Q is for… Qatar; Here We Go Again

Flag of Qatar

Remember when I got to the letter O and the only country was Oman? Well here we are again at Q and the only country that starts with Q is Qatar. So we’re back in the Middle East and the same problems present themselves. To review those problems are that most Middle Eastern dishes uses ingredients that I’m allergic too and that the food, while delicious, tends to not be very country specific. Still, Qatar is what I had to work with so Qatari food it is.

As much as I love lamb and rice and Middle Eastern spices I just couldn’t bear making yet another dish in that vein so I was excited when I stumbled on some recipes for Balaleet, a Middle Eastern breakfast treat. Throughout this project I’ve done main courses, desserts and sides so doing a breakfast dish seemed like great fun.

Balaleet is a mix of sweet and savory and is often served for special occasions in Qatar. Had I planned better (and by planned better I mean cleaned my apartment) I would’ve invited a friend or two over for brunch. Unfortunately, my apartment looked like the seventh circle of hell I wasn’t prepared so I scaled this recipe back to serve one, but it would be extremely easy to multiply it for a bigger brunch.

I took two liberty’s with this recipe. Instead of buying vermicelli or angel hair I used Barilla cut spaghetti, but that was really because I had forgotten to buy angel hair at the supermarket so I ran to the bodega on my corner and grabbed the cut spaghetti. This recipe can also be made with rice vermicelli for those who are gluten free.

The other change I made was to use orange juice rather than orange flower water or rose water which all traditional recipes call for. While I try to keep these recipes authentic, it would’ve been a waste to buy orange or rose water that I’d likely never use again.

Balaleet

  • 1/2 cup Vermicelli; broken in to about 1 inch pieces (or use cut spaghetti)
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • Large pinch of salt
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 egg omelette

Boil Vermicelli about 2 minutes less than package directs. Drain then toss in to a mixing boil.

Immediately toss in sugar, cinnamon, ginger and mix well. The heat of the pasta will dissolve the sugar.

In a small non stick frying pan melt butter over medium high heat. Stir in orange juice.

Pour in noodle mixture and spread to flatten. Cover and turn heat down to medium low. Cook for 10-15 minutes until the liquid has absorbed and the bottom has crisped.

Set aside noodle cake and wipe out the frying pan. Make a one egg omelette. Cut the omelette into a few large pieces and serve on top of the noodle cake.

Enjoy!

FINAL VERDICT: B-

This dish was definitely interesting and I don’t mean that in a, “Well he’s err got a great personality” kind of way. I mean it in more of a, “Ya know we had a nice time; good conversation; I’m just not sure there was spark,” kind of way.

I went light on the sugar, though most recipes call for far more, because I thought the sugar in the orange juice would add a ton of sweetness, but surprisingly it didn’t. It was actually not very sweet at all definitely should’ve added another Tablespoon of sugar.

I did like the play of textures with the crispy noodles and fluffy egg though. I would definitely try this recipe again, especially for a brunch with other people!

So you would go on a second date with me? Sweet!

Baked Shrimp with Feta

Last day of catch up! We made it, whoop!

Last summer I had some beautiful zucchini and peppers on hand, so I went out and grabbed some shrimp and feta and whipped up a Greek inspired shrimp dish. I made it again a couple of weeks ago and it was just as good as I remembered.

Prep work

Of course I didn’t bother to measure anything so this recipe has a lot of “to taste” or “whatever looks good to you” in it. It’s so simple though that it’s really hard to mess up. When I made this maybe 3 weeks ago there were still lots of zucchini and peppers at the farmer’s market. You should still be able to get the last of the season right now, but if they’re already gone in your area you can just save this recipe for next summer 😉

Fresh from the oven. Oh Feta how I love you!

Baked Shrimp With Feta

  • 1 large bell pepper diced; (I like to use red or orange to contrast with the zucchini)
  • 1 medium onion; diced
  • 2 large zucchini diced; (I like to use one green and one yellow if I can for purely aesthetic purposes)
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes; drained
  • Salt, pepper, basil, oregano and red pepper flakes to taste
  • 1lb shrimp; cleaned and peeled
  • 4-6 oz. crumbled Feta cheese

Heat a skillet over medium high heat and add olive oil. Saute onions, peppers in olive oil until they soften and begin to brown, 5-7 minutes.

