Tag Archives: Cooking Lessons

Ethiopian meal

My good friend Amy just returned from 4 months in Ethiopia, so we got together with another friend Lois, who had also lived there and together we made a great Ethiopian meal for some friends!  Ethiopian cuisine is very unique and makes for entertaining dinner parties, plus if you’re cooking Ethiopian you end up with a LOT of food that needs to be shared. And it also gave us the chance to see some of Amy’s wonderful photos from her trip.

We purchased the bread, injera, at Jerusalem Bakery and Grocery here in Raleigh. This bread is the foundation of an Ethiopian meal, literally.

Injera is a flat and spongy bread traditionally made from teff flour (teff being a grain native to that region of Africa). Teff has apparently become very expensive in the past few years, so our injera was made from a mixture of teff, barley and wheat. The various stew-y dishes are served on top of the bread on a large flat dish, like this;

Additional injera is given to each dinner guest, who tears off pieces to use as utensils to grab the food – eating with your fingers. During the meal the piece of injera on the bottom of the plate soaks up all the yummy sauces and gets kind of soggy. Which sounds unappetizing, but that is actually one of the best parts. You do have to be very careful not to over-eat though, because as that spongy bread sits in your stomach it seems to expand and make you even more full. I seem to forget that every time…

Let me describe the various dishes on the plate above. In the center is doro wat, a spicy chicken stew with hardboiled eggs added at the end. At the top is gomen, greens (I mixed collards and kale) cooked simply with onion, garlic and ginger. To the left is my favorite dish, misir wat, a spicy lentil dish. On the right is a dish called shiro wat made from powder that Amy brought back from Ethiopia. The dried powder is made from beans and peas mixed with hot pepper and other spices – she just added water, spices, tomatoes and onion, and ended up with a delicious and complex sauce, which one guest described as having a BBQ flavor. And at the bottom, an Ethiopian vegetable stew called alicha. (spellings vary on all of these)  Oh, and the white stuff is cottage cheese that we added to help cool our tongues since some of these dishes were very spicy.

Ethiopians don’t typically have dessert, except for fresh fruit and coffee, so we served a fresh fruit salad with a dollop of yogurt on top. The crew seemed to really enjoy the food, and there’s nothing like eating with your hands (plus some home brew by Hans) to build community spirit!

Here’s a recipe for alicha, adapted from the Mennonite Central Committee cookbook titled Extending the Table – a cookbook highly recommended for anyone who wants to cook and eat simply, but globally.

1 clove garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
3 potatoes, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
salt, to taste
5 c. chopped cabbage
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and quartered

Over medium heat, saute the onion and garlic in oil or clarified butter. When softened but not browned, add the spices (turmeric, pepper and ginger) and stir to cook for another minute. Add 1/2 c. water, 1/2 tsp. salt, and the potatoes and carrots. Cook and stir uncovered until the potatoes and carrots begin to soften (adding water as needed).

Add cabbage, another 1/2 c. water, 1/4 tsp. additional salt, and the jalapeno pieces. Stir well and let simmer over medium-low heat until all vegetables are tender. Remove jalapeno pieces before serving, and taste to adjust salt. Even if you don’t have injera, it can be served with rice or just eaten by itself as a stew.

Note: this is a very common dish in Ethiopia, Lois said that when she was there one day they would have ‘potatoes, cabbage and carrots’ and the next they would have ‘cabbage, carrots and potatoes’, followed by ‘carrots, potatoes and cabbage’…..


Mooli Paratha

My friend Garima’s parents are visiting from India, and I was very excited to get an invitation to cook with her mother this week! Garima and I used to work together, and we still get together occasionally to cook and bake, and to watch Hindi movies at the Galaxy theater. A few times, I have taught her to bake something, but mostly she teaches me to cook Indian dishes. 

