Thursday, September 23, 2021

Michael Symon's Grilled Oysters

Few things are more sublime than the raw oyster, whether it is the iconic Kumamoto from Washington's Puget Sound or the lesser-known Chincoteague Salts from the Chesapeake Bay. There is something, in my humble opinion, about taste of oysters, especially those that have a briny little bite to them, that just speaks to me. 

For this reason, I usually order raw oysters in the restaurant; or, even better yet, I purchase some from a local aqua farm and shuck them myself.  And, as is evident to anyone who follows this blog, I usually serve them with a mignonette, such as my Peach Champagne Mignonette, or as shooters, like my gazpacho, Andalusian-Style Oyster Shooters.

Recently, I purchased a new grill and I decided it was time to try grilled oysters. So, I purchased some Chincoteague Salt oysters and set out to find a good grilled oyster recipe on the Internet. Fortunately, I was able to find a recipe from one of the few chefs that I admire. That chef is Michael Symon.

One of the many reasons that I admire Chef Symon is his ability to simplify recipes and the cooking process to enable people to make really good food in a way that is easy to understand. His 5 in 5 cookbooks are great examples of his ability. More recently, drawing upon his personal experiences, Chef Symon has used skills to author a cookbook entitled Fix it with FoodThis book is designed to help people with autoimmune issues (Chef Symon has publicly acknowledged his rheumatoid arthritis and discoid lupus conditions). The recipes enable people to cook simple and delicious recipes that are targeted to address their triggers (whether it is meat, dairy, etc.). Chef Symon has another Fix it with Food book coming out in the near future with an appropriate subtitle, Every Meal Easy. That book is set to be released on December 7, 2021.

Source: Food Network

This grilled oyster recipe is an excellent example of Chef Symon's skills terms of communicating and teaching a recipe in a way that makes it easy to prepare and produces a very delicious meal. Each element and technique is straight forward. A quick sauce consisting primarily of butter, shallots and garlic, with some crushed red pepper and some parsley.  A quick roast of the oysters over a hot grill. Once the oysters are done, dress them with the sauce and the dish is ready to be served. The recipe is easy enough; however, the hardest part is waiting for those oysters to open. I have to admit that I watched them carefully, worrying that they may end up overcooked. In the end, I pulled a few off before they opened and just opened them with an oyster knife. 

In the end, I still prefer my oysters served raw with a side of a mignonette or some freshly grated horseradish.  If I decide to have some cooked oysters, this grilled oyster recipe is the way to go.

MICHAEL SYMON'S GRILLED OYSTERS

Recipe available at Cooking Channel

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 16 oysters
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon chile pepper flakes
  • Salt
  • Cracked black pepper
Directions:
1. Prepare the sauce. Heat a saucepan over medium low heat.  When hot, add the butter and olive oil.  Add the garlic and shallots and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add the parsley, lemon zest, and juice, chile pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat.

2. Grill the oysters. Place the oysters on the hot grill until they pop open, about 2 minutes.  Carefully remove the the top shells (BBQ gloves make this much easier, a thick kitchen towel is a good substitute). Spoon some sauce over top of each oyster and serve.

ENJOY!

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Gabon

With many African countries, there is always two stories (at least) when it comes to the cuisine. There is the story about the cuisine of the indigenous people; and, there is the other story about the influences inserted into that cuisine during the colonialist period. I often struggle with those two stories, wavering between those stories when pursuing my personal culinary challenge, Around the World in in 80 Dishes. More often than not, the emphasis tends toward the indigenous peoples.  (After all, if I want to do a personal culinary challenge that involves English or French culinary influences, I could always do a challenge for the United Kingdom or France.) But, that is not always the case. Sometimes, I have to take both stories into account. 

Take, for example, the country of Gabon. It is situated in west-central Africa along the Atlantic Coast. The territory had long been the home of various Bantu groups, including the Fang, Punu (or Bapunu), Teke (or Bateke), and the Bakota. Its southern reaches were part of the Kingdom of Loango, whose obscure origins get lost in the beautiful art, such as intricately carved ivory tusks, along with a developed society and economy. 

Then came the European explorers and colonizers.  The Portuguese arrived first in the late 15th century. The Portugese provided the name, Gabao, which translates to "a coat with sleeves."  The French followed and stayed, establishing a protectorate in the area between 1838 and 1841. Several years later, the French freed a slave vessel and transported the persons to an area near a French post.  The freed slaves established Libreville (Free city), which would eventually become the capital of an independent Gabon. That independence would not come until 1960. 

While Gabon achieved its independence, it still embraces the French influences, especially when it comes to the country's cuisine. Beignets and brochettes are popular among the Gabonnais. Indigenous foods are also present, taking advantage of local ingredients, such as cassava and atanga. The most common proteins are chicken and fish, but beef, goat, lamb and other meats can be found as well. I decided to focus on the use of beef for this particular challenge, because I found a recipe that I could not resist to make. 

MAIN COURSE

Before I get to that recipe, I wanted to make an observation.  As I have pursued my Around the World in 80 Dishes, one of my favorite challenges involved a sandwich, the Chivitos al PanI made that sandwich to complete a main course from Uruguay. That was ten years ago.  I think it is time for another sandwich challenge.  Rather than a heart clogging conglomerations of steak, ham, bacon and cheese stuffed between two buns, I decided to take on some central African barbecue. 

That barbecue is known as Coupe Coupe. The name comes from the past participle of the French word, coupe or "to cut." Coupe Coupe is a catchall for a type of barbecue that is common throughout central Africa, including Gabon, as well as in neighboring countries such as Cameroon, Republic of Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo. 

As to how one could describe this barbecue, I think the best description comes from Barbecue: A Global History (at page 74), by Johnathan Deutsch and Megan Elias. Deutsch and Elias describe Coupe Coupe "represents a fusion of indigenous ingredients and techniques with colonial influences." They do not go on to explain that characterization, which I guess leaves it to the readers' imaginations to fill in the blanks. 

Coupe coupe is quintessential street food in Gabon. Men and women work in small food stalls to prep the meat and cook it.  When it comes to cooking the meat, which is usually chicken or beef, the methods differ with the cooks.  Some grill the meat, while others slow roast or smoke it. Either way, the cooks have to start early so that they have enough for the lunch crowd. Once the meat is ready, the cooks slice, chop or pull it, thereafter stuffing the meat into small foil packets that are served to hungry customers with a section of a baguette.  The meat and bread are also served with toppings, such as grilled peppers and onions, or sauces, such as a hot pepper (pili pili) sauce. 


