Laksa: Ticket to Flavourtown!

I cannot say enough positive things about Laksa, despite only have a vague idea of what it is or where originated. According to this mildly confusing Wikipedia article, vagueness is a characteristic of Laksa, being something that seems to be a mish mash recipe from various cultures.

What I can tell you with certainty is this: it’s a soup, it’s a snap to make and it’s absolutely delicious!

JD and I were lucky enough to be introduced to this culinary wonder by our friends Ashley and John, recent transplants to our city and dedicated Sunday dinner attendees. Ashley gave me the essential directions and ingredients and I went to our local Asian market to procure what I needed. As Ashley so aptly put it “It’s one of those things where you buy the ingredients but then you have them so they just live in your fridge until you’re ready to make it again”.

Laksa is something you can make to  suit your own tastes: milder, spicier, adding in the  veggies and protein that you want. Shrimp? Sure! Noodles? Why not! It’s very flexible – however note that it not necessarily suitable for vegetarians – the Laksa paste I bought had shrimp listed in the ingredients.

One administrative item before we get on to the good part – there is now a “Print & PDF” button at the bottom of my posts. This nifty feature allows you to print posts and recipes (there a button you can check to remove images) or save them as .pdf files on your computer. Handy! I am testing this option so if there is something more convenient that you can suggest, please do so.

For the Laksa that JD and I ate, I decided on onions, mushrooms, and some leftover chicken. So slice a large onion, add to your large soup pot with some oil and cook over medium heat until onion softens, about 5 minutes. (On that note, I feel that I post so many onion photos that the alternate title for this blog could be “photos of sliced onions by Julia”.)

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Go ahead and slice some mushrooms –  I used basic white mushrooms but you could use any variety. Add them to the onions and cook, stirring, 2-3 more minutes. Giving them time to simmer in the soup is key according to Ashley: “it makes them into mushroomy balls of laksa flavoured deliciousness”.

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Add  a couple of tablespoons of black bean paste

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Add a teaspoon (to start) of  ground chilies in oil with garlic – the bottle of which is apparently impossible to photograph (apologies!)

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Add your Laksa paste – I could only find this in a single-pot making packet but Ashley assures me that a well-stocked Asian market will have jars of Laksa paste. If you have a packet, add it all. If you have a jar, start with 3-4 tbsp and add more to taste, if needed. She also suggests a 2:1 ratio of Laksa paste to black bean paste.

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Add one can of coconut milk and about 3 cups chicken broth

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Bring soup to a simmer, cover, and continue simmering for about 15 minutes until vegetables are soft and flavours have blended

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Add your protein of choice – I used leftover chicken from a roasted chicken I made earlier in the week but shrimp or tofu would also be great

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Ashley says “You want that delicious chili oil action happening”, as shown below

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Then you want to prep your herbs – this really takes the soup to the next level. Some delicious cilantro and thai basil

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Add your chopped cilantro and thai basil to your soup bowls with some fresh lime wedges

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If you’re crazy like we are, you can also add some additional chili paste to your soup bowl (also pour yourself a big glass of water)

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Ladle Laksa into bowls and enjoy!

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Laksa

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 large Onion, sliced thinly

2 cloves Garlic, minced (I forgot both the garlic and ginger and almost didn’t notice, so you can omit if you wish)

1 tsp Ginger, minced

1/2 lb Mushrooms, sliced

1 packet Laksa paste* or 3-4 TBSP of Laksa paste from a jar

2 tsp Ground chili with fried garlic paste* (less if you like things less spicy, omit if you want it mild)

2 TBSP Black bean paste* (also known as black bean sauce)

1 can Coconut milk

3 cups Chicken broth

2 cups Chicken, cooked and shredded, or protein of your choice

Chopped cilantro

Chopped thai basil

Fresh lime

* These ingredients can be picked up at your local Asian market.

  1. Slice onion and add to your large soup pot with some oil and cook over medium heat until onion softens, about 5 minutes.

  2. Slice your mushrooms, mince ginger and garlic and add to pot. Cook an additional 2-3 minutes.

  3. Add black bean paste, chili paste, Laksa paste, coconut milk, and chicken broth. Bring to a simmer and continue cooking, covered, for about 15 minutes until flavours have combined. Add chicken and simmer 5 more minutes.

