Saturday, 30 January 2016

Tasting Jerusalem #32 – Hawayej

Dee – The first ingredient to be featured in Tasting Jerusalem for 2016 was Hawayej;  a name given to a number of spice blends originating in Yemen, and which arrived in Jerusalem via Yemenite Jews who emigrated to Israel.

My first experience of using Hawayej was back in January 2015 when we sampled Yemenite Jewish cuisine as part of our first blogging project (click here for details).  There is only one recipe in the Jerusalem cook book which uses it, and I chose that one for the first Tasting Jerusalem instalment back in February last year (click here for details), so I found myself faced with another excursion beyond the pages of the book.

As I was researching recipe possibilities, I discovered that there was a version of Hawayej that was used to flavour coffee, and found a very tempting recipe for a drink that was described as a winter warmer, providing me with an opportunity to continue a theme that began in December 2015 with Sahlab in Tasting Jerusalem #30 (click here for details).

The recipe I used for the spice was quite basic but included the most commonly listed ingredients, but it worked nicely for me;

Hawayej Coffee Spice
Blend together the following ingredients;
2 tsp Fennel Seeds
¼ tsp Ground Aniseed
¼ tsp Ground Cardamom
2 tsp Ground Ginger
Every cook is sure to have their own preferences, and the quantities listed above can be scaled up if more is required, but I kept them low as I wasn’t sure when I would use the spice again.

My Hawayej-spiced coffee ended up being a variation of a recipe known as Qahwa Bayda, or ‘White Coffee’, detailed on the web site.  The recipes on the site are from Yemen, but I really didn’t want to pass this one by, and who knows, maybe it, or a version of it, is enjoyed somewhere in Jerusalem…

Spiced White Coffee
Makes one large mug or about four small cups
¼ Cup Toasted Sesame Seeds
½ Teaspoon Hawayej Coffee Spice
1 Mug Milk (as I am still committed to Veganuary as I write this, I used Soya Milk)
1 Teaspoon Instant Coffee
Sugar, to taste

-Measure out about 1cm worth of Sesame Seeds into the bottom of the mug or cups and add them to a saucepan with the Milk and Hawayej.
-Bring this mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer the mixture for 8 to 10 minutes.
-Add the coffee to the spiced milk and stir it in until it completely combines.
-Pour the drink into the mug or cups.  It should be topped with the sesame seeds.  Add sugar to taste.
-Serve with a teaspoon for any sesame seeds remaining at the end of the drink.

The quantities listed in the original recipe included far more sesame seeds, and the commentary mentioned the preference in Yemen for lots of sugar, making a super-sweet drink, but I was happy with the version I made.  It was nice and milky, and delivered fully on its promise of being a winter warmer.  The spices were a lot more subtle than I was expecting, with the aniseed being the most prominent than the ginger and cardamom.  The sesame seeds were an interesting addition and gave the coffee a distinctive character.  The inclusion of milk in the recipe made this coffee closer to sahlab than the more widely encountered black coffee, but we have also added the spice mix to black coffee to spice that up which was really rather nice too.

In terms of accompaniments, I think this would be great served alongside a few rich, crumbly biscuits, but I don’t think it would pair so well with fruits or sticky, syrupy pastries.

Next month we will have been working on our Tasting Jerusalem project for one year, so I think something special to mark the occasion would be good.  In fact, plans are already in place so stay tuned…

“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ebury Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to  following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook Page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest

(Please note: I have listed the UK publisher and have linked to the UK Amazon site.  The US details are provided on the web site)

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Veganuary: Week Two

As we entered Week Two of Veganuary, we were enjoying portions of meals that we’d cooked during Week One and stored in the freezer ready to be thawed and reheated as required.  Breakfast from Days One to Five consisted of either porridge or muesli, while the Burgers we made in Week One provided lunches for three days.  The Chili Con Soya and the Aubergine and Tomato Sauce, also from Week One, saw us right for our lunches.

We prepared a meal from our Egyptian recipe book ‘Nile Style’ (click here to read the review) for tea on Days One and Two.  The dishes we chose were a Tomato and Okra Stew and a Shepherd’s Salad.  These provided a colourful and filling couple of meals, and it was good to find some Dukkah, which we used to garnish the stew.  The salad took a while to lay out, but only seconds to mess up as we served it, but it was worth it for the photo opportunity.

We ate out for tea on Day Three, at the Chaophraya Thai restaurant in Central Birmingham, but as it was a spur of the moment decision, we were not equipped to write a full review.  Besides, we only had a main course each so it wouldn’t have been a comprehensive review anyway.  The restaurant menu offered a few vegetarian choices and we chose meals which were vegan to the best of our knowledge.  I went for a Massaman Tofu curry with Coconut Rice, while Jay chose an Aubergine with Garlic and Basil with Sticky Rice.  Jay’s dish turned out to be more a case of Garlic with Aubergine, but still tasted good, while I was happy with my choice.  The restaurant was fairly busy but service remained prompt and polite.  The final price was also reasonable, so we would be happy to call in at the restaurant again.

Day Four was when we did our shopping, so we had a ‘bought-in’ tea consisting of falafels, hummus, olives and other ‘nibbles’.  We were impressed with the labelling of vegan products in Sainsbury’s and this, together with us having a bit more of a clue about shopping for vegan food and drink, made our second shopping trip a lot less stressful.

We were back on the Thai cusine for tea on Day Five, and enjoyed a Vegetable Green Curry which we’d cooked and frozen before Veganuary started.  We must have been too hungry to photograph it though, sorry.

On Day Six, following a breakfast of Crumpets and Coffee, we entertained Jay’s parents, who were visiting for the day, with some home cooked vegan food.
We turned again to ‘Peace and Parsnips’ for recipes for lunch and part of tea.  For lunch we made Jacket Potatoes with a Leek and Broccoli filling, which we served with a simple salad of lettuce cucumber and tomato.  Unfortunately we didn’t get chance to photograph lunch, but it was enjoyed by all.
For tea we prepared an Indian meal, as we usually go out for a curry when they visit.  After the obligatory popadoms, pickles and chutneys, we were ready for the main course.  We had some of the Tomato and Tamarind Potatoes left over from week one, so we served this as a side dish to a mild vegetable curry cooked in coconut milk.  I also made a batch of chapattis, with enough left for week three.
We all enjoyed the curry, and again there was plenty left over for some meals in week three.

For Day Seven we were back to cooking for ourselves.  The weather was seriously cold, with a heavy frost on the ground.  This called for a warming bowl of porridge for breakfast which we flavoured with rice syrup in Jay’s case, and Carob syrup in mine.
For lunch we returned to a recipe for a vegan fry-up from Sally Butcher’s Veggiestan recipe book.  We’ve made it a couple of times before and enjoyed it, and it was certainly a good call for lunch on a cold winter’s day.  It consisted of a hollowed-out tomato filled with red pepper and walnut sauce, mushrooms spiced with fenugreek, fried shredded potatoes and scrambled tofu, for which we used the Shan Tofu that we made in Week One.  I haven’t shared a photo of it, as it’s not the most photogenic of meals, but that’s not going to stop us from making it again. It was delicious.
For tea we again cooked from Veggiestan, and chose another winter warmer; a Mushroom Stifado.  As we were alcohol free, we used veg stock to flavour the stew instead of red wine.  It didn’t have quite the same richness or piquancy but it still made a great stew, with both the mushrooms and shallots providing the heartiness.  We used cornflour to thicken it slightly before serving it over a bed of rice and orzo.

Now that we have reached the half-way point, we both feel more relaxed about our vegan diet.  We’re not missing meat or dairy products, but what we are missing is the convenience of not having to cook all of our own meals.  We love to cook at home, but it’s nice to have a night off from it every now and again, and a vegan diet restricts the options available to us.  At least that’s our experience after two weeks.  Next week, we want to try out a specialist vegetarian restaurant or two, to see what Birmingham has to offer vegan diners.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Veganuary: Week One

Written by Dee

Our first ‘week’ of Veganuary spans ten days, on account of the first day of January falling on a Friday.  From week two onwards it will cover seven days.

