According to statistics, about a third of the globes population eats hot peppers every single day.
In general, cultures that have hot spicy foods as part of their natural daily diet are situated in hot climates situated in regions close to the equator ; South America, India, Asia and Africa.
There are two basic explanations why cultures in hot tropical climates developed a taste for hot spicy foods.
The first reason would seem to be refrigeration or more correctly the lack of it: Foods in hot climates spoil easier and faster, and even food that won’t automatically make you sick goes off quickly. Spices can disguise the taste of spoilt food and in certain instances preserve them.
The second reason is surprising though. Capsaicin, the natural chemical found in chili causing the heat sensation increases blood circulation, pumping more blood to the skin’s surface making you sweat. Sweating is one of the body’s best defenses against overheating. The heat that the blood brings to the surface is released out and away from the body in affect cooling the body.
Most likely that when the first peoples who settled in tropical climatic regions discovered and started to eat chili peppers their bodies naturally adapted to the fact that the spice cooled them down.
Obviously you won’t find chili in the natural cuisines of Eskimos and Scandinavians and as in most cold climate cultures the chili and other hot spicy foods are not natural to the European diet.
So why do most of us love to eat chili? Chilies burn our taste buds, make our eyes water and bring us out in a sweat. Why, because we “love the burn”? Apparently we enjoy afflicting ourselves with spicy taste sensations.
So why do we so enjoy inflicting pain on one of the most sensitive organs in our body, the tongue. Well that’s going in we also assault our tush on the way out!
Actually spicy is not one of the 5 basic taste sensations; Bitter, Sour, Sweet, Salty, and Umami (savory). Spicy is not a flavor. Spiciness is defined as a pungent taste sensation giving heat and piquancy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pungency
Unlike other naturally bitter or harsh tasting substances e.g. coffee and tobacco, chilies are unique among foods that we should otherwise not enjoy. Coffee has caffeine and tobacco has nicotine both substances that are addictive and which makes them desirable. The natural chemical of the chili pepper, Capsaicin that makes the chili spicy hot does not seem to have any addictive qualities whatsoever. And yet the predilection for hot spicy chili flavor is today worldwide; incorporated into numerous dishes and food culture in some way.
The chili pepper in all its infinite varieties is a member of the Capsicum category of flowering plants including deadly nightshade and ranges from sweet bell peppers (no heat) to the Naga chili (the world’s hottest). It is also remarkable in that the chili pepper is almost universally connected to a certain geographical cuisine type (Asian) but actually is native to a totally different geographical region on the other side of the globe. The chili pepper and all other Capsicum varieties is native to South and Central America, where they have been grown for at least 7500 years and was a fundamental staple of the Mesoamerican diet together with maize and beans.
It is said that Christopher Columbus encountered them on his first voyage to the Caribbean in 1492 and eventually introduced the fiery fruit to Europe after his second expedition to the Americas. In truth it was most likely the Portuguese who took the chili pepper (particularly the piri-piri chili) back to Portugal and the Cape Verde islands. The piri-piri did so well that they became began to grow wild in West Africa. Consequently piri-piri spiced foods are synonymous with West African cuisine.
Between 1498 and 1549 the chili spread eastwards both over the silk route and through Portuguese conquests in India, the Spice Islands (today Malaysia and Indonesia), China, South East Asia and finally by 1549 the chili was known as far as Japan.
Up until the discovery of the chili pepper the most prized spice was black pepper which in fact at the time was so costly that they were used as legal currency in some countries and was one of the principal motivators for ancient mariners to sail around the world looking for this prized spice. It was Christopher Columbus who first called the chili a “pepper” because like black and white pepper the chili offered both flavor and ‘heat’ to a dish.
The heat in chilies is created by the chemical, capsaicin. This is a hydrophobic (water-hating) chemical that are apt to secrete into the surfaces of the palate and the mouth causing irritation. Drinking water is useless for extinguishing the burning sensation as water cannot dissolve the chemical capsaicin but actually spreads it. Foods with a high fat content like milk and yoghurt will eliminate the chemical (this is why yoghurt is served with many Indian dishes).
In 1912 Wilbur Scoville (1845-1942) developed a method for measuring the strength of capsicum in a given pepper, which originally meant tasting a diluted version of a pepper and giving it a value. The world’s hottest chili peppers are the Red Savina Habanero and the Naga chili. Generally these peppers range from 350,000–570,000 Scoville Units as compared with a score of 2,500–5,000 for the jalapeno pepper.
Chilies and health
The Health benefits of eating chilies and the numerous ways in which chili is known to aid, relieve and prevent many conditions have been well known in many chili eating communities in Asia and the Americas but remarkably not well known in the West.
Lowers Blood Sugar Levels
Eating chilies has a very positive impact on people who are overweight, obese or are diabetic. Research by a team from the University of Tasmania, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, in July 2006 claims that the normal eating of chilies can help significantly control insulin levels. After eating Chilies, the quantity of insulin the body needs to lower blood sugar level following a meal was reduced by a surprising 60%.
Improve Heart Health, Boost Circulation, Thins Blood and Helps Protect Against Strokes
As blood circulation boosters, chilies can have a huge impact on our health by helping to increase circulation and acts as a blood thinner to protect against strokes. Spicing up your diet with chilies is all we need to do to benefit from the many and vital health benefits they have to offer.
Acts as a Restorative & Relaxant
Chilies can have a Therapeutic effect, allowing you to relax more easily.
Capsaicin blocks a natural chemical called Substance P, which is involved in the transmission and perception of pain. As a result Chilies can be useful in relieving and preventing common problems such as headaches, migraines and discomfort caused by sinus problems, allowing a person to relax more easily.
Capsaicin also has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which lend themselves perfectly to the relief of conditions such as irritable bowel, neuropathy caused by the onset of diabetes and psoriasis.
Helps Clear Congestion
Absolutely essential in the clearing of a blocked nose and chest congestion. Feel block up? Eat a good fiery curry and sweat out the problem. Nose clear and clear breathing…enjoy the heat!
Chili as a painkiller
Chili has been shown to relieve pains due to shingles as well as other skin ailments. It also helps to relieve cluster headaches, migraine and sinus the pain. Chili has also been used for muscle or joint pain like rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, backache, strains, sprains, and frostbite.
Chilies Help to Burn Fat
Capsaicin is also a thermogenic composite, and is said to increase the metabolic rate by up to 23% which in turn can aid the fat burning process.
Eating chilies can also lower cholesterol, and to reduce the amount of fibrin in the blood, and as a result, lower the blood’s tendency to clot.
Chili beats winter chills
A good bowl of chili is always a great meal on a cold winter day. Not only does it warm us up, it also helps protect us from common winter conditions. Capsicum may reduce cold/flu symptoms, sinusitis, and respiratory problems.
Beats the blues
Capsicum boosts endorphins and other mood elevators, chili is a feel good food, fights depression and relieves stress
Lastly, it has been suggested in some studies that the chemical Capsaicin can help limit the spread of certain cancers including prostate cancer. This is a controversial issue and there are both positive and apposing thoughts on this subject
Any way why take the chance so here goes some of my favorite chili recipes:
Get a little chili in your life!
450 gram ground pork (can substitute for ground chicken, beef, or turkey)
6 garlic cloves, chopped
5 Thai birds-eye chilies
Fish sauce (a few splashes)
Dark, thick soy sauce (a few splashes)
1/4 chopped up red pepper (optional)
1/4 chopped up yellow pepper (optional)
1/2 chopped up onion
1 big handful of Thai Holy Basil
One fried egg each per person
Brown the ground pork in a wok or thick bottomed frying pan with a little vegetable oil
Take the fried pork out of the wok and set aside
Add the chopped garlic to the wok. Give it a couple stirs, just to get it nice and fragrant – don’t let it burn!
Add the onion and chilies, stir fry and add the minced pork back to the wok
Splash in to taste the fish sauce, thick soy sauce and bell peppers. Taste and add more seasoning if necessary. If it’s not spicy enough, take a few more chilies, chop up and add to the meat.
Stir fry all together, taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. When everything is done and cooked, turn off the heat and add a big handful of Bai Krapow or Thai Holy Basil. Toss, and then serve immediately on top of steamed rice with a fried egg on top.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
3 large dried ancho chilies
1 T vegetable oil
100 gram diced bacon or pancetta
200 gram chopped onions
1.2 kg beef top side, cut into cubes
3 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon Mexican chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¾ teaspoon coarse salt
4 large red bell peppers
1 Serrano pepper
1 poblano pepper
1 tin chopped tomatoes
bottle dark beer (preferably Mexican)
6- gram semi-sweet chocolate
Put the dried ancho chilies in a medium bowl and pour boiling water to just cover them. Let them soak until they softened.
Heated up the oil in an oven proof pot and then add the bacon to sauté over medium-high heat until it begins to brown. Next, I added the onions and reduced the heat to medium. Cover and cook until translucent.
Cut up the beef into chunks and sprinkled over with coarse salt and pepper.
Add the beef cubes to the pot. Stir with the onion and bacon mixture and let it brown.
Drain the dried chilies, and reserve the soaking liquid. Tear up the flesh of the chilies and put into a food processor or blender with 1 cup soaking liquid, the garlic, chili powder, cumin seeds, oregano, coriander, and 1½ teaspoons coarse salt. Process or blend to puree. If too thick, dilute with more chili soaking liquid,
Pour pepper puree over beef in pot.
Turn the heat on medium-low, bring it to a simmer and begin to cook the puree with the beef.
Meanwhile, roast the poblano pepper over an open flame. Wrap in a towel for 15 minutes to steam, and then peel. Cut up the Serrano pepper. Put the poblano, Serrano, and bell peppers into the food processor and process them until finely chopped, but not pureed, then added to the pot.
Next add the can of tomatoes and beer to the beef and bring to a simmer.
Cover the pot and place in preheated oven. Cook until the beef is tender, about 1 -1.5 hours.
Uncover and continue to cook until beef is fork tender.
Add the chocolate and stir all together. Continue cooking uncovered.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve this with sides of chopped cilantro, sour cream, chopped red onions, chopped avocado, shredded Monterey Jack cheese and tortillas.
2 servings of pasta
60 ml top quality extra virgin olive oil
10 cloves garlic peeled and sliced thinly
1 teaspoon dried chili flakes
30 grams Italian flat-leaf parsley finely chopped
20 grams butter cubed
Sea salt to taste
Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Bring a pot of water with 1 tbsp sea salt to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente. Drain and set aside the pasta, reserving a small cup of pasta water.
Heat olive oil in a sauce pan, add garlic and chili flakes. Sauté the garlic until it turns opaque.
Remove from the heat. The garlic will continue cooking in the hot oil on its own for a few more seconds in the hot oil, until they turn a light golden brown.
