Recipes from Armenia



Recipes from Armenia
Just after I got out of college, in ... Oh I don't know, like a million years ago, I had an Armenian boyfriend. So you would think I'd already have one or two Armenian recipes filed away somewhere, but sadly, no. My Armenian boyfriend knew how to cook exactly one meal, and that one came out of a very American cookbook called "Cooking for Bachelors," or something to that effect. I think it was made with ground beef and refrigerated pie crust. I really can't remember, because it was pretty underwhelming.

So I embarked on this leg of my culinary adventure just as blind as I've been for all the other nations on my list. Fortunately, for the second week in a row I am cooking recipes from a nation with a rich culinary tradition, so I had plenty to choose from.



First the usual background stuff:

Armenia is in a geographically interesting location; it is landlocked and positioned right at the proverbial crossroads between Western Asia and Eastern Europe. It has Middle-Eastern neighbors, including Turkey and Iran and is a former republic of the Soviet Union, but the European Union considers it a European country.

Armenia is a small country wedged between Asia and Europe.


Armenia's current position in the world can be heavily attributed to its status as a former Soviet republic. Its economy--in fact its entire economic system--depended on Soviet dollars and policies for so long that since independence it has just been sort of limping along. Agriculture has replaced industry in many sectors, but the economy still relies heavily on outside investment, mostly from Armenians living abroad.

Armenia's cuisine, like its economy, has also been heavily influenced by its neighbors, with Middle-Eastern, Russian and Greek qualities evident in many popular dishes. Armenian food relies less on spices and more on fresh ingredients like fruit and nuts, and a lot of the recipes are either very labor-intensive or just have to cook for a very long time, which made my choice a little difficult, since time isn't really something I have a lot of.

Despite knowing all this, I stupidly chose four recipes this week, one of which has a cooking time of about six hours, give or take two hours. Actually, just take two hours. I know, I'm a masochist.

The first recipe I chose is an appetizer made with cheese. I'll bet you are so surprised. Here it is:

Cheese Borags
(Makes about 30, I cut this recipe down to 1/4 and there were still plenty)
  • 8 oz Monterey Jack or Muenster cheese, shredded
  • 15 oz ricotta cheese
  • 4 oz feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 lb phyllo dough, thawed
  • 1/2 stick melted butter

Next, the godfather of all stews, and I mean that in the sense that if it were a person, this stew would cut off a horse's head and leave it in your bed.


Chicken Herriseh 

  • 1 3 lb whole chicken (I just used a pack of thigh/leg pieces)
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 cups wheat berries, rinsed in cold water and drained
  • 2 tsp salt, or to taste
  • cumin to taste
  • paprika, optional
  • butter, optional

This is the side dish I chose, because my kids love artichokes even though my poor husband isn't too enamored with them:

Enguinar (Artichokes)
  • 4 small to medium artichokes
  • 2 large onions, sliced thin
  • 1 tsp dried dill
  • 1 tsp parsley
  • 1 15-oz can tomato sauce
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

(Recipe comes from Helen Merigian)

And finally, the dessert. I almost didn't do this recipe because I thought I was just putting too much on my plate (pun intended, sigh) and also because I'm trying to shed some summer vacation/Halloween/Thanksgiving pounds and figured I didn't need the extra calories. But I'm glad I did decide to make it because it was probably my favorite of the four recipes.

Armenian Lemon Cake

For the cake:
  • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

For the syrup:
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup water 
  • 3 sprigs mint

I have another blogger to thank this week: the cheese borag and the Chicken Herriseh recipes both came from The Armenian Kitchen, which is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in Armenian cooking. The other two recipes came from Adventures in Armenian Cooking, which is not quite as colorful (or illustrated) but is also a great resource with tons of recipes to choose from.

Onward: I made the cake first, but I'll start here with the appetizers:

The cheese borags are pretty straightforward, and thanks to Robyn Kalajian from The Armenian Kitchen, I now have some useful tips on how to work with Phyllo dough, which until now has been an activity that has usually ended in disaster.

