March 13, 2011 § Leave a comment
When I started researching this breakfast, Bahrain was just a small Gulf State backwater brought to international prominence by its oil industry. It’s an archipelago of 33 islands close to Saudi Arabia in the western Persian Gulf. The largest, the 34 mile long Bahrain Island, is linked to Saudi Arabia via the King Fahd Causeway which is the 16th longest bridgest in the world.
A chance encounter with Lucy Caldwell’s new novel “The Meeting Point”, courtesy of BBC Radio 4’s Book At Bedtime in February 2011 put some flesh on the bones of the life of the substantial ex-pat community in Bahrain – more than 20% of the population of 1.2m are foreign nationals. And the web is littered with references to “Aramco Brats” – children of the original Arabian-American Oil Company employees who were based in Saudi and Bahrain following the discovery of oil in Bahrain in 1932.
Then Bahrain became one of the countries of the 2011 “Arab Spring” currently sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa. There had been early intimations of trouble – another Radio 4 Programme, “Crossing Continents” presciently reported in December 2010 on the heavy-handed repression, torture even, of opponents to the ruling al-Khalifa family. So far, demonstrations in Bahrain have been stopped in their tracks with the aid of troops from neighbouring Saudi. It remains to be seen what will happen.
A lot to think about over one small breakfast.
This breakfast’s menu came to us thanks to a helpful video entitled “Friday Breakfast” shot by Mahmood from Bahrain back in 2006. His Friday breakfast looks to be the equivalent of our Western Saturday or Sunday breakfast when we might make or buy something special.
Thanks to Mahmood, I decided that the menu would be khubz (Arabic flat bread, aka pitta), samboosas (which look to be similar to Indian samosas), fried tomatoes with spices, and scrambled eggs.
Making the pitta bread was straightforward enough – those little pockets appear as if by magic as long as there’s enough heat on the top surface of the bread. Very satisfying and deliciously fresh.
The samosas were, on the other hand, a complete faff. Making the filling of potatoes, peas herbs and spiceswas straightforward enough but forming the samosas was another matter…
I pride myself on having nimble fingers and being reasonably proficient with pastry, but shaping these wretched little tricorn parcels, coaxing them to stay open in order to push in the filling, then attempt to seal the whole thing up was the most technically challenging piece of cooking I’ve attempted in the last 2 years (and beyond that my memory fails me). I don’t often find myself saying this, but if you fancy a samosa, pop to your local Indian grocer and buy one.
Recipe for Khubz (pitta bread)
From Claudia Roden’s “A New Book of Middle Eastern Food” with occasional minor wording changes. Based on my recent breadmaking experience, I didn’t bother with warming the liquids, letting the yeast froth or oiling the baking sheets as specified in the recipe. The end result was just fine so by all means do the same if you are a confident breadmaker.
15g fresh yeast or 7g dried yeast
300 ml tepid water (approximate)
pinch of sugar
500g strong white flour
3g salt (1/2 teaspoon)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (optional) plus a little extra for greasing
Dissolve the yeast in 100ml of the total amount of tepid water. Add the pinch of sugar and leave in a warm place for about 10 minutes, or until it becomes frothy and bubbly.
Sift the flour and salt into a warmed mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast mixture. Knead well by hand, adding enough of the remaining water to make a firm, soft dough. Knead the dough vigorously in the bowl, or on a floured board for about 15 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic, and no longer sticks to your fingers. Knead in 1-2 tablespoons of vegetable oil for a softer bread. Sprinkle the bottom of the bowl with a little oil and roll the ball of dough round to grease it all over. This will prevent the surface from becoming dry and crusty. Cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place free of draughts for at least 2 hours, until nearly doubled in size.
Punch the dough down and knead again for a few minutes. Take lumps of dough the size of a large potato or smaller (according to the size of bread you wish to have). Flatten them on a lightly floured board with a dry rolling pin sprinkled with flour, or with the palm of your hand, until about 1/2 cm thick. Dust with flour and lay the rounds on a cloth sprinkled with flour. Place them a good distance apart so that they do not touch as they grow considerably. Cover with another lightly floured cloth, and allow to rise again in a warm place.
Preheat the oven set at the maximum temperature (240 degrees C?) for at least 20 minutes, and leave the oiled baking sheets in it for the last 10 minutes to make them as hot as possible. Take care that the oil does not burn.
