Sunday, June 23, 2024

The Super Pigs are Coming

An invasion threat looms over the United States. The threat is not the one that right wing politicians and their media mouthpieces have been fomenting at the border with Mexico. Instead, it is one that scientists and others have been warning about at the border with Canada. It is not an invasion of people and their families trying to seek a better, safer life. It is an invasion of pigs seeking out more to eat. 

And it is not just any pigs, but super pigs. Pigs that had been cross-bred with wild boars. Canadian farmers introduced the cross-bred pigs in the 1980s. They sought to make a sturdier pig that could do better in Canadian winters. When the market price plunged for boar and pig meat in the early 2000s, the farmers began to release the pigs into the wild. The farmers thought the pigs would not survive the Canadian winters, which is a crazy thought given the whole purpose was to breed a pig who could survive the snow and cold temperatures. And, in fact, the pigs did survive and thrive. 

Now, there are super pigs roaming the Canadian prairie. Lots of furry animals that can reach weights of more than 500 pounds. (That is more than twice the size of feral pigs currently found in the United States.) Large animals that are highly intelligent and that have an appetite that includes just about everything. The menu includes not only domesticated crops, which they root up and destroy, but other animals ranging from small mice to even whitetail deer, as well as everything in between. And, if all of that was not enough to set off alarms, these large, furry omnivores also reproduce at a high rate. It is estimated that, even if 65% of the pigs were killed on a yearly basis, they could still see their population increase. Wherever these super pigs go, they are sure to alter the local ecosystem in negative ways.

Up to now, the pigs have been roaming (and ravaging) the Canadian countryside in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. However, scientists and government officials now believe that the range of the super pigs will extend to the northern United States. They expect the super pigs to cross into Minnesota, Montana, and North Dakota.  Those areas have the ideal habitat for the pigs, which is a mix of wetlands, decidious forests and cropland.

So, I figured that we could greet the pigs with some of my favorite pork recipes that I have made over the years. My favorite recipe is the following one from the Yucatan peninsula. 

MY FAVORITE PORK RECIPE (AS OF RIGHT NOW): 

COCHINITA PIBIL

Recipe adapted from Glebe Kitchen

Serves several

Ingredients (for the marinade):

  • 8 cloves unpeeled garlic
  • juice of 2 medium oranges
  • juice of 2 large limes
  • 3 ounces achiote paste
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar

Ingredients (for the pork):

  • 4 pounds of boneless pork shoulder
  • chunks of oak wood (for the smoker)
  • Banana leaves (or parchment paper)
  • Foil pan

Ingredients (for the pickled onions):

  • 2 red onions, sliced about 1/8 inch thick
  • 2 cloves garlic, cut in half
  • 1 1/4 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 1 clove
  • 5 allspice berries, whole
  • 1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Ingredients (for the presentation):

  • Corn tortillas
  • Pico de gallo

Directions:

1. Prepare the pork.  Roast the garlic in their skins. Use a small cast iron frying pan over medium heat and toast them until they blacken slightly and soften. This takes about 3-5 minutes. Peel the garlic. Combine the peeled, softened garlic with the lime and orange juice, achiote paste, and salt in a blender and blend thoroughly. Check to ensure that the achiote paste is broken up. Add the marinade to the pork and ensure that all sides of the meat are covered by the marinade. Marinate for two to four hours.

2. Prepare the smoker. Prepare the smoker to reach a temperature of about 275 degrees to 300 degrees. Soak the chunks of oak wood for about 1 hour in water.

3. Prepare the pickled onions. Combine all of the ingredients except the onions in a pot and bring that pot to a boil. Add the onions and boil for one minute. Remove from the heat and let cool, stirring occasionally. Store in a sealed jar in the refrigerator. Let the onions rest for at least 4 hours before using.

4. Prepare the pork for the smoker. Typically, the pork is wrapped in banana leaves; however, I did not have access to those leaves. However, I used four pieces of parchment. Scrunch one piece of parchment to form a receptacle for the pork along with the marinade. (The goal is for the pork to be steamed with the marinade while it is smoked.) Take a second piece and cover the pork wrapping it around the pork. Place the pork in an aluminum pan. Place the pan in the smoker and smoke for about 3 to 4 hours or until the pork reaches 190 or 195 degrees Fahrenheit.

5. Continue to prepare the pork. After removing the pork from the smoker, let it rest for 20 minutes. Remove the pork from the parchment packets but keep the marinade and juices. Use a fat separator to separate the fat. shred the pork with two forks and then mix the juice back into the meat. 

