Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Middle East + Central Asia - Chickpea Salad (Uzbekistan)

Full disclosure:  I'm not completely sure this dish is actually from Uzbekistan.

Facts I knew about Uzbekistan
  • It is a former Soviet Socialist Republic.
  • It is very mountainous and dry.
  • Most Uzbeks are Muslim.
Fake facts I knew about Uzbekistan
  • Uzbeks are very nosy people with bones in their brains.
Facts I thought I knew about Uzbekistan, but turned out to be wrong
  • The president named the months of the year after himself.  (Actually, this was Turkmenistan, and it was really only one month named after him, and one named after his mother, but still it's a little strange.)

As you can see, I was off to a flying start, here.  Enter the Internet!

Facts I learned about Uzbekistan after 10 minutes of research on Wikipedia
  • It is one of two doubly-landlocked countries.  (The other is Lichtenstein.)
  • There is a very good bicyclist from Uzbekistan, named Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, who is also known as "The Terror of Tashkent" for his propensity to weave back and forth in crowded sprints.
  • Uzbekistan is the world's third-largest exporter of cotton.
  • The average summer high temperature is 104ºF (40ºC) and the average winter low temperature is –9ºF (–23ºC).
  • Uzbeks eat a lot of sheep and noodles.

The more you know!

Armed with this knowledge, I was even less sure about the legitimacy of this dish, as is contains neither mutton nor noodles.  However, it did taste good, and all of the ingredients seemed legit to my uninformed and possibly stereotypical view of Uzbek cuisine (root vegetables and dill and rye are kind of Russiany, right?  And Uzbekistan was kind of Russiany for a while...).

First, steam up some chopped kale (cooked spinach would work, too—just make sure to drain the spinach before using).   Once cooked, set aside.

Next, get about a cup of cooked chickpeas (canned are fine).  In a large saute pan, heat up some oil over medium heat; I used some chili oil, but any oil would work (you could always add a bit of crushed pepper to spice it up).  Once the oil is hot, add the chickpeas and cook, stirring occasionally, until they've started to brown.

While the chickpeas are cooking, start your grain of choice.  Rice is the suggested accompaniment, but I used rye berries because they seemed more interesting and no less traditional (traditional used rather loosely).  You want roughly half as much grain as bean, so I used about 1/4 c. rye berries to 1/2 c. water, bringing it all to a boil and then simmering until the grains were tender.

Once the chickpeas are all crispy and golden, empty them out onto a paper towel-covered plate, to absorb some of the excess oil.  Wipe down your saute pan, add a little more oil, and return to the heat.  When the oil is hot, add a tablespoon each of black sesame seed and caraway seed, plus any crushed pepper of your choosing, to the extent your tastebuds can handle (I used a sprinkle of Aleppo pepper).  Chop up half an onion, finely mince a couple of cloves of garlic, and peel and chop the root vegetables of your choice (I used two small carrots, sliced into rounds, along with a turnip and rutabaga that were roughly diced into quarter-inch cubes).  When the seeds begin to sputter, add the onion and stir, cooking until it is just softened.  Then mix in the garlic; when the garlic is fragrant, add the carrots/turnips/rutabaga/whatever, plus a teaspoon each of ground cumin and coriander, and stir to coat. Pour in 1/4 c. water and cover, letting it simmer until the vegetables are almost tender.

Finely chop a large bunch of dill (a good 1/2 c., packed).  Uncover the pan and add the kale; let cook until almost all of the liquid (if any remains) has evaporated, then add a quick slurp of cider vinegar.  Mix, taste for salt and adjust as necessary, then add half of the chopped dill; let it all cook, stirring occasionally, until the turnips and rutabagas are done.  Mix in the cooked rye berries and chickpeas, along with the rest of the dill, and let everything heat through.  Do a final taste and adjust for salt, dill, or vinegar as needed.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir through a large dollop of sour cream or yogurt.  Sprinkle on even more dill, if that's what you fancy.  The dill's the limit.

