Meat Free Mondays – Koshari

Okay, so I’ve been reading this book, “Dark Star Safari,” by Paul Theroux.

Koshari, national dish of EgyptHe’s one of my favorite travel writers because he goes to these out of the way places and has these wild experiences — such as kayaking from island to island in Polynesia (“The Happy Isles of Oceania”) or taking a train ride across China and Mongolia (“Riding the Iron Rooster”).

Theroux is such a skilled writer that he doesn’t need to rely on photos to bring the places alive. They aren’t traditional travelogues that describe only what tourists go to see, but instead focus on the everyday lives of the people who live in these exotic locales.

Dark Star Safari by Paul TherouxThis book, which he wrote in 2002, chronicles his adventures traveling overland down the African continent, from Cairo to Cape Town. I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s terrific.

One of the things that struck me was Theroux’s description of Egyptian street life in Cairo and other cities. On every corner, he writes, a street food called Koshari (or koshary, kosheri, kushari or كشرى ) can be found.

Koshari is a mixture of lentils and rice that are cooked together, topped with a spicy tomato sauce and fried onions. Although it’s usually vegetarian, sometimes meat is added in the form of sharwarma, or fried liver.

Originally a Moorish dish, koshari evolved as an “end of the month” dish that was consumed by workers in labor camps. People would gather together all the odds and ends they had left over and create a shared dish that could be prepared and enjoyed communally.

It’s now the national dish of Egypt and is available on practically every street corner, marketplace and stall in cities and towns throughout the country, according to Theroux.

That reminded me of Red Beans and Rice, which started out as a New Orleans Monday morning stew made with whatever was leftover from the weekend’s more formal dinners.

Anyway, I knew instantly I had to make it, especially since my cupboard has been overflowing with half-packages of rice and lentils, tins of tomato sauce and other odds and ends.

In fact, I already had everything on this recipe’s long list of ingredients with the exception of cardamom. So I simply substituted curry powder for the Bahārāt, which is Arabic for “spice mix”.

I subsequently discovered that my local supermarket carries a Garam Masala seasoning powder (hooray for multi-culturalism!), which has practically the same ingredients as Bahārāt. I will be using that next time.

Koshari cooking

Koshari is one of those “use every pot and pan you have” dishes

As it turns out Koshari is quite simple to make, but is one of those “use every pot and pan you have” dishes that is something of a chore to clean up after.

Having never made it before, I toned down the spices, especially the red pepper flake, because I wasn’t sure how strongly flavored it would be. It’s taste was delicious, but next time, I plan on bringing the bold, forward flavors this dish on full force.

Koshari

2 TBS olive oil

1 cup Medium Grain Rice

1 cup Brown Lentils

2 cups Macaroni, dry

2 cups Vegetable Stock

1 Garlic Clove, quartered

1 tsp Cumin

1 Bay Leaf

½ tsp Salt

2 TBS Olive Oil

2 large Onions, thinly sliced

Sea Salt to taste

For the Spicy Tomato Sauce

2 TBS Olive Oil

1 small Onion, diced finely

2 Garlic Cloves, finely minced

15 oz can Tomato Sauce

2 tsp Bahārāt spice mix (or Garam Masala or curry powder)

¼ tsp Red Chile Flakes

1 TBS Red Wine Vinegar

Sea Salt & Fresh Cracked Black Pepper to taste

For the Crispy Onion Garnish

2 Onions, finely sliced

Oil for deep-frying

15 oz can Garbanzo Beans

  1. Heat 2 TBS of olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the rice and fry it for 2 minutes, then add the vegetable stock. Bring it to a boil, decrease the heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until the rice is cooked.
  2. Rinse the lentils under cold water and add them to another medium saucepan with 2 cups of water. Add the garlic, cumin and bay leaf and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Once cooked, add the salt and stir to combine. Strain any excess liquid if necessary.
  3. Cook the macaroni according to package instructions until al dente. (Note: Prepare the rice, macaroni and lentils while the sauce is simmering and leave them covered in the pots to keep warm.)
  4. To make sauce, heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and add the onion. Cook until soft and translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until golden brown. Add the tomato sauce, Bahārāt, salt and pepper to taste, chile flakes and red wine vinegar. Bring it to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. To make the crispy onions, heat the oil in a skillet. Add the onions and fry until dark brown. Using a slotted spoon, remove them from the oil and place them on paper towels to drain and cool.
  6. Add the rice, lentils and macaroni to a large bowl and toss to combine. Sprinkle a little Bahārāt over each portion and serve topped with some of the spicy tomato sauce. Top with garbanzo beans, the crispy onions and another sprinkle of Bahārāt. Serve warm.

