Date Cake

It has been far too long between posts.  Now that I am well settled in my new home and have retired permanently from my teaching, I have decided to post a recipe a month on this site as well as anything else I find topical.

The month of Ramadan started a few days ago and since dates figure prominently in the breaking of the fast each evening, I have decided to post this date cake which contains both dates and walnuts and plenty of butter which keeps it moist for days.

Looking forward to your comments.  Enjoy!


date cake (1 of 1)

Date Cake recipe    

1 cup pitted dates (soaked in 1 cup hot water with 1 tsp. bicarb. overnight)
250 gm butter
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 cups SR flour

Cream the butter and sugar.  Beat in the eggs and stir in the dates with their soaking water and the chopped walnuts.  Fold in the flour and pour into a well greased ring tin.

Bake in a moderate oven 45 mins.

Icing

1  cup icing sugar
1 tsp. coffee
1 dessert spoon cocoa
few drops vanilla essence
milk

Blend the dry ingredients with the coffee and vanilla essence adding just enough milk to make a smooth icing.  Ice the cooled cake and decorate with walnut halves.

Advertisements

Vietnamese Chicken Salad – Goi Ga

A few weeks ago, Anna Diep invited me to lead an amazing culinary tour of Vietnam for her company Red Packet Tours. How exciting, I thought! What a trip to look forward to!

My history with Vietnamese food goes back some 25 years, from the first time I tasted Pho in 1987, to writing “The Vietnamese Cookbook” published by Viking Books in 1995, accompanying thousands of people through the Vietnamese precinct of Victoria Street in Melbourne and holding Vietnamese cooking classes in my studio until just recently.

Vietnam is a stunningly beautiful country with a wonderful, refined and tasty cuisine including  “salads” featuring chicken, seafood, prawn and pork.

Over the years, and during my trips to Vietnam I have eaten many versions of  this chicken salad made with different vegetables such as cabbage, cucumber, lotus stem or simply with onion and baby Vietnamese mint. The recipe below is my favourite, quick and easy to make, fresh and delicious!

If you would like to come with me to Vietnam and try other versions among countless other delicacies, contact Anna and book in for the May 2013 Tour.

_MG_1299

GOI GA

2 chicken breasts (or an equal quantity of boiled chicken  eg from soup)

1/2 cup rice vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

3 tablespoons sugar

1 white onion, cut into halves and thinly sliced

1 large cucumber, cut in half and thinly sliced

1 large carrot (shredded)

2 tablespoons shredded Vietnamese mint

1 tbsp shredded shiso

1/2 red chilli, seeded and finely chopped

1/2 cup chopped fried peanuts

1 tablespoon crisp fried shallots

Bring the chicken breasts to a boil in some salted water and cook until just cooked through.  Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle.  (If using boiled chicken from soup, simply shred.)

While the chicken is cooling, mix the vinegar with the salt, pepper and sugar and marinate the sliced onion in this mixture for at least 30 minutes.

Pull the cooled chicken into shreds with your fingers and mix with the cucumber and carrot.  Add the marinated onion slices together with their juice.

Add the shredded herbs, chilli and peanuts tossing to combine.  Season with some nuoc mam to taste and put onto a serving plate  Garnish with the crisp fried shallots.

Serve with some  prawn crackers.

NUOC MAM

1/2 fresh red chilli
1/4 clove garlic
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
8 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons fish sauce

Chop the chilli and the garlic together finely.  Dissolve the sugar in the water in a saucepan over a low flame and then stir in the vinegar and the fish sauce. Bring to the boil and then turn off and allow to cool

Transfer to a serving bowl and add some of the chopped chilli and garlic to taste.

