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Monday, September 15, 2014

M for Malaysia ~ Cekodok Pisang

Event: BM #44 , Around the World (A - Z series)
Choice of Country: Malaysia  
Capital City: Kuala Lumpur  
Official Language: Malaysian

After a short break yesterday, I am back to my alphabet based global cooking and today we are moving to "M" and "Malaysia", a south east Asian nation. This federal constitutional monarchy is separated by the South China Sea into two similarly sized regions, Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia (Malaysian Borneo). This nation was ruled by Malay monarchs up until the 18th century when it came under British rule. It finally became independent in 1957. Now the head of government is the Prime Minister while the head of state is the king, known as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. He is an elected monarch chosen from the hereditary rulers of the nine Malay states every five years. The country is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, though The constitution declares Islam the state religion. 
Malays, Chinese and Indians form the major ethnic groups. Malaysian cuisine has evolved into a highly diverse and complex one owing to this multi-ethnic makeup of its population, historical migrations, colonization by foreign powers, and its geographical position. The present day cuisine is a melange of traditions from it's Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian and ethnic Bornean citizens. 
The first recipe that popped up in my search of Malaysian treats was cekodok. Even though I later bookmarked a lot of desserts, I stuck to these fritters since they were simple and quick to prepare and I had to finish off some leftover bananas. Cekodok pisang are supposedly one of the popular, traditional snacks in Malaysia. They also go by alternative names cekodok, kuih kodok, cucur and jemput-jemput. These fritters are prepared using flour and banana but are not at all on the sweet side. In fact they were bland to our taste and I would prefer some extra sugar added to the batter if I try them next time. They are very easy and quick to prepare and a nice way to use up those left over bananas lying on your counter. They are usually round shaped and can be made small or big depending upon one's choices. And of course bananas can be substituted with anchovies, prawns, onions or maize.

Ingredients: (Make about a dozen)
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
A pinch of salt
2 tbsp coconut
1 tsp sugar
1 big sized banana (I had approximately 7 tbsp puree.)
Oil to fry

* Sift flour, baking powder and salt together.
* Mash the banana finely in a bowl and stir in together flour mixture, sugar and coconut. Mix well to combine.
* Heat oil for deep frying in a pan.
* Drop big spoonfuls of batter into the hot oil.
* Fry them on low flame until they turn golden brown throughout.
* Drain them on absorbent towels and serve warm.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Lazy Cake from Lithuania ~ Tinginys

Event: BM #44 , Around the World (A - Z series) 
Choice of Country: The Republic of Lithuania
Capital City: Vilnius
Official Language: Lithuanian

Lithuania is a country in northern Europe and is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea. It's cuisine features the products suited to the moist and cool northern climate of Lithuania. Potatoes, barley, rye, berries, beets, greens and mushrooms are grown locally and widely used. Dairy products are one of it's specialities. It's cuisine is similar to the Eastern European regions since it shares a similar climate and agricultural practices. The centerpiece of it's cuisine is dark rye bread and the national dish is 'Cepelinai' - a potato dumpling filled with minced meat. Apples, plums and pears are widely used fruits while most frequently used meat is pork followed by beef , lamb, chicken, rabbit, duck and goose.

I came across 'Tinginys' when I was looking for some Lithuanian desserts and it right away caught my attention, for a right reason. This cake is quick and easy to put together and no baking involved. It cannot get easy anymore and so they have aptly named it 'Tinginys' which translates to lazy. Primarily the recipe requires four ingredients - hard biscuits like butter biscuits / digestive biscuits, sweetened condensed milk, butter and cocoa powder.
It is said that a Lithuanian woman accidentally created this recipe in 1967. She added more sugar while cooking chocolate, resulting in a syrupy liquid. The woman deciding to salvage the recipe added some biscuit bits to it. The mixture when cooled resulted in a new dish, tinginys.  Later modifications occurred, such as letting the mixture cool down, rolling it on a plastic bag, and then cutting it into pieces. People decided to called it "lazy" because it was very easy and quick to prepare.
Another take on this lazy cake that has originated in Italy and have become equally popular among other European nations is chocolate salami. Though it doesn't contain any salami, it is named so because of the appearance. It contains chocolate, eggs and alcohol though the latter went missing from the recipe while crossing over countries and cultures. 

