Bukharian Pilaf with Kidney Beans and Carrots

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Photo; Courtesy of Sari Kamin

Right before Passover, Sari Kamin of Honey + Shmaltz reached out to me for a lesson on Bukharian cookery. Sari is a vegan who originally started out her career as a struggling actress looking to make ends meat by waitressing. She was in restaurants so often that she fell in love with food. Subsequently entered the Food Studies program at NYU where she culminated her program with writing a thesis on foods across the globe. Sari found me and wanted to interview me on Central Asian cuisine to include into her thesis project.

With camera in one hand and a recording device in another, she took photos of me and the dish I prepared and recorded me on her website here. I spoke about my family history along the storied route of the Silk Road and my family travels all along the Spice Routes, and how it has influenced they way I cook. Her website is a recipe index of both celebrated and home cooks that she interviewed as an ongoing memoir of Jewish food.

Sari, then invited me to join her as a guest interview on her show, The Morning After (sounds like a pill, but not) which is part of Heritage Radio. You can hear the podcast here.

Back to this dish, and less PR. This Pilaf is the national dish of Bukhara, Afghanistan and Iran. With its variant spellings in all these countries, it also varies in ingredients as well. It can be made with chicken, beef or lamb. Mine is vegan and made with red kidney beans and in Bukharian fashion, with a big hunk of garlic head, and a dash of seasoning: salt and pepper. The caramelized onions and the slivered carrots form the undertone to the dish, while everything else just creates a perfect melange of flavors. Even the head of garlic, is not so garlicky, but rather like butter with a hint of garlic. The tastes do not seem forced, but just gentle on your tongue. Below you will find step by step photos on how to cut carrots for Pilau. While you can employ the food processor, the traditional way is by hand. This recipe is featured in my new cookbook, Silk Road Vegetarian. Hope you enjoy.

Bukharian Pilaf

Prep Time: 30 minutes plus 12 hours for soaking the beans and 1 hour for soaking the rice
Cook Time: 2 hours plus 1 hour 30 minutes for the beans

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 cup (200 g) dried red kidney beans
2 cups (450 g) basmati rice
3 cups (750 ml) boiling water
2½ teaspoons sea salt
½ cup (75 g) raisins
3 large onions, finely chopped
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
10 large carrots, cut into thin matchsticks
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
1 head garlic
2/3 cup (160 ml) oil
6 cardamom pods
3 cups (750 ml) water
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

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Peel carrots, and slice them on the bias

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Perfectly oblong sliced carrots

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You can place a few medallions on top of each other, and then cut into matchsticks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Directions:

  1. Wash the rice until the water runs clear. Drain and pour the rice into a large bowl with 1 teaspoon salt and pour boiling water over it. Mix well and let it soak for 1 hour. Drain and set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, plump the raisins in warm water.
  3. In a large saucepan set over medium-high heat, heat 4 tablespoons of the oil. Sauté the onion, stirring, for 7 minutes, or until softened. Then add the kidney beans, season with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pat down the mixture with the bottom of your spoon to form a fairly even layer.
  4. Make another layer with the carrots and season with remaining salt and cardamom. Make sure not to combine the carrots with the onions.
  5. Spoon the rice over the carrots, distributing it evenly all over the top.
  6. Bruise the cardamom pods: Place the pods on a flat surface, place the flat blade of a large chef’s knife on top of them and press down on it with the heel of your hand to crush them lightly until the outer husk cracks. Poke some holes into the rice and place the bruised cardamom pods into the holes. Pour 3 cups (750 ml) water and remaining oil over the rice in a circular motion.
  7. Drain the water from the raisins and season with cinnamon.
  8. With a spoon, form a pocket in the rice around the side of the saucepan, and place the raisins into the pocket. In the center of the saucepan, firmly push into the rice, the whole head of garlic.
  9. Place a paper towel large enough to cover the pan on the surface of the rice. The ends will extend outside the pot. Cover tightly with a lid. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 2 hours (f using brown rice) and 1 hour if using white rice, or until the rice is fully cooked. (The towel will absorb the steam, preventing the rice from getting too sticky.) Check the rice periodically to make sure that the rice did not dry up. If the water has dried up during the cooking process and the rice is still not done, add ½ cup (125 ml) water.
  10. When the rice is done, use a skimmer to gently transfer each layer onto a serving dish. First, remove the garlic and set to the side of the platter. Then transfer the rice, then the carrots, and finally the beans. Scatter the raisins over the top for a sweet accent.

