Sunday, January 23, 2011

I Need Something Exotic and Wonderful......

One sure fire way to break the "Blah's..." is to take a trip to an exotic place. Sure, but how often can you really do that, right? So a poor man's escape could be to simply create the "ambiance" wherever you are and take an imaginary journey for an evening, leaving your daily lives behind and step into another world's colors, aromas, sounds, flavors and customs that will give you that needed lift without having to use a Passport, Visas or make travel arrangements.

Your "trip" could be as simple as making a meal or if you really want to put your imagination to work and go all out you could take it to the next level and really create another world at your house. Change the lighting, get the right music, create the ideal setting and let it take you away. It can be as elaborate as your imagination and budget can allow or as simple as you like. It could be an ideal way to celebrate a special occasion or create a "date night" for your mate or maybe just take the routine away from a otherwise routine weekday meal. You can make it fun, adventuresome, entertaining, educational and very tasty and take advantage of the trip to stir some interest in your family, maybe for a future trip you can actually plan or just as family night with endless learning possibilities.... think about it, where would YOU like to go?

My kids are no longer small so they don't need me to help them with homework, history, language, anthropology or any of that but you can see what I'm getting at, right? Learning can be fun and tasty. Maybe you've been wanting to try something new and haven't figured out a way to include your family in on it or maybe you want to plant the seed of possibility for next year's vacation. This could be a test drive of sorts..... Plus now, more than ever, most ingredients you need for almost anything are available at your local A&P so it's not only possible but quite easy to find all the information you'd need. At the very least it would be fun.

Since we're getting organized for moving next week, we're not making any plans until then and just laying low which to me makes the perfect opportunity to try something and this is what I've planned. I need to go to the store anyway so if I need anything extra it won't involve an extra trip. We're going to Iran for the evening because I love Persian food and I haven't made it in a while, saw a picture in one of my books and it set my mind to wandering. I've got some great candles and luminaries I haven't packed yet to set the mood along with some great World Music I can use and I found some material I'd gotten that I never got around to sew into anything and they are kind of exotic colored and will use to cover lamps and windows which should do great too! As soon as my menu is set we will be almost there......

When I lived in San Diego, there was a massive Iranian immigration wave during the 80's and especially in the La Jolla area where I lived, we got lots of new neighbors. My best friend's brother married the daughter of the Sha's right hand man and so their family became part of our circle. The ladies of the family taught me a lot of their dishes and we were fortunate to be invited to their meals, celebrations and daily life. We even attended a Persian school to learn Farsi but I've forgotten it now I'm ashamed to say. But the food remained with me and is one of our favorites due to the amazing flavors and colors. Ricardo's cousin (and one of mine) married into a prominent Persian family as well and they cook amazingly too!

I'm looking at my books and this is what I've come up with for our night's foray into the Middle Eastern World: Nothing too elaborate but different enough to give us a needed change. I could make a tent out back in the garden with lots of candles and we can sit on the carpet covered artificial grass, lay back on pillows and watch the stars while wonderful music wafts around us. Since family style is acceptable for this cuisine, it will make it easy for me to serve and everyone can serve themselves what they like. I will make a series of small dishes to nibble on and a couple main dishes. It will be fun and tasty!

Persian Jeweled Rice (Javaher Polow).- This is a celebratory dish full of wonderful contrasts, totally worth making and sharing.

2 1/2 cups basmati rice, rinsed and soak in 5 cups of water with 2 tbl of salt for at least 2 hours
1 medium onion, slice thin
1/2 cup sliced pistachios, soak in water to soften
1/2 cup slivered almonds, peeled
1 cup sour cherries (or cranberries), pitted, rough chop
1/2 cup raisins, regular and golden
2 medium-size carrots, cut in very thin slices
2 large oranges, orange peel only cut in very thin slices
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon saffron in 3 tablespoons of hot water
1/3 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/ teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon rose petals, dried and crushed
1/3 teaspoon turmeric
Sugar as needed
Butter and/or Oil

Bring 8 cups of water to a boil on med-high heat and pour in rice. Let boil for about 7-10 minutes or until the rice grains are "al dente". Drain and rinse with cold water.

Peel oranges. Cut the rind into very thin stripes and put in cold water for 10 minutes. Drain and repeat twice. Combine 1/2 cup of sugar and a cup of water in a pan, boil gently until the sugar dissolves completely and begins to thicken. Add orange zest and carrots and cook for 15-20 minutes on low heat. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter and in a large skillet, add a tablespoon of vegetable oil, cook onions until golden brown, add turmeric and stir. Add cherries and cook for 5 minutes on lower heat then add raisins, sprinkle a tablespoon of sugar on top and mix. Mix in the carrots and orange zest. Add the spices, taste and adjust seasonings. Add pistachios and almonds. Make sure everything mixed well.

In a large non-stick pot, heat about 3 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Put the mixed rice into a pyramid shape. Gently sprinkle 1/2 cup of water over the top. Sprinkle the saffron over the rice before putting the lid on. Cover, and insure it's well sealed. If you have to put towels or foil around the cover to prevent steam escaping. Cook on med-high heat for 10-15 minutes, lower the heat to simmer when you see steam. Cook for another 40-50 minutes. Don't open the lid before the rice is done cooking. To serve, mound rice on a serving platter. Garnish and serve warm.

Koofteh Tabrizi (Herbed Meat & Rice Balls).- Aromatic and full of flavor, these meatballs will give you another way to bring amazing food to your table!

1 lb ground beef (or just use the beef)
1 lb veal
1 1/2 cup rice, raw,well rinsed
2 eggs
1 tsp salt
1/4 teaspoon turmeric, ground
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons tarragon, dried
2 bunches Italian parsley, chopped fine in a processor
1 cup leek, finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, chopped fine
1/2 cup dill, fresh
1/2 cup onion, chopped fine
1/2 cup fruits (cherries or prunes or raisins, etc.) chopped fine and stuck inside the meatballs

3 tablespoons oil
2 medium onions, sliced
1/4 teaspoon turmeric, ground
1 cup tomato, chopped
1 can, 16oz, tomato sauce
1 teaspoon salt
5 cups water
1 cup peas(fresh or frozen)

Mix all the meatball ingredients together and roll into balls, 2-1/2 inches in diameter, firmly packed. Refrigerate them for 1 hour.

To make the broth, heat the oil in a pan, add the onions and turmeric, and stir-fry over moderate heat until light brown, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and salt and stir-fry for 2 minutes more. Add the water and bring to a boil. Moisten your hands with cold water. Take each herbed ball and roll it firmly; add the balls to the broth very carefully, one at a time, so that they do not not fall apart. The water should just cover the balls. Cover the pan and cook over moderately low heat, without stirring, for 45 minutes. Add the green peas and cook for 10 minutes more. The broth will reduce somewhat, the balls swell considerably due to the expansion of the rice. Serve warm-- with the meatballs in the broth.

Taboulleh Salad.- A most refreshing and healthful way to add new flavors into your diet. Loaded with flavor, cool and crunchy! I love serving it with the inside leaves of Romaine Lettuce and eaten as "wraps".....

1 cup of uncooked bulgur wheat
2 cups of fresh parsley, leaves only, chopped fine
handful of fresh mint, leaves only, chopped fine
3 green onions, sliced thin
1-2 cloves of garlic (optional), chopped fine
1 tomato, seeded, chopped fine
1 cucumber, seeded, chopped fine
2 lemons, juiced
olive oil to taste
salt & pepper
Some Romaine Lettuce leaves, washed

In a bowl, cover your bulgur wheat with 2 cups of boiling water. Let it stand until all of the water has been absorbed (about a half-hour). Remove as many stems as possible from the parsley and mint, and process in the food processor or just chop by hand. Finely mince your other vegetables. Other veggies may also be added, per your tastes and what you have on hand. Toss your fresh herbs and vegetables in with the cooked bulgur, and add your lemon juice and olive oil to form a light dressing. Toss well. Salt to taste. Chill for about 15 minutes or longer to blend flavors.

Lentil Salad.-Another economical and healthful addition you will appreciate.

1 lb lentils, small are best
1 qt water
1/2 cup celery, chopped fine
1/2 cup carrots, chopped fine
1/4 cup red onion, chopped fine
2 tbl parsley, leaves only, chopped fine
2 tomatoes, seeded, chopped fine (optional)
olive oil to taste
lemon juice to taste (or you can use red wine vinegar)
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse and drain lentils. Put in pan with water to cook, bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook until tender but not falling apart, about 20-25 minutes. Drain and place in bowl.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and toss, insuring everything is well seasoned. Serve on a bed of lettuce either warm or cold. You can also add an unlimited amount of other vegetables you like.

Wheatberries, Poblanos and Pecans.- A wonderful side dish, full of flavor and very easy and fun.

1 lb whole wheatberries, rinsed and soaked overnight in cold water
2 qt water
olive oil to taste
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
1 poblano pepper, roasted, seeded, peeled and cut in small squares

Drain the berries and place them in a pot to cook with the water. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender but still have some bite to them, about 45-60 min. Let them rest off heat for about 10 min, then drain.

Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the pecans, toast them slightly to bring out their flavor, about 1-2 min. Add the poblanos and saute another minute, then add the wheatberries and mix to combine well. Season and serve.
NOTE: I like to add Pomagranate Seeds to this if they are available. Amazing!

Tahini Yogurt Dressing.- Smooth, cool and a great addition to any salad, sandwich or wrap. Use as a dip, instead of sour cream or in almost anything you like!

1 cup plain yogurt (we like Greek style)
2-3 tbl Tahini sauce (Sesame Paste), sold in the imported food isle in jars or cans
3-4 tbl lemon juice or to taste

Mix all ingredients together and taste to adjust to your taste.

Falafel.- A chickpea based "meat", this nutritionally rich recipe is great tasting too. Make it into meatballs, or cilinders or flat patties on pita bread, load it up and enjoy! You can find dry mixes in your grocer's shelves now too and in bulk at Whole Foods. But here is a natural version in case you want to try it, it's definitely worth making.

2 lb chickpeas or gabanzos (fresh and cooked, drained or canned, drained is fine too)
4-5 garlic cloves, peeled
5-6 green onions, chopped fine
4 tbl parsley, leaves only, chopped
2 tsp cumin, ground
2 tsp coriander, ground
1/4 tsp cayenne
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper, ground
1-2 tbl Tahini Sauce (sesame paste)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2-3 oz soft bread crumbs

Put chickpeas into a food processor (or blender) and chop well but don't puree. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.

Use an ice cream scoop and make 2oz balls which you can flatten for a patty or leave as is or make any shape you like. Handle lightly and not too much since this will dry them out and then they will break apart. Deep fry in hot oil until brown and crisp.

Serve with soft Pita bread and top with fresh tomato, onion, cucumber slices. Add Tahini Yogurt Dressing on top and enjoy! A meatless wonder that can stretch your budget while giving you amazing flavors.
NOTE: These make amazing little appetizers to serve at parties with their dipping sauce. Or just serve as patties with the veggies on the side. Vegetarians love them! Or make the patties and freeze them so you can have them available for a quick veggie burger, really great!

What to have for dessert? Fruit Salads, Baklava, Halvah, Cheese and Honey, sweet mint tea.... So light up the candles, put on that exotic music and turn the lights down low..... the trip is just about to start and you're in for a lovely time! Plus what lovely leftovers we will have too!
Best wishes to everyone, talk soon......

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