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.

1 comment:

Amy Tower said...

DEAN you are a-maz-ing. I am so happy I know you in real life because even in cyber space you are rockin it HARDCORE. I hope Bolivia is going really well!