Archives for category: Appetizer

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I am a clean freak.  Honestly, I have a problem.  I cannot tolerate any dishes in the sink, any sort of mess.  I get grossed out way too easily.  It’s funny because as I’m getting older the less tolerance I have for uncleanliness.  The reason I mention this is because it is getting increasingly difficult for me to eat street food.  My husband and I went to Thailand and I couldn’t bring myself to eat ANY of the street food.  I look at photos of Thai street food and it looks so delicious.  But in the moment I failed myself!  This is such a pity because I love street food and hole in the wall places wherever they are in the world (as long as they are clean).

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In Toronto we have a small section of the city called Little India.  I have not been too much, because Pakistani or Indian food is something I can eat at home.  But there is a whole experience to going and sitting on a plastic chair or a picnic table and eating foods like papri chaat, gol guppay, tikkas, and naan.  My husband and I ventured to Little India to get some chaat a few years ago and I really think we went on a bad day because the places we found were not very good.  I’ve heard good things from friends about some places there so I don’t want to be a meanie and bash any place in particular.  🙂

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After that trip, I decided to make chaat at home.  The ingredients are readily available and it’s actually quite easy to make.  I’ve also made chaat at my inlaws’ house many times when they have guests over and not to boast, but it’s always a hit. I like to make it fresh (otherwise it gets soggy) so I make it in batches and people have no patience to wait for me to finish the next tray of chaat.  While I am making a new batch they start reaching into the serving dish.  In situations like this I just zip my lips. But despite this slight annoyance I should take this as a compliment.  My chaat is just THAT delicious.  😉

IMG_2804Papri Chaat

Ingredients

(this is a loose recipe and can be adapted to your taste)

Papri (can be found in South Asian grocery stores)

Bhel Puri (can be found in South Asian grocery stores)

1 cup cooked chickpeas

boiled potato, peeled and cut into small cubes, about 1 cup

Tamarind Chutney*

Green Chutney**

Yogurt***

Chaat Masala (can be found in South Asian grocery stores)

chopped red onions

chopped tomatoes, optional

chopped green chilies

chopped cilantro

chopped mint, optional

Method

*Tamarind Chutney is made by heating 3/4 cup of tamarind pulp, 6 pitted Medjool dates, 2 tablespoons chaat masala, 1/2 teaspoon cumin powder, 1 teaspoon red chilli powder (or to taste), 3/4 teaspoon, 1/4 cup sugar on medium heat for 15 minutes and then reducing the heat to low for 45 minutes.  Allow it to cool and then blend in a blender until the consistency is smooth.  Serve chilled.

**Green Chutney is made by placing 1 cup cilantro leaves and stems, 15 mint leaves, 1 long green chilli, 2 tablespoons water, salt, and black pepper in a blender until very finely chopped.  This should resemble a pesto.

***For the Yogurt, take 1 cup of plain yogurt and thin it out with 1/2 cup of water.  Add 1 teaspoon chaat masala and salt to taste.  Whisk until it looks like thick cream.

To assemble the chaat:  Place the papri (wafers) on a serving dish and top with chickpeas, potatoes, yogurt, tamarind chutney, green chutney, red onion, cilantro, chopped tomatoes, mint, green chilies, and sprinkle the dish with chaat masala.  Finally, top with some bhel puri.  It is best to serve this right away.  You can prepare everything in advance and assemble before serving.

There’s a cafeteria-type restaurant that I frequent because it has the best mutabbal (similar to baba ghanoush) ever.  It’s a Toronto-based Middle Eastern chain and I love it.  My husband grew up in the Middle East and it reminds him of his childhood, eating fresh and puffy pita breads out of the oven with some juicy chicken shawarma right off the spit.  I have to agree the vibe in there transports you to the Middle East.  I have been to Dubai a few times and have a lot of friends from Dubai here in Toronto and the consensus is the same — it’s the Middle East in Toronto!

