Niagara Wine Festival – North African Beef Curry with Stone Fruit Chili

Niagara Region in Canada has a wine festival every year. It runs for about three weeks and allows you to try little morsels of food that pair well with the wine. While I do like wine, I actually went more for the food. Buying a passport allows you to try eight different wineries.

Although the food was good at most of the wineries, the sampling that stuck out the most was the North African beef curry with stone fruit* chili topped with a garlic cream sauce. It was accompanied with a pinot noir wine. More could have been done with the presentation, but don’t let looks deceive you. This was a phenomenal sampling and it took me by surprise. It’s not often I find something that literally makes my eyes bulge out of my eye sockets. It was just that astounding!

Since I have been to Morocco, I have a bit of familiarity with some North African cuisines like bastilla and tangine but I can’t quite say I’ve had any curry like this before. It had strong, aromatic flavours and was filled with an assortment of spices like cinnamon, cumin and coriander. The beef was so soft it just melted in my mouth and everything was just a beautiful m√©lange of herbs and spices. It was such a small cup but if given the chance, I would have definitely gone for seconds (and thirds)!

I really wanted the recipe because it tasted so good. Although the staff member couldn’t provide full measurements and instructions on how to make this delicious curry, she did provide me with the list of ingredients. At least it’s a starting point! So for you, my friends, I share with you a list of ingredients for this lovely beef curry. I’m sure it will mix well with rice or even naan.

  • Beef Shoulder
  • Minced Garlic
  • Smoked paprika
  • Cinnamon
  • Ginger
  • Curry Powder
  • Coriander
  • Cumin
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Peach
  • Tomato paste
  • Diced tomato
  • Mint
  • Cilantro
  • Beef stock
  • Lentils
  • Turnips
  • Onion

If you are able to come up with a good recipe for this, feel free to post a link to it on my blog. ūüôā

*Note that stone fruit refers to the type of fruits with pits like plums, peaches, apricots, lychees and cherries.

 

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Suya and Jollof Rice

I can’t remember the first time I came across something called suya, but when I did I discovered a new type of cuisine – Nigerian cuisine. It is a West African type of dish and consists of meat that is marinated in spices, coated in a peanut paste and grilled on a barbecue. I had the pleasure of finally trying some suya recently at a local restaurant that opened up not too long ago.

I got an order of chicken suya skewers with jollof rice. Although you can order a suya thigh or suya chicken breast, it is mostly well known to be sold on skewers, similar to a kebab or yakitori. It is considered a type of street food that is sold in stalls in Africa and has a spicy flavour to it. Suya spice (also known as yuji) can be a blend of different spices, but I found the most common ones were kuli kuli, ginger powder, onion powder, salt and some sort of chilli/cayenne/paprika powder mix. I found the chicken suya at this location to be juicy and tender and I could taste strong smokey flavours from the grill. The side of jollof rice was also slightly spicy, but the staff informed me that it can be ordered mild or hot. From what I can gather, jollof rice is made with tomatoes, onions, scotch bonnet peppers, chicken stock and spices like thyme and/or bay leaf but recipes differ from household to household.

The beef suya was actually tastier than the chicken. I think it’s because it had more of a crispier, peanut paste batter on it and the flavours melded better with the beef. It was actually what the chef recommended out of all the dishes on the menu and I don’t disagree with his recommendation – It was more aromatic, peppery and flavourful than the chicken. As a side, they called it fried rice but it was surprisingly flavoured with lots of curry powder and had green peas, carrots and onions. It was quite tasty and very different from your typical Asian fried rice dish.

Both dishes were accompanied with a bed of raw cabbage, tomato slices and red onion. The intriguing part about this particular restaurant is the husband is Nigerian and the wife is Bahimian and this is reflected in the dishes they sell. Suya and jollof rice are both Nigerian, many of the sides are influenced by the wife’s Bahimian roots: mac n’ cheese, warm spinach salad, fried rice and fried plantain. Overall, many good choices. The problem is deciding which one to go with the suya!

Moroccan Tangine

The word tangine hits two birds with one stone. Not in the literal sense, but as in the word means two things that are¬†closely¬†related – 1) the dish and 2) the vessel that the dish cooks in. As the dish, tangine is a Moroccan stew which can be made of meat, vegetables or fish and is seasoned with spices, nuts and fruits. Common spices in a tangine include cayenne, pepper, cumin, tumeric, bay leaves and ginger. For nuts and fruits, sometimes you’ll find almonds, prunes, dates, apricots or olives.¬†Below is a simple tangine dish of potatoes, olives and chicken that I got in Morocco, which came with some couscous.

