Tag Archives: Healthful

Spicy Masala Tomato Soup: Classic North American Comfort Fare with an Indian Twist

What happens when you combine down-home tomato soup with Indian spices?  Spicy masala tomato soup is the inter-cultural result.

Every winter around January, I seem to have a hankerin’ for traditional cream of tomato soup.   I grew up with the canned Campbell’s variety.  Sometimes I like to think I had a Warholesque-childhood, but, in truth, it was far more suburban and prosaic than that.  I never really liked the thin tinny-tasting tinned soup.  However, I later developed an appreciation for the home-made version.  I had tried the “real” soup at dinner parties and home-cookin’ restaurants, where the tomato’s true identity shines through.

A few years ago, I came across Martha Stewart’s recipe for tomato soup.     Although I never use the cream option, this version makes a fine North American “cream” of tomato soup (NB:  I would double the ingredients to make a larger portion, as a matter of course).  It is the kind of tomato soup which would pair perfectly with a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch on a rainy or snowy day.  The ingredients are generally in a well-stocked home pantry, so the soup can be ready in just over one-half hour.

I decided to adapt the recipe to incorporate “Madrasi Masala”, which my friend Kip had given us as part of an Xmas gift.  Commercial break:

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In case you did not know, “masala” means mixture and often is a blend of spices, varying from place to place.  It can also be a spicy tomato-base for curries (typical of the Punjab region, for instance).  Kip’s particular blend from the Madras region worked well in a Sri Lankan dal I had made a week earlier.  I wanted to make more use of the tantalizing spice blend.

For the review of the soup – and the recipe

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Almond-Butter Hummous: A New Twist on Tradition

Is hummous still hummous without the tahini?  I asked myself this question recently, when I had an urge for hummous but found that there was no tahini in sight (thank you, baba ganouj, for demanding all the tahini, a few days earlier).  What to do in the evening on a small island where food shops are closed by 5 or 6 pm typically?

I had a big jar of almond butter in the fridge, so I thought that this substitution could work.  As I always cook with sesame oil for various Asian dishes, I added a bit to impart that essential open-sesame flavour to this adaptation of hummous.

My hummous allegiance goes back to my vegetarian youth, yet it took me years – and a food processor – before I actually made it.  Hummous is so easy to make and versatile as a spread, filling, or a dip.  It works equally as an appetizer, condiment (instead of mayonnaise on a sandwich, for instance). or main course,

David Lebovitz, he of the Parisian-pastry-chocolate-sarcasm fame, has the best recipe for hummous.  It came from a restaurant, Cabbagetown Cafe, at which he worked in Ithaca, while at Cornell.  I use his version these days, after previously relying on Ina Garten’s recipe for some time before (in the original Barefoot Contessa); Ina’s is also very good.

The almond butter provides a satisfying nutty quality, yet there is still the sesame oil for a hint of tahini’s traditional sesame flavour.  In a pinch or for a variation on a great classic, this version fills the bill for any desperate hummous-cravings.

For the recipe….

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Oaty-Almondy Crisps: A Fast, Crunchy, Dairy-free, Flourless Cookie

How do you feel about baking or cooking for people with food sensitivities, allergies, and such?  I think it is a fun challenge to make something out of the ordinary, when standard basic  ingredients are out of the question, for health reasons.

Of course, eschewing ingredients – or categories, such as meat for vegetarians – may be a matter of personal taste or choice, which I always try to accommodate, too.  I particularly like to find ways to bake and cook good things for those cannot tolerate wheat (celiacs, for instance) or dairy.  Wheat and dairy, of course, are mainstays of baking, so the challenge can be a bit daunting in dessert preparation.

On two separate occasions recently, I needed to bake, first, for a friend who currently cannot tolerate butter or nuts and then for one who never can eat diary or wheat.  The day I needed to bake them for our first friend, I found a recipe in The Cookie Book, by Catherine Atkinson, Joanna Farrow, and Valerie Barrett, for “Malted Oaty Crisps.”  Malt is an ingredient I really enjoy using, especially in conjunction with chocolate (Whoppers and Maltesers and other chocolate-malted milk balls are great confections, way up there in my book of candy favourites), so I keep malt powder in my pantry – and sometimes, the chocolate-malty candies, which do not last long enough to be a staple.

Nevertheless, this one recipe called for two tablespoons of malt extract.  Malt extract??? I beg your pahdon, guv’nor?!?  I had never come across this before.  I did not bother to seek the ingredient online, as I wanted to bake it that day – and it goes without saying that a very obscure item such as malt extract will not be lurking in one of our island’s three small food shops. The cookbook (or should I write, “cookery book”?) author was from the UK, so I imagine it is a more typical British ingredient . (I will turn to Jackie of I am A Feeder, as my go-to authority for all food-matters-in-Jolly-Old-There-Will-Always-Be-An-England.  Jackie, what do you say about this malt extract matter???)

