Saturday, April 22, 2017

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Morocco

Every culture has its proverbs, but, when it comes to the Moroccans, a lot of those proverbs relate to food.  For example, "you can count the number of apples in one tree, but you can't count the number of trees in one apple."  Or how about, "[w]hat you have put into your kettle comes out into your spoon."  Or, perhaps my favorite, "feed your guests, even if you are starving." 

As interesting as these food proverbs may be, words cannot fill a belly.  So, for this challenge, I decided that I would make a main course based upon the cuisine of the country of Morocco.  The starting point for a discussion of Moroccan cuisine is the same as for many other cuisines: it is a melange of influences, including Arabic, Anadalusian, and Mediterranean ones.  Moroccan cuisine has also been influenced by another source: the Berber culture.  

The Berbers are an ethnic group that are unique to Northern Africa.  At one time, they inhabited an area stretching from Morocco to Egypt, and from Algeria to Niger.  Today, the Berbers are principally (but not entirely) located in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.  The Berbers have a variety of societies and ancestry, united together by a common identity and language.

The Berber influence on Moroccan cuisine is evident in the use of couscous, as well as the tangine.  When the Arabs came to the region, they brought spices (such as cinnamon, cumin, ginger and saffron), dates, dried fruits and nuts, which were incorporated into those dishes.    The Arabs also brought olives and olive oil, which became ingredients useful in Moroccan cooking.  Then, there was the French, who left their imprint on Moroccan food and cuisine, particularly with respect to pastries.

But it was the Berber influence was never extinguished, and it continues to shine in many dishes, including the one that I selected for my challenge: Mechoui.  

MAIN COURSE

Mechoui (or as the Berbers would call it, "Meshwi") is the Moroccan equivalent of barbecue.  It is the roasting of a whole lamb or goat over a pit fire.  The roasting is usually done as part of a celebration or an event.  The lamb or goat is prepared with a spice rub with melted butter (as opposed to a dry rub or one using oil).  Once the rub is applied to the meat, it is then placed over the fire and roasted.  As it cooks, the celebration unfolds and, once it is ready, the hungry guests are in for a treat.  

There are a wide variety of Mechoui recipes on the Internet, which involve different proteins (chicken, beef, lamb, goat, etc.) and different spice rubs.  For this challenge, I borrowed from three or four different recipes, using the common techniques while keeping an eye on the interesting twists from one to another.  Ultimately, it was a recipe from New York Times Cooking that was the principal recipe I used.  The end result was incredible!


MECHOUI (MOROCCAN ROAST LAMB)
Recipe adapted from several sources, including this
one from the New York Times Cooking
Serves 8-10

Ingredients:
5 pounds of boneless leg of lamb
3 ounces of butter, softened
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, slightly toasted and grounded
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, grounded
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon pimenton
6 garlic cloves, smashed into a paste with a little salt

Directions:
1.  Prepare the lamb.  Trim the lamb of any extraneous fat, but leave a thin layer of fat covering the meat.  Use a sharp paring knife, cut slits all over the lamb.  Lightly salt the meat on both sides and place in a large roasting pan.  Mix together butter, cumin, coriander, paprika, pimenton and garlic.  Smear butter mixture over the surface of the meat.  Allow the meat to come to room temperature.  Heat the oven to 450 degrees.

2. Roast the lamb.    Roast the lamb uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes, until it shows signs of beginning to brown.  Reduce the heat to 350 degrees.  Continue roasting for 1.5 to 2 hours, basting generously every 15 minutes or so with buttery pan juices, until meat is soft and tender.  If the surface seems to be browning too quickly, tent loosely with foil and reduce heat slightly.  In this case, remove loosely with foil and baste the lamb.

3.  Finish the dish.  Transfer lamb to a large platter or cutting board and serve hot. 

SIDE DISH

My personal culinary challenge usually, but not always, includes side dishes, appetizers, or even drinks.  For this particular challenge, I decided to make a side dish based upon a recipe that I found on the New York Times Cooking website.  The recipe is for Chickpeas with Mint, Scallions and Cilantro, and, it was included as a Moroccan recipe.

