Share your favorite cuisine.
The latest MoFo challenge has me flipping through cookbooks and pining for 35 thin, spiral bound Time Life International Cookbooks my mother received as a wedding gift. Because of the beautiful photographs, I judged these books by their covers: the white and green French fondant chicken, the sunshine seafood paella from Spain, the minimalist Japanese bento box. Occasionally, I peeked into the books for techniques and flavors to veganize a meat based recipe. Eventually, the books went the way of the other things that disappear with a big move.
Author, Barbara Kingsolver says America has “no apparent food culture” save Mc Donalds and Thanksgiving, but I think the embrace-every-food-culture-sheltered-on-our-shores sums us up. Recently Africa and Slovenia and Croatia come to mind as under-represented food flavor cuisines. Africa for the peanuty spicy, oven baked bread, all hands in one dish sharing generosity; and Slovenia and Croatia for the fresh from the garden, savory soups, decadent desserts and handmade pastas.
I am also thinking a lot about refugees. When I was in school, reading Cry the Beloved Country, Still Life with Rice and The Kite Runner, I learned about the violence between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes in Rwanda from a man who had witnessed the refugee camps first hand: the orphans and the widows, the suffering and diaspora. I remember his frustration that the horrors were mostly unknown to people in the United States. I remember feeling quite callous and uninformed about the whole thing myself. He made a Rwandan dinner and told me the story. A dish from his childhood, made vegan for me, flavored less spicy for my wimpy tongue. A delicious savory peanut sauce served with rice and vegetables. He talked with tears in his eyes about an orphan girl he could not forget.
Food transports us.
I pay more attention now to slips and wisps of refugee stories in the news. I am looking for the African peanut recipe and will post it here when I find it. As a nod to the continent, I flipped through Marcus Samuelsson’s Discovery of A Continent: foods, flavors and inspirations from Africa omnivore cookbook. I listen to the stories of Croatia’s welcome to refugees and frown at their neighbors closed borders. I am made aware of the isolating refugee (Syria and Nigeria) experience again through Yermi Brenner’s writing for Aljazeera, “Refugees Cook Their Way Into Integration” and would like my food today to honor cuisines people clutch, in order to feel something of fled homes.
I revisited my saves and stashes from a summer spent in Croatia and Slovenia: dried crimini mushrooms, spicy pasta, dried beans. And a cookie press I bought in Slovenia with the delightful description: “for self-confident cookies.” Today, I will make some of these.
American cuisine embraces the cultures that find refuge on our shores, it is time to welcome some more.
Vegetable Samosas (Inspired by Marcus Samuelsson’s African recipe)
Puff pastry dough cut into 4 by 4 inch squares
2 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion sliced
2 small red potatoes cubed
1 Tablespoon curry powder
2 cloved minced garlic
1/2 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup water
1 lime, juice of
Saute onions and garlic until translucent about 5 minutes. Add potatoes, curry, carrots, garlic, cook for 10 minutes. Add cauliflower, coconut milk and water, simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, mash with a fork for a chunky puree. Bake in a 425 degree F oven until the puff pastry is golden brown. Serve hot.
What is more welcoming than tea and cookies? Traditions such as sweet mint tea served with Qa’b el-ghazal can be comforting and welcoming for any visitor.
I am confident I can make these cookies my self.
Qa’b el-ghazal (horns of the doe or cornes de gazelle) is a crescent shaped pastry with almond and sugar. I found recipes for these written in French including a “jaune d’oeuf” which is not vegan. And the 1000 and One website directions, including some fun directions like mix “le tout” [the all] with “les mains” [the hands]. The pictures are worth the price of admission- Samuelsson said the cookies were complex, he wasn’t kidding. He included a simpler Chinese style Almond Cookie recipe in his book. I am making a version of my own for the cookie press with a couple adaptations: pepper and chocolate style, too. Stay tuned. So here is what happened, I thought, what if I combined the spices and the almonds with the chocolate cookie dough. The result is a cookie combination inspired by Croatian Pepper Cookies, Chinese and African Almond Cookies and Chocolate biscotti.
Chocolate, Almond, Pepper Cookies
2 sticks or one cup of vegan butter
2 squares or 30 grams of unsweetened baking chocolate
1/2 cup date sugar or brown sugar if you prefer the cookies more sweet
1/2 cup roasted almonds, ground
1/2 cup of brown rice syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla, plus 1 teaspoon of almond extract, if a strong almond marzipan-like flavor is desired
2 2/3 cup of unbleached white flour
1-2 teaspoons each: ground cinnamon, cloves and black pepper
In a food processor, grind the almonds, add date sugar and half of the vegan butter. Melt the chocolate squares and the remainder of the butter, until the chocolate is just melted, the butter can still be semi soft. Add the chocolate butter mixture to the food processor, add extract/s, sweetener and spices. Add flour 1/3 cup at a time to process until the dough pulls from the sides of the processor and forms a ball. Remove the dough, press into a log shape, wrap with foil or plastic wrap and set in the freezer to chill for 20-30 minutes.
Remove the chilled dough, working quickly with clean hands, roll the dough into balls about 1 inch in diameter. Flatten slightly, then using plastic wrap between the cookie press and the dough, press the design into the cookies. Bake in a 320 degree F. oven fro 25-30 minutes until the smell makes your mouth water.
Slovenian cookie press with heart symbol.
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