This time, the lesson was mooli paratha, shown here. If you’ve eaten at Indian restaurants, you may know that paratha is a type of filled flatbread. It can be filled with different vegetables – in fact Garima and I made cauliflower paratha in a previous session. But for this meal, we filled them with mooli, or daikon radish. I had previously run into the daikon radish mainly in Asian cuisine, particularly Japanese and Korean cooking. I didn’t know until now that it is also grown and used as an ingredient in India. It’s a long white radish, often with just a tinge of green at the top where it has been exposed to the sun above the soil.

This recipe is fairly time-intensive, but the end result was very worth it! The first step is to peel and shred the mooli for the filling.

Next, Garima squeezed the juice from the radish into another bowl. Be careful with this step, the radish juice can be irritating to sensitive  or chapped skin (as we found out the hard way!). This radish juice was then used to make the dough, while the squeeze-dried radish was cooked for the filling.

To make the filling, the shredded radish was sauteed with anise seed, finely minced green chiles, ground red pepper, asafetida, and salt. This was stir-fried for about 5 minutes until well-mixed and slightly softened. The filling was removed from the heat, and chopped cilantro was stirred in. The filling was then spread out on a larger plate to cool quickly before filling the paratha.

The dough, which you can see in the larger square container above, was made from an Indian whole wheat flour called atta, which is much lighter than our typical whole wheat flour. You should be able to find this in any Indian grocery store, it looks similar to semolina in color, and I imagine if you tell someone you’re making paratha they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.

Unfortunately, I can’t really give you the amounts because this is one of those recipes that is done by feel, until it’s “right”….  But basically, Garima’s mom made the dough by mixing together the atta flour with a large pinch of salt, and adding strained radish juice, plus water as needed, to achieve the appropriate dough texture. She kneaded the dough for a minute or two in the bowl and set it aside to rest briefly until the filling was ready. It was stiff enough to knead, but very soft dough – one of those things that you have to try until you figure out the perfect consistency, I’m afraid! But it seems from our discussion that the softer the dough is, the better it will actually work in this recipe, stiffer dough might tear more easily rather than stretching to accomodate the filling.

She oiled her fingers a bit to grab off a small piece of dough, so that it wouldn’t stick. The dough was then worked into a small disc, dipping it in extra atta flour as needed to work it and then roll it into a circle about 5-6 inches in diameter. A large spoonful of the filling was placed in the middle as shown above, and then the edges all brought together above to seal in the filling (shown below).

This is the really tricky part, because then you need to roll the filled dough ball out into a thin paratha, more like 8 inches diameter, preferably without breaking through the dough and letting the filling spill out. I had tried this with the cauliflower paratha and knew that I’d make a mess of it, so I left that to the experts [plus, I was too busy eating the delicious paratha as they came off the griddle!]

The flattened, filled paratha is fried on one side on a griddle. After flipping to the second side, either vegetable oil, or ghee (clarified butter) is lightly spread on the top with the back of a spoon. This motion makes it puff up like this, if you’re an expert paratha maker, anyway…  And that’s how you make mooli paratha.

Now for how you EAT mooli paratha, I became an expert on that after eating my 4 for the evening :)  We made a simple raita of yogurt, toasted and coarsely ground cumin seeds, and black salt (you can use regular salt, but black salt has a unique sulfurous flavor that’s recommended if you can get it).

The paratha are eaten with the fingers, tearing off a small piece and eating it with this raita, tamarind chutney, and other spicy additions like spicy mango pickles or hot sauce. Delicious! It was a great evening of cooking, eating and chatting, as a couple of other folks dropped in to help eat the mooli paratha. I’m already looking forward to the return trip of Garima’s mom in March so we can cook again!

Chinese Food Class – Part II

Part 2 of the Chinese Food class was held at a Chinese restaurant on the corner of Tryon and Cary Parkway in Cary – called Able Karaoke Bar & Grill.  I have to admit, I didn’t know what to expect from the name of the place, but the food was really delicious and we were served a feast!  The Confucius Institute combined the second part of the food class with a graduation and celebration ceremony for their language students and their teachers from this semester, probably 30-40 people altogether.We started with a tea pouring demonstration by Mr. Able. We got to smell and sip the special jasmine tea and black tea that he imports for himself and doesn’t serve at the restaurant.

