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Homemade Pesto

homemade pesto by The Culinary ChaseAlmost every cuisine on our planet has found an important role for garlic and is among the oldest known horticultural crop. Egyptian and Indian cultures referred to garlic 5000 years ago and by the Chinese 2000 years ago. Pesto hails from the northern region of Liguria and is a Ligurian superstar! Pasta isn’t the only place you can find pesto on. Try it on bruschetta, in a vinaigrette, tossed with vegetables, in soups, polenta, quiche filling, mayonnaise.

Garlic’s good for you. It acts as a warming herb for the digestion and respiratory tract and is an important antibiotic and antiviral remedy for colds, flu, bronchitis, pneumonia, and other infections. When selecting a head of garlic, look for large, clean, firm bulbs with unbroken, dry skins. Remove any green shoots from cloves because they give a bitter taste that persists when garlic is cooked. Store garlic in a cool, dry place where air can circulate. Refrigerating garlic inhibits flavor and dehydrates the cloves.

pesto recipeThe Culinary Chase’s Note: I prefer to use a pestle and mortar as I like to see the bits of crushed ingredients whereas the food processor tends to make everything smooth. The pestle bruises the basil releasing its perfume into the garlic and pine nuts. Put the basil leaves and garlic in mortar and crush. Add a pinch of sea salt and crush until almost creamy. Add the pine nuts and continue to crush; stir in olive oil.  At this point, you may need to add more salt or any of the other ingredients to your satisfaction.   This makes about 2 cups.  If you have any left over and don’t plan to use right away, place in an ice cube container and freeze for future use.  Enjoy!

Melon and Cucumber Salad

melon & cucumber saladAccording to The Oxford Companion to Food, salad is a term derived from the Latin sal (salt), which yielded the form salata, ‘salted things’ such as the raw vegetables eaten in classical times with a dressing of oil, vinegar, or salt.   In the medieval period, salads composed of green leaves, sometimes with flowers.  Later, at least in England, fruits such as orange and lemon were added.  Melons and cucumbers go well together as they are part of the gourd family and are available now at farmers’ markets.   An easy dish to whip up and the flavors won’t disappoint.  This is melon and cucumber salad is a perfect recipe to help cool down when the mercury soars!

Serves 4

melon, trimmed and chopped into bite-size pieces
small English cucumber, washed and sliced
handful red grapes, cut in half
poppy seeds
olive oil
fresh lime juice
fresh mint, sliced

In a bowl, gently toss melon, cucumber, mint and grapes. Squeeze half a lime over the melon mixture and toss. Add a splash of olive oil and toss to combine. When ready to serve sprinkle over with poppy seeds.

The Culinary Chase’s Note: Season the salad with salt and pepper and adjust lime juice accordingly.  Be careful not to add too much oil as there’s plenty of juice from the melon and grapes.  Enjoy!

Fresh Spring Rolls

fresh spring rollsThe house feels empty now that Aida and Laura aren’t here.  I enjoy cooking for both of them as they aren’t fussy eaters and are game to try new foods.  One morning Aida asked me if I thought my time spent in Asia made me a better cook. Hmm, a good question to which I have to say yes in that it introduced me to other cuisines.  I am what you would call a confident cook (the failed attempts fuels me more) and experimented with different styles of cooking but it wasn’t until we lived in Asia did I get a true understanding for what Chinese, Thai or Indian food ‘really’ was.   I grew up in the city of Saint John and the only thing I knew about Chinese food was from a restaurant called The House of Chan on Rothesay Avenue owned by most probably the only Chinese family (at that time) in city.  Chinese food back then was definitely designed for the Canadian palate…I shudder at the thought now (no disrespect intended).   Looking back, it was a delightful tasting experience for me that I shall always remember fondly.   Fast forward 30 years and the city has a delicious eclectic mix of Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine.  Once you get a taste of the real McCoy it’s difficult to go back.

The first time I had fresh spring rolls was in Singapore.  If Aida were to ask me what country did I learn the most cuisine-wise, it would have to be hands down, Singapore.  It’s a melting pot of cuisines all carved out from early Chinese settlers from South East China.  Singapore gained independence from Malaysia in 1965 and the food is influenced by the native Malay, Chinese, Indonesian, Indian and Western traditions (the British arrived in the 19th century).  You can well imagine the swapping of recipes, if you will, from these ethnic groups back then into what it is today – eating is a national pastime or more to the point a national obsession where food is viewed as crucial to the national identity. Singapore is tiny: 49km East to West and 25km North to South. But what it lacks in space it makes up in food! I became a spice girl – yes that’s what they called us – and gave tours of the spice garden at a culinary institute called At-Sunrice. A 60 minute educational tour covering fresh herbs and spices where I explained to the group the medicinal advantages, history and usage of the herb or spice. Imagine being able to touch the actual plant when you’ve only ever seen it in the grocery store! I enjoyed showing people the banana trees, nutmeg tree, ginger, galangal, tamarind tree, turmeric and so forth. After the tour was finished, participants would then go inside and partake in a cooking class showcasing some of the herbs and spices spotted in the spice walk.

Serves 4
8 large (8-inch) spring roll wrappers
1/2 cup coriander (cilantro) leaves
1/2 cup mint leaves
1/2 cup Thai basil or you can use regular basil
small head of Boston lettuce, roughly chopped
red bell pepper, thinly sliced
8 large cooked shrimp, slice in half lengthways

Nuoc Cham (dipping sauce)
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 garlic, minced
1 tablespoon sugar
small chili pepper, finely chopped

spring roll ingredientsHave all the ingredients ready for assmebly. In a large bowl filled with water, dip a wrapper in the water. The rice wrapper will begin to soften and this is your cue to remove it from the water and lay it flat. Place 2 shrimp halves in a row across the center and top with basil, mint, cilantro and lettuce. Leave about 1 to 2 inches uncovered on each side.

spring roll fillingFold uncovered sides inward, then tightly roll the wrapper, beginning at the end with the lettuce.

rolling a spring rollRepeat with remaining wrappers and ingredients.

spring rollCut and serve at room temperature with dipping sauce.

The Culinary Chase’s Note: The rice wrapper can be fussy to handle if you let it soak too long. I usually give it a couple of swishes in the water and then remove. It may feel slightly stiff but by the time you are ready to roll up, the wrapper will become very pliable.  A typical spring roll contains cooked rice vermicelli, slivers of cooked pork and julienned carrots but you can use whatever suits your fancy.  Enjoy!