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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Buckwheat Harvest Tart

Butternut Squash Tart

The recipe came from The Sprouted Kitchen: A Tastier Take on Whole Foods by Sara Forte, and it is absolutely delicious.

It’s essentially a vegetable quiche pumped full of butternut squash, greens, and cheese. It took my friend and I around two hours to make the recipe from start to finish, so be prepared for the amount of labour and time required. In the end, both of us agreed that the work was well worth it. The sweet squash, savory cheese, and tangy onion (flavoured with vinegar) is a winning combination. The tart looks impressive, tastes delightful, and can be made using readily available local BC ingredients (squash, kale, onion, eggs,…).

Buckwheat Harvest Tart

Here’s the original recipe. I made a few minor adjustments with the ingredients I had on hand, but I would suggest sticking with the original. The changes I made were:

  • 4 medium eggs instead of 3 large ones
  • ~4 cups chopped kale instead of Swiss chard
  • cayenne pepper instead of red pepper flakes (I think I used less too)
  • red onion instead of yellow
  • apple cider instead of balsamic vinegar (I used less than 2 tbsp, but would use the full amount in the future)
  • Havarti cheese instead of Gruyere
  • ~ 1 tsp dried thyme in the crust instead of fresh
  •  used salted butter and omitted the salt in the crust (bad baking technique, I know, but salted butter is so much cheaper!)
  • pressed the dough into the pan instead of rolling it out (looks messier, but easier)
  • whole wheat flour instead of white flour

Buckwheat Harvest Tart

Bon appetite!

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).

Sambar- Vegetable and Dal Stew

This recipe comes from The Hare Krishna Book of Vegetarian Cooking, which describes this dish as thicker than ordinary dal and especially easy to digest. I wanted to make this because it called for tamarind, which gives a great tangy flavour to a dish. As with all recipes from this cook book, it makes enough to feed quite a few people (6-8) so if you’re cooking for one or two and do not want left overs until the next week, I recommend that you half this recipe.

Sambar: Vegetable and Dal Stew
Sambar: Vegetable and Dal Stew  

Begin by boiling salted water, then adding washed mung dal.
Bring back to a boil, remove any froth on the surface, and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

While the mung dal are simmering, extract the tamarind pulp.
This is a picture of the tamarind and water mixture. 

Tamarind is a tropical fruit, it is often sold as tamarind paste, which looks like a small brown square brick wrapped in plastic. To extract the pulp, you can boil the tamarind paste in just enough water to cover for 5 minutes, then press the mixture through a sieve with the back of a spoon. Or, if you’re too lazy to put on another pot, submerge the tamarind paste with just enough boiling water to cover, then microwave for 1 minute. But be careful, the tamarind paste mixture may boil over in your microwave, so watch it carefully!

Extract the pulp from the tamarind by pressing it through a sieve with
the back of a spoon. Discard the dry and stringy bits left in the sieve. 

When your dal is almost finished simmering, start another pan for the vegetables. Heat oil until hot, then add black mustard seeds and pop a lid on your pan. When the mustard seeds stop jumping around, add in ground cumin, coriander, and turmeric, saute for a second more, then add in your vegetables. I’ve used some peeled green squash (looks like a large, curvy, light green zucchini), and carrots.

Saute vegetables of your choice in spices, I have some green squash and carrots.
Once the vegetables are lightly brown, add in grated coconut. 

Toast the coconut for 2 minutes, then add the dal and tamarind pulp to the vegetable mixture.
Be very careful, the dal may splash as you add it to the hot pan. 

Simmer the sambar until the dal is fully cooked and the vegetables are soft. Check to adjust the seasonings before serving with white rice and an Indian bread, or with masala dosa or atta dosa.