6. Finish the dish. Serve with corn tortillas, pico de gallo and the pickled onions.

OTHER GREAT RECIPES TO TRY

If you are looking for other ways to cull an invading population of super pigs, I would suggest the following recipes: 

Chargrilled Hmong Black Pig Skewers with Sesame Salt: This recipe, which comes from the Hmong communities in the hills of Vietnam and Laos, brings together a great balance of flavors that includes lemongrass, fish sauce, oyster sauce, honey and sesame.   

Wesley Jones' Barbecue: This recipe is a trip back in time to explore the origins of barbecue, which lies with the experience and expertise of enslaved Africans on plantations across the southern United States. This particular recipe represents the earliest recorded explanation of how barbecue was prepared. 

Free State Smoked Pork Shoulder:
 This recipe comes from my Project Maryland BBQ series, in which I explored what a barbecue style would look like if Maryland had its own style like the Carolinas or Texas. This smoked pork would pair well with the Maryland-style barbecue sauce (that includes Old Bay).

Carne Avovada: This recipe is a treasure of New Mexican cuisine. It incorporates ingredients that I use all the time, such as chiles, and ones that I had not used at all until then, like brewed coffee. The resulting dish is one full of rich, deep flavors that one can enjoy time and again.

Kangchu Maroo: If the goal is to cull pig populations, we should do so in a conscious manner, utilizing as much of the pigs as possible. I made this recipe as part of my Around the World in 80 Dishes challenge. It incorporates pig trotters into a curry served in Bhutan that was surprisingly delicious. 

There are many other pork recipes to try on this blog. Just check out What is in My Fridge and Pantry to the right of this blog and click on "Pork" for all of those recipes. Until next time ...

PEACE.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Grilled Clams with Cambodian Ginger Dressing

In my humble opinion, Cambodian cuisine has mastered the pairing of ginger to seafood. I don't know how they did or even when they did it. Yet, whenever I come across a Cambodian seafood recipe that incorporates a ginger sauce or dressing, that recipe is amazing. 

I learned that first hand more than four years ago, when my beautiful Angel and I hosted a New Year's Eve party. I prepared a bunch of dishes that symbolized good luck in the new year. The most popular dish that I prepared was a Cambodian Ginger Catfish recipe. That catfish was in more demand from the guests than anything else in the spread. 

So, when I got my hands on some top neck clams that I planned on grilling, it seemed only appropriate that I return to the cuisine of Srok Khmer (how the Cambodians refer to their country) and its cuisine for inspiration. Sure enough, I found a few recipes that were worth a try. The only question is which one to use. 

I ultimately chose a recipe from Theo Cooks, but I decided to make a few modifications. The original recipe called for four tablespoons of grated ginger and four tablespoons of olive oil. I halved the grated ginger because I got a little impatient and I thought that, given its relatively strong flavor profile, a lot of ginger might cause an imbalance in the dressing. I also substituted vegetable oil for olive oil because, as far as I know, olive oil does not feature prominently in Cambodian cuisine. The last modification is that I did not shake the ingredients in a jar. Instead, I used a whisk to create an emulsion. I thought that would better mix the ingredients as well as improve the texture of the dressing. 

In the end, this recipe was very good. The ginger still shined in the dressing, but the sweetness from the honey and the slight tartness of the lime juice were also present in the flavor of the dressing. Not only does the dressing work well on clams, but it would also be a good condiment for grilled fish. That will be another post for another day.

GRILLED CLAMS WITH CAMBODIAN GINGER DRESSING

Recipe adapted from Theo Cooks

Serves 2-3

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds of top neck clams (about 8 to 12)
  • 2 tablespoons grated ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • 1 lime juiced
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Pinch dried chile flakes
  • Handful of finely chopped cilantro

Directions:

1. Prepare the dressing. Combine all of the ingredients, except the cilantro, together in a bowl. Whisk until the ingredients are well combined. Add the cilantro and stir to combine. 

2. Grill the clams. Heat a grill on high heat. Place the clams on the grate. Close the grill and cook the clams until they open, at most 5 minutes.  Remove the clams from the grill.

3. Finish the dish. Remove the top shells from the clams. Spoon some of the dressing over the clams and serve immediately.

PEACE.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Salsa de Congrejo

I love to eat crawfish; and, in my cooking, I have made a few etoufees and gumbos that feature the freshwater crustaceans.  A while back, I bought a bag of frozen crawfish, hoping to make a nice meal with it. (I don't have a good reliable source for fresh crawfish.) When I got around to deciding to make that meal, I found myself wanting something more than a bowl of gumbo. I wanted to try something different.

