Algerian Mechoui Burger with Chakhchoukha

A few months ago I came up with a personal culinary research project. Explore every country on Earth with the internal filter: “How would this culture make a burger?”
So I’d look for meat dishes that either use ground meat or if the culture is largely vegetarian, find flavourful non-meat alternatives and create it in the form of a burger.
Recently, I was looking at the North African country of Algeria. While some of the spice combinations are relatively common among its neighbouring cousins of Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria has a French influence from colonial times. There’s delicate uses of flavoured butters to brush over meat while it roasts.
The Algerian roast lamb dish, Mechoui, is a prime example. By adding a myriad of spices and garlic to butter and oil, this flavourful medium is basted over either parts of a lamb or a whole animal and slow roasted.
I thought this would be a wonderful way to treat a lamb burger as it is griddled. Get a deep, dark sear on each side and baste it with a flavourful oil/butter. It’s perfect on its own, but I also like to explore what would be made in the region for a condiment. Or something creative to use as a condiment.
Sure I could use harissa. It’s a fiery paste used to accent any number of dishes across North Africa. But I like to find flavourful dishes that are unique to a given country. In Algeria, they have a stewed lamb, vegetable and chickpea dish called Chakhchoukha. Normally a braised lamb shank/chop dish with the sweet, floral essence of the spice blend, Ras el hanout, it becomes almost like the Algerian take on chili con carne. Rich, savoury, hearty and the perfect sauce for flatbreads.
Flatbreads. Meaty sauce. Flavourful burger. Sounds like a winning combination to me!! Enjoy!!

Algerian Mechoui Burger with Chakhchoukha:

For the Mechoui Burger:

600g/20 oz ground lamb
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup cold pressed camelina oil
1 tsp, each, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1-2 tsp salt

For the Ras el Hanout Spice Mix:

1 tsp, each, cinnamon, ground ginger, cardamom, corainder seeds, cumin seeds
1/2 tsp each, cloves and hot paprika

For the Chakhchoukha (Algerian Lamb and Chickpea Stew):

100g/4 oz ground lamb
1 tsp cold pressed camelina oil
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/4 cup chopped parsnips
2 Tbsp Ras el Hanout
1/2 cup chopped rutabaga
4 cups water
1 red chilli, chopped
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tsp dried mint
2 cups cooked chickpeas
1-1/2 cups water

To serve:

Prepared Chakhchoukha
Prepared Mechoui Burgers
16 whole wheat flatbreads, cut into circles just bigger than your burgers
1 cup of fresh parsley

For the Ras el Hanout, add all of the spices to a spice grinder and grind until a fine powder is achieved. Set aside.
For the Chakhchoukha, in a large pot over medium high heat, add the oil, onions, garlic, ground lamb and Ras el Hanout. Sauté, with vigorous stirring, for a few minutes to brown the meat and soften the onions. Add the carrots, parsnips and rutabaga. Stir for 4-6 minutes to start to soften the vegetables and coat them in the aromatic spices. Add 4 cups of water and the red chilli, bring to a simmer, cover with a lid, reduce heat to medium and simmer for about 40 minutes or until the meat and vegetables have softened more.
Add the tomato paste, chickpeas, dried mint and water. Stir to smooth out the tomato paste and increase the heat to medium high again to bring the mixture to a simmer again. With a lid ajar, simmer for another 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally until thick. Set aside and keep warm.
To prepare the burger, divide the 600g of ground lamb into four equal portions. Form each portion into even patties. I like to press each portion into a large ramekin to form an even patty shape and pop them out. Instant burger patty!
Grind the spices for the Mechoui in a spice grinder. Melt butter in a small pan, pour into a small bowl with the oil, garlic and ground spices.
Preheat a cast iron pan over medium heat. Once it is smouldering, add a tablespoon or so of oil. Lightly season each side of the lamb patties. Place the burgers, two at a time, into the cast iron pan. Griddle for about 3-4 minutes. Flip, baste the seared side with the spiced butter mixture. After another 3-4 minutes, flip the patty again, basting the newly seared side with the spiced butter mixture. Allow to cook in the pan for a further minute to give an increased smoky essence to the toasted garlic on the burger. Repeat with remaining patties and spiced butter mixture.
To serve, ladle 1/2 cup of the prepared Chakhchoukha into a blender and purée until smooth. Spread 8 of the flatbread circles with the Chakhchoukha purée. Top each flatbread with another flatbread to make a series of Chakhchouka “sandwiches.” Add a small handful of fresh parsley on four of the “sandwiches,” add about 1/4 cup of Chakhchoukha to the top of the parsley, then a prepared Mechoui Burger and top with another Chakhchoukha flatbread “sandwich.” Serves 4. There will be a bit of Chakhchoukha leftover. It’s great on it’s own or with some flatbread chips.


Za’atar Eggplant Dip

Za’atar is a Middle Eastern blend of herbs and sesame seeds that is most commonly blended with olive oil and spread on pita dough, then baked in a hot oven. This perfect little crispy, savoury treat is a breakfast favourite. Aromatic with oregano, thyme, summer savoury and sesame seeds, it’s the perfect wake-me-up.
It also has the tart, almost lemony flavoured sumac. While I can forage for this spice in certain parts of a nearby river valley, I look for other options. And in the winter months, I tend to add lemon, either the zest, juice or both, depending on the situation.
Today, with a roasted eggplant dip, I wanted the full brightness of a freshly squeezed lemon to not only add flavour, but the smooth out the purée along with a cold pressed oil.
Combining a za’atar blend with an eggplant dip makes for a super punchy dip to enjoy with fresh veggies or some crisp flatbread chips. Since most of the work is done by your oven, it’s a largely hands off dish to prepare as well. Super easy for any night of the week!

Za’atar Eggplant Dip:

For the Za’atar Spice Blend:

1 tsp, each, dried summer savoury, dried oregano, dried thyme, toasted flax seeds
1/2 tsp salt

For the Dip:

300g/12 oz eggplant
2 Tbsp lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
1 Tbsp cold pressed camelina oil (or any cold pressed/extra virgin oil)

Preheat oven to 210C/425F. Line a small baking pan with parchment paper.
For the Za’atar Spice, combine the herbs, flax seeds and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.
Add the eggplant to the prepared baking pan. Roast on the lower rack for about 45 minutes or until very soft. Peel away the skin and remove the stem, discarding both. Add the roasted flesh to a blender with the lemon juice and oil. Purée until mostly smooth. Add the Za’atar Spice Blend and pulse the blender a few times to combine. Transfer to a small bowl and refrigerate for at least a few hours for the flavours to marry together. Allowing it to sit overnight is even better, but a few hours is okay. Serves 2 as a starter, snack with fresh veggies and flatbread chips. It also makes a great sandwich spread instead of mayo.

Mushroom Eggplant Poutine

Poutine has its origins in the humble, blue collar regions of Québec. Over the years, the now classic combination of fries, spiced chicken gravy and fresh cheese curds have traversed North America. And on its travels, it has has dozens of permutations. A different sauce. A different cheese. A different root vegetable for the fries.
I’ve done my fair share of variations of this classic dish, but revamping every component is a new exploration for me. My thought processes started with the mushroom. I’ve been eating a cheese produced in Western Canada a lot lately from Bothwell Cheese. Their Smoked Chanterelle Mushroom Aged Cheddar is bright, slightly tart, mildly smoky and deeply earthy not only from the mushrooms, but from the aging process of the cheese itself. I thought a mushroom sauce would be a perfect accompaniment.
I wanted to have something besides a French fry for the foundation. One of my favourite “fry alternatives” is doing a baked, breaded eggplant fry. Simply cut an eggplant into chunky English-style chips, dredge them in prepared mustard then into spiced breadcrumbs and bake until crispy. They’re tasty on their own, but they make a great base for a poutine as well.
Three basic steps, going for an exploration, like the dish itself has done. Enjoy!!

Mushroom Eggplant Poutine:

For the Roasted Mushroom Gravy:

1/2 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped celery
100g/4 oz quartered fresh white mushrooms
1/4 cup cold pressed camelina oil (or your favourite cold pressed/extra virgin oil)
3/4 cup water
1 bay leaf
2 Tbsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp celery seeds
3-4 Tbsp water, as needed

For the Eggplant Fries:

450g/1 lb eggplant, cut into 2cm/1″ x 5cm/2″ strips
3/4 cup prepared mustard (I use homemade but your favourite mustard is fine)
1 cup dried breadcrumbs
3 Tbsp creole/cajun seasoning (or your favourite seasoning. Curry powder is a nice variation)

To serve:

Prepared Roasted Mushroom Gravy
Prepared Eggplant Fries
100g/4 oz Smoked Chanterelle Aged Cheddar, or any good aged cheddar, crumbled

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.
In a medium roasting pan, scatter the onions, celery and mushrooms evenly. Drizzle with oil and toss with your fingers to evenly coat. Roast on the lower rack of the preheated oven for 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven, add 3/4 cup water, bay leaf and thyme. Return to the oven on the lower rack and roast for another 30 minutes.
Remove the bay leaf, transfer the remaining contents of the roasting pan, including the juices, to a blender and purée until smooth. Season with salt and celery seeds. Add more water if necessary to get to a thick “gravy-like” consistency. Set aside and keep warm.
For the Eggplant Fries, place the mustard in a small bowl. Place the breadcrumbs and seasoning in another small bowl. Dredge the eggplant strips in the mustard, letting excess drip off, then dredge in the seasoned breadcrumbs. Place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. When all of the eggplant has been breaded, place in the same preheated oven as the mushrooms and bake for 12-15 minutes. Turn the eggplant fries with tongs and bake for a further 12-15 minutes until the breading is deeply golden on all sides and the eggplant is soft inside.
To serve for a dressier plating, lay out 5-7 Eggplant Fries on a plate next to each other. Drizzle an even line of Roasted Mushroom Gravy over the centre of the fries and evenly add crumbled cheese over the gravy. For a more rustic, traditional plating, place a few fries on the bottom of a bowl, drizzle gravy over them, crumble some cheese over the gravy. Repeat layers of fries, gravy, cheese until the poutine is heaped and delightfully rustic. Serves 2-3…..or one….urp 😉

Uitsmijter (Dutch Egg Sandwich) with Smoked Sausage Spread

I get a lot of random food meanderings on a regular basis. Recently I was thinking, “What do Dutch people eat for breakfast?” It turns out, most of the time it’s something very simple. Sandwiches or anything involving bread. There might be hardboiled eggs or cheese and butter or the famous Dutch chocolate sprinkles, Hagelslag.
The closest thing to a North American idea of breakfast in Holland is the sandwich called Uitsmijter. This word translates as “to be forcefully thrown out.” The origin of the name comes from how this sandwich is enjoyed. After a night of going out and you congregate at a friend’s home for a late night snack, you make a ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg on top. And oftentimes, it’s younger people who do this so a parent may wake up at 3am and “throw out” the revellers.
This sandwich can be also found on lunch menus with a salad so I thought it would be a great brunch idea.
I didn’t have ham in the house, but I had roasted a smoked garlic sausage the night before and wanted to incorporate it somehow.
The Dutch also have a sandwich spread called Filet Americain, which is a smooth puréed version of steak tartar. Raw beef, pickle, egg, onion/shallot and mustard. It’s smoothed out with mayonnaise in Holland, but I thought I could do a version of this with sour cream and smoked sausage. Partly, I wanted to do a spread without using raw meat (I have health issues that would make it dangerous for me) and partly, I thought the brighter smoky flavour would be great with the egg and cheese on rye bread. Enjoy!!

Uitsmijter (Dutch Egg Sandwich) with Smoked Sausage Spread:

For the Smoked Sausage Spread:

120g/4oz smoked pork sausage meat removed from the casing, chopped
1 medium sweet pickle, chopped
2 Tbsp shallots, chopped
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup cold pressed camelina oil (or any cold pressed/extra virgin oil)
1 tsp prepared mustard

For the Uitsmijter:

Prepared Smoked Sausage Spread
8 slices rye bread
8 large eggs
4 tsp oi
4 tsp butter
8 slices cheese (traditionally the Dutch use Gouda, but any good cheese slice is fine. I used mozzarella slices because that’s what I had)
450g/1 lb cherry tomatoes, quartered for a side salad

For the Smoked Sausage Spread, add the sausage meat, pickle, shallot, sour cream, oil and mustard to a blender or food processor and purée until mostly smooth. Set aside.
Grill the bread slices on an indoor grill or under your broiler/grill in your oven.
Fry your eggs, two at a time, in a teaspoon of oil and butter until the yolk is medium set.
For each portion, on two slices of grilled bread, spread the Smoked Sausage Spread liberally over the top. Top with cheese while the bread is still warm and top with a couple of fried eggs. Serve with a tomato salad. Serves 4.

