International Meals – China, Part 2: The Yangtze River & Its Environs

This time around, we’ll be trying to make a meal of dishes representative of the eastern areas of China around the Yangtze river.  This area includes the city of Shanghai, which is a blending point for many of the historical food traditions of China. As before, we’re going to continue to be guided primarily by Carolyn Phillip’s “All Under Heaven,” so we won’t be sharing recipes taken from that cookbook.

I started the day with an early trip to “T&T” a large Asian grocery store in neighboring Richmond.  Hunting for ingredients is half the fun, and we needed things like carp and lotus roots.  When I got to the latter, I patiently waited for the lady before to carefully inspect a number of roots before picking the right ones.  When it was my turn, I felt they deserved equally as much care, but… what the heck do I know about picking lotus roots?  At any rate, this one seemed fine:

Sliced lotus root

Now the good news is, several of today’s dishes didn’t need to be served warm, so there wasn’t the usual frantic scramble to try and assemble three or four unfamiliar dishes at once.  As seen above, we peeled the lotus root, and then sliced it as thinly as possible.  (Out of a sense of self-preservation, we got rid of our mandolin before moving, so the slices weren’t terribly consistent.)

Into the boiling peanut oil with them!

Frying lotus roots

And it turns out, that, although no one could possibly have predicted this, if you slice a root vegetable thinly, deep fry it, and then put salt on it, it’s really, really good!

Our second make-ahead dish was a braised vegetable dish.  Since both this and our entrée call for green onion oil, lets make that first.  Green onion oil is just oil in which green onions have been fried and then removed, leaving the tasty onion flavor.

Frying green onions

This was used to make a simple sauce, with soy sauce and sugar, which dressed some braised bok choy.
Chopped Bok Choi

After cooking until tender, the veggies went in the fridge to soak up the sauce.

For our main entrée, we picked a sweet and sour fish dish.  However, don’t think of this like a sticky Teriyaki sauce.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but the goal here is something a bit more subtle.

Sweet and Sour sauce ingredients

Sweet and sour sauce ingredients: (clockwise from left) Green Onion Oil, Black Vinegar, Rice Wine, Peanut Oil, Rock Sugar, Chicken Stock, and Ginger.

The fish itself was carp, a common freshwater fish, but not one I had cooked with before.  Fortunately, the nice man at T&T scaled it for me.  I think I’m still picking scales out of my hair from when I scaled one myself way back for Bangladesh.

Sliced Carp

The fish gets poached, which is definitely a straightforward process – boil water, remove from heat, put fish in boiling water with ginger, cover for ten minutes.  The residual heat in the water cooks the fish, and you don’t have to do anything but mix up the sauce, cook the noodles, and realize that that pot of rice you just started isn’t FOR anything, because you’re making noodles.

The noodles in question were marked “Shanghai Stir Fry Soup Noodles,” so we’re going to assume they were region appropriate.

Fully assembled, along with some more of the fancy tea from last week, the meal looked pretty good.

Full Yangtzee area meal

Tasted pretty good, too!  The vinegar sauce was subtle and delicious, and the carp definitely responded well to not being overwhelmed.  The cold veggies weren’t bad, and we sprinkled some of the fried onions on top for crunch.  And again – lotus root chips are amazing.

But what about dessert? Our original plan had been to make a cookie recipe from the same cookbook – “Sea Moss Sandies.”  But then we fell down a rabbit hole of different kinds of sea moss, some of which are native to… Mongolia? Jamaica? And some of which aren’t sustainably grown, and all of them kept forcing me to remind myself that I wasn’t making cookies out of semi-conductors. (Say “Sea Moss Cookies” out loud to an electrical engineer, then ask them to explain that last alleged joke.)

So instead, we decided to make red bean pancakes!  We made this decision early enough in the day that we had time to do a quick run out for some glutinous rice flour and red bean paste.  The process here is fussy, but not overly complicated.  Make a batter out of flour, eggs, oil and salt, and let it cool in the fridge. When it’s ready, make a bunch of extremely thin, crepe-like pancakes.

Spread red bean paste on the pancakes, and fold them into little squares. You can MAKE the paste instead of buying it if you really want to.  But y’all have fun with that.

Red Bean PastePancakes being assembled

Then you take the folded pancakes, and bust out the fry oil for the third time today.  There was definitely a lot of oil in this meal.
Frying red bean pancakes

Finally, dust with powdered sugar and serve:
Finished Red Bean Pancake

It may not look too fancy, but these things are super delicious, and very reminiscent of similar things I’ve had at Dim Sum restaurants.