Armenian cheese borags are usually made with, surprise, Armenian cheese, which I bet I could have gotten from our semi-local cheese shop. However, with Thanksgiving just behind me and my husband's birthday just ahead of me, I really couldn't be bothered to hunt down any Armenian cheese. Besides, Robyn's recipe calls for Monterey Jack or Muenster; I chose Muenster because Monterey Jack is so, you know, California.

So start by mixing the three cheeses with the egg. Because I cut this recipe back quite a bit, I just used a tablespoon or so of the egg, or roughly a quarter of it once it had been beaten.

Once blended, set aside.


Mix the cheeses with the egg.


Note: thaw the Phyllo dough out in the fridge overnight before using. You'll save yourself a lot of headache.

Here are the tips I got from Robyn's recipe: Have you ever used Phyllo dough and had it just become papery and brittle and impossible to work with? Well, that's because it doesn't like being exposed to air for even short periods of time. To solve this problem, simply cover the dough with a piece of plastic wrap, then put a damp towel over the plastic wrap. The dough will stay pliable long enough for you to finish working with it.

Ready? Take one sheet of Phyllo and fold it in half. That's right, just one sheet. Now brush the folded sheet with melted butter.

Put a blob of the filling onto the lower right corner of the sheet.


First put a dollop of filling on the corner of the dough.


Now fold the sheet over the filling, from corner to corner, as if you were folding a flag. You should have a triangle. Fold again, and one more time, like this:.


The recipe says to fold the borag like a flag.

I have no idea how to fold a flag.

I'm pretty sure, though, that this is not how you do it.

Cut off the excess. This worked fine for me, even if it wasn't exactly correct.


You may need to squish the filling around a bit inside the borag to be able to fold it properly. Take care not to let it squish out of the folds, though. You may also have to trim excess dough off of your finished borag, as above.

Repeat with the rest of the filling, until it's gone. Keep the finished borags moist by covering with plastic wrap and a damp towel. 

Cheese borags, ready for the oven.


Brush the top of each borag with melted butter, then bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the borags turn a golden brown color. Serve hot.

Finished plate of borags. Yum!!


Now for the Chicken Herriseh. I picked this recipe because I like trying out unusual ingredients, and I've never cooked anything with wheat berries. I have a warning for you, though: don't make this recipe unless you have all day. Seriously, all day. The chicken takes almost two hours to prepare and the stew has to simmer for four to six hours.

Now that you are forewarned, start by boiling the chicken in 8 cups of water for about an hour and 45 minutes. Leave the lid on your pot but tilt it slightly so that not a whole lot of steam can escape. I used a package of leg/thigh joints instead of a whole chicken, because I hate trying to pull apart a whole chicken, even after it's been cooked.


Boil the chicken and let cool.


Remove the chicken to a plate and let cool. Do not discard the broth! Shred the chicken and set aside.

After this long in the pot, you should be able to shred the chicken with your fingers.


Strain the broth into a measuring cup and figure out how much you have left. Then add water to the broth to bring the amount back up to 8 cups.

Put the broth in a large pot and add the wheat berries, the shredded chicken, and salt to taste. Note: you should be able to find wheat berries at an organic grocer, or at a grocer that specializes in Middle-Eastern foods.


These are wheat berries. I got mine at the co-op, where they sell a lot of organic, healthy type stuff.

Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low. Simmer covered for four to six hours, or until the berries are soft. Don't be tempted to stir the pot.

Now get a potato masher and squish the wheat berries up with the chicken. The finished mixture should look like oatmeal. If it doesn't, you didn't cook it long enough.



The finished Herriseh. I think mine could have been cooked longer.


Serve in bowls with a pat of butter and some cumin and paprika sprinkled on top.

Now on to the artichokes. They don't take quite as long to cook, but you do need to allow about 45 minutes or so in order for them to become tender.

First cook the onions in the water until they become soft. No oil! How's that for healthy? Then add the remaining ingredients and stir.


First cook the onions in water, then add the tomato sauce and spices.


Here's where I had to do some guesswork. The recipe called for frozen artichokes, but I've never been able to find frozen artichokes at any grocery store in California, maybe because fresh artichokes are so easy to find here. So I don't know how pre-cooked frozen artichokes usually are, but the recipe said to simmer the onion/tomato sauce mixture for 15 to 20 minutes, then add the artichokes and "cook until tender." I chose to add the artichokes right away, because 20 minutes plus 45 seemed like way too long for that little bit of tomato sauce and all of those onions. As it was, I cooked the sauce with the artichokes for about 45 minutes and still managed to burn the sauce.

