Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Thailand


Most people in this country are at least somewhat familiar with the notion of Thai food.  In the 1980's Thai restaurants began to pop up in nearly every urban area.  Here in Chicago pretty much every neighborhood has at least one Thai BYOB restaurant.  Our friend Nick, who recently moved to New Zealand, is the son of a Thai restaurant owner in Indianapolis.  His mom's Thai Cafe in Broadripple was one of the first places I ate a Thai meal.  I strongly recommend checking them out next time you find yourself debating what to eat in Indianapolis.  Given the popularity of the food, I knew this meal would have to be a pretty large one.  

Fortunately, I've been cooking (or attempting to cook) Thai food since my time in college.  It took a lot of failures to make my first decent pad thai.  Also I've been lucky enough to have had the chance to visit Bangkok for a few weeks about five years ago.  I made sure to eat as much food as I possibly could.  That trip is still one of my fondest food memories and I'm sure I'll make the trip again.  The variety of the cuisine is astounding and no single meal could ever begin to encompass the complete glory of Thai food.  For this meal we decided to go for simplicity on a grand scale.  Most of the dishes can be made well ahead of time and served family style.  This allowed us more time to schmooze. Most of the ingredients are easy to find at an Asian grocery, and some supermarkets are now selling the staple ingredients.  Just be sure to buy plenty of rice.   

Mussel Fritter

The first time I had this was actually quite recently at a little place in Chicago called Sticky Rice at Irving Park and Western.  Amy and I both decided it was one of the most delicious things we'd ever had and were happy to discover that it was very simple to make after perusing a few cookbooks.  It may sound wretched, but we actually bought a large bag of frozen shelled mussel meat from a Vietnamese market for this dish.  The bag was so cheap we had to find out if the mussels were actually edible.  Naturally, the best way to do this is to cook a lot of them, feed them to your friends, and see what happens next.  So we prepared a large batch of the following recipe and were happy to see that nobody got ill or spat their food out in disgust.  Quite the opposite happened and the entire platter was quickly consumed.


1.5 cups mussel meat
5 tbsp rice flour
1.5 tbsp corn starch
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup water
2 eggs 
1 cup chopped scallions
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1 tbsp vegetable oil

1. Combine the rice flour, starch, salt, water and eggs to form a thick and smooth batter adding more water if necessary  Then fold in the remaining ingredients.
2. In a large skillet heat 1/2 cup oil or just enough to shallow fry over high heat.
3. Drop the batter into the skillet in ladle sized quantities one at a time and fry for until the bottom crust begins to brown and gently flip the fritter and fry the other side.
4. Repeat until all the batter is used storing the freshly made fritters in a warm oven until ready to serve.  Accompany with dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce

1/3 cup fish sauce
3 tbsp sugar
1 clove garlic chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
1 red chili thinly sliced
1/3 cup water

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and serve with fritters.

Cabbage and Peanut Salad


Cabbage is one of my favorite vegetables to cook with.  It's cheap, flavorful, and is great raw and cooked.  The Thai understand cabbage is awesome as well.  Here it is prepared much like a cole slaw but with other savory elements of peanuts and fish sauce.  We overdid it a bit with the chillies and some people couldn't eat it, but generally this serves as a very spicy side dish with most Thai meals.



1/2 head or 1 lb green cabbage with outer leaves and core removed
2 carrots grated
1 red onion thinly sliced
1 bunch cilantro chopped
1/4 cup chopped mint
1 serrano chilli finely chopped
2 tbsp sugar or to taste
3 tbsp fish sauce or to taste
1/4 cup vinegar or to taste
1/2 cup chopped peanuts
1. Using a knife or mandolin, thinly slice the cabbage into even strips.  Place these into a large bowl.
2. Combine all the remaining ingredients and taste for sweetness and salt.


Laap or Seasoned Ground Beef

Our good friend Chris Allen prepared this dish for us when we visited him in beautiful Muncie, IN.  He came to know of the dish through his days in the Peace Corps where he served in a small Thai village.  He made it much better than I did.  I'm guessing the cut of meat I had was a bit too lean.  In the future I'll grind down a fattier cut of beef.   

1.5 tbsp rice
4 dried red chillies 
1 lb chuck steak ground
1/4 cup lime juice
3 stalks lemon grass minced
1 red onion finely chopped
1 green bell pepper finely chopped
1/4 cup mint leaves 
2 tbsp fish sauce

1. Cook the rice and chillies over medium heat in a dry pan until the rice has begun to brown.
2. Grind the rice and chillies in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
3. Boil the ground beef for one minute or until it just changes color.
4. Combine everything together and serve at room temperature.


Sweet Pork

It really doesn't get any simpler than this.  This dish's sauce of fish sauce and sugar is the base sauce of many Thai dishes.  Here the sauce is presented in its simplest form without any additional chillies or herbs.  With the fresh pork loin the dish tastes almost like a good sweet ham.  It tastes great for up to two weeks in the fridge.  Make sure to eat it with lots of rice.

3 pounds pork loin cut into 1 inch cubes
1.5 cups palm sugar
1.5 cups fish sauce
4 cups water
Crispy shallot flakes for garnish.

1. Place everything but the shallot flakes into a deep heavy pot and bring to a simmer stirring frequently to incorporate the palm sugar.  Lower the heat and cook for 30 minutes covered.
2. Skim off any fat that has risen to the surface and continue cooking another 45 minutes to an hour until the meat is very tender and the sauce is thick and syrupy.  Serve with rice feel free to add chili sauce.


Green Curry With Chicken

Thai curries may sound like a challenge to cook, but the hardest part of them is not so much making the curry but gathering the giant list of ingredients needed for the curry paste.  This is next to impossible if you don't live near a Southeast Asian grocer.  I'm lucky enough to be near one and most large to medium sized cities will have one tucked away somewhere .  Once you do have the ingredients, this curry is a simple process of grinding a paste and boiling everything together in a thick sauce of coconut milk and fish sauce.  

For the paste:

1 inch of fresh galangal or 1 tsp dried powder
1 inch piece of fresh ginger
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground caraway
1 tsp ground pepper
4 cloves ground
1 whole nutmeg ground
2 stalks lemon grass minced
4 cloves garlic
3 shallots
5 kaffir lime leaves
2 serrano chillies
1 tsp shrimp paste
1 tsp salt
4 tbsp vegetable oil

Grind everything to a uniform paste in a blender adding a bit of water at a time.  Set this aside or freeze for up to 6 months.