Note that since the Red Bean Pancakes were ganked from the net, and not out of the cookbook, we can share the recipe:

Shanghainese Red Bean Pancakes

So there we are – our attempt at Chinese food from the Yangtze river area.  Not as hearty as the food from last week, but subtly seasoned and delicious!  Next up, the Coastal Southeast!


International Meals – China, Part 1: The Northeast

One of the many, many challenges with a project like this, as the numerous other bloggers who’ve tried it can attest, is picking recipes.  Picking recipes, and sourcing ingredients.  Picking recipes, sourcing ingredients, and avoiding cultural insensitivity. Picking recipes, sourcing ingredients, avoiding cultural insensitivity, and an almost fanatical devotion to the…

Oh, come in again.

Seriously, though, with SMALL countries, the trick is to pick something distinctive.  What really makes Macedonia different from Albania? With BIG countries, on the other hand, well, how do you narrow it down? And today’s country probably has among the most diverse food cultures on the planet. I say today, but the headline kind of spoils it – we’re going to slice this Gordian knot by making not one, not seven, but five different Chinese meals.

Why five? Glad you, the imaginary person who reads this blog, asked!  Historically there is a taxonomy of Chinese food where it’s divided into “The Four Great Cuisines”, Shandong, Huaiyang, Sichuan, and Guangdong.  There’s another one where it’s divided into eight, adding, Hunan, Fujian, Anhui, and Zhejiang to the prior four.  However, we’ve decided to follow the model adopted by Carolyn Phillips in “All Under Heaven: Recipes From the 35 Cuisines of China”, and make 35 different meals.

Just kidding.  Phillips makes the case that the “great eight” actually leave out a lot of the country, and you’re better off making a broad set of groupings by geography and cultural influence than just picking eight provinces and saying “Those are the good ones!.”  Obviously, there are a MILLION guides we could have picked, but we picked this one. So the plan is to make a meal each from Phillips’ five broad groupings consisting of: The North and Northeast, The Yangtze River Environs, The Coastal Southeast, The Central Highlands, and The Arid Lands.  (Map in the link.)

So for THIS meal, we’re starting with the northeast, including the capital, Beijing, and the provinces bordering Russia and Korea. Our menu included an appetizer of spinach and peanuts, scallion flatbreads, and a lamb stew.

First up, shopping!  I’ve said it before, but shopping for specialty ingredients in Vancouver is AMAZING.  Although the ethnically Asian population is so high, it could be argued that Asian ingredients technically aren’t specialty items.

At any rate, ingredients required for this meal that we didn’t already have included Chinese flour (lower gluten than Western), Sweet Wheat Paste (which is confusingly frequently labeled as “Sweet Bean Paste” even when it’s still made of wheat.), and ginger juice.

Turns out you don’t buy that last one, you just squish a lot of ginger.

We also went to a super fancy tea shop and asked for a tea that would go well with lamb.  We can’t read this, but it was really good. (It’s also not from the northeast, since they don’t grow much tea there.)

Bag of tea, labelled in Chinese

So to work though the dishes from least to most complex, let’s start with our appetizer, spinach and peanuts.  Roast some peanuts, blanch some spinach, toss with dressing, done. The dressing consisted of garlic, black vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil.  It was delicious, and not as salty as the equivalent Korean salad we sometimes make with miso, because I never remember to buy doenjang.
Spinach and peanuts

Next up, the lamb.  The dish, called “Tasimi” (literally, “It’s Like Honey”) was the main entrée, but was relatively simple to prepare – the lamb is marinated in ginger juice, corn starch, soy sauce, rice wine, and black vinegar.  Once it’s ready, you flash fry it  and then toss in sugar and wheat paste.  The wheat paste is a little sweet, but mostly just a blast of concentrated umami.

The result is a hearty, lamb stew that while being a little sweet and a little sticky, is MUCH less overpowering than the goopy stuff you get at somewhere like Panda Express. Much, much tastier, too.

Lamb Stew cooking.

Finally, let’s talk about the flatbreads.  Since the process was somewhat fussy, we didn’t get as many pictures as we would have liked.  The basic dough is just Chinese flour and water.  Combined with that you make a paste of shortening (or lard), salt, flour, and toasted Sichuan peppercorns.

Toasted Sichuan peppercorns. Oh lawd, why didn’t I think of toasting these things before?  They’re even BETTER that way.

