This month's challenge in the Great Canadian Food Experience is called Canadian Love Affair. Hmmmm
We have covered so many aspects of what constitutes Canadian cuisine. We have talked about regional specialities and food traditions from our families and our childhood and I just keep coming back to the fact that Toronto is a melting pot of every type of international cuisine imaginable. This is the city that introduced me to pho and to Ethiopian food. I learned the difference between a Punjabi butter chicken (the most common regional cuisine served here in North America) and the dosa, a staple of Southern India right here in the city. You can get authentic Iranian food at the Persian Plaza for lunch and then pop over to J Town on for some imported Japanese groceries and grab some bibimbap at The Galleria on your way home. We also have a huge Italian community which means we have an endless array of authentic Italian restaurants and grocers serving the community and delighting those of us who are not Italian by birth but feel like honourary Italians by heart.
I often tell the tale of my German friend who came to visit for the first time. I took him all over the city so that he could see why I love Toronto so much and why I would always get homesick at the three month mark whenever I was working abroad. I watched my friend fall in love with Toronto in the summer because, who wouldn't? After a week he asked me why I bother to travel at all when I have the whole world, right here on my doorstep? Despite the fact that food and eating is a huge part of my life, I do like to experience other facets of life in other countries but I understood what he was trying to say.
If you ask me to choose just one country's cuisine as my favourite, my answer would change daily. Ask me today, and I might say that I love Italian food more than any other food and that would be my choice if I could only eat one thing. Oh, wait. Would that be the buttery risotto of northern Italy or would I want to stick to barolo from Piemonte? Maybe it would be the spicy, North African influenced foods from the most southernmost tip of Sicily, full of dried fruits and pine nuts or maybe a nice carbonara from Rome would keep me happy?
The next day I might decide that I love nothing more than Thai and could envision myself eating nothing but pad thai and green curry for the rest of my days but by the third day I would be sure that life would not be worth living without Japanese food as I rush off to Guu Izakaya so that the lovely staff can yell their heads off at me while I sip Sapporo and eat salmon tataki.
So, it might not feel like a Canadian Love Affair on the surface but, at the heart of it, the cultural diversity represented by the huge variety of restaurants and grocery stores that dot the city is as Canadian as it gets for me. I was raised to believe that while the United States was a melting pot, encouraging all immigrants to assimilate, blend in and become American that Canada was more of a mosaic. We were a place where immigrants were encouraged to keep their own culture, foods and customs while finding ways to weave them into the fabric of their new community, eventually forming a newer, richer place in the process.
My favourite thing to do is to blend together elements from these diverse cuisines to make my own dishes. We all know that there is nothing like a Korean Taco but did you realize that lime, cilantro and garlic are just as prevalent in the food of Quintana Roo in Mexico as they are in Thai food? It just makes sense that you can start to cross breed your favourite dishes until you end up with an edible Shnoodle of sorts.
I have discovered that the flavour of masa harina tastes like it was made to go with tzatziki and lemony souvlaki. Since Indian raita is almost the same as Greek tzatziki, we take it a step further and try mixing Indian food with little fried masa harina cakes and throw in some paneer, which is so similar to queso fresco that I have substituted one for the other on more than one occasion. Now you've got yourself with tastiest way imaginable to use up any leftover butter or tandoori chicken by transforming it into sopes, like these butter chicken sopes .
I actually make tandoori chicken just so I can enjoy these Indo-Mexican fusion beauties. Oh Canada, indeed.
Tandoori Sopesmakes 6 large
I have full instructions with pictures on my blog, The Yum Yum Factor
1 cup masa harina
2 tbls lard or shortening
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup hot tap water plus another couple of tbls of hot water
mix the masa harina, salt and baking powder in a bowl. Cut in the shortening like you would for pie dough. I just use my fingers to work it in until it has that pea like texture. Add the water, starting with 1/2 cup and mix it all together with your hands. Add water, 1 tbls at a time until the dough has the texture of a nice, soft cookie dough.
If you are making small appetizer sized sopes, roll the dough into balls the size of golf balls. I made them bigger because it was our entree so mine were the size of swollen golf balls, maybe 2".
f you have a tortilla press, great. If not, I use a flat spatula to flatten them out until they are about 1/4" thick.
Heat a dry, heavy pan (i like cast iron) over medium heat until it's really hot. Add the sopes and fry for two minutes a side. Take them out of the pan and start pinching up the sides to make a little wall, turning your flat disc into a little well to hold in all those tasty fillings. It will burn your fingers a little bit but like fashion, sometimes you have suffer for great food.
If you want to cook them later on, you can stop here and cover them well with plastic wrap and keep them in the fridge until you are ready to fry them.
Heat another heavy pan (I don't like to use a really big pan to fry) with about 1/4" of vegetable oil. The oil is ready when a little piece of dough sizzles after you drop it in.
Add the sopes and fry for a minute or so , flat bottom down and then flip them over and fry them for another minute , flat side up. Remove from the pan and place, flat side up, on a paper towel lined plate to drain some of that extra oil. After they are all done, flip them right side up and start filling them.
Assembling the Sopes:
Shredded leftover *tandoori chicken (featured below)
1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
about 3" block of paneer, sliced into thin slices cut to fit the bottom of the sope
a small avocado mashed with a squeeze of lemon
**home made raita or store bought
put a thin slice of paneer on the bottom of a hot sope. Smear some avocado on top of that, then pile some shredded chicken and top with a few slices of red onion. Drizzle a bit of each of the chutneys on top and then a final bit of raita to finish it off.
*Tandoori Chickenadapted from a recipe from The Food Of India
1/2 cup greek yogurt
juice of 1 lemon
1 small onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic
2" piece of ginger
1 tbls garam masala
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
4 cardamom pods, squashed
9 skinless chicken thighs, meat scored
Put the yogurt and the lemon juice in a bowl. Put the onion, garlic and ginger in a food processor to puree OR just chop, chop, chop until it's really finely chopped OR use a pestle and mortar. I use my bullet for this sort of thing because it works perfectly for small amounts of food.
Add the puree to the yogurt and lemon along with the rest of the ingredients right up to the chicken thighs and stir well to combine. Add the chicken thighs and make sure they are completely coated in the marinade. Cover it and put it in the fridge for at least four hours or, preferably, overnight.
If you are grilling the chicken, take the chicken out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you are going to cook it to let it come to room temperature. Prepare your grill the way you usually do. We like to cook over charcoal so we prepare the grill for direct grilling with the grill about 5" above the coals and let the coals heat until they are covered with white ash. Remove the chicken from the marinade and sort of press them to get rid of much of the excess marinade and grill, covered, turning a few times, until the juices run clear. About ten minutes before it's done, brush the chicken with some melted butter or ghee.
If you are baking them in the oven, preheat the oven to 400F. Place the chicken on a wire rack on a baking sheet. Cover with aluminum foil and roast on the top shelf for about 45 minutes until cooked through and the juices run clear. Baste the chicken once with the marinade during that time. Remove the foil after about 30 minutes so they have a good 15 minutes to brown.
Just before you want to serve it, with the chicken still on the rack, brush the ghee or butter over the chicken and put under the broiler for five minutes to blacken the edges a bit like they would on the grill or in a tandoor.