Curaçao

When faced with yet another country that I have never heard of…

Step 1: Pull up a map on the nearest electronic device and figure out where it is (island in the southern Caribbean).

Step 2: Look up the pronunciation (cure-a-sow).

Step 3: Google/Wikipedia it (turns out it’s also the name of a liquor).

With that out of the way, from what I recall, Curaçao did not have an abundance of recipes to choose from. As with many of the Caribbean nations, there were several other cultural influences in developing the national cuisine.  I selected tutu, which is another variant of the starchy mush that we are getting used to seeing in the Caribbean and Africa, and a marinated fish recipe descriptively titled “Curaçao Style Snapper” (spoiler alert–pretty sure we didn’t actually use snapper.  It was probably tilapia.).

Curaçao Style Snapper (recipe)

This started with a tasty looking marinade of lime juice, garlic, habanero pepper, and ground pepper.  Then the fish were breaded and fried.  The fish frying pan was deglazed with the remaining marinade, in which the tomatoes, onion, and pepper were cooked.  The fish filets were topped with the veggie mixture and baked in the oven for another ten minutes.  I’m not sure why the recipe asked us to line the baking pan with aluminum foil, but we did as we were told.

Curaçao_snapper_dish

Yum.

Curaçao_snapper

Tutu (recipe)

We’ve had mixed luck in the past with these starchy mush side dishes, but we seem to be getting better.  This one used cornmeal and was a little unique in that it also included black eyed peas and was cooked in coconut milk.

It started pretty liquidy:

tutu_step1

Gradually thickened…tutu_step2

And eventually was firm enough to hold its shape.tutu_step3

From here it was smashed between two plates (which I don’t remember being anywhere near as disastrous as I expected) for the final presentation:

tutu_complete

The recipe recommends serving it with cheese (check!) and cod fish (snapper… cod fish… tilapia… same difference, right?)

The finished meal:

Curaçao_meal

This was a winner!  The lime juice really came through in the fish, but not overpoweringly so.  We loved the flavor and the addition of veggies on top.  The tutu, aside from having a fun name, was surprisingly good and was better than most of the dishes we have made like this.  It was sweeter than I expected–probably thanks to the coconut milk–but that was countered nicely by the cheese and the tart fish.

Overall meal rating: 4

Next up, Cyprus and Czech Republic (we were pretty excited at the time about having a couple European countries and finishing the Cs!)

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Chad

Another quick post as I play catch up…

I went with a very simple fried fish recipe for our main dish.  We made the creatively named “Chad salad” as a side and jus de fruit (AKA mango shakes) for dessert.

Chad Broiled Fish (recipe)

I don’t remember what type of fish we used anymore… I want to say it was mahi mahi?  We (Tyler) cut slits on the fish filets and stuffed in slices of garlic.

Chad_fish_before_cooking

Then they were dredged in flour and fried until golden brown.  They were topped with tomato slices and salt/pepper/chili powder, then covered and left to simmer for 40 minutes.

Chad_fish

Chad Salad (recipe)

Chad salad is one of the most bizarre recipes of unexpected ingredients that I have ever made.  One of the other global food bloggers made it and said it was pretty good, though, so we gave it a chance.  This salad consisted of lemon juice and zest, cooked rice, sliced cucumbers, sliced bananas, raisins, almonds, salt, coriander, cumin, cayenne pepper, and honey.  Yep.

It was served chilled and looked like this:

Chad_salad

 

Jus de Fruit (recipe)

This was essentially a mango shake… get out the blender and toss in a few ice cubes, mango, whole milk, sugar, and cardamom powder (!!):

Mango_shake

Meal Review

This meal was a smashing success!  That is not something we are accustomed to with our experiences of Africa so far.  The fish was done perfectly and had excellent flavor.  The salad was surprisingly delicious, considering the strange assortment of ingredients that it contained.  And the mango shake was absolutely delicious.  It was thick and creamy, and the mango and cardamom gave it excellent flavor.  I might not be quick to make the salad again, but I would definitely repeat the fish as an easy weeknight meal and the shake for a cool summer dessert.

Canada

We were very excited to get to Canada a few weeks ago!  We live just a few hundred miles from the Candian border, so, aside from the US, this will probably be the least exotic meal of the project.  Also, Tyler has been talking about making poutine, which is a Canadian pub food of gravy and cheese curds served over fries, for Canada since day one of this project!  He also has a coworker from Canada who gave the stamp of approval on making poutine, and according to the internet, it is one of the few dishes that is ubiquitous across Canada.  But it wasn’t a full meal.  So I also came up with a maple salmon recipe from CandianLiving.com… I figured salmon is big in coastal parts of Canada, and Canada is also pretty well known for maple syrup.  I also thought salmon would be light enough to help counteract the poutine and butter tarts we picked for dessert. 🙂

