sbs.com.au/food/recipes/crisp-tofu-cooked-tomato-pepper-sauce-dau-hu-sot-ca

Serves: 3

Ingredients

  • 454 g medium-firm tofu, diced, 3 cm (1.25 inch) cubes
  • 200 mL vegetable oil, for frying
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp chili flakes
  • 4 Roma tomatoes, diced, 1.5 cm (1/2 inch) cubes
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 100 mL water
  • 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
  • 2-3 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 5-6 sprigs coriander, minced

Method

  1. Heat oil in a wok over medium-high. When the oil shimmers, add half of the tofu and fry on all sides until golden and crisp, drain on a plate. Repeat with other half of tofu.
  2. Leave 1 tbsp of the oil in the wok and pour out the rest. Over medium-high heat, stir-fry garlic, shallots, and chili flakes until fragrant, approx 30 -60 seconds. Add tomatoes, salt, sugar, fish sauce, and water. Reduce sauce by boiling uncovered for 10 minutes.
  3. Add pepper, spring onions, coriander, and fried tofu. Stir to coat with sauce.
  4. Serve with some form of starch (steamed rice for example).

What I would do differently next time:

  • Add more chili flakes (closer to 1 tsp, but this may be because my chili is old and not as flavourful)
  • Add more ground pepper (1 tsp rather than 1/2 tsp)
  • Maybe try with silken tofu