Heard About Bunny Chow?

Bunny Chow from the original Durban South African bunny restaurant. No bunnies or rabbits have been hurt in the preparation.

Bunny Chow from the original Durban South African bunny restaurant.
No bunnies or rabbits have been hurt in the preparation.

My daughter is living in Durban, South Africa, doing a semester of study abroad. She keeps telling us about a food called “Bunny Chow,” so I decided to try to find out what it is. It’s a curry stew, usually made with lamb, chicken or vegetables, scooped into a hollowed out quarter or half loaf of bread.

There are several stories that claim to tell the origin of bunny chow in Durban. One is that Indian immigrants who arrived in South Africa to work on sugar plantations used the sturdy bread to carry their curry into the fields, a form of fast food that could be transported and eaten without much trouble. The other is that during apartheid the Indian immigrants, who were not able to be served with whites, would go to the back of the restaurant, where they could be served bunnies, as the locals call them, because they required no forks or plates. Roti, the traditional bread for curries, was too flimsy to carry the curry in, so the hollowed loaves replaced it and also served as a take out container. According to Food 52 blog, in both stories, “Bunny” is “a permutation of the word Bania, an Indian caste of merchants who sold the curries.”

The following recipe is adapted from the Travel Bite Blog, Madeline Grimes:

Author’s Notes: A thick curry served in a quarter, half, or full loaf of bread. South Africa’s answer to the hot dog.

Serves 4

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
2 large white onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger
1 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon cumin
3 tablespoons garam masala
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
2 teaspoons tumeric
2 ground cardamom pods
2 tomatoes, diced
2 cups carrots, diced
2 cups potatoes, cubed
2 large, boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1-2 cup chicken stock or water
2 unsliced loaves of crusty white bread, each cut across in half in the middle and most of inside hollowed out like a bread bowl.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and sauté the cinnamon and bay leaves until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.
Add the onions and fry until they are almost translucent. Add garlic, ginger, and all of the remaining spices and cook another 1-2 minutes.
Add the carrots, potatoes, chicken, and stock or water. Stir and bring to a low simmer. Cook and cover for about 30 minutes until chicken is tender, stirring occasionally. Remove the bay leaves and cinnamon stick. Spoon the curry inside the bread.

Eating without a Dog in Lewes, DE.

Over the weekend, my husband and I celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary in Lewes, Delaware, at a small bed and breakfast that caters to people and their dogs. Known as the Lazy L (we never did find out what the “L” stood for), it was immaculately clean, especially considering that there were dogs, dogs, people, and did I say dogs? We managed to get a room right across from a very yappy Yorkshire terrier, easily the worst behaved pooch in the house. Every single time we went in or out the dog barked, a high pitched rather annoying bark. But it was his owner I found even more annoying – why – because each time it happened she apologized for his Rufus’s behavior. What does this have to do with food? Well, it made me hungry…hungry for quiet, hungry for a bigger room, more privacy— and for a good meal. Fortunately we had Sonja with us. She could have eaten Rufus in one bite, but being a rather large red lab, retriever, Ridgeback mix, she preferred dog food…and was happy to stay in the room, alone, quietly sleeping for while after a long day swimming and fetching in the Chesapeake Bay. That’s when my hubby and I left for dinner.

In Lewes, we skipped the hour-long wait at the Mexican restaurant we’d heard was mahvelous and instead went up the street to Kindle. It was lovely. We sat inside. I have few complaints – it was a little on the warm side, but it was over 90 degrees all day so most places had to crank up the AC pretty high to keep things cool.

We each had a beet, blue cheese and frise salad with a delicious vinaigrette dressing. We also shared a Moroccan chick pea soup. It had a tomato base, lots of chick peas, and Moroccan spices that satisfied us and weren’t too overwhelming. For entrees, I chose the Princess cut Filet Mignon with Cremini and Shitake mushrooms, Arugula and Roasted Red potatoes. The preparation was top-notch and cooked perfectly rare, as I requested. More interesting was what my husband ordered — Scallops on a Gruyere Crouton, Tomato Broth, Garbanzo Beans & Braised Swiss Chard. Yes, they like garbanzo beans, but it worked. He said it was delicious and exciting to have something different that was also beautifully presented.

