Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dish #13: Bahrain - Roasted Fish with Muhammar

The cuisine of Bahrain is extremely varied - so much so that it's very hard to find a dish to prepare that feels like it's truly from Bahrain.  Bahrainis take advantage of the many diverse cultural influences upon their society to borrow the best of all for their food.  While the purpose of this project is to cook the food of the world and experience a wide array of different culinary approaches, I actually don't mind that many dishes I could find for Bahrain were either directly taken from another country or the result of interpretations on foreign meals by creative Bahraini cooks.  Food is the easiest way to relate and interact across cultures, and it's been fun to see how prevalent this is in the dishes eaten and shared all around the world.

For Bahrain, I was going to make Shrimp Machboos, which is very similar to a Biyrani - a rice dish that is eaten all over the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.  However, when the day came, I wanted to go a different way.  My friend Brandy suggested that I try the below fish and rice dish from Cooked Earth, which appealed to me much more.  I added some (light) creamed spinach to it, because as I said in my last entry, I love spinach, and I feel like our meals can always use more greens.

This was a good dish, but I actually found that the flavors of the fish and the rice competed against each other.  They were both heavy on cinnamon and other spices in that family, which complemented the buttery white fish nicely, but were overpowering when repeated in the rice.  I was so happy that I made the mellow creamed spinach and could make forkfuls of all three ingredients, with the spinach neutralizing the effect of the other two.  If I made this again, I would prepare a plain basmati rice with the fully seasoned fish.

Roasted Fish (based on recipe from Cooked Earth)

Whole white fish (or filets), preferably grouper or mackarel (I used turbot)
1/4 t chile powder
1/2 t turmeric powder
1/2 t ground black pepper
3/4 t cumin
3/4 t fennel
3/4 t corainder
3/4 t cinnamon
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Mix all spices and olive oil together in a small bowl into a paste, then rub over fish filets.  Place filets on a foil-lined baking sheet and cook in preheated oven for 15 minutes or until it flakes with a fork.

Muhammar (based on recipe from Cooked Earth)

2 cups basmati rice, rinsed and drained
6 cups water
2 T butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk (I used fat-free half and half)
salt to taste

1/4 t saffron (3-4 threads)
2 T rose water (I used regular water)
1/2 t cardamom
1 t clove
1/4 t cinnamon

Soak the saffron, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon in the rose water.  Let steep for at least 30 minutes.

Melt 1 T butter in a small saucepan and add rice, tossing lightly to coat.  Add 6 cups water and salt lightly.  Bring to a boil and then let simmer until most of the water is absorbed, stirring occasionally.  Stir sugar through hot rice and add another 1 T of butter.  Add rose water mixture and stir to combine, then add the milk and let simmer until all liquids are absorbed and the rice is finished to your liking.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Dish #12: Bahamas - Bahamian Lobster Stew

As I said in my entry for Antigua and Barbuda, Caribbean food is a bit of a danger zone for me, because I don't like cooking with a number of the prominent ingredients (such as coconut and raisins).  There are a lot of countries in the Caribbean, so this is going to come up many times over the course of this project.  In perusing food blogs for this project I've noticed that a lot of other people who have "cooked the world" shared my dubiousness here.  However, I do absolutely love seafood, so I'm going to keep the meals I cook for these countries focused on that (much like I've noticed that my meal planning for a lot of upcoming African countries, whose cuisine also relies heavily on items I don't like, such as red palm oil and plantains, seems to center on fairly safe but still varied chicken stews and braises). 

Conch stew is a popular dish in the Bahamas.  I ate conch years ago and didn't love it, so I took the cue of many blog posts I read and substituted lobster.  I also added spinach, because I often add spinach to any soup, stew, or pasta dish.  It's delicious and filling and good for you. 

