Plov with Young Chicken: The Soviet Experiment, Part 1

Here commences the Great Soviet Experiment (or perhaps, that is, the second Great Soviet Experiment). I will be cooking something from each former republic, in order, because I am back in America and have nothing to do and miss the Soviet Union (historically and geographically).1 (That is, I will do this one and then probably forget about the whole thing.) I’m starting with Azerbaijan because it comes first in the Russian alphabet, and I’m doing this from a Russian cookbook.

It’s called Cuisines of the Caucasus and Central Asia, by William (or Vil’yam) Pokhlyobkin (Вильям Похлёбкин)—he’s also done cookbooks on the Slavic countries and the entire Soviet Union, which I thought was what I bought, but I guess it was too heavy so I got this one instead. It was a while ago in Bishkek, I don’t remember anything. (Important note about Pokhlyobkin, whose name is impossible to spell in English: it seems like he’s an expert on Russian cuisine, and just sort of decided to branch out into Central Asian and other former Soviet, so we should maybe not trust him too heavily. But it is nice to use the Russian-language cookbooks that one has bought. Also, apparently he once got into trouble for writing a book about tea.)

Anyway. For Azerbaijan, we are doing a chicken plov (#plov), because most of the other dishes were much meatier (mostly lamb), and no. Plov is basically a dish of rice and meat from Uzbekistan/Turkey/many other places that they eat all over the former Soviet Union because, at least in Russia, they are obsessed with the food of their culinarily better neighbors/take-over-ees. There are literally entire books about plov, which is something I would like to own, so I will not go into more detail on it here. It is very complicated.

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The last new place / последнее новое место

I guess this is now a tradition: the first post in the new kitchen in the new country. I’m in Siberia now (since Thursday) and I’ve been eating only pelmeni since then (literally), but today I finished cleaning, and it was -27°C outside, so I decided to stay in and make dinner. Cook something other than hot-pot mac-and-cheese for the first time in five months.

While I was chopping the onion—or actually crudely hacking it—I was thinking: this is just making a normal weekday dinner, this is not “deciding not to bother and going out to Cooksoo at the last minute” or “let’s experiment with cool Estonian things I found in the supermarket”—this could just be, I’m at home and living my life. Like I will for the entire rest of my life. This is what it will be like when I get back to the US in June after three years abroad—exactly the same as it was before I left (except worse, because without my cat, who cruelly and unnecessarily abandoned me by dying). I don’t want to stay abroad but I don’t want to go back either.

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This is the view from my kitchen table/desk. ПРИВЕТ, РОССИЯ!

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Hot plate hot problems

I don’t really know what the title of this post means. I only have a hot plate in my kitchen here, so I am going to be experimenting with Hot Plate Cooking. I haven’t even made the dish in question yet, so maybe it will be fantastic. Haaahahaha it will not.

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This picture has nothing to do with the post, I just like it. It’s from the Osh Bazaar.

Today I discovered a horrible truth: there are apartment-hunting websites far, far, far, far, far worse than Craigslist out there. Like, I am sitting here actively thinking I WISH THERE WERE CRAIGSLIST IN BISHKEK. This seems like a very bad sign just about life in general. (The ads here either don’t tell you where the apartment is or who the roommates are, or they want a girl who will pay no rent in exchange for making borsht.) Continue reading

Spanish tortilla, aka food without cheese

Because I had a grotesque and horrible cold last week (well, I don’t know when I’m going to post this… so let’s just say sometime in the recent past), I needed a dinner recipe for the week that involved no cheese. This was very tragic for me. My first thought was something Asian, but ultimately I chose a Spanish tortilla, and then went to Smitten Kitchen’s recipe. (I was sick and in no mood for doing any further research.)

I first spent ninety-seven years slicing three enormous Yukon Gold potatoes (or U.K. Gold, if you are my supermarket and speak imperfect English) and one small onion. I can thereby attest that you should not make this on a weeknight unless you have a mandoline, which I do not. I am, however, an exemplary slicer. But it still took forever.

I cooked the potatoes and onion in a terrifying amount of oil

(most of it gets discarded later, though; so I now have a totally solidified Grey Poupon jar of potato-y, onion-y olive oil in my fridge) for about ten minutes; I should have done slightly less, since the pan I was using was far too big and thus most of the potatoes were in direct contact with the heat source. (SK tells us to use a nine-inch skillet, but I only have one skillet and it is enormous; I didn’t want to risk using a frying pan and having an eggsplosion. This seems like the sort of thing that would happen to me.)

I drained the oil using a colander over a bowl, added s&p, and let them cool a bit while I beat my seven eggs (!!!!). I added s&p and then poured in the potato/onion mixture. They mingled for ten minutes while I did my Russian homework. Я учу русский язык.

I added some oil back into the skillet, then added the egg mixture; I cooked for a bit, trying to let the egg run around the sides as she said, but the pan was so oily that the entire tortilla kept moving whenever I tried to do this.

Once the top was mostly solidified (I’m sorry but I don’t even remotely remember how long this was… five, ten minutes??), I spatula-ed it onto a dinner plate. That part wasn’t too hard—it came right out.

