Mexico: Pollo en Mole Negro

#11 Mexico /México : Mole Negro Chicken with Rice / Pollo en Mole Negro Oaxaqueño con Arroz

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Similar to Chinese food, most Americans (that I know, at least) seem to have some knowledge and opinion about Mexican food.  “Mexican food is too spicy.” “Mexican food is too greasy.”  “Mexican food is basically just tacos.”  “Real tacos use ground beef and a flavor packet.”  “Taco Bell isn’t real Mexican food.”  “You have to go to California or Texas for real Mexican.”  The list goes on.  Mostly because I am making it up and I haven’t necessarily heard these things said aloud before.  But, the point is, as one of the two bordering countries of the continental USA, most Americans are exposed to Mexican food, and either tend to think we know a lot about Mexican or next to nothing.  I stand somewhere in between.  Before researching Mexican food, I was aware that ‘real tacos’ didn’t involve ground beef simmered in a powdered spice blend from Ortega topped with shredded “Mexican cheese”… and that they typically were fresh proteins combined with lime juice, cilantro, radish, and other garnishes.  I love both versions, by the way.  But I mostly only knew about tex-mex Mexican cuisine.  I definitely didn’t know about regional Mexcian cuisine.

So moving on from my preconceptions about Mexican food I discovered that Mexican Cuisine is a UNESCO designated Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.  And it is the only cuisine to be featured on the list.  So why is that?  I started to look more into Mexico itself.  Mexico borders the United States, Belize, Guatemala, the Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea.  Mexico has diverse weather systems due to the split in climate between temperate above the Tropic of Cancer and the tropical below.  Geographically, Mexico has mountain ranges, large valleys, and miles upon miles of coast.  According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, Mexico’s racial/ethnic breakdown is 65% Mestizo (a word originating from the Spanish caste system meaning of mixed European and Native American ancestry), 17.5% Amerindian (primarily Native American), 16% White, and 1% other.  I am going to probably have to stop myself here, because I find Mexican ethnic and national identity to be incredibly interesting… but imagine you are ready to hear more and see more about the food.  But I will say that Mexico was comprised of many advanced cultures/civilizations before European settling.  The most notable were the Aztec, Mayan, and Zapotec civilizations, but there were many other intricate cultures.  But, Europe did settle Mexico and Mexico is now the largest Spanish speaking country in the world.  The integration of the native Mexicans and Europeans, combined with the natural resources, is what I believe makes Mexican food so special.  Many food items now commonplace in Europe and the rest of the world are originally from Mexico… notably chocolate and tomatoes.  Yep tomatoes.  Tomato is actually an Aztec word.

Ingredients native to Mexico make up a large part of Mexican cuisine, including: corn, rice, beans, and chili peppers.  But with colonization there was an increase in the use of herbs and spices, cheese and other dairy, and meat from farmed animals.  Mexican cuisine is highly regional.  So it’s time for a brief breakdown of some of the important regions.  Northern Mexican cuisine includes a wide varieties of cheese and grilling (influenced by European ranching techniques.)  This includes Cabrito… young goat on a spick slow cooked for eight hours, which looks a bit like something from a horror movie – but I am sure tastes delicious.  Yucatan cuisine comes from the Yucatan peninsula on the east coast.  Yucatan cuisine has roots in Mayan cuisine influenced by the Caribbean, the Mexican Valley, France/Europe, and the Middle East.  Some distinctive dishes and flavors include tropical fruits, cochinita pibil, achiote paste, and even Schwarma Tacos.  Western Mexico has one of my favorite stews, posole – a pork stew with hominy (a preparation of corn/maize used for centuries, most frequently to make masa harina) and carnitas (pork slow cooked in lard/my favorite option at Chipotle).  When did lard become such a stigmatized word? Western Mexico is known for menudo, the tripe stew, not the band that gave us Ricky Martin.  Oh, and don’t forget tequila (unless you feel the need to purposefully forget tequila).  Veracruz and Ciapas both are worth mentioning, and as I write this entry, I promise myself I will return for more Mexican dishes.  But some of the most striking areas for Mexican cuisine are central Mexico/Puebla and Oaxaca.  Mexico City and Puebla are where you find the most famous of Mexican foods and the most influence from the rest of Mexico and the world at large.  This area is home to Mexican adobos, pipian salsas, and moles.  Adobos are the Mexican version of Iberian (I can’t tell you if it is Portuguese or Spanish) sauces with vinegar and chiles.  Pipian salsas use toasted/fried seeds and nuts(usually at least pumpkin seeds) and grind them to thicken complex sauces.  And moles, or at least Mole Poblano, is the national dish of Mexico.  Which brings us to Oaxaca: the land of the seven moles.  Or six moles, or one hundred moles, it all depends on who you ask.  Oaxaca could have its own blog entry (or book) but we will just say, here, that Oaxaca maintained much of its indigenous cuisine while embracing contributions from Spain and other empires.

So what is a mole?  I tend to think of mole as similar to the mother sauces of French cuisine.  A mole is a traditional Mexican sauce made of chiles and pretty much anything else you want to add.  Mole poblano is, by far, the most well known, and includes chocolate (in addition to several chiles, nuts, and seeds), and is probably why many people believe a mole is just a Mexican sauce with chocolate.  But there are seven famous moles in Oaxaca: amarillo, chichilo, coloradito, negro, manchamanteles, rojo, and verde.  I decided to make negro, which does happen to use chocolate.  We deserve a little chocolate with dinner, right?  Also, as a side note… moles are typically saved for holidays and special occasions… which I came to understand better when I tried to follow a traditional preparation.

Mole Negro:

 Ingredients:

  • 1 whole chicken cut into parts, or legs and thighs (you want something with some bones to get more flavor into the stock)
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 2 medium sized onions
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 whole allspice berries
  • a few peppercorns
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 2 dried chile de arbol
  • 5 dried chihuacles negros chiles
  • 5 dried guajillo chiles
  • 4 dried pasilla chiles
  • 4 dried mulatto chiles
  • 2 dried chipotle chiles
  • 1 ripe plantain
  • 1/4 cup almonds
  • 1/4 cup pecans
  • 1/4 cup peanuts
  • 1 stick cinnamon (preferably Mexican canella – but I forgot to stock that)
  • 5 tomatillos, husked and halved
  • 3 plum tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • 2 slices pan de yema, or other mexican bread – or just any bread if you don’t have access, or want to make bread just to throw it in a blender)
  • 4 oz. mexican chocolate (you can use the types marketed as hot chocolate tablets)
  • 1/2 cup lard or vegetable oil

Directions:

There are many steps, and many ingredients, to making a mole, but my preparation can roughly be divided into:  preparing the chicken and stock, preparing the chile mixture, preparing the everything else mixture, and combining/cooking it all.  So let’s start with the chicken.  Wash the leeks you happen to have in your fridge and want to use in something even if it isn’t authentically Mexican, and give it a very rough chop.  Quarter the onion, and roughly chop the carrots and celery.

