Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Yemen: Bean Soup

Long-time readers of this blog may recall that, twelve years ago, we lived in the Yemenite Quarter of Tel Aviv, right next to the Hakarmel Market. That gave us access to wonderful fresh vegetables, but also to phenomenal Yemenite hole-in-the-wall restaurants, which we frequented and adored. One particularly beloved joint, which was known among the neighbors as "Yehezkel's" after the owner, specialized in traditional soups. Moreover, Yehezkel cooked his soups on a traditional oil burner, and the slow cooking on low heat gave the soups very special body and aroma.

Which is why today's stop on our Banned Countries Food tour is especially moving and fun for me.

For lots of people, Yemenite cooking is associated with Malawah and Jahnoon, two oily dough pastries eaten with crushed tomatoes and hot sauce, but for me it's always been about the awesome soups. Here's my vegan and healthy approximation of Yehezkel's famous bean soup, with very minor adaptations from Natalie Holding's recipe. Her recipe will yield a very, very spicy soup, which is how Yemenite soup is eaten, but Western palates can use a bit less black pepper and paprika! It can never be as good as the original, but it comes pretty darn close.

1 cup white beans (cannelini or navy beans)
1 large onion
5-6 garlic cloves
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp paprika/cayenne
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp hawayej for soup
1 tsp turmeric
2-3 tomatoes, or about a cup of canned tomatoes
1 celery stalk
1 cup cilantro

Soak beans overnight, or at least let them sit for ten minutes in boiling water. Drain.

Mince the onion and garlic. Sauté the onion in olive oil or in water (I use water these days - the outcome is just as delicious) until it starts turning golden. Then, add garlic and sauté a bit longer. While this is going on, chop up tomatoes and celery into little cubes.

Place onion and garlic in soup pot or in your Instant Pot. Add all spices, tomato, celery, and cilantro. Cook on a low flame for 3.5 hours if using a regular soup pot and 2 hours if using an Instant Pot.

Yehezkel used to serve his soup with lachuch, but I like it plain. If you do decide to add more pepper and paprika, have a bland grain or some steamed broccoli or cauliflower on the side to mellow it out.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Iraq: Maklouba

Growing up in Israel, I enjoyed lots of Iraqi food: I especially loved sabich, the special sandwich with fried eggplant and tahini, which is delicious and easy to make. But today, as part of our Banned Countries food tour, we're making something a bit more elaborate: Maklouba.

I was taught how to make maklouba many years ago by one of my clients, who was doing a life sentence at an Israeli prison. He was vegetarian, and received dispensation from the prison authorities to make his own food. He would get an allowance for some cheap vegetables, cut them up, fry them, and then layer them with rice to produce this fragrant, delicious cake. Making his own food made him feel just a bit freer and more independent than he was, and helped his spirit soar under difficult external and internal circumstances.

This version is a bit different than the traditional: rather than frying all the vegetables, I slice and pre-bake them on a silpat mat, reducing the overall fat content and oxidation of the dish without missing out on the taste. I also include more vegetable layers, because anything is better with more colorful layers!

1 medium eggplant
1 butternut squash
1 medium-sized potato
1 golden beet
1 large carrot
1/2 medium cauliflower
1 onion
3 roma or beefsteak tomatoes
1 cup brown rice
2 cups water or vegetable broth
1 tbsp baharat
1 tbsp ras-el-hanout

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Slice all vegetables into 1/4-inch thick rounds. Place all of them, except the tomatoes, on baking sheets, drizzle a bit of lemon juice or vegetable broth, and bake for about 20 mins or until eggplant is soft.

Coat the bottom of a Dutch Oven with a circle of parchment paper, and atop it, place the tomato slices in a layer. Don't be afraid to overlap.

Remove vegetables from oven. Place layer of eggplant rounds atop the tomato. From here on, the layering is up to you! I continued with onion, beet, and carrot, then put a layer of rice, and then did a second layer of squash, potatoes, and cauliflower, and placed the rest of the rice. Whatever you do, aim at finishing with a layer of rice.

Mixing the spices into the water or broth, gingerly pour it on top of the layers, without disturbing the architecture of the thing. Place on stove and cook on high heat until water boils, then lower the heat and let simmer for about 30-35 minutes or until rice on top is ready.

