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What does Bangladesh even mean?! Bangladesh has gone by many names. Bangladesh, East Pakistan, more names that all essentially mean Land of the Bengals… ok that’s about it. I bet you know as much about this mysterious sub-continental realm as I, which is frankly not that much. Let us learn shall we?

Although one would assume the inhabitants would be called Bengali, this would only be partially correct. That term is specific to the ethnic group of Bengali descent in both this country as well as others such as neighboring India. The term to describe all citizens of the country is Bangladeshi, a slight but important difference. And there are a lot of Bangladeshi, ranking 8th in the world in country population. In 1947 when British rule on the region ended, the Bengal land was split along religious lines. The largely Hindu West Bengal became part of India and the more Muslim East Bengal became part of Pakistan. It would not be until 1971 that East Pakistan would gain independence.

 Prior to all of this, Bengal was one of the wealthiest parts of the sub-continent. Their strength dated back to ancient times when the region was known as Gangaridai (meaning wealth of the Ganges) by the Greeks. Taking advantage of the withdrawal of Alexander the Great’s Hellenic forces, the Maurya Empire was formed which ruled most of the Indian subcontinent. Their greatest ruler was of course Ashoka…the Great. Any relation to the Star Wars character Ahsoka Tano? Maybe. He is regarded as a caring and wise ruler, who referred to his subjects as his children.His carved capital image of four back to back lions is still the emblem of India today.

We should talk about the British I think, if only due to their enormous influence on the entire region. England was in control of the entire Indian region from 1858 to 1947. “But wait “, you say. “That is less than a century of rule, I thought they reigned longer?” You would be correct, as this period is referred to as “The Raj”, or “rule” in Hindi. The prior 101 years from 1757 to 1858 is known as “Company Rule”. And there is only one Company in the history of mankind which could pull off something like that, The British East India Company. Yes, the EIC ruled India longer than the actual British government. This began in 1757 with a victory at the Battle of Plassey against the last regional ruler of Bengal and his French allies from the French East India Company. Yes, the EIC had their own army, I didn’t really know that either. By 1778 the fighting force was 67,000 strong, bolstered largely by Indian troops, a majority of whom were Bangladeshi. This ultimately would lead to their undoing, as many of the soldiers (including the more formidable Bangladeshi) rebelled in 1857 which prompted the British government to take administrative control going forward. The EIC was dissolved and in 1876 Queen Victoria took the title of Empress of India. She regretted all the bloodshed and insisted on many things, including publicly guaranteeing religious freedom.

But what do they eat??? The cuisine mirrors that of a lot of other nearby locales. I am finding the most difficult part of this endeavor to be distinguishing between these similarities, but it is possible. As the main course I made my version of Chicken Khubani. “Khubani” is the Urdu word for apricot. In this adaptation prunes could be used as well, and I went with raisins as it was what I had on hand. The important element is the sweetness. The garlic, onion, and myriad of spices (including the once again important cardamom) provide a savory backdrop for the fruit to play against. The tomatoes are acidic by nature which once again is neutralized by the sweet. As a side dish I did a very simple recipe called Alu Posto (Potatoes with poppy seeds). The addition of as much green chili pepper as you are comfortable with provides a nice mild heat, while the turmeric turns them a vivid yellow. I just used some fresh jalapeno (seeds removed) from the local Worthington Farmer’s Market. I’ve had poppy seeds in my pantry since making Poppy filling for Rosh Hashanah hamantaschen several years ago so I was happy to find a new use. Overall the meal felt very…sub-continental…whatever that means.

 But can you imagine for a moment if Google or Macy’s or Starbucks had an army today like the East India Company? Picture a battalion of baristas, hacking their way through the Columbian rainforest to secure the coffee bean routes. Chilling stuff my friends.

Next we swim to Barbados, home of the bearded ones…Where I don’t fit in anymore!

 

  


Chicken khubani

3-4 servings

Ingredients:

16 oz CHICKEN BREAST, in large cubes

1 ONION, chopped

3 TOMATOES, peeled and cut

1.5 oz raisins

2 CLOVES GARLIC, chopped finely

PIECE OF GINGERROOT, grated (1 1/4 tsp powder)

1 CINNAMON STICK (1/2 tsp powder)

1/2 TSP PAPRIKA POWDER

4 CARDAMOM PODS, split open and use the seeds (4 tsp powder)

1 oz almonds chopped

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Directions:

– Fry the onion and garlic three minutes; add the chicken and fry until brown on all sides. Add all other ingredients except the almonds and add 1/4 cup of water, bring to the boil, put a lid on and simmer for 10 minutes. Take the lid off and boil on high heat until the sauce thickens. Take out the cinnamon stick (if used). Add the almonds.

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Alu posto

Ingredients:

8 POTATOES, peeled and diced

1 ONION, chopped

2 GREEN CHILLIES, chopped finely

1/2 TSP TURMERIC

2 TBSP POPPY SEEDS

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Directions:

– Fry the onion three minutes, add the potatoes and stir fry 3 minutes more. Add the rest of the ingredients and 1/2 cup of water, put a lid on and simmer for 15 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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image courtesy of http://www.flags.net

The only thing I know about Bahrain is that my college freshman roommate was from there. It is an island, and a very well educated and financially sound country. Apparently the name is derived from the dual form of the word for “sea”. Which two seas are meant by this is debated, but it underscores the influence the water has on the country. Their economy was the first in the region to be non-oil based, favoring tourism and financial institutions.

I have always been a fan of unique and occult artifacts. From the legends incorporated into the Indiana Jones films, Fantasy Novels, Comic Books, and even those based in history. The myths surrounding items of power and meaning simply fascinate me which is one reason for my love of history. The sacking of Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade, by the very crusaders who were allied with it, fascinated me when I studied it in college. It was such an odd singular event in history that was complex and stood alone…or so I thought.

Apparently during the pilgrimage season of 930, a dissident Muslim group, whose stronghold was in Bahrain, called the Qarmatians sacked Mecca. Unlike the holy city of Jerusalem, which was/has traded hands for millennia due to its vulnerable location, Mecca has been more safely ensconced in strongly Muslim held lands. That is why I was shocked to learn about its sacking, especially by a Muslim group.

That was interesting enough, but then I read that not only did they pillage and perform acts of desecration, but they stole the Black Stone and took it back to Bahrain. I know right?! The actually Black Stone. For those unfamiliar with Muslim relics (as I was before looking this up), I bet it sounds like we just took a detour into a universe of the Maltese Falcon, Ark of the Covenant, One Ring, Excalibur, or a magic lamp.

Although Black Stone sounds menacing and dangerous…I’m pretty sure it is just a stone. It is said that is was a pagan relic from pre-Islamic times and that Muhammad himself set it into the wall of the Kaaba (the building towards which Muslims pray, the most sacred place in Islam) in 605. After being stolen in 930, the Qarmatians placed it in their own mosque hoping to divert the hajj away from Mecca but it did not work. It was ransomed back twenty-three years later for a large sum of money, but was broken in the process of removal and return. The fragments are now set in silver and millions of pilgrims attempt to kiss it every year as they ritually circle the Kaaba seven times, though due to the enormous crowd this is nearly impossible. The end.

Ok, I thought it was a pretty good story actually, especially for one mostly likely without magic. But I did go to the trouble of cooking something, so we should probably get to that. I made Bahraini Chicken Machbūs which is a mixed rice dish. The base of the dish is basmati rice on top of which you lay the heavily seasoned seared/boiled/broiled chicken.

The main flavor punch comes from the surprisingly delicious combination of turmeric, cumin, and cardamom. I really loved everything about this dish, especially the sweetness of the onions and rice contrasted against the very savory chicken. The multiple cooking methods leave the chicken moist on the inside and crispy on the outside, while the rose water adds a very beautiful fragrant aroma to the rice. I am starting to learn the proper use of cardamom, an ingredient which, much like the Black Stone, needs a gentle touch, but can be a unique and powerful addition.

I know that was a weak analogy, give me a break I have a cat chewing on my sleeve and distracting me.

Next up is Bangladesh. Where we can walk like an Egyptian on a manic Monday while looking for an eternal flame…

 

  


Bahraini Chicken Machbus

3-4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups water
  • 12 oz basmati rice
  • 1 1/2 tomatoes, quartered
  • 1.5 lbs chicken
  • 1 1/2 onions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 green hot pepper, as desired
  • 3/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder
  • 1 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 slice gingerroot, cut into small pieces (or ground ginger)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/8 cup lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons rose water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

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Directions:

Heat the water and leave aside. In a small bowl, turmeric, cumin, and cardamom together and add to the mixture one teaspoon of salt. Sprinkle half of the spice mixture on the chicken.

Heat oil in a large cooking pan, fry the onions until golden brown, then add to the pepper.

Add the chicken to the onion mixture and turn it over a few times in the pan. Sprinkle on the chicken a teaspoon of cinnamon and the rest of the mixed spices. Turn the contents all together so the chicken is coated with the spices, cover the pan and let it cook on medium heat for 3 minutes.

Add the garlic, ginger, and tomato cubes to the pan and turn the ingredients in the pan a few times. Cover again for 3 minutes on medium heat. Sprinkle with the rest of the salt and pour on it water while its still hot.

Cover the pan and let it cook for about 1 hour, or until the chicken is cooked. While the chicken is cooking, wash the rice well and soak for 10 minutes in cold water, then drain.

Remove the chicken from the pan and put on an oven tray, brush with some oil and sprinkle with the rest of the cinnamon powder and grill in the oven until the chicken is golden brown.

Add the rice to the chicken stock, stir, then let it cook on low heat until the rice absorbs the stock and is almost done.

Sprinkle rose water and lemon juice over the rice and place the butter pieces on the top. Cover the pan and cook on low heat for 30 minutes.

Serve the rice on a large serving plate and place the grilled chicken halves on the top.