For the Curry

4 lbs chicken thighs chopped into 1 inch pieces
2 cans coconut milk plus one cup water
Fish sauce to taste
Green curry paste recipe
1/2 cup thai basil
5 kaffir lime leaves

1. In a large saucepan, dutch oven or wok, cook the chicken with one can of coconut milk and 2 tbsp fish sauce until the meat is tender (10-15 minutes).
2. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and set aside.  Boil the coconut milk down to a thicker consistency.
3. Add the curry paste and cook for 3 minutes stirring frequently until the paste gives off a strong fragrance.
4. Once again add the chicken to the pan and cook 5-10 minutes until the sauce has thickened.  Then add the remaining can of coconut milk.  Simmer this another five minutes and serve garnished with basil and kaffir lime leaves.  Serve with rice.


In Conclusion

This meal was a real pleasure to cook.  The literature on Thai food is so vast and expansive that there is no need to desperately search for recipes from obscure sources.  I should probably mention my personal favorite Thai cookbooks here since there are so many out there that aren't that great.  Jennifer Brennan's Original Thai Cookbook is my favorite reference point for most family sized recipes.  It has been a standard since it came out in the 80's and can be found used on Amazon for dirt cheap.  Her recipe for pad thai is still the best one I've found in a Thai cookbook.  David Thompson's Thai Food is a great encyclopedic look at Thai cooking and recipes, though many of the ingredients are a bit obscure even with access to a decent Southeast Asian grocer.  But it is a damn good cookbook.

The meal was a great success for the most part.  Once again all the leaves were used in the dining room table and nobody appeared hungry when they left.  I was a bit saddened by the lack of any noodle dishes, but it's hard to fry noodles for a large crowd.  The next day I made some pad thai to satisfy my craving, just writing this post has me thinking of busting out the wok tomorrow.

Up next: Malaysia!
    

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New Zealand


Tom and I collectively have had many friends who have visited and worked in New Zealand through the years. However, this meal celebrated the departure of two of our friends, Stacy and Nick, going off to this picturesque country to see what seeds they could sow. Luckily, they are both doing well there today and we were happy to send them off with a taste of what was to come.

New Zealand today is full of sheep and Lord of the Rings tourism. Of course there is much more to this prosperous land than hobbits, but seriously, it's hard not to think of Elijah Wood when looking at the landscape. Much like our Australian meal, we had to kind of make up vegetable dishes that we thought Kiwis might eat. It's not that they don't eat vegetables, but either they eat ingredients we cannot get in the U.S. or they do not have a concrete recipe for a dish without meat. We hope we did it justice.

iSnack 2.0 and New Zealand Cheddar with Rye Bread

Okay, you are probably wondering first of all about the name of iSnack 2.0. Well, my friend, Jodie (she's from Australia), gave me this gift the last time she visited the states and apparently, the iSnack 2.0 name caused quite a stir down under, mainly because it's silly. It is now called Cheesybite and it's like Vegemite except Americans are supposed to like it more. The thing that a lot of people can't get over about Vegemite and the like is that you are supposed to spread it super thin on bread, but we tend to lather it on too thickly. Like Australians, Kiwis also enjoy their yeasty spreads. Like most Americans, I am not totally sold, but I do think the iSnack tastes better than original Vegemite. We put this out with some lovely New Zealand cheddar and bread for an amuse bouche.



Broccoli and New Zealand Cheddar Salad

Alright, on with the sort of bullshit vegetable dish! It did turn out quite tasty and a nice, lighter side to go with all of the other heavy food. We also used the New Zealand cheddar again, because it is just so pleasant with everything. I would be proud to bring this along to any Midwestern picnic.


2lbs broccoli cut into bite sized florets
1 cup shredded new zealand cheddar or other white cheddar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup shaved almonds
1/4 cup golden raisins
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Blanche the broccoli for two minutes drain and allow to cool to room temperature.
2. In a large bowl mix everything together and serve.


Turnip and Rutabaga Gratin

Tom and I both love our root vegetables and rutabaga is one of those special winter treats that if you have not tried you should really get with it. Both rutabaga and turnips are super cheap, delicious and feed a lot of people, plus you can dress them up or down. It doesn't matter, they will still be enjoyable.

By the way, about 5 minutes after we took this picture, our lovely blue baking dish cracked off and there was gratin all over the place. Just one of those mishaps that seem to happen to us when a lot of people are over. Dinners aren't the same without some sort of crisis or broken cookware!




For the Bechamel:

2 cups milk
1 onion thinly sliced
1 tsp chopped sage
1 tsp chopped thyme
1 clove of garlic chopped
1/2 stick of butter
3 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
Salt to taste

1. In a saucepan heat the milk until it reaches a boil and then set it aside.
2. In another small saucepan melt the butter over low heat and stir in the flour. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture browns.
3. Pour in the heated milk slowly in batches and use a whisk to stir it together.
4. Add the herbs and cook until thickened. Season with salt and nutmeg.

For the vegetables:

1.5 lbs rutabaga cut into thin strips
1.5 lbs turnips also cut into thin strips
1 onion finely chopped
1 cup bread crumbs
Butter
Salt and pepper to taste.

1. Preheat the oven to 375 and butter a 2 quart casserole dish.
2. Boil the rutabagas in a large pot for two minutes and drain.
3. Saute the onion in a tablespoon of butter for five minutes and combine with all of the vegetables in a large bowl.
4. Season these with salt and pepper and pour them into the casserole.
5. Pour bechamel over the vegetables and cover everything with the breadcrumbs.
6. Bake 45 minutes or until the top is browned.


Mint Jelly for Lamb

When I was a kid, we were at a jelly store in Tennessee somewhere and I saw an apple mint jelly. I begged my parents to get in and proceeded to eat it on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Little did I know that this type of jelly had a higher purpose--meat sauce. I still hold to the fact that it is fabulous with peanut butter, but I guess it goes well with lamb, too.


1 cup mint leaves chopped
1/4 cup malt vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp corn starch

In a small pan, heat the vinegar and sugar over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the mint leaves, salt, and corn starch. Continue heating until slightly thickened. Allow to cool in the fridge for several hours and serve with the lamb.

Lamb Roast

We couldn't very well make a New Zealand meal without making a lamb roast. Much to my chagrin and disappointment, the lamb was made and enjoyed by all, well, everyone but Stacy and I. I wish I could enjoy lamb and I think it tastes just fine. It's just that for some reason when it hits my throat it makes me gag inexplicably. Stacy had a better excuse, she tried the lamb because she knew more was in her future when she moved, but she was in fact a vegetarian. I was still secretly happy that her reaction was the same as mine.

