28 February 2007

Red or Green Curry Noodles

2 cans coconut milk
2 T red or green curry paste
Salt
Vegetables to stir fry (lots)
Cooked or soaked noodles- wheat or rice as you like, enough for 4 people, drained and preferrably hot

This is a quick and easy version; I often take more time to make it a touch more authentic, but this one still tastes good and really is very easy.

Stir-fry the vegetables in a bit of oil, then add noodles and mix well. Add the coconut milk and curry paste and salt (more or less paste and salt to taste) and mix well and heat through to serve.

Koshary

We ate koshary almost every day in Cairo.

Equal parts cooked brown lentils, rice, and macaroni
Spicy tomato sauce

The easiest way to cook lentils, rice and pasta is to boil water in a big pot, then add 1/2 cup of lentils. Cook for 20 minutes, then add 1/2 cup of rice. Cook for 12 more minutes, then add the pasta. Cook for 8 more minutes and everything should be done. Change the proportions as desired. Serve in individual bowls topped with tomato sauce. If you like, you can cook the lentils, rice, and pasta separately and serve them in layers as is done in Cairo.


Sauce:
1-2 pounds fresh tomatoes, or use canned
Lots of garlic
Lots of crushed red pepper
Vinegar
Salt

Saute the garlic briefly in oil, then add the tomatoes. Cook them down, then add the red pepper and the vinegar and salt. This is a sharp and spicy sauce that needs more vinegar than you might think.

Pilau

* 2 1/2 cups basmati rice
* 1 T salt
* 1/4 cup vegetable oil or 4 tablespoons butter
* 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
* 1 large egg


Optional step if you have time- Wash the rice thoroughly, then place in a large pot with 3 tablespoons of salt and enough cold water to cover by 2 inches. Let soak for 2 to 3 hours. Drain well.

If you didn't soak the rice, rinse and drain it well. In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a vigorous boil. Add the salt, then gradually sprinkle in the rice. Stir gently to prevent sticking, and bring back to a boil. After the rice has been boiling for a 2 minutes (longer if you didn't soak it), test for doneness. The rice is ready when the outside is tender but there remains a slight uncooked resistance at the core of the grain. If the core of the grain is brittle, it's not done enough. Continue to check the rice until done, then drain in the sieve and rinse with tepid to cool water (to prevent cooking any more).

Place the pot back over high heat and add the oil or butter and 1 tablespoon water. In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt and egg. Stir in about 1/2 cup rice, then place in the sizzling oil and spread over the bottom of the pot. Gradually add the remaining rice, sprinkling it in to form a mound. Use the handle of a wooden spoon to make three or four holes through the mound to the bottom (make them fairly big; they let the steam escape so the bottom doesn't burn so quickly), then cover the pot with a lid wrapped in a tea towel. (The towel helps seal the lid and absorbs moisture from the rising steam- I usually skip the towel.) Heat over medium-high heat until steam builds up, 1 to 2 minutes, then lower heat to medium-low and cook for about 30 minutes. When it is done, the rice will be tender and fluffy with a flavorful crust, the tahdig, on the bottom. The crust on the bottom is what you're looking for. It should be golden brown and crunchy.

The tahdig comes off more easily if, before removing the lid, you place the pot in an inch of cold water (in the sink) for a minute. If you made the pilau in a non-stick frying pan it's easy to remove (I do this so it's easy and so you get lots more crust). Mound the rice on a platter. It will probably need more salt. This is from Seductions of Rice. It's a lot easier to make then the length of the instructions might suggest.

Fried Rice

* 2 large eggs
* 1/2 tsp salt
* 1 tsp soy sauce
* 2 T oil
* 1/4 c finely chopped meat, like ham or bacon or chipped beef or just some ground pork
* 2 large green onions, chopped
* 3 1/2 c cooked rice, at room temperature or cold


Whisk the eggs, salt, and soy sauce. Heat a wok over high heat, add the oil (if you're using raw meat, add it now too and don't add anything else till it's cooked). When the oil is hot, add the green onions and stir-fry 30 seconds. Add the eggs and cook 30 more seconds. Then add the cooked meat if you're using it and the rice, then stir-fry vigorously for 3 minutes to mix well and press the rice against the sides of the wok to sear it. Serve.

Serves 4. This is from Seductions of Rice.

27 February 2007

Afghan Naan Recipe

This is my very favorite flatbread recipe. I especially like it with this salsa. This is based on the Afghan Home-style Naan from Flatbreads and Flavors.

2 tsp yeast
1/2 c warm water
1 c plain yogurt
1 c boiling water
5-6 c whole wheat flour
2 T oil
2 tsp salt

Combine the yeast and water in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the boiling water and the yogurt and let cool till it's just warm about not hot (so you don't kill the yeast). Add the yogurt to the yeast, then stir in 3 cups of the flour. Stir for 2 minutes in the same direction to develop the gluten, then cover and let sit for at least 30 minutes or longer.

Stir in the oil and salt, then add enough flour to make a nice dough and knead till it's smooth and elastic, 8-10 minutes. Let rise till doubled, about an hour.

Preheat a baking stone on the lowest rack of the oven to 450. Take all the other oven racks out of the oven. Punch down the dough and divide into 6-8 pieces, depending on how large you want the breads to be. Roll out one round into a circle or oval or rectangle as you like about 1/4-1/2 inch thick. Slash the top of the round with a sharp knife (try not to cut all the way through) to keep it from pocketing and slide or slap onto the hot stone. Cook till beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.

Choi Sum

1/4 c chicken broth
1 T fermented soybean paste
1 T soy sauce
1 tsp rice vinegar
Pinch of sugar
1 T oil
1 T minced garlic
3 green onions, chopped
1 lb greens, like baby boy choi
2 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 1 T cold water

Mix the first 5 ingredients, mashing the paste into the liquid. Heat a wok over high heat, then add the oil. Heat for 20 seconds, then add the garlic and onions. Stir-fry briefly, then add the greens. Stir-fry 2 minutes, add the sauce, and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 3 minutes, then add the cornstarch and cook 15 more seconds and serve.

Stir-Fried Bean Sprouts

1-2 green onions, cut into long slivers
1 T oil
3 cups bean sprouts
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp rice vinegar
1/2 tsp sesame oil

Heat a wok over high heat, then add the oil. After 20 seconds, add the onions and sprouts and stir-fry 1 minute. Add the sale and stir-fry 1 more minute. Add the soy sauce and vinegar and stir-fry 30-60 more seconds. Turn into a bowl, drizzle with the sesame oil, and serve. This is from Seductions of Rice.

Apple Cake

1 lb apples, chopped
3 T lemon juice
1/2 c sugar, divided
1.5 c flour, white or wheat or a mix
1/2 T baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
2 eggs
3 oz, 85 grams, or 6 T melted butter


Heat a baking stone in the lower third of the oven to 350. Combine the apples, juice, and 1/4 c of the sugar and set aside. Combine the dry ingredients (including the rest of the sugar) in a large bowl, then add the eggs and oil to make a very stiff batter. Add the apple mixture and stir. Smooth into a greased 8x8 inch dish and bake for about 1 hour.

Skillet Cake

You need an ovenproof skillet to make this.

1/3 c oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/4 c plain yogurt
1 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cloves
1 cup chopped apples (or any other fruit you like)

Preheat the oven to 400. I like to bake this on a stone to help the fruit cook more evenly. Baking things in a regular pan on a stone is cheaper than buying lots of different pieces of stoneware but achieves the same effect.

Heat an oiled or buttered oven-proof skillet (9-10 inches) over low heat. Leave it on the stove. Mix the oil and sugar and add the eggs, yogurt and vanilla and beat 1 minute. Add the dry ingredients and mix well, then pour into the skillet and arrange the fruit on top, leaving a 1-inch rim. Put the skillet in the oven and bake at 400 for about 20 minutes, then lower the heat to 375 and bake for about another 20 minutes or longer (or shorter, depending on your oven). Check with a skewer. Let cool 5 minutes and serve out of the skillet, or flip it out of the pan to serve with the fruit on the bottom.

This is from HomeBaking.

