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.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Recipes from Bassas da India

I confess, I love the non-countries. That's why I don't just quietly delete them from my list whenever I discover them there.

I wish I could remember where my list came from, because this is actually the second time a country has shown up that I would really not in any way persoanly call an actual "country." Sure there have been a few odd ones, like Akrotiri, which is really just an RAF base on the island of Cyprus, and Antarctica, which is just a series of research stations on a very cold block of ice that doesn't actually have a government or even belong to any one specific country. But those two places weren't entirely problematic because there are people living there, and people have to eat.

But Ashmore and Cartier was different, because there is no one living there. And neither is there anyone living in our next country, Bassas da India.

But that doesn't mean that Bassas da India has no culinary tradition, because it does.

Bassas da India is a 6 mile diameter circular atoll that includes 10 completely barren rocky islets, a reef with 22 miles of coastline and a shallow lagoon. Contrary to its name, it is not really anywhere near India. It is actually located roughly between Madagascar and Mozambique in the southern Mozambique channel. The name "Bassas da India" stems from a cartography transcription error of the original name, which was "Baixo da Judia," or "Shoal of Judia." The area got this name because one of the many ships that ran aground on its treacherous reef was a Portuguese ship named "Judia."

Bassas da India is a small group of islets between Mozambique and Madagascar.

So how does a country consisting of 10 barren islets and a shallow lagoon have its own culinary tradition? Well as I discovered pretty blissfully early on in my research, Bassas da India is a popular fishing destination, and there are a number of companies that charter boats in the area. And there is always food aboard a chartered boat.

So I started my quest by contacting Fred Steynberg, a fishing enthusiast who has dedicated an entire page of his website to Bassas da India. Fred referred me to Brent Craig of Island Adventure Charters. Brent is the chef on board the Pelagic 2, a boat that takes fishing enthusiasts into Bassas da India in pursuit of Yellowfin Tuna, Wahoo, Barracuda, Giant Kingfish and maybe another couple of dozen other species of fish.

On board the Pelagic 2, Brent serves simple meals made from (what else) fresh fish. He was generous enough to send me two recipes, the first an appetizer (scaled down to serve two people instead of a whole boat):

Sesame Tuna (my name)
  • 1 7-ounce sushi-grade yellowfin tuna steak
  • Chicken spice to coat (more on that later)
  • Sesame seeds to coat
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp powdered chicken stock
  • Pickled ginger
  • Soy sauce (for dipping)

The second a main course:

Tuna Pasta Pelagic Style
  • 6 oz dry spaghetti noodles
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 8 to 10 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/3 each red, yellow and orange bell peppers, chopped
  • 3/4 lb yellowfin tuna, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 9 small basil leaves

Now Brent seemed like a busy guy, so I didn't want to bug him too much with questions--which meant a few things about both of these recipes were left open to interpretation. Most things, actually, since I didn't know how many servings each recipe made and there were only a few measurements included in the original versions that Brent sent to me. But because Bassas da India is one of those psuedo-countries, I didn't feel as much pressure the get everything exactly right, so rather than pester Brent I decided to just wing it. Based on my results, I think I did a pretty good job.

Both of these recipes are simple and cook up quickly, which is particularly nice for me since these meals are usually a lot of work. So starting with the appetizer:

Coat the tuna steak with the chicken spice. Now this is really the one major thing I wasn't too sure about: "chicken spice," which could mean poultry seasoning, or it could mean any number of different spice blends on the market that are specifically designed for pairing with chicken. Poultry seasoning seems more to me like an herb blend than an actual "spice," so I decided to pick one of the spice blends instead. The one I chose was Grillmates "Kickin' Chicken," which did give my finished product a little bit of the proverbial "kick."

After coating the tuna with the spice blend, sprinkle both sides with sesame seeds.

Coat the tuna with the chicken spice and sesame seeds.

Now heat the oil in a pan. You want it to be pretty hot, since you will be searing the outside of the tuna while keeping it pretty rare in the middle.

As the oil heats up, stir in the powdered chicken stock. Now add the tuna steak and fry lightly on both sides. You only want about a quarter of the meat to actually cook through; the remaining 3/4 on the inside should stay pink.

Now lightly fry the tuna. Make sure there is still plenty of pink inside.

Remove the fish from the heat and slice thinly. Serve with pickled ginger and a small dish of soy sauce for dipping.

Here's how the finished dish should look--rare, rare, rare.

Now on to the main course. This meal has a really pretty combination of vegetables, including three different colors of bell pepper and cherry tomatoes.

Colorful veggies aren't they?

First, fry the onion in the oil. Add the chili powder and stir to incorporate.

The real question is, just how many frying onion photos can one person have?