The pre-Veganuary visit to the supermarket for a food and drink shop proved quite a challenge, and took significantly longer than normal due to us having to check every single label on everything we picked up to make sure that it was vegan.  This only went part-way to solving the problem though, as not everything was flagged up as being suitable for vegans.  Luckily, Jay’s phone had wi-fi, so there was a lot of going backwards and forward to various vegan web sites which gave the yes/no on each product we checked.  We were extremely grateful to the many bloggers who have spent time putting these lists together.  So much so that I don’t think Veganuary would have been possible without them.

Luckily, there is also a specialist vegan food shop on the outskirts of Birmingham, so we also paid a visit to it and picked up a few items that we didn’t find at the supermarket.  It later turned out that a nearby Holland and Barrett shop also stocked some vegan food and drink products.  Where the bloggers were able to advise on ‘conventional’ food and drink items, these stores provided access to the less common ingredients that we would have otherwise had to order on line.

The first day kicked off with a simple porridge made from Quinoa and Chia seeds, which we had made previously as part of the BBC Good Food seven day diet plan.  That version included coconut yoghurt but we left that out and just cooked the grains and seeds in water after an overnight soaking.  The finished product looked like frog spawn, and probably could have done with some sprucing up with spices or fruit, but it worked as fuel for the New Year’s Day running events that I attended that morning.  We made enough of it to provide breakfasts for day two and day three.
Lunch was a simple soup made from red lentils and peppers which we made a job lot of, and this also gave us lunches for another couple of days.
Tea was a Lentil Bolognese, which we’d made before and enjoyed.  This gave us our first encounter with nutritional yeast, which we used as a garnish in place of parmesan cheese.  We were a little nervous about the nutritional yeast, which looked and smelled like goldfish food, but it provided a similar sour tang to parmesan and worked just as well.

Tea on Day Two was an Aubergine and Tomato Stew, based on a recipe in my folder.  This was another simple stew, cooked slowly to intensify the flavours.  The chunky aubergine took on the flavour of the tomato sauce that it was cooked in, and a garnish of Dukkah added a nice touch of spiciness and crunchiness.  We served the stew with some polenta which we cooked until it had set.

Day three saw out the last of the porridge and soup, while tea was a delicious Indian feast consisting of Popadoms, Chilli Pickle, Brinjal Bickle which were shop bought, and a great Potato and Tamarind Curry which was home made from Kaushy Patel’s excellent Prashad recipe book.  I also made a raita with soya yoghurt, mint sauce, chopped fresh mint and a little chilli powder.  This was our favourite meal so far and we were both keen to try out some more vegan curryies.

Days Four and Five, being the first days of a new week, introduced a new breakfast in the form of a tasty muesli which included raw cocoa, dried coconut and a mixture of berries and seeds.  This was great with soya milk and almond milk, and our usual morning cup of black coffee.
For lunch we made our first recipe from the ‘Peace and Parsnips’ book; Vegan Burritos.  These were supposed to be made with plantain, but we substituted sweet potatoes as we couldn’t find plantains in time.  This didn’t seem to affect the recipe, which also included scrambled tofu, onion, pepper and spices.  It was served with a portion of freshly prepared Pico de Gallo, which we’d made many times before.  We both enjoyed the burritos with some extra sauce.  Jay added shop-bought Reggae Reggae sauce while I went for home-made Hot Pepper sauce.
For Tea we consulted Jay’s Burmese recipe book and chose a soup recipe which turned out to be a meal in itself.  The base of the soup was made from chickpea flour, salt and water, but it turned out that it was the garnishes which gave the soup its character.  For this we added noodles, shredded lettuce, peas, crushed chillies, toasted cashews, shallot oil and chilli oil.  This recipe worked well for us and gave us plenty of ideas for other garnishes to try in the future.  
It also provided us with our first batch of Shan Tofu, which was made simple by leaving the soup base to set in the fridge.  There is a recipe for Shan Tofu Salad in the same book, so we will be trying that out soon.

