Monthly Archives: November 2010

Breakfast Blitz Part Three: Gruesli

Gruesli - looks better than its name, eh?

Gruesli sounds like something akin to gruel, doesn’t it? Although admittedly it is not the best name, there are two reasons for it. One is to help me keep it a “little bit secret”  – as much as I want to share it with my dear friends, it is so sacred that I am not prepared to release it to the world…yet! The name “Gruesli” acts as a bit of a deterrent – who wants to eat Gruesli, anyway?! The second reason for the name? It’s an amalgam of the words granola and muesli – which is exactly what this recipe is!

I love granola, but it is fattening. I started playing around with granola recipes a year ago, trying to concoct one of my own that would not have so many calories and fat grams associated with it. In the process of doing so, I learned the difference between muesli and granola, which essentially is that granola is coated in a sugary candied base and toasted, whereas muesli takes the same set of base ingredients but doesn’t toast or coat them. Knowing this distinction gave me the idea of aspiring to something in between, hence: gruesli – and amalgam of GRanola and mUESLI

When I finally perfected my granola, I began to share it with a few like-minded health conscious friends, and it was my friend Sarah who called it “Granola of the Gods”. Wow, my cooking and baking had never been referred to as food of the gods before – what an honour. But the more I think of it, it’s actually a pretty practical name in and of itself. Many of the ingredients that I have pulled into the recipe are associated with religious or spiritual traditions around the world. Pomegranate, for example, is a very prominent symbol of the Armenian church, where they adorn the inside of cathedrals as a symbol representing the blood of Christ. Quinoa was considered by the Inca (and later the Quechua) as a grain of the gods. Dates are commonly eaten at ifthar to break fast during the holy month of Ramadan and were loved by the Prophet. Oatmeal was thought of as food of the gods by the Norse, and the fig tree appears as a metaphor all over the Old and New Testament. So, call it what you like – Gruesli or Granola of the Gods – but whatever you do, enjoy it without guilt. My “secret” ingredient in this recipe is the pomegranate molasses. Available at Persian or Middle Eastern stores, it is made of pure pomegranate (it is not the sugary-sweet grenadine syrup found in the mixed drink section of the supermarket). This adds an intense flavour and also acts as a substitute for large amounts of oil that are normally called for in granola. If you aren’t going to add it, replace it with oil.

Ingredients:

Set One: 2 cups organic old-fashioned rolled oats

1/2 organic Fair Trade quinoa flakes

3 flax seeds, ground

1 1/2 tbsp sunflower oil

2 tbsp cold water

2 tbsp pure pomegranate molasses (available at Middle Eastern stores)

2-3 tbsp maple syrup

1 tsp pure vanilla

Set Two: 8 finely chopped unsulphured dried apricots

4 finely chopped dried mission figs

6 finely chopped medjool dates

3 tbsp dried blueberries

2 tbsp Persian dried sour cherries (optional)

1/4 cup golden raisins

2 tbsp sunflower seeds

2 tbsp pumpkin seeds

1/4 cup broken walnut pieces

1/4 cup pistachios

2 tbsp almond flakes

Instructions:

Mix set one together and then spread out over a large glass cake or lasagne pan. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes at 250 degrees, stirring every 15 minutes or so. Remove and cool. Add set two ingredients, toss, and store in an air tight container. This recipe should produce approximately 18 servings of 1/3 cup.

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Breakfast Blitz Part Two: Winter and Summer Semolina

This is quite possibly the most comforting breakfast food I can think of. And it’s a fairly recent discovery. I have always loved hot cereal – or porridge. My mom used to make us Cream of Wheat or Red River cereal when we were younger, and oatmeal was always a staple upon waking up in an icy tent on a cool morning at camp. But this one takes the prize for most comforting, and I’ll tell you why.