The recipe calls for rehydrating chickpeas, but that is not required.  An alternative is to use canned chickpeas, as I did.  In that case, the instructions are a little different.  Rather than cooking the rehydrated chickpeas for 45 minutes, I boiled the water for about 15 minutes, to infuse the water with the onion and cloves, and then cooked the chickpeas for about 10 to 15 minutes in the boiling water.  This will warm the chickpeas and infuse them with the flavors without turning them into mush.  Then I would continue with step 2, incorporating the chickpeas into the olive oil and other ingredients.  Once the side is completed, it is a perfect complement to the Mechoui or Meshwi.  


CHICKPEAS WITH MINT, SCALLIONS AND CILANTRO
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 pound chickpeas, soaked overnight in cold water
1 onion halved, with each half stuck with 2 cloves
2 bay leaves 
1 2-inch piece of cinnamon stick
Salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon turmeric or small pinch of saffron
2 tablespoons chopped mint
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems

Directions:
1.  Prepare the chickpeas.  Pour soaked chickpeas into a colander to drain and put in a medium-size soup pot.  Add water to cover by 1 inch and bring to a boil.  Add onion, bay leaves, cinnamon and 2 teaspoons salt.  Skim off and discard any rising foam.  Lower heat and simmer gently for about 45 minutes.  

2.  Continue cooking chickpeas.  Drain hot chickpeas (reserve both for another purpose such as soup) and discard the onion and aromatics.  Return chickpeas to pot and add olive oil and turmeric or saffron, stirring to distribute.  Taste for salt and adjust.

3.  Finish the dish.  Transfer to a warm serving bowl.  Mix mint, scallions and cilantro together and sprinkle over top.  Serve warm.

*     *     *

In the end, this was another successful challenge.  The Mechoui (or Meshwi) turned out a perfect medium rare, and the spices on the rub came through as you eat the lamb.  As I noted above, the chickpeas were the perfect side for this dish, with additional levels of flavor coming from the turmeric, mint and cilantro.  Yet, as successful as this challenge was, I did not have a whole lamb and I did not roast that lamb over a fire in a pit.  The challenge was a success given my limitations     Now, if I could only find a whole lamb goat and, if my beautiful Angel would let me dig a pit in our backyard, I could recreate the entire Berber/Moroccan Meshwi/Mechoui experience.  Until that happens ...

ENJOY!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Roasted Green Beans, Mushrooms, and Onions with Parmesan Breadcrumbs

A while back, our family had a fruit and vegetable CSA allotment. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, which is a program where you purchase the produce directly from a local farm.   The CSA provided me with an opportunity cook more vegetables.  I created a "CSA Challenge," which pushed my culinary abilities by cooking dishes that included beets, turnips and sweet potatoes.

For this challenge, I had green beans.  My typical side dish for green beans is to blanche them for a couple of minutes to preserve their color, and then saute them with a little butter, salt, pepper and lemon juice.  Occasionally, I add some slivered almonds.  While this side dish does the trick, especially when you do not have a lot of time to cook a meal, I wanted to try something different. I wanted to prepare the beans with ingredients that I would not typically think of when I am pondering green bean recipes.

I came across a recipe that included, among other things, mushrooms and "parmesan breadcrumbs."  Neither ingredient is one that, at least for me, I would generally associate with green beans.  So, I decided to make this recipe.  The result is a rather colorful dish, with the different colored green beans, the red onions and the brownish mushrooms.  The parmesan breadcrumbs add a "crunchy-ish" kind of texture that gives a hint of parmesan cheese, which helps to make this dish work.  


ROASTED GREEN BEANS, MUSHROOMS AND ONIONS
WITH PARMESAN BREADCRUMBS
Recipe adapted from Delish
Serves 6

Ingredients:
1 1/2 pounds of green beans, trimmed
1 medium red or yellow onion, sliced into rings
8 ounces of cremini mushrooms, sliced
8 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoons of dried oregano
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Juice from 1 lemon.

Directions:
1. Prepare the vegetables and mushrooms.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  On two rimmed baked sheets, arrange green beans, onions and mushrooms.  Toss each with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Roast until deeply browned, about 30 to 35 minutes.  

2.  Toast the breadcrumbs.  In a medium skillet over medium heat, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Add breadcrumbs and oregano and cook, stirring constantly until breadcrumbs are golden brown, about 3 minutes.  Remove from heat, stir in Parmesan.

3.  Finish the dish.  Squeeze lemon juice over roasted vegetables and top with Parmesan breadcrumbs.

ENJOY!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Oyster Shooters with Tomato, Lime and Chiles

This is the best recipe ever invented. Period.