The meals on Day Six were leftovers from what we’d made earlier in the week.

Two new recipes were up for sampling on Day Seven.  The first was a batch of Sweetcorn Pancakes, again from ‘Peace and Parsnips’.  These were a hit for both of us, and we chose to serve them with some home-made Guacamole, to which we added chargrilled artichokes and toasted pine nuts.
For tea we made a Cauliflower and Chickpea Curry.  For this the ingredients were cooked together in a tomato sauce spiced up with garam masala.  It was tasty and filling, but we felt that for future servings of it we would roast the cauliflower rather than cooking it in the sauce.

On Day Eight we enjoyed muesli for breakfast and the last of the pancakes and guacamole for lunch.
Tea was an experiment using a non-vegan Chilli recipe but substituting meat for Soya Mince, and a garnish of grated vegan cheese.  It worked really well and gave us the confidence to adjust more recipes from our collection in the coming weeks.

Three new recipes arrived with Day Nine. 
The first was for Vegan Breakfast Pancakes; another recipe which we tweaked to include vegan alternatives to the dairy products.  I offered to share the recipe for these pancakes but I think it will need a separate blog entry, which will follow in due course.  For accompaniments, Jay went for Rice Syrup while I went for Apple Butter and Peanut Butter.
For lunch we enjoyed a plate of Frijoles Refritos (Refried Beans) with home-made Tortillas and Soya Yoghurt seasoned with herbs and spices.
We made our first vegan burgers for tea, following the third recipe from Peace and Parsnips.  We followed the quantities listed in the book and ended up with ten good-sized burger patties.  The recipe brought together ingredients that I was doubtful would work together: Pecans, Portobello Mushrooms and Dried Seaweed.  After an intial unsuccessful attempt at frying the burgers, we decided instead to bake them in the oven, which worked far better.  The burger patties were quite fragile, as was pointed out in the book, though they firmed up as they cooled.  The seaweed proved to be a bit of an unwelcome guest when we tasted the burgers, but we still enjoyed them and would make them again, just without the seaweed.  We served them in home-baked burger buns and potato wedges.  We took a photo of them but haven’t posted it here as it was a bit blurred.

Finally, Day Ten’s meals consisted of Porridge for breakfast, the last of the Frijoles for lunch and two more of the Burgers for tea.

Once we’d made it through the difficult first shopping trip to buy in the first of our supplies, by the end of week one we were pleased to have our journey underway. 
Vegan cooking has introduced us to previously unfamiliar ingredients and taught us a new approach to shopping and food preparation.  We haven’t found ourselves craving meat, or alcohol for that matter, yet, and were especially impressed with the chilli that we’d made, which we have now named ‘Chili Con Soya’.  As I mentioned previously, we can approach non-vegan recipes with confidence that we will be able to produce tasty alternatives that dispel the myth of vegan food being dull and flavourless.
I am finding that sauces, relishes and salads form play an important role in many vegan meals.  This is great news to me as I love to collect recipes for them, and always appreciate home-made condiments on the table.

The next challenge that we are anticipating is the minefield that dining out presents.  Luckily there are a few vegan-friendly restaurants in the city centre that we can visit but what of all the others?  How would they cope with vegan customers?  Stay tuned to find out.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Tasting Jerusalem #31 – Sahlab

Dee – December 2015’s featured ingredient, Sahlab, represented an excursion beyond the pages of the Jerusalem recipe book and, it turned out, an excursion in the physical sense too.

Sahlab, also called Salep, is a type of flour made from dried Orchis root.  Orchis is a plant similar to an orchid and found from North West Africa, Southern Europe to Central Asia.  It has a tuber-like root which is dried and milled to make the sahlab.  It is used as a thickening agent for puddings and drinks, and also appears in a Turkish variant of ice cream.  It is most commonly found as a drink though, which is also called Sahlab, and that was how we chose to represent it in this blog entry.

