The past two Saturday’s in Vancouver have been all about one thing – Vaisakhi. This festival is observed by Hindu’s, Sikh’s and Buddhist’s, and celebrates the start of the harvest season and the birth of the Khalsa. Vancouver and Surrey celebrate Vaisakhi each year with huge street festivals and parades featuring tons of music, dancing and entertainment.

Feasting is also a huge part of Vaisakhi and many people choose to do a “Seva” or act of selfless service during the festival. In this case, that means giving out tons of free food.

Yep, that’s right – FREE! I stuffed my face with delicious curries of all kinds, deep fried naan, sweet desserts and heartwarming chai tea.

Vaisakhi 2013

Even though I had enough food at Vaisakhi to last me until the next year, I decided to further indulge my curry cravings a few days later at Siddhartha’s Kitchen on Commercial Drive with my friend, Jeremy.

The guys at VANEATS invited me to preview their new SIDDsation dining package, which is available from April 14 – August 14, 2013. For just $18, you get all this amazing food you get:

  • Aloo Tiki – 2 crispy potato cakes served with a blend of Delhi, tamarind, mango sauces topped with pomegranate and cilantro
  • Kuchumber Salad – sample size of fresh cucumber, onion, tomato & bell peppers served with chaat masala & chef special dressing
  • Chicken Korma – boneless chicken pieces cooked in an exotic curry, accented with cashew nut and raisin gravy
  • Butter Chicken – creamy Shahi sauce infused with fenu-greek leaves, cream, tomato marinade and a hint of coconut. Tossed with boneless marinated smoked chicken; a rich and unforgettable perfection

Aloo Tiki at Siddhartha's Kitchen

Chef Siddhartha – or Sid, as he asked us to call him – was incredibly nice and super passionate about his food. He creates traditional Indian dishes with modern twists that make them tastier and healthier, like the Aloo Tiki, which I couldn’t get enough of! The potatoes have a soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture and a hint of spice that is balanced out by the subtly sweet mango sauce.

Butter chicken, Chicken korma and Basmati rice at Siddhartha's Kitchen

The Butter Chicken was my hands-down favorite. It is creamy without being heavy with just the right amount of sweetness to still keep everything savoury. The chicken is tender and juicy; each piece cooked to perfection.

Butter chicken and Chicken Korma at Siddhartha's Kitchen

I really liked the Chicken Korma as well, but it has a similar flavor profile as the butter chicken. Maybe it’s because I kept eating it after a big bite of the butter chicken, but the curry flavors of the korma didn’t stand out that much to me. I do like that it was also creamy without the heaviness so I didn’t mind repeatedly dipping my naan into it!

Kuchumber Salad at Siddhartha's Kitchen

The Kuchumber Salad has a very subtle flavor and was a nice palate cleanser between the butter and korma chickens.

Palak Paneer at Siddhartha's Kitchen

I really loved Siddhartha’s menu, which was packed with great vegetarian and gluten-free options. We also ordered a Palak Paneer to go with our VANEATS package. You can tell that the spinach in this dish is really fresh as it really came through in each bite. My only complaint is that there wasn’t enough paneer, but I just really, really love paneer, so I’m hard to please haha

Siddhartha's Kitchen Signature Spicy Sauce

Sid also recommended we try his house Spicy Sauce, which will be available for retail in the near future. It’s got a real kick to it and is made with imported chilies. If you love your curry hot as hell, dump a teaspoon of this into your bowl, otherwise, I found little dabs on my chicken was enough to tickle my taste buds without making me sweat.

Siddhartha’s Kitchen
2066 Commercial Drive, Vancouver BC
604-215-7556

Kuchumber Salad photo credit: VANEATS FB page

Note: I was given a complimentary preview of this dining package. This review and all opinions are mine. If you’d like me to review your restaurant or food product, please feel free to email me at karra (dot) social (at) gmail (dot) com!

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Did you know that pesto sauce doesn’t always need to be made with basil and pine nuts? For realz.

