Thursday, December 11, 2008

Orange, Carrot and Honey Salad


I don't know about you, but lately I seem to be surrounded by sick people. They pass by my desk at work, coughing and blowing their noses. They sit next to me in class, wheezing with glazed expressions on their faces as they try to concentrate on the discussion. Everyone seems to have the flu, a cold, strep throat or bronchitis. Its just that time of year.


This recipe, another winner from the Moosewood Restaurant Lowfat Favorites cookbook, is what you need to keep you chock-full of healthy nutrients and vitamin C so you can avoid becoming one of the hacking, sneezing masses.


Orange, Carrot and Honey Salad


From Moosewood Restaurant Lowfat Favorites. The original recipe doesn't include golden raisins or pineapple, but I think they add a nice touch if you happen to have them around. Feel free to omit one or both if you desire or if you don't have the ingredients at hand. The salad will be just as tasty.


2 to 3 large carrots, peeled and grated (about 4 cups)

2 large navel oranges

1 cup finely diced fresh pineapple (optional)

2-4 tablespoons golden raisins (optional)

2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice

l tablespoon honey

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon


Procedure:


1. Place the grated carrots in your serving bowl and set aside. Supreme the oranges. This isn't near as hard as it seems. You don't, however, want to cut your orange into sections like the picture above. IGNORE THE PICTURE! Do as I say, not as I do. For a step by step photo example of how to supreme an orange, go here: Coconut and Lime: How to supreme citrus. Do this over the serving bowl, and squeeze all the juice out of the membrane when you are done cutting out the orange sections, so that the juice of the citrus won't be wasted.


2. If you are using the raisins and pineapple add them to the bowl. Combine the lemon juice, honey and cinnamon and pour over the salad. Mix, and let sit for at least 10 minutes so the flavours can meld before serving.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ceviche!

I promised ceviche and here it is. Now before you start arguing with me about my recipe, let me preface it by saying that ceviche, otherwise known as the art of "cooking" fresh fish or seafood in lime juice mixed with other ingredients, is a popular dish across the length and breadth of Latin America. For that reason, there are as many versions of ceviche, each using local ingredients and methods, as there are countries in the Americas (probably more once we start counting different regions and districts).

This ceviche recipe is a Yucatec style dish, modelled after the ceviche that I have had the pleasure to eat at home in Belize. While in Belize Conch Ceviche, made from the tender and sweet foot of the queen conch snail, is a particular delicacy, I have not seen conch for sale in the fish-markets and shops of DC, so I am using another good choice: red snapper.

It is essential that your fish be as fresh as possible. You CAN NOT use frozen fish for this, it will turn out mushy and disgusting. Be warned, this recipe is spicy. If you don't like spicy, replace the habanero pepper with a dash of mild hot sauce, but the taste wont be the same.

Lyra's Red Snapper Ceviche
This is easily multiplied but makes enough for 3-4 as an appetizer, or dinner for 1 very hungry ceviche lover!

4-5 ounces of skinless red snapper fillet, as fresh as possible and not frozen
one small handful of cilantro (the close, but stronger flavoured relative culantro is usually used in Belize)
2-3 large ripe limes
1 small habanero pepper, seeds removed and minced. (Jalapenos are a milder alternative)
1 small or 1/2 medium onion, finely minced
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Procedure:

1. Cut the snapper into bite sized pieces and place in a container that you can cover (I recommend glass over plastic, which absorbs the heat of the habanero).

2. Add the minced habanero and onion, salt and black pepper. Squeeze over enough fresh lime juice to cover the raw fish. Chop and mix in the cilantro.

3. Let the ceviche sit in the fridge for at least 2 hours so the lime juice can do its work, chemically "cooking" the fish flesh and making it white and firm. When the fish is no longer translucent, enjoy with some good quality tortilla chips (or make your own).

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Eating Bloomington: A Belated Report

The main campus gates, looking out on Kirkwood Avenue, the main drag and where most of the restaurants and bars are located.

Some imposing campus architecture.

It has been over a month since my trip to Bloomington Indiana and I know I owe you all a report. In fact, I promised you one not once, but twice, and then proceeded to post about cabbage and chowder and turnips. And sadly about Bri's passing. I promised that I would post a recipe for ceviche, and I will but first I want to give you my short report on my trip to Bloomington, taken oh so long ago in September.

First off, the school visit went well. Indiana University is huge! I had no idea that it was so enormous. Their campus is 1800 acres, stuck smack dab in the middle of Bloomington, which, compared to the university, is pretty small. There are about 71,000 people in Bloomington, and 40,000 of them are students. That, combined with the fact that IU is apparently one of the top five "party schools" in the USA, meant that there were a lot of bars lining the streets outside the main university gates. Thanks to IU's famous sports teams, most of those are well provisioned with loud tvs turned to the game for the benefit of fans.

Ivy covered university buildings.

But luckily for me, some of them also serve pretty darn good food, and there were even some real restaurants tucked away here and there too! In fact, Indiana natives are pretty proud of Bloomington's restaurant diversity. Its like a little DC: instead of hundreds of Thai and Indian restaurants, there are just a couple, but for a small city in the middle of southern Indiana, that's doing pretty good. Bloomington even does DC one better by having two Tibetan restaurants, one of which we had lunch at shortly after our arrival in the city. This surprise is by virtue of the fact that his Holiness the Dalai Lama's elder brother lives in Bloomington, where the country's only Tibetan Cultural Center is located. As you can see, despite the sports and beer vibe, this place is not quite your normal mid-western college town.

Over the course of the weekend we ate out at the following places (listed in the order in which we ate at them, for your viewing pleasure):

Anyetsang's Little Tibet (Get the momos, but be warned that the "level 5 spice", the hottest they offer, is a far cry from what is considered spicy in DC, not to mention Belize...)

Soma Cafe (a great little independent coffee house with yummy no nonsense fruit smoothies: nothing but frozen fruit and apple juice. No powdery mystery mixes, no added sugar, nothing but pure fruit flavour). Also has vegan baked goods that looked mighty tempting, but we didn't try any.

The Irish Lion (The whisky pie is no joke, the walnut cake is decadent and don't forget the tasty fish and chips, Irish soda bread, and stew served in a bread bowl!)

The Uptown Cafe (awesome oatmeal raisin pancakes on the specials list!)

Nicks English Hut (it seems almost dangerous to put this next to the Irish Lion, doesn't it?) (get the juicy and satisfying elk burger, and the house salad with sun-dried tomato vinaigrette!)

Farm (should have had Jose's bacon and egg pizza...that thing looked tasty. Got a too small yogurt and granola parfait instead.)

The host stand at Farm. See chef and owner David Orr's book on the display stand.

A service counter at Farm with a nice herb collection.

Some heirloom tomatoes and peppers in the deli case.

The Scholar's Inn Bakehouse on the town square. A pretty mild chicken and habanero combo, "the spicy kickin' chicken wrap" didn't quite live up to its name, although the flavour was tasty. It came with a generous serving of hard pretzels that made a nice snack for later, and the pickle was fresh and crispy. I think I just ordered the wrong thing for Bloomington, which seems to be pretty timid when it comes to the spices. The baked goods looked excellent.

Here is the famous fountain gazebo at Indiana University. Pretty isn't it?

There are a bunch of other places that I wanted to eat at while in Bloomington: the famous Restauant Tallent, Roots, Laughing Planet Cafe, Janko's Little Zagreb, Casablanca Cafe and the Blu Boy Bakery among others, but I will have to save those for next time.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bri is gone.


Briana of figs with bri is gone. She passed away in her sleep on the 26th while holding her husband's hand. Her wonderful spirit, recipes and personality live on. Please visit Jugalbandi's post and light a candle in her memory. Bri, these flowers are for you. As bright and beautiful as the person we all came to know through your blog. May you rest in peace.