Now, please don't listen to me and my opinions on lamb, like I said, I wish I could enjoy it. This is a lovely lamb recipe and goes wonderful with the mint jelly. This picture seriously doesn't do it justice, but I think you can look at the runoff meat juices and decide for yourself.


Pavlova

At first when I saw the recipe for this back when we did Australia, I thought to myself "there is absolutely no way I am making that!". It looked hard, it looked time consuming...it looked amazing when it was done! New Zealand and Australia fight over this dessert and who came up with it first. Supposedly, it was named after a Russian dancer after she toured in both countries. Pavlova is meringue-like and is covered with whipped cream and fruit. It is somehow light and rich at the same time and it was absolutely devoured. I'm pretty happy with the results and I'm glad I had a second opportunity to make this. I hadn't made meringue since a high school cooking class and was surprised it actually set. Whew!

1/2 cup egg whites, at room temperature (about 4 eggs)
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed
strawberries, green parts trimmed off, sliced
kiwis, skinned and sliced
Whatever other fruit you enjoy

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Whip the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt in a clean, dry bowl until it gets frothy. Next, add the sugar, cornstarch, vinegar and vanilla until it gets stiff, smooth and glossy (Note-if you have a stand mixer, this is easy and requires just patience, if it's a hand mixer-it may take awhile).
Take a piece of parchment paper and draw a 9 inch circle and place it pencil side down on a sheet pan.
Spoon the mixture into the middle of the circle you drew and place in the center of the oven for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat of the oven to 300 degrees and bake for another 45 minutes or so until it is light brown in color. Don't worry if it cracks a bit, it is supposed to do that.
Turn the oven off, but keep the pavlova in. Open the oven door and let the pavlova cool with the over to room temp (about 30 minutes of so).

Whip the cream and brown sugar together and put it on top of the pavlova. Decorate and finish with any fruit of your choosing.

Conclusion

I think this was the perfect way to send off our friends to the land of the Kiwis. Although we miss them so, we are happy to know that they are doing quite well and are enjoying their lives there now. Again, sorry for the delay on the post updating. Our New Year's resolution should obviously be keeping up with our dinners a little more diligently on this blog.

Next up, Thailand!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cuba

Cuba is a beautiful country filled with decadent food, and we Americans can never directly go there. Oh sure, we can legally go to Canada and then to Cuba, but still it's so spatially close but in reality, so far out of our reach. I don't really feel the need to go into Cuba's history too thoroughly, because everyone is aware of Fidel Castro and the embargo. All I will say is that they are doing amazing things with pork down there, and it's a shame that we cannot fully join in.

Cuba's cuisine is a mix of Spanish and Caribbean flavors. There is a lot of filling and savory food floating around and of course, some refreshing drinks filled with booze and fresh fruit juice. Like most Caribbean countries, they do not eat many vegetable dishes, but when they do it is usually fried, covered in olive oil or thrown in as an afterthought (ex. in a pilaf). I feel like what we came up with as a full dinner turned out to be sort of like a Cuban picnic.

Plantain Chips

This is a quick simple snack that fries up very quickly. The result is a sweet, crisp chip that is definitely more filling than your average potato chip.



Plantains
Canola or corn oil for frying
Salt

Peal the plantains and slice them into rounds as thinly as you can with either a knife or a mandolin (way easier with the mandolin). Heat enough oil over high heat for submerging large batches of the slices. When the oil is hot fry them in batches and set them aside on paper towels to dry. Salt to taste.

Moros y Cristianos

This dish literally translates to Muslims and Christians. Although the name of this dish has its origins in Spanish history, the dish itself is completely Cuban. The white rice and the black beans are supposed to represent the Christians and the Muslims, which yes, does seem a little racist, but it happens to be a delicious pilaf made with chicken stock.



1.5 cups dried blackbeans, or for the big spenders: 32oz canned black beans
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large red onion diced
2 large green bell peppers seeded and chopped
4 cloves garlic minced
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground pepper
3 tbsp vinegar
2 tbsp tomato paste
3 cups long grain rice
6 cups chicken stock
Salt to taste

1. Soak the dried beans at least 8 hours and drain them. Place them in a deep pot and cover them with 6 cups of water. Raise this to a simmer, cover the pot, and cook them for 1 to 1.5 hours or until the beans are tender. Drain the beans again and set them aside. Or just be a lazy bourgeois cook and open a can.
2. Rinse the rice in a colander under running water for two minutes. In a large pot (perhaps the same one you used for the beans) heat the olive oil over medium heat then add the onions, garlic, and peppers.
3. Sauté these for about two minutes, then add the tomato paste, beans, vinegar, and spices. Stir these together for about five minutes or until a lovely sauce begins to form.
4. Add the rice and the stock. Taste the broth for salt. Raise the whole mess to a simmer, cover, and cook for 30 minutes over a low flame.
5. Taste the rice to be sure it's fully cooked. If not don't panic just add a bit more water and continue cooking until it is tender.
6. Serve it hot with lots of pork.

Pork Roast

We made this pork roast in order to make some Cuban sandwiches. The pork that we used was from a very happy pig raised in Indiana that we purchased from one of my college friend's family owned butcher. If you are ever around Fort Wayne, Indiana, you should definitely drive a few miles out to Columbia City and visit Krider's Meat Processing. I promise it is worth the trip and they only use local pigs that are killed on site and Grampa Bob will be happy to tell you anything you would want to know about the shop.

Pictured below is some of the things we put on our Cubanos including some of our homemade pickles. There is also a cilantro mayonnaise and some olive oil and garlic mixture. Of course you don't have to make your own pickles or mayonnaise to make a Cubano, but it's not as hard as you may think and it does taste a bit better.



5 lb pork shoulder in one piece
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp whole peppercorns
4 cloves garlic minced
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp dried oregano
1/3 cup orange juice
1/3 cup sherry
1/3 cup lime juice
4 tbsp olive oil

1. Toast the cumin and peppercorns on a skillet until they are fragrant. Pound them in a mortar and pestle with the garlic and salt until you have a gooey paste. In a bowl large enough to hold the pork, mix this paste with the rest of the ingredients (except the pork).
2. Cut hexagonal slits into the fatty side of the pork shoulder, place the pork into the bowl with the prepared marinade, and gently work the marinade into all the crevices with your hands.
3. Refrigerate the pork 24 hours flipping it once or twice during the process.
4. Preheat the oven to 325 f and roast the pork with all the marinade for about 3 hours in a large roasting pan making sure to baste the meat every 20 minutes or so. When an internal temp of 150 is attained the roast is ready to be removed.
5. Allow the roast 15 minutes of rest on a cutting board before carving into it.


Here is the Cuban all put together with the side dishes. I apologize for the poor form of using a paper plate for the plating picture.

Polvorones con Canela

These cookies were oddly the lightest part of the meal. The lack of flour in them make them very light and crisp. A little tasty treat that I think would go really well with some coffee or hot chocolate.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1-1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla extract or brandy
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp sea salt
2/3 cup finely ground pecans or walnuts
1 tsp ground cinnamon (cassia)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Beat the butter in a bowl with an electric beater until creamy. Add the 1/2 cup of powdered sugar and vanilla, and continue beating until light and fluffy. Mix in the flour and salt very gradually, a tablespoon at a time, until thoroughly incorporated. Add the nuts with the last of the flour. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill thoroughly. Using your hands, form the dough into 3/4" balls. Place on an ungreased baking pan about 1 inch apart.

Bake in a moderate oven about 15 minutes, or until the edges turn pale gold. Place the remaining cup of sugar in a shallow bowl or plate with the cinnamon.
Remove the cookies from the oven and, while still hot, carefully roll each in the powdered sugar mixture. Set aside until cooled completely and roll them again in the sugar, shaking off any excess.


Mojitos (made by the pitcher)

No Caribbean country meal would be complete without a little boozy refreshment on the side. I'd like to thank our friend Ben for bringing us rum and mixing up some lovely mojitos. I would also like to thank our landlords for growing mint in our backyard, it has really benefited us.



1 cup mint leaves
1 cup lime juice (freshly squeezed is important for this)
1.5 cups rum
2/3 cup simple syrup
3 cups club soda
Ice

Take one 64oz pitcher and place all the mint leaves in it. Crush the mint leaves together with a muddler or an empty beer bottle to release their oils. Pour on everything else and stir. Fill glasses with ice and serve. Obviously you can add more booze to this recipe if you're trying to have that kind of evening with your friends.

Conclusion

The Cuba meal was one of our bigger success stories, as far as Caribbean countries are concerned. Tom was very happy that he got to make a pork roast and everything turned out right. The issue we seem to always have with Caribbean countries are the lack of recipes or that the recipes we find do not always turn out because of unavailability of certain ingredients or missing steps. Cuba was our exception thus far and it was apparent that Cubans take great pride in preparing their meat.

Next is a very special New Zealand dinner. Until then, Salud!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Kuwait


I first heard about Kuwait when I was a wee lad during the first war with Iraq after Saddam's invasion and annexation of the country.  George H.W. Bush was president, I was learning my shapes and colors, and I vaguely remember seeing Desert Storm trading cards on sale at some point.  It was a strange time for me.  That was the first war I got the chance to watch on T.V.

That war (much like the current one) was primarily fought over oil.  Kuwait has a lot of it, their economy is based on it, and the whole world wants it.  This has been the case since oil was discovered there in the 1930's.  But if you look at the food of Kuwait, you can see that it's history has certainly not always been about oil.  Long before oil was discovered, Kuwait served as an important port of trade located along the Indian ocean.  The most important commodities of this trade were spices.  And the food is absolutely filled with strong flavors and scents from these spices.  

Kuwaiti food is a great mix of Persian, Indian, and Arabic influences.  I imagine Kuwait City constantly smells like pepper, rosewater, and hookah.  My apartment smelled like this meal for about a week.  It was great!

Stuffed Dates

There's a beautiful simplicity to this method of preparing dates.  A lot of people in my life apparently hate eating dates, but when served these stuffed ones they happily consume them.  I generally just buy a tub of dates and eat them plain over the course of two weeks.  Amy seems disgusted by this, but I'm glad to see she'll eat these.



1 lb large pitted dates.
1/2 lb blanched almonds
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1 tbsp rosewater

1. In a food processor combine the almonds, sugar, rosewater, and just enough water to make a thick and smooth paste.
2. Cut a slit into each date to expose the cavity where the pit once resided.  Fill this cavity with the almond paste.
3. Serve slightly chilled.

Fattoush

Pitas are great, but they go stale really fast.  But stale pitas can taste great, too.  With some random vegetables and a sauce they can become this salad.  We actually didn't have pita on hand, but that's ok because any good quality stale bread works great as well.  We used some day old white rye from our local Ukrainian bakery.  Just make sure to pour on a lot of dressing because the stale bread soaks it up quite efficiently.




For the salad
4 large romaine leaves chopped
3 stale toasted pitas cut into bite sized pieces
4 roma tomatoes chopped
1 red bell pepper sedded and thinly sliced
1/2 red onion thinly sliced
1 cucumber peeled and chopped
1 bunch of parsley finely chopped
1/4 cup mint chopped
1 cup crumbled feta

For the dressing
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tsp ground pepper
2 cloves garlic chopped
Salt to taste

1. First combine all the ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl and whisk them together.
2. Toast the bread in the oven for ten minutes at 400 degrees or until slightly browned.  Set aside to cool
3. Prep and chop all the ingredients for the salad and combine them in a large bowl.
4. When ready to serve pour on the dressing and taste for seasoning.

Chicken Machboos (Chicken and Rice)


Every country has some version of chicken and rice.  In Kuwait it happens to be considered the national dish.  This dish has a lot in common with the pilau and biryani dishes of Persia and India with it's use of large amounts of spices and chilis.  The yogurt sauce helps cool down any overly spicy bites of the dish.




1 chicken cut into serving portions
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups basmati rice
1 large red onion minced
2 whole green chiles
1 garlic clove minced
1 large tomato roughly chopped
1 large pinch of saffron soaked in a tbsp of water
2 tbsp rosewater
1 tsp cinnamon
1.5 tsp turmeric
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground pepper
2 tbsp lime juice
4 cups stock
Salt to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 375.  Grind the spices (except the saffron) and rub them into the chicken.  Set the chicken aside to marinate in the fridge at least two hours.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven and brown the chicken in two batches over medium heat for about five minutes per side.  Remove the chicken and set aside.
3. In the same pot saute the onion, garlic, and tomato for five minutes.  Add the rice and saute another minute stirring frequently for one minute.  Add the stock and bring to a boil.
4. Cut the heat, add the lime, saffron, rosewater and reserved chicken to the pot.  Cover the pot and place it into the oven to bake for 30 minutes.
5. Remove the top and continue cooking another 15 minutes until the chicken is browned and the rice is fully cooked.  You may have to add a bit more water if the rice is too dry.  When everything is cooked serve with the yogurt sauce.

