Friday, December 24, 2010

Algeria - Chakchouka

I was only able to find two dishes in my search for Algerian breakfast. The first meal I found was makrout, which is a fried cookie made with semolina flour and flavored with almonds or dates. This week was our first time taking the IBP on the road and we were unsure how our host was equipped deep frying, so we went in another direction. We settled on making chakchouka which consists of peppers and onions in a tomato sauce and then poaching eggs in the sauce. The chakchouka is then eaten with either a local flat bread or a baguette. The recipe we used was from a very comprehensive cookbook of vegetarian cuisine from the Mediterranean called Mediterranean Harvest. It has over 500 recipes and seems pretty well written from what I have read of it. We went with a purchased baguette for simplicity, and we substituted poblano peppers for the recommended anaheims because we could not find them.

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced thin
  • 2 green peppers, sliced
  • 2 red peppers, sliced
  • 2 poblano peppers, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp of harissa (we used more)
  • 1 tsp tabil (recipe follows)
  • 1 (28oz) can diced tomatoes, drained
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley (optional)
  • 4 eggs
  1. Heat oil in pan and add the onions.  Cook until golden, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the peppers and cook until they are soft, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant (just a few seconds), then stir in harissa, tabil, and salt & pepper to taste.
  4. Add the tomatoes and cook until thickened.
  5. Add most of the parsley, reserving some to add with the eggs.
  6. Use a spoon a make 4 depressions into sauce, and crack an egg into each depression.  Cover the pan with a lid or tin foil if a lid is not available.
  7. The eggs will poach in about 5 to 6 minutes and they should still have runny yolks.
  8. Flavor the eggs with harisa, tabil, parsley, and salt & pepper to taste.
  9. Eat with baguette or flatbread.
  • 4 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tbsp caraway seeds
  • 2 tsp garlic salt
  • 2 tsp cayenne pepper
  1. Grind whole seeds using a spice mill.
  2. Mix this with the garlic salt and cayenne pepper and keep in a jar. (It makes enough to fit in an average spice jar.)
Results and Discussion
This meal was a big success. It comes out as a very flavorful and spicy tomato sauce with eggs in it. I added a couple more teaspoons of harissa to make it spicier and this was really nice. The baguette soaks up the juices really well and quickly takes on the chakchouka flavor. The cookbook mentions making the sauce a day or so before hand and adding the eggs before serving to let flavor mingle. I will use this as a pasta sauce in the future.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Poland - Cold Cuts, Cheese, and Borscht

Looking for information on Polish breakfast one quickly finds it is pretty low-key and does not involve much cooking. I found a few sites mentioning little breakfast cakes, and one reference to cottage cheese pancakes. The vast majority of information said bread with cold cuts or sausage along with a farmer's cheese called twaróg. I decided to use a native resource and asked a Polish friend at work. Piotr confirmed what I read online and recommended lean ham (szynka) and Hungarian salami (węgierska salami) for the cold cuts. For bread he told me to get rye bread with a thick crust. He also recommended a spread called smalec which is rendered bacon fat with bacon in it. He also said we would probably not be able to find it.
Since all of the components of this breakfast need to be store-bought, we took the subway to the Baltic European Deli in Dorchester. We were able to get everything we needed including the smalec, which came in a pint-sized tub.
On the morning of the breakfast Piotr brought over some instant packets of barszcz (borscht), which is drunk at breakfast during the Christmas season.

Results and Discussion
This breakfast was a great success and comes together quickly once the water has boiled. The smalec spreads very smoothly and the bacon gives it a very nice flavor. The cold cut on top gives the bread a bit more substance. The twarog was a nice smooth texture but is a little bland on its own. When combined with the saltiness of the ham and salami it becomes much better, though this is not strictly traditional.
The barszcz had a deep savory flavor and tasted pretty good for an instant version of the soup. I would to try and make a proper version some time because it would nice to have a cup after coming in from the cold.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Kenya - Maandazi and Chai

Like most East African countries, Kenya's cuisine is a product of migrating tribes, exchange with Arab nations via the spice trade, and European colonial powers. English rule brought the influence of Indian servants.
Kenyan breakfast has several major staples. The first is ugali, which we made for Tanzania (and, according to our new cookbook, is meant to be bland and take on the flavor of accompanying dishes). Another option was uji, which is a porridge made from millet. We decided to go with maandazi which is fried dough flavored with cardamom and cinnamon. They are usually accompanied by the local version of chai.
Our book for this breakfast was Foods of Kenya from the series A Taste of Culture. It is a very thin book, written for schoolchildren. It gives a succinct overview of the cuisine framed in terms of major ingredients and when they are eaten. This book does not have a lot of recipes but it includes the cultural and contextual uses of the foods in more detail. We will probably consider using children's cookbooks again in the future based on the usefulness of this little book.