Poutine (recipe)

We hardly needed a recipe for this, as simple as it is, but we did follow a recipe for the sake of getting the correct ratio of fries, cheese curds, and gravy and to have a gravy recipe.  We felt like it was cheating too much to buy frozen fries and a jar of gravy, so we made our own.  Although we made our own fries for Belgium, we didn’t particularly enjoy the smell and smoke that filled the house while frying them.  So we turned to the internet and followed an alternate method of tossing the potato slices in oil and broiling them.  They weren’t the best fries I’ve had, but they were smothered in gravy and cheese, so they didn’t need to be!

uncooked_fries_for_poutine

cooked_fries_for_poutine

 

I made the gravy per the recipe, using half chicken and half beef stock.  That is apparently one of the most controversial topics of poutine… beef vs. chicken gravy.  A bit of each seemed like the safe option.

gravy_for_poutine

When it was time to eat, the fries were topped with cheese curds, then gravy.

poutine

 

Pepper Maple Salmon (recipe)

We first mixed together the pepper and maple syrup and rubbed it into the salmon filets.  This was supposed to be refrigerated for 30 minutes next.

uncooked_salmon_for_Canada

Since it was a nice evening, we decided to grill the salmon, rather than cook it on the stove.

Canada_maple_salmon

 

We also made a sauce that went with the salmon–white wine, whipping cream, stock (I think we used a combination of chicken and beef), more maple syrup, and more pepper.

maple_salmon_sauce

 

The sauce was drizzled over the salmon and garnished with parsley to serve.

 Butter Tarts (recipe)

Tyler made the dough for this ahead of time.  Nothing too unusual… butter, lard (we used shortening), salt, and flour, then vinegar, egg yolk, and ice water were added.  This was cut into small circles.

butter_tart_dough

These went in a standard sized muffin pan, then they were filled with pecans (I have read that currants or raisins are most traditional, but pecans are what we had and what I happen to like best of the options given in the recipe), and the filling.  The filling was a thick goop of corn syrup, brown sugar, egg, vanilla, butter, vinegar, and salt.

uncooked_butter_tarts

They baked for the recommended 12 minutes and came out looking great.

butter_tarts_in_pan

Yum.

butter_tarts

Canada_meal

Meal Review

As expected, this meal was great.  I’m really not sure where we could have gone wrong, though.  Grilled salmon with pepper and maple syrup, fries smothered in gravy and cheese curds, and gooey filled pastries… all good things.

The salmon was definitely something I would like to make again.  I felt that the poutine detracted from it a bit, though… it was hard to go between the two, and I thought the saltiness/greasiness of the poutine masked a lot of the flavor in the salmon.  That said, the poutine was fantastic.  Definitely not something I could eat a lot of without feeling sick, but I enjoyed it.  And the butter tarts were basically mini pecan pies, so obviously they were a winner.

Overall, this was one of those much needed “all around winner” meals that make this project worth it!  Going into a span of three African countries, it is exactly what we needed!

Cameroon

We have gotten pretty busy over the last few weeks, so although we have cooked three more countries, I haven’t blogged any of them yet.  For Cameroon, I came across many of the usual ingredients for Africa… palm oil, plantains, fish, peanuts, etc.  The most well known dish seems to be something called Ndole, which is a stew that is cooked with bitter greens.  I knew I would have to substitute a different green (probably collard greens, spinach, or kale), and it didn’t look all that appealing to me.  So I found an alternate recipe for fried fish in peanut sauce and a side dish called sese plantains.

Fried Fish in Peanut Sauce (recipe)

Like many African recipes, this started with heating some palm oil in a frying pan.  I then added the fish and cooked until it was done.  I interpreted “serving sized pieces” of fish to be bite sized, and in retrospect I decided that probably wasn’t the intent.  Oh well.  It had the usual distinct smell and color of palm oil coated food.

cameroon_fish_cooking

I set it aside when it was done.  It was kind of crumbly.

cameroon_fish_cooked

Next is where we made some modifications.  We ground up the coriander, ginger, nutmeg, salt, and pepper as directed, but we omitted the dried shrimp.  This is for three reasons.  1. The bag of dried shrimp we purchased turned out to be past its expiration date already (I suspect it is not a commonly purchased item and had been on the shelf for a while…), 2. We were warned that dried shrimp are VERY salty and worried about a repeat of our overly salty Cambodian fish curry, and 3. I got weirded out by the two little back eyes on each shrimp and wimped out.

We also didn’t save any fish heads to cook with the water and make a broth.  Instead we threw in some vegetable bouillon.  Sounds pretty equivalent, right?  Right.