Chickpea and Eggplant Stew

It may be time consuming to make, but very little effort is involved with this dish.  Chop some vegetables, combine everything, and wait 3 hours while it bakes.  It was so easy I nearly forgot I made it and pulled it out of the oven just before serving.  For many guests this was their favorite part of the meal.




2 cloves garlic minced
3 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion minced
1.5 cups dried chickpeas soaked overnight
2 green bell peppers seeded and chopped
1 eggplant cut into 1 inch cubes
1/2 tsp cayenne
3 cups water
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 325 f.  Heat the olive oil in a deep heavy three quart pan over medium heat.  Add the garlic and onion and sauté for several minutes.
2. Now add the eggplant and brown the pieces on all side for about 8 minutes.
3. Add everything else but the parsley and bring to a boil.
4. Cut the heat and put the pan into the oven and cook for 2.5-3 hours or until the chickpeas are tender.  If you only have canned chickpeas throw them in for the last half hour.
5. Taste for salt, garnish with parsley, and serve.

In Conclusion

This was our first feast in the new apartment (sorry for the delay).  Judging by the photos of this post we have some work to do with the light in the dining room.  All the pictures look like bad food shots of the 60's.  It may finally be time to break down and buy a real camera.  But what a joy it was to actually have a meal in our home on a huge dining room table!  It was a great feeling to be able to sit down with all the food and people at the same table.  As usual we made way too much food and nobody left with an empty belly. Cuba is next! 


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines


At first glance, St. Vincent and the Grenadines sounds like it would be an obscure reggae group from the mid seventies.  Instead, it is yet another Caribbean island nation with a wonderfully turbulent history that is the byproduct of the waves of colonization that swept the region during the 18th and 19th centuries.  Originally peopled by native Caribs, the island became a refuge for runaway slaves during the 17th and early 18th centuries until it was brought under French control and later ceded to the British.  The island did not declare independence from Britain until 1979; though it still retains commonwealth status.

The food is quite similar to many other Caribbean islands involving a mix of African, British, Indian, and native cuisines.  You might think all of these islands would start getting a bit redundant to us, but the wealth of Caribbean recipes out there seems pretty endless.  This meal was a bit smaller than our others, mainly because we needed a break after the giant food orgy that was our Malta dinner (see previous post).  

Black Eyed Pea and Mustard Green Salad

While most of what we consider to be beans are indigenous crops of the Americas, the black eyed pea is an old world legume native to West Africa.  The great thing about old world legumes is they cook so much faster than their American counterparts.  We were in a bit of a hurry to get this dish out so we used the pressure cooker and were pleased to find the peas came out nice and tender without any broken skin.   The resulting dish is a classic blend of West African and Caribbean flavors, and was a big hit at the dinner.


1 lb black eyed peas soaked overnight
2 cups sautéed corn kernels (frozen is fine) 
1 cup olive oil
1/4 cup vinegar
1 lb mustard greens blanched and choppped
2 red peppers seeded and chopped
1 large red onion cut in half and finely sliced
1 bunch cilantro chopped
1 serrano chili minced
1.5 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp pepper
Salt to taste.

1. Combine the soaked beans with a pot of water and simmer covered for 30-40 minutes or until they are just tender.  Or skip the soaking altogether and pressure cook them for 30 minutes with three times their dry volume in water.
2. Run the beans under cold water in a colander until they are cool to the touch.   Set the beans aside in a sink to drain for five minutes.
3. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and and gently toss together.  Salt the salad and serve chilled or at room temp.

Stuffed Cucumbers

This makes a great picnic dish.  It takes minimal prep, few ingredients, and tastes great at room temperature or chilled.  



4 medium cucumbers peeled.
1 cup cream cheese
1 cup sour cream
1 cup chopped red onion
1/2 serrano minced (optional for those who like heat)
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 cup minced cilantro
1 cup grated parmesan

1. Cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise and, using a spoon, scrape out the middle section of seeds and pulp.  You should end up with eight canoe shaped objects.
2. Now mash together the remaining ingredients for the filling, which is everything but the parmesan and cilantro.
3. Spoon ample amounts of the filling into each of the cucumber halves, cover and chill until you are ready to serve.
4. Cut the chilled pieces into serving portions and garnish with parmesan and cilantro.

Chicken and Porter Stew With Dumplings

Anyone familiar with Southern U.S. cooking knows about chicken and dumplings.  This is a nice variation on the same concept.  The porter gravy most likely comes from British influence, but the spicing is similar to most Caribbean sauces and shouldn't taste too strange to anybody who loves the standard southern version.  



For the Stew

2 lbs thigh or breast meat (boned) cut into 1 inch chunks
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground pepper
5 tbsp canola oil
12 oz bottle of porter or other dark beer
1 cup chicken broth
1 red onion chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
1.5 cups chopped red bell pepper
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 cup chopped parsley

For the Dough

2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp butter softened
3/4 cup milk

1. First mix all the dry ingredients for the dough.  Then mix in the butter gently with a wooden spoon.  Gradually add the milk until the dough forms a firm paste.  Set the dough aside in the fridge and begin to make the stew..
2.  Cover the chicken pieces in flour and salt.  Heat the oil in a large heavy sauce pan over medium heat.  Add the coated chicken pieces and cook them for five minutes or until all sides are crisp and browned.  Remove the chicken and set aside on paper towels.
3. Add the onion, red pepper, and garlic.  Cook for five minutes or until softened.
4. Add the tomato paste, thyme, pepper, cayenne, and beer.  Raise to a boil.  Add the chicken pieces and simmer for 15 minutes.
5. Meanwhile raise a pot of water to a boil and drop tablespoon sized portions of the reserved dough into the water and boil for two minutes or until they float at the top.
6. Raise the heat on the chicken until the sauce becomes a thick gravy.  Cut the heat and salt it to taste.  Serve the chicken and sauce over prepared dumplings and garnish with chopped parlsey.


Doughboy Failure

We tried to make a sweet pastry dessert called doughboy.  Aside from being made out of dough, I'm not sure why it is named that.  We only found one recipe and despite several attempts at varying the ratios, nothing seemed to make it work.  It kept turning into a large overly dense monster that tasted like a bad cookie.  Here's a picture of Amy looking sad about our failure.  To accentuate her sadness she chose to wear a wet towel on her head.  We were so disappointed in our failure that we could not to include a recipe.  Sorry but we were out of ideas on how to save this one.  We hope you liked the dinner portion of the meal. 
  

Conclusion

Despite the doughboy failure, I still have to say the meal was a reasonable success.  True it was much more casual than some of our giant feasts, but I think we deserved a casual cheap dinner.  I was excited to again cook food that I'm mostly familiar with.  It made the prep work a great deal less stressful and the meal that much smoother. This was the last meal in our former apartment, from now on all meals will be photographed with a large dining room table in a proper dining room.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Malta


For anybody who doesn't know, Malta is an island nation of the Mediterranean located between Sicily and North Africa.  Historically speaking, this location has made Malta an island of strategic importance throughout history.  And like most islands of strategic importance, a lot of people have fought over it.  In the past several thousand years Malta has been claimed by just about every Mediterranean power including the Greeks, Romans, Muslims, Crusaders, French, and lastly the British.  It wasn't until 1964 that Malta became independent of the British Empire.  But enough about the history!  Like most contested island nations, Malta's food is a great mix of cooking styles that contains elements of all the cultures it has hosted throughout the years.  


We did not pull Malta from our pig.  Instead my good friend Paul and his lovely girlfriend Kristen were in town from D.C.  Kristen happens to be the only person I know with a bunch of Maltese people in her family tree.  She also happens to be quite proud of this fact.  So naturally we had to cook a large Maltese feast in honor of her visit to Chicago.  While I knew absolutely nothing about Maltese food or culture going into this meal, I was lucky to have a lot of help from Kristen with menu planning and recipes that had been handed down through the generations of her family.  The result of all these efforts was our most attended meal.  But more on that after the recipes.

Pastizzi Stuffed With Cheese and Greens


These stuffed pastries were a big hit at the dinner and are truly delicious.  And I think it's safe to say I will never make them again, at least not from scratch.  The process of making pastizzi dough is one of the more labor intensive activities I've performed in my kitchen, and I'm too lazy to clean up that much shortening ever again.  We were fortunate enough to have the Mizzi family recipe as a guide to help us through this strange process.  We also managed to find a visual aid of somebody's youtube clip of their family's old Maltese grandmother making this stuff on a dining room table. The looks of joy on everyone's faces made these little pockets of fat worth all the effort. 

Dough


5 cups flour
2 cups iced cold water
salt (about 1/2 teaspoon)

1 tub of crisco (Personally, I'm more of a lard man.)

Filling
3 lbs. ricotta cheese
1 lb mustard greens blanched, drained, and chopped
2 eggs
salt and pepper to taste
grated cheese to taste (I use approx. 3/4 cup)  **Use whatever cheese you prefer~I use romano cheese

1. Mix together the dough ingredients either by hand or by mixer fitted with dough hook for about 15 minutes or until the dough forms a smooth ball..
2. Cut dough into thirds and pull/stretch/roll out as thin as possible.  Lay on a table and continue pulling until paper thin.  Spread Crisco all over dough.  Be very liberal with the Crisco. Start rolling from one end.  Pulling and stretching the entire time.   When that piece is done, (it should look like a long, layered sausage), pull the next piece, repeat the process, pulling thin and crisco.  Before you start rolling, lay the rolled piece on one end, and roll onto it.  Continue again with the third piece.  When the dough has been rolled, it should be one, thick, layered piece.  Place in fridge overnight to sit.
3. Next day, let sit on counter to get to room temperature.  When filling is ready, start cutting very small slices and stretch out in the palm of your hand.  Fold around filling, and place on cookie sheet to flash freeze.  When ready to bake.  No need to thaw, just place on a baking pan  with sides.  Bake at 375* for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.


Kapunata


It was an extremely hot day when we prepped this meal.  So it was great to take a break from the kitchen after beating piles of dough into submission and stand next to a grill on full blast.  Despite the heat of the grill, the final product is a cool and refreshing salad that goes perfectly with a hot day (which I assume they have many of in Malta.)


3 medium size zucchini cut into thirds lengthwise
1 lb carrots peeled 
3 red peppers cut in half and seeded
2 red onions peeled and cut in half
3 roma tomatoes left whole
1 bunch cilantro
1/2 tsp cayenne or to taste
2 tbsp capers
1 cup chopped almonds
1 cup raisins
1/2 lb feta
1 tsp sugar
2/3 cup olive oil
1/4 lemon juice
Salt to taste

1. Grill the zucchini, carrots, onions, peppers, and tomatoes until they are soft and nicely browned on the outsides.  Set them aside to cool.
2. When the vegetables are cool chop the zucchini, carrots, and tomatoes into bite sized pieces.  Cut the onions and peppers into thin strips.
3. In a very large bowl combine the vegetables with the remaining ingredients and serve garnished with extra cilantro and feta.

Pasta Salad

Ok, we were cheating a bit here.  We've made plenty of pasta salads in our day, and this isn't all that different from the standard concoction.  But we were feeding an absurd amount of people and needed something else cheap to fill people up that required minimal effort...which I'm pretty sure is how pasta salad came about in the first place.  Also we have it on good authority that this stuff  gets eaten in Malta.


1 lb dried farfalle pasta cooked in salted water
2 grilled red peppers
1 cup olive oil
1/3 cup vinegar
2 tbsp capers
1/2 cup sliced olives
1 bunch of parsley
1 tsp ground pepper

Combine everything in a large bowl, mix well, and serve!

Mashed Fava Salad

Funny thing about fava beans is everybody thinks you're serving them fancy food when you feed them favas.  While it is true that fresh favas are kinda pricey and can be super tedious to prepare, dried skinned favas are quite cheap and readily available at most Mexican grocery stores.  Also, they go quite nicely with the classic Mediterranean dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, and herbs. 


