Category: Food for Thought

Sensational Sweet and Spicy Sambols

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Being someone who loves a meal with many elements, Sri Lankan food was pretty much my dream come true. Every meal is served with plenty of sides: sauces, chutneys, relishes, and pickles, to make each bite unique and surprising. Sambol is the word for this seemingly endless collection of condiments, and I lost count trying to sample them all in a week.

I believe I mentioned in my previous post about Sri Lanka, how spicy the food is there. Like, blow-your-head-off spicy. And as if the curries themselves weren’t hot enough, the chili-based sambols on the side will certainly commit your taste buds to perplexing levels of pain.

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Pol sambol is the ubiquitous, fiery condiment served at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It is probably one of the simplest dishes to make, consisting mainly of chili, shredded coconut, chili, lime, and chili – did I mention the chili? Yea. This mix ranges from very spicy to volcanically hot depending on whose table you’re sitting at.

On the second day of the trip, my tongue seeking refuge in something, dare I say it, borderline bland, I discovered one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted – and it wasn’t bland to say the least, just not sweat-inducing. Seeni sambol, a fragrant, Sri Lankan caramelized onion jam, turned out to be incredible on everything from hoppers to curries, and could turn a pretty plain bowl of red rice into something remarkably special. I became totally obsessed with this sambol and it was the very first thing I attempted to make when I came home. I really cannot tell you enough how awesome this stuff is. Do yourself a favour and make a batch soon!

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The most memorable experience I had in Sri Lanka was learning to cook traditional recipes with two women in the local village. It was likely one of the most eye-opening culinary experiences I’ve ever had – not only learning from such passionate and experienced cooks, but seeing their traditional kitchen, tools, and techniques really inspired me.

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Take their stove, for example. A large clay bench with large mounds molded into it held the earthenware pots in place, and the heat underneath was adjusted by adding more sticks to the fire, or taking them away. Genius. Above the stove was a large wooden wrack to hang beans, seeds, and herbs for fast drying, which I thought was a brilliant way to take advantage of the residual heat. Ingredients were prepped on the floor, since it’s cooler down there, and also nice to sit while you’re working. The knife to cut veggies was actually attached to a stool, and instead of holding the blade, you hold the vegetables and basically drop them on top, slicing them in the air to fall onto a grass mat. The sambol was made by grinding all the ingredients together on a huge flat stone designed specifically for this task, and as such took all of ten seconds to prepare. Spoons were made from dried coconut shells. The plates were made of woven grass, topped with fresh lotus leaves from the nearby creek. The leaves protected the plates from the saucy curries, and when you were finished your meal, you’d discard the leaf into the compost, so that there was literally nothing to wash! I mean.

This day made me take a long hard look at how much stuff I use in the kitchen. Water, electricity, appliances – these women were literally using nothing but things from the earth around them and it made me wonder how we’ve come so far from that connection. Cooking has become so overblown, and it was this experience that reminded me to cook simpler and eat simpler. Get closer to the earth. I don’t have some grand solution, but it’s food for thought.

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I’ll share a few notes on the recipes…
You will likely think I’ve lost my mind when you begin the task of slicing two pounds of onions (#worthit), but I promise you it is the correct amount, and you’ll see that it cooks down to nearly nothing. I tried half this amount my first time and it just simply wasn’t enough. If you’re going to go for this, you may as well make a batch that will last you at least a few meals, right? Fresh curry leaves are a definite preference for this recipe, but I’ve never been able to find them here in Copenhagen so I used dried. They’re not great, but better than nothing. If you don’t want to gnaw on whole spices or curry leaves you can remove them after the seeni sambol is cooked, but it can be a bit of a treasure hunt situation, just sayin’. Once I’ve smashed the cardamom pods, I like to remove the outer skin and just add the inner seeds to the spics mix. I tend to leaves the cloves and curry leaves in since I like those bursts of flavour.

The pol sambol recipe I’ve written here is admittedly, a wimp’s version. I’ll admit that I can only tolerate spice until it begins to overwhelm the other flavours in the food, so mine is strong but still edible on its own. I invite you to go with your instincts on this one and dial up the heat to suit your tastes. If you can find freshly grated coconut (or a fresh coconut that you can grate yourself) by all means use that instead of the desiccated variety! Some versions of pol sambol include curry leaves, but because I only had dried I left them out. If you can find fresh ones, add about a sprig for this recipe, and crush them well before incorporating.

As far as serving these two sensational sambols go, they are pretty much great with All. The. Things. Rice dishes, curries, stews, soups, wraps, sandwiches, salads…I mean it! Once you taste them I’m confident you’ll find infinite uses for them. The first photo is of steamed brown rice and the Kale Mallung recipe that I wrote from the last Sri Lankan post – still a major fav around here. I love this meal for breakfast with a poached egg, lots of seeni sambol and, ahem, lightly sprinkled with the pol sambol.

