Tag Archives: scratch cooking

Southeast Asian I: Vietnamese pho

Grainews

April 2022.

We are so fortunate in Canada to have arrivals from around the globe to teach us about seasoning our tables. Lucky for us, food is one of the best tools for welcoming people and sharing experiences. The foods of Southeast Asia – Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam – are worlds apart from what those of us of European extraction grew up with. Learning to utilize ingredients and tastes from across the globe will undoubtedly make us all better cooks and maybe even better global citizens.

Stocking our Vietnamese pantry has become easier since 1975-76, when Canada welcomed 6,500 of the many Vietnamese refugees who fled the region’s deteriorating conditions after the Vietnam War. A few years later, as the situation in Indochina worsened, Canada accepted 60,000 Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian refugees. According to the 2016 Canadian Census, of over three million arrivals from South and Southeast Asia, over 240,000 Canadians claim Vietnamese origins.

Vietnamese food is dairy-free and subtly seasoned. In your Asian aisle or market, stock up on nuoc mam (fish sauce), a salty and pungent sauce derived from dried anchovies that serves as a salt condiment, like soy sauce in Chinese cooking. Store it in the fridge. Also buy dried rice noodles in several thicknesses, plus hot chili paste, ginger, star anise, fresh limes. Fresh herbs like mint, basil and cilantro can almost be thought of as greens, used by handfuls.

You may recall from a previous column that back in the day my boys looked forward to the early dismissal from school that we all called “noon dismal.” It wasn’t just busting loose from class that my sons relished. They also liked the associated field trip to the recycling depot, followed by lunch at our favourite Vietnamese restaurant.  That experience from an early age helped shape their wide tastes in food. Both my boys, now adults, love the slurpy soups and rice noodle dishes with the subtle-to-heated seasoning of Southeast Asia, in particular the coat of many colours that is Vietnamese pho. First we eat a bowl of soup, and then we can talk about other ways to season the pot.

North Vietnamese Pho

In situ in northern Vietnam, pho is traditionally made with beef, often slow-cooked tendon, for really beefy taste. But my boys and I fell in love with pho made with chicken, so here’s another chicken noodle soup for your cold-weather pantry. The broth is subtly seasoned with ginger, star anise and cinnamon. The soup’s internal garnishes are noodles, vegetables, and the protein can vary – here I use poached chicken. The rice noodles are best added the day you plan to eat the soup because they deconstruct if they sit in leftover broth overnight. If all you have is linguini, by all means swap it in, but the texture will be different. Don’t forget the table garnishes; they are crucial. Optionally make it more south Vietnamese by adding curry paste at the beginning, and coconut milk and peanut butter at the end. Serves 4

Broth:

2 quarts chicken stock

4 whole star anise

2 cinnamon sticks

oil for the pan

2 large onions, sliced

6-8 slices fresh ginger

1 head garlic, peeled

1-3 hot chiles, optional

Soup:

3 large chicken breasts, skinless and boneless

salt to taste

½ lb. medium-width dried rice noodles

3 small bok choy, quartered

3 large carrots, thinly sliced on the bias

1 cup chopped broccoli

1 cup chopped cauliflower

¼ cup nuam mam (fish sauce)

the juice of 2 lemons

Table garnishes:

lime wedges

hot chili paste

fresh cilantro leaves

fresh mint or Thai or holy basil leaves

mung bean sprouts

hoisin paste, optional

soy sauce, optional

Heat the stock with the star anise and cinnamon in a large pot. Lightly oil a sauté pan and heat it, then add half the sliced onion and all the ginger, garlic and optional chilies, and sauté until well browned. Transfer the aromatics to the poaching liquid. Cover and simmer for an hour. Strain and discard the solids.

Salt the chicken to taste, then add to the broth. Cover and poach at an active simmer until cooked through, about 20 minutes. Check for doneness, and cook additionally if not yet done. When the chicken is cooked through, remove, cube into bite-size pieces, cover with a ladle of broth, and keep warm.

Bring about 4 cups of water to a boil. Put the rice noodles into a large bowl and cover with the boiling water. Let stand for about 5 minutes, or until soft, pulling them apart as they soften. Drain.

While the noodles soften, add the vegetables to the broth and cover. Simmer until as tender as desired. Add the chicken, noodles, nuoc mam, lemon juice and salt to taste. Ladle into bowls. Pass around the table garnishes for each diner to add to taste.

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South Asian Favourites: Part III, Vegetables Front & Centre

Grainews

March 2022.

I moved to Vancouver from rural Saskatchewan when I turned 18, landing in an Edwardian house with two roommates on the East Side. I’d grown up on my Germanic mother’s honest meat and spuds, but the West Coast was a popular destination for immigrants, and I lucked into a South Asian enclave – shops and restaurants selling gorgeous clothing, fabric, ingredients, and foods. I was a student, money was tight, and I took to the cuisine like I’d been born to it. Part of the attraction was the warm spices – cumin, cloves, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon. Part was the emphasis on vegetable-forward food. I learned to fill my pot with lentils, basmati, and chickpeas, my glass with lhassi, my cup with chai.

The attraction hasn’t faded. I have been fortunate in learning from chefs and cooks who know more than I about the food of this vast subcontinent.

Jyubeen and Mittal Kacha took the long road from Mumbai to Canada, and after a brief foray in Swift Current, now run a small restaurant in Saskatoon called Urban Spice. Equal parts cumin, coriander, and courage brought the couple to Saskatchewan. What Jyubeen wanted was small town life for his wife and kids. “It’s safe. People know each other,” he observes. “We didn’t want a big city hustle.”