Autumn musings.

Tonight, I had the option of reading the U.S. Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual in preparation for a no doubt extremely heated class discussion in my development anthropology class on Thursday. Or, goofing off and writing blog posts after a month of ignoring my duties here at Rice and Beans: A Belizean in DC. Try and guess which I ended up doing.

Yes, the allure of reading about interrogation and espionage tactics just couldn't keep me from my blog. That's how devoted I am. Mind you, the fact that I had to venture out on foot in 30 mile an hour winds and the freezing cold to retrieve the book from a big chain store in Georgetown may have played a part my decision making process. After losing all feeling in my fingers, a cup of hot masala chai and some relaxation time sounded better than military jargon. Plus I just finished writing a paper today, thanks very much. I deserve a break and you guys deserve some more posts!

So here I am, hanging my head and sending abject apologizes your way. If you haven't given up on me already, you will see that I have also posted a couple recipes in the last day or two, in a rushed attempt to make up for four weeks of silence. I beg you to try the sweet potato and corn chowder. And make extra. It just gets better after a couple days in the fridge.

Things have been busy here. For one thing, as you can see we now have a kitten. A beautiful grey fluff-ball with blue eyes that a police officer rescued from some kids intent on killing her and her siblings. How? By putting them in paper bags and tossing them repeatedly in the air. It worries me to think what the parents of those ten year olds must be doing to them that they would be so sadistic towards such tiny creatures. Nonetheless, our kitty was rescued and ended up at my boyfriend's work. He, of course, took one look at her and couldn't say no. So now we have a kitty named Blanche after the Golden Girls character. Who hasn't been weaned yet. And must be fed with an eye dropper. Every couple hours. Without fail. First thing in the morning, as soon as I get out of work, before class, after class, before bed. After two weeks she is much bigger and healthier but she refuses to eat on her own even though her teeth are getting bigger (and sharper) every day.

Schoolwork, well, schoolwork is the reason you haven't heard from me in a month. Lets leave it at that. I have been cooking, but that is because I have to eat, don't I? And believe me, there have been no all-evening culinary sessions in my apartment in a long time.

Then there are the university applications. Aside from Indiana University, about which I wrote previously, I am also applying to Brown University and Emory University, both excellent schools with excellent anthropology programs that require excellent applications and perfect statements of purpose, writing examples, etc. Do I have time for this? No. But the deadlines are in December, so I am trying to squeeze it all in between my current schoolwork.

Aside from the turnips and the chowder, I recently came up with two new salads that I have been going gaga over and plan on posting about as soon as possible. They involve, respectively, apples and fennel and whole wheat couscous and cannelloni beans. Can I just say that whole wheat couscous is awesome? It cooks in 5 minutes (if you do it the American way), which is perfect for someone with no free time (ahem...think working graduate student) and its whole grain! What a great invention. I've been getting mine from Trader Joe's but I'm sure there are other sources.

I also recently tried this fantastic recipe for a North African tagine-style chicken with olives and apricots, and then made it again with just vegetables. Both ways it is scrumptious! Many thanks to Warda of the 64 square foot kitchen for sharing it with the world.

Ok, I promise my next post will include a recipe. Stay tuned for: Red Snapper Ceviche, Belizean-style (yes, that means it is spicy. In fact, you might as well go put habanero peppers on your grocery list right now.)

Til next time! (which, if fate allows, will be less than a month from now).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

And my favorite new vegetable is...

Turnips. What can I say. Maybe its a German thing. After all it's well known that all poor German farmers subsisted on for winters at a time was moldy wheat, turnips and cabbage, enlivened with the occasional hunk of horseradish. Or maybe it wasn't that bad. But a heck of a lot of 'em sure ran straight to Pennsylvania when the opportunity to strike out for fresh country arose. And when they got there...they ate turnips.

My Dad ate his share growing up-yet another common side on the traditional Pennsylvania deutsch table. Mashed with butter and milk, or grated raw into vinegar as a relish, they appeared under many guises.

Despite all this turnip heritage I ignored them at my local farmers' market for years. Until this fall. Inspired by recipes of roasted winter vegetables and with cozy pictures of carrots and parsnips and turnips wafting a delicious fragrance through my kitchen while it sleeted outside, I picked up a bunch of them 2 weeks ago. 6 small turnips, only about 3 ounces each, white as a boiled egg, with a huge bunch of greens on top. Organic, of course. And since they were organic, once I got them home I decided to go for the simplest treatment I could think of. I washed them, leaves and all, making sure to scrub off any clinging dirt. Then I oiled them with olive oil, powdered them with salt and pepper, and lay them in a pan to cook in the oven. About 30 minutes later I sat down to one of the most delicious plates of greens and root vegetables that I have had in years. The sweetness of the turnip root, caramelized from the oven! The delicious umami of the greens! I was hooked.

Probably next week it will be parsnips (I have yet to spy any at the market though), and I certainly am enjoying the crisp and sweet carrots of the season. But for now, The Turnip is King!

Roasted Turnips with Olive Oil
I plan to think up some more elaborate variations on this roasting thing. Try different spices. Try different oils. Try mixing them up with some other vegetables. But for showcasing the turnip, in all its naked glory, this is the way to go. Make sure to get small, sweet turnips. One of those big purple types might be a bit too pungent for this preparation. If in doubt, ask the farmer.

Turnips: about 6 small ones with the greens attached.
Olive oil: about a teaspoon or more if you desire
Salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Procedure:

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Thoroughly wash the turnips and their attached greens. Scrub the roots til they shine.
2. Take a pan just big enough to hold the whole turnips. Spritz in the olive oil, add the turnips and using your bare hands, coat the turnips in the oil.
3. Shake over the salt, grind over the pepper-to taste. Turn the turnips in the pan to make sure all sides get a good dusting.
4. Place the pan in the oven. Check every 5 minutes or so and turn the turnips as needed so the roots cook evenly and the leaves don't get too crispy (though the crispy bits are good too).
5. Place your turnip on a plate, grab a steak knife and a fork and sit down to dinner. Cut the greens off and into bite sized pieces-pour over a little vinegar of your choice if you so desire. Enjoy!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Fat Free Sweet Potato Corn Chowder with Caramelized Corn Salsa

This soup is one of my new favorites. Its from a really great book by the people up at Moosewood Restaurant called Moosewood Restaurant No-Fat Favorites. The first time I read through this book I marked so many pages that I still have about 25 recipes to try. But this was the first thing I made and it was delicious. This slightly spicy, chunky and flavourful is a snap to put together, especially if you have some frozen or canned sweet corn lying around. I had some of the season's last sweet corn from the farmers' market and cut it off the cob for that great fresh from field taste. Plus I had extra to make a little caramelized corn salsa-my own recipe, which I think really complemented the soup.


Southwestern Corn and Potato Soup
From the Moosewood No-Fat Cookbook. I doubled the recipe to serve 5-6 as a main course. The calorie content of the entire recipe as presented here is 1600 calories, it makes about 10 cups.

2 cups finely chopped onions
4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 small fresh chilies seeded and minced
1/2 tsp salt
6 cups vegetable stock
4 tsp ground cumin
4 cups peeled and diced sweet potato
1 medium red bell pepper, finely chopped
6 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels

Procedure:

1. In a covered medium pot, simmer the onions, garlic, chile and salt in 2 cups of vegetable stock until the onions are soft. Stir in the cumin, then add sweet potatoes and the remaining stock.
2. Simmer until the sweet potatoes are soft, then add the bell pepper and corn and cook until all the vegetables are softened.
3. Blend about half the soup in a blender, or use an immersion blender. Heat again on low heat. Serve topped with caramelized corn salsa and tortilla chips (try the baked kind).