  4. Chop herbs and add to soup bowls. Add fresh lime wedges to bowl or serve alongside.

  5. Ladle soup into bowls and enjoy.

Mini Beef Pies for Picnic Day

Oh, summer, you’ve been eating up all my time with swimming, adventures, bridesmaid duties, house renovations, among other fun things. Today is picnic day and I am currently blogging in my bathing suit. Just keeping it classy, you know. Having said that, here is a quick recipe for a great picnic lunch. Something other than the ubiquitous sandwich-that-sits-in-the-sun-all-morning. To break up the time spent in a steaming hot kitchen, I made the filling the night before and assembled and baked the pies this morning. Enjoy!

Mini Beef Pies for Picnic Day

yields 12 mini pies

1 package prepared pie crust (I use pillsbury, 2 crusts per package)

1 lb extra lean ground beef

1 medium onion, minced

1 medium carrot, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 knorr homestyle beef stock cube (or 1 bouillion cube but they are just not as good!)

1 cup water

1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1 tbsp dijon mustard

2 tbsp BBQ sauce of your choice

2 tbsp flour

1/2 cup frozen green peas

1. Brown ground beef in a skillet until no longer pink. Drain excess fat, return beef to skillet, and add onion, carrot, and garlic. Cook over medium heat until veggies begin to soften, about 4-5 minutes.

2. Add stock, water, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and BBQ sauce to the beef mixture. Stir until well combined, turn heat to low, and let simmer 15-20 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Sprinkle flour over the beef mixture and stir until well combined. The flour will absorb the excess liquid and thicken the mixture. Set aside.

3. Roll out one prepared pie crust so that you increase the size of your crust by 50%. This gave me enough crust to make 12 mini beef pies in my muffin tin. Using a large, round cookie cutter or plastic container, cut out 6 circles of crust and fit them into your muffin pan. Put your your pastry scraps aside and repeat with second crust, reserving pastry scraps, so that you have the shell for 12 mini pies. The remaining pastry will form the lids.

4. Fill muffin cups with your beef filling. For me, this meant one large spoonful per muffin cup. Roll out your remaining pastry and, using a small, round cookie cutter or a drinking glass, cut out 12 pastry circles. Place pastry circles on top of your mini pies and, using your fingers, pinch together the pastry so the pies are sealed. Cut a slit in each mini pie to vent.

5. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Serve hot or cold or on a picnic.

Shrimp Salsa for Hunan Hand Awareness Week

Hunan hand. It’s serious. So serious in fact that I will reference this scholarly medical definition. I am shocked that more bloggers have not spoken out about this condition sweeping through kitchens all over the world. Well, I am a hunan hand survivor and this is my story.

A few weeks ago I was spending a nice afternoon with my lovely friend Christine. We started talking about a sushi-making party she once threw, she reminded me that I had sung “Grandma Got Runover by a Reindeer” at Karaoke, and I recalled that JD and I had been 3 hours late to the party – because I had hunan hand.

HH (as I like to call it) is a chili burn that you get after handling hot peppers – the capsaicin from the peppers causes skin to have an [often intense] burning sensation. On that fateful night, JD and I had been making hot pepper jelly to give away for Christmas. I had minced over 1lb of jalapenos… the resulting HH caused us to try soaking my hand in milk, water, and even vodka! Let me tell you, it was a waste of perfectly good vodka. After lots of fretting (by me), drinking (by JD), and googling (by both), we reasoned that the only thing that could make HH go away was time. Hence being 3 hours late for the party, missing all the sushi making and arriving only in time for the sushi eating, and obviously, the karaoke.

Although I survived that incident relatively unscathed, I never looked at a hot pepper the same way again. Do yourself a favour – wear gloves, or at least remember to periodically rinse your hands in cold water.

This recipe comes from Gina at Skinnytaste and made a terrific summer meal – would probably also make a great party dip. Next time, I’m going to add some minced garlic.

Juice two limes – or the biggest lime you can find. This lime was so huge, I wondered if it was juicing with steroids

Chop your veggies and herbs

Add your chopped, cooked shrimp

Mix well and allow the flavours to combine in your fridge for a minimum of one hour

JD version: shrimp salsa taco with avocado and old white cheddar

Julia version: shrimp salsa lettuce wraps

Highly customizable – could add black beans, corn, other seafood…yum!

The Hot & Spicy Weekend: Homemade Thai Red Curry

Sometimes you want to come home from work, strip down to your unmentionables, pour yourself a stiff drink, and eat an astonishing amount of Thai food.

Don’t let me frighten you away! The actual culinary skill involved for this homemade Thai Red Curry is very little: can you make a blender drink? You can make this. I will admit, though, that assembling the ingredients can be a bit piddly. But that’s ok – one trip to a decently stock Asian market should have you ready to go. I first made this dish while I was at home in Newfoundland visiting my family –  if I could track down the ingredients in the land of Fish n Chips, I’d wager you can find them where you are, too.

This recipe is a mish-mash of dozens I have read. I can’t make any guarantees towards authenticity but it is delicious.

Thai Red Curry Chicken and Veggies

For the red curry paste:

15-20 dried red chilis, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes (I used 20)

1 shallot, chopped, or 1/4 cup of red onion, chopped

1/2 a red pepper, chopped

2 stalks fresh lemongrass, chopped (tender parts only – remove the outer tough layer) or 3 TBSP frozen sliced lemongrass

5 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tbsp kaffir lime leaves (often sold frozen in a package – they look like large, lime scented bay leaves) or substitute the zest of 2 limes

3 tsp red chili sauce, such as sriracha

2 thai bird’s eye chilis (optional – only if you like things VERY spicy)

One 2-inch piece of galangal or ginger, sliced

1 tbsp of chopped fresh coriander (aka cilantro) stems

2 tbsp tomato paste

2 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp sugar or equivalent amount of sweetner of your choice

2 tbsp chili powder

3 tbsp fresh lime juice

3 tbsp coconut milk (optional – if you have trouble pureeing)

For the assembly:

1 large can of coconut milk (unsweetened)

1 small can of bamboo shoots, drained and rinsed

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs cut into bite sized pieces (use instead: beef, shrimp, or tofu)

Assorted veggies: eggplant, green beans, red pepper (optional)

For Serving:

Steamed rice

Lime wedges

First, mix yourself a cocktail. Next, lay out everything you will need

Soak your dried chilis in hot water. Doesn’t that look like the devil’s hot tub? Yikes. Anyway, while your chilis are soaking, chop your other ingredients.

Clockwise from top – your soaked red chilis, shallot, garlic, galangal (or ginger), lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves (or zest of 2 limes), thai bird’s eye chilis (optional), chopped coriander (aka cilantro) stems.

Stuff everything into your magic bullet cup (if you’re me ) – or add everything to your blender. If the lime juice/fish sauce/soy sauce is not enough liquid to get things moving, add a few tbsp of your coconut milk.

Why, hello! It’s your new friend, Thai Red Curry paste! Now…please taste a miniscule amount. Literally dip your pinkie finger in and taste this tiniest bit because this is the concentrated paste and as such, it is very, very strong. Adjust as necessary – if you can’t taste the lemongrass, add more. If you find it too sour, add more sugar or tomato paste. Not savoury enough? Add a little more soy sauce or some salt. Is it very spicy? Consider that the coconut milk will calm that. Way, way, way too spicy for you? Add a little more lime juice to calm the heat.

The next step is to sautée your chicken (or whatever protein you wish) just until no longer pink in the middle. About 3-4 minutes per side over medium heat. Set aside.

Now add a little oil to your pan along with 2 to 4 tbsp of your curry paste and apologize for your terrible photo (I’m sorry). For a milder curry, use 2 tbsp of paste; if you like it spicy like we do, use 4 tbsp. The point of this awful photo is to show you that as you cook your red curry paste, it will begin to darken and become fragrant. At this point, add your coconut milk and stir until combined. Then add your veggies (if using), bamboo shoots, and chicken and allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes until veggies are tender and your whole kitchen is engulfed in the smell of Thai food. Serve over steamed rice with lime wedges as a garnish.

Now, eat a ridiculous amount and enjoy. Happy weekend!

P.s. But Julia, you didn’t say what to do with all my leftover curry paste? Leftover red curry paste can be portioned out in tbsp into plastic sandwich bags or containers and frozen for future use. Just defrost your portion of curry paste and proceed with the recipe. A little work upfront makes a lot of lazy weekend suppers, huh?

Chicken Soup with Chicken-Chickpea Dumplings

Sometimes you want to be comforted by your meals. In winter, this often means reaching for another serving of a cheesy casserole or curling up on a stormy day with a big plate of nachos – and there is nothing wrong with that, on occasion.