No, seriously.  This recipe of Oyster Shooters with Tomato, Lime and Chiles makes me rethink why I have made the nearly one hundred recipes that are already in the index to this blog.  After having one of these oyster shooters, I began thinking, "why in the world did I spend all that time making" this recipe or that recipe.  I could just spend every night making this recipe.  Some dicing and slicing.  Some mixing.  A little waiting.   A little more work.  And, the best recipe ever invented.

I have to say, my hats off to the person who thought: "what if I combined tomatoes, citrus and chiles with tomatoes?  And then added raw oysters."  You deserve a James Beard Award or three. Quite coincidentally, that is where I found this recipe ... on the James Beard Foundation's website. 

Now, for you to agree, you have to love eating raw oysters.   Atlantic oysters, Pacific oysters. Malpeques, Miyagis, Blue Points, Wellfleets, Rappahanocks, Olde Salts, Chincoteaques, Chop Tanks, Kumamotos.  You name it, you have to be willing to eat it.  And, if you eat raw oysters, then buckle up, because you are in for what is truly a gastronomic roller-coaster ride.

The ride begins with the acidity from the tomatoes and citrus.  As the tomato, lime and orange hit the tongue, it is followed by the oyster, which, depending upon the type used, can add a little brininess.  As you finish the shooter, you get the spring onion and cilantro, as well as some of the heat from the serrano pepper.  It is the embodiment of the perfect combination of complementary and contrasting flavors.

I have actually made this recipe a few times before posting it.  I have to admit that, each time, I cheated.   The recipe calls for a dozen oysters, shucked.  The process of shucking oysters, which I have done countless times in the past, can take some time to complete.  My beautiful Angel, Clare, found a very convenient workaround: buying a container of pre-shucked oysters from North Carolina.  Although I cannot remember the specific type of oyster, it is most likely Crassostrea Virginica, the common Atlantic oyster, which is prevalent in the waters around North Carolina.  The pre-shucked oysters reduce the prep work, making this a very easy recipe to enjoy after a long day at work. 


OYSTER SHOOTERS WITH TOMATO, LIME AND CHILES
Recipe by Andrew Hebert
Serves 2-4 (or 1 Chef Bolek)

Ingredients:
1 cup tomato juice
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 serrano chile, seeds removed, minced
Juice and zest of 1 lime
Juice and zest of 1 orange
Juice of 1 lemon 
1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon of finely grated garlic
Pinch of salt
12 oysters, shucked
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro
1/ cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions:
Combine the tomato juice, ketchup, serrano chile, all of the citrus juice and zest, ginger, garlic and salt.  Mix well and chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours.  When ready to serve, pour about 2 tablespoons of the tomato mixture into each shot glass.  Add a shucked oyster to each glass.  Garnish with a pinch of scallions and cilantro.  Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.  Serve very cold. 

ENJOY!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Barrel Aged Butcher and Brewer

It has been more than a year since I did a beer or wine review.  The reason is simple.  I was posting fewer and fewer recipes due to the lack of time that I had to write the posts.  I was also cooking less for a period of time, but I was still having a beer or a glass of wine.  I did not want Chef Bolek to become a beer or wine blog.  So, I decided to hold off on any further beer or wine reviews until I started cooking more and started posting more.  

Well, I am cooking more, but not posting more.  Nevertheless, I realized that a total hiatus of beer and wine reviews may not be a good thing.  This is particularly true when it comes to beers or wines I may never find again. i come across some beers and wine by happenstance.  One of those beers was the Big Belgo Bourbon Stout from Butcher and Brewer.

I was in Cleveland for a while about a year ago when I was in a local grocery store that just happens to have a large beer selection.  While I was perusing the beers, I came across one bottle of one beer that stuck out.  It was sandwiched between multiple selections from other breweries.  Just one beer.  For one brewer.  And it was a brewer that I had never heard of before. 

For those who know me, the name is something that naturally caught my attention.  Butcher and Brewer.  It is a local restaurant, market and brewery located in downtown Cleveland.  Its menu offers a range of cured meats and cheeses, along with small and big plates.  As for the beers, the Cleveland Brewing Company provides the brews, which run the gamut of styles.

