Saturday, January 30, 2010

Dessert: Basbousa


I've been known to say things before thinking at times. That may have been the case when I joyingly announced that Fridays was to be dessert day. I realized after this past Friday that there really aren't all that many Egyptian desserts I'm familiar with; watermelon or chocolate were the desserts of choice growing up. But that's ok, I've collected the few I do know and will be trying them out.

So I decided to take on a typical dessert: basbousa in egyptian, herissa in Alexandria, namoura in Syria, or revani in Turkey and Greece. All different ways to say sweet semolina cake oozing in honey/syrup.

While it's definitely not a dessert my family makes; ever, it's one that I've always loved saying: bas-bou-sa. Beautiful! And it sounds a little indecent too.

Being that this was not a family specialty, I got to feast my eyes on it during the times we would hit up the Middle East bakery. If you haven't been to one, you should. The smells of pistachio and rose water are just enough to make you think everything will be light and fluffy, when in fact it's all soaking in butter and syrup. So everything is quite heavy, and very, very sweet. It's probably one reason the Middle East has a high rate of diabetes.

But back to the dessert store. There are trays of conafa, baklawa, kahk(cookie stuffed with nuts/dates) mamoul (cookie stuffed with dates), and basbousa, all layered and begging to be eaten. I always gravitated towards basbousa for a couple reasons: it's the easiest one to eat, and calling it basbousa in egyptian gave me a little connection to my food. Most of the dessert places are Lebanese, so when they hear 'basbousa' immediately a conversation ensues in Arabic, and I explain in my broken Arabic after several questions are directed at me that 'i speak a little' 'very little' and then we all laugh and someone mumbles something which I don't understand, and I hope I get a discount for being from the same region.

Basbousa is made from semolina which is ground durum wheat. It's the same wheat used in pasta throughout the world, in couscous throughout North Africa, and in salads or meat pies in the Middle East (tabouleh, kobaeba). The wheat itself may have originated from the southern Mediterranean countries and Abyssinia (Ethiopia). It was also grown in Egypt during the Byzantine period (Middle Ages).

With the rise of Islam, trade between the Islamic empire and Europe began. Durum wheat was one of the Muslim world's biggest exports. Also, with the Islamic empire spreading all the way to Southern Italy, durum wheat inevitably made its way into Europe as a pasta.

It's hard to say exactly how the dessert itself came to be, but it seems to follow a common theme with most of the desserts: bread-like, very very sweet, and buttery. It also doesn't require too many ingredients.

The basic list of ingredients is semolina flour, sugar, milk, water (or rose/orange blossom water) and almonds/pistachios. I would suggest getting some rose/orange blossom water for this one because it really adds flavour. My recipe uses coconut flakes as well, going back to my coconut problem, but you could easily eliminate it. Though I don't know why, when you could have sweet, crunchy, coconut...

It's simple enough to make, but one piece is really all you want. So make sure you know more than two people, since you'll need help finishing all of this. Or I suppose you could just half the recipe. That would be smarter. But I didn't think of that. So I have a tray of syrupy delights and not enough space to run circles in.

__________________________________________

Total Preparation Time: 25 minutes

Yield: 4 huge portions, 8 large portions, or 16 reasonable portions

INGREDIENTS:

cake

2 cups of semolina

1 cup of dried coconut (unsweetened)

1/2 cup sugar

150 g (3/4 cup) butter

1 cup of milk

syrup

1 1/2 cup of sugar or honey

1 1/2 cups of water or 1/2 cup orange blossom/rose water 1 cup of water

2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice

________________________________________

DIRECTIONS

Cake

1. Preheat oven to 350F

2. Mix all ingredients

3. Add to a buttered dish

4. With a wet spoon, or hands, flatten down batter in dish so it is smooth and evenly distributed

5. You can almonds to decorate the top either before or after it is baked

6. Put in oven.

Syrup

7. Add all ingredients to a pot

8. Bring to a near-boil while constantly stirring on high heat

9. Once sugar has dissolved, or honey has melted down, take off heat

10. Syrup should be clear, but not caramelized

11. Once cake is golden brown on top, take out of oven

12. Cut into squares or diamonds

13. Pour syrup all over and let it stand for a couple hours to cool and soak

And done and done. Serve it with strong coffee and lots of water. It tastes better by day two when the syrup has fully absorbed and each bite is like biting into a bag of flavoured sugar with buttery goodness.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Breakfast: Ful Mudammas




Today I decided to showcase a healthier side to Egyptian cooking. So I'm going to talk about Ful Mudammas, simply known as Ful (pronounced like 'fool').

