Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Medieval Islamic Dinner

A couple of friends have been enthusiastically asking me to cook for them for awhile. We finally found a mutually acceptable date, so the spouse and I went over to their place, and I had the pleasure of cooking for them. I'd been wanting to try some dishes that I'm thinking about for a feast I am co-ordinating in November. I wanted to give them maximum bang for their buck, so to speak, so did the full meal thing: appetizer, main dish, dessert.

For the appetizer, I made a chickpea paste with pita bread. This is an ancestor of humus, but without tahini. It's flavored with preserved lemons, white wine vinegar, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, and served with fresh mint and parsley, and olive oil. I really liked it. The pickled lemons gave it a unique tang. I did have to run the food processor longer than I usually do to make humus, the lemon was resistant. The fresh herbs added a nice contrast.

For the main dish, I made spice rubbed sauteed beef cubes with almond stuffed dates, on a bed of walnut butter couscous, with fried eggplant with a sweet and sour sauce. The beef is a London broil, cut into cubes. I tossed it with a spice rub of coriander, cinnamon, black pepper, ginger,and kosher salt. It was sauteed with dates stuffed with whole blanched almonds. The sweet dates added a nice contrast to the spicy beef.  I cooked the beef just to a nice medium rare. It came out juicy and tender. The walnut butter couscous was rich and fragrant, I'm particularly happy with it. The eggplant was fried in shallow oil, until brown. It was dressed with a sauce of lemon juice, white wine vinegar, sugar, cilantro, parsley, mint, garlic, black pepper, ginger, and cinnamon. The acid of the sauce helped cut the richness of the beef and couscous.

For dessert, I kept it simple. I made fried bananas with pistachio syrup. The bananas were fried in a little butter on the griddle, until golden brown. The syrup was a simple syrup of sugar and water, with a little salt, and rough chopped pistachios. For all it's simplicity, it was very good. It was missing a cold component and a little acid, though. I think next time I will serve it with a little cardamon-honey creme fraiche.

All-in-all, I'm very pleased with this meal. I feel I'm starting to get a handle on plating. I felt really good about timing and multi-tasking to get all the components of the main dish to finish at the same time. I think the balance of flavors, and textures was spot on.


Chickpea Paste with Preserved Lemon

1 8 oz. can chickpeas
1/2 a preserved lemon
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tbsp. chopped mint
1 tbsp. chopped parsley
2 tbsp. olive oil

Drain chickpeas, reserving 1/4 cup of liquid. Place chickpeas, chickpea liquid, lemon, vinegar, spices, and salt into a food processor. Process until smooth. Place on a platter, sprinkle with fresh herbs, drizzle with olive oil. Serve with wedges of flat bread, like lavosh or pita.

Sauteed Beef with Dates

1 1/2 lbs London boil
8 oz. pitted dates
1/3 cup blanched whole almonds
2 tbsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. whole coriander seeds
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 tbsp. olive oil

Carefully insert an almond into the cavity of each date, set aside. Cut beef into 3/4 inch cubes. Grind up coriander in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. In a small bowl, mix salt and spices. Toss beef cubes with spice mix until well coated. In a frying pan over medium-high heat, add olive oil. Add dates, saute for a couple of minutes, then add beef. Cook until meat is browned, but still pink in the middle.

Walnut butter couscous

2/3 cup walnuts
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. kosher salt
2 cups dried couscous
4 cups boiling water

Place walnuts in a food processor. Process, drizzling in olive oil until walnuts are a thick, peanut butter-like paste. Set aside. Place couscous in a bowl, pour on boiling water. Let sit 10 minutes, until water is absorbed. Use a spoon to fluff up couscous. Add walnut butter and salt, stir until butter is incorporated.

Fried Eggplant with Sweet and Sour Sauce

1 eggplant
juice of 1 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. chopped mint
2 tbsp. chopped parsley
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
canola oil for frying

In a small saucepan, simmer juice, vinegar, spices, herbs, salt and sugar over medium-low heat. Cook until sugar dissolves, and garlic is tender.

Slice eggplant into 1/2 thick slices. Put a thin layer of canola oil into a frying pan over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, fry eggplant on both sides until brown, place on paper towels to drain. Plate eggplant, drizzle with sauce.

Fried Bananas with Pistachio Syrup

3 bananas, sliced diagonally into 1/2 inch thick slices
1/2 cup pistachios, roughly chopped
1 tbsp. butter
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt

Place water, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Simmer until sugar and salt are dissolved, let cook until slightly thickened. Stir in nuts, set aside.

Heat a griddle or frying pan over medium heat. When hot, lightly coat with butter. Fry bananas on both sides until bananas are caramelized, and softened. Plate sauce, arrange bananas on top.

Happy Eating!

1 comment:

  1. This was the perfect meal! Every dish worked with the other dishes. What a joy it is to have you cook for us. You're our favorite chef!!!