The Big Belgo Bourbon Stout is a "Belgian-Russian" Imperial Stout that is aged in bourbon barrels.  I am not quite sure what is a "Belgian-Russian" Imperial Stout.  While the Belgians brew a variety of dark strong ales, I am not sure there is a history of Belgians brewing Russian Imperial Stouts (as that style originated in England). 

Nevertheless, this Belgo Bourbon Stout makes one forget about history and classification.The beer pours a pitch black, as one would expect a Russian Imperial Stout.  A thin foam builds up and quickly recedes to reveal the beautiful blackness beneath.  The aromatic elements of the beer feature the bourbon up front.  The mellow tones of the bourbon greet the nostrils, followed by a slight oak of the barrels and a little of the yeast.  As for the taste, it is first and foremost bourbon whisky.  The bourbon is such the star that it shines over the other elements, such as the yeast and malts.  Those back-up elements are there.  A slight note of coffee or chocolate lingers in the background.   I would have liked to have tasted a little more of the malt, but it could not make its way out of the bourbon.  

Overall, this is a very good beer. As it turns out, this is not the first Belgo-Russian Imperial Stout that I have tried.  (I previously reviewed an offering from Stone.)  While I have grown to like the taste of bourbon in a stout, the strong bourbon presence makes this a definite sipping beer.  One that can be enjoyed while writing a review about it.  The beer definitely makes me want to return to Cleveland, and, check out the Butcher and Brewer in person.  If the beer is this good, I can only think of how good the charcuterie could be....

ENJOY!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Laos

My personal culinary challenge -- Around the World in 80 Dishes -- has figuratively taken me around the world.  I have made a main course based on the cuisine of countries From Andorra to Australia, as well as many places in between.  The next challenge takes me to a region where I have not a challenge ... southeast Asia.  The next challenge requires me to make a main course from the country of Laos.  But, first, a few quick notes about Laotian cuisine.

While Laos is nestled in between Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, its cuisine sets itself apart from its neighbors.  Laotian cuisine tends to be spicier than Cambodian and Vietnamese cuisine, due to the use of local chiles. A cornerstone of many dishes is the use of sticky rice, which could be served with breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Those chiles and fresh herbs -- including galangal, kaffir lime leaves, and lemongrass -- contribute pungent, spicy notes to dishes.

Many of those dishes may be more familiar to people than most realize.  Over the years, many Lao emigrated from their home to neighboring countries, particularly Thailand.  Some dishes that are assumed to be Thai, are actually Lao in origin.  Indeed, in southeast Asia, there is a shared heritage between the Thais and Lao, as well as the Vietnamese and Cambodians, that many dishes of each country's cuisine share common characteristics of those prepare by cooks in the countries. 


MAIN COURSE

Whenever I select a main course as part of my Around the World in 80 Dishes culinary challenge, my research often turns up what is labelled  the "national dish" or "official dish" of a country.  However, what really interests me is not what someone or some people call a country's "national dish," but what is commonly eaten by the people of that country. 

In the case of Laos, that dish would be Larb (or Laab). Generally, Laotian larb is a meat salad prepared with vegetables, fish sauce, lime and chiles served on lettuce with even more vegetables.  The result is a spicy, slightly sour dish that sets it apart from other larb dishes, such as those prepared in northern Thailand.  I have made the Thai version in the past using pork, as well as a version with shrimp, so I have a basic idea as to how to prepare the dish.  (It's kind of like cheating, but in a delicious way.)

Larb can be made with any protein, such as beef and chicken.  Beef is difficult to find in Laos, but it seemed appropriate given that the dish is often used to mark special occasion such as a housewarming, the birth of child or a holiday.  If I was in Laos, I would more than likely have the dish made with chicken, pork or duck.  (All of which sounds delicious, by the way.) 

BEEF LARB
Recipe from Bois de Jasmine
Serves 4 as appetizer, 2 as main dish

Ingredients (for the dish):
1 pound ground beef
4 shallots (2 sliced in thin rounds, 2 minced)
5 spring onions, sliced in thin rounds
2 garlic cloves, sliced in thin rounds
2 hot chile peppers, sliced in thin rounds
1 teaspoon of sugar
1 tablespoon of fish saucea
2 tablespoons of khao khua (roasted rice powder)

Ingredients (for the garnish):
Herbs (spring onions, mint, cilantro)
Lettuce leaves
Cucumber, sliced
Chiles, sliced (to taste)
1 lime, sliced
String beans (optional)

Directions:
1.  Make the khao khua.  Put two tablespoons of rice into a frying pan without oil and toast, stirring frequently, over medium low heat until it turns brown and smells well-toasted.  Remove from the stove adn crush into powder. 