The rye berries help make this a solid dish, but it also goes well with hunks of bread, and I imagine it wouldn't be remiss wrapped up in a pita or similar bread-like contraption.  Or, enjoy with actual hunks, if you happen to know any.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Eastern + Central Europe - Pierogis (Poland)

Welcome to 2012, dear readers!  May your year be full of health and happiness and good food and also good booze if you're into that sort of thing!

For my first post of this, the most newest of years, I am actually discussing a dish made last year.  And while I am not one to dwell on the past, the food was actually very good, so it is less dwelling and more...reminiscing?  Fondly remembering?  Something like that.

This dish is, in retrospect, dedicated to my paternal grandmother, who would have been crowned queen of the Cranky Old Ladies if they were a sovereign nation (and now everyone knows where I get my crotchetiness from—you're welcome, Mom).  However, she did try her damnedest to get me into crocheting and knitting, and while it didn't take while she was alive, something eventually stuck and here I am.

Like my version of pierogis, my grandmother was half Polish and half Irish (the Polish side always requested that we bring her pussy willows on Dyngus Day, and the Irish side got mad at me for being excited to study abroad in England because Cromwell, murder, potatoes, etc. etc.).  You can fill pierogis with most anything, including fruit if you're feeling festive and desserty, but I stuffed mine with bubble and squeak, which isn't terribly far removed from the more traditional potato and onion.  For directions on making your own bubble and squeak filling, check out my post here (just don't cook the mixture and be sure to chop everything finely, otherwise you'll have a battle on your hands when you reach the stuffing stage); I mixed things up a bit by replacing the cabbage and spinach with kale and Brussels sprouts, but you can use whatever greens you have on hand.

For the dough, I basically just used this recipe, but I thought the dough needed a bit of extra water (though I think that was mostly caused by evaporation of the 3/4 c. of water I boiled).  I also thought that letting the dough rest was a brilliant touch, and it made the kneading easier—it should feel like soft pasta dough when you're done.

 Divide up your dough into 4 or 5 pieces, and roll out a piece until it's about 1/8 inch thick; make sure your work surface and the dough are well-floured, because the dough will want to stick.  Using circular cutters of whatever size you choose (or water glasses, if you're not that fancy), cut out as many circles as you can manage.  Use a dessert spoon to put a little dollop of the filling in the center of each circle, then fold up the sides and pinch the edges together; I am an inveterate overfiller, so this part is sometimes difficult and takes some finesse and practice.  You also can press the tines of a fork along the edges to help seal them, plus it gives this nice little decorative touch that I am usually too lazy to do.

When all your little pierogis are stuffed and sealed, put them in some gently boiling water (if it's too roiling, your wee packages could burst) and cook them just until they float to the top.  While your pierogis are cooking, heat up some oil in a wide, shallow pan; once the dumplings are done, transfer them to the hot oil and let them fry up until slightly brown, turning once or twice.

I served these with some sauerkraut and sour cream (sauer cream?) and they were very tasty.  They were so tasty, in fact, that I didn't get any pictures of them and my leftover dough went weird after too much time in the fridge.  However, I heartily commend these to you as a super satisfying, hearty meal full of starch and goodness.  And if you serve them to someone you're wooing and slap them with a pussy willow while singing a brogue, that would be a strange way to woo someone, but best of luck to you with that.

Also, as my way of apologizing for my lack of pierogi pictures, here's the ol' PanCat, looking smooth in his pretty ribbon.

And yes, ladyeez, he's single!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

North America + The Caribbean - Jerked Pumpkin Soup (Jamaica)

This blog has an authenticity problem.

Specifically, I have trouble posting anything that hasn't been vetted by a reputable (read: has a last name to match the cuisine or some other arbitrary criteria I make up on the spot) source.  This vastly limits what I can post, because I am not really one for following recipes, and too much improvisation moved the food too far from my predetermined authenticity zone.

However, I've decided to get over it and allow some leeway when it comes to Things That Go on the Blog.  I'm not going to make kimchi and try to pass it off as Scandinavian, and the whole point still is to actually learn about regional foods, but working in generalities, as is my usual wont, is good enough.  Low expectations, ladies and gents!


This recipe is inspired by a delicious soup I had during a family brunch over the holidays.  While in Columbus visiting the in-laws, we ate at a delightful little place called Skillet, which is all about that local, seasonal, sustainable food movement that the hippies and The Husband are always talking about.  My main dish was a root vegetable hash, which was good but not terribly memorable (mostly because I am a Brussels sprout purist and think that tarting them up with herbs and spices makes a sow's ear out of a purse, in a weird but profoundly apt mangling of a phrase).  The soup, however, which I ordered mostly because I wasn't paying and therefore needed to eat as much as possible, was smooth and creamy and spicy—the perfect mix for a crisp November day in the Midwest.  (Is Columbus even considered the Midwest?  Ohio is a confusing geographic anomaly.)

I couldn't find a recipe for an actual jerked pumpkin soup, so this is what I came up with after reading several descriptions of jerk spice and then promptly forgetting half of it.  Also, it's not an actual pumpkin soup, because the pumpkin on our counter had hardened off so much that I couldn't get a knife through it; rather than risking carpal dismemberment trying to saw through my Cucurbita spp., I just used a Kabocha squash whose skins had not yet worked its way up the Mohs scale.

Roast your squash/pumpkin however you like; I sliced it in half, scooped out the seeds, placed it cut-side down in a baking sheet with a little bit of water, covered with foil, and baked at 400ºF for about 45 minutes.  (Definitely check occasionally, though, because I was pretty close to overdoing it.)  When soft, remove from the pan and let cool.  Once it's manageable, scrape out the flesh into a bowl and put aside.  You could puree it in a food processor to smooth it out, but skipping this step means one fewer thing to wash, so I left the squash rustic and lumpy.  (Also, this soup is pureed after cooking, so the lumps aren't even an issue to begin with.)

While your squash is resting, make up the jerk spice paste.  In a pestle and mortar (or food processor, if you are futuristic and good with technology), mix up two pinches of allspice, one pinch each of cloves and cinnamon, and several good scrapes of fresh nutmeg (or a tiny pinch, if using ground).  Add in two or three minced cloves of garlic, a couple of turns of the black pepper grinder, and some heat of your choice to your degree of tolerance—I used a big pinch of Aleppo pepper, along with a pinch or so of chipotle pepper, but you can also use finely diced fresh chiles of whatever sort you like.  Most recipes also called for some amount of onion/scallion; I had meant to use a shallot, but the one I swore we had seemed to have disappeared, so I left it out.  Grind everything together to crush and coat the garlic, then add a squeeze of orange and mash up some more.  You should have a wet, but still cohesive, paste by the end, so go easy on the citrus.

Chop up half an onion and an additional clove or two of garlic.  Heat up some oil in a large pot, then add the spice paste and cook for about a minute.  Mix in the onion and cook until just soft, then add the garlic and cook until fragrant.  Dump in the lot of squash and mix thoroughly, then add about 1/2 c. veg broth and 1/2 c. coconut milk.  Mix well, smoothing out the lumps of squash as you go.  Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and let simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes.  If the soup seems too thick, add more broth and/or coconut milk.

While the soup's a-simmerin', toasted up some pepitas.  I prefer heating them up on the stove, because you can keep the seeds moving so they don't burn (and all the tossing makes me feel like some superstar chef), but the oven works, too.  Or you could just buy them pre-toasted, if you are a big spender like that.  After they've popped, but before they are brown, remove from the heat and hit them with a tiny sprinkle of salt.

When the soup flavors have fully melded, break out your immersion blender (or do small batches in a food processor/blender) and puree until smooth and all the onions are dissolved.  Taste and adjust seasonings (specifically the allspice and chiles, but also salt, depending on the sodium content of your broth) as needed.

Ladle into bowls and top with the toasted pepitas and a sprinkling of cocoa nibs.  Manchego-cheese crostinis (slices of toasted baguette topped with shredded Manchego, then broiled until the cheese is brown and bubbly) make a nice, if thoroughly unauthentic, touch.