Moroccan Mint Tea

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be heading off to Morocco again to lead another of my culinary tours. One of the highlights of the time spend travelling around the Kingdom of Morocco is the drinking of tea infused with different kinds of mint and other aromatic herbs – a gesture of hospitality and a way to engage with the people we meet along the way.
Mint is the most common herb infused in Moroccan tea but it is often accompanied with seasonal additions, fresh Seville orange blossoms in the spring and Wormwood in the winter.  The desert people like to add marjoram whereas I have tasted tea brewed with thyme and sage in the Atlas Mountains.  Marrakech is known for its “atay m’khalet” or mixed herb tea containing a selection of herbs including two kinds of mint, lemon scented verbena, rose geranium, sage, wormwood and marjoram and very delicious it is!  The Moroccans use loaf sugar which I have described in a previous post entitled “Moroccan Sugar Cones”.

Aromatic herbs for Infusion in tea
Common Mint           Mentha viridis                       na’ana
Spearmint                  Mentha spicata                           ”
Peppermint                Mentha piperata                  menta
Pennyroyal                Mentha pulegium                 fliou
Lemon Verbena        Lippia citriodora                   louisa
Marjoram                    Origanum marjorana          merddedouch
Rose Genranium      Pelargonium roseum           laatarcha
Sage                            Salvia officinalis                   salmiya
Wormwood                 Artemisia absinthium           shiba

The tea is prepared very carefully and a tea service is used which comprises a tray, teapot, containers for tea, mint and sugar and decorative glasses.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

MOROCCAN MINT TEA

1 heaped teaspoon Gunpowder Green tea (loose leaves)
lump sugar
1 bunch mint, well washed

Bring the kettle to the boil.
Scald the teapot and put the tea leaves into the pot.
Pour in 1/2 glass of boiling water, swirl the pot and immediately pour it out into the glass. This is the “soul” of the tea.
Pour in another glass of boiling water, swirl it around and then pour it out into another glass.  This will be dark and cloudy and should be discarded.
Put a handful of mint into the pot, add the “soul” of the tea and fill the pot with more boiling water.
Add sugar to taste and allow to draw for about 2 minutes (over a low flame for the best result).

Pour the some of the brewed tea into a glass and then pour it back into the pot.
Repeat this process  to make sure the sugar is fully dissolved and then pour out a small glass of tea and taste it.  Add more sugar if required.
Pour the tea into the glasses to only 2/3 full. If poured from on high, the tea will be more aerated and will be topped with a layer of fine bubbles known as r’za (turban in Moroccan Arabic).
This will allow the aroma to develop.

According to tradition, each guest should be offered multiple glasses of tea.

Gefilte Fish

I am now back in Melbourne after an amazing two months in Jordan and Israel followed by a photographic trip to Lalibela in Ethiopia to witness the Orthodox Christmas pilgrimage.Apologies to those of you who follow my blog and have been waiting for a post. It has been far too long since the last one. Here’s hoping that I will be much more conscientious in 2102.

It is almost the end of February and, looking at my calendar, the Jewish holiday of Passover is fast approaching.  This is one of our two most important family festivals and my sister and I prepare all the dishes we enjoyed as children.  One of the highlights is our mother’s gefilte fish that we only prepare twice a year, for Passover and Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year). Preparing the fish and its accompanying jelly takes the best part of a day and we  prepare a large amount so that we can share it with our uncle and aunt and their extended family. Since we live in Melbourne, Australia and are blessed with wonderful fish, the traditional Polish recipe using carp has been adapted to make it, (to our palates, at least) even more delicious and much lighter in colour and more appetising .  The great Gefilte Fish divide is whether the fish should be sweet or not.  If you are not keen on the sweet version, just leave out the sugar!

Each year, I receive requests for our recipe and so, here it is:

GEFILTE FISH
2kg skinless Murray Perch fillets (the fatty nature of this delicious fresh water fish is perfect)
500g flathead fillets (or other white fish)
300g skinless sea perch fillets (to ensure the light colour of the mixture)
1 whole small flathead
heads and bones of the filleted fish
2 litres water
4 tbsp. sugar
5 white onions
5 eggs
2 large carrots
1 large slice egg challah or 1 egg matzah (if making for Passover)
Vegetable oil
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

For the Stock
In a large stockpot, place the fish heads and bones, 1 peeled white onion, the whole flathead and 2 tbsp sugar with the water and simmer for about 30 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Strain this stock and set aside to cool, discarding the solids.

For the Fish Patties

Peel and slice the remaining 4 onions and fry them lightly in a little vegetable oil until soft but not brown. If they start to brown, add a little water to the pan.  This will allow the onions to cook without browning until all the water has evaporated. Soak and crumble the challah or matzah.  Mince the softened onions together with the fish fillets and challah or matzah.

Add the eggs, salt, pepper and remaining sugar to the mixture.  Mix very well  (you can mix with an electric mixer using the K beater) then refrigerate for about 1 hour. This will help the mixture stabilise, making it easier to form into firm patties that will hold their shape during cooking.

When you are ready to cook the fish, bring the strained stock to the boil.

Form the fish paste into slightly flattened ovals and drop them into the boiling stock.

Peel and slice the carrots into rounds and add them to the stock.

Cover and simmer gently for 1 hour.

Allow to cool slightly. Remove the fish balls to a serving plate and top each one with a carrot slice. Strain the stock and ladle a little over the fish and carrots to glaze.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.  Cool the stock, pour it into a serving bowl, cover and refrigerate. It will become a firm jelly.

Serve the gefilte fish accompanied with a little of its jelly and “chrain” (kren – red horseradish available commercially).

Moroccan Preserved Lemons

There are so many lemon trees thriving in the gardens of Melbourne and they are at their peak at the moment. Just last week, I took a wrong turn and as I wove my way through the back streets of Richmond to get to my destination I was amazed by the number of heavily laden boughs hanging over onto the footpaths… just begging to be picked. Two icons of the Melbourne back yard are the Hill’s Hoist and the prolific Eureka lemon tree that bears fruit all year round with the heaviest crop ripening in our winter season.  A friend brought me a huge bag containing about five kilos of the shiniest, most fragrant lemons last week and, as my supply of preserved lemons was dwindling, I set about making a new batch to see me through the next twelve months or so.

I admit that I can’t really be bothered sterilising jars so I use a glazed cylindrical container with a perforated lid that I have had for more than ten years.  It was designed to pickle olives and has proved the ideal container for my lemons. I pack them in really tightly, filling the container right up to the brim and then place the lid and my heaviest mortar and pestle on top to press down on the lemons until the juices run and the level goes down.  I then change the mortar for my smallest one until the level goes down some more and then replace it with a well washed building brick so that the lid keeps pressing down on the lemons and the juice starts to seep through the holes in the lid.
I then leave the container in a cool place for 2 or 3 months… or even longer.  The way to tell if the lemons are ready is to take one out and see that the lemon juice and salt have turned into a viscous salty “syrup” and the lemon flesh comes away from the peel easily.  If the lemons are not properly cured, they will have a bitter, “pithy” flavour.  I prefer using only lemons and salt… with no added extras like cinnamon or, perish the thought, bay leaves which completely denature the fragrance of this wonderful Moroccan ingredient.. irreplaceable in tagines and salads.. divine with sardines!

PRESERVED LEMONS

whole lemons
fine sea salt
coarse sea salt

Wash the lemons well and soak in a tub of cold water overnight.  If the lemons are very thick skinned, replace the water each day for 3 days.
Drain the lemons, remove any stems and cut into quarters, but not cutting right through, leaving the bases intact.
Pour a thin layer of fine salt into the bottom of your container or jar.  This will help to draw out the juice from the lemons.  Pack each cut lemon with coarse salt and pack into the container.
Continue this process until all the lemons are salted and packed tightly into the container.  Sprinkle with another thin layer of fine salt and weigh down with a heavy weight.
Store the container in a cool, dark place for 2 to 3 months when the lemons will be ready to use.  They can then be transferred to sterilised jars.

To use, rinse the lemons and remove the flesh, using the peel as a garnish in tajines or cut into tiny dice for use in salads.
A restaurateur I know uses the diced peel with chardonnay vinegar as a dressing for oysters… delicious!

Below are pictures of the thin skinned “Beldi” or local Moroccan lemons that are pickled whole

Harira Bidaouia

Just a short two weeks till the start of Ramadan!  Melbourne is not a bad place to be in August for those who are fasting this year… chilly short days…and for those who do not observe Ramadan… the perfect weather to cook and enjoy this delicious soup. A few years ago, I spent time in the Casablanca home of dear friends during this month of fasting.  Each day we would prepare the Harira and the other dishes that would be enjoyed by the family as part of the ftour or breaking of the fast.
As soon as the first star was spied in the sky, a siren would sound and people would gather to break the fast with a date or two and a glass of milk or juice. This was invariably followed by a bowl of Harira accompanied by dates, bread, hard boiled eggs and the famous Moroccan chebbakieh pastries, formed into rosette shapes,  fried in oil, drained and soaked in honey.
This meal was a prelude to an evening of chatting, snacking and enjoying each other’s company.
Here is the recipe and pictures of the ingredients for those who are unfamiliar with some of them.

Ingredients 1

HARIRA

1 small red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup chickpeas, soaked and peeled
1/3 cup small red lentils
1 tbsp smen
1 tbsp vegetable  oil
1 bunch Asian celery (krafes) chopped very finely
250g stewing beef cut into small cubes
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp turmeric
2 small pieces cassia bark
2-3  l water
1 kg fresh peeled and chopped tomatoes, or 1 can Italian chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato concentrate
salt
2 tbsp flour
50g vermicelli (shaariyeh) noodles
1 bunch fresh coriander,  finely chopped

 
Put the chopped onion, chickpeas, lentils, smen, oil, chopped celery and beef into a deep pot and heat over a low flame until the onion is translucent.  Add the spices and water and simmer  for an hour or two or until the chickpeas and meat are tender.
In the meantime,  cook the tomatoes in a separate saucepan until all their liquid has evaporated and they have reduced to a thick puree. Add to the first pot together with the tomato concentrate and the salt.
Dissolve the flour in a little cold water and add to the simmering soup, stirring until the soup thickens and any foam that has risen to the top has dissipated.
Add the vermicelli and coriander and cook for a further 3 minutes.
Serve hot with lemon wedges, dates and figs and, if available, chebbakieh pastries.



Bessara

One of the most comforting and easy to prepare soups for the winter months is Moroccan Bessara.  I first came across this delicious dish on my first trip to Morocco. I traversed the country with a young driver called Abdel ‘adim who was an expert in street food and Moroccan music… the best introduction to the simple dishes of the country as well as a stunning collection of tunes.

I still love eating bessara in the Medina of Fes el Bali with a fresh loaf from the neighbourhood bakery and mint tea made by one of the experts of the medina. Can’t think of anything better on a cold day!  If you can’t find ready peeled and split beans, you will have to soak and skin the whole beans (an extremely tedious business).

Bessara

500 g dried small peeled broad (fava) beans
6 cloves garlic, peeled
salt
extra virgin olive oil
ground cumin
hot paprika

Pick over and rinse the broad beans.
Put them  in a saucepan with the garlic, cover with fresh water and bring to the boil. Do not salt at this stage!
Skim any scum that rises to the surface and simmer for an hour or until the broad beans are soft and starting to fall apart.
Stir well with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom of the pot to make sure that they do not stick and burn and mash them against the sides of the pot until a thick soup is obtained. (or puree with a mixing wand).
Stir in 1/4 cup of olive oil, salt to taste and 1 tbsp cumin and cook for a further five minutes.

Serve in small soup bowls. Pour another tablespoon of oil onto the surface of each bowl of bessara, sprinkle with extra ground cumin and serve with hot pepper or chilli on the side.

Fresh bread and fried eggs make this a filling and satisfying meal.

NB Fresh cumin is of the utmost importance as is the quality of the extra virgin olive oil.

%d bloggers like this: