Monday, October 15, 2007

Red Wine Bok Choi

Hello all,

Here is a recipe from my friend and co-worker Kristine (there's a link to her photography on the side-bar). Looks like she measures things the same way we do! This makes a great veggie side-dish or light meal:

Try this very simple recipe when you have some bok choi. I've made it twice so far and really like it! I'm calling it red wine bok choi.

Coarsely chop a mound of washed bok choi and saute it with about 1/2 cup of walnuts and ~1/2 cup of dried cranberries. I was pleased using safflower oil. Add a couple spills of red wine (I'm guessing that translates to a little less than a 1/4 cup). Add salt to taste. Saute for about 10-15 minutes or until bok choi is still a little crunchy. That's it! Serve over quinoa (rinse this grain well then saute with garlic before cooking) and top with parmesan cheese.


Making Mozzarella

So, this weekend I finally tackled mozzarella. My friends Kevin and Ranae have a cow and are selling awesome raw milk to folks in the department (on the down low, of course). I didn't have great luck with making yogurt, since I had no idea what I was doing, so for some reason I decided to try an advanced cheese--mozzarella. The amazing thing is that it turned out great! I didn't take photos because it basically looked just like the ones on Dr. Fankhauser's Cheese Page. This guy is my new hero, and I urge you to check out his page before starting any dairy projects. So, the take-home message is that: yes, mozzarella can be done! Mom, you should definitely try it out because it's soooo yummy. I even got the Italian seal of approval from Toni, even though I don't have a damn water buffalo in my back yard, as the slow-foodies insist is necessary. Also, I recommend getting an old electric blanket for the incubations, because that helped me a lot and will also fix my yogurt problems. Good luck!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Hungarian Goulash & Spaetzle

Here's the perfect dish for a cold night and several subsequent cold days as tasty planned-overs. I use an 'authentic' (supposedly) version, rather than the Lutheran church cookbook version that has all kinds of crazy things in it, like macaroni and tomato sauce. In this version the only thickening comes from the potatoes as they break down from cooking. I make mine a touch spicy, since that's just how I roll, but that's probably not 'authentic'. The dish will be much yummier if you add some stew-bones or oxtail, so try not to omit those. I threw in some parsnips, which added a lot to the flavor.

2-3 oxtails or stew-bones
2 lbs cubed boneless chuck
2 Tbsp. lard, shortening, bacon drippings, or oil
2 large onions
4-5 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks (you can also sub-in parsnips, rutabagas, or turnips for some of the taters)
3 heaping Tbsp. sweet Hungarian paprika (I sub-in 2 tsp. sharp paprika)
1 qt. water
S & P

In a large, heavy pot, brown the oxtail and beef in the fat. Get things really hot and don't do too much meat at a time, or it will start releasing its juices too soon. Set the meat aside and in the remaining fat, brown the onions over medium-low heat. Add the paprika and a few good grinds of pepper and stir. Add the meat back in and combine with the onion mixture, turn the heat down further, put the lid on, and allow the meant to stew in its own juices for one hour. Add the water and a tablespoon of salt and simmer, covered, one more hour. Add the potatoes and other root vegetables and boil gently until they are tender and the edges are starting to get indistinct. Add some more pepper, a ton more salt, and if it needs it, a dash of vinegar. If you think it's missing something, just add more salt and it will be fine (this is axiomatic for soup).

Serve with: Spaetzle!

Set a large pot of salted water a-boiling. You want it to be at a full, rolling boil. Also, melt a couple of tablespoons of butter. This makes a lot, so unless I'm feeding a crowd I usually halve the recipe. In a bowl, combine:

2 c. flour
2 eggs
3/4 c. milk
pinch salt

Beat together with a fork (should be smooth and fairly runny) and let sit for a few minutes. Squish the batter through a ricer and into the boiling water in several batches. There are other ways to do this, depending on your equipment. e.g. You can also cut the batter into the pot in thin ribbons with a knife (look online for pictures). Boil for 1-2 minutes until the spaetzle rise to the top, and skim them off. Set them in a dish, tossing with the melted butter, and keep warm. Place some spaetzle in each serving dish and scoop goulash over them. Yummmm!

When your meal is finished you can go two routes: put the planned-overs directly into tupperware while still warm, because the goulash will be hard to scoop out when it's cold (the collagen and potato starch and all). Or you can leave it to cool in a big pot, then remove the orange fat from the top. This stuff is GREAT for frying potatoes in. Makes 'em crispy, red, and flavorful. I suppose you could do both, but are you really going to save the fat when you're nuking your lunch at work?

