29th June – 1st of Ramadan

Alhamdulilah Ramadan is here, I must admit my focus was mainly on survivng the day rather than excelling in the extras. If you found it easy, great if you managed loads of extras great. For me I survived and frankly that was quite an achievement for me. I have loads of ‘mileage’ on my Ramadan clock but the truth is I do find it hard. This isn’t a case of ‘woe is me’ but honesty.

Sehri

With the long (wet and warm) days ahead I thought a lot about what types of things would be good for sehri/suhoor. In the end I opted for something that I have become quite fond of quite recently; overnight oats with chia seeds. Simply choose a jar, put in a portion of oats (I use gluten free oats) add in a table spoon of chia seeds, then add in some thing you like, dried fruit, nuts, nut butter, then fill with milk put the lid on and then leave in the fridge. Normally I would make this before. I go to bed but because our ‘nights’ are so short – about 5 hours in the UK – I try and do this first thing in the morning or you could do it when you get home from work. Once you get into the rhythm of doing this it is quite easy. It is also good if you are in a larger family as everyone has a portion sorted and there is no risk of running out of milk at 2:30am. I had mine with a simple fruit salad of watermelon and chopped apple ( a quick dunk in lemon/vinegar water to prevent the apple going brown). In true paranoid Ramadan style I put out a bread roll for myself but was so full I couldn’t bring myself to eat any more.

My husband decided to stick to simple things and had a bowl of cereal with some waffles I had made earlier in the day. We both had the mandatory date, a smoothie and lots of water.

Iftari

I decided to go with an Arab inspired meal for iftari not in the least authentic but everyone loved it and it required very little effort for which it earns bonus brownie points!

For the lamb (serves 4)
1/2 a small leg of lamb chopped into to cubes
1/2 onion sliced
1 aubergine chopped into cubes
1 tablespoon of fresh garlic minced
1 tablespoon of fresh ginger minced
2 teaspoons of Rose flavoured Harissa paste
1 teaspoon chilli flakes
1 tablespoon of a spice mix containing equal quantities of:allspice, white pepper, cinammon, ginger, nutmeg, mahlab, sumac and cardamon
2 tablespoons pomegrenate molasses
2 tablespoon olive oil
4 quarters of sunblush tomatoes chopped up finely
A handful of olives

Place all the ingredients in to an ovenproof dish and mix well.
Leave to marinade for at least 3 hours but not longer than 12 hours.
2 hours before ifari cover the dish with ovenproof foil and put in the oven at 190 degrees centigrade
Check on it from time to time to stir the ingredients.
This should be ready about 10 minutes before hand when the meat is soft and tender.

Haloumi
I did a similar thing with 200g of haloumi leaving out the chilli and aubergine. Bringing the quanties of all the spices/ pastes down to a teaspoon. This went into the oven 30 mins ( also covered) before iftari. Coming out the same time as the lamb.

I served this with shop bought roti, fresh hummus, an undressed salad. I had gluten free shop bought wraps by Be Free Foods.

Today was also a family birthday so dessert was a home made birthday cake.

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Palestinian Maqluba

As muslims (not of Palestinian origin) we say that Palestine is constantly on our mind. Indeed our duas frequently mention the plight of the Palestinian people. With this in mind I thought I would try and recreate a dish with a thousand recipes and for which I have no doubt that at least a few people will email me to tell me that this is not how their mother prepares this. As I am not Palestinian please forgive me Inshallah. This is my version of the dish, with a few of my influences thrown in!

So let us start at the beginning, what is Maqluba? Maqluba is a dish made of rice, meat and vegetables. The general rules seem to be these: if you are making it with lamb you must include aubergine and if you are making it with chicken you must include cauliflower. Finally once the rice is cooked you must flip the rice out of the pan on to a plate as Maqluba means upside down. As with all things that are served upside down you must try and make the top look pretty.

This dish is vegetable rich and so while there is meat in here, I have scaled it down slightly as I didn’t think it needed so much in it. Normal Maqulba tends to be dry (ie no residual juices left behind) however I wanted this to be a dish within itself and after fasting I knew we would all want something with sauce.

