I don't know how I got so lucky.
Writing recipes, cooking, baking and taking pictures of food is my JOB.
Sometimes I feel like it's a dream.
I mean, come on, seriously - IS THIS FOR REAL?!
I woke up a few weeks ago to an email that read -
Hi Kelly - Nice to e-meet you! Your passion for telling stories through food caught our eye and we feel you’d be a great partner to help inspire Canadians to share their heritage through cooking. Along with a small group of influencers across Canada, we’d like to invite you to participate in Rethink Beef: Global Recipe Swap. This exciting new project will celebrate how deliciously different, yet uniquely Canadian, our nation’s kitchens are. Here’s how it’ll work: You develop a recipe inspired by your cultural background or a cultural culinary adventure you’ve had. The key ingredient you’ll need to use in the creation of your recipe is ground beef. Many Canadians automatically think of burgers when thinking ground beef, however there are many more possibilities! We want to encourage Canadians to rethink ground beef and its uses; it can be incorporated into curries, pies, empanadas, koftas, poutine, tacos, dumplings, roti, bibimbap, etc. – just to name a few.
How cool is that?!
I responded YES right away as my brain began to churn. What kind of recipe could I create to showcase my cultural background? Two of my grandparents were straight up French Canadian. My dad's dad, Edgar Omar Legault, was from Penetanguishene, Ontario and my mum's mum, Élodie Marie Gallien, was born in Caraquet, New Brunswick. Nanny was pure Acadian French, and my gut reaction was to write an Acadian-inspired recipe.
I researched and brainstormed Acadian recipes but I couldn't quite come up with something that felt right.
One teeny tiny word popped into my head.
I know, I know, it's so random, and has nothing to do with French food, but I grew up in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia where there is absolutely NO WAY to make it through your formative childhood years (and henceforth, adult years) without consuming copious amounts of the almighty HALIFAX DONAIR. And so, although donairs don't tie into my genetic cultural heritage, they're definitely linked to my youth. My city. My home.
What is that?
In a nutshell, it's ground beef (sometimes lamb), seasoned with a ton of spices. The meat is formed into a giant loaf and baked in the oven. After it's cooked, the loaf is skewered and hoisted onto a rotating spit which makes the outside nice and crispy. The crisped meat is then cut vertically into thin strips with an electric shaver (it looks like a big vegetable peeler) and served on warm pita bread with diced tomato, diced raw onion, grated mozzarella cheese and 'donair sauce' made from sweetened condensed milk, white vinegar and garlic powder.
For those of you who are unsure, let me tell you.
THEY'RE SO GOOD.
And here on the East Coast, they're EVERYWHERE.
Like the Atlantic Ocean, the lighthouse at Peggy's Cove, the clock on Citadel Hill or Pizza Corner, to anyone from the Halifax region, donairs are a symbol of HOME.
Ok, so how do I tie donairs to the #ReThinkBeef project?
I'm kind of obsessed with Italian food. I've worked at Halifax's best Italian restaurants, and a few years back, I spent close to a month travelling through Italy.
I started thinking about the ingredients in a donair - pita bread, tomato, onion, mozzarella, sweet creamy sauce.
The two main ingredients in Tuscany's classic bread salad, called Panzanella, are bread and tomato.
So what if I...
WAIT WAIT I'VE GOT IT.
EAST COAST PANZANELLA SALAD
sourdough bread instead of pita bread
sundried tomato instead of raw tomato
quick pickled red onion instead of diced white onion
fresh, torn mozzarella instead of grated mozzarella
sweet creamy garlicky dressing instead of donair sauce
hand-rolled donair meatballs instead of thinly sliced donair meat
I'm not sure how well this 'salad' would go over in Tuscany, but turns out it's a pretty tasty mash-up.
EAST COAST PANZANELLA SALAD (serves 4)
East Coast Panzanella Salad is a mash-up of the Halifax donair and the classic Italian bread salad. The measurements for the salad are simply guidelines. Feel free to add more or less onion, cheese, dressing, basil etc. to suit your tastes.
