Sunday, February 27, 2011

Afghanistan - Roht, Yogurt, Apricots, and Pistachios

As is typical of old countries with steep terrain, Afghanistan has a wide number of ethnic groups. Its history of being along the silk road has brought in many outside spices and influences in the urban centers. Afghan breakfast, though, is very simple: roht (bread), apricots, pistachios, and yogurt. It is accompanied with tea flavored with cardamon. Roht is a sweet flat bread made chapati flour sprinkled with sesame and kalonji seeds. Kalonji is a seed from a south Asian flower. It is in the same family as buttercups, and is also called black onion seed or black cumin seed. It is not closely related to onion or cumin. We got out roht recipe from Afghan Food and Cookery.

  • 8 oz chapati flour
  • 2 oz sugar
  • 2 tsp yogurt
  • 2 fl oz milk
  • 2 oz butter
  • 2½ g dry active yeast
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • sesame seeds
  • kalonji seeds
  • 1 egg, beaten
  1. Melt the butter.
  2. Mix the flour, sugar, yogurt, milk, butter, yeast, and baking powder in a bowl.
  3. Mix in half the egg. Reserve the rest for glazing the bread for baking.
  4. Knead the mixture until you get a doughy consistency. Add more flour to prevent sticking.
  5. Let the dough rise for 1 hour in a warm place.
  6. Preheat the oven to 500°F.
  7. Roll the dough into a loaf shape 1-2 cm thick.
  8. Brush the dough with the remaining egg and sprinkle with seeds.
  9. Place the dough on a lightly oiled baking sheet.
  10. Bake for 5 minutes at 500°F to brown the bread.
  11. Reduce oven to 250°F and bake until it is done, about 10-15 minutes.
Eat with the yogurt, lightly chopped pistachios, and apricots.

Results and Discussion
Preparation was very simple and quick other than the bread. The roht has a crumbly, cakey quality with a slightly sweet taste. I think our yeast might have been dead as the bread did not rise as much as we expected. I think it would be fluffier and more cakelike if the rise had worked as planned. Still, it was very tasty. It could easily be served as a light desert or a snack at a coffee shop.
We used straned yogurt (often labeled Greek yogurt), which is thick, creamy and not as sour as the lebna. It serves as a nice base for the sweetness of the apricots and the salt of the pistachios.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Nepal - Daal Bhaat

Nepal is predominantly an agricultural society, so naturally food is at the center of the culture. Given its ancients roots and intense topography, it is also unsurprising that Nepal has 36 ethnic groups and many languages. The character of the cuisine is simple but made flavorful with spices.

For the cultural and menu information we found an interesting book called Enjoy Nepalese Cuisine. Its purpose is to give people an overview of food in Nepal for people who want to know about it but not cook it. The author does this while referring you to her separate recipe book.

What qualifies as breakfast is interesting in Nepal. Being an agrarian society, the Nepalese tend to be early risers. The breakfast is hot sweet tea and some biscuits. Lunch is eaten at 8AM, when westerners normally eat breakfast. We decided to do both meals. The second meal consists of daal, bhaat and tarkari. Daal is a gravy made from split beans, bhaat is rice, and tarkari is green vegetables served with achaars or chutneys. Achaars are pickled food while chutneys are fresh.

As might be expected for such a diverse culture, all of these components come in a wide variety. We used the cookbook Taste of Nepal, which contained entire chapters dedicated to each dish. There was no particular guidance on which were preferred for breakfast, so we selected the dishes that most interested us. For the daal we chose to use black urad beans, with simple steamed rice for the bhaat, and a tarkari of stir-fried cabbage. We made a radish achaar the night before so it could marinate, but you can also make it the day of. We also ordered some samples of Nepal-grown tea from Upton Tea Imports.