Ingredients

For the stock
4 (allow 1-2 per person) lamb chops with bones
1 onion
10 x Black pepper corns
10 x Clove corns
3 pints of water
Put all the ingredients into a pan and bring to the boil, then simmer until the lamb is soft and tender. Then take off the heat. If you want to make this in advance, you can do. This can also be frozen at this stage.

For the rice
1 cup of basmati rice (allow a ¼ cup of rice per person)
1 large tomato
4 new potatoes (allow 1 person)
1 aubergine
2 carrots
1 onion
2 bay leaves
All spice powder
Cinnamon powder
Salt and Pepper
Half a bulb of garlic
Rapeseed oil to fry
Baking paper
30g Pine nuts
25g butter
Yoghurt to serve

Wash and soak the rice in cold water. Leave it for at least 20 mins.

Slice the aubergine thinly into rounds, then drizzle with oil and place in a 250 degree oven for 20 minutes or until cooked.

Slice the tomato, carrot, aubergine and onion and keep each item separately ie not mixed in with each other.

Place the meat and the meat stock through a sieve and reserve in a pan. Place the meat to one side then fry the sliced onion in 1 tablespoon of oil, once the onions have browned slightly add the lamb chops and increase the heat to high to help render down the fat of the lamb and brown the lamb. Then take off the heat.

Dry fry the pine nuts and then add the butter, before taking off the heat and setting aside.

Take a large pan – ideally with handles on the side, large enough to hold the rice when cooked and all the ingredients, and cut the circumference of the pan out of the baking paper. Place the baking paper into the pan. This will save on washing up time!
Spread a thin layer of the oil on to the baking paper, in the pan.

Now layer the meat on to the baking paper.

Followed by a layer of aubergine, then a layer of tomato and then a layer of cooked onions. Now it is time to season with salt, pepper, a teaspoon of cinnamon and a teaspoon of allspice. Followed by a layer of potatoes, then a layer of carrots. Then another layer of seasoning, omitting the salt.

Drain the rice. Place the rice of top of all the layers. Try and arrange it as flat as possible. Add two bay leaves.

Pour the stock into a jug or a glass. Hold a plate above the rice pot and pour the stock into the rice. As the objective is to keep the layers as still as possible, pouring it on to plate will ensure that no holes will appear in the rice.

Once the stock is in the rice, put your index finger into the water and sit it above the rice. The water/stock should reach the second line on your finger. If the water does not reach here, top it off with some tap water.

Bring the rice to the boil. Do NOT STIR THE RICE. Once the water has bubbled, turn the heat down to the lowest heat put a folded clean tea towel on top and put the lid on top of it and leave to cook for 30 minutes. As this is for iftari I would put this on to cook 45 minutes before iftari.

After 30 minutes of cooking, check the rice. Be careful as the tea towel will be boiling hot. The rice should be soft and tender to touch.

If very top layer of rice has not cooked, DO NOT STIR THE RICE, use a spoon to push the rice down in to the water. Hold the rice down with the spoon if needs be. Cover with the tea towel and the lid again and leave for 10 minutes or until cooked.

To serve, find a plate or a platter at least 3 cm larger than your pan. Remove the tea towel and the lid. Place the plate on top of the pan, and place a length wise folded tea towel (2 folds) on to the plate, and use this to grip the pan handles. Then very quickly flip the pan on to the plate. Allow the pan to sit on to the plate for a couple of minutes before removing the pan. Carefully remove the paper. Sprinkle the pine nuts on top of the Maqluba. Serve with plain yoghurt.

Serves 4

Cooking up a Storm

I’m not exactly sure why, but last night I decided to cook a few things rather than just one or main plus carbohydrate. We’ve still been working our way through various countries but some iftaris weren’t really worth blogging about eg the night we had England as our theme, we had fish shop fish and chips…well the gluten eaters did. I had supermarket gluten free fish fingers with chips and baked beans. The following night with the US as our theme it had to be burgers. Last night we hit Spain.

