Monday, May 30, 2011

Australia - Vegemite plus some Other Stuff

Australian breakfast is pretty similar to English and American breakfast, which makes sense given cultural background. I emailed several friends who were Australian and a cousin who had lived there, and they confirmed this as well.
I looked for books online to supplement my research, and I found lots of books on Australian food, including one specifically dedicated to breakfast. Thanks to the World Catalog website I was able locate many of these books. They were all in Australia.
The basic menu is going to be the sausage we made a couple of weeks ago. In addition to that we are going to have fried mushrooms, tomatoes, poached eggs, and toast. On the toast we will have the ingredient that will mark is as Australian: Vegemite. Vegemite is a dark brown spread made from yeast extract left over from brewing beer.
My first experience with vegemite/marmite was in New Zealand. My sister told me it was really good and to pile it up my toast. I had no idea what it would taste like and it was really strong and I spit the toast out. I have been a little wary of the stuff ever since. Kitty's first experience was on a train with some Australians while touring in Asia. They told her to take a bite with the secret expectation she would find it gross. She liked it, to the great disappointment of her traveling companions. (Nothing grosses you out after sannakji. –Kitty)
The beverages are juice and coffee or tea. A drink called the flat white is a local variation on cafe latte that uses the microfoamed milk. Some people claim it is not any different from cafe latte and others that it was created in New Zealand. In any case, it was very hot the morning we had this breakfast and we decided to go for the juice.

Breakfast Fry
Like the English breakfast, grease management will be important here. We are fortunate to have a jar of bacon fat leftover from making homemade bacon. I will show how to cure bacon at a future date, but rest assured it is both awesome and easy.
  • Bacon grease
  • Sausage
  • Mushrooms
  • Tomatoes
  1. Heat a flat bottomed pan over medium low heat and add enough fat to thinly cover the bottom.
  2. Add the sausages to the middle of the pan.
  3. Add the mushrooms around the sausage.
  4. Let the mushrooms brown by letting them sit still and occasionally checking their color. Flip side when they have sufficiently browned.
  5. Turn the sausages regularly to brown all sides and let them cook evenly.
  6. When the mushrooms are done remove them from the pan.
  7. Remove the sausages, cut them lengthwise, and cook the inside part face-down in the pan. This gives them a nice color and looks good in presentation.
  8. Cut the tomato in half, remove the core and fry the halved cut-side-down in the greased pan. Add more grease to the pan if necessary.

Poached Eggs
  • Eggs
  • Salt
  • Silicone egg poacher (optional)
  1. Bring water to a boil in a pan large enough for the poachers to float freely.
  2. Crack each egg into an individual poacher, if using.
  3. Place the eggs/poachers into the boiling water, cover, and simmer for 7 minutes.
  4. Remove from molds and season with salt, pepper, and dill

Toast with Vegemite
  1. Spread a layer of soft butter onto your toast.
  2. Spread a thin layer of Vegemite over the butter.

Results and Discussion
The sausage was excellent. The the sage and ginger give it a light taste which is a great contrast to the dense sausage texture. The mushrooms and tomatoes came out really well. The bacon grease did a great job browning the mushrooms and cooking the tomatoes.
I found the Vegemite much more palatable this time. The major change is that there was much less of it. Vegemite has a very strong taste and is quite salty. I was trying to think of a taste to compare it to and I could not think of anything. Kitty pointed out that is probably closest to miso and I agree with her. The butter mellows the Vegemite a bit and rounds out the flavor. I am less scared of Vegemite now that I have had it in proper proportions.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sri Lanka - Idappan, Pol Sambol, and Kiri Hodi