This reminded me almost of a Manhattan Clam Chowder, but with lobster and some extra spice that was just delicious.  I also loved the crisp zing that the lime brought to it.  This stew is a popular breakfast or brunch item, but I am a breakfast hater who is never hungry until 11 am or so, and I don't like brunch (just make up your mind and eat breakfast or lunch or both - and on the weekend, I think no such pretense is needed for bottomless mimosas and Bloody Marys). I thought that this made a fine dinner.  In the Bahamas, it's often served with a bread called Johnny Cake, which I didn't make, but it sounds sweet and tasty.  Here's a recipe.

Bahamian Lobster Stew (recipe from The Bitchin' Kitchin')

2 uncooked lobster tails, chopped into chunks
1 medium yellow onion, diced
14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
4 small Yukon Gold potatoes, chopped
2 limes
1 1/2 t thyme
4 T vegetable oil
2 T all-purpose flour
1 1/2 T tomato paste
1 1/2 T ketchup
Sriracha hot sauce or red pepper flakes, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
4 cups seafood stock

In a large pot, add the oil and allow to heat up for a minute.

Add the flour and stir to make a roux. Let the roux simmer for about 3 minutes. Be careful not to let it burn.

Add the tomatoes, onions, thyme, pepper sauce/red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Stir and simmer for 2-3 minutes.

Add the potatoes, tomato paste, and ketchup. Stir and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Add the seafood stock and the juice of one lime to the large pot.

Cover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the lobster, and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes or until the lobster and potatotes are both done.  Season with salt and pepper as desired, and serve with lime wedges to squeeze over the stew before eating.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Dish #11: Azerbaijan - Fish Shashlyk

I chose to make a meal including a very typical Azerbaijani ingredient - fish.  I love fish, and ideally we eat it about once a week.  During my vegetarian years, I considered fish a permissible occasional cheat.  Fish can be prepared very simply but, with quality seafood and other ingredients, can be so flavorful and delicious.  We love salmon, sea bass, trout, halibut, and ahi tuna, just to name a few.  Fish is such a versatile ingredient, and I love to cook more than what we need to eat (especially with salmon and tuna) and then use it to top a salad for lunch the next day, or flake it and either mix it with bread crumbs and herbs and an egg to make a fish cake or patty, or add it to a stew for a filling meat-free meal.

I grew up on the Eastern Shore (the collective term for the southern 2/3rds of Delaware plus the small parts of Maryland and Virginia that are separated from the rest of those two states by the Chesapeake Bay) where fish was a staple of everyone's diet.  The little town where my parents still live, Leipsic,  has always been populated mostly by commercial fishers, and the town has waged many battles over recent years to fend off nearby real estate development and keep it that way.  In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the local rockfish (striped bass) population was beginning to rebound from many years of overfishing (unfortunately it's been overfished since and had to be protected again as of 2007).  I remember many times coming home from school and finding my mother in the backyard scaling a rockfish (or on lucky days, several rockfish) that one of our neighbors had given us, so that it could be filleted and cooked with a simple lemon and herb sauce or frozen for us to enjoy at a later dinner.  I loved the firm but light, delicious meat of the rockfish so much that I even wrote a poem about it when I was around six years old: "Put a fish/on my dish/I wish it'll be/a big rockfish!"

Azerbaijanis' favorite fish to use for Shashlyk, a broiled fish kebab, would be sturgeon.  Sadly sturgeon has been so popular (for both its flesh for fish fillets and its eggs for caviar) that it too is overfished, and the season for it in the Caspian Sea has been greatly limited.  In interests of sustanability, I went with cod as a substitute.  While I am generally very apolitical and do not subscribe to causes, my experience growing up in a fishing community gave me an extra sensitivity to this particular issue.  Fortunately, sustainability of seafood has gotten a lot of exposure over the last few years, and it's very easy to frequently eat a variety of fish and still not contribute to practices that are destroying wild populations and endangering the livelihoods of future fishers. 

I ended up eating this for lunch at the office for two days in a row.  It was great as a sort of free-form fish taco.

