Saturday, April 30, 2005

Three recent finds...

three mini reviews...

149 Jean-Talon Blvd. W.

Delicious Pakistani restaurant housed in an old corner diner space (including banquettes!). The rice alone is reason to go: it is prepared meticulously, as it should be (with bay leaf, whole cloves, and other spices), and consequently it has an fragrance to it that sets it apart from your average South Asian restaurants. But the real standout is their delightful butter chicken (butter chicken fanatics, take note), which is unique both because of its sauce’s coconut milk base and its lovely spicy heat. The service is warm and friendly and Tabaq also has the attraction of being open late. In fact, the Les Chèvres/Le Chou crowd is apparently quite fond of visits after their nightshift.

1240 Rosemont E.

Though they also feature an assortment of Pho soups, we went to Dông-Qué in search of vermicelli dishes, and vermicelli dishes we did find. We started off with an extraordinary salad with vermicelli noodles, shrimp, pork, julienned vegetables, and a piquant-sweet sauce. Afterwards, Michelle and Camilla moved on to a couple of hot vermicelli dishes, while I ordered the Vietnamese crêpe (!). The crêpe wasn’t quite as phenomenal as the one offered at my all-time favorite Vietnamese restaurant (Café Dalat in Arlington, Virginia [R.I.P.), but it was the first Vietnames crêpe I’d found in Montreal and it was still pretty damn good. Imagine a large savory crêpe stuffed with sautéed assorted vegetables, strips of marinated pork, and shrimp, and served with a sweet and sour peanut sauce. If you haven’t had one, don’t be a fool. Everything was delicious and freshly prepared, the only drawback to Dông-Qué was the service, which was—how shall I put it?—quirky.

El Sombrero
500-A Belanger E.

Quite possibly the best Mexican restaurant in Montreal we’ve yet to come across. A group of five of us went there for Saturday lunch (OK, we went there today) and had an absolute feast that included everything from picaditas (an assortment of three of the cutest little tortillas with beans and crema you’ve ever seen), to chorizo con queso made with herbs and real Mexican cheese, to three different types of tamale (salsa verde, salsa rojo, and mole, and all of them fantastic) served steaming in their corn husks, to the definitive tacos al pastor, with real hunks of pork marinated with achiote and chilies. They also have a top-notch homemade horchata and their Mexican hot chocolate was also a hit. The atmosphere is cozy and the service is attentive—combined with their excellent Mexican fare, it’s no wonder El Sombrero is a local hit.


Thursday, April 28, 2005

Alain Ducasse's Big Book of Desserts

I know my birthday is long gone and I got ridiculously spoiled because it was my 30th birthday and all, but this book is too good to let it just pass through my hands... Any takers?

With a price tag over $0.50 a page (times 538!), it's a bit on the exorbitant side, but it might just be worth it.

Patrice lent me this book 2 weeks ago and I've been trying to read it as slowly as possible so it will never end. This hasn't been easy. It's a bit of a page-turner.

It's had me mesmerized. I just curl up with it and the hours while away. I flip a page and a whole world of ideas opens up. I've been jotting notes down like crazy.

I wouldn't say this is essential for the home cook, but for anyone who's a professional, or who's interested in becoming one, Ducasse's work is a font of inspiration.


Monday, April 25, 2005

The Return of the Sunday Chicken Club, Moroccan-style

our new tagine
Originally uploaded by ajkinik.

As promised, this was the weekend we christened the tagine and tested out our first recipes from Paula Wolfert's Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco. Things got started on Saturday when, after hours of deliberation (okay, maybe just an hour), we decided upon Chicken with Lemons and Olives Emshmel as our main course for Sunday night's dinner. We had agreed that we wanted to start with a chicken recipe, and Wolfert's section on chicken dishes starts off with "Four Different Ways to Make Chicken with Lemon and Olives." This sounded like a good place to start, so then we just had to narrow down field, and Wolfert's description of this "classic Moroccan dish... served in an intricately spiced, creamy, lemony, and sublime sauce" was enough to seal the deal.

