Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Koshari, Kosheri or is that Koshary?

What is in a word? Koshari is Egypt's answer to American Chili...kind of, sort of! It is made of lentils, rice, beans, some type of pasta & it has a spicy tomato sauce. It is a street food along the streets of Cairo, can be found throughout the Middle East & as far away as Hong Kong. The national dish of Egypt aka: 1st rate Egyptian comfort food intrigued me long before I tried it. I watched an episode of No Reservations where Anthony Bourdain visited Cairo & ate at a Koshari restaurant. I was decidedly intrigued then began seeking out a recipe & the ingredients to make this dish. My recipe incorporates a bit more heat but there are as many recipes of this online as our American Chili. Comfort foods tend to take up a life of their own. Making Koshari for the very first time while we were still living full time south of the border was not all that difficult. I would venture to say that many cooks have most of the ingredients on hand in the pantry save the Hot Siracha Sauce. I made a trip to our local Asian market to buy the Hot Siracha sauce. (Of course I think I just needed an excuse to visit the Asian Supermarket.) They seem to have one of the largest selections of products under one roof & I am always up for the slightly exotic shopping trip. Our large MT Asian Supermarket has groceries offered from around the globe with a nice selection of Middle Eastern products. Believe it or not there is actually quite a large influence from the Middle East on the foods in Mexico. We knew people in Mexico with Middle Eastern surnames & traditions. I believe I had mentioned this previously in another blogpost. The Middle Eastern dishes are quite popular with the younger foodies as many of the side dishes are vegetarian. They are both inexpensive to prepare as well as high in protein & a good way to change up the average meatless meal. I recently made this meal as a modest addition to Tangled Noodle & Savor the Thyme's Eating Your Words contest. I do not know that my meal is particularly challenging however if anyone had seen me trying to pipe the words of my Spicy Tomato Sauce for the Koshari I seemed plenty challenged. Why pipe it onto the plate one might ask? We tend to dab everything into the sauce & if a little is good on top of the Koshari, more is better!

Egyptian Koshari

The national dish of Egypt which may have found a permanent place on the Texas to Mexico table.

2 cups cooked Rice
2 cups cooked Vermicelli (Fideo) pasta*
2 tablespoons Cider Vinegar
1 teaspoon Ground Cumin , divided
1/2 teaspoon Garlic Powder
1 cup cooked Lentils
1 1/2 can tomato sauce (16 oz)
1/2 cup Water
4 tablespoons hot Siracha Sauce from Asian grocery
1 1/2 tablespoons Sugar
3/4 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper
1 15.5 oz can Chick Peas (Garbanzo beans), drained
2 med. Onions, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)**
1 Green Chili, roasted, seeded & diced


1. *In large saucepan saute Fideo or Vermicelli pasta in 1 Tbsp Oil till lightly golden, then slowly add water needed to cook pasta. Drain any remaining water from pasta.

Combine rice and pasta; spoon in bottom of large shallow bowl or platter.

2. Whisk together vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, and garlic powder in a medium bowl. Add cooked lentils and stir to combine. Spoon over rice and pasta.

3. Combine tomato sauce, water, sugar, cinnamon, salt, remaining 1/2 teaspoon cumin, hot Siracha sauce and red pepper in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat about 5 minutes or until heated through, stirring occasionally. At this point set aside & reserve 1/2 cup of the Spicy Tomato Sauce. Stir in chickpeas. Spoon tomato mixture over lentil layer. Partially stir tomato mixture into other layers, but do not completely combine all layers. If desired, prepare crisp-brown onions as directed below and add as a topping. To this layer I added Green Chili Peppers & served with the reserved Spicy Tomato Sauce on the side. I realize this takes Koshari into a Southwest direction but it is so very good. Omit the green chilies if you don't want the added heat.

**Cook onions in large skillet with 1 tablespoon oil over high heat, stirring frequently, until brown and slightly crispy, about 10 - 15 minutes.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Parsnip Rutabaga question.