Chickpea Curry

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Years before I was a vegetarian, I used to make this dish with chicken. My mother in law, Shirley introduced the Chicken Curry dish to me all the way from her homeland of South Africa. Durban, at the southern end of Africa, by the Indian Ocean has a large population of Indians that were brought over as slaves for cotton picking. As a result, there is a large influence of Indian cookery in South African cuisine. In typical South African manner, the chicken curry is served with embellishments –  topped with sliced bananas and shredded coconut. It is simply sublime. Subsequently, since I became a vegetarian several years ago, I transformed this dish using chickpeas. The chickpeas are simmered in a fragrantly spiced tomato mixture, and kicked up with the South African toppings, thereby creating a melange of sweet, spicy, and crunchy.

Serves 4-6

INGREDIENTS

3/4 cup dried chickpeas or 2 (15 ounce) cans of chickpeas
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 heaping teaspoon curry powder
2 tablespoons grated ginger
1 small chili (seeds removed)
1 onion, diced
½ teaspoon chili powder
4 cloves crushed garlic
2 tomatoes, diced
2 tablespoon mango chutney (or any of your choice)
Sliced Banana, for topping (optional)
Shredded Coconut, for topping (optional)

Directions

  1. Soak the dried chickpeas overnight in a large bowl with plenty of cold water. The following day, drain the water and rinse again. Place in a large saucepan, and cover the chickpeas with cold water, one inch above the chickpeas. Bring to boil and simmer, skimming off any foam, for about an hour, or until tender. Drain and rinse and skin the chickpeas, preferable but optional.
  2. Heat coconut oil in a medium sized skillet over a medium high flame, add mustard seed, turmeric, curry powder, ginger, chili and chili powder. Stir for 2 minutes.
  3. Then add onions and garlic, stirring to make sure onions don’t brown. Cook until the onions are translucent, about 7 minutes.
  4. Then add tomatoes, and cook until the tomatoes have liquified, about 10 minutes.
  5. Add the cooked chickpeas and let it simmer, covered for 30 minutes over low heat. Once cooked, add mango chutney. When ready to serve, top with sliced banana and shredded coconut with a side of basmati rice.

Inside Silk Road Vegetarian – my cookbook

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Drum roll please………. For those of you whom are anxious to see the inside of my book, it’s up on Amazon!!! I took most of the photos myself and am so proud of this book. This book of mine has been in the making for at least three years. I could have had 2 children by now. Instead, I birthed a book. You will get a big sneak peak into all the recipes I have been working on for the last three years. You can even start cooking now, as some of the recipes are available to see.

On the cover is a Moroccan Tomato Soup called Harira, which was photographed by Jennifer Jagusak. When I told my mother in law who lives in South Africa that I was writing a cookbook, she sent me this Moroccan recipe that she received from her Muslim neighbors. It’s typically eaten during Ramadan, because it is so hearty. It has everything I love in a soup – filling, sweet, tangy and spicy. A little like me, I think.

Please share this with anyone you know that would appreciate my ancient Central Asian heritage cuisine that I have geared to my vegetarian lifestyle and mindful way of living. I believe what you eat becomes part of the cellular building blocks of your ineffable essence. When food is grown, cultivated and prepared with mindfulness, you become aware of how we are all connected and connecting.

Pan Roasted Cinnamon Spiced Chickpeas

IMG_1777 There are few things tastier than golden, crusty, pan-fried chickpeas – and this is where I start. In a pan, I drop two dollops of coconut oil, which withstands high cooking temperatures and  nicely adds a subtle, sweet nuttiness that pairs beautifully with the pronounced cinnamon coated chickpeas. I can happily snack on this alone or have this as a side with some veggies, to turn this into a full fledged meal. I prefer to use fresh chickpeas, as it’s much more economical and it’s less mushy. I like the hardness. I suggest skinning the chickpeas, as it’s the skin that also makes it a harder legume and removing it makes for a smoother glide down the gullet.

