Friday, August 11, 2017

Drink: Karkade (hibiscus)



It's summer time here in the northern hemisphere. Though you wouldn't know it as I write this wrapped in layers of warmth. But that doesn't mean one can't enjoy a summer drink in honour of the season.

Karkade (pr: kar-ka-day), or hibiscus, is a popular drink across Egypt and also in neighbouring Sudan, where it is simply referred to as Sudanese tea by most east Africans. In the middle of a hot day, when you're dying for a drink, a cool, tart and refreshing karkade juice is the perfect thing.

But what is Karkade you ask? It's a juice or tea made from hibiscus flower petals. And given the hibiscus flower grows readily in the hot climate, it's the one the drink you can always count on.

Depending on who makes it, the sweetening may push you into a diabetic coma, or may just be the right amount. But luckily this is a drink that can easily be watered down if it's too sweet for your liking; just make sure the host who offered you the drink doesn't see you in the act of dilution.

The same drink, called bissap, is also found in West Africa, namely in Senegal, which is where hibiscus is also grown now, along with Mali. Perhaps the flower made its way over there through trade in the Sahara? Or perhaps the  nomadic Peul or Fula people, who are thought to originate from East Africa but crossed the desert, brought along karkade.

There are numerous hibiscus varieties. According to my research the original eight come from Mauritius, Madagascar, China, India, and Fiji.

But the one grown in Egypt and west Africa is of the Hibiscus Sabdariffa variety.

Outside the African continent, karkade is used differently. The flor de Jamaica, as hibiscus is called in the Carribbean and South American countries, is drunk as a tea but not only made from the petals. In China, the petals are eaten. And in India, the petals are boiled and the water is made into a syrup which is poured over ice.

But since the days of ancient Egypt, karkade has been made into a beverage to mark a special occasion.

If you have never tried it, I would say it's just like sipping cranberry juice, in terms of colour and tartness. But it's not nearly as tart which is why it's easy to drink and feels refreshing.

Growing up in Canada, it's not something we had access to, so while I had always heard about it, I only got to finally taste it during my first trip to Egypt as a teenager and was hooked from that moment on.

None of my trips in Egypt are complete without karkade overload. And when I found it in Senegal, I was the happiest person around. Imagine being able to drink such a random drink on both sides of the continent!

Unlike most of the fresh juices you can get in Egypt at the stands around the cities, karkade is not one of them; simply because it has to be made in advance.

As my mother explained, growing up in Egypt in the pre-globalism era,  there were few options in terms of cold beverages at home. So you often had water, orange juice, coca cola, lemonade and karkade.

It is easy to find. Any restaurant will serve it and likely so will a cafe. There's also the karkade man who will walk around with a giant glass jar strapped to him yelling "karkade!!!" but it might be safer for your first time to stick with the restaurant version.

Karkade itself was always revered for its medicinal properties, namely regulating blood pressure, being a diuretic and being high in vitamin C.

In fact, among Egyptian thinking (not necessarily logical), cold karkade will lower your blood pressure while hot karkade will increase it. The lowering  your blood pressure bit stands...the other, I'm doubtful. But that's just me. Outside of Egypt, sipping hibiscus tea is recommended for those with high blood pressure.

But apart from being a refreshing drink, it also has some status. At big celebrations where alcohol may not be available, karkade makes an appearance, such as weddings, or when you're paying a visit to someone at home. Even now, in the hotels, they will also serve guests a glass as a 'welcome to egypt' gesture. Either way, if you're offered a glass, take it!

You can't, however buy it as a juice to go. But making it at home is super easy and you don't have to fuss around with too many measurements. That being said, you need a bit of time. While you can technically make it in just a few minutes, I would strongly suggest you let it soak much longer; that way you get the best flavour.

As I mentioned earlier, Egyptians (and pretty much anywhere across Africa) make it sickingly sweet. If I was still five years old, I'd be all over that; but I'm not. So doing it at home means you can adjust the sweetness level. I even use honey instead of sugar, since it too has some benefits and does not alter the flavour.

If you make it as a tea,  you can steep it for just a few minutes, or heat up a batch from what you've made.

The juice only requires dried hibiscus petals and water. And a sweetener of your choice.

