28 June 2009

Maacouda (Tunisian Potato Omelette with Olives and Mint)

A maacouda is a sort of Tunisian potato omelette, similar to the Spanish tortilla, but made with eggs beaten into smooth mashed potatoes and then baked. I'll admit I don't know much about Tunisian cuisine, other than a prediliction for fish dishes, but I have noticed that Tunisian food contains more egg dishes than other Middle Eastern cuisines. Eggs are not used as often in Middle Eastern cooking as in the West, and cakes, breads, and desserts rarely contain egg. Tunisian food, however, has spiced eggs and chicken with eggs and egg tagine.

Anyway, maacouda by itself is a fine but somewhat plain dish, so I've spiced mine up with chunks of black olive and a hint of mint. It's best if you mash your potatoes until they are completely smooth, which makes the omelette fluffier and moister. The olives give it the right salty tang, and it's a good thing to pack in your lunch or for a light dinner with a salad.

Maacouda (Tunisian Potato Omelette with Olives and Mint)

1 lb potatoes (about 2 small russets), peeled, cooked, and mashed until smooth
1 onion, sliced
olive oil
1/4 cup good quality black olives, pitted and chopped (measure before chopping)
6 leaves of mint, slivered
6 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp salt

1. Heat some olive oil in a saucepan, add the onions and cook over medium heat, stirring occaisionally, until the onions are golden. This usually takes 20-40 minutes, during which time I prep the rest of the ingredients.
2. Preheat the oven to 450 F. Place the potatoes in a bowl and beat in 1 tbl of olive oil and the salt. Beat in the eggs. Add the caramelized onions, olives, and mint and stir to combine. Grease the skillet or casserole dish you will be using. Add the potato mixture and bake for 20 minutes, until puffed and golden.

17 June 2009

Umm Ali (Egyptian Bread Pudding)

There are so many iterations of Middle Eastern desserts that involve pastry, cream, and sugar that after a while they start blurring together. Myriads of types of kunafe, aish el saraya, shaaibiat, baklava muhallabia, othmallia, halawet el jibn, and on and on it goes until I stop paying attention. I'd heard of an Egyptian bread pudding recipe called Umm Ali (literally, Ali's Mother), but I'd never investigated. But when someone raved about a version they had recently, I thought I'd try my hand at yet another Middle Eastern bread and cream iteration.

Umm Ali (the dish) dates back to Ottoman era Egypt, when legend has it the sultan stopped in a poor village looking for something to eat and the village's best cook, named Umm Ali, made something akin to this dish. There are other legends too, about a British nurse named O'Malley who may have invented the recipe.

History aside, do not be off-put by the "bread pudding" label, I almost never like bread pudding since many versions are eggy and rich and about the weight of small livestock. But this is just the opposite- light fluffy pastry bathed in sweet milk, sprinkled with tangy dried fruits and nuts. Many versions include toasted coconut but I prefer it without. It's good enough not to get lost in the shuffle of all those other Middle Eastern desserts.

Umm Ali (Egyptian Bread Pudding)
You can choose to stuff the pudding full of dried fruit, nuts, and coconut, or you can have a more simple version with just a slight scattering of fruit and nuts. I prefer the latter, but many people prefer the former. You could also use 3 cups half-and-half in place of the milk/cream.

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
1/3 cup mixed fruits and nuts (such as raisins, dried cherries, chopped dried apricots, pistachios or pine nuts)
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup sugar
slivered almonds for serving

1. Preheat oven to 425F. Spread pastry on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes until puffed and golden. Set aside.
2. Meanwhile, heat milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla in a saucepan until small bubbles form around the edge of the pan. Turn off heat and let sit while you proceed with the next step.
3. Raise oven heat to 475F. Grease a baking dish, crumble/tear apart the pastry and scatter in the baking dish. Scatter the dried fruit and nuts over the dish. Pour the milk/cream mixture over the dish. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden on top and set. Let cool somewhat before serving.
4. Lightly toast almonds and scatter over top before serving.

10 June 2009

Mint Lemonade

I certainly did not intend to be away from this site for so long. But then again, there are many things in my life that are not going as I intended these days. The day after my mother's funeral I flew to the Middle East. This may seem odd or callous or escapist, but for me it was just right. Something about wandering a souk and hearing the call to prayer is remarkably comforting to me. Plus, there was a certain boy out there that I was excited to see.

It being a short trip, I didn't have time to do much food investigation, but I did have time for plenty of mint lemonade. The mint lemonade (limon nana ليمون نعناع ) you find in the Middle East is not like what you find in the States, but rather a mixture of fresh lemon juice, mint leaves, and plenty of sugar whirled in a blender until a thick green concoction is poured into your glass. It's the most fantastically delicious drink I've ever had, and supremely refreshing in hot weather.

I'll admit I haven't quite mastered this mint lemonade at home- they must use some super high powered blender in the Middle East that blitzes the mint the liquid- my home version always ends up with little chunks of mint that get stuck in your straw or ledges in your teeth (see above photo). It still tastes great, mind you, but the solution I've found is to simply strain out the mint- sure it doesn't look quite authentic, but it still tastes the same.

Mint Lemonade
You absolutely must make this with fresh lemon juice. Don't even talk to me if you don't.

juice of 8 lemons (about 3/4 cup)
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup chopped mint leaves, packed
6-8 cups water (to taste)

Place all ingredients in a blender, starting with 6 cups water. Blend well, taste and add more water as necessary.