Bhutanese breakfast

October 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

The latest in our Breakfasts of the World Project series.

The appointed day for our Bhutanese breakfast fell on my birthday this year. It’s become a bit of a family joke that my lovely husband Tim always buys me items of technical outdoor wear for birthdays and Christmas rather than more frivolous items. He was true to form this year and I am now the proud owner of my own very warm down jacket. Perfect to model while eating a breakfast from the Himalayan mountain kingdom of Bhutan:

Landlocked Bhutan lies at the eastern end of the Himalayas between Tibetan China to the north and India to the south, west and east. The delightfully named young king Wangchuck ascended the throne in the capital Thimphu as recently as 2008. The official religion is Buddhism and the country’s policy of measuring Gross National Happiness (GNH) in addition to the more usual and mundane Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has raised its profile internationally.

Our menu was a slightly simplified version of this delicious sounding description of breakfast from Bhutan’s exclusive Uma Paro hotel. Lying in a verdant valley, Paro is a centre for tourism and the precipitously sited Tiger’s Nest monastery lies just to the north of the city. To quote the website blurb:

“For a fresh start to the day, try our rosewater lassi. And before a challenging mountain trek, consider a Bhutanese breakfast: pork and red rice porridge with egg crepe, hogay salad and ezay”

Rosewater lassi was straightforward enough to whip up and was a rather gorgeous birthday breakfast treat:

Based on what I’ve read elsewhere, red rice porridge, minus the pork, is clearly a Bhutanese staple. As Bhutan is a mountainous country, the main concern of the indigenous population seems to be the consumption of sufficient calories to survive in a cold climate. One way to achieve this is to add copious quantities of butter and cheese to pretty much every dish. Thus tea is drunk with salted butter rather than milk and rice porridge is enriched with both butter and cheese.

After an extended debate with the dozy local depot of courier firm DHL, I was thrilled to take delivery of a single precious pack of authentic red rice imported from Bhutan via a circuitous trade route involving a Californian wholefoods supplier:

Once I’d got hold of the rice, making the porridge was a straightforward, if lengthy affair. I give the recipe I used below.

I decided that an egg crepe sounded rather like an international omelette so that didn’t make the breakfast cut. Hogay and ezay are both in the salsa/relish/salad category and are pepped up with copious quantities of chilli, the favourite condiment of Bhutan. I tossed a coin and decided to make an ezay to accompany the porridge:

What did it taste like? Well, a bit like risotto with a dollop of cheesy salsa on top, a weird Italian/Mexican/Asian fusion.

Would I eat it again? Realistically, probably not as, let’s face it, it would be hard to improve on well made risotto milanese, and if I wanted salsa I’d rather roll it up in a burrito.

Recipe for Bhutanese red rice porridge

Adapted from a recipe I found on Mark T’s life in Bhutan blog. Here is the link and thank you to Mark for making the recipe available – it works! http://eyeamempty.blogspot.com/2010/01/doing-porridge-for-dad.html

Serves 4

250g Bhutanese red rice (having tried the Bhutanese rice I think Camargue red rice which is more readily available here in the UK would be just fine here)
Enough water to cover the rice by about 5 cm
3 tablespoons butter
200g block of feta cheese, roughly crumbled
a pinch of chilli powder, or more, to taste
1 1 inch piece of peeled fresh ginger root, grated (best achieved with a Microplane type grater)
Salt and pepper

In Bhutan, a pressure cooker would be used to boil the rice until soft (5 whistles!) – essential at high altitudes. I brought the rice to the boil then covered and simmered for 25 minutes until the rice was cooked.

Take the lid off and check for consistency. Add more water if needed, continuing to cook with the lid off, stirring frequently. My porridge took about 45 minutes from start to finish, so another 20 minutes after the rice had softened.

When the rice has cooked down to a thick porridge like consistency, add the butter, cheese, and seasoning ingredients. Stir, taste, check seasonings, then serve accompanied by ezay (see next recipe).

