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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Jamaican Carrot Soup with Pear Relish and Fried Plantains

 Jamaican Carrot Soup with Pear Relish and Fried Plantain Chips

Jamaican Carrot Soup with Pear Relish and Fried Plantains
by Victoria Challancin

Apologies to all my readers for being such a poor excuse of a blogger over these holidays.  I was in the U.S. for a couple of weeks, and then enjoyed a two-thousand mile road trip with my son from Los Angeles to Mexico, just the two of us, talking, singing, looking at beautiful scenery, and generally bonding in a loving way.  Once back in San Miguel, the Holiday Season was in full swing...and now, here I am ready to catch up.  I do hope each of you had the Holidays you wanted and needed.

I would also like to offer heartfelt wishes for a New Year full of love, growth, good health, realized dreams, and peace.  Our planet needs so much healing, may it start in our hearts and our lives.  

I still have so many recipes to share with you from my last cooking course with Mexican cooks, that I hardly know where to begin.  So we'll start with this utterly delicious soup, rich with the flavors of the  Islands:  ginger, allspice, cumin, and chile.  This soup is a taste sensation with every bite--do give it a try when you need a little culinary thrill.  And for a bit history of Jamaican Jerk Flavors and my own family recipe for an unbeatable Caribbean Jerk Chicken, click here.

While I loved this soup prepared with carrots, I found myself imagining it made with either sweet potatoes or butternut squash instead.  Whichever vegetable you choose, feel free to play with and adjust to taste the amount of spices that go with it.  I think I also would have preferred cilantro to parsley, but that is just an individual choice.  I am giving you the recipe as written in Food and Wine Magazine, but you can be certain that I tinkered a bit with the fresh ginger and ground spices, as I never shy away from a bit of exotica.  I mean, subtlety may be required for a good blanquette de veau, but Jamaican Jerk and a rich Indian Curry really do need to sing in the mouth rather than sneak past you with their tails between their legs, unnoticed.

Often when I make plantain chips I use a trick I learned from Cuban friends, who fry them one time, drain the on paper towels, then flatten them with a spatula and fry them again.  Extra work, but worth it!  Some people also soak them in salty water before frying them.  I really do need to nail down the recipe for patacones, or fried plantains, from my Colombian friend, Adriana, who makes the best ever!

The chilled pear relish with spices and parsley

Cook's Notes:  This soup would be equally good with either sweet potatoes or a winter squash (pumpkin, acorn, butternut, etc.).  Of course you know me well enough by now to know that I doubled up on the spices in the main soup as they seemed incredibly stingy.  But then, I could be a spice savage or posses a palate that just requires a bit of oomph... I used habanero chile instead of Scotch bonnet, as that is what we have locally (both are incredibly hot, so use judiciously to taste).  Lemons weren't to be found either, which often happens here in San Miguel, and lime juice was substituted.  I doubled up on the plantain chips because I knew the cooks would want extras.  And how nice they were with the leftover pear relish, which if cut on the diagonal into larger pieces makes a lovely appetizer.

Recipe:  Jamaican Carrot Soup with Pear Relish and Fried Plantains
(Recipe by Marcia Kiesel from Food and Wine Magazine)
Serves 10
For the Soup:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds carrots, thickly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 to 1/2 Scotch bonnet chile, seeded and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
6 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
1 small red potato, peeled, and thickly sliced
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

For the Pear Relish:
4 firm, ripe Bartlett pears,, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

For the Plantain Chips:
1 large ripe plantain
Vegetable oil, for frying

Melt the butter in a large, heavy saucepan.  Add the carrots and onion and season with salt and pepper.  Cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened and golden, about 30 minutes.  Add the scallions, chile, soy sauce, thyme, ginger, cumin allspice, and nutmeg and stir until fragrant, about 4 minutes.  Add the stock, potato and bay leaf and bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer over low heat until the potato is tender, about 25 minutes.

Remove the soup from the heat and let stand for 10 minutes.  Remove the bay leaf.  Puree the soup in batches in a blender and return it to the saucepan.  Season the soup with the lemon juice and salt and pepper.

In a medium bowl, toss the pears with the lemon juice.  Fold in the parsley, allspice,and nutmeg.  Chill the relish.  

Peel the plantain and thinly slice it on the diagonal.  In a large skillet, heat 1/4 inch of oil until shimmering.  Add half of the plantain slices and fry over moderate heat until golden brown and crisp, about 2 minutes per side.  Drain on paper towels while you fry the rest.  Season with salt just before serving.

Reheat the soup.  Ladle into shallow bowls and garnish with the cold pear relish.  Serve with plantain chips.

Make ahead:  The soup can be refrigerated for up to 3 days and the pear relish for 1 day.  The plantains can be fried early in the day; reheat them in the oven before serving.

I will submit this post to Deb's Kahakai Kitchen's Souper Sundays event.  Check it out for some terrific soups, sandwich and salad recipes!
Parting Shot:

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Like life and love, recipes are meant to be shared, but please ask permission before using text or photos.  Thanks!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Happy Holidays!