It got me thinking to another dish that I love to eat ... chapulines. There is something about grasshoppers marinated in a variety of spices, chiles and herbs that is very appetizing. The best chapulines recipes come, of course, from the Mexican State of Oaxaca. So, I decided that I would pursue the pages of Oaxacan recipes looking for a recipe that could serve as a starting point a crawfish dish. 

To be sure, there were a few recipes that caught my attention. The one that I decided to make was a Salsa de Chapulines. Perhaps it has been my recent craze in making Sambols - like Lunu Miris or Dried Shrimp Sambol - that got me thinking this salsa could have a variety of uses in other dishes. All I needed to do was to substitute the grasshoppers with crawfish. I would then have Salsa de Congrejo

This salsa is very easy to make as long as you have access to some good tomatillos, which you can find at most Latin American markets and even in some big name grocery stores. I did not have any morita chiles on hand, so I bought a can of chipotles and just made sure that I rinsed the adobo off of them. One could use dried or reconstituted chipotles if you have them, but the store-bought ones were more convenient to use. 

Now, I just need a good source for chapulines (spoiler -- I found one, check back for that post).

SALSA DE CONGREJO

Recipe adapted from Oaxaca, by Bricia Lopez and Javier Cabral

Serves a few

Ingredients:

  • Generous one pound of tomatillos, husked and rinsed
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped white onion 
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 4 morita chiles (substitute chipotle chiles), stems removed
  • 1/4 cup cooked and rinsed crawfish tails
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Directions:

1. Boil the tomatillos. In a 2-quart saucepan over medium high heat, combine the tomatillos and 1/2 cup water and heat to boiling. Reduce the heat to medium, cover and boil for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. until the tomatillos have changed color from a dark to a light green color. Set aside. 

2. Prepare the salsa. Heat the oil in a large pan over high heat. Add the onion and garlic, reduce the heat and mix well. Sauté until the garlic and onion are golden brown, then remove from the pan and reserve. Add the chiles to the pan and toast them for about 1 minute or until the color changes to a bright red. Remove from the pan and reserve. Add the crawfish tails and fry for about 3-4 minutes, until they are heated through. 

3. Finish the dish. In a blender, pure the tomatillos, chiles and garlic and onion mixture, 3/4 cup water and the salt. Stir in the lime juice. Pour into a bowl and add the crawfish tails. 

PEACE.

Sunday, June 2, 2024

Pizzelles

The pizzelle may be one of the oldest known cookie recipes. There are recipes that are said to date back to the 8th century B.C.E., which would go as far back as the founding of Rome (which took place around 753 B.C.E.). Yet, these cookies did not emerge on the streets of the city founded by Romulus and Remus. Instead, the cookies originated on the other side of the peninsula, in an area that would become known as Abruzzo. 

The story of the pizzelle is said to have begun in the village of Culcullo. The village and its residents were overrun with poisonous snakes. A man named Dominic rendered all of the snakes harmless. To thank that man, a celebration was held, which became known as the Festival of Snakes. Pizzelle cookies were made and eaten as part of the celebration. The man would later become Saint Dominic. The Festival of Snakes, as well as the Feast Day of San Dominico, continue to this very day to celebrate that story. Now, as people eat their pizzelles, they can watch snakes slither up and down a statute of Saint Dominic. (It is said if the snakes wrap themselves around the statue's head, it will be a good year for the crops.)

Over time, pizzelles were also made and eaten for other celebrations, notably Christmas and Easter. Indeed, my Italian ancestors - who came from Abruzzo - had a yearly tradition to make stacks and stacks of the waffle-like cookies at Christmas time. It was as much a part of the tradition as the holiday meals themselves. 

The process of making pizzelles is as old as the wafer-like cookies. Centuries ago, people used iron presses. The presses were usually adorned with some design, such as a snowflake; however, families could have irons decorated with the family crest, or other meaningful designs. The iron presses had a long handle, which one could use to hold the irons over hot coals. The batter was placed in the center, the press was closed. and pressure was applied for a very short time until the cookie was done. Fast forward several centuries and one can still find people using iron presses to make these cookies, just with electricity rather than coal. 

This recipe is relatively easy to make, but it takes a little time getting used to the pizzelle iron. Generally speaking, I find that using a small ice cream scoop works best, placing the batter in the middle of each part of the iron. I also find that holding the iron closed (rather than relying on the clip), gets better results. If the batter sticks to the iron, try a little spritz of olive oil to grease the irons. That also helped immensely in terms of making the cookies, although it did make it a little messier. A little mess is worth it in the end.

