Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Raisin Cake + New Friends

This past week, I did not write my weekly column for The Egypt Monocle. Sick and spent, I took the time instead to reconnect with my garden, to rediscover my other interests, to catch up on piles of reading and generally ignore the food world and social media networks. 
In this time, I lost seven followers on Twitter along with my appetite but made a new friend. I've only met her once but mobile technology has afforded us a faster way to connect without having to spend days and days at school, coaxing secrets out of one another. 
Thank you Abby for nurturing my tired spirit through your whatsapp messages, for allowing yourself to open up to me and for loosening me up in the process. I'll wait eagerly for you to make your mom's banana bread and share your memories in my kitchen.     

I found this recipe online but made a crucial mistake. I forgot to read the comments on the recipe and realized that the many who had tried it had instructed to add more milk. To save my cake from being a dry mess, I baked it for only one hour and ended up with a tender crumb, a thick crust and a beautiful sweet center. Next time (if there will be a next time), I'll try it out with the extra milk or will replace it with yogurt.  Right now, I'm going to sit my butt down on my couch and have a thick slice of this with a cup of tea with milk. 
Raisin Cake
(Adapted from the Sultana Cake at
You'll need:
250 grams of butter, softened
215 grams of castor sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
3 eggs
450 grams of plain flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
125 ml of milk (I recommend you use 150-160 ml)
385 grams of golden raisins
butter, to serve
Preheat oven to 170°C. Brush a 9 x 19cm loaf pan with melted butter to lightly grease. Line the base and 2 opposite sides with non-stick baking paper. Use an electric beater to beat the butter, sugar and vanilla in a medium bowl until pale and creamy. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition until the mixture is combined. Sift together the flour and baking powder. Fold half the flour mixture into the butter mixture and stir in half the milk. Repeat with remaining flour mixture and milk until well combined. Use a metal spoon to fold in the raisins. Spoon cake mixture into prepared pan and smooth the surface. Bake in preheated oven for 1 1/2 hours or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven. Set aside in the pan for 5 minutes before turning onto a wire rack to cool. Cut into slices and serve warm or at room temperature with butter, if desired.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Story of Chicken Liver

As featured in The Egypt Monocle

I like chicken liver. It is a recent attraction. For the first 20 or so years of my life, liver had not been deemed welcome in my vicinity. At the times I encountered it, I could only smell rust and decided early on that it was not the kind of smell I’d like to have in my mouth.
Growing up in the Arab world, liver was a dish that was bound to come up, at a dinner, as a mezze, at a family gathering, on many a street cart; it was too everywhere for my liking. “What does it taste like?” I’d ask over and over, too displeased by the way it looked to try it. My mom looked over as she neatly dipped her bread into the drippings visibly bored with my question, “the only way to know is to taste it, Sarah.”
My narrow mind was scornful. I didn't want someone to tell me it was good or to just put the grey meat into my body. I wanted to know, in a very matter of fact way, what it would feel like on my tongue. Would it stick to the roof of my mouth? Is it chewy? Why are we eating the chicken’s filter that clears its small plump body of evil toxins?
Later, I would start to notice things about the liver experts in my life. If the liver was grey and clumpy, they would pick at it and its watery jus. If it was brown and buttery, they’d take it in, wiping the plate down with a french fry, warm bread, anything that would sop up that extra grease. Especially interesting to me were those drippings that pooled at the bottom of the pan, hot and waiting to be soaked up by my appetite and my arteries. So I devised a way to understand the flavor and took the jump — a simple step to only dunk into the surrounding grease without having to eat the actual liver. Liking it, I realized that it was a little ludicrous to keep mopping up the fat and not the iron it could be supplying me with, the mild anemic that I was.
Taking a deep breath and saying a little prayer that I would not be compelled to spit it out in the middle of company, I carefully chose my first ever piece of chicken liver. Crumbly and creamy in texture, seared to give uniform color — brown and glossy, it had no trace of the distinct metallic smell I abhorred and didn’t have me grinding my teeth involuntarily to the taste of metal like I felt it would.
Of course, my luck didn’t stay and I have had some terrible livers since (one from my own kitchen), but my mind remains focused on the first one and in this way I can approach it over and over again with confidence, especially after having countless surreal chicken liver experiences in Lebanon.
This recipe is aromatic, warm and sweet. If you’re puzzled about the milk, it’s there to dull the edge of the liver flavor. This way, some, children included, might be more accepting of this slice out of a large array of offal. If you’re a liver lover, this step might not be necessary. In either case, make sure your pan is hot or you’ll end up with a plate of grey.
Garlic & Pomegranate Chicken Livers
You’ll need:
500 grams of chicken liver
1 cup of milk (optional)
1 tablespoon of ghee (you can also use olive oil)
Juice of ½ a large lime
2 dried chili peppers, sliced (eliminate the seeds if you can’t handle the heat)
3 large cloves of garlic, finely minced
½ teaspoon of smoked paprika
1 teaspoon of ground coriander
¼ teaspoon of allspice
1½ teaspoons of coarsely ground black pepper
1½  tablespoons of pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons of water
Salt to taste
Soak the chicken liver in a cup of milk for up to an hour. Before cooking, drain from the milk. Place a large heavy-based pan on high heat. Make sure your pan gets very hot before cooking the chicken livers. Pour in the olive oil once your pan is hot and carefully add the chicken livers. Cook on high heat until seared on all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside. In the same pan on medium heat, add the garlic, ground coriander and dried chili into the leftover olive oil and liver drippings. Cook until the garlic is soft then add the paprika, allspice and coarsely ground black pepper. Season with salt then pour in the pomegranate molasses and water. Leave to cook on for a minute then pop in your seared chicken livers. Toss to coat the livers and cook off for another minute or two.
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