Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Moroccan red quinoa salad with butternut squash, chickpeas and goat cheese


Thankfully I'm not one of those people who need a lot of convincing to try something new. (Except when it comes to things like horse meat salami and such). I have no problem trying new foods when travelling or getting to know the culinary delights of a different culture. I discovered quinoa a while ago by accident. I saw this recipe in a newspaper that someone left behind on the subway.( See? It pays off to take public transit:)) That recipe never made it to my kitchen, I don't even remember what was in it, but I did some research on this wonder grain as soon as I got home. Turnes out, quinoa has been a staple of South American cuisine for centuries. I wonder what took us in the Northern Hemisphere so long to discover the "mother of all grains".
Lately I have been using this wonderfully versatile grain quite often. Whether it was a black been quinoa salad to accompany some barbecued Mexican fish wrapped in banana leaves ( oh, summer where art thou?) or just a quick Indian spiced mango and cilantro quinoa salad, I made sure to use it at least once a month. The benefits of quinoa are endless; it has a very high protein content, it's a great source of dietary fiber and it's also high in magnesium and iron. In its natural state, it has a bitter coating, called saponin. Most quinoa sold in North America has been processed to remove this coating.
Quinoa is cooked much like rice, 2 cups of water to 1 cup of grain for 15 minutes. It should be al dente, mild tasting and somewhat nutty when it's done.
This Moroccan salad is a very satisfying one; eats like a meal, rich with flavour and very filling because of the squash. The cumin seeds and preserved lemons give it that distinct Moroccan flavour that I tend to crave in cold winter months. For a great recipe for preserved lemons click here.


1 medium butternut squash, peeled, cubed
5 garlic coves, unpeeled
1 tbsp light olive oil
1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tbsp honey
1 cup cooked chickpeas
2 cups cooked red quinoa
4 oz soft, mild goat cheese
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
1 preserved lemon, peel only, sliced
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tbsp cumin seeds, toasted, crushed
juice of 1/2 lemon
pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper
some mixed greens (optional)

Preheat oven to 375F. In a bowl toss squash with garlic cloves, light olive oil, soy sauce and honey.Pour squash in a roasting tin and bake for 40 minutes or until squash cubes are soft but still holding their shape. Remove from oven. Put squash in a large bowl. Reserve garlic cloves.
Add chickpeas and quinoa to squash. Peel and coarsely mash reserved garlic cloves, add cumin seeds, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice salt and pepper.
Add dressing to squash mixture, then add preserved lemon peel. Mix well. Serve in large bowls, with toasted pumpkin seeds
and crumbled goat cheese on top.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Vanilla rice pudding with poppy seeds and mango


What do you do when without any reason whatsoever you keep forgetting things? Things like you have a class at 3pm, not 4 pm or meeting up with a friend you haven't seen for a long time or more importantly a doctor's appointment that you had to wait almost a year for??? I blame it on the weather (but then again I tend to blame everyhting on the cruel Canadian winter:)). What else could it be?! And of course we all know what to do to make things better when the weather is at fault: turn to some ultra soothing comfort food. This time I chose rice pudding with a twist. The milk, rice and some flavourings combination really works for me. Having tried other versions with cream, egg yolks, folded in at the end of cooking, or even coconut milk (all of which added unnecessary calories and made the pud taste waaaaay too rich) I can honestly say that this simple version is the best one. For me, at least.


600 ml whole milk
4 1/4 oz caster sugar
pinch of salt
4 1/4 oz arborio or carnaroli rice
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp poppy seeds
1/2 tsp lime oil
1 mango

Heat the milk with the sugar and salt. Bring to a boil, add the rice. Reduce heat to low, and cook until thick and rice is tender, stirring occasionally (20 to 25 min). Remove from heat. Add poppy seeds, vanilla and lime oil. Garnish with cubed or sliced fresh mango.


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Fig and date granola with cardamom and ginger poached quince

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Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. How many times have you heard that??? While we may find it boring, it is absolutely true. It's been scientifically proven that people who eat a nutritious breakfast tend to have more energy throughout the day and are also likely to have less problems with their weight. As a teenager I used to skip breakfast whenever I could. I just thought it was a waste of precious sleeping time. It wasn't rebellion or anything like that it was just a matter of fact. I much preferred to have some quick bite, like a Mars bar or sugary cereal (empty calories, my friends). Nowadays I pay more attention to what I put im my body and I have to say I grew to love breakfast. Actually it's my favourite meal of the day. Especially the loooooong, weekend breakfast, that is usually a 3 or 4 course affair around this household. OK, that sounds more like brunch, doesn't it? I've been known to still be in my PJ's at 3pm, with a warm almond croissant in one hand a double shot latte in the other.
But that only happens on the weekends. On a weekday, when time is of the essence granola is my saviour. This particular granola has oats,nuts, honey and all the goodness of dates and figs. I added honey and lemon juice for moisture, but you can also use any kind of cordial you have at hand. (Blackberry an lime cordial is brilliant for this job). You may also want to have different nuts and seeds. With this one anything goes. Really. Did I mention that oats are good for you? They can help reduce cholesterol, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and they are low GI foods, providing a steady release of energy throughout the day.
Quince is one of those fruits that you either love or hate. I belong to the quince lovers category. This wonderfully aromatic fruit is widely used in Middle Eastern cooking, in tagines ans sweets. You can't go wrong with paring lamb and quince.
The Spanish have a great concoction as well. It's called dulce de membrillo or quince cheese. It is served with thick slices of Manchego cheese. Heaven!!!
When raw, quince has a very hard and grainy flesh. Practically inedible. But once it's cooked it turns into this silky, smooth, and soft marvel of a fruit.
You can serve the poached quince with different kinds of granola or muesli, or just plain vanilla ice-cream. Add a thin crisp cookie and you hit a home run.