Transfer veggies to a bowl. Stir in tomatoes. Add salt, pepper and herbs and adjust to your liking. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 500.

Wipe out skillet and put back on medium heat with just a touch more oil. Saute shrimp for 1 minute per side (2 minutes total!) just until they are no longer translucent. Toss in with the vegetable mixture.

Spread the whole mixture in to a baking dish (I use a 9X13) and top with Feta.

Bake for 10 minutes or until shrimp are cooked through and cheese has browned.

Serve over rice or orzo.

Yield 4-6 servings.

Dinner!

Enjoy!

O is for… Oman. Oh Man!

Flag of Oman

Fun fact: Oman is the only country in the world that starts with the letter “O.” That means that I only had one choice in what country to use for my letter “O” recipe, but surprisingly there are a number of Omani recipes online (seriously how much do we love that whole internet thing!).

So finding Omani recipes wasn’t hard at all, instead the challenges were this. First, as I’ve said many times, Middle Eastern food is a challenge for me because they use so many of the things that I’m allergic to. Second, Middle Eastern food is Middle Eastern food. Food from that area of the world is really delicious, I love the spices and the emphasis on fresh vegetables, but the food tends to not be country specific so you often find the same dishes in Armenia that you would in Yemen.

This recipe is an amalgamation of 3 recipes that you’ll find if you Google, “Omani Kofta,” so that’s Omani enough for me.

Lamb Kofta with Zucchini Sauce

Fo the Kofta:

  • 1 1/2 lbs ground lamb
  • 1 small red onion; finely diced
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh parley; finely chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 Tablespoon cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 egg; beaten

Combine everything in a bowl and mix well.

Form in to sausage shaped patties, approximately 2-3 inches long and an inch in diameter. This should yield about 12 kofta.

refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour.

Heat some olive oil in a saute pan and, working in batches if necessary, cook kofta for 10 minutes, flipping each halfway through or until meat is fully cooked.

For Zucchini sauce:

  • Olive oil
  • 2 large (or 3-4 medium) zucchini; diced
  • 6 cloves of garlic; crushed
  • 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Crushed red chilis to taste
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • 2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh parsley; finely chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh mint; finely chopped
Heat oil in large pot. Add zucchini and cook over medium high heat until zucchini begins to soften; about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 3 more minutes.
Stir in tomatoes, salt and pepper, chilis, vinegar and bay leaves. Turn heat down and allow to simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes stir in the parsley and mint and cook for one more minute.
Discard bay leaves.
Serve kofta and zucchini sauce over rice with warm Middle Eastern flat bread on the side.
Yields 4-6 servings
FINAL VERDICT: A-
What a great recipe! I love the spices and especially love how the aroma of those spices wafted off the dish. The mint in the sauce added a great punch of bright freshness to the sauce. I’d change some very minor things next time which I’m sure would launch this recipe from A- to A. Next time I make this I’ll add a bit more of the herbs to the sauce. Also, I was surprised that the recipes I found called for balsamic vinegar, though Oman is a pretty international place so balsamic has probably become as ubiquitous there as it is here, I think this would’ve been better with red wine vinegar or something with a bit more bite since the tomatoes are already sweet.
Speaking of the tomatoes I’d planned to use fresh since it’s the perfect time of year for that, but I forgot to buy extra at the farmer’s market. I ran to the organic section of my local market only to find that ALL of their tomatoes were imported from California or Mexico. Really!? At this time of year, in this area of the country we have more amazing local tomatoes than we know what to do with and this local loving gal could not in good conscience buy the tomatoes that were shipped in from afar so canned it was and it worked out great!
The sauce itself was so good and could definitely be used on a number of other things.