Add cooked pasta, 1-2 tbsp reserve pasta water, chopped parsley and cubed butter to the garlic & oil mixture. Stir to coat all the ingredients evenly. Season with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
1 bunch of fresh coriander, leaves only (about 2 cups)
8 -10 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon salt
400 gram fresh hot green chili, seeded if wanting less heat
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons ground cumin seed
4 cardamom pods, seeds only
4 whole cloves, broken up
Process all the ingredients to a relatively smooth paste. Store in a jar with a tight cover.
Salsa Pico de Gall – Mexican fresh tomato and chili salsa
1 kg tomatoes, seeded and finely diced
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup finely chopped white onion
3-5 small fresh jalapeño or serrano chili, finely chopped, including seeds
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Season to taste with additional chili, lime juice, and salt if needed.
1/2 kg dried sweet red peppers
3-5 dried hot red peppers
10 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cumin
Juice of 2 lemons
Grind the dried peppers and the garlic with a mortar and pestle or in a processor.
Stir in the olive oil, salt, cumin and lemon juice. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Add some fresh parsley or fresh coriander while grinding the peppers and garlic.
1 kg ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded
1 medium size green pepper, roasted and peeled
5-6 hot peppers, medium size (depending on the level of heat you want)
1 bulb garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
3 tbsp sweet paprika
1/4 cup oil
1/2 tsp. sugar
Place the tomatoes into boiling water to loosen skins.
Peel the tomatoes and chop into pieces. Place in a colander to drain the liquid from the tomatoes.
Put the peppers over an open flame and broil until the skin is blackened. Place in a plastic bag and seal to steam for ½ hour to loosen skins for peeling.
Peel, core and remove the seeds and membranes from the peppers. Dice the peppers into small pieces.
While the tomatoes are draining, place the oil into a large pot. When heated, place the garlic and the peppers in the pot and cook for 2 minutes, stirring often. After 2 minutes, add the tomatoes, the salt, pepper, and paprika.
Cook uncovered until most of the liquid has been cooked off, approximately 2 hours. Ten minutes before turning off the heat, add the sugar and stir well.
15 shallots, peeled, cut in half and finely sliced
4 cloves garlic, cut in half & sliced
15 small sliced chilies
5 lime leaves shredded very fine
1 tsp. roasted shrimp paste finely grated
4 stalks lemon grass, bruised and very finely sliced
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
80 ml coconut oil
1. Combine above ingredients in deep bowl and mix well for 5 minutes.
2. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
If you sauté finished sauce for two minutes over medium heat will enhance the beautiful flavor of this delicate sauce.
Sambal Tomat – Indonesian tomato and chili relish
750 gram large chili, seeded and chopped
750 gram bird’s eye chili, whole
1½ kg tomato, blanched, skinned, wedged and seeded
200 gram garlic, peeled and sliced
400 gram shallot, peeled and sliced
50 gram dried shrimp paste, roasted
100 gram palm sugar, chopped
4 each lemon juice
400 ml coconut oil
1 tbsp salt
Heat oil in heavy saucepan, add shallots and garlic and sauté until golden, add chilies and continue to sauté until chilies are soft. Add palm sugar and shrimp paste and continue to sauté until sugar caramelizes. Finally add tomatoes and continue to sauté until tomatoes are soft.
Set aside and cool. Grind in stone mortar or blender puree coarsely. Season to taste with salt and lemon juice.
Make sure to cook all ingredients over high heat while continuously mixing. This will preserve nice red color.
Baby Boomers have been the driving force behind just about every fad for the last 60 years, influencing everything from toys to fashion to music and especially food fads. From the time they (we!) could walk we were at the fore front of the “brave new world” or so we would like to believe.
Burgers, malted milk shakes and onion rings were the order of the day and by the end of the 50’d, Ray Kroc has opened more than 200 McDonald’s restaurants, bringing the burger fad to a fevered frenzy. And no hotel restaurant menu was complete without the quintessential Club Sandwich, Waldorf salad and Prawn cocktail.
Welcome to the 60s! Now we’re talking, this was our era. We were going to change the world!! With so many restrictions and taboos still binding the teens in the 1950s, it was only inevitable that the boomers with their coming of age, their raging hormones and insatiable appetite for anything new would produce the most influential cultural backlash the world has seen.
Hippies, Free love, flower power, mind altering drugs, and political mayhem — these were the trends of a decade that saw turmoil in social values and cultural behavior.
As The Beatles twisted and shouted, the Stones rolled, Dylan preached and the Jefferson Airplane flew, the world saw changes in its political and social order. We protested everything from the Vietnam War to civil rights. The new sexual revolution influenced fashion and social morality. When it came to food everything was pre-packaged and sliced, instant and fast, the Boomers grew up with food trends that our parents could never have imagined. We started experimenting with new food cultures and dishes. I still remember my mother’s attempts at fried rice and turmeric flavored roast chicken.
Beef Wellington was a fashionable dinner party main dish. Anything drenched in alcohol and flambéed was in. Quiche Loraine and Fondues were popular. Beef Stroganoff and Chicken Maryland were the height of culinary extravagance and cooking with canned soup took off— thank you Andy Warhol!
In the 70’s when the hippies started to mellow a little we saw a swing toward whole foods: homemade breads and vegetarian food. Macrobiotics was the word on everybody’s lips and palate and we started to look for food that was pesticide free, and cooked fresh, including whole grains, and other types of proteins aside from beef. And it wasn’t long before some of these now maturing flower children traded their tie-dyed T-shirts for white aprons and opened restaurants. Standard items on the menu were vegetarian chili, guacamole, gazpacho, zucchini bread, tofu with everything, carrot cake and, of course, granola.
In Europe there was a return to the 50’s nostalgia fad and the hamburger craze took off once more with the first Hard Rock Café opening in London. The 1970s was also an era of time-saving innovations, instant gourmet meals and comforting casseroles, Tuna and Noodle Casserole, Chicken Casserole, potatoes au gratin and Spanish chicken and rice
The 80s was the era of gizmos, as pocket calculators and digital watches became status symbols, searching out all types of gourmet foods and buying the latest kitchen gadgets, state-of-the-art mixers and food processors.
Kitchen cupboards were full of imported virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegars older than we were.
We fell in love with regional Italian cooking and authentic Indian cuisine and were inundated with cook books showing us how to cook perfect pasta and real Indian curries. Luxury gourmet grocery shops sprang up everywhere and a new reliance on the microwave alongside increasingly innovative ready-meals like Shake-It-and-Bake-It-Style Chicken and Taco shells with all the fixings from a tin.
We heard the first rumblings of eco-produce and the rise of urban farmer’s markets and locally grown produce. This was fueled, in part, by the desire of Baby Boomers to buy more local, organic, fresh foods as well as holding onto our youth.
The 90s found us changing gears once more. Simplifying, localizing and minimalism were the catchwords of the day which saw the rise of the gastro-pub and the slow food movement. We were experimenting with Thai curries; buying bagged salads and snacking on cereal bars alongside our de-caffe latte take out from Starbucks.
This was also the era when many chefs came out from behind their stoves to revel in their new found notoriety. Wolfgang Puck became as much a household name as his gourmet pizzas and attracted the new “beautiful people” to his restaurant, Spago.
The Cajun trend started by another proud Boomer chef, Paul Prudhomme from K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, introduced his famous blackened redfish and before long we were, blackening everything from chicken to vegetables. A tasty trend but as usual it was taken to ludicrous excesses and luckily disappeared from menus at decade’s end.
The new decade began with a penchant for anything new and shocking with restaurants and chefs more intent in feeding their egos rather than their customers and making us pay for it! Food available for dining out has changed considerably since the baby boomer was born and food trends have affected the way we eat considerably.
This culinary change has given the now aging Baby Boomers a new passion, the joy of cooking and eating at home (sometimes ever more frequently cooking for one!) With the shrinking world and increased Boomer travel we have become more interested in other cuisines and choices. Cooking for ourselves the dishes of the Far East, Middle East and even a return to our childhood favorites
Today with our mighty boomers looking ever so cautiously forward, with some ready to exit the workforce and an almost hysterical search for anything organic or foods that promise longer life and miracle health benefits (as if this will erase the past decades of over indulgence and good eating) we are increasingly looking for anything that will give us an extra decade or even two.
Well, you know? It’s been an incredible ride up to now so who can blame us for wanting to stretch it out a little longer………….
A few recipes to get nostalgic over:
500g Fresh beef mince
400g spaghetti or tagliatelle. Use only the best pasta.
4 rashers of streaky bacon or pancetta finely diced.
2 tins of chopped tomatoes.
2 medium onions peeled and finely diced.
2 sticks of celery trimmed and finely diced.
2 carrots trimmed and finely diced.
2 cloves of garlic peeled and finely diced.
1 medium chili seeded and finely sliced
100g freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for grating over.
2 tbsp. tomato puree
1 cup chicken stock.
Handful of fresh basil, plus extra for garnish.
1 tsp. dried oregano.
1-2 bay leaves.
Sea salt and black pepper.
In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat a nice amount of olive oil and fry the bacon until crisp, then reduce the heat and add the onions, carrots, celery and garlic. Sautee for around until the veg has softened.
Next, increase the heat slightly, add the mince and stir until the meat has broken up and is starting to cook and lose all raw meat color.
Stir in the tins of chopped tomatoes. Add the remaining herbs, tomato puree, stock, and chili.
Stir with a wooden spoon, breaking up the plum tomatoes and bring to a gentle simmer. Reduce the heat to low, put the lid on and leave to cook for about an hour Stir occasionally to make sure it doesn’t catch.
Just as the sauce is nearly ready, add the parmesan and season to taste. Meanwhile add salt to a pan of boiling water and cook the pasta according the packet instructions. Once the spaghetti is ready, drain it in a colander (save a cup of cooking water to add to the sauce if needed) and add it to the pan with the sauce. Stir to coat he pasta. Serve with a little grated parmesan and use the extra basil leaves to make a great little garnish
1 kg beef fillet tails (thinly sliced)
salt and freshly ground pepper
4 tablespoons butter
2 cups sour cream
1 medium onion (chopped)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
200 gram mushrooms (sliced)
60 ml brandy
1. Cut the filet tails into strips.
2. Place butter in large skillet and, when bubbling, add the meat and brown quickly on each side. Remove meat and keep warm.
3. Add the onions to the skillet. When these are golden, add the mushroom slices and stir until they are wilted.
4. Return the meat to the pan, season with salt and pepper.
Add the brandy and flambé, and reduce heat.
5. Add half the sour cream and mix mustard with the other half. Add this to the mixture and stir until it is quite hot, but do not bring to a boil. Garnish with paprika and served with fluffy steamed rice
1tbsp olive oil
25g unsalted butter
8 chicken thighs, skin on, bone in
2tbsp plain flour
3 carrots, peeled and sliced into
3 medium leeks, washed and cut into 2.5cm lengths
12 baby turnips, tops trimmed
1tsp thyme leaves, chopped
200ml sweet sherry
500ml chicken stock
1tbsp flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
For the dumplings
100g self-rising flour
50g light suet
1dsp vegetable oil
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
50g mushrooms, chopped
1tsp thyme leaves, chopped
Preheat the oven to 180 C. Heat the oil and butter in a casserole dish. Dust the chicken thighs with the flour and fry skin-side down until golden brown. Add the remaining ingredients (apart from the parsley), bring to the boil, place a lid on top and bake for 25 minutes.
