Cultivate Flavors

Cultivate Flavors

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Coconut Kulfi in 9 Steps

“The Question of Travel”

“Think of the long trip home. / Should we have stayed at home and thought of here? / Where should we be today?” These are the thoughts that accompanied me as we embarked on an 18 hour long journey to Singapore. Our flight to Southeast Asia was the latest of several cross-continental trips that have taken us and our precious toddler, in the past four years, to Turkey, Japan, Denmark, Spain, and Malaysia. As our daughter comfortably fell asleep on my lap, I wondered, just like Elizabeth Bishop, about the quandary of traveling.

Traveling with a young child is no easy feat. In addition to the excruciating amount of planning, packing, list making, and some more planning; there is an enormous amount of parental self-doubt and guilt involved. I wonder, if it is our selfish need to travel and experience new cultures that is testing our daughter’s limits? Demanding her to go out of her comfort zone, disrupting her regular routine, and forcing her to embrace the realities of a foreign country. For instance, in Malaysia we couldn’t find fresh milk. The popular Malaysian milk brand HL had stabilizers and preservatives in the milk. Our daughter who is used to having Organic Horizon milk did not have any dairy in our week long sojourn in Malaysia, as if she could taste the additives. I know this is a very privileged first world problem, but as parents we couldn’t help ourselves from experiencing pangs of conscience for not providing our daughter with the comforts we can provide at home. But in retrospect, our excursions have taught our young daughter that she cannot always get what she wants.

What childishness is that while there’s a breath of life
In our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
Inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
Instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?

My husband and I are drawn to cities which have embraced multiculturalism and diversity. Be it the academic and historic world of the 8th century Cordoba, where Jewish, Christian and Muslim people lived in religious harmony, or the modern day Singapore. Singapore presents a model of multicultural, multireligious society which is not threatened by fear and ignorance.

“In the United States, we call ourselves a ‘melting pot’ of different races, religions and creeds. In Singapore, it is rojak-different parts united in a harmonious whole.” President Obama compared Singapore's multiculturalism to rojak, a fruit and vegetable salad, which is also an ept colloquial expression to describe the country’s harmonious multiculturalism, considering Singapore’s superior gastronomic offerings. Singapore is a captivating blend of colonial history, and Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures. Nowhere is this cohesive diversity more evident than in the country’s famous hawker centres, or indoor food stalls.

But surely it would have been a pity
not to have seen the trees along this road,
Really exaggerated in their beauty,
not to have seen them gesturing
Like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.

Bishop’s poem arrives at a simple answer. We travel because it would be a pity not to. “It would have been a pity not to have seen” Singaporeans from all walks of life, eating a wide array of dishes in the country's famous hawker centres, which are like permanent food festivals. In hawker centres culinary influences from all over Asia are quite evident. One can find Malay satays, fish laksa and Hainanese chicken, along with roti canai, Thai basil omelette, pad thai and som tum. Indian biryani, dosa, tandoori chicken, Chinese noodles and pork dishes, and delectable Japanese custard breads.

- Yes, a pity not to have pondered,
blurr’dly and inconclusively,
on what connection can exist for centuries
Between the crudest wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden cages

Our hotel was a walking distance from Lau Pa Sat hawker centre. Even after all these months later, I can still sense the aroma of different cuisines mixed together in the hawker centre. A British structure right in the centre of Singapore’s bustling financial district, a place where colonial history, and cultural diversity come together to play. It is here we witnessed people from different ethnicities gathering under the Victorian Clock Tower to eat from dawn to dusk; a coming together of the past and present. It would have been a pity had we not had witnessed the closing down of an entire street in the financial district, every night, so the locals can enjoy freshly grilled satays of all sorts outside of Lau Pa Sat. They have a community BBQ every night. Hawker centres and communal dining experiences like this ensure that people from different ethnicities and cultures not only work together, but also socialize together. Diversity is celebrated in Singaporean cuisine and its society.

Where else in the world, locals from all walks of life convene to enjoy cuisine from the rojak, harmonious whole, that is the Singaporean society? Here is a country that breaks its bread together, cuisines from different cultures are allowed to intermingle, just like its people. Singapore is the utopian society, which is an alternate reality, in our otherwise politically charged society, straight out of a sordid dystopian future.

‘Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?
Or could Pascal have been not entirely right
About just sitting quietly in one’s room?

Continent, city, country, society:
the choice is never wide and never free.
And here, or there… No. Should we have just stayed at home,
whereever that may be?

In her poem “The Question of Travel”, Bishop ponders if it is our childishness, dreaminess, or lack of imagination that prompts us to travel? We travel because we seek a world where people can coexist as one, regardless of their ethnicity and religion. We travel because as humans we are more similar than we are different. We travel to seek the familiar in the foreign. We travel to free ourselves from the daily rigorosity of our lives. To rediscover ourselves as individuals, as husband and wife, and most importantly as parents.

I hope our travel experiences help our daughter in forming a universal identity. I hope she grows up to be not from a city, or a country, but from this world. I hope being exposed to new environments make her more adaptable to the unexpected surprises life has in store for her. I hope being exposed to diversity allows her to have a unique perspective on life, which guides her conscience to find solutions that benefit her entire global community.

