Tag Archives: pescatarian

Finnish Salmon Chowder

7 Nov

Hurray! We’re fast approaching my 90-day binge fest favorite season of the year. Besides the fact that it’s widely accepted that legs don’t need daily shaving anymore, Winter is practically a free season pass to sweet candy, luscious pies, roasted turkeys with all the fixings, bottomless spiced hot chocolates and all kinds of other culinary deliciousness… Not to forget domestic fabulousness like plaid flannel pajamas, wickedly cool decorations, the year’s best movie releases, crackling hearths and overall homely splendor. Let’s admit it, Winter is like the ‘Hyacinth Bouquet’ of all seasons.

Back when I was still gainfully employed for an adventure travel company in Belgium, a handful of co-workers & I got invited on a 5-day dog-sledding ‘trek’ through the great outdoors in Lapland, in the very Northern tip of Finland… We flew from Brussels to Ivalo and then onwards to Kittala, located at the rim of the Arctic Circle. Upon arrival at our destination, we stopped at what looked like a log cabin and were greeted by a Finnish guide who beckoned us to come inside his ‘mud’ room and promptly fitted us for a bright red thermal monkey suit.

20131107-053644.jpg

We were instructed to wear this one-piece hooded suit so that only our nose and eyes were exposed. The staff was very particular about making sure we understood the importance of covering up as much as we could. We were told the hairs inside our nose would freeze, but we were reassured to not panic since our own body temperature would prevent our nostrils from freezing shut. Great! We were warned the moisture in the corner of our eyes may – or may not – freeze, causing your eyelid(s) to freeze and get stuck. “When this happens, place your gloved hand over your eye and wait to defrost”, they said, “don’t pull your eyelids, as it may cause injury”. It was -55C outside (minus 67F. MINUS, people!!!). Factor in the wind chill, and I’ve never been happier to carry 50-odd pounds of excess fat on my frame than I was then. As the days progressed, we’d mock and laugh at each other whenever an eye would freeze half shut, and we had a running tally of bets to see who’d be the first one to have both eyes freeze shut. It sounds terrible, but I’ve never laughed harder.

Those 5 days were without a doubt the most beautiful, exhilarating and eventful trip I have ever taken. Besides the fact that one of my colleagues fell madly in love with our Finnish guide and shocked us all by impulsively deciding on day 5 to not return to her husband in Belgium, we ‘yeehaw’-ed our own dog sleds through the most magnificent Winter wonderland ever…

20131107-054225.jpg

…and we stopped to visit Santa Claus Village.

20131107-055502.jpg

That’s right, I’ve been to Santa Claus in the Polar Circle. Stuff that in your pipe and smoke it. I know you’re envious! On a side note, Peggy Sue did eventually return to Belgium to resume her marriage, but we never got any detail as to what happened exactly.

Between seeing a nightly spectacle of Northern lights and eating the best cedar plank salmon I have ever tasted, I have many fond memories of that trip, but a foodie favorite of mine was ‘lohikeitto’. It’s a creamy concoction of salmon, leeks and potatoes, and it tastes great so good with toasted rye bread on a cold winter’s day. It’s Finland’s answer to New England clam chowder, really.

20131107-054717.jpg

Finnish Salmon Chowder
(also known as Lohikeitto… Adapted from a few recipes online)
– 3 Tbsp olive oil
– 1 leek, chopped (white and light green part only)
– 2 carrots, diced
– 3 cups of fish broth or stock
– 1 bay leaf
– 3/4 lbs potatoes, cubed and peeled
– 3/4 lbs salmon filet, skinned, de-boned and cut into small chunks
– 3/4 cup cream (or half & half)
– 1 Tbsp cornstarch (up to 1.5 Tbsp if you’d like the broth thick) + 1 Tbsp of water
– 1 Tbsp butter
– salt and pepper
– fresh dill for topping (or parsley, if you’re dill-hater)

Heat the olive in a large saucepan and sauté the leek until softened. Add 3 cups of fish stock and the bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and carefully add the potatoes. Cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender.
Add the salmon and simmer for five minutes. Add the cream and stir to mix. Make a cornstarch slurry with the cornstarch and 1 Tbsp of water, stirring to dissolve the cornstarch. Add to the soup and simmer until the soup has thickened.
Add the butter and remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Top with plenty of fresh parsley or dill. Serve with a squeeze of lemon, if desired.

