Sunday, January 30, 2011

Dolmeh Felfel

Iranian stuffed bell pepper!
     There is no end to the great flavors in this Iranian style stuffed pepper entree!  There is no garlic in this recipe.  The mixture of herbs that are used to make the sabzi gives this stuffed pepper a very interesting aroma and flavor.
     A common Sabzi recipe is sauteed finely chopped herbs, fenugreek leaves, green onion and leek.  Dried fenugreek leaves can be found in Arabic or Persian markets.  Fenugreek is actually a vegetable, so the entire plant can occasionally be found at markets too.
     Ground lamb or ground beef can be used to make this entree.  I chose beef today.  Persian cuisine has many old traditional stuffed vegetable entrees.  This is a stuffed pepper recipe that is worth trying!
     Las Vegas has many fine Persian, Iranian and Arabic restaurants.  I chose to do sales representative work a few years ago in Las Vegas, while recovering from chemo therapy.  I was not able to do physical work at that time.  Our sales office was located next to one of best Persian restaurants in Las Vegas.  When we got out of the office in the evening, the aroma of great Persian food was in the air.  The aroma of the food from that Persian restaurant was very good advertising.  The aroma of the Persian food was a customer magnet!
     Sabzi Recipe:
     Place 6 to 8 finely minced mint leaves in a small bowl.
     Add 2 teaspoons of finely minced fenugreek leaves.
     Add 1 tablespoon of minced Italian parsley.
     Add 1 minced green onion.
     Add 1 tablespoon of minced leek.
     Heat a saute pan over medium low heat.
     Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
     Add the minced sabzi mixture.
     Gently saute the sabzi mixture, till it becomes aromatic.  (About 1 to 2 minutes)
     Add 1/4 cup of water.
     Reduce the liquid, till it is nearly evaporated.
     Set the mixture aside in a bowl.  (You can add a little bit of mashed fava bean or sesame paste to the sabzi to make it thick or leave it as is.)
     Persian Bell Pepper Stuffing Recipe:
     Soak 1/2 cup of basmati rice in water for one hour.
     Rinse the rice 5 times with water.
     Place the rice in a sauce pot.
     Cover the rice with 1 1/2 cups of water.
     Bring the rice to a boil.
     Cook the rice for 5 minutes.
     Drain the water off of the rice.
     Set the partially cooked rice aside.
     Heat a saute pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
     Add 2 tablespoons of finely chopped onion.
     When the onions start to turn clear in color, add about 4 ounces of lean ground beef.  (The amount of ground beef and stuffing, depends on the size of the pepper.)
     Break the ground beef into little pieces as it cooks.
     When the ground beef starts to brown, add the sabzi mixture.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Add 2 pinches of marjoram.
     Add 2 pinches of tarragon.
     Add 2 pinches of turmeric.
     Add just enough water, to cover the ground beef in the pan.
     Add 2 tablespoons of imported Italian canned crushed tomato.
     Simmer and reduce the liquid by half.
     Add some of the partially cooked rice.  (The amount of rice should be almost equal in volume to the amount of beef in the pan.)
     Stir the ingredients.
     Simmer till the liquid has nearly evaporated.
     Add 1 small squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
     Set the stuffing aside.
     Dolmeh Felfel:
     Cut a circle shaped opening on the top of a red bell pepper.
     Use a spoon to remove the pulp and seeds inside the pepper.
     Rinse the pepper seeds out of the bell pepper with cold running water.
     Shake out any excess water.
     Spoon the stuffing into the pepper.
     Pour a little bit of water in a small sauce pot.
     Set the stuffed red bell pepper upright in the sauce pot.  (Baking the pepper in a small sauce pot will keep it from falling over!)
     Drizzle a little bit of olive oil over the stuffed pepper.
     Partially cover the sauce pot with a lid.
     Place the sauce pot and pepper in a 325 degree oven.
     When the stuffed pepper becomes hot and it is still firm, uncover the sauce pot and place it back in the oven.
     When the stuffed pepper becomes cooked tender, then it is done baking.
     Place a small amount of cooked basmati rice that is seasoned with sea salt, black pepper, saffron and turmeric on a plate.  (Any leftover partially cooked rice from making the stuffed pepper can be finished and cooked for the bed of rice on the plate.)
     Set the stuffed pepper on the bed of rice.
     Garnish the rice with pomegranate fruit.
     This Iranian stuffed red bell pepper has a very nice aroma and flavor.  Iranian style stuffed pepper is not heavy, greasy or garlicky.  The bed of pomegranate jeweled rice adds a nice touch to the plate.
     This Persian style stuffed pepper recipe is a very nice change from the standard eastern european style stuffed green pepper with tomato sauce recipes.  Iranian food is aromatic and full of great healthy flavor!  Yummy!  ...  Shawna

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dolmeh Barg of Arabic Fresh Cheese and Saffron Rice with Za'atar Khubz Arabi and Persian Pickles

     Many people in the western world think of stuffed grape leaves as being Greek in origin.  Persia and Arabia are a source of plenty of traditional stuffed grape leaf recipes.
     Fresh cheese is popular in the middle east.  Some of the earliest cheeses in history are from this region.  Goat, sheep and cow's milk fresh cheese can found in nearly every Persian and Arabic market. American mediterranean markets stock many cheeses from this region.
     Saffron is one of the most sought after spices of them all.  The health benefits of saffron are astounding.  There many varieties of saffron and some can be quite pricy.  The lower the price does not always mean the lower in quality.  Safflower saffron is very cheap, but a couple extra pinches are required to deliver a nice saffron flavor.  Higher price crocus sativa saffron only requires a small pinch.
     Za'atar roasted sesame seed and wild thyme spice mixture has been popular since the days of ancient Egypt.  Za'atar spice mix can be found in Arabic markets everywhere.  Pre-mix za'atar can contain a long list of spices in the recipe.  Pre-mix za'atar spice mix is a bargain price, when compared to purchasing each ingredient separately.
     Khubz Arabi is pita bread.  Persian style pickled vegetables are commonly served with meals or as a mezze item.  There is a wide variety of Persian pickle products that are available in middle eastern markets.
     Keep in mind that most middle eastern food is finger food.  Sharing a plate of food that is placed on a fancy woven fabric mat on the ground, while sitting on pillows or on the floor and eating with fingers is a traditional social style of dining!  It is fun to dine with fingers instead of utensils too!
     Arabic Fresh Cheese and Saffron Rice Stuffing:
     The rice is cooked to a "risotto texture" for this recipe.
     Soak 3/4 cup of basmati rice in water for one hour.
     Rinse the rice twice with cold running water.
     Place the rice in a sauce pot.
     Add 1 1/4 cups of water.
     Place the sauce pot over medium high heat.
     Add 3 pinches of turmeric.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Add 1 minced garlic clove.
     Add 1 or 2 pinches of saffron.
     Bring the liquid to a boil.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Cover the pot with a lid.
     Simmer the rice, till it becomes fully cooked.
     Heat 1 cup of water in a saute pan over medium low heat.
     Add 3/4 cup of the saffron rice.
     Simmer the rice, till the rice becomes mushy and pasty.
     Stir occasionally and add water as necessary.
     Simmer till the rice becomes sticky and paste like.
     Add 1/2 of  chopped Arabic Fresh Cheese of your choice while stirring.
     Note:  Be sure to select a fresh cheese that has a high enough fat content that the cheese will melt.  Some Arabic fresh cheese has a very low fat content.  If no Arabic Fresh Cheese is available in your area, then Mexican Queso Fresco or farmer's cheese is a good substitute.
     When the rice and cheese mixture becomes starchy enough to gather like a ball in the pan, then it is ready to stuff the grape leaves.  There should be no excess water in the mixture at this point.
     Remove the pan from the heat.
     Allow the fresh cheese and saffron rice stuffing to cool to room temperature.
     Dolmeh Barg of Arabic Fresh Cheese and Saffron Rice:
     Carefully trim the thick grape leaf vein and stem off of 6 or 7 Persian Pickled Grape Leaves.
     Place a small dab of the rice stuffing on the stem end of the leaf.
     Roll the leaf one turn.
     Fold the leaf's sides over the stuffing.
     Roll the leaf so it becomes a small sealed cylinder shape, like a cigar.
     Place the stuffed grape leaf on a baking pan.
     Repeat theses steps to make several stuffed grape leaves.  (Roll the stuffed leaves, so they are uniform in size.  You may have to trim the larger grape leaves.)
     Be sure to place the stuffed grape leaves on the baking pan, so they are placed snuggly against each other in a row.
     Drizzle virgin olive oil over the stuffed grape leaves.
     Squeeze about 11 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice over the stuffed grape leaves.
     Cover the baking pan with foil or a lid.
     Bake in a 350º oven for about 4 to 7 minutes, till the stuffed grape leaves become hot.
     Keep the stuffed grape leaves warm on a stove top.
     Za'atar Khubz Arabi:
     Brush an 8" to 10" wide pita bread generously with virgin olive oil.
     Place the pita bread on a baking pan.
     Sprinkle a generous amount of Za'atar toasted sesame spice mix on the pita bread.
     Gently rub the za'atar on the oiled pita bread.
     Bake the pita bread in a 350º oven, till the sesame seed and spices become aromatic and the bread becomes warm.  (This only takes a couple of minutes to bake.  Do not cook the pita till it becomes crisp or the spice topping will burn!)
     Place the za'atar pita on a cutting board.
     Cut the pita bread into 4 pie slice shaped pieces.
     Keep the za'atar khubz arabi warm on a stove top.
     Dolmeh Barg of Arabic Fresh Cheese and Saffron Rice with Za'atar Khubz Arabi and Persian Pickles:
     Place the Dolmeh Barg of Arabic Fresh Cheese and Saffron Rice on a plate.
     Place the za'atar khubz arabi slices on the plate.
     Place some parsley sprigs on the plate.
     Place a couple of Persian pickled wild cucumbers on the plate.
     Place a pickled mild pepper on the plate.
     Place rolled roasted red pepper strips on the plate.
     Place a few olives on the plate.
     Sprinkle some fresh pomegranate fruit on the plate as a garnish for the stuffed grape leaves.
     This is a very satisfying plate of food for a casual afternoon meal or snack!  Yum!  ...  Shawna  

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Buffalo Steak a la Chanterelle Espagnole with Goat Cheese Polenta and Ancho Piloncillo Mayocoba Beans

     Buffalo is also known as American Bison.  Buffalo is now a free range wild game animal that is farmed on ranches rather than hunted.  The flavor of buffalo is stronger than beef and it is slightly milder tasting than venison.  Free range buffalo is very lean and it is chemical free!
     Buffalo is so lean, that it must be cooked rare to medium rare.  Overcooked buffalo can be tough and chewy!
     Mayocoba Beans are known as Peruvian Yellow Beans, Parrot Beans and Canary Beans.  The flavor of mayocoba beans is much milder than pinto beans and they have a slight buttery taste.  Piloncillo is raw sugar.  If no piloncillo is available in your area, then light brown sugar can be substituted.
     Goat cheese polenta has a rich sharp goat cheese flavor, when soft French chevre goat cheese is used.  Grecian feta cheese also can be used, but it is a brine packed goat cheese, so adding salt may be unnecessary.
     Chanterelle mushrooms have a classic flowery, woodsy flavor.  Chanterelles are also a very healthy wild mushroom to eat.
     There are several rich flavors on this plate that do not clash with each other.  The combination is interesting.  This is a very elegant tasting rustic style American bison steak dinner!

     If fresh chanterelles are used, then gently saute and sweat the chanterelles with butter, before adding the espagole sauce.
     For dried chanterelles, soak 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup of dried chanterelle slices or pieces in 2 cups of water  in a refrigerator overnight.
     Classic Sauce Espagnole:
     This espagnole recipe is by the book!  This recipe yields several portions of sauce.  The espagnole can be used for other recipes or it can be frozen in portions
     Place 4 pounds of veal bones, lamb bones, beef bones, pork bones and meat scraps in a roasting pan.
     Add 4 tablespoons of tomato paste.
     Add 12 ounces of a rustic un-peeled mirepoix of:
     - carrot
     - celery 
     - onion  
     Roast the mixture in a 350º oven till the bones and vegetables caramelize to a deep brown color.  Toss and stir the ingredients occasionally. 
     Place the bones and mirepoix into a stock pot. 
     Deglaze the roasting pan with water and add the jus to the stock pot. 
     Cover the bones with water and bring to a boil over high heat. 
     Turn the temperature to low heat and simmer for 4 hours. 
     Add water occasionally to cover the bones.
     By now the meat stock should be a rich brown color.
     Skim the grease off of the top of the simmering meat stock.
     Make a brown roux with equal parts of unsalted butter and flour while constantly stirring over medium high heat.  (3 1/2 ounces of unsalted butter and 3 1/2 ounces of flour should be enough.) 
     Do not stop stirring or the roux will scorch! 
     Keep stirring as the roux changes color from blonde to tannish red color and to a brown color. 
     Add enough of the brown roux to the meat stock pot to thicken the broth to a thin sauce consistency. 
     Simmer the thickened meat stock for one hour and stir it occasionally. 
     Strain the thickened meat stock through a fine mesh strainer into a sauce pot. 
     Discard the bones, meat scraps and vegetables. 
     Add 1/2 cup of sherry wine per quart of thickened meat sauce. 
     Add 1 bouquet garni of bay leaf, chervil and thyme. 
     Add 1 small handful of mushroom trimmings.
     Add 2 of chopped shallots. 
     Add sea salt and black pepper. 
     Simmer the sauce espagnole, till it becomes a medium thin sauce consistency. 
     Strain the espagnole sauce through a fine mesh strainer and set it aside.