When the bread has risen again, slip the rounds onto the hot baking sheets, dampen them slightly with cold water to prevent them from browning, and bake for 6-10 minutes, by which time the strong yeasty aroma escaping from the oven will be replaced by the rich, earthy aroma characteristic of baking bread – a sign that it is nearly ready.
Do not open the oven during this time.
Remove from the baking sheets as soon as the bread comes out of the oven and cool on wire racks. The bread should be soft and white with a pouch inside.
If your oven does not get hot enough to make a good pouch, make the bread under the grill: put it low enough underneath so that it does not touch the grill (and burn) when it puffs up. Turn as soon as it does and leave only a minute longer.
Put the breads, while still warm, in a plastic bag to keep them soft and pliable until ready to serve.
Recipe for Vegetable Samosas
From Madhur Jaffrey’s “Indian Cookery” with a few minor wording changes of mine
For the pastry
1/2 lb (225g) plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons water
For the stuffing
1lb 10 oz (725g) waxy potatoes boiled in their skins and allowed to cool
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
6 oz (175g) peas fresh or frozen (defrost first if using frozen peas)
1 tablespoon peeled and finely grated fresh ginger
1 fresh hot green chilli, finely chopped
3 tablespoons very finely chopped fresh coriander
3 tablespoons water
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt – or to taste
1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground roast cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Vegetable oil for deep frying
Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Add the 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil and rub it in with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Slowly add 4 tablespoons of water – or a tiny bit more – and gather the dough into a stiff ball.
Empty the ball out on to a clean work surface. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes or until it is smooth. Make a ball. Rub the ball with about 1/4 teaspoon of oil and slip it into a polythene bag. Set it aside for 30 minutes or longer.
Make the stuffing. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 5mm dice. Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a large frying pan over a medium flame. When hot, put in the onions. Stir and fry them until they begin to turn brown at the edges. Add the peas, ginger, green chilli, fresh coriander, and 3 tablespoons water. Cover, lower heat and simmer until peas are cooked. Stir every now and then and add a little more water if the frying pan seems to dry out.
Add the diced potatoes, salt, coriander, garam masala, roast cumin, cayenne, and lemon juice. Stir to mix. Cook on low heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring gently as you do so. Check balance of salt and lemon juice. You may want more of both. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool.
Knead the pastry dough again and divide it into 8 balls (I did this with scales – each ball weighs 43-44g). Keep 7 covered while you work with the eighth. Roll this ball out into an 18cm round. Cut it in half with a sharp, pointed knife. Pick up one half and form a cone, making a 5mm overlapping seam. Glue this seam together with a little water. Fill the cone with about 2 and 1/2 tablespoons of the stuffing. Close the top of the cone by sticking the open edges together with a little water. Again, your seam should be about 5mm wide. Press the top seam down with the prongs of a fork or flute it with your fingers.
Make 15 more samosas.
Deep fry the samosas in small batches until they are golden brown and crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.
March 3, 2011 § 1 Comment
Next stop after Zürich airport en route to Engelberg for our half term ski holiday was Lucerne. The city is spectactularly situated by the lake we know in the English speaking world as Lake Lucerne but is known in Switzerland as the Vierwaldstättersee (lake of the 4 forest cantons).
Lucerne missed by a whisker being nominated as Switzerland’s capital city (rather than sleepy Berne) and has a definite cosmopolitan European capital feel with its lakeside concert hall, museums and galleries.
We spent a few days here last summer too and had one of the most perfect al fresco meals ever in the grounds of the lakeside Hermitage Hotel:
Lucerne can lay claim to a number of local specialities. Luzerner Birnenbrot, a giant fig-roll type affair crammed full of dried pears and nuts, can be found in most bakeries.
But arguably, Lucerne’s most famous dish is the “Ächti Lozärner Chügelipaschtete”, a giant vol-au-vent type pastry case filled with chunks of veal, sweetbread, sausage and tiny mushrooms in a savoury saffron flavoured sauce. With its magnificent egg-wash gilding and pastry decoration and its saffron flavouring, the dish has a medieval banquet feel and is unusual and delicious. Here’s the version we tried, toned down a little for modern appetites:
Back home, I’ve combed through my collection of cookery books for a recipe for this dish and have come across an authentic sounding one from Marianne Kaltenbach’s “Aus Schweizer Küchen” which I translate and paraphrase below. This version doesn’t include saffron or sweetbreads which is a pity as they add to the character of this dish and were certainly present in the version we ate.
I also found this beautifully photographed and meticulously written Swiss blog entry on how to make a miniature version of this delicacy. I give the link below but you’ll need to brush up on your German if you want to read it!
