Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Beaks, Bacalhau, and Bread

Portugal is Spain's neighbor on the Iberian Peninsula. Jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean, Portugal is the most western country in Europe. It also had the longest colonial empire that spanned over almost 600 years. Portugal made the first ever global empire in history when Ceuta was taken in 1415. (Ceuta is a city located in Africa that is now part of Spain.) Up until 2002 Portugal had claim over East Timor. Although Portugal is small, it has had a big influence over the entire world. There are over 250 million Portuguese speakers today, making it the sixth most common first language. I was shocked to learn that almost half of the babies born in Portugal in 2014 had mothers who were not married. Only 1.5 children are born to each woman, so the Portuguese population has been declining like a lot of other western European countries. There are quite a few immigrants that come to Portugal from mainly Brazil, India, and China. As the Portuguese population declines, the foreign-born population continues to increase. I really hope to have the chance to visit Portugal some day to experience their deep culture firsthand. Here in Spain I am so close, but I could not figure out a good way to get over there. I have heard that the medieval castles, landscape, churches, and palaces.
 

I never thought I would have the chance to pull the beak out of a squid and gut it, but cooking Portugal gave me the unique opportunity to do so. Thank you Portugal. The Portuguese schedule is similar to Spain's with a long lunch at 2 and a later dinner served after 8. Meals almost always consist of a soup, salad, and main dish of seafood or pork. Bread or rice are almost always on the table. Depending on which part of the country you are in, you will find different types of bread. In the north the bread is made of corn flour and is called "broa". Whole wheat or rye breads with a nice crust are served in the south to mop up stews or soups. I had a thick slice of rye bread along with my stew and it was perfect for getting the last bits out of the bottom of the bowl. Delicious!
 

Kale or collard greens, potatoes, and chorizo are the primary components to famous Portuguese soup called "caldo verde".  It's a common meal for celebrations and weddings, especially during the festival of Saint John in June. (We celebrated Saint John's Day here in Alicante, but figs and tuna pastries replaced the soup as the typical fare.)
 
Caldo Verde
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
5 cups chicken broth
4 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 pound kale or collard greens, thinly sliced
4 ounces chorizo, sliced
salt and pepper, to taste
Heat the oil over medium heat in a large pot. Cook the onions and garlic until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the broth and potatoes, and bring the soup to a boil. Cook for 30 minutes. Remove the potatoes and mash them together with ½ cup of the broth. Add the potatoes back to the pot and stir well. Stir in the kale and chorizo. Simmer for about 20 more minutes until the kale has wilted. Season to taste and serve.


The Portuguese love their bacalhau, or salt cod. There are a ton of different variations of preparing it. (The Portuguese claim that there are 365; one for every day of the year.) After the discovery of Newfoundland, there was a massive increase of cod available. The Portuguese utilized the surplus of cod by drying it out so that it would stay preserved longer. This quick salad is easily thrown together to make a delicious side or even main.
 

Salada de Bacalhau com Grao
1 cup dry chickpeas, soaked overnight
8 ounces desalted salt cod
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic
3 boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
4 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
 
Bring a pot of water to a boil with the chickpeas. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until the chickpeas are tender, adding more water as needed. Meanwhile, broil the garlic for about 5 minutes or until the skin is easily peeled off. Mash it up and combine it with the onion. Drain and rinse the chickpeas under cold water. Bring another pot of water to a boil and cook the salt cod for 10 minutes. Allow the salt cod to cool before shredding it up. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, mix, and serve chilled or at room temperature.
 
 
 
Squid, or "lulas" in Portuguese, are often served a grilled, as kebabs, fried, or in stews. I was happy to find that there are other uses for squid other than fried calamari rings. Potatoes and tomatoes, two of Portugual's favorite vegetables, are served up with the squids to make a wonderful stew. Sorry that my picture does not look 100% like yours will if you follow my recipe. I always have to substitute bell peppers for tomatoes because of my allergy.
 
