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

…it’s funny because I learned recently that I am in fact 1/4 Belarusian… and I’ve been drinking White Russians for years! Why is that funny? Read on…

I’m not sure we have had a country yet whose name I will struggle to explain fully. This is largely because in the last century, few regions have gone through so much change as those associated with “Russia” and the USSR. And here is the start of the problem, there is a difference between Russia and -Rus’ . I honestly don’t want to spend the whole blog talking about this, because I know could, so I will say if this type of thing interests you, go search the web for the full details: it won’t be hard to find. Belarus literally means White Rus’ , which often gets translated to White Russia. Using this translation today would be an anachronistic mistake, and could border on the insulting. The origins of the issue are of course debated, between an ethnic meaning, a term denoting the areas unconquered by the Mongols, or the direct translation as White Dew. Regardless, the main aspect to focus on is actually the second word.

 In short, there is a long standing identity clash between what is Rus’ and what is Russia. The former term is the elder of the two which denoted from medieval times current day Ukraine, Belarus, and parts of Western Russia. This term later became “Ruthenia,” which in the 17th century morphed into “Russia”. Thus, the identity associated with the earlier names signified the Eastern European self. Today, to avoid confusion…uh huh…you will see the lands belonging to the earlier definition written as “Kievan Rus’”.

 Following the Russian Revolution, and towards the close of World War I, Belarus declared independence as a people’s republic, as they were occupied by German forces. Not long after, the Red Army replaced the Germans and exiled the young government, replacing it with the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (part of the USSR). As of this writing, the council of the Belarusian Democratic Republic is the oldest current government in exile at roughly 98 years old. Although free of the USSR since 1990, the current president who was elected in 1994 has an authoritarian style and has kept several Soviet era policies. The country’s Democracy Index rating is always the lowest in Europe and many people label it as repressed and not free.

The 1986 disaster at Chernobyl in northern Ukraine occurred less than 10 miles from the Belarusian border. Roughly 70% of the radiation bled over into Belarus and 1/5 of their land, including much farmland, is still affected by fallout today. In 1994, Belarusian scientists discovered that certain rapeseed varieties can pull radioactive material from the soil cheaply and effectively. They have increased the amount of rapeseed cultivation over the last 20 years and still hope that it can ultimately undo some of the damage done.

 Throughout their history there has also been a lot of interaction with their neighbor to the west, Poland. A lot of land has changed hands between Belarus and Poland through several conflicts and treaties to get us where we are today, with them sharing a 250 mile border. The main dish I made has a name of Polish origin, though it is equally as popular in Belarus. This is a Meat and Potato Babka.

Now, for those Seinfeld fans or patrons of traditional Jewish bakeries, this will be a departure from expectations. There are few desserts I love more than a good chocolate babka (yes, cinnamon is fine as well). So I was surprised to see the term used in a savory application. This is a fairly simple meat and potato casserole, and there is nothing wrong with that. Although not much to look at, the salty flavor is melt in your mouth wonderful.

I find that when dealing with a simplistic dish, the factor which holds the key to success is often the ratio of ingredients. This is true for a basic chocolate chip cookie, lasagna, or bread dough. The fewer ingredients there are, and the less technical skills which are required, exponentially inflate the importance of precise balance of ingredients.

Accompanying the savory babka, I prepared a Pskovsky, which is vegetables served with a hot mushroom sauce. This is a super healthy side dish with very little fat (only what you brown the mushrooms in) and the sauce is luscious. Instead of dicing my potatoes as instructed, I had leftover grated ones, so I went ahead and used those which changed the texture of the dish (why my picture isn’t reflective of how yours would be). I think I added more mushrooms than called for also, because I love mushrooms, so it is open to interpretation. Overall, this was not the most visually appealing meal, but it played well on the tongue and isn’t that what REALLY matters?

