This summer has been quite eventful. The plan was to spend three weeks in London, but known for his spontaneity, the hubby decided to whisk us away to Dubai. The UAE certainly knows how to pamper it’s visitors and the city does not fall short of any amount of indulgence. One can get carried away by the execution of mammoth concepts in Dubai which often leave you in wide-eyed wonder. You name it; skiing in this furnace land, seductive fountain dances reaching heights to make a skyscraper blush, Aquariums showcased with couturier flair – and that’s only the beginning of it all. The city aims to impress and even those who resist its charms (often holding the simple view of it being a man-made paradise) eventually cave in to its beckoning ways. At first blush, all seems glammed up here, but delve deeper and you will see that this Emirate is the love child of futurism and the Nomadic Middle East. To get a feel of the old world Dubai, head to the Creek and catch the Ubra, a squeaky wooden boat headed for the gold and spice souks. I imagined that this would be a ‘made for tourists’ market where we are fooled in to thinking that this is indicative of local living. I was so wrong. This was the real deal where hardcore spice merchants conduct wholesale and retail activity. Sacks after sacks of dried confetti like flower petals to be used in teas, deserts and rice; bags of dried lemons, berries, turmeric, ginger and garlic with aromas unrecognizable to me and chartreuse complexioned pistachios later to be crumbled over a desert or crusted on some meat. It would be a crime to go there and not sample and purchase with a sense of abundance. Now, back in New York, thanks to my visit to the Spice Souk, my pantry is filled with all kinds of spices and nuts. One of the dishes I thoroughly enjoyed on my trip was a pilaf with pine nuts and vermicelli and was served as a side to most entrees. This dish is judged more than anything else on the plate. It must be moist but not mushy – just single grains of rice that fluff up as you run a fork through the pot. The pilaf is buttery, toasty and aromatic and can quite easily be eaten as a standalone dish. Ingredients 2 tbsp. butter 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced ½ tsp. cumin powder 2 cups basmati rice ¼ cup pine nuts ½ cup broken vermicelli ¼ cup raisins 2 tbps. Flat leaf parsley Method 1) Wash and soak the rice in water for 20 minutes 2) Warm half the butter in a pan until it turns light brown. Cook the onions on medium heat until they turn caramelized and browned. Add the vermicelli noodles to the pan and toast until they turn golden 3) Strain the rice and add to the noodles, coating in the butter noodle mixture 4) Add the water and salt, bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer and cook until all the water has been absorbed . Fluff with a fork 5) Saute the nuts in a separate pan with the remaining butter until it is toasted combine with the pilaf
Over the summer, Passport Pantry’s Unsworn went through the kitchen doors of Le Souk. There was a lot of buzz around this North African gem filled with amber lanterns and tiny mosaics when it first opened in 2001. A few years later, the restaurant went through a period of discretion as it quietly reinvented itself. The result of this recreation: An exotic menu with a sexy vibe and a sense of humor. How did bachelor and executive chef ‘Marcus Jacob’ pull this off? As I entered, I was warmly greeted by his business partner and wife, Lamia Jacob. There was my answer. Full of life, charm and wit, Lamia is the perfect ambassador of the Moroccan mystique. Marcus and Lamia create the restaurant menu and when they have a conflict, she reminds him that she is always ‘right’. Despite the growth of their business, Marcus is a ‘hands-on’ chef and is as passionate today as he was when he started the business. The restaurant is fun and yet it’s genesis came about from a more serious observation post September 11th. After the attacks in NYC, Marcus became cognizant of a curiosity growing amongst New Yorkers regarding the Muslim culture. Through the medium of food, he wanted to demystify this seemingly obscure culture and he became very popular, very quickly. Today he serves up creative Moroccan fares, such as, Moroccan paella and a tagine of duck with kumquat jam and toasted cumin seeds. As we went in to the kitchen, he revealed the recipe he was about to make ‘spiced lamb burgers’. With a vivid taste of the southern Mediterranean, the burger has a hazy flavor of cumin and nutmeg that is brightened up with a generous pinch of parsley. Ingredients 1lb ground lamb 1 medium onion, finely diced 1 medium sized tomato, finely diced Flat leaf parsley, finely chopped Salt, ½ tsp Pepper, ½ tsp Cumin, ½ tsp Nutmeg, pinch 2 burger buns Method 1) Combine all the ingredients and make 2 patties from the mixture (1/2 lb each) 2) Cook on the grill or a hot sauté pan brushed with oil for approximately 6 minutes on each side until medium 3) Throw the buns on to the same pan to absorb some of those valuable juices and other lamb remnants Pearls of Wisdom Cut all burger ingredients as finely as possible but refrain from using the food processor as excessive moisture leaches from the ingredients. Marcus’ Secret Marcus strongly recommends cooking the lamb to at least medium. This allows the various burger mixture components to cook through, such as the tomatoes and onions.
