Monday, March 21

The Desert and the Food of Bedouins

Manish Arora's dress (Paris Fashion Week 2011)

I am always interested in something new, original and unusual. Especially in food. Looking at the new Spring designs from Paris fashion week, I realized that I was not the only one. This dress designed by Manish Arora, reminded me a lot of tagine.
As I read through the Saha cookbook, I was impressed by the content and the special writing style. It was more like a cultural travel book with food as the main subject. There is an interesting story and a comment behind almost every recipe.
In the meantime, while organizing some of my photos, I found my late friend's (rest in peace George) travel photos from the Middle East. I guess, it was an omen to do this post about Lebanese and Syrian food.
I already have recipes from the Middle East posted on this blog, but since this region is very inspirational, I constantly return to search for something new and exotic. This time I was taken by Malouf couple's recipes from the desert.
Apart from tagines and lamb, this area has loads of other interesting recipes for soups, vegetable dishes and sweets. Many savory dishes have been enhanced by special blends of spices from the Middle East that make these dishes not only exotic but also sophisticated.
One chapter is specially dedicated to these blends, like Taklia, that are basically home made natural "flavor enhancers" and can be used in many different dishes.  So from this cookbook, I am featuring two delicious and healthy recipes for Spinach soup and Swiss chard.
There is another recipe that I wanted to share for a long time, from another great cookbook "Flavors of Morocco" that would make any dinner superb. I suggest you try it, if you crave for something sweet yet unique and easy to prepare at the same time!
I must admit - I am impressed by versatility of cous-cous,.. prior to reading this cookbook I couldn't imagine it as being sweet and used as a dessert.

Bedouin spinach soup

2 tbsp Taklia*
3 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove
11/2 cups brown lentils
4 cups (1l) water or vegetable stock
1 spinach bunch (200 gr)
1/2 cup coriander or cilantro leaves
juice of 2 lemons
salt, pepper
2/3 cup toasted pine nuts

Saute chopped onion and garlic in oiled pan until soften. Add the lentils, water or stock and bring to a boil. Simmer until lentils are soft and add spinach and coriander, lemon juice and little bit of salt and pepper, since taklia is salty. Cook for just a few minutes. Transfer to a blender and puree. It should not be very thick, so you can correct it by adding more water after.
Stir in taklia and garnish with toasted pine nuts.

3 garlic cloves
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp sea salt

Saute chopped garlic in a pan with olive oil for a few seconds. Transfer it to the mortar and pound to a paste with added coriander and salt.

Swiss chard with fried onions and tahini sauce 

1 bunch of Swiss chard
3 tbs olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1 garlic clove
1 tbs coriander seeds
lemon juice
2/3 cup of white wine
1/2 cup of chicken stock or water
salt and pepper

Fried onions:
2 1/2 onions sliced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup olive oil

Tahini sauce:
1 garlic clove crushed with 1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup tahini (sesame paste)
1/3 cup lemon juice

(1/2 cup yogurt-optional)
Sprinkle salt over the onions and leave it for 15 min. Wash them and dry as much as you can. Fry in a deep pot with olive oil for about 8-10 minutes. Drain and reserve.
Slice out the stems (optional) and chop the chard coarsely. Saute onion and garlic until soft. Crush coriander to get rid of the husks. Add it to the pan with a chard, lemon juice, wine and stock. Season, cover and cook for about 20 minutes. Open the lid and allow liquid to evaporate by cooking on the higher heat for few more minutes.
Make tahini sauce by blending all the ingredients together to make a smooth paste. My variation of this sauce had 1/2 cup of yogurt in it.
Serve the chard topped with a tahini sauce and fried onions on the top and sprinkle with a paprika before serving.

Couscous dessert
(kasksou seffa)

1/2 cup chopped dry figs (or dry raisins, apricots)
1 warm green or black tea
1 1/4 cups fine couscous
1 1/4 cups boiling water
2 tbs oil
2 tbs sugar
2 tbs orange flower water (find in some oriental food stores)
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped roasted pistachios
4 tbs honey
a pinch of salt

I have modified the original recipe a little bit, up to my taste. In the book, this recipe use raisins, but I have replaced them with my favorite: dry figs, and I balanced the sweetness and a flavor by adding a little bit more honey and flower water. I strongly suggest, while making it, add the ingredients slowly so you can modify it according to your taste.
Put the figs (raisins, apricots) in a heatproof bowl and pour in the warm tea. Let the figs soak for 1/2 - 1 hour until they are soft. Put a couscous in a separate heatproof bowl and pour in the boiling water with a pinch of salt. Cover the bowl and leave it for 15 minutes to absorb all the water. Drizzle the oil over and mix with a spoon and fingertips to separate the grains. Add the sugar, orange flower water, cinnamon. Stir in the soaked chopped dry fruits. In the meantime, roast pistachios in a pan for a few minutes and chopped add them to the mixture. Add a honey and combine until you get enough sweet and aromatic dessert. If preferred, you can add a bit more of orange flower water, cinnamon and honey.
Enjoy it with whipping cream over, if needed,.. taste is so amazing that, for me, anything else would spoil the flavour.


Anonymous said...

The couscous dessert is really tasty, you would expect something different flavour what it really has)

Cathy said...

The recipes look great. Morgan mentioned I should have a look on your website. Swiss chard reminds me of mom - she loves it in recipes. I will have to try this cous cous recipe- I just can't imagine how it tastes and it would be fun to try!

Zexxy's wife said...

Thanks and do try the recipe Cathy. I know that you and Morgan have enough skill and experience to make any recipe work!

Fawad Umair said...

I like this type of recipes eat and drink and enjoy the food of these type.

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