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Chicken Curry Better Than My Mama’s

Yum in My Tum

Yum in My Tum

It has happened. I finally made something better than my mama makes it! I honestly rarely rarely cook Egyptian/Arab food because it never turns out as delicious as my mom’s versions, for 2 reasons 1) mom likes to add things in secret and 2) I try to make things healthier and then people comment about how my mom’s is better :(.

Today, however, I had a can of coconut milk on hand, because I’m planning on making oven-baked coconut crusted chicken strips (another recipe, for another day) and this in itself inspired a different take on chicken curry than my mama’s. You see, mama doesn’t use coconut milk, but rather boils some shredded coconut and then uses that milky-water in her recipe.

Mom’s version is simply sauteing garlic, onion and ginger in oil, adding curry powder and frying it as well, then adding water/stock + coconut watery-milk and letting it simmer away for a bit until the onion is completely dissolved. At this point, she adds either raw chicken cubes or chicken that she’s browned already (she alternates methods), cooks for a bit, then adds cashews and raisins, simmers some more till the raisins are plump and adds some fresh coriander and lime juice as a finishing touch.

Now for my version,

Better Than Mama’s Chicken Curry

Ingredients

  • Chicken breasts, 4 or 5 cut into bite size cubes
  • Oil, enough to coat the bottom of your pot
  • Curry powder, about 6 tablespoons
  • Onion, one small, diced
  • Garlic, 3 cloves, diced
  • Ginger*, fresh, a knob about the size of your thumb, grated     *top tip, when you buy ginger use whatever you want then freeze the rest, it stores very well
  • Hot pepper, as much as you like, diced
  • Chilli powder, to taste (I recommend being liberal, Indian food is supposed to be spicy!)
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste
  • Paprika, I just sprinkled some in
  • Garam Masala, maybe about a teaspoon
  • Cinnamon, 1 teaspoon (I just sprinkled some in…twice)
  • Water
  • Coconut Milk, 3/4 cup
  • Yogurt, one small container, or about 1/2 cup
  • Cashews, as much as you like (I added a large handful) – optional
  • Raisins, as much as you like (I added a large handful) – optional
  • Lime, juice of 1/2
  • Coriander, fresh & chopped as a garnish

Method: Saute the onion & ginger in the oil till the onions are translucent, then add the garlic & hot pepper and continue to saute a few minutes. Add half of the curry powder, and rest of your spices and saute an additional few minutes. Add some water, enough to cover the bottom of the pot, about an inch and half, and simmer the sauce for about 20 minutes, until the onions have pretty much dissolved. Add coconut milk, yogurt and chicken, and continue to simmer on med-low heat. In a separate dry pan, heat up the rest of the curry powder, stirring constantly, until it starts to smoke a bit, then add it to the simmering chicken. Once the chicken is cooked and tender, add the cashews and raisins and continue to cook for 5 minutes. If at any point, you need to add some water, do so, to reach the sauce consistency that you like. Once you turn off the heat, add lime juice and taste to adjust chili/salt/pepper as need. Garnish with coriander and serve with basmati rice and yogurt salad.

Note: My mom also always adds cubed up potatoes to her curry, but I thought the dish had enough carbs. They weren’t missed.

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A Revival of the Blog

In recent months I keep getting notifications for comments on old posts of this blog and I’m not sure why!

Just as a back story, I created these series of blog posts for a project in one of my classes while I was studying Human Nutrition at the University of Guelph. That was back in 2011 – I have since graduated, moved to Egypt and gotten married!

The recent comments and followers have inspired me to start making new posts. I’ll keep the name, though I likely won’t stick to breakfast foods. I imagine sharing the recipes I test and create for myself and my husband :). They may not all be Egyptian or Middle Eastern inspired, but it’s a way for me to chronicle my adventures in the kitchen.

 

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Za’atar Manaeesh

Mini Za'atar Manaeesh

Za’atar manaeesh were my go to ‘fast food’ breakfast when I lived in the United Arab Emirates. With bakeries at every corner, getting a few of these on our way to school in the morning was an easy and delicious way to get breakfast in. I didn’t realize how much I loved the flatbreads covered in za’tar (a spice mix) until I immigrated to Canada.

Suddenly, I was on a quest to find the best manoosheh (singular form) and all the nearby options I found were less than satisfactory. Why was it so oily? Why is the za’tar so salty? Why is the bread soggy? 😦 When I finally did find an acceptable place to buy them in Mississauga, I still missed the convenience of being able to have manaeesh without having to drive out of my way to get them.

What’s a girl to do? Make them herself of course! Or, get her mom to make them, hahaha. First thing’s first, what is za’atar? It’s both the name of wild thyme, and the mixture made from the thyme which includes sesame seeds, sumac, salt and of course thyme. Now, the actual ratio of the mix is something that changes from household to household and bakery to bakery. Every person will take pride in their special za’atar. That being said, you can buy pre-made mix from any Middle-Eastern grocery store.

