International Meals – Kiribati

One of the struggles of this project is to not simply cut and paste our recipes from other bloggers who have taken on this task.  Especially since they’re mostly doing a better job.

In particular, United Noshes is doing a really exceptional job.  They have dinner parties.  They donate to charity.  They’ve been on NPR.  Have WE been on NPR?  No we have not.  Are we doing nearly a careful or accurate enough job to WARRANT being on NPR?  Also no.

But when United Noshes says they are unable to identify much, if any, of a distinct food culture for a country, we know we’re not going to do any better.  In order to avoid just copying them, I will generally do quite a bit of Googling, as well as checking actual cookbooks.  But in this case?

Nope – we’re just copying them.

To get a few things out of the way:

Kiribati is an island nation in the middle of the Pacific ocean. It is the 172nd largest country in the world by surface area, putting it between Sao Tome and Principe, and Bahrain.  By population, it is 178th. On the other hand, they have bent time and space to their will.

By which I mean there’s a big diversion in the international date line which Kiribati unilaterally declared in order to have the entire country be on the same day of the week as their major trading partner, Australia.

International Date Line
Can you guess where Kiribati is in this picture?

Two more facts before we get onto the food.  1) The name of this country is pronounced “Kiribass”. 2) Kiribati is very likely to be the first country we lose entirely to climate change.

OK, so before that happens, what are we making?  Two dishes – fried parrotfish, and pumpkin simmered in coconut milk.

Both are VERY simple, as befits a country with very little land area for cultivation of herbs and spices.  Let’s start with the fish.  Parrotfish are actually found all over the world, but since they are also found in the freezer at my local Supermarket 88, we decided to ape United Noshes and go with that.  After all, we can’t argue with this irrefutable evidence:

Kiribati stamp with parrotfish.

That’s more or less exactly what the frozen one looked like.

Parrotfish
Uncanny, isn’t it?  I am NOT good at gutting, scaling, or filleting fish, as has already been established in this project, but fortunately, parrotfish have BIG scales, so it’s easy to tell when you’ve gotten them all.  A great deal of utterly terrible knife work later, and we had this.
Parrotfish filets

And a quick fry in oil later, we had this.
Fried parrotfish
That would appear to be fried fish, all right. To be clear, I used absolutely no seasoning or breading of any kind.  Just patted them dry with paper towels and hurled them into the oil.

For our other dish, we made Te bwaukin, or pumpkin simmered in coconut milk with pandan leaf.  And there’s really not much more to it than that.  There’s literally only one ingredient (sugar) that isn’t listed in the title of the recipe.

Chop up pumpkin. (shown here mid chop)

Put in a pot with coconut milk, sugar, and some pandan leaves.

Simmering pumpkin

The pandan leaves are interesting.  They have a really lovely, sweet fragrance, and are used for seasoning desserts all over Oceana and southeast Asia.  Our entire fridge now smells like pandan, and I am not complaining.

And with that, we’re done.  Here’s dinner:

Kiribati meal

Simple, isn’t it?  The nice thing about saltwater fish is that they taste just fine when you cook them without any seasoning.  It was a nice crunchy piece of flaky fish.  And the pumpkin was so sweet (if a bit mushy) that it was basically a dessert.  Nothing fancy here, but as authentic as we were likely to get, and nothing we wouldn’t eat again.

Thanks Kiribati!  We hope everyone gets out safely.

Next up, due to our refusal to file it under “N” or “D”, we have Korea, North.

Recipes:
Fried Parrotfish: Seriously, just toss it in hot oil for 12 minutes or so.
Pumpkin Simmered in Coconut Milk

International Meals – Kenya

For previous Christmas day meals, we’ve sometimes tried to make what would be traditional for the holiday in that country.  Not so much on this Christmas, but it was nice having the day off to cook.

Kenya is on the east coast of Africa, and has historically had a wide range of visitors, from Zheng He to Vasco de Gama. The colonial era wasn’t any less awful than anywhere else, but modern Kenyan society represents a wide range of intra- and extra- African influences.

When you google “national dish of Kenya,” the main result is ugali, or cooked cornmeal, used as a base to consume other dishes.  So we’ll make that.  Hot water, cornmeal.  Bam.

Ugali
OK, what else?

We settled on two dishes, a veg and a curry.  The veg was also pretty simple: sukuma wiki, which literally means “stretch the week.”  It would traditionally be made with whatever vegetable was readily available in season to provide a filling means of pushing the food budget.  Collard greens would be very authentic, but those don’t turn up in our local Canadian grocery store all that frequently.  So kale it is!

Note: for a number of years, Leigh and I took part in an absolutely amazing scavenger hunt called “GISH”.  It is a running joke in GISH that kale is always redacted. Here is the only GISH item that I personally ever managed to get included in the annual coffee table book.  It has nothing to do with this meal, but I’m going to use this excuse to include it anyway.