N is for… Nigeria; Through Every Fault of My Own

Hello

Nigerian Flag

Last week I was tired. Tired and lazy and forgetful. Without a doubt the worst part of vacation is the part where you have to return to real life which has, shockingly, continued along in your absence. On the one hand last week I was busy playing catch up; on the other hand I was wistfully longing to be back on vacation.

I had picked up some great looking eggplant at the farmer’s market on Thursday. I threw in a green pepper for color and decided to grab some carrots too and I’d make a nice saute with herbs and spices to have a hearty vegetarian week. I forgot to get the carrots. FAIL

I’d serve my hearty, now carrot-less, vegetable saute with my Nigerian recipe, Jollof rice as in my research I’d learned that the dish is served with either chicken, mixed seafood or just vegetables. I didn’t pick up any fresh ginger, but I could just use the ground. FAIL

Even though I had little success leaving my hot peppers whole in my Haitian dish, I just was not in the mood to get out rubber gloves so I decided to just cut a few slits in the peppers and throw them in. This time it would be better because I’d be throwing them in boiling liquid. FAIL

Ok so last week was not my finest, but I promise you that I plan on coming back strong soon!

Vegetarian Joloff Rice

  • Neutral flavored oil for sauteing (peanut is traditional, but because of my nut allergy I used vegetable)
  • 1 medium onion; roughly chopped
  • 2 medium ripe tomatoes; roughly chopped
  • 1 6oz can tomato paste
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1-2 Scotch Bonnet or Habanero peppers (don’t be a wuss like I was, cut them in half first)
  • 2 cups white rice
  • 32oz low sodium vegetable broth

In large pot, heat oil. Add onions and saute 2-3 minutes until onions just begin to soften. Then add tomatoes and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes have softened and started to break down. Add tomato paste.

Stir in salt, ginger, nutmeg and cloves.

Using an immersion (stick) blender or transferring to a regular blender, puree until smooth.

Toss in rice and stir to coat with tomato mixture. Add hot peppers and broth, stir.

Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Let simmer for about 15-20 minutes, until the rice has absorbed the liquid and is fully cooked.

Love love love my immersion blender!

FINAL VERDICT: C

While I admit that much of went wrong with this recipe was my own fault, most of the recipes I saw out there weren’t that much more exciting than this. I definitely should’ve cut the peppers because the dish ended up having no heat and I actually sprinkled some cayenne in to it after the fact. I also should’ve used one less tomato and a bit more ginger.

Many believe that Jollof rice is the grandfather of jambalaya, a dish that I love, but other than the use of rice and tomatoes I didn’t see (or taste) much of a resemblance. Honestly even if I make all those tweaks I listed above, I can’t imagine this dish ever being more than just ok. It’s just not that exciting.

With the eggplant and peppers mixed in.

Bon Appetit!

M is for… Malta; Cleaning Out the Pantry

Hello

Flag of Malta

Guess who’s leaving for vacation on Tuesday… this girl! I’ll be gone for almost two weeks so of course I need to start emptying out my fridge. I still had some left over scallions from my Korean dish, some spinach and eggs so it seemed like the perfect time to make Froga tat-Tarja, a Maltese dish I’d read about. Malta is a country made up of a series of small islands in the Mediterranean.

With its unique position between Sicily and North Africa and history of colonization by foreign powers such as Greeks, Arabs, France and England the culture is an interesting mashup of all. The Maltese have their own language, which is actually Semitic, but they’ve borrowed heavily from Italian and English which you’ll notice it the greeting at the top of this post. Similarly the food of Malta bears many of the same dishes as Sicily, but often use spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.

Froga tat-Tarja is a Vermicelli (or Angel Hair) omelette. In my research I found that there are only two absolutely necessary ingredients; thin pasta and eggs. Once you have that as a base you can use anything you want. My mind reeled with possibilities. Maltese cooks use leftover chicken or whatever veggies they have lying around. I’d seen several recipes online that used pancetta, a few that used ricotta and one that even used tomato sauce, but I’m leaving soon so I needed to start getting rid of what I had in the fridge. A quick look turned up some spinach, parmesan cheese and scallions still left from my Korean dish and a recipe was born!