To eat, place a sturdy plate, inverted, atop your pot. Carefully invert the pot and place on stable surface. Remove the pot and carefully peel the parchment paper layer. Voila, maklouba!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Somalia: Cambuulo iyo Maraq

Today we visit Somalia on our tour of banned countries' cuisines. I learned this satisfying rice and bean dish, which is a great lunch or dinner option, from the wonderful blog Somali Kitchen. You can follow the recipe there to the letter or make the few adaptations below, which make the recipe slightly less traditional and slightly more nutritious: more lemon juice in lieu of vinegar, brown in lieu of white rice, and broth for sautéing the onions.

1 cup brown rice
1 cup aduki beans, cooked (if you have uncooked beans, soak them and then cook in water for 20-25 mins. It'll take about the same time as the rice if you're cooking them at the same time. Drain.)
3 tbsp water or vegetable broth
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 can diced tomatoes
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili flakes
2 juicy lemons
cilantro for garnish

Cook the brown rice as you always do (these days, I cook it in the Instant Pot, with a 1:1 1/4 rice to water ratio.)
Mix the aduki beans with the rice.
In a wok or pan, heat up water or broth, and sauté the onion for a few minutes until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté another minute. Then, add the tomatoes and spices and cook for another five minutes on low heat. Juice the two lemons, pour into tomato sauce and cook another five minutes.

Ladle the tomato sauce atop the rice and bean mixture and garnish with fresh cilantro.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Sudan: Salaat Jazar

Continuing our banned countries cooking extravaganza, I present a delicious Sudanese salad, salaat jazar. It's a great illustration of the principle that the whole is bigger than its parts and is refreshing, tasty, and very nutritious.

1 pound carrots (I used rainbow carrots)
juice from 4-5 lemons
4 large garlic cloves, pressed
1 tbsp ground sumac
1/2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground paprika
1 tsp  ground coriander
1 small handful fresh cilantro

Slice carrots and steam them for a few minutes, until just cooked and still al dente.

Mix all other ingredients except the cilantro.

Place sliced, steamed carrots in bowl, and pour dressing over them. Mix well. Then, sprinkle fresh cilantro.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Tofu Bacon



For this stormy evening dinner, I'm making a lovely black adzuki bean soup with carrots, beets, beet greens, and celery, and I plan to top it with this easy and beautiful tofu bacon. The Buddhist Chef's recipes are wonderful! I omitted the maple syrup and it still came out delicious.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Comfort Quinoa

My favorite meal when sick or upset used to be a simple bowl of rice noodles with some salt and pepper. But I've come to say a gentle farewell to this dish for two reasons: first, I'm realizing more and more that seeking comfort through food is masking r eal needs and emotions that require deeper solutions, in lieu of the sugar rush band-aid. And second, there are more satisfying things to eat. One of them is a new dish I made yesterday, which hits the right tomatoey-cheesy notes without being overly starchy. It's very easy to make if you have leftover tomato sauce in the fridge.

1 cup quinoa, uncooked
1 large leek, sliced into rings, both green and white parts
1 cup mushrooms (I used maiitake), cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup tomato sauce
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
2 cups water

Combine all ingredients in a pot, mix a bit, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for approximately 20 mins or until quinoa is fully cooked. Enjoy!


Thursday, February 09, 2017

Take Your Blender on a Trip!

Vegas, Baby! City of excess shopping, excess gambling, excess construction... excess, period. This applies to the strip; I do know that there is a real city beyond these glittery signs, in which people live real lives. Some of them are good friends! But when one is in town for just a few days in a fancy hotel in the strip, what's one to do?

If you gamble and enjoy rich foods and alcohol, you're in luck, and I hope you have a great time! Alas, I am a holdout from the prohibition era and my background in statistics precludes the magical thinking that goes with gambling. And rich foods... by all means, enjoy them if you like, but what if, like me, you're on a health and fitness kick and wouldn't want this business trip to stand in the way of your energy and vitality? So if you are like me, you take a lot of joy in the incredible Cirque du Soleil shows that are playing in town (discount tickets can be found online). And what else does one do?

Crazy but doable solution: fly with a blender.

I kid you not. You can do it.

For my everyday blending, I use my trusty Vitamix. Their standard 5200 model is not cheap, but it's a true powerhouse and very much worth the investment for home cooking. But it's a fairly hefty device, and so for trips I take the Nutribullet Pro 900 with me. It's a terrific little machine that does not take up too much room in your luggage and will improve your quality of life fairly significantly when on the road.