PIZZELLES

Recipe from Food Network

Serves many

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/32 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon anise extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Directions:

1. Whisk together the ingredients. Whisk together the sugar, butter, milk, vanilla, anise and eggs in a large bowl. Add the flour, baking powder and salt, and continue to whisk until the batter is smooth. Allow to stand at room temperature for at least 1 hour so the batter can hydrate.

2. Cook the pizzelles. Heat the pizzelle iron. Once the iron is hot, use a small ice cream scoop to place one scoop in the center of each side of the iron. Close the iron firmly and hold close for 30 seconds. Remove the cookies immediately and place to the side to cool. 

PEACE.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

An Urgent Appeal - Help Save Haitian Mango Farmers!

Chef Bolek is stepping away from the stove for a moment to bring attention to an urgent issue involving small family farms and workers in Haiti. The issue involves the production of mangoes, and the immediate threat to their livelihood. 

Small farms throughout Haiti, including the community of Gros Morne, Haiti, grows what are known as Francis or Fransik mangoes. These mangoes are well known for their soft, juicy flesh that are full of rich, sweet flavors. They are also known, in the words of one blogger, as "a big deal for Haitian people, particularly for the rural population." Thousands of Haitians work in the production of mangoes, from growing them on those small farms to processing the fruit to transporting the mangoes to their ultimate destinations. 

Gros Morne provides an example of how it works. There is a cooperative that operates mango collection center. Each center purchases the mangoes from growers and then sells the fruit to packing houses. The packing houses process the mangoes for export. Those mangoes that are not destined for export would be sold by Madanm Sara in city markets. 

The mangoes are also important for another reason: they are a major export item and an important source of income. In 2022, Haiti exported 28 million mangoes to the United States. However, the United States Department of Agriculture ("USDA") cancelled the mango export contract with Haitian mango producers. The USDA cited insecurity, namely, for its inspectors to disinfect the crop and clear it for export. Those inspectors are based in Haiti and they disinfect the mangos by placing them in hot water for 60 to 90 minutes to kill any fly larvae. The Francis mango is the only mango that comes out of the process without being damaged. Without the inspectors and the disinfectant process, the mangoes cannot be exported to the United States. 

Without an export partner, these small farms do not have a buyer for their mangoes. Without a buyer, the mangoes will be left to rot on the ground and the farmers will be left without the needed income. If this problem persists, the farmers may be left with no other choice than to cut down the mango trees for their wood. This apparently has begun taking place, as farmers try to satisfy their short term needs but at their long-term expense.

The Quixote Center, is a non-profit organization dedicated to working on community led development in Haiti. The center has announced an emergency initiative to raise $35,000 to support the purchase of 168,000 mangoes from farmers and producers in Gros Morns and, with the assistance of the local Catholic parish community, transport the mangoes to remote areas that lack fresh fruit. This emergency measure is necessary to address the needs right now, while the Quixote Center and other non-profit organizations work toward a long term solution that, hopefully opens the U.S. market to Haitian mangoes once again. 

Please support this initiative by making a donation to the Quixote Center. You can learn more about this initiative by clicking on this link and make a donation by clicking on this link

Full Disclosure: I serve on the Board of Directors of the Quixote Center. I also made a donation to support this initiative.

Thank you, and ... 

PEACE.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Crying Tiger (Suea Rong Hai) with Jaew Sauce

One can trace the origin of this recipe -- Crying Tiger (Suea Rong Hai) -- to its principal range, which extends from northeastern Thailand into Laos. One could find cuts of beef, usually brisket, marinating in a mixture of herbs and spices that balances sweet, spicy, sour, and savory.  Cooks then grill the marinated meat over charcoal. Once the meat is grilled, the cooks slice it thinly and serve it with a dipping sauce.

There is a lot to learn about Crying Tiger, but some of it is shrouded in mystery, like the name.  There are at least three different versions of where this recipe got its name. The first one focuses on the meat itself. It is said that cooks used cuts of beef that were so tough that they would make tigers cry when they chewed them.  The second focuses on a farmer's cow. A tiger came out of the jungle and stole the cow. The tiger then proceeded to eat most of the cow. The tiger eventually was too stuffed to eat the brisket. The tiger looked at the juicy piece of meat and began to cry because it could not finish it. Finally,  there is the story that the fat marbling on a brisket looked like tiger stripes and, when the brisket was grilled, the fat dripping off the meat looked like a tiger's tears.

