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Armchair travel cooking


Last year, while discussing an upcoming trip to Lebanon with a Paris friend, I waxed lyrical about Lebanese food and how I had discovered a great website and cookbook author Anissa Helou. It transpired that he knew Mme. Helou, having met her at a food symposium and they had kept in touch. He put me in contact with her and she very kindly sent me a list of her favourite Beirut food destinations.  Thrilled, we embarked on our trip clutching a printout of her recommendations. I had her book Modern Mezze and now I have been to Lebanon a couple of times it has really come to life for me.  It’s a concise repetoire of classic mezze detailing how to go about making the dishes that make up standard middle eastern fare giving a litle background and explanation for each one.

Falafel are the go-to middle eastern food as far as most western palates are concerned yet I’m guessing most of us assume they’re all made from fried chickpeas and a little tahini and that’s that. I was surprised to learn that Eygptian falafel are the original and they are made only with fava beans while Syrian and Lebanese ones contain chickpeas as well.

I opted to bake these so that they would be easier to digest for an 11 month old. Frying them is undoubtedly better – crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

PS: Garbanzo or chickpea? Wikipedia discusses….

Note: Ideally use dried beans and soak them overnight in cold water with 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda. However, canned beans will do, just drain them well.

Recipe taken from Anissa Helou’s Modern Mezze

Ingredients

  • 100gr chickpeas
  • 200gr broad beans/fava beans
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 small onion, quartered
  • 50gr coriander sprigs
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon finely ground pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (if using dried beans)
  • sea salt

Making

Drain the beans and rinse them well. Put them in a food processor, add the rest of the ingredients and process until they form a fine paste. Transfer to a large bowl, season and allow to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes or so.

Pinch off enough mixture to form small balls and do so until you have 20-25.

If frying heat vegetale oil to about 5 cm depth and when bubbling hot drop the balls in for 3-4 minutes until golden brown and crispy. If baking place on a baking tray in a preheated oven (375 degrees F) and bake for about 20 – 25 minutes.

Mop off the excess fat and serve hot or cold with a tahini dip.

Eating in the couscous restaurants of Paris, there are very often carrot salads on the menu – simply done, crunchy barely cooked carrots with a simple cumin and parsley dressing.  Heading over to a friends for lunch one day I wanted to make a hearty salad that wasn’t composed entirely of green leaves and tomatoes so I decided to use roasted beets, red peppers and ‘just cooked’ crunchy carrots as the base and see what seeds and spices could be used to make an equally solid dressing that could stand up to the root veggies.

My husband had recently brought home various spices and mysterious looking bags of foodie treats from his Tunisian bachelor party. Tunisian flavours come most often from the use of the following spices as well as the all important harissa;  garlic, anise, saffron, cinnamon, caraway, coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, ginger, white pepper, black pepper, red pepper and cloves.  Tabil or galat dugga are two typical Tunisian spice mixes commonly used.The toasted spice mix for this salad uses North African inspired tastes but it’s easy to mix and match pantry staples to come up with your own flavours to mix into the dressing.

In a large bowl, mix the roasted, chopped beetroot, the sliced carrots, the chopped pepper, the sultanas and the cucumber.  Fold the toasted seed mix into the oils and the other dressing ingredients and mix well. Toss the salad in the spicy oil mix for a couple for hours before serving so the flavours can envelop the vegetables.

Ingredients

  • 2 beetroot  – boiled (or used pre-cooked) and roasted for about 20 minutes
  • 4 carrots -steamed just so they lose their raw edge but are still crunchy
  • 1 red pepper – chopped
  • 1 red onion – diced
  • 1 tablespoon golden sultanas
  • half a large cucumber sliced and diced

For the spice mix and dressing: toast the seeds you’re using in a dry pan until fragrant and just starting to ‘jump’. Then crush roughly in a pestle and mortar.

