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An Eastern Med Meal

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    Posted: 18 May 2014 at 10:15
Inspired by Ron’s recent go at a Levantine dinner, http://www.foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net/levantine-supper-19-january-2014_topic4005.html, I decided to try one myself. Given the number of countries and cuisines in this region, the choices are, literally, unlimited.
As with any themed dinner, the first thing I did was decide what sorts of “courses” there would be. Such a dinner would include a mezze or two (i.e., appetizer), bread, soup, salad, the main course, a side dish, and a sweet.
When you set out to create such a meal you really highlight just how similar the cuisines of the region are. This makes sense, of course, because the two major culinary influences---Persia and Turkey---are ubiquitous. Thus, with minor differences, many countries of the region have what are essentially the same dishes, with only the name changing. Given the fact that the language bases are similar, so too are the names of many dishes.

But, by the same token, there are dishes unique to specific countries, and some that, while similar, have enough variation to be considered different.

We rarely do desserts here, and I decided fresh fruit would do for the sweet. One less thing to do.

As I’ve mentioned before, my go-to flatbread of the region is manaaeesh, which was highlighted In my bread primer, here: http://www.foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net/the-staff-of-life-a-primer-on-baking-bread_topic3089_page3.html

Both to spread the meal across as many countries as possible, and to try something new, I went with Nan Casoki, a thin, chewy bread that’s sort of the Kurdistan version of Lavash. Nan Casoki can be translated as Bulgar Bread, which is apt, because half the “flour” component is bulgar, with the other half being white flour. I’d have liked to of tried a Yemini Sorghum Bread. But, alas, sorghum flour isn’t available locally.

As is often the case with flatbreads, I turned to Alford and Duguid’s Flatbreads & Flavors for the recipe:

Nan Casoki

2 cups bulgur
1 tsp salt
½ cup minced onion
2 cups boiling water
Approximately 2 cups unbleached bread flour

In a medium bowl combine the bulgar, salt and onion. Pour the boiling water over and let stand for 30 minutes. Transfer to a food processor fitted with a standard metal blade ad process briefly, about 20 seconds. Add one cup flour and process to a smooth texture. Turn the mixture out onto a generously floured surface, and knead, incorporating flour as necessary to keep dough from sticking, for three to four minutes.

Cover the dough until you are ready to proceed further, from 15 minutes to three hours.


Being as I’m not particularly good with a rolling pin, prepping these was, perhaps, the most difficult part of the meal. But they bake in only two to three minutes, which made up for the hassle.

For the mezze we decided on two tastes. First was hummus. True, it’s kind of trite. But, so long as you remember to soak the beans overnight, making it isn’t all that time consuming. Along with that went Falafel, using Ahron’s great recipe: http://www.foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net/making-ahrons-falafel_topic4021.html This had the added advantage of using the same main ingredient, but with two totally different textures and flavor profiles. Toum (essentially garlic and mayo) was the sauce for them.
For the salad we turned to Iran, and one of its many yogurt salads. In this case we chose Borani Esfanaj, which I translate as Persian Spinach Salad, cuz I feel about Iran about the same way as I feel about France, only even more deeply. Here’s the recipe:

BORANI ESFANAJ

1 ½ lbs spinach     
1 med onion, chopped fine
1 tbls oil     
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Salt & pepper     
1 ½ cups Greek yogurt or two cups regular yogurt drained
Nano Dok (see recipe)

Trim roots and coarse stalks from spinach. Wash leaves well. Drain and shred coarsely.

In a large skillet fry onion in oil until transparent. Add spinach and toss over medium heat until wilted. Cook until moisture evaporates.

Add garlic, about a teaspoon of salt, and a good grind of pepper. Remove from heat and let cool.

Pour yogurt into a mixing bowl. Add spinach mixture. Toss well and adjust seasoning. Make Nano Dok using small amount of ghee. I opted for 1 ½ tablespoons, which worked out perfectly.

Turn borani into serving dish and pour on Nano Dok. Serve at room temperature.