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The leek looks pretty too, right?  Anyway, combine the vegetables with the bay leaf, allspice, peppercorns, cloves, and chile de arbol, in a large saucepan or stock pot.  Add about 10 cups of water to cover all the ingredients by an inch or so.  Bring the pot to a simmer, and let cook for 40 minutes to an hour, or until the chicken is cooked and tender.

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Strain the soup, discarding the vegetables and putting the chicken aside.  I apparently didn’t take any pictures of the finished stock or chicken… but I can assure you it looked incredibly average and soup-like.  So let’s move on to the chile mixture.  I started off by trying to remember which chiles were which, and if I had the right types.  I’m pretty sure I was close, but probably not totally on point… but (spoiler alert) the dish ended up tasting delicious anyway.  So, I would advise you not to stress too much about making sure you have all the right chiles, I am sure there are plenty of substitutions you can make.  My second piece of advice is to either use rubber gloves, or just be careful not to touch your eyes/face/any part or any sensitive part of your body.  And be sure to thoroughly wash your hands when done working with the chiles.

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Slice open the chiles, remove the stems, and deseed them, reserving the seeds in a separate bowl.  This step alone takes more time then I realized.

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Then heat a large heavy skilled over medium heat until hot.  Add the chiles and toast, pressing them down and flipping them over, with tongs.  You want the chiles to blacken in spots, but not burn.

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Place the toasted chiles in a large heat-proof bowl.  Cover the chiles with boiling water and let sit for 30 minutes.

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While the chiles are soaking, toast the seeds in the same skillet and return to a bowl.

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Cover the seeds with boiling water.

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After 30 minutes, the chiles should be pretty soft.  Blend the chiles in batches with just enough of the soaking water to totally puree them.

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Add back a cup or so of the chile mixture to the food processor, and blend with the seeds.

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Mix the rest of the chile puree with the batch in the food processor.  Remove the mixture from the food processor and press it through a fine mesh sieve.

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First up, grab the plantain, peel it like a banana, and cut into half inch slices.  Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat with the oil.  Once the oil is hot, fry the plantain, flipping once, until golden brown on both sides.

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Remove the plantains and add to the bowl of stuff to be pulverized.  Then fry the nuts and cinnamon stick for a few minutes, until the cinnamon open up and nuts take on some color.

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Then add them to the bowl.

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Next toss in the garlic cloves, tomatillos, and onions.  Fry them until they start to char a bit, but don’t incinerate.

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Do the same with the tomatoes, but they will take less time.  Then fry the sesame seeds until browning, this will only take a minute or so.  Try to scoop the sesame seeds out with a strainer, and try not to throw your camera into the hot oil.  After almost burning yourself and your possessions, throw everything in the bowl.

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Next, toast the slices of bread.

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Add the bread, along with the contest of the bowl and about half a cup of stock, to a food processor or blender and puree to a paste-like consistency.

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Almost looks a bit like a loose peanut butter, like one of those organic natural peanut butters.  And now we have all the components to actually cook the mole.  Heat two tablespoons of oil or lard in a dutch oven or heavy pot over medium heat.  Once the oil is hot, add the chile mixture and fry, stirring constantly, until the mixture has reduced by about one third.  This should take about 15 minutes.

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The mixture should start to darken and actually look like something that should be called mole negro.  At this point, stir in the blended mixture and cook for another 10 minutes.  Then stir in a cup of the stock, reduce the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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The lighting got worse as the night went on.  The mole wasn’t as red and ketchuppy looking in person.  Next roughly chop the chocolate and stir into to the mole.  Allow the mole to simmer  for another 20-3o minutes.  Mole should be thick enough to coat a spoon but not too gloppy (that’s a professional word).

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Luckily I took some pictures of the chocolate before it got dark.  And before I inhaled it.

Reheat the chicken, cover with the mole, and garnish with some sesame seeds.  Serve with rice… I added some Goya Sazon into my rice water and it turned bright yellow, salt packed, tasty, and more legit looking.

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Bonus Recipe:  Pan de Yema!

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I took the recipe straight off of this GourmetSleuth.com website, who got it from a cookbook called Mexico the Beautiful Cookbook. I just changed it around a little for my bread making tastes.  I am a big fan of making my own fresh bread, and feel comfortable enough to mess around a little with ingredients, but there was no problem with the original recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp instant yeast
  • 1/2 cup  lukewarm water
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 6 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup (or one stick) unsalted butter (melted)
  • 1/2 tbsp salt
  • eggs
  • egg yolks
  • 2 tsp fennel seed
  • One extra egg for egg wash
  • Sesame seeds for garnish

Directions:

Mix all the dry ingredients (yeast, flour, sugar, salt, fennel seed) in a large mixing bowl (or the base of a stand mixer).

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Then lightly whisk together the wet ingredients (eggs, water, and melted butter).  Mix the wet ingredients into the dry, until it forms a rough ball.  The knead for about 5-10 minutes, or use a dough hook in a stand mixer for 15 minutes or so.  The dough should be a smooth, elastic, and greasy ball.  Transfer the ball to a large bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let it rise for about an hour, or until it doubles in size.  Remove the dough from the bowl, and knead for a second, cut into two equal sized portions, and form into balls.

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Place the balls of dough on a parchment line sheet pan.  Make an egg wash by whisking an egg in a small bowl.  Brush the egg wash over the dough.  Then cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let it rise until it doubles in size again.  When the dough has doubled in size, brush it again with the remainder of the egg wash.  Slice the top of the bread with a knife, and sprinkle with sesame seeds.  Place on the middle rack of an oven preheated to 375 degreed fahrenheit. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until golden brown.

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Remove from oven and let cool.

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The Verdict?  Mole is phenomenal.  Mole is all about balance and a lot of different flavors working together.  Despite a ridiculous amount of chiles and chile seeds, the end product isn’t too spicy.  The seeds and nuts give the sauce a very earthy taste, and the chocolate is subtle – which can be a positive or negative thing, I suppose.  If I went for a less traditional approach, I would consider grilling or roasting the chicken… boiled/simmered chicken isn’t my favorite preparation.  But it was nice that it fell right off the bone.  As another side-note, you could put this mole sauce on pretty much anything without a strong flavor (I wouldn’t put it on swordfish or steak or something that could stand alone, as it easily dominates what it covers.)  The recipe also makes enough mole to cover your next five meals.  So I suggest you freeze some, and reheat for a ridiculous luxurious weekday meal.