Sri Lanka is located off the southeast coast of India and as a result its food is frequently misclassified as a subset of Indian Cuisine. I found a great resource for the cuisine, recipes, and history of the island in The Food of Sri Lanka. Rice and curries are foundations of the diet, with fish and chicken as the predominant proteins. Sinhalese (low country) and Kandy Sinhalese (upcountry) are the two major categories. Sinhalese uses more seafood and most meals are rice and curry. The regional “black” curry is made by roasting the spices to a brown color before cooking them. Kandian cuisine uses ingredients such as jackfruit, breadfruit, and turmeric flowers. They also tend to eat more deer and wild birds.
The Portuguese came looking for spices in order to bypass the Arab monopoly. They were displaced by the Dutch who eventually gave way to the English. Sri Lankans incorporated and changed many of aspects of those cuisines.
Information on breakfast quickly lead us to two types of hoppers (appa). Appa are three dimensional crepes made with a rice flour batter. The batter is poured into a specialized pan with a rounded bottom and steep sides similar to a very small wok. The result is nest shaped pancake and perfect for fillings. Eggs are frequently cook in the bottom and the end product looks quite cool. Appa pans are very specialized and we could not find a good substitute. We decided to move onto string hoppers (idappan).
Idappan are noodles made from rice flour dough, forced through a vermicelli press. The noodles are steamed on special trays (hopper mats) and served with a variety of toppings. Our first attempt involved a spaghetti pasta cutter. This worked very poorly, and cleaning the rice dough from the machine was annoying. We then tried a cookie press with a Christmas tree attachment that worked pretty well and the effect was probably similar to that of a traditional press. Before you attempt these at home you will need a similar device. We used parchment paper to substitute for the specialized stand. The amount of water to use while making the dough varies greatly from recipe to recipe. The important thing is to get a non-sticky, malleable dough in the end.
Toppings for idappan are pol sambol and kiri hodi. Sambol are fragrant side dishes made of a basic ingredient and then spiced up. Pol sambol is made with coconuts, lime, and dried chili. Kiri hodi is made of chicken stock, coconut milk, and a lot of spices, including “Maldive fish” which is dried, leathery tuna. It is not quite bento flakes and most internet resources say to substitute dried prawns.
This week's novel ingredients are fenugreek and curry leaves. Fenugreek is a legume that grows well in semi-arid environments, it is used as a spice. Curry leaves are a fundamental spices to South Asian cuisine. The plant is in the same family as oranges and lemons. The fresh leaves have a strong peppery smell and are used predominantly for their aromatic qualities.

Kiri Hodi
  • 1 tbsp fenugreek seeds
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 sprigs of curry leaves
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 inch cinnamon stick
  • 4 cardamom pods, crushed
  • 2 green chile, deseeded and sliced thin
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 tsp powdered Maldive fish
  • 2 cups coconut milk
  • lemon juice and salt to taste
  1. Soak fenugreek in chicken stock 30 minutes.
  2. Add all the rest of the ingredients except the coconut milk and lemon juice.
  3. Bring to a boil and simmer until the onions are soft.
  4. Add the coconut milk and simmer for 5 minutes.
  5. Add lemon juice and salt to taste.

Pol Sambol
  • 1 tsp chopped dried chili
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped onion.
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp Maldive fish (optional)
  • 2 cups grated coconut
  • 3 tbsp lime juice
  • Salt to taste
  1. Grind together chili, onion, pepper, and Maldive fish.
  2. Add coconut, lime juice and mix well.
  3. It is recommended that this be made fresh.

Idappan (indi appa)
  • 3 cups (500g) rice floor
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • boiling water
  1. Toast the rice flour in a very low oven or sauce pan.
  2. Sieve it into a bowl.
  3. Add salt and slowly mix in just enough hot water to make a soft dough that is not sticky.
  4. Add the dough into your pressing device and press the dough out onto the parchment paper.
  5. Steam the noodles for 10 minutes.
  6. Serve hot with pol sambol and kiri hodi.

