Blog

Nyonya Chicken Curry In Singapore

Singapore has always been a meeting place of cultures. Founded by the British and located strategically midway on the shipping lanes from India to China, it's population is predominantly Chinese, Malay and Indian. As you wander through the immaculately clean streets of the city, you find elaborately carved Hindu temples minutes away from Chinese street markets and colonial era British hotels.

Singapore is a food lover's delight, for you can find every variety of cuisine. In a single city block you can sample Chinese dumplings, Indian curries and  Malaysian satays. The variety of street food is incredible and one of the great delights of visiting Singapore is strolling through the hawker centres, sampling an incredible variety of dishes or wandering along the waterfront savouring the different aromas wafting from the restaurants lining it, while trying to decide where to eat.

Singapore does not just serve dishes from other countries but has evolved its own cuisine, popularly known as Nyonya or Peranakan food, which is a unique fusion of Chinese and Malay cooking styles. Peranakans are descendants of early Chinese settlers in Malaysia, who intermarried with the local people and created a unique hybrid culture and cuisine. Nyonya food is deliciously spicy, rich with coconut milk, tamarind and nuts and fragrant with the use of lemongrass, galangal and fresh coriander.

Nyonya style chicken curry with its subtle nuances of flavour was one of my very favourite dishes to eat in Singapore. Served with some steaming hot rice, it was a great way to unwind after a day of sightseeing.

It is not difficult to make at home and here I have modified the recipe to incorporate readily available ingredients and make it easier to prepare. It tastes every bit as good as the original version we ate in Singapore! Oven roasting the spiced marinated chicken helps intensify the flavours. If you wish it to be hotter, just increase the amount of cayenne pepper.

For a change of pace, you can substitute lamb, paneer or tofu for the chicken and follow the basic recipe below. Serve with a bowl of Nasi Goreng for a hearty, satisfying meal!

Nyonya Chicken Curry

1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 8), cut into quarters

4 tbsp oil, divided

Salt to taste

1 tsp curry powder, divided; tamarind paste, sugar

1/2 tsp each: turmeric, paprika, cayenne pepper, divided

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 inch piece ginger, finely chopped

6-7 blanched macadamia nuts or almonds

1 cup canned coconut milk

2 each, whole: cardamom, cloves

1 each: cinnamon stick (1 inch piece), star anise, bay leaf

1 stalk lemongrass, cut into 2 inch pieces and smashed lightly, optional

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

Preheat oven to 420F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

In large bowl, combine chicken, 2 tbsp oil, salt, 1/2 tsp curry powder and 1/4 tsp each of turmeric, paprika and cayenne. Mix well, spread chicken and all its marinade on tray. Bake for 15 min. or until it is cooked through and lightly golden. Reserve chicken and all its juices.

Meanwhile, warm remaining 2 tbsp oil in deep non stick skillet. Add onions, garlic, ginger and macadamia nuts or almonds. Saute for 5 min. or until softened and lightly browned. Remove from oil (reserve skillet for later use in recipe) and transfer to a blender or food processor, along with coconut milk, tamarind paste, sugar, salt, remaining curry powder, turmeric, cayenne and paprika. Blend to a smooth paste.

Warm leftover oil in skillet and add whole cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, star anise and bay leaf, sizzle them for 30 sec. Add sauteed onion paste from blender, lemongrass (if using) and the chicken with all its juices.

Mix well, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook uncovered for 15 min. The sauce should be very thick and clinging to the chicken at the end of cooking. If it is not thick enough, cook for a few min. longer.

Fold in the chopped coriander and serve.

Serves four

Spicy Tomato Soup (Rasam) in Belur

Some of the most historic and artistic sights in India are to be found near Bangalore: the ornate temple complexes of Belur and Halebid, and the great awe inspiring statue of Bahubali at Shravanabelagola. If you are ever in Bangalore, you must spend a day visiting all three of these places, for they are sights that you will never forget.

Belur and Halebid are both elaborate temple complexes that date back to the 12th century. They are famous for the elaborate stone carvings that adorn the buildings, illustrating stories from the great Hindu epics. Images of gods and goddesses, bulls, and mythological  beasts, carved in amazing, intricate detail fill every inch of wall space. Here, you will feel transported back in time as you marvel at the thousands of miniature statues carved straight out of rock.

Shravanabelagola is a pilgrimage site for followers of the Jain faith, where you climb steps up a steep hill at the top of which towers a 57 foot high statue of Bahubali, a Jain saint. Over a thousand years old, it is carved from a single rock and is the tallest monolithic statue in the world.