Two summers ago, we were travelling in the Xinjiang-Uygher Autonomous Region of China (a gross misnomer for what I prefer to call “Occupied Turkestan”) This region in the western reaches of China is Islamic, and the Uyghur people are Turkic in descent. You would think that this would bring about some good food, but it’s not that straight forward. Uyghur food was delicious – but only if you could find it. We happened to be in Turkestan shortly after a bloody uprising in the city of Urumqi, where Uyghur Muslims and Han Chinese clashed in the streets. Arriving a mere 7 days later, we were immersed in a state of military lockdown, curfew and frozen communication. I am fairly certain we were among mere dozen foreign tourists in the region and we had only to look to the food to know that they weren’t expecting us.

Anyway, you didn’t come here to read about the ins and outs of the Chinese occupation of East Turkestan (although I would love to tell you about it!) You came here to read about breakfast. And here’s where it connects. Turkestan offered us up some pretty grim food choices. You know me – I’ll try anything once (provided it has no mammals in it) but breakfasts in Turkestan really tested my limits. I remember one morning watching another man in our group peel a hardboiled egg and find the egg itself black and brown and rancid. Other options included last night’s dinner, a variety of pickles, congee and old, tasteless steamed buns. I found it hard to believe the Chinese-owned hotels were serving up leftovers for breakfast when merely metres away, Uyghur bakers were churning out piping-hot sesame naan and bagels and onion stuffed breads with fresh roasted eggs and grapes and melons straight from the farm.

So, that leads me to semolina. When we crossed the border into Kyrgyzstan, I felt the weight of the world lifted. No more guns in our faces, no more ‘wanted’ signs hunting down Uyghur activists, no more convoys of military trucks and Communist Party propaganda music playing in the square. And…no more rotting black eggs. We spent our first night in a yurt camp outside the Tash Rabat Caravansaray that was run by Russians. I cannot describe the ecstacy of finding bread, cheese, jam, yoghurt and…cardamom infused semolina porridge on the table the next morning. I wrapped my hands around the hot bowl as we crowded into a dinner yurt on a frigid August morning (winter comes very early in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, and that morning we awoke to frost and ice). I remember watching the morning sun turn the impossibly green mountain slopes aglow, and turning to someone to say “I am so happy that they let me out of China!” Semolina porridge will be forever attached to that wonderful feeling of freedom and warmth. I now make semolina porridge every time I crave comfort.

This version is a blend of Moroccan, Russian and Indian flavours. There is a famous dessert in India known as Rave Ganji (ironically, ganji is ‘congee’ – and congee is what traumatized me at breakfast in China) and from this recipe I have taken the idea of ghee and saffron. The Russians brought me cardamom – although that could come from Indian, too. The rest is Moroccan. Put them all together and you have a decadent but healthy breakfast. I am including two recipes – one is a simpler version that is perfect for early fall when mission figs and blue plums are abundant and succulent. The other is for the dregs of winter, when nothing seems to taste succulent.

Winter Semolina for two

1 1/2 cups milk (or water)

1 1/2 cups water

6-8 tbsp semolina

1 tsp cardamom

pinch of saffron

1 tbsp ghee

a generous handful of slivered almonds, pistachios and walnuts

4 dried mission figs, chopped (or raisins)

pinch of crushed dried rose petals (optional)

honey

1. Very slowly bring milk, water and cardamom to a near boil – don’t let it boil fully or the milk will curdle and develop a skin

2. When hot, remove 2 tbsp of water/milk mixture and mix in a bowl with crushed saffron. Add semolina, one tbsp at a time, to the pot of milk and water,  and whisk to blend. Continue until all of the semolina is blended.

3. Continue to whisk until the mixture thickens, then remove from heat but keep covered.

4. Heat ghee in a pan and add the nut mixture,  with figs and rose petals, tossing frequently to avoid burning

5. Serve the semolina into two bowls. Then pour the nut and fig mixture on the centre (scraping in any remaining ghee), pour the saffron around the edges of the bowl, and drizzle with a tsp of honey on each.

Summer Semolina Porridge

Do the same as above, but do not add saffron, and do not mix dried figs with the nuts. When the semolina is cooked, garnish with chopped fresh figs and blue plums (and even banana slices, if you want), followed by the nut mixture, and drizzled honey.

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