Grilled Curried Eggplant Pizza

I shop a lot at farmer’s markets. Like almost exclusively for my food. There’s a few dairy items I get from an organic grocery store, but for the most part I eat with the seasons. Being in a rather northern climate in Western Canada, the vegetable options can become roots, roots and more roots as the winter goes along. I love things like carrots, rutabaga, beets, potatoes, celeriac, etc so it’s not a problem. But I’m also fortunate enough to have a few industrious families who grow exceptional vegetables in greenhouses/nurseries.
Places like Doef’s or Gull Valley Greenhouses grow a variety of tomatoes, lettuces, cucumbers, sweet peppers, chillis, green beans (seasonally) and eggplant! I’m a big fan of eggplant. It can be diverse enough to make vegetable-based meatballs, stand in as a “pasta” in lasagna, but when grilled it’s like a buttery candy! And if you give it a curried rubdown first, the flavours are through the roof! And on top of that, if you put it on a pizza, there’s so much flavour your mouth may need a nap afterwards!! 😉 So here’s a great way to get your veggies in flavourful style! Enjoy!

For the dough:

1 cup einkorn wheat flour (or whole wheat all purpose flour)
1 cup red fife flour (or whole wheat bread flour)
1/2 tsp salt
7/8 cup warm water
1 tsp dry active yeast
1 tsp honey

For the Grilled Curried Eggplant:

1 Tbsp cold pressed oil
225g/8 oz fresh eggplant, cut into 2cm/1″ slices
2 Tbsp mixed curry spice blend or garam masala

For the rest of the pizza:

Prepared dough
Prepared Grilled Curried Eggplant
100g/4 oz fresh green beans, blanched for 4 minutes until tender crisp
1 fresh red chilli, stemmed, seeded and sliced
1/3-1/2 cup favourite pizza sauce/marinara
150g/4 oz favourite cheese (I prefer a spicy, chilli-infused jack cheese, but any mozzarella or cheddar will do just fine)

To prepare the dough, add the einkorn and red fife flours into a large bowl. Blend them with your fingers. Make a depression in the centre. Sprinkle the salt on the flour around the periphery. Add the water, yeast and honey to the centre of the depression in the flour. Stir the yeast into the water and allow to bloom for about 10-15 minutes until bubbly.
Stir the flour from the edges into the bubbly yeast, gradually bringing the dough together, first into a batter, then as it gets thicker, into a soft dough. Turn the dough and remnant flour from the bowl on a counter surface and knead until a soft, yet slightly sticky dough is achieved. Place back into a bowl, cover with a towel and allow to rise for an hour (or overnight in your fridge if you’re really nerdy haha).
To grill the eggplant, heat your grill (outdoor set to medium, indoor grill set to high). On a large plate stir together the oil and curry spice mix. Rub the eggplant slices with this curried oil and grill for 5-7 minutes on each side until deeply golden. Allow to cool and slice into 2cm/1″ strips. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 190C/375F. Invert a large baking sheet so the bottom is facing up. Drizzle a teaspoon or two of oil over the inverted surface and spread it evenly with the palm of your hand. Divide the risen dough in two portions. Stretch each dough portion into a rough 25cm/10″ circle. Press each portion on the prepared baking sheet, crimping a raised edge of dough for each pizza.
Spread each pizza with pizza sauce. Sprinkle half of the cheese over both pizzas. Lay out the slices of chillis, Grilled Curried Eggplant and blanched green beans in an even pattern. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over top. Bake in the preheated oven for 17-20 minutes. Turn the oven setting to Broil/Grill and broil the pizzas for a further 4-6 minutes until deeply golden on top. Makes 2-25cm/10″ pizzas.

Ginger Spice Cannoli-Oreos

I read a lot about food from different countries. Part of it stems from having a father from Hungary and a mother whose roots span much of Central and Eastern Europe. Being Canadian, where unique cultures are encouraged and largely celebrated also contributes to my “global mind.”
I also talk to a lot of people on social media from around the world. I find there’s a lot more that we all share than what makes us differ. I have a few friends from Sweden who I chat with on a regular basis on Instagram. I’ve learned their version of the coffee break, fika. Fika is more than just a run through the express line at a coffee shop. It’s a time to truly take a break, chat with friends over coffee and a small treat.
Today I’m doing a variation of the Swedish version of gingersnaps, pepparkakor, making it a little chocolaty! And when you get a beautiful chocolate cookie, I think of the childhood classic, Oreo cookie.
Nowadays, the simple Oreo is full of “extra” ingredients that I don’t digest very well anymore, so I thought “What could be a tasty alternative to a traditional Oreo filling?” I decided a cannoli fit the bill perfectly!! Enjoy!!

