Recipes from Marche, Italy

For this entry, I made two recipes. Neither of them were especially good, but I don't blame the people who posted the original recipes or any of the traditions they came from, I blame myself and my propensity for Googling things that might kill me.

Recipes from Marche, Italy: Brodetto

A seafood stew with mussels and clams, minus the Vibrio.

Recipes from Marche, Italy: Filone Casereccio

An Italian bread that will come out much better than mine did if you use fresh brewer's yeast and steam.

Recipes from Malta

This is actually the third time I’ve cooked a meal from Malta. The first time, I cooked the meal and then just did not write the blog post. Years went by.

Recipes from Malta: Imqarrun

Imquarrum (also called Imqarrun il-forn) is descended from a dish served in Sicily, but the Maltese have adopted it as a traditional staple. The key to making this dish is to be patient.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Recipes from Algeria

Recipes from Algeria
Once again, I have bitten off way more than I can chew on this little culinary adventure. None of the recipes I chose this week were particularly difficult, but trying to bring them all together was certainly a challenge.

First the usual background stuff:

Algeria. A country in North Africa, in the same vicinity as Libya and Morocco. Algeria isn't really on the international radar, so it may surprise you to hear that--geographically speaking--it is the largest country in Africa as well as the 10th largest country in the world.

There are 36.3 million people in Algeria, so recipes aren't hard to find. In fact, Algeria has its own celebrity chef: Farid Zadi, who is kind of like the Gordon Ramsay of North Africa. Zadi has a website, which you can visit here: Unfortunately, his website is far less impressive than his cooking skills apparently are--I poked around on it for about 20 minutes without finding a single recipe, despite links with titles like "Algerian Cookbook" and "Tagine Recipes." I don't doubt that Chef Zadi has many skills, but web design ain't one of them.

I have way too many kids to waste more than 20 minutes on any pointless endeavor, but I did think that at least one of my Algerian recipes should come from Algeria's most famous chef. The one thing I did discover is that Zadi had a few recipes printed in some of the big food magazines, so I went to and did a search for his name. Viola! I hit on my first recipe: Chicken Tagine with Apricots and Spiced Pine Nuts. Here are the ingredients:

For the tagine
  • 1 whole chicken (I used a grill pack)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 3 large shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1 tablespoon peeled, grated ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika (I used Hungarian, don't substitute regular paprika)
  • Pinch of saffron threads (optional)
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons blood-orange preserves or bitter-orange marmalade
  • 1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick
  • 1 thyme sprig
  • 2 cilantro sprigs
  • 6 dried apricots, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro or flat-leaf parsley

For the spiced pine nuts
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • Pinch of cayenne (optional)

Two separate bits of information I gleaned during my search were these: 1) Algerians hardly ever eat a meal without bread and 2) couscous is the national dish of Algeria. So my next dish is an Algerian flatbread, or kisra (from RecipesCal):
  • 2 cups semolina flour
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup water

(Please note that this is not the recipe I used, for reasons which will become clear to you later in this entry).

And the third is a vegetable couscous, made with chicken broth (from Oxfam):
  •     2 tbsp olive oil
  •     1 medium onion, chopped
  •     8 oz mushrooms, sliced
  •     1 grated carrot
  •     2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  •     1/2 tsp cumin
  •     1/2 tsp ground coriander seeds
  •     Zest of 1 lemon
  •     Juice of 1 lemon
  •     1/2 cup raisins
  •     1 1/4 cups of chicken stock
  •     1 cup couscous

    I began this rather ill-conceived ordeal at about 3:30 in the afternoon, thinking that would give me plenty of time to finish three dishes, clean everything up, mediate disputes between warring tribal factions and maybe do a load of laundry. All by 5:30 pm, which is when I usually like to have dinner on the table. All I can say about that now is "ha!" and also "hahaha!"
    So, starting with the tagine, here are my disclaimers:

    A tagine, if you haven't heard of such a thing, is a dish named for the pot it is cooked in. The tagine pot, in turn, is an earthenware unit with a base that holds the food and a top shaped a little like a chimney. The pot is designed to return condensation to the food, which results in a very moist dish.

    Now, if you are cooking Algeria and you want to be super-authentic, you can pick up a tagine on for about 60 bucks. I, as you know, am not that devoted. I would rather just admit that my dish is not 100% authentic and move on from there, rather than spend the equivalent of three boxes of diapers on something I'm not likely to cook with more than occasionally.

    In my defense, Zadi doesn't say in his recipe that you should use a tagine, though I bet he's thinking it. Anyway, his dish starts simply enough, with the ritual browning of the chicken.

    Zadi calls for a whole chicken, which you cut up yourself. Personally, I have a grocery store that does that for me so I never bothered to learn how to cut up a chicken. That just sounds like way too much work. Way too much gross work. So I just used a grill pack, which contains two breasts and four leg joints, since I have three kids who will gladly box each other for two drumsticks.