COUPE COUPE

Recipe adapted from Global Table Adventure and Congo Cookbook

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon powdered chicken bouillon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 1/2 pounds of flank steak
  • Vegetable oil
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Grilled poblano peppers, skinned and cut into strips
  • 1 onion, sliced and grilled
  • 1 baguette
  • 2 cups of hickory chips
Directions:
1.    Prepare the fire.  Soak the hickory chips for at least 15 to 30 minutes, or if you use hickory chunks, for 30 minutes to 60 minutes depending upon their size.  Start a fire in a chimney and get it ready to be placed in the smoker. 

2.  Prepare the flank steak.  Place the powdered chicken bouillon, garlic powder and cayenne, as well as salt and black pepper, in a small bowl and stir until well mixed. Apply some oil on the flank steak and then apply the spice mix.  Once the steak is covered, wrap it in plastic and allow it to marinate for at least a half hour to an hour in the refrigerator. 

3. Smoke the steak. Remove the steak from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature.  Once the smoker registers 225 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit, place the steak on the grill and add the hickory chips/chunks to the fire. Smoke the meat until it registers about 145 degrees Fahrenheit as an internal temperature.  Remove the meat and let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes. 

4. Finish the dish.  While the steak is the smoker, grill the poblano peppers, remove the blackened skin and slice.  Grill the onion and slice that as well.  Place the baguette on the grill to toast for a minute or two and remove. Once all of the ingredients have been prepared, lay slices of the flank steak on the bread, top with the peppers and onions, and serve immediately. 

*    *    *

While it is always hard to top a sandwich like the Chivitos, with multiple different types of pork and beef, as well as an egg, I have to say that the Coupe Coupe came in a very close second. Quite frankly, this challenge has gotten me into thinking about more street food as part of my personal culinary challenge. Only time will tell. Until next time ...

ENJOY!

Friday, September 10, 2021

Longevity Chardonnay (2019)

A few months ago, I was strolling through the county liquor store, perusing the wine selection.  This trip was intentional, because, I was on the lookout for some new wines to try.  I was particularly focused on new regions or varietals. However, one thing caught my eye. It was three letters: "BLM." The letters stood for "Black Lives Matters," and, as it turns out, the county liquor store was highlighting African-American owned wineries and vineyards.  The one that got my attention was a Chardonnay from Longevity.

Longevity Wines is a family owned winery located in the Livermore Valley of California.  It is a certified minority owned winery, run by Debra and Phil Long.  As their website explains, Debra Long chose the name Longevity as a play on their last name, as well as an expression of the love she shares with Phil and producing wine. 

The Longs produce their wines using local grapes from the Livermore Valley.  The valley is one of one hundred and forty-two (142) American Viticultural Areas or AVAs located in the State of California. The Livermore Valley AVA is located around, as the name suggests, the city of Livermore in the Tri-Valley region.  There is a relatively long history of winegrowing in the area, with the most popular varietal being Petit Sirah. However, that is not the only varietal grown in the AVA.  There are over thirty varietals grown there, and, the list reads like an around the world tour of wine grapes including varietals typically associated with France (like Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and others), Germany (such as Gewurztraminer), Italy (including Barbera and Sangiovese), Spain (Tempranillo) and even Portugal (such as Souzao and Touriga Nacional).

But, it is the Chardonnay from Longevity Wines that got my attention. Not just the fact that the winery is owned by an African-American (which is notable), but also the wine itself.  This is one of the few wine reviews that I have done where both my beautiful Angel and myself have actually tried a couple of the bottles of the wine. (Usually, I do a review based on the first bottle.)

When we purchased the first bottle, both my Angel and I thought that this wine was truly unique.  We both sensed flowers and some fruit in the aromas.  Flowers are not something that I would ordinarily expect from a Chardonnay.  But, there may be a reason for our initial impression.  Both my Angel and I have been leaning toward unoaked Chardonnay wines.  Those wines tend to be lighter and crisper, while oaked Chardonnay wines tend to develop more mellow tones, such as vanilla and butter.

When it comes to Longevity, the winemakers note that the wine is made with 100% Chardonnay grapes, which underwent "nine (9) months of fermentation in 20% new French oak barrels combined with 100% malolactic fermentation." The time spent in those barrels give rise to aromas and flavors that those winemakers describe "rich, complex, well rounded and full of ripe fruit and crisp acidity."  "In other words," they add, "think of aromas as apricot, pineapple, Asian pear, sweet vanilla and butterscotch."  

With our second bottle, the oaked presence seemed to become more pronounced. I could definitely sense the apricots and pears, as well as that vanilla and butterscotch. While those elements are definitely present, they are not overpowering, as some oaked Chardonnays can get.  For the price of about $12.99 a bottle, this is definitely a wine worth keeping around the house, either for guests or just when you want a glass while you are cooking. 

ENJOY!

Friday, September 3, 2021

Rago Suya

It is the most popular street food in the largest city, Lagos, of the most populous nation in Africa, Nigeria. Large chunks of meats strung on skewers that are drizzled with groundnut oil and then rubbed with a spice mix known as yaji or suya. The kebabs are known as Rago Suya. To find them, one need only follow the scent emanating from steel-drums-turned-grills behind makeshift stalls or food carts all across Lagos.

The vendors are usually men, often referred to as mai suya or mallam.  The title comes from the fact that it takes some skill to make suya, whether it is the slicing of the meat or the preparation of the spice blend.  Every mai suya has his own recipe for that spice mix. Yet, there are some common ingredients, such as ground peanuts, ginger and chiles. Vendors may also vary the proteins.  Although most suya is prepared with beef, some vendors use lamb, chicken and even offal, such as kidneys, livers and chicken gizzards.

While Suya is popular in Lagos, it originated amongst the Hausa in northern Nigeria. The skewered meat, with the spice mix, spread throughout Nigeria.  The seemingly omnipresence of the food stalls or carts of the mai suya, as well as the affordability of the grilled and smoked meat, has given this dish the power to unify a nation that is divided in so many ways. 

The skill and expertise of a mai suya or mallam can be divided into five steps.  The first step involves the protein, purchasing it from a local market.  The second step is to skewer the meat.  It would seem, based on my research, that a more authentic suya would involve sliced meat, but there are many recipes that call for the meat to be cut into bite-sized chunks.  The third step is to apply the suya mix to the meat on the skewers.  The skewers then marinate until the meat begins to change color, turning a dark red. The fourth step is to grill the skewers, preferably over charcoal. The final step is to apply some additional oil during the cooking process. Once the skewers are cooked, the meat is removed and cut into smaller pieces. 