2.  Make the Larb.  Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a frying pan, then add the sliced shallots, garlic, spring onions and chiles.  When they have browned, add the beef, sugar and fish sauce.  Once the beef is well cooked, add more salt, lime juice and adjust the seasonings.  Set aside and let cool.

3.  Finish the dish.  Toss beef with herbs, minced shallots and roasted rice powder.  Serve with garnishes on a side.  

*      *     *

This challenge was inspired by my desire to make larb, and, it was -- like my prior efforts -- a very delicious dish.  The relative simplicity of the dish makes it one that could be made quickly after a busy day at work.  It is one that I will make again ... and again ... and again.  Until next time ...

ENJOY!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

A (Non-Traditional) New England Clam Chowder

I am back.  It has been several months since I have posted anything on this blog.  I have been cooking, although not as much as I would like or with the experimentation that fuels this blog.  The problem is that I have not been writing blog posts, because things have been very busy around here.

Still, the recipes mull around in the back of my mind.  One such recipe is this New England Clam Chowder.  I made this chowder for the Savage Boleks Super Bowl Party, as the dish representing New England.   

Indeed, clam chowder is a quintessential dish in New England.  The history of the dish can be traced back to at least the 1700s, but it rose to prominence in the region in the early part of the 19th century.  The chowder gained a wider audience when it was described by Herman Melville in the classic, Moby Dick.  Melville described clam chowder served by Trys Pot, a chowder house in Nantucket, Massachusetts.  Melville wrote in some rather tasty terms:

However, a warm savory steam from the kitchen served to belie the apparently cheerless prospect before us. But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained.  Oh, sweet friends! hearken to me.  It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt. 

Fast forward one hundred and sixty six years and you find myself getting ready to make a big pot of New England Clam Chowder for my family and friends.  While I have made clam chowder in the past, this dish represents my best effort to date. And, after much thought, I think there are two reasons for that.

First, I decided to alter the recipe in one major way.  The original recipe, which I got from Bon Appetit called for cherrystone clams, which would be chopped into "bite size pieces."  I bought littleneck clams, which are smaller than cherrystone clams (you get about 7-10 littleneck clams per pound, while you get 6 to 9 cherrystone clams per pound).  Given they were smaller, I decided not to chop the clams.  This left small, whole clams in the chowder.  Something that I think would be reminiscent of, albeit slightly larger than, the "hazel nut" sized clams described by Herman Melville.

Second, I decided to use hickory smoked bacon, rather than just plain old bacon. This choice goes against convention.  Traditional clam chowders are made with salt pork, which is not smoked.  Most restaurants substitute un-smoked bacon.  The rationale behind the use of un-smoked bacon is that one wants to enjoy the brininess of the clams, which could get lost with smoked bacon.  Given I decided to keep the clams whole, rather than chop them into pieces, I decided to take a risk and use smoked bacon.  I think the risk paid off, because it added another layer of flavor to the chowder.

In the end, I think my family and friends enjoyed this chowder.  I certainly liked this chowder a lot.  So much that the thought of writing this blog post persevered even through the most busiest of times.  There are other posts like this one, although they will have to wait for another day.


NEW ENGLAND CLAM CHOWDER
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit
Serves many

Ingredients:

10 pounds of littleneck clams, scrubbed
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
8 ounces bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 celery stalks, minced
1 large onion, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
6 cups clam juice (or reserved broth from steaming clams)
2 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups heavy cream
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
Flat leaf parsley, chopped
Oyster crackers

Directions:
1.  Steam the clams.  Bring clams and 4 cups of water to a boil in a large pot over high heat.  Cook until clams just open, 8 to 10 minutes (discard any that do not open).  using a large slotted spoon, transfer clams to a large rimmed baking sheet; set broth aside.  Let clams cool slightly, pull meat from shells and discard the shells.  

2.  Make the base.  Melt butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat.  Add bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until fat is rendered and bacon begins to brown, about 8 minutes.  Add celery, onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, about 10 minutes.  Add reserved broth (or 6 cups of clam juice), potatoes, thyme and bay leaf.  Bring chowder base to a simmer.  Cook until potatoes are tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.  