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A huge thanks to Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts  and Sri Lankan Airlines for making this incredible trip possible!

Show me your sambols on Instagram#MNRsambol

Recipes and Tips for Healthy Travel

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travel
If there is one passion I have beyond cooking and eating, it is traveling.
In just one week I will be on a plane with my husband, heading for the tropical paradise of Kauai. It has been a dream of mine for many years to visit this Hawaiian island, and since my best friend is currently living there, I knew that this was the perfect opportunity. The only bummer about this incredible dream coming true? Oh, the 38-hours it will take to get there from Copenhagen. Yikes.

Yes, I love traveling, but I am not a huge fan of the in-transit time. Hauling luggage around. Layovers. Crowded airports. Until I actually arrive at my destination, I have my blinders on and my head down in total survival mode. You’d think for someone that travels as much as I do I would be used to all the schlepping by now, but I don’t think I’ll ever be in love with the line up at customs. It’s just not happening.

One thing I have happily mastered in all of my travel experience is the business of food. Just because I am in survival mode doesn’t mean I am eating questionably edible, pre-packaged sandwiches from the vending machine. No way. When this foodie is on the road (or in the sky), she comes fully prepared from door to door!

I take great pleasure in preparing my food for trips, and although it takes a little planning, am I ever chuffed cracking open my Tupperware of thoughtfully made salad, crackers, dip, and dessert, while other passengers are munching on mystery meat. More often that not, I end up sharing my meal with my seatmates, as they always ask about what I have with me. This leads to many great conversations – sometimes new friends – and I bet I’ve convinced more than one person that raw chocolate is better than their mini candy bar.

I posted a picture of my in-flight meal on Instagram during my last trip to Lisbon and the response was surprising: you want to know what to eat on the go! I am very happy to share my easy-to-make recipes that travel well if it means you’ll avoid schwaggy snacks eaten out of desperation too.

Now, I know that the list seems really long, but keep in mind I’ll be in transit for over an entire day and a half! And I eat a lot. And the last time I checked there were no restrictions on how much food you can take on a plane, just what you take.

Here’s what I am bringing with me on the epic trek across planet Earth:

Rice and Beet Salad (recipe below)
Happy Crackers
sprouts
Roasted Garlic and White Bean Dip (recipe below)
carrot and cucumber sticks
dried fruit
banana and pears
Simple Gourmet Granola
Mango-Cashew Sunshine Bites (next post!)

Here is what I’ve learned about traveling with food.

1. Pack foods that don’t need to be refrigerated. This one is obvious. All of the above items are fine out of the fridge for at least 24 hours. Soft cheeses, meat, and melty things are not the best choices.

2. Pack foods that will maintain good texture. I chose to make this rice and beet salad because the veggies will maintain their freshness and crispness throughout my journey. I find that all plane food is pretty one-note when it comes to consistency: mushy! I like to crunch on my food, so packing carrot sticks, cucumber, bell peppers, apples, sprouts, rice cakes, and crispy granola are always a safe bet. If you are going to eat greens, stick to romaine. Spinach, butter lettuces, and mixed greens wilt and get soggy. Also, pack foods in a specific order in your containers. With the rice and beet salad, you’ll notice that the rice and beets are on the bottom, while the romaine and cilantro are on top. Mix them all together just before eating and they will maintain their crispness for sure.

3. Pack foods that are easy to eat. I find sandwiches do not always fit in this category. If you do make a sandwich, keep the fillings small and non-liquid-y so that they are not oozing all over you when you take a bite. Sometimes I like to take a wrap with me because I can roll it up in a piece of parchment, which prevents dripping. Oranges and grapefruits are a bad call because they often require a hand washing. Also, don’t take foods that require knives as you can’t bring anything sharp in your carry-on, and you may have to wait for the food cart to come around before you can get your hands on utensils.

4. Be considerate. No one wants to sit beside Mrs. Garlic n’ Onions. Smelly cheeses, curry, and cooked cruciferous vegetables can stink up an entire plane with the flip of a Tupperware lid. The bean dip I made uses roasted garlic, which is far mellower and less offensive than raw garlic. The beet salad is rather inoffensive as well – the main smell is mustard, but it’s very mild. If you know that you’re about to drop a stinky food bomb, be thoughtful and eat when everyone else is so at least your smells are covered up by everyone else’s meal.

