Halibut Cheek Curry made with Cow-Op Love

Every day, we count our blessings to be living here in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. This is a food zone and an agricultural oasis. Our neighbours have farm stands, cows amble in nearby pastures, tractors slow down Herd Road traffic and grapes course through vineyards framed by mountains and mist.  Bounty-filled farmers’ markets can be found all over the valley  but during these pandemic times, lines are endlessly long due to Covid protocol.

Luckily for those of little patience, we can shop online at the wondrous Cow-Op where an incredible catalogue of local items, from kale to duck liver paté to garlic seed bulbs are posted for purchase.

Due to the immediate freshness of these orders, local vendors update the site weekly with prepared, frozen or just-harvested items which go live on the site every Thursday until midnight Monday.  Orders can be picked-up in Duncan and Victoria, or delivered.

Once we’d picked up our first order, David and I were hooked. Thursday trips to Hope Farm in Duncan were a charm. The farm is littered with ramshackle chicken yards and coops, mountainous rows of kale and Brussels sprouts and a large, empty, funky old barn where we pick up our order.

In June, we walked off with a box spilling over with luscious heads of green butter and red oak lettuce from Lenora Bee Apiary and Farm, bags of freshly milled rye, Einkorn and Neepawa flours from True Grain and small bundles of chèvre and Tomme de Vallée from Haltwhistle Cheese Company.  After sourcing my order from freezers and refrigerators scattered through the cavernous barn, a Cow-Op staff pointed to a tray of heirloom tomato starts on the ground nearby.  “Take me home” said the sign and I walked away with a slightly forlorn, but not forsaken Mountain Merit  heirloom tomato seedling that is still producing on my back porch.

While Thursday afternoon Cow-Op pickups have become the highlight of this foodie’s week, I don’t always remember to put in my order by the previous Monday night deadline.

Last week I not only remembered but found food goddesses by my side as I gently defrosted a package of frozen Halibut Cheeks from Drift Meat and Seafood.

I had curry on the brain. It started with stained fingers after grating fresh turmeric then ginger. Fragrant wafts of onion and garlic filled the kitchen, heightened by whole cumin and fennel seeds thrown into the mix.  I found two ripe Mountain Merit tomatoes and another opportunity for my tomatillos that are growing like a rash through my beds right now.

Even though I’ve de-husked a hundred this fall, each and every tomatillo makes me smile.  Once their papery wrapping is off, these little green orbs have a sticky coating that adheres like glue until rinsed off. Tomatillos taste like unripe, green tomatoes with a twist of lime, perfect for these soft halibut parcels infused with the flavours of the Cowichan Valley. Thank you Cow-Op for bringing it all to the table.

Halibut Cheek Curry

Inspired by my purchase of frozen halibut cheeks at the Cowichan Green Co-op, this curry is also perfect for tilapia, sole, spot prawns, shrimp or scallops. The trick to great seafood is to cook it ever so lightly until just done.

2 tbsp coconut oil

2 tsp whole cumin seeds

2 tsp whole fennel seeds

¼ tsp cayenne

1 large onion, chopped

1 tsp ground turmeric or 2-inches fresh, finely grated

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 inch fresh ginger, finely grated

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

4 tomatillos, chopped

2 fingerling or small potatoes, chopped

1 cup water

4 halibut cheeks, aprox

1 tsp salt

Freshly ground pepper

¼-1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oil in a large saute pan at medium high.  Add cumin, fennel and cayenne, cook 1 min. Add onion, turmeric, garlic and ginger and continue cooking until the onions soften.  Add tomatoes, tomatillos, potatoes and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil then gently simmer, covered for 10-15 min or until potatoes are tender.  Add more water if the sauce seems dry.  Add fish and gently simmer/poach covered until just cooked, about 3-5 min. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Garnish with chopped, fresh cilantro.

Chiang Mai Noodle soup

This is a dreamy Thai noodle-soup dish, famous in the northern city of Chiang Mai. The addition of turmeric gives it rich colour.  Delicious with chicken but also great with shrimp, or a mixture of both. Noodles can also be switched up. Fresh egg noodles found in Asian supermarkets are the classic addition, but dried thick rice noodles are perfect, too. 

Serves 6

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tbsp chopped garlic

1 sweet red pepper, diced

1/2 cup coconut cream 

3 tbsp red curry paste

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 3/4 cup coconut milk

3 1/2 cups chicken stock

15 basil leaves

2-3 chopped bird’s eye chillies

3 tbsp fish sauce

2 tsp sambal oelek chili sauce 

1 tsp sugar

1/4 tsp salt

2 lbs. boneless chicken breast, thinly sliced or shrimp, peeled and deveined 

3 tbsp lime juice

1/2 lb Chinese egg noodles or rice noodles

1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander

4 green onions, chopped 

In a large pot on medium-high, heat the oil.  Add garlic and stir-fry 30 seconds or until golden. Add diced red pepper and stir-fry 2-3 minutes or until tender.  

Open the can of coconut milk and gently spoon off half a cup of the thick cream on top into the pot.  Warm the coconut cream at medium-high, whisk in curry paste and turmeric and continue to whisk until coconut cream starts to separate slightly and glisten with oil.  Add remaining contents of coconut milk can, chicken stock, basil, chillies, fish sauce,  sambal oelek, sugar and salt.  Bring to a boil, then simmer.  Add chicken or shrimp and cook gently until it is just cooked through. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, boil egg or rice noodles for 2 minutes or until just tender.  Drain.  

Place one-sixth of the noodles in each bowl and ladle over with hot soup.  Garnish with coriander and green onions.

 

Ground lamb curry & FOO Asian Street Food

There’s nothing like the thrill of an Asian food find for an eater like me. Especially when the food is found in Victoria.  In the rain.  On Yelp. When we least expected it.