Jyubeen, who cooked professionally in India and attended cooking school in New Zealand, served stints as a flight services caterer in Mumbai, a Disney Cruiselines waiter, and a hotel supervisor at England’s Heathrow Airport, before arriving in Toronto to polish his food and nutrition skills at George Brown College. He creates elegant and flavourful food; Mittal works front of house.

His lamb korma is a succulent blend of onions, cashews, cream and the trinity of coriander, cumin and mustard seed, its complexity enriched with a double handful of spices (look for it in my previous column!). Palak paneer is rich and nuanced, pureed spinach, onions, and spices mellowed by house-made fresh cheese. Aloo gobi sparkles up cauliflower and potatoes with fresh ginger and cumin; dal tadka is lentils brightened with mustard seeds and curry leaves. Like the Moghul Emperor Akbar’s favourite dish, navratan, made with a mix of nine vegetables and fruits in honour of “nine jewels in the court” (nine wise advisors), this cuisine is polished. First we eat, then we move on to Southeast Asia.

Palak Paneer

Jyubeen’s version can be made with palak (spinach), mustard greens, amaranth, chard, or other greens. The creamy paneer is spooned into the spinach mixture at the last minute, where it melts into the sauce. Serve with basmati rice. Serves 4.

paneer:

3 cups milk

1 cup whipping cream

6 lemons, juice only

onion sauce:

2 Tbsp. butter, vegetable oil, or ghee

1 tsp. cumin seed

1 tsp. mustard seed

2 bay leaves

2 onions, minced

4 cups (2 – 3 large bunches) fresh spinach leaves or chard, stalks cut out and chopped, leaves reserved

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp. minced ginger root

salt to taste

½ tsp (2 mL) turmeric

1 tsp. ground coriander

1 tsp. mild paprika or chili powder

2 tomatoes, chopped

2 tsp. garam masala

the juice of 1 lemon

spearmint and cilantro leaves for garnish

To make the paneer, bring milk and cream to a full boil. Add lemon juice and let stand for ten minutes. Place a sieve above a large bowl and line the sieve with a clean kitchen cloth or several layers of cheesecloth. Pour the mixture through the sieve, discard the whey and transfer the full sieve sitting on the emptied bowl to the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

To make the sauce, heat the butter, oil, or ghee in a sauté pan and add the cumin, mustard and bay when the pan is hot. Cook for a minute over medium-high heat, then add the onion.  If using chard, cut out the stalks, chop up, reserving the leaves. Add stalks to the pan. Sauté for five to ten minutes. When they soften and begin to colour, season sparingly with salt.

Add the garlic and ginger, turmeric, coriander, paprika or chili powder and tomatoes. Reduce the heat, mix well, stir in a little water to prevent sticking, and add the garam masala. Cook on medium-high heat until tomatoes soften and sauce thickens, about 30 minutes. Add a little water to thin to sauce consistency and puree using an immersion wand or food processor. Keep warm.

Wash the greens leaves, drain but do not spin dry, then puree in a food processor with just the water that clings to the leaves.  Add the puree to the onion sauce, bring to a boil and adjust the seasoning with salt and lemon juice. Take the paneer from the fridge and use two teaspoons to scoop it into the sauce. Heat through, stirring very gently. Serve garnished with spearmint

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South Asian Favourites: Part II, Learning to Love Lamb

Grainews

March 2022.

My Saskatchewan-raised mom never served lamb while I was growing up.  She hadn’t eaten it as a child or young woman, and as a result, I didn’t learn to love lamb until I was in my thirties and living in Calgary. Sheep have been a presence in Alberta since the late 1800’s, when thousands of black-faced Merinos were herded north from Montana to Cochrane. The woolly newcomers proved hardy and adaptable to the Alberta climate. In fact, sheep ranchers and cattle ranchers had regular disagreements about grazing rights; the cattle ranchers claimed that sheep grazed the grass too closely to the soil, leaving nothing for other animals. In other parts of the world, sheep were frequently sent to graze in forests as a natural fire preventative. But in Alberta, the legislature of the time enacted a controversial bill that limited sheep grazing in Alberta, prohibiting the animals from the southern international border to as far north as the Bow River in 1884.

Nowadays, dozens of breeds of sheep graze Alberta’s hills and flatlands from Peace River to Pincher Creek, and to a lesser extent across the rest of western Canada, including several breeds of “hair” sheep. These breeds, including Barbados Black-bellied, Dorper, and Katahdin, are lanolin-free. Lanolin is what gives lamb and mutton its characteristic taste and aroma, and without wool or lanolin, the meat is noticeably milder.

My family and I are not alone in our lamb love affair. Lamb consumption in Canada is on the rise, reflecting the changing nature of Canada and a growing population of new arrivals arriving from many regions that have an ensconced tradition of lamb consumption. This gives cooks a wide window of how to season lamb: the classic dictum of “What grows together goes together” is a good guide. Rosemary, lavender, thyme, and oregano flourish on southern European hillsides, where lamb is prized, so use any or all. Mediterranean cuisines from both sides of the sea feature lamb: Greek lamb is simply rubbed and roasted with lemon, oregano, olive oil and garlic; North African lamb tagine can be spiked with dried apricots and cumin. Olive tapenade or garlic aioli with smoked paprika are delicious with rosemary-scented lamb burgers. Spices, coconut milk and makrut (kaffir) lime leaves, or cumin, coriander, turmeric, and the other warm spices of the curry palette reflect lamb’s presence in the diets of the Middle and Far East.

To find locally-raised lamb, read the menu at your favourite restaurant and ask who supplies the kitchen, visit independent butchers or farmers’ markets, and browse the internet using key words like “local lamb” and your province’s name. When possible, order direct from the producer. First we eat, then we discuss what to serve with lamb.