20131107-054853.jpg

20131107-054935.jpg

Cajun Pumpkin Soup

11 Aug

Fall is by far my favorite Season. There’s several things I like about Fall, but the biggest charm for me is that all vegetables that remind me of a stormy day in Belgium are in season: parsnips, pumpkins, rutabagas, turnips… And, you get to spice everything warmly because ‘t is the season. Sadly, Southern California has only two seasons. The difference between the two being that in Fall & Winter you may need to take a sweater with you, you know, for when the sun sets… what with temperatures dropping below 65F and all.

Every October, when the last residual heat of September slowly ebbs away, I’m excited to start feeling the crisp chill in the beach air and occasionally hear the sound of rain pounding my apartment’s roof. I confess that I didn’t like rain when I lived in Belgium. Rainy days would turn into soggy weeks, then into months, and eventually you’d start wondering if you should start building an ark and save yourself?! It’s only after several months of dry heat and blistering sun that I learned to appreciate a cool, wet day. Fall in Southern California is bliss. Day time temperatures remain a steady 60F-70F, and evenings get cool enough to cuddle with my beau and sip on spiced wine without risking a hot flash. An added bonus is that with 60F, we can still crack our windows open just a smidgen, and let the earthy smell of the damp beach sand & wet wooden boardwalk permeate our humble home.

It’s on these days that the soup below tastes fantastic. Decades ago, when my brother still lived in Amsterdam and mom & I would drive up for a weekend visit, he would frequently invite us for dinner at a restaurant called ‘The Louisiana Kitchen’, off of the Ceintuurbaan in the heart of the city. At the time, I was already thinking about relocating to the USA and eventually, my brother bought me the Cajun bistro’s cookbook as a parting gift. I’ve since adapted the recipe to my own preference, but the base recipe comes out of the book.

IMG_2401.JPG

CAJUN PUMPKIN SOUP
(Adapted from a recipe out of ‘The Louisiana Kitchen’ by Rob Van Berkum & Andre Numan)

– 8 cups of chicken broth
– 35 oz of cubed pumpkin
– 2.5 cups of good quality dry sherry
– 1.5 cups of heavy cream
– 3 large shallots, diced
– 3 ribs of celery, chopped
– 2 Tbsp of Cajun seasoning + more for the shrimp
– a pinch (or two) of cayenne pepper
– a cup of sliced or chopped mushrooms (any kind)
– 1 lbs of large scampi-size shrimp
– 5 slices of bacon, cooked & crumbled

Place a large soup pot on the stove over high heat. Add a splash of olive oil, and saute the chopped shallots & celery until translucent and starting to brown. Douse with sherry, and cook for a minute or so to burn off some of the alcohol. Add chicken broth and chopped pumpkin, and bring to a boil. Let simmer until pumpkin is soft and cooked through.

In the meantime, saute sliced mushrooms until browned and cooked through. Set aside.

Cook bacon, drain or pat dry and crumble. Set aside.
Shell & devein shrimp, toss in a bit of olive oil and grill in a 450F oven with a sprinkling of Cajun seasoning until done , approx 10 min.

When pumpkin is soft, blend the soup until smooth and velvety. Add cream, 2 Tbsp of Cajun seasoning, grilled shrimp, bacon and browned mushrooms and warm through in the soup. Season with salt & pepper, and add a pinch or two of cayenne pepper for a bit of heat.

Ladle in soup bowls, sprinkle with a bit of parsley and serve with corn bread.

Spicy Caribbean Fish Stew

9 Aug

OK. So a Belgian-Caribbean connection may sound far-fetched, but if you think about it, it isn’t really all that bizarre. After all, being right next door Holland, we’re directly exposed to the culture of its territories overseas and the culinary melting pot that is Suriname and the Dutch Antilles.