Also – I suggest serving it with a traditional (?) Mexican cocktail.  I went for the Paloma:  a combination of grapefruit juice, lime slices, and tequila.

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The finished cocktails disappeared too quickly to take pictures of them.  I dare you to tell Sous Chef or Sous Chef’s coworker (who was witness to this Mexican adventure), “Sure, you can have your cocktail as soon as I take several pictures of it.”  Or to tell me the same.

Up next:  A change in the blog.  As you may have noticed, or as my Mom and a few loyal readers may have noticed… I suck at updating this blog frequently.  So I am changing things up!  Cooking international dishes has never been my issue, just writing the posts and trying to research the countries to my own approval.  Since I spend so much time just writing and getting ready for a country, I am going to start posting more than one recipe for each country, with less lecturing.  You are welcome.  So next post:  Mas Mexico!  This time, the Yucatan Peninsula.

Fusion on the Fives: Russia and Nigeria

Nigerian Solyanka:  нигерийский соля́нка (I only used Russian because I think the Cyrillic alphabet looks cool)

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Wow.  It has been a while.  But here we are again… Fusion on the Fives!  My (probably unnecessary) random number generator has assigned a fusion of Russian and Nigerian cuisines.  These are countries with pretty different cultures and climates.  So I decided to do a spin on a Russian soup that I considered featuring in the previous Russia post, and integrate some Nigerian flavors.  The result was Nigerian Solyanka… you know… for those cold Nigerian winters.

Solyanka is a spicy and sour soup from Russia, well originally from the Ukraine… but I won’t get into that discussion.  What most attracted me to solyanka is its use of pickles (real pickles – dill pickled cucumbers) and olives.  I am a fan of pickles, and Sous Chef is an even bigger fan of pickles.  Most recipes I found for Solyanka emphasized salami and coldcuts, but emphasized this is a soup to put all of the random meats and produce you have laying around.  I decided to combine a bunch of the recipes I saw around with the Nigerian method of making jallof rice, because why shouldn’t your tomatoes be fried and spicy?

 

Ingredients:

  • 1lb chuck beef (or any stew meat), cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 7 oz. hard salami, diced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 5 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 habanero peppers (or other spicy pepper such as scotch bonnet), chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 3 large dill kosher pickles, chopped
  • 5-10 olives, roughly chopped
  • 2 carrots, sliced into ¼ inch slices
  • 2 ribs celery, sliced
  • handful of peanut
  • maggi chicken broth cube (or other chicken broth if you hate multiculturalism)
  • 3 oz. tomato paste

Method:

Start by gathering your ingredients together (in the most picturesque way possible, of course).

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Peel and deseed the tomatoes (no need to  go crazy, just get rid of a few of the seeds preferably).  Core and deseed the peppers.  Throw them all into a food processor and pulse until a smooth liquidy paste forms.

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Put the tomato mixture in a medium sauce pan over medium heat and reduce the mixture until it thicker, and a richer red color.  You are just trying to get rid of some of the excess water from the tomatoes.

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Then, in a separate saucepan, heat about 1/4 cup oil over medium heat, add the onions, and saute until translucent.

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Once translucent, add the tomato mixture to the onions and stir.  Then stir in tomato paste.

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Cook over medium heat until the tomatoes start to separate from the oil and they seem thoroughly fried.

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Place the tomato mixture (now called tomato stew) in a fine sieve and allow some of the oil to drain.

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In a dutch oven or large sauce pan, because you can never have too many dirty dishes, add 2 tbsp palm oil, and heat over medium-high.  Add the meat cubes and brown.

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(Look at the color of that oil.)

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Allow the meat to brown more than this:
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Bring the soup to a boil and reduce to simmer.  While the soup is heating up, chop up and add the pickles and olives.

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Allow the soup to simmer for 1 hour or until the beef is tender.

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Try to skim off some of the oil from the top of the broth.

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The longer you let it go, the more rich the flavor will get.

Serve with chopped peanuts.

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The Verdict?  Not my most beautiful dish, but the flavor profile was great.  The olives and pickles added a great briny quality that regular salt wouldn’t achieve.  The tomato stew really gave a depth of tomato flavor totally different from tossing in a can of chopped tomatoes or fresh tomatoes.  Maybe Nigeria and Russia aren’t as far apart as they seem.  (Or maybe they are but both have good food).  Next up:  Back to the Americas with Mexico!  And I swear it won’t take another several months for the next update.

 

 

 

 

Japan: Miso Soup, Sashimi, and Japanese Curry

#10 Japan /日本 : Miso Soup, Sashimi, and Japanese Beef and Vegetable Curry

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Time for another first.  The first meal prepared from a different kitchen.  And a different state.  I decided to tackle Japanese cuisine from the Outer Banks, North Carolina.  Because who doesn’t pack fermented fish flakes in their luggage?  And is a vacation really a vacation without the guarantee of umami?  I guess everybody has their idea of what vacation is, and mine, now, certainly includes cooking in paradise.  So we are off to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Japan is an archipelago across the Japanese Sea from China, the Korean Peninsula, and Russia (apparently).  Though Japan is made of over 6,000 islands, 97% of its landmass comes from four large islands.   Of Japan’s islands, over 73% is forested, mountainous, and unable to be used for business, housing, or agriculture.  This somewhat harsh landscape causes the inhabitable lands, primarily located along the coasts, to be highly densely populated, with Greater Tokyo being ranked the largest metropolitan area in the world.  Ethnically, Japan is pretty homogenous, with over 98% of the population being Japanese.  The climate is primarily temperate.

Japan’s long history and geography have a great impact on traditional and modern Japanese Cuisines.  The long history of Japan has fostered an appreciation for the methods of consuming and preparing food and beverages in the country.  Japan regards tea ceremony, an elaborate and intricate traditional method of tea preparation and consumption, an art – the Way of Tea.  The composition of a traditional Japanese meal is also very standardized and regimented.  Japanese meals are almost certainly served with a bowl of steamed rice in the center, along with a bowl of miso soup.   From there, separate bowls containing various and numerous sides are often added.  But the rice and the miso soup are key.  Japanese geography, placing its people primarily along the coasts, coasts that are abundant in fresh fish, had established fish as a staple of the Japanese diet for hundreds of years.  This is, of course, a simplification.  The Japanese eat more than fish, rice, and miso soup… but the tradition is certainly there.

