Wild Thyme Leg of Lamb

Tunisian FlagToday is Tunisia’s celebration of gaining their independence from French colonization in 1956.  The almost 60 years since then have been an ongoing  process of self-identification, but that is really no different from any other nation.

With the shocking terrorist attack at the Bardo museum this week, the mood in the city is quiet and pensive.  I wonder how liberated Tunisians are feeling today.

People are staying close to home and family or are outdoors seeking healing from the vernal countryside.  Woody wild thyme branches can be found sprawling on wind swept knolls.  Used in a rub for lamb, it is just the flavor to capture the untamed, emerging spring.

Thyme

Leg of LambWild Thyme Leg of Lamb

  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, toasted, coarsely ground
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin, toasted
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon thyme leaves
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 1 tablespoon flaky sea salt
  • 3 lbs lamb, legs or shoulder
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 liter lamb or chicken stock

Combine the cumin, coriander, garlic, thyme, zest, and salt.  Rub all over the lamb, then set aside at room temperature for 2 hours.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Heat the oil in a large roasting dish, over high heat, then brown the lamb all over.  Add the stock and cover with a tight fitting lid or foil.  Transfer to the oven for 2 hours.  Uncover and roast for a further 30 minutes or until tender, then set aside to rest before carving.

Pearson, Jo. “From the Source.” Cuisine NZ Mar. 2015: 98-99. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.

Slicing Thinly

Dried VeggiesIf people ask me what I did this weekend it was this:  I sat and sliced vegetables, very thinly.  I am convinced that micro-slicing vegetables gives them entirely different characteristics.  I love to then put them into salads or dehydrate them, like I did this time, to sprinkle on salads and other dishes.  These feather-light bits melt on your tongue and give dishes the slightest crispy texture and rooty flavor.  Shown here are carrots, beets, and a few turnips.

I also listened to the audiobook All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, mesmerizing and beautiful.  The paperthin slicing and the deep listening were a restorative meditation after the holidays spent in very close quarters with loved ones, making all decisions in a block.  It was wonderful, but this was nice, too.

With some super-thin eggplant slices, I made up an eggplant lasagna.  This has meat, but no pasta.  You could easily add or subtract either one.

Eggplant Lasagna

Adapted from Utterly Delicious Simple Food, by Belinda Jeffery

Meat Sauce

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 heaped tablespoon sun-dried tomato pesto (or 3 large sun dried tomatoes, chopped)
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 2 cups tomato passata or crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 heaped tablespoons thinly sliced oregano or 1 teaspoon dried

Warm the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring regularly, for 10 minutes or until they are translucent and pale golden.  Stir in the tomato pesto and let it cook for a minute or so to release its flavor.  Increase the heat a little and add the ground beef.  Cook it for a couple of minutes until it changes color, breaking it up with a spoon.  Mix in the tomato passata, red wine, and nutmeg.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Adjust the heat so the sauce bubbles gently, and let it cook for about 10 minutes until it is thick but moist.  Stir in the oregano, then leave the sauce to cool a little.

For the Lasagne

  • 1 lb. fresh ricotta*
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 6-8 small to medium Japanese eggplants or zucchini, cut lengthwise on a mandoline
  • 1/2 lb. mozzarella, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 lb. freshly grated parmesan
  • Olive oil, for brushing

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly butter a medium-large, deep ovenproof dish.  Set aside.  In a medium-size bowl, mix the ricotta, eggs, salt and pepper, and nutmeg.  Set aside. Cover the base of the baking dish with a thin layer of the meat sauce, then lay down a layer of eggplant (about 1/3 of it) with the slices slightly overlapping.   Spoon half of the ricotta mixture over the eggplant and spread it as well as you can.  Top this with half the mozzarella slices and sprinkle with half of the parmesan.  Spread half of the meat sauce over the cheeses and spread evenly.  Repeat the layering with half the remaining eggplant (save your most uniform slices for last), the rest of the ricotta mixture, the remaining mozzarella, and most of the parmesan, reserving about 2 tablespoons.  Spoon the remaining meat sauce evenly over the top.  Finish with an arrangement of the reserved eggplant slices, brushed lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle with the reserved parmesan.

