Category Archives: Wine & Food

Eating Indian food, fearlessly

Being of Indian origin, I’m very often questioned about Indian food and the restaurants  that serve it. While it is very interesting to note its popularity all over the world, there are also people who are almost afraid to eat it, as they find it too hot and spicy. As a gastronome, a lover of fine foods, before trying new dishes, I find out as much as I can about them, and also the eating practices related to them. I have found, however, most people don’t do this and end up having less than satisfactory experiences. This is true of Indian food. Many people find it too hot, chilly-wise, when in fact they don’t eat it the right way.

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For geographical and historical reasons, Indians use a huge range of spices in their food. It’s important to note that spices are not the same as chilies , which add heat to the food. Spices, on the other hand, lend it perfume. With this clarification, the next time you visit an Indian resto, do ask your waiter to tell the cook to modify the ‘heat ‘ by adjusting the chillies. I always do this, in Indian and Schezwanese restos, as I don’t have a high tolerance for hot food, even though I spent most of my life in India. The spice box on the left is a part of EVERY Indian kitchen!

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Back to the original reason for the post, which is to share some tips to help you enjoy your meal at an Indian resto:

  • Unlike most other cuisines, Indian dishes are not eaten one dish at a time, separately. spooned into the mouth. Instead, the sauce-based dishes, and the vegetables are added to the rice by spoonfuls, and eaten thus mixed together. This also cuts the ‘heat’ and it is thus easy to control the amount of the ‘hotness’ 🙂

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  • Always order a side dish of yogurt. Add to the rice separately or to the above mixture, to tone down the ‘heat’. Or simply eat some alone if the mouth feels on fire ;)! This is better than drinking gallons of water and filling your stomach up with it.
  • The Indian bread is broken into pieces, and these are wrapped around the vegetables or dipped in sauce and then eaten. Again, this too tones the ‘heat’ down.

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  • Feel free to eat the starters of ‘samosas’ and the pakoras/onion bhaji’ as served in most restos, but please do know that an authentic Indian meal doesn’t begin with starters or aperitifs. Samosas and pakoras are teatime snacks. The trangular pieces in the picture on the right are ‘samosas’ and the others are ‘pakoras’. also called ‘bhajis’.
  • Traditionally no alcoholic drinks are served with Indian food, but this custom has slowly changed. Beer is a popular drink in India, and many people drink it with Indian food, but through my experience as a wine-lover, I have discovered that light to medium-bodied wines pair well with Indian food. Therefore, I would recommend merlots and pinot noirs for perfect pairings!

Before an Indian meal, there’s no tradition of saying ‘ Bon appetit’ or raising a glass and saying ‘santé’ or ‘cheers’, but it is completely appropriate to say ‘Dhanyavad’* (Hindi), and/or ‘Shukriya’ (Urdu, Arabic) to your host/hostess after the meal to thank them for their hospitality!

Dhanyavad, for reading my post! 🙂

*Dhanyavad is pronounced dan-ya-vaad, and is the closest I can get to the correct pronunciation of the word since some sounds from Indian languages don’t exist in English!

Question: Are you a ‘locavore’? Answer: HUH?

I know, I know — of course you don’t know what’s a ‘locavore’! Well, let’s start at the beginning, shall we? A carnivore is a meat eating animal, a herbivore is a grass and plant eating animal, an omnivore is an animal that eats meat and plants — but what’s a locavore? I can hear you losing patience ;)…

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Well, I too didn’t know until half and hour ago… it’s a word so new even my computer is refusing to accept it :)… but while reading a food magazine I came upon this term. Apparently, it’s a new one, and has recently gotten invented in California — and it means ‘to eat fresh and local’ — yep… with more and more emphasis on eating local produce, at its peak of freshness, this new trend is catching on everywhere, although slowly. And a very good thing too, I say — foods that come to us from far off places just don’t have the crispness, the taste and the zest which a freshly picked vegetable or a freshly plucked fruit has.

Spring and summer abound in fresh and local, so a perfect time to really give our taste buds a treat and give them the experience of the ‘real’ taste of thing! I find it so satisfying to bite into a crisp and fresh vegetable, or a fruit, and feel its juices explode in my mouth! How about you?

So now, are you a locavore? Let’s hear a resounding, YES! 🙂

 

Food as medicine (4) — managing blood sugar levels

High Blood Sugar is one of the most common health menaces today. Here are some natural ways to keep it in balance, and prevent and manage diabetes. Eating the right foods can certainly go a long way to stabilize blood sugar levels, protect our heart, and even save our vision from the harmful effects of diabetes.

The following nine foods can be very effective in helping us balance our blood sugar levels, and avoiding, or managing, diabetes:

1. Apples

At a long-term research in Finland, researchers found that men who ate the
largest amount of apples had 20% less diabetes or heart associated death.
Their research indicated that the active ingredient responsible for this was
quercetin. If you can’t find apples or don’t like them, other lesser but still good sources of quercetin are onions, tomatos, green vegtables and forest berries.

2. Cinnamon

A research at the Human Nutrition Institute, Maryland, found that if you add just half a teaspoon of cinnamon a day to your diet, your cells will gradually become more sensitive to insulin, metabolizing sugar into energy more efficiently, and controlling blood sugar levels better.

Diabetes patients who received an extract of cinnamon every day for forty days
straight, experienced a noticeable reduction of blood sugar levels after a meal, as well as marked improvement in their cardiovascular health.

Cinnamon can be added to almost anything, so keep it handy and add just a bit every day to cooked or uncooked food — it may prolong your life!

3. Citrus Fruits

People suffering from diabetes often have a shortage of vitamin C in their bodies. Citrus fruits are chock full of vitamin C and antioxidants — making them a wonderful addition to your daily diet!

4. Cold Water Fish

Diabetics in general have a higher incidence of heart disease — as such, a diet rich in  Omega-3 amino acids, also known as ‘the good fat’ and found in cold water fish, can reduce the levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol while raising the levels of ‘good’ cholesterol.

5. Fiber rich foods

Not only does it help reduce those frequent trips to the bathroom, but research at the university of Texas found that people who raised their daily fiber intake from 24 grams to 50, experienced dramatic improvements in their blood sugar levels. In fact, the fiber rich diet is considered no less effective than certain diabetes medicines.

6. Legumes

Legumes are a great addition to soups, salads and a variety of other foods. This low fat, low calorie ingredient is also rich in fiber and proteins, helping to reduce the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Fibers slow the release of glucose in the blood, which prevents the rise in blood sugar levels.

8. Dark Chocolate

Researchers at Tufts university found that dark chocolate contains antioxidants that can improve a cell’s sensitivity to insulin (much like cinnamon does) and may reduce the risk of diabetes.

7. Green Tea

Research shows that chronic inflammation caused by fat-rich foods, little to no exercise and a diet lacking in proper amounts of fruits, vegetables, and ‘good fats’
can increase your chances of getting hit with cardiovascular disease and sabotage the body’s attempts to absorb the sugar in your blood.

A simple solution to this problem is to drink green tea and orange juice. They are replete with substances that prevent and fight inflammation. Green tea is also a wonderful source of antioxidants.

9. Apple-cider vinegar

Two spoons of apple-cider vinegar taken before a meal can help reduce blood sugar levels, according to a research done at university of Arizona. The study tested three groups of people: healthy,  those showing early diabetes, and full on diabetes.

The results: An hour after taking the apple-cider vinegar, the patients with diabetes had a 25% reduction in their blood sugar levels; the healthy and those with early signs of diabetes showed a 50% reduction in their blood sugar levels.

Make a list of these nine foods and add them to your grocery shopping regularly, whether or not you have the blood sugar problem. They are also preventives!

A very special cheese called DOUANIER

1622830_10152326162046327_8680752664535244644_nToday was turning out to be a normal Saturday after I adjusted to a change in my schedule. My afternoon flamenco class had got canceled at the last minute, and then I received the surprise of an unexpected gift of an assortment of cheeses. One of these was called Le Douanier (the Custom’s agent 🙂 )… apparently named so because the Fromagerie (the cheese farm) is located near the US/Canada border, in Quebec. Wanting to try them with good bread, something crusty and chewy, and some wine that would pair well, I decided to first go shopping. This is how everything looked!

To try the cheeses I opened the Douanier first, I enjoyed its beautiful nutty flavor, specifically pine nuts, so much that I decided not to open the others, not wanting to mix the different flavors. Having loved it so much I decided to google and get more information about the Douanier, and this is what I found:

untitled“Semi-soft cheese with a washed and brushed rind, refined by leaving in a drying room for more than nine weeks. It is separated in the middle by an edible vegetable ash, which is supposed to represent the ‘wall’, or the ‘Customs’ at the border, between Quebec and the U.S.