Now add the bell peppers and continue to stir until the vegetables are soft. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or so, then add the halved cherry tomatoes. Meanwhile, boil the pasta according to package directions.

Now put in the tuna chunks and saute until the pink disappears. If the fish looks like it is drying out, add a little olive oil.

Add the tuna and cook until the pink disappears. This is almost ready.

Stir in the soy sauce and keep cooking until heated through. Stir in the pasta and garnish each plate with three basil leaves. Serve immediately.

Add basil to garnish.

Now as you know, I never make my kids eat fish, because frankly it is just a waste of fish. So I made this for Martin and myself after the kids went to bed (they had a mac-n-cheese night).

We are sushi fans, so the tuna appetizer was a really nice treat for us, albeit a bit salty (which made me wonder about my decision to use the Kickin' Chicken instead of a basic poultry seasoning). I also sliced mine a little too thick, but that didn't bother me as much as it did Martin, who prefers a rare tuna to be sliced a bit thinner.

The fish pasta was simple but oh-so-tasty. Martin declared the combination of cherry tomatoes and yellowfin tuna "a stroke of genius." We both loved it.

As much as I enjoy putting together big, complicated, traditional meals, there's something to be said for Gordon Ramsay's mantra of simple recipes with fresh ingredients. This was a fun and challenging menu to come up with, but in preparation it was also a low-stress meal that came out beautifully.

Next week: Belarus

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Recipes from Barbados

This week we're back in the Caribbean, which is something I promised to not comment about anymore except to say that there are a lot of countries in the Caribbean. There, I'm done.

The Bajan staple Christmas meal, jug jug with boiled ham.

Of course, though it is considered a Caribbean nation, Barbados is actually situated 62 miles east of the Caribbean sea, in the western part of the North Atlantic. Lucky for its 284,589 permanent residents, it is outside the principal Atlantic hurricane belt, which is good for general day-to-day existence as well as being good for the tourist trade. It is both an independent state and a commonwealth nation, which means that Bajans consider England's Queen Elizabeth II to be the head of state of their little 166 square mile island paradise.

Barbados is over there in the corner.

Despite being one of the most popular Caribbean destinations, Barbados is sadly lacking in online sources for local recipes. The one site I found that seemed to have a good collection was riddled with comments from Barbados locals (who call themselves "Bajan") about inaccuracies and errors in authenticity. So the recipe I've been planning to do for the last couple of weeks (Bajan Pepper Pot) I had to scratch at the last minute because it didn't include the ubiquitous ingredient, a flavoring called "casareep," which is evidently the single most important element of any Bajan Pepper Pot.

So once again I was down to the wire, and ended up settling for a dish called jug jug, which is actually a holiday recipe served at most Christmas celebrations on the island. Here is the version I used, though I am now actually kind of hopeful that there are better ones out there:

(from My Barbados)

  • 2 cups green pigeon peas

  • 1 lb salt beef (otherwise known as corned beef)

  • 1 lb cooked pork

  • 2 cups guinea corn or cassava flour

  • 1 bouquet garni of thyme, chives, parsley and bay

  • 2 large chopped onions

  • 1 – 2 tablespoons cooking oil

  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed

  • Water for cooking

  • Salt to taste
Jug jug is traditionally served with boiled ham, and for the sake of brevity I am going to give you that recipe in its entirety right here:

Take a ham. Boil it.

On the side I decided I wanted to do "salt bread," which is actually one of the only non-sweet breads eaten on Barbados. Unfortunately the recipe for salt bread is evidently closely guarded, and what I initially found was a recipe on that same website, which like all the other recipes on that site included several comments from Bajans decrying its complete and utter lack of authenticity. The other thing I found was a reference to a salt bread recipe that appears in a Caribbean vegan cookbook (huh?), which the author didn't seem willing to part with without an $8.99 download fee. Since I'm not a vegan that really wasn't a price I wanted to pay for one recipe, and though I was almost desperate enough to do it I'm glad I didn't, since as it turns out the traditional recipe calls for that decidedly non-vegan ingredient: lard.

Hey did you know lard is health food? I am not actually kidding.

I never buy lard, I mean never-never. Because like most people I equate lard with getting fat (well, fatt-er) and with having veins that contain mere pinholes instead of actual channels because of all that artery-clogging stuff floating around in them. Well as it turns out, lard is actually quite a bit healthier than butter, with fully double the monounsaturated fat (the stuff they say is actually good for your heart) and 20% less saturated fat. I know, I couldn't believe it either. Of course the stuff you buy at the supermarket is pretty substandard because it's been hydrogenated, which means it's full of trans fats, which we all know are Evil and Bad. But of course that's what I ended up buying because you can't find anything else at a regular supermarket, and I was out of time. And because I wasn't about to try rendering my own lard, at least not with just 8 hours left before I had to start cooking.