Noodles with Greens and Gravy

1 lb rice noodles
about 1/4 c oil
3 T minced garlic
1 lb bok choi, cleaned and cut into into spears (or more)
1 T fermented soybean paste
1 T soy sauce
1.5 T fish sauce
1.5 T rice vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1 1/4 c chicken broth or water
1 T cornstarch dissolved in 3 T water
Crushed red pepper

Soak the noodles in hot water till softened. Heat 1.5 T oil over high heat in a wok, then add half the noodles and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Turn onto a platter, add 1 T oil to the wok and stir-fry the rest of the noodles. Add to the platter.

Heat 1 T oil in the wok, then add the garlic and briefly stir-fry. Add the greens and stir-fry till they wilt and turn bright green. Add the soybean paste, soy sauce, fish sauce, vinegar and the sugar, then add the broth and cornstarch mix. Stir and then cover and bring to a boil, then remove the lid and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring once in a while. Pour over the noodles. Serve with a sauce made of 1/4 c rice vinegar, 2 T sugar, and as much cayenne as you like. This is from Hot Sour Salty Sweet.

You can also add some tofu. I like to stir-fry a bit of pressed tofu with the garlic before adding the greens.

Carrot Salad

I loved the carrot salads in Kyrgyzstan, and I'm hoping that this recipe is close to what I had there. I'm thinking it's pretty close.

4 large carrots, julienned
2 green onions, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2.5 T soy sauce
1 T white vinegar
1.5 T sesame oil
1 tsp sugar
Cayenne to taste

Boil the carrots for 4 minutes, drain and cool. Mix everything else together and pour over the carrots and mix well.

Corn Chowder

Boil a bunch of chopped potatoes in a big pot of boiling chicken broth. When the tomatoes are cooked, add some milk, frozen corn, cayenne, thyme, mustard, and salt to taste. Heat through and serve. I usually just make enough to fill a 3-quart pot; fill the pot about 2/3rds full of potatoes and don't add too much water/broth- just enough not quite cover the potatoes, or even less. Add enough milk and corn to fill the pot.

Black Bean Tostados

6 small flour tortillas
1 T oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups cooked black beans
2-4 chopped tomatoes, or use canned
1/8 tsp. cumin
1/8 tsp. coriander
Thyme
Salt
Crushed red pepper


Oven to 350. Put tortillas on baking sheet and bake 6 minutes per side, until crisp. Saute the onion in the oil till soft, then add the garlic and the beans. Slightly mash the beans. Add tomatoes and spices and cook till tomatoes are done (this will take longer if they were fresh). Spread the beans on the warm tortillas. Top with spinach and yogurt and tomatoes as desired.

President Evan's Potatoes

Boil 6-8 large potatoes. When they're cool, peel and slice thinly into a 9x13 dish. Combine 2 cans cream of chicken soup or the equivalent of cream soup base, 2 c sour cream or yogurt, and cheddar cheese. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

26 February 2007

Central Asian Naan Recipe

I was gathering Central Asian recipes for an American friend of ours who was with us in Kyrgyzstan and discovered that I don't have any flatbread recipes posted here. Not one from any part of the world. So I'll be fixing that.

Basic Central Asian Naan (rhymes with lawn)
  • 2 tsp yeast
  • 2.5 cups warm water
  • 5-7 cups flour (white, wheat, or a mix- white is most often used in Central Asia now)
  • 2 tsp salt

Mix the water and yeast in a large bowl, then add 3 cups of flour. Stir for about a minute or 100 times in the same direction to start developing the gluten, then add the salt and as much more flour as you need to make a nice dough. Knead for about 8 minutes till it's smooth and elastic. Let rise till doubled, 1-2 hours.

Put a baking stone on the lowest rack of your oven, remove the rest of the racks, and preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Punch the dough down and divide into 6 pieces (divide it into 4 pieces if you want bigger loaves). Working with two rounds at a time, roll the dough into 10-inch rounds. Let sit for about 10 minutes to rise.