It's one of the national dishes of Egypt and one of the least appetizing looking ones from afar, until you take your first bite; then you're hooked. It's a bean mash, with fresh vegetables, olive oil, lemon juice and spices. And that's it.

It's so simple to make, that it became one of my dad's signature dishes to make when he ran out of ideas to entertain us with dinner. After he and my mom divorced, dinners for at least two nights of the week had a set repertoire of choices. They were: roasted chicken from the grocery store with salad, an omlette with basturma (cured beef with spices), Wendy's, or ful. Ful was always the least exciting option because it wasn't as exciting as a Wendy's grilled chicken. But, it was very healthy and above all, filling. And any fool can make ful, ha ha ha. His version was more of a salad, so the beans were not mashed and it was cold. But everything else was the same. And it was tasty.

When I got to grad school, we had a month to prepare for our exams. That's when I made a comeback to ful. I had a very set study regime which revolved around food. Breakfast every day was hot ful, and pita. I did this on purpose because it kept me full until about 2pm. So I had no real excuse to break on account of hunger pains. Dinner was usually a can of sardines and bread and salad. I'm still recovering from sardine overload, but I figured it was the best brain food a student's budget could buy.

The ful was a great breakfast idea, the only problem was that it didn't keep very well. I mean it does keep for a week, but by day 2, it looks gross; I'll be honest. So I'd redo it everyday; it was productive procrastination. My boyfriend at the time was essentially the poster-boy for the English. I offered my homely ful one day and one look at it was enough for him to wave it away; without even so much as a bite! All that to say is you need to try it before you can say anything.

The origin of ful is not too certain. Many claim it can be traced back to the Pharaohs. However, back in 5th century BC, the great historian Herodutus noted that Egyptians don't sow beans, and even if they grow wild, no one picks them. But ful beans have been found inside Pharaohonic temples, so who really knows.

The name mudammas originates from the Coptic word to mean 'buried'. The Coptic language, is a cross between greek and late pharaonic which is still used in the orthodox Coptic churches. The idea was that ful was cooked in a large pot and buried underground.

The bean that is commonly used by Egyptians and grown is called ful hammam, it is a small and
rounder looking bean


than other varieties like ful baladi (country bean), ful rumi (kidney-shaped), ful akhdar (fresh fava beans). Ful Hammam translates into bath bean. The story behind this name is during the Middle Ages, when there were bath houses throughout Cairo, the Princess Bath house continuously burned huge vats of water outside of the bathhouse. At the end of the day, the embers were still hot, so the people took advantage of the large pots and filled them with ful to cook in overnight. In the morning, the ful was served as breakfast for everyone. Hence bath bean.

That may have been the starting point of ful stands found throughout the city. In Cairo, you can find them readily serving hot ful with fresh pita bread as a sandwich, or simply in a bowl. It is also the meal of choice of the fellahin (peasants/farmers); the idea being it's a meal that sits like a stone in your stomach. So you eat this in the morning, go work all day and have your main meal afterwards. I read somewhere that it is the rich man's breakfast, the shopkeeper's lunch, the poor man's supper (or student..).

The easiest way to make this is buying a can of fava beans, which you can find in any middle east or mediterannean food store. Some grocery stores will sell it too. You can also buy the dried version in bulk, and soak it overnight.

_______________________________________________
Total Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Yield: 4-5 persons

INGREDIENTS
1 can of ful madammas


or
2 cups of soaked beans

1 egg, hard or soft boiled (depending on your taste)
1-2 tomatoes
1/2 cucumber
1/2 green pepper
1 green onion or 1/4 of a white onion

juice from half a large lemon
or
1/4 cup of white vinegar

2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano
salt, pepper

_________________________________________
DIRECTIONS

1. Chop up vegetables into bite size pieces
2. Boil egg
3. In a pot on medium heat, add beans
4. Add lemon juice or vinegar
5. Stir beans around and mash with a spoon or fork
6. Beans do not have to be smooth; mash according to your preference
7. Add all vegetables--make sure you mix vegetables in, but that you are not cooking them
8. Add olive oil and spices.
9. Cut egg into small pieces and mix into ful
10. Serve with pita bread

Serving suggestion:
black sweet tea--I like how it works with the savoriness of the ful.