Sambar: Vegetable and Dal Stew
Sambar: Vegetable and Dal Stew

Sambar (Vegetable and Dal Stew)
Serves: 6

Ingredients

  • 6 cups (1.4 L water) 
  • 3 tsp salt 
  • 1 1/4 cups (250g) mung dal, toor dal, green split-peas, or whole lentils, picked and washed thoroughly 
  • 1 1/2 lb (675g) assorted vegetables (eggplant, carrots, tomatoes, green beans, squash), cubed 
  • 2 oz (50 g) tamarind 
  • 3 tbsp (45 mL) vegetable oil 
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin 
  • 2 tsp ground coriander 
  • 1 tsp turmeric 
  • 4 tbsp grated coconut (I substituted with unsweetened desiccated coconut) 
Method 
  1. Bring water and salt to a boil, add washed dal and boil uncovered using high heat for 10 minutes. Skim any froth that accumulates, then cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes. 
  2. Meanwhile, extract the pulp from the tamarind by boiling it with enough water to cover for 5 minutes and pressing the tamarind and water mixture through a sieve to extract as much of the pulp as possible. 
  3. In a separate pan large enough to hold both the vegetables and the dal, heat up the oil, then add the mustard seeds, quickly putting a lid on the pan to prevent the mustard seeds from popping out. 
  4. When the mustard seeds have finished popping, add the cumin, coriander, and turmeric, then add the cubed vegetables and cook until the vegetables are lightly brown. 
  5. Add in the grated coconut and toast for 2 minutes. 
  6. At this point, the dal should be ready. Add the dal and tamarind pulp to the vegetable mixture, and simmer until the dal is fully cooked and vegetables are soft. Serve with rice and an Indian bread or dosa. 

Mixed Dal with Vegetables

I’ve been cooking a lot of dals lately, and I’m sharing one of my recipes today. Dal is an Indian dish made by simmering beans or peas (usually without their skins and split in half) in water then seasoned with various spices. Dals are a great addition to any meal, they are usually high in fibre, iron, protein, and contain a plethora of B vitamins, which can help you feel more energized.

Mixed dal with vegetables
Mixed Dal with Vegetables 


Interestingly, dal refers to both the dish, and the bean/ pea that the dish is made from. The most common beans/ peas used for dals include the mung dal, toor dal, urad dal, channa dal, yellow split peas, or red/ yellow lentils. I used an equal amount of mung and urad dals for this recipe. Feel free to experiment!

Wash mung dal and urad dal, soak in water for 1 hour, then drain

Sauté ginger over medium heat with oil for 1 minute, then add turmeric 

Add in drained mung dal and urad dal, sauté for 1 minute
Add water, bring to a boil then simmer for 20 minutes 

In addition to the dal, this dish also calls for sautéed vegetables. First heat up some oil and wait until it’s medium- hot, then add mustard seeds and immediately put a lid on the pan to prevent them from jumping out. As soon as they’ve quieted down, add the cumin seeds, bay leaves, and the minced chilies and sauté for half a minute. Then add the cut up vegetables. The process of adding spices to hot oil is commonly used in Indian cuisine to build up the flavour of the dish. It toasts the spices to release their flavour into the oil, the sequence is also carefully timed so all the spices finishes cooking at the same time without any burning.

Toast spices in oil (see above), then add cubed eggplant and carrot
Sauté vegetables for 5 minutes 

Pour dal into the vegetable mixture and simmer for 10 minutes.
Season with salt and garam masala. 

Mixed dal with vegetables
Mixed dal with vegetables, best served hot with rice 
Mixed dal with vegetables
Serves: 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup dried mung dal 
  • 1/2 cup dried urad dal 
  • 5 tbsp oil, divided 
  • 2 tbsp ginger, minced 
  • 1 L water (approx), divided 
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 green chilies, seeded and minced 
  • 1 eggplant, cubed 
  • 2 carrots, 1/2 inch segments 
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala 
  • Salt to taste 
Method 
  1. Wash and soak the mung and urad dals for 1 hour, drain. 
  2. In a deep pot, heat 2 tbsp of oil, when hot, add ginger and sauté for 1 minute, add turmeric and sauté for 15 seconds.
  3. Add the drained dals and sauté for 2 minutes to toast gently, then add 800 mL of water, bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes. 
  4. In a separate large pan, heat up 3 tbsp of oil, when hot, add mustard seeds and immediately put a lid on the pan to prevent the seeds from popping out. When the seeds have finished popping, add the cumin seeds, bay leaves, and green chilies. Cook for 30 more seconds. 
  5. Add eggplant and carrots and cook for 5 minutes. Pour the cooked dal into the vegetable pan along with 200 mL of water and simmer for 10 minutes to allow the flavours to blend. 
  6. Season with garam masala and salt before serving with rice. 