The climb up the steep hill to the Bahuabali shrine can be quite exhausting, so it is a good idea to fortify yourself with a paper cone of freshly roasted peanuts or a refreshing drink of green coconut water at the base of the hill.

When driving from Bangalore to all of these places, there are plenty of opportunities to stop at the many roadside cafes along the route and sample authentic local fare. We made sure to stop at several of them! I always started with Rasam (spicy tomato soup), to warm me up. Our meals often expanded to include dosas (thin crepes made with a fermented batter of rice and lentils, stuffed with spicy potatoes), idlis (steamed rice cakes), vadas (deep fried lentil cakes, often served dipped in rasam or with coconut chutney on the side) and upma ( semolina cooked with spices and vegetables). Just getting to Belur was half the fun!

Rasam, a staple in every South Indian meal is considered to be a digestive. The recipe varies from region to region - sometimes it is just tamarind water cooked up with pepper, herbs and spices and other times it is tomatoes, lentils and spices cooked together to make a thin soup. My personal favourite is the one that combines all these elements in one recipe, the one I have provided here.

This is a hearty blend of tomatoes, lentils, tamarind, spices and herbs. In addition to being healthy, one bowl will banish all colds and put a smile on your face for the rest of the day!

This delicious spicy tomato lentil soup is fantastic for chasing away winter blahs. Add some leftover rice to it and you've got a perfect lunch to warm you up! If you'd like to make it spicier, invest in some rasam powder - it's a ready made spice mix for preparing rasam, available in Indian grocery stores.

Rasam

¼ cup *Tur Dal (split pigeon peas) or red lentils
1 lb. ripe Italian plum tomatoes (about 6), substitute canned if desired

1/4 inch piece of ginger
salt to taste
½ tsp turmeric
30 *fresh curry leaves
1 tsp *Rasam powder, optional

1/2 tsp *tamarind paste or 2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 dried red chilies
1/4 tsp each: black mustard seeds, cumin seeds, *fenugreek seeds (optional)

1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tsp each: ground black pepper, ground cumin, ground coriander, sugar
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves


Wash lentils and soak in water for 15 minutes. Chop tomatoes into small pieces. Drain lentils and place them along with the tomatoes and ginger in a deep saucepan. Add 3 cups water, salt, turmeric and 15 curry leaves. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium low, cover and cook till very soft, about 30 minutes. Puree mixture with a hand blender and then strain. Stir in Rasam powder and tamarind (if using) .
Warm oil in non stick skillet over medium high heat. Add the chillies, mustard, cumin and fenugreek seeds. As soon as they begin to splutter, add the chopped onions, garlic and remaining curry leaves. Sauté for about 5 minutes, until lightly browned. Add dal mixture to skillet along with pepper, ground cumin, ground coriander and sugar. Stir to mix, and cook for about 5 minutes, then mix in the chopped fresh coriander leaves and lemon juice (if using) and serve hot.
Serves four

*available in Indian stores

Chaat In Varanasi

Chaat.jpg

The word chaat in Hindi means to sample or to savour, and is also the name of India's favourite food. Chaat is not a single dish - the term covers an amazing variety of street food that is sold in small plates everywhere in India, from little carts on the street, handed out from hole-in-the wall stalls, or served in expensive restaurants. Most chaat dishes are designed to be eaten in a single bite, setting off a little explosion of flavour in your mouth that you savour as you move on in search of the next plate to sample.

Every city in India claims the honour of having the best chaat in the country, but in my opinion the ancient, holy city of Varanasi has some of the best chaat I've ever had as well as a well deserved reputation for creating some of the most innovative and delicious chaat in all of India. If you happen to visit Varanasi, be sure to start your trip with a sampling of chaat!

Varanasi is a city of temples, filled with pilgrims from every part of India. Temples line the banks of the Ganges, located at the top of the terraced ghats, where the faithful come to bathe. And chaat is a way of life in Varanasi, found in the maze of narrow lanes that form the old city, or on the banks of the Ganges river. People go on pilgrimage to Varanasi, to find salvation by bathing in its holy waters, but there is nothing to say that you can't have a nice snack along the way!

The most popular varieties of chaat are gol guppas (little puffed up discs stuffed with chutney and spicy tamarind water), samosas, tikki (potato croquettes), papdi (tiny deep fried discs topped with yogurt, chutney and chopped onions), chana masala (spicy chickpeas), pakoras and bhel puri (puffed rice mixed with chutney, chopped onions and tomatoes).

However, the one outstanding form of chaat that Varanasi is justly famous for is Tamatar (literally tomatoes). This divine dish is made by cooking down a whole lot of fresh ripe tomatoes and spices, mixing them with pan fried mashed potatoes and topping the whole thing with various chutneys, sauces, finely chopped red onions and fresh coriander. To have just one bite is enough to make you want to move to Varanasi permanently!

