Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Day 176! Tajikistan - Non (Tajik Flat Bread with Shallots) and Chickpea Onion Stew (Vegetarian) Up Next, Tanzania

Having recently emerged from a Holiday induced food coma, I am happy to be returning to my worldly travels. After two months of construction, we are back in our house at long last, so all is right with world. The biggest Christmas surprise was that Santa brought me studio lights so that I can actually shoot food when it's dark or raining and natural light is not available (not used here, because I don't have the slightest clue how to work them yet). Somehow, I think my husband was getting tired of  having "dinner" at 3:00 in the afternoon while I madly scrambled to cook, shoot and plate the dish before the sunset at 3:30. Thank you Liam, Santa, I love you more than risotto. Which is a way lot.

A mountainous, landlocked country in Central Asia, Tajikistan is bordered by Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China. The narrow Wakhan Corridor also separates Tajikistan from Pakistan. This country's ancient roots are grounded in the Sogdiana and Bactria civilization. The majority ethnic group are the Persian speaking Tajiks, who share their beautiful language, culture and history with Afghanistan and Iran. Once part of the Samarid Empire, the country became a constituent republic of the Soviet Union during the 20th Century. In 1990, the country was beset but a bloody civil war that claimed more than 50,000 lives. Today, the country's people have forged ahead to rebuild their lives, but the economy remains a fragile one. The primary source of economic revenue comes from aluminum production, boasting one of the largest production plants in the world.

According to The Lonely Planet, one of my favorite travel sites on the web, the country offers breath-taking scenic views. The capital city of Dshambe, is considered one the world's prettiest, along with the city of Penjikent, which was a prominent stop along the Silk Road. Food in this country is closely linked to Russian, Iranian, Afghan and Uzbek traditions. Plov, a layered rice dish and green tea are the country's national dish and drink. Dairy, yogurt, Kaymak, and kefir are enjoyed in cooking and as breakfast and snack food. Grapes, melons, pomegranates, apricots, plums, peaches, apples, pears, figs and persimmons can all be found in the open air bazaars.

The basics: Whole wheat and white flour, yogurt, yeast sugar, salt and water
 Heat water and yogurt, then add to proofed yeast
 My awesome step-dad gave me this lovely old bowl for Christmas ~ xox, Michael
 Finely chop shallots - Every time I cook with them, I wonder why I don't more often
 After dough has risen, gently punch down 
 Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and divide in eight equal pieces
 I used a fork to poke holes in the center, then add shallots, a pinch of salt and a sprinkle of water
 Bake until golden brown...mmm
 Stack of Tajik non joy
Tajik chickpea and onion stew - I used canned chick peas
 I used two large onions and two ripe tomatoes
 Red chilies, coriander, saffron, cumin, paprika and cinnamon ~ heavenly!
 And...another beautiful Christmas bowl, hand made by Terri Hass - potter extraordinaire

Tajik Non (Adapted from - *Takes about 3 hours from start to finish*

1/2 cup warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon dry yeast
1 cup yogurt , plain
1 cup water
1 tablespoon sea salt
2 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons shallots , finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
water , for spritzing

1.Place 1/2 cup warm water in a large bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a bread hook. Stir in sugar, then sprinkle on yeast and stir to dissolve. Set aside.
2.Place yogurt and one cup water in a saucepan, stir to mix, then place over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until lukewarm.
3.Add the yogurt mixture to the yeast and water mixture and stir. Add the whole wheat flour one cup at a time, stirring in one direction only as you add the flour then stir for about one minute in the same direction to activate the gluten. Let this sponge stand, covered, for 10 minutes or for as long as 2 hours.
4.Sprinkle 1 tablespoon salt over the sponge, then stir in unbleached flour one cup at a time until dough is too stiff to stir. Knead using bread hook  for 10 minutes, until the dough becomes smooth and elastic, incorporating more unbleached flour as necessary to prevent dough from sticking.
5.Oil a large bowl, add the dough, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled in volume, approximately 1 1/2 hours.
6.Position a rack in the top third of your oven. Arrange unglazed quarry tiles on it, leaving a 1-inch gap between tiles and the oven walls (to allow air to circulate). (Alternatively place a baking stone or baking sheets on the rack).
7.Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Gently punch down the dough and turn out onto a lightly floured surface and let rest, covered, for 10 minutes.
8.Place shallots and remaining salt beside your work surface, together with a bowl of lukewarm water. Divide dough into 8 equal pieces. Using lightly floured hands, press each piece into a 4-inch round.
9.Work with one round at a time, leaving the others covered at the back of your work surface. Working on a lightly floured surface, roll out to a 6-inch round.
10.With a fork or bread stamp, stamp a 1 1/2-inch diameter circle at the center of the bread thoroughly, to flatten and pierce it (to prevent it from rising). Sprinkle onto the center approximately 1/2 teaspoon chopped shallot, a pinch of salt, and a sprinkle of water.
11.Quickly roll out and prepare one, two, or three more breads (depending on the size of your oven), then transfer prepared breads to the hot tiles, stone, or baking sheets.
12.Begin shaping your next breads as the first batch is baking. Let bake for approximately 7-8 minutes, or until lightly golden.
13.Use a long-handled peel (or spatula) to remove from the oven. Place on a rack to cool, then stack and wrap loosely in a cotton cloth to keep soft and warm. Shape and bake remaining breads in the same way.

