Last night we enjoyed dinner at The Black Skirt, a Sicilian/Calabrian Italian restaurant here in Toronto. Before the meal, we were served slices of Italian loaf, as is the custom in most Italian restaurants. But where most restaurants tend to provide a plate of good quality olive oil for dipping, The Black Skirt offered something a little unusual, an oily and aromatic, bruschetta-meets-pesto sauce called ammoghiu.
I bought these bright and colourful botanical-themed embroidered panels in a little textiles shop near(ish) to the hotel we were put up in in Chiang Mai, Thailand. This shop was full of embroidered textiles, but I honed straight in on the old pieces in various stages of disrepair and ignored the new.
I have so much to tell you about the Ecuadorian food store in my neighbourhood that it was difficult working out where to begin. I’ve travelled in Southern Mexico and I’ve perused many Latin American food stores, yet this store was a treasure trove of exciting food stuffs I had never seen before, primarily from Peru, Ecuador and Columbia. The packaging was delightful, too. But that’s a post in itself.
First up is huacatay, a dark sauce in a jar that had me perplexed. The label identified the main ingredient as “black mint”, but the illustration on the front looked nothing like the black peppermint I am familiar with. If I had to take a guess, I’d say it was a marigold, but even though I eat marigolds (particularly the gem series), I do so in small quantities and could not imagine devoting it to a sauce. Because that seemed illogical, I chalked the illustration up to the sort of packaging that just has any old plant stuck into the design.
My fermenting obsession continues to play out at a fever pitch. The honey wine is kicking ass and I just purchased 4lbs of parsnips from the farmers’ market with a loose plan to make parsnip wine. The book, (“Country Wines” 1953) speaks very highly of this particular brew.
Thanks to Paula, who sent me a link to the video (above) featuring Alex Hozven, the proprietor of a pickling business called The Cultured Pickle Shop, in Berkeley, CA (How many more reasons do I need to get my butt out to Berkeley?). Her enthusiasm is infectious and her ideas… Let me put it this way: fermentation is a great, wild world and I am only just barely beginning to scratch its surface.
There’s so much that I experience on a weekly basis while at home or travelling that is related to plants and food that doesn’t seem to have a place here… but should. As a result of this oversight, I’ve decided to start a regular feature called, Heck Yeah! that’s devoted to the simple, yet wonderful things that are worth a mention.
The inaugural Heck Yeah! comes from an impromptu dinner I enjoyed last Friday here in Toronto at a Persian restaurant called The Pomegranate. The atmosphere and food was inspiring, most especially the use of herbs. I came away from our meal full of enthusiasm for Persian food and some new ways to use up the herbs I grow in abundance in my garden. Luck was on our side and we arrived hoping for a table just after someone had cancelled. If you’d like to experience the food for yourself, I’d suggest making a reservation. Tables fill up fast.
I thought I’d tried every yoghurt-based beverage out there, and then I found doogh. More savoury than sweet, doogh is a refreshing combination of yoghurt and carbonated water, flavoured with dried herbs and spices. I believe mine was topped with dried and ground mint and rose petals, but I have since researched out recipes that include cumin and cardamon. I’m sure there are other secret ingredients and variations as well.
Persian Mint Tea
My friend Jen enjoyed a classic Persian mint tea, which is a simple drink (fresh mint leaves brewed in hot water) made special by this beautiful presentation. We both agreed that when it comes to food and drink, the rituals are as important as the food itself.
Rose Water and Pistachio Ice Cream with Pomegranate
After a large and satisfying meal, I didn’t think I had the room left for dessert, yet I could not walk away without trying the house rose water ice cream. The portion was generous — enough for 4 people — but we managed to devour it all between two of us, and on full stomachs no less.
Roses are an under-used flavour in Western cooking. One of my goals for my forthcoming herbs and edible flowers book, “Easy Growing: Organic Herbs and Edible Flowers from Small Spaces” was to encourage more people to make culinary use of the roses that they grow. A scoop of rose petal ice cream at a night market in Oaxaca, Mexico back in April 2000 was my introduction to this fragrant ingredient and the way I would suggest first trying the flavour if you’re unsure about eating it for the first time.