Ramadan 2020

Instagram Post 5/20-22/2020

 
Three posts from last year’s celebration of Ramadan which concludes this year on May 23.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

This is sellou (سلّو, aka sfouf or zmita), a unique unbaked Moroccan sweet made from toasted flour and ground almonds, sesame seeds, sugar or honey, cinnamon, and anise; as you’d expect, recipes vary from family to family. At Nablus Sweets, 6812 5th Ave, Brooklyn, I spotted a huge brown mountain of it and purchased a small knoll, broken here into two little hillocks. It’s soft in texture, somewhere along the cookie<–>brownie continuum but drier, crumbly but crunchy from nuts. Simply break off a chunk and enjoy, perhaps with a cup of tea.

If your knowledge of Middle Eastern/Mediterranean sweets is informed primarily by honey drenched baklava and kanafeh, give this one a try (available particularly around Ramadan); I highly recommend it.


Little Egypt Restaurant, 66-28 Fresh Pond Road, Ridgewood, featured a special dessert coinciding with Mother’s Day last year: Om Ali (you might see umm ali), أم على. The phrase translates as “Ali’s mother” and of course, fables abound as to its name. Essentially Egypt’s answer to bread pudding (only better if you ask me), it’s made with phyllo dough, milk (and occasionally, richer dairy considerations) and sugar, sometimes elevated with raisins, nuts, and cinnamon. There are legions of recipes for this traditional Ramadan treat; that day, our delightful version came with sour cream and ground nuts on the side for garnish, ad libitum.


On a visit last year to Tashkent Market at 713 Brighton Beach Ave in Brooklyn, I picked up some nishallo (aka nisholda), an exceedingly sweet dessert that’s native to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and prepared exclusively during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Made primarily from sugar, whipped egg whites, and water, it’s a dead-on ringer for Marshmallow Fluff (as you’d expect from the ingredients) if perhaps a bit classier because of a touch of star anise and/or licorice root. It makes its appearance as part of iftar, the evening meal that breaks the daily fast. Frequently used as a dip for the flatbread naan, it’s particularly appropriate after 17 hours of abstention from eating because its high sugar content jumpstarts the metabolism.

Ramadan Mubarak!
 
 

Cooking in the Time of COVID – Indonesian Fried Chicken

Instagram Post 5/19/2020

 
👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

The seasoning packet shouted “Kentucky” in eye-catching, bright red, bold, decorative brush script underscored by a tiny legend that whispered “Fried Chicken Seasoned Flour” as if to subtly continue the thought. Beneath that, however, it was the “Tepung Bumbu Ayam Goreng” that caught my eye; I was in a Southeast Asian market in Queens (where else?) so I was hooked. Since then, it’s been perched on a pantry shelf along with so many other this’ll-keep-forever-so-there’s-no-hurry-to-use-it-right-away items, but if ever there was a time to frolic in the kitchen, it’s now.

Let’s get the first question out of the way: “Does it taste like Kentucky Fried Chicken?” Hell, Kentucky Fried Chicken doesn’t taste like Kentucky Fried Chicken anymore since they changed the recipe. The seasoning blend was modest, but not objectionable. I prepared it using dark meat chicken in a familiar nugget configuration and resisted the urge to tweak the seasoning (until the second batch).


To their credit, they got the wheat flour/tapioca flour/rice flour balance just right: the chix was crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside. And since I had everything I needed to make it, that’s my own Indonesian nasi goreng (fried rice) on the side.

Which international cuisine should I fiddle with next?
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Cooking in the Time of COVID – IKEA Food

Instagram Post 5/17/2020

 
👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

When you ponder the inventory of a typical IKEA, prepared food probably doesn’t leap to the forefront of your mind, but they do offer some Swedish comestibles that are tasty, novel, and, most important, seem to keep indefinitely if unopened in the refrigerator. Two such products were vulnerable to my raid on their bottom-shelf lair: Pastej Lax, a salmon spread, and Tångkorn, a vegan seaweed caviar. They had been slated as ingredients for party food, but I’m thinking we’re unlikely to see one of those in the near future. 😢

Here, then, are boiled potato rounds supporting a squeeze of pastej lax crowned with sour cream topped with a dollop of tångkorn and a sprinkle of dill, resting on a bed of baby arugula in a balsamic vinaigrette – just to suggest that this erstwhile jazz pianist can go classical from time to time.


Closeup.
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Cooking in the Time of COVID – Mie Goreng

Instagram Post 5/15/2020

 
👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

I’ve been craving Indonesian food of late (I miss those weekend bazaars!), so when I remembered that there were fresh Chinese noodles in my freezer, I knew what I would make: mie goreng. My Indonesian friends might point out that this recipe traditionally calls for spaghetti-shaped egg noodles or even ramen rather than linguini-shaped wheat noodles, but today’s impulse came from a longing for that unique flavor profile and since I had almost everything on hand except for the proper noodz, the result was what you see here.

Chicken was the sidekick to the fried noodles. The non-noodle component consisted of shredded carrots, cabbage, red pepper, celery, baby bok choy, scallions, onions and garlic, a bit of reconstituted shiitake mushrooms and tiny dried shrimp, and the all-important ribbons of fried egg. The sauce combined ketjap manis (sweet), soy sauce (salty), oyster sauce (umami), sambal oelek (spicy), a bit of sesame oil (aromatic), and ground peanuts (yum). The garnish was a spicy coconut bumbu condiment that I had in the freezer, acquired at one of the aforementioned bazaars.

