Lemongrass Shrimp and Bamboo Rice

We grew lemongrass in our garden over the summer, and when it was time to bring in the herbs, we washed and separated the stalks and put them in the freezer. Today, it was time to use them. We decided the lemongrass stalks would serve as skewers for a marinated shrimp that we served over bamboo rice for a homemade Asian-inspired meal. While the lemongrass infused its essence into the shrimp, the marinade made with Thai ingredients such as lime juice, sriracha, and coconut milk, gave it zip and zing. Rounding out the flavors was fresh Thai basil which is sharper than regular basil and has a mild anise taste. The rice, which we bought from our friends at Boxed Goodes, gets its light green color and subtle flavor from being soaked in bamboo. Try our easy, Asian-at-home recipe and enjoy!

1 pound shrimp
1 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, pressed
1/4 cup Thai basil leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon sriracha
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 teaspoons salt
6 lemongrass stalks

Soak the lemongrass stalks in cold water. In the meantime, prepare the marinade by mixing the coconut milk, lime juice, olive oil, garlic, basil, sriracha, ginger and salt in a large bowl or Ziploc bag. Marinate the shrimp for 1/2 to 1 hour, during which time you can prepare your favorite rice as an accompaniment. Skewer the shrimp onto the lemongrass stalks and grill or broil them for two minutes on each side, until they are pink and serve over cooked rice.


Beaujolais Nouveau est Arrive!

Every year, on the third Thursday of November, the year's Beaujolais Nouveau is released from France. In France, this comes close to a national celebration, and bars, cafes and wine shops all over the world rush to stock their shelves and hold tastings of the new wine. The quality of the year's Beaujolais Nouveau is also seen as an indicator of the quality of other French, particularly Burgundy-region, wines produced in the same harvest year, as it is the first one out.

Beaujolais Nouveau is a light, fruity red wine made from the Gamay grape. It becomes even more fruit-forward when it is served slightly chilled. Because the Gamay grape has a thin skin, this particular wine is low in tannins. It is very versatile in that it pairs well with several dishes, including turkey, making it a great choice for the holidays. It's also relatively inexpensive, usually priced around $10 a bottle. Beaujolais Nouveau is a young drinking wine that is not meant to age, therefore it is best to drink it within a few months of its release date.

Last night, our local small chain of liquor stores (M & R) held a tasting of good Thanksgiving wines, focusing on this year's Beaujolais Nouveau from Georges Duboeuf, the largest producer of Beaujolais Nouveau. The Duboeuf website claims that this year's harvest is the best in 50 years, apparently due to superb weather and growing conditions. After tasting it, I have to agree, perhaps not with the 50 year thing, but it is the best one I've had. Last year's was a bad one - high in mineral taste - I felt as if I had a penny in my mouth. But this year's smells of grapes, and has a light, slightly sweet, fruit-forward flavor that finishes nicely. This is not a complex wine, but that's what's great about it, in my opinion. So, drink up - Beaujolais Nouveau 2009 est arrive!


Chicken in Pomegranate Sauce

For the past few posts, we have been raving about what a great experience we had on our Afghani Food Tour. That experience has obviously stayed with us, because last night we made a dish from Cooking With Samia, the cookbook we bought from Tangiers International Market that was written by Nancy Samia Latif, the matriarch of the family that owns and runs the market.

One product in particular had caught my eye while I was browsing the aisles of Tangiers- pomegranate molasses. By chance, as I was flipping through the book yesterday, I noticed a chicken dish that called for that ingredient. The dish is called "D'jaj bi'l Dibs Rumman," or "Chicken Baked with Pomegranate Sauce" and it is amazing. We followed the recipe almost precisely, only adjusting the amount (we're cooking for a couple, not for twelve kids!), and we used dried herbs (for shame, I know). The chicken (we used bone-in, skin-on thighs) was cooked perfectly and was tender and juicy. The sauce was sweet and tart and made the house smell wonderful. We served it with basmati rice that we cooked in a rice cooker with a few shakes of ground cardamom, then we garnished the plate with some pomegranate seeds. Here's our slightly adapted version of Mrs. Latif's recipe. It's a great dish for fall, when pomegranates are in season.


4 chicken thighs
salt, pepper and hot paprika to taste
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, cut in half
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tomato, cut into eight wedges
1 tablespoon each dried parsley and dried cilantro
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses

Turn the oven on to 400 degrees. Lay the chicken thighs in a glass baking dish and season them with salt, pepper and a light sprinkling of hot paprika. Roast the chicken uncovered at 400 for 20 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 325 and continue to bake for thirty minutes more. When the chicken has only about 10 minutes left to cook, prepare the sauce. Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil unti golden, stirring frequently. Add the tomato chunks and the parsley and cilantro. Simmer, covered, for about five minutes. Add the pomegranate molasses, stir well, and simmer for five minutes more. At the end of the roasting time, remove the chicken from the oven and remove the fat from the pan. Pour the pomegranate sauce over the chicken as evenly as possible, then return the chicken to the oven for ten minutes. Finally, place the chicken on the top rack and broil for 3-4 minutes. Enjoy with rice or another Middle Eastern side dish.


Afghani Food Tour Part Two: Shish Kebab House of Aghanistan

The afternoon part of our Afghani Food Tour brought us into West Hartford Center to the restaurant called Shish Kebab House of Afghanistan. We were treated to a tasty appetizer of light pancakes filled with potato and scallion, with two different dipping sauces served alongside. The owner's son gave us some history on his family, including how his father escaped from Afghanistan during the Communist takeover and made his way to the United States, starting the restaurant over 20 years ago.

We were led into the kitchen, one of the cleanest kitchens Chris and I have ever seen in all our years working in restaurants, and we had an hour-long lesson in some of the secrets of Afghani food. We learned how to cook the fluffy, delicious Basmati rice (see photo) for which Afghani cuisine is famous. We learned how to enhance the rice and make it into a meal by adding different ingredients, such as almonds, cardamom, raisins and carrots (a dish known as kabuli palow). The cooks taught us how to make homemade yogurt and to use it as a condiment for sliced fried eggplant with tomato sauce (a dish called brony bonjan pictured above in preparation and below being plated). Finally, we learned the secret to Shish Kebab's famously delectable rice pudding (but we won't tell).

When the cooking lesson was over, we enjoyed a scrumptious lunch. We drank hot Afghani tea, made with black tea, milk, cardamom and beet juice. We tasted the eggplant dish we had learned to make, along with chicken and lamb kebabs that had been marinated overnight and were seasoned with sumac to give them a light lemony finish. Our luncheon by scraping up every grain from our dish of homemade rice pudding.

The myriad of spices, the reliance on fresh, homemade products, and thousands of years of experience make Afghani cuisine an interesting, healthy, and distinctive one to explore. We're glad we have, and we encourage our readers to as well.


Grilled Halloumi Cheese

On our Afghani Food Tour, we learned that Halloumi cheese is great for grilling. We thought that would make a perfect snack that evening, since we had eaten all morning and afternoon on the tour so we weren't starving, but we needed a little something. The Halloumi we purchased is from Cyprus, from where this type of cheese traditionally comes. The package contained one large piece of cheese that seemed to have been folded in half and packaged with some flakes of mint and a little bit of brine. We unfolded it and split it into two pieces which we grilled in a teaspoon of olive oil on a skillet over medium heat for about 3 minutes on each side. The cheese did not melt but browned up nicely. The inside texture was firm, and it sort of squeaked when we bit into it. The taste was salty and mildly tangy. We enjoyed it simply grilled and eaten with a fork, but imagine it would be great on top of a salad or in any other way a cheese-lover could think of.


Afghani Food Tour Part One: Tangiers International Market

For birthdays and anniversaries, Chris and I tend to get each other gifts of experience rather than of material. That is to say, instead of "presents," we get "presence" - each other's, specifically, in the form of taking a trip, or taking a class, or going to a play or concert. When I saw Prudence Sloane's Afghani Food Tour, I knew this is what I would get Chris for his birthday, and although his birthday was in September, we experienced it on Saturday.

We pulled up to
Tangiers International Market at 9:00 a.m., just in time for some strong Turkish coffee and an introduction to Prudence Sloane (a food expert, TV/radio personality, writer, dancer and all-around celebrity in these parts) and the many members of the Latif family who own and run the market. The handsome and charming Winfield, a.k.a. child #5, would be our tour guide through the products the store carries, how they are used, and their role in Middle Eastern cuisine.

First, we tasted our way through the dairy case, trying several cheeses, including Halloumi, one we were told is great for grilling. We heard about other varieties of cheese and yogurts, how they are made, and how they are cooked and/or used in recipes. The frozen foods section yielded some goodies as well, such as phyllo dough, spanakopita (spinach and cheese in phyllo dough), a variety of pita and flatbreads, and more.

We were introduced to and chatted about different meats and cuts of meat, and the best way to cook each. Then we got to taste one of the market's specialties, falafel. Their falafel is delicous, warm and soft and flavorful on the inside, crisp and not greasy at all on the outside. Interesting to note here that they fry their falafel in extra virgin olive oil, which adds to the excellent flavor and texture. After I dipped mine in the housemade tahini sauce, I realized that I never had decent falafel until that moment. Chris gave me the "I told you so" look because this is where he first tried, and fell in love with, falafel.

In the aisles is where I had the most fun. "Win" pointed out some of the more interesting products that we might not be familiar with - preserved lemons, a spice called sumac, pomegranate molasses, Turkish tea, candy made from sesame seeds, and much, much more. We tasted olive oil and found out which one they use to fry their falafel. We also tasted Tangiers' homemade hummus and baba ghanoush, both delicious dips sprinkled with lemon juice and drizzled with another olive oil they carry and recommend.

Finally, when we turned to face the lunch and bakery counter, my eyes grew wide with desire as I gazed upon the baklava that was being handed to me to taste. Light, flaky phyllo dough soaked with honey and filled with walnuts - sweet, crunchy, salty, savory - this is everything in one. Love. It. There were many other varieties of pastries and cookies as well. Prepared foods are available to eat at the counter or to take home including spinach, meat and cheese pies, salads, stuffed grape leaves, curries, and of course, kebabs.

As I flipped through the matriarch's cookbook (available for purchase, naturally!), I realized how little I had known about the cuisine of the Middle East before, and how much I had learned in that morning. Laden with purchases, including the cookbook, we left feeling satisfied, in both our stomachs and our minds.

Tangiers is a local, family-owned and operated business. Their prepared foods are homemade and each one is better than the last. The family members are polite, friendly and disarmingly good-looking. They are also more than willing to answer questions. If you like Middle Eastern food, or if you'd like to find out more about it, get to Tangiers. You won't be sorry you did.