Tuesday, January 19, 2010

El Salvador

El Salvador, located on the Pacific coast of Central America, has a cuisine very similar to that of Guatemala. Both countries are influenced by Mayan culture and use indigenous foods such as corn, tomatoes, and beans in their cooking. With that knowledge and the help of our friend Sarah, who has had Salvadoran food firsthand during her travels in Central America, we concocted this meal with confidence and great ease. This was truly one of our greatest accomplishments as far as efficiency and getting food from concept to the table.

Curtido: Pickled Cabbage Salad

This was not our first foray into the world of pickling. We have been trying to master the art of pickling over the last year. Unfortunately, not all of our attempts have been successful, but we have done very well with recipes that call for quick pickling. When we came across this wonderful item, we knew we would be okay. Not only can you put this on virtually everything you eat, but it is made with our favorite underrated vegetable: the cabbage. It also ferments in about a day, so it looked promising from the get-go. The final product received a lot of praise and produced many, many days worth of leftovers that Sarah is still enjoying.

1/2 head cabbage cored and sliced very thin
1 red onion thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper thinly sliced
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1.5 tbsp brown sugar
2 cloves garlic minced
3 carrots grated
5 dried red chiles de arbol
3 tsp salt or more to taste
1.5 cups white vinegar
1 cup water

1. In a small sauce pan bring vinegar, water, salt, garlic, chiles, sugar, and spices to a simmer on the stove. Cook for ten minutes.
2. In a large bowl or huge jar add all the chopped vegetables.
3. Pour the vinegar mixture over everything and cover with a cloth. Allow 24 hours for the vegetables to ferment at room temperature and then cover with either a lid or plastic wrap and store in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
4. Use it like you would sauerkraut!

Salsa Roja: Red Sauce

This salsa, much like the curtido, went on everything in the meal. It's a simple, quick sauce to make and adds a lot of flavor to starchy food.

4 tomatoes chopped
1 cup water
1/2 cup corn oil
1 small onion chopped
1 clove garlic minced

1.Combine everything in a small saucepan.
2. Bring to a simmer and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes.
3. Blend into a smooth sauce.
4. Salt to taste.

Avocado Soup

This soup is not for everyone's palate since most people aren't used to eating cooked avocado. Generally in America we eat it raw, sliced or blended into a guacamole. When it's prepared this way, however, it comes off as sweet and thinned out. Much different than I expected.

4 liters stock
4 avocados sliced (edible bits only)
1 large onion roughly chopped
2 limes
1 chile serrano
Salt to taste

1. In a large pot combine the avocado, onions, stock, and serrano. Bring this to a boil and simmer over medium low heat covered for 30 minutes.
2. Cut the heat and puree the soup in a blender and return to the pot.
3. Zest the limes and add the zest and squeezed lime juice to the pot. Salt the soup to taste and serve.


We had 13 guests come over for this meal and nothing feeds a last minute crowd like a big ol' pot of rice and beans.

Cooked rice
Cooked black beans
2 onions chopped
1/2 cup corn oil
salt and pepper to taste

1. Combine the rice, beans, and onions in a larger pot. Pour on 1.5 cups water and 1/2 cup corn oil and heat over medium stirring often until the water has been absorbed and the mixture has heated up.
2. Salt and pepper to taste and serve with red sauce (recipe above) and crumbly fresh cheese such as feta or cotija.


Pupusas are the national dish of El Salvodor. I couldn't even begin to explain them to you, but they are quite the tasty treat.

Masa Harina (Extra starchy corn meal generally used for tamales that can be found at a Latino grocery)
Grated white cheese
Corn Oil

1. Mix corn masa with salt and water bit by bit until a firm and non crumbly dough is made. This could be anwhere from a 1/6 or a 1/4 ratio of water to masa it really depends on how dense the meal is. So use your eyes and hands to judge it. The final product should be firm and gooey but should not stick to your hands.
2. Let this rest for 20 minutes covered with a damp cloth.
3. To form the pupusas roll each mixture into a 3 inch ball in the palm of your hand and punch a deep pocket into the middle of the ball.
4. Fill this pocket with cheese (we used Queso Chihuahua) and close off the sides and pat it flat into a cake slightly less than a centimeter thick. Beans, meat, and just about anything else can be used for filling as well!
5. Fry the pupusas in batches in a large well greased frying pan over medium heat until both sides are well browned.
6. Store finished pupusas in the oven on low heat until all are finished and you are ready to serve.
7. Serve topped with curtido, red sauce, and cotija or feta.