Serves 4

Ingredients

1/2 cup dried chickpeas
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2
teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon agave

Sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Soak the dried chickpeas overnight in a large bowl with plenty of cold water. The following day, drain the water and rinse again. Place in a large saucepan, and cover the chickpeas with cold water, one inch above the chickpeas. Bring to boil and simmer, skimming off any foam, for about an hour, or until tender. Drain and rinse and skin the chickpeas, preferable but optional.
  2. Mix together the spice mixture with agave until it’s evenly coated.
  3. Heat coconut oil in a saucepan over medium high heat. Toss the cooked chickpeas into the heated pan, stirring and shaking until the chickpeas shrink a bit and let out a delicious fragrance, about 7 minutes.
  4. Serve with some chopped salad with a lemon dressing for a complete meal.

Swiss Chard Fritters

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If these fritters could be Persian, they would be called Kuku. Sounds like a funny name for a dish, but I am sure this dish existed before the English language was around. In any event, Kuku is a Persian Italian Frittata. Does that make sense? What I am trying to say, is that the western world knows this Frittata as an Italian dish, while the eastern world knows it as Kuku. So Kuku Sabzi, which means green Frittata is exactly that – made from leafy greens and herbs. This version is from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem and in it he combines Swiss Chard and feta cheese.

Straight out of a hot pan, Swiss chard fritters are crunchy on the outside, creamy in the middle and have the delicate flavor of Swiss chard, dill and parsley. Swiss chard fritters are a way to keep nutrient-rich greens in regular rotation in your diet without getting bored, and I sure need that right now because it’s snowing for the umphteenth time and I’m bored! You can treat these fritters like felafel and have some chummus on the side with it and a big leafy green salad. It just has that Mediterranean flair to it. Or just enjoy it as an appetizer.

Yields 14 fritters

 Ingredients

14 ounces (2 bunches) Swiss chard leaves, stems removed
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped dill
1 1/2 teaspoons grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
3 tablespoons rice flour
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 large eggs
3 ounces crumbled feta cheese (1/2 cup)
Sea Sat and freshly ground pepper, for taste
Olive oil
Lemon wedges, for serving (optional)

Directions:

1.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add chard and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from pot and drain well, patting leaves dry with a paper or kitchen towel.
2. Place chard in food processor with herbs, nutmeg, sugar, rice flour, garlic and eggs. Pulse until well blended. Fold in feta by hand. Add salt and pepper according to preference.
3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, spoon in 1 heaping tablespoon of mixture for each fritter (you should be able to fit three fritters per batch). Press down gently on fritter to flatten. Cook 1 to 2 minutes per side, until golden brown. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Add another tablespoon oil to pan and repeat. Serve warm, with lemon wedges (optional).

Shirin Polo – Persian Orange Peel Rice Video


I present Friday night mayhem at my parent’s house, in two parts. On Special occasions in my family, it’s customary to make  Shirin Polo – a sweet rice for a sweet life. It’s a basmati rice dish that is traditionally adorned with candied orange peels and toasted almonds.

In my mother’s usual fashion, she went all out with this rice dish, and look how beautifully she decorated the rice with strips of candied slivered orange peels, almonds, pistachios and currants.
Watching my mother prepare this rice dish, is like watching a contestant on Top Chef frantically scurrying to complete this dish before the clock goes off. Mom, calm down. You are not on a show, just this video, and all but five people watching (hope more, maybe six).

There is a special technique to making these dried orange peels. In the last ten years, dried orange peels are sold ready made by Sadaf. My mother is old school so makes them herself. First, you have to peel off the orange rinds, then further peel away at the pith, because it is bitter. Then you sliver the orange peels, real thin and leave them out on a baking sheet to dry. It can take a couple of weeks. I could remember as a child, growing up in my parents home, when ever my mother made Shirin Polo, weeks prior there were orange peels laid all over the entire dinette table, and for weeks it smelled like orange blossoms in the kitchen.

Once the orange peels are dried, then you have to soak them in water and boil it, and drain out the water, three times!! All this to remove the bitterness from the rinds. Once that’s done, you then add the sugar to the orange rinds and a splash of rose water in a sauce pot to to cook them into candied orange rinds. This particular recipe will be in my forthcoming cookbook, Silk Road Vegetarian. You can pre-order your copy now at an extraordinary price.

There is nothing comparable to Shirin Polo. Once you make this dish, it will become part of your family festivity meal. In fact, my Ashkenazi Cuban sister in law has converted into a full fledged Bukharian Baboushka!
She is the one that is holding the pot and arranging a platter of burnt rice, known to Bukharians as Tardegih made with eggs. Persians know it as Tadig and prepare it without eggs. That recipe will also feature in Silk Road Vegetarian, although everything in my cookbook is made with brown basmati rice, which has a nuttier consistency. So that’s my little teaser for what’s to come in my cookbook. The price will go up once it’s published in May.

