Tuesday, June 29, 2010


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.


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!


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 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.


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.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


I once spent a night walking across Singapore to catch a bus to Malaysia. The five or so hours I spent taking a bus from the airport into the city's downtown area and walking toward the bridge to Malaysia were the only moments I spent there. I did manage to sneak one meal into my quick journey across the tiny country, and it was a delicious meal of fried noodles with just about everything thrown into it. The sauce tasted like a delicious curry and I counted at least five different meats and twice as many vegetables present along with the thick starchy noodles. It was a tasty mix of different cooking styles, and that pretty much sums up of what should be expected of food in Singapore.

Oddly enough our good friend Hudson left for Singapore the week we picked it as our next country. He's over there doing law things and living like a hermit now in a tiny room with his few possessions. But he was kind enough to act as our food correspondent while we planned out this meal. Our first thought was to make the national dish of chicken rice, but Hudson had some and decided it tasted just like the name implied and was quite boring. Then we thought fried noodles would be great, but quickly realized it's a meal unto itself and doesn't really pair with a spread of various dishes. In the end we decided that whatever we made would have to reflect the cultural mess that makes Singaporean food so exciting. With each dish we tried to include as many international influences as we could. The resulting meal has some strange combinations of flavors that work together perfectly.

Jicama, Peanut, and Pomelo Salad: Rojak

This type of salad can be made with many different combinations of vegetables. I happen to have loved jicama since I first had it in Vietnam. The important element to this dish is the combination of peanut, citrus, and fresh herbs. Supposedly the dish originated in Indonesia, but variations on this theme can be found all over Southeast Asia. It's perfect for eating on a hot day.

1 jicama peeled and thinly sliced into bite sized portions
1 cucumber finely sliced
1 bunch of scallions chopped
1 pomelo or grapefruit peeled and separated into serving portions
1/2 cup chopped mint leaves
1.5 cups fresh beansprouts
2 cups roasted peanuts
4 garlic cloves
2 chillies
1 tsp shrimp paste
1 tbsp tamarind paste
2 tbsp sugar
Salt to taste

1. In a food processor grind the peanuts, garlic, chillies, shrimp paste, tamarind paste, sugar, and enough water to form a thick sauce. Salt the sauce to your taste.
2. Next arrange all the chopped fruits and vegetables into a large bowl. Pour half the sauce in and mix everything well with your hands. Then pour the rest of the sauce over the salad and serve.

Napa Cabbage and Tofu in a Thick Coconut Sauce

This dish is a great mix of Chinese and Malay ingredients. The sauce can be made days ahead of cooking and the cabbage and tofu cook within minutes. Basically, it's great crowd food.

1lb napa cabbage chopped into thick strips
1 lb firm tofu cut into 1 inch cubes
4 shallots
2 garlic cloves
1 inch piece of ginger peeled and roughly chopped
1 stalk of lemon grass trimmed and roughly chopped
2 serrano or other hot chillies seeded
1 tsp shrimp paste
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 can coconut milk
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a blender grind the shallots, garlic, ginger, lemon grass, serranos, shrimp paste, turmeric, sugar, and a bit of coconut milk into a very smooth paste.
2. Heat the oil in a wok or heavy saucepan over medium heat and pour in the blended paste.
3. Cook the paste for 2-3 minutes stirring frequently until it smells pungent and begins to change color.
4. Pour in the rest of the coconut milk and reduce the mixture into a thick sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.
5. Add the cabbage and tofu and cook gently for several minutes until the cabbage has wilted and becomes soft enough to eat. Take care not to break up the tofu too much as you cook this. This can be served immediately or gently reheated before serving. This of course goes well with rice.

Cuttlefish in a Dark Sauce

I wouldn't have felt right if I didn't include any seafood in this meal. Ideally, I would have loved to make chili crab, but there's no way I can afford to feed a lot of guests that much crab. Cuttlefish on the other hand can be found frozen for less than the price of chicken at the Vietnamese and Chinese markets in Chicago. It's quite a bit larger than squid and tastes great after being boiled for a about 40 minutes to an hour. The Vietnamese markets also sell the kecap manis which is a very thick and sweet soy sauce that makes a great base to many of the sauces in Malay and Indonesian cooking. It's also very cheap and worth having around.

1 tbsp vegetable oil
3 chopped shallots
1 cup bean sprouts
1 scallion
1 inch piece of ginger peeled and finely chopped
2 dried red chillies
1 stalk of lemongrass peeled and cut into two large pieces
1 lb cuttlefish meat cleaned, chopped into bite sized pieces, and simmered in boiling water for 30-40 minutes or until tender.
2 tbsp kecap manis or 1.5 tbsp soy sauce with 2 tsp sugar
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp chopped mint

1. Heat the oil in a wok or heavy pan over medium and add the shallots, scallion, ginger, chillies, and lemongrass. Cook for two minutes or until the shallots are soft and fragrant.
2. Add the prepared cuttlefish meat with the bean sprouts, salt, vinegar, and lemon juice and cook over high heat for several minutes until the sauce thickens. Garnish with mint and serve with rice.

Beef Rendang

Our friend Adam was angered by the lack of beef on the original menu we planned, so we attempted to appease him with this dish that originates in the neighboring Indonesian island of Sumatra. The Sumatran version is a bit simpler than this one and omits most of the dry spices. This version shows a good deal of Indian influence with the addition of a simple masala of cumin, turmeric, coriander, and pepper. Adam seemed pleased with the dish and we are still good friends.

8 shallots pealed and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves
1 inch piece of ginger
1/4 cup chopped hot chillies (or to taste)
6 cups coconut milk
2 lbs boneless beef chuck cut into 1 inch cubes
zest of 2 limes
4 stalks of lemongrass
2 tsp cumin ground
1 tsp black pepper ground
1 tsp coriander ground
1/2 tsp turmeric ground

1. In a blender combine the shallots, garlic, chillies, ginger, and a 1/2 cup of the coconut milk. Blend them into a smooth paste and pour this over the beef.
2. In a heavy pot bring the remaining coconut milk to a boil with the lemongrass and lime zest. Simmer this for about 15 minutes.
3. Add the beef and ground spices to the pot and bring to a simmer. Cook the pot over low heat uncovered for 2-3 hours or until the beef is tender and nearly all the liquid has evaporated. Add water if the it becomes too thick to avoid burning stew. This can be made up to 3 days ahead of time and should be reheated before serving (although many seem to have no problem eating this at room temperature.)

Singapore Sling

I was pleased to find that this popular old-timey cocktail is actually Singaporean in origin. Apparently it was developed in the Raffles Hotel around 1915 and has since gone on to be a favorite amongst grandmothers everywhere. In Chicago, it has become a popular cocktail at the California Clipper (a great bar everybody should check out)

2 parts gin
1 part brandy
Club soda
Pineapple Juice
Splash of Grenadine

This one is all about ratio and taste. Simply combine the proper ratios of gin and brandy and dilute with club soda and pineapple juice to taste. Splash with grenadine and shake with ice. Strain into serving glasses and celebrate! If you have cherry brandy, omit the grenadine. Feel free to garnish with cherries and pineapple chunks.

In Conclusion

Singapore is an amazing culinary destination that draws its influences from every corner of Asia. I am eternally jealous of my good friend Hudson getting to spend the next year out there, because I'm sure that every day he is eating something much better than whatever I am having. The dinner itself turned out great and everybody ate their fill and drank way too much as usual. We would like to apologize for the delay we've had in posting this one. Our internet was out all of last week and I wasn't able to post any photos. Egypt and Malta should be up shortly. Cheers!