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Archive for August, 2010


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

My Fulbright to Syria served with Eggplant Kababs

Today I want to share with you the beginning of a new stage in my life.

It started last year when I decided to apply for a Fulbright research scholarship. My proposal: to conduct an anthropological study of Syrian cuisine; specifically, lunch. My perspective is slightly biased since both sides of my family are originally Syrian, but I believe Syrian food is among the best in the region. This is particularly true in Aleppo — Syria’s second largest city and headquarters for the Syrian Academy of Gastronomy.

The title of my proposal was “Between Us, Bread and Salt.” This is a literal translation of an old Arabic proverb, بيناتنا خبز و ملح (baynaatna khobz w milah). I like what this proverb stands for and thought it made sense in the context of my research. Food brings people together. I chose to focus on lunch because it’s usually the biggest and most important meal of the day in Syria and most Mediterranean countries. Lunch is when friends and family get together to eat, laugh, and share everyday stories. I proposed to study lunch from three different perspectives: restaurant meals, home cooked meals, and street foods.

Now, fast forward about ten months. Ten very long months. In my mailbox one afternoon, I found a yellow, letter-sized envelope from the Institute of International Education. I knew what was inside. I immediately grabbed the phone to call my grandmother. I knew that regardless of the outcome, my sito would know the right things to say; she always does. I called her house and let her know I had the envelope in my hands. I was both nervous and eager; this was the moment I had been waiting for. I carefully ripped the corner of the envelope and slid my index finger along the seal, making sure not to tear the letter. That’s when I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I remember hearing my grandmother whisper a short prayer under her breath. I pinched the paper, and slowly pulled it out from the envelope. With my eyes barely open, I squinted and caught a glimpse of the phrase, “I am pleased to congratulate you.”

Fulbright Letter of Acceptance
Fulbright Letter of Acceptance

Even as I write this post today, it hasn’t sunken in yet. In a little over four weeks I need to be packed and ready to move to Syria for nine months to study food. I will be working with renowned Syrian food expert, Samir Tahhan (no relation) as well as members from the Syrian Academy of Gastronomy. I’m humbled. I owe a huge part of this amazing feeling to you, all the readers, who have encouraged me to continue blogging and pursue my dreams. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I will try and write a couple more posts with more details before I start my Fulbright, but for now, I need to tell you about this pretty fantastic kabab recipe before summer slips away. It’s an Aleppan specialty. It’s called kabab banjan, or eggplant kababs.

mise en place
mise en place

I love recipes like this because they cannot get any simpler. Only three main ingredients. Before summer is over please promise me you’ll try this recipe, only because I promise you will fall in love with it (if you like eggplants, that is).

thick slices
thick eggplan slices

You’ll want thick slices of eggplant because of all the water they’ll lose. This will help the eggplant maintain their shape.

season your meat
season the meat
fire up your grill
grilling outdoors
beautiful char
charred eggplant

This is precisely the reason you want to be doing this outside, over an open flame. You just can’t develop a crust like this on a skillet. You can get a sear, sure, but the best flavor comes from the scorching flames directly underneath the kababs. That’s how the magic happens. You’ll start to hear a soft crackling sound while fat from the meat melts into the fire — that’s a good thing. The juices from the meat will also start to seep into the eggplants and your entire grilling area will start to smell like a huge plate of baba ganoush. It’s a wonderful experience.

the secret
add water to kabab

Aha! The secret. This dish, like most good dishes, comes with a secret. The original idea to make this dish came from a reader who wrote me an email asking why her recipe for kabab banjan does not have a pronounced eggplant flavor. I consulted with my grandmother, of course, and wrote back. After you’ve developed a good crust on the eggplant and meat skewers, you want to place the kababs in an oven-safe receptacle, pour a thin layer of water, cover with aluminum foil, and bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes. This gives time for the eggplant to finish cooking all the way through, and at the same time allows the meat to soak up more of the roasted eggplant flavor. This is also the perfect time to prepare a side of rice and set the table.

kabab banjan (كباب بنجان)
eggplant kabab

Enjoy what’s left of the summer — صحة و هنا (saha w hana) bon appetit!

Kabab Banjan

yields 6 servings

Components

  • 1/2 kg 80-85% ground beef or lamb
  • 4 medium eggplants
  • salt, to taste
  • allspice, to taste
  • 8-10 skewers, preferably metal
  • roma tomatoes
  • pita bread

Putting them all together

  1. If you’re using wooden skewers, start by soaking them in water as directed by package.
  2. Rinse and dry the eggplants.
  3. Remove the tip of the eggplants, then slice into thick, even slices (approx 1.5in. thick).
  4. Season the eggplant with salt and a drizzle of olive oil.
  5. Season the ground beef with salt and allspice (freshly ground, if possible).
  6. Divide the meat into even patties, approximately the same diameter as the slices of eggplant.
  7. Alternate between eggplant and meat patties on the skewers. If there is any leftover meat or eggplant, you can skewer it by itself.
  8. Skewer whole roma tomatoes.
  9. Cook the eggplant-kabab skewers over a hot grill until you get an even char on all sides.
  10. Roast all the tomato skewers until they are evenly charred as well.
  11. In a large oven-proof container, pile all the eggplant-kababs and top with the roasted tomatoes. Add between a 1/4 and 1/3 cup of water to the pan — you want to make sure there is a thin layer of water covering the bottom of the pan.
  12. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 20-30 minutes.
  13. Serve with rice or pita bread and enjoy.

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I want to dedicate this post to everyone who helped and guided me throughout the Fulbright application process. I could not have received this prestigious award without your generous support. Thank you:
Dr. Stefan Senders, Fulbright advisor, for your inspiration and for being a wonderful mentor. Mrs. Elizabeth Edmondson, coordinator of the Fulbright program at Cornell University, for your support, kindness, and delicious recipe for Jamaican Cock Soup. Dr. Jane Fajans, for exposing me to the field of food anthropology and advising me on my research. Dean Maria Davidis, for always encouraging me as an undergraduate and being there to talk food. Dr. June Nasrallah, faculty advisor for the Lebanese Club at Cornell, for supporting my culinary endeavors. Dr. Feryal Hijazi, professor of Arabic at Harvard University, for helping me improve my Arabic. I want to thank the Syrian Academy of Gastronomy for setting me up with a terrific mentor, Mr. Samir Tahhan, and offering me the resources to explore the best of Syrian cuisine. I also want to thank everyone at the Institute of International Education for making the Fulbright possible.
Thank you!

Vegas Decadence Packed in a Brioche Panini

Vegas is all about one thing: over the top, elaborate, in-your-face, decadence. On my trip to Vegas last week I noticed that was a recurring theme. Gelato at 11 o’clock at night. Extravagant shows put on by Cirque du Soleil. The world’s largest chocolate fountain. Vegas is decadent. Sure, some people perceive its decadence in other more “lewd” ways, but I was there to experience the amazing food. I also learned how to play Craps along the way, but that’s a different blog post.

I uploaded more photos from my Vegas trip to Flickr.

Wynn Hotel
wynn hotel
Beignets Filled with Oozing Chocolate
chocolate_donuts

Restaurant: The Country Club

SW Steak House
steak

Restaurant: SW SteakHouse

Kobe Beef Carpaccio
carpaccio

Restaurant: The Country Club

Duck Coated in a Fig-BBQ Sauce Served on Brioche Bun
duck_burger

Restaurant: The Country Club

Lots of love at Jean Philippe Patisserie
jean philippe patisserie

Restaurant: Jean Philippe Pattisserie

Out of all the dishes I had that week, my absolute favorite, which was not an easy decision to arrive at (as you could see), featured house-made elk sausage. It was the only dish I ordered twice that week. I don’t usually order a dish twice, but I had to make an exception. It was that good. The sausage, you see, was served on a bed of a marble potato hash cooked with pancetta and a mix of sweet peppers and onions. And gracefully balanced atop of the elk sausage rested a perfectly poached egg. It was perfect — no undercooked egg white and a barely warm yolk, still very runny of course. In order to qualify for Las Vegas decadence status, however, you need that extra something. That extra something, in this case, was the beautifully prepared, buttery choron sauce. If you’ve never had choron sauce, just think béarnaise with a bit of tomato purée. Instead of the puree, however, the chef incorporated a fine dice of sun dried tomatoes to achieve a similar flavor with added texture.

Elk Sausage Served with Poached Eggs and Choron Sauce
elk sausage

Restaurant: Tableau

Me and Chef Timothy Henderson at Tableau
chef at Tableau

Photo Credit: M. Scott Smith

Today, I decided to pay tribute to Las Vegas with an equally decadent blog post. I didn’t have to look too far since I have plenty of decadent brioche left over from my previous post. You can’t tell from the photos, but I had made 2 batches of brioche, which left me with 4 total loaves, and 6 sticks of butter less in the fridge. But that’s not enough. In order to come close to Vegas-level decadence, I needed something more. I needed that charon sauce — something to take this already rich bread to new levels of decadence. Chocolate was the answer (as it almost always is).

mise en place
mise en place

With some spotty bananas sitting on my counter, I decided to turn some of my left over brioche into mini chocolate-banana panini.

banana-chocolate
banana-chocolate
wait, wait… some extra chocolate
extra chocolate
panini press
panini press
chocolate-banana brioche panini
chocolate-banana brioche panini

Chocolate-Banana Brioche Panini

yields 4 panini

Components

  • 4 thick slices of brioche (1/2 inch)
  • High Quality Dark Chocolate (50-70% Cocoa)*, medium chop
  • thinly sliced bananas

Putting them all together

  1. Cut each slice of brioche in half.
  2. Layer chocolate chunks topped with a few slices of banana and an extra sprinkling of chocolate. The chocolate will act as a glue and keep the bananas in place.
  3. Melt the chocolate in a panini press or on a skillet over a burner*.

Notes: I used Callebaut Chocolate for these panini, although any high quality dark chocolate also works — El Rey (Venezuela) and Valrhona (France) are a couple of my favorite brands. You could also make your own panini press by placing your sandwich in a large skillet over medium heat and topping it with another heated skillet (cast iron works best because it’s heavy).

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oozing chocolate, creamy banana, buttery brioche — decadence accomplished
chocolate, banana, brioche