Pirate cake

So anyway, to make Sukuma Wiki, you simply Sautee some onions, wilt in some [redacted], and then finish with heavy cream.

Bam. Done.  What else?

For our main dish, we are making a chicken curry called kuku paka. This is an abbreviation of “kuku wu kupaka”, which literally just means “chicken in sauce.” It’s a coconut milk based curry featuring not terribly exotic ingredients.

First, you marinate the chicken using chili powder, garlic, lemon and salt.

Chicken marinade ingredients.

Mmm.. gros salt.

Next, you make a curry base consisting of onion, tomato, chilies, and cilantro.

Curry base ingredients

Knife for… scale?  To show we mean business?  Not sure. Moving on…

The base gets pureed and then cooked with some spices for a bit to get rid of the raw onion taste.  Once it’s ready, you add coconut milk to make it creamy.  Meanwhile, you broil the marinated chicken until it’s done and a bit charred in spots.

Broiled chicken.
Chicken and pan juices go in the pot with the sauce and everything gets simmered for a bit, and finally the whole thing is finished with a bit more heavy cream.  And with that, we’re ready to bring everything to the table!

My goodness, isn’t that pretty?  We’ve made some fairly beige meals on this journey, (looking at you, Iceland), but this was not one of those.  And in addition to being fun to look at, it was TASTY.  The richness of the coconut milk combined with the spices in the curry made for a hearty, satisfying meal.  The [redacted] was crunchy and rich with cream, and the ugali was… fine.  It was fine.  It soaked up the sauce nicely.

Next up, we return to Oceana for a country that isn’t pronounced the way you think it is.

Recipes:
Kuku Paku
Sukuma Wiki
Ugali

International Meals – Kazakhstan

It’s been a hot minute since we posted one of these, but we’ve been busy.  Specifically, we’ve moved!  Now that we have our permanent residency in Canada, we decided that we’d rather start building some equity of our own, rather than continue to help our landlord do so. So we’ve purchased a condo.

Of greater relevance to THIS blog, however, is our new kitchen.  The oven is tiny, but we have SO much more counter space!

Counter space with dough ingredients
Look at all that room!  And there’s even more on either side of the range top.

Good thing, too, because the perceptive among you may have looked at that picture with flour, water, salt, and eggs, plus an expanse of blank countertop, and deduced that we are making glue.  But you’d be wrong, because glue doesn’t HAVE eggs, silly!  Add eggs to glue, and you get noodles!

Add sugar to glue, and you get cake.

I have no idea how cooking actually works.

At any rate, we are going to attempt the national dish of Kazakhstan, beshbarmak. Beshbarmak literally means “five fingers”, and is a dish of meat and noodles that is intended to be eaten with your hands on festive occasions.  Since it’s not a terribly complicated recipe, we decided to complicate matters a bit by making our own noodles.

To balance that, we are using a SLIGHTLY non-traditional way to cook the lamb.

Instant pot
Because we sprang for the Instant Pot with the stainless steel insert, we are going to be able to save some effort here by doing everything in one pot – moving it back and forth from the pressure cooker to the stovetop.

But first, let’s get that dough going.  Mix, knead, and rest.

Dough in plastic wrap.

Ball of dough in plastic wrap.  Not the most exciting photo.  Then roll out.  I rolled it to what I THOUGHT was fairly thin, but future me will wish I had gone even farther.

Dough rolled out and cut into squares
Various recipes have differing ideas about how large these squares should be.  Again, hindsight is 20/20, but we’d probably have gone slightly smaller if we knew then what we know now.

Here’s the sequence.  First, the lamb is cleaned with vinegar, and then boiled on the stove to get the first round of foam and fat off.

Lamb on stove.

Next, the meat is drained and then the pot is refilled with water for a 30 minute pressure cook.  At the end of this, you have tender cooked lamb and a nice pot of broth. The lamb is removed, and the broth goes back to the stove top, where it is used to cook a big pile of onions.

Chopped onions
Out with the onions, in with the pasta.  It poofed up pretty thick, which is why we wished past us had done a better job.

Pasta draining
Finally. two cups of the stock are boiled with more onions (diced this time), salt, and a fresh bay leaf to make a sauce.  Yes, I know – the joke is that bay leaves don’t actually DO anything.  I thought so too.  But science has been scienced, and you can’t argue with science.
Sauce and herbs
With that done, it’s time to assemble: noodles, onions, meat, greenery, (dill and parsley, here) and sauce, with a nice bowl of broth on the side.
Kazakh meal
And it was perfectly fine.  Super exciting?  Not really. But onions, dough, and meat with a few herbs is a nice filling comfort meal all over the world.

It’s not at the top of the list of international meals we’re eager to make again, but it’s ALSO nowhere near the top of the list of international meals that weren’t to our tastes, either.  It was just a solid, hearty meal that was MUCH easier to make on a big countertop.

