Month: February 2017

Finding Cultural Cohesion in Middle East Through A Cookbook

I came late to the Jerusalem cookbook, but as always in times of crises, sometimes inspiration finds you. At the end of a week dominated by headlines, I found an eggplant recipe that spoke to the interwoven food histories that exist in the Middle East. While faiths are varied, the food provides cross-cultural links that inspire celebration and conviviality rather than division.

In ancient Levantine, Asian, and European cuisines, eggplant is simply eaten fried. When an eggplant is broiled or roasted over a flame, the charred and blackened skin can be scraped away to reveal flesh that is both moist and sweet. In many Middle Eastern recipes, the resulting flesh is pureed further to make a variety of snack (meze). Keeping some of the burnt skin in the salad mentioned below adds a smoky depth. With minor additions, the salad can be adapted for all cuisines.

Eggplant Salad

(Adapted from: Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sam Tamimi)

Eggplant – 1, cubed and baked

Tomatoes – 1, chopped and cubed

Cucumber – ½ chopped and cubed

Spring onions or shallot – 1, chopped finely

Fresh Parsley – 1½ tbsp

Lemon – juice from ½ lemon

Naan or Pita – 1

Yogurt – 2 tbsp

Salt and pepper – to taste

Hard boiled Egg – 1, sliced into half

Olive oil – ½ tbsp

Mango pickle – 1 tbsp

Zhoug – 1 tbsp (optional)

  • Mix the cooked eggplant, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Add the lemon juice and egg.
  • Warm the naan or pita and lay it across the serving plate.
  • Spread yogurt across the pita bread. (The spread could also be hummus or tahini.)
  • Place the salad mixture over the naan or pita bread.
  • Drizzle olive oil on top.
  • Serve with mango pickle or zhoug.

Note: Zhoug is a condiment that combines fresh cilantro and parsley, green chilies, and dried aromatic spices of cardamom, cumin, and cloves. These ingredients, along with oil, sugar, salt and garlic are blended in a food processor to make a robust paste.

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Burnt Eggplant With Garlic, Lemon & Pomegranate Seeds

Eggplant – 2

Garlic cloves – 2, minced

Lemon – 1, zest and juice

Flat leaf parsley – 3 stalks, remove leaves and chop roughly

Mint leaves – 3 stalks, remove the leaves and chop roughly

Pomegranate seeds – 2 tbsp

Salt and pepper – to taste

  • Broil the eggplant under a broiler for about 1 hour, turning it every 15-20 minutes.
  • When all the sides are charred, remove and cool. The skin comes away easily. Using a fork, scrape the flesh away in a smooth top-to-bottom motion. Let the flesh drain in a colander to remove all the liquid.
  • Meanwhile, mix all of the remaining ingredients, keeping aside a few pomegranate seeds.Add these ingredients to the eggplant.
  • When ready to serve, heap the eggplant mixture onto a plate.
  • Garnish with pomegranate seeds.

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Jalebi: A Sweet Confection

One way of finding out if your favorite foods are worth their calories is to make the dish at home – an eye opener in realizing how much oil, sugar, or salt goes into dishes that you crave. For Valentine’s Day, I planned on treating myself to a dessert that I had only ever bought. Similar to a churro or beignet (in that the fried dough is coated with sugar), a jalebi is a spiral-shaped sunset-colored Indian dessert that features a crispy outer shell harboring a juicy syrup within. The orange or yellow glow comes from the sugar syrup that is tinted and perfumed by aromatic saffron (or less expensive turmeric and sprinkles of cardamom powder).

There are two parts to making jalebi – the batter and syrup. The batter can be hurried along by adding yeast or baking soda, but just using yogurt will also give jalebi the desired tangy flavor. As expected, without a leavening agent and the cool temperature, my dough took two days to rise. But it was the sugar syrup that had me baffled. Simple syrup, ubiquitous in sweet lemonade and cocktails, is dissolved sugar and water that is heated for about 4-5 minutes. As the sugar solution starts to thicken into viscous syrup, it develops a glossy sheen before taking on a thread-like consistency. For jalebi, the syrup should have a half-thread consistency. Without a candy thermometer, this stage can be assessed by feel: Rub a little of the hot sugar solution between the thumb and forefinger, and then carefully lift the thumb away from the forefinger to see if a thin, transparent string forms. When this sugar thread is ¼-inch high, the syrup is ready. If the syrup is too thick, the fried dough will not absorb the syrup but instead be coated with sugar crystals.

Tips To Prevent Crystallization:

  • Use a clean pan. Any particles in the pan will allow sugar to crystallize on to it.
  • Don’t agitate the sugar solution. Let the sugar dissolve with minimal stirring.
  • Keep the heat on medium, and let the sugar come to a boil slowly.
  • While checking for the thread formation, remove the pot away from the flame so that the mixture doesn’t continue to cook.

Jalebi

Batter:

Flour – 1 cup, sieved

Yogurt – ½ cup

Syrup:

Sugar – 2 cups

Saffron strands – 4-5 (or 1/8th spoon turmeric for color)

Lime – 1, juice

Vegetable Oil – enough for 2-inch layer for frying

  • In a glass bowl, mix the yogurt and flour.
  • Add a little water to the flour and yogurt and mix. Remove all lumps for a smooth batter, by adding water in small increments.
  • Cover and keep aside for 1-2 days, depending on outside temperature.
  • The batter will not rise as one with a leavening agent, but will develop a shiny surface. You can add ½ tsp yeast for the batter to rise quicker.
  • When the batter is ready, spend 5-8 minutes working with the batter, Knead, gather, and stretch the batter, until the batter feels soft and silky. Add as little water as possible, just enough to get the batter to a thick, pouring consistency.
  • Spoon mixture into a piping bag. I often just cut a hole in a Ziploc bag or pour the batter into a mustard or ketchup container squeezing out the batter through the small hole in the cap.
  • Meanwhile, add the sugar and water to a very clean pan. Mix until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Heat the mixture, and once it has a shiny glossy appearance, add the limejuice. This helps gather the frothy scum, which can be discarded.
  • Add the saffron threads to the heated solution to give the sugar the characteristic orange tint.
  • Keep the sugar solution at medium heat and allow it to thicken to a half-thread consistency (makes a small thread between the forefinger and thumb as you slowly lift the sugar solution between the fingers). Keep at this temperature.
  • Heat the oil.
  • Pipe in the dough directly into the hot oil.
  • When the bubbles of hot oil around the dough become less agitated, turn the dough over. Let it lightly brown and then remove immediately. With one smooth motion, while tapping away the oil, dunk the fried dough immediately into the sugar solution. Let it soak for a minute before removing and plating it. Eat immediately for best flavor.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!