Iftari: Mexican

Alhamdulilah we have reached the half-way point of Ramadan. On one hand I feel pleased with the achievements I have made and pray inshallah that I am able to continue with them. On the other hand a sense of sadness that this beautiful month’s blessings are set to end. I pray inshallah that our fasts are accepted, that he helps those muslims stuck in refugee camps or are displaced, those that do not have enough food or water, those whose families have been torn from them, that those who are in the process of leaving this world are able to do so easily, that most of all Allah(swt) rains his mercy on us and finally that he guides our non-muslim families to the right path. Ameen.

The funny thing about this iftari was that I really was unable to think that day. I couldn’t decide what to make for dinner. My husband’s contribution was South America which was great but I really didn’t want to go to the shops and yet this meal came together really well.

For our Mexican Ifari this was our menu plan:
Stuffed red chillies
Brazil nut and cheese balls
Empanadas
Guacamole
Meat balls with vegetables
Re-fried dhal

Arroz Rojo
Normally arroz rojo is spicy. I decided not to make mine spicy as everything else was spicy and we also have a spicy v non spicy conflict in our house. So it is always nice to make something which works for both sets of people.

1 tablespoon rapeseed oil
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 large beef tomato
1 onion
1 cup of basmati rice

Wash and leave the rice to soak for at least 20 minutes.
Use a pan large enough to hold the cooked rice. Slice the onion and allow to brown in the oil, then add the clove of garlic, then add the cumin seeds. Chop the tomato quite finely, add the tomato, it’s juice and seeds in to the pan and allow to cook slightly with the onions.

25 minutes before iftari, drain off the rice and place into the pan with the tomatoes, heat up on a moderate heat to allow the rice to be mixed in with the tomatoes. Then add enough water to cover the rice so that when your finger is on top of the rice the water should reach the first line on your index finger. Bring to boil, then turn down to a low heat and put a lid on the pan. Allow to cook gently. Check the rice at 20 minutes it should be soft and fluffy.

Stuffed Red Chillies
I used long red chillies for this, but any that are large enough to handle would work well. Just try and beware of the heat of the chillies so that you don’t make the stuffing too hot.
Wash and deseed the chillies, cut a slit along the side and take out the white bits and the seeds. You can keep some seeds aside and put them in to the stuffing.

I used the percentage of 50:50 brazil nuts to mature cheddar cheese, I put these in a food processor and then blitzed till they were fine. Finally add in some of the chilli seeds. There is no need to add salt as the cheese is quite salty.
Put the cheese mix into the chillies. Put into a 250 degree oven for 10 – 15 minutes or until the chilies are cooked and the cheese is melting.

Brazil nut and cheese balls
These were literally thrown together as an after-thought and everyone loved them.
I made these using the left over stuffing mix from above, simply by adding freshly chopped coriander, egg and some gluten free flour to the mix until it formed a wet dough. I shaped into balls (making sure to wet my hands so that the dough did not stick to it) and then cooked into the oven for about 15 minutes at 250 degrees.

Meatballs with vegetables
One of the things that I do every year before Ramadan is to make up huge batches of spiced meatballs, cook them and then place then (in a box) in the freezer. I find they are very easy to use in different recipes and are excellent as a fall back for when you have unexpected guests.

If you don’t have spiced meat balls already in your freezer you could make some up fresh simply by mixing minced beef or lamb with onions, garlic, ginger, green chilli, egg and dry spices to taste. Alternatively use less spices and make them milder. Form golf ball sized balls then shallow fry on all sides, then allow to cool before freezing or going on to use them in this recipe.

Ingredients
1 onion finely sliced
1 aubergine finely cubed
1 courgette finely cubed
10 beef meatballs – cooked
2 cloves garlic minced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon chipotle powder
1/2 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 tablespoon rapeseed oil

Heat the oil in a pan and add the onion and cook gently until browned, raise the heat and then add the cumin and coriander seeds, aubergine and courgette and garlic. Turn the vegetables in the onions until they are heated then add the chipotle powder and stir through again. Then add enough water to cover the vegetables and then simmer for about 15 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked through and are soft. Add in the meatballs and add in enough water to cover the vegetables and meatballs and allow to simmer gently for about 20 minutes.

Re-fried dhal
Instead of having re-fried beans I opted for making re-fried dhal. I had ready cooked dhal in the freezer which I just defrosted and just fried off in cumin seeds and sliced green chilli. You could literally do this with any cooked lentil or pulse.

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Belizian Bollo aka Tamales!

Belize is a small country in central America and this is where the Bollo comes from. Bollo, however, is a Spanish name and all the more baffling considering the official language of Belize is English! However Tamales are made through out Latin America and are almost staples of daily life. They consist of a filling surrounded by dough which is then wrapped in corn husks and steamed. In the olden days, and I mean ancient times, they were used as form of transportable food. Each parcel would contain meat, vegetables and carbohydrates, all in all the ideal meal. The origin of the Tamales goes back to the ancient civilisation of the Inca.

The way that the corn husks are used is similar in to the way that banana leaves are used in tropics. If you have neither banana leaves or corn husks to hand you could always use baking parchment.