To make the dumplings, sift the flour into a bowl, add the suet and season. Heat the oil in a frying pan. When hot add the onion and garlic, and fry until golden brown. Add the mushrooms and thyme, and cook until the mixture is dry. Add the mixture to the flour, stir well and add enough cold water to make elastic dough that leaves the sides of the bowl clean. Shape into 4 balls.
Remove the casserole from the oven and increase the heat to 200 C. If the gravy seems thin then mix 1dsp corn flour with a little cold water, add to the casserole and stir. Place the dumplings on top of the casserole and return to the oven for 20 minutes. Scatter the parsley over and serve.
Recipe courtesy Rachael Ray
1 tube jumbo bake-off biscuits (recommended: Pillsbury brand “Grand’s”
A sprinkle cayenne
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
4 pieces boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
125 gram white mushrooms, sliced
1/2 small white onion, chopped
2 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons chopped pimentos
1 cup frozen green peas
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Preheat oven according to package directions for biscuits
Arrange biscuits on nonstick baking sheet and sprinkle with a little ground cayenne pepper then place biscuits into a preheated oven. Bake until golden, remove biscuits from oven and then cool.
In a medium skillet, bring 1 cup white wine and 2 cups chicken stock and 1 bay leaf to a boil. Slide in the chicken breasts and gently poach them in simmering broth and wine for 10 to 12 minutes.
Preheat a second skillet over medium heat. Add oil and butter. When butter melts into oil, add mushrooms and onion and cook 5 minutes until tender. Add flour and cook another minute.
Pull chicken from broth and set on cutting board. Ladle cooking liquid into the mushrooms, whisking it in. Add 2 to 2 1/2 cups of liquid and discard the bay leaf. Add pimentos and peas to the sauce. Dice chicken into bite-size pieces and slide into bubbling sauce.
Split the biscuits, place bottoms on dinner plates and cover with ladles of Chicken a la King. Cap with biscuit tops and garnish with chopped parsley.
The Golden Gate Casino in Las Vegas started serving the shrimp cocktail in 1959, at which time it cost 50c. The cocktail is served in a 6 ounce glass and there is no padding, not even lettuce. It is pure shrimp with cocktail sauce.
30 fresh jumbo shrimp with shells.
In pot of boiling salted water, cook shrimp until pink, about 5 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
Remove all shell and head except the tail, devein
Chill in refrigerator until ready to serve.
Cocktail Sauce: mix together
1 cup ketchup (must be Heinz)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon onion juice
¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
A few drops Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
½ teaspoon salt
Chill in refrigerator.
For completing cocktail:
Arrange in 6 chilled sherbet glasses:
Lettuce or curly endive
Arrange 5 shrimps in each glass. Top each serving with the Cocktail Sauce.
From Julia Child’s Kitchen
1/2 cup very thick-cut bacon, cut into strips
2 tablespoons olive oil
Medium size whole chicken, cut into parts, thoroughly dried
1/4 cup Cognac or Armagnac
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
20 small white onions, peeled
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups red wine, preferably Burgundy, Côtes du Rhône, or Pinot Noir
About 2 cups chicken stock or beef stock
1 or 2 garlic cloves, mashed or minced
About 1 tablespoon tomato paste
300 gram fresh mushrooms, trimmed, washed, and quartered
Sauté the bacon in 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy-bottomed casserole until lightly browned.
Transfer the bacon to a side dish, leaving the drippings in the pan.
Heat the drippings over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the chicken pieces, before careful not to crowd the pan. Sauté the chicken, turning frequently, until nicely browned on all sides.
Pour the Cognac or Armagnac into the pan; let it become bubbling hot, and then Flambé the sauce, tilting the pan by its handle and swirling the sauce to burn off alcohol.
Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Add the bay leaf and thyme to the pan and place the onions around the chicken. Cover and simmer gently, turning the chicken once, for about 10 minutes.
Uncover the pan, sprinkle the flour over everything, and turn the chicken and onions so the flour is absorbed by the sauce. Cover and cook, turning once or twice, for 3 to 4 minutes more.
Remove the pan from the heat and gradually stir and swirl in the wine and enough stock or bouillon to almost cover the chicken. Add the bacon, garlic, and tomato paste to the pan, cover, and gently simmer for 25 to 30 minutes. Add the mushrooms, and simmer 4 to 5 minutes. The sauce is ready when it is thick enough to lightly coat the chicken and vegetables. Taste the sauce carefully, and correct the seasoning accordingly. Serve immediately.
And one more straight from my childhood
My mother’s cooking repertoire wasn’t big or even outstanding but one of the stars was definitely crispy on the outside and soft on the inside potato latkes
2 large baking potatoes
1 large yellow onion
3 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
3 Tbsp flour or matzo meal
Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
Vegetable oil for frying
Place a heavy sauté pan over medium heat.
Peel the onion and cut in half. Peel the potatoes and cut in a size which will fit into the shoot of your food processor if using the food processor. I definitely prefer a hand grater for that touch of authenticity.
Grate the onion and then the potatoes. Put the grated potatoes and onion into a mixing bowl. Crack the egg onto the potatoes then add the salt, pepper, flour (or matzo meal) and add grated nutmeg. Mix thoroughly with your hands, squeezing out any excess liquid. Add a shallow layer of oil to the pan and allow to heat. Test the oil with a drop of the potato mixture, if it sizzles, the oil is ready. Take a nice palm full of the mixture out of the bowl and again squeeze out the liquid. Pat into a rough circular shape and place into the oil and pat down with a spatula so that the oil comes up to about half way up the side of the potato pancake. Cook the pancake for 3-4 minutes, until the bottom is golden brown. Carefully, flip the pancake with a spatula and cook until the other side is golden brown. Remove the pancakes as they are done and place onto absorbent paper towel.
You can serve them as they are or with sour cream or even with a sprinkle of sugar.
In my sometimes solitary life style as globetrotting hotelier I more often than not find myself in the position of dining alone. As I have previously discussed in an earlier blog: http://culinarygypsy.com/2011/02/11/raising-the-bar-or-the-hitchhikers-guide-to-eating-alone-at-the-bar/ Not always does one feel like dining alone in a restaurant and indeed I find my end of day habit of cooking for myself not only relaxing but highly therapeutic. It has been claimed many times already that cooking is a de-stressing activity and it is certainly a great workout for a tired mind with all of the sensory actions needed. Of course I need to admit that although I am now in the senior hotel management arena I was, and guess still am, a chef at heart. (You can take the chef out of the kitchen but you can’t take the kitchen out of the chef!) Oh, and also cooking can be fun
Apparently though there is also a downside to constant solitary dining: morose self-pity; a failure to notice you have developed the social habits of a Tibetan Buddhist hermit, only with fewer transcendental skills; the likelihood that actually having to make polite conversation with anyone but yourself is a daunting thought and my god! Just how anal retentive have I become (I actually found myself folding my dirty laundry the other day just so the room attendant wouldn’t think bad of me!!!) Then again there is a huge upside to cooking for you only. Don’t get me wrong: I love cooking for other people and the satisfaction from seeing people I like appreciate my culinary skills but cooking only for myself, well, that’s a whole different bag. No dress code, I get to cook in my boxers, I can experiment and if it doesn’t quite succeed then I can just bin it without feeling guilty (or lose face) and of course if it does work out and taste incredibly delicious well it’s all mine…no sharing.
As I said I love cooking for others but when you cook for others and, nonetheless however appreciative they say they are, there is inevitably something they don’t like. It could be your meticulous attempt to duplicate a local delicacy or that brilliant thing you do with pasta and seafood and of course there is always someone that has suddenly become a vegetarian or worse yet….a vegan! Cooking for yourself is cooking for someone you know will appreciate the effort. It’s a dinner date with your favorite person, a culinary event of complete satisfaction and a very special kind of personal indulgence.
Even in my most hectic day I will start to plan my evening meal and get just a little bit excited thinking about it. I tend to play the “use-what’s-in-the-fridge game” making up meal plans from what’s left in the fridge and seeing what culinary masterpieces I can create. Just open the fridge – pull out a few ingredients and see where the evening takes you.
One of the secrets to satisfying home-alone cooking is to use as few cooking pots as possible. Let’s face it I love cooking for myself but I hate doing the washing up so the fewer the dishes the better. To remedy this I have come up with a fantastic series of one pot dishes.
Anyway not wanting to be deemed a xenophobic loner I thought I’d share some of my favorite recipes and the quirky things I do when it’s just one for dinner.
Tip no. 1 Buy yourself an electric rice cooker. Indispensable for the single cook and diner. Just throw the rice in with the correct amount of water (easy instructions always come with the rice cooker) and voila! Perfect rice
Nasi Goreng Ayam (Indonesian chicken fried rice)
Nasi Goreng is one of my all-time favorite fast foods from Indonesia. There are a large number of variations but essentially it is fried rice with its ancient origin in China. The main distinctions of Indonesian fried rice compared to its Chinese and other Asian counterparts are the application of sweet soy sauce, and the stronger, hot and spicier taste.
200 gram cooked long grain rice. Best to use left over steamed rice from the night before
1 Tbsp. Vegetable Oil
60 gram onion chopped
2 fresh Chilies,
100 gram Chicken breast cubed
1/2 Tbs. Kecap Manis (sweet soy sauce) also available in Asian grocery stores (substitute: Hoisin sauce
1 tomato, sliced
Make an omelet with the beaten egg and stand aside. When cool cut into strips for later addition.
Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan. Add the chopped onion, sliced shallots and green onions, garlic and chilies. Fry until the onion is soft.
Add the cubed chicken to the pan. Stir fry until just cooked.
Add the Samal Olek or Sambal Badjak to the pan and continue to stir-fry
Add the rice, sweet soy sauce and cook for a further 5 minutes.
Garnish with the omelet strips and some of the chopped green onion and prawn crackers.
Serve with the sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and prawn crackers.
Tip no.2 Have a good strong non-stick wok in your arsenal of cooking tools
With a bag of fresh ready to cook noodles from the supermarket, you’re on your way to stir fry heaven in a flash.
1tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp. bottled hoisin sauce
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp. rice wine (sake or mirin) or sherry
100 gram fresh rice or egg noodles found on most Asian product shelves or in Asian groceries
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
100 gram lean rump steak, cut into strips
60 gram onion, cut into wedges
1 tsp. chopped fresh ginger
1 fresh red chili, chopped
1 large garlic clove, crushed
60 gram frozen green beans
6 baby sweet corns, sliced
60 gram fresh shiitake or button mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp. heavy Soy sauce
|In a small bowl, combine the hoisin sauce, the soy sauce, sesame oil and rice wine or sherry.|
|Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or very large frying pan and stir-fry the beef over a high heat for about 3 minutes or until cooked. Use a draining spoon to remove the beef from the wok and set it aside.|
|Add the onion, ginger, chili and garlic to the wok and stir-fry over a high heat for 1 minute. Add the green beans, sweet corn and mushrooms, and continue stir-frying for 2 minutes.|
|Return the beef to the wok. Add the soy liquid and the noodles and stir for about 1 minute to heat through. Serve immediately, offering heavy soy sauce for extra seasoning as required.|
These are necessary items to have stocked at all times:
1. Jar of ready to heat tomato puree or passata
2. Dried pasta
3. White rice
4. Canned beans (such as chickpeas, cannellinis, kidneys)
5. Dry breadcrumbs
6. Extra-virgin olive oil
7. Dried herbs and spices
8. Onions and garlic
1. Fresh parsley and coriander
5. Cheeses (such as cheddar, Parmesan, and mozzarella)
7. Condiments (such as Dijon mustard, ketchup, BBQ sauce, mayonnaise, and soy sauce)
8. Salad greens, tomatoes, green onion
9. Fresh Asian noodles
2. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3. Ground beef (divided into portions)
4. Frozen vegetables (such as spinach, broccoli florets, peas, and mixed vegetables)
5. Peeled and deveined shrimp
6. Ice cream
This is the original recipe for the legendary ragu and pasta dish named after Bologna, one of Italy’s most prestigious cities. It is so good that I left quantities for more than one person so that you will always have more to re-heat the next day.
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. oil
50 gram pancetta or Parma ham or quality bacon
500 gram ground chuck beef, or half beef and half pork shoulder
500gram bottled tomato puree (passata)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, diced small
1 large clove garlic
1 celery stick, diced small
1-2 chicken livers chopped coarsely
1/2 glass dry white wine
1 cup full fat milk, warmed
1 cup chicken stock
Salt, pepper, pinch of nutmeg
Place a large heavy bottomed sauce pan on a high heat and add 2 tbsp. oil with 2 tbsp. butter.
Add the onions and garlic and fry until the onions are soft and their water has evaporated.
Add the diced carrots and celery to the onions and sauté over high heat until they start to brown.
Add the bacon or pancetta into the pan… mix and sauté until aromatic.
Add the liver and turn frequently as it coagulates. Use a wooden paddle to break it into tiny pieces.
Add part of the ground meat in stages to make sure the meat fries without too much liquid. Flatten the meat with your spatula and flip constantly until the meat is evenly browned.
Pour the warm milk into the ragù, Mix and bring to a boil.
Add the tomato puree
Add the chicken stock, cover and simmer for 3 to 4 hours
Ragu Bolognese IS NOT served with spaghetti; serve only with top quality Tagliatelli
“Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are,”wrote renowned gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in 1825.
Obviously we have to eat or we would die of starvation but there is more to it than that. We love to eat; eating makes us feel good; certain foods actually secrete enzymes that stimulate our brain cells to increase pleasure and other desires.
All living organisms eat in one form or another. Most animals hunt or scavenge their food source but humans are the only animals that prepare and cook their food. Making cooking more than a necessity, it is what defines us as human, and separates us from the rest of nature. We don’t just eat, we dine and because dining is a group or social event, the way and what we eat defines our place and who we are in society. We define our connection to our families through foods and cooking. Our parental memories often relate to certain family dishes or mom’s home cooking. We connect through invitations to dinner, “let’s do lunch” , business deals are sealed over a meal, the romantic dinner for two etc etc etc.
Cooking and eating are two of the most effective therapies in reducing stress, calms rattled nerves, help to heal or at least soothe a broken heart and is a remedy for boredom and insomnia. Eating is a social need. It encourages our creativity and helps us communicate with our social environment. Eating as a group or in a social setting has always been a way for people to preserve a bond with each other whether from parents to children or to welcome strangers or visitors into the larger group. Thus food becomes a symbol of social security.
Like any living organism our body needs fuel but actually, sustenance plays only one part in how we choose the foods we eat and most of human history was determined by food habits. Not all of our food preferences are based solely by what is available. All cultures go to considerable lengths to obtain preferred foods, and in many cases the foods we eat are more likely to be governed by religious or other perceived prohibitions. Food taboos and local delicacies frequently come about because of these cultural and religious beliefs; as they say “one person’s meat is another’s poison”.
For example Because of the history of coexistence and interdependence most European societies will not eat horse and dog while in certain Asian societies this taboo does not exist. One Cantonese saying goes that anything that walks, swims, crawls, or flies is edible and the only four-legged things that Cantonese people won’t eat are tables and chairs. A majority of Chinese based Asian cuisines contain ingredients that Westerners will instinctively turn their noses up to including snakes, snails, insects, worms, chicken feet, duck tongues, and entrails. The French are notorious for their preference for well matured and strong smelling cheeses, snails and frog’s legs, the English in the main find these foodstuffs repugnant. Muslims will not eat pork; while in the Jewish religious dietary tradition not only pork is forbidden along with shellfish but also a whole litany of dietary (kosher) regulations are maintained. Hindus have a religious taboo on beef – and the list goes on. People will not just eat anything, whatever the circumstances. There are examples of protein rich insects that are integral to African, Asian, native Australian, and Latin American cuisines, but hardly be accepted as part of the Western European diet.
How can you eat that?
Every ethnic and national culture consumes a wide variety of different food stuffs both vegetable and animal and one country’s delicacy is sometimes regarded with disgust elsewhere. Nonetheless, there certain similarities that might hark back to time to our common origins.
All cuisines have a rudimentary form of carbohydrate—such as potato, pasta or rice—and celebratory foods tend to come in the form of sweet treats. Most diets also feature high-value foods that indicate social status (e.g. in the west caviar and in Asia difficult to obtain foods like Bird’s nest or shark’s fin), and many cuisines have different foods for children. But in the face of these similarities in food culture there is a vast difference in taste or what one culture deems delicious another finds distasteful.
Do “unusual” foods make you squeamish? Remembering back to our child hood we can recall foods that other families ate that were simply “weird” to our mind. Possibly they came from a different ethnic background but as our taste buds matured, we began to expand our culinary boundaries and as different cultures intermingled what was once strange is now normal but even so our culture still tends to set the boundaries. Most Chinese find cheese repugnant, for example, and rare is the European who would attempt to eat spicy stewed chicken feet, a delicacy in China.
But as the world gets smaller, regional favorites become less foreign, less “weird.” Try some of these if you dare!
Balut:This Filipino delicacy is a fertilized chicken or duck egg that is nurtured until an embryo develops, and then soft-boiled and eaten juices and un-hatched embryo together.
Durian: An acquired taste—and smell—durian is a large, spiny green fruit from South East Asia with a dense skin that protects a creamy center that some swoon over and some find putrid. Durian has such a distinctive odor (sewer-like is the most common description) that it has been banned on public transportation in some countries.
Fugu: Dozens of people in Japan die each year from eating this blowfish, which has an organ containing a toxin so deadly that only specially licensed chefs are allowed to prepare it.
Haggis: A Scottish favorite made from the chopped heart, lungs, and liver of lamb or beef and mixed with suet, oats, onions, herbs, and spices, then stuffed into a sheep’s stomach, haggis is not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach.
Hakarl: An Icelandic dish that consists of putrefied shark meat that has been buried for months, then dried for a few more months, Hakarl is typically accompanied by a shot of caraway-flavored schnapps, possibly to mask the smell.
Hu-Hu or witchetti Grubs: A New Zealand and Australian native food, the larvae of the certain beetles can be found in rotting logs or trees and eaten raw or cooked. Connoisseurs describe the grubs as tasting nutty or like chicken.
Jerusalem Mixed grill: This cholesterol loaded local Jerusalem delicacy contains chicken hearts and livers, spleen and testicles grilled with onion, garlic and an array of Middle Eastern spices all stuffed into a pita with a large salted pickled cucumber.
In most ethnic cultures certain foods stuffs are thought of as delicacies, not for their taste, but for their medicinal or health giving benefits.
In Asia there is a whole food culture based on the consuming of just about every creature that walks, swims, crawls, slithers or flies—domestic, wild, and endangered—and every part of the creature’s body, inside and out is used to create a myriad of health benefiting elixirs and dishes.
The inner organs or offal are bestowed with special properties that can be transferred to the diner when eaten. It is widely held that the penises of many animals cooked fresh or dried bestow the consumer with healthy sex lives, rooster testicles help women stay young, Just as in the west oysters where are considered or believed to be an aphrodisiac
Most Westerners today, unused to this culture of food related folklores and dual functions of food and medicine find some of these animal products a source of repugnance although in both industrialized and developing nations the world over eating the testicles, cheeks, lungs, kidneys, hearts, and livers of animals was once the norm emerging from a subsistence culture in which nothing was wasted. This still applies to many countries around the world where people struggle to get enough to eat.
Ironically though the status of offal has recently gained a sort of retro/trendy food status again with these once lowly regarded off cuts finding their way into the menus of some of the trendiest and world-renowned restaurants.
Food or more accurately the preparation of food changes the basic need to eat from sustenance into culture. It can bring people together, but can also set them apart. When we become involved in some way with the process of preparing food, whether it is hunting, gathering, shopping, cooking or assembling the components of a meal then that becomes a ritual that is basic and essential to our humanity. We strengthen our bonds and proclaim our individuality from the act of preparing food and sharing it with family, friends, and even strangers.
What we eat gives us our individual character; a specific identity that can reflect in our relationships, priorities, and values. In my life, food plays a large role. I do not celebrate religious holidays, but I do relate to the fact that certain types of foods eaten at a certain period represent my own cultural identity and me.
So in the end it all boils down to the fact that we are what we eat, and we are defined by how we eat.
Who Criticizes the Critics?
It is strange that I never became a restaurant critic since the job does combine two of my favourite pass times: eating and criticizing. Over years of meals cherished or loathed, I too, like most of us, became a self-appointed expert. Likes and dislikes are formed; opinions of good food and drink are honed. So I guess it was just poetic justice that I became a chef then Food…
I am so sick and tired of feeling guilty when I get a little peckish between meals and even more tired of hearing that old refrain “if you want to lose weight you must eat your last meal before 6 pm”. I mean what the hell I am supposed to do if I get hungry? Of course I know in my heart that this is correct but in my line of work and the sort of hours I keep it is almost impossible to stick to a “do not eat after 6pm” regimen and there are definitely those special things that I love to eat but then beat myself up with guilt for eating them. Why do I do this?
On the other hand you are most likely to feel less guilty about certain foods when you eat out side of your social setting—home alone, over worked, depressed etc. This is because we are better able to justify to our selves the little lapses in will power and over indulgence when we are alone more than when we are in a social setting.
Everyone knows what it’s like to feel guilty about some delectable morsel you just couldn’t resist. But as I was doing a Google on food guilt, I was mildly surprised to find out that the experts have created an actual guilt index based on how likely a food is to set off a feeling of foodie guilt.
