Sumac and Spice Makes Everything Nice

I guess I am on a spice kick right now, but then spices are the key ingredient in Middle Eastern food. I bought some sumac a while ago and have been meaning to make something with it and today is the day.

Sumac has a sour and vaguely lemony taste and grows wild in the Mediterranean and in much of the Middle East. It is a popular condiment in Turkey and Iran, where it’s liberally sprinkled on kebabs and rice, or mixed with onions as an appetizer or salad. The Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians and Egyptians add water and other spices to sumac to form a paste, and add it to meat, chicken and vegetable dishes. I only recently learned that sumac is related to poison ivy.

I decided to make a popular Palestinian dish, called Musakhan (which means ‘something that is heated’), that is typically made in a taboun oven, but I will have to make due with my regular oven. My dream is to have an outdoor wood-fired oven someday so I can do some real slow cooking and baking.

As with all Middle Eastern dishes, there are numerous variations of this dish. Some are only with sumac, others with sumac and a combination of several different spices. I have chosen to make the dish with sumac, allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon.

Because the dish is cooked on top of flat bread, it is typically eaten with your hands, using the bread as a base to pick up the moist chicken and sauteed onions.

I got the flat bread above, called Saluf, at a Yemenite bakery around the corner from my house. They sell this flat bread that they made right in front of my eyes and they also sell Yemenite Shabbat bread called Kubaneh. It was very tempting to tear off some of the hot bread, but I behaved myself.

The dish was delicious. My husband I thought that I could have added a couple more tablespoons of sumac and next time I will cover the dish with foil before I put it in the oven. The bread was a little too crunchy on the top.

We did taste all of the spices and they gave off such a wonderful perfume in the house. I forgot about the pine nuts. Oh well.

This dish was even better the next day and the bread on the bottom was very soft and was infused with all of the juices and flavour from the chicken and spices. I am definitely making this again.

Musakhan

Yield: 4

Musakhan

Adapted from recipes by Clifford A. Wright and Paula Wolfert

1 (1 1/2kg or 3lb) frying chicken, quartered

2 tablespoons ground sumac

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Sea salt (optional for kosher chicken)

Juice of 1 lemon

1kg (2lbs) red onions, peeled and thinly sliced

Olive oil

2 large Saluf (Yemenite flat bread), Lafa (Iraqi flat bread), khubz 'arabi (Arabic flat bread) or 1/4 kg (1/2 lb) of pita, split in half

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

2 heads of garlic, roasted

Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Trim off excess fat.

Sumac Rub on Chicken

Combine the sumac, spices, salt and pepper. Set aside 2 teaspoons and mix the rest with the lemon juice. Rub into the chicken and marinate up to 1 day.

Place the onions in a large skillet, toss with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, reserved spices, and a pinch of salt. Cover and cook gently 30 minutes. Set aside in a bowl. (Up to this point, the dish can be prepared 1 day in advance.)

Bring the chicken to room temperature and preheat the oven to 180C (350F). In the same skillet as used for the onions, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil, then lightly brown the chicken on all sides over a medium heat. Remove and set aside.

Layering Onions and Chicken

Cover a baking dish with two overlapping halves of the flat bread or several pita halves. Spoon half the onions over each, then arrange the chicken on top of the onions and cover with the remaining onions and the juices from the skillet.

Musakhan Oven Ready

Cover with the two remaining half leaves of flat bread or pita, tucking in the sides, crusty side up, and spray with water. Bake until the chicken is very tender and almost falling off the bone, approximately 1-1/ 2 hours. Check the chicken occasionally and cover the baking dish with aluminum foil before the top cover of the flat bread begins to burn.

Serve at once with a sprinkling of the pine nuts and roasted garlic.

http://www.baronesstapuzina.com/2007/09/01/sumac-and-spice-makes-everything-nice/

"Often Imitated, but Never Duplicated"

This was my Uncle Alfred’s slogan for his restaurant, The Annistonian. My 96-year-old beloved great-uncle died two weeks ago, two days after his birthday. Uncle Alfred was born in Berlin, Germany to a family of butchers. Instead of becoming a professional boxer (he was a junior champion semi-professional boxer in Berlin), he decided to follow in the family footsteps and became a Metzgermeister (master butcher) in 1928.

In June of 1938, Uncle Alfred volunteered to report to the local police station, where he and other men were taken to Sachsenhausen. His family was worried when he did not come back that evening after reporting to the police station and his mother went to the police station to find out what happened to him. She saw a school friend of Alfred’s, who worked at the police station and he promised to find out where he had been taken. Six weeks later, and thanks to his school friend, he was released from Sachsenhausen. When he returned home, his mother told him to leave the country right away. He listened to her and a few days later, through the help of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society of Europe (HICEM), he went to Belgium, stayed two weeks, and then made his way to Paris. He eventually went to Marseilles, and started looking for a country that would give him citizenship. He found out that Colombia was accepting immigrants and he obtained passage to Colombia in the fall of 1938.

He worked in gold mines in Colombia for one year and became very sick and almost died. He decided dying of malaria was not going to be his fate and he moved to Bogota, where he worked in various restaurants and then eventually opened a restaurant and butcher shop. After the war was over, he found out that his parents, two brothers and one sister died in Auschwitz. One sister came to Bogota and raised a family and another sister immigrated to the US.

He went to New York in 1951, met my great-aunt Helen at Grossinger’s and in 1953 came to my hometown where he opened a fine-dining restaurant called the Annistonian in 1958. From 1958 – 1976, people came from near and far for his hand-cut steaks, seafood, fish and his pièce de résistance… Wiener Schnitzel.

