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Wednesday, September 28, 2005 

On Becoming And Staying A Vegetarian - Is It Possible In A Fast-Paced World?

The New Becoming Vegetarian: The Essential Guide To A Healthy Vegetarian DietAs you may know by now, I decided to not have my VegFusion vegetarian blog on its own. Rather, vegetarian-related posts will now be here, as many of my hot food recipes are actually vegetarian, or can be. I know that people who are staunchly vegetarian would not be happy with such a decision, but let me explain.

Anyone who is staunchly vegetarian is already "converted". I am not trying to convert anyone. Many many years ago, purely for health reasons, I decided that I would like to try becoming a vegetarian. Fortunately, I come from a culture in which vegetarian food figures very highly. There are many delicious, nutritious choices for indian vegetarian food, and fusion dishes derived from them. In fact, many of my punk rocker and deadhead friends of my youth were introduced to vegetarian food through various East Indian friends. Some of them even went to the Indian temples around Toronto or Montreal, Canada for the evening "prasad" (offering) given free (or for a donation, if you desired). The prasad was always vegetarian, and usually contained rice and lentil soup, and sometimes a vegetarian curry.

Over the years, I've been able to tweak many meat-inclusive recipes into vegetarian ones. And while I managed to be near-vegatarian for 8 years and vegetarian for 3 years, I found it hard to maintain. My previous lifestyle of being a consultant meant eating away from home. This meant salad and french fries for lunch or supper far too often. Sure, I could have a veg pita or a veg sub. But none of this is satisfying if you have it every day. Finding a hot vegetarian meal within your lunch break becomes a holy grail. The temptation to cheat and get a burger is overwhelming.

The rest of my immediate family has managed to become and stay vegetarians; however, all of them work primarily in the city they live in. Me, I might be in 4 or 5 different cities in the same day, or more in the same week. I didn't always have time to make myself a lunch, and I had limited time, often having to eat while driving a stick-shift car. It wasn't so easy to stay vegetarian.

But that was all 5 years ago. Nowadays, it is very easy to find a good felafel sandwich stand or even a reasonable good veggie burger at a fast food joint. You may have more success becoming vegetarian than I did. For different health reasons, I have been eating meat again for a few years. Nevertheless, I like to spend 2-3 days a week either reducing the quantity of meat in my meals, or skipping meat all together. It's a balance that's worked for me to keep my health problems in check. Which is not to say that you could not maintain a fully vegetarian diet.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005 

Mr Tea Pt III - Chasing the Chills Away With Warm Savoury Mushroom Tea

Now that the nights are getting cooler in the northern hemisphere, a nice hot tea helps warm up your blood. With all of the tea choices that are available, you might not thinking of using mushrooms. But there are several types of dried Chinese mushrooms and fungus that are actually used in various herbal remedies. While I'm not suggesting that drinking mushroom tea will heal you in any fashion, I will say that a nice mushroom broth will chase the chills away.

You'll have to experiment with different mushrooms, but I suggest you start with a package of dried Chinese mushrooms. Get them at an Oriental market, or you run the risk of spending 3 times what you should. Rinse 1 cup of dried mushrooms, then set them to boil in about 4-5 cups of water, depending on how strong you want the to be. Boil the mushrooms for about 5 minutes, then let steep with the stove turned off for another 3-5 minutes. (Keep the pot on the same stove element.) Discard the mushroom pieces, then strain the tea of grit with a mesh net.

Without any extra ingredients, the tea will taste similar to unsalted vegetable stock. You'll probably want to add some salt and fresh-cracked black pepper. You can replace some of the boiling water with low-sodium chicken stock, to add another layer of flavour. Experiment with steeping some cloves and even Italian seasoning (dried parsley, sage, rosemary, basil) or crushed red pepper flake. Or if you want a slightly sweeter taste, add some dried lychees (raisin-sized) to the boiling water. Finally, if you want to keep with the theme, add green tea leaves to the boiling water, and finish the drink off with some honey.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

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Rare Sliced Beef and Pho Soup Recipe

If you've tried the hearty, refreshing Vietnamese pho (fuh) soup that I've been talking about regularly in this blog (or even if you haven't) here's a quick recipe for making your own. The picture above shows pho with rare beef and beef balls.
  1. First heat up a mix of 1 part chicken stock and 2 parts water. This forms the soup broth. Keep it hot while doing the next step.
  2. Slice up a small onion in long, thin slivers.
  3. Follow the recipe for banh (bun) - Grilled Beef on Rice Vermicelli - from earlier today to prepare the vermicelli noodles. You can grill the beef if you like; however, if you want it rare, just add the pre-thawed or fresh slices (paper thin) to the soup in step 6 below. Skip the preparation of the lettuce, cucumber, and carrot strips.
  4. Place 1-2 cups of hot broth in a large soup bowl.
  5. To the bowl, add the prepared vermicelli noodles.
  6. Add the grilled or rare beef slices to the bowl and push them down into the hot broth. If you are adding rare beef, the heat of the broth will cook the slices.
  7. Top up the bowl with more hot broth, leaving enough room for adding bean sprouts.
  8. Sprinkle on the onion slivers, and dried garlic strands if you have it.
  9. Serve soup with a small side plate of bean sprouts, Thai basil leaves (small and minty), a 1/4 lime, and a serrano/bird pepper if desired. Keep sriracha or sambal oelek hot sauces on hand. [Add the bean sprouts to the soup, along with the basil leaves and a squeeze of lime. If you like your soup hot, squirt in a bit of sriracha.]
(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

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Banh/Bun - Vietnamese Grilled Beef on Rice Vermicelli

Royal Blossom - Chantaboon Rice Stick (3MM) 16 Oz.After showing you so many pictures of Vietnamese food and talking about it at length, I finally scoured my old electronic journal and found my own recipe for a dry vermicelli dish generically called Banh (bun). It's similar to pho (fuh) but without the soup broth. It's typically served with "salad" (shredded lettuce, julienned cucumber and carrots, and bean sprouts) and grilled meats. Because it's a dry dish, it's also served with nuoc mam (fish sauce). With you chopsticks, you dip a piece of grilled meat into the nuoc mam and then dab the meat onto the noodles to transfer moisture. The rice vermicelli noodles have a rib-sticking quality, but can be eaten in any time of year without making your stomach feel heavy (unless you overeat, of course). I find that rice noodles don't feel as heavy in my stomach as the same quantity of steamed rice. This is likely due to the fact that rice vermicelli noodles don't have as high a percentage of starch as plain rice.

A photograph of this dish is here. (Actually, the picture is taken at a Vietnamese restaurant. My recipe closely approximates the dish for grilled beef strips, not the meatballs shown in the photo.)

  • Rice stick (banh/bun) vermicelli (round, not flat) - enough for one person
  • Sliced beef (paper thin) - 5-9 slices (available at oriental supermarkets)
  • Soya sauce to marinate the beef
  • 1/2 cup of julienned carrots and cucumber
  • 1/4 cup shredded lettuce
  • 1/2 cup bean sprouts
  • Partly-crushed peanuts
  • Fish dipping sauce
  • Hoisin for dipping [optional]
  • Sriracha for dipping [optional]
  • Chopped green onion pre-soaked in a bit of fish sauce.

