Tuesday, July 30, 2013

These Beans are on Fire!

Think I have been hearing too much election campaigns lately. By the time I post this, I believe the people of Chaguanas would have decided on a member of parliament for Chaguanas West. Elections are great affairs in theory; reality is a whole other ball-game. While you want to get all your facts and hear what each candidate has to offer, more often than not the campaign becomes sidelined by how bad the other candidate is, leaving little room for the real issues. Hopefully one day we will get the “new politics” that we have been promised in Trinidad.
In the category of beans and legumes there are many great candidates; red beans. black eye beans, channa, pigeon peas, mung beans, urad dhal, green lentils, lima beans, red lentils, pinto beans, soya beans, the normal yellow dhal that we use in Trinidad to make dhal etc.
Beans in general are great sources of protein and if you’re vegetarian, like I was for over 16 years, your major source of protein. When you’re vegetarian, you really start to appreciate beans in all their glory. In Trinidad, the beans most used are red beans with lentils a close second followed by black eyed beans and pigeon peas when in season. And with respect to dhal, the average trini would only think of the yellow kind, since this has been used so much to make dhal, it’s even called dhal! The older folks will remember urdi dhal and mung but nobody really uses these varieties as much anymore.  

When it comes to beans one of my favorite is red beans, and I love it stewed. You can find stewed red beans all over Trinidad, it’s a popular staple eaten with fried rice, stewed chicken, macaroni pie and callaloo for lunch.  When it comes to dhal, my favourite would be mung beans. They are light and easy to digest and the washed split version cooks in 10 minutes. Urad dhal looks like black mung beans, and take much longer to cook but have a rich flavour and silky texture.
You can make these with the canned red beans or you can soak the beans for a few hours to overnight and the boil them till soft. Make sure you boil them as red beans have some chemical that is neutralized when boiled. This red beans recipe is easy and quick if you have already cooked red beans on hand. I ate mines with slices of zaboca (avocado) and buttered toast. I was too hungry to boil rice but it tasted great anyway. The avocado was a nice idea as it added a lightness to balance the rich coconut milk. You don’t have to use coconut milk, it will taste great without it. Enjoy!

Makes 5-8 servings
Time 1 ½ hrs beans cooking time + 45 mins
Skill Easy
Cuisine Trini, vegetarian, low fat, vegan
Difficulty: Medium

2¼ c     red beans cooked
2tb        vegetable oil
2tb        sugar
1 ½       onion minced/sliced
5           cloves garlic minced
2           pimento peppers minced
1           whole congo pepper
2           tomatoes diced
2tb        chives chopped
1            sprigs thyme
    2tb       ketchup
    5          splashes Worcestershire sauce
    3tb       coconut milk powder (optional)
    1/4tsp  chilli powder
    Pinch   black pepper
  1. If using dried red beans, soak beans overnight or for a few hours, and discard liquid. Add beans to a pot and cover with water and boil until soft. Alternately use canned red beans. 
  2. Put a dry saucepan on medium heat and add oil and sugar. Have a ½ cup of water on hand and a pot cover that will cover the saucepan.
  3. Lower heat and wait till sugar caramelises and makes big bubbles. Cover pot leaving a space where you can pour the water into the pan so that of the oil splashes the cover will protect you.

  4. When the pot stops sizzling, remove cover and add onions and garlic and cook down. Add tomatoes and pimentos and cook for a few more minutes. These veggies will cook down and melt and make a thick sauce for the red beans. Heat some water to boiling in a kettle.

  5. Add beans now to pot and worcestershire sauce, chilli powder and black pepper and stir to incorporate.
  6. Add hot water, just enough to cover beans and stir. 
  7. Add sprig of thyme and whole congo pepper at this stage. 
  8. Let simmer on low heat for ½ hour, adding more water if necessary.
  9. When the sauces looks thick and almost done, mix the coconut milk powder with a little water and adds to pot and mix. Or use fresh coconut milk if you have.
  10. Take off heat and add chives and bandania if you have. I didn’t have bandania (chadon beni).
  • Dont add whole congo pepper with onions and garlic. You don’t want to fry the pepper as it will get hotter. Also unless everyone who will eat this loves hot pepper, keep it whole during the cooking process.
  • Add chives at the end do they stay green and crisp and keep their bright flavour.


Friday, July 26, 2013

My Hilarious Experiment with Hummus


Hummus is a dip or spread made from cooked chickpeas (channa) that have been blended with spices. It is arabic in origin and totally addictive when made right. You can eat hummus with corn chips or spread it on bread, or even roti. Of course if you have pita bread that would probably be more authentic but to me sada roti and pita bread look alike and taste quite similar.