Dough made, scallions chopped, and paste, um, pasted, it’s time to make bread!  The dough is divided into several pieces, which are rolled into long strips. (no picture of this part, sorry)  You smear paste and scallion on the inside of the strip, roll it up into a rope, and then roll the rope into a bun, as seen upper right in this picture.

You then roll the bun flat and the whole thing then gets fried in oil.

Chinese flatbreas

And here’s a picture of our final spread, including the tea:

Northern Chinese Meal

The meal was really excellent.  The lamb dish was something I could easily see making again, in particular, and spinach and peanuts turns out to be a great combination. No recipes for the next few entries, because we didn’t poach them from the internet, but if you’d like to follow along at home, here’s the cookbook.

“All Under Heaven,” by Carolyn Phillips

Next up, China! Then China, China, and also China!

International Meals – Chile

For this entry, we return to South America.  So far we’ve made two variations on empanadas, for Argentina and Bolivia, and a hearty bean and pork stew for Brazil.  Doing the research for Chile, I found lots of blogs talking about the great variety of food one would expect from a country that is as long north to south as the US is wide.

I also found an entire blog entry dedicated to how much Chilean food sucks. But that one mostly just reinforced my belief that I don’t like most travel bloggers. (Possibly due to jealousy, who knows?)

So let’s figure out how WE feel about Chilean food, shall we?  Turns out Chile has their OWN variant of empanadas, but we’re going to skip that, since we’ve already done that twice.  Instead, we’re going to make a beef and corn pie called Pastel de Choclo.

This week’s special guest new ingredient is a smoked chili pepper seasoning called “Merkén.” 

Merken seasoning

Specifically, it uses something called a “Goat’s Horn” chili. It is smoky and delicious, and I want to put it in lots of things.  Including a big batch of chili, but going down that road in THIS blog entry is going to get confusing real fast.  So where did we GET a whole bottle of this stuff?

A coworker recommended a Latin grocery store on my drove home from work, and I’d already stopped there once to stock up on whatever looked good – mystery tamales, some kind of mystery bread that looked tasty, some kind of mystery pastry that looked tasty.

All of which, it later turned out, were Chilean.  So we’d basically already HAD at least one Chilean meal this week, that we just hadn’t prepared ourselves. Also, the pastry was called a “Chilenito” which maybe should have been a clue?

Moving on.

To make this pie, ground beef is first simmered with seasonings and onions.

Ground beef and seasonings

In a separate pan, frozen corn is cooked in butter with basil and seasonings.

Once it’s cooked, you give it a mush with the immersion blender, then add milk and cornstarch, and cook it down a bit more to make a sweet, spicy, lumpy yellow mixture.

Beef and corn go into a baking dish, and the whole thing gets baked until it’s nice and brown on top. Standard additions at this point between the beef and corn layers would be hard boiled eggs, raisins, olives, or even roasted chicken breast.

(Shown here with a slice already removed.)

For our second dish, I really wanted to make razor clams with Parmesan cheese, which is apparently something that is extremely common in high end Chilean restaurants, and was introduced by an Italian immigrant in the 1950s. Sadly, although razor clams ARE to be had in Vancouver (yay!) they are not to be had for a few more weeks.

BUT – our recipe indicated that scallops with cheese are ALSO popular, and since the nice fish counter that didn’t have razor clams yet DID have dry scallops, that was a no brainer.

If you’re not familiar with “wet” vs “dry” scallops, “wet” scallops have been treated with an additive to make them keep better during shipping.  Said additive also basically makes it impossible to get a decent sear on them. This was the first time we had actually found dry scallops for sale, and we were VERY excited to see how they compared. (As it turns out, there’s just no comparison – these are infinitely better.)

As tempted as we were to just sear them and be done with it, however, this was a Chilean meal, and we were making a Chilean recipe.

OK, we just made the razor clam recipe, but with scallops. So an Italian Chilean recipe. Made by Americans. In Canada.  Whatever.

This involved making a sauce of butter, cream, white wine (Chilean, of course), garlic, and lemon juice, pouring it over the scallops, and then topping them with a big pile of freshly grated Parmesan.

After baking for a few minutes to cook the scallops and melt the cheese, we wanted to crisp the top a little bit.  Although the recipe didn’t specifically call for it, this seemed an appropriate time to break out the blowtorch. Amazingly, we didn’t get a picture of either the blowtorching itself, or a great one of the final product, but here’s the scallops in the background of the main dish:

Finally we needed a batch of what turns out to be a ubiquitous Chilean condiment, Pebre.  What chimichurri is to Argentina, Pebre is to Chile.  It’s something like Pico de Gallo, in that it uses tomatoes and cilantro, but the olive oil, red wine vinegar, and scallions are a departure from that template.

