I'm off dinner duty tonight which means I'm on dessert duty. Most baked desserts take quite a while to make so I decided to drag out the fryer and make Gulab Jamun which is a popular North Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Nepali, Gujarati and Punjabi sweet dish made of a dough consisting mainly of milk solids (often including double cream and flour) in a sugar syrup flavored with cardamom seeds and rosewater or saffron.
You can get it in Indian restaurants but we've found the quality to be all over the place. Sometimes you get it cold and other times it's warm. Once they were very clearly frozen and when they warmed them up the insides were still cold - ew! Also like many desserts there is a huge markup on Gulab Jamun in restaurants, for the price of one Gulab Jamun with maybe 2 balls of dough you can make an entire dish of them with 80 at home and in under an hour.
The photo to the right is 3/4 of the batch we made because we are still experimenting with the proportions for our copper serving dish. We used 2c dried milk, 1c flour, about 2/3c milk and 1tsp baking soda for the dough. We'll be adjusting this down a bit because we ended up with an extra 10 that won't fit in the dish. The syrup is made with 3c sugar, 2.5c water (or less) and 2tsp cardamom powder. In the future I'll be experimenting with putting rosewater in it as well. This whole tray of Galub Jamun cost about $2.50.
Good Indian food is hard not to love. When I open my spice cupboard I'm instantly transported to a magical land full of aromas and color and when we're cooking - well, you can probably imagine. When someone says Chickin Tikka Masala most people who know Indian food knows it's a tomato creme sauce with a strong Garam Masala flavor to it.What most people don't know is that it's a dish that was created in London and has become so popular there that the Brits have declared it the national dish. The proprietor of my favorite local Indian restaurant (Clay Pit - Mill Creek WA) said that 90 percent of the people they serve order Chicken Tikka Masala because that's the most known and recognized dish. Mill Creek is a predominantly white community so this makes sense. We've eaten Indian food all over the world and it's a shame that people don't get better accustomed to some of the other dishes as they're wonderful as well. The influence Chicken Tikka Masala has had on other Indian dishes has been dramatic so much so that cooks are adding Garam Masala to a lot of other dishes to make them more appealing to customers addicted to Chicken Tikka Masala. This I think is unfortunate but a reality nonetheless. Anyway we've been working on a Chicken Tikka Masala recipe at home and we're about 90% there. On first bite it comes off as being a bit flat but things build as you proceed. What I'd like is for the flavor to be stronger and the heat identical. Outside of that I think we're about there.
You may already know that Chicken Tikka is cooked in a tandoori and I don't have one. To get around this I marinate the kebabs in the yogurt/spice mix and put them as close to the broiler as possible. This may mean you put the rack on the topmost slot and then invert a sheet pan in order to get the kebabs closer. I'm also experimenting with making naan in a similar fashion. A tandoori runs at about 800 degrees and my oven will hit 550 so by heating the oven with a Pizza stone up under the broiler I may be able to similate a tandoori. More on that later. I have a few more changes to my Chicken Tikka Masala recipe before I post it but it will be coming in the next month or so.
We laughed at that saying repeatedly when in Hungary. The Hungarians I swear put Paprika in everything. If you go to the Great Market Hall near the Elizabeth bridge you will be overwhelmed by the shear numbers of Paprika sellers. Most of the lower floor of this giant market is full of dried peppers and the sellers of such. Not to mention these people don't buy little 3 oz bottles of McCormick from the grocery but by the pound. You also have a choice of sweet or hot paprika, a freedom we don't always have.
One of the famous Hungarian dishes is Chicken Paprikash which has of course chicken and lots of Paprika. Natalya made this last night and it was decent. I'm not a huge fan of Chicken Paprikash but it was as good as any.
