Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Zesty meze 1: Chickpea and tamarind dip

A month back, we had a big surprise when a favourite former teacher of the Young Man and dear friend, O, mailed to say he was back in town and had some goodies from Turkey for the YM. Wahoo! As it happened, my birthday fell the next week, so we arranged to have dinner at our place.

A fellow foodie, O is also one of the world's more dedicated chocoholics, so this was a chance to try out my new go-to chocolate cake on an honest critic. That seemed to go down very well, and we had a jolly time reliving a past experiment O and the YM had with biscuit-thin brownies (which they nicknamed brow-kies), that perhaps O would rather forget! O did get his own back, though, by casting aspersions on my dolma-rolling skills. As the YM said in my defence (bless his heart), we all have a first time, don't we?!

Luck was really rolling on our side when O agreed to a big day of table tennis with the YM followed by another supper at ours. Fortunately or unfortunately, a dearth of vineleaves in dead-of-winter Yokohama prevented me from defending my dolma rolling this time, but I'll be working on it for next time, you can be sure!

Instead, I put together an array of meze goodies to go with Tessa Kiros' wonderful avgolemono, made this time with 2.5 l of water and the rice thrown in from the beginning of (pressure) cooking.

The first of the meze was a Gulf variation of that old stand-by, hummus, this time with tongue-tingling fresh ginger and tamarind! It is an adaptation from a recipe in Classic Vegetarian Cooking from the Middle East & North Africa by Habeeb Salloum, one of the 3 cookbooks I permitted myself to bring back from Australia over Christmas/New Year.

I've already made a couple of things from this book, and adore the exciting and unusual combinations of flavours that have been eye-openers even for me! This zippy hummus was so addictive that our guest ended up not leaving enough room for the soup, silly boy (g).

If making this in Japan, tamarind paste (the pulp in jars is easier to use than the blocks, which contain seeds and fibres) is available from various places on-line (none of which I've used before), or check out your nearest Thai, Vietnamese or Indian food store. I usually get mine in Australia, where the zingy paste is readily available in the local supermarket of the small town where Saffron-Papa and Mama live. It keeps for a goodly long time in the fridge, but you might also want to give the some of the other tamarind recipes I've gathered here a go, too.

As for me, I'm chomping at the bit to try out Mr. Salloum's hummus with pomegranate molasses!

Oh, and just a word about the etymology of tamarind. As you can see from the name of this hummus below, tamarind is tamar Hindi in Arabic (and Persian, also). Yup, that's "Hindi" as in "India/n". Which reminds me of the story O told us of how the native-to-the-US bird that goes gobble-gobble came to be known as turkey in English and Hindi (India, again) in Turkish! Don't you just love language!

Hummus bi tamar Hindi: Chickpea and tamarind dip

2 cups cooked chickpeas
3 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp tamarind paste, or to taste
1.5 tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger, or to taste
Salt & pepper to taste
1 tbsp chopped cilantro [coriander] or flat-leaf parsley
1 tbsp olive oil

1 Place all ingredients, except coriander or parsley and oil, in a food processor and process into a somewhat thick paste, adding a little water as necessary. Taste and adjust flavours to taste.

2 Place on a serving platter and sprinkle with coriander or parsley and oil just before serving.


Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Maazat halyoon: Syrian/Lebanese avocado appetizer

I've made this yummy dip/spread a couple of times now, and it seems to go down very well. I wouldn't necessarily have thought of it myself, but avocado, lemon and sesame combination really goes well.

The sesame paste I am currently using is a Japanese one (Makoto no goma, available in nice big jars for not too much yen at Otsuya in Ueno), which means the seeds are toasted before grinding. It is very flavoursome, and I think you can get away with using slightly less than is called for in this recipe (I have adjusted it accordingly). As ever, let your own taste buds be the guide. More or less of anything is not going to spoil the dip. The parsley gives this some body and texture. Don't whizz it to oblivion, and make sure you use flat-leaf parsley, as the curly stuff would be a little strident here.

This is another from the amazing appetizer chapter of Habeeb Salloum's brilliant Classic Vegetarian Cooking from the Middle East and North Africa. It goes particularly well with Argentine chimichurri bread.

Avocado appetizer

4 tbsp lemon juice
2-3 tbsp tahini
1 large or 2 medium avocados
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
2 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
pinch cayenne
1/2 tsp paprika

1 Place lemon juice and tahini in a blender or food processor and blend for a moment. Set aside.

2 Pit and peel avocados and cut into pieces. Add, with the remaining ingredients, except paprika, to the lemon juice-tahini mixture. Blend to a smooth paste.

3 Place on a flat serving platter, sprinkle with paprika and serve as is or chilled.


Stir-fried pineapple with ginger (and garlic and lime!)

Here is an unusual savory pineapple side dish. It is just bursting with zip, tang and heat. There is so much going on here that it may outshine the main course, so make sure it is something really able to stand up to it.

The original recipe is in India's 500 Best Recipes, which I have written about before. However, there is no indication as to where it originates (not all of the recipes are from India, despite the book's title). The soy sauce suggests that it a Southeast Asian source might be more likely than an Indian one. Not that it matters when it tastes this good.

You could probably substitute tinned pineapple, but make sure it is not sweetened. Or then again, that might be another interesting variation you could offer as a dessert...

Stir-fried pineapple with ginger

1 pineapple
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1/4 onion, sliced thinly
5 cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into fine matchsticks
2 tbsp light soy sauce
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 fresh red chilli, seeded and sliced finely

1 Trim and peel the pineapple. Cut in quarters lengthwise and cut out the core. Chop into bite-sized pieces.

2 Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan. Stir-fry the garlic and onion over a medium heat for 2-3 min, until golden. Do not let garlic burn or it will become bitter.

3 Add the pineapple. Stir-fry for about 2 min, or until the pineapple pieces start to turn golden on the edges.

4 Add the ginger, soy sauce, lime juice and chilli.

5 Toss the mixture together until well mixed. Cook over a low heat for a further 2 min. Serve the pineapple as an accompaniment to grilled meat or strongly flavoured fish.