I am not a mai suya or mallam but, I nevertheless came across a recipe for Rago Suya. I had some lamb that I thought would work well with the suya spice blend. The recipe basically follows the five step process, except for the use of bite-sized chunks rather than sliced meat, as well as the omission of the fifth step (the applying of oil during the cooking process), which I was okay with. After I completed this recipe, I realized why so many Nigerians love these skewers.  They were perhaps the best skewers that I have ever made. The experience made me want to become a mai suva or mallam and open my own cart in my neighborhood.  

RAGO SUYA

Recipe adapted from National Dish

Serves 2-4

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 pounds of lamb shoulder or leg, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 5 tablespoons roasted peanuts
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried chile flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika powder
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground garlic
  • 1 medium onion cut into large chunks
  • 1 medium red onion cut into large chunks
  • 1 large tomato, cut into large chunks
  • 1 red pepper, chopped into large chunks
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander/cilantro, roughly chopped for garnish
Directions:

1. Prepare the marinade.  Add all of the marinade ingredients (peanuts, cayenne pepper, chile flakes, chile powder, paprika powder, sea salt, ginger, garlic) into a spice grinder and blitz until as powdery as it can be made without turning the peanuts into a paste. This spice mix is called Suya.  Remove a third of the Suya mix and set aside.  Place the remainder of the Suya into a mixing bowl along with the lamb and make sure that it gets fully coated.  Allow the meat to marinate for 30 minutes. 

2. Prepare the kebabs. Heat up a grill on medium high heat. Take pre-soaked skewers, load them with an onion, pepper and piece of lamb. Repeat until there are 3-4 pieces of lamb on the skewers.  Repeat with the rest of the skewers. 

3. Grill the kebabs. Grill the kebabs for about five minutes, turning every couple of minutes, until the lamb is cooked and the vegetables have a slight char. 

4. Finish the dish.  Remove from the heat and serve on the skewer or remove and serve with Jollof rice, garnished with the chopped coriander/cilantro.

ENJOY!

Monday, August 30, 2021

Half Door Brewing Company's Belgian Tripel

I recently spent several days in San Diego for work.  It is not the first time that I have spent a significant amount of time in "America's Finest City."  The last time that I did this trip, I found a small brew pub just outside the Gas Lamp District. It was Half Door Brewing Company.  It was also the place that I would go to get away from my work.

Fast forward a few years, and, I found myself back in San Diego. I was not able to get back to Half Door Brewing Company until the last day of my trip.  I went up to the bar and perused the beer list.  It seemed that hazy IPAs dominated that list, with the North East IPA, Diamond Dress, Swole City, and Hoban House IPA at the top of the list.  Then there were the lagers, with the Bat Flip to the Moon Black Lager, Media Puerta Mexican Lager and the Summer Bock bringing up the rear of the list. There were a couple of individual styles, such as a Dry Irish Stout and a Red Ale. But, one beer caught my eye. It was neither a hazy IPA nor a lager. It was one of my favorite styles, namely the Belgian Tripel.

I have done several reviews of Belgian Tripel beers; and, as I took a few sips from this beer, I decided that I should do another, albeit quick review. The reason is simple: Half Door Brewing Company's Tripel is a very good example of the style. 

The beer poured a solid golden color with decent clarity. The golden beer was topped with a white foam that receded to the edges.  The aromas of the beer greeted the nose with some of the traditional elements of the Belgian style, with some clove, banana and slight hint of the hops used to brew the beer. As for the taste, the Tripe was very smooth, a nice balance of both hops and malts that provided the foundation for some citrus fruits and some of that banana elements from the aroma. The beer also gave slight hints of the fact that it comes with a 10.8% ABV, which is at the high end of the alcohol content that one would expect from a Belgian Tripel. 

In the end, Half Door Brewing Company's Tripel was a good way to end a work trip.  If you happen to find yourself in San Diego for work (or for play or if you just live there), you may want to make your way to Half Door Brewing ... if only to try the Tripel.

ENJOY!

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Dominica

There is an old saying in the Caribbean, "nicknames are used in case the Devil comes asking for you." That may explain why many of the islands have nicknames. There is "Spice Island" (Grenada), "Helen of the West Indies" (St. Lucia), "Little England" (Barbados), and the "Island of Flowers" (Martinique). There is also "Nature Isle." This is the nickname for the Commonwealth of Dominica; or, as the indigenous Kalinago people refer to the island, Waitukubuli, which translates to "tall is her body." 

Both Waitukubuli and "Nature Isle" are apt descriptions for the little island, which have some of the tallest peaks -- like Morns Diablotins and Mount Trois Pitons -- in the Caribbean.  Those peaks rise out of and are covered by rainforests that are the homes for many rare species of animals, birds and plants.  The island also boasts of  365 rivers, such as the Indian River and the Rosalie River. And, then there are the beaches, the blue waters and the coral reefs. 

As much as I love nature, this post takes me to the towns and villages to learn more about the people, culture and their cuisine. Dominica has had a rather unique history, which has been shaped by resistance and colonialism. When the Spanish attempted to colonize the island, they met resistance from the indigenous Kalinago peoples. The French were more successful, establishing a permanent colony followed by sugar and coffee plantations.  The French also brought slaves from Africa, and, eventually, people of African descent were the majority of those living on the island.  The British ultimately seized control of the island and Dominica became a British colony.  The British enacted the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833.  Almost five years later, Dominica was the first colony in the British West Indies to have a legislature comprised of a majority of citizens of African descent. Needless to say, the white plantation owners had issues with that situation, which led to a less representative government. It would not be until 1967 when Dominica was able to take full control of its internal affairs and until 1978 when it became an independent country. 

A view of Roseau, the capitol of Dominica (photo by Mike LaMonaca).

This history, as briefly outlined above, shapes the cultures and cuisine of the Dominican people.  There is a mix of African and indigenous influences, along with British, French and island Creole.  There are also influences from nearby islands, such as Trinidad and St. Lucia.  

MAIN COURSE

Dominica's (unofficial) national dish is known as Mountain Chicken. Despite the name, chicken is not an ingredient in that dish. "Mountain chicken" is the local moniker for the Caribbean's largest frog, which also goes by the names of Crapaud. Herpetologists -- that is, those who study reptiles and amphibians would refer to these frogs as Leptodactylus Fallax.  This frog can grow as large as seven inchs long and weigh over two pounds. That is a good size if one is a frog.

The Mountain Chicken
(source: Natural Museum of History)
The mountain chicken has an important place in the culture of the indigenous peoples of Dominica. Local folklore, songs, poems and even jokes have been written about the frog.  

