April 24, 2010

Mussakhan - Chicken and Onion Sumac Wrap.

If you are new to my blog, please read my Welcome Note first.

Mussakhan or Chicken and Onion Sumac wrap is a typical Palestinian dish, also found in Jordan and ze Lebanon.

There are different ways of preparing it, but I will give you the simple way, easy to prepare provided you get the right ingredients - obviously. No cutting corners here.

The whole trick of Mussakhan lies in the Sumac. You  find Sumac in most Arabic shops.

What you need for 4 persons (assuming that 1 chicken is enough for 4)

- 1 chicken cut in 4 quarters.
- at least 8 medium size onions
- about  3 - 4 tbs of Sumac
- 2 - 3 tbs of pine nuts(I like pine nuts so I use 3tbs)
- gloves, cardamon whole, bay leaves, pepper corns, cinnamon sticks,
- 2 tbs of OLIVE oil
- 2 large flat Arabic bread - here I find the saj  bread, which looks like Iraqi bread and has like bubbles in it...this is the best to use but if you don't find that type of bread, use the LARGE Arabic "pitta" bread, small ones can also be used, but it don' t really work, unless you make sandwiches of the chicken/onion/sumac mix but then this is no longer Mussakhan.


-  I am always shocked when I see people using a chicken straight out a wrap without washing it. A BAD HABIT.  So wash your chicken. First I rub coarse salt all over the pieces, then rinse it off.

- place your chicken pieces in boiling water to which you will add the following

* 3 whole cardamons
* 1 stick of cinnamon cut in two
* 3 bay leaves
* 4 whole gloves
* a little pepper corns - you can also use  ground.

- Boil your chicken until well cooked. I usually take off any excess foam (it looks like some white froth) when it is boiling, otherwise the stock becomes too greasy and the taste is  rancid.

- meanwhile - slice your onions and you need to be GENEROUS with the onions, slice them into thin  rounds that you cut in 2 - i.e half rounds. The onions cannot be chopped they  must be in half rounds. so it will look like crescents/new moons. I am trying to find the best way to explain to you what I mean. So crescent is a good image.

- fry your onions with the sumac in olive oil - olive oil by the way should never be heated...just mix the whole thing together until the onions become tender, once tender add your pine nuts and keep frying until onions and pine take a slight golden hue  (not brown). You can always add a few spoons of your drained chicken stock to make the onions even more tender  and so the sumac mixes well with the rest without  it burning or turning too sour. Once cooked - leave to the side.

- get a Teflon oven dish, which you will wipe with some olive oil first, place your Arabic bread which you would have parted in 2 slices, (by slices I mean don't cut/slice the bread, just tear it into two parts - since Arabic bread looks like a thin sandwich, so just undo the sandwich)

- place two slices at the bottom of the tray, pour a little chicken stock on top so it won't dry out.

- use half of your onions/sumac/pine mix including the olive oil in which it was fried and place on top of the bread.

- arrange your chicken pieces and cover with the remaining onions/sumac/pine mix

- you can cover the chicken with an extra half of an Arabic bread but make sure to tuck the edges inside the tray so it won't burn. I don't usually use extra bread apart from the one at the bottom of the tray,

- place in a pre-heated oven, until the chicken takes on a gold brown color,

- tip 1 : if you feel that the whole thing is drying out, just use some of your chicken stock and sprinkle over.
- tip 2 : drain the remaining chicken stock, all flavored with the wonderful aromas of spices and use it for soup or instead of water when cooking rice. But that's for another recipe..

To be served hot and this is BEST eaten with your hands. Enjoy !

April 20, 2010

Oriental Rice Pudding....

If you are new to my blog , please read my Welcome Note first .

I woke up this morning with an incredible urge for Oriental rice pudding. I stress the word Oriental here because I remember in England you could buy those canned Ambrose rice pudding that tasted like plastic and glue.
If you have any of those tinned things do me a favor - give it to your cat...chances are that not even he will eat it.