Mushroom and Zucchini Gratin

A gratin is a dish where the main ingredient is covered in a browned crust. This recipe comes from the website chocolateandzucchini.com, a wonderful place for cooking and baking ideas. I choose it for my friend D and I to prepare because it required only the simplest of ingredients, yet managed to be unique and delicious. The original recipe can be found here.

mushroom and zucchini gratin
Mushroom and Zucchini Gratin

Gently sweat finely diced onions in oil, add minced garlic
Cook until onion is translucent and garlic becomes fragrant
 

Add diced mushrooms, thyme, salt and pepper
Cook until the mushrooms have released their juices 

Add flour and slowly simmer to thicken the mushroom juices
Check seasonings and pour mixture into a gratin dish
 

Cook zucchini over medium heat, add salt, pepper, and herbs.
Cook until just softened. Check for seasonings. 

Zucchini releases a lot of water during the cooking process. I strained the cooked zucchini before adding it to the gratin. This step will help keep your gratin reasonably dry, i.e.: not in a giant puddle of vegetable juices.

Pour the zucchini on top of the mushrooms. Sprinkle breadcrumbs, butter, cheese
mixture on top, garnish with chopped parsley leaves. 

To make the topping, I combined the breadcrumbs, cheese, and butter in a food processor and pulsed until the butter was finely chopped. No food processor? Using your fingers or a fork to blend everything also works. 


If you have a food processor, making your own breadcrumbs is incredibly easy. Take 1 or 2 slices of bread (toasted, fresh, or frozen), put it in a food processor, and pulse for 1 minute. 

Bake at 425 F for 8- 10 minutes, or until the top is golden brown 

 As you can see, this recipe makes enough to serve a crowd. It can also be baked in individual ramekins.

mushroom and zucchini gratin
mushroom and zucchini gratin

mushroom and zucchini gratin
mushroom and zucchini gratin

Mushroom and Zucchini Gratin 
Serves: 6 as a side dish 
Ingredients 
  • 2 tbsp oil, divided 
  • 1 small onion, finely diced 
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced 
  • 1 lb cremini mushrooms, 1/4 inch (1 cm) dice 
  • 4 tsp fresh thyme leaves, divided 
  • 1 tbsp all purpose flour 
  • 4 zucchinis, julienne
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1.5 cups breadcrumbs
  • 2 tbsp butter, room temperature, diced 
  • 1/4 cup grated cheese (I used Gruyere, Parmesan also works, try experimenting!)     
  • 2 tbsp parsley leaves, chopped 

Method 

  1. In a pan over medium heat, sweat the onion in 1 tbsp oil until translucent. Add garlic and cook for another minute. 
  2. Tip in diced mushrooms, season with 2 tsp thyme, salt, and pepper. Cook until mushrooms have released their juices, about 10-15 minutes. 
  3. Add flour, stir and cook until a thick sauce forms. Pour mushrooms into a large gratin dish. 
  4. Heat up the remaining oil and cook zucchini for 5 minutes, season zucchini with 2 tsp thyme, salt and pepper. The zucchini should be softened, but not mushy. 
  5. Preheat oven to 425 F. 
  6. In a bowl, combine breadcrumbs, butter, and grated cheese. Mix with fingertips until butter is incorporated into the breadcrumbs. Alternatively, pulse in a food processor. 
  7. Cover zucchini layer with breadcrumb mixture and garnish with chopped parsley. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Serve immediately.