Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Blurring cultural lines...with food!

Lately I've realized that if I ever was to open a restaurant in some kind of mid-life (or mid-college...) crisis, it would probably be - to follow the currently hotly successful trend - Northwest ingredients with middle eastern (particularly Afghan) flavors.

I dislike the idea of total "fusion cuisine" - some cultural flavors really just don't go together, but there are some things that, often remarkably, do! That's been a recent theme for my cooking - which has been slow lately.

This will be my last post before I head off to Bolivia with Engineers Without Borders. I'll be sure to take pictures of any interesting culinary delights!

Wild Salmon Steak
grilled with a yogurt marinade with Afghan spices, served with a garlic yogurt sauce, grilled zucchini, and sliced Bakery Nouveau baguette with olive oil, balsamico, Dubliner aged cheddar and basil.

This dish was interesting in that I was really trying to spice the king of Northwest ingredients - salmon - with a marinade from a landlocked country! It was very good, though unusual. I was actually inspired by my mother, who had, a couple weeks back, tossed in extra chicken marinade I had on a salmon and roasted it.

I attempted to do what I could to modify the traditional ingredients of a yogurt marinade to better fit the flavor profile of salmon.

Marinade (more of a paste really):

1/4 cup yogurt
3 tbps olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon, approximately 3-4 tbsps
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp ground coriander seed
pinch of cardamom
pinch of turmeric
pinch of cayenne pepper
plenty of black pepper

I'm probably forgetting something, but it was really pretty normal. I shied away from too much earthiness - leaving out some turmeric and the cumin and fennel I sometimes put into kabobs. I liked the result, but it could definitely be tweaked greatly. I was working with about 2 lbs of salmon, with the bone.

Fresh Dal and spiced fried Dal pancakes
fresh Dal topped with toasted pine nuts - both served with garlic yogurt sauce and Afghan salate with basil

This dish really came about from my father who cooked the Dal (very thick lentil soup). I then came in and made a salate to accompany the dal. However, we didn't have cilantro, which I thought would complement the dal better than mint, which we had, so I opted to go out on a limb and use basil with the traditional combination of tomato, red onion, lemon, oil, and salt. Not too crazy in and of itself, but with Dal? Now that's a bit strange - basil is not cooked with in the Middle East, nor Afghanistan. It is not unkown however, and is actually eated for medicinal purposes and grows wild.

The combination was excellent! I was very pleasantly surprised to say the least.

Also a huge hit - pine nuts! I toasted them and sprinkled them on top. I loved the texture contrast, as well as the nutty, earthy, mildly sweet flavor they lend the dish. Pine nuts are another plant that actually grow in Afghanistan, but are rarely cooked, usually just enjoyed as a snack. My mother was thus delighted and ate all the leftover toasted pine nuts - a little taste of childhood.

I then went even crazier and decided to further spice the dal with some earthy cumin and spanish paprika and then make patties and fry it!

Well...easier said than done. They were very hard to keep together, and indeed, most of them were somewhat broken. Needs a binder...needs egg! Unfortunately my mother decided to tell me that afterwards.

It was however, fantastic! Tasted like a falafel, but made from lentils, which are the easiest bean in the world to cook. And again, was fantastic with the yogurt sauce and basil salate.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Salmon crepes!

Spanish Smoked Paprika Salmon Crepes
with white wine-caramelized red onion, garlic, walnuts, spinach, sharp cheddar, fresh bell pepper, and topped with fresh torn basil, more cheese, tomato, and a drizzle of olive oil.

(the salmon is hidden inside - it was pre-broiled and crumbled inside)

An original recipe (if you can call it a recipe really).

I think the pictures pretty much say it all. =)

PS: You can totally make crepes, or anything for that matter, in stainless steel. I did not realize this until today when I couldn't find my non-stick and had to attempt with my normal pans. I now officially have no reason to use those delicate and debatedly toxic pans. It takes a bit more skill, but not much - high preheat, a little oil, and bam!

PPS: I went dinnerware shopping today. So excited to move in to my own place!

Afghan guests = Afghan Cusine!

For the past few days, my Uncle has been in town, which means a little more Afghan food than usual!

Here's a couple snapshots:

Faux Qaubili Pilau (Ka-bi-lee)
Long grain Basmati parboiled and steamed with light spices and turmeric for color. Served with sauteed carrots and steamed raisins.

(faux because true Qaubili is cooked in the meat and onion broth, with the meat on the bottom of the pan - this was just water)

Leg of Lamb Kafta Kabobs
Freshly ground and grilled over mesquite hardwood coals, seasoned with loomi, sumac, and various sweet and savory spices, served in a grilled pita with hummus, tomato, and vinegar-marinated red onion.

This was an experience - trimming the ludicrous amount of fat off the leg - winding up with hands that still smelled vaguely like lamb the next morning.

Fantastic though - I ground the lamb in a food processor and mixed it with (somewhat descending by quantity):

Egg white
Flour (for binding, just a tad)
Minced onion, garlic

Loomi (dried lemon)
Black Pepper
Spanish Paprika

Admittedly, this was really more Arab than Afghan, but it's not too far off - we use every spice on there, except for cloves (maybe even that too).

I was a little sad we had no cilantro or parsley - they are delicious in these.

Tip: Since you can, it's worth it to make a tester - just a little tiny patty you throw in a little frying pan to check the seasoning, unless you're following a recipe, or even then! Better than being dissapointed later because you completely forgot the salt - I'm speaking from experience, trust me. =)

Chocolate Sponge Roll!

Truth be told, I don't remember the name the recipe gave. So here's mine:

Chocolate Spongie-ness!
Dark Chocolate sponge cake roll with fresh made chocolate whipped cream filling, topped with dark chocolate shavings and served with fresh strawberries in a light syrup.

My friend Noam (also an excellent cook) and I whipped this together from a recipe, with our other friend Nate's ingredients. =) Always makes it better.

Very delicious! Next time I might drizzle with a chocolate syrup.

We (I) messed up a little and forgot to grease the baking sheet. Never to despair! With a little of my optimism and Noam's finesse, we were able to pry it off in one (give or take a chunk - shh!) piece.

I like sponge cake like this because it's so light! It's really just whipped egg whites with a little bit of flour and melted chocolate, then poured onto a baking sheet and popped in the oven. Actually very easy to make in retrospect - good for me since I'm not the most experienced baker.

Just to leave you with a nice dose of weirdness, I present you with the Noam.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

All art should be edible.

I've been so busy lately, I haven't had a chance to update! But I have been cooking, never to fear.

As you may know, half of my love for food is in capturing its beauty in pictures, so here are a random assortment that don't really go with any one meal:

The flower of Thyme

Onion meets bowl

Bowl meets onion

Sun-dried Tomato and Balsalmic Bruschetta on Essential Baking Co. Parisian baguettes

Spinach salad with fresh mint, walnuts, cucumber, heirloom tomato, and sharp white cheddar with a sun-dried tomato balsalmic dressing

The heirloom tomato. It wasn't actually worth anywhere near its price this time.

Perfectly charred Top Sirloin, complete with 45 degree char marks. However it was a tad overcooked inside to be honest.

Toasted walnut and garlic fettucine - served with the steak above.

I won't even pretend I made this thing of beauty. It's from Bakery Nouveau.
Just about the best baguette you will ever have. Seriously. It's one more reason to come to West Seattle now.
( That's up to what, a whopping 3 now? ;) )

(aka: alki, my kitchen, bakery nouveau - oh wait! Buddha Ruksa! 4! yay! )

NEXT UP: the fantastic sponge roll dessert that I don't know the name of that we made last weekend!