An additional swirl of coconut milk adds a level of unctuousness, or creme fraiche might be nice (though that would un-veganify it).  The jerkiness intensifies over time, which is coincidentally what also happens to people (though I suppose "cantankerousness" is a better term, especially if my goal in life is to grow up to be a curmudgeon.  And by "grow up," I mean "already am").

Saturday, September 24, 2011

East Asia - Kitsune Udon (Japan)

This post is dedicated to my dear friends at Sake Puppets, who, in between pretending what are clearly not moths are Mothra and hassling cats and giving me night terrors, have requested that I post something involving ingredients that exist in Japan, because apparently they live in a city of umpteen-million people and like seven grocery stores.  Or something.  So, of course, I went with the dish with the cutest name: kitsune udon.

Red (Source)

Kitsune means "fox" in Japanese, and foxes are a big part of Japanese folklore.  They are crafty and smart and magic and sometimes have multiple tails, which means they are the craftiest and smartest and magic-est foxes of all.  Foxes sometimes take the shape of pretty ladies, and also sometimes possess ladies, which is creepy, but they are so adorable, all is forgiven.  Kitsune udon gets its name from the tofu, called aburaage, which is both the color of fox fur and is a favorite food of kitsune.  It's also often cut into triangles, like wee little fox ears!  God, don't you just want to eat all this up?  (Yes, you do.  Because it is both tasty and squee.)

Fennec. (Source)

In its purest form, kitsune udon is just tofu, noodles, and broth, with a sprinkling of sliced green onions.  If you want a traditional kitsune udon, the kind offered to shape-shifting fox gods, then just ignore all the frippery I added to mine.  I like to think that the kitsune are OK with my desire to be more nutritionally balanced with my meals.  Also, traditional kitsune udon calls for aburaage, which is thinly-sliced deep-friend tofu, also called tofu pouches (atsuage is the same thing, only more robust in slice).  It's relatively easy to find in Asian groceries, but I wasn't about to hike it out to the suburbs to buy some, so I just used regular, extra-firm tofu that I fried up in a little oil.  Again, not exactly authentic, and it probably wouldn't appease any vengeful vulpines, but it did make my life a lot easier.

Bat-eared. (Source)

To start, you will need dashi broth.  Dashi is a common Japanese soup stock made by boiling together kombu (dried kelp) and bonito flakes (shavings from katsuobushi, a fermented tuna).  You can make a vegetarian version by omitting the fish scrapings.  I made mine by soaking a 6-inch piece of kombu with 6 c. of water, a few dried shiitake mushrooms, and a couple of slices of ginger together overnight.

Arctic. (Source)

If you are using aburaage/atsuage, you'll want to rinse the tofu with boiling water to remove any excess oil and allow to drain.  If you're making a rough approximation yourself, pan-fry slices of tofu in a little oil until golden brown.  Then, in a saucepan, mix together 1 c. dashi broth, 1 T. sugar, 1 T. mirin, and 2 t. soy sauce.  Bring to a boil, add the tofu, and simmer until the liquid is reduced by one-half.  While your tofu is a-simmerin', cook your udon noodles: boil some water, add the noodles, then add a cup of cold water when the water returns to a boil (this helps the noodle cook evenly).  Repeat until the noodles are done, then portion out into deep bowls.

Grey. (Source)

[If you're going the sort-of-authentic route, skip this part.]  In a saute pan, heat some oil and fry up a couple cloves of minced garlic until fragrant.  Add roughly chopped broccolini and cook until the stems are tender.  Toss in a handful of snow peas and stir.  Add some sliced bok choy and cook until everything is done to your liking, then add a dash (or two or three) of teriyaki sauce and let that cook down.  Remove from the heat and save until everything else is ready.

Mulder. (Source)

For your noodle broth, mix together 4 c. dashi, 2 T. soy sauce, 1 T. mirin, 1/2 t. salt, and 1 t. sugar.  Heat until warmed through, but do not let it boil.  When hot, ladle some over the noodles, then top with the tofu (and vegetables, if you are sacrilegious).  Add chopped green onions and shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven-spice powder) to taste.