This is a tribute to Natalya who fixed me dinner for a week. I was not allowed to know what was for dinner or help. My first site of the food was when I sat down to the table. She deserves all the credit. The first night I sat down to Doro Wat. If you don't eat Ethiopian you should try it. Just go to a restaurant (Queen Sheba on Capital hill in Seattle is decent) and order the meat combo if you're into dead animals - if not order the veggie combo. Don't do this alone because there's just too much food on it. One combo ($20 at Queen Sheba or $13 at the places on MLK jr BLVD) will feed 2-4 people. My family eats one combo and usually has a few leftovers. Anyway there will be a giant plate layered with a spongy crepe looking thing called Injera. You don't get silverwear because you use the Injera to pick up the food by hand. On top of the Injera will be various "stews" with meat, lamb and chicken in them. It's all a bit spicy and can be VERY spicy so be warned. The menu usually tells you the spice level if you look under the individual items. If you get lucky and are eating Ethiopian in D.C. you will probably get to eat around a Mesob (tiny table resembling a drum) which is a great experience. In Seattle they give us regular tables (boring!).
My favorite Ethiopian dishes are Beef Tibbs and Doro Wat. A Wat is a stew and chicken is Doro in Ethiopian so you can guess what's in Doro Wat. Anyway Natalya surprised me with Doro Wat and Injera. It wasn't too bad but some spice were missing and the Injera needed more bubbles. I think it has soda water in it and the recipe didn't call for it. I'm sure we'll revisit Ethiopian dishes later in our culinary journey.
Oh and we ate it sitting on the floor on pillows on sheesham wood tables. Not authentic Ethiopian but it sufficed since we don't have a Mesob...
One of the most fascinating migrations in history for food buffs happened in about 1400 (besides the seasonal migration of water buffalo on the Masai Mara, if you could just sneak a tranquilizer gun and a barrel smoker out there when nobody was looking) when the Muhgals went from modern day Turkey, through Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan and settled in northern India. You can actually see the path they took in restaurant menus. In Persian restaurants you have Korescht-e, Afghan you have Qorma-i and Indian you have Korma. All three are meat braised in a sauce served over rice. In Indian cuisine you often eat naan which happens to be the farsi (Persian) word for bread. There are many many other similarities. Last night we decided to explore further and went to Kabul to get a closer look. Not Kabul Afghanistan, foodtard - Kabul restaurant in the Wallingford district of Seattle. Located at 2301 N. 45th Street it's centrally located and if you're a local you've probably walked past it a million times and only noticed the mural on the wall. Like most places in Seattle it's difficult finding a place to park but once you do there's plenty more to do in this area including two movie theaters and lots of shopping.
On with Kabul which happens to be pronounced closer to "cobble" than "kabool" like you might hear a lot. Kabul is a small somewhat intimate restaurant with very pleasant ethnic staff. I mention this because it's really irritating to eat at an ethnic restaurant and the server is some white kid that can't even pronounce the dishes let alone know what's good. I didn't ask our server where he was from but he looked the part and was very knowledgable about Afghan cuisine. For the record Afghans are more white (like Persians) than brown (like Pakistani/Indian). The lady in the mural on the wall outside has green/grey eyes which may surprise some who don't know about this region.
Here's the Kabul Menu if you like to look up the items below.
Anyway on with the food. We ordered Bolani for an appetizer. Think of Bolani as thin sheets of pastry dough layed over scallions and potatoes dipped in a sort of tzatziki sauce and you'd be close. They were a hit as both Piper and I liked them.
For our Entrees Piper really wanted Badenjan Borani which is an eggplant topped with tomato sauce, meat and a yogurt sauce. The Kebabs came with a side of this for an extra $2 so we passed on ordering it separately. I was curious about the Kabuli Palow because of it's mention of carrots and dried berries on it. Probably my favorite rice dish anywhere is Javaher Polow (Persian Jeweled Rice) and the similarities peaked my interest. Our server though pointed out that all the Entrees came with this and indeed they did, we took home an entire to-go box of it. So in the end we ordered Qorma-i Sabzi and Bara Kebab which came with Badenjan Borani and Kabuli Palow. The former is a dish with Spinach and chunks of lamb with flavorful sauce served with Badenjan Borani. The lamb was good, the rice was good but I'm not a huge fan of spinach. I did eat some of it though but once the lamb sauce was gone and I only had spinach left I was done. No Popeye forearms for me. The Bara Kebab (the top photo in this article) is a shish kabob like you'd expect of Lamb pieces marinated in garlic, onions, coriander and lemon juice. It was tender enough to mostly eat without a knife and the flavor was really good. Piper filled up on lamb and barely had enough room for dessert. The Bara Kebab also came with Kabuli Palow and Badenjan Borani. Both meals also came with "Afghan bread" which would be similar to cooking pita until it inflates then seperating the top from the bottom into thin strips and serving them. Not a lot of substance but good for wiping up the Badenjan Borani sauce left on the plate.
