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Archive for the ‘North African’ Category


My latest, favorite granola

Thank you for all the wonderful emails and congratulatory comments on my Fulbright post. I have a feeling this is going to be an incredible culinary journey that I hope we can take together — you and me, traveling through Syria. It’s going to be awesome. Just be sure to bring a hearty appetite (and definitely a pair of loose-fitted pants).

A few readers asked whether I will keep this blog or start a new one. My plan is to continue blogging here and tag my upcoming posts with a Fulbright tag for easy reference. Before I go abroad, however, since I can’t cook a huge dinner to thank everyone for their amazing support, although this is what my grandmother would insist on, I decided to give away my mamoul mold instead; my small way of saying thank you. This is the same mold I used for these mini mamoul cookies a while back.

To enter in the drawing, simply leave a comment about your latest, favorite recipe. This is the theme of today’s post. On September 15, before I fly to Syria, I will randomly select one commenter from this post and ship the mold to them, anywhere around the world.

traditional mamoul mold giveaway
mamoul mold

Even though I should probably be packing right now, I would feel terrible if I didn’t tell you about this delicious granola I’ve been making. I’ve tweeted about it a few times, and last night I made my third batch in less than a week. It’s so good, it makes me happy just writing about it.

I got this idea from Molly (via Twitter) after I posted a tweet about how much I love snacking on dates and almonds. She suggested I make a date and almond granola. I thought it was brilliant, so here I am, ready to pass on this gem of a recipe.

mise en place
mise en place

The original recipe comes from Epicurious, but I added my own Middle Eastern spin to it. I replaced the cashews with Aleppo pistachios (فستق حلبي) that I have in my freezer from a previous trip to Syria, and added a splash of orange blossom water to the mix. For my friends who are fasting during Ramadan right now, I think this would be a great recipe to prepare ahead of time for Suhoor (سحور). Suhoor is the meal that is consumed by Muslims at dawn, before fasting in daylight hours during the month of Ramadan. It is traditional to start Suhoor by eating dates as they are incredibly rich sources of energy and vitamins that help keep the body nourished throughout the day.

dates + almonds
dates and almonds

Chopping the dates and almonds is the only prep work necessary to make this granola. The rest is mixing ingredients together and baking them in the oven. This is part the recipe’s appeal.

dry ingredients
dry ingredients, except dates

The dates get added later, half-way into the baking process.

honey, butter, orange blossom water
honey and butter
ready to bake
granola goes into oven
date and almond granola
almond and date granola

Date and Almond Granola

yields approx 6 cups

Components

  • 2 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 3/4 cup whole almonds, halved
  • 1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1/2 cup unsalted pistachios
  • 1/3 cup (packed) brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp orange blossom water
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 cup (packed) pitted dates, each cut crosswise into thirds

Putting them all together

  1. Preheat oven to 300°F.
  2. Mix first 7 ingredients in large bowl.
  3. Melt butter in the microwave and mix in the honey and orange blossom water, to combine.
  4. Pour the honey and butter mixture over granola mixture and toss well.
  5. Spread out mixture on baking sheet and bake 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add dates. Mix the granola to separate any large clumps.
  7. Continue to bake until granola is golden brown, stirring frequently, about 20 minutes longer. Let cool.

Notes: Recipe adapted from Epicurious. You can make this ahead and store in an airtight at room temperature for two weeks.

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Although the granola is good on its own, my favorite way to enjoy it is sprinkled over a bowl of vanilla yogurt. The combination is heavenly. Enjoy!

best with yogurt
granola and yogurt

Yogurt, plain and simple

Throughout the two-plus years that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve never dedicated a post exclusively to yogurt. I’ve used it as an ingredient here and there, sure, but it’s never played a leading role. That’s not acceptable. Not for a Mediterranean food blog, at least. I plan on changing that today.

On my recent trip to Aleppo I was reminded how important yogurt is in Middle Eastern cuisine. It’s everywhere. Cow, goat or sheep. Strained, plain or cooked. In the Levant there’s even a popular refreshing drink called Ayraan (عيران) that’s made from yogurt, but more on that later. Today I need to set things right. Today is all about yogurt.

