Eating As An Art Of Living: What We Can Learn From Ayurveda

HuffPost. January 2021.

When it comes to health goals, the new year marks a reset point for many of us. After months of stress eatingpandemic cooking and staying indoors, many of us have ignored our bodies. Though we can’t control much external stress, we can strengthen our immune systems and minds to better face the challenges that lie ahead. One of the ways we can do this by tapping into the knowledge our ancestors have been using for thousands of years.

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From The Bahamas to Toronto: Raquel Fox Talks Plans for a New Year and Cookbook

For Cuisine Noir. January 2019.

Bahamian celebrity chef, restaurateur, caterer, and teacher Raquel Fox just added author to her list of accomplishments with the completion of her first cookbook, “Dining in Paradise. ”  The collection of over 150 authentic island recipes is due out this March.

Fox’s earliest memory of being in the kitchen is when she was a 6-year-old sous chef to her grandmother, peeling root vegetables and husking corn. “Watching my grandmother’s love for food, bringing people together over celebratory meals and making them happy was magical for me to watch,” she says. As a child, she would witness fishmongers bring fresh seafood to her house on bicycles and her grandfather, a farmer, start with a seed to bring ingredients to her grandmother in the kitchen and then to her dining table. She realized the power of cooking early on and knew that’s what she wanted to incorporate in her life.

In the Bahamas, Fox attended an international school which exposed her to different cuisines. She had friends from all over the world whom she visited between high school and college. During these travels, she discovered the similarities between different cultures and started looking at her island closely.

Incorporating Cultural Influences into Bahamian Cuisine
Bahamian chef and cookbook author Raquel Fox

With Africa, Latin America, France, Spain, the Caribbean and England influencing The Bahamas diverse history, you’ll can find seafood conch salad with a lot of chili and lime, Johnnycake or Bahamian cornbread, fried whole fish and chicken, as well as a British style steamed puddings called guava duff (the national dish) on the same table. Seafood is a staple and Bahamian cooking incorporates lots of spices, rum and tropical fruits.

Fox and her husband opened a wine lounge in the Bahamas in 2009, which they eventually closed to move their family to Toronto, Canada, where they currently reside. She also hosted her own television show, “Island Hopping,” to educate people about Bahamian food.

After being in the culinary industry for 14 years, Fox went back to school to get a culinary degree from George Brown College in Toronto. “I tried to be modest at the time, but I wasn’t a beginner to cooking. Still, I learned a lot of techniques, culinary terms used at work, and even the proper way to hold a knife,” she adds. After graduation, Fox opened a catering business and started teaching at George Brown and various cooking schools. “What I enjoy most being a culinary instructor is that you meet wonderful people who are enthusiastic about learning and passionate about food. I tell stories of my childhood as I teach them how to cook, which is very entertaining,” Fox says about her favorite job thus far.

New Cookbook Celebrates Familly

In her cookbook, Fox shares many of her family’s recipes as well as stories from her childhood growing up. She pays homage to her grandma and her mother-in-law for teaching her how to entertain and bring families together over food. Readers can recreate her colorful platters around family, like people in The Bahamas do every Sunday. “Families from other islands would come over for a party in our backyard, older men made rhythmic sounds with a saw, scrub board and goatskin drum games, women danced and kids played hopscotch and hide-and-seek,” she writes in “Dining in Paradise.”  “The cookbook is my way of sharing my heritage, love and passion for Bahamian cuisine.”

Juggling so many hats can be challenging, but Fox’s passion for food and constant need to innovate energizes her. She advises doing something that brings you closer to your goal every day, even if it is a small step in the direction. “Get rid of the resolutions, be realistic and continue to grow in knowledge,” she suggests for the new year.

As for Fox, she hopes to spend more quality time with family, land a new television show, and make “Dining in Paradise” a bestseller in 2019.

“Dining in Paradise is available at independent bookstores in the U.S. and at Indigo bookstores across Canada, as well as available for pre-order on Amazon.  You can also visit her website at www.racquelscookbook.comand connect with her on Facebook.

~ Written for For Cuisine Noir in January 2019.

Conversation with Pro Boxer and Caribbean Chef Julius Jackson

For Cuisine Noir Magazine. June 2018

At age of 30, Julius Jackson is a professional boxer, chef, cookbook author, model, and actor. He is a light-heavyweight Olympic qualifier and plays a boxer on the Telemundo series El Cesar based on the life of Julio Cesar Chavez. Born and raised on the beautiful island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Jackson maintains a delicate balance between his professional life, his passion, family and serving the community.