Prick the middle of the rounds with a chekich (picture on the left) or a fork. Leave a 1.5-inch rim. If you like, you can roll the rim up a bit to make it fatter, or just hope it rises a lot in the oven. Slide or slap the dough onto the hot stone and bake till golden, 8-10 minutes (they look just right in the pictures; you'll note that the shape and size of the rim changes some, but they're always cooked to this same color).

Or just move to Central Asia and make sure your apartments is across the street from a couple of tandoor bakeries.

This is just basic naan. There are a zillion things you can do with it to spice it up, like topping it with cumin or onions or green onions or sesame seeds or really anything else that sounds good to you.It is eaten all over Central Asia and tastes best just out of a tandoor. But a baking stone does a pretty good job too.

25 February 2007

Jalalabad


It's always interesting to see what you can find on Flickr (see here for more pictures like this). I also added some descriptions to some of the photos I have posted there. There's more work to do- deleting some photos and adding others, but it's coming.
I finally was able to put my favorite bookcase up. The one with the best books of all. Or some of the best books; they don't all fit on the bookcase- or in the picture. (Click on the picture to see the titles better.)

23 February 2007

In the Heart of the Sea


In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick is a good book- well written, well researched, and quick to read. It's the story of the Essex, a ship that was sunk by a whale and was the basis for Melville's Moby-Dick.

But I think I've reached my limit on disaster-type popular nonfiction like this. Even though the story was interesting and the men were brave, it is still a sad story that involves a lot of death. Making it into a thriller doesn't quite seem right. I don't much like thrillers anyway.

21 February 2007

From Heaven Lake

From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibetby Vikram Seth is the first truly worthwhile travelogue I've read about Central Asia or China. Seth, certainly a proven author, writes about China in a way that few others can- as an Indian who speaks Chinese, who has lived in China, and who simply knows how to write. Although the titles focuses on Xinjiang and Tibet, Seth also writes about Xi'an, Beijing, Nanjing, Dunhuang and more.

There is no agonizing over why the author is travelling. No long descriptions of foreigners tromping around China. No elevating any country over another. No criticism of Chinese bureaucracy. And even almost no harrowing bus or truck rides (one did get a bit long, but when that's the only failing of the book, I'll forgive it). Virtually the only aside into Seth's brain is when he compares China and India for a few pages, and it's fascinating and brief and not at all overdone. It's also nice to see him point out there is no Asian mode of thinking; Westerners tend to lump Asians together when though Asia includes everyone from Arabs to Siberians.

One story in particular, that I had read before and written about was particularly poignant to me, but all Seth's interactions with the people he meets are interesting and well told. Seth simply writes about the people and places he sees and creates a wonderful book.

20 February 2007

Suite Francaise

Suite Fran├žaiseby Irene Nemirovsky was one of the most beautiful books I've read in a long time. Set in occupied France in the summers of 1940 and 1941, it's the story of many different French and a few Germans who are caught up in the war. Some act despicably, some heroically, and most are middling.

But what makes the book so amazing is the background of the author, which I won't detail here, although it is certainly worth detailing. I deliberately chose to not find out very much about the author before reading it; instead, I just followed the book as it was printed with the short translator's note first, then the story, then correspondence and notes relating to Nemirovsky, and finally the forward to the French publication of the novel. I think this was the perfect order for the story and background information to be presented.

Highly recommended.

I Love Bishkek

I think I need to get this shirt.

19 February 2007

Paneer

Paneer is very easy to make. Slowly heat 2 quarts of milk till just boiling, stirring every so often to keep it from boiling (watch it, because boiled over milk isn't fun to clean up). Then add 3-6 T of lemon juice or vinegar- just till the milk turns and separates. The color and texture of the milk will change and separate into yellowish whey and white curds.

After it turns, remove from heat, stir for another few seconds, and then pour it into a cheesecloth-lined strainer in the sink (or over a bowl of you care to save the whey; it's tasty). Rinse the curds with cold water, then gather the edges of the cheesecloth to form a bag. Knot it or use a rubber band or string or whatever method you already have for draining curds and hang the bag to drain. You might just hook it over the faucet of the kitchen sink if no one's going to turn on the water for a while. You can also hang it over a bowl if you want to save more whey.