Tilapia Ceviche

Sorry we did not get an individual picture of this. We were having some particularly strange camera problems this night. You can see it pictured on the plate on the left.

To Marinate:
3 lbs tilapia fillets cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup lime juice
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup coconut milk
1 red onion thinly sliced
1 red pepper thinly sliced
1 chile serrano minced with seeds

Add 30 minutes before Serving:
2 tomatoes diced
1/2 cup cilantro finely chopped
2 tbsp chives
2 scallions thinly sliced into circles
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup lime juice
salt to taste

1. Combine all the ingredients for the marinade and allow at least six hours and no more than 24 for the tilapia pieces to marinate. The fish should be white and not too flaky at the end of the marinade.
2. Drain the juices from the marinade and add the remaining ingredients.
3. Serve!

Atole de Elote: Corn Drink

We messed up with the picture for this one, too. We do have a suggestion for this drink though. No matter how well you think brandy would go with this drink, it is a big mistake. Don't do it. Carl thought it would be great, the rest of us followed suit and we ended up with a kitchen full of foul, curdled mugs of elote and a lot less brandy in our bottle. Fortunately, we made a lot of it and those who were still willing got a taste of what this drink is supposed to be.

Kernels freshly removed from 4 ears of corn
1 liter milk
1.5 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
2 sticks cinnamon
1 tbsp starch
Ground cinnamon for garnish

1. Combine the corn with half the milk in a blender into a very smooth paste and add to a large pot.
2. Add the rest of the milk, sugar, and cinnamon sticks and simmer covered for 30 minutes.
3. Stir in the starch with a bit of the corn drink and add it all to the pot to thicken.
4. Serve in mugs garnished with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

In Conclusion

Tom and I strongly disagree on the outcome of this meal. For me, it was a lot of hit and misses, but I think I could eat pupusas every day. Tom liked everything except for the brandy elote disaster. Our guests were also split on some of the dishes, namely the avocado soup. Fortunately Sarah, the only guest in attendance who has gone to El Salvador, was very content with the outcome. This to us validated the authenticity of this meal.

Next is Guyana. Until then, salud!

Thursday, January 14, 2010


At last we have arrived at our very first East African Country! And fortunately for all of us, I know somebody who lived there! Before I continue, I must admit that we did not randomly pull Uganda. My good friend Jon Moler was visiting Chicago for the New Year. These days he lives in Minneapolis where he does law school things, but for a couple years after college he served in the Peace Corps and was stationed in Uganda. So in honor of him being a guest in our home, we decided to throw a Ugandan feast. We apologize for our brief departure from randomness, but we figure it made sense for the occasion.

There would have been a lot of guesswork with Uganda, had Moler not been around to help with the planning and cooking. Aside from the one time I got sick a couple years ago and watched The Last King of Scotland, I can't say I've ever known much about Uganda let alone its food. With Moler's help, I've found its cuisine is, for the most part, a delightful blend of Africa's many styles of food. Chapatis and curry can be served alongside plantains and beans. And like many of Africa's cuisines, most of the food is quite simple to prepare. That's not to say all of the food went well with our guests. But most of it turned out great.

By the way, everything may be eaten with your fingers, but feel free to use forks if you need to retain your Western ways (we did).

Millet Bread

Let's start with the absolute worst food of the evening. I need to be clear before giving this recipe. Nobody liked this stuff and all of us who have never been to Uganda cannot imagine why anyone would voluntarily ingest this glop! The preparation was similar to assembling a bread dough, but the baking part never occurs. You simply make a doughy paste and eat it. This confused my poor stomach and caused me to lay awake until 4 am with a bottle of Tums. Also it seems to be a very strong adhesive material similar to cement that was hell to clean off the plates. I don't recommend making it, but for diehards this is apparently essential for an authentic Ugandan meal. I suppose it's an acquired taste.

1.5 cups cassava flour
1.5 cups millet flour
4.5 cups boiling water

1. In a large pot, bring the water to a boil. Gradually add both flours to the pot stirring constantly while turning the heat down low. Stir everything until the mixture forms a doughy ball.
2. Allow five minutes to solidify and serve with peanut sauce.

Matooke: Mashed Plantain

While it sounds like a simple enough concept, this dish turned out to be the most challenging part of the meal. My first thought was to go easy on myself and try to mash everything in our brand new stand mixer, but that resulted in a large mess when the machine simply knocked the plantains out of the bowl and failed to mash anything. So we went with the food processor next, but the motor was powerless against the starchy denseness of the plantain and nearly died in the process. The best method I found for mashing the plantains was to sit down on the floor and place them in a large bowl between my legs and then pummel them with my fists for about 15 minutes. Apparently Ugandans will put them between several layers of banana leaves and jump up and down on them. Sadly I didn't have that many banana leaves lying about my kitchen. The final result after cooking is similar in texture to a very dense and bland tamale, but it tastes incredible when served covered in peanut sauce.

Banana Leaves

1. Remove the plantains from their peels and steam them for 1.5 hours. I used my bamboo steamer and a wok for this.
2. Cut the plantains into small pieces and place these pieces in a very large bowl.
3. Allow the plantain to cool and spend at least ten minutes mashing the plantains as best you can with your fists. And add a bit of salt.
4. Form the mashed plantain into a large round wheel and wrap this in several layers of banana leaves and tightly tie it up with a string.
5. Steam this package for 2.5 hours. Allow 15 minutes to cool and serve with the peanut sauce we made.

Groundnut (Peanut) Sauce

Africa is well known for its love of peanuts and Uganda is no exception. The tomatoes and spinach make this sauce pretty special, though.

2 large onions finely chopped
4 tomatoes finely chopped
3 cloves garlic minced
1 tbsp curry powder
1/2 tsp dried ginger
1/2 cup corn oil
2 cups peanuts
1 liter water
5 oz chopped spinach
Salt to taste

1. In a deep sauce pan heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion, tomato, and garlic. Cook for five minutes or until the onions have turned translucent.
2. In a processor (or for authenticity: a huge mortar and pestle) grind the peanuts with the spices as finely as you can.
3. Add the ground peanuts to the onions and tomato and cook for another two minutes.
4. Add all the water and raise the mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and allow the mixture to cook down to a hearty thick sauce about 30-40 minutes.
5. Add the spinach at the end and cook for a further five minutes.
6. Serve with everything.

Sauteed Cabbage and Eggplant

Since it was New Year's Day I had to throw cabbage into this meal somewhere. It's an old tradition with me that I eat cabbage on New Year's. Fortunately it complimented the little bitter eggplants perfectly. These tiny eggplants are available at most Asian and African grocers. Large eggplants do not work as a substitute with this dish, so don't attempt it unless you can find the real thing.

15 small round Thai eggplants
1/2 head cabbage thinly sliced
1 serrano chile seeded and chopped
3 cloves garlic minced
1/4 cup oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut the tops off each eggplant and cut them in half. Salt the eggplant halves and set aside in a colander for 20 minutes.
2. Heat the oil in a large pan and add the eggplant. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes or until softened.
3. Add the garlic and chile and cook for a further five minutes. Add the cabbage and 1/2 cup water and raise heat to a simmer and cook for 10 more minutes and serve.

Okra and Greens Cooked in Goat Fat

Carl and I cooked a goat shoulder a couple weeks back and saved the fat that was rendered from it. If you're like most people, and don't have any goat fat sitting around, feel free to use lard or ghee. The savory animal fat pairs perfectly with the slightly bitter greens.

1 lb frozen whole okra
2 lbs collared greens
3 cloves garlic minced
1/2 cup rendered goat fat
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Let the okra thaw for several days in the fridge or for a couple hours on in the sink. Then remove the stem ends of the pods and cut them into small circles about a centimeter thick.
2. Pull the greens' leaves from the ribs and wash to remove any grit.
3. Boil the greens in batches for seven minutes each and drain.
4. Chop the greens roughly on a cutting board.
5. In a large skillet or wok over medium heat melt the goat fat and add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds.
6. Add the okra and cook for two minutes and then add the greens and 1/2 cup water.
7. Raise the heat to high and cook for five more minutes. Season and serve.

Stewed Chicken

I'm pretty sure that all nations of the world could get together and agree that chicken is pretty great. Uganda's spin on chicken tastes remarkably similar to the old Cajun standard of chicken creole.

4 sets of chicken thighs and legs cut at the joints
1/2 cup lard or corn oil
2 green bell peppers thinly sliced
1 serrano chile minced with seeds
3 medium onions thinly sliced
2 tbsp fresh ginger minced
4 cloves garlic minced
5 medium tomatoes (I used roma) chopped
2 tbsp curry powder
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a deep heavy pot or dutch oven heat the lard or oil over medium heat and add the onions, garlic, chile, and peppers and cook for five minutes or until the onions have wilted.
2. Add the chicken and cook a further five minutes flipping the pieces to brown them as best you can.
3. Add the tomatoes, ginger and curry powder and cook a further five minutes.
4. Add enough water to just cover the chicken. Raise to a simmer and reduce heat to low. Cook covered for 45 minutes.
5. Remove the chicken pieces from the stew and set aside and continue simmering the sauce for another hour and a half covered.
6. 20 minutes before serving return the chicken to the pot and boil the sauce down to a medium thick consistency. Salt to taste and serve.

Goat Skewers

This is the second time we've had goat on the blog, and I'm sure it won't be the last. I was pretty excited to find cheap and meaty goat meat for sale at "The Old World Market" near Argyle and Broadway. This city never ceases to amaze me! It's important to get the spice rub on the meat a day in advance to ensure that the goat pieces will be properly tender after a quick cooking on the grill. Also it's important to use a grill for proper charring of the meat, even if it means standing outside in the cold cold snow.

3 lbs goat meat cut into 1 inch cube (preferably from the upper leg)
3 tbsp ginger chopped
5 cloves garlic chopped
2 tbsp chili powder
1 serrano chile chopped
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 red onion chopped
1/2 cup corn oil

1. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.
2. Slip the chunks of meat onto grilling skewers and grill over very high heat for about 3 minutes on each side.
3. Serve on a large platter.

In Conclusion

This was the largest dinner we've had in our apartment thus far (both in terms of food and people), and despite the simplicity of most of the food, I'd say it was the most difficult. The reason I say this is because the only day that worked for anybody was New Year's Day: a day I generally spend laying on my couch while clutching my poor hungover head. Instead I prepared food while clutching my head, but It all turned out to be worth it in the end. Amy was almost too incapacitated to deal with this dinner but managed to pull herself out of her coma just as guests were arriving.

We were lucky to have quite a few friends in town for the holiday. We even had a few of Moler's friends from the peace Corps who had been with him in Uganda come to our meal. Their approval of the food vindicated our labors. Also I learned its quite the compliment in Uganda to compliment your friends for being very fat even if they are not. This shows that you have noticed how successful their life must be. By the end of the meal all of us were feeling very fat and had no desire for any more food.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


After Mongolia, Namibia has the world's second lowest population density. Most of the country is composed of some of the world's oldest deserts. Aside from large scale mining operations and safari tours, Namibia is not known for a whole lot. I asked a good friend of mine who had traveled a bit in Africa for advice on Namibian cooking. He had no idea and asked another friend who incredulously exclaimed that Namibia was probably the last place a foodie would ever want to go! Fortunately I did still receive advice from them on what to prepare, and none of our dinner guests seemed too disappointed. Although I doubt I'll see a Namibian themed restaurant scene sweeping the world anytime soon.

Like many poor countries surrounded by desert, Namibia's food is based more upon acquiring nutrients and not on culinary grace. But it still does have its culinary influences gained from its history. Raw vegetables, fruits, and roasted game meats have always been a staple among the country's indigenous population which still contains a fairly large number of hunter gatherers. Being a former German colony, cabbage and sausage are still popular here to this day. After the Germans were pushed out, Namibia was occupied by South Africa and a good deal of curry powders and spicy sauces have made their way into the food. Out of all these influences a food focused on simple preparation, cheap and easy to find ingredients, and very strong flavors has become the country's cuisine.

