Thursday, May 27, 2021

Oxtail Ossobuco

A while back, my beautiful Angel bought me some oxtail from Costco. It was two packs of oxtail, each about two pounds.  These packs would constitute my first efforts at using this ingredient. My first attempt was Cola de Res al Mole. A Mexican-inspired dish with a relatively simple mole sauce. It was a great effort and a very delicious meal. 

I still had one package of oxtail left. I also had one question: what to do with it?  I reviewed a bunch of recipes on the internet, and came across one of my favorite dishes. Ossobuco. This standard for this dish involves veal shanks, although one can find it prepared with beef shank, lamb shanks and even pork shanks. The use of the shank bone is ideal because, as the name suggests in Italian, it is a hollow bone.  Well, not entirely hollow, there is bone marrow, which is perhaps my favorite part of the dish. 

Oxtail is completely different than a shank. What it lacks in gelatin, it makes up for in gelatin. It is a cut that is ideal for braising, a long cook that helps to break down the oxtails and that provides the basis for rich sauce. When using oxtail, it is ideal to find pieces that are relatively the same size.  This helps to ensure that the pieces cook evenly. I just used the package that I had, which had a range of pieces from big to small.  Needless to say, by the time I was done, the small ones were just bones (the meat had already fallen off and was in the sauce) and the large ones were just about right. 

While this dish was good, I think I did a better job with the Cola de Res al Mole. At some point, I will get some more oxtail and try some new recipes. 


Recipe adapted from All Things Barbecue

Serves 4


  • 4.5 pounds of oxtail segments
  • Hickory smoked salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons clarified butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, medium dice
  • 2 large carrots medium dice
  • 3-4 ribs celery, medium dice
  • 12 cloves garlic, divided
  • 3 cups (1 28 ounce can) San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 bunch flat leaf parsley, divided
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups dry white wine (Orvieto, Trebbiano, Prosecco)
  • Beef stock
  • Zest of two lemons


1. Brown the oxtail.  Preheat the smoker, grill or oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Season the oxtails with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Place the flour in a shallow bowl and dredge the oxtails, shaking off excess flour and transfer to a hot Dutch oven. Sear and brown on all sides, working in batches to avoid overcrowding.  Transfer oxtail segments to a plate and repeat with the remaining oxtail segments. 

2. Sauté the vegetables.  Add the olive oil to the Dutch oven.  Stir in the onions, carrots, celery and crushed garlic cloves and cook, stirring and scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pot until soft, about 10 minutes.  Add about 1/3 of the bunch of parsley to the Dutch oven, as well as the thyme and bay leaf.  Pour whine over the veggies and bring to a simmer.  

3. Continue to cook the oxtail. Add the tomatoes and return the oxtail segments to the Dutch oven.  If there is not enough liquid to cover the oxtail segments, then add some beef stock.  The beef does not need to be fully submerged.  Transfer the Dutch oven to the grill or the oven. Cook, checking the liquid level occasionally.  If the liquid reduces all the way, add more beef stock.  Cook until the meat is nearly falling off the bone, about 2.5 to 3 hours.  If the liquid is still fairly runny, transfer the oxtails to a plate and cover with aluminum fil and leave the pot in the cooker or in the oven until the liquid is reduced or thickened. 

4. Prepare the polenta and gremolata. During the last 30 minutes, prepare the polenta according to the instructions on the package. Prepare the gremolata by mincing the remaining parsley leaves and garlic and tossing it in a bowl with the lemon zest. 

5. Finish the dish. Spoon the polenta at the bottom of the plate.  Place the oxtails over the polenta, sauce with the liquid and sprinkle the gremolata on top. 


Monday, May 17, 2021

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Somalia

A Somali poet and scholar, Axmed Ismaaciil Diiriye Qaasim, once penned the poem, Macaan iyo Qadhaadh (Sweet and Bitter). The poem is a kind of metaphor for his homeland:

Consider the aloe - how bitter is its taste. 
Yet sometimes there wells up a sap so sweet
That it seems like honey in your mount. 
Side by side the sweet and the bitter run.

The poem goes on, but, it is the last line quoted above that caught my attention. The sweet and the bitter, side by side. While the poet may have had someone else or something else in mind, those words provide an apt description of Somalia. 

For most of its recent history, the bitterness has gotten all of the attention. Since the onset of civil war in 1991, the country has been gripped in a seemingly endless state of violence. As the central government disintegrated, various groups began to assert themselves and battle each other for control.  The costs of these battles, over the course of the past thirty years, has resulted in the death of approximately 500,000 people, the displacement of more than 2,000,000 people, the disintegration of governing institutions, and the destruction of infrastructure and public services.  If one were to reach back further in time, before the civil war, he or she would encounter a history marked by military rule and colonial conquests, both of which have their own price tags with respect to death and destruction. 