Froga tat-Tarja

  • 3 eggs
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 Tablespoons parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions or to taste
  • A couple of handfuls torn baby spinach
  • 1-2 teaspoons nutmeg or to taste
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • 1/2 lb cooked Angel Hair (or other thin pasta), room temperature
  • Olive oil for frying

Crack eggs in to a large mixing bowl. Add salt and pepper and beat eggs as you would to make scrambled eggs.

Stir in cheese, scallions, spinach and spices then fold in the pasta mixing well to make sure the pasta is coated and the mixture is well incorporated.

In a medium saute or frying pan heat olive oil over medium high heat. Pour the pasta mixture in to the pan and smooth out to form an even layer. Cook until browned, about 5 minutes then flip and cook about 5 minutes more.

Turn out on to a plate, slice in to wedges and serve with a light salad.

Serves 4 as an entrée, 6 as an appetizer.

FINAL VERDICT: B

What a great use for leftovers! The texture of this dish is wonderful; crispy in the outside and sort of fluffy/spongy on the inside. I didn’t love the spice I used, but I will definitely make this again and would love to try it with ricotta, garlic and whatever else I have lying around.

I ate this with a simple tomato and cucumber salad and some leftover sauteed eggplant. Lovely with a glass of white wine

Tajba Tiekol!

********

I’ll be leaving on a jet plane tomorrow at 5:30pm. I doubt I’ll do any blogging while I’m away so don’t expect much from me for the next couple of weeks.

K is for… Korea; Reunification On My Plate

Flag of South Korea

Ok ok so Korea is not technically a country, but cut me a little slack here as I’m currently filled with the Olympic spirit.

Seriously I am certified Olympics nerd. I love every single thing about the Olympics. The pomp and circumstance, the citizens of the world coming together, the spirit of competition. I DVR every bit of it, grab the kleenex to get me through the wonderful personal stories and cheer for favorites and underdogs alike. I also have a strict “make no plans during the opening ceremonies policy,” so this past Friday night I settled in with a bottle of wine, my mock soy sauce and a everything I would need to make Haemul Pajeon.

I am addicted to Mama O’s Kimchi!

It was a lovely evening. David Beckham was in a suit. On a boat. With the wind blowing through his hair….  Oh err, sorry we were talking about the opening ceremonies and my Korean (but seriously how good did he look in that suit.)

I had expected my head to explode from excitement being that I am both a total Olympics nerd and a huge anglophile, but like most people I found these opening ceremonies a bit disappointing except for the part with David Beckham in a suit on a b… ooohh there I go again, sorry!

They weren’t bad, just a bit underwhelming. Still the part I look forward to most, the parade of nations, was as joyous and heartwarming as ever. My favorite’s are the countries that have one or two athletes. Can you even imagine the pride and excitement? I’m sure for these athletes just being there is a victory in itself and I contend that even the lowest ranked Olympian in any sport is still a thousand times better than myself and pretty much anyone reading this blog at their particular sport.

GO TEAM USA!

Frying away

Haemul Pajeon

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cloves garlic; crushed
  • Salt to taste
  • Mixed seafood (I used about 10 shrimp cut in half lengthwise a 6 jumbo scallops cut in to bite sized pieces)
  • 1 cup scallions; green parts only, sliced in about one inch sections
  • Vegetable oil for cooking
  • Dipping sauce (recipe follows)

In a mixing bowl combine flour, water, eggs, garlic and sauce. Gently fold in seafood.

Heat a bit of the oil in a medium frying pan over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, scatter some of the scallions in the pan and cook one minute.

Ladle some of the batter over the scallions, covering them completely and allow to cook until the underside is browned and firm enough to flip; about 5 minutes depending on the thickness of your pancake.

Use two spatulas to flip that pancake and cook 5 more minutes.

Cut in to wedges and serve with dipping sauce, rice and kimchi.

Yield 3-5 pancakes depending on how big you make them

Dipping Sauce

  • 2 teaspoons mock soy sauce (or real if you can have it)
  • 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Hot red pepper of chili flakes to taste

FINAL VERDICT: B

This is one of those recipes that could definitely be an “A” with a little tweaking. It was tasty and I liked the texture a lot, but I wish I’d used more scallions and more garlic to give it more flavor. Also next time I’d like to make them a bit thinner. I could, however, just drink shots of that dipping sauce. YUM!

Perfect Olympic meal. I had left over brown rice so that’s what I had long with some kimchi. I forgot to put the dipping sauce in the picture.

J is for… Japan; All You Need is An Ice Cube Tray

Japanese Flag

Like all other Asian food establishments, it’s nearly impossible for me to eat at a Japanese restaurant, what with all that sesame and soy, but I’ve actually had Sushi before. Back when I was living in Boston I had one of those tiny little original Whole Foods (I think it may have been the first on the East Coast) right near my apartment and I frequented it often. I got to know one on the Sushi chefs there and he started making me Alli-allergy-approved salmon rolls. He rolled cooked salmon (I’ve tried raw fish several times and it’s not my thing), cucumbers and carrots in a layer of nori and rice on a clean work surface free of sesame seeds. I skipped the non-Alli-allergy-friendly soy sauce and enjoyed a bit of wasabi and pickled ginger, which I could eat a bucket full of, as accompaniments.

That was 7 years ago and I’ve missed sushi ever since so when I was ready to make a recipe for the letter “J,” Japanese Sushi seemed a logical choice. Then “J” got closer and I started thinking about logistics. “Do I really want to buy a Sushi mat? How often would I really use it? What if I just made Chirashizushi, Sushi bowls, they’re legit Japanese, I know I looked it up. But that’s just too easy and boring, right? Maybe I should look up some Jamaican recipes…”

And so the inner monologue went until a few weeks ago when I stumbled on a recipe for mock soy sauce that people claimed tasted like the real thing and I reeeally reeeally wanted to make Sushi! Still the logistical problems remained so I did what anyone would do in 2012, I took to Wikipedia and looked up the various types of Sushi. My best bet seemed Oshizushi or box sushi, a specialty in Osaka where the ingredients are placed on the bottom of a box, rice is placed on top and then the whole thing is pressed together firmly, unmolded, cut in to squares and served. Oshizushi Seemed like the best bet, but where to get the box? Then it occurred to me; ice cube tray sushi.

Silicon trays work best

Using an ice cube tray to make sushi was something I’d heard about awhile ago and filed somewhere in the back of my mind (a scary, messy, disorganized space; I assure you!). I’d seen the idea in several places touted as a way to get kids to try Sushi* and I just adored it (kids in the kitchen yeah!), but I realized there was no reason I couldn’t use an ice cube tray too. Ok, ok so it’s not really authentic, but I’ve been really good up until now so cut me a little slack!

I had a hard time deciding on toppings because I wanted to at least keep that part authentic, but sushi has become so ubiqutes these days that it’s hard to tell what’s authentically Japanese and what’s not at this point so I kept it simple. I decided on thinly sliced cucumber, thin Japanese omelette and salmon roe. The roe was a bit of a splurge, but once in a while you just have to!

I followed Alton Brown’s recipe for making Sushi Rice which could not have been easier. I put a slice of cucumber in each square of the tray, followed buy a few strips of omelette, another piece of cucumber and then the rice and packed everything down firmly and unmolded them on to a plate and topped them with the roe. Of course there was wasabi, pickled ginger and mock soy sauce on the side too. And…

It. Was. Amazing!!

FINAL VERDICT: A

I’m sorry that there’s not really a recipe with this, but it’s really more of a technique then a recipe. I will so so soooo be making this again with a variety of different ingredients, authentic and otherwise. The only change I’d make is that I think I’ll just mold the rice in the trays and then stack everything else on top. Some of the toppings slipped off a bit after unmolding and I realized it’s really only necessary to mold the rice.

PS- *For anyone saying, “Kids won’t eat Sushi, they only eat chicken fingers,” go visit my friend Erin’s blog and ask her what her beautiful daughter eats!

Erin- I fully expect Katherine to be eating ice cube tray Sushi some time in the next few years.