So we marched through the rest of the steps… simmered the water, bouillon, and spices.   Browned the onions and garlic in peanut oil (usually I just sauté them until they’re soft, but I actually let them get brown and crispy for this).  Added a couple whole peppers.

cameroon_fish_cooking_3

 

Next the peanut butter and broth were mixed together/simmered, then poured over the fish.

cameroon_fish_cooking_4

It was extremely liquidy.  We were pretty concerned about this and let it reduce for a while, but it was already 8:45 PM, so eventually we just called it good.

Sese Plantains (recipe)

This was another simple recipe.  Started with chopped plantains, onions, tomatoes, and pepper.

sese_plantains_ingredients

Boil the plantains in water for 10 minutes.  I thought the 10 1/2 cups of water in the recipe seemed a little unreasonable, so I used a lot less.  It was probably 4 or 5 cups.  Then the tomatoes, onion, and pepper were added and cooked for another 10 minutes.

sese_plantains_cooking

 

Next was the vegetable bouillon and palm oil, followed by more simmering.

cameroon_fish_cooking_2

The finished meal.  We forgot the cashews that were supposed to be a topping on the sese plantains.  Oops.

Cameroon_meal

As my tone may have suggested, this meal was pretty lackluster.  Neither great, nor terrible.  I don’t regret excluding the dried shrimp and fish head, although I think the saltiness of the dried shrimp would have helped the fish in peanut sauce.  It seemed like it needed a little extra something.  I thought the sese plantains was okay, but Tyler really didn’t care for it.  Overall, it was an okay meal and we ate some of the leftovers, but after a week or two in the fridge we finally threw away the rest.  I guess we needed some solid mediocrity to balance out the awesomeness that was our Canadian meal the next week. 🙂

Cambodia

There is a lot to celebrate with this post!

  1. We made it through another letter and on to the Cs!!!
  2. We passed the 15% completion mark!
  3. After this post, I will officially be up to date on the blog for the first time in months!
  4. While fighting off a bit of a cold bug over the long holiday weekend, I had a LOT of time to sit and take it easy, so I now have recipes selected for the next FIVE countries.  Yeah.  Cameroon through Chad, here we come.

I found a wealth of information and recipe options for Cambodia.  A lot of them looked very good.  I ended up selecting what seems to be acknowledged as the national dish and what most of the “cook a meal from every country” blogging community picked: Cambodian Fish Amok.  This is a fish curry dish that is traditional steamed in banana leaves.  With the addition of an egg to the curry, it is supposed to get a mousse-like consistency after steaming.  I also made a green mango salad which, according to some sources, is a common accompaniment to the fish amok.  Since I had high expectations for this country and was feeling particularly motivated, I also selected an unusual looking dessert called banh januk (AKA glutinous rice balls in sweet ginger syrup and coconut milk).

As it turns out, this was definitely one of our most ambitious meals for a weeknight, which wasn’t such a good thing when Tyler got some kind of a cold or virus that left him pretty low on energy (the same thing that he kindly passed on to me later in the week…).  But we had fish in the refrigerator threatening to go bad, so we pressed on.  On the plus side, we got to use a plethora of new ingredients!  Split mung beans, glutinous rice flour, palm sugar/jaggery, chili paste, chili sauce, shrimp paste, and lemongrass.  If they had been available locally, we would have also experienced cooking with kaffir limes/leaves, galangal, dried shrimp, dried fish, and banana leaves.

Fish Amok (recipe)

This recipe sounded simple enough: make a curry, coat the fish and spinach in it, then steam it.  Since we couldn’t find banana leaves to use the traditional cooking method, all we had to do is mix it in a skillet and let it cook.

I should know by now that it is never that simple.  This meal started innocently enough, with a collection of lemongrass, shallots, garlic, lime zest (substitute for kaffir limes), and ginger (substituted for galangal).

Cambodian_fish_amok_curry_1

The recipe said to finely chop them before pounding them into a paste in the mortar and pestle.  I figured coarsely chopping them would be good enough.

Cambodian_fish_amok_curry_2

I figured wrong.  It was very difficult to get to a paste-like consistency, and the lemongrass was extremely fibrous.

Cambodian_fish_amok_curry_3

 

So I resorted to the food processor, which helped some.  I then pounded it in the mortar pestle some more, and eventually I transferred it to a cutting board and chopped it with a knife to try to break apart the lemongrass fibers.  Eventually I called it good.

Cambodian_fish_amok_curry_4

 

After working on the other recipes and coming back to this, I eventually realized that the the turmeric, brown sugar (I used palm sugar/jaggery since that is what most of the fish amok recipes I saw online used), salt, and chili paste were supposed to go in at this point.  So it went back to the food processor again, and the liquid in the chili paste definitely helped it get closer to the curry paste consistency I was looking for.

