Monday, May 20, 2013

Recipes and Cravings

I finally figured out what my cravings are (at least for right now). Middle Eastern and Central Asian cuisine. Yeah, random, right? Hey, I can't make this stuff up!
When I was in college, I lived with three women my sophomore year. One woman, Elisa, was extremely well-travelled and knowledgeable about the world (but not in a pretentious way). I loved  her immediately, and I loved having conversations with her about her travels and her friends abroad. One of the only recipes she could make was her mother's hummus. I had absolutely no idea what hummus was, but when she made it, I would sit and eat, eat, eat it until it was all gone. I was lucky enough to copy down her recipe (this was long before hummus was readily available in the stores). Every time I make it, it reminds me of those days, sitting around our little kitchen table, or our tiny coffee table, surrounded by cheap, rented furniture and talking until 2 in the morning. I loved those nights.
This past summer, we stayed with Alex's Aunt and Uncle in Western MA for a few days during our great drive across the country. At the same time, their adopted son, Binot and his wife Reena and their son Jason were also visiting. We had heard about Binot for a long time; Aunt and Uncle had met him in Nepal and he had an enormous desire to come to the US. After much struggle, Binot finally got to the US, eventually settling, getting married and having Jason. It was a breath of fresh air to meet Binot and Reena. They are such open, loving and caring people, it was immediately obvious that Alex and I are lucky to have them as part of our family. When things would get a little hairy, or when people would be complaining, Binot and Reena would just smile and laugh, and just go on with their lives. Having just left stressful jobs, a stressful move, and trying to negotiate our trip across the country, Alex and I weren't exactly at our best. One night, Reena stayed in and cooked for us. She made two kind of curry, fresh greens from the garden and these amazing momos. If you haven't had momos, find yourself a Nepalese restaurant and get some! The dinner she made was the best curry I had ever tasted, and it was such a wonderful time to watch her in the kitchen, cooking. I am fascinated by watching other people cook; she actually cooked greens from the (what us Americans would think) inedible part of the plant - the part we would just toss out! Nepalese (and likely lots of cuisine from all over the world) is inherently simple. It's made from what you have on hand, not recipes where each ingredient is special and expensive. Everything Reena made was delicious and enjoyable and I just loved it. I hope that one day I can cook like that.
When we lived in Philly, Alex and I used to go to this Afghan restaurant where they made Aushak, this wonderful, leek-packed dumpling with tomato-meat sauce and yoghurt topping. I got it nearly every time I went there. It was this great little restaurant, in a basement near a couple bars, down this quiet side street you wouldn't think to explore. I loved it there. It felt great to be adventurous in cuisine, and it was a lot of fun to support this local, family owned business. It was also the only place (to this day) that I've actually found lamb to be good. That means a lot.
Throughout this pregnancy, I find that I get a bit nostalgic about people and places, things I've seen or done, and food I've eaten. This past weekend, I made a batch of hummus and attempted Aushak (I've linked the recipe above). I am happy to report both were a huge success, and I think further preparations will be in order. Following is a brief description of the recipes!

1 can garbanzo beans
juice from 2 lemons
1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed (or more if you desire)
5 tsp tahini (this is usually found in most grocery stores - it's "sesame seed paste", like peanut butter but with sesame seeds)
5 tsp olive oil (or more, depending on the consistency you like)
1/2 tsp salt
paprika for garnish

Combine all ingredients (except paprika) in a food processor or blender. Adjust consistency with extra olive oil if desired. Serve with crackers or warm pita bread.


Yogurt Sauce
2 cups yogurt, drained in a cheesecloth to thicken if you can
2 tsp crushed garlic
1 tsp salt

Combine ingredients together in a bowl and refrigerate until needed

Meat Sauce
1/2 lb ground beef
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp diced fresh ginger
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup water

Saute the onion in some olive oil until soft. Add ground beef and cook until no longer pink. Add rest of ingredients and saute for a couple minutes. Add 1/2 cup water and cook down, so it makes a nice coating on the meat and onion. Add the other 1/2 cup water and let simmer for a few minutes over low heat. Set aside until dumplings are ready.

 2 packages of wonton wrappers
2 large leeks (or 4 small), chopped fine(about 1.5-2 cups)
small bunch of cilantro, chopped
2 tsp red pepper flakes (less if you're sensitive to spice)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 egg + 1 tsp water for sealing dumplings

Combine leeks, cilantro, red pepper, salt and pepper and let sit for about 10 minutes. Place about a teaspoon of the mixture in the middle of the wonton, and dip your finger in the egg mixture to wet all four sides of the wrapper. Fold wrapper over into a triangle, and try to seal the sides firmly. Place sealed dumplings on a floured baking sheet. When ready to cook, bring a large pot of water to a boil and place dumplings in the boiling water for about 5 minutes. You can freeze dumplings too (on the baking sheet, then place into a freezer bag). If frozen, boil for about 7-10 minutes. Note: a lot of recipes (including the one I linked to) use scallions instead of leeks. I am sure scallions taste fine, but I think leeks are the more traditional ingredient in aushak.

To serve, place dumplings on a plate and top with meat sauce and yoghurt sauce. Enjoy!