Packaged Za'atar

I would be lying if I said the store-bought stuff is as good as the hand-picked mix you can get if you know someone in the motherland, but it’s as close as one can hope to get. There are many types of za’atar, red, green, Lebanese and Jordanian, etc.; I usually get the green Lebanese, or I ask the store owner, or the friendly looking mom, what the best option is :D.

All you have to do once you have the mix, is mix it with some good olive oil and spread it over a flatbread, toast it and you’re good to go! If you’re so inclined, you can make your own flatbread, but for a quick breakfast, slathering some za’atar onto a thick, store-bought pita and toasting it in the oven works just as well. I’m reluctant to include a recipe, because there’s nothing to it really, but here you go:

Makes 5 large Mana’eesh

To make the za’atar paste:

  • Equal parts olive oil & za’atar mix (about half cup of each is good for this recipe)
To make the dough (or just use use store-bought pita):
  • 1 rounded teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose or bread flour (you can use whole-wheat)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
In a small bowl, mix the olive oil and za’atar mix to make a paste. Depending on how much you use on you mana’eesh, you may need to make more (just add equal parts of za’atar and oil). Set aside.
To make the dough, dissolve the yeast and sugar in a 1/4 cup of water and set aside for the yeast to work it’s magic. Bubbles and foam will appear.
Meanwhile,  put the flour in a large bowl and make a depression in the middle. Add the olive oil to the middle and work it in the flour with your fingers. Add the yeast mixture and then gradually add 1 cup water, knead until you have one big sticky ball of dough.
Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead, adding a few tablespoons of flour at a time, until you get a dough that is smooth and does not stick. This should take about 5 minutes. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover. Place in a warm place for about an hour for it to rise.
To make the mana’eesh. Divide the dough into 5 equal balls. Flatten each ball into a circle with a rolling pin or your fingers. The thickness is entirely up to you, I prefer a bit of a thicker man’oosheh myself.
Divide the za’atar paste amongs the 5 mana’eesh circles and spread with the back of a spoon. Place on a pizza stone or baking sheet in an oven preheated at the highest temperature. Bake for about 5 minutes until the edges just start to get golden brown.
Enjoy!
Top Tip: You can also make these on the grill. For an even easier recipe just skip the dough making and spread za’atar mix on a thick, Greek style pita. You can also freeze any leftover mana’eesh.
Change It Up: Top your mana’eesh with feta, tomatoes, mint, olives, scallions or any combination you would like!

Did You Know: That children in Lebanon are always encouraged to have a za’atar manoosheh before an exam? Apparently, za’atar is good for the memory. Sounds like a perfect excuse to have me some mana’eesh over the next few weeks!

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You Say Falafel, I Say Ta’meya

You say falafel, I say Ta’meya, we all say delicious! Well, at least I hope we all say delicious :D!

Mmm-mmm-mmm Ta'meya!

Although a few of you out there may have tried falafel (it is, after all, increasing in popularity in Canada), I doubt very many have tried the Egyptian version. You see, while the rest of the Arab world generally makes falalfel with chickpeas, Egyptians use fava beans to make the mixture. Oh, and we tend to call the delicious fried nuggets of goodness Ta’meya. Which is better? Well, my very biased opinion says that fava beans are the way to go! I find fava bean based ta’meya to be lighter and fluffier than their chickpea based cousin. Also, fava bean ta’meya tend to be a vibrant green on the inside and that just makes me feel better about eating a fried food item :D.  Green is good, right??

Mama always told me to eat my greens.

Ta’meya is one of the many popular street-foods in Egypt. Wake up any morning and grab yourself a ta’meya sandwich with Tahini and vegge (tomatoes, parsley, pickles, parsley) and you’ve got yourself an excellent start to your day. Personally, I’m a little lazy and have my sandwiches delivered for about 25 cents extra; sweet, sweet, cheap delivery – how I miss thee!

Here in Canada, my mom makes huge batches of the ta’meya mixture and then stores them in ziplock bags in the freezer. Whenever we want ta’meya, she’ll take a bag out to defrost overnight and then fry it up in the morning. Those are the days she finds us suddenly setting the table, helping out in the kitchen, heating up the pita…you know,  speeding up the process so we can get to the eating part, hahaha!

So, without further ado, here’s the recipe for you to try out for yourself:

Makes about 30 ta’meyas

  • 2 cups dried split fava beans
  • 1 bunch leeks (washed well)
  • 1/2 bunch parsley
  • 1/2 bunch corriander
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Vegetable oil (for frying)

Soak the beans in water overnight in a large bowl. In the morning, drain off the excess water and then pulse in a food processor with all ingredients, save for the baking powder and sesame seeds, until smooth.

Only add the baking powder when you are going to fry the ta’meya. If you’re going to freeze the mixture, add baking powder once it has defrosted.

Heat the oil for frying and make little patties out of the mixture (sometimes it helps to lightly oil your hands so that the mixture doesn’t stick). Dip one side into the sesame seeds and then fry until it is a golden-brown colour.