Bake for approximately 45-50 minutes or until the contents are bubbling and the top is browned.  Allow to rest for at least 10 minutes, once removed from the oven, to settle and cool.

Serves 6

*Beer brewers:  A recycled grain bag left over from brewing makes an excellent strainer for making homemade ricotta, saving the cost of expensive cheese cloth.

Eggplant Lasagna

Land of the Lotus-Eaters

Fishing Village

“I was driven thence by foul winds for a space of 9 days upon the sea, but on the tenth day we reached the land of the Lotus-eaters, who live on a food that comes from a kind of flower. Here we landed to take in fresh water, and our crews got their mid-day meal on the shore near the ships. When they had eaten and drunk I sent two of my company to see what manner of men the people of the place might be, and they had a third man under them. They started at once, and went about among the Lotus-eaters, who did them no hurt, but gave them to eat of the lotus, which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home, and did not even want to go back and say what had happened to them, but were for staying and munching lotus with the Lotus-eaters without thinking further of their return; nevertheless, though they wept bitterly I forced them back to the ships and made them fast under the benches. Then I told the rest to go on board at once, lest any of them should taste of the lotus and leave off wanting to get home, so they took their places and smote the grey sea with their oars.” Odyssey

Our own Djerba island, in southern Tunisia, is thought to be this seductively enticing island fabled in the Odyssey.  Also called the Isle of Forgetfulness, I could easily see how one could become part of this peaceful vibe and lose track of time.  A simple 1 hour flight and inexpensive taxi ride from Tunis brought us to the heritage hotel Dar Dhiafa.  The owners of this boutique hotel have gathered together several neighboring historic houses, then connected them, creating small, peaceful nooks throughout the meandering property.  Wandering through, you round corners and duck through thresholds that open to benched alcoves, small, shaded pools, or a sitting room with a beehive fireplace.  Taking to the village streets, the distinctive dome-roofed houses seem to have been formed from clay, by hand.  Where ceiling height is wanted, a dome is placed overhead.  If a fireplace is needed, it is patted into a corner or wall.  Spot skylights, no more than 12 inches in diameter,  are intentionally placed to put a beam of direct lighting on a work area or to show off artwork.  All of this surrounding architecture, with so much evidence of human hands, is comforting, like a nest.

Dhar Dhiafa EntryEntry, Coffee

 

 

BenchPool at DuskPatinaArchitecture

We were not offered any lotuses to eat, but plenty of fish and lamb.  The fish auction at Houmt Souk is a spectacle.  Village men have created egos around their auctioneering of the daily fish catch to restauranteers and house-husbands.  The crowd is worked over each string of dourade or octopus until the market price is finally established.

The Fish Auctioneer

Fish Auction

Fish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dar Dhiafa has a good restaurant with plenty of fish dishes, but if you make your request a day ahead, they will prepare another Djerban specialty for you:  Lamb in a Clay Jar.  I wrote about this dish before, and It was a thrill, not to mention dramatic, to have this home-style dish on Djerba.

I am already dreaming about wandering off to Djerba again.  I can imagine some time when I find I have an unexpected week off (does that really ever happen?).  I would sit with a thick book, perhaps the Odyssey,  by that quiet pool, and then, when I needed exercise, I would plod, anonymously,  around the village hidden beneath a cotton caftan, a wide-brimmed straw hat, and enormous sunglasses.  If I ever go missing, you might start looking for me there.