Minty pistachio pesto prawns

Unless your Italian mom or grandma is a hardcore traditionalist when it comes to the pesto you consume (I wouldn’t want you to get disowned over this), you have definitely got to try making your own variation. I’ve seen spinach and sage combinations. Even one made with kale and walnuts!

Pistachios, shelled and unsalted

Ingredients for minty pistachio pesto

Pureed pesto minus olive oil

My version uses fresh mint for my greens and pistachios for my nuts. It’s got a light, refreshing flavor that’s perfect for summer meals. And since you can make the sauce and store it in the freezer for months, it’s great to take out when you need a quick weeknight meal.

Peeled black tiger prawns

Just sauté it with some big, meaty black tiger prawns, serve with either angel hair pasta or hot garlic bread, and enjoy with a glass of white wine.

Close up of minty pistachio pesto prawns

Minty Pistachio Pesto Prawns
Adapted from Bon Appetit

The Pesto

1 ½ C unsalted, shelled roasted pistachios
1 C chopped tomatoes
2 garlic cloves
1 C fresh mint leaves
½ C grated Parmesan
2 tbsp olive oil
Red pepper flakes
Freshly ground pepper
Kosher salt

The Prawns

½ lb black tiger prawns (or any kind of shrimp/prawn that you like), shelled and deveined
1 tbsp olive oil

  1. Place pistachios, tomatoes, garlic cloves, mint leaves, and grated Parmesan in a food processor and pulse until you get a coarse puree.
  2. Add red pepper flakes to your taste. Since the mint is so light, it’s best not to go heavy on the spice unless that’s really your thing.
  3. Add pepper and a pinch of salt. Pulse for another second to incorporate seasonings.
  4. Transfer to a bowl and add olive oil. Mix until a thick, chunky sauce forms. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Place a frying pan on medium heat and add olive oil. When oil is hot, add shrimp.
  6. Add in 1 C of the minty pistachio pesto. Freeze the rest.
  7. Cook until shrimp is curled and pink.
  8. Serve with garlic toast.

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Genuinely Healthy is a new column I’m introducing that’s all about living the good life in a healthy way. Watch out for future posts on fitness, exercise routines, healthy recipes and snacks, and tips on keeping your body at its very best!

Here’s something you might not know about me: I love to run.

I run 5km or more 2-3 times a week. I’ve done 2 half marathons. When I’m not training, I run 10km at least once a month. Yes – for fun!

Nike shoes

I definitely used to be a very laissez-faire runner, though. Only doing it the day after a very bad – but very awesome – night of dessert binging. In my mind, running for fifteen minutes was all I needed to justify all the sugar I’d consumed. But then, in a moment of insanity, I signed up for my very first half marathon – the BMO Vancouver Half.

Suddenly, I was running upwards of 10km each week. I ran in cold, rain, hail, and snow – and all four at once thanks to a freak winter day. I woke up at 6am to get my mileage in before work. I ran the day after I’d just recovered from a cold. I ran even after a nasty fall hurt my knee so bad I was limping for days afterwards.

And when race day finally came, I managed to finish under my 2 hours and 30 minute expectations. I finished with an astonishing time – at least for me – of 2:23:43. That sealed the deal. I was addicted.

Ready for my first half - the BMO Vancouver Half Marathon

This year I’m running three half marathons – the BMO Vancouver Half Marathon, the Lululemon Sea Wheeze and the Disneyland Half Marathon (my first international half!)… and I’ve got plans to run a fourth pending my budget (trips are so expensive, but worth it).

The thing I find most amazing about all of this is that I used to be asthmatic. I went to the hospital a lot when I was a kid because I couldn’t breathe. Too much running wouldn’t just leave me winded – it left me literally without breath. I had to carry a puffer up until I was 17 years old.

Being asthmatic eventually became my excuse to not do any kind of physical activity. While all my friends played sports, I read books. I loved it because it fueled my passion for writing, but it made me way too comfortable with being immobile. Eventually, I had it ingrained in my mind that my body had limits and running long distances was definitely one of them.

I’m so glad that I not only outgrew my asthma, but also my fear of pushing my body past its “limits”. It took me about 20 years to get here, but better late than never right?

