Monthly Archives: February 2014

Vegetarian Borscht Primer


Now that 2014 Olympic Winter Games are over and 70,000 gallons of what was called classic Russian Borscht were reportedly flushed down with the help of vodka and adrenalin in Sochi, I think I can finally reveal my favorite borscht recipe. This is not to bring your attention back to the Soviet food like a dreary svekolnik, listless shchi or mayonnaise-drenched salads – all of which celebrity food critic Jay Rayner called ‘miserable in every way‘. Rather, I really wanted to share a wonderful recipe of the great vegetarian borscht with cabbage, Porcini, beans and of course BEEEETS, which I guarantee will make your heart beat happily. A Ukrainian friend from Toronto shared this recipe with me almost a decade ago. It was so good it became my vegetarian borscht primer. I made small additions to it over the years (swapping cultivated for wild mushrooms, adding a splash of apple cider vinegar and a pinch of spices to create a serious depth Porcini, a touch of organic cider (which I home-made last summer) and cumin can offer in soups. Voila, deep yet clean flavored borscht, which I like to punch with anchovy-garlic-parsley umami-drizzled croutons when serving.
Beets are relatively unpopular in the West, but their liver cleansing, heart strengthening and anti-inflammatory powers have been known in Eastern Europe for centuries, hence the countless varieties of beet dishes which became kitchen staples there. 
Borscht became so popular in Ukraine and Russia, for example, that people were eating it three times a day. A century ago, Russian kids were even served borscht for breakfast. 
One century after. Brooklyn, NYC…
Some of these Russian kids’ descendents are in Brooklyn now waiting to be called yet for another plate of borscht
Here, in North America, the most popular beet soup established under the name borscht (Yiddish) due to Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe. The name stuck to it and today even the Ukrainian variety from ‘’Baba’’ is called borschtand not borshch. The New York City, namely, Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach or East Villagewould probably be the spots to sample borschtof all kind of origins at once in Jewish, Russian, Polish and Ukrainian delis, dairies and coffee shops. And so would have any other big city’s Russian-Jewish quarter on a smaller scale.   