You can find hibiscus petals in any african or middle eastern supermarket. I haven't checked myself, but you should also be able to find it in asian supermarkets as well.

_______________________________________________

Preparation time: five minutes
Steeping time: one hour to 12 hours
Yields: two bottles (750 ml)

INGREDIENTS:

6 cups of water
2 hand fulls of hibiscus petals
honey or sugar

DIRECTIONS:

1. Boil water
2. In a big salad bowl or pot, add hibiscus petals


3. Add boiling water


4. Cover to steep as long as possible (I leave it overnight)


5. Strain petals and add in sweetener of choice (add as much as or as little as you want)


6. Once the sweetener has dissolved, fill up your bottles or jugs and keep in the fridge.


7. Because this is fresh and you have added a sweetener, make sure to drink it within a week, or it will ferment (also tasty, but not the point)







Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Dinner: 'Olass wa sal' (qolqass wa salq) - taro root with swiss chard




I've been trying to chase down this recipe for months now. Though I ate it back in 2010 for the first time during Christmas dinner in Cairo. I thought it was molokhia, a green soup made from the fresh leaves of the molokhia plant. Not at all, though the spicing is similar.

I was told it was 'olass. And that it is normally eaten on special occasions, like Christmas. But after some research between both sides of the family, and my Arabic tutor, turns out everyone eats 'olass all the time and its a favourite dish of most households.

We never had it at home. When I asked my mother the reason, without missing a beat she scrunched up her face and explained "I hate that dish, I never liked to eat it". And hence a childhood deprived of taro root.

My aunt on the other hand reminisced with my father on this and said my grandmother made this dish often, but couldn't remember how. My father had little recollection of liking or disliking it, which means it wasn't a favourite, but it was tolerated as part of the usual repertoire of weekly meals. In his own words it's good, but "it's no molokhia".

But what is it?

It's taro root cut into chunks, boiled in water then thrown into a mix of swiss chard and spices.

That's it.

It's not a dish, however, that you'll find in restaurants or on the streets. It's really at home that this is eaten. And the prime time for this dish among Christian households is especially during epiphany, which comes at the end of Christmas. If you want to get into religion, it's the time when Jesus was baptized, i.e. plunged under water for purification purposes. So the idea of eating taro, which has to be boiled in water before it's edible (fun fact: raw taro contains calcium oxaltate, which will make your mouth go numb, so raw taro is in fact toxic), is representative of Jesus's baptism. In fact there's a little rhyme my aunt said would often be heard by children around that time of year: "aid el ghotass, yakul 'olass" which literally translates into "at festival of epiphany, one eats taro". Clever,

But taro is eaten in all households, regardless of religion. The root itself grows in Egypt after it spread via cultivation from its origins somewhere in India. Taro itself is a popular root found in many African dishes and with the trans-Atlantic slave trade, made its way into the Americas, where taro is also popular in many Caribbean and South American countries. The true name of taro is coloccasia, and in arabic 'qulqass'. And then in Egypt, because we shorten words when possible, is known as 'olass, or 'ulass.

Swiss chard, or in arabic "salq" or  sal' in egyptian arabic, grounds the taro root to a tasty base. Swiss chard, is often referred to as 'silverbeet' or 'whitebeet' because it is related to the beet family. The Swiss adjective comes from a Swiss botanist who studied the plant.

But the plant itself is native to the southern Mediterranean region, namely Sicily, but according to articles I consulted, Aristotle apparently mentions it in his writing, so it has a place in ancient Greek history as well. Swiss chard likely found its way into Egypt via the Ancient Greeks or the Romans later on. Either way, the plant itself  is not native to Egypt, but it thrives there now.

And after all my extensive research, it was my cousin (an amazing cook) who sent me THE recipe. It's likely a mix of our family's traditional one coupled with her ingenious additions.

So you're in for a treat.

*Bear in mind that this recipe is using a chicken broth; but you can easily go fully vegetarian and use a vegetable-based one.
__________________________________________

Total cooking time: 1.5 hours
Yield: four persons

INGREDIENTS:

7-9 taro roots




















1 head of Swiss chard



















1 handful of fresh coriander leaves
1 handful of fresh dill





















1 tablespoon of oil
5 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons of ground coriander seed
1 tablespoon of butter
2 cups of broth (chicken/vegetable)
salt


DIRECTIONS

1. Peel the taro




















2. Chop into cubes




















3. Add taro cubes into a pot of salted and boiling water
4. Leave to cook on medium heat for about 20  minutes (until taro is soft)
5. While taro is cooking, chop Swiss chard into small strips


















6. Chop up dill and fresh coriander
7. Chop up garlic
8. In a pan, add oil and sauté half the amount of chopped garlic along with all of the Swiss chard, dill and fresh coriander
8. Add a bit of salt to flavour
9. Continue stirring greens until they are soft and have significantly reduced in size






































10. Take off heat

Taqliya:
11. In a separate pan, add ground coriander and dry roast it until it starts to change colour
12. Take off heat and add butter and remaining garlic
13. Continue to stir on low heat until the coriander/garlic mix has absorbed all the butter.



















14. Drain taro root and set aside
15. In a pot, or blender, add one to two ladles of broth to the chard mix and purée it
16. Add pureed chard mix to a pot and add another 9-10 ladles of broth


















18. Consistency should be thick soup
19. Cook slowly on low heat and add cooked taro and taqliya mix
20. Leave to cook on low heat for 10 minutes (do not let it boil)
21. Serve with rice


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Condiment: Betengam Milkhalil (Pickled Eggplant )




Would you believe I've had this recipe ready for months now? T'is true...but life and likely laziness got the best of me.

But here we go.

Today's recipe is so simple to make it hurts, but if you can't stomach spicy (i.e.hot chili), then you'll have to sit this one out.

Egyptian cooking is by no means spicy. In fact, the spiciest it normally gets comes from lots of garlic, or up north in Alexandria, where chilies sometimes create a more punchy ful madammas.

But by comparison to our other north African neighbours, who came up with Harissa (red chili paste), our cuisine is far from hot and spicy.

Except for this wondrous condiment.

My mother used to make this for us as children. It wasn't one of those items we knew she was making, or even asked about, but you would open the fridge and see the these little eggplants glistening in their juices and bursting at the seams with chili and garlic. And the smell.....oooo such a smell that you'd have to eat one then and there.

First bite. Heaven. Then five seconds later, it hits you. All that garlic and chili...but the subtle eggplant to balance it out and give it an underlying sweetness is what made you come back for more. But this time armed with a hunk of bread.

And so it goes. And that's how we had pickled eggplants. As a side dish with your meal, as you would with some olives, or in sandwiches for some extra kick Or I now add it to salads for some punch.

In Egypt, you'll find this as an extra condiment that you would normally add to any meal for some additional kick. It's not terribly popular....or not that I've noticed, but it's common enough that most people know about it.

I've discussed before the origins of eggplant or  betengam in arabic. You can read about it here: http://abissadacooks.blogspot.fr/2010/03/dinner-masa-ha-moussaka.html

In this particular recipe, it's best if you can find the baby eggplants or the small ones (the size of a finger). But they are not easy to find, so I've adjusted this recipe to be used with regular fat ones.

But ideally the small ones are best since you can slice the open and stuff them.

Now as I mentioned earlier, chilies or hot peppers do not play a major role in Egyptian cooking. But they are readily found across other North African countries. How did they worm their way into Egypt? Easy: the Ottomans.

Chilies were first cultivated in Mexico as far back as 7000 B.C, but it wasn't until our friend Christopher Colombus, who encountered them during his voyages in the Americas, brought them over to Spain at the end of the fifteenth century. The Portuguese then took them over to India, Asia, and Africa which were then was picked up by the Ottomans. With Egypt being a province in the Ottoman empire, and with much of its innovative cuisine being centralised out of Istanbul, the use of chilies eventually made their way into Egyptian homes.

I initially thought it would have been via the Moors after they took over Spain in the early 700s, but that would have been before the Americas were discovered, and thus no chilies in sight to be brought over.

As for the pickled eggplants, try to make them a night in advance, so they have time to soak in the flavours.