Lamb Korma

Mumbai-born chef Jyubeen Kacha adds ground cashews as a thickening agent that adds mouthfeel to this lush braise. If you are not a lamb fan, substitute turkey legs or chicken thighs. Like most braises, this dish reheats well. Serve with basmati rice and naan. Serves 6.

2 Tbsp. butter, vegetable oil or ghee

1 tsp. cumin seed

1 tsp. mustard seed

2 bay leaves

kosher salt to taste

2 onions, minced

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp. minced ginger root

½ tsp. turmeric

1 tsp. ground coriander

1 tsp. chili powder

2 tomatoes, chopped

2 tsp. garam masala

3 cups stock (chicken, beef or vegetable)

3 lb. lamb shoulder, cubed

kosher salt and pepper to taste

½ cup whole-milk yoghurt (optional)

½ cup finely ground cashews (optional)

the juice of 1 lemon

spearmint and cilantro leaves for garnish

Heat the butter, oil or ghee in a sauté pan and add the cumin, mustard and bay. Cook for a minute over medium-high heat, then add the onions. Sauté for five to ten minutes. When they soften and begin to colour, season sparingly with salt.

Add the garlic and ginger with a pinch of salt, turmeric, coriander, chili powder and tomatoes. Reduce the heat, stir in a little water as needed to prevent sticking, and add the garam masala. Cook on medium-high heat until sauce thickens.

Add the stock and meat. Season with salt and pepper to taste and bring to a boil. 

Cut a circle of parchment paper the same diameter as the pot and place it snugly directly on top of the liquid and meat, then cover securely. Reduce heat to a simmer.  Cook for 2 hours or until tender.

Remove lid, stir well, and boil briskly to thicken if the sauce is too thin.

Add the optional yoghurt and cashews and reheat gently. Adjust seasoning with lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot with mint leaves or cilantro as garnish.

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South Asian Favourites: Part I, Pakoras

Grainews

February 2022.

When I told her I thought I was a changeling, my mom laughed out loud. “With those eyes? Those cheeks? That chin? You are the spitting image of your aunt Lila.”

It’s true. In the mirror, I see my family staring back, just as when I look at my sons, I see my dad’s face. There’s no doubt that we are related. I recall taking my youngest son, still a babe in arms, and his brother, then four, out for noodles in our favourite Vietnamese restaurant. A stranger stopped at our booth as we ate our pho. “Your children are your clones,” she said, laughing. “You all three look so alike.”

My sons and I still eat pho together. We have flavours in common too, separated only by the Bay of Bengal and the South China Sea. My boys lean towards southeast Asian ingredients, while I cook South Asian (Indian) dishes as my go-to.

That makes all three of us culinary changelings. While we like foods in the Euro style, we love cumin, ginger, garlic, coconut milk, mint, lime, coriander, basil. These seasonings are common to the cuisines of Thailand, Vietnam, and parts of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

One gift I gave this past Christmas was my own garam masala, the personalized spice blend I make to use in Indian dishes. How? Cumin seed, coriander seed, fennel seed, shelled green cardamom pods, peppercorns, mustard seed, anise seed, whole star anise, fenugreek, stick cinnamon, whole cloves and allspice, all dry-roasted and ground, then mixed with sweet paprika, chili powder, and turmeric. But listen up: garam masala is easy to make in bulk, but share it with spice-loving friends, as ground spices go stale more quickly than whole.

In fact, that tip – start with whole spices – is extra-important when making the foods of South Asia. It doesn’t mean that you have to roast and grind spices each time you cook, but if you do make your own garam masala instead of using commercial curry powders or spice blends, your food will have so much more flavour!

Masala means spice mixture. It applies to chai, or tea. Chai masala is the perfect conclusion to an Indian meal, although I drink it beforehand too. This blend of black tea steeped with milk and whole spices – cinnamon sticks, cracked green cardamom pods, cloves, nutmeg, star anise – can season panna cotta, ice cream or crème caramel, or it can be ground, with or without the tea, for use in cheesecakes and spice cakes, poaching liquids and beverages, tarts and cookies.

The next few columns will serve some favourite South Asian dishes, starting with a vegetarian appetizer that we have been known to eat for supper all on its own. Pakoras are fritters served with chutney. Once you make pakoras at home, you will have an indelible benchmark of quality to evaluate any you eat at restaurants. First we eat fritters, then we discuss spices.

Vegetable Pakoras with Mint Chutney

Bound with chickpea flour and buttermilk (or coconut milk if you are vegan), the vegetables in pakoras can vary: some restaurants use mostly potato, an inexpensive choice, to which I add cauli and carrots, peppers, zucchini, and sometimes cooked and chopped chickpeas. Makes many.

3 cups chickpea flour                                                           

1 jalapeno, seeded and minced, optional

1 Tbsp. minced fresh mint or cilantro                               

salt to taste

1 Tbsp. homemade garam masala or curry powder

1 Tbsp. olive oil                                                        

½ tsp. lemon juice                                                                

2 cups             buttermilk, more as needed

3 large potatoes, julienned

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 zucchini, shredded

1 bell pepper, cut in strips

½ cauliflower, small florets

1 Tbsp. minced garlic

1 Tbsp. minced ginger root                                     

vegetable oil for pan-frying

Mint or Cilantro Chutney

Stir together the dry ingredients, then add the liquids. The batter should be fairly loose. Add the vegetables and seasonings. Mix only until blended.

