31 January 2009


When my Mexican friend Julio told me he had brought Mole from his trip home to Mexico, and it came time that I come over for dinner at his place in Amsterdam if I did not want to miss out on his chicken with this certain Mole. I did not think twice - which was not very astonishing because I, actually, never do, especially when good food is involved – and greedily accepted his generous invitation.

Now this is where things were getting interesting as ever, because our Julio’s and mine interaction have only been sustained through the old, sweet Internet. And that’s about it. I did not see the man, nor did he see me. I mean, in real. So before arranging the time of our get-together, I, of course, asked Julio if he was not a maniac, or a lawbreaker, or a troublemaker of sorts, and, generally, how safe it was for me to come to his house alone. I am a drag of a particular nature.

Among many other virtues I learnt about Julio, who, being a patient person, gave me a kind of narration on his background and such, is that his home is situated a few houses away from the police station. (That alone made him harmless, I find.) So if Julio’s intentions had a reassured me as their end and aim, reassured I was. (However, I am still wondering why Julio, in his turn, did not question my mental health, because, as you see, he should have.) The thought that finally put all my mental agony to the end was a very simple one: ‘I cannot afford to miss Julio’s chicken with Mole’. That said, I propelled my way to my new friend’s house, where we peacefully occupied ourselves with cooking.

Further in the proceedings, when Julio asked me if I knew what Mole was, I nodded affirmative, and uber-confidently produced the following statement:

‘Of course, why? It is no uncertain thing that mole is a small dark furry animal which is almost blind and lives under the ground.’

At this moment Julio’s eyebrows reached his hairline. And then he heartily laughed himself sick at me. A few moments later I gave in to the laughter too, but first I learnt that Mole is a rich Mexican sauce that may contain up to one hundred ingredients (or so says Julio who knows better) – chocolate, chili and ground nuts are the basics, however. Again – I did not think twice; I already loved Mole.

I loved Mole even stronger after I tried it (Julio dissolved a few spoonfuls of the sauce in hot chicken broth, and then added cooked chicken meat – cut into bite-sized chunks – to the Mole/broth mixture, and let it simmer for some 10-15 mins or until the sauce reduced slightly). Chili’s bite that plays well against the pronounced nuttiness of the sauce, the chocolate that shines through the myriad of other ingredients with its tobacco-esque aroma, earthy cinnamon: all these, mantling the chicken, rendered me wordless. Which is noteworthy because usually I talk a lot, even when I eat. Julio confided that this time it was only a supermarket specimen of Mole, and that homemade was even galaxies better. I’m bound to believe this man.

Mole, mole, mole…Does it have anything to do with guacamole?’, such was the thought that dawned on me, or rather descended on me slowly like the winter dusk, and hunted me all my way back home from Julio’s. And thanks to Google Almighty, the next day I already knew that, yes, guacamole is in fact avocado mole. Isn’t it wonderful? What I am driving at here is that one day you live in oblivion – just like that mole (the animal) under the ground; the other - you wake up to a different life, full of knowledge about Mole, the sauce, and its business with avocados, as in guacamole. And it’s about then when you start craving for new accomplishments in the kitchen. I am full of spirits when it happens!

Next thing I knew I was busying myself in my shared kitchenette, playing and twisting the guacamole recipe. Frankly, there was no recipe as such but an irreversible drive to play with certain ingredients. And play I did, Holy Moly!

My scheme was rather simple: I thought if there is cinnamon in Mole, why then cannot there be cinnamon in guacamole? I absolutely-ed my idea, and did what I did. Namely, I added a touch of cinnamon to otherwise commonly known guacamole - nothing tricky or laborious. The big thought was to confirm a long-standing observation of mine. That is, back in time, I noticed a peculiar feature of cinnamon: when used light-handedly, it enhances the flavor of certain vegetables, such as beetroot, cabbage, celery root – winter specimens, in other words. And while avocado is not exactly a winter staple, it is one that takes heartily to cinnamon, too. The earthiness of the latter heightens avocado’s rich, nutty taste, bringing the overall taste to somewhat higher levels. And to avoid any possible confusion with a conventional guacamole, I gave my guacamole-inspired creation the name of:

Avocado dip with cinnamon and fresh mint

2 ripe medium avocados (don’t use overripe avocados, for they tend to yield a rather oppressively strong taste)

1 Tbsp lime juice

1 Tbsp finely chopped onion (makes the whole mix taste ‘zestier’)

1 Tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped (neutralises the oniony smell, in case it troubles you)

¼ tsp cinnamon powder

Salt and pepper

A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

1. Cut the avocados in half. Remove the pits, and carefully scoop out the avocado flesh with a spoon into a medium bowl.
2. Add lime juice, onion, cinnamon, mint, freshly-ground pepper and salt (to taste) and roughly mash all the ingredients with a wooden spoon or a potato masher.
3. Taste and add more salt or lemon juice if needed. Drizzle the olive oil over the mixture (for even more richier flavour and additional moisture). Stir well.

I’ll tell you something crazy – such is my nature – now: apart from using it as a dip or a marvelous spread on a piece of fresh, crackly country bread, I also used it as a filling for – I am sorry but somebody had to do it – pancakes (blini). I am glad that I did, because I learnt that these two do not get along. The brace of the pancake is too strong for the delicate, silky nature of the avocado, which does not have tanginess enough to stand up to the pancake, as, for example, fresh goat’s cheese has. Oh, but that makes for another story altogether. I’ll tell you what, cooking and eating can be so educative, don’t you know.

To cross the finish line for today, there is another idea : among my friends, I am known for my desire to decorate my living space with natural - more so, edible - materials: apples, oranges, bananas and such (there are many advantages to it, for they are fragrant, decorative, replaceable, inspirational). So after thoughtfully contemplating the looks of the avocado pit (flesh scraped away, of course; pit washed), I arrived at the conclusion that the avocado pit is a beast that bears the decorative meaning just as fine. A handful of those would look great in a glass bowl, or separately – on a book shelf or something to that extent.

P.S. Blimey, I was so plesantly amazed to learn that there are that many varieties of avocado!

P.P.S. In regards to the lack of photos here as of late, please bear with me. Sometimes things don’t go as planned. But that’s ok, as far as everybody is well.

24 January 2009

Let us be well

My Very Patient Reader, today I’m going to talk rot, I’m afraid. I am really sorry about it, but this is what I do lately. So please breathe in and pull up a chair – I’d simply love to chat away with you today.

I would be glad to be able to tell you that I got a new photo camera. Alas, I did not. For reasons unknown (or at least untold) to me, this dear friend of mine, Luke, caught an unprecedented, beastly flu, and is temporarily demobilised in his home, coughing explosively and taking naps. For me, it only means I should be tactful enough as to stop complaining and let the man recover properly. (To keep things clear, this dear to me person is the one who will generously, that is, within my budget, sell of his camera to me.)

Speaking of colds and such, I snatched one myself, too. “Not a big news”, I hear you thinking. I beg to differ because the source of my cold is rather, well, remarkable. It is…soup.
Please understand, I did not have an engagingly swift intelligence at the moment as to stop myself from recklessly taking a spoonful of it out of the refrigerator. And I – I must admit! – am very susceptible to getting a nastily sore throat exactly this way, that is, gulping down edible refrigerated liquids. Take ketchup, for example. Back in time, when I still did not seem to be bestowed with much interest and desire to cook as I am now (God knows), I fixed my meals quite simply – I drowned whatever-it-was-on-my-plate in ketchup. Massive lots of it. And – spot-on you are! – I used to drink it, too. Right from the bottle; right from the fridge. To the glorious extent of having my voice lost for a few days. (Incidentally, those voiceless days were also the days when I was due to give project presentations at high school.) Such was the scope of effects of my culinary illiteracy, you understand.

