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Sunday, 31 July 2011

Chard Sunday

Last Sunday was Cabbage Sunday and today is Chard Sunday.

I woke up early with a strong craving for Lebanese-style stuffed chard meal lead me to the jardin to pick up all the large leaves of chard around.

But hang on a second, I have never made this before nor I have the recipe for it anywhere. 

Time zones in my favour, I managed to reach my mom before she went to sleep and had her dictate the recipe on an international phone call.

It's Sunday and I am feeling charitable, so I am going to share this recipe with all.

First you prepare "hashweh" (the stuffing). It comprises of rice, chopped fresh parsley and fresh mint, very thinly chopped onions and tomatoes, cooked (or canned) chickpeas split in the middle (yes, every one of them), salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil.

Cut the stems off the leaves (but keep aside). Dip the chard leaves in boiling water for an instant (just quick in and out) and let cool.

Spread each leaf horizontally, fill in with a row of "hashweh", don't over fill them. Start rolling from left and right side, then horizontally along the stem. 

In a pot, arrange one layer of sliced potatoes, one layer of chard stems (uncooked) and then the chard rolls.

Cover with 1/3 lemon juice, 2/3 water until rolls are covered.

Sprinkle with olive oil and salt. Bring to boil, then simmer until rice is cooked and almost all the liquid is absorbed.

Once cooked, let it cool in the pot until you can handle it by hand. Remove the chard rolls, the potatoes and the stems and let them cool further. These are best eaten at room temperature.

Along with the meal, we typically eat a special "Tahini". This is simply the "Tahini Sauce" you use to make Humus, mixed with lemon juice, salt and water until it is a creamy texture.

Add to this a bit of crushed garlic and chopped boiled chard stems and enjoy with the chard rolls.

But wait, the meal is not complete yet...

What goes best with chard rolls and "Tahini" are radishes. Well, some are still growing in le jardin, so I plucked those and cleaned them up. Now I can enjoy a delicious freshly made complete chard rolls meal.

Anyone up to the challenge of making those and inviting me over? I'll bring the (Lebanese) wine.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

California Pasta Salad

A hot summer day, a jardin, a cookbook and a fancy pack of pasta was all I needed to make a delicious California Pasta Salad tonight.

I picked up this pasta from Stong's (read the story at Discovering Kerrisdale & Dunbar). The brand, Rio Murgia, is an Italian one that I have not seen before. Deciphering what is on the package, it seems to be some sort of spinach home made pasta with a shape that looks like an olive tree leaf.

It was special enough to warrant something different than pasta and sauce.

I picked up one of my cookbooks that I have not used before - The Cuisine of California and found a Country Garden Pasta Salad recipe (page 118) that was ideal.

Walking out into my own country garden, jardin, I picked up whatever was at hand which today included carrots, celery and peas.

The rest was easy. You boil the pasta and let it cool. You then boil the vegetables for 3 minutes only and let those cool.

You then prepare a dressing of mustard, olive oil, lemon, garlic, vinegar and pepper.

The last bit is lots of parmesan cheese with jardin chives, basil and thyme.

You mix everything together and let it rest in the fridge for at least an hour.

You then take it out to le jardin and enjoy it on a hot summer evening along with olive-oil garlic bread.

What a beautiful summer this is!

Friday, 29 July 2011

Jardin Mezza Night

Beautiful summer evening and charming guests from the south made for a fantastic summer jardin mezza night.

Mezza, in Lebanese, means a series of small platters that keep on appearing throughout the meal.

Jardin mezza night included five waves of platters, along with ongoing flow of wine, making for a lovely memorable four hours of feasting with old and newly made friends.

Below is the menu, presented by each wave of platters. How many platters in the end, I lost count, but for sure no one left hungry.

Wave One
Manakeesh, Lebanese thyme, sumac and sesame pies

Jardin green snap peas and local cucumbers

Halloom, served as a cheese and as "Sails"

Pickles platter with home made Leffet, thyme and cucumber pickles

Some Lebanese mixed nuts

Wave Two

Baba Ghanouj

Foul - fava beans mixed with olive oil, garlic and lemon juice

Spinach pies, Lebanese-style & Football Kebbeh

Wave Three

Okra, cooked with garlic, onions, tomatoes and olive oil

Eggplant Fatteh - baked eggplants covered with grilled pita, fried pine nuts and a yogurt-mint-garlic sauce

Wave Four

Jardin salad - lettuce, fresh mint and fresh oregano with lemon juice and olive oil

Home made yogurt mixed with fresh mint and cucumbers

Wave Five
Sfoof (or turmeric anise squares - click on link for recipe)

Local BC cherries (delicious)


Hungry? Keep an eye on your emails, you may receive an invite for the next jardin mezza night!

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Could This Be THE Best Street Food Vendor?

Those of you following my Street Food Vendors Series realize how frustrating it has been to find a good one so far (links to previous features below or click on Street Food Vendors Series under Labels on the right).

But on this beautiful sunny day, around the newly reopened stylish Hotel Georgia, La Brasserie Street was a perfect addition to the day.

The power of focus in business - La Brasserie Street has two offerings only: Brass Chicken Sandwich - a beer brined rotisserie chicken in gravy topped with crispy onions - and "Botter" Tarts.

The chicken is served on a buttermilk bun that tastes like it was just baked. 

The somerville kitchen street food vendors' committee members described this sandwich as:

"Turkey dinner in a bun"
"Yummy in a bun"
"French version of a sloppy Joe"
"Poutine in a bun"

 And all for $6.25!

Then there were the "Botter" tarts. Those "Botter" tarts are only $1.79 each and were described in a taste test as...

"nicely crafted pastry shell; light fine proper consistency with pleasant filling that is slightly more sweet and slightly less "butter" than industrial made - believably home made"

Tasting the freshness of the bun and seeing those tarts, you'd think they own an on-the-street bakery behind the cart.

Centrally located, you have no excuse not to try it if you are in Vancouver. I will sure go back there. 

With such success, no wonder the owner/server/manager cannot stop smiling.
La Brasserie Street (West Georgia & Burrard) on Urbanspoon
Where Are Those Street Food Vendors?
Finding Street Food Vendors
In Search of Good Street Food Vendors
Found a Decent Street Food Vendor

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Not-at-all-authentic Kaak Bi Haleeb Part 2 - By Guest Correspondent Shatoura

(continued from Not-at-all-authentic Kaak Bi Haleeb Part 1)...

Plain Cookies Preparation and Baking Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 F and line four baking sheets with parchment paper.
Divide the dough into three equal portions and set two aside.
Gently knead one of the dough balls a few times – it will be very elastic. Divide into 36 equal pieces (cut the dough ball in half, cut each half in thirds, cut each third into six small pieces – each 1 inch in diameter).
Roll each small piece between your hands into a four inch cylinder, join the ends to form a circle and press together to form a tiny bagel. Don’t fuss too much shaping them; variation is the hallmark of your handiwork.
Arrange 36 cookies on two parchment-lined baking sheets. 
  Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven 18 to 20 minutes, switching and rotating baking sheets after ten minutes. Cookies are done when slightly puffed and the bottoms are just starting to brown.
Cool on pans for ten minutes, then transfer to platter. Enjoy!
Almond Crunch Cookies Preparation and Baking Instructions
While the first batch is baking, gently knead, then flatten the second dough ball into a rectangle, approximately 9 x 5 inches, and sprinkle the chopped almonds over the dough.
Fold over the dough in thirds and knead briefly until almonds are well distributed. 
Set aside any left-over almond bits (they won’t all want to stay in the dough) and proceed as for plain cookies, above.  
Hi-Test Cherry Almond Crunch Cookies
Drain the cherries and pat dry with paper towels. The left-over cherry-infused liqueur is the chef’s treat. Go ahead, it’s wonderful.
While the second batch of cookies is baking, gently knead, then flatten the third dough ball.
Sprinkle the marinated cherries and reserved chopped almonds over the dough, fold in thirds, knead until cherries and almonds are well distributed, and proceed as for plain cookies, above. 
Expect this last batch of dough to be much stickier and a little harder to work with than the previous two; a side-effect of the alcohol. 
Not to worry, just keep a damp cloth handy to moisten your hands and wipe off excess dough from your fingers as you go, and don’t fret too much about how wonky they look – once baked they will be perfect. 
By now the first two pans have cooled enough to re-use. No need to change the parchment.
Thank you Guest Correspondent Shatoura!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Not-at-all-authentic Kaak Bi Haleeb Part 1 - By Guest Correspondent Shatoura

The upside of putting off learning how to cook until your mid-fifties is that you can easily pick up the basics and almost immediately begin to produce really good food - without ever having to learn the rules. Case in point; inspired by a gift of fabulous home-made kaak bi haleeb (milk cookies), I blithely set out to create a cookie similar to the classic Lebanese treat. 
Certainly, had I understood that I would be toying with history (a recipe for kaak is recorded in the Wulsa, the much-revered 13th century Arab culinary guide), I would have been intimidated. 
Had I understood that I would be baking bread – not cookies – I would never even have attempted it. To my ear “cookie batter” just sounds so much more do-able than “bread dough,” but this recipe is so easy that the hardest part is waiting out the six hours of resting time. 

