Monday, March 19, 2012

Bridging the Gap through Food

The egyptian and I in Alexandria, Egypt
"Breaking Bread" is a common term used to imply that two or more parties of different backgrounds or view points are coming together to find some sort of common bond. I have always loved exposing myself to other cultures and ideas, and I was very lucky that it was encouraged from such a young age.

I can remember as far back as when I was a very young Brownie Girl Scout, I attended my very first "Taster's Tea," an event created to expose children to various cultures through food, song, dance, and art. I remember wearing a can-can costume (yes, at 7 or so, I became a cabaret dancer from France *sigh*,) and trying my best to represent the country of France, a place I have been obsessed with ever since my first ballet class. I even remember as a young child, going to eat at a local American restaurant, where my father would deliver milk, and our family would sit for a while chatting with the manager, a Cuban man. I was always fascinated by his accent and his story. I could go on and on sharing with you the various people I have met over the years from various countries - and what I found was one common theme always arose - Food.

Usually our conversations were over food, or about food. What better way is there to share the very element of your daily lives than by "breaking bread" with your fellow man? It's a common denominator we all share - the need to eat, and converse and enjoy one another. In my own family, dinner time was a time to share our stories. We would aways sit at the table, and each person basically went around the table and shared their day, their experiences. Food was at the center of it all. My mom, though I often complain about our ability to butt heads more than anyone around, was always trying to expose us to other cultures through food. We would all talk, we would be exposed to something "different," and we would either smile or spit it out - but it was always an adventure.

When I decided to host 14 different exchange students in my home, I was also exposed to a wide variety of food. From curry dishes to Thai noodle, from Pavlova to Vegemite, from Moldovan wine to Belgian chocolates - each country was represented, and somehow became apart of who I am.

The egyptian & I at Green Plaza - about to eat in Egypt.
When I married the egyptian - my entire life would be forever altered. Where I grew up, in Macon, Georgia, it was rare to meet anyone other than American - maybe a few Indians or Pakistanis, perhaps a sprinkle of Mexicans or Salvadorans, and maybe one or two Filipino.. but rarely a Middle Easterner, or in the egyptian's case, a North African/Arab.

When I flew to Egypt to meet his family, one of the biggest adventures for me was being exposed to all of the different flavors. I was not familiar with many dishes, even though I tried as best as I could to do my research.

My first night, the very first item I tried was a dry type of cheese, that to this day I do not know the actual name, just that my husband calls it "Turkey Cheese." I took a bite, and after a minute or so, I became a little alarmed. I thought the slice was stuck in my throat. It felt as if it was just sitting in my esophagus. I told him I thought I was choking, and the entire time, I kept laughing to myself thinking, "Great, I fly to the middle east by myself and die by eating cheese. Of course." Later, I discovered it is just a really, REALLY dry cheese. LOL. Needless to say, after that little incident, the food "ice" was broken.

Since my return, and after my husband has treated many friends to his amazing food, I have been asked by so many people to share some of the recipes. I decided I will do just that. I know there are a few that are already on the blog and easily searchable, but here are a few more I think you might enjoy.

But before I do that, I just wanted to remind each of you to break out of your comfort zone. Try other foods. Be adventurous. Be spontaneous. Open up your eyes and mind to a new way of thinking and eating. I have friends from all over the world, and even more friends that have parents from other cultures - how exciting to be invited into their homes, and "break bread."

Here are some examples of me - bridging the cultural gap - through food.

Dinner at a friend's home in Alexandria, Egypt. We were eating on the balcony over looking the street, just a block or so from the Mediterranean Sea.

Talk about fresh - straight from the farmer to your neighborhood stand. This was at the corner of my husband's street.

Fresh fruit right under my husband's home

Lunch - bread "pie" - cheese and white honey

The falafel guy

The neighborhood butcher

Typical breakfast - tahini, greek yogurt, bread, pepsi. ;-)

Bridging the Cultural Gap

I hope you enjoy these recipes!