Pour oil to a depth of ½” into a wide, shallow heavy-bottomed pan. Heat to 350F. Check for heat by carefully splashing a few drops of water into the oil: when it sizzles immediately, the oil is hot enough. Set a paper-lined tray close by.

Using a pair of spoons, drop spoonfuls of batter carefully into the hot fat from as close to the surface as possible to avoid splashing. Do not overcrowd the pan; a single layer, with room between the fritters, is ideal to maintain an even temperature. Use spring-loaded tongs to turn each fritter once as it becomes golden. Cook on second side, then remove to the tray. Serve hot with dip.

Fresh Mint or Cilantro Chutney

Serve with pakoras, curry, seafood and lamb dishes. Makes about 2 cups.

1 cup packed cilantro or mint leaves, stalks discarded

4 green onions

½ cup flatleaf parsley

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped, or hot chili paste to taste

2 garlic cloves, peeled

2 slices ginger root

¼ cup lemon juice

1 tsp. garam masala

3 Tbsp. sugar

salt to taste

½ -1 cup water or orange juice

Puree solids in food processor, then add liquid.

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Becoming a Better Cook II: Umami

Grainews

January 2022.

The four tastes – sweet, salty, sour, bitter  — underpin every dish we eat. Smart cooks reach routinely for a bit of honey, a smidgeon of salt, a splash of lemon, or a drop of bitters to balance a dish, and fat too, like butter, oil, or whipping cream. Asian and Latin cooks add pungent spicy-hot chilies. Add the taste bomb called umami [pronounced oo-MA-mee], and the result is food so lick-smackingly yummy that my mouth wants to get up and sing of its own accord.

Umami the word and the concept are Japanese, translated variously as “savoury,” “essence,”  “deliciousness,” “especially satisfying,” or, most poetically, “more-ishness.”

Umami is best known as the dominant ingredient in the flavour-enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG). It is the leading culprit in the infamous Chinese Restaurant Syndrome of flushed face, elevated heartrate, and nausea, although, according to the Mayo Clinic, and food scientist Harold McGee, toxicologists have concluded MSG is a harmless ingredient for most people.

But umami refers to the taste of glutamates that naturally occur in a wide variety of foods, including fermented and aged foods like Worcestershire sauce, Parmesan and Roquefort cheeses, soy sauce, anchovies, Marmite, dried mushrooms, and fermented fish sauce. Add them routinely to your food for an extra blast of yum. As well, if you eat aged beef, cured meats like prosciutto, stinky old cheese, or miso soup, or if you drink good red wine, you experience umami pretty much in a pure form.

Umami dates back to 1907, when a Japanese chemist discovered that kombu seaweed formed crystals of glutamate – an abundant amino acid – for a taste neither sweet, sour, salty or bitter, but savoury, rich and meaty. He christened the new taste umami; in Japanese, umai means delicious, and mi  means essence. Naturally, there was money to be made, and in 1909, a Japanese company began making and selling MSG made from wheat protein. Then another scientist reported finding umami in the dried bonito tuna flakes used to make dashi (broth); and between 1950 – 1970, more forms of umamai were found in mushrooms, sake, shellfish, wine, and beef broth.

But we often use the terms “taste” and “flavour” interchangeably (“The vanilla ice cream tastes good” and “I like the salty flavour of clams”), so umami and the other tastes may seem complicated. It helps to remember that “taste” generally refers to stimuli directly affecting the tongue, and “flavour” is taste plus aroma. To put it simply, taste happens in the mouth, aroma happens in the nasal cavity, and flavour happens when the two sensations meet in the brain.

There are other flavour/taste complications. Some things, like cranberries, red wine, coffee, and black tea, contain tannins, sometimes so astringent that mouths go all puckery. Substances containing capsaicin, the searing chemical in chile peppers, cause a burning sensation. Substances sensed as cooling are found in menthol or camphor (cloves); as well, research into fat has revealed a potential taste receptor that responds to foods rich in fat. All of this complicates what originally looked like the simple act of balancing a dish. So in comparison, it’s easy to speak umami’s language even with your mouth full. If first we eat, then we say, “Yum! That tastes more-ish!” we just had a blast of umami.

Umami Meatloaf

When I began reading about umami two decades ago, I realized that I had instinctively relied on umami for much of my professional cooking career. My meatloaf is a good example. Serves 8 with leftovers.

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

6 garlic cloves, minced

1 onion, minced

1 Tbsp. paprika

½ tsp. smoked paprika

8-10 mushrooms, minced

1 tsp. dried oregano

½ tsp. dried thyme

1 red bell pepper

2 eggs

2 lb. lean ground beef

1 lb. ground pork

1 cup fine bread crumbs

3 Tbsp. soy sauce

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

½ cup minced parsley

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Set oven to 350 F. Heat the oil, add the garlic, sauté, then add onions and paprika. Sauté for about 5 minutes, then add the mushrooms and sauté another 3 minutes. Add the thyme and oregano. Let cool.

Put the bell pepper into the flame of a gas stove or under a broiler. When it blackens, transfer it to a bowl, cover, and let steam a few minutes. Peel and discard the skin and seeds, then mince.

Combine all ingredients. Mix gently by hand. Line a sheet pan with parchment, manually shape the loaf directly on the pan, and place in the oven. Bake 1 hour, or until internal temperature registers 140F. Let rest 15 minutes before slicing.

Umami-rich Ingredients:

As a starter kit, buy Asian fish sauce, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, canned tomatoes, Parmesan, Marmite, and dried shiitake mushrooms.

Umami is also present in:

vegetables and nuts: dried peas and legumes, mature potatoes, tomatoes, red bell peppers, squash, walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds;

sea vegetables: kombu, arame, wakame, dulse, nori, kelp;

mature meats and poultry: long-cooked duck or turkey; braised tougher cuts of beef like brisket, shank, chuck; pork, cured pork products like Spanish jamon, Italian prosciutto, and bacon; veal and venison; organ meats; all slow-simmered protein-based stocks;

eggs, dairy products; goat and sheep cheeses; older, complex cheeses: brie, gouda, emmenthal, cheddar, hard aged cheeses like Parmesan, blue-veined cheeses;

grains: corn, rice, fermented and slow-rising sourdough breads;

shellfish, cephalopods, cold-water high-fat fish: anchovies, herring, sardines, tuna, salmon, trout, monkfish, sea bass; pickled, dried or cured fish; oysters, scallops, mussels, clams, shrimp, crab, squid, octopus;

fermented pickled fruits and vegetables: kosher dills, sauerkraut, kimchi, poi, pickled ginger, umeboshi (pickled plum);

soy and soy products: soy sauce, tempeh, miso, fermented bean paste;

mushrooms, fungi, truffles: the deeper the colour, the more umami, thus portobellos, morels and porcini have high umami, oysters, chanterelles and cremini have medium, and enoki and button have very little; dried have more umami than fresh; but white truffles have more umami than black;

condiments: fermented fish sauce, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup (loaded with umami tomatoes), tomato salsa;

fermented, brewed, and distilled booze: older, earthier wines; fortified wines like sherry, port, Madeira; sake, beer, whisky.

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Becoming a Better Cook, Part I: By the book

Grainews

January 2022.

My son recently served me a meal of spatchcocked (butterflied) chicken. It was sensational, crisp and juicy. “Butterflied is the only way I roast a whole bird any more,” he told me.

Then I watched as he made brownies. His recipe was more complex than mine, and he spent longer on the process. They were addictive, moist in the middle. Better than mine.

That good food and my son’s attentiveness reminded me that good science makes better cooks. It also reminded me of professional cooking school in Vancouver back in the early 1980s, when one of my chefs chastised me. “You are asking the wrong question at this point, mademoiselle,” he said. “For now, ask how, not why. ”

But how and why in the kitchen are inextricably linked to becoming a better cook. So here are my Top 10 + 1 “how and why” food books, in random order. First we eat, then we read, and eat again.

  1. The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, by J. Kenji López-Alt.

A doorstopper loaded with photographs and high-results recipes, dense with practical applied science from an MIT engineering geek who loves cooking.

  • The New Making of a Cook, by Madeleine Kamman

The bible, starters to sweets, for a generation of professional chefs. Kamman, a Michelin-trained chef, blended science with an impeccable palate and technique.

  • The New Best Recipe, by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated

Cook’s Illustrated tests a dish’s variables sixteen ways to Sunday to make the best possible version. A valuable, food-splattered resource, also starters to sweets.

  • Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison.

The best vegetable-based book ever written. Creative, accessible, and just bloody delicious.  

  • CookWise: The Secrets of Cooking Revealed (The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking with over 230 Great-Tasting Recipes), by Shirley O. Corriher

A gold mine from a food-and-science geek. “What This Recipe Shows” explains each dish’s ingredients, techniques, and culinary/scientific principles.

  • Tartine Bread, by Chad Robertson

Artisanal sourdough bread demystified: the complexities of exceptional breads with character, crumb, and crust. Learn to think in ratios and buy a good scale.

  • Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn

Clear details and ratios for making the best links. Now you really need that scale.

  • The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Process From Around the World, by Sandor Katz

From kraut, kimchi and kombucha to sourdough, this book will get you bubbling your own bacteria.

  • Batch: Over 200 Recipes, Tips and Techniques for a Well-Preserved Kitchen, by Joel McCharles and Dana Harrison

Canning, dehydrating, fermenting, cellaring, salting, smoking or infusing, organized by individual ingredients with myriad ways to transform each.

  1. Salt Heat Acid Fat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat

Cook by the four tastes. Quirky illustrations and exuberant language.

11. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, by Harold McGee.

Hardcore science from a food geek. No recipes.

Roasted Butterflied Chicken

From The Food Lab by J. Kenji López-Alt. Butterflying equalizes the cooking time needed for breast meat and legs. Serves 4

1 whole chicken, 3-4 lb.

1 tsp. kosher salt for dry-brining plus more for roasting

1 Tbsp. olive oil

freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the bird breast side down on a cutting board. Use poultry shears or kitchen scissors to cut alongside the backbone from the poke’s nose up to the neck. Repeat on the other side of the backbone. Remove and reserve the backbone for stock-making.

Flip the bird over. Firmly press down on the breastbone with the heel of your hand. You should hear or feel it crack as the bird flattens. Tuck each wing tip under the breasts.

Loosen the skin by running your hand between the skin and breast meat, starting at the base of the breast.  Rub 1 tsp. kosher salt all over the meat under the skin. Place on a rack on a baking sheet and chill, uncovered, overnight if time allows.

Preheat oven to 450 F. Position an oven rack in the centre of the oven.

Dry the chicken skin and meat under the skin with paper towels. Rub oil all over the skin and meat. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Centre bird on a rack on top of a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Roast uncovered until the thickest part of the breast closest to the breastbone registers 140 F and the joint between thigh and drum registers at least 160 F.

Remove from the oven. Let rest for 10-15 minutes before carving.

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Root vegetables and taking root

Grainews

December 2021.