5. Avoid liquids. This is a no-brainer these days, but if you are going to take any kind of dip through security, make sure it can be turned upside down and not budge – think mashed potato consistency. It also really depends on who your security team is and what city you are in. Sometimes I get my hummus through one airport but I’ll be forced to toss it at the next one. It helps if the dip is not in a container with a weight or volume measure on the side and if it’s accompanied with veggie sticks, as pictured. If all else fails, playing dumb, smiling ever-so-sweetly and begging are seriously effective tactics. Remember, this is survival.

The following two recipes are very simple yet have been thoughtfully created for traveling.

The Rice and Beet Salad supplies you with whole grains for fiber, beets for cleansing your liver if you do choose to have a mini bottle o’ wine with your meal, walnuts for omega-3, cilantro for pulling heavy metals out of your blood, and romaine lettuce for vitamin C to ward off the flu from the dude sitting next to you. This salad has a high water content to keep you hydrated, and feeling like a human being when you land, instead of a zombie. The  Roasted Garlic White Bean and Tarragon Dip is flavourful, high in protein and fiber. The roasted garlic won’t be as offensive as raw garlic like in regular hummus. It is also much thicker than regular hummus so that you can get it through security!

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Prepare the salad and bean dip well in advance of leaving for your trip – the day before is ideal. You need to make sure all the ingredients are cool before you make both dishes, so that they will keep for many hours outside of the fridge. If they are warm when you leave, they may spoil en route.

 

Help with Jetlag
Jetlag is a serious bummer. When you finally get to where you are going and all you want to do is sleep is incredibly frustrating.

The secret to combating this very common affliction is staying hydrated and avoiding those things that cause dehydration. I’ll share with you my own little tips that get me through every time. In fact, I rarely suffer from jetlag at all.

1. Drink tons of water. The circulated air on planes is incredibly dehydrating. Drink as much as you can the day you are traveling before you get to the airport. Take a bottle with you on the plane and have the flight attendants refill it often, or ask if you can have their 2-liter bottle for long-haul flights. They usually give me one, as they find coming to my seat every hour to fill my bottle annoying.
For every hour you are flying, drink at least 500ml / 17oz. of water (I aim for double this). This sounds like a lot, but it helps more than anything else. Yes, you may have to pee a lot, but it’s good to get out of your seat anyway.

2. No alcohol, coffee or tea. Yea, yea, I’m a big party pooper, but I say this in your best interest. Alcohol and caffeine are also dehydrating, which will exacerbate any feelings of jetlag you may have. Save the celebrations for when you actually get to your destination instead of suffering through a jetlag fueled hangover. The worst!

3. Limit or avoid the plane food. Meals on planes are heavily salted and/or sugared
because food tastes blander at high altitudes. To dilute both salt and sugar, your cells excrete water and send a thirst message to your brain saying they need more fluids. Wine does not help the situation. Nor does a cold beer, an iced tea, or coffee. Drink water on the plane only, and stick to high water content fruits and veggies. If you are going to be eating on the plane, order a vegetarian non-diary meal in advance – it’s your best bet!

Preparation for Coming Home
As a final detail, if you can plan ahead to your home coming, it will make the end of your trip a lot more pleasant. For my last meal at home I make a large pot of soup or stew and cook extra to freeze so that when I arrive back I have a meal waiting for me to heat and eat. It seems like a small thing, but when I get off the plane tired and needing a hot, nourishing meal, I know that there is one waiting for me when I get home without any fuss.

I hope that these recipes and lists of travel tips will help you on your next trip. Bon voyage! And I’ll see you when I am back from paradise…Peace out winter!

Rustic Black Bean and Sweet Potato Soup + How to Cook Beans

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Who needs a solid warm-up? Yup, right here. It’s still winter.
To combat the never-ending chilly-ness, I have been living on soups. Easy-to-make, filling, nourishing, warming, and inexpensive – a big pot of hot lovin’ is the ideal way to make it through these last winter days.

This black bean soup is a favorite recipe of mine. I made it up on day at work, last winter I believe, and it was a real winner with the customers and the staff. The beans make it hearty and incredibly satisfying, and the vegetable ingredients are flexible – really just use what you have on hand.

The secret to this soup however, is cooking the beans from scratch. Yup, I said it. It’s time people.
Cooking beans from dried is a lot easier than you think. For some reason, everyone seems to be thrown off by the whole ‘soaking’ thing, and the idea that they may have to think about cooking something in the near future as opposed to whipping up a dish spontaneously. I get that. But the all-of-15-seconds it takes to put dried beans in a bowl and cover with water is about as difficult as velcroing your shoes. Ugh! Followed closely by the agonizing task of filling a pot with water and turning the heat on. I know, it’s a lot.
Can we get over this silliness? Thanks.

I’ve come up with a list that should further help to inform (convince) you that dried beans are your friends, because I really feel strongly about these little guys.

1. Cost – has anyone noticed how expensive canned beans are?! I mean, it’s kinda crazy. I think the number one reason to use dried beans in place of canned ones is the amount of money you’ll save. It’s like a bean sale everyday of the year – five for the price of one.
2. Health – dried beans are healthier because you cook them yourself and control exactly what goes in them. They are not sitting in can-captivity with ridiculously high levels of sodium, additives like calcium chloride, and the potential of being exposed to bisphenol A (BPA) through the can lining. Ever read the ingredients on a bag of dried beans? Beans.
3. Taste – honestly, once you cook your own beans, you’ll never go back to canned ones – you’ve been warned. The flavour and texture of home-cooked beans is light years beyond anything that has been sitting in a tin for months (or years). And instead of the completely mushy consistency that we often associate with beans (no wonder kids hate them!), dried beans cook up to a wide range of textures from al dente (for salads) to well-done (for soups and dips), depending on what you’re going to use them for.
4. Less waste – for the amount of food you get from a can of beans, the waste is huge. By purchasing dried beans you are doing a great service to the environment, as there is no mining for metal involved, no tree cutting or paper milling, no toxic inks, and no energy for recycling.
5. Variety – it is pretty difficult to find a can of Christmas Lima beans at the grocery store, isn’t it? How about Flageolets? Anasazi? Lupini? The beauty of buying dried beans is the enormous selection you’ll find! A whole world of legumes will be open to you and your lucky palette. Chickpeas, I still love you, but Jackson Wonders and Steuben Yellows got ya’ beat.

Cooking black beans from dried
Ingredients:
2 cups dried black beans
6 cups water
2 Tbsp. sea salt (optional)

Directions:
1. Place black beans and plenty of clean water in a large bowl and let soak overnight, or for at least 8 hours (Sarah B. tip: if it’s a workday, soak in the morning before going to work; if it’s the weekend, soak them before going to bed at night).
2. After soaking, drain and rinse the beans very well, making sure to remove any stones or debris that may have slipped into the batch.
3. Place beans and 6 cups clean water into a large pot. With the heat on high, bring beans to a boil, then reduce to simmer. At this point, there may be some foam that sits on top of the water– remove it with a slotted spoon.
4. Cook beans just until tender (this will vary greatly on your own beans, but for black beans you’re looking at approximately 40-45 minutes. The good news is, for this soup it doesn’t really matter how long you cook them for, as you will be pureeing a portion of them anyway.) Add salt and let beans sit in the salty water bath for another 10.
5. Remove beans from stove and drain with a bowl underneath the sieve to catch the cooking liquid (this is an important step for the soup).

Yay! You just cooked beans.

Note: this is the method for most bean cooking, with slight variations in cooking time depending on the bean variety. You can add salt if you like, but it’s not totally necessary. I find that if I am cooking beans for a salad for instance, it’s a very important step, as the beans won’t taste of much individually if they are not salted during cooking. In a soup or dip, you can season to taste at the end.

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Soup
Serves 6-8

Ingredients:
4 cups cooked black beans (from 2 cups dried)
4 cups cooking liquid or vegetable broth
1 large red onion
3 leeks
8 cloves garlic
1 large sweet potato
4 carrots
½ head of celeriac (celery root)
2 Tbsp. ghee/oil of your choice
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground corriander
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. crushed chilies
3 large tomatoes, diced or 1 small can tomatoes (14.5 oz / 400 gr.)
juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
2 Tbsp. olive oil
sea salt
cilantro

Directions:
1. Heat ghee/oil in a large pot over medium heat, then add spices. Stir until fragrant.
2. Add chopped onion, leek, and salt. Cook for a few minutes until vegetables begin to wilt a bit. Add garlic, the rest of the chopped vegetables and tomatoes. Stir occasionally.
3. Using a blender, immersion blender, or food processor, puree 2 cups of the cooked beans (approx. half the total amount) with 4 cups of the reserved cooking liquid (or vegetable broth). Add this liquid to the pot of vegetables along with the remaining whole, cooked black beans.
4. Simmer on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
5. Season to taste. Add the juice of 1 lemon, olive oil, maple syrup, and cilantro.
6. Serve immediately with a drizzle of cold-pressed olive oil, cilantro, and a chunk of cornbread (this recipe is wonderful!) Store leftovers in the fridge; freezes well.
(p.s. this is even better the next day.)

I hope that this soup gives you a very good excuse to try cooking beans from dried sometime in the near future. It really is incredibly simple, and I feel one of those satisfying culinary activities that perhaps takes you one step out of your comfort zone, but certainly one step closer to your food.

Copyright 2012 My New Roots