Recipe for ezay – Bhutanese salsa

Serves 4-6 as an accompaniment

My own version of this dish after reading several recipes. I’ve substantially reduced the chilli to take account of our low western chilli heat threshold and have substituted cherry tomatoes for the hard to obtain Himalayan tree tomatilloes and feta for yak’s milk cheese.

Ingredients

Small bunch of coriander, washed, dried and coarsely chopped
6 spring onions, cleaned and coarsely chopped
2 red chilli peppers, medium heat, halved, deseeded and finely sliced
about 10 cherry tomatoes
juice of a lime
salt and freshly ground black pepper (or toasted and ground szechuan pepper if you can get hold of it)
100g feta cheese, crumbled

Combine all the ingredients except the feta in a bowl. Stir to mix and set aside in the fridge for half an hour to let the flavours combine. Sprinkle over the crumbled feta cheese when you’re ready to serve.

Recipe for rosewater lassi

Again, my own recipe after experimenting a little with proportions. I think you need a liquidiser with a chunky motor rather than a food processor to cope with crushing the ice and getting a good froth on the lassi.

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 450g tub thick plain wholemilk yoghurt (I used a “Greek style” variety which worked well – a true Greek yoghurt might have been too thick here)
1 teaspoon pure rosewater (from Asian shops or larger supermarkets)
4 tbsp icing sugar
1 generous cup of ice cubes (approx same volume as the yoghurt pot)
approx 200 ml cold water
a few fragrant rose petals to garnish

Put all the ingredients except the rose petals into the goblet of your scrupulously clean liquidiser and, with a firm hand over the lid in case the ice cubes are a bit rough, whizz for about 20 seconds or until the ice cubes are broken down and the mixture is frothy. Taste and add a little more sugar or rosewater if you like, whizz again, then pour into tall chilled glasses. Scatter over the rose petals and serve.

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Belizean breakfast

July 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

The latest in our Breakfasts of the World Project series.

Belize is a tiny little country just 180 miles long situated in Central America. Mexico lies to the North, Guatemala to the South and West and the Caribbean Sea to the East. The colony formerly known as British Honduras is now a hot tourist destination and a must-see place on the gap-year ecotourism trail according to my niece Lucy. It does sound rather idyllic – coral atolls, Mayan ruins, tropical rain forest… Maybe it’s not just for the low tax régime that Belize’s most famous resident Michael Ashcroft chooses to make his home here.

Because of the thriving tourism industry, descriptions of Belizean hospitality and specifically its breakfasts are not hard to come by on the web. I found this entry http://www.travellious.com/breakfast_in_belize pretty helpful in setting out what constitutes breakfast in Belize: refried beans, scrambled eggs, salsa, fry-jacks, and above all Marie Sharp’s hot sauce.

Here’s my version cooked up at home last Sunday morning. There’s one further addition to the Travellious list which is some greens quickly stir-fried with garlic. They’d use amaranth greens in Belize, sometimes referred to as callaloo, but I had to be content with some less exotic baby spinach:

The Marie Sharp’s hot sauce was impressively easy to obtain – a couple of mouse clicks and it arrived by post the next day. It’s a fiery red Tabasco type sauce but made authentically in Belize, and yes there really is a person called Marie Sharp who runs the company, it’s not just a marketing man’s fantasy à la Betty Crocker.

OK so menu and sauce sorted, this breakfast was beginning to take shape. Scrambled eggs, stir-fried greens and fresh salsa would be easy enough to whip-up, but what about the refried beans and those intriguingly named fry jacks?

My starting point for authentic refried beans was a recipe from the website of the rather lovely looking Chaa Creek ecolodge. Their recipe was a little sketchy so I’ve added my own tips for preparing refried beans. Despite the name, the beans are fried just once. I think I read somewhere that it’s more mellifluous in Spanish to refer to frijoles refritos rather than the uncomfortably alliterative frijoles fritos.