Cambodian_fish_amok_curry_5

Next this was fried momentarily in some oil, then mixed with the coconut milk, shrimp paste, sugar, and salt.  A quick note about shrimp paste: I had heard only bad things about shrimp paste and its potent smell from other bloggers and was not excited about purchasing it.  Thus, when I saw a small jar of shrimp paste with some other stuff (garlic, salt, etc.) added, we opted to buy it over the massive package of straight up shrimp paste with no additions that they also sold.  I think this was a mistake, but more on that later.  After letting this mixture simmer for a few minutes, I added the chopped fish (we used mahi mahi) and spinach.  It looked quite colorful and pleasant.

Cambodian_fish_amok_cooking

 

Next I whisked together the egg, fish sauce, and some of the curry sauce from this pan, then mixed it back into the pan.  I think the idea of whisking it together first was to make sure the egg got well distributed in the pan.  At this point, the mixture should have been placed in banana leaf baskets and steamed.  The particular recipe I selected actually claims that they tasted no significant difference when this is cooked in a pan vs. steamed in a banana leaf, so that’s good since we didn’t have banana leaves available.  The recipe wasn’t really clear on what to do after adding the egg, so I just turned down the heat to low and let it simmer for a while while we finished the other recipes.  It was supposed to get a mousse-like consistency.  I would say it solidified a bit, but I wouldn’t call it mousse-like.

Cambodian_fish_amok

 

The individual servings were later topped with julienned red bell pepper and lime zest (again, substituted for kaffir lime leaves since I couldn’t get those fresh around here).

Green Mango Salad (recipe)

This recipe was pretty self explanatory: chop and blend the dressing ingredients, chop the salad ingredients, then toss it all together.

The dressing used peppers, shallot, ginger (again substituted for galangal), and garlic that were pounded in the mortar and pestle.

Cambodian_mango_salad_sauce_1

 

Out of fear from the curry paste making struggles, I chopped these into small pieces first.

 

Cambodian_mango_salad_sauce_2

I didn’t get too fussy about pounding it into a fine paste, since they recommended using a food processor to add the liquids and other ingredients (chili sauce, palm sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice).

Cambodian_mango_salad_sauce_3

I was quite dismayed to learn that I only need 10 mL of this sauce.  We have a LOT left over.

For the salad I finely sliced the mango (by the way, I couldn’t find any green mangoes, so I used a reasonably firm yet decidedly ripe and colorful mango):

Cambodian_mango_salad_sauce_sliced_mango

 

…then mixed it together with the sauce, peanuts, tomato, onion, and herbs (I got to use Thai basil and mint out of our garden!).  I omitted the dried shrimp and fish since I didn’t have much luck in finding them and wasn’t particular thrilled about eating them anyway.

Cambodian_mango_salad_sauce_ingredients

 

After mixing:

Cambodian_mango_salad_sauce

 

The recipe didn’t really specify a serving temperature, so we left it on the counter and ate it around room temperature with dinner.

Banh Januk (recipe)

I left my poor, sick husband mostly in charge of this recipe, so I don’t have great notes or pictures.  He started with split mung beans.

mung_beans_for_Cambodia

These were soaked for an hour, cooked until soft, then mashed.

banh_januk_mashed_mung_beans

Then we got to work with the big chunk of palm sugar (AKA jaggery).  We used part of the block for the other two recipes and then scaled this recipe to 1/4 sized so that we could work with the amount of palm sugar we had left from the single block we purchased.

jaggery_palm_sugar

 

This was melted and cooked with water, ginger, and salt.

banh_januk_ginger_sauce

 

The coconut milk was cooked in a pan with the cornstarch and salt.  It didn’t look very exciting, so I didn’t take pictures.

Then the glutinous rice flour was mixed and kneaded with water.  It was pretty gloppy stuff for a while.

banh_januk_dough

Eventually it firmed up, and we worked on forming balls of the rice flour mixture that were stuffed with a small scoop of the mashed mung beans.  I ended up taking over responsibility for this task from Tyler.  As usual when making stuffed foods, we had a lot of the filling leftover.  I had to add extra flour to keep the dough workable.

banh_januk_pre_boiling

 

These balls were boiled in water until the floated:

Banh_januk_cooked

Then they were topped with the ginger sauce, coconut milk, and toasted sesame seeds.  It definitely didn’t look as pretty as the pictures in the recipe.

Banh_januk

 

The final meal (sans dessert):

Cambodian_meal

Meal review:

Whew, this was a lot of work, unfortunately not for a lot of results. 😦

The fish curry seemed like it had a lot of potential, but it tasted VERY salty.  As in… all I could taste was salt.  I found it to be slightly less salty the next day for leftovers and could kind of pick out the lemongrass and ginger flavors, but it was still predominantly salty.  My theory is that the alternate shrimp paste we purchased had more salt than your run of the mill shrimp paste, and that is what threw it off.  I’m not likely to remake this soon, so I guess we’ll never know.  Bummer.