Then I turned the skillet over the plate.

Then I went, what in God’s name do I do now.

I think I just sort of stuck my oven mitt–encased hand under the plate, and then, with my other oven mitt–encased hand on the skillet’s bottom, flipped it over. It was actually not as hard as it sounds, but it was anxiety-provoking.

I put the skillet back over the flame, and learned that the bottom of my tortilla was way too dark. I either overcooked it or had it over too high a flame. (I think the latter; I am overall satisfied with the amount of cooking.)

Then it was done shortly thereafter.

I didn’t think it would be that exciting-tasting, but it was REALLY GOOD. It was like… potato omelette… but in cake form… and it was weirdly addictive and I couldn’t stop eating it. That said, I can’t really imagine ever doing this again, but it was a good experience. And yummy.

I ate it with arugula-and-cherry-tomato salad.

 

Recipe from Smitten Kitchen; not adapted, so just look at it on her site.

Jollof rice (well, not really, but kind of)

I am continuing my West African kick with jollof rice, the national dish of a variety of West African countries. I don’t feel qualified to say much else about it; I have no idea if my version was authentic (and if it was originally, it wasn’t after I messed with it); etc. etc. But it is yummy and only gets better as time goes on. I wasn’t thrilled with it on Sunday, but by Tuesday it was really good, all melded together, flavor synthesis, blah blah. I am also so impressed by how the chicken came out that I’m willing to overlook all the other deficiencies, such as excessive tomato flavor such that all the other flavors are sort of lost and… well that pretty much sums it up. I browned, braised, and microwaved the chicken at various points over the last few days, and it’s still moist and yummy and tender and non-dry. And it tastes good. I think this is a function of using thighs and not cutting all the fat off? Or it’s because I used relatively happy chickens? (Let’s just say their lives probably had their ups and downs, but things could have been worse.)

Anyway. I messed up most of this recipe and barely took pictures because I was Skyping the whole time, and it was very stressful going back and forth from the chickeny cutting board to the computer to the recipe etc., and I spent a lot of time staring at the recipe while my sisters wondered what I was doing because it just looked like I was staring at them close-up and creepily. But I wasn’t. (Oh, and there was this one moment where I was getting an incoming Skype call and I got extremely stressed and clicked “accept,” but then I realized I hadn’t washed my hands after cutting some chicken, so I proceeded to spray my computer, mouse, and basically everything nearby with all-purpose kitchen cleaner. Ew. Ugh.)

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Ghanaian stew, kind of

I spent an extremely long time the other day looking for a black-eyed peas recipe that wasn’t lobia or hoppin’ john. I was first led to Red-Red by a Whole Foods post, and then finally I found what seemed like a more legit recipe. (I love that The Spice Island stresses how salty this should be. They know what’s up.) Red-Red is a Ghanaian stew—red for the red palm oil (which I substituted because I couldn’t find any, but then I remembered I could have just gone to one of the West African markets in Harlem and found some, probably) and red for the tomatoes. That’s all I can tell you about it, though; I could not possibly know less about Ghanaian food. Or Ghana, actually. Though I do know multiple people who have lived there.

This recipe has tons of onions, tons of tomatoes (real ones! not canned!), and tons of hot peppers. I used jalapeños rather than habaneros, both because habaneros scare me and because I couldn’t find any. (Well, I found something that looked exactly like habaneros, but it had a different name, and I didn’t want to accidentally feed myself something on the same heat spectrum as Scotch bonnets.) I am now glad about this because my hands are still burning from the jalapeños, and I chopped them more than twelve hours ago. I think I have skin problems. Or maybe I burned myself on, like, a pot or something.

OK, I forgot to mention the black-eyed peas business. I knew I had to soak them for three or four hours, if not overnight, so I put them in to soak and went about my day. Then I drained them, rinsed them, and added more water and put them on the stove. I looked at my previous blog post to see how long they should cook, but it was very unhelpful. I can now sympathize with all of you. (I ended up cooking them for about 50 minutes. When they were done, the liquid was all black. I was freaked out; I assume that if this had happened to me before, I would have recorded it. It almost seemed like they were white beans that someone had drawn a black eye on and the ink had all washed off. But … I mean … that probably didn’t happen?)

After they were done—the timing was a bit off because I was doing all this during/after dinner—I chopped my enormous quantities of onions, then tomatoes. Ugh, and jalapeños.

Beautiful lovely tomatoes, and evil jalapeños. (From my parents’ garden and a farmers’ market.)

Then I put a bunch of dried shrimp (I was aiming to end up with 2 tsp, but I didn’t really measure) into my food processor and ground them (it has a spice-grinding setting; it doesn’t work very well on actual spices). They became a sort of shrimp powder, though in slightly larger bits than I wanted.

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Dorothy Sayers sandwiches

I have been reading Dorothy Sayers novels all week. I’ve now run out of all the ones I had at my disposal and have to wait until Tuesday [I wrote this on Sunday; I have since gotten another book] to stock up. I feel bereft. All I can think about is when Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane will finally get married. (IF YOU KNOW, DON’T TELL ME!!!!!) It’s like Jane Austen, only with murder. It’s awesome. (Basically it’s posh British people solving murders and being charming and riding horses and driving cars with their gentlemen manservants in the 1920s and 1930s. They say “what ho” sometimes, and things of that nature. It is wonderful. I may devote my life to reading detective novels.)

