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Entries in chili (4)


A clean plate to finish

corn with scapes, chilies and cilantro

If you skip ahead and read down below, you'll see I'm offering up some stuffed poblanos for lunch. Though if we're being frank, and I think we should be, the stuffing is really the take away today. That corn, and its countless variations, is something I've been making for ages, and I find myself tucking it into all manner of meals.

It started with this soufflé I think — hi there, terrible old point and shoot camera photo — that summer was a good one for corn and our now six-year-old, then less than two, was a major fan. I'd cook it until just barely tender, in butter with salt and pepper, fresh off the cobs we'd buy at the farmstand. Then I started adding onion, then garlic, then lime and herbs, and sometimes peppers, served hot and warm and at room temperature. As long as there was corn to start, there was a clean plate to finish.

And so ever since, sautéed corn has been in our rotation. As the base to corn puddings; cooked in olive oil and stirred through with torn basil, for a side along with a chicken that was spatchcocked and roasted over flames; or with fresh oregano in a salad, offering sweet against the aggressive salt of feta; or with slices of young chèvre in skinny omelets.

Like I said, it's useful. 


My husband and I have a running joke that my children each have my stomach. They have my eyes, and my nose, and many other things, too. William, our younger, has my scrunch-faced grin.

But the most unexpected boon is that at the table, when it comes to their tastes, they closely follow my own.

It makes sense, as I am the primary cook in the family that there are certain flavours that find their way to our plates fairly often. My children have been raised on onions, garlic, ginger, and cilantro (but it's dhanya in our household), coriander seed, cumin and lime — the foundations of Indian cooking. I remember reading some research that said what a mother eats while pregnant effects the tastes of her unborn child, so maybe my children had a head start in that regard. Either way, it is a trait that's set them up for another one of my favourites, Latin American cooking.


As they've gotten bigger and all the more adventurous, combining those familiar tastes with the standby of the sautéed corn they already love made perfect sense. We started with empanadas with corn, cumin and cotija cheese. Then tacos with beans and pico de gallo, and now stuffed poblanos, in a recipe that has lots in common with chile rellenos. 

These fried, filled poblanos are as straightforward as can be, save for the fiddly business of roasting and peeling the peppers. For all the care that one step requires, the work itself is a matter of minutes, so it's hardly a stressful endeavour. Once stuffed with corn and cheese and vegetables, the poblanos get an inelegant dunking in a beer batter — that batter fries up into something actually kind of beautiful, with edges that are crunchy, lacy and light. The peppers have that lip-humming heat, the corn is still plump and juicy, and the Monterey Jack slips its way through everything, binding it all together.

You can prepare the poblanos in advance. Secured and without batter, they should be able to hang around the fridge for a little while. The dipping and frying takes no time at all, allowing your leisure to get yourself organized. A few minutes at the stove and you're soon free to head outside, preferably with a bottle of Jarritos or some more of that beer, to tear open poblanos, crisp and soft and oozing, and gobble them up, eagerly.

Which is exactly what we did. 


Poblano Chilies Stuffed with Corn
Adapted from a recipe by Eugenia Bone, as published in Martha Stewart Living (July, 2012). My children are used to some spice; please take care when handling peppers and consider the tastes of those to whom this will be served when preparing. If in doubt, omit the Thai chili.

Frozen corn can be used in place of the fresh, and I stash bags of it the freezer when we're up to our ears (ha!) in the local harvest. Blanch the husked corn, then cut the kernels from the cob and freeze on baking sheets lined with parchment until firm. Then transfer the corn to storage containers for freezing and feel rather pleased with yourself.


1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup lager beer
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
8 poblano chilies
4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, cut into 8 pieces, see note
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely-diced onion
2 cups corn kernels, cut from 2 or 3 ears
3 garlic scapes, minced, see note
1/2 Thai chili, seeded and minced, or to taste
2 teaspoons minced cilantro, leaves and tender stems
Oil for frying
Sour cream, lime wedges and additional cilantro for serving

About an a hour and a half before you want to serve, whisk together the flour, beer and salt in a wide, shallow bowl. Refrigerate batter for an hour — it will puff as it chills. 

Meanwhile, place chilies over the flame of a gas burner (or high-heat barbecue). Roast, turning carefully with tongs, until the skins are black and blistered. Alternatively, the chilies can be placed on a pan and broiled in the oven, turning often, until charred all over. In either method the aim is to be able to remove the skin without really cooking the flesh; if overcooked, the chilies will be hard to peel and too delicate to stuff. When the chilies are cool enough to handle, peel and set aside. 

In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until the onions are soft but without colour, around 5-8 minutes. Add the corn, garlic scapes, and Thai chili and continue to sauté until the corn is just tender, around 5 minutes more. Off the heat, stir in the cilantro, and season with salt and pepper.

Leaving the stem attached, use a small knife to run a slit down the side each of a peeled chili. Carefully remove the seedpod and place a slice of cheese inside. Spoon in about 1/4 cup of the corn mixture, then carefully use a toothpick to enclose the filling.