So my thoughts on all three, I think the Badenjan Borani is the star of the show and let me say that I'm really not a fan of Eggplant. I eat moussaka but there's plenty of other substance in that and I'm not a fan of eggplant parmesan. However, having said that this is a very nice dish. The eggplant is sliced really thin, covered with tomato sauce, meat and the yogurt sauce. I was pleasently surprised. Piper didn't eat her half as she'd filled up on Kebab and planned on taking her Badenjan Borani home. I couldn't however, see any reason in the Badenjan Borani sitting in the fridge wasting away so I convinced her to hand it over which she did. The Kebab was very good but not "OMG I think I just had an orgasm" good. It's meat on a stick with flavoring on it. It wasn't dried out though which is common with these types of things. Also the lamb didn't taste all Wheel of Fortune like some. You know, gamey. The Kabuli Palow was a nice filler but doesn't hold a candle to Javaher Palow. It's a flavored Basmati dish and the carrots and raisins seem like an afterthought.
Dessert posed some interesting choices - have Afghan desserts and learn something new or have Gelato because you like it. I did the former and Piper had chocolate gelato. What do Afghans eat for dessert? That depends but you can bet it will have pistachio nuts, rose water and cardamom in it. I had a choice of Firni a custard, baklava or ice cream - all three with at least two of the holy trinity in them. Since I've had Persian baklava with rose water and cardamom which I like very much and is in fact my favorite baklava I chose Firni because that's just how I am, I like living in the edge and looking death in the eye without flinching. Firni is a custard with all three of the Rose Water, Cardamom and Pistachio combination and is very good I must say. I will have to duplicate it at home.
Closing thoughts. Afghan food is as good as I expected it to be and since it's a bit of a novelty in Seattle (only 1.5 Afghan restaurants) it's also quite pricey. Dinner for two without drinks - $71. We probably would have paid half that at an Indian restaurant and 2/3 that at a Persian restaurant. Is it worth it? I think so as a once in a while sort of thing. If it were cheaper I'd eat Afghan food more often I think.
I ran across this FXcuisine who stole it from New Food of Life by Najmeih Batmanglij. I didn't have all of the ingredients so I'm posting what I did have. I shamelessly posted the recipe straight from their site in my recipe book but I'll get around to changing it to reflect what I've been making in a day or two.
Persian Jeweled Rice Javaher Polow
For 6 as a royal side dish
1.5 cups Basmati rice
1 organic oranges
1/2 large carrot
1 cup dried berry mix from Trader Joes (Golden raisens, cranberries, blueberries)
1/2 cup blanched whole almonds or almonds and pistachios
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 1/2 tbsp green cardamom pods
pinch of saffron diluted in 1 glass water
150 gr butter
2 tbsp yoghurt
The recipe called for barberries which I have no access too. I then decided to substitute pomegranite seeds which too are out of season. I switched to the berry mix at Trader Joes because they had one with pomegranite seeds but because of my current financial system I chose the mix without them and it turned out wonderful. You soak the berries, blanch the nuts, soak the rice and candy the orange peel and carrot. This rice is the most flavorful rice I've ever had. It really is a dish fit for royalty.
I've paired it with Korhesht-e fesanjan and homemade wheat pita. This fits into the "exclaimation foods" category that I like so much.
