Monday, July 28, 2008

Tajine Madness. The winter of the slow cooked Moroccan ‘casserole’

This was one of our wedding gifts and I have had fun playing with it this winter. Tajine refers to both the pot used to cook meals in as shown above, as well as the dish. It is traditionally served with couscous, rice or flatbread (or all three). The idea behind the pots shape is that the steam rises to the top of the strangely shaped lid which then runs down back into the food, trapping in moisture and hence leading to a tastier result. The design also means the lid can be lifted off without burning your hand To be honest I don’t really know if there is any benefit to the tajines shape, or if a heavy cast iron crockpot or dutch oven would lead to the same result. The benefit of the modern tajines is that they can be heated directly over a flame so that meat can be browned before the stewing (this leads to a more complex flavour). Because of the long cooking times, cheaper cuts of meat can be used and the flavours have more time to develop.

I started off by following a recipe that came with the tajine – beef with dates and almonds.

This is a picture of my first attempt, looking quite retro with the boiled eggs on top! I found that this recipe led to an overly sweet tajine (probably shouldn’t have added the sugar AND the dried fruit they suggested) so decided not to follow any more recipes. The almonds on top provided a nice contrast to the rest of it though (texturally and flavour-wise).

The basic concept is to brown the meat, onions and fry the spices (often cumin, coriander and cinnamon, but I have played around with this) and then add vegetables, water or stock and other flavourings and simmer.

The chicken, preserved lemon and olive version above was more successful and great served with couscous, a salad, a yoghurt dip and some hot harrissa. I am now unfortunately out of preserved lemons so have to make or buy some more before I can play around with this recipe.

The fish tajine I approached a little differently and made a chermoula paste which I used to both marinade the fish and fry in the oil as the spice base. Using the magimix I also got as a present, it is very easy to make spice pastes, in this case a combination of onion, garlic, ginger, parsley, coriander, cumin, lemon and oil. I then made the stock base with some home made chicken stock and added potatoes and oven roasted red capsicum. The fish I only added in the last 10 minutes.

In the spirit of the casserole, this is great to use up old vegies in the fridge and is easy to put together and then leave on the stove for 1-2 hours. Once you develop your favourite/ preferred spice combinations, it is easy to get this meal on.

What’s your favourite tajine recipe?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Laban Immo (Arabic Yoghurt and Lamb stew)

It’s funny how the cold weather has brought out a lot of Arabic recipes in our house. Maybe I am missing home or need the comforts of the memory of childhood. Laban Immo is definitely a winter dish, as is its close relative Shishbarrah (or hats as we kids called them due to the hat shaped dumplings) a yoghurt soup with ravioli type dumplings.

You may have noticed that I call my mothers cuisine ‘Arabic’. That is because while many of her dishes are Lebanese in the sense we use it in Australia (though she is not of Leb descent), they are also eaten by much of the middle east, with some variation between countries and different religions too.

As a kid, I always translated this dish in my head as meaning ‘my mother’s yoghurt’. This is because Immo sounds a lot like immi (mother). As I got older I realised this translation was wrong (and also a bit gross if I thought about it too long). Anyway I digress.

This is an easy winter stew, the hardest part being the continuous stirring of the yoghurt until it boils. My husband and I fight over this sometimes as he thinks I could just turn it up on high heat and walk away without stirring. This would curdle the mixture but as he hasn’t actually seen it curdle (despite him doing this on the sly sometimes) he doesn’t believe me.

Anyway here is the recipe, and if you try it please, stir it continuously until it boils

Laban Immo (Arabic Yoghurt and Lamb stew)
Serves 4, serve ladled over rice

500 grams of diced lamb
1 onion, thinly sliced
3-4 cloves of garlic, finely diced
Tin of chickpeas, drained
1 1kg tub of yoghurt
Salt, pepper
Mixed spice
1 teaspoon Curry powder
1 egg

For the yogurt broth. Into a large saucepan, empty the tub of yoghurt, fill the tub with water and add it to the pot. Add egg, salt, pepper, curry powder and then wiz up with a stick blender or whisk until thoroughly combined. Put it on a hot plate and slowly heat up, continuously stirring with a wooden spoon, until it boils. Once it boils (simmers really, we don’t want it to be rapidly boiling), the danger of the broth curdling is past.

Meanwhile, or after, or before (depending on if you have help), cook the lamb. For this, fry the lamb in a pan in oil until browned and then add hot water to cover and bring to a slow boil. Add salt, pepper, mixed spice, cinnamon stick if you like, and let it simmer for 20 minutes. Drain the lamb and add to the yoghurt broth.
Add chickpeas, onion and lamb and let simmer in the yoghurt broth about 10 minutes, or until the onion is soft. Fry the garlic in a good slug of oil until golden but not burnt. Add to the stew, stir and then serve over rice. The garlic really brings the whole thing together.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bar Lourhina

Bar Lourhina
Little Collins St

A few weeks ago now, we decided to try our luck on a Friday night at Bar Lourhina. Touted as the Movida alternative, I was surprised at how different the two places are. For starters, we could get in last minute (they don’t take bookings anyway)! It has a real tapas bar vibe, with people there just having drinks from the pretty impressive wine list. We were in the front sofa area for about 10 minutes before we were transferred to the bar, so it wasn’t too painful a wait, plus they had taken our drinks order and we had looked over the menu so it didn’t feel like we were waiting too long. There are also tables, but I think the wait for those were much longer. It was quite noisy in the little room, but had a good vibe, a real Friday night after work kind of vibe.

I was hoping they would be actually preparing tapas in the bar area like they do in Barcelona, but they only prepared the drinks there. Still, the waiters were all very friendly and informative. I don’t remember everything we had now, but the special of baby goat stew was pretty impressive, as was the house made chorizo. The menu is short but the ingredients fresh and put to good use. Nathan didn’t like the olives as they were of the ‘fat’ variety, but I loved them.

The waitress did a very good job talking us out of the churros and into having the panacotta type of dish that had a mixture of candied pistachios and pomegranate over the top, that I am still thinking about. She also talked us into sharing a little glass of black sherry which was pretty amazing.

I was a little surprised at the total bill at the end of the night but I guess with some good wine and sherry the bill adds up. I think the reality of the price of food in general, particularly in restaurants, is finally sinking in, which I don’t have a problem with (as the cost of producing and transporting food has risen) but still surprises me every now and then.

A definitely recommended place, especially if you want a nice Friday night venue for drinks and food with friends.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Bamia (lamb and Okra stew)

This was one of my favourite Arabic meals growing up as a kid. My sister hated it (and still does) but I think she has an issue with the texture, which is a little like eggplant (which she also hated – go figure).

Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly (as this dish tastes unreal), my very white Australian hubbie loves this meal – we often fight over the leftovers. It is a very simple meal to make – perfect for the mid week winter meal, and very nourishing. All I can say to make this a simple mid week meal is this; put on the rice first, and by the time the rice is done, the stew will be finished. I tend to use brown rice these days but my mum always used white and it tasted great.

I used to buy okra from the markets, but they tend to be the larger sized okra which are not as tender or tasty. So I have started stocking the freezer with frozen okra which you can buy from middle eastern, Greek or Indian food stores. I also tend to have lamb in the freezer too, so this means I can pretty much make this whenever I feel like it which makes it a good stand by meal. And the frozen okra is small and tender and so cooks quicker.

Bamia (serves 3-4 people)

1 pack frozen bamia (400g) defrosted
500 g diced lamb
2 tins tomato
1 Onion
3 cloves Garlic (or more, to taste)
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
Handful coriander leaves, to finish
Salt, pepper, mixed spice

Precook the bamia, either by deep frying it in oil until light gold, or the healthier option I use, which is to put it on an oven tray, spray lightly with olive oil, and grill for 5 minutes each side until golden (but not burnt).

Meanwhile, brown the lamb in a medium saucepan in olive oil. Add enough boiling water to cover, salt, pepper, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, and mixed spice and let simmer for 10 minutes or so. Drain the water and reserve the lamb.

In the same pan, heat a little oil and gently fry the onions and garlic till soft. Add the tinned tomatoes, lamb, okra and spices, and let simmer gently for 20 minutes. It should thicken a little and the okra becomes soft. Taste for seasoning, add chopped coriander leaves and serve with rice.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

How not to make a Creme Brulee...

With a propane burner. Engineers, should NOT be allowed in the kitchen. Though bless Nath, I wasn't going to attempt this! For the record, this didnt work so well, as the flame was too large and slightly cooked the custard, and as propane is a liquid, when the torch was flipped upside down, the liquid ran to the top of the torch blocking out the gas and hence the flame would go out.
I am still after a good creme catalana recipe as the one I have tried did not result in a thick enough custard for my liking. Any ideas? Apart from using more thickener...
I have since purchase a butane burner so look forward to a more successful attempt to burn the top!