Whatever the origin of the name, this dish represents some of the best qualities of Thai cuisine, especially given the balance of flavors that I mentioned above. That balance is reinforced with the jaew sauce, which is one of many nam jim (or sauces) that are served alongside Thai dishes. The jaew sauce comes from Isan, the northeastern Thai region that borders Laos. The one ingredient that sets jaew sauce apart from other nam jin is the use of toasted rice powder. The powder adds an element of toastiness to the sauce, as well as serves as a thickener. The other ingredients -- lime juice (bitter), tamarind (sweet), chile pepper (spice), and fish sauce (sour or umame) -- provide a level of balance to the entire dish.

In the end, Suea Rong Hai with Nam Jim Jaew provides a multi-dimensional balance of flavors that makes one of the best beef dishes that I have made or had recently. It gets me to thinking about what other recipes are lurking out there, waiting to be discovered.


CRYING TIGER (SUEA RONG HAI) WITH JAEW SAUCE

Recipe from Thai Caliente & The Wanderlust Kitchen

Serves 4

Ingredients (for the steak)

  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon palm sugar (or brown sugar)
  • 1 pound of beef (such as rib eye, sirloin or strip steak)
  • 1 lime, juiced

Ingredients (for the Jaew Sauce):

  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1/3 cup lime juice (about 2 limes)
  • 1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate
  • 1 teaspoon ground toasted rice
  • 2 teaspoons ground Thai chile peppers
  • 2 teaspoon coconut sugar (or brown sugar)
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons scallions, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon water, if needed

Directions:

1. Marinate the beef. Combine the soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar and lime juice. Whisk the ingredients. Add the beef and allow it to marinate for 30 minutes to 45 minutes at room temperature. 

2. Prepare the Jaew Sauce. Combine fish sauce, lime juice, tamarind, toasted rice powder, chile peppers, sugar, cilantro green onion and, if necessary, water.  Adjust the sauce by adding water to dilute it or lime juice, sugar, or fish sauce to balance the flavors.

3. Grill the beef. Heat a grill or cast iron skillet over the stove to hot. Pat steaks dry, season with salt and pepper, and place steaks on grill or skillet. Cook for a couple minutes on each side until desired temperature (medium rare) is reached.  Allow the steaks to rest for 10 minutes. 

4. Finish the dish. Slice the steak and serve immediately with the Jaew sauce and condiments such as lettuce leaves, cucumber slices and rice. 

PEACE.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Around the World in 80 Dishes: The Gambia

My Around the World in 80 Dishes challenge reaches another milestone ... the fiftieth (50th) challenge. This particular challenge takes us to The Gambia, which is the smallest country by square mileage on the African continent. 
A narrative would describe this country as a sliver of land, beginning along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, at the estuary of a river that shares the same name as the country. That river, the Gambia River, snakes its way inland, as does the country, which extends from north and south along the river. Yet, at its widest point, The Gambia spans only thirty-one (31) miles from north to south. To put that in some perspective, that distance is shorter than the drive down Interstate 95 from Baltimore, Maryland to Washington, D.C.
Agriculture figures prominently in The Gambia. Around seventy-five percent (75%) of the population is involved in one way or another in agriculture, and, their combined effort results in agriculture constituting twenty-five percent (25%) of the country's gross domestic product. One could find a wide range of crops grown along the Gambia River, such as cassava, yams, tomatoes, rice and lentils. However, if you truly want to know more about The Gambia, you need to know more about gerte ... or peanuts. Those groundnuts play an important part in the economy, the culture and the cuisine of the country. 

Source: Aramco

The Portuguese originally introduced the peanut to the region during the sixteenth century. But, it was the British turned who turned it into a cash crop, Today, with the shackles of colonialism long gone, peanuts continue to be the cash crop of The Gambia, grown on one-third of the country's arable land. Those crops support approximately one-quarter of The Gambia's population. It is not just growing the crop, but also processing the peanuts into goods for sale, namely, peanut butter. 
"Every child in The Gambia learns that we depend upon groundnuts." -- Musa Loum
Yet, despite the rather heavy emphasis on agriculture, the country produces only about half of the food its people need to eat. Moreover, food insecurity. poses a significant threat to the people of The Gambia. There are many reasons to explain why there is not enough food, from low crop yields to the exports of the production to countries like the United Kingdom and the United States. For example, approximately sixty percent [60%] of the groundnut production is exported.) According to the World Food Programme, about twenty-seven percent (27%) of the population faces food insecurity, and nearly double that percentage -- 53.4% -- live in poverty. 

