Take a food tour through Asia
From West to East, four GTA chefs and restaurateurs explain their cuisine
May is Asian Heritage Month and what better way to explore Asian culture than through its delicious food? Some cuisine you may be familiar with, while some Asian fare is just waiting to be discovered. Four GTA chefs and restaurateurs will dish on four different regional cuisines: West, East, South, and Southeast. It's a big continent, see what's being served up coast to coast.
We'll start in the West. West Asia includes 21 countries from Turkey and Afghanistan, to Iraq, Iran, and Jordan . Although many of these countries are also part of the Middle East and the food is often considered Middle Eastern or Arabic, it's also part of Asia and Asian cuisine.
Our first chef is Amina Al-Saigh. Born in Mosul, Iraq, she moved to Canada at age nine and grew up in Hamilton. After completing a degree in Chemical Engineering, she moved to London, England where her culinary passion was cemented. She now lives in Milton with her husband and children. She is a food blogger, freelancer and creator of The Hungry Paprikas and also works in the engineering field
Get to know Amina.
Tell us about your culinary journey.
I've always been in the kitchen with my mom, for as long as I can remember; helping her wash vegetables, chop, peel, stir and taste. I didn't realize it at the time, but just by doing that, I was picking up so much from her and developing my palette. My mom would always cook complex traditional Iraqi food, so watching her, I'd always proclaim that I was not going to do that when I'm older. I was just going to order pizza. But funnily enough, when I got married and moved away to London UK, I started to crave all the food she used to make for us, so I learned to make it myself. I'd often call her and ask her to give me detailed steps for her recipes. Fast forward to today, and I'm now sharing those recipes with everyone who is in the same position as me, craving for authentic food, and looking for exact measurements.
Favourite foodie childhood memory?
One of my favourite memories has got to be from my early childhood, sharing a meal with my extended family at my grandmother's house. All of us cousins (and we were so many!) would be gathered around the table, which would be adorned with all kinds of food that my grandmother spent all day making. The sounds of dishes clanging, lots of chatter. And then all of us kids shouting in unison "long live your hand, grandma!" before digging in. This saying is an Iraqi tradition, which is said to the cook to honour and appreciate them. My grandmother would just smile at us and you could tell that her heart was happy.
If you were stocking the perfect pantry, what five ingredients would you select?
My perfect pantry would definitely have pomegranate molasses, tahini paste, olive oil and rice. These are all ingredients I cook with on a regular basis and that form a huge part of middle eastern cuisine.
What advice would you give to cooking newbies, especially those taking on Asian cuisine?
Just get into the kitchen! The best way to learn is to experiment. It won't be perfect from the first try, but it'll be very fulfilling. I would also urge people to start off following recipes, but to learn the basics so you can eventually experiment by creating your own dishes. I find it's more enjoyable to dream up a dish and then make it come alive in the kitchen. Always a fun experience!
How has the pandemic taken your food business in a new direction?
I'm one of those fortunate people whose business has taken off during the pandemic. With everyone being home, they are looking for fun ways to experiment in the kitchen, so my blog along with my Instagram page have definitely seen increased traffic. I've also started offering digital products to my audience, such as digital cookbooks and menus. I'm also a freelance food photographer, so with many food-based businesses going online now, there's never a shortage of work in the food photography space.
Time to Dish! What's your favourite West Asian recipe?
I'd like to share my recipe for Iraqi Dolma (Middle Eastern Stuffed Vegetables).
This authentic Iraqi Dolma recipe may be a labour of love, but it is so worth it! If you ever wanted to be transported to Iraq through your taste buds, this is the recipe to try.
Chef Amina's Iraqi Dolma (Middle Eastern Stuffed Vegetables)
Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 3 hours 53 minutes
Servings 6 -7 portions
For the stuffing mixture:
- For the vegetables:
- For the cooking liquid:
- 1.5 lbs lean ground beef
- 4 cups medium grain rice I use Calrose
- 3 teaspoons salt
- 1.5 teaspoon black pepper
- 8 tablespoons tomato paste equivalent to 156 mL the small cans
- 1/3 cup pomegranate molasses *see notes
- 3 small onions or 2 medium ones
- 4 small cloves garlic
- 2 red or orange bell peppers
- 1/2 cup olive oil
To celebrate Asian Heritage Month, @CBC is sharing stories from across the country to find out what it means to be Asian-Canadian in 2021. Follow the #ProudlyAsianCanadian hashtag and follow @CBC on Instagram and Facebook for content throughout the month.