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Archive for the ‘North African’ Category


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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Dating (à la gastronomique)

Restaurant Week is an epic, 7-day culinary affair that takes place in every fortunate metropolitan city from Los Angeles to New York. During this event an assortment the city’s finest, chic and most trendy restaurants offer a selection of their menu at an unreasonably low, fixed price.

I was in Washington D.C. this past summer when the gastronomic festivities began. Friends were contacted, reservations were made, and we immediately began eating our way through the seemingly endless list of fabulous restaurants.
If I had to play favorites, Mie N Yu, a small restaurant in the heart of Georgetown, wins my vote. Each dish was perfectly orchestrated from taste to presentation and offered sophisticated flavors in each bite. Many of the other restaurants, however, also had spectacular food; so, what sets Mie N Yu apart? Décor. It was absolutely stunning and perfectly complemented the entire dining experience. And if you visit, your experience would not be complete without a trip to their restroom, which has won numerous awards.
My favorite dish of theirs was an amuse-gueule that featured chorizo-stuffed medjool dates. The flavor profile was divine: the sweetness of the date was perfectly paired with the saltiness from the chorizo. Then the chef wrapped this heavenly concoction in crispy bacon and plated it over a bed of Spicy Moroccan Harissa Sauce.

Chorizo-Stuffed Medjool Dates

Chorizo-Stuffed Medjool Dates

Components

  • 4 oz. chorizo (1/4 lb.)
  • 4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 small fennel bulb
  • 1 medium shallot
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 20 medjool dates
  • 20 slices of bacon, center cut
  • 1 tsp. harissa paste
  • 3 roasted red bell peppers, drained

Putting them all together

  1. To make the sauce, process the harissa paste, the drained roasted red bell peppers and lemon juice. Slowly drizzle 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to create a light emulsion and add a pinch of salt for seasoning.
  2. Coat a large sauté pan with the remaining olive oil and set over medium-low heat. Slice the fennel and shallot thinly and sweat for 8-10 minutes, or until translucent (add the salt to help break down the veggies while cooking).
  3. Remove the wrapper from the chorizo and pulse in the food processor until it reaches a coarse ground consistency.
  4. Combine the fennel mixture and ground chorizo in a medium bowl and set aside to cool. In the mean time, pit the medjool dates and create a small nest for the chorizo filling.
  5. In a large baking sheet, par-bake (approx. 5-7 minutes in a 350 degree oven) the bacon in order to render some of its fat before wrapping. This can be done in advance and also allows the bacon to crisp up quicker when baking the second time.
  6. Stuff the pitted dates with the chorizo filling and individually wrap them with the par-baked bacon. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 5-7 minutes, or until crisp.
  7. Plate over a bed of the Roasted Red Pepper Harissa sauce and enjoy!

notes:: Inspired by DC restaurant, Mie N Yu. You can make the filling the day and par-cook the bacon the day before.

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