Saturday, August 29, 2009

Moroccan Foods for Ramadan

After being married to a Moroccan for almost a decade, I finally figured out how to make harira. Harira is a tomato-based soup with meat and chickpeas that Moroccans eat to break the fast during Ramadan. I've tried a number of delicious recipes, but none of them ever tasted quite like the harira made in my husband's family. Somehow, even though I got other cooking lessons, I never learned to make harira the way they did. So finally this past summer while in Fes, I wrote down my sister-in-law's directions. I pulled out the recipe a few weeks ago and realized it was just a giant list of ingredients, a little here and there, approximated using tea glasses or small spoons, most of said ingredients thrown into a blender and then a pressure cooker, with other things added later. So I worked on the measurements until I got the recipe right. Last night we finally had some authentic food-- I've also been tinkering with the recipe for bghrir, otherwise known as the "pancake of a thousand holes," and I think I've got that one down, too. I'm writing them down now for posterity, and so I can remember what I did next time.

Harira (Serves 4)

Part 1:

1/2 lb stew beef, cut into 1 " pieces
4 large tomatoes
1 large onion
3 stalks celery, with leaves
1/2 cup parsley
1/4 cup cilantro
1 Tblsp canola oil
1 tsp. salt, add more to taste
1/2 tsp. black pepper
A can of chickpeas, drained
2 teaspoons Better than Boullion, or beef boullion cubes, or beef stock

Part 2:

1/8 cup flour
1/4 cup water
2 Tblsp. tomato paste
1/4 cup long grain rice
1/4 cup cilantro
4 cups water

Part 3:

Small handful vermicelli noodles, preferably fideo, broken up angel hair noodles that they sell at Hispanic grocery stores.

Place stew beef in a pressure cooker, or large Dutch oven (will take longer). Blend tomatoes in blender then strain them through a colander, adding strained tomatoes to pot. Blend large onion with 1/2 cup water, add to pot. Blend celery with 1/2 cup parsley, 1/4 cup cilantro and another 1/2 cup water, add to pot. Turn on the burner, bring to a simmer, keep adding stuff: oil, salt, pepper, beef stock or boullion, chickpeas (You can use canned, but if so, don't add them now, add them at the end). Seal pressure cooker, cook 45 minutes, turn off heat. If using a dutch oven, simmer about 2 hours, or until beef is tender.

In a blender, blend flour, 1/2 cup water, 2 Tblsp tomato paste. Add to pot, along with rice, cilantro, and 4 cups water. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring frequently to keep flour from sticking.

Best if you let it sit for another hour or two before eating. Salt to taste. It should be a slightly thick soup. If too thick, add more water. Just before eating, add a very small handful of fideo noodles.

Serve with lemon. Some people also put in lentils; you could do 1/4 cup or less at the same time you add the rice. This is the best soup ever; very filling.

Bghrir (Pancake with 1000 holes)

1 3/4 cups semolina
1/2 cup white flour
1 tsp. salt
1 cup milk, warmed slightly
3 cups water, lukewarm
3 eggs
1 Tblsp yeast (or a yeast packet)

Sift semolina, flour and salt. In a separate bowl, mix milk, water, eggs, and yeast with a whisk. Add SOME of the milk mixture to the semolina until mixture gets thick-- like a thick soup. Put that in a blender, blend for 3-4 minutes. Now strain it through a colander and then add the rest of your milk/eggs mixture. Allow to rise in a warm place for two hours.

Batter will be frothy. Stir gently with a ladle, and fry, crepe-style (not too thick) in a small frying pan coated with nonstick cooking spray over medium heat. Pancake will gather lots of tiny holes, but don't turn it over-- when it's golden on the bottom and done on the top, place it on a cookie rack or clean dish towel, but don't stack. This makes a LOT of tiny pancakes.

Before serving, heat another skillet with some butter (or butter substitute) and honey. Warm the pancakes you will be eating in the honey mixture, then stack on a plate to keep warm. Extra ones keep well.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Julie/Julia Movie

We lived in New York in 2002, during the time when Julie Powell was writing her blog cooking through all the recipes in the Julia Child cookbook. I followed it religiously. I was trying to finish writing my PhD dissertation and working day jobs as a temp at places like Clinique and Tiffany's, in their corporate headquarters, or in big financial firms. The names of the places sounded glamorous but the work was not-- I remember being hired to fill in for a secretary on vacation at a big financial firm and being shocked that actual shoeshine men would go from office to office, collecting shoes, sitting outside and dutifully shining them. Always at these places there was a hierarchy, still with white men at the top (I'm thinking of Mad Men), and I was usually taking orders from some guy who needed Excel spreadsheets typed up rapidly, or else someone to help him fill out Evite invitations for a party, and who could care less that I was working on a doctorate. It was an interesting year, it was fun at times, and it was also a struggle. And I had my own food blog, site designed by my husband, on its own server (that we eventually stopped subscribing to so I could do a free blogger page). I wrote a lot more back then and loved reading other people's sites. So it was cool to watch Julie Powell's rise to fame, and to reminisce about living in New York in a similar time in our lives.

The movie was great fun, and it made me fairly hungry for French food, even though many of the scenes involved not fully cooked food but ducks being deboned, or other raw scenes. Not quite as mouth watering as other food movies, such as Big Night. So this past weekend for my birthday dinner, my family and I went to Cafe de France, one of the best restaurants in our town. It was terrific. I had veal piccata, with perfectly cooked asparagus and a potato galette, and creme brulee for dessert. Because he'd heard it was my birthday, the waiter propped a tiny candle on the side of my plate in wax, a perfect gesture. I went home and dug around for my copy of the Julia Child cookbook-- I know I bought it years ago at a yard sale-- and couldn't find it anywhere. Oh well. Instead I took several yellow potatoes, sliced them thin, layered them in a gratin dish with sliced onions, parmesan, salt, and pepper between the layers. I poured milk over the whole thing, baked it for an hour at 375, and added more cheese at the end. Would have been even better with gruyere on hand but not bad, nonetheless. But now I'm desperately searching for that cookbook.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Oven French Fries with Dijon Mayo

This is a fool-proof recipe for French fries, and it always turns out well for me. An adaptation of a Cooking Light recipe, with a dipping sauce that tastes like something you'd be eating in the south of France, at a seaside cafe somewhere, with lots of fresh grilled seafood.

2 lbs Baking potatoes or yukon gold potatoes
2 Tblsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. white wine vinegar
1 minced garlic clove
3 Tblsp. mayonnaise
1 tsp. chopped parsley
1 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 450. Slice potatoes lengthwise, anywhere from 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch thickness. Place in a large bowl, fill with hot water, let stand ten minutes while you make sauce.

Combine vinegar and garlic, let stand five minutes. Add mayonnaise, parsley, mustard.

Drain potatoes and pat dry with paper towels. In a dry bowl, mix them with oil and salt. Arrange on baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray, place in preheated oven. Check after ten minutes to see if you need to turn them-- if they're golden brown on the bottom. Could take anywhere from 20-35 minutes total, depending on how thick you slice them.