     Ancho Piloncillo Mayocoba Beans:
     This recipe makes 2 to 3 small portions!  Canned mayocoba beans are fine for this recipe.
     Rinse the starchy water off of 1 cup of canned mayocoba beans or cooked mayocoba beans.
     Set the beans aside.
     Remove the stem and seeds from 1 dried ancho chile.
     Simmer the ancho chile in 1 1/3 cups of water over low in a sauce pot.
     When the ancho chile becomes soft and tender, pour ancho chile broth through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl.
     Slice the ancho chile into thin julienne strips.
     Place the ancho broth into a sauce pot over medium heat.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Add 3 tablespoons of piloncillo sugar.
     Add the sliced ancho chile strips.
     Simmer and reduce the sauce, till it becomes a very thin syrup consistency.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Add the reserved rinsed mayocabo beans.
     Gently stir, till the beans are coated with the syrup glaze.
     Keep the beans warm over very low heat.
     Goat Cheese Polenta:
     Boil 2 cups of water in a sauce pot over medium high heat.  (No broth is used to make this polenta.  The sharp flavor of the goat cheese should not be masked!)
     Slowly add some corn meal while whisking, till the water just starts to thicken.  (About 3/4 cup to 1 cup of corn meal is plenty.  You must constantly stir the polenta, till it is fully cooked.)
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Continue whisking the polenta, till it starts to become smooth, thick and creamy.
     Add 1 pat of unsalted butter.
     Add black pepper.
     Add 3 ounces of crumbled feta cheese or 2 ounces of French chevre cheese while whisking.
     When the cheese becomes thoroughly blended into the polenta, remove the pan from the heat.
     Add 2 pinches of finely chopped Italian parsley while whisking.
     Taste and add salt if necessary.
     Spoon the polenta into a star tipped pastry bag.
     Keep the polenta warm on a stove top.
     Chanterelle Espagnole:  
     Place the chanterelles and their soaking liquid into a sauce pot.
     Bring the mushroom broth to a boil over medium high heat.
     Reduce the temperature to medium low heat.
     Simmer till the liquid is reduced to about 1/2 cup.
     Add 3/4 cup of the espagnole sauce.
     Simmer and reduce the chanterelle espagnole sauce, till it becomes a medium thin sauce consistency.
     Keep the sauce warm over very low heat.
     Buffalo Steak:
     Buffalo is very lean.  Buffalo browns faster than beef and it cooks quicker than beef.  Take care not to over cook the buffalo steak!  Buffalo is best when it is cooked rare to medium rare.  Cooking the buffalo more than medium rare will cause the meat to become very tough.
     Season a 10 to 12 ounce buffalo sirloin strip steak with sea salt and black pepper.
     Heat a saute pan over medium/medium high heat.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of vegetable oil.
     Add 1 pat of unsalted butter.
     Pan sear the buffalo steak on both sides, till it becomes cooked rare to medium rare.  (A probe thermometer should read 115º to 130º.)
     Place the steak on a wire roasting rack and let it rest for 1 minute.
     Buffalo Steak a la Chanterelle Espagnole with Goat Cheese Polenta and Ancho Piloncillo Mayocoba Beans:
     Place the buffalo steak on a plate.
     Spoon the chanterelle mushrooms and espagnole sauce over the middle of the buffalo steak.  Try to mound the chanterelles high on the steak!
     Pipe the goat cheese polenta on the plate with a star tipped pastry bag.
     Place a small mound of the Ancho Piloncillo Mayocoba Beans on the plate.
     Garnish the polenta with an Italian parsley sprig.
     If you like the flavor of Boston Baked Beans, then you will like the flavor of ancho piloncillo mayocoba beans.  Ancho is a very mild chile that has a deep raison and classic rich dried chile flavor.
     I always try to share a special recipe every time that I cook wild game.  Especially buffalo.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Navy Bean Soup

     Navy bean soup is one of the most popular soups of all time.  There are many different recipes for navy bean soup.  This was the first navy bean soup recipe that I learned.  I watched an older chef, who was close to retirement age, make this recipe at a yacht club.  He said that he had been cooking this recipe since the 1930's.  His navy bean soup had old traditional flavors.
     This is a dark colored navy bean soup that is richer than what diner style restaurants usually serve.  I suppose that a basic thin consistency diner style restaurant navy bean soup may appeal to some people, but a thin light colored navy bean soup looks too much like canned navy bean soup.
     In my opinion, a basic thin light navy bean soup is not quite how this soup should be.  The old yacht club chef's recipe is the best navy bean soup recipe that I have ever tasted.  I have served this old soup recipe at several restaurants and it always sells out!
     Cooking the dried navy beans till they become the correct texture does take patience.  Hours of slow simmering will cause the bean's starches to thicken the soup.  When the soup is finished cooking, the beans will have a soft texture.
     Navy Bean Soup Recipe:
     This recipe makes enough soup for about 4 servings!
     Soak 4 cups of dried navy beans in water overnight in a refrigerator.
     Drain the water off of the beans.
     Rinse the navy beans under cold running water.
     Heat a sauce pot over medium low heat.
     Add 2 pats of unsalted butter.
     Add 1/4 cup of diced salt pork.
     Cook the salt pork, till it becomes lightly browned and the grease is rendered.
     Add 1 minced garlic clove.
     Add 1/3 cup of small diced celery.
     Add 1/3 cup of small diced carrot.
     Add 1/2 cup of small diced onion.
     Saute the vegetables, till they become tender.
     Add 1/2 cup of small diced ham.
     Add the soaked navy beans.
     Add 3 cups of pork broth.
     Add enough water to cover the beans with an extra 3" of liquid.
     Add 1/2 cup of peeled seeded and coarsely chopped tomato.
     Add 1 bay leaf.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.  (Do not add too much salt, because the salt pork and ham contain salt!)
     Add 2 pinches of thyme.
     Add 1 pinch of marjoram.
     Add 1 pinch of oregano.
     Add 2 pinches of paprika.
     Add 1 pinch of cayenne pepper.
     Add 1 teaspoon of cider vinegar.  (Optional.  Some people think that vinegar helps to prevent flatulence, but that has been proven to be incorrect.  Beans are the magical fruit!)
     Bring the soup to a boil over medium high heat.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Gently simmer the beans, till they become tender.
     Note:  It will be necessary to add water occasionally as the beans simmer.
     Once the beans become soft, mash 1/3 to 1/2 of the beans in the pot with a potato masher.
     Simmer and reduce the soup, till the mashed beans thicken the broth to a medium thin soup consistency.  Simmer till the remaining whole navy beans become very tender.
     Remove the bay leaf.
     Ladle the navy bean soup into a bowl.
     No garnish is necessary!
     A good navy bean soup has such a welcome, comfortable, hearty flavor.  Many people like to see whole beans in a bean soup.  Only enough ham and salt pork is added to flavor the soup.  Do not try to rush this soup by cooking it at too high of a temperature.  It is very easy to scorch a bean soup.  Just a small amount of each of the herbs is all it takes to make this navy bean soup taste great.  Yum!  ...  Shawna  

Monday, January 17, 2011

Chicken Kebab, Za'atar Khubz Arabi, Mushroom Stuffed Grape Leaves and Sumac Berry Yogurt

Great Persian and Arabic flavors!
     Khubz Arabi is what the western world calls pita bread.  Za'atar toasted sesame seed and wild thyme spice mix is such a very nice topping for khubz arabi.  Many secondary spices are in a za'atar spice mixture.
     Persian pickled vegetables are traditional condiments in the middle east.  Pickled wild cucumber has a very refreshing dill flavor.
     Mushrooms are commonly used in Persian cuisine.  There are traditional Iranian baked mushroom rice dishes that use morels, cepes, field mushrooms and common cave mushrooms.  The flavor of pickled grape leaves stuffed with mushroom rice is a nice change from meat and rice stuffings.  You can use fresh grape leaves if you wish, but the must be blanched first.  Pickled grape leaves are very nice.
     The sumac berry spice flavored goat's milk yogurt is very tart and refreshing.  The chicken kebabs were marinated with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and a few common Arabic spices.  The flavors and aroma of this kebab platter will put a smile on a face!
     Mushroom Stuffed Grape Leaves Recipe:
     Boil 1/2 cup of basmati rice with 1 cup of water.
     Add 1 1/3 cup of finely chopped mushrooms.
     Place the rice and mushroom mixture into a mixing bowl.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Add 2 minced garlic cloves.
     Add 3 pinches of fenugreek.
     Add 2 pinches of cumin.
     Trim the stem and thick vein off of a few pickled grape leaves.
     Place a little bit of the rice mixture on the stem end of a grape leaf.  (About 2 tablespoons.  The amount depends on the size of the grape leaves.)
     Roll the leaf over and fold the sides over the stuffing.
     Roll the stuffed grape leaf, so it is tight and shaped like a sealed small cigar.
     The stuffing must be completely sealed by the grape leaf.
     Place each stuffed grape leaf into a casserole dish as you make them.
     Drizzle some olive oil over the stuffed grape leaves.
     Squeeze some lemon juice over the grape leaves.
     Warm the stuffed pickled grape leaves in a 250 degree oven.
     Take care not to let the grape leaves dry out.
     Set the stuffed pickled grape leaves on top of an oven to keep them warm.
     Chicken Kebab Recipe:
     Trim all the skin and fat off of a 5 to 6 ounce chicken breast filet.
     Cut the chicken filet into large bite size pieces.
     Place the chicken pieces into a mixing bowl.
     Add 2 cloves of chopped garlic.
     Add 1 teaspoon of ginger paste.
     Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
     Add 1 tablespoon of fresh squeezed lemon juice.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Add 2 pinches of crushed dried red chile pepper.
     Add 2 pinches of marjoram.
     Add 1 pinch of oregano.
     Add 1 pinch of basil.
     Add 3 pinches of fenugreek.
     Add 1 pinch of cinnamon.
     Add 2 pinches of cumin.
     Add 2 pinches of sumac berry.
     Add 1 pinch of mace.
     Mix the ingredients together.
     Allow the chicken pieces to marinate in a refrigerator for one hour.
     Place the chicken pieces on a skewer with pearl onions and small green pepper pieces.  (This kebab features the chicken, so do not put too many vegetables on the kebab.)
     Broil the kebab in an oven or roast it over a char grill, till the chicken becomes fully cooked.
     Za'atar Khubz Arabi:
     Place an 8"wide pita bread flat on a counter top.
     Generously brush the pita bread with olive oil.
     Sprinkle some Za'atar sesame seed spice mix on the olive oil.
     Sprinkle a little more olive oil over the za'atar seasoning.
     Bake the za'atar khubz in a 350 degree oven, till it becomes warm and the za'atar sesame seed aroma develops.
     Set the za'atar khubz aside and keep it warm.  (Only bake the pita bread, till it is warm and soft.  Do not bake the pita bread till it is toasted crisp!)
     Chicken Kebab, Za'atar Khubz Arabi, Mushroom Stuffed Grape Leaves and Sumac Berry Yogurt:
     Place the za'atar khubz arabi on a platter.
     Place a few Italian parsley sprigs on the platter.
     Place a pickled wild cucumber on the parsley.
     Place a couple of dates next to the pickle.
     Place the mushroom stuffed grape leaves on the platter.
     Mix 2 to 3 tablespoons of plain goats milk yogurt in a bowl with 1 generous pinch of sumac berry spice.
     Place the sumac berry yogurt into a small ramekin.
     Set the ramekin next to the stuffed grape leaves.
     Place the chicken kebab across the za'atar khubz arabi.
     The chicken is meant to be removed from the skewer and eaten with the bread.  You can tear off small pieces of the bread or simply fold it in half like a sandwich.  The sumac spiced yogurt can be poured over the mushroom stuffed pickled grape leaves or used as a dip.
     Do not be shy about using your fingers to eat this plate of food.  This is finger food, just like many Arabic and Persian entrees are!
     The flavors and aromas of this simple kebab platter are so captivating.  Persian and Arabic spice flavors with lemon and olive oil is such a classic combination.  The sweet dates and the refreshing pickled wild cucumber add a nice touch to this platter.  Yum!  ...   Shawna

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Macadamia Coconut Crusted Mahi Mahi with Pineapple Coconut Creme

Tropically delicious!
     This is an old traditional Hawaiian recipe that I learned many years ago.  The mild flavor of macadamia nuts, pineapple and coconut go very nicely with mahi mahi!
     The first two non-English languages that I learned in California grade school were Hawaiian and Japanese.  The grade school language education was very basic, but it did teach me to pronounce words in those two languages correctly.  My interest in those two cultures increased after that basic language education.  Later in life, I developed an interest in Hawaiian and Japanese food.
     While working as a chef in Florida, caribbean cooking was very popular.  A cuisine called Floribbean arose during those years.  Floribbean is a mixture of tropical caribbean cuisine and Florida cracker style cuisine.
     I thought that a good education in tropical cuisine was most likely to be found by studying Hawaiian cuisine, so I was off to the library to study Hawaiian cook books.  I found some great traditional Hawaiian recipes and cooking ideas that were far better than what was being offered during the Floribbean cooking trend.  I successfully adopted a few Hawaiian cuisine ideas to the new Floribbean style cuisine.
     The fish that is called dolphin is called mahi mahi in the Hawaiian language.  Dolphin was a terrible sale commercially, because many people confused the name dolphin with the sea mammal called porpoise.  When we gave dolphin filets the Hawaiian name mahi mahi, the restaurant's dolphin sales sky rocketed!  Mahi mahi became a very desirable restaurant fish.
     This Hawaiian macadamia nut and coconut crusted mahi mahi recipe that I researched was one that I never cooked in a restaurant, but it is a recipe that I could never forget.  It sounded so good!  This is the first time that I have ever cooked this Hawaiian recipe after learning it twenty years ago.  I am sorry that I waited so long to cook this recipe, because it turned out to be fantastic!
     Macadamia Coconut Crusted Mahi Mahi Recipe:
     Cut an 8 ounce mahi mahi filet into 1 inch size cube shapes.
     Dredge the mahi mahi pieces in flour.
     Dip the fish pieces in egg wash.
     Dredge the egg washed mahi mahi cubes in a 50/50 mixture of fine chopped macadamia nuts and shredded coconut.
     Pour enough vegetable oil into a small saute pan, so that the oil is about 1/4" deep.
     Heat the oil in the saute pan over medium heat to 360º.
     Note:  You have to work quickly during this next step so the coating on the fish does not burn!
     Place the macadamia coconut coated mahi mahi pieces in the hot oil.
     Pan fry the mahi mahi pieces, till the coating becomes a light golden brown color on all sides.  Use a pair of tongs to gently flip the pieces in the pan.  Take care not to knock the coating off of the fish pieces.  Do not try to fully cook the mahi mahi in the hot oil, or the macadamia coconut coating will become very dark!
     When the mahi mahi pieces become a golden brown color, remove them from the oil and place them in a baking pan.
     Bake the macadamia coconut crusted mahi mahi pieces in a 350 degree oven, till the fish becomes fully cooked.  (Do not bake the fish pieces for too long of a time or they will burn!)
     While the fish is finishing in the oven, the sauce can be made.
     Pineapple Coconut Cream Sauce Recipe:
     Heat a sauce pot over medium heat.
     Add 2 pats of butter.
     Add 1 handful of chopped fresh pineapple.
     Saute the pineapple, till it lightly caramelizes.
     Reduce the temperature to medium low/low heat.
     Add 1 cup of rich thick coconut milk.
     Add 1 pinch of allspice.
     Add sea salt and white pepper.
     Heat the sauce, till it gently simmers.
     Add a very small amount of cornstarch and cold water slurry, while stirring, to thicken the sauce to a medium thin sauce consistency.
     Reduce the temperature to very low heat.
     Simmer and the sauce gently, so the coconut milk does not separate.
     Macadamia Coconut Crusted Mahi Mahi with Pineapple Coconut Creme:
     Remove the mahi mahi pieces from the oven.
     Spoon the pineapple coconut creme sauce on a plate as a bed for the mahi mahi.
     Arrange the macadamia coconut crusted mahi mahi pieces on top of the sauce.
     Serve with vegetables of your choice.
     The flavor of this recipe is pure tropical Hawaiian!  I think of that old TV show "Gilligan's Island" when I eat food like this!
     Macadamia nuts have the highest amount of healthy fats to be found in any nut.  Macadamia nuts are native to Australia and they have been farmed in Hawaii for many years.  The flavors of coconut and pineapple are a classic flavor combination.  The mahi mahi flavor is very mild and delicious.
     The flavors and textures of this entree combine to send the taste buds into tropical paradise.  Yum!  Aloha!  ...  Shawna  

