A Hunt For Vanilla Beans, A Trip To Little India and Canard À La Vanille

Tonight we took a little trip to the island of Reunion with Tessa Kiros’s recipe for Canard À La Vanille, a famous dish of the island.

It was Family Day and I needed a few vanilla beans. Finding a store that was open and that stocked fresh vanilla beans was like finding a needle in a haystack. My American ways shine through and I expect that grocery and liquor stores are open on holidays. Not so much here in Canada. The occasional Chinese market and corner store are your best bets.

After a few dead ends, my hunt took me to a tiny spice shop on Gerrard over in Little India. I parked in front of the Toronto Cash and Carry, a cheery storefront with a yellow awning and a few baby eggplants, hot peppers and such stacked in bins outside. Once inside the warmth of spices hit my nostrils, radiating such a soothing feeling.

The shop had my coveted vanilla beans tucked in a chest behind the register and some lovely spiced cashews that the owner let us try. We bought a bag of the cashews, some golden raisins, chili peppers, and asked the kind man where we could grab a good hot tea on this cold and rainy day.

Kashmiri Red TeaHe directed us to Desi Burger also known as Lahore Chaat and Paan House for a Kashmiri red tea, so we went. I had no idea what the tea consisted of, we ordered two and a paan to share. Sidenote: I’ve never tried paan, but always see it in these little Indian shops and it instills this vision of a bunch of older men, sitting at the counter drinking tea, chatting and chewing paan.

PaanThe paan was sticky and sweet and the betel leaf fresh and chewy. The tea was borderline flavoured milk. It had a lovely perfume and was topped with crushed pistachios, next time I’ll know to hold on the milk.

Today, I learned that we need to support these small local businesses, before they disappear. We need their uniqueness, it’s easy to head to the big box store with its homogenous goods and lack of culture, but look for that needle in the haystack and more than likely it will be special.

Duck A La VanilleNow on to the duck! If you haven’t read any of Tessa Kiros’s cookbooks yet, get ready. She is a magical cookbook writer, each of her ten cookbooks takes you on a little trip interwoven with stories, beauty and an inside peek into Tessa’s character. I wanted to try this dish, because I’ve never used vanilla in anything savoury before and this duck and vanilla combo piqued my interest. Let me tell you the house smelled lovely.

It was a hit. Tender braised duck with a comforting hint of vanilla. I served the duck as Tessa suggested with a tart, green mango rougail that could have passed for a grain like couscous and sautéed greens. I also made a batch of fried butterbean Bonbons Piment.
As for the duck, I loved the interplay of taste and scent in this dish, something I’d describe as scrumptiously intoxicating; a tickle for the senses.

GreensSince the recipes are not my own, I’ve only listed the ingredients, check out Provence to Pondicherry for the recipes and a little trip to the French colonies.

The following recipes Canard à la Vanilla, Rougail Mangue Verte, and Bonbons Piment by Tessa Kiros
Provence To Pondicherry: Recipes From France And Faraway

Duck A La Vanille FeastCANARD À LA VANILLE
whole duck
red onions
vanilla pods
vanilla extract

green peppers
red onions
green chillies
green mangoes

spring onions
coriander leaves
ground cumin
vegetable oil
dried butter beans


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