Sunday, February 27, 2011

Northern Africa

This past week we made food inspired from the sands of the Sahara. The menu consisted of Harira (lamb and vegetable soup), fava bean salad, tagine of chicken, couscous, harissa, fish chermoula, carrots with black currants, and date cookies.

John made the lamb and vegetable soup which was complimented nicely with the fresh lemon juice. The soup is made with sauteing onion, lamb, spices, and ginger. You add clear or white stock, celery, salt, chickpeas and lentils; then bring to a simmer. Add parsley, cilantro, tomatoes, bring to a boil and add broken vermicelli. Once the pasta is done pull the soup and adjust seasoning with lemon juice. Some add a beaten egg for shine and added protein. This thick peppery soup is usually eaten traditionally after sundown during the month of Ramadan to break each day's fast. We made the fava bean salad utilizing lima beans along with onion, salt, olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, garlic, cilantro, white pepper, green onions, red radishes and black olives. If the beans are cooked it's a lot easier to make and you can combine all the ingredients. We used the olives and radishes to garnish the salad.

I made the Tagine of Chicken which is made by marinating chicken (cut into eight pieces) in garlic, olive oil, and black pepper. After the chicken has marinated; brown all the pieces in olive oil and hold. Saute spices (cumin, cinnamon, coriander, ginger, saffron) for a minute in the same olive oil and then add diced onion. Sweat the onions and add stock (2 cups) bringing to a boil. Add the chicken to the tagine and pour the sauce over the top. Place the tagine into a hot oven of 350 degrees and bake for approximately 45 minutes. The chicken was served on top of fresh couscous which I made from instant couscous and sauteed chickpeas. The sauce will stay soupy so do not be alarmed; Northern Africans cook in sauce to braise meat. A spicy sauce which we served on the side was made with a pulverized mixture of cumin seeds, chili peppers, paprika, onion, flat leaf parsley, lemon juice, olive oil and salt. The mixture is called Harissa and is a staple on tables in Northern Africa.

The fish chermoula was made by Ryan and was made by marinating a flaky fish (we used snapper). The marinade is made with cilantro, parsley, garlic, paprika, cumin, cayenne, olive oil, salt, and lemon juice. After marinating the fish you wipe some of the marinade off, dip them in all purpose flour, shake of excess and pan fry in olive oil. We garnished the plate with fried flat leaf parsley and lemon; along with the harissa of course. Ryan also made the carrots with black currants; which is made by soaking the dried black currants and reserving the liquid. Next heat butter, add cinnamon, cayenne and carrots. Add orange juice, the currants and reserved soaking liquid; cook until the carrots are tender, correct seasoning and serve family style.

Natalia made the date cookies and I could've eaten the whole sheet tray; they were really good. You start by preheating an oven to 350 degrees and start sifting 3/4 cup of all purpose flour with 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder. Combine 6 eggs, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1/2 cup melted butter in a mixer. Gradually add the flour a little at a time, then nuts and dates. Mix well and pour into a square cake pan; bake 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Serve in shapes of brownies and dust with powdered sugar. Overall a very good menu and the date cookies were my favorite.


Sunday, February 20, 2011


The week of Greek food was awesome to make...and eat. We made spanakopita (spinach rolls/pies), Greek salad, Artichokes with Egg and Lemon Sauce (Avgolemono), Bean Soup (Fasoulatha), Baked Shrimp (Garithes Sganaki), Afelia with Pourgouri Pilafi (Fried Pork with Coriander and Pilaf of cracked wheat).

The spanakopita is awesome to make but a little difficult if you work with if you have dry or old phyllo dough. I made triangles and a roll from the phyllo dough I was supplied with for the recipe. You start by wilting spinach in a pan with sauteed onion; once soft add chopped leeks, green onions and cook until all is soft. Cool the mixture and squeeze out as much moisture as possible; then combine with chopped fresh dill, chopped flat leaf parsley, nutmeg, feta cheese and one beaten egg. Season the mixture with salt and pepper and place to the side while you butter the phyllo dough. Brush lightly the top sheet of four phyllo sheets with olive oil. Flip the sheet over and brush the other side; pick up both sheets and flip over again until all are brushed with olive oil. To make the triangles cut a long strip from top to bottom of the phyllo dough; about 3 to 4 inches wide and the dough should be long from right to left when you cut the strips. Place a little of the mixture onto the bottom of the strip and fold over from right to left into a triangle; continue to fold over itself as a triangle much like a paper football. Brush the outside of the triangles with olive oil and place on a parchment paper lined pan. Bake the triangles in a preheated 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for approximately 30 minutes. I added the squeeze of half a lemon (minus the pits) to the mixture after it was combined to add another dimension.

The Greek salad is made with Romaine lettuce cut into strips (wide chiffonade) and then topped with diced tomato, red onion slices, kalamata olives, feta cheese, cucumber (skinned), green bell pepper and fresh dill. To make the dressing combine 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, 1 mashed garlic clove (garlic paste made with a dash of sea salt), fresh oregano, salt, pepper and a 1/4 cup olive oil. Whisk the ingredients together, pour over salad and toss well.