To illustrate Japan’s cuisine, I of course divided my meal into several parts.  Because… why make a meal easy just because you are on vacation?  I certainly can’t think of a reason.  Well, other than that nagging reason of the potential pitfalls of cooking while drinking, and possibly missing a sunset.  To start off my meal I went to the most traditional and ever-present dish of Japan – miso soup.  Miso soup is a dish that traces back hundreds of years.  Miso soup is prepared by first making a dashi broth and then adding miso paste.  Dashi broth is an essential broth used in many areas of Japanese cooking.  One might boil vegetables in dashi, boil fish in dashi, or of course use it as the base of miso soup.  Miso paste is a fermented soybean paste…which may sound kind of gross, but, trust me, you will probably love it, and have likely already tried it in some form.

After I prepared the miso soup, I moved on to sashimi.  Sashimi is kind of the cousin of the more familiar Sushi.  Sushi is a much larger group of products, where the fish is not always raw, sometimes no fish is involved, and there is always a vinegared rice component.  Sashimi, instead, is always freshly sliced raw fish or meat.  Typically sashimi is accompanied by a dipping sauce – often some soy sauce mixture.

The third dish I decided to try is Japanese curry.  I chose Japanese curry for four reasons: (1) to  try to blow away some of the preconceptions about Japanese Cuisine (2) to show foreign influence on Japanese Cuisine over the past hundred years or so, and (3) because it is often called a national dish of Japan and is eaten very frequently, and (4) because I had never even heard of it.

So let’s get into the details:

Miso Soup:

Ingredients:

  • 3 pieces Dried Kelp (Dashi Kombu)
  • Bonito Flakes
  • Miso paste
  • Green Onions
  • Dried seaweed

Directions:

Take a few sheets of your dried kelp and cover with 4 cups cold water in a large saucepan.

dashi kelp

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Turn the heat on the pan up to medium, and allow the water to slowly come to a simmer, never coming to a full boil.  This dried (super appetizing) kelp is where you get the notorious Japanese umami flavor.  This is the healthy MSG.  Although if you taste the water at this point, it won’t taste like much at all.  Let the kelp hover around almost-boiling for a few minutes.  The kelp should become more pliable, and look slightly more like food.

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Then remove the kelp.

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Turn the heat off on the soup, and it’s time to add the bonito flakes.   The bonito flakes I used were in little packets made for small batches of dashi like this.

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Bonito flakes, btw, are the product of skipjack tuna that has been boiled, smoked for weeks, infused with mold, aged more, and eventually dried out and shaved.  I prefer to think of it as just dried fish flakes.  But, in case you were wondering, it is much more complicated and … gross.

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Allow the bonito flakes to steep in the soup for about five minutes.  Then remove the bonito flakes from the soup with a strainer.

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Now you have dashi!  The only thing you need to make miso soup, at this point, is to add the miso paste.  Just put the soup back on the stove on low heat, and stir in the miso paste.

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Once the miso is in, you have miso soup, and can add whatever you want to it.   I went with some traditional green onions, shredded daikon, and dried wakame seaweed.

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Stir in the extras, and serve warm, with rice.

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The second course was the Japanese curry.  There are tons of ways to make Japanese curry – from the proteins and vegetables you use, to the level of heat, to the method you prepare it.  I went for beef, carrots, potato, and the curry cube method.

Japanese Curry:

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium potatoes cut into chunks
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 daikon radish, sliced thin
  • 1 carrot, sliced thin
  • 1 packet curry sauce mix
  • ½ lb stew meat cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 tbsp. canola oil
  • 2 ½ cups water

Directions:

Brown the meat in the oil on medium-high heat.

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Once the meat is seared, add the onions.

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Saute the onions until they begin to take on some color.  Then add 2.5 cups water, bring to a boil, and lower to a simmer.  Allow the onions and meat to simmer until the beef is nice and tender.  Then add the rest of the vegetables.

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Let the vegetables simmer until tender (about 10-15 minutes).  Then add the sauce cubes, and let simmer for a few minutes to thicken.

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Serve with rice.

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And onto the third part of our dinner – the star of the night.  It also had little preparation, so I can’t take too much credit.  For the sashimi course we served sushi grade tuna.  One of the many benefits of vacationing in the Outer Banks of North Carolina is access to great, often cheap, fresh seafood.  Here is the piece we bought.

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Gorgeous, right?  All I had to do was slice it up.  I could try to describe how I cut the tuna, but it would be a disservice to Japanese cuisine.  Slicing sashimi and sushi requires precision and is a real art form at its peak.  But… that being said… just slicing up some great fish pretty thin will be delicious regardless.

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The pile of fish cut into chunks was set aside for a tartare the next day.  Of course.

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For dipping purposes, I served the tuna with soy sauce with ginger and daikon.

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The Verdict?  All thumbs up from my fellow vacationers.  The miso soup was a nice start to the meal – light, flavorful, and simple.  The curry was great.  It is not as spiced (in heat or flavor) as an Indian curry might be, but is full of complex flavors – it manages to taste like curry and soy sauce at the same time… it’s wonderful.  The sashimi was a crowd pleaser.

 

And from the land of the rising sun to the house of the setting sun: next week will be the second installment of Fusion on the Fives.

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Russia: Shchi, Marrow, and Zakuski

#9 Russian Federation / Российская Федерация: Shchi Cabbage Soup, Marrow on Rye Bread, and Zakuski

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So we are up to Russia, the first European (or at least kind of European) country.  When I think of Russian food I tend to think of borscht and vodka.  It turns out borscht actually originates from Ukraine.  Luckily, vodka is as pervasive through Russian culture as stereotypes might make you think.  We will get back to that, but first, the basics.  Russia is the largest country in the world by area, and not by a small margin.  Russia spans nine time zones and many different climates (including tundra).  About 77% of Russians live west of the Ural Mountains, an area often called Western or European Russia.  Over 80% of Russians are ethnically Russian.  Russian cuisine is primarily a reflection of the (oftentimes difficult) environments that make up the country.  Russian cuisine is also affected by the large span of the country.

Oftentimes Russian cuisine is divided into the traditional cuisine of Russia and Soviet Cuisine – which would include the many countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union or USSR. For this post I concentrated on traditional Russian cuisine – as I plan to have individual entries for each Soviet country that separated from Russia.  Traditional Russian cuisine has its foundation in peasant food, often emphasizes soups and stews, and uses many ingredients that are preserved to last through the cold winters – such as pickled vegetables and fish, and smoked or salted meats.  This brings us to the first dish I decided to make – Shchi.  Shchi is a cabbage soup often considered a national dish of Russia and has been a staple food for Russians since the 10th century.

