Sunday, February 24, 2008

The easiest lentil soup ever

Put 1 part lentils, 1/2 part rice in a pot. Clean well if you live in a country where bulk goods are kept in burlap sacks on the floor in dirty market places.

Add enough water that things will be soupy. Add a tsp or so of turmeric, mostly for color, and salt to taste. Cook until lentils and rice are soft.

Crush up several cloves of garlic(3-6, or more depending on quantity of soup - This is typically done in a mortar and pestle with a bit of salt). Pour an inch to 1.5" oil(olive or vegi) into a small frying pan, add garlic, heat and fry until garlic is golden. Pour oil and garlic into soup. If too garlicy, cook soup for longer.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Basic Red Enchiladas

Here's a flavorful way to use leftover meat. I made mine with leftover steak from Valentine's Day, but they could be made with anything--the key is to keep the filling simple.

I'm not wild about enchiladas that use canned sauce, so I made my own sauce--it's not much more work than opening a can, and the result is so much better! I'd like to try making the sauce with whole chiles one day, but until I'm feeling more ambitious, I'll use this recipe which calls for chili powder. These use corn torillas.


1/4 c. oil or lard
2 Tbsp. flour
1/4 c. chili powder
1 c. tomato sauce
1 1/2 c. hot water
1 tsp each: oregano, cumin, garlic powder, onion flakes

Heat the fat in a saucepan or skillet until quite hot. Add the flour and chili powder and stir constantly over medium heat until the mixture starts to brown (take care not to burn).

Stir in the remaining ingredients and simmer for 10 minutes until slightly thickened. Allow to cool before making enchiladas.

Filling (amounts depend on how many tortillas you have and how much leftovers to use):

leftover meat, cut into small pieces
onion, minced finely
mild cheese, grated
canned chili beans, drained (optional)
chopped cilantro (optional)

When making your filling, make sure the meat is the dominant item. The other bits are just for flavor, and the cheese mainly holds things together. I had 6 tortillas, and I used 1 c. finely chopped steak, 1/3 onion, 1/2 can beans, 1/4 c. cheese. I used a sweet Vidalia-type onion, which resulted in no stinky breath.


Preheat your oven to 350.

Heat the tortillas one by one in a small amount of oil (I use nonstick spray). If you are way cool and have a brand new stove with a built-in griddle, you could do all your tortillas in one batch! You can skip this step, but trust me--they are so much better with cooked tortillas.

Grease an appropriately sized baking pan. Set up an assembly line as follows: tortillas --> sauce (in a shallow dish or plate) --> filling -->baking pan. Dip a tortilla in the sauce, coating both sides, place a small amount of filling in the center, then roll it up into a tube. Don't bother tucking the ends in, because they'll just look silly. Carefully place the enchiladas in the pan and pour over some of the remaining sauce. Sprinkle with cheese and bake 15-20 minutes until the filling is hot and the cheese is crusty and bubbling. Buen provecho!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Lentil Soup for Carnivores

Brown lentils have gotten a bum rap, at least in my mind. I think I always associated them with boring, muddy, vegetarian fare. As it turns out, brown lentils go great with hot dogs and really any smoked meat product you can find. Here's a cheap and hearty soup that makes good use of this humble legume. At some point I should post my all-veggie lentil burgers that are so good even an Iowa farm boy would love 'em (I have proof!).

This recipe makes a lot, so feel free to halve it (or just plan on soup for lunch all week).

1 lb. brown lentils, rinsed
7-8 c. chicken broth
1 onion, minced
2 ribs celery, minced
2 medium carrots, minced
2 whole chipotle chiles, canned or dried
2 bay leaves
2 tsp. marjoram
1 tsp. thyme
3 c. hearty greens (such as leafy endive or escarole), chopped
1 lb. hot dogs sliced into rounds
3 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
2 Tbsp. butter
2-3 tsp. Tobasco sauce

Heat some oil or lard in your soup pot or pressure cooker. Saute the onion, celery and carrots. Add the lentils, herbs, and broth and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30-40 min. until lentils are tender or follow your PC instructions. Add the greens and hot dogs and simmer for 5 more min. Season with parsley, butter, Tobasco, S&P. Remove the hot peppers entirely or chop and return them to the pot.