So without further adieu, I present to you a recipe that’s inspired by our time in Singapore, Coconut Kulfi. This delicious Coconut Kulfi or popsicle will surely provide a reprieve from the heatwave we have been having in North America. The kulfis are flavored with cardamom and rosewater, making them extremely flavorful.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Masto Khiar in 3 Steps

This blogpost is the fifth installment of the Chef Table's series.
To read about Chef Massimo Bottura's episode click on Butter Chicken's recipe.
To read about Chef Barber's episode click on Som Tum's recipe.
To read about Chef Francis Mallmann's episode click on T-Bone Steaks' recipe.
To read about Chef Niki Nakayama's episode click on Shahi Tukray's recipe.
To read about Chef Ben Shewry's episode click on Roasted Cauliflower with Chickpeas recipe.

Episode 6: Magnus Nillson - Faviken in Jarpen, Sweden
Ranked 25th in the World's 50 Best Restaurants Awards, 2015

Chef Magnus Nillson, after spending a few years in Paris, returned to his hometown to discover his own culinary identity. In Paris, he felt that he was making someone else's recipes, and his dishes were not a true representative of his identity. About his hometown he said, "It's exactly the same place, it's just that I see it differently." Sometimes it takes some time to embrace our own cultural identity.

Chef Nillson employs ancient Nordic techniques in his cooking, with his own modern twist. He believes, the only way we can keep traditions alive if we adapt. I have talked about this evolution in the Bihari Kabab recipe. My grandmother used to incorporate the same ingredients with a mortar and pestle, whereas I recreate her recipe with the use of a Vitamix. 

Nillson points out that food and cooking provide a connection between our heritage and our present. If we stop cooking at home from scratch, we will lose in touch with our family heirlooms. Pre-packaged foods are convenient, but their abundance is not only bad for our health and environment, but they are also diminishing the connection we have with our ancestral family recipes.

Speaking of traditions, here I present to you a Persian yogurt and cucumber dip, called Masto Khiar. In my case, the Persian recipes are a true amalgamation of my heritage and local ingredients that are easily available here. In California we are blessed with delicious dairy, fresh cucumbers and walnuts. You can garnish the dip with dried rose petals, which alludes to the beautiful and aromatic flavors, present in this exotic, yet simple, yogurt dip.

You can serve this dip as an appetizer with bread.

Roasted Cauliflower with Chickpeas in 5 Steps

This blogpost is the fifth installment of the Chef Table's series.
To read about Chef Massimo Bottura's episode click on Butter Chicken's recipe.
To read about Chef Barber's episode click on Som Tum's recipe.
To read about Chef Francis Mallmann's episode click on T-Bone Steaks' recipe.
To read about Chef Niki Nakayama's episode click on Shahi Tukray's recipe.

Episode 5: Ben Shewry - Attica in Melbourne, Australia
Ranked 32nd in the World's 50 Best Restaurants Awards, 2015

Chef Ben Shewry's dishes are inspired by his upbringing in New Zealand, and features ingredients native to his adopted country, Australia. Just like Chef Bottura, Chef Shewry also talks about turning to his memory palette to create dishes that are redolent of his childhood.

He also discusses the elusive work-life balance. He said that since his father was his great hero, he would like to have a similar influence on his children's life. His restaurant kept him away from his children, and he feels that he missed out on the early years of their lives. He mentions that even when he was present at home, his thoughts were encroached by the all consuming restaurant business. He points out that child rearing requires investment. Children need support. You do not appreciate your own childhood and parents until you have your own children.

His restaurant which is located in a remote area in Melbourne has been able to draw not only locals, but also food critics from all over the world. When he took over the restaurant it was on the brink of bankruptcy. But in spite of the initial hurdles, he was able to find his own unique creative voice. This shows that when you are dedicated on doing something unique people will notice.

So without further adieu, here I present to you a delicious recipe, which is not only nutritious but also very quick and easy to prepare. It's a good way to eat vegetables. Both cauliflower and chickpeas are rich in vitamins, folate, and fiber.  This dish makes for healthy lunch, or delicious appetizer. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Shahi Tukray with Pistachio and Coconut Cream in 8 Steps

This blogpost is a fourth installment of the Chef Table's series.
To read about Chef Massimo Bottura's episode click on Butter Chicken's recipe.
To read about Chef Barber's episode click on Som Tum's recipe.
To read about Chef Francis Mallmann's episode click on T-Bone Steaks' recipe.

Episode 4: Niki Nakayama - n/naka in Los Angeles

Chef Niki Nakayama explains that when she is cooking, her mind is completely shut off, and she finds herself in a meditative state. Cooking gives her the freedom to be bold and expressive. Niki’s episode is the most unique in this series. Being the only woman featured in Chef's Table she discusses sexism. She had to overcome sexism not only in her Asian culture, but also in the male dominated restaurant business. She discusses being a woman she knew, in order to succeed in the culinary field, she had to work harder than everyone else.

Her story is also important because she is a Los Angeles chef. LA unlike any other North American city does not have a European core. LA neighborhoods are divided into Latin and Asian culinary regions. So having an Asian Chef succeed in LA, while staying true to the Asian tradition of cooking, is very telling of the influences one’s local region has on his or her cooking. In her restaurant, she follows the Japanese Kaiseki tradition which is very much about the cohesive flow between ingredients. Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner.

Cooking just like any other creative medium is an expression of ancestral and local influences. Children of immigrants, like yours truly, have the benefit of being exposed to the food of their parents, and the country of their birth. It is no wonder that so many second generation children grow up to be foodies.

