Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Galician Paella

I feel like a globe-trotter. In India one week, Spain the next. Thanks to my friends who are great cooks, I can enjoy a taste of far and away lands.

Today, we visit the northwest corner of Spain, in Galicia. This is the rural, coastal hometown of mi amiga Marga. She tells me that Valencia, a region along the Mediterranean coast, is the birthplace of paella. Other regions throughout Spain have their own distinctive versions of the rice dish. In Marga's area, Galicians make paella with seafood.

In AK's Kitchen today, Marga whips up a special version with meat, chicken and paprika. We start by browning chunks of chicken and beef with whole garlic cloves. In a separate non-stick skillet, the medium grain rice gets a light tossing in oil. We make due with a skillet since I don't have a traditional paella pan. (Santa, are you listening?)

To the rice, we add vegetable stock -- a cup and a half for every cup of rice. I have an abundance of peppers, carrots and onions, so we add them to the rice dish, along with the chicken and meat.  

The rice cooks on the stove top uncovered for about 20 minutes over medium heat. Marga adds seasonings of paprika, salt, pepper and rosemary. And of course the key spice, saffron. The paella cooks until the rice on the bottom is firm and crunchy, the way Marga likes her paella.

Muchas gracias, Marga for this hearty taste of Spain. We'll enjoy the leftover paella and think of you.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

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

In my last post, I shared a recipe for a traditional India dessert. Kheer is typically a very sweet rice pudding. Here is a gluten and dairy free version, courtesy of chef Tara Rajan.

You can also view this video on YouTube.

This dessert is quick and foolproof. I make a similar version with dark chocolate, nutmeg and cinnamon. My kids devour it. I'm sure this will become a family favourite in your kitchen.

Do you have a family favourite you'd like to share?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Indian Fusion and Wonderful Women


I first heard the salutation at a yoga class after I unhinged my legs from the lotus pose. (I'm as flexible as an old suitcase.) Namaste is a traditional Indian greeting which is far more profound than our western "Hello. How's it going?" Or "Bye. See ya later." 

Namaste means "I greet the light within you. I greet the sacred space which we share."

I shared the physical space of AK's Kitchen with a group of wonderful women. This weekend, 
we came together to enjoy some Indian fusion cuisine and to support a cause that is dear to my heart, the tiruchi seva sangam school for underprivileged and orphaned children in Tamil Nadu.

The women came from different cultural backgrounds (including Lebanese, Indian, Spanish, Scottish, French Canadian, Syrian), different generations and a diversity of interests. We all share an appreciation for good food. On a blustery autumn night, we craved comfort food.    
Spicy tomato soup with yogurt and coriander leaf, courtesy Paul Wing

Our Indian Fusion menu featured the best local ingredients from the fall harvest. We had carrots pickled in a sharp, sour brine. The tomatoes were the base of a light, yet complex peppery soup. The squash was slow roasted and tossed in coconut oil and aromatic spices. The apples were baked and stuffed with a fragrant kheer, or pudding.
Baked apple stuffed with kheer, garnished with toasted coconut, saffron syrup. 

My friend Chef Tara Rajan created the Indian-inspired menu. It was a huge hit with my 20 food aficionados. I have never seen a chef get a standing ovation by the diners. 

Pickled carrots, spiced squash, chickpea cumin flatbread with chicken tikka masala. 

Tara's Chicken Tikka with Masala Cream
Serves 4-6

1 ½ - 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken 
1 ½ cups yogourt
1 ½ teaspoons crushed garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 teaspoons minced green chili or hot chili sauce (e.g. Sriracha)
1 ½ tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 recipe masala cream (recipe below)

Strain yogourt in cheesecloth for 2 hours and put aside the whey, retaining the milk solids.  Mix the strained yogourt with the seasonings.  Pour into a plastic bag and add the chicken pieces, covering completely with the marinade.  Refrigerate at least 2 hours.  Remove chicken from marinade and grill until fully cooked.  Let rest, then cut into slices and serve with warm masala cream.

Tara's Masala Cream
1 tablespoon canola oil
¾ teaspoon black mustard seeds
½ teaspoon nigella seeds (kalonji)
1 sprig of fresh or frozen curry leaves (8-10 leaves)
Pinch of asafoetida powder
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
¾ teaspoon minced ginger
¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne
4 medium-sized ripe tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
2 teaspoons jaggery, raw sugar or brown sugar
4 tablespoons 18% or 35% cream 
Salt to taste
Heat oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan.  Add mustard seeds, nigella seeds, curry leaves and asafoetida.  When the spices crackle, add the garlic, ginger, and cayenne and sauté for about two minutes.  Add the tomatoes and simmer for 20 minute or until tomatoes turn pulpy.  Add remaining ingredients and heat thoroughly.  Serve warm over chicken tikka.

Serves 8
1/3 cup tapioca
1 cup water
2 cups coconut milk
2-3 green cardamom pods, bruised
2-3 saffron threads, soaked in a little hot water
1-inch cinnamon stick
3-4 tablespoons sugar or maple syrup
Put the tapioca, water and coconut milk in a medium saucepan.  Add the cardamom, cinnamon and saffron, bring to a boil and reduce to a gentle simmer.  Cover and cook until tapioca is softened, about 15 minutes.  Add the coconut cream and sugar and cook another 3-4 minutes.  Serve chilled or at room temperature with desired garnishes.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Spanish Invasion

My kitchen has been invaded by a Spanish conquistadora. Actually, it's more of an invitation than an invasion. Margarita, or Marga, is my houseguest. She is in Ottawa with a group of Spanish teachers, here to improve their English and observe Canadian teaching methods. Lucky for me, Marga is una cocinera fantastica, a fabulous cook. And for the month of October, AK's Kitchen is Marga's cucina.

One night for supper, she made a traditional Spanish tortilla. Not to be confused with Mexican tortillas, or flat breads, the Iberian tortilla is a potato omelette. It reminds me of frittata. I'll let Marga explain.

Marga started with the potatoes. She is a surgeon with a paring knife. She peeled and sliced half a dozen medium potatoes in minutes.

Then she fried them in olive oil until they were soft. She scooped them out of the oil and transferred them into large bowl with half a dozen beaten eggs, fried carrots and diced red pepper.

She fried the lumpy batter in the hot oil. When the egg batter was cooked, she placed a plate over the pan and flipped the omelette onto the plate.

Tradition Spanish torilla, top. Torilla with pepper and carrots, bottom.  
It didn't turn out exactly as she intended because my old pan isn't as non-stick as it should be.
Still, the tortilla was delicious.

Marga's Spanish Tortilla
3 potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
6 eggs, well beaten
3 carrots, diced
1 sweet pepper, diced
Salt to taste
Iberian ham/prociuto (optional)

Beat the eggs in a large bowl and set aside.
Fry the vegetables in a medium non-stick skillet.
When soft, remove the vegetables from the oil and add to the bowl with the eggs.
Gently mix the batter until all the vegetables are covered with egg. 
Pour the mixture into the skillet with hot oil. You may need to add more oil to the pan.   
Fry until the eggs are firm.
Place a plate over and flip the skillet to transfer the tortilla onto the plate.

This recipe will feed four with some leftovers. Marga uses two eggs for per person for her tortilla.
Enjoy. And as they say en español, ¡Buen provecho.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Giving Thanks

This Thanksgiving, I'm not spending much time planning and preparing holiday food. Instead, my thoughts turn to family.

My mother-in-law will leave a dingy hospital room later today. She is thrilled to return to her clean, familiar surroundings. We are thankful that she is regaining her strength. At the same time, we pray that another accident or health incident will not befall her.

A visit with the kids on Saturday will be good medicine for Nanny.They bring me joy and a welcome distraction whenever I become too consumed with my own health issues. This morning, for instance, I sat under a glorious sun and silently observed my youngest at play. It looked to me like Alexander was digging holes in a flowerbed. No, he was building a playground for the bugs.

"It's a play structure for the ants, Mama. I think it's good for the worms too."

For the next 20 minutes, building that dirt play structure for the little critters was the only thing that mattered to my five-year-old. He was carefree, living in that precious moment.

I am so thankful to my children for teaching me a valuable lesson: when I am occupied worrying, pursuing and achieving, I lose sight of the countless marvels all around.

I hope you and your family share a moment or two of wonderment this Thanksgiving weekend.

I'll be back next week with a new recipe and a visitor from across the globe.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hospitals need to rethink food

If you've ever spent anytime in a hospital, you know that "hospital food" is an oxymoron. Hospitals are meant to be centres for healing. And food, to me, is a source of nourishment and wellness. My mother-in-law's case is a sad example of the food failure in our hospitals.

First, a bit of background. Nanny has been battling a painful foot infection for more than three months. She's been on several different antibiotics, all useless. The onslaught of drugs have only weakened her 87-year-old body. She's become so frail that she passed out and fell flat on her face a week ago. She suffered lacerations and contusions. She is now in hospital with, not one, but two intravenous lines pumping even more powerful antibiotics into her. Doctors tell us that she'll continue to be on these drugs for another three weeks, at least. That's on top of the blood thinning and hypertension medications.

The stronger, intravenous antibiotics may help manage the infection in her foot, so say the doctors  with little certainty. What's for sure is that the meds have already rendered her immune system extremely vulnerable. The antibiotics have killed off the beneficial bacterial. Because of this and her advanced age, one doctor told us, Nanny needs to be monitored for e-coli, c-difficle and other infections that can be fatal to the elderly.

I asked the doctor, "What we can do for prevention? Can we help through her diet?"

Looking slightly stunned by the question, she replied, "Well, I'll make a note in her file for a consult with a nutritionist. Plenty of yogurt and probiotics will help."

This was the first time since Nanny's illness and treatment that a health care professional has mentioned the importance of proper nutrition. (I doubt the butterscotch caramel pudding and the cup-a-soup on Nanny's food tray have a single healthful ingredient.)

When I got back home from the hospital, I poked around in my refrigerator and found some good sources of probiotics. These are foods we'll be feeding Nanny when we visit her again.

Some yogurt with honey...

Soybean paste made into a warm miso soup...
and a glass of water with a probiotic supplement. 
Kefir, as well as pickled and fermented vegetables, such as sauerkraut, are other sources of probiotics. The bacteria in these foods are very beneficial for the digestive tract, even if you're not on antibiotics.

For centuries around the world, food has been used as an accessible and inexpensive means to heal and prevent illness. In our technologically advanced health care system, perhaps it's time to go back to the basics.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Autumn Potato Salad

I was craving something hearty on a cool, damp autumn afternoon. At the same time, I wanted to experiment with mustard seed from my new stash of Indian spices. How 'bout a twist on a traditional potato salad?

Toasted mustard seeds add a mild zing. A word of caution: toast the seeds JUST UNTIL THEY POP, then turn off the heat and let them cool. You don't want burnt mustard seeds. They taste awful!

Walnuts and sweet red pepper give colour and crunch to the salad. Throw in some Montreal-style smoked meat for a really hearty lunch. I know, it's not Indian, but the flavours work well together.

5 large potatoes, washed and boiled.
1 red pepper diced
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted
Smoked meat, or your favourite deli meat (optional)

1/2 cup mayonnaise
4 sprigs fresh chive, chopped
zest and juice from 1/2 lemon
1 Tablespoon toasted mustard seed

Once the potatoes are cooked and cooled, slice them into bite-sized chunks.    
Combine the dressing ingredients. 
Toss the potatoes with the dressing in a large bowl. 
Add red pepper, walnuts and deli meat.