Caldeirada de Lulas
1 pound fresh squids, gutted and skinned (make sure to remove the beaks)
4 tomatoes, chopped (I had to substitute bell peppers. That's why my picture looks a bit off.)
2 potatoes, peeled and sliced into ¼” slices
1 cup water
1 onion, finely chopped
4 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup white wine
2 bay leaves
dash of paprika
salt and pepper, to taste
chopped parsley, to serve
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium. Cook the onion and garlic until tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in the squid, tomatoes, bay leaves, water, and wine. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Cover and let the stew cook for 30 minutes. Mash the tomatoes up and add in the paprika and potatoes. (Pour in more water if needed.) Cook for another 20 minutes or so until the potatoes are tender. Season to taste and serve topped with parsley.
 

 

 
Other than the traumatic event of debeaking the squids, both cooking and eating Portugal proved to be a lovely experience. The soup was thick and creamy with tons of added nutrients from all those leafy greens. The chickpea and salt cod salad was surprisingly delightful. The salty bacalao went well with the chickpeas, herbs, and onion. Yum! It was definitely my favorite part. I was lucky enough to find presoaked and desalted salt cod here in Spain because it is such a common ingredient here. I would have struggled to have even found salt cod in the US. Lastly, the squid stew had a really good flavor, but there was some element to it that made it kind of grainy. I don't know if I didn't properly clean the squid or what, but the graininess kind of threw me off. I still liked it ok, though. It wasn't inedible or anything. I just enjoyed my Mauritian octopus stew better. Overall I give Portugal a thumbs up. I am now craving that salt cod salad... Maybe one day I can head over to Portugal to try it out for myself!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Showing Off Some Schnitzel

Austria is definitely not a country lacking in culture. The 8.6 million German-speaking Austrians have produced many famous composers such as Franz Schubert, Joseph Haydn, Johann Strauss, Beethoven, and Mozart. The Belvedere and Schonbrunn palaces are sights that you would not want to miss during a tour of the country. Austria is also famous for its Christmas markets, the Vienna Boys Choir, and beautiful Alps. Most importantly, the food there is amazing!




I was lucky to have some help with my Austrian meal. My mom earned a free trip to Austria a few years back, so she and my dad were able to experience Austrian cuisine first-hand. She had sampled everything I cooked for my meal tonight in Austria and gave it all good reviews. I was very lucky to have a new student join my conversation class the night I cooked Austria. She is from Vienna and verified the authenticity of the meal I had planned. My original goal was to make a soup, salad, potato, main, and bread. I had it all ready but completely forgot to make the salad. If you want a traditional Austrian meal, you cannot forget the salad which is usually just lettuce with maybe some onions and tomatoes covered in a light vinaigrette. The staples of the Austrian table are clear soups with dumplings made of semolina, potatoes, dumplings, or pancakes; tons of bread served with a variety of spreads; root vegetables; and a plethora of mouth-watering desserts. What's not to love? This is home cooking at its best.




You might think pancake soup sounds a little weird. It's like a horrible breakfast for dinner train wreck that seems completely out of this world. Trust me, though, the Austrians know what they are doing. The unsweetened pancakes are more like a dumpling than anything else. If you prefer your pancakes sweet or want to make another pancake treat to round out your Austrian meal, check out my
kaiserschmarrn recipe.

Flädlesuppe
For the soup:
5 cups chicken broth
1 leek
2 carrots
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 onion
2 stalks celery

For the pancakes:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
2 eggs
½ tsp salt
oil, as needed
chives, to serve

Bring the chicken broth and vegetables to a boil. Simmer covered over low heat for 3 hours. After the broth is done cooking, strain out the vegetables and keep the soup warm. Meanwhile, beat the eggs, flour, salt, and milk together. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat a large pan over medium heat. Spread a light coating of oil onto the bottom of the pan. (Enough to prevent the pancakes from sticking but not enough to fry the pancakes.) Cook ¼ cup of the batter at a time, swirling it around the pan to make a thin crepe. Cook both sides for a minute or so until golden. Repeat with all of the batter. Roll up your crepes and cut them into strips. Divide them between four serving bowls and top each with a cup of the hot broth and chives.



Rolling up and slicing the crepes is really easy. Plus you can steal a few bites off the ugly ends. :) Be sure to serve the soup quickly after pouring the broth over the pancakes so that they don't get too soppy.



