Some lucky Canadians get to go south for March break. For the rest of us, it’s time to put on the old Jimmy Buffet CD’s and change our computer’s background wallpaper. Hands up all of those who opt for swaying palm trees, tropical beaches, limpid turquoise water or — well — just about anything with a little bit of heat in it!
Glancing over our lineup of spring Go Cooking sessions, I can certainly guess what’s going through the mind of our co-ordinator. Sprinkled among our up-coming sessions are culinary journeys to India, Thailand and “the South” — that nebulous North American paradise that could extend anywhere from Georgia to Florida.
Our first visit to tropical climes occurs on March 19th when Tim Doan, Executive Chef – Lo Presti’s at Maxwell’s, takes us to Thailand. It is hard to believe, but twenty years ago there were probably no Thai restaurants in Canada. Now, a recent survey by the Kellogg School of Management tells us that Thai food comes fourth after Italian, French and Chinese when North Americans are asked about ethnic cuisine. I’m not surprised by this. Like Italian, French and Chinese, Thai food became popular because it just tastes so darned good.
I have spent some time in Thailand and the first thing I remember learning about the food was “Watch out for the chilis!” The second thing was the exquisite presentation. I’ve since found out that the beautifully carved and sculpted fruits and vegetables are part of what is known as “court food.” Still, the ordinary day-to-day food is far from simple. David Thompson, who has written a well-known Thai cookbook, says “Thai food ain’t about simplicity. It’s about the juggling of disparate elements to create a harmonious finish. Like a complex musical chord it’s got to have a smooth surface but it does matter what is happening underneath …”
For this very reason, I have never been tempted to try to cook Thai food and am quite happy to have it served to me by someone who has the time and experience to create these sublimely balanced dishes. The same goes for Indian food which may be even more complex in its spicing and ingredients.
We are so lucky, then, to have access to so much good Indian food and my restaurant of choice is definitely India Village. Nick Bhalesar, owner and chef, of India Village tells me that the cuisine in the two local restaurants (Ancaster and Dundas) is based on food from the Punjab region.
Both restaurants are wildly successful because of the quality of the food. The fried pieces are crisp and ungreasy and the spicing is done the way you want it. I always remember the day that I was having lunch at the Ancaster locale, when a lady at the next table asked earnestly if she could have the butter chicken “without the butter.” As I suppressed a giggle, Jackie Bhalesar, Nick’s wife, kindly explained to her that she was welcome to have the chicken with a yoghurt-based sauce instead. This was typical of the customer care that is part of the character of India Village. Indeed, the restaurant also serves vegetarian and gluten free dishes. Nick will be visiting Go Cooking on April 15th.
Finally, Tim Doan from Lo Presti’s at Maxwell’s will once again be teasing us with dreams of warm breezes and sunny weather, on April the 29th, with an evening devoted to “the South.” The menu takes in a whole lot of territory. There will be gumbo in a tribute to the Louisiana bayous; that ubiquitous southern specialty of barbecued ribs, this time served with peanuts (from Georgia?) and Tennessee’s pride — Jack Daniel’s whiskey. For dessert, you will be able to indulge in that Margaritaville favorite, authentic Key lime pie.
I’ll leave you with an hors d’oeuvres recipe from India Village — and don’t forget, only a few more weeks until spring.
Sesame Paneer Tikki (8 – 10 tikkis)
recipe from Chef Nick Bhalesar, India Village, Ancaster, Dundas
1 tsp. sesame seeds
1/4 tsp. chili flakes
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. garam masala
1 tbsp. arrowroot powder or corn starch
2 tbsp. chopped coriander/cilantro
100 g pressed ricotta or paneer
1 tsp. chopped ginger
1/4 cup green peas
1. Wash the potatoes, move to a stockpot and boil until done (approx. 20 minutes).
2. Drain and cool the potatoes
3. Remove the skins from the potatoes
4. In a large mixing bowl, mash the potatoes.
5. In a separate pan, roast the sesame seeds until lightly brown.
6. Add chili flakes, salt, garam masala, roasted sesame seeds, arrowroot/cornstarch, cilantro, paneer, chopped ginger and green peas. Mix all the ingredieants by hand.
7. Taste potato mixture to adjust seasoning if required.
8. Portion the potato mixture in equal parts and then make patties.
9. Heat oil in a wok or deep pan on medium. do not leave unattended.
10. Once oil is heated, adde the patties into oil and fry until golden brown.
11. Remove from oil and place on paper towels to gather excess oil
12. Place on a serving dish and serve with your favorite sauce or chutney.
I thought it might be difficult to find the paneer, but Fortino’s had it. This is a great starter because you can make the little tikkis ahead of time and then reheat them when guests arrive. They should be crispy on the outside and “cheese and potato”- ish on the inside. You could add more chili if you like a bit of heat.
The chef served this with his own homemade tamarind chutney. I’m afraid I just bought a jar of mango chutney to go with it and that was pretty good too.