Sourcing ethnic ingredients

Depending upon where you live, you may have a plethora of sources for ethnic ingredients available or not. It may be necessary to order items online or rely on people who are travelling to bring back special spices, etc. You may find, for example, that black lentils are not in your grocery store but are available online. However, with just a little more research you may find them tucked away in one or more local small ethnic groceries that most towns have. These shops may be stand alone or frequently can be housed in one corner of a restaurant serving that type of cuisine. I’ve been shopping for years at a little market which is in a corner of an Indian restaurant close to where I live. There are others, often tucked away and unless you know the restaurant or search online, you may not know about these little places.

The Indian market close to me has many ingredients that cross cuisines, so I wind up shopping for quite a few staples there. The rice is far better quality than grocery store rice, no matter the brand. There are many more brands and types of rice at this little store than at a grocery. I talk with the people who work there to find out what brands are most popular and/or the highest quality. A variety of lentils are available, as well as many hard to find spices and sauces. I especially like the produce at this little market, as the long, thin eggplant, fresh ginger root and hot peppers are far fresher and higher quality than what I can find in any of the grocery stores in the area, not to mention cheaper. Substantially so. It is wise to ask when their produce is delivered as there will be more variety if you shop the day of or day after the delivery.

By going there with one of my friends, I also learned that not all of the produce may be out on display. She asked the owner for some sort of vegetable and he brought it out from the back. I started using that as well, as I often need only a small amount of cilantro, not a giant bunch.

It’s well worth doing a computer search to find out what is available. I live in a medium sized city in the Southeast US and within 25 miles of me there are something like nine Asian groceries, more than twenty Mexican tiendas, fifteen to twenty Middle Eastern/Mediterranean markets, and several others. Who knew? So, do a search before you automatically assume you have to place an online order. You may just be able to find your ingredients locally and support local business in the process.

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Asian Style Chicken and Lettuce Wraps

There are many many recipes for Asian style chicken and lettuce wraps. My inspiration for this came from an article in the Winston Salem Journal recently. https://www.journalnow.com/home_food/lettuce-wraps-are-the-perfect-low-carb-vehicle-for-chicken/article_810d4239-7706-5602-8175-78be310d1607.html

Wraps are among the most versatile of food forms. They are often easy to put together and the filling possibilities are endless. One of the things I like most about something like this is that one does not have to be a slave to the recipe. There’s lots of room for creativity. These wraps are also frugal because you can use what is on hand and substitute ingredients according to your own preferences and what you may need to finish.

I have an aversion to running to the store for one or two ingredients. It’s preferable to try to be creative and find a substitute for the missing ingredients. Sometimes, that is not possible, the recipe would be ruined. But, in other cases, it is just fine. For this recipe, I was missing a couple of items, so I found some creative solutions. The food was delicious, and that is what we value the most.

In a small amount of oil, I sauteed the chicken until it was done. Then I added chopped scallions, diced water chestnuts, dried basil, juice of one lime, the grated rind of one lime; 2-3 T. of black bean sauce (instead of fish sauce called for in the recipe since I’m allergic to shellfish and wasn’t completely sure I could eat fish sauce safely;) soy sauce to taste and probably 1 T. of crushed red peppers. I also stirred in one large spoonful of crunchy peanut butter, as I didn’t have the peanuts on hand called for by the recipe. I also added a little bit of blush wine. I’m not really a fan of blush wine, but we had a bottle open and it seemed a good way to add a hint of sweetness and a touch of wine flavor. You could add chopped celery, cilantro, garlic. It would all be good. I just stirred in the seasonings and cooked until it was done. I served it with cooked brown rice and lettuce leaves. Delish!!!

I will say that you pretty much need to have bibb or buttercrunch lettuce on hand if you are going to wrap the chicken mix in the lettuce. Of course, it was really quite good just along side the rice. For what we had leftover, I reheated the chicken mixture and the rice and made a salad with the rest of my romaine and some other salad veggies which is what I had on hand when I made the dish. Not exactly the same effect, but it was good, quick, and tasty.

Velocitea: Game Changer for Tea Lovers

We love tea. We have been drinking tea for many many years. Because we do intermittent fasting and I cannot drink tea on an empty stomach, we now drink our tea in the afternoon and/or evening. Our intermittent fasting period is from about nine PM until about 12:30 or 1 PM the next day, so we do not eat breakfast except once a week when we take a break from intermittent fasting. But we like tea so much that we drink different kinds of tea in the afternoon and evening. There are some really high quality decaffinated teas and we usually drink those or decaf herbal teas at night.

This may look like an advertisement for Adagio.com’s Velocitea, but it isn’t. I just love my new electronic tea maker. It is so easy. We are big tea fans and prefer to use loose tea. I like a variety of teas-black, green, oolong, herbal. I think the popularity of the book, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane  by Lisa See has resulted in more interest in tea culture and tea-drinking.  (http://www.lisasee.com/books-new/the-tea-girl-of-hummingbird-lane/). Many of our friends are tea drinkers and I like to be able to make tea quickly. So, in my opinion, the best things about this teamaker are:

  1. It makes tea quickly.
  2. Water temperature and brewing times are specific to the type of tea you want to make.
  3. Both loose tea and tea bags work in the pot.
  4. Amount of water and tea are adjustable.
  5. The tea is very good.

I do think it is kind of pricey, but so far, it is worth the price. My daughter and son-in-law gave me a gift certificate to Adagio.com and I ordered it there. I had wanted this for a while, but had hesitated because it cost around $100.00 (if you pre-ordered) and then increased a little. Still that is not an insignificant amount of money. So far, I love it and recommend it to anyone who likes top quality tea on a regular basis.

Lentils: Ezo Gelin Soup

When people see “lentil”, probably the first thought for most of us is lentil soup. There are dozens of types of lentil soups, one of which I’ll share with you today.  Lentils are one of my favorite ingredients because they are healthy, inexpensive (at least for most of them) and very nutritious. For all of my adult life, we have always had lentils in our pantry. In the beginning of our life together, my husband and I went through some very lean years. Frugality became and remained a cornerstone of our life. Eating lentils provided us with good nutrition at an affordable price. We could always eat lentil soup and enjoy the meal. In many cultures, particularly those of the Middle East, there are countless lentil soups.  In subsequent posts, I plan to share some other really terrific lentil recipes including additional lentil burgers (see my Mushroom Lentil Burgers that taste great post from 2016) https://honeyandyogurt.com/2016/04/12/mushroom-lentil-burgers-that-taste-great) as well as lentil taco filling, lentil salads, lentil curry and stews.

Lentils are also a mainstay of plant-based eating, which is becoming increasingly popular for a variety of reasons. Plant based eating can be very healthy as well as very tasty.  Some reports indicate it can actually make a positive difference in saving our planet. See the recent articles in The Guardian for more on that. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/16/new-plant-focused-diet-would-transform-planets-future-say-scientists; https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/31/avoiding-meat-and-dairy-is-single-biggest-way-to-reduce-your-impact-on-earth

For today, however, I want to share with you my recipe for Ezo Gelin Soup.

  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1/3 c. rice
  • 1 big spoonful tomato paste
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 T. oil
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 7 cups water or vegetable stock
  • 3 T. butter
  • 1 T. dried mint
  • red pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, heat the oil and saute the chopped onion. Stir in the tomato paste and add the stock/water; the lentils, rice, and salt.  Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and let simmer until the lentils and rice are tender, probably about thirty minutes. If using an Instant Pot or pressure cooker, follow the directions with your pot (using the pressure cooking feature) and this part will be finished in probably 10 minutes. At this point, if you want a very smooth soup, use an immersion blender to puree the mixture. Add in the lemon juice and garlic and let simmer a few minutes more. Just before serving, in a small pan melt the butter until sizzling, stir in the dried mint and red pepper and let fry just half a minute before stirring the butter/mint/pepper mixture into the soup. Stir well and serve.  Enjoy

This is such a delicious soup. (This recipe and others can be found in my cookbook, Turkish Family Favorites . (https://www.amazon.com/Turkish-Family-Favorites-Helen-Akinc/dp/1519376979)

Fan of tofu? Not so much? Try baking or grilling it…

Tofu is one of the mainstay ingredients of a plant-based diet. If you haven’t seen the recent piece in The Guardian, take a few minutes to read it. Here’s the link. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/16/new-plant-focused-diet-would-transform-planets-future-say-scientists.

Regardless of whether you embrace the idea that a plant based diet will save the planet (although it seems plausible to me), reducing meat and focusing more on a plant based diet seems to have some health benefits. ( https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/plant-based-diet-for-heart-health). Certainly, as 2019 begins, many of us are evaluating our lives and trying to make positive changes to improve our health and well-being. Incorporating tofu into your diet can give you some variety and flexibility as well as nutrition.

Not everyone likes the smooth, silky gooshiness of silken tofu, although it is great in some types of custardy desserts. Try Williams-Sonoma’s recipe for Very Chocolate Mousse, for example (https://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/very-chocolate-mousse.html).  I made that a few years ago for company and no one knew that tofu was a main ingredient of the mousse until I told them.

But if you want to try something like tofu kebabs or Asian Inspired Wraps (found on Meatless Monday, contributed by Liz of This and That) (https://www.meatlessmonday.com/recipes/asian-tofu-wraps/) three things are key for success:

  1. Buy the right kind of tofu (has to be extra firm if at all possible)
  2. You must press it (not difficult, just takes a little time)
  3. You must season it before and during cooking.

Buying the right kind of tofu should not be difficult as groceries have all sorts of tofu now.

Pressing the tofu is easy. Most instructions encourage the use of wads of paper towels, a couple of cutting boards, and some sort of weight. I try not to use too many paper towels so I take maybe four sheets of paper towel, two for the top and two for the bottom. Lay a cutting board on a counter or table. Take some newspaper that you’ve already read and put say one section of the paper on top of the cutting board. Then fold the two sheets of paper towels in quarters and place on top of the paper. Next comes the tofu, another two sheets of folded paper towels, the second cutting board, and then some sort of weight. I used a metal canister full of flour. Set the timer for 30 minutes while you prepare the rest of the recipe. Be sure to check on the tofu press because unless the arrangement is perfectly balanced,  the tofu can be pressed unevenly which may result in the weight sliding off the cutting board. I like to use newspapers on the bottom because they are absorbent and keep the tofu juice from dripping all over the counter or even on to the floor. Just be sure to use paper towels between the tofu and the old newspapers for cleanliness and hygiene.

Season the tofu you plan to grill or roast or bake after  it is pressed and after you slice or cube it. Assuming you’ve pressed the tofu well, and depending exactly on how you cook it, you usually wind up with a very flavorful result of tofu pieces with crunchy edges and creamy flavorful insides. Delicious.

In a subsequent post, I will try to post my friend Rashmi’s recipe for Tofu kebabs. Do try the Asian Tofu Wraps; they are quite good. Expand your horizons! Try tofu!