Recipe for Ächti Lozärner Chügelipaschtete
From Marianne Kaltenbach’s “Aus Schweizer Küchen”. Apologies in advance for any errors in translation which are mine alone!
Serves 4-5 people
For the pastry case
600-700g puff pastry
1 small bread roll plus a handful of tissue paper
2 egg yolks
For the filling
250g lean pork
250g lean veal
3 dessertspoons butter
1/2 litre white wine
approx 150g pork and veal sausagemeat
1 teaspoon each of ground coriander seed and chopped marjoram (more to taste if liked)
300 ml stock
2 dessertspoons flour
50g grapes macerated in 1 dessertspoon of Swiss pear Schnapps or Kirsch
Salt, pepper, grated nutmeg
a little cream
1 dessertspoon chopped almonds
Roll out the puff pastry to a thickness of 4mm and cut out from it 2 circles approx 24cm and 32cm in diameter. Place the smaller circle on a dampened baking sheet. Wrap the bread roll in sheets of tissue paper until it forms a ball approx 37-38cm in circumference. Place it on the centre of the smaller pastry circle. Brush the border with water and place the larger circle over the top. Seal the join and crimp the border.
Roll out the rest of the pastry and cut strips approx 3mm thick and 6mm wide. Brush them with egg yolk and stick them onto the pastry dome laying 4 strips in the form of a cross and 2 others in the form of a ring. Place further strips around the base to cover the ends of the strips neatly.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
Further decorate the pastry dome with star, heart and half-moon shapes cut from the pastry remnants. Finish with a large pastry rosette on top. Brush the lot with egg yolk wash.
Bake in the lower part of the oven where the temperature will be only 160 degrees C for 40 minutes. After 25 minutes, cover with aluminium foil. Remove from the oven when cooked and leave to rest for 5 minutes. Remove the top part of the pastry shell from the upper ring and take out the paper-wrapped bread roll.
(This all sounds a bit complex but the lovely photos from the La Mia Cucina blog to which a link is given above make it all visually clearer).
Now make the filling. Cut the meat into small cubes. Peel and chop the onions. Melt 1 and 1/2 dessertspoons of butter in a pan and brown the meat and onions. Add 50ml white wine to the pan and cook for 10 minutes.
Mix the sausagemeat with coriander and marjoram and form into small balls. Bring the stock to the boil in a medium saucepan and poach the sausagemeat balls for 10 minutes.
For the sauce, melt the remainder of the butter and add the flour to form a roux. Off the heat, gradually beat in the rest of the wine. Add the collected meat juices from the previous cooking steps to the pan together with the grapes and their soaking alcohol. Cook for 20 minutes. Add the meat and sausagemeat balls, heat through, season and thin the sauce if necessary with a little cream or additional stock.
Toast the almonds. Fill the pastry dome with the meat and sauce mixture, scatter over the almonds and top with the pastry lid
Variations: add a grated apple to the sauce; replace some of the meat with button mushrooms.
This dish is especially associated with “Fastnacht”, the night before the Lenten carnival, what we would call Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras. It makes whipping up a few pancakes seem like a doddle!
March 1, 2011 § Leave a comment
We’re still all going crazy for dainty pastel-coloured Parisian macarons. Meanwhile the Swiss firm of Sprüngli has quietly been making its own version going under the odd name of Luxemburgerli (little Luxemburgers) for some years now.
Above and below are displays at the very conveniently located Zürich airport branch of Sprüngli where we passed through last week en route to our half term ski holiday:
Pictured are a pyramid of vanilla Luxemburgerli plus trays of cinnamon (Zimt) and raspberry (Himbeer) flavours – I forgot to check what flavour the dramatic black ones on the left were. Dare I say it, these are daintier and more delicate even than the Parisian macaron, perfect for nibbling with coffee on the train journey to Luzern and beyond:
How do they come to be made in Zürich and how did they come by their odd name? According to the Sprüngli website www.spruengli.com the recipe originated at the Confiserie Namur in Luxembourg, a business with which the Sprüngli family had close ties. Patissiers from Zürich would go and work in the Duchy of Luxembourg and vice versa. It was in the late 1950s that one of the Luxembourg trainees started producing macarons in Zürich and they were given the nickname Luxemburgerli (the Swiss are very fond of the diminutive) in his honour.
Demand grew gradually and Sprüngli today produces 650kg of Luxemburgerli every day making them the company’s best seller.
So maybe the current trend for Parisian macarons is more than a fad and is here to stay?