Feel free to get creative with the seasonings. I think this might be good with a curry flavor instead of the herb theme. If it's lacking, add more salt!

Yogurt Curry Cauliflower with Biryani Rice

This recipe is based primarily on what I had around and what I sort of made up as I went along, but I think it turned out well enough to be worth keeping around. Chicken is either really expensive these days, or the places I went by today were adding a stiff foreigner tax, so I decided to go vegetarian. This recipe is very off the cuff, and I'm sure it could be improved in a lot of ways - I look forward to hearing how everyone else adds to it.

Yogurt Curry Cauliflower

2 small heads cauliflower
Several onions(depending on size)
A couple carrots
A very small amount of fresh minced cilantro(equivalent to 1tsp or slightly more)
A small amount of green bell pepper might be good as well
A rather lot of yogurt(maybe total 1c?) - I think the more, the better. Use plain yogurt, obviously.

Spice mix(measurements super imprecise):
2tsp if not more whole cumin, roasted and then lightly ground in mortar and pestle. This should be one of the primary flavors.
3 cloves garlic
2tsp curry powder
1tsp turmeric
1tsp hot pepper(to taste)
1tsp coriander
Salt to taste

Cut the onions so they're thin circles (i.e. along the vertical axis of the onion). The more onions, I noticed, the better the end result. Cut carrots according to personal preference, then take the cauliflower to pieces. Combine all the spice mix by mashing the ingredients together in the mortar and pestle, or with a fork.

Sautee the onions until translucent, then add the carrots and cook for a bit. Then add cauliflower and spice mix. Cook for a bit, maybe add some water and cover, then add yogurt(I was originally planning to get rid of my extra yogurt with this recipe, then ran out and had to use lebaneh, which is just yogurt without the water, but it works really well for this kind of recipe), then cook covered, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is soft. Near the end of cooking time, add some cilantro - it brings out the flavor of the cumin seeds very nicely. Serve on biryani rice(below) with yet more yogurt, since yogurt is delicious.

Biryani Rice (Alex style)

This recipe is literally based primarily on my experience eating biryani rice at mostly Yemeni restaurants in Jordan, and the occasional Indian restaurant. I guessed the spices based on what I've had stuck in my teeth while eating it. You really need to use long grained rice(i.e. basmati), or else it creates a sticky, though quite tasty mass. I'd say you could look for proper recipes for biryani rice online, but I think the version I was trying for differs somewhat from the proper Indian version.

This is also a great thing to serve lamb or chicken dishes on top of - "Yemeni" food here means roasted chicken with some sort of special spices served on top of a HUGE plate of biryani rice. One could presumably adapt Alton Brown's butterflied roast chicken recipe by putting a more Indian rub beneath the skin and then serving it on this rice.

Cinnamon Sticks - the stuff you see here is a bit less powerful than the western version. It is less curly, and a darker color - it looks very much like little planks of bark. You should be able to find this kind at an Arab grocery store. Don't use too much of this.
A fairly small number of cloves
Turmeric, to turn the whole thing yellow more than anything else
Saffron (I personally used "Local saffron" which refers to a reddish yellowish sawdust-like substance that if used in sufficient quantity tastes kinda like saffron)
Cumin seeds(not too many, but it adds a good flavor)
Whole black pepper (this is really important to the flavor, so don't be afraid to add a lot)

Add everything together, cook the rice as per usual. If you want, you could add green peas at the end.

I look forward to other peoples' suggestions ,but I have to say this turned out to be quite tasty.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Dukkah (ground seasoned nuts) and Nut-Encrusted Tuna Steaks

Behold my blurry food porn!

Tonight's dinner, as Dan said, was "so good it would make Gordon Ramsay's bollocks tingle". After an exhausting trip to Chicago, eating overpriced and unwholesome food, I needed something to cleanse my body and soul. Something a bit fancy for Friday night, and a way to exercise my cooking muscles.

An earlier meander through Wikipedia brought me to "dukkah", an Egyptian condiment made of ground, roasted, seasoned nuts. I directed Dan to pick up whatever kind of fish looked delicious and he got some amazing ahi tuna steaks from Byerly's. Inspiration! I decided to combine the two.

First I marinated the tuna in a simple combination of:

Juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves crushed garlic
salt and pepper
dash of pomegranate molasses (you could use soy sauce + sugar)

Meanwhile I made the dukkah:

1/2 c. nuts
2 Tbsp. raw sesame seeds
1 tsp. each whole cumin, corriander, fennel
1 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried mint
1 tsp. salt

The recipe called for hazelnuts, which would be great if you have some (pistachios would be too). I used a combo of almonds and pecans, which turned out nicely. First roast the nuts in a dry skillet. Then roast the whole spices. Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until they're a fine meal (but don't let them turn to paste). This makes enough for a meal, but it's a good idea to increase it and make extra to store (best stored in the fridge)

Remove the fish from their marinade, allowing any extra to drip off. Press the dukkah onto the fish. About 15 minutes before you're ready to eat, heat up a fry-pan to very hot (but not extremely hot) with a good amount of safflower oil in it. Fry the fish on each side for just a couple of minutes, so that most of the inside is still pink. Remove the fish to a cutting board and allow it to sit for 3-4 minutes to finish cooking. I like my ahi to be pink inside, but not translucent and cold--about 'medium', so I remove it when it's still a little underdone.

Slice onto a nice platter and sprinkle with parsley. I had some extra dukkah on the fish plate, so I roasted it in the pan and sprinkled it over as well.

Especially good with MexiCoke!

I served this with vermicelli rice and slivered collard greens, which made a nice combo. The dukkah almost overwhelmed the fish, but not quite. I'm sure the fish would have been good with just salt and pepper, but I wanted to challenge myself to walk the fine line between just enough and too much. Overall I'm quite proud of the meal and it was exactly what I craved.

I look forward to trying the dukkah as it's traditionally eaten: with warm flatbread dipped in olive oil and then the dukkah. Alex: do they have this in Syria?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Zingy Lentil and Bulghur Soup with Mint

Delicious, easy, soothing, simple. What more could you ask for in a recipe? This is based on the one featured in the Almost Turkish Blog I linked to in the sidebar. I wasn't feeling well and wanted something nourishing but simple. The mint in the recipe is soothing on the tummy and the bulghur and lentils combine to make digestible protein.

1 onion, minced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 c. red lentils (green or brown OK too)
1/2 c. bulghur
2 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. tomato or red pepper paste
6 c. broth
3 tsp. dried mint flakes
2 tsp. dried thyme
half-sharp paprika or red pepper flakes to garnish
s & p
2 Tbsp. butter

In a nice soup pot, saute the onions in the olive oil until they are almost translucent. Add the red pepper flakes and cook 1 minute.

Add the flour and stir well so that the onion is coated and the flour is distributed. Add the tomato or red pepper paste and stir so that the onions are coated and there are no paste globs remaining.

Add the lentils, bulghur, and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, put the lid on, and cook 30 minutes.

Remove the lid and add the herbs, s & p. Just before serving, remove from heat and stir in the butter or olive oil. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with paprika. Serve with fresh bread.


You can use all lentils if you don't have bulghur--increase to 1 cup. Any type of lentil is good.

This might be tasty with a dollop of yogurt on top or on the side.

Don't leave out the mint! It really makes the recipe. I'm interested to know how the recipe is with fresh herbs.

Instead of sprinkling the paprika over, you can heat up some olive oil, add paprika to make a thin paste, cook a minute or so (without burning it) and drizzle it over. It should sizzle and look very neato.