Friday, August 26, 2011

Sliced & Diced in AK's Kitchen: A Lesson in Fattoush

I am proud to roll out the very first episode of Sliced & Diced in AK's Kitchen. It was produced by a dear friend and award-winning videographer, Paul Wing. Paul is a regular in my kitchen. We share a love for good food and healthy eating.

I asked Paul to bring his camera along while my guest, Maya Shoucair, demonstrated her family's traditional Lebanese fattoush recipe. Have a look and let me know what you think of our big debut.

One more thing... for a gluten free version for the fattoush recipe, simply use rice crackers in place of the toasted pita. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Bitter Bite

My pantry now has two new ingredients. They give my cooking a bitter bite. I discovered the flavours during my first foray into Lebanese cooking.

Sumac is an inexpensive spice which looks like nutmeg. It comes from the crushed, dried berries of the sumac bush, which grow wild in the Mediterranean and Middle East. You'll often see sumac sprinkled on hummus and pita bread, or used in spice rubs. Sumac lends a subtle, earthy bitterness.

Sumac, an essential ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine

Pomegranate molasses is another staple in Mid-East dishes. I've heard it referred to as "liquid rubies," possibly because the dark red molasses is derived from pricey pomegranate juice. The juice is boiled with sugar and lemon juice to make molasses. A tiny amount adds a sour punch to dressings, sauces and marinades. Some studies suggest that pomegranate molasses offers several health benefits including lowering cholesterol and boosting the immune system.
"Liquid Rubies," Pomegranate Molasses 
I thank my Canadian-Lebanese friend, Maya, for bringing those distinctive new flavours into AK's Kitchen. With Maya's help, I made my first ever batch of fattoush. The Lebanese salad contains your typical salad ingredients: lettuce, tomato, cucumber, garlic, plus fresh mint and parsley to give it a fresh, summery taste. Both herbs are natural breath fresheners. They are flavourful sources of vitamin C and B vitamins, including folic acid. 

Maya and I whipped up her family's fattoush recipe. Other versions call for cauliflower, red pepper, radish and onion. (I skipped the raw radish and onion because they don't sit well with me.) Feel free to add your favourite seasonal veggie.

The technique for this salad is to cut the veggies in a uniform size. Be generous with the lemon juice and garlic. And don't forget to add toasted pita for crunch. 


Salad: 1 head romaine lettuce; 1 large tomato; 1 handful fresh parsley; 1 handful fresh mint leaves; 1 cucumber; 1 green onion, two radishes; 1 large pita bread, toasted

Dressing: 2 cloves (or more) minced garlic; 
1/4 cup olive oil; juice from one lemon; 
2 pinches sumac; 1/4 teaspoon pomegranate molasses

1) Chop all the veggies into uniform pieces and place into a deep salad bowl. 
2) Combine dressing ingredients and toss into the salad.  
3) Break off pieces of toasted pita bread and sprinkle on top just before serving, so the pita doesn't go soggy.

Serves 6-8 side dishes. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Pain Management

My morning fuel comes in an eight-ounce mug. Inside is a triple shot of espresso and one shot of chocolate almond or soya milk. This is how I start my day.

I was never a coffee drinker until the autumn of 2010. Coffee was a form of pain management after one of my physicians mentioned that caffeine can be effective in managing headaches and migraines in some patients. I tried it, and it worked for me.

The caffeine hit was effective in dulling the neurological pain. For the first few months, I could only smell the aroma of the coffee beans, without enjoying the flavour because I had lost my sense of taste. At the time, my body could not detect heat from cold. The receptors in my mouth, on my face and much of my body were non-responsive. I was not able to feel the difference between an ice cube and boiling water.
The ribbon of steam from the coffee was my visual cue.  Over time as my sense of taste came back, I developed an appreciation for the complex flavours of coffee. I've kept up the morning ritual. These days, I imbibe more for the pleasure, not so much the pain.

My friend Maya is coming over to make a pot of Turkish coffee. Once we're caffeined-up, we'll have plenty of new recipes and cooking techniques to share.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pulled Pork Poutine

I'm the first to admit, there's nothing nutritionally redeeming about poutine, that odd Quebecois concoction of french fries, melted cheese curds and gravy. Whenever I mention poutine to my non-Canadian friends, I get either a quizzical look, or a face of utter disgust... until they actually try it.

I could argue that the cheese curds give you beneficial vitamin A, protein and calcium. And the protein in the pulled pork is helpful to those of us who tend to be iron-deficient.

Forget about the cholesterol and salt. Really. Put it out of your mind just long enough to read this post. Now imagine a generous serving of slow-cooked, southern-style, pulled pork dumped on top of that mound of poutine.

 A cone of pulled pork poutine 

That's exactly what we had at Le Boucan (Le bOucan ~ Smokehouse). It' a tiny nook on Notre Dame Street, a few blocks from the Atwater Market. Its tiny kitchen -- the size of a walk-in closet -- turns our mighty flavourful fare.

The Cook (centre) and his kitchen crew 
The neighbourhood joint was voted Best Ribs Restaurant in Montreal. A huge coup for a the three hockey buddies who pulled together their life savings to open the place almost two years ago.
Inside Le Boucan Smokehouse in Montreal
On our first visit to Le Boucan, we ordered the poutine (split between hubby and me). Our 11-year-old order the grilled shrimps.

Grilled shrimp served in a glass jar with sweet and spicy sauce
We enjoyed our delicious apps on the back terrace under a full moon. We're definitely going back. And next time,  I must try the bacon brownie. It's neither G-free, dairy free nor sugar free, but I'll just have to take one for the team.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Taste of Lebanon

A friend of mine recently got back from her native Lebanon. Her vacation stories have given me a hankering for Lebanese food. 
Assorted Lebanese appetizers

I don't know much about Lebanese cuisine other than it uses a lot of garlic and sumac. I was first introduced to shawarma, shish taouk and fattoush salad during my university days in Montreal. Lebanese food was fast and friendly on my student budget.
Grape leaves stuffed with rice and meat
Maybe I'll have my Lebanese friend step into AK's Kitchen for a quick lesson in Lebanese cooking.    

Stay tuned.

    Thursday, August 4, 2011

    Peking Duck

    It was once a dish reserved for the emperor. Only at the Imperial Palace could one savour Peking duck. Just recently, this commoner had the opportunity to enjoy the sweet crispy skin and tender dark meat.

    The distinctive flavour and colour of the duck are achieved through a preparation that's centuries old. Air is pumped underneath the skin to separate the fat. The duck is soaked in boiling water. Then its skin is coated with a sweet glaze. The next step is the lengthiest. It requires hanging the bird for hours to dry.

    This is why I've never made Peking duck. Far too complicated for this home cook. Instead, I order it whenever I get the opportunity. We enjoyed the special treat during a recent visit with our friends, the Lee family, in Toronto. Lucky for us, they know the best Chinese restaurants in Markham.

    Part of the fun of Peking duck is the presentation. It arrives at your table whole. Then the server carves it into equal-sized pieces. The duck is served in mini pancakes with thinly sliced scallions and hoisin sauce.

    In Toronto and Montreal, you can easily order Peking duck. In Ottawa, most restaurants require 24 hours advanced notice. I've never ordered Peking duck in Ottawa. Any suggestions for a good Chinese restaurant?