I can feel the cold in my bones during these last few days that have past. Making me want to stay inside and stay warm and cozy. I think most often many of us, want to do the same. I found out this past week that a perfect thing to do during these colder months that are upon us is to go away to a hot destination-no really? I think everyone knows that! I did remember that enjoying hot or spicy food can help you warm up. Usually at a less expensive rate too. I know there are people who enjoy a good burn in their mouth as they sample some spicy foods or nod with enjoyment when sweat begins to bead on their forehead because they got the kick they were looking for from the food they were eating. I don’t think that I am that type of person where I want to put my body at risk with that kind of heat. A mild burn of enjoyment where my tongue tingles is okay and to be able to still taste the other food and flavours in the dish is important to me. I think that is where a balance of flavours comes into play.

I like to think to make a dish complete that it needs some certain elements of taste. Sweet, salty, bitter and sour. When I get the chance to create recipes for different people, companies and even myself I think tasting them during the process is important because this is how you realize all these tastes happening in the dish. It’s like training for a sport you play, you practice! You can do the same thing in the kitchen. Sometimes thinking about the balance of a dish will help you to fix something rather easily. Here is an example. You have created a slightly sweet pasta sauce and you’re not sure how to fix it? Try adding a splash of red vinegar, the tang of the vinegar when cooked in can help to make that sauce taste more evenly balanced. Just like a teeter totter with two kids of the same weight on it!

This type of thought seems very apparent to me in many Asian cuisines because the time has been taken to build a base flavour and add other elements of taste to balance it to the perfect dish. I think the Western World has embraced this notion for a long time but there still seems to be some disconnect with tasting the food and making the dish balanced. When you look at different cuisines like Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, Indian, Morroccan and so many others there is a wide variety in ingredients with the simplicity of preparing to have astounding flavour. That is why so many Westerners enjoy the food and want to try and prepare it at home. Don’t get me wrong I love going out to restaurants to try this food too or having friends prepare it at home, it’s always a fun and delicious experience!

We were out with a friend for lunch to Diana Downtown and had a superb curry lunch. I had an eggplant curry with just the right kick of heat, my husband had butter chicken as he is just experiencing this whole spice phenomenon and taking small steps and our friend had a beef curry which was also outstanding. The level of spice was a different experience for us all but every dish warmed our bodies in different ways. I assure you I wasn’t the one with beads of sweat on my forehead! Our bodies react differently to the dishes we eat but in the end the same result prevails of enjoying a delicious meal that warms your body and your heart.

The last time I enjoyed a Thai dish I made at home I decided to up the anti and include a bit more heat than normal and you know what? It ended up needing a bit more of a sour element to balance it out, so a splash of lime juice was added to round it out and enjoy the meal to it’s full potential.

Playing around with recipes and enjoying different cultures can be done in or outside of the home. You can start with mild flavours and then build, keeping in mind that you might have to play around with those elements of taste. Its okay to be cautious and step carefully outside your boundaries when it comes to new tastes. Have fun with food and experiment, try new things and share with friends. I’d love to hear about some of your food experiences and recipes that you have brought to life with the balance of taste. Food is a universal language that we can all share and enjoyably taste too!

Steamed Lemongrass Mussels

Fragrant lemongrass fills the air with a citrus aroma while the mussels steam to produce a flavourful juice. Juicy mussels squirt in your mouth to entice you into the rest of your dining experience. These mussels are great served hot or cold.

2 stalks lemongrass

1 tbsp (25 mL) vegetable oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1Thai bird or long finger chili pepper, sliced (or ¼ tsp/1 mL hot pepper flakes)

1/4 cup (50 mL) white wine or chicken stock

1/4 cup (50 mL) water

2 tbsp (25 mL) fish or soy sauce

1/2 tsp (2 mL) grated lime rind

2 tbsp (25 mL) lime juice

1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped fresh coriander

3 lb (1.5 kg) mussels, rinsed

1. Trim tops and ends of lemongrass. Remove outer layer. Using back of knife gently bruise stalks. Cut in half lengthwise, then crosswise into thin slices.

2. In Dutch oven or large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add lemongrass, garlic and pepper; cook stirring for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add wine, fish sauce, lime rind and juice and half of the coriander. Bring to boil; add mussels. Cover and cook, stirring once, for about 8 minutes or until all mussels are open. Discard any mussels that do not open. Pour into large platter; sprinkle with remaining coriander.

Makes 6 servings.

Option: You could serve this cold as well. Cook as above. Transfer mussels to bowl. Boil liquid for about 5 minutes or until reduced by half. (If using chicken stock, do not reduce liquid.) Remove mussels from shells and add to reduced liquid. Reserve half of each shell. Cover and refrigerate mussels and shells for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours. Arrange shells on lettuce-lined platter; fill each with mussel and drizzle remaining liquid over top; sprinkle with remaining coriander.

Tip: Check your mussels over when you get them home. Rinse them and discard any that are cracked or open. Tap them on the counter and squeeze them to see if they will stay closed, if they do not simply discard. If you think you might miss any not to worry, you get a second chance because after they cook if they do not open you will discard those ones.

Big Heat: These mussels have a mild kick depending on the type of hot pepper you use. You can also use jalapeno or habenero or scotch bonnet peppers. For really big heat, use 2.

You can purchase mussels in net bags in the grocery stores or loose by the pound. You can easily use 2 net bags of mussels for this recipe which is closer to 4 lb/2 kg to feed a few more.


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