This meal used three spices that might be unfamiliar to our readers. The first spice is asafetida, also called devil's dung, which has a potent unpleasant smell when first encountered. I would not use it for cooking if I ran across it randomly. It is made from the resin of a root in the carrot family. Second is timur, also known as Sichuan pepper, which is not actually pepper at all, though it resembles it. We used this once before, in the Japanese breakfast. The other new ingredient is an herb called jimbu, which is related to onions and leeks. We were able to purchase it at Bombay Market along with cumin-flavored bicuits for the first breakfast.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Saudi Arabia - Egg Kebab & Small Plates with Bread

Tracking down information and recipes on Saudi Arabia was unexpectedly involved. Finding information on the actual menu was pretty easy, thanks to AmericanBedu, where we learned that breakfast consists of many little dishes eaten with bread.  They gave several good examples, but finding recipes for the dishes involved a trip through many books. Cookbooks dedicated to Saudi Arabia seem to be nonexistent; most of the emphasis is on Arab cuisine as a whole. Many of the books I encountered leaned toward Lebanon, but using several sources we were able to piece it together. We finally used three cookbooks to make the meal: Arabian Delights, The Arab Table, and the Arab World Cookbook.
One problem with the many-small-plates concept is that there are usually only two of us for breakfast, and it's very easy to end up with much too much food. In addition to the dishes we chose, our research suggested things like ful and chickpea dishes, honey and fruit preserves, which we decided to omit in order to have a reasonable quantity for two diners.
For our meal we prepared apricots in syrup, as a compromise of honey and fruit preserves, and we made egg kebab, fried hard-boiled eggs with cinnamon and white pepper.  To accompany these we had olives from the pantry, and purchased some lebna (yogurt cheese), bread, and halwa.  The halwa is a sweet eaten in many places throughout the Middle East and South Asia. Today we had halwa made from sesame seeds, but it is pretty much the same idea as the soojir (semolina) halwa we made for Bangladesh.
We had intended to make the bread ourselves, but finding a recipe turned out to be impossible. A flat bread called fatir seemed really good, but the only recipe we could find called for using frozen white bread dough. The reason they gave for this was the inability to find barley wheat in the states(??). What made this recipe even more frustrating was that it has been copied verbatim all over the Internet. As we read further we learned that a wide variety breads are served, so we decided to just pick a bread when we went shopping.
We shopped at Sevan Bakery, actually an Armenian grocery, but they had fresh bread and most of the other materials we needed. We expect to be visiting them often as we continue in the Middle East.
Our assumption going into this breakfast was that we would be drinking coffee, since coffee was discovered around Mecca. It turns out that coffee is not a breakfast drink and Saudis prefer tea instead, which is drunk from glasses.

Dried Apricots in Clove Syrup (Qamr din helw bil qurunfil)
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 1 strip of lemon peel
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 11 oz dried apricots
  • 1 tsp whole cloves, in a spice bag
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  1. Mix sugar, ½ cup water, lemon peel, and lemon juice in a sauce pan.
  2. Dissolve sugar over medium heat.
  3. Add apricots, cloves, and cinnamon stick.
  4. Simmer the syrup for 5 minutes, or until apricots are plumped, and remove it from the heat.
  5. Let the mixture cool, remove cinnamon stick and cloves, and then transfer into a storage container.
Egg Kebab (Aijet Beythat)
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ¾ tsp paprika
  • ¾ tsp white pepper
  • ¾ tsp cinnamon
  • 8 hard boiled eggs
  • 4 tbsp butter
  1. Mix the spices and set aside
  2. Peel the hard boiled eggs.
  3. Prick each egg a couple of times to release heat when frying.
  4. Melt the butter in a frying pan over low heat.
  5. Add the eggs and brown them on all sides.
  6. When the eggs are browned, dust them with the spices and serve.
To serve everything, we put the bread out on a platter with the various small plates on the side. The bread is eaten with the lebna which can then be topped with olive oil, olives, the eggs, or the apricots. The halwa is pretty much perfect all by itself.