Fig and date granola


3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup dates, chopped
1/2 cup figs, chopped
4 tbsp honey
juice of half a lemon

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix oats, almonds,pumpkin seeds with honey and lemon juice in a large bowl.(Mixture should be slightly wet. Add more honey if need be). Line a large cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Pour mixture on the cookie sheet and bake for about 15 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and mix in chopped dates and figs. Cool completely. Store in an airtight container. Serve with poached quince, thick yogurt and honey.

Cardamom and ginger poached quince


4 large quince
1 cup sugar
5 cups water
2 cm piece of ginger
3 cardamom pods
juice of half a lemon

Peel, halve and core quince. Cut in 1 inch slices. Place quince slices in a large pot along with all the other ingredients. Bring to a simmer. Keep at a low simmer uncovered and cook for about 1 and 1/2 hours, or until the fruit is soft. Take off the heat, and lift quince pieces out of the poaching liquid. Place poaching liquid back on the stove and simmer for about an hour, until the the liquid is reduced to a wonderfully fragrant thick syrup. Remove ginger and cardamom. Discard. Put quince pieces back into the syrup and cool completely, before refrigerating.
Enjoy the aroma that has just filled your house!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Craving some Indian food?

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Well, so am I. Pretty much all the time. The smokiness, the spices, those deep layered flavours just can't be beat. The best meal I ever had (at a restaurant) was without a doubt at a restaurant called Bukhara in New Delhi. I remember we went shopping for spices in Old Delhi after lunch and by the time we got home it was almost 8pm. I was so hungry I could scream. Suddenly I remembered a midnight conversation I had (accidentally) overheard the night before. Our host and one of his guests were talking about this great restaurant they always go to when in town. I didn't pay much attention then, but I did remember the name Bukhara. And boy am I glad I did! We immediately asked our host to give us directions to this place. He said he'd be glad to, but he didn't think we could get in there without a reservation. We just pretended not to hear what he had just said. We jumped into a tuk-tuk (kinda dangerous, noisy, dusty, but loads of fun) and went straight to the restaurant. The funny thing was that this is an expensive restaurant. Nobody goes there by tuk-tuk. But hey, when you gotta eat you gotta eat! So after making a grand entrance, we had to wait for a while, but managed to get a table. The food was unbelievable. The chicken, lamb, char grilled veggies were smoky, spicy and utterly delicious. There was no rice on the side, but we had some dhal, cucumber-tomato raita and the most most satisfying piece (or several pieces rather) of naan bread ever!
I can't wait to return. It's hard to describe what it's like in India to someone who has never experienced it. It is definitely a land of contrasts, so vast, colourful, loud and sometimes surprising that it would take a lifetime to get to know it corner to corner.
The sounds, the people, the scenery and the great food will definitely make you want to go back. Most people who have been there say that while you're there you can't wait to leave and once you left all you think about is going back. I know I would be ready to go right now!

This recipe I chose to deal with my cravings is in no shape or form authentic. I know that. But it is Indian spiced, easy, fast fresh and super delicious. For the chicken I used homemade mango pickle (I always have lots of different pickles and spice mixtures in the fridge), but store bought will do just fine.

Baked mango chicken with Indian spiced chickpea salad



4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
3 tbsp mango chutney or pickle of your choice

Preheat oven to 400F. Place mango chutney or pickle in a bowl. Add the chicken and coat well. Arrange chicken breasts on an aluminum foil lined baking tray. Bake for about 30 to 35 min.

For the salad:

30 oz cooked chickpeas, drained
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp each fennel, cumin, coriander seeds
pinch of crushed red pepper
1 cup yogurt
lime juice to taste
4 scallions, chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
pinch of sea salt

Heat the oil over medium heat. Add fennel, cumin and coriander and cook until fragrant. Remove from heat and crush spices a little using a mortar and pestle. Put chickpeas in a bowl, add spice mixture and rest of the ingredients. Serve with the baked mango chicken.

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India photos by L. N.