Monday, August 23, 2010

More Neat Foods!


Hello all! I had a lot of fun with this topic last time, so I figure I should try it out again!

Here are a bunch more 'unusual', obscure, or infamous (in the case of haggis) foods from around the world, including right here in Canada!

1 – Kimchee (or Kimchi)

Kimchee is Korean fermented cabbage salad. I kid you not. But millions of Koreans can’t be wrong and kimchee is a main staple of any Korean kitchen. I’ve only had it a few times, but it’s got a very unique flavour. I imagine a lot of Western palates won’t be able to get past the… stinky(?) aftertaste, but if you can manage it, it’s totally delicious. Luckily for me, my tastebuds can pretty much handle anything, except fruity beer and cider.

Any Oriental supermarket worth its salt will carry jars of it premade, and definitely at a Korean grocer (which reminds me that I need to get some from the place up the street from me!). But, if you’re feeling daring, I got this recipe from

Napa Cabbage Kimchi


1 cup plus 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
2 heads Napa cabbage, cut into quarters or 2-inch wedges, depending on size of cabbage
1 bulb garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1 (2-inch) piece of ginger root
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 Asian radish, peeled and grated
1 bunch of green onions, cut into 1-inch lengths
1/2 cup Korean chili powder (looks like you’re going to the Korean grocer anyway!) - substitute crushed red chili flakes if you have to
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
Sesame oil (optional)
Sesame seeds (optional)

1. Dissolve 1 cup salt in 1/2 gallon water. Soak cabbage in the salt water for 3 to 4 hours.

2. Combine garlic, ginger, and fish sauce in food processor or blender until finely minced.

3. In large bowl, combine radish, green onions, mustard greens, garlic mixture, chili powder, 1 tablespoon salt and optional sugar. Toss gently but thoroughly. (If mixing with your hands, be sure to wear rubber gloves to avoid chili burn.)

4. Remove cabbage from water and rinse thoroughly. Drain cabbage in colander, squeezing as much water from the leaves as possible. Take cabbage and stuff radish mixture between leaves, working from outside in, starting with largest leaf to smallest. Do not overstuff, but make sure radish mixture adequately fills leaves. When entire cabbage is stuffed, take one of the larger leaves and wrap tightly around the rest of the cabbage. Divide cabbage among 4 (1-quart) jars or 1-gallon jar, pressing down firmly to remove any air bubbles.

5. Let sit for 2 to 3 days in a cool place before serving. Remove kimchi from jar and slice into 1-inch-length pieces. If serving before kimchi is fermented, sprinkle with a little bit of sesame oil and sesame seeds. Refrigerate after opening.

Note: Kimchi will be good enough to eat straight for up to about 3 weeks. After about 4 weeks, once the kimchi gets too fermented to eat by itself, use it to make hot pots, flatcakes, dumplings, or just plain fried rice.

2 – Cretons

Wow, it just occurred to me as I think of neat and unique bites from around the world, I was forgetting my own Quebecer heritage. My grandmaman was one of the best cooks I’ve ever seen and she would make her own chicken liver paté as well as cretons. So, what is cretons? Well, it’s basically a working man’s paté. Where paté uses duck, goose or chicken liver and cognac and other high end ingredients, cretons uses plain old ground pork and some basic spices. If you ever wondered what the difference is between a Frenchman and a Quebecer, it’s basically the difference between paté and cretons (this is coming from someone who's half-cretons). that isn't an insult though, I’d rather be the salt of the earth than the élite any day.

Cretons is available at pretty much any supermarket in Quebec or Eastern Ontario. Anywhere else, I have serious doubts you'll find it.

Luckily it's fairly easy to make!



1 pound ground pork
1 cup milk
1 onion, chopped
chopped garlic
salt and pepper, to taste
1 pinch ground cloves
1 pinch ground allspice
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs


Place the ground pork, milk, onion and garlic into a large saucepan. Season with salt, pepper, cloves and allspice. Cook over medium heat for about 1 hour, then stir in the bread crumbs. Cook for 10 more minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste. Transfer to a small container and keep refrigerated.