I wish I had taken the time to learn more about cooking from him. I really regret this now. One of his most amazing feats in the kitchen was that he could carve a turkey and put it back together and you wouldn’t realize it had been carved until you got up close to it. He also made very good strudel and Black Forest cherry cake. When I tried making both of these desserts, he gave me his good housekeeping seal of approval. I was honored.

When I decided to move to Israel, Uncle Alfred called me “his hero”, but he was my hero. He survived the Nazis, moved to a strange country where he had to learn how to work in the gold mines for survival, survived the loss of most of his family, triumphed in Bogota and made a family and a career in the US. To honor his memory, I made a meal.

Uncle Alfred, I will always treasure your great humor, your amazing charm, your delicious food and your great dancing.

The menu was as follows:

Appetizer

Tapenade

Main Course

Wiener Schnitzel

Bratkartoffeln (Home fries)

Spinach

Wine: Wuerttemberg Edition Gourmet Kerner 2004

Dessert

Fig Galette

We began the evening with my husband’s tapenade. He adds just the right amount of garlic to give it that kick. In addition to the usual ingredients he added a little fresh rosemary and oregano. It was delicious.

I have a confession to make, and please do not send me any cards or letters in protest, but my husband hand-cut and pounded a whole turkey breast instead of veal. The veal was 15EUR/20USD per kilo and is just over our budget right now. If you do happen to make this with turkey, do not marinate it in lemon juice.

Wiener Schnitzel

Serving Size: 4 to 6

2 pounds boneless leg of veal or turkey breast, cut into 1/4 inch slices, pounded thin

1 cup lemon juice (omit when using turkey)

1 teaspoon salt (leave out if you are using kosher meat)

1/4 freshly ground pepper

3 eggs

3 tablespoons water

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 cup dry bread crumbs

1 1/2 cups canola or light olive oil

Lemon slices

Arrange veal in single layer in large baking dish. Pour lemon juice over the veal and let stand one hour, turning the veal twice. Drain the veal and pat dry, then sprinkle it with salt (don't use salt if you are using kosher meat) and pepper.

Beat eggs and water in a pie plate. Coat veal with flour, dip in egg mixture, coat with crumbs, patting them in gently, and shake off the excess. Put the slices between parchment paper on a plate and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.

Heat the oil in large heavy skillet until it begins to smoke. Fry one cutlet at a time in the oil until golden brown, about 2 minutes each side. Drain the meat on paper toweling and keep in a warm oven until all the cutlets are cooked. Garnish with lemon slices and parsley sprigs.

http://www.baronesstapuzina.com/2007/08/11/often-imitated-but-never-duplicated/

The trick to making good home fries is to use waxy, firm potatoes. Do not use baking potatoes. Peel them and parboil them either the day before or earlier in the day.

Bratkartoffeln

Serving Size: 6 to 8

2.5 kg (4-5 lb.) potatoes, waxy potatoes

250 ml (1 cup) yellow onion, thinly sliced

125 ml (1/2 cup) olive oil

2 tablespoons good Hungarian sweet paprika

1 teaspoon good Hungarian hot paprika

Salt and pepper

Parsley (optional)

Parboil the potatoes until tender, but still firm. Let cool and then cut into 1/8inch/3mm slices.

Sauté the onions gently in the olive oil until translucent. Add the paprika and let the onion take on its color and taste. Add the potatoes and fry until golden brown and slightly crispy. Season with salt and pepper and heat everything through.

http://www.baronesstapuzina.com/2007/08/11/often-imitated-but-never-duplicated/

Fresh from Oven

The fig galette was easy to prepare, but make sure that you place the tart on a rimmed cookie sheet, otherwise you will have a mess in your oven.

Fig Galette

Serving Size: 6

For the dough:

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

100g (7 tablespoons) cold margarine or butter, cut into cubes

3 tablespoons very cold orange juice or water

For the filling:

566g (1 1/4 lb.) ripe figs, stemmed and quartered lengthwise

1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Egg wash

1/4 cup sliced almonds

To make the dough, in the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, granulated sugar and salt and pulse to blend. Add the butter and shortening and pulse until reduced to pea-size pieces. Add the water a little at a time and pulse until the dough just begins to come together in a rough mass. Transfer the dough to a work surface and shape into a disk. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 2 hours.

Preheat an oven to 200C/400F.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Lightly dust a work surface and a rolling pin with flour. Roll out the dough into a round slightly larger than 13 inches/33cm and about 1/8 inch/3mm thick. Lift and turn the dough several times as you roll to prevent sticking, and dust the surface and the rolling pin with additional flour as needed. Use a dough scraper or an icing spatula to loosen the pastry if it sticks. Trim off any ragged edges to make an even 13-inch/33cm round. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

To make the filling, in a large bowl, gently toss together the figs, brown sugar, lemon zest and vanilla until all the ingredients are evenly distributed.

Crust

Uncover the dough and transfer to the baking sheet. The edges of the dough round will hang over the pan edges. Arrange the figs in a pile in the center of the dough, leaving a 2-inch/5cm border uncovered. Fold the dough up and over the filling, pleating loosely all around the circle and leaving the galette open in the center.

Ready to Bake

Brush the pleated dough with the egg wash. Sprinkle the almonds on top of the dough and press on them lightly to help them stick.

Bake until the crust is golden and the figs are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, about 40 minutes. Transfer the galette to a wire rack and let cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

http://www.baronesstapuzina.com/2007/08/11/often-imitated-but-never-duplicated/

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