_________________________________________________________

Total cooking time: 1 hour
Yield: six plus people

INGREDIENTS:

4 large eggplants OR 15 small eggplants
1/2 cup olive oil (if using regular eggplant)
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
3 tablespoons chopped green chili
white vinegar
salt

DIRECTIONS:

Regular Eggplants
1. Keep the skin on and cut into round slices
2. Cut the slices into halves
3. Place the halves onto a baking sheet and brush each side with olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper

4. Place in the oven under grill, until both sides are cooked (around 10 - 15 mins)
5. When done, place eggplant in bowl and add chopped garlic and chili
6. Add a tablespoon of vinegar
7. A pinch of salt
8. Mix and taste. Mixture should be the consistency of a relish
9. If too vinegary tasting, add a dash of olive oil

10. Cover bowl and let set overnight  (in fridge or on counter top)

Baby eggplants
5. Boil the eggplants in salty water until soft in the middle
6. Remove from water and slice a small hole in each one
7. In a separate bowl, add chili and garlic with a tablespoon of vinegar and a pinch of salt
8. Mix and taste; mixture should be the consistency of a relish
9. Place eggplants in a bowl and stuff each with one the mixture
10. Add remaining mixture into bowl
11. Cover and let set overnight (in fridge or counter top)




Sunday, October 18, 2015

Dinner: Maashi Kromb (stuffed cabbage)



Aaaaaaaaaand nearly a year later, and here I am writing up my first recipe for 2015. I did work on other recipes, but none of them were worthy of this blog, so I finally came across a great recipe during my visit a few weeks ago to Egypt: Maashi Kromb, or stuffed (maashi) cabbage (kromb) in arabic.

I was having lunch with my cousin and she said this was her favourite dish. I've never been a huge stuffed cabbage fan, having only tried the Eastern European variation...so I tried to hide my glimmer of enthusiasm, until I bit into one. Wow. It was amazing. And, unlike all the other maashi dishes I've written up about, the stuffing for this one is without meat (though you can add some if you really want).

After eating this, I found the woman responsible for the meal, the hired help in the house: Umm Mohammed (or Mother of Mohammed, as tradition dictates). I found her in the kitchen and told her it was one of the best meals I've had and asked for her recipe. She was a bit overwhelmed with the sudden attention, since she prepares the main meals every day, but after a bit coaxing, Umm Mohammed got down to business and gave me the details.

But cabbage in Egypt you ask? Actually, good question. I asked myself the same thing and in fact, contrary to what I had originally thought, cabbage has a long history in egyptian cooking. Wild cabbage is a native of the mediterranean, southwestern europe and southern england. All variations thrive along the ocean, where it can receive lots of moisture. So our friends, the Ancient Egyptians, considered cabbage to be one of the most delicate vegetables, and ate it boiled before the rest of their food.

During a visit to ancient Egypt, the Greeks believed their cabbage was superior to that of the Egyptian variety, so they brought along seeds with them from Rhodes. They revered cabbage for its medicinal properties.

All that to say cabbage does in fact have a place in Egyptian cuisine, and it dates back to the ancient times.

But of course,  now, it's more of a question how it is eaten.

As I've mentioned before, egyptians will stuff any vegetable or animal cavity with rice. Hence my previous recipes for stuffed pigeon, stuffed peppers, and stuffed grapeleaves. But this recipe is a rice mixture with dill, parlsely and tomatos.

The tomatos we know came from the new world via the explorers to Egypt.

Rice has been eaten and grown in Egypt since the days of the Pharaohs since it grows in the country.

Dill weed is a member of the parsley family which is native to the eastern Mediterranean region (and western Asia). According to one article I read, the word 'dill' comes from the old Norse (old german) word 'dylla' meaning to soothe or lull, which was found written around 3000 B.C. where it was also mentioned in Egyptian medical texts.

So dill is widely used and historically for centuries.

Parsley, is a native of eastern Mediterranean countries.  It isn't used as much as other herbs in Egyptian cooking. It was likely brought to Egypt by the ancient Romans who may have been the first people to eat parsley. Whereas the Greeks only used parsley for medicinal purposes, as they viewed it with superstition considering it an omen of death.

But it does grow around the mediterranean basin, and was introduced to the new world during the heydays of trade.

