Alfajores – Dulce de Leche Cookies

You may remember that my mom lived in Uruguay for 12 years while her parents were missionaries in the capital city of Montevideo.  As I was growing up, she shared a few tasty treats with us from that culture, including today’s treat – alfajores!  I’m going to be demonstrating them for the upcoming International Festival of Raleigh (September 19-21), so last week I made a practice batch.

alfajor

Alfajores are a shortbread-like cookie sandwiched together with dulce de leche, a caramelized sweetened condensed milk.  The first step in this recipe is to make the dulce de leche (it can also be purchased in latino grocery stores).

You can find various recipes online for making dulce de leche. Let me just say that we usually boil it in the can, unopened and submerged in the boiling water. I’m not recommending that you try that, as it can potentially explode if you leave the pot untended and let the water level drop!

However you get there, dulce de leche is this wonderful creamy caramel spread that is delicious on toast, as pretzel dip or ice cream sauce – or just straight off the spoon :)  Or try one of my mom’s salted caramel chocolate cupcakes at Shank’s Bakery – a chocolate cupcake with dulce de leche filling, yum!

dulce de leche

You want the dulce de leche to be very thick, in fact the picture shown just above was still too thin and running out of the cookies when I tried to assemble them. Once I cooked it a little longer over a double boiler, it got thicker and a deeper brown, and worked a lot better.

Alfajores

10 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. sugar
1 egg
1 1/3 c. flour
1/2 c. cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
zest of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cream together the butter and sugar until smooth.  Add one egg and mix until incorporated. Sift together the flour, cornstarch, and baking powder – add gradually to the butter mixture.  Finally, stir in the lemon zest and vanilla.

cutting cookies

Roll out to about 1/4-inch thickness. Dough will be soft – if too soft to work, you can chill it briefly to make it easier to work with. Use a little flour on the board and rolling pin to keep it from sticking.

Cut out rounds of the desired size and place on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake at 325 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until lightly browned on the bottom, but still white on top.  Remove to cooling rack.

cookies

The final trick is that you should be very gentle while spreading this extra-thick dulce de leche on fragile cookies that will break with too much pressure. Take your time and it will be ok. If a few of them may break, but those can be the chef’s spoils :)  If you like, roll them in coconut on the edges. Enjoy these sweet and delicious cookies!

alfajores

 

Genfo – Ethiopian barley porridge

During my recent trip to Ethiopia (well, not so recent, back in April…), my friend Amy set up a few cooking lessons for me – she knows me well!

Here is one of the recipes that I learned to make. I have to admit that I will probably not make this one at home, because it was very rich and heavy to my stomach. However, it is an interesting cultural tradition and process, so I wanted to share it with you.

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Genfo is a dish served when you go to visit families who have just had a baby born in the household. From my understanding it is served for the first month or 40 days after the baby is born. Here in the U.S., we usually bring food for the family, so this was a different practice of hospitality for me. In fact, in watching the video you will see that the new mother actually helped make the food for us! These are hearty habesha (Ethiopian) women!

Watch this short video to see the basic process.  The porridge is made from 3/4 barley (lightly toasted) flour and 1/4 wheat flour, and water.  It is cooked over high heat coals, and stirred until smooth. Then genfo is spooned into a bowl coated with spiced butter and tossed to make a round sphere.

I asked if I could help toss the last one, and it was definitely an amateur effort. You can see that they were laughing at my attempt, but at least the genfo did not end up on the floor :)

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A well is created and filled with spiced butter (kibbeh) and then topped with some type of spicy pepper powder or paste. The options that I saw were mitmita (spicy mixed seasoning), berbere (red pepper), and karya (jalapeno).

As you eat, your hostess will refill the butter as needed – no REALLY, it’s NOT needed, please STOP!  Between the richness of the butter, the spicyness, and the very thick and heavy paste of the genfo, it was very, very filling.  It was tasty, but I recommend small doses. However, that’s tricky when there are only two of you as guests and they made a big pot just for you….!  Here’s a good closeup of grandmother, hard at work stirring the thick paste.

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Oh, and here’s Amy with the baby, I think this is the main reason she wanted to visit :)

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Green Tomato & Dal Stew

In my produce box this week I ordered 4 green tomatoes, an ingredient I have eaten but never cooked with.  Searched around the internet, and I found the results of a green tomato recipe contest on the blog http://www.thekitchn.com, for Roopa’s Green Tomato and Lentil Stew (aka: Thakali Masiyal).

I pretty much followed the recipe on this page exactly, except that I didn’t have toor dal (yellow split peas), but I had chana dal (split small black chickpeas that look very similar!).  So I substituted the chana dal which just had to be cooked a bit longer until tender (more like 45 minutes for that first step). After the dal was tender, I added the tomatoes plus one long green chile and one jalapeno for a little kick.

green tomatoes

I used two of the green tomatoes, one had a blush of pink in it, and then added some riper cherry tomatoes for the last 1/2 cup or so needed for this recipe. The dish looked pretty pale and non-descript at that point, but after stewing for a longer time and adding the tamarind and spices, I ended up with an appetizing stew – about 3 servings using this recipe.

Thakali Masiyal

The green tomatoes and tamarind make this a sour/tangy dish, but also very good without being ultra-spicy.  I found some papadam in my pantry, so I cooked up a couple of those to eat with the stew and it was nice to have the crunch and pepper flavor to balance the stew.  Overall a nice dish and very simple to make.

I still have 2 more green tomatoes, and may try grilling them with this recipe from Southern Living – http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/grilled-green-tomatoes-caprese-50400000113392/

 

Celery Stew – Khoresh Karafs

I’ve been getting fresh produce deliveries from The Produce Box this spring, and two weeks ago I received three beautiful bunches of NC-grown celery. The celery has very thin stalks compared to grocery store celery, because it’s a different variety that is able to grow in this climate. In addition, there were a lot of wonderful leaves.

That’s a lot of celery for one person!  In thinking about how to use it, I remembered an Iranian dish called Celery Khoresh, or Khoresh Karafs. Khoresh, you may remember from previous posts, is a stew usually consisting of meat and vegetables. In past posts, I have shared recipes for chicken and artichoke khoresh and yogurt-simmered chicken khoresh.  Today’s recipe is a celery and beef stew.

I looked at two recipes online and cobbled together my own version based on what was available in my pantry.   My version below will serve 4-6 people.

Celery Khoresh
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp. turmeric
1.5 lbs. stew meat (beef or lamb, cut into cubes)

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat and slowly saute the onions and garlic until they are starting to brown. Add the turmeric and stir to cook about 1 more minute. Then add the stew meat and turn up the heat a bit. Stir until the meat is sealed on all sides, it will probably not have enough room to brown the meat unless you have a very wide pot, and that’s ok. Add 3 cups of water and bring to a simmer.

celery

1 Tbsp. olive oil
Celery, 3 cups chopped
2 Tbsp. dried mint
1 c. parsley or celery leaves

Meanwhile, chop up your celery into 1-inch pieces, and saute them in oil until they are starting to brown around the edges. Add in the mint and celery leaves and stir until wilted. Add to the meat stew. There should be enough water to just cover everything, but you can add more as needed.

Add 1 tsp. salt, cover and simmer for about 1.5 hours.  Remove the lid from the pot and add;

6 green onions, thinly sliced
1 tsp. lime zest
1 Tbsp. dried mint
2 tsp. dried dill
1/2 c. parsley or celery leaves
juice from one lime

Cook for another 30 minutes uncovered, so that the liquid reduces somewhat. Just at the end, stir in the juice of one lime and season with salt and pepper. Serve over rice.

It’s quite tasty, but you have to really like celery!  Which I do.

celery khoresh

Mediterranean Dinner, Part 2

I’m a little delayed in getting to this, but here is a description of the other treats that I prepared as part of a Mediterranean dinner I hosted last month. As you’ll recall from the previous post, the main dish was a beef and lamb stew served over creamy eggplant.

