Kitchen lab


It’s been a while since I last visited – indeed the so-called “new” year is a month-an-a-half old already, but there’s been good reason. Life has been mighty busy with the usual AUC stuff, visitors and visiting etc. And as I’ve said before, when I’m doing stuff, blogging, back-blogging etc takes a back seat. And now there’s so much to catch up on that I may never do. But a quick mention of highlights

Visitors – My cousin Usha and her family from England were here Dec 17-27. Then Ravi & Hema from Singapore and their son Narayan (my favorite new 20-something college kid) were here from Dec 24 – Jan 4. During the overlap we managed an entire clan trip out to all pyramids – topped off by a night visit to the Khan after dinner at home in between.  A Christmas day that was action-packed to the gills – we pulled it off successfully tho.

Visits – I took a turn at travel with an event-filled trip to Bangalore to visit family between Jan 7-24. In that time I got in Mumbai (it bookended the trip in both directions), an overnight to Madras (sorry Chennai) and a detour to Pune on the way back.

Back again and more visitors: Have been back for just 3 weeks today and am already into the beginning of my third week of classes in what will be my last semester here in AUC. And already too, have hosted my first spring semester visitors – my Swedish friend Eva and her Mom Brita – who arrived last week and left yesterday.

Meanwhile I haven’t been idle on the culinary experimentation front. A few real hits include a kiwi chutney from last night and experiment in poaching pigeons last week. The recipe for the former is up already on demand/request here, the latter will be a few days yet… check out the stuff, and stay tuned for more updates, back blogs etc.

Here’s to a great 2010. Lots of new things will be coming up! May they all be interesting and engaging!

Not to have two food items in a row, but… I promised Renu to forward her the recipe for this salad we had the other evening at her home in Beijing thrown together with ingredients in their fridge and pantry, so here it is, all my other visitors to the blog can read it too. And though it was in Beijing there is nothing even remotely Chinese about the salad. Rather the inspiring ingredient was Norwegian if I’m not mistaken, a half-empty bottle of pickled herring…

Cucumber & Herring Salad

Peel (only if necessary) and cut 1-2 cucumbers into relatively chunky bits depending on your choice (I chose wedges but half moons or even complete rounds will work depending on diameter) nd place into a glass bowl that has been rubbed with a cut clove of raw garlic. Mince the garlic and add to cucumbers also. Roughly chop pickled herring (the Mehndiratta fridge had a version pickled in a brine along with slices of onion) and other contents of the pickle if present. If the herring does not have onions, you may want to chop a small red onion and add to the mix. Season with salt and pepper and the juice of fresh lime or lemon. To finish, add a few tablespoons of raw mustard oil, and toss well. Allow to rest for a while in the ‘fridge  for flavors to marry and voila! Simplicity itself.

P.S.  Cucumbers tend to give off water in the presence of salt and so you may end up with rather more dressing that you started with. Depending on the intensity of the flavor you favor, you may add some more mustard oil to the remaining juices, and use the dressing for preparing a ceviche (if you are in an area where you can get good quality raw fish) or simply tossing it with some pre-steamed, peeled shrimp for an interesting alternative to shrimp cocktail.


Just returned to Cairo yesterday after nearly two months to find my expectedly nearly-empty fridge with some very sour and hard and inedible-as-fruit plums (left behind by one of the summer residents of my flat perhaps?). Sorely lacking in the vegetable and the aromatics (read onions and ginger) department, and also lacking in energy to go shopping for fresh produce, but famished and exhausted, this is what I tried:

Boiled a cup of split masoor daal (pink lentils) with the requisite water, turmeric, salt, pinch of asafetida and butter. Also added a couple of cloves of garlic since they were handy. At first boil, turned heat down and stirred in the sour plums (there were 2 of them) and allowed to simmer till daal was well cooked and the fruit completely softened. Mashed it and the garlic down with the back of the spoon ans stirred well to mix in thoroughly. Seasoned with a pinch of hot chilly powder. Just before serving prepared a tadka of panch phoron and a couple of whole red dried chillies.

The verdict: not unlike a daal prepared with tomatoes. Tastes good with either rice or roties. For a more guju touch, might I suggest adding some a pinch of brown sugar as well?

Summer, or the heat in any event is here in full force now, but that’s not the only reason I’m sweating. In 7 out of the past 8 days, I’ve gotten my sweat through honest toil – doing Yoga with friends, Brooke and Belle. Brooke started it, bringing Belle over to my place last Saturday for some stretching. Tw0 days later we popped my yoga DVD in and since then we’ve been at it, mixing up intense routines with easy ones, but only really letting up once in the whole week. And even in a single week, I can feel the muscles strengthen and becoming more capable of doing more work. Am sore in different spots each day, but these are good sorenesses.  I must say, having buddies to to these things with is definitely inspirational.  I’ve had the tapes for so long, and half -heartedly pull them them out once or twice every week or so intending to “be more diligent about doing the exercises more regularly,” but it’s just too easy, when by myself to simply “not” do it. But when Belle rings (sorry bad pun) I change and join her.

An additional benefit is the increased inventiveness in the kitchen. In case folks haven’t guessed this about me already, I like to play to an audience, the more appreciative the better. My acting skills are not much to speak of and neither is my singing, (although the lack of talent doesn’t always deter me from bursting spontaneously into song) but my obsession with food has made me a good cook. Yoga seems to have stimulated a new avenue of creativity in libations. With the weather as hot as it’s now, the drinks we gulp after our session are cool, usually iced versions of infusions from the day before. Here are various variations I’ve tried:

Boil together fresh ginger root (or even just the peel if you want to use the insides for cooking) and several twigs of lemon grass. When water comes to a boil, add fresh mint leaves and turn off the heat to let the leaves steep. If using dried mint, add to the boiling water. Warm this is a reat non-caffienated, after-dinner or bed-time drink. In the hot season, cool the mixture, squeeze a lemon or lime into it seeds, pulp and all, and strain into a pitcher to refrigerate. You can add more water to the herbs and bring to a boil once more to get as much as you can out of the herbs. Serve ice cold sweetened or not, according to taste.

Hibiscus, known as karkady here in Egypt also makes for a great infusion, eather hot or cold. Tangy in it’s own right, it needs no additional lime or lemon. Bring water to a boil with some sticks of cinnamon. Add a handful of dried blossoms and turn of heat and allow to steep until water cools. Strain and chill. Sugar/sweetener optional

Green tea and fresh mint also make a great combination. Best to boil water and pour over a combo of tea leaves and mint leaves and allow to steep. Add the juice of a lemon or lime and then strain and chill. YUM!!!!

What does the quinoa in the title have to do with any of this, you may wonder. There is the healthy-food-and-drink angle. But mostly the grain appears here here because in Belle brought some over. Yesterday I cooked it, making a variation on khichidi, one of the quintessential Indian comfort foods I’ve mentioned in my food blog. Served it with kadi (a classic combo) made with left-over tamaiyas (falafels). Yum pairing, as it turned out. Here my recipe for Quinoa khichidi:

Chop some garlic and onion and begin to saute. Add some chopped veges such as bell peoppers, carrots, beans, and cauliflower (yesterday’s version was without any)  and continue to saute. Wash a cup of quinoa grains to remove the bitter powder coating it. Drain well and add to the saute pan. Stir and roast for a few more minutes adding extra oil of needed. Season with salt and a pinch of turmeric. Add boiling water to the mixture (about twice the volume of quinoa plus an additional cup)  and add half a cup of mung dal that has been previously washed as well. Bring to a boil once, turn the heat down to simmer, and cook covered until the water is absorbed and the grains are cooked. Serve with kadi (buttermilk soup) and some Indian pickles.

I always associate the Assmans, all of them but Jan and Aleida in particular, with my favorite activities: cooking – often with what’s on hand – followed by conversations around the dinner table (usually about books and films), and this time was no different. Inspiration for the first course struck within the first hour of my arrival at their beautiful summer retreat in Traunkirchen, as we we were rummaging through the fridge for cold cuts and sundry edibles for a mid/late morning snack. Amid the slices of various cold meets was a chunk of speck (bacon/pancetta depending on language of choice) that was too fatty to be sliced and eaten as was, but too precious to be chucked out. That’s when I had an idea, acted upon later that night, for a tide-your-hunger-type salad that served as an interlude between our post hike-n-swim pangs and the real dinner (Indian naturally) that followed. Here’s what we did:

Chopped the chunk of bacon/speck into small bits and heated it in a fry pan with a cut clove of garlic which had been rubbed all over the salad bowl. While the bacon was cooking/melting/crisping, halved up a goodly number of ripe cherry tomatoes into the garlic-rubbed salad bowl. Sprinkled with salt (judiciously, keeping in mind the salt in the bacon) and pepper (generously) and added plenty of chopped dill. There was a ripening avocado in the vegetable bowl so chunks of that followed their way into the bowl. By this time the speck had browned nicely and it was tossed into the bowl. Normally speck gives off plenty of fat when heated but not this time, so I added salad oil to the bowl. The pan itself was deglazed with balsamic vinegar (after removing from heat) and added to the bowl. We followed with a few squirts from a tube of some special balsamic-flavored mustard which they had in the fridge. All of the above were mixed well and then in went the salad greens: most of a package of youngish arugula (rocket / ruccola) and an equal amount of mixed greens. Almost as an afterthought (though really it shouldn’t be) I also added small chunks of a local cheese akin to Emmenthaler.

The verdict on this verdant vorspeis – Every remnant of salad or dressing in the bowl was mopped up with bread. Based on that, I’d say it was successful!

When it’s hot out, salads are a wonderful thing to consume. Here’s a neat combination of ingredients, that proved refreshing and pretty at the same time:

Blanch fresh green beans, i.e. briefly cook in boiling salted water and before the beans turn color drain and plunge into an ice bath. In a glass bowl I mixed some mustard, the lovely lemon-infused olive oil from Siwa, chopped dill, the juice of half a lime, salt and pepper. Tossed the beans in this mixture and allowed to chill. Before serving I also added strips of roasted red pepper, some black olives and some toasted pine-nut (pignoli). Refreshed dressing with a splash of lime and of balsamic and…

Yalabena lets eat.

Its springtime. One good indication was the sight of fat purple-streaked, artichokes with the vegetable seller who was displaying her wares in Midan Tahrir as Tiffany and I were walking home yesterday, in the early afternoon. Another sign by the way of springtime is the changeable in-turns-lovely-and-sometimes-not weather. Anyway I saw the kharchouf, and bought a couple and here is what I’ve done with them:

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Since I had about a glass or less of white wine leftover from Dad’s farewell party last week, I decided to boil the chokes in a seasoned liquid rather than simple salt water. So in went some salt, thyme (thanks Tiffany) a few pieces of crushed bay leaves some dried rosemary, a clove of garlic and a wedge of lemon into the wine… you get the idea – anything at hand was fair game. Brought the whole thing to a boil with some more water and then let the chokes (trimmed and halved) simmer for about an hour, maybe a little less. The chokes – well actually the ‘de-choked’ vegetable (leaves and heart) – are now sitting in the fridge, looking decorative, and awaiting even further adornment in the form of a mayo type dip. Which was made as follows: the cooking liquor was strained, reduced, and cooled. That with the softened garlic and lemon peel, and three egg-yolks were thrown into the blender and then I added a steady stream of olive oil to the blending mixture until it looked creamy. I didn’t have the patience to add the oil a drop at a time, but the dip actually thickened somewhat anyway.

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The end results? Now since I’m off to a dinner out tonight, all of us will have to wait till the next post to find out the results, unless Maria next door (who contributed the eggs and got a dollop of my creation as a thank you for the eggs) samples it before I do and visits this blog and leaves a comment.

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