  • Soak the rice vermicelli in a bowl of hot water for 10 minutes.
  • In the meantime, marinate the sliced beef in soya sauce.
  • Set a large pot of salted water to boil to cook the noodles.
  • Drain and rinse the vermicelli in cold water.
  • Heat up a flat grill or frying pan on high.
  • Using a fine mesh "net" with handle, immerse the vermicelli in the boiling water for 3-4 minutes, until cooked. Note that while rice stick can easily get soggy if overcooked, it also dries out very quickly. It is better to slightly overcook the noodles.
  • In the meantime, grill the pieces of sliced beef, either in a oven pan over the grill, or on a skewer. Because the pieces are thin, they will cook very quickly (l-2 minutes, depending on method).
  • Remove the vermicelli and shake off the excess water. Place noodles in a large soup or noodle bowl.

  • Serve quickly while noodles are still warm.Arrange the vermicelli in a deep oriental-style soup bowl.
  • Place the grilled beef on one half over the noodles.
  • Sprinkle crushed peanuts over the beef. On the other half, arrange bean sprouts, julienned carrots, cucumbers, and lettuce.
  • Reserve a few pieces (3-9) of julienned carrots for the dipping sauce.
  • Make hoisin sauce as well as sriracha available, as well as a small bowl of dipping sauce. Add the reserved carrot to the sauce.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

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This Blog Will Be Absorbing Posts From My VegFusion Blog

Just a quick note for readers: This blog will be absorbing entries that originally were being posted to my recently created VegFusion vegetarian blog, as well as my HotHead/ChiliMonster blog. I decided that I couldn't maintain 4 cooking blogs and do any of them any justice. So from now on, this blog will continue with its normal posts, as well as have spicy food posts and vegetarian food posts. For the time being, I'm leaving my Cooking For One or Two blog where it is. The net result of these changes is that Curry Elvis Cooks, at least, will have more posts per day, and will have category designations in each post.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

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Monday, September 26, 2005 

Savoury Minced Beef + Spinach Crepes

A couple of years ago, before I moved back to my hometown, I used to buy my crepes from a great West Indian chef - who's name really was Elvis and was trained in England. Elvis had a booth at the local Farmers Market and made an incredibly taste crepe stuffed with chicken and a thick cream of mushroom sauce. He'd also sell his crepes individually, so every Saturday morning, I'd go visit him and buy a small stack of his savoury crepes. Depending on what other purchases I made that day at the market, I'd try to make different fillings and test them out on myself and my upstairs friends/neighbours, the Leslies. The filling that I personally liked best was a savoury minced beef curry variation of a dish my mother made often. It worked wonderfully with the Elvis' savoury crepes.

Ingredients and Preparation
Now I'm cheating in this post by building on a recipe for a spicy minced beef curry posted over in my HotHead/ ChiliMonster post. For the crepe stuffing, however, follow my other recipe but remove any hot ingredients that you don't want. Keep some of the curry powder and/or cumin, but feel free to reduce the quantity. Add 1 cup of fresh spinach leaves in the last 5 minutes of cooking time. Add a1/4 cup of water and let simmer on medium high. At the very end of the cooking time, add 1 level tbsp of corn starch diluted in 1/4 cup of water. Gently blend the starch solution into the curry. You want the dish not to be runny if you plan to stuff crepes with it. So simmer for another minute or two on medium or lower heat, until the liquid thickens. Remove from heat and fill crepes to serve immediately.

Here's a basic crepe recipe. For a bit more savoury flavour, add finely chopped chives and a sprinkle of fresh ground black pepper. For something like the minced beef stuffing, thicker crepes work better, but thin crispy ones are okay, too. What I found, however, was eating cold, thick crepes with the warm minced beef stuffing add yet another dimension of texture.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

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Sunday, September 25, 2005 

Meatball Rotini Soup

Parmigiano Reggiano with Recipe BookHere's yet another easy-to-make soup that mixes elements from a couple of cuisines: Italian, Chinese, and Japanese. It requires a bit of prep work, but is otherwise effortless. If you want to substitute either vegetarian meatballs or the Vietnamese style bo (beef balls), feel free. I've tried them both and they work quite well. But that said, there's nothing like the taste of homemade meatballs, especially in soup broth.


  • 1/2 lb ground pork, fresh or thawed.
  • Parsley, chopped fine (or dried).
  • Chives, chopped fine (or dried).
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs.
  • Salt + pepper to taste, for meatballs .
  • 1/2 tsp of ground cumin.
  • Sprinkle of crushed red pepper flake [optional].
  • 6-8 cups of water for poaching meatballs, and then making noodles.
  • 1 tsp salt, for cooking meatballs.
  • 1 tbsp cooking oil (canola or vegetable) for cooking meatballs.
  • Extra water for cooking rotini pasta.
  • 1 tbsp cooking oil for cooking rotini.
  • 1 tsp salt, for cooking rotini.
  • 1 cup of dry rotini noodles.
  • 1 can or 1/2 cup of chicken stock.
  • 3 cups of water for soup
  • A drizzle of sesame oil.
  • 1/2 can of shiitake mushrooms, sliced thinly.
  • 2-3 stalks green onion, chopped finely.

  • Mix pork, parsely, chives, egg, bread crumbs, salt and pepper, ground cumin, and red pepper flake. Form meatballs to a preferred to size (1/2 - 1 inch in diameter). Because you are eating these in soup, you'll want to make these mini-meatballs so that no one chokes on them.
  • Place 6-8 cups of water in a large cookpot and set to boil.
  • When water is boiling, add 1 tsp salt and 1 tbsp of cooking oil. Add meatballs and poach for 6-8 minutes.
  • Remove the meatballs with a slotted spoon but reserve the water.
  • Keeping the pot on high heat, add enough extra water for boiling the rotini pasta, as per the package instructions.
  • When water is once again boiling, add 1 tbsp of cooking oil, 1 tsp of salt, and the rotini noodles. Cook for at least 6 minutes. Make sure that pasta is not quite al dente, as it will be fully cooked in the soup base in the next step.
  • Open up the can of chicken stock and strain off any fat.
  • Strain the pasta of its boiling water, reserving a 1/2 cup at most.
  • Into the newly-empty stock pot, pour in the chicken stock, 1/2 cup of the reserved liquid, another 3 cups of water, sesame oil, the pasta, meatballs, and shiitakes. Set heat at medium high, and let simmer for 6-10 minutes, or until pasta is al dente.
  • Turn off stove and remove from heat.

Serve in bowls and garnish with green onions and grated parmigiano reggiano if desired.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

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Spring Onion Beef Rolls

These are similar to my Golden Needle Beef Rolls, but use spring onion stalks instead of enoki mushrooms (golden needles). Here is a revised recipe:

Ingredients: (1) 2-3 pieces sliced beef (paper-thin) per roll; (2) 3-4 green onion stalks for each two beef rolls, cut into 3-4 inch lengths. For visual effect, you want to have the green onion stalks sticking out of the rolls. So you may actual want to cut the stalks a bit longer. Use more of the white part rather than the green, as that'll burn quickly.

Preparation: Use the same instructions as for the Golden Needle Beef Rolls. However, the onions will be likely to burn on the grill, so turn the rolls regularly.

Serve as an appetizer with soya sauce or onion dip for dipping.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

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Friday, September 23, 2005 

Japanese-Italian Golden Needle (Enoki Mushrooms) Beef Rolls

Enoki mushrooms (aka golden needles) are one of those delights that, if you're a mushroom lover, you've got to try at least once. These thin, white, long-stemmed mushrooms, with a tiny bulbous head, are crisp, and add a wonderful texture to salads and clear soups. They also are great in a savoury Japanese-style beef roll that's easy to make. [Note: I'm using my new "recipe summary" format for this and some of my future posts. If do you don't like the format, feel free to drop me a comment or email.]

Ingredients: (1) 1-2 pieces sliced beef (paper-thin) per roll; (2) 10-12 enoki (golden needle) mushrooms per roll.