Caramelized Corn and Roasted Pepper Salsa

2 cups fresh corn kernels
1 medium-large tomato, finely diced
2 medium or 1 large red bell pepper
juice of 1 large lime
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp ground chipotle pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1 tablespoon turbinado or raw sugar (can substitute regular brown sugar)

Procedure:

1. Turn on the broiler in your oven. Place the bell peppers in a pan and put them in the oven under the broiler. Turn regularly and let blacken on the outside in places until they are well roasted. Remove from the oven and cover the pan for 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, put the paprika, chipotle and salt in another baking pan with the corn kernels. Mix together, stick under the broiler and let roast, stirring regularly, until the corn begins to brown and the sugar caramelizes. Remove and turn off the broiler.

3. Take the cover off the pepper pan and remove the peppers. The trapped moisture should have loosened the skin so that you can easily peel it off. Do so, then cut the peppers open and de-seed them. Finely dice the pepper flesh, mix together with the corn, the finely diced tomato and the freshly squeezed lime juice. Stir and taste, add more paprika or chipotle or salt to taste.

4. Serve by itself with tortilla chips or on top of the corn chowder-with tortilla chips.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cabbage with Curry Leaves and Mustard Seeds

I know I said I would tell you about my trip to Bloomington and I swear, I have a post partially written. But (you knew there was going to be a but, didn't you), I have been too busy with school (yeah, that lame old excuse again) to finish writing it, so I am going to treat you to a recipe instead. I got this off the BBC food website, the recipe is by their chef Roopa Gulati, and it makes a nice slightly pungent (thanks to the mustard) side dish for an Indian feast. Serve with rice and dal and maybe some yogurt on the side.


Cabbage with Curry Leaves and Mustard Seeds
Courtesy of Roopa Gulati of the BBC. Makes about 4 cups, roughly 40 calories per cup if you use my quantity of oil, 95 calories per cup if you use the original 2 tablespoons. I also increased the amount of mustard seeds and chili powder in this recipe, as it seemed a bit bland at first taste. Feel free to reduce the heat if you desire.

1/2 medium-small cabbage, finely shredded (9-10 ounces)
2 small or 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 tbsp or 1/2 tsp oil (see comments above)
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
1/8 tsp fenugreek seeds
12 curry leaves (these are the leaves of a specific tree used to flavour curries and other dishes, and can be found in Indian markets and some ethnic groceries. If you can't find them in your area you can proceed without them, the dish wont be the same thing, but it will still be tasty)
1 dried red chili
3/4" piece of fresh ginger, minced
3/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp chili powder
salt to taste
1 medium tomato, blanched in hot water, seeds removed and diced (I just cut it up and tossed it in and it still tasted good)

Procedure:

1. Heat oil over high heat in a large frying pan (preferably non-stick). Add the mustard seeds, curry leaves and dried chili (broken into pieces). Cover the pan as the mustard seeds will start exploding and popping and jumping all over the place once they hit the hot metal. Shake the pan to move the spices around and then lower the heat to medium.
2. Uncover the pan and add the onions and ginger. Cook until the onions begin to soften. If using the smaller quantity of oil, add a little water if needed to prevent sticking.
3. Add the turmeric and chili powder, the cabbage and salt.
4. Cook until the cabbage still has a little bite to it but is mostly tender. Or you may cook it until it is soft, if that is what you prefer. Keep stirring regularly to prevent sticking and add a little water if necessary.
5. Add the tomato and cook for a couple minutes longer.
6. Serve as a side dish with rice and dal or just dump it on top of some brown rice, add some cooked tofu or tempeh, and call it a meal.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Thai style soup with lemon grass, basil and green papaya


I didn't find any fish sauce in my hometown of PG, Belize, but this Thai style soup was still a nice first course offering. The abundance of basil and lemongrass (which we call fevergrass) growing around our cookhouse inspired me to try something new. The result was a nicely balanced broth infused with lemongrass, basil, habanero pepper and lime juice.

Thai Style Green Papaya Soup

This soup was another attempt to use up the abundance of papayas that we were dealing with at the time by eating some of them green. Since green papaya is such a tasty vegetable, it was no sacrifice on our part. This soup is very simple in the making and other vegetables such as young zucchini could be substituted for the papaya. If you have some fish sauce, I am sure a dash would improve the flavour dimensions.

1/2 medium green papaya, peeled and diced.
2 large ripe tomatoes, diced
1 large onion, diced
1/2 habanero, minced, with seeds and membrane removed (unless you like it as spicy as I do, in which case, include the seeds and membrane, or even toss in the whole pepper)
One stalk of lemongrass (the white interior part, not the leaves), thinly sliced
A handful of basil leaves
1 cube of vegetable bullion (optional)
2-3 ripe limes
2 tsp of fish sauce if available, if not, use worchesterschire sauce, or omit for a vegetarian soup.
Salt and pepper
About 4 ounces of quick cooking Chinese style noodles
4 cups of water or more as needed

Procedure:

1. Saute the lemongrass, habanero, onion and papaya in a drizzle of vegetable oil for a few minutes until they begin to soften slightly.

2. Add the tomato, water, salt, black pepper and basil leaves, and the bullion if using. Bring to a simmer and cook until the papaya is firm but tender. Add the juice of the limes and the fish sauce. Taste the broth and adjust as necessary, adding more lime juice, fish sauce or other seasonings if needed.

3. Add the noodles, breaking them up as you toss them in, and cook for a few minutes until they are al dente. Serve the soup as a first course with a lime wedge and basil leaves to accompany it.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Off to Bloomington Indiana, and Stuffed Green Papaya

Ok. I admit it. School has got the best of me. I barely have time to look at a blog, even mine. Even when people leave comments. Even when people post amazing recipes and I receive emails announcing them to me in my inbox. I haven't read the comics page in weeks. Words like postmodernist and epistemology are pouring out of my ears. I am working on 5 1/2 hours sleep, a 3 inch stack of flash cards and 700 pages of reading. And I have a flight out of DC at 6:45 tomorrow morning.

But I thought I had better at least post something to let people know that I am still alive and breathing. I'm still eating too, but I haven't taken a single picture of food since I got back from Belize. My meals have been centered around rapidly assembled salads and things wrapped up in some kind of flat bread: hummus and pita sandwiches, burritos, wraps made with the overwhelming abundance of late summer peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini that I lug home from the farmers' market every week. Saute with spices, toss onto a tortilla. Eat. Peaches and plums are hastily devoured while standing over the sink. Lengthy culinary preparations are a thing of the past. The question now is, what can I cook in 10 minutes, eat in five and be on campus in time to meet with my advisor?

I'm hoping that I will settle into my new routine soon and have more time to post, but until then I'll be happy if I can churn out four new articles a month. I'm only working 25 hours a week this semester instead of full-time so you would think that would help take some of the pressure off, but my classes seem to have simply gotten harder to make up for it.

Today I'm going to post a few pics of another recipe from my August vacation in Belize. It seems like a distant memory now, as I lug around my bag full of books and flash drives, but this stuffed green papaya was a delicious meal for my parents and I, and healthy too!


Stuffed Green Papaya

This recipe lends itself to experimentation. A green papaya, like a big zucchini, can be stuffed with pretty much anything. My combo of papaya flesh, tofu, carrot, tomato, sunflower seeds, onion, garlic and various spices topped with bread crumbs was a tasty vegetarian version. Feel free, of course, to substitute any filling of your choice.