Before we begin, I’d like to dispel the myth that suggests you should buy a fancy yogurt maker to incubate your milk. Please don’t. If you already have, I won’t hold it against you, but you really don’t need one. If the machine made the job any easier, I can understand, but the truth is, making yogurt is pretty simple.

While I was in Aleppo, Leila (my maternal grandfather’s brother’s wife’s sister), shared with me her way of making yogurt. Take a look:

Before I met Leila, I used to make my yogurt in the pot I heated the milk in. Not anymore. I really like her idea of dispensing the yogurt into smaller jars.

mise en place

Midway through the process (usually as the yogurt is cooling), I like to turn on my oven to the lowest setting and turn it off after 5 minutes. This helps keep my oven barely warm enough to properly incubate the yogurt — which is essentially what the yogurt machine does, except it doesn’t cost extra money and doesn’t limit how much yogurt you can make.

heating the milk

Once you heat the milk to 180 degrees F (a near boil), you need to cool it. I like to use a thermometer, particularly for this step, so that the yogurt starter has an ideal environment to initialize the incubation process. That temperature should be between 107 and 112 degrees F (41 and 44 degrees C).

nestled inside the oven

Since the pizza stone in my oven can retain lots of heat (as can the metal rails), I like to line the base with a kitchen towel before placing the jars of yogurt inside the oven. Then, as Leila mentioned in the video, you want to cover the jars with another towel so they remain warm throughout the incubation.

plain goat milk yogurt

Keep the jars overnight in the oven and move them to the fridge first thing in the morning. It’s that simple — saha wa hana (صحة و هنا)/bon appetit!

Homemade Yogurt

Makes 1/2 gallon

Components

  • 1/2 gallon milk*
  • 10g yogurt starter*

Putting them all together

  1. Heat milk to 180 degrees F (82 degrees C) over medium heat.
  2. Cool the milk between 107-112 degrees F (41-44 C) and slowly mix in the yogurt starter.
  3. Dispense the milk into 4-5, 16 oz. jars.
  4. Place the jars inside a barely warm oven lined with a kitchen towel and cover them with another towel to keep them warm throughout the incubation process.
  5. After 6-8 hours (or overnight) move the jars into the fridge and store until ready to use.

notes: If you don’t have yogurt starter you can use any plain yogurt that has live active cultures. Usually I like to go with the Organic Stonyfield Plain Yogurt. You’ll also get better results by using full-fat milk — 2% milk won’t get nearly as creamy.

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the delicious taste of procrastination

In t-minus 3 days, all my things should be in boxes, ideally, and ready for my big move. Except I know myself. I know that in 3 days, I’m going to look at my room, or my kitchen, in dismay and ask myself what in the world I’ve been doing. Something my mother would ask in the most disapproving of voices. This is when I would blame youtube for my perpetual procrastination, and thank Warda for her amazing chicken and olives recipe. If you need a break from anything, life, packing, the economy?, turn up your speakers and listen to this song. If you’re hungry afterwards, do what I did, and make this incredible North African chicken and olives recipe (aka دجاج بالزيتون). Everything else can wait.

mise en place

My plan is to pack up the rest of my room today and make a dent, at least, in the kitchen department. Since I was in the mood to relax and cook last night, I went with a whole chicken, but you could’ve just as well gone with already-cut, bone-in chicken. The bone is important here because that is what will keep the chicken moist during the cooking process.

happily marinated

The marinade for this dish is one of the best I’ve tasted in a long time. You basically throw in the spices, ginger, onion, and half a preserved lemon into a food processor with some olive oil and you’re set. You can technically skip the preserved lemons, but if you feel compelled and don’t have some laying around, Whole Foods and other specialty stores should carry them. If you want to start getting a jar ready for 6-months down the road, you won’t regret it.

chicken & olives (دجاج بالزيتون)

Rice, cous cous or bread are all perfect sides for this dish. This dish is also being featured for this month’s A Taste of the Mediterranean, where we’re showcasing the cuisine of North Africa throughout the month of May. iGourmet has agreed to sponsor the contest and is offering a $50 gift certificate for the winning dish. Make a variation of this meal, be creative and enter to win!