3 – BBQ Pork Buns

If you’re lucky enough to have a Chinese bakery in the vicinity, these things will be well worth the trip! They’re cheap and delicious. Imagine taking the meat those old school American-Chinese spare ribs, but making it about 10 times better and stuffing it inside a fluffy bun. Add a BBQ sauce-like tang and, yeah, you're starting to see what I'm talking about.

My Taiwanese friend Shumin first introduced me to these at a cottage party back in 2001 and I was hooked from the start.

There are recipes aplenty on the 'Net for these babies, but they're sold at about a buck each, so, you do the math as to whether or not you want to go through the trouble! In Ottawa, they can be found en masse at Kowloon Market on Somerset Street.

4 – Vietnamese Subs

AKA Bánh mí, these are one of the best snack deals out there (well at least at Co Cham on Somerset in Ottawa who sells them at 2.25$ apiece!).

Essentially, they're subs served on French baguette (a little bit of colonialism cuisine, I guess) with standard ingredients being carrot, pickled radish of some sort, mayo, sprigs of cilantro (it was while eating these sammiches that I discovered the awesomeness of cilantro), cucumber, chilis and some kind of meat. The place in Ottawa serves chicken, shredded pork and a bunch more.

5 – Pickled eggplant

A fixture of the antipasto plate and one of my favourite sandwich toppings. It comes mild and spicy, I always go for the spicy, heartburn be damned! Once it was only found at Italian grocers, now most supermarkets carry it. The flavour can best be described as all briny deliciousness as eggplant itself has little flavour and takes on the flavours of liquids it absorbs.
Pretty much any Italian sandwich needs this!

6 -Haggis

Ah, haggis, possibly the most infamous European dish of all time!

From wikipedia: Haggis is a dish containing sheep's 'pluck' (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally simmered in the animal's stomach for approximately three hours. Most modern commercial haggis is prepared in a casing rather than an actual stomach.

I’ve only had it a few times, once at a wedding, a couple of times for Robbie Burns Day. I know, I know, it’s organ meat and other weird ingredients boiled in a sheep’s stomach; it sounds utterly revolting. But, it’s actually quite tasty! The organ meat is ground so fine that a lot of the nasty texture is gone and, luckily, you don’t eat the stomach! If you get a chance, step up and give it a shot. You’ll never have to prove your courage again.

And, for kicks, here's a recipe! I highly doubt you'd want to even try this. They sell haggis at better butcher shops around January 25th (Robbie Burns Day). Or better yet, find yourself a decent pub that night and take in some additional Scots culture. Too all readers actually from Scotland, completely ignore this section.

Haggis (traditonal)

1 sheep's lung (illegal?; may be omitted if not available)
1 sheep's stomach (or large sausage casing)
1 sheep heart
1 sheep liver
1/2 lb fresh suet (kidney leaf fat is preferred)
3/4 cup oatmeal (the ground type, NOT the Quaker Oats type!)
3 onions, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup stock

Wash lungs and stomach well, rub with salt and rinse.

Remove membranes and excess fat. Soak in cold salted water for several hours. Turn stomach inside out for stuffing.

Cover heart and liver with cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Chop heart and coarsely grate liver.

Toast oatmeal in a skillet on top of the stove, stirring frequently, until golden. Combine all ingredients and mix well. Loosely pack mixture into stomach, about two-thirds full. Remember,
oatmeal expands in cooking.

Press any air out of stomach and truss securely. Put into boiling water to cover. Simmer for 3 hours, uncovered, adding more water as needed to maintain water level. Prick stomach several times with a sharp needle when it begins to swell; this keeps the bag from bursting. Place on a hot platter, removing trussing strings. Serve with a spoon.

Ceremoniously served with "neeps, tatties and nips" -- mashed turnips, mashed potatoes, nips of whiskey.