Yet, for all this bitterness, there is still the sweet. Somalia is a land of natural contrasts running along the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. There is a diversity of environments, from the coastal forests and mangroves in the southwestern region (along the Indian ocean and the border with Kenya) to the bushlands and thickets of the Somalia-Acacia Commiphora Bushlands. There is also an interesting diversity of plants and animals. Somalia supposedly boasts of the largest population of camels in the world, as well as lions, Sudanese cheetahs, African bush elephants, gazelles, zebras and, of course, the Somali wild ass. 

The sweet can be found not just in the place, but also in the Somali people and their culture.  For example, there is a long literary tradition. The 19th century British explorer, Richard Francis Burton, once wrote in his book First Footsteps in Eastern Africa that the land which would become Somalia 

teems with poets ... every man has his recognized position in literature as accurately defined as though he had been reviewed in a century of magazines - the fine ear of this people causing them to take the greatest pleasure in harmonious sounds and poetic expressions .... Every chief in this country must have a panegyric to be sung by his clan, and the great patronize light literature by keeping a poet.

There are approximately thirty different forms of Somali poetry, many of which  differ in terms of the number of syllables per verse: from Gabay, with 14 to 16 syllables, to Hees Xoolad, with only 4 to 5 syllables. 

The sweet is not only found in the poetry of the Somalis, but also their music because, historically speaking, both were tied together.  Poetry would be set to music by way of a chant or a song. The words were always more important than the music. Indeed, some genres of poetry -- such as Gabay, Jiifto, or Geeraar -- were typically accompanied by the clapping of hands, without any musical instruments. Another form of poetry, Buraanmbur, which is recited at formal occasions such as weddings, is recited with the use of drums.  And, if one travels into southern Somalia, the poetry may be performed with a variety of different instruments such as drums, flutes, hand carved clappers and a lyre. 

Colonialism brought changes to Somali music, most notably the separation of music from poetry.  English, French and Italians introduced music as a stand alone concept in its modern form, which was reinforced by the radio. Somali musicians incorporated foreign genres, such as American soul, Jamaican reggae and Arabic maqaam, with their own traditional musical instruments and folk stylings. 

The literary and musical history and traditions of the Somali people are just one of the many aspects of the sweet that can be found in Somalia.  It is unfortunate that such sweetness does not prevail over the bitter, which tends to get the most attention.  


Turning to my personal culinary challenge, I needed a main course from Somali cuisine for my personal culinary challenge.  I went through quite a few recipes before I decided to make Surbiyaan Hilib Adhi, which is dish of lamb with rice that very much resembles a biryani.

Biryani originates from the Persian word burian, which means "fried before cooking." While it may have originated in Persia, biryani became a staple of the royal kitchens of the Mughal empire. The empire ruled over a large territory that included substantial parts of modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. As with any empire, the Mughal could not withstand time, or, for that matter, colonialism.  However, biryani - with its combination of vegetables and meats - continued to thrive throughout the subcontinent. The dish also extended its reach, especially to the east, into the Arabian peninsula.  It became known as zurbian in Saudi Arabia and zurbiyan in Yemen. Eventually, the dish crossed the Red Sea into Somalia, where it became known as surbiyaan.   


Recipe from My Somali Food

Serves 4


  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 2 onions, 1 sliced and 1 chopped
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 3 cups basmati rice
  • 5-6 cups water, plus 3/4 cup water
  • 2 pounds lamb, medium cut
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons cilantro leaves
  • 2 teaspoons coriander powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin powder
  • 2-4 tablespoons of oil
  • 5 cardamom seeds cracked
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

1. Caramelize the onions. Heat the oil over medium heat, add the sliced onion and fry until brown.  Add the raisins and cook until they puff up. Drain on kitchen paper and set aside.

2. Soak the saffron.  In a small bowl, add the saffron and then pour 1/4 cup of hot water into the bowl.  Let it soak for up to 20 minutes.

3.  Boil the rice.   Bring 5-6 cups of water to a boil.  Add the rice and cook for a few minutes.  The rice should be cooked to half way.  You can test this by trying to break the rice in your hand.  Drain the rice in a colander and let it cool until needed.

4. Cook the lamb. In a large pot, fry the lamb with the oil until brown on all sides.  Add the chopped onions and sauté until brown. Add the cardamom, cinnamon stick, and lemon juice. Then add the garlic, tomatoes, spices and cilantro. Mix the ingredients together and then cook for 3 minutes until fragrant.  Add 1/2 cup of water.  Let simmer while covered on medium heat until boil, and then lower the heat for 10-15 minutes.  

5.  Finish the dish. Add the rice and spread it out so that the top is even.  Add the caramelized onions and raisins, followed by the saffron water.  Cover the pot and cook on medium heat until it begins to boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.  The bottom of the pan will be dry and there will be no water left so make sure not to burn the bottom.  Remove the pot from the heat and serve immediately. 


Although I was looking forward to the lamb dish, I did a lot of research to find another dish that I could prepare as part of this challenge.  Ordinarily, I am looking for side dishes or appetizers, but, this time I came across something that could either be a breakfast or dessert. It is Malawah. It is a crepe like pancake made with ground cardamom and ginger, which, along with the sugar, provide the sweetness.


Recipe from The Spruce Eats and The Somali Kitchen

Serves 4


  • 2 cups flour
  • 2.5 cups milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • Honey, sugar to garnish

Whisk or blend the eggs, sugar, milk, salt and cardamom and ginger.  Then pour approximately 1/4 of a cup of the mixture the pan in a circular motion.  Once the pancake is brown, flip and cook briefly on the other side.  Repeat with the rest of the batter.  Serve immediately with honey or sugar as a garnish.

*    *    *

In the end, I think that the main course of Surbiyaan Hilib Adhi was a success.  I think my prior experience with making biryanis in the past, along with my general experience preparing plovs, pulao and polos -- all rice dishes with some form of protein -- helped with making this dish. The Malawah were also very good. However, I failed to get the circular motion down, which is why my Malawah look more like pancakes that crepes with a circular design. 

I also have to note that this challenge presents a milestone in my personal culinary challenge. It marks the first time I have completed challenges for an entire region.  The region is the Horn of Africa. I previously completed a culinary challenge for Ethiopia (#1), Eritrea (#19) and Djibouti (#30). Somalia (#39) represents the final country in region and it was a huge success. 

One last thought.  The two dishes that I made for this culinary challenge have analogues in the cuisine of a nearby country with an unfortunate history: Yemen. While the random country generator may choose my next challenges, I think I may make a stop to explore Yemeni cuisine very soon.  Until next time ...


Sunday, May 2, 2021

Yangrou Chuan

For all that it may do, China cannot erase the influences of those who practice Islam (namely, the Uyghurs) on both the people ... and their food. This influence is most noticeable when it comes to chuan or chuan'r. It is a dish that begins with small pieces of a protein, usually lamb, which are heavily seasoned with ground cumin and chiles. The seasoned meat is threaded onto skewers and then roasted over hot coals. The end product resembles the kebabs that are seemingly omnipresent throughout the Muslim world. 

These particular kebabs originated within, and quintessentially associated with, the Uyghur communities who live in Xinjiang, which is located in the northwest corner of China. The Uyghurs are currently the victims of a concerted effort to erase their culture and history. I have previously posted about this effort, as well as its impact upon Uyghur cuisine. I am not going to repeat what I discussed in that post. But, the subject of chuan brings me back to this discussion, because it is a subject of how aspects of a culture can be accepted and even incorporated into a larger body even while that culture is ruthlessly repressed. 

The spread of chuan throughout northern and eastern China tells a familiar story. The preparation of these kebabs began to spread as the Chinese -- especially those who lived in Beijing -- learned that the skewers were not just delicious, but a good eat after a long night on the nightlife scene.  Small food carts started appearing in the nighttime at night-time stalls, known as da pai dang, serving those who had spent the night partying in the clubs. In other words, the food of the Uyghurs has been accepted into the "mainstream," while other aspects of their culture, such as their religion, their language and their traditions, have not. 

To be clear, this situation -- where certain aspects of a culture have been accepted into the "mainstream" while the culture itself has not -- is not unique to the Uyghurs in China. Indeed, if one looked hard enough (which really is not that hard at all), one can see aspects of Native American culture that have been accepted into mainstream American culture while the Native Americans themselves were forced over the course of our history onto reservations. 

In my humble opinion, it is important to ensure that everyone knows and understands the history behind the foods that they enjoy.  It is equally important that, where this history is troublesome and difficult, people acknowledge the issues and work to make positive changes. Put another way, education will hopefully help to prevent these historical issues from repeating themselves. 


Recipe from Serious Eats

Serves 4


  • 1 tablespoon red chile flakes
  • 1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons whole fennel seed
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons granulated garlic
  • 2 pounds of boneless lamb shoulder or leg, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons Shaoxing wine (or rice wine)


1. Prepare the marinade. In a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, coarsely grind chile flakes, cumin and fennel.  Add granulated garlic and kosher salt and briefly grind to break salt into smaller pieces and thoroughly combine ingredients. reserve 1 tablespoon of the spice mix in a small bowl.  Add lamb to a large bowl and toss thoroughly with the remaining spice mix, oil and Shaoxing wine (or rice wine0.

2. Prepare the grill. Light a chimney of charcoal or a gas grill to medium high hear.  When the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes.  Clean and oil the grate. 

3. Grill the skewers. Grill skewers, covered, over indirect heat until lamb is nearly cooked through, about four minutes per side.  Move skewers over direct heat, sprinkle with the reserved spice mix and cook until well seared on both sides, about 1 minute total. 

4. Finish the dish.  Remove the skewers from the gas grill and serve right away.