We made a trip to Vito's--our preferred neighborhood butcher--to pick up a couple of healthy-sized chickens and get them cut into pieces, and then it was time to go home and prepare our birds. Wolfert recommends the following method:

Wash the chicken in salted water, then drain. Pound 4 cloves of garlic and 2 tablespoons of salt into a paste in a large bowl. Toss the chicken parts in the bowl, making sure to coat the pieces as well as possible. Afterwards, rinse the poultry well under running water until it no longer smells of garlic. [The garlic is used to removed bitterness, as well as to help release the chicken's flavors, like a natural MSG.] Drain the chicken pieces well. Now you're chicken is ready to go.

Chicken with Lemons and Olives Emshmel

2-3 chickens, whole or cut into pieces, with their livers
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp sweet paprika
1/4 tsp (roasted then freshly) ground cumin
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup salad oil
1 tbsp olive oil
2 1/2 cups grated onion, drained
1/4 tsp pulverized saffron
1/2 cup mixed, chopped fresh herbs (green coriander and parsley)
1 1/2 cups ripe "green-brown" olives, such as Royal-Victorias (or, in our case, Kalamatas)
2 preserved lemons
2 to 3 fresh lemons

The day before, prepare chicken according to the instructions above, then marinate the chicken and the livers in 1 teaspoon of salt, the remaining 2 cloves of garlic, sliced thin, the spices, and the salad oil. Refrigerate, covered.

The next day saute 1/2 cup of the grated onion in the olive oil for about 1-2 minutes in a large pot or casserole, then add the chicken, the livers, and the marinade. Add the saffron, the herbs, and 2 cups of water, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, turning the chicken often in the sauce.

While the chickens are cooking, rinse and pit the olives. Set aside.

Remove the chicken livers from the casserole or pot and mash them finely. Return to the casserole or pot with the remaining grated, drained onions. Add water, if necessary. Continue cooking 20 minutes, partially covered.

Rinse the preserved lemons (discarding the pulp, if desired) and quarter them. Add the olives and the preserved lemons to the sauce when the chickens are very tender and the flesh falls easily from the bone. Continue cooking 5-10 minutes, uncovered.

Transfer the chickens to a tagine or other serving dish and spoon the olives and lemons around them. Cover and keep warm in the oven. By boiling rapidly, uncovered, reduce the sauce to 1 1/2 cups. Add the juice of 2 fresh lemons to the sauce in the pan. Add more salt (and more lemon juice, if desired) to taste. Pour the sauce over chickens and serve at once.

[note: we omitted the step involving the livers and the dish still turned out wonderfully. Wolfert claims this step adds "heft" to the sauce. We'll try it next time.]

We served the chicken with Couscous Casablancaise and...

Harissa Sauce

I cup lamb broth from the couscous pot (I added 1 cup vegetable broth from the Couscous Casablancaise instead)
1 tsp Harissa paste
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 pinch of cumin, to taste
Sprinkle of freshly chopped parsley and/or fresh coriander

Combine all ingredients in small saucepan over high heat. Beat well and pour into a small serving bowl. Serve at once.

[recipe courtesy of Paula Wolfert]

as well as...

Salade de Pomme de Terre au Cumin aux Pieds Noirs

1 lb. small red potatoes, quartered
2 large tomatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 sweet onion (such as a vidalia), finely diced
2 tsp (roasted and freshly) ground cumin
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbs red wine vinegar (you may need a little more than this, actually)
10 green olives, pitted
Salt and pepper to taste
12 fresh cilantro sprigs

Cook the potatoes in boiling water until tender. Drain well. While the potatoes are still warm, place them in a salad bowl and mix them with the tomatoes, onion, cumin, olive oil, vinegar olives, salt and pepper. Refrigerate, covered, for 1-2 hours, then toss with cilantro right before serving.