Next we go to Belgium…and Lee…drinks…a non-stout beer?! You heard it here first…

 

  


 

Meat and Potato Babka

3 servings

Ingredients:

7 potatoes
7 oz meat, finely chopped
1 large onion
1 egg
3.5 oz milk
salt, to taste
vegetable oil

——————————————

Directions:

Add a little oil to a pan and use to fry the meat until well browned but not cooked through. Add the onion then season with salt. Continue frying until the onion is golden brown.
Grate the potatoes then place in a clean tea towel (or salad spinner) and wring out the excess moisture. Transfer to a bowl and beat in the milk and egg. Season with salt to taste. Grease an oven-proof casserole dish with vegetable oil then spoon the meat and onion mix into the base then pour the potato mix over the top.
Transfer to an oven pre-heated to 350°F and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the top is a nice golden brown in color.

 


Pskovsky

3 servings

Ingredients:

3 potatoes
2 carrots
1 turnip
5 tbsp frozen peas
For the Sauce:
5 tbsp (1/3 cup) vegetable stock – WHICH YOU WILL MAKE IN THE FIRST PART
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp flour
1 onion, finely diced
1 celery stick, finely diced
3 tbsp button mushrooms,diced (or more)
sea salt, to taste

——————————————

Directions:

Wash the vegetables, peel and dice.
Add each vegetable (except the peas) to a separate pan, cover with a little water and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until tender (add the peas to one pot for the last 5 minutes of cooking).
Drain the vegetables (keep the stock) then combine the vegetables.
Meanwhile add about 2 tbsp oil to a pan. Add the mushrooms and fry for 2 minutes then scatter the flour over the top, mix to combine and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Whilst still stirring carefully add 5 tbsp of the reserved vegetable broth, stirring quickly to ensure there are no lumps. Add the onion and celery and season to taste.
Simmer very gently for 15 minutes. Serve the vegetables in a bowl, covered with the hot sauce.

 

Barbados Slim?!…

January 20, 2015

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

…last time I heard, you were in Barbados!

It’s a Futurama quote. If you don’t get it, don’t sweat it. Now where were we…

So Barbados means “the bearded ones” although it is unclear whether it was the Spanish or the Portuguese who dubbed it so. Neither however felt that in the first half of the 16th century it was a place worth claiming… so they left. When the British showed up in 1627, nearly a century later, they had different thoughts. The island was uninhabited, but one structure showed proof of a previous civilization, a kind of bridge. And so, with the legendary wit of the English, the foundation for the capital of Bridgetown was born.

So what do you do with an empty tropical island 4,000 miles from your country? Populate it of course. So the good King and Earls give land grants to nobles to settle and organize the new land. Or…if 25 years later, the King is overthrown and executed and a genocidal protestant Lord Protector seizes tremendous power and begins an ethnic cleansing of catholic Ireland… he might just ship the “lucky” ones who survive to a remote island as white slaves.

You know, in the scheme of things they both work as options to populate an island, one being… a tad more maniacal… and evil. These events have inspired many films as well as the hit song “Tobacco Island” by Irish punk-rock group Flogging Molly. It also gave birth to the very specific term “Barbadosed”.

Later in 1751, the island would play host to a 19 year old young man named George Washington, who had family ties to early colonists. It is the only country other America to have been visited by the founding father. Barbados has been independent since 1966 yet still recognizes Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state. It is also the 7th most densely populated island in the world, ahead of Haiti, Japan, the Philippines, and the United Kingdom.

Of course fish, and specifically flying fish, play a large role in the cuisine of Barbados. This is clearly why I chose a pork dish. Many native meals are a mix of British, Indian, and African ingredients and flavors. As I mentioned earlier, the Portuguese were among the first to visit the island and although they did not claim it or stay, they introduced wild hogs to be a food source if needed in the future. The British later ate them all… seriously… but I still felt it was a nice call back to the earliest founding of the island.

This recipe is very easy and can be done with a crock pot or on the stove. It is very sweet. Let me just put that out there, between the tomatoes, sweet peppers, and onions (I caramelize them a little) it is sweet. Just letting you know in case that is not your thing. The sweetness is balanced nicely with the savory from the pork fat (even if you use lean cuts like I would suggest) and the tangy-ness of the garlic and Worcestershire. You can also adjust how much black pepper you add to your taste which would change the balance of the sweet as well. The seemingly small addition of nutmeg, nevertheless adds a sub-continental flare which does stand out. This would go great with beans and rice or pretty much anything… or just a big bowl…that’s how we ate it.

Next we travel to the land of some of my ancestors…Belarus. Which I just learned does NOT mean Beautiful Russia but in fact White Russia. Why? We’ll get into that next time… but it’s not racist… I swear…

 

  


 

Stewed Down Chops Recipe

4 servings

Ingredients:

4 servings pork chops (preferably with the skin on) or lamb chops
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 medium onions, quartered and sliced
1 cup or (2) sweet peppers, diced
2 tablespoons garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons fresh thyme or
1 tablespoon dried thyme
Pepper sauce to taste
A few dashes of worcestershire sauce
14 oz can peeled tomatoes, diced
2 cups water

——————————————

Directions:

Rub salt on to the pork chops and leave for 10 minutes. Wash and pat dry.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and brown the chops on both sides over a medium to high heat (about 10 minutes). Remove the chops from the pan and set aside.

Sauté the onions until beginning to brown, add the garlic and sweet peppers and sauté for a further couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes, nutmeg, thyme, Worcestershire sauce, water and replace the pork chops.

Cover and simmer over a low heat until the chops are tender (1-2 hours) Add more water during cooking if necessary.

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

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

——————————————

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.

_________________

Alu posto

Ingredients:

8 POTATOES, peeled and diced

1 ONION, chopped

2 GREEN CHILLIES, chopped finely

1/2 TSP TURMERIC

2 TBSP POPPY SEEDS

——————————————

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

——————————————

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.

 

 

 

 

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

You know that moment in youth, during your coming of age when you mother or father sits you down to have “the talk”. “Johnny”, they say, “it’s time we had a conversion that might make you uncomfortable, but believe me, it is a natural and beautiful part of life. It’s time we talked about…pirates.”

Then they go on to tell you that even though pirates seem cool, these days it is not a good career choice. Way back when however, it was AWESOME, and no other hub lives on in legend from the golden age of piracy like Nassau. For a span of about 15 years at the beginning of the 18th century, there was no government and the pirates outnumbered the islanders. Proclaimed as a pirate republic, many of the most well known buccaneers used it as a home base.

Although order was restored shortly after, the outlaw spirit lingered on. During prohibition, Nassau did a huge business in smuggling illegal liquor into the southern ports of the US. It was also the eventual home of modern “outlaw” King Edward VIII who abdicated the British throne in 1936 to marry Wallis Simpson. The couple was eventually “relocated” to the Bahamas in 1940 where Edward was made Governor, as it was still under British rule.

Awkward segue.

The first time I ever heard the word Conch was in 10th grade while reading Lord of the Flies. Prior to that I just called it a shell…like a NORMAL person. The allegory in the 1954 novel is about man’s dark inner nature coming out when left without social order. I wonder how closely the “society” the lost boys create on the island resembled that of Nassau under pirate rule. It would be interesting if the pirates were able to coexist functionally, while the innocent boys descend so quickly into savagery and chaos. Maybe someone will write a paper on that.

I was looking for an ingredient that was very indicative of this nation without just being another fish. Prior to this, I had only had conch in fritters in the Carolinas. My amazing local fish monger, Frank’s Fish and Seafood Market, always has whatever I need. When I thawed the meat it looked like a cross between a clam and a cow’s tongue

Oddly enough the word itself is from Sanskrit through Portuguese. The original “shankha” became “concha” through several phonetic changes. As a mollusk it does produce pearls and they have been highly valued for centuries. When cooked, it has a subtle salty ocean flavor, but NOT fishy. A mild flavor that grows as you continue to eat it.

