Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Burundi

Ugh...since starting this journey, Wikipedia has changed the way they list the sovereign states.  Before the non-UN members were separated, now they aren't.  Abkhazia is now first.  What?  Where?  Exactly.

I plan to proceed as before.  If a new recognized country pops us, like South Sudan, they will certainly be included.  However, Nagorno-Karabakh isn't recognized by any UN member states, and I am not going to include it.  For now.  We'll see about later.  I need to draw the line somewhere.

Burundi

Background: After 100 days in office, the first democratically elected president of Burundi was assassinated.  This led to a conflict that lasted almost 12 years and took the lives of more than 200,000 Burundians
Location: Central Africa
Area: Over 27,000 sq km; 147th largest in the world
         Slightly smaller than Maryland
Population: Over 10.2 million; 81st largest in the world
                  It is estimated that only 2.5% of the population is 65 and older
Population Growth Rate: 3.5%; 5th largest in the world
Capital: Bujumbura
Life Expectancy at Birth: 58.78 years; 190/222
HIV/AIDS in Adults: 3.3%; 21st highest in the world
Per Capita GDP: $300; Lowest in the world
Source: CIA Factbook

Given my history with the recipes of small African nations, I wasn't so sure what would happen with Burundi.  The first dish I found was seafood, so that was out.  I promise I am getting better, but I'm not quite there yet.  Then I found multiple mentions of a dish called Boko Boko Harees.  It sounded good, but also oddly familiar.  I searched my memory and did some research.  Harees and harissa share a Wikipedia article.  Harissa.  What I made for Armenia.

So how did it end up in Burundi?  Apparently the commonality here is the Middle Eastern influence.  This article explains a bit, but I still feel like there are some questions.  Where is the origin?  Is it common everywhere with an Arabic influence?

And more immediate, should I make it?  It is so similar to what I had previously done.  Wasn't I supposed to be trying new things?  But there were a few differences - I would get to use ghee for the first time.  There were spices in this version.  I decided, in the end, this is exactly what I wanted.  I could learn how the same dish is interpreted differently by different countries.  What better way to really experience the diversity of the world?  So I had my recipes, and even some leftover bulgur wheat.  Oh happy day.

Plus, I found a dessert recipe: Date Banana Mix.  I'm not entirely sure about authenticity, but since it is the secondary, I wasn't as worried.  It was listed as Burundian and therefore good enough

After soaking the wheat for a few hours, I got Kevin to help speed up the meat defrosting, and took my first few steps.
I'm getting pretty good at this soaking thing.
I didn't tell him the picture was done and he almost made it overflow.
 Not wanting to grate the onions, I took out my handy-dandy food processor.
Cutting it into smaller portions makes the job much easier.
At this point I have the chicken, onion, water, and salt in a pot, getting to boiling.  I used this time to start working on the dessert dough.

Now, the first step reads "Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy."  Steps like this make me realize how little I really know about cooking.  And I'm the one writing the blog.  Scary.

I took the butter right out of the fridge for this step.  Didn't warm it, didn't let it get to room temperature.  Sometimes recipes don't include steps because they aren't well written.  Sometimes they don't include them because they are common sense.  I often have a problem with these.  :-(
Not getting light and fluffy.
This is what I ended up with.
Recommendation: if you need to mix butter, at least let it soften a bit.  Otherwise your mixers will only get through a little bit at a time and you will end up with a mess.  Learn from my mistakes.