These days chaat can be found in most Indian restaurants all over the world. However, making it at home is easy too. Here's a recipe for Tikkis (stuffed potato croquettes) to start you off! Tikkis are usually served with a dollop of spiced yogurt, some tamarind chutney and chopped red onions. Sprinkle some chopped fresh coriander and cayenne pepper over top for added zest!

Alu Tikki

4 large Yukon Gold potatoes

2 tbsp all purpose flour

Salt to taste

1/2 tsp ground white pepper

1/2 cup frozen green peas

2 tbsp each: chopped fresh coriander, lemon juice

1/2 tsp each: grated or minced ginger, roasted ground cumin seeds, cayenne pepper

Oil for pan frying tikkis

Boil potatoes until very tender. Cool, peel and mash them.

Add flour, salt and pepper, mix well. Reserve potato mixture.

Boil peas until tender. Drain and transfer to a deep mixing bowl. Mash coarsely then add salt to taste, fresh coriander, lemon juice, ginger, cumin and cayenne. Mix well.

Divide potato mixture into 16 equal portions. Roll each into a smooth ball, then flatten slightly. Place about 1 tbsp of the pea mixture in the center of one flattened potato ball, cover with another and press seams gently to seal. Repeat with remaining potato balls and pea mixture.

Warm  about 3 tbsp oil in large non stick frying pan over medium high heat. Add potato tikkis in single layer; you may have to do this in two batches. Fry gently until golden and crisp, about 5 min per side. Repeat with remaining tikkis. Serve with chutney.

Makes 8 tikkis

 

Biryani In Hyderabad

me and pops.jpg

The perfect biryani – that is what we were looking for in Hyderabad. A biryani - rice layered with a spicy curry and cooked over low heat, is delicious anywhere but has reached perfection in the city of Hyderabad and has to be tried at least once.

True Hyderabadi cooking, local residents told us, would be found near the Charminar, the medieval gateway that is the most recognized symbol of the city. The four towering spires of the Charminar were a helpful landmark as we started our sightseeing, but despite them we soon lost our bearings, swept along by the crowds spilling out from the nearby mosque into the maze of alleyways that form the heart of the old city.

Being lost in the famous Laad Bazar is no misfortune, for there is something new to see around every corner. The lanes are lined with little shops brimming over with the treasures that Hyderabad is famed for – pearls, jewellery, inlaid metal work, silks, brocade, bangles, glassware and perfumes. Delicious scents wafting down the street told us that we had serendipitously found our destination: a restaurant whose biryani had been voted as the best in the city in a popular newspaper poll.

The centre-piece of our meal was, of course, the famed biryani: basmati rice fragrant with saffron and studded with tender morsels of lamb. Accompanying the rice, as is traditional, was mirchi ka salan - hot green peppers cooked with toasted spices, peanuts and tamarind extract. Next came a platter of succulent kababs and a bowl of pasanda (lamb pounded thin and simmered in a sautéed onion-almond cream sauce), which were eaten with naan. Dessert was faluda, vermicelli and tapioca seeds served in rose syrup mixed with milk.

After eating such a memorable meal, I couldn't wait to get back home to my kitchen and try my hand at making Hyderabadi biryani. In my recipe here, I have tried to simplify the cooking process while still holding on to the authentic flavours. Although lamb is rarely eaten in India - goat is the preferred meat - I have used lamb here because it is easier to obtain. If you can find goat meat, feel free to use that instead!

Lamb biryani-8.jpg

You can substitute chicken for the lamb and make a chicken biryani following the same recipe. I like to serve biryani with yogurt raita and fresh coriander-mint chutney on the side.

Lamb Biryani 

For the curry:
1 -1/4 lb. boneless leg of lamb, trimmed of fat and cubed into 1 inch pieces
1 medium onion, quartered
2 cloves of garlic
1 inch piece of ginger
1/4 cup plain yogurt
6 large canned whole plum tomatoes, lightly drained
Salt to taste
1 tsp each: ground coriander, ground cumin, garam masala, dried fenugreek leaves
½ tsp each: cayenne pepper, turmeric
2 tbsp oil
½ tsp cumin seeds

Place lamb in a large mixing bowl. Add all remaining ingredients except oil and cumin seeds, to food processor and mince well.  Pour over lamb and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours up to overnight.
Heat oil in deep non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add cumin seeds and let them sizzle for 30 seconds. Add lamb and all its marinade, stirring continuously for 5 mins. Cover and let mixture come to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cook until lamb is very tender, about 1 hour or longer. Stir occasionally. The sauce should be very thick and clinging to the lamb at the end of cooking. If there is still a lot of liquid left at the end of cooking, uncover skillet, turn up heat to medium high and cook off some of the excess. Reserve and refrigerate lamb curry until ready to make biryani.
 
