With my company Alberta Food Tours, Inc. I used to develop a different holiday shopping for food lovers tour every year for about seven years. One year we decided to celebrate Canada’s diversity and enjoy learning about how other cultural groups celebrate the winter season. Here’s a few recipes inspired by the deeply fun deep dive we took that season including some fun recipes for Chinese New Year.
Diwali is a Hindu and Sikh Festival of Lights. It’s a celebration of friendship, good fortune and the triumph of good over evil. Sweets are the highlight as they represent the sweetness of friendship. They are rarely eaten in these cultures at other times of the year but are shared freely in this festival when candles are lit and gifts to loved ones and good friends are shared.
I am fortunate that for many years my great Indian cooking mentor, Noorbanu Nimji, honoured me by making me my absolute favourite sweet thing, her Gund Paak. I think this is one of the most soul-satisfying things I have ever tasted, almost as sweet as her friendship.
In Noorbanu’s Ismaili Muslim culture mothers make it for their daughters who are post-partum. The new mother is fed a small amount every day for 40 days to bring them strength. In this darkest time of the year, sitting in the afternoon with a wee slice of Noorbanu’s Paak, I could always feel her motherly love towards me. I would have a cup of tea and gain the strength to do what I needed to do the rest of my day. Life is sweet with the blessing of a friend like Noorbanu.
This recipe comes from A Spicy Touch – Family Favourites From Noorbanu Nimji’s Kitchen. Tip: the first time you make this, make half a batch or even a quarter. You have to keep three pots of ingredients evenly heated at one point because if the jaggery syrup you are creating cools off, the paak will split and the butter will seep out. I learned this the hard way. Groan! Then, when my mentor Noorbanu Nimji gave me this good advice, all was well. Unless you are a pro like Noorbanu, start small and work up.
1 cup sunflower oil for frying the gund
5 ounces gum Arabic (gund), cut into tiny pieces
12 ounces almonds, coarsely chopped
4 ounces pistachios, finely chopped
½ – 1Tablespoons cardamom, coarsely ground
1Tablespoon fennel seeds, coarsely ground
1lb unsalted butter
1lb salted butter
1lb whole wheat flour
¾ cup wheatlets (sooji)
¾ cup gram flour
¾ cup medium flake coconut
¾ cup powdered skim milk
½ cup milk
½ teaspoon saffron threads
¼ teaspoon yellow powdered food colouring
1lb jaggery, chopped
7ounces sweetened condensed milk
2 ounces almonds, finely slivered
2 ounces pistachios, finely slivered
1teaspoon white poppy seeds
- Measure, chop and prepare every ingredient and have them all within easy reach.
- Heat the oil on medium in a small saucepan or wok and add the gund about 1 tablespoon at at time. When the gund pops, remove it with a slotted spoon and set it aside. Repeat until all the gund is cooked. Discard the leftover oil and any unpopped gund.
- Combine the chopped nuts, cardamom, fennel and nutmeg and set aside.
- Melt 1¾ lbs of the butter in a clean saucepan (save ¼ lb for later use) add and fry all the flours until golden brown, stirring continuously. Add the coconut and fry for a few minutes. Remove from the heat and add the powdered milk and stir for a few minutes.
- Heat the ½ cup of the milk, saffron and food colour in a saucepan on low heat and stir well to mix.
- Melt the remaining butter in another large saucepan and add the jaggery. Cook until all the jaggery is melted and starts bubbling. Remove from the heat and quickly add the saffron and milk mixture, return to the heat and cook for another two to three minutes.
- Add the chopped nut mix to the flour mix and return to low heat until warm through.
- Stir the jaggery mix into the flour mixture and cook until well mixed, stirring all the time. Add the condensed milk and lastly, add the fried gund and mix well.
- Transfer the mixture to a 12×8-inch pan and press it down with the back of a spoon.
- Garnish with the slivered almonds and pistachios while it is still warm and press them down with the back of a spoon, so they stick. Sprinkle with the poppy seeds. Tip: Let the Paak cool for 10 minutes and then cut it into squares or diamonds. Allow it to cool completely before removing the squares form the pan.
This Jewish holiday is celebrated for eight days and nights sometime in late November to late December on the secular calendar. In Hebrew, the word “Hanukkah” means “dedication” and it commemorates the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem following the Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greeks in 165 B.C.E. According to the Hanukkah story, once Jewish revolutionaries had retaken the Temple from the Syrians they wanted to rededicate it to God and restore its ritual purity. Eight days worth of oil were needed to complete the ritual purification, but they were only able to find one day’s worth of oil. They lit the menorah anyway and miraculously the oil lasted for eight full days. In commemoration of this event Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days and a candle is lit on the hanukkiyah on each of those days.
Potato Pancakes (Latkes)
Latkes are one of the most important foods of Hannakah as they are cooked in oil and symbolize a new beginning. For all things Jewish, I turn to Bonnie Stern’s cookbooks and in Bonnie Stern’s Essentials of Home Cooking (Random House, 2003) I found this great recipe.
1 onion, cut in chunks
3 large baking potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
3 Tablespoons cornflake crumbs
½ cup vegetable oil
Chop the onion finely in a food processor.
Add eggs and blend.
Add the potato chunks and pulse until potatoes are chopped into the egg mix and there are no large chunks of potatoes left.
Mix in the salt, pepper and cornflake crumbs.
Heat about quarter inch of oil in a large nonstick skillet on medium-high heat.
Add the batter by the tablespoonful, flattening the latkes with the back of the spoon.
Cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until browned and crisp. Turn and cook the second side.
Drain on paper towels. Repeat batches until done.
Serve with roast beef, lox or just sour cream, yogurt or apple sauce.
Chinese Hot Pot for the Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year varies each year according to the lunar calendar. This is the biggest Chinese holiday of the year and a time for family, gifts and ushering in good fortune for a new year. Lion dance parades, fireworks and feasting are part of the celebrations. Red packets with money are given to children. Chicken and Fish are popular dishes. Noodles are eaten as they represent long life.
I am sharing one of my favourite Chinese food traditions. It’s fun to share with a crowd when you want to eat slowly and visit. It’s Chinese Hot Pot or Fondue Chinois.
You can buy a stainless steel divided hot pot and propane portable burner at T&T Asian markets. They are inexpensive. You can also use your traditional fondue pot but the hot pots are open and easier to cook in. Buy some metal baskets for each guest. They are about 50 cents each at Asian markets.
Buy some scallops and shrimp and use the recipe for Ricardo magazine’s broth below to cook them. Buy some very thinly Fondue Chinois beef for the other side of your hot pot. Cook the meat and your favourite veggies. Make sure to make and offer all the dipping sauces as they greatly add to the enjoyment of the event. When people are slowing down on the proteins, bring out some Asian greens, enoki mushrooms, and thin noodles, refill the broth and make a light and lovely soup to finish the meal.
I am never without homemade chicken stock in my freezer. My recipe produces about 16 cups for the cost of a few veggies and herbs. I keep two plastic bags in my freezer. One is for saving chicken carcass bones and the other is for vegetable bits left over from my chopping board. I collect celery hearts, leeks, scallions, and onion skins. When I have about 5 lbs of bones I am ready to make stock.
3 bay leaves
6 sprigs of parsley
6 sprigs of thyme
5 lbs chicken bones
6 – 8 quarts cold water (warm or hot can seal and lock the flavor in the bones)
3 ribs celery
3 carrots, whole but peeled
2 onions, halved and any extra onion skins (they add a nice brown color)
1 apple, halved
Kosher salt – to taste
- Tie the peppercorns and herbs in a cheese cloth bag or place in a tea ball.
- Place the herbs, chicken bones, water, celery, carrots, onions and apple in a heavy-bottom stock pot. Tip: top up as needed until there is 1 inch of cold water above the veggies and bones. Bring the water to a slow boil and skim any gray scum as necessary. Reduce and simmer for at least 2 to 4 hours. Tip: Avoid a rolling boil as it will cause cloudy stock. Strain the broth and discard any solids.
- Return the broth to simmer for an additional 30 minutes if you desire a more intense flavor. Add salt to taste.
- Keep the stock in 1 to 2 cup containers in the freezer and thaw as you need them.
Chinese Hot Pot Broth
Now that you have your very own broth here is how to make it ready for Chinese Hot Pot. (Substitute organic store bought chicken broth as you wish).
2 Tablespoons canola oil
3 green onions, finely chopped
½ teaspoon chili flakes
1 Tablespoon garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon ginger, minced
1 cup white wine
1 litre chicken stock
- Warm a saucepan on medium heat and add the green onion, chili flakes and garlic followed by the ginger.
- Add the wine and stock once the above ingredients are fragrant.
- Bring to a boil and then transfer to the hotpot or fondue pot.
Tumeric-scented Hot Pot
The flavours of this recipe are incredible.
10 shallots, diced
2 teaspoons garlic paste
1 Tablespoon ginger, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon turmeric
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 Tablespoons canola oil
1 litre chicken broth
2 Tablespoons honey
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon sambal olek
1 teaspoon sesame oil
- Make a paste of the onions and garlic with the ginger, turmeric and coriander in a food processor.
- Fry the mixture in the oil for about 1 minute in a large saucepan over medium-high heat then add the broth, honey, tomato paste, sambal olek and sesame oil.
- Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer gently for about 15 minutes.
- Transfer to the hotpot or fondue pot.
Hot Pot Dipping Sauces
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon curry powder
¼ teaspoon turmeric
Whisk together all ingredients in a bowl and transfer to a serving dish.
½ cup hot water
¼ cup peanut butter
¼ cup hoisin sauce
1 Tablespoon ginger, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon rice vinegar
½ teaspoon hot pepper flakes
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
In a saucepan, bring all ingredients to a boil, whisking constantly. Serve lukewarm.
Mirin Chili Sauce
¼ cup mirin*
¼ cup rice vinegar
1 Tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped
1 green onion, finely sliced
1 teaspoon sambal oelek or hot pepper sauce.
*Tip: Mirin can be hard to find. It’s a sweetened rice wine vinegar and I find it at Korean and Asian markets. If you can’t find it add some sugar to rice wine vinegar.
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and serve at room temperature.