Octopus Pots

 

Half and Half

Here I sit at my house on Lummi Island, exactly one week post-op.  Last week was a bit of a blur, the edges filtered through narcotics.  It hurt, yes ma’m.  I think the uterus fairies had a prior booking that day and all that were available were Thing 1 and Thing 2.  They banged around and generally bruised everything, but the job was done, in the end.  For a few days following, there was no keeping ahead of the pain.  It showed up every three hours on the dot and demanded a handful of pills as ransom.  I complied and then watched life happen around me in dreamy snippets, half in and half out.  Standout images were of Gabe rustling up a massive Thanksgiving dinner:  20something lb. turkey, two dressings, two kinds of potatoes, gravy,  and cranberries.  Anton playing his bass.  The boys taking Giest in and out for little diversion adventures:  fake hunting in the field, swimming and fetching practice in the strait.  We also became obsessed with this Mansonish hippy band/cult and watched everything they had on the internet.  Yes, our interests range in odd directions.

Then, some Jehovah’s Witnesses actually knocked on my door on Saturday morning.  They were dressed in professional clothing, including panty hose, and I truly admired their dedication to canvas the island on a rain-spitting Saturday morning.  This, and the Pilgrims, and Edward Sharpe tumbled around in my mind and reminded me of myself at one of my most zealous times of life.  I was raised in a small, country,  evangelical community, which if you define cult as “of forming its own culture”, then it was a cult for sure, with its own practices and expectations within a closed membership.  When I was of high school age, I didn’t want to abandon my Christian beliefs, but I became interested in the allowable counter-culture expressions, largely derived from the Jesus Movement.  I was fascinated with communal living and if I had had the connections, would possibly have spent some time doing industrial amounts of cooking and becoming disillusioned in a Christian commune.  These were my first two cookbooks, aside from the Betty Crocker cookbook that was the only one I knew my mom to own.  These books fueled my imagination about the processes behind ingredient driven, formula-based cooking that still interest me today.

TassajaraCookingCover

tassajara

My favorite little cafe in Durango, at that time, was called The Warm Flow.  They served food on hand-thrown pottery dishes and had daily postings of their bread, salad, soup, and quiche.  The first thing I cooked from the Tassajara cookbook was a cauliflower and swiss cheese quiche with whole wheat crust.  Proudly presenting this to my family for dinner, it was about as close as I got to seeing my dad cry.  It wasn’t that he was proud of my accomplishment, it was that he couldn’t bear thinking that this was what he had to eat for dinner.

Today is the last day to use up our Thanksgiving turkey and I think I’ll borrow a recipe from my old Tassajara Cooking, making their Half and Half Pie Crust in a pot pie that I think even my dad would love.

Half and Half Pie Crust

Adapted from The Complete Tassajara Cookbook

The half and half title comes from using half white, half whole wheat flour, and half butter, half oil for the fat.

Makes two medium-sized or one large pie crust

  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup oil (I used olive)
  • 5 Tbsp. ice water

Mix together the flours and salt.  Cut in the chilled butter, leaving pea-sized chunks.  Mix in the oil and enough ice water to bind.  Form into one or two disks and chill or freeze until ready to use.  When ready, bake in preheated 400 degree oven until browned.

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Farmers’ Market/Thanksgiving Turkey Pot Pie

This was a delicious use for not only the rest of our shredded turkey, but also the Farmers’ Market vegetables I had optimistically stocked up on two days before my surgery.  They were gracious enough to wait for me in the crisper of the refrigerator until I could come back around.

Cut all vegetables to a similar size.

  • 1 large onion
  • 3 stalks celery and some of the leaves
  • 3 peeled carrots, preferable multi-colored
  • 3 small potatoes, peeled
  • 1 small head of cauliflower
  • 1 small bunch of kale

4 cups shredded meat (preferably turkey)

1/3 cup water

1/4 cup flour

4 cups poultry stock (preferably freshly made turkey stock)

Sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and good quality paprika to taste

In a large,  heavy-bottom pan, saute vegetables in olive oil until beginning to soften, then pour water over them, covering the pot to let them sweat for 5 minutes more.  Add shredded meat.  Sprinkle flour and stir to coat ingredients.  Cook the floured mixture for 2-3 minutes more.  Add poultry stock.  Allow the sauce to thicken a little.  Adjust seasonings.

Pour filling into a deep baking dish.  Roll out pastry and lay over the top.  Place in 400 degree, preheated oven, with a baking sheet underneath to catch drips from boiling over.  Bake until pastry is browned and filling is bubbling.  Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes to cool and allow sauce to thicken.

A Polish Country Dinner

RoosterGoogle Images

I was listening to The Splendid Table about a month ago when Lynn was interviewing Anne Applebaum who has authored a new cookbook: From a Polish Country House Kitchen:  90 Recipes for the Ultimate Comfort Food.  Visit this link to hear the podcast for yourself.    This was late January and we were up to our necks in root vegetables here in Tunis so I knew I would be able to identify with the book.

In 1988, Anne and her Polish husband, along with her inlaws, bought a broken down manor-house in Northwest Poland.  Over a decade, they renovated the house, along with the grounds and gardens, part of which was a large greenhouse.  Deer, wild boar, and geese can be hunted on the property and many types of fish are caught or farmed locally.  They preserve what they grow in the harvest season, in the traditional ways, and use what they have in the lean months in masterful ways.

I have been inspired and a little haunted by this Polish way of eating.  I was in Poland last winter and I still carry an unshakable sadness for one of the most tragic places I’ve ever been right next to a curiosity to more deeply know one of the quaintest and most beautiful places.

I was cooking this afternoon.  I needed four onions, but I only had two.  Rifling through the refrigerator, I found a bundle of leeks that had been stored for a couple of weeks.  They hadn’t yet been cleaned so they were still dirt caked and were also beginning to yellow on the outer layers.  A more finicky me would not have bothered with them and would have composted the entire bunch.  The compost can be a great rationalization sometimes when you just don’t want to bother with produce that will take a little work.  But, I needed the onions, now.  The produce shops were already closed for their afternoon siesta and I needed my dish to simmer in the meantime.  This is where the country cook comes through.  I washed and trimmed the leeks, finding plenty of good onion left to use and then slow-cooked them in a braise that was delicious.  I think that many of these old country recipes began from meats, vegetables, and fruit preserved using methods that were possible given the climate and technology of the time to provide foods of interest and variety in the bleak months, but since then, generations of cooks have refined the techniques until they have become exquisite dishes in their own rights.  They have evolved from necessity to art.

I became a little obsessed with the idea of cooking a Polish feast and I thought about it and planned it for weeks.  The atmosphere of the meal was simple with lots of candlelight, rough linens, and pottery,  and the menu was entirely Polish.  Here is what we had:

Blini with Smoked Salmon and Caviar
Barszcz or Borscht (the Russian name)
Pierogi:
     Potato and Ricotta, with Fresh Peas, and Bacon
     Sauerkraut and Wild Mushroom
Braised Pork Shoulder with Sour Cherries
Brown Sugar Pavlova with Fresh Strawberries and Creme Fraiche
Mint Tea
 

Here are a few photos.

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shutter speed: LO, F:16, ISO: 1600
shutter speed: LO, F: 16, ISO: 1600
shutter speed: LO, F: 16, ISO: 1600
shutter speed: LO, F: 16, ISO: 1600
shutter speed: LO, F: 16, ISO: 1600

Cooking a disciplined dinner like this is really a massive laboratory exercise, especially when you are cooking recipes that are all new to you.  I learned many things.

1.  Even when you have stuffed the borscht stockpot, the massive one made for industrial kitchens, with beef on the bone, many, many onions, leeks, celery, beets, carrots, porcini mushrooms, and garlic,  simmered and simmered, and then reduced the final consume, it can still be a bit thin on body.  It wasn’t all that I expected, in the end, and I will keep trying to find “my recipe” that makes the borscht I am tasting in my head.

2.  After two complete pre-party pierogi run-through batches, I still prefer the peirogi dough recipe I referenced last summer when we were making crab peirogis.  The addition of sour cream or creme fraiche to the dough not only gives it a tender bite, but also makes the dough taste like more than flour.  Following is the abbreviated version.

Dough: 3 eggs, 8 ounces sour cream or creme fraiche, 3 cups all-purpose flour, 3/4 tsp. salt, 1 tablespoon baking powder

Blend all ingredients and 1 cup flour in mixer with a dough hook.  Gradually add remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until dough pulls away from the bowl and is not too sticky to work with.  Beat dough a few minutes more, then let rest for 5 minutes before beginning to roll.

3.  If you find, like some Polish country cooks do, that moths have hatched an entire colony in your precious stash of dried sour cherries, cranberries work just as well.

4.  Not many people could tell you what Polish food is, but when they taste it, they love it.

Getting off Auto

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I want to take photos.  I am so weary and mortified by the silly representations of things and life I have posted on the internet.  I have gotten by with some close up trickery, but I don’t know what the heck I’m doing.  I took the plunge last summer and bought a true DSLR with a couple of lenses.  Having not had lenses before, I read research and then bought what I thought would be great for me:  an 85mm macro lens and a wide-angle zoom, something I have wanted for years for taking shots of my carpets and room interiors.  It turns out that I have lenses for two extremes now:  super close and super wide.  My son says it’s like I am trying to dig a hole and I have a teaspoon and a backhoe.  Surely, my next camera purchase will be a mid-range telephoto lens.

But lenses aren’t my biggest challenge.  Using the settings on my camera is.  I had an introduction to settings last fall through a technology class I was taking and now, some colleagues at school have formed a little club.  We meet once a month, bringing a photo to share along a certain theme or technique.  The first meeting in January, I brought a photo I had taken in Vienna in November.  It was nice and showed a good use of the “proportion of thirds”.  But at the end of the meeting, a fellow photographer tossed down the gauntlet, “Let’s always post our camera setting when we show our photos.”  I was outed.  I was still just shooting my new fancy camera on Auto.

Second meeting, the theme was “love”.  I figured out how to adjust my shutter speed and aperture and I did spend a couple of hours one Sunday afternoon photographing a still life of Tunisian food products I had gleaned from the countryside and the markets that weekend:  things I love.  I tried every aperture setting and a few different shutter speeds and in the end, I just had a picture of some food sitting on my kitchen counter.  I complained to my son, “I did all of this adjusting and I still didn’t get an amazing photo.”

He challenged, “Well, what were you trying to use the settings to do?”

I didn’t exactly know, and there was the problem.  It was getting late and I needed to email my photo to the organizer so she could make a slide show for the next day.  I said, “I just won’t go to the meeting.  I’ll wait until I know what I’m doing and can take a better photo.”

Again, my son, who has been a vocal performance major for the past three years said, “Yep, that’s what singers think, too.  They think they will just continue working on their own in a practice room and only come out when they are good enough.  It’s intimidating to go in front of your peers when you know you’re not very good, but you grow a lot by showing what you can do and also by studying their work.”

So I went to the meeting and I cringed when my photo came up, but I made a new vow to work at this.  It’s not just going to come easily to me, but I want the skill.  I am mortified, at the moment, because I can clearly see the difference between what I want and what I take, but hopefully, that vision will help take me toward a better photo.

This made me think about teaching children.  Sometimes I get frustrated with kids who won’t put aside trying to cover up their reading and writing deficiencies.  It looks obvious to me that a learner must just jump in and start practicing the skills at whatever level he or she is at.  That is the way to make progress.  But kids don’t automatically know that or believe you when you tell them that.  And as I relived this week, it is embarrassing to put your deficiencies out in front of peers.  It is good to have re-experienced this.  I hope I can keep that empathy with my struggling learners.

I am going to post photos here, frequently.  And I am going to post my settings as an act of accountability, until I find it so pretentious that I can’t do it anymore.  (All of these pictures were at a shutter speed of about 200 and aperture of 2.5-2.8).

I have been brining this week and when I think of brining, I picture a 20 lb. turkey in a 5-gallon bucket set out in a cold garage a few days before Thanksgiving.  It was a small revelation to me that I could brine a smaller cut of meat, such as a lamb shoulder, in a pot that can nicely fit in my refrigerator.  It took nothing to mix some salt and sugar with water, plop in my piece of meat, and leave it for a couple of days.

Simple Brine

1/4 cup sugar, 3/4 cup kosher or course sea salt to 10 cups water

 

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This is the second of the fantastical broccoli found at the market this week.  Now and then, we get this purple-tinged variety and I try to find a use worthy of its beauty.

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Here is how I used both the brined lamb shoulder and the broccoli.  Bon Appetit did an article, in the February issue,  on the Saltimporten Canteen in Malmo, Sweden.  The intent of this sliding-metal-door-fronted restaurant is to bring up the simple qualities of excellent ingredients, without much culinary trickery.  That is something I need reminding of in both food and photographs.  I would love to enjoy this Lamb and Broccoli Stew on a cold Saturday, sitting outdoors at long wooden tables with fun people.

A Montana Fourth

Celebrating the Fourth of July, as it should be done, for our family,  revolves around a trip to Montana.  In Montana reside my parents, my sister and her family, and my brother David’s family.  Billings, Montana is also about equidistant between Colorado and Washington which is the spread of my siblings and me.

This brother, David, also happens to own an idyllic box canyon ranch, stocked with Icelandic horses and many other fantasy features of a true western lifestyle.  It is flat-out fun and we love going there, because we love both our family and Montana.

It felt like the extended family made a greater effort than ever to get there this year and one of the things we all said we enjoyed the most about our time together was how we took turns with the meals.  For our part, there was a dinner based on Thomas Keller’s Buttermilk-Fried Chicken that was quite popular, especially with my 23 year old nephew who is living on his own now and really appreciates a home-cooked and free meal.

I also made an Ina Garten plum-apricot crumble to contribute to the Fourth of July barbecue.  This dessert was not-too-sweet, with extra crumb topping, and the plums and apricots bubbled together to form a pleasing pink color.

The main attraction, however, was the breakfast burritos made by my niece, Camilla, and her husband of almost one year, James.  Camilla has struggled with food allergies for many years and has explored cooking with a far greater variety of grains than I ever have.  She owns her own grain mill and for these tortillas ground hard Montana spring wheat, kamut, and spelt.  Camilla and James made and froze the tortillas and the Chili Verde Con Cerdo ahead of time and then cooked the eggs and bacon on the morning of the fourth.  We were absolutely groaning from the deliciousness and it was so much fun to share an interest in food preparation with them.

Breakfast Burritos

Flour Tortillas

  • 4 cups flour (choose any kind of flour such as wheat, kamut, spelt, etc…)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups hot water
  1. Mix all ingredients until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
  2. Take a gallon-sized zip-lock bag and liberally add olive oil.  Place dough in the oiled bag and extract as much of the air as possible before sealing.  Roll dough around in the oiled bag to cover it well then let it sit in a warm place for 20 minutes.
  3. Form dough into golf ball sized portions and lay on a parchment covered baking sheet.  On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into tortillas.  Heat a dry nonstick skillet to medium heat and cook tortillas on both sides as they are rolled. Stack them on a plate as they come off of the pan and cover the stack with a dry dish towel.

Makes between 12-15 tortillas

Serve with any of the following: scrambled eggs, bacon, ham, cheese, onions, green chilies or potatoes.  Smother with Chili Verde Con Cerdo.  Top with additional grated cheese and sour cream.

Finally, what would a family reunion be without cute little boys playing with kittens and eating ice cream sandwiches?

Lamb Baked in a Clay Jar

Late May and June can hold some melancholy weeks for international teachers.  Our life overseas is very closely related to working/living at a summer camp.  We come in together with a particular group of teachers and maintain a social support net for one another as we learn the ropes of working at our new school and living in our new country.  Your cohort or class is a group of colleagues that remains significant to you no matter how many other friends you have on staff.  The first of our cohort is leaving in June and we had a Sunday afternoon garden dinner together with our group.

Even though my husband is the director of the school, we were as green as everyone else when we all flew in to start our new lives here.  Allan and I had actually been here a few days when the others arrived and we knew that they would be very challenged to even feed themselves for a few days so we started what I think will be a tradition for us which is having all of the new arrivees to our house to dinner the first night they’ve landed in the country.  They are usually booked to arrive over just a couple of days, but once they get dropped off at their new house and have a nap and a shower, it’s kind of nice to come over to a meal and a chance to start getting to know their new colleagues.  That first year, when we didn’t have our shipment yet, we had to host “bring your own plate” parties because we were each issued only replacement level numbers of plates in our houses.  Only one of the smart implementations Allan has made in the two years he has been director of this school is to issue new teachers a few extra plates.

Our friend, Karen, who is leaving, has invested herself in Tunisia, travelling all over the country.  In her honor, I selected a main dish that reflects the ingredients and techniques of deep Tunisia.  This is a recipe from the island of Djerba.  The story goes that this dish is cooked in an amphora-shaped, unglazed, terracotta pot called a gargoulette which can be stuffed with fish or meat, saffron, herbs, olive oil, and vegetables and then left in the embers that warm the water at a traditional bathhouse to cook slowly while the women bathe.  Following this session, the cook brings the pot home where her husband breaks off the top and she pours the contents into a serving bowl.  It’s almost a Tunisian TV dinner.

Cooking the food in a clay pot imparts a particular flavor and clayware being so cheap in Djerba, the pot is merely crushed and returned to the ground.  I used a method of sealing the pot with bread dough which was interesting, but frankly, I could have used super glue which would have been easier to remove.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2  pounds bone-in shoulder of lamb, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 12 chunks
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped, plus 2 tablespoons chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
  • 1 large sprig of rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Pinch of saffron threads
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 1 small green or red bell pepper
  • 4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Flour, water, and oil ribbon for sealing the clay pot
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

Procedure

1.  Rinse the meat; drain and mix with the small onion, garlic, rosemary, bay leaf, salt, pepper, and a good pinch of saffron.  Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 5 or 6 hours.

2.  Core the tomato, cut in half crosswise, and gently squeeze out the seeds.  Slice the tomato.  Core, seed, and thinly slice the bell pepper.  Peel and halve the potatoes.  Mix the vegetables with the olive oil and the marinated meat.  Pack into a 3-quart clay pot and mix well.  Cover with foil.  Seal with a ribbon of dough made with flour mixed with water and a drop of oil and set the lid on top.  Place in a cold oven, turn the temperature to 450 degrees F.  Bake for 1 1/2 hours.  Turn off the oven and leave to continue baking for 30 minutes.

3.  Pour the ingredients into a deep serving plate and correct the seasoning.  Sprinkle the lemon juice, chopped onion, and parsley on top and serve.

Recipe from The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen by Paula Wolfert

Crisp-Skinned Vietnamese Chicken with Peaches

I was at the beach all weekend, literally sitting in a chaise lounge talking to girlfriends.  It was so much fun, but I got no shopping or prepping done for the week.  Once we got back into Tunis, we stopped at a roadside stand for some produce.  They had these pretty, little, doughnut peaches and I bought them not entirely knowing what I was going to do with them.  I really appreciate the stone fruit season, here.  It is in spring and it allows me to enjoy some of the fruits I miss every August in Washington State when I have to leave to come back to Africa.

I had some chicken thighs and creme fraiche so I thought I would make a poulet a la peche I remember making a couple of decades ago when my husband and I were cash tight.  I had gleaned peaches after a harvest and he had home butchered some chickens he got from the absolutely free ads in the newspaper and we had a gourmet dinner one hot August evening at the little table in the kitchen of our first house.  That is a good memory.

Searching for a recipe, however, I found this light, crisp, spicy dish that sounded so much better.  Because these peaches slipped nicely out of their skins after I parboiled them, I decided to leave them whole, but the recipe directs slicing them into the salad.  I can’t remember the last time we fried chicken, but it was so worth it to create the crunchy contrast to the minty salad and the sweet peaches.  The recipe is from the Australian magazine Gourmet Traveler and it is making me think a little fondly of our days in Southeast Asia, which are good memories, too.