Here’s the recipe for Bahārāt if you want to try making it yourself. You also can find premade Bahārāt at stores that feature Arabic foods.

Makes about 3/4 cup

2 TBS Black Peppercorns

2 TBS Coriander Seeds

2 TBS Cumin seeds

1 TBS Allspice berries

1 tsp Cardamom seeds

1/2 tsp Whole Cloves

4 (3-inch) Cassia or Cinnamon Sticks

2 TBS ground Sweet Paprika

1/2 tsp Nutmeg, freshly grated

Grind the whole spices using a mortar and pestle, spice mill, or coffee grinder. You may need to do it in several batches. Add the paprika and nutmeg and combine.

Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months.

Hummus Times Three

Hummus is one of our favorite foods in our house because it is so easy to make and fun to eat.

Hummus is also highly adaptable in that you can give it any flavor you want. In past blogs, I’ve written about plain hummus, roasted red pepper hummus, Kalamata olive hummus, and roasted garlic hummus.

This time, I decided to try a hummus made with roasted tomatillas, poblano chiles and jalapenos; a hummus made with chipotle salsa; and a hummus made with carmelized onions.

I started with a big batch of plain hummus, triple the amount I normally make. Then, I removed the hummus from the food processor, cleaned it out, added back one third of the hummus, then added one of the three flavorings. Then I repeated the whole process twice more with the remaining two flavorings.

The result was a trio of delicious hummus that can be enjoyed right away, or kept in the refrigerator and sampled for up to three or four days with some delightful whole wheat pita. We ate ours with some shish-ka-bobs and couscous the first night, but there was plenty left over for lunches and snacks.

Hummus usually is served with flatbread, such as pita, or with fresh vegetables like celery or carrot sticks, or green or red pepper slices. It’s 100 percent natural and is high in iron and Vitamin C.

I always use my food processer to make hummus because it’s super easy, but you also can make it in a blender. Or, if you are adventurous, people have been mashing it by hand for thousands of years.

Basic Hummus

1 can chickpeas, drained (save the can)

¼ cup tahini

1-2 cloves garlic

Juice of 1 lemon

3 TBS EVOO

1 tsp honey

Sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Pinch of cayenne or a couple drops of hot sauce

1. Combine all ingredients in food processor or blender and mix until smooth. Use the can from the chickpeas to pour a little tap water into the mixture as it blends until the hummus has the consistency of cream of wheat.

2. Transfer to an airtight container and let rest in your refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving so the flavors can meld. The hummus will also thicken a little during this time. Serve the pita whole and let your guests tear it up with their hands (fun!) or cut it  into wedges for a nice presentation.

Triple this recipe if you are super ambitious and want to try all three!

Roasted Tomatilla, Poblano Chiles and Jalapeno Hummus – Peel the papery wrapper off 6 to 8 tomatillas and rinse off the sticky residue. Chop them in half and throw them in a mixing bowl. Cut two poblanos and two jalapenos in half and remove the seeds, ribs and stems and discard, then throw the peppers in the bowl. Drizzle about 2 TBS EVOO into the bowl, toss so everything is coated evenly, then pour out onto a baking pan and roast at 375F for about 45-50 minutes so they get a nice char, stirring once during cooking. Allow to cool completely. This can even be done the day before. Add to the hummus recipe listed above and puree completely.

Chipotle Hummus — Add about 4 oz of chipotle salsa to of the hummus mixture and puree completely. Or you can use canned chipotles, which are smoked jalapenos, but be aware that these are quite hot and spicy.

Carmelized Onion Hummus — Put your cast iron pan on the fire. When hot, add 2 TBS of EVOO. When smoking, add 1 medium white onion, julienned. Toss to cook evenly, then cook until brown, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. At the very end, stir in 1/2 cup water and cover, and the onions will get super brown and sweet.

The roasted tomatilla hummus turned out quite spicy — I must have left too many jalapeno seeds in it — but it was still tasty with the smoky flavor of the charred tomatillos and peppers. The chipotle was not all that spicy, but also had a great smoky flavor. The carmelized onion was very sweet, so you might want to cut back or eliminate the honey if you are not into super sweet hummus.

 

Baba Ghanoush

It happens every time I see an eggplant.

Whether it’s at the the grocery store or the Farmer’s Market, I’m always seduced by their dark, beautiful purple skin, their plump waistline and that sassy little hat they wear. My first impulse is always the same: “Buy it!”

You sexy thing!

You sexy thing!

Then there’s white eggplants. Even baby eggplants. Aww, so cute!

But when you get them home, then what? A lot of people, most I would argue, believe they don’t like eggplant. But that’s only because they don’t know what to do with one.

You can make ratatouille out of them. But no matter how you make it, French people will always say it’s not authentic. Am I right?!

How about eggplant parmesan? It’s made the same way as chicken parmesan or veal parmesan. That’s delicious, right? Bread just about anything with parmesan cheese, fry it, then cover it in tomato sauce and mozzarella and it’s going to taste great. Baseball cap parmesan would probably sell.

But that doesn’t capture the essence of the eggplant. What should eggplant taste like?

The answer may surprise you: Baba Ghanoush.

Baba Ghanoush (ba-buh guh-NOOSH) is a Middle Eastern appetizer made much the same way as hummus, except with roasted eggplant rather than chickpeas. Usually it is served chilled with pita bread or a Middle Eastern flatbread known as lavash.

Baba Ghanoush

Baba Ghanoush

It’s most often associated with Lebanese cuisine, but variations also can be found in Turkey, Greece, Egypt, even Pakistan. In Israel, it is sometimes made with mayonnaise.

“Baba” means “father” in Arabic. “Ghanoush” probably means eggplant, but I’m not 100 percent sure on that.

Baba Ghanoush, an excellent vegetarian dish, has a slightly sweet, smoky flavor. Eggplant itself has a neutral, mild flavor, so most of the flavorings come from the roasting and the other ingredients.

In my experience, most people are initially intimidated by Baba Ghanoush because it has a funny name and is too “weird”. Middle Eastern food? Eggplants? No, thanks!

But once they taste it, they will fall in love with the subtle, smooth flavor of Baba Ghanoush.

It’s also a very economical dish because eggplants — which are also known as aubergines and are native to India — are available and inexpensive almost year round. You get a lot for your money because they are nearly 100 percent edible and have a large amount of “meat”. You usually only need one, regardless of what you are making with it.

So bring something exotic to your next gathering. All we are saying is give Baba Ghanoush a chance!

Baba Ghanoush

1 large eggplant

TBS EVOO

1 clove garlic

2 TBS Tahini

Juice of 1 lemon

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425F. Rub eggplant with EVOO, place on sheet pan, prick with fork a couple of times and roast until fully softened, about 25 minutes.

When cool, cut in half, scoop pulp into food processer and add tahini, lemon, garlic, parsley, and remaining EVOO. Pulse untl smooth. Season with S&P to taste.

Refrigerate at least 30 minutes so flavors can meld. Mound into bowl, drizzle with a little additional EVO and garnish with parsley sprigs. Serve with pita bread cut into triangles or squares of lavash.

Do you have a recipe that initially intimidates people, but eventually wins them over? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Suddenly Couscous

Under the blazing Sudanese sun, groups of women crouch before a pile of semolina wheat, carefully sprinkling it with water before rolling it out into pellets and passing them through a sieve to make couscous.  For several long days they toil, building a store of food that will be dried then stored, feeding their village for months.

Meanwhile, in America, you open a box, pour it into boiling water and cover and it’s ready five minutes later. What a country!

Couscous – which is part grain, part pasta – has been food staple for more than a
thousand years. It  is most commonly associated with the Middle East, but in fact is also widely used throughout Africa, Europe and Asia.

Couscous with Shish Kabob

Couscous with Shish Kabob

The coucous most commonly available in the United States is pre-steamed then dehydrated, just like instant rice. It can be served hot as the starch portion of a dish, or cold as a salad.

Israeli couscous, which has much larger pearls, is actually more of a pasta like the
Italian orzo.

Around where I live, you typically see a brand called Near East couscous, which comes plain or a variety of flavors. Each box comes with an envelope of powdered flavoring
agents, which I always throw away.

I’ve also bought it in larger packages, usually in Arabic groceries. A word of advice: transfer it immediately to  an airtight plastic container with a lid. The tiny pellets tend to get everywhere.

Couscous has a much different taste and texture than pasta or rice. It is obviously smaller, but to me the flavor is more velvety and nuttier. If I’m serving it hot, I toss it in a little butter then season it with salt and pepper. It is great for a vegetarian entrée, or it pairs well with just about any meat or seafood. I think it has a little more versatility than rice or pasta.

Try substituting couscous where you would use rice or pasta. It can transform an ordinary midweek meal into something more exotic. It’s also relatively inexpensive. I paid $2.64 for a 10 oz box of couscous — which makes enough for at least four people as an accompaniment. But you can find it for less in an Arabic grocery.

I almost always use it as a base for Shish-Ka-Bob because of the cultural thematic unity. In Libya, it is commonly served with braised camel: I’d like to try that!

Add some diced steamed or sautéed vegetables, such as onion, carrot, corn, zucchini, yellow squash, or even broccoli or cauliflower. Pitted and chopped kalamata olives also work nicely.

Here’s a recipe for an easy  couscous salad I like to make. It will stay fresh refrigerated for several days and is great for an on-the-go lunch. Like most grain salads, it tastes even better the second day after the flavors have had time to meld together.

Couscous Salad

1-1/2 cups water or chicken stock

1 cup couscous

2 TBS EVOO

2-3 leaves fresh basil, chopped

6-7 Marinated Kalamata Olives, pitted and rough chop

½ red onion, small dice

½ carrot, small dice

½ red pepper, ribs and seeds removed, diced

1 small tomato, ribs and seeds removed, diced

1 jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, diced

½ cup flatleaf Italian or curly parsley, chopped

Salt and Cracked Black Pepper to taste

Couscous Salad

Couscous Salad

Bring water or chicken stock to a boil, then stir in couscous and cover. Wait five minutes then fluff with fork. Fold in EVOO, onion, carrot, red pepper, tomato, jalapeno and parsley. Season with S&P to taste. Garnish with sliced basil.

What more exotic grains do you use to spice up a meal? Share your ideas in the comments section.

Budget Cooking – Homage to Hummus

Traditionally, hummus is a Middle Eastern dip made from mashed chick peas, tahini (a paste made from sesame seeds), olive oil, garlic, honey and lemon. But really hummus is an easy and inexpensive way to show your friends or family that you are a culinary genius.

Almost everyone who has tried it loves hummus. It’s yummy, it’s fun because you eat it with your hands, and although it’s slightly exotic, it is also eminently approachable. It doesn’t taste at all weird. What I love about it is that it’s super easy to make, and you can add any flavors you want. You can even change out some of the key ingredients and it’s still amazing.

Hummus usually is served with flatbread, such as pita, or with fresh vegetables like celery or carrot sticks, or green or red pepper slices. It’s 100 percent natural and is high in iron and Vitamin C. It will stay fresh in your refrigerator for at least a couple of days. If the liquid starts to separate, just  give it a stir.

Bring it to a party and your friends will be amazed. Serve it at your family’s table, perhaps with grilled shish-kabobs and couscous, and they will be impressed how multi-cultural you are.

It’s easiest if you have a food processer, but you can make it in a blender, or people have been mashing it by hand for thousands of years. I prefer the food processer, though.

The main ingredients of hummus are available almost anywhere. Chick peas, also known as garbanzo beans, can be bought fresh, dried, canned or frozen. For me, canned is easiest and cheap. With a little searching, I can usually find them for $.75/can or less.

Tahini, or a beige-colored paste made out of ground sesame seeds, is available in a surprising number of mainstream chain grocery stores. A 12 oz jar – enough for several batches of hummus – is usually about $4.00, and will keep in your refrigerator for months. It tends to settle, however, so be prepared to stir it up if you haven’t used it in awhile.

Garlic, EVOO, honey and lemon, of course, are cheap and available year round anywhere. I’m going to give you the standard recipe, then some amazing variations. For bonus points, serve three or four different kinds of hummus at the same time.

Getting ready to make hummus

Getting ready to make hummus

Basic Hummus

1 can chickpeas, drained (save the can)

¼ cup tahini

1-2 cloves garlic

Juice of 1 lemon

3 TBS EVOO

1 tsp honey

Salt and Pepper to taste

Pinch of cayenne or a couple drops of hot sauce

Complicated? Not. Combine all ingredients in food processor or blender and mix until smooth. Use the can from the chickpeas to pour a little tap water into the mixture as it blends (preserving any residual flavor) to thin the hummus out to a smooth consistency, about that of like cream of wheat.

That’s it. Transfer to an airtight container and let rest in your refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving so the flavors can meld. The hummus will also thicken a little during this time. Serve the pita whole and let your guests tear it up with their hands, or cut it  into wedges for a nice presentation.

For an extra visual pop, you can serve with a lemon wedge dipped in paprika (Hey, color!). I’ve also seen the hummus piped onto the plate to form a ring, forming a little pool in the middle, which is then filled with EVOO for dipping.

Okay, here are some cool variations:

Charring a red pepper

Charring a red pepper

Roasted Garlic Hummus – For a sweet, succulent hummus, use the same recipe as above, except substitute one head of roasted garlic for the raw garlic. For roasted head of garlic, cut off the top of a whole head of garlic, drizzle with EVOO, place inside foil and roast for about 35 minutes at 350F. Or alternately, peel all the cloves from a head of garlic and cook in a saucepan in a shallow pool of EVOO over a low flame for about 15 minutes or until light brown, stirring once or twice. This will fill your kitchen with sweet, nutty aroma. Also you can save the cooled leftover EVOO and use it as a garlic-infused oil in future recipes. Bonus points for also using it in the hummus.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus – For a brilliant-hued, nuanced variation, add a few slices of roasted red pepper to the recipe above. Jars of roasted red pepper are available in most chain supermarkets, and certainly in ethnic markets or produce stores. They are handy to have around and will keep in your refrigerator for several weeks. Or, if you are really ambitious, roast your own red peppers by placing fresh red bell peppers directly onto the flames of burners of your stove, turning them frequently until all sides are charred black. Then put into a small mixing bowl and cover immediately with plastic wrap. Allow them to cool, about 25 minutes, then use a paring knife to gently scrape off the charred skin, ribs and the seeds under cold running water.

Kalamata Olive Hummus – Add a handful of pitted, marinated kalamata olives to the recipe above for a great tasting variation. You will need to reduce the amount of salt in the recipe since kalamatas already are pretty salty. Don’t forget to take out the pits, very important. I buy marinated kalamatas at a local ethnic deli, and they are pretty inexpensive and delicious in salads or even to eat on their own.

This is one of those dishes where you can really make it pop with the plating. Try making the basic recipe, then divide it into thirds, then make 1/3 of the Roasted Red Pepper, and 1/3 of the Kalamata variations. Serve all three side-by-side in little bowls with any kind of garnish (a couple whole kalamatas work well), surrounded by the pita wedges
pointy-side up. Sprinkle a little paprika and green chopped parsley or cilantro over it and you got yourself a standing ovation at your next get-together.

I’ve also made this with white beans instead of chickpeas, a little French twist, served with toast points. Also very good. Bon appétit (That’s French)!

Traditional, Roasted Red Pepper, and Kalamata Olive Hummus

Traditional, Roasted Red Pepper, and Kalamata Olive Hummus