But let’s continue talking soup instead. The fact that I got a sore throat from it (sounds heavily ridiculously, I know) should not gross you out – that was entirely my recklessness to swear at; or impatience at a pinch. But the other fact that I made this soup three times within the last seven days (all for myself) speaks for itself: it is a winner.
Ironically, it is also a must for those wrestling with head colds, flues and the like, for, when eaten hot or reheated, this soup, I discovered, has all the requisites to speed up your recovery. Tomatoes and turmeric make it colourful, lentils take care of its nutritious property, a medley of spices gives it its – Indian - character and bite, and it is so simple to make (especially topical when you are unwell).
Also, given that I made the soup in question more times than I was going to, I learnt that, among much else, it is mightily versatile. Instead of using lentils, you may go for chickpeas, quinoa, rice, even potatoes. Of course, textures and flavours will vary slightly, but the big thought at the back of all this is that you might as well never get bored with it, I’m telling you.
And, by the way, let us be well! And if we are not, let us recover soon.

The source recipe you may find on Delicious:days. I, on my part, will extend on my slightly modified version of it.

Tomato Soup with Lentils

2 Tbsp olive oil

¼ tsp cumin seeds, freshly ground

½ tsp garam masala

1 garlic clove, finely diced

1 small dried chilli, crushed

¼ tsp each coriander seeds and black peppercorns, freshly ground

¼ cup red lentils
400g (1 can) canned tomatoes, with juices (mash or dice the tomatoes before using)
3 cups (725 ml) vegetable stock or water (I used the latter and was not disappointed at all, as you see. Also, the original recipe has you use 2 cups water/stock, which left me at the first time with a rather thicker consistency than I like, so I suggest a trifle more contents of liquids here)
1 Tbsp sugar
½ tsp turmeric powder

1/4 ~ 1/2 tsp sea salt
2cm (~1 inch) cinnamon stick (the sweetness that is in cinnamon accentuates the tomatoes taste so well too, I found)

½ tsp brown mustard seeds

Fresh flat-leaf parsley or cilantro for garnishing (I used parsley)

1. In a medium pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the ground cumin, chilli, coriander, black pepper, garam masala and minced garlic, and sauté for a few minutes stirring continuously.

2. Add the lentils, the canned tomatoes with juices and water/vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, season with sugar, salt and turmeric. Add the cinnamon stick. Lower down the heat, cover the pot with a lid and simmer for about 20 to 30 mins.

3. At the end of cooking time, roast the brown mustard seeds until they start to pop up, and add them to the soup. Check and adjust the seasoning to your taste. Discard the cinnamon stick.

4. Garnish with fresh herbs and enjoy.

18 January 2009

One year!

From time to time, one gets presentiments that one has missed on something crucial. To meet my case, I missed on my own blog’s first birthday (that would be January 12th). I positively have got to maintain my mental entirety more properly, otherwise I’ll forget my own name soon.

One year. Gone with a snap of the fingers.
One year. One year. One year.

You see, My Dear Reader, to write two-sentence verses which, among much else, are unburdened with meaning is my forte. I have endeavored to the utmost of my capabilities to come up with the one you see above.

As befits the birthday’s tradition, I am fully aware I should bring a scrumptuous chocolate cake resting idly on a tray; under collective exclamations, blow out a candle; and offer you a piece (or more) of said pastry with your attendant toasting, ‘Happy Birthday – here is to more!’. Or rather, I should at least, as you might be thinking, offer you a photo and a recipe of something lip-smacking and finger-licking. Regardless my sincere intentions, I will do neither (on your part, you might as well blow a raspberry at me).
For the sake of argument, however, let me please just ask you, ‘Do we really want another piece of cake, or cookie, or even a decent square of divine chocolate just now, after the whole, whole holidays’ season of layering our days and nights (as if we would layer that cake) with all things sweet and dessert-y?’ I hope you’d bashfully say, ‘Not yet’.

Secondly, were I indeed set on the thing, I would still not be able to exhibit a photograpic documentation of my undertaking. Here is why: sometimes certain digital gadgets seem to have a peculiar admiration for me in that they recall their function as if curious to see what I could be doing next. And at the moment I am doing nothing, what with photographing and such, because, well after I posted my last entry and before my returning to Holland, my old photo camera broke down. (Right now I am waiting until certain somebody, also known as Luke My Friend, who promised to help me out with this matter will finally keep his pledge. I only hope it happens soon.)