I met Jackson at the St. Croix Food and Wine Experience’s “The Giving Table,” a community-centric private gourmet dinner prepared by celebrity chefs to raise funds for the St. Croix Foundation for Community Development and rebuilding St. Croix after the destruction from two hurricanes in 2017. Jackson carefully plated about 40 servings of pumpkin fritter with a salmon croquette and micro-blended creole sauce, topped with a thyme and parsley garnish. It was an instant crowd pleaser.

How did you get involved with St. Croix Food and Wine Experience?

The St. Croix Food and Wine Experience works with a lot of nonprofits in the USVI, one of which I am closely involved with. I am the head chef and manager of the charitable café/ bakery called My Brothers Workshop which focuses on mentoring and job placement for at-risk youth. We help kids get diplomas online, provide job skills, counseling and mentoring and give them hope to overcome their situations and become better citizens of the island. I also spend a lot of time volunteering at schools and summer camps to talk about boxing and cooking.

What’s your history with boxing?

My dad, Julian “the Hawk” Jackson, was a 3-time world champion boxer and Boxing Hall of Fame recipient. Boxing was huge for our family, but I did not care much for it. I saw my dad get injured and go for surgeries towards the end of his career, which turned me away from the sport. I liked baseball better.

My brothers, on the other hand, did box and would come home and teased me for being fat and lazy. So, I decided to just go to the gym with my dad to get in shape, but I didn’t want to punch or fight anyone. When my brothers started competing in tournaments and needed a sparring mate, my dad asked me to do it. They would beat me up but I couldn’t hit them back, so decided to box. Soon enough, I realized that I was a natural at it and started liking it. I began my amateur boxing career at the age of 13, competed in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China and won the title of WBC (USNBC) Super Middleweight Champion in 2012. I am currently fighting with a professional record of 20-2 with 17 KOs (knockouts).

How did you get into cooking?

When I was a kid, I hated being hungry. I would stay in the kitchen to help my mom cook mostly because I wanted to be the tester and take the first bite. One day, when I was about 10, I was home and hungry, so I decided to cook myself fried chicken. It turned out nice but I remember putting too much Goya adobo! All my brothers wanted some, so I started cooking for everyone. I watched them enjoying what I prepared and it made me feel good. Then on, I would make pancakes, scrambled eggs and Johnny Cakes on the weekends for everyone.

Until high school, I never perceived a career in culinary arts. My counselor advised me to take home economic courses in 8th grade and after graduation, I went to Florida Culinary Institute in West Palm Beach. I worked with a catering company, hotel, restaurant and did some pop-up dinners while maintaining my pro boxing career.

What’s your cookbook about?

Whenever I get a chance to talk with the women in my family, I am always learning how they cook certain Caribbean dishes. Keeping true to my roots, I wrote my Caribbean fusion cookbook focusing on traditional Caribbean recipes across the different islands, with classic French and Italian twists I learned through my training. Some of the recipes include Caribbean quesadillas with fresh mangoes and focaccia bread with avocados. I am Caribbean by blood but I love mixing with other people and cultures.

I wrote “My Modern Caribbean Kitchen” (releasing July 2018) through the two hurricanes Maria and Irma. It was dark everywhere and I had to look for light and internet. I dedicated the book to the victims, while I was also working through the time feeding people at the bakery.

To learn more about Jackson, visit  http://juliusthechef.com and follow him on Twitter.

~ Written for Cuisine Noir Magazine

 

Vegan and Appetizing?

khabarcover-allthatjazz

Many Americans who see veganism as downright unappetizing may be in for a surprise to learn of the richly flavorful Indian vegan dishes.

Exotic aromas and finger-licking flavor may not be the first associations that come to mind when most people think of vegan food. But forays into Indian cuisine, especially through a cookbook like Anupy Singla’s Vegan Indian Cooking, will have many actually hankering for this healthy diet option.

The momentum towards healthy eating is undeniable and rising. Veganism, where the primary source of food includes fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, and soy products, but no dairy, is on the cutting edge of this momentum. The benefits of such a diet—lower LDL cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes—are no longer debatable. Vegans also tend to have a lower body mass index, lower cancer rates, and fewer deaths from ischemic heart disease.

But with an increasing shift towards vegetarianism and veganism, people are also searching for creative options that don’t sacrifice taste. That’s where the spice of Indian cuisine saves the day. Not only does it add oomph to the natural foods, but it also furthers the emphasis on health that is so much a part of veganism. The health benefits of the spices found in South Asian cuisine combine well with the health benefits of vegan foods. Considerable research has been done on the health aspects of turmeric, cumin, and coriander. They act as natural supplements that help with digestion, and prevent swelling, high cholesterol, and cancer.

