Have you ever eaten out and tried a dish with an ingredient or two that you’ve never had before, just to see what all the fuss was about? After a week of uninspired, hotel restaurant meals on a recent business trip, I finally escaped the hum-drum monotony of dishes prepared to satisfy the tastes of travelers from anywhere and everywhere and ventured out to find something, anything different.
I’m guessing there is an Arabic version of Foursquare, Yelp, or pick your favorite trusty food guide, but since I haven’t found one yet, and I don’t read or speak Arabic, I was out of luck and had to take my chances. I settled on a Mediterranean-North African restaurant, all but guaranteed to find something I hadn’t tried, at least in the preceding week. Anyway, back to the important part… the food. I ordered a dish with with a pomegranate glaze. I’ve drunk my share of pomegranate juice, but I just couldn’t imagine how concentrating that flavor wouldn’t overpower the dish. Oh, man, was I wrong. It was ah-mazing, like a perfectly balanced symphony, each bite tempting me onto the next.
Of course I had to recreate it! I picked up a tube of harissa, a few pomegranates, and a bottle of pomegranate molasses the very next trip to the market. A half dozen chicken breasts later, I thought I was going nuts. Why was it so hard to figure out? Turns out I was so focused on the sauce that I forgot about the most important part, seasoning the chicken. Once I took the spices out of the glaze and used them to punch up my otherwise bland chicken breasts before glazing, things started looking up. A few minutes together in the pan was just the tantalizingly, tangy kiss that I was looking for.
Harissa-rubbed Chicken with Pomegranate Glaze and Herbed Quinoa
It’s just starting to get hot here – like 100F hot – and thankfully the humidity hasn’t kicked into full steam mode. Still, it’s hard to think about eating anything heavy, especially in the middle of the day. And, who wants to slave over an oven or range when you’ve escaped the heat outside?
A few cans, a few minutes at the cutting board, and presto chango —
Insalata di Tonno e Fagioli (Tuna and Cannellini Bean Salad)
Now, pour yourself a nice, chilled white wine and pretend you’re in Tuscany!
If I’m making breakfast for family and friends, I’ll make something sweet, because I like to bake, especially for company. When it’s just me, though, I usually make something on the savory side. Back when I could eat eggs and dairy, I would make a pretty mean frittata or omelet. Nowadays, its a tofu scramble with whatever is left in my vegetable drawer at the end of the week.
This morning, with a bunch of cilantro and an avocado, I didn’t exactly have the makings for a scramble, but I did have the inspiration for a flavorful hash. Yes, a tofu scramble would be a lot healthier, but after a 25km hike with a 10 kilo pack, I decided to treat myself to this Chorizo Hash. Don’t skip or skimp on the avocado! It really balances the acidity and spice of the chorizo nicely.
I’ve been craving paella lately, and it’s so much better when its shared alongside a good Spanish red and a lively conversation. Sounds like the recipe for a dinner party!!!
If I’ve learned anything entertaining friends, it’s that not everyone shows up on time – maybe they get lost or maybe they’re just not obsessively punctual like yours truly. So, I fix an appetizer or two that we can munch on as the group comes together. The main course tends to be something that comes out of the oven after the last guest arrives or can stand the rest. Or, occasionally in the case when I haven’t had time to prep the ingredients in advance, isn’t even close to ready and becomes its own entertainment as guests stand around my open kitchen watching me finish cooking.
Normally when I make paella, my tapas selection tends towards olives, marcona almonds, sausages. This time, I decided to try a couple of warm tapas, Albóndigas en Salsa de Tomate (Meatballs in Tomato Sauce) and
Setas al Ajo (Garlic Mushrooms).
Note to self: buy more GF bread next time!!! The sauce on these meatballs was so good, one friend kept going back and scooping out one meatball and two or three spoonfuls of the sauce, which he would them mop up every last drop of with the GF bread I had toasted. Another piled mushrooms on pieces of toast like bruschetta, so that the garlicky sherry sauce would soak in.
It didn’t take long for me to start talking about food with my local friends. Everyone has their favorite kababji, but the food vaies only slightly depending on whether the spice blend used is Iranian or Iraqi influenced or Turkish or Lebanese. More often than not, the decision on where to go seems to comes down to the juice and sheesha options.
After several days in a row of dinners consisting almost entirely of meat (and an occasional chicken kabob for good measure), I needed a change, or possibly more appropriately, an intervention. The menu said hammour with citrus, coriander, and chile, and it mentioned a side of steamed vegetables, which in itself was starting to seem worth the price of the plate. I freaked out a little when I saw the bright yellow sauce, but one taste, and I was won over.
Grilled Hammour (grouper) with Mango, Chile, and Cilantro Sauce
I’ve made this recipe a few times now, and the sauce was just as awesome on a grilled salmon fillet. Watch out, though, the chiles sneak up on you.
One of the best things about living on an island is the abundance of fresh seafood. Even better, on this island you can find a plethora of whole and ground spices in the souk for pocket change. Even though I know they won’t keep forever, I’m already daydreaming about what I will ship home when it comes time to leave (spices only…not the fish!). And, since I can find all those whole spices, why not try my hand at making my own curry powders, like this machali masala.
Fresh tomatoes, on the other hand, are harder to come by since it’s so hot here, especially tomatoes that haven’t been refrigerated. So, the other day made a chutney out of them, which I’ve been eating on pretty much everything until I can find a mold to make idlis.
Now, back to the seafood and spices… Thakkali chatni is also a perfect complement to mild flavored seafood. Put them all together, and you have a healthy, quick, and tasty weeknight supper.
Curry Dusted Scallops with Spicy Tomato Chutney
I recently moved (temporarily) to Gulf for work. The weeks leading up to my flight were a bit nerve-wracking, not least because I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to eat.
Not that that has ever stopped me from exploring local establishments before, but at least I can usually muddle my way through reading the menu and knowing the local words for the things I can’t eat. If all else fails, I try to go somewhere I might be able to see the food being prepared. Since I can’t read a single word in Arabic yet, as my first local meal, I decided kebabs were a fairly safe and familiar way to start this new culinary adventure. My server recommended the mixed grill, a plate of grilled meats and kebab with Iranian, Iraqi, and Bahraini seasonings. It came with a small arugula salad, a drink, and all the bread I could eat, which my colleague did his best to devour all on his own with a large bowl of hummus. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much meat in one sitting. It was just too good to stop.
One of the kebabs really surprised me. At first, I thought it was from chunks of meat like the others, but it turned out to be ground lamb formed around the skewer. When I saw ground lamb at the market near my place, I knew what my first experiment would be.
Lamb Koobideh Kebabs
A dear friend of mine and I were talking about her Christmas vacation, and she told me about teaching her daughter their family’s tradition of making stuffed cabbage rolls.
If a 5 year old could learn, it was about time for me to. Of course, I made a few tweaks, like using brown rice and replacing half the rice with lentils.
Warning: Golabki (“little pigeons” in Polish) take a little time to assemble, so they’re really not a weeknight dish if you don’t have a couple of hours to cook. The good news is that they’re not labor intensive, and you’ll be rewarded by the flavor that develops. Oh, and if you think they’re good out of the oven, wait until you reheat them for a quick lunch.
Golabki (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls)
I recently visited a pub in Newport best known for its cheap beer and burger combo. The place was packed with locals of every stripe, and we could barely find room to squeeze our way up to the bar to order. It was a Wednesday night, and the waiting list for a table was over an hour long.
Once we finally sat down and started looking over the menu, I was beyond excited to find a few GF/DF/EF possibilities to choose from. Then, our waitress recited the specials. She had me at scallops and bacon. I’m not even sure what else she said. I certainly didn’t remember the words “mashed peas,” but now that I think of it, maybe putting an accompaniment generally thought of as “baby food” on the menu was somehow tied to the bar’s name. But, it wasn’t poor judgement after all. The mash was the perfect match for the scallops and bacon.
I’ve tried my own take on that dish here: Seared Scallops with Pancetta and Rustic Spring Pea Mash.
My mom used to love Garfield. I could never get past the incongruity of a cat who loved lasagna. But, maybe I had never had a really good lasagna.
I love the idea of lasagna. Pasta, sausage, cheese, tangy tomato sauce… an easy, filling meal perfect for low fuss entertaining.
Unfortunately, it is an immune system nightmare, with one land mine after another. I see it on menus and secretly pine for a dish with so many things I can’t have.
Then, one cold evening, I came across GF lasagna noodles at my neighborhood organic market, and I knew my lasagna-less days were over. This lasagna is more Italian-American inspired than it is Italian; I’ve never been a huge fan of traditional sugo alla bolognese and béchamel. Like most lasagne, it tastes even better after a day or two. Of course, Garfield would never let it sit that long!