Chickpea and Onion Stew (Recipe Adapted from Celtnet)

1 large can (1 pound, 13 ounce) can cooked chickpeas (more if you want a thicker stew)
2 1/2 cup strong vegetable stock
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large onions, chopped
2 large, ripe, tomatoes, chopped 1
/2 tsp crushed red chillies
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp saffron ground with 1 tbsp warm water
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon salt, to taste

Heat the oil in a casserole or large pan and use to fry the onions for about 10 minutes, or until golden brown.
Meanwhile, combine the chickpeas and stock in another pan and bring to a boil.
When the onions are ready add the chickpea mix then stir-in all the remaining ingredients.
Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer then cook for 20 minutes. Serve ladled into bowls and accompany with plenty of bread.

© 2010-2011, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Day 175.5! Chocolate Almond Toffee - Gimme Some Sugar

Tell me there isn't a better recipe than one that calls for only 2 basic ingredients: butter and sugar. Oh, and chocolate and nuts if you so choose. S-weet, right?!

This Chocolate Almond Toffee recipe is dedicated to those with a sweet tooth who aren't afraid to throw caloric caution to the wind and to my favorite non-profit; the ONE Campaign. ONE is a grassroots advocacy and campaigning organization that fights extreme poverty and preventable disease -- particularly in Africa -- by raising public awareness and rallying political leaders to support smart and effective policies and programs that are saving lives, helping to put kids in school and improving futures. Co-founded by Bono and other campaigners, ONE is nonpartisan and works closely with African activists and policy makers.

So, as you bust out another dozen ginger snaps and a festive Yule log masterpiece, think about using this easy gift you can give this time of year that doesn’t require 2 sticks of butter: your voice!

My friends at ONE are all about holiday cheer with a dash of activism. That’s why they've come up with this handy dandy recipe card and easy ONE member recruitment tool all in one. Print out a few copies of this blank recipe card, bring it to your cookie exchange or office holiday party and voila! Your best friend will have your favorite holiday Chocolate Almond Toffee recipe (that actually does require 4 sticks of butter) and ONE will have another voice in the fight against extreme poverty and disease.

Click HERE to down load and print out this recipe card
Chocolate Almond Toffee
Finely chopped unsalted almonds - a food processor works fine as well

Melt 4 ounces semi sweet chocolate - you can use chocolate chips as well

 1 lb. of sweet unsalted butter and 2 cups of sugar - this is not a typo
Melt butter and sugar in heavy pan - use a brush and cold water to wash down sides if needed
 Use a candy thermometer to - boiling mixture to 290 F - hard-crack stage
 Pour into oiled jelly roll pan, cool slightly and score
 Spread with melted chocolate and sprinkle with chopped almonds 
 Cool completely, then break toffee in to square or uneven pieces - store in air tight container
Nom, nom, nom - if you don't eat it all, it makes a wonderful gift.

Chocolate Almond Toffee (Recipe Adapted From The Fanny Farmer Cookbook)

1 pound (4 sticks) sweet unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
4 ounces melted semi sweet chocolate
1/3 cup very finely chopped almonds

Oil a jelly-roll pan. Put the butter and sugar in a 3-4 quart heavy pot and place over moderate heat, stirring as the sugar dissolves and themixture comes to a boil. Wash down the sides of the pot with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Boil slowly over moderate heat until it reaches the hard-crack stage (290 F), stirring gently and touching the sides of the pan only if starts to scorch. Pour it into the oiled pan and let cool partially, then score the toffee into squares. Cover the surface with melted chocolate and sprinkle with chopped almonds. Let the chocolate harden before cutting or breaking into pieces. Transfer to an airtight tin.

