Two Refreshing Late Summer Soup Recipes

My favourite dish of all time is a braised pork belly and lotus root stew that my grandmother made. Like most grandmothers, she never wrote down the recipe. After she died I kept a lookout for it at Chinese restaurants, hoping it would pop up on a menu. So far no luck. With the GTA rife with restaurants reflecting our diverse population, I had to believe I’m not the only one in this situation. There have to be other people like me, with favourite lesser known culinary gems that haven’t found their way on to menus, yet. So I sent a shout out to readers asking for dishes they enjoy at home and haven’t yet seen on a restaurant menu.

The responses were overwhelming. Readers had me salivating at descriptions of Bajan flying fish and coucou (cornmeal and okra), Portuguese tripe and pig ear salad, Scottish clootie dumpling (dessert pudding), Thai yen ta fo (noodle soup in a tangy and spicy broth), Greek pastitsio (baked pasta with ground beef and bechamel), Norwegian pinnekjott (salted and smoked lamb or mutton), and Austrian Zwetschgenknödel (potato dumplings stuffed with plums). Italians chimed in with specific regional specialties from pizzoccheri, a short tagliatelle made with buckwheat flour in northern Italy, to pasta e ceci, ditalini pasta cooked with chickpeas in Rome. Here’s a snapshot of well-loved dishes we hope to see on restaurant menus someday.

Scaccia Modicana (Stuffed flatbread from Modica, Sicily)

Italian fare is too broad of a term to describe the cooking of her people, says Jo-Anne Assenza, 74. People in neighbouring towns can make the same dish and have vastly different results due to varying techniques passed down from families. Assenza is from a proud Sicilian family from the city of Modica, famous for its scaccia. This savoury hand-held stuffed flatbread consists of a thin hand-rolled dough repeatedly folded on top of assorted fillings, then baked to a delicate crispness. Assenza comes from a long line of cooks carrying on old culinary traditions. Her mother Grace Occhipinti was featured in a 1976 Star article about how to roll out pasta by hand.

“Our grandmother lived with us and whenever there was a school dance she’d ask us to stay home and make cookies, so I learned how to cook early on from my mother and grandmother. The key to our scaccia is folding the dough three times, rather than sandwiching two layers like a sandwich. The secret is also in the dough, it’s delicate like a very thin pizza crust. It’s a very comforting food that’s made at Christmas Eve and at Easter after church. My cousin Assunta Gintoli is 81 and she’s the queen of making scaccia. She makes her own tomato sauce in September and goes through 30 bushels of tomatoes, makes her own ricotta and sausages for the stuffing, and bakes them on the same pan she’s been using for the last 50, 60 years. In Modica there are scaccia places everywhere like McDonald’s here. You can make them different ways and fill them with cheeses, herbs, vegetables and tomato sauce but historically not often meat because it was expensive. It’s definitely a regional dish.”

Sephardi Dolmades De Tomatoes E Biber (Sephardi-style Tomatoes stuffed with Rice)

Most diners know about dolmades, grape leaves stuffed with rice popularized through Greek cuisine in Toronto but the dolmades from Regina Callaghan’s family are different — tomatoes are the vessel of choice for the rice stuffing. The 65-year-old Scarborough resident originally from Istanbul and raised in a Jewish household says her family’s cooking is a mix of Turkish, Jewish and Spanish, partly due to the Spanish Inquisition in which thousands were prosecuted for not following Catholicism in Europe and the reason her family fled to Turkey.

“My parents and myself were born in Istanbul while my brother was born here after we immigrated in 1958. When the Spanish Inquisition was happening, the eastern countries were offering asylum and that’s how our ancestors arrived in Istanbul in the 1400s. Our recipes are influenced by what was available in Turkey but they had a Spanish-Jewish spin on it. It’s very weird but very delicious. Dolmades refer to anything that’s stuffed and if it’s made with rice, they’re served at room temperature. If it’s with meat, they’re served hot. My mom cooked them by feel and taste but my sister-in-law sat down with her 10 years ago and measured everything out to make a recipe. We’re not practising Jews but when my parents passed we reconnected with the Sephardi community (Jewish people with ancestral roots in Spain) but I don’t know anyone who really makes that dish. My girls are going to make it, and that’s how it’s going to live on.”

Caribbean Chicken Souse (Citrusy chicken soup)

Torontonian Janelle Hinds still remembers her first bite of chicken feet while visiting family in Trinidad nearly 20 years ago. She immediately fell in love with the chicken souse, a refreshing soup of chicken feet (also commonly prepared with other parts of the bird) simmered in a light broth loaded with vegetables, allspice, plenty of lime juice and chilies. With roots in the Bahamas, the dish is often prepared on weekends as a hangover cure, but it’s something the entire family enjoys nonetheless.

“Chicken souse was always that one dish that I couldn’t find in the GTA. My mother is from Trinidad and I remember being down there as a kid for Carnival. We were in a small town having a pre-celebration and someone handed me this cup with a chicken foot in it. I was hesitant but I tried it and it was so good I had seconds and thirds. It’s a soup that’s cooling because there’s cucumber and there’s also a bit of pepper in it because Trini people can’t live without peppers. I’m 26 now and I’m still trying to recreate what I had when I was 7, but I just can’t make it like they do it down there so I’m looking on Yelp, restaurant menu sites, anything that would help me find a restaurant in the GTA that serves it. I don’t know why I just didn’t ask one of my family members in Trinidad to send me a recipe, but for now I think I’ll just ask someone to make it for me cause it’s hard to recreate something I had that long ago.”

Quebecois Macaroni and Tomato Juice

When it comes to French-Canadian cooking most think of tourtière or poutine, but one dish that’s popular in Quebecois households is macaroni tossed with tomato juice (Google macaroni au jus de tomate to find recipes on Quebecois food sites). Some add ground beef while most versions add cheese, onion, garlic and herbs. For the most part it’s cooked pasta tossed in tomato juice — not a marinara or bolognese — but straight-up tomato juice from a can. It’s a dish mostly associated with poor families, but Toronto-based genealogist Wanda Sinclair, 61, says she’s been eating it since she was a kid and now makes it whenever she babysits for her grandniece and nephew.

“My mother got us on it, and I see on Facebook that my relatives have made it. It seemed our grandmother made it too. My maternal grandmother is Scottish but my maternal grandfather’s mother is French-Canadian and his father was born in Quebec. His family dates back to the 1600s there. You boil the macaroni, strain it, put it back in the pan, pour in tomato juice, then heat it up. I can add ground meat on top or a hard cheese like cheddar and then I put it in the oven. I don’t like anything with sauce but I’ll eat spaghetti with tomato juice. ”

North Indian Rajma (red kidney bean curry)

The GTA has a range of Indian restaurants highlighting the country’s vast culinary offerings be it region specific, fine-dining or street-food focused as well as a mix of old and new recipes reinterpreted by a new generation of cooks. But rajma is one dish Ryerson University journalism student Dhriti Gupta, 18, says she seldom sees at restaurants. It’s a red kidney bean curry with roots in northern India.

“I was born in New Delhi and that’s where my mom and dad grew up and my family still lives. Since then, because of my dad’s job as a chartered accountant we’ve moved to Houston, San Francisco, Calgary, Edmonton, back to Calgary and then Toronto. But no matter where we moved, rajma was always my staple. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why I like it, but something about it is very nostalgic and I never had any rajma as good as my mom’s. She uses cardamom, cilantro and cumin, which is a common spice makeup but I noticed she also puts cinnamon in it. It’s a north Indian food where a lot of dishes are really rich and creamy, the food of the royals. I’m not sure why it didn’t catch on in restaurants because there are a lot of similar dishes like dhal makhani. Maybe rajma wasn’t fancy enough. I guess in North America it’s like a chili because of the red kidney beans and it’s slow-cooked in a tomato base. My mom actually once entered her rajma in a chili cooking competition and won!”

Chinese Steamed Three Eggs (savoury egg custard with salted duck egg and thousand-year egg)

Almost every Chinese family will have some form of a savoury steamed egg dish: egg whisked with a bit of water then mixed with anything including ground pork and pickled greens before it’s steamed in a little dish. Torontonian Jonathan Chant, 35, says his mom makes a version popular with many Chinese households that uses three types of egg: regular eggs as a base then topped with salted duck eggs and thousand-year eggs — eggs preserved in an alkaline mixture.

“My parents immigrated from Hong Kong separately and I was the first child born in Toronto. When I was 3, we moved to Thunder Bay, then Leamington and then back to Toronto for university. Growing up in Thunder Bay, we didn’t have access to as many Chinese restaurants as in Toronto so most of the Chinese food I ate was made by my mom. At school I definitely got my share of teasing even from my so-called friends about my lunches but for whatever reason I always thought the hot lunches she made were better than the sandwiches they ate. One of my favourite dishes is the steamed eggs. My mom mixes ground pork and chicken eggs then pours them into a dish. She then places a whole salted duck egg yolk right in the middle. Finally, she spreads diced thousand-year eggs around the salted duck egg yolk before steaming it. The Jell-O-like softness of the ground meat and steamed eggs combined with the taste of the thousand-year old egg is what draws me to it. This dish is good on its own, or mixed with rice and a bit of soy sauce. I might have it once a year now when I see my parents. My mom thought that restaurants probably don’t make it because the steaming process might take too long, and it’s not something you can make ahead of time.”

Bengali Pork Sausage (Indian-spiced sausages)

Pork isn’t a popular ingredient in the Indian subcontinent but in the city of Kolkata located in the state of West Bengal, the famous Entally Market is known for its Anglo-Indian offerings such as pork sausages that cater to the local Catholics (this was where Mother Teresa spent most of her life). You probably won’t see pork sausages in most Indian and Bangladeshi restaurants in the GTA, but for Brampton resident Henry Gomes, 26, it’s been a family favourite for generations.

“I was born in Dubai but my dad was born in Kolkata and my mom was born in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. Ethnically we’re Bengali but we’re also Catholic and consume pork. We moved to Canada in 1996 and my Uncle Luke thought it would be fun to take up making the sausages in the summer when the mint came up in the back garden. We first used this hand-crank machine but now we have a KitchenAid mixer with the sausage attachment to make things easier. My parents and I alternate between grinding the fresh pork; making the spice mixture that includes onion, garlic, ginger, green chilies, nutmeg, cloves and fresh mint; feeding the machine and stuffing the casings, which we get from an Italian butcher shop. To prepare them, you simply poach them in simmering water, followed by a quick fry in a skillet along with some parboiled potatoes. They’re served alongside rice and daal (as are most Bengali dishes). A spicy mango achar (pickle) is a good condiment to serve with them, though I usually reach for a bottle of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce while my sister prefers ketchup. The sausages are really delicious, but that’s only half the appeal. During our annual sausage-making day, I can’t help but think of my late Uncle Luke who revived the tradition in our family. They’re a unique way to connect with my identity as a Bengali-Catholic with roots in both India and Bangladesh, who currently lives in a suburb of a city often called Hogtown!”

Karon Liu is the Star’s food writer and is based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @karonliu

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A taste of home: Readers share stories of dishes from their cultural or ethnic backgrounds that can’t be found in GTA restaurants