Preparation: (1) NOTE: The sliced beef and lamb available in oriental markets is usually cut paper thin and frozen. Because it is so thin, you should use 2-3 stacked pieces per roll. Otherwise, use pieces of beef flank hammered into thin roulade ovals, or thin-slice proscuitto from an Italian market. (2) Lay the slices of beef in a stack. Arrange the enoki mushrooms into a log sideways (across the short dimension) and then roll the meat up (roulade). If you are using beef flank instead of sliced beef or sliced lamb, you may need to use a toothpick or two to hold the roulade in place. (3) Repeat the above step for each roll. (4) Place the rolls in a shallow serving dish and sprinkle some soya sauce over them. Marinate for 5-10 minutes. (5) The rolls can be prepared in two main ways: (a) The first is to pan-sear 4-6 roll batches in a bit of butter (1 tbsp) and cooking oil (1 tbsp), then finish them in the oven for 2-3 minutes. This is probably best for sliced beef, and also works for beef flank. (b) The second method is to grill the rolls over a flame. However, because the beef slices are so thin, the chances of burning are high, especially because of the dripping soya sauce. This method might be better for beef flank. Grilling is obviously healthier because it doesn't use the butter or oil. Remember to turn the rolls repeatedly so that they cook evenly. I have also finished them on a flat-top grill or a George-Foreman style of "health grill" with positive results.

Presentation: Serve as is on a platter, with a small dish of soya sauce or onion dip for dipping.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

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Thursday, September 22, 2005 

Yet Another Nice Healthy Soup - Chicken, Rotini, and Wild Rice Soup

Yesterday's post was a recipe for Wild Rice Gumbo, which was a variation of my Mushroom, Asparagus + Wild Rice Soup. One of the things that I like to do to change up my meals a bit is to take some ingredients I've already used recently and either replace or supplement them. In today's recipe, I'm supplementing and replacing, to end up with Chicken, Rotini and Wild Rice Soup. What I'm doing is not, of course, anything original. But what it does let me do is buy certain items in bulk and yet not get tired of them. I may be presenting the recipes to you in a short span of time, but if I recall correctly, I originally came up with these soup variations over one summer. Wild rice is not, of course, really a rice. But I love it's nutty taste and it's almost rice-like but more firm texture. It's worth a bit of extra money at the Farmers Market every once in a while. (Health food stores seem to charge significantly more for wild rice than Farmers Markets.)

  • 2-3 tbsp of cooking oil
  • 1-2 stalks of celery, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 carrot, small or medium dice
  • 1 small onion, small dice
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced finely
  • 1 bay leaf, whole
  • Roux: 3 tbsp butter, 3 tbsp flour
  • 2 cans or 3 cups of chicken stock
  • 3 cups of water
  • 1 small boneless raw breast chicken, cut into thin strips, then halved.
  • 5-7 button mushrooms - halved if small, quartered if large
  • 2 cups wild rice, pre-cooked
  • 2 cups of dried rotini
  • Dash of Italian seasoning (or any dry mix of basil, oregano, sage, parsley)
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Sprinkle of crushed red pepper flake [optional]
  • Sesame oil - just a few drops. Sesame oil adds a wonderful subtle aroma the permeates the home and seems to induce hunger.

  • Heat cooking oil in a large stockpot on high, about 1 minute.
  • Mirepoix:
    • Reduce heat to medium high.
    • Add mirepoix (celery, carrot, onion), garlic, bay leaf, and sweat the vegetables for about 3 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, in a small non-stick saucepan, create a roux with the butter and flour: Melt the butter then stir in the flour until together they form a sort of buttery paste. Make sure the flour is incorporated into the butter or your soup will be lumpy. The roux will help thicken the soup.
  • Remove the bay leaf from the stockpot, then add roux from the saucepan.
  • Add chicken stock and water to pot. Add chicken slices and poach for 12-15 minutes.
  • Add mushrooms and wild rice and cook for 10 minutes.
  • At the same time as the above step, cook rotini in a separate pot of water as per the package instructions. However, leave the rotini slightly firmer than you would if you were eating them straight. Strain and add the rotini to the soup after the 10 minute period in the last step. If you find that there isn't enough liquid in the soup, feel free to add another cup of water and another 3-4 minutes of cooking time.
  • Add Italian seasoning, salt and black pepper, red pepper flake, and sesame oil. Cook for another 4-5 minutes, then turn off heat and serve.

Serve in individual soup bowls with a dollop of sour cream and with a stack of spicy tostadas or some corn chips. Ham and grilled cheese sandwiches also go great with this soup.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

Wednesday, September 21, 2005 

Wild Rice Gumbo Soup

Minnesota Wild Rice Extra Fancy, 1 lb. pkg.This is a variation on one of my other soups. Follow the recipe for Mushroom, Asparagus + Wild Rice Soup" but substitute fresh or frozen okra for asparagus, and subtract the barley, wood ear/black fungus, and rice vinegar. Also, add the following items to the older recipe. [Add all of the items at the same time. In the original recipe, the pre-cooked wild rice is added to the cookpot after the water is boiling. This is when you can add these extra items.]

  • Add an extra 1/2 cup of pre-cooked wild rice.
  • 5-6 barbeque pork medallions, diced small. Add them to the stock pot. These are already cooked and are available at larger Chinese markets. If you can't find any, you can substitute diced roast beef or lamb.
  • Dice 1/3 of a large, raw, boneless chicken breast and add to pot.
  • Add 10-12 deveined, shell-removed shrimp.
Simmer on low for an extra half hour than the old recipe, stirring occasionally to avoid burning.

(c) Copyright 2005-present,

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005 

Kitchen Horror Stories - Where's The Danger Pay?

The Hypothyroid Sourcebook[Warning: offensive, revolting material ahead]

In the three short calendar years that I cooked on the line at several restaurants, I lost track of the number of injuries I and workmates suffered. Most of them were "minor" burns or cuts, which for me usually healed anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Slipping on food that's fallen on the floor, banging your knee, hitting your head on workstations, minor burns, nicks and cuts - they're all a normal part of what is actual considered to be an extremely dangerous job: line cook. The glamour of cooking that you see on TV is nothing close to the truth: you need a rock-solid ability to handle pressure, to able time plates for the same table, and to take the screaming and yelling from the head chef or the owner. (Damn you meddling owners; can't you stay at home and let us do our jobs?). And, you have to remain calm all the while.

I guess I just didn't have it. My hypo-thyroid disorder caused me intermittent short-term memory loss. It's damn hard to be a line cook under fire when your memory isn't functioning. And I got sick of the back-stabbing politics and preciousness and head-chef arrogance that appears to be a part of the industry. But during my brief career as a cook, I only saw one very serious injury. Well, I saw the result of it, after the incident occurred. One line cook, who had regularly proven to be a non-team player, tossed a filet of salmon into a hot frying pan of oil. The sous chef was unfortunately beside the hot pan and was splashed with the oil onto his hands and face. You can just imagine how much that must have hurt.