And yes, we used Sriracha in place of an authentic Chilean hot pepper sauce, but only because the Chilean grandmother of the author of the recipe said we could.

And oh man – this stuff is great.  That may look like a big batch, but we polished it off in two days.  It’s going into the regular rotation for sure.

The main dishes were also fantastic.  The smoky merkén seasoning really shined through in the pie, and the combination of sweet corn with spicy pebre and smoky meat was outstanding.  The scallops were…

Well look – they’re scallops, one of the world’s perfect foods.  With cheese. And a blowtorch. So basically the best thing ever.

Chile, we salute you!  Your food does not suck, no matter what annoying travel bloggers may say. We will be making pebre again in the near future.

And next up, we have the utterly impossible task of programming a single meal from one of the most diverse food cultures on the planet – China.

Pebre (Chilean Salsa)
Machas a la Parmesana (Razor Clams with Parmesan)
Pastel de Choclo (Corn Pie)

International Meals – Chad

OK, let’s just get this out of the way right now. “Chad” is an anglicization of the Kanuri word for “Lake.” So we can skip those jokes, right? Great!  Moving on…

This blog has been deeply indebted to the research of Marc Rinaldi, who we have been referring to as “Cooked Earth Guy” this whole time.  Well, he’s a real person, who is better at research, cooking, food photography, and writing than we are.  What he is NOT better at than us is publishing a new entry on a regular basis.  Probably because he doesn’t have his own blog to crib from, and has to do all the work himself.  I want to acknowledge how much we’ve appreciated all his work because…

…we’ve caught up with him, and this will probably be the last entry that steals his recipes.  His last entry, on the Republic of Chad, was published over two years ago.  Still – lets see how we do with it.

Chad is another country from Central Africa, so we’re going to see similar ingredients to last entry – okra, spinach, peanuts.  In fact, both meals could be described as “One Beef Stew and One Vegetable Stew With Peanuts.”

But there are differences, starting with our first new ingredient for a while: Jute Leves!

Jute Leaves in a bowl with the empty bag

Jute leaves, also known as Molokha, (and a ton of other names) are cultivated all over the world, but particularly in the middle east and Africa.  We picked up a bag at a middle eastern grocery store in Kitsilano. The bag had a penguin on it for some reason. (As far as we know, jute leaves and penguins are not co-located anywhere in the world.)

If you like leafy green vegetables in general, you will probably like these too – they’re a bit gloppy on their own, but as part of a stew, they have a lovely thickening effect, similar to okra. So stew them we did, with onions, garlic, and some beef.

Beef stew cooking

The vegetable and peanut stew used a very pretty assortment of vegetables:

Vegetable Stew in Progress

However, one big drawback of our Vancouver apartment is that unlike our old place, there’s only an electric range.  This makes it much harder to follow instructions like “bring quickly to a simmer, then lower heat.”  If you put it up high enough to come to a simmer within the next day or so, then it’s going to STAY at that heat for a lot longer than you’d prefer.

As a result, the stew both never really thickened up, while at the same time the veggies got pretty mushy.  It still wasn’t bad, but the peanut-to-things-that-are-not-peanut ratio looked nothing like the beautiful pictures on Cooked Earth.  Sigh.  Certainly the one we made last time for the Central African Republic turned out better.

Chadian Meal

The beef stew, on the other hand, was delicious, and jute leaves may have to become a regular freezer staple.  I wonder if we can get them with extra penguin?

All in all, it was a filling dinner, and we got a lot of mileage out of the leftover veggies by cooking other stuff and tossing them on top for the rest of the week.

So farewell, Mr. Rinaldi, and thanks for all you’ve done.  Next up, we head back to South America for the first time in a while, and find out what Chile has to offer us!

Recipes here:
Cooked Earth – Chad

International Meals – Central African Republic

On average, we’ve been doing one of these meals every few months because of all the work involved. So the idea of doing a second one four days later to… use up leftovers?? was a bit unusual.

But there you are.  We made WAY too much cassava starch to go with Cabo Verde, and it’s a more or less ubiquitous item in African recipes, so we decided to see if we could get the Central African Republic done quickly enough to use it as a side dish.

Which leads into something I want to be very up front about: We are aware that this blog is somewhat problematic.  We do not pretend to be experts on other cultures or their cuisines, nor are we amplifying the voices of those who are.  We are a middle aged, north American white couple who likes to cook and eat, and are documenting our experiences with one way of systematically trying new things.

