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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Introducing Eastern food to Western tastebuds


As a lover of foreign foods -especially Middle Eastern foods- I find the transition of Americanized food to true traditional foods of the area to be a slow one.

Take my boyfriend for an example. He has never had Indian food. Since that is my favorite to cook I find I feel very uncomfortable and unprofessional giving him Indian food as a first meal for the spices if you are not used to them can terribly upset ones' stomach. So I devised a plan. Introduce him from West to East, so his stomach will be used to the spices.

First on my planned list was Morocco.
Morocco has a lot of influences over its years to make what we call now "Moroccan cuisine".
Berber may be what first influenced it. Though Berber cannot be generalized as one cuisine since it is widely spread across North Africa. Arabs influenced it as well with Moorish and Mediterranean.

So the trip to find a decent Eastern food store started.
Hala Cafe always had good food but it was higher priced. Low and behold I have discovered a haven for my Eastern food indulgences. M&M Imported Foods off San Jose is a chefs hidden pantry. Brimming with spices imported from overseas, tahini, chickpeas, lentils and huge bags of couscous (among other things), all at decent prices...its a place to fall in love with.
Gail is the wife of the owner and she is a godsend.

For that night of me cooking for David and his brother Nick I had the idea of preparing something elaborate and well frankly, costly. It was going to consist of chicken marinated in olive brine etc, etc, etc.
Upon talking to Gail my mind changed. With her thick accent not everyone can understand her but she does talk a lot about cooking so her love for it is apparent.

She gave me this recipe and now I pass it to you. I cannot for the life of me remember the name of it, but I shall keep searching.

Moroccan Cuisine Night
~3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts quartered
~1 sweet onion, sliced
~Olive Oil
~Dried Mint Leaves
~Syrian Spices  (if you can't find it at your local spice store here is a comparable recipe)
~Sumac (a tangy ground up berry spice, usually light to dark red)
~Khobz  (I ended up buying it from Gail for since it was short notice. I normally make my own bread but here is again a good recipe to go by if you cant find it anywhere.) *note: make the khobz bigger than normal, more like the size f a small pizza

Prepare the chicken, sprinkle with Syrian spices and pepper. Bake in the oven at 350 for roughly 10-15, checking as needed or until done. Meanwhile saute the onions in olive oil until golden brown. After both the onions and the chicken are done take the khobz and put it on a baking sheet. Pat the khobz down with water and then olive oil, covering the surface lightly. Cover the khobz in a decent layer of sumac then lay the onions and chicken over its surface evenly. Lightly sprinkle dried mint leaves, lemon and Tabasco sauce (if desired)
Place the khobz in the oven at 350 for a few mins until the dough feels crisp.
Cut in squares. Serve hot with lemon slices on the side.

Side dish:
~Moroccan Couscous with Squash and Zucchini
  Buy couscous (be in it a bag or box, neither matters though make sure you know if you have traditional or instant for traditional is like rice, it takes more time)
boil the appropriate amount of water with in ratio to the couscous, after boiling add couscous and let sit for 5 mins off the burner, covered. After 5 mins check and fluff with fork. Take a can of tomato paste *the small can* and mix half gently into couscous.
Take two of each squash and zucchini, cut lengthwise and then quarter. Cook in olive oil over a stove with onion spices and garlic, salt and pepper to taste. Arrange on top of couscous before serving.

~Dolmasi (stuffed grape leaves) *not really authentic Moroccan but its been there before*
 I ended up buying the dolmasi in the can for I was not ready to tackle it on short notice.(I will tackle it on Turkish Cuisine Night)
Arrange in circular like shape with parsley and lemon slices.

~Moroccan Mint Tea
You can choose the way you want to make this. I chose the way that's authentic. I had bought a huge bag of dried mint from Gail that she said was imported from Egypt. You can taste it, its the best I have had.
I just brought the water in a 5 qt pot to a boil, added a handful of the mint leaves and let it seep off burner for a good 5 min, added a pinch of sugar then served it making sure to add a leaf into the cup.


The opinions of my meal were astounding. David went back the next day to get some more mint leaves for himself. Gail was ecstatic and impressed I was able to make all that just by her telling me what I needed not how to do it. What can I say? I love to cook.

Until next time.
Dekhthe Hai