There is a even larger threat looming on the horizon ... climate change. Groundnuts, like peanuts, require a certain amount of water. That means there needs to be a certain amount of rain or precipitation. However, growers in The Gambia find that total rainfall has decreased by 8.8 milliliters since 1960. That may not seem like a lot. But for a grower of a subsistence crop, or even a crop destined for export, that change in the amount of rain means something. The reduction in rain has resulted from more erratic rain patterns. Those uncertain patterns result in smaller peanuts and, by extension, smaller yields, creating greater issues for a very small country and its people. 

MAIN COURSE

For this challenge, I draw my inspiration from the peanut. I prepared the national dish of The Gambia, which is known as Domada. The name -- Domada, or perhaps more appropriately Domodah or Tigadena -- means peanut butter sauce. That is an apt description of the reddish-orange stew, whose aroma and taste feature peanut butter. Domoda is typically prepared with whatever vegetables are available, along with tomato paste, chicken stock and maggi cubes (bouillon cubes). It also features some protein, usually beef or chicken.   

DOMADA (GAMBIAN PEANUT STEW)

Recipe from Daring Gourmet

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound beef steak or chicken breast, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 can (3 oz) tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup of natural, unsweetened peanut butter
  • 4 Maggi or Knorr tomato bouillon cubes
  • 3 cups water
  • Scotch bonnet chiles, diced, according to heat preference
  • 4 cups pumpkin or sweet potato, diced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Directions:

1. Prepare the stew. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven. Sauté the onions until golden. Add the beef (or chicken) and garlic and continue to sauté until the beef is no longer pink (or the chicken is browned). Add the tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes.  Add the tomato paste, chiles, peanut butter and stir to combine. Add the water and bouillon cubes.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add squash, cover and continue to cook for 35-40 minutes or until the pumpkin or sweet potato is tender, stirring occasionally.  Season with salt and pepper.

2. Finish the dish. Serve hot with rice.

*    *    *

The preparation of Domada was fairly easy and the resulting dish is very delicious. The hardest part of this challenge is preparing the national dish of The Gambia while knowing that so many Gambians live in poverty and suffer from food insecurity. That knowledge has been weighing a lot on me lately as I explore cuisines and cultures where the people are struggling to survive. Until next time ...

PEACE.

Monday, May 6, 2024

On Count Rostov's Plate: Chicken Saltimbocca

1922, sometimes referred to as the "year that sealed the fate of Russia." It had been five years since the October Revolution, which led to the overthrow (and execution) of the Tsar and his family. The revolution turned into a civil war between the "reds" (the Bolsheviks, who supported Marxism) and the "whites" (those who favored other ideologies). However, by 1922, the civil war was over and the Bolsheviks and their Communist Party had control over Russia for almost one year. The leader of the Communist Party, Vladimir Lenin, had been looking back over the year and making plans for the future. the tide clearly favored the reds by 1922; and, their leader, Vladimir Lenin, was making plans for the future. He laid out those plans at the 11th Congress of the Russian Communist Party met between March 27 and April 2, 1922. 

It was also at the 11th Congress that Josef Stalin began his rise through the ranks, being appointed as the Communist Party's first Secretary General.  One month later, Lenin would suffer a stroke, and Stalin would take over Lenin's health care. Thus, by May 1922, Russia's path toward a communist economy and totalitarian state was sealed, as was its fate. 

Just one month later, so was the fate of the (fictional) Count Alexander Iliych Rostov. Summoned before the Emergency Committee of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, the Count had to answer for his past and his status. The committee ultimately found that the Count guilty of succumbing to the corruptions of his class, and, it sentenced him to house arrest. (For more details, you should buy and read the book.) The Count would live out the rest of his life at the Metropol hotel.

After returning to the hotel, and after having been shown his new arrangements, the Count made his way to the Boyarsky restaurant. The restaurant had Moscow's "most elegant decor, its most sophisticated waitstaff, and its most subtle chef de cuisine," Chef Emile Zhukovsky. The maitre d' sat Alexander at a table and he waited for his first meal since being confined to the hotel. 

The Boyarsky

Sitting at his table, Alexander waited for his first meal. Yet, to put it in context, Author Amor Towles excellently laid the groundwork for readers as they also waited. As Towles wrote: 

In the Revolution's aftermath - with its economic declines, failed crops, and halted trade - refined ingredients became as scare in Moscow as butterflies at sea. The Metropol's larder was depleted bushel by bushel, pound by pound, dash by dash, and its chef was left to meet the expectations of his audience with cornmeal, cauliflower, and cabbage - that is to say, with whatever he could get his hands on.

