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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