Special Dish for the Week: Ratatouille Provençale de Nice

For the last Special Dish for the Week of 2013, I prepare an authentic version of this favourite dish in one of my favourite places on Earth—Provence in the South of France:

Ratatouille Provençale de Nice

Ratatouille Provençale de Nice

Ratatouille Provençale de Nice

When in Provence, where I currently am over New Year’s for my Book Writing Retreat 2013-2014 Nice, I take advantage of the local produce that my retreat companion picks up from the daily market while I make my way in from the airport, and make the colourful, nutritious comforting ratatouille.

Following the recipe now well-ingrained in my mind, I peel, grate, dice and slice some garlicgingeronion and red pepper. These I sautée, till soft, then browned, in generous amounts of cold pressed virgin olive oil. I add some chopped cilantro stems to enrich the base flavour. Plus some slices of red Thai chili pepper for a little added spice. Next is coarse dicing of zucchini—or courgette—and eggplant—or aubergine—which I add to the pot to make tender and juicy. Then, I coarsely chop some tomatoes, adding them towards the end, along with some chickpeas. I add more chopped cilantro, fresh basil, herbes de Provencethymepepper, and some salt—from my dried spice travel stash! I let all the veggies cook—covered, to soften, releasing and intermingling their plentiful juices—for about 1/2 hr.

For protein and carbohydrate source, I separately cook some jasmine brown rice with a dash of cinnamon. I serve the ratatouille next to the cinnamon rice, for a change of pace rather than on top, and enjoy with a glass of rosé.

Macaron and Baklava Dessert

Macaron and Baklava Dessert

For dessert, I enjoy macarons for the first time in all my travels in France (a little beat up by the time I get them to the apartment, but still tasty), with a side of baklava morsels left over from my journey from Vancouver.

Ratatouille Provençale de Vancouver

Ratatouille Provençale de Vancouver

Ratatouille Provençale de Vancouver

Back in Vancouver, for the first Special Dish for the Week of 2014, and in an attempt to keep fresh the memory of my visit to Nice, I make another Ratatouille Provençale.

This time, the cinnamon jasmine brown rice also includes the sweetly moist and delicious raisins. To the base ratatouille, I add some turmeric and black pepper for some variety and more anti-inflammatory action.

The star of this meal, however, is the wine glass from which I sip my red wine. It comes from Europe—Hamburg, to be more precise—by mail, no less! A gift for Christmas from my good Hamburgerin friend. It is customised specifically for me, and intended to accompany my Special Dishes for the Week. It has engraved on it a memory from our South East Asia travels: Santé, machine à manger! Yes, “the eating machine”—c’est moi, bien sûr ! How thoughtful—and how incredible that it made it all the way from Europe in the post, in tact!

Special Dish for the Week: Coconut Braised Cabbage with Chickpeas and Tofu

Turning once more to my favourite source of culinary inspiration, “The Modern Vegetarian” cookbook, I augment a base recipe with additional sources of vegetarian protein for this week’s Special Dish for the Week:

Coconut Braised Cabbage with Chickpeas and Tofu

Coconut Braised Cabbage with Chickpeas and Tofu

Coconut Braised Cabbage with Chickpeas and Tofu

The dish starts with the braising of coarsely cut Chinese cabbage in coconut oil. And I take the opportunity to learn what precisely “braising” means: cooking by browning in fat and then simmering in a closed container. That sounds about right given the steps I take—only my browning is on the darker side, but it still turns out tasting great!

While “braising” (or, slightly burning) my cabbage, I prepare some Jasmine brown rice in my trusty rice cooker, and chop an onion and cilantro stems, grate some garlic and ginger, and slice a red Thai chili. Per the recipe, when the cabbage is “braised”, I remove it from the pot, and sautée the chopped, grated and sliced ingredients, till softened. Then I return the cabbage to the pot, adding coconut milk, several dashes of Bragg soy sauce and a few splashes of maple syrup, to balance out the flavours.

Coconut Braised Cabbage with Chickpeas and Tofu Dish

Coconut Braised Cabbage with Chickpeas and Tofu Dish

Next goes in the protein: organic canned chickpeas and cubed organic tofu, which I stir gently so as not mash the tofu. I add some Thai basil and Kaffir lime leaves, which enrich the flavours and produce fabulous aromas. I let the flavours infuse and the cabbage further soften.

Serving alongside my Christmas wreath, over the Jasmine brown rice and with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, I delight in the rich flavours and very interesting contrast of textures between the firmer chickpeas, softer tofu, and softest cabbage that nearly melts in my mouth. I garnish with a few more Thai basil leaves and chopped cilantro leaves, which also add more colour to the dish for an even fuller visual experience.

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

Pre-Christmas Busy-ness

Christmas at Maggie's

Christmas at Maggie’s

In this pre-Christmas season, I spend one Sunday evening with the Just Write Vancouver Meetup group learning about the practical dos and don’ts of book publishing at a workshop presented by a highly knowledgeable and super helpful local book designer and producer. I pleasantly discover that “French flaps” is the proper name for one of my preferred covers for paperback books. Another tip gleaned from this lesson is to allow 3-6 months for book production once the book is written. After several years of writing, this step will seem to take no time at all!

I continue my education on the book production process and industry by attending a panel presentation of self-published authors, once again organised at the Vancouver Public Library. The stories of overcoming personal and social challenges that these authors have written resonate with me and my story, encouraging me that my story indeed needs to be told. Three main themes emerge for book production and promotion. Obtaining book reviews on advance copies before officially launching a book is critical to promotion. A noted advantage of the self-publishing process is maintaining of control by the author over the choice of book title and cover, as well as the composition of the book editing and production team. And, whether traditional or self-publishing, 90% of the marketing and book promotion is up to the author—so it is best to learn to like this part of the book production process.

My education intensive extends into learning the French language, when in the past 2 weeks I study, write, speak, and pass 2 sets of French tests for the Fall course. I look forward to continuing to practice it, and to the next course in the New Year. J’aime beaucoup apprendre le français, et j’aime même l’étudier !

I will get a chance to pratiquer mon français enconre during one of my two upcoming writing retreats that I have been beavering away to organize for this winter. Just for fun, the details shall remain top secret until my retreat posts in the near future. But needless to say, I am super excited to be setting aside the time, once more, for some concerted writing!

My Artist Date takes me once again to the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG), but this time I try FUSE: a live performance night. My favourite activity of the evening consists of indulging in a glass of wine as part of the roughly one hour queue for a half-hour playtime with LEGO! Immensely fun and super neat sensuous experience—completely physically and mentally consuming—as we work in teams of two to design and build multicoloured LEGO towers, which will eventually form a part of a Douglas Coupland exhibit at the VAG in May 2014. As my reflections during my writing clarify for me, I spent most of my life inside my head, and in some ways, I would like to learn to be more of a kid, living equally with the body—and this experience shows me that perhaps I still can.

Another Artist Date inspires in me a continued will to live, and to live with spunk, to the end, as do the “Fabulous Fashionistas” in a film from the UK. It, in deed, does not need to be too late to start something new, and to remind oneself to keep up one’s fabulous living.

Noel chez Maggie

Noel chez Maggie

The month also sees much Christmas-related activity, from decorating my apartment with lights from behind the crown mouldings, red bows on my 2 ficus trees, and cut cedar wreath for my table; to attending several Christmas potluck parties; and meeting with good friends and relatives for pre-Christmas visits. The season is shaping up to be much more enjoyable than around this time last year, when my plans were in flux to the end.

As a result of all these educational and social engagements, I hardly have the time for cooking, and other than snapping photos of my last few Special Dishes for the Week, I haven’t been documenting them—till now, by which time, I have nearly forgotten the secret ingredients that made these dishes uniquely delicious, ranging from French-Thai-Indian Fusion Ratatouille, and Shrimp and Peppers Stir-Fry with Lentils, to Cardamom Chickpea Muffins.

Special Dish for the Week: Cardamom Chickpea Muffins

For this week’s second Special Dish for the Week, I decide to try my hand again at baking, having received this intriguing recipe from my Pilates instructor:

Cardamom Chickpea Muffins

Cardamom Chickpea Muffins

Cardamom Chickpea Muffins

Two hours later, perhaps needing to use a less grainy flour than the Grist Mill oat flour I have on-hand from a friend, I confirm once more that, although a good chef, a baker I am not! The cardamom taste is fabulous, though, and the chickpea base remains my fascination! Moist, but crumbly. Black sesame seeds completed these muffins’ exotic-ness.

Cardamom Chickpea Muffins for Brunch

Cardamom Chickpea Muffins for Brunch

I even tried to follow the recipe quite precisely, other than switching the flour*, adding zest from only one lemon*, not two, and cutting the sugar in half* for 1/4 cup.

I may try making these again, with proper flour, cutting out the zest fiddling, and we’ll see if the beaten egg whites survive the cut. I would also just sprinkle the tops with straight cardamom and black sesame seeds.

Ingredients from the linked recipe:

  • 1 3/4 cups chickpeas (1 15 oz. can), drained and rinsed
  • Zest from two lemons*
  • Zest from one orange
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar*
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup whole wheat flour, sifted*
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/3 cup ground almonds
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 tablespoon ground almonds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

Meal ideas & recipes from http://enthusiasts.ciachef.edu/lemon-chickpea-muffins/

Special Dish for the Week: Shrimp and Peppers Stir-Fry with Lentils

Another Thai-French-Indian fusion dish, whipped up relatively quickly on another busy weekend, but saving me time while keeping me eating healthy for lunches during the week:

Shrimp and Peppers Stir-Fry with Lentils

Shrimp and Peppers Stir-Fry with Lentils

Shrimp and Peppers Stir-Fry with Lentils

Sautéeing sliced onions and chopped cilantro stems in coconut oil and with Thai green curry paste, I prepare in a stove top pot: a cup of red lentils and in my rice cooker: Jasmin brown rice with cinnamon. As all these simmer, I julenne my red and green peppers, and I defrost my pre-cooked frozen shrimp. I also chop a generous amount of fresh cilantro leaves for the eventual topping of this dish.

Shrimp and Peppers Stir-Fry with Lentils Dish

Shrimp and Peppers Stir-Fry with Lentils Dish

Once softened and translucent, the onion mixture receives the peppers and a sprinkling of herbes de Provence for further sautéeing. I season the stir-fry with some black pepper and Bragg soy sauce. When all parts are nearly ready, I add the shrimp to the onions and peppers to warm them through but not to overcook them. I layer the dish with rice, red lentils, and stir-fry, topping it off with the chopped cilantro leaves and black sesame seeds.

I serve it by candlelight, with the last of my French rosé, marveling once more at the combination of flavours and textures.