Monday, 10 December 2012

It's That Time of Year...

My trusty Masala tin
I was driving home today and was inspired for this blog post. Who knows where inspiration can strike! I was listening to CBC on the radio and the discussion was about food banks. Of course, this time of year there is a huge emphasis on donating food and giving, which is wonderful! Unfortunately, sometimes people don’t always think when they donate things. I can attest to this, as I used to work in a shelter for women. Donating shampoo is generous and useful, but donating your half-used bottle of shampoo is slightly less useful. In the context of the food bank, this means you probably shouldn’t donate those cans of Spam, because no one wants them.

I once donated all the canned food in the house to Kosovo refugees, at the encouragement of my high school. I’ll give you a little timeline on this. I’d say this was late September, early October, and it was my first foray into charitable giving. I quietly packed up all the canned food in the house one day and took that off to school. I didn’t mention this to anyone, because there wasn’t really any reason to.

We will now fast forward to Christmas dinner. My mother, placing the ingredients on the counter, as she is wont to do before she begins a recipe, starts digging through the cupboard deeply. “Where are the smoked oysters?” This was the main question, although there were various other grumblings to go with this. In my 14-year-old mind, the smoked oysters do not register as something that would have anything to do with Kosovo refugees, so I have no answer for this and continue on with my teenage girl thoughts.

My mother is an industrious woman, and is not about to let a lack of smoked oysters destroy her Christmas dinner. She moves on, now begins to look for the cranberry sauce. I don’t know about you, but in my family, we always forget the cranberry until we’re halfway through the meal. The grumblings begin to get louder, and I begin to develop a sinking feeing in the pit of my stomach. The smoked oysters didn’t ring a bell, but the Ocean Spray Cranberry (I know, I know, we’re foodies but we love us some cran in a can) definitely triggered something. My photographic memory kicked in, and I was able to recollect not only the cranberry sauce in the IGA bag that went to school, but also the smoked oysters. “Um, Mummy…” was the way the conversation started. It ended with us in the car on the way to IGA and so much Christmas Joy in the car you could cut it with a knife.

Let me be clear. I wasn’t in trouble for giving food to the food bank, but for giving away half the Christmas dinner and then neglecting to tell anyone about it. In the end, Mummy waited in the car while I ran in and got the cranberry sauce. And the smoked oysters. Christmas was salvaged and there was peace on earth.

Anyway, that was a long story about giving at this time of year, and I really hope all of you are able to find some time to donate to the food bank, not just in December, but also all year round.

My challenge for myself today was to create a delicious meal, ingredients solely from what you would get a food bank. I hope this increases the accessibility of our blog, because I am blessed to be able to afford a lot of different ingredients, but cooking should be fun and exciting no matter what your income level is. The menu is Indian inspired, with daal, rice and a chickpea curry. (Let me emphasize “inspired”- I don’t want to claim these recipes are wildly authentic, they’re just tasty.)

For the daal, we need lentils, turmeric, cumin, coriander and mustard seed. You should use a fresh onion, but since we are doing food bank only food, you could use minced onion in a jar. You can also use minced garlic with ginger in a jar.  

Start with 1 cup of lentils and rinse them 6-8 times. Then add about 4 times the amount of water, depending on how runny you like it. Add a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon and a half of turmeric. Bring to a boil and then skim off the foam that comes to the surface (especially if you’ll be eating with company- this will avoid any embarrassing moments during digestion). Turn it down to a simmer and then in a fry pan, sauté your onion, and then add mustard seeds. Wait until you hear them start to pop, then mix with the onion. Now add garlic, half a teaspoon of chilli powder, a teaspoon of cumin and a teaspoon and a half of coriander. These are my serving suggestions, but you can adjust it as you like. Simmer this for 45 minutes.

The chickpea curry is delicious, you’ll need a can of chickpeas, can of coconut milk, canned tomatoes (mine were from Mummy but any can will work) and then turmeric, chilli, cumin, mustard seed and coriander again. Use the jarred garlic and ginger again. Again, if you had a fresh onion, you would chop that up and use it. But I didn’t for this recipe. Start with hot oil in a pan, then add a teaspoon of mustard seed. When they pop, add your ginger, garlic and onion. Sauté for a minute, and then add the tomatoes (with the liquid), chickpeas and spices. Pour in your coconut milk and simmer.

Cook your rice as the package directs you to. This is a delicious meal made with basics, and I hope it inspires you to give a little extra this holiday season!

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