I worked through all of the dough, and then I had to move to the chicken.  Kevin took over the rest of the dessert.  What a good husband.
I was worried it was going to be too dry, but it came together quite well.
First and foremost an engineer.  Here he is trying to figure out if the pan measurement was for the bottom or top of the pan.
What beautiful work.  Our pan was smaller than the recipe called for.
If you look closely (nope, closer...), the chicken recipe called for "turmeric paste" not just turmeric.  eHow told me how to make it.  Basically, one part turmeric to two parts water.  Heat.  Stir.  Paste.  I halved the chicken recipe, so mine ended being up a very...quick job.
The end result.  I think if I had made more the consistency could have been different.
When I scraped it up, this is what I got.  Actually kinda like paste!
I was also left with this.  When I added water to the next part, I ran it over the pan first to get up the leftovers.  See?  I know a few tricks.
Kevin was still working diligently on the dessert.  It required a lot of chopping.  He very similar to me and likes things laid out.  There was no mention of sizes or whether the ingredients should go in in layers or not.  Why do they never tell you?
Neither of us has worked with dates much before, so it was a new experience.
He wanted to make sure you saw the overkill knife he was using due to the dishes situation.  There were also some captions I was spefically NOT allowed to put...
Very neat and ordered.
Due to the unevenness of a layer of dates, the top was more difficult.
After the Date and Banana Mix was ready to go in the oven, I let Kevin go off and play on the computer.  One he had done a lot of work.  And two, I didn't want him to see what I had to do next.
The recipe calls for giblets, but I had to make due with what I could find.  I remember my mom greatly enjoying them, but they are new to me.  Yay to adventures!  I just picked a few pieces out and went for it.  I wasn't sure how much a "set of giblets" would equate to, so I just made it up.
Mmmm...chicken pieces.
I wanted Kevin in the other room so that there wouldn't be a bias from knowing what he was eating.  He obliged and continued to be my geeky husband.
Take the galaxy from the Empire, Jedi!
Tesla wants to be an architect when he grows up.
Kevin titled this one the "World's Most Expensive Pillow."
After the chicken was done boiling, I had to let it sit for a bit so it wouldn't burn me.  If there is still any amount of steam, just wait.  Trust me.  This allowed for some cleaning and finishing touches.
The difference between Kevin and me.  Note the banana peels and things still all sitting out.
Sweet turmeric sauce = complete!
Shredding the chicken by hand isn't too bad if it is cool enough, but it is a bit tedious.
The pile is bigger than it appears.
Do you know what ghee is?  Thanks to the international food I have been researching and some of the blogs I read, it is something I have been aware of for a while.  I have never gotten to use it before, though.  It is a clarified butter.  Yay delicious flavor!  It added a wonderful smell.

At this point I'm just supposed to add the ghee and serve, but the consistency was all wrong.  Instead of "thick dough" it was watery and not very cohesive.
I kept putting it on for more time, but it only helped marginally.  We finally just had to go for it and set the table.
Kevin and the dessert he mostly made.
Boko Boko Harees, with the sweet turmeric sauce mixed in.
You may notice there are no fried onions even though the recipe called for them as a side.  YOU ARE RIGHT.  We probably weren't going to eat it, so it wasn't worth wasting the food.  Sometimes you have to know your limitations.

The dish was a solid meh.  It was (obviously) very similar to the Armenian dish, but not quite there.  The sweet turmeric definitely added flavor, but not enough to elevate to a "would ask for this" status.  I can definitely see how this would help you get some nutrients and substance when it is needed.  Similar to the dish from Armenia, it could be versatile with different spices and additives.  Edible.  Not bad.  Not great.

The dessert, however, was excellent.  The dough was good and still had some fluff left.  The banana gave a nice texture and the dates really went well.  It wasn't too hard to make, and you only need a small serving to feel like you had your dessert.  Perhaps a good dish to pass?  International potluck!

I am incredibly excited for next time.  Thank God for moving through the alphabet!  It goes beyond just that, though, and I can't wait to eat this food.

Next time: Cambodia

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Burma (Myanmar)

Location: Southeast Asia, between Bangladesh and Thailand
Area: Over 675,000 sq km; 40th largest in the world
         Slightly smaller than Texas
Population: Almost 54 million; 24th most in the world
Capital: Rangoon
People living with HIV/AIDS: 240,000; 25th most in the world
Name: Military authorities in Burma promote the name Myanmar instead
Diplomacy: The US and Burma do not have ambassadors to each other
Per capita income: $1400; 203/228 in the world
Source: CIA Factbook

When I  e-mail the embassies, I have no idea what will come back.  It is often an "address not found" or "mailbox full," but usually just nothing.  So I was pleasantly surprised when I received this from Burma (I have edited only some of the spacing):
Dear Mr, Danielle,

Thank you for interesting our Myanmar food recipes. We have four or five Myanmar restaurants around Washington DC. Here are the list and address –

Even though these are Myanmar restaurant, they tend to make the taste for local people.
Try to go there and taste our food. You can also asked them about recipes.