The green mango salad was pretty good, although it was overshadowed by the extreme saltiness of the curry.  Sadly I think my opinion of the salad was tainted by the rest of the meal.  I think this salad could be very good with the right meal, though.

My opinion of the dessert was probably also tainted by my disappointment over the salt curry, but I wasn’t wildly impressed with it either.  It was okay, just not great.  I’m not sure the rice balls were cooked long enough (or maybe there was just too much dough?), since they were a little too chewy/doughy for me.  I liked the mung bean filling, though.  I think our ginger syrup was too thin, but it had a good flavor.  Overall, I can see where this had potential to be good, and like several of other other meals, we probably didn’t do it justice.  Again, bummer.

The world seems upside down with our last African meal (Burundi) being so successful and an Asian meal being less than stellar (I have generally really enjoyed the Asian meals so far)!  We’re back to Africa next time, then Canada, then three more African meals, so here’s hoping Burundi was a good omen of tasty African food to come!

Barbados

Once again, we hopped across the ocean to the Caribbean… back to the land of peas and rice, fish, and coconut.  I am starting notice some reoccurring foods in the Caribbean islands, and I’m curious if we will eventually run out of Caribbean staples and go for the lesser-known foods.

Anyway… I learned a few things while researching the food of Barbados:

  1. The national dish of Barbados is flying fish with cou cou.  Flying fish have wing-like fins that allow them to glide over the water for short distances, and they seem to be a big deal in terms of both cuisine and culture.
  2. People of Barbados are referred to as Bajans.  Having recently watched Star Trek DS9, we had a really hard time not saying “Bajoran” instead of “Bajan” and started referring to this as our Bajoran meal.
  3. Rihanna is from Barbados.

I was nervous about choosing the national dish of flying fish and cou cou, due to A) a strong suspicion that they don’t sell flying fish in Iowa, B) fear of a repeat of our Angolan funge disaster (cou cou is the cornmeal version of funge, with the addition of okra), and C) Our general bad luck with fish-based cooking.  I was all set to make macaroni pie, which is similar to macaroni and cheese, and coconut bread, but I couldn’t decide on a main course.  So, flying fish and cou cou it was.

The food:

  • Flying fish and cou cou: as described above the cou cou is similar to funge (or polenta), but made with cornmeal and okra.  The flying fish can be steamed or fried.
  • Coconut bread: This recipe seems to be a favorite throughout the Caribbean, as this is not the first reference I have seen to it.  The recipe reminds me of other sweet breads, such as zucchini bread or banana bread, but instead it uses coconut flakes.  Most recipes also include raisins.

 

Flying Fish and Cou Cou (recipe, also referred to this recipe for the cou cou preparation method)

The first step was actually to make the Bajan seasoning.  We were hoping to find a jar of it at the grocery store but had no luck.   We also didn’t have time to drive across town to the international grocery store and check there.  So we followed this recipe (scaled to 1/4 of the original recipe, since we only needed a few tablespoons).  This was a mix of hot pepper, onion, green onion, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, and a whole bunch of spices and herbs.  Since fresh herbs aren’t exactly in season around here, we used a lot of dried herbs instead.  For the small quantity we needed, we couldn’t talk ourselves into spending the $10-15 on all of the fresh herbs.  Anyway, the ingredients were all measured and roughly chopped, then blended in the food processor.  This smelled pretty good, and it still made a LOT, so we’re going to save the rest for grilling in the summer.  We made this a day in advance.

Bajan_seasoning

Next was the the cou cou.  This stuff takes patience.  The cornmeal was soaked in water for a while as I prepared the okra, onions, garlic, etc (I used frozen okra since we already had it in the freezer, and I rarely see fresh okra at the grocery store).  I saw many of the cou cou recipes refer generically to “herbs” as an ingredient, so I decided to just throw in a bit of the Bajan seasoning that we prepared.  If it were summer and we had a garden overflowing with herbs, I might have approached this differently.

okra_for_coucou

I set these aside and dumped in the soaked cornmeal.  As advised, I added in some of the gooey liquid from cooking the okra.  I stirred very diligently for the first 5-10 minutes, adding water/okra goo regularly.  After a while, I let it sit for 10-15 minutes, then came back to give it a good stir, then repeated this process.  It ended up having 1.5-2 hours of cooking time total.  I kept adding water throughout, since it seemed like the cornmeal was pretty gritty.  I’m really not sure that I ever achieved the right consistency–it wasn’t as smooth as the pictures I saw looked–but it eventually got to be pretty thick and relatively smooth.  So I mixed in the okra and called it good.

cou_cou_before_cooking coucou_mid_cooking coucou_final

I attempted to arrange it into the pretty mounds of cou cou that I saw pictures of… it didn’t quite turn out that way, but it was at least a lot closer to the expected finished product than the funge was a couple months ago.

coucou_served

For the flying fish, we substituted mahi mahi.  I have read that this fish is eaten in Barbados, so it seemed like a reasonable substitute.  I thought that most of the flavor would come from the seasonings and vegetables, so it wouldn’t detract too much from the authentic experience.

The recipes I read all suggested rolling the fish filets up like a sausage.  However, the fish we bought was frozen, and it turned out that a day in the fridge was nowhere near long enough to thaw it out.  So we bit the bullet and put in the microwave on the thaw setting.  Naturally, it started to cook during that time, and Tyler declared there was no way it would roll up without falling apart.  So that didn’t happen.  However, we did follow the instructions to marinate it in lime juice, then rub in Bajan seasoning.  In the mean time, the onion, garlic, tomatoes, etc. started simmering in the stove.  Again, we substituted dried herbs for fresh on this step.

Bajan_fish_veggies

Next the fish and green peppers were added, and then it cooked for fifteen minutes or so.

Bajan_dinner_cooking Bajan_main_course

 

Dinner!

Barbados_meal

 

Bajan Coconut Sweet Bread (recipe)

I found a lot of variation in coconut bread recipes, but I eventually settled on this one.  It was pretty straightforward, so I didn’t take a lot of pictures.  The one change I made was to use shortening instead of lard.  Anyway, the combination of melted butter/shortening, brown sugar, nutmeg, and cinnamon smelled wonderful.  Once the eggs, water, vanilla, flower, baking powder, grated coconut, and raisins were added, this was incredibly thick batter.  Like, scoop it into the pan with a spoon thick.  It was perfectly done at the end of the 50-60 minutes of baking time.

Bajan_coconut_bread

 

Meal Review

Better than expected!  At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I was really nervous about repeating the funge incident and every other fish-based meal we have cooked for this project.

The cou cou actually was not bad.  I don’t think we got the consistency quite right, but it had some flavor, the okra added some nice variety, and it was a nice starchy side to go with the fish.  And the fish was actually not a failure!  It recovered from the microwave-thawing experience fairly well, and the flavor was really good.  I definitely enjoyed the Bajan seasoning and look forward to repurposing that for future meals.  I’m even growing to appreciate green peppers, something I never thought would happen.

Speaking of thing I never thought would happen, I made a dessert that was based around coconut and raisins!  And I enjoyed it!  What?!?!  Although it was a little more dry and crumbly than I would like for a sweet bread, the flavor was very good.  I saw many references to Bajan people enjoying this with a cup of tea in the morning, so you better believe that’s how I started the day on Saturday.  And it was great.

Overall, I would call the meal a success.  I wouldn’t go out of my way to make cou cou again, but I enjoyed trying it.  I would definitely use the Bajan seasoning on fish again, and I would definitely make coconut bread again.  I am tempted to make one of the other coconut bread recipes–many of the others used milk or sweetened condensed milk–and see how that effects the texture and flavor.

 

Next we are off to Belarus!

Bangladesh

We have been pretty busy the last few weeks, but we finally got back to cooking last Sunday!  Bangladesh was next in the alphabet.  Once again, I was completely overwhelmed by the options.  I guess that is what happens when you try to cook a single meal from one of top 10 most populous countries in the world.

I wasn’t too surprised to learn that there is a lot of overlap with Indian cuisine, specifically the food of West Bengal, since the Bengal region was split in two when Bangladesh became independent.  Still, there were so many options.  I read that among other things, many foods include mustard based sauces (both mustard seed and mustard oil), seafood (particularly the Ilish fish), and of course, rice.  We weren’t feeling extremely ambitious at the time, so we also tried to limit the number of complex and labor-intensive recipes.  That is always easier said than done, though.

We selected:

  • Singaras: these fried appetizers are similar to another Banladeshi/Indian appetizer called samosas.  A filling of tasty things like cauliflower, peanuts, peas, potatoes, spices, etc. are stuffed in dough and then fried.  They are typically served with a chutney, which gave us our “simple” recipe for the night.
  • Tomato and green mango chutney: See above description–this was an accompaniment to the singaras.  This chutney included mango, tomatoes, and spice mix called panch phoron.
  • Mustard fish and mango curry:  This satisfied the “mustard-based sauce” and “seafood” requirements, although I was a little hesitant since we generally haven’t had the best luck with fish-based dishes.  We couldn’t find the traditional ilish fish in Iowa, so we substituted sea bass steaks.
  • Bengali Dal: As you will read below, we had some problems with the fish dish and decided to make a second attempt at cooking a Bangladeshi main course the next day.  I had been planning doing a dal dish for Bangladesh for weeks but backed out when I decided it would be more adventurous or authentic or something to do the mustard-based fish meal.

Singara (recipe)

The recipe called for a tablespoon of ground spices, such as cumin, coriander, bay leaf, red chili, fennel, cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom.  Once again, I got to measure about a bunch of spices and dry roast them until they become fragrant.  I am starting to love recipes where I get to do this… I love seeing the mix of colors and textures and smelling the different spice mixes as they heat up.

singara_spices_roasting   singara_spices_ground

The cauliflower and potatoes were fried:

singara_cauliflower_potato

Then everything else was added to make the filling:

singara_filling

The dough was pretty straightforward, and it ended up being rolled into small balls, which were flattened and cut in half.  After the filling had cooled, I started rolling up the dough into cone-ish shapes (sealing the edges with water), then stuffing them with the filling.  As usual, we had more filling than dough… but we found that the filling was DELICOUS by itself and quickly disappeared.

singara_dough   singara_stuffing

By the way, I really don’t know why my hand looks so pink in that picture.  Since we cut the recipe in half (bad idea, these things were amazing), we ended up with 6 singaras.  Here they are, before and after frying.

singara_pre_frying   singaras_cooked

Tomato Mango Chutney (recipe)

This was our “simple” recipe for this meal.  It did use another new spice mix, however, called panch phoron.  It used cumin, nigella (also known as black cumin or onion seed), fenugreek, mustard, and fennel seed.  These were fried in oil with a dried chili pepper (or in our case, a dried serrano from last summer’s garden).

panch_phoron_and_chli_roasting

Then the diced tomatos and mangoes were added with some salt and turmeric.  I love how colorful some of these dishes are.

chutney_fruits

These were cooked with water and sugar until the liquid was reduced/thickened.  I didn’t watch the clock to see how long this took… we just kept an eye on it while cooking everything else.

tomato_mango_chutney

Bangladesh_appetizer

Mustard fish and mango curry (recipe)

We rubbed the mixture of chili powder, turmeric, and salt on the fish, then fried them in the wok.  Pretty straightforward, although it took a while.  Little did we know, this was the fatal flaw in this meal… as it turns out, they were not fully cooked in the middle.  More on that later.

frying_fish   Bangladesh_fish_cooked

Meanwhile, we had the mustard seeds soaking in water.  These were blended with with peppers (we used more thai/bird’s eye peppers since we STILL have a container full of those that has lasted over a month), and oil.  We couldn’t find mustard oil, so we substituted sunflower oil.  Tyler attempted crushing this mixture into a paste in the mortar and pestle (fail) and then in the small food processor (still a fail).  The “paste” was really chunky.  I didn’t even bother taking a photo of it.  I did, however, take a photo of the nigella seeds that were heated until they “crackled” in the oil.  I was extremely fascinated by the pattern the seeds made over time as they cooked in the oil without being stirred.  I’m still fascinated and curious at how they formed the repeating pentagon pattern.

onion_seeds_cooking

The “paste,” tomatoes, remaining oil, nigella seeds, other spices, etc. were mixed together on the pan and cooked until the oil separates.  It was not pretty due to the chunky paste.  I can’t be sure, but I don’t think this is what it’s supposed to look like.  I don’t remember if this is before or after we threw it back in the food processor for a while to break up the chunks.  That only helped a little bit.

mustard_fish_sauce

But we were committed, so we marched on down the path… next we added the mango, then the water (too much water, I think… oops again), and the fish.  It cooked for a while longer.  In another twist of fate to doom this meal to even more failure, we realized we forgot the cilantro to put on top.  Actually, I’m pretty sure I just thought the parsley in the fridge was cilantro when I made the ingredient list.  Either way, here’s the finished product.  Considering our struggles with the sauce, it didn’t look half bad.

mustard_fish_mango_curry

Bangladesh_dinner

Well, as we started eating, we both got about 2-3 bites in… and then at the same time, we both stopped, looked at each other, and asked, “Are you sure this fish is cooked all the way?”  It wasn’t raw by any means, and it was slightly flaky, but the texture was just… off.  We covered the pan with remaining fish and turned the heat back on to bake it some more.  I cooked mine in the microwave for a couple minutes, but neither of us quite had the appetite to eat any more fish that night.  SO, we made a resolution to try again the next night with a simple dal recipe.

We ended the night with a nice cup of chai tea (homemade by Tyler… he has been perfecting his chai recipe for months) to recover from the partially cooked fish trauma.

Chai

Bengali Dal (recipe)

I mostly followed the linked recipe, but I made all of the changes suggested in one of the comments.  We 1. Substituted chana dal for red dal (dal=lentils), 2. Substituted 1 or 2 small romas for the cherry tomatoes, 3.  Changed the ratio of onions to only frying 1/4 of the onion and putting the rest in with the dal, and 4. Used small thai peppers (which we had on hand) instead of serranos.

This recipe was pretty simple… sauté the onions and garlic, then add lentils, turmeric, bay leaf, tomatoes, slat, and pepper and cook for a long time.  I think the time of 20 minutes may have been accurate if I used the red lentils that the recipe called for, but the chana dal, which is actually baby chickpeas cut in half, took much longer to cook.  Fortunately we had two leftover singaras to relieve the hunger!