  • 2 tablespoons walnut oil
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon zaatar
  • half a teaspoon salt (if not using zaatar)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • half teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • half teaspoon cinnamon
  • half clove of fresh garlic – crushed
  • a couple of pinches of white pepper

Moutabal’s no good without something to scoop it up with…..

Although pita breads work for this, it’s better to seek out a more traditional middle eastern flat bread such as lavash often available in larger supermarkets. Cut into triangles and rub with olive or nut oil. Dust with a few teaspoonfuls of fragrant zaatar and roast for a max of ten minutes until golden and crispy. Otherwise soft tortilla wraps could work well as an alternative. Just lay out flat, cut into pieces and oven bake. Let cool and serve with dips and drinks.



You could be forgiven for thinking they are a Canadian national food. Comforting and calorific , these little dumplings native to eastern Europe, are to be found all over, in shops and restaurants, fresh or frozen. Never having eaten a perogy, I muttered something about never having tasted them on my first visit to Canada a couple of years ago.

Baba Hania's perogies, Toronto, November 2007
This remark was picked up on by my better half’s grandmother whose parents were born in Ukraine and who arrived in Canada in the early 1900′s. Despite being due to fly back to Manitoba that afternoon , the fact that someone close to her grandson had never tasted perogies jolted her into action and there were 12 dozen perogies whipped up by mid morning.

The food of an immigrant culture is often more then just food, it’s a way to explore and connect with the stories told by relatives and friends of places you feel you are from but have never been to or places you don’t feel any connection with but feel that you should. Smothered in melted butter and fried onions, perogies are unapologetically less then good for you but also, I imagine, a link to a past or to a heritage not quite known.

I asked this wonderful lady, who has been kind enough to welcome me into her family and share with me her memories and her recipes, to explain a little of the history behind the perogy and she had this to say:

….In Polish, we say 1 perog, 2 or more perogy; in Ukrainian, it’s 1 perih, 2 or more perohy. The root, rog or rih, means horn, & rogy or rohy is the plural for horns. Perogies are crescent-shaped filled dumplings with 2 horn-like pointed ends. Gradually the plural name of this dish was Anglicized in Canada by taking “perogy” (already plural) and changing the y to i and adding es — as taught in English classes — hence the word perogies. A touching and welcome modification that says, “You’re in.”

Ukrainian and Polish pioneers brought the custom of making perogies to Canada with them. As in their homeland, the “breadbasket of Europe,” they grew wheat and potatoes and other vegetables, and raised cattle for their own dairy products. The ingredients for this tasty dish were thus on hand at all times. We now relish perogies as a special treat, if we can find someone willing to make them — it is a labor-intensive but rewarding task.

Even Canada’s banner Maclean’s magazine, during Manitoba’s Flood of the Century in 1997, legitimized their simple but strategic importance to survival by referring to the countless sandbags used to form dikes for warding off the flood waters as “Red River Perogies.” The sandbags did have pointed ends and were plump and cream in color — an appropriate metaphor, for it symbolized how simple, readily-available materials can make all the difference in times of great urgency: common sand in bags to fight floods, and potatoes with cheese wrapped in dough to ward off hunger among the pioneers.

- Anne Yanchyshyn, Winnipeg, August 2009


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The hand-written recipe I now try to follow in a Paris kitchen not quite getting it right but having fun all the same.

Ingredients (will make 10 dozen or more)

- 6 cups of flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix the following three ingredients together:

- 1 beaten egg
- 3 cups warm water
- 1 tablespoon oil

Making

Add the water to the flour to make a smooth dough. Knead on a floured surface until smooth. Let the dough sit for at least an hour (covered and cool). Then cut in hlaf to make two long rolls. Roll these in flour, set aside and let stand. Alternatively divide the dough into three or 4 patties, cover and set aside.