© 2010-2011, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Day 175! Syria - Éma’a Syrian Ice Cream - Up Next, Tajikistan

If you live in the Boston Area and you haven't been to Arax Market in Watertown, you don't know what you're missing. Located at 585 Mount Auburn Street, this Armenian market is filled with every kind of Middle Eastern fruits, vegetables, nuts, pastries, cheese, spices, olives and supplies one could imagine. Oh, and the most ornate selection of hookas I've ever seen - just in case you need one. So today when I went in with my recipe for Syrian Ice Cream which included 2 ingredients I was completely unfamiliar with: Mastic Gum and Salep,  the awesome guys who run the place couldn't have been more helpful. Within minutes, I had everything I needed, plus a few extra treats I couldn't resist. Many, many thanks to Arax for hooking me up! Be sure to check them out on Facebook.

About the size of North Dakota (U.S.), Syria is a narrow coastal plain with a double mountain belt in the west, and a large semi-arid and desert plateau.  Mostly desert land, the country is hot, dry and sunny in the summer and mild and rainy winter. Ethnic Syrians come from Semitic stock, with 90% being Muslim, 74% Suni and the other 16% a mixture Shia Muslim, Christian and Jews. Most people live in the Euphrates River Valley and along the coastal plain, the fertile strip between the coastal mountains and the desert. An ancient and rich culture whose history dates back to 2500 BC, the city of Elba was home to one of the most brilliant civilizations in the world. Currently, this beautiful country is in the throws of a violent, internal conflict, with protesters demanding the regisnation of President Bashar al-Assad, along with the overthrow of his government. To date 5000 deaths have been reported.  For up-date information on the country's turmoil, readers are referred to

Agriculture in Syria includes wheat, barley, cotton , lentils, chickpeas, olives, sugarbeets, fruits, nuts, vegetables, beef, mutton, eggs, poultry and dairy. Aleppian culinary influences, along with Arab, Persian and Turkish traditions make for a wonderful variety of dishes such as humus, tabbouleh, fattoush, labneh, shawarma, mujaddara, and meze to name just a few. Middle Eastern food is without a doubt on my top 5 list of favorite foods - and now this ice cream...well, read on.

Rose Water - Scents the custard with a delicate, exotic aroma. I dabbed a little behind my ear because really, what's better than smelling like a sweet rose? Mastic Gum thickens the custard, but also lends a very subtle pine pitch flavor and scent, like pine nuts; Finally, Salep flavors and thickens the ice cream custard with a lovely vanilla and cinnamon taste.

 Gum Mastic - I chewed it plain and it really is like gum, with a pine pitch taste - I loved it!
 Crushed up between two sheets of parchment paper - no crystal meth jokes, please
 Salep added to milk turns thick and smooth with a wonderful vanilla/cinnamon smell and taste
 Add 9 cups of whole milk to a large pot
 Heat to a boil over medium heat
 Gradually add 2-1/2 cups of sugar. Yes, it's a lot of sugar, but it's a lot of milk too - I feel absolutely zero guilt - is that bad? Return mixture to a rolling boil for 5 minutes.
 Just 3/4 of a teaspoon of rose water is added once custard is cooked - a heavenly, delicate scent!
Top with plenty of chopped, shelled, unsalted pistachios - how deluxe can you get?

Be still my heart

Syrian Ice Cream (Éma’a) - Recipe Courtesy of foodbuzz
(Yield:  About 10 cups)

9 cups plus 1/4 cup whole milk, divided
1 cup heavy cream
4 medium pieces (about 1/4 tsp) Chios gum mastic
2 -1/2 cups sugar
5 tsp sahlab
3/4 tsp rose water
Chopped pistachios (for serving)

In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 c milk with the sahlab; set aside.

Grind the mastic into a powder; the best way to do this is to put the mastic between 2 pieces of parchment paper or inside a plastic bag and pound it with a heavy object, such as a rolling pin.

In a medium-large pot over medium heat, combine 9 cups milk, the cream, and the mastic; bring to a boil (stirring frequently).  Slowly whisk in the sugar and bring back up to a boil, stirring constantly.  Whisk in the sahlab mixture and boil vigorously 5 minutes.  Turn off the heat and add the rose water.  Cool to room temperature, lay a piece of plastic wrap directly on the mixture (to prevent a film from forming), then refrigerate until well chilled (about 4 hours).

Transfer the chilled mixture to an ice cream machine and process according to the manufacturer’s directions.  Once processed, put the ice cream in a freezer-safe bowl and transfer to the freezer to set.  Scoop out the ice cream and roll generously in chopped pistachios before serving.

Final Assessment: Whoa! This might be the best ice cream I've EVER had - and trust me, I've had a lot. It tastes like a combination of vanilla, cinnamon and pine. It's creamy and sweet and the pistachios on top give it texture, crunch and a wonderful nutty flavor that compliments it beautifully. Add to that the ever so slight scent of roses and it's a full on heavenly sensory experience - sexy, right?!

© 2010-2011, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved