Insane in the Bahrain

February 22, 2009

Once again, we have struck out:  we failed to find any Bahraini restaurants in NYC (You will hear about our adventure searching for Bahamian food once Noquar gets around to posting the story.  For now I’ve decided to go ahead and get this one up).  Granted, we didn’t give the consulate a call this time (admittedly, this is simply sheer absentmindedness and laziness), but we did ask the proprietor of a Middle Eastern grocery store in Brooklyn if he knew of any Bahraini restaurants here, to which he replied, “Bahrain?!  Those people are too rich.  They don’t need to leave their country.” Fair enough.

So twice in a row now we have had to cook food from the country at hand.  As much as I judge the success of this mission on finding authentic cuisine cooked by natives, I have to think we have also succeeded when we manage to find all the ingredients needed to cook a meal that would be found on a table half way around the world.  And this is what has happened for Bahrain.

map

Bahrain is a tiny island nation in the Persian Gulf.  It’s one million+ residents live on a total of 253 sq miles, which covers thirty-three islands.  In fact, according to one source, the entire archipelago has less total land than the nearby King Fahd International Airport in Saudi Arabia. That just seems like one big airport to me.

A few minutes of googling was all it took to figure out that the most well-known dish of Bahrain is machbous (or machboos, depending on how the Arabic spelling has been translated), which is a meat and rice stew.  Kind of like a biryani, but more saucy.  A bit more web surfing and I had come up with a menu for the evening. Now all we needed were the ingredients.

Bahraini cuisine uses many of the same spices that are used throughout the Middle East and South Asia. Because I often cook Indian food, I have quite a stock pile of spices on hand. There were a few, however, that required a visit to the local Middle Eastern grocery store.

One stop at the Oriental Pastry and Grocery at 170 Atlantic Ave in Brooklyn was all we needed to find every ingredient necessary for our dishes, including rosewater, bahrat (a Middle Eastern spice mix) and dried lemons, as well as a number of bonus items like delicious, sticky, sweet pastries. The store has only a narrow aisle down the middle that is not piled high with essentials: bulk items like rice and wheat, packaged goods, olives, and whole and ground spices. Far off in a dim corner in the back of the store is the pastry counter — if you ever pay a visit (and you definitely should) don’t miss it! The prices were right on and the staff very helpful. I highly recommend you stop by the next time you are on Atlantic Ave near Clinton Ave, even if just for one of the cheese filled sweets. Yumm…

baba

baba ghanoush

Anyway, back at home we made a Bahraini baba ghanoush that we nibbled on with some pita as we prepared the main dishes: the machbous and a fish curry that I found here, which turned out to be no more than OK (I am of the opinion that the recipe wasn’t written very well). The machbous, I’m proud to say, was quite delicious.

fish_curry

fish curry

I cobbled the machbous recipe together from a few that I found online, here and here. It takes a little while, but the results are worth the wait.   We served it with dates and finished it all off with the fabulous pastries and an attempt at Bahraini coffee (we basically just added a dash of rosewater and green cardamom).

dates

Irani dates

Here is my machbous recipe.  Try it and let me know what you think!

2 lb lamb (I used the kind already prepared for stew)
1 tbs bahrat
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin powder
3 tbs olive oil
2 large onions, finely chopped
5 black cardamom pods
2 dried black lemons or limes, with hole punched in each
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 quarter-sized slices ginger, minced
4 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 tsp salt
4 cups water
2 cups basmati rice, washed in 3-4 changes water
3 tbs rosewater
2 tbs lemon juice

1. Mix together the bahrat, turmeric, and cumin. Spread all over lamb. Set aside.

2. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Cook the onions until golden brown

3. Add the cardamom, dried lemons, cinnamon, and pepper. Stir well and cook for 3 minutes.

4. Add the garlic, ginger, tomatoes, and salt. Stir well and cook for 3 minutes.

5. Cover the pot and cook for one hour.

6. Add the water and rice. Cook until water is absorbed, about 30 minutes.

7. Add the rosewater and lemon juice. Cook a few more minutes then serve.

Enjoy, but be careful not to bite into one of the dried lemons!  You’ll be in for a sour surprise.

machbous

machbous


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Andorra: Part One

October 14, 2008

We’ve hit our first big challenge.  Andorra is a tiny, landlocked principality nestled in the Pyrenees mountains on the border between France and Spain.  Of its 72,000 residents, at least 67% of those are from elsewhere in Europe, mainly neighboring France and Spain, as well as Italy, Britain, and Portugal.  The national language is Catalan, which is also spoken in certain regions of Spain (including Catalonia, where you would find Barcelona), the Italian island of Sardinia, and the Roussillon region of Southern France.  Andorra’s main industry is tourism (i.e. skiing) and it’s tax haven status also attracts some wealthy types.

