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 jalapeƱo, 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.