The Artichokes can turn grey on you so make sure you keep them in water at all times. Cut out the heart from the choke and cook in boiling salted water with lemon juice and olive oil until tender. To make the avgolemono sauce use half stock and half artichoke water. Add slurry to the boiling stock until thickened and bubbling; gradually pour thickened hot stock to a beaten egg until well combined (like hollandaise) and return the beaten egg mixture to the heat and cook the egg. The mixture should thicken enough to coat the back of a spoon; DO NOT BOIL. Remove from the heat, continue stirring and correct the seasoning. Serve the sauce immediately with the cooked artichokes; sprinkle with chopped dill and parsley. The bean soup is a Greek version on Minestrone; it starts with sauteing celery, carrots and onion for about 3-4 minutes. Add chopped garlic, tomatoes and tomato paste; combine white beans which are simmering in water or stock. Bring the combination to a boil and cook until soft or desired tenderness. Stir in chopped parsley, cayenne pepper and lemon juice. You can thicken the soup by crushing some of the white beans and stirring the soup.

The baked shrimp was very easy to make and was very good! Start by cleaning the shrimp of veins and shells; place them in a non-reactive container and add 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice. While the shrimp are marinating in the lemon juice prepare the mix-ins. Mince pepperoncini, garlic cloves, green onions, parsley, oregano and dice concasse tomato. Saute diced onion until transparent; add pepperoncini and garlic until aroma of garlic is reached. Next ass green onion and tomato cook for about 5 minutes; add white wine and bring to a bubble. Add about half of the chopped parsley and oregano to the mixture, stir and add the shrimp. Spoon the sauce over the shrimp and add crumbed feta cheese on top. Place in a preheated oven around 450 degrees or salamander; cook until cheese is soft or melted. Be careful to not overcook the shrimp. Sprinkle the finished product with remaining parsley and oregano; serve with warm crusty bread.

John made the pork and it starts by combining cubed pork with red wine, salt and 1 tablespoon of coriander seeds, cinnamon stick and fresh pepper...lots of pepper! Marinate the meat as long as possible and drain the pork; while reserving the marinade. Pat dry the pork before you move on as to not burn your arm hair. Heat oil in a pan and add pork...saute stirring frequently until browned and just cooked through. Discard most of the fat from the marinade and add remaining toasted coriander seeds along with the marinade (minus the cinnamon stick) to a pan. Reduce the mixture until about 1/4 cup and add the pork; toss to coat and serve with the pilaf. The pilaf is made by sauteing onion until transparent; stir in broken vermicelli and cook until the pasta absorbs the oil. Add stock and bring to a boil; then add the cracked wheat and bring a boil again. Simmer until all the moisture is absorbed and season to taste.

Overall the menu was great and the shrimp was a knockout hit! I loved making this menu and I hope some of you enjoy making what I described. The spanakopita is killer; but like I mentioned remember to stir in a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to the mixture before you add it to the phyllo dough.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Middle Eastern Cuisine

For two weeks in World Cuisine we made food from the Middle East (ex Ottoman Empire). Our menus consisted of: Hummus Bi Tahini: Chickpea and Sesame Dip; Fatayer Sbanikh: Triangle Spinach Pies; Tabbouleh: Cracked Wheat and Herb Salad; Khobz: Whole Wheat Flat Bread; Kukuye Mohi: Fish Omelet; Bamia: Lamb and Okra Casserole; Muaddas: Rice with Lentils; Khoshaf: Dried Fruit Compote; Qahwah: Arabic Coffee; Borani Chogondar: Beet and Yogurt Salad; Falafel: Dried Bean Croquettes; Khubz (Khoubiz): Arabic Flat Bread; Baba Ghannouj (Moutabal): Eggplant Dip; Morgh Polou: Chicken with Rice; Adas Bis Silq: Lentil and Swiss Chard Soup; Baklawa “Be'aj”: Fillo and Nut Pastries.

I had the pleasure of being involved in practically every single one of these dishes and all were great. John made two dips; hummus and baba ghannouj. The hummus is extremely easy to make and is made by combining garbanzo beans, lemon juice, tahini (sesame seed paste/butter), garlic and salt. Blend the mixture till smooth and then serve in a large bowl. Make swirls with a spoon and drizzle olive oil into the grooves made by the swirls. We dusted the dip with cayenne powder, but you can use sweet paprika as well. Baba Ghannouj is a roasted eggplant dip; and is made by first roasting an eggplant over an open flame. You then peel away the charred skin from the eggplant and then make a paste out of the skin with the tahini, lemon juice, salt, and olive oil. You then combine paste with the eggplant, parsley and garlic. Serve the dip in a bowl and top with fresh ingredients. Serve both dips with either the Khubz (Arabic Flat bread) or Khobz (Arabic wheat flat bread).

Speaking of the breads...they were different because one used yeast and the other leavened over time. The wheat flat bread was a little dry and the other flat bread was incredible. The white flat bread is made by blooming yeast; adding it to the mixture of flour; salt and milk. Proof the formed dough ball in an oiled bowl and then punching it down and forming smaller portions when proofed. You then can pan fry the dough on a lightly oiled pan until puffed and slightly brown. The wheat Khobz is made using almost the same method but the dough ball is made by using salt, water and whole wheat flour. The ball rests and made into smaller balls; then flattened and pan fried like the other bread.