Author and cooking instructor Singla, whose previous bestseller, The Indian Slow Cooker, was named a Top 10 Cookbook of 2011 by the Atlantic, makes a strong case of eating “real food” in her latest book. She believes that as Indians we need to go back to our roots and show appreciation for our old ways. A fast-paced modern lifestyle has led families to eat fast food and prepackaged products. Even households that cook Indian at home may opt for pre-assembled masala packets that have high salt content and frozen naan made with white flour and preservatives.

Singla’s book has 100 recipes for vegetables, lentils, and breads using alternatives to processed foods and dairy. For example, Singla recommends using grapeseed oil for cooking instead of the usual vegetable oil or ghee we are so familiar with. Grapeseed oil has a high smoking point but is much healthier. Organic tofu is used instead of paneer to make some of the popular Indian dishes, like Matar Paneer. There are instructions to make homemade soy yogurt. If you are allergic to gluten or have celiac disease, you can still eat bread made with chick pea or corn flour following the easy directions. The recipe for dosa, a South Indian favorite, incorporates brown rice, which has fewer calories and more whole grains.

Singla recommends cooking in crock pots or slow cookers, as opposed to pressure cookers. Slow cooking breaks down the essential oils of the spices and enables you to get richer flavors from the dish. If you are wondering if dry lentils can be cooked in a slow cooker, the answer is yes. It takes about 6-10 hours but you can leave them in the crock pot when you go to work and they’re ready just in time for dinner. Cooking in crock pots allows busy moms to still be able to prepare healthy meals without spending too much time on the stove. The book contains several recipes using a slow cooker for delicious dishes such as rasam, lentil stew, and paneer biryani.

A great time-saving tip is writing out a weekly menu for your household and creating shopping lists accordingly. The introduction section of Vegan Indian Cooking talks about how to prepare basic ingredients (such as stock, tofu, spices) ahead of time and organize your spices in a masala box.

While it may not be practical to go vegan 100% of the time, Singla urges us to step back and reassess how we eat. If we cut down on meat and eat more fresh foods, we are likely to feel healthier and more energetic, as well as notice a change in existing health issues. When eating fewer animal products but more fiber, you will feel fuller with less food, which in turn will make you feel better. Our bodies crave nutrition and our minds control what we eat, so we need to take charge and make better choices.

Sucheta Rawal is a business consultant and writer. She blogs about exploring the world and learning about different cultures through food and community service at www.goeatgive.com.

Recipe:
South Indian Crêpes (Dosas) 

YIELD: 3½ CUPS (830 ML) OF BATTER MAKES ABOUT 24 MEDIUM-SIZED DOSAS
Ingredients: 
1 cup (190 g) brown basmati rice, cleaned and washed
¼ cup (48 g) whole black lentils with skin (sabut urad dal), cleaned and washed
2 tablespoons split gram (chana dal)
½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt, divided
1½ cups (356 mL) water
Oil, for pan frying, set aside in a small bowl
½ large onion, peeled and halved (for prepping the pan)

1. In a large bowl, soak the rice in ample water.
2. In a separate bowl, soak the black lentils, split gram, and fenugreek.
3. Add ½ teaspoon salt to each bowl. Place each bowl in a warm area (I like to keep them in a warm oven that’s turned off) with a loose lid and soak overnight.
4. In the morning, drain and reserve the water.
5. Grind the lentils and rice together in a powerful blender, such as a Vitamix. Add up to 1½ cups (356 mL) of water as you go. (You can use the reserved soaking water.)
6. Let the batter sit for 6 to 7 hours in a slightly warm place (again, such as a warm oven that’s been turned off) to ferment slightly.
7. Heat a griddle over medium-high heat. Put 1 teaspoon of oil in the pan and spread it out with a paper towel or dish towel.
8. Once the pan is hot, stick a fork into the uncut, rounded part of the onion. Holding the fork handle, rub the cut half of the onion back and forth across your pan. The combination of heat, onion juices, and oil will help prevent your dosa from sticking. I learned this from a South Indian family friend, Parvati Auntie, and it truly makes all the difference in the world. Keep the onion with the inserted fork handy to use again between dosas.
9. Keep a tiny bowl of oil on the side with a spoon, you’ll use it later.
10. Now, finally on to the cooking! Ladle about ¼ cup (59 mL) of batter into the middle of the hot, prepped pan. With the back of your ladle, slowly make clockwise motions from the middle to the outer edge of the pan until the batter becomes thin and crêpe-like.
11. With a small spoon, pour a thin stream of oil in a circle around the batter.
12. Let the dosa cook until it is slightly browned and pulls away from the pan slightly. Flip and cook the other side. Once it is browned, serve immediately layered with spiced jeera or lemon potatoes, coconut chutney, and a side of sambhar.