Wednesday, November 30, 2011


There was a time which in the past I remember bean sprouts being a component of one of my oriental favourites - Eggs Foo Yung. See here. I can always get fresh mung bean sprouts and do when I prepare the Foo Yung.  The fresh are clean, crisp and fresh tasting whereas the canned have a – well, canned taste, are slightly less crunchy and include the customary added salt.

 I remember this chi-chi café which has these specialty coffees and light lunchtime salads and sandwiches, as well as pastries. It is before Starbucks is invented. One time we’re there and I get a turkey sandwich on “artisan bread” (I told you it was chi-chi). This sandwich has the eponymous turkey, a light, flavoured mayonnaise and so forth. But what makes this sandwich special is the crisp, crunchy texture along with a captivating hint of nuttiness derived from the fresh alfalfa bean sprouts contained therein.

Sprouts are alive, literally; and delicious on salads or can be steamed, sautéed (chi- chi term for “fried”) or used in stir-fried dishes.

If this isn’t enough good news, I find that fresh bean sprouts are low-calorie, full of vitamins and phytonutrients, and contain useful enzymes. Enzymes are very important because a lack of them is implicated in many diseases, including the big ones like cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis etc. Along with the enzymes, there are the proteins, good (complex) carbhohydrates, essential fatty acids plus fibre. Basically, sprouts contain all the nutrients found in fruits and vegetables and for all this they are quite inexpensive.

Sprouts are very versatile. Here are just a few uses for these tender bean shoots.
  • Chop and mix with soft cheese for dips
  • Chop finely and use with sandwich spreads
  • Put into grilled cheese sandwiches
  • Put into soups and stews just before serving
  • Use in omelets
  • Mix into rice dishes

Since sprouts are so healthy, regular consumption of them is a swell idea. Here is a recipe to get you started

Fried Rice with Sprouts                               serves 4

2 tablespoons canola oil or light olive oil
1 onion, minced
2 minced cloves of garlic, or to taste
1 stalk of celery, diced
1 cup of diced or sliced mushrooms
1 cup bean sprouts
1 scrambled egg, chopped
2 cups of day-old cooked rice
2 tablespoons soy sauce


  • Heat large skillet, add vegetable oil
  • Toss in onion, garlic, celery and mushrooms
  • Fry while stirring for 3-5 minutes
  • Stir in the sprouts, chopped scrambled egg and the prepared rice
  • Add the soy sauce
  • Cook till rice is hot

Day-old rice is best for fried rice recipes because it doesn’t stick to the skillet.

Get familiar with sprouts; they are a wonderful addition to your diet.

Monday, November 21, 2011


I buy this cookbook several years ago which enchants me as I see a very popular recipe therein. Called Steak Diane, it is all the rage in New York City restaurants back in the 1950’s and 60’s. This beefsteak makes a lovely entree but what sets it apart from other steaks is its distinct preparation technique. Like the popular Crepes Suzette, Steak Diane is a flambé dish prepared tableside on a trolley (called a gueridon). The theatrics of the tableside cooking coupled with the flaming cognac makes Steak Diane a dining sensation.

The flambé process offers a captivating demonstration for onlooking diners, but aside from that charming amusement it also improves the taste, given that ignited alcohol intensifies the sauce’s flavour. It does this through a chemical process called carmelization, which causes the sugars to undergo complex changes, whilst for our purposes results in exponentially more deliciousness. Alcohol boils in a pan at 212F but igniting it directly raises the temperature to 300F +, which in turn elevates the flavour aspect to a more celestial dimension. All right, enough already.

If you want to add some excitement to a dinner party you could serve this retro dish. Not only will your guests be enthralled by the flambéing, which they probably haven’t experienced for awhile, they will also savour the taste of this elegantly finished beefsteak. Flambeing is not complicated, but please observe basic safety considerations just as you would when lighting a fireplace or whatever. You don’t want to meet your local fire department by accident, ne c’est pas?

Adapted from Craig Claiborne of the New York Times cookbook:

Steak Diane                                       serves 4

4 (3-ounce) filet mignon medallions
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon clarified butter, or:
½ tablespoon butter plus ½ tablespoon olive oil
4 teaspoons minced shallots or the white part of scallions
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup sliced white mushroom caps
1/4 cup brandy
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup reduced beef broth
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

Bring the beef to room temperature. Season the beef medallions on both sides with the salt and pepper. Let sit 5 minutes prior to cooking.

Melt the butter/oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
Add the meat and sear for 45 seconds on the first side. Turn and cook for 45 seconds on the second side.

 Lower heat a little to prevent scorching. Add the shallots and garlic to the side of the pan and cook, stirring, for 20 seconds.
Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until soft, 2 minutes. Place the meat on a plate and cover to keep warm.

 Depending on how you want your steak cooked, you can use your hand to judge doneness. Take your non-dominant hand and press your index finger to your thumb. Touch with the other hand. That is how the meat should feel for cooked rare. Thumb and middle finger for medium rare, thumb and ring finger for medium and thumb and little finger for well done.

Off heat, tilt the pan towards you and add the brandy.
Tip the pan away from yourself and ignite the brandy with a match.
When the flame has burned out, add the mustard and cream.

Mix thoroughly and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
Add the beef broth and simmer for 1 minute.
Add the Worcestershire sauce and stir to combine.
Return the meat plus any accumulated juices to the pan and turn the meat to coat with the sauce.

There you have it. If it’s okay to play with matches you can make a spellbinding beef presentation that delights the eyes and the taste buds one after the other.

Steak Diane goes well with a simple sautéed potato dish or a rice pilaf. Just remember to observe caution with that open flame.

Monday, November 14, 2011


My mama used to make a tasty dessert that always sounded like “Bolla cheenta”, which is actually the Hungarian palacsinta. They were thin pancakes rolled around sweetened “pot cheese” (small-curd cottage cheese) with cinnamon and were always an extraordinary treat.

Years later I prepared palacsinta for a friend and myself and he said they were similar to Blintzes, a crepe recipe popular in Jewish cuisine. We got to talking about filled pancakes and realized they are found all over Eastern Europe with variations almost everywhere else. We agreed that the most celebrated crepe (French for “pancake”) preparation was probably Crepes Suzette.

Since I already love palacsinta, I try the Suzette variety. In the ensuing years I make it several times. Apparently I’m not the only crepe lover because all of a sudden there were cumbersome crepe-making machines everywhere and crepes became a fad.

Like all fads, the crepe craze cooled off, but not in established upscale restaurants. Crepes Suzette with its flambé preparation is always an exciting event for diners and onlookers. A trolley table is pulled up to the table and the dessert is prepared tableside.

Making crepes may be off-putting to some but are not difficult to make. It’s important to let the batter rest one or two hours in your icebox. Then the thin batter is poured into a greased pan and swirled to cover the entire pan bottom. Basically, a crepe is just a very thin cooked pancake. The first one may not come out well but the rest will.

The Suzette variation has flavourings and orange brandy is poured over the crepes and ignited. Crepes Suzette with the flamboyant flambé technique and the luscious taste of the crepes combine to make a spectacular dessert.

If you love desserts and are looking for something out of the ordinary with an entertaining presentation, I urge you to try this regal dish, supposedly invented in 1895 when served to the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII of England.

Here is my recipe, adapted from the Fanny Farmer cookbook.

Crepes Suzette                                        serves 4

1 cup flour
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cup milk
1 pinch salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Light olive or canola oil for oiling pans
Confectioner’s sugar for garnish, optional
Orange wedges, for garnish, optional

·        Mix the flour, eggs, milk and salt in an electric blender or with a wire whisk briefly, until smooth.
·        Add the melted butter and blend to combine.
·        Put the batter in the icebox for at least one hour. This is important.

4 tablespoons fresh unsalted butter, separated into four pieces for even melting
3 tablespoons sugar
Grated rind and juice of two oranges
1/3 cup of Cointreau orange liqueur

In a large wide skillet, melt the butter. Just when it is melted, add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Stir in the rind and the juice and bring to a simmer. Adjust flame to very low, or shut off until ready to serve the crepes.


Use a 6-inch skillet, lightly oiled using a paper towel, over medium heat.
Pour slightly less than ¼ cup of batter into the pan and swirl until fully coated.
Cook about a minute, watch the top get dry.
Turn and cook about 10 seconds.
Put each cooked crepe on a platter
The batter is thin like cream, if it gets thick thin with a little milk.
Make sure skillet is ready for each crepe by wiping with the oily paper towel.


Fold each individual crepe in half and put 2 at a time in the warm sauce. With tongs or a spatula, quickly fold crepes in half again. Repeat until all crepes have been added. Work rapidly so all the crepes can absorb the sauce equally.

Warm liqueur briefly in a small pan and pour over all the crepes in the skillet. Do not pour directly from the bottle.
With a wooden match or a long match, ignite the liquer. Remove the skillet from the heat.
The flame will burn for about a minute. When it’s all burnt and the alcohol is evaporated, put the crepes on dessert plates. Dust gently with the confectioners sugar (you could pour some through a strainer) and garnish with the orange slices.
If you prefer, you can certainly omit the alcohol flambe and the dessert will still be excellent. You could add a dash of orange extract to the sauce. Either way, try some Crepes Suzette, a grand old classic.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Chickpeas, aka Ceci or Garbanzo beans, are one of the earliest foods of the human diet. Falafel, its most popular preparation is vastly popular all over the Middle East. Besides being a wonderful meat replacement for vegetarians, falafel is just plain good groceries no matter how you use it; either as a delicious sandwich in pita bread or as a wonderful meatball substitute with tomato sauce.

Traditionally, falafel is made from ground-up, soaked, dry chickpeas. Falafel vendors selling this street food are ubiquitous in Egypt and Israel and plenty of other places nowadays. Even McDonalds, the hamburger chain, sells falafel in many places, where they are called “McFalafel”.

After cooking, the tasty falafel is put into pita bread with a cooling creamy sauce, or a tahini sauce. It is one very delicious sandwich.

Two things to ensure ease of preparation are:
  1. Be sure to soak the dried beans, covered with plenty of water, for 20-24 hours.
  2. Prior to shaping and cooking, thoroughly chill the falafel mixture for at least one hour.

Here is a traditional recipe I adapted from Tyler Florence.

FALAFEL                                                  serves 8


2 cups (500ml) dried chickpeas, picked through and rinsed
1 (5ml) teaspoon baking powder          
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, smashed

 1 tablespoon (15ml) powdered cumin
 ½ tablespoon (7ml) powdered coriander
 ¼ teaspoon (1ml) red pepper flakes or to taste

 ½ cup (125ml) of fresh parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
 ¼ cup (60ml) of fresh coriander leaves, coarsely chopped

 Salt and black pepper

Vegetable oil, for frying
8 warm pita breads cut in half.
Tahini sauce or a cucumber tzatziki sauce is real tasty
Shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, chopped cucumbers


Put the dried chickpeas in a large bowl and add cool water to cover by 2 inches. Soak the beans in the refrigerator for between 20 to 24 hours. This soaking is important. Rinse and drain thoroughly.

Put the soaked chickpeas in a food processor and pulse to coarsely grind, with no whole chickpeas remaining.

Add the baking powder, onion, garlic, spices, and herbs; process until the mixture is pureed; scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and be sure to refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Pour 3-4 inches of oil in a deep fryer or deep heavy pot and heat to 375 degrees F (190C). If using the pot, a thermometer is very useful.

Roll all the falafel mixture into balls 1 ½ inches in diameter. Carefully slip a few at a time into the hot oil, making sure they don't stick to the bottom. Fry until the fritters are a crusty dark brown on all sides, turning as needed, about 4-5 minutes per batch. Remove the falafels and drain on a rack or platter lined with paper towels.

Open the pita bread halves carefully to make pockets and put 4 fried falafels into each. Drizzle with the sauce and layer with lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Serve immediately.

Tzatziki sauce:

2 cups (500ml) thick Greek-style yoghurt
2 cloves crushed garlic
½ (2ml) teaspoon salt
¼ (1ml) teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ (60ml) cup chopped fresh mint leaves or one tablespoon (15ml) dried
1 large cucumber - peeled, seeded and shredded

Combine all in a food processor and blend thoroughly. Let chill 30 minutes. If you choose to use this, prepare it just before you make the falafel.

Falafel is a very tasty food, and goes great in a pita pocket. Try it, you’ll like it.

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