Yogurt Salad (a staple in our home)
1 Cucumber   2 garlic cloves   8 green scallions   2 1/2 cup strained greek yogurt   5 tbsp chopped, fresh mint   plus extra to garnish   salt & pepper   to serve with flat bread (similar to pita bread)

Trim the cucumber, but do not peel. Cut the cucumber in small, neat dice. Finely chop the garlic and scallions. Beat the yogurt in the bowl with a fork until smooth, then fold in the cucumber, garlic, scallions and mint. Season the mix to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let chill in frig for one hour. Serve with flat bread.

Hummus bi Tahini (the RIGHT WAY! ;-) )
14 o. canned chickpeas drained and rinsed   1 garlic clove, crushed to paste with a 1/4 tsp salt   3-4 tbsp tahini (pronounced in Egypt as Taheena) also known as sesame paste   2-4 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice   1/4 tsp cumin   extra virgin olive oil for thinning (opt.)   plus extra to serve   salt   warm flat bread   garnish with - paprika and chopped fresh flat - parsley

Put all but one tbsp chickpeas into a food processor. Add garlic and process to a thick, coarse paste. Add 3 tbsp of tahini and process again until well blended. Add 2 tbsp lemon juice, the cumin, and some salt to taste - process until creamy. Taste and add extra tahini &/or lemon juice as needed. For a thinner dip, with motor running drizzle in olive oil until you reach the desired consistency. To serve - put in a bowl and add an indention in the middle - put the remainder of chickpeas there, and drizzle with oil. Sprinkle with  paprika and parsley. You can refrigerate for up to three days.

1 large garlic clove crushed to a paste with 1/4 tsp salt   4-6 tbsp of water   4-6 freshly squeezed lemon juice   5 1/2 ounces of tahini (sesame seed paste)   1 tbsp freshly chopped parsley   salt   warm flat bread

Put garlic in a bowl and stir in 4 tbsp of water and 4 tbsp of lemon juice. Use a fork to whisk in sesame seed paste, then season to taste with salt. Taste and add extra paste and lemon juice until sauce is a smooth, pouring consistency. Stir in parsley. Transfer to a bowl. *sauce thickens when chilled.

Falafel (THE RIGHT WAY! ;-) )
** this is a looong recipe - but it was given to me by a wonderful egyptian friend.
1/4 c medium bulgar wheat   1 day old pita torn into small pieces   1 tbsp boiling water   1 onion quartered   4 garlic cloves   4 tbsp freshly chopped flat leaf parsley or cilantro   1 cup dried fava beans rinsed and soaked in cold water for atleast 12 hours   1 1/2 tbsp of ground cumin   1/2 tsp ground coriander   1 tsp tumeric   1 tsp ground sumac   1 tsp baking powder   2 tsp salt and pepper   sunflower oil for deep frying

Put bulgar wheat in a bowl, pour boiling water to cover. (The wheat will cover the water.) Cover the bowl with a folded clean kitchen towel and let it stand for at least 20 minutes. Put pita bread in a separate bowl, sprinkle with boiling water and let it soak in.
Put the onion and garlic in a food processor and process until finely chopped. Add parsley and process again until finely chopped.
Use hands to squeeze bread dry. Drain beans, rinse, shake dry, and add to food processor along with bread. Process to a slightly grainy paste. Scrap the mix into a large mixing bowl.
Use your hands to squeeze the Bulgar wheat dry - add to this bowl: cumin, coriander, sumac, turmeric, baking powder and salt & pepper to taste. Use your hands to mix  all of the ingredients together , then shape into balls, each about the size of a walnut.
Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the frig for about 30 minutes.
Heat the oil for frying 350 - 375 F. Add falafel in batches to avoid over crowding. Turning over after 6-8 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon. Squeeze lemon wedges over them. Serve with any of the above dips!!