Heat 1-inch of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. When hot, dip the chilies in the batter, letting some of the excess drip off. Fry the peppers in batches without crowding, until golden on all over, about 1 minute per side. Drain on paper towels and serve with sour cream, lime wedges and chopped cilantro. 

Serves 4 as a main, 8 as a side or to start.


  • I like the cheese to be cut long and thin, so that it melts evenly and makes its way all through the filling. If the slices are too long for your poblanos, break them into pieces if necessary, rather than cutting big chunks. I'm fond of a cheese flecked with jalapeños, but plain is fine.
  • We had some scapes kicking around, plus their green speckling the corn and vegetables looks nice, but 1 tablespoon minced garlic can be used instead. 
  • Cooked white beans or favas would make a fine addition to the filling.



Soon afire

What's in that jar right there is what's going to make you famous - garlicky, kicky, chili hot sauce. And it's killer. It's as hot as blazes but with a punchy brightness, deeply flavoured without the mask of vinegar burn.

I'll get to it, I promise. I might wander on the way however, as I have been thinking.

I've been thinking it has been a long time since I've been to India. Long enough that it deserves to be written in italics, and far longer than I would like it to have been.

I have been thinking about the visits from my younger years, to the homes of family that still live in the country where my parents were born. In the height of our July I thought of the heat of Delhi in the heart of summer, a heat that feels a presence in the room, unseen though felt. It collects itself around your shoulders like a cat might curl around your feet, holding you still and motionless. In that heat, you gulp the air in breathless mouthfuls.

The smell of mosquito coils slowly burning on our back deck takes me to a veranda in Chennai. It's a scent I grew up with, that scent that twists its way through the night upon serpentine trails of smoke.  

And as much as I am there in those memories, the reality is that I am not surrounded by bougainvillea and jasmine blossoms but instead trees whose green leaves are beginning to smolder at their tips, surely soon afire. The forest will glow yellow and orange and burn red in echoes of summer's departed sun. 

The heat I'm remembering has moved from outdoors to in. To firesides, stoves, and in this case, glass jars shining crimson-bright and beckoning.

See? I told you I'd get back to the chili sauce. Never fear, dear friend. There's method to my meanderings.

The Garlicky Red Chili Hot Sauce is from Melissa Clark via the New York Times. You might want to get out your best stationery and start writing her a thank you card right now. Full of body, with heat and dimensions of character - sweet, fresh, acidic and twangy. It's all there. There's show and then there's a payoff. It's not just flash, zing, wallop you with ash and cinders. 


All you do, all it takes, is hot red chilies, sweet peppers, garlic, vinegar and salt. All into one pot, simmered gently for a few minutes, then whirled into a purée in a blender. The precious stuff, which I recommend treating with the care one might use in handling molten lava at this volatile point, is decanted into jars and left alone for three days. That's the hard part. The waiting. In that time the vinegar softens, rounding out, and the flavour of the peppers comes forward. Sweet meets heat in a way that quickens the blood and warms you right through.

One scant drop on a spoon, and it's suddenly the hottest day of summer. Wherever you may be.


Garlicky Red Chili Hot Sauce
From Melissa Clark and The New York Times.




Ready and witty

It just so happens that two people, especially important people to me, are far away right now. One will be back soon enough, soon I'll be able to count down to their arrival on the fingers to one hand. But the other, well, for her return I would have to count all my fingers and my all toes many times over before the day comes that I can give her a proper hug.

That return feels every bit as far away as it is.

In the meantime, I'm keeping the wistful glances at the calendar at minimum by keeping occupied with the imagined agendas of that homecoming. I'm squirreling anecdotes and stories away in the back of my mind, ready and witty, for the conversations that we'll have.

This dearest friend is also with me in the kitchen, or at least her influence was, when I was making this baked ricotta today. Light but with a gentle creaminess, dotted with pretty green bits of herbs and zingy with lemon, it reminds me of so many meals we've shared over the years of our friendship. On a plate between us, a meal that doesn't mind if it's forgotten when the gossip gets really good.

You'll know this is for you when you read it, so I promise that when you're home I'll make it for you - don't worry, I'll leave out the chili. We'll eat it with garlic-scrubbed shingles of grilled bread, drink something sparkling and catch up.

It will be the best time. Keep safe until then. Hugs to you.

Savory Baked Ricotta
In testing for doneness, the cheese should not be completely dry in the middle. Similar to baking a cheesecake, the ricotta will swell slightly and retain a lazy wobble when set. As it cools, it will firm up some more, so keep that in mind while baking. Individual rounds can be made in muffin tins, and are pretty platemates to a simple salad.