This recipe totally hit the spot for me, especially with the cool weather arriving. It's definitely worth the cooking time and the expense of the meat because it's so stick-to-your-ribs.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Iftaar with Christians

So the other day, while playing cards at my friend Rim's house, we got to talking about cooking, and I mentioned that I really don't know how to cook any Syrian food. She offered to show me how to cook some upcoming Friday(her day off). We ended up deciding to make it an iftaar, since we tried to invite our other friend Rasha (that didn't work, since iftaars are usually a family thing, and therefore she ended up eating with her family) and because Kathleen from my program is fasting. In the end, it was a bunch of Christians (and me) having an iftaar, but it was a lot of fun. Due to the chaos of the whole event, I didn't witness the cooking of everything, but I've listed the recipes for most of the stuff below. She also cooked some stuff the day before, and so I don't have the recipes for that stuff. I didn't annotate those dishes in the picture of the spread below:

Here're the recipes:
Maqluuba("Upside down") with meat

Maqluuba is one of the Palestinian national dishes(along with kunaafa) - it's called maqluuba "upside-down"(pronounced in urban centers as "ma'-LUU-ba" where ' is a glottal stop) since it is a huge break with the normal tradition of putting meat on top of rice(in this case, it goes under the rice in a mind boggling switch-er-roo). However, silly name aside, it's quite delicious and other than frying up the eggplant, is actually a pretty simple dish that can be scaled up really easily to feed a large number of hungry mouths. It can be made either with chicken or meat, this is the meat recipe.

This recipe is based on watching my friend make this dish, so it's not super duper precise. The meat she used was veal(mystery cut), which is pretty cheap and readily available here, but you can obviously use any meat that you think would be appropriate. In fact, she didn't actually know what kind of meat("lahm" 'meat' in Arabic means anything that isn't chicken or fish. Theoretically it would include pork I think, but practically it does not) it was until I asked, since someone else in the family bought it, so no need to be too picky.

Basic ingredients:
1 pound boneless meat, cut into small pieces
Eggplants, probably 2-3 sufficient depending on size
Tomatoes(optional), skinned
Spices: Curry, Cinnamon, S&P

Cut eggplants lengthwise, with skin on. Fry(in normal cooking oil, no need to blow a bunch of olive oil or anything) until golden brown (you may want to make a bunch and use it for musaqqa3a, below). Then skin and cut tomatoes into thin slices(I don't recommend the boiling water method here, as that will liquify the tomatoes too much)

Sautee meat in large saucepan for a little while(she didn't seem to have any particular time limit, just until we were done cutting up the tomatoes). Then put a layer of eggplant above the meat, followed by a layer of tomatoes. You can throw some salt and curry powder into these layers if you wish. Then add rinsed rice in a layer above the vegis and meat. Pat down gently(important). Throw curry powder, cinnamon(this is apparently the secret), salt and pepper on top of the rice. Add 1.5x as much water/chicken broth (she used bullion cubes) as rice, then bring liquid to a boil, cover, turn flame to lowest setting, and wait 30 minutes(You can leave the flame higher if in a hurry, but its best to take your time.) Do not stir or otherwise agitate.

When finished, put a serving pan on top of the saucepan, flip, and serve with yogurt sauce/salad below(placed beside the dish on the plate, not on top).
The eggplant being placed above the meat:

The rice with spices on top - next you add the liquid.

Basic Yogurt Sauce
Dried Mint(one can use fresh mint if available and feeling particularly energetic)
Garlic(crushed used a mortar and pestle, not probably entirely necessary)

Mix. Enjoy.

Musaqqa3a(completely different from the Greek dish, but still involving eggplant)

Musaqqa3a is really, basically, like pasta sauce that you eat with khubz. This is the way Riim made it. I've done it differently, but the effect was quite similar.
Green bell pepper
Garlic (we used 2 cloves or so super smooshed, but we accidentally added it quite late, so you may want to add quite a bit more if you add it early on and its best with larger chunks of garlic IMO)
A large quantity of tomatoes(ripe tomatoes are quite cheap here, but feel free to use whatever canned variety you like).
Fried eggplant(as per the maqluuba recipe)
Optional seasonings:
Parsley(just a little bit)
Crushed hot pepper(a very little bit)

Cut the onion and bell pepper as you would for fajitas. Peel the tomatoes (the boiling water method is recommended here), smoosh in bowl after removing any hard or otherwise inedible bits. Fry eggplants as per above.

Cook onion and peppers until soft, add tomatoes and garlic. Cook until liquidy. Add eggplants. Cook somewhat longer(mostly for flavors to mingle).