Falafel and beet yogurt was great together on the Khubz with a little tahini sauce. The falafel is similar to middle eastern start by combining fava beans (or white beans), chickpeas, onion, garlic in a food processor. After the mixture is slightly chunky but smooth you combine with ground chili pepper, coriander, cumin, baking soda, salt, pepper, chopped parsley and chopped cilantro. Let the mixture rest for about half an hour and prepare the tahini sauce in the mean time. The tahini sauce is made by combining water, lemon juice, tahini paste and garlic paste (minced garlic crushed with sea salt). Shape the bean mixture with flour and make 1 1/2 inch thick patties. Fry the patties in olive oil and place on paper towel to drain; serve hot with the tahini sauce. The beet yogurt dish is made by combining roasted/boiled cubed beets with drained Greek yogurt, salt, pepper, chopped mint, and lemon juice. The yogurt is an acquired taste but the mixture together with something else is very good.

The picture you see at the top is of the lamb dish Ryan made; which is a casserole of lamb and okra. The dish is made by browning cubes of stewing lamb in clarified butter; place the meat aside and add onion until translucent. Add cumin, diced tomatoes, tomato paste and cook with the onions; add stock to deglaze the pot and return the meat to the pot. Correct seasoning and add a pinch of sugar; cover and braise in a slow oven or stove top for about an hour and a half or until meat is tender. When it is done add sauteed, stemless whole/ sliced okra. You can also top the meat with a garlic sauce called ta'leya which is made by crushing garlic with salt in a mortar to make a paste. Add the paste to hot clarified butter in a pan until golden brown; then stir in coriander and crushed hot pepper while the mixture is still very hot. Serve the lamb in the center of rice and lentils. The lentil rice is very easy to make...saute onion in some clarified butter and toast the rice in the butter and onion. Add lentils to the rice and stir...then add boiling water and sea salt; bring to a boil, reduce and cover. Fluff the rice with a fork and adjust seasoning if needed; serve with the lamb and garlic sauce.

As most of you know I am not a big fan of eggs so for me the Kukuye Mohi was not a big hit. It is a fritatta made with salted white fish which is mixed with turmeric, coriander and flour. Again not a big fan but some people liked it a lot...aside of the fish fritatta everything else was great. Especially the Chicken with rice Ryan made the following week. You start by browning chicken in samneh (clarrified butter) and set aside while you saute onions in the same butter. Add dried fruit and cook with the onions, stir in cinnamon and add water to degalze the pot/pan. Take slightly cooked rice and combine with the mixture; add chicken and bake the mixture. Just before serving add saffron liquid over rice and stir gently...served piled on a platter or in a tangine.

I made tabbouleh which is NOT made with couscous...the salad is made soaked bulgur wheat. You combine the dried bulgur (after being soaked for 30 minutes) with chopped parsley, green onion, mint, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, black pepper, and concasse tomato. The last entree was Fatayer Sbanikh or triangle spinach pies...the pies take a lot of time but are very good. They are another version of spanikopita (Greek) and the dough is made by soaking yeast in warm water for 5 minutes, combing salt and flour and then adding oil to the water yeast mixture. Make a well in the center of the flour mix and gradually add yeast mix; combing as you add the liquid. Knead the dough for 10 - 15 minutes until soft and not sticky. Cover and let the dough rise for about 1 - 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size. The spinach mixture is chopped wilted spinach cooked in olive oil with pine nuts, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Place a spoonful of the mix into the center of the 4 inch of punched-down rolled out dough. Fold over into triangles and seal completely; place on slightly oiled baking pan and brush with olive oil. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 to 15 minutes and serve warm.

On to dessert; the dried fruit compote is very easy to make. You start by simmering chopped dried fruit (apricots, prunes, white raisins) in water; add sugar, lemon rind, allspice, 2 cloves, and dissolve. Simmer gently until fruit is soft but not mushy and syrup is thick. Remove the rind and the cloves; chill well and serve in dessert glasses with chopped walnuts. The baklawa is awesome and is made by first whipping one egg white until peaks form. Gradually stir in 1/4 cup sugar slowly to the egg white; add coarsely chopped almonds/walnuts and a teaspoon of rose water. This mixture will be the filling for the pastry which is formed by first buttering 10 sheets of filo dough, leaving the top and bottom unbuttered. Cut the dough into squares and butter the top of the squares. Add a small amount of the filling onto each square and pinch close...bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 30 min; reduce to 300 degrees and cook for 15 minutes longer. Top with atar syrup which is made by dissolving sugar in water over high heat, add lemon juice and orange flower water, bring to a boil, remove from heat, add rose water, and cool. After topping the pastries with syrup add chopped pistachio nuts in center. Both pastries go great with the final recipe of Turkish Coffee (Qahwah); the coffee is brewed with bruised cardamom pods and served hot.

This was a great two weeks and I look forward to Turkey, Greece and Crete next...

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