Before you start judging me for cooking veal, I want you to know that I had no idea how inhumane veal meat is. I had heard rumors about it, but I wasn't up to date on my facts until I came home with the veal meat and my roommate about had a cow. (No pun intended.) Cows are actually my favorite animals, so I would never want them to be harmed in any way. I am just going to pretend (and hope) my veal was free-range and advise any of you who want to cook veal to buy the free-range variety. With that being said, wiener schnitzel is what most people think of when they think of Austrian cuisine. It is the national dish of Austria and hails from the capital city of Vienna. A lot of other countries enjoy eating their schnitzel as well, but I thought Austria was the most deserving candidate to cook wiener schnitzel for. (I just love typing/ saying wiener schnitzel. Can you tell?) Julie Andrews sings about wiener schnitzel in the song "My Favorite Things" during The Sound of Music. She mentions schnitzel and noodles which actually happens to be a rare combination in Austria. Wiener schnitzel is almost always served with potatoes and salad, never noodles.



Wiener Schnitzel
serves 2
2 veal steaks, 6 ounces each
1 egg
½ tsp salt
6 tablespoons flour
1 cup bread crumbs
oil, as needed
lemon slices, to serve

Beat the egg and salt together. Pound out the veal steaks until they are about 1/4” thick. Dredge the steaks in flour and then dip them in the egg mixture. Thoroughly coat in bread crumbs. Pour enough oil to cover the bottom of a skillet. Heat the oil over medium-high and cook the steaks one at a time, adding more oil as needed to cover the bottom half of the meat. Cook each side for a few minutes until golden. Serve immediately topped with lemon slices.




Parsley potatoes are a common side to wiener schnitzel or just about any other Austrian meal. Since root vegetables are a staple to Austrian cuisine and schnitzel requires a side of potatoes, I decided to go with this simple recipe.

Petersilienkartoffeln
1 pound small waxy potatoes, cubed
1 bunch parsley, chopped
4 tbsp butter, melted
salt and pepper, to taste

Bring a pot of water to a boil with the potatoes. Cook until the potatoes are tender. (A fork will easily pierce them.) Drain and toss with the parsley, butter, and salt and pepper to taste.



I kind of felt like I was eating a foreign version of southern food as I partook in sampling and devouring my Austrian dishes. The soup resembles chicken and dumplings, the wiener schnitzel is like chicken fried steak, and no southern meal is complete without potatoes. If only the rye bread had been biscuits, I would have been convinced that I was back home instead of cooking European food. I absolutely adored the wiener schnitzel. The crunchy outside gave way to the tender and meaty veal with the perfect breading to meat ratio and no greasiness. The soup was surprisingly normal tasting and delicious. Potatoes are not really my thing, but they were not too bad. They went well with the meat, and the parsley gave them a nice flavor. Well done Austria! One day I hope to visit to try some yummy food for myself.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Little Bit of Spain in the African Continent

I have cooked my way through yet another country that shares the common name of Guinea. Tonight's meal was specifically from Equatorial Guinea, a nation located in Central Africa. If you are super interested in languages like me, you might be wondering why the recipe names are in Spanish. Equatorial Guinea is actually the only African country where Spanish is the national language. This is a result of 190 years of Spanish rule. October 12, 1968 saw Equatorial Guinea's independence, but they were soon practically demolished by the president Francisco Macias Nguema who pretty much destroyed the economy and government. Today French and Portuguese along with Spanish are the official languages with many tribal languages also spoken. The people are mainly of Bantu origin. The mixture of Hispanic and African culture and traditions can be seen in many aspects of the Equatoguinean culture. Roman Catholicism is the largest religion. Acoustic guitar bands mirror the Spanish-style. Football (soccer) is the most common sport. The cuisine also sees a lot of influence from its colonial Spanish roots. I couldn't find all that much information about the cuisine, but I did learn that fish is very popular. Served with a creamy sauce  a colorful succotash which is apparently the national dish, my Equatoguinean meal did not disappoint.



Chilies and peppers are common in Equatorial Guinea where spices are often used to enhance the flavor of many foods. Since seafood is very popular, I found whole fish stuffed with peppers and onions to be a great main to represent Equatorial Guinea. I'm not sure if this recipe is 100% authentic, but most of the recipes I found for Equatorial Guinea resembled this dish.

Pescado Rellleno
4 whole fish (I used trout), cleaned and opened
1 lemon, thinly sliced
salt and pepper, to taste
1 poblano pepper, finely sliced
½ a small onion, finely sliced
lemon juice, to serve

Preheat your broiler or a grill. Season the insides of the fish with salt and pepper and stuff them with the lemons, poblano, and onion. Cook each side of the fish for about 4-6 minutes, or until cooked through. Drizzle with lemon juice and serve.