On the upside, my blog indeed turned 1 (!), and, with that, let me thank you, My Dear Reader, for being my inspiration to write, to cook and, in fact, to learn how to do both a trifle better!

And now, if you excuse me, I’ll go and fix myself this hearty aromatic soup of many flavours. I would even go so far as to call it a birthday treat. I am fond of this soup. I am head over heels with this soup. I love this soup.

9 January 2009

Not velvet

Hello, Dear Friends!

After numerous holidays’ parties and family dinners, I am dearly happy to see you here again! I mean it.

It so happens that every now and then I register a fat lot of brainwaves which eagerly associate themselves with my decent personality, when my mind is like a young green bean that sprouts up wisdom and all that. However, to balance out such shameless self-appraisal, I should propose to your attention, My Dear Reader, a short oration on the matter rather contradictory to my common sense. I shall be conciliatory just so as to say that to have arrived in Russia with a semi-winter coat on my shoulders was certainly not among my ripest ideas ever. Because what should happen – a surprise! – but fierce temperatures below zero. A very downward way below zero, so to speak.

In other words, I am cold. I am all cold.

True, I am inspired by the pristine whiteness of thick snow that crackles under my feet like a prickled cabbage or cucumber does when munched away (I took my time to think up a proper comparison): by the stillness of air in early morning: by fragile-looking stars strewn in the sky as if grains of Fleur de Sel sprinkled over the chocolate fudge: by winter sun that does not warm but cheers up instead: by mysterious icy/misty decorations on windows: by silent shades: by everything in fact. Still, a nippy frost is not velvet, you understand. Let me just say it is a very cold-hearted character, this frost.

In short, at cold times like that I am a fixture in the kitchen. (Where else would I go, apart from brisk walks to keep my blood circulation all right, if I don’t have a frost-friendly, so to say, outer wear?) Generally I am known as a reasonable thing, when it comes to survival in winter, however, I give reason a miss just so as to become and stay alive (which is decidedly very important) and jolly thing. So please cluster around: I am going to offer you an imaginary – at least for now – summer that’s securely tucked away in a cup of Caribbean coffee.

A few words on the beverage: as the name suggests, it is an exquisitely tropical one. Besides, it is an interesting way to have your coffee, what with a reassuring touch of citrus, or rather hug: a good thing in winter, no?

Plus, er...[crystal silence] (Honestly, just as I was going to say something here, my thought slipped away as that illusionary winter sun, don’t you know. So with that, I’ll repair back to my kitchen to fix myself another steaming cup of the coffee. I’d dare gently urge you to do just the same.)

The Caribbean Coffee

Adapted from Gastronom, November 2008 (Russian counterpart of Gourmet and such)
(As with all things simple - to enjoy the coffee absolutely, you may need to go for the best ingredients you can get, in the first place)

For 2 servings:

8 Tsp coffee beans
rind of ½ organic orange
A pinch each of: ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground ginger and ground cardamom (the total combination should amount to ½ tsp)
1/4 tsp pure vanilla essence
2 tsp dark brown sugar (optional; I personally prefer a pure, natural bitterness of coffee to that with sugar.)

1. Preheat the oven to 120 C.
2. Dice the orange rind and put it on a baking sheet layered with parchment paper. Keep the orange zest in the oven for 20 mins or until the zest is thoroughly dried out. Let cool.
3. Put the coffee beans, the orange rind and combination of spices in a coffee grinder and grind them finely.
4. Put the ground mixture in a 200ml coffee pot , add vanilla essence, sugar (optional) and cold water almost to the brims of the pot.
5. Over low heat, stir continuously, and slowly bring the final mixture to a gentle boil. Serve immediately.

P.S. I’ve noticed that with the present post the total number of entries on this blog amounts to 50 (!). (Purely for the record, I am twice younger.) Anyway, here is to more (self-congratulatory approach, you understand)!