The soaked black beans look a dramatic inky deep purple colour as they go into the pot with the flavouring ingredients:

This softens when you come to fry and mash the beans to more of a sludgy grey. They may not look that pretty, but they do taste good:

Now for the fryjacks. I found an authentic recipe from fascinating blog Rice and Beans A Belizean in the USA which I’ve adapted and given below. My fry jacks tasted good – a bit like a savoury doughnut but didn’t puff up quite as much as expected.

First step was to make the dough and divide it into little balls:

Next, the dough balls are flattened and cut into quarters:

Finally, when you’re ready to eat, the quarters are dropped into hot deep fat to fry:

In keeping with the tropical vibe, I set up the deep fat fryer in the garage with the intention of eating our breakfast on the terrace outside. Great for containing cooking smells and conjuring up the beach shack atmosphere but unfortunately a Mancunian tropical downpour sent us scurrying back inside to eat.

Recipe for refried beans

Adapted from a recipe on the award winning Belizean eco-lodge Chaa Creek’s website.

Serves 6.

Ingredients

To cook the beans
1 lb dried black or red beans
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled but lightly crushed
2 bayleaves
1 sprig thyme
salt to taste

To fry the beans
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
a little powdered cumin (optional)
handful chopped coriander (optional)

Soak the beans overnight in cold water. Next morning, drain the beans in a colander, rinse them and tip them into a deep lidded pot. Add enough fresh cold water to cover the beans adding an additional 1cm of water on top.

Add the flavouring ingredients except the salt and bring the beans to the boil leaving the lid off the pan as otherwise it will boil over. Skim off the scum, turn down to a very gentle simmer and cover the pan. Check the beans after 30 minutes – add salt as soon as the beans are nearly cooked through. Simmer until the beans are nice and soft but not too mushy. This might take anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour or longer depending on your batch of beans and how long they’ve soaked for. Don’t taste the beans until they gave boiled for at least 20 minutes as they are mildly toxic until cooked through. Remove the flavouring ingredients using a slotted spoon and leave the beans in their cooking liquid until you’re ready to fry. You can fry the beans straightaway or, once cooled, store them covered in their liquid in the fridge for a couple of days.

When you’re ready to fry, choose a heavy based deep wide sauté or frying pan and heat the vegetable oil until medium hot. Add the chopped onions and cook until soft and just turning golden. Throw in the garlic and cook for a minute or so more until just beginning to brown but not burn. Add a couple of ladlefuls of beans and their cooking liquid to the frying pan, turn down the heat to low and cook the beans and associated liquid mashing them into the base of a pan with your wooden spoon or a potato masher. Once each ladleful of beans is mashed and heated, add the next. Add more bean cooking liquid as required to form a thick paste. It won’t look too pretty – a thick, grey sludgy paste, but it will taste good. Taste and season with salt and pepper and, if using, ground cumin. Scatter over the optional chopped coriander and serve.

Recipe for Belizean fry jacks

Adapted from an authentic fry jacks recipe from the blog “Rice and Beans A Belizean in the USA”

Ingredients

1/2 cup wholewheat flour
1 and 1/2 cups white flour
1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
about 3/4 cup of water

Mix together the flour, salt and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Add the vegetable oil and, using your hands, work the oil into the flour until you have little pebbles of oil saturated dough evenly distributed throughout the flour.

Make a well in the mixture and pour in the water a little at a time, using your other hand to stir the flour into the water in the centre of your pile. Keep adding the water and mixing it in a little at a time until you have formed the entire pile of flour into a rough ball of slightly sticky dough. You may need a little less water than specified in the list of ingredients.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead for about 5 minutes until it is smooth and stretchy. Then roll it out into a snake shape and cut it into 8 equal sized pieces. Take each piece and roll it into a ball. Cover and leave the balls to rest on a lightly floured surface for at least 30 minutes.

Next, prepare to deep fry the fry jacks. I used an electric deep fat fryer and my chosen cooking oil was rapeseed (canola). Heat the oil until really hot. To test if the oil is hot enough, drop in a small scrap of dough. If it sizzles but doesn’t smoke, the oil is the right temperature.