Chicken with Olives

serves 4-6 people

Components

For the Marinade:

  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 inch piece of ginger
  • 1 small onion
  • 1/2 preserved lemon
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • pinch of saffron
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

For the Dish:

  • 1 whole chicken, cut into pieces
  • small bouquet of parsley
  • small bouquet of cilantro
  • 1/2-3/4 cup water
  • 1 onion, quartered and sliced
  • 1 cup green olives
  • bread, rice or cous cous
  • extra parsley, for garnish

Putting them all together

  1. Make the marinade by pulsing all the ingredients in a food processor.
  2. Wash the chicken under cold water and butcher into 6 or 8 pieces. Dry and marinate over night (or at least 1 hour, if rushed).
  3. Tie the bouquet of parsley and cilantro with a string for easy retrieval after cooking.
  4. Place marinated chicken, with marinade, in a large heavy-bottomed pan (or tajine) along with the rest of the ingredients, except the olives.
  5. Bring to a boil, cover and cook for 30 minutes on medium-low heat (simmering), making sure to turn the chicken pieces in the sauce every once in a while.
  6. Remove the parsley and cilantro bouquets, add the olives and transfer to a 375 degree F oven to finish cooking.
  7. Serve alongside rice, cous cous or bread and enjoy!

notes: Recipe very slightly modified from Warda. Also, rinse olives if excessively bitter.

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packing my things

For the Love of Pudding

A few days ago I promised you a Turkish post, but I’ve got something better. Ever since I wrote about Peter’s Greek Christmas Cookies I’ve been thinking, rather remembering, more about what this blog means to me. Blog existentialism, if you will; Olive Juice was born out of necessity. I needed a place to jot down and compile my recipes, experiences and, most importantly, the memories that would inextricably become a part of those experiences.

A mathematician by day, I realized that I can use a blog to pursue what genuinely inspired me: food, something that a lot of friends and family thought was a silly crush that would soon fade away. Seven years later, the passion is still here, and admittedly, stronger than ever. As I write this I’m eager to share with you more about the other aspects of food that make me giddy, but that will have to wait for another post. Today, as promised, is going to be about Turkey and the traditional pudding called Muhallebi that I chose for my inaugural Turkish entry.

The detail that makes this pudding better than simply ordinary, besides its ease and wonderful flavor, is its history. When I first read on Wikipedia that Muhallebi was Turkish, I became curious. Not because it was Turkish in particular, but because Muhallabi, rather محلبية (pronounced Mahlabiye), was a dessert I had always considered as Middle Eastern – a childhood favorite, in fact. It was the pudding I could never get enough of. The pudding that would make me (voluntarily) set the dinner table only to reach dessert mere minutes sooner. The pudding I knew I had to blog about.

mise en place

Upon reading that the pudding was originally Turkish, the skeptic in me also wanted further proof of the fact. A few Google searches later landed me on Warda’s blog, 64 sq ft kitchen, where she writes about Muhallebi as a staple Algerian/Moroccan pudding also reminiscent of her childhood. A pudding that her grandmother would quietly, but often predictably, put together in a matter of minutes. The ultimate indicator being the unmistakable fragrance of the orange blossom water that carried through from the kitchen. It was stories like these that made me fall in love with this pudding all over again.

The pudding is a trooper, a survivor of sorts. A simple milk-based dessert that dates back to the Ottoman Empire, which for hundreds of years grew to include most of the Mediterranean, including parts of North Africa and most of the Middle East. This explains a lot of the influences that carry over, with slight variances, across the more recent country boundaries. On that note, here’s what you’ll need to do to bring Muhallebi into your own kitchen:

In a small saucepan, whisk together milk, rice flour and sugar until dissolved. Stir with a wooden spoon over medium heat until it reaches a boil. Continue stirring over medium-low heat until you can coat the back of your spoon (when you can make a line with your finger without the liquid coming together, you’re set). I didn’t time it, but Warda says this takes about 15 minutes total.

the streak test

Once the spoon test clears, you’ll want to turn off the heat and add a few drops of the orange blossom water. Pour the thickened pudding into ramekins, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve. A light dusting of ground cinnamon and a sprinkling of chopped nuts is traditional. I used pistachios, but almonds are also popular (I’ve even seen both used together).

muhallebi

The pudding is a mix between a velvety custard and a rice pudding, but with a little more to offer. The subtle fragrance of the orange blossom water is present, but not prominent. After just 15 minutes in the kitchen you can leave with piece of mind, knowing that dessert is already covered. It’s this dish that will leave your guests smiling, and remind you why you fell in love with food in the first place.