It goes something like this:
Our feelings of guilt at eating so called forbidden fruits increases proportionally in relation to the pleasure we derive from said food item.
In other words we feel guilt when we indulge in a delectable dessert, so when we imagine feeling bad, we assume the food is more delicious. “If it is so bad why does it feel so good?” And we wonder why it is so hard to stick to a diet!
Of course this is just another symptom of our myopic western society. I have spent many years in the Far East and Asia and believe me. Over there they eat what they want, when they want and how they want and have no food guilt…
Apropos with my own Jewish upbringing we were made to feel guilty about everything but food!
We are also totally confusing ourselves over how we should relate to certain foods with double meanings like “sinfully delicious” or “decadently delightful”. We label a very rich chocolate dessert as decadent (the act or process of falling into moral decay): but as also heavenly (of or pertaining to a divine being).
So does being guilty about eating a food help? Does guilt burn off calories? And as for the whole sinful/decadent/divine thing, I have no idea if giving in to one of my guilty pleasures will lead to my moral decline or transport me to paradise. All I know is that my whole working life, and even before that has been about food and drink and being an unapologetic foodie I struggle a lot with my relationship with food, my weight etc and I’ve found that my mental and physical health gets better considerably when I detach myself from, our culture’s mixed messages and overstatement regarding food.
And all that crap about it being a substitute for a missing emotions or not getting laid enough. Bullshit…when do we most get the munchies? After doing something that’s a little bit edgy right?
Surprisingly enough though cooking and not necessarily eating is my transcendental mantra.
It’s all about enjoyment and satisfaction and whatever brings you pleasure. One of my all time guilty pleasures especially when I am alone (so I don’t have to share!) Are potato chips …I love Kettle Potato Chips (especially Dijon mustard and Honey flavor) and just cannot stop at a few pieces I MUST finish the whole bag. And why do I feel guilty about that? It makes me happy and sad at the same time…does that mean I need a therapist? Maybe! But if we make a list of at least ten things that brings us real pleasure you can be sure that food is somewhere on the list. That’s OK, it tastes good, and it’s comforting and reliable and compared to other pleasure vices, and it is fairly cheap, fast, easy and legal. But when taken to extremes and becomes compulsive it can grow to be like some other vices, addictive, shame provoking and harmful.
We are fascinated by all things foodie, it dominates our very being. From the day we first opened our eyes we cried to be fed, our first pleasure, it comforts, it warms our hearts and feeds our souls.
Bottom line: I don’t want to feel guilty, so I decided that the only thing I need to listen to is my body. If it’s craving something, then I can eat it. I don’t have to weigh up, calculate calories and fixate. My body tells me what it needs, I just need to listen. And then the Food Guilt evaporates.
So if food is one of our great pleasures, then let’s have a good time with it, in its entire sumptuous splendor.
A few tips to help you enjoy your food to the fullest
- When you cook or prepare a meal no matter how simple make it look appetizing and aesthetic. Take that little extra time to elevate it to a gastronomic marvel by simply taking the time to add a little color, add a garnish of freshly chopped parsley to mashed potatoes or add a few slices of grilled red and yellow peppers and red onion to a steak. A sprinkle of paprika and grinding of black pepper on to fried eggs etc. Serve the meal on attractive dishes. Square plates add a modern feel, while oval dishes look trendy. You don’t need to be a 5 star chef to do this.
- Savor it. What was the last really pleasurable thing you experienced? Did you want it to end or just get it over with? Probably not. The same goes for any pleasurable experience, be it watching your favorite sitcom on TV, maybe a shopping expedition or a unforgettable encounter — you don’t want the feeling to end, and the last thing on your mind is rushing. But that’s often what happens when we dine: we rush and gulp down our food, as if our life depended on it. So at your next meal, whether it is just you in front of the TV or dining with friends savor the moment: Take a laidback approach, chew slowly, taste each flavor, feel the textures. Be exquisitely conscious of the entire experience.
- Spice it up. Add extra spice or flavor to the meal. Don’t be afraid to add flavor with garlic, chili, lemon juice, limejuice, chopped chives, curry powder, cumin, cilantro or oregano. And always use fresh herbs.
- Really get into it. It’s almost as if we are scared that if we really get into our food, the gratification will be so overwhelming that we’ll never stop eating. But it’s difficult to relish your food if we just eat for eating’s sake. In fact, go ahead and eat some of those Forbidden Fruits, enjoy a little culinary sin at a leisurely pace. Think about it, why do we like to eat sinful foods (ice cream, chocolate, pizza, etc.)?…. Because they taste good. But if we consume them too quickly then what’s the point? But if we take our time to savor and enjoy each bite then we can get the same great taste, but with less going into our stomach.
- Release the shame and rebel against fast food and fast life. Make your meal a “Slow Food” pleasure, not a thing we do while rushing through our hectic, fast-paced, stressful, chaotic lives. This is a lifestyle that is making us unhealthy, frazzled, and unhappy. We rush through our day, without taking the time to live and enjoy life, we do not look after our relations or ourselves. We can instead, rebel against that entire régime and attitude …just with the simple act of eating slower. Ban Fast Food from your diet as much as possible, find a good reasonably priced local restaurant with great simple home cooked food and become a regular there, or even better yet, cook your own. Learn the recipes of some of your all time favorite comfort foods and cook and prepare them at least 3 times a week and savor your own creativity. Taste life on your terms.
- Love what you eat. If you choose to eat a food you love — food that brings you pleasure — eat it alone, unhurriedly and thoughtfully. Tell the guilt ridden voices of concience in your head that they’re not invited to dinner.
In the end it’s not a sin to love food — to find joy in eating – as long as we keep it in perspective. As for all its sensory pleasures, food is ultimately fuel for the body and the soul. While it can and will gratify our appetite, stimulate our feelings and arouse the senses, it is not a replacement for human contact, achieving our ambitions, exciting exploits or even falling in love but it does add to and even help us guide our way the ups and downs of life’s adventures.
According to popular legend it was the ancient Egyptians who discovered the delights of fattened goose Liver around 2500 B-C. They noticed that the liver of the geese in an around the Nile during the migratory season were bigger, paler and much tastier during this period than the rest of the year. They realized that the geese were overfeeding themselves before their migration thus the liver acted as a sort of long distance fuel tank from which the bird get the energy needed for its long and tiring journey.
Since these fattened livers could only be obtained during this short seasonal period, the hunters and farmers of the time decided to reproduce that natural occurrence themselves all year round. So they began to force feed the domesticated geese with figs and corn. In this way the art of Foie Gras production was born
When the Roman legions arrived in what is now the Alsace part of France they began using geese to guard farms and in the 13th or 14th century, it is said that Jewish farmers developed and refined the art of feeding geese to produce enlarged livers. Who knows maybe they acquired this knowledge while enslaved in Egypt and brought it out with them during the Exodus with Moses? Anyway I like to think it happened this way!
In any case these mediaeval farmers were known for their high quality foie gras.
But it is the French who contributed to the popularity of foie gras by improving the feeding technique. It is also the French who developed the different ways of cooking foie gras that are known today. The foie gras torchon style, the bloc of foie gras and the mousse of foie gras are recipes that have been developed by great French chefs. Over the years, the French developed a passion for foie gras that they communicated to everyone.
the liver of force-fed geese, was further enhanced and perfected by Jean-Pierre Clause, chef to Marshal Contades, the military governor of Strasbourg from 1762 until 1788. Since then no one has been able to resist foie gras, so meltingly soft and tender that a single bite has been know to make a grown man cry.
Disapproval of foie gras making commonly centers on the process of “gavage,” or “force feeding” of the ducks and geese. What does one generally understand from this process though? The expression “force feeding” does carry a negative connotation true but what is the reality? Do we need to humanize ducks and geese? Do they feel the same things, in the same way, that we do. This has been the argument of vegetarians and if we accept this argument then the eating habits of the majority of the world’s human beings are in question. I for one do not accept this argument, not that I want to see animals suffer just to feed my appetite but if we are trying to determine whether these birds suffer, we must consider such suffering from the point of view of the birds, and not how a human would view it.
Poultry raised for foie gras commonly spend the first 12 weeks as free-range birds, and there is no force-feeding done during this period. Basically they have pleasant lives as far as most animals raised for food have and you cannot say that they suffer in any respect, unless you are entirely apposed to animal husbandry for your own ethical reasons.
After the initial 3 months, gavage will then be introduced 2-3 times a day over a period of 2-4 weeks. In this force-feeding, a metal tube or pipe is lowered into a duck’s throat for no more than 2-10 seconds while the feed is being introduced. This is a very quick process. Do the birds suffer during these very brief instances of force-feeding? Actually Gavage mimics closely how birds gorge themselves prior to migration. This is why of why we should not humanize these birds. Unlike humans, these birds have systems designed to adapt to such over eating. There will always be those that oppose this practice and I respect their opinion but as a dedicated foodie I reserve the right to respectfully disagree.
Cooking with Foie Gras
Most new comers to Foie Gras believe that there must be something very difficult about preparing goose livers in their own homes. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, even though goose livers have been regarded as one of the greatest culinary delicacies since the time of the Egyptians, they are not difficult to prepare in the kitchen so long as one follows a few simple rules.
First, when buying foie gras be sure that they are creamy-white in color, barely tinged with pink and firm to the touch.
Second, to show how very simple goose liver preparations can be, keep in mind that one of the finest and simplest ways to treat a goose liver is to slice it and then sauté it in butter. Remember that while the outside of the liver should be nicely browned, the inside should remain pink. After the livers have been cooked, remove them from the skillet. To the butter in the skillet add a bit each of Marsala wine or other heavy wine and a small amount of veal or beef stock. Over a low flame, scraping the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon, cook this mixture until it is slightly reduced and then pour this sauce over the livers to serve.
To make such a dish even more celebratory, place the foie gras slices on thick slices of cooked potato that have been sautéed in butter. Pan fried tournedos of fillet steak topped with a sautéed medallion of Foie Gras with a rich brown sauce spooned over yields the famous dish tournedos a la Rossini. It is also appropriate to garnish sautéed liver slices with strawberries or peeled green grapes.
Third, do not ignore the possibility of cooking goose liver over open charcoals. When this method, which has its roots in the inexpensive restaurants of the “HaTikva Quarter” in Tel Aviv, first started, great chefs scoffed but today grilled goose liver appear on the menus of some of the best and most exciting restaurants of Europe and North America. Even the Japanese have found (in their most sophisticated restaurants) that grilled cubes of goose liver on skewers with a well made teriyaki sauce can be exceptionally good.
Fourth, to cook a goose liver whole, simply brown it in very hot butter, transfer the liver to an ovenproof casserole dish and pour over a mixture of butter, Marsala wine and thickened veal or beef stock. Cover and seal the casserole and bake until the liver is done.