For the cookie description – and the recipe…

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Halibut in Lime, Ginger, and Cayenne Cream Sauce: Super-fast and satisfying dish – just for the halibut

As I mentioned before, I was rather odd as a child.  One example that comes to mind – with halibut as a punch line – was an overnight field trip to a wilderness campground around age 11.

I had taken karate before this trip, yet I stopped upon reaching the first belt (the yellow belt, which is a cowardly far cry from the ultimate:  the famous black sash).  However, I was happy with that rank and to have achieved one higher level; I really did not care for the martial arts.  So I continued to wear my karate get-up – replete with the yellow belt – whenever possible.

During this particular trip, the fizzy candy which explodes in one’s mouth called, “Pop Rocks”, were all the rage.  I had a variety of packets with me, which I shared with my friends.  (This is the first of two-sort-of-but-not-really-directly-food-related references in this flashback).  The karate outfit fortunately had pockets for hiding “Pop Rocks” and other candy.

After the dinner in the “mess hall”, which I definitely do not remember, we participated in skits.  I was in a skit with another boy and it was a joke, the punchline of which was “I did it just for the halibut!” (if you were not paying attention, that is the second of the two food references, one which is supposed to be a play on words, albeit it childish).  What I remember is that I did not deliver this line but had to fall down as if struck down  by the painful pun – which I did during rehearsal.

However, during the skit when I was outfitted in my karate robe with yellow belt, I fell and knocked over the other boy.  My pratfall was not the most graceful of stage falls, nor the most pleasant experience for my fellow actor, given that I was chubby at the time, as I had yet to start with my tennis fixation which began soon after this trip.

Quick and simple mise-en-place just for the halibut.

For the halibut recipe and more….

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Carrot-Ginger Dressing + Composed Avocado Salad: Colourful, Flavourful, and Healthful as a Main Course

How do you feel about the wide world of food blogs?

I am fascinated by this subculture of the blogosphere and the online do-it-yourself culinary world. As someone relatively new to this milieu (blogging and blogging about food, to be precise), I enjoy the variety of food sites from around the world, having read a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands of blogs (probably in the hundreds of thousands, if not the millions, by now).

As a contemporary literary form, the food-as-secondary-to-a-story genre intrigues me most. There are many fine writers – not necessarily trained culinary professionals – blogging today. Likewise, one also can find many fine chefs/bakers, who are not necessarily the best or most compelling writers. Occasionally, professionals do tell a good story with clear instructions and captivating pictures (e.g., David Lebovitz – justifiably popular for his adventures and clever accounts of the pastries, food, and life in Paris).

Most engaging are the amateurs, who convey the context of their recipes in conjunction with clear directions and captivating photography. Of course, there is the whole visual element of food styling and web design, too, which can make or break a site. Top-notch food styling is a draw for some of my favourite sites, Memories in the Baking, pierre.cuisine, Mowielicious, MattBites, and island-neighbour, Island Vittles. None of the above, I believe, work full-time as professionals in the food industry (though Matt is a professional in the design world).

What I seek in the best food blogs Continue reading

A Fast, Spicy, and Satisfying West Coast-Indian Dish: Halibut Masala

Halibut masala

As I had mentioned earlier, I started to learn about different cuisines during my vegetarian childhood. One cuisine, which is arguably the best for vegetarians, is Indian, of course. Palak (or saag) paneer became one of my favourite dishes – among all cuisines – as well as my particular litmus test for Indian restaurants; none I have eaten in even the best restaurants, however, can compare to my friend Kip’s stellar version.

Classic Indian spices make the mise-en-place

Indian food now is very popular around the world, but its complexity and variety is often misunderstood. Just like Chinese, Mexican, or American cuisines, Indian regional cooking represents a mind-numbing array of varied dishes from the Goan vindaloo to Rajasthani buttermilk soup to the crisp crepe-like dosas of southern Indian to Punjabi tomato-based curries. I guess it is similar to lumping New England clam chowder, Chicago pan pizza, Louisiana crawfish etouffee, and a French dip sandwich in Los Angeles as one coherent “American” cuisine – not to mention Peeps, candy corn, Twinkies (which were invented right near where I grew up!), and other uniquely food items, which add to the range of eatin’ in the US of A.

Halibut Masala, the recipe Continue reading