Cooking for me sometimes is a pursuit of learning about the historical evolution of a dish. I have always found Shahi Tukray quite intriguing. Shahi Tukray is a South Asian dessert literally translated to Royal Pieces. The name of the dessert in itself is quite enigmatic. The word Shahi (royal) is Persian, and Tukray (pieces) is Urdu. The dessert is a South Asian variation of bread pudding, comprised of fried bread pieces soaked in saffron cream, and garnished with pistachios.

The origins of this dessert can be traced back to the Moghul Empire. The Moghul Dynasty ruled South Asia from circa 1526 to 1857. The dynasty was brought to an end by the British invasion in 1858. The Moghul rulers were originally from Persia, hence the part-Persian name of this dessert. In addition to the linguistic evidence, the inclusion of pistachios and saffron also indicate this dessert's Persian origins. Furthermore, the inclusion of bread indicates Shahi Tukray's European influence, which can be attributed to the two hundred year long British rule of South Asia.

As much as I was fascinated by the origins of this South Asian dessert, I have always found Shahi Tukray to be very one-dimensional. So, I wanted to come up with a recipe that was flavorful and paid homage to this dessert's Persian influences. That's why I decided to make a pistachio and coconut cream infused with rose water, cardamom, and saffron. The result is a regal dessert which lives up to its namesake.

Shahi Tukray with Pistachio & Coconut Cream
Shahi Tukray literally means Royal Pieces. So here I present to you the most literal regal dessert from South Asia. The recipe will be up on on Friday.
Posted by Cultivate Flavors on Sunday, March 13, 2016

Thursday, March 10, 2016

T-Bone Steaks in 5 Steps

This blogpost is the continuation of the Chef Table's series. To read about Chef Massimo Bottura's episode click on Butter Chicken's recipe. To read about Chef Barber's episode click on Som Tum's recipe.

Episode 3: Francis Mallmann, Argentina

Francis Mallmann is a free spirit chef. Cooking for him is the pursuit of discovering new flavors, and an avenue for freedom. Cooking is a creative art form. He discusses the value of cooking on fire. Much like him, I also believe that food prepared using fire will always be superior to the one cooked on electric stove. Fire has an organic quality which cannot be replicated with electricity.

He also advises that when cooking meat, it's important to let the protein sit on a hot surface before turning it. This practice ensures that all of the juices and flavor remain intact.  The constant flipping and flopping prevents the meat from getting a nice sear.

And, that is exactly how you cook these amazing T-Bone Steaks. T-bone steaks are cut from the sirloin of a cow. They are quite large in size, and in my opinion, shaped like a heart. That's why I decided to make these steaks for my husband for Valentine's Day. T-bone steaks are one of the priciest cuts of meat. But, following the simple methods shown in the video below, you can easily make these steaks at home.

As much as I like to honor the protein I am working with, I do like to introduce as much flavor as  I possibly can into a recipe. The dry rub that I use here compliments the meat beautifully, without overpowering it. I usually eyeball the quantity of the spices, but I have given the rough estimations below. 

T-Bone Steaks
Every carnivore's ultimate dream - T-Bone SteaksRecipe going up on on Sunday. Stay tuned!
Posted by Cultivate Flavors on Thursday, March 3, 2016

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Butter Chicken in 9 Steps

Chef's Table is a Netflix series about six award winning renowned chefs from myriad cultures, regions, and philosophies. In spite of their different backgrounds all of these chefs are ultimately preparing food that is a true representative of their unique identity and ecology. The documentary series with its beautiful music and photography illustrates that cooking has a theatrical element to its inception, creation, and execution.

All of the six chefs featured here illustrate that although the ultimate purpose of food is sustenance, a well thought out plate of food evokes childhood memories, and excites senses. Cooking is creative. It is a constantly evolving art form, as shown by the stories shared by the following remarkable chefs.

These chefs discuss the same recurring themes. Firstly, they all share the same passion for preserving the authenticity of the ingredients. They stress that a final dish can never taste better than the ingredients used in its preparation. The difference between a good dish and a fantastic dish is the quality of ingredients used. Secondly, they all strived to find their own unique voice. They went off the beaten path to create dishes that are a representative of their personalities. Lastly, in the end what made them remarkable was their hard work, determination, and perseverance. It takes time to come in terms with your own identity, and achieve excellence. But, they did not give up. I strongly urge you to watch this inspirational documentary series.

In this blogpost, I will be discussing the first episode about Chef Massimo Bottura. The discussion about Chefs Dan Barber, Francis Mallman, Niki Nakayama, Ben Shewry, and Magnus Nillson will be coming up in the subsequent posts. 

Episode 1: Massimo Bottura - Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy
Three Michelin Stars
Ranked Second in the World's 50 Best Restaurant Awards, 2015.

I first got to know about Chef Massimo Bottura when he appeared on last year's Masterchef Australia, my favorite reality cooking show. Chef Bottura in his restaurant offers traditional Modena ingredients with his unique modern reinterpretation. Massimo says that one of the main ingredients in his cooking is memory. When Chef Bottura first opened his restaurant in a small Italian town his modern take on traditional Italian cooking was both rejected and ridiculed by the locals and critics. But as Massimo's wife Lara Bottura explains, he flourished in the initial friction and resistance between the traditional Italian cooking and his contemporary interpretation.

In this episode, it was quite evident that Chef Bottura and his wife are true life and work partners, who have embraced the restaurant as an extension of their family life. Chef Bottura says, "Happiness is much more big if you share with others." I believe that is what he is able to achieve by creating a family run restaurant with his incredible wife. I think, who you ultimately choose to marry not only plays a key role in your personal growth, but also has a huge impact on your professional growth. Chef Bottura credits his wife in opening his eyes to the art world. Since cooking is a creative art form, Chef Bottura draws a lot of his inspirations from the art and imagery around him.