1 medium large green papaya (about 3 lbs)
1 large onion
2 medium large tomatoes
1 large or 2 medium carrots, grated
2-6 cloves of garlic-to taste
salt
fresh ground black pepper
lots of oregano (2 tsps dried or to taste)
red recado or just use a good quality chili powder instead
1 tsp paprika
1 cube vegetable or chicken bullion
1 lb firm tofu, crumbled.
2-3 tablespoons sunflower or sesame seeds (optional)
1 tsp olive oil
1 finely diced medium bell pepper (optional)
1 cup fine breadcrumbs
Juice of one lime

Procedure:

1. Cut the green papaya in half lengthwise. Remove all the seeds and scrape out any white membrane. Steam until still firm, but pierce-able with a fork. Scrape out about half of the flesh and mince finely. Set the papaya shells aside in a baking pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Finely chop all the vegetables. Saute them over medium low heat with the olive oil, sunflower seeds, bullion and spices. Add the garlic after the vegetables have begun to soften.

3. Add a little water as necessary to keep things from sticking. Add the crumbled tofu and minced green papaya and cook until the flavours have blended together. Take off the heat and mix in the lime juice.

4. Mix the breadcrumbs with a bit of salt and pepper, a spritz of olive oil, oregano and recado to taste.

5. Stuff the papaya shells with the filling, top with the breadcrumb mixture and bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until the breadcrumbs have browned and the papaya is soft on the outside.

6. Cut in sections to serve, accompany with extra lime wedges to squeeze over. The skin of the papaya is bitter, so you will want to discard that bit while eating. The flavour of green papaya is excellent, like that of a slightly sweet summer squash. It also makes a good stand alone vegetable (although why let a decent vegetable stand alone?) and a good addition to soups and stews.

I am off to Bloomington, Indiana for a weekend fact-finding mission. I leave at the crack of dawn tomorrow and return late on Sunday evening. The purpose of the trip is to see what Indiana University at Bloomington, the Anthropology Department there, and the city itself, are like in the flesh. Of course it is also a great excuse to eat out in a new place. I hope to post some pictures and report on the Bloomington food scene when I return. Til then, I recommend scrolling through the excellent websites listed on my blogroll if you have not done so already. There are some great posts out there! Now if only I had time to read them myself...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A National Holiday and Breadfruit Gumbo with Land Crabs

Today is a national holiday in Belize, so it seems an appropriate time to update my blog after an inexcusably long lapse in posting. Hardly had I celebrated the one year anniversary of this website when the beginning of the semester descended upon me. I have just begun to get used to my new work and study schedule, and I am still feeling quite overwhelmed with homework. But, today is the 210th anniversary of the Battle of St. George's Caye, and national pride demands that I post something here to acknowledge it. September in Belize is a time of celebration. In fact, although the official state holidays don't begin until the 10th, the entire month is devoted to parties and parades, to singing and dancing, and to general expressions of patriotic fervour.

The Battle of St. George's Caye commemorates Belizeans' decisive victory in a small sea battle that led Belize to become an official colony of Great Britain instead of an ignored backwater of New Spain. This rather dubious holiday is closely followed by our Independence Day on the 21st of September. So first we celebrate being handed from one empire to another, and then we celebrate kicking them out altogether. There are concerts, carnival parades in Belize City, cultural performances, competitions, dances and ceremonies, and of course the obligatory waving of thousands of little flags. Its a heady month, I tell you!

As I promised in August, I have lots of photos and stories from Belize and since I can't turn on the radio and sing along to patriotic songs, or dance behind a carnival float, I thought I would post about a recipe that I made up while at home. No, this is not a "traditional" or "authentic" Belizean recipe (whatever that means), but it does use foods that are commonly eaten across the country, and it results in a tasty stew that would be appreciated by any Belizean. So Happy St. George's Caye Day, and enjoy!

This breadfruit gumbo with land crab claws was a creation that came out of the very local ingredients of the farm in August. Breadfruit were plentiful, weighing down the brittle branches of the tree near our kitchen, and land crabs were venturing further from their holes than usual in their pursuit of food and mates. Unlike blue sea crabs, they turn off-white, not red, when cooked, hence the pale hue of the claws gracing my plate at the top of this post.

Breadfruit Gumbo

This can be made with crab, tofu, fish or shrimp. I imagine that it would probably be tasty with chicken or pork as well. I made the stew with tofu in it and served the crab claws on the side, as one of our party can't eat crab, but personally I stirred my crab meat into the gumbo, and I think it tastes best that way. So feel free to nix the tofu and replace it with crab meat if you so desire (and if you have some on hand). Just be aware that crab and shrimp are both high in cholesterol, so if you are trying to avoid that substance, fish, chicken or tofu might be a better bet.

I say "or to taste" a lot in this recipe, so make sure you keep tasting your stew as you go along and adjust the seasonings if necessary. If in doubt, start with the smallest amount of spices and herbs and add more as needed.

If you live in the USA you will probably have a pretty hard time tracking down a breadfruit. I know that personally this is a dish that I will only make in Belize, where these ingredients are local and plentiful. Hopefully you will still enjoy reading about it!

Water

3/4 medium or 1 small green breadfruit, steamed, boiled or roasted until cooked through, then peeled and diced. Should yield about 4-5 cups of breadfruit.

2-3 cups cooked moringa oleifera , chaya or coco yam (aka dasheen or taro) leaves, or uncooked malabar spinach or callaloo. (Feel free to substitute your favorite cooking greens. I used par-boiled moringa leaves)

2 cups chopped fresh or diced canned tomatoes

About 1 cup chopped young okra or to taste

1 large onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 large allspice leaf (may substitute 2 bay leaves)

4-6 green allspice seeds, lightly crushed (may substitute dried allspice seeds)

5-10 black peppercorns, crushed (I used closer to 10)

Roughly 1 tablespoon of red recado

2-3 tsp Marie Sharp's hot sauce, or 1-2 habanero peppers, minced, with seeds and white core removed. (Start out with less and add more only if needed, or else you might make it too fiery for your taste)

1 tsp tamarind concentrate or 1-2 tbsp tamarind pulp or 1 tbsp tamarind based hot sauce

1/4-1/3 cup white vinegar (to taste again)

1 tsp vegetable oil

About 1 tsp dried oregano or to taste

1 tsp salt, or to taste

1 cube vegetable or chicken bouillon

Protein options: 2 cups crab meat, 1/2 lb cubed tofu, 1/2 lb shrimp, fish, chicken or pork.

1 large lime, in quarters

Brown rice to serve

Procedure:

1. Cook the crabs, breadfruit and greens (if using greens that need pre-cooking) in advance, this makes assembly of the dish easy.

2. Get a large pot, add the oil and saute the onion along with the allspice leaf, allspice seeds, peppercorns, habanero peppers, recado, tamarind, oregano and bouillon.

3. When soft add the salt, garlic and tomatoes, the greens and the breadfruit and enough water to cover everything.

4. Simmer for about 20 minutes over medium-low heat, then add the chopped okra and vinegar. If using tofu, diced raw chicken or pork, add it now as well. Simmer for another 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep anything from sticking, then remove from the heat. If you are using raw fish, remove the bones, cut it into bite sized pieces and add it to the stew 5-10 minutes after the okra and vinegar. Cook just until the fish is done, then remove from heat. If using cooked crab meat, stir it in right before serving. Taste and adjust the seasonings before everything is cooked through.

5. Serve over brown rice with lime wedges to squeeze over the stew.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Happy Blogiversary! One year of Rice and Beans

This, my 101st post, is to commemorate a little happening that slipped by me while I was enjoying myself on the farm. That notable event was the 1 year anniversary of Rice and Beans: A Belizean in DC.

Its hard to believe that a year has passed since I started this blog, but in fact it has only been 12 months and 2 weeks since I posted my first post and started on this fateful journey. It has been a fun and delectable one, that is for sure!

With school I have found it hard at times to post as much as I would like, and I dearly wish that I had more time to browse other blogs and participate in blogging events. Despite this, I have greatly enjoyed interacting with my fellow food bloggers, reading their wonderful blogs, trying their recipes and drooling over their photos. Thanks to all of you and to all my readers out there for your helpful comments and emails and general encouragement. Its nice to know that I'm not blogging in a vacuum!

But beyond the amiable community of the food blogging world this little web page has brought even greater opportunities and changes to my life. Early this spring I received an email from one Dr. Richard Wilk, an anthropologist at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, and the director of the country's first PhD program in the Anthropology of Food. Dr. Wilk has conducted extensive research in my home country of Belize for the past 20 years, a good portion of which focused on the intersections between agriculture, food, culture and globalisation. He has published a great book about his findings, called Home Cooking in the Global Village, which I own and highly recommend. (It now smells strongly of Belizean coconut rum thanks to the adventures that my lost and now recovered luggage experienced a couple days ago, but that seems almost appropriate when I think about it).

Dr. Wilk found me through my blog and emailed me to let me know about the PhD program that he is directing. As I am currently in the middle of a masters degree in Anthropology, with plans to continue on to a PhD, I was quick to visit the Indiana University site. I was interested in what I saw and continued to correspond with Dr. Wilk over the succeeding months. Then coincidentally it turned out that he would be in Belize at the same time that I was. We ended up planning a meeting and I got to have dinner with him and his wife, archaeologist Anne Pyburn. We dined exceedingly well, but the most exciting part of the whole thing was talking to anthropologists who were interested in food, specifically Belizean food.

My little blog is to be thanked for giving me the opportunity to meet Dr. Wilk and Dr. Pyburn and to learn about Indiana University's PhD program. I will be visiting the campus on September 19th, and applying to the program this fall. If all goes well, Rice and Beans in DC will become Rice and Beans in Bloomington as I move to Indiana in August 2009 to start a PhD in the Anthropology of Food.

Its exciting to contemplate this next chapter in my life, and I owe this opportunity to food blogging. So on the first anniversary of Rice and Beans in DC, I would like to pose a toast to my blog and to many more posts!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Homemade Belizean Pepper Sauce



I am back from Belize after a especially long trip to DC. The Miami International Airport was temporarily shut down due to electrical storms, and my luggage-which contains my precious coconut rum as well as various jars of canned delicacies- is still missing as I type this. The airline wouldn't pay for my hotel room because the delays were weather related. But at least I made it safely to Washington DC, albeit a day late.

Now, with daily access to the Internet I look forward to regaling you all with tales of Belizean food and my own tropical creations. I thought I would start with a little recipe that I used on my last day on the farm, to turn some left over habanero peppers into a fiery hot sauce for my parents. This recipe is a great way to use up any hot peppers, so feel free to try it with different types that you may have languishing in your garden or on your counter top.

The habanero, long famed as the world's hottest pepper, has in recent years lost that title to much hotter capsicums discovered in India and Pakistan. However it remains renowned for its fruity and scorching hot flavour. The habanero, especially an orange variety known as the "Scotch Bonnet", forms the base of Belize's most ubiquitous hot sauce, Marie Sharps. However today I want to focus on another hot sauce-a homemade hot sauce that, in these times of economic uncertainty, provides Belizeans with the heat that they seek without having to pay for a bottle of the commercially prepared stuff.

The recipe is so ridiculously simple that anyone can make it, but I strongly urge you purchase a pair of protective gloves before you start. You may be able to eat habaneros without fear, but getting the juice all over your hands will make them burn uncomfortably for hours.


Homemade Habanero Pepper Sauce

About 1 dozen habanero peppers (if you grow your own you should have no trouble getting this many. They are also sold in some Latin markets and some supermarkets in the USA).

About 2 cups of plain white vinegar, or another vinegar of your choice.

1 medium white onion

Optional: 1 small carrot, grated.

1 glass jar with a lid (a leftover peanut butter, jelly or pasta sauce jar with a wide mouth is ideal)

Procedure:

1. Briefly wash the habaneros and remove the stems. Wearing rubber or polyurethane gloves and using a sharp knife, finely chop the habaneros, seeds and all.

2. Peel and finely chop the onion. Grate the carrot, if using.

3. Dump both chilis and onion (and carrot) into the jar and cover with the vinegar. Stir and close the lid. This sauce will keep perfectly well on your kitchen or dining room table, but you can also keep it in the fridge if you so desire. Keep a little spoon around to dip out the spicy mixture. If you want a little less heat, just use a little of the fiery vinegar instead of the chopped habanero itself.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A few pictures...


I don't have time today to write up a long recipe so I mean to entertain you with a few pictures from the farm. Yesterday my good friend Dr. S. and I got up at dawn to collect bait and in the cool and calm early morning we caught three nice fish: two mangrove snappers and a yellow tail jack. All were grilled on the stove-top in foil and made a delicious lunch and dinner with black beans, rice, roasted breadfruit and okra for accompaniment. Not to mention my Mom's homemade bread and lots of guacamole (the avocados are just raining down from the trees these last couple of days). I didn't get a picture of the spread because it disappeared too fast!!

All I can say is that its a good thing we took a long hike in the jungle after lunch! Check out the strange seeds we happened across. Bright colors like that usually mean "stay away, I am poisonous", so I did not sample these. Pretty though.


I'll show you how we cooked this critter later, but big land crabs are a real delicacy in Belize, and the rainy season is the best time to catch them, so I made sure to grab some during my stay at home.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Blogging from Belize and Papaya Pickles


That's right folks, I'm in Belize again, for three solid weeks on the farm before I return to the hustle and bustle of Washington DC. I'm absolutely loving it. I am eating breadfruit, okra, mangoes, avocados and papaya straight from the farm, working in the garden and spending every minute of the day outside. Its a far cry from my receptionist job in the city-there's actually sunshine and rain. I missed the weather badly and now I'm living in it, and with it, everyday. It is wet season here, so the steady drum of rain drops on the tin roof lull me to sleep at night. Much more relaxing than police sirens. This week I climbed a mango tree, helped prop up fallen citrus trees in our orchard and split a ripe tangerine with our dog Mattie (Mattie has a broad and discerning palate and appreciates the taste of many tropical fruits).

We have tons of papayas on the farm right now thanks to three prolific trees that I planted in the garden last time I was here. Papaya trees like rich, well drained soil and so they don’t usually do too well in the waterlogged clay found across our farm. However, these babies got their start in a big pile of rotted cacao pods, rich and teaming with worms.

Now we are reaping the benefits of that soil amendment, in the form of ripe and green papayas. Most people think of papaya as a fruit or dessert course, but it is very tasty eaten green as a vegetable, as anyone who has been to a Thai restaurant, where green papaya salad is a favorite appetizer, can attest. Diced and boiled, roasted or steamed, green papaya makes a nice vegetable with a slightly sweet flavour and the texture of a smooth summer squash.

This recipe is from Euell Gibbons famous book, the Beachcomber’s Handbook, which chronicles his three years living off the land in Oahu not long after the end of the Second World War. The papaya pickle is made using a half ripe papaya-only pale orange inside and still quite firm.

Papaya Pickles

Peel and cut one medium papaya into spears.You should get around 5-6 cups of spears. Bring a pot of water to a boil and drop the papaya in, cook for 5 minutes, then drain.

Meanwhile make a syrup with 2-1/2 cups of sugar and 2-1/2 cups of vinegar (I used a mixture of white and cider vinegar). Add 2 teaspoons salt, 10-15 peppercorns, 16 whole cloves, 10 whole allspice berries, 2 bay leaf (I used a large allspice leaf) and if desired, 4-5 of the tiny fiery hot bird peppers common across Central America and the Caribbean (you may substitute a finely chopped habanero or jalapeƱo). Bring to a boil and add the partially cooked papaya spears. Cook in the pickling mixture for 12 minutes, then seal in sterilized jars*. Let sit for at least 3-4 days before trying them so the pickle mixture has time to fully permeate the papaya.