3.  Add cornstarch slurry.  Stir cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of water in a small bowl to form a slurry.  Stir slurry into chowder base.  Return to a boil to thicken.

4.  Finish the dish.  Remove base from heat.  Discard bay leaf.  Stir in reserve clams and cream  Season with salt (if needed, because the brininess of clams varies) and pepper.  Divide chowder among bowls and garnish with the parsley and serve with oyster crackers.

ENJOY!



Saturday, November 5, 2016

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Lebanon

It has been a few months since the last chapter of my personal culinary challenge, Around the World in 80 Dishes.  That last challenge was to make a main course from Pakistan.  I chose to make Karahi Gosht, which is a spicy lamb curry dish that could often be found in markets and street stalls.   While my challenge is to make main courses, I have always been intrigued by street food, which, for many, serves as a main course, whether for lunch or dinner.

So, my next challenge takes me to the country of Lebanon, where I will make a main course that could easily be served on the street and markets.  The main course is Shish Taouk (or Shish Tawook) This dish is common throughout the Middle East, although it is more because the preparation is common: marinating chicken cubes in yogurt and spices, followed by cooking the chicken over a fire.  While this dish can be found in many countries, including Turkey and Syria, I thought it would be a good way to introduce myself to Lebanese food.

The history of Lebanese culinary traditions is an ancient one, with many of the dishes being traced back to the Roman era and even the Phoenician civilization.  While they have their own unique origins, those culinary traditions also incorporate spices and cooking methods from the Turks, whose Ottoman Empire ruled over the lands that would eventually become Lebanon from 1516 to 1918, as well as the French who controlled the area until 1946. 

As with any country, dishes vary by region.  Lebanon has the coastal regions along the Mediterranean Sea, along with the fertile Bekaa Valley.  The fertile areas, which could support crop production, comprise only about 30% of Lebanon.  Yet, farmers are able to produce a wide range of fruits and vegetables, which serve as the basis of dishes served across the country, including its capital, Beirut, which was once known as the "Paris of the Middle East."  The capital was, and continues to be, a sort-of crossroads, one that has for centuries brought spices and dishes to a very small and very complex country.  

MAIN COURSE

For this challenge, I am drawing from the Turkish influence over Lebanese cuisine.  Skewers of chicken, marinated in yogurt and spices and grilled over spices draws inspiration from the Turks.  Indeed, the name Shish Taouk comes from Şiş,which is Old Turkic for "skewer" and Takagu, which is Old Turkic for "chicken."  Yet, these tasty skewers of grilled chicken are served in restaurants and food stalls not only in Beirut, but in cities throughout the country. 


SHISH TAOUK
Recipe adapted from The Spice Kit
Serves 4

Ingredients (for the chicken):
2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken
4 wooden skewers, soaked in water

Ingredients (for the marinade):
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
2 tablespoons of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baharat
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon oregano

Ingredients (for the sauce):
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded, diced
1/4 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon fresh mint
1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:
1.  Marinate the chicken.  In a large bowl, combine marinade ingredients and mix smooth.  Add chicken and evenly coat the pieces.  Cover and refrigerate 4-8 hours

2.  Prepare the grill.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit or an outdoor grill to medium high heat and lightly oil the grate. 

3.  Grill the chicken. Thread chicken on skewers and grill 4 to 5 minutes each side or bake 7 minutes each side until chicken is done. 

SIDE DISH

And, if you have Shish Taouk in one of those Lebanese restaurants or from one of those street stalls, that tasty chicken will most likely be served with a garlic paste sauce known as toum, hummus and tabouleh.  For this challenge, I decided to make a side of Lebanese tabbouleh. This side is a salad made from tomatoes, parsley, garlic, mint and onions   The dish originated in the mountains of Syria and Lebanon, and it spread from there.  As the story goes, the dish was mocked by some as simply a means to "scrimp" on meat. This critique was easily solved by serving the salad with some meat, like Shish Taouk.  

LEBANESE TABBOULEH
Recipe from NYT Cooking
Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
1/4 cup fine bulgur wheat
1 small garlic clove, minced (optional)
Juice of 2 large lemons, to taste
3 cups chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/2 pound ripe tomatoes, very finely chopped
1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
Salt, preferably Kosher salt, to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions:
1.  Prepare the dish.  Place the bulgur in a bowl, and cover with water, by 1/2 inch.  Soak for 20 minutes, until slightly softened.  Drain through a cheesecloth-lined strainer, and press the bulghur against the strainer to squeeze out excess water.  Transfer to a large bowl and toss with the garlic, lemon juice, parsley, mint, tomatoes, scallions and salt.  Leave at room temperature or in the refrigerator for two to three hours, so that the bulgur can continue to absorb liquid and swell.

2.  Finish the dish.  Add the olive oil, toss together, taste and adjust seasonings.

*     *     *

In the end, both the Shish Taouk and Tabbouleh recipes are very good and, apart from the time taken to marinate the chicken, very easy to make.  This also represents a slight change in how I will approach future challenges.  In the past, I tried to make complex dishes, with many sides.  That was easy to do when it was just my Angel and me, but with our two little cherubs, finding the time to do such cooking is hard.   This dish represents my 24th challenge, leaving me with 56 to go.  If I am going to finish the overall challenge anytime soon, I will need to do these more than once every few months.  So, until next time (which hopefully will be soon)...

ENJOY!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Crab Bisque

Any blue crab soup that is described as "incomparably rich and delicious" is definitely worth trying.  I found the recipe for this particular blue crab soup in one of the cookbooks, Dishing Up Maryland.  The recipe is Crab Bisque.  It originated with the author's sister-in-law, Eleanor Van Dyke, who served it at her annual Christmas party.

A bisque is a cream-based soup that originated in France. Recipes for this soup first emerged in the 17th century, descending from pottage, a thick soup that was more of a puree. The early recipes involved the use of crustaceans, and, specifically, included pulverized crustacean shells as an ingredient.  The crustaceans used in these recipes were "crayfish," or rock lobsters.  If you want to see what some of those historical recipes look like, you should check out The Food Timeline, which is a great site for learning the history of particular recipes or ingredients.

Since those early recipes, bisque recipes have branched out to include any crustacean, such as lobster, shrimp and crab, as well as shellfish such as oysters or scallops.  I have had lobster bisque many times, and, Clare's father makes a very delicious shrimp bisque.  But, my love for blue crab got me to thinking about a crab bisque.  Such a soup is particularly popular in areas like the Chesapeake Bay and North Carolina, where there is -- relatively speaking -- an abundance of blue crab.

Recently, my beautiful Angel bought a container of fresh jumbo lump crab meat from North Carolina. With that pound of delicious crab meat on hand, I decided to make that "incomparably rich and delicious" soup.  This soup does not fit within the traditional nature of a bisque, as the recipe does not incorporate the use of crab shells.  Nevertheless, it is a very delicious soup and it is one where you could adjust the richness of the soup.  The recipe simply calls for "milk."  This means you can use skim milk, 1%, 2% or whole milk.  Obviously, if you use skim milk, the soup will not be as rich as if you use whole milk.  For this recipe, I decided to use whole milk.  I also altered the recipe in one respect.  The first and second steps call for the use of the sauteed vegetables in a cheesecloth bag.  I decided to let the vegetable bag steep in the soup for an hour or two with the heat low enough to keep the soup warm but not cause it to simmer or boil.  This allowed for the flavors of the vegetables to be drawn into the liquid of the soup.

This recipe lived up to its billing.  The best part of the recipe is not just the richness, but the fact that it is very simple to make.  This simplicity will ensure that it will become part of the "rotation" of dishes that I go to when entertaining guests, much like Ms. Van Dyke.


CRAB BISQUE
Recipe from Dishing Up Maryland, pg. 172
Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
1 pound Maryland jumbo lump crab meat
4 tablespoons butter
3 celery stalks, diced
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons, all purpose flour
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups half and half
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Directions:
1.  Prepare the crab. Pick through the crabmeat and remove any shells bits and cartilage.  Set aside.

2.  Saute the vegetables.  Melt the butter in a medium saucepan.  Add the celery and the onion and saute over low heat until they are translucent.  Remove the pan from the heat and scoop out the vegetables into the cheesecloth bag and tie the bag to the handle to the pan, so that the bag hangs inside the pan, close to the bottom. 

3.  Add the milk.  Return the pan to the heat and add the flour, mustard, salt and pepper, stirring until blended.  Add the half and half the milk and stir constantly until thickened.

4.  Add the crabmeat.  Add the crabmeat and cook over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove the vegetable bad and sprinkle the bisque with parsley before serving. 

ENJOY!

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