For the Chocolate Pepparkakor (Swedish-style gingersnaps):

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup dark corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup butter
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups spelt flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder

For the Cannoli Filling:

1/2 cup cream cheese
1 cup icing (powdered) sugar
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips, roughly chopped

Add the brown sugar, white sugar, dark corn syrup and water to a medium pot over medium heat. When the sugar has melted, add the butter and allow it to melt. Add the spices and baking soda. Slowly stir in the spelt flour and cocoa powder. Take off the heat, transfer to a lightly floured bowl, dust more flour lightly over the top and cover with a towel. Leave it on the counter to cool for a few hours, but preferably overnight.
Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Dust a large sheet of parchment paper lightly with flour. Divide the dough in half. Dust the top lightly with flour, lay it on the dusted parchment paper on the counter, cover with another sheet of parchment paper and roll the dough out as thinly as possible. Cut out into various shapes using cookie cutters. For the traditional “Oreo look” use small round cutters.
Place the cut out cookie dough on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes. Transfer from the sheet to cooling racks.
Once the cookies are cool, stir together the cream cheese, icing sugar and chocolate chips. Spoon about a tablespoon of this filling on the bottom of one cooled cookie. Top with another cooled cookie. Prepare only the amount you are going to consume that day. The cookies can freeze for a month or more while the filling is good in the fridge for a week to ten days. Makes about 5 dozen small cookies and enough filling for about 2 dozen cookies. The rest of the cookies are great with coffee or tea.

Butter Chicken Roast Chicken Breast

Whenever I break a chicken down into component parts, I always want to do something different with the breast. Sometimes I remove the meat from the bone, cut into strips and make chicken fingers. Sometimes I’ll glaze the bone-in breast and roast it. Today I wanted to take the flavours of India and build even more flavour over the roasting process to make an extra savoury version of butter chicken. Plus a little extra treat in there too! Enjoy!!

Butter Chicken Roast Chicken Breast:

For the Tikka Marinade:

1 Tbsp, each, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds and turmeric
1 tsp hot paprika (or cayenne or other powdered red chilli)
1 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup cold pressed camelina oil (or other cold pressed/extra virgin oil)

1 whole bone-in, skin-on chicken breast (it could be a whole chicken as well if you want to make a lot. Simply double the roasting vegetable ingredients below)

For the roasting pan:

1 cup sliced onions
1/2 cup sliced celery
1/4 cup sliced fresh ginger
1 cup water
1-2 bay leaves

For Option 1:

Half of the Tikka Roasted Chicken Breast, sliced
8 flatbreads
Lettuce, tomato and plain yogurt to serve

For Option 2:

Half of the Tikka Roast Chicken Breast, cut into chunks
Purée of roasting vegetables and juices (without the bay leaf)
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup sour cream
1 Tbsp raw, creamed honey
Cooked rice, to serve

For the Tikka Marinade, add the spices to a spice grinder and grind until a powder is achieved. Add this spice mixture to a large zip freezer bag. Add the yogurt, sour cream and oil and whisk it all together to combine. Add the chicken breast, massage the marinade over the entire chicken breast. Zip the bag closed, place into a medium bowl and refrigerate for 3-4 hours so the marinade can penetrate the meat.
Preheat oven to 190C375F.
In a 25cm/10″ square roasting pan, add the onions, celery, ginger, water and bay leaves. Pull the chicken from the marinade, leaving an marinade that sticks to the chicken on there and place it on the roasting vegetables. Roast in the preheated oven for 45 minutes to an hour depending on the size of your chicken breast.
Option 1: Slice the meat from half of the breast and serve on flatbreads with lettuce, tomato and yogurt for a simple wrap.

Option 2: Purée the roasting vegetables and roasting juices in a blender, then pour into a large pan over medium high heat. Add the tomato paste, sour cream and honey. Stir and simmer over medium high heat for 5-7 minutes. Add the chicken and simmer for a few minutes more. Serve with rice.

Serves 4-6 people, two different meals.