 

 Avocado and peanut sauce goes perfectly with the fish and the chilies give it a little extra oomph.

Salsa de Aguacate
1 ripe avocado, sliced
1 cup stock (beef or chicken)
¼ cup water
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp minced chili pepper
1 small tomato, chopped
2 tbsp natural peanut butter
salt and pepper, to taste

Bring the avocados, stock, water, chilies, lemon juice, and tomato to a simmer over medium heat. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring often and adding a little extra water if all of the liquid evaporates. Add in the peanut butter, bring back to a simmer, and cook for 2 more minutes. Season to taste and serve.

 

 

 
I read that succotash is the national dish of Equatorial Guinea. I thought that was interesting because succotash is a staple of southern comfort food. There are a lot of elements of African food in southern cuisine. It always interests me to find more. For another take on succotash, try out my corn and edamame succotash recipe.

Succotash
1 onion, chopped
4 tbsp oil
3 small tomatoes, chopped
2 cups frozen corn kernels
2 cups frozen lima beans
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large pan. Add the onion and sauté until tender, about 6-8 minutes. Add in the tomatoes and bring the mixture to a simmer over low heat. Cook for 20 minutes, pouring in a little water if the mixture gets too dry. Add in the lima beans and corn. Cook for 10 minutes. Season to taste and serve.
 
 
Several of my past countries have called for a whole fish, but I had never been able to get my hands on one before. Spain once again did not fail me and I got an entire trout for only €2 already gutted and cleaned. All I had to do was stuff it and broil it to make a delicious meal from Equatorial Guinea. Paired with succotash and a creamy avocado sauce, this meal was absolutely heavenly. The fish was cooked to perfection and cleanly slid right off the bone. The succotash was light and flavorful. The sauce had a great flavor and texture. Why can't Tennessee be near the coast so I can always enjoy fresh seafood? I never thought I like seafood before coming to Spain, but now I see that was because I'd only ever had frozen tilapia or over cooked salmon. Now that I can buy it fresh and cook it myself, I'm soaking it all up. Thanks Equatorial Guinea for this wonderful meal!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Cooking up a Curry

Most people have not ever heard of Mauritius before, but it is definitely an African island nation that should not be ignored. Located in the Indian Ocean, Mauritius is made up of the main island of Mauritius and several outlying islands. It's location made it an important trade route between Europe and Asia before the Suez Canal. Historically it was uninhabited. The Arabs and Portuguese both visited, but it was the Dutch who first settled in Mauritius. Later the French and then the English had control over the island until 1968 when it became an independent nation under the commonwealth. Today over 1.2 million people live in Mauritius and represent a wide gamut of different ethnicities and races. English, French, Mauritian Creole, and Bhojpuri (an Indian language) are all spoken, but none hold the status of official language.



Mauritius cuisine carries a lot of influences from India, hence the curry, chickpeas, and flatbread. Being an island throws a whole new flare to the cuisine, allowing for fresh fish and other seafoods. I decided to try something new for this meal and prepare an octopus curry. Chinese, French, and English cuisines are also common and seafood is super popular. Before the dodo bird became extinct, it was a popular dish for Portuguese sailors who stopped by on their way to trade in the east. They were easy targets because they could not fly.



Octopus? Yes, please. Indian spices and cooking methods are combined with Mauritian ingredients to make a lovely meal.

 
Cari Ourite
serves 2-3
8 ounces cleaned octopus, cut into bite sized pieces
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
½ tsp chopped ginger
1 tbsp oil
1-2 red chili peppers, chopped
½ cup reserved octopus juice
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp curry powder
dash of cinnamon
½ bunch cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
cilantro, to garnish

Cook the octopus in its own juice until pink and cooked through, about 20 minutes. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, chilies, ginger, and garlic. Cook until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, curry powder, cinnamon, and cilantro. Bring the mixture to a simmer and smash the tomatoes into a thick paste. Add the octopus. Cook for 20 minutes. Garnish with cilantro to serve.



Farate is Mauritius' version of paratha. Meals in Mauritius are almost always served with some type of bread, whether it be a French baguette or an Indian flatbread. To make farate, an unleavened wheat dough is rolled out, spread with butter, folded up, and rolled out again several times to create a flaky bread. The more layers the better!
 

