Sunday, January 6, 2013

Estonia

Estonia-4
Photo Courtesy of User didkovskaya on Flickr 
Background: Gained independence in 1918 before being forcibly incorporated into the USSR in 1940.
Currency: Adopted the Euro in January 2011.  Bad timing...
Location: Eastern Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea
Area: Over 45,000 sq km; 133rd biggest in the world
         Slightly smaller than New Hampshire and Vermont combined
Official Language: Estonian
Population: Almost 1.3 million; 156th biggest in the world
Capital: Tallinn
Economy: Very pro-business, free market government
National Anthem: My Native Land, My Pride and Joy; same melody but different lyrics from the Finnish national anthem
Source: CIA Factbook

I did not e-mail the Estonian embassy for an Estonian recipe.  I didn't even look in my international cookbooks.  Instead, I turned to the one and only Boris.  He is a friend from Madison, aspiring comedian, and his family was from Estonia (videos may not be appropriate for young audiences...or old audiences).  I knew I could trust him to give me something authentic.  His response:

I have one word for you.
Mulgikapsad.
Good luck

My confidence wavered a bit when I looked up the recipe and one of the main ingredients was sauerkraut, but I knew I couldn't back down.  I had to conquer the fear that had plagued me since childhood.  I would learn about Estonian food and embrace some of my Polish heritage at the same time.

I found multiple options for mulgikapsad, some of which were side dishes, some of which were entrees.  Boris suggested I may want to go the route of a side dish given my trepidations, so I went with this recipe.  I also tasked Kevin with prepping some pork chops so we could do this right.

Do you know what sauerkraut it?  Fermented cabbage.  Fermented foods tend to be very good for you, but often take a little bit of getting used to.  Kimchi.  Yogurt.  Beer.  Mmmm beer...
The recipe called for 1 kg (a bit over 2 lbs) of sauerkraut and 0.5 gallons of barley, so I 1/8th'd it, I believe.  And that still used all of the rest of my barley.

The most confusing part of this recipe was the lack of times.  I was supposed to heat with water until it gets hot, but before it boils.  Then I was supposed to add some amount of salt and sugar, then serve after mixing in some fried onions.  Simple, and yet open to a lot of issues.
Unbeknownst to me, Kevin had done a little bit of experiementing when he prepped the pork chops.  He coated them in flour, Adobo seasoning, and chipotle chili powder.  Very...southwestern.  By the way, the chipotle chili spice is our new favorite - we use it in almost everything.  I did the frying, but he did all of the seasoning.
Brendan was asleep for most of this, so he didn't get to make an appearance.

And that was really about it.  Pretty simple ingredients and pretty simple prep.

Kevin and I had different reactions.  Kevin said "inoffensive, but kinda bland."  Did I not put in enough salt and sugar?  I had been smelling the sauerkraut the entire time, so I had a hard time getting past that.  It just doesn't smell good if you aren't used to it.  I wanted to ignore that and move on, but I couldn't.

Even worse, the barley was undercooked and still a bit hard.  I think that comes from the "no time specified" part of the recipe.

Also, is this really what the recipe meant by bacon, or should it have been something thicker that would lend flavors better to the rest of the ingredients?

So what did I do wrong, Boris?  Is there something else should I try.  Was my technique wrong?  Perhaps I could give Estonia a second chance.

The southwest pork chops, however, were amazing.  Put some flour, adobo seasoning, and chipotle chili powder in a bag, then add the pork chops.  Once coated, fry them.  Delicious.

Next time: Ethiopia

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Eritrea

Eritrea 2011
Photo courtesy of the user thecomeupshow on Flickr.

Background: Formerly annexed by Ethiopia, but gained independence in 1993.  Has been in a border dispute with Ethiopia since 1998 that created a Temporary Security Zone (TSZ).
Location: Eastern Africa, on the Red Sea
Area: Over 117,000 sq km; 101st largest in the world
         Slightly larger than Pennsylvania
Official Languages: Tigrinya, Arabic, English
Population: Over 6 million; 107th largest in the world
Capital: Asmara
President: Isaias Afworki since 1993.  Supposed to have a five-year term, but there have been no elections since 1993.
Per Capita GDP: $700; 221st (out of 226 countries/territories) highest in the world.
Pronunciation: eriTRAYa, not erEEtria like I thought.

Source: CIA Factbook

Can we get two successful African countries in a row?  Let's find out!

The national dish of Eritrea is Injera, a slightly spongy bread.  It is also popular in Ethiopia, and you have probably eaten if you have ever been to an Ethiopian restaurant.  However, for reasons I don't fully remember, I decided not to try to make that for Eritrea.  Maybe in a few countries.  Instead I scoured the web and found Kulu'wa.  Chopped meat recipe with mostly familiar ingredients.  It actually seemed a bit similar to other African recipes I had done, which was a bit worrying.  I went with it anyway, though.

One of the reasons I picked this recipe is because it calls for berbere, a spice mixture I had some of!  So I bought everything else, came home, and...oops.  No berbere.  I must have gotten it confused with one of the multitudes of spices I have.  So I guess I have to make my own.  Luckily this blog also has a recipe for that!

That recipe, though, makes 3 cups.  I didn't need that much.  So I called in the cavalry.  Kevin helped: he did math.
So many spices!  Yet I still have so many more!
I believe he...1/16th the recipe?  I don't fully remember.  And ignore the cat ILLEGALLY on the counter.
Spoiler alert: Maybe Kevin didn't need to cut it by so much.  But that's for another post.

I worked on the chopping things while Kevin was out running.  Brendan wanted some attention, though, so he helped.

Ceramic knives are awesome.
Did I mention that there were a lot of spices involved?
1/16th teaspoon?

The rest was pretty simple.  Saute the onions, then add everything else (basically).  The liquid was supposed to evaporate and leave the flavoring on the beef.

As you can probably tell from what I said, the liquid did not evaporate.  It stayed pretty saucy.  And I didn't want to drain it, since that is where most of the spice was.  We decided to go with it.
Also, it was supposed to be served with bread, so we used what we had in the house: naan.  What?  Not the right part of the world?  I don't care!

Super-baby soars over the food.
So, did Africa win again?

Yes, yes it did.

This was delicious.  There was a ton of flavor.  Kevin had been worried the other spices wouldn't come through since there was so much cayenne.  He didn't need to.  They were subtle and delicate and awesome. And we were glad that the water didn't evaporate.  The sauce really helped it to have a good texture.

I can see where the injera would help.  You could soak up a lot of the flavor and really complete the meal.  As it was, it felt like it needed to be served on something, like rice.

Go out and make this.  It is worth it.  And it is a weeknight meal!

Next time: Estonia