So without further adieu, let's talk about Butter Chicken. A good bowl of Butter Chicken has the umami flavor. It has the perfect balance of sweetness and sourness, spiciness and saltiness. This balance is achieved by using fresh tomatoes, which are cooked in aromatic spices, mace flower, cardamom, and a pinch of saffron. The freshest ingredients you will use, the better the curry will taste. In the summer I like to use heirloom tomatoes from our garden, and in winter Roma tomatoes do the job. Since the secret lies in achieving the perfect balance between sweetness and sourness, adjust the quantity of organic ketchup and honey accordingly. Also, roasted chicken adds a smoky flavor to the curry. I hope you will give this recipe a try. 

Butter Chicken
Butter ChickenStay tuned for the recipe going up on
Posted by Cultivate Flavors on Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Friday, February 12, 2016

Strawberry and Mango Souffle in 17 Steps

Montage Laguna Beach is one of our favorite local places to eat. Montage is located right on the beach, so as soon as you enter the lobby, you are welcomed by the astounding view of the ocean. The resort offers three different dining options, the Studio, the Loft, and Mosaic Bar & Grill. We usually eat at the Loft, but have also eaten at the Mosaic, which offers a more casual dining option. Since we keep halal, we end up ordering fish, their vegetarian options, and of course dessert and coffee. I highly recommend their Seared Tuna and Soba Noodles, and Mahi Mahi on Parmesan Bread. My toddler loves their Truffle Pizza, and Salmon. They offer seasonal desserts. They use organic ingredients, and their coffee is locally sourced. 

Montage not only offers excellent flavors, but they also offer excellent service. Their hospitality makes us feel valued. Their service makes us want to keep going back to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions. Our toddler has been going there since she was a baby, and they have always been exceptionally accommodating to her needs. I cannot recommend this resort highly enough. The other bonus is that after enjoying their delicious meal, and excellent service, you get to take a romantic stroll on the beach. 

Fig & Olive, Newport Beach is a recent discovery. So far we have only eaten there once. We have had their Mediterranean Brunch, offered only on weekends. The brunch consists of a nice spread. An assortment of cheeses and olives. Their salmon sushi was okay. I really liked their Farro Salad with Tomatoes. I devoured Fig and Tomato Pizza, which is the reason I cannot wait for us to go back there. They also have a really nice selection of desserts, parfaits, and granola. The service was excellent. The ambiance was beautiful. We recently discovered that their lamb and beef are actually halal, which we didn't know before. So my carnivore husband is also eager for us to go back there. 

When it comes to special occasions my husband takes us out for a meal, and I return the favor by making a dessert. If you love baking, and you want to show someone how much you love them; Strawberry and Mango Souffle is the dessert for you. Here is the story behind this divine dessert. I knew, I wanted to make souffle for Valentine's day because nothing is more ethereal and romantic than a warm souffle. I also knew I wanted to make a strawberry souffle. But, all of the recipes I came across seemed very one dimensional. They consisted of only egg whites, and a berry jam.

So in my pursuit for a flavorful berry dessert, I turned to my wise sister. She suggested, instead of just making a strawberry souffle, I should also incorporate mangoes. And instead of using just cream in the custard for souffle, I should also include coconut milk. So my awesome sister's brilliance paid off, and I ended up with the most flavorful dessert I have ever made. I hope my sister is reading this ode to her unwavering awesomeness :).

I won't lie, this souffle is time consuming, but you end up with such a delicious Strawberry and Mango Souffle that you will not mind all of the hard work that went into making it. The souffle has tropical berry undertones, with the warmth of a delicious custard, and the sultriness of warm dark chocolate. This is the ultimate romantic dessert, my friends.

Strawberry and Mango Souffle
Strawberry and Mango Souffle, with tropical berry undertones, ethereal custard, and sultry dark chocolate.Also, read my reviews of Montage Laguna Beach and Fig & Olive.
Posted by Cultivate Flavors on Friday, February 12, 2016

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Coffee Custards in 7 Steps

I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.
The above quote from Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite Jane Austen quotes. It pretty much sums up the beginning of my husband and mine relationship. When we first met, my husband and I hardly spoke with each other, but before leaving the party he said goodbye to me with the most sincerest smile. And, at that moment I knew that I was "in the middle before I knew I had begun." And six years later, whenever I think of that moment, I am reminded of this indie song by Maria Taylor.

Paris, je t'aime is one of my favorite romantic films. The film shows how complicated, and yet simple love is. Love is about loyalty, betrayal, family, longing, happiness, sadness, passion, and so much more. I also love the soundtrack of the film, especially the song called "La Meme Historie" by Feist. 
"Yes. When we get married, I thought, Oh, we will have a long time together. I thought to myself, Thirty years at least, maybe forty. Fifty, if we are lucky. Why not?” She stares at the picture, lost for a moment then smiles lightly. “But time, it is like charm. You never have as much as you think."
I am aware of the commercial and materialistic aspects of Valentine's Day. But, as the above passage, from Khaled Hosseini's And the Mountains Echoed, points us that life is very short. We never have as much time together, as we like. So, it is really important to cherish the time we do have together. These "Hallmark holidays" remind us to take a moment from our busy lives, and show our loved ones how blessed we are to have them in our lives. 
She had existed and now she did not. Not at all, as if not ever. And people hurried around, as if this outrageous fact could be overcome by making sensible arrangements. He, too, obeyed the customs, signing where he was told to sign, arranging-as they said-for the remains.