This is a very easy, one pot dish that delivers big on flavor and is very affordable if you can secure the main ingredient. This is another stew/soup/sauce dish that gets its body from tomatoes. Tomatoes are a new world crop, meaning that they originated on in the Americas. So while it is not surprising to find them heavily featured in Caribbean cuisine, the amount that they are showing up in European/Eastern European is impressive. Just an example of how Europe has embraced the fruit in the centuries since Spanish conquistadors brought them home from South America.

Next we visit Bahrain on the Persian Gulf…it’s Gulf, NOT golf…trust me.

 

   


Bahamian Conch Chowder

8 servings

Ingredients:

2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
1 tsp dried thyme
¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
¼ tsp ground allspice
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 bay leaves
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can clam juice
2 cups chicken broth
1 lb conch meat chopped fine and bite sized chunks
1 tbsp vinegar
6 sprigs parsley, chopped
4 scallions, minced
1 tsp salt
black pepper to taste

——————————————

Directions:

In a large saucepan , medium heat, saute’ the onion, celery, carrots, red or green pepper, potato, thyme, red pepper flakes, allspice, garlic, and bay leaves for 5 minutes or more in olive oil until they begin to soften.

Add the tomatoes, clam juice, and broth. Heat to boiling, then reduce to simmer.

Add conch and simmer for 35 minutes, uncovered.

Add vinegar, parsley, scallions, salt, and pepper. Simmer for 5 minutes.

 

 

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

If you looked at a list of world countries by area, you would see our previous entry Austria, and one spot above: Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan. The name alone brings back the cold sweats of spelling tests. But what do we know of this land or its peoples? “It’s one of those Russian-y countries that’s not really Russia anymore I think”… “Isn’t it by like Georgia or something?… No, I don’t know where Georgia is.” These common refrains have stood for too long! Although to be honest, those were probably quotes I myself have uttered in the past, but no longer.

It is located on the Caspian Sea, is part of the Caucuses, and has the capital of Baku. The country name itself has an interesting history dating back to the time of Alexander the Great and often translates to “land of fire”. This is a reference to the oil fires burnt in the temples of Zoroastrianism. They briefly had independence from 1918-1920 before being incorporated into the Soviet Union, however those scant two years were very important. The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic which existed has the distinction of being the first secular and democratic republic in the Muslim world. The country also proclaimed its independence two months before the official dissolution of the USSR in 1991. What I’m saying is, they have always been on the forefront of cultural change in a very static region.

Their cuisine shares characteristics with many others from that area of the world. Pilafs are very popular, as is the plenty of fresh seafood. That being said, mutton and beef are also indicative of Azerbaijani fare. Since I am clearly on a lamb kick…let us venture forth!

Now, if you had asked me to name the dishes that eggplant could be used in up until recently I would have said “Eggplant Parmesan”…then paused for a while and excitedly said “Oh! Baba Ghanoush!”. I feel as though most people would say the same, but as someone who prides themselves on being generally knowledgeable and a food lover to boot, that just won’t cut it anymore.

Here is another application of eggplant, once again in the same part of the world as we have seen it featured time and time again. Instead of simply being mashed this time, the vegetable in question is fully incorporated into the main dish and really shines. I like this dish for a few reasons. It is very healthy. If you choose your cut of meat wisely there doesn’t have to be an overabundance of fat, however some will of course lend unctuousness to the broth.

The most interested reflection I have on this is that when cooked correctly the eggplant takes on the gelatinous consistency of fat. I know that sentence sounded disgusting and I apologize, but I meant it in a positive way. It allows you to have the sensation and texture of fat without the detrimental health aspects. One of the nicest parts is that this is a one pot dish and very easy to make. You simply stack your ingredients and let the heat and steam do the work. I also continue to appreciate the use of peppers more and more. I would highly recommend this dish for any time of the year as it was delicious.

Next up…the Bahamas and a Lord of the Flies favorite! PIGGGGY NO!!!!!!