The burns on his face and hands took a long time to heal, and he was lucky not to have had an eye damaged. Despite this unfortunate event, and despite that the same line cook regularly dumped food on the floor - which I always slipped on - and tossed sharp knives towards the vicinity of the dishwashing pit, he didn't get fired. We were already understaffed and the sous chef needed everyone. It seems kind of a bad decision considering the injuries. But then again, this is the same sous chef that I caught putting his muddy boots on the metal workstations, as well regularly mining for gold with his finger deep up his nostril. The time that I caught him, he just stared at me at left his finger buried. It was only after I witnessed all this stuff that I heard from a former line cook that the restaurant had been visited by the health board 7 times in the month previous to my start date.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

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Sunday, September 18, 2005 

Food For Thought - Cooking For A Living

Authentic Vietnamese Cooking : Food from a Family TableThe reason I enjoy Vietnamese food, of course, is the taste and texture, especially the rich flavour of the soup broth. I blog about it enough. But I also enjoyed working in a Vietnamese restaurant as both the dishwasher (by hand) and the appetizers line cook. The pay was poor, but at the end of the day - literally - all of the staff would sit down like an extended family and enjoy a meal together, with good-natured teasing and getting to know each other better. I assume that this had much to do with the Vietnamese lady that owned the place. She was hard-working and very kind. She'd get loud when things got busy and she got excited, but we knew she was never angry. She was certainly open-minded. The main cook was Chinese. She and her husband was Vietnamese. I'm East Indian. Most of the clients were white Canadians. A true cultural smorgasbord. Her husband worked hard, too. He'd work all week in another city at his day job, and on the weekend he'd drive down and help out.

Contrast this with nearly all the other restaurants I worked in. I've never heard so much screaming and yelling in my life. Lot's of preciousness and self-importance, general selfishness and rudeness. While I met lots of great people, there was always a divided between floor staff and kitchen staff. If there was an age difference, I'd be lucky to get a hello with some staff. In some restaurants, floor wouldn't even talk to me because they were too damn precious princesses and I was just a cook. Sure, they earned an awful lot of money (50-80K/yr) working the floor, but what would they have to serve if we weren't cooking our great food? They weren't the ones working for $7-16/hr (line cook rates), getting cut, tripping, slipping, and regularly burned with hot food and oil. Something to think about, if you're a server. Remember to tip your kitchen staff :D

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

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Saturday, September 17, 2005 

Bitesize 15 - Food Anxieties Part II

Several years ago, I had an attractive young female friend whom I'd originally met when I'd managed her singer/guitarist boyfriend. Holly [name not changed to cause maximum embarrassment] and I met up a few years after I'd stopped managing her boyfriend, whom she was no longer seeing. I admit I was somewhat enamoured of her at the time, even though she was considerably younger than me. We were headed out for dinner. She was decked out in a slinky, shimmery blue silk dress that complemented her short dark hair. I gave her a couple of restaurant choices to select from, from which she chose a popular Japanese/ Korean restaurant near the local university. It actually happened to be my most popular restaurant hangout at the time.

Now I love Holly dearly, even though we parted ways on bad terms (She joked about getting married in front of a bunch of people that knew me, but wouldn't clarify if she was serious or really just kidding around. We've crossed paths since but she won't speak to me. Okay... I didn't talk to her either. Que sera sera.) But she has a strange quirk that she picked up when she was very young and has dealt with as best she can. It's nothing seriously weird, but she gets visibly upset if her food gets mixed together. Each part of her meal (e.g., veggies, meat, carbs) can be on the same plate, but they're not allowed to touch each other or she loses her appetite. She'll finish what's in her mouth before trying some different item. She simply won't mix food. Holly's aware of it, and she casually explains it away. It's a food anxiety that I've not seen with anyone else, of the hundreds of people I've dined with in my lifetime.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

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Bitesize 14 - This Land Is Our (Farm) Land

My hometown is a small city of 108,000+ about an hour southwest of Toronto, Canada. Its university has a world-renowned agricultural engineering programming as well as a notable Hotel and Food Administration program, which includes a Dieticians program. Food and related endeavours are very much a part of this city. The provincial government's Ministry of Agriculture even moved their headquarters here. We have the questionable honor of being the birthplace to a popular sugar substitute, squarish watermelons (for easy packing), genetically modified potatoes and tomatoes, and more. Many food-related experiments used to be conducted here for decades. At least until the university spent the past 15 years handing out 99-year leases for buildings on most of their prime agricultural experiment land. Of course, we need more big-box stores, not arable land to conduct food-growing experiments on.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

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Friday, September 16, 2005 

Mr Tea Pt II - Oolong and Green Tea Extract and a Recipe for Curry Powder w/ Tea

Food and Wine magazine's September issue reports that green tea is being infused into a lot of non-Asian foods; for example, cream puffs. In fact, there are a lot of dishes you can use green or oolong tea in. Tea extract is also popular for therapeutic purposes. In a more unusual application, I ground up oolong tea leaves into my fresh made curry powder with very positive results. It gave my curries a subtle flavour they've never had before.

Recipe: Follow my curry powder recipe, but also add in 1-2 tsp of oolong or other dried tea leaves.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

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Thursday, September 15, 2005 

Multicultural Food Festivals

Celebrations Around the World: A Multicultural HandbookAs the last days of summer speed on by into the lush colours of cool fall nights, keep an eye peeled for a few late stragglers of multicultural festivals in your city. They are a great way to sample cuisines from all over the world without having to spend a lot of money. It's also acceptable, even encouraged, to ask what each item is, how it's made, and what's in it. It's the perfect way to introduce yourself to foods you always wanted to try but were afraid to ask about.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

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Matching drinks to East Indian Food

Matching Food & Wine : Classic and Not So Classic CombinationsThe Indian Grocery Store Demystified (Take It with You Guides)In the September 2005 issue of Food and Wine, there's an article by Lettie Teague on matching wines to Chinese food. Her suggestion? A Gewürztraminer matches nicely with spicy Chinese food. It works well with other spicy food, too. For example, Vietnamese, Thai and East Indian food. No doubt by now you'll have noticed a tendency towards Vietnamese and East Indian food on my blog (although the focus is always world/ fusion cuisine in general), so I thought I'd mention a few drinks that I or friends enjoy with Indian curries.

Basically, with any spicy food, a dry white is always good. Gewürztraminer works. My mother used to like to drink Black Tower, a German white wine that's mild enough for an almost-teetotaler. A crisp beer such as Tsingtao is good, as is the Jamaican Red Stripe. Personally, I'm just as happy with apple juice, ginger ale or sometimes a cola.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005 

Food (Pics) For Thought - Vietnamese Rice Vermicelli w/ Grilled Meatballs and Chicken

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Shown above is Vietnamese rice vermicelli with succulent grilled meatballs, and grilled chicken. At left is Vietnamese "salad" (carrot and cucumber strips, shredded lettuce). On top of the grilled chicken is sliced green onion and crushed peanuts. Peanuts and "salad" are included in many Vietnamese dishes. The vermicelli used in this dish is the same as in pho.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

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Food (Pics) For Thought - Vietnamese Grilled Beef Summer Rolls

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The Foods of VietnamPictured above are some grilled beef summer rolls. Ingredients are typically rice vermicelli, strips of carrot and cucumber, a basil leaf, romaine lettuce, and sometimes grilled meat - all wrapped in rice paper . To the left, bottom is Vietnamese "salad", consisting of carrot and cucumber strips, and shredded iceberg (or other) lettuce. Sriracha hot sauce at top left; peanut dipping sauce at top right.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

Tuesday, September 13, 2005 

Bitesize 13 - There is a Season - Matching Food to the Time of Year

Unleashing the Power of Food: Recipes to Heal ByFood Combining CookbookFood Combining and Digestion: Easy to Follow Techniques to Increase Stomach Power and Maximize DigestionIn several cultures, particularly Oriental ones, food is matched to the time of year. Hearty foods are left for late Fall and into the Winter. Lighter meals are reserved for Spring and Summer. While food matching also happens in North America, we seem to be more interested in food combining. This is practice of not eating certain categories of food at the same time. For example, food combining wisdom says that you should not eat meat protein and carbohydrates together.