But some of those new things are from parts of the world which have been treated so poorly for so long that their local foodways have either been completely undocumented in any sort of authentic way, or worse, have been actively suppressed.  It’s difficult enough for someone in Vancouver to determine what makes Macedonian food different from Croatian, and that’s just because research is hard; neither of those cultures were subject to the sorts of racism or colonialism screening us from a reasonably local description of what separates food in the Republic of the Congo from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

And that’s not even ADDRESSING the fact that most of those country borders were imposed by Europeans in the first place.

So, yeah.

We’re going to keep making meals and writing it up here, but it is what it is – a chronicle of us having a loose rule for determining new things to cook.  We are not presuming to speak for the peoples whose food we are attempting to approximate.

For a much more eloquent and detailed description of the issues this raises for CAR in particular we will, as always, refer you to the fabulous “Cooked Earth” entry for this country.

All that said, here’s some food.  One of the reasons we decided doing a second country on the heels of Cabo Verde would be doable is that the recipes we selected used relatively easily available ingredients.  (Except red palm oil, which we haven’t sourced yet in Vancover, so we let that one go.)  Two stews, one with beef, which would be considered a special occasion luxury in much of CAR, and another with spinach and peanuts.

The beef stew was pretty straightforward.  Simmer beef, onions, and tomato paste for several hours until tender.

Beef being simmered.

Add okra and a habanero (standing in for a Scotch bonnet pepper, which I have never been able to find ANYWHERE, including Vancouver) and cook until thick.

We are very happy the Dutch oven made it with us to Canada – it’s already gotten more than enough use to justify the weight and storage space.

The other recipe called for natural peanut butter, which we didn’t have any of.  What we DID have was raw peanuts, and it turns out you can turn one into the other pretty easily.  Roast peanuts in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes, throw into Cuisinart, done!

That done, the final stew was pretty simple – saute onions, then add spinach, tomatoes, peanut butter, and another habanero.

The finished dishes were delicious!  The beef stew was thick and hearty from the okra, and the spinach stew was spicy and filling.  Both went well with the cassava starch, but didn’t come CLOSE to using it up.  Seriously, we need to start making quarter batches of these cassava starch recipes, because they always make way more than we use.

These dishes were both so tasty, and used such easily acquired ingredients, that they’ll probably both make it into regular use in the future.  Regardless of the issues with how we got here, we acknowledge that this is some pretty good food, and appreciate all the folks who brought it to us.

Recipes here. Next up, Chad! (And then the unthinkable happens – we’ll pass “Cooked Earth” guy and have to go back to ripping off less meticulously researched sources.)

International Meals – Cabo Verde

We’ve moved!  After over a month of living out of a suitcase, a cross country drive, two weeks of quarantine, and a LOT of eating out, we are finally moved into our new place in Vancouver, with the kitchen set up and ready to roll.  And that means it’s time to continue our sojurn with the next country in the alphabet after Canada – Cabo Verde!

OK fine, so we didn’t notice Cape Verde changed its name.  Cabo Verde is a small country off the coast of west Africa that didn’t have an indigenous population before the Portuguese showed up, so the colonialism is a LITTLE easier to stomach with this one. (But wait until our NEXT entry.)  The national dish is a bonkers complicated stew called cachupa.  Now, we aren’t above attempting complicated stews with Portuguese names, but for our first time out of the gate in a new kitchen, we decided to start with something slightly easier.

We decided to have a go at a dish called Pastel com diabo dentro, or “pastry with the devil inside.”  I mean – how could you resist?

Turns out these are deep fried sweet potato and cornmeal pockets with a spicy tuna mixture inside them.  What’s not to like?

We started by chopping up raw tuna and marinating it with chiles, garlic, and vinegar:

Tuna marinating

Next, a quick fry with onions and tomato paste:

The blogger from whom we stole this recipe suggested that if he made it again, he might leave the tuna raw, which would be less authentic, but tasty.  I would tend to agree.  However, it was still tasty, and we only just seared it on the outside.

Next up, time to make the wrapper.  A few sweet potatoes were peeled, boiled, and tossed into the Kitchen-Aid (which seems to have survived the move intact, huzzah!) with enough cornmeal to make a dough.

Reading the recipe after the fact, it appears we were supposed to refrigerate the dough to make it easier to work with.  I wish we had done that, because it wasn’t very easy to work with.  Eventually, however, we got our little tuna and sweet potato pockets assembled.