Enjoy while making a silent prayer to Inari, one of the main kami (spirits) of Shintoism who is a friend to all the foxes, for either fertility, rice, or worldly success, depending on what sort of thing you're into.

Oh, and Ang?  This is Mothra:

Even Godzilla's all, "Whoa, dude—I'm just hanging out by the greenhouse, hatching an egg.  IT'S COOL."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

British Isles – Yorkshire Gingerbread (England)

Fall in the desert is a tricky proposition.  We don't really have any leaves to change color, and it can (and does) stay in the triple digits well into October.  The past couple of years, it seemed as though summer just blended into winter, and while winter in the desert is fantastically lovely, those of us raised in climes with actual seasonality end up feeling a little cheated with our paltry excuse for an autumn.  However, miracle of miracles, I am sitting here, in mid-September, with the windows open, and it's really quite pleasant.  However however, because I've become my grandmother, I check everyday (actually, I haven't really become my grandmother, because she has only a vague understanding of the existence of the Internet, and clearly has no idea what even is or how one would go about checking it, but I think you get the point) and I have seen that the triple-digit temperatures are creeping back, and soon.  So, to celebrate this briefest-of-brief respites from the intolerable heat, as well as our triumphant return home, and to welcome, if a little prematurely, what passes for autumn, I made gingerbread.

Specifically, I made Yorkshire gingerbread, and I nicked the recipe from an episode of Two Fat Ladies, who I adore, even if they would not adore me and my vegetarian leanings (also, one of them is dead, and so her adoration is a little out of my league, now).  I'm pretty sure that this is one of maybe a half-dozen recipes that I would even venture to make, my shady vegetarianism notwithstanding, because most of the things they make are terrifying.  Need a good Christmas dish?  Why not make the mousse of the egg, which is basically just hardboiled eggs and gelatin?  Or just whip up a batch of lettuce, onions, and peas, because boiling is really the best way to capture the nuances of romaine lettuce.  If you're feeling particularly fancy, stuff prunes with chickens' livers and cook them in hot sauce and butter.  (Or something.)


The original recipe calls for black treacle, which is either similar to or the same thing as molasses, depending on who you ask.  Not knowing who to trust, I went out a bought what seemed to be an acceptable substitute:

This, as The Husband kindly told me, is proof that I'm not [redacted]ing around.

Ok, so first, preheat your oven to 325ºF.  Line with parchment paper and grease up an 8x8 or thereabouts baking tin.

Now, a quick word re:baking.  Some people (the Two Fat Ladies included) are of the opinion that baking is an exact science, and that anything other than precise measurements and faultless attention to detail will spell doom and destruction for your baked goods.  I am of the opinion that this opinion is a load of old collywobbles.  I am willing to concede that you may end up with a different product if you don't follow the instructions to a T, but I long ago abandoned any pretense to exactitude and I haven't yet ended up crying into any failed cupcakes.  The recipe I share here isn't exactly what the Two Fat Ladies suggested, and all measurements are approximate, but I was pleased with the results AND I finished a lot quicker than I would have if I did things like own a scale and weigh out ingredients and fret.

Alright, so in a large bowl, cream together 1/3 c. softened butter (I used vanilla butter, but any unsalted butter should do) and 1/3 c. dark brown sugar.  Beat in two eggs, then add 1 generous c. blackstrap molasses and mix well.  Slowly (to avoid making a mess) mix in 1 1/3 c. flour, 2 T. ground ginger (or more, if you want a supergingerbread), 1 T. ground allspice (which I didn't have, so used roughly a teaspoon each of cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg), a couple of pinches of salt, and 1 t. baking powder.  When it's all properly mixed and luscious looking, pour into your prepared tin and bake for 25 minutes, or until the top springs back when pressed.  [Note:  the original recipe said 50–60 minutes, but I have never trusted my devious oven, so I check things pretty regularly and lo and behold, it was springy well before the halfway mark.  If your oven is of the more trustworthy sort, 25 minutes may not be enough.  The lesson here:  anthropomorphize your appliances and imagine traitorous dealings.]  Let cool completely in the tin, then remove and cut into squares.  They get better with time, so long as you keep them in an airtight container, and apparently are at their best between 48 and 96 hours post-baking.

