Month: May 2012

Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Sweet Honey Figs

Today I’m taking you to a special place where family and friends gather around the dinner table with happy hearts. Silverware is optional, but bread is not. Settle into this sacred space, where tagine of lamb meets chestnuts, figs, cinnamon, honey, and orange blossom water. Pause for a moment to celebrate this crazy wonderful combination, to feel the hot air blow through your hair, then dig in and scoop up the glory with a handful of bread. When you’re done, cozy up to an evening of conversation so good you wish you could bottle it. Tagines are Moroccan party food – each nibble is filled with glorious, cheerful flavor; a festive bite of beauty; a deep, dark bowl of goodness, glimmering like the Moroccan night sky. To be honest, there was a time when the word “tagine” sent shivers down my spine. The very word sounded terribly exotic which, in my mind, translated to “extraordinarily difficult to make.” If I only knew how wrong I was. I’ve since learned that many Moroccan tagines, such as …

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Menu: Morocco

This week we’re trying three completely different recipes which all use one magical Moroccan ingredient: orange blossom water. Have you ever used it? The perfume-like water lends a dreamy flavor to ordinary ingredients. While almost impossible to describe, I’d say that each splash of orange blossom water makes the food taste “prettier” which, of course, inspired me to splash a little behind my ears. Whether or not this is normal, I was happy as  can be, walking around, smelling like Morocco. What sounds good to you?* Lamb Tagine with Sweet Honey Figs [Recipe] Tender pieces of lamb slow-cooked in saffron, cinnamon and ginger, then topped with figs and chestnuts which have simmered in a honey and orange blossom water sauce. Carrot & Juicy Orange Salad [Recipe] Mountains of carrots grated and mixed with the juice of fresh squeezed oranges, cinnamon, sugar, and fragrant orange blossom water. Semolina “Crater” Pancakes (Behgrir) [Recipe] This lovely yeast-risen batter is cooked on one side only, creating thousands of tiny craters – perfect for filling with a yummy blend of …

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Ziz River, Morocco. Photo by Jerzy Strzelecki.

About the food of Morocco

Ohh, ok. Here we are. This is Morocco week at the Global Table (and the crowd goes wild!). To be honest I was pretty nervous about this week. As far as I’m concerned, Morocco is a culinary giant. This comes from growing up in France, where delectable Moroccan dishes make regular appearances on Parisian menus. As I got to reading, however, I quickly realized that the food – although filled with intensely fragrant, glorious spices like cinnamon, cumin, saffron, and ginger – can be wonderfully straightforward in preparation. Three cheers for that! Perhaps this has to do with living in a hot, mountainous country – energy is better preserved than squandered, even in the kitchen. Case in point: the other day I watched Anthony Bourdain enjoy a whole roasted lamb in the desert during one of his early shows. This epic feast amounted to no more than a hot fire, a good piece of meat, and time enough to cook it. Sometimes that’s all we need. Simple, simple, simple. And then there’s the national dish – …

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Monday Meal Review: Montenegro

I’m at the grocery store, eyeing shelf upon shelf of neatly stacked packages of noodles. There are about 25 brands – each boasting some variation of regular, whole wheat, gluten-free, or loaded-with-spinach pasta. Three feet over there’s another 5 brands sitting pretty in the chiller. These are the fresh pastas. The ones that taste like you made them yourself. The ones that cost $10 for two servings. Hello. I feel my anxiety mounting. Deep breath. It’s just pasta. It’s just pasta. How difficult can it be? But it is difficult. So. many. choices. And yet, between these 30 brands of pasta, I cannot find anything labeled buckwheat – the noodles I need for my Montenegrin Global Table. I inquire and a kind grocery clerk leads me over to the international aisle, where I find another 15 brands of pasta. Rice noodles and squiggly ramen fill most of the shelves. The clerk gestures on the bottom row, just by my ankle. There it is – three brands of buckwheat noodles. The clerk casually adds that there …

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Chilled Buckwheat Noodle Salad with Feta & Cracked Black Pepper

It only seems natural that we eat something black during our week at the Black Mountain (a.k.a Montenegro).  But here’s the thing – nothing in life is black and white. There are all sorts of shades of gray (that’s where the beauty is – somewhere in the muddled middle). So, in the spirit of variety, we’re adding a few shades of gray to our pasta. We’ve got black pepper, white feta, and charcoal grey buckwheat noodles with a bit of sparkle from pools of golden olive oil. This is simple as can be and a fantastic chilled pasta salad for a hot summer’s day. And did I mention? It’s also gluten-free. You can buy buckwheat noodles (a.k.a. soba noodles) or make them yourself for a fun afternoon project. I tried this both ways and, while I loved the satisfaction of making the noodles myself, I also loved the easy, breezy simplicity of popping open a package of pre-made buckwheat noodles and having dinner on the table less than ten minutes later. NOTE: You can find buckwheat/soba noodles …

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Balkan Burger

You don’t have to know how to pronounce it to enjoy eating it. Pljeskavica. If this long, meandering string of letters makes you stutter, just clap your hands, because that’s what Pljeskavica means – the sound of hands clapping as the “Balkan burger” patties are formed. And this is not just a big word. This is big food. This is the original “super-size.” Not only are the patties large enough to cover a small plate, they contain as many as 6 cuts of meat from three different animals.  Everyone has their variation and you’ll typically find beef, lamb, and pork (for non-Muslims) in every bite. The entire animal is fair game. You can’t help but smile as your mouth stretches open with every bite. While each region (country, town, family, person!) has their own variation, most chow down on pljeskavica with a knife and fork. More recently, tucking the patty inside lepina, or thick pita bread with onion and tomato, is gaining popularity. Either way, don’t forget to slather each bite with roasted ajvar spread! For …

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Roasted Pepper Spread | Ajvar

Some days I dream about reinventing myself – pulling myself up, out of the ordinary into the wildly wonderful. On these ornery-sorts-of-days, I imagine myself strutting around in a bold color I’ve never worn before, like mustard yellow. On really good days I actually make these dreams happen. I become a mustard-wearing queen. Other days I just end up wearing mustard. Literally. That’s the way life goes: sometimes change works, sometimes it doesn’t. The fun is in the trying. Are you willing to reinvent yourself – even just a little? What about your eating habits? Today, in the spirit of trying something new, we’re going to reinvent our ketchup eating habits. Here’s how it’s going to work: instead of slathering our food with globs and globs of ketchup, we’re going to be bold, sassy, and totally Balkan. We’re going to slather it in Ajvar. Ajvar is a pepper spread popular all over the Balkans. Typically made with fresh, roasted paprika peppers and (sometimes) eggplant, the bright garden flavor goes great with all manner of meat, especially burgers. The versatile …

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Menu: Montenegro

I might be a little ahead of myself this week. I can’t help it. People have been asking me when the pools open. Women are wearing sun dresses and sunglasses.  On Sunday Ava said “my head is crying,” with a look of astonishment, as beads of sweat dripped down her head after a good play session. You see, way back in April the weather spiked straight up, into the 80s and 90s. It might be May, but we might as well be in the heart of summer. I’m ready to kick off my shoes, run through the sprinkler, and eat a summery meal outside, in the sunshine. Good news. This week’s menu can make that happen. The great thing about being at the Montenegrin Global Table during this heat wave is how much of the food can be made on the grill. How much can be enjoyed in the great outdoors. In fact, two of our dishes are grilled and the other is happily served chilled. That’s summer eatin’ if you ask me. So slide up your chair …

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Black Lake, Montenegro. Photo by Nije Bitno.

About the food of Montenegro

This week we’re eating Montenegro – where the mountains reach right up, into the clouds, like giant forks. By all appearances, they hold up the very sky herself. And then there are Montenegro’s lakes which sparkle like eternal springtime. With beauty that has even captured National Geographic’s attention for their coveted magazine cover photo, Montenegro is at once rugged and disarmingly serene. Funny that the country means “Black Mountain,” a name which sounds straight out of Lord of the Rings, because as far as I can tell, there’s nothing even a little sinister about her beauty. This eastern European country is home to an array of comforting dishes which will seem Yugoslavian (thanks to being part of Yugoslavia), as well as a little Italian, somewhat Hungarian, a tad Turkish, a bit Asian, and – of course – very, very Montenegrin. One dish that I didn’t expect to see on the list of specialties was Buckwheat pasta (a.k.a. soba noodles in Japan) tossed with feta and olive oil [Recipe]. In fact, I had never realized buckwheat noodles were …

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Western Mongolia. Photo by tiarescott.

Monday Meal Review: Mongolia

THE SCENE This week my brain is stuck on Mongolian nomads. I am obsessed. While I sip my hot, salty tea I think of their fierce loyalty in brutal winters. While I nibble the tangy carrot slaw, I imagine how hard it must be to move five times a year – so often that you cannot keep a veggie patch. So often that even a basic carrot salad would be a major treat, normally reserved for city folk. I take so much for granted. But what really hit home is how these nomads (who live so many places) are never homeless. Never alone. When something (good or bad) happens in their lives, nomads from other Gers (the portable homes they live in) show up to help. They come out of nowhere, from miles away. From over the hills. Through the vast emptiness. And they chip in to help however they can. While it can seem like each family unit is isolated in nothing but a giant expanse of blue sky and crusty grass, nothing could be farther than …

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Mongolian Carrot Salad

In Mongolia, the seemingly endless parade of meat, meat, and more meat, is only occasionally interrupted by vegetables. And, even then, relief doesn’t come with a garden salad, but rather some combination of root vegetables. This is because there really isn’t a whole lot of good farmland in the giant, cold, central Asian country – only the hardiest specimens make it. In the big city, versions of this simple carrot salad can be found, either dressed in a vinaigrette (as I have done) or in a mayonnaise/sour cream based dressing. So head to the market with me, and let’s stove top travel over to Mongolia! (Can you find the carrots in this picture?) Serves 4-6 Ingredients: 1 lb carrots, grated or julienned (on a mandolin is easiest) 1/2 cup raisins, soaked in hot water For the dressing: 1 large clove of garlic, grated 3 tablespoons vegetable oil 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar salt & pepper, to taste (be sure to use plenty of salt to bring out the flavors) Method: After picking up some …

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Mongolian Millet & Green Milk Tea | Suutei Tsai

  If tea time in your home means sweet, sugary cups of deliciousness, think again. This week we’re sipping on salty, milky green tea cooked with buttery toasted millet. This is one of the more elaborate versions of Suutei Tsai – a famous Mongolian drink enjoyed out on the cold steppes. Each sip tastes of milk and salt and cereal – but the drink also has a remarkable drying effect in the mouth, thanks to a healthy dose of naturally astringent green tea. This is absolutely the strangest tea I have ever sipped. But Suutei Tsai is also delightful – it just begs to be sipped under the starlight on a frosty winter evening. Or perhaps on a chilly spring day, while watching wild horses gallop through the horizon. Everything written about Suutei Tsai claims that westerners have trouble enjoying this drink. I find, however, that if you go into it expecting hot, milky cereal you’ll be alright. In other words, don’t expect sweet tea. Just forget about sugar entirely. And pass the salt. httpv:// …

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