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.

Close up

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.
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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

Fava Bean and Dill Khoresh

Khoresh is a Persian word meaning stew. Much like making stews, there are many ways of making khoresh. The main ingredients are meat (chicken, lamb, beef, duck), beans (chickpeas, white broad beans, fava beans), and vegetables (onions, carrots). Additional flavour comes from spices (saffron, cinnamon, clove, turmeric, pepper), sweet / acidic seasonings (quince, rosewater, orange blossom water, dried fruit, pomegranate seeds/ molasses, citrus, sour grape juice), and,/ or nuts (walnuts, almonds, pistachio).

I love blending ingredients to create a harmonious chorus of savory, sweet, and acidic flavours, which I think is what khoresh strives to achieve.

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I found the necessary ingredients at Persia Foods in Vancouver. I tried to follow the original recipe since I’m very new to cooking Persian food.

My end product was a decent 3/5. This dish had a good balance between the earthiness from the turmeric and the acidity from the verjuice (unripe grape juice). Flavours of dill stood out prominently against a background of sweet caramelized onions and fragrant rosewater. One thing that I would change is the fava beans–maybe fresh or frozen (which were called for by the original recipe) would’ve had a milder aftertaste. I also found the skin of the beans to be a bit tough. I wonder if this was due to the acidity from the verjuice: cooking beans in acid can prevent the skin from softening. But that doesn’t really make sense because the beans were already cooked when they were purchased in a can… Overall, this dish was a welcome change in my routine, but it needs a few modifications before I would consider adding it to my repertoire.
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Fava Bean and Dill Khoresh

Recipe modified from: http://www.najmiehskitchen.com/pdf/fol_favabeankoresh.pdf

Serves: 2-4

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 7 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tsp salt, more to taste
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1.5 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1.5-2 cups water
  • 1 can fava beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups chopped dill (I used the fronds from one large bunch)
  • 1/4 cup verjuice (unripe grape juice)
  • 1/2 tsp saffron strands
  • 2 tbsp rosewater
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 2-4 eggs

Method

  1. In a large pot over medium heat, saute onions in oil until caramelized.
  2. Add garlic, salt, pepper, turmeric, saute for 2 minutes more. Add water and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, put rosewater in a microwaveable bowl and microwave for 20 seconds until hot. Add saffron to the rosewater and let stand for 5-10 minutes.
  4. Add fava beans, chopped dill, verjuice, saffron and rosewater to the onion mixture, simmer for 5 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, in a separate pan, heat oil over medium and fry the eggs until desired doneness.
  6. Taste the stew, adjust salt and seasonings as needed. Serve with fried eggs on top.

Tofu Coconut Soup (Vegan Friendly)

A warming bowl of nourishment, perfect for a relaxing and easy weeknight meal.
A warming bowl of nourishment, perfect for a relaxing and easy weeknight meal. Made with: tomatoes, mushrooms, tofu, coconut milk, lemongrass, lime, galangal, fish sauce, chilies, and lots of love.

Coconut milk is one of the staple ingredients in Thai cuisine, and it truly shines in this soup. Some of the ingredients, such as galangal and kaffir lime leaves, can be substituted for more easily found ones. However, I encourage you to gather the fresh galangal, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves, since they do give a more authentic flavour. According to the people at EatingThaiFood.com, this soup is usually eaten with rice, like a curry.

Possible Variations:

  • Omit fish sauce and add 1/2 tsp salt to make it vegan.
  • Use vegetable/ chicken broth instead of water.
  • Add diced chicken or whole shrimp (adjust cooking time accordingly). 
  • Try these other veggies: baby corn, straw mushrooms, white mushrooms, bok choy, bell peppers, broccoli, carrot, eggplant, okra.

I was very happy with how this soup turned out. The salty, sour, and spicy flavours danced on my palate as I slurped the creamy broth by the spoonful. Watercress was slightly bitter, which worked well with the rich soup. And I simply loved how the cherry tomato would burst with its warm, sweet, tomato-y juice at the first bite.

Tofu Coconut Soup

Serves: 3-4

Ingredients

Stock

  • 1.5 cups water
  • 4 slices fresh or dried galangal (substitute: 4 slices fresh ginger)
  • 6 fresh or dried kaffir lime leaves, torn into large pieces (substitute: zest of 1 lime)
  • 4 stalks lemongrass, bottom 6 inches only, bruised with back of a knife and cut into 2 inch long pieces
  • 6 bird’s eye chilies, stems removed

Soup

  • 350 g medium-firm tofu, 1/4 inch cubes
  • 4-6 shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 12 cherry tomatoes
  • 1 small bunch watercress, 1 inch pieces
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 2-3 tablespoons fish sauce (or to taste, substitute with 1/2 tsp salt for vegan option)
  • Juice of 1 lime (or to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp sugar (or to taste)
  • 2 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped

Method

  1. In a medium pot, bring water to boil over high heat, then turn heat down to medium. If using dried galangal or lime leaves, add them first and boil for 10 minutes before adding the rest of the stock ingredients and cooking for another 15 minutes. If using fresh versions, add all ingredients at once and boil for 20 minutes.
  2. Strain the stock into a large soup pot, discard the seasonings.
  3. Bring the stock to a boil over medium-high heat, add tofu and cook for 5 minutes.
  4. Add shiitake mushrooms and cherry tomatoes, cook for 3 minutes.
  5. Add watercress and coconut milk, cook until the watercress is just wilted (3-4 minutes), stirring frequently.
  6. Season with fish sauce, lime, and sugar.
  7. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves.

 

Serve with rice for complete meal: carbs, veggies, protein, fat. Add even more fibre by using brown rather than white rice.
Serve with rice for complete meal: carbs, veggies, protein, fat. Add even more fibre by using brown rather than white rice.

Late Summer’s Salad

End of August, the last few days of summer cling onto shorts, ice cream cones, and the outdoor swimming pool. Amidst the goodbye to warm weather and sunny days in Vancouver, we’re lucky enough to say hello to the season’s bounty: farm-fresh vegetables and fruits from local growers.

I’ve made a few variations of this salad already, using yellow bell peppers, chickpeas, eggs, figs, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, bulgur, dried tofu, and yellow wax beans in various combinations with one another. The dressing was kept simple: olive oil, vinegar, salt, black pepper. Once I used soy sauce, canola oil (sesame, chili, or Sichuan peppercorn oil would be perfect here as well), white pepper, and rice wine vinegar for an Asian-inspired taste.

A hearty salad, perfect for lunch or dinner in the summer heat.
A hearty salad, perfect for lunch or dinner in the summer heat.

The trick to making this salad quickly is to pre-cook as many of the ingredients as you can ahead of time. For example, I soaked and boiled about 1 cup of dry chickpeas, cooked 3 eggs, and reconstituted 1 cup of dried bulgur all at once when I made this salad the first time a few days ago. Today, I simply pulled the chickpeas, egg, and bulgur out of the fridge, and they were ready to use. This salad came together in no time at all.

Late Summer’s Salad 

Serves: 1

Ingredients

  • 1 roma tomato, seeds removed, diced
  • 1 mini cucumber, diced
  • 1/2 cup bulgur, cooked
  • 1/3 cup chickpeas, cooked
  • 3 figs, 3/8 inch cubes
  • 1 egg, boiled to your liking, cut into 8 wedges

Dressing

  • 1-1.5 tbsp acid (balsamic vinegar, or rice, red or white wine vinegar, or lemon juice)
  • 1-1.5 tbsp olive oil
  • Pinch of salt and black pepper

Method

  1. Put all ingredients except the egg into a medium-sized bowl, mix well to combine.
  2. When ready to serve, gently lay the egg pieces on top of the salad.

 

To compliment the sweetness of the figs, I used a dark chocolate balsamic vinegar from the Vancouver Olive Oil Company (http://vooc.ca).
To compliment the sweetness of the figs, I used a dark chocolate balsamic vinegar from the Vancouver Olive Oil Company (http://vooc.ca).

Sweet and Sour Vegetables

Continuing cooking from my vegetarian Indian cookbook, I made this dish with what feels like a million ingredients. The book described this dish as the highlight of a feast. What it neglected to mention was that it also made enough to feed a party. So although I followed the recipe when I made the dish, I have reduced the quantities in the recipe I provide here. If you are tired of the same old vegetable dishes, I highly recommend that you give this a try. It is very delicious and has a unique flavour from the tamarind and cumin. 