Take one of the dough balls and roll or pat it out into a circle, about 6 inches across. Take a knife or pizza cutter and cut the circle into four pieces. Once your oil is hot, drop several fry jacks into the pan. I managed to cook four at once without overcrowding. The fry jacks first sink then quickly rise to the surface of the oil. After 20-30 seconds, check to see if the sides in the oil have browned. If so, flip the fry jacks over with a pair of tongs fork and let the other side cook. Lift out with a slotted spoon and drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Eat immediately.

Belgian breakfast

July 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

The latest in our series of international breakfasts making up the Breakfasts of the World Project.

Unlike most of the far-flung destinations whose breakfasts we’ve tried to recreate at home, hopping over to Belgium is relatively straighforward for us in the UK so we were able to do some serious research on a recent family trip based in Bruges. This combined a little education (First World War graves, Ypres, Flemish painting and architecture) with gastronomic sight-seeing.

I know that Venice has the edge when it comes to a romantic weekend away à deux, but if you’re travelling en famille, as we were, a city which combines gorgeous architecture with chips, chocolate and waffles takes the biscuit (or should that be the speculoos…?).

We stayed in the charming canalside Ter Duinen hotel which these days would probably be called a boutique hotel as this sounds more desirable than “small hotel”. They laid on an impressive breakfast spread and if you were prepared to leap out of bed early, you could grab one of the coveted window seats with gorgeous reflected light from the canal:

This is how we attempted to recreate the experience at home. Not quite as beautiful as the Ter Duinen breakfast I know. I don’t run to white damask in our kitchen but I made an effort with some Flemish inspired tulips.

As you might expect from a country which has been fought over between the France and the Netherlands for aeons, its breakfast is a hybrid between the French influenced café au lait with croissants and the more Northern European influenced hearty brown bread with ham and sliced cheese. You get both at breakfast together with Belgium’s particular contribution to the breakfast universe, a host of tasty packaged treats, the legacy of its industrial and colonial past perhaps?

Belgium may not be known as a cheese producer, but here’s some prepacked slices of Bruges’ finest:

There were little squares of chocolate too – one of the reasons Belgium is world famous. Oddly, I can’t find a decent definition of what Belgian chocolate is – Côte d’Or with its familiar Elephant logo is the indigenous mass-market producer. Côte d’Or or Gold Coast is of course the old name for Ghana which is a former British rather than Belgian colony so how does that work? Maybe Belgian chocolates just refer to the delicious filled pralines sold by Neuhaus, Godiva and Leonidas and many more small artisan producers. A clear and comprehensive definition of Belgian chocolate remains elusive for the time being.

Popping into the Bruges branch of Delhaize (one of the big Belgian supermarket chains) to stock up on Belgian breakfast products I was thrilled to find family sized jars of two types of breakfast spread which we’d sampled only in indiviual portion packs at Ter Duinen.

On the right is an Ovomaltine spread based on the popular continental malted chocolate drink – imagine Nutella with the goodness of hazelnuts removed and replaced with nuggets of crunchy malty sugary stuff.

But wait for it, on the left is a jar of Speculoos spread based on the national biscuit of Belgium – a thin crisp ginger-spiced biscuit. Speculoos have a sort of mediaeval feel about them and were no doubt originally hand-made in elaborately decorated wooden moulds. They are most often found now individually wrapped in cellophane, branded Rombouts or most often Lotus, and served as a complimentary sweet nibble with a cup of coffee.

The idea of turning this small spicy biscuit into a spread is as preposterous an idea as a spread made from our own indigenous McVities’ ginger nuts.

Both jars were packed with unsuitable ingredients with a high E number count but nevertheless both have made it onto my not-so-secret list of guilty pleasures. All the family were secretly taking spoonfuls from the jar. I was amused to read recently the similar reaction to Speculoos spread of Paris-based food writer David Lebovitz (http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2010/05/speculoos-a-tartiner-gingersnap-paste/)

Grab a jar if you dare!

