You’re Simply the ZEST

You’re Simply the ZEST

There is something to be said about cooking and eating a dish that has significance to you, your family, or your culture. I know that with our technology, you can find just about any recipe online instantly with the click of a button, but what you can’t always find is why people choose to use those recipes and how exactly they are capable of creating pure joy. So what exactly makes a dish so special? Well, I set out to find just that. I interviewed a few people about recipes that they grew up with, and I asked them about the cultural and personal significance of those recipes.

Chicken Roce Curry

First up is Alex. Her family’s favourite recipe is Chicken Roce Curry. It is an Indian recipe from the area of Mangalore. All of the aunts in her family would make this dish during the holiday season or whenever they hosted big family celebrations! During COVID-19, Alex’s family cooked this recipe around Christmas time and delivered boxes of it to each other’s houses to celebrate with each other from a distance. To her and her family, a big pot of the most delicious coconut-spicy curry brings them all together no matter the occasion.


  • 1 onions, sliced
  • 400g of chicken, cut
  • 2 tablespoons of oil
  • 1 cup of coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup of grated coconut
  • 1/2 tsp of turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp of cumin
  • 1/2 tsp of peppercorns
  • 1 tsp of coriander seeds
  • 10 red chillies
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • salt to taste



  1. In a pan, fry the sliced onions in oil until translucent; set aside
  2. In another pan, dry roast the turmeric, cumin, peppercorns, coriander seeds, garlic and chillies, until fragrant for about 5 minutes. Don’t burn the spices so do it on low heat.
  3. Once the spices have cooled down, mix with grated coconut and water to make into a paste
  4. Add paste into the pot with 1/2 of the coconut milk and some water until it is the desired consistency. Add cut chicken and the rest of the coconut milk and salt; let simmer for 35-40 minutes until chicken is cooked. 
  5. Serve with rice and enjoy!



Next is Lexi. Her favourite recipe is Challah. Every week on shabbat throughout the lockdown this summer, she, her sister, and her mother would make challah from this recipe. Occasionally they would modify it and put zaatar on it. Each loaf was a different flavour, but nonetheless they made it as a family. The weekly challah bake brought them together and helped them find something to look forward to, especially during the pandemic when there wasn’t a lot to feel excited about. Not only did they find a way to connect to each other but also found connections to their Judaism. Lexi and her family are not very religious but their Jewish culture is incredibly important to them. She says that a significant aspect of Judaism is how individualized it can be, that one is able to make the religion their own. Evidently, Lexi appreciates how Judaism can be celebrated in a multitude of ways. On that note, here is one of the ways she celebrates:

Dough Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water, divided
  • 1 packet active dry yeast (1 packet is equivalent to 2 1/4 tsp or .25 ounce active dry yeast) – you may substitute 1 3/4 teaspoons of instant yeast or .6 ounce compressed fresh yeast (1 small cake)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 2 tbsp canola oil (you may also use avocado oil)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 4 1/2-6 cups all purpose flour – PLEASE NOTE – if you are using the metric conversion tool on this recipe, the flour is not updating correctly. The correct metric measurements for flour are 562.5 to 750 grams (do not change the recipe serving sizes or it will not work)


Egg Wash Ingredients

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tbsp cold water
  • 1/2 tsp salt



You will also need: Large mixing bowl, whisk, kitchen towel, cookie sheet, parchment paper, plastic wrap, pastry brush, timer.

This recipe will make 1 very large challah, 2 regular challahs, or 24 mini challah rolls.


  1. Pour ¼ cup of the lukewarm water (about 110 degrees) into a large mixing bowl. Add 1 packet of active dry yeast and 1 tsp of sugar to the bowl, stir to dissolve. Wait 10 minutes until yeast is activated.
  2. Add remaining 1 ¼ cup lukewarm water to the bowl along with the egg, egg yolks, honey, oil, and salt. Whisk to blend. 
  3. Add the flour to the bowl by half-cupfuls, stirring with a large spoon each time flour is added. When the mixture becomes too thick to stir, use your hands to knead until the dough is smooth and not sticky. 
  4. Place a saucepan full of water on the stove to boil.
  5. Remove the dough from your mixing bowl. Grease a bowl with oil. Push the dough back into the bottom of the bowl, then flip it over so that both sides are slightly moistened by the oil.
  6. Place the bowl of dough on the middle rack of your oven and cover. Take the saucepan full of boiling water and place it below the rack where your dough sits. Close the oven, but do not turn it on. The pan of hot water will create a warm, moist environment for your dough to rise. Let the dough rise for 1 hour. 
  7. Take the dough bowl out and punch it down several times to remove air pockets.
  8. Place it back inside the oven and let it rise for 1 hour longer, or until the dough doubles in size.
  9. Take the dough out of the oven. Flour a smooth surface like a cutting board. Punch the dough down into the bowl a few times, then turn the dough out onto the floured surface. Knead for a few minutes, adding flour as needed to keep the dough from feeling sticky.
  10. Now your dough is ready to braid.
  11. After you’ve braided your challah, place it on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  12. Prepare your egg wash by beating the egg, salt and water till smooth. Use a pastry brush to brush a thin layer of the mixture onto the visible surface of your challah.
  13. Let the braid rise 30 to 45 minutes longer then let the challah bake in the oven at 350 degrees F for 40 minutes.
  14. Once the challah is browned to your liking, take the tray out and tent it with foil, then place it back in the oven. Remove the foil for the last 2 minutes of baking time.



Next, John’s family’s favourite recipe is a dish called Dinuguan. In the Philippines, Dinuguan comes from the root word “dugo” which means blood and as a result this meal is known as “Pork Blood Stew”.  John’s mother grew up in the Philippines and this savoury stew was a staple meal for her and her family. Through associating this recipe with her parents/childhood as well as the many times she cooked and passed down this dish to her own children, the recipe signifies comfort and thus, holds a special place in her heart. It is traditionally eaten with steamed rice for lunch or dinner and it is easily recognized by its dark sauce.


  • 10 ounces pork blood
  • 1 cup vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 thumb-size ginger (about 1 tablespoon), peeled and minced
  • 2 pounds pork belly, cut into ½-inch strips
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 finger chilies (siling haba)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Lemon grass



  1. In a bowl, combine pig’s blood and about 2 tablespoons of the vinegar. Stir well.
  2. In a pot over medium heat, heat oil. Add onions, garlic, and ginger and cook until softened.
  3. Add pork and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned.
  4. Add fish sauce and cook for about 1 to 2 minutes.
  5. Add vinegar and bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered and without stirring, for about 3 to 5 minutes or until slightly reduced.
  6. Add water and bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover and continue to cook for about 15 to 20 minutes or until meat is tender.
  7. Add pork blood, stirring to disperse and prevent lumps.
  8. Add brown sugar and stir to dissolve.
  9. Add chili peppers.
  10. Continue to simmer for about 10 minutes or until the sauce is thickened.
  11. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot with rice or puto.


Vegan Stuffed Indian Eggplants

Hareer’s favourite recipe is called Sheik Marsh, written in Arabic as شيخ محشي. Hareer grew up eating this cultural Arab dish which makes (vegan) Stuffed Indian Eggplants. Traditionally the eggplants are stuffed with minced meat, but this was the first dish her mom altered for her when she turned vegan five years ago. This meal represents consistency in her life and signifies happiness for Hareer because it smells, tastes, and feels like home.


  • Indian eggplant (as many as you want)
  • Quinoa stuffing 
    • 2 (or more/less) cups of quinoa
    • 2 chopped carrots
    • Dill
    • Tomato paste 
    • Teaspoon cumin 
    • 2 gloves of garlic 
    • Half an onion 
    • One chopped tomato 
  • Tomato Sauce
    • 1 tomato 
    • Table spoon of tomato paste 
    • Tea spoon cumin 
    • Turmeric 
    • Curry 
    • Cornstarch (optional for thickness) 
    • Garlic



  1. Empty the insides of the Indian eggplant so that it would be hollow, so that the quinoa can be stuffed in when it is ready 
  2. Blend the ingredients for the tomato sauce and put it aside.
  3. Put eggplants aside, place quinoa (i usually do 2 cups depending on the serving of eggplants) on boiling water until its cooked 
  4. Chop the carrots into very small cubes, remember they need to fit inside the eggplant 
  5. After the quinoa is cooked, strain the water and place it back on the pot 
  6. Put a table spoon and a half of tomato paste 
  7. Add salt, pepper, tea spoon of cumin, tea spoon of curry and dill (or measure to your liking) 
  8. Add chopped garlic, and chopped ½ onion or garlic and onion powder.
  9. Add chopped carrots into the pot with the dill (you can use dried dill as well).
  10. A table spoon of pomegranate molasses is optional 
  11. After the quinoa is cooked with the vegetables (about 30-40mins on medium heat) place it on the side to be cool.
  12. Stuff the quinoa into the Indian eggplants 
  13. Place it on a cooking dish and drizzle the tomato sauce on top. If you have leftover quinoa or stuffing, you can mix these with the tomato sauce.
  14. Put in the oven for about 40 mins on 350 degrees.
  15. Add spinach for plating.