Results and Discussion
This breakfast required the most specialized equipment so far and we did a good job improvising. The cookie press was not ideal for pressing out the dough as the grip was poor. I would not do this again without a more mechanized device. The recipe also makes a lot of dough and I would make less in the future. Since you are making the dough to a consistency, it can be easily reduced.
The pol sambol has simple, classic flavors. The lime and coconut go great together, and the heat from the chilis is a nice addition. The texture of the coconut flakes is an interesting contrast when eaten with the soft noodle.
Kiri hodi smells great as you cook it. The dried prawns do have a slightly fishy smell, but they don't overpower the other ingredients. It is a great blend of spices and gives the noodles lots of flavor. We found ourselves with lots of leftover broth, which we later cooked some rice in and got something almost like biryani-risotto, very tasty.
I do want to find a pan that will let me cook appa; they look really cool and I still want to make them.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mozambique - Maguinha

Mozambique is located on the southeast coast of Africa. It was colonized by the Portuguese in the early 1500s, and did not gain independence until 1975. The economy is mostly agrarian, and Mozambique is one of the poorest nations in Africa. Portuguese colonization left a deep impact on the cuisine including the introduction of many new world grains.
The initial search for information gave very vague results. The best I could find was a sweet bread or fish/egg sandwiches. Attempts to find books on the cuisine gave no results. Kitty had the idea to start looking for information in Portuguese. Kitty found some blogs in Portuguese that talk about cassava porridge, and she found a cookbook, Hoje Temos, which we actually found in a local library. (Thanks, Google Translate! –Kitty)
The cassava porridge is called maguinha and is served with milk and brown sugar.

  • 125g cassava flour.
  • ½ liter boiling water in a kettle
  1. Add ½ cup of boiling water to a small sauce pan.
  2. Stir in half the cassava flour.
  3. Add more water as needed.
  4. Add the remaining cassava flour and add more water if needed. You want a very think consistency.
  5. Serve in a bowl with some milk and brown sugar.

Results and Discussion
This breakfast was very functional. It gives you calories to get through the day. The cassava has a solid consistency and slightly jelly like texture. The cassava alone is pretty bland by itself, so the sugar and milk give the dish its taste.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Syria - Ca'ak and String Cheese

Syria's strategic location in the Middle East made it a prime annexation target for numerous empires. In recent times this has been part of the Ottoman Empire, and then under French control until its independence after World War II. Syria is a predominantly Muslim country.
Wikipedia's article on Syrian cuisine simply notes that appetizers are eaten for breakfast, leaving a wide variety of options. A Taste of Syria focused our choices with a chapter on breakfast and by specializing on the cuisine of Aleppo, a city in the northwest of Syria near the Turkish border. The authors provide several menus. One option is sliced cucumber, lebaneh dip, cheese, olives and pita. Lebaneh is a yogurt mixed with dried mint and garnished with olive oil. Another menu is mamuneh'ya with cheese and pita. Mamuneh'ya is semolina porridge flavored with cinnamon. We chose to go with ca'ak served with Syrian cheese, fig jam, and honeydew melon. Ah'weh turkieh is Turkish coffee heavily sweetened with sugar.
The exotic ingredients for this meal are mahlab and semolina. Mahlab are black cherry pits. Semolina is the particles of wheat bran from durum wheat. It is also the only tetraploid wheat variety that is in broad use.
Syrian cheese is a string cheese is flavored with mahlab and caraway seeds. The cheese is made using goat or sheep's milk. It is often labeled "Armenian string cheese" in markets. It can be made at home but only in large quantities, so we bought it. The Armenian store we went to in Watertown was closed on Sunday, but fortunately we had the halal Al-Hoda Market near our house for the cheese and semolina.

We reduced our recipe by 1/3 and got about 18 pieces. The full recipe is given below and the book estimates a yield of around 8 dozen.
  • 1 packet yeast
  • 1¼ cups warm water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 cups semolina
  • 3 sticks salted butter (4 oz each)
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp mahlab (powdered)
  • 1 tbsp anise
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds
  • ½ tbsp black caraway seeds (kalonji)
  1. Mix yeast, warm water, and sugar. Set the mixture aside.
  2. Put the remaining ingredients into a large bowl and mix.
  3. Add the yeast mixture and mix well.
  4. Cover the bowl with a cloth and keep in a warm place for 1 hour.
  5. Preheat the over to 350°F.
  6. Roll the dough into balls 1¼ inches in diameter. Start with 15 pieces and leave the rest of the dough covered to prevent drying.
  7. Roll the ball into a finger shape four inches long.
  8. Bring the ends together so they overlap and pinch them together.
  9. Places them ½ inch apart on a cookie sheet.
  10. Cook for 40 minutes until they are golden brown.
  11. When the cookies are done turn off the oven and leave the cookies in it for an hour to crisp.