Anyway, I’m really distracted because of my need to read more Dorothy Sayers. It kind of reminds me of those horrible two weeks after you finish the latest Harry Potter and you know you have to wait two or three years for the next one and you can’t think about anything except Sirius Black and stuff.

I’m making roast beef sandwiches for dinner. That’s not related to Dorothy Sayers, but you can’t really make a post out of roast beef sandwiches (well, that’s not true; I read a number of them, but I don’t have much to add). (You also can’t make a post on a food blog about Dorothy Sayers.)

I almost bought an actual horseradish at the grocery store because I couldn’t find the jarred stuff, but then I found the jarred stuff, in the sketchy aisle in the back with the chicharrones (at least that’s what I thought they were, but there are giant sheets of it so now I’m not sure), hot dogs, and bacon. I do not understand the function of that aisle. It opens into this back area of the supermarket, and things happen back there, but I don’t know what. Sometimes a man watches you while you investigate the hot dog situation. (They don’t have Hebrew National.) It’s uncomfortable. But they had horseradish.

The stuff upon which cities are built and crumble

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Sichuan/Szechuan/!!! (part 2)

Here is a paragraph I wrote while very annoyed that I couldn’t finish cooking:

I am sitting here unable to finish (or start, actually) making my Sichuan dry-fried green beans because my shrimps have not finished rehydrating. I did not know they needed to rehydrate until I had finished chopping everything else, and now they are sitting in a pool of water glumly. It might take twenty minutes. I am hungry. This is not something that happens every day. (The shrimp, not my being hungry. That happens multiple times a day.)

Now here is the rest of the post.

This all took place in that yada-yada’d area of the first Sichuan post.

I began by preparing my string beans—stacking them on one end, slicing off the ends, and doing the same to the other end, then cutting them in half. I hadn’t been terribly excited about this recipe, but I wanted a vegetable side dish that went with the dan dan noodles. Then, once I opened the bag of green beans, I suddenly remembered how much I love them raw. I ate a few; I love the crunch, the watery sweetness? That they taste green and of dirt. I have half a pound left and I hope they don’t go bad.

Then I sliced my mini-shiitakes, first pulling the stems out (not sure if that’s necessary, but they always seem slightly gross). I should have washed them or wiped them with a wet paper towel, but I didn’t do either. There’s a lot of controversy. Then I read the recipe again and realized I had to rehydrate my shrimp. So I sat around for a while.

Then—still during the rehydrating—I heated the oil in my larger pasta pot and, once a string bean I added began to sizzle, added about half the string beans. They sizzled away for about four minutes, after which time I thought they were shriveled enough to be considered done.

It’s hard to photograph green beans sizzling in oil.

I drained them in my colander on the suggestion of Use Real Butter. By then I figured the shrimp bits were hydrated enough, so I chopped them into smaller bits (they were still rather tough, but I have no idea what they’re supposed to end up like, texturally) and diced more preserved mustard greens.

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Sichuan/Szechuan (I think)

I like to think that the title of this post means not that I am unsure about the spelling of Sichuan/Szechuan or whether the food I’ve made this week is either of them; but rather, that I do in fact think.

I spent several hours today trying to avoid going to Chinatown to buy groceries for this week’s dinners. First I went to Katagiri, where I bought shiitake mushrooms. Then I went to H-Mart, where I bought absolutely nothing. Then I gave up and went home. Then I went to Hong Kong Market in Chinatown, where I spent at least one blissful hour (I mean all the time I spent there was blissful; I don’t know how much of it there was) perusing and then buying ingredients that I needed both for these dishes and then just generally for my life. I bought some things I have been needing for like a year. It was great.

And Chinatown wasn’t even stressful. I guess I usually go there at bad times, but today it wasn’t crowded, it was peaceful; maybe Hester Street is just calmer. I was in Little Italy, according to the giant flying signs and flags, but everything was Chinese.

I bought kind of a lot of things.

A strainer; two types of preserved vegetables (both mustard greens, I think; note how the label is in German); chili bean sauce; fermented black bean paste; black vinegar; rice wine (SCORE); peanut oil; sesame oil (just for backup); two types of Chinese egg noodles; dried shrimps; peanut meal (ingredients: Fancy Peanuts); dumpling wrappers.

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Israeli couscous with eggplant and tomato

Here is the very belated second post of the week. While I am writing this, I still haven’t tasted it because of hopefully unfounded stomach fears… but I’ll have some soon and let you know. It smelled and looked amazing, so I think it will be fine.

I had been meaning to make this for several years, but never got around to it, even after Jacqui found and bought me some whole-wheat Israeli couscous (for less than like $8/lb, which is what Fairway sells it for, blehhh).

I don’t know if it’s because this happened so long ago or because it was really easy, but I can’t think of a whole lot to say about this. It was easy.

I take a LOT of pictures of steam by accident.

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