Cabbage and Sardine Salad

Although this might sound disgusting to many at first, it is in fact not disgusting. The sardines and peanuts add a wonderfully savory element to the whole salad that anybody can appreciate once they get past the whole eating tiny fish with oranges and cabbage. Think of it as a super flavorful cole slaw.

1/2 large head of cabbage cored and thinly sliced
1 red onion thinly sliced
2 oranges peeled, separated into individual pieces and halved
2 cans sardines in oil drained
3/4 cup olive oil
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 inch piece of ginger minced
2/3 cup chopped roasted peanuts
1 serrano chile seeded and chopped
3 tbsp sesame oil
1/3 cup vinegar
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

1. In a bowl combine everything but the cabbage and stir together with a spoon.
2. In a much larger bowl put all the cabbage with a bit of salt. Allow it ten minutes to soften and pour the contents of the other bowl over the cabbage.
3. Toss together and serve.

Fried Yucca Root

The prep work for this is pretty similar to making fried potatoes, but the taste is wonderfully different. The main difference is that the yucca is much tougher and needs to be boiled to make it edible before frying. Also it takes a lot longer to fry, but it doesn't need a second frying!

Corn oil for frying

1. Trim the bark from the yucca and cut the flesh into small french fry shapes.
2. In a sauce pan filled with water, simmer the yucca for 30 minutes or until it is tender. Set aside in a colander to dry for 15 minutes.
3. In a wok or fryer heat a large amount of corn oil and add the yucca in batches. Fry until golden or about 15 minutes per batch.
4. Serve with peanut sauce. Recipe follows.

Peanut Sauce

This peanut sauce is remarkably similar to peanut sauces of Southeast Asia with its use of coconut milk and dry spices. It can go great with just about anything you serve. I love it on grilled meats.

1.5 cups peanuts
1 medium sized onion quartered
1 clove garlic
3 tbsp soy sauce
1.5 tbsp vinegar
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp ground fenugreek
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 cup coconut milk

1. Combine everything in a food processor and grind to a smooth paste.
2. In a small sauce pan over medium heat reduce the mixture to a thickened sauce. Serve hot or at room temp.

Roast Chicken

Game meat is a bit pricey round these parts, and I didn't feel like dropping a large amount of money on this dinner. So we went the cheap route and used chicken, which I can confidently say is well loved in Namibia as well. The roasting is the simple part. The real authenticity for this item comes from the Chakalaka sauce we paired with it.

4 sets of chicken thigh and leg quarters cut at the joints
3 tbsp corn oil
salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 375
2. Rub chicken with oil, salt, and pepper.
3. Bake the chicken in a roasting pan for 40 minutes.
4. Serve with chakalaka sauce. Recipe follows.

Chakalaka Sauce

Aside from being a word which often follows 'boom', Chakalaka is also a delicious sauce native to South Africa and popular throughout the surrounding region. It tastes like a spicy vegetarian chili and goes great by itself as well.

1 can vegetarian baked beans
2 carrots chopped
2 bell peppers diced
1 large onion diced
1 tsp cayenne
1 32 oz can tomatoes drained and chopped
2 tbsp curry powder
1/2 cup corn oil
salt to taste

1. Fry the onions, peppers, and carrots together in the oil for five minutes.
2. Add the remaining ingredients and cook covered over low heat for 30 minutes.
3. Serve alone or on top of meat.

Guava Bars

Essentially this is just chocolate chip cookie dough with guava in the place of chocolate. Guava paste can be found at most Mexican grocers in large round cans. The bars come out tasting like giant fruit newtons!

1 lb guava paste cut into small squares
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 stick butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 350 f. In a large bowl combine flour baking powder and salt.
2. In a small saucepan gently melt the butter. Once the butter is melted add the sugar and vanilla extract. Then whisk in the eggs. Pour mixture into the flour and stir until it gains a cookie dough consistency. Then fold in the cut squares of guava paste.
3. Grease a deep rectangular casserole and spoon the dough into the pan patting the mixture to form a 1/2 thick sheet covering the bottom of the dish.
4. Bake the dough for 30 minutes and remove when the top begins to brown. Take care to rotate the dish halfway through cooking.
5. Allow 30 minutes to cool and cut into squares for serving.