Kazakh Manti Burger with Sabzi Piez

Manti in Kazakhstan and across much of Central Asia is a type of meaty dumpling. Oftentimes the meat is lamb, but can also be chicken or horse meat. A vegetable component can also be worked into the meat besides the flavour base of onions, salt and pepper.
I thought this meaty filling would make a great burger. Upon studying the food of Kazakhstan deeper, I wanted to see what else in their cuisine would lend itself to compliment a burger. The bright, spicy and fresh spicy vegetable stew, Sabzi Piez, is like a salsa that decided to have a load of carrots tag along! It’s the perfect accompaniment to a lamb Manti.

For the Manti Burger:

200g/8oz ground lamb
1/2 cup finely shredded carrot
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp salt

For the Sabzi Piez (Spicy Vegetable Stew):

1 Tbsp oil
1 Tbsp butter
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced into rings
1 red chilli, stemmed, and chopped
1 medium fresh tomato (or 6-8 cherry tomatoes), chopped
1-1/4 cups julienned carrots, blanched for 3-4 minutes, drained
2 Tbsp vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, finely chopped

2 crusty rolls, to serve

For the Manti Burger, squeeze out as much moisture from the shredded carrots as possible, then work them together with the ground lamb, chopped onions and black pepper. Once the mixture is tightly bound together, divide into two portions and form into oblong patties.
Preheat a cast iron pan over medium high heat. Add 2 tsp oil to the pan. When the oil smoulders but does not quite smoke, sprinkle the lamb patties with salt on both sides and place in the pan. Griddle for 4-5 minutes per side, or until deeply golden and cooked through. Set aside and keep warm while you prepare the Sabzi Piez.
For the Sabzi Piez, add the oil and butter to a medium pan over medium high heat. When the butter has melted and started to bubble, add the onions and chilli. Sauté for 5-7 minutes until softened and lightly golden. Add the tomato and blanched carrots and sauté for a further 4-5 minutes. Add the vinegar and salt and sauté for another minute or two until uniformly combined. Take off the heat and stir in the fresh cilantro.
To serve, divide heaping spoonfuls of Sabzi Piez on the bottom of each split crusty roll. Top with a griddled Manti Burger and the tops of the rolls. Serves 2.

Barley Jambalaya

A sudden drop in temperatures in December means heartier fare. A simple salad usually means a stew. A rice dish becomes a barley dish. And the flavours attached usually need to be bolder, more comforting.
The classic Louisiana dish, jambalaya, has a mixed heritage in its origins. African, French, Spanish all collide to create a harmonious blend of flavours based on the region they reside in.
When you add a prairie Canadian winter to the mix, a land rippling with various grains in the fields, barley is one of the more common crops you see. I recall seeing waves of that alternating with wheat, canola, flax and oats growing up in a smaller city. The fringes of town bordered right on farms so a farm was no more than a walk or bike ride away. Plucking wild oats from the edges of the road and chewing them was a common thing amongst the sillier of kids (ahem….I mean mmmm….I mean….. 😉 )
These memories are triggered each time I cook with barley and I’m fortunate to know a farm, Gold Forest Grains, who grows exceptional barley and a host of other heritage varieties of grains and pulses.
I also have a wonderful friend who has roots in Louisiana and has taught me a great deal from her passion for southern US food. Real Jambalaya isn’t a dry rice dish. That’s a pilaf. Jambalaya is almost creamy and luxurious like a risotto. It’s pure comfort.
By combining these two elements I connect my life in prairie Canada and a friendship with a great friend. A great joy that comes through the dish and warms both the heart and belly.

Barley Jambalaya:

1 tsp oil
100g/4 oz smoked pork sausage, chopped
1 cup chopped onions
3/4 cup chopped celery
3/4 cup chopped bell peppers
1 chopped jalapeño
1 cup tomato sauce
2 Tbsp Creole seasoning
3/4 cup uncooked barley
1 cup ham hock stock (the liquid from simmering a ham hock. I usually have a few containers in my freezer. They add a boost of smoky flavour to soups, stews or rice/barley dishes)
2 cups chicken stock

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the sausage and sauté until golden.
Add the onions, celery, bell peppers and and jalapeño and sauté until the vegetables are softened but not browned (about 4-6 minutes).
Add the tomato sauce and Creole seasoning, stirring, coating and toasting over the rest of the ingredients until the tomato sauce reduces by half and the spices become very aromatic.
Add the barley and coat it in the flavourful vegetables, stirring and toasting it briefly. Add the ham hock and chicken stock, stirring to loosen the barley from the tomato-y flavour base. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce heat to medium low, cover with a lid and simmer for 40-45 minutes. Remove the lid and stir the mixture more consistently for another 15-20 minutes until it becomes thicker and more luxurious. Serves 4-6.