Next up – Kenya!

Recipe:
Beshbarmak

International Meals – Jordan

Full disclosure – this meal was WEEKS ago.  But I wanted to finish writing up our Japan trip, and the school year is starting, and we’re buying a condo, and we agreed to run a roller derby officiating clinic, so it’s taken a bit.

We’ve visited this part of the world, primarily while in the “I”s, so I knew where to head for the specialty ingredients we would need.  The national dish of Jordan is Mansaf, which is meat cooked with a fermented yogurt sauce.

The original type of yogurt that would have been used with this is called laban jameed, and consists of goat’s milk yogurt that’s been preserved with salt and then dried into hard balls.  These are then crumbled and reconstituted, and represent a really clever way of storing milk in a hot climate.

However, this form is challenging to locate in North America, and every source we looked at assured us that Iranian liquid Kashk is essentially the same thing, just skipping the “dried and then rehydrated” step. So we got that.

Kashk

Preparation of the dish as a whole is not complicated.  You just deal with each of the parts and then put them together.  Part the first: boil some nice lamb shanks until tender.
Lamb shank
(They are not yet tender in this photo.)

Part the second, thin the yogurt with a little bit of water, bring to a low heat on the stove and add the lamb.

Yogurt on stove
It doesn’t LOOK terribly appetizing at this point, but it had a wonderful tangy fragrance.

Part the third, make rice.  We continue to ignore directions that don’t involve “put in device designed expressly for this purpose and push button.”

Finally, bread.  We just purchased it, rather than making our own this time.
Persian bread

And that’s it for prep.  Final step is to just layer everything and pour more sauce over it all.

Assembled mansaf

We didn’t just make the one dish, however – we needed an accompaniment and something to drink.  For the former, we made a Jordanian roasted eggplant dip, moutabal. It seems very similar to baba ganoush, but apparently many baba ganoush recipes do not use tahini, and this one does.

At any rate, just like hummus, the recipe is pretty simple.  Cook your vegetable, eggplant in this case.

Eggplants on a roasting tray

Then mush them up with tahini, lemon juice and salt. Bam.

Moutabal

And to drink, Limoana, which is basically mint lemonade. Mint, fresh lemon juice, sugar, and ice.  What’s not to like?  Unfortunately, I didn’t let the sugar syrup cool far enough, so it melted the ice.  Still tasty, but not quite the intended texture.

Lemonade in a blender.
Here’s the final spread.
Jordanian meal
This was excellent.  The tangy yogurt coating on the lamb in particular was really memorable.  The bitterness of the eggplant was offset by the tartness of the lamb and the lemonade.  No notes.

And that’s Jordan, and the Js!  Next up, Kazakhstan.

Recipes:
Mansaf (Lamb with yoghurt sauce)
Moutabal (Roasted Eggplant Dip)
Limoana (Mint Lemonade)

International Meals – Japan

If you were to Google “national dish of Japan,” what would you expect to find?  Ramen? Sushi? Pocky?  Nope.  What tends to come back is “curry.” Now, obviously, “curry” is a word with easily hundreds of definitions around the world, but in Japan, it generally refers to this: (photo credit: Serious Eats)

Japanese curry boxes

Japanese curry tends to be very sweet, very mild, and really only dates from the mid to late 19th century.  We’re not making this.

Instead, we’re going to make some high-effort Tonkatsu ramen.  (“Tonkatsu” by itself is a fried pork cutlet. “Tonkatsu Ramen” means a broth made with pork bones.  I don’t know where the cutlet went in this etymology.)

As such, I biked over to Granville Island to start the process by seeing how many “misc” UPC tags I could induce the butcher to generate.  I’ve mentioned the Granville Island Public Market before – it’s a combination tourist trap / actual useful market, like Lexington Market in Baltimore, the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, or the West Side Market in Cleveland.  Unlike those, however, it’s also located on a beautiful island on the water, so my bike ride home looked like this:

Vancouver waterfront

My appreciation of the view was SLIGHTLY tempered by the rock-hard, ice-cold pig foot digging into my back.  The trouble with doing this by bicycle is that I had just purchased, in addition to the foot, a large bag of frozen bones (“misc”), a substantial quantity of frozen pork back fat (“misc”), and a slab of refrigerated, skin-on pork belly, (not “misc”)  all of which had to go in the backpack for my ride home.

But only slightly tempered.  I mean – LOOK at that view!

Once I got home, the actual ramenating was a process which would take several days.  First off, we wanted to make a pork chashu topping, which involves a long cooking time and then an overnight chill in the fridge.

First, the skin is removed from the pork belly, and saved for later.

Pork belly

Next, a little cha-shibari, and it goes in a pot with soy sauce, sugar, and water, to simmer for 3 hours. (Photo was taken before the addition of the water)

Finally it gets wrapped in plastic to set overnight.