That said, our food consumption is influenced by many factors, including advertising, and we sometimes fall prey to food fads about what to eat and when to eat. My philosophy has been, for many years, to eat only when you are hungry, and to eat what your body tells you it feels like having. Old wisdom says that your body knows what it needs. Over the years, advice like this, which is really common sense, has somehow been lost in. We don't trust our instincts because doing so is portrayed negatively. But our body really does know what's best for it. And even when you're on a diet of some form, short of serious health problems, if you feel like eating something you "shouldn't", it's less stress on your body and mind to just go ahead and eat it than to fret about whether you should or not.

(c) Copyright 2005-present,, Raj Kumar Dash,

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Monday, September 12, 2005 

Butter-Fried Chickpea/Lentil-Battered Zucchini Flowers and Shiitake Mushrooms

Impromptu Gourmet Mushroom MedleyThis recipe is actually two-in-one. I use one batter for two main ingredients: zuchinni flowers and shiitake mushrooms...

Ever since Chef Mario Batali dipped some zucchini flowers into batter and deep-fried them on his show a few years ago, I've been desperate searching for these colorful blossoms. I had a theory that they'd work well in a batter that my great-grandmother used with mushrooms, and which she fed to me sitting on her knee - a heavenly fried mushroom snack that was high in protein, relatively healthy, and oh so delicious. As my maternal grandmother's eldest grandchild, she, too, hand-fed me these mushroom treats while I sat on her knee. She passed the recipe down to my mother, who doesn't make these nearly enough :)

I remember sitting on my grandmother's knee, not the taste of her fritter. But my mother's version is fresh in my mind: paradoxically crispy and juicy at the same time. A culinary contradiction, yet she manages to do it every time. I've tried for years to get my own meaty mushroom fritters to taste like my mother's, never quite succeeding. The closest I've come is my very popular "grandma's secret veggie burger". My mother won't yet give me her exact recipe, so I've been guessing on the measurements for years. While I've made tasty mushroom fritters, they've never come close to my mother's very popular version. Until a couple of Saturday nights past.

I recently found zuchinni blossoms at my local Farmers' Market, and bought two pints, along with some fresh shiitake mushrooms. My intent was to use my closest approximation to my mother's batter for both the mushrooms and blossoms. But I realized I that I was missing several ingredients, so I winged it. I pulled out my handy coffee/spice grinder and made my own missing spice mixes, or substituted where necessary. And the result was (almost) as wonderful as my mother's. They tasted great with a bit of onion chip dip and a cold glass of orange juice with grenadine, red wine, and a bit of water. (I use Sola Nero, which is unusual in that it combines Italian and Canadian reds.)

Okay, my version still isn't my mother's, but it is the closest I've come in over 15 years of trying. As with most of my variations, I didn't measure, but here's my best recollection of what I did. (If you hurry, you may still be able to get the zuchinni blossoms from your Farmers' Market.)

  • Canola or vegetable oil - enough to create a thin layer in a non-stick or cast-iron frying pan.
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup dried chickpeas
  • 1/8 cup whole black pepper
  • 1-2 tbsp cumin seed
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs or rippled potato chips
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Crushed red pepper flake [optional]
  • Italian seasoning
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2-1 cup water
  • Fresh, whole shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, cleaned of grit or dirt.
  • Zuchinni blossoms.

  • Put cooking oil in a non-stick or cast-iron frying pan and set stove to med high. Add butter. While waiting, prepare the ingredients.
  • Grind the first 4 ingredients above in a coffee/ spice grinder. Pour into a mixing bowl.
  • Add the flour, salt, black pepper, red pepper flake, and Italian seasoning. Mix with a fork to distribute evenly.
  • Break the egg into the mixture and stir with the fork to mix.
  • Very slowly add the water to the mixture, while at the same time stirring with the fork. You want to have a paste, but it shouldn't be too runny. It should be thin in enough to easily coat the zuchinni blossoms without breaking them (they are very delicate). If you add to much water, add a bit more flour until you have the right consistency.
  • If oil is now hot, reduce stove to medium. You want to keep enough heat to not make the fritters oily, but not so hot as to burn the blossoms.
  • Holding the stem of a blossom, roll and dip the flower part in batter until it is lightly coated. Gently place it in the hot oil. Repeat for other blossoms.
  • Similarly, repeat for the shiitake caps.
  • Using metal tongs, turn all fritters several times as necessary so that all sides are cooked.
  • Do not fry the blossoms too long as they wilt and get soggy with oil fast. I fried them for about 3 minutes maximum. The mushrooms are heartier and should probably fry for about 5-7 minutes in total.
  • Remove fritters, with tongs or a slotted spoon, onto a plate lined with paper towels (kitchen paper) so that any excess oil is absorbed into the paper

Serve with some chip dip or sour cream. Keep in mind that chickpea batter is extremely high protein. Enjoy a few fritters as a snack not a meal.

Reader Note: The images in this post are affiliate links created using Zoundry Blog Writer software. As I do not live in the United States and thus do not qualify for their Zoundry Service, I do not earn any commissions if you purchase any of the items shown here. However, Zoundry will earn the commissions, which is fine by me, in support for their great blogging software, which is available free.

(c) Copyright 2005, Raj Kumar Dash,

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Sunday, September 11, 2005 

Curried Beef Balls + Ladyfingers/ Okra

You might get the impression that I'm on an okra kick right now, but honestly, this recipe is something I concocted 2 years ago. While my original recipe used the Vietnamese beef balls (bo) that you find the Vietnamese pho soup, you can pretty much use any meatballs. I just happen to like the texture of bo, which is very firm at first, until your teeth pierce the beef ball, at which point it is very densely spongey. Bo doesn't usually have a lot of flavour, so it's great in soups where the broth is flavourful, or in curries, where the sauce is flavourful. Enjoy.

  • Vietnamese
  • East Indian
  • Chinese
  • Fusion

Dry dish, varied textures, spicy.

  • 2-3 tbsp of cooking oil, preferably something like canola. Do not use pure olive oil, sunflower oil or safflower oil. They have a very low smoke point and will burn quickly, which in turn will burn the curry powder, cause you to gasp uncontrollably, and more than likely turn on your smoke alarm, as I've learned the hard way. Many times. You can, however, mix 2 parts canola with one part of olive oil, which I do regularly. (You can use peanut oil, but for healh reasons, I don't use it.)
  • 1-2 tbsp butter
  • 1 medium potato, pre-boiled, diced. It's not absolutely necessary for the potato to be pre-boiled, but since the bo (beef balls) are pre-cooked, you'd have to change how you prepare this dish. It's just a bit easier to use boiled potatoes. What my mother likes to do, on Sunday nights, is boil up a bunch of potatoes for the rest of the week. Eat 'em within 4-5 days, though.
  • 1/2 cup of okra, fresh or frozen, cut or whole. (Cut okra gets gooey faster, as I've mentioned in another post.)
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Crushed red pepper flake. Hey, if you're about to make this curry dish, what's a bit of flake going to hurt, huh?Vietnamese beef balls (bo), cut in quarters. There are two types of bo: beef and beef tendon. I don't find too much difference in taste or colour. I've never seen a price difference, either. Again, if you can't find them, substitute other meatballs, or even veggie meatballs. (I've come across only one brand that has any taste and firmness. As soon as a I recall the brand name, I'll mention it in a future post.)
  • 1 tbsp curry powder [any strength: mild, medium or hot]
  • 2 stalks green onion, chopped fine.
  • Sesame seeds [optional]. They add a subtle bit of texture, if you dust on enough before serving.