1 lb dried skinned fava beans soaked overnight
1 tsp ground pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup chopped parsley
2 tbsp chopped mint
1 clove chopped garlic
1/2 tsp hot paprika or cayenne 
Salt to taste

1.  Drain the favas and then cook them in a large saucepan with enough water to cover them over medium heat for 45 minutes or until tender.
2. Drain the cooked favas and run them under cold water in the sink until they are cool enough to handle.
3. In a large bowl combine the favas with the garlic, pepper, oil, lemon juice, and parsley and mash them with a potato masher (I used a wine bottle.)  At this time salt it to your taste.
4. Garnish the dish with extra olive oil, mint, and paprika.  Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Octopus Stew

Buying a whole octopus is not something I often do, although now I wonder why I don't make it more of a routine.  You might think that being a Chicago resident impairs my ability to buy a decent octopus.  Fortunately, we have a wholesale seafood market located in the west loop about two miles from my home.  Here, I experienced the joy of digging through piles of octopus to find just the right one.  When selecting an octopus make sure there's enough of it to feed your guests and also make sure it doesn't smell like it's rotting.  And be prepared to either serve it 24 hours or immediately store it in the freezer.  I'm sure the Maltese have a much easier time finding decent octopus, and if you live near a seafood market it's definitely worth considering as a good crowd food.


5lb whole octopus cut into 1 inch chunks
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 lb peas
2 carrots finely chopped
2 large red onions finely chopped
4 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 tsp dried thyme
5 tomatoes coarsely chopped
2 potatoes cut into 1 inch cubes
1 bottle of red wine
2 tbsp capers
1/2 cup chopped olives
3 tbsp flour mixed with an equal amount of water
Salt and pepper taste
Chopped parsley for garnish

1. Simmer the cut pieces of octopus in a large sauce pan for 1 hour to 1.5 hours or until the pieces are tender.
2. In a large sauce pan heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the onions, garlic, and carrots.  Cook these over medium low for 5-8 minutes or until they are tender.
3. Add the tomatoes, potatoes, octopus, and thyme to the pot and stir together for another two minutes.
4. Pour on the bottle of wine and raise to a simmer.  Cook covered for 45 minutes.
5. Add the capers, olives, peas, and flour paste to the pot, stir well, and cook on high heat for ten minutes or until the stew has thickened.  Garnish the pot with parsley and serve.

Baked Pasta

I went to a lot of weddings last year.  A good number of these weddings were in Northwest Indiana (The Region).  At each of these weddings I was served some sort of a rendition of this dish.  At first I was surprised when Kristen sent me her family recipe, but I probably shouldn't have been.  Baked pastas dishes are delicious and popular all around the Mediterranean.  It should come as no surprise to anybody that they remain popular with the descendants of immigrants in the Midwest.  And they go great with weddings because they make great crowd food.  We ended up tripling this recipe and made way too much.  Kristen's brother Mike left with a giant sack of leftovers and a big smile on his face.



2 lbs ground beef
1 lb ground pork
2 cloves of garlic, minced and sauteed in a couple tablespoons of olive
oil.
1 16 oz can of tomato paste
2 lbs mostacciolli noodles, boiled
6 lg. eggs, lightly beaten together
2.5 cups grated Romano cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 lb fresh mozzarella cut into 1 cm thick slices.

1. Add the meat to the sauteed garlic/olive oil mixture and brown it over
medium heat. Drain the fat. Add the tomato paste, plus one can of water.
Salt and pepper to taste and stir and simmer for 30 minutes or so.
2. Mix cooked noodles with the sauce, add the beaten eggs and stir the whole
mess up.
3. Stir the cheese (saving some for the top) into the mixture. Dump into
greased baking pan and sprinkle with more grated cheese and
maybe a little more salt and pepper.  Top with mozzarella.
4. Bake for one hour at 400 degrees until the top is nicely browned and crispy.

Conclusion


Many pots, pans, bowls, plates etc. later, we discovered that we had 27 people in attendance at this meal.  For space concerns, the meal was relocated to my former apartment (now Carl's), which seemed proper in many ways because Paul also used to reside there.  Cooking for 27 involved a lot of logistical challenges in terms of portioning recipes and ensuring enough seats were available.  I'm proud to say with a lot of help we pulled it off and more than enough food was present to gluttonously feed everyone in attendance.  The intense heat and lack of A/C forced the meal to the back patio where we set up three folding tables in a row, giving the meal a truly feast like setting.  While I have no desire to cook for such a large crowd again for a good while, I really enjoyed myself and feel a great sense of accomplishment when looking at all these photos.

Now I should apologize for the extreme delay this post has had.  We moved a block away about a month ago and were too lazy to write the post as we were packing and moving shipments of things between apartments.  Unfortunately, once we moved into our place a month long struggle to get AT&T to connect our internet ensued.  I'm pretty sure I logged 8 hours on the phone trying to schedule and reschedule a service rep to come over.  Anyways, we finally have internet again and sincerely apologize for the wait.  St. Vincent and the Grenadines is next!


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Egypt


Egyptian food is a combination of Eastern Mediterranean and North African cuisines. There's a bit of spice, a bit of sweet and a little bit of savory notes in most dishes. Staple ingredients that you will need for any good Egyptian meal include lemons, olive oil and dried fruit.

As you look through our recipes, please note that we tried to grill as much as possible because this particular day it was about 90 degrees. This, of course, is not necessary, but it does make things go a little faster and your home that much cooler. Also note, that grape leaves are amazing and if you take nothing else away from Egypt, please, roll a grape leaf.


Stuffed Grape Leaves with Rice and Nut Filling

Tom and I recently found out how easy it is to stuff grape leaves and how often they are a complete rip off in restaurants. Usually if you order these little bundles of awesome, you will pay about a dollar or so for just one grape leaf. If you buy a entire jar of about 50 grape leaves, it costs no more than $4. It also behooves you to make them yourself just to have a say of what goes in them. I've definitely ordered these before to find nothing more than rice inside.

So go ahead and wow your guests, it will cost you very little and impress many. If you need any further instructions, just let us know. We would be more than happy to help.

For the filling:

2/3 cup short grain or medium rice
1 large red onion minced
1/3 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/3 cup chopped mint
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp cayenne or hot paprika
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Simply throw all of this into a bowl, mix together, and taste for salt.

For cooking:

1 jar of preserved grape leaves stems removed
1/4 cup olive oil
1.25 cups water or just enough to cover the leaves
Juice of 1 lemon

1. Pack about 1 tbsp of the filling onto the center of each grape leaf. Fold the bottom of the grape leaf over the center, and then fold the sides over to enclose it and roll the leaf into small cylinder.
2. Place the filled leaves in a heavy 3 quart casserole lined with at least ten grape leaves (this is to prevent the stuffed leaves sticking.
3. Pack the stuffed leaves into the casserole dish as tightly as possible to prevent them from unrolling.
4. Pour water, olive oil, and lemon juice over the leaves. Place a small plate over them to pack them down. Bring the liquid to a boil and simmer over low heat for about 1 hour or until the leaves and filling are fully cooked and tender. Serve these either chilled or at room temperature.