What I like most about hummus besides the taste is its nutritious-ness (if that's a word) Its yummy and cool enough to be eaten as a dip but its also high in protein and low in fat. Its also super easy to make; it only takes a few ingredients and requires no huge amount of work and fancy spices. If you're a trini, you can get geera (cumin) in any supermarket in Trinidad. The only snag you will come across though will be the tahini which is sesame seed butter. There are some supermarkets that will stock it but unless you plan to make lots of hummus, a huge bottle of tahini makes no sense at all. The cheaper and more practical alternative is peanut butter. Its nutty and although sesame seeds have a distinctive nutty flavour, I find the nuttiness of peanuts an acceptable substitute.

What got me interested in making hummus, was its use of channa. Being trini-indian, I have eaten my share of channa mostly curried channa and aloo. If I did not eat it at least once a week when I was growing up, I definitely would have eaten it at an indian wedding or prayers. Indians in trinidad do love their channa. They also eat deep fried channa as a snack. Curried channa is also a major component of the trini invention “doubles” Doubles is basically a “sandwich” of bara, a fried bread and curried channa. Its the cheapest breakfast in trinidad retailing at an average of $4 trinidad dollars (less than a dollar US). Although there is a place in Penal which sells $2 doubles and aloo pie which is pretty good.

Anyway hummus seemed to be a new way in which I can enjoy channa. My first attempt at making hummus was a disaster; I had tried to make my own tahini and that did not end well for me or the hummus. It also came out rather bland tasting. I think this was due to my unevenly blended sesame seeds, it lacked that depth of flavour that comes from smooth tahini. My other strike was using canned chickpeas, which taste so bland and boring.

This time I gave up on the tahini since I had peanut butter in the fridge and I used channa that had been soaked and cooked in a pressure cooker, not canned. The use of cooked channa made a huge difference in taste, there was a deeper channa-ey flavour and a much more rustic texture. I also wanted to bump up the favour so I added some caramelized onions; I love onions. This time there was no way my hummus was going to be described as bland.

So I assembled my ingredients all excited in front of the blender thinking that in a few minutes I would be munching on hummus. I dropped all my ingredients except the onions in the blender and get a cup of water. Without thinking I drop all the water and press “pureeeeeeeeeeeee”, but a split second before I do this a thought flashed in my mind. “Thats a lot of water for so little channa”

A few “whizzzzzzzzzzzzzes” later and my fears are confirmed, Its hummus soup!
I was a bit distraught staring at the brown liquid while my belly growled in disapproval. Well I decided that I was going to get my hummus one way or the other. Since I had already planned to top my hummus with caramelized onions, I started working on cooking my onions and then when they looked just right I dropped all of my hummus soup into the pot and stirred like crazy. The mixture boiled down to a decent consistency after a few minutes and then I added some chopped parsley and took it off the stove.

Dropping some into a bowl I eyed my creation warily then go in armed with a cracker. My strange hummus tasted amazing, full of flavour and rich and spicy. Success... :)

Hummus Recipe

Serves              3
Skill                 Easy
Time               Channa cooking 1 hour, Assembly 30mins
 Cuisine           Vegetarian, vegan, arabic

1 c channa (chick peas)

3 pinches salt

1 tb peanut butter

juice of ½ lemon

2 garlic cloves

2tb olive oil

1tb parsley chopped

½ onion sliced

1tsp ground geera (cumin)

½ tsp or more chilli powder

pinch black pepper

  1. Soak the chickpeas for a few hour or overnight. Drain the water. Cook for an hour or till tender.
  2. Chop up onions, parsley
  3. Drop cooked chickpeas, garlic, peanut butter, 1tb of olive oil, salt, lemon juice, chilli powder, black pepper, cumin into a blender and whizz till smooth, adding water judiciously until you get a good consistancy
  4. Add remaining oil to pan and caramelize onions and then add to hummus. You can whizz the mixture again or leave the onions. If you wanted you could try my version where you drop your hummus in with your onions and cook. Not sure if thats the reason my hummus tasted so rich and had a deeper flavour. Either way will be yummy.


  • I cannot give you a good estimation of how much dry channa you will have to cook to get 1 cup of cooked channa, so boil a few cups and cook it and whatever you do not use freeze till a later date.
  • Channa spoils quickly so when making hummus, make ionly what you need.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

My tumultuous love affair with Bygan

Eggplant Pumpkin and Bodie in Black Bean Sauce

So on Saturday around lunchtime I was feeling really hungry which meant making something quick and easy. Its taken a lot of practice though to get this to come out quite right, Chinese food is a skill and I honestly cannot claim mastery as yet.
I usually make versions of this depending on the veggies on hand and this time, my usual veggies being carrots, green peppers, mushrooms and cabbage. However this time, I wanted to experiment with other veggies like bygan (eggplant) and pumpkin.
I had really wanted to try Tyler Szechuan Eggplant from the Food Network but I decided to stick to what I was comfortable with and that’s how the eggplant ended up in the black bean sauce.

