Sunday, December 23, 2012

My Spicy Grenadian Christmas Part 3

Since all wishes come in's fair enough that this article comes to an end here. I would've have loved to have my list fulfilled but the truth is most of my local foods are not found here on the Mainland. The final segment features Sweet Potato Pudding. Interestingly, I never knew that sweet potato could be other colours besides grey until I got here (island girl meets world). For me, sweet potato was just another one of our 'provisions' that provided starch for a  meal but research revealed that sweet potato is worth so much more.

Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas) is only related to Irish Potato in name. Botanically, they belong to different families and whereas the first is a root tuber, the latter is a swollen stem. They come in a variety of colours, from grayish white, light yellow, rich orange to deep indigo. Compared to other starch providers such as rice, corn, cassava, potato, yam and plantain, sweet potato really stands out at a source of nutrition. Its fat content is negligible, and although high in sugars, it is very low in carbohydrates/starches which are harder for the body to break down. It is also very rich in minerals and vitamins. Actually, that's an understatement. The amounts of Vitamin A and C and beta-carotene found in sweet potato not only exceeds its starch rivals but even that of vegetables such as carrots. 

I spotted my first Chinese sweet p on the streets of Shanghai in the winter of 2010. The roasted beauties were a welcomed warmth to the biting cold. Not. Gotta be honest, the black dusty potatoes roasted in a 'from who knows where' oil pan with similarly attired sellers was NOT appealing. However, if it's anything like roasted breadfruit, then I am sure I can find an ounce of regret somewhere inside of me. I also understand that the Indians use it for sustenance during fasting periods and the Pacific Islanders depend on it like Chinese live on rice. In the Caribbean and Central/South America, where it is originated, sweet potato can be used as the main course or dessert. Specifically around Christmas time, the rich aroma of sweet potato and coconut is sure to give ham competition. I can't say that by the time it enters the pudding it still contains all its vits and mins but it definitely taste good and that's all that matters this time of year.

So that's all for the Christmas series...I am going to have me a very satiated one hope you do to..Ooh and check the pudding recipe below to experience the yumminess I did when I ate it.

Sun-shiny Sweet Potato Pudding 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Cooking @ Dawn.....

I don't know if this happens to other people, but sometimes I head to the kitchen with my groceries and whip up the world's most tasteless meal and then other times I strike gold. It's like I enter this alternate universe of cooking where my left hand is Rachel Ray and my right is my mom's  and everything is perfect. It started as I was cruising Pinterest and saw a mouth watering Penne Bake with Spinach and Tomatoes. I couldn't get it out of my head! Mind you, it's 4 am and I should've been in bed but my mind was already made up. I got my veggies ( I am vegetarian most of the time), my rice cooker and frying pan ( and I am very immersed in my college life)....and this is what I came up with.

University Veggie Lasagna (Servings: 2)

1 medium sized onion, finely diced 
4 medium sized cloves of garlic, finely diced
2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried pepper
3 heads of clove
1 piece dried ginger
2 medium sized tomatoes diced
1 cup pasta sauce
2 cups eggplants, grated
2 cups spinach looking plant (honestly, I haven't figured out its english name)
2 tbsp flour
4 lasagna strips, ready to bake
3 tbsp margarine
Salt and black peper to taste

4 inch deep dish glass container

 For the 'Meat' and Sauce:
1. Cover pan with a thin layer of oil at medium heat. Follow by adding 1/4 of the onion and garlic, clove and salt and pepper to taste. When they turn slightly brown, add eggplants and stir at a high heat. Leave covered for 10 mins at low heat. Stir again and re-cover for 5 mins. Place aside. 

2. Heat 1 tbsp butter in pan until melted. Add another quarter of onion and garlic, 1 tsp dried basil, oregano, parsley and pepper and allow to 'sweat' at medium heat. Add tomatoes and salt and heat until soft. Follow with tomato sauce and bring to a boil. Add 2 tsp of white sugar or honey to soften that acidic flavour. Mix in the cooked eggplant and place aside.

For the Cheese-less Cheese Sauce ( Dairy products are not very popular in China and I unfortunately ran out of cheese. But thanks to Malliard browning, I was able to attain a similar flavor. The secret is in the butter and the salt)

3. Heat remaining butter, seasonings and salt without allowing it to become too brown (It would be very unattractive).  Add a well mixed solution of the flour and water and heat until the excess water disappears and the mixture thickens. A creamy consistency should do it. (If you do have cheese, add 1 cup  of your favorite grated) Put aside, not much longer now.

Cooking the Spinach Substitute
4. Add a little oil to the bottom of the pan. Add your freshly rinsed spinach to the pan and stir until evenly coated with oil. Also add ginger and salt. The salt helps the water to come out of the leaves, therefore softening it. Cover and allow the steam to do its thing. When the leaves are tender then its time to bake.

Placing in the Dish 
4. Begin with one layer of lasagna, followed by 'meat' sauce, spinach substitue and the cheese less cheese sauce. Repeat, covering the last layer with a lasagna strip. If you're a student like me, you probably dont have access to an oven...soo.....stick your pie in the microwave at light wave or the high function for 5 mins. Depending on your microwave, you may experience some trial and error but I know you'll work it out.. 

Slice and enjoy !!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Part 2: My Spicy Grenadian Christmas Wish List

Continuing with the Spicyness of the season.....let's talk about Ginger!