Baba Ghanouj

Oh, the eggplant. In my experience, people either love it, absolutely hate it or won't even try it. Luckily, chances are if you make baba ghanouj you will trick people into eating it. I mean, it's dip and who can resist dip and crackers put out on a table?



1 large eggplant about 1.5 pounds.
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup tahini
2 cloves garlic2 tsp olive oil
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses (optional)
1 tbsp chopped parsley
Salt to taste

1. Pierce the eggplant on all sides with a fork and broil in the oven or on the grill for about 25 minutes turning it over halfway. (If you don't prick the eggplant, I can say from experience that it may explode in your face when you open the oven.)
2. When fully cooked and soft all the way through, you may remove it from the oven and set aside until it is cool enough to handle.
3. Cut the eggplant in half and scoop the flesh out with your hands or with a fork. Place the flesh on a sieve and press out some of the bitter juices. Discard the skin.
4. Combine the eggplant flesh with the remaining ingredients and grind to a creamy and smooth consistency. 5. Serve chilled or at room temp alongside the hummus.

Garlic Hummus

Hummus is one of Tom's staple "we need to take something to a party" foods. He's gotten damn good at making it through the years and we just had to include it for Egypt. Of course, if you own a pressure cooker, it takes no time at all. If you don't, you can still make it with a little time and forethought. Always a crowd pleaser, I give you, hummus.

4-5 cloves garlic peeled
2/3 cup tahini
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 lbs cooked chickpeas
Salt to taste
Hot paprika or cayenne


Combine everything except for the olive oil in a food processor and begin to grind. With the blade running, pour in the olive oil slowly. Add a bit of water if the hummus is too thick. Grind to a very smooth paste. I like to give it about five minutes just to be sure that no chickpea escapes the blades. Taste for salt, allow to sit for at least two hours for the flavors to develop, and serve garnished with olive oil and paprika.

*Traditional hummus is made by first removing the shells from soaked chickpeas to give the dip a much more uniform and smooth texture. This is unnecessary, takes forever, and is best done with a lot of people working together. I've recently found a quicker and less tedious method of getting a perfectly smooth hummus. I soak dried chickpeas overnight in plenty of water with a few teaspoons of baking soda. Then I pressure cook them for 30-40 minutes. This causes the skins to soften considerably, and allows me to grind everything to a beautiful paste.

Tabouleh

It seemed appropriate to make tabouleh as it is already warm outside and we needed a refreshing side dish. The key to fantastic tabouleh is taking advantage of all the fresh herbs that the summer provides. It's easy to throw together on a hot day when the oven just seems like the worst idea in the world and it's also excellent at filling your belly.




1 cup bulgur soaked for 1 hour and drained thoroughly
3 cups chopped parsley
1/2 cupped chopped mint
1 large red onion minced
3 large tomatoes chopped
2 cucumbers peeled and chopped
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste


Combine everything in a large bowl. Stir and serve!

Pita

We have tried many a pita recipe over the last year. It seems that we are still having an issue getting pita bread with a good pocket. This recipe worked out okay though, because it was another thing we could throw on the grill and not heat up our tiny apartment with the oven cranked all the way up.

They turned out okay though and we just cut them open instead of them pocketing on their own. They didn't fall apart either, so I dub this pita recipe the best one we've had, so far. Someday, someday.



1.5 cups warm water
1.25 tsp dried yeast
1.5 tsp sugar
4.5 cups flour
1.5 tsp salt
1.5 tsp olive oil


1. Pour 1/2 cup water into a small bowl and mix in the yeast and sugar. Allow to stand for ten minutes to activate the yeast culture.
2. Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add the water, yeast mixture, and oil. Stir until a dough is formed and then knead either by hand or machine until the dough is smooth and elastic.
3. Form the dough into a ten inch log, and cut it into 10 inch thick slices. Knead each slice of dough into a smooth ball.
4. Set these aside covered with a kitchen towel in a warm place for 1.5 hours or until the balls have doubled in size.
5. Roll each ball on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4 inch thickness and six inches in diameter. Arrange these on a large flat surface and cover with kitchen towels. Let these rise for another hour.
6. Fire up a gas grill to the highest setting or use your oven's broiler. Gently place the pitas on the grill or in the oven two at a time for 30 seconds to 1 minute each or until fully cooked.
7. Allow the pitas to cool on a wrack and serve with everything.

Falafel

Falafel is one of the better things to cook if you are looking for a cheap, delicious filling meal for a lot of people. They are quick to fry up on the stove top and they are so flavorful. They are also great to eat cold the next day. This is another item that if you pay more than $6 for at a restaurant is completely ridiculous.




1 pound dried chickpeas soaked overnight
1 large red onion chopped
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 tsp ground cumin
1.5 tbsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cayenne
Salt and pepper
Oil for frying


1. Combine everything but the cooking oil in a processor and grind to a fine coarse meal. Set aside for 40 minutes and heat the oil in wok or large pot.
2. Roll the ground chickpea meal into golf ball sized pieces and deep fry over high heat in batches. Set aside on paper towels and serve immediately.

Grilled Fish with Yogurt Tahini Sauce

Finally, we come to the only item in our Egypt meal that is not vegan (unless you count the yeast in the pita, depending on which vegan you ask). Of course, we grilled this as well and topped it with a yogurt tahini sauce that is also amazing on falafel or any other white fish that is available to you. We felt we had to include fish since Egypt is nestled in-between the Mediterranean and Red Seas.




1 tilapia fillet for every two people

Simply grill the fish in a basket and flake the meat onto a serving platter.

For the sauce:

2 cups yogurt
1/2 cup dill chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/3 cup tahini
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and serve with flatbread and flaked fish.


Conclusions

Okay, okay...you caught us. All the dishes we made for this meal we have made before in our everyday lives, but we defend our decision to not make anything new (to us) simply by declaring our absolute love of Egyptian food. The sweet/savory combination just bursts through and it is all extremely healthy and good for digestion.

The command decision we made to grill most of this food also saved us from our horrible sweatbox of an apartment. I know this summer has been terrible for everyone, but when you add an unairconditioned apartment with an oven in 90+degree heat you just agitate the situation even further and add misery to your guests. Still, we managed to cram 16 guests into our tiny abode and enjoy some lovely Egyptian fare.