To serve, use a slotted spoon, so that it's saucier than soupy and can be eaten with Arabic bread.


I didn't see the final stages of the recipe, so it might be missing some steps near the end. I'm not sure if/when olive oil was added, but this being Syria I assume it was.

Onion(relatively little)
Garlic(crushed as per above)
Thin, preferably stale Arabic bread.
Watercress(Not sure if this is what it was, but its optional anyway)
Either: Lemon or Pomegranate molasses.

Chop an approximately equal quantity of cucumber and tomato into smallish(under 1" square) bits. Then mince a small quantity of onion - we used one small white onion for maybe 5 tomatoes and cucumbers, add this along with garlic. Squeeze lemon or pour pomegranate molasses on top of vegis. Add herbs(w/o stems, obviously) - I don't think the mint needs to be chopped, though the parsley might be better that way. Mix everything. This is the point where one presumably adds a certain quantity of olive oil, salt and pepper, but I didn't see it.

Chop thin pita bread(presumably thicker stuff can be used, but if you can find the thinner loaves it will be better. And this shows that it's actually good for something.) into approx. 1" squares. Fry. Sprinkle on top of salad. Enjoy.

Harrat bi-Isba3o

Ok, this is a pretty famous dish around here, but I think it's a little overhyped. However, it was part of the meal and I annotated it in the picture, so here's the recipe:
Green lentils
Thin Arabic bread
Something acidic, such as lemon, pomegranate molasses, or I have a feeling cider vinegar would be good as well.

Cook lentils and macaroni separately. Add macaroni to lentils, allow to absorb excess lentil juice. Add acidic thing, mix. Add some salt. Put in medium sized bowl.

Fry bread as per fattoush recipe. Cut onions into very thin strips, carmelize - towards the end, add a lot of cilantro. Put onions on top, then bread, then sprinkle bread with a bit more cilantro, cooked or raw.

Our highly scientific experiments indicate that it tastes a lot better warm. It has a very strange appeal, which you will understand after you've eaten a serving of the stuff. However, it is traditionally served cold, though you may want to put on the bread chunks after retrieving from the fridge, otherwise they'll get kind of limp. Do not serve as a main dish unless you are a very poor Syrian housewife.

There are great similarities between this dish and the Egyptian dish kushari, which by all accounts is much better.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Squash and Buttermilk Soup

Tonight we had a lovely gathering at the Byway with a few friends, which we'd coordinated at our volleyball game on Tuesday. We had a couple of soups, buttermilk biscuits, and many desserts. My contribution was a vegetarian squash soup (to go with Manny's meaty vegetable soup). There are as many ways to make squash soup as there are, uh...other numerous things. So these are just guidelines (as usual). If I hadn't been making it for a crowd I probably would have made it roaringly spicy, but as it was it got good reviews:
  • 1 big winter squash (mine was mysterious lumpy green one)
  • 1 large onion, chopped finely
  • 3 carrots, chopped finely
  • 2 red peppers (roasted or not), sliced into thin, 1" strips
  • 1 qt. good vegetable (or otherwise) broth
  • 1/2 c. buttermilk
  • 4 Tbsp. butter
  • olive oil
  • black pepper
  • nutmeg
  • ground chipotle or cayenne
  • salt
  • minced chives to garnish
Cook the squash however you like--I cut mine into quarters and seeded it, brushed it with olive oil, and baked it for an hour at 400. Scoop it out. In a heavy pot, sautee your onions and carrots in the butter until they start to get caramelized. Add the pepper strips and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the squash mush and broth, adding water if it's too thick (it will thicken up more later, too), and simmer for 30 min. Puree the soup to your desired texture using whatever equipment you have available--I used a potato ricer (RIP immersible blender). Add your seasonings and simmer 5 more minutes. Turn off the heat and let cool for a couple of minutes, then stir in the buttermilk and chives. When reheating, do not boil, since you'll curdle it.

Like I said, you could do just about anything with the seasonings, including making it extra spicy, gingery, curry flavored, rosemary--whatever. I'd also been thinking of keeping it thick and pouring it over gnocchi, but that was just too much to do on a weeknight. Also, using a good broth helps--I used "Better than Boullion Vegetable", which has a lot of roasted carrots in it, so it went well together (but look out for the high salt content). You could substitute any other dairy for the buttermilk, and adjust the acidity with vinegar.

Also, I made my concord pie again, this time as a crumble, with a shortbread crust and streusel topping. I'm happier with the pie, since it allows the grapes to speak for themselves more (so I won't include the crumble recipe). The fun part of this dish is it dyes your dinner guests' teeth blue! Just remember not to take photos after you eat ;)