1 small red onion
1/2 Cup red wine vinegar
12 pre-baked donair meatballs (see recipe below)
1/2 loaf sourdough bread
1/2 Cup bocconcini or any fresh mozzarella you like, torn into pieces
1/4 C sundried tomatoes, sliced
sweet creamy garlic dressing, to taste (see recipe below)
fresh basil leaves for garnish
· Make donair meatballs (see recipe below) – set aside
· Make sweet creamy garlic dressing (see recipe below) – set aside
· Slice red onion as thin as you can – place into a small dish and cover with red wine vinegar – set aside
· Heat a small skillet over medium to high heat – once hot, add pre-baked donair meatballs and cook until browned and slightly crisped on the outside – reduce heat to minimum to keep warm
· Tear or cut the sourdough bread into bite-sized pieces – place bread pieces in a large bowl with torn fresh mozzarella, sliced sundried tomatoes, slices of pickled red onion and warm crisped donair meatballs – drizzle with sweet creamy garlic dressing and toss to coat – add more dressing to taste if desired – serve garnished with a sprinkle of kosher salt and fresh basil leaves
DONAIR MEATBALLS (makes approximately 24 small meatballs)
1 lb ground beef (I like lean or medium but any will do)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp pepper
· Pre-heat oven 350º
· In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together by hand until well combined – for true donair texture, pulse the meat in a food processor, in small batches, until smooth
· Roll into small balls and bake on parchment lined baking sheet 20-22 minutes – remove from oven and set aside
· To serve, cook meatballs in a hot skillet over medium heat until browned and slightly crispy
SWEET CREAMY GARLIC DRESSING (makes approximately 1 Cup)
1/2 Cup canola oil
1/4 Cup white vinegar
1/4 Cup mayonnaise
1 Tbsp honey
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
· Combine all ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake well – adjust salt and pepper to taste
But what about the 'swap' part of the Global Recipe Swap?
See that's another super cool thing about this project. I was matched up with BC blogger Pailin Chongchitnant. Based in Vancouver, Pai blogs about, and makes fantastic cooking videos for her YouTube channel 'Hot Thai Kitchen' to showcase, her native Thai cuisine.
Cooking has always been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Growing up in southern Thailand, I always found myself in the kitchen, doing whatever I could to help prepare family dinners. After high school, I headed for the University of British Columbia in Vancouver to study nutritional sciences (it had to be food-related!). Convinced I wanted to devote my life to food, I started working in professional kitchens. I soon moved (again!) to San Francisco for culinary school to further my skills at Le Cordon Bleu, and continued to work in the restaurant industry after graduation. Though I was revelling in the new foods of the West, I always delighted at any opportunity to tell my friends all about Thai cooking, and that’s when I realized how much I loved to teach people about Thai cuisine, and how much I missed it. And at the suggestion of my brother, Hot Thai Kitchen was born in my little San Francisco apartment! I am now back in Vancouver, but I go home to Thailand every year to see my family, to stay in touch with my culture, and to find more interesting things to share with you all!
I sent Pai my East Coast Panzanella recipe and she sent me a Thai recipe called Guay Tiew Neua Sub which basically translates to 'rice noodles with curried meat sauce'. I was pretty excited, albeit a little intimidated, to make real Thai food, but I followed along with Pai's instructional YouTube video and it couldn't have been easier (video will be posted upon Pai's public release)! A base of thinly sliced, crunchy green lettuce topped with crispy fried noodles, a layer of Thai flavoured 'Bolognese' sauce and a drizzle of chili vinegar? So many textures and flavours to oooh and ahhh over. Even my eight month old baby loved it! Pai's recipe is most definitely going into my wheelhouse.
GUAY TIEW NEUA SUB (serves 4)
1 lb ground beef
1 Tbsp fish sauce or soy sauce
2 1/2tsp curry powder
vegetable oil, as needed
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 onion, small diced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 cup chicken stock, unsalted
2 Tbsp oyster sauce
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
a couple of dashes of Worcestershire sauce (optional, to taste)
1 Tbsp tapioca starch or cornstarch
3 Tbsp water
1 stalk of Chinese celery or 2 inner stalks and leaves of regular celery
4 cups loosely packed green leaf lettuce, cut into short ribbons.
2 lbs fresh wide rice noodles (see note)
a dash of Thai black soy sauce or another type of dark soy sauce (optional)
4 egg yolks, optional (1 per portion)
Sriracha or chili vinegar for serving (see note)
Note: Fresh wide rice noodles or 'ho fun' are classic for this dish and I recommend finding them if you can. They come already cooked and can be found at some Asian grocery stores in the refrigerated section. If they are cold and stuck together in a block when you buy them, heat the noodles in the microwave until hot, and you will be able to peel the noodles apart from each other. Alternatively, you can use thin rice noodles, the thread-thin ones which are the thinnest ones available on the market. These are sold dried, and you simply need to soak these in hot water for 3-4 minutes until soft, then drain well. Do not over soak them!.
Chili vinegar is a classic Thai condiment that is very simple to make. Recipe for it here: http://hot-thai-kitchen.com/egg-noodle-pad-see-ew
· Mash together ground beef, fish sauce or soy sauce, and curry powder; set aside
· In a pot, sauté garlic and onion in a little vegetable oil over medium heat until the onion is translucent and the garlic starts to turn golden.
· Add the beef and keep stirring, breaking up the lumps, until the beef is fully cooked. Stir in diced tomatoes, then add chicken stock, oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar, white pepper and Worcestershire sauce (if using). Simmer gently over medium low heat, reducing the liquid until it looks like a stew. Meanwhile, stir the tapioca starch with just enough water to dissolve it.
· Once the sauce has reduced, give the tapioca slurry a quick stir then add a splash of it to the sauce, quickly stirring it in. If the sauce is simmering (as it should be), the sauce will thicken almost instantly. Stir in a little more slurry as needed until the sauce has reached a bologenese-like consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning, then let it sit for now.
· If you want raw egg yolks on top (highly recommended!), crack all your eggs into a bowl, making sure the yolks are not broken and set aside for now.
· When ready to serve, line serving plates with a handful of the green leaf lettuce. Toss the rice noodles in the black or dark soy sauce.
· Heat a wok or a large non-stick pan over high heat until very hot. Coat the bottom with a little oil, then add the noodles. Give them a quick toss, then spread them out and let sit until the bottom side is toasted in some spots. Give them a flip or a quick stir and let them toast some more. Remove from heat and divide amongst serving plates.
· Reheat the sauce if needed, then stir in the celery (both stalks and leaves). Pour the sauce over the rice noodles. If serving yolks, use your CLEAN hands to scoop out an egg yolk, letting the egg white drip back into the bowl as much as possible, and place one yolk on top of each portion. To eat, drizzle a little Sriracha or chili vinegar on top (yes, you need it) and mix the noodles well with the egg yolk and lettuce. Enjoy!
Here are the other nine blogger participating in the Global Recipe Swap -
Barbara Mayhew - My Island Bistro Kitchen - Charlottetown, PEI - Mousakka
CJ Katz - CJ Katz.com - Regina, SK - Lentil Kefta Kebabs with Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce
Fareen Jadavji Jessa - Food Mamma - Calgary, AB - Mayai Mani (Beef and Egg Casserole)
Helene Pelequin - La Cuisine Helene - Ottawa, ON - Cheesy Beef Coquillettes with Herbs
Jason Lee - Shut Up and Eat - Montreal, QC - Beef Coriander Dumplings with Spicy Chili Oil
Julie Miguel - Daily Tiramisu - Toronto, ON - Italian Stuffed Eggplant
Michelle Peters - The Tiffin Box - Edmonton, AB - Kheema Pav
Pailin 'Pai' Chongchitnant - Hot Thai Kitchen - Vancouver, BC - Guay Tiew Neua Sub
Shel Zolkewich - Shel Zolkewich.com - Winnipeg, MB - Mexican Chipotle Taquito
For more information about The #ReThinkBeef Global Recipe Swap, including all of the recipes, please visit www.thinkbeef.ca.
Disclaimer - This post is sponsored and I was compensated monetarily and with groceries by www.thinkbeef.ca