[recipe courtesy of North Africa: the Vegetarian Table by Kitty Morse]

I think it's safe to say the meal was a success. The chicken dish is really quite extraordinary. The sauce really begins to develop some depth around the time you add the olives and the preserved lemons. The preserved lemons are absolutely essential to this dish--don't omit them. Most good Middle Eastern specialty stores should stock them. They add a beautiful flavor to the sauce, and they also give the sauce a certain silkiness. If you're not sure about the flavor, be sure to pulp them before throwing them in. Then you remove the chicken pieces, the olives, and the lemon bits, and you reduce the sauce, and the sauce turns into something truly otherworldly (I can't even imagine what the chicken livers would do to it). We poured the sauce over the chicken pieces in the tagine before bringing the tagine to the table, but we also served a gravy boat full of the sauce on the side so that we and our guests could sauce the chicken according to our tastes.

It's official: this dish comes highly recommended.


PS--you'll notice there isn't any Ras el Hanout listed for this recipe (after all my talk). I meant to add a sprinkle to the sauce last minute as a secret ingredient, but, quite frankly, I forgot. In any case, I don't think it needed it.

Stay tuned for an actual recipe including Ras el Hanout...

Saturday, April 23, 2005

candied Meyer lemon peel

candied Meyer lemon peel
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

I swear it's only a coincidence that Clotilde at Chocolate and Zucchini just wrote about this...
You've got to believe me.
These are delicious!


To make them, take 6 lemons, or whatever you have, and juice them, reserving the juice for something else. Remove the pulp and slice the peel into nice strips. Blanch them in boiling water 3 times to remove any bitterness, then drain.
Make a heavy syrup using equal amounts of sugar and water, enough to cover the peel. Add some corn syrup and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the peels and simmer on low, stirring from time to time, until peels become transluscent. This will take about an hour.

You can store the peels with the syrup in the fridge, or drain them and toss in granulated sugar, as I did in the picture. If you toss them in sugar, leave them on parchment paper or on a cooling rack to dry overnight. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Eat as is, or use in any recipes calling for candied citrus peel.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Ras el Hanout Redux

A few week ago, now, I once again received some very nice, thoughtful presents for my birthday, but among my favorite were a couple of gifts that focused on Moroccan cuisine: my very own earthenware tagine and Paula Wolfert’s Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco. (I won’t name the culprit who gave me these gifts, but I’d like to thank her once again.) I’d been wanting a tagine for a few years, but I became quite serious about getting one after Michelle and I went to a Moroccan restaurant named Le Souk in Paris last summer (see "Highlights: Paris"). I had had tagine dishes before, but I had never had a tagine dish like the duck tagine with fresh figs, dried fruit, honey, and almonds that Michelle ordered that evening. As for Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco, I spent years admiring Paula Wolfert’s 1973 classic back in the days when I was a bookseller, but for some reason I’d never actually acquired it.

This weekend I’m finally going to christen both the tagine and the cookbook, after weeks of contemplating when and how to first put them to use. I think I’m going to start off with one of Wolfert’s chicken tagine recipes, but there’ll be more on this later.

Like all truly great cookbooks, Wolfert’s book not only contains brilliant recipes, it also reads beautifully, situating its passion for food within a broader understanding of cuisine’s place within culture. The opening chapters of her book not only whet the appetite for a whole array of Moroccan delicacies, they also detail the epiphany Wolfert experienced from “[the] moment the Yugoslav freighter touched at Casablanca in 1959.” Wolfert spent the next two years immersing herself in Moroccan culture and developing a deep understanding of Moroccan cuisine and its various traditions. She then spent eight years in Paris obsessing over Morocco, and trying to find ways to get back, before she finally decided to write a cookbook about Moroccan cuisine, taking on the in-depth research that finally led to the publication of her book in 1973.