The second meaning of tangine is known as the vessel that is used to cook the delicious Moroccan stew. It has a flat circular base and a conical lid. Other than being a beautifully decorative piece with a distinctive shape, the design has a purpose.

The tangine vessel holds all the ingredients in the base and while it is placed over heat, the steam rises to the dome of the lid. Unlike a traditional steamer, the shape traps the steam inside the pot and the condensation that is created drips back down into the base. Our guide said that this method keeps the meat moist and helps make it tender.

The tangine pot is¬†made of¬†earthenware and¬†can be glazed, though probably more often than not. It can come in many different designs and a variety of sizes. Sometimes, mini ones are just used as a way of keeping little snacks on a table as well. It has been a while since I’ve had an authentic tangine, but I would definitely recommend exploring this interesting form of cooking or even tasting it. It has become¬†more common around the world that even Le Cruset has a line of tangine vessels. Oh la la!

Upside-Down Pineapple Cake (Doolsho Cananaas – Recipe)

As promised, I am sharing an upside-down pineapple cake recipe today. If you recall, I experienced my first Somalian tasting at a local¬†restaurant recently and it prompted me to check out their website. On it, they have many Somalian recipes and since I didn’t get a chance to try any of their desserts I decided to make this beautiful looking cake at home using their posted recipe. I didn’t alter any¬†of the ingredients in the original, except remove the pecan halves because I didn’t have any but I will share some additional tips too.

For the Cake:

  • ¬ĺ cup unsalted butter (softened/room temperature)
  • 1¬Ĺ cups granulated white sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • ¬Ĺ tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2¬Ĺ cups All-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 7 pineapple rings
  • 7 maraschino cherries
  • 6 pecan halves (optional)

For the Caramel Topping:

  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter (softened) ‚Äď For greasing the pan
  • ¬ĺ cup brown sugar (packed)

Instructions:

In a bowl, cream the softened butter and sugar. I personally like to cut my butter into cubes to make it easier before mixing it.

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Then, add one egg and beat it into the mixture until it is thoroughly combined before you add the next one. Make sure the eggs are at room temperature before using them, otherwise it may curdle in the batter. Repeat this step with the remaining eggs.

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Don’t forget to scrape the sides and underneath the bowl¬†periodically¬†to ensure everything is incorporated into the mix.

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Add the salt, baking powder, vanilla, lemon zest and lemon juice into the batter. Mix well.

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Then add the flour and milk. It might be a good idea to mix the milk in first and then add the flour gradually as you mix¬†so that a) you don’t end up with a face and kitchen full of flour and b) it blends thoroughly¬†into the batter.

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Now you have to prepare the caramel topping by greasing the 10 inch round pan with butter. Then, pat the brown butter down into the pan.

Next, layer the pineapples on top of the brown sugar and put maraschino cherries into the hole of each pineapple.

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The bottom layer of the upside-down pineapple cake

Finally, pour the batter on top and lightly flatten the surface with a spatula.

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Add the batter on top of the fruit and brown sugar layer

Place the pan into your¬†preheated oven¬†at 350¬įF/177¬įC and wait for it to bake for approximately 45-50 minutes. You can do the toothpick test around the 45 minute mark to see if it is done.

Upside-down-pineapple-cake

I’m excited. It’s done!

When it’s ready, take it out to cool off a bit. The originally recipe recommends five minutes and while it’s hard, but it may be better to let it cool off a bit longer so that the cake is sturdier. Either way, when you think it’s okay, use a spatula to loosen around the edges from the pan. Then invert the cake pan on top a plate larger than the pan or onto a cake rack to cool further.

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My upside-down pineapple cake!

Voil√†! A magnificent upside-down pineapple cake. It’s super dense and soft and the pineapples and cherries kick it up a few notches in the sweet department.

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A slice of heaven – upside-down pineapple cake

I would definitely make this cake again. Everyone that got a slice loved it.¬†It’s a great recipe and it¬†definitely tastes as good as it looks!

To view the original recipe, click here.

Pigeon Pie (Bastilla)

Travelling around the world, you discover a lot of neat things. Many of these things may¬†seem foreign¬†to you, but is actually common¬†to the people¬†of the country¬†you’re visiting (or a potential tourist trap!). Take for instance, in Morocco I was entranced by all the¬†amazing¬†tiles and mosaic work that they had but it was dispersed on all around the city.

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Tiles and mosaics of Morocco

I was also amazed by the food. One particular dish is a specialty pie called bastilla. It’s made with poultry, ground almonds and spices which is wrapped in a phyllo dough-type pastry like a present. It is topped with a thin dusting of cinnamon and icing sugar, which gives it an interesting m√©lange of savoury and sweet flavours.