Farate
makes 2
1 cup flour
½ tsp salt
6 to 8 tablespoons of hot water
softened butter, as needed

Mix together the flour and salt. Knead in enough water to make a soft dough. Continue kneading for 10 minutes. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside to rest for 15 minutes. Divide the dough in half and roll them into disks. Brush the disks with butter, fold in half, and roll out again. Continue this process until the dough has a bunch of layers. Preheat a pan over medium heat. Cook each side of the bread for about 2 minutes, or until golden. Serve immediately.

 


Chickpeas are a common side dish or could be a great vegetarian main. They round out a good meal served alongside some rice and bread.

Gram Bouilli Mauricien
serves 2-3
1 cup dry chickpeas, soaked overnight
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 red chilies, chopped
1 tbsp oil
1 tomato, cubed
½ cup reserved chickpea water
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp cumin
dash of ground ginger
salt and pepper, to taste
cilantro, to garnish

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the chickpeas until just tender. Drain and run under cool water, reserving ½ cup of the cooking water. Heat a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, chilies, and garlic. Cook until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the seasonings to toast them for one minute. Pour in the water and add the tomato. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, adding more water if the sauce gets too thick. Mash up the tomatoes into a thick paste. Add the chickpeas and simmer for another 10 minutes. Serve garnished with cilantro.

https://flic.kr/p/vExhms | DSC_0484[1]


Coming to Spain has really allowed me to taste the world. Where would I have found octopus to make a Mauritius curry in Tennessee? My Kroger that doesn't even have fresh salmon half the time surely does not carry octopus. Thankfully every grocery shop in Spain does. I didn't think I would like it. I had heard that octopus was chewy and frankly the thought of eating Ursula freaked me out. Plus the suckers are just weird. Thankfully my curry turned out well. I enjoyed the chewy texture of the octopus and it really didn't have a taste at all. The chickpeas were nicely spiced and not too hard or too mushy. I had some difficulties rolling the bread without a rolling pen. It was a little but of a mess and the bread did not yield the flaky layers I had hoped for. Oh well, the rest of food was delicious. I give Mauritius two thumbs up.
 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

20!!!


I don't have any craft supplies here in Spain, so I have not been able to make cards in awhile. It's kind of sad, but I have been so busy that I barely miss it. Here's a previous card that I made before I came to Spain. I know a lot of people that have had birthdays or have birthdays coming up including me. I turned 20 this weekend. I can't believe it! Here's to my second decade!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Misunderstood Cuisine

Mongolia is a unique and interesting country located just north of China. (Part of China is actually called inner Mongolia, but that is a whole different story.) Historically the people have been nomadic, living in tents called yurts that people still live in today. The capital city of Ulaanbaatar is home to over 45% of the population and you can find yurts even in the city. The famous Kublai Khan and Genghis Khan hail from Mongolia and the Mongolian Empire once stretched across eastern Asia. Today Mongolia is the 19th largest and one of the least densely populated countries. I understand this considering the temperature gets down to -40 degrees but can shoot up to over 100 degrees in the south. That's a crazy temperature jump for one country, especially considering the people live in tents.

dw

It's time to completely disregard any false information you have received about Mongolian food. Genghis Grill and other Mongolian BBQ restaurants give a very falsified impression of what Mongolians actually eat. Just think about it. They are a historically nomadic group that lives in a freezing cold region. Where in the world would they find the wide assortment of vegetables and sauces provided at your typical Mongolian restaurant? The truth is that real Mongolian food is centered around meat and dairy. The Mongols traditionally traveled around with domesticated animals like cows, sheep, horses, and camels, and these animals provided the bulk of their food. Soups are commonly served to combat the cold winters and special occasions are celebrated with mutton cooked with hot rocks in a sealed milk can called khorhog. Dumplings are a must if you are trying a Mongolian meal as well as their famous salted tea.

kk

Buuz, bansh, and khuushuur are all dumplings commonly eaten by the Mongols. They are filled with meat and onions and wrapped in a wheat flour dough. The difference between them are their sizes, shapes, and cooking styles. Bansh and khuushuur are semi-circles while buuz is shaped like a little purse. Buuz is steamed and quite large, khuushuur is fried in mutton fat, and bansh is smaller and boiled. I made bansh because I don't have a steamer with me here in Spain and mutton fat is pretty hard to come by. The dough and filling were both super easy to make. It was a simple yet delicious meal.