Indian Sweet and Sour Vegetables
Indian Sweet and Sour Vegetables
Like many other Indian dishes, this one starts out with quickly sauteing ginger, chilies, spices (whole cumin seeds, ground coriander, and ground black pepper) in oil. Cooking the spices releases their fragrance and flavours the dish, so this is a crucial step. The final mixture is called a masala. When preparing a masala, it is important to add the spices according to their cooking time so everything finishes releasing their fragrance at the same time. 
Once the masala is ready, time to add in the tamarind pulp, brown sugar, water and cubed pineapple. 
Aside: What is tamarind? (And the recipe for tamarind pulp)

Tamarind is a fruit found in tropical regions. The brown outer layer is hard and inedible. The inner brown flesh is edible. Its flesh surrounds a small dark brown inedible seed. It is often used to provide a sour and tangy taste to South Asian dishes and desserts. In North America, tamarind paste is often found in supermarkets. 

To prepare tamarind pulp, simmer 1 part tamarind paste in 2 parts boiling water for 15 minutes, breaking it up with a spoon. The water should turn brown and the pulp should get softer. Strain the water-tamarind mixture and push through as much of the tamarind pulp with the back of a spoon as you can. When you’re done straining, only stringy bits and the seeds of the tamarind should be in the strainer, and the contents of the strainer should be dry-looking. Discard the tamarind left in the strainer, and use the strained tamarind pulp for this recipe and many others. 
Ginger, chilies, spices, tamarind, brown sugar, water and pineapple
Phew, that was a long explanation! Anyway, once you have all of the above in the pan over medium-low heat, it’s time to start frying your cheese. The cheese used here is paneer, a fresh Indian cheese made with cow’s milk. It has a very mild flavour, does not melt very well, and looks like tofu. It’s found in South Asian grocery stores, and it is a common ingredient in Indian dishes. 
Frying paneer
Frying paneer 
In the original recipe, the paneer is deep fried, but in the interest of health, I’m pan frying it in a few tablespoons of oil over medium heat. They’re done when all sides are (more or less) golden brown. 
While the paneer is frying, add sliced carrots, celery and plantain to the pineapple, cook for a few minutes. Then add in the browned cheese, tomato wedges, and zucchini. 
Vegetables simmering in the pan
Cook until everything is tender. Season with salt and serve with rice or an Indian bread. 
This is a pretty elaborate dish and took me quite some time to prepare. I think the most time-consuming part was chopping all those vegetables. The recipe here is a scaled down version, which should be less labour intensive. When I made this dish, I accidentally used too much tamarind, so it was quite sour. I corrected this by adding more brown sugar. So if you find it too sour or too sweet for your liking, feel free to adjust with tamarind and sugar. Balance is the key here! 
Indian Sweet and Sour Vegetables
Indian Sweet and Sour Vegetables 
Indian Sweet and Sour Vegetables 
Adapted from: The Hare Krishna Book of Vegetarian Cooking 
Serves: 4- 6 
Ingredients 
  • 3 oz (85g) tamarind pulp (see Aside for instructions)  
  • 2 tbsp oil 
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh ginger
  • 2 green chilies, sliced 
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper 
  • 1/2 cup water 
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar 
  • 1/2 pineapple, peeled, cored and cubed 
  • 1 tsp paprika 
  • 1 tsp ground coriander 
  • 2 tbsp oil 
  • 5 oz (150 g) pressed paneer, cubed 
  • 2 carrots, sliced 
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced 
  • 1 green plantain, sliced, or 1 potato, peeled and diced small 
  • 1 zucchini, cubed 
  • 2 tomatoes, cut into wedges
  • 1 tsp salt 
Method 
  1. Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the cumin seeds, ginger, and green chili; after 30 seconds, add the ground black pepper 
  2. To the pan, add water, brown sugar, tamarind pulp, pineapple, paprika, and ground coriander, allow to simmer and thicken for 5 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent burning 
  3. Meanwhile, fry the paneer in a 2 tablespoons of oil until golden brown on all sides, set aside 
  4. To the pan with pineapples, add carrots, celery, and plantain (or potato), cook for 5 minutes 
  5. Add the fried paneer, zucchini, tomatoes, and salt, simmer until all vegetables are tender