Today I saw a lady eating a purple yam on the train. My initial reaction was to find this odd and a little disgusting. Surely there must have been a more preferable locale to consume such a snack. She immediately became the social outcast on the train. Of course, she would have seemed less odd had she opened a bar of Twix or a Twinkie or any other lab food! Then I realized that she was clearly more nutritionally conscious than the rest of us. She was eating the ultimate whole food – a cooked yam, with the skin. It made me think that with just a little effort and great service to our health, we could prepare tasty nutritional snacks. We would just have to reeducate ourselves and accept that they will have a shorter shelf life…after all, it is pretty tough to compete with ‘expiration 2020’. This led me to my quest for satisfying snacks on the run and ultimately to today’s entry of Falafel Poppers. Tiny bites of ground chickpea crunch followed by a fluffy interior, the falafel is both scrumptious and nutritious. You can throw it in your bag on the way to the office or serve it in a pita pocket with salad and Tahini sauce for dinner and if there are any left overs, be sure to freeze them. Ingredients 2 cups of dried chickpeas (soaked in water for 6 hours) 4 cloves minced garlic ½ onion (minced) 1T chopped cilantro 1T chopped parsley 1T lemon juice 2 t bicarbonate soda 4oz bread crumbs Salt 1-2 tbsn of plain youghurt ½ t chili powder 1t ground cumin seeds 2t ground coriander seeds Frying oil Method 1) Put the chickpeas in a food processor and pulse a few times until coarsely ground, transfer to mixing bowl and combine with the onions, garlic, cilantro, parsley salt and spices 2) Add the yoghurt, lemon juice and baking soda and set aside for 1 hour 3) Rub a little oil on your hands and make 1” balls and deep fry until golden brown Serving Suggestions As a snack, falafels can be eaten on their own or alternatively stuff them with some salad and yoghurt garlic sauce in a pita and make a meal of it. Pearls of Wisdom Don’t make the falafel size too large or it will remain uncooked in the center. When you remove the balls from the oil, allow to rest a few minutes before eating to allow the center to completely cook through. For those of you who would prefer to skip frying the falafel, lightly brown them in a saute pan and finish in the oven at 350 for approximately 20 minutes.
A few years back, I worked with this a gorgeous, charming and extremely talented lady called ‘Kamar’. A mentor, big sister and partner in crime, there was never a dull moment when we were together. We egged each other on in all kinds of extravagances from fashion to food, regretted and then did it all over again. In practicing her faith, Kamar used to observe Ramadan, a holy month in the Islamic faith where participants fast (abstinence from food and drink for a period of time) from dawn to dusk. This was without doubt, my favorite time of year. Kamar’s mother, Mama Sadia, would send all kinds of Moroccan treats with which Kamar would open her fast. Of course, being Moroccan, their hospitality extended way beyond their home and Mama Sadia would not just send food for Kamar but also for me and our third musketeer ‘Wagner’. There was couscous with lamb and fall vegetables, sticky and sweet curly pastries, sweet samosas stuffed with ground nuts and sesame seeds and my favorite ‘Harira’. Typically, many Moroccan Muslims will break their fast with this light yet gratifying soup. It is zesty in taste and filled with all kind of goodies, such as, garbanzo beans, green lentils, parsley, cilantro and a few strands of broken spaghetti. Make this once and it will definitely make it to your monthly repeat dish list. This soup is like a curry, only lighter. Even though it is not traditionally eaten with rice, I feel rice is a great accompaniment to this dish. This is my first Moroccan entry but keep a look out for more in the near future; this country is home to many culinary treasures. And of course, thank you Kamar and Mama Sadia for opening up my world and giving me access to some of the best food and hospitality I have ever experienced. Ingredients ¼ cup of olive oil 4 cloves garlic 1 finely chopped onion 3 grated carrots (chopped in blender) 2 celery sticks(chopped in blender) 1 can of blended tomatoes 2 fresh tomatoes Salt to taste 8 cups of chicken broth ¼ cup of green lentils 1 bunch of flat leaf parsley ¾ bunch of cilantro 1 tsp pepper 1 ½ teaspoon dried ground ginger powder ¼ cup of broken spaghetti 5-6 saffron strands 1 can of drained and washed chickpeas 1 lemon Method 1. Wash and soak the green lentils in a bowl 2. Saute the garlic and after 2 minutes, add the onions. 3. Add the cumin and pepper to toast them in the oil 4. As the onions become translucent and soft, add the carrots and celery 5. Saute for approx 6 minutes, allowing the vegetables to soften, the ginger powder, saffron strands and salt to taste 6. Add the fresh chopped tomatoes and the canned tomatoes and cook until oil separates 7. Pour in the chicken stock and add the drained green lentils cover, and reduce to medium heat 8. After 15 minutes, add the spaghetti, parsley and cilantro and cook on medium for another 10 minutes 9. Add the garbanzo beans/ chickpeas and juice from 1 lemon and cook for a couple of more minutes 10. Check to make sure that your lentils are soft. Your soup is now ready. Serving Suggestions This soup can be eaten on it’s own though I personally love to eat it with a bowl of steamed white rice Pearls of Wisdom Before adding the ginger powder to the soup, mix it with a little water first to make a paste so that there aren’t lumps of it in the soup