My Saint Patrick's day bit of luck came to me in the local produce section while shopping for our yearly Irish meal. I've always said I did not care for Parsnips. But I decided to make a well known Irish potato dish & it required purchasing some of root vegetables of the unknown type. As a kid I told my mother I hated Parsnips. I was dead certain it was parsnips I had disliked all those years ago. Strange how our minds have a bit of revisionist history at times. The long story short of it is that I found a great recipe for Dublin Parsnip Colcannon & I thought I would give the much maligned Parsnip a try once again. Much to my surprise I found that Parsnips were not the sharp tasting, bitter rootie veggie I remembered. On the contrary, I enjoyed the hint of sweet flavor the fresh Parsnips added to the potato dish. In my mind I remembered hating this vegetable, maybe it was the Rutabaga instead? If this is true then I have to revisit several root veggies I disliked as a kid! Who knew our taste buds would change as we age. Is the Rutabaga next on my list of newly acquired flavors?? No, I doubt it. Lightening cannot strike twice in my culinary world....

The traditional Irish Colcannon has a history of being prepared on All Saints Day. Traditional charms were put in the Colcannon that symbolized different things. A button meant you would remain a bachelor and a thimble meant you would remain a spinster for the coming year. A ring meant you would get married and a coin meant you would come into wealth. We enjoyed our Colcannon even if I left the charms aside this time. Colcannon can be made with a variety of greens mixed within however I opted for the Green Onion & Parsley variety this time around.

Dublin Parsnip Colcannon
1 lb. Parsnips
2 lb. Yukon Gold Potatoes
1 cup Half & Half or Milk
3 Tbsp. Salt
3 Tbsp. Butter
1/4 cup Scallions or Spring Green Onions, sliced green tops with small amount of white bulb.
1/4 finely chopped flat leaf parsley

Scrub & peel the parsnips & potatoes, cover with cold water then add salt. Bring to a boil in large saucepan, When the potatoes are almost cooked, heat the milk or half & half bring to a simmer, add scallions along with the parsley & remove from heat. Once the potatoes/parsnips are tender, drain water and mash well. Slowly stir in the warm milk & parsley/scallions mixture. Stir just until fluffy & well blended careful not to over beat the potatoes. (I have on occasion used the electric blender to help whip my mashed potatoes however they can get sticky & gummy quickly with this method.) Serve immediately in a hot dish with the Butter placed into the center of the Colcannon. Colcannon might also be prepared ahead & reheated later in the oven at 350* for about 20 minutes.

My Irish Ancestors never had the ease of Corned Beef in a crock pot. With a busy St. Patrick's Day I was thrilled to be able to turn on the crock pot & walk away for several hours. The traditional Corned Beef Easter Sunday meal was eaten after the Lenten fast, with fresh cabbage & some form of potatoes. Now most American born of Irish heritage connect Saint Patrick's day meals with Corned Beef. however I am certain I speak for most when I say that we eat better on St. Patrick's Day than most of our Irish ancestors did. I somehow think my Irish Grandfather would have loved the fact that I cooked my Corned Beef this year with a bottle of Mexican Beer. He lived much of his adult life in San Antonio Texas & loved the cuisines of the culturally diverse town. Buen Provecho, my friends & the luck of the Irish be with you this year. For a peek at what Irish dessert we enjoyed check out the Irish Apple Tart here:

Crock pot Corned Beef
4-5 lbs Corned Beef Brisket
2 medium Onions, peeled and quartered
1 clove of Garlic, crushed
1 Bay Leaf (or two small ones)
1 packet of Corned Beef spices, usually included with Corned Beef
1 Bottle of Sol, Mexican Beer, of course any beer will do.

Place 1 well trimmed Corned Beef into Crock Pot, sprinkle the Corned Beef with the pickling spices (about 1 Tablespoon), garlic, toss in onion wedges & then cover with beer. Cook on High for 5-6 hours. 5 hours for 4 lbs & 6 for 5 lbs. See crock pot instructions for leaving it at low for a longer time period. Remove from heat, rest & slice in 1/4 inch slices. We served this with our Parsnip/Potato Colcannon & glazed carrots. Chilled this brisket makes excellent sandwiches. FYI, this Crock Pot meal was almost a no show for St. Paddy's Day. My Crock Pot died after a short life of slow cooking at my house & I had to rush next door to borrow my neighbor's crock pot. A big Thank You for the Desselles!! The moral of the story remains do an equipment check when the family is coming for dinner!

