26 May 2014

Shredded Veal Tongue Sandwich

Let's just get one thing out of the way up front: tongue is not a photogenic food. I mean, you probably could have guessed that, but still, it kind of resembles an old shoe when cooked. There is a reason that shoe leather is a pejorative term for food, which I will attribute to the total lack of tongue available in America. But (and I realize that this is a big BUT for some of you), tongue can be quite delicious when done well.

And you know what? I'm one of those people who's kind of squeamish about eating tongue. Luckily, that's why I have Paul. Paul readily orders veal tongue whenever it is on a menu (he's eaten it in Oaxaca in green sauce, in Algeria in tomato sauce, in Paris, etc.) The one preparation where I do quite like tongue is in a sandwich or a taco. When I lived in Damascus Umm Hana would shred tongue, which she cooked in a pressure cooker, and then put it in a sandwich with some of the local Syrian string cheese.


Since Paul likes tongue, I've been meaning to recreate this shredded tongue sandwich for approximately, oh, five years now? And that's how we ended up here today. If you have a bit of time on your hands this recipe is a snap to make. Since tongue yields quite a bit, I make the tongue two ways: the nice thick part of the tongue I slice into rounds and then you can serve it in tomato sauce for dinner. The thinner part of the tongue I shred for sandwiches. If you can get good Nablusi string cheese, the kind with Nigella seeds in it, it is great in the sandwich. Otherwise, feta works quite nicely.

Shredded Veal Tongue Sandwich
The key recipe here is for how to prepare the tongue. Obviously, I hope you readers know how to put together a sandwich. You can mix up the tongue in tomato sauce by adding some cumin or some olives.

for the tongue:
1 veal tongue, rinsed well
1 orange, quartered
3 tablespoons salt
4 garlic cloves, smashed
a bit of thyme sprigs, peppercorns, anise seed (or whatever is on hand)

for the sandwich:
2 small baguettes
string cheese or feta cheese
mint leaves
sliced radishes
sliced tomatoes
red onion slices, soaked in some lemon juice to remove sharpness
olive oil, for drizzling
Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes

for sliced tongue:
tomato sauce of choice

1. Rise the veal tongue well and place it in a pot and add water to cover. Bring the water to a boil and then lower to a brisk simmer. Let the tongue simmer for 1 hour. Remove from the heat and discard the water.
2. Add the orange, garlic, salt and aromatics to the pot with the tongue and cover with fresh water. Bring to a simmer again, and let the tongue cook for 2 more hours.  Test the tongue for tenderness. Drain the tongue and set aside to cool. (I discard the broth.)
3. When the tongue is cool enough to handle, peel the skin off the tongue and discard. It should peel easily. There is an underside to the tongue, where it attaches to the mouth, you want to trim away and discard this part (it is edible but chewy). There are two tendons that run through this underneath area, you want to be sure to cut out and discard these two  tendons.
4. Divide the tongue roughly in half, between the thick part and the thinner part. Slice the thick part of the tongue into rounds and set aside. For the thinner part of the tongue, cut up or shred the tongue using a fork and knife (as if you were shredding pork barbeque). Set aside the shredded tongue separately.
5. For the sandwich: assemble the sandwich using the ingredients listed.
6. For the tongue in tomato sauce: Make or heat up your tomato sauce in a pan. Add the tongue slices and allow to warm thoroughly. Serve immediately.

23 May 2014

On the Road

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Scenes from Algeria: Blida, Oran

19 May 2014

Lentils with Preserved Lemon and Tomatoes

This is a kind of down and dirty what's for dinner post. We all need those, don't we? Paul and I have been traveling a lot recently and that means our pantry is pretty empty, and I'm often digging around for something that will just make a cohesive meal. In this case, we have a combination of two dishes that I've mishmashed into one.

First, we have skillet-roasted tomatoes, which are pretty common in North Africa -- we've had them at riads (like b&b's) in Morocco and Algeria, and you also find them conserved in olive oil with garlic and chiles. The idea is simple: halve a tomato, sear it in a skillet until it's blackened on the outside but still firm in the center.

