Tag Archives: Spices

Sick Days

I meant to give you a new recipe today, for my current favorite cookies.  But I haven’t made them for a week or so, and since they don’t last more than a day or two after baking, I have no pictures for you.  Good incentive to make another batch, I guess!

But that will have to wait another day, as I am in bed trying to fight off some nose-throat-chest yuckiness that is passing through our family.  The combination of winter, a new country of new germs, and a daughter in preschool (which might as well be called “the little sickness factory”) has made these past few months seem like an endless onslaught of minor-but-frustrating colds and flu.

One of my favorite cold remedies is a hot cup of lemon juice, ginger and honey.  I make a big pot (I don’t have any measurements, just dump stuff in) and let it boil away for ten or fifteen minutes, and then drink from it throughout the day.  In the U.S. I use fresh ginger and strain it out, but here there is a powdered version available that works very nicely for beverages.  It’s different from the ground ginger available for cooking; it has larger granules and a stronger flavor.  Ginger drinks are very common and popular in the Middle East, especially in winter.  Adding hot milk to ginger and honey makes a thick, luxurious drink that warms you up from the inside out.

The hard thing about being sick (true for adults in almost any country) is that life does not stop.  I still had to take Lulu to preschool today–a 25 minute walk round trip.  I need to go to the market and get vegetables, or we’ll be eating plain noodles for supper.  I have to make lunch, and when Lulu gets home from preschool, feed and play with her.  Trying to rest is hard, when there is always so much that needs to get done!

MOROCCAN VEGETABLE TAGINE

I am happy to report that after what seemed like a very long, hot summer, I am sleeping under a blanket once again, enjoying the feel of my cold nose peeking out above the covers.  After all, it gets down to 72/73F in my bedroom at night—chilly!  But apparently the real cold is yet to come; yesterday the neighbors were admonishing me that we need to hurry and buy a heater, because the temperature will start dropping fast and before I know it, there will be rain and even snow.  Life in non-insulated buildings with drafty windows can become very difficult in winter for those of us who are most sensitive to the cold.

One way of dealing with this?  Spend a lot of time in the kitchen, preferably concocting things full of spices and butter and meltingly soft vegetables.  Today I wandered around the market gathering things that may not be at the height of their growth season right now, but are definitely appropriate according to my internal sense of what to be eating in autumn.  This evening, as Maghrib (sundown) happened just before 6:00 p.m., I was at the stove putting together one of my favorite fall dishes, a Moroccan-style vegetable tagine.  (I have no idea where I got this recipe…I found it somewhere on the internet three or four years ago.  My apologies to its creator.)  It is fragrant and sweet and savory and full of nutrition and makes me feel like I have a warm blanket of happiness wrapped around my internal organs.

MOROCCAN VEGETABLE TAGINE

(makes 4 large servings or 6 small)

  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 ½ tsp. turmeric
  • 2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 medium carrots, sliced
  • 2 c. water
  • 1 lb. pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 14 oz. cooked chickpeas
  • 2 tsp. harissa (I used 1 ½ tsp. Sriracha instead)
  • ¾ c. raisins, dried cherries or dried chopped dates
  • 1 Tbsp. honey
  • Salt and pepper

In a large pot, heat oil and add the onions.  Cook gently for 5 minutes, then add the garlic, turmeric, ginger and cinnamon.  Cook over low heat, stirring, for 2 minutes or until aromatic.

Add the carrots and water, stir well, and cover.  Cook for 10 minutes.  Add the pumpkin/squash, sweet potatoes, chickpeas, harissa, raisins, and honey; cover and simmer until vegetables are tender.  Add salt and pepper to taste and serve with couscous.

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.

COOKING WITH PRIDE

 

The picture does not do it justice.

 

A few days ago we had dinner with some friends, one of whom likes cooking and considers herself to be a good cook.  Unfortunately that night she made lentil soup, a dish for which I have fairly high standards.  I love lentils.  I realize that many people do not share my feelings, but I think that’s because there are a few consistent ways cooks fail in making lentil soup:

  • The broth is watery and flavorless.
  • The lentils and accompany vegetables are overcooked, mushy and tasteless.
  • Spices have not been added in a suitable amount.

I have seen these problems over and over and over again, and my poor friend made the same mistakes.  The next day, I made my own batch.  And it was pretty much perfect, definitely worth selling your birthright for a bowl or two.

But afterward I felt kind of bad, because as much as I enjoyed my tasty batch of soup, the process was tainted with the knowledge that I was in part motivated by the desire to upstage my friend and prove my superiority in the kitchen.  I have often thought of cooking as something that tempers my naturally competitive, perfectionist tendencies, as things often do not work out the way I would like and there is nothing I can do but deal with the failure.  However, in this case it turned out quite opposite, as this soup fed not just my body but also my pride.  And pride is something better left to starve.

LENTIL SOUP

  • 1 c. brown lentils
  • 2 c. water
  • 2 med. onions, cut in quarters and sliced
  • 2-3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. coriander (dried)
  • ½ tsp. fennel
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 hot peppers, diced very, very small
  • 1 med. carrots, diced (about ½ c.)
  • 1 med. zucchini, diced (about ½ c.)
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 med. potato, diced (about ½ c.)

Start with the lentils and water in a large pot.  Bring to a boil, cover, turn heat to low and simmer until they become crunchy-tender.  You should not need to add any water during this stage, but check on it periodically to make sure.

In a large skillet, heat the oil and caramelize the onions.  Just before they finish, add the garlic, cumin, coriander and fennel and stir until the scent rises.  Remove from heat.

When the lentils are crunchy-tender, add the onions etc. mixture (including the oil) and the rest of the ingredients to the lentils.  Stir well and add just enough water to barely cover everything.  Bring to a boil again, cover and reduce heat to simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the vegetables and lentils are tender and the broth is nice and thick.