And there you have it. Breakfast or dinner, it tastes great, fills you up, and will please all your vegetarian and vegan friends (without egg). Just make sure it's not judged before tasting.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Dinner: Bamya (okra)



Tonight I've decided to return to a classic favourite of mine: Bamya, arabic for okra. It's my comfort food, especially during these days when it's gross outside, and I can't remember that there is life beyond space heaters and the thick greyness that is a 'sunny' day. Maybe if the water pressure in the apartment didn't go from trickle to none, my saving grace of a hot shower would be ok. But that's not going to work, so bamya it is.

It's another slimy variety of vegetable, like molokhia, which means it is good for stewing.

It's one of those meals that I found myself defending a lot while in elementary school. My mom would always make this for us, and of course, I would have leftovers for lunch along with my warm yogurt, mashed-up peach and browned banana. I can still remember the smell of garlic mixing with the warm and bruised fruits mmmmmmmmmm. What was even better was after I opened up the container and began to eat my lunch. Noses would perk up and people would see me eating this slimy looking vegetable. "What is that?", "Okra" I answered. "Oh, well, what is okra?" And so the lessons in vegetables outside of tomatoes and carrots began for my friends who were 90% anglo-saxon origin. It's ok though, we traded lessons. They taught me about the world of Mr.Noodle eaten dry. Amazing.

Much further south to where I grew up, i.e. the southern states of the US, okra is cooked readily in gumbo stews, or deep fried. So it's not completely unknown in North America.

Anyhoo, it's a comfort food and a staple in most Egyptian households. And it's one of those vegetables that originates from Egypt. Wild bamya used to grow along the Nile shores back in the days, as far back as the time of the Pharaohs, (12th BC). Egyptians are thought to be the first people to cultivate it, starting around the 12th century BC.

Apparently, based on deciphering hieroglyphics from tombs, pyramids and other buildings, people have been able to put together some of the meals from that time, such as bamya. But, of course, over time, things have changed, and though we still eat the same vegetable, it's generally eaten in a tomato-based broth. Tomatoes have no claim to Egypt since they were introduced to the area back in the 1800s, so the dish that most Egyptians are familiar with is not what the ancients ate. But that's ok.

As a vegetable, it is rich in folic acid, vitamin B6 and fiber. And because it's slimy, nutritionists believe that it is actually a better source of fiber for you than bran/wheat etc. since it doesn't irritate your intestines thanks to its texture. Things you didn't know!

As usual for most of these dishes, stay away from fake rice, meaning the pre-boiled variety. This dish also depends on its stock for flavouring. Traditionally, people use cubed beef or lamb, I like chicken, but regardless of which meat you use, you can follow my recipe for stock.
_____________________________________

Total Preparation Time (not including stock): 45-60 minutes
Yield: 4 persons

INGREDIENTS

Rice
2 cups of egyptian or italian short grain rice
4 cups of water
1 teaspoon of butter
salt

Sauce
2 cups of stock
1 bag (about 375 grams-1.5 cups) of frozen egyptian okra (looks shorter than other varieties)


or
1.5 cups/375 grams of any kind of okra (fresh or frozen)
1 can of tomato paste
1 diced onion
6 cloves of peeled garlic
1 tablespoon of butter (or oil)
__________________________________________

DIRECTIONS

Rice:
1. As with previous recipes, wash rice until water is not as starchy looking
2. Add water with salt and butter
3. When water is boiling, add rice and turn down heat
4. Allow to cook for about 15 minutes

Sauce:
5. In a medium-sized pot, add some butter or oil
6. Add onions and cook until soft
7. Add two cups of stock
8. Add all of the tomato paste and stir until mixed
9. Add all the garlic cloves
10. Adjust sauce with salt and keep on low heat
11. When sauce is good, add the okra
12. If you are using beef or lamb, add the meat to the sauce.
13. If you used chicken (as I did), then you don't need to cook it in the sauce. You can fry it in a little butter and serve it with the rice and bamya
14. Let okra (and meat) cook for about 40 minutes
15. When okra is soft, and flavourful, serve over a bed of rice.
16. Serve with raw green onions on the side

It's a very simple dish, and not too complicated taste-wise either. It's heavy on the garlic which is good for you, bad for others, and if you eat it with the green onions, you'll be guaranteed no one at the elementary lunch table will sit with you for a few years until you outgrow your momma-makes-your-lunch phase.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Dessert: Umm Ali


I've decided to make Fridays my dessert day; it's the end of the week and it's a chance to indulge in something wonderfully sweet. Today's dessert lives up to a high sweetness standard.

Umm Ali, or in arabic, Mother of Ali, is a dessert I've always heard about, but only got to try on my last trip to Egypt. While we were taking a cruise up the Nile, we had the unfortunate task of eating the same 'europeanized' food on the boat; every night. Which really is shame given that there is an abundance of fresh and flavourful food all around. I'm not even sure Europeans like bland European food--except maybe the British...To make matters even worse, or more frustrating for me at least, was the fact that all the chefs and cooks were Egyptian. So cooking Egyptian fare was not a stretch for them; in fact it came naturally to them as they displayed their talents on the obnoxious Egyptian theme night.

For this long awaited theme night, guests were encouraged to look 'Egyptian' by buying one of the typical galabayas (long robe) available at the boat store--surprise, surprise. The night ended on a horribly embarrassing note as guests were invited--more like forced, to belly-dance on stage. I may have been guilty of this; but no one knows...

In any case, this was the only night that I really ate well. All kinds of Egyptian favourites were made for the guests, including this dessert. I was warned by my family that it is too heavy to be enjoyed. Ha! Wrong! It's just perfect! It's a simple concoction of pistachios, pine nuts, almonds, bread, sweet milk and cinnamon. It's Egypt's answer to the British bread pudding (which I still don't like).

There are many stories surrounding the birth of this dessert. Three in total were what I found. I'll start with my favourite and most preposterous one.

Back in the day, when Egypt was invaded and ruled by different dynasties came the
invasion of the Mamelukes. Mamelukes were slaves bought as children and trained to be loyal soldiers. It was a practice started by the Abassid Caliphate (the third caliphate in the Islamic empire following the death of the Prophet Mohammad).

Anyways, the first Mameluke to be made a Sultan of Egypt was
al-Muizz Izz-ad-Din Aybak. He was married to one lady with a son, Ali, hence her name: Mother of Ali. He also had another wife and son. Women at the time were not allowed to rule the country, but in the absence of a Sultan, a mother could be the guardian to her son until he came of age to take over the Sultan title. In this case, Aybak died leaving the two women to fight out whose son would rule. Umm Ali hatched a plan with the handmaid of the second wife, and had her killed. To celebrate her victory, she made this sweet dessert (akin to sweet revenge) to share with everyone.

The second legend is a bit more believable. A Sultan was down in the Nile Valley hunting with some people when he suddenly became very hungry. He stopped into a small village asking for food. The villagers asked Umm Ali to prepare something for him, as she was known to be the best cook in the village. She whipped up this dessert and the Sultan loved it so much, he came back for seconds.

The third legend has nothing to do with Ali's mom. It's about an Irish nurse with the family name O'Malley. She was in Egypt and caught the eye of the ruler, Khedive Ismail. As his mistress, he had a dessert created especially for her called: O'Malley, which sounds like Umm Ali.

In each scenario, the dessert itself is something that can be easily made with what you have in your kitchen. Many recipes call for phyllo or puff pastry, but the point is that you make it on the fly. So if you have stale pita or regular bread, use it.

It's quite easy to make, and has many different layers of flavour to it. The coconut addition to it is optional, since coconuts are not native to Egypt yet; next round of invasions may rectify that problem. But in my defense, I have a weakness for all things coconut and jumped on the idea.