The Sahlab drink has often been referred to as an alternative to hot chocolate, and it is enjoyed throughout the Levant region as a winter warmer, making it an ideal choice of ingredient for a cold, wet December.  The sahlab powder is stirred into hot milk and sweetened with sugar and garnished with ground cinnamon.  It is often pictured served in a small glass with a cinnamon stick, as can be seen on the box in the photo below.

Initially, we faced quite a challenge sourcing it.  None of the groceries or supermarkets stocked it and the only place that we could find it initially was on line.  We were too impatient to order it though, so were considering using cornflour as a substitute.  It turned out that this wouldn’t have been totally inauthentic, as according to Wikipedia, a 50/50 mixture of rice flour and cornflour is used in Israel as a cheaper alternative to true sahlab.

While we were planning our sahlab recipe, we decided to take part in the Veganuary initiative (read about that here), which meant that more tweaking and experimentation would be required.  I wasn’t thrown too much by this though, as I was confident that soya milk or almond milk would be interesting to try out.

However, it was all-change again a couple of days ago, when we found the elusive sahlab in a cash and carry store while seeking out some vegan friendly ingredients to start cooking with.  The box contained 200g of sahlab powder which was ready sweetened.  All that was required was hot milk and the cinnamon.

We still had quite a challenge in front of us, as not only did we have to use an ingredient we’d never seen before to make something we’d never tasted, we also had to make sure that it was vegan.  We did it though and while we can’t claim that it is something that a Jerusalemite would be familiar with, it is our attempt to retain the spirit of the original recipe using our existing knowledge, experience and resources, and commitments that we made before the start of January. 

There were instructions on the back of the box on how to prepare the drink, so we used those as a starting point.  Below are the details of how we made it;

Ingredients for four servings;
300ml Unsweetened Almond Milk
2 Dessertspoons Instant Sahlab
Pinch of ground Cinnamon

Mix the Sahlab into the milk and turn the heat on.  Keep stirring the mixture to prevent lumps forming. 
Heat the mixture until it is just about to boil, then remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly.
When the mixture is still warm, pour it into small cups and serve each garnished with a pinch of cinnamon.

We drank it from small espresso cups, which were the closest we could get to the small decorated cups that we imagine seeing in Jerusalem’s coffee shops.

After all the chopping and changing of the recipe, not to mention searching for the sahlab itself, it was a very simple drink to prepare.  The cinnamon turned out to be much more than just a garnish.  It added a sweet spiciness which was pleasant to taste alongside the slight earthiness of the almond milk.  The comments were right: It was a great winter warmer.
The next day we had enough left over for a second serving, so we decided to try it without heating it up.  I was more enthusiastic about it than Jay, who preferred the hot version, but both of us enjoyed both the hot and cold versions.
Jay was keen to try it again with added flavourings: Possibly orange blossom water, which we have seen in a recipe in one of our books, but also pureed fruit or pistachio and dried rose petals.

We wanted something to eat alongside our Sahlab drink, and the ideal recipe appeared just before Christmas when Beth from the Tasting Jerusalem group shared a recipe for Rose, Cardamom and Pistachio Snowballs (click here for details).  These were similar to the Graybeh cookies which we made for Tasting Jerusalem #3 back in February (click here for details) but looked too good a good match for the Sahlab to pass. 
The only substitution that was needed to make the recipe vegan-friendly was vegetable margarine for butter.  We were lucky to already have some vegan-friendly icing/confectioner’s sugar.
The dough proved easier to work with than for the Graybeh, with no stickiness to contend with.
Ten minutes in a preheated oven was all that was needed to give the cookies a light brown colour and filled the kitchen with the lovely aroma of freshly baked cookies.
After the cookies had been left to cool they were given a coating of icing/confectioner’s sugar, which gave them their ‘snowball’ title.
The finished cookies were soft and crumbly but without the chewiness of other cookies.  The pistachios, which we had toasted before adding to the mix, were the main flavour and added small nutty elements to each bite.
When served with the Sahlab they made a great finish to our meal.
The quantities listed in the recipe yielded twelve cookies.  They didn’t last long.