I started the meal with a beet and lentil soup, recipe online here – I made it without the dumplings since it was for an appetizer.

shorba

Along with the main dish, I also served a warm zucchini and yogurt salad, recipe online here.

zucchini

And for dessert, I used shredded phyllo dough, or kataifi, to make a dessert from “Baking at Home” cookbook by the Culinary Institute of America. You can find kataifi at some middle eastern grocery stories (including Neomonde here locally in Raleigh). Out of the box it basically looks like fresh vermicelli noodles.

kataifi box

The dessert started with a classic pastry cream. Dates and pistachios were folded in, and the filling was rolled into a kataifi crust and baked until crisp. It was served on a plate with a light lemon sauce, which added a nice tang.

filled kataifi

It was a fun and unique meal, and I think everyone enjoyed it!  I know I had fun putting together the recipes, and I always appreciate guests who are willing to be guinea pigs for some new concoctions :)

dinner guests

Creamy Eggplant – Mediterranean Dinner, part 1

Every year, our church has a fundraiser auction to raise money for our youth group. This year, I planned a Mediterranean 3-course dinner and auctioned off seats for five guests to join me for the meal.  I’ll share the menu in two parts.

I’m going to start with the new main dish that I learned from this meal, called Sultan’s Delight – a creamy eggplant base topped with lamb stew.

This is a different way of cooking eggplant, and it made a wonderful creamy puree that everyone loved. It was probably the most talked-about part of the meal. This dish could sway even those folks out there who don’t think they like eggplant.  I followed the recipe on a blog called Almost Turkish Recipes, the only change that I made was in the preparation of the eggplant after roasting. Where it called to mash the eggplant with a fork, mine was pretty stringy so I went ahead and pureed it in a blender, which resulted in a very smooth end product.

eggplant bechamel

After roasting and mashing/pureeing the eggplant, you make a creamy bechamel sauce and mix it in with the eggplant.  The other addition is a turkish cheese called kashkaval. I was able to find this cheese at our local Lebanese restaurant & grocery, Neomonde. It is a sheep’s milk cheese, very mild flavored and soft enough to melt into the dish.

In Sultan’s Delight, this creamy eggplant puree is topped with a tomato lamb stew.  I need to find a better place to buy lamb meat, but what I found this time was a stew meat.  Unfortunately, there was very little meat on the bone. I also found the stew as listed on the blog linked above to be less flavorful than I wanted. So I made some adjustments, here’s a summary (I don’t have amounts, since I was just making it up as I went, sorry!).

I browned the lamb meat, onions and green pepper, and added the tomatoes, tomato paste and water to stew the lamb for 1 hour as described in the other blog. Then I extracted the meat and cooled it down so that I could pick off the meat. When I saw that there was not enough meat and it didn’t seem tomato-y enough, I started over by browning beef chunks. To this, I added more tomato paste and added back the rich lamb broth (bones do add a lovely depth of flavor) and the bit of lamb meat that I had extracted. It was stewed down for awhile and then reheated the day of the dinner, which resulted in a tender and flavorful topping for the eggplant.

sultan's delight

Lentil, Sweet potato and Apple salad

This recipe came together as a result of trying to use up some pantry ingredients.  I remembered a lentil and apple salad that I had made before, and it seemed like adding some roasted sweet potato would be a good addition.  I wasn’t disappointed.

As soon as I made it, I was kicking myself for not having written down the measurements as I went along – I knew I’d want to make it again. So I immediately went up to the computer to type up what I could remember. This is the result of that effort, and I hope that it’s at least close (dressing may need a little tweaking to your taste).

lentil apple salad

Lentil, Sweet potato and Apple salad

1 large sweet potato

Peel and cube sweet potato. Drizzle generously with olive oil and a bit of balsamic vinegar and toss well. Spread out into one layer on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees for about 20-25 minutes, or until tender and starting to brown. Sprinkle with a little salt.

8 oz. dried lentils

Rinse lentils. Add 2 cups of water and about ½ tsp. salt. Bring to a boil in a medium pot, then cover and reduce to a simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until tender. Drain well.

2 small apples (I used Gala), diced

Dressing:
¼ c. olive oil
1 Tbsp. honey
3 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. rice vinegar
2-3 tsp. Dijon mustard, to taste
1/4 tsp. ground cumin (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together dressing ingredients, taste and adjust.  Add lentils and mix, then add apples and sweet potatoes. Toss to cover all with the dressing, and serve.