Monday, October 10, 2011

Coconut milk mussels & unlikely flavors

My latest for The Daily News Egypt
There's an odd story recanted to me that goes like this: A four year old girl, upon returning to Cairo and being invited along with her parents to her relative's house for dinner, glared intensely at the thing presented at the table then slowly moved her head sideways to blankly stare at her mother. “Mommy, it's fish with eyes.”

I had never seen fish with eyes at a dinner table before, only boneless fish fillets and fish fingers coated in breadcrumbs before delicately frying up to crispy tenderness. Fish with eyes belonged in gleaming fish tanks, also in the big blue sea. They ate the bread you would throw at them, similar to the ducks at the Giza Zoo that I too used to love feeding; and if you were feeding something, it would be unthinkable to fish it out and consume the thing, eyes and all. I bet I was thinking, “Why are people eating fish with eyes and not the fish fingers that are so much more humane?”
That sensitive being that was me was repulsed by the fresh oysters her parents loved and didn't like much other than pizza. Of course, I still have a penchant for pizza but have thankfully moved beyond thinking that shells belong solely on a beach to be collected by little girls in frilly swimsuits.

Getting a little older, I would sit at the table with my feet dangling off the chair and eat bone marrow from the mutton curry I'd share with my father. Since the dish didn't have eyes or a face, it didn't strike me as strange or disgusting. It was just a bone; nothing there to give it personality.

Today, vegans would hate me. I prefer to cook my fish with eyes and happily whistle as I look down at the dead body staring up at me. Without a second thought, I stick my fingers under a chicken's skin to butter it up before it's placed in the rotisserie. I try to coax as much flavor as possible out of all that I've bought. I make shrimp stock out of the heads and peeled shells and leave the tails on for presentation. My childhood empathy is lost when I try to maximize flavors. Am I so wrong?

If I'm not going to become a vegetarian or even a vegan overnight purely because of my selfish love for meat, then I would think it the honorable thing to do — to cook not only quality cuts but also those neglected cuts of meat and join the nose to tail eating movement. Fergus Henderson, an English chef and father of nose to tail eating, explained his philosophy in an interview with the Daily Telegraph newspaper some years ago: “It seems common sense and even polite to the animal to use all of it. Rather than being testosterone-fuelled blood-lust, it actually seems to be a gentle approach to meat eating.”
It seems today that inviting people for dinner comes along with beautiful beef fillets from a moist tenderloin but lacking at the table are slow-cooked briskets and seared livers, chicken and beef, spiced up and served right off the stove. Elegant guests shudder at putting their lips to a bone and most unstylishly drawing in the insides as they would the contents of their sparkling drinks.

If you too aren't planning on becoming a vegetarian anytime soon, open your mind up to the countless cuts presented to you on a daily basis and create something new. Introduce your young children or narrow-minded friends to seafood besides fish and teach them to appreciate fish still attached to the bone. You'll end up with copious ideas for meals and will probably, at times, spend a little less on the cuts of meat that most people aren't buying.

This recipe bathes the mussels in coconut milk and doesn't need much more than good bread and a cool night that holds the promise of winter.

Coconut Milk Mussels
You'll need
4 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 bird's eye chilis, sliced
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
2 cups coconut milk
1 cup of water
salt and pepper to taste
1 kg of mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
Handful fresh coriander, chopped

Pour the oil into a large pot over medium high heat. Add the onions to the pot and cook, stirring often, until lightly browned. Add the minced ginger and sliced chili and cook for a minute, stirring constantly. Add the coriander, turmeric and chili powder and cook for another minute, again stirring often.

Pour in the coconut milk with one cup of water. Bring to a boil and then add the mussels. Add some salt and pepper and stir until the mussels are well coated. Cover the pot, reduce the heat and cook for about 7 minutes. Turn off your heat. Add the lemon juice and coriander and spoon into bowls. Serve.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

LadyBrille's Woman of the Month

Hello, hello. Dropping in quickly to let you guys know that I've been chosen as LadyBrille's Woman of the Month October 2011 for this blog that started as a self-improvement project and continues to be. Here's the full interview. Thank you, LadyBrille. I'm honored to be a part of this growing list of inspirational women. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Poached Pears in Spiced Karkadeh

There was a minor issue troubling me concerning a certain bottle of karkadeh lounging lazily in our fridge. No one wanted to drink it. We had both had our fair share of it in Ramadan and this bottle menacingly promised to stay until next Ramadan. I couldn't pour it down the sink because I carefully carry Karkadeh all the way from Cairo. It would be a little more than insulting to my poor suitcase to throw it away. So today, I had two pears left and decided to poach them in a spiced karkadeh. It turned well.  Really well.  
Below is my column featuring this recipe in The Daily News Egypt dated Saturday, 15th, 2011.