Furthermore, I’ve been blessed to work in the travel industry for roughly 20 years now and have always been exposed to a broader world view in that capacity. My very first job was at the much coveted chain of adventure travel stores named ‘Joker Toerisme’, a company exuding a laid back REI-kinda atmosphere. To this day, ‘Joker Toerisme‘ holds fast to its deep-rooted values of promoting sustainable travel with the utmost respect for local culture & customs, and ensures that the many tourist dollars spent overseas directly benefit the local population. I remember that the people who walked into our store were firm believers in fair trade and genuinely seemed interested in the cultural heritage of their planned destination.

Despite my desire to relocate to the USA, I absolutely loved my job there. My colleagues were among the coolest, most caring & well-traveled people I’ve had the pleasure to meet in my life. Even though I amicably quit that job heavy-hearted when an opportunity to relocate arose 13 years ago, I can pick up the phone today and talk to any of them as though no time has passed… My visits back to Belgium always include a few dinner invitations from former colleagues, which are traditionally evenings that are filled with great travel stories, reminiscing about the old times with laughter and fantastic home-cooked meals from recipes that were collected from all corners of the world.

No matter how many hours pass, these cozy evenings seem to fly by quickly. Belgians are known to be a gregarious, hospitable folk. We take great joy in welcoming guests and providing a warm, cozy atmosphere. Like many Europeans, most of my Belgian friends have traveled extensively and their homes are eclectic havens of exotic textiles & interesting knick-knack’s that were collected throughout their many adventures overseas. I remember that many years ago, my friend Griet put on a slide show about her trip to the Caribbean she had literally just returned from. To set the proper tone, her massive oak wood table was adorned with Caribbean-style stoneware, set neatly on banana-leaf placemats, and she had cooked a scrumptious spicy fish stew from the island of Aruba. The aroma greeting me at the front door was as though I had set foot ashore the Dutch Antilles… Reportedly, she had collected the recipe from the innkeeper’s cook of a small bed & breakfast in Oranjestad. Rumor has it, the cook in question fancied Griet’s fair skin & blue eyes, but let’s not go there, shall we?

20130809-175857.jpg

SPICY CARIBBEAN FISH STEW
(Adapted from a recipe by the ‘Arubiana Inn’ in Oranjestad, Aruba)
– 1 lbs of firm white fish (cat fish or halibut work great in this recipe)
– 1 lbs of large shrimp, shell-on
– 1 red onion, finely chopped or diced
– 2 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
– 2 whole cloves
– 2 laurel leaves
– 2 Tbsp of sweet curry powder
– 1 Tsp of ground cinnamon
– 1+ spicy red pepper(s), choose as per your ‘heat’ preference (*)
– 1 cans of diced tomatoes
– 1 lemon, zested & juiced
– 3 Tbsp of sour cream
– 1/3 cup of coconut cream (or coconut milk)
– Salt & pepper, to taste
– Olive oil
– Fresh cilantro, for garnish
(*) My friend Debi over at ‘Life Currents’ wrote a great post about choosing hot peppers. Read her post here, so you can decide how ‘hot’ you want to go in choosing the kind of pepper and the quantity for this dish.

In a large heavy pan, sauté the diced onion until translucent and starting to brown. After approx. 3 min or so, add the minced garlic, curry powder, cloves, cinnamon and chopped spicy pepper(s). Continue to stir-fry the spices and onions for 3-5 min to bring out their flavors. Add tomatoes, lemon juice, sour cream & coconut milk and season with salt & pepper to taste.

Chop fresh fish into large chunks, and place chunks in these in the sauce. Make sure to submerge them in the sauce as much as possible, so they cook evenly. Let them braise for about 15 min, then add shrimp and cook for 3-5 min more until shrimp are pink and fish is cooked through.

Sprinkle some chopped fresh cilantro over the top and serve with fried plantains, bread or rice.

%d bloggers like this: