December 29, 2010

International Bento (Afghanistan): Burani Bonjon

I realize that I have not yet posted any of the holiday baking or cooking that we have done this past month, and I'm not going to get to it again, either. I confess to be a little weary of butter tarts, shortbread, and cranberry oat squares at this point, and I'm right back to craving the savory foods that we tend to rely upon.

This bento was constructed from leftovers from a dinner that Palle cooked earlier this month, and we're definitely going to have it again. The lamb curry in almond milk (a sort of Afghani korma, if you will) was tasty but a tad monotone, and may want a little tweaking, before I'm ready to post it up. The eggplant dish, however, Burani Bonjon, was outstanding. Outstanding! Here it is again below, as we had it the first night, since I fairly drowned it in yoghurt sauce in the bento picture.

One of the marvelous things about this dish is that it is served at room temperature, or chilled, meaning that it a) can be made in advance, and b) is perfect for bento (although, I did remove the lamb curry from the bento to warm it up anyway). The other marvelous thing is that, while consisting wholly of familiar flavours, the combination was so delicious that I really could not get it into my mouth fast enough.

Burani Bonjon
Serves 4

1 large eggplant (about 8" long)
200 ml. canned diced tomatoes, drained
4 garlic cloves, crushed
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon powdered cayenne
salt & pepper to taste
Aleppo pepper (for garnish)
Seer Moss (for garnish, see recipe below)

Slice the eggplant into coins. Lightly, but liberally salt both sides and allow to rest on a cooling rack over a cookie sheet for about an hour, to draw out the bitterness. Rinse the salt off, and pat the slices very dry.

Saute the crushed garlic in half the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet until fragrant, the remove the garlic to the side. Add the (dried) eggplant slices to the skillet and brown both sides, cooking in batches if necessary, and adding the remaining oil as needed (eggplant soaks up oil pretty fast).

Reduce the heat and add the tomato, garlic, turmeric, cayenne, salt and pepper. Simmer until the eggplant is very tender. Serve warm, or at room temperature (not hot!). Drizzle with Seer Moss and sprinkle with chopped cilantro and Aleppo pepper.

Seer Moss: Garlic Yoghurt Sauce

This makes a lot of sauce, but you will love it as a vegetable dip, or as an alternative to Tzatziki, so make the whole batch.

1 cup plain yoghurt
3 - 4 cloves crushed garlic
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint
2 tablespoons olive oil
pinch salt

Combine and let chill for at least an hour to allow the flavours to meld, but remove from fridge 15 minutes before serving, to take the chill off.

I can't wait to have this again.

December 07, 2010

A Thousand kinds of Chili: Texas Red

Why, that's my baked acorn squash stuffed with leftover Texas Red, that's what that is.

I have been eating chili all my life, but until I left home, I had only had chili that was made from ground beef and contained kidney beans. I loved it. I still do. But I soon realized that it's not the only chili kid on the block, and there are an awful lot of tasty contenders to get wrapped up in. These days, my chili might be made with ground buffalo and black beans, or, in Palle's case, ground turkey, pumpkin, and beer.

There is the great debate, of course: beans or no beans. People have very strong opinions on the subject, and while I am a fan of beans, generally speaking, I've certainly enjoyed the bean-less chiles that I've had. Tomatoes or no tomatoes is an almost as heated question. Certainly the chile of my childhood depended on tomatoes as part of the flavour and texture and overall body of the dish.

As I considered the different styles and recipes available, it gradually dawned on me that the dish I really wanted to make was closer to Mexican Carne con Chile than anything I had eaten as a kid, but I wanted an American style. A classic. I started doing some research on the classic preparations of Texas style chile, the infamous, notorious bowl of red.

Because I do like beans, I opted for red kidney beans on the side, and made them nice and spicy with lots of fresh green chiles. That's a whole separate recipe. And, because I do like cornbread, I made some to go with.

After extensively slogging my way through old American cookbooks and the interwebs in general, I found in Homesick Texan the inspiration for the chili that I wanted to make. It had almost everything I wanted: chocolate, ancho chiles, beer, chunks of tender meat braised long and low.

I confess to the scandalous addition of tomato paste, because I like the depth of flavour it brings, without contributing a particular tomato-y-ness to the entire affair.

Texas Red Chili
Adapted from Homesick Texan

4 ancho chiles
2 pasilla chiles

2 pounds of bottom blade beef, cut into 1/2 centimetre cubes

1 large onion diced

4 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 bottle of beer (I used Tankhouse Ale)

2 cups of water

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp allspice

1/2 tsp cayenne

2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon ancho powder (just for good measure)
1/3 mexican chocolate tablet, grated
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon Bufalo Jalapeno Hot Sauce

I heated the dried chiles by holding them over a flame on my gas stove until they became pliable. I tore them open and removed the seeds, and tore the pods into pieces. They went into a bowl with enough water to cover, and were let to soak for half an hour while I cut up the meat. I sprinkled the meat lightly with kosher salt.

I seared the meat in batches in my Dutch oven, then added the onions and garlic, and stirred them around until the onions became translucent. I added the tomato paste and dry spices, and stirred them around until everything was evenly coated. I deglazed the pan with some of the beer, then added the rest as a braising liquid, along with the water.

The chiles were retrieved from their soaking liquid, and pureed in a mini food processor with a little water to make a thin paste/thick sauce. This was then added to the chile pot.

Once the chili began to boil, I turned the heat down to low and let it simmer for about three hours, stirring occasionally.

I smashed up a couple of wedges from a Mexican hot chocolate disc using my meat mallet, and sprinkled the cocoa dust into the pot. I had some masa harina standing by to thicken it up, but it really didn't need any help, as far as I could tell Maybe a Texan would have wanted it thicker, but the spoon was standing up pretty well on its own, so that was good enough for me. I let the chili simmer for another half hour or so, and served as you see above.

Oh, and if you want to serve it (or the leftovers thereof, perhaps mixed with any leftover beans, or perhaps not) in a squash, simply hollow out a nice acorn squash, brush with canola oil and sprinkle with cumin and smoked paprika. Bake uncovered in a baking dish at 350℉ for about 20 to 30 minutes. Fill with hot chile, and maybe a nice coleslaw on the side.

December 04, 2010

International Bento (Germany/Ukraine): Sausage & Sauerkraut

Internationally speaking, this bento is a little German, a little Ukrainian/Russian, a little Polish... and generally north eastern European.

This bento was the result of leftovers, as is my usual modus operandi, The sausages and sauerkraut were cooked together in Riesling wine, using the recipe from Nigella Express, the perogies are potato, from Alenka on Kingsway in Vancouver, with caramelized red onions sprinkled over them.

I do note that the amount of sauerkraut that the recipe makes far exceeded our needs, so be advised to cut it in half if you don't want leftover kraut. Also, the amount of wine does not sufficiently cook away in the cooking time, so I have reduced it from 750 ml to 500 ml. The good news is, you get to drink the remaining 250 ml with dinner!

Sausages with Sauerkraut
Adapted from Nigella Express
Serves 6 - 8

950 grams jarred sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
2 teaspoons juniper berries or sprigs of fresh rosemary
3 dried bay leaves
8 smoked sausages, cut into shorter lengths
2 cups/500 ml dry Riesling wine
1 teaspoon white peppercorns

Spread the drained sauerkraut in the bottom of a small roasting pan. Sprinkle with juniper berries, bay leaves, and white peppercorns. Add the sausage pieces in a single layer, and carefully pour in the wine. Bring the mixture to a boil on the stovetop, then cover with foil and place in a 400℉ oven, and bake for 30 minutes (check the liquid level after 20 minutes, as your mileage may vary). Serve with mustard.

If you do not have juniper berries, sprigs of fresh rosemary give a similar effect of a woodsy floral note. It's not the same, of course, but it is a lovely alternative if juniper berries aren't something you can easily get.