This is what you should end up with.

Moist and cakey, with a good crumb; I was a little skeptical of the whole "let them sit for awhile and NO YOU CAN'T EAT THEM YET," but I do think their time in the (faux)tupperware was good for them.  Gave them a chance to sit and think about what they'd become.

What they've become, incidentally, is delicious.

Oh, and if you happen to have some fresh cream that you just happened to add the tiniest bit of vanilla sugar to and then whipped to put on top, you can almost forget that 103º days are forecast in less than a week.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Tiny Hiatus

Just a little FYI that the scuttlebutt around here might be a bit quieter than usual for a couple of weeks.  I am housesitting, with all the attendant issues regarding cooking in a strange kitchen, as well as pulling 12-plus-hour days sitting somewhere that is not here, so I'm not quite sure if I'll find the time or ability to do much exciting cooking for a little while.

In the meantime, though—what region(s) should I focus on next?  It's only been a couple of days, but I'm already getting a hankering for some complicated cookery!  And plotting the cooking is a good substitute for actual cooking in a pinch.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Western Europe - Gazpacho (Spain)

I can't remember the last time the high temperature for the day involved fewer than three digits.  Of course, this isn't a surprise.  What is a surprise, though, is that this summer doesn't seem nearly as bad as my previous Phx summer, during which I spent much of my time begging for the sweet release of death, or maybe just a cold spell.

I haven't been able to figure out why I'm tolerating this go-around better.  Has this summer been less horrible?  Or, God forbid, am I getting used to this?  I mean, it is still all quite terrible, and I have been dreaming of fall ever since July, but I do feel like I've been less angry at the weather this year.  Maybe I'm just mellowing out in my old age?  The mind boggles.

The other possibility is that I've learned how to better co-exist with the blistering heat, in that I no longer do things like try to bake bread in an oven that expends more heat than it uses to actually cook things.  We've changed our dining habits to better include foods that don't require constant hovering over the stove or that can be made in non-stove appliances (like toaster ovens).

The best way to win the food battle against the sun, however, is to just eschew cooking at all.  Enter gazpacho!  No heating elements are required, and it's fantastically simple and easy.  This recipe was given to me by a friend from Spain, and it's actually her mother's recipe, so you know it's legit.

First, you're going to need tomatoes.  A lot of tomatoes.  At least two pounds.  Lucky for those of you who live in areas with normal growing seasons, you should be flush with tomatoes now.  I used Roma tomatoes, because they are good and meaty, but any tomato, so long as it is fresh and ripe, will do.  You can even mix tomatoes, if you are into that sort of thing.  Quarter and de-seed your tomatoes (you can also peel them, if you're dedicated).  De-seed and roughly chop both a green and a red bell pepper, along with a cucumber (I used a Striped Armenian cucumber, which didn't require de-seeding, but if you're using a standard hothouse cuke with large seeds, you might want to de-seed this as well) and about 1/4 an onion.  Peel some garlic, as much as you'd like (I was told that proper gazpacho should be right garlicky, so I used almost an entire head).

Blend all the chopped veggies together in a food processor to your preferred chunkiness (depending on the size of your food processor [or the amount of vegetables you're starting with], you may need to do this in batches).  I like my gazpacho hearty, so I only run the food pro until everything is just diced, but if you want a smooth soup, let it go for longer and use a food mill to strain out the seeds and skins (you can also add a little water to each batch if you want to thin it out a bit).  Mix in vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar) and salt to taste; note that the vinegar flavor will become more pronounced after it has chilled, so stop just before you get to your preferred tang, and don't be surprised if you need a lot of salt—it can take it.  Pop it into the fridge for 15–30 minutes to chill and allow the flavors to meld together (you can certainly leave it for longer, if you want a really cold soup).

You can drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top, or add ribbons of fresh basil (as I did).  Served with a grilled cheese sandwich, it makes for a refreshing lunch or dinner on a triple-digit summer's day/eve.  Take that, desert heat!