“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ebury Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to  following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook Page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest

(Please note: I have listed the UK publisher and have linked to the UK Amazon site.  The US details are provided on the web site)

Veganuary: Starting out

Written by Dee
The first day of 2016 marked the first day of our participation in the Veganuary campaign.

It was set up in 2014 with the aim of encouraging people to ‘go vegan’ for one month to encourage them to become more informed about this often misunderstood lifestyle and perhaps even consider making changes to their own lives which they may not have thought practical, or even possible, before.

We first heard about it during December via Twitter, where a few of our fellow food bloggers had announced that they were giving it a go.  We were looking for a healthy regime to start in January as we had been overdoing it with both food and drink for most of December, and a vegan diet seemed a healthy one, so we made the pledge.  I mentioned that we’d overdone it with food and drink, so after further discussion we decided to take our pledge a step further by making January alcohol free as well.  We knew it would be quite a challenge, and certainly a big change from the previous month, but we’ve observed alcohol-free and vegetarian months separately before, so we don’t consider ourselves completely unprepared.

We are aiming to report on progress each week, with discussions of our food and drink arrangements, what we liked, what we didn’t like and problems and obstacles we faced.  We hope also to share recipes which work particularly well for us, but we’ll take it one step at a time. 

It will be the most significant change that we have so far made to our eating and drinking habits, so it follows that there would be a number of issues to consider.  I have listed them below, accompanied by a few thoughts.  It’s impossible to reconcile all of them after just one day, but maybe in time we will be able to answer some of them more comprehensively.  We have already found responses to some of the most commonly raised questions about veganism on the Veganuary web site but we are prepared for a learning curve.

What advantages would Veganuary bring?

First, it would be a much healthier diet than we’ve had for a while.  The seven day diet plan that we undertook in June (click here for details), with its emphasis on clean eating and a reduction in our salt intake ended positively, so if we observe this one for a month we hope to end January feeling better in ourselves than when we started.  If we make it to the end the sense of achievement will be another positive.

Our reason for making the Veganuary pledge is dietary and as keen home cooks we are looking forward to discovering a new approach to food and drink.  As well as a whole host of new recipes to try out, there are many new ingredients too:  almond milk, rice syrup, nutritional yeast and egg-replacer to name but a few.

Now for the challenges

Would we start craving meat and dairy products, and no doubt alcohol, as the month proceeds?  It’s not possible to answer this now, but this will certainly be one of the questions that we will address in our weekly updates.  As I mentioned earlier, we’ve been alcohol free and vegetarian for a month before, so are not strangers to dietary changes.  The same answer applies to our next concern, about feeling hungry all the time.

I’ve grouped the next few concerns together as they are all connected: Whenever I thought about a vegan diet in the past I had notions of expensive, esoteric ingredients requiring complex preparations.  We now have our first Vegan recipe book; Lee Watson’s ‘Peace and Parsnips’, and have begun collecting recipes and looking into how to vegan-ise non-vegan recipes, so this will be another case of learning as we go.

The most significant challenge that we are going to face though is the constant checking of what food and drink is vegan and what isn’t.  There is plenty of information on line about this, but it’s the feeling of helplessness that is going to test us.  There is also a sense of fear of having used something that we later learn is not vegan.  How do we proceed if this happens?  This is something that I am going to be looking into.  Someone somewhere must have written about it.

Lastly, Monday 25th January is Burns Night.  Is it possible to host a Vegan Burns supper?  Well, wait and see…

At the end of Veganuary we hope to be able to share our experiences and plans for the future, but for now we are only at the start of our journey and we’re still adjusting to a new diet.  The first update will appear next week.

There is a label at the end of this blog entry which will list all the Veganuary themed content in one place.