My sister-in-law came to see me for a day over the summer (she lives in a small town, with no Middle Eastern food), we had lunch at a nice restaurant and shopped for a bit.  After we were done shopping she asked if I was hungry.  I’m always ready to eat, so then she suggested going to the Middle Eastern restaurant.  I’m sure it was her plan all along!  When my sister visited me it was the same scenario all over again.  We got takeout mutabbal every day of her visit!

I know I could easily buy mutabbal, but to be honest I’m kind of embarrassed going back to the same place so often.  The staff probably think, “This girl is crazy and doesn’t she every get sick of mutabbal?!!”  The answer to that is most definitely NO!  Anyway, to save one trip per week to the restaurant, I decided to start making mutabbal at home.  It’s just as good and easy to make.  But when I need a quick fix I know I can get takeout in 10 minutes.  My version tastes the same because I broil the eggplant for the last few minutes.  It gets a charcoal-y and smokey taste, which I love.  It is even better if you have a gas stove or grill where you can roast the eggplant.  The smokiness is my favorite part along with the crunchy contrast of the beautiful pomegranate seeds.  Do try to make this – don’t say I didn’t warn you when you become ADDICTED!

Mutabbal

adapted from this video

Makes a medium-sized bowl enough for 4 people, as a starter/appetizer

Ingredients

1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium-sized eggplant

1 clove garlic

2 heaping tablespoons tahini

2 heaping tablespoons full-fat yogurt

juice of 1 lemon

1/4 cup chopped parsley (I used curly parsley because the flat-leaf was out of stock and I actually liked the texture, even though it seems to be a culinary outcast!)

1/4 cup pomegranate arils (seeds)

salt and black pepper, to taste

1/4 teaspoon of hot paprika, plus extra for sprinkling on top, or to taste

Method

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Poke a few holes in your eggplant with a knife and place on a baking tray.  Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes and after 30 minutes turn your broiler on and let the eggplant broil for 5-7 minutes.  If you can roast your eggplant on a gas stove or grill – it will be even smokier.

Once the eggplant is cooked, allow it cool so that you can scoop the flesh out.  Discard any extra seeds if your eggplant has a lot of seeds.

Next, make the garlic clove into a paste by sprinkling some salt on the garlic clove and scraping the garlic on a cutting board with a sharp knife at an angle.

Add the garlic to a bowl with the scooped out eggplant flesh.  Mash the eggplant with a potato masher, fork, or pestle until it starts to become smooth.  Next add in the tahini, yogurt, and lemon juice.  Keep mashing until the mixture becomes smoother.  Add in salt, pepper, paprika, half the parsley, and half the olive oil.  Stir until the mixture is well-combined.

Place the mutabbal onto a deep plate and top with the pomegranate arils, parsley, a little extra paprika, and olive oil.  Serve with warm pita bread.

I’m a big-time snacker.  Little bites of cheese, bread, and veggies is what I call deliciousness.  When my husband is on-call for work, I relish in the thought that I don’t have to cook a proper meal for dinner.  I can eat whatever I want.  What I want usually involves me raiding my always stocked cheese drawer in the fridge and picking up some nice crusty bread.  It’s not the healthiest of dinner options, but it’s my kind of meal.

This spread was inspired by those awful (actually, not so awful) premade onion dips you can buy at the grocery store.  They are full-on 80’s food nostalgia.  Back in the day, we would pop open some “helluva good” onion dip and some ruffles chips and we were set.  Those neon orange cheese curls would complete the picture of my favorite foods circa 1989.

Let’s fast forward 20 some odd years and though I would like to say I don’t like cheese curls – I still love them.  But, my overall taste palate has evolved beyond neon orange junk.  I used leeks in this version of onion dip.  Classy, I tell you. 😉  Instead of just sour cream I added goat cheese, because I love its tang combined with the sweetness of the caramelized leeks.

