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)


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


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
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


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!


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


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.