Kushari Made Easy

Although not as exotic as Moroccan cuisine or as elegant as Turkish cuisine, Egyptian food is quite delicious, and comprised of elements from other cultures that have been absorbed through the millennia. No dish better represents this approach than kushari, which is widely considered the national dish of Egypt, yet is widely unknown here. Which is a shame, because it’s inexpensive, nourishing, and versatile.

So, what is it exactly? An unlikely concoction of lentils, rice, and macaroni, tied together with a tangy tomato sauce, laced with cumin and garlic, topped with fried onions. and garnished with whole chickpeas.

One of the downsides is that traditionally it involves cooking each element separately, then combining at time of service. If you are keeping track, that’s at least 5 separate pots and pans. As a result, people tend not to make it much at home, and there are specialty shops that serve nothing else (like the small ramen or pizza places here).

I made an extremely non-authentic variation today, partly out of laziness, and also because I didn’t have any lentils or small macaroni in the house, so made a few strategic substitutions. I also wanted to make it in one pan and one pot for the sauce. Not quite as good as the real thing, but tasty in it’s own right, and still in the spirit of the dish.

Ingredients

  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 1/2 cup Israeli couscous (or green lentils)
  • 1 package ramen instant noodles (or 1/2 cup vermicelli or small macaroni)
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1 cup Pomi chopped tomatoes (or canned tomato sauce, or 2 diced tomatoes)

    Sauce
  • 1 TB butter
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced.
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds (or ground cumin)
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 TB tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne (optional, or other ground hot red chili pepper to taste)

Directions

  1. Cut the onion in half through the poles, and slice thinly equatorially into half rings.
  2. Heat the oil in a heavy pot large enough to hold everything. I used the 10″ cast iron pan that I use for most everything, but a wide 6 or 8 quart pot with cover would be better.
  3. Fry the onions in the oil for a couple of minutes until they start to brown.
  4. Add the rice and stir well to coat in the oil and onions.
  5. Add the couscous and do the same.
  6. Crumble the ramen noodles into the pan, and stir together for a minute or two to toast all of the grains lightly.
  7. Dump in the can of chickpeas, including the liquid. Add the tomatoes and another can of water, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  8. Cover the pot and reduce heat to very low and simmer for about 20 minutes until rice is done.
  9. Meanwhile, make the sauce: melt the butter in a small saucepan, and add the garlic, cumin, and coriander.
  10. Cook for a couple of minutes until garlic is lightly brown, then add remaining ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  11. To serve, fluff up the kushari and scrape up any bits that stuck to the bottom of the pot. Drizzle the sauce over the top.

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Leeks Vinaigrette

Beautiful fresh leeks are in abundance this time of year. Usually I turn them into soup or use them instead of onions, but I decided to try them on their own. Should have done this a long time ago, they are easy to prepare this way and they seem quite fancy.

I used two donor recipes from the NY Times, but both seemed overly complicated and fussy for no good reason. But here they are for reference:

1) https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1014447-classic-leeks-vinaigrette?action=click&module=RecipeBox&pgType=recipebox-page&region=all&rank=2

2) https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1019000-leeks-vinaigrette-with-sieved-egg?action=click&module=RecipeBox&pgType=recipebox-page&region=all&rank=3

The proportions below will make 2 appetizer or 1 main portion, but can easily be scaled up. Next time I will double it to have leftovers.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium leeks
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp + 1 TB olive oil
  • 1 TB Dijon mustard
  • 1 TB red wine vinegar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp peppercorns
  • 1 TB capers

Directions

  1. Trim the leeks, and wash them well, soak to remove all sand, split open to expose the hidden sand inside. Drain well and cut into thirds.
  2. Heat a pot of water to boiling, season generously with salt, the peppercorns, bay leaf, and 1 tsp olive oil
  3. Gently add the eggs to the water, and simmer for 5 minutes.
  4. Add the leeks to the water and bring back to a boil. Simmer for 8 minutes until tender.
  5. While the leeks are cooking, make the vinaigrette: smash the capers, and whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, and mustard.
  6. Drain the leeks well, and add to the sauce.
  7. Cool and shell the egg, and coarsely chop. Add to leeks and stir well to mix.

 

 

Shakshuka

I’ve mentioned in the past that I’ve never really been a big fan of traditional shakshuka. But I made a simple version today that was really good. The big difference is I started with fresh tomatoes, which cooked down to make a dense and flavourful sauce, without losing the freshness.

Ingredients

  •  2 eggs
  • 3 Roma tomatoes
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 1 Serrano pepper
  • 1-2 clove garlic, optional
  • 2-4 TB Pomi chopped tomatoes, optional

Directions

  1. Coarsely chop the tomatoes and put in the container of an immersion blender.
  2. Trim and remove the seeds from the peppers, then coarsely chop and add to the tomatoes along with the garlic.
  3. Using the immersion blender, puree until smooth. Or use a food processor, or a blender. Pulse if you prefer the sauce a bit chunky.
  4. Heat a small frying pan (8″), and pour in the sauce. Season with salt and pepper. It will be quite liquid at first, cook over high heat for several minutes while stirring occasionally to reduce until it starts to thicken.
  5. Add the chopped tomatoes if using, or 1-2 TB tomato paste, stir well and cook for a few more minutes until the sauce is thick enough to make two depressions to hold the eggs.
  6. Carefully crack the eggs into the depression, reduce heat to medium, and cover the pan for a couple of minutes to cook the tops of the eggs.
  7. Remove the cover and cook for another minute or two until the egg whites are fully set, but the yolks are still a bit runny.
  8. Plate the eggs, and spoon the remaining sauce over the top. Garnish sparsely with a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkle of za’atar, salt and pepper, cumin, and sumac.
  9. Serve with warm pita or flour tortillas, or just eat plain for low-carb, the sauce is hearty enough to stand on its own.

Eggs Florentine

A lighter low-carb and vegetarian version of the classic dish, but if you don’t care about those things, you’d never know it.

Ingredients

  • 1 large bunch spinach
  • 2 portobello mushroom caps
  • 1 TB butter
  • 2 TB Neufchâtel or light cream cheese
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1-2 TB grated Parmesan or Romano
  • 2-4 oz shredded Swiss gruyere
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 beefsteak tomato
  • Olive oil
  • Cider vinegar
  • Salt and pepper


Directions

  1. First, prepare the spinach mixture, which is the most complicated part of the dish.
    I prefer mature fresh whole spinach for this, as it has more flavour, but you could also use a bag of pre-washed baby spinach for convenience.
    Trim the spinach and remove the stems, keeping only the leaves.
    Wash the spinach well, if sandy you’ll need to fully submerge, swish it around, then lift out of the water, and repeat. If you pour the water out leaving the spinach behind, the sand will get right back into it.
    Spin dry in a salad spinner, or drain well and blot with a paper towel to keep from getting too soggy.
    Once clean and dry, coarsely chop up the spinach. If using frozen or bagged spinach, you can skip all of the above and jump down to here.
  2. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat, and add the spinach. If it doesn’t all fit, add half and stir for 30 seconds until it starts to wilt and makes room for the rest.
  3. Stir in the cream cheese, season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper, Parmesan, and half of the shredded cheese. Cook it down until you have a nice smooth mixture, the spinach is tender, and the cheese fully melted. Set aside and keep warm.
  4. Prepare the mushroom caps by drizzling with olive oil and seasoning with salt and pepper. Broil a couple of minutes on each side until they just start to brown and soften, but still retain their shape.
  5. Slice the tomato to extract two thick slices from the center. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Broil for 1-2 minutes to warm up (to save time, add to oven when you flip the mushrooms).
  6. Eggs: Heat a shallow saucepan with generously salted boiling water, add a splash of vinegar, and keep at a gentle simmer. Swirl the water with a slotted spoon to create a whirlpool, and carefully break an egg into the center. Poach for 3 minutes, then remove and drain. Repeat with the second egg.
  7. Assembly: Start with the mushroom cap, with the top facing down on the plate, so it can be stuffed. Add a slice of tomato, then a generous heap of the spinach, and top with the egg, then garnish with the reserved shredded cheese.

Cornish Hen

These things are wonderful, and lately have dropped in price to almost the same as a regular full size chicken, but so much more fun. A really easy way to make a mundane chicken meal into a fancy feast. They are sometimes called Rock Game Hens, or Cornish Hens, or variations of the above. There is probably some technical difference, but at this point they are used interchangeably to mean “small chicken”. I have also not researched to lean how they relate to the French poussin or the Israeli paragiot. Just get the frozen ones by Purdue and move on.

Ingredients

  • 1 Cornish hen
  • 1-2 TB poultry seasoning spice mix
  • juice of one orange
  • 1-2 TB butter
  • 2-3 TB orange marmalade (and/or apricot preserves)
  • 2-3 cloves minced garlic
  • 1-2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • chopped fresh rosemary and/or thyme

Directions

1. For best results, brine first if you have the time. This has the advantage of defrosting while it soaks, and because they are small you can do it all in a medium bowl in the fridge overnight. Any brine solution for poultry will work fine, or just dump in some kosher salt and cover with water and toss in a couple of bay leaves, cloves, a stick of cinnamon, and peppercorns and leave overnight.

2. Remove from the brine a few hours before cooking, pat dry, and refrigerate uncovered until ready to cook so it can air dry further, which results in nice crispy skin.

3. If not brining/drying, you can start from this step. Using a heavy knife or poultry shears, spatchcock the bird by cutting down along the backbone, and splay open to butterfly.

4. Season liberally on both sides with your favorite poultry seasoning mix (e.g. Bells or rubbed sage, garlic powder, paprika, black pepper)
5. Roast in a preheated 450°F oven for about 25 minutes until cooked through and golden brown.
6. While it roasts, make the sauce: In a small saucepan, melt the butter and marmalade with the garlic until bubbly, then stir in the mustard, orange juice, and seasonings. Bring back to a simmer and reduce slightly. If too tart, add some honey.

7. After 20 minutes of cooking, remove bird from oven, and baste well with the sauce, then return and finish cooking for a few more minutes.

Cooked bird, before adding sauce:

The sauce will bubble and reduce when it hits the hot pan.

Beets With Ricotta

The trick here is to use high quality fresh ricotta. I boiled the beets in the pressure cooker, but you can also roast them if you prefer.

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch beets
  • Fresh ricotta
  • Juice from 1 orange
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Fig balsamic vinegar
  • EVOO
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh basil and/or mint
  • 6-10 Pistachios, crushed

Directions

  1. Wash, peel, and cook the beets. They can be boiled, steamed, roasted, or cooked under pressure. Either gold or purple beets work, or a combo. They should be cooked through but still al dente.
  2. Cover beets with cold water and cool until they can easily be handled, then cut into bite sized chunks or slices.
  3. While the beets are cooking, prepare the dressing: in a large bowl, whisk together the orange juice, olive oil, vinegars, nuts, herbs, and seasoning. If too tart, add some honey. If too sweet, add some lemon juice. I used about 1 TB each vinegar, 1/2 TB oil, but adjust to taste.
  4. Toss the beets with the dressing, and then gently stir in the ricotta.

Lentils with Sausage and Spinach

Super easy 3 ingredient 1 pot meal that tastes like it took hours to make., perfect for a mid-week evening.

Ingedients

  • 3 large or 4 small sausages
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1 package baby spinach

Directions

  1. Brown the sausages in a 4 quart saucepan with a cover. Use a squirt of cooking spray, olive oil, or ghee to keep from sticking
  2. Add lentils and 3.5 cups hot water
  3. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to simmer with cover slightly ajar to allow steam to escape
  4. After 15 minutes, add spinach by the handful, mixing into the hot lentils until wilted so it all fits.
  5. Cook covered for another 10 minutes until spinach is cooked and lentils are soft.

Notes

  1. Use a strongly flavoured sausage such as chorizo or merguez. If sausage is mildly spiced, you may need to add some additional seasoning such as garlic, coriander, fennel, cumin, salt and pepper, etc. to the lentils.
  2. The dish can be made more elaborate if desired. Diced carrots, chopped onion, etc can be sauteed with the sausage. And/or use chicken/beef broth instead of water.
  3. Other greens would work great too, such as arugula or kale. If using the mature varieties, then either parcook prior to adding, or add earlier in the process (e.g. at the same time as the lentils).

Tuna Salad

Looking for ways to dress up that tired soggy mess? Of course you are.

  • 1 can tuna, drained
  • 1 anchovy fillet
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 TB plain greek yoghurt
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 endive
  • 1/2 tsp herbs de Provence
  • seasonings to taste: salt, pepper, cayenne, sumac
  1. In a morter & pestle, smash together the anchovy with the garlic
  2. mix the tuna with the dressing and the anchovy garlic paste
  3. Season to taste with salt and pepper, cayenne, and sumac
  4. rinse and trim endive, separate the leaves. Optional: Chop the endive core finely and add to the tuna for crunch, in place of the typical tasteless celery. Omit it a smooth texture is desired.
  5. Spoon a bit of the tuna into the center of each leaf, or spread it out to a uniform thickness if you have the patience.
  6. Drizzle with a few drops of olive oil and dust with seasonings, or granish with some finely chopped fresh herbs and/or scallions/chives.
  7. Serve with a crisp white wine, or some hot tea.

Green Bean and Tomato Salad

Simple recipe, but elegant.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound string beans, washed and trimmed
  • Grape or small cherry tomatoes
  • 1-2 large scallions, sliced thin
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
  • 1 finely chopped shallot
  • 1 mashed anchovy
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

  1. Boil the egg for 9-10 minutes, cool in ice water, peel and quarter.
  2. Steam a bunch of trimmed string beans for about 4 minutes, then drain and shock in ice water.
  3. Make the dressing by whisking the oil into the shallots, mustard, anchovy, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper
  4. Toss the dressing with the drained green beans, scallions and tomatoes. Slice tomatoes in half if large, or leave whole.
  5. Garnish with egg wedges.

Based on the following recipe from the New York Times:

Green Bean and Tomato Salad
by Pierre Franey

Time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/10047-green-bean-and-tomato-salad

INGREDIENTS

1 pound string beans or small haricots verts
6 ripe tomatoes
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
4 tablespoons finely chopped shallots or green onions
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 tablespoons coarsely chopped basil

Download The New York Times Cooking App on the App Store.

Lechon Kawali 

This Filipino dish is deceptively simple, albeit a bit time consuming. But the results are well worth it. Basically , it’s deep fried pork belly, the part of the animal that bacon comes from. But the different preparation makes it quite unique. 

Ingredients 

  • Piece of pork belly, 1-3 lbs, with skin
  • Oil for frying
  • Onion
  • Bay leaves 
  • Cane vinegar 
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Soy sauce

Directions

  1. Trim any excess fat from the meat. If it has the bones, they can stay for more flavor, but will be easier to work with if removed. 
  2. Traditionally, the meat is boiled for about 45 minutes with salt, an onion and bay leaves. I also add garlic and black peppercorns, maybe a dried red chili or two and some coriander and mustard seeds. The same basic mix I’d use for corned beef. Instead of salt, I also prefer soy sauce and Worcestershire, adds more flavour and nice colour. 
  3. Instead of boiling, which sucks out a lot of the meaty flavour into the broth, this time I tried pre cooking it sous vide. I slathered the meat with a mild ancho chilli rub, then sprinkled lightly with Worcestershire and soy sauce. Should have added a crushed clove of garlic and a bay leaf. I let it stew for about 4 hours at 165°F, but a couple more hours wouldn’t have hurt it. For a firmer texture lower the heat a bit, but not below 150°F. 
  4. After the boil, drain and air dry on a wire rack in fridge for at least a couple of hours, or overnight. 
  5. Heat the oil in a large pot to 350-375°. A cast iron skillet works, but it tends to splatter so an 8 quart pot with tall sides is safer and less messy. 
  6. Although it can be fried whole, I like to slice it into smaller pieces about 1″ thick to increase the amount of crispy surface area. Anything from 3/4″-2″ will work fine. Season the exposed surfaces lightly with salt. 
  7. Ideally the chunks will be deep fried, but if you don’t want to use a gallon of oil, make sure there is enough to cover at least halfway up the sides. Turn a couple of times to brown evenly on all sides, then remove to paper towels on a wire rack to drain.

Dipping Sauce

There is a traditional liver sauce that often accompanies this dish, but I prefer a simpler vinegar dipping sauce. The acidity balances the richness of the fried meat. 

Mix the following ingredients in a non-reactive bowl, and allow to sit for a bit to allow the flavors to meld and mellow. It will give you something to do while the oil heats up. 

  • 2-4 TB cane vinegar
  • 1-2 TB native vinegar (dark)
  • 1-2 TB soy sauce 
  • 1-2 clove garlic, crushed/minced
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Splash fish sauce (optional)

Notes

  1. The same technique can also be done with a hunk of corned beef for a pig-free version. Not quite as delightfully unctuous, but brings a whole new level of texture. 
  2. For extra crispy skin, some people sprinkle some water over it while fries. But this is obviously messy and potentially dangerous. I’ve also seen people dust the meat lightly with baking soda before frying, but haven’t tried it. If the oil is hot, the skin gets plenty crisp for my taste. 

After the sous vide and cooling, ready to slice and fry:

The low frying pan was a bad idea, lots of splatter:


Final product, about to be devoured: