Friday, 14 October 2016

Thanksgiving Crispy Sriracha Almond Salmon Bake

We're not very fond of Turkey in our house, so Thanksgiving always presents us with a creative challenge. This year, while being on maternity leave and pinching our pennies, I decided that - holiday be damned - I'd continue my challenge of using everything in the fridge and cupboard before buying any more groceries. I found a beautiful bag of wild pacific salmon burgers in the freezer, and knew that these would take centre stage, but also knew that I didn't want to use them as burgers.

The other key ingredients I rounded up for this delightful dish:

  • 1 box of organic baby spinach
  • 1 each, red and yellow bell pepper
  • 10 large white mushrooms
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 2 onions
  • 6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 jar of Kirkland brand organic tomato basil marinara sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of smokey BBQ sauce (I later added a third tbsp and 2 tsp of red chilli powder)
  • 3 tablespoons of Sriracha sauce
  • 1 cup of organic vegetable broth
I began, as I do with most of our dishes, by sautéing the onion, garlic and ginger in coconut oil and a teaspoon of salt, for about 40 minutes until completely soft and translucent (but not caramelized). I then added the full jar of organic marinara sauce, stirred in the Sriracha, BBQ sauce and organic vegetable broth, and let gently bubble away on the stove for about 20 minutes before adding in all of the vegetables. A quick taste test revealed that it needed a little bit of a kick, so I added one more tbsp of BBQ sauce and some red chilli powder, then I then let it all simmer together for about one hour. Remember that this was a holiday meal, so there was plenty of time to let it simmer and bring out all of the flavours. A 10 minute simmer would be just fine for a weeknight, even if not quite as rich and flavourful.

I had defrosted the salmon burgers (even though they said cook from frozen), and I chopped them and added them into the sauce for the last five minutes of simmering. I didn't want to overcook the fish, because there is nothing more unpleasant than rubbery seafood.

While the sauce was slowly filling up my house with the most incredible smells, I searched for an interesting alternative to a breadcrumb topping. I poured about one cup of almonds into the Vitamix and gently pulsed them, then added them to a bowl of crushed up President's Choice Sriracha potato chips (about 1 cup of potato chips) and about half a cup of crispy fried onions. I added just a teaspoon of olive oil so that the topping would brown in the oven.

I am not very good at tracking quantities (I should set an alarm or something to remind myself to take notes!), but there was probably somewhere between 4 - 6 cups of cooked elbow macaroni that I mixed in with the marinara sauce and vegetables. I poured it into a casserole pan and then pressed the almond topping onto the top, and popped it into the oven for about one hour (covered for half an hour and uncovered for the last half hour) at 400F.

It was an incredibly delicious Thanksgiving meal: a delightfully deep and nutty, yet crunchy topping to a smokey and spicy pasta. My husband topped his with more Sriracha and a garlic yoghurt sauce (which is called Chaka across Central Asia), and it was truly incredible. This recipe, fully of protein and hardy vegetables, is a keeper.

Do you have a turkey alternative you'd like to share?

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Maple Sriracha Peanut Tofu Stir Fry

Sriracha seems to be the theme of the week at my house! Seriously, though, we can't get enough of its tangy, zippy taste. I woke up craving a peanut-y Asian flavour, so today I experimented with four of my favourite ingredients; if our cupboards are bare, there will still be maple syrup, peanut butter, Sriracha and tofu. For this dish I used two 350g packages of organic extra firm tofu.

My tofu preparation is always the same: I rinse it, press it and dry it with a paper towel, cube it and bake it on a lightly oiled cookie sheet for half an hour. Baking the tofu first gets it ready to really soak up the marinade. While the tofu was baking, I prepared the marinade. As you'll have already gathered if you're read a few posts, I'm not really big on measurements. I just add things as I go along and if something doesn't taste quite right, I'll just add a bit of something else until it balances out. However, this is roughly what I ended up using:

  • 4 Tbsp Soy Sauce (I had only dark soy sauce which is why the sauce looks a bit like a mole in the photo above)
  • 4 Tbsp Rice Vinegar
  • 2Tbsp Sriracha (Rooster Sauce)
  • 6 Tbsp Peanut Butter (I just used what I had on hand, which was Kraft smooth. Most chefs would likely call for all-natural peanut butter so as not to have salt and sugar interfere with the other flavours, but this turned out just awesome anyway.)
  • 4 Tbsp Maple Syrup
  • 5 Tbsp hot water with two generous squirts of Bovril liquid chicken stock (normally I would use organic Better Than Bouillon but I was all out and the Bovril was on sale at Safeway today.) 

I whisked all of these ingredients together, then put the bowl in the microwave to warm it up just enough that the peanut butter started to melt. Then I took it out and whisked it vigorously for a few minutes until the marinade was creamy, but silky smooth. The tofu had baked for half an hour at this point, so I added the tofu to the marinade bowl and tossed it well, until each cube was coated in the sauce. I then put it in the fridge for 8 hours to let all of the flavours soak in (this step is not necessary, but I was up very early this morning and thought I'd get the meal prep done before my day started).

