The first time I tasted muhammara, I was at my in-laws’ house. My husband’s mother is Syrian, she grew up in Egypt when it was still beautiful and tolerant and modern. It was through P’s family that I was introduced to the flavours of the Middle East and the Mediterranean. It’s truly a unique culture and I’ve found similarities in their conception and appreciation of food with the Asian food culture I grew up with in Malaysia. Hospitality wise, they’re the warmest of people you will ever meet…:)
Now, the muhammara is usually served as part of a mezze, which are small tapas-style plates usually served with alcohol. I think the preferred aperitif is Arak and it’s quite similar in taste, and effect, as absinthe. Muhammara is like the lesser known, but equally if-not-more-delicious, cousin of hummus and baba ghanouj. Made from a combination of olive oil, spices, roasted red peppers, walnuts, sometimes pine nuts and bread crumbs or bulgur wheat, it has multi-purpose applications. Everyone loves a good hummus but wait till you try muhammara. It’s slightly spicy, nutty and very tasty on top of pita breads, toasts, sandwiches, fresh vegetables, pasta…basically, you can put that <beep> on everything! Every household in the region makes this delicious concoction differently but it originates from Syria with the use Aleppo peppers.
Since Aleppo peppers are hard to come by outside of the Middle East, red bell peppers can be used together with other dried pepper varieties. In this recipe, I found that (surprise, surprise!) Korean chilli powder does the job wonderfully as a replacement for Aleppo pepper. It imparts a lovely bright red and smokiness to the dip. Now you know what to do with your extra chilli powder after making kimchi!
I was a skeptic when I first read this recipe at the Minimalist Baker. I was wary about because black bean is not a conventional ingredient in baking but the number of reviews raving about these brownies can’t be lying, right? They’re not liars because these black bean brownies are divine! These brownies are chocolatey, fudge-like in the centre and they are gluten-free; and completely vegan. Eating
them makes this Christmas feel, how shall we put this, like a guilt-free indulgence. Oh, don’t forget to lick the batter off the spoon, it’s safe.
The black bean brownie recipe takes 5 minutes to put together, if you have all the ingredients. If not, I suggest you buy the ingredients because they are multipurpose and great for health too. And you will make the batter in a food processor or a blender. My other brownie recipe is pretty awesome too. If you want something traditional and non-vegan, that’s the one you want make.
I’m a big fan of South Asian cuisine. There was a momentous time when I was growing up in Malaysia where I ate proper Indian food for the very first time. I was captivated by the plate-less experience as a large and green banana leaf takes the place of a plate. All of a sudden, five different vegetable side dishes were generously spooned around the leaf by an Indian guy carrying a large metal container with 5 compartments. Did I tell you that these vegetables were refillable, free of charge too? Another Indian man then swoops in to deliver scoops of steamy hot rice until you say ‘when’ and then with a large ladle delivers your choice of curried gravy: fish, chicken, dhal/sambhar and then he tops it all off with some papadum. Still in awe, a small unpretentious plastic plate arrives and on it, nuggets of crispy, caramelized onion fritters. It was a side of onion bhaji and it came with a sweet and spicy tamarind dipping sauce. It wasn’t an essential component to banana leaf rice, it sure was a decadent addition. I took a bite and it was crispy, sweet and spicy on top of a strong caramelized onion flavour. It was delicious!
I don’t get to eat banana leaf rice in North America. The closest I’ve gotten was a thali meal served on a metal plate, sometimes with a small square of banana leaf, and you don’t get to refill your vegetable side dishes. But I have eaten my fair share of onion bhajis around town in Montreal. And I have to say, I wasn’t very impressed with them. Most of them were just okay, all of them were over-floured. And so were my quests to make them at home. Then I found an onion bhaji recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Nation. The episode explored Gujerati cuisine in the UK. The method the Gujeratis use to make their onion bhaji floored me, it was simple and it made sense. The result was a crispy, delicious onion bhaji from my childhood and I have an alternative flour you can use if you cannot find chickpea flour.
This recipe makes approximately 30 ping-pong ball sized onion bhaji. read more …