The opening chapter is a fascinating look into the history and development of Moroccan cuisine, as well as the philosophies that form its foundation. There she discusses everything from “the philosophy of abundance” and the striking similarities between Moroccan and Chinese banquets, to the notion of kimia, the magical power to “multiply food,” to make the most out of very little. In the second chapter, Wolfert takes up the topic of Morocco’s souks and their place within Moroccan culture. It is there that she discusses spices and spice merchants, including “the ten important spices” (cinnamon, cumin, saffron, turmeric, ginger, black pepper, cayenne, paprika, aniseed, and sesame seeds) as well as the “nine secondary aromatics” (allspice, caraway, cloves, coriander seeds, gum Arabic, fenugreek, licorice, honey dates, and orrisroot). It is also there where she launches into a lengthy discussion on the topic of our good friend, Ras el Hanout. Wolfert claims that in her travels across Morocco she came upon accounts of Ras el Hanout blends that consisted of “more than a hundred ingredients,” but the majority of the most lively blends consist of 24 to 28 different herbs, spices, and other aromatics. Her analysis (with the help of a spice merchant friend in New York) of one packet of a blend that she purchased in Fez turns up the following exotic list of ingredients:

Ash berries
Belladonna leaves
Black cumin seeds
Black peppercorns
Cardamom pods
Cassia cinnamon
Ceylon cinnamon
Coriander seed
Cubebe pepper
Earth almonds
Galingale [or Galangal root]
Gouza el asnab
Grains of paradise
Long pepper
Monk’s pepper

You’ll have to pick up Wolfert’s book to get the full details on any of the above ingredients that are unfamiliar to you. The point is: 1) Ras el Hanout is about as heady and complex as cuisine can ever be, and, once again, it provides an ample sense of just how sophisticated Moroccan cuisine can be (Wolfert makes a point of stressing how disappointing so much of the cuisine that passes itself off as “Moroccan” often is); 2) Wolfert displays her impressive talents as a sensualist even within the form of a simple list.

Like I said, this weekend I’m going to give the tagine and one of Wolfert’s recipes a shot. I’ll try and find one that involves Ras el Hanout, too.


Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Maple Sugaring, Early Spring in the Northern Woods

Maple Sugaring
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

March and April are the height of "sugaring off" season in these parts, the time when the maple sap harvest and maple syrup and maple sugar production are at their peak, the time when the numerous sugar shacks that dot the countryside go into overdrive, serving up massive quantities of traditional backwoods breakfast fare (in varieties both authentic and ersatz). Up until the late 19th century, maple sugar was the most highly prized maple product and a regional staple. This situation changed with the introduction of cheap cane sugar to the area. Even though maple syrup is now the principal product, terms such as "sugar shack" and "sugaring off" still indicate the original state of affairs.

One North American sugar maple can produce gallons of sugar- and syrup-bearing sap every year, if tapped at the right time, without being seriously affected by the loss. This fact was well known by indigenous tribes in the region and this knowledge was then passed on to early European settlers, who both improved upon the method of achieving syrup and sugar and systematized production. For decades this system consisted of taps and buckets, but all but the smallest maple syrup producers have since further rationalized the process, using networks of plastic tubing to increase yields and cut back on labor. It used to be that sugar makers would have to "struggle up snow-covered hillsides to collect each day's run by hand" before toiling "far into the night in the sugarhouse, boiling off the sap into syrup," keeping in mind that it takes a legal barrel of sap (30.5 gallons) to produce a gallon of syrup. The whole enterprise was "grueling, but when the first pitcher of rich, new syrup [arrived] at the dining table, along with a batch of fresh doughnuts, it [vindicated] the sugar maker's age-old claim: 'By Gory, after all is said and done, sugaring is fun!'" This is obvious in the print above.

The best years for maple syrup are those with long, hard winters followed by a springtime with lots of temperature fluctuations--it's the sudden rise in temperature that really gets the clear maple sap flowing. This year was not one of those years. Winter wasn't all that long and hard, and spring came on steadily with very few temperature fluctuations. In fact, we kind of got caught off guard--we were seduced by how pleasant the transition from winter to spring was this year, we were seduced by the lack of freak springtime snowstorms. We've had our fair share of Bilboquet's tire d'érable ice cream, as well as new crop maple syrup and fresh tire d'érable from Jean Talon Market, and we experienced Au Pied de Cochon's sugar shack-chic a few weeks ago, right at the heart of the season, but for the first time in a few years we haven't made it out to the countryside for our annual "sugaring off" feast. There's still time, I guess, but I'm already focused on our garden.


PS--When you come from Quebec, you get to be pretty serious about your maple syrup. My parents had a friend who had relocated to California from Quebec. One day she went to a local supermarket and bought some "100% Pure Vermont Maple Syrup." She took it home and when she tasted it she could immediately tell that it actually wasn't 100% pure, and that it had probably been cut with corn syrup. The next day she took it back to the supermarket and demanded a refund. The manager assured her that this maple syrup was in fact the real thing, but when she continue to protest he asked her, "How can you tell (it's not 100% pure)?" She replied, "How can I tell? I WAS BORN WITH MAPLE SYRUP IN MY VEINS!!"

[sources: American Cooking: New England by Jonathan Norton Leonard and the Editors of TIME-LIFE BOOKS; The Penguin Companion to Food, Alan Davidson; personal experience]

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Cioppino is back!

Thursday night's cioppino
Originally uploaded by ajkinik.

This is our week for dad stuff, I guess. My dad and I first made cioppino when we were living in the San Francisco bay area in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Cioppino was a local specialty, a hearty fish stew developed by Italian and Portuguese fishermen who worked the California coast, and it became the special meal we would make together after we discovered James Beard’s recipe for it. We’d go out shopping for our seafood—including a healthy amount of local Dungeness crab—then spend the evening slowly preparing the stew, before serving it with a crusty San Francisco-style sourdough bread. It was one of my favorite meals, and probably my favorite meal to make.

This week my dad and I decided to take a trip down memory lane and make it again (it had been about 15 years since the last time). We knew we would have to make do without Dungeness crab, but it still seemed like a great idea. We dug out James Beard’s recipe and made up our shopping list. Neither of us remembered the dried mushrooms being in the recipe we’d used previously, but there they were on the list of ingredients that came with his version included in The New James Beard, and they did add a lot of character to the broth. We served the stew with sourdough baguette slices, a simple Romaine lettuce salad, and lots of Pinot Noir (I had just taken dad to see Sideways a couple of days earlier, after all).

Beard’s recipe calls for a lot of seafood, and if you follow his guidelines exactly, the pricetag for this meal can get a little out of hand. I recommend mixing and matching the seafood in such a way as to keep the meal affordable. Cioppino is supposed to be a working-class meal, focusing on using fresh but reasonably priced seafood is more in keeping with the spirit of the original. In the case of the Cioppino we made on Thursday night, I would replace the crabmeat (it’s very hard to get fresh crab in these-here parts, and it’s rather pricey, given the quality) with some extra shrimp or some fish. Also, feel free to replace the clams with either mussels or oysters, depending what’s available, what’s the freshest, and what’s the least expensive—both of these variations are perfectly acceptable. Of course, if you have access to plentiful amounts of fresh, inexpensive shellfish, by all means, knock yourself out. Finally, Beard recommends using sea bass or striped bass for the fish—we used a combination of monkfish and tilapia (a firmer fish and a flakier fish, not unlike the kind of combination you’d used in a Bouillabaisse) and it turned out perfectly. All you have to do is stagger the cooking times slightly, so that the firmer fish goes in a few minutes earlier than the flakier fish.

Here’s the recipe:


1 quart clams (in the shell)
1 cup dry white or red wine
1/2 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1/4 cup dried mushrooms, soaked in water and drained, while retaining then straining (through cheesecloth or a coffee filter) the soaking liquid
4 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
4 tbsp Italian tomato paste
2 cups red wine, such as Pinot Noir or Zinfandel
2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh basil
3 pounds thick fish fillets, cut into serving pieces (sea bass and striped bass are recommended, but almost any firm-fleshed fish will do)
1 pound crabmeat
1 pound raw shrimp, shelled
3 tbsp chopped parsley

Steam the clams in the 1 cup of white or red wine until they open, discarding any that don’t open. Strain the broth through two thicknesses of cheesecloth (or a coffee filter) and reserve.

Heat the oil in a deep 8-quart pot and cook the onion and garlic until the onion has become translucent. Add the pepper and mushrooms and cook for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook 4 minutes. Add the strained clam broth, the strained mushroom broth, tomato paste, and 2 cups red wine. Season with salt and pepper and simmer for about 20 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning. Add the basil and the fish, and just cook the fish through, about 3 to 5 minutes. Finally, add the steamed clams, crabmeat, and shrimp. Heat until shrimp are just cooked through, roughly another 3 minutes. Do not overcook. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with crusty bread (preferably sourdough), a salad, and lots of red wine.


Friday, April 15, 2005

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Black Forest cake
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

This is a classic Black Forest cake I made for my dad's birthday, which is today.
When we were growing up, my sister and I always chose this as our birthday cake, and there are many photos of us stuffing our mouths with big forkfuls of it. It has a lot of good memories attached to it...neon cherries and all. If you use the best ingredients, it tastes like heaven. And making your own sour cherries, well, that is perfection. It was enjoyed by everyone, and a few bites are waiting in fridge for the first lucky person who claims it.


Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Chocolate City

les chocolats de Kareen
Originally uploaded by ajkinik.

As article after article has pointed out--and as we ourselves have attested to in this very blog [see Will Work for Chocolate and chez les Chocolats de Chloe]--the chocolate-making scene in Montreal has really been making waves for the last few years. Montreal may not have its own secret society of chocolatiers the way Paris does (yet), but the culinary landscape of the city has been altered quite dramatically by a number of young chocolatiers (most of whom are women) who've introduced highly inventive, locally made, high-grade, and extremely delicious chocolates of all kinds to a market that had been dominated by conservative thinking and imported fare.

As part of an assortment of birthday gifts that I received from Michelle last Thursday, I found a box of chocolates made by Kareen, a colleague and friend of Michelle's at Les Chèvres/Le Chou. Montreal now has several tiers of chocolate production, from big patisseries to small boutiques, from large catering operations to small, artisanal caterers and chocolatiers. Kareen is representative of the latter. I opened the box and contained inside was an assortment of four different flavours of her chocolates: Meyer lemon, Café Praliné, Szechuan Pepper, and Ganache au Lait (clockwise from left in the photo above). They were all perfectly formed and beautifully decorated, and the flavors.... I'm still reeling. Thank you Michelle, and thank you Kareen.

[You can reach Kareen Grondin about her Fleur de Sel line of chocolates at and (514) 792-6060.]


Friday, April 08, 2005

Meyer Lemon Marmalade

Meyer Lemon Marmalade
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

I know, I know, it seems like marmalade madness over at our house, but I need to make the year's worth before all the citrus fruits are out of season. I did this one in the fine-shred style, thinking it was more delicate than whole fruit or thick-cut. I was right. The subtle flavour of the Meyer lemons comes through with a magical caramel taste. Don't ask me how that happened. I am mystified. I made nine jars of this stuff, 125 ml each. It worked out to about 2 lemons per jar. There must be some way to work that into the name of this marmalade...


Thursday, April 07, 2005

Oops, I did it again

Carrot Cake
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.

