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!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


If you subscribe to receiving emails of new posts and just received an alert for a new post, I hope you did not get it! It was edited and done, but the wi-fi at the coffe shop I'm at had disconnected briefly and thus the draft that was saved was the incomplete and unedited version.

I fear I've lost my cleaned up draft, but I hope my memory will serve me well and get it out in the next couple minutes.

Sorry for that!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

the system, revised, and Introduction to Africa

I've got at least five other middle eastern dishes that I've cooked over the last two months of which I'd love to share with you. My idealistic nature believes I will do such, but my slowly-growing-but-still-infantile realism is forcing me to give the disclaimer that they may not all appear.

However, in reworking the system for keeping up-to-date on this blog, my brilliant husband won me an Olympus digital voice recorder on ebay in order for me to record my thoughts and stories as they come to me or while I'm cooking. This is the perfect choice, for when the time comes that I can actually hop online to post, it's the end of the day and I'm looking for my pillow instead of the publish button!

I am currently reading and researching African cuisine as we move westward from the Mideast. To connect the cuisines, I believe I will start with Eastern African countries. Inititially (and ignorantly), I hoped to tackle this in a lumped group of Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Malawi, and Zambia. What was I thinking???
I seem to suffer from this foggy notion of Africa as an enormous country instead of the enormous, incredibly rich, diverse continent that it is. Ethiopia has preserved its own cuisine, largely due to its naturally isolating geography; Kenya alone has over 40 tribes, resulting in unique cuisines among each. I've realized that I must tackle Africa country by country, highlighting each one's everyday and festive foods.

But even in going country by country, I must be careful to not be bound by geographical lines. A good friend of ours, who spent his teen years living in Kenya, noted that the people of Africa define themselves by tribes, and not by the country divisions that Europeans have created. In A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa by Howard W. French, he says, "The continent is simply too large and too complex to be grasped easily, and only rarely, in fact, have we ever tried. Instead we categorize and over simplify, willy nilly, ingnoring that for the continents' inhabitants, the very notion of Africanness is an utterly recent extraction born of Western subjugation, of racism and of exploitation."

In order to understand the cuisine, I must understand the people. I read a fictional book while cooking Middle Eastern, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, but I am now reading the above mentioned non-fiction African memoir to expand my incredibly, and shamefully, limited knowledge of Africa. I've also put a number of holds on books from the library in hopes that I may better understand the beauty, the traditions, and the pain of this great land.

Certainly, I hope to highlight amazing food from this continent, but more so I pray that God will create in me a love for this land and its people and give me insight into easing her pain and seeing her beauty.

Friday, March 12, 2010

discovering borani

I've always liked yogurt, plain yogurt that is. Many people I know detest it unless it's vanilla flavored or sweetened with lots of sugar. If you fall into that category, consider using it in a savory way, instead of trying to stomach it alone. You can use yogurt just as you would use sour cream. It's a great (and healthier) substitute for some recipes that call for heavy cream; it's great on top of rice, burritos, tacos, and squash or sweet potato soups. The active live cultures in yogurt are incredibly important as I'm sure you've been hearing lately in health/food news - or at least you've heard the term "probiotics". If you haven't heard, check out these sites:
Surprising Uses and Benefits of Yogurt - this one is an answer to a question on one problem, but the author discusses the numerous problems yogurt can help lessen, cure, or prevent

In many parts of the Mideast, Mediterranean, and Africa, yogurt is a staple on or mixed in food. One common Middle Eastern dish is called borani, which is, as Faye Levy describes, "a simple, refreshing medley of vegetables and yogurt". Remember my post a while ago about shopping at the Afghan market? Rahim referred to one of his favorite dishes of roasted eggplant and yogurt, a type of borani.

An often looked-over vegetable that I love is the beet. My kids absolutely love it as well, though it stains their hands, we make them wear bibs, there is the after effect of slightly reddish, um, well, pee! They have such wonderful, almost sweet, flavor on their own that I simply boil them whole, peel the skin, and then slice it. You could add salt or butter if you like, but it's truly not necessary.

So, of course, let's combine those two loves of mine - beets and yogurt - to make a Beet Borani!

Trim the bottom of and cut off the greens of 4 medium beets. (Save the greens to chop and saute with garlic and butter!) Don't fork the beet as you might a potato. Simply rinse off any dirt gently then place in a steamer over water or directly into water, covering completely. Cover tightly and steam for 40 to 60 minutes, adding more water as necessary. (The age of the beet will determine how long it takes to soften; fresher takes less time.)

Cool the beets by running them under cold water and resting for a few minutes. The skin will easily slip off when you gently rub the beet. Cut into wedges, and let cool completely.

In a bowl, mix 2 cups plain yogurt, 2 tablespoons fresh mint (or 2 teaspoons dried), a pinch of salt, and a pinch of pepper. Add beets to the yogurt and fold in gently. Serve chilled.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I Can't Get Enough Dates!

... the fruit, that is. (Though any offers of babysitting so my husband and I can go on a date are always accepted!) I love dried dates, but getting whole dates is a treat! If you have a sweet tooth, just pop a date in your mouth at the end of a meal for a healthy, satisfying treat. (Be careful not to eat the pit, though!)
Besides being a great snack, dates are wonderful for binding other healthy ingredients together, replacing flour, sugar, and butter! They are also scrumptious wrapped in bacon and broiled! See for other recipe ideas.

The recipe below is for halvah, popular in Egypt and also similar to haroset, a Passover dessert.

Finely chop 1/2 to 3/4 cup pecans, walnuts, or almonds (or mix) in food processor, then transfer to bowl.
Halve about 8 - 10 dates, removing the pits. Put dates in the food processor along with a scant cup of dried mixed fruit such as apricots, figs, or raisins and 1 to 2 teaspoons of cinnamon. Process till very smooth, adding a teaspoon or two of orange or lemon juice if it's too dry to process.
Remove and mix (with hands) into the finely chopped nuts, adding another teaspoon or two of juice if needed till mixture comes together. Mix in 2 teaspoons of orange or lemon zest.

Roll fruit mixture between your palms into small balls. Place on plate and serve.
These are simple, fast, a packed full of goodness! I popped one of these in my mouth when I needed a little boost of energy during the day.

Baked Kibbe

Kibbe is a fried meaty bulgur dough with meat and nut filling. This version, from Feast From the Mideast by Faye Levy, is a quicker and healthier version. I've made a few changes to her recipe. It is slightly dry, but it should be served with a bowl of tahini or yogurt on the side for dipping and moistening - which makes a world of difference!

For the dough:

Place 2/3 cup bulgur wheat (finest grind) into a bowl and cover with 3 cups cold water. Refrigerate and soak for 10 minutes. Drain in sieve, squeezing excess liquid out. Place in large bowl.

Finely chop 1/2 onion in food processor. Add 12 oz. ground beef (1 1/2 cup), 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, and 1 teaspoon cumin seeds (or ground) processing to a paste. Add 3 tablespoons of cold water and process briefly. Add this mixture to the bulgur, mixing well with hands. (C'mon! You know you want to get messy - and it's easier!)

In 2 batches, return mixture to processor and blend well. It should make a slightly sticky dough. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make filling:

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy medium skillet. Saute 1 medium chopped onion till golden brown. Add 3/4 cup slivered almonds, sauteing for 1 minute. Add 12 oz. ground beef (or lamb), salt and pepper, 1 teaspoon coriander, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon cardamom. (Drain excess fat if desired.) Transfer to bowl and add 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings. Let cool completely.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a 9-inch square pan. Divide dough in half, pressing one half in an even layer in pan. Top with filling. Divide remaining dough into small pieces, flattening each piece out. Set dough pieces on top of filling, and with moist fingers, press dough pieces together to seal them.

With a point of a sharp knife, score top in lines to make square or diamond cuts through to the bottom. Brush top generously with 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil. Cover with foil and bake for 10 minutes. Uncover, brush again with oil, and bake for 20 minutes more or till cooked through and browned.

Remove with a slotted spatula to remove excess oil before placing piece on plate. Be sure to serve with yogurt or tahini. We enjoyed ours with a spinach salad on the side.

Baklava, Ooh, La, Va!

I look forward to Greek festivals for one reason, and one alone: the baklava! Now, yes the dancing is enlivening and the spanakopita is scrumptious, but there's nothing like a bite into a flaky, rich, perfectly sweet piece of baklava.
The mideast does give Greece much credit for their perfection of baklava even though the first records of it come from Syria. They do, though, hold to their own version of this sweet dessert. So in making a Middle Eastern version, I combined Persian, Turkish, and Greek recipes. I certainly hope I can recall it well to you, as it was one of the best flavor combinations I've had! (Beginner's luck, really.)

1. Crush 3 cups of nuts in a mortar and pestle, such as almonds, pistachios, or walnuts. (I used almonds.) Place in a bowl and add to it: 1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 2 teaspoons cardamom.

2. Melt 2 sticks of butter in a small pan and have hot and ready. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3. (This part can be tricky!) You will need 8 to 10 oz. phyllo sheets, which you can find in the frozen section of most grocery stores. It will dry very quickly, so remove only what you think you will use and place it on top of a lightly damp, clean cloth as well as cover it with the same. You will also want to cut it to the size of your pan. I used a 13x9 pan, and I found that cutting the sheets in half were the perfect size.
Using a basting brush, grease the bottom of your pan. You will now start adding layers of phyllo dough, completely, but lightly, basting EACH layer with butter and covering up the sheets that are waiting to be used or they will dry and become flaky and very difficult to work with.
This was my layering: 5 phyllo sheets, coating of nut and spice mixture, 5 sheets, coating, 5 sheets, coating, 5 sheets, coating, 10 sheets.

4. Bake for 25 minutes. Cover loosely with foil, reduce the heat to 300 degrees, and bake for 20 minutes more or till golden brown. While it is cooking, make the syrup: mix 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1 cup water in a saucepan and cook on low until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil, reduce heat slightly, and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes or till thickened. Add 1-2 teaspoons lemon juice, simmering 5 more minutes. Remove from heat and add 1 to 2 tablespoons rose or orange-flower water. (Typical Greek baklava uses honey instead of sugar and rosewater, which you may do if you prefer!)
5. When baklava is done, carefully cut it (still in pan) into squares or diamonds. Drizzle the syrup in the cracks of the cuts you have made, around the edges, and then finally on top using as much of it as you'd like. You may serve leftover syrup on the side for anyone who may want his or her piece sweeter.

6. Let baklava stand for a couple of hours before serving. It can keep for several days at room temperature covered with saran wrap.