Contact details

Ter Duinen Hotel
Langerei 52
8000 Brugge
BELGIUM

info@terduinenhotel.be
http://www.terduinenhotel.be/
Tel: 00 32 50 33 04 37
Fax: 00 32 50 34 42 16

Bajan breakfast

June 15, 2011 § 3 Comments

Bajan being the correct adjective to describe something from Barbados, this was the latest in our series of breakfasts of the world.

At 431 square kilometres, Barbados is a tiny country, approximately one third of the size of my own UK county, Greater Manchester which clocks in at 1,276 square kilometres. It was one of the earliest British colonies with settlers arriving in 1627. The British heritage is evident in the island’s organisation and placenames – it’s divided into parishes each named after a saint. The capital and main city, the very British sounding Bridgetown is in the parish of St Michaels.

Barbados may be a small country but it’s a familiar one. That Desmond Dekker song, sugar, rum, cricket and of course the larger-than-life Rihanna all come immediately to mind. That’s not all that’s larger than life as Barbados can put on a big breakfast. The Bajan breakfast option priced at $22 on the menu from Simply Gigi’s, a hotel restaurant which looks out over Barbados’ Dover Beach reads “Flying Fish, Bakes, Eggs, Onions, Peppers, Plantain”. Much more adventurous sounding than the Full English or bog-standard American options. After a little research and judicious cheating, this is the colourful plate of food I came up with:

First find your flying fish, the favourite fish and symbol of Barbados. This is not as easy as it sounds. I did track down a UK wholesale supplier of frozen flying fish fillets but couldn’t face ordering the industrial-sized minimum order quantity.

Next step was a trip to the cornucopic fish stall on Manchester’s Arndale Market which goes by the very mundane name of “Direct Fisheries”. They had all sorts of exotic species on offer as you can see:

but sadly, flying fish wasn’t one of them – it’s occasionally requested, said the fishmonger, but a bit pricey for most people so they’ve stopped selling it. I opted for a couple of seabass instead. No idea whether it’s like flying fish but it’s a very adaptable fish which works with all sorts of flavours.

The recipe involves a brief period in which the fish fillets are first marinaded/infused with aromatic flavourings (herbs, green pepper and lime juice), then, top side only, lightly coated in egg and breadcrumbs and quickly shallow fried.

Far from being just a regional curiosity, this is a handy little recipe which I’ll definitely be trying again. The marinading period gives the fish zingy flavours and the crispy golden crust gives a bit of fast food type appeal.

Next step was to find out what Bakes were. This is by no means a selection of bread rolls on the side but a little doughy Bajan treat which paradoxically is shallow-fried rather than baked. Bajan chef John Hazzard’s (pronounced Has-Ard rather than as in traffic obstruction, moral or Dukes of) little videoclip on was helpful in showing exactly how to whip up a batch of bakes.

I had planned to put in here the link to John’s handy little video which I found on a site called theholidaychannel.net but sadly the site appears to have been suspended. You’ll just have to take my word for it that he had a great relaxed manner and his lilting accent was rather lovely to listen to as well.

I followed Chef Hazzard’s instructions to the letter and he end result was rather good – a cross between a Scotch pancake and a doughnut. The brown sugar and spices provide flavour and the cornmeal a pleasing chewy crunch. I can see why the islanders get so passionate about bakes.

Sugar has been the mainstay of the Barbadian (or should that be Bajan?) economy for centuries so it seemed fitting to round off breakfast with something sweet. My choice was Bajan sweet bread, not a true bread but a coconut cake baked in a loaf tin. This beauty is made with refined sugar rather than what we know now as Barbados or Muscovado sugar, it’s studded with garish glacé cherries and raisins and has extra sugar and coconut strip concealed within the cake like so:

With all that refined sugar, coconut and artificially coloured dried fruit it could almost be a Scottish delicacy couldn’t it?