The next part of the meal I decided to make was Zakuski.  Zakusi is not as much of a dish as it is a course.  Zakuski consists of many types of traditional hours d’oeuvres served before a main meal.  Zakuski is almost always served with vodka – the word literally translates to “something to bite after.”  Basically Zakuski is somewhere between an appetizer and an alcohol chaser.  For my Zakuski, I served some cold vegetables and pickles with some bone marrow on rye bread (we had to include something kind of weird, right?)

Shchi

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 head cabbage shredded
  • 1 large peeled and coarsely grated carrot
  • 2 ribs celery
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Black peppercorns to taste
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 russet potatoes, chopped
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Couple tablespoons fresh dill
  • Sour cream

Directions:

Start of by grabbing a whole bunch of vegetables:  cabbage (of course), onion, celery, carrot, potatoes, and tomatoes

Russian cabbage

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Then chop the onion, celery, and potatoes:

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Those ugly bits of the potato are fine (at least in my book).

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Be sure to quarter and deseed the tomatoes.

Grate the carrot..

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And you should have most of your mise en place.  Time to get back to the humble cabbage.  You can shred a head of cabbage in tons of different ways… but I prefer to quarter it and shred it using a mandolin.  Mandolins are great tools for making slaws or thin slices of vegetables – plus they are fun.

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Mandolin cabbage

It goes pretty quickly with the mandolin… which is why I use a super-cool protective glove.   Otherwise you can really take a chunk of your finger off.

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Now time for the real cooking.  Start by heating a large saucepan over medium-high heat, and melt the butter.

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Onc the butter melts, add the onions and sauté until they become translucent.

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Add the celery and carrot.

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Allow the vegetables to cook for a few minutes, and pick up a little color.

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Next add the head of cabbage, and cook it down for a few minutes – it should start to release its water and reduce in volume.

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Then add the water and bay leaf.

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Bring the soup back to a boil and allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes.  Then add the tomatoes and a handful of dill.

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Allow the soup to simmer for another five minutes or so, or until the tomatoes have mostly dissolved. Serve warm, with sour cream and dill.

shchi

Zakuski:

For the zakuski course, I served raw tomatoes, dill pickles, thinly sliced radishes, and marrow on rye.

I started by simply slicing up the vegetables.

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Cut the pickled cucumbers into spears, the tomatoes into wedges, and the radishes into very thin slices.

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For the marrow:

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit.  Stand the marrow bones on a roasting pan and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.  I used bones from the asian market, so they were rather long and only had a small amount of marrow – but were, of course, dirt cheap.

Marrow bones

Once the oven is preheated, roast the bones for 20 minutes, until browned and the marrow is soft.

russian bone marrow

Scoop the marrow from the center of the bones into a bowl.

marrow

While the marrow bones are roasting, or whenever you get a chance, prepare a quick Onion Salad:

  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • bunch of parsley, chopped
  • juice of half a lemon

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Mix together the parsley, onions, and lemon juice.  Let the mixture sit for at least 10 minutes for the flavors to meld.

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Then slice up some rye bread. (I purchased some from the Reading Terminal, but rye bread was the first bread I attempted to make, and it is surprisingly easy, forgiving, and delicious.)

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Serve the marrow on the slices of rye with a bit of onion salad.

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Precede with ice cold vodka, of course.

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Cheers!

The verdict?  Russian food is surprisingly normal, by American standards.  The differences between shchi and the Irish cabbage soup my Irish mother makes are small.  Shchi is a warm, comforting, and familiar soup.  Zakuski is a great meal starter, I happen to really enjoy pickles and raw vegetables, and an excuse to systematically drink as part of a meal… so zakuski is a winner in my book.  The marrow, in particular, was new to me.  Bone marrow has a very rich taste.  The fattiness of the marrow needs to be balanced out by something, and the highly acidic and fresh onion salad really cuts through the fattiness of the marrow.  And the vodka was vodka.

Next week:  a destination post, my adventure in Japanese cuisine from the Outer Banks, North Carolina.

 

References:

  • http://easteuropeanfood.about.com/od/Russian-Soup-Recipes/r/Traditional-Russian-Cabbage-Soup-Recipe-Shchi.htm
  • http://www.melangery.com/2013/10/russian-monday-roasted-marrow-bones-on.html
  • wikipedia entries on: russia, russian cuisine, borscht, shchi, zakuski, and several more

Bangladesh: Bata Macher Jhaal, and a full meal

#8 People’s Republic of Bangladesh /গণপ্রজাতন্ত্রী বাংলাদেশ : Bata Macher Jhaal, Aamer Dal, Bitter Melon, Tomato and Green Mango Chutney, Payesh

bata macher jhaal

 

Sorry for the recess in blog entries… I have been doing a lot of traveling over the past couple weeks and then catching up at work.  Don’t worry, I have still been cooking the countries, but need to catch up with the posts here on Eating the Atlas.  Which brings us to the next country: Bangladesh.  To say I knew little about Bangladesh before preparing for this blog post would be generous.  But I now have at least a vague idea of the rich history of Bangladesh, the Bengalis, and most importantly, the food of Bangladesh.

So let’s start off with the basics.  Bangladesh is a densely populated country at the Northeast corner of the Indian Subcontinent.  The majority of Bangladesh is concentrated around the Ganges Delta, the largest delta in the world, formed by several large rivers draining into the Bay of Bengal.  This delta is one of the most fertile regions in the world.  Two out of three Bangladeshis work in agriculture and farming.  Ethnically Bangladesh isn’t very diverse with about 98% of the people being Bengali.  Bengali is the ethno-linguistic group of people from the historic area of Bengal, and typically speak Bengali. The Bengali population is primarily split between Bangladesh and India – mainly West Bengal.  Most of the culture and cuisine of Bangladesh is, in turn, the culture and cuisine of the Bengali people.

Now back to the food.  Although I found the history and current state of Bangladesh interesting, what blew me away was their take on cuisine.   Apparently Bengali food is considered to be the French cuisine of the subcontinent.  Bengali cuisine is a source of pride and excitement for the people of Bangladesh.  There are tons of telling, popular phrases about Bengalis, including, “Bengalis live to eat, not eat to live.”  I started to realize would like these people (or at least what I get from cooking their food.)

There are several important ingredients and traditions in Bengali cooking.  Probably the most important is the Bengali meal.  Bengali cuisine is the only one on the Indian Subcontinent to have a complex, structured meal with several traditional courses.  Similar to French cuisine’s eight course meal, Bengali cuisines served many courses in increments, with a logical, and delicious order.  This is, of course, what I tried to recreate, in a modified and less intense version. I figured why not make it a big old Bengali dinner party and invited a friend to join the fun (and keep Sous Chef company while I cooked all of the courses).