Sephardi Sabbath Eggs

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Typical for a Sephardi Shabbat (the Sabbath) lunch is a type of Cholent or Hamin which is a traditional Jewish stew. This Jewish stew was developed over the centuries to conform with Jewish laws that prohibit cooking on the Sabbath. The pot is brought to boil on Friday before the Sabbath begins, and kept on a blech or hotplate, or placed in a slow oven or electric slow cooker until the following day.

There are many variations of the dish, and the one I grew up on is called Osh Sovo, which is a a rice based dish cooked with potatoes, carrots, beans and dried fruits. Reference to my Silk Road Vegetarian cookbook, to be released on May 20th which has the Osh Sovo recipe. In all variations of the Shabbat lunch, Central Asian Jews and Sephardi Jews adorned the Jewish stew with a side of whole eggs in the shell, which turn brown overnight. Some Sephardi communities cooked the eggs with the stew. My mother always made the eggs separate from the Osh Sovo with the addition of whole potatoes. The result is the egg whites become a rich brown color and the eggs develop a nutty, roasted taste. Here, I present my family recipe for Shabbat Eggs.

Serves 6

Ingredients

6 eggs with shells
3 medium sized potatoes, such as yukon
1 black tea bag in a sachet
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Directions

  1. Place the eggs, potatoes and tea bag in a medium size sauce pot. Fill with water, an inch above the potatoes.Add the oil and the salt.
  2. Bring to boil over medium high heat. Once boiling, move the sauce pot to a hot plate or a blech. It should cook through the night, up to 8 hours and no longer than 12 hours.
  3. Remove from water, peel the eggs and slice the potatoes. Serve in a bowl or platter. You may want to season with salt and pepper if that’s your preference, while I don’t.

Celery & White Bean Salad

Celery & White Bean Salad

I had a big event planned for this evening in my home – a Challah bake incorporating ingredients that are linked to the Jewish theme of the month. Interestingly, the Jewish month is Shevat, which is supposed to be a month that ushers in the Spring. Can you imagine?? Spring…. in New York in January?? Well, kind of and not exactly. The Jewish calender relates to Israel. So Spring in Israel, maybe, but even they just had a huge snow storm that shut down the city for days. So why do I tell you all of this…. because I had to cancel my event due to Snowstorm Hercules. We are about to be pounded with snow. Right now, it’s so beautiful outside – a dusting of white, clean and pure snow. It’s so so quiet outside. In this quietness, I like to make a little something, while gazing out my window in a sort of dreamy state, chopping up some celery. Hopefully, not my finger.

The easiest salad to assemble with the dear ol’ celery, that is so often overlooked and mostly used as a backbone in a dish. I have a can of white kidney beans, although you can use cannellini beans (almost the same) in the sense that they are both buttery and soft. Heat it up and toss with the the chopped celery. Add a squeeze of lemon and slivered almonds, because I just love almonds with just about anything, especially in a salad that’s gluten free. Although I added raisins, you can add any currants you like, if you are looking for sweetness, or completely forgo it. I like this salad both ways. I can assure you that every thing in this recipe most people (that like to eat) would have as staples in their pantry. Adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa: How Easy is that?

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

8 large celery stalks, stripped of strings
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for topping
1 1/2 cups cooked cannellini beans, heated
3 tablespoons raisins
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
Sea salt, to taste

  1. Slice the celery stalks quite thinly.
  2. Then, in a small bowl, make a paste with the olive oil, lemon juice, and Parmesan. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl toss the heated beans with the olive-Parmesan mixture. When well combined, add the celery, raisins, and most of the almonds. Toss once more. Taste and add a bit of salt if needed.
  4. Serve in a bowl or platter and top with some more Parmesan.

 

Leek Soup with Dill Oil

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Growing up in Forest Hills, NY, there used to be a quaint french restaurant on the main street, called La Fondue. I think every week for months, on the weekends when I was 13 years old, I would enjoy my favorite soup – Onion Soup soaked in french bread and topped with overflowing melted burnt cheese. I stopped cold turkey and then restarted this onion soup obsession of mine when I was pregnant. Relax…. it was years later! I was craving onion soup like a mad woman on the edge. I can’t tell you why, but it settled the nausea. Probably something subconscious – like regression, fetal position, womb, soup…. get it ?  what ever, sounds psychological.