  • Heat oil and butter in non-stick pan or skillet, on med high.
  • Add potatoes and let caramelize on one side, about 1-2 minutes.
  • Add okra, salt, pepper, and red pepper flake (to taste), and toss. Cook for about 2 minutes. Add bo (beef balls) and curry powder. Cook for 3-4 minutes, tossing every minute or two.
  • In the last minute of cooking, add the green onion and toss.
  • Turn off heat, sprinkle sesame seed on top, serve.

Because this is a dry dish, you may want to serve this with a small bowl of soup or Chinese rice porridge (congee).

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

Saturday, September 10, 2005 

Ladyfinger Lamb Main Course: Rack of Lamb Shanks

NOTE: This is the main course of a single fusion-cuisine meal (Mexican, East Indian, Chinese, and French) that I served for friends two summers past. The starter and side dishes are here:
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1-2 tbsp cooking oil
  • 2 pieces of lamb chops cut from a rack, bone in, frozen. Do not thaw.
  • 1-2 tbsp curry powder
  • 2 tbsp haldi (turmeric)
  • Mirin/rice wine or any white cooking wine
  • Carbon-steel or stainless-steel frying pan with oven-safe handle (i.e., no plastic handles!). The pan should be large enough to hold two pieces of lamb chops and the length of bone
  • Tongs (the strong metal kind, not the salad sort)
  • Oven mitts
  • Pre-heat your oven to about 350 F and maintain.
  • Turn your stove element to high and add butter to the frying pan. When butter starts melting, add cooking oil so that the butter doesn’t burn.
  • When butter has completely melted and mingled with the oil, about 1/2 minute, add the two pieces of frozen lamb. (Because the pieces are frozen, the outside will not burn before the inside gets cooked.) Be very careful. You may get some oil spatter if the lamb has thawed. It's best to remove the lamb directly from the freezer just when you get to this step. You may need to reduce the heat to medium high.
  • Cook about 3 minutes on the first side, repeat for the second side.
  • Add a couple of splashes of wine to the pan, making sure that the wine gets under the chops as well.
  • Turn off the stove and put the (oven-safe) frying pan in the oven and leave for 5-10 minutes, depending on whether you like lamb medium or well-done. Keep in mind that these usually are pretty small chops.
  • Turn off the oven and remove carefully with oven mitts and tongs.
Serve with roasted potatoes and tomato corn salsa (recipe links at the top of this post).

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

Friday, September 09, 2005 

Ladyfinger Lamb Side Dish 2: Curried Sesame Roasted Potatoes w/ Okra

This is the last side dish for the "Ladyfinger Lamb" meal. Ladyfinger is in fact another name for okra. Anybody who has had gumbo soup knows what okra is. I've had some friends tell me they don't like okra because it gets gooey when cooked. While this is true, it is in fact the reason I like it. If you don't like it gooey, just add okra a bit later so it cooks less. But do try okra to experience its subtle taste and surprisingly varied textures. Note: My recipe uses frozen okra, but some Farmers' Markets have fresh okra available right now. So take advantage of availability and leave the frozen stuff for some other day. [If you just can't stand okra, just remove it from this recipe. The double-cooked roasted sesame potatoes are a treat in themselves.]

This side dish, despite having potatoes, turns out to be quite a light dish. That's because the potatoes are boiled before they are roasted.

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1-2 tbsp cooking oil
  • 2 small boiled potatoes, cooled (preferably in the fridge) and large diced
  • 8-10 pieces of ladyfingers (okra), frozen. They can be cut or whole. They get less gooey if they are whole.
  • 1-2 tbsp curry powder
  • 2 tbsp haldi (turmeric)
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Crushed red pepper flake [optional]
  • Italian seasoning (any mix of dried parsley, thyme, oregano, etc.)
  • White sesame seeds [Actually optional, despite the name of this dish. They just add another dimension of crunchy taste.]
  • Add the butter to a carbon steel or non-stick pan and set heat to high. When butter starts melting, add cooking oil so that the butter doesn’t burn. Immediately turn the heat down to med high.
  • When butter has melted and mingled with the oil, add the potatoes and okra and toss regularly for about 2 minutes. (The butter will help caramelize the potatoes, which will cause the pieces to be partly crunchy and partly soft, giving an incredible mouth feel.)
  • Dust the curry powder over the potatoes and okra. Toss for about 1 minute to cook the powder.
  • Sprinkle salt, pepper, crushed red pepper flake, and turmeric. Toss for another 2 minutes.
  • Turn off heat and remove pan from hot stove element. Sprinkle on sesame seed evenly over potatoes and okra. Serve immediately, if possible.
  • Serve with the other side and starter dishes for the Ladyfinger Lamb meal.
  • Serves one.
(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,


Apologies for delay in next posting

I noticed a few regular readers to this blog and just wanted to tell you (and anyone else who cares) that the next installment of the "Ladyfinger Lamb" series of recipes will show up later tonight. It's just been one of those days...


Thursday, September 08, 2005 

Ladyfinger Lamb Side Dish 1: Tomato Corn Salsa

This recipe is for a delicious side dish, Tomato Corn Salsa, that I served to friends as part of my "Ladyfinger Lamb" meal.

  • 1 med-large tomato, medium dice.
  • 1 very small onion, cut in half, then thinly sliced, then roughly chopped.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Crushed red pepper flake [optional]
  • 1-2 tbsp cooking oil, preferably something healthy like canola or olive oil.
  • 1 tbsp of butter
  • 1 cup of frozen corn kernels
  • 2-3 shiitake mushrooms, canned or fresh, sliced thinly.
  • 1-2 tbsp curry powder
  • 2 tbsp haldi (turmeric)
  • 2-3 tbsp mirin/rice wine. If you cannot find it at an Oriental grocery, use any white cooking wine.

  • Mix tomato, onion, salt, pepper, and red pepper flake in a bowl and set aside.
  • Heat a non-stick frying pan at med high and add cooking oil and butter.
  • When butter begins to melt, add the corn kernels and shiitakes. Cook for 4-5 minutes, tossing every once in a while to ensure that it all gets cooked evenly.
  • Add the curry powder and turmeric and toss several times to distribute evenly. Let cook for about 2-3 minutes. Keep an eye on the dish, as both powders can burn easily. These powders will add flavour and a bit of crunchy texture to the corn.
  • Add 2-3 tbsps of rice wine and toss the corn or mix with a spatula. Reduce heat to medium or less, and leave for a few minutes to simmer.
  • When liquid has almost dissolved into a thick sauce, mix in 3-4 tbsp of the tomato + onion salsa that you reserved earlier.
  • Toss for about 2 minutes, adding more rice wine if necessary. If you do not want the salsa to be too sweet, add more salt and/or red pepper flake. Turn off heat and remove from pan.

Serve separately on pita points, or with the Ladyfinger Lamb meal described in other posts.
Serves 1 as a meal, or 2 as a starter

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

Wednesday, September 07, 2005 

Ladyfinger Lamb Starter Dish: Homemade Pork Wonton Dumpling Soup

NOTE: This is the starter course of a single fusion-cuisine meal (Mexican, East Indian, Chinese, and French) that I served for friends two summers past. Here is a related article from my Cooking For One Or Two blog.

  • 1 small food brush. Substitute a finger if you don't have a brush.
  • 1 cookie tray, preferably lined with parchment paper, or lightly oiled (vegetable/ canola) to prevent wontons from sticking.
  • 1 teaspoon for spooning the wonton mixture into wonton skins

Wonton Ingredients
  • 1/2 lb of ground pork, fresh or well-thawed.
  • 2 stalks green onions, finely minced.
  • 1 tsp soya sauce.
  • 1 tsp sesame oil.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flake [optional].
  • Wonton skins (round or square), or square eggroll skins cut into quarters.
  • 1 cup of water, in a small dish.
Soup Ingredients
  • 4-5 cups of water
  • 1 cup of vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 12-16 prepared wontons (3-4 per serving)
  • 1 tsp soya sauce or oyster sauce or vegetarian oyster sauce (made with mushrooms)
  • 1 stalk green onions, sliced thinly on an angle.

