Ramadan 2021

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Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, the holy month in which the Qur’an was revealed to the prophet Muhammad; this year, Ramadan begins at sundown on Monday, April 12. During that period, Muslims fast from dawn until dusk; the meal that marks the end of each day’s fast is called iftar and often commences with three sweet dates which help restore blood sugar levels, after which the menu will vary by country and regional specialties.

In Iran, a rich stew (a khoresh) is not uncommon at the dinner table. This is fesenjan, a Persian dish often made with chicken, sometimes with duck like this one; the other two essential ingredients are walnuts and pomegranates in some form – my version uses pomegranate molasses although I’ve seen pomegranate juice pressed into service as well. Saffron rice in the supporting role.

(And that’s my grandmother’s serving dish if you’re curious.)

Ramadan Mubarak!
 
 

Cosa de Boniato y Chorizo

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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That’s not its real name, of course, but I haven’t come up with a proper one for it yet and I didn’t want to call the post “Untitled” because this serendipitous culinary invention may well be one of the best dishes I have ever concocted. Why serendipitous? Here’s how it came about:

I was playing Socially Distanced Produce Aisle Roulette; that’s where you stand six feet away from the person who got to the vegetable counter first and cool your heels as they pick over each Brussels sprout to select the winning candidates for their dinner. Truthfully, I don’t mind playing this game because I know that it will be my turn soon enough and it gives me time to peruse the landscape for veggies that had not originally made it onto my shopping list.

To its credit, my white-bread supermarket actually does carry some Latin American vegetables if you know where to look. They’re stocked at eye level – if you’re a Chihuahua. Check out the floor-level bins beneath the bananas and you’ll see the platanos. Look under the sweet potatoes and lo and behold you’ll find the boniatos. Appearances notwithstanding, these marvelous tubers aren’t yams and are only remotely related to potatoes (same taxonomic order, Solanales) – and in some respects they’re better than either. They’re a little on the dry side, quite sweet, and taste more like chestnuts than any other starchy veg that purports to taste like chestnuts. Cook ’em the same way you’d cook potatoes.

Anyway, as I patiently waited for an opening, I began to mull over what I might whip up using a boniato. For some reason, my bespoke recipe for potato salad came to mind, but with Mexican overtones. But please note: this was not destined to be “Mexican Potato Salad”. First off, the whole idea of that sounds coy, gimmicky, and likely to disappoint; secondly, I was envisioning a dish served warm, unctuous, and as a main course, not a side.

Nonetheless, I decided that a swap-in for each ingredient in my recipe would be a worthwhile idea, so here’s what I did: boniato for potatoes, Mexican chorizo for bacon, poblano pepper for red bell pepper, chopped white onion (very Mexican) for sweet Vidalia onion, cilantro for parsley, cambray onion (scallions would work, too) for celery (the crunchy contingent), and a garlicky, lemony aioli for the balsamic-vinegary, honey-mustardy mayonnaise that holds it all together – literally matching up ingredient for ingredient, but in different proportions of course.

As I said, in my humble opinion, it was amazing: sweet from the boniato, spicy from the chorizo, tangy from the aioli, yielding yet crunchy, lavish yet homespun, and incredibly delicious beyond even my most unbridled fantasies. Of course, the real test will be to make it again and see if I’m still blown away by it. Hey, I might even write down ingredient quantities next time! 😉
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

The Trinity: Pastrami, Swiss Cheese & Sauerkraut

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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I understand that gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins. Shown here is my chastisement for loading too much cheese into a grilled pastrami and Swiss with sauerkraut sammich. Not to mention the fact that, in defiance of orthodoxy, the only rye bread I could lay my hands on wasn’t crowned with caraway seeds, a venial sin to some, but heresy to me. I do confess that I sneaked some toasted caraway seeds into the sandwich filling to redeem it.


The absolution, however, came from the coleslaw that I improvised from shredded cabbage, apples, carrots, and cambray onions (aka spring onions, alliums that look like bulbous scallions on steroids). Fortunately, this miraculously droolworthy side dish turned out to be that supper’s saving grace.

Salvation through salivation.
 
 
(I think I’ve been writing too much about religion lately. 😟)
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Many Had a Little Lamb

…or so it would seem due to the convergence of spring and the heightened popularity of lamb cookery and feasting this time of year.