In any event, as you know (or not) I have been a member of a CSA for years now, so am always on the lookout for interesting recipes that speak to me. This soup does just that. It’s a Mediterranean version of my long lost love onion soup, only this version is made with leeks and is much healthier. Leeks originally came from the Mesopotamian region and yet somehow became the national symbol in Ireland. In Ireland, leek & potato soup is a staple in their diet. The leek soup presented here is also made from a leek and potato base, but then spruced up with some forest green dill oil, Parmesan cheese and toasted almond flakes for crunch.

I made the dill oil by pureeing fresh dill and olive oil, then used a portion of it in the soup base, and the remaining as a drizzle across the tops of the soup. Soup aside, the oil is also great drizzled on just about any kind of egg, or crackers with cheese and even as a base for a salad dressing.  Be sure to slice the leeks lengthwise and clean in between the leaves to make sure there is no dirt hiding. I regularly find pockets of mud layers in. It’s sneaky like that, and you really don’t want it in your soup. I can’t tell you how many times I thought I cleaned the leeks properly only to find myself chewing on grit later on. It’s especially embarrassing when I have guests over, and they are wandering if the grit is part of the meal. Thanks to 101 Cookbooks for sharing this recipe.

 Yields 8-10 servings

Ingredients

1 small bunch of fresh dill
9 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3.5 pounds ( 1.5 kg) leeks, thinly sliced
6 tablespoons unsalted vegan butter
Sea salt
2 large, thin-skinned potatoes, thinly sliced
3 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
6 1/2 cups (1.5+ liters) vegetable broth
toasted almond slices, for topping

grated Parmesan cheese, for topping

Directions

  1. Use a food processor to puree the dill and olive oil into a creamy emulsion. Set aside.
  2. Cut the dark, tough green leaves from the leeks, trim off the roots, and rinse well. You can slice the leeks lengthwise to get in between the layers.
  3. In a large soup pot, heat the butter and 5 tablespoons of the dill oil over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted and is bubbling, stir in the leeks and a couple big pinches of salt. Stir well, then cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks soften up, 6 – 8 minutes. Now, stir in the potatoes and garlic and cook, uncovered, stirring regularly, for another 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are very, very soft. If the leeks at the bottom of the pot are starting to burn, lower the heat and scrape the bottom of the pan when you’re stirring. Stir in the hot broth, and use a hand blender to emulsify. Bring back to a simmer, serve topped with almonds, grated cheese, and a generous drizzle of the remaining dill oil.

Silk Road Vegetarian Website is Now Live!

Hello Fellow Silk Road Vegetarian Foodies. If you are here, that means you found me! At long last we have reunited and now are at my new home. I hope you will invite your friends to come along. You’ll notice at the bottom right hand side of the page, there is an HTML code that you can post on your website or blog with my logo.
Speaking of my logo… Aileen Barker who designed this site for me, and I created this logo for Silk Road. How do you like? I chose this particular look because the mosaic styling was very prevelent in Central Asia, particularly Bukhara (Uzbekistan). It was probably one of the most beautiful cities in Central Asia. In fact, Genghis Khan was so enamored with Bukhara that he captured it and made it his home, and converted to Islam. I know there is nothing glamorous about a warrior falling in love with a city, but at least he had good taste. In an event, this is the photo that inspired the design of my blog.

 

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My cousin Amy Cordell from London went to Bukhara last year and took this stunning photo.

Scroll down a little bit more and you’ll notice on the right hand side, you can subscribe to my blog posts and never miss me. If you really miss me, you can use the Contact form (up there to the right) to say hello.

In case you are wandering why I changed from Veggies, Spice and Everything Rice to Silk Road Vegetarian is because I got a book deal and the name of my cookbook is…. yup, you guessed, Silk Road Vegetarian. From now on everything has to be streamlined to endorse my book.  In case you’re curious, the tab up there to the right that says AUTHOR, is the link to my Amazon page and my soon to be released book. Take a peek.

So poke around the site, let me know your comments and feedback, something you’d like to see or just to say hello. I will be back again soon with a recipe to stir your appetite.