The most important ingredient in Bengalis cooking seems to be mustard oil.  They fry just about everything in mustard oil.  At first I wasn’t going to use mustard oil in my food preparation, because I kind of hate mustard.  It’s just one of those very few tastes I can’t get behind, it tastes a bit like poison to me – like my brain is telling me that this is not something I should be putting inside my body.  But, I am ok with black mustard seeds, and small quantities of mustard in recipes, so I went in search for mustard oil.  Which is when I discovered that mustard oil is not approved by the FDA in the US.  Apparently mustard oil has high levels of eurocic acid, which some studies show can affect heart health.  Turns out this is a highly debated topic.  Most Bengali people believe mustard oil is safe as long as you heat it until smoking to burn off the acids.  Anyway, by the time I figured all of this out it was nearing time to cook, so I decided to fry some black mustard seeds in vegetable oil and use that.  Another big part of Bengali cuisine is fish.  Being so close to the delta leave most Bengalis near freshwater, and as a result fish comprises a main part of the Bengali diet.  Spices, like all of the subcontinent, also make a huge impact on the food of Bangladesh.  This is especially true with a Bengali five-spice mixture called Paanch-Phoron.  Paanch phoron is a mixture of equal parts fenugreek seed, black mustard seed, cumin seed, nigella seed(also called black cumin, kaljeera, or kalonji), and fennel seed.  So I started this meal – by making this important spice mixture:

Spices for panch phoron

Like your average twenty-something attorney, I had all of these spices laying around.  Labeled with a label maker.

spices for panch phoron

I used a teaspoon of each spice, and mixed them together in a bowl – knowing I would use only a tablespoon or so for this meal.  The spices in the above picture clockwise from the top are black mustard seed, fennel seed, fenugreek seed, nigella, and mostly hidden under the center is cumin.

Panch Phoron

For an amazing, well written, and informative description of the courses in a Bengali meal, check out this post from IshitaUnblogged.  He also touches on a lot of Bengali traditions, including what children first eat.  Which got me thinking about a future side project – what to babies around the world eat?  Could be interesting… or at least adorable?  Through this and other descriptions of the traditional Bengali meals I figured out which courses I would attempt to cook.

Traditionally Bengali meals start off with the most important and constant part of the meal, rice.  Bengali rice is prepared by steaming, and squeezing some juice from the aromatic Bengali lime.  To try to recreate this aroma, you can throw a few kaffir lime leaves in with the steaming rice.

Bengali lime rice

The first course will consist of the steamed rice on a plate topped with ghee, a couple pinches of salt, and a lime wedge.  This is very traditional, and a pretty universal presentation of the first course.

Rice lime and salt

As a first course, this is kind of perfect.  The ghee (unsalted clarified butter), mixed with the salt and lime allow you to not starve while you cook the next thousand courses, while being fresh and appetizing.

The second course can be comprised of many things.  This is kind of the appetizer course.  There are often deep fried vegetables including: eggplant, potatoes, pumpkin, and bitter gourd.  You could also prepare some spice laden greens, or mashed vegetables.  I chose Karela Masala – basically a curry/stir fry of bitter melon.  Bitter melon or Karela or Bitter Guord is a bumpy squash-looking vegetable that tastes intensely bitter.  It kind of tastes like Campari, or unsweetened coffee.

bitter mellon

Karela Masala: (adapted from BanglaKitchen)

Ingredients:

  • 3 bitter melons
  • 1 medium onion – chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped and deseeded
  • 1 tsp ginger paste (or minced tsp of ginger)
  • 1 tsp garlic paste (or minced clove of garlic)
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • ½ tsp chili powder
  • ½ tsp coriander seeds
  • ¼ tsp turmeric poweder
  • ¼ tsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • salt to taste

Directions:

Start by cutting the bitter melons lengthwise and deseeding.

karela

Then cut the bitter melon lengthwise again, and slice into ½ inch wide pieces.

chopped karela

Toss the bitter melon with lemon juice and some salt, and let sit for 15 minutes or so.  This removes some of the bitter taste… but don’t worry, it will still be there.  After letting the bitter melon rest, heat some vegetable oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.  Once the oil is hot,  add the cumin seeds and allow to fry for about 30 seconds, or until they begin to sizzle and release their aroma.  Then add the onion.

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Stir around the onion occasionally until it begins to turn a rich golden color.

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Then add the chili powder, coriander seeds, garam masala, and garlic and ginger pastes.  Fry for two minutes, then add tomatoes.

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Stir constantly until the tomatoes begin to melt.  Then cover, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes.  Serve with rice.

The third course is a classic begali soup:  Aamer Dal – red lentil soup with green mango.

Aamer Dal

Ingredients:

  •  1 cup red lentils (masoor dal)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 medium green mango
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp black mustard seed
  • 1 dried red chili (or more for more heat)
  • 1 tbsp mustard oil

Directions:

Wash the red lentils in cold water until the water runs clear,  then soak them in enough water to cover fully for about 15 to 20 minutes.

red lentils

(I was excited to finally use red lentils – i have had them in a jar on the window sill for a couple months – just because they are cool looking and were cheap at Patel Brothers.)

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Next, peel and cut the green mango into large chunks.  A green mango is just an unripened mango – it has a very sour taste, and is surprisingly difficult to cut.

cut green mango

Once the lentils are done soaking, drain and add to a medium sized saucepan with 2 cups water, turmeric, and mango.  Heat the lentils to boiling on high heat and reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Drain excess liquid.

aamer dal cooking

In a separate small pan, heat oil over high heat, add the chili and mustard seeds and heat until the seeds begin to pop.  Then add the dal/mango mixture to the pot and lower heat.  Add one cup of water and simmer a few minutes so the flavors meld together.  Season with salt and sugar.  Serve warm.

aamer dal

Onto the main and fourth course: Batac Macher Jhaal- spicy fish curry.  This dish utilizes the fresh water fish abundant in Bangladesh.

Bata Macher Jhaal

Ingredients:

  •  5-10 small fresh water fish
  • 2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 medium tomato – seeded and diced
  • 1 tsp Kashmiri chili powder (or any red chili powder)
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp garlic paste
  • 1 tsp ginger paste
  • 2 green chiles – deseeded and sliced thin
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp black mustard seed

Directions:

Cover the fish with turmeric and salt and allow to marinate for at least 20 minutes.

Bangladeshi fish

I started off by defrosting my frozen fish in the refrigerator overnight.  I impulse purchased a bag of frozen “Bangladeshi fresh water fish” from the halal meat butcher, knowing this blog entry was approaching.  Some people impulse purchase gum – I purchase fish.

turmeric bengali fish

Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large saucepan (I used a wok because I was running out of pans by this time in the evening).  Add the black mustard seeds and let them sizzle and start to pop.  Then add the fish and sauté until golden brown – a few minutes on each side. (You probably shouldn’t crowd the pan like I did… but oh well, I was ready to finish cooking at this point.)

Bengali fish frying

Remove fish from the oil and put aside.  Keep the oil at a medium-high heat and add all the other ingredients into the same pan.  Sauté for 8-10 minutes until the sauce is almost paste like.  Mix in one cup of water and bring back to a simmer.  Add fish back into pan.

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Please note the cartoon-like fish skeleton – my advice is to not overcook your fish to the point they dissolve.  Serve the fish topped with the curry and next to some more rice.  Avoid swallowing pin bones.

bata maacher jhaal

Now onto the sweet courses, the Fifth Course, is the chutney course.  In Bengali cuisine, chutneys are used like a palate cleanser before dessert.  The chutney is eaten by itself, not used like a dip or sauce as is common in Indian restaurants, and all around India.  I chose to make a tomato green mango chutney – because it seems to be very popular, and sounded interesting.

Tomato Green Mango Chutney

Ingredients:

  •  2 medium tomato- cut into medium sized chunks
  • 1 large green mango – cut into similar sizes
  • 2 tbsp – 1/3 cup sugar (to your own taste)
  • Dry red chili – stem removed
  • 1 tsp panch phoron
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 pinch of turmeric

Directions:

Prepare the mango and tomato.  You should probably cut the mango a bit smaller than I did – mine was not as easy to cook down as it should have been.  Peeling and cutting the mango is kind of rough – like a pineapple.  It has a pretty hard texture in the center and a few seeds.  Be sure to remove the seeds.

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Then heat the oil in a medium sized pan over medium-high heat.  Add the chili and panch phoron to the oil and stir until it starts to turn a dark brownish color.

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This browning took a few seconds for me, like really quick, and then started to smell like burning, but luckily it didn’t end up tasting bitter. Anyway, then add the mangos, tomatoes, salt, and turmeric and allow to cook for 2 minutes or so.  Then add a cup of water and bring to a simmer.  Add as much sugar as you want to make it your preferred sweet/sour balance.

tomato mango chutney cooking

Let the chutney simmer for several minutes until most of the water is evaporated and it reaches your preferred consistency – I went for a pretty syrupy – not soupy.  Serve at room temperature, warm, or cold.

tomato mango chutney

And now we are onto the final and the sixth course – Payesh.  Payesh is a very traditional and favorite dish in Bangladesh.  It is a rice pudding – called Kheer in other parts of India.  There are tons of recipes for payesh – but with several common ingredients:  milk, rice, ghee, green cardamom, raisins/cashews to garnish, maybe some rosewater, and jaggery.  Jaggery is an Indian sweetener that I didn’t think to stock for this meal, so I just used some sugar.  Not quite authentic, but it still tasted great.  I also didn’t think to take any pictures of the process – but, here is the final result, of a long long meal preparation.

Payesh

The Verdict?  Wow, what a meal.  This clearly took me forever to make, and was kind of exhausting by the end.  And just ask Sous Chef about the dishes I amassed.  That being said, I enjoyed all of the component dishes and the incremental courses as a whole.  The rice was shockingly good, and fresh tasting, and slightly like a tequilla shot with that lime and salt.  The bitter melon was super bitter but kept me coming back for more of it.  I imagine it isn’t everybody’s favorite flavor, but I gobbled it up.  The soup was great, sour but savory and a bit spicy.  The fish curry was great, and one of my favorite flavor combinations.  Despite eating and cooking many curries in the past, I have never tried one with fish, and now I am a changed man.  Or at least I won’t skip it on a menu.  The chutney was a great palate cleanser, and interesting dish.  I thought the chutney might be too sweet and too much to eat by itself, but was pleasantly surprised.  The payesh was great, just a standard rice pudding with some layers of complexity.  The takeaway?  I would definitely make Bengali food again – but probably not try to cook a six course meal for friends.. because, who does that?

Next up, mother Russia.  I already cooked the meal, and it is a good combination of weird and weirdly normal.

Nigeria: Suya and Jollof Rice

#7 Federal Republic of Nigeria /Orílẹ̀-èdè Olómìnira Àpapọ̀ Nàìjíríà : Suya Beef, Jollof  Rice, and Dodo

suya plate
  Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa.  I will start off by saying, without trying to be too wide-sweeping, I think most Americans have a lot of misconceptions about African cuisine.  I won’t claim I am not one of them, but I have recently begun to realize the scale and diversity of African cuisine and the large influence of Africa on American cuisine.  A few people have asked me, when I told them about this blog, “What will you do with all the African countries?”  My answer is that you’d be surprised by African cuisine.  **Spoiler alert** Ethiopian food  is spice-rich, slow cooked, highly technical, and delicious – ask anyone living in DC.  North African cuisine is a totally different beast, but also delicious.  And East African cuisine is something I am totally unexposed to.  So, back to Nigeria. [Read more…]

Pakistan: Biryani

#6 Islamic Republic of Pakistan / اسلامی جمہوریۂ پاكستان : Biryani

Pakistani Biryani

So we are up to Pakistan.  I will start off by saying I don’t know much about Pakistan.  Well, at least I didn’t know much about it before reading about it while prepping for this meal.  I knew the majority of Pakistan is Muslim and is (at least partially) on the Indian subcontinent.  The rest of my knowledge of Pakistan comes primarily from newsworthy events over the past decade, and a knowledge that there are some major tensions between India and Pakistan, especially over the Kashmir region.  My knowledge of Pakistani culture was severely lacking.  Though I can’t say I am now an expert in Pakistani culture… I at least have a vague idea of what they eat.
[Read more…]

Fusion on the Fives: India and China

Indian and Chinese Fusion: Samosa Dumpling Soup

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So I am going to try something new here.  New in a few ways: the first post of fusion cuisine, the first post not on the country list, and the first post to feature an original(ish) recipe from me.  The plan is to randomly pick two countries already featured in this blog, and create a new dish combining the cuisines of the two countries.  I plan to do this every five countries, hence fusion on the fives.  For this first week, I used a random number generator to select two numbers between 1 and 5.  The generator selected 1 and 2 (random things never look as random as I expect) so looks like time to create a Chinese/Indian dish.

“What do Chinese and Indian cuisines have in common?” I wondered.  I guess they both use ginger.  And they both use onions.  But, really, just about every country uses some sorts of onion.  The more I thought about the two cuisines, the more different they seemed.  So I decided to take a different route: use a method from one country and tailor it to the other country’s tastes (or flavor profile as they say on all the food competitions – not that I watch an embarrassing amount of those shows or anything).  In order for this to work, I figured, it has to be an iconic dish from the one country, or at least a recognizable one.  So I started to think about Cantonese cuisine from China – since that is what the bulk of American Chinese food is based on.  That lead me to dumplings, and eventually dumpling soup.  Dumplings don’t have anywhere near the presence in India that they have in China, but there is one Indian dumpling I am quite familiar with: the samosa.  Samosas are a fried Indian dumpling typically filled with mashed potatoes, spices, peas, and many different things depending on the region of India.

So, without further ado, Chicken Samosa Dumpling Soup:

Ingredients:

  • 5 bone-in chicken thighs (or any bone-in chicken parts you want to use – thighs were on sale)
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 tbsp vegetable or canola oil
  • 2 large onions, (one quartered, one chopped)
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds whole (divided)
  • 2 tsp coriander seed (divided)
  • 4 green cardamom pods
  • 2 black cardamom pods
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick broken to about two inches
  • 3 inch chunk of ginger- divided (1 inch for stock, 2 inches for samosa filling)
  • 1/2 cup snow peas
  • 3 dried wood ear mushrooms
  • 6 large green onions sliced thinly (only green and light green parts)
  • Pack of dumpling wrappers (I used fresh wonton wrappers from the Asian grocery)
  • 3 russet potatoes
  • 1 medium onion
  • 6 cloves
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • garam masala

Sprinkle one side of chicken with turmeric. (Being sure to put it on the cheapest floral-print paper plates you have.)

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Heat the oil in a pan or pressure cooker on high until hot, and add the ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, 1 tsp coriander, 1/2 tsp cumin, bay leaves, and cloves.  Let cook, while stirring,  for a minute or two until very fragrant.

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sizzling spices 1

Add the chicken, turmeric side down, into the pan and allow to cook for another two minutes until the chicken has browned a bit on the turmeric side.  Then add 8 cups water, the quartered onion, and the wood ear mushrooms.  The wood ear mushrooms are a very typical dried mushroom used in Chinese broths – to get that umami flavor.  Figured I’d try to get some Chinese flavor into the broth too.

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Either allow to simmer, covered, for a few hours, or pressure cook for 45 minutes.  This is where the soup will get most of its flavor, you are basically creating a simple stock with some spices in it.  You can also do the stock portion of this recipe a few days ahead of time.  When the soup has finished simmering, remove from heat and strain.  Discard all but the chicken, and allow chicken to cool completely on a plate (or wherever you want, really).  Now we can start on the dumplings.  Then  take the tender chicken off the bones with your hands and place into a food processor.  Pulse a few times until chicken is in small shreds, but not paste.

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Peel potatoes and place in pot filled with enough water to cover potatoes by an inch.  Bring the water to a boil and reduce to a steady simmer.  Let potatoes cook until tender enough to be easily pierced with a fork.

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While potatoes simmer, chop up the garlic, ginger, and onion.

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When potatoes are tender, remove to a bowl and mash into small chunks with a potato masher, or any blunt instrument you have that could mash it into small chunks without pulverizing it.

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Then heat 2 tbsp oil over medium-high heat in a large shallow pan.  When oil is hot add the rest of the cumin and coriander.  Let fry for 30 seconds or until starting to brown a bit.  Then add the onion, garlic, and ginger.

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Allow the mixture to cook until the onions are softened and a bit browned on the edges.  Then add the potatoes and cook for another minute or so while stirring and combining.

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Scoop out the potatoes mixture and place in a bowl.  Add half the green onions and chicken and mix together.

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When mixture is cool enough to handle, get the dumpling wrappers out, and a small bowl filled with water.  For each dumpling, place a little less than a tablespoon of the mixture in the center of the dumpling wrapper.  Dip your fingers into the small bowl of water and moisten two edges of the dumpling wrapper.  Fold the other two edges over the mixture and seal by pressing together with your fingers.  This might feel awkward for the first couple dumpling, but gets much easier.

dumpling wrappers

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When you have the desired amount of dumplings, bring the soup back up to a boil, and add snow peas and the rest of the green onions.  Though there are  thousands of recipes for samosas, using tons of different ingredients, peas are used very frequently.  I figured I would use the snow peas as a sort of homage to the peas I omitted from the dumplings.

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While the broth is boiling, add the dumplings and allow to cook for a few minutes, until the skins seem totally cooked.

samosa soup

Serve soup hot in bowls, garnished with a little garam masala.  Eat.

Fusion29

Fusion30

The verdict?  Not exactly an easy and quick meal to make, but it worked out pretty well, and was fun to make.  The broth was very flavorful and distinctly Indian, while having a touch of that Chinese umami spiked broth.  The dumplings tasted like samosas on the inside but had the texture and feel of a Chinese dumpling.  I’d make it again.  And I certainly ate enough of it that night.  Overall, a pretty successful start to my fusion on the fives challenge.  Next post:  back to the countries, with Pakistan.

 

Brazil: Feijoada

#5 Brazil / Brasil : Feijoada

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Brazil seems to be totally appropriate for this blog right now.  Brazil just hosted the FIFA World Cup last month, and will be hosting the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.  So Brazil is pretty much on the same page as me.  But, despite 1 million people traveling from 202 countries to Brazil for the World Cup, I still knew nothing about Brazilian food.  Part of me thought, well, Brazilians speak Portuguese, so there is probably some influence from Portugal… but then I realized I don’t know much about Portuguese food either.  I suddenly remembered Brazilian Steakhouses, but something told me that waiters walking around slicing fresh steak right onto your plate for an all-you-can-eat style meal had to be an Americanized version.  Turns out I was wrong.  Steakhouses in Brazil, called churrascaria, actually serve meat in this Rodízio style: all-you-can-eat meat for a fixed price.  The more I read about Brazilian food, the more I seemed to like. [Read more…]

Indonesia: Beef Rendang

#4 Indonesia / Republik Indonesia : Beef Rendang

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So we are up to the fourth most-populous country, and a country I knew little about before I started this project.  It always kind of blew my mind whenever I would come across the fact that Indonesia is the fourth largest country in the world.  It seems strange that I, and most people I know, know so little about the country.  So I set off to change this.  Indonesia is an archipelago – country made of several islands.  In Indonesia’s case, there are about 17 thousand islands, about 8 thousand of which have been named, and 922 islands that are permanently inhabited.  The most inhabited island is Java, which also happens to be the most populated island in the world, with over 139 million people(more than twice that of Great Britain.)  The next major islands remind me of Starbucks coffee roasts and fancy travel destinations:  Sumatra, Borneo, New Guinea, Bali and Madura.  Indonesia is a very diverse country with over 300 ethnic groups, and is also the largest muslim-majority country with over 87% of the country practicing Islam. [Read more…]