*I just wanted to say sorry for my lack of posts, I hope to be more frequent.  Sometimes we get writers’ block and need to find our way back. 🙂

Caramelized Leek and Goat Cheese Spread

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

olive oil

2 cups sliced leeks, white and light green parts, washed throughly

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 jalapeño, de-seeded and finely chopped

scallions and chives chopped, about 1/4 cup

zest of 1 lemon and 2 tablespoons of its juice

5 ounces softened goat cheese

2 tablespoons sour cream or Greek Yogurt

salt and black pepper, to taste

Method

In a sauté pan, heat some olive oil on medium low-heat and add in the leeks with some salt and black pepper.  Cook slowly for about 20-30 minutes, or until the leeks caramelize.  Allow the leeks to cool down to room temperature.  Meanwhile whip together the goat cheese, sour cream, and lemon juice with an electric mixer or with a whisk.  Fold in the scallions, chives, jalapeño, and lemon zest.  When the leeks have cooled down add them in as well.  This spread can be eaten right away or chilled.  Serve with bread, crackers, or vegetables of your choice.

I am the worst blogger ever.  My last post was in February.  I’m not even going to try and explain why I haven’t posted because there’s no real reason.  As a matter of fact, I photographed this recipe three weeks ago. Just. Plain. Lazy. Anyway, during my unplanned hiatus my husband and I took a much needed vacation.  We visited Thailand and had a fabulous time.  We went to Bangkok and Koh Samui.  Thailand was so different than what I had pictured in my mind.  It was the first time my husband or I had been there and we both loved it.

I pictured Bangkok to be a hectic city.  In some ways it is, but I mostly saw it as controlled chaos.  Traffic without beeping or honking.  Everything was beautifully orchestrated.  I can still hear the lovely greeting, “Sawadee kha”  echoing in my head.  I loved the Thai people.  They were so friendly.  I saw so many smiling faces in Thailand that I began to smile for no reason at all.

I could picture myself living in Bangkok.  I do say that for a lot of cities I visit, but Bangkok appealed to me very much.  Koh Samui was also fantastic.  The hotel we stayed at was super quirky and really fun.  The Island had some rundown parts and also some parts that were absolutely spectacular.  Beautiful ocean, like I’ve never seen before.  All in all I have fond memories of our trip to Thailand.

Let me discuss the food!  We ate and ate.  I got so used to eating lavish breakfast spreads that when I got back home a bowl of cereal and fruit in the morning was not cutting it at all.  We enjoyed spicy curries and surpassed our quota of seafood for a year.  I miss all the softshell crab dishes with lots of red chilies, Thai basil, and lemongrass.

We ate gargantuan river prawns, simply grilled and served with a refreshing fresh chopped vegetable relish.  This was one of my favorite dishes in Thailand.  We don’t get prawns like that here.  The week after we returned I was craving the grilled prawns so much that I had to make them.  I had no real recipe, but with some trial and error I got it right.

I was so excited that I was upset my husband wasn’t at home to try them hot and fresh.  When he got home and tried them, I sat next to him eagerly and kept looking at him to say, “these taste just like the ones in Thailand!”  After I finally asked him, he agreed and continued to watch the TV un-phased, typical.  Here’s the recipe and I hope you try them.  And if you’ve been to Thailand and find they taste THE SAME, do let me know. 😉

Grilled Thai Prawns with a Fresh Vegetable Relish

serves 3-4, as a starter, can easily be doubled or tripled

Ingredients

for the shrimp

1 pound large-size shell-on prawns/shrimp, de-veined

2 tablespoons neutral vegetable oil of your choice

2 tablespoons tamarind pulp

2-3 cloves garlic, mashed

1 inch piece of ginger

1 stalk lemon grass

zest and juice of 1 lime

1 long red chilli, roughly chopped, de-seeded if you like

1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon red chili flakes, or to taste (this much will make it spicy)

sea salt, to taste

for the Fresh Vegetable Relish

2 shallots, finely chopped

1 radish, finely chopped (I used a watermelon radish for color)

