I’ve been on a mid-east kick lately. So how do I make it exciting, tasty, appetizing, Maybe a Shawarma… Slow cooked, juicy, flavorful, and not the expected..
Shawarma is a Middle Eastern Arabic-style sandwich usually composed of shaved lamb, goat, chicken, turkey, beef, or a mixture of meats. Shawarma is a popular dish and fast-food staple across the Middle East; it has also become popular worldwide. Shawarma is known as guss in Iraq; it is similar to the gyros of Greece. The classic shawarma combination is pita bread, hummus, tomato & cucumber, and of course the shawarma. The additional toppings include tahini and chili sauce.
Strips of meat or marinated chicken are stacked on a vertical spit with chunks of meat fat make sure that the meat stays juicy and an onion or tomato are placed at the top of the stack to provide flavoring. The meat is then roasted slowly on all sides as the spit rotates in front of or over a flame for a period of several hours. Traditionally a wood fire was used but for modern times, a gas flame is more common. While many specialty restaurants might offer two or more meat selections, some establishments have just one skewer. In this recipe, chicken is used, but beef, lamb, or combination of all three are quite common.
After cooking, the meat is shaved off the stack with a large knife, made up into a sandwich with pita bread or rolled up in lafa together with vegetables (cucumber, onion, tomato, lettuce, eggplant, parsley, pickled turnips, pickled gherkins, cabbage) and a dressing (tahini, hummus, chili sauce, flavored with vinegar and spices). In some countries, (Romania, Bulgaria, Jordan, Israel, or the United Arab Emirates), french fries are included in the sandwich
Shawarma is eaten either as a fast food type dish by itself, with grilled bread, or fresh pita bread, or with other regional foods like Tabouli, Hummus.
Ras El Hanout
I do so love having a properly stocked pantry / spice rack. The situation is this, while in the store shopping I decided that I wanted to produce a Tangine for Saturday Dinner. Madam BadWolf, just looked at me and asked what did we need. (No pressure there, Just DO NOT SCREW THIS UP..) A quick visit to the meat counter showed very little in the way of acceptable and affordable lamb, we really could not think of chicken, and a “pork tangine?”, I think not, so this left beef. Looking at the beef selection, and referring to my trusty internet connected communications device, I settled on Beef Short Ribs.
Think of hearty chunks of brisket, with a bone on one side. Perfect for slow cooking, the high collagen and heavy marbling lend this meat to the low and sustained heat and as the meat fibers swell they absorb the braising liquid to deliver a taste that can NOT be duplicated by any other means.
So several packs of short ribs, some dates, dried apricots, and other items were loaded into the cart, and away we went. The next morning I start my prep to find… I AM MISSING A KEY item. (Ras El Hanout), I missed the line in the recipe, and as if the local not-so-mega mart would carry such… As if I KNEW what Ras El Hanout was…
Again an internet connected device to the rescue..
Ras el hanout or Rass el hanout is a blend of spices from Morocco but also used in other countries in North Africa. The name is Arabic for “head of the shop” and implies a mixture of the best spices the seller has to offer. Ras el hanout is used in many savory dishes, sometimes rubbed on meat or stirred into rice.
There is no definitive combination of spices that makes up ras el hanout. Each shop, company, or person may have their own blend. The mixture may consist of over a dozen spices. Commonly used ingredients include cardamom, clove, cinnamon, ground chili peppers, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, peppercorn, and turmeric. Some spices may be particular to the region, such as ash berries, chufa, grains of paradise, orris root, monk’s pepper, cubebs, or dried rosebud. Ingredients may be toasted before being ground and mixed together.
A peruse of my spice provided all but one, (optional) ingredients. The smells from the toasting, and grinding were amazing, I can not wait to actually start cooking with this.
I have started playing with a fusion diet of Mediterranean, Mid-Eastern, and Far Eastern cuisines. Heavy on Rice, Noodles, Breads, Pastas, fuits, veggies, nuts, beans, olive / sesame oil, and very light on red meat. A fair amount of fish, lighter on poultry. This does not mean I will run screaming at the sight of a a steak, (or at least run screaming AWAY..)
One item that keeps popping up is preserved lemons, used in all kinds of dishes around the Mediterranean, it really should be called preserved lemon peel, as that is the component most used.
Preserved lemon or lemon pickle is a condiment that is common in Indian and North African cuisine. It is also known as “country lemon” and leems. Diced, quartered, halved, or whole, lemons are pickled in a brine of water, lemon juice, and salt; occasionally spices are included as well. The pickle is allowed to ferment at room temperature for weeks or months before it is used. The pulp of the preserved lemon can be used in stews and sauces, but it is the peel (zest and pith together) that is most valued. The flavor is mildly tart but intensely lemony.
Pieces of pickled lemon may be washed before using to remove any surface salt, or blanched to remove more of the salt and bring out the natural mild sweetness. They may then be sliced, chopped, or minced as needed for the texture of the dish. The rind may be used with or without the pulp.
Preserved lemon is the key ingredient in many Moroccan dishes such as tagines. In Cambodian cuisine, it is used in dishes such as Ngam nguv, a chicken soup with whole preserved lemons. They are often combined in various ways with olives, artichokes, seafood, veal, chicken, and rice. Lemon Pickle is a standard accompaniment to curd rice, which is often the last course in South Indian Cuisine.
The pickled pulp and liquid can be used in Bloody Marys and other beverages where lemon and salt are used. The flavor also combines well with horseradish, as in American-style cocktail sauce.
In Ayurvedic cuisine, lemon pickle is a home remedy for stomach disorders, and its value is said to increase as it matures. In East African folk medicine, lemon pickle is given for excessive growth of the spleen.
From a VERY OLD COOKBOOK (Elizabeth Raffald (1786). The experienced English housekeeper )
They should be small, and with thick rinds: rub them with a piece of flannel; then slit them half down in four quarters, but not through to the pulp; fill the slits with salt hard pressed in, set them upright in a pan for four or five days, until the salt melts; turn them thrice a day in their own liquor, until tender; make enough pickle to cover them, of rape-vinegar, the brine of the lemons, Jamaica pepper, and ginger; boil and skim it; when cold, put it to the lemons, with two ounces of mustard-seed, and two cloves of garlic to six lemons. When the lemons are used, the pickle will be useful in fish or other sauces.
Note: When I speak of “Fresh” dried spices, I am stalking about items recently acquired, not sitting on a back shelf for a year. This should yield about a quart, so having a sterilized quart jar and lid is necessary. As a point, it is easier to manipulate the lemons in a wide mouth jar.
In my last post I mentioned Biryani, it happens to be one of my favorite mid-easterd dishes. This is a simple chicken biryani, one can add all sorts of things, lamb, beef, etc, but for a basic fill your stomach meal, this is the one.
Biryani is a set of rice-based foods made with spices, rice (usually basmati) and [[meat](chicken)]/vegetables. The name is derived from the Persian word beryā(n) which means “fried” or “roasted”.
Biryani was brought to India and Pakistan by Persian travelers and merchants and local variants of this dish are not only popular in India and Pakistan but also in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and among Muslims in Sri Lanka.
The spices and condiments used in biryani may include but are not limited to: ghee, peas, beans, cumin, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, coriander and mint leaves, ginger, onions, and garlic. The premium varieties include saffron. For a non-vegetarian biryani, the main ingredient that accompanies the spices is the meat—beef, chicken, goat, lamb, or shrimp. The dish may be served with dahi chutney or Raita, korma, curry, a sour dish of eggplant (brinjal) or a boiled egg.
The difference between biryani and pullao is that while pullao may be made by cooking the items together, biryani is used to denote a dish where the rice is cooked separately from the other ingredients.
‘Tis the season of Hanukkah, or Chanukah, Chanukkah or Chanuka, depending on your sect and persuasion… Time for a little RogueChef/Shabbos-Goy-Eins special…
Latkes are traditionally eaten by Jews during the Hanukkah festival. The oil for cooking the latkes is symbolic of the oil from the Hanukkah story that kept the Second Temple of ancient Israel lit with a long-lasting flame that is celebrated as a miracle. Despite the popularity of latkes and tradition of eating them during Hanukkah, they are hard to come by in stores or restaurants in Israel, having been largely replaced by the Hanukkah doughnut due to local economic factors, convenience and the influence of trade unions
The word “latke” itself is derived (via Yiddish) from the Russian/Ukrainian word латка meaning “patch.” The word leviva, the Hebrew name for latke, has its origins in the Book of Samuel’s description of the story of Amnon and Tamar. Some interpreters have noted that the homonym levav means “heart,” and the verbal form of l-v-v occurs in the Song of Songs as well.
Latkes need not necessarily be made from potatoes. Numerous modern recipes call for the addition of ingredients such as onions and carrots. Prior to the introduction of the potato to the Old World, latkes were, and in some places still are, made from a variety of other vegetables, cheeses, legumes, or starches, depending on the available local ingredients and foodways of the various places where Jews lived.
Delicate. Crisp outside. Melting soft inside. Very, very satisfying. One of the middle of the night cravings that must be sated if one is to sleep ..
Ok, one of the loyal critics has managed to stump me. I was asked, “Do you ever cook pargiyot?”. What the hell is that? So a bit of research turned up …
The dictionary definition is “young chickens”, but in practice it just means boned chunks of chicken meat. I did find that this is an Israeli dish, and turning to an associate who lived in Israel for many years I am told, “Generally, in Israel pargiot is boneless chicken thighs. If you ask for pargiot in any butcher shop or restaurant that’s what you’ll get. The spices have a distinct mid-eastern taste, heavy in cinnamon, cumin, allspice, ginger and paprika”
So this is a simple roast young chicken, or roast chunks of boned chicken thighs.
To avoid the slings and arrows of my “associates” I will go with the classic boneless chicken thighs, and build a basic marinade of spices and good thick yogurt. One should be aware that most of the “thick Greek-style yogurts” on the market are merely regular yogurt with milk protein added to thicken. These are NOT the real thing.
Fortunately, one can achieve the same texture with a simple expedient …
One can make their own Greek yogurt by draining a good quality yogurt. Usually plain whole milk yogurt for Greek yogurt. To drain the yogurt, you will need a colander, a bowl large enough to catch the draining liquid from the colander, cheesecloth, or tea towel.
Place colander on top of bowl and line the colander with cheesecloth or a tea-towel. Place yogurt in prepared colander and cover it with plastic wrap or by folding the edges of the cloth in. Place in the refrigerator for a few hours. When it’s ready, your yogurt will have lost about half its volume. If you want even thicker yogurt, stir in a few pinches of salt and let it drain overnight