All month I’ve been pestering Mom for stories. You’d think I was five again. But no. Truth is, we’ve been in closer proximity than usual. She’s recovering from glaucoma surgery, which has eliminated lifting, bending over, or carrying anything heavier than a supper plate. So I am at her house, lifting, bending over, and carrying. It’s amazing how often we do those things without even noticing. Putting on your shoes, for instance. First you bend over to put on your socks. Oh. No, you put your feet up on a chair and call your daughter over to help you. Then you bend over to pick up your favourite shoes. Oh, maybe not. Then you bend over to pull those dogs onto your feet and tie them up. Ooops. You get the picture. Mom is wearing slippers, laughingly threatening to arrange for a private valet permanently.

Mom’s most recent stories have been about winter, and winter holidays. Our family was poor, just another hardworking farm crew, so winter holidays to Cuba were never part of the gig. Prairie winters have always been harsh, and those days, it was even harder with the absence of electricity. In winter, Mom drove old Mart the horse to school in the cutter and unhooked him before turning him into the school’s barn with his halter on, the bridle hanging under her coat in the schoolroom to keep the bit warm. And come the festive season, my grandparents and mom and my auntie and all their local rellies would drive in the cutters to Mrs. Mike’s, my widowed great-grandmother, for turkey dinner. She would cook all day, then sit back with a glass of homemade rhubarb wine while her daughters-in-law cleaned up her leavings in the kitchen.

Like my grandmother and my mom, Mrs. Mike was a very good cook, but nothin’ fancy. Holiday meals were what you’d expect from a prairie cook – roast turkey and root vegetables, mashed potatoes, pie, steamed pudding, fruitcake. Squash never made it onto her holiday table, but carrots, you bet.

Now I love a good turkey or roasted chicken as well as the next hungry woman. But there are times when I think I am a changeling, at least in a culinary sense. I’d rather eat South Asian food than anything else. You know, food featuring those warm high-C spices – cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves. And a vegetable-heavy feast that might include rogan josh (Kashmiri lamb),but for me the heart of the table are the vegetables: dahl (stewed lentils with ginger), chole (curried chickpeas), basmati rice, aloo gobi (cauliflower and potatoes with tomato and garlic), bartha (smoked pureed eggplant), palak paneer (spinach and fresh cheese), garlic naan (flatbread), and pakoras (vegetable fritters) with cilantro chutney. That’s my last supper right there. My sons have it in writing.

I’ll share those recipes in the coming year. Meanwhile, a lovely way to introduce South Asian flavours is to add an Indian pickle to your table. My favourite is carrot pickle, and in years like this, when I have many pounds of homegrown carrots in my fridge, gifts of homemade carrot pickle are economical and delicious.

In a family committed to homemade gifts, food is often the medium that makes the rounds at our present exchanges. This is a hot-pack pickle that must be refrigerated, so include a note to that effect when you share it, whether at a Diwali, Eid, Kwanzaa, Hannukah, or Christmas feast. However we celebrate the rebirth of life and return from the dark, first we eat.

Carrot Pickle

Store this pickle in the fridge to let the flavours develop and use it to garnish curries, scrambled eggs, roast pork, smoked or roasted salmon, canapés, and grain dishes. Mustard oil adds a distinctively pungent, spicy note. Buy it at South Asian groceries. If you can’t find it, substitute your best extra virgin olive oil.

Makes 1 quart jar

1 lb. carrots, julienned, raw or lightly steamed                                              

1 head garlic, peeled and thinly sliced                                                            

ginger root to taste, thinly sliced       

1 ½ tsp. kalonji (black onion seed), optional                        

1 tsp. fenugreek                                                         

1 tsp. anise seed                                                         

½ tsp. coriander seed                                     

¼ tsp. cumin seed                                                      

1 tsp. mustard seed                                                                            

½ tsp. cracked black peppercorns                                                                                         

2 lemons, juice and zest                                                                                             

½ c. apple cider vinegar                                             

mustard oil as needed

Wash and sterilize the jar. Pack the carrots into the jar, using a pair of chopsticks or skewer to make the job easier. Combine all remaining ingredients except the mustard oil in a small pot and bring to a boil, then pour over the carrots. Top up with oil so that all the carrots are covered, then put on a snug lid and refrigerate for several weeks before using.

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Chameleon cooking

Grainews

December 2021.

I’ve been benched. Perhaps you recall that last month’s column mentioned Mom’s and my west coast holiday, specifically meeting a salmon fisher in Steveston. That morning we worked our way up and down the wharf, admiring the spot prawns and salmon despite having neither pans nor stovetop. We moved slowly, but not just to soak in the ambiance while accommodating Mom’s elderly gait. The day before, I had been struck, knocked down, and driven over by a ponytailed man riding a motorized scooter, a two-wheeler bigger than a Vespa but smaller than a Harley. Months later, I am still limping, and our dog Jake hasn’t had a run since before my accident. It turns out that soft tissue trauma in a foot takes almost as long to heal as broken bones. Who knew?

As a result, before mealtimes I head to the living room to elevate my damaged limb and apply heat while I sip a glass of wine. In the kitchen, Dave is cooking. I am grateful. But I’ve learned to get out of the way instead of offering advice – we work in different ways, at different speeds, and my gratitude is purest when I refrain from “helping”.

When we met almost fourteen years ago Dave fed me sausages and sauerkraut for my first supper in his apartment. Since then, his repertoire has increased. He makes a mean meatloaf; a good Bolognese sauce enriched with dried figs, apricots, and prunes; and some terrific baked pasta. In the sweet kitchen, he whips up the occasional tea-loaf spiked with dark chocolate and Earl Grey. But although beans and lentils aren’t really his thing, I had a craving for pork and beans, so I asked him to make this simplest of all lentil dishes.