 

    IMG_3107IMG_3104


Adjab-Sandal

Serves: 4

1 lb (450 g) boneless lamb or beef
2 large eggplants
1 large onions
2 large tomato
1 large green bell pepper
½ bunch of parsley
Salt and Pepper to taste
3 tablespoons butter (or olive oil)

——————————————

Directions:

Cut the meat into bite-size pieces. In a large saucepan, add butter and cook the meat over medium-high heat until it is lightly brown on all sides.

Then, add approximately 1/3 cup of water and season the meat with salt and pepper. Cover the pan with a lid and let it simmer over medium-low heat until the meat is almost cooked. Stir the meat occasionally to prevent it from burning.

Remove the stems of the eggplants and peel the skin lengthwise in approximately ½-inch strips.

Slice the eggplants, tomatoes, and potatoes into circles (approximately ½ -inch thick).
Slice the bell pepper and onion into half circles.

Place layers of sliced onion, potatoes and bell pepper on the meat.

Then place layers of sliced eggplants and tomatoes, and top it off with chopped parsley.

Cover the saucepan with a lid and steam over a low heat until all the vegetables are tender.

At the end, add salt and pepper to taste.

 

 

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

After a lengthy break we are back! I have a stockpile of meals to write about so let’s start with Austria.On a side note I learned over the last few years that my ancestry is 1/8 Austrian and I would truly love to visit there someday.

Probably the only Austrian that anyone can name these days is Archduke Franz Ferdinand whose assassination is credited with triggering World War I. It is actually a very interesting lesson in diplomatic agreements if you examine the chain of alliances which pulled the whole world into conflict because of Austria and Serbia. That is for historians to discuss as this is a food blog. I will leave you with the fact that although he was heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, his children would not have succeeded him. He agreed to these terms so he could marry his true love who was not of royal lineage and thus could not take part in his royal privileges, or be seen with him at royal events.

When I saw the recipe for this dish, my mouth started to water uncontrollably. Lamb + Latkes (potato pancakes) = OMG. It was a difficult procedure to assemble but I did my best and there is no doubt that the flavors came through as they should have. For most of my life I have been averse to peppers. The bitterness always turned me off, even when eating one of my favorite American Chinese dishes Pepper Steak, I would often leave the peppers aside for my mom to enjoy. Throughout this culinary experiment I am slowly learning to appreciate the subtle use of peppers especially in sauces.

These are the kinds of dishes I am really having fun with. Even though it was a very difficult and messy assembly and procedure, it used techniques and culinary applications that are alien to me. The chicken and cream mixture as a buffer between the meat and the potato struck me as so weird. But I think it is a way to add another flavor profile as well as using the fat layer to protect the crunchy crust from any sogginess from moisture within.

Making thin enough potato cakes to encapsulate the lamb seems nearly impossible to me, but I’m sure with enough practice it would be. The bright greenness of the beans offsets any grease from the entree. The red pepper sauce also cut the fat and provided a nice sweet and salty counterpoint to the light gamey character of the lamb. I would eat this anytime, anyplace…

Next we go to Azerbaijan, where you will learn about the history of the many names of eggplant…whether you want to or not.

 

 


Roast lamb in a potato fritter jacket

Serves: 4

14-20 oz Lamb fillets ( about 4 fillets)

  • 18 oz Potatoes (russet)

  • 5 oz Chicken breast

  • 2 Red peppers (pureed)

  • 11 oz Green beans

  • Tabasco sauce

  • 1 pinch Sugar

  • 1 tbsp Cornstarch

  • 3.5 oz Cream (cold)

  • 1 piece Egg

  • 1 tbsp Basil pesto

  • 1 tbsp Butter

  • Thyme (for garnishing)

 

Directions:

Peel the potatoes and either grate or cut length-wise into very fine strips. Salt well and leave to sit for about 5 minutes, then squeeze out the juice.

Add the nutmeg and cornstarch and make 8 thin patties from the mass (approx. 4.5”). Heat the vegetable oil, and place the patties into the pan, press flat and fry a golden brown.

Drain well on kitchen paper and, with a round cutter; cut pieces about 4” from the patties. Allow to cool.