The final product looks like this:



For Molly, it’s her grandmother’s Brisket that offers a significant amount of meaning for several reasons. Brisket is one of the most popular Jewish dishes for the holidays. She eats it at Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and even Thanksgiving because her and her family love it so much. Her mom describes Brisket as one of the traditional foods that she’s eaten since she was a little girl. “The delicious smell always warms the room, and no holiday would be complete without it,” says Karen, Molly’s mom.


  • 3-4lb brisket (flat cut)
  • 1 small can frozen Orange Juice (defrosted)
  • 1 package lipton soup mix (onion)
  • 1 small can ginger ale
  • 1c ketchup 
  • ¾ cup red wine 
  • Onions
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes



  1. Rub onion soup into brisket on both sides. 
  2. If you like more onion taste use 2 packages. 
  3. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
  4. Cut up vegetables in bite size pieces. 
  5. Put over the brisket. 
  6. Pour liquid mixture over the brisket and vegetables.
  7. Bake at 350 F for 3-3.5 hours until meat is tender.
  8. Slice thinly across the grain.


Osso Bucco

Finally, my Nonna’s favourite recipe is called “Osso Bucco”. It originates from Venezia Giulia, an area in Northern Italy where my grandmother is from. Osso Bucco is the Italian name for a dish with veal shank containing marrowbone and stewed in wine with vegetables. Although traditionally, the recipe calls for veal shank, my Nonna prefers to use beef shank to give it a variation.


  • 2 beef shanks ( 1 ½ kilo)
  • 1 medium carrot cut in cubes 
  • 1 stem leek sliced 
  • 3 cloves garlic crushed 
  • 1 cup flour 
  • ¼ tsp salt 
  • ¼ tsp pepper 
  • ½ cup cooking oil 
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste 
  • 3 cups beef broth 2 beef cubes diluted in 3 cups water
  • 1 cup red cooking wine


Gremolata Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp lemon zest grated
  • 3 cloves garlic finely chopped 
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley



  1. Mix Lemon zest, chopped garlic, and parsley in a bowl and set aside for the Gremolata.
  2. Wash thoroughly and pat dry the beef shanks. Rub with salt and pepper making sure all sides are coated. 
  3. Place flour in a plate and dredge the beef shanks in flour, shake off excess flour.
  4. Heat oil in a large cooking pan over high heat. Brown the beef in the oil or until the shanks are golden. Remove shanks from the oil and set aside.
  5. Using the same pan. Remove some oil, leaving maybe 3 tbsp of oil over medium heat. Saute garlic, leek, and carrots. Add tomato paste and stir. Add red cooking wine then stir and let simmer for 5 minutes or until the wine’s scent is reduced. 
  6. Add half of the gremolata mix into the pan then add the beef shanks and pour in the beef broth. Let simmer and cover the pan for 1.5 hours. Add more time and some water if the beef is still hard when poking with a fork.
  7. When the beef is tender and the sauce is thick. Remove from the pan and transfer in a serving dish. Garnish with the remaining gremolata and serve!


In my case, my parents were born in Canada although my maternal grandparents were both born in Macedonia and my paternal grandparents were both born in Italy. The more I ask my family about our Italian and Macedonian backgrounds, the more eager I become to learn all about it. The languages, the recipes, the stories. I want to know every part of who I am. And I encourage you all to do the same and be proud of who you are and where you and your family come from.  It is incredible how many beautiful and tasty dishes there are out there that we may not know about and we may never have had the opportunity to try. So today I’m challenging you to try one. Unfortunately, this article couldn’t possibly fit every culture and every dish for the sake of space (although, believe me, I would have loved to compile more) but chances are that you haven’t tried all of these before, and if you have, then perhaps you haven’t attempted cooking them yourself, which is my next challenge for you. While we should always remember to keep our family and our own culture close to heart, we should also expand our horizons. Let’s continue to learn about as many other cultures as we possibly can because each one has so many wonderful things to offer.



Header Image Source: Hareer Al-Qragolie


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