Saturday, September 13, 2008

Making Ma'amoul

So I am experimenting with different ma'amoul recipes, tried to do my own, but still not happy with the results. Honestlly, I really don't know what ma'amoul cookie is supposed to be like. The only exposure I had was to the store bought kind, which is much like the newton cookie. I really doubt authentic ma'amoul is that cakey. If you have a great recipe for ma'moul please pass it along.

But the real purpose of this post is to show you a cool Yemeni tool which is traditionally used to make ca'ak (a crumbly bread made with corn flour). But since it makes exceptional designs, it works for ma'amoul too! I had so many of different designs and sizes, though I don't know what happened to them. Anywho I wonder which tool is better, the Yemeni tool or the Shami tool? I seen the Shami one and it was with splinters and I can't figure out how one can remove the cookie. But the Yemeni tool has a 'button' on top which you puch to eject the cookie. Sigh, I should have bought a box full of these gems when I was in Yemen, maybe I would have sold them for a big profit. Hmm...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sherba harish beydha (creamy bulghur pudding)

This is a common Yemeni dish served with every iftar. It is reminiscent of rice pudding in that a grain is cooked with milk and sugar until it becomes thick and creamy. It differs in that sherba is served warm with melted semn (dark clarified butter) and honey.

1 cup bulghur, rinsed and drained
3 1/2 cups water
1 tsp salt
3 cups milk
3 tablespoon sugar (4-5 tablespoon if not using honey)
honey (optional)

Combine water, bulghur, and salt in saucepan, bring to boil, and cook over high for 20 - 30 minutes until tender and most of the water has evaporated. Add milk and sugar. Simmer for 35 minutes or until thickened and bulghur is soft. If not soft, cover, reduce heat to low and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Place in serving bowls, put a small dallop of semn and honey and enjoy.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Shafuta (A savory buttermilk Ramadan dish)

This is a very simple and light dish that is served at every Yemeni iftar. It is not decadent, elaborate or fancy but I break my Ramadan fast with this dish every day of Ramadan. I don't think I could ever go without this dish in Ramadan.

I love it spicy but my stomach does not sit too well with it, the recipe gives both a measurement for mild and a measurement for spicy. Also the picture does not show it well, but the buttermilk is green from the mint.

1 large jalapeno pepper, seeded* and cut into pieces
1 1/2 cup mint leaves, rinsed
1/2 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp salt
1 quart buttermilk
Malooga**, torn into bite-sized pieces

Place jalapeno, mint, cumin, salt, and 1/2 cup of the buttermilk in blender or food processor and grind until smooth. Add mixture back into buttermilk and stir until well mixed. Adjust salt if necessary.

10-15 minutes before serving, place torn pieces of bread in serving bowls and cover with the flavored buttermilk.

*Some of the seeds can be add to make a spicy version
**Malooga can be substituted with any yeast flatbread (not pita nor lavash). French bread can be used but requires less soak time.

Malooga- Yemeni flat bread

This is a very common yeasted flatbread in Yemen that is eaten with eggs, buttermilk, fasoolia and it is used in the Yemeni Ramadan dish called shafuta. In Yemen, it is baked in a taboon but we don't have it here in the U.S. so we had to use a metal pan. We use a makhbaza from Yemen to apply the malooga to the hot pan. The makhbaza is a round, domed tool that you place the malooga on. You pick it up from the bottom which has a handle, and with one swift motion, you smack the malooga on the hot pan or the taboon. Since the majority of you will probably never be able to get a makhbaza, the only way left that works is to bake it like pizza crust.

2 cups warm water
2 1/2 tsp yeast
5- 6 cups flour
2 tsp salt
1/3 cup semn, warmed
2 Tbsp Vegetable oil.

Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. Add the rest of the water, 4 cups of flour and salt. Mix with hand, adding more flour to form a stiff dough. Knead for at least 10 minutes or until dough is smooth, not sticky, and pliable.

Cover dough, and place in a draft-free place. Set aside for 1 hour or until risen.

On a surface sprinkled with flour, cut dough into mounds of the size of what you do for a large pizza. Let sit for 5 min. Preheat oven at 550 F. Mix the warmed semn with oil in a small bowl. Prepare a large surface by sprinkling flour. Place one of the mounds on the surface and pat down and stretch into a rectangle, 1/2 an inch thick (about 20 x 15). You can use a rolling pin but you need to use extra flour to prevent sticking.

Brush entire surface with the semn-oil mix, or use your hand. Fold dough in half towards you. Brush the top surface with semn-oil mix and fold it in half towards you again. Brush with semn-oil mix and fold in half sideways. Brush again. Fold sideways and brush with mix again. Finally brush surface and pinch corners together to form a ball. Place ball on the floured pan and, move on to the next one. By the time you have finished layering the last one, the first layered dough would be ready for baking because it had time to rest. Pat down the dough mound into a large round the size of a thick large pizza and place into a greased baking sheet. Brush and eggwash (1 egg + 2 tablespoons milk) or buttermilk on top. Bake in hot oven until bottom is brown and top has brown spots (it won't fully brown).

Semn - Dark clarified Butter

Glass container contains room temperature semn, bowl contains heated semn

Semn is a staple in Yemeni baking and it is also used to flavor sweet dishes. It is like ghee but it is cooked even beyond that point until it reaches a rich flavor and dark brown color. This is the only form of butter that is used in Yemeni cuisine. I believe I am the first to post a photo of and provide preparation instructions. I can't believe semn isn't common to any other cuisine.