The evening was even romantic. The display of candles that kindled nearby and above the tables make the lighting really special. The service was excellent – not too intrusive and somewhere between fast and just right.

Glad we left the dog, who was happy to see us when we returned, (Rufus yapped) but not too sad to have time alone. No barking from Sonja was reported.

La Piquette La ZeeZ: Two Cultures, Both Pleasing

Tried two places far apart on the cultural spectrum but both of them were representative of their own diverse and interesting dishes. At La Piquette in D.C.’s upper Cleveland Park area, you may want to try to Steak Fritte, but also not to be missed are the scallops with prociutto crisps and cauliflower onion sauce.  We also liked the salmon tartare with avocado, shallots, chervil and citrus and the creamy cauliflower soup.  The decor was just so very French bistro and the red table wine at $6 a glass warmed my tummy but didn’t overwhelm.  La Zeez is an old stand by because we walk there from home.  On the unusually humidity-free evening in Bethesda, we sat outside at one of the seven or eight tables.  The menu really hadn’t changed featuring a fattoush salad that was very crisp, fresh and satisfying and juicy tender lamb kabobs with their signature herbed red potatoes as a side. It’s middle eastern that isn’t too splashy and obviously cooked to order.

Clean and Cook Soft Shell Crabs – They’re In Season

We visited a small fresh seafood market in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland over the weekend.  The place was there twenty years ago when we biked through town en route to Huntingfields, the farm where my parents lived for many years.  I was pleasantly surprised to see they sold soft shell crabs for $5.00 each.  In Potomac, Maryland, they were selling for $9.99 each. What a difference. I immediately bought some.

When I opened the package at home, excited to begin to bread and sauté them, I noticed the claws were wiggling. Ahhh!!  I had two choices. Ditch and order carry out. Kill, clean and prepare.

You will be happy to know that while I am an animal lover – I chose to embrace my complete chef persona, I apologized and praised the crab for the feast we’d soon have and looked on Google for how to clean soft shells.  Dumb me.  Not every seafood market offers to clean them for you (as mine did – and priced midway between the $5 and $10 range).

So here’s what to do.  First, flip the crab over.  Gently lift the shell and remove the fibrous gills on each side.  You’ll need to scrape away any yellow goo mustard fat that appears in the underbelly. Then, there is an area I call the “key” in the middle of the bottom side of the crab, flip that up and cut it off.   Finally cut off the eyes and mouth.  Do it quickly so you don’t have to think about it too much. That’s what I did. Be sure the rinse it off and put on ice while you do the others. Keep on ice and refrigerate if you aren’t using them right away.

Now you can begin to cook the soft shells any way that suits you.  I simply put about a half cup of flour and added 3 tablespoons of Cajun seasonings to a plastic baggie; then I added the 3 crabs.  Increase if you have more.  Meanwhile, I heated ¼ to ½ cup of oil in a pan and waited until it was hot but not burning.  I added the crabs, cooking for several minutes on each side.  When they turn a nice orange caramel color they are done.  Drizzle with chopped scallions and parsley.

What Language Is Your Food Speaking?

A Body on Fire:  The Fat-Inflammation Connection

Most of us are familiar with inflammation.  It is the body’s natural defense system against infections, irritations, toxins, and other foreign molecules.   A specific cascade of events occurs in which the body’s white blood cells and specific chemicals mobilize to protect you from foreign invaders.  Classic signs are pain, swelling, and redness.  In fighting various ailments such as a sore throat,  rash, or migraine headache, inflammation is a good thing.   However, the natural balance of the immune system, which produces just enough inflammation to keep infection, allergens and toxins under control, can get disrupted by various foods.  When this occurs, the immune system shifts into a chronic state of alarm or inflammation, spreading a smoldering fire throughout the body.  This fire in the heart causes heart disease, in the brain causes dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, in the whole body causes cancer.  New research links obesity and inflammation.  Being overweight promotes inflammation and inflammation promotes obesity in a terrible, vicious cycle.  Cooling off excess inflammation is critical to your wellness .  Avoid or cut back on foods that promote inflammation -sugars, trans fats and hydrogenated fats, alcohol, refined grains, red meats, commercially-processed foods, and artificial food additives.  Include in your diet foods that will boost your immune health and help control inflammation:  berries, omega-3 fatty acids, extra virgin olive oil, turmeric, ginger, green tea, mushrooms, pineapple, papaya, avocados, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach and sweet potatoes.