What an excellent word-“remains”. Like something left to dry out in sooty layers in a cupboard. 

And before long he found himself outside, pretending that he had as ordinary and good a reason as anybody else to put one foot ahead of the other. 

What he carried with him, all he carried with him, was a lack, something like a lack of air, of proper behavior in his lungs, a difficulty that he supposed would go on forever.
Alice Munro's short stories are about ordinary people, living in small Canadian towns, going about their ordinary lives. But, there is so much beauty in the ordinary. In this passage from Dear Life she introspectively explains what it means to lose someone. How even when you feel that the world has collapsed, your lungs are still functioning, your heart is still beating. You feel that you can't go on. But, you must continue living. In the absence of your loved ones, but in the presence of their memories.

I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
& that necessary.

Lastly, these beautiful verses from Margaret Atwood's poem "Variation on the Word Sleep" invoke when it comes to love we want to be necessary without being overbearing.

After this romantic and rather cheesy food for thought, let's discuss these luscious and super quick coffee custards. These coffee custards are inspired by Kean Coffee's Turkish lattes. Kean Coffee is our favorite local organic coffeehouse in Southern California. Try the recipe and please let me know what you think.

Coffee Custards
In honor of Valentine's Day, this week we are going to have two dessert recipes going up. So, if you need a little break from all of the #Superbowl50 madness, watch this video about luscious Coffee Custards.For more videos and recipes visit:
Posted by Cultivate Flavors on Sunday, February 7, 2016

Friday, February 5, 2016

Sesame Bread with Green Onions in 12 Steps

British math prodigy Sufiah Yusof was one of the youngest students ever admitted to Oxford University at the age of 13. At 15, right after completing her third year finals, she went missing for two weeks. After being found, she never returned home, or went back to Oxford; instead she worked as an administrative assistant. She crumbled under parental pressure. Her father to sharpen her focus kept the house temperature cold. She was not allowed to have any social interactions, and was only to focus on math.

Child prodigies suffer from social and emotional anxiety. Adam Grant in his op-ed piece in the New York Times points out that child prodigies rarely become adult geniuses who change the world. They lack social and emotional skills to function in society and excel in professional world. The same can be said of child actors. With the exception of a few, we have seen examples of many child actors marred by drug abuse, and other destructive behavior.

Grant recommends instead of turning children to ambitious robots, it is important to place emphasis on moral values. It is essential for children to have focus, but they should not be in a horse race blindly running towards the finish line without any purpose; without garnering any life experiences. We are so caught up with the notion of getting "there" that once we arrive at the elusive "there", we realize that we are missing the intrinsic value behind our "success". The imaginary benchmarks that we set for our children normally lack moral values. Instead of training them to chase pavements, we should teach our children the moral value behind hard work, the love of the pursuit, and the benefits of making mistakes.

Sufiah Yusof was the basis of Nikia Lalwani's Booker Prize nominated debut novel Gifted. The protagonist Rumi is also a math prodigy. She becomes the vehicle to fulfill her father's unattainable dream of studying at Cambridge, because of financial constraints. Her father in turn shifts the focus on his daughter to fulfill his personal goal that he was not able to achieve. The world may believe that Rumi is a genius, but she feels that her brain is going to explode with the overload of numbers orbiting her mind. Numbers that anyone can memorize with enough time and imprisonment. She is so lonely that she starts anthropomorphizing numbers. 512 is friendly. 7 is lucky, cheeky, and cool; everything she is not.

The Asian diaspora, which I am also a product of, places a lot of importance on education. They believe higher education can deflect discrimination which they experienced when they first arrived in the New World. Education is seen as freedom, but that freedom is tied to family expectations. An A-minus is seen as a badge of shame. The important lesson here for parents is that you do not want your child to be a manifestation of your own lost dreams. Children's achievements should not be a reflection on your parenting abilities. Putting this much unbearable scrutiny on children will result in lack of confidence, and emotional anxiety.

So what can we do to raise children who are able to think outside of the box, and are not encroached by our dreams and aspirations?

Entrepreneur Cameron Herold in his TED Talk suggests that instead of simply handing out allowances to our children and assigning chores (which is essentially training them for a job), we should encourage our children to go around the house, and search for the projects they can do. This will not only foster their interests, but will also teach them the value of doing the work they love. This will also prepare them for pitching ideas, and negotiating the price for their work. He said, it is important to teach them financial responsibility and accountability at an early age.

As far as my three year old is concerned, I do not want her to be focused on achieving A's. It is important for me to teach her how to organize and process information, have confidence, and the ability to ask questions. Instead of squashing her questions, I like to take interest in her childhood curiosities and eccentricities. I do not want her to be a Borg, be part of the collective, and lose her individual identity. (I married a Trekkie).

So after this rather hefty food for thought, let's talk about the recipe at hand. You have probably already seen the video on my Facebook page. Sesame Bread with Green Onions, is a flatbread commonly available in Hakka Chinese restaurants in Southern California. The bread is actually cooked on the stove, instead of the oven. I like to glaze the bread with a teaspoon of soy sauce. I like how it slightly gets caramelized, and increases the flavor profile. Give this easy bread a try, and please let me know how you like it.