Enjoy with some pita and your choice of sanwhich stuffing. Personally, I go with tomatoe slices and some feta cheese- yum!

Note: Dried fava beans have yet to hit the mainstream, so you’re best bet for finding them is at your friendly neighborhood Middle-Eastern grocery store.

Did You Know:  Ta’meya is considered the national dish of Egypt (along with koshari, but that’s for another post). While many nations try to lay claim for this dish, most food historians theorize that it’s origins are indeed in Egypt, where Coptic Christians consumed it as a vegetarian meal during lent. When  ta’meya travelled to other countries via the ports in Alexandria, chickpeas were substituted for the fava beans. Interesting! Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falafel

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Shakshooka

Behold, shakshooka!

Shakshooka

This dish is common across all of North Africa and is as diverse (there are as many versions as there are cooks!) as it is flavourful. I’m told by my mom that the dish is originally Tunisian, which makes sense because, according to Wikipedia, the word shakshooka means “a mixture” in the Berber language used by many peoples in North Africa (including Tunisia, Morocco and the Oases of Egypt).

I find shakshooka an especially comforting dish to have on cold winter mornings :).  It’s essentially eggs poached in tomatoes, peppers, onions, salt, pepper and a hint of cumin.   The version you see in the picture above is topped with some feta & coriander; yum!

Since the dish is so simple, it’s important to use the best possible ingredients that you can,  this usually translates into the freshest. I say usually because, I don’t know about you, but I’ve yet to find a fresh tomatoe in the Canadian winter months that doesn’t take like plastic; not so yummy! In that case, canned tomatoes it is! In Egypt though, nothing beats getting your tomatoes farm-fresh, sun-kissed and off of a donkey-cart.

Taken from my balcony in Egypt: your friendly neighborhood grocer on wheels. I see those tomatoes!

Don’t get me wrong though, you can still purchase all your grocery needs from a modern grocery store in Egypt, I just prefer the donkey cart method for a number of reasons. Consider this: I lose at least 10lb every single time I go to Egypt for the summer!  When I thought about why this was, even though I spend my summer indulging for all intents and purposes, I realized it was because of the lack of “junk  food” in my diet. Sure, you can get chocolate, chips and candy in Egypt, but it is much easier to avoid temptation. There’s no aisle of doom when you buy your produce from the veggie-man and your meat from the butcher!

No chips in sight. My mom picking out some fruit from a road-side stand.

There I go digressing again; I just have so much to share with you all! Anyway, back to the shakshooka, here’s a recipe for you give it a go:

Serves 4

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 (28 ounce) can whole peeled plum tomatoes with juice (or fresh, when in season)
  • 1 teaspoon paprika (or to taste)
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin (or to taste)
  • Salt (to taste- if using canned tomatoes you may not need extra salt)
  • 4 eggs
In a deep skillet, heat the oil on medium heat and then saute the onion, green pepper and garlic until the onion starts to become translucent. Add the tomatoes and seasoning, crushing the tomatoes with a fork or the back of a spoon. Let the tomatoe mixture simmer, uncovered, for about 25-30 minutes.
Crack the eggs on top of the tomatoe-sauce and let cook until the level of doneness you like. Personally, I like my yolks a little runny.
Serve rustic style in the skillet with pita bread to mop up the tomatoe-sauce. Yum!
Change it up: Add jalapenos, parsely, coriander, feta, different coloured peppers, take away the onion, add more onion – hey, a recipe is just a guideline! 🙂
Did you know: Egyptian records indicate that man collected eggs from fowl as far back as 4000 B.C., neat! Source: http://www.incredibleegg.org/egg-facts/basic-egg-facts/history-of-egg-production/from-ancient-times

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Welcome!

We’re always told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. After all, you are literally “breaking the fast” of the night before and kick-starting your metabolism.

Growing up as an Egyptian in the UAE, and having been blessed with a stay-at-home mom with a passion for all things culinary, ‘exotic’ breakfasts were my every day. My wonderfully scrumptious every day, that is!

Although  a lot of what was  once exotic (hummus, falafel, pita), has now entered mainstream Canadian culture,  most Canadians still haven’t the foggiest of how to prepare these items from scratch, with fresh, wholesome ingredients.

And that’s where I come in. In the spirit of injecting some excitement into your breakfast routine, and in an attempt to make my mama proud, join me as I relive some of the breakfast foods of my youth. I promise a bit of history, a lot of recipes and, of course, many pictures!

Speaking of pictures, I’ll start with the header of this blog. It’s a picture of my brother, his wife and I in Egypt. Oh and we’re just about to dig into our breakfast of course 😀 Now there’s a breakast I’d love to relive :D! And, speaking of Egypt…

Did You Know: In Egyptian, the word for bread is “aish”, which means “life”? It should be no surprise then that my very first recipe post will be dedicated to making homemade pita bread; the backbone of a proper Egyptian breakfast. Stay tuned!

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