14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
7 tbsp  / 100 grams melted butter
5 - 6 tbsp. cocoa powder
200 grams biscuits (We are looking for plain, hard and not too much crumbly kind
A handful of dried fruits & nuts (Optional. I used dried, sweetened cranberries and walnuts.)

It was too sweet for our taste and I would suggest adding unsweetened condensed milk and adjust the sugar quantity to taste. Icing sugar / powdered sugar would be convenient.

* Break the cookies into about half inch sized bits.
* Combine butter, condensed milk and cocoa powder in a mixing bowl until smooth without lumps.
* Pour the mixture on biscuit pieces and just stir to coat. Stir in any dry fruits / nuts if using.
* Place the mixture on a wax paper / parchment paper / foil and fold the paper over. Shape the cookie mixture into the shape of a rectangle and wrap it tightly inside the parchment paper or aluminum foil.
* Chill in the refrigerator or the freezer. Slice when ready to serve.


Friday, September 12, 2014

K for Kenya & Kashata

Event: BM #44 , Around the World (A - Z series) 
Choice of Country: The Republic of Kenya  
Capital City: Nairobi  
Official Language: Swahili & English

For my "K" country, I am moving towards East Africa, Kenya to be precise. This nation lies in the "African Great Lakes" region and is said to be inhabited by humans as long as the human history existed. Lake Victoria, the world's second largest fresh-water lake and the largest tropical lake, is situated to the southwest of Kenya. Kenya, along with Uganda and Tanzania is famous for its safaris, diverse wildlife reserves and national parks such as the East and West Tsavo National Park, the Maasai Mara, Lake Nakuru National Park, and Aberdares National Park.
The first inhabitants of the region were hunters-gatherer groups. Then people from other parts of the continent started to move towards this region. Then Kilwa Sultanate ruled over the Swahili region up until the 17th century. Later on the country saw foreign  rule including Omani Arabs, Germans and British and of course they all influenced Kenyan cooking. Food in the coastal area gets more exotic because of it's long standing relationship with foreign settlers, merchant traders and it's colonization by foreign countries over centuries. The rural areas prefer simple, nutritious meals incorporating the local ingredients. Kenyan cooking is largely influenced by Indians, Arabs and Europeans. The east coast traders and workers who came from the Indian subcontinent and settled in Kenya brought with them spicy chai, chapatis and samosas. Mahamri / maandazi and samosas are the popular snacks in this region. Ugali, a thick cornmeal porridge forms the base for lunch / dinner.

I chose to go with Kashata, a popular snack from Eastern Africa that has originated in the Swahili region. They are made with peanuts and/or shredded fresh coconut and are specially made for kids during the Ramadan season. The texture is somewhat between a candy and a cookie and they are made over fire or on stove top. My first impression was that kashata probably has Indian roots and is the Africanized version of our own chikkis. Peanut brittle is so popular in India that they are made at home or readily available in stores everywhere, even on the remotest corner of the country if I am not wrong. Like every other Indian, I have grown up enjoying my share of peanut brittle and coconut burfis (squares) and wanted to try this variation.

Coconut and wheat flour are not a part of Indian style brittle. In India skinned whole / crushed peanuts are usually added to jaggery syrup of hard ball consistency and are shaped into squares or balls. Sometimes, sugar syrup is used instead of jaggery syrup but the latter is preferred for it's rich flavor. Basically the dish can be prepared with two ingredients, peanuts and jaggery / sugar and homemade versions use cardamom for flavor.
Kashata uses similar ingredients but differs in terms of preparation, taste and texture, especially if you chose to go with all the ingredients mentioned in the original recipe. I had to try this twice to get it almost perfect. I added both peanuts and coconut since that combo was new to me in brittle making and I left out the flour since it was optional. The first time I thought I will go with the Indian style as I had never used the dry caramelization method. I prepared a sugar syrup of hard ball consistency using a little water and followed the recipe directions. Immediately I knew the measurements were wrong since the mixture I got was almost like semi solid. I had to freeze the mixture to shape by hands and whenever I took them out to eat, they were very sticky to touch and were pale in  color.
I make decent peanut balls and honestly was embarrassed failing at my first attempt cooking such a simple dish. I had to give it a second try, keeping extra skinned peanuts, coconut and toasted wheat flour handy in case. This time I followed the exact directions as shown below. The dry caramelization process lends kashata a rich color and flavor and they taste good. They were not dry/firm like the Indian version and my guess is because the sugar is melted but not let to reach that particular consistency as needed. Keep extra peanuts/coconut/toasted wheat flour handy to add in case if you find the mixture sticky.  

1 cup sugar
2 cups roasted, skinned peanuts or 2 cups fresh / frozen, shredded coconut or 1 cup roasted, skinned peanuts + 1 cup fresh / frozen, shredded coconut
1/2 cup toasted wheat flour (Dry toast flour until it slightly browns.)
1/4 tsp cardamom powder

* Grease a plate with high edges or a square pan and keep it aside.
* Slightly crush the peanuts if using.
* Heat sugar in a heavy sauce pan or a non-stick pan on moderate heat.Do not add any water.
* The quantity of sugar I used for the pictorial was 1/4 cup and the sugar started to liquefy around the edges after about 3 minutes.
* Tilt the pan slightly holding the handle so that sugar melts evenly.
* Cook until the sugar is melted and starts to turn into brown / amber color.
* Add immediately the peanuts and/or coconut, wheat flour and cardamom. Stir well so that the ingredients are coated with the syrup. Cook for a minute and turn off the stove.
* Pour the mixture into the greased mold you are using.
* Cut the mixture into desired shapes while the mixture is still warm. Let cool and serve.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

J for Jordan ~ Mohallabiah / Muhallabiyeh

Event: BM #44 , Around the World (A - Z series) 
Choice of Country: Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
Capital City: Amman
Official Language: Arabic

I am still in western Asia for today's post and moving from Iraq to it's neighbor Jordan. "J" was one of the alphabets for which I finished cooking first and in fact I cooked the dish twice for "Japan". Kids loved the dish but somehow I wasn't happy with the pictures of the dish and at the last moment I decided to go with another Arab nation instead. 
This region was subjected to control of powerful foreign empires throughout different eras of history and the influence can been seen on Jordanian cuisine as well. Jordanians serve family, friends, and guests with great pride in their homes and a 'Jordanian invitation' means that you are expected to bring nothing and eat everything. There is a wide variety in Jordanian cuisine ranging from baking, sautéeing and grilling to stuffing of vegetables, meat, and poultry. Jordan is one of the largest producers of olives and olive oil is the primary cooking medium. Mansaf, a lamb dish is the national dish of Jordan. Popular appetizers are kebbeh, ful medames, labaneh, baba ghanoush, hummus, tabbouleh, olives and pickles. (source:wiki)

I chose to go with a creamy dessert, mohallabiah that is also called mahalabiya / muhallabiyeh. Muhallabiyeh is a dish commonly prepared through out the Arab region with slight variations and this quick delight is milk based. This thick, creamy pudding is cooked similarly as phirni, a rice pudding popular in the Indian subcontinent. Here rice flour is used instead of coarsely ground rice and cooked thicker than phirni. Basically milk and rice flour paste are cooked until thick and creamy. Sugar adds the sweetness while rose water and blossom water lend their aromatic flavors to the dish. Finally the dish is finished with a generous garnishing of crushed pistachios / almonds. Substituting milk powder for milk was common in regions where cattle was scarce. Some versions use cornstarch instead of rice flour.
The recipe I found here uses condensed milk as part of their marketing strategy. I went ahead with it since I had some leftover condensed milk which I had to finish off. Muhallabiyeh is traditionally prepared with milk and so you can go ahead with it if you don't have condensed milk in your pantry. Just replace the condensed milk and water with milk and add sugar to taste. The below quantity takes less than 15 minutes to cook but if you are planning to cook a large quantity, check the original recipe.
Ingredients for 2 servings:
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 & 1/2 cups water
3 tbsp rice flour (Easily available in Indian stores.)
1/8 tsp rose water
1/8 tsp orange blossom water (I skipped it.)
3 tbsp. crushed pistachio nuts

* Add condensed milk and about a cup of water to a nonstick pan and bring the mixture to boil.
* In the meantime, whisk rice flour and about 1/2 cup water in a bowl to form a lump free mixture.
* Lower the heat and slowly pour the rice mixture, continuously stirring while doing so. 
* Cook on low flame for about  7 - 8 minutes or until the mixture is cooked. Keep stirring all the while to keep it lump free. Add rose water and blossom water if using and mix well.
* Transfer it to small bowls, garnish with pistachios and serve.
I chilled it before serving.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I for Iraq ~ Kurat Al-Mishmish

Event: BM #44 , Around the world (A - Z series) 
Choice of country: The Republic of Iraq
Capital City: Baghdad  
Official Language: Arabic and Kurdish

As a young child, I was fascinated by the Arabian night stories and had assumed the places mentioned in there were time frozen. I don't know what I was thinking as an elementary school kid but looking at the illustrations, I used to assume that the modern era people also lived in a Sultanate and led the same life style as the people in the stories did. The words Cairo and Baghdad were etched in my mind because of the mention of those two cities quite often in the stories that I have gone through. I even thought of visiting them once in my lifetime when I grew up but looking at the present chaotic conditions Iraq is in, I know that I can never set foot in that country. I may not go there physically but who would stop me from paying a virtual visit, right? And so I am going to Iraq for my "I" country, in search of a quick and yummy treat.

Historical tidbits for the day:
* Iraq is situated on western Asia and is often referred to as the "cradle of civilization". It is thought to be home for one of the earliest civilizations known to mankind - the Sumerian civilization which arose in the fertile region between Iraq's two major rivers, Euphrates and Tigris during Chalcolithic period or the copper age. This fertile region is also called "Mesopotamia". Sumerian civilization flourished for over 3000 years and was highly advanced and sophisticated in all fields of knowledge .
* During 4th millennium BC, the world's first writing system and recorded history were born in the same region. 
* Baghdad was built in the 8th century as the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate and became the leading metropolis of the Arab and Muslim world for five centuries. It was the largest multicultural city of the Middle ages, with a population over than a million and was the center of learning during the Islamic golden age.

Culinary tidbits from Iraq:
* Did you know that the world's first recorded cookbooks come from Iraq? Tablets found in ancient ruins in Iraq show recipes prepared in the temples during religious festivals and these are the first cookbooks of the world.
* Pistachios were a common food in the region as as early as 6750 B.C
* Among the ancient texts discovered in Iraq, there was one Sumerian - Akkadian bilingual dictionary belonging to somewhere around 1900 BC and it lists over 800 different items of food and beverages. Among them mentioned are 20 different varieties of cheese, 100 varieties of soups and 300 types of bread - each with different ingredients, filling, shape or size.
* Stew has remained a mainstay in the cuisine. A clay tablet written in 1700 BC was discovered near Baghdad and it contained 24 recipes for stews cooked with meat and vegetables using herbs and spices. 
* Iraq is the largest producer of dates.

Iraqi Cuisine:
 Iraqi cuisine or the Mesopotamian cuisine dates back to ten thousand years ago - to Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians and the Ancient Persians. Even though they had advanced culinary skills during the Mesopotamian era, Iraqi cooking reached it's zenith during the Abbasid Caliphate era (750 - 1258). The modern cuisine reflects this rich inheritance along with the culinary traditions of neighboring Iran, Turkey and Syrian regions. Meals begin with appetizers and salads – known as Mezza.
And here is an interesting read about the way the Iraqis consume their tea, a firsthand account.
Mishmish means dried apricots in Arabic and the recipe name 'kurat al-mishmish' roughly translates to apricot balls. Apricots have been cultivated in Persia since ancient times and dried ones were an important commodity on Persian trade routes. And so naturally there are apricot based dishes in the Arab world and this delightful dessert comes from the Iraq region. These colorful, yummy balls with sweet undertones of orange flavor take hardly around 10 minutes of preparation and the easiest one among the dishes so far I have tried for this marathon. I had prepared this dish sometime last month and couldn't get to the original recipe link now. I have seen recipes using even orange juice but I guess an authentic version uses orange blossom water.

Ingredients: (Makes 10 balls)
1 cup dried apricots
3/4 cup sweetened coconut flakes
1 tsp orange blossom water / grated orange rind (I used orange rind.)
2 - 3 tbsp sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup sweetened coconut flakes / crushed almonds or pistachios / sesame seeds for rolling the balls
* Run apricots and coconut flakes through a food processor until well blended.
* Now add the orange blossom water / orange rind and condensed milk to the ground apricot mixture and pulse.
* Transfer the mixture from the processor on to a plate. Make small balls out of the mixture and roll them in coconut flakes or what ever you have chosen to cover them in.
* Enjoy them immediately or keep them refrigerated.