For the stuffing, cut the chicken fillet into small cubes and mix with the cold cream, salt and egg. Push through a colander or sieve and spread some stuffing thinly onto 4 of the fritters.

Cut the lamb fillet into slices about ½” thick and season with the pesto, salt and pepper.

Place the fillets on the fritter and spread a thin layer of stuffing over the meat.

Spread the rest of the stuffing over the fritters and place these, stuffing side down, on the meat.

Press down and shape roundly over the top of the meat. In a teflon-lined pan, heat vegetable oil and fry the patties a golden brown on each side.

Place a rack into the roasting dish and put the meat on top. Roast for 10 minutes in a preheated, oven at 325 F. Remove and cover with foil. Allow to stand for 8 minutes.

In the meantime, simmer the juice from the peppers until it reduces to a third. Stir in 4 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, Tabasco sauce and sugar, making a thick sauce. Cook the beans al dente in salt water and toss in butter. Season with salt and pepper and arrange on warmed plates.

Cut the lamb in half, and arrange on the plates. Pour over sauce to serve. Garnish with thyme.

 

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

Australia used to be England’s penal colony. Now that the one fact everyone knows about Australia is out of the way, let us proceed. They were actually discovered by the Dutch in 1606, but Captain Cook was the first to make contact with the eastern coastline in 1770, which is when the British claimed it. They became a dominion in 1901 which left England with nominal authority but really meant that they governed themselves. Following their involvement in World War I, a sense of national identity began to solidify.

A recent hot button issue (that it seems Americans feel like they have the monopoly on) is that of immigration. It has become more and more difficult to secure visas and ultimately relocate to this large island country. As it does to the past policies of the U.S., this runs counter to Australian history as well. The national anthem even contains the lyrics, “For those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share, with courage let us all combine to advance Australia fair”. I imagine we would also have significant confliction if the Star-Spangled Banner contained a passage regarding opening our borders. The fact that this topic is so heatedly debated, and so many want to live there, just indicates the opportunities and high quality of life Australia has to offer.

Their cuisine has a heavy influence of fowl as well as coastal seafood. With their nearly endless grazing fields however, lamb is truly the culinary gem. Australia produces the second highest amount of lamb by any country in the world, and more than their neighbor New Zealand who is known for it. With the Ohio State Fair recently open, there was an abundance of lamb to be had so it was a logical choice. I went with a simple recipe from Meat & Livestock Australia themselves.

A nice sugary marinade allowed the lamb to caramelize deliciously. Grilling would also be a good way to cook the meat, but I did mine on the stove in a very hot pan. The sweet was offset by the sour from honey mustard, Worcestershire, and lemon juice. I was surprised when the side dish of rosemary carrots almost stole the show from the main course. The slight acidity of the carrot glaze again played nicely off of the lip-smacking lamb. Sometimes I play it loose with certain spice or herbs based on what I have, which I am not always proud of. However, this is one case where fresh rosemary was absolutely necessary, no compromises. There is nothing that could have made this dish faster to prepare or tastier to eat.

Next we do some country math: Australia – al = Austria.

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Caramelized Lamb with Grilled Rosemary Carrots

Serves: 4

Marinade Ingredients

4 Servings of Lamb

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (or red wine vinegar)
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons honey mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Carrots Ingredients

1 bunch baby carrots, trimmed and peeled, leaving ½ inch of stalks
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

Combine the marinade ingredients in bowl and brush over all sides of the lamb chops. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes for flavors to infuse.

Drain excess marinade and cook lamb on medium high heat, turning frequently, about 10-12 minutes for medium or until cooked as desired. Transfer to a plate, cover with foil and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

To prepare the carrots, place all ingredients in plastic bag and toss. Saute until carrots are cooked or wrap in foil and place on the grill, turning pouch occasionally until carrots are cooked as desired.

