Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Partner in the Kitchen & a Smoked Herring Salad

My kitchen was an empty place - one that was mine alone and while I enjoyed it for a long while, it was becoming lonely. M then stepped in with his booming voice and his adventurous palate, bringing back the excitement. I began to realize that maybe I needed to watch someone start from the beginning again - to test out flavors that worked or didn't, to read about ingredients with an eagerness that had fallen into a semi-slumber inside of me.  Maybe what I needed now was a partner in the kitchen; one who would challenge me, push me to try techniques I was being lazy about. So here's M's first recipe on Buttered-Up - a recipe that I genuinely love and can eat over and over and over again, especially when he's sitting right beside me with his mouth full; when we're grinning at each other and at all of those flavors popping in our mouths.

Smoked Herring Salad
You'll need:
250 grams of smoked herring fillet
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2-1 teaspoon of chili powder, depending on your tolerance
Zest of one lime
75 grams of fresh coriander, chopped
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
salt to taste
Slice the smoked herring fillets into bite-sized pieces. In a bowl, mix together the red onions, scallions, lime zest, lime, chili powder, olive oil, black, pepper & salt. Add the sliced smoked herring and fresh coriander then toss together gently. Serve by first plating the fish mixture then pouring on the remainder of the dressing.  

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Guest Post: Matters of the Belly

I enjoy connecting with other Egyptian food bloggers, maybe it's because there aren't many of us; maybe because I can't seem to find enough Egyptian ladies interested in the kitchen the way I am.  I recently found another kindred spirit and thought I'd share. Noha Serageldin is new on the scene. Starting in August, she's already got a bunch of posts for you to consume and her pleasant, friendly voice comes through -  genuine, honest with a constant urge to learn. Support her on her journey and connect with her directly on her blog Matters of the Belly, on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter & on Pinterest. Here's Noha below. Make sure to try out her recipe. 

I have a borderline obsessive love for eggplants. So much so, that I seriously contemplated calling my blog ‘The Anxious Aubergine’ before settling for ‘Matters of the Belly’. I kid you not. There is something quite magical, I find, about how its spongy and seemingly inedible interior in the raw state transforms into this incredibly creamy, sweet and earthy flesh once cooked correctly. As I mentioned before on my blog, I was one of those weird kids who always loved  vegetables... growing up, just the mention of Moussaka or Fattah for lunch always got me excited. 

Not much has changed since then… if anything, my love for vegetables has continued to grow as I have… and now, I am always on the lookout for new ways to enjoy them. Especially eggplants. Technically, the eggplant is a fruit from the berry family. I know, shocking right? However, I refuse to call anything a fruit if it cannot be part of a fruit salad (you heard me, tomatoes), so I shall proceed to refer to it as a vegetable. Go ahead, tell the veggie police… I like to live on the edge.

This recipe is inspired by a classic Turkish dish called ‘Imam Bayildi’, which translates to ‘the Priest fainted’. Legend has it that a Turkish Imam fainted when his new wife prepared him this dish; some say it was because of how delicious it was, others claim that what caused him to faint was the fact that the dish used up all the olive oil in his dowry. You see, traditionally, the eggplants are meant to be fried, and anyone who has ever cooked with eggplant before knows that it is a SPONGE for oil, and sucks up obscene amounts if you allow it. As tempting as that sounds, I choose not to fry them, for the sake of my expanding waistline. Also, the original recipe is vegetarian, whereas in my version I add minced beef to the stuffing, which is how we have always made it in our household.

As it always is with family recipes, this one has evolved and changed each time I make it, resulting in a version I can proudly call my own, yet still reminds me of the Imam Bayildis of my childhood. Our family cook of over 30 years, whose name is Iman, liked to joke that this dish was named after her, and called it Iman Bayildi. I still call it that, and it never fails to give me a warm, fuzzy tingle in my heart each time I do.

