Tired of cooking the same handful of meals each week, I enrolled on an international cookery course.
The course may have ended, but it's just whetted my appetite....

Join me on a weekly visit to the cuisines of the world, countries from A to Z, and back again!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Q is for Qatar

Where we're going this evening - Qatar

Now given that it was only a couple of weeks ago that we were in the Middle East when we visited Oman, you may be wondering why we're back in the area so soon.  And the answer to that, is how many countries can you think of beginning with Q?  This is it, folks.  Of course, I could have anticipated this and had a different 'O', but I think that we all know by now my ability to plan ahead.  Or not.

I think that it also goes without saying that I know about the same about Qatar as I did about Oman (i.e. not much) just that it's in the Middle East, it's not likely to be overly democratic, and it's probably very rich indeed - let's see if I'm right...

...firstly, Qatar is a small sovereign state sticking into the Persian Gulf with just one border to the south with Saudi Arabia.  It has a ruling family which accounts for all the top posts (Emir, Crown Prince, Prime Minister etc etc) and until 1971 was considered rather poor - until they developed the vast oil and natural gas  reserves, and so they are now very rich.

Looks like my assumptions were all pretty spot on then.

The Qatar peninsular is flat and consists of mainly desert. The average daytime temperature is a sweltering 32 degrees, and there is less than 3" rainfall per year.  The capital, Doha, is sensibly on the east coast, and before the oil became the major source of income, pearl hunting and fishing were the two big industries.

The native population is only 250,000, but the country's wealth has resulted in a huge explosion in building and development, the labour of which has been supplied by huge numbers of immigrant workers - bringing the total population up to just less than 2 million.  A regular melting pot!

So let's say salam wa aleikum to the people of Qatar and see what's on the menu for tonight...

Tonight's Menu...

As you might imagine, with a tradition of fishing, seafood is quite a big deal in Qatar.  Also the many varieties of dates (which you can stick, as far as I am concerned, I'm afraid) and hummus too is part of the national cuisine.

With so many migrant workers, the food is influenced accordingly - by those from Iran, India and north Africa.  Qatar is a Muslim country, so all meat is halal (prepared according Islamic practise), and you aren't going to get pork scratchings round here any time soon.

The most important traditional Qatari dish is machbous, a stew of richly spiced rice with either seafood or meat, so we'll give that a whirl, and I'm going to team that up with pitta bread.

Machbous (Spiced lamb with rice) - recipe from food.com
Saute diced lamb with chopped onion, then add chopped tomatoes, parsley, baharat spice, grouund limes, turmeric and stock and simmer for half an hour.  Add rice and simmer for a futher 20minutes.

Pitta bread - recipe from allrecipes.co.uk
Add plain flour, salt, a little olive oil, a little sgar and yeast in the bread maker pan with water and set to 'dough' (yes, what a cheat I am!).Split the resulting dough into pieces then roll each ball of dough out into a 6" circle.  Cover and leave to rise for half an hour or so.

Sprinkle with sesame and onion seeds then cook in a hot over for 5 minutes until they start to brown.  Revmove from oven and cover immediately with a damp cloth until they go soft.  Split & eat (with lots of butter too, if you are me)

The Result

And what have we learnt?

  • Changing the spices makes for a total change of flavour - this lamb stew was transformed by adding baharat spices and turmeric.
  • In culinary terms, nigella, love-in-a-mist and black onion seeds are all the same thing.  In gardening terms they most certainly are not - I wonder what would come up if I sowed some of them?
  • Pitta bread is easy if you have a breadmaker to take that tedious kneading business out of the process.
  • Like the ensaymada (sweet bread rolls) last week, the pittas really didn't make it further than the cooling rack once I'd got the butter out of the fridge.  Must work on that will power thing.

And out of 10?

  • for the machbous - a tasty 7/10 - this really was jolly good, and being an all in one recipe, for once the dishwasher wasn't left groaning with overuse.
  • for the pitta bread - a delicious 8/10 - the sesame and black onion seeds really made these very tasty indeed.  I am a fiend for white bread - always have been.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

P is for the Philippines

Where we're going this evening - the Philippines

Compounding my ignorance of quite where Oman was last week, to my shame I struggled to put my finger on the map as to where the Philippines are too.  What was I doing in geography classes?  Actually, I was  learning about hanging valleys and drumlins - but not learning about where places are, obviously.

In fact, about the only thing I can dredge up about the Philippines is that it was ruled in the fairly near past by a pretty unpleasant chap called Marcos, whose wife Imelda had a big thing for shoes.  If that's the best I can do, I'd better get researching...

....so the Philippines are in the far east - the total land mass is about twice the size of the UK, consisting of over 7,000 islands, and with a population about half as many again as the UK.  The climate is tropical, with a diverse range of fauna and flora.

As in so many instances, the Europeans were at it again in terms of deciding that this bit of land would make a fine extension to the county despite it not only being thousands of miles away, but also having a perfectly happy indiginous population.  In this case, it was the Spanish, and they so liked the archepeligo that they even named it after their king, Philip II.

Finally independent in the mid fifties, Ferdinand Marcos was elected president a decade later, but being prevented by the constitution form being able to run for a third term in office, he declared martial rule and carried on regardless for another decade or so before being run out of town - to Hawaii, actually - with his wife and her unfeasably extensive footware collection.

Internal spats and wrangling ensued with a number of administrations over the next couple of decades being blighted with political scandals and allegations of corruption. All rather undignified, I'm afraid.  That doesn't stop the Filipinos from being a hardworking bunch - both at home and as expats all over the world - and the country is definitely being tipped as 'one to watch' in terms of development.

As far as the food goes, there's an undeniable Spanish influence but also from their Asian neighbours - however the food is described as 'robust' as opposed to spicy, and although rice is a staple, their Western roots mean that chopsticks are not as widely used as they are in the neighbouring countries.

So let's say kamusta to the Filipinos and see what's on the menu for tonight...

Tonight's Menu...

Characteristic of Filipino cuisine is the counterpoint between putting something sweet with something salty - the custom is to serve everything together rather than in courses, which rather underlines the practise of lots of bold sweet/sour/salty tastes all bunged together in one shebang.

Vinegar is a common ingredient - which I thought was very odd as I think of vinegar as British, for some reason, something to do with fish and chips not being the same without it, I guess - and also sweet rice.  So I'm opting for hopefully a bit of all the flavours for that authentic Filipino experience.

Adobo is a stew like dish with vinegar and soy sauce; the sweet bread rolls are served with a sprinkling of sugar and grated cheese; the champorado is a sticky chocolatey rice pudding - it all sounds like it's going to be an explosion in a tasting factory, but let's see how we get on.

Chicken Adobo with rice - recipe from filipino food
Brown onion, garlic in a pan then add chicken (or pork - I used turkey), soy sauce, vinegar, paprika, bay leaves & some water. Simmer for 30 mins.  fish the meat out of the pan and brown for a few minutes in a separate pan before returning it to the stew.  Thicken with a little cornflour, season and serve with rice.

Ensaymada  - recipe from the internet
Mix easy blend yeast, dilute evaporated milk, sugar, melted butter, egg yolks and sifted plain flour in a bowl then knead and leave for an hour to rise.  Divide the dough in portions, roll into snakes then coil and place in muffin cases.  Leave to rise for another hour then brush with butter and cook.  Cool completely then slather with butter, dust with sugar and top with grated cheese.

Champorado - recipe from food.com
Cook pudding rice on the hob with water, until thick and creamy   Add cocoa powder, sugar, and a few drops of vanilla.  Serve with a swirl of cream or condensed milk.

The Result

And what have we learnt?

  • Co-incidence is a funny thing - I always have vinegar in the cupboard - because you do - but rarely use it.  In fact it will be a good couple of years since I had call to - except this very morning on reading a tip on how to remove limescale I used the entire bottle on the bathroom taps.  The bathroom now smells like a chip shop, and - yet again - I am to be found hot-footing it up to Aldi on the corner early evening in order to secure a vital cooking ingredient.  This point to be subtitled 'what was that about reading the recipe in advance?'  On the plus side the taps are sparkling.
  • In the adobo recipe, browning the meat after it is simmered rather than at the start of the recipe would appear to serve no purpose but to use yet another pan which will then need to be washed up
  • Sweet bread straight out of the oven requires more will power that I possess to leave to get cold before slathering with butter, sugar and cheese.  
  • It's mighty tricky to take photo of cocoa rice pudding without it looking like a cow pat.
  • Hmm - I have also learnt - looking at the pics above - to either provide some sort of marker in order to give a sense of scale, or to always use the same size plates for my dishes.  That is not a giant tomato in the first pic, that is a side plate. Equally, the rice pudding is on a saucer, that is a teaspoon.  However, it still looks like a cow pat.

And out of 10?

  • for the chicken adobo - a solid 7/10 - the inclusion of soy sauce and vinegar gives this stew a real zing.  One to do again.
  • for the ensaymada - a whopping 9/10 - in fact the only thing that knocks this sweet bread/butter/cheese jobbie off the top spot is the fact that (for the most part) I followed the recipe and a left the bread to cool before garnishing with sugar/butter/cheese.  The ones that I nicked straight off the cooling tray were magnificent.
  • for the champorado - a reasonable 5/10 - chocolate is generally good, and this was ok, but I like a rice pudding as it is, thank you.  This one certainly does not win on the beauty stakes, and given that enjoyment of food is dependent on more than just the taste of the dish, this is certainly marked down on looks.  Tough old world, ain't it?