To my Dear Readers,

Wherever you are, whatever your traditions, I wish for you a holiday filled with love, friendship,
and peace.

I've been traveling these past few weeks, doing a wonderful marathon road trip with my son, but I'll be back to posting very soon.  Happy Holidays!

Victoria Challancin
Flavors of the Sun Cooking School
San Miguel de Allende,

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Greengrocer: A Mexican Tienda

A large bag of cinnamon, or canela, quills

The Greengrocer
by Victoria Challancin

I was captivated by the word "greengrocer" long, long before I ever encountered one, long before I visited Britain, long before I dwelled among so many Brits of all sorts in the Middle East,  long before I lived in London with my cousin.  The name had charmed and delighted me from books--I was an English major after all and thoroughly steeped in English Literature and enamoured of the UK village life.  But here in Mexico, we, too, have greengrocers, or small local tiendas,--and they are my favorite places to shop, although we have big supermarkets as well.

I thought my foreign readers might like to glimpse a local Mexican family-run neighborhood store, full of everything necessary for la vida quotidiana, or daily life of the typical Mexican family.  Here are a few photos from one such tiny shop, Fruteria Gil.  The owner, Gil, shops in a nearby market town and keeps his fruits and vegetables very fresh.  In addition, you can buy soap, a few canned goods, dairy products, cold cuts, fresh tortillas (homemade and factory-produced), bread, soft drinks, some obligatory junk food like chips (crisps), and some products purchased in the large box stores like Costco or Sam's Club, which are about an hour away.  The total size of this tiny store is maybe three times the size of my kitchen.

A glimpse into daily Mexican life...

A tiny hanging pumpkin, an assortment of bananas, rice flour, and saltine crackers

An orange, a pumpkin, a few good apples, a bad apple, paper-wrapped pears, and can you guess the scaly fruit?  It's chirimoya (sometimes cherimoya), a tropical fruit popular throughout Latin America

OMG.  How thrilled was I to find maracuyá, or passion fruit, last week--we don't always get it here.  Note that it costs $35 pesos a kilo, which is about US $1.40 per pound at a 12.25 to the dollar exchange rate--also note the grapes and variety of apples

A side view of the cinnamon sticks, just to give you an idea how very long they are--at least 3 feet tall--also in the bag to the right are cactus paddles without the thorns, ready to cook
A melange of fresh herbs, lettuces, peppers, asparagus, and packets of chopped vegetables ready for a soup

Any surprises here?  From left to right, granadas chinas (Chinese pomegranates, Passiflora liguralis, Juss.), persimmons, and dark plums

The bulk bins of daily necessities:  dried beans, lentils, hibiscus flowers, fava beans, tamarind pods, bags of salt, and a few spices in packets on the side--you can also buy pumpkin seeds bulk, among a few other items

Continuing with the granadas chinas, persimmons, plums, kiwi fruit, and some green, out-of season mangoes

 Dried fruit pastes and candied fruits atop the deli case

 Also, homemade pickled manzano chiles with carrots and onion--and homemade granola

A rather poor, backlit picture of various chiles and cactus fruit--with tomatillos and tangerines or mandarins in the foreground  (The chiles, from l to r:  jalapeño, cristales, serranos, manzanos, and tunas  or cactus fruit)

Local blackberries, figs, and tejocotes, a sour fruit from the Hawthorn family which is indispensable to Christmas punch, or ponche navideño (see my recipe for this delicious hot seasonal drink here)

And a Few Photos from an Organic Store

I certainly didn't do justice to the local Via Organica, an organic store with a greengrocer section as well as many other organic items.  I really must do a tour for you of our local organic shops, but at least you can see photos of the local weekly organic market here and here.  The following are just a couple of pics I snapped while buying watercress and dill, not common in most local tiendas.

 Zucchini and fennel

And from the Via Organica Café:  Daily offerings ($75 pesos is about US $6)

A Parting Green Shot:
It is very common to see even clothing stores with a container of basil potted near the door.  Owners will tell you it is to reduce fly activity, but of course those in the know realize it is protection from the Evil Eye!

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved

Remember that like life and love, recipes are meant to be shared, but please ask permission before using photos or text.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Translations and a Very French Sandwich

Pan Bagnat

Translations and a Very French Sandwich
by Victoria Challancin

Wet bread just doesn't sound that tasty, does it?  Somehow, though, if you tweak the phrase just a weeny bit and call it "bathed" bread instead, you instantly have an exotic dish, swathed in mystery, begging to be explored.  Such is the nature of translation, a mere flick can turn the undesirable into sheer inspiration.

I'm trying to remember when I first tasted pan bagnat, a wet, nay, "bathed" tuna sandwich from the south of France.  I'd like to think it was in France, but I believe it was via my dear Maltese and British friends with whom I shared daily tea and weekend fishing sprees when I lived in Abu Dhabi in the mid-70s.  Probably, it was a slightly Maltese/Italian version of this specialty of Nice, France.  Perfect beach food.  Perfect cooling food for the searing heat of the Gulf.  Even the term "bathed" cools me off and makes me ready for adventure.

The term pan bagnat comes from the local Niçard language of Provence.  Sold in markets, cafes, and bakeries throughout the region, pan bagnat is a lovely marriage of Salade Niçoise and bread (pain in French itself).  A very wet tuna salad replete with anchovies, rich, oily tuna, local olives, marinated onions, capers, hard-cooked eggs, radishes, vinegar, and olive oil bathes the bread, producing the most delicious combination of delightful hot-weather goodness imaginable.  When weighted overnight in the fridge, this concoction reaches real perfection.  And as a bonus, the salad can be served, mushed together, as a crostini topper for a flavorful hors d'oeuvre.  Perfection!

Speaking of Translations...

Of course calling pan bagnat either "wet" or "bathed" is a simple matter of how one interprets the a local French dialect, with either term serving the same purpose.  Either term is fine, albeit one is more enticing.  However, translations can go amiss in other ways, by omitting one little letter, for example, and take you into dangerous, or at the very least, embarrassing waters, as in this little story of my early days in Mexico when my Spanish clearly didn't cover all situations.

When our son Zack was a toddler, we hired a lovely young woman to care for him while I was teaching/home schooling American teenagers who didn't fit into the Mexican school system due to language difficulties.  She was great, for the one day we had her.  After that one day, somehow she left us for green pastures and brought her aunt to work instead.  Desperate, we hired Amparo to watch our child while I worked in another room.  Poor Amparo had some hygiene issues that I didn't understand at first--not until I saw my toddler scratching his head.  Yes, the dreaded head lice had arrived in our home.

Off to the pharmacy I dashed, armed with my growing Spanish, ready to tackle any situation, or so I thought.

Me:  "Buenos dias.  Se venden penes finos en esta farmacia, señora?"

Sra:  (Smirking a bit, but very deadpan)  "No, señora, no vendemos nada de órganos masculinos aqúi."

Me, translating in my brain:  Organos masculinos????  Male organs?????  No, no, no...I madly thought midst much good-natured laughter all around me.

Well this all basically translates as:

V:  Do you sell fine penises at this pharmacy?

Sra:  No, we don't sell any masculine organs here.

Peine = comb     Pene = penis

So you see how afoul you can go by just tossing out one little letter?  You can imagine the giggles I get from my Mexican cooks if we cook the pasta penne (same pronunciation in Spanish) or calzones ("underwear" in Spanish).  Maybe one day I'll share how I accidentally asked my Arab university students in Bahrain to tell me all about sex when all I wanted to know was about the djin in the Quran.   Yes, translation is a lot of fun.

Cook's Notes:  I should have used a baguette instead of the ciabatta rolls, but because I knew in class we wouldn't have time to properly weight the bread and leave overnight in the refrigerator, I thought the lighter rolls would be fine.  They were a little soggy...a bit more than bathed.

Recipe:  Pan Bagnat, le French Tuna Salad Sandwich
(Adapted from a recipe from Gourmet Magazine, 2001)
Serves 2, but can easily be multiplied

1/4 white onion, thinly sliced
1/8 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil,plus additional for drizzling
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, plus additional to taste
1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 6-0unce can tuna packed in olive oil, including olive oil
Lemon juice to taste

One baguette, sliced in half horizontally with some of the inside removed
Olive oil to sprinkle
1 cut garlic clove
6 to 8 large basil leaves or baby lettuce
8 tomato slices
6 to 8 hard-cooked egg slices
4 anchovy fillets, drained (optional, but not in the South of France)
2 small stalks celery, sliced
1 can or jar of artichoke hearts, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon capers, drained and chopped
1 tablespoon capers, drained and chopped
1 cup Niçoise olives, pitted and chopped
2 radishes, thinly sliced

Combine the red and white onions with 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt,and several grindsof black pepper in a bowl.

Using your hands, mix and squeeze everything together for 5 minutes.  (Don'dt rush through this part; the onions need time to releaser their juices and mellow).  

Work in can of tuna in olive oil, including the oil.  Season with fresh lemon juice, red wine vinegar, salt, and black pepper to taste.

Sprinkle the bread with a little olive oil.   Rub with a cut garlic clove.  Place the basil leaves or lettuce on one half of the baguette.  Arrange 4 tomato slices on top.  Then add about half the tuna mixture and 3 to 4 slices of hard-cooked egg.  Top with anchovies, celery,artichoke, capers, olives, and radishes.  Drizzle generously with more olive oil and top with the remaining bread, pressing firmly.

Note:  You can eat the sandwiches immediately or weight them overnight.  To weight them, place the sandwiches in a dish, top with a plate or something flat.  Use something heavy to weight the sandwiches and store overnight in the refrigerator.

 An unadorned plate of pan bagnat, ready for eating

Parting Shot:
From my last trip to Paris...

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Like life and love, recipes are meant to be shared, but please ask permission before using photos or texts.