For the biryani:
1 cup basmati rice
1 tbsp oil
½ tsp saffron strands
¼ cup warm water
2 tbsp melted butter
Optional garnish:
¼ cup golden fried onions
2 hard boiled eggs, peeled and quartered

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in deep saucepan set over high heat. Add rice and bring to a boil again. Reduce heat to medium and cook until the rice is just done but not mushy, about 7 mins. Drain and spread on a tray to cool.
Meanwhile, soak saffron in the warm water for 15 mins.
Choose a large heavy bottomed, deep saucepan with a tight fitting lid for assembling the biryani. Set it over medium high heat and add the oil. Add reserved lamb curry and spread it in an even layer in the bottom of the pan. Cover it completely with the rice. Sprinkle the saffron water over the rice. Drizzle melted butter over top. If you are using the optional garnishes, scatter them over top as well. Cover pan and let it heat up for 2-3 mins until the curry starts to bubble. Reduce heat to very low and let biryani cook for 1 hour. Uncover pan, making sure all the sauce has been absorbed by the rice.  Transfer to a platter, mixing it gently as you go.
Serves four

Adapted from  A taste of Hyderabad, Desi Life magazine, May 08, 2008

Coconut Malai Kababs In Bangalore

me in temple, 1.jpg

Bangalore will always be home for me. It doesn't matter how many years ago I left - having grown up and studied in the city, returning there always feels like homecoming. I try and visit Bangalore at least once a year to reconnect with family and friends.  Bangalore has a distinct perfume, redolent of blossoms, spices and cooking, that sweeps over me in a wave of nostalgia as soon as I step off the plane. The beautiful gardens, the blossoming flowers and the lush greenery on the drive home from the airport reminds me why this gracious city has always been known as the garden city of India.

The biggest attraction for me in visiting Bangalore is seeing my mother. Age has not slowed her down, she retains all her zest for life with the energy to match. Together we paint the town red! We visit relatives, eat in all our favourite restaurants, shop in every mall, watch her favourite soaps on TV at night and gossip non stop. It is the best two weeks of my life and I look forward to repeating it every year!

Like all of India, Bangalore is a deeply religious city and we pass many colourful temples and religious statues on our trips through the city. Some are small, little more than a statue of a deity placed in a niche at the base of a large spreading tree while some temples are huge, famous and very popular, with long lines of worshipers waiting patiently.

One of the charms of Bangalore is that it still retains a small town feel even though it has transformed into a big bustling city. So if you happen to get stuck in one of its many traffic jams, you can hop out and have refreshing green coconut water from a roadside vendor or buy some fresh fruit and vegetables for dinner from an open air stall. And if you are not in the mood for any of that, you can have freshly brewed tea or coffee from the thatched shop by the side of the road. It will even be brought right up to your car!

Bangalore cuisine has come a long way from the days when I lived there as a student, when the only restaurants in town served vegetarian South Indian food. Today you can find virtually any cuisine - not only North Indian restaurants serving kababs, naan, biryani and dal,  but also restaurants specializing in Lebanese, Chinese, Persian, Italian and Mexican food.

One recent addition to the North Indian restaurant scene is the hugely popular Punjab Grill. Their food is exceptional and their lamb seekh kababs amongst the best I've ever eaten. Their chef Bipin Kumar Saklani was kind enough to share his recipe with me and walk me through the steps involved in its preparation. I have adapted it here for Western kitchens.

Coconut Malia Kebab.jpg

In my recipe, I have substituted coconut cream for the heavy whipping cream called for in the original version (with apologies to chef Bipin!). Not only does it make the dish lighter tasting, it also displays a perfect fusion of North and South Indian flavours, just like Bangalore itself! If you don't like coconut cream, use regular whipping cream instead.

Coconut Malai Kababs

For Kababs:

1 lb lean ground lamb

2 cups packed fresh mint leaves

1 cup fresh coriander, with tender upper stems

2 green chilies

4 cloves garlic

1 inch piece ginger

2 tbsp each: ground almonds or cashews, browned onions*, coconut cream* (see note below) or whipping (heavy) cream

1 egg

Salt to taste

1 tsp each: garam masala, ground cumin, ground coriander, dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi)

1/2 tsp each: cayenne pepper, ground cinnamon, ground black pepper

For Basting Sauce:

2 tbsp unsalted butter

1 tbsp coconut cream or whipping (heavy) cream

1/4 tsp saffron strands

For Sauce:

2 tbsp unsalted butter

6 green onions (scallions), thinly sliced

1 plum tomato, seeded and finely chopped

1/4 cup chopped mint leaves

1/4 cup coconut cream or whipping  (heavy) cream

1/4 tsp saffron strands

Salt to taste

1/2 lemon

Combine all kabab ingredients in food processor. Process several times until well blended and very finely minced. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate 1 hour or longer.

Heat outdoor barbecue to medium or heat oven at 400F.

Divide lamb mixture into 8 equal portions. Shape each into a log about 4 inches long and 1 inch thick or shape into round burger style patties, about 2 inches in diameter and 1 inch in thickness. Grill on barbecue until half done, about 7-8 min per side, turning once. If baking in oven, place patties on parchment lined baking tray and bake for 7-8 min per side, turning once

Meanwhile, combine basting ingredients in small bowl. Microwave for 30 sec until melted and combined.

Brush patties on both sides with basting sauce. Continue grilling or baking for another 10 min, until they are cooked through and just done. Reserve .

To make sauce, melt butter in non stick frying pan set over medium heat. Add green onions, saute 1 min. Add remaining ingredients, except lemon half and cook 1 min for flavours to blend. Add reserved kababs and toss gently until they are coated with the sauce. Serve with a squeeze of lemon.

Serves four

*Coconut cream is available in most grocery stores. It can also be easily obtained by skimming it off the top of a chilled can of premium full fat coconut milk.

*Saute 1 sliced cooking onion in 2 tbsp oil over medium heat for about 15 min,  until browned. This should yield about 2 tbsp browned onions called for in the recipe.

Crêpes in Quebec, Canada

me & red lighthouse.jpg

We traveled through the Gaspé peninsula along the road that hugs the coast, with old lighthouses marking our way.  We frequently stopped by villages along the way to pick up fresh baked loaves of bread, smoked fish, and local cheeses, which added up to a delicious picnic lunch. There was always a  place to sit along the shoreline where we could watch little fishing boats bobbing on the waters and savour prefect tranquility.

There were also many delights to be found further inland. September is  the month when apples trees are laden with fruit and you can drive to orchards to pick your own, while at the same time shopping for wonderful apple pies, preserves, juice and cider. You can follow the famous cider trail through the heart of Quebec, going from one orchard to the next, tasting the subtle variations that each producer brings to their product.

Many of the cider producers have restaurants on site that specialise in crêpes, which they serve either sweet or savoury. Crêpes originated in the French region of Brittany, where at one time they were considered peasant fare. Legend has it that they were invented by a farmer who spilled a bowl of buckwheat flour batter on a hot stone in the fireplace.

Crêpes have gone decidedly upmarket since their humble beginnings and you will now find them being served in the most elegant restaurants, where you can select from an amazing variety of toppings. A Sunday brunch of apple cider and crêpes cannot be surpassed!

Indian style crepes or Cheelas as they are known in Hindi are a favourite snack, easy to whip up at any time. Fold an omelet or fried egg into them and they make a great breakfast crepe too!

My recipe uses chick pea flour in the batter as is traditional. Besides being high in protein, the chick pea flour also adds a delicious earthy flavour to the crepes. Chick pea flour or Besan in Hindi, is easily available in Indian grocery stores. If you can't find any, you can use all purpose flour or buckwheat flour instead.

 When I want to make my cheelas extra special, I stuff smoked salmon and brie in them with a bit of chopped dill mixed into the batter. You can also stuff ham and Swiss cheese if you wish or sauteed onions and mushrooms. They're delicious every way!

Cheesy Chutney Cheelas

2 cups chick pea flour (besan)

1 1/4 cups water

Salt to taste

1/4 tsp each: cayenne pepper, whole cumin seeds, turmeric, baking powder

1/4 cup each: oil, prepared or store-bought mint chutney

1 cup shredded cheese such as sharp cheddar, jalapeno Havarti or other

Sieve chick pea flour into deep mixing bowl. Add water and stir until smooth. Add salt, spices and baking powder. Mix well, let batter rest 15 min.