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Bastilla Pie – Chicken or Pigeon?

I was informed by the restaurant that¬†it’s¬†traditionally made with pigeon, but they offered an alternative which was chicken. Even though I asked for chicken, I’m pretty sure it was still pigeon (though in hindsight I’m glad they did). It was intriguing to eat, to say the least. It’s not often that I find dishes of meat¬†mixed with cinnamon, sugar and nuts (let alone pigeon). I recall it tasted¬†so foreign to me that I was estranged by the flavours. It was also very filling, so I only got through half of it. I don’t think it’s very common to find bastilla around Toronto, but if you find a place that sells it or if you have a good recipe let me know!

N.B. Thre are alternative spellings for this pie: bastela, b’steeya, bastila, bisteeya and pastilla.

Somalian Food

I have never tried Somalian food before. In fact, I didn’t even really know what it was until I came across a restaurant in Toronto with dozens of positive reviews. Naturally, being the curious cat that I am, I went to check it out with some friends.

Perusing over the menu, it seemed like a fusion of different items. It seemed like typical Middle Eastern fare at first, but it also had some items that I’ve never seen mixed together before like pasta with kebobs. Needless to say, I was intrigued.

First, we ordered a beef samosa  which they call sambuus.

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It has the shape of a regular¬†samosa you can find in many Indian stores or restaurants, but it had a completely different taste. The crust¬†seemed like a spring roll pastry instead of the usual flaky, crusty type. Most samosas I’ve eaten have a curry flavour to it (whether it be the regular potato or meat samosa), but this one had an aromatic taste¬†to it. It was filled with¬†loads¬†of onions, ground beef and various spices. It came out hot and fresh and wasn’t that spicy until I¬†dipped it into some of the green sauce (shown above), which the server called basbaas. He said it is made of green chilis, which would explain the sudden flash of heat in my mouth when I bit into it.

For my entrée, I ordered a chicken kebob and beef kofte platter with rice and salad. It came with a small container of the basbaas (hidden behind the plate) and a sweet, slightly spicy red sauce (perhaps tamarind?).

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A chicken kebob and beef kofte platter

A kebob is a¬†skewer of meat chunks and is usually marinated prior to being cooked. Kofte is the long log of spiced ground meat. Every time I order chicken or beef, I’m always afraid of getting dry, tasteless meat. However, it was quite the contrast. Both types were moist and super flavourful. It was refreshing to have a side of lettuce, tomatoes and onions with some ranch-like sauce. The basmati rice was well seasoned too.

Going with a group, one ordered a chicken shawarma wrap (not pictured) and I was able to try a piece. The meat was so succulent it just melted in my mouth. Another friend ordered a chicken kebob platter that came with hummus, babaganoush (mutabbal) and an interesting looking traditional Somali bread (muufo). It looked pretty good, considering it seemd quite healthy. The last friend got the lamb platter and it was so good that she had to apologize because she wanted to use her hands to get into the meat (which I think is a good sign). We would have ordered dessert, but the platters were such generous portions that even sharing was more than enough.

What types of desserts did they have? The menu surprisingly¬†had things that I didn’t expect to find, like upside-down pineapple cake (doolsho cananass) and donuts (graffe). They looked so tempting, but it was just too much food for one sitting. It didn’t help that the restaurant (strategically) placed small televisions by every table with all their dishes flashing right before our eyes as we ate. It was like brainwashing, but I thought it was also a smart¬†way to advertise their menu.

Overall, my impression of Somalian food is that it is a fusion of Middle Eastern food with various cultural influences. It makes sense, seeing as Somalia is located on the eastern coast of Africa. The cuisine we had was very enjoyable, so I will definitely go back to try some more. Perhaps next time I’ll work backwards and start with dessert!

Xawaash
130 Queens Plate Dr #1
Etobicoke, Ontario M9W 0B4
Canada
416-747-7222

Msemen

I would be lying if I said I knew how to properly pronounce msemen, but what I can say is it’s a pan-fried square pancake that I got to try¬†when I travelled to Morocco. It has a flaky texture, yet it is also similar to a cr√™pe. It was served as part of our¬†breakfast meal at a riad (more commonly known to us westerners as a guesthouse).

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Msemen

It came with a side of condiments and eggs sunny side up. You have the choice of dipping it in jams, spreading cheese on it (like la vache qui rit, which sits on the right), adding honey, mixing it with the runny egg yolks or eating it plain. The riad also provided us with some tea and freshly squeezed orange juice and I must say, as simple as it was, it was a delicious meal!