The marvelous white crisps on the right are shrimp flavored Indonesian krupuk (you might see kerupuk) and they’re positively addictive. In the package, they appear to be hard little chips, but they miraculously puff up almost instantly when subjected to hot oil; actually, they’re almost as much fun to prepare as they are to eat. Since I had already dragged out the deep fryer, I grabbed a few other examples of these crispy delights (yes, I have way too many in the pantry), some Indonesian and some Indian, in assorted colors and with varying flavors from garlic to potato to just plain salt. They come in so many varieties, I could do a post on those alone.

I still have a little of that sauce left and some terasi (shrimp paste) as well, so I see nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice) in my future. 😉
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Cooking in the Time of COVID – Pizza-ish

Instagram Post 5/11/2020

 
👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

Today’s adventure in Polish sausage swap-ins (see my last post) was this:

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Looks a lot like pizza, doesn’t it? I already had mozzarella, mushrooms, and homemade tomato sauce, but I wasn’t about to invest energy in making pizza dough (quarantining is frustrating enough), so I resorted to my package of trusty, versatile flour tortillas.

I sprinkled some corn meal onto a jelly roll pan and laid in a tortilla, topped it with the thinnest possible layer of mozzarella, and sandwiched that with another tortilla. The idea behind this experiment was that the mozz would act like a laminating glue to yield a base with enough heft to support the toppings. Stuck it into a hot oven to melt the cheese – essentially to see if the theory would work.

Added sauce…

…mozzarella…

…and mushrooms.

Sautéed some country style kielbasa wiejska, tossed in a little fennel seed to trick it into thinking it was Italian sausage and topped this doppelganger with a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and a drizzle of trompe l’olive oeil. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

To give you an idea of the thickness of the “crust”:

In its native habitat.

 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Cooking in the Time of COVID – Sausage & Peppiz!

Instagram Post 5/9/2020

 
👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

When I was researching adding a Greenpoint, Brooklyn ethnojunket to my repertoire of neighborhood food tours, I bought too many (of course) Eastern European sausages in order to evaluate which would be best (as Melania would have it). There are still a dozen or so in the freezer. Sounds to me like another use-whatever-I-have-on-hand-without-venturing-out-to-buy-more-stuff challenge.

So we’ll start with the most obvious substitution, a sammich endemic to NYC affectionately called Sausage & Peppiz. This one was easy. I already had onions and peppers on hand so I fried them up with some swojska kielbasa adding my not so secret ingredient, fennel seed, which makes everything it comes into contact with taste like Italian sausage. A hit of Parmigiano-Reggiano and bada bing bada boom, Sausage & Peppiz! Mangia!

(All I needed was “the wine with the peaches” as they say at the San Gennaro Festival! 😉)
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Cooking in the Time of COVID – Tofu Eviction

Instagram Post 5/7/2020

 
👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Another one for my vegetarian friends, this time a simple stir-fry using up some long-term visitors to my freezer that had overstayed their welcome: spicy tofu, smoked tofu, and beancurd knots, adorable little Gordian wonders that would flummox even a clever Eagle Scout. Drizzled with a trustworthy garlic/ginger/multiple sauce combo, I included onion and celery and finally managed to get rid of the last of the bok choy as well.


The annotated version.
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Cheese Board

Instagram Post 5/6/2020

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Moliterno al Tartufo (a sheep’s milk cheese with truffles), Tomme de Savoie, Brie de Meaux, Rembrandt (a remarkable gouda even if you don’t like gouda).

Albanska sudzuka (Albanian soujouk, this one was outstanding), membrillo (quince paste), white baguette from Tom Cat Bakery.

Red grapes, almonds, sweet dried green mangoes.

J. Lohr Seven Oaks Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2012.
 
 
I took this photo exactly two weeks ago. There must have been a reason, but now I’m too old to remember why.
 
 

Cooking in the Time of COVID – Cinco de Mayo

Instagram Post 5/5/2020

 
👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Oh no! It’s Cinco de Mayo (I was sure it was still April) AND I haven’t given up trying to cook with whatever is on hand rather than running off to the supermarket for fresh supplies. I hadn’t counted on a double challenge, but there was still some Oaxacan mole in the freezer, I could shred the leftover chicken, and since sheltering in place began, flour tortillas are always within reach. Quesadillas it shall be.

Veggies 🤔. Using what’s here, esquites, the Mexican street food favorite, would be a good candidate: grilled corn with garlic, jalapeños, scallions, cilantro, crema (or mayonnaise) and lime juice topped with crumbled cotija cheese (or something akin to it 😉) and tajín.

This is actually going to be good! Would it be cheating if I just run across the street to the convenience store to grab a bag of corn chips? They’d be picture perfect alongside the quesadilla. That’s not the same order of magnitude as a supermarket expedition, right? I succumbed to the whim (not to mention a pint of Ben & Jerry’s), and placed the chips on the kitchen counter next to the lime, both slated for garnish duty.

Enthusiastic about what promised to be an Instaworthy photo, I carried the plate into the living room and set it in front of the one window in my apartment that gets any decent natural light. Rotating it and the camera (and myself), I snapped a bunch of pics and finally managed to snag one that was reasonably well lit. I rewarded myself with a couple of bites of the quesadilla and a forkful of esquites and brought it back to the kitchen where the forgotten chips and lime were still patiently waiting to be pressed into service, too late, alas, for plating.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

And here they are, still on the counter, presented as proof that since it’s on the Internet, it happened.

Sometimes I just can’t catch a break.
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Cooking in the Time of COVID – Barley Mushroom Salad

Instagram Post 5/3/2020

 
👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

The last of the corned beef (yay! 🙌) plus barley from the pantry (toasted before cooking) went into this warm salad along with sautéed onions, carrots, and yes, mushrooms (finally made it to the market!); dill, parsley, and scallions pulled it together.

BUT I still have one more use-up-whatever-there-is-in-the-freezer challenge to go. Watch this space!
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️