Later in the afternoon, I sauteed a two-inch piece of grated fresh ginger, three garlic cloves and one medium onion in 2 tsp of avocado oil. I then added 10 thinly sliced mushrooms, and half each of a yellow and red bell pepper. Once all of the vegetables were softened, I added about 6 tbs of the tofu marinade and cooked until evaporated and the vegetables were sticky.

I removed the vegetables from the wok, scraped it out and then added a teaspoon of sesame oil, just for a little bit of extra Asian flavour. I then poured in the tofu and marinade and let it cook gently. At first I thought, oh no!, because there was so much sauce it was like a soup, but after a gentle simmer for ten minutes the peanut butter had released its delicious oils and the sauce had thickened into a delightful, sticky, outstanding sauce. After about 15 minutes, the marinade had completely reduced and I added back in the vegetables, mixing gently until all combined. I served it with an Afghan parboiled basmati rice, making this dish a SouthEast-Central Asian fusion.

It was absolutely delicious: creamy, tangy, spicy and sweet all at the same time.

What would I change next time? I will definitely make sure I have light soy sauce on hand next time, because the sauce was pretty dark and the soy did emerge as a slightly more dominant flavour. Personally, I enjoy this type of dish most when the peanut flavour ties with the chili flavour for first place. I'd also crush some roasted peanuts on top, but I didn't have any today. Nevertheless, it was a delicious, relatively speedy meal which is perfect for a weekday supper. There are even enough leftovers for two lunches tomorrow! The total dish cost less than $10 in total, so with dinner and lunch for two people, that's a total of 4 meals at roughly $2.50 each. Delicious, made from scratch, and inexpensive.That's a win, win, win.

Have fun experimenting with your own variation of this meal.

*This recipe was adapted from Kalyn's Kitchen

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Butternut Squash Soup

Nothing like a hearty vegetable soup to nurse a sick household back to health. The first flu of the autumn has struck us all down, and my daughter made a special request for something soft and warm in her tummy.

My soup style is to use up whatever I have on hand. A soup is a place where you can be wholly experimental and it usually turns out wonderful.

I started off by deseeding and then baking a whole butternut squash for an hour until it was a warm golden colour. I then made my stock with 3 large carrots, 4 medium yellow potatoes, 3 celery sticks, 4 cloves of haroic a half inch piece of fresh ginger and two large onions (I sautéed the tumeric, cumin, coriander,  onions, garlic, ginger, celery and carrots in coconut oil in a separate pan first). I then added a few teaspoons of organic chicken Better Than Bouillon, then mixed in the baked squash and let the soup gently roll to a boil before simmering for about three hours. You can of course use the crockpot for this, but I used a large stock pot on the stovetop.

Once the soup was done, I blended it with a handheld blender and then topped it with a tablespoon of reduced coconut milk, raw diced onions,  roasted almonds and crispy fried fresh sage.

With a piece of my homemade chilli cornbread, it was a perfect meal that put a little colour in all of our grey cheeks.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Using Up What's in the Fridge: A Frugal Twist on Afghan Borekai

The first snow fell today. It is grey and cold and miserable out there. The kind of day that begs for comfort food.

It was also the kind of day when you come home tired and cranky to an empty fridge. This normally calls for ordering pizza, but in our quest to keep our food bill down, we decided we would just make do. 

Here is what we had: one onion, two sweet potatoes, mushrooms, green cabbage, celery and a can of salmon. With some flour in the cupboard, we settled on a slightly creative version of Afghan Borekai. Borekai, which is the Pashto word for a common Afghan dish (known in the Dari as Bolani) is typically filled with either a potato or a leek filling, but occasionally in the autumn pumpkin can be used as well. (See my earlier recipe for cauliflower and cilantro bolani).

We pressure cooked everything together except the mushrooms and salmon. Mashed it altogether, then added a little tomato paste, ground coriander (tastier if you if you have fresh), salt, pepper, smoked paprika, crushed red chilli peppers and olive oil. Then added the salmon and very finely chopped mushrooms and combined thoroughly.

At the same time as we were pressure cooking, we were making the dough. Since It was getting late we used our Kitchen Aid mixer (LOVE it!), but if you have more time you can use a bread machine, or make your own, too.

We Rolled the dough into very thin circles, roughly the size of a personal pizza. Spread the filling generously on one half, then folded them over into crescent moons.

We put a tiny bit of butter onto a hot cast iron skillet and cooked until lightly browned. Topped it with a pure, thick yogurt  (Greek style, or a chaka/laban) and some parsley, but you could use any greens you have on hand.

A pure delight on a cold autumn day.

The next morning, we found a creative use for the leftovers by topping them with fried eggs and onions. Such a tasty and filling breakfast, the perfect fuel for my daughter to go out and play in the snow.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Georgia on My Mind

Every Georgian dish is a poem. ~ Alexander Pushkin

The favourite restaurant among ex-pats when I lived in Moscow was a tiny, dark place with heavy wooden tables that served up the most incredibly authentic Georgian fare. I have never been able to remember the name of the restaurant, or the names of the tasty dishes, but Georgia has always been on my mind. I often tell myself that one day, if I make it back to Moscow, I'll wander through the streets until I find it.

This weekend, Moscow memories came flooding back over dinner with new friends. As we shared fabulous tales of our love of food around a massive platter of Kabuli pilau, okra and lamb curry, I told our friends of the story of this delightful Georgian restaurant. Being Russian, they knew exactly what I was talking about!  I couldn't believe it. I quickly jotted down the name of the restaurant (Tiflis, on Ulitsa Ostozhenka if you happen to be in Moscow), as well as the name of the food whose taste lingers in my mouth 16 years later.

Over my coffee this morning, instead of reading the NY Times like I normally do on Sunday mornings, I watched Georgian cooking videos on You Tube until I was ready to give it a try myself. I think it was a pretty good first attempt.

Khachapuri Georgian Cheese Bread

This is khachapuri, the traditional cheese-filled bread of Georgia, a fascinating country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. It shares in the rich Central Asian traditions of music, food and architecture common to Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, etc. The more I learn about this part of the world, the more similarities I find, especially in the cuisine.  Khachapuri seems to be the Georgian version of  Afghan bolani, for example. (Or, maybe it's the other way around!)

There are many regional varieties of khachapuri; specifically, this is an Adjarian khachapuri, famous for the sunny-side-up-egg that tops the cheese-filled break.

The starting point of khachapuri is, as with most of the dishes I bring home from around the world, a beautiful, round ball of wheat dough.

Next, the dough is rolled out thinly, then shaped into a boat by doubling up the sides and pinching the ends. The sides need to be doubled up so that they rise enough to create a ledge to hold in all of the gooey-cheesey-goodness.

The dough is then filled to the brim with cheese. Authentically Georgian khachapuri would use sulguni, a slightly sour, salty goat cheese that is similar to feta. I don't think sulguni is exported, so I had to make do with a simple feta cheese from the market here. I actually used a blend of Greek feta and skimmed-milk mozarella, but next time I think I will make a trip to the specialty store to find a Bulgarian feta. It's slightly saltier and is a little closer match to sulguni.

I use our BBQ for everything, but you could certainly bake this in the oven at 425F. Let the khachapuri cook on a hot ceramic pizza stone for about 5 minutes or until the dough rises and begins to just slightly turn golden. At this point, I gently shifted the cheese around using a fork, until there was a small depression, leaving just enough room to crack an egg in. The yolk splashed down into the melted cheese while the egg white spread throughout the boat and immediately began to cook. Leave for another 3-5 minutes until the egg is fully cooked and the crust is a golden brown (but, be sure to leave the yolk runny like a sunny-side-up!).

Before serving, add a small spoon of butter on top of the khachapuri, then let it mix in with the egg and cheese. A little freshly ground black pepper, or green chillies make a nice final seasoning.

***It's a good idea to watch the khachapuri very closely. I found that leaving it to cook for just a minute too long led to a scorched bottom. I ruined three before I finally got the perfect one.

Khachapuri is traditionally served with lobia, a red-kidney bean dish from Georgia that has variations throughout Central Asia. The salty richness of the goat cheese contrasts nicely with the nutty, earthy smells and flavours of the beans. Unfortunately, it took me quite a while to test this dish out today so I didn't have time to follow it up with lobia. Next time!

This made for an amazing dinner, but it is definitely something you'll want to reserve for special occasions. It is very rich and we needed three pots of green tea to wash it down, followed by an afternoon nap!

I think that next time I will experiment a little bit with the filling in order to make it a slightly lighter (and healthier!) meal. I think that cutting the cheese in half and adding spinach, kale or even potato would be a great alternative. Gluten-free dough would be possible too, of course, but I have yet to experiment to that degree with my bread machine.

I hope you enjoyed learning about this Georgian delicacy. I would love to see your pictures posted in the comments section if you make this at home, too!

The dough

1 1/2 cups beer or water
1 tbsp honey or sugar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 1/4 cups bread flour
2 tsp active dry or bread machine yeast

Choose the dough setting on your bread machine, or combine, gently knead and leave to rise for 1.5 hours or until the dough has doubled in size.

Cut the dough into 4 parts and shape into balls (roughly 250 grams each).

The filling

For each khachapuri, I used about 5 tbsp of crumbled Greek feta cheese and 4 tbsp of skimmed-milk mozarella.

4 eggs (one per khachapuri)