Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ukraine - Kasha Porridge

We had lots of good resources for Ukrainian cuisine. The first source was a friend who grew up in the Ukraine (and also introduced the two of us). She recommended buckwheat kasha porridge and a blintz as very traditional.

With our meal set up, I went looking for recipes. Ukrainian cookbooks were very easy to find. We got Please to the Table, which we used for Russia. It had no recipe for kasha porridge. Next we checked out The Best of Ukrainian Cuisine and also found no porridge recipe. The next book I found was Ukrainian Cuisine and this one was very interesting. First it was from Julia Child's cookbook collection which is pretty cool. The book itself was written in the USSR in the 1970s and translated a couple of years later. I am not sure if it is the translation or the actual tone of the book but this was easily the most authoritarian cookbook I have ever read. It spent a great deal of time focusing on how to space your meal throughout the day, declaring how many canned products are more readily available than in the past and frequently citing the works of Pavlov on appetite stimulation. Here are some quotes from the book: “regular meals at fixed times establish a proper pattern of reflexes” and “to arouse the appetite and ensure that meal are thoroughly enjoyed the important thing is eating at regular hours.” This book contained no kasha porridge recipes either, but it had lots of uses for tripe and lungs if you are looking for recipes.

Please to the Table provides some wonderful context about the importance of kasha in eastern Europe. Six hundred years ago kasha simply meant feast. It has a place in rituals such as funerals and weddings. The book also lists many different expressions involving kasha such as “he's got kasha in his head” (he's mixed up) and “you can't make kasha with him” (you will get nowhere with him).
We bought our kasha from the Russian Village market, which according to the internet is actually owned by a Ukrainian.  The brand pictured has English directions on the packet, which we followed—the recipe apparently too simple to merit inclusion in cookbooks. We also had a very nice Russian tea blend from the same shop.

Basic Kasha Porridge
  • 1 cup kasha
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tsp salt
  1. Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil.
  2. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, adding add more water if needed.
  3. Serve with milk and sweetener in amounts of your preference.

Results and Discussion
This breakfast was very simple in every sense. The dish that it seems most appropriate to compare this one to is oatmeal (actually I think it's more like Wheatena –Kitty). The roasted seeds give a subtle smokey flavor. The kasha also feels much more substantive as you chew it and it gives resistance to your bite than oatmeal.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Burma - Mohinga

Burma (Myanmar) is a large country, around the size of Texas, with 125 ethnic groups. It lies between China and India in southeast Asia. Given the repressive nature of the current military government, I expected finding information on the country to be difficult. I was disappointed. A quick internet search gave lots of results and Wikipedia page on Burmese cuisine was very complete and detailed. While looking for books I quickly found lots of resources.
The three books that were the most useful for both culture and recipes were The Burmese Kitchen, Best of Burmese Cooking, and Cook and Entertain the Burmese Way. Finding what defines traditional Burmese food is rather difficult given that it lies on trade routes between the major culture of India, China, and Thailand. All of these cultures influence Burmese cuisine in some way. Traditional Burmese cuisine is concisely defined as the food in Burma that has not been influenced by it neighbors.
I found three major breakfast dishes. The first is mohinga, which is a fish and noodle soup served by street vendors. Ohhnokaukswe is a chicken and coconut noodle soup in a curry. Kaungnyin paung is traditional farmers dish made of glutinous rice with black eyed peas. Nanpyar is a commonly eaten flat bread, which while mentioned in all of the books it never appear with a recipe except in one book which has it in correctly listed in its index. I chose the mohinga because I like catfish and because it is considered the national dish, but mostly because I like catfish.

Before starting this recipe please be advised that this makes a lot. The recipe below is supposed to give 6 servings but I would estimate it at least 10 portions.

Soup Concentrate
  • 2 lbs of catfish
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass
  • 1 inch fresh ginger
  • ¼ tsp tumeric
  • 1 tsp shrimp paste
  • 1½ tbsp fish sauce
  • 4 dried red chilies
  • 5 cups of water
  1. Break open the ginger to expose the inside.
  2. Cut the lemongrass into smaller pieces to fit in the pot.
  3. Cut you your catfish fillets in half.
  4. Put all the ingredients into a pot, bring to a boil, and simmer for 30 minutes.
  5. Remove the fish from the broth and strain out the solids while retaining the broth.
  6. Remove any bones from the fish if necessary.
  7. While the broth is simmering, prepare the rest of the ingredients below.