Our menu was:

Lamb Paella with peppers and green beans
Prawns and mussels in garlic and chilli
Patatas Bravas
Tomato and goats cheese salad

Lamb Paella with peppers and green beans

1 onion
1/3rd of a shoulder of lamb (meat and bones)
Olive oil
2 ripe tomatoes or 2 tomatoes from a tin of tomatoes
230g of cooked Butter beans
100g green beans
1 red pepper chopped into large cubes
1 cup long grain rice
Approximately 2.5 cups* of Water
4 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoons of sweet paprika (adjust to taste)
1 pinch of saffron diluted in hot water

* Cup = any mug you have just make sure to use the same for both the measures.

1. Wash the rice and set aside in some water.
2. Dice an onion
3. Put enough olive oil to cover the base of the pan, then fry the onions on a low heat until they are golden.
4. When the onions are done add the lamb shoulder, browning the meat.
5. Add 4 cloves of chopped garlic to the lamb and continue to brown.
6. Add the salt and paprika, stir and coat the lamb with them.
7. Finely chop the tomatoes then add to the pan.
8. Now add enough water to cover the meat entirely, bring to boil and then leave to simmer on a low heat for 20 minutes with a lid on. The water should have reduced slightly but there should be enough covering the meat.
9. Wash the butter beans until the water runs clear then add the beans to the pan. Stir to adjust the placement of the meat and beans in the pan.
10. Finally add the drained rice to the pan. Level out the rice so that it is evenly distributed in the pan. Do not stir the rice at all.
11. Heat the pan till the liquid till it boils, then reduce and leave to simmer for 15-20 minutes with the lid on.
12. Switch the heat off, and place the green beans and red pepper on top of the rice. Place the lid back on to the pan and leave standing for 10 minutes. Do not open until the 10 minutes are up.

Patatas Bravas

4 medium potatoes
Spray oil

Cube the potatoes into approximately ½ inch cubes, put in a pan of water and boil for approximately 5 minutes. Drain and place on an ovenproof tray and spray with spray oil and place in the oven at 200 degrees for an hour and a half or until golden brown. Serve hot with the bravas sauce and allioli.

Bravas Sauce
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 onion
1 red chilli
½ tin tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon smoked chipotle

Slice the onion and fry in the olive oil until golden, add the chilli, tomatoes, salt and smoked chipotle. Gently stir on a medium heat until the sauce is thick.

Allioli
1 egg
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 teaspoon olive oil + extra for pouring
1 crushed garlic clove
A pinch of salt to taste

Combine the egg, garlic, teaspoon of vinegar, teaspoon of olive oil in a food processor and blitz until they take on an emulsified consistency. Gradually pour in a little olive oil until you reach a thin mayonnaise consistency. I find doing this bit slowly helps.

Prawns and mussels in garlic and chilli

Allow approximately:
200g of mussels per person (ensure they are cleaned with beards removed)
5-7 raw grey prawns per person (ensure that all intestines are removed)
1 crushed clove of garlic
1 chilli finely chopped
3 tablespoons water
Olive oil

Put approximately 1cm of olive oil in a pan with the crushed garlic and heat on a very low heat for approximately 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium and then add the chilli, prawns, mussels and the water. Place a lid on the pan and cook for 7 minutes or until the prawns and mussels are cooked all the way through. Serve with sliced limes.

Tomato and goats cheese salad

Slice tomatoes, goats cheese. Arrange the goats cheese on the tomatoes and sprinkle cracked black pepper and coarse sea salt on top.

Kaufteh

Kaufteh are meatballs. Most cultures have meatballs and no doubt everyone will say that theirs are the best! To me meatballs are lovely, small enough to shape in the palm of your hand and just a perfect end to a long day.

Ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you that my favourite food is kaufteh (meatballs from Pakistan). I just adore them. I love the whole process from the making of the meatballs, to peeling the potatoes (and that has to be the only time I love peeling potatoes). Making them gives me so much pleasure that it is abnormal.

I prefer to make the kaufteh in a big batch, then I fry the meatballs, and then freeze them, meaning I can have meatballs without so much work later on.

As always I suggest making your own meatballs and playing around with them until you find a flavour combination which works for you. Kaufteh normally contain finely sliced onion, ginger, garlic, chillies and spices along with herbs mint and coriander. Egg is the only binding agent, there is no need to add flour whatsoever. Kaufteh should be the size of a golf ball. Fry off the meatballs and set aside or freeze and then make the sauce.

Kaufteh sauce
Ingredients – to serve 4
1 small onion
4 cloves garlic ground
2 cm of ginger peeled and chopped and ground
½ a tin of tomatoes
Red chilli flakes to taste
1 green chilli
¼ teaspoon garam masala
¼ teaspoon of ground coriander
¼ teaspoon of tumeric
¼ teaspoon of cumin
1/4teaspoon of black pepper corns
¼ teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon of cinnamon or a small cinnamon stick
1 slightly squashed cardom
Salt to taste

Also required
Approximately 12 meatballs
Approximately ½ the amount of potatoes to meatballs
4 hard boiled eggs – peeled

1. Chop the onion, brown the onions in oil so that they become soft
2. add the ginger and garlic and the tumeric, red chillies flakes, then add the whole spices and add the tomatoes
3. On a medium heat cook the spices off, so that when you move a spoon through the tomatoes the oil is visible as a clear line.
4. Then add the kaufteh, heat them in the paste add enough water to cover the kaufteh and allow to boil.
5. Bring to a simmer and add the potatoes and simmer
6. When a knife goes through the potatoes add the peeled eggs.
7. Allow the eggs to heat through in the sauce for a while so that also absorb the spices add the chopped green chilli.
8. Finally top with coriander and serve with freshly cooked rice.

Laksa, Two Ways

Laksa is a noodle soup of Malaysian origin, a mix of the Chinese and Malay food culture and there, my friends, endth the lesson!

My laksa is unconventional. I chose not to make it as soupy as normal simply because soup for iftari when you aren’t used to a soup can be a bit hard to deal with (mentally I mean), so it is more saucy than soupy. I’ve made other changes too in the laksa paste, but I assure you this works. It is just as tasty. It is both spicy and zingy, it hits all the buttons.

While it may seem strange to chop in a food processor AND use a mortar and pestle there is method in my madness. The food processor will simply chop the spices into fine pieces however a mortar and pestle will break down those fine pieces changing them from individual ingredients into the laksa paste. Doing both reduces the amount of pounding.

In the ingredients I’ve listed two tins of coconut milk, simply because there is nothing worse than sitting down to a meal which is too hot. Use one tin, see how you feel and without a second of a doubt if you find it too hot add more coconut milk as this will reduce the heat. For children who are not used to hot food, it might be an idea to split the laksa into two pans, one for adults (as it is) and one for the children (with more coconut milk in).

One final point when I photographed the prawn laksa it was photographed as a single portion and the lamb laksa was photographed in the serving dish.

Serve in bowls, eat with spoons and forks with plenty of napkins at hand and perhaps a cooling melon to put out the heat!

Lamb Laksa
Serves 6

500g of lamb chops
2 limes
200g of flat rice noodles (Banh Pho or Pad Thai)
2 spring onions
1 red pepper
1 small aubergine
2 tins of coconut milk ( I used ¾ of a tin)
Rapeseed oil

For the Laksa paste
4 – 5 long red chillies
8 shallots
3cm piece of ginger
3cm piece of galangal
4 cloves garlic
25g of walnuts

1 teaspoon dry lemongrass
½ lime juice
½ teaspoon of tumeric powder
2 teaspoons of tamarind paste
1 teaspoon of coarse sea salt
½ teaspoon sugar

1. Juice 1 lime and pour over the lamb, mix well and leave to tenderise for at least 1 hour preferably in a fridge.
2. Peel and chop the shallots, galangal, ginger, garlic.
3. Chop the chillies
4. Place the : shallots, galangal, ginger, garlic, chillies, walnuts, for the laksa paste into a chopper until very fine, then remove
5. Place the fine ingredients into a pestle and mortar, then add the coarse sea salt, tamarind paste, lime juice and pound for around 3mins.
6. Heat up 3 tablespoons of oil in a large pan, pour in the laksa paste, then add in the lamb and any remaining marinating lime juice and cook the meat in the paste. The paste will cook off while the meat browns.
7. After about 5 mins of cooking add in the coconut milk and continue to cook for a further 20 mins making sure the laksa does not stick. Remember to stir from time to time.
8. Chop the aubergine into cubes and add to the laksa. Cook for another 20 mins.
9. Chop up the pepper and 1 spring onion and add to the laksa.
10. Boil a kettle and pour the kettle hot water on to the rice noodles and cover with a lid. Leave for approximately 5-7 mins but do check the noodle packet for details. When the noodles are ready drain and set aside.
11. At this stage check the lamb it should be tender. Taste the laksa and add sugar to taste, also check the heat the level.
12. To serve, place the noodles in a serving bowl, and place the laksa on top. Chop the remaining spring onion and ½ lime and place on top of the laksa.