For the filling I made up a spicy mince using approximately 250g of minced meat: cumin, garlic, onion, coriander and chipotle chilli, which is a smoked jalapino. The smokiness really makes the difference as the smokiness permeates the mince. I also added some peppers to the mince.

We served our tamales with a simple salsa of tomato, onion, fresh coriander and a little vinegar. Our accompaniments were sweet potato fritters and a grated carrot salad.

Makes approximately 10 Tamales

Dough
2 cups Masa Harina
1 cup water
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of buttr
Corn husks
Cheese to sprinkle

1. Soak the corn husks in bowl of hot water to soften them
2. Beat the butter with the water until fluffy
3. Add the masa harina, baking powder and salt
4. Bring it all together as a dough
5. Create golf ball sized balls and then roll out each ball on to each corn husk
6. Place the filling eg mince, veggie and/or cheese, in the middle of the tamales and then fold up as a parcel and tie with string to hold in place
7. Repeat with all the corn husks and dough
8. Place in a steamer for a hour
9. Serve with the husks on but remove the husks before eating

Picture shows the tamales cut open

Dulce de Leche Cakes

Dule de Leche is now world famous. Everyone knows the story, the gauchos would be out moving cattle and wanted something sweet to have. So they would boil a tin of condensed milk, wait until it had cooled and then devour the sugar sweet milky caramel.

When it came to think of a dessert to have with our Argentine meal I wanted to create something which represented what the gauchos had. Often they were out in the wilderness but more often than not they returned to rich farms where dairy products were in abundance hence the use of the cheeses.

These little cakes are soft, creamy and slightly cheesey. The dulce de leche in the centre makes a pleasant surprise. Best of all they are quite quick and easy to make.

Ingredients – makes 6 cakes
2 eggs
50g caster sugar
125g ricotta
125g mascarpone
75g Doves Farm Plain Flour
¼ tin of Dulce de Leche

1. Place the eggs, caster sugar, ricotta cheese, mascarpone cheese, and flour in a bowl and mix together.
2. Line a 6 hole metal muffin tin with individual sheets of grease proof paper. Make sure each sheet is slightly bigger than the hole.
3. Put approximately one tablespoon of mixture into each hole. Try and flatten it slightly.
4. Place ¼ teaspoon of dulce de leche on top of each cake, in the middle.
5. Now place another tablespoon of mixture on top of the dolce de leche

6. Flatten the mix slightly, push down any spikes with a clean, wet finger.
7. Place the muffin tin into a larger oven proof dish and fill the larger dish with water so that it comes up halfway to the muffin tin.
8. Place this in the oven at 200 degrees for 20 minutes until the cakes are slightly puffed and risen.

9. Remove the cakes with their paper on and leave to cool on a wire rack until cool
10. Remove the paper and place a tablespoon of dolce de leche on each cake

Chimichurri Sauce and Farina

When we normally think of Argentina we tend to think about the people dancing the Tango, wearing red and black and perhaps holding a rose between their teeth. When I think about the rooms where these Tango scenes are played out they are always filmed in dinning rooms laden with food. However searching in to Argentina’s food, away from the posh lifestyle of the Argentine elite is the world of the gaucho, the Cowboy. The cowboy has a special place in Argentina’s culinary history after all they are the ones who worked on the land and provided the food.

A lot of Gaucho food is based on the concept of grilled meat with traditional sides. The gem, however, seems to be the Chimichurri sauce served alongside. Legend has it that a Scotsman was trying to say, “give me curry” (che me curry), some say it was British prisoners asking their Spanish jailers for a condiment to have on the side of their meal “Che mi salsa” which later became corrupted.

I have to say that while making this sauce, my mother was in the kitchen with me and looked rather unimpressed with the list of ingredients. On a couple of occasions she did suggest that we add some more things but I refused! The end result is garlic-y and rather like the green Beurre de Paris sometimes served with steak in France.

Farina, Socca, Basin bread are all pretty much the same: chickpea flour mixed with water, left to stand and then shallow fried in a frying pan or dry fried on a griddle

Our meal consisted of grilled lamb, grilled chicken, sautéed baked potatoes, a plain salad, chimichurri sauce and a slice of farina.

Chimichurri Sauce

Ingredients

1 bunch Fresh Coriander
4 cloves of Garlic
2 Spring Onions
Salt
A pinch of Red Chilli Flakes
Olive Oil
Vinegar

Use a food processor to blitz the spring onions and garlic until coarse. Then add in the coriander (leaves and stems), if the mix is unable to move in the processor because it is too dry add a little water. Blitz again with the salt and red chilli flakes. Finally pour enough olive oil while the mixer is moving and a couple of drops of vinegar to allow the olive oil to emulsify.

Farina
.
Ingredients
Chickpea Flour (basin)
Water
1 teaspoon baking powder

Mix the chickpea flour and baking powder with the water until you have a thick batter. Leave to stand for approximately 10 -20 minutes. Spray spray-oil on to a non stick frying pan and pour on the batter. Check to see if the underside has cooked, then flip over and cook the other side. Repeat the process.