Saturday, May 8, 2010

Fusion: East Meets Tex Mex?!

It's drizzly and cold outside, and I just got back from work. I have piles of marking that I've been carting to and from work for the past 3 weeks but I just can't seem to get myself in the mood to work on it. Rainy days should, in reality, be productive. There's no distracting sunlight and warm weather to drag you out of the house for walks and ice creams and adventures in different parts of the city. The park isn't calling your name and trying to convince you to pack a picnic and enjoy nature in the city. This week, our spring-time flowers have definitely gotten a good watering. And the chilly temperatures (ok, so 11 isn't really chilly, but I'm a wimp and compared to the 25 degrees last Wednesday, it's a bit of downer!) are making the first half of May a month where you want to curl up with something warm and soothing instead of heading out the garden for a couple hours of weeding.

Drizzly weeks call for lazy, warm, comforting suppers, something that you can reheat throughout the week, that you won't get bored of by Tuesday, and that has flavours that are familiar and soothing. When I think comfort food (besides oatmeal of course!), I usually think about the foods and flavours that I grew up with. So, this past weekend, when a simple walk to the grocery store to get a refill of sunflower seed butter turned into a race for the streetcar so as not to get soaked by a sudden down pour, I wanted something comforting for supper.

A quick scan in the fridge told me that I had tomatoes that desperately needed to be used up and a fresh bunch of swiss chard that was calling my name. My first thought was to make pasta sauce the Chinese way, but that called for ground pork or chicken, something that I didn't have and would not go out in that rain to get. So I improvised. I used an old vegetarian stand-by: black beans. I know what you're thinking. Black beans and soy sauce don't usually mix, but I decided to give it a shot. In went the can of black beans mixed with the usual Chinese condiments, plus a bit lime zest and lots of ginger. I was nervous at first, but once I tasted it, I a my doubts floated away. It had all the comforting flavours of Dad's cooking with a little tex-mex twist, plus the comfort of knowing that it was healthy and vegetarian. So throw those stereotypes about Chinese cooking out the window and go out on a limb. It's definitely worth a shot.

Black Bean Chinese Pasta Sauce
I call this a pasta sauce, but I had it warmed up with rice and it makes a pretty nice chili as well.

a chunk of ginger root, minced
a clove of garlic, minced
a small shallot finely diced
1 teaspoon of lime zest
a big splash of sesame seed oil
a big splash each of dark and light soy
a can of black beans, drained and rinsed
2 tomatoes roughly chopped
1 cup of water or broth
a small bunch of swiss chard (or any other leafy veg -- napa cabbage would be great!)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Saute the ginger, shallot and garlic with salt and pepper until fragrant.

2. Add the lime zest and black beans, swiss chard stems and give it a good stir.

3. Add the sesame seed oil, and soy sauces tomatoes and water/broth. Simmer covered for a about 12 minutes or until the tomatoes break down.

4. Stir in the swiss chard leaves and cook for another 5-7 minutes uncovered, so that it sauce reduces a bit. Taste and adjust seasonings accordingly.

5. Serve over Chinese noodles, pasta or rice. Throw those cooking stereotypes out the window!

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