(Pg. 27.) That was the life of most everyone in 1922. Still reeling from years of war, the early days of Communist Russia were often characterized by shortages, especially when it came to food. 

This scarcity meant that, while Alexander may have ordered a specific dish, the meal he received may not be entirely consistent with his expectations. This point was underscored by Towles' description of the meal served to the Count:

a saltimbocca fashioned from necessity. In place of a cutlet of veal, Emile had pounded flat a breast of chicken. In place of prosciutto de Parma, he had shaved a Ukrainian ham. And in place of sage, that delicate leaf that binds the flavors together? He had opted for an herb that was as soft and aromatic as sage, but more bitter to the taste.... It wasn't basil or oregano, of that the Count was certain, but he had definitely encountered it somewhere before....

(Pg. 27.) The herb was nettle. Substitution became an essential part of cooking and eating. Unable to get the necessary ingredients, due to the lack of trade, the chef had to make due with what he could find. Rather than complain, the Count made the best of his circumstances and enjoyed the dish.  

Stinging Nettle Leaves (Source: Food52)

For my first post, I wanted to prepare the chicken saltimbocca in the same manner as Chef Zhukovsky. The chef had to make three substitutions: (1) chicken for veal; (2) Ukrainian ham for prosciutto; and (3) nettle for sage. I found myself in the identical position as the Chef, but for entirely different reasons. I did not face any shortages of veal, prosciutto or sage. I could easily go to any store and purchase those ingredients. I faced a shortage of what Chef Zhukovsky had on hand, namely Ukrainian ham and nettles. I made some efforts to find these ingredients, but with no success.

In the end, I decided to take a chicken saltimbocca recipe from the New York Times and made some modifications to produce a recipe that, if I had the ingredients, I could make. I nevertheless made the recipe anyways, using what I have on hand. Hence, a saltimbocca made with chicken, prosciutto and sage. 

CHICKEN SALTIMBOCCA

Recipe adapted from The New York Times

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 pounds of boneless chicken breast cut into 4 ounce pieces
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped nettle, plus 24 large nettle leaves (substitute sage)
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste
  • 1 pinch crushed red pepper (optional)
  • Olive oil
  • 6 thin slices Ukrainian ham (substitute prosciutto or other thinly sliced ham)
  • 6 slices of fontina cheese

Directions:

1.  Prepare the chicken. Using a meat mallet, pound the chicken to flatten a bit. Salt and pepper each piece on both sides and place on a plater. Sprinkle with chopped nettle (or sage), garlic, red pepper flakes (if using) and olive oil. Massage in the seasoning to distribute, cover and marinate at room temperature for one hour, or refrigerate for up to several hours). 

2. Crisp the nettle (sage). Heat a wide skillet over medium heat and add 3 teaspoons olive oil. When the oil looks wavy, add the nettle (sage) leaves and let them crisp for about 30 seconds. Remove and drain. 

3. Brown the chicken. Brown the chicken breasts in the oil for about 2 minutes per side, then transfer to a baking dish large enough to fit them in one layer.

4. Broil the chicken. Top each piece with 2 sage leaves, a slice of Ukrainian ham (or prosciutto) and a slice of cheese. Broil for 2 to 3 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling. Garnish with the remaining nettle (or sage) leaves. 

P.S.: I know the chicken breast is a little thick for chicken saltimbocca. I could not find my meat mallet. Apparently, it had been seized as property of the people and now it is lost. 

P.S.S.: On a more serious note, by the end of 1922, the Soviet Union emerges with the compact between Russia, Belarussia, Ukraine and the Caucusus states (Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan). Stalin is also on his way to consolidating power. 

Until next time...

PEACE.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

On Count Rostov's Plate: An Introduction

It all began when I came across a recipe for Latvian Stew. My mind immediately turned to my Around the World in 80 Dishes project. I quickly checked my blog and realized that I have not had a challenge involving a Baltic country or, for that matter, Scandinavia. I started researching the recipe and discovered that its origin does not come from a cookbook, but a work of fiction. 

The recipe for Latvian Stew was based upon a dish referenced in A Gentleman in Moscow, a work of historical fiction by Amor Towles. Fiction does not figure among my reading choices. If one were to peruse the shelves at my home, they would see mostly works of historical non-fiction, cookbooks and even historical books about cooking, such as such as Anya Van Bremzen's Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking. It is Van Bremzen's book that ultimately opened the way for me to read Towles' book. Van Bremzen covered the entire history of the Soviet Union, beginning with its early Leninist and Stalinist days. I was quite intrigued with what life was like for ordinary citizens during those days, especially with the struggles they had to feed their families and hold on to their traditions as they weathered the turbulent changes to their government, economy and society.