He also showed us a special dried blossom (I think chrysanthemum or something related?) that is twisted and tied in a special way while drying so that when you immerse it in hot water it gradually blooms, like this! He cautioned us that the resulting ‘tea’ doesn’t taste very good, but hey – it’s pretty :)  This was also the point where Mr. Able said that he only serves food in his restaurant that he himself enjoys eating. His reasoning is because if he doesn’t taste the food, then he can’t guarantee that it is up to his standards. That encouraged me about the level of quality and pride that he brings to his restaurant – which was definitely proven by the meal that followed.

Pork Skin Jelly – you know how when you roast or cook pork at home, the juice forms a gelatinous goop when you chill it? This was like eating a very firm version of that jellied pork broth, not my choice in textures but it wasn’t unpalatable either. I finished a whole piece, but didn’t have seconds.

Peanut salad – the peanuts were very soft, had been soaked in something, though I’m not sure what.

Very tasty Chinese Salad – shredded dried tofu, carrots, snow peas, and bean sprouts. I couldn’t place the flavoring, but when I asked, Mr. Able said that it was Szechuan peppercorns, a distinctive spice that was very tasty in this dish.

We also had fried shrimp chips. These were all considered appetizers, which we ate while making dumplings.

They delivered  a plate of filling (leek, pork and shrimp) and a plate of homemade dumpling wrappers to each table and we all tried our hand at forming the dumplings. Then they gathered them back up and cooked them for us.

Spring Wraps were also on the menu for the evening. From the name, I was thinking they might be like Vietnamese summer rolls or fried Chinese spring rolls – but this was actually something in between, and different than anything I’ve had at a Chinese restaurant before. The fillings above, seasoned chicken and beef and scrambled eggs were provided to our table along with a big plate of shredded lettuce and green onion.

We wrapped any mixture of these fillings in a thick wheat flour wrapper which reminded me of a thick mu shu pancake or a homemade flour tortilla. It was then eaten fresh. If you only try one thing at this restaurant, you HAVE to try these spring wraps – they are offered as a lunch special and you can get them with assorted fillings.

About this time, others at my table were complaining about being too full, and I was having to finish off some of the extra food at the table so it wouldn’t ‘go to waste’ ;)  I found the pace of our meal to be slow enough that I really could eat more. We ate the entire meal over the course of about 2.5 hours, with a graduation ceremony in the middle.

This is when our main entree arrived at each table – a hotpot bowl filled with spicy broth on one side and mostly unseasoned broth on the other. They brought so many plates of veggies we could barely fit them on the table – baby bok choy, chinese cabbage, mustard greens, 3 kinds of mushrooms, bean sprouts, and bean thread vermicelli. Shortly after this picture was taken they also brought us 2 plates full of shaved beef, and one plate of shaved lamb. All of this was placed in the hotpot to cook and eat communally.

I have to say that the spicy broth (again flavored with Szechuan peppercorns) was incredibly spicy – and I don’t have a low tolerance for these things. Once I realized that there were whole peppercorns contributing to the heat, I was able to avoid biting into those, and the beef cooked in that side of the pot was very tasty. But it was impossible to scoop out the vermicelli without getting a whole bunch of peppercorns with it from the bottom of the pot. And the greens also seemed to soak up the spicy heat. But it was a very fun time with the others at my table, and if I go back again I’ll figure out my method for what goes on each side. It does make me worry a bit about the spicy hot pot mix that I bought at the supermarket last week though…

While we were cooking the hotpot additions, they brought us one more “appetizer” of lamb kabobs, seasoned with a very nice mixture that I think included cumin and paprika. They were cooked perfectly, still moist and tender with a lovely grilled flavor. It didn’t taste at all like what I would consider “Chinese” – but as we learned in part I of the class, there is a lot of variation within that cuisine that we aren’t typically exposed to in the West. Also, if you’ll notice, there was not a single grain of rice served at the meal!