Muhallebi

approx 4 servings

Components

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp rice flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 3/4 tsp orange blossom water
  • cinnamon
  • pistachios and/or almonds

Putting them all together

  1. In a small saucepan whisk together milk, sugar, rice flour and salt until dissolved.
  2. Stir with a wooden spoon over medium heat until mixture comes to a simmer.
  3. Continue stirring over medium-low heat until you can coat the back of your spoon (when you can make a line with your finger without the liquid coming together, you’re set).
  4. Remove from heat and add the orange blossom water.
  5. Pour into ramekins, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  6. Dust with cinnamon and sprinkle with almonds and/or pistachios for garnish.

note: You can find orange blossom water at Whole Foods or any Middle Eastern market. 

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creamy rice pudding

don’t make lemonade

What’s with all the lies? No, it’s more than just a lie, it’s a conspiracy. Parents pass it on to their kids, who in turn pass it on to their little ones, who just don’t know any better. The lies stop here my friends. I am nipping this one in the bud: when life supposedly hands you your lemons, don’t make lemonade. Instead, make some حامض مرقد.

life’s lemons
lemons

Keep reading; it’s a lot easier than it sounds (if you could sound that out).  In English, حامض مرقد, sounds something like ha-moud ma-rak-ad; which literally means sleeping lemons in Arabic. Before you call me crazy (and probably go make yourself another batch of lemonade) I’d like to remind you of the fable of the ant and the grasshopper. 

mise en place
mise en place

The classic fable tells the story of a lazy grasshopper who spends his summer singing away while a dedicated little ant works hard to gather food for the upcoming brutal winter. When winter strikes, the grasshopper ends up hungry and begs his tiny friend to share some of his food. The moral of this fable lends itself perfectly to my humble post on this Moroccan staple.

lemon blossoms
lemon blossoms

See, in Morocco, it’s traditional to preserve lemons in order to use them later in tagines, soups, stews… pretty much anything that you want to give flavor to.  Since I love making all these hearty dishes in the winter, I make my hamoud m’rakad now, as in 3 months before winter hits. This stuff lasts forever (i.e. 6-8 months) and the process couldn’t be easier. All it is are lemons that have been packed with salt and stuffed into an airtight jar. Seriously, that’s it.

hamod m’rakad (حامض مرقد)
lemon blossoms

When you’re ready to use the lemons; take out a piece, rinse off the excess salt, and finely chop it into whatever you’re cooking up that evening. The flavor it imparts brings a unique citrusy component to the dish. It’s lemony, and tart and perfect in every single way. So, next time you’re going to make some lemonade, set a few lemons aside to make a jar of حامض مرقد you won’t regret it!

Preserved Lemons

yields approx. 4 lemons

Components

  • 4 small lemons
  • 1/3 cup kosher salt
  • lemon juice

Putting them all together

  1. Rinse and dry lemons.
  2. Barely slice off both ends so that only the pith is showing (not the flesh).
  3. Slice the lemon horizontally and vertically making sure not to reach all the way to the bottom. The lemon will resemble a flower at this point.
  4. Sprinkle a little salt at the bottom of the jar and then stuff each lemon with the rest.  If there is any leftover salt, you can pour it on top.
  5. Strategically fit as many lemons as possible into the jar and make sure the lemons are covered with juice to prevent spoilage.  You may want to add extra lemon juice if the lemons you used haven’t given off enough juice.
  6. Store in a cool dark place for 6-8 weeks (in warm weather, you may want to store it in the fridge).
  7. To use, rinse lemon wedge(s) in water to remove excess salt. Discard the flesh and chop the rind finely into the dish.

notes:  Use the smallest lemons you can find for this dish. The liquid will be cloudy at first, but it will clear up by the 5th or 6th week. You’ll know that the lemons are ready to use once the pith has lost its white color. You can also add different flavors to your preserved lemons by adding peppercorns, whole cloves, whole coriander seeds, or bay leaves to the jar (try to add any spices closer to the sides of the jar so you can identify the spices by looking at the jar weeks later).

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