With aromas of the ‘terroir’ (the earth) and of vegetal growth, Douanier has hints of nuts and green apples on the palate.”

Other details:

Producer: Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser
Origin: Montérégie, Quebec
Rind: Washed
Milk: Cow pasteurized 
Texture: Semi-soft pressed
Fat: 24%
Humidity: 48%

I found it to be a truly lovely cheese, to be eaten on its own, if the subtle falvors are to be enjoyed! 🙂

Very innovative food ideas — SIAL* 2014

[SIAL* — Salon international l’alimentation — an annual Food Tradeshow recently held in Montreal, on April 2, 3 and 4. Please read the last four posts here (if you missed them) to learn more about my visit there.]

As may be expected, a tradeshow of this caliber has very innovative and creative food ideas on display! Some things that left me gasping were the following — either for appearance, or taste, or both taste and appearance :)!


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The first of these fantastic displays of ‘caviar’ made with sea-weed! No need to cut up sturgeons and salmon for their roe (fish eggs), in fact being made of seaweed makes this product healthier! The four tumblers have four different flavors… the dark-colored one in the foreground is the sturgeon flavored caviar, the dark one in the back is truffle-flavored, the green is wasabi flavored and the red, salmon-flavored…on a party-table, these would certainly be the ‘pièce de résistance’, the conversation piece!


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Next is an almost empty tray of sesame cookies from a company in Jordan. I have yet to eat a sesame product which is so delicious :)! As you can tell, people come from very far to attend this show! At this kiosk I was offered another product, a small ball-like shape — dates covered with pastry, very delicious too.
 
 


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And the last was something tasty with a very appetizing appearance. It’s a recipe you all may try. Take good quality olive oil, add chopped up sun-dried tomatoes preserved in oil, add small sized bread croutons and serve them in individual servings on spoons. Mamma mia 🙂 — delizioso**!!!
 
 

**Delicious in Italian 🙂

 

Chocolate — SIAL* 2014

[SIAL* — Salon international l’alimentation — an annual Food Tradeshow recently held in Montreal, on April 2, 3 and 4. Please read the last three posts here (if you missed them) to learn more about my visit there.]

As may be expected at a tradeshow for fine foods, there was lots of chocolate to be found at SIAL. I could hardly believe I was actually refusing offers to taste all sorts of fabulous creations, but after a while I couldn’t ingest any more sweet stuff.

2014-04-04 12_04_40However, one product that impressed me a great deal was ki’XOCOLATL — chocolate from Mexico! I couldn’t do better than to copy directly from their supplier’s website www.origenes.ca as to the secret behind their fabulous product.

“In the Mayan and the Nahuatl languages, the word Ki-xocolatl means: delectable chocolate. This name was chosen in honor of the two great pre-Hispanic cultures that dominated the cultivation of cocoa plants, and passed it on to modern man. The Olmecs as well as the Mayas were the first to cultivate cocoa, which was used to prepare a drink offered in their religious ceremonies. Cocoa beans were later used as a monetary medium of exchange in commercial dealings. The Aztecs mixed cocoa with spices to convert it into a drink for Gods and Kings.

Ki-xocolatl is the result of various years of collaboration between the Belgian Chocolatiers Mathieu Brees and Stephanie Verbrugge the cocoa producers of Chiapas and Tabasco in Mexico. It was a perfect blend of work and strong emotions that contributed to the cultivation of an exceptional cocoa from the forests where wild animals and plants co-exist in perfect harmony.

The carefully selected criollo beans are toasted and refined until a fine paste is obtained. Then based in the European tradition the paste is carefully blended for a minimum of twelve hours. Ki-xocolatl uses the best ingredients in preparing its products, such as sugar from local cane and organic vanilla from Veracruz.”

In the picture one can see the full range of their chocolates, with bowls of various kinds of chocolate for taste. My favorite was the one in the bright pink label, 72% dark chocolate with pink peppers — it was simply divine!

 

Olive Oils — SIAL* 2014

[SIAL* — Salon international l’alimentation — an annual Food Tradeshow recently held in Montreal, on April 2, 3 and 4. Please read the last two posts here (if you missed them) to learn more about my visit there.]