Maandazi (24 pieces)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 cardamom seed pods, shelled and ground
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 beaten egg
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 tbsp melted butter
  • oil
  1. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, cardamom, and salt.
  2. Mix egg, milk, and butter in a separate bowl.
  3. Slowly add the wet ingredients to the flour while mixing.
  4. Knead the dough until it is smooth. Slowly add more flour if the dough is too sticky.
  5. Cover the dough in a bowl and let it rest for 30 minutes.
  6. Roll the dough out on a floured surface until it is at most ½ inch thick.
  7. Cut the dough into small triangles or squares as you desire.
  8. Heat the oil in a medium pan on medium.
  9. When the oil is hot add the dough and fry until it is golden. Then flip and cook the other side.
  10. Place of a paper towel lined plate to drain.

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups milk
  • 4 tsp black tea
  • 8 tsp sugar or to taste
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 2 cardamom pods
  1. Bring the water to a boil, then stir in remaining ingredients.
  2. Reduce heat to medium, and return mixture to the boil.
  3. Turn off heat and let steep to desired strength.  Strain before serving.

Results and Discussion
These were really good doughnuts—a nice crispy outside with a moist inside. The cardamom was a really good flavor. It was subtle but it added to the taste and aroma. Dipping them into the chai lets you increase the sweetness as desired.
One problem we encountered was an occasionally uncooked middle. I think this problem came from the dough being too thick. In the future I would treat the ½ inch thickness as an upper limit and go with ¼ inch in the future. Rolling the dough thinner would also give a larger yield. I think I cut the piece too large as I got only half of the anticipated 24 pastries.
The book recommends eating them hot, and as a fan of Krispy Kreme I cannot argue with this approach to the doughnut family, but these are just as tasty cold and would make a great dessert.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Spain - Magdalenas

Spain is known for its highly regional cuisine, and many books have been written extolling the virtues and depth of this regional specificity. A quick internet search finds that the Spanish have very small breakfasts usually consisting of some bread and coffee. While the idea of bread and coffee is constant, the form of bread is varied. I was able to find three common types. Churros are fried dough sprinkled with sugar. They required deep frying, so we decided to look for other options. Torrijas is a bread pudding flavored with sugar and cinnamon, but we were unable to track down a recipe in a cookbook. Sobao is a muffin eaten in the north of Spain that was recommended to us by a lovely Spanish couple we met on Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, we were also unable to find a recipe. In the end we decided on another form of muffins called magdalenas. We found a recipe in The New Spanish Table which the author attributes to a master baker named Xavier Canal in Barcelona. We served the magdalenas with with cafe con leche.

Orange and Pistachio Magdalenas
  • 1 cup cake flour
    (¾ cup + 2 tbsp all purpose flour + 2 tbsp cornstarch)
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • pinch of salt
  • ¾ tbsp baking soda
  • 3 eggs at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cup confectionery sugar
  • 1/3 cup whipping cream
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • ½ cup light olive oil
  • 1/3 cup lightly toasted pistachios
  • 1 tbsp orange zest
  • butter, at room temperature (for greasing the tin)
  1. Mix flours, salt, and baking soda and set aside.
  2. Beat eggs with an electric mixer until they are fluffy, about one minute.
  3. Add the confectionery sugar and beat the mixture at high speeds until the mixture is yellow and the volume has tripled, about 5 minutes.
  4. Mix olive oil, orange juice, and cream.
  5. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture followed by 1/3 of the oil mixture.  Repeat until they are depleted.
  6. Stir in the orange zest and pistachios.
  7. Cover the mixture and let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  8. Meanwhile grease the mini-muffin tins with butter and preheat the oven to 375°F.
  9. Fill the muffin tins almost to the brim.
  10. Bake in the center rack for 20 to 23 minutes switching their positions after 10 minutes.  Pay very close attention to them towards the end as they can dry out quickly.
  11. Let them cool for 15 to 20 minutes and then sprinkle with confectionery sugar.

Results and Discussion
This breakfast was easy and tasty. Most of the time was spent waiting for baking and cooling. The magdalenas have a nice crispy exterior and a moist cakey interior. The pistachios and orange flavoring add a great flavor profile and makes them taste very refreshing. These would make a part of a larger breakfast as muffins.
I also understand why the Spanish have a large lunch.  We spent the day out Christmas shopping and both got really hungry around 3 o'clock. Carbs and coffee only go so far when you spend all day walking.