Sesame Bread with Green Onions
Sesame Bread with Green Onions.Full recipe coming soon.
Posted by Cultivate Flavors on Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Friday, January 22, 2016

Banana Oatmeal Raisin Cookies in 4 Steps

In Grade 10 English class, we read John Wyndham's apocalyptic science fiction novel The Chrysalids. Wyndham wrote the book during the Cold War, only a few years after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As a young adult oblivious to the political relevance of the novel, the book for me was a coming of age story. In Wyndham's dystopian society, the young children David Strorm and Sophie Wender were required to conceal their true selves, and were instead forced to not deviate from the theological standards set by their puritan society.

In Grade 11 English class, we read J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. My friends and I instantly identified with the teenage angst and alienation the protagonist Holden Caulfield expressed in the book. He became our hero. He lamented that adults were phony, who failed to understand the true essence of a young adult. Salinger by creating Holden Caulfield, was able to describe the contradiction the young adults experience not only in how the parents are treating them, but also in their own personalities.

In my adolescence, being a hyphenated first generation Pakistani-Canadian, I also struggled with forming my own individual identity. Instead of seeing the hyphen as a bridge between my ancestry and my culture, I saw it as a division, barrier, and dichotomy. I felt my one identity was in contradiction with the other. I couldn't be both; to be one, I had to give up another. To celebrate one, I had to conceal another.

During my annual trips to Pakistan, on the rides from the Karachi Airport to my grandparents' house, I remember staring out of the car window, observing the people on the streets, and struggling to identify with them. Even though, I was more genetically similar to the people of Pakistan, my language, my culture, my identity belonged in Canada.

Almost 15 years after reading The Chrysalids and The Catcher in the Rye, and identifying with David Strorm and Holden Caulfield, I strongly feel the connection I have with Pakistan. The hyphen is now a bridge between my two cohesive identities. After my grandparents's passing I have not travelled to Pakistan in 6 years, but I am more aware of its presence in my life than ever before. Pakistan for me would always represent the love my grandparents had for me, and the reverence I have for them, and the country they sacrificed so much for. Their stories are part of what I teach my daughter, and what I cook at home.

My Dada (grandfather) who lived to be 91 years old, without any chronic ailments, enjoyed having oatmeal for breakfast. These breakfast cookies are a concoction of everything nutritious he included in his diet, with the exception of chia seeds :). I have inherited my love for healthy breakfast from him. These cookies are simple to make, and require just one mixing bowl, a good ol' spatula and a pastry blender. They are not only ideal for breakfast, but you can snack on them throughout the day without any guilt. They are packed with nutritious bananas, oats, raisins, nuts, and chia seeds. Give them a try and let me know how you like them.

Banana Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Nutritious Breakfast cookies, containing bananas, oats, raisins, coconut, walnuts, almonds, tahini, and chia seeds. All the goodness without the bad calories. Full recipe:
Posted by Cultivate Flavors on Monday, January 18, 2016

Monday, January 11, 2016

Cranberry and Pistachio Biscotti in 10 Steps

The common misconception is that Bridesmaids was a groundbreaking film, because it was the first female-driven comedy of its time, and showed that women can be as funny as men. But, that is not the truth. Women are funny and they do not need a film to prove that. Bridesmaids was an important film because the premise of the film dealt with female relationships. It had nothing to do with women fighting over a guy, or seeking male attention, or investing all of their resources into exacting revenge on a guy, who has wronged them. 

In my opinion, unlike the recent plethora of the so-called "female comedies", such as Trainwreck, and The Other WomanBridesmaids is one of the few films that passes the Bechdel test, which examines whether a piece of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The film showed how important it is to have kind female relationships. There is so much focus and energy that go into acquiring a sustaining male relationship that often times we neglect to foster compassionate female relationships. 

But sadly, thanks to the pervasive nature of the reality television, 'The Real Housewives' franchise, women are shown to be snarky, and harboring ill feelings for one another. Women are shown to be threatened by each other's success and looks. They undermine each other's intelligence by defining themselves using the superfluous barometers of wealth and male companions. 

We feel that we have to measure our own achievements in the light of another woman's failures. And, undermine another woman's success by pointing out her flaws. "Stay at home moms" are deemed as lazy and uninspired, for their lack of ambitions. Their accomplishments are undermined because after all they have too much time on their hands. Whereas, "working moms" are chastised for choosing their career over raising a family. Their accomplishments are undermined for all the "support" they have in the form of daycare. But in reality, both of these choices that women make are laden with self doubt and sacrifices. 

Being a woman in the 21st century comes with hard choices. Ever since the female emancipation, the role of women has changed so drastically that women are going through an identity crisis. But, we shouldn't be in competition with one another. We should realize that instead of finding excuses for another woman's success we should celebrate them. 

My accomplishments are my own, they shouldn't be glorified by another woman's failures. Failures should not be welcomed with petulance, but compassion.

So after much adieu, here is a recipe for Cranberry and Pistachio Biscotti, which is pretty straightforward. The addition of egg keeps the biscotti very moist. Hopefully you will make them for the amazing female friends in your life. I know I can't wait to make them again for my best friends.

Cranberry and Pistachio Biscotti
Cranberry and Pistachio Biscotti. Enjoy the video!
Posted by Cultivate Flavors on Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Coconut Chicken Curry in 4 Steps

A father and his son are in a car accident. The father is killed and the son is seriously injured. The son is taken to the hospital where the surgeon says, "I cannot operate, because this boy is my son."

This popular brain teaser, even though very old, is still relevant in our society. Studies have shown that 40 to 70 percent still cannot solve it. The answer in case you are wondering is that the surgeon is the boy's mother. This riddle of sorts brings forth our personal biases, and the presence of implicit sexism that exists in our society. As Adam Grant and Sharyl Sandberg pointed out, "Even when we have the best of intentions, when we hear “surgeon” or “boss,” the image that pops into our minds is often male."

As a parent, I have become more aware of the subliminal messages our society and the mainstream media send out to young children. It really bothers me that all Disney Princesses have tennis-ball sized eyes, which implicitly implies that big eyes are the ultimate mark of beauty. For that reason, I have a lot of appreciation for Curious George and Robert Munsch books. In Curious George stories, the Man with the Yellow Hat's boss is a female, Professor Wiseman. Similarly, in Munsch's story books, there are not only strong female protagonists, but girls are also excused of the responsibility to be the "perfect little angels", to their "trouble-making" male counterparts. 

“I’m studying cardiac regeneration to help repair damaged hearts. It was widely believed that hearts cells could not be replenished, but we’ve used carbon dating to discover cells in the heart that are younger than the heart itself. So I believe it is possible.” 

I was reminded of the aforementioned brain teaser, when I stumbled upon the above photograph by Brandon Stanton. The popularity of Humans of New York lies in the fact that his photographs, and the corresponding stories, not only break stereotypes, but make us aware of our own personal biases. In the above photograph, you do not know which of the two is responsible for the groundbreaking research. And, that is the magic of Stanton's incredible story-telling. 

If you are wondering what to get your loved ones for the holidays, I highly recommend Stanton's new book, "Humans of New York: Stories". The stories are captivating, and illustrate how as humans we experience the same struggles, doubts, fears and foibles. Here are some of the riveting stories that really resonated with me.

And, if you are looking for a comforting autumnal curry, go ahead and make this delicious Coconut Chicken Curry.

Coconut Chicken Curry
Delicious Coconut Chicken Curry. The full recipe will be posted soon on
Posted by Cultivate Flavors on Friday, October 30, 2015

Friday, October 23, 2015

Egg Fried Rice in 7 Steps

A plate of food for me is more than about sustenance. It embodies the cook's identity, personality, locality, culture, heritage, and lifestyle. It represents the care the cook put into preparing the dish. 

I recently watched a TED Talk called, "Don't Ask Where I'm From, Ask Where I'm a Local" by Taiye Selasi. Selasi observed that asking someone where they are from is usually a divisive indication, with that question we are trying to identify the 'otherness' of an individual, as opposed to establishing a commonality. Conversely, it can be argued that asking someone about their origin simply represents an innocuous curiosity about the individual's background and childhood. 

But, this question is often posed to ethnic minorities. As an individual with ethnically ambiguous looks, I have been frequently at the receiving end of this question. Although, the said query pays homage to my ancestral background, it does not completely encapsulate who I am as an individual. This question makes us different from others, and on some level indicates that we are not truly from the land we live in. Instead, we have this mythical land to return to. 

Both set of my grandparents were born in British India, but they had nothing in common with other citizens of the Great British Empire. They belonged to the Muslim faith, so in circa 1947, they became part of a new nation called Pakistan. After her exodus from India, my grandmother who was used to cooking Bihari food, started incorporating local flavors of her new land into her cooking. 

My upbringing in multicultural Toronto represents what I cook at home. My travel experiences, and the ubiquity of the ethnic food aisle have made it easier for me to prepare food from places, where I am not technically from, but in some ways a part of, because of the culture I grew up in. 

So without further adieu, I present to you the recipe of Egg Fried Rice, inspired by Thai flavors. You might wonder why I am using three different types of sauces, soy, fish and oyster, when all three of them are ultimately salty in flavor. The answer, my dear reader, is that fish sauce and oyster sauce render a rich umami flavor, and add a level of complexity, to this very simple and quick rice dish. 

Egg Fried Rice
Egg Fried Rice - influenced by Thai flavors.
Posted by Cultivate Flavors on Friday, October 23, 2015

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Gluten-Free Banana Bread in 6 Steps

It's natural to be skeptic about gluten-free bread. The idea itself sounds rather oxymoronic. But, after the success I had with the chocolate coconut cupcakes, I wanted to make a healthier version of my favorite banana bread. This gluten free, and refined sugar and fat free recipe is so delicious that you do not miss the flour, or the butter. I love banana bread, and these healthy modifications allow me to have guilt free indulgence for breakfast. 

Posted by Cultivate Flavors on Sunday, October 18, 2015

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Bihari Kabab in 8 Steps

Bihari Kabab is the food of my people. The recipe I am sharing here is sort of a family heirloom. My mom inherited this recipe, from my grandmother, and she has now passed it down to my sister-in-law and me. The only difference is that growing up we called it Seekh Kabab, since these kababs are cooked on thin flat skewers, called seekh in Urdu. It is kind of like that Friends' joke:
Joey: [to Ross] Forget about Rachel. Go to China, eat Chinese food.
Chandler: Of course there they'd just call it food. 
The story behind Bihari Kabab is that apparently there was a Moghul Emperor, who lost his teeth, but still wanted to eat Kababs. He commissioned his royal chef to create a kabab recipe that did not require too much chewing. The chef brilliantly decided to marinate the meat in green papaya. The connective tissue in the meat breaks down when it comes in contact with an enzyme called papain, found in green papayas. So without further adieu, let's get cooking.