Iman Bayildi (stuffed Eggplant)

Prep time: 20 min          
Cook time: 25-30
Servings: 2-3


2 medium/4 small eggplants
250g minced beef
3 tbsp olive oil plus extra for drizzling
1 medium onion, finely chopped 
3 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp cardamom
½ tsp sumak
3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
¼ cup raisins or sultanas
Salt & pepper to taste
250ml tomato puree (I use store bought passata, but any tomato sauce will do)
2 tbsp pine nuts
½ tsp ghee (optional)
Fresh basil or mint leaves for serving
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Wash & dry the eggplants, then slice each lengthwise in half. Using a vegetable peeler, peel the skin, leaving a 2cm border along the edge (as shown in photo). If you are using smaller eggplants, you may leave the skin on if you like, but mine were on the larger side so the skin could be too tough and bitter. 

Using a spoon, scoop out about a third of the flesh of each eggplant half, then set aside. Chop up the scooped up flesh into small pieces (to be used in the filling).

In a large non-stick pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and onions. Cook until softened, about 5min. Add garlic, cook until fragrant, about 1min. Add the minced beef and cook until colour changes. 

Add the chopped up eggplant flesh and the spices, cook until the beef begins to brown. Add the pomegranate molasses & raisins, season to taste and remove from the heat.

Using a spoon, stuff the eggplant halves with the mixture. In a baking tray, pour in the tomato puree/sauce, and arrange the stuffed eggplants on top. Drizzle liberally with olive oil and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the eggplant is soft and slightly golden. 

If the stuffing is browning too fast, you may cover the dish loosely with some foil.

Meanwhile, in a small non-stick pan over low heat, melt the ghee if using and add the pine nuts. Cook, stirring continuously until golden. You may do the same without the ghee (dry toasting) if you wish, but the ghee just gives it the most amazing flavour. 

When the eggplant is ready, remove from the oven and sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts and basil/mint leaves. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Hot Cinnamon Drumsticks

Now that I'm working with a regular schedule like most people (which I haven't done in 7 years), it is not a matter of choice anymore that I make food days ahead to snack on during work hours. At first I tried to do the apple/banana & nut butter thing. I ate raw almonds in bulk. I drank and drank and drank herbal tea. But all day? No, thank you. There's only so much you can take before you hear your insides wail, telling tales of personal tragedy, aching for grease. 

For a few days, I ordered what I would call nothing else but crap with the 21 year olds at the office but in reality, my body at 30 does not feel like it's 21. 

Maybe it should. Maybe I'm not doing enough. Maybe I should. 

So I started trying. I had already managed to go for 2 months without refined sugar, honey & yeast (which is a story I should tell in the next post). This had to be the next level - maintaining what I had already started with a few exceptions here and there. 

At this stage, I'm doing okay. No more crap. Clean eating. Happy body. Sort of self-satisfied me. Oh & here's a recipe that I like a lot: 

Hot Cinnamon Drumsticks
You'll need:

1 kg of chicken drumsticks
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup of vegetable oil + 3 tablespoons for cooking
1/4 cup of honey
1 tablespoon of mustard
2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
1 teaspoon of ground ginger
1.5 teaspoon of chili powder
2.5 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
250 ml of chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
Salt to taste

Excluding the chicken drumsticks, beat the rest of the ingredients in a bowl. Add the chicken and marinate for at least 8-12 hours.

Place a large frying pan on the stove and heat until medium hot and separate the chicken drumsticks into three batches.

For the first batch, brown on all sides then add approximately 80 ml of chicken stock and lower the heat. Cook for around 10-12 minutes until the chicken stock dries up entirely & the chicken is tender & nicely glazed.

Continue to turn the drumsticks to gain even color for another 1-2 minutes on medium heat.

Repeat with the next two batches. Allow the chicken to rest before serving.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Garlic Confit

At the soft opening of Chef's Market, we were given a giveaway bag - embossed wooden spoons, a copy of the menu and closest to my heart, a little jar of garlic confit paste. I used it all - in grilled cheese sandwiches, the simmering molokheyya on my stove, vinaigrette, pasta, winter soups and hummus dip. It was my companion, tender and fragrant, adding that extra bit of oomph when time was not on my side.