NANO DOK
(Persian Spicing Sauce)


(Used in soups and salads)

1-3 tbls ghee     
1 tsp turmeric
1 ½ tsp dried mint

Heat ghee in small pan. Stir in turmeric and cook for a few seconds until turmeric colors a golden brown.

Crush mint, add to pan, stir, and remove from heat immediately
The salad was served with the main meal, not as a separate course.
For the main meal we went with my own recipe Chicken Zohar. You may recall, from an earlier discussion, that this was a dish I devised in honor of the birth of our Israeli friends’ first child. The idea was to use as many Israeli ingredients as possible. Originally I used Sabra liquor, but they went and changed the formula. So now I substitute an orange liquor, such as Triple Sec or Grand Marnier with just a whisper of cocoa powder mixed in:

CHICKEN ZOHAR

6 skinless, boneless breasts     
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 tbls za’taar, divided use     
Salt & pepper to taste
3 cups orange juice     
Pinch powdered cloves
½ cup honey     
Zest of one orange
A good pinch of cocoa powder
4-6 oranges, segmented     
3 tbls arrowroot
¼ cup orange liquor     
Oil for pan frying

Remove tenders from breasts. Cut rest of breast into three pieces. Trim excess fat, silverskin, and connective tissue.

Combine flour with salt, pepper, and one tablespoon za’taar.      
Heat oil in large skillet. Dust chicken pieces with seasoned flour. Fry over medium-high heat until well browned, about 3 minutes per side. Set aside.

Add orange juice to pan, deglazing any browned bits. Add honey, cloves, cocoa, and remaining za’taar. Cook to combine flavors. Make a slurry of the liquor and arrowroot and add to mixture. Cook until sauce thickens. Stir in orange segments

Return chicken to pan. Coat well with sauce and cook until chicken is heated through.

With the chicken we prepared Moujadara, a Lebanese dish of lentils and rice with crispy onions:

Moujadara

! generous cup brown or green dried lentils
¼ cup olive oil
½ small onion, finely chopped
½ cup Basmati or Jasmine rice
1 tsp ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

For the crispy onions:

Vegetable oil
4 tbls sliced onions

Put the lentils in a deep saucepan, cover with water, and bring to the boil. Simmer for 20 minutes, then drain and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a lidded saucepan, add the chopped onions and fry until browned. Add the rice, cooked lentils, salt, pepper and cumin and just enough water to cover. Cover the pan and bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the rice is cooked, about 15 minutes. Place in a serving dish.

For the crispy onions, pour vegetable oil into a deep skillet to the depth of about two inches. Heat well and deep-fry the sliced onions until brown and crispy. Drain on paper towels. Arrange onions on top of the lentil & rice mixture. Serve hot.

Themed dinners like this can be a lot of work. And success depends on good planning. But they’re a lot of fun too. We’ll be doing more of them in the future.
But we hae meat and we can eat
And sae the Lord be thanket
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 May 2014 at 22:02
Quote Themed dinners like this can be a lot of work. And success depends on good planning. But they’re a lot of fun too. 

Every word of that sentence is true, Brook - when I made my Levantine meal, it was non-stop chaos all day long - but it was fun at the same time, and the meal was delicious!

Outstanding effort on this ambitious meal, my friend. I really like the way that you expanded the "borders" of the menu, carrying it to Persia and blending the foods from there into wonderful harmony with the neighbour dishes to the west. 

It looks to me as though the Kurdish bread, as well as the Persian salad and dipping sauce, share some relationship with Indian food traditions? It's easy to forget how closely tied Persia and India are, but the relationships are there - so now that I think of it, common culinary roots make sense.


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19 May 2014 at 23:06
Don't forget, Ron, that Alexander The Great's armies penetrated well into India. As a result, there is a lot of Greek and, especially, Persian influence on the culture---including, of course, the food. 

Where this really shows up is in temple carvings. If you look at those sculptures you readily see that the live models for them were Greek. 
But we hae meat and we can eat
And sae the Lord be thanket
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 May 2014 at 22:49
True dat - it never ceases to amaze me how facets of culture can pop up in far-flung regions....
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