The next part of the dish was based on a lovely basic lunch we had in Morocco which was just a simple salad of cooked lentils with preserved lemon. When we were in the States recently I noticed several grocery stores (Whole Foods, etc) were selling preserved lemons in the pickle and olive sections. So, there's no excuse not to have preserved lemons in the pantry! They are one of the great savers of the last minute dinner. This simple salad would be great for summer picnic season, or a quick dinner.

Lentils with Preserved Lemon and Tomatoes

2 leeks, white and light green parts only
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 1/2 cups brown lentils
1 teaspoon cumin
3 cups chicken stock
1 preserved lemon
3 medium-sized tomatoes
handful of chopped parsley
olive oil, salt, harissa

1. Discard the center part of the preserved lemon with the thick pith and seeds, keep the lemon peel and fleshy bits around the peel. Slice about 1/4 of the preserved lemon into strips. Chop the remaining preserved lemon into small cubes.
2. Halve and slice the leeks. Heat some olive oil in a medium pot. Add the leeks and saute over medium heat until softened and translucent. Add in the garlic and the tomato paste and let toast for another minute. Stir in the lentils, cumin, a good pinch of salt, a spoon-tip of harissa, and the chicken stock. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot, and let simmer over low heat.
3. Check the package for cooking times, but it should take about 25-30 minutes for the lentils to cook. They should be soft around the edges but not totally falling apart. Stir in the chopped preserved lemons and parsley and set aside the lentils.
4. While the lentils are cooking, slice the three tomatoes in half. Heat up a heavy skillet with some olive oil until hot. The olive oil should start to smoke a little. Sear the tomatoes, bottom side down, for a few minutes until browned. Turn the tomatoes over and brown quickly on the top.
5. Arrange the lentils, roasted tomatoes, and preserved lemon strips on a platter. Drizzle some more olive oil and salt on top and serve warm or at room temperature.

10 May 2014

Cardoon and Fava Tagine

The inevitable thing about being an expat is that you make some really great friends, and then they leave. There's something about living overseas that makes friendships stronger and faster, like kids at camp thrown together into the same challenging adventure. These friendships are one of the things I love about living abroad, where no one has that New York City excuse of, "oh I'm so busy," or "gotta get to yoga," or "have to catch the train." Life for an expat is simpler, and just stopping by another friend's house to drop of some cookies or just say hello is common.


But expat life is one of comings and goings, full of new faces and goodbyes. Recently, we have been sort of in between, our closest friends having departed Algiers for their respective homes, and so there are new faces to sit and talk with over dinner. It is beautifully spring-like here, a string of glorious sunny and pleasant days lined up like beads on a prayer chain.


This tagine with cardoons and favas is classic spring time fare around these parts. Cardoons are sort of like a cross between artichokes and celery, in that you eat the stalks (like celery) but they taste like artichokes. Also like artichokes, they are a thistles, and contains a spiny outer layer you have to peel off. If you can't get cardoons then substitute artichoke bottoms, the tagine can be made either way. (If you want to be super fancy and really impress your guests you can use cardoons, artichokes, and favas. All the prep work involved in those vegetables is a sign of respect to guests.)


Here's a good time to add in my culinary PSA: you do not necessarily have to peel your fava beans!! For young fava beans, the skins are generally left on when cooking and they are nutritious and flavorful. It's only really big older fava beans that you have to peel. Across North Africa, the Levant, and southern Italy you often come across unpeeled favas in stews. So save yourself some work! (If you're looking at your fava beans wondering whether you should peel them or not, here's a good hint: if there's a black line along the casing you should peel them, no black line and then the peel is tender enough to eat.)

This tagine is made with lamb neck -- a very flavorful and easy to cook cut of lamb that is similar to lamb shanks. It is common here and in some parts of France, but I'm guessing hard to get in other places. Fell free to substitute shanks, or you can also use beef stew meat. Cheers to spring everyone!


Cardoon and Fava Tagine
If you can't get lamb neck (and it really is worth trying to find), you want some sort of bone-in stew meat, preferably one that's cut into pieces. If you substitute lamb shanks keep in mind they will need a much longer time to cook.

2 large spring onions (like this) or white onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
750 grams lamb neck or beef or lamb stew meat
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 pinch cumin
1 1/2 cups fava beans (shucked, and peeled if large)
1 bunch cardoons or 1 kilo of prepared artichoke bottoms
1 lemon
1 small bunch cilantro, leaves chopped
salt, pepper, olive oil

1. Prep the cardoons according to this tutorial. You should have about 2 cups of cardoon pieces.
2. Trim the fat and skin from the lamb neck (or shanks). The neck usually has two small tendons running through it, cut those out. Mix the spices and 1 teaspoon salt and a few cracks of black pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle the salt mixture over the meat and pat into the meat to coat.
3. Heat some olive oil in a tagine or stew pot. When the olive oil is hot, add the lamb and sear a few minutes on each side, until browned on the outside. Remove the lamb to a plate.
4. Add in the onions and sprinkle them with salt. Let the onions cook for about 10 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add in the garlic and nestle the lamb back in with the onions. Add water just until it comes up the sides of the lamb. Cover the tagine and let cook for 50 minutes undisturbed. (If using a tagine don't forget to add water to the top part of your tagine to increase circulation.)
5. After an hour, add in the fava beans and cardoons (or artichokes). If the water looks low you can add more water, but you shouldn't need to. Season with a bit more salt and add a squeeze of the lemon juice and half of the chopped cilantro. Cover and cook for another 20 minutes.
6. After 20 minutes check to make sure the cardoons are tender. Taste the tagine for seasoning. Squeeze some more lemon over and top with the remaining cilantro. Serve immediately.

04 May 2014

Flaky Cheese Pastries (Brik Ijben)


I spent most of the past year and a half bemoaning the utter and total lack of cheese in North Africa. In Syria, I often missed Western cheeses like brie or blue, but you could always get the local Levantine cheeses like akawi, nablusi, and feta cheeses. But Algeria? Other than the local camembert (so. much. camembert.), is a bit of a cheese wasteland.  And then I discovered ijben cheese.

Ijben is very common in Morocco, and it is basically a fresh goats milk cheese that tastes like a cross between feta and ricotta. I had never seen it in Algiers, until I started asking, and was pointed to a cheese that called "Le Berbere" which comes in a box. You know how something can be right in front of you for years and you never even noticed it was there? That's how this Berber (ijben) cheese was. Lurking in the cheese case of every shop, where I have been ignoring it for years.

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Clearly the first thing I was going to do with my new found discovery was make cheese brik. (See here for more about brik, a.k.a. briouat, a.k.a. bourek.) Brik are basically stuffed flaky pastries, and the cheese version is the easiest, and I think most delicious. Now, a proper Maghrebi cook would make perfect little triangles of brik, but I was lazy, and made some very simple rough triangles. These are extremely simple, just mix some cheese and herbs and spices, and then you top the pastries with cumin seeds which gives them a nice flavor boost.


Flaky Cheese Pastries (Brik Ijben)
If you can get ijben cheese then by all means use it here. Warka dough, usually labeled feuilles du brik, is available in ome Middle Eastern and French shops. You can substitute phyllo dough, though you will need about 4-5 phyllo sheets to replicate one warka sheet.

4 oz ricotta cheese
4 oz feta cheese
1/4 cup chopped mint
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 sprinkling red pepper flakes or chile powder
zest of 1 lemon

8 tablespoons (4 oz) butter, melted
1 package warka dough, feuilles du brik, or phyllo dough
2 tablespoon cumin seeds

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Brush a baking sheet with some of the melted butter.
2. Mix together the filling ingredients.
3. Warka dough is round, if you are using phyllo dough cut it into circles then cover it with plastic wrap and a damp cloth to prevent it from dying out.
4. Place about a tablespoon and a half of the filling on a wedge shaped area of the warka dough. Brush the dough with melted butter. Fold the dough in half over the filling, so that you have a half moon shape. Brush the dough again with butter. Fold the filled section of the dough over itself until you end up with a triangle. Brush the triangle packet with butter and place on a baking sheet.
5. Repeat until you have used up all the filling. Brush the brik tops again with melted butter and sprinkle cumin seeds on the top of each brik.
6. Bake the brik for 25-35 minutes, or until browned and crisped on the edges. Serve warm.