Results and Discussion
This was a very nice and filling breakfast. It had a lot of parts, which can seem overwhelming, but in reality it was pretty simple. We chose to make the syrup and boil the eggs the night before to have them ready, which left only a little bit of preparation for the morning. The only tricky cooking was of the eggs, which presented a novel challenge: trying to evenly brown an egg-shaped object on a flat frying pan is pretty much impossible!
The spice mixture on the eggs tastes very familiar, with the salt and white pepper. The paprika reminds one of deviled eggs, but the cinnamon takes it in a really different direction. (I also realized a general problem that I have with hard boiled eggs: I typically eat them cold and I find the texture unpleasant. Heating the eggs improve the texture.)
The lebna is like a much smoother cream cheese, just a little more sour. It served as a lovely base for all of the other toppings.
Halwa is seriously amazing. The texture is very dense but crumbly. I would almost call it chalky but not in a dry way. The taste is a little hard to describe but it would go really well with chocolate. (Kitty says: it tastes like the center of a peanut butter cup, only sesame instead of peanut.) Learning how to make this is high on my priority list.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Peru - Chicharrones Sandwich with Salsa Criolla

The major influences on Peruvian cuisine are the Inca and the Spanish. Japanese and Chinese influence came later, a result of immigration in the 19th century. Potatoes are native to this region (1,000 varieties) and are a cornerstone of the cuisine. Quinoa is the other major starch contributed by this region. The Spanish conquest brought in European flora and fauna, greatly increasing the variety in the diet. The collapse of the Spanish Empire and Peru's independence resulted in an open immigration policy and growth in diversity in metropolitan areas. In addition to the ethnic diversity, Peru has a large quantity of regional variation.

Finding recipes Peruvian recipes was very easy. We found three fantastic books that provide great recipes and information. The Art of Peruvian Cuisine has great background reading and a wonderful section explaining and showing novel ingredients. Eat Smart in Peru is a compact guide to the cuisine with a balance of information and recipes. We ended up using The Exotic Kitchens of Peru because it had the recipes we needed.

None of the books mentioned breakfast directly, so I asked a Peruvian friend for her advice. She recommended a few dishes, and we settled on sandwiches of chicharrones served with salsa criolla. Chicharrones are fried pork, and salsa criolla contains hot peppers and aji amarillo chilies. We were unable to locate whole aji amarillos, but we found them as jarred paste which we could substitute. I was not able to find any specific information on the sandwich bread but photos I saw online had rolls with thick crusts. The drink for breakfast is coffee.

Chicharrones de Chancho (Crispy Pork Cubes)
  • 1 lb pork spare ribs, cut into 2 inch sections
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tsp oil
  1. Mix all ingredients except oil in a bowl and let marinate for 15 minutes.
  2. Heat oil in a skillet on low.
  3. Add the pork and fry at low temperatures for about 30 minutes.
  4. The pork is done then the meat is brown and crisp with all of the fat cooked off.
  5. Drain pieces over paper towels and serve as soon as possible.
Salsa Criolla
  • 2 cups red onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp chopped/paste aji amarillo, remove seeds if chopping.
  • 3-4 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp chopped cilantro
  1. Combine all ingredients by hand, or
  2. Pulse all ingredients in a food processor to make a coarse salsa.
  3. Serve immediately.
Results and Discussion
The red onions give the salsa a very sharp taste. The lime adds a sour flavor and the cilantro gives a nice accent. The heat and sweet flavor from the aji amarillo were subtle but nice. The peppers added less heat than I expected. The paste eaten raw packs real punch.
And fried pork is plain good. Pork fried to the point that the fat becomes really crispy and has that concentrated blast of salt is even better. In the future I might cook them at a slightly higher heat as some of the fat did not get as crispy as it could have been. We used pork spare ribs but pork roast was another option. I would use pork roast in the future since it was much easier to cut up. (OK, again, Kitty totally disagrees, rib meat is way better than pork roast for this.) Getting meat off the ribs was a little annoying. (Whatever.)