Out of my Comfort Zone

Challenge #2 in the Project Food Blog contest has us choosing an unfamiliar cuisine to research, cook and blog about. Check out how I researched African, Puerto Rican and Moroccan cuisine and chose my favorite.

I fancy myself a pretty good recipe picker.  I know which set of ingredients will meld together to make a perfect dish and know how to change it ever so slightly to make it a delicious meal.  I was humbled by the African cuisine recipe search.  It was way too foreign to me; the ingredients, the style of dishes and preparation methods threw me off balance. If I am unsure how the recipe is to look and tastes or know if the recipe is even considered a “classic”, how can I properly choose a recipe?  I was completely blind and out of my comfort zone.

As I discussed the challenge of choosing a “classic”, unfamiliar recipe with my family, their suggestions got me thinking; try a few different menus and blog the winner.  I  already bought four books on African cuisine and was determined to go that route but my son wanted me to try a Caribbean recipe and pulled out Eric Ripert’s cookbook, A Return to Cooking.  As he showed me a few of Eric’s recipes at the dinner table, I turned off the negative mind chatter and gave him my attention.  I realized a few of them could work.  This book definitely had a stylish Eric Ripert twist on the cuisines he highlighted.  It was Monday and I had three days before I left for the weekend and I had three potential dinners to research and perfect to find the ethnic treasure worthy to blog about.  I needed to get to work.

I started my research that night, combing through the cookbooks for ideas and researching those ideas on the internet.  I started with The African Cookbook by Jessica B. Harris and was immediately confused by their ingredients; atjar pickle, baobab tree, bitter leaf, waterblommetjie, smoked shrimp and naartjie to name only a few.  I tried to pick a recipe by using my cooking instinct; looking for dishes that had ingredients that sang to me along with a cooking style that I was somewhat familiar with. I went through the entire book and found two recipes that might fit that bill.   I then remembered Charles Perry’s cryptic notes he offered for my Moroccan post.  Included were his Western African notes he made for an earlier dinner and he mentioned three recipes, one being Groundnut Chop.  Groundnut is the word for peanut and chop just means a dish or meal.  The ingredient combination sounded wonderful; chicken, onions, garlic, tomatoes, ginger, thyme,  peanut butter and habanero, kind of a chicken stew in a spicy peanut sauce.  The five or six versions I saw on the internet called for those ingredients but the vegetables in the stew varied from yellow yam, okra, eggplant, carrots, cabbage or turnips.  I chose yam, carrot and peas.  Peas were not traditional but I had fresh peas from the farmers market that would create a perfect color combination. It is traditionally served with fufu, a type of yam ball, but I just could not go there.  Each recipe I looked at called for completely different ingredients and I  just could not imagine the final results.  Since I placed yams into my stew I served it with braised collard greens, the closest green I could find to the many greens in African cuisine.  The dish was a complete family hit and was even better for lunch the next day.  One down, two to go.

Eric Ripert’s Paprika-Spiked Tenderloin with Eggplant was easy, absolutely delicious, and different from my cooking style but not traditional Puerto Rican. Puerto Rican families do not cook with beef tenderloin.  I loved it though and know why Eric chose this meat for the dish; it created a special version of a classic braised dish.  Since the meat does not cook with the broth to enhance its flavor, it is necessary to use a good quality, homemade broth.  The flavor of the sauce is developed by reducing the liquids (chicken stock, coconut milk and tomatoes) until the broth is thickened and the flavor developed.  I served this dish with coconut jasmine rice and it will be a menu I will make over and over again.

Food Blog Challenge #2 Moroccan Menu

First Course

Zucchini Fritters

Entree

Quail Tagine with Raisins and Steamed Couscous
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Sweet Chickpeas and Cabbage Confit

Dessert

Moroccan Chocolate Cake

Moroccan cuisine truly speaks to me and is the hands down winner of my three day contest and my featured menu above.  Their flavor profiles are heavily influence by the French and Spanish who took possession of Morocco in the 19th and 20th centuries.  In their traditional recipes you will find ingredients such as walnuts, almonds, preserved lemons, oranges, honey, wheat, olives, figs, prunes and other dried fruits.  They develop more flavor by using cumin, paprika, turmeric, saffron, coriander, cardamom and ginger.  I know and love them all.  Tagine is their national dish and is named for the vehicle the stews are cooked in.  I was taken by the picture of a quail tagine made with raisins, saffron and honey.  The recipe called for just placing all the ingredients in a pot and cooking it for 20 minutes, very easy.  I added a few additional ingredients at the end of that cooking time but the dish was done in 30 minutes.  My two side dishes will become part of my recipe repertoire; a garbanzo bean recipe with onions, more raisins and orange flower water and a cabbage confit. I love garbanzos and knew this dish would be wonderful with the couscous.  I was right!  The cabbage confit has all the same ingredients as a German braise but with the addition of cinnamon and gelatin.  Not sure what the gelatin does but the dish was a complete success (after I reduced the amount of gelatin from 3 1/2 ounces to a 1/2 ounce!). I completed the meal with a Turkish zucchini fritter that I just could not resist and Moroccan chocolate cake.  The cake is really a meringue filled with chocolate, dates and almonds and was better the next day.

I hope you enjoy my recipes as much as I enjoyed researching and testing them for you.  AND if you want to vote for me click here!

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