We started out by crawling the Internet in search of any mention of “andorra” and “New York.”  Nothing turned up except a few mentions of the UN Mission to Andorra.  So a friend of the Nomad actually rang them up for us (thanks again!) and they told her that in fact there are no Andorran restaurants in New York City.  Hardly surprising considering that there are only 28,000 or so Andorrans in the world.  The person at the UN Mission recommended that we go to Le Bernadin, as chef Eric Ripert used to live in Andorra (this is corroborated by his biography on the restaurant’s website).  Anyone who lives in NYC or has watched Top Chef probably knows of this restaurant and its famous chef.  And anyone who has been there can tell you it’s a seafood restaurant (not the type of cuisine I would associate with a landlocked, mountainous country), and it’s also one of the city’s more expensive. I hear it’s fantastic though.

We decided not to go that route.  It would be hard to justify a very pricey meal that wouldn’t even quite fit our mission.  But we still had to give Andorra its due diligence.  We came up with a two part plan:

  1. Make Andorran food at home
  2. Go to a Catalonian restaurant

This is the story of part one.

I started out by cruising the web for Andorran recipes.  There were very few in English, but of those that I did come across, one dish was mentioned on nearly every site: Trinxat.   It’s a potato and cabbage pancake with smoky bacon, described by europeancuisines.com as, “probably one of the best-known dishes of Andorra.” And the recipe looked pretty easy.  I figured this had to be the thing to try.  Apparently it looks like this:

My methodology involved combining a few recipes I found for this dish, and boiling them down to the common elements.  It seemed simple enough.  Here’s is what I came up with:

4 large russet potatoes, peeled

1 head green cabbage

1 package bacon (12 strips)

3 tbs olive oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled

salt and pepper

(you are also supposed to use fatback, but since I couldn’t find any, I left it out.  Probably a critical missed step.)

1.  Discard the outer layers of the cabbage.  Cut the cabbage into fourths.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and boil cabbage for about 45 minutes.  Once that is going bring another large pot to boil, and boil the potatoes for about 25 minutes.  Allow both to cool.

2.  Discard the core of the cabbage, and press cabbage to release water.  Put cabbage and potatoes in a large bowl and mash together.  Salt to taste.

3.  Start cooking the bacon in batches.  Set on a plate covered with a paper towel to absorb grease.

4.  Drain off some of the grease from the pan, and then add garlic.  Cook for about 2 minutes until its about to burn, and then mix it in with the potato/cabbage mixture.

5.  (Here is the part where you are supposed to add the fatback to the pan, and cook it for a few minutes, but since I didn’t have any, I left that part out.  Did leave some extra bacon grease in there though.).  Add about half of the potato mixture to the same pan, and spread it around until it’s in the shape of about a 1/2″ think pancake.  Cook over medium high heat for about 10 minutes.

before flip attempt

6.  Here is the hard part:  put a plate over the skillet and the flip it over, so the pancake is browned side up on the plate.  Slide it back in to the skillet and cook for 10 more minutes until it’s finished. Crumble the bacon, add it to the top of the pancake, and serve.

Easy, right?  Wrong!  I attempted this flipping of the pancake twice, and met with disaster each time.  The first time, I was using a very slick, brand new, deep Calphalon skillet.  As soon as I went to flip it, the food just slipped right out and landed in a pile on my stove.  I figured it had to be the skillet.  Way too slippery!

So I went for a cast iron the second time around.  It wouldn’t brown.  I waited and waited and finally got too hungry to wait any more.  This time when I went to flip it, I found it the skillet was too heavy to hold with one hand, and hold a plate with the other.  So I got some help.  But the pancake was stuck.  And once again I ended up with a pile, luckily this time I managed to get it on plates, and throw some bacon on top.  Below you have the result.  Not as pretty as the picture above.  But I imagine the taste was somewhat similar…maybe.  Kind of an Irish-ish dish to my taste, but good nonetheless.

And there you have it.  If anyone else decides to try this, I recommend including the step that involves the fatback, and using a light weight, shallow skillet.  Let me know if you are successful, and send in some pictures.

Part two coming soon…