Anyway as you've probably already guessed I did finally find a salt bread recipe without having to go vegan, and here it is:

(I got this recipe from a GIF I found online and have lost the bookmark. Does anyone recognize it? I'd like to credit the original source.)

  • 3 1/2 cups white flour

  • 3 3/4 tsp active dry yeast

  • 1 1/2 tsp salt

  • 3 1/2 tsp turbinado sugar

  • 2 tbsp lard

  • 1 cup water
And finally, I picked a sweet bread to serve after dinner. Bajan sweet bread, as far as I can tell, isn't usually served as a dessert but as a breakfast or sometimes just with tea in the afternoon. But I bunked tradition and served mine as a dessert. Here are the ingredients (from the Bajan Sun):

  • 1 tbsp shortening

  • 2 1/2 cups coconut

  • 4 cups flour

  • 1 tbsp baking powder

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 3/4 cup sugar

  • 1 cup raisins

  • 1 egg, beaten

  • 1 1/4 cups evaporated milk

  • 1/2 cup melted butter

  • 1 tsp almond essence

  • 2 tbsp sugar

  • 1 tbsp hot water
So the first thing I did was make the sweet bread, because I've learned that on blog days making things in advance is a Good Thing. Fortunately, this is a simple recipe (and I do love simple recipes).

This recipe makes two loaves of bread, so first grease two loaf pans with shortening and set your oven to 350 degrees.

Now mix the dry ingredients with the raisins in a large bowl. I just used the pre-shredded coconut you can get in the baking section of any grocery store, which is sweetened, but not so sweetened that you have to adjust the sugar in the recipe to make it come out right.

Mix the dry ingredients with the raisins.

Now add the egg, milk, butter and almond essence. Mix until you have a firm dough. (Remember the Johnny cakes from the Bahamas? This dough is similar.)

Divide the dough in half and press it down into the loaf pans. Now mix the sugar and hot water and, using a pastry brush, brush the tops of each loaf. This gives the bread a really nice, sweet and crispy crust on the top.

Brushing the top with warm sugar water creates a sweet, crispy crust.

Bake for one hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool, then remove from pans. Slice and serve!

This is good with a hot cup of tea.

The next thing I did was bake the salt bread. This recipe works great in a bread machine, but in case you don't have one here are the old-fashioned instructions:

Put all the ingredients except the water into a large bowl and blend until you get fine crumbs.

Add the water and knead for two minutes, then let rise until doubled in size.

This salt bread is rising really well.

Punch down and divide into four equal portions. Brush with water and turn over. Let rest for 15 minutes, then turn over again and let rest for another 15 minutes.

Sprinkle the tops of the rolls with flour and place them in a preheated 325 degree oven for 15 minutes or until golden (mine took more like 25 or 30 minutes, so make sure you watch them). This is a really soft bread, so your rolls aren't going to sound too hollow when you knock on them. Go by color instead.

Bake until golden. Mine could have been goldener, but they didn't suffer.

Now on to the jug jug. I did serve this with boiled ham. (As a guideline, boil your ham for about 15 to 20 minutes per pound. If you're using a raw ham, make sure the center reaches 160 degrees.)

This recipe calls for green pigeon peas. The ones I used were left over from some of my other Caribbean adventures, and I have a feeling they were not the green ones (based on the fact that they were not, um, green). If I did this recipe again (which I can tell you right now is not very likely) I would use canned pigeon peas. The dry ones are a bear to get tender enough, even when soaked for a pretty long period of time.

So there may be a disconnect between what a Bajan would call salt beef, and what we would call salt beef (which you may know only as corned beef). First of all don't buy the canned stuff, that's not at all the same thing. You can get fresh corned beef at the deli counter of most supermarkets (though I did have to go to Raley's because Safeway didn't have it). I don't know, though, if the deli stuff is similar to the salt beef you would get in Barbados. Based on these instructions for making jug jug, I suspect that Bajan salt beef might be dried, though someone please correct me if I'm wrong.

Anyway, I forged ahead as if my salt beef was exactly the same as the Bajan kind, which meant that I cut it into small pieces, covered it with water and brought it just to a boil. Then I drained the water and covered it with cold water and stuck it in the fridge for two or three hours.

Soak the salt beef in cold water. I think.

Meanwhile, I cooked some basic pork stew meat in a pan.

About an hour before you want to be eating, pour a little bit of oil in a heavy pot and heat until it starts to smoke. Then add the onions and saute until they start to become translucent. Add the garlic and keep cooking until fragrant.

Put the pigeon peas in the pot and stir for another five or 10 minutes.

