Month: March 2015

Appam (Rice Pancake): Fermented Gluten-Free Batter (Part 1)

Appam is a fermented rice pancake, and like bread made from simple, whole ingredients – flour, water, salt, and yeast. Its spongy texture is similar to injera and it is just as effective in mopping up stews.

Whether the bread or pancake is made from wheat, rice, or teff flour, it is that combination that starts the natural chemical process of fermentation. The gas bubbles that come to the surface are responsible for the sour smelling batter. Chemistry aside, the resulting bread or pancake has a light and airy texture. The unhurried (10-12 hours) fermented batter gives the bread its delicate flavor. While rice and teff flour (used ininjera) are naturally gluten-free, slow fermentation breaks down the gluten proteins more effectively even with wheat and rye flour. This makes the bread easier to digest.

Appam (Rice Pancake)

Rice Flour – 1 cup

Yeast – ¼ tsp

Sugar – 4 tsp

Coconut Milk – 1 cup

Salt – 1 tsp

  • In a large bowl, mix the yeast with 1 tbsp of water until it dissolves.
  • Add the sugar, salt, and coconut milk and stir until well mixed.
  • Add the rice flour and  ¼ cup of water to make a batter.
  • Keep the batter aside in a warm place, about 12-14 hours or overnight.
  • Just before cooking, add water to the batter as needed, for a pouring consistency.
  • Heat a small non-stick wok.
  • Drop 2 tbsp of batter into the center of the wok.
  • Pick the wok up (with oven gloves) and swirl it gently, letting the batter come up the sides.
  • Cover with a lid and place it back on the heat. Cook for 4 minutes.
  • Remove the lid. The pancake should have a crispy brown lacy edge and a spongy center. Repeat for 8-10 pancakes.
  • Pancakes can also be made on a griddle or the batter can be steamed to a bread-like thickness.
  • Serve with stew or curry.

 

 

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Injera: Communal Meal (Part 3)

Blogging about communal meals (cheese fondue and shabu shabu) made me aware of the importance of the main cooking pot: The flavors developed here enhance the taste of the accompaniments. In Ethiopian cuisine, the central “pot” is injera bread, which is both the dish that holds the accompaniments as well as part of the meal itself. Breaking bread becomes a communal experience as pieces of injera are torn to scoop up the side dishes that are piled in small mounds on the bread platter.

Injera is made from an ancient gluten-free grain called teff. Teff flour batter is fermented overnight and gives injera its characteristic sour taste. The cooked pancake-shaped spongy bread balances, both literally and figuratively, an assortment of cooked vegetables, lentils, and meat. Side dishes range from lightly spiced to the richly spiced flavors aided by the spice blend, berbere (pronounced burr-burr-ee). Berbere gives the meat stew (wot) and red lentil sauce its rich red color and complexity. Depending on family or regional traditions, there are at least 8-10 different spices in the berbere blend.

Proper etiquette requires that you eat with your fingers, working your way from the edges of the injera toward the middle. This has a practical aspect since the soft spongy center soaks up the sauce from the stew by the end of the meal.

Doro Wot – Chicken Stew

Oil or niter kibeh (spiced clarified butter or ghee) – 4-5 tbsp

Onion – 2 large, chopped finely

Garlic cloves – 6, peeled and minced

Ginger – 2-inch peeled and minced

Chicken –1 lb, washed

Berbere powder – 2 tbsp

Tomatoes – 2, chopped

Salt – 1 tsp

Boiled eggs – 2 (optional)

  • Heat the oil in a pan.
  • Add the onions and cook on low for about 10 minutes, until cooked down
  • Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat. Process the cooked onions, garlic and ginger in a food processor, until it becomes a fine paste.
  • Add the paste back to the pan and continue with the cooking.
  • Add the berbere powder and sauté for one minute.
  • Add the tomatoes and incorporate into the mixture.
  • Add the chicken. Cover and cook on low for 15-20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked.
  • Add the boiled egg during the last five minutes of cooking, so that it will absorb the flavors.

Misir Wot – Red Lentil Stew

Oil or niter kibeh (spiced clarified butter or ghee) – 3-4 tbsp

Red lentils – 1 ½ cups, cleaned until water runs clear

Onion – 1 medium, chopped finely

Garlic cloves – 8, peeled and minced

Berbere powder – 1-1/2 tbsp

Tomatoes – 2, chopped

Salt – 1 tsp

  • Heat a pan with oil.
  • Add the onions and cook on low for about 10 minutes.
  • Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the berbere spice powder and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes and cook them until incorporated with the contents in the pan.
  • Remove from heat and process them to a fine paste.
  • Add the paste back into the pan and bring the contents to a simmer.
  • Add the lentils to the paste. Mix well, and add  3 cups of water.
  • Cook on low heat, until lentils are soft, about 15-20 minutes. Add more liquid as needed, but the consistency of the lentil stew should be thick such that it can be scooped up with injera.

If you do not want to make all the accompaniments, make one meat or lentil dish with berbere spice and keep the rest of the accompaniments easy – such as a simple steamed greens or salad.

Suggested Accompaniments:

Red Lentil Stew

Ethiopian Green Salad

Marinated Beet and Potato Salad

Collard Greens

Steamed Kale

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Note: This time I used store-bought injera for convenience. I am planning to include a recipe as part of a series on fermented breads.

 

I was introduced to the three communal meals, the inspirations for the last few blog posts, by my friends (cheese fondue and shabu shabu) and relatives who had lived and worked in Ethiopia (injera). I would love to hear from you about your personal favorite communal meals.

Shabu Shabu: Communal Food (Part 2)

I seemed to have lucked out with friends who entertain at home, as I am able to enjoy a cultural and dining experience right in their kitchens! In my last blog, I recalled my Swiss friend’s cheese fondue. This week, I thought about my Japanese friend’s tabletop communal meal, Shabu shabu. Several years later as I replicate the dish, I replaced some of the red meat with more vegetable options that is just as delicious. Similar in style to cheese fondue meal, Shabu shabu has a central pot that uses hot broth instead of cheese. Shabu shabu is also surrounded by a variety of side dishes.

Shabu shabu broth is made easily with water that is flavored with dried seaweed (kombu) and fish (bonito) flakes or powder. I shopped at my local Japanese market for the more traditional accompaniments such as chrysanthemum leaves, nori and kombu seaweed, but most large supermarkets carry dried seaweed, tofu, and enoki and shiitake mushrooms. Instead of investing in a bottled version of the dipping sauce, ponzu, I made my own version with soy sauce, mirin, orange juice, lemon and chili flakes – ingredients that I had at home.

Communal meals can be cobbled together quickly and stretched if more people are going to share the meal. Shopping and preparation can be done ahead of time. There are no measurements involved, and the meal can be an impromptu dinner if you have some of basic ingredients such as cabbage, mushrooms, and carrots in the refrigerator.

For the Broth:

  • Bring 3 cups of water to boil, lower the heat and add ½ sheet of kombu
  • Let the water simmer and then add 1 ½ tsp the bonito powder. Simmer for about 15 minutes.
  • Strain the broth and discard the seaweed.
  • Keep the broth on slow simmer.
  • Add the vegetable such as carrots that take the longest to cook into the broth.
  • Bring the broth to the table and each person dips the meat into the broth.
  • Once the vegetables and meat are cooked to your desired level of crispness, remove them.
  • Serve with the dipping sauce and bowls of cooked rice.

Suggested Accompaniments:

  • Sirloin beef, sliced thinly and flattened further (press the sides of the knife on the thin slice of meat)
  • Shiitake mushrooms
  • Enoki mushrooms
  • Napa cabbage leaves
  • Cubed tofu
  • Strips of carrots
  • Chrysanthemum leaves
  • Cooked sticky rice
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Cheese Fondue: Communal Food (Part 1)

Many years ago, a casual remark to a new friend about my dislike of the taste of cheese prompted an immediate invitation to a cheese fondue dinner. A Swiss native, my friend simmered Raclette in the fondue pot, and paired it with trimmings of fresh and pickled vegetables, cubes of bread, and spiced meat. This memorable meal made me a cheese convert, and it also highlighted the potential of a fondue dinner as a collaborative meal.

When A. and N. wanted to taste some of the foods they had missed but saw written up in the blog, I thought about that fondue dinner. Fondue is a good example of a communal meal that showcases a variety of different textures and flavors. Pickled pearl onions and balsamic compound butter can be worked in as accompaniments alongside chunky bread pieces and bite-size sausages to scoop or dip into melted raclette cheese. There is plenty of room for innovation and collaboration when many hands are involved. Some of our new favorites included new potatoes brushed with cumin and coriander and crisp black radish drizzled with melted balsamic butter. These side dishes, along with firm red pickled onions, were a perfect textural contrast to the semi-firm cheese.

For the Fondue:

  • Heat 1 lb of Raclette or Gruyere in a ceramic fondue pot or in a pan.
  • When the cheese has a runny consistency, remove from heat and serve.
  • Continue to stir while warm.
  • Add more cheese as needed.

Suggested Accompaniments:

  • Grilled asparagus spears with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  • Strips of colorful bell peppers.
  • Green beans drizzled with melted balsamic compound butter.

The beauty of a communal meal lies in the variety of ideas that are presented on the table. I would love to hear about your traditions or thoughts on some of your favorite side dishes.

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Étouffée (or Etouffee)

Even a week after Mardi Gras’ end in New Orleans, the colorful bead garlands continue to drape trees along the parade route. A time for simplicity that follows all the merrymaking seems harder to shed in the city, especially one noted for its soupy gumbo, meaty jambalaya, and crawfish étouffée (pronounced ay-too-fay). It is here on a cool February afternoon as I was enjoying étouffée, a seafood dish ladled over plump rice grains, that I realized that this dish could be even further enhanced with compound butter.

Étouffée originated in the bayous of Louisiana where crawfish, a small lobster-like crustacean, is plentiful. When crawfish isn’t in season, shrimp is substituted and is “smothered” (from French verb, étouffer) in a creamy roux sauce. The shellfish flavors in the dish are developed through a two-step process. Combining shrimp stock with butter makes shrimp compound butter, and this modified butter provides the base for a rich roux.

Shrimp Étouffée

Raw shrimp (with shells) – 1 lb

Butter – 4 tbsp

Flour – 2 tbsp

Onion – 1 medium, chopped finely

Garlic cloves – 2, minced

Bell pepper – 1, de-seeded and chopped

Celery stalk – 1, chopped

Bay leaf – 1

Seafood stock – 1 cup

Cayenne pepper – 1 tsp

Red chili pepper – ¾ tsp

Fresh pepper – ½ tsp

Salt – ½ tsp

Lemon – ½, juiced

Green onions – 3, chopped finely

Parsley – 3 tbsp, chopped

Cooked rice – for serving

  • To make the stock: Shell and devein the shrimp. Reserve the heads and shells. Make a shrimp stock by adding the heads and shells to 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Cook on low for about 20-25 minutes. Skim off the scum that rises to the surface. Divide the stock, keeping one half of the stock with all the shells.
  • To make the shrimp compound butter: Add 4 tbsp of butter to the stock with the shells. Continue to simmer for another 10 minutes. Strain the shells, and allow the liquid to cool. The butter will solidify and can be skimmed off the surface to become shrimp compound butter.
  • To make the roux: Heat a cast iron pan. Add the shrimp compound butter. When it melts, add a tablespoon of flour at a time, stirring and incorporating it into the butter. Keep stirring on simmer. As the roux cooks, it loses the floury taste. The color changes from white to cream to brown, and the aroma from sugar cookie to toffee.
  • Once the roux has turned to a rich brown color, add the onions, bell pepper, garlic, celery and bay leaf and cook for about 8-10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened.
  • Add the cayenne pepper, chili flakes and pepper. Sauté for one minute.
  • Add the stock, salt and bring to a boil. Whisk so that the roux and stock are well mixed. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  • Add the shrimp and cover and cook for 5 minutes until the shrimp has turned pink. Do not overcook.
  • Just before serving, add the lemon juice, green onions, and salt. Garnish with parsley.
  • Serve over cooked rice.

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