We still do not have an apparatus for making Turkish coffee. We approximated it by brewing espresso and putting 2 teaspoons of sugar at the bottom of the cup. Pour the espresso over the sugar but do not stir it in.

Results and Discussion
The smell of the baking ca'ak is amazing. It was an act of will to let them finish cooking. The final cookie is very crisp and can be crumbly. The cherry flavor from the mahlab is not very noticeable when the ca'ak are warm but they develop the next day when they cool. Ca'ak are savory and the fig jelly complements them nicely. The fennel and anise hit your palate a little after the other flavors, similar to the cumin cookies we had for Nepal.
The mahlab was a nice surprise. The whole cherry pits have absolutely no smell, but when you grind them they have a pure clean cherry smell. I have a lot of it leftover seeds and I look forward to experimenting with it as a flavoring agent in ice cream.
The Syrian cheese is a string cheese flavored with kalonji and mahlab. Eating string cheese was a lot of fun and eating really long string cheese is even better. The cheese also peeled into much thinner strings than American string cheese. It goes especially well with the olives.
The coffee was very strong and very sweet. The book warned that most Americans would find the amount of sugar Syrians put into their coffee much too strong. The authors were right. Each sip was a shock to my rather delicate system. (Yeah, I knew what was up and skipped the sugar altogether. Both or none, IMO. –Kitty)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Romania - Mamaliga and Goat's Milk

Romanian cuisine is typical of eastern Europe with notable outside influences from the Ottoman empire. I quickly found a report on the subject of Romanian breakfast online from an environmental sustainability program in the European Union. The first breakfast mentioned is mamaliga as it is eaten by a character in Bram Stoker's Dracula on his way to be the Count's breakfast. Mamaliga is Romanian polenta. Balmos is mamaliga made with sheep's milk. Another interesting dish is called slanina. It is made of pork fat from the back or belly. The fat is sliced and pickled in salt liquor with garlic for 2-3 weeks. The fat is then smoked for 2-3 days. I am unable to to smoke for several days and I was unable to determine what salt liquor is.
I really wanted to make balmos, so I tried to get some sheep's milk. I was able to locate a Greek grocery store that makes its own sheep's milk yogurt. Unfortunately they are not allowed to sell me the raw milk and getting to New Hampshire for fresh milk was not viable. This left us with mamaliga.

Mamaliga is a staple in Romania so a wide variety of recipes exist. The two basic forms for breakfast can be broken into the categories porridge and cornbread. The cornbread variety comes in two basic forms. The first variety involves cooking the cornmeal mixture on the stove and then transferring it to a baking dish for baking. The second option involves cooking it longer on the stove and then turning the cornmeal out onto a cutting board and slice it using string. The porridge variety is made using various ratios of milk and water. Our source gave a porridge recipe so we are going with a porridge.
The mamaliga is served with farmer's cheese, lightly fried onion, sliced tomatoes, and fried eggs. Goat's milk is the beverage of choice so I get some variety of exotic milk.

Mamaliga cu lapte
  • 1 qt water
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups cornmeal
  1. Boil water and salt in a pot of water.
  2. Whisk in the cornmeal and mix thoroughly.
  3. Simmer for 10-15 minutes.
  4. Serve with sides mentioned above.
Results and Discussion
Mamaliga is pretty much polenta. The texture was not as porridge-like as I thought it would be. Less cornmeal is probably the solution to this. It was a little salty, but not too salty when served with other toppings; it is a nice base for the other flavors. The cheese was especially good because of the contrast of temperature and texture.
The goat's milk was very tasty. It has a subtle creaminess that is a bit richer than whole milk. (Meh. Tastes like milk, except milkier. Not a fan. –Kitty) I now need to find a use for the rest of it; I plan on making pancakes with some of it and probably just drinking the rest.