Fifth, a confession – there is one goose liver dish that even I will not attempt at home. Pate de foie gras (or, if you prefer, goose liver pate) is a dish that takes so many hours to prepare that I recommend it only to the most devoted at-home cooks. As to the rest of us, let us thank heaven that pate de foie gras appears on a regular basis on the menus of many of the world’s fine restaurants.
Following are three recipes, each of which I have used on numerous occasions in mt restaurants. Each is an outstanding example of the versatility of Foie Gras.
Before we get into the recipes, however, a few notes:
1. Serving pate or terrine de foie gras with overly sweet jams or jellies is a nasty habit that should be avoided at all costs. Instead do as the French do and have plenty of sweet unsalted butter and fresh crusty bread, a pinch of pink salt and if possible savory sweet onion marmalade.
2. Goose liver and duck liver are interchangeable and are both referred to as Foie
Spice Cured Foie gras
lobe Grade A foie gras, veins and impurities removed
1 cup pink salt
3 cups coarse grain salt
1 cup palm sugar
1 tablespoon fresh ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 table spoon ground comet’s tail peppercorn
1 teaspoon freshly ground cloves
Allow the foie gras to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Combine the spices in a mixing bowl and set aside.
Place a piece of cheesecloth on a flat work surface, and place the foie gras in the center. Gently roll the foie gras in 1 direction (as though using a rolling pin) so that it forms a tight cylinder or log. Continue rolling the foie gras in the cheesecloth until it is as tightly furled as possible; about 1 1/2 to 2-inches in diameter, then twist and tie the ends with twine. Pour a third of the spice mixture into a loaf pan or small casserole dish at least 3 inches in height. Place the rolled foie gras in the spice bed and cover completely with the remaining spice cure. Cover the foie gras tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 days.
Pot-au-feu of Foie Gras with Asian Flavors
1 liter strong duck or chicken broth flavored with cardamom, cloves, pepper and juniper
4 baby carrots, scrubbed and the leaves left
1 stick of celery, cut in to short lengths
1 leek, white section finely julienne
4 each shiitake mushrooms, sliced and sautéed
400 gram foie gras, sliced into 100 gram escallops’
Fresh cilantro leaves
Fresh ginger, julienne and blanched
Citrus flavored olive oil
Lightly sauté the leeks, celery and carrots.
Lay the shiitake mushrooms in the bottom of 4 deep soup plates. Add the vegetables.
Gently poach the escalope of foie gras in some of the simmering duck or chicken broth, and then place them over the julienne vegetables.
Season with the fleur de sel and cover with hot broth.
Add 3 cilantro leaves, some chives and ginger. Drizzle with olive oil.
Sautéed Duck Liver and Roasted Pumpkin on Arugula with Pumpkin Seed & Verjuice Dressing
400 gram foie gras, sliced into 100 gram escallops’
500 gram pumpkin peeled, seeded and cut into medium size chunks
1 bunch fresh Arugula, rinsed and dried
60 gram pumpkin seed, toasted
20 ml Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
100 ml Verjuice
50 ml pumpkin seed oil
Roast pumpkin on baking tray sprinkled with olive oil, salt and fine black pepper in a (high) 250° oven for 20 minutes or until tender and slightly caramelized.
Pan-fry the duck liver until just crispy on the outside and still creamy inside. Remove to absorbent paper and keep warm.
De-glaze the pan with verjuice remove from the heat and blend in the pumpkin seed oil and more Verjuice. Season to taste
Spread rocket leaves on serving plate and top with roasted pumpkin chunks and sautéed Foie Gras and immediately drizzle over the dressing
Scatter 2 tablespoons of toasted pumpkin seeds over (toast separately while pumpkin roasts) and sprinkle with Maldon or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by rice.
The first memories are connected to my mother’s chicken soup. Many times instead of the usual vermicelli in the soup it would be served with rice. I would heap mounds of the fluffy fragrant grain into the soup and mix it with the vegetables, creating a sort of concoction that in later life I would recognize as the ultimate Asian comfort food, Congee. Of course I was only about 12 at the time and had no idea what congee was.
Rice was a frequent part of our family menu and I can still remember my mother’s and my sister’s attempts at more exotic fare such as fried rice with cabbage or rice and peas. My sister has eventually gone on to become an excellent cook. The curries and Biriani that she learnt to make in later life from her husband’s family still remain one of my all time favorite food memories.
In due course as I grew up and became more and more fascinated with all things culinary I would scour my scores of cook books and magazines for any recipe that included rice. For some reason rice just made sense and has remained until today my favorite cooking ingredient and my ultimate comfort food.
Eventually I went on to become a working chef and F&B professional and my travels have taken me to many parts of the world where rice is not only the staple but the ultimate staff of life…the holy grain.
The cultivation of rice has gone hand in hand with the social development of many cultures. Every ethnic society has its own way of harvesting; processing and eating rice which has in many ways formed the dietary habits of its cultivators and consumers.
The actually origin of rice cultivation has not been identified for sure but many experts indicate to the area of southern India around 12,00 years ago although others negate this view and point towards the area of the Yangtze river in China as the another possible origin. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rice
Whichever is more correct the cultivation of the grain then migrated eastward and southward more than five thousand years ago and spreading into all of Asia becoming the staple food of these “rice-fish societies”.
A typical Chinese / Asian greeting instead of “How are you?” is “Have you had your rice today?”
Eventually rice cultivation spread westward into Persia and Egypt and in due course Asiatic rice was brought by the Moors to Africa and the Iberian peninsula in the 10th century and on to Sicily where it eventually migrated Northwards into Italy proper, the Lombardy plains and the River Po where it was to become a staple crop and a feature of Northern Italian cuisine.
After the 15th century, rice spread throughout Europe and across the seas to the Americas by the Spanish conquerors as well as the African slaves that were brought over to work the plantations that included rice cultivation. The combination of rice and legumes characterizes cuisines from Cajun to Mexican.
Making this trans-cultural migration of the simple grain into the ultimate “fusion” cuisine.
Rice is probably the ultimate comfort food as well as the staple and every culture has its own favorites.
I am fortunate to have been able to sample a lot of these rice delicacies in their native surroundings with authentic flavors and cooking methods. The list is far too long to bring them all to you here in this blog but the following are just as few of my favorites.
Let’s start at home in Israel. There is no one identifiable Israeli style of cooking as Israel is a country of immigrants from all over the world who have brought with them their own “kosher” versions of the dishes that they knew from their previous host countries as well as many typical Middle Eastern recipes that have become part of the daily menu repetoire .
Chicken stuffed with rice and spices, slow cooked buried in more rice and spices for 24 hours is the traditional Sabbath meal of the Jews of Iraq. The aromatic spices of cinnamon, cardamom and pepper used in this slow-cooking dish give the rice and chicken a wonderful and delicate flavour.
450 gram basmati rice
3 teaspoons cardamom
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons turmeric
5 teaspoons salt
1 cup chicken gizzards
1 whole chicken
4 chicken necks
8 eggs (or one for every diner)
1. Mix one cup of the rice with 1 teaspoon each of the spices and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Add the gizzards and mix.
2. Stuff the chicken with the rice mixture (keep any leftover rice for later). Tie the chicken legs together and use toothpicks to fasten the opening.
3. Put the chicken chest side down in a greased pot with the chicken necks. Add 4 cups of water and the rest of the spices and salt and bring to boil over high heat. Lower the heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes. Turn the chicken chest side up and cook for 5 minutes more.
4. Now add the rest of the rice (about 4 more glasses) all around the chicken and cook for 10 minutes more. In the meantime turn your oven to 225 degrees. Arrange the eggs above the rice.
5. Cover the pot with the lid and then wrap aluminium around it, to keep the steam in. Transfer the pot into the oven for 7 hours or for the night.
6. Before serving, pour 1 cup of water into the stew, to help release it from the pot. Let stand for 5 minutes. Transfer the eggs to a serving dish. Cover the pot with a very large platter and flip the whole stew into it. Or simply serve straight from the pot.
A staple in every Middle Eastern country including Israel, the combination of lentils and rice topped with fried onions. It’s tasty, satisfying, and nutritious.
450 gram large brown lentils, washed, soaked if required
1 onion, finely chopped
Salt and black pepper
200 gram long-grain rice (Persian Style), washed
2 onions, sliced into half-moon shapes
Boil lentils in water to cover until tender. Fry the chopped onion in 2 tablespoons oil until soft and golden. Add it to the lentils and season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix well and add rice, together with 2 cups (400 ml) of water. Season again and simmer gently, covered, for about 20 minutes until the rice is cooked and each grain separate.
Fry the sliced onions in 2 tablespoons very hot oil until they are brown and sweet, almost caramelized.
Serve the rice and lentils on a large shallow dish, garnished with fried onion slices.
This dish is delicious served either hot or cold and accompanied by yoghurt.
The classic Italian Risotto is a rice dish prepared with feeling and love. A dish that once you start you need to caress and cajole into a smooth and rich texture of firm rice grains bound in a velvety sauce, making it unlike any other rice dish in the world. Only use specific types of rice with the highest content of the glutinous starch that produces the creamy texture for traditional risotto. Rice cultivated in the Po valley of Italy such Arborio rice, Vialone and Carnaroli.
Zucchini and Pea Risotto
200g risotto rice.
1 small stick of celery, chopped finely.
1 small onion, chopped finely.
1 clove of garlic, chopped finely.
200 gram frozen or fresh garden peas, blanched
2 small zucchinis scraped and diced, blanched
1 glass of white wine.
1 liter (or so) of chicken stock, in a saucepan, next to the risotto pan.
Salt and Black Pepper
Parmesan cheese or Grana Pardano
A squeeze of lemon.
Optional: fresh parsley (not dried)
1. In a thick bottomed pan heat the olive oil and gently sauté the celery, onion and garlic without coloring.
2. Turn up the heat to medium-high and add the rice and stir.
3. Add the wine and stir until most of the liquid has evaporated.
4. Turn the heat down to medium and add a ladle of stock along with a good pinch of salt. Stir.
5. Keep stirring gently until the stock has been absorbed by the rice.
6. Repeat adding stock and stirring until absorbed and the rice becomes soft on the outside with a bite in the middle (al dente) it should creamy but and dry.
7. At this point, add the vegetables to the pan. And continue to cook
8. To finish, off the heat add a knob of butter, the grated cheese, a squeeze of lemon and if using, a sprinkle of chopped parsley.
9. It is important to put the lid on and let it rest for up to three minutes. This allows all the flavors to fuse. Taste and season accordingly.
10. To serve, ladle into a big bowl and add a final flourish of grated parmesan, a further sprinkle of freshly-ground black pepper and a quick drizzle of olive oil.
Yang Zhou Fried Rice is one of the most popular varieties of fried rice served in almost every Chinese restaurant around the world. Chinese barbecued pork or ‘cha shao’ (叉烧) is an essential ingredient in Yang Zhou Fried Rice. It is the barbeque pork that gives it its special sweetish flavour.