Armenia and Hammer

September 5, 2014

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

Most of the time I feel pretty smart. A bit cocky but true nonetheless, and I enjoy that feeling. Other times, I feel like an idiot. And there are those rare times when I feel bad about being an idiot…this is one of those times. As Jews, and for good reason, I get the sense that we often feel like we have the monopoly on genocide angst. We spend so much time ruminating on our history that it can often make us belittle other events in the world. So it was a shock to me to learn that there was an earlier genocide in the 20th century, when the Ottoman Empire systematically killed 1 – 1.5 million Armenians in 1915.

Why? Vaguely because Armenia historically had close ties to the West due to their overwhelming Christian population dating back over a millennia. Didn’t know Armenians were mostly Christian? Me either. Ever wonder why the four quarters of Jerusalem are: Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian? Well now we know. In addition, they were thought to be too friendly with Russia whom the Turks were constantly at odds with. It didn’t hurt that the Ottoman Empire had also signed a secret alliance with Germany in 1914 which once again put them at odds with the Russians. But in all honesty, it just seems like the Arab empire wanted an excuse to cleanse one of the only large Christian populations in the area (Armenia is landlocked and surrounded on three of its sides by Turkey, Iran, and Azerbaijan). In any event, this lead to the Armenian Diaspora which continues to this day.

Diasporas can have strange effects on cuisine. When a people are forced to move, their food culture is one of the few things they can easily take with them. This can often strengthen the reliance on a shared culinary community to hold on to their identity. Another side effect is that the new area they are in may not have the same resources as where they left. One example would be chicken-fried steak in the Texas. This is the adaptation of German wiener schnitzel but using the available beef instead of pork or veal that would have traditionally been used. I wanted to find a dish that really represented Armenian food.

I made a three part meal as it was pretty simple and easy to assemble. The first part was the main course, a tomato based lamb dish that had a really nice sweet flavor. The starting base of green peppers and onions really brought out the meatiness of the lamb (beef would also work).

One side I did was a basic mashed eggplant. This turned out well but was a little bland on its own. When mixed with the sauce from the lamb however, it took on new life and was very delicious. To finish I made what amounted to a zucchini quiche with sharp cheddar cheese. This was very savory and I kept having to remind myself it wasn’t a spinach quiche, but zucchini with its own unique flavor. The only thing I would change is making sure I got all the seeds of the zucchini (it was freshly grown, not from the grocery which meant the seeds were larger and heartier). Overall this was a nice trio of flavors and textures, and maybe more importantly I learned something about world history I had no idea even existed.

Next stop…the old prison yard, Australia…(I promise it won’t be as depressing!)

 

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Mashed eggplant with meat (PATLIJAN/SEMPOOG HUNKAR BAYENDI )

Serves: 4

1 lb. cubed lamb (or beef)
2 large onions
2 tbsp. butter
8 oz. tomato sauce
½ green pepper (diced)
2 med. eggplants (firm and deep purple) – save for second part of recipe
1 tsp. salt
dash of red pepper
1 tbsp. wine
½ tsp. oregano
½ tsp. basil

Directions:

Brown meat in butter, add onions and green pepper, saute about three minutes. Add tomato sauce along with three-quarters cup hot water and all remaining ingredients (except wine). Cover and cook about one-half hour or until meat is tender. Add wine about fifteen minutes before done. Wash eggplants, pierce with a fork in several places, place in a shallow pan and bake in a 350F oven about 45 minutes or until soft, turning once during baking process.

When done your baking dish will have liquid in it – drain this liquid. When eggplants have cooled, peel skins. Put peeled eggplants into a large skillet and mash. Add one-half teaspoon salt, dash of red pepper and one-half cup beef stock (I use bouillon). Mix and heat mixture thoroughly.

Place the hot meat mixture in the center of a platter and arrange the eggplant mixture around it.

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Zucchini pie (TUTUMOV BOERAG)

1 lb. zucchini, grated (REMEMBER TO REMOVE SEEDS : D )
1 Sm. onion, grated
½ to 3/4 lb. sharp cheese, grated
5 eggs
salt, pepper to taste

After grating zucchini, squeeze until dry. Add onion, cheese, eggs, salt and pepper.