Plastic wrapped pork

Now, since this makes WAY more chashu than we were going to need for two bowls of ramen, and we didn’t have time to make the broth the very next day, instead we decided to make Japanese curry out of a box.  So yeah, I lied about not making that.

Japanese Curry

We tossed in some apples and corn.  It was good!  Definitely NOT our official “Japan meal for the blog” however.

For that we needed to make the broth, which was an all day process.  Fortunately, Leigh generally works from home over the summer, so was able to babysit it during the day.  To start, we boiled the bones and pig foot by themselves for about half an hour to get off the initial round of froth.

Pig bones
After half an hour, you remove the bones, strain the liquid carefully to get rid of solids, and then return the liquid to the pot.  The bones and foot get washed, and then they go back in the pot as well.  What else goes in the pot? The skin from the pork belly, the back fat, an apple, an onion, and some garlic and ginger.

Broth cooking

This is all going on at 7:30 in the morning, to be clear.  At this point, I put on the heat and went to work.  Over the course of the day, Leigh continued to skim off foam, and top up the water as needed.  When I came home, the apartment smelled amazing.

Now, one of the things Tonkotsu broth is known for is its milky white color.  The way you get that is by carefully removing the fat and skin, which are just barely still solid at this point, and giving them a whir in the blender.

Pork fat in blender

That gets returned to the pot.

Broth still cooking

One thing this broth DOESN’T have in it is salt. A bowl of ramen consists of a number of parts.  There’s broth, noodles, toppings, and tare.  The last one is absolutely critical, as it contains a large part of the flavor of the broth, and ALL of the salt, which is absolutely necessary to bring out the taste of everything else.  There are several types of tare, including soy tare, miso tare and shio tare.

We’ll be making the last one, which literally just means “salt tare”.  Starting the night before, we soaked some konbu seaweed in water.

Konbu in water

An hour or so before dinner, the konbu is joined a pot with the soaking liquid and a whole pile of dried fish flakes. (That’s flaked dried fish, not the things you feed to your pet goldfish.)

Fish flakes
After that gets cooked down, the solids are discarded, and the liquid is blended with vinegar, sake, and soy sauce to make the final tare.

The one other topping we decided to make was some burned garlic oil.  I’m used to trying to keep garlic THIS color:

Garlic cooking
Nope – this recipe calls for THIS, and even a little past:
Burned garlic
Our other toppings included chopped green onion and some pickled garlic. Here we are, ready for final assembly.
Ramen ready for assembly

Clockwise from upper left – empty bowl, random hunk of ginger (not going into the ramen), garlic oil, bluetooth speaker (not going into the ramen),  shio tare, a chef’s knife (DEFINITELY not going into the ramen), chashu pork, and green onion.

Oh, right – we boiled some noodles too.  That took about two minutes. (These are technically soba noodles, but they were the best looking noodles at the Japanese grocer the day we went.)

And here’s the final product:

Ramen

Whew!  That was a lot of work! But LOOK at that result – the broth was beautifully milky, the chashu just dissolved into the hot broth, the ginger, onions, and garlic oil added some nice contrast, and the whole thing was just stunning.

Doing ramen the high effort was is a challenge, and makes me appreciate WHY restaurant ramen is so much better than our usual efforts at home.  This was spectacular.  Big thank you also to our friends for loaning us their cookbook.  (Which does mean no recipes this time around, but if you want to get your own book, it’s this one.)

Next up, we’re going to be using this blog for it’s original purpose for a bit, because coincidentally enough, we’re off to Japan!  Once we’re back, it’s on to the last “J” country – Jordan!

International Meals – Jamaica

really don’t like eggs.

It’s weird – I’m fine with French toast, crepes, custard, even tamago, but for whatever reason, I find eggs as eggs completely unpalatable.  It doesn’t matter what form they are in – scrambled, poached, benedict – I just don’t care for the taste.  Which seriously limits my options at brunch restaurants.  I really wish I DID like eggs – that 80% of the menu looks very interesting!  But there you are.

So anyway, this week we’re making the national dish of Jamaica – saltfish and ackee.

What are ackee, you ask? They are a fruit which can be quite toxic if not prepared correctly.  For that reason, they are only available in the US and Canada canned. So off we went to the Caribbean market for a few cans of this stuff, along with a package of salted cod.
Canned Ackee
Huh.  That’s kind of a funny looking fruit on the can.  I wonder what it looks like when we open it up?

Opened cans of ackee
Oh.  Oh dear.  Did I mention I have an absolutely visceral dislike of scrambled eggs?

Now to be absolutely clear – ackee tastes absolutely nothing LIKE scrambled eggs. Honestly, it doesn’t seem to have much of a flavor at all.  If anything, I would describe it as being like an extremely mild, buttery cheese.  Maybe it’s different fresh?