The end result looked impressive in a bulky golden brown homespun kind of way but sadly it was a bit disappointing. It was a bit dry and oversweet, it crumbled rather than slicing neatly, the coconut stuffing fell out rather than maintaining structural integrity and it went stale within 24 hours. For that reason I’m not going to painstakingly copy out the recipe here. If you’re interested, here’s where I found my recipe, a Paul Hollywood (not so) special – he’s the sleek silver haired judge on last year’s BBC programme “Great British Bake Off” you may recall.

http://uktv.co.uk/food/recipe/aid/515131

Recipe for fried flying fish fillets

I found this recipe in a Barbados travel blog http://barbadostravel.squarespace.com so thank you to blog author Linda Thompkins.

Works well for other medium to large fillets of firm white fish such as seabass.

Serves 4 (generous portions)

Ingredients

8 flying fish fillets
1 small onion
1 small green pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves
t tablespoon chopped parsley
salt and pepper
juice of a lime
1 egg, beaten
dry natural breadcrumbs
oil for frying
to serve, lime wedges

Mix the seasoning ingredients together and spread over the meaty side of the fish. Leave for about 1 hour. Remove the fish from the seasoning mix, pat it dry it on kitchen paper. Dip the meaty side of the fish fish into the beaten egg and then into the breadcrumbs. Fry gently in a little oil for 3-4 minutes on each side until cooked through and crumbed surface is crisp and golden. Serve with lime wedges.

Recipe for Bajan bakes

Bajan chef John Hazzard’s recipe. John has twice been awarded the title “Caribbean Chef of the Year” so he should know what he’s talking about.

Ingredients

1 cup of plain flour
4 oz cornmeal (polenta)
3 oz brown sugar (I used demerara)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch allspice
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
6 oz water
to fry, 2 tablespoons flavourless vegetable oil

Combine the first 7 ingredients in a mixing bowl. Add most but not all of the water and mix well with a spoon to form a batter with a stiff dropping consistency. Add the reserved water if required to achieve the right consistency.

Heat the oil in a frying plan until it reaches 300 degrees Fahrenheit (what I would call a medium heat)

Drop generous spoonfuls of the mixture into the frying pan and cook for a few minutes on each side until golden brown.

Drain on kitchen paper and serve.

Bahrain breakfast

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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7q1o7rgP9eM

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.

Ingredients
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

Makes 16

Ingredients

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.

Who threw away all my grits? Bahamian breakfast

December 18, 2010 § 6 Comments

Tucking into our breakfast from the Bahamas – corned beef, grits and johnny cake felt like eating a plateful of history. That’s a big thing to be doing at 6.30 am on a dark and cold December Tuesday morning before work and school. Here’s younger son Arthur enjoying his corned beef sauté and grits, liberally sprinkled with Tabasco:

This was the latest in our series of breakfasts of the world (in alphabetical order) and after more than a year at this occasional project it feels good to be hitting the letter B for the Bahamas!

The Commonwealth of the Bahamas is an island chain close to Florida and north of Cuba. Andros is the largest island but capital Nassau is on the smaller island of New Providence. Columbus first made landfall on one of the islands of the Bahamas in 1492 but the islands were not settled by Europeans until English Puritans arrived via Bermuda in 1648. These first settlers survived by salvaging goods from wrecks. The islands became known for piracy and the infamous Edward Teach aka Blackbeard was based here.

Following the American War of Independence (1775-1783) the islands were settled by Loyalists (American colonists remaining loyal to British rule) and their slaves who established plantations on the islands. Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807 and thousands of Africans from slave ships subsequently made their home on the island.

On the menu was corned beef sauté (made from my own home-cured corned beef though the tinned variety may be more authentic) then grits – cornmeal porridge – in fact I used a quick cook polenta though I believe Bahamians prefer harder to obtain white grits. The hash was followed by a traditional Bahamian johnny cake, a simple baking powder raised scone/soda bread thing, quickly prepared then cooked in a skillet or sturdy frying pan:

Grits were the staple food of the slaves who worked on the plantations. They were a cheap carbohydrate and slave owners would give their slaves a weekly ration of cornmeal grits to boil up with water.

Corned beef reflects the British history of the islands. During the colonial period, Great Britain was the Bahamas’ major trading partner. Beef preserved in brine was shipped out in large quantities, another dietary staple for slaves and the poor. The native Bahamians made it their own, adding spices and vegetables to turn the corned beef into dishes like the sauté given below.