Warm 1 tsp oil in large non stick frying pan or crepe pan over medium heat. Spread about 1/4 cup prepared batter in pan, using rounded ladle to spread it thinly until it is 8 inches in diameter. Cook 2 min or until bottom is golden and slightly crisp. Flip cheela and cook for 1 min. Flip over again and spread 1 tsp chutney evenly on top. Sprinkle 2 tbsp grated cheese evenly over chutney. Cook 1 min until cheese starts to melt. Fold cheela in half and transfer to plate. Repeat similarly with remaining batter.

makes 8 cheelas

Lamb Pot Pie In Gaspé, Canada

me and the water.jpg

The best way to see Quebec's breathtaking Gaspé peninsula is to drive along the highway that runs along the coast. Every bend gives you another stunning vista of the ocean or of rolling green hills. You  meander through little bays in which villages nestle with fishing boats pulled up on the shore and wooden racks laid out on which salt cod is spread to dry in the sun. Quaint covered bridges straddle sparkling streams and on the horizon there is always a lighthouse to mark the way.

The Gaspé region is famous for its seafood, both fresh and smoked. I have never seen such variety of smoked seafood anywhere else and local restaurants serve it in many creative ways. We came upon Atkins, the famous regional business that specializes in frozen and smoked seafood, in the tiny village of Mont St-Louis. There were smoked seafood varieties of every kind in the coolers and I stocked up on enough to last me for a very long time! Every time I use their smoked scallops, shrimp or smoked fish in one of my recipes, I am reminded of our fabulous Gaspé trip. What better way to relive our memorable food experiences?!

seafood.jpg
seafood pot pie.jpg

While seafood is understandably one of the highlights of eating out in the Gaspé region, you also find some amazing lamb dishes. After all it is not far from the Charlevoix region, famous for its locally grown lamb. After days of eating seafood, lamb can come as a welcome change! We had the most tender, flavourful lamb shanks in Auberge Maison William Wakefield in historic Gaspé Town, where they were intriguingly served with delicious little lamb samosas! In the town of Carleton Sur Mer, our culinary highlight was at restaurant Le Marin d'Eau Douce where the French trained Moroccan chef served us an unforgettable lamb tagine.

I love to prepare lamb in hearty, warming stews and curries. Here, I have taken it a step further by turning my lamb stew into a simple, delicious pot pie that is perfect for a weekday dinner because the lamb stew can be made ahead of time. All you have to do is throw on the crust and bake it. If you have any leftover lamb curry in your refrigerator, use that to make a fantastic curried pot pie! If you wish to make this vegetarian, try a paneer pot pie. It's different and delicious! You can make individual sized small pot pies or a larger one in a pie plate. Pies can also be made ahead of time and kept frozen until baked. 

The Parmesan cheese in this recipe helps thicken the stew as well as add flavour to it, while the whole spices add their own subtle aroma. A fresh salad is the perfect accompaniment!

Lamb Pot Pie

1 lb (450g) boneless leg of lamb, fat trimmed off, cubed into bite sized pieces

2 tbsp each: all purpose flour, oil

4 each, whole: cardamom, cloves  

1/2 inch stick cinnamon

1 star anise, optional

1 large cooking onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

3-4 sprigs fresh thyme

1/2 cup red wine

1 cup each: chicken or beef broth, crushed or diced tomatoes

Salt to taste

1/2 tsp each: ground black pepper, smoked paprika

2 sticks celery, sliced

1 carrot, diced

4 small potatoes, peeled and quartered

1 cup frozen peas

1/4 cup chopped parsley

2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

1 pkg (450g) puff pastry sheets

1 egg, beaten

Wash and pat dry lamb pieces with paper towels. Dredge lightly in flour, shaking off excess. Reserve.

Warm oil in deep non stick skillet set over medium high heat. Add whole cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and star anise. Sizzle spices for 30 sec., then add onions, garlic and thyme. 

Saute for about 5 min. until onions are lightly browned. Add lamb and brown for 5 min. Add wine and mix well. Add broth, tomatoes, salt, pepper and paprika. Mix well, cover skillet and bring contents to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for 1 hour.

Add celery, carrots, potatoes, peas and parsley to skillet. Bring back to boil, reduce heat to medium low and cook for another hour or longer until lamb and vegetables are very tender, stirring occasionally.

Fold in the Parmesan cheese and cool lamb stew mixture to room temperature.

Heat oven to 400F. Spoon lamb stew mixture into four small individual oven safe bowls. Cut puff pastry to size, letting it overlap edges slightly. Cut a vent on top of each pastry to let steam escape. Brush tops with beaten egg.

Place bowls on baking tray, bake for about 18 - 20 min or until tops are golden and pastry is crisp. 

Serves four

 

 

Fish Soup In Percé, Canada

Varun & Me.jpg

It is easy enough to find the town of Percé once you are in Quebec. You just keep driving east until you can go no further without falling into the ocean, and there it is, right at the very tip of the Gaspé peninsula. Rising out of the mist is one of the most striking sights you will ever see - Percé Rock, or 'pierced rock', so called because of the distinctive hole in its middle. It is one of the main attractions of this region and people drive long distances to see it and savour the culinary delights this region is famous for.

A tour boat will take you on a trip around the rock, where you can watch the  wheeling gannets and seagulls careening overhead and marvel at the seals sunning themselves on the rocks. You also get a spectacular view of the Gaspé peninsula, with red lighthouses and charming little fishing villages along the North Atlantic shore.

We stayed in a bed-and-and breakfast inn known as La Presbytère, housed in the former presbytery of the old cathedral. The century old house was lovingly restored by our host, Michel, and gave you the impression of being carried back in time to a bygone era. In the morning when we descended for breakfast we found that Michel had outdone himself with a truly spectacular breakfast.

breakfast.jpg

Spread before us was a feast of homemade jams, preserves, patés, custards, fresh baked breads, macerated fruit, just picked tomatoes from his garden and a magnificent ham that was the highlight of the meal. A meal of such magnificent proportions didn't really need to be followed by a heavy lunch and we settled for one of our favourite fish soups a few hours later.

The abundance of fresh seafood often found its way into many different seafood soups. We had seafood bouillabaisse, chowder, shellfish minestrone and many other creative versions. My absolute favourite was the rich, flavourful and aromatic fish soup. No two fish soups were ever the same - the taste often varied with the kind of fish available. I especially loved the soups where a lot of vegetables were also added in along with the assortment of fresh fish.

This hearty, comforting fish soup is perfect for cold winter evenings. The secret to it's deep, rich flavour is in the long, slow simmer of vegetables. They cook down, adding their delicious taste to the broth while thickening the soup at the same time. The whole spices add depth of flavour and a rich aroma to the soup as well.

Fish Soup1.jpg

This soup is a great way to use up all those bits and pieces of vegetables lying around in your refrigerator. Use all of your favourites! You can make the vegetable based broth ahead of time and throw in the fish to cook just before you plan to serve the soup. Pair it with some crusty bread for dunking! 

 Fish Soup

2 tbsp olive oil

 2 each, whole: cloves, cardamom

1/4 inch piece cinnamon  stick

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 each, finely chopped: carrot, sweet red pepper, zucchini

1 stick celery, finely chopped

1 potato, peeled and finely chopped

15 green beans, trimmed and cut into half inch pieces

3 large ripe plum tomatoes, chopped

1 carton  (900 ml) chicken or seafood broth

Salt to taste

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

1 lb assorted fresh fish such as salmon, cod and haddock, skinned and cut into 1 inch pieces

Warm oil in deep saucepan or soup pot over medium high heat. Add whole spices, onions, garlic and all the vegetables except the tomatoes. Saute for 5 min.

Add tomatoes, broth, salt, pepper and parsley. Cover pot, bring contents to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 2 hours. 

Mash vegetables lightly into broth to thicken it. Add fish and cook for 10 min or until fish is cooked through, flaky and disintegrating slightly into the soup.

Serves four

Fall Tomato Jam In Ontario, Canada

Me cider!.jpg

Fall is my absolute favourite time of year! The trees create a gorgeous kaleidoscope of reds, oranges and golds as their leaves change colour. The days are cool, crisp and filled with glorious sunshine. And best of all, the abundance of fall produce inspires me to get creative in the kitchen!

Lake.jpg

Living in southern Ontario, I like to best experience this season by taking long scenic drives through the countryside, along winding roads where we can admire the stunning fall colours. Stopping at farmers' markets along the way to pick up local specialties such as smoked meats, preserves, fruits and vegetables, and savouring them by the side of a serene lake is my idea of a perfect weekend!

Traveling through small Ontario towns  lets you discover hidden gems of restaurants, where chefs use locally grown produce in wonderfully creative ways. The best recipes are those that let the flavour and freshness of the ingredients shine through. It is amazing how a few fresh ingredients, simply cooked can taste so fantastic.

Fall fruits and vegetables, sun ripened and picked at the peak of their freshness have an unforgettable flavour all their own. Although there is a huge variety of fresh produce available this time of year, sun kissed, vine ripened tomatoes top my list of favourites! Bursting with flavour and sweetness, i just can't get enough of them. I end up buying so many that i can't possibly cook with all of them and have to act quickly to preserve them. One of the ways i do that is by making jams and chutneys which let me enjoy their delicious flavour throughout the year.  

This tomato jam doubles as a chutney and is perfect with Indian food. It is also great with toast, crackers, burgers, grilled meats, poultry and seafood! Quite often, I'll just spread it on a thick slice of olive bread and make that my breakfast. Ah, what a way to start my day!

DSC_0004.jpg

If you wish to have a milder flavoured jam, pick out the whole garam masala spices at the end of cooking. I usually leave them in and the jam gets more and more aromatic and full flavoured as time goes on! 

Tomato Jam With Whole Garam Masala

10 large ripe plum tomatoes

2 tbsp oil

10 each, whole: cloves, cardamom

1/2 inch stick cinnamon

1/4 piece of nutmeg, optional

1 star anise

1/2 tsp whole black peppercorn

1 bay leaf

1/4 cup each: sugar, apple cider vinegar

Salt to taste

1/4 tsp chilli pepper flakes 

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add tomatoes, bring to a boil again. Remove from heat, drain tomatoes and transfer to a bowl. Cool to room temperature, then peel and chop them roughly.

Warm oil in deep non stick skillet set over medium heat. Add cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg (if using), star anise, black pepper and bay leaf. Saute for a minute, until spices are fragrant and darken in colour. Add tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, salt and chilli pepper flakes.

Mix well, cover skillet partially and bring contents to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook until jam is thickened, about 30 min., stirring occasionally. Tomatoes should be well cooked into a jam like consistency at the end of cooking time. If that hasn't happened, uncover skillet, turn up heat to medium and cook off excess liquid, stirring all the while.

Taste for seasonings, adding more if necessary. Transfer to a sterilized jar and keep refrigerated.

Note: the whole spices in this jam are not meant to be eaten.

Cataplana In Coimbra, Portugal

Coimbra39.jpg

The Quinta das Lagrimás, the famous "Estate of Tears" where we stayed in Coimbra, was the setting for one of the most tragic romances of all time. When Dom Pedro, heir to the Portuguese throne in the fourteenth century, was betrothed to princess Constança of Castille, he fell in love not with his new bride but with one of her ladies in waiting, the beautiful young Inês de Castro. When his wife died a few years later, Pedro quietly married Inês and lived blissfully with her in the Quinta das Lagrimás. But Pedro's father, the king of Portugal, disapproved of the marriage and, incensed by their defiance of his wishes, sent assassins to kill Inês and her children. The fountain near which they died is said to symbolize the tears that Pedro shed after the murder of his one true love. The ghost of Inês is said to still search for Pedro near the fountain from which couples come to drink and pledge eternal love.

Coimbra rises up the sides of a steep hill, on top of which is perched the ancient university for which the town is famous.  The steep staircases that lead you up are lined with bars, cafés and restaurants and are filled with noisy students, a constant reminder that you are in a university town.

Coimbra27.jpg

At the base of the hill runs the Mondego river, whose banks are lined with trees and parks. Several waterfront restaurants offer a wonderful vantage point from which to watch boats drifting down the river, while sampling the local delicacies. It was in one of these places that we first tasted Portugal's favourite dish -  Cataplana seafood stew.

A Cataplana is a copper cooking utensil that looks like two identical woks hinged together, one turned upside down to act as a lid for the other. The resulting vessel resembles a giant clam shell and is ideal for cooking seafood stews. The Cataplana is also used for serving food, placed by the waiter on the table and opened with a flourish, letting you admire the food before he ladles it into your bowls.

You don't need a cataplana pot to make this soup, although it certainly is a lovely addition to any kitchen! I have tried to stick to the traditional method of preparing this dish, but if you wish, you can add spices and coconut milk to make it more Goan-Indian. It is wonderfully delicious either way!

Cataplana1.jpg

Although Cataplana is usually served with the seafood in its shell, I prefer to remove the shells, making it easier to eat. Serve with some crusty bread to sop up the delicious broth.

Cataplana

2 tbsp olive oil

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 sweet red pepper, diced

1/2 cup thinly sliced chorizo sausage

2 large plum tomatoes, chopped

1 medium potato, cooked, peeled and cut into 8 pieces

Salt to taste

1/4 tsp each: ground black pepper, smoked paprika, saffron threads

1/2 lb skinless fillet of any white fish such as sea bass, halibut or cod

4 scallops, halved horizontally

16 large shrimp, peeled and deveined

16 clams

1/2 lb. mussels

1 cup white wine

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander or parsley

Warm oil in deep, heavy pot set over medium heat. Add garlic, onions and red pepper. Saute, stirring occasionally for 5 min. Add chorizo, saute 5 min. Add tomatoes, potatoes, salt and seasonings. Saute gently, 5 min.

Lay fish over vegetables in pot. Scatter scallops, shrimp, clams and mussels on top. Pour wine over top, cover pot and cook 10 min or until seafood is cooked through. Uncover pot, fold in fresh coriander or parsley and gently stir through the mixture to ensure everything is cooked through evenly. Discard unopened shells. Cover pot and let rest 5 min before serving.

Serves four