1/2 cup cucumber, finely diced

1 red chili, de-seeded and finely chopped

1/2 stalk of lemon grass, roughly chopped

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

1 teaspoon sesame oil

juice of 1 lime

fresh chopped herbs like cilantro, Thai basil, or mint

salt, to taste

Method

Place the shrimp in a bowl.  Combine all the ingredients except the shrimp in a blender or food processor.  Pulse ingredients in the blender until pureed and well combined.  Pour the marinade over the shrimp and toss with the shrimp.  Marinate the shrimp in the fridge for 1-2 hours.  After 1-2 hours, heat a grill pan or use an outdoor grill and grill the shrimp on each side until cooked.  it should take about 2 minutes per side.  If you would like you may grill the shrimp on skewers.

While the shrimp is marinating prepare the relish by combining all the ingredients in a bowl and allow it to sit in the fridge for 30 minutes before serving.  Serve with the shrimp after it is done on the grill.  I also like to serve red chili paste on the side for some extra spice.  Serve with lime wedges as well.

I’ve totally lost touch with my blog.  I’ve been trying to write a post for ages, but something was stopping me.  I have no idea what it was, but I put my foot down finally and decided I really want to resume my posts.  They are fun for me and I love the interaction with all of you!  I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but my resolution this year is to get back into blogging and stop making excuses about why I’m not, because there’s no valid reason except my own laziness.  I’m so silly, I will buy things thinking I’ll use them for my blog and they sit untouched.  I’m sure some of you with blogs know what I’m talking about.

I didn’t really fall off the wagon from cooking, but I haven’t been as enthusiastic about it as I used to be.  It’s slowly coming back and I’m ready to start up again.  Maybe it’s the winter – winter blues, I guess.  I know there’s lots to cook during the winter, but until recently I was totally uninspired.  Summer produce and colors inspire me.  This is probably also probably why I’ve been thinking once my husband is done residency we NEED to move somewhere warm.  It’s been on my mind for a few weeks now.  I’m craving sun and warmth.

Despite my love for summer, I do have a few winter produce favorites.  Most notable are beets.  I almost always have them on-hand.  Must have something to do with the color, I suspect.  As I’ve said before I’m a sucker for vibrant colors.  To the same effect, I buy watermelon radishes ALL THE TIME, not because I love thetaste, but more that I love the way they look.  For this dish there were no watermelon radishes, unfortunately.  But this tart is good with whatever you have on hand: mushrooms, spinach, caramelized onions – you name it.  I used to be daunted by making dough, but now I’ve formulated my own proportions and it works every time like a charm.  This sort of tart is one of my go-to dishes.  Although it does take some time, it is by no means difficult to make.

Roasted Beet and Carrot Tart

Serves 4-5

Ingredients

for the crust:

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup walnuts

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons butter, frozen

up to 1/4 cup ice water

filling:

6 ounces goat cheese, softened

1/2 cup ricotta cheese

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence

salt and black pepper, to taste

for top:

2 golden beets

2 carrots

1/4 cup chopped parsley and chives, or any herbs of your choice, for garnish

Method

Roast the beets in the oven (at 350 degrees) in a foil pouch on a baking tray drizzled with some olive oil, salt, and pepper for 45 minutes or until cooked.  At the 30 minute mark add in the  whole carrots, also tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Once cooked, slice the beets and carrots into thin slices.

To make the tart dough: in a food processor, add the walnuts and pulse until they turn into a fine grind, add in the flour, sugar, and salt and pulse until combined.  Grate the frozen butter and add it to the flour.  Pulse until the mixture forms pea-sized clumps.  Next, through the top, stream in the ice water, one tablespoon at a time until the dough forms a ball.  Once the dough comes together, cover it in plastic wrap and refridgerate for at least an hour.  After the dough has chilled, roll it out and fit it into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and blind bake (cover it with foil and use pie weights or dried beans to weigh down the crust, so that it doesn’t puff up while baking) it in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.