Grease 9″ pie plate. Fill pie plate with mixture and cook 30-45 minutes in 350F oven or until brown. Insert knife. If it comes out clean, it is done.

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

Argentina still has real legit cowboys. They are called Gauchos and they live in the Pampas or Patagonian grasslands. This is a good sign, because where there are cowboys…there are cows. Argentinians love beef, I mean who doesn’t, but they REALLY love beef. So it was a given that I should choose a dish with the starting role going to el carne.

The traditional technique would simply have been to grill or roast the meat over a flame, which frankly sounds wonderful. But that is really the only thing people know about Brazilian and Argentine food so I looked for something a little more unique. Empanadas may not seem to be at first, but each region and peoples have their own filling combinations. The name means simply “breaded” but the magic lies inside the beautifully golden shell. One such mélange from the silver state includes paprika and hard boiled egg. This was certainly a flavor combination that I’ve never encountered but worked so well.

My first time working with puff pastry was…a mixed bag. From years of watching cooking shows I knew it was not going to be easy to manipulate and it was not. Practice helped me improve and the second batch I baked came out much better. Even so, the recipe made a huge amount of filling and even if I had done the pastry part flawlessly, I can’t imagine all would have been used. That being said, it makes excellent leftover filler for tacos, burritos, or simply to mix with rice or pasta.

To go with the empanadas, I made a quick bread recipe for indigenous cheese rolls called “chipás”. These buns are distinctive because they made with tapioca flour from the cassava plant. This flour has a very fine texture and the resulting roll has almost a velvety nap to it. They are soft and chewy on the inside and took no time to make and bake.

Oh yea, it is also the closest country in the world to Antarctica. Next stop, Armenia.

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Argentine Meat Empanadas

Serves: 4

1/2 cup shortening

2 onions, chopped

1 pound lean ground beef

3 teaspoons Hungarian paprika (sweet if possible)

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

1/4 cup raisins (optional)

1/2 cup pitted green olives, chopped (optional)

2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped

salt to taste

1 (17.5 ounce) package frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed

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Directions:

    1. In a saute; pan melt the shortening and add the chopped onions. Cook the onions until just before they begin to turn golden. Remove from the heat and stir in the sweet paprika, hot paprika, crushed red pepper flakes and salt to taste.
    2. Spread the meat on a sieve and pour boiling water on it for partial cooking. Allow meat to cool. Place meat in a dish add salt to taste, cumin and vinegar. Mix and add the meat to the onion mixture. Mix well and place on a flat to dish to cool and harden.
    3. Cut puff pastry dough into 10 round shells. Place a spoonful of the meat mixture on each round; add some of the raisins, olives and hard boiled egg. Avoid reaching the edges of the pastry with the filling because its oiliness will prevent good sealing. Slightly wet the edge of the pastry, fold in two and stick edges together. The shape should resemble that of a half-moon. You should have a 2/3 to 1/2 inch flat edge of pastry to work with. Seal by twisting edge, step by step, between thumb and index finger, making sure to add pressure before releasing the pinch and moving on to the next curl. Other sealing procedures like pinching without curling or using a fork to seal will not prevent juice leaks during baking, and empanadas must be juicy.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Place empanadas on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Be sure to prick each empanada with a fork near the curl to allow steam to escape during baking. Glaze with egg for shine and bake until golden, about 20 to 30 minutes.

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Chipas:

1 egg

2/3 cup milk

6 ounces shredded Italian cheese blend

3 tablespoons butter, melted

1 3/4 cups tapioca starch

1 cup self-rising flour (super easy to make your own, google it)

 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Oil a baking sheet with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Stir together egg, milk, cheese, and butter in a large bowl. Sprinkle in tapioca starch and flour; stir in to form a dough. Knead dough for two minutes on a lightly floured surface, then roll into golf ball-sized pieces, and place onto prepared baking sheet.
  3. Bake in preheated oven until golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes.