Tag Archives: Hungry Husband

Makarona bil-Bechamel

So, when I pulled up my schedule today, I realized that TUESDAY (not Wednesday, as I said in my previous blog post) is my blogging day.  Guess it’s going to take awhile to get used to this new routine!

Here is a recipe that I can’t believe I didn’t share earlier.  It was one of the first dishes I learned to make, from my Arabic teacher in Cairo.  It is also the first dish that ever earned me a true compliment, from an old, old woman who I visited with nearly every day.  Her only critique was that it needed more salt!  This is one of Hungry Husband’s favorite comfort foods, and in Cairo I would make it with camel meat, although ground beef is a fine substitute for those of you without a local camel market 😛

MAKARONA BIL-BECHAMEL (macaroni with bechamel sauce)

Ingredients:

For the meat filling:

1 large onion, diced

1 lb. ground beef

1 Tbsp. tomato paste

Spices of your choice (for the meat): cinnamon, whole cloves, cardamom pods, bay leaves, allspice

Salt and pepper

For the noodles:

13-16 oz. penne pasta (it doesn’t have to be precise, just whatever size the container is at your grocery store)

For the bechamel sauce:

1 stick of butter or ghee

1 cup flour

2 cups chicken brother

2 cups milk

2 eggs

salt to taste

Directions:

1.  Brown the meat with the onions, tomato paste and spices.  You can vary the amount and type of spices depending on how savory you like your meat.  My teacher cooked the meat in a small pot for a long time, so that eventually it reabsorbed all the fat that initially ran out.  It was very, very tasty, but you can drain the meat if you prefer.  When the meat is done, remove any whole spices you used.

Meat browning.

Meat browning.

2.  Cook the noodles to al dente.  Drain and rinse them so that they cool enough to handle and don’t stick together, then return to their pot.

3.  In a pot, melt the butter or ghee over low heat, then add the flour and whisk together.  Cook it over a low heat for several minutes–you should be able to smell the flour cooking.  It may start to brown, in which case take it off the heat so that it doesn’t burn.  Add the chicken broth and whisk vigorously–the flour and broth will seize up and turn very firm, but you can add the milk right in and keep whisking, and it should smooth out.  Cook it for two or three more minutes.  It should be about the consistency of pudding.  Turn the heat off and let it cool for a minute, then whisk in the two eggs.

4.  Pour half the bechamel sauce onto the noodles in their pot and mix together thoroughly.  Spread half the noodles into an oiled 9 x 13 casserole dish, then add the meat layer.  Spread the rest of the noodles on top of the meat and cover with the remaining bechamel sauce, using a spatula to smooth it down.

Layers.

Layers.

Lulu spreads the bechamel sauce over the top.

Lulu spreads the top layer of noodles.

5.  Cook in a 375 F oven for 50-60 minutes, until it is heated through and the top is golden brown and firm.  If you can, let it cool in the pan for 20 or 30 minutes before you cut it, as this will help the layers solidify an be more casserole-like.  We never manage to wait that long, so it tends to fall apart a little bit when I am serving.

Finished!

Finished!

Not ready to come out of the dish, but we're eating it anyway!

Not ready to come out of the dish, but we’re eating it anyway!

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Running Out of Gas

Well, friends, it is that time in The AmerArab Life: we are preparing for another transition.  Given the past few years of our lives, you might assume that we have developed the necessary emotional, relational and logistical skills to manage this process relatively smoothly.  After all, in the past five years we have:

  • Gotten married;
  • Changed jobs;
  • Lived in five different countries (two of them more than once);
  • Lived in three different states within the U.S.A.;
  • Lived in 11 houses or apartments for at least two months each (the longest period in any one house being eight months), a one-star Arab hotel for three months, and had eight periods of one month or less stays with friends, family or in temporary housing;
  • Actively studied four dialects of Arabic;
  • Decided to start having children, and are now pregnant.

So, it is time to move again, probably at the end of next week (assuming our visas come through as promised).  However, instead of being the efficient list-making, people-visiting, introspective journal writer that I was at the beginning of this past period of life, I am now a procrastinating, uncaring, celebrity gossip googling zombie.  Do I feel guilty about this?  Definitely.  I spent years teaching college students how to “finish well” in their cross-cultural experiences: push through the fatigue, fight the urge to withdraw, plan events to honor the people you have met.  In the past, I have spent the final days before moving making sure to get pictures taken with all my most important friends, distributing gifts and any possessions I planned to leave behind, visiting my favorite places in the city.

None of this knowledge or past experience is helping me gain any motivation at this point.  I am so tired of moving, starting over, settling down, and saying goodbye, and it has gotten more and more difficult each time.  Honestly, apart from the fact that we chose an apartment and furnished it, there is nothing that makes me feel as though Hillside is my home, which seems like it should make leaving easier—but it’s not.  We came in knowing it was temporary, and have lived that way for the past five months.  We spent six weeks away traveling, never formally studied Arabic, lived without routines or schedules or friends.  The only person I have any sort of relationship with is the landlady, and I don’t even know her name; I just call her the respectful word for “old woman.”  I was supposed to go talk to her today, tell her that we are moving, ask if she wants to buy any of our furniture.  Instead I crawled into bed, felt frustrated by my poor attitude, and decided to wait until sometime when Hungry Husband could go with me.

And to top it all off, the gas tank that fuels the stove started sputtering a few days ago, a sure sign that it is low and will be empty soon.  I have been nursing it since then, praying that it does not run out before we leave, because I don’t want to pay the $15 to replace it for a week’s use.  Fortunately, it doesn’t take much time on the stove to make ramen noodles…

The point is, I am 31 years old.  In six months we are going to have a baby.  My brain’s capacity for learning foreign languages is diminishing rapidly, and my introverted, intimate relationship-oriented personality is spent from years of forming friendships that come to an end before I am able to communicate any of my deep thoughts.  I don’t feel like I have much left in me to keep living this lifestyle.  Please pray that this will be our last move for a long time!

There should be 3 P’s in “happy”

Pineapple, melted butter and brown sugar...yum!

1. Pineapple Upside-down Cake: when I was a child, my mom would occasionally make this cake, full of sugary buttery goodness and topped with that delight of all delights, maraschino cherries.  Somehow in the “sophistication” of my twenties, I forgot all about it, and it was only recently brought back to memory by a recent Food in Jars post on an adaptation made with jam.  I almost went with a boxed yellow cake mix, but thankfully Betty Crocker saved the day, and I whipped up a homemade Pineapple Upside-down Cake (sans maraschino cherries, which I now find frightening in their over-chemicalized state) in a few simple steps.  Here’s a link to Betty’s recipe, because Betty does it best!

Oh so golden and sweet.

2.  Peanut butter.  I will not go into a full treatise on the glories of real peanut butter right now; suffice it to say that I am a peanut butter snob.  I have high expectations and will generally refuse to eat any that includes ingredients other than peanuts.  However, I have recently found myself desperately in need of an easy way to get a lot of extra calories, and unexpectedly finding three jars of (highly processed, not even as good as JIF) crunchy peanut butter in my local shop, I decided that, at the least, it is a better option than eating an entire Pineapple Upside-down Cake every two days.  The good news is that since it’s been at least 11 months since I last tasted peanut butter, even this plasticky, gooey mess seems wonderful and delicious.

3. Pregnancy!  Yes, I am now almost 12 weeks pregnant with our first child–hence the need for extra calories.  Between our normal diet, which is very high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes but low in meat and fats, and the normal first trimester of pregnancy eating discomforts, I have actually lost a few pounds the past two months.  I didn’t start this pregnancy with much extra weight to spare, so I am trying to be very conscious about adding in healthy, high-calorie foods whenever I can.  (And Pineapple Upside-down Cake only when really needed!)  Little Baby (henceforth to be known as LB) is due June 22, and so far is normal and healthy and, as the doctor proclaimed during my ultrasound yesterday, “very active.”  Hungry Husband and I are very excited, although he did ask me if this is going to turn into a blog where I talk about nothing except pregnancy and the baby.  Um…I don’t know, but if it does, well, it’s my blog and I suppose I can write about whatever I want!

ROASTED EGGPLANT SOUP

You may be wondering at the plethora of eggplant-featuring posts lately.  Well, the story is that I went to the market a bit over a week ago, intending to buy just one wee kilo of eggplants.  But I ended up at a stall manned by a boy far too young to be working (as is the case too often in this part of the world), and he very enthusiastically proclaimed that, for the equivalent of about $1.30, he would sell me 5 kilos of eggplant.  That is 11 pounds, for those of you stuck in America’s silly measurement system.  It takes a long time and a lot of dishes for two people to eat 11 pounds of eggplant!  But partly out of pity and partly because I do really like eggplant, I went ahead and bought it, carrying home a black plastic bag with nearly a dozen eggplants inside.

We have finally finished them off, and I must admit I am not likely to buy another eggplant for a week or two.  But when I do, this soup will be very high on my list of considerations.  The idea of an eggplant soup had never crossed my mind until I read about it on Smitten Kitchen.  The original recipe, adapted from Bon Appetit, can be found there, along with Deb’s humorous account of trying to elicit taste memories from her mother.  Following her spice dilemma, I decided to take the basic idea and Middle Eastern-ize the recipe a bit.  I was very, very pleased with the final product, and even more pleased when Hungry Husband, who is generally ambivalent when it comes to soup, declared it very tasty.

ROASTED EGGPLANT SOUP

  • 3 medium tomatoes, halved
  • Eggplant totally about 1 ½ pounds, halved
  • 1 medium onion, halved
  • Olive oil
  • 10 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. coriander
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 ½ tsp. cumin
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • ¼ c. plain yoghurt
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ c. crumbled feta, to garnish

Preheat oven to 400F.  On a roasting pan/cookie sheet/whatever you use, arrange the halved vegetables and drizzle with olive oil.  Roast in the oven for about 45 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.  Remove from the oven, scoop the eggplant flesh out of the skin (but if you leave a little of the skin attached, that will add a nice smoky flavor) and put in a large soup pot.  Add the tomatoes, onion, cumin and broth and bring to a boil.  Simmer for about 45 minutes or until the onion is soft, then remove from heat and let cool slightly.

About 5 minutes before you think the soup will be done simmering, heat the vegetable oil in a small frying pan.  When it is hot, add the garlic, coriander and salt and fry briefly, stirring constantly, until the aroma rises but the garlic has not browned.  Throw this into the soup for the last few minutes of simmering.

When the soup is sufficiently cool, blend it according to the method of your choosing (with an immersion blender or in batches in a stand blender) to your desired consistency.  Return to the soup pot and reheat, adding salt and pepper to taste.  After turning off the heat, add the yoghurt and stir to blend thoroughly.  Serve with crumbled feta cheese to garnish.

Side note: this soup was also really tasty cold the next day, when I felt too lazy to reheat it.

Side note #2: I also added a wee bit of tahini (sesame seed paste) to the leftovers and that was a very lovely addition.  If you wanted to include it, in the full batch I’d suggest adding 2 Tbsp. along with the yoghurt.