7 – Paneer

Paneer is a fresh cheese of Indian origin and features prominently in quite a few staple Indian dishes that we find here in North America. One of my all time favourites that seems to be readily available at any curry shop is saag paneer, which is a spinach curry dotted with chunks of paneer cheese. A more recent discovery that my friend Kari now swears by are paneer pakoras from a shop called, oddly enough, Indian Express here in Ottawa. It’s become a kind of bi-weekly, pre-geekout tradition. Thing is though, paneer seems like it isn’t too hard to make.

Here’s a "how-to" on making your own paneer from


1 L or quart of 3.8% whole cow milk
3-4 tbsp of an acid; lemon juice is used in this example but you can substitute with lime juice or vinegar

(or you can use yoghurt)


1 - Bring the milk to a temperature just below the boil then turn off the heat.Just like 80`C.Temp(176 f).
2 - Add lemon juice/acid (one teaspoon) at a time and keep stirring the milk after each addition, until the milk separates; the solid curds will separate from the green watery whey.

3 - Allow the curds and whey to cool for a half hour (or until still warm, but at a temperature you can handle), then strain through cheese cloth in a strainer. You may wish to save some or all of the whey; it can be used to make your next batch of paneer, producing a slightly more tender cheese than lemon juice. Rinse the curds with fresh water.

4 - Wrap the cheese cloth on itself in order to squeeze out moisture from the curds. The more you squeeze, the firmer the resulting paneer.

5 - Shape the paneer, still in the cheese cloth, into a block, wrapping it tightly with the cloth. By putting a cutting board or something heavy and flat on top of the paneer, you can force out more moisture, and make it into a firmer block, suitable for slicing and frying. To get a more rectangular shape, tie a knot and place the cheese cloth bundle in a box without closing it. Place something heavy like a pile of books or a brick on the cheese cloth to press down and give the cheese the box's shape. The longer you press the cheese, the firmer it gets.

6 - Soak the block of cheese in chilled water for 2-3 hours This is optional, as the intention is to improve appearance and texture.

7 - Use as required in whatever recipe. It keeps about a week in the fridge, by it must be well-covered.

As an added bonus, here's a recipe for Saag Paneer:

Saag Paneer


250 g (1/2 lb. paneer)
500 gm (1 lb.) spinach (fresh or frozen)
2 green chillies
Juice of half a lemon
2 tsp coriander powder
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp chilli powder
Half tsp turmeric powder
Half tsp garam masala
1 medium onion, chopped fine
4 garlic cloves and 1 inch ginger, pureed
Salt to taste
2 tbsp oil (sunflower, olive or canola)

Cut the paneer into even, two-centimetre by one-centimetre cubes. Marinate them in the turmeric powder, half the chilli powder and half a teaspoon of salt.

In the meantime, microwave cook the frozen spinach for five minutes until thoroughly defrosted. Or tear fresh spinach into smaller pieces. Add in the green chillies and puree it to a smooth paste with a hand blender.

Now heat the oil in a thick bottomed frying pan over a high flame. When it is hot, fry the paneer pieces until pale brown on two opposite sides. Remove from the oil, draining them carefully.

Now add the onion, garlic and ginger into the same oil and fry until they are a pale toffee brown.
Then add all the spice powders, apart from the garam masala. Stir vigorously for about 10 minutes on a high heat until the pungent, individual smell of the ingredients changes to a more blended aroma.

Now mix in the pureed spinach evenly, adding salt to taste. Lower the flame to a gentle simmer and let the spices work their magic through the spinach for five minutes.

Finally stir in the garam masala, the paneer cubes and the lemon juice. Let the ingredients simmer together for another five minutes and serve hot. As a final tip, this tastes much better if it’s left sitting in the fridge for a couple of hours before being reheated.

And that's it for this edition of "Neat Foods!". As always, any freaky suggestions you have are welcome!

1 comment:

  1. Addendum on cretons: I made my first batch a few days ago using high quality ground pork from a local butcher. End result? Tasty, but not fatty enough. The lesson here? Sometimes it's better to use lower quality ingredients. Although plan b is to try using 2 parts ground pork, 1 part ground bacon. That should take care of the fat issue!