Prawn laksa


500g of black raw prawns
½ quantity Laksa paste as above
2 Spring Onions
2 tins coconut milk (again adjust to taste, start with one tin and if find it too hot add some more coconut milk)

1. Remove the shell and de-vein the prawns (remove the intestine visible along the spine and underneath)
2. Heat the oil in a pan and add the laksa paste and cook off the paste for a couple of minutes.
3. Add in the prawns and coat well in the paste before adding the coconut milk and leaving to simmer gently until the prawns are cooked. The prawns will look pinker won’t be so dull.
4. To assemble the dish, place the noodles in a bowl and top with the prawn laksa, top with spring onions and wedges of lime.

Paella


Before this evening if you had asked me what I thought about Paella I would tell you the first word that would spring to my mind was grit! Yes, honestly, grit! I think back to the first time I ate Paella and this was the first texture that hit my mouth followed by my taste buds being assaulted by salt. Not one to repeat mistakes it wasn’t until recently that I ate Paella again that I liked it. You may think what is there not to like in rice, but honestly grit can have that kind of an effect on a person.

Paella apparently has muslim origins. Back in the days when the Arab Moors had the Caliphate of Cordoba (approximately year 1000) following the banquets of the rich the servants would be given “Baqiyah” (leftovers in Arabic) and this would then be mixed with what ever meat, fish and vegetables were to hand. Modern Spanish legend of the origins of Paella are entirely different naming the banks of lake Albufera near Valencia where fishermen caught fish, fried snails, a few legumes and rice grown on the edges of the lake, omitting any Moorish involvement. Either way this is now a dish in its own right.

This recipe is lovely, no grit in sight! The lamb is soft and sweet, the beans filling and the sugar snap peas vibrant. The taste is both garlic-y and nutty. Paella is normally cooked in a large flat paella pan like a large frying pan however because I wanted to speed up the process and wanted the lamb to be tender I used a Le Creuset shallow casserole pan with a lid. Finally a note regarding the paprika, I’ve used 3 teaspoons of paprika as I felt it did not give enough taste to the dish and this may well be because the paprika was not very strong. I would none the less suggest starting with 2 teaspoons and increasing if you need more.

Lamb Paella
Serves 4

1 onion
5 lamb chops including their spare ribs
Olive oil
2 ripe tomatoes or 2 tomatoes from a tin of tomatoes
230g of cooked Canneloni beans
100g Sugar snap peas
1 cup long grain rice
Approximately 2.5 cups* of Water
4 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons of sweet paprika (adjust to taste)
1 pinch of saffron diluted in hot water

* Cup = any mug you have just make sure to use the same for both the measures.

1. Wash the rice and set aside in some water.
2. Dice an onion
3. Put enough olive oil to cover the base of the pan, then fry the onions on a low heat until they are golden.
4. When the onions are done add the lamb chops and spare ribs, browning the meat.
5. Add 4 cloves of chopped garlic to the lamb and continue to brown.
6. Add the salt and paprika, stir and coat the lamb with them.
7. Finely chop the tomatoes then add to the pan.
8. Now add enough water to cover the meat entirely, bring to boil and then leave to simmer on a low heat for 20 minutes with a lid on. The water should have reduced slightly but there should be enough covering the meat. Taste the liquid to see if more paprika is needed.
9. Wash the beans until the water runs clear then add the beans to the pan. Stir to adjust the placement of the meat and beans in the pan.
10. Finally add the drained rice to the pan. Level out the rice so that it is evenly distributed in the pan. Do not stir the rice at all.
11. Heat the pan till the liquid till it boils, then reduce and leave to simmer for 15-20 minutes with the lid on.
12. Switch the heat off, and place the sugar snap peas on top of the rice. Place the lid back on to the pan and leave standing for 10 minutes. Do not open until the 10 minutes are up.

¡buen apetito!
For Mrs B!

Uzbek Palov

When I first came across a recipe of Uzbek Palov (or Plov) I have to confess that I was a tad if not entirely dubious of its merits. After all the first recipes I found were pretty much meat, onions and carrots. There seemed to be a total lack of warm fragrance that would waft from the similarly named plau that I had grown up with. None the less I rolled up my sleeves and got surfing the internet with the belief that there had to be more to this than meat, onions and carrots. Happily I can inform you that there is, however if you are not careful you can end up with all and sundry in this and some things not for the better – and that is what the Uzbeks say ! I don’t claim that this is a definitive version of Uzbekistan’s national pride, but this palov contains an authentic combination of ingredients that taste sensational.

Dried apricot paste, adds a tangy sweetness to the dish that just blends in with the spices. If you are unable to obtain this then dried apricots will do, however their flavours will be localised and it won’t blend with the rest of the spices.

This dish does take some work however, as a form of Ramadan preparation I would suggest doing stages 1 to 9 in advance and freezing before the final ingredients. Once the base has been defrosted the only time required is to soak the rice and then to cook the rice.

As an accompaniment a simple side salad of cucumber, tomato and onion is all that is required. This dish is substantial enough to not require anything else.

Ingredients – Serves 6
½ a kilo of lamb shoulder meat chopped in to small pieces with bones (ask your butcher to do this)
1 cup of basmati rice
3 onions – peeled and sliced
4 carrots
1 tin of chickpeas
4 inch strip of apricot dried paste or 4 dried apricots
2 teaspoons of whole cumin seeds
1 teaspoon of coriander seeds
1 teaspoon of pepper corns
1 teaspoon of garlic paste
1 teaspoon of salt
1 whole head of garlic – unpeeled and washed
Sunflower/rapeseed oil
A handful of chopped parsley

1. Wash the rice until the water runs clear, then leave it to soak with approximately 2cms of water covering the rice
2. Place about 2cms of oil in a heavy based casserole pan and heat the oil until it begins to smoke. Then gently place the meat into the pan and brown the meat. Add in 1 teaspoon of garlic paste, 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds and continue to brown.
3. Once the meat is browned and crispy add the onions, lower the heat and allow them to gently cook until the onions have broken down and are very soft and mushy.
4. Just as the onions begin to caramelise, lower the heat and slowly add in a little water to deglaze the pan. Make sure to rub the caramelised bits off the pan so that they start to form a darker broth.
5. Pour in enough water to completely cover the meat and then add in 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of pepper corns, 1 teaspoon of coriander seeds, and the dried apricot paste/ dried apricots.
6. Increase the heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes.
7. Pierce each clove of garlic (leaving the head intact) with a knife to allow the flavour to escape, and then place the garlic head into the pan.
8. Allow the meat to simmer for an hour or until the meat is tender, checking to see if the water needs topping up (the water should fully cover the meat).
9. If preparing in advance, the meat and liquid can now be frozen after leaving to cool. Defrost fully and heat before using and resume at stage 10.
10. Reduce the heat to low. Drain and wash a tin of chickpeas and add to the pan. Add the julienned carrots.
11. Drain the rice and add to the pan.
12. Bring the pan to the boil and bring the heat down to low again. Place the lid on to the pan and cook for 20 mins or until the rice is soft and the liquid has evaporated. Try not to open the lid as the steam will escape. Once the rice is cooked do not stir the rice, gently comb a fork through it.
13. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve with the meat and garlic on top with a final sprinkle of parsley on top.
14. Serve with a cucumber, tomato and onion salad. Dress simply with salt, pepper, oil and vinegar.

For a meal en famille serve directly from the pot. With guests, place the rice at the bottom, and then lay the meat on top of the soft bed of carrots. Place the whole head of garlic on top of the meat and sprinkle with parsley.