Monday, February 27, 2012

Lebanon - Kibbeh

Kibbeh is a traditional food in the countries of the Levant and is particularly popular in Lebanon. It is meat and onion stuffed inside a dough made of more meat and onion. As I understand it, you then serve it up with a nice cool glass of meat and onion, while reclining in a traditional chair also made of meat and onion.

2 lbs ground beef or lamb meat
½ lbs bulgur wheat
1 large onion, finely chopped
¼ tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
Vegetable oil for frying and sautéing

½ cup pine nuts  

Soak your bulgur wheat in cold water for 30 minutes and then drain it. Here's a picture of it soaking so you don't think I bought pre-soaked wheat from a pre-soaked grain mail order catalog. I could have bought this picture from an online stock image company though, so you'll never be sure.

Roast your pine nuts on medium-low heat until they're lightly browned and fragrant, which should take about 5 minutes; remove them from heat once they have this lightly browned look to them.

Take the soaked bulgur wheat from before and add half of your meat, half of your onion, and half of your salt and pepper to it. Mix it and run it through a food processor, until it has a sticky, dough-like texture, then set it aside. Several years ago in a fit of rage at my food processor, I threw it out, and I have regretted it ever since. So here I am using a handheld mixer instead.

Sauté the remaining onion in a lightly oiled frying pan. Then add the roasted pine nuts, the rest of your meat, the rest of your salt and pepper, and finally, the cumin. Mix it all up like you've never mixed before (that is, mix it very well, don't make a mess of it like you've lived in a box and have actually never mixed before), then continue to sauté until the meat is brown and cooked through. Remove from the heat and let it cool for about 10 minutes.

Take the dough mixture from before and form it into balls. Make a large impression in each ball using your finger or thumb. Then, using a teaspoon, put the stuffing inside it, and seal the ball by pinching it with your fingers.

You should end up with several finely presented balls (well, they're ovals, but I'm not the shape police) lined up with military precision.

Heat up the vegetable oil in your frying pan until it reaches 350°, which you can test by putting a small cube of bread in; at 350° the bread will brown in about a minute. I didn't do that though, I just guessed at the temperature and it worked out fine. Add your kibbehs into the pan with about an inch between them, because they're very territorial.

Turn them occasionally, because they're also very lazy.

After about 10 minutes they should have a lovely golden brown colour; you should then remove them from the pan and lay them on a paper towel to soak up any excess oil.

Place them in a bowl (or directly into your mouth, once they've cooled) and then eat them until you're stuffed like a kibbeh.

They're delicious as they are, or you can add sauces. I tried them with ketchup, barbecue sauce, and mustard; mustard was the best but it was good with all three. They seem like a very versatile sort of food which would go well with nearly any kind of sauce, as a main dish, as a snack, or as an accompaniment to anything else.

The dough had a different texture from anything I'd had before, the bulgur wheat gave it an interesting crunch and it also had a meaty texture because, after all, it was half meat. Then as your bite continues downward you reach the stuffing, where you are surprised by more meat. Dinner guests will be amazed at your boldness in stuffing meat with more meat.

This is definitely a food I will be having again.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Belize - Garnaches

Garnaches are popular in Belize, but they are also eaten in other Central American and South American countries because of their cheap ingredients and ease of preparation. All every garnache absolutely needs is a fried tortilla, but the toppings are completely up to you. For my first time making them, I've kept it simple with these ingredients, enough to make 4 garnaches:

4 corn tortillas
200g mild salsa
450g refried beans
50g finely grated parmesan
1/2 cup oil

The oil isn't shown for some mysterious reason, also because I forgot.

Heat the oil until it's at frying temperature, which you can test by putting a crumb of tortilla in and seeing if it quickly crisps up. At the same time, in a separate pan, begin heating your refried beans. Put a single tortilla in the oil and fry it for a minute on each side or until done. When the tortilla is done, it will bubble up and start to brown.

I thought I had taken a picture of a finished tortilla straight out of the frying pan because it was lovely and golden brown with delicate large bubbles all over it, but apparently I didn't, so we'll move on to the topping. First, spread your lovely, hot refried beans, about two heaping tablespoons per tortilla:

Then add several dollops of salsa, three to four tablespoons of it:

Now, sprinkle your parmesan cheese liberally over the top:

Finally, after all your hard work, eat it! I was very surprised by the fried corn tortilla, it comes out perfectly crispy and with sort of a sweet taste. The refried beans have a nice texture, the cold salsa cools your mouth, and the parmesan adds an extra flavor on top of it all. I'll make these again with other toppings; they'd be great with melted cheese, with ground beef, or maybe fried vegetables. I hope you make them and experiment with the toppings too, I'd love to hear about your results in the comments below.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Thailand - Pad Thai

Pad Thai has its origins after World War II, when immigrants from China introduced rice noodles to many southern Asian countries. During the post-war recession, the Thai government encouraged the production of rice noodles and the construction of noodle shops. This led to many styles of rice noodles in Thailand, including Pad Thai.


1 packet Thai noodles
8oz prawns
1 red chilli
2 eggs
1 lime
1 cup beansprouts
¼ cup peanuts
3 spring onions
1 bottle Pad Thai sauce
3 tbls oil

Optional Sauce:
I used a bottle of Pad Thai sauce because I don't like to spend my life making sauces with extra ingredients, but if you like you can make your own sauce using these ingredients. Just mix it all in a bowl until the sugar dissolves and then set it aside for later in the recipe.

2 Tablespoons fish sauce
1 Tablespoons lime juice
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 Tablespoon tamarind paste mixed with 3 Tablespoons of water
2 teaspoons chillie sauce

First, soak your rice noodles in cold water for an hour, then drain them. They should be firm and still very chewy at this point. Put two tablespoons of oil in the wok on medium-high heat, and stir-fry the chilies until they give off their fragrance, which should take about one minute. I bought a bag of mixed chilies, which turned out to be about a hundred green chilis and one single red chili, which is why there's only a tiny amount in the wok here. I'd recommend two or three chilis instead, if you like chilis.

Add in your prawns. I've used small prawns here, but you can use large ones or even jumbo ones if that suits your fancy. Fry them until they're pink, which should take a minute or two.

Crack the eggs into the pan and give them a good mixing, scrambling, stir-fry until they're cooked.

The eggs will most likely have soaked up the oil, so add the rest of your oil and spread it around to moisten the pan. Now add your noodles, and as you stir fry them, drizzle the sauce in so it coats them.

Lift and turn the noodles - very gently, or they may will break up - so the ingredients combine more effectively, and continue to stir fry for another 1-2 minutes. Your wok may have dried again, and if so you will need to add another tablespoon of oil. Go ahead and add the bean sprouts, stir frying them in with the noodles.

The noodles are done when they are soft, but still chewy. If they're still too hard at this point, stir fry them for a little longer on medium heat. Once they're done, remove them from the heat immediately and serve them. Sprinkle them with spring onions, coriander, peanuts and fresh lime juice.

The Pad Thai looked really nice, and so I was especially disappointed by the bland taste. I squeezed an additional lime slice onto it for more flavor, which helped a bit. The rice noodles had a texture which is far different from egg or flour noodles. They feel very nice in your mouth, very chewy. I'd like to try the noodles in different ways with stronger sauces to give them another chance. The bean sprouts also had a nice texture, but not much taste. I was suprised by the eggs, which cooked into tiny fluffy bits and also added another pleasing texture. Overall, the whole dish had great texture but almost no taste.
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