Logo_Olive_d_Or_2013OLIVE d’OR (Golden Olive) is a leading international olive oil contest held in Canada through the SIAL Tradeshow — a perfect place for someone like me to be, who is always on a quest for the best and the finest in olive oils, amongst some other food products!

It was very pleasant, therefore, to have a few minutes with one of the representatives of the Silver winners of the 2014 Olive d’Or Prize at SIAL, the Oleiva premium oil. This oil is produced by Slama Huiles**, aTunisian company, Tunisia today being one of the largest producers of olive oil in the world.

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The gentleman I spoke with was, of course, disappointed that they didn’t win the gold prize, having won it in another international competition in New York, some years ago. I tasted and loved the Oleiva oil. When they saw the look on my face as I savored the taste, and then asked where I could buy more, they told me they would send me the information soon, and gave me a few small sample bottles, since no selling is permitted at Tradeshows. I’m relishing it at home, treating it like liquid gold, which it is :)! They asked me if I would do an interview with them, which I readily agreed to, so, please stand by for more on Oleiva!

 

2014-04-06 12.39.11-1The pamphlets they gave me have some rich and useful information. The olive tree has a very long history in the Mediterranean region. The culture of olive oil goes back to years BC. It was first brought to Tunisia from the Middle East by the ancient Phoenician founders of Carthage. From ancient times Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs and all civilizations in the region have been passing the olive oil cultivation and production know-how down to the successive generations.

Slama Huiles has been in the hands of the same family for three generations, continuing a 2000 year old tradition from their ancient olive grove “Domaine Le Baron”.

Besides it use in food, especially as a dipping oil with crusty breads (my favorite), olive oil is full of medicinal and nutritional value, which I’ll be writing about at a later date!

**The word ‘Huiles’ means oils in French. The French influence in Tunisia comes from the French colonial Empire era when Tunisia was under the French Protectorate from 1881 to 1956.

 

SIAL — If you read the previous post…

2014-04-04 17_59_38…you will know how enthused I am about the Food Tradeshow SIAL, that took place in Montreal this year on April 2, 3 and 4. As in the previous two shows, this time too, I discovered some wonderful new items, along with the old traditional staples like olive oil, maple syrup, small scale productions of liquors and wines, coffee, chocolate, breads, desserts, amongst others. These latter are the reason I started visiting SIAL, as I am always on a quest for better and better olive oil, coffee, chocolate and breads.

One of my favorite things about a show of this caliber is the extremely high quality of the products seen there. A small example is the pecan nuts I tasted at the section of foods from the United States. I have never seen or tasted pecans of this color, size, freshness, and taste (picture below)…incredible at all levels. Now I’m spoiled 🙂

2014-04-04 16_31_35I shared the pecan samples with a friend who travels to the US often and he too found them of extremely high quality. This is nothing to do with SIAL, but as someone who travels frequently by road to Florida he said they must come from Georgia (I have yet to investigate that) and told me that all along the highway, signs of pecan groves and pecan products for sale are ever-present. One of his favorites is the ‘pecan roll’, which is not a baked good like a cinnamon roll but a nougat/fudge like item, covered with crushed pecan nuts. He’s promised to bring me some to taste the next time. In the meantime I checked online and found info at this link:

http://candy.about.com/od/nutcandyrecipes/r/easypecanrolls.htm

There’s lots more to come from my experiences at SIAL… stay tuned! 🙂

My favorite ‘show’ is back :)

SIAL (salon international de l’alimentation) the International Food & Beverage Tradeshow, is an annual show, alternately held in Montreal and Toronto. When the show is here, in Montreal, I dust off my ITWPA (International Travel Writers & Photographers Alliance) badge and go. Here’s a video from a past show that captures the ambience of the place!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChkgFpYz_Bs&list=PLrwpO0j_4z9S1Ppq7mLb3NV-XxrxUS7Pg&feature=share&index=2

It is so much fun to mingle with food professionals at all levels; introduce myself as a freelance ‘food and wine-focused’ travel writer and make such wonderful discoveries. I saw and tasted two fruits today, one from Panama, and the other from the Dominican Republic that I hadn’t even heard of before. It is very moving, to meet people who come to such trade shows with awesome products, full of hope to find distributors for their products. One young woman I met, from Panama, was selling a hot sauce based on her grandmother’s recipe. That was so cool!

Another product that caught my attention was a sausage from the Lac St. Jean area of Quebec, which had blueberries added to it! That just blew me away. It was absolutely delicious, with a very distinct flavor of blueberries in the meat! This company will soon start supplying stores in Montreal. They promised to let me know when and where, and as soon as I hear from them I’ll report the information here.

SIAL is co-located with SET Canada, the National Food Equipment and Technology Tradeshow — the two cater to the North American food-industry professionals. SIAL Canada and SET Canada are an integral part of the SIAL Group—the world’s leading network of food-industry shows— which has a presence on 4 continents (Paris, Montreal/Toronto, Shanghai, São Paulo and Abu Dhabi) counting 7,500 exhibitors and 200,000 visitors from 200 countries.

SIAL lasts three days…today was Day 1. So, expect to find very interesting food posts here in the next few days 🙂

 

More ‘Food as Medicine’

untitled1. Pineapple is a natural painkiller. The fruit contains anti-inflammatory enzymes that bring pain relief from conditions such as arthritis, according to a study at Reading University, UK.

2. Pomegranate juice could prevent a heart attack. This wonder juice is believed to improve blood flow to the heart and lower blood pressure.

3. Onions are natural antibiotics. They might make your breath pong but onions contain allicin, a powerful antibiotic that also protects the circulatory system.

4. Mushrooms can ward off colds. They contain more of an immune-boosting
antioxidant called ergothioneine than any other food, say researchers at Pennsylvania State University.

5. Blueberries can boost memory. A study at Tufts University in Boston showed eating half a cup of this fruit regularly could delay age-related deterioration in co-ordination and short-term memory.

6. Eat chocolate, live longer…hurray! Harvard University scientists say that eating a couple of chocolate bars a week could extend your life by almost a year.

7. Grapefruit juice can stop medicine working. If you’re taking medication, avoid washing it down with grapefruit juice as there is evidence that it prevents some drugs being broken down.

8. You should never drink tea or coffee with meals. Tannins in tea and coffee prevent absorption of certain nutrients. A cup of tea with a meal will halve the iron you get from it, whereas a glass of orange juice will double it.

9. Cherries can cure gout Cherries contain compounds that significantly reduce the chemicals in the body which cause joint inflammation.

10. Eating curry could help prevent Alzheimer’s. According to a report in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, a yellow pigment used in curry, curcumin, can stop amyloid plaques in the brain that cause the condition.

11. Sniffing a lemon could help you beat asthma. The UK’s 5.1 million asthmatics could find lemons ease their symptoms. Studies in rats found that breathing improved after they inhaled limonene, the chemical that gives lemons their smell.

12. Kiwi fruit can improve your eyesight. This fuzzy fruit is a surprisingly good source of lutein, an antioxidant that protects your vision.

13. Garlic can cure mouth ulcers and verrucas. Here’s an old wives’s tale that works: halve a clove of garlic, squeeze, and apply a drop of the juice to the offending growth at bedtime.

14. Too much salt isn’t good for us but neither is too little salt. Not getting enough can trigger low blood pressure in those susceptible. Consult your doctor before making any major diet changes.

15. Figs can delay brittle bone disease. Good news for the three million osteoporosis sufferers in the UK – it is possible to slow its progress by eating calcium-packed figs.

16. Soya can mimic breast cancer drugs. A team of Cambridge researchers discovered that a diet high in soya can have a similar effect to anti-cancer drug Tamoxifen.

17. Cinnamon can help diabetics. Just half a teaspoon a day of this spice can significantly reduce blood sugar levels in diabetics, says US research.

18. Chillies can help you breathe more easily. Capsaicin, which occurs in chillies, shrinks the mucous membranes which can ease blocked noses and sinuses.

19. Watermelon is good for the prostate. Men will be glad to know that the red flesh contains the antioxidant Lycopene, which helps keep the prostate gland healthy.

20. Coriander can lower your cholesterol levels. This aromatic herb can reduce cholesterol levels and prevent heart problems.

21. Nibbling on nuts can prevent blood clots. Nuts boost nitric oxide, a compound that relaxes blood vessels and eases blood flow.

22. Banish bad breath with natural yoghurt. A few spoonfuls of natural yogurt can neutralise halitosis, according to Japanese researchers.

Food IS medicine :)! Isn’t that good to know? 🙂