It may seem a bit crazy to fly out with a blender, but it's such a good, low-effort way to start the day with something familiar that is good for you. The more I age, the more my exacting travel schedule wears me down, and it's good to at least know that a good breakfast will be forthcoming. Conference food is not exactly a paragon of health, between the greasy hotel restaurants and the starchy Starbucks in the corner, and you'll be happy to have a green smoothie in the morning.

It really is not crazy. It's doable. Here are some tricks of the trade.

You want a small blender that can easily fit in a carry-on with your clothes. The base of the NutriBullet will take about 1/6 of your luggage space, and you can wrap it in clothes to keep it safe. Unfortunately, even the carry-on bag needs to be checked in, as there are tiny knives at the bottom of the blending base. The cup that you use for blending can go in your purse so you can sip water on the plane.

In addition to the blender, you should plan on packing the following in your check-in bag:

(1) cutting board. I go with a very thin, light, flexible plastic one that you won't miss if you forget to pack it on the way back.
(2) small but sharp knife with a sheath (so it doesn't shred your belongings on the way.)
(3) bento or Tupperware box for your food, filled with vegetables, fruit, and nuts.
(4) If you know that buffet options where you're going will be sad for vegans protein-wise, pack a can opener.
(5) Reusable cutlery (I have a little bamboo set with a fork, spoon, knife, and chopsticks that I always travel with.)

As to your actual food, you have a few choices. One of them is to fly with your produce. This is a good idea if you have slightly bigger luggage or if you know you're going to a place where a produce market will be difficult to find. In that case, you can pack your vegetables and fruit in the Tupperware box. Another option, which is more realistic if you need your luggage space for clothes etc., is to research a produce source before you leave home, and upon checking in at your destination, to hop out and get supplies for a few days.

You can get anything you want, but my recommendation is to try and rely on fruit and nuts that do not require refrigeration, and to improvise to refrigerate your vegetables and greens.

My shopping list for four days:
2 bunches of kale (one dino, one curly)
1 long cucumber
1 bunch cilantro
2 cups raw cashews
1 container cherry tomatoes
about 10 tangerines
about 8 apples, or a box of strawberries
2 small cans of chick peas and/or a package of ready-made edamame
small ginger root and/or turmeric root, for tea

If you have a little refrigerator, you're in luck! If you are fridge-less, or are staying in one of those places where the fridge is jam-packed with booze, use your ice bucket. Most business hotels have one, and there's typically an ice machine in every floor. Drape the little plastic bag over the bucket, fill it about half way with ice, and "plant" your greens and your cucumber in it. Now you have a little edible "potted plant" in your hotel. If the bottom of the leaves freeze a bit, no matter--it's all going in the blender anyway--and it'll cheer you up to see some greenery. Don't forget to change the ice at least once a day to keep your greens happy.

If you are a coffee drinker, usually you're all set with the coffee machine in the room. But I find that not everyone knows that you can make yourself herbal tea in the coffeemaker. Leave the coffee pod compartment empty, fill the water compartment as you would for coffee, and place your cup in the machine with a few small pieces of ginger and turmeric in it. As the water brews, it'll drip on your roots, making you a nice and spicy cup of morning tea.

Your green bounty allows you to have a nice morning shake in your hotel room, made from about a cup of kale, a bit of cucumber, a handful of cilantro, a spoonful of cashews, a tangerine, and an apple or a few strawberries. For your daily excursions, I'd pack some tomatoes, cucumber sticks, chick peas, nuts, and fruit in the little bento box, which offer you healthy snacking options in lieu of the danishes and muffins that might be coming your way. And if you're worried that people might think you're a freak, I say--so what? You're humming with energy, happy that you planned to take good care of yourself during a busy business trip, and you'll also find that people care much less about what you eat than you think.

Incidentally, one thing that has always puzzled me at professional events is the strong peer pressure to drink at the evening events. I think this behavior is on the decline, because so many friends and colleagues are in recovery and thus not drinking, and so it's become less polite to ask or nag. If you're a drinker, all the power to you (so long as you're in control of yourself and feel okay). But if you're not, you don't need to apologize for choosing not to partake. If you prefer to just circumvent the situation, one way to divert social pressure is to order a glass of plain water or club soda with a lemon or lime wedge in it. It gives you something to hold and sip that resembles vodka and eliminates questions.

Bon Voyage!