Saturday, August 8, 2009

Good things grow in Ontario

One of the best things about living in Southern Ontario is the produce. Unless you're after citrus fruits or mangos, southern Ontario is the place to be. From the beginning of May when asparagus season hits, til the fall when apples and squash abound, the roadsides of Ontario southwest of Toronto are littered with produce stands. And nothing beats fresh, local produce, except of course for fresh, local produce purchased straight from the farmer's driveway. Sadly, I have no car to go out and collect my bounty directly from the producer, but luckily for me, farmers markets are also quite popular and provide one stop shopping for all ones fruit and vegetable needs.

Want to know what's growing in Ontario? Check out Foodland Ontario's website and you'll see that, in the words of DJ Laura C Chord, there's more up here than hockey and beer!

If you ask me - and since you're reading my blog I'll assume you did - happiness is a ripe peach. Could there be a more perfect fruit? Sweet, soft, pleasing to the eye. There really is nothing more heavenly than biting into a fresh peach, juice running down your hand, sugary and sweet, an explosion of flavour on your tongue that transports you to a more lovely place, making you forget for just a moment all your troubles and cares. Alright, so maybe that was a little melodramatic, but I really am passionate about produce. And peaches are king - truly nature's candy. The only downfall of the peach is that they really don't keep very long. I have chronic eyes-bigger-than-stomach-itis, and always find myself with a 2L basket of peaches, feverishly trying to use them all up, for allowing peaches to spoil is a sin greater than any other.

Normally I would just gorge myself on peaches until they were all gone, but this time, inspired by my food blog, I decided to actually do something with them. Now don't get me wrong, peaches are perfect as they are, but they could lend their transcendent deliciousness to other dishes. Having just purchased a bunch of cilantro for my El Salvador inspired blog post, I decided to try my hand at some peach salsa. As luck would have it, there was a terrific recipe on Foodland Ontario's website. I, of course, replaced the parsley with cilantro, and the results were to die for. Easy, fresh, delicious. Highly recommended.

That recipe only used 3 peaches, which hardly made a dent in my basket, so I decided to try my hand at some peach chutney. I LOVE chutneys. I consulted a number of chutney recipes online, and came up with this modified version of a number of them. Many of the recipes made a very large quantity of chutney, and used a large quantity of peaches. I don't need that much chutney, have nowhere to store it, do not have any canning jars, and quite frankly wanted some peaches left over for myself!

The Non-Canner's Easy Hot Peach Chutney
(makes about 1 1/2 cups or so)

1/2 smallish yellow onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1/4 tsp cinnamon
pinch ground cloves
1 tsp hot pepper flakes (add more or less to taste)
a few dashes of salt & pepper
6-7 peaches, cored, peeled, diced
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

In a sauce pan, saute onions and spices in a bit of oil until onion softens. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until liquid is reduced, peach chunks get nice and soft, and it gets a chutney-like consistency. This should take about 40 minutes. Allow to cool and store in the fridge.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cool beans and naughty fruit

I had plans on making vegan empanadas for my Latin America inspired dish, when who should come by the lab but Luis, a colleague who just so happened to come with us to the conference in Miami. Having read my blog (and critiquing my spelling) and learned of my culinary intentions, he decided to share with me one of his favourite recipes. I will attempt to recreate this dish and do it justice, although I will no doubt screw something up and hear about it in the lab tomorrow.

The thing that makes this really authentic is the bean. Luis is from El Salvador, and there the bean of choice is the "Frijol Rojo De Seda Salvadoreno" or the Salvadoran red bean. It is a variety of the common bean, Phaseolus vulgaris, a species which also includes many of the other beans commonly associated with South American cooking such as black beans, pinto beans, and kidney beans. I needn't belabor how good for you beans are, I feel that this ought to be common knowledge, especially if you are a vegan or vegetarian.

Luis didn't know what this dish was called, and the closest approximation of what he described that I can find is a Salvadoran dish called a "pupusa", which is basically a flat stuffed corn tortilla. It is usually stuffed with meat, refried beans, cheese, or a mix of all three in the case of "pupusas revueltas". To take this meal to the next level, he tops his pupusas with sliced avocado and chimole. Chimole is a fresh salsa made with tomato, onion, cilantro and lemon juice.

Avocados are a wondrous fruit, chock full of
goodness. They have the most fiber of any fruit, are high in potassium, folate, B vitamins, and vitamin E. In addition to it's well known benefits to the skin and hair, avocados are also excellent for reducing cholesterol when eaten regularly. This odd fruit with its large pit is believed to have co-evolved with now extinct large animals that would have eaten the fruit and dispersed the pit by excreting it. Lucky for us, cultivation by humans has likely prevented this species from going extinct with its natural disperser.

Factoid: According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the name avocado comes from Nahuatl word "ahuakatl" which means "testicle". The fruit was also believed to boost fertility.

Midway through describing the recipe, Luis stops and asks me "Do you know how to choose an avocado, or do you just think you do?" Feeling slightly intimidated, I let him describe how to correctly select a ripe avocado. Not too dark and squishy, that's past good, not rock hard, this isn't ripe yet. It should be dark on one end, still green on the other, soft but still slightly firm. Fortunately there were only 5 to choose from at the grocery store so the pressure was off, but I think I got a pretty good one. He goes on to warn me to never scoop the avocado from the skin with a spoon, claiming this to be bad etiquette. I'm not so sure about that one, but he will be pleased to know that no spoons were used in the making of this recipe!

Now, let's get on with the recipe! If you can't find seda beans, I'm sure pinto beans will do just fine, though I'm sure the recipe's creator would disagree with me. This recipe calls for Worcestershire sauce, which isn't often vegan, but there is a very good recipe in the Nutritional Yeast Cookbook that is fast and easy to make of you cannot find a store bought vegan brand in your area.

Luis' Seda Bean Pupusas with Avocado & Chimole

(the below quantities are meant to feed one, but you will have some leftover beans, which I put in a wrap the next day!)

the beans
1/2 cup dry Salvadoran red beans
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp seasoned salt
1 clove garlic
1/2 yellow onion, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
seasoned salt & cayenne pepper to taste

the chimole

1 roma tomato
1 green onion
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
1 tbsp lemon juice

1/4 avocado, sliced
tortillas, use corn to make this dish gluten free

Rinse the beans, and cover with lots of water in a pot with oregano, season salt, and garlic clove. Boil until soft. This took about 2 hours for me. Pour off liquid & blend beans into a puree. Set aside.

In a skillet, saute onion in olive oil until brown and caramelized. Remove onion, leaving oil in the pan. Discard onion (it is only used to flavour the oil). Add bean puree, Worcestershire, and season to taste. Fry the beans over medium heat until they form a thick paste (about 10 min).

For the chimole, chop tomato (removing the gooey seeds), green onion and cilantro and mix together in a bowl. Squeeze the lemon into a separate bowl until a few minutes before plating.

Spread bean paste on tortilla of choice and cover with either another tortilla (if using small ones), or folding in half (if using large tortillas). Bake in a hot oven until tortilla becomes crispy.

Slice the avocado and arrange on top of pupusa. Top with chimole and enjoy!

This was a delicious and fresh summer recipe, however it was less than refreshing to prepare. The hours of bean boiling and the oven being on left my kitchen hot and sweaty. Regardless of whether or not this would meet my friend's discerning palate, it was a satisfying meal that I will be sure to make again.