No Eggs, No Milk? Yes, to Pancakes (with a Persian twist)!


IMG_0593

When I was a teenager, my Mother taught us to make pancakes, and I’ve been making them ever since, trying to experiment with variations on the standard recipe: blueberries, bananas, raisins, flax seeds, applesauce, and gluten-free flours (to name a few) have all had their turn as ingredients, with some substitutions producing more successful outcomes than others.

On one particular weekend, however, I found myself with a craving for pancakes but faced with a shortage of two key ingredients: eggs and milk. Perhaps some of you have been here before, having already mixed all the ‘dry’ ingredients for the batter, and then realized most of your recipe’s ‘wet’ ingredients are missing.

So, I had to improvise. Egg substitutes are generally chosen based on the intention of the egg in the recipe, so for pancakes, it would be to provide moisture. Instead of one egg, I decided to use a frozen banana that had been sitting dormant in my freezer for some time (when bananas start to get brown, I usually freeze them and use them in smoothies, and now, pancakes). A few seconds in the microwave thaws out the banana, which is then very easy to mash into a puree with a fork.

In place of the milk, which provides both protein and moisture, I substituted 3/4 cup full fat Greek yogurt (strained yogurt or  “Masteh Checkeedeh” in Farsi), which is very high in protein and 3/4 cup water.

Over the years’ pancake practice runs, I’ve discovered that the fastest way to cook a pancake is to use a small skillet, which has a smaller surface area and heats up more quickly and evenly than a larger frying pan. The pancakes are also a smaller in size for those of us who wish to control our portions, and for those of us who have young children who for various reasons, enjoy food in its miniature presentation.

Using the substitutions and the small skillet, members of my testing kitchen described the pancake as delicious, tender, and flavourful especially when topped with ground cinnamon and cardamom for hint of Persian flavour. Noosheh Jaan!

IMG_0595

“Persian” Pancake Recipe:

1.5 cups all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 banana, mashed

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

3/4 cup Greek yogurt

3/4 cup water

Pinch of ground cinnamon and cardamom for garnish

Posted in Culinary Arts, Healthy Eating | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Tass Kabab and Why I Love My Oven


IMG_0492Yes, I may have taken a significant break from this blog, but I’m not idle in my silence. We, my Mom and I, are still cooking up a storm and experimenting with old and new recipes, trying to keep some of the traditional Persian flavours in the dishes, but also modifying cooking techniques to save time and minimize the number of ingredients we use.

Since having twins in May 2014, I have garnered a whole new appreciation for time. This is why I love my oven. This fiery, yet magical place holds the key to food that is healthy, efficiently prepared, and packed with flavour. Such an example is Tass Kabab (not on a skewer, as might be expected), which is traditionally made on the stove top using a slow cooking technique to generate flavours and incorporating the exotic flavour of quince, a pear-like fruit that is difficult to come by at the best of times. The autumn being its growing season, you might find these golden beauties at Middle-Eastern and other eclectic grocery stores.

So, although we love traditional Tass Kabab, we don’t have the time to stand over the stove  and watch its every sizzling move, or shop for its obscure ingredients at a romantically leisurely pace.

That is how we came to the following modification: instead of the stove top and dutch oven, we used a run-of-the-mill oven-proof dish and layered it with sliced onions, Roma tomatoes cut down the middle, and patties of lean ground beef ( you could substitute ground bison, chicken, turkey, or tofu patties according to your preference) . Now you might think that forming burger patties would be time-consuming, and you would be right. To save time, we prepared them ahead of time and froze them so all that was needed was to thaw them out in advance for a few hours in the fridge. In order to retain moisture in the meat, we placed the patties on top of the sliced onions and topped them with the tomatoes and covered the dish with foil prior to placing it in the oven.

The dish was topped with salt, pepper, and generous amounts of sumac, a spice with a lemony, fresh flavour to it that can be procured very economically at Middle Eastern Grocery Stores.

The cooking temperature (375 degrees) and time (approximately 1 hour) in the oven are all that is needed to enjoy this Persian comfort food with leftovers to boot.

Posted in Culinary Arts | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

2013 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,400 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 40 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Posted in Culinary Arts | Leave a comment

Vegan Sushi Rolls Shouldn’t Play Second Fiddle


IMG_9320

A ‘sustainable’ Vegan Sushi Roll with only 4 ingredients, but a whole lot of taste.

I have received some great feedback since my last post, Sushi Ethics, particularly with respect to my comment that our fish supply is threatened as a result of the growth of the North American sushi market. In fact, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the United States is ranked the second highest consumer of seafood worldwide, with China leading the polls. In terms of the bluefin tuna specifically, Japan is the leading consumer of this type of fish. Nevertheless, the extinction of fish species is a clear and present concern for all global citizens and choosing sustainably is a task for which we are all accountable.