    So first brown the chicken in olive oil, then transfer it to a plate and keep it warm.

    Browned chicken, waiting for the next step.

    Next, finely chop the shallots.

    Shallots, the onion that wants to be garlic.

    Finely chopped shallots.

    Zadi says to then melt the butter and sauté the shallots in a separate pan, but I didn't see the point of having to wash up another pan, so I just poured off some of the oil and melted the butter in the same pan, deglazing as I stirred.

    Sauteing the shallots.

    When the shallots are soft (in about 8 to 10 minutes), add the garlic, ginger, turmeric and paprika. Continue to stir for two to three minutes, then return the chicken to the pot, making sure the shallot mixture coats the front and back of each piece.

    Coat each piece of chicken with the shallots.

    Add the water and a half teaspoon of salt. If you are fabulously wealthy and can afford to buy like three strands of safforn for 15 or 20 bucks, here's where you add it (you can probably guess that I left it out). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Simmer for 30 minutes. Now is a good time to move on to the bread.

    This version of kisra is made with semolina flour, though Zadi does have a version on Epicurious that is made with all-purpose, in case you can't find semolina. I live in hodunk nowhere and I was able to find this bag of semolina in the baking section of my local grocery store, so I don't think it's too tough to find.

    Semolina is often used to make pasta.

    Now here's where disaster set in. The recipe I used (as opposed to the one copied above) called for 3/4 cup of oil. Then on top of that, it called for a whole cup of water, which was just craziness. I faithfully and stupidly tried to follow the recipe. I got about a half cup of water into the mix and realized there was no way it was ever going to become a "soft, pliable dough" so I quit and hoped for the best.

    This is going to become bread? I'm feeling skeptical.

    Next, flatten the bread out and put it in a frying pan--this bread bakes over a flame instead of in the oven.Yours should look a lot less oily than this one. Heat over a medium flame until golden on the bottom. Because mine was so oily, it took a while to get to that point.

    My kisra. Sad.

    Now back to the chicken. Take the lid off your pot, then turn the chicken pieces over. Add the marmalade (unless you actually managed to find blood orange preserves), the chopped apricots, and the cinnamon stick, thyme and cilantro sprigs. Cover the pot again and simmer for another 10 minutes. 

    While the chicken is cooking, move on to the pine nuts. This part is easy. Just heat a small amount of oil in a little pot, then add the pine nuts, turmeric, paprika, and cayenne. It will only take one or two minutes for the nuts to start to brown, so watch carefully. You don't want to burn them. When they're done, transfer to a small plate or bowl.

    Browning the pine nuts.

    Here's where I went back to my bread. I could see that turning it over was going to be a problem, based on the way it tried to fall apart when I lifted the edge to see how well it was cooking. I tried to slide it onto a plate, then flip it quickly back into the pan. Here's what happened:

    Oh, the horror!

    Yes, my kisra exploded. Fortunately I had a second ball ready to go in my bowl. I tried to save it by adding more semolina (a lot more) and some all purpose flour, hoping it would stay together. While this one was cooking, I started on the couscous. In retrospect, I should have started on the couscous during the chicken's 30 minute cooking interval, because none of these dishes were ready at the same time.

    So for the couscous, slice the mushrooms, chop the onions and grate the carrots (I prefer grated carrots, you could also chop them).  Heat the oil in a large pain and saute until the vegetables soften.

    Saute the vegetables.

    Next add the spices, the couscous, the lemon zest and the raisins. Stir until everything is well incorporated, then add the stock and the lemon juice. Simmer for three minutes, then cover and remove from the heat source. Let stand for five minutes.

    Oh couscous, how I do love you.

    Your chicken should be just about ready. To finish, take the chicken pieces out of the pan and keep them someplace warm. The sauce at the bottom of the pan will probably still be quite thin, so crank up the heat and cook at a rolling boil until it has reduced to a thick sauce.

    Reducing the sauce.

    When the sauce is nice and thick, take it off the heat. Transfer the chicken to plates and pour the sauce over, then sprinkle with the pine nuts.

    Oh my gosh, does this look heavenly or what?

    Yes, there is the kisra, or the substance that is pretending to be kisra. Please let me know if you had better luck with the recipe I ended up posting. Actually my version didn't taste too bad, Martin described it as "a big piece of shortcrust pastry." I thought it was a little bit like that, with a cornbread like texture. It did taste pretty good.

    The chicken and the couscous stole the show, though. Both were seriously yummy. I mean really, really yummy. If I lived in Algeria, I would be fat. This was good food.

    My kids stayed away from the sauce (they are insane) but they enjoyed the chicken, and Hailey ate more of the bread than anyone. No one under then age of seven went anywhere near the couscous ("Ew! Mushrooms!") Oh well, more for me.

    Next week: American Samoa.

    Friday, September 23, 2011

    Recipes from Albania

    Recipes from Albania
    On Wednesday morning of last week I woke up with a cold, which had me wiped out by Sunday ... the same day we'd planned our last summer family outing to the lake. I was recovering a bit by Monday but two days later I was supposed to show up at our school, ready to help on an overnight camping trip with 70+ five and six year olds. So time was not on my side this week.

    In addition to packing a boat and packing my car for the camping trip, I had to come up with three recipes from Albania. So I confess, I didn't put a whole lot of effort into it. Remember the Chicken in Peanut Sauce from Abkhazia? This week I'm doing something pretty similar: Chicken in Walnut Sauce. Why? Because it was either that or meatballs, which featured in my Afghanistan post. And frankly, I just couldn't be bothered to do any intensive research this week.

    So here we go:

    Albania is a country in the Balkands region of Southeastern Europe. There are roughly 3,000,000 people living there, but by European standards it is actually one of the poorer nations in the region. Its main industry is agriculture, with major crops including wheat, corn, tobacco, figs and olives.

    Albania: a tiny country in southeastern Europe.

    Albanian cuisine is influenced greatly by the various countries that have occupied it throughout its history, including Greece and Italy. The main meal of the day is lunch, which I will not be replicating in my little experiment since no one in my family except me and Henry is home at lunch time.

    When choosing recipes, I went with what seemed to be the most commonly posted Albanian dishes, Internet-wise. Really this was just because I was tired, sick and much busier than a tired and sick person ought to be.

    Recipe the first:

    Gjellë me Arra 
    Chicken with Walnuts
    (from Frosina)
    • 2 tablespoons flour
    • Two dozen or so shelled walnuts, crushed to a powder
    • 2 egg yolks, beaten
    • 2 garlic cloves, minced
    • 1 stick of butter
    • 6 chicken breasts
    • 1/2 cup chicken stock, more if needed

    You can also do this with veal. I stay away from veal, personally, because I can't stand the thought of those baby cows in crates (shudder).

    My second dish:

    Byrek ose Lakror
    Vegetable Pie
    (from Frosina

    For the dough:
    • 5 cups flour
    • 1-1/2 t. salt
    • 2 cups lukewarm water
    • 1/2 lb. butter or melted margarine

      For the filling:
      • 2 small leeks
      • 1 lb cottage cheese
      • 2 oz feta cheese
      • 3 eggs
      • 1/4 tsp salt
      • 1/4 cup yogurt
      • 1 tbsp melted butter

      And for dessert:

      Date Cookies

      For the cookies: 
      • 1 cup oil
      • 1/2 cup orange juice
      • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
      • 1 tbsp baking powder
      • 1/2 tsp baking soda
      • 1 tbsp sugar
      • 3 cups flour
      • 1/2 cup ground walnuts 

      For the syrup:
      • 1 cup sugar 
      • 2 cups water
      • 1/2 tsp lemon juice

        Sounds pretty ambitious for someone with a cold and two trips to pack for doesn't it? Well, let's start with the vegetable pie.

        The recipe says to mix the flour, salt and water together and knead for five minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes, then divide in half. Roll out one half until thin and then butter. Fold the sides toward the center, then butter again. Fold the dough in half lengthwise, then butter again. Keep going until you want to kill yourself. Then butter the top and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. Repeat with second ball of dough.

        Grease a standard sized pie-pan. After 15 minutes in the fridge, bring the dough out and roll it until it is the size of the pan. Lay it on the bottom, leaving about a half inch hanging over the edges. Now you are ready to make the filling.

        Now, about the time I was reading all of this in the recipe instructions, my children were pummeling each other with their stuffed animals (this is why I've never purchased any baseball bats or hobby horses for these kids). So I did not do any of this. Instead I bought a package of frozen phyllo dough. To be fair, I did see variations of this recipe online that also called for phyllo dough, so I don't think it was too much of a cheat not to do it the way this particular recipe instructed. Although in retrospect I think I should have used puff pastry (another alternative I found in a different variation of the same recipe). The phyllo dough I used was really dry and papery and hard to work with--though I admit to not having a whole lot of experience with the stuff, so I don't know if that's normal for phyllo dough.

        The filling was comparatively easy to make, since you don't have to cook anything before mixing it all together.

        Leeks are a funny vegetable, just in case you aren't familiar with them. They are kind of like a giant green onion, and they are always dirty. Really dirty, usually full of grit and mud. So make sure you wash them really well. Sometimes I wash them, then slice them, then put them in a colander and agitate them for a few minutes just to make sure I get all the dirt out.

        For this recipe, the leeks should be pretty thinly sliced, since they aren't cooked before they are added to the filling. And only use the white and light green parts of a leek--the dark green parts are inedible. 

        Thinly sliced leeks. Mostly.

        In a large bowl, mix the cottage cheese, feta cheese, eggs, salt, yogurt and melted butter. Then add the leeks and mix until everything is well incorporated.

        If you scratch-made your dough, just pour the filling into it. Roll out the other piece of dough and top the pie with it. Crimp the edges or just roll the top up with the dough on the bottom. Brush with butter.

        I used phyllo dough, as I mentioned, following the instructions from a different version of this recipe, which advised me to lay down two sheets, brush with olive oil, then repeat with another two sheets until about half the package is gone. Here's what the bottom of my pie looked like:


        After I had this elegant presentation complete (haha) I poured the filling in and topped it with the second half of the package, laid down in the same way (two sheets, brush with oil, two sheets, brush with oil). My recipe also advised me to roll the edges of the dough together, but the suggestion was laughable. The dough was so dry and papery there was no way I was going to get it to stick together, so I just trimmed it off with a pair of scissors and sprayed olive oil around the edges in the hope it would help seal the dough. In my defense, I knew in advance that this probably wouldn't work.

        Yes, this really was as ridiculous as it looks.

        When assembled, the pie goes into a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes.

        The next dish on my list was the chicken with walnuts. This is actually a pretty easy recipe that just starts with cooking the chicken breasts in olive oil.

        Can't get any easier than this ...

        Meanwhile, gather the flour, walnuts, egg yolks, garlic, butter and chicken stock. You'll have to act fast when you are ready to bring the sauce together.

        Sauce ingredients, ready to go.

        When the chicken is done (I use a meat thermometer to make sure), take it out of the pan and add the flour. Keep stirring until brown (don't overcook!), then add half of the butter, garlic, walnuts and egg yolks. Continue to stir--you don't want the yolks to solidify.

        Now if your recipe turns out like mine did, you will end up with a kind of lump of walnuts. Although the original recipe did not call for chicken stock, I found I had to add some just to get it to a sauce-like consistency. Just use as much as it takes to make the sauce smooth ... more if you like a watery sauce. When it's ready, remove from the heat and add the chicken, stirring to coat.

        Chicken in walnut sauce. (Hailey just looked over my shoulder and said "Ew!!")

        The recipe then says to melt the rest of the butter and pour it over the chicken to serve. I decided not to do this, since we don't really need any more fat in our diet.

        My pie was ready at just about the time I finished the chicken. I attribute this to my impeccable sense of culinary timing (not really, it was just a very unusual coincidence). Here's what it looked like:

        Albanian leek pie, gone terribly wrong.

        I actually peeled a few layers of phyllo off of the pie and gave them to my kids, who are very fond of "paste-a-wee." It improved the appearance at least a little. Here's what it looked like when I sliced it:

        Despite its origins, this pie was actually pretty good.

        Here's the entire meal. My kids actually tried everything, because of the promise of dessert. Predictably, the pie did not go over well (though they picked off the phyllo dough and ate that). They did like the chicken, surprisingly. I don't think any of them left the chicken.

        Albanian leek pie and chicken with walnuts.

        But the best part was the cookies.

        I was smart this time, and I baked the cookies in the morning, while the kids were at school. I was really looking forward to trying these because the recipe is unusual compared to American cookies, which are usually full of sugar and butter. This recipe calls for a comparatively small amount of sugar and some orange juice, which is sweet-ish but not usually used to sweeten cookies. Additionally, the fat comes from vegetable oil instead of butter.

        First three ingredients: oil, vanilla extract and orange juice.

        First put the orange juice, oil and vanilla extract into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients, then add to the orange juice mixture until a soft dough forms.

        Break off pieces of the dough and roll into 1 1/2 inch balls. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet, and press one date into the center of each cookie.

        Ready to bake!

        Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

        Here's where the recipe gets a bit tricky. After the cookies have cooled, spread the crushed walnuts out on a plate. Mix together the water, sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan and bring just to a boil over the stove. Dip each cookie into the syrup, then press into the walnuts. (Note: the recipe told me to press the tops of the cookies into the walnuts, but I thought it would be prettier if the walnuts were on the bottom.) Repeat until all the cookies are done.

        As predicted, this is not a sweet cookie. The syrup also makes it super crumbly and soft, but yum! These cookies are really delicious, and the date adds enough sweetness to make up for what the dough lacks in sugar. This was definitely my favorite part of my culinary trip to Albania! My kids, however, were pretty lukewarm about them. Not enough chocolate, I guess.


        Next week: Algeria.

        Thursday, September 15, 2011

        Recipes from Akrotiri

        Recipes from Akrotiri
        By far the most challenging part of my little culinary adventure to Akrotiri was not the actual cooking of the food. Nope. It was trying to decide which recipes are good representations of food in Akrotiri. And that was because I had a really difficult time even figuring out what the hell the author of my list was thinking when he decided to include Akrotiri as a "sovereign nation."

        There are actually two places on planet Earth called Akrotiri. The first is the excavation site of a Bronze Age settlement on the Greek island of Santorini. I pretty quickly ruled this out as something that might end up on a list of sovereign nations, especially since I didn't fancy having to look at grainy online pictures of ancient Santorini frescoes in order to glean the ingredients for my next couple of recipes (if they even had frescoes in Bronze-age Santorini, how would I know).

        The second place is basically an RAF base on the island of Cyprus. Huh? How is that a sovereign nation? But hey, who am I to question political geography.

        Akrotiri is the one on the left.

        But this did leave me with a problem. First, there is no one--absolutely no one--publishing recipes from Akrotiri online. So I am left guessing, is food in Akrotiri basically just the same as food elsewhere on Cyprus? Or is it heavily influenced by British cuisine, given that the majority of people living there are British military personnel?

        The answer is a resounding, I have no idea, I couldn't figure it out.

        First I thought I'd check into local restaurants, that should tell me something about what people like to eat in Akrotiri, shouldn't it? Well, as it turns out there seem to be about as many Cypriot restaurants in Akrotiri as there are Indian restaurants. Or Chinese restaurants. Or Italian. Or fast food. So no help there really. I don't feel like I could really do the subject justice just picking something from some other country, even if it is popular in Akrotiri.

        OK, so I decided to try emailing some people who live and work in Akrotiri. Well, they're all quite busy apparently because none of them emailed me back. Or maybe it's just that they don't know either.

        So then I tried posting in some Greek food forums. No love there, either. Apparently even aficionados of Greek and Cypriot food have no clue what they eat in Akrotiri. Besides Indian food, or Chinese, or Italian.

        So I'm back to square one. British or Cypriot.

        So I decided to make a choice that was completely and utterly not based on logic of any kind. I'll bet you're so surprised.

        When my British husband was young a favorite pastime in England was to spend an evening at the pub and then go out afterwards to get something quick to eat. In England (at least in those days) some of the only food you could get after-hours were these kind of nasty-sounding "doner kebabs" (which apparently morph into something quite tasty after a couple of pints). So I'm going to go out on a limb and pick a Cypriot version of this: pork souvlaki. Here's hoping that hard-working pub goers in Akrotiri also like to buy kebabs after hours.

        Now please, if you are living on RAF Akrotiri and you stumble upon this blog and you think to yourself, "No, no, no, that's not right at all!" please email me and let me know. If you send me a few recipes I promise a complete do-over for Akrotiri. In the meantime I'm just going to stick with this totally uneducated idea.

        Here's the recipe for pork souvlaki:
        (from Greek Food at
        • 1/4 cup olive oil
        • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (about one lemon)
        • 1 tsp dried oregano
        • 4 cloves garlic, pressed
        • 1 lb pork shoulder, trimmed of fat and cut into 1 inch cubes

        Cypriot fast food: Pork souvlaki wrapped in pita bread.

        The souvlaki is topped with tzatziki, which is a blend of Greek yogurt, cucumber and a couple of other flavors (from

        • 6 ounces plain Greek yogurt
        • 1/2 cucumber, peeled and shredded
        • 1 clove garlic, pressed
        • 2 tsp distilled white vinegar
        • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
        • salt to taste

        For my second recipe, I'm going to go with pan-fried Halloumi. Since the British almost universally have an appreciation for cheese, I figure this Cypriot recipe is a reasonably safe bet.

        (from Greek Food at
        • One 8-ounce package of Halloumi cheese
        • 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil

        For my third recipe, I'm sticking with a simple Cyprus "Village Salad," which is probably not all that different from a basic Greek Salad (from Greek Food at

        • 2 tomatoes
        • 1 medium cucumbers
        • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
        • 1/4 cup feta cheese
        • 1/2 cup whole kalamata olives, pitted
        • 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
        • 2 tbsp olive oil
        • 1 tsp oregano
        • 1 tbsp lemon juice
        • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar

        So compared to past travels, the souvlaki has a very simple start: a basic marinade made from olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and oregano. The original recipe told me to marinade for two to three hours, but since I didn't actually look at the recipe until an hour and a half before dinnertime I figured an hour was good enough.

        A simple olive oil and lemon based marinade.

        Cube the pork, then toss with the marinade and refrigerate for one hour.

        After the hour is up, thread the meat onto skewers. I just used metal ones, though you can also use soaked wooden ones.

        The skewered pork cubes.

        I imagine the truly authentic version of this recipe is cooked on a grill, but in my family Martin is the grill-chef so I just use my broiler. If you choose the same path, make sure to keep checking, moving and turning because there is a very fine line between nicely blackened and burned beyond recognition.

        Just the right amount of blackening, cooked under the broiler.

        The final touches for this recipe are some fixins, like shredded lettuce, thinly sliced onion, cucumber and parsley. But the icing on this cake is definitely the tzatziki. It's easy to make, just whip everything together in a small bowl.

        Tzatziki: a cucumber and yogurt based sauce.

        When you're ready to serve, just put the pork into a folded piece of hot pita bread, add the veggies and top with the tzatziki.

        Now on to the salad. I was so sure there was lettuce in this recipe that I didn't even bother to check before I opened a bag and dumped it in the bowl. Then I ended up having to pick out all the other stuff out and start over.

        This is basically a layered salad, so if you serve it in a deep glass bowl it will look really pretty on your table. Start by cutting the tomatoes into wedges, then slice the cucumber (I halved the slices) and add those. Top with thinly sliced red onion, feta, olives and parsley.

        The Village Salad is a very pretty presentation.
        (There are tomatoes under there somewhere)

        Whisk the remaining ingredients together and pour on the salad.

        The final part of this may-or-may-not be Akrotirian meal is the fried Halloumi, which I admit was the bit I was most looking forward to. Now I know a mere three or four posts ago I was saying I wouldn't go out of my way to find any exotic ingredients, but as a self-professed cheese snob I kind of had to give this recipe my best shot.

        Now, since I live in an area that doesn't get much more gourmet than Safeway, I wasn't really sure how I would go about finding cheese that is only made on a small island near Greece. I tried one of the few online stores that will ship cheeses, but the shipping costs were unsurprisingly exorbitant ($9 for the cheese, $12 to ship and $5 for the special box they ship it in). I briefly considered driving an hour and a half to the nearest gourmet cheese shop, but then calculated that my gas costs would be more than the cost of the $12 shipping and the $5 box. Then I remembered that this particular gourmet cheese shop sometimes makes an appearance at our local farmer's market, so I called them. Much to my surprise--since things almost never work out the way I want them to--the owner promised that she would not only be at the market that weekend, but that she would bring some Halloumi with her. Yay! (By the way, if you are ever in the Placerville, CA area check out Dedrick's cheese shop. Some of their cheeses are out of this world).

        Halloumi cheese, a traditional Cypriot cheese made with
        goat and sheep's milk.

        So armed with my $12 block of Cypriot cheese, I embarked on the final recipe. To make fried Halloumi, just slice the cheese about 3/8th inch thick, brush with olive oil on both sides and sear in a hot pan. Getting it right is a little tricky (I scorched a couple of mine). It should only take one or two minutes per side if your pan is hot enough, more than that and it will burn.

        I scorched mine a little. Oops.

        So here is the complete meal. I won't bore you by telling you how my children liked it (just refer to my last two posts, oh and add the fact that Henry just ripped up the pita bread and threw everything on the floor) but it got thumbs up from my husband ... Except for the cheese that I worked so hard to procure. I admit, I found it less than wowing myself. It was kind of, um, squeaky. Also a little too goaty for my tastes (Haloumi is made from a blend of sheep and goat's milk).

        Together at last: souvlaki, Halloumi and salad.

        So whether or not this was really a good example of food in Akrotiri I still don't know, but it was tasty (mostly) and pleasantly different from the stuff I usually make. So another huge challenge, but another thumbs-up as well. Now must deal with screaming child. Next week, Albania.

        Tuesday, September 13, 2011

        Afghani Naan

        I made mulligatawny for dinner last night and was experiencing some residual guilt from last week's posting. Does it count as an Afghani meal without the Afghani Naan?

        Mulligatawny isn't exactly an Afghani dish (it's Anglo-Indian) but I thought some naan bread would go down nicely with it. I usually do an oven-baked naan (which is not the traditional way of making it, but the manufacturers of my cookie-cutter home seem to have forgotten to include a Tandoori oven, not sure why) but it didn't seem like that much of a stretch to try the pan-fried Afghani version instead. That way I could assuage my guilt and also have something to serve with the mulligatawny.

        Afghani naan comes together pretty much the same way as any other bread--in a bread machine, duh. Here's the recipe again:

        • 1 package active dry yeast (that's about 2 1/4 tsp)
        • 1 cup warm water
        • 1/4 cup sugar
        • 3 tablespoons milk
        • 1 egg, beaten
        • 2 teaspoons salt
        • 4 1/2 cups bread flour
        • 1/4 cup butter, melted

        I usually proof the yeast first, in this case I just used the whole cup of warm water, added the yeast and a tablespoon or so of the sugar, since I find this makes the yeast perk up a lot faster. When the yeast was foamy I put all the dry ingredients in my bread machine, then dumped in the yeast mixture, the milk and the egg. I let it rise in my bread machine, then took it out and separated it into six fist-sized balls.

        After that I'm not sure what went wrong. The recipe says to let it rise for another 30 minutes, but by the time I was ready for it it had been at least another hour, so that might have been the problem.

        After letting the dough rise again you are supposed to flatten each ball out into a thin oval, then melt the butter in a big pan and fry the bread until it is golden on one side and puffy. Golden: check. Puffy: no dice. But I obediently flipped it over and fried the other side. What I ended up with were pretty thick slabs of very heavy flat bread.

        Here's what mine looked like. I don't think it's supposed to look that way.

        They tasted good though, especially dipped in the mulligatawny. I was right about that much, anyway. But I don't know how authentic they were. Probably not very.

        Thursday, September 8, 2011

        Recipes from Afghanistan

        Recipes from Afghanistan
        Unless you have been in the antarctic studying chin-strap penguins for the past decade, you probably know something about Afghanistan. And if you can't point to it on a map I'm betting you can at least find its general vicinity--but in case not, here is its location on Planet Earth:

        Afghanistan, apart from being ground zero for the longest war in US history, is a country of great variety. Much of it is very dry. Much of it is very cold. Much of it is very hot. Food grown in Afghanistan includes grapes, apricots, pomegranates, melons and nuts, but the country is of course best known for its petroleum. Despite these economic pluses, it's still a very poor country, with about 42% of the population living on the equivalent of less than one dollar per day.

        Unfortunately, most Americans think of Afghanistan in the context of the war that's been going on over there for half of forever. Well, as it turns out, harboring terrorists was not the only messed-up thing the Taliban ever did to us. I'm pretty sure they also had some of their top operatives post Afghani recipes online, so they could all laugh behind their hands as unsuspecting American moms like me tried to figure out how to make them.

        Want to know how to cook Afghani food? Here it is, in a nutshell:

        1) Look for all the most expensive food items at your local grocery store.
        2) Buy them.
        3) Now, try to come up with the most fiddly, time-consuming preparation method you can think of.
        4) Do that.

        Viola! Afghani food. And you thought it was going to be complicated!

        So here are the three (Yes, three. I was clearly not in my right mind when I made this decision.) recipes I chose:

        Name: Kofta Challow
        (from Afghan Web)
        Time to Make: Roughly one million years. Add one geologic era per child in your household.
        • 1 lb lamb, minced
        • 1 medium onion, minced
        • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
        • 1 egg (whole)
        • 1 tbsp powdered chicken stock
        • 2 tsp ground coriander
        • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
        • Enough oil to cover the bottom of a large pot
        • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
        • 2 cups water
        • 2 tbsp tomato paste
        • 1 tbsp powdered chicken stock
        • 2 tsp paprika
        • 1 tbsp ground coriander
        • 1 tbsp cumin

        Name: Kabuli Pulao
        (from Tastedefined)
        Time to Make: This recipe probably wouldn't take too long if you weren't also making Kofta Challow.
        • 1 cup basmati rice
        • 1 lb lamb meat (I made a meatless version)
        • 2 cups mutton broth (You can't find mutton broth?? Substitute beef broth.)
        • 1/2 onion, chopped
        • 1/3 cup golden raisins
        • 1 small carrot, grated
        • 2 tsp cumin
        • 1 1/2 tsp cardamom
        • 1 tsp cinnamon
        • 1/2 tsp ground pepper
        • 1 tsp butter
        • salt to taste

        Name: Afghani Naan
        Time to Make: I don't know, because I never actually got around to it.
        • 1 package active dry yeast
        • 1 cup warm water
        • 1/4 cup sugar
        • 3 tablespoons milk
        • 1 egg, beaten
        • 2 teaspoons salt
        • 4 1/2 cups bread flour
        • 1/4 cup butter, melted

        OK, I am maybe being a little hard on the Kofta Challow. Most of the issues I had with this recipe were actually my husband's fault.

        First of all, Martin doesn't usually like lamb, so I don't buy it very often. So I was a little annoyed to discover that at my grocery store, there are only really two options for buying lamb. The first is a package that costs around $15, which consists of about three parts bone, two parts fat and one part meat. Or you can spend around $30 for a 3 1/2 pound boneless cut, which as it turns out is somewhere on the order of three parts fat and one part meat. I opted for the $30 cut, because I figured it would be a lot faster to prepare if I didn't have to trim all that bone. Ha! Haha! Hahaha!

        Now, if my husband dislikes lamb he abhors fat of any kind, so at least five hundred thousand of the one million years it took me to prepare this recipe were spent cutting every visible bit of fat off of this $30 piece of meat, which isn't just a matter of trimming off a few chunks here and there, oh no, every half an inch there is a strip of fat, a layer of fat or a blob of fat. Forty five minutes after I started I was still trimming fat.

        So after I finished trimming all the fat, I thought the hard part was over ... but no. After trimming the fat the lamb still has to be minced. At this point I was really growing quite tired of lamb, so I only sort-of minced it.

        Minced lamb. Yes, you can still see some fat in it. Please don't tell my husband.
        And just in case you didn't get enough mincing, now you have to mince the onions. And the garlic. (Fortunately, I have a garlic press for that part). When you're done with that, you can add the lamb, onion, garlic and the next four ingredients to a glass mixing bowl. Mix them up with your hands, then shape the mixture into 2-inch meatballs.

        The mixture will be really wet, and your finished meatballs will look like this:

        I should have minced the onions more.
        Now, get ready to chop some more onions! Yay! This time instead of mincing, they need only be "finely chopped," which if you ask me might as well be mincing.

        I hope there aren't any Afghani chefs rolling over in their graves at the non-finely-choppedness of these onions.
        Next, prepare the cooking liquid. This is just a mixture of water, tomato paste and spices (powdered chicken stock, paprika, coriander and cumin). Be sure to mix well, until the tomato paste and spices are all incorporated into the liquid.

        Now pour the oil in the bottom of your pan and fry the onions until they are a nice brown color. You will need to stir fairly constantly to keep them from burning. When they look good, add the liquid, then gently place each meatball (one at a time) into the liquid. Try to keep them from touching if you can. They should be about 2/3rds submerged--if they aren't, add a little more water. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat.

        Simmering meatballs
        Simmer for 20 minutes, then lift the lid and gently turn each meatball over. Replace the lid but keep it slightly ajar so the steam can escape. You want to cook off the rest of the water, leaving a thick sauce behind. This should take another 20 minutes or so, but be sure to check often in case the bottoms of the meatballs start to burn.

        Now, the traditional way to serve this meal is with plain white basmati rice (challow), but that seemed so boring. Oh if only I'd just stuck with boring, because by the time the Kofta was on simmer I was beat. But I soldiered on.

        Kabuli Pulao is one of the most popular dishes in Afghanistan. It is generally made with lamb or beef, but I didn't want to do two meat dishes so I just opted to leave the meat out. I don't know how badly I screwed with tradition by doing this.

        Start this dish by sauteing the carrots and raisins in butter (Note: the original recipe only wanted a teaspoon of butter, but I decided to use a little more. The final product probably tasted more buttery than it should have). Set them aside.

        Sauteing the carrots and raisins
        Guess what happens now, more onions! This time just chop them. Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a medium sized pan and cook the onions until translucent. Then add the rice and broth, bring to a boil, cover and cook for 20 minutes until the rice is tender.

        At this point, you are supposed to add the spices to hot oil and cook for a few seconds, until fragrant. Then add the meat and saute until just done. I skipped this part.

        When the meat is finished, the recipe tells you to put it in an oven-safe dish, then cover it with the rice and bake at 250 degrees for 20 minutes. I skipped this part too. So yeah, I guess I probably butchered the Kabuli Pulao, but hopefully you'll get it right. Provided you don't try to do it at the same time as the Kofta Challow.

        Finished meal

        After all that work, this had better be a damned tasty meal. And it was! At least I thought so. Martin was less enthusiastic, giving it a 7 out of 10. And that wasn't because of the lamb, which he usually doesn't care for. In fact he couldn't even tell there was lamb in it, which makes me think he should have upped the score to an 8. So why the 7? He says it just "wasn't different enough," which is an interesting comment. Not everything can be 100% unique, and we've eaten a lot of Indian food (Martin is English and the English love their curries), which is pretty similar to Afghani food. I guess maybe he just thought Afghanistan would be a little more exotic.

        How did my kids feel about it? Well, they tried it. Dylan didn't really eat much more than the first bite. Neither did Hailey. Henry ate all of it, which is what he usually does. Natalie made a concerted effort to eat hers, if picking all the raisins out and just eating those can really be considered a "concerted effort."

        Poor planning made me abandon my third dish, the Afghani Naan. But in case you have more time than I did (a lot more time), here are the instructions:

        Dissolve the yeast in warm water and let stand for 10 minutes, until frothy. Add the sugar, milk, egg, salt and flour. Knead for 6-8 minutes (if you are a chump) or use your bread machine.

        Place the dough on a greased surface, cover with a damp cloth, and let rise in a warm place for one hour.

        Punch down the dough, then cut into fist-sized pieces and roll into balls. Let rise for another 30 minutes, or until the balls double in size.

        Melt butter in a large saucepan. Flatten each ball into a thin oval shape, then fry in the oil for 2-3 minutes, until puffy and lightly browned. Brush the top with more melted butter, then turn and cook until the other side is also lightly brown. Repeat with remaining dough balls.

        I'm glad my trip to Afghanistan is over. It was hard work. Here's hoping that Akrotiri will be kinder. Somehow I doubt it.

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