Monday, October 29, 2012

Egypt

Sailing up the River Nile
Photo courtesy of user runintherain on Flickr

Sigh.  I took pictures.  And I didn't even drop the camera.  But then the memory card decided that it didn't want to work.  So I lost them all.  Such is life...

History: The first unified Egyptian kingdom arose circa 3200 BC.  The last native dynasty fell in 341 BC to the Persians.
More Recent History: Egypt recently had their first presidential election since the fall of the former president Hosni Mubarak.

Location: Northern Africa, bordering Asia
Area: About 1 million sq km; 30th largest in the world; Slightly more than 3 times the size of New Mexico
Geography: Egypt controls the Sinai Peninsula (only land bridge between Africa and the rest of the Eastern Hemisphere) and the Suez Canal (Sea link between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea).
Ethnic Groups: 99.6% Egyptian
Population: Almost 84 million; 15th largest in the world
Capital: Cairo
Public Debt: 85.7% of GDP; 17th highest in the world

Source: CIA Factbook

Egypt's importance in global history could be demonstrated by looking in most grade schools and seeing how many projects and lessons are done on Ancient Egypt.  Personally, I remember doing a group project where we built an ancient Egyptian village out of sugar cubes and various other grade school construction materials.  I'm sure that many of you have similar memories.

Today, I learn most of my Egyptian news from podcasts, mostly PRI's The World.  Egypt's world influence continues even now.  The protests and regime changes in the Arab world did not stop nor end with Egypt, but it seemed as though their protests truly held the world at attention.

I have one personal source for information on Egypt: my friend Laura.  She studied abroad there for a full year in college.  When I asked her for a recommendation on a recipe, she immediately and emphatically responded with "Koshari."  I sent her a few recipes to make sure they looked right and this was one of them that got the stamp of approval, as long as I used elbow noodles.  So now we have a plan!

One of my international cookbooks also had some Egyptian recipes to help me round out the meal.  I picked falafel and hummus.  I know that hummus isn't necessarily Egyptian, but it is the right region and it was on the same page as falafel.  That counts, right?

Also, I apologize.  Usually the pictures help me remember everything I did, so this will probably be even more scattered than normal.

I had to soak the chickpeas for both the falafel and the hummus the night before.  Yay planning.  The falafel recipe told me that I would have to skin all of them after they soaked.  Really?  You want me to skin two cups of beans?  I looked up other recipes and they didn't include this step, so I ignored it.  My rebel status is cemented.

The falafel was going to take the longest, so I started there.  The first step is to blend them all.  Attempt one: food processor.  There were too many beans (Picture chickpeas falling everywhere.)  Attempt two: blender. I didn't put them all in, and figured I would add some slowly.  Blend!  It only works on the bottom ones.  Try again!  Still no go.  That's when I decide to use my spoon to push them down.

Now, more than ever, I wish I had pictures to show you.  You could see the spoon with a large chunk taken off of it.  You could see splinters in among the not-so-blended chickpeas.  You could see that we didn't-so-much have falafel for dinner that night.

Lesson learned.  Next time use metal.
Just kidding.
Maybe.

One down (for good), two to go!

The chickpeas for the hummus were still usable though, which was good.  They also (if I am remembering correctly) fit in the food processor.  I processed them with some tahini, garlic, lemon juice, and water.  I also added a bit of salt and pepper, as it prescribed.

After blending, I topped it with some paprika and olive oil.  They recommended serving it with radishes and olives, but instead we had some pita chips.  Who would go the healthy way?

For the Koshari, I couldn't actually find brown lentils.  There were red and I think green, but no brown.  I just figured that regular, no-color-specified lentils were brown, then.

There really isn't too much to write about this without pictures.  You cook the lentils, rice, and noodles.  Fry the onions and garlic, then add all of the other ingredients to make a sauce.  I do remember reading some comments that it needed a little more flavor, so I added some extra red pepper flakes.  A LOT of red pepper flakes.  I also know I used a red onion because I had already chopped that up for the falafel before the disaster.

The lentils, rice, and noodles become the base for the dish, and the rest is a sauce on the top.  And I don't need a picture for this part, because it actually looked like the picture with the recipe.  No joke.  I remember thinking that when I served it, too.  Hey, I did something right!