I was informed about a fantastic resource, called Ocean Wise, offered through the Vancouver Aquarium, which enables those interested to browse the sustainability indices of many fish species. Some of us Vancouverites may already be familiar with The Ocean Wise logo found on menus of some restaurants, but here you have the raison d’etre straight from the fish’s mouth.

Deciding to walk the walk and try an ocean-wise alternative of my own (i.e. I let the fish live this time), I took it upon myself to re-create a vegan sushi roll I had seen made previously at a sushi restaurant. This roll also happens to be gluten-and carb-free, so you might be asking yourself, “what is left?” At my first encounter with the preparation of this roll, I had seen the sushi chef use a fancy-dancy mandolin (does the second fiddle reference now make sense?), all I could find in our cupboards was the specimen shown below:

 

IMG_9324It’s about 30 years old, but it did the trick. Taking an English cucumber, washing and peeling it, then cutting it in half, I used this antique mandolin to slice the cucumber into strips lengthwise. I then shredded some carrots and cut a ripe avocado into small cubes. Using these ingredients as the filling, I rolled the cucumber strips similar to how one might roll a tortilla. I topped the rolls with a light drizzle of Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, which is similar in taste to soy sauce but lower in sodium and gluten-free.

The best part was that the rolls took very little time to prepare and were delicious as well as filling if you ate enough of them (I think 20 or so should do the trick). I also think variations on this type of home-made sushi can be just as easy and delicious. For example, I might try using rice paper instead of cucumber and fill it with avocado, mangoes, sprouts and cream cheese. The world is literally your oyster.

 

Posted in Culinary Arts | Leave a comment

Sushi Ethics


IMG_9300

Sushi-Ya, Sushi-here, Sushi-there, sushi every where. Over the past three decades, this refined Japanese culinary tradition, often taking years of diligent practice to perfect, has become as commonplace as McDonald’s. On every street corner in most North American cities, at airports and grocery stores, little morsels look up at us from plastic boxes, waiting to be devoured.

Because of  Canada’s Food Guide recommendations to include fish at least twice a week in the diet, many reach for a quick sushi option as a hassle-free contribution to eating healthier. In fact, sushi can be a healthy option. For example, brown rice sushi rolls or vegan rolls (wrapped in cucumber instead of rice) have allowed for those requiring lower glycemic index options to enjoy this culinary delicacy more often. Some restaurants also offer lower sodium soy sauce or accommodate dressings on the side or none at all (for example, asking for no mayonnaise on the california roll) to help reduce sodium and fat content of the dishes they serve.

But, as foodies, we are looking not only at the health benefits of the foods we eat, but also evaluating the impact of our choices on our surrounding environment – well, at least we try when we remember. To be honest, I order sushi once a week for my family and we usually opt for the mainstream fare of california rolls, assorted vegetable rolls, and a dynamite roll here or there. We rarely order raw fish, and when we do, it’s mostly wild salmon. Basically, when it comes to sushi, I would consider myself a ‘low’ on the risk-taking scale (i.e. boring), so you would not see me ordering sea urchin, eel, or abalone any time soon. So I have to say, it was a bit of a newsflash when I stumbled across this documentary, called Sushi: The Global Catch on iTunes the other night when I was haphazardly searching for a rom-com to watch.

The problem makes sense and it is this: we suddenly have a colossal demand for sushi as cultural culinary practices go global. As mentioned, the per capita presence of sushi restaurants is unparalleled in North America compared to any other country in the world, so it is natural that this would increase the demand for fish and other seafood worldwide. True to our roots, we have always been poor stewards of the sea and have overfished many species already (Sustainable Sushi). Add bluefin tuna, among others, to the mix (believe it or not, the eel I would not be seen eating is one of the most popular sushi items on the menu, and consequently, a species that is also in critical condition for being overfished). According to the film, it is likely that bluefin tuna and many other fish species are already in a state of extinction with no chance of replenishing stocks.

Like in other aspects of our endangered environment, we have to take a pause and re-evaluate our decisions when it comes to food, as well as educate ourselves about better food choices, recognizing the significant impact this decision makes at the point-of-purchase. As for me, I think I will stick to mostly veggie rolls, and maybe throw in a couple of salmon and california rolls. In this case, I am happy to remain boring.

Posted in Culinary Arts, Healthy Eating, Research | 1 Comment

Stuff My Mom Cooks


My mother is a great cook and she is always finding new ways to experiment with ingredients and flavours, so she is a great inspiration and mentor to me. The reasons I do what I do is because of my mother’s support and influence: when I was at a crossroads during my university years, deciding between medicine, pharmacy, or journalism, she suggested I try for “dietetics”, an emerging field that married science, art and communication. “With your indecisiveness, you can’t go wrong being in a diverse field such as this one.” She nodded at me, convincingly. Thanks, Mom, for I’ve never looked back since.

IMG_9256

Shahla’s Lentil Dal

Traditionally, dal is central to the cuisine of South Asia, where the combination of protein from beans or pulses with carbohydrates from rice and fibre from vegetables creates a perfect balance of nutrients from entirely plant-based ingredients. Because my mother wanted to try to bring in some Persian flavours, she played around with the amounts and types of spices, but used a traditional dal recipe as follows.

Ingredients

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 Tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and minced

1 tsp cumin seed

1 tsp ground turmeric

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 small head of cauliflower, chopped

4 medium tomatoes, chopped

1-1/2 cups water

2 cups sprouted lentils

1 medium lemon, juiced

1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

pinch of salt

6 cups cooked brown or volcanic rice (optional)

Directions

1. Heat olive oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat.

2. Add onion, garlic and spices and saute for 2 minutes.

3. Add cauliflower and tomatoes. Saute for 2 minutes.

4. Stir in water and lentils. Bring to a boil.

5. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 40 minutes until lentils are tender.

6. Stir in lemon juice and salt.

7. Before serving, add the cilantro to the dal.

8. Serve with rice, bread, or potatoes, with a dollop of greek yogurt, of course.

"Joojeh Parideh" (The Chicken Flew Away)

“Joojeh Parideh” (The Chicken Flew Away)

My mother grew up in Northern Iran in a town called Rasht, which borders the Caspian Sea. In keeping, a major protein source in the Rashti diet is fish, but on a day-to-day basis, most eat vegetarian dishes made with beans and eggs. Lamb, chicken and other meats are often reserved for special occasions. This particular dish, playfully called Joojeh Parideh, or translated, the “Chicken Flew Away”, epitomizes traditional Rashti cooking.

Ingredients:

3 Japanese Eggplants, washed, peeled and cut into 1/4″ slices

4 tomatoes, cut into quarters

1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

1 Tbsp cooking oil

2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese (not traditionally added, but my mother’s spin on the recipe)

4 large eggs, beaten

1/2 tsp each garlic powder, dried oregano, Italian seasoning, and cayenne pepper

salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Roast eggplant and tomatoes on separate baking sheets for 45 minutes.

3. Place roasted eggplant and tomatoes in a casserole dish.

4. Drizzle apple cider vinegar and oil on top of roasted eggplant and tomatoes.

 

5. Combine eggs, seasoning and parmesan cheese.

 

6. Pour egg mixture on top of vegetables.

 

7. Bake for 20 minutes until egg has set.

Noosheh Jaan from our family to yours!

 

 

 

Posted in Culinary Arts, Healthy Eating | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

What’s Pho Good For?


IMG_0577

Recently, I’ve heard comments such as “Let’s go for Pho – it’s healthy”, or “Because I am trying to watch fat in my diet, I’ve been eating more Pho,” from clients, so naturally, I wanted to look into this perception in a bit more detail to confirm whether or not Pho is actually the answer to our healthy fast food conundrum.

For those who are not familiar with Pho, it is a traditional Vietnamese dish which contains vegetables, noodles, as well as beef or chicken, all of which are cooked in a broth of meat bones and marrow along with a series of spices. It is a very popular street food in Vietnam that has now become commonplace in the Western World, similar to sushi’s popularity over the past 20 years. As is the case with sushi, Pho is much more conveniently enjoyed as take-out option as compared to its preparation in a home kitchen, simply because it takes several hours for the flavours to simmer together. In other words, Pho at home is a project, rather than a weeknight dinner affair.

As a fast food option, Pho is desirable because it is easily accessible, affordable, and appears to contain healthier ingredients and cooking methods than other fast food options. So, is Pho really ‘good’ for you?

Taking a closer look at Pho’s ingredients might help shed light on the matter, because preparation methods of stewing are generally low-fat, which works in favor of Pho as a fast food option as compared to most other take-out choices.

1) Beef: Higher in saturated fat, beef intake should be monitored in the diet, with fish, chicken, and vegetarian options used in its place. However, Pho is available in vegetarian or chicken varieties to help reduce saturated fat intake.

2) Sodium: Pho is made with fish sauce and Hoisin sauce, so it is very difficult to control its sodium content, unless you make it at home. There is very little available in terms of  nutrition information or labels on Pho nutrients, but sodium content is generally higher than 1,500 mg per day, or the daily sodium recommendation for adults. Because Pho is pre-made in a high-sodium broth, it is going to be very difficult to ask for accommodations from restaurants for a lower sodium option, so it is important to realize that when you take Pho, you are consuming in excessive amounts of sodium.

3) Fibre: Pho contains noodles that are made from refined rice flour, so you are getting very little fibre from the grain in this case. Vegetable content of restaurant-style Pho is often inadequate (we should be aiming for 2 cups per meal), so you could ask the restaurant to add extra vegetables for you. If you do decide to make Pho at home, it will be easier to use whole grain noodles and a greater amount of vegetables in the stew.

To answer the question, Pho may have fewer calories than other fast food options because of its preparation method. All factors considered, the excess sodium and inadequate vegetable content are significant drawbacks to including Pho on a regular basis as a suitable fast food choice. Sorry, Pho.

Posted in Culinary Arts, Healthy Eating | Leave a comment