One of my favorite meals is a Persian dish called Korescht-e Fesanjan or the slang term Fesenjoon. It's a meat "soup" of sorts with a Pomegranate and Walnut sauce. It's quite wonderful but also quite elusive in the dining world because of the lack of great Persian restaurants in the Seattle area. I've taken it to task to reproduce it at home. The first time I made it Jade proclaimed that he felt like he was "throwing up". Thankfully I've made progress since then. What I fixed last night got a thumbs up from everyone and Piper begged me to not change it (she knows me too well). I'm not satisfied but I'm on the right track. The texture and color are off and the flavors will need to be tweaked still. I paired it with fresh home made wheat pitas, steamed basmati and apple tea (really apple cider).
There's a wild Moussaka loose in the theater! When I tell people I'm eating Moussaka for dinner I get some strange responses. At the very least I get a "What's Moussaka?" with a wrinkled up nose. I tell them it's like Lasagna without the noodles, meat, tomato sauce or cheese which is usually followed by an "Oh!" from them. So what is Moussaka? It's a Greek cassarole dish comprised of lamb, eggplant, breadcrumbs, spices and bechemal sauce. Sometimes we cheat and use half lamb and half hamburger if we're poor. The meat is cooked with spices and herbs (cinnamon, cloves, garlic) and then the pan is deglazed with red wine. Tomato puree is added and the whole thing is simmered for a while. The breadcrumbs, meat mixture and fried eggplant are layered in a glass baking dish and topped with Bechamel and baked for 30 minutes. Our recipe is getting closer to being where I want it and when I'm happy I'll upload the recipe. Moussaka is good paired with pita brushed with olive oil and warmed on a comal dipped in Tzatziki sauce.
I've said this before and I'll say it again - simple things are sometimes harder to cook than complex things. If you have a lot of ingredients in a dish you can usually recover it if something goes wrong. If you only have 3 ingredients (like some breads) it may be difficult to master a recipe. To drive this point home Julia Child after having attended and graduating from Le Corden Bleu went through 200lbs of flour trying to make a decent baguette and failed. It wasn't until she got invited into a boulangerie and saw the tricks could she pull off a decent baguette at home. Baguettes if you don't know have 4 ingredients and one of those is water.
I've mastered making pita at home but for Indian dinners we really want naan. So far I've been a complete failure making naan. The last dinner we had I made both naan and pita and in case the naan wasn't right - we ate the pita. A local restaurant gave me a tip - they cook it twice, once in the oven and once in the tandoori. I don't have a tandoori and I never will but this gets me closer.
So I'm here to say that I'm going to figure out naan. To start things out right I just bought 20lbs of Chapati flour that Indians use for making Chapati (of course,) Roti and Paratha. I've heard it's also good for making naan, we'll se about that.
The way I figure it I have enough flour to screw naan up 40 times which might be what it takes. I hope I don't have to use as much a Julia Child did but I WILL figure out naan.
P.S. Before emailing me links of naan recipes please try them. I've tried many and they all make glorified pita. If you however have been successful in making naan then by all means drop me a line.
Baklava is one of those desserts that you see in many cultures but I think it's origins go back to Assyria. Most people have probably had it at a Greek restaurant and some might even claim it to be a Greek dessert but in fact Baklava was one of the many things left behind after the 400 year occupation of Greece by the Turks. If you trace the history of the land we now call Turkey far enough you'll probably run into a bunch of Persians at some point. Not that Baklava originated from Persia because it probably didn't but the version I like the best is Persian. Greek Baklava usually has layers of Phyllo dough interlaced with layers of walnuts soaked in a sugary syrup. Persian Baklava strays from this formula a bit by using Almonds (without skins for New Year) or Pistachios mixed with Cardamom and perfumed with Rose water. This version has a wonderful scent to it and a nice spice kick as well. If you've never had Cardamom then you're missing out. Just go to an Indian grocery and buy a bag of whole green cardamom pods. Break open a pod and chew the tiny black seeds that reside within and you'll be in for a treat. I'm not going to try to describe the flavor because I can't (I've tried), you just need to try it.
If you take the time to blanch the Almonds and slip the skins off you will be rewarded with a nicer cleaner flavor. We're not done with the recipe yet but when we get it perfected (and I mean perfected) I'll post it to my online Recipe book for all to use. For now though, I give you photos.