Parsely-based foods, such as taboulah are more from the Levante region where parsley is more popular.

But back to maashi kromb.....I won't lie, this is one of the few dishes that takes time to prepare and cook, but it's not an overly complicating recipe. But all the effort is worth it in the end!

______________________________________________
TOTAL PREPARATION TIME: two hours
TOTAL COOKING TIME: one hour
YIELD: 10 persons

INGREDIENTS:
1 head white cabbage
salt
water

Stuffing:
1 onion
1 teaspoon of oil
2 tomatos
2 handfulls of parsley (fresh)
1 handful of dill (fresh)
equal parts of rice to the mixture of short grain rice (italian or egyptian)
salt/pepper

Sauce:
2 tins of tomato concentrate
2 cups of water
1 garlic
1 onion
salt/pepper
_____________________________________________

DIRECTIONS

CABBAGE:
1. Cut the cabbage in half peel back each individual leaf

2. This process can take time....
3. Once you have your individual leaves, place them in a pot of boiling water with a tablespoon of salt
4. Leave them to cook for about an hour, until all the leaves have turned transparent and are soft in texture
5. Drain and put aside


STUFFING

6. Chop onion and sauté it with a bit of oil until it is cooked
7. In a bowl, add cooked onion, parsley and dill, and chopped tomatos


8. Using a chopper (or a blender) blend all ingredients


9. Add an equal part of rice (approximately--does not have to be perfectly measured)
10. Wash the rice then add to the mix
11. Add salt and pepper
12. Mix thoroughly by hand or with a spoon


SAUCE
13. In a pot, add a tablespoon of oil
14. Chop onions and add to pot
15. Crush and finely chop garlic; add to pot
16. Once onions are cooked, add tomato paste
17. Add water
18. Mix well; if sauce seems too thick, add a bit more water
19. Season with salt/pepper

ROLLING
20. Take a cooked cabbage leaf, add about one teaspoon of the mixture, and fold and roll
21. Unlike grapeleaves cabbage leaves are a bit harder to fold nicely, but don't worry, they stay put during the cooking process.
22. Continue process until either all the leaves are done or all the mixture is done


23. Add all the rolled leaves into a deep pot and cover with sauce


24. Leave covered and on medium heat to cook for at least an hour (or longer)
25. Rolls are ready to eat once rice is cooked


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Breakfast / light meal: Shakshuka (eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce)





This is probably one of the most popular recipes across North Africa and especially in Israel. In my goal to only post Egyptian recipes I consistently refused to do this one dish, until, I found out: it's also popular in Egypt.

Shakshuka. or Shakshouka. I know you've all heard of it, and have likely tasted it too. It's Arabic slang for 'a mixture', or as one entry that I found said, it comes from the Berber word 'chakchouka' meaning a vegetable stew. Or even beyond that, there's thought that the name comes from the Hebrew verb 'leshakshek' which means to shake. But since Hebrew and Arabic are both Semitic languages, then I'll combine the two and translate it to: a shaken mixture. 

In any case, it was a friend of mine who continuously told me of his memories of Israel and eating shakshuka for breakfast. The poached eggs in a tomato sauce that boasted layers of complementary spicing served with fresh pita bread. I resisted.

Not because it didn't sound appealing, but as I mentioned I'm trying to focus on Egypt. But then he sent me a recipe for this dish. I figured why not. So one cold morning, I prepared it. And yes, I was hooked. I think I ate it for three or four days straight. I was so proud of my new discovery that I called my mother to tell her the good news. Before I had told her what the dish was called, she stopped me: "shakshuka? my mother made that all the time for me!"

Apparently my mother may have been a bit of a 'difficult' daughter and refused to eat meat. In an effort to stem any quarrels regarding meals, my grandmother would prepare shakshuka only for my mother so she too would have something delicious to eat. And that's how the meal got its prominence in that part of my family. 

After that, I asked other members of the family and they all nodded in agreement and confirmed to me that shakshuka is a popular dish as well, maybe not as popular as in Israel, or in the Maghreb, but definitely worthy of an entry.

