Special Dish for the Week: French-Thai-Indian Fusion Ratatouille

It turned out to be a delicious and flavour-bursting dish that I would like to make again sometime—if only I had had the time at the time to post it right away, thus recording accurately all the ingredients I added to make this dish so memorable—so, alas, I must rely on my unreliable memory of the tastes and on my pictures of the visuals for this version of a favourite dish of mine, previously in its more authentic form as Ratatouille Provençale:

French-Thai-Indian Fusion Ratatouille

French-Thai-Indian Fusion Ratatouille Dish

French-Thai-Indian Fusion Ratatouille Dish

On a base of Thai coconut oil and Thai green curry paste for the flavours and spiciness, I sautée the usual suspects: chopped onion and cilantro stems, grated garlic and ginger, and red Thai chili pepper.

While these soften, I prepare the Jasmin brown rice in my rice cooker. As part of the Indian fusion of this dish, I add a generous amount of cinnamon and raisins, adding a delicious sweetness to this otherwise rather spicy dish.

French-Thai-Indian Fusion Ratatouille

French-Thai-Indian Fusion Ratatouille

I slice up the eggplant and a couple of zucchinis, in relatively thin but large slices, and layer these onto the onion mixture. I let these cook till slightly browned, which at this point, they are also beginning to lose their shape. To complete this fusion dish, I add the requisite tomatoes (organic but canned) and the East/Southeast Asian origin straw mushroomsand naturally, herbes de Provence!

Served with a dusting of black sesame seeds and paired with some French rosé, I relish in the mélange of these complementary Euro-Asian flavours!

Storytelling Poems, Songs and Plays – with Poem

The Writer's 2013 NaNoWriMo Workspace

The Writer’s 2013 NaNoWriMo Workspace

November turns out to be popular for pseudonyming. It goes by Movember, and more related to my book writing efforts, also by NaNoWriMo. The National Novel Writing Month is an international event that encourages and supports writers and would-be-writers to buckle down and …well… write! It adds a social dimension to the solitary activity, by holding write-in sessions at coffee shops, pubs and other creative-inducing venues. I don’t officially sign up to the 50,000-word novel in a month commitment, but I do check out a write-in—partly because it happens to be at the Storm Crow Tavern—a medieval-themed pub in East Vancouver that I have been meaning to drop by. The decor of board games, swards, goblets, and yes, crows, is a feast for the creative senses, as are the menu items—I feast on the chickpea fries and gulp down the mead. The other dozen writers are super friendly and welcoming, and I observe in amazement how they create in an atmosphere slightly too rowdy for me. I plan to return to the Tavern, just perhaps not at peak gathering hour.

Storm Crow Tavern Write-in

Storm Crow Tavern Write-in

The novel, however, is but one means of storytelling. In the last few weeks, I contemplate three others—the poem, the song, and the theatrical play—for telling my own story and for the stories told by others.

I have found throughout my years that when I want to boil something that I need to say down to its essence, I write it as a poem. I turn to this technique for some parts of my story, for which the narrative form would perhaps be simultaneously too confining and too revealing. On another day, inspired by my good friend’s work and our related exchanges, I likewise capture my existential contemplation breakthroughs in a poem, entitled ““Simply Because”. And I marvel at my own accomplishment: how often does one contemplate the meaning of life and come up with an answer?!

One foggy day,
the meaning of life
emerged:
contentment.

The purpose of existence
crystallised:
to live,
simply because we can.

Everything else
is an evolutionary bonus.

Taking my contemplations down a few notches, I ruminate on the story being told by those who wrote it as a song and chose it as the National Anthem for my current home country, Canada. More specifically, I consider the exclusivity of two words, “our sons”, in reference intended to invoke Canadian patriotism among its nationals. What about those nationals who are not “sons”? Since recently becoming aware of this as an issue from a national CBC radio program, I reflect on what story these words in the Anthem—as well as the reactions of some people to efforts to make these words more gender-inclusive—tell us about our history, our present, and our future. I am confounded by the resistance and the apathy, alike. Yet history, which I learn in the process, reveals that those lyrics in this song were changed 100 years ago, in 1913, from referring more inclusively, back then, to “us”. It appears that we regressed as a nation of purported equals. Sadly, the story being told by this song is quite telling. More than pondering, I think I do my part by expressing to my politicians my support for restoring the original gender-inclusive wording in this story. Words are very powerful among our kind.

And it is a powerful quote about “always having the power, but just having to learn it for yourself”—which resonates with my own story—that entices me to attend the “Wizard of Oz” musical. Having missed this wise tale during my childhood in the Eastern Block, I only discover its creative genius first in 2010, through the London musical, “Wicked”, then through the 2013 film, “Oz the Great and Powerful”. My childhood memories are better reflected in the moving theatrical performance from Montreal, “Moi, dans les ruines rouges du siècle” (“Me, in the red ruins of the century”), which I see en français avec surtitres anglais au Théâtre la Seizième. This real life tale of Sasha Samar growing up in the 1970s and 80s in the Communist Ukraine jogs my memories of certain small and seemingly insignificant details in my own story, which I promptly capture in my story ideas spreadsheet upon my return home. I also find this performance so affective and clever, because it is written and played out by the very man whose life it tells. Though it is really a story of an ordinary man doing relatively ordinary things while he lives out his life in a setting very familiar to me, nonetheless it captivates me, and encourages me to believe that these stories are worth telling. There is another common theme that weaves through the stories of Oz, Sasha, and my own, and it can be summarized with a quote from “Wicked”: “…where I’m from, we believe all sorts of things that aren’t true. We call it—”history”…” This I, likewise, contemplated earlier, while writing in London during my Book Writing Tour 2013: what really happened?

I augment these various forms of storytelling, which constitute my inspiring Artist Dates, with the practical matters of learning the book production process and industry by attending a panel presentation of professional self-publishers organised at the Vancouver Public Library. I try not to get too discouraged by hearing that in getting a book published and in the hands of readers, writing the book is the easy part—at the moment, I simply cannot imagine it getting any more difficult, but perhaps the speaker was not referring to the writing of memoirs! On the other hand, I find that reading about the book publishing process on the internet is well enhanced by the physicality of local self-publishing entrepreneurs sharing their practical experience in-person. Once again I am heartened by my fortune to be already working with a committed and supportive Developmental Editor.

Zucchini and Black Bean Tagine Dish

Zucchini and Black Bean Tagine Dish

On the culinary side of cooking up my life’s adventures, three of my tried and true dishes make their encore presentation one weekend. This version of the Zucchini and Chickpea Tagine features black beans (in place of the chickpeas) and matching fun sprinkling of black sesame seeds. Not much can improve the Fig and Green Peppercorn Soup, so I just follow the recipe shared with me by my friend in Hamburg during my Book Writing Tour 2013. And once again, craving the seasonal fungi, I prepare another Mushroom Risotto with the Asian assortment of wilder looking mushrooms. And for this week’s Special Dish for the Week, I whip up a Split Green Pea Mini Bouillabaisse of my own invention. I wonder how capturing the essence of such culinary delights might read like in a poem…

Zucchini and Black Bean Tagine

Zucchini and Black Bean Tagine

Fig and Green Peppercorn Soup

Fig and Green Peppercorn Soup

Mushroom Risotto

Mushroom Risotto

 

Special Dish for the Week: Split Green Pea Mini Bouillabaisse

Still feasting on my frozen portions of some past dishes, I decide on a whim to whip up this week’s Special Dish for the Week, which is entirely of my own creation, inspired only by the memories of making something similar at a park picnic on a camping stove:

Green Pea Mini Bouillabaisse

Split Green Pea Mini Bouillabaisse

Split Green Pea Mini Bouillabaisse

This very simple, delicious, nutritious and colourful French dish of seafood in tomato sauce, I only slightly complicate by introducing organic split green peas that I need to first cook for about 20 minutes to soften. But the additional protein, texture, and hearty feel to this dark-n-chilly November dish are worth the extra pot wash.

While the peas are softening away, I prepare the sauce, starting with sautéeing chopped up onion, pressed garlic, and not so spicy red spur chili. Next comes the seafood: a mix of shrimp and scallops, which I cook through for about 5 minutes, being careful not to overcook. I then add the organic diced tomatoes, and season with herbes de Provence, rosemary powder, turmeric and black pepper, sea salt, and a pinch of saffron for added colour intensity. At this time the split green peas are ready to join the party, and the mini bouillabaisse is ready for tasting.

Split Green Pea Mini Bouillabaisse Dish

Split Green Pea Mini Bouillabaisse Dish

I serve the split green pea mini bouillabaisse over organic buckwheat soba noodles, sprinkle with some fun black sesame seeds, and garnish with nearly the last of my potted basil. Et voilà ! Il est près ! (It is ready!) I enjoy this dish by beeswax candle, with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.

 

Special Dish for the Week: Vegetables with Coconut Braised Red Lentils

I share this week’s Special Dish for the Week with a good friend at a dinner party that I host, taking a little risk with a new recipe that calls for parchment paper parcels but which I make as a casserole, and it even turns out delicious:

Vegetables with Coconut Braised Red Lentils

Vegetables with Coconut Braised Red Lentils

Vegetables with Coconut Braised Red Lentils

This multi-part and multi-step dish takes under 2 hours to prepare, taking all into account. As a base, I make protein-, texture, and flavour-rich red quinoa in my rice maker. Easy! For added flavour and fragrance, I toss a few kaffir lime leaves into the cooking quinoa.

While the quinoa cooks, I prepare the red lentils braised in coconut milk with a mélange of herbs and spices. Starting with diced shallots sautéed in olive oil, I add a chopped red Thai chili, grated ginger and garlic, chopped cilantro leaves, and cardamom powder (in place of lemongrass).

After a few minutes, I add the rinsed red lentils, coconut milk, tamarind paste, and Bragg soy sauce. I give the requisite lime juice a miss so as not over-sour the dish. However, I toss a few kaffir lime leaves into the coconut milk as well. To enhance the colour, flavour and anti-inflammatory effect, I sprinkle some turmeric with a pinch of black pepper. I add a little sea salt, too. Fragrance abound from the stovetop and the rice cooker, I prepare to blanch some veggies.

Asparagus, bok choy, and bean sprouts are dipped in boiling water for a couple of minutes before being immersed in cold water to stop the cooking. I lay these out in a pyrex dish, layering the blanched veggies, plus adding some canned bamboo shoots, chopped shallots, and cubed tofu for some added protein. When the flavoured, coconut braised lentils have softened, I top the veggies and tofu with a layer of this delicious now-paste (it really is yummy, just that part alone!). Covering the casserole with foil, I put it in the oven for about half an hour, hoping that the flavours will diffuse into the veggies and the tofu. I remain skeptical, but in the end, am not disappointed!

Table Set for Vegetables with Coconut Braised Red Lentils

Table Set for Vegetables with Coconut Braised Red Lentils

We whet our appetites with a small Sambuca apéritif while we let the dish steep a little in its own juices. Serving the baked veggies, tofu and lentils atop the red quinoa, most carefully, to maintain some semblance of appetising appeal—which is most difficult to achieve with a casserole at the best of times—I think I achieve the feat satisfactorily. My guest and I deliver our plates to the pre-set dinner table, and enjoy this somewhat surprisingly yummy dish with some Chardonnay and good conversation.

For dessert, we satiate the palette with a few squares of dark chocolate with cranberries and almonds. The evening ends with chamomile tea, more conversation, and a short, brisk walk to the bus stop to see my friend off. Now, I get to enjoy this dish and memories of the evening during my weekday lunches.

Meal ideas & recipes from Maria Elia’s “The Modern Vegetarian” book from a good friend.