So What's This All About?

My family is traveling the world one forkful, or kuĂ izi ful, or handful at a time. Follow our blog to see what interesting facts we learn, which country's food becomes our favorite, and which cuisine makes us feel healthiest. There will also be postings of some projects/arts and crafts/activities for preschoolers that we do in our home preschool. Grab your appetite and let's go!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

You may THINK it's tzatziki, but it's not! It's better!

Classic Cucumber Salad with Yogurt, Garlic, and Mint (Cacik or Khyar bi Laban)
from Feast From the Mideast by Faye Levi

Slice, half, dice, or grate 4 Middle Eastern, 2 Japanese, or 1 hothouse cucumber. Dice 1 to 1 1/2 cups tomatoes or red bell peppers or radishes. [Note - I did a mix of tomato and red pepper.] Mince 2 small garlic cloves, and chop 2 tablespoons of fresh mint.
Mash garlic with pinch of salt in bowl, using back of spoon. Add most of the mint (reserving 1/2 tablespoon) and 2 1/2 cups thick yogurt*, plain yogurt, or kefir cheese (labneh). Blend well, thoroughly mixing in garlic mixture.
Fold cucumbers into yogurt mixture, adding a little more yogurt if needed. Fold in tomatoes and/or red bell pepper. Add a little salt and cayenne pepper to your liking.
Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before serving. Serve sprinkled with remaining mint.

I served this with the Green Herb Kookoo, and it went really well together.

*To thicken plain yogurt, place it in a sieve, strainer lined with coffee filters, or cheese cloth over a bowl and let drain covered with a paper towel and refrigerated. It can drain for 24 hours if you were so inclined, but two hours does wonders. Every hour you drain it, it will thicken up till it becomes texture similar to cream cheese!

Persian Souffle (Kookoo)

In Persian Cooking, by Nesta Ramazani, I came across a category of recipes called "Kookoo". And when you've got a name like that, you just have to give it a go!
Here's some of her description of the dish: The delectable Kookoo was called a "fritter" or "omelette" by early travelers to Persia. Neither word is quite adequate. The kookoo looks somewhat like a souffle, and both are made with eggs and other ingredients. But there they part ways, for the kookoo is browned in butter, cannot collapse, and can be prepared ahead of time and reheated.
There are recipes for String Bean Kookoo, Fava Bean Kookoo, Eggplant Kookoo, Cauliflower Kookoo, Chicken Kookoo, Brain Kookoo (yes, that's right - of a cow or lamb), and a few others. So you can easily adapt the recipe below to fit any couple ingredients you have on hand. I chose Green Herb Kookoo (Kookoo-ye Sabzi)
because she says, "This is the finest and most delectable of all the kookoos," so it was only logical!

Serves 6
Chop and have ready: 1 cup leeks or scallions, a few lettuce leaves, 1/2 cup dill weed (not included in picture), 1 cup parsley, 1/4 cup cilantro
[Note: I substituted spinach for the dill and added a few sprigs of thyme.]
Saute the greens for 5 minutes in 1 tablespoon of butter, stirring frequently.
Beat 8 eggs well with 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Add the sauteed greens to the egg mixture and combine.
Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in skillet, and pour in the egg-herb mixture. Do not stir.
Cook over a medium heat until well browned, about 8-10 minutes. (Lift edge of the kookoo with a flat utensil to see if brown.)

Flip it over, as you would for a pancake and brown other side (about 2 or 3 minutes).
Serve with yogurt or labneh. May be eaten hot or cold.

(I served this with Classic Cucumber Salad - which is in the following post.)

Breakfast, Middle Eastern Style

In an effort to stick to my original goal - eating ALL meals from the country of present - I have asked and searched for different middle eastern ideas for breakfast. In all the helpful tidbits I found, the "dish" that both my husband and I have been devouring is very simple, yet divine!

Take a piece of middle eastern flat bread (or pita or naan) and toast it in the toaster oven till just crispy. Take it out and spread with a Middle Eastern soft cheese. Sprinkle the top with Zahtar (or Za'atar). The cheese we've been using is in this picture near the center, written in Arabic with red around the edges. If you live in C'Ville, get to Rahim's store and buy some! It's similar to goat cheese but saltier - and oh, so addicting!