Middle Eastern Flat Bread - (Khubuz)
1 tbsp yeast   1 tbsp sugar   2 1/2- 3 cups warm water   5 cups all-purpose flour   1 cup whole wheat flour

Dissolve the yeast and sugar in 1/2 a cup of water. Let stand 2-5 minutes. Place both flours in a large bowl, and combine with some of the water and dissolved yeast. Begin mixing and kneading , adding water sparingly until a smooth dough results and the sides of the bowl are clean.

Cover with a towel and allow the dough to rise in a warm place until it doubles in size. Cut orange sized balls from the edge of the dough and form them into smooth balls.  Cover and let them rise for 30 minutes. Roll into 1/4 inch thick flat loaves and allow them to rise again for 45 minutes.

Place the loaves in a 550F oven on a baking stone (like a pizza stone) on the middle shelf. 
As soon as the loaves puff up - remove them to cool. The loaves can be frozen and heated later if needed. Makes 10 loaves.

Za'atar Flat Pie
**Use can buy some Za'atar seasoning from Olive Forge Herb Farm in Haddock, Georgia for a GREAT price.

2 tbsp Za'atar   1/4 cup chopped ripe tomato   1/4 cup chopped onion   1 tsp Olive oil   2 tbsp lemon juice   1 loaf unbaked bread (see above)

Punch out one unbaked loaf of bread dough and spread za'atar on top as follows:
Mix the za'atar, tomato, and the chopped onion with oil and lemon juice. Roll the dough in a circular loaves 1/4inch thick.
Pour the za'atar mix on the dough and smooth it evenly over the surface, pressing it gently with a fork. Place the loaf on a cookie sheet and bake at 550f for 1 minutes, or until the edge of the loaf is golden.

Chicken in Pita Bread with Sumac
**you can purchase ground sumac at Olive Forge Herb Farm in Haddock, Georgia

1 lb skinned chicken breasts   3 cups onion, sliced    1 tbsp olive oil   1/3 cup sumac    4 whole wheat pita breads

Cover the chicken in water and cook for 20 minutes or until the breasts are done. Remove them from the water and cut them into 1 inch thick pieces.
Saute the onion in oil until transparent, then mix the chicken with the onion and sumac.
Cut each pita bread in half. Stuff each half with the chicken-onion mixture. Place the stuffed halves next to each other in an oiled baking pan and spray with olive oil. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes.

THEN.. for my husband's standard meals of all:
Ful Mudammas
1 clove of garlic   1/2 cup lemon juice   1 medium tomato, diced
1 small chopped onion   1/2 cup finely chopped parsley  1 tbsp olive oil   1 tbsp ground cumin   pepper to taste   2 1/2 cups cooked fava beans

Mash or press the garlic, mix it with lemon juice and add it to the remainder of the ingredients to the beans. You can, if you want, mix the lemon juice , olive oil, and the seasoning with the beans, leaving the vegetables in a separate bowl. Ful is eaten with bread and raw onions. Stuffed into a small pita, it makes a delightful sandwich.

That is just a sampling of a few tried and true recipes. Those are the staples- basics of a middle eastern/Mediterranean table. I can bring you more... if you want more, let me know in the comment section!

Now - let's break bread!


KaRaLouTopia said...

Yummy!! I live close to dearborn michigan which is the largest population of arabs outside of the middle east so there are plenty of amazing authentic options here and ive been blessed enough to learn some traditional recipes from a few elder women in my fave restaurant.....i will pass these recipes on to you if youd like...
Mmm now I want to cook!! Lol
Thank you for sharing these :)

Rebecca Mecomber said...

Oh I SO love Mediterranean food! I dislike American cuisine because it is so fatty and heavy. But OH the good food of Greece, especially! Yum!

Tamika D. said...

These are some great recipes. And that husband of yours is an excellent cook. I believe we had some of that Khubuz at your home once. If ever you want a FAB tasting healthy dish head to Nicole's!


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