Bansh
makes about 2 dozen
For the dough:
2 cups flour
2/3 cup water
½ tsp salt

For the filling:
10 ounces finely chopped mutton
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper

To make the dough, mix together the salt and flour. Slowly pour in the water and then knead to form a soft dough. Roll the dough into a ball, cover, and let it rest while you prepare the filling.

To make the filling, mix together the meat, onion, garlic, and salt and pepper to your preference.

Divide the dough into about 24 one inch thick balls. You might want to pinch off the dough as needed to prevent the balls from drying out. Roll each ball flat into an oval about 2 inches long. Place a teaspoon or two of the filling into the middle of the oval and fold it in half. Fold the edges over each other to create a crinkle.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the bansh in three to four batches, stirring them to make sure they don’t stick together. Cook for about 7 minutes, or until they are floating and no longer chewy.

sd

Dairy is very important to Mongolians. They eat dried cheeses for snacks, cook soups in milks, and drink kefir. The kefir in Mongolia is different than Western-style kefir. It is slightly alcoholic and contains carbon dioxide. This drink called isgelen tarag is generally made from cow's milk. I just bought some cow's milk kefir at the store to be the closest substitute.

Along with kefir, tea is served at with every meal in Mongolia. Their tea is called suutei tsai and is made with milk and salt. There is a very unique way of mixing up the beverage. Instead of stirring it with a spoon, you use a ladle to pour the tea into cups from up high. Repeating this process several times stirs everything together.
 
k

Suutei Tsai
1 bag green tea
½ cup water
½ cup milk
pinch of salt

Bring the water to a boil and add the tea bag. Let the tea steep for 5 minutes. Discard the teabag and pour in the milk and salt. Bring the tea back to a boil. To mix, use a ladle to scoop out some of the tea and then pour it back from high up in the air.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/decorated11/shares/B34n56 | Decorated11's photos

Although I do love some good Mongolian BBQ, it was nice to try an authentic Mongolian meal. The dumplings were really good and I was so glad that I was able to find mutton at a local kosher meat market. It was a lot cheaper than in the States too. (An added bonus.) The tea was good as well. I had tried it back when I made a Mongolian breakfast, but since it is a must for every meal, I just had to make it again. No complaints here. I do love a good cup of tea to warm me up even if it's already 100 degrees out. I can just picture myself in outer Mongolia without having to endure the cold. I bought the kefir just because I had never tried it before and I thought it would compliment the meal well. I found it to be like a mix between yogurt and buttermilk. I can't imagine how it would taste with an alcohol content. Overall the meal was really good. It definitely challenged any meal from Genghis Grill. Authenticity has its advantages.

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Rare Taste of Rabbit

I ate a rabbit and liked it. Actually, I LOVED it. I think rabbit is my new favorite food, and I can thank Malta for showing that to me. Like most Americans, I had my reservations about trying rabbit. I was a little terrified. (As was my roommate when I had to cut the head off of it.) Most of Western Europe eats rabbit, so it can't be too radical or nasty. At least that was what I tried telling myself. Then I bit into the deliciousness that is Maltese Rabbit Stew. I forever am a convert. I am going to miss having the opportunity to buy rabbit when I go back to the US. I'm glad I got to try it while I'm here in Spain.



Only 50 miles south of Italy, the small island country of Malta is one of the most densely populated. Its 450,000 inhabitants live in 122 square miles. Its capital city, Valletta, is actually the smallest in area out of all the capitals in the European Union. As you can expect from having such a central location to Europe, Asia, and Africa, Malta has been controlled by several other nations during its history. Finally Malta gained its independence from Britain in September of 1964, a little over 50 years ago. Even though Malta might be a young nation, it has a long and rich history beginning in 2400BC. Apparently Malta had some sort of dwarf elephants and hippos that early arrivers from Sicily killed off. The Bible mentions Malta as the place where Paul got shipwrecked. Malta has been in Greek, Phoenician, and Roman hands as well as Moorish, Spanish, and French. You can just imagine how amazing the architecture is as a result of all these distinct influences. The Maltese language is the only Semitic language in the European Union. The Maltese are also the most generous people in the world. Over 83% of them donate to charities.