Directions: Use a deep pot because the butter will foam and expand. The number of sticks to use depends on how much you need. A good size to start with is 4 sticks. Melt butter over medium heat. Remember never leave the butter unattended. Once it is melted, it will heat to a high temperature and then eventually expand. When it is starts expanding, turn down the heat to low and stir with a wooden spoon until it shrinks back to normal size. Eventually it will stop expanding and just bubble. At this point you no longer need to stir. Watch carefully for browning. Because it is foamy, you won't be able to tell its true color until after it has cooled. So it is crucial that you watch out for the tiny specks and the color of the foam. You want the specks to be a dark brown, not a coffee brown which means it has burned. The foam should be a golden brown. Once it reached the right color remove from heat. Let cool until just warm. Pour warm semn into a glass container, avoid pouring in the solid material that had settled to the bottom of the pan. Cover with lid. Semn will solidify once cooled. Store semn at room temperature. When you need semn, scoop some into a bowl and heat in the microwave or in a pan on the stovetop until melted.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Cold grape leave dolmas (vegetarian)

This is a delicious appetizer that we like to serve next to Ramadan iftar, it is not a Yemeni tradition, it is just our family tradition that we just started.

I never really found a dolma recipe that I liked. After much trial and error, I decided to make my own recipe knowing what works and what doesn't work about the recipes that I have tried before. For example, a lot of recipes don't ask for garlic or something sour for the filling. So my recipe has the garlic and the tomato paste to give those necessary flavors. Also the rolling and cooking process has always never worked for me until now. One recipe asked for only 1 cup water and an another recipe asked for too much water, so you can imagine one came out barely cooked and dried and the other came out barely cooked and watery. Another important thing is to put a heaping tablespoon of the filling in each leaf. My friend gave me bad advice, telling me that since rice expands there is need for only 1 teaspoon of filling. That didn't work out as I ended up with half-empty rolls. But hopefully this is the only recipe that you will need whenever you have a hankering for dolmas.

3 3/4 cups long-grain rice (like Uncle Ben's)
1 1/2 cup fresh mint, rinsed and chopped
1 1/2 cup fresh parsley, rinsed and chopped
1 large onion, minced
3 medium tomatoes, finely diced
5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
5 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 Tbsp dried spearmint
3 Tbsp olive oil

Wash rice and soak for 30 minutes. Meanwhile mix the rest of the filling ingredients.
Set a pot half-filled with water to boil. Sort out the unusable leaves, blanch them in the boiling water, and then place on bottom of the pot you plan to cook the dolmas in. Then place the rest of the leaves in the boiling water, and boil for 30 seconds, carefully separating them with tongs so water can enter between them. Drain leaves well.

After the rice finished soaking, drain very well and add to the filling mixture. Mix well.

Rolling dolmas:

Cut off the the stem of the leaf. Place glossy side down on a plate. Place a tablespoon of the filling on the bottom half. Don't be afraid to put a lot, we want it packed. Than fold the sides diagonally towards the center over the filling, repeat this again and then sides horizontally, then proceed to tightly roll the lump with the filling upwards. Place in pan and proceed to the next leaf.
Step-by-step photo instructions are available at Greek Recipes with May Lerios: Dolmadakia or Dolmades

When finished with the grape leaves, mix

1/4 cup of olive oil
juice of 2 lemons
1 tsp salt
1 cup water

and pour of dolmas. Then pour enough water to barely reach the top of the dolmas. Place a heavy plate that is smaller than the pan so that it fits directly on top of the dolmas, then place a heavy weight. I used my heavy brass mortar. Bring to boil on medium heat and then lower heat to low. Cook for 1 hour or when more than half of the water is gone. Check if cooked, leaf should break apart easily. If not add about 1/2 cup water that is flavored with salt and lemon juice. Cook for up to 2 1/2 hours, replenishing juice when needed, 1/2 cup at a time. Let dolmas sit in juice and cool. Store in tupperware and refrigerate. Dolmas are best the next day.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Stuffed potato appetizer

This is another appetizer we serve next to iftar usually in place of Ramadan. It is a common recipe, though this one is different because the potato mix is seasoned.

Beef filling (recipe below)
7 potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp curry
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp pepper
2 eggs, stirred
1 egg white, stirred until frothy
bread crumbs

Boil potatoes until cooked and soft. Drain water and mash until smooth. Add spices and salt, mix. Add the 2 eggs and mix well. Place a thick layer of breadcrumbs on a plate, and place the egg white in a wide bowl. Take some of the potato mix, form into a round in your hand. Place a tsp of the beef filling on center of the round, and then close off the ball, using more potato if needed. If necessary use flour on your hands to avoid stickiness when forming the balls. When finished, roll the balls in the egg white and then in the breadcrumbs. Deep fry in hot oil until all sides are brown.

Beef filling:
2 tsp oil
1/2 onion, finely diced
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 cup parsley minced
1/4 tsp curry
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 salt

Heat oil and saute onions until light brown. Add beef, break down and cook until no longer pink. Drain fat. Add parsley, spices and salt and mix, cook for 1 minute. Cool.