The hummus was...okay.  It felt like something was missing.  It almost felt like it needed to be roasted or something.  The flavor was very flat.  Normally I love hummus.  Does anyone have a good recipe that they recommend?

The koshari, however, was quite delicious.  It was filling and flavorful.  Maybe a bit too much.  The spice ended up being more that I would normally like.  I could still eat it though.

I think the change I would make would be to double the sauce, as I saw some people suggest in the recipe comments.  The ratio just seemed a bit off - too much starch, not enough sauce.  And for a vegetarian dish, it went over pretty well.  I think I'll be serving this one during Lent.  And even if you change the sauce, the idea of a lentil-rice-noodle base is pretty cool.

So thank you, Laura, for your suggestion.  If I'm in Egypt some day, hopefully I can find a street vendor who will serve me some.

Next time: El Salvador

Monday, October 8, 2012

Ecuador

Ecuador - 148
Photo courtesy of Flickr user PatrickMMoore
Background: Part of the northern Inca Empire until 1533.
Location: Western South America
Area: Over 280,000 sq km; 74th largest in the world
         Slightly smaller than Nevada
Elevation: The earth actually bulges around the equator.  This means that Ecuador's Mount Chimborazo (6267 m) is actually the highest point on the earth when measured from the earth's center.
Population: Over 15 million; 67th highest in the world
Capital: Quito
Source: CIA Factbook

Now that we've gotten the hang of this parent thing (maybe. a little.) it was time to tackle the next country.  Ecuador, here we come!  After some research and some delicious-looking options, I decided that seco de carne con tamarindo was the way to go.  Something familiar (beef and spices!) with something new (tamarind and achiote!).  Plus, the instructions were fairly simple and easy to follow.

I wanted to use something better than the meat already cut up for beef stew at the store, but couldn't find anything else appropriate, so that is what I ended up using.

Achiote (also called Annatto) was very easy to find at the local Hispanic grocery store.  Did you know that it is often used for the red coloring?  I could certainly see that!


Any recipe that lets me blend everything in the food processor instead of having to chop it all up scores some points in my book.  As long as you get it to the point where it will fit, you're good.
This is probably a good time to mention that I halved the recipe.
The tamarind juice/pulp was a little different than the achiote.  At the Hispanic store I found tamarind soup mix and a tamarind drink, but not the pulp.  When I looked up substitutes, it called for about 5 different citrus fruits mixed together.  One day, Brendan and I took a walk and ended up walking around Whole Foods for the heck of it.  What do we find there?  A new product!
This seems to be the closest I am going to get.  It doesn't say how concentrated it is, but I just went with it.  It was really thick and goopy.  The coloring was very dark - almost black.
All of the pureed ingredients together ended up almost overflowing the food processor, so it is a good thing I halved the recipe.  That dark color remained, which isn't how it looks in the pictures from the original recipe website...
I used a summer wheat beer for the next step, and brown sugar rather than grated panela.  This was certainly one of the easiest parts of an already easy recipe.
It had an interesting consistency when boiling.  I could stir it very easily and it didn't seem to be too thick.  However, it looked like tar when boiling.  Bubbles would push up one part of the surface and break through there.  The entire thing got very uneven.  I tried to take pictures, but it was hard to show.
Well, anyway, after the boiling we were done!  I served it with rice and asparagus.  Not the most authentic, but delicious.


Brendan gets to sit in his swing during mealtime, so he usually ends up enjoying it too.
Kevin and I had the exact same thought with this meal: there was too much of something.  There was one flavor that overpowered and really filled your mouth.  Given what we know, I'm pretty sure that was the tamarind.  And I don't just mean it was more powerful than everything else in the dish.  I mean it was kinda like drinking straight lemon juice.  The flavor was tangy and sour and overwhelming.

After a few bites, neither of us could eat anymore.  I'm pretty sure we weren't using the best kind of tamarind juice.  There have to be better options that the goopy concentrate.  From what I was reading, that is the case.  I'm sure that would have made all of the difference here.  In theory, I think I like this dish.  In practice with what I had, not-so-much.

Next time: Egypt