Eggplant and I have a tumultuous history dating back to when I was a little kid. Being in a traditional Trinidadian Indian family, when I saw eggplant (hindi name is bygan) on the table it was either in bygan choka or curry bygan, neither of them I was particularly fond of then.
Bygan choka is where the bygan is roasted on an open flame until soft and then tempered with spices, or as we would say in trinidad “chunkayed”. Curry bygan is as the name suggests, bygan that has been curried with most likely a ready made spice mixture. Gone are the days in Trinidad where people made their own curry powder. Now is either “Chief” “Turban” or “chatak” who doing that for us. Its a pity since the mix of spices really gives the curry a different flavour. The ready made versions though convenient gives a generic taste and the flavor is not as robust as it would be if the spices were roasted whole and used immediately.
Well as I was saying, it was never love at first bite for me and the humble eggplant. You would never have caught me calling that purple vegetable a favorite and the only way I would eat bygan choka was when it was right off the stove steaming hot. Don't talk about curry bygan, yuck!
But things have changed, I see bygan in a new light these days, its actually become a vegetable that gets a lot more respect from me of late. I think a defining moment was me seeing Jamie Oliver a few years ago make what he called “Poor Man's caviar” on “The Naked Chef”. The caviar being eggplant! He roasted the eggplant on the stove, scooped out the cooked flesh, tempered the mixture with geera and added some green herb which was either parsley or cilantro. Well as far as I was concerned he made bygan choka. He placed a dollop on a small piece of thin bread that he toasted like little appetizers. He made bygan choka look sexy and he seemed to think it tasted fantastic!
Yes after that fateful day it would never be quite the same between me and the purple eggplant. More recently a colleague of mine told me he had eggplant for breakfast and it wasn’t in Bygan Choka, I was intrigued. He grilled his eggplant and topped them with cheese. All I could think of was yummy. I had to check myself, this was eggplant I was thinking about. And then my relationship just got better; I visited a restaurant in Trincity and had their Ratatouille. Until that point the only Ratatouille that I loved was the movie. It was moist, fragrant with a complexity and depth of flavor that I had previously not taught the eggplant was capable of.
Now I want to try bygan in everything, from italian to chinese. I fried eggplants coated in breadcrumbs one day and they were delicious in a sandwich. (I really had wanted to use them in Eggplant Parmesan with spaghetti, but didn't get that far.)

This recipe I have is great and quick and it came out delicious. You can add fried tofu or cubed chicken if you like, just make more sauce to compensate. The black bean sauce is quite salty together with the soy sauce so be careful with adding any more salt.

Servings 4
Skill Kinda Easy
Cuisine Trini Chinese
Time: 1hr

3/4 pack if spaghetti
1 tb salt for spaghetti water
1 c bodie chopped 1in pieces
1c pumpkin cubed
1c bygan (eggplant) cubed
1 green pepper cut in chunks
1 onion sliced

1tb black bean sauce
1tb hoisin sauce
1tb sesame flavored oil (less if using pure sesame oil)
1tsp mushroom flavored dark soy sauce (more of using light to taste)

1 tb Worcestershire sauce
1tsp corn starch (optional)
Water about ½ or more cups (to thin sauce out)

pinch chilli powder
pinch black pepper
Salt to taste
2 tb chive chopped
1 leaves of one strand of thyme

  • Cook spaghetti or any kind of noodles as indicated and drain and reserve.
  • Chop up all vegetables and herbs as indicated.

  • Sauce: Combine Black bean sauce, hoisin sauce, sesame flavored oil, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Mix the corn starch in a little cold water first to dissolve and add to the previous mixture.
  • Heat a wok on high heat. Add the hard veggies first like carrots and sautee ,mixing very often. If the carrots are very hard you can add some water, lower the heat and cover the wok and let them steam a bit. Add a pinch of salt to every new vegetable you add to the pot. Add the pumpkin and saute, mixing regularly. The high heat will cause the bottom to burn if you dont mix often. Then add the bodie, green peppers, onions and the garlic. Adding the garlic before would have resulted in it burning in the high heat.
  • When all the veggies are tender but still crisp add the reserved sauce and heat through thoroughly for a few minutes adding more water if you want a more watery sauce.
  • Add chilli powder and black powder.
  • Add spaghetti and toss to coat in sauce. Take off heat and add herbs and toss.


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