What do you do to psyche yourself up and push past your limits?

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Fish isn’t really my favorite food, but I absolutely love it raw as sushi or sashimi. I’m really lucky that Vancouver has a ton of sushi restaurants, especially ones that aren’t afraid to get creative with their dishes. I’ve seen delicate mango and salmon combinations and epic California rolls topped with a mountain of spicy tuna sashimi.

My obsession with eating these undersea creatures raw should make it no surprise that I’m completely out of my element when it comes to cooking fish. I need a ton of flavor to combat that fishy taste (I always dip my sushi in a ton of soy sauce and wasabi). Some people like it, but I’m definitely not one of them.

Which is why Fish Escovitch is so perfect.

Fish Escovitch

Basa Filets for Fish Escovitch

Breaded basa filets for fish escovitch

Peppers, carrots, onions, and garlic for fish escovitch recipe

Fish escovitch is a traditional Jamaican dish has a potent mix of sweet, sour and spicy flavours. It’s made with vinegar, tons of spices, a dash of sugar, and the King of Heat – scotch bonnet peppers. Unfortunately, I didn’t have this uber spicy pepper hanging around my kitchen, so I settled for using chili flakes instead, which did the trick quite nicely.

Fish Escovitch sauce

Traditionally, snapper is used, but I opted for some basa filets that were on sale. Basa has a very mild, neutral flavor that lets all the other flavors in this recipe shine through.

I’ve made a few more modifications to the traditional recipe, but if you’re looking for a fish dish that’s a knockout at the dinner table, this is it.

Fish Escovitch recipe

Non-traditional Fish Escovitch

The Fish

1 pound basa fish or any kind of white fish
½ C seasoned flour*
2tbsp olive oil

*I use Vietnamese rice flour that has the seasoning premixed. If you can’t get your hands on one, mix ½ C regular flour with 1tsp pepper and a pinch of salt.

The Sauce

2 tbsp olive oil
4 sprigs of time
1 bay leaf
2 red peppers
1 carrot
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic (I really like garlic, feel free to use 1 clove if you’re not as huge a fan)
¾ C vinegar
Chili flakes to taste or a scotch bonnet pepper*
Pinch of salt
½ tsp sugar
¼ tsp allspice

*If you use a scotch bonnet pepper in this recipe, be extra careful when you handle it. Use latex gloves as sometimes the oils can’t be easily washed off your hands and you could accidentally irritate your eye if you touch it. Also, control the heat by not incorporating the seeds into this recipe. They’re hot motha…well, you get the idea.

  1. Give your fish a quick rinse to get rid of some of that slimy texture and then, pat dry with a paper towel.
  2. Cut fish into pieces about 2-inches wide (think bite sized).
  3. Heat olive oil in a pan on medium heat.
  4. Dredge your pieces of fish in the flour and shake off excess before laying in the hot oil.
  5. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until golden brown, then flip over. Cook for another 2 minutes.
  6. Place a paper towel on a plate (to soak up oil) and place fish on top. Store in oven to keep warm while you cook the sauce.
  7. Julienne the onion, carrot, and red peppers. Mince the garlic.
  8. Using the same pan you fried the fish in, add in all the vegetables, thyme, and bay leaves. Sautee together until onions start to soften.
  9. Add vinegar, chili flakes, allspice and sugar. Stir together.

10. Let cook for 7-10 minutes to infuse flavours.

 

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I’ve been obsessed with trying to make Cantonese-style Tomato Pork Chop ever since I tried my friend Kristie’s mom’s version of it last year.

Tomato pork chop

We’d spent the entire day filming a music video for The RUSH Urban Race and Scavenger Hunt. It was our entry into a contest that would bring us fame, fortune, prestige…okay, okay. We were singing and dancing in order to win a golden ticket that would get us to the head of the line on race day. But with over 200 teams competing in this awesome challenge-based race, you could bet your bottom dollar that front of the line status is pretty stellar.