But oh my goodness did this tweak something in my lizard brain. (“EGGS!” the lizard shouted.)

Let’s press on.  Like any dish involving salted fish, the first step is to soak the fish for as long as possible to draw out the salt.  We had about five hours, and I suspect more would have been better.

Salted fish
Once the fish has been soaked in a few changes of water, you boil it and then shred it up.  Meanwhile, in a pan, you cook onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, thyme (we used something labelled “Jamaican thyme,” but it didn’t seem any different from the regular kind), and a Scotch bonnet pepper.

Vegetables cooking
Once those have softened up a bit, you toss in the fish and the ackee and let it all heat up.  We found two recipes for this dish which were nearly identical, except one said to cook the ackee for absolutely no longer than three minutes, and the other said at least fifteen.

Fine.  This is like that time we found one set of directions that said we had to set our hot water heater absolutely no higher than 115 F to avoid burning ourselves, and another that said absolutely no lower than 130 F to avoid Legionnaire’s disease.

Fine.

Anyway, to go with the saltfish and ackee, we made coconut rice, which is literally just rice cooked in coconut milk, with some green onions on top.  And here’s the two of them together:

Saltfish and ackee
My goodness, it REALLY looks like scrambled eggs, doesn’t it?

I will reiterate again, however, that it doesn’t TASTE like eggs.  Mostly it tasted like salt.  I think we needed to soak the cod overnight, or change the water more, or something, because the salt flavor was really overpowering.  The buttery fruit was quite rich, as was the coconut rice – I can see why this is frequently eaten for energy in the morning.

That said – it wasn’t really our favorite international dish we’ve made, and that was probably our fault.  If you asked me to tune it to my own parochial tastes, I would probably add quite a few more tomatoes for acidity, or perhaps some lime juice.  Just something to cut the richness. But again – that’s my taste, not a comment on the quality of the dish itself.

As always, we want to stress that if one of these dishes turns out not to our taste, we are NOT making any judgements on the quality of that country’s cuisine.  Rather, the fault lies either in our taste, or in our own uninformed execution of the dish.

We also made a coconut toto, which is almost certainly not named after the small dog that wrote the soundtrack for the original Dune movie.  Instead, it’s a standard cake, made by creaming together butter and sugar, and then adding flour, rum, desiccated coconut, and a LOT of nutmeg.

Coconut toto
Not super exciting to look at, but absolutely delicious for dessert.
Slice of coconut toto
So that’s the national dish of Jamaica.  Everyone thought we were going to make jerk chicken, curry goat, or oxtail for this one, and frankly, we probably still will sometime soon.  Not necessarily as an official addition to the blog, but just because we LIKE those things, and this go-round has reminded us of their existence.

Next up, Japan!

Recipes:
Saltfish and Ackee
Coconut Toto

International Meals – Italy, Part 3: Sicily

This meal seemed to be cursed.

We decided to celebrate the land of approximately 25% of my ancestors with a dish called Pasta con le Sarde, or “Pasta With Sardines.” So naturally, we needed to acquire some sardines.

The FIRST time I went to get sardines, my car battery died.  So not only did I not get sardines, I also missed a brass band rehearsal, and eventually had to pay a LUDICROUS amount of money to have the thing replaced.  Thanks, supply chain!

Take 2: Got in my car several weeks later to drive to Granville Island.  Car started right up, got to the fish counter, and found out that fresh sardines are no longer a thing in Vancouver.  Something about currents.  The curse then kicked up to high gear when I LEFT Granville Island, and discovered that a race course had been set up such that I couldn’t get back within half a mile of our apartment. I had to park a long way off, go get my horn, walk back to the car before my parking ran out (in the pouring rain, of course) and go sit in a library for the next two hours.

On the other hand, if I HADN’T gone to fail to get fish, I would have been trapped INSIDE the race route, so that’s something, I guess.

Sooo…. canned it is, I guess. Not the ideal choice, but better than nothing.  (We later found out that frozen can be had if you know exactly which specialty grocery store to hit, but the ones I tried didn’t have them.)

We ALSO managed to buy the wrong size pasta, but at that point we just wanted to EAT, darnit.

OK, so what even IS this recipe?  Well, it’s a somewhat similar flavor mix to the salad we had last time, but with the addition of this bad boy:

Fennel

But lets not get ahead of ourselves.  Our mise en place starts with soaking raisins and saffron in hot white wine.  Sicily really has been a crossroads for a LOT of cultures over the years.

Raisins soaking in white wine

Next up, let’s fry some bread crumbs in olive oil.

Bread Crumbs

And then chop up a buncha other stuff, including the inevitable onion.

Mise en place

That package of pine nuts has now made an appearance in all three Italian meals, so they’re pulling their weight, for sure. In addition to those, onion and fennel fronds on the cutting board, and the aforementioned raisins and breadcrumbs up top, you can also see the jar of anchovies from last week coming back out for another appearance, and the chopped fennel BULB at upper right.

Everything ready, it’s time to start cooking. You start by softening up the onion and fennel, then you add in the anchovies.

Onions, fennel, and anchovies 
This gets cooked until the anchovies have basically completely dissolved into the oil, which is kind of amazing.  Next up, in with the raisins and wine, which get cooked until they reduce away.

Raisins going into the sauce
Finally, in go the sardines and pine nuts.


Meanwhile, the pasta gets cooked separately until just this side of done, and finally everything gets tossed together with a little bit of pasta water.

It’s not actually all that complicated a dish.  Did I mention we did this one on a weeknight?

The breadcrumbs go on at the end when the dish is served, along with the fennel fronds.  And here it is!

Sicilian PastaNot my best food porn, which is a shame, because this was actually delicious.  The sweet raisins, salty anchovies, toasty pine nuts and bread crumbs, fishy sardines, and pungent fennel, all combined to make something that really felt of a place – there wasn’t any question of “isn’t this the same as what you can get across the border in the next country over?”

It was also delicious.  If I ever spot fresh sardines on a counter, I’ll snap them up so we can try this again with the not canned kind.

And after a solid year… that’s the “I”s done!  It’s been a long trip.  Next up, Jamaica!

Recipe:
Pasta con le Sarde

International Meals – Italy, Part 2: Southern Italy

We really tried to resist it as being too obvious, but the fact of the matter is that the most iconic dish of southern Italy is the pizza. So let’s do this.  One pizza, coming up.

But we’ll at least try to do it right.

Fancy flour:
00 Flour

Fancy capers, fancy anchovies, fancy cheese, and fancy tomatoes:
Capers, anchovies, cheese, and tomatoes

The capers and anchovies are for the salad, not the pizza, but I can’t be bothered to clip this into two separate pictures.  So we’ll get back to those.  The cheese is Fior di Latte, which is Mozzarella made with cows’ milk. Apparently fancy Mozzarella is made with buffalo milk. Pretty sure the shredded stuff in bags you get at your local Safeway is NOT made with buffalo milk, but who knows?

Anyway, this stuff DEFINITELY isn’t.  And the tomatoes are San Marzano tomatoes, regarded as the finest canned tomatoes that ARE available at your local Safeway.

Fancy diastatic malt powder:

Diastatic malt powder

Don’t ask me what this does, I have no idea.  I wasn’t able to find a DOP diastatic malt powder from the Diastia region of Italy, so we just went with this.

For the dough, I was recommended a fancy recipe, which I followed to the letter, but in hindsight, I have serious doubts about the wisdom of that.

First, the flour to water ratio seemed QUITE off.  I know pizza doughs can be fairly dry, but this just crumbled. But aggravating that was the problem that the knead time for this recipe was, in hindsight, just absurdly, laughably low.  One minute in the stand mixer and three by hand is NOT going develop anything LIKE enough gluten, and in hindsight, it really, really didn’t.

Dough before fermentation
This went into the fridge for two days to ferment, and then it was pizza night!

When I attempted to make the pizza, it was clear something had gone seriously wrong with the dough – it was brittle and crumbly, and there was no way to stretch it out to the desired size.  We baked it off for the (far too short) length of time specified in the recipe, and it was basically raw.

However, we were HUNGRY at this point, so we ate the salad (which I will talk about in a minute) and tried again – the dough recipe made three portions.  This time we used a rolling pin to get it as thin as possible and just cut the excess off to make a circle.  We dropped the amount of sauce from “not much” to “really, really not much”, and cooked it for three times the length of time called for in the recipe.  This one wasn’t too bad.

Pizza

Still not the best pizza we’ve made, but at least over the line into “edible.”  What’s madding is that we’ve made much better pizza on numerous occasions with far less effort, but when we tried to pull out all the stops, it seemed to make things dramatically worse.

The tomato sauce was delicious, anyway.  As was the salad.  So let’s talk about that!

We made Escarole alla monachina, which is a warm salad made with bitter greens (obviously escarole for preference, but we didn’t find that), anchovies, capers, pine nuts, and raisins. (Olives too, but we left those out.) And boy howdy, did the fancy anchovies and capers make a difference. Here’s the salad still cooking:

Salad cooking

And here’s the final product with the sad failed pizza cropped out:

Salad
This was REALLY the standout of the evening.  The second pizza was fine, but the umami blast from the anchovies, combined with the sweet raisins, tart capers, and crunchy pine nuts, was just stunning.  Would make for guests, if I didn’t have to buy a 50 gallon drum of greens to wilt down to more than two servings.

So that’s our southern Italian attempt – an excellent salad, and a not great pizza. We know it’s not you, Naples, it’s us.

Next time, Sicily!

Recipe: (not going to bother linking the pizza one)
Escarole alla monachina

International Meals – Italy, Part 1: Northern Italy

When Leigh was in college, some of her friends had a really dumb game called “Tour de Beer.”  They would go to the crappy campus bar, and attempt to work their way all the way across the taps, having one of each beer.  This being a crappy college bar, the taps started easy – Budwiser, Miller Lite, etc.

But in the middle, there was a bit of a roadblock… Guinness, followed by Bass.  Not exactly Pappy Van Winkle, but definitely tough to just power through.

I bring this up, because we started the “I”s on this blog last MAY, and it seems likely they’ll take a full year. The “I”s have a LOT of countries that can’t be easily condensed – India, Indonesia, and now Italy. But I’m sure the “J’s will… Oh right – Japan.

We are ONLY making one meal for Kiribati, no matter what, OK?

Let’s get started.  There’s some broad generalizations you hear about Italy – the north has more butter, the south has more olive oil; the north has more beef, the south has more pork; the north has more Ligurians, the south has more Sammites.  My notes may be a little out of date.

For the north we decided to make a Lasagna Bolognese, a version of this dish characterized by a slow simmered meat sauce with very little tomato.  We would accompany this with a loaf of Tuscan bread, some Genoese pesto, and a few different antipasti.

Let’s start with the bread, since that had to be started the night before.  Tuscan bread is notable for containing no salt, for historical reasons that I have no idea if they are made up or not.  In order to break down the gluten a sponge is made by soaking flour in water overnight, to make a bit of a mush:


Once it’s had a nice long soak, you add in the rest of the flour, and the water that I’m PRETTY sure should have been called for in the recipe, but wasn’t.  Also a LOT of yeast.  (garlic for scale)

Turns out if you break down the gluten overnight, even though you no longer have any salt to slow the yeast down, you still need a lot of it to overcome that lack.  It’s a weird balancing act.  It also has a VERY long knead time, which was not aided by the fact that our Kitchenaid overheated after the first minute.  Arm day!

A few rises and shapings later, we had some nice loaves. The final product will be at the end.

Bread

Next up, Bolognese sauce!  You start by making a soffritto consisting of carrots, celery, and onions, processed pretty fine.

SoffritoSoffrito
Once that’s cooked down, in goes half the meat.  This is a trick to allow you to get some nice browned flavor without drying out ALL of the meat.  Since I had gone to an Italian grocery store with an excellent deli counter, we went with the fancy option of 1/2 beef, 1/4 pork, and 1/4 veal.

Meat

The meat does get a LITTLE tomato paste.
Tomato sauce on meat

It also gets wine.  When I went to the liquor store to look for something Italian that wasn’t too expensive to put in a sauce, but wasn’t too cheap to drink the rest of, the associate recommended a nice Chianti.
Chianti
In conversation, they also mentioned that the movie “Sideways” had caused sales of Merlot to drop measurably.  I just hope that “Silence of the Lambs” did NOT have a corresponding positive effect on sales of Chianti.

Anyway, let’s finish this ragu. It should ideally be hydrated with homemade stock, but failing that, we used store bought with a few packets of gelatin added.  And with that, it just goes on the stove to simmer for three hours.

However, there is another sauce in a classic lasagna Bolognese, and that’s a creamy Béchamel.  Frankly, ours never thickened, and I’m not sure it actually added anything to the final dish.  But we made an attempt.

For the final assembly, we had purchased fresh lasagna noodles, and then had to contend with the massively contradictory opinions as to whether they should be cooked or not.  We opted to boil them very briefly and then shock them in ice water.

Bechamel

This seemed a reasonable middle ground between the package directions of “4-6 minutes” and the more common internet consensus of MAAYBE put them in the same room with some lukewarm water.

And then it was time to build the thing. Sauce, noodles, béchamel, Parmesan and on and on…
Lasagna under construction

Lasagna in the oven, it was time to make pesto.  It was brought to my attention last time that we made an incorrect characterization of the price of pine nuts, by comparing them to Neodymium.  Although it depends on where you source the Neodymium, and what form you get it in, it does appear this was a bit excessive.

Pine nuts, in fact, ONLY cost as much by weight as Holmium.  Glad we got that sorted out.

Anyway, here’s the pesto in process.
Making pesto

And here’s the pesto, the bread, and the rest of our antipasti:

Antipasti

Not a bad spread, huh?  In addition to the bread and pesto, the plate on the right contains mortadella, Prosciutto Di San Danielle, Parmigiano Reggiano, mozzarella, and olives.  The olives are from Peru, but we had them lying around, and they were a perfectly reasonable thing to add.

The bread was just as unsalted as advertised, but the texture came out perfect for soaking up the pesto.

And what about the lasagna?