Once you sink your teeth in one you’ll know what I mean; each cookie is actually a tiny sweet roll, with the subtle resistance of its crisp crust giving way to a chewy creaminess reminiscent of a sweet bagel.
I did a lot of research before coming up with this recipe. My (very) limited experience with bread-making has always involved a bread machine, and my (even more) limited exposure to Middle Eastern fare has usually involved a take-out menu. So, armed with nothing more than my library card, internet access, and the enthusiastic support of somerville kitchen, I began my quest for an easy recipe that would produce delicious and digestible, if not-at-all-authentic, kaak
After much reading and many memorable taste tests, I came up with this Almond Cookie version, which features 100% whole wheat flour augmented with flax meal and extra virgin olive oil to boost the fibre and Omega-3 content, while retaining some of the traditional ingredients that have come to characterize Middle Eastern baking: mahlab seeds, mastic tears, rose water and orange blossom water. Don’t be intimidated if these ingredients seem exotic or mysterious -- they are easy-to-use everyday items in many Mediterranean kitchens and are readily available at any Middle Eastern market. 
Below you'll find:
(a) basic recipe ingredients
(b) dough preparation instructions
(b) notes on the not-so-common ingredients.
Tune in tomorrow for the cooking instructions of three delicious versions: Plain Cookies, Almond Crunch Cookies and Hi-Test Cherry-Almond Crunch Cookies. Yes, make them all. This recipe yields nine dozen cookies (36 plain, 36 Almond Crunch, 36 Hi-Test Cherry-Almond Crunch). These cookies freeze beautifully, but why would you? Kept on the counter in a tightly sealed container they will stay fresh and scrumptious for several days ... or until they’re gone.
Basic Recipe Ingredients
1.5 cups slivered almonds
2 tsp whole mahlab seeds*

0.5 tsp mastic tears**
2 cups sugar, divided
1 Kg 100% whole wheat flour (about 7 cups)
2 Tbsp flax meal (optional)

1.5 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 Tbsp baking powder
1.5 tsp of each lemon zest and orange zest
1 Tbsp instant yeast
1 cup butter, melted and cooled
2 Tbsp extra virgin oil (optional)
1 Tbsp of each of rose*** and orange blossom water****
2 cups milk
1/2 cup dried tart cherries
1/4 cup orange flavoured liqueur

Dough Preparation Instructions

Gently toast 1 ½ C slivered almonds in a dry pan over med-low heat, stirring often, until golden and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Remove from pan, let cool and coarsely chop. Set aside ½ C chopped almonds. In a coffee or spice grinder, process remaining 1 C chopped almonds into a fine meal, and place meal in a very large mixing bowl.
With the same grinder, process the whole mahlab seeds, mastic tears , and ¼ C of the sugar into a fine powder and add to almond meal.
Add flour, flax meal (if using), baking powder, lemon and orange zest, nutmeg, and yeast, and combine well.
In a small bowl, mix together the cooled melted butter, remaining 1 ¾ C sugar, extra virgin olive oil (if using), rose water and orange blossom water, combine well. Stir the melted butter mixture into the flour mixture.
Stir in milk in three additions, combining well, and gently knead the mixture a few times until it forms a soft, smooth ball of dough.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm, draft-free spot (two good options: atop the fridge or under the hood lamp on the stove top) for six hours.
While the dough is resting, pour liqueur over dried cherries, and let soak. If you prefer to avoid alcohol, the cherries may be soaked in the same amount of either orange juice or water.