Wonton Preparation
  • In a shallow mixing bowl, mix all of the wonton ingredients, except the last two, until items are well distributed. Do not overwork the mixture or it'll get sticky.
  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap, then dry them thoroughly.
  • Place a wonton wrapper on the parchment paper in the cookie tray. (You can also place the wrapper in your left palm - or right, if you are left-handed - if you don't want to use parchment.)
  • Spoon about 1/2 tsp of wonton mixture into the center of the wrapper. Don't overstuff or they'll explode in the soup.
  • Dip your index (first) finger (or food brush) into the water. Lightly dampen the edges of the wonton wrapper. Don't use too much water or the wrapper will get gummy. When the wrapper edges are slightly sticky, pinch them all together at the top to form a sort of tear-drop shape. Make sure that there is no open area, else the contents will leak into the soup. If the wonton does not stay closed, dampen its edges a bit more.
  • Place the completed wonton on a dry surface, preferably a plate or cookie tray lined with parchment.
  • Repeat the process for each wonton.
  • When all wontons have been made, you can put the plate or tray in the fridge until it is time to make the soup.
  • Note: The wonton ingredients listed above, in the quantities specified, will produce far more than you need for the soup recipe listed below. If you will not be using all the wontons the same day, place them in a flat food storage container lined with parchment. Don't stack the wontons or they'll stick together and rip later. Once they are frozen, however, you can stack them.

Soup Preparation
  • Fresh wonton soup only takes 12-15 minutes to make. (Note: frozen, pre-cooked wontons take 6-8 minutes.) Fill a cookpot or stock pot with the water and stock, add sesame oil, then set on a stove element at high. (If you will be adding more than 12-16 wontons, use a very large pot and about another 1/2 cup of water for every 3-4 wontons that you add to the recipe. You'll need to add a touch more seasoning as well.)
  • When water is boiling, add your dried or frozen wontons and reduce heat to medium high. Keep an eye on the soup, but avoid stirring or your wontons may break. (Don't add any salt. The soya sauce added later will be enough. You can also individually season each bowl.)
  • After 12 minutes, using a slotted spoon, remove one wonton to a small plate. Use a fork to cut the wonton open. If the meat is still a bit pink, let the soup cook for 3 more minutes. (Don't put the wonton back in the soup, unless you don't mind the ingredients leaking and making a mess. Otherwise throw it out, as the meat is still raw.)
  • When the wontons are cooked, turn off the heat.
  • To the pot, add a dash of soya sauce and stir the soup gently. If you like a slightly thicker soup, add a tbsp of oyster sauce - which is thick, so you want to make sure it dissolves before serving.)

  • Add the chopped green onion and ladle into bowls.
  • Serves 4.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

Tuesday, September 06, 2005 

A Chai Recipe

As with bubble tea, chai can be made clear and chilled, or left hot and have milk added.

  • Tea leaves or tea bag
  • Cardamom, whole pods
  • Cloves, whole or broken
  • Fennel seed [optional]
  • Cinnamon stick [optional, but recommended]
  • Dried lychee fruit or dried cranberries [optional]
  • Milk
  • Honey or sugar

  • To make chai the traditional way (hot, with milk), set water to boil.
  • Meanwhile, in a teapot or cup, add tea leaves/bag, a few whole cardamom, cloves, fennel seed, cinnamon stick, dried lychee fruit or dried cranberries. (Other spices are something you'll have to experiment with.) The amount you add depends on the quantity of chai you're making. For example, for a single cup of chai, 1-2 tsps of various spices and dried fruit is enough, or the drink will be too aromatic.
  • When the water is boiling, shut off the stove and pour the hot water into the tea pot. Let steep for 5-10 minutes, or longer for a stronger chai.

  • After steeping, strain the liquid into a cup that has a quantity of milk (at least a 1/4 cup for every 3/4 cup of tea). Honey is a very popular ingredient for chai. Its optional, but if you use it or sugar, add it now. Make sure the liquid is still hot enough to dissolve the honey (you can chill the drink after preparing it.)
  • Stir and serve, or cool in a pitcher for later.
  • If you want a frothy version, pour a portion of chai into a large container. Do not use a metal milkshake container, unless your hands have strong resistance to heat. Get another equally large container. Keep the two apart, vertically, by about a foot, and pour the chai into the second container as quickly as possible without spilling. Now pour from the second container to the first, in the same manner, and repeat until the chai is frothy. Drink immediately or sip, depending on your pleasure.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,


Bitesize 12 - Mr Tea

In India, tea is called chai or cha. The latter is also the word the Chinese use, as they introduced tea to India. However, tea is prepared differently in both countries. In India, the most popular form of tea is chai. Chai has become so popular in various parts of the world that it is now available in bottled form in a variety of flavours. In North America, tea's popularity seems to have had its heyday at the end of 1970s, after which time coffee appears to have become the more popular drink. (This is just a personal observation amongst the hundreds of friends and acquaintances and customers I've spoken to.) Now, however, Indian chai and Vietnamese bubble tea have become very popular in Canada and the US.

Bubble tea is like the Vietnamese equivalent of iced tea, but with fruit juice added. You can also have your choice of tiny cubes of coconut flesh or black, chewy tapioca balls (the so-called "bubble" part of bubble tea). Add milk if you like, and blend to make slushy, if you prefer.

Chai is also a very simple drink to make, but the street vendors in India make making it into a real display, causing the drink to froth up by quickly pouring it back and forth between two large glasses. The more skilled of the street chai vendors make it appear as if the drink is floating back and forth through the air between the two glasses.

Please see the next post for a chai recipe.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

Monday, September 05, 2005 

Food In Print - September 2005

After David the Wine Guy and I supped at Red Papaya Vietnamese-Thai restaurant last night, I visited a nearby newstand to find some food magazines and ended up with the September issue of "Gourmet" and "Food & Wine".

The September "Music" issue of "Gourmet" magazine has "Elvis' Favorite Recipes" listed as the first cover story. The issue has a variety of snippets about food and music, including the kitchen preferences of various celebrity chefs, including perceived bad boy Anthony Bourdain: "No Billy Joel, no Grateful Dead." British DJ Matthew Herbert is best known for his electronic dance tunes that sample various food ingredients, such as coffee beans, as noisemakers/sound source. Personally, despite composing in music a variety of styles, I prefer listening to heavy metal in a busy kitchen. I despise quiet kitchens.

Now while The King, Elvis Presley may be one of my heroes, it's the cover of the September issue of "Food & Wine" that really caught my eye. In addition to listing a "Complete guide to sushi", a piece on wines to drink "with Chinese takeout", and a coverage of the "best new Asian restaurants", the cover has a big photo of Vietnamese summer rolls and a bowl of peanut sauce. Vietnamese "star chef" Charles Phan, in a piece by Laurie Winer, shows how easy it now is to find common Asian ingredients in regular American supermarkets, then presents several delicious looking recipes.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,


Yang Chow Fried Rice, Vietnamese Style

I've lost track of the number of Oriental restaurants that I've had Yang Chow Fried Rice in. There is, however, a distinct difference in style between this dish in Chinese restaurants and in Vietnamese restaurants. In the former, it tends to be more like fried rice. The Vietnamese style is closer to steamed rice. The veggies are lightly stir-fried, then the steamed rice is added last, tossed a few times to mix up the ingredients, and voila, a rib-sticking, orally-satisfying meal. Different restaurants put in different meats. My dinner companion, young David the Wine Guy, selected Yang Chow Fried Rice with Chicken, pictured above.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,
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Vietnamese Spring and Summer Rolls

At left, crispy regular and pork spring rolls (deep fried). In the center, Beef Summer Rolls. At right, peanut sauce and shredded lettuce with julienned cucumber and carrots.

Summer rolls are usually stuffed with pre-cooked rice vermicelli noodles, lettuce, cucumber, and a choice of grilled meat. The wrapper is rice paper, which starts out as a dried, fragile transparent white disc that softens immediately when immersed in warm or hot water.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,
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A Bowl of Pho with Beef Meatballs and Rare Beef Slices

A delicious, savory bowl of pho with two types of beef. Add mint leaves, a handful of bean sprouts, and a squeeze of lime to round out the complex taste and textures. The broth itself is made in a gigantic stockpot that takes 2-3 people to empty at the end of the night. Ingredients include huge beef bones, whole chickens and other meats, onions, carrots, celery, and more. The broth is rich in vitamins and proteins and is reputed to be a great cure-all for many ailments, particularly colds.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,
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Sunday, September 04, 2005 

I Have A Dream -- Of Exotic Food Restaurants

A strange thing happened to me yesterday on the way home, after a long evening of blogging and reading blogs on the Internet at my local university. I'd been reading and scanning a number of cool food blogs including Pho-King, which is mostly about pho (prounced something like "fuh"), the thin noodles in soup broth served at Vietnamese restaurants. I've loved Vietnamese food, especially pho and the grilled meats, for a very long time. (Oddly enough, when I dated a Vietnamese girl long years past, we never once had Vietnamese food together.)

After reading the Pho-King blog about all the great pho they'd been having, I felt quite hungry and rather jealous that there wasn't a Vietnamese restaurant on my way home. I recalled, however, that there's a Japanese-Thai restaurant, Red Ginger, owned by a Chinese family and which is on my way home. In fact, they also own three "Red Papaya" Vietnamese-Thai restaurants, including one in my city (but which I cannot get to easily without a car). While walking home, enjoying the cool night air, I kept wishing that they served Vietnamese food at Red Ginger, too. So I figured I could satisfy my raging noodle-lust with some Japanese udon noodle soup or maybe some Pad Thai.

Upon being seated at Red Ginger, I opened my menu and saw only Vietnamese items. I blinked and looked again, expecting to see the familiar Japanese and Thai dishes. Surprised and elated, I jumped up and asked the young Canadian man who was hosting what had happened to the menu. Long story short, Trevor, the host, ended up sitting down with me while I enjoyed my Vietnamese noodles. He explained how he had been recently hired by the owners to help promote and expand the business, among other things.

Trevor spoke with so much passion about his restaurant dreams, which he shared with the owners, that I couldn't not listen. It was their plan, he told me, to have Red Papaya restaurants be as ubiquitous as, say, those various chains of popular Italian restaurants in Canada and the United States. His logic, which seemed sound, was that you could have a satisfying, healthy meal for sometimes half the price of other family-oriented restaurants, and thus their stores should be quite popular. And, he told me, he's had Canadians in their 50s and 60s who said they felt they could bring their parents for dinner. Vietnamese food isn't as mysterious as it might have been a decade ago. In fact, while Carribean and Japanese food were predicted to be the two hottest types of ethnic restaurants in Canada for this decade, I have seen more Vietnamese places open up in the last 4 years than Carribean and Japanese restaurants together.

It's nice to hear others talk about their food dreams. What was nicer still, in the course of our conversation, Trevor agreed to meet with a friend of mine, David the Wine Guy, who recently returned from 16 small wineries in France and Italy. These wineries have no representation outside of Europe, and are hoping that young David can build up a clientele for their wines. If things work out, the restaurants Trevor manages may carry David's clients' wines. Three dreams from one. How sweet it is.

Now if you've never tried Vietnamese food, look for a restaurant with the word "Pho" in the name. Venture in, ask for some meal suggestions, and see if you aren't hooked. Just don't touch the ultra hot "sriracha" sauce or the chili-seed paste. Unless you're insane like me.

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

Friday, September 02, 2005 

Bite Size 11 - Dining With The Enemy

In the midst of many philosophical discussions about food and human relationships, a friend once told me that, for the most part, people will never dine with an enemy unless forced to do so because of protocol or politics in general. Her explanation was that people are very relaxed during mealtimes. Their guard is down, and they are easy to communicate with. They thus want to sup with someone they trust. Anxiety is a bad sauce for digestion.

A spin-off behaviour, she also told me, was that the best place to pick up singles is in a grocery store or cafeteria. This is more relevant for single men, as single women enjoy helping a single man if they have a question about food. They've lowered their guard towards pickup lines in such places. At least, this was the case in the late 80s, when she told me this. However, more than one magazine in the past year says that young women love for a guy to know about food, even cook for them. On the flipside, oddly enough, with the exception of one woman, not a single woman I've dated has ever let me cook for them. (I presume I don't have to explain what was on their minds instead :? )

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,

Thursday, September 01, 2005 

Bitesize 10 - Grilled Bee, Anyone?

I don't normally eat outside all that often. I have a weird phobia about people staring at me as I eat. (But just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they aren't staring :D) However, this afternoon was so lovely that, on my way to the university library to do research, I stopped off at the grocery store and bought a few items. Then continuing on my way, I found myself so famished that I stopped for a bite. Sitting on a small wall, enjoy the lovely September breeze, I assembled a sandwich of grilled sausage, carrots and celery in a pita. On my second bite, I noticed a small, hovering striped object that nearly followed the sandwich into my mouth. Grilled bee, anyone?

I managed to shoo the striped critter away, but he wasn't on planning on leaving so soon. It took a few more shoos. Now if you're wondering what bee would taste like, it just so happens that I know someone who has tried various culinary oddities, including bee, tree grubs, and other items. Jesus, as we used to call him because of his long, straight silky blond hair and medium-length beard, was a world traveler. On a trip to Southeast Asia (the exact country escapes me), he was deep in the jungle with his native guides. With no food on him, and rather hungry, he accepted what his guides were roasting over a fire: bees and tree grubs. According to Jesus, both items tasted considerably like cooked shrimp in both taste and texture - particularly like the soft crunch of shrimp that leads to the buttery texture inside. Thank goodness I'm allergic to shrimp :)

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,


Bitesize 9 - Mr. Freezie?

My familiar, Aeric Sir Stinkybutt Half-A-Cat The Lion-Hearted Prince of Roo Zoo (so sue me, I'm weird :D), or Aeric for short, has the weirdest taste in food. He loves popsicles and those frozen tubes. He can smell me opening packaged food two stories down and always has to come and check out what I'm having. Some things he'll sniff and leave, but if I'm having frozen treats, he won't leave until I give him some. In fact, if I don't give him any, he helps himself. If I'm not paying attention, he'll lick the entire treat.

A friend of mine has a cat named Zeus who is getting on in years. Zeus used to be friendly to me when I met her about 10 years past. But when my friend got married a few years ago and her husband brought 2 male, attention-seeking cats to the family, Zeus was nonplussed and became a bit snobbish. But break out the potato chips and she'd even deign to sit beside you for a while.

How about you, readers? Have a pet with a weird food festish?

(c) Copyright 2005-present, Raj Kumar Dash,
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About me

  • I'm blogslinger
  • From Canada
  • Writer, author, former magazine editor and publisher, amateur photog, amateur composer, online writer/ blogger, online publisher, freelancer

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