Cook the pigeon peas until the skins start to wrinkle and split.

The recipe says to cook "until the skins burst," which never happened in my pot because my pigeon peas were like little pebbles. Now add the meats, the bouquet garni and just enough water to cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the meats are soft, for about an hour or so. Remove and discard the bouquet garni.

This, by the way, is a bouquet garni--a simple bunch of herbs tied with a piece of kitchen string.

Now comes the weird part. Cassava flour is not something you can get at an American market, obviously, but it just so happened I had some because I ordered it a few weeks ago from an marketplace seller. It kept popping up in a lot of Caribbean recipes, so I figured it was something I ought to have on hand.

Cassava flour looks just like regular flour but it smells a bit odd. In fact when I first smelled it it gave me a quick flash back to my childhood, not because it smelled like something we used to eat when I was a kid but because it smelled like something my mom used to feed her birds.

Anyway the recipe says to mix it with just enough water so that there are no more lumps, which means you end up with really thick porridgey stuff.

This stodgy looking stuff is cassava flour mixed with water.

Then you are supposed to put all of that in the pot, which instantly turns the water into a clear, thick mass that looks like plain Jell-O. Now add salt. Taste. Now try to save the recipe with even more salt. Now stare at the pot with a growing sense of unease and wonder what you're going to say to your family.

Finished jug jug. I'm sorry to say I did not like this at all.

I mean no disrespect to Bajans, who I know enjoy this meal since it is a holiday staple. I just don't think my tastebuds are programmed like theirs are, or else something went terribly wrong in my interpretation of this recipe (which is pretty similar to other versions I found elsewhere online). If I was the kind of person who gave one-star reviews on, though, I might be tempted to begin my review with the words "if I could only give this half a star, I would," and then I would end it with the word "YUCK" in all caps, with a bunch of exclamation points. But I am not the nasty, mean-spirited sort of person who gives one star recipe reviews so I really just prefer to think that my tastes are not suited to this particular recipe. Neither were Martin's. We really didn't like it at all. It looked horrible, like wet gelatin with meat and peas in it. And it was bland.

The boiled ham was good though, because, you know, it was just ham. That had been boiled.

On the other end of the spectrum was the salt bread, which came out absolutely perfectly and was delicious. It was soft and yeasty and tasted great with just a little bit of butter. And the sweet bread was also oh-so yummy, with a wonderful crispy, sugary crust on top and delicious little bits of coconut inside (and I'm not even someone who usually likes coconut in sweet foods). We couldn't stop eating it, probably in part because we were hungry from not eating the jug jug but also because it was just plain good.

And with the leftover ham and a little South-Western style mustard, the salt bread made a really awesome sandwich the day after.

Next week: Bassas da India, which has no population (either native or non-native). Bet you can't wait to see how I'm going to manage this one ....

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Recipes from Balochistan

I learned a few things about dal this week. If you've eaten a lot of Indian food, you probably already know that dal (or daal) is a kind of spiced lentil soup or stew. I've been making dal from brown lentils for years, but just last week I figured out that there are many different types of dal: moong dal is made from mung beans, chana dal from chickpeas (garbanzo beans), masoor dal from red lentils etc. What I failed to realize is that dal always refers to pulses that have been split (hence the name, dal, which literally translated means "to split.") Who knew? So last week when I put whole mung beans in the khichuri, that wasn't technically correct. I needed to use a split mung in order to achieve maximum authenticity.

Fortunately, this week I was down in Sacramento and stumbled upon a little Indian market, where I found actual moong dal, along with some chana dal and a bunch of the spices I was trying to get in a hurry last week (for my Bangladesh entry) but couldn't find anywhere. So I stocked up, and with authentic ingredients on hand was able to pretty easily pick this week's recipes, which are from nearby Balochistan.

Chicken Sajji Masala and Moong Dal.

First an explanation: Balochistan is not a country. This time I'm quite sure of it. Balochistan is first and foremost the largest of four provinces in Pakistan, comprising about 44% of the nation's total land mass. Regionally and ethnically speaking, it also extends past the borders of Pakistan into Iran and southwestern Afghanistan. Geographically speaking, Balochistan is in the Iranian plateau. It gets its name from the Baloch tribes, who first populated the area around 1000 AD. Most of the Balochi population is concentrated in Pakistan, with roughly 6.6 million of them making their homes there.

Compared to the rest of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, the traditional cuisine of Balochistan has pretty significant regional differences, which is why I decided to give it its own entry. Traditional Balochi food tends to be aromatic rather than spicy, and a lot of it is cooked over an open flame or hot coals.

Which brings me to my first recipe of the week: Chicken Sajji Masala (from Khana Pakana). Here are the ingredients:

For the chicken: 
  •     1 whole chicken
  •     1 cup white vinegar
  •     1 tsp red chili powder
  •     1 tsp black pepper
  •     1/2 tsp salt
  •     2 tsp garlic paste
  •     Juice of 1/2 lemon

For the spices:
  •     1 to 1 3/4 oz whole red chilies
  •     1/2 tsp salt
  •     1 tsp carom seeds
  •     2 tsp fennel seeds
  •     2 tsp cumin seeds
  •     2 tbsp coriander seeds
  •     Lemon juice for sprinkling

Ingredient note: carom seeds are also called "ajwain," and they can be purchased at most Indian grocers or from various online sources (I got mine on When they arrive, don't be alarmed if you see the subtitle "celery;" like Indian bay, Indian celery is not the same as its American counterpart.

I found a couple of Balochi dal recipes that sounded pretty good, but the one I settled on was a moong dal since it was the simplest of the two, and since I was making this on a Sunday I didn't want to spend half my weekend in the kitchen. Here are the ingredients for the moong dal (from Khana Pakana):

  • 1 cup moong dal
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • salt to taste
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 to 3 green chiles, sliced
  • 1/2 tbsp ghee
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 2 to 3 whole cloves
  • 1/2 inch cinnamon stick
  • 3 to 4 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 small tomato, quartered
  • 1 tbsp cilantro

And then for the second week in a row, I chose a dessert recipe based on the name: Chocolate Burfi, otherwise known as "Chocolate Barfi." Doesn't that sound yummy? Haha. (This recipe is also from from Khana Pakana.)

  • 1 cup maida or pastry flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup ghee
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup milk powder
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped cashews

Starting with the sajji masala: first of all it is important to take note of the fact that the chicken needs to marinate overnight, which of course I did not take note of because I'm really bad about reading over recipes before I actually start making them. So mine only marinaded for a couple of hours, but it did taste pretty good so I guess my shortcut wasn't too harmful.

To make the marinade, just mix the vinegar, chili powder, black pepper, salt and garlic paste together in a large bowl. Add the whole chicken and turn to coat. Refrigerate overnight, turning occasionally to make sure you get good coverage.

While the chicken is marinading, put the spice ingredients together in a hot pan. Keep stirring, because you aren't using any oil and the spices will burn pretty quickly if left unattended. When they become fragrant, remove them from the heat and transfer them to whatever spice-crushing appliance you own. Crush them into a fine powder. If you have larger bits in your mix, it's a good idea to sift the spices through a fine mesh strainer as the bits won't be very pleasant to bite into. Warning: don't be tempted to inhale your spice mixture, because it really hurts when it gets in your nose. Set the mixture aside.

The spice mixture for this recipe is heated in a dry pan.

When the chicken has finished marinading, transfer it to a preheated oven and cook at 350 degrees for about 30 to 45 minutes. Meanwhile, light some coals in your barbecue (propane won't really work for this recipe, you need the smoking coals to achieve the right flavor). When they are hot, transfer the whole chicken to your barbecue and close the lid.

After 30 to 45 minutes in an oven, the chicken goes on the barbecue over hot coals.

Traditionally, you would put the chicken on a spit for this step, but I'm not set up for that. Just putting it on the grill seemed to work fine, though.

When the chicken develops a dark, crispy skin take it off the grill and check the temperature in both thighs (barbecues can cook unevenly). It should read about 175. If it doesn't, transfer back to your oven and keep cooking until the right temperature is achieved.

Here's the chicken after about 15 minutes on the grill.

Like all roasted meat, you should let your chicken rest for about 10 or 15 minutes before carving. This will allow the juices to remain in the meat rather than draining out onto the cutting board.

Sprinkle each serving with some lemon juice and a little bit of the prepared spice mixture.

Chicken Sajji Masala withe a little bit of spice mixture sprinkled on top. Yum!

Now on to the moong dal. This recipe requires a little bit of preparation, but is actually pretty simple.

First soak the moong dal in cold water for about 20 minutes. Drain, then add to a pot with the water, turmeric and salt. Make sure to skim off the foam that forms as the water boils.

The moong dal needs to be soaked for about 20 minutes before cooking.

 Keep simmering until the moong dal is soft, adding about a half cup water at a time as necessary. The dal is finished when you can successfully moosh it up a little on the side of the pan. It should be thick without any visible pools of liquid. Now add the lemon juice and the sliced green chiles.

Add the sliced chili peppers (I just used jalapenos).

While the dal is cooking, heat the ghee and cook the cumin seeds, cloves, cinnamon, garlic and ginger. Keep stirring until fragrant. Add the quartered tomatoes and saute for one or two minutes, then pour the contents of the pan over the dal. Cover the pot for five minutes or so before serving. Garnish with the chopped cilantro.