But where did it come from? In Israel, it's thought to have come from either Libyan or Tunisian Jews. So then north Africa really is the origin of the dish. Over in Morocco, it's an egg tomato tagine, in Algeria it's called 'tchaktchouka' or 'tastira' by the Algerian Jews. In Libya it can be served with merguez sausage or dried lamb. And in Tunisia, it's similar to the recipe I'll be sharing with you.

There are variations from country-to-country in the spicing, but the spices I am using are cumin, paprika and cinnamon.

Just like tomatoes, paprika is a 'new world' spice from the Americas brought over by European tradesmen during the days of exploration. It's derived from sweet red peppers. It's not as spicy as the hot pepper; but instead introduces a sweeter heat. 

Because of  the Spanish explorers, many dishes in Spain have paprika. Given the proximity and mixing of cultures between Morocco and Spain, paprika was likely brought over to North Africa via migration, but also through trade between the Mediterranean countries. All that to say, paprika likely made its way into Egypt via other North African countries, since there are not many Egyptian dishes that use this spice.

Cumin is native to the Mediterranean and is found in many Egyptian recipes, as is cinnamon, and dates back to 2000 BC and was used by the Pharaohs.

As for the dish itself, it's hard to know how far back its history goes. It can't be too far back, since the base is tomato which, as I mentioned, is not native to the Mediterranean countries. Likely someone began making it in one of the Maghreb countries (Morocco/Tunisia/Algeria/Libya), and through traffic between the North African countries, found a home in Egypt. 

In keeping with simplicity, I'm not doing it the way that many of the cool kids are doing it: served in an iron skillet. It's a meal that is prepared and cooked in under 30 minutes, uses common ingredients in the house, and should be a no-sweat process. Meaning: not fancy, just tasty.

The key to making it really tasty is serving it with some fresh pita. My grandmother would add parsley at the end to give it just an extra layer of flavour, some people add feta which is also a nice addition.

____________________________________________
Total preparation and cooking time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 persons

INGREDIENTS:
1 onion - diced
5 cloves of garlic - chopped
(optional) 1 hot green pepper, or jalapeno- chopped
olive oil
1 can (500g) of whole plum tomatoes (or homemade stewed tomatoes)
1 tablespoon - ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon - paprika
1 teaspoon - ground cinnamon
water
fresh eggs
salt to taste
fresh parsley

_______________________________________________
DIRECTIONS

1. In a deep frying pan or pot, add enough olive oil to cover pan, then add onions, garlic and hot peppers

2. Sauté until onions are soft
3. Take pan momentarily off heat source
4. Add the canned tomatoes to the pan, but break up each tomato by crushing it with  your hand 
5. Add all the spices

6. Using the empty can of tomatoes (more flavour), add water so it is about half full
7. Add some of this water to to the pan so that the sauce is just a little runny, but not like a juice
8. Return to heat source and stir
9. Cover if possible, but if you can't, then just leave the pan on low heat stirring occasionally until the sauce is a little thicker and bubbling slightly
10. Try not to let the sauce boil too much; otherwise it could burn
11. After about 10-15 minutes, check on the sauce, if it is noticeably thicker then you can add eggs
12. Crack how ever many eggs you want into a separate bowl then pour each egg into a different area in the sauce
13. Leave the egg until it is cooked to your preference (ideally a bit runny on the inside).
14. Serve with some freshly cut parsley and bread

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dinner: Sherkasia/Sherkaseya (circassian walnut chicken)



Oh sweet mother of god is this dish amazing. I have been wanting to make it for a few years now. And I finally did it, and not only did I realise that it tastes just as wonderful as I remembered it, BUT it's also a lot easier than expected to make. Unfortunately the photo of the final dish (above) is one I took from a while ago, so not as good as I'd like...but you get the idea. I had recent ones but they didn't work out, so I will add new ones once I cook it again.

But circassian you ask? Ah yes....

During my last visit to Egypt, I strayed away from our usual go-to restaurants and came across a few memorable ones. One in particular had this dish on its menu. We all tried it and couldn't get enough of this dish. I then began to notice it on other menus. What really made it click for me though in terms of its place in Egyptian cuisine was while I was reading Naguib Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy. In the first book, set during the late teens early twenties in Egypt of the 20th century, the reader is brought to the home of a typical, muslim family living in Cairo. Without turning this into a literature review entry, one of the sons is married off to a woman from a very 'respectable' family, in that she is of Turkish descent, and thus lighter in colour, more European features, and ultimately privy to the culinary recipes of her people. While her mother-in-law is not so much a fan of her, she manages to win over the household with her Circassian Chicken meal...a dinner that ordinary Egyptians rarely get to taste in their lifetime, yet alone in their own home.

How did Circassian walnut chicken enter the repertoire of Egyptian cuisine you ask? Simple. The Ottomans. Let's not forget that Egypt was under Ottoman rule for  nearly 400 years. And the Ottoman empire stretched as far east to the Caspian, which included the region of Circassia. In fact, the region was well-known for its beautiful women, many of whom were married to the Ottoman Sultans and Persian Shahs. 

Walnuts themselves, originate from Persia, so it's easy to see how the nut got swept into regional cuisines.

When the Ottomans took over Egypt, many of its influences soon became part of Egyptian culture, including the food. As with other recipes I've written about, this is one of the ones that is not rooted in traditional and local ingredients, but it has a big place in terms of historical and cultural significance.

I asked around my family for a proper recipe for this dish, and either I got blank stares or warnings of how difficult it would be to prepare. Meh...I found a recipe and modified it to the taste I remember and through research in terms of its ingredients.

Many of the recipes I came across did call for mastic: arabic gum that originates from Greece, but found its way to Egypt since the Pharaonic times. When used in cooking, it gives a pine-tree flavour.

I opted to not include mastic in this recipe because it's hard to find in stores, and is not an ingredient most people will have readily available in their homes. Also, I don't think the pine-tree flavour will add much to this recipe.

It's a dish that can be prepared in a relatively short amount of time, and keeps for a few days afterwards. So don't worry too much if the portions seems large. You can either cut the recipe in half, or eat it, for a long time.

________________________________________________________
Total preparation and cooking time: 2 hours
Yield: 10 persons

INGREDIENTS:

Broth:
whole chicken
2 tablespoons ground garlic

2 onions peeled and quartered
salt / pepper
cinnamon stick
water to cover chicken

Sauce:
2.5 cups of shelled walnuts (not ground)
1/3 cup flour
2 teaspoons of ground allspice
broth from chicken

______________________________________________________

DIRECTIONS:

Broth:
1. Add chicken, ground garlic, onions, salt, pepper, and cinnamon stick to pot
2. Add enough water to cover chicken
3. Leave to cook for about 90 minutes, or until chicken is well cooked and broth is flavourful

Sauce:
4. While chicken is cooking, ground allspice if you have whole grains
5. Add flour to a dry frying pan on medium-high heat

6. Keep stirring flour to avoid from burning
7. Once flour starts to change colour, add ground allspice

8. Continue to keep stirring until spice mixture changes colour to a light brown
9. Take off heat and set aside
10. In a food processor or large bowl, add flour/allspice mixture
11. Add walnuts
12. Add one cup of broth to begin with

13. Purée mixture until it is fully blended and has a creamy texture
14. Keep adding small amounts of broth until you get the texture of a creamy sauce
15. Once sauce is done, set aside.
16. Take off all of the meat from the chicken, taking sure to avoid any bones or cartilage.

Serving:
17. In a large serving bowl, add all the chicken pieces
18. Add sauce on top of chicken and mix
19. Serve chicken and sauce with rice and some cooked greens or salad
20. Enjoy!



Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Lunch/Snack: Fiteer (egyptian-style pizza)

Snack/lunch: Fiteer (egyptian style pizza)




I'm not going to even try to comment or explain the long absence...suffice it to say that I do apologise. That being said, with all that's going on right now in Egypt, I thought I would focus on a recipe today that takes me to the serene and clear waters of the north coast.

It's a little slice of heaven, an area called Marsa Matruh, and not too far from Alexandria. Here the waters are crystal clear, the sand is fluffy and soft like powder and the villages are quaint, pretty much leaving you with nothing else to do but relax and look out at the waters. And fish.

The area used to be dotted with small fishing villages. My Uncle Fouad (Foo-Foo), told me that when they were younger, they would come up here for a few days of fishing and camping. It was the place to go for reconnecting with nature and escaping the chaos of Cairo.

Forward to the late 1990s, and the idea of restort towns and owning a condominium in the area is in vogue. My first introduction was sadly not to the quaint fishing village of said by-gone era, but instead a tranquil subdivision by the sea. In all fairness, it was beautiful, and simple. Not tacky (suprisingly) and serene. It was just on the sea and at your doorstep was the squeaky white sand and clear waters. That resort town is called Montazah.

However, the loud and obnoxious sister to Montazah is Marina. It's a quick drive away, and it's an overload of the senses....well last time I was there. Suped-up cars, music blasting loud enough to rattle anyone's bones, and young teens/tweens roaming around doing what they do best: talk loudly and and try to get noticed.

But back in the calm and serenity of Montazah, was a boardwalk along the beach. There you can find little stores and grocerers, and food for take-out. When I was there, we were in a big group with family friends, who go there often and knew what snacks were worth the effort to find. And so, while this may have been well over ten years ago...I remember this moment perfectly. We were all out late, sitting on the beach and someone ran to grab a snack. 30 minutes later he returned with what he termed 'egyptian pizza', called 'fiteer'.

It's essentially phyllo (filo) pastry, so flaky layers of buttery loveliness stuffed with either savoury or sweet fillings. In this case, we had both. One had icing sugar, raisins, nuts and shredded coconut, and the other had a type of local feta and vegetables.

To my surprise, when I got back to Cairo, a cousin took me out one day for lunch to a fiteer stand just down the street. And there it was in all its glory: a small hole filled with men hanging about. But you walk in and the guy behind the counter is busy stretching the dough. You say what kind of filling you want, he assembles it, throws into the oven and hands it back to you all wrapped and ready to eat.

Where does it come from though? Well let's remember that the dough is phyllo pastry that is just layered numerous times. So the phyllo pastry likely trickeled down from the Turks under the Ottoman empire.  The idea of stretching dough until it reaches a paper-thin consistency can be traced back to Istanbul, at the Topkapi Palace. This was the main residence of the Ottoman Sultans for nearly 400 years.

Prior to the palace kitchens, the idea of folding or pleating bread could be related to the earlier form of phyllo called 'yufka', which means 'thin' in an older Turkic dialect.

When the Ottoman empire took over Egypt in 1519, as has been the case with many other foods or beverages, the phyllo pastry likely fell into common practice.

Either way, just about every culture has a version of dough stuffed with something, so it's not that much of an original concept; but it's the local ingredients that make it unique.

In this case, savoury or sweet. But the local ingredients for savoury will include feta cheese, torshi (pickled vegetables), olives, tomatoes, cucumbers. The sweet one will have crushed pistachioes, dried coconut, raisins, honey, icing sugar and a local form of clotted cream.

I'll start off by saying buy your own phyllo pastry. I convinced myself it could easily be done at home, and while I did have a tasty version of it, it was not the same light consistency of a traditional feteer.

That being said, here is the recipe:

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Total preparation time: 1 hour
Yield: 2 persons

INGREDIENTS:
dough:
2 1/3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water

filling:
feta cheese (this is a popular egyptian feta brand...but any feta will do)

fresh tomatoes
torshi (pickled vegetables)
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DIRECTIONS:
1. Mix flour, salt and water together in a bowl












2. Keep kneeding by hand (you can use a mixer) until dough becomes smooth and stretchy





















3. Divide the dough into two equal parts













4. Shape into balls and grease with melted butter













5. Set aside for 15 minutes

6. Preheat oven to about 400 F / 250 C

7. Take one ball and cut into five pieces














6. Grease with butter (or oil)

7. Using a rolling pin, roll out each piece as thin possible

8. Once each piece is thin, try to further stretch it out by hand, taking care not to rip the centre

9.Once all pieces are as thin as possible (it takes a lot of patience and practice to do this easily), then you can assemble all the pieces together to make one big piece













10. Add your filling to the centre



11. Carefully bring up the dough to seal in the filling












12. Once it is closed, brush with melted butter and transfer over to a baking tray













13. Bake in the oven until it is golden (about 15 minutes)