Springtime and lamb are inextricably intertwingled throughout religious travails, pagan tales, and supermarket sales; it’s all about timing. The Jewish Passover (Pesach) Seder recounts the dictum of marking doors with lamb’s blood to signal the Angel of Death to pass over those houses; in Christianity, Easter commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus, symbolized by the Paschal Lamb. Wasn’t the Last Supper a Seder? It’s no coincidence that the Hebrew word Pesach (פֶּסַח) and the Greek word Pascha (Πάσχα) share a heritage.

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Anyway, the vernal equinox has occurred, Passover is upon us, Easter is just around the corner, and lambs spring eternal (or maybe that’s goats – just kidding) so since this is a thinly veiled Cooking in the Time of COVID post, here’s a dish I made that has nothing to do with religiosity and everything to do with lamb.

I’m often struck by the affinity lamb has for cumin and chilies in certain Chinese and Central Asian dishes so it’s always a treat to make this Xi’an Style Spicy Cumin Lamb dish. It features cumin seeds, coriander seeds, Sichuan peppercorns and dried red peppers; onions, bok choy, fresh long green chili peppers and scallions; plus the usual suspects (fresh ginger, garlic, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, Zhenjiang vinegar, etc.). Oh, and lamb and noodles.

But no matter how you celebrate the season, Happy Spring!
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

A Passover Dare

(Originally posted on April 20, 2019, in better times.)

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Previously on ethnojunkie.com, I did a springtime post that included a story about someone who dared me to come up with an ethnic fusion Passover menu. I wrote:

Well, far be it from me to dodge a culinary challenge! So although obviously inauthentic, but certainly fun and yummy, here’s to a Sazón Pesach!

Picante Gefilte Pescado
Masa Ball Posole
Brisket Mole
Poblano Potato Kugel
Maple Chipotle Carrot Tzimmes
Guacamole spiked with Horseradish
Charoset with Pepitas and Tamarindo

And, of course, the ever popular Manischewitz Sangria!

It was all in good fun, of course, but it got me thinking about actually creating a Jewish-Mexican fusion recipe. It isn’t strictly Kosher for Passover, but I thought the concept was worth a try. So here is my latest crack at cross cultural cooking: Masa Brei!

Now you might know that Matzo Brei (literally “fried matzo”) is a truly tasty dish consisting of matzos broken into pieces that are soaked briefly in warm milk (some folks use water), drained, soaked in beaten eggs until soft, then fried in copious quantities of butter. Typically served with sour cream and applesauce, it’s heimische cooking, Jewish soul food, at its finest and it’s easy to do.

So I thought it might be worth a try to swap out the matzos for tostadas, the milk for horchata, the sour cream for crema, and the applesauce for homemade pineapple-jalapeño salsa. A sprinkle of tajín, a scatter of chopped cilantro – and it actually worked!

Happy Passover!
!חג פסח שמח
 
 

Masoor Malka Dal and Fried Basa

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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Another one of those improvised, sort-of-ethnic (in this case Indian), rainy day, I-don’t-feel-like-writing-so-I’ll-spend-the-day-cooking time sinks.

Sometimes folks inquire about what goes into these concoctions; I seldom measure anything except when I’m developing a recipe or baking but I did try to write down all the ingredients this time for anyone who might be curious.

Oversimplified and if memory serves, here’s how the masoor dal (red lentils) started out: I sautéed puréed onion, ginger, green chili and garlic in coconut oil and set that aside.

The next step involved toasting mustard seed, cumin seed, ground cumin, coriander, ground dried chilies, cinnamon, cardamom, garam masala, amchur (ground dried green mango) and turmeric. I tempered them in ghee – that’s a tadka – and when my kitchen smelled like an Indian restaurant, I combined it with the aromatics, cooked it a bit, added the dal, and stirred in chicken broth and tomato paste. They simmered together until the dal was tender; at that point I introduced a little yogurt to the mixture and it was ready.

Or something like that.

The fish component consisted of floured (that had been kicked up with some of those spices) pieces of basa, pan fried, and placed over a bed of the dal. Homemade parathas on the side.


Spotlight on the aforementioned parathas.

Of course, the problem with a day that I spend cooking because I don’t feel like writing is that I ultimately have to write about the day that I spent cooking.

Hoist by my own petard. 😑

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

Guacamolcajete (Not)

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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Since I mentioned using a molcajete in my last post, here’s a bit more information as promised. The molcajete is Mexico’s version of a mortar and pestle; both pieces, the porcine basin and the grinding tool (the tejolote) are crafted from volcanic rock. You apply the tejolote to the ingredients (spices or vegetables) with a pressing and twisting action which results in a texture that’s considerably different from what you’d get with a spice grinder or a food processor; that method in turn affects the flavor.


And you’ve no doubt witnessed it being pressed into service (no pun intended) when preparing and serving guacamole and the like in Mexican restaurants. I use mine primarily for its unique grinding capability and less frequently for presentation – after all, it’s not called a guacamolcajete – but sometimes this three-legged stone piggie likes to dress for the occasion.


“Ready for my closeup E.J.” (She’s something of a diva.)
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Taco Tuesday (Not)

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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Do you get pandemically induced food cravings too or am I alone in this? For no apparent reason I was jonesing for fish tacos and it wasn’t even the officially sanctioned el martes. Besides, it gave me an excuse to break out the comal and make salsa cruda.

Here’s what I did to scratch the itch. There’s nothing auténtico about these, but they were a cinch to prepare. You can use any neutral white filet like tilapia or basa because there’s so much going on in this application that any richly flavorful fish would get lost in the sauce. Literally. I tend to think of tilapia and other entry-level fish as an artist’s canvas: it’s essentially an uninteresting blank medium waiting to be turned into a masterpiece. Or in this case, dinner.

Season (or even marinate) the fish, then bake, grill, or pan sear in a skillet (that’s what I did: easier cleanup), cut into chunks and carefully place them into the taco shell or tortilla of your choice, along with avocado, shredded lettuce (or not), shredded or crumbled cheese (or not), crema (or not), and let the salsa do the heavy flavor lifting.


The salsa cruda started by charring white onion, tomatillos, tomato, and jalapeño on a comal – shown here mid-blister. Previously, I had used it to quickly toast some dried ancho and chipotle chilies then let them soak until rehydrated. When all the chilies are ready, remove any excess seeds and lose the juice from the tomato (it’ll make more). I chopped it all by hand because a blender or food processor creates a thin salsa which is fine but I prefer some crunch. (A molcajete works well too – see my upcoming post about guacamole, another craving inspired by this dish.) I included chopped cilantro, garlic, lime juice, olive oil, salt, and a pinch of cumin and Mexican oregano.


The finished product.

Itch scratched. Except for the aforementioned guacamole. Stay tuned.
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

German Chocolate Cookies

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

It is my understanding that there are four rules which require strict adherence while living through a pandemic: mask wearing, hand washing, social distancing, and baking.

Now, I have been known to practice the fine art of creating over-the-top cookie porn during the Christmas season (check it out here), but that happens when I’m baking for others and not just myself. Those confections are far too labor intensive to fill the role of a mere absent minded, mood brightening carbobomb with a cup of coffee when the spirit beckons – or when the cats get out of control, for that matter.

Therefore, in compliance with the current mandate, I set out to find a recipe on the interwebs that would satisfy two rules: prep time measured in minutes rather than days, and since it was snowing and I wasn’t about to trudge through waist-high drifts to get to the supermarket, one that only called for ingredients I had on hand – which in this case included oatmeal, chocolate, pecans and coconut (in addition to the universal flour, sugar, eggs, etc. one would anticipate as the conventional anchors of a cookie recipe).

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And behold – German Chocolate Cookies.

Evaluation from the measuring-cup-half-empty POV: German Chocolate Cake is a delicious invention but these cookies did not live up to the promise of their name. They were quick to prepare, didn’t involve a trek over the tundra to get to the supermarket, and were therefore pandemically approved, but I won’t link to the recipe I found because, although they were okay, I suspect you can do better. Then again, given my initial constraints, what did I expect?

Evaluation from the measuring-cup-half-full POV: I saved a fortune because one can go broke buying decent cookies from the organic bodega across the street.
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️