Fats:  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

There are essentially three different kinds of fat:  the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Healthy fats enhance brainpower and help you lose weight, and bad fats drain your brain.  “Good” fats are fats that turn on the genes in your DNA that increase your metabolism, help you burn fat more quickly, become healthier, and promote brain health.  Examples of foods containing good fats are salmon, nuts and seeds, olive oil, avocados, flaxseed, and coconuts.  “Bad” fats are the ones that affect slow your metabolism adversely, making it difficult to lose the weight you would like to and lead to cognitive decline.  These fats can be found in vegetable oils (including corn, soy, and safflower oils) and saturated fats from beef, pork, lamb, chicken and dairy foods.  “Ugly” fats are a different animal entirely.  These are man-made fats that simply cannot be properly digested by your body at all.  These fats interrupt the natural operation of your cells that have the capacity to affect your health in radically negative ways.  These fats include trans fats and hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats.  Food containing these fats include cake and pancake mixes, cookies, crackers, frozen meals, French fries, and some breakfast cereals, corn/potato chips, and frozen pizza. The type of fat is more important the amount of fat you consume.  Good fats promote a  healthy body and a healthy brain.  That’s the skinny on the fat.

Sugar:  Not So Sweet     

The average American consumes 150-180 pounds of sugar per year.  Soft drinks and other sweetened beverages account for 66 percent of these calories in the form of high fructose corn syrup.  Consider eliminating these empty calories from your diet, as the fructose goes directly to the liver and the glucose increase (blood sugar) affects the pancreas, triggering insulin spikes.  As a result, your appetite will increase which will promote weight gain, and over time, can increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.  If the label on your food contains “high-fructose corn syrup” or “corn sugar” you can be sure it is not a whole food full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber.  Minimize or avoid these foods.  The can cause inflammation in your body.

Food is much more than calories; it is information.  Food communicates with your genes to positively or negatively impact your health.  What language is your food speaking?

SOURCES:

UltraMetabolism, Mark Hyman, M.D., Atria Books, New York, 2006.Use your Brain to Change Your Age, Daniel G. Amen, M.D. Crown Archetype, New York, 2012 The Blood Sugar Solution, Mark Hyman, M.D., Little, Brown and Company, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2012. http://theconsciouslife.com/top-10-inflammatory-foods-to-avoid.htm http://drhyman.com/blog/2010/04/28/ultrawellness-lesson-2-inflammation-immune-balance/  What Do Specific Foods Do?  Taking Charge of Your Health & Wellbeing, University of Minnesota. http://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/food-medicine/what-do-specific-foods-do

You Are What You Eat

I got this directly from my workplace – how nice to know that they care about our health. I’ll provide it in several posts – the sources will be listed at the end.

The Language of Food

“The wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings. Let food be your medicine.” – – Hippocrates

 There is a concept called nutrigenomics  and it is the power of food and its impact on wellness.  Food gives instructions to genes to provide health or prevent health.  This month we will explore how specific food and nutrition interact with genes turning on messages of health or disease. You may already know what to eat to be healthy: a variety of foods – especially whole grains, fruits, and vegetables; and minimize candy, soda and other empty calories.   However, you might be surprised to learn the information your food is communicating to your genes.

Food Talks to Your Genes

farmacy comicDo you sometimes wish life came with an instruction book that contained all the directions for what to eat and how much to eat to live a healthy life?  As the science of nutrigenomics advances, strides are being made to prescribe a lifestyle that will help maximize your wellness and minimize your risk for disease.  Each person has his/her own set of DNA, which is one reason why one diet does not work for everyone.  Some people require more protein or fats or carbohydrates than others.  Regardless of the genes, everyone will benefit from eating “whole foods” every day.  These are unprocessed, fresh and simple foods that are as close to nature as you can get – fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, organic dairy and unprocessed meats.  A whole food diet speaks to your genes in a language it understands so that your metabolism will rev up and use these foods efficiently to promote health.  Your body has difficulty “digesting” information from the foods that come out of a box or from the middle aisles of the grocery store.