The story in A Gentleman in Moscow begins during the early days of the Bolshevik revolution, as Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov -- recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, master of the Jockey Club, and Master of the Hunt -- faces the Emergency Committee of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs. Ordinarily, titles associated with nobility often led to the person standing straight against a wall facing a firing squad. However, the committee spared the Count's life (for reasons you can read in the book), but sentenced the Count to house arrest at the Metropol, a hotel where he had been staying for the past few years. If he leaves that hotel, then the Count would be shot.

The main facade of the Metropol Hotel (Source: Wikipedia)

The Metropol Hotel stands on Theatre Square, which is in the center of Moscow, within eyesight of not just the Kremlin, but also the Bolshoi theater. Thus, the hotel served as the place for not just Russians (who had dollars, silver or gold), but also international diplomats and other visitors. 

Not only is the Count confined to the hotel, but he is relegated to the attic, which used to house the guests' servants. Yet, the Count is able to make his way throughout the hotel, including its two restaurants: the high-end Boyarsky and (as the Count refers to it) the more down-to-earth Piazza. As I followed the Count's life through the hotel, page after page, I found myself paying particular attention to when Count Rostov dined in the restaurants. Not only did I come across the reference to Latvian Stew, which has a very interesting part in the story, but I also noted other dishes that graced the Count's plate. I began taking note of those dishes, with the thought of preparing them myself. 

Those thoughts have led to this project, On Count Rostov's plate. My goal is to step into the shoes of the fictional chefs and kitchen staffs that worked in the Boyarsky and the Piazza. I hope to create the meals that they prepared for the Count at various points during his confinement. As of right now, I am planning to make the following:  

  • Saltimbocca
  • Okroshka
  • Latvian Stew
  • Ossobuco
  • Roasted Whole Bass with Black Olives, Fennel and Lemon
  • Chicken Marechal
  • English Roast with Yorkshire Pudding
  • Rack of Lamb with Red Wine Reduction and Cucumber Soup 
  • Bouillabaise
  • Braised Veal with Caviar Sauce 
  • Kotlety

Each post will feature one of those dishes, as well as a little context surrounding it. (If you want the whole picture, buy Amor Towles' book and read it, it is an excellent book.)

You can follow along with this project by clicking here to see the posts that I have completed to date. Until next time ...

PEACE.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Black Viking's Zingabier

There are more craft breweries in the United States than ever before, with an estimated 9,500 such breweries across the country. Those breweries produce a diverse range of beers, from light session beers to weighty barleywines. The diversity of beers is not really matched by the diversity of brewers. Only about ten percent (10%) of the brewers are persons of color and other historically underrepresented groups.  

Diversity, equity and inclusion have been reaching into the craft brewing movement.  Some of the breweries owned and/or operated by African-Americans, Hispanics, women and others have staked a name for themselves. One example of a large craft brewery is Brooklyn Brewery. Garrett Oliver serves as Brooklyn's head brewer; and, while he could be in the running for the most interesting person in the world (in my humble opinion), he has overseen some amazing beers, such as the Soriachi Ace and the Black Ops. More locally in my area is Union Brewing, which has firmly established itself among the Charm City breweries (in Baltimore Maryland).  Union produces some solid beers, such as the Duckpin double IPA.

Relatively recently, the first African-American owned and led brewery opened its doors in Montgomery County, Maryland. The brewery is Black Viking. The brewery was started by Shaun Taylor, the head story teller, and Jamil Raoof, the head brewer. One of their first beers that I have seen on store shelves is the Zingabier, a Golden Ale brewed with ginger and honey. (The name zinga comes from the Latin word for ginger.)

The Zingabier pours true to its style, with a densely golden color. The aroma of the beer hints at some floral notes, as well as its primary ingredients, both the honey and ginger. Those primary ingredients shine through more in the flavor of the beer. As I took sips, I could note the ginger in the taste. The honey probably came through more as some of the sweetness in the taste and the finish. 

The Zingabier may become the flagship beer for Black Viking. It is definitely a remarkable start for the new brewery. Right now, distribution is limited to the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia. However, they have big plans. In the meantime, if you see a six pack of the Zingabier on a store shelve, I strongly recommend you buy it. 

Until next time...

PEACE.