Filling

- 8 medium potatoes
- 250gr cheese (cheddar, Gruyère or Swiss as you wish)
- 2 or 3 onions, diced
- butter for frying

Making

Peel and boil the potatoes and mash together with the cheese. Fry the diced onions in butter until soft and translucent. Add some of the oil or butter left from the onions to the potatoes.

If using long rolls  slice the dough to get small discs that can be filled. Place a little filling in the centre then bring the bottom end to the top folding in.  Then gently pinch the ends together. Fill each disc of dough and fold over pinching the ends together. Boil water and cook the perogies in batches dunking them for about 8 minutes or until they float to the top.

Then eat while hot smothered in butter and fried onions.  If eating from chilled, then just sauté in a hot pan. Amazing.

Note - If you don’t want to eat them straight away they can be refrigerated or frozen. They do need to be boiled beforehand though. Some people put them, raw, on cookie sheets, well apart, & freeze them, then bag them & keep them frozen till needed but otherwise boil them, butter them, chill them then bag them for the freezer. Or just leave them in the fridge to be eaten that day.

Book of the day – Mangoes & Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels Through the Great Subcontinent by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.

mangoes&curryleaves This is a beautiful book – I felt bad exposing it to the chaos of the kitchen as I worked through a couple of their recipes but despite the pretty pages and coffee-table decoration appearance,  this book has some very solid content. Rich in stories, advice, methods and a love for the sub-continent, this book will give you itchy feet that at least can be appeased by getting your teeth into some of the recipes. Discover Pakistani Pulao (a curried rice dish) and North Indian dhal – travel through Nepal before deciding whether it’s Bengali fish or Sri Lankan spices that will take your fancy.

That is, if the Goan sunsets and other fabulous images don’t have you booking a one way ticket…

Having recently picked up some atta flour I wanted to try their chapati recipe. It’s always satisfying to tackle and somehow succeed in making some kind of bread, flat or otherwise.  Atta flour is a strong durum wheat flour used for making many Indian flat breads, it’s got a rich brown colour and flavour and is very strong. You can replace it with regular whole wheat flour if needs be but I was surprised at the difference the atta flour made. The chapatis turned out to be quite easy to make if you don’t mind getting a little hot and flustered in the kitchen. Also, best not to have any feeling in your finger tips. Tossing them about the pan as they bubble and bake requires a willingness to get a little burned! They’re best served warm but they keep their crunchiness as they cool and are great for scooping up curries and sauces. The fresh peanut and coriander “chutney” (see below) is a pretty good smeared on top of a warm chapati and served with drinks as an alternative canapé.


Chapati - atta flour

Ingredients
250gr atta flour (or whole wheat)
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon salt

Making

In a bowl, add the salt to the flour and then slowly add the water to form a dough. Knead well on a floured surface until you have a smooth tacky dough as you would for any bread. Then cover (wrap in cling film) and leave to rest for at least two hours. If you put it in the fridge take it out a half hour before you intend to use it.  Divide into small pieces – you’ll get about 15 or 16 from this amount of dough and shape into small balls before flattening and rolling them into thin “pancakes” using plenty of flour to keep the dough from sticking. Heat some ghee, butter or a little oil in a flat pan or skillet before cooking each one.  Cook for only about 30 seconds on each side – until they start to brown and bubble. Quickly keep flipping them before moving onto the next one.  This is where the numb finger tips help. They take no time at all and resist leaving them too long on the heat as they become tough.

Keep warm until serving time.

Fresh peanut and coriander “chutney”

Wandering through the recipes earmarking this and that, the peanut and coriander recipe caught my attention seeming  like an Indian pesto requiring  minimum work and ideally a food processor.  To be served with fresh fish or chicken as a simple sauce, it’s also a good alternative dip for chips or veggies.

Peanut coriander crush

After roasting fresh raw peanuts (about 2 tablespoons – no more, otherwise it will be too dry and powdery), let them cool, then blitz them in a food processor until they’re crumbly. Then add a few handfuls of fresh coriander leaves. Pulverize the lot. Remove from the food processor and blend in the juice of a lemon, diced hot chili pepper and a tablespoon of brown sugar. Serve almost as soon as made.  The flavours need to be enjoyed fresh.

Note - use more coriander and juice then peanuts for a moister dip – too many peanuts makes it dry. Also, add the juice of a lime too for more flavour.

Chapati

In 1972, after coming to power via a coup the year before, Idi Amin decided to expel Asians  from Uganda and repossess their property.  Those lucky enough to have the right to get the necessary papers to go to England, after having come to Uganda under British imperial rule, ended up facing life as exotic strangers in a new country that perhaps did not live up to expectation. Already the fact that there was a sizable population of people of Indian heritage and origin living in Uganda hints at the potential complexities of the culinary history of the region.

We have entered the era of  the  foodoir – the  combination of memoirs and recipes, a term I only just spotted in the latest review of food books by The New York Times, is fast becoming a literary staple of sorts and there are any amount of them out there often the result of a successful blog or a wonderfully international childhood. They’re more often then not a good read as well as a source of quirky recipes and a little food history.

The Settler’s Cookbook was written by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. Born in Uganda in the fifties, the author refers many times in the book to her memories of the country as lush, green and “openly sensuous” bringing back to me my own memories of a brief visit to southern Uganda a few years ago for a weekend on a lake in a small eco-lodge where we were served “Irish potatoes” and roast chicken and the people were as open as the endless colourful flowers around us.  It reminds me too, why it is important to always be ready to go to the ends of the earth if only for the weekend. It’s always worth it, it feels like a lifetime and what you learn in that weekend will remain with you.

This book is much more then a foodoir; it’s a great snapshot of a woman’s life, her perceptions, her life as a Wahindi growing up in the sixties and seventies in Uganda, obliged to go and live in the UK in the seventies and the realities of being a young Asian in Thatcherite England. Interspersed with stories of her family, a candid account of her marriage, its breakdown and her career are her family recipes – often written in such a way as to make it clear as to what kind of mood one may be in when one would tackle a particular dish. the ingredients range from the curious to the exotic to the ordinary.  Each one seems to be the result of an incident be it international or familial and the anecdotes surrounding them are often inextricably linked to the food eaten at the time.

Many recipes reveal the influence of the British over their colonies and the resulting dishes that often led to a Victoria sponge enlivened with saffron and lime juice or the promise of a Cadbury’s chocolate bar after school. The insipid nature of British cooking fascinated many of those  who came into contact with it in Uganda and so these personalized recipes themselves reveal a lot about the imbalances of relationships between the nation that was still seen as imperial and superior, the Asian merchant class and the Ugandans themselves.

What I’m most curious about is getting my hands on a copy of St. Andrew’s Church Woman’s Guild. The Kenya Settlers’ Cookery Book and Household Guide (Nairobi, 1928). Mentioned in The Settler’s Cookbook as being of use during their home economics classes at school where the girls  learned how to cook British food that to them tasted like “milky newspaper”, there apparently was an intriguing back page of “useful Swahili phrases” such as how to say “You have stolen the sugar” and ” You are free every day from 2 to 4…” which is wonderfully revealing and I’m off now to search for more colonial cookbooks….

Itching to make some kind of pizza, comforting bread or just a floury mess in the kitchen I decided to attack the flat bread recipe in one of my favourite armchair travel cookbooks. This book is a homage to the Lebanese cooking that is integral to the heritage of Greg Malouf, one of the authors. Well over three hundred pages of mezze, meats and sweets. Recipes but much more. A simply written account of a journey back home but also an exploration of Lebanese culture and cuisine as well as those of Syria. There is a real sense of a humbling personal experience and genuine love of the food of the region whether it’s because it evokes childhood dishes served up by aunts or grandmothers at home in Australia or his palpable awe at the prospect of visiting the homeland. But more then that, the recipes are authentic, easy to follow yet challenging, a joy to cook, aromatic, comforting and elegant and a reminder of all the other ingredients out there and ways of making food there are. I judge cookbooks often more by how entertaining they are to read then how useful they are in the kitchen. These recipes are given in a cultural context, with detailed descriptions of each region, different local producers and methods so the reader can take the time to understand where a dish came from, the regional influences and nuances that led to the appearance of a certain recipe on a given page and if nothing else it will transport you to a sunny street in Damascus or a busy Beirut street cafe in a matter of pages.

IMG_0963- Manoushi bread dough – recipe taken from Saha – A chef’s journey through Lebanon and Syria by Greg and Lucy Malouf, published in 2005.

This kind of cooking is the real slow food movement, short cuts not recommended. We’re often talking ingredients not found lying around the kitchen and methods that require a bit of elbow grease. But no matter. Part of the fun is seeking out those ingredients and seeing if you can knead and slice and smell your way into producing something like Aleppo style lamb with a cherry sauce or roasted quail in flat bread with a pistachio sauce. Even just a good home made hummus or moutabel.

I enjoy making bread, kneading far more then is necessary but enjoying the therapeutic process required to make that smooth soft seamless ball of dough from the chaos and mess that is flour, water and yeast.

This bread is essentially a basic pizza dough and is a basic snack food of Lebanon and Syria served either simply with a scattering of sumac ansd  zaatar or used as the base for a hearty sandwich. Sumac is a rusty reddish coloured berry that is dried and ground to make a spicy flavouring for soups, sauces or meat. It is also an ingredient of zaatar which is another condiment made with a mixture of thyme, salt and toasted  sesame seeds, a salty topping for the traditional Lebanese galettes or Manouch’e….use it instead of salt to brighten things up.
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When the dough is ready divide it up into about twelve small pieces. Or as many as you’ll need. The dough you don’t use you can freeze or refrigerate.
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Here is their recipe, keep the dough in the fridge overnight if you’re not ready to use it. Cover it well in plastic when putting in the fridge so it doesn’t absorb any strange flavours or yeasts. Once ready to use, tear off pieces of dough to make mini pizzas in a matter of minutes if you so feel like it…or maybe make one big ‘pizza’….as you wish.

Ingredients
355 grams plain flour
1 teaspoon dried yeast
a half teaspoon salt
a quarter teaspoon of sugar
6 or 7 fluid oz. of warm water
1 tablespoon of olive oil

Making
Mix the flour, yeast and salt. Add the olive oil. Dilute the sugar in the water. Add the water slowly and pull the mixture together until it forms a sticky dough. Don’t worry if it’s a mess and stringy and difficult. Just tip it out onto a floured board and start kneading. Push and fold adding flour or a little water depending on how sticky the dough is.
When you have a smooth tacky but not sticky ball of dough, smooth a little oil around it, cover it and put it in a warm place to rise for a couple of hours.
Then, when ready to use, have your oven pre-heated and roll out and press a small piece of dough with the idea of making a mini pizza, throw it around until it’s thin and stretchy but not too thin.
Spread it with a little olive oil, salt, sumac and zaatar or whatever you wish and bake for about 8 minutes preferably using a pizza stone.

What to do with a small bottle of sirop de poivre de Penja?

Good for glazing pineapple, chocolate cake or meat, this sugary syrup is made from filtered white Penja peppercorns. Penja peppercorns get their flavour  from the volcanic soils in which they are cultivated, in Penja,  Cameroon. These fragrant special white peppercorns are in a category of their own and are fast becoming a hot culinary property around the world.

Something told me a rich gooey chocolate cake could take some seasoning. These mini mi-cuits take minutes and could easily take on a dash of cinnamon, chili powder or other flavours

Melty, chocolatey, chewy, easy to make, mi-cuit mini cakes

I found this recipe at Epicurious – I felt a layer of the sweet and savoury sticky penja syrup would be perfect for these easy melty fudgey cakes that are perfect for any cook who “doesn’t do dessert”. Top them with goji berries to make you feel more virtuous…

recrop

Ingredients

4 ounces dark semisweet baking chocolate
4 tablespoons butter

1 large egg

1/3 cup sugar

Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon flour



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Making

Preheat the oven to 180°C

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a small saucepan.

Whisk the egg, sugar, and salt together until yellow and light. Fold in the melted chocolate batter. Mix in the flour until fully incorporated.

Lightly butter the cupcake tins. Pour the batter into the tins and bake for about about 12 minutes, just until the tops crack.

Remove the cakes from the oven. Using oven mitts, place aluminum foil on the top of the cupcake tins and seal on all sides. Turn over onto a flat surface and bang the bottom of the cupcake tins. Remove the cupcake tins to leave the cakes upside down on the aluminum foil. Carefully turn right side up and place on the plate.

Spoon some of the penja syrup over the top of each one and serve immediately with vanilla ice cream should you feel the urge. Here goji berries make a nice topping not to mention a great super food boost to an otherwise sinful dessert!

Stumbling upon this book in a Toronto bookstore was like finding the book you always needed but didn’t know it. Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and other irritating states – A dinner party approach to international relations, by Chris Fair. The author is a political strategist and South Asian expert and so behind a seemingly tongue in cheek project there lies a serious and thought provoking editorial. Each dinner party menu is preceded with a rather scathing commentary on why an irritating state is a rather less then savoury world player before laying out a menu based on their usually much less irritating cuisine.

EvilCuisines.com
Fair believes that food and foreign policy are inextricably linked and that a possible solution to international relations lies in a gigantic dinner party.

A great mixture of bed time reading and well planned easy to follow recipes. Should Obama fail to save the world through eloquent speeches and general intelligent politicking – perhaps peace and world order can be restored through dinnering?

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I have tried making this Persian dish a couple of times with varying degrees of success. It’s an Iranian staple cooked using duck or veal or lamb as well as chicken. There is a myriad of recipes for this available on the Internet and so it’s hard to know where to look so I always ended up going my own way not quite following the recipes to the letter but still coming up with a rich, fruity sweet and sour concoction. Impatience is my kitchen virtue, what can I say. While they say a blender or food processor is essential before you embark on such a recipe, take heart. I personally tend to leave the food processor where it can’t torment me with it’s bizarre adult proof lid and revert to the good old “place-nuts-in-plastic-bag-and-bash-relentlessly-on-the-floor-until-pulverised” method. This works well, at least until your neighbours object…

Chris Fair includes a recipe for this Iranian chicken, walnut and pomegranate stew Khoresh-e-Fesanjan and it is the best I’ve come across. Detailed and informed and easy to follow.

The following recipe is reproduced here from Chris Fair’s wonderful book as mentioned above. Highly recommend it.

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Ingredients
(Depending on how many people – this is for about 8
4 small yellow onion also finely chopped
1 pound walnuts shelled – roasted and cooled
half pound carrots
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses or syrup
5 cups warm water
almost a teaspoon of saffron threads (if you have to, use powder)
2 teaspoons rock salt
4 tablespoons ghee (vegetable oil)
2 pounds skinless boneless chicken breasts
3 tablespoons demerera sugar (use white if necessary but a strong brown sugar is nicer)
1 and a half teaspoons cinnamo
n

Garnish

Fresh pomegranate seeds and rose petals

Making

Roast the walnuts being careful not to burn them -set aside and let cool. Slice the carrots and the onions finely. Then mix the pomegranate syrup with the warm water mixing well. Deal with the saffron – grind the saffron in a mortar and pestle with a little of the rock salt. Apparently some people use a sugar cube, up to you…

Then in a large skillet or pot heat the ghee or oil and fry the onions until translucent. Do this slowly so they don’t burn or become brown. Then fry the chopped chicken breasts until brown. I add a couple of tablespoons of water here to prevent sticking. Then add the carrots for another few minutes of frying stirring constantly on a low heat.

Pulverising the walnuts - ideally you have a food processor. I have one but the heartache involved every time in opening and closing the thing means I revert always to my trusty method of placing said walnuts in a plastic bag and pounding them for all I’m worth with a large rolling pin. Usually while crouching on the floor. So – whether by violent means or using a food processor you have learned to handle grind the walnuts into a fine powder. At this point either using a blender or a food processor – blend the rest of the salt, cinnamon, sugar and saffron into the pomegranate mixture . Add the fried carrots and blend again until smooth. Add the creamy mixture to the chicken. Then add the ground walnuts.

Cover the pot and simmer for about 40 minutes over a low heat. Walnuts burn easily so keep an eye on it.

At this point add a little sugar or syrup to taste, the colour will start to turn to a reddish brown and you can add water if necessary to prevent it from being too thick.

Serve with white rice and garnish with fresh pomegranate seeds.

Seeking out spices in Paris.

Using spices in cooking can evoke travel, soothe stress and bring back memories. Spices have a long and intricate history so whether you’re grinding fresh nutmeg or measuring a hot curry powder, pause and consider how you’re dealing with a small piece of cultural, economic and culinary history packed tightly into a small jar or a paper bag.

They have been an integral part of cooking for centuries.  Outside of the kitchen, we have been perfuming ourselves for centuries and various plants, seeds and spice extracts find their way into exotic blends assumed to make us more attractive to the opposite sex, more palatable to the general public and more tolerable on public transport.  Smell can make or break a relationship and these days  fruit, flower and vegetable combine with ancient spice blends  to make scents that sound more like a good meal or marinade then a cosmetic aid.

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Unfortunately a good hot curry is still difficult to come by. Although if you head to a small primarily Sri Lankan enclave near Stalingrad in the tenth arrondissement you can find some good cheap meals that while not bringing quite a tear to your eye, will sate the average anglophone curry craving.
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Spice merchandising has been an important part of international commerce since Greco-Roman times via the Silk Road, the incense routes of Asia and China, through Venice from the east not to mention North African and Moorish influence finding their way up into Spain and the rest of Europe.  Some curious culinary legacies have found their way into some of the most traditional Spanish and Italian dishes.  From the Greeks (who probably introduced saffron) to the Omayyad Arabs in the 8th century to the Turkish Ottomans in the twelfth, outside influence in culture and cooking is still apparent  in Spanish and particularly Sicilian and Venetian cuisine today.  However, many crops and foodstuffs are thought to have come from the New World and so the extent to which the Arabs influenced Sicilian cuisine is often under dispute.

Catching the back of your throat, your nose, escaping from your skin the next day, a good spice blend can change everything and often has a role to play in cultural traditions, celebrations or simply from a health point of view.

While the French are generally wary of anything trop épicé, and are not the world’s greatest fans of hot food, you can still find an abundance of blends of herbs and spices from all over the world in several Parisian neighborhoods.

Useful addresses should you find yourself spice shopping in Paris:

  • Izrael - l’épicerie du monde, 30, rue François-Miron in the Marais (good supplies of smokey paprika)
  • L’épicierie de Bruno, 30 Rue Tiquetonne, 75002 Paris
  • G. Detou, 58 rue Tiquetonne, 75002
  • L’épicerie Hératchian Frères on Rue Lamartine, 75009
  • Goumanyat on Rue 3 rue Charles-Francois Dupuis, 75003 (particularly for salt and saffron)
  • Ahga M’ Bark, 21 rue Montorgueil,75001
  • Passage Brady, Rue Faubourg Saint Denis, 75010 – Indian grocery store carrying well-priced general curry spices, grains, rices, teas and other Asian ingredients
  • To sample a contemporary luxury apothecary of constantly surprising blends of all kinds of delicious elements head to Jo Malone.

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