Fish Shashlyk (based on recipe from Food & Wine)

1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño, finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped dill
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 T onion powder
1 T garlic powder
1/2 t red pepper flakes
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup plain yogurt

2 pounds firm, full-flavored skinless fish fillets, such as swordfish or black cod, cut into 2-inch pieces
Vegetable oil, for brushing
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large bowl, toss the onions with all ingredients from garlic to yogurt. Add the fish and stir to coat thoroughly with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours.

Light a grill or preheat broiler. Thread the fish onto 8 metal skewers (or pre-soaked wood skewers), leaving a small space between each piece. Brush the fish with oil and season with salt and pepper.

Grill or broil, turning occasionally, until lightly charred and just opaque throughout, about 8-10 minutes.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Dish #10: Austria - Gröstl

Tonight, I wanted a simple dinner that would be ready quickly and wouldn't require a big shopping trip, but would still take care of my hunger and leave me content.  Luckily the dish I picked for Austria, Gröstl, fit that bill perfectly!

Perhaps the two most favorite foods from Austria are Wiener Schnitzel (a simple breaded meat cutlet, usually veal, garnished with lemon and parsley, and served with a simple salad or potatoes) and Apfelstrudel (a heavy dough filled with a spiced apple, raisin, and nut mixture, rolled up and shaped into a horseshoe, then baked).  These are both delicious; I cook veal or pork cutlets prepared that way fairly often and I love all variations of apple streudel, or really any baked apple dessert.  Gröstl, however, deserves some attention too.  I imagine it's a great dish to eat after a long day of skiing, because it is super-packed with protein and carbs, and it's very filling.  I like it with the traditional fried egg on top, because let's face it, a fried egg on top takes many dishes to that extra level. 

I just loved this hearty and simple dish, equally suited to both breakfast and dinner.  I threw in leftover baked salmon instead of the ham called for in the recipe.  We loved it!  

Gröstl (recipe from BBC Good Food)

2 T vegetable oil
5 strips of bacon, cut into small chunks (or lardons or cooked ham)
1 medium yellow onion, cut into small chunks
2 cups cooked potatoes, cold and cut into small chunks (I used a medley of fingerlings to give the dish some fun color)
1 t caraway seeds
1½ tsp sweet paprika
2 dashes red pepper sauce (I used sriracha)
1 small bunch parsley, roughly chopped
1-2 fried eggs, to top each serving

Heat the oil in a large frying pan, then fry the bacon and onion together for 5 mins until the bacon is golden. Lift out of the pan onto a plate, then add the potatoes and fry for 10 mins more until golden.

Add the caraway and paprika, season well, then fry for another min, stirring to release their fragrance.

Return the bacon and onion, taste for seasoning, then add the parsley.  Stir to combine.

Serve hot topped with fried eggs.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Dish #9: Australia - Cottage Cheese Pikelets with Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs

I really dislike cottage cheese.  It's a textural dilemma for me that I can't get past - probably the only food I could regularly come across in my diet that I feel that way about.  I have trouble even looking at cottage cheese, and I'm extremely unsqueamish about food.  I am not one of those women who has to wear gloves to touch a boneless, skinless chicken breast and still holds the offending object at the longest possible arm's length while hysterically scrubbing it under cold water before cooking it (yes, I do know people like that).  I'll touch and cook and taste any other food at least once.  I even like cheese curds, like you'd find on poutine, but I just cannot go there with the watery-looking lumpy curds of cottage cheese.  It's not even that I think it tastes bad.  I just can't bring myself to consume more than the tiniest nibble of it, and even that I have to smear all over a piece of fruit to disguise it from myself. 

