Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Cooking to heal your broken political heart

I read Slavenka Draculic's book "How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed" this summer while on sabbatical. I had long wanted to read it and I'm glad I did - its a bit dated but her look at the fall of communism and the rise of capitalism through the prism of women's eyes was much needed. She spoke about talking with women about the lousy way men have treated them while they sit in similar kitchens all over the former Yugoslavia cooking noodle soups. So many disappointing men, so much noodle soup.

Last night when I watched the miserable returns of the 2016 US Election, I felt broken hearted - its the strongest and most emotional I've ever felt about a political event. I was upset and shocked as the returns came in and I fled to be by myself as I often do when confronted with awful news. That morning (for it was 4:45am when I realized where it was going),  I treated myself gently and just let sleep heal me. But everytime I woke up, I was reminded of the unpleasant news. I felt simultaneously like there had been a death and a breakup. The realization and the resulting emotions were shocking to me and I felt so sad - for the world will change in a dramatic way soon and not for the better for the people I work with - refugee women and children and the poor and vulnerable around the world.

So I turned to something comforting. I decided to make my family's famous spaghetti sauce. Just like the broken-hearted women of communist Croatia - it was time to retreat to the kitchen and cook and let the smell of spices and onions and broth and tomatoes comfort me. I will feed others and take care of myself and start to feel healing myself.

I made my father's famous spaghetti sauce. And listened to music and as the meal came together, a feeling of comfort and my old strength to fight is beginng to flow inside me. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Delicious Zhug (or Z'houg or Shoug or Zhouk) from Yemen!

When I was in the Middle East this past six months, I went to visit friends in a gorgeous place called "Jaffa" (or Yafo) which is a predominantly Arab old city inside the city limits of Tel Aviv in Palestine (or Israel). In this part of the world, there seems to be alternate spellings and names for everything. 

Readers, I fell in love.... with Zhug - a spicy green sauce that I first tasted on falafel and then on Sabic and then on everything! You can buy it fresh at the Tel Aviv airport and so at any given time I had three or four jars of it in my house in Jordan. Oddly, I could not find it in Amman. However - its easy to make at home! 

According to the internet: Zhug was brought to Israel by Yemenite Jews and is now the hot condiment of choice in Israel. Zhug is made with fresh chiles, garlic, coriander, cardamom, and other spices. It is usually very hot, so you should start with a small amount. Mixed with soaked and ground fenugreek, it becomes hilbe (which I'll try to make should I ever find any fresh fenugreek). 

Spice Girl/ Ottolenghi Fangirls
I've since returned to Thailand and I'm sure I won't find any here. I had dinner with my Ottolenghi Cooking Group (with lovely Mistress ofSpicesMango-Ginger and Momomoeats and our designated eater, Vionette) in Bangkok the other night and we made hummus. And I started craving Sabih and Zhug. Tonight, I'll fry some eggplant but this morning, I made Zhug and had it with some hummus on a piece of pita. 

Here's the recipe I used this morning:

2 bunches of cilantro/ coriander (the perfect herb for the middle east as it has two names)
1 bunch curly parsley
2 green chiles serrano chilies, seeded
6 jalapeno chiles, seeded
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp coriander seeds
2 pinches cardamom
2 pinches salt
4 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tbsp olive oil

I blended it all together and made a nice size jar to keep me doing through the cravings. 


Monday, January 5, 2015

Making Mochi in Japan

This Christmas and New Year's, I decided to go to Japan and study meditation at the Shogan-ji Temple.  One of the things that attracted me to this place was the idea that I would get to help out cooking in the kitchen. Little did I know that Jiho-san, the monk, was an amazing cook and would teach us some great food! 

Traditionally, New Year's is a time to make mochi, a rice cake. We made three kinds. And I learned how to make it from scratch. 

We made Kagami mochi, a traditional Japanese New Year decoration. It usually consists of two round mochi, the smaller placed atop the larger, and a Japanese bitter orange with an attached leaf on top. In addition, it may have a sheet of konbu and a skewer of dried persimmons under the mochi. It sits on a stand called a sanp over a sheet called a shih beni, which is supposed to ward off fires from the house for the following years. Sheets of paper called gohei folded into lightning shapes similar to those seen on sumo wrestler's belts are also attached. 

We made O-zoni, a soup with bits of mochi in it. This is traditionally eaten at New Years and was delicious!  

We also made kusa mochi, or yomogi mochi, literally "grass mochi" - which is flavored with mugwort. Every step of this process was completely by hand! From soaking the beans and cooking them and then mashing them into balls to picking the mugwort (hahagohusa) and steaming them to soaking the rice, steaming it and pounding it into sticky mochi. 

Some sake for cooking or drinking later...

Pounding the mochi is a man's job! 

Jiho-san's brother who I dubbed the "MOCHI MASTER" 

The women shape and flavor the mochi

The Usu - a traditional mortar

Smashing the mugwort into the mochi paste

As Gaijin, we straddled the men and the women's roles. 

Ready to take out to the temple soon!

Couldn't resists sampling! 

A little fresh yellow-tail sashimi straight form the ocean for lunch! 

Steamed mugwort for the Kusa Mochi

Shaped black bean balls for the kusa mochi

Steaming the sticky rice.

Making the kaso mochi!

The results of our hard labor. 

Jiho-san approves!

Mochi Soup or Ozoni.

Jiho-san and his mother supervising the sashimi.