Some of those works of art tell the story of the mountain chicken, especially what confronts the species.  For example, poet Delroy N. Williams wrote The Crapaud Story, which begins as follows: 

De sey de Crapaud smoked my pipe

but me doh hear no Crapaud last night

An long I doh eat no Crapaud in a stew.

I doh even hear anybody talking about that frog.

Something must definitely be wrong.

To be sure, there is definitely something wrong.  Years of hunting the frog -- with anywhere from 18,000 to 36,000 be caught per year on Dominica -- combined with natural factors, such as a fungus that causes chytridiomycosis, caused a steep decline in the populations of the mountain chicken.  The fungus and its disease is believed to have caused a decline of nearly 80% in 18 months. The situation became so dire, that mountain chicken were no longer seen in the wild. By 2008, people believed the species may have went extinct. Returning to the poem: 

It was once our national emblem

Now reduced to the crannies of de "Station."

If somebody doh talk den nobody go listen

So I glad dat Machel an dem doing something

Cuz de Crapaud is Domincia's blessing.

Dat fungus come out from nowhere

An got us forgetting Crapaud is our heritage. 

We cyah just give up, dat would leave Crapaud in a sad state.

De Chyrid ting is very dangerous

Been around for just a decade

Got Crapaiud in decadence.

Fortunately, people did step up to save the mountain chicken. There has been a study in which the frogs were treated with an anti-fungal drug, which showed some promise. There have also been efforts by the Dominican government and non-profit organizations to protect the species.  These efforts have had some mixed success, but still provide promise to restoring the mountain chicken populations.  As the poem closes: 

From our forests an even our minds

Look we even searching for a new national dish

Want to remove Crapaud from its podium of pride

An reduce it to jus hindsight

But Crapaud stronger dan we think

An wit a likle help fromForestry

Dat frog go leap back unto its pedetal

We go hear Crapaud sing again

We go hear Crapaud after a shower of rain

An den we go really understand.

Cuz de Crapaud is Domincia's blessing.

Dat fungus come out from nowhere

An got us forgetting Crapaud is our heritage. 

The hope in this poem is important.  While some may have to make sacrifices by foregoing their (unofficial) national dish, that effort, combined with scientists and researchers, may provide the basis for that hope to become a reality. 

Turning to my personal culinary challenge, I obviously did not use mountain chicken to make this dish.  Instead, I purchased some frog legs from a local grocery store. That was the easiest part of the preparation.  I had a little more difficulty getting my hands on the "provisions," because not every grocery store has true yams and none of the stores around me had dasheen root. After searching for a while, I decided to make "provisions" with what I could get at the store.  I ultimately used sweet potatoes (which are not yams) and name root. 

The actual preparation of this dish is very easy. It is a simple sauté of the frog legs, a basic gravy, and a simple boil of the provisions.  These processes made me question whether the dish will have any taste. (I have to admit that I am not a big fan of root vegetables, especially if all that is done to them is to boil them.) Nevertheless, I forged ahead and completed the main dish. 

MOUNTAIN CHICKEN WITH PROVISIONS

Recipe from National Foods

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 12-16 frogs' legs
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 lime, sliced in half
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 green bell pepper sliced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 dasheen roots (cut into 4 pieces)
  • 2 yams (cut into 4 pieces)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
  • Salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Directions:
1. Prepare the frogs' legs.  Rinse the frogs' legs with water and then wash them in lime juice. Rinse the frogs' legs again in cold water.  Dry the frogs' legs and then place them in a bowl.  Season the frogs' legs with the thyme, vinegar, minced garlic, salt and pepper. Let the frogs' legs rest for two hours. 

2. Fry the frogs' legs. Put the flour in a shallow dish and coat each leg in the flour.  Heat the oil on high in a skillet.  Fry the coated frogs' legs until golden brown and set aside.

3.  Prepare the gravy.  Sauté the onion in a mixture of melted butter and one tablespoon of oil.  Add a cup of water, bring to a boil and then add flour to thicken the gravy.  Simmer the gravy for 5 minutes on medium heat.  Add the frog legs to the gravy, cook for a minute and turn off the heat. 

4. Prepare the provisions. Boil the yams and dasheen root in salted water with the green pepper. When the provisions are fork tender, turn off the heat and drain. 

5. Finish the dish. Serve the Mountain Chicken with the provisions, rice and peas. 

*    *    *

In the end, I successfully completed this challenge.  I was quite surprised by the end result.  The gravy provided enough additional flavor to work with not only the frog legs, but also the provisions.  It is a reminder that sometimes the most simplest elements can contribute the most. 

Now, I need to turn to my next challenges.  There is definitely more to come.  Until then, 

ENJOY!

Friday, August 6, 2021

Brown Lentil Seraz

This post is part of my Beyond Borders project.  This project focuses on the history, culture and cuisine of peoples who lack their own country or who are minorities in countries.  Each post discusses an aspect of those peoples, as well as a recipe from their cuisine. This is the second post is about the Chagossian people. 

I have previously posted about the history of the Chagos Islands, as well as the Chagossian people (also known as the Ilois).  They lived on the islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean for centuries. They developed their own language, music, traditions and, yes, they even created their own cuisine. 

Still, life on those small islands was hard, especially those who worked on the coconut plantations.  Workers labored for food, rum and housing.  None of the  Chagossians owned their homes.  They lived in company housing. And. as far back as 1883, it was one company that owned all of the land.  It was a French-backed, Mauritian company known as Societe Huilere de Diego et Peros. That company continued to operate the plantations until 1962, when it sold everything to a Seychellois company, Chagos-Agalega Company.  The new owners began to bring in contract employees to work the plantations, which started an exodus of Chagossians from their home islands. Within two years, nearly eighty percent of the islands' populations were Seychellois.

Meanwhile, world events soon changed everything.  The United States (U.S.) and the United Kingdom (U.K.) decide that, because of the Cold War, they needed a base in the Indian Ocean. The U.S. did not have any territorial possessions; however, its partner had a bunch of islands dotting the ocean. All eyes turned to the Chagos Islands.  The U.K. established the British Indian Ocean Territory on November 8, 1965, which basically consisted of the Chagos Islands. The British then purchased all of the land from Chagos-Agalega Company, and, leased it back to the company to continue operating the coconut plantations.  The company continued to do so until 1967.

