Monday, September 04, 2006


Weekend Cookbook Challenge # 8

I decided to participate in the eighth Weekend Cookbook Challenge (WCC), putting a cookery book of choice to practical use. Truthfully, I use my cookbooks whenever I cook, but I haven't quite gotten around to using all of them yet, and being required to use them makes the compulsive cookery book shopper in all of us feel less guilty; the idea behind WCC is thus beneficial as one feels simultaneously accomplished and spiritually cleansed. The theme for this WCC is a foreign dish, one that is foreign to the cook, that is.

I'm sure that half of the dilemma in submitting to WCC is deciding which cookery book to use. Fortunately, I knew from the outset that I wanted to make a small meal (main dish, side vegetable plate, and dessert) from Claudia Roden's magnificent The New Book of Middle Eastern Food. Because the Middle East is a vast area and is constituted of many cultures, it was very difficult to decide what to make. I resolved myself to making dishes from Ms. Roden's country of birth, Egypt. I served Hamam Mahshi bil Burghul (poussin/squab/pigeon stuffed with bulgur wheat, raisins and pine nuts), Bamia bel Takleya (okra with garlic and ground coriander/cilantro), and Assabih bi Loz (almond fingers).

How did it all taste?

I could not find poussins when shopping, so, sticking to the small bird notion, I bought cornish hens instead. The coarse bulgur wheat that was cooked inside the hens absorbed the hens' juices and made for a most flavorful and comforting accompaniment to the tender and juicy hens.

I wanted to make the okra dish because I had never used okra before - I'm not even sure if it is available in New Zealand because I had never heard of it before moving to the U.S. Knowing in advance that badly cooked okra resulted in a slimey mess, I was prepared to not enjoy the result, but it didn't turn out slimey at all (perhaps due to cutting off the stems and caps). The seeds contained in the okra gave the skin infused with garlic and coriander an little kick without overpowering heat.

My angelheart Eric is not a fan of orange-blossom water, but I wanted to make the almond fingers anyway since I had not worked with filo before. My goodness, how fiddly it is! One has to ensure that the sheets not in use are covered with a damp cloth so they do not dry out; they are susceptible to dry air. Fortunately, I was well-armed with this information due to Roden's clear and concise guidance. Eric thought that the almond fingers tasted like soap; I, on the other hand, like orange-blossom water and thought that the combination of the crisp filo and the almond paste made for a delicately flavoured and other-world-transporting dessert. I miscalculated the amount of almond I needed, so I added walnuts that I had on hand, but this is not a real deviation as Ms. Roden suggests using walnuts to create a Turkish variation.

The following recipes take into account my ingredient subsitutions and portion sizes (for two people).

Hamam Mahshi bil Burghul (Pigeon, Squab or Poussin stuffed with Bulgur, Raisins, and Pine Nuts)

2 cornish hens (approximately 1.25 pounds each)

For the marinade:
1/3 large onion, finely chopped
Juice of 1/3 lemon
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or butter)
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice

For the stuffing:
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/3 pounds coarse bulgur wheat
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 1/4 tablespoons vegetable oil (or butter)
1/4 cup raisins, soaked in water for 15 minutes

1) For the marinade, combine all ingredients in a blender until liquidised.
2) Marinate the birds for 30 minutes (for deeper flavour, however, the birds could stand up to being marinated for longer, which is what I will do next time).
3) For the stuffing, bring chicken stock to a boil in a pan, then add the bulgur wheat, salt, pepper, and cinnamon. Stir together, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and the bulgur is tender.
4) Preheat oven to 350 deg. f. (180 deg. c.)
5) Fry the pine nuts in 1/3 tablepoon of vegetable oil until lightly browned.
6) Add the pine nuts, raisins, and remaining vegetable oil to the bulgur wheat and mix well.
7) Stuff the hens 2/3 with the bulgur mix, allowing room for bulgur to expand, and then secure the legs with kitchen twine (toothpicks can be used on smaller birds).
8) Rub some of the marinade on the hens, then put them in the oven spine side up for 25 minutes.
9) Turn birds over (breast side up) for 20 minutes, while at the same time roasting the remaining bulgur wheat mix covered with foil for 15-20 minutes. The birds are cooked through when the juices from the thick part of the thigh run clear.

Bamia bel Takleya (Okra with Garlic and Coriander)

1/3 pound small, young okra with stems and caps sliced off
1/3 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 1/2 cups water

1) Fry the onion in the 2/3 of the vegetable oil until golden.
2) Add the okra and saute gently for 5 minutes.
3) Barely cover with water, add salt and pepper, and simmer for 20 minutes or until tender.
4) Heat the garlic and coriander in the remaining 1/2 of the vegetable oil, stirring for 1 minute or until garlic is lightly coloured.
5) Stir garlic and coriander into okra, and cook for a two minutes before serving hot.

Assabih bi Loz (Almond Fingers)

1/4 pounds filo pastry sheets (approximately 4 sheets)
3/4 cup ground almonds
1/4 cup ground walnuts
1/4 cup superfine sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons orange-blossom water
3 tablespoons butter, melted
confectioners' sugar (for decoration only)

1) Mix ground almonds and walnuts with the suger and orange-blossom water.
2) Cut the filo sheets into 4 rectangular strips about 12 by 4 inches (30.5 by 10 cms) and pile them on top of each other, covering the top one with a damp cloth.
3) Preheat oven to 325 deg. f. (170 deg. c.)
3) Take the top sheet of filo, cover lightly with melted butter, and roll a heaped teaspoon of the almond filling into a sausage shape before placing it 1 inch (2 cms) from the edge of one of the short ends of the filo sheets.
4) Roll edge of filo sheet over almond filling.
5) Roll into a cigar shape, folding the longer sides slightly over the almond filling midway.
6) Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (or butter the baking sheet).
7) Repeat with all filo sheets. Makes approximately 16.
8) Bake in oven for approximately 30 minutes, or until lightly golden.
9) Serve cold sprinkled with confectioners' sugar.

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Shaun, great post. I love the sound of everything.

Thanks for joining WCC. THe round up will be ready tomorrow.
What a great menu - it's a fantastic feast!
Shaun, the poussins sound delicious, as does everything. Thank you so much for joining WCC this month, I hope we will see you again.
That was an ambitious menu! But I have to applaud your choice of cookbook. Since I dragged Middle Eastern Food around Morocco with me in May, I've returned to it time and time again to try out new ingredients, combinations, cooking's got pride of place on my kitchen counter these days!
Ruth - Thank you for the warm welcome to the food blog community. Your supportive attitude was just when I needed when deciding whether to participate or not. Thanks, too, for the guidance re: how to post pics. Picasa2 really does make life easy.

Haalo - Your comment is truly greatly received. I LOVE your blog, and I think you're an excellent cook. I'm glad that we Kiwis and Aussies don't have to always be at each other's throats :-p

Sara - You will definitely see me participate in the WCC again. I wanted to participate in WCC # 9, but since I am so far from home, I couldn't think what was specific to New Zealand food. Of course I could have just gone to Bristol Farms and bought NZ lamb, but I wanted something a little more original. As a novice cook, I was consequently stumped, so I just enjoyed WCC # 9 from the sidelines.

Caroline - Yes, the menu was very ambitious for me. I'm so very thankful that I chose things I really felt I could make and that I didn't burn or ruin anything. What recipes in Claudia Roden's "The New Book of Middle Eastern Food" do you turn to most often now that you have been to Morocco. Have you read Diana Henry's "Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons"? If so, does it differ enough from Roden's masterpiece?
This sounds delicious. Might try it out with Guinea Fowl soon.
What is a Cornish hen? Whenever I've read about them before I always assumed it was the American term for poussin. Now I'm confused!
Wendy - Well, a Cornish game hen is a poussin insofar as it is a young/Spring chicken. The Cornish game hen is typically cross bred in the US. Cornish hens are chosen because they are quite stocky in build, which is why it takes almost the same time to roast as a small adult chicken.

I will leave this same comment on your blog in case you don't return to this entry.
awful piece of information, I had come to know about your blog from my friend vimal, mumbai,i have read atleast 3 posts of yours by now, and let me tell you, your blog gives the best and the most interesting information. This is just the kind of information that i had been looking for, i'm already your rss reader now and i would regularly watch out for the new posts, once again hats off to you! Thanks a million once again, Regards, cornish hen recipe
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