Today was Anthony's birthday and I thought I was being so clever by picking up on the many not-so-subtle (to me) hints that he wanted a carrot cake for his birthday. I secretly baked the thing and kept it hidden until I presented it, giddy with pride. He looked at it and said, "Carrot cake? Weird." Apparently he wasn't hinting at all, and had no desire to have a carrot cake, especially since he'd just had one at a restaurant a few days earlier.

This whole fiasco reminded me of a few Christmases ago when I was so "sure" he wanted a cordless drill, and when I gave it to him he was underwhelmed, if not baffled. The fact that my dad has had it on loan since last summer only adds to the hilarity of it all...


Wednesday, April 06, 2005

More sourdough experiments

My sourdough starter has been through its share of ups and downs: being neglected in the fridge, dropped on the floor (in a container), used daily and then not for months... In spite of it all, it is still alive and well after a program of twice daily feedings for a few days, and I spent much of the day trying to convince it to become a loaf of bread. I tried a new recipe from The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum and was shocked to see how much it differed from the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion ones that I've been using. The texture is totally different. Where King Arthur's breads were fine-crumbed, sweet and dense, this one is full of big holes, tangy and light. Almost too light, in fact, for my taste. It turned out as I think it was supposed to, though. She has a rye caraway that I'm dying to try, as well as a pumpernickel, which also sounds perfect.

Baking bread is a wonderful thing, but when you work with sourdough you really need to stay around the house all day as it requires all sorts of folds and it needs to rise every hour or two. This makes it "inconvenient" for modern on-the-go lifestyles, especially now that the weather has turned lovely, tempting one to drop everything and run outside. I am curious to move on to some yeast breads to see if it would eat up less of the day. I'm sure they are faster, but are they better?


Sunday, April 03, 2005

1,001 Arabian Treats, pt. 1

Arabian Kabsa
Originally uploaded by ajkinik.

My parents arrived yesterday from the Middle East bearing all kinds of treats native to the Persian Gulf region. Along with tried-and-true faves like the exotic dates stuffed with almonds, candied lemon peel, and candied orange peel, Iranian saffron, and lemony roasted pistachios, we also received a box of traditional desserts such as ma’amoul, sesame crisps, and a whole assortment of phenomenally fresh almond and pistachio treats. The delicacy that best bookended a week that had started with our discovery of Ras el Hanout, though, was Kabsa, the most distinctive spice mix from the Arabian peninsula.

The nations that make up the Arabian peninsula today don’t have nearly the reputation for cuisine (and especially for the complex use of spices) that, say, Morocco does, but spices have long been a central preoccupation of the region nevertheless. The rise of Islam and the spice trade were absolutely and inextricably linked—not only did the spice trade finance the birth of Islam, but the Spice Route became the primary conduit for the teachings of Islam, spreading the new faith from the Arabian peninsula all the way to the Spice Islands (modern-day Indonesia and Malaysia) in the east, and as far west as Morocco and the Iberian peninsula.

Kabsa is a spice mix made up of everything from coriander, cinnamon, and turmeric, to pepper, cardamom, clove, dried ginger root, and dried Omani limes, and it lends its name to the most famous of Arabian dishes, Al-Kabsa, which can be made with a variety of different meats, but is most commonly made with lamb or chicken, along with rice, nuts, and dried fruit. We got one bag of pre-ground Kabsa and another of unground “raw” spices (you can get a sense of what it looks like from the photo above). The bag of whole ingredients looks and smells amazing, but we’ve got no idea how we’re going to manage to grind it. As soon as we do, and we get a chance to whip up a batch of chicken Al-Kabsa, we’ll let you know.


1,001 Arabian Treats, pt. 2

Arabian sweets
Originally uploaded by ajkinik.

OK, I couldn't resist. Here's a detail shot of that box of Arabian sweets we got. They go perfectly with tea. We're particularly fond of those pistachio chews in the middle there (sadly, they're all gone already).