That was the same year that the U.S. and the U.K. entered into a formal agreement to establish a military base on Diego Garcia, the largest of the Chagos Islands.  Not only did the two allies decide to build that base, but they decided to expel all of the inhabitants of the Chagos Islands.  That decision was embodied in what is known as BIOT Ordinance Number Two. The decision was wrapped in overtly racist tones.  The British Colonial Office head, Dennis Greenhill wrote the following to the British delegation at the United Nations: 

The object of the exercise is to get some rocks which will remain ours, there will be no indigenous population except seagulls who have yet got a committee (the status of women committee does not cover the rights of birds).  Unfortunately, along with the Birds, go some few Tarzans or Men Friday whose origins are obscure, and who are being hopefully wished on to Mauritius etc.

Thus, a white imperialist power made the decision to evict men and women of brown and black skin color from the islands where they (and many of their ancestors) lived so that there could be a military base from which the pre-eminent democracies could fight communism around the world. 

Yet, these democracies were keen on ensuring that those principles did get in the way of their military plans. In another correspondence from the British Colonial Office, 

The Colonial Office is at present considering the line to be taken in dealing with the existing inhabitants of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). They wish to avoid the phrase "permanent inhabitants" in relation to any of the islands of the territory because to recognise that there are any permanent inhabitants will imply that there is a population whose democratic rights will have to be safeguarded and which will therefore be deemed by the UN to come within its purlieu. The solution proposed is to issue them with documents making it clear that they are belongers to Mauritius and the Seychelles and only temporary residents of the BIOT. This device, although rather transparent, would at least give us a defensible position to take up at the UN.

It was a position the British took and, by 1973, all of the inhabitants of the BIOT (that is, those who lived on the Chagos Islands) had been relocated to Mauritius, the Seychelles and elsewhere.

For decades thereafter, the injustice remained.  It is estimated that nearly 426 Ilois familes, consisting of more than 1,000 people, had left the islands between 1965 and 1973.  That number is now more than 4,000 when taking into account their descendants.  

With any injustice, there is the fight to end it.  The fight in this case led to a decision of the British High Court ruling that the Ilois had a right to return to the Chagos Islands. The wheels of justice grind slowly and, sometimes, in reverse. The U.K. appealed the ruling and, when it could not get it overturned, the government went to the House of Lords, which overturned the High Court's ruling and which reinstated the ban on anyone returning to the Islands. 

The fight continues to the present day because no one has been allowed to return.

Despite the struggle, the Chagossian people have maintained their identity, their culture and their food.  I have previously made Serrage Poulet (Chicken in Coconut Milk), a main dish of the Chagossian people.  At the time, I wanted to find a side dish that the island's inhabitants could have served with this chicken dish.  

The side dish is Brown Lentil Seraz. I could find very little about the provenance of this dish, but, it is appears to be based upon a rougaille, which is a tomato-based dish from Mauritius. A rougaille is basically a combination of spices with those tomatoes to make a sauce.  This dish seemed appropriate given the close history of the Chagos Islands and Mauritius (which were governed together by the British empire for decades), as well as the fact that many Chagossians were forced to leave their homes for Mauritius. Given the foregoing, the ingredients, cooking techniques and, indeed, entire dishes from Mauritian cuisine would have made their way into Chagossian cuisine over time.

The particular spice mix for this rougaille is rather simple, beginning with onions, garlic and ginger, along with the use of bay leaves and fresh thyme. Once the base is prepared, then one can add protein. While they were living on the islands, they may have used chicken, fish, or even lentils, which Chagossians cultivated on the islands.

While I am not the biggest fan of lentils, I have to say that this dish turned out better than I expected.  My previous experience with lentils has been in the context of Indian cuisine, which usually involves the use of more substantive spice mixtures.  However, I had to keep reminding myself that the richness of ingredients that may be found on the subcontinent was most likely not present in the Chagos Islands.  The islanders had to make the best of what they had.  With that perspective, this recipe hits the mark.  


 BROWN LENTIL SERAZ
Recipe from Travel by Stove
Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
  • 1 pound of brown lentils
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 large onion sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon ginger, finely diced
  • 3 large tomatoes, diced
  • 1 spring fresh thyme, crumbled
  • 3 bay leaves
  • Salt to taste
Directions:
1.  Cook the base.  Cook the onions in hot oil until they are soft, then add the ginger and garlic and keep cooking for one or two minutes.  Add the tomatoes, thyme and bay leaves and continue to cook, stirring, until the tomatoes are soft.

2. Add the lentils.  Add the lentils and enough water to cover.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover.  Simmer for one hour to one and one half hours, topping up with water as necessary.  The finished dish should be more of a thick stew than a soup.  Add salt to taste. 

One final note, an option is to add coconut milk to the seraz.  The author who provided this recipe declined to do so given the amount of coconut milk used to make the Serrage Poulet.  I also decided that it was a good idea to leave the coconut milk out of the recipe.  

ENJOY!

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Owamni by the Sioux Chef

I traveled a lot for business before the coronavirus pandemic. In anticipation of every trip, I researched the local food scene, to find interesting restaurants, brewpubs or wine bars.  The time and effort served a purpose: a good meal is one way in which I could relax after a stressful day from work. 

Most of the restaurants, as well as most of the meals, were good.  Some were even great. However, every once in a while, I found a restaurant -- and a meal -- that defies being reduced to words. In those very rare instances, I accept the challenge and try to write a review of the restaurant and the meal for this blog. 

Needless to say, such experiences are quite rare.  There are only four restaurant reviews on this blog. The last one that I wrote was back in 2012. 

Nine years later, I felt compelled to write a review about both a restaurant and a meal. The restaurant is Owmani. The meal is definitely the one of the best that I have had in a restaurant in years.

The entire experience was part happenstance, part luck. I was getting ready for my first business trip since the start of the pandemic. The destination was also a first for me: Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

As I was searching for restaurants in downtown Minneapolis, I was reminded of a cookbook that my parents bought me for my birthday. It is the James Beard award winning cookbook, The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen. The book was written by chef Sean Sherman, an Oglala Lakota, who is dedicated to revitalizing Native American Cuisine, especially indigenous cuisine in Minnesota and the upper Midwest. I have been following Chef Sherman's work because the elements of indigenous food systems -- such as the ingredients, cooking processes, and, of course, the dishes -- have always interested me. 

I knew that Chef Sherman was opening a restaurant in downtown Minneapolis. I did a search for the restaurant, Owamni, and I found that it was not only open, but it was just blocks from my hotel.  I sought out a reservation and got waitlisted. It was short notice, I wasn't sure that I would get a table.  To my surprise (and, luck), I got a table. 