Now add the artichokes and cook until tender.


At last, the cake. As I said, I made this before I made anything else, mainly because it also has kind of a long preparation time.

The batter is easy. First preheat the oven to 350 degrees, then cream the butter and sugar together.

Cream the butter and sugar. Mine didn't really cream that well, it just got lumpy.


Add the yogurt and the eggs, mixing well. Pour in the lemon juice. Sift together the flour, baking soda and baking powder and add to the bowl, mixing until everything is well incorporated.

I would have had more batter if I hadn't eaten so much of the dough.


Spoon the batter into a buttered pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the color is golden. In my oven this took about 40 minutes.

Let the cake cool. Meanwhile, combine the ingredients for the syrup in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook over high heat for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until the syrup coats the back of a spoon.

Put the mint sauce ingredients into a small saucepan and boil.


Remove the mint, which will just be a limp vaguely green weedy looking thing at this point, and let the syrup cool until it is just warm.

Loosen the cake in its pan and pour 1/3 of the syrup over the top. Wait 10 minutes, then do it again. Wait another 10 minutes, then pour the rest of the syrup on the top. Your cake should now have a clear glaze on it, like this:

Here's the finished cake with the syrup glaze.


Let the cake sit for about an hour, which will give it enough time to absorb the syrup.

Now the recipe said to invert the cake onto a platter, then slice and serve. I didn't do this because I thought the cake looked a lot nicer from the top. But I guess that's just my opinion.

Best part of the meal: dessert!


The meal went over okay. I thought I'd like the Herriseh a little more than I did. It had a very earthy flavor but was a little too chewy for my tastes (maybe six hours on the stove wasn't enough?). I guess I expected it to be a bit more like a risotto, which I adore.

The cheese borags were delicious, loved by everyone in my family except of course for Hailey, who hates all things cheesy. The artichokes were so-so, really nothing special but entirely edible. The cake was really good, with a texture that reminded me of a scone. The cake itself wasn't too sweet but the syrup was just sweet enough to make it a nice treat. We all really liked the cake.

Next week: Aruba. A Caribbean nation. Another Caribbean nation.


Recipes from Argentina



Recipes from Argentina
This week I am thankful for simple recipes, and for other bloggers.

We're hosting Thanksgiving again this year, so I guess I don't have to tell you that I have a million things to do before tomorrow. So what I really needed was either a week off from blogging or a some really, really simple, easy-to-find recipes.

As luck would have it, my next country is a nation of 40 million people who appreciate food. Argentina is the biggest Spanish-speaking country in the world (by land area) and the third-largest economy in Latin America. It was also one of the founding members of the United Nations. Here it is on the map:

Argentina: the largest Spanish-speaking nation in the world.


(Notice the light green areas there on our old friend Antarctica? Argentina once had land claims in Antarctica, which were suspended by the Antarctic Treaty of 1961.)

In addition to being a major economy in South America, Argentina is also considered a major world economy. Much of its prosperity comes from agriculture (the tallgrass prairie ecosystem in central Argentina, known as the humid pampas, is considered one of the most agriculturally productive regions in the world). Seven percent of the population works in agriculture, and more than half of Argentine exports consist of processed and unprocessed agricultural products such as soybeans, wheat, flour and maize.

As far as cuisine goes, Argentina is probably best known for its beef. Which brings us to our first recipe:

Steak with Chimichurri

For the steak:
  • 1 1/2 lbs flank steak
  • 2 tbsp olive
  • Salt and pepper

For the Chimichurri:

  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 2  cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes*
  • 1/4 extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

Chimichurri is often (if not always) served with beef and other kinds of meats, making it one of the most popular condiments in the country.

Argentinians, or so I'm told, enjoy potatoes with their steak (just like we do here in the USA), but I had a hard time finding a recipe that was interesting. Most of the recipes I found (when I found them) were just basic potato recipes similar to what I prepare all the time throughout the year. I finally settled on one that was a little bit different, and though I found it on a Spanish-language website called "Recipes of Argentina," I guess I can't really vouch for how traditional or how widely-ejoyed it actually is. Here it is:

Potatoes with Basil
(from The Perfect Pantry)
  • 1 1/2 lbs baby potatoes
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 8 leaves basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

There was a third recipe that I couldn't resist: Provoleta, which is basically just a grilled slice of provolone cheese topped with herbs and spices. Even though I really didn't need to complicate things this week, I had to do this recipe ... because, you know, cheese.

Provoleta
  • 1 1-inch thick slice provolone cheese
  • Chopped fresh oregano, to taste
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes*
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half

And finally, you can't take a culinary trip to Argentina without dulce de leche. What the heck is that? It's a sweetened, condensed milk that is a part of pretty much every popular dessert eaten in the country. Of course, it takes several hours to make dulce de leche, so I gave myself a pass on doing that (given that it's Thanksgiving week) and I bought it in a can. In my defense, Argentinians don't seem to have anything against dulce de leche from a can.

Here's the recipe I made with my canned dulce de leche:

Milhojas de Dulce de Leche (Dulce de Leche Napoleans)
  • One package puff pastry, thawed 
  • 1 cup dulce de leche
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar

*A note about the red pepper flakes used in these recipes: Argentinians use a mild red pepper flake called Aji Molido, which is difficult to find in the US. Argentinian food is typically not spicy, so using a typical US red pepper flake is technically not authentic.

Now before I go any further, I have someone to thank: Rebecca Caro, who blogs at From Argentina with Love. Rebecca's website has hundreds of Argentine recipes, and her blog saved me loads of time by by providing three of the four recipes I used this week: the chimichurri sauce, the provoleta, and the Napoleons.

I began the meal with the potatoes, which have to be roasted and take the most time to prepare. I didn't have baby potatoes, so I just used thick slices.

First melt the butter in a dutch oven. Note: the recipe calls for a TON of butter. I halved mine and it was still a lot of butter.

Now saute the potatoes in the butter, adding salt and pepper, until they begin to brown.

Saute the potatoes in butter.


Then add the garlic and cook for a few seconds, until fragrant. Then move the dutch oven into your oven, preheated to about 350 degrees.

While the potatoes are roasting, move on to the chimichurri.

Chimichurri ingredients (oops, the olive oil isn't in this picture).


Chimichurri is pretty simple. Just finely chop the herbs, mince the garlic, and whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl (I used about half the oregano the recipe called for--oregano is a strong flavor and I thought it would be overwhelming to use that much of it).

My chimichurri is probably a little too watery, because I left out some of the oregano.


Now brush the steak with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over a medium flame until the internal temperature reaches about 140 degrees (the meat will continue to cook a little after you take it off the fire, which will give you a medium rare steak).

The flank steak is simply seasoned with salt and pepper.


To serve the flank steak, cut into thin strips and spoon some of the chimichurri sauce over.

At this point you can check the potatoes. They are done when the insides are soft (just prick with a fork to check). When they are finished, toss with the chopped basil.

Toss the potatoes with chopped basil.


While the meat is resting, you can do the provoleta. Now, this can be a bit tricky when it's just you and four kids at home (Martin was working late). I ended up serving the appetizer with the meal, which meant preparing plates ahead of time, keeping them warm and trying to get everything on the table at the same time, before the provoleta got cold. I was only marginally successful.

The provoleta is also pretty simple. Rebecca from From Argentina with Love has suggestions on how to toast the bread under a broiler (rub with the cut piece of garlic, paint with olive and brown under the broiler). I didn't do any of that, because I was in a hurry. So I stopped at just slicing the bread, and compromised by rubbing the cheese slices with the garlic.

Now heat a cast-iron skillet over very high heat (I used non-stick and it worked just fine) and put the cheese in it. Sprinkle with half the oregano and red pepper flakes and cook until the cheese begins to melt and you can see some brown around the bottom edges. Now carefully flip the cheese (that's the tricky part). Make sure you get all the crispy brown bits, because they are the best part. Sprinkle with the remaining oregano and red pepper and continue to grill until you see those brown edges again. Remove from the pan and serve immediately.

Grilled provolone cheese with pepper flakes and oregano. Yum!


By the way, you will set off the smoke detector when you make this.

Finally, the dessert, which was blissfully simple (when you don't have to make the dulce de leche from scratch). Here's how:

Unfold the puff pastry and slice into thirds, along the fold lines. Then slice each third in two so you have six rectangles. Repeat with the other piece of pastry. Then put the rectangles on a wax-paper lined baking sheet, leaving about one inch between pieces. Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 12 to 14 minutes, or until pastry puffs up and turns a golden color. Remove and let cool.

Puff pastry ... what could be easier?


Now cut the tops off of each piece of pastry, so the two halves are about equal in size. Make a pile of top halves and a pile of bottom halves. Start by spreading dulce de leche on one of the bottom halves. Then cover with a second bottom half, and spread that one with dulce de leche.

Now top with one of the top halves. Repeat until you've used up all the bottom halves (you'll have several top halves left over). Now dust with powdered sugar and serve.

Three layers of pastry, two layers of dulce de leche.


 Note: the recipe says to use a "generous" amount of dulce de leche, but I found it overwhelming. If I make these again I'll probably use half as much.

This meal was a huge hit with Dylan, though I didn't bother to offer him the chimicurri sauce. He was perfectly happy just with the steak. He ate the potatoes and the cheese, too. Hailey enjoyed the potatoes, Natalie didn't eat anything and Henry ate it all. Martin, when he finally got home, ate his entire meal almost without a word and then said, "They eat well in Argentina."

My poor kids didn't get to try the Napoleons. I really didn't want to deal with a sugar high right before bedtime, so I saved them for me and Martin. Like I said, the liberal amount of dulce de leche I used was pretty overwhelming, but they were still good--though I have to admit eating a whole one made me feel a little off. Way too much richness.

By the way, in case you are a fan of self-inflicted pain, here is the recipe for dulce de leche from scratch (this one comes from Alton Brown):

Dulce de leche
  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split scraped (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Put the milk, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds in a large pot over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Then add the baking soda and stir. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally. If any foam appears on the surface, don't try to mix it in.

After 1 hour, remove the vanilla bean. Keep cooking until the mixture is a dark caramel color, which will probably take about an hour and a half to two hours. You should have about a cup of mixture.

Strain the mixture through an fine mesh sieve and place in the refrigerator.


And that's Argentina! Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Next week: Armenia.


Recipes from Antigua and Barbuda



Recipes from Antigua
This week we're doing pork chops with bacon. And bananas.

Yes, bananas. If you think that sounds weird, it is (at least by American standards). But even more weird is, we liked it. It was definitely different, but it was good.

First a few notes about the country that spawned this weird-though-palatable recipe: Antigua and Barbuda, the nation so nice they (apparently) named it twice.

Antigua and Barbuda are twin islands located between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. A number of other smaller islands are also included in this "Land of 365 Beaches," which I guess alludes to the idea that you could spend all year there and go to a different beach every day (personally I think I would get sick of beaches). Around 85,000 people live on Antigua, Barbuda or those smaller islands, which are a bit British in culture, language and governance since they were once, like 95% of the world's small nations (OK I exaggerate ... a little ...), a part of the British Empire.

Antigua and Barbuda. Puerto Rico is off there to the left somewhere.


Temperatures on these two islands range from the mid-70s in the winter, and the mid 80s in the summer, which explains why the British were so keen to have them in their empire. Although really, that's way too hot a summer for my freakishly cold-loving British husband, but I don't think he speaks for all Brits.

Like so many other Caribbean nations, the cuisine of Antigua and Barbuda includes a lot of tropical fruits such as mangoes, plantains and papayas. Salt fish, lobster and other types of seafood are also eaten there, but the locals also like many of the same types of meat that Americans do, such as chicken, pork and lamb. The two "national dishes" of Antigua and Barbuda are fungie, which is a little bit like Polenta, and pepperpot, which is a thick vegetable stew. I chose not to do either of these recipes for a couple of reasons--the first was because I was pretty sure they would be rejected not only by my children but by my husband as well--and the second was because I was pretty sure they would be rejected by me. Some of the ingredients--such as taro root--are also scarce enough that I didn't want to spend time tracking them down for something I didn't think I was going to like (vegetable stews aren't really my thing). Also I won't really get into the part about the pig snout.

The three recipes I did settle on had pretty standard ingredients (although in unusual combinations), which was something I needed after all the work I had to put into nailing down the recipes for last week's post (Antarctica). Here they are:

Pork Chops with Bananas and Bacon
(from The Caribbean Forum)
  • 4 pork chops
  • 3/4 tbsp cumin
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp butter, softened
  • 2 bananas
  • 6 strips bacon
  • Beer (optional) 

Black Bean Cakes with Salsa Roja and Cilantro Yogurt
(from Best Cancun Hotel)

For the cakes:
  • 2 cups canned black beans
  • ½ cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped jalapeno 
  • 2 tbsp olive oil  

For the salsa:
(from Cook My Way)

(Note: this will make more than you need for the beans, but the leftovers make a great dip)
  • 1 small serrano pepper
  • 5 Roma tomatoes
  • 1/2 a white onion
  • salt 

For the cilantro yogurt:
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 tbsp chopped cilantro
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon

And for dessert: Papaya Pie
(from Caribbean Choice)
  • 1 medium pre-baked pie shell
  • 3 ripe papayas (the riper the better)
  • 2 tsp lime juice
  • 1/2 tsp lime zest
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • dash orange extract
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 4 egg whites

The pie needs to be served chilled, so that's where I started. The recipe is actually pretty straightforward until you get to the egg whites.

Start by peeling the papayas and removing the seeds. Then mash them up. I couldn't find any really ripe papayas, which will help you during this part of the process (unripe papayas don't mash very easily). If yours are also less than ripe, you can try cooking them on the stove for a few minutes to soften them up.

Mash the papayas. This is easier if they are ripe.

Now add the lime juice, the lime zest, the cinnamon and the orange extract. Mix well.

Add the zest, juice and spices.

Now fold in the flour and sugar (I doubled the amount of sugar since my papayas weren't very ripe, and since papaya isn't really a super-sweet fruit to begin with. At this point, you might want to taste the mixture and adjust the ingredients according to how you like it).

You of course remember how lazy I am about beating egg whites. Well with this pie you can't really afford to be lazy about this part, so I used my grandma's 1960s era mixer for this. Did I mention how much I love this mixer? They don't make 'em like that any more.

So, beat the eggs until bona-fide stiff peaks form.

Now those are stiff peaks!

Now here's the tricky part. Gently fold the egg whites into the papaya mixture. This is tricky because the papayas are so much heavier than the egg whites, and they tend to sink to the bottom. So don't be overly worried if you don't think it's mixing very evenly--it's much more important not to over-fold because then you may fold out too much of the air from the beaten egg whites.

Your mixture will probably look a bit like this: more egg on the top

Now pour the mixture into the pie crust. Be careful because there's a lot of mix, so to make it all fit you might have to pile it up a little.

Ready for the oven.

Now, the original recipe said to bake for 25 minutes, "or until top is just brown." It neglected to tell me what temperature to bake at, though. Since this recipe is a little bit like a meringue, I figured on a slightly lower temperature and I put it in at 325 degrees. After 25 minutes, though, my pie was most definitely not done. Also, I really had no idea what texture I was going for. The pie was indeed "just brown," but parts were still jiggly and I was pretty sure that's not what my finished product was supposed to be like. So I left my pie in for somewhere on the order of 45 to 50 minutes. At that point it had a few brown spots, some cracks on the surface and a sort of "set" texture--like a mousse, almost. It didn't jiggle anymore but it also came off on my finger when I touched it. I can't vouch for whether or not this was how it was supposed to turn out, but I thought it worked.

My finished pie.

Note: as I've heard you should do with a meringue (though I've admittedly never made one), I turned off the oven and left my pie inside until it was completely cool. This gave it time to firm up a little more before I moved it into the fridge (it should be served chilled).

The next thing you want to prepare is the salsa for the bean cakes, since this takes a little bit of time. It's simple, though, just halve the tomatoes and the chile pepper, and roughly chop the onions. Place them on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil (I actually just use one of those olive oil sprays, since I can get better coverage that way). Place in a hot oven (mine was 500 degrees).

Before ....

I won't tell you how long to roast the vegetables because you really need to watch them. All ovens are a little different and you don't want to end up over-cooking them. Just pull them out when they develop a nice brown color.


After! That serrano at the bottom is a little over-done.

Now put the vegetables in a pot and add just enough water to cover them.  Boil for about 5 minutes, then put the vegetables (and the water) into a blender and puree until smooth. Then put the whole mix back into the pot and cook over a medium high heat until reduced down to a thick sauce-like consistency.

Reducing the salsa,.

You can whip up the cilantro yogurt now too, if you want. Just mix the three ingredients together and set aside.

I did the pork chops next. Here's how:

First combine the butter with the cumin, salt and pepper. Rub the pork chops all over with the mixture. Pork chops are slimy and so is butter, so you'll have to rub pretty vigorously to get the butter to stick to the chops.

Pork chops with butter. Wouldn't Paula Deen be proud!

Now put the pork chops on the grill and cook them over medium heat for about 7 and a half minutes per side.

Meanwhile, prepare the bacon and bananas.

Start by cooking the bacon in a frying pan for just a couple of minutes, long enough for some of the fat to render. Now I have to admit, I'm not sure of the reasoning behind this step--I'm thinking you could just use the bacon as-is without frying it first, since it will be cooked completely through in the next step.

Now cut the bananas into chunks sprinkle them with lemon juice. Wrap the bacon around each chunk. Skewer each wrapped piece through the overlap in the bacon, like so:

Bananas and bacon. Who woulda thunk.

After the chops have been cooking for about 15 minutes, turn the heat down to medium low and put the bacon and bananas on the grill. Use a meat thermometer to make sure the chops aren't cooking too fast. Continue to turn the chops and the bacon/banana skewers. At this point you can also start basting the chops with beer.

The steam is from the beer.

Now while all this is happening, you can work on your bean cakes. Personally, I think the author of this recipe was trying to play a joke on me, or else there are some cooking skills that I have yet to master. Or rather, that I am totally inept at.

So you need to start by rinsing the beans and then putting them in a food processor with the onion, cumin, jalapeno and about a tablespoon of water. Process until you have a nice paste.

Bean paste. At this point Martin walked in and said, "what the hell?"


OK, now is where everything went all downhill. The recipe says to make little cakes using about 2 tablespoons of bean mixture each. Then you're supposed to fry the cakes in the hot olive oil for about three minutes per side, or until the cakes are a "crispy brown."

Here's what happened to mine:

The cakes sucked up all the oil and then stuck to the bottom of the pan. When I tried to flip them, the "crispy brown" bit stayed put and all I got was a pile of mush on my spatula.

It all began with such good intentions ...

So after struggling with my unagreeable bean paste for way more than the recommended three minutes, I finally gave up and just mushed them all together and basically just made refried beans. After I took them out of the pan I put them on a plate and moved them into a warm oven so they dried out a little.


Uh ... yum?

Then guess what I did ... I got out the pastry cutter Martin uses to make scones, and I cut round cakes out of the slightly dried bean mash. Then I topped it with the salsa and yogurt. Suddenly it went from looking like something you may or may not feed your dog to something almost gourmet. Here it is on the plate with the pork chops, bacon and bananas:


Not so bad a food save if I say so myself.

So how was it? Well, when I put the plates on the table I would have bet someone's college savings (which is actually only about 50 bucks right now) that my kids were going to be unanimously grossed out. But I was surprised when Dylan ate everything on his plate--bananas and bacon included! He even liked the beans. Hailey tried everything and disliked most of it (which is Hailey's typical dinnertime routine), Natalie decided not to try any of it and Henry threw most of his on the floor. But the grown-ups both gave the meal a thumbs up. Bacon+banana: a surprisingly tasty combination. But for me the highlight of the meal was actually the beans! That was shocking, since the entire cooking process seemed so headed for disaster. But the little dollops of salsa and yogurt really made them taste good. I just wish I'd gotten the frying part right.

How about dessert? Well the papaya pie was definitely different from the pies my kids usually eat, but with the help of a little spray whipped cream, everyone enjoyed it. So as far as my family goes, the meal was not a disaster ... which is more than I can say for at least a few of these little multi-cultural experiments.

 A slice of papaya pie.


Next week: Argentina.




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