The tomato was a nice touch.

Now for the weird part of the meal: the chocolate burfi. You should have seen the look on Hailey's face when I told her this was what we were going to make for dessert. Of course she soon got over the strange linguistic juxtaposition between the word "burp" and the word "barf" based on the presence of the word "chocolate," so after a few seconds of confusion it was on with the show. Here's how it's done:

This maida is labeled "all purpose," but it is really more like a pastry flour.

Add all the ingredients except the cashews to a hot pan. Now stand there and kiss 20 minutes of your life goodbye as you stir, stir and stir, followed of course by more stirring. Keep going until the mixture starts to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Keep stirring the burfi (I know, this is a terrible photo).

Now drop in the cashews and keep stirring. By now the mixture should be just barely thin enough to pour, but thick enough so that your arm muscles are screaming at you "enough with the stirring, already." Pour the mixture into a greased pan and cut into squares (you may have to reinforce your cuts later as the burfi cools).

Chocolate burfi. It tasted weird.

The family verdict: We all ate and enjoyed this meal (well, pretty much). I have to say this chicken for all its strange origins was probably the single most juiciest chicken I've ever made. If it wasn't such a pain to light the charcoal grill I might always cook chicken this way. The crispy skin kept the juices in and the coals gave it a nice smoky flavor that went really well with the spice mixture and lemon juice.

My moong dal came out a little salty, but hidden in there were some really wonderful flavors. Martin and I both liked the addition of the tomatoes. My kids of course greatly feared the moong dal and I'm pretty sure none of them tried it, though Hailey insisted that she did (I saw no actual evidence of this happening of course).

The chocolate burfi was mildly disappointing. The texture was really chewy, almost difficult-to-chew, and having never eaten burfi before I have no idea if it was supposed to come out that way. It also tasted really strongly of ghee, which I'm sure is not unpleasant to most people living in the region but didn't sit quite right on my American tastebuds (though I don't usually have a problem with ghee when used in a savory setting). If you aren't a real stickler for authenticity, you might want to try this recipe with butter instead of ghee.

Now it's back to the Caribbean, and no, I'm not going to comment.

Next week: Barbados

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Recipes from Bangladesh

Welcome to Bangladesh, land of "every recipe contains exactly one ingredient that you can't find locally and costs at least $14.95 to ship, if you can even find it online at all."

Besan chicken and bhuna khichuri, Bangladeshi style.

Officially, though, Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) is a land of rivers, with about 700 natural waterways criss-crossing its total land area of about 91,696 square miles. It is a part of the ethno-linguistic region of Bengal, which also includes the Indian state of West Bengal. It is also one of the poorest nations in the world, ranking number nine on the world's scale of most populated nations and number 12 in terms of how dense that population is. The Royal Bengal Tiger hails from Bangladesh; so does the Clouded Leopard, the Sun Bear and several species of dolphin.

Bangladesh is that small green country to the east of India.

Bangladeshi cuisine is part of a larger family of Bengali cuisine, but it does have subtle differences, so I made sure that the recipes I ultimately decided on were from Bangladeshi sources rather than generic Bengal ones. The recipes themselves weren't hard to locate, but it seemed like they all had some kind of road block to throw at me. Part of the problem was I'd actually settled on a recipe that looked pretty interesting, but it wasn't until I sat down to make my shopping list (the day before I planned to go to the store) that I noticed exotic ingredient A) mustard oil.

Now the idea of mustard oil didn't really seem that strange though I couldn't remember ever seeing it in the grocery store. Turns out my memory was correct, you can't get it in our grocery store (nor at the co-op, and judging by the look I got when I asked apparently at the co-op they do actually think it's strange). I couldn't get it on Amazon Prime either, at least not in single-bottle format (and I really can't see ever getting though four bottles). I also couldn't find it at any of my go-to online food shops, not that it would have mattered anyway since I was running out of time.

So I starting looking around for a different recipe. Here's what I found:

Chicken Rezala: contains exotic ingredient B) keora water. Methi Chicken: contains exotic ingredient C) fenugreek leaves, and evidently fenugreek powder is a poor substitute. Chicken Makhani: contains exotic ingredient D) a pound of butter. This is for just two pounds of chicken. OK, butter isn't an exotic ingredient but jeez, even I don't want to eat that much fat. Chicken Korma: contains exotic ingredient E) screw pine essence. And finally, a Bangaladeshi style chicken curry, which besides being boring contained exotic ingredient F) Indian Bay leaves, which are not even remotely the same as American bay leaves.

So finally I found this recipe:

Chicken Besan
(from Tokjhalmisti)
  • 2 lbs boneless chicken thighs
  • 1/2 cup besan
  • 4 tbsp plain yogurt
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper, divided
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp ginger paste, divided
  • 1 tsp garlic paste, divided
  • 4 tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt

And yes, that is in fact exotic ingredient G) besan, which is a flour made out of garbanzo beans. Naturally I could not find that at the co-op either, but they did have dried garbanzo beans so I figured I'd just grind my own. Do you hear that sound? That is hysterical laughter. More on that later.

For a side dish I'd already decided on a khichuri, which is one of the more important dishes in Bangladeshi cuisine. I had to poke around before I found a version without Indian Bay or some other impossible-to-find ingredient, but I finally did, and here it is (from Indian Food Forever):

  • 1/2 cup cauliflower florets
  • 1 medium sized potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
  • 1/4 cup mung beans
  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 1/2 small onion
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 1/8 tsp cumin
  • 1/8 tsp coriander
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp cooking oil

The third recipe is a dessert, and I mainly made it because of the name. Because really, who wouldn't want to eat something called "cham-cham?"

For the cham-cham 
(from Bangla Recipes)
  • 8 1/2 cups milk
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp semolina
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tbsp self raising flour
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom powder
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 4 tbsp caramel syrup
For the mawa:
(from Bangla Recipes) 

  • 1/2 cup milk powder
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp ghee 

And that's where I'm actually going to start this week--with the cham-cham, because although it really isn't that difficult to make it's actually quite time consuming.

The first component of this recipe is dry mawa which is (you guessed it) exotic ingredient H. Mawa is made using a time-honored, handed-down-through-the-ages cooking technique that relies on a complicated piece of cookery known as a "microwave." Fortunately, I actually posses one of these appliances so I was able to make my mawa in the Bangladeshi tradition. Haha.

The simple-but-tedious technique goes like this:

First mix together the powdered milk, milk and ghee (I don't know if butter will work as a substitute since ghee does have a somewhat different texture). Now put the mixture in the microwave for 30 seconds. Take it out and stir it. Let it cool down for another 30 seconds.

This porridgy stuff is milk, powdered milk and ghee.

Now put it back in the microwave for another 15 seconds. Take it out and stir. Let it cool for 30 seconds. Put it back in the microwave. Keep going like this until you've completed eight microwave-stir-cool cycles.

Progress ...

Then reduce the microwave time to 10 seconds, followed of course by more stirring and more 30 second cool-downs, and keep going until the mawa becomes kind of dry and grainy. Mine came out with rather large "grains" so I ended up putting the finished product in my mini processor until I got smaller grains.

I had to grind mine a bit, and I think the grains were still too big.

With the mawa finished, you can move on to the cham-cham. The first ingredient for the cham-cham is paneer, which is a kind of farmer's cheese that you can make yourself.

To make the paneer, first ready a fine mesh strainer by lining it with cheesecloth. Then bring the milk to a boil (take care not to let it boil over) and add the lemon juice. You will almost instantly see curds begin to form.

Pour the curds and whey (the liquid) into the strainer.

Strain the whey from the curds.

When the curds have cooled enough to be handled, knead them with your hands for about two minutes, or until there isn't any more liquid coming out. What you will be left with is paneer.

Transfer the paneer to a large bowl and mix in the semolina flour and the other two types of flour, along with the sugar and the cardamom powder.

Now add the paneer to the flour, sugar and cardamom powder.

Knead the mixture with your hands until it starts to feel a little greasy, then divide the dough into 20 equal parts and shape them into ovals. Note: I made a mistake converting liters to cups and I ended up with too little milk for this recipe, so my cham-cham were small and probably a little more doughy than they should have been.

These cham-cham are ready for the syrup.

Now dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to a boil. Gently drop the cham-cham into the syrup and continue to boil for an hour and 20 minutes. You will need to add about a half cup of water every 10 minutes or so to keep the syrup at the right consistency.

Put the cham-cham in the boiling syrup and let them cook for an hour and 20 minutes.

At the end of the hour and 20 minutes, add the caramel syrup (you can make caramel by melting and stirring sugar over the stove, or you can just use a bottled variety, which is what I did). Keep boiling for another 10 minutes, then turn off the heat. Add a cup of hot water and let the pot cool down.

When the cham-cham are cool enough to handle, take them out and roll them in the mawa. Done!

Roll the finished cham-cham in the mawa.


While the cham-cham are boiling, you can start work on the Besan chicken. Remember the hysterical laughter? That was because trying to make dried garbanzo beans into flour is about as easy as making pebbles into flour. In retrospect--since this recipe does actually include water--it might have been fine to just process canned garbanzo beans instead of sacrificing my poor coffee grinder and one of my kitchen towels.

In case you are actually a fan of self-torture, here's how I made my besan:

The garbanzo beans need to be "lightly roasted," whatever that means. I put mine in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. I don't know if they really roasted or not, though they did appear to be a little darker in color when I took them out.

First I tried putting the dried garbanzo beans straight into the grinder. Besides making an ear-splitting noise, nothing happened, unless you count that ozoney smell you get when you burn out the motor in a small appliance. So then I tried putting them in a plastic bag and smashing them with a meat mallet. Those rock hard little bastards put so many holes in the plastic that they actually started flying out of the bag every time I hit it. So I covered the bag with a towel and hit the beans a few more times, but stopped when I noticed I was putting holes in the towel. By that time I'd managed to break the beans into marginally smaller pieces, so I tried putting them back in the coffee grinder. This time I actually made a little progress. When a powder started to appear around the edges, I dumped the beans into a fine mesh strainer and sifted them into a bowl. I returned the larger chunks to the grinder and kept going until I had the amount called for by the recipe, which was about the time the coffee grinder completely crapped out.

This is my besan, one coffee grinder and a kitchen towel later.

So armed with my hard fought and won besan, I forged onward.

Once you have your besan, mix it with the yogurt, turmeric, a half teaspoon of the cayenne pepper, a half teaspoon of the ginger paste, a half teaspoon of garlic paste and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Mix it all together until you have a paste, then add water a few tablespoons at a time until you get a batter that is about the same consistency as pancake batter.

This batter is made of besan and spices.

Now heat 4 tablespoons of oil and add the chicken. Season with salt and cook until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Remove from the pan and let cool slightly, then add the cumin, the garam masala and the rest of the cayenne pepper, ginger paste and garlic paste. Stir to coat and let marinade for about half an hour.

Afeter thoroughly cooking the chicken, marinade it in the spices for 30 minutes.

Heat the oil until bubbles rise around the end of a wooden spoon. Dip each piece of chicken in the batter, turning to coat. Then deep fry the chicken in the oil.

Now I had issues with the deep frying, I suppose because I'm just not a very seasoned deep-fryer (yeah, I have no idea what I'm doing). My chicken stuck to the bottom of the pan, and so the coating didn't stay on. I had to reapply it after I took it out of the oil, and yes it looked as ridiculous as it sounds.

At great risk to my integrity as a chef, here's how the chicken came out.

The easiest part of this meal is the khichuri. The Bangladeshis do khichuri in various incarnations--this one is a basic, or "bhuna" khichuri, made with mung beans (other versions use red lentils).

Now I actually got my mung beans from igourmet, which was stupid, because they are mung beans and they're not really that hard to find. In my defense, though, all these Bangladeshi recipes referred to them as "moong daal," so I thought I was looking for something exotic. So yeah, when they arrived I was mildly irritated. Also because they showed up exactly one hour before I was supposed to start making this recipe, so I wasn't able to soak them as required. Instead, I put them in my pressure cooker on medium high heat for about eight minutes, which worked just fine although it was a lot more cleanup than I wanted. Have I mentioned how cool my pressure cooker is? The instruction book is dated 1964.

See the date? December 25, 1964 (that's my grandma's handwriting).

So anyway, to make the khichuri, first fry the cauliflower and potato cubes lightly in a tablespoon of vegetable oil. Add the onion, the jalapeno peppers and the spices. Now add the rice, the mung beans and about a half cup of oil and stir until well incorporated.

Add the rice to the vegetables, then add the water.

Add two cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover the pot. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until the water is absorbed.

Finished khichuri.

So even though I had to do cosmetic surgery on the besan chicken, it still came out delicious. There was a lot of flavor in the breading, which leaned a bit on the salty side but was unusual enough that the extra salt didn't really bother me. The only thing I didn't really like about it was the oil--thighs are oily to begin with, and the deep frying just made them oilier. Of course the effect probably would have been less if the breading had actually stayed on the meat.

The khichuri was good too, but I think I would have liked it more if it had had some Indian bay in it, or maybe some screw pine essence, haha. It was a little bland, but maybe that's why it's just called a "basic" khichuri. My kids didn't really touch it, though they all wanted more chicken.

The cham-cham was really good--it reminded me of the gulab jamun that you can get at most Indian restaurants (round balls of deep fried dough cooked in a syrup). My kids liked them, which I did find a bit odd since they were only mildly sweet and the mawa that covered them was a bit unusual, at least by American kid standards. I think I'll probably have to make the cham-cham again, though, since I wonder how different mine were due to my substandard metric system conversion skills.

Next week: Balochistan (a region of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan)

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

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