Where we're going this evening - Egypt
For our first visit to the Middle East, we travel across to Egypt, home of the camel, fez, pyramids and the river Nile.
Egypt is four times the size of the UK with half as many again in terms of population and the biggest city is the capital Cairo, known as the city of a thousand minarets. Egypt is a country of great geographical contrasts - the lush and fertile lands around the river Nile contrasting with the uncompromising Sahara Desert to the west of the Country
There's enough politics going on to last anyone a lifetime in this neck of the woods - Egypt is the Arab capital, right next door to Israel, and it's fair to say that there have been one or two dust ups between the two in modern history. The Suez canal, built in 1869 nearly bankrupted the country and led indirectly to British rule (honestly, in Victorian days we did get about a bit) from 1882 to 1922 at which point Egypt was declared independent. More recently, democratic reforms have been implemented following general civic unrest last year.
Egypt has far more that its fair share of culture - from the wonderful Pyramids of the Ancient civilisations to the 101 tales of the Arabian Nights - honestly, its enough to make you want to put on a veil and a pair of curly slippers and learn to belly dance.
Famous Egyptians - apart from Tutankhamen, Cleopatra and Nefertiti - include Mohamed Al Fayed (former owner of Harrods) and Omar Sharif (actor and bridge supremo)
Before I looked into Egyptian cuisine, I was rather worried that it would be all sheep's eyballs and locusts covered in honey due to the country being the home to some many tribes (including the nomadic Bedouin and Nubians), however with the exception of 'halawa' which is made of sesame seed paste and is billed as 'one of the few foods that can tolerate the hot Egyptian weather without going bad' which doesn't do anything for me at all, it all sounds rather good. Not much in the way of pork & beef, of course, but plenty to go at despite that.
So come with me across the desert and say 'salam wa aleikum' to the Egytians...
Tonight's menu has been a tricky one - Middle Eastern cuisine rather all blends in together, with influences from Africa , Europe and further East. Ful medames (a sort of broad bean pate) and falafel (chickpeas mashed & fried) are both very popular, but I wanted to cook something more substantial than dips with pitta bread, however delicious they sound.
I nearly plumped for koftit roz - rice meatballs - but having cooked Danish meatballs last week, I wanted a change, so kushari it is.
Roz Bel Laban is known as rice pudding to you and me, but it has a couple of twists compared to how I would make it UK stylee, so lets see how it goes.
Kushari - meatball recipe is from the whats4eats website
Cook rice, lentils & macaroni and mix in a bowl. Fry onions, garlic, chopped tomatoes, and chili flakes gently until sweet. Season & pour over the mixed rice/lentil/macaroni and top with crispy fried onion slices (note: that is crispy, and not burnt).
Simmer short grain rice with water then add milk, stirring until it begins to thicken (note: I used skimmed milk throughout rather than water, then full fat milk, figuring it would all come out in the wash).
Add sugar, orange blossom water, cinnamon, nutmeg and raisins, stir constantly until rice is soft (note: using a non-stick/milk pan for this means you aren't tied to the hob quite as much)
When creamy, serve hot.
And what have we learnt?
- Egyptians must have a MASSIVE appetite - I know that I've been converting cups to grammes & reducing the numbers catered for, but even so - blimey - the rice/lentil/macaroni mix would feed a bus load!
- As it is, a lentil/rice/pasta base is pretty damn bland - but not unpleasant.
- Using three pans to provide a base for a meal makes me mighty glad that the new kitchen contains a dishwasher (which is not me). My dear Godmother throws her hands up at the washing-up generated from my mother's home-cooked dishes when she comes to stay with her - she'd have had a conniption fit at tonight's utensil extravaganza
- Spicing up a sauce to suit what ya got (it's called the 'Hazel's fridge' school of cookery - i.e 'here's the base, what's in the fridge to give it a bit of zing') works well. Love the tomato/onion/chili mix from the recipe with onion topping, but give me a pepper or two, spring onions & a bit of sweetcorn & we really will be walking like an Egyptian!
- surprisingly, this hob cooked rice pudding is just as good and quicker to produce than my family oven cooked jobbie
- and this week's 'well, damn me!' moment - the Egyptian version of rice pudding doesn't need a full fat/jersey milk to make, my pallid skimmed milk version tastes exactly the same. Dieter's dream dish, I suspect.
And out of 10?
- for the Kushari - a reasonable 6/10 - tasty, but unless you're catering for a busload, the faff of preparing three base dishes on top of a sauce is disproportionate to the tasty (but not extraordinary) end product.
- for the Roz Bel Laban - a tasty 8/10 - I love a rice pudding, but having to remember to buy special full fat milk in order to make the oven-baked version passed to me by my mother, generally puts me off. I could not tell the difference with this hob prepared version , bar the fact that I had to keep more of an eye on this hob-made version. A success.