* To sterilize jars take thoroughly washed glass jars and their lids, (your empty peanut butter or jelly jars will be perfect for this), and place them mouth side down in a shallow pan filled with 2-3 inches of water. Place the lids face up, fully submerged under the water. Bring to a boil and boil for 10 minutes, then lower the heat and use tongs and oven mitts to take out one jar at a time. Pack the papaya spears into the jar, then seal with the hot lid. Let sit until completely cool before storing. The pickles do not need to be refrigerated until the jar is opened and the seal is broken.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Salmon Salad with Roasted Summer Vegetables


I had 7 ounces of salmon sitting in my fridge last night when I got home from work, but I just wasn't in the mood for my typical weekday treatment of this fish: spritz with olive oil and lemon, add salt and pepper, bake until done and eat with rice. It tastes good, don't get me wrong, but I have a kitchen bursting full of produce from the farmers market this week and I wanted something more exciting, something that would showcase some of the mid-summer vegetables that have just begun to appear in the stands and stalls of my favorite produce purveyors.

A quick Internet search revealed that Salmon Salad is a rather popular item and that pairing it with pasta is a classic combination. Most of the recipes I found mix the salmon and pasta with raw vegetables such as celery and onion. My salad takes a slightly different approach. The salmon and the vegetables are all roasted together and then combined with the pasta at the end. Fresh dill, lemon juice, a dash of white wine and capers liven up the rich flavours of the roasted veggies and perfectly complement the salmon. An optional touch of red pepper flakes adds a nice spark to this salad. I ate this hot for dinner last night and cold for lunch today and it was good both ways.

This recipe is a great way to use some of the summer vegetables that may be crowding your kitchen or garden. If you have zucchini, here is the place to use it. I think diced bell peppers would be an excellent addition to the roasting pan as well.


Salmon Salad with Roasted Summer Vegetables
Serves three, about 310 calories per serving or 930 calories total.

7 ounces of salmon fillet, no skin (wild caught is considered most sustainable)

4 ounces of whole wheat fusilli pasta (about 2 cups dry), cooked and drained

1 pint of cherry tomatoes

1 or 2 (or 3!) medium zucchini, about 7 inches long, cut into bite sized chunks

2 small onions, peeled and cut into wedges

6-12 cloves of garlic, peeled and cut into 2-3 pieces (I used 12 cloves, which my boyfriend thought was too much. It seemed fine to me, but let your conscience-and your palate-be your guide)

1/2 lemon

2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (to taste)

2 tablespoons capers

2 tsp olive oil

large grained sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

Optional: 2 tablespoons dry white wine (I used a Savignon Blanc)

Optional: 1 tsp red pepper flakes (I think this is a good addition but if you don't like spiciness at all it can be omitted)

Optional: about 1/2 cup thinly sliced fennel (omit if you don't like its slightly licorice flavour)


Procedure:

1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Prep your garlic and dump it in a large, lightly oiled (1 tsp of the olive oil should do the trick) baking pan. Because the garlic needs a bit more roasting time then the rest of the ingredients, go ahead and put the pan in the oven now while you continue to prepare the rest of the vegetables. Once you have your zucchini, onion and tomatoes (along with optional fennel or perhaps bell pepper) ready for the pan, pull the garlic out of the oven and add the rest of the ingredients, along with half the chopped dill and a few lacy fronds from the fennel bulb, if you are using it.

2. Lay the salmon fillet in the middle of pan with the vegetables, and season the whole shebang with large grained sea salt, fresh ground black pepper and the red pepper flakes, if using. Spritz on another 1/2 to 1 tsp olive oil and stir the vegetables gently to coat them, then pop the whole thing back in the oven and let it bake for about 15 minutes, stirring the vegetables so they cook evenly.

3. Check the salmon when it is done, turn on the broiler and place the pan under it for a couple minutes to lightly brown the vegetables. If you don't have a broiler, this step is not necessary, but it is a nice touch.

4. Turn off the broiler, and place the pan on the stove-top. Add the two tablespoons of white wine, if you are using it, as well as the juice of half a lemon (and some of the zest if you like), the capers, the remaining dill and the whole wheat fusilli. Stir to combine, taste and adjust the seasonings as necessary. Serve warm or cold.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Grilled Zucchini Wraps with Pineapple and Smoked Paprika


I know what I'm eating for the rest of the summer. I thought it was going to be ice cream, but it turns out I was wrong. I have discovered the perfect summer food, and I am going to enjoy it as long as I can. I have made and devoured these grilled zucchini wraps three times now and they are the most mouthwatering, flavourful and versatile meal I've had in ages.

These wraps are serious contenders in a field normally dominated by field fresh tomatoes and corn on the cob, farm house mozzarella and home grown basil. They are fresh, bursting with the flavours of summer, and quick and easy to make even if you live in an apartment with no balcony and don't have a real grill. The paprika adds a wonderful smokiness to the vegetables even without charcoal and the cumin, chipotle and olive oil combine with the sweetness of the pineapple to wow the tongue with every bite.

The key to this wrap is fresh ingredients. Obviously unless you live in the tropics, your pineapple is going to be a bit ship worn, but look for one that smells ripe (stick your nose close to it. If you don't smell anything, don't buy it). If at all possible, buy your zucchini organic and local, and get small ones, the big boys tend to be tough and we don't want that. Same goes for the tomato. We want the freshest, ripest and most flavourful tomato one can find. If you can pick it from your backyard, all the better. If not, try to find a local farmer you can buy some from. Tomatoes that are shipped long distances (say, from California to Washington DC) are usually picked before they ripen fully, and they never have the flavour and texture of those plucked ripe from the vine.


Grilled Zucchini Wraps with Pineapple and Smoked Paprika

Makes two wraps. This is a very forgiving recipe, so if you don't happen to have a fresh pineapple sitting on your counter, go ahead and try it without, or substitute mango or peaches. You won't have the same distinct pineapple flavour, but it will still be good. Personally I ate this twice before thinking of adding pineapple to it, and it was delicious without any fruit at all.

While this wrap is great as is, you can also add grilled tofu or tempeh or some fish, shrimp or chicken. Just rub your protein of choice with the same spices as the veggies, grill until done, and add to your tortilla. If you are using fish you probably will want to wrap it in tin foil so it doesn't flake apart on your grill. With both the fish and chicken you may want to pull the meat apart into little pieces, carnitas-style, so that you can easily chow down on your wrap.

Finally, you can also experiment with different vegetables. Personally I plan to try this with some young eggplant, you might also want to use strips of bell pepper for a classic fajita-style combo. If it sounds good, it probably is, so let your palate be your guide and don't worry about straying from the recipe, that's how new ones are invented!

I grilled my zucchini on a small, plug-in George Foreman counter top electric grill. If you are lucky enough to have the real deal, lucky you! If you don't have any type of grill, you can simply cook the pineapple and veggies in a dry cast iron, or in a pinch, non-stick, pan. Keep an eye on them so they don't stick and cook until the onion is slightly caramelized and the zucchini and pineapple have softened. If you have a grill pan, use that to get those awesome stripey grill marks.

4 ounces zucchini (1 medium zucchini, about 7 inches long, or 2 small ones)

1 medium tomato

about 2 ounces of pineapple, or 4 or 5 thin strips, cut vertically (top to bottom) from the fruit.