And that meant it was time for another bout of trying to deep fry stuff without burning the house down.  But this time in an apartment building! In the meantime, we also rendered some pork and onions as a base for yet another cassava starch side dish.  This one, sadly, was no more exciting than any of the others.

But who cares about the starch paste?  We have TUNA SWEET POTATO CORN DOGS!  And they were AWESOME.  This recipe may very well get made again, even though it is a lot of work, because it is SUPER tasty.

As we often do, we let the nice author of “Cooked Earth” do all the research work for us.  Sadly, we’re only two countries behind him now, so it looks like we’re back to less exhaustive sources soon.  But here’s the recipes if you want to try:

Cooked Earth – Republic of Cape Verde

Next up, the Central African Republic.  And hoo boy, remember that colonialism we dodged this time?  Yeah…


International Meals – Canada

Happy shelter in place, everyone!

Part of the fun of this project has been visiting lots of random grocery stores, and hunting for exotic ingredients.  Since that’s not really a possibility during quarantine, it looked like we were going to have to postpone our sojourn to far off, exotic… (checks notes)

Oh wait.  No, we can do this.

We actually made so many different Canadian dishes that this one is going to be formatted a little differently than the others.  Instead of one big meal, this is broken up into two desserts and two main dishes, which will be presented in a culinarily logical sequence rather than the order we actually made them.

So first up – the dish that everyone EXPECTS us to do: Poutine!

There’s a million degrees of fancy that can be attempted here.  One of our usual reference sites ( was so sarcastic about poutine that they actually used a stock photo to accompany a recipe that included the step, “Feel ashamed that you didn’t try harder.”

However, we felt no shame.  We made french fries from scratch, including the proper double fry technique. (Low temperature to cook, high temperature to crisp.) We made a delicious gravy, also from scratch.  And we opened a 30 year old bottle of champagne to go with!
Poutine and Champagne
A word about the champagne. For the first 9 years of our marriage, I didn’t drink alcohol at all, so Leigh didn’t open many bottles of wine, as she’d be drinking them by herself.  I’m still more of a beer drinker, but I do now enjoy a glass of wine very occasionally.  What that means is that we have a small collection of bottles that Leigh has had with her for a very long time, all of which are of highly uncertain degrees of preservation.

We call it “Heisenbooze.”

And poutine DEFINITELY called for Heisenbooze, because… we’re moving to Canada! Appropriately enough, we’re celebrating the food of our soon to be adopted homeland.

The champagne was actually pretty good.  I don’t drink enough to be a good evaluator, but it tasted like champagne and still had some fizz to it.  I used the rest to make a cream sauce to put over shrimp and pasta the next day.

And the poutine was delicious! To heck with you, Cooked Earth Guy who has done 95% of our research for us and provided us with lots of good recipes and basically made this entire thing possible… On second thought, we just won’t tell him.

On to the main event, food wise. There’s a traditional Canadian holiday meat pie called a Tourtière.  I checked with a number of my friends from north of the border, and they all had things to say about this.  We went with a recipe from Food Network – Canada as a reasonably good choice.

First – scratch pie crust!  We’ve been doing a lot of baking from “Sally’s Baking Addiction” during this shelter in place, including an excellent lemon meringue pie. Since the recipe didn’t specify the exact pie crust recipe, we used that one again.Pie dough being rolled.

Next, the filling – there’s a million different variants for this pie, but the most common elements are ground meat, potatoes, and warming spices.  This particular version used ground beef, grated potatoes, allspice, and Worcestershire sauce.

Meat Pie Filling

Also a bay leaf, but I think that’s there for religious significance, since I’ve never figured out what they actually do.  Still, I continue to use them to appease the bay leaf gods, who are quick to anger if you don’t make the appropriate sacrifice.

Assembling the pie:
Partially assembled pie

Fully assembled unbaked pie

Once assembled, the top is brushed with egg yolk, and then into the oven it goes.  The result is as pretty as one could hope:
Finished meat pie

And the result was delicious!  Sadly, the lighting wasn’t as good for the photo of the final product, but trust us – it was great.
Slice of meat pie

So – two entrees down.  What’s up next?  Dessert, of course!  If you ask Canadian people what the most quintessentially Canadian dessert is, they’ll probably tell you “butter tarts.”  At least, that’s what they told us. So more pie crust it is!

Butter tarts are actually really simple – they’re little pies with a filing that, at minimum, consists of butter, sugar, maple syrup, and eggs.  And that’s it.  There are, of course, a million variants, including raisins, nuts, and other additions, but we went for the dead simple version.  No “in process” pictures, but here’s what we ended up with:

Butter Tarts

Note: Butter tarts are really hot when they first come out of the oven.  Wait longer than we did to try them. (Narrator: “They didn’t.”)

And then one final dessert, which is my absolute favorite Canadian contribution to world cuisine: the Nanaimo bar. (Edit: Here’s a great video on the history of the bars.) These things are really, really dangerous.  They’re a multilayer no-bake cookie bar.  The bottom layer is chocolate, graham cracker, coconut, and nuts.  Middle layer is vanilla custard.  Top layer is a hard chocolate shell.  We weren’t thinking about the blog when we made these, so no process pictures here either.

Which is a shame, because the process is actually kinda interesting.  You have to make and chill each layer one at a time as you assemble the dish, including tempering chocolate.  It’s all very fussy.  But then once it’s assembled, all you do is shove them in the fridge.

And then try not to eat them all at once.  That’s the hard part.

Nanaimo Bars

And that’s Canada!  Still a foreign country, but not for very long!

Next up, a country we SHOULD have done sooner, but we didn’t notice it had changed its name… Cabo Verde.

Tourtière (Pie Crust)
Butter Tarts
Nanaimo Bars

International Meals – Cameroon

We return to Africa this week, for a dish that seems to be universally acknowledged as the national dish of Cameroon – Ndolé, or bitterleaf stew.  Like most of these dishes (or, for that matter ALL dishes everywhere) there are a variety of recipes, but the key ingredient in this is… wait for it… bitterleaf.

Bitterleaf, or Vernonia amygdalina, is a member of the daisy family. It smells more like tea than anything else. Also, it is absolutely not to be found in Lansing, but fortunately isn’t too expensive on Amazon.

Other specialty ingredients this go-round include dried crayfish, slaked limestone, and a package which took pains to specify that the contents were not intended for people with fish allergies. Can you guess which ingredient in this picture is probably a poor choice for the poisson averse?

Cameroon ingredients

Clockwise from upper left – Bitterleaf, Dried Crayfish, Slaked Lime, and some sort of fish.

(hint – it’s the fish)

Fortunately, neither Leigh or I are allergic to fish, so into the pan our (checks package) milkfish would be going. So what if it’s not native to Cameroon – it’s a dried smoked fish. Close enough!

To start the process, three different things had to be soaked overnight, the leaves, the fish, and a quarter cup or so of peanuts. To start the cooking process on the day of, the leaves get boiled for an hour or so in a big pot with the limestone.  A word on the limestone – this is calcium hydroxide, and it’s the same ingredient used to make Mexican hominy, Chinese century eggs, and a number of other food processes.  I suspect we may need to come back to this bag later, and I doubt it’s going to go bad.

Once the leaves are boiled and drained, the next step is to to start onions and sliced beef cooking in one pot and the fish cooking in another.

Beef and onions in one pot, and chile/peanut sauce in another.

Top: sliced beef and onions. Bottom: Chiles and peanuts.

Dried fish being boiled


The third pot visible in the pictures is for the seasoning that goes into the stew, which consists of red palm oil (ubiquitous in our African meals thus far), ground peanuts, and habanero peppers. And the only reason we used habaneros is that their even deadlier cousin, the Scotch Bonnet, couldn’t be located. The resulting oily, spicy, peanut sauce was screamingly hot, but very tasty.

From here, the recipe just consisted of adding the various things into the stew at the right times for them to cook. So first the sauce, fish, and crayfish, then the leaves, and finally shrimp, which had the shortest cooking time. Incidentally, the English name for Cameroon comes from the Portuguese colonial occupiers’ word for “shrimp,” camarones.

Final cooking

In addition to the stew itself, we also made yet another cornmeal mush variant, and a delightful condiment called pepe. And by “delightful”, I mean “let’s toss in about 5 more habaneros to the mix.”  It’s super tasty, and I’ve been spreading it on sandwiches ever since… but only in very small quantities.


And here’s the final spread:

Cameroon meal

From left – ndolé, baked plantains, and fufu.

The picture shows some baked plantains, but I don’t really want to talk about those – they were pretty scorched.

The stew, on the other hand, was delicious. Spicy, bitter, nutty, and hearty, with the bitterness of the leaves offsetting the richness of the beef and shrimp, and the spicy peanut sauce pulling everything together. I would absolutely make this again. (And we have two more fish in the freezer so it may be a necessity.)

Once more, the recipes come from the excellent “Cooked Earth” blog. Next up – far off, exotic… Canada.

Recipes: Cooked Earth: Cameroon

International Meals – Cambodia

Cambodia was our second or third foray to southeast Asia, depending on how you count Bangladesh.  As always, the question was, “What makes this country different from the one next to it?  What will make this a Cambodian meal rather than a Vietnamese or Thai one?”  And the answer in this case seems to be prahok. What is prahok, you ask?

Mud fish sauce.

Cambodian mud fish paste

If you’re familiar with standard Asian fish sauce, such as Oyster brand, this is not that.  Rather it is a thick paste, and is VERY aromatic.  For the big pot of stew we were going to make, only two tablespoons were going in, and that was plenty. But everywhere I read agreed – THIS is what makes a dish uniquely Cambodian.

That, and a spice blend called kroeung. Spice pastes are common in southeast Asian cuisine.  I’ve made any number for Thai dishes.  This one, however, called for an ingredient I’d never encountered before: fingerroot.  Fingerroot is a rhizome, like ginger or tumeric.  In fact, the package I found (at an Asian grocer over an hour away), was only labelled “rhizome.”  I had to google the Thai characters to verify that I was, in fact, holding the correct product.

From top to bottom – Garlic, Fingerroot, Gallangal, Lemongrass, Kaffir Lime Leaves, and Tumeric.

In addition to fingerroot, the paste called for a number of other ingredients familiar from Thai cuisine, including gallangal, lemon grass, and keffir lime leaves.  (If you’ve not tried using these leaves in cooking, they are amazingly potent, and worth seeking out.)

One of these days, we really MUST get a larger mortar and pestle, as our little one took a WHILE to reduce everything seen here to a mush:

Kroeung - Cambodian spice blend

So, now that we have our kroeung and our prahok, what’s for dinner?

A leading contender for “national dish of Cambodia” turns out to be a veggie stew called (with a MILLION different possible spellings) Somlor Kor Ko, which literally means “stirring soup.”  There are also as many different ways to MAKE it as there are to SPELL it.  I finally settled on a recipe (linked below) which had the advantages of a) using actual quantities, instead of phrases like “use a mix of vegetables” and b) NOT using random herbs that I can’t even figure out the English translation for, let alone figure out where to acquire them. (“Angkeadei?” “Mrum?”)

Instead, our vegetables are going to be eggplants, small Thai ones and large Chinese ones, green beans, and shredded green papaya, and our protein will be pork and tilapia. (Catfish would be ideal, but the store was out.)


First though, we have to toast some rice:

Toasting Rice

This is glutinous or “sticky” rice. Not so sticky when dry, but when roasted and ground, it becomes a thickening agent common to many southeast Asian cuisines.  It’s not hard to do, but it takes a while, and you have to stir the whole time so it doesn’t scorch.

After all this preparation of ingredients, the actual cooking was pretty anticlimactic.  It’s a stew, so you just throw everything into the pot and let it cook.  The only complication is that you pull the fish out as soon as it’s cooked through and then add it again at the end so it doesn’t overcook.

And the final result:

Cambodian Stirring Soup

Our version won’t win any beauty contests, but…

… it was really good.  The spice blend, while full of amazing aromatics, notably DIDN’T contain any chilies.  That just let all of the other flavors come to the fore and perfectly balance the incredible density of the fish sauce.  The toasted rice and eggplant thickened the broth to the point where is was more of a gumbo than a liquid.  The pork, fish, and vegetables soaked up all the flavors beautifully.

For desert, we made a traditional Cambodian wedding desert made with more sticky rice, red beans, tiny bananas, and coconut milk: (The chronology is a little misleading here – we started these things HOURS before the stew.)

Dessert Preparation

The rice and beans are soaked overnight, then blended with the coconut milk.  The mixture is then combined with bananas, wrapped in a banana leaf, and steamed.

It was… fine.  I didn’t take any pictures of the final product, sadly.  We steamed them for four hours, and it still seemed like we probably hadn’t cooked them long enough.  I suspect we may have made the individual packages too large, preventing them from cooking as thoroughly as one might hope.  They weren’t terrible, but I feel like had the rice and beans been cooked a bit more, or if there had been more coconut milk flavor, I would have liked it more.

Or I may just be a heathen American.

Pleasantly, we did have company, which is always nice for these adventures.  Sadly, we once again forgot to take a group photo, but one of Leigh’s colleagues joined us, and a good time was had by all.

Next up – Cameroon, and a chance to get that jar of red palm oil off the shelf again!