Complete Soup
  • ½ cup jasmine rice toasted in a dry skillet, then ground to a powder in a food processor
  • 2 tbsp roasted peanuts, ground (use nut grinder if available)
  • 1½ tbsp semolina
  • 8 oz chickpeas, cooked
  • 2 tbsp peanut oil
  • ¼ tsp tumeric
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ¼ inch fresh ginger
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • ½ tbsp salt
  • 1½ tbsp fish sauce
  • ½ tbsp sugar
  • 6 peeled shallots (these are substitutes for banana stems)
  • 8 oz of somen noodles
  1. Mix powdered rice, semolina, and peanuts in 1 cup of water. Let it stand for at least 15 minutes.
  2. Mix chickpeas and 1 cup of water in a food processor.
  3. Heat the oil in a pot large enough to contain the final quantity of soup.
  4. Add onions, garlic, ginger, turmeric, and paprika to the oil and cook for two minutes at medium high heat.
  5. Add the fish and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir regularly.
  6. Stir in salt, sugar, and fish sauce.
  7. Add rice/semolina mix and chickpea paste.
  8. Bring to a boil, add shallots, and simmer uncovered at low heat for an hour. Stir regularly.
  9. Once the soup has thickened, cook the somen noodles and add them to the bottom of a bowl, then cover with soup.
  10. Season to taste with lime juice and garnish with scallions.
Results and Discussion
This breakfast look a long time to make. Fortunately we had a dinner of wings and pizza the night before so we were not super hungry. The length of the simmering and the broth making resulted in very deep flavors and this probably better simulated what it would be like to get this from a street vendors who has had their pot going all day. The flavors are very full and as the fish dissolves it gives the soup a porridge-like texture. The lime juice provides a very nice bite. I really gobbled this down. This would be great on cold mornings.
We also used fresh lemongrass in this recipe. When we previously used lemongrass for the Indonesia breakfast we used the dry product and the taste was awful. Using the fresh lemongrass makes a complete difference.
I feel very certain that an equally acceptable version of this could be made in a much shorter time. The initial broth could be made the night before or you could make the paste and thicken it while you are making the broth. Adding less water would also get the job done. Also invite friend over when you make this, because you make a lot!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

South Korea - Soup and Rice, Side Dishes and Kimchi

Before we start, I just want to point out that most of the time I lived in Korea, I ate something like this for breakfast:

However, Corn Flakes are not really in the spirit of the Project. The traditional Korean breakfast is not really different than lunch or dinner. Rice, soup, and kimchi would suffice for a basic meal, and usually all that is hanging around from dinner so its no trouble to put together. Since we try to cook something a little more than the basic meal, we did a few more sides: fried egg, anchovies, kim (nori), and bracken salad. (This makes seven dishes total – there should always be an odd number of dishes.)

We only had to make the soup and the bracken salad from scratch; we took the recipes from Quick and Easy Korean Cooking for Everyone, a really good basic cookbook with step-by-step illustrations and pictures of all ingredients. Everything else we got at the Korean market or had in the house (also easily purchased).

The soup could really be any light soup. We had thought of doing bean-sprout soup (a traditional hangover cure!), but we've got a surplus of greens from our farm share, so it was more practical to use those.

Greens Soup
  • 1 cup frozen greens
  • 2 hot green peppers (gochu or jalapeƱo), sliced into rings
  • ½ green onion, sliced diagonally
  • 3½ cups dashima (seaweed) stock or chicken stock
  • 4 oz doenjang (miso)
  • crushed garlic, to taste (i.e. lots)
  1. Defrost greens, squeeze, and drain thoroughly.  Cut into 2" pieces.
  2. Bring stock to a boil.  Reduce heat, add greens and cook 3-4 minutes.
  3. Dissolve doenjang in stock, add garlic, and return to boil.
  4. Stir in peppers and green onion, remove from heat, and serve.
We have an excellent automatic rice cooker, all you need to do is put in washed rice and press the button. We added a few tablespoons of black rice which makes the whole pot a pretty purple color once cooked.