Pork Chops

Anyway, in the midst of trying to figure out Mac-related video editing problems, we were called down to dinner where this giant plate of tomato pork chop was sitting. It looked glorious.

Huge tender pieces of pork chop swimming in a dense, sweet and sour tomato sauce.

Tomato

It took me a year, but I finally attempted to make this dish myself and it was a lot easier than I thought it would be. We may not have won the video contest or The RUSH last year, but Kristie and I are determined to give it another go this time around!

Finished tomato pork chop

Cantonese-style Tomato Pork chop

Adapted from Christine’s Recipes

Ingredients

½ lb boneless pork chops (thinly sliced)
2 tomatoes, cut into chunks
½ onion, chopped
1 ½ tbsp ketchup
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 ½ tsp garlic, minced
¼ c water
1 tbsp oil

Marinade

2 ½ tsp soy sauce
½ tsp white sugar
1 egg white
2 tsp ginger, freshly grated
½ tsp rice flour
Pinch of pepper

Thickening sauce

1 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp rice flour
2 tbsp water

  1. Rinse pork chops and pat dry with a paper towel. Tenderize with a mallet and then cut into bite-sized pieces.
  2. Mix marinade ingredients together and then add pork chop pieces. Cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge. Marinate for 20 minutes.
  3. Heat oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Add pork chops and cook until lightly browned, about 3-5 minutes. Place on dish and set aside.
  4. Add another ½ tbsp oil to the pan and sauté garlic and onions. Toss in tomato chunks. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Add water and bring to a boil.
  6. Add sugar and ketchup and then, cover pan. Cook until the tomatoes soften, about 5-7 minutes.
  7. Toss in pork chop pieces and stir together and cook until pork chop pieces are cooked through.
  8. Add thickening sauce to your preferred consistency.

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St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner and instead of enjoying my Guinness all by it’s lonesome, I decided to make one of my favourite green treats. These matcha white chocolate brownies don’t have a whole lot of Irish in them, but their pretty green colour and sweet flavour more than makes up for that tiny imperfection.

White Chocolate Matcha Brownies

Also, it’s not like, you know, shamrocks are in season right now.

Anyway, I was inspired to create this recipe after the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami. Two local food bloggers, Melody of Gourmet Fury and Joy of Gourmeted, immediately got the Vancouver community involved in a huge bake sale that raised funds for relief and aid in Japan. It was an amazing event with, and I cannot stress this enough, TONS of unbelievably delicious baked goods.

Melting butter and white chocolate together

Going home with a bag full of matcha macarons, sumo-shaped cookies, cupcakes and other yummy treats made me feel a lot like Taylor Swift when she finds a new boyfriend – incredibly lucky. But mostly because I got to stuff my face with awesome and not because I suddenly had new material to use in my next hit song.

White chocolate matcha batter in a pan

I love the earthy flavour of matcha and I’ve gotten used to associating the taste of it with feelings of calm, warmth, and ninja-like zen. The white chocolate adds a rich, decadence to this brownie, which turns out really dense and thick.

It may not be Irish, but it’s damn delicious. And I have no doubt, it will be extra yummy with a pint of Guinness, too.

White chocolate matcha brownies

White chocolate matcha brownies

1 C salted butter
10 tbsp white chocolate chips or white baking chocolate
1 C granulated sugar
1½ tbsp matcha
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 all purpose flour

  1. Melt butter and white chocolate together over a double broiler. Once melted, whisk to cool until lukewarm.
  2. Add sugar and matcha. Blend thoroughly. Batter should be a nice dark, green color.
  3. Beat in eggs and vanilla.
  4. Add in flour and fold until most of the flour is incorporated. Do not overmix or you risk getting an airy, cakelike brownie, instead of something fudgy and dense. It’s okay to have some small flour chunks in the batter.
  5. Pour the batter into a greased and parchment paper’d 8x8in pan
  6. Bake in a preheated 325F oven for 40-45 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
  7. Let rest in pan for 5-10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.
  8. Dust with icing sugar when brownies have completely cooled.

Yields: 6-9 servings depending on how big your slices are

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