FOO Asian Street Food (769 Yates Street) is not a fancy place. Like many of its Vancouver Island brethren, this funky hole-in-the-wall demands lining up before you can order and snag a seat. At FOO the seating is slim:  no more than a dozen stools line the perimeter of the order/waiting area.

Emma and I dashed in from out of the rain and were instantly slammed (in a pleasant, food-lover’s-way) by the smell of the place. The air was thick with stir-fried oil, Thai basil, chillies, toasted seaweed and Jasmine rice. FOO’S menu, along with daily specials, were in big print on the blackboard. Reading it was veritable candy to my Asian-cuisine-starved eyes:  curries, noodles, stir-fries, dahls, sweet and sour soups,  and crazy specials like poutine with Szechuan peppercorn gravy or fries done up Togarishi-style with spicy house furikake and fermented chili mayo.

Better still, the woman at the cash taking our order was mean. She had an edgy, crowded city attitude that delights masochistic and hungry metropolitans like me.

We ordered hot fried bread and chutney to whet our appetites along with two local brews: a can of Fat Tug (Driftwood IPA) and a tall bottle of Hoyt Pilsner. IMG_1897

Because our stools were squished near the cash counter, I leaned over, smiled senior-sweetly and asked the Cash Lady if the fried bread contained chickpea flour.

She could barely contain her disgust.

“Chickpea flour?!” she scoffed.  “We’d never do that, ever.” Then she guffawed.

Okay, maybe I should have guessed turmeric.  I know they secretly tuck something into these professionally deep-fried triangles of golden-hued, super moist bread.  Each bite took the edge off our hunger.

Next up, seared morsels of rare, albacore tuna were spread out like a deck of cards over a tangle of cold soba noodles and cucumber ribbons bathed in a sesame-miso vinaigrette.  Pad Thai was ratcheted up a notch with charred scallions instead of plain old green onions.  But it was the Curried Noodle Stir-Fry that stole my foodie heart, with morsels of cha siu bbq pork, succulent shrimp and truly al dente Shanghai noodles. IMG_1900

I lied. It was the Sweet and Sour Pork Belly with tamarind glaze served with spicy green beans that stole all our hearts. Each one of these pork mouthfuls had us groaning, its flavourful fat such a yummy counterpoint to the salty pork.img_1895.jpg

Just below the blackboards manning the open kitchen, two young chefs in black T-shirts slammed, shook, tossed and sautéed non-stop. Working eight unrelenting gas burners on super high, each like a blow-torch, these guys have no time for comments or questions from Plebeians like sweet, little old me. I watched them ladle in sauces, drop in handfuls of noodles, sprinkle fistfuls of shrimp, pork or tofu and slide steaming contents into one big white bowl after another.  It was an endless stream of expert deliciousness overseen by the Cash Lady managing both the line-up and take-out call ins.

“You can pick up in an hour,” she told one caller, “Want it sooner? Try McDonalds.”

Luckily, we experienced no wait. We were at the front of the line both visits and food arrived swiftly.  After the first FOO visit, we started plotting our return, despite the more than hour drive into Victoria over a mountain pass, no less.

It was the Ground Lamb Curry’s fault. I didn’t tell you, dear reader, about its rich and layered meat sauce, redolent with a dozen spices and so superbly satisfying. The blackboard advertised it as “Indian spiced lamb” but it was so much more than those three words.  I swear those line cooks had pulled every flavour out of their toolboxes to create this glistening, gravy infused lamb creation, sweetly offset with green peas, lying on a soft white bed of basmati.IMG_1904

There were four of us all fighting over the Ground Lamb Curry on our second visit. It was a magical flavour equation that I had to recreate in my kitchen.

As every cook will attest, ingredients are 90 per cent of a recipe’s success. I jumped on two packages of frozen, farm-raised ground lamb from the Yesteryear stall at the Duncan Farmers’ Market.  Later, I pounced on fresh, very unwrinkled turmeric root at The Community Farm Store, also in Duncan. My spice drawer had recently been supplemented by a happy, inaugural stroll through Sabzi Mandi Supermarket in Nanaimo. The finishing green garnish would be a handful of mint from the burgeoning mass under our willow tree and another, from a clump of cilantro in the raised beds. (Miraculously, cilantro (fresh coriander) self-seeds here on the island.)

And because I am so humble, I attest that the only difference between my Ground Lamb Curry and Foo’s is me.  I am the final 10 per cent of this recipe’s success.

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Herd Road Ground Lamb Curry with Peas and Mint

This is the same and different from Foo Asian Street Food’s ground lamb curry.

2 cooking onions, quartered

6 garlic cloves

2 inches ginger

2 inches turmeric

Peel and chop onion, garlic, ginger and turmeric.  Whirl into a paste in a food processor, adding ¼ – ½  cup water.

In large frying pan, heat  two tablespoons oil and saute onion paste until golden, about 3 minutes.

In a small mortar and pestle, crush:

1 hot dried pepper

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp coriander seeds

½ tsp fennel seeds

½ tsp black peppercorns

1 ½ tsp coarse sea salt

Add to onion mixture and saute 1-2 minutes.

Add:

4 tbsp tomato paste

½ cup coconut milk

Bring to a boil and simmer gently for a few minutes.

Add

2 lbs ground lamb

3 tsp garam masala

Cook on medium heat until lamb is brown.  Add 1 1/2 cups water.  Cover and simmer on extreme low for 20 minutes

Add:

1 ½ cups frozen peas

2-4 small fresh green hot peppers

2 tsp anardhana (dried pomegranate) * optional

1 tbsp lemon juice

¼ cup chopped fresh mint leaves

¼ cup chopped fresh coriander

Simmer until peas are tender.  Serve on steamed basmati rice.

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