A little saddened at its end, I washed the jar and put it away hoping that one morning, I'll get up and remember to make that garlic confit, golden, nutty and sweet, like its predecessor. 

Today was the day. I didn't make it into a paste this time preferring to keep the plump cloves intact, submerged in the oil that flaunted its new caramelized notes, tucked away safely in the same jar. My garlic confit jar. 

A thank you to the chefs at Chef's Market. Good stuff. 
Garlic Confit
You'll need:
1.5 cups of peeled garlic
2 cups of vegetable oil
3 black peppercorns
4 white peppercorns

Place the garlic and peppercorns in a pot.

Pour the oil over your garlic and pepper mix.
Cook over low heat for 40 to 45 minutes or until your garlic is soft and you have reached your desired color.
Store chilled, submerged in the remaining oil. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Banana-Mixed Nut Espresso Smoothie

I was never one to turn down cake, especially if I was alone with it; if I was able to bite into its soft crumb with my gaping mouth that struggles to keep the frosting off my nose. On other days, it is the butt of a baguette with salted butter and a sticky glob of honey, scarfed down in seconds until there is none. 

It has been weeks. Three of them. No sugar, no yeast, only discipline. Surprisingly, at least to me, I am a happier human. I have more energy. I smile more often. It almost feels like a better side of myself has decided to drop by. 

On a Saturday, I dropped by the farmer's market at Arkan where I ran into these ladies running a branded booth, Fino'sthat made all kinds of nut butters. For a moment in which I moped, I was told that they add honey to their products. A little heavy-hearted, I asked a question; the kind of question that would normally irritate me. 

Out loud, higher pitched voice: "Do you have anything that is unsweetened? No sugar? No honey? Nothing?"
Old Me to New Me: "Are you really turning into that woman on a diet/with an allergy/that can't accept a product the way it is and buy or walk away?"

But it turns out that people are nice sometimes (or maybe I need to socialize more often) and that these ladies do cater to my selfish needs. I ended up with a mixed nut butter; dense, smooth, rich, clean, good. I'm sold.  
Banana Espresso Smoothie
You'll need:
400 grams of frozen sliced bananas
2 1/2 heaped tablespoons of mixed nut (almond, hazelnut, cashew) butter
2 shots of espresso (Substitute: 1 1/4 tablespoons of espresso powder)
1 1/2 cups of milk
7-10 ice cubes, depending on the size
Honey to sweeten, optional (I did not use any so will be unable to give a measure.)

Blend, espresso, bananas, milk, mixed nut butter and ice. Serve.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mom's Cinnamon Rice

The recipe I'm sharing today is one of no fuss because Egypt really doesn't need to be any more difficult than it is right now. We need simple pleasures - ones that assure us that the sun will continue to shine despite the plumes of smoke in gradients of grey rising in our city's sky; pleasures that remain firmly fixed in our transient memories. 

My mom's cinnamon rice. Scents of family gatherings, leftovers ravaged after a late night out and Ramadan. Familiarity and inner peace. A safe place to be. 

Start your way to inner peace too, if only for a moment or two with a little bit of beef, an onion and some ghee. 

Cinnamon Rice
You'll need:
350 grams of ground beef
1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped
450 grams of short-grain rice, soaked for 30 minutes
3 tablespoons of ghee
2.5 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
Pan-fried almonds to garnish 
In a large pot, melt 2 tablespoons of ghee on medium heat. Cook the onions until translucent then add the ground beef. Cook the ground beef until browned. Add the cinnamon in the last 5 minutes of cooking the beef. 

Add 3 cups of water to the beef and leave to simmer for a minute. Rinse the rice to remove extra starch and add the rice to the beef.

Stir then season with salt and add the last tablespoon of ghee. Bring to a rapid boil then turn down the heat to a flame. Cover the pot and allow to cook for 20 minutes or until the rice is cooked through. Once cooked, place in a serving dish and garnish with toasted almonds. 

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