Our kimchi we did make ourselves, although somewhat nontraditionally using a recipe for Pickled Kimchi from the Complete Book of Picking. Real kimchi is not pickled, but if you've ever kept kimchi for an extended period of time in your regular refrigerator, you will appreciate the utility of being able to keep it vacuum-sealed in the pantry until needed! On the other hand, if you do purchase your kimchi, avoid the commercially jarred stuff; I have yet to find any brand that is very good. Hopefully your market will have house-made kimchi with the prepared food, and this will be much better and more authentic in taste.

Anyway, the kimchi was already done and in the pantry, so the only other things we had to cook were the bracken and the eggs. A fried egg is basically a fried egg anywhere (also makes a good dinner side dish and tasty hamburger topping). The salad could be any simple dressed vegetable—spinach, sprouts, whatever—but we had the bracken left over from something else so we used that.

Bracken Salad
  • 7 oz gosari (bracken), packaged/precooked type
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tsp crushed garlic
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp minced green onion
  • 2 tsp cheongju (mirin)
  • 2 tsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp ground sesame seeds
  1. Rinse and drain bracken.
  2. Heat sesame oil in a large pan, add garlic and bracken, stir-fry until heated through.
  3. Add soy sauce, green onion, cheongju, and vinegar, continue cooking until sauce is thickened.
  4. Top with sesame seeds and serve warm or chilled.
Finally, we did make one concession to modern Korean prepackaged junk-foodiness with a bottle of Morning Rice, a sweetened rice milk drink. You can buy dozens of different energy/meal-replacement/probiotic/vitamin/diet/etc/etc drinks at any cornershop; most of them are kind of vile, but Morning Rice is pretty inoffensive (actually I think Whit really liked it) and it says "Morning" right on the bottle!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

South Africa - Maize Porridge with Fruit Compote

South Africa is a very diverse country, and it cuisine reflects this. In addition to the numerous tribes that go back to the origins of humans, one also finds the influence of Dutch colonists, exiled French Huguenots, the British, Indians, and Malaysians. (I was unaware of the Malaysian influence prior to doing this research. They were brought as slave labor by the Dutch in the 17th century and have maintained a distinct tradition.)
Reflecting this diversity we had a large number of distinct options. The option we found first and most often is basically the full English breakfast with a regional sausage called Boerevors. Since we had recently had a full English breakfast we decided to do a little more exploring.
This sent us on a quest to find some good cookbooks. The first book were found was South African Indigenous Foods, which is a collection of recipes collected from across the country to help people make better use of local food resources. It is not very descriptive in terms of background or uses because it is written for natives. It is probably the most rawly authentic cookbook we have found so far in our project.
The books that provided our background were Rainbow Cuisine and A Taste of South Africa. A Taste of South Africa was very authentic calling for ostrich, sorghum, and springbok (a species of gazelle). Rainbow Cuisine provided the most detailed over view of breakfast and the recipes we used.
Given the broad diversity, it was difficult to find a definitively South African breakfast. We decided to sample from both the African and European influences in the cuisine, and chose to make a dried fruit compote and a maize-meal porridge.

Compote of Dried Fruit
  • 250 ml fresh squeezed orange juice, about 4 navel oranges
  • 125 g of dried fruit
  • juice and zest of ¼ lemon
  • ¾ tsp brown sugar
  • ½ cinnamon stick
  • 1 whole clove
  1. Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan.
  2. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and leave it alone for several hours while the fruit absorbs the juice.
  4. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve (keeps up to 5 days).

Maize Porridge
The maize meal used in South Africa is a white meal, and the easiest equivalent found is hominy grits.
  • 375 ml water
  • 125 ml hominy grits
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tbsp butter
  1. Mix grits, 125 ml water, and salt.
  2. Boil the rest of the water.
  3. Gradually stir in the grits-water mixture.
  4. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. Mix in the butter.
  6. Serve with milk and honey.
Results and Discussion
This breakfast was simple and nice. The fruit compote is nicely sweet and smooth. It provided a nice counter point to the texture of the warm grits. It felt a bit more like a weekday breakfast than a weekend breakfast but it was very nice and it reflected more of an African influence than European.
We will be away next week but we will provide a history of the Schlesinger Library which frequently provides cookbooks for our more obscure countries.