I have an easy and sure recipe for a very tasty rice pudding, oriental style. No two people will give you the exact same recipe for the exact same dish....there will always be variations and through much experimenting, trial and error I found this one to be one of the easiest and tastiest - provided of course, that you like Rice Puddings.

For two people you will need the following

- 1/2 cup of SMALL grain rice (risotto rice is fine)
- 2 1/2 cups of full fat milk (if you don't like full fat, use skimmed but the result is not guaranteed)
- 1 tsp of ground cardamon (this is optional but a MUST for ME)
- 3 tbs of Orange Flower Water also called Orange Blossom water ( A MUST)
- 11/2 tsp of white Sugar ( I don't like it sweet, but you are free to use more sugar if you need to)

Now to work

- I have given you in the past some tips about cooking rice - in this instance you need to forget everything I told you about cooking rice. Because this time we will cook it differently.

1) Wash rice thoroughly and leave it to soak in cold water
2) bring to boil the milk
3) drain the rice and add it to the milk
4) add the cardamon, the sugar and the orange flower water
5)let the whole thing boil ONCE and
6) STIR and you will be doing much stirring
7) Keep stirring and lower HEAT TO A MINIMUM -
8) keep saucepan covered and let the liquid be absorbed
9) keep checking on it and stir and stir some more. You want to make sure that neither the rice nor the milk take on a brown hue. NO BROWN HUE . so keep stirring.
10) if you feel that the milk has been completely absorbed and the rice is still al dente -a) if you're using full fat milk, add a little water b) if you're using skimmed milk, use more milk, and KEEP STIRRING..... contrary to traditional Middle Eastern rice, this one must be stirred till sticky.
11) as the rice is fully cooked, keep stirring until you feel  it to thicken. You don't want a watery soup here so keep stirring.until you get the right texture
12) once the desired texture is reached pour your rice pudding into a bowl. (I use two separate bowls)
13) Leave it to cool completely only then can you keep it in the fridge. It is best served cold or at room temperature.

For the decoration 

Here people use crushed pistachios without the skin (obviously).
I decorate my rice pudding bowl slightly differently with the following

-  a mixture of dessicated coconut and cinnamon powder that I mix together and sprinkle over the bowl with one or two pistachios stuck in the middle (with no skin obviously)
- I sometimes also use half of an apple slice that I place on top and on top of the slice I put a tiny spoon of rose petal jam. Rose petal jam is a jam made in Heaven, And it goes very well with the rice pudding.

Try it and let me know. And if you reach Heaven, don't forget my name :-)

April 11, 2010

From Hyderabad....

If you are new to my blog, please read the Welcome Note first

I absolutely love Indian food. Indian is really one of my favorites alongside Middle Eastern food...

The recipe am about to give you is simple to make, but it does necessitate some preparation in terms of buying the ingredients - the spices in particular. For me that's the fun part of the whole experience.

I enjoy going to the Attar - the spice and perfume store....the scent and colors of these spices in big jute bags are just heavenly...it engages all of the senses and for me this is the essence of food preparation...

Tonight's dish is a vegetarian one. And by the way I never give a recipe if I don't try it first...and if you are like me  and love the aroma of spices, you will delight in this one...

You will need for 2.

1 small to medium size eggplant
1 big potato
1 medium size onion
3 gloves of garlic
1 tbs of fresh ginger grated
1/2 red pepper bell (or 2 pimentos if you like it extra hot - I don't)
1/2 green pepper bell
2-3 big tsp of dessicated coconut
2 big tsp of non roasted peanuts
2 big tsp of non grilled sesame seeds
about 1/4 tsp of fenugreek seeds
about 1/4 tsp of coriander seeds
about 1/4 tsp of mustard seeds
about 1/4 tsp of cumin seeds
1/2 cup of tamarind molasses. (see section on how to use tamarind *)
if you are not using pimento, use cayenne pepper, about 1/4 tsp
1/2 tsp of curcuma
salt to your liking
about 1/2 cup of water OR 1/4 cup of water and 1/4 cup of coconut milk.

Preparing the vegetables

- slice aubergine/eggplant, in rounds not too thick, otherwise they soak up too much oil when fried
- peel potato and cut in nice medium size chunks
- heat vegetable oil and fry both until golden brown
- place the fried veggies on paper kitchen towel to absorb excess oil

Preparing the spice paste

mix together, the fenugreek, coriander, cumin, mustard, sesame, peanuts in a small non stick frying pan (do not use any oil) and roast them lightly until both sesame and peanuts start to take a color.

pour the mixture plus the dessicated coconut into a blender and add the water or the coconut milk and water mixture, you can keep adding water or coconut milk, you need to get the paste into the right thickness...not too liquid though. Keep it to the side.

now for the rest

*Tamarind: I dont know the kind of  Tamarind you have in your countries, but here it comes in molasses form and not syrup. So I cut about 1/2 cup worth of Tamarind and cover it with water and bring it to boil for about 5 mn. I then use the tamarind water and whatever is left of the fruit itself disregarding the seeds. If you can find Tamarind Syrup (no sugar added) then use 1/2 cup of it diluted in a little hot water.

- stir fry the chopped onion, the crushed garlic, and the grated ginger in about 2 tbs of vegetable oil, you can use the oil you fried the vegetables in.
- add your chopped green and red pepper and diluted tamarind  and cook a little more until  tender.
- pour your paste on top, the curcuma, the cayenne pepper and last  the fried vegetables
. Let it cook for about 5 mn. or so on a medium fire.
- if you see that the sauce is thickening too much, you can always add a little water or coconut milk or if you have some  tamarind water left you can use that too.
- salt to taste...

This is to be served with rice. I usually like to serve it with rice and sultanas as the taste of sultanas gives a balance to the piquant taste of the spices.

Rice preparation

2 cups of Basmati rice washed and soaked in cold water
about 1 1/2 tbs of sultanas
1 tbs of cooking oil
2 cups of BOILING water
salt to taste

Heat the cooking oil in a saucepan, add the sultanas and fry them a little, just a little otherwise they shrivel and dry up completely. Pour in your drained rice, add the salt and the boiling water, mix ONCE only.
Let it boil ONCE, then lower the heat to a MINIMUM until the water is completely absorbed and the rice cooked. If you want to make sure that the rice does not stick, just wrap the saucepan lid/cover with a clean kitchen cloth. This will absorb any excess moisture.

Bon Appetit.

April 10, 2010

Open Your Mind...

Here I am sitting with a cup of lavender tea. Lavender is known to have properties to open the soul and calm the spirit...

I have much to do today, but need to jot those few lines - they are related to cooking and food for sure.. but not only...

As I am preparing for this evening's recipe, I need to write down some thoughts about opening one's mind...

I noticed something and yes am getting on the West's case again....namely that most westerners are stuck in their own models....An image that comes vividly to mind is a bunch of American tourists in Cairo, sitting in a hotel whose restaurant overlooks the great Pyramid - smack in your face - and guess what they ordered ? Hamburgers and Steaks. They've crossed miles to experiment with hamburgers and steaks...and my did they complain about both orders !

I noticed the same trend amongst foreigners not only in food, but in everything else...music, poetry, films, literature...

They stick to English /European/Western authors, be it in poetry or fiction. They listen to Western Music only. They watch Hollywood crap only. And they dare not venture into different foods, nor incorporate them in their daily menus...

Why is that ?

Each difference opens a whole new world for you. Be it in preparing a different kind of meal, be it in reading a different style of literature or poetry, be it in listening to a different rhythm and sound....be it in watching films from non western countries....

Each difference opens a window into the other...why do you keep imprisoning yourselves in your set ways, in your set thoughts, in your set beliefs....remaining stuck in your own -- makes you bigoted, myopic,limited, dumb, bland -- and as we have seen from your countries -- can turn you into criminals and murderers on a rampage.

Open yourselves, open your minds. It is a great exercise in humility too.

And No, going to an Italian or Indian restaurant does not count! And do try Lavender tea...

See you later with some real flavors away from blandness....