This was a much smaller meal than many others because we had to pull this off in the middle of the week to make way for the holidays. December was a rough month of constant cooking for our little home which left us with little time for our beloved blog. We apologize for the small amount of dinners that got posted during the season. Fortunately we've got plenty of freedom ahead for our meal planning and we're sure it will be plentiful. Namibia proved to not be a wasteland of boring food, and everybody was happy with what they ate. I especially loved the guava bars and salad and will certainly tweak around with those for future gatherings. More Africa is next with Uganda (actually it already happened and I'm still eating the food) until then Cheers!

Monday, January 4, 2010


In our little realm, it just would not be the holiday season if we didn't have to travel near and far for various events and gatherings of kith and kin. Thus, this celebration of the food of Oman was actually done before the holidays, we apologize for the delay and hope you had many wondrous celebrations of your own.

Oman, despite having a lot of dependence on British political and military systems, was never actually a British colony. They have also been a loyal US ally apparently since the end of our Revolutionary War. Oman was one of only 3 Arab League states that stood behind Egypt after the signing of the Egypt-Israeli Peace Treaty in 1979 (the other two were Somalia and Sudan, if you were wondering). In other words, Oman is a good friend to have and this friend just happens to have some wonderfully exciting dishes.

Dill Hummus

What some of you may not know is that Tom is quite the hummus maker. He actually used to make it for a sandwich shop he worked at in college. It has since been his signature staple dish at parties. I mean, who doesn't enjoy a giant bowl of mashed beans and tahini? For Oman, we decided to jazz it up slightly by adding some fresh dill.

1/2 pound dried chickpeas soaked at least 8 hours (or use 32 oz canned, or better yet pressure cook the dried beans)
1/2 cup tahini
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic
3/4 cup chopped dill
Salt to taste

1. In a large pot cover the chickpeas with lots of water and bring to a boil on the stove. Simmer the beans for 1.5 hours or until tender
2. Drain the beans in a colander and run under cold water until cool.
3. In a processor combine the dill, lemon juice, and garlic and process them into a paste.
4. Add the chickpeas, tahini, and salt. Process for five minutes. While the motor is running pour the olive oil into the mixture slowly.
5. Taste for salt and refrigerate for at least two hours to let the flavors mature.
6. Serve with any flat bread or crackers.

Shuwa: Spiced Lamb Braised in Banana Leaves

It's hard to imagine a Middle Eastern feast without a lamb dish. Our humble attempt at Shuwa gave us a wonderful opportunity to again use banana leaves. If you are wondering where to purchase banana leaves, we usually get ours from this lovely Mexican grocery in Wicker Park, however, if you do not have a Mexican grocery, Asian groceries usually carry them. It should also be mentioned that this dish would normally use palm leaves, but these are not available to us. If you can find them, go for it. If you live near Chicago and know where to get them, please do not hesitate to leave the location in the comments.

Traditionally this would be a whole lamb cooked for two days under the ground. Right now the ground is frozen, and I'm pretty sure it's not very safe to cook food in Chicago's dirt. We did our best to replicate the recipe on a smaller scale in our oven. Feel free to use other large cuts of lamb.

Shoulder of lamb (5-7 lbs) cut into several large pieces
1 tbsp cumin
6 cardamon pods
1 tsp coriander
1.5 tsp red pepper
1 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp salt
3 tbsp vinegar
4 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons ginger
Banana leaves soaked in warm water for two hours

1. Bring meat to room temp and rub with ground spices.
2. In a large cast iron pot, layer the bottom with several pieces of banana leaf. Put the lamb on top of this layer of leaves and rest another layer of leaves on top and cover everything with a lid.
3. Set the oven at 250. Put the pot in the oven and walk away for the day. Allow the meat at least 7 hours to cook. Don't worry about drying it out it will only taste better with time.
4. When the time is finally up and you've finished doing whatever it is you did during all this time (we had lunch in Chinatown and cooked the rest of this meal), take the meat from the oven, uncover and let cool for a good while.
5. When the meat is cool enough to handle separate the stringy meat from the bones with your hands. Discard the bones and pour off most of the fat. The fat can be reserved for other things, but make sure to leave enough to keep the meat juicy.
6. Reheat the meat gently in the oven at 320 before serving. Serve with flat bread and tahini sauce.

Tahini Sauce

1/2 cup tahini
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup lemon juice
salt and pepper
1/4 cup chopped mint

Combine everything in a food processer adding just enough water to form a thin paste of a sauce. Serve drizzled over lamb.

Red Lentil Salad

Being winter and all, and being honest, we threw this dish together using what we already had in our pantry. Lucky for us, Omanis like bean dishes and our pantry is always fulls of them.

2 cups red lentils
4 cups stock
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup vinegar
1 red bell pepper sliced into strips
1 large red onion diced
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup chopped dill
1/4 cup chopped mint
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt to taste

1. Combine lentils with stock, cumin, and pepper in a saucepan set over medium high. Raise to a simmer, cover, and cook over low heat for 25 minutes or until lentils are tender.
2. In a large strainer, drain and rinse the lentils under cold water until they are cooled. Set aside over the sink for five minutes to drain.
3. Combine the cooled and drained lentils in a large bowl with the remaining ingredients and serve.

Eggplant with Date Sauce

I almost feel like we need to defend ourselves here, because if you are a regular reader then you know we often make a dish of eggplant. This one is way different though, I promise. It has dates. And if you've never experienced the combination of eggplant and dried fruit, you are in for quite a treat.

1 large eggplant peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes
3 onions sliced thinly
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste
stock to cover
1/4 pound dates
2 cloves garlic
3 tbsp chopped cilantro
Juice of 1/2 lemon

1. Salt the eggplant cubes and set aside for 20 minutes.
2. In the meantime, heat the sliced onions gently with the oil until they are browned (about 15 minutes)
3. Add the eggplant pieces and cook gently for another 20 minutes until they are browned and tender on all sides.
4. Add the spices and enough stock to barely cover the vegetables. Cover and cook over medium low heat for another 20 minutes.
5. In a blender combine the dates and garlic with enough water to make a smooth paste.
6. Uncover the saucepan and add the date sauce to the eggplant. Raise the heat to high and reduce the sauce to a thick consistency.
7. Garnish with cilantro and lemon. Serve.

Za'atar Bread

Za'atar is the name for a spice mix of thyme, sage, sesame and other various things that we're not quite sure about. You actually buy it mixed together at your local Middle Eastern grocery. If you can't find it, just grind up these and other spices to make your own.

1 tbp. dried yeast
1 tsp. sugar
3 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tbsp. za'tar
2 tsp. sea salt

1.Mix yeast, sugar and 1/4 cup warm water together until it is dissolved and let it stand for 10 minutes. The mix should appear frothy, if it doesn't, you have bad yeast. Throw it away and try again.
2. Mixer with kneading attachment: Place flour, 1/2 tsp of salt and yeast mixture in the mixer and add 1 1/4 cups warm water. Turn on a lower setting and "knead" for about 5 minutes. Gradually add the olive oil during this time. Cover and set aside for about an hour

Without a mixer: Combine the same as about but knead by hand for about 15 minutes.

3. Punch down the dough and either throw it back in the mixer, or knead by hand for a little longer. Let it stand again for about a half an hour.
4. Knead again shortly and divide dough into about 10 pieces. Roll out each piece into a circle.
5. Preheat oven to 425 degrees and put the dough onto greased cookie sheets. Press your finger into the dough to make little dimples. Brush each piece with the remaining oil and sprinkle the za'atar and sea salt on top. Bake for about 12-15 minutes and serve them right out of the oven.

Oman: Conclusions

Oman was a success for many reasons. First off, it was the first Middle Eastern country we have had the pleasure of cooking for this blog. In our everyday lives and meals, we have been trying to cook more Middle Eastern food and I have a hunch that a few of these dishes will be repeated again.

Second, we had a lot of rotating guests throughout the night and had more than enough to feed them all. I think in the end we had about 8 dinner guest and we finished all but a fist full of lamb. This made for a long exquisite feasting experience and a few empty wine bottles.

Last but not least, we found a few great Omani radio stations. The first of which played a lot of Supertramp, which neither Tom nor myself minded at all. The second was a more traditional station that we did not have the knowledge to translate, but we do know they wished us a Happy Channukah (which just gives away how long ago we actually did Oman).

The Namibia post should be up in the next few days. Until next time, shucram!!!