One day, you’ll forget that you ever struggled with this

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!”

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.

IMG_6323

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.

Water Spinach with Sesame (芝麻空心菜)

Water spinach was on sale last week, a whole bunch for less than $2!

Water spinach is a popular vegetable in Asia. According to Wikipedia, it is known by many different names, including phak bung, ong choy, rau muống, kangkong, trokuon, kolmou xak, kalmi shak, kangkung, and hayoyo. The name for water spinach I am most familiar with is in Mandarin: 空心菜 (pinyin: kōngxīncài), which literally translates into “empty-hearted vegetable”, a reference to its hollow stem.
Water spinach with tahini and sesame seeds

I used a traditional Asian technique to stir-fry water spinach, although with some non-traditional ingredients. I like experimenting, and this one was tasty!

Being a mild tasting vegetable, I imagine it would go well with a variety of seasonings, including ginger, chilies, hoisin sauce, or oyster sauce. As with most dark green vegetables, it contains vitamin A (for night vision, among other things) and folate (for making blood cells, among other things).

Water spinach with tahini

Water Spinach with Tahini and Sesame Seeds  (芝麻空心菜)

Serves: 2-4 as a side dish

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
  • 1 large bunch of water spinach, leaves and stems separated, washed and cut into ~ 1 inch pieces
  • 1 tbsp sesame paste (tahini)
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tsp white sesame seeds, toasted

Method

  1. Add oil in large pan (wok) over high heat. When oil is hot, add garlic and cook until fragrant.
  2. Add water spinach stems, stir-fry for 1-2 minutes. Add the leaves and cook until wilted.
  3. Add sesame paste and salt to taste. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.

Sprouted Mung Bean Wrap

I love beans. They’re a nutritional powerhouse full of protein, fibre, iron, B-vitamins, and carbohydrates. Replacing meat with beans can contribute to a healthier diet overall, and help reduce the ecological costs of animal farming.

Sprouted Mung Bean Wrap

Beans are the seeds of plants. Given some moisture, they will readily sprout roots and shoots. During the sprouting process, enzymes change the nutritional  composition of mung beans– iron and phosphorus in the beans are more readily absorbed, vitamin C and folic acid content increases, and digestibility of protein is improved.

This recipe is inspired by The Settler’s Cookbook– A Memoir of Love, Migration, and Food  by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. The novel documents the histories of East Indian settlers in Uganda and East Africa. These stories are interlaced with recipes for delicious Indian-African dishes; a true testament to the significance of food in her culture, as well as her life as a woman of the Indian diaspora.

The most addictive part of this dish would have to be the sour-salty-spicy taste from the lime, salt, and chilies. I ate it wrapped in some store-bought roti, which made a delightful lunch.

Sprouted Mung Bean Wrap

Serves: 3

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dry whole mung beans
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 3/4 tsp whole brown mustard seeds
  • 3/4 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 3/4 tsp ground dried turmeric
  • 1 tsp ginger, minced
  • 1 tsp garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp green chili, minced
  • 1 dried red chili, broken in half
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 tomatoes, diced
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • Salt to taste
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • 6 cooked rotis

Method

  1. In a bowl, soak the mung beans in water for 24 hours at room temperature. Beans will expand to about twice their size during the sprouting process, so using a larger bowl is wise.
  2. Rinse mung beans, add some water (not enough to completely cover, but about half of the beans should be submerged). Place a damp cloth on top. Allow to sit for 12-24 hours. The beans should have tiny shoots by now. Rinse and drain before using.
  3. In a large pot over medium-high heat, add oil. When hot, add mustard and cumin seeds. When the popping slows down, add turmeric, ginger, garlic, and chilies. Cook until aromatic but not burnt.
  4. Add water and diced tomatoes. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
  5. Add sprouted mung beans, cook over medium heat until almost all the water is absorbed/ evaporated, about 10-15 minutes.
  6. Season with ground coriander, cumin, salt, and lime juice. Serve with warmed rotis.

Pasta with Creamy Cheese Sauce and Poached Egg

Egg Pasta with Creamy Cheese SauceThe first time I tried to make a cheese sauce from scratch, it turned out to be a clumpy mess. Based on my experiences with making Kraft Dinner, I added grated cheese to hot milk and stirred, hoping that the sauce would thicken up. Guess what happened? The cheese and the milk stayed completely separate. In fact, the grated cheese melted slightly and coagulated into little cheese clusters in the hot milk. It was a good learning experience– now I know not to add cheese to hot milk to make cheese sauce, lest I want to end up with cheese ball soup.

The proper way of making a cheese sauce (where, you know, the cheese melts into the sauce) is to first make a béchamel sauce with flour, fat, and milk, then add in grated cheese. For this recipe, I included a bit of shallot and prepared mustard to give the dish some extra bite.

Pasta with Creamy Cheese Sauce and Poached Egg

Serves: 3

Ingredients

  • Water
  • 2 tsp light-coloured vinegar (apple cider, white, or rice would work)
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tbsp fat (butter tastes better, I used oil and it turned out fine)
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1.5 tbsp all purpose white flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup grated cheese of your choice, something that melts nicely is good (cheddar, mozzarella, harvarti, oka, oxana, or a blend!)
  • 1.5 tsp prepared mustard
  • white pepper to taste
  • Salt
  • ~200 g egg noodles
  • Basil leaves, for garnish

Method

  1. Fill a small sauce pan with 2 inches of water, heat until you see small bubbles rising occasionally to the top. Add vinegar to the water.
  2. Crack 1 egg into a small bowl (or a ladle), bring it very close to the water’s surface, and slide it into the water. Repeat with other 2 eggs.
  3. Cook over medium-low heat for ~2 minutes, or until egg whites are coagulated but yolk is still runny. Submerge the poached eggs in a bowl of room-temperature water while you prepare the sauce and pasta.
  4. Microwave the milk until warm.
  5. In a large pot, sauté the shallot in fat over medium heat until translucent. Add flour and cook for 1 minute. The mixture, called a roux, should look like wet sand. If it doesn’t, adjust the amount of oil/flour.
  6. Add the warmed milk slowly, whisk to break up lumps of roux. You may not need all the milk, or may need more, adjust accordingly.
  7. Cook the sauce for 10 minutes, scrape the bottom of the pot to prevent burning.
  8. Boil a pot of salted water for the pasta.
  9. Add cheese, cook and stir the sauce to melt cheese. Once the cheese is melted, cook noodles in the pot of boiling water until soft but not mushy, drain and add to the cheese sauce.
  10. Mix thoroughly, portion into 3 bowls, top with poached egg and basil leaves.

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.