Needless to say, we were all incredibly stuffed by this point, and there were a number of hotpot ingredients that could not be eaten at our table. I asked the waitstaff if the remaining beef, bok choy and Chinese cabbage would be discarded and when that was confirmed, I offered to take it home instead. Luckily (according to others at my table), this is seen as a compliment in Chinese culture, so they were happy to provide me with a takeaway box. I made this delicious stir-fry the next day with just a bit of soy sauce and ginger added.

Bulgarian Mousaka

Mousaka is perhaps most well known to Americans as a Greek dish, but my co-worker Anna assures me that it actually originated in Bulgaria – and who am I to argue? I had no idea that there are so many different versions of mousaka. Usually they involve some combination of meat plus potato and/or eggplant, with a top layer of custard or bechamel sauce.  Some types of mousaka also include tomatoes, and I even saw one that used rice. The version that we made consisted of ground beef, potatoes and zucchini, covered with a fluffy egg custard. Anna indicated that the dish traditionally would not have included zucchini and would probably have had a higher meat to potato ratio – but it was delicious this way and can probably be easily adjusted depending on what you have in your pantry.

olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
4 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. chubritsa (a special herb, see below for substitutions)
2 lbs. ground beef (or beef/pork mixture)

In a saucepan over medium heat, saute the onions in olive oil. Add salt and pepper, and cover to cook until onions are softened, stirring occasionally. Remove the lid and add garlic, paprika and chubritsa (shown to the right). Chubritsa is an herb grown in Bulgaria, Satureia hortensis. In the cookbook I borrowed, it was recommended to substitute Greek oregano. Both Anna and Boriana said that savory has been the most similar herb they could find in the U.S., and Anna suggested maybe adding a bit of cumin as well.
Whatever you decide to use, mix in the herbs and cook for about a minute. Add ground beef and raise heat, stir and cook for a few minutes until beef is just cooked through. Pour beef and onion mixture into a deep casserole pan (Anna’s was a deep 10″x14″ pan).
3 zucchinis, peeled and diced
6 c. potatoes, peeled and small diced
Add zucchini and potatoes to beef mixture with about 1 tsp. salt and mix it all together in the pan. Make sure you have enough room in the pan to be able to add the custard topping towards the end of baking. Pour approximately 4 c. water over the meat and potatoes, up to just about the same level as the other ingredients, without covering them.
Place in the middle of an oven preheated to 375F and bake uncovered for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until slightly browned on top, moisture has been absorbed/evaporated, and potatoes are tender (like shown in the photo above).  Towards the end of baking, prepare the topping.

6 eggs
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cumin seeds
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 c. flour
3 c. yogurt

With an electric mixer, beat eggs and salt together for about 4 minutes, until light and fluffy and a pale yellow color. Mix in cumin, black pepper, and flour and mix well. Fold in 3 c. yogurt by hand until just mixed.  Pour over the top of the baked meat and potatoes.

Bake for another 30 minutes or so, until nicely browned on top. Let cool for 10-15 minutes (if you can stand to wait, we couldn’t!).  Slice and serve with yogurt on the side.

Bulgarians are taking over the world

Coincidentally over the past month, we’ve had two Bulgarian women join our staff of ~80 at the Center where I work. When I mentioned that to another friend, they wisely said “ahhh… the Bulgarians are taking over the world!” :) Of course, one of my first questions for them both was – “do you like to cook?”  Thankfully Anna said yes, and invited both me and Boriana over to her house to cook a traditional Bulgarian meal together!  I should probably stop inviting myself over to people’s houses like that :)

Anna and Boriana met together before our cooking session to choose the best recipes that would be representative of their culture. Both women grew up in Bulgaria, and Anna has a book full of handwritten family recipes handed down from her mother and grandmother.  Boriana is still learning to cook, but was happy to join us and helped me translate the recipes as Anna was cooking. They decided that we would make Tarator (a chilled yogurt cucumber soup), Shopska Salad, and Mousaka.  Since there are three recipes to share, I’ll start with the soup and salad in this post and address the more complicated Mousaka recipe in a Part II post later this week. Both of the recipes below serve about 6 people.

1 English cucumber, peeled
4 garlic cloves, minced with a garlic press
2 Tbsp. fresh dill, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. walnuts, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
3 c. plain yogurt
1 1/2 c. ice-cold water
Good quality olive oil

There are two traditional ways to prepare the cucumber for this dish, either coarsely grated or diced very small. The small dice is the method preferred by both Anna and Boriana, so that’s what we did. The cucumber, garlic, dill, walnuts and salt were placed in a bowl.

Add 3 c. yogurt and mix well. Gradually mix in about 1 1/2 cups ice-cold water, or more or less to your desired consistency for the soup. Taste and add more salt if needed. Drizzle with olive oil and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Note: in the summer, the dish is sometimes served with ice cubes in it to keep it very cold!

Shopska Salad
3 green bell peppers
2 English cucumbers, quartered lengthwise and sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
6 medium tomatoes, large dice
1 bunch green onions, both white and green parts thinly sliced
1/2 bunch parsley, finely minced (about 1 c.)
1 tsp. sea salt
1/4 c. olive oil
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
Bulgarian feta (made with sheep’s milk)

Before preparing the salad, roast and peel the green peppers. If you haven’t done this before, in-depth directions for roasting peppers are provided here on allrecipes.com. Dice the roasted peppers and place in a large bowl. Add remaining chopped vegetables, salt, olive oil and vinegar. Toss well to mix the salad.

Taste and adjust olive oil, salt and vinegar to taste (we were kind of guessing on amounts while Anna prepared the salad to her usual tastes).  Plate the salad onto 6 plates. Finely grate Bulgarian feta cheese generously over the top of each salad. Grating the cheese adds a smoothness to the salad that you don’t usually get with crumbled feta. Bulgarian feta is also made from sheep’s milk, so it has a different flavor than the typical cow’s milk Greek feta available in most U.S. grocery stores.

We started our delicious Bulgarian meal with these two cold dishes while we waited for the mousaka to finish baking. I’ll share the mousaka recipe in my next blog post. I also borrowed an English language Bulgarian cookbook from Anna (there aren’t many of those), so maybe there will be additional Bulgarian recipes to share with you in the future!

Italian Cooking Class

I occasionally enjoy attending a cooking class at Johnson & Wales in Charlotte, or more easily at A Southern Season in Chapel Hill.  Last week I attended a class by Chef Guiliano Hazan, whose mother Marcella Hazan wrote one of the cookbooks I used during Italian cooking this summer!  Chef Hazan showed us how to prepare a complete Italian meal, 4 simple dishes with really good flavor. I apologize for the quality of some of these photos, we were sitting in a room without a lot of light. Also, by the time we got the food towards the end of the class, I was so hungry I just wanted to eat it!! :)

Our first course, or “Primo”, was Leek and Chickpea Soup with pasta, pancetta and pecorino cheese. I actually found the full recipe posted on Hazan’s own blog, so you can make it for yourself. The soup was tasty and smelled delicious while cooking, but I found it to be the least exciting of the dishes we tried at the class – even though I really enjoy all these components together. What I found most useful about this demonstration was the chef’s treatment of leeks. If you’ve ever cooked with leeks you know that they can be very dirty, and the dirt is within the inner layers so it can be pretty hard to clean. Chef Hazan showed us how to slice the leeks to the desired size and just swish them all around in a large bowl of cold water.  As it sits for a few minutes, the dirt is washed out of the leeks and drops to the bottom of the bowl. Then you can lift the leeks from the top of the bowl, shake them off to drain and add them to your dish.

