Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Khoresht-e Badenjan (Persian Eggplant Stew)

Picture courtesy of TurmericSaffron

A quintisential Persian dish, Khoresht-e Badenjan is one of the most well-known and loved of the Persian stews.Slight variations of this recipe can be found throughout the Middle East like some calling for the addition of grapes, golden raisins, or loomi (dried limes) for adding a sour note.Just keep in mind that preparing this dish takes some time and requires about 1 hour cooking time, but it is well worth it.

Yield:4 Servings
3-4 Tbsp. olive oil plus more if necessary
2 1/2 lbs. small eggplants, cut into strips
1 onion, halved and sliced
8 oz. lamb, trimmed of visible fat, cut into small cubes
1 tsp. ground turmeric
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 c small, unripe grapes or golden raisins (optional)
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan and fry the eggplants until they are soft.Remove from the pan and drain on a paper towel lined plate.
2. Add the onion and fry until translucent.Add the lamb cubes and cook till browned. Add the turmeric, tomato paste,chopped tomatoes, grapes or golden raisins (if using)and lemon juice and enough water to cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

3. Add the eggplants to the simmering stew with a little more water, season with salt and pepper, cover, and continue simmering further for another 20 minutes.

4. Remove from heat and serve hot with rice.

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hilbeh (Yemeni Fenugreek Relish)

Looking for something different other than the usual pita & hummus for mezze?Spice things up a bit with hilbeh, a spicy Yemeni relish made with fenugreek and cilantro.Hilbeh is a staple on the Yemeni table much like zhoug.It is used as a dip for Arab bread or added to Yemeni-style stews.Hilbeh is very easy to make but just keep in mind the the fenugreek seeds require about 18 hours soaking time to remove their bitterness.

Yield:4 oz.
2 tsp. fenugreek seeds, soaked in water for 18 hours or until they have softened, drained
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 fresh green chili, chopped
a handful of cilantro, chopped
2-3 large tomatoes, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt, to taste

1. In a food processor or blender, grind the fenugreek seeds with the garlic, chili and cilantro to a coarse paste.Place fenugreek paste in a medium bowl.

2. Add the tomatoes and beat in the sugar,lemon juice, and salt to taste.Serve with arab bread or as a flavoring for stews.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Buza al-Halib (Sahlab Ice Cream)

When one thinks of Middle Eastern desserts, ice cream is not the first thing that comes to mind. Buza al-halib (Sahlab ice cream) aka buza bi mistiki (mastic ice cream) is just one of many iced desserts available throughout this region.Buza al-halib is a snowy white ice cream that is thickened with sahlab,powdered orchid root and flavored with mastic, not to be confused with gum arabic,a resin taken from the lentisk tree which is native to the Mediterranean.

Mastic gives this ice cream a consistency that is smooth, elastic, while at the same time chewy.Mastic is usually available from middle eastern grocers or you can try My Amazon Store.It looks like small, hard translucent crystal-like lumps that must be ground to a fine powder before using.Here's a recipe for authentic arab ice cream,buza al-halib, if you cannot find mastic , don't worry about it,the ice cream tastes just as good without it.

Yield:6-8 Servings
3 Tbsp. sahlab
5 c whole milk
1 c sugar
small piece of mastic, size of half a fingernail, pounded till powdered (optional)
1 tbsp. rose water
chopped pistachios,for garnish (optional)

1. In a small bowl, mix the sahlab with a little milk to create a loose paste.Put the remainder of the milk with the sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly till the sugar dissolves.

2. Reduce the heat. Add the sahlab/milk mixture to thee warmed milk, stirring vigorously.Add the mastic and continue stirring vigorously until it has dissolved.

3. Simmer milk for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.Add the rose water. Remove saucepan from heat.

4. Pour milk mixture into a ceramic bowl and allow it to cool before freezing. Freeze for 4 1/2 -5hours,stirring every 30 minutes to break up the ice crystals.*

5.When ready to serve, spoon into serving bowls and sprinkle with chopped pistachios, if desired.

*Pour ice cream mixture into ice cream machine and freeze according to manufacturers instructions.
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Monday, May 17, 2010

Ras al-Hanout (Moroccan Spice Blend)

To say ras al-hanout contains a lot of ingredients is an understatement.Ras al-hanout is an aromatic Moroccan spice blend consisting of spices, herbs, and roots. It may contain anywhere from 15 up to 100 ingredients. Yeah, you read that right but usually averages about 13 ingredients.Ras al-Hanout loosely translates into "head of the shop" which is such an appropriate name since each spice merchant's blend is unique and contains different ingredients.

A typical ingredient list for ras al-hanout may contain any of the following spices in varying amounts:allspice, cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mace, grains of paradise, dried rosebuds,lavender, nigella seeds, various ground chillies, peppercorns,belladonna, nutmeg, orris root,turmeric,and cantharides (Spanish fly).Ras al-hanout can be bought ready made from Middle Eastern grocers but chances are you may have most of these spices available in your cupboard, well with the exception of cantharides.Here's a recipe for Moroccan ras al-hanout.Use it to flavor moroccan tagines, game dishes,and couscous.

1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 tsp. groung ginger
1/2 tsp. ground mace
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cardamon
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. ground red pepper
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. dried rosebuds, optional
1/2 tsp. cantharis,optional

1. Place all ingredients in a small bowl and blend thoroughly.Place ras al-hanout in an airtight container and store in a cool, dry place.Will keep for 1 year.
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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Salatat Batata al Tunis (Tunisian Potato Salad)

Unlike potato salads in the USA which are drowning in mayonnaise or sour cream,the potato salads of the Middle East are light, full of taste and make a perfect accompaniment to any meat dish.Recipes for potato salads vary from region to region and are characterized by their origin depending on the spices used.The following recipe is typical of Tunisia for it's use of caraway and cayenne pepper.

Yield:4-6 Servings
1/4 c olive oil
3 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. ground caraway
1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
2 dashes of salt
5 large potatoes, cooked, peeled, and cubed
4 tbsp. fresh mint, finely chopped
4 tbsp. fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
4 tbsp. fresh parsley, finely chopped

1. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Add the lemon juice, caraway, cayenne pepper, salt and stir.
2.After about 5 minutes, add the potatoes and stir until evenly coated with the seasoned oil.Warm the potatoes for 5-7 minutes.
3.Remove potatoes from heat and place in a bowl and chill till ready to serve adding the fresh herbs, tossing them together with the potatoes before serving or add the herbs immediately and toss and serve potato salad warm.Adjust salt, if necessary.
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Monday, May 10, 2010

Ka'k or Kahk (Middle Eastern Spice Bracelets)

Who would have thought that Middle Eastern bakers would find a culinary gem right in the pit of a cherry, that when dried in the sun and ground to a powder produces a spice,mahlab which gives breads an almond-like flavor.Mahlab comes from a tree called St.Lucy's cherry(Prunus Mahaleb).It is a large shrub-like tree that grows primarily in the Levant and Eastern Mediterranean and is used exclusively for mahlab production.To make mahlab, the pits of this cherry are dried in the sun till golden-brown then pounded to a powder form.Mahlab is used to give a sweet almond flavor to candies, cookies, pastries, and breads throughout the Middle East.

The following recipe is mentioned in the medieval cooking manual,Kittab al-Wulsa Illa' L-Habib and is still being used today.Ka'k or Kahk are bracelet-shaped breads that are flavored with coriander and sprinkled with mahlab.They can eaten for breakfast or as a snack.They are perfect the next day heated a little and dipped in olive oil.

Yield:14-17 (varies depending on the size & thickness)
4 c all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. ground coriander
1/2 tbsp. ground cumin
1/2 tbsp. salt
2 tsp. active dry yeast
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 c butter(melted) or ghee
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 c white sesame seeds
2 Tbsp. mahlab

1. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl.Add the coriander, cumin, and salt and mix with the flour.
2. In a small dish, combine the yeast and the sugar and add a little lukewarm water, enough to cover.Allow it to bubble ( maybe 3-5 minutes).
3. Make a well in the middle of the flour and pour in the yeast and butter or ghee, if using.Using your hands work the mixture into a dough.Add a little more lukewarm water if dough is a little dry to help it bind.Knead dough for 10-15 minutes.
4. Take a walnut size piece of dough and roll into a thin "cigar"shape about 4 inches long, then bring the ends together and press them firmly to make a bracelet and set aside.Repeat with the remaining dough.If they are not even don't worry about it, different sizes make them more interesting.
5. Lightly oil a baking sheet.Place the spice bracelets on it and lightly brush them with the beaten egg.Sprinkle spice bracelets with the sesame seeds.Leave in a warm place for 2 hours to rise.
6.Preheat oven to 350F. Sprinkle spice bracelets with mahlab and place in the oven for 4o minutes.
7.After removing the spice bracelets from the heat, leave them to cool and become slightly hard or you can eat them right away after slightly cooled.
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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Melokhia bi Dajaj (Chicken with Melokhia)

Melokhia is as I can best describe it one of those things where the history behind it is more interesting than the dish itself.Melokhia is a green leafy vegetable that belongs to the same family as the jute plant.It resembles spinach but when cooked acquires the texture of okra.Melokhia is one of those things were either you like it or hate it.There is no in between.Melokhia is derived from the Arabic word for "royal" because dishes made with this vegetable were greatly enjoyed by royalty especially the 7th century Umayyad caliph, Mu'awiyya. Unfortunatly, the 10th century Fatimid Caliph of Egypt, Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah didn't quite agree.Al-Hakim believed that its consumption led to a life of debauchery and banned its cultivation and consumption.

Today melokhia is enjoyed throughout Egypt and in Lebanon and Jordan.Traditionally it is made into a soup by the same name or is used as a sauce for chicken and rice dish.

Yield:6 Servings
4 1/2 lbs. chicken breasts, chopped into pieces
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled, chopped
6 cardamom pods, optional
salt and pepper
2 or 3 - 14oz. melokhia, frozen, chopped

For the garlic sauce(takleya):
15 garlic cloves, peeled, minced
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. ground red chili pepper
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil

Basmati rice, to serve
Arab flat bread, to serve, optional

1.Heat the vegetable oil in a large pan and add the chicken pieces and cook in a medium -high heat for 5-7 minutes.Add the onions, cardamom pods, if using, and salt and pepper.Cook for 10-12 minutes more, stirring regularly.Add the melokhia and cook for another 10 minutes, till melokhia is cooked.Remove from heat and set aside.Keep warm.
2.To make the garlic sauce, heat the vegetable oil .Add the garlic, coriander, and ground chili.Stir.Cook sauce for about 8 minutes till it becomes fragrant.Remove from heat and add to chicken and stir.
3.Serve immediately with rice or serve layered with Arab bread on a dish topped by rice then followed with melokhia chicken/garlic sauce mixture.
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