Tuesday, January 17, 2012

dumplings, rice and sweet carrots

I've been thinking a lot recently about the idea of menu planning - that perfect combination of dishes, connected by a theme, ingredient, season, region or feeling. Especially in Toronto, where every possible type of food is available, meals can sometimes become a mash-up of ingredients and dishes that don't really work together. But once in a while, a menu works perfectly. All the flavours work together. And don't forget the weather - beyond the simple fact of season, winter is a time for filling, starchy, hearty meals. Think roots, apples, vegetables that store well, spices and flavours that warm you up.

Menu planning can be difficult. It involves planning ahead, the mix-and-matching of recipes and ingredients. Try looking at the back of your favourite cookbook for ideas. Often, authors will group recipes by culture, theme or season. Or, check out Jamie Oliver's new cookbook Meals in Minutes. He's done all the work for you, and created tons of delicious meals, complete with side dishes and desserts.

Here's an asian inspired dinner for my boyfriend, complete with his favourite pot stickers and some green, spinachy rice. I didn't include a dessert, but a tapioca or rice pudding would finish the meal off spectacularly.

split pea or pork dumplings  -  green sesame rice  -   braised carrots with sesame and honey

I posted a detailed recipe for dumplings a few weeks ago, but here's a list of filling ideas. Remember, you can pan-fry, steam, or boil these little guys in soup or broth! They are incredible versatile and freeze very well.

Traditional pork filling, from Epicurious
Yellow split pea, from 101 Cookbooks
Tofu and veggies, from Alton Brown
Tempeh potstickers, from Herbivoracious 

green sesame rice
inspired by this post at They Draw and Cook - Sesame Green Rice. I used spinach instead of kale, but only because a certain someone who lives with me hasn't warmed up to the deliciousness of kale. Yet.

braised carrots with sesame and honey
Try substituting maple syrup and olive oil for a vegan version. Braising is a great, fast way to prepare root vegetables - it's fast like boiling, but you reduce the cooking liquid down to keep all the nutrients in the dish.

4 or 5 carrots, peeled and cut in 1 inch chunks
1 cup water
1 tbsp honey (or maple syrup)
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
Sesame oil, salt and pepper

Combine carrots, water, honey and butter in a pot. Bring to a boil, and simmer until almost all the liquid is gone. Turn the heat down, and sauté for another minute, stirring frequently. Add the sesame seeds, and finish with a splash of sesame oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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