Before I get to the dishes, a few things about Chef Sherman's vision and the restaurant. First, Owmni's menu is designed around indigenous ingredients, such as game, fish, birds and wild plants. It also prioritizes indigenous food producers when it comes to obtaining ingredients. Second, the menu reflects a decolonization with respect to the food. In other words, ingredients that have been introduced into the cuisine of North America -- such as dairy, wheat flour, cane sugar, beef, chicken and pork -- are studiously avoided.  This approach intrigued me, because it provides an opportunity to experience a meal when Minneapolis was Bdeóta Othúŋwe (as translated in Dakhóta) or Gakaabikaang (as translated in Anishinaabe), with some modern culinary twists.  It also surprised me at the range of dishes that one could present even when excluding ingredients such as wheat flour, cane sugar, beef and pork.

Finally, the restaurant operates on a "sustainable basis."  This mission statement is particularly importan to me, because I have dedicated my career to representing working people.  Owamni pays a living wage, provides health insurance to employees who work more than 30 hours per week.  These wages and benefits extend to everyone, from the dishwashers to the waitresses. The restaurant charges a service fee to help fund these benefits.  That fee is not a problem for me. 

Now, to the food ...

APPETIZERS (WAMAKHASKAN)

As I reviewed the menu, I could have ordered all of the dishes.  However, I had neither the time nor the budget to do so.  I did have the opportunity to try two appetizers.  

The first appetizer was the Smoked Red Cliff Lake Trout and White Bean Spread. This dish featured freshly prepared tostadas, which were served with pureed tepary beans topped with smoked lake trout and microgreens.  The last element of the dish is wojape, a sauce made from berries that typically accompanies meat, game or is used as a dressing.

The fish was smoked perfectly, the tepary beans were pureed to a consistency that worked well for the dish.  Break off a piece of the crispy tostada, top with with a little bit of that puree and a bit of the salmon.  The bite was almost perfect. Drizzle a little bit of the wojape over the beans and the fish and the result was perfect. The combination of earthy elements from the smoked fish and the pureed beans, along with the slightly sweet taste of the wojape, it is a delicious start to a dinner. (As an aside, I have already started paging through the The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen  to find the recipes or similar recipes so that I can make this dish and the others at home.)  

The second appetizer was indigenous game sausage, served with root vegetables and watercress puree. This appetizer was the one that I was most anxious to try.  The menu was coy about what game is used to make the sausage. As noted above, there were dishes of bison, duck, rabbit and turkey on the menu, all of which could be used to make sausage. I initially found myself trying to figure out what was in the sausage, but, I relented because the sausage tasted so good. 

The watercress puree provided a deep green base upon which the sausage rested. Watercress usually has a peppery taste, which makes it (in my opinion) an element that complements the sausage. The root vegetables also worked well, like a small salad whose crunch provided another layer of texture and taste to the dish.  

MAIN COURSES  (HTAWOPATI)

I also had the opportunity to try two of the main courses. Both of which exceeded the appetizers.

The first dish was the fish of the day, which was from Lake Superior. I thought the waitress said the fish was lake trout, but the menu online says it is walleye.  In any event, a nice-sized portion of the fish was perched, with its crispy skin greeting the guests, upon a small mound of wild rice. The fish was garnished with crispy root vegetables. A vibrant, red plum sauce surrounded these components. 

The dish was executed perfectly.  The fish flaked easily with a fork, providing bite-sized pieces of the relatively mild fish. The root vegetables and wild rice provided an earthy contrast and texture to the fish. 

As with the smoked fish and white bean puree appetizer, I thought that the sauce helped to bring this dish together. The plum sauce was (in my humble opinion) somewhat sweeter than the wojape. This sweetness worked well, not only with the fish, but also with the wild rice. (As another aside, I have never been a big fan of wild rice. I have always preferred Basmati rice, primarily due to my love of Indian cuisine. However, this dish has me rethinking my views of wild rice, especially if it could be served with this plum sauce or wojape.)  

The final dish -- Bison hangar steak served with hazelnut crusted carrot, sunchoke puree and a mustard green sauce -- was the best dish of the night.  The bison  was cooked perfectly. The char on the outside and the medium-rare inside ensured that every bit was juicy and delicious. Quite frankly, this is the best bison dish that I have ever been served in a restaurant.  

As much as the bison speaks to the carnivore in me, the other components of the dish played their part.  The hazelnut crusted carrots provided a colorful crunch that was perfect.  The texture of the sunchoke puree gave faint hints of a potato like texture, but the taste of the puree played a perfect complementary role with the bison.  The mustard green sauce appeared to play the role of a peppery chimichurri, which -- as anyone who has had chimichurri knows -- works extremely well with grilled meats. (Just look to Argentinian and Uruguayan cuisine). 

As it should  be evident by now, my meal at Owamni was one of the best that I have had in a restaurant in a long time. If I lived in Minneapolis, I would be back on a regular basis to try other dishes on the menu. Dishes such as Bison Tartare, the nixtamalized corn tacos (particularly the pulled duck), preserved duck, and the stuffed green chile. If you happen to find yourself in Minneapolis, you should definitely check out this restaurant. It is well worth the experience. 

Until I make my way back to Bdeóta Othúŋwe or Gakaabikaang, I will have to settle with my best efforts to cook dishes from Chef Sherman's cookbook.  Until then,  

ENJOY!

Monday, July 26, 2021

Grouper Tandoori

I am a very big fan of tandoori cooking. The method focuses upon a round oven, made of bricks, clay or metal, fueled by a charcoal or wood fire.  The tandoori oven utilizes that fire to cook using radiant heat and hot-air convection cooking. But, my love of tandoori cooking goes beyond the cooking method.  It goes to the masala and the marinade, as well as how they work together when the protein goes into the oven and comes out with the red hues and the crispy edges.

The foodie in me wants to get a tandoor oven, but I can't bring myself to purchase one.  (I realize that one could probably get a big green egg to "recreate" the experience, but those are just as or even more expensive.) The lack of a tandoor oven leaves me with two options: (1) eat out at Indian restaurants more often, which I don't mind; and (2) do the best with what I have, which is also okay.  But, cranking up a gas grill or using the broiler in the oven does not do justice for a tandoori recipe.

Nevertheless, I found myself considering a tandoori recipe when I was searching the Internet. At the time, I was on vacation. I had went to a local seafood market and purchased a couple pounds of grouper.  I needed a recipe and I wanted to do something different. I found a recipe for Tandoori Fish. This recipe was not only different, but presented a challenge given the state of the appliances and the grills at the rental house. Nevertheless, it was a challenge that I was willing to take. And, it was well worth it.