That’s one of the best benefits of attending a cooking class, not the actual recipes (which you can find online or in cookbooks), but the many tips and techniques that chefs have learned through cooking school or from their own experience.  The other great tip I learned at this class was how to wash parsley. It sounds like an easy thing, I know, but washing and chopping parsley can be a very messy job if you don’t dry the parsley completely before chopping. Chef Hazan showed us how he picks off the flat-leaf parsley leaves from the stems, then briefly rinses the parsley leaves.  He then places them on a layer of paper towel, covers with another paper towel and rolls them up into a cylinder.  He then rolls that cylinder back and forth on a cutting board or other surface to aid in absorbing all the extra moisture from the parsley.  After it is dried in this way, parsley is clean but dry and can be chopped very finely for use in various dishes.

Our “secondo” or second course, was Beef Chuck Braised in Milk, and Zucchini Sauteed with Fresh Mint.  The beef recipe was absolutely delicious, and I will DEFINITELY be making this one at home this winter!  It turned out like a very tender and savory pot roast, the milk making a lovely carmelized and flavorful brown sauce. I’ve included the link above to this recipe from “Every Night Italian” – available in Google books.  The zucchini recipe is similar to a recipe I made out of Guiliano’s mother’s cookbook earlier this summer, the full recipe is also on their blog.

Finally, our dessert for the evening was a Chocolate and Amaretti Custard.  This was a homemade egg custard with crushed Amaretti cookies and semi-sweet chocolate stirred into the hot custard to incorporate prior to chilling.  A deliciously sweet end to the evening. This recipe is also available on Google books from the link above. Overall, it was a great evening and tasty meal!

Turkish Cooking Class

I just got back from a Turkish Cooking Class (and dinner!) taught by my friend Deniz. I met Deniz about 6 years ago when I worked as an intern in her library at Rex Hospital. Deniz shares my love of cooking international foods. In fact, it’s because of Deniz that I have gotten involved with the International Festival of Raleigh, last year she invited me to be a part of the committee to help plan the cooking demonstrations at the festival.

For over a year now, Deniz has been teaching local Turkish cooking classes. I attended my second class today. She does a great job of tailoring traditional recipes to be healthy and use ingredients that are readily available in the U.S., while retaining the unique nature of the dish. Volunteers are asked up to help cook each dish, and then we eat a delicious meal together and learn about Turkish history and culture. Today we even had live classical Turkish music. What a great deal for only $25 per person, she’ll be offering the next cooking class on June 4, you should check it out!

There’s actually a small photography exhibit at Turkish House (Cary, NC) right now too, which I was glad to be able to view while we were there. The exhibit is called “Who is my Neighbor?” by John Lynner Peterson and features mainly black and white portraits of people from all walks of life around the world. Next Saturday will be the final day this exhibit is open to the public in that location.

Now, about the food from today’s class, it was all delicious! We made a lentil and bulgur soup called Bride Soup, Hummus, Rose Pastries, Eggplant casserole and Meringues. The meringue served with dessert had cinnamon and dark chocolate shavings in it, and was filled with vanilla ice cream and covered with berry sauce, yum! I didn’t know meringues were popular in Turkey, but Deniz says that if you go into any bakery in Turkey, you will see them.

The recipe I’m going to share with you (with permission, of course) is the Rose Pastry, or Gul boregi.  The pastry is filled with a onion, potato and parsley mixture and rolled up to look like a snail or ‘rose’.

Rose Pastries (Gul boregi)
1 package phyllo dough
3/4 c. olive oil for brushing
1 medium onion, diced
4 potatoes, boiled, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 c. parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 egg, beaten
2 Tbsp. sesame seeds, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350F. In a medium pan, saute onion in 1 Tbsp. olive oil until translucent. Mix potato with the onion and parsley, add salt and pepper to taste.

Place one sheet of phyllo dough on counter or cutting board. Brush lightly with olive oil and place another sheet of phyllo dough on top. Cut the sheets in half from the short side. Add about 2 Tbsp. filling along the cut side and then roll gently into a log. Then coil the log inwards to make a round disc (looks like a snail shell).

Brush the rounds with egg wash on the top and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Let the pastries cool and eat warm or at room temperature.