Finished Lasagna
Gotta say, we were pretty happy with that.  And the actual Italian person we invited over confirmed that this was a reasonably authentic approach to a Bolognese style Lasagna.

Said Italian person ALSO provided us with dessert!

English Soup
This is an ancestor of Tiramisu called Zuppa Inglese or “English Soup.”  “Soup” was apparently a relatively generic term in Italian cooking at one point that just referred to things soaked in other things.  This particular trifle contains sponge cake or ladyfingers dipped in a liquor that originally got its bright red color from insect wings.  And then the “English” part may or may not have been a dedication to Lord Nelson.  Take that, Napoleon!

And that’s our first Italian meal!  The plan is two more – the south, and then back to my Sicilian roots.  Thanks to our guests for coming out and bringing dessert!

Recipes:
Basic Ragu Bolognese
Lasagna Bolognese
Genoese Pesto

International Meals – Israel

Israeli cuisine is a bit of a difficult subject.  The sovereign state of Israel as it exists today was only established in 1948.  But the area has been continuously inhabited for just about as long as we have evidence that humans have existed at all.

So what IS Israeli food?  Is it the food of the region in general? Israel has a simmering argument with Lebanon over who can lay claim to hummus. The argument, is of course, nonsense – hummus is substantially older than either Israel or Lebanon, and is ubiquitous throughout the middle east.

Is Israeli food the food of the diaspora, brought back to the region by returning Jews?  Should we perhaps focus on the food of modern Israeli chefs like Eyal Shani, whose whole roasted cauliflower can be found all over the internet?

In the end, we decided these questions are above our pay grade, tried to pick a few recipes that we believe would be reasonably typical in a modern Israeli household, and got on with it.

We ARE making hummus, but from a recipe which claims to be “Israeli style.”  This is another somewhat dubious claim, since there’s not actually a lot to vary here.  The basic ingredients of hummus everywhere are chickpeas (soaked and cooked), lemon juice, salt, and tahini. This version also includes quite a bit of garlic, which is not at all unusual.

A word about tahini, however.  Tahini has only one ingredient – sesame seeds.  In principle, we could have made it from scratch, but we decided to just get a jar of ground up sesame seeds.  At which point it occurred to me – I already HAD a jar of ground up sesame seeds.

Jars of sesame paste

Did I really need to buy the one on the left?  As it turns out, yes.  While both jars contain nothing but ground sesame, the one on the right contains ground TOASTED sesame, which has a slightly different flavor profile. Great for Dan Dan noodles, which is why we have it, less good for hummus.

Once you’ve cooked the chickpeas, the process for making hummus is: “blend everything together.”

Hummus

Bam. Hummus.  For our main dish, we’re making a lamb kebab with a tahini sauce.  Let’s see what the ingredients for this sauce are.

Lemon juice, tahini, garlic, salt….

Tahini sauce

….waaaait a minute.  This sauce is just hummus without the chickpeas.  Oh wait – it gets some mint and parsley too.  Thank goodness.

The actual kebabs are seasoned with mint and parsley as well, in addition to pine nuts which, at the time of this writing, are roughly twice as expensive (by weight) as neodymium.

I am not making this up.

Kebab mixture.
We live in Canada, and it’s winter, so clearly grilling would be out of the question.

I’m kidding, of course – we live in Vancouver, so it was in the 40s F, or… some other temperature C.  Perfectly fine for grilling, anyway.

Grilling kebabs.

For our final dish, we DID make cauliflower, although we decided to eschew the trendy “whole cauliflower” thing for a battered and fried version.  The cauliflower got a quick blanch in boiling water, and was then put through a rigorous dunk in three separate stations.

Cauliflower cooking process
First flour, then egg, and finally breadcrumbs and spices.  (“spices” in this case means turmeric, chicken bullion powder, and pepper.) These are then fried up in olive oil until crispy and brown.  Wouldn’t want the cauliflower to be HEALTHY, after all.

To accompany the meal, we bought the only Israeli wine (other than Manischewitz) available at our local liquor store.

Israeli wine

And here’s the final spread.

Israeli Meal
Full confession, the pita was also just purchased off the shelf.

And… it was pretty darn good!  The cauliflower, in particular, was excellent – crunchy on the outside, not too soft in the middle, with a nice bite from the pepper and the bread crumbs.  The kebabs were tasty, and hummus is always great.

Was there anything on this table that is uniquely Israeli? Probably not.  Is this a meal that would be absolutely normal to see on an Israeli table?  Probably.  Was it delicious? Yes.

And that’s probably the most important thing.

Next up, our fifth country that’s going to need to be split into multiple meals, and then we’re out of the “I”s!

Recipes:
Extra garlicky “Israeli style” Hummus
Ground Lamb Kebabs with Pine Nuts and Tahini Sauce
Fried Cauliflower