Great Fall Day for the Farmers Market

I was in the west-end this Saturday and decided to stop in at the Farmers Market. I had to share this photo of these amazing green zebra tomatoes that were on display! Amazing right? Bought some mini white eggplants and carrots for lamb stew, served with a bottle of Marechal Foch from Lang Vineyards in the Okanagan. Check out my next post for more about wine.

Next Saturday (October 23) is the last day for the summer season. Head out there to support local farmers!

Egyptian Lentil Soup with Spinach and Pasta

Like most conversations with massage therapists, mine was telling me about this amazing bowl of Egyptian Lentil Soup she sampled from a previous client.   What?  You don’t speak to your therapist about soup?

Not to be outdone, I decided I’d give it the college try and look up some recipes online.  I’ve actually never used lentils before, but it was simple enough to follow directions.  Coincidentally I recently watched Cairo Time, a Canadian-made film with movie-club “First Weekend Club“, which had brilliant cinematography showcasing the cultural differences, bustle and madness that is Cairo.  Check it out if you get a chance to.

For my first attempt at this soup, I think I did alright, and got some kudos from my therapist.  In her words, it was “even better than the one I had before”.  Yes! Mission accomplished!

Here’s the recipe:

Difficulty rating: 2 out of 5
Serves: 6

1 1/2 cups of green lentils
7 cups of chicken stock or vegetable stock
2 cups of spinach
2 medium onions, sliced
6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander seeds
1 tbs fresh lemon juice
1 cup of small pasta (I used Arborio rice; you can use broken vermicelli, large orzo)
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
Cilantro and fried shallots (optional)

Directions:

1. Wash lentils well and drain
2. Heat oil in a pot
3. Saute onions, then garlic
4. Add lentils and cumin, coriander, salt, pepper
5. Add stock and lemon juice and bring to a boil
6. Bring heat down and simmer for 15 minutes
7. Add pasta and spinach and simmer for another 20 minutes or so (you can add more stock, or simmer for longer depending on the consistency you want)
8. Garnish with cilantro or fried shallots

Enjoy your soup while watching Cairo Time! Perfect!

Welcome Fall, Hello Soup

It is this time of year that I crave stews, soups, goulashes, gumbos and all things hearty.

autumn_leaves

My massage therapist, Kelsey (she’s amazing – check out her profile if you need a new RMT), was telling me that she loves soup but the only soup she makes is heating up a can of Campbell’s.  Oh dear Kelsey.  To be honest, I didn’t start making soups until about a year ago when I realized how easy it was.Spicy Pancetta Squash Soup

Kelsey shared with me that the best soup she’s ever had was an Egyptian Lentil soup from a former client.  So I told her I’ll find a good recipe and share it with her.  I didn’t get around to making lentil soup this time (it’s on the list), but it did inspire me to make soup this past weekend.

Per my last post about produce shopping at the West End Farmer’s Market, I purchased some fresh organic delicata and kabocha squash (as I learned from the vendor) for my squash soup.

I found that the most time consuming part of the prep is the chopping and peeling of the squash.  Whether it’s butternut or other varieties of squash, the skin of the squash is very hard which makes it important to have good chopping technique to avoid being called 4 thumbs.  I found this video which would have been nice had I seen it sooner: .

Here’s my recipe for Spicy Pancetta Squash Soup (a spin on a Jamie Oliver recipe):

Ingredients:
4 pounds of squash of your choice, skinned and chopped in cubes
2 medium onions
2 stalks of celery
2 carrots
4 cloves of garlic
100 grams of pancetta (cubed)
2 litres of chicken stock
2 sage leaves (or use dried ones if you can’t find leaves)
1 red chilli or chill flakes

Simple steps:
1. Chop up all the vegetables and squash
2. Heat up oil in a pan and put the sage leaves in
3. Add pancetta and let it render down
4. After rendering, remove the sage leaves
5. Add onions and saute for a few minutes, then add the garlic, vegetables and chilli
6. Let the vegetables soften – about 10 minutes
7. Add the cubed squash and chicken stock
8. Bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer covered for 30 minutes
9. By now the squash should be soft – use a hand blender or blend in a food processor in batches
10. Bring soup back to a boil and you can add some cream if you want to get crazy
11. Finish off with drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil, some Parmesan cheese and serve with fresh bread

Let me know how it goes if you do try out this recipe.  Enjoy!

Got a Cold? Eat Congee.

Remember growing up when your mum would make you some special comfort-food dish when you were sick?  Perhaps some recipe passed down for generations?  For me and many other Chinese kids, this was congee or “jook” (as phonetically pronounced in Chinese).congee

The old wives’ tale has it that this dish can help boost your immune system and relieve you of cold ailments.  When I wiki’d congee, I found out that there are a few different cultures (Portuguese, Indian, Japanese and more) that have a very similar dish – check it out at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congee.  I have introduced this dish to quite a few of my non-Asian friends with mixed reviews.  Some folks just can’t get over the consistency – I guess it reminds them of oatmeal.

After feeling run down last week, I took a day off and made myself a big batch of this creamy, soupy, delicious comfort dish which is essentially watered down rice that has been simmered for hours.  It works wonders as well when I’m hungover.

Growing up however, we always had a version of it that didn’t have quite the texture I would have in a restaurant.  I always wondered what the secret of the texture could be.  Through the magic of Google, as one could imagine, it’s simply the ratio of water/stock  to rice (try 12:1) and having the patience to simmer the congee for 3-4 hours.  Just bring the pot of your rice mixture to a boil, turn it down to simmer and let the magic happen.

I had some leftover condiments handy – which happened to be a roasted chicken.  I shredded a few pieces of chicken breast and marinated the shredded chicken in soy sauce, sesame oil and white pepper.  Just before the congee is ready, I mixed in the marinated chicken and served it with some green onions and fried shallots.  Other toppings you’d typically find are sliced ginger, century eggs, fried bread sticks, quail eggs, and pretty much any other leftovers you can find.

Next time you’re at dim-sum, or spying on what those Chinese folks are slurping on, take a chance and order a bowl to see what you’ve been missing.