Grouper and fillets (source: Citarella)
There are a couple of reasons that explain why grouper is a great candidate for a tandoori recipe. The fillets are mild in taste, which provide a great tableau for the masala or spice mixture.  The fish allows for the spices -- which include garlic, ginger, chiles, coriander, and black pepper -- to shine through in the final dish. Grouper fillets also have a high oil and moisture content, which enables them to withstand the heat of the cooking process without drying out. (This is very important, because it allows for some room for error if one accidently overcooks the fish.) The result is a reddish fillet that produces large, buttery, spiced flakes that are very delicious.  

It was the perfect combination of recipe, cooking process and ingredients that resulted in a very tasty dish. For someone who traditionally orders tandoori chicken or lamb, this recipe has opened up my mind to using fish for this dish. If only I could find grouper close to home. 

GROUPER TANDOORI

Recipe adapted from Raj's Kitchen

Serves 3-4

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound of firm fish
  • 3/4 cup of thick plain yogurt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger paste
  • 1/4 teaspoon green chile paste
  • 1/4 teaspoon red chile powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander powder
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced into rings, for garnish
  • 1 small green bell pepper, thinly sliced, for garnish
  • 1 lime cut into wedges, for garnish
  • Springs of cilantro, for garnish
Directions:
1.  Prepare the marinade. In a medium bowl, add yogurt, garlic paste, ginger paste, green chile paste, red chile powder, ground black pepper, salt, coriander powder, lime juice and olive oil.  Mix until all ingredients are combined well.  Add fish pieces to the yogurt marinade and gently rub the marinade into the fish.  Leave in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or overnight. 

2. Bake the fish. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking dish with foil and lightly spray with oil.  Turn the fish over frequently to prevent it from sticking.  Cook fish for about 10-12 minutes or until fully cooked. 

3.  Finish the dish.  Garnish with onion rings, green pepper, lime and coriander sprigs. 

ENJOY!

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Around the World in 80 Dishes (Special): Palestine

As part of my Around the World in 80 Dishes culinary adventure, I decided that I would prepare four special challenges. Each challenge would focus on a cuisine of a culture that does not have its own, fully recognized country. These challenges will also appear as part of my Beyond Borders project.

"If the olive trees knew the hands that planted them, their oil would become tears." 

Mahmoud Darwish.

I think it is fair to say that olive trees have a special place in Palestine and in the heart of Palestinians. Olive trees have been cultivated there for millennia. More recently, it has been estimated that olive groves constituted approximately 48% of the cultivated land in the Palestinian territories (mostly in the West Bank).  Those trees, and more specifically the olives and oil produced from those trees, accounts for fourteen percent (14%) of Palestine's agricultural income; and, that income supports more than 80,000 Palestinian families. To put that in perspective, consider the fact that  potatoes constitute fifteen percent (15%) of the agricultural income of the United States. Just as French fries or mashed potatoes may be important to Americans, olives and olive oil are important to Palestinians. 

But these trees are more than economic data. An olive tree is a symbol of the intangible qualities within the Palestinian people. Olive trees have shallow root systems, remaining just below the surface, enabling them to collect water before the surrounding soil dries out. These root systems enable the olive tree to thrive under harsh and difficult conditions. Perhaps it is that resilience explains the special place of these trees within Palestinian society. After all, resilience is a trait that is needed if one is a Palestinian living in the West Bank. 

Take, for example, a Palestinian farmer who cultivates olive trees. If his or her grove is near an Israeli settlement, the farmer needs to get a permit in order to cultivate the trees, even though those trees are situated on the farmer's property. Israeli authorities deny forty-two percent (42%) of those applications.  A denied application means that the farmer cannot access his or her olive trees. No access means no income or ability to support oneself or a family. Even if the farmer is able to get a permit, he or she must still access his or her property through a checkpoint. Those checkpoints are open seasonally and only during certain timeframes. Even if the farmer gets the permit and gets through the checkpoint, he or she will be able to work his or her property, but under the supervision of the Israeli military.  The entire picture - having to get a permit to farm one's own land, having to go through a checkpoint to get to one's property, and having to be supervised while working on one's land - is a series of indignations that rob many Palestinians of their dignity and respect as human beings. 

It is this deprivation of dignity and respect for Palestinians as people that defines their daily life. It is not just the farmer who has to endure an oppressive system - characterized by dark hues that shift from the Kafkaesque to the Apartheid-esque - each and every day of their lives. The New York Times recently chronicled the lives of several Palestinians in an article entitled Life Under Occupation: The Misery at the Heart of the Conflict. I think the article is a must-read, not only because it is a well written article, but also because it provides a window to the multitude of indignities suffered by and insecurities felt by a wide range of Palestinians on a daily basis.

The Life Under Occupation article represents an exception when it comes to reporting on the conflict in Palestine and Israel. Most news articles focus on rockets being fired into Israeli territory or Israeli airstrikes on targets in the West Bank or Gaza. To make matters worse, we accept the headline, maybe read the byline, and possibly the article itself. We almost never take the additional step to learn more than what is in that article. It is a tragedy, because we can never fully understand a situation. People can at least make an effort to go beyond what is provided to them - whether in a newspaper delivered to their door or found on their newsfeed on their phone. They can affirmatively try to learn more about the experiences of those who are caught up in a dispute, that is, learn more about the people rather than the politics. In this case, it is an effort to learn about the plight of everyday Palestinian people. Individuals who are just trying to get by, make a living, and support their families. 

So, for this special Around the World in 80 Dishes post, I am dedicating it to the everyday Palestinian, whether it is the farmer tending to his or her olive groves, or the workers in shops, factories and other workplaces.  I want to learn more about them and, given this is a food blog, what they eat. Fortunately, my beautiful Angel's parents bought me a cookbook by Reem Kassis entitled The Palestinian Table. I decided to make a meal using recipes from that cookbook. 

SPICE MIX

When one talks about Middle Eastern cuisine, there is inevitably a spice mix. Some spice mixes are uniquely attributed to a specific country or people, such Ras el-Hanout is to Morocco. Other spice mixes, such as Baharat or Za'atar cross borders and ethic groups. For example, there is Turkish Baharat and Tunisian Baharat, and, the mixes are completely different. 

Palestinians use a Nine Spice Mix. Some of the ingredients - cardamom, cumin, clove and nutmeg - can be found in other spice mixes such as Baharat. However, I think the use of mace, which is the protective coating over the nutmeg seed, sets this mixture apart.  (Mace also happens to be the one spice that I did not have on hand, sending me to local Middle Eastern markets and Indian markets in search of it.)  

The key to this mixture -- and, in reality, any mixture -- is to use whole seeds rather than ground seeds.  There is something about toasting whole seeds and grinding them just before using the spice mixture that really does make a dish better.  Ground spices are great for cooking on the fly, but, when you are taking the time to make a nice meal, whole spices are an important part of the process of making a nice meal.


NINE SPICE MIX
Recipe from Reem Kassis, The Palestinian Table, pg. 24

Ingredients:
  • 6 tablespoons allspice berries
  • 6 cassia bark or cinnamon sticks
  • 3 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 3 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 10 cloves
  • 2 blades of mace
  • 1/2 nutmeg, crushed
Directions:
1. Toast the spices. Place all of the ingredients in a large skillet (frying pan) over medium low heat. Stir with a wooden spoon periodically to ensure that the spices do not burn, until you begin to smell the aroma of the spices, about 10 minutes.

2. Allow the spices to cool. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool completely, about 1 hour.  This step is crucial because if the spices are not cooled properly, they will form a paste when ground rather a powder.

3. Grind the spices. Place all of the spices into a heavy duty spice grinder and grind until you achieve a fine powder consistency. Store the spice mix in an airtight container.  It will keep for several months, although the aroma will fade over time. 

SALAD

For this challenge, I really wanted to prepare something in addition to the main course.  I spent a lot of time paging through the recipes in The Palestinian Table trying to find a side or an appetizer that would complement the main course. In the end, I chose a Farmer Salad.

The author of The Palestinian Table, Reem Kassis, notes that, to Palestinians, it is known as Farmer's Salad.  To everyone else, it is known as Palestinian salad.  The core of this salad consists of finely diced tomatoes, onions, and dried mint, combined together with a dressing of olive oil, lemon and salt.  Other ingredients can be added to the salad, such as cucumbers, bell peppers, chiles, lemons and parsley.  Kassis notes a trick that she learned from her mother-in-law, which is to add a finely diced lemon to the salad. The lemon is supposed to give the salad a "kick."  I can say that is an accurate statement, because I could tell a difference between a bite of the salad with the lemon and a bite of the salad without the lemon. 


FARMER'S SALAD (PALESTINIAN SALAD)
Recipe from Reem Kassis, The Palestinian Table, pg. 104

Ingredients:
  • 4 large beefsteak or 8 small tomatoes
  • 2 small cucumbers
  • 2 green chilies
  • 1 whole unwaxed lemon
  • 1 onion or 4-6 scallions
  • 4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves or 1 tablespoon crushed dried mint leaves
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Directions:
1. Prepare the tomatoes and cucumbers. Chop the tomatoes into very small cubes and put into a large bowl. Dice the cucumbers into similar sized small cubes and add to the tomatoes.  If you are using a traditional large cucumber, make sure to peel and seed it first. 

2. Prepare the rest of the ingredients. Seed the chiles (if you prefer even less heat, remove all the white membranes as well). Slice the lemon into thin rounds, discarding the top and bottom rounds and any seeds as well, then chop each round into small cubes. Add to the salad. Dice the onion very finely and add to the salad to the salad.  Finally throw in the chopped fresh mint leaves or dried mint.

3. Finish the dish. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice and sprinkle with salt. Toss very lightly with a large spoon and serve immediately.

MAIN COURSE

Farmer's Salad is typically a side to a kafta dish.  I am a very big fan of kafta, whether prepared as skewers, meatballs or meatloaf.  However, I really wanted to try something different for this challenge.  I wanted to find something that is quintessentially Palestinian, but requires me to do something other than grill or skewer meat. That is when I came across a recipe for Chicken, Onion and Sumac Casserole.

It was Reem Kassis' description of this dish that caught my eye and never let go.  As she writes, "[t]the combination of onions and sumac cooked in olive oil is one of the most traditional and uniquely Palestinian flavors you will ever come across."  She goes on to describe how this recipe is more common in the northern part of Palestine, where the onions and sumac are cooked with chicken and, on occasion, potatoes. The red hues of the final dish, which come from the use of the paprika and sumac, lend the dish its name of mhammar, also known as mussakhan. If I only had thought about purchasing taboon bread for this dish. 

Not only was this recipe very delicious, as described by Kassis, but it was very easy to make. If only someone other than me ate meat in the family, this dish could easily be inserted into the rotation of weekly meetings.


CHICKEN, ONION AND SUMAC CASSEROLE
Recipe from Reem Kassis, The Palestinian Table, pg. 114

Ingredients:
  • 2.5 pounds of chicken pieces
  • 6-7 onions diced
  • 3-5 potatoes, cut into rounds
  • 3 tablespoons sweet paprika
  • 2 tablespoons sumac
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Nine Spice Mix
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3-4 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
Directions:
1. Prepare the casserole. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Put the chicken, onions, and potatoes, if using into a greased or non-stick, deep roasting dish. 

2. Continue with the casserole. In a small bowl, mix together all of the spices, salt and olive oil until evenly combined.  Pour the mixture into the roasting dish and use your hands to work the spice rub evenly into the onions, chicken and potatoes.  Make sure the chicken pieces are not crowding each other and that they are skin side up.

3. Cook the dish. Add 1/2 cup of water to the tray, cover with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 1-1 1/4 hours until the chicken is fully cooked.  Check once or twice during cooking to make sure liquid has not entirely evaporated and top up with more water if necessary.  You don't want the dish to be completely dry but you also do not want a soup, more of a gravy sauce coating the onions.

4. Finish the dish. Once the chicken is cooked, remove the foil and increase the oven temperature (or preheat the broiler/grill).  Continue to cook for another 5-10 minutes to allow the chicken skin to crisp up.  Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes before siting.  Sprinkler with toasted pine nuts. 

*    *    *

The challenge to cook a Palestinian main course went extremely well. The combination of chicken, onions, and sumac -- with the Palestinian Nine Spice Mix -- was one of the best dishes that I have made in recent weeks. It has also been an extremely long time since I roasted (as opposed to grilled or smoked) chicken.  Another successful challenge in the books.

However, there is still an issue. It is one that I cannot resolve myself.  However, I can do my part by trying to be open-minded and willing to learn. I can try the best to put myself "in the shoes" of others, figuratively, of course, by trying to learn more from the perspective of the people.  The whole point of my Around the World in 80 Dishes personal culinary challenge, as well as my side project Beyond Borders, is to learn more about people through their food. That is what I sought to do with this post. I wanted to go beyond the headlines, as well as the generalizations and characterizations, to take a moment to learn about the Palestinians as a people, and, what they share with everyone else around the world, namely, a love of food. And, based on this challenge, some really, really good food.  

Now, it is time to return to the regular challenges.  I have started to include upcoming challenges on my Around the World in 80 Dishes page.  Upcoming challenges include preparing main courses  from Dominica, Sri Lanka and Gabon.  Until next time ...

ENJOY!

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