However, I know it's so healthy, and my husband loves it, so we always have it in the house.  For Australia, I'm making Cottage Cheese Pikelets, which will give me my dose of cottage cheese without requiring me to suffer through eating a big plain spoonful of it.  I love pancakes, and Pikelets are similar to American pancakes - sort of a middle ground between them and blinis or crepes.  Pikelets are not traditionally eaten as breakfast in Australia, but rather as a tea time or afternoon snack, spread with butter and jam or topped with whipped cream.  I chose to take my Pikelets in a savory direction so that we could eat them for dinner.  I treated them like they were polenta cakes.

I topped my Pikelets with red wine-braised short ribs.  The short ribs have nothing to do with Australia at all, but I'm going to share the recipe below anyway, because it's awesome.  I've been making this recipe for years now, and it's easy and delicious.  Whenever I see short ribs on sale at the market, I snatch them up and start the two day cooking process.  The return on investment of time here is great, because we usually eat the short ribs for at least 3-4 days: one day with pasta or something like the Pikelets here, one day with potatoes or polenta, one day as a grilled cheese sandwich filling, and one day as a quesadilla or taco filling.

I also repeated the yogurt butter sauce from my Armenia entry to drizzle over the short rib-topped Pikelets.  While I am not a huge fan of plain yogurt or many yogurt based sauces, my husband insisted that I try it after he tasted the portion I offered to him.  He was right; the blend of flavors were perfect.

Cottage Cheese Pikelets (recipe from Ultimate Weightloss)

1 1/4 cup cottage cheese
2 eggs
1/3 cup flour, sifted
1 t baking powder
1 Cup water
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil spray

Combine cottage cheese and eggs. 

Add the flour, salt and pepper, and baking powder until combined into a thick batter.

Preheat small non stick fry pan over medium heat.  Spray with the oil spray.  Add small dollops of mix to the pan and cook until both sides are golden brown.  They are ready to flip when air bubbles start to appear on the surface.

Place on a tray and keep warm in 170 degree F oven until all are cooked.

Serve warmed pikelets onto plates, pour over short ribs (recipe below), and serve immediately.

Red Wine-Braised Short ribs (based on recipe from Epicurious)

2 to 3 lbs beef short ribs
1/2 lb cremini mushrooms
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced

2 T olive oil
2 T dried parsley
1 T dried basil
1 T dried oregano
1/2 T onion powder
1/2 T garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup (about) vegetable oil
1/2 bottle red wine (I use whatever I have open to drink, which this time was pinot noir)
32 ounces beef stock

Heat large dutch oven on medium-high height.  Saute onions for 2-3 minutes, then add mushrooms and garlic and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 7-8 more minutes.  Add small splashes of wine to keep mixture from drying out as needed.

In the meantime, season ribs with salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder, and let stand for 5 minutes at room temperature.  Then add ribs to dutch oven and brown on all sides, about 3 minutes per side. 

Once browned, pour in 1/2 bottle of wine and beef stock and bring to a boil.  Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F and simmer ribs on stove top until oven is ready.  Then cover, transfer to oven, and braise for 2 hours.  Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, skim fat from top of braising liquid and then bring to simmer over medium-low heat, covered.  After one hour, remove the short ribs, which should be tender and falling off the bone.  Boil red wine and beef stock mixture until reduced by half, about 20 minutes, then return ribs to dutch oven, cover, and simmer for another 30 minutes or until tender to your liking.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dish #8: Armenia - Manti with Yogurt Butter Sauce

I had a dish lined up to make for Armenia that I knew I loved and couldn't wait to eat: Choreg, a traditional Armenian sweet bread often served on Easter, but enjoyed by people like me throughout the year.  I used to have an Armenian co-worker who would bring this bread into the office after Easter and some other major holidays (her mother made dozens of rounds of it for family and friends), and I would gorge myself on it whenever she did.  I just love when bread is fluffy and yeasty and smells like sugar and butter from a mile away.  It doesn't need any garnish or filling because it has so much flavor all on its own.  I also love sesame and nigella seeds on bread.  Clearly, this bread and I are a match made in heaven.  Unfortunately, my current dietary restraint has us star-crossed.  I won't be making Choreg any time soon, because I just can't control myself and only eat a little piece.

Instead, I'm sticking to soups and preparing Manti, a dumpling soup.  I love filled dumplings of all kinds: dim sum, gyoza, pot stickers, pierogi, empanadas, even apple dumplings that I ate during my childhood from the Amish market, warmed with vanilla ice cream on top, with the secret ingredient of 7-Up soda in the buttery, cinnamon-scented syrup.  I appreciate that this recipe short-cuts by using wonton wrappers for the dumplings instead of dough, because it keeps it lighter for me too, but if you search the internet for Manti you'll find lots of recipes using a heavy, savory dough that sounds simply delicious to me.

The recipe below calls for just a plain broth, but I added some carrots and onion.  I think you could add veggies however desired to make it heartier.  I also made big dumplings instead of little ones (didn't cut my wrappers into quarters, so my dumplings were four times bigger than they were supposed to be). This made dumpling prep quicker and easier, and I enjoyed the soup, but I think it would be better and easier to eat with the dumplings the size called for in the recipe.  The yogurt sauce is not included in my picture above, but I did make it, and it brought so much flavor to the dish.  I highly recommend dolloping a spoonful or two on top and then mixing it into the broth to give it some body and spice.

Manti (recipe from love&nourish)

1 lb. lean ground beef or lamb (I used lamb because I haven't yet in this project and I love it)
1 medium onion, grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t allspice
1 T fresh chopped parsley
4 T tomato paste, divided
salt and pepper to taste
1 pkg. wonton wraps, cut into quarters
8 cups chicken broth

Combine the ground meat, onion, garlic, allspice, 1 T of the tomato paste, and salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Fill cut wonton wrappers with about 1/4 t of meat filling.  Dip your fingers in the bowl of water, wet the outer edge of each square of dough and bring up the sides, pinching together.  Leave the top of each manti open in the middle.  Place each manti onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, covered with another damp towel.  Keep unused wonton wrappers under a damp towel to keep from drying out.  Place each manti onto the parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake the manti on the center rack in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes until crispy and golden.
While the manti are baking, bring the chicken stock to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Add 3 T tomato paste and stir to combine.  Add salt, pepper, and seasoning as desired.

Once the manti have baked, place in the pot of warm broth and stir to incorporate.  Take the pot off the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes for flavors to meld. 
Serve in bowls topped off with a the yogurt butter sauce (recipe below).

Yogurt Butter Sauce (recipe from The Gutsy Gourmet)

1/2 stick (1 cup) unsalted butter
3/4 t sweet paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
4 dashes red pepper sauce (I used sriracha)
1 cup plain yogurt
1 clove garlic, mashed

Melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the crushed garlic.  Saute for 2 minutes.  Add the rest of the ingredients and the yogurt.  Stir to combine and then remove from the heat.  Set aside to cool.  When ready to serve the manti, place a spoonful on top of the manti and broth.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Dish #7: Argentina - Bife A Caballo with Chimichurri

I was very excited to cook the food of Argentina.  I wrote my college thesis on Argentine gaucho poetry and political identity, and I got to live in Buenos Aires briefly on a research grant.  Argentina has a rich and fascinating history due to two factors: (1) being mostly ignored by the Spanish during colonialism because of its lack of silver to mine and (2) experiencing many waves of immigration from all over Western Europe and even Asia throughout its history.  Buenos Aires is a lovely, sophisticated city with vibrant nightlife, beautiful parks, quaint neighborhoods, ritzy shopping, and a deep history.  I personally prefer Buenos Aires to New York City or Madrid or Paris, cities to which it is often compared.  I would absolutely love to travel there again, so cooking a typical porteño meal is going to fill in as the next best thing for me.

