Saturday, June 7, 2014

Recipes from Jordan

I actually don't have time to do a blog post this week, either, which you probably ascertained based on the fact that it's the early morning hours on Saturday and I'm just now getting around to posting. I guess I can't get away with avoiding it two weeks in a row, can I? How come I don't remember the last couple of weeks of school being this crazy last year? Oh yeah, it's because of that whole job thing. I really need to figure out a way to make money without actually working.

So this week it's Jordan, and to be honest, I really can't remember a whole lot about this meal because it was so danged long ago now, and these days my brain only maintains information for maybe a day or two. I seem to remember that it was good, but not fabulous.

So with that glowing recommendation, let's start with the usual who-where. Jordan is an Arab nation located on the banks of the Jordan River. It borders Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Israel and the Dead Sea, so it's really almost exactly in the middle of all the recent noise in that part of the world.

I won't come right out and say that Arab nations are bad places to live, but Jordan ranks as one of the better in terms of economy and democratic reforms. However it still performs pretty abysmally when it comes to things like civil liberties and corruption. Still, that doesn't stop the tourism--at least 10 percent of Jordan's economy comes from that industry. People flock to Jordan to see its cultural and historic sites, to have fun on the shores of the Dead Sea and for Eco-tourism in places like the Dana Nature Reserve. Oh and there's a ton of nightclubs, too.

The Temple of Dushares, Jordan. Photo by Dennis Jarvis.

Cuisine: I'm sure it won't surprise you to hear that Jordan's cuisine is similar to the cuisine of neighboring nations. Food is very important culturally--every meal is a celebration and guests are always lavished with meals, regardless of how wealthy or poor the hosts may be.

So here are the recipes I chose and yes! It's all coming back to me now.

Chicken Mansaf 
(from The Middle East Kitchen)
  • 1 whole chicken, cut up
  • 1 large onion, finley chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 cups plain yogurt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp chili powder (optional)
  • 1 cup almonds, toasted
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • Parsley to taste, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
On the side:

Mujadara (lentil spice rice with carmelized onions) 
(from Chef in Disguise)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup short grain rice
  • 1 cup lentils
  • Water as needed
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1/4 tsp coriander
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 large onion, cut into strips

And this really oddly-named thing:

Ka3ek bel semsem 
(also from Chef in Disguise)
  • 3 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tbsp powdered milk
  • 3/4 to 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • 1 tbsp yeast
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • Sesame seeds
  • Anise seeds (optional)
OK, here's how to make this meal: First put the chicken in a large stock pot and cover with water. Add a pinch of salt and then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and let simmer for 35 to 45 minutes. When the chicken is cooked through, drain and set aside, reserving about a half cup of the broth.

In a large pot, saute the onion and garlic over medium heat for two or three minute or until fragrant.  Now add the yogurt and spices. Stir until blended, then slowly whisk in the beaten egg. Add a little bit of stock from the boiled chicken (you don't need to use the whole half cup, just use enough to give the sauce a nice creamy texture, not too thin).

Add the chicken pieces and cover the pot. Cook over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, or until warmed through. Serve over basmati rice (I served it with the mujadara) and top with the nuts and parsley.

Now for the the mujadara:

Put the olive oil in a large pan and saute the onions over medium heat until they turn a rich caramel color. Drain, reserving the oil.

Wash the rice and soak for 10 to 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, put the lentils in a pot and add water until it's about an inch above the lentils. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the lentils are tender. Add the rice, spices, reserved oil and salt to taste. Now add a little more water and bring to a boil.

This is an imperfect science, by the way. You want the water to be about a half inch above the contents of the pot, but you'll need to keep checking to make sure that the rice cooks all the way and doesn't burn at the bottom. The idea is to cook until all the water is absorbed.

Fluff with a fork and top with the onions.

Finally, that bread with the really weird name:

Proof the yeast in 3/4 cup water with the sugar. Let stand until frothy.

Now mix the flour together with the salt, powdered milk, eggs and vinegar. Rub the wet ingredients into the flour the way you would rub butter into pastry. 

Now pour in the yeast mixture and knead for 10 minutes until you get a smooth dough (the recipe says it should be "slightly sticky"). Add a little more water or flour if you need to.

Transfer the dough to a greased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk.

Cut into four parts and roll each one out until it is an elongated rectangle. Roll up lengthwise so that you get a snakelike piece of dough and then shape into a ring.

Beat the eggs and add the vinegar, then paint over the dough with the egg mixture. Sprinkle on the sesame seeds and anise seeds (if using).

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. The dough should rest while the oven warms up. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes, then reduce the heat to 400 degrees and bake for another 7 to 10 minutes, or until golden. Let sit for five minutes and serve warm.

Now that this has all come back to me I will say that I did like the mujadara. I think it was the caramelized onions that made the dish, but it was quite flavorful and a nice change from just plain boiled basmati. The chicken was good too, but it needed something. I'm not sure what. The flavor was really mild, which in itself is not a bad thing (I've been trying to convince my husband of this fact since I started this blog--he seems to think every blog meal must be an explosion of wild exotic flavors or it's no good). But this particular mildness almost bordered on bland. Maybe just a little extra seasoning, because it definitely had all the components of good flavor.

The bread was good, but it too needed a touch more salt. Maybe they're just not that big on seasoning in Jordan? Anyway my kids were excited for a second because they thought I was making giant doughnuts. But bread of almost any kind is rarely disappointing to them so they weren't too irritated with me when I broke the news that it wasn't actually a dessert.

So whew, I got through that post and I would go curl up in my bed and sleep for a few days if it wasn't for the fact that it's Saturday morning and I still haven't finished all my work for this week. Sigh. Time to start playing Lotto.
Calabria, Italy

Next week: Calabria, Italy


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