Week 14 – Bangladesh – 19 April 2015
Ok, back on track and time to keep the direction. From this week, that should be somewhat possible for a little while. With Bangladesh as my country of choice, I had hit spice central. The region has an abundance of unique and incredibly flavoursome choices, so I decided to choose a few from The Bangladesh Kitchen and serve them all together as a varied meal.
As something of an initiation, I sourced all of my spices and put together a panch phoron. This is a typical spice mix – equal parts cumin, fennel, fenugreek, nigella and mustard – used in Bangladeshi and Indian cooking and aside from looking pretty, it’s a fantastic blend.
Now my four dishes:
These two dishes were incredibly simple to put together, given that the recipe lists consists mainly of ingredients (abundantly spices) that all just get measured and thrown in. The veges are then added to the mix and cooked to your liking. Cooking doesn’t get much more basic than that! With each of these dishes, the eggplant and okra will almost caramelise if left long enough, which along with the aromas of cumin, nigella, et al. makes them super tasty (just be patient).
I’ve only used okra for texture in curries (the seeds add a popping crunch), so to fry them in like this was a nice new way to eat them and enjoy how sticky they are in the pan. Make sure you have an abundance, though, as they really cook down.
This one sounds basic because it is, but that doesn’t mean the sacrifice of flavours. While not as heavy on the dry spices, the yogurt marinade for this one with made with garlic, coriander and green chili. I simply used chicken breast cut into pieces, marinated for a couple of hours. Fried for a couple of minutes each side and done!
(4) Bhapa chingri (steamed shrimp with mustard and green chili)
This dish was certainly the most interesting of the four. With plenty of chili (fresh and powdered), this one turned the heat up on the others and its method (steamed in a stainless steel bowl) developed a rich and fragrant result. I laid off on most of the salt, though.
Week 15 – India – 26 April 2015
Flicking through Spice Kitchen, this week’s country was presenting me with a plethora of options, all as mouth-watering as the next, and many similarly complicated. Indian is not a cuisine that I eat often; however, I have no idea why that is the case. It is delicious and there are great Indian restaurants all over the place. So, I shall do better on this count.
Cooking it, though, is another story. You need time, preparation and a whole lot of ingredients, including a wonderful array of colourful spices. It’s fun, but it aint gonna show up in any 15 minute meal collections.
My choice this week was butter chicken – a favourite that I just knew would taste way better homemade than from a supermarket jar. There were three components to putting this together (in a way): making the marinade and leaving the chicken to take it on overnight; creating the tomato and spice mix for the sauce (including a lengthy straining process – I don’t like wastage); and developing the overpowering garlic and ginger aromas in the cream/butter mix. You essentially cook the chicken, and add it to the then combined second and third parts. Ok, so it doesn’t sound so complicated now that I’ve typed this…
Served on rice, the curry’s result was rich, spicy and wonderful, with loads of flavours coming through the sauce and marinated chicken – tomato, cream, yogurt, chili…
Accompanying my butter chicken, I made naan topped with nigella seeds. This was again another time consideration – as it takes an hour or so to rise – but it was well worth it.
Week 16 – Pakistan – 3 May 2015
Having cooked Indian last week, the first challenge this time around was to determine what differences there are between that cuisine and my new week’s pick: Pakistan. It turns out there may not be a whole lot of difference at all, depending on what part of Pakistan you’re cooking in. Friendly to both vegetarians and meat lovers like its eastern neighbour, Pakistani cuisine is also highly focussed on spices. I wasn’t exactly bothered by the similar choices floating around this week.
I decided upon making a kofta curry, drawing upon recipes from a couple of Pakistani recipe websites, as well as my own familiarity with the dish. My koftas ended up incorporating lamb mince, soaked bread, smashed chickpeas, onion, garlic and ginger pastes, cumin, coriander and chilli powders, and chopped coriander, mint and chilli. All this was mixed by hand and formed into golf ball sized rounds.
The curry was shaped around a recipe from the UK Food Network site. Making this curry incorporated a number of oil separations – this being quite important in the cuisine. Made with many of the usual suspects (onion, cumin, coriander, turmeric and chili), the curry base also incorporated a new paste for me, made from soaked and ground poppy seeds. Grinding poppy seeds is a lot harder than you’d think – they’re so small they just keep escaping! The flavour intense base was finished with a little yogurt and then given volume via a couple of cups of water. In went the raw koftas and 20 minutes later (including one turn of the koftas), dinner was served.
The curry was quite thin, but the spices were predominant as they hadn’t been stifled with too much yogurt (or coconut milk, stock, etc. as with other curry varieties). The koftas, left fairly much alone throughout the cooking process, were perhaps more triumphant than the curry – their blend of flavours and heat-kick the winner within the overall meal.
Week 17 – Afghanistan – 10 May 2015
I’m now in the in-between territory of food I know, on a path from Asia across to Europe. Middle Eastern food is exciting – there are flavours and ingredients that are really quite distinct to the region’s collection of cuisines and while I’m familiar with the elements, I’m new to the wholes!
My country for this week was Afghanistan and my dish: Kabuli Palaw, which I came across quite quickly when looking for something distinct to pull together as the dish is (a) obviously named after the capital Kabul and (b) considered the Afghan national dish. Entirely coincidental, the dish is also extremely popular in Pakistan so it was a good continuation from the week prior.
This was quite an interesting dish to put together, as there were a number of different techniques and stages to its construction: well ahead of time the basmati rice is soaked (overnight); lamb is cooked and stock is developed from scratch; caramel is developed at two different stages to create a coating for the rice and some very tasty carrots; and finally the whole lot undergoes a baking of sorts. The whole process is available in the recipe here.
There were quite a number of textures and flavours to take in when eating this dish. It was spice heavy (thanks to the garam masala and cardamom), as well as sweet (caramelised elements and pomegranate addition) and nutty (pistachio and almond topping). The rice and carrots were soft and the lamb very tender (thanks to its long cook time), which was countered by the crunch of toppings.
All in all, this was a major highlight of my Eat the World expedition thus far. It’s not a quick weeknightly meal, but sure one I’ll be pulling together again!
Week 18 – Iran – 17 May 2015
Continuing with the exploration of Middle Eastern cuisine in Iran this week, my searching brought me across fesenjān – an Iranian stew that celebrates the region’s walnuts and pomegranates, along with congregating the flavours of tomato, lemon, molasses and cinnamon. Fesenjān is traditionally a poultry stew, so chicken was an obvious choice for the meat.
This recipe was very easy to pull together, although it does call for a lot of walnuts, so prepare yourself for that! Starting with butter, it’s really a matter of cooking the meat, removing the meat, then adding one ingredient at a time until everything is together in one joyous Iranian flavour-fest, throwing the chook back in and leaving it all to stew a while.
The stew thickened, the walnuts retained their crunch and the pomegranate and molasses developed an amazing sweetness. There was also a surprise in the cinnamon, with such a small quantity having such a prominence in the final taste.
My fesenjān may not look amazing in the photo below, but looks can certainly be deceiving. This was another highlight from my pretend trip around the globe and I think it’s about time I started frequenting Middle Eastern restaurants.
Recipe is available here.