3 cups cooked, cold rice (Thai Jasmine makes the best)
1/2 cup shelled and cleaned shrimps
1/2 cup Chinese barbecued pork (cha shao/叉烧)
1/2 cup green peas
2 eggs – lightly beaten
3 stalks green onion (scallions) – chopped
3 Tbsp cooking oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
2 cloves garlic
3 thin slices ginger
1/2 tsp soy sauce
Dash of salt and pepper
1. Mix the salt and sugar with shrimps and let marinate for 20 minutes.
2. Heat wok on medium heat and add cooking oil. Fry Ingredients the garlic and ginger for a few seconds until fragrant, then add shrimps. Stir-fry till shrimps change colour & and remove, leaving oil in wok.
3. Pour in beaten eggs and scramble slightly. Add in rice, salt and pepper, soy sauce sugar, stir-fry for a few seconds. Then add barbecued pork, cooked prawns and green peas. Continue frying for several minutes till rice is aromatic.
4. Add green scallions and turn off heat.
5. Mix well and serve.
Biryani a rice-based casserole of fragrant spices, meat and vegetables originating in Persia and brought to the Indian sub-continent by merchants and travellers and adopted and perfected by the Mogul rulers of Northern India into Mughlai Biryani, a regal dish fit for a king or Rajah.
1kg lamb/ chicken cut into 2″ pieces (if using chicken, use breast or thigh fillet)
4 large onions sliced thin
2 tsps garlic paste
2 tsps ginger paste
1/2 cup peeled almonds
6 tbsps ghee/ vegetable/ canola/ sunflower cooking oil
1 stick of cinnamon
3 pods cardamom
2 tsps coriander powder
1 1/2 tsps cumin powder
1 tsp garam masala
1 cup yoghurt
Juice of 1 lime
1 cup chicken/ beef stock
2 tbsps finely chopped coriander leaves
2 tbsps finely chopped mint leaves
2 cups Basmati rice
Salt to taste
Mix the garlic and ginger pastes, add the almonds and grind to a smooth paste in a food processor.
Wash the rice in a sieve and add enough water to fully cover the rice. Add salt to taste. Set the rice up to boil. Cook till almost done. Turn off the fire. Strain through a colander and keep drained aside.
Heat 3 tbsps of oil in a pan and fry 2 of the onions till golden brown. Drain and keep aside on paper towels for later
Heat 3 tbsps of oil and add the whole spices – cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and peppercorns. Fry till the spices turn a little darker.
Add the 2 remaining onions and fry till they are translucent.
Add the ginger-garlic-almond paste and fry for 2-3 minutes.
Add all the spice powders – coriander, cumin and garam masala and mix well.
Fry till the oil begins to separate from the masala and then add the lamb/ chicken. Keep frying till the meat is fully sealed.
Now add the yoghurt, lime juice, stock, coriander and mint leaves and salt to taste. Mix well.
Cover the pot and allow cooking till the meat is tender.
Grease a deep baking dish and evenly layer the cooked rice, meat (and its gravy) in it to form at least 2 sets of layers (rice-meat-rice-meat-rice). Garnish with the previously caramelized onions. Cover the dish tightly aluminum foil.
Put in a pre-heated oven set at 180 C for 20 minutes.
Turn off the oven and let the dish sit in the oven till you are ready to eat. Only open when you are ready to eat. The way to serve Biryani is to gently dig in with a spoon so you get through the layers.
Eat together with a yogurt, cucumber and onion raita
To the Balinese rice is more than just the staple food; it is a fundamental part of the Balinese culture. The ceremonial festivals celebrating the cycle of planting, maintaining, irrigating, and harvesting rice enrich the cultural life of Bali beyond a single staple can ever hope to do.
Here are two of the ultimate rice recipes courtesy of my good friend chef Heinz von Holzen of Bumbu Bali fame http://www.balifoods.com/
Nasi Kunning (Balinese Yellow Rice)
Yellow, one of the four sacred colors makes this festive rice dish strikingly different from the normal, everyday steamed rice. The rice is cooked in lightly seasoned coconut milk and chicken stock for extra flavour, while the touch of oil in the coconut milk gives it a glistening appearance and keeps each grain separate.
1½ cups long grain rice, washed and drained
2½ cups coconut milk
¾ cup chicken stock
1 salam leaf (substitute curry leaves which can be found in Indian grocery stores)
1 pandan leaf
1 stalk lemon grass, bruised
2 tbsp turmeric water
2 cm galangal cut in 4 lengthwise slices (can substitute fresh young ginger root)
1 tbsp salt
Combine all ingredients in rice cooker or heavy stockpot and simmer, covered until done.
If your are not using a rice cooker, cook the rice over high heat until the liquid comes to the boil, then lower heat and cook gently so that the coconut milk does not catch and burn on the bottom of the pan.
NASI GORENG (Fried Rice)
There are about as many different ways of preparing Nasi Goreng in Bali, as there are cooks. The only constant ingredient is rice; everything else is determined by the cook’s taste or the availability of ingredients. Please be certain to use only cold rice, as warm rice will stick to the wok.
6 tbsp oil
6 shallots, peeled, halves length wise and sliced
6 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
200 gram chicken meat, sliced
150 gram medium size shrimp, peeled
¼ small white cabbage, shredded
4 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp sambal tomat or Sambal oelek (Indonesian spice pastes found in most Asian groceries
700 gram cold cooked rice
2 tsp salt
1 tsp sliced bird’s eye chillies
2 tbsp fried shallot
1 fried egg
sliced tomato and cucumber
1. Heat vegetable oil in wok or heavy fry pan until very hot.
2. Add shallots and garlic and fry for 1 minute until golden yellow.
3. Add chicken and shrimp and fry for 1 minute, and then add cabbage and fry for 1 minute. Add sambal and mix well.
4. Add eggs and continuously stir for 30 seconds before adding rice and salt. Increase to very high heat and fry for 3 more minute, stir continuously.
5. Add chillies, mix well and serve immediately, garnished withsliced tomatoes and cucumber, fried shallots and a fried egg.
These are just few of my favorite dishes. The recipes for many more are listed under the recipe section of this blog as well as a glossary of the different rice types:
I must apologize to all my readers that have not had the pleasure yet of living in or visiting China because this blog is dedicated to those of us expatriates who have had the enlightening experience of seeing our Chinese friends (especially girl friends) wolfing down enormous amounts of food at least 3 times a day and never seeming to add even the tiniest amount of excess weight as well as being able to imbibe copious amounts of alcohol, get ragingly pissed and never seem to be any the worse for wear the next day
For the most part in the West, Chinese food is considered to be the antithesis to a healthy diet. The rice or noodle heavy meals and fatty meat dishes are judged to lead to obesity and heart disease. Actually the opposite is true: the Chinese way of eating is healthy and gratifying, has many disease fighting properties and is believed without a doubt by the Chinese to prolong life. Authentic Chinese food and the way the Chinese actually eat won’t make you fat, and that the rising levels of obesity observable in China today are in fact caused by the proliferation of sugary, over processed Western style fast foods e.g. a McDonald’s on every corner. The Western predilection to counting calories with every meal is alien to the Chinese diner. For them eating is as natural as breathing, one of life’s pleasures free of guilt and seeing food as health giving nourishment, not potential weight gain.
The stomach and the libido
You will quite often hear the Chinese describing their favorite foods as being “healthy” and attribute many health giving properties to just about every category of food especially proclaiming that “its good for women or “very good for men!” Meaning of course, that their libido will get an extra boost from eating a certain category of food.
Chinese apothecary recommends a variety of foods and herbs as medical treatments or with libido boosting properties; chilies for example are said to promote digestion; stimulate the nervous system enhancing the feelings of sexual arousal. Garlic to counteract toxins and ginger increases the libido in both genders by increasing the circulation of blood. The list goes on but the fundamental hypothesis is that certain foods can ensure that all the organs are working correctly allowing energy, or chi, to flow efficiently through the body.
Green tea eliminates toxins, aids digestion and allays hunger. It has also been suggested that green tea can fight cells which cause cancer and heart disease. Green tea is an important antioxidant, but it will only help you lose weight if you drink 40 cups a day.
Two thousand years ago, Hippocrates said, ‘Let food be your medicine.’ But I think in the West we have lost this along the way.
“Have you eaten yet?”
The most usual greeting you will hear in China is “chī le ma? Have you eaten yet?” This is a statement more than a question and is basic to Asian hospitality. Nevertheless, this is just a casual greeting, and not, as most foreigners who don’t understand this kind of custom might regard, an invitation to have a meal together. So one can reply with “chī le” or “méi ne” which means “yes, I have eaten” or “no, not yet.”
Regular eating times are also one of the secrets of Chinese healthy eating habits. You can actually set your watch to the Chinese internal eating clock. There is no way that they will miss a meal at the allotted time and if by any chance they have the miserable misfortune to actually miss or be late for a meal their day is totally ruined.
A raw deal
You won’t find much raw salad eating culture in the Chinese diet. While raw food has a higher concentration of vitamins than cooked food, research has shown that lightly cooking vegetables as in the Chinese cooking method of quick stir-frying over a very high heat seals in the vitamins and makes the nutrients easier for the body to absorb. The stomach is unable to digest too much raw food; this can lead to bloating and weight gain.
Eating a big salad with lots of different raw vegetables in its self is very agreeable and undoubtedly healthy, and I wouldn’t recommend giving this up but there must be something to say for the Chinese version of eating greens where the vegetable is thought of as a featured item or a meal in its own right and not just as an accompaniment to other foods. Vegetables should make up half of what’s on your plate in any given meal, so this fits perfectly with the Chinese diet.
In the typical Chinese meal there are always at least one or two dishes purely of vegetables.
The array of vegetables available and served in a typical Chinese meal like bean sprouts, bok choy, Chinese broccoli and cabbage, long beans, eggplant are powerful sources of fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Staple foods like rice in southern China or noodles and steamed buns in central and northern China are essential to the Chinese diet although not as prevalent in all meals as perceived in the west. These are home foods, quick lunch meals or snack foods and are not necessarily served or required in formal banquets or in a restaurant meal.
Some form of liquid food is also always present at a Chinese meal, often in the form of soup or porridge.
In the west we generally drink water with our meals which the Chinese rarely do. Instead, they serve a healthful liquid food as part of the meal. Soups in Chinese cuisine culture are seen as “energy” or healthy giving. Much in the same way as the ubiquitous Jewish Chicken Soup
The Chinese diet balances yin (wet and moist) and yang (dry and crisp) ingredients. Yin foods like leafy vegetables, fruits, grains & nuts cool the body down, while yang foods such as meat, spicy dishes, wine, and coffee heat it up.
The family style multi-dish approach to eating in China means most meals contain yin and yang in balance.
You should have complex carbohydrates, a protein and a grain together for many different reasons, one of which is the experience of eating different textures together with the cooling yin and the hot yang…
E.g. Chicken and cashew nuts in typical Sichuan spicy style with steamed rice
In Chinese culture balance in nature called Feng shui and in traditional Chinese apothecary is all important and so it is in their diet. Protein type foods are seen as yang and carbohydrates as yin. The balancing of these two in a meal helps stabilize blood sugar, which is crucial to good energy and minimizing weight gain.
The Chinese eat until they are full. In the west we often take a feast-or-famine slant to eating that is laden with guilt while holding on to the latest diet fad during the week and then binging over the weekend, or missing lunch to make room for a calorie laden tiramisu and cappuccino in the afternoon.
Our eating habits are erratic and unhealthy while the Chinese are consistent in eating three regular good meals every day.
The Chinese believe that the stomach should be contented before the brain can think and will stop everything they are doing when it is time to eat because nothing is more important than eating together with family or friend. It’s a way that the Chinese show their hospitality and warm connection with you.
Is Chinese cuisine healthier than other cuisines? I hear this question quite often and in the end I suppose it is all a matter of proportion. I guess it is like asking whether Mediterranean food is healthier than French or Northern European or any other cuisine.
Some are healthier than others, but the bottom line is that it depends on which foods you eat and how you eat. Most organic ethnic cuisines, unadulterated by modern technology, rejecting commercial convenience or fast foods and taking advantage of the seasons are healthy diets.
And lets face it the Chinese have been around for a long long time, without really changing their diet and they seem to be doing just fine so I for one will be going out tonight and looking for a restaurant where the menu is only in Chinese and I will most likely be the only lǎo wài in the place.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
– Leonardo da Vinci
In cooking, simplicity is the ultimate sign of perfection but it is also the hardest thing to achieve perfectly.
There is a Zen philosophy that states “it is more important to emphasize what there isn’t rather than what there is”
When you think of it, the most perfect natural foods are also the simplest using the least ingredients and letting the natural chemistry of nature take its natural course.
Take the holy trinity of bread, cheese and Wine,
The history of wine, which started out as simply grapes accidently fermented, in many ways coincides with the history of the western world. Historians generally agree that wine was probably discovered accidentally in the Fertile Crescent area, the region between the Nile and Persian Gulf during the time of the world’s first civilizations between 4000 and 3000 B.C. Simply fermented grapes yes, but oh how many wonderful and magical variations on this theme there are now.
Bread, a grain mixed with yeast, allowed to naturally ferment and baked…..is there anything more simply sublime than freshly baked bread, just another one of the natural wonders of nature and such an essential that it is described as the staff of life and its use as slang for money, bread was the essential food for most people for most of recorded history. Today, bread is almost always made of wheat but in the past rye, barley, oats, rice and maize were used or mixed.
Cheese, Mother Nature’s ultimate miracle of milk, be it cow, goat, sheep or any milk our earth mother produces is simply allowed to mix with the simplest of living organisms, natural bacteria. The bacteria consumes the lactose, the milk sours, and then the curds form. Next a coagulant is add in the form rennet (rennet is a coagulant that comes from the inner lining of the stomach of young mammals or in some cases vegetable rennet). After coagulation comes the process of separating the curd from the whey to make the specific varieties of cheeses. And this begins to work by way of the formation of another of nature’s miracles; penicillin e.g., penicillium roqueforti (the culture in blue cheese).
In cooking it is also incumbent upon us to emulate nature’s natural simplicity. Everything in nature has its natural form and partnerships. So it should be with cooking. Think back to your earliest recollection of foods you have eaten and still yearn for. Are they not the simplest of foods? We are returned to an uncomplicated time when the food we ate was harvested when it was time and seasons were meaningful as they brought distinct flavors into our lives, using fresh and flavorsome seasonal produce that satisfies the senses with locally available ingredients and food that is produced in harmony with the environment and local culture.
We can call them comfort food, mother’s cooking or even slow food but whatever name we use it encourage us to decelerate and use our senses to enjoy quality food with appreciation for the product and the love that went into their preparation.
Comfort food is food prepared traditionally that may have a nostalgic or sentimental appeal. Comfort foods may be foods that have a nostalgic element either to an individual or a specific culture. Many comfort foods are flavorful and easily eaten, having soft consistencies.
One recent development, as chefs have explored the roots of various comfort foods and tried to define it as a unique style, is the advent of fine dining comfort food restaurants that feature more careful cooking and presentation, higher quality and fresh organic ingredients, along with consequently higher prices. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comfort_food
We all have our own favourite comfort foods as has every culture on Earth, generally past down from generation to generation. Like the holy trinity of wine, bread and cheese many of these dishes consist of only one ingredient prepared in a special way or one or two ingredients that are a perfect culinary marriage.
Sushi is truly one of Japan’s greatest culinary contributions to world dining today yet such a simple approach to dining is yet to be challenged. It is simply fresh raw fish atop slightly vinegared rice and a touch of wasabi. Sashimi takes this even one step closer to the ultimate of simplicity. Exceptionally fresh raw fish and seafood expertly and deftly sliced and served in all its pristine natural beauty with only a little soy and wasabi to enhance the flavour.
Carpaccio, a dish of raw meat or fish (such as beef, veal, salmon or tuna), thinly sliced and served with the minimum of seasonings.
Carpaccio was invented at Harry’s Bar in Venice where it was first served to the countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo in 1950 when she informed the bar’s owner that her doctor had recommended she eat only raw meat It consisted of thin slices of raw beef dressed with a mustard sauce The dish was named Carpaccio by the owner of the bar, Giuseppe Cipriani, in reference to the Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio, because the colors of the dish reminded him of paintings by Carpaccio
Congee is basically a simple dish of a liquidy rice porridge served with various condiments and eaten any time of day. Whether one is in China or Japan, Korea or India, you can find some type of dish similar to the ricey deliciousness known as congee.
Since my travels in Asia, congee is perhaps my favorite comfort food, despite how simple it is to prepare and cook. As I’ve said, congee is eaten all over Asia and is known by different names: “juk” or “jook” in Cantonese, “Burbur Ayam” in Indonesia, “lugaw” in Filipino, “khao tom” in Thai and “okayu” in Japanese.
Welsh rarebit is the ultimate cosy supper dish which combines hot, country style bread with a mixture of genuine sharp cheddar cheese, ale or cider, mustard and cayenne pepper.
Welsh rarebit is the taste of the English countryside and combines the course texture of a heavy wheat bread with the contrasting creaminess of full-flavoured English cheddar combining two of the famous Trinity, bread and cheese and if accompanied by a full-bodied un-oaked Chardonnay you complete the trio.
Pasta aglio e olio Simplicity at its finest and an ode to the simple purity of real Italian cuisine. One of the most classic Roman dishes served as a late night collective snack among friends or a simple supper cooked and enjoyed by you alone. Involving very few basic ingredients, pasta, olive oil, garlic and chilli, Aglio & Olio is also a dish to conjure up when the pantry’s empty and no one’s bothered to go grocery shopping.
Chicken Schnitzel From my own experiences an absolutely indispensible Israeli comfort food is chicken schnitzel. It is cooked in many homes as well as in fast-food stands, where it is sold in a Pita accompanied by ketchup, hummus, fries or vegetable salad. and is still a favourite of my family as well as most Israeli kids.
Just to be a little over indulgent I will share with you some recipes of my favourite and simplest foods.
Try them and enjoy the simpler and finer things
2 whole chicken breasts, skinned, boned and halved
1/2 cup all-purpose white flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup bread crumbs
Paprika, garlic, salt, pepper and parsley to taste
Oil for frying
- 1. Put flour in a shallow bowl.
2. Beat eggs in a second shallow bowl.
3. Mix bread crumbs with spices in a third shallow bowl.
4. Beat chicken breasts to flatten. Dip chicken in flour, shaking off excess. Then dip in eggs, shaking off excess. Then dip in seasoned crumbs.
5. Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.
6. Fry chicken in hot oil on both sides. Fry for 1-2 minutes per side or until golden brown.
Pound the chicken breasts so they are no more than 1/4 inch thick. To pound, place a slice of chicken between two pieces of plastic wrap and beat with a flat meat pounder or rolling pin.
The key to good schnitzel is to know just how long to fry. You can poke the schnitzel in the middle with a knife to make sure the meat is white (not pink). The schnitzel should be moist, not dry.
Freshly fried schnitzel tastes best, so fry them just before serving if possible.
1/2 dried peperoncino red chilli pepper, crumbled, or more to taste (don’t overdo it)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
500gr (1.1 lb) spaghetti (only use the best brands e.g. Barilla or De Cecco)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil and cook the spaghetti.
Meanwhile, mince the garlic, crumble the red chilli pepper, and heat them in the olive oil. Let the garlic and chilli infuse into the olive oil. Do not over heat or let the garlic brown as this will be bitter. Turn off the heat.
When the spaghetti are just shy of being al dente, drain them well, transfer them to the oil skillet and toss them for a few minutes. Add a few spoon full’s of the pasta cooking water, the starch in the water will help emulsify the olive oil and with stick better to the pasta and to enhance flavour.
DO NOT serve with grated Parmigianino or Pecorino Romano on the side. Some people like it, including some Romans, whereas others, especially traditionalist, shudder at the mere idea
Beef Carpaccio with Rocket and Shaved Parmesan
400g Finest Eye Fillet Steak
40g Italian Parmesan Cheese
40ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil
80ml Fresh Lemon Juice
1 Bunch Rocket (picked and washed)
Cut the fillet steak into 100g portions, and flatten each piece between lightly oiled plastic wrap, using the side of a meat mallet or a rolling pin. This must be done very carefully, in order not to tear or damage the meat. The meat should be paper-thin and be able to cover the inside of your plate completely. This can be done a couple of hours in advance.
Five minutes before serving, divide the lemon juice evenly among your four plates, let stand to let the citric acid “cook” the meat. You can tell when this happens as the meat will change colour slightly.
When satisfied the meat is ready, place a paper towel onto the meat to absorb the lemon juice. Sprinkle with salt, and then, using a spoon, spread a thin layer of olive oil over the meat. Using a vegetable peeler, shave thin strips of Parmesan cheese over, and then sprinkle with rocket.
You can also use fish for the recipe… Tuna or salmon would be good, although instead of the cheese use an herb, or thin strips of blanched cucumber, or thinly sliced fennel.
60ml cider or brown ale
Pinch of cayenne pepper
175g grated cheddar cheese
6 slices of brown, course wheat bread
Butter for the toast (if desired)
Suggested Additional Toppings: Ingredients
Chopped fresh parsley
Finely chopped celery
Tomato and parsley
Toast the 6 slices of bread and spread with butter (optional). Keep warm
Place the butter, cider or ale and cayenne pepper into a pan. Heat the ingredients gently until all the butter has melted.
Slowly add in the grated cheese. Stir continuously until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth and creamy in texture. Do not allow the sauce to get too hot or the cheese will become stringy.
Divide the mixture evenly between the slices of hot toast.
Select an additional topping. Prepare according to personal taste.
Toast the rarebit under the grill for about 5 minutes until the cheese bubbles and has started to brown.
Pour the sauce over the buttered, brown toast. Serve hot.