Serves 6

Ingredients

For Deep Frying

  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 chicken, cut into 12 pieces

Salad

  • 3-5 peaches, peeled, halved, stones removed, thinly sliced
  • 1 Lebanese cucumber, halved lengthways and thinly sliced on a mandolin
  • 1/2 cup (loosely packed) each coriander and mint
  • 1/2 cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped (I substituted toasted macadamia nuts)

Nuoc Cham

  • 1 tablespoon each fish sauce and lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon caster sugar
  • 1 long red chili, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Procedure

Heat oil in a deep saucepan or deep fryer to 180 degrees C.  Pat chicken to dry with paper towel then deep-fry in batches, turning occasionally until golden (10-12 minutes per side).  Drain on paper towel and season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Meanwhile, for nuoc cham, whisk fish sauce, lemon juice, sugar and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl to combine, then stir in chili and garlic.  Set aside.

Combine peaches, cucumber slices, and herbs on a serving plate.  Top with crisp-skinned chicken.  Drizzle with nuoc cham.  Scatter with nuts  and serve.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Something I have noticed about other expats, as well as myself, if that when we move overseas, we tend to identify ourselves more strongly to the culture or region we are from.  I am from two places in the US:  southern Colorado and the Pacific Northwest.  There are times when I flaunt my cowboy boots, drape myself with turquoise jewelry, and cook up a big vat of pinto beans with tamales on the side.  Other times, I am a Northwest coastal hunter/gatherer, living the San Juan Islands life of subsistence, consisting of dungeness crab, grass-fed lamb, and locally cultivated vegetables and berries.  I love putting on those identities.  They tie me to my childhood, my family, and my memories.

My friend Geoffrey and I were umming together over plates of Tanzanian chicken and rice at the recent International Day celebration at our school in Tunis.  He is Canadian-Jamaican and started telling me about the specialties his mom had taught him to cook.  They sounded mouth-watering so we made a cooking date so he could teach me to make his (mama’s) jerk chicken.

He is such a teacher.  When I arrived, at 3:00 PM, he had a finished dish braising in the oven and everything set up to take me through the entire process.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 5 yellow potatoes, peeled, cut into ½” slices
  • 13 chicken pieces, boneless, skinless, legs and thighs, preferably cut into 3 sections each (This may require one to buy a new, expensive, Japanese cleaver)
  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 ½ heads garlic, chopped
  • Garlic powder
  • ½ large onion, chopped
  • 2 medium tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 small hot peppers, cut in ½
  • 3 tablespoons black pepper, ground
  • 2 tablespoons Jamaican spice blend (www.iriespices.com)
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • ½ teaspoon  black pepper corns
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon seasoning salt or salt

Procedure

 Preheat oven to 350 degree F.

 Brown the potatoes on both sides, leaving them to drain on paper towels while preparing the chicken.

Rinse the chicken and pat dry.  Place chicken in a large mixing bowl.  Sprinkle with approximately ½ cup of white vinegar and toss chicken to coat.  Rinse chicken with water and return to clean mixing bowl.  Cover chicken with the juice of 1 lemon, again tossing to coat.  Rinse the chicken with water and allow to  drip-dry in a strainer.

Return chicken to a clean mixing bowl.   To the bowl of chicken add the garlic, garlic powder, onion, tomatoes, and peppers.  Toss to distribute.  Add all spices and seasonings and toss with hands to coat.

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Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Remove chicken pieces a few at a time and brown on both sides.  Layer chicken pieces into a 9” x 12” baking dish, topped with browned bits from the skillet.  Cover chicken with the entire marinade.  Rinse the marinade bowl with ½ cup hot water, swirl, and pour over contents of baking dish.

Cover baking dish tightly with aluminum foil, shaking a little to settle the ingredients.

Place dish into oven, immediately reducing heat to 300 degrees F.  Cook for at least 1 hour or until chicken is completely tender.

Serve over a loose-grained rice, like basmati.

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Mrs. Smith, you’ve got a good boy.