2. Ginger (Zingiber Officinale)

Ginger Milk Fudge, Orange Ginger Chicken, Ginger Snaps, Ginger Beer.....My love for this spice goes beyond dreaming. It's the first flavor I look for when I need to satisfy my sweet tooth. This root food is available all year round in the Caribbean and doesn't need tending and watering like your usual plants. It reminds me a lot of those cute dogs that run around the village but you never know who they belong to.

This easy-to-find spice is very popular in the Eastern Hemisphere for its medicinal and flavor properties. Ginger gives a full punch of amino and fatty acids, gingerols, essential oils and minerals which is why you should be careful not to overdose. When I first arrived to China, my body took awhile adjusting to the environment. My food was a victim of quick exits and extreme flus would put me out of commission for weeks. One call to my grand-aunty back home and my problems were solved.  By drinking strongly brewed and sweetened ginger tea, my discomfort was reduced and I bounced back to life. The results were amazingly fast, even to my Chinese friends who still insisted that I buy medication. It has been proven to treat nausea, eases digestive track complications, respiratory track blockage and is still in preliminary trails for its effects on the circulatory. So basically, here is a spice that works wonders on all parts of your body.

The second great thing about ginger is its ability to move from the medicine cabinet to the kitchen. Chinese cuisine heavily relies on ginger and garlic for its meats, veggies and pickled treats. Indian curry uses ginger and one of her sisters, turmeric, to give it that signature taste. They are also known for their powdered teas. Those are the real deal! Half a tea bag cleared all the gas from my tank with out the embarrassing side effects and just taste really good!   

The reason why Ginger made my wish list is because no Christmas is complete with out................GINGER BEER!! And even though it's 3 degrees Celsius here..come December 25th, I will be drinking a tall, cold glass of ginger beer. 

WARNING: Please note that the recipe below is for the strong hearted. The ice will do NOTHING to ease the fire that roars through your chest. If you prefer a lighter taste, please use half the ginger prescribed.

Transcontinental Ginger Beer

4 pieces of large fresh ginger (yes..fresh is best!)
White sugar to taste
4 heads of clove

1. Peel and grate the fresh ginger. Place in a glass pitcher with the cloves, add hot water and cover. Leave to stand over night. This allows fermentation and adds strength.

2. Now it's the next day. Strain and add sugar to taste. More sugar makes the burn easier to swallow but careful, cuz a lot of that sweet isn't good for you.

3. Transfer to a bottle and freeze. When it's time to drink, allow to thaw and pour yourself what you think you can handle. 
This drink is perfect for card games and dares.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Spicy Grenadian China Pt.1

December's here...Best month ever!!! Parang is blaring on the radios, the minced fruits are getting that last infusion of wine and houses are getting their annual makeover; well back home that is. All these preparations come to a climax on the 25th - The birth of Jesus Christ. And since the most I'll be  able to celebrate is the start of my exams, here are the dishes and beverages that made it to my 

Spicy Grenadian Christmas wish list

1. Sorrel


Known to the Europeans as a medicinal herb and spinach sub, the Sorrel plant (Hibicus Sabdariffa) provides the go-to-drink for the holidays. You can find it in any bar or road side shop, and most likely in your fridge. They even make Sorrel soda!! Now you're wondering 'Who would ever drink spinach soda, besides, maybe descendants of Popeye'. Let me set you straight. Our early colonisers use the leaves but we prefer flower power. Luckily, Africans and Indians have been enjoying the entire plant since its discovery.

In China, the flower is known as 玫瑰茄 [meiguiqie] which roughly translates as 'rose pieces'. It is actually out of season by the end of September, unlike in the Caribbean, where it blooms just in time for Christmas. Memories of slashing away at thorns were painful but it was the only way to ensure that I got a sip of the spiked version of the drink, quite the privilege for a preteen at the time.

Naturally, Sorrel is very rich in Oxalic Acid, which not only gives the drink its tart flavour but leaves your pots mirror-clean. It also opens the appetite which is why you should ALWAYS drink it with a slice of black cake or salted ham sandwich. Most importantly, Sorrel contains flavonoids (a type of antioxidant), Vitamins C and B and Calcium linking it to reduction of cholesterol levels and possibilities of cancer. No wonder we get get away will all that overeating...Salted ham lovers you may just have a chance after all. 

Here are two versions of the drink. Whether you choose to use the white or red sorrel calyx, get ready to start a party in your mouth that won't end until you say so, unless of course, it finishes before you do. 

Grenadian Sorrel Drink (as Made in China)

50g dried Sorrel calyx
4 cups water
6 heads whole clove
3 tsp fresh ginger, chopped
1/4 cinnamon stick
Sugar to taste
Clark's Court White rum to bring all the flavours together

Bring Sorrel and spices to a boil and leave to steep overnight. Strain and add desired amount of sugar. Don't forget the white rum, its really isn't the same without it. Add ice and sip away....

Nafissatou's Sorrel Drink 'Mali-Style' 

50g dried Sorrel calyx
4 cups water
1/4 cup fresh ginger, chopped
1/4 cup mint leaves
Sugar to taste

Bring all ingredients except sugar to a boil. Finally, add desired amount of sugar. Aftering chilling, steady yourself for an explosive kick of gingery mint...3,2,1 Drink!!