Bengali_dal_cooking

After 40 minutes or so of waiting, I started Googling chana dal and read about its long cooking time.  So we put the lid on the pan and cranked up the heat again.  After abutter 20 minutes or so, the dal was soft so we called it done.  In the mean time, I fried the onions. I learned that it is very important to have consistently sized onion slices for this!  I ran into problems with the thin onion slices being dark brown right away, while some slightly thicker slices were barely cooked.  Some of the small pieces ended up a little burnt, but it wasn’t really noticeable in the final dish.

fried_onions_for_dal

The fried onions were mixed in with the dal, then served over rice.  Unfortunately, we forgot to get cilantro again, so this was missing. 😦

Bengali_dal
Meal review:

The singaras were AMAZING.  I very much regret scaling the recipe in half… for some reason, we thought we would have a ridiculous amount of food if we made all of them.  We were wrong.  I loved the flavors, and I loved the flakiness of the dough.  The chutney was good and did a great job of balancing out some of the more pungent spices in the singara, although it was a little too sweet, and I almost preferred the singaras without the chutney.

The fish… as discussed above, was a bit of a disaster.  The good news is that we didn’t get food poisoning from the partially cooked fish, and it was decent as a leftover.  However, I had a hard time getting the memory of biting into partially cooked fish out of my mind when I ate it at lunch the next day.  I think the mangoes might have been a nice addition, but they mostly dissolved into the sauce after giving the fish so much time to finish cooking.

The dal was good.  The flavor was very different from what I expected.  I’m not entirely sure what I expected, but it wasn’t this.  It was good, though.  I can see where many people describe it as a comfort food.

Angola: Calulu de Pixe

I found many similar recipes for this dish, but rather than merge them into our own recipe this time, I followed the Calulu de Pixe recipe from this website.  We weren’t entirely happy with how our last African dish turned out (Algerian Vegetables with Couscous), so we strictly followed a recipe this time.  We did scale the recipe to about 1/2… over 2 lbs of fish seemed like a lot.

We used about 1 lb of tilapia for the fish.  Since we bought frozen fish filets, we started by thawing the fish.  Then we made the marinade of lemon juice, garlic, and salt.

Angola_fish_marinade

Then we mixed it with the fish and gave it 20 minutes to marinade.

Angola_mainating_fish

Much like our Algerian meal, this dish called for lots of vegetables, including spinach, tomatoes, onions, okra, and pepper.  I saw references to Birds-eye peppers in other Angolan recipes, so we bought Thai peppers, which seem to be a different name for the same thing.  The recipe called for just one pepper, but in retrospect we should have used a couple more since it was not as flavorful as we expected.

Angola_stew_ingredients

The fish and vegetables were layered in a stockpot:

Calulu_de_pixe_in_pot

Then we poured the palm oil on top.  We have never encountered palm oil before, but it is weird stuff…

Calulu_de_pixe_with_palm_oil

The recipe stated to add water at this point, but it didn’t say how much.  I added about 2 cups, thinking most of it would boil off (it didn’t).  I let this simmer for a while… probably 20 minutes or so.  I think it was a little overcooked by the end, due to the funge taking longer than expected.

Calulu_de_pixe_cooked

Andorra: Catalan style trout

Andorran cuisine is heavily influenced by the Catalan people. This dish is lightly breaded and fried trout, topped with prosciutto that was cooked with oil, garlic, lemon juice and parsley. We referenced the Catalan trout recipe from this book, which was available for free through Google books.

First, lightly coat the trout fillets with flour. Melt a few tablespoons of butter in a large frying pan, then add the trout.

Andorra_trout_cooking

Continue frying the fish until cooked through, flipping occasionally. Remove and keep warm once it is cooked.

Andorra_trout_cooked

Add a splash of oil or butter to the same frying pan, the add garlic, chopped prosciutto, parsley, salt, and pepper. Cook for several minutes until the prosciutto reaches the desired doneness.

Andorra_trout_prosciutto_topping

To serve, top the trout filets with the prosciutto mixture.

Andorra_trout_finished

 

Catalan Style Trout

Ingredients

  • 4 trout filets
  • Flour
  • Butter or oil
  • 3-5 oz. Prosciutto, cut into smaller pieces
  • Parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • Lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Heat oil or butter in a large frying pan.
  2. Lightly coat the trout filets with flour
  3. Cook the trout in the oil or butter, flipping occasionally.  Once fish is cooked through, set aside and keep warm.
  4. Add prosciutto to the same frying pan.  Mix in lemon juice, parsley, salt, and pepper to taste.  Cook until prosciutto reaches desired doneness.
  5. Top trout filets with prosciutto mixture to serve.