When I lived in Argentina, I was a strict vegetarian.  In fact, I often observed a very simple vegan diet but did stray into consuming gummy bears (which contain gelatin) or cheese.  That pretty much sums up my perennial dietary weaknesses - my sweet tooth and my love for cheese.  There are large French, Italian, and German populations and influences in Buenos Aires, which means that the food there is more modern European-influenced than throughout the rest of Argentina or certainly the rest of Latin America.  One of my favorite supermarket snacks while I lived there, in fact, was a spanakopita-type spinach and feta pie.  I also loved soy milanesas (breaded cultets of tofu) with rice and ate huge fruit salads of mango, papaya, pineapple, and banana every day.  I mentioned previously that I would go to a restaurant in Palermo, the neighborhood where I was going to school, a lot and order a cassoulet of lentils and vegetables that was reminiscent of Feijoada.  I also would have simple dinners of grilled squash, potatoes, carrots, and zucchini bought from the farmers market near the Cathedral in Recoleta, the neighborhood where I lived.

All this detail on the food that I did eat should make it glaringly obvious what food I did not eat while in Buenos Aires: the world-famous Argentine beef.  I actually did eat it once, at a ranch in the famous asado style (think Fogo de Chao or any other AYCE Brazilian steakhouse but with a lot more wine and a wider variety of cuts and meats unusual to the palate of most people from the United States, like organs, offal, blood sausage, or goat).  Because I hadn't consumed any kind of red meat in almost two years at that point and also because I washed it down with a bottle and a half of red wine in the sweltering summer heat, all before going on a ridiculously bumpy and fast horseback ride into the forest, my memories of that meal and its aftermath aren't too pleasant to recall. 

However, I would always see bistro style dishes featuring steak that looked so straightforward, simple, and delicious.  I decided to cook the meal that I would order were I to return today to that little restaurant in Palermo where I always ordered the lentil cassoulet and a litro (or two) of Quilmes - Bife A Caballo (literally "beef on horseback"), which is a pan-fried steak with two fried eggs on top.  The recipe below calls for rib-eye steaks, but I used thin-cut New York strip steaks because they looked better at the market.  Along with that I prepared Chimichurri - a bold, bright sauce of parsley, olive oil, lemon, red pepper flakes, and garlic.  I could be very happy eating Chimichurri out of a bowl with a spoon (it's right up there with salt-and-peppered ricotta, peanut butter, and speculoos cookie butter for me as far as that goes).  This dish is usually served with french fries or rice, but I chose to prepare a simple green salad, which is equally typical of porteño restaurant presentations of this dish.

Needless to say, we loved this meal.  It was simple, hearty, and so good.  For my money there is no better sauce than a runny egg yolk broken over meat with some herbs, spice, and oil mixed into it.  So delicious!

Bife Al Caballo (recipe from Refogado)

4 T olive oil
2 1/2 pound rib-eye steaks, trimmed of any excess fat
2 large eggs
1 clove garlic, minced
2 T dry white wine (I always use whatever I have open for this purpose, which is typically a Sauvignon Blanc)
enough olive oil or butter to fry an egg
Season the steak on both sides with sea salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder. 

Heat 2 T of the olive oil in a frying pan over medium high heat.  Add the steak and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side for medium rare, then remove from the pan and tent under aluminum foil to keep warm.

Add the other tablespoon of olive oil to the same frying pan, along with the garlic, and cook for 1 minute, then add the white wine.  Lower the flame to low and cook for a few more minutes. 

Meanwhile, in a separate pan, fry four eggs.  To serve, pour the sauce over the steaks and top with two fried eggs per steak.  Serve with french fries, rice, or a salad, with Chimichurri on the side to spoon over over the steak and eggs.

Chimichurri (recipe from Blue Kitchen)

3/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup olive oil
3 T fresh lemon juice
2 1/2 T finely chopped garlic
2 1/2 T red pepper flakes
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Mix all all ingredients in a small bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.  Bring to room temperature before serving.