1) Myanmar Restaurant
7810 Lee Hwy
Ste C
Falls Church, VA 22042
(703) 289-0013
2) Burma Restaurant
740 6th St NW
(between N G Pl & N H St)
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 638-1280
3) Mandalay Restaurant & Café
 930 Bonifant St, Silver Spring MD20910 38.994131 -77.024837
 (Btwn Fenton St & Georgia Ave)
4) Burma Road
617 S Frederick Ave
Gaithersburg, MD 20877(301) 963-1429 
5) Taste of Burma
126 Edds Lane
Sterling, VA 20165
Phone: 703-444-8510

Embassy of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar
2300 S St NW Washington DC, 20008
Different from the other embassies in that it does not include a recipe or even a specific dish, but a wealth of resources in the restaurants around.  I had no idea there was so much Burmese cuisine in the DC area.

And yes, I was aware that they were also called Myanmar.  I am using the Wikipedia list, however, and there it is under Burma.

I started looking up the restaurants on yelp and the general interwebs.  There wasn't time to go to any of them before cooking, but I could see what people mentioned in the comments and what foods seemed universal.  The first thing that caught my eye was Burmese Khao Suey.  This is just one of many versions out there.  However, many mentioned that this was the Indianized version of the Burmese dish.  It was hard to tell what was authentic and what was just labeled "Burmese" the way we label "French" fries.

Then I found this recipe for Ohn-No-Kauk-Swe (Burmese Chicken Soup).  It had similar ingredients to the Khao Suey, and at least this was from someone who said they lived in Burma.  It was reverse engineered, and therefore perhaps lost something in translation, but it was supposed to taste like the real thing.  I had my recipe!

Now...the ingredients.  Some of them were a bit hard to find.  Fish sauce.  Chickpea flour.  Coconut cream.  I eventually found the first in Giant.  In the comments, someone mentioned using hummus and corn starch for the chickpea flour, so I did that.  I went to at least three stores looking for coconut cream.  I found coconut water, coconut milk, coconut juice, coconut, coconut drink, and cream of coconut (sweetened version).  No coconut cream.  I decided to go with the milk, because Wikipedia told me that they were closely related.  Recipe full of compromise.

On top of everything else, my parents and brothers were visiting!  This seemed like a good meal to feed to a crowd, so it worked out.  I doubled the recipe to accommodate everyone.  I also had plenty of help.  I started with the noodles and chicken while Kevin and Patrick handled the food processor.
This was the closest I could find to "thin egg noodles."
Look at Patrick go!
I did cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces, but also threw in the bones.  They would add some flavor.  I reduced the water for the chickpea flour, since I was actually starting with hummus.
Spelled differently than I am used to...


Now the boys went off to play some NCAA while I continued to slave in the kitchen.  Separate from just adding ingredients and stirring, another pot with the thickeners had to be started.  I didn't have a sieve, but the hummus didn't create any lumps.  While I multi-tasked, the cats lounged.
Tesla's new favorite place was under my mom's wheelchair.
Curie really likes small enclosed spaces.
Tesla wants to know why he can't join.
I had to call the boys back to help with the garnishes since there were so many.  They were very accommodating.  They created every one.  Patrick was even in charge of hard boiling the eggs.
Kevin was slicing and dicing away.
Our solution for not being able to find the right lid.
Patrick wanted everyone to know how helpful he was.
Patrick even made us all try...something.

With the aid of my sous chefs, things were ready.  We have added all of the ingredients to the pot, and the garnishes areall set up.  I reheated the noddles and added the finishing touches.
Super-full table, after adding all of the salad fixings.
Most of us didn't end up eating at the table.

I'm not really sure where the real test was here.  The younger people, or those who aren't trying to maintain their football figure, and therefore may be more discerning?

It didn't end up mattering, as everyone was pleased.  The soup was delicious.  It was full of rich flavor, and the ability to customize with the sides made everyone happy.  Personally, I liked adding some lime, crushed red chilies, eggs, and a bit of fish sauce.  Everyone had their own way.

My mother commented that it reminded her of Mrs. Grass's Noodle Soup, which I would have to agree.  And since that was one of my favorites growing up, I can't complain.

The only change I would make is to add more chicken, but that may be a result of some of my substitutions.  With the real ingredients, it would have been thicker, richer.  Without that, it needed something to fill it out more.  As it was, after a few rounds of leftovers, there was mostly just broth left because we had eaten all of the meat.

This dish definitely gets a high grade from me.  So far I have been very lucky when cooking for other people.  Will that continue?  Only time will tell.

I plan to visit at least one of these restaurants, and perhaps try some more authentic Ohn-No-Kauk-Swe.  This experience definitely makes me want to plan for this meal out soon.

Next time: Burundi