Canada is the world’s leader in producing and exporting lentils, with ninety-five percent grown in Saskatchewan. Lentils are superfoods, nutty, earthy, and yummy as well as high in protein and fibre. There is evidence that humanity has been eating them for millennia, from the Euphrates river valley 8000 years ago to Egyptian tombs at Thebes, and ancient frescos show the making of lentil soup. Half the world’s lentils are consumed in India, but they are also popular in Spain, the Middle, East, and France. Here in North America, we were slower to adopt the lentil, but with the advent of the Second World War, meat shortages convinced many cooks of the virtue of lentils.

This red lentil dish, cousin to the old staple of pork and beans, is a changeable chameleon. Vary the vegetables. Chop them finely or leave ‘em large. Make it thick with extra veg and call it a stew. Add coconut milk and shredded greens and serve beside coconut rice, or thin it with additional stock to serve as soup. Add minced sausage or not, as you please.

I have chosen South Asian fused with Spanish seasoning for this version, but you can go elsewhere: make a Thai curry (add green, red, or Panang curry paste, honey, lime juice, coconut milk, and lemongrass, with toasted peanut garnish); a Middle Eastern tagine (add pomegranate molasses, sumac or saffron, cumin, dried fruit, and preserved lemons); or a Latin-esque lunch (add coriander, fennel seed, chili powder, tomato, oregano, a bit of dark chocolate, and cilantro garnish). Of course you can use different types of lentils or cooked beans, but red lentils cook in the same timeframe as most vegetables, making this a prompt and practical one-pot peasant dish that sustains and delights. So first we eat, and then we can chat about other chameleon dishes.

Red Chameleon Lentils

Do not add salt or acid until after the lentils are cooked.

Serves 6

2 Tbsp. olive oil

4-6 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp. minced ginger

1 onion, minced

2 cups chopped assorted vegetables (carrots, mushrooms, celery, bell pepper, zucchini, cabbage)

2-4 links sausage of your preference, diced or sliced (optional)

1 Tbsp. sweet paprika

½ tsp. smoked paprika

1 Tbsp. curry powder or garam masala

1 cup red lentils

8 cups chicken stock

2-4 Tbsp. lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

2 cups shredded greens (beet tops, chard, arugula, kale, spinach, cress, mustard greens)

Heat a heavy-bottomed pot and add the oil. Add the garlic and ginger, stirring. Add the onion. Sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the remaining vegetables and sauté for several minutes, using the mushrooms as a benchmark – when they are wilted, add the optional sausage. Sauté until the sausage is cooked, then stir in the spices to toast for a couple minutes. Add the lentils and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cover snugly. Cook for 20 – 30 minutes, or until tender. Season to taste with lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Stir in the greens. Serve hot.

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Farmers and fishers

Grainews

October 2021.

Early fall, and I am on a holiday with Mom, revisiting the foods, places, and faces of her youth. Mom is a retired dryland farmer, and like me, she misses the ready access to fish and seafood that we enjoyed during our earlier coastal life while Dad was in the Canadian Air Force. So on this west coast vacation, we eat west coast fish every day – wild sockeye salmon, halibut, tuna, spot prawns, ling cod, rockfish, sablefish.

At Farquharson Farms, a market garden in the Comox Valley where my then-thirty-something Mom was a field boss in the mid-1960s, the farm’s 192 acres are now a waterfowl habitat. A few miles north, Mission Hill Meats has transformed into Gunter Brothers Meat, run by the grandsons of Harry Gunter; Mom worked for Harry five decades ago, delivering meat weekly up-island to Sayward and Kelsey Bay and providing cooking tips to the young wives on her route. We take a beach tour, revisiting Miracle Beach and Kin Beach, where back in the day we gorged on oysters, clams, and salmon, all caught by our family.

But you can’t recapture your youth. Mom is visibly disappointed that the small coastal towns she knew so well have changed, more perhaps than she has. So we leave the past behind and take the ferry to the mainland to visit our family.

On the Steveston wharf south of Vancouver, a dozen fishing boats are tied up. The fishers use ice to display their catch of gleaming silver and coral, the signature colours of salmon and spot prawns indigenous to the coastal waters.

Mom and I stop to chat with Steve Lewis, aboard the F.V. Evening Breeze, a 42-foot fishing vessel. I am curious about the parallels, if any, between fishing and farming. I learn that five years ago, Lewis, his wife, Michelle, and their son would sell 100 whole fish a day at the wharf, all frozen at sea when caught. This week, during a 9-day stint at the Steveston wharf, they only sold 31 fish on Sunday, and 30 on Saturday, despite 30,000 people passing through the wharf over the weekend. “People aren’t spending like they used to,” Lewis tells me. “We’re hoping it’s just Covid, but last year was better than this year.  And it doesn’t help that some fishers thaw their fish and sell it as fresh. We only sell frozen.”

Lewis was born into a Campbell River fishing family, and has been long line fishing for 50 years. The salmon fishery around Dixon Entrance, between Haida Gwaii and Alaska, where he holds his license, was open only briefly during August and September. Lewis’s halibut license allows fishing between March and November.

Like farming, getting into the fishery on a commercial level is costly. License renewal is $750/year, but its initial purchase – when available from another fisher – is worth $100,000 to $200, 000 for salmon, and almost a million dollars for a prawn fishery license, if you can find a fisher ready to sell up. Plus there’s the initial outlay of up to $500,000 for a boat, radar, sounders, fish sonar, computers, programs to map the sea-bottom and draw it in 3-D, insurance, and wharfage fees, plus power to keep the heaters going in the winter.

Like the dairy industry, the Canadian fishery is governed by quotas, with the added risk of storms, icy ocean water, short fishing seasons, depleting stocks, climate change, a decline in home cooking, and a public misinformed that buying fresh and farmed is better than frozen and wild. When I ask Lewis if he’s going to stick with the fishery, he wryly says, “We’ll stay in business. I hope our son will finally say dad I want the boat. One of us has got to get off – I did that with my dad.” Listening, I think of all the farmers I know with a younger generation leaving for easier lives off-farm. And I wonder all over again, who will feed us? So first we eat, then we talk about how to save the oceans and farms.

Dorothy Caldwell’s Roasted Salmon

This beautifully balanced dish relies on the extra fat from the mayo and the sweet-tart vinegar to enhance wild sockeye salmon’s richness. If you don’t have umeboshi plum vinegar, substitute Japanese-style rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar with a bit of honey. Thanks to my friend Dorothy for sharing. Serves 6-8

1 boneless side of wild sockeye salmon, 2-4 lb.

½ cup mayonnaise

2 Tbsp. umeboshi plum vinegar

1 medium minced red onion

1 tsp. mustard

½ tsp. smoked hot paprika

1 lemon, juice and zest

salt and pepper to taste

a handful of minced herbs – chives, parsley, thyme, tarragon, cilantro

Preheat the oven to 400 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the fish on the prepared tray, skin side down. Mix together remaining ingredients except herbs and slather on the fish. Roast uncovered until just done, about 12-15 minutes. Sprinkle with herbs, then serve.

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Making the most of a tough tomato harvest

Grainews

October 2021.

War contributes to the transportation and appropriation of goods around the globe. For instance, tomatoes were among the plants and animals that ended up in Europe in the unequal exchange of goods, disease, slavery, land theft, and genocide between New World and Old, beginning in 1492 and culminating in1650, called the Columbian Exchange. This event led to the emergence of some remarkable Mediterranean dishes, many centering on the tomato, and making them among the world’s most popular fruit for home gardeners like me. My tomato-growing is bittersweet, knowing the history of the plants.

Tomatoes are fragile. A frost warning for tonight means that I will cover the fruit still hanging on the vine. Not that there’s a lot – this summer has been as disastrous for tomatoes as it has been for most other crops.

I planted thirty plants – among them Black Krim, Sungold, Marzano, Early Girl, Sweet Million, Brandywine, Whippersnapper, yellow-striped Green Zebra, and heritage beefsteak, plus five “mystery plants” purchased from tomato maven and author Sara Williams at her annual Tomatoes for Tanzania sale in Saskatoon.  Because we were flooded in 2011, and my mother’s and grandmother’s garden was eventually covered by a berm that encircles the house to keep ensuing (perhaps unlikely) floods from drowning our old house, most of my gardening takes place in containers and raised beds. The tomatoes inhabit a funky assortment of receptacles adjacent to the herb bed on the north side of the house. They get sun, shade, shelter. I had hopes of a bumper crop.

At her sale, I asked Williams for some tips. On her advice, I made eggshell tea to from crushed eggshells to aid in calcium absorption and reduce the risk of the dreaded blossom stem end rot.

Then the heat dome inflated over western Canada. A heat wave that lasted most of the summer set in, and my tomato plants, by then setting blossoms, began to look stressed. On days that hit upwards of 30C, it became impossible to keep the plants’ water level on an even keel.

A harvest vastly smaller than I expected – albeit with very few incidences of blossom stem end rot – meant that I had to go looking for additional fruit to feed my tomato habit. (Each fall I like to make roasted tomato sauce – more on that in a minute – and my paternal grandmother Doris’s southern Ontario sweet and spicy tomato chili sauce, dynamite with eggs and grilled pork. That recipe another time.)

Fortunately, my mom’s neighbour operates a bustling market selling homegrown vegetables, canned goods, and baking. She had bags of green tomatoes – beefsteaks, she thought. Now I have tomatoes ripening in my kitchen, bananas strategically placed on each tray to facilitate the process. In a week or two, I expect to make roasted tomato sauce for my freezer; I save the smaller tomatoes for use in our daily salads.

This sauce is money in the bank for a busy cook – it is ready RIGHT NOW, needing only thawing, as the best-ever pizza sauce, pasta sauce, soup base, and all-purpose ingredient in any dish requiring tomato sauce, from Bolognese to butter chicken.

Last fall, and again this summer, that tomato sauce featured prominently in al fresco pizza suppers enjoyed in the shade of the maple tree. Having the sauce in my freezer meant that my prep time was reduced, allowing me to enjoy a glass of wine with our friends. After more than a year of isolation, those pizzas symbolize the beauty and collegiality of the table, antidote in small part to the violence of how tomatoes came to European cooks. So first we eat. Then we pour another glass of wine and debate ways to grow the best tomatoes.

Roasted Tomato Sauce

This “oven-queen’s special” minimizes splatter and mess while producing a sauce bursting with fresh tomato flavour. One “quarter sheet” baking pan (about 13” x 18”) makes 6-8 cups of sauce. For Tomato and Lovage Soup, sauté minced lovage and add to the sauce, thinning with stock as needed. Vary endlessly.

3 lb. ripe tomatoes, halved or quartered depending on size

1-2 onions, minced

1 head garlic, peeled

olive oil to drizzle

salt and pepper to taste

Set the oven at 375 – 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer on the pan. Sprinkle the onion and garlic on top. Drizzle with olive oil to taste, then sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for about 45 minutes, or until the tomatoes are collapsed, charred nicely along the edges, and cooked thoroughly. Transfer in several batches to a food processor and blitz briefly, leaving the sauce a bit chunky. Freeze in whatever volume seems useful to you: in my 2-person house, I use 2-cup containers.

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