An Irish blessing-
May the sound of happy music
and the lilt of Irish laughter
fill your heart with gladness
That stays forever after.

The Toujouse Bar, Treemont House Galveston Texas. In the heart of Galveston Island's Strand Historic District.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Celebrating Independence Texas Style.

Texas Independence Day is the celebration of the adoption of the Texas Declaration of Independence on March 2, 1836. From the Battle of the Alamo to the declaration of independence from Mexico; Texas has always had more in common than differences with the culture & traditions of Mexico. As our friends in Mexico love to remind us Texas & Mexico used to be all the same country...
Never is that commonality less obvious than when I see our love for both the traditional Mexican or Tex-Mex cuisine right here in the Lone Star State.

Frijoles de Olla is the classic bean dish which is brought to the table in a Cazuela or Olla (the traditional earthenware pottery found throughout Mexico) after the main course has been eaten. I made a brief trip last week to the Mercado Zaragosa, in Pedras Negras, Coahuila. The Mercado Zaragosa is where my father bought me my first Olla many years ago. I continue to use that same Olla to this day when I want to make traditional Frijoles de Olla. I was relieved to see that the small market place in the heart of old Piedras Negras was still as quiet & tranquil as I remembered it. The recent troubles along the border regions in Northern Mexico have missed the sleepy burg of Piedras for now. I saw rows of traditional pottery (including several Ollas) on the familiar sidewalk in front of the Mercado. I made my way inside to purchase bottles of La Vencedora vanilla & honey. Those flavors are but just a few of the items I enjoy searching for each time I travel to Mexico.

In our quest to remove some of our meat from our weekly diet I decided to make our Frijoles de Olla without any meat or animal fats. The delicious Frijoles both North & South of the Border often have Lard in the recipe. While the taste might be more in keeping with tradition, this recipe has enough flavor the meat & lard is hardly a passing thought. I also prepared this dish with a soy chorizo sausage rather than traditional chorizo. There are several varieties of Soy Chorizo available here in the states however I suggest buying it to cook before you use it in the beans. Not all Soy Chorizos are created equal, ha,ha! (Trust me on this.) You do not have to cook these beans in anything other than a large pot or dutch oven. I served the Frijoles with Veggie Tacos. I have posted this recipe before on my blog & here is the link. Whether you are avoiding meat for Lent, dietary or life choice give these a try.

Frijoles de Olla

2 cups dried *Pinto beans, sorted & washed, soaked overnight and drained
1 medium White Onion, peeled & chopped
2 large Garlic cloves, peeled & chopped
4 Roma Tomatoes, roasted, peeled & diced
1 12 oz. Soy-rizo link, removed from casing
2 tsp. Chili Powder
1/4 cup Cilantro
4 quarts water
Salt & Pepper to taste

Place the beans in a large Olla - clay pot - or stockpot with the onion, garlic, the 4 roasted tomatoes and water. Bring to a boil & then lower to slow simmer for the next 3 hours. Do not add salt until the beans have finished cooking. Cover and cook for 3 hours or until tender. During the first hour of cooking saute the Soy-rizo, Soy Chorizo. (real chorizo or sausage may be used.)

When the beans are done, remove about 1 cup of them and mash or puree them with some of their liquid. Add the mashed beans back to the pot, and continue cooking a few more minutes, until the mashed beans have thickened the bean broth a bit. Add salt & black pepper to taste.

Serve the beans in the clay pot or an attractive, heat-proof bowl. Pass a platter of garnishes - chopped onions, crumbled cheese, chopped cilantro - so that they can be individually added to taste.
*In Southern Mexico black beans may be used but in much of Mexico as well as the Southwest Pinto beans or a small red bean are used more often than not.

Veggie Tacos are fast becoming a favorite at our home while I am scaling back the meat consumption for a bit of a healthier Texas to Mexico dining experience. I have made these tacos or a version of them many times before. You can be creative & use a never ending variety of vegetables or spices to make them as simple or as spicy as you handle. For some extra heat you might try adding finely diced jalapenos along side of your garnishes.
My Veggie Tacos recipes can be found here on a previous blog. I garnished the tacos this week with sliced radish, alfalfa sprouts & avocados.