For the filling: whisk the goat cheese, ricotta, and egg together.  Add in the salt, pepper, and herbes de Provence.  Pour it into the partially baked crust and bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees.  After 15 minutes, take it out of the oven and arrange the cut beets and carrots over the goat cheese and ricotta and bake for another 10-15 minutes.  Garnish the tart with chopped parsley and chives, or any herb of your choice.  You can also sprinkle the final product with some flaky sea salt and drizzle with olive oil, if you like.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

When I was seven my family went on vacation to Cairo before going to see relatives in Pakistan.  I guess my parents wanted to enrich our childhood by taking us to see some of the wonders of the world – the pyramids.  Being seven, I didn’t appreciate or understand the greatness of what I was seeing.  I don’t remember much about this trip, but I do remember some highlights.  I’m sure my sister, who was four at the time and I were probably complaining about the heat and continually asking when we would see Mickey Mouse.  My parents were probably kicking themselves for taking their two little brats see these ancient landmarks.

My dad is infamous for telling us stories from our childhood.  Stories we usually would not like every random stranger to know.  Regardless, my dad is always ready to share that he had to carry my crying sister on his back inside the Great Pyramid at Giza and how I complained that the pyramid had a weird smell to it.  As you can see, my sister and I really savored our experience there.  But I do remember bits and pieces of this trip.  We went to the Egyptian Museum, I relished the thought of telling my classmates that I had seen the mummy of King Tut.  We had a guide too, who helped us weave our way through souks and also showed us the famous Tahrir square.  I also recall that we stayed at the Shepheard Hotel, a hotel that my father told me that my grandfather had stayed at during a visit to Cairo.  In that hotel my sister and I feasted on mango ice cream and salade Niçoise.  Out of all the choices of food we had, these two were on our daily wish lists.  At the Shepheard hotel, I recall watching an Egyptian marriage procession in amazement.  I heard ululation for the first time, I did not know whether these high-pitched voices indicated happiness or sadness, whatever the case, I stood there in awe.

Amongst all of these memories, my father always highlights one story in particular.  Looking back, we laugh about the incident, but at the time I still remember my childhood panic.  It was nighttime and after a long day of sightseeing we were back at the hotel.  My sister and I were hungry and requested what we called “Egyptian Pizza,” which was available on the street close to the hotel.  My parents decided to get us some of this Egyptian pizza while they explicitly told my sister and I that they would be back in 5 minutes and we should stay in the room.

A few minutes after they left, I panicked.  I told my sister I was going to look for them.  I went down to the lobby in my nightie and untied Keds sneakers.  Because it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing your Rainbow Brite nightie as long as you’ve got sneakers on – the logic of a child. Anyway, I hustled around the lobby looking for my parents.  I couldn’t find them so I went back up to the room.  My sister was gone.  Apparently, she had also panicked.  I went back down and saw her crying and sitting with an Egyptian man.  He asked us where our parents were and my sister said they left us.  He looked puzzled.  I at seven was slightly more mature and said they were coming back and went to get us pizza.  I don’t remember much else except that within a few minutes my parents arrived and saw us in the lobby with the man and my sister full of tears.  They must have realized that they shouldn’t have left us alone.  This is a story that is repeated practically every time I go to see my parents.

All that commotion was for this flatbread.  I think you can find this in Levant cuisine as well as Turkish cuisine known as Lahmajoun and Lahmacun.  I suspect this Egyptian version might have been Armenian because of the large Armenian population in Egypt.  I recreated it here, with a different crust.  I love adding flax and chia seeds to my dough.  They had a lovely nuttiness and texture as well.  The spicy and smokey ground meat is delicious and the bell peppers minced in shine through.  I made this and was reminded of that trip to Cairo.  I guess my parents did the right thing by taking us to Egypt.  If anything, I have this story to tell.