Making this recipe only further convinced me that there are gratifying, stomach-filling recipes that fit the comfort bill without necessarily bogging you down under thousands of calories.

I came across this recipe purely by accident and found it to be both delicious and very filling – not to mention being egg free, dairy free, low carb and just good for what ails you! It was so filling, in fact, that I could not finished the bowl above. I fed this soup to quite a few friends who dropped by for a visit and 4 dumplings were an average sized portion, 6 for a very hungry person.

Try not to skip the fresh herbs, they really elevate the soup to another level.

Oh, and my recipe is loosely based on this one. I actually found the dumplings to be a bit too dense for my taste. The recipe below will have my adjustments so they are a little more tender.

To make the dumplings, you will need chickpea flour. Before you groan about hunting down an unusual ingredient, let me tell you: chickpea flour is super easy to make. You simply whizz dried chickpeas in your food processor/blender/coffee grinder/whatever. I used a magic bullet and it worked a treat, my only complaint being that it was so loud!  Dried chickpeas can be found at your local grocery store, health food store or bulk store.

Chicken and Chickpea Dumplings (Gundi) in Chicken Soup

Adapted from Encyclopedia of Jewish Food by Gil Marks

Dumplings:

  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 1.5 cups chickpea flour 
  • 2 medium yellow onions, grated
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil or 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • About 1 teaspoon salt
  • About 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • About 2 tablespoons water

Soup:

  •  2 quarts/boxes chicken broth
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon ground tumeric
  • Salt to taste
  • Assorted chopped fresh herbs: any combination of basil, parsley and cilantro

1. In a medium bowl, combine all the meatball ingredients, adding enough water to form a mixture that is smooth but not sticky. Refrigerate until firm, at least 3 hours. Using moistened hands, shape into smooth 1-inch balls, about the size of golf balls.

2. In a large pot, add the olivie oil, sliced onions and celerey and cook until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add the chicken broth to  lemon juice, turmeric, and salt and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the gundi, cover, and simmer until the gundi are tender, about 40 minutes.

3. Add some chopped fresh herbs to your soup bowl. Spoon dumplings and broth over herbs and serve.

Add chickpea flour (easy to make at home!) and  grated onions

Spices and fresh herbs flavour the dumplings and the soup

Add your ground chicken and blend thoroughly with your impeccably clean hands

Make sure your mixture is well blended – it will be dense

Form your chilled mixture into balls – ready for a long simmer in hot broth

Add your fresh herbs and serve

Garlic, Garlic, Garlic

There are some major changes happening in my life so the blog format will be changing, too. However, the explanation can wait…recipes first, chitter chatter later.

This post may result in an incredulous e-mail from my mother but…I have discovered a new way to roast a chicken. I realize that’s kind of like saying “I discovered a new way to roll a wheel” but, hey, try it.

This chicken is very loosely based on the Judy Rodgers’ version (of Zuni Café fame). Basically, you wash, pat dry and salt a chicken as soon as you know you want to have it for dinner. The original recipe states 24 hours but I usually only figure out dinner the day of.

You salt and pepper the whole chicken (be liberal, it’s ok), put the chicken back on a platter and stick it in the fridge. The cold, dry air of your refrigerator will help yield a crispy chicken skin and extremely juicy meat.

Take the chicken out of the fridge about an hour before you intend to cook it so that it can come to room temperature. A cold chicken won’t cook evenly. Preheat your oven to 400F (see note below as you may need to heat your oven to 425 or even 450).

Here’s another secret… separate the cloves from a bulb of garlic. Leave them unpeeled. Stick them into the chicken cavity and seal the cavity with a toothpick. Super garlicky chicken + amazing roasted garlic = love.

Roast the chicken breast side up for 20 minutes, flip and roast breast side down for another 20 minutes (for even cooking), and finally turn again and roast breast-side up for the final 20 minutes. That’s it. One hour in a hot oven + resting and you will be amazed at how juicy and delicious your chicken is.

Crispy Garlicky Roasted Chicken

**UPDATE: You may want to roast your chicken for another 10 minutes or so if you cut into it and the thigh is still pink near the bone. Or you can raise the temperature of your oven by 25 or 50 degrees. This depends on your oven and your personal preferences. Just be careful not to over-cook. My oven is very small so it is very hot and 60 minutes  at 400 degrees does the trick. As with many recipes, your mileage may vary! Enjoy.

– One 3-4lb chicken

– 1.5 tsp sea salt

– 1 tsp pepper

– 1 bulb of garlic, cloves separated but left unpeeled

1. Salt and pepper chicken as soon as you think of roasting on – sometime between 2 and 24 hours before. Return salted chicken to the refrigerator.

2. Remove chicken 1 hour before ready to cook and allow to come to room temperature, more or less.

3. Preheat oven to 400F and fill cavity with garlic cloves and seal cavity closed using a toothpick.

4. Using a small* roasting pan or dish, add a little olive oil to the pan and then add the chicken breast side up. Roast 20 minutes.

5. Turn chicken breast side down and continue to roast another 20 minutes.

6. Flip chicken once more and roast breast side up for the final 20 minutes.

7. Allow chicken to rest for 20 minutes so that juices can redistribute. Remove roasted garlic from cavity and serve alongside chicken.

*It is essential to use a roasting pan or dish or even pie plate approximately the same size of your chicken. This will ensure that the juices and fat that come from the chicken don’t burn.

JD and I were actually thinking that roasted chicken should be our new Sunday thing. You can’t beat the smell of a bird in the oven, now can you? Plus when I brought JD a sample of chicken to taste his response was something like “Ohhh yeahh!!!” (think of the Kool-Aid man here, folks).

Another brainwave that I had last night was to use pesto as salad dressing. For reasons I will elaborate on later, I can’t have any vinegar so life is a bit dull where salads are concerned. Anyway I don’t have a name for this salad, it just floated into my mind. Maybe I’ll call it Pesto Salad…

I forgot to buy pine nuts….almonds it is!

The ubiquitous magic bullet

Pesto Salad (serves 2 generously)

– 3-4 cups mixed greens (I love love love pre-washed greens)

– 2 roma tomatoes, sliced (or the best tomatoes you can find in winter)

– 2 oz of soft goat’s cheese, crumbled

For the Pesto

– 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts or almonds

– 2 cloves garlic, peeled

– 2 cups basil, loosely packed

– 1/4 cup olive oil (be geneous, this is a salad dressing after all)

– 1-2 tsbp of lemon juice, to taste

1. In a large bowl, arrange the tomatoes and the mixed greens, set aside.

2. For the pesto, toast the nuts in a hot, dry pan until they start to brown, about 3-4 minutes (watch closely).

3. To a food processor, blender or magic bullet, add the basil, garlic, lemon juice, nuts and olive oil. Blend until smooth. If pesto is too thick, add more olive oil.

4. Spoon desired amount of dressing over salad, toss. Top with crumbled goat’s cheese.

I recently had some allergy testing done – 6 vials of blood later, quite a lot of foods and environmental elements are tested in a lab and the results returned to my doctor. It seems I am allergic to eggs and yeast. Who knew?! We were certainly shocked. Not only that, many of the symptoms and weird ailments I have been experiencing can be tied in to a yeast overgrowth. Everyone has both good bacteria and yeast in their gut. However, if yeast grows unchecked, it can release toxins into your body causing all manner of ridiculous symptoms: fatigue, mood swings, inability to lose weight, ear, nose and eye issues, gastrointestinal issues….I could go on.

Having learned all of this, my doctor recommended that I follow what is known as the Candida Diet. It is essentially a way of eating that does not include any foods that feed yeast – think sugary, starchy foods along with fruits, vinegars, mushrooms, alcohol, etc. Sounds hard, right? Well, it is and it isn’t. It is very similar to a diet low in carbohydrates but is at the same time more restrictive and less restrictive than a low-carb diet. By which I mean, no vinegar means no condiments such as mustard, bbq sauce, hot sauce, soya sauce, etc. Vinegar feeds yeast. On the other hand, there is room for whole grains, nuts and legumes in moderation.

So all this to say my blog will take on something of a healthier spin. I will still be baking, I just may not be the one eating my creations. I should also point out that the Candida Diet is challenging even for experienced cooks. By blogging about it, hopefully the recipes and meals I come up with can help others. I know there is a LOT of contradictory information on the internet about the Candida Diet so my approach has been to go by what my doctor recommends and take it slow. I tried some whole wheat noodles at sushi the other day – that was a huge no. I tried some unsweetened coconut milk (now packaged like rice, soy or almond milk) and that was a huge YES.

So stay tuned for a mixture of low-carb, candida-killing, super tasty and healthy posts.