__________________________________________________________
Total Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Yield: 4 Persons

INGREDIENTS

Enough stale or oven-dried bread to fill the bottom of a dish (about 2 medium-sized pitas)
3/4 cup of pistachios (unshelled and unsalted)
1/4 cup of almonds (flaked, or slivered, or chopped)
1/4 cup of pine nuts

1/2 cup of unsweetened coconut flakes (optional)
2 handfuls of raisens
1 tablespoon of cinnamon
2 cups of milk
1 cup of sugar
**2 cups of condensed milk can also be used**
1 tablespoon of rose or orange blossom water (optional)


1 cup of heavy cream

_________________________________________________________
DIRECTIONS

1. Turn oven to 375F
2. Make sure bread is dry, if not put in oven until brittle
3. Break up bread into smaller pieces
4. Lightly grease a baking dish
5. Add bread to dish so bottom is covered (about an inch thick of bread)

6. In a large mixing bowl, add nuts, raisins, cinnamon and coconut flakes
7. Add nut mixture on top of bread
8. In a pot on medium heat, add milk and sugar
9. Continue heating milk until sugar dissolves and is a little thicker than regular milk
10. When milk reaches a good consistency, add orange blossom/rose water if it is available
11. Take off heat and add to bread/nut mixture

12. Pour cream over mixture
13. Put in oven for about 20 minutes, or until dish looks golden.


Yes, it is a heavy dish, but it doubles as a breakfast for champions, woop woop!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dinner: Fatta



Today I thought I'd make Fatta. It's a simple dish, that is cheap to make and very filling. It's also found throughout other Middle Eastern countries, namely in the Levant area. They usually use yogurt and tahina in their versions, and often it is without rice. I will do the Egyptian version, with rice.

It's not a dish I grew up eating--at all actually. But on my last trip to Egypt, I tried it a few times (thank you Nesma), and got the recipe from my cousin's mom.

The history behind this dish is varied. It is found in numerous communities. In the southern area of the country, near Aswan and onwards to Sudan, are the Nubians. Though they have a shared history with Egypt, they have maintained their own culture and community over many years since Pharonic times. Even after their displacement from the completion of the 1970 Aswan High dam (all of Old Nubia is under water), they rebuilt their communities and maintained their traditions. One of their specialty dishes is Fatta. It is usually prepared for special occasions when there are many guests, such as a marriage, or a woman's first pregnancy. Molokhia is also added to the Fatta, which is one variation of the meal.

Outside of Nubia, fatta is eaten by the Bedouin. They are the nomadic tribes found along the western areas facing the Nile valley and in the Sinai. Fatta is also a meal cooked for special occasions that starts off with the slaughtering of a lamb, that is then boiled with spices, then layered with bread and rice.

For the urban and country dwellers, fatta is eaten by both Christians and Muslims as the first main meal following a major fast. So for Orthodox Coptic Christians, after fasting for 40 days for Advent, fatta is eaten right after Christmas midnight mass. For Muslims, following a month of fasting, fatta is one of the main dishes eaten at the festival, Eid al-Fitr (Festival of breaking the fast), which marks the end of Ramadan.

Regardless of the origin, the main staples are: bread, meat, and rice. The word Fatta is arabic for crumbs, which may refer to the breaking of the bread in the dish.

It's a dish that requires very few ingredients, and is layered depending on how many guests are attending. The main flavouring comes from the seasoned meat and also from the dressing made with garlic and white vinegar. Some variations in Egypt include tomato sauce, but I like the simplicity of this version.

One of the keys to this meal is getting along with your friend butter:

You and butter will make this dish tastier. Which is probably why you don't want to eat this meal too often. Yes, oil can also be used; but why choose oil when butter is right there?

As with before, I would stay away from instant rice, as you want the starchier kind to soak up the flavouring from the broth and the dressing.

When I made this dish for feasting, there were only two of us. So I didn't have a chance to slaughter my own little lamb. Instead I used lamb chops and it worked out splendidly . The recipe should be good for four people though and you can use any animal of your choice.

_____________________________________________________
Total Preparation time: 25 mins (not including stock preparation)
Yield: 4 persons

INGREDIENTS:

Broth
stewing meat (lamb, beef) or chicken (enough for at least four people to eat)
1 cinnamon stick
3-4 pods of cardamom (optional)
1 quartered and peeled onion
Handful of salt, peppercorn
1-2 bay leaves

Bread
2 small loaves of pita bread cut into small pieces

2 tablespoons of butter

Rice
2 cups of egyptian or italian (aborio)
4 cups of water
1 teaspoon salt (or more depending on taste)
1 teaspoon butter (unsalted)

Dressing
2-3 cloves of garlic, mashed a little
white vinegar
2 tablespoons of butter (or olive oil)
____________________________________________________
DIRECTIONS:
1. Allow meat to cook until tender and broth is flavourful (about 30-40 minutes)
2. Take meat out and break into small pieces

Bread
3. Cut-up or tear pieces of pita bread
4. In a small frying pan, melt butter and fry bread until it is golden and crispy
5. Set aside

Rice
6. Measure out the rice and rinse the excess starch under warm water. Add 4 cups of water,
add the butter and salt and set to high heat.
7. Once the water is boiling, add the rice and stir.
8.Cover the pot with a lid and set the heat to low. It should finish cooking within 15 minutes.

Dressing
9. In a small pot, melt butter and add mashed garlic
10. When garlic starts to change colour (not burned!) add vinegar
11. Turn down heat and allow vinegar mixture to simmer a little (2-3 minutes)

12. Add about half a cup of stock to vinegar mixture

Layering
13. In a deep dish, add bread to bottom
14. Add about half a cup of stock on top
15. Add about 1.5 cups of rice, and pat down
16. Pour a few tablespoons of dressing over rice
17. Repeat process until rice is done
18. Add meat on top, pour remaining dressing and a bit more stock
19. Eat!

Let's be honest, it's not an attractive looking meal, but if you like garnishing or pretty plates, you can try to dress it up a little.

Otherwise one bite of this and you'll see why you don't need to make it pretty. The tangyiness of the vinegar and garlic mixed with the flavourful broth and crisp bread and salty rice make this dish wonderfully tasty and satisfying And simple. And filling. And cheap.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dinner: Molokhia



I thought I'd start off the cuisine tour with an Egyptian staple: Molokhia. It also goes by the english names of Jew's mallow, Green mallow, or nalta jute. It is a leafy green vegetable that gets confused for spinach. Let's get one thing straight: it's not spinach nor can spinach be used as a substitute.

It's texture is what makes it unique: very slimy when cooked, which is why it makes an ideal soup. Though it is found in India and the Philippines, it has been a staple of Egyptian diets as far back as the Pharaohs. It's one of the few foods that existed prior to the numerous foreign conquest of the country.

Some claim its introduction as a food was made by ancient Jewish priests, hence the name Jew’s mallow. It is also eaten in neighbouring Libya and the Levantine countries (Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon), however it is not nearly as popular as it is in Egypt. In Egypt, molokhia is eaten at most special occasions or at least once a week for family meals. It's the type of dish your mom cooks when a lot of friends or family is coming over. But it's not the dish you serve to impress new guests. For that reason it's not well-known outside of Egyptian households, though a few restaurants serve it in Egypt.

The vegetable is prepared into a viscous soup that is flavoured with garlic and ground coriander and poured onto rice, or cut pita bread and eaten with chicken or rabbit. The key spicing comes from the simple preparation of the taqliya, which is made using equal amounts of chopped garlic and ground coriander, then roasting it until it is golden brown in butter.

Walking the streets of Cairo, you are bound to come across the distinct aroma of the taqliya as households prepare molokhia. In fact, one of Egypt's rulers from the Fatimid dynasty, Caliph al-Hakim Abu Ali Mansur, who ruled Egypt from 985-1021 AD, banned its consumption after prohibiting women from going out in public, simply because he believed molokhia worked as a sexual stimulant in women. Luckily after his reign, the ban was lifted, and households continued to uphold the traditional meal—regardless of religion—across the country.

The recipe is quite simple, as is the case with most Egyptian dishes. The only trick is making the taqliya, which takes about 3 minutes and should not be painful. If you mess up, you can easily do it again.

If you are not in the mood to make your own stock, then use a packaged one. It doesn't change much; but its not nearly as fresh tasting.

Also, I would suggest staying away from any instant Uncle Ben's crap rice. It's not real nor does it have any flavour or texture. Spare the 15 minutes to make your own, or get a rice cooker.
_________________________________________________________

Total preparation time: (not including stock or rice preparation) 30 minutes
Yield: 4 persons

INGREDIENTS:

Chicken stock
1 roasting chicken
2 cinnamon sticks
1 onion
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Water (enough to submerge chicken)

Rice
2 cups of rice (can be short grain, or long grain, but must not be instant)
4 cups of water
1 teaspoon of butter
Salt

Molokhia
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 tablespoon ground coriander (whole coriander ground by mortar and pestle produces a stronger flavour)
1 tablespoon butter
1 package of frozen chopped molokhia

Frozen and dry format are readily available at any Middle Eastern grocery store. The dried one works, but I think it tastes pretty nasty...

I wouldn't suggest buying fresh molokhia because A) it's hard to find outside the country B) it's a pain in the ass to chop up everything C) frozen tastes pretty fresh.
But if you think you can be that person here are some things to look out for:
-Make sure the plants are young, the leaves are green and the veins have not turned yellow.
-Pick leaves and cut off stems, rinse in cold water, allow to air dry and then chop using a food processor or using a special cutting knife called a makhrata (available at larger Middle Eastern grocery stores)or bunch together and roll before cutting with a knife


Optional side dish
1 red (or white if red is not available) onion sliced
Enough white vinegar or lemon juice to cover sliced onions
Salt to taste
__________________________________________________________
DIRECTIONS

Chicken stock:
1. Start making the stock in advance of the molokhia preparation. This can be done in the morning, or a few days before. Remember, stock can keep well in the fridge for a week, or in the freezer for a couple months. Any stock made from a whole chicken will produce more than the needed 2 cups.
2. Add all the ingredients into a large pot. Add enough water to cover the chicken and bring to a boil.
3. Once stock is boiling, set heat to medium and leave for at least one hour. The longer it is left, the more flavourful the stock becomes.
4. Once stock is ready, set aside.

Rice:
5. Prepare the rice ahead of time to ensure that the molokhia is ready to be eaten immediately after the spices have been added. Any method of rice cooking is fine, but most Egyptians enjoy a starchier and saltier rice. Measure out the rice and rinse the excess starch under warm water. Add 4 cups of water, add the butter and salt and set to high heat. Once the water is boiling, add the rice and stir. Cover the pot with a lid and set the heat to low. It should finish cooking within 15 minutes. Rice should like a bit like this:


Molokhia:
6. In a new pot, add the two cups of stock.
7. Prepare the taqliya by melting the butter and adding both the ground coriander and half of the garlic. If grinding the coriander with a pestle and mortar, be sure that the coriander seeds have all been crushed thoroughly; it will still be chunky compared to store-bought ground coriander.
8. Once the coriander and garlic have been covered in the butter, continue to stir while on high heat until the colour turns golden. Set aside the taqliya.
9. In the stock add the remaining garlic. Also add the molokhia. If using frozen, it does not need to be thawed beforehand.
10. Once the molokhia has reached a hot, but not boiling temperature, add the taqliya mixture and stir to ensure it is evenly distributed.
11. Serve the molokhia on a bed of rice. If desired, spoon some of the pickled onions.
12. Often the chicken from the stock is cut into quarters and fried in butter or roasted in the oven as an accompaniment.

Variation:
Instead of using a bed of rice, serve the molokhia into a soup bowl and add cut-up pita bread.

And there you have it. So frick'n yummy. And it tastes good cold with pita bread come day two, or three or four. Or sometimes five when you're really hungry and lazy. And don't let anyone call it spinach.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Back from the homeland



Coming back from a visit in Egypt always makes me feel sad for a few days or weeks even. It's a glimpse into what my life may have been had I grown up there, and it's also a reminder that there's a rich culture there that I am sometimes a stranger to.

Language is a bit of a dead-end at this point, given I wasn't raised speaking the language. So my time there is often spent trying to communicate with my 9 lessons learned from a CD of Egyptian Arabic. This time, proved better than others, but there were still a lot of blank stares. While language is an immediate entry to a culture, so is the food. And this is where I can help out.

The one thing my family did do over the years was maintain the food. I grew up eating all the same delights as cousins and friends did back in Egypt. So my time in Egypt is spent reconnecting via food.

I would like this blog to be about all the different foods that are typical to Egypt. Not the general Middle Eastern cuisine that most are familiar with; but the specific dishes that make the food Egyptian. I want to share all the recipes I have, and I want to learn about all the other ones that are still out there. I will try to break each dish down into easy-to-follow sections, and when possible, offer some of the historical or cultural relevance. Food can tell many stories in one bite.

First recipe to come: Molokhia

I will prepare this dish for Monday's post.

Enjoy!