Spicy Beef Flatbreads

makes 4

Ingredients

for the whole-wheat, flax, chia dough:

1 1/4 teaspoon dry active yeast (or half a sachet)

2 teaspoons sugar

1/2 cup warm water

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon champagne vinegar

3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling

3/4 whole-wheat four

1/4 cup ground flax seeds

2 tablespoons ground chia seeds

1/2 teaspoon salt

for the beef:

1/2 lb ground beef (you can also mix ground beef and ground lamb, or just use lamb)

1/2 an onion, chopped

5-6 mini bell peppers, red, orange, yellow, or 1 large bell pepper, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 green chili, chopped (seeds removed, if you like)

1/2 cup chopped parsley, mint, and cilantro

2 scallions, chopped

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon, red chili flakes, use less for less spicy

1 teaspoon ground cumin

kosher salt, to taste

olive oil

fresh parsley, mint, labneh, olive oil, olives, and fresh lemon wedges, for serving

Method

First, make the dough by combining the yeast, sugar, and water in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Let the yeast bloom for 10 minutes.  Next, add in the olive oil, champagne vinegar, and salt.  Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl.  Attach the dough hook to the mixer and put the bowl on the mixer and turn it to low-speed.  Gradually add the dry ingredients into the bowl, once the dry ingredients are all in the bowl, turn the speed to medium and let the dough knead for 2-3 minutes.  If you need extra water or flour, add it tablespoon at a time.  It should be a smooth dough.  Once kneaded, drizzle some olive oil over top so that it doesn’t form a skin and leave the dough to rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours.

Once the dough has risen punch it down and knead slightly and put it back in the bowl for the second rising, about 30 minutes.  Once the dough has risen again knead it for a few minutes and separate it into four balls.

Next, in a food processor, add in the onions, garlic, peppers, green chili pepper, and herbs.  Pulse a few times until finely chopped.  Next, squeeze out the excess water from the vegetable mixture in a kitchen towel or strong paper towel.  In bowl, combine the vegetable mixture with the ground meat and spices.  Mix it together with your hands.  Set aside

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Next, roll out the dough to 8-9 inch diameter circles, like individual sized pizzas.  dust with flour to prevent the dough from sticking.  Drizzle the dough circles with olive oil. Place the dough on a flat baking tray and then spread the meat mixture over the dough evenly and drizzle with olive oil again.  Bake for 10-15 minutes until the dough is golden brown.  Serve with fresh parsley, mint, labneh, olive oil, olives, and fresh lemon wedges.

I’m all about quick bites lately.  I’m a woman on a mission.  The mission is to get a job and get my career rolling again.  Now, that we’re in a bigger city, I’m more than ready to jumpstart my career and this has been my main focus.  I’ve been cooking, but I really haven’t made anything that could warrant a blog post, or even if it could, I have too lazy to get my camera out and start shooting.

Excuses, excuses.  Just a few days ago, I realized I was becoming a laptop zombie in the vortex of job postings.  Suddenly, the sun began to stream into the room so beautifully and I thought I would be a fool not to take advantage of the sunlight.  It was ethereal and glowing.  When you’re in the zone on your laptop, you don’t take the time to notice the small things.  I’m glad I snapped out of the twilight zone and I instantly went into the kitchen and started to make something.  A lunch for myself.  Why not, I thought.  My husband has been working at all hours of the day, so I’m usually eating cereal for dinner.  Who is this person?  It’s so not me.

Anyway, I started roasted some figs, caramelizing onions, grilling halloumi – getting back into my element.  It was truly fun for me, how can it not be fun when you’re working with such beauties.  When I look at figs I’m amazed, the color, shape, the little seeds, they’re all just perfect.  Griddled, golden and salty cheese, sweet and savory onions – that’s why I love cooking.  Sometimes you just need a refresher.

Sugar-Roasted Figs, Caramelized Onions, and Halloumi Plate

Serves 3-4, a snack or starter

Ingredients

olive oil

6-8 figs, cut in half

1/4 cup caramelized onions*

halloumi cheese, cut into 1/4″ slices, as much or as little as you want, I used about 1/4 lb

1/4 cup brown sugar

a few sprigs of thyme

2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

2 tablespoons chopped mint leaves

sea salt and black pepper

flatbread, for serving

Method

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking tray with parchment paper.  Line the figs on the tray and sprinkle with brown sugar, salt, pepper, and thyme.  Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until they begin to caramelize and become candied.