Patty Melt

When I first heard of the idea of a patty melt, I thought it was genius. The union of a grilled cheese sandwich and a burger. While conceptually, the idea seems easy, there are small details that can ruin it.
If the bread is too thin, the burger makes the whole thing floppy.
If the burger is too thin, there’s no meaty comfort.
If the sauce is too heavy, the bread falls apart.
How did I solve these problems?
Firstly, a specific kind of bread is used. I wanted to simply use a good sandwich bread that can be found anywhere. I decided the bread needed a barrier to absorb potential moisture so it doesn’t fall apart. When I make French toast, I like to dredge the eggy bread in oats. It not only gives a delightful crunch but almost limitless absorptivity for maple syrup. The most important part of French toast to this Canadian! 😉 This is an important inner part of the bread component to absorb any meaty juices from the burger.
Secondly, the burger component. Normally I don’t like to bind my ground meat with eggs and breadcrumbs. It takes away the meaty texture and flavour. If I’m taking the time to find a quality rancher who cares for the animal I wish to eat, I want to ensure every part of that animal is treated with the same respect in my kitchen. In this case, binding with egg and breadcrumbs. To replace some of the meatiness that is diminished, I season the patty more liberally than normal. But not with salt. Salt, when mixed into meat, will start to degrade the muscle fibres in ways that affect texture no matter if it is bound or not. I make my own Creole seasoning for host of things to add flavour. Whether it’s this patty, or eggs, or oven roasted potatoes. An intensely flavoured seasoning is good to have on hand at any time.
Thirdly, a sauce that one would associate with a burger. I don’t put anything in the patty melt. I reserve any sauce as a dipping sauce on the side and the intensely seasoned patty covers a lot of the flavour a sauce would normally add.
Finally, always use a cheese that has extra flavour in it. Whether it’s an extra aged cheddar, any smoked cheese that you can find, or cheeses infused with herbs, spices, wines or beers, any of these flavoured cheeses will work wonders.
Let the patty melt games begin…

For the Creole Seasoning:

1/2 cup chili powder
1/2 cup sweet paprika
1/4 cup ground cumin seeds
2 Tbsp mustard seeds
2 Tbsp celery seeds
2 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup dried oregano

For the Patties:

220g/8oz ground beef
2 eggs
2/3 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs
1/4 cup Creole seasoning

For the Patty Melt:

Prepared Patties
4 slices whole wheat bread
2 eggs + 1/4 cup milk, beaten together in a small bowl
1 cup rolled oats
150g/6 oz shredded jalapeño jack cheese (or any highly flavoured cheese)
4 Tbsp butter

For the creole seasoning, combine all of the spices in a medium bowl until uniformly combined. This is going to be more than what you need for this recipe, but it stays in an airtight container for a month or more. It won’t last that long, trust me.
For the patties, combine the ground beef, eggs, 1/4 cup of creole seasoning and breadcrumbs in a medium bowl. Stir vigorously with your fingers, squeezing the mixture between your fingers to ensure a full incorporation of all ingredients.
Divide the patty mixture into two portions. Lay each portion on a sheet of parchment paper. Press each into a rectangular shape and flatten to the size of your bread slices so it fits the sandwich completely.
Set a cast iron pan over medium heat. Add a tablespoon of oil and when the oil smoulders and almost starts to smoke, add the patties carefully into the pan. Griddle them for 4-5 minutes per side until they are deeply golden and cooked through. Set aside on paper towels to drain and keep warm while you prepare the bread.
For the patty melt, dredge the bread, one slice at a time, on one side in the egg-milk mixture, then into the rolled oats. Preheat a large nonstick pan over medium heat. Add 2 teaspoons of oil and two teaspoons of butter. When the butter melts and bubbles, add the dredged bread, oat side down and griddle for 90 seconds to two minutes. As the bread griddles, spread the side facing up with butter. When the oats have toasted to a golden brown, flip and griddle the buttered side. Sprinkle each golden oat side with one quarter of the cheese. When the cheese has melted and the buttered side is golden, remove from the pan, add a prepared patty and top with another toasted, cheesy bread slice. Serve with your favourite dipping sauce. I’m partial to an equal blend of sweet chilli sauce, relish and Greek yogurt. Serves 2.