1/8-1/4 tsp smoked Spanish paprika ( I used pimento de la vera)

1/8-1/4 tsp ground cumin

about 1/8 tsp ground chipotle pepper or to taste

Salt and fresh ground black pepper

1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil

2 whole wheat tortillas or wraps (use your favorite wrap of choice)

1 lime cut into wedges

A small handful of cilantro, chopped

Procedure:

1. Fire up your grill, plug in your George Foreman or pull out your grill pan and turn on the burner. While your method of choice is heating up, wash the zucchini and slice it very thinly lengthwise into strips. Peel and thinly slice the onion. Cut the top and bottom off of the pineapple, then cut a wedge out like you would from a melon. Once you have the slice in hand, lay it skin side down on your cutting board and run a sharp knife along between the skin and the flesh to remove the skin. Cut out any eyes with the tip of your knife. Then cut the wedge into several very thin slices lengthwise. Note: By peeling the slice after cutting it from the pineapple, you can leave the rest of the pineapple unpeeled, wrap it in plastic wrap or a plastic bag and store it for up to a week in the fridge. If you peel the whole fruit at once, you will want to use it all in the next couple days. To see a tutorial of how to peel a whole pineapple, go here.

2. Toss the zucchini, onion and pineapple in a bowl. Spritz lightly with about half a teaspoon of olive oil. Using your hands, toss the fruit and vegetables until they are lightly coated with oil, then add the spices and toss again until they are evenly seasoned.

3. Lay the slices carefully on your grill and cook until you get good grill marks and the onions are soft. Turn the zucchini and pineapple to mark both sides. On my Foreman grill it only took 2-3 minutes on each side to cook the zucchini and caramelize the onions and pineapple. Be especially careful with the pineapple, since the sugars in the fruit burn easily. Meanwhile, heat up the tortillas, either on the grill or grill-pan or in a hot, un-greased frying pan (preferably cast iron).

4. Place a hot tortilla on a plate and load it up with onion, zucchini and pineapple. Top with thinly sliced tomato. If you grilled any meat, fish or tofu, add it to the wrap as well. If you like, you can add some mayo, Cajun remoulade or any other spread to the tortilla. However, the wrap is just as good with a hearty sprinkle of chopped cilantro and a big squeeze of lime juice. I like a little hot sauce on top too, but then I think everything is better with hot sauce.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tried and Tasted Roundup: One Hot Stove, and July's Challenge!

I have an recipe file in my inbox where I store all the wonderful, mouthwatering, fabulous foods that I run across while surfing through my fellow bloggers posts. I have literally hundreds of recipes stashed away, some of which I have tried, the majority of which I have only drooled over. In there right now are a bunch of recipes from One Hot Stove, which was selected by Zlamushka of Zlamushka's Spicy Kitchen for the month of June's Tried and Tasted event.

You may recall that I participated in the inaugural session of this great new food blogger event by making Peanut Punch from Cynthia's blog Tastes like Home. Unfortunately, all my great plans for making something delicious (Puris? Halwa?Maybe a snack food from the streets of Mumbai to take me back to days as a teenager travelling with aunt in India?), fell by the wayside as my June got busier and busier. It was after the 4th of July when I realized I had missed the thing entirely.

Luckily other people managed to find the time. The number of participants is growing by leaps and bounds-51 people cooked something from One Hot Stove, testing a total of 53 different recipes. You can see the full spectrum of the delicious appetizers, snacks, drinks, main courses, sides and desserts right here on Zlamushka's blog.

And if, like me, you didn't manage to participate in the June event, July is here and so is the next blog to be Tried and Tasted. This time it is Meeta's blog, What's for Lunch Honey? that will face the T&T challenge. Head over to One Spicy Kitchen to learn how to participate and then to Meeta's blog to pick something to try from her delicious recipe index. Personally I'm eying the lemon and coconut cake...

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Breakfast Series #10: A Belizean Breakfast

Today I enjoyed a classic Belizean breakfast...for lunch. At 2 in the afternoon even calling it brunch was pushing it a little. But I needed to hit the gym before chowing down on this spread. This meal comprises some of the classics of generic Belizean cooking. Fry jacks, a fried dough triangle similar to Indian puris, are made out of flour tortilla dough and deep fried until they puff up and turn a golden brown. They are usually served for breakfast with refried beans and hot sauce enhanced scrambled eggs, and sometimes with callaloo, which is what we in Belize call amaranth greens. While the callaloo is only an occasional accompaniment to this meal, I think it helps to round out an otherwise protein and carbohydrate heavy breakfast. Normally it would be scrambled with the eggs, but in deference to my significant other, who has a fear of green things, I served it separately.

You will find this breakfast in most restaurants across Belize. As a child growing up fry jacks with refried beans and eggs were a treat to be had on town day, at a local restaurant, or on the odd weekend when my father would make them, stuffing the fry jack dough with banana mashed with cinnamon and nutmeg before deep frying them in a smoking hot cast iron dutch oven over our wood stove (you won't find his non-traditional version on most Belizean tables).

Fry jacks are normally served with savory accompaniments, but they are also great spread with jam and topped with a slice of cheese. Imported foods play an important role in Belizean national cuisine, a fact which the fry jack, which is made with imported wheat flour, clearly illustrates. A truly indigenous breakfast would be based on a pile of freshly made corn tortillas and home grown beans, but despite the cost of flour, fry jacks are exceedingly popular across the country. Try out the recipe yourself and you will see why.

The callaloo was stir fried with some garlic while the eggs were scrambled with a habanero pepper jack cheese from our farmer's market that is sold under the apt name "dragon's breath". Of course, that didn't keep me from adding more Marie Sharp's hot sauce while I was eating. The refried beans were from a can ( I know this makes me a bad Belizean!) but I gussied them up by sauteing recado, oregano, cumin seed and onion before adding the beans.

Fry Jacks

Fry jacks are made out of flour tortilla dough that is deep fried instead of baked. Traditionally flour tortilla dough is made with lard, but in Belize many people have replaced it with cheap vegetable shortening imported from abroad. Most recently I have seen Belizean recipes for fry jacks calling for the use of vegetable oil. This recipe uses oil because I wanted to avoid the saturated fats found in most vegetable shortening. I couldn't tell a difference in the flavour or texture between vegetable shortening and vegetable oil based recipes. I also substituted 1/4 of the flour with whole wheat flour to add a little whole grain.

This recipe makes 32 fry jacks, but you can keep some of the dough balls in a ziplock bag in the fridge for several days, so you don't have to cook them all at once. Each triangle of dough is 46 calories, which does not include the oil that it will pick up when fried.

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1-1/2 cup white flour

1-1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup vegetable oil

about 3/4 cup of water or as needed

Procedure:

1. Belizean cooks will "knead some flour" as flour tortilla making is called, on a big round board specially designed for tortilla making. You can use a clean counter top. If you want to make it even easier (though less traditional) you can also use a mixing bowl. Measure out your flour, salt and baking powder into a pile on your counter top. Make a well in the center and pour in the vegetable oil. Using your hands, work the oil into the flour until you have little pebbles of oil saturated dough evenly distributed throughout the flour.

2. Make a new well in the center of the mixture and pour in the water a little at a time, using your other hand to stir the flour into the water in the center of your pile. Keep adding the water and mixing it in a little at a time until you have formed the entire pile of flour into a rough ball of slightly sticky dough. If you are using a bowl, do the same thing. Depending on the moisture content of your flour you may need more or less water to obtain a slightly sticky consistency.

3. Once you have your dough, liberally sprinkle your counter with flour and begin to knead. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes until it is smooth and stretchy. Then roll it out into a snake shape and cut it into 8 equal sized pieces. Take each piece and roll it into a ball between your two palms (or on the counter top). Cover the dough and leave the balls to rest on a lightly floured surface for at least 30 minutes.

4. Once the dough has rested, take a deep sauce pan and fill it with at least 2 inches of high temperature cooking oil. I used grape seed oil, but canola or sunflower would work as well. Set over high heat. To test if the oil is hot enough drop a tiny scrap of dough into the pot. If it bobs merrily to the surface upon contact, the oil is ready. If your oil starts smoking, its probably a bit too hot, so turn down the burner a little. And don't forget to retrieve your test scrap or else it will start smoking too as it turns into a little piece of wizened carbon.

Now grab one of the dough balls and pat it out into a circle, about 6 inches across. Take a knife or pizza cutter and cut the circle into four pieces. Once your oil is hot, drop one piece into the saucepan. It should cook very quickly, so don't leave it alone. After 10-20 seconds, check to see if the side in the oil has browned. If so, flip the fry jack over with a fork and let the other side cook, then lift it out with a slotted spoon. As a child making fry jacks on the farm, I used old dry banana leaves to soak up the excess oil, but you can let them drain on a plate lined with paper towels.

If you are serving these with refried beans and eggs (and you really should), I strongly suggest you make the refried beans before cooking the fry jacks. The eggs can then be quickly scrambled afterwards, while the fry jacks stay warm in the oven. Cold fry jacks are certainly edible (try one with some jam), but nothing beats a freshly made one with some refried beans, so please don't try cooking them ahead of time.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Breakfast Series # 9 : 5 Spice Muffins

Behold! The Golden Muffin! Glowing in the morning sun! Ever-ready to bring fiber, flavour and sustenance to the masses. Standard-bearer for the forces of breakfast, fighting against the apathy of sickeningly sweet pop tarts, diet colas in the car on the way to work, and the greasy, cold, post-meeting doughnut. I hail thee as my snack saviour, picking me up at ten in the morning or three in the afternoon, perfect plain or toasted, warm or cold. Thanks to thee, Golden Muffin, I can blithely turn my back on those tarted up monster cupcakes in the break-room, and enjoy a tastier treat by far: a sweet, but flavorful muffin packed full of banana and spices, candied ginger and dates. Who needs Au Bon Pain with you around? Today I take a stand and say "not I!".


5 Spice Muffins (with dates, crystallized ginger and bananas)
This recipe makes 11 muffins-not quite the round number I was looking for but that is how many it makes. Each one is about 167 calories, or 1839 calories for the whole recipe. There is no added sugar in the ingredients list because the dates and the candied ginger, which is cooked in a sugar syrup, add more than enough sweetness to the muffins.

1-3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour (may substitute all purpose flour)
1-1/2 tsp five spice powder
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup canola, sunflower or grape seed oil
1/4 cup egg white (about one large egg white)
1/2 cup 1% or other low fat/fat free milk
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
2-1/2 ounces or about 1/3 cup of finely chopped dates (I like medjool dates best because they are more moist)
1 ounce of candied ginger, finely chopped (a heaping 1/4 cup)


Procedure:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and prepare a muffin tin. Mash the bananas and add the egg white, oil, milk and chopped dates.

2. Stir together the flour, soda, baking powder and spices and salt in a bowl. Add the finely chopped candied (also called crystallized) ginger and stir so the flour coats and separates each piece. You will notice that there is NO SUGAR in this recipe. This is not a typo. The crystallized ginger, the bananas and the dates add more than enough sweetness to these muffins, making extra sugar unnecessary.

3. Stir the wet mixture into the dry and mix swiftly to combine. Don't over mix, just make sure that everything is just blended together and then fill each tin 2/3 full of batter. Bake for about 25 minutes. Keep an eye on the muffins during the last 10 minutes, as they may be ready sooner in your oven.

4. Let the muffins cool completely before storing in a Ziploc bag with a sheet of paper towel. Make sure to squeeze all the air out before sealing it and the muffins will keep fine this way for several days. After that, move the Ziploc to the freezer where they can be stored for several months.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Pickled Mushrooms

Heaven knows I like my pickles. I think its a genetic thing. Vinegar and spices run through my Germanic veins and my Pennsylvania Deutsch ancestry practically demands that I crave some sours along with my sweets. In fact, this recipe is the result of recent exposure to some Pennsylvanian food. Pickled mushrooms were served at my cousin's wedding in Reading, PA over memorial day. While they are actually more Italian then German, the Germans know good food when they see it, so they were quick to adopt these Mediterranean treats.

I returned to DC determined to make my own. After searching the Internet and finding multiple recipes, I combined what I liked best about several of them and came up with the version you see below. But before I could try it I had to get my mushrooms. On my lunch break I headed down to Whole Foods one day and positioning myself in front of the crimini bin, began to assiduously pick my way through, plucking out the smallest mushrooms I could find. Soon a man sidled up next to me and began doing the same thing, except he grabbed the largest specimens in the box. A peaceful coexistence reigned as each person's trash became the others treasure. I would like to end this paragraph with a great punch line, maybe with the man turning to me with some witty remark, but I'm afraid we each went our way without any sitcom style exchanges. I don't think the mushrooms suffered from the lack of dialogue, but it would have made for a better blog post, no? Either way, if you like pickles and mushrooms, you definitely want to try out this recipe. And if you can't think of what you would do with them, scroll to the bottom of this post for some ideas.


Pickled Mushrooms

Makes about 5 cups, 617 calories for the whole recipe or about 62 calories per half cup serving.

1 lb Crimini or white button mushrooms (use the smallest ones you can find)
2 medium onions, sliced and separated into rings
About 3 ounces of red bell pepper cut into strips (about 1 small pepper, use more or less, to taste)
1-1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1-1/2 cup water
2-1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp whole allspice berries (you may omit this if you can't find them)
2 bay leaves
2 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 tsp hot pepper flakes or to taste
Dash of ground cloves
1/2 tsp mustard seeds



Procedure:

1. You will need a medium saucepan and a big pot, 3 pint, 6 half pint or 2 quart jars with lids (try using your old, clean pasta sauce or peanut butter jars for this). Make sure the rubber seal on the inside of the lids is intact. Fill the big pot with about 3 inches of water and place the lids face up in the water, and the jars mouth down on top of them. They don't have to line up, they just need to be under the water. Place the pot over high heat while you get started with the mushrooms.

2. Thoroughly clean your mushroom of choice, and prep your other vegetables. Feel free to use different spices than the ones that I list here, you will still get a good result, just different flavours.

3. Combine the spices, salt, sugar, water, vinegar, onion rings and pepper in the medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then add the mushrooms and let simmer for about 5 minutes. Stir so that the mushrooms all get a bath in the spicy broth. Take the saucepan off the heat.

4. By now the big pot with your jars should be boiling. Let it boil for about 10 minutes, then turn off the heat.

5. Using oven mitts and a pair of tongs, pull a jar out of the big pot, set it right side up on the counter and using a ladle or a cup measure, dip the hot pickling mixture out of the saucepan and fill your jar, leaving about half an inch of air at the very top. Use tongs to fish a lid out of the big pot and your oven mitts to tighten it down on your jar of pickles. Set aside and repeat until you are out of mushrooms.

6. You are done! This whole recipe can be put together in about an hour, including veggie prep time. Unfortunately you have to wait a while before you can enjoy the fruits of your labor. Set those alluring jars aside to cool completely and then put them in your cupboard for at least a week before opening. If you try them sooner, the mushrooms wont have absorbed the full flavour from the pickling juice. Once the jar has been opened, the seal will be broken, so then you will want to keep it in the fridge.


Some ideas for your pickled mushrooms:

1. Blend or mince finely and mix with mayo or mustard and use as a spread in your favorite sandwich.

2. Top a salad with a couple of these for a delicious accompaniment.

3. Use the mushrooms (and onion and pepper) as a topping on your next pizza.

4. Toss with some short pasta and a bit of mayo for a great pasta salad.

5. My favorite way: sneak into the kitchen just before bed and eat them out of the jar with a fork.