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Pompano en Papillote with Green Peppercorn Garlic Shallot Butter Sauce

     Pompano is an elegant delicate tasting tropical fish.  Pompano always commands a higher price on a restaurant menu.  This fish is best with lighter flavored sauces and preparations.  You do not want to mask the flavor of this fine white fish with heavy rich sauces.  Coumpound butter, beuure blanc, vin blanc glace and butter creams are classic sauce styles for pompano.
     I have cooked a few tons of Florida pompano during my career.  Both Florida pompano and African pompano are considered to be among the finest of gourmet fish.  Pompano are vegetarian, so they are caught with gill nets.

     I was working at a trendy seasonal restaurant in Florida with a couple of really wild party animal cooks.  We always were going out and doing crazy things after work in the middle of the night.  One of the cooks was a huge Iroquois Native American and he weighed almost 350 pounds.  He had a 16 foot long canoe.
     We once got the bright idea to go out in Sarasota Bay with that 16 foot canoe and use a 200 foot long gill net to catch some pompano at midnight.  A 16 foot canoe with no running lights at night is not exactly a good choice for an ocean going craft!  The case of beer we were drinking helped us to make the decision that the small canoe would be just fine for netting pompano in the middle of the night.
     We paddled out in the middle of the bay and started dragging "half moons" with the gill net.  The canoe was slowly leaking and we occasionally had to stop to bail water out of the canoe.  The huge 350 pound Iroquois cook was in the back of the canoe, so my end of the canoe was raised out of the water most of the time because of the big guy's weight.
     It must have been a funny sight to see!  A canoe with one end above the water, slowly leaking with dozens of empty beer bottles floating around in it.  It was even funnier seeing us pull that 200 foot gill net around the bay while drunk.
     We felt a good bit of weight on the net and the floats were bobbing in the water.  We knew that we had netted a good catch of pompano!  Well, we started pulling the 200 foot long net in by hand in the dark.  We had some moon light shining down, so we could see what we were doing.  When we noticed that some of the first pompano in the net were half eaten by sharks, we absolutely went berserk trying to get the net in the boat, before the sharks ate all of the pompano on the net.
     We got side tracked from the duty of occasionally bailing the water out of the leaking canoe.  We got the net into the canoe with almost 75 pounds of whole pompano in the net that were not half eaten by sharks.  We also had about 30 pounds of pompano that were half eaten by sharks in the net.
     The odor of fish blood in a leaking canoe is like a shark magnet and that is not a good thing.  We looked at each other when we saw the water flooding the canoe and I said "We are going to be shark bait in a minute, unless we bail all this water out of the canoe right now!"
     No sooner than we got the water bailed out to a safe level, the tide had changed.  We paddled as hard as we could for two hours, against the tide, just to make it back to the key island in the bay where we started from.  The front end of the canoe was riding high out of the water because of the weight of that 350 pound cook, the beer, the sea water and the pompano that were at in the back end of the canoe.  I had to lean over the gunwale of the canoe just to reach the water with my paddle.  Every once and a while, a fish would jump out of the water at me while I was trying to paddle.  That is a bad sign that indicates there is a shark in the water underneath the canoe.  That was all the inspiration that I needed to paddle harder to try to get back to shore!
     When we finally got back to shore where started, we both passed out from exhaustion.  It was quite a physical effort to get back to shore.  When we sobered back up.  We used the half eaten pompano that the sharks were dining on as bait on a fishing line to catch some bigger fish.  It was almost sunrise when we decided to call it quits for the night.
     We cleaned and iced down the 75 pounds of whole pompano.  We showed up at the restaurant later that day to work the evening shift and to sell the pompano.  We got $6.00 a pound for the 75 pounds of pompano.  We looked at each other and said "Lets do it again tonight!"
     I cannot say that I was not a crazy Florida girl in those days.  You have to be crazy to go out to net pompano in a small leaky canoe, like we did in the middle of the night! 
     Filleting Pompano: 
     The first couple of photos show the proper way to filet pompano so no meat is wasted.  This is how fish is cut at a good fishery.  I worked at a fishery restaurant that was located at the docks of a Florida bay.  Fishing boats dropped their catch at our docks.  There is no way to get fresher fish than that!
     I started work at 6:00AM and cut fish till 4:00PM.  Then we all took a break, before setting the kitchen up to open for the dinner business at 5:00PM.  I then cooked dinner in the restaurant till 11:00PM at night.  That is a long work day schedule, but good money was made!  At a fishery restaurant, long hours and a good rate of pay are only offered to those who are good at what they do.  Being good at what you do means working fast and wasting nothing!

     Cut behind the head along the gill line and follow the gill line, with the knife angled into the back of the head.  (Cut a vertical slice behind the gill down to the back bone.)  
     Cut through the skin on the top edge of the fish. 
     Use a slicing motion that glides between the meat and the bones.  The knife scraping against the bones should be felt.  Continue running the blade against the bones along the entire length of the fish, while rolling the meat away from the carcass, till the filet is no longer attached to the carcass.  
     Place the filets on a cutting board with the skin side down.  Press the tail end with your fingers and run a filet knife between the skin and the meat, to remove the fish skin.
     Two knife slices on both sides of the pin bone line will allow the pin bone section to become free. Pull the whole thin pin bone section off of the filet.
     The fish head and bones can be used to make a fumet for another recipe.

     Pompano en Papillote with Green Peppercorn Garlic Shallot Butter Sauce:
     Clean, gut, filet and skin 1 whole fresh pompano.
     Heat 3 pats of unsalted butter in a saute pan over medium low/low heat.
     Add 2 teaspoons of minced shallot.
     Add 1 minced garlic clove.
     Sweat the shallots and garlic together, till they become tender and sweet.  The shallots should be clear in color at this point.
     Remove the pan from the heat.
     Place the pompano filets on a large piece of parchment paper that has been brushed with butter.  The parchment paper should be a few inches wider than the fish filets.
     Spoon the shallots and garlic butter over the pompano.
     Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of lemon juice over the pompano.
     Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of dry white wine over the pompano.
     Season with sea salt and white pepper.
     Sprinkle about 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons of canned brine packed green peppercorns over the pompano.
     Brush a second large piece of parchment paper with butter.
     Lay the second parchment paper sheet over the fish.
     Use kitchen shears to trim the parchment sheets so they are at least 2 inches larger than the shape of the fish.
     Fold the edges of the parchment paper to seal the fish inside the "paper bag."
     Place the pompano en papillote on a baking pan.
     Bake the pompano en papillote for about 10 to 12 minutes in a 350º oven.
     Note:  The baking time depends on the size of the pompano.  After the parchment bag puffs up like a balloon in the oven, then it should be done baking and the fish will be steamed from its own juices and the sauce.
     Set the pompano en papillote on a serving platter.
     Open the parchment paper with a sharp knife at the table.
     Use a spatula to set the pompano filets on a serving plate.
     Serve with a potato and vegetable of your choice.
     Spoon the thin green peppercorn, shallot, garlic and butter sauce from the papillote over the pompano filets on the plate.
     The aroma of the pompano and butter sauce that escapes when the papillote is cut open is mouth watering!  Pompano is a very light, clean and tender tropical fish and the light tasting green peppercorn and sweated garlic shallot butter sauce does not overwhelm the delicate flavor of the pompano.
     Pompano en papillote is one of the most famous entrees that there is.  One taste and you will see why!  Yum!  ...  Shawna