Notes on the not-so-common Ingredients 

*Mahlab (aka mahleb, ,mahlep, mahlepi, St. Lucie’s cherry): the husked kernel of a black cherry native to the Mediterranean. Fragrant, sweet, nutty; tastes of almonds and cherries with a slightly bitter undertone. Widely used in bread and pastry-making in the Middle East, Turkey and Greece. Best to buy whole and grind immediately prior to use. Priced similarly to other whole spices such as nutmeg, allspice or cinnamon.
**Mastic tears (aka aza, gum mastic, mastika, tears of Chios): fragrant, brittle droplets of resin from the Mastic tree, traditionally harvested on the Greek Isle of Chios. Recommended as a digestive aid by Hippocrates, mastic tears are an essential ingredient of toothpaste and chewing gum (chew = masticate). In the kitchen, mastic enhances the chewy texture of baked goods and the creaminess of ice cream and puddings (it’s so rich and yummy tasting I now make my rice pudding with mastic rather than eggs). You must ask the shopkeeper for mastic, as it is rather pricey and kept behind the counter in most shops. Expect to pay around $1.00 for each tiny cellophane envelope. Trust me, it’s worth every penny.
***Rose water (aka maward, golab, gulaba jala, eau de rose): as the name suggests, the distilled water extracted from roses, particularly Damascus roses.  A Halal substitute for alcoholic ingredients (such as vanilla extract) in many recipes, rose water lends its signature aroma and delicate flavour to lokum (Turkish Delight), gulab jamun, sweet lassi, rice pudding, etc. Very affordable at around two dollars a bottle, a little rose water goes a long way.
***Orange blossom water (aka ma’el zhar, anthonero, orange flower water): distilled from bitter orange blossoms, common in Middle Eastern and Moroccan dishes both sweet and savoury, and a traditional ingredient in French madeleines. As with rose water, inexpensive and powerful.
Thank you Guest Correspondent Shatoura. Tune back in tomorrow for the three cookies' prepration and baking instructions.


Monday, 25 July 2011

Jardin & Chow

First, I go out to le jardin and see what is ready to eat.

Today's bounty included snow peas (yes, they keep on giving) and few gai lan florets.

Brought in, washed and now what to do with them.

With gai lan on the ingredient list, a Chinese cook book was required. 

And what better than one of my favourite cook books - Janice Wong's signed copy of Chow (more @

Two easy recipes were identified: (1) Snow peas, pickled radish + Barbequed Pork (page 77) and (2) a version for cooking green beans (page 106) that I used for the gai lan.

Jardin ingredients were not enough for the chosen production. A quick walk and a bit of creativity solved all outstanding issues.

Rather than pickled radish, I used my own pickled turnips (see Lefett). And a quick walk to Fraser street brought back the best fresh barbequed pork.

Few minutes later, a delicious Jardin & Chow meal was enjoyed.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Cabbage Sunday

Just look at this beautiful jardin cabbage!

I bought this cabbage as a tiny starter off commercial drive and have been watching it grow for close to four months.

But with the heavy rain earlier in the week, the top exploded open. Worried about the insides rotting, today, acting like a real farmer, I pulled it out of the land.

While parts of it were starting to rot, it was healthy and sizable enough to salvage lots.

I divided them into two piles - the large full leaves versus the bits and pieces.

Now it was time to figure out what to do with all this cabbage - a great way to spend a hot Sunday.

Cabbage Sunday Production 1 - Coleslaw

The best part about Cabbage Sunday was the wonderful smell of the fresh cabbage, something difficult to describe. So there was no way all this cabbage was going to be cooked.

Coleslaw was prepared (see recipe at Soup & Salad). Delicious indeed and 200 times tastier than store-bought cabbages that been laying around for months.

Cabbage Sunday Production 2 - Cabbage Rolls

The large leaves were ideal to turn into cabbage rolls - Lebanese style that is.

That means they were (a) rolled thin (about half inch diameter) and (b) cooked on stove top as opposed to baked - easier, faster and trust me, tastier.

I first blanched the leaves for a second in boiling water - makes them easier to roll.

The stuffing was simply rice, ground beef, salt and pepper. 

Rolled tightly, packed on top of each other in a pot, covered with tomato sauce, 3 garlic cloves in the pot. Bring to boil and then let it simmer until the rice is cooked.


Cabbage Production 3 - Cabbage Hash

I found this recipe on You simply brown 1/2 lb of ground beef in a pot (no oil), then add 2 cups shredded cabbage, 2 cups thinly sliced potatoes, one chopped onion, 1/3 cup of water, salt and pepper and cook on stove top until the potaotes are tender.

What a fun Cabbage Sunday to wrap up les vacances.