This week in Egypt carries the weight of crisp white cotton shrouds and the shiny wooden caskets of those we lost.

Silence descends as I listen to the news, to the wailing of women at the morgue abruptly deserted in life by their sons. I, stunned by the recent events at Maspero, position my fingers on the keyboard to make my mark, pound out my thoughts into 140 characters on the Internet. Three days in, it never comes and instead, a rising fear throttles my voice.

A Spanish proverb springs to mind - don't speak unless you can improve on the silence. I stay quiet but is the stagnantly comfortable Egypt I left behind three years ago gone or does it remain?

Throughout the past 8 months, I have often become despondent – my faith slowly faltering until I could only see loss in the promotion of new ideas revolving around our cuisine, our food culture and in keeping our land clean, away from the chemical companies who, once producing agent orange and stain-resistant carpets, are now feeding us genetically modified foods and controlling a high percentage of American seed. Since almost complete domination of the American markets, these companies view Africa as an ideal spot to continue to bring close the complete control of the world's food supply.

How can we protect ourselves let alone the well-being of our farmers? How many of us are educated enough and more importantly, interested enough to be aware of the dangers concealing themselves behind the pretty picture of strong and vibrant corn fields? How many of us know about giant agri-business, corporate farming and how it's run?

What I'm sure about is that we will start seeing many smaller farms looking to gain a place in the huge agricultural market instead of competing with the big boys. Our agriculture will be sold off and owned by others because of something as simple as selling the rights to our old seed to create a new genetically modified one.

And what of the homeless children? If they aren't going to school or learning anything at public school for that matter, will we leave them to grow into glue-sniffing, prostitute-peddling adults or what we now like to call “thugs”? With the number of NGOs in Egypt, I'm surprised that not one has created a cooking school to teach homeless children and give them careers, turning them away from the grime of fixing cars for almost nothing or worse.

The kitchen will teach almost anyone work ethic – show up on time, stay sober, keep clean, overcome anger and you're set. Sadly, we are not so concerned about our homeless just as we aren't about our farmers. Egyptian food industry plays no part in helping out the community, away from serving free food during Ramadan and if they are, no one knows about it.

The upcoming generations need skills or they'll end up in the street, fighting for a mere semblance of a life and dying an untimely death. Again.

I, like many Egyptians, have ideas but don't know what to do with them anymore or where to start so instead, I sharpen my own skills, hoping that one day I'll be able to do more good with them than cook in my own kitchen and talk to anyone who'll listen.

Trying, as ever, to come up with better ideas for the ingredients presented to us in Egypt, this pear recipe put a skip in my step until noticing, only two nights later, that most Egyptians won't notice my pure and organic pear, steeped in deep red, just like they aren't noticing the blood-stained sidewalks because they choose not to look. For what it's worth, try this out and share in this week's bitterness tinged with a sweet glimpse of hope.

Poached Pears in Spiced Karkadeh

You'll need:
2 medium sized pears
3 cups of pre-made karkade
1 cup of water 
2 cinnamon sticks
3 star anise 
1.5 tablespoons of candied mixed peel
Peel your pears leaving the stalk on. If you prefer, you can halve the pears through the center. Pour the karkade and water into a large pot. Add the cinnamon and star anise. Bring to a quick boil and reduce the heat immediately. Allow it to reach a gentle simmer. Plop your pears and candied peel into the simmering karkade. Cover the pot. Turn your pears occassionally to make sure they're fully immersed in the liquid. Cook for 15-18 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove from the pot. Serve hot with warm karkadeh or cold with some nuts and ice cream. 
Related Posts with Thumbnails