The name johnny cake is thought to derive from the name journey cake, so-called because it was quick and easy to make while travelling. Traditionally it’s cooked on the stove top but I opted for baking mine in the oven.

Here’s the home cured beef cubed and ready to be turned into hash:

It’s wonderful stuff and very easy to do but you do need to start thinking about it 2-3 weeks before you want to eat it. This deserves to be the subject of another post sometime soon.

Here’s the freshly baked johnny cake just out of the oven:

and here it is sliced while warm ready to be thickly spread with butter and ready to be eaten Bahamian style with lots of sweet milky tea or coffee:

Definitely a breakfast to set you up for the day though in our case not for hard manual labour on plantations. And now the word of the Beach Boys’ Sloop John B (originally a folk son from the Bahamas) finally make sense. “The poor cook he got the fits, and threw away all my grits, and then he took and he ate up all of my corn”.

Recipe for corned beef sauté

Serves 4

From website http://www.caribbean.com which in turn credits the recipe to “Many Tastes Of The Bahamas & Culinary Influences of the Caribbean”

1 can (12 oz) corned beef
1 tsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp chopped onion
1-2 tsp dried thyme leaves
2 tsp tomato paste
Hot pepper to taste
A few tbsp of water

Place the corned beef into a medium-sized bowl and break up with a fork in preparation for cooking. Sprinkle with lime juice.

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the corned beef with the onion and thyme for five to six mins. Stir in the tomato paste and crushed hot peppers to taste.

Add one to three tbsp of water for desired consistency and continue to cook, stirring.

Cover, reduce heat and cook for about 10 min.

Serve with grits or toast.

Recipe for Bahamian Johnny Cake

From http://foododelmundo.com/2010/03/07/bahamian-johnny-cake/

Makes one 7-8 inch round serving 4 comfortably

3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1⁄2 cup Crisco or other shortening (such as Trex in the UK but I used butter as I’m not an avid consumer of hydrogenated fats)
2/3 cup milk

Combine dry ingredients then cut in (rub in) shortening until the size of rice grains. Add milk gradually, just enough to make dough soft. Knead dough until smooth then let it rest for about 10 minutes.

Place dough in greased 8 or 9 inch round or square pan. Pierce top of dough with a fork. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until golden.

Remove from oven and baste top of bread with milk. Return to oven and allow to bake for 5 more minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool a few minutes.

Breakfast from Azerbaijan, Land of Jam

November 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

So says the Azerbaijani tourism and information site http://www.azerbaijan24.com/, informing us that “Azerbaijanis make jam from almost anything – walnuts, watermelon and even rose petals…the most popular jams are made from plums, raspberries, mulberries, pears, peaches, melons, figs, strawberries and cherries…grapes, pumpkin and pomegranates…even eggplants can be used as base for jam…If you visit an Azerbaijani home, undoubtedly you’ll be served homemade jam along with black tea. When tea is served, you’ll discover it’s rare in the Republic to be offered sugar. Instead, they’re more likely to offer jam. Azerbaijanis put a small spoonful of jam in their mouths and sip the tea through the jam.”

So, with their predilection for jam, Azerbaijanis are the Billy Bunters of the steppes (greedy fictional schoolboy Bunter liked nothing better than to raid his friends’ tuck parcels and devour jam straight from the jar).

I decided to make jam the centrepiece of the Azerbaijani breakfast (the latest in our A-Z series of international breakfasts). This was a cheaper and easier option than trying to get hold of my first idea which was caviar. After all, Azerbaijan, nestling between Russia, Iran, Armenia and Georgia has a border on the West side of the Caspian sea, home to the sturgeon which produce the coveted caviar.

Muslim Azerbaijan (in contrast with its largely Christian neighbour Armenia) was under Soviet control until it declared independence in 1991 under the Gorbachev glasnost era. Oil is a major earner for the country with activity centred around the capital city of Baku. You may recall that the 1990s Bond Film “The World is Not Enough” with its convoluted oil industry plot featured scenes set and filmed in Azerbaijan.

Enough of background and onto breakfast. This was the prepared table:

On the menu was of course my prize jam collection (including a weird watermelon rind jam which was my only homemade contribution), also Azeri flatbread, sheeps-milk cheese, fresh fruit (including of course the flesh of the watermelon the rind of which went into the jam).

All this was washed down with small glasses of black tea drunk Azeri style with yet more jam.

Here is my completed jar of watermelon rind jam looking distinctly pondlike:

Was the jam worth the effort? No. The resulting jam is dense, sticky and with a taste a bit like cooked marrow – ie vegetal, ever so slightly bitter and not particularly pronounced. The recipe came from the improbably specific website www.watermelonrind.com. There is an alternative recipe on the Azerbaijan 24 site I referenced earlier but that recipe makes use of a rather scary sodium hydroxide solution to crisp up the rind before cooking. Not only is this stuff hard to obtain but it’s also toxic so I thought I’d give it a miss.

Much more to my safe Western taste is the following recipe for Azeri flatbread from the comprehensive and appealing site www.azcookbook.com. My bread, pictured below, is a little more rustic than the photo on the AZ Cookbook site but in my book rustic is good and the toasted sesame seeds tasted delicious:

Recipe for Azeri flatbread

With thanks to http://www.azKitchen.com.

Ingredients

1 package (1/4 oz / 7g) dry yeast
1 ½ cups (12 fl oz/375 ml) warm water
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups bread flour, plus extra for kneading
1 beaten egg for brushing (or just the yolk for a really golden colour)
1 teaspoon poppy or sesame seeds

1. In a small bowl, mix yeast with water until the yeast is dissolved.
2. Sift flour into a large bowl. Add salt and mix well. Gradually add the yeast-water mixture and stir in using your hand until a rough ball forms.
3. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Press any loose dough pieces into the ball and knead the dough, punching it down with your fists, folding it over and turning. Knead for about 8-10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic.
4. Shape the dough into a ball and put it back into the large bowl. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel or a plastic wrap.
5. Leave the dough to rise in a warm spot for about 1 ½ hours, or until doubled in bulk. The dough should look puffy and be soft when poked with a finger.
6. Punch down the dough, then transfer it onto a lightly floured surface.
7. Shape the dough into a ball, and with your hands flatten slightly and stretch it lengthwise. Using a rolling pin, start rolling the dough beginning at one end until you obtain a long flat bread about ½ inch thick (1.27cm), 14 inches long (35cm) and 8 inches (20cm) wide.
8. Carefully transfer the bread onto a non-stick baking sheet, fixing the shape as necessary. Leave the dough to rest on the sheet for another 15 minutes before baking.
9. Preheat the oven to 400?F (200?C).
10. Using a knife, make shallow crosshatching slashes on the bread, 4 from right to left and 4 the opposite way, each at a slight angle. Brush the bread evenly with the egg/egg yolk and sprinkle with seeds.
11. Place the baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven and bake the bread for 20-25 minutes, or until it is golden on top and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Recipe for watermelon rind jam

Ingredients

Recipe taken from the very specific website http://www.watermelonrind.com. I can’t say I recommend the finished article but here’s the recipe to satisfy your curiosity.

1lb watermelon rind cut into 1cm cubes
water to cover
3 cardamom pods
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/2 cups white granulated or preserving sugar
1 strip lemon peel

Place the watermelon rind in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for half an hour until the rind is tender and translucent. Drain, reserving 1 and a half cups of cooking liquid. Add the cooked rind, reserved cooking liquid, lemon peel and sugar to your preserving pan. Bring to the boil and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, cool, cover and leave overnight.

The next day, add the cardamom pods bring the mixture back to the boil. Cook for approximately 15 minutes until a thick syrup has formed. Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon juice and pot in the usual way.

I’m going to conclude my post Azeri style by wishing you NUSH OLSUN

…and the good news is we’re through all the countries beginning with the letter A so next stop, the Bahamas!

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