A few other things I read about breakfast....

from Lebanese Cuisine: "It is rare to go into a Lebanese kitchen that does not have a bowl of olives ready to be put on the table for breakfast, lunch, and dinner."

from Feast From the Mideast: "Even for breakfast, if someone is eating an omelette, there has to be a salad on the plate alongside it. Indeed, this custom is one of the most healthful aspects of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern diet."

from "Saudi Aramco World", an old but interesting article on Middle East breakfast is worth a full read here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Creamy Persian Eggplant

My kids, though willing eaters, aren't fond of eggplant. But this recipe either fooled them or reformed them! We stuffed it inside pita bread (which when warmed up in a toaster oven is the best!), and they ate it up. It can be served hot or room temperature.

A note on kashk from Feast from the Mideast by Faye Levy:

Kashk [is] a creamy dairy product made of dried whey mixed with a little water... if the jar's label lists whey, salt, and water but no other ingredients, you have the right thing for htis recipe. Kashk has the texture of very thick sour cream but has a more tangy, concentrated flavor and is lower in fat. If you happen to find kashk, try it; it's intense flavor gives the tastiest result.
(For blog readers who are local, Rahim carries kashk at his store!)

Creamy Persian Eggplant
from Feast from the Mideast by Faye Levy

Makes 4 servings
1 medium eggplant (1 pound)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon dried mint
4 tablespoons kashk, yogurt, or labneh
salt and freshly ground pepper

Grill, broil, or roast eggplant, then peel it.
(I broiled mine: Prick each eggplant 5 or 6 times with a fork. Set them on broiler rack or broiler pan lined with foil if you like. Broil eggplant for about 40 minutes, or until they feel soft when you press them, turning them over occasionally. Let stand until cool enough to handle. Cut off caps and remove peel with the aid of a paring knife.)
Chop eggplant with knife to a chunky puree. Transfer to bowl.
Heat oil in large skillet. Add onion and saute over medium heat for 10 minutes, or until tender and golden brown.

Add garlic and saute for 30 seconds, then add dried mint and saute for a few more seconds. Reserve 3 tablespoons of the mixture as a topping. Add the rest to the eggplant and mix well.
If substituting yogurt for kashk, drain off any liquid before measuring it. Add 3 tablespoons kashk to the eggplant and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve the eggplant at room temperature.
To serve, spread eggplant dip in a dish or a shallow bowl. To finish, if using kashk, mix 1 tablespoon of it with about 1/2 tablespoon water to a thick sauce and pour it over the center. If using yogurt, simply spoon a dollop over the eggplant. Sprinkle with the reserved onion mixture.

A Lebanese Quick Dish

We were off to friends' house for a little party, and so I needed to quickly put something together for the kids. Only having Middle Eastern ingredients in the house, I searched for a recipe that wouldn't take long. I found this in Lebanese Cuisine by Anissa Helou and deviated slightly from the recipe.

On a side note, and I feared this would happen, Ms. Helou says in her introduction:
Lebanese cuisine as we know it today has evolved through these successive invasions with each culture leaving its mark. Those who seem to have left the most perceptible signs of influence are the Egyptians, Persians, ancient Greeks and Ottomans. The French... had in their mere 25 years in the Lebanon a strong refining influence on the local cuisine. This probably explains why Lebanese food is that much more varied and refined than that of its Middle Eastern neighbours...
It might be difficult to dissociate our food from that of Syria, Jordan and Palestine but our cuisine is quite distinctive from theirs. There is one main geographical difference... in that there is no desert land and therefore no nomadic Bedouin population with its culinary tradition...

She continues on various topics as to why Lebanon should not be bundled with Middle Eastern cuisine. I do see her point - and I think other countries could argue the same. I've made a few recipes from a Persian (Iranian) cookbook that seem quite distinct as well. I will cook from some solo countries - and I'd love to do that with the Middle Eastern region - but it may be 80 years before we complete our journey, so I'm bundling some cuisines together. Hopefully, I am covering a little from each country within the ME while respecting and highlighting their differences.

So let's get this recipe up! It's called Minced Meat, Tomato, and Onion Bread (Lahem bil-Ajeen).
Serves 4
4 Naan bread ovals or other flat bread
1 medium onion, very finely chopped
1 medium tomato, peeled (if desired) and diced into 1/4-inch square cubes
salt to taste
5 oz. lean minced (ground) lamb or beef
1 teaspoon lemon juice, or to taste
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice or garam masala
1/8 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder (optional)
3 tablespoons plain yogurt or tahini (optional)
1 tablespoon pine nut (optional)

Mix onions, tomatoes, and salt together with your fingers to soften the vegetables. Drain any juices.
Add rest of ingredients except the pine nuts, and mix together until well blended.
Spread a quarter of the mixture on top of each bread piece, and then sprinkle with pine nuts.
(Pre-baked picture: )
Bake in a preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or until the breads and nuts are golden brown.