1 garlic clove, a fat and juicy one is best
Olive oil for greasing the dish
8 ounces fresh whole milk ricotta
1/4 cup grated Grana Padano cheese
3 tablespoons minced mixed fresh herbs, I used (in order of most to least) chives, parsley, thyme
Zest from half a lemon
Pinch of red pepper flakes or minced red chili (optional)
Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper
1 large egg white, lightly whisked

Preheat an oven to 350°F (175°C). Cut the garlic clove in half horizontally and rub the cut sides against the interior of a 1-cup capacity ramekin. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat the inside of the dish with oil. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together the ricotta, Grana Padano, herbs, lemon zest and chili (if using). Taste, then season with kosher salt and black pepper. Stir in the whisked egg white. Spoon the ricotta mixture into the prepared ramekin and place on a baking sheet.

Bake in the preheated oven until the cheese is puffed and almost set in the centre, and beginning to brown in spots, around 35 minutes depending on the dimensions of your ramekin. Remove from the oven and cool at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Serve either in the dish or run a knife around the edge of the cheese and invert onto a serving plate with crackers or bread alongside. And maybe some wine too. Surely one with bubbles. Best warm or at room temperature.

Makes 1 baked round, serving 4.

I am simply without the words to express my feelings for those who won't be coming home after the devastating earthquake in Haiti. My heart breaks for those left behind.

If you are able, please consider giving to aid organizations working to help rebuild. Yele Haiti, Médecins Sans Frontières , UNICEF and CARE and are just some of the many organizations working tirelessly on behalf of those who need it most right now.

Julie is also spearheading a project to bring together food bloggers to raise funds; I'll share more details as they come, but read the announcement of Blog Aid here.

The Canadian government has committed to matching Canadian donations, dollar for dollar, towards the relief effort and I hope we take full advantage of their promise.


Persistent memory meets opportunity

While my husband does not share my love of cooking, I take great pleasure in the fact that he does share my love of food. With is combination of enthusiasm and appetite, he is a rewarding audience to cook for - appreciative and just a bit greedy.

While I was thrilled at recent gifts of cookbooks and foodie magazines, a part of me does think that my dear Sean was even more excited. After far too many days featuring the customary menus of the season, it was he that flipped through my new books, taking note of any particularly tempting ideas. Feeling a bit burnt out after the aforementioned feasts, I was all too happy to hand over the responsibility of culinary creativity (and the associated shopping trip) to my willing partner.

It is a strategy we have been known to employ, one that prevents me from falling into a routine of recipes and challenges me a bit to boot. I will admit to exercising executive privilege now and again, balancing Sean’s often-carnivorous tendencies with lighter fare or substituting ingredients I know are more suited to our tastes. The exercise keeps us both involved in the decision of what we eat, with Sean frequently, and pleasantly, surprising me with his choices.

Most recently, it was a recipe by Tyler Florence that piqued interest - fat noodles with buttered artichokes and crab. Looking at the requisite glossy photo presented alongside, the unctuous tangle of pasta and seafood immediately recalled Nigella Lawson's chili crab with linguine. Featured in the book Forever Summer and on the television series of the same name, hers is a recipe I have carried around in my mind for years. I vividly recall salivating over the sauce alone - luscious bits of pink crab meat specked fiery orange with chili. It was one that I have always intended to make, but have never found the occasion.

Not wanting to pass up the chance now, I combined the two recipes to best appease my (nagging) curiosity and to meet Sean’s request. The result was a triumph; rich enough to feel a bit special and celebratory, still fresh with bright lemon and peppery ribbons of green.

A harmonious beginning to a new year.

Linguine with crab and artichokes
My interpretation of recipes from Nigella Lawson and Tyler Florence. I had not intended to share this recipe, but after tasting it I decided it was worthy of a feature. My sincere apologies; some of the ingredient quantities are estimates as I did not weigh and measure as I cooked, as I usually do.

500 g linguine
1 large clove peeled garlic, or two if you are so inclined
2 teaspoons kosher salt
A good pinch, about a scant 1/4 teaspoon, dried chili flakes
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
275 ml jar of artichokes, drained and rinsed well, halved if large
250 g crab meat, preferably lump
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
A handful of fresh parsley, chopped
A couple of handfuls of baby arugula (rocket), or other greens
Pepper, to taste

Put a large pot of well-salted water to boil. Cook the pasta, according to package directions or to taste. As the pasta will continue to cook when you toss it with the warm sauce, I would advise cooking until just under al dente.

Meanwhile, in a small food processor or pestle and mortar, crush the garlic, salt and chili flakes into a smooth purée. Set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and olive oil. When just melted, add about 1/2 cup of the starchy pasta cooking liquid, along with the garlic purée. Continue to cook, stirring, until reduced by about 1/3. When thickened, add the artichokes and gently toss to coat.

With the heat on low, add the crab meat, lemon zest and juice and stir to combine. Tip in the cooked, drained pasta, turning so that the noodles are well-slicked with the buttery juices. Add the parsley and arugula, continuing to turn until the greens are slightly wilted. Check for seasoning, garnish with additional chili and fresh greens if desired, serve.

Serves 4 as a main course, 6-8 as a light lunch or entrée.