The origin of borschtis a bit complicated and is closely connected with the cultivation of beetroot in the territory of modern Ukraine. I tend to agree with the narrative from the ‘’Russian Cooking’’ volume from Foods of the World published by Time Inc. in 1969: ‘’Ukrainians insist that they were the originators of borshch, and since there was Kiev when Moscow was a ‘’wheel track in the forest’’ they may be right. Actually, the question of who may justly claim the first – or, for that matter, the best – borshch may never be answered, for there are now more versions than can be counted or tasted. In general, Ukrainian borshch is distinguished from Russian by the presence of tomatoes, pork as well as beef, and a greater variety of vegetables, including garlic.’’  
But who am I to take a stand on the borscht’s heritage? The dish has been a subject of geopolitical irony between Russia and Ukraine forever and it looks like Ukraine has been doing some serious steps to defend what is Ukrainian lately, so there’s probably no need for my rumblings. Besides, to tell you the truth, I am frightened of one of my local Russian acquaintances and don’t want to give too much food for her inevitable anger (just kidding, darling).  Each to their own, and so I cease any further discussion of the origin of borsch and proceed to the recipe.
Now, who wants to know a great Lenten recipe of vegetarian borscht? First of all, allow yourself at least 1 hour to make a good quality borscht. Secondly, it’s important to have the right proportion of vegetables in this recipe. Since it’s hard to measure the size of veggie to a cup volume sometimes, I’d tell you my usual quantity is 3 medium-sized beets, 2 small potatoes, 1 carrot, 1 onion, ½ green cabbage head, 1 can of white beans, ½ cup of tomato coulis for the quantity of liquid mentioned below. When reconstituting dried mushrooms, I save the liquid and add it to the stock for enhanced flavor. I also believe that adding a small shot of apple cider vinegar is balancing the flavor of the borscht perfectly. In many recipes a teaspoon to a tablespoon of sugar is suggested to add extra sweetness, but I think if you have enough beets, there is no need for that.
It’s very important to add and cook the ingredients in proper order, as some vegetables take longer to cook than others. Finally, timing is crucial not to overcook the borscht turning it from red, crunchy and flavorful to yellow and tasteless. Because of that I could never understand the recipes of borscht that take hours to cook.
Final tips: Borscht tastes better if allowed to sit for a few hours or overnight before serving.
Is delicious hot or cold, with or without sour cream or croutons. It also freezes well.  Enjoy your Slavic cooking experience!
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VEGETARIAN BEET, CABBAGE, MUSHROOM & BEAN BORSCHT
Yields: 6 to 10 portions
Ingredients:
10 cups (2.5 l) vegetable stock or water
1 generous handful dried Porcini, reconstituted and minced OR 2 cups of sliced cultivated mushrooms
4 tbsp (60 ml) olive oil OR sunflower oil
1 onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 small potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 cup (750 ml) beets, peeled and julienned
1 carrot, julienned
3 cup (750 ml) green cabbage, thinly shredded
1 can (19 oz) or 2 cups cooked navy OR white kidney beans
½ cup (125 ml) tomato coulis OR 1 cup (250 ml) of chopped canned tomatoes
2 tbsp (30 ml) organic apple cider vinegar OR lemon juice
1 pinch of ground cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt to taste
For garnish:
1 bunch of parsley OR 10 dill springs, chopped
1 cup of sour cream or plain yogurt
Garlic-Anchovy Croutons for an extra garnish:
Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 4-5 chopped anchovies and cook for a minute or until they melt into oil. Stir in 3 minced garlic cloves and cook until fragrant for 1 minute. Add 2 cups of cubed stale bread (gluten free if you like) and ¼ teaspoon of freshly ground pepper. Toast tossing frequently for 3-5 minutes until croutons are golden and crisp.
Instructions:
Note: It’s important to add and cook the ingredients in proper order, as some vegetables take longer to cook than others.
Add the stock or water to a large soup pot and bring to boil. In the meantime, add 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet, bring to the medium-high heat and sauté onion with mushrooms for 2 minutes or until onion is translucent. Add sautéed mushrooms, onion to the boiling stock and let simmer for 10 minutes.
Add potatoes, bring to boil and simmer for another 10 minutes.
In the meantime, add 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet, bring to the medium-high heat and sauté  beets and carrots for 2 minutes. Add beets and carrots to the pot, bring to boil and simmer for another 5 minutes.
Add shredded cabbage, beans, tomato juice, vinegar, cumin, pepper and salt to the pot, bring to boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes or until the cabbage is tender, but still a bit crunchy. Check the seasoning and skim any foam. Remove from the heat. Discard the bay leaves.  Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with generous dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt and parsley or dill. Serve immediately.

‘Nuts About You’ Hazelnut Dark Chocolate Cookie Sandwiches


As I’m writing this, most of you probably already have some kind of titillating chocolate cherub in the vicinity, so this post might first look redundant, but please keep reading if you wish to discover why these little cookies are my choice tonight.
No matter how commercial, patronizing and insipid the Valentine’s Day may feel, it’s still about LOVE, so it gives you and your significant one a chance to give each other some extra attention in so many ways. Sky is the limit, but for me, Valentine is also about celebrating the miraculous and things I like in general. Like cooking, discovering new ingredient, flavor or combination, etc. – today it happens to be the tiny Lady’s Kisses or Baci di Dama Italian sweet treat I was looking for quite a while and surprisingly discovered in Bonjour Paris website, while I was searching for something completely different. I made a small batch, almost climaxed trying it (think of life as a box of chocolates) and here we are, I am sharing the recipe with you… If for you it’s a cat, ukulele or working out the muscle, give yourself a slack and arrange for your own nirvana.
Life is short and there’s no need for a crystal ball to tell us what we need to do next to be happy. Love is everywhere, every day, every minute and I wish we would notice and celebrate it more often. In the meantime, here is a great dig of a Jimmy Fallon’s Valentine songs during his SNL apprenticeship  back in 1999 to put a smile on your face.
The weather is a usual snow-storming today (let’s be positive: at least it’s not hailing), so good luck with all that reservations taken around the city tonight – it will be a Big Honking Deal.
As for me, a home-made winter warmer (supper + wine) with further cuddling and watching Olympics would fix it, not without a touch of my latest hazelnut cookies addiction to go with a cup of tea (a glass of champagne and some fresh berries might replace it tonight).  And did I tell you that my hubby goes nuts about them too? Why? Because you can’t go wrong with ethereally rose scented hazelnut mini-slabs hosting a decadent dark chocolate filling!  Gluten free, my friends, and you are welcome!

The dough is made of roasted and chopped hazelnuts, rice flour (you can still use regular unbleached flour), butter and sugar with the touch of salt and rose water (I suppose you can swap maple syrup for sugar, but you don’t need to add rose water in that case). Mix the ingredients with your hands in one ball, then cut it and roll it in short logs in batches (1.5 inch diameter), wrap in the film and refrigerate for 2 hours, or just leave it in a freezer for 15 minutes. Slice the logs quarter of an inch thick (about 5 mm), distribute in a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake at 325 F for 15 minutes. Let cool without removing from the sheet, melt the chocolate in bain marie and sandwich a dollop of chocolate between two cookies until you run out of them. Start eating them right away.

Confessions: I doubled the recipe’s quantity and skipped the part of rolling the sliced dough into little rounds (the actual lady’s lips) like it is suggested in original recipe turning them into sandwiches. Heck, it saved me a lot of time and gave me something to talk about with my best half (‘Oh, crikey, I completely forgot to make the lady’s lips out of them, but they still look like cartoonish lips, and the taste is still there… and HEY that’s why I called them sandwiches!‘(say it in Italian, if you know Italian, for more drama)).  
Short in time or space? Go for the faster dessert option of a little Molten chocolate cake – so swoon-worthy for the Valentine! Or just buy a bunch of quality French macaron like I did last year – heavenly. 
 Have a Happy Valentine dear readers!
Photo credit: Natalie Schweiger
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HAZELNUT DARK CHOCOLATE COOKIE SANDWICHES
Makes about 20-24 mini-sandwiches
Ingredients:
1 ¼ cups roasted and skinned hazelnuts or blanched almonds
1 ¼ cup rice flour (or unbleached flour)
3.5 oz (100g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup (100 g) sugar
½ tbsp rose water (or fleur d’oranger water)
Pinch of salt
2 oz (60g) bittersweet chocolate, melted in bain marie
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Chop the hazelnuts in a food processor to the semi-coarse, but not flour consistency.  Mix all ingredients, except the chocolate, with your hands in one ball, then cut it and roll it in short logs in batches (1.5 inch diameter), wrap each log in the film and refrigerate for 2 hours, or just leave it in a freezer for 15 minutes. Slice the logs quarter of an inch thick (about 5 mm), distribute in a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15 minutes. Let cool without removing from the sheet. In the meantime, melt the chocolate in bain marie and sandwich a dollop of chocolate between two cookies until you run out of them.  Enjoy right after the chocolate sets within 15 minutes.
Adapted from: Lady’s Kisses (Baci di Dama) by Theresa Murphy

Kimchi DIY: Make Your Gut Happy


My kimchi story started about a year ago with an inspiration from my favorite Korean restaurant in Montreal. The first batch I made at home was successful and now kimchi is all the rage in our house taken with almost anything in copious amounts.  It is so umami-rich in flavor, that I firmly believe it can bring any carnivore one step closer to a vegetarian heaven. Which is why, I am so anxious to share the recipe with you! 

Korean Chili Pepper Drying
Kimchi red chili pepper & storing barrels in Korean village via Wikimedia
Kimchi is a Korean version of sauerkraut: a spicy blend of fermented cabbage, radish, Korean red chili pepper, ginger, garlic, salt and few other things. In Korea, it is traditionally served at every meal, either alone, or with rice or noodles.  A stinky mix of high-fiber, low fat, inexpensive fermented ingredients, kimchi is praised for its unique addictive flavor and its digestive health benefits. It is known to help the body fend off bacterial and viral infections and to have a strengthening effect on the circulation and digestion. The recipe is as old as Korea itself.
The major ingredient, Napa cabbage, is a good source of antioxidants and vitamin C, but when fermented it brings its power to the next level, adding probiotics and even more vitamin C.
There are endless applications of kimchi at the table. Serve it as an appetizer on its own sprinkled with roasted sesame seeds and laced with some aromatic oil, like hazelnut or walnut.
Use it as a side dish with rice, noodles, meat, fish, vegetables, etc. – my recent favorite is to put some on top of the steamy mashed potatoes. Use it as a flavor booster in soups, stews, even dumplings!
Or, use it as a better condiment in salads, sandwiches, tacos, tortillas or, our favorite street grub – HOT DOGS!
I wanted to write this post back in 2013 already, but now I’m glad I didn’t because I recently run into this amazing Kimchi Chronicles documentary made by celebrity chefs Marja and Jean-Gorges Vongerichten and featuring a whole bunch of some inspiring takes on kimchi and other Korean food. Watch Hugh Jackman and his wife Debora Lee Furness devouring hot dogs with kimchi relish in this episode:
 

According to Marja, every Korean house has a different recipe of kimchi, but since kimchi is more of a pickling technique, you can go way beyond just Napa cabbage. I like to add sliced daikon and carrots and sometimes cucumbers. As for the fermenting mix booster, I stay with fish sauce, Asian pear and Korean red chili pepper (you can find it in Asian stores) mix with ginger and garlic.  Please use these images to help you go through the simple steps of kimchi preparation in the recipe below.

As for the fermentation stage, I personally prefer well-fermented kimchi (after a least few weeks in a fridge, I find it tastes best within three-four weeks). FYI, one study about fermentation has shown that people who ate fermented kimchi for one month lost more weight and demonstrated improvements in total cholesterol and blood pressure, compared to those who ate fresh kimchi.
That’s it for now and Gun Bai to all, which means Cheers in Korean!
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One Year Ago: Veal Shoulder Blade Roast with Porcini;
                         Veal Canapes Appetizer;
                         Cuban Ropa Vieja Pulled Veal or Beef

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KIMCHI RECIPE
Kimchi ingredients:
2 medium head Napa (Chinese cabbage), chopped in chunks
2 carrots, thinly sliced
1 medium daikon, thinly sliced
1 English cucumber, chopped (optional)
2 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
180 g coarse salt
Water for soaking
Kimchi sauce:
6 tbsp. fish sauce
4 tbsp. Korean red pepper powder
1 small onion
4 cloves of garlic
1 oriental pear, chopped
½ apple chopped
1 tbsp. coarse salt
1 tsp. sugar (optional)
2 (2 cm) slices of ginger
2 tbsp. sesame oil
4 spring onions, chopped
3 wide mouth glass jars (1.7 liters+)
Instructions:
Chop the Napa cabbage into chunks; slice the daikon, carrots and cucumbers. Soak them covered with water with about 180 g of salt added to it for 5-6 hours or overnight.
Make Kimchi sauce: blend the ingredients; add spring onions to the paste mixture upon blending. Keep it in the fridge until ready to use.
Drain the cabbage mix and rinse with cold running water to remove excess salt, transfer to a tray and mix by hand with the Kimchi sauce until all covered in sauce.
Pack the glass jars with the mix up to ¾ of each jar pressing well. Add any liquid that accumulated during the mixing process – it will help the brine to develop faster. Close tightly with the lid and let stand at room temperature for 12-24 hours to marinate. 
Transfer to the fridge for a storage. The flavors will continue to develop.  You can start eating kimchi within 2-3 days, but it is best when fermented for at least few weeks. Store kimchi jars in the refrigerator for up to 3 months. Use clean utensils to take out a little each time.

Sloppy Joe Hoagies on a Groundhog Day


Whenever kids would come for a quick visit, my mother-in-law used to fix them this easy and filling fare she called in French ‘petits pains fourrés’(translated as little stuffed rolls) and they always rocked. She made them in minutes with simple ingredients like browned ground beef, onion, ketchup and spice mix squeezed into hallowed potato buns and baked. The little stuffed rolls were sometimes replaced with sloppy joes (pain à la viande), so popular in those days. She used to make them with leftovers of her famous meat sauce. Kids (and adults, for that matter) would always ask for more.  
Key West, Florida – the Birthplace of Sloppy Joes via Wikimedia

Today my boys asked me to make them something ‘they like’ for the Super Bowl and those memories kicked right in. These hoagies are both, my treat to them and a tribute to my mother-in-law’s recipes. 

The groundhog day weirdly coincided with the Super Bowl today. According to the mysterious Punxsutawney Phil (whose name I can never read properly), who they call the prognosticator of the groundhog weather, we shall have at least six more weeks of winter. Brrrr! That leaves some space for a few extra calories. Although, the predictions are apparently only 39% right…. Personally, I’ve never seen a groundhog emerging from its burrow in winter, but I know they visit our backyard frequently in summer to our lab’s greatest disappointment.
I have modernized the recipe with ciabatta rolls, lots of veggies, mushrooms, spice and lotsa cheese. I also made a vegetarian version for a successful double take. 
In fact, I much prefer a completely vegetarian version these days: the ratatouille-like mix with mushrooms and topped with cheese fits into the recipe perfectly. For the non-vegetarian take, if you have any home-made pasta meat sauce frozen, please feel free to use it and skip the meat browning and tomatoes.
The boys always prefer the meaty one and who can blame them on the day when the big part of 169 million people is devouring junk in front of TVs – there will be other days for salads and soups.  Speaking of salad, these hoagies go wonderfully with a big green salad on a side, and/or the spicy olive salad and/or kimchi, or pickles. I am giving the recipes for both versions below. Please feel free to use your imagination as you can select or swap the veggie/mushroom ingredients as you please. Since the bread envelopes are used in similar to pizza or flatbread way, you might even wish to stuff them with other kinds of leftovers, like braised lentils or even mashed potatoes.
Flush the hoagies down with a glass of good Cabernet Sauvignon while the Seattle Seahawks pour it on in the MetLife Stadium. Cheers!
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One year ago: Ice Fishing in Quebec

SLOPPY JOE HOAGIES: MEAT & VEGETARIAN VERSIONS
Ingredients:
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 lbs ground meat, of your choice (beef, turkey, chicken, pork)*
1 small onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
1 small carrot, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 small zucchini, diced
1 cup button mushrooms, diced
1 ½ cups tomato sauce, OR, 2 cups diced tomatoes
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin, ground
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup Parmesan, grated
1 cup mozzarella, grated
4-6 ciabatta rolls, hallowed out
* for vegetarian version, replace with 1 lbs extra-firm tofu, well-drained and diced or crumbled, + 1 tbsp soya sauce during cooking, OR, 15 oz can black beans, drained
Meat Version:
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat in the large skillet. Add the ground meat. Cook until browned, breaking it into crumbs in the process. Add salt, black pepper, chili powder, ground cumin and mix well. Drain any excess grease. Add garlic, bell pepper, onion, carrot, celery, zucchini and mushrooms stirring often until softened, for about 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes or tomato sauce and keep mixing for another 2 minutes. Check the seasoning, remove from heat and set aside to cool. Once cool sprinkle with Parmesan and mix.
Cup the upper side of the ciabatta rolls and hallow them out with a teaspoon (keep the crumbs for further use and/or stir some into the stuffing mixture during cooking). Spoon the meat or vegetarian mix into the buns and place them on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with mozzarella and bake for 15 minutes, or until lightly brown on the outsides and the cheese has melted. Serve warm.
Vegetarian Version:
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat in the large skillet. Add garlic, bell pepper, onion, carrot, celery, zucchini and mushrooms, stirring often until softened, for about 5 minutes. Add tofu and soya sauce (or beans), salt, pepper, chili powder, ground cumin and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes or tomato sauce and keep mixing for another 2 minutes. Check the seasoning, remove from heat and set aside to cool.  Once cool sprinkle with Parmesan and mix.
Cup the upper side of the ciabatta rolls and hallow them out with a teaspoon (keep the crumbs for further use and/or stir some into the stuffing mixture during cooking). Spoon the meat or vegetarian mix into the buns and place them on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with mozzarella and bake for 15 minutes, or until lightly brown on the outsides and the cheese has melted. Serve warm.