dsa

Maltese cuisine is very Mediterranean. Although they have had influences from so many different cultures, they have continued to maintain their own unique cuisine. Rabbit stew is their national dish, and the Maltese have the highest rabbit consumption rate per person in the world. (Each person eats about 8.89 kilograms of rabbit.) Pasta, bread, and rice are common carbs and accompany practically every meal.

bj

One thing I could not find at any of the five bakeries on my street is sourdough bread. Everyone gave me blank stares when I asked for it. Panicking because I had not thought ahead to make my own bread, I had to randomly choose a loaf that looked similar to the Maltese sourdough bread pictures I googled. Hobz Malti is the name given to the particular bread loaf that is a mandatory ingredient for every meal. It is eaten as a complete meal in itself topped with tomato paste and seafood, olives, and/or cheese called Ħobż biż-żejt. Here in Spain they eat something like this called pa amb tomaquete in Valenciano. I wish I had devoted a little more effort to the meal and made my own Hobz, but the bread from the bakery was also delicious. Too bad we don't have a ton of little bakeries on every corner in the US.



Stuffed artichokes Maltese-style? Yes please! These delicious and tender beauties are super fun to make since you get to smash them against the counter to open up the tops. I advise that you use a small pot that you can cram them into, but I had to use a larger one with a jar wedged in-between the artichokes and it worked fine.

ds

Qaqocc Mimli
2 artichokes
2 black olives, chopped
1 tbsp red wine
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 anchovies, chopped
1 large slice of Maltese or sourdough bread, toasted and crumbled
salt and pepper, to taste
olive oil, to drizzle

Wash the artichokes and cut the stems off of them so that they can stand up by themselves. To make the filling, mix the olives, parsley, red wine, garlic, anchovies, bread, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl. Bang the tops of the artichokes on the counter to open them up. Shove all the stuffing inside. (It all fits. Just keep shoving.) Place the artichokes upright in a pot. I used a jar wedged between them to keep them upright. Pour water into the pot to cover the bottom third of the artichokes. Drizzle liberally with olive oil and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 40 minutes, or until the artichokes are tender.

kb

 Here's how I cooked the artichokes. I also filled the jar with water to make sure it wouldn't move around.
 
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Malta's national dish of rabbit stew is a must-have. Rabbit hunting was severely restricted when Malta was under the rule of the Knights of Saint John. I see their elevation of rabbit stew during this time as a form of rebellion and cultural pride. I am so glad that this dish was able to withstand the test of time so that I could enjoy it.

Stuffat Tal-Fenek
1 rabbit, skinned, gutted, and decapitated
1 bottle red wine
4 cloves peeled garlic
3 bay leaves
1 clove chopped garlic
2 onions, sliced
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp olive oil
1 ½ cups diced tomatoes
2 carrots, sliced
4 waxy potatoes, cubed
½ cup green peas
salt and pepper, to taste
pasta, to serve

Cut your rabbit into 10 serving pieces, cutting off the legs and cutting the body into fourths. Put it in a large bowl with the peeled whole garlic and two of the bay leaves and cover it with the red wine. Refrigerate overnight. Pat the rabbit dry and heat one tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat in a large pan. Add the rabbit and brown on all sides. Heat the remaining oil over medium heat and cook the onions and chopped garlic until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook another minute. Add the rabbit to the pot along with 2 cups of the marinating wine, a bay leaf and the diced tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook for an hour. Add the potatoes and carrots and cook for another 45 minutes. Finally stir in the peas, cook for 5 minutes, season to taste, and enjoy on top of bed of pasta doused in the sauce from the stew.


kj

Wow. What can I say? I would have never thought that rabbit would taste so good. Why don't we have this in the States??? Why? Slowly simmering the rabbit for almost two hours yielded super tender and juicy meat. The sauce was thankfully not taken over by a wine taste. It was the perfect topping to my pasta. The artichokes were great and didn't taste fishy at all even with the addition of anchovies. I think they served more as a subtle salty addition than anything else. My only disappointment was not being able to make/find an adequate substitute for Maltese sourdough bread. Oh well. The bread I bought from the bakery was probably equally delicious if not completely authentic. Yep, Malta is definitely a place where I would not mind grabbing a bite to eat.