Bihari Kabab
Posted by Cultivate Flavors on Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Chicken Biryani in 11 Steps

My sister gave me the first edition of Mark Twain's 'The Innocent Abroad', photographed above, as a baby shower present; to remind me the lasting impression a mother can have on an individual's life. The readers of the travel book will know that Mark Twain dedicated this travelogue to his mother. 

Although, I am not a writer, but in my own humble ways, this biryani recipe is my homage to my very own loving mother. Biryani is a staple in Pakistani households. The Pakistani diaspora is incapable of having a celebratory dinner without the grand presence of this aromatic rice dish. South Asian grocery stores are laden with Biryani spice blends. In this recipe, I am using two types of pre-boxed Biryani spice blends, Sindhi Biryani Masala for the marinade, and Bombay Biryani Masala for the curry. The Sindhi one has dried plums, and the Bombay one has nutmeg. The combination of two results in more aromatic and flavorful Biryani. So let's get cooking.

Chicken Biryani
Posted by Cultivate Flavors on Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Monday, September 21, 2015

Kubideh in 6 Steps

Persian Kababs are so easy to make that they can easily become a weeknight fare, with some serious weekend flare. You can marinate the meat ahead of time, and when it is dinner time all you have to do is mold the meat around the skewers, and just grill in the oven for half an hour. These chicken kababs or Kubideh will also be ideal for Eid dinner or other special occasions.

Wondering what to cook for Eid? Make Kubideh in 6 Easy Steps. For the full recipe go to:
Posted by Cultivate Flavors on Monday, September 21, 2015

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Orange Souffle in 13 Steps

To quote Ai Weiwei, whose art exhibition I saw at the Art Gallery of Ontario:

There is a humanitarian crisis happening in Syria, forcing many to leave their homes, their country, and to risk their lives to find refuge in Europe. Many have been wrongly referring to this crisis as the Migrant Crisis, as opposed to the Refugee Crisis. Author John Green pointed out, these people are fleeing their homes because they are left with no other choice, hence making them refugees, not migrants, who actually choose to leave their country in search of better job or education opportunities. European countries by referring to the refugees as illegal migrants are exonerating themselves from the legal responsibilities laid out by the International Law.

It is really important to remember they are humans just like the rest of us, yearning for safety for their families and young children. These people have not left by choice. They have left their homes because after four years of war, they had no choice. I urge you to please do whatever you can to help out. Furthermore, if you celebrate Eid al-Adha, organizations like Helping Hand have arranged to do Qurbani/Udhiya or give the gift of sacrifice to Syrian communities who can really use our help. We lead such privileged lives. We have a responsibility to help those in need without any bias.

Since we are talking about stepping up, or rising to the occasion, let me share the recipe for Orange Souffle with you. These souffles are extremely decadent and ethereal. If you prefer, you can prepare the base of the souffles ahead of time, and refrigerate the base for a couple of hours. 

Orange Souffle
The most ethereal dessert, ever. Full recipe coming up soon, in the meantime enjoy the video :).
Posted by Cultivate Flavors on Saturday, September 19, 2015

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Nazkhatun Eggplant Dip in 7 Steps

Malcolm Gladwell, a fellow University of Toronto alum, in his essay, "The Ketchup Conundrum", mentions that the reason Heinz ketchup has had such an unprecedented global appeal is because it perfectly balances the "five known fundamental tastes in the human palate: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami." 

If you look at the ingredient list for Heinz ketchup, you will find that it has tomato concentrate, which has the umami flavor, also present in mother's milk. The second ingredient is vinegar, which provides sourness, another of the fundamental tastes. The next set of ingredients are high fructose corn syrup and corn syrup, which satisfy our primal desire for sweet food. I have already discussed the addictive properties of high fructose corn syrup in my meatloaf recipe blogpost. The last set of ingredients, present in Heinz ketchup, salt, spice, onion powder, and natural flavoring, gratify the salty and bitter taste receptors. Ketchup, unlike any other condiment available in the supermarket, satisfies all five primal sensory taste buds, all at once, "in one long crescendo". 

It is no wonder that children love ketchup because it tastes familiar. It has the umami flavor, and a balance of sweetness, saltiness, bitterness and acidity. Gladwell also mentions that small children "tend to be neophobic: once they hit two or three, they shrink from new tastes". It is imperative to introduce young children to a variety of flavors and cuisines, at a young age, instead of limiting their palate to simple foods, like cheese pizza, plain white bread, and/or bland pasta.

Growing up, my husband had a very limited palate. His diet consisted of mainly meat, processed food, and sodas. Fruits, vegetables, and lentils were completely foreign to him. So when we had our daughter, we made sure that we expose her to all food groups, and we do not dumb down flavors for her. 

Although my husband's palate has evolved overtime, he still does not like eating vegetables or eating fresh fruits. So when I made Nazkhatun, a Persian eggplant dip, my husband not only ate it, but loved the vegetable dish. So without further adieu, let me share the recipe with you. The recipe consists of eggplants and tomatoes, which have the umami flavor. The pomegranate molasses, used here and in most Persian dishes, provides the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. The angelica powder, another Persian cuisine staple, has slightly bitter undertones. So here is a recipe, which much like ketchup, satisfies all five fundamental taste buds.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Fattoush Quinoa Salad in 3 Steps

Here is my take on one of my favorite Middle Eastern salads, called Fattoush. Fattoush traditionally has lettuce and pita bread, but I have replaced the two with quinoa. I have never been a fan of lettuce, it's a long story, people :). 

It takes 15 minutes to prepare this salad, so you can make it on a weeknight, and save some for lunch next day.