In the meantime, in a medium-sized sauté pan on medium heat with a tablespoon or so of olive oil, grill the halloumi on each side until both sides are golden, about 1-2 minutes per side.  Set aside.

To assemble: you can either serve everything separately or combine everything on one platter.  Use your own creativity and arrange the figs, halloumi, caramelized onions, pine nuts, and mint.  Serve with bread of your choice.

*To caramelize onions: Slice 2 small onions (I used red).  Heat a sauté pan on medium-low heat and add in a good drizzle of olive oil. Add the onions to the pan with a tablespoon or so of brown sugar and gently cook them on for about 25 minutes.  Season them with a sprinkling of sea salt.

I hope anyone on the Eastern seaboard stayed safe throughout Hurricane Irene.  My parents live in Rhode Island and haven’t had electricity since early Sunday.  My mom says she’s so bored.  I can imagine, but I’m glad the storm wasn’t as severe as anticipated.  Slowly, lights will turn back on and the scramble to cook something by candlelight will be a fond tale people tell their kids time and time again.  If the word hurricane is even mentioned my dad will go on about how my sister was born during Hurricane Gloria and about the little stream in the back of my house that was used for water.  He likes to tell us how they managed without electricity for over a week with a newborn baby.

We are so accustomed to a life where electricity runs all the time and food and water are plentiful.  In Toronto, where I live I looked out the window yesterday and the sun was peeking through the clouds.  Imagine, while life is normal where you are, people in other areas may not have the same luxury.  That’s what I thought as I looked outside and that a few hundred miles away the scene was completely different.

I hope the fallen trees get picked up soon and people are able to get back to their normal routine.  I know it won’t take very long.  But until then you can whip this salad as you read my blog on your mobile device or while using the free wireless at Starbucks. It’s a simple salad with clean flavors.  It requires no excessive work and is full of freshness.  I’ve been making this salad way too often, it’s the kind of thing where once you start you can’t stop.  I pair it with chicken, fish, or even on its own.  I love this recipe because it literally takes 5 minutes to make and it’s so healthy.  Give it a try before summer is over.

Cucumber Salad with Black Sesame Seeds

Serves 2, as a side can easily be doubled or tripled, etc.

Ingredients

1/2 a large English cucumber cut into thick match sticks (de-seeded if you like, I don’t mind the seeds)

3 scallions, sliced on an angle

1 tablespoon mint,  cut in a chiffonade

1 tablespoon toasted black sesame seeds

for the dressing:

1/2 a jalapeño pepper, chopped finely and seeds, removed if desired

1 small shallot, chopped finely

juice and zest of lime juicy lime

1 teaspoon Sambal Oelek, more or less depending on how spicy you like it

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon rice vinegar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon neutral-flavored vegetable oil

raw sugar, to taste

pinch sea salt

1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes, or to taste

Method

Make the dressing first by adding the shallots and jalapeño to a bowl and letting them soften in the  lime juice and zest, soy sauce, rice vinegar for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes, add in the Sambal Oelek, sesame oil, vegetable oil, salt, sugar, red chili flakes and whisk well until combined.  You can make the dressing ahead of time and toss it with the cucumbers and herbs at the last-minute.

Next, toss the dressing with the cucumbers, scallions, and mint.  Also add in the toasted black sesame seeds.  Allow to sit for 15 minutes before serving.  This is not a “make ahead” salad and should be served fresh.  But as I said before the dressing can be made in advance.

Summer’s bounty is in full swing and I’m taking full advantage of it.  I think August is the best time at the farmers’ markets.  You find all sorts of gorgeousness there.  But this August it’s Ramadan and the fasts are longggg and you don’t feel like making anything elaborate because of your lack of energy.  I’m trying my best to keep as many as I can, but to be honest it’s hard.  I know complaining is very shallow, but I love my food.

This year we’ve only had one proper Pakistani fast-breaking meal and that was at my in-laws’ house.  Maybe these last two weeks we’ll make a more a bigger effort.  After all, who doesn’t love opening their fast with pakoras, chaat, samosas, and other fried goodness.  I hope to make some Ramadan speciality for my next post.  This one could be seen as a pseudo-pakora.  Not really, but at least I tried.  Potato pancakes are definitely a favorite with me.  You can be a purist and keep them basic or the sky is the limit with options you can add to them.

Since corn season is in full swing, I decided to add corn to them.  When the sweet corn slightly roasts while frying in the potato cake, it’s a beautiful thing.  I also took inspiration from an older post of mine where I made cornmeal cakes and added jalapeño and queso fresco into these potato pancakes.  They’re a perfect appetizer or fast-breaking snack.  Add some mashed avocado on top and you’ll be a very happy person.

Potato Pancakes with Corn, Jalapenos, and Queso Fresco

Ingredients

neutral-flavored vegetable oil of your choice, for frying

2 cups shredded potatoes, I used Yukon Gold (squeeze excess water from them using a kitchen towel)

1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels

1 jalapeño pepper, minced finely, seeds and ribs removed if you like

1/2 cup shredded queso fresco or Monterey Jack cheese, you can add as much or as little as you like

1 egg

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup chopped chives

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

zest of 1 lime

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste

optional: smashed avocado mixed with some lime juice and salt, for garnish

Method

Combine the potatoes with the corn, jalapeño, herbs, cheese, and lime zest.  Mix in the flour and crack in the egg and combine.  Season with salt and black pepper.

Heat a large frying pan with oil on medium heat and add about a 1/4 cup of the potato mixture and form into a free-form patty and put it into the pan.  Fry on each side for 2-3 minutes, or until golden brown on each side.  When cooked, drain excess oil on a paper towel.  Serve warm with smashed avocado, and  garnish with jalapeño rounds, cilantro, and chives, optional.

*Be careful when frying the potato cakes, the corn might pop slightly.  You may have to reduce the heat slightly.

I’m an odd one who likes to have a sandwich for breakfast.  I’ll pass up eggs, cereal, french toast, pancakes, waffles for a sandwich.  Though I like all of those things, I prefer this sandwich.  When I visit my parents, I’m always sure to get some jalapeño chicken sausage and make a sandwich out of it for breakfast.  Unfortunately, I can’t find any pork-free chicken sausage here, though I’m sure they exist, so I opt for this vegetarian version.

With or without chicken sausage I am a lover of cheese, bread with almost any other combination.  I like to add basil, chives, and/or cilantro as well.  My sister and I came up with this (genius ;)) combination for breakfast.  We’re big on sandwiches and are known to turn meals into a sandwich.  All you really need is bread.

Spicy chilies and flavors are also a favorite of mine.  Hence, the radishes and jalapeños .  I think everything melds so nicely here: spicy, creamy, and fresh.  The textures all work, too.  Not too shabby if I say so myself.  I have created the perfect form of food in a sandwich.  Yes, I’m being totally sarcastic and I’m sure someone reading this will turn their nose up at this and think, “what is she going on about???”  Regardless, this is my favorite breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner for when I’m not in the mood for something that takes effort to make and after eating this sandwich I’m truly satisfied.

My Favorite Sandwich

There are absolutely no directions on how to make this sandwich.  I’ll give you some rough ideas and you go ahead and make your perfect sandwich.

Ingredients

nice hearty bread (I used honey, nut, flax)

radishes

avocados

good quality tomatoes, like heirloom

cucumbers

jalapeño peppers (fresh or pickled)

cheese of your choice (I used a semi-soft sheep’s milk cheese.)

lime juice

herbs: basil, chives, cilantro, dried herbs de Provence

sea salt

extra-virgin olive oil

Method

Toast bread drizzle on olive oil and dress with toppings of your choice.  I make them open-faced.   Easy!