After 20 minutes you'll have a soft cheese that can be used as a spread or you can press it into the more traditional paneer. Leave the cheese in the bag and flatten it into a thick round. Put it on a plate, then press with a heavy weight (you might try putting a cutting board on top, then a pot of water). Press the cheese for 2 hours and use, or store in the fridge for a few days. There are lots of recipes that use paneer and you can easily find many on the internet.

17 February 2007

A Town Like Alice

I first read A Town Like Aliceprobably 15 years ago. (Have you read it? You certainly ought to.) I found the edited miniseries from 1981 a few years ago and watched it and well, almost hated it. I didn't even finish watching it. But I found it again at the library a few days ago (the unedited, 6-hour version) and decided that I would try it again since I really loved the book and every review I've seen for the miniseries is very positive.

And it was a lot better the second time, unedited. My biggest problem the first time around was with the actions of one of the main characters- he does something totally out of character solely to create tension with the result of another character doing something silly too. In the edited version these scenes were a major part of the movie, but in the unedited version, they're not nearly as much of a problem.

Still, I have the same basic problem with the movie. It focuses too much on a love story- a major part of the book, yes, but not the only thing. There is no explanation of the title- in fact, Jean's business ventures are only a small part of the miniseries while in the book they form the basis of how she creates a town like Alice Springs. That is entirely lost in the miniseries. A better title would have been A Love Like (name of the characters) or something silly like that. The miniseries missed a huge part of the book and I can't call it a faithful adaption of the book.

So read the book. :)

16 February 2007

Bliss

I get to check books out from the local university library for the first time tomorrow- I plan to make it worth every penny of the 50 dollars I paid for the privilege. Still I'll have to restrain myself and not check out too many. Here's the short list that will be even shorter by tomorrow morning. But I have a year to borrow books from there.

Russia's Orient: Imperial Borderlands and Peoples, 1750-1917

From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet

Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples of the North

Food Culture in Russia and Central Asia

The Languages of China

A History of the Peoples of Siberia

Sui-Tang Chang'an: A Study in the Urban History of Late Medieval China

Shamanism and Christianity: Native Encounters with Russian Orthodox Missions in Siberia and Alaska, 1820-1917

Against Their Will: The History and Geography of Forced Migrations in the USSR

A Suitable Boy

I really liked A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. I was planning on reading the whole thing. But I only made it halfway though the nearly 1500 pages. There are just too many books I want to read to devote so much time to one novel. So I skimmed the rest to find out what happened to everyone and am moving on to other books.

The novel is set in India and is about the Mehra family and various other people and families they know. Lata is a likeable and believable heroine and it would be lovely someday to read the entire book. Maybe if I'm on bedrest again.

15 February 2007

Polyglot Vegetarian

Language Hat pointed me in the direction of a fascinating new blog, Polyglot Vegetarian. The subtitle says it all, "Grazing through the world of words." Check it out!

Spicy Peanut Noodles

This is an easy meal to put together in less than 30 minutes.

Vegetables cut into bite size pieces (green onions, broccoli, peppers, snow peas)
Bean sprouts
Bok choi or other greens
Any other vegetables you like

Wash the prepared vegetables well and set next to the stove.

Peanut sauce:
3/4 c ground peanuts (natural peanut butter or grind your own in your blender)
3 T soy sauce
4 cloves garlic
1 T rice vinegar
1 t sesame oil
Cayenne to taste
Water as needed

Combine everything and blend, adding water as needed, till you have a nice sauce that's a runny and spicy as you care for. These are hardly exact proportions; I don't measure any of it, but this seems close to what I did. If anything, I underestimated.

1/2 lb wide noodles (wheat), cooked in boiling water to al dente, drained, and rinsed with cold water

Heat a wok or skillet over high heat, then add 1 T oil, heat 20 seconds, then add the prepared vegetables. Stir-fry a couple of minutes, then add the peanut sauce, some more soy sauce and rice vinegar, and the noodles and mix well. Serve immediately (it's good with fruit) with crushed red pepper, soy sauce, and more peanut sauce on the table.

14 February 2007

She's Back!

Did you notice lchan is back?
Do you ever think about words and how they really sound strange sometimes? She's back? What a hokey way to say it.

And gonna. Completely hokey, but well-used. I'd always tell my students in Kyrgyzstan that they need to understand gonna and couldja and wouldja and shoulda and wanna, but to never, never use them unless they learned to speak English really well. Or they'd sound like teenagers all the time, and when they were speaking English, they needed to sound a lot more professional.

But then English speakers need to be more careful when speaking to a non-fluent English speaker.

13 February 2007

Amira Cucumbers

Did you know there are Amira cucumbers? I've planted them before (of course) and they're good cucumbers.

The best thing to do with a cucumber is to chop it up with tomatoes, onion, and a bit of salt and red pepper and eat with plov.

12 February 2007

The Turkic Speaking Peoples

The Turkic Speaking Peoples: 1,500 Years of Art And Culture from Inner Asia to the Balkansby Ergun Cagatay and Dogan Kuban looks like another book to add to my Central Asia wishlist. It's a big book at nearly 500 pages and has lots of photographs by Cagatay. Kuban is a professor in Istanbul.

The nearest copy is nearly 400 miles away, and my public library only does ILL in the state. But it's at my next-oldest-sister's university library...

11 February 2007

Peck of Peppers

Don't you love ornamental peppers? There is almost no plant that looks as cheerful. And if you buy the right kind, you can eat them too.

You might have noticed that I am getting excited to finally have a garden again this year.

10 February 2007

Hyssop

I don't know why I love hyssop so much since it smells rather like a skunk. But I love everything about this plant- the memories, the sight, the tea that soothes coughs and even the smell (it's not the you-just-got-sprayed-by-a-skunk smell but more oh-a-skunk-was- in-the-neighborhood smell).

I had a lovely time in Palestine and Egypt finding familiar herbs as we roamed around the country. I found oregano at the base of Mt. Sinai, mint in Nazareth, rosemary in Jerusalem, and hyssop in al-Khalil, better known to most Christians and Jews as Hebron. Al-Khalil is hardly a city of peace, but standing alone on the outskirts of town with the smell of hyssop all around me, it seemed peaceful to me.

09 February 2007

Spring

It won't be long before the forsythias and crocuses start to bloom. I can wait another month.

08 February 2007

Rosemary

For the sake of some things
That be now no more
I will strew rushes
On my chamber-floor,
I will plant bergamot
At my kitchen-door.

For the sake of dim things
That were once so plain
I will set a barrel
Out to catch the rain,
I will hang an iron pot
On an iron crane.

Many things be dead and gone
That were brave and gay;
For the sake of these things
I will learn to say,
"An it please you, gentle sirs,"
"Alack!" and "Well-a-day!"

~Edna St. Vincent Millay

07 February 2007

Nervous Conditions

I can't remember where I found the recommendation for Nervous Conditionsby Tsitsi Dangarembga, but I'm glad I did. The novel is set in Rhodesia (colonial Zimbabwe) with Tambu as the narrator.

The beginning of the book was a bit slow and formulaic- a young girl who wants to go to school but is stopped because of the cultural prejudices of her father and older brother. But once Tambu is able to leave home to go to school, the story picks up and is quite good.

could have told it and It's not really Tambu's story here; in many ways it's more her cousin Nyasha's story and Nyasha's descent into mental illness. Tambu is able to tell Nyasha's tale in a different way than Nyasha and Tambu is an effective narrator.

Recommended.

06 February 2007

Eat Those Beans

I was poking around the Saudi Aramco World archives and found this article on legume research (and legumes themselves) and how scientists are working to improve legume crops that have been largely overlooked in favor of grains. It's a fun little article when you've eaten lots of fava beans and lentils and garbanzo beans in the Middle East. Legumes have become a staple at our house, mostly in ethnic dishes.

Kichree
4 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp cumin seed
1 cup rice
1 cup red lentils
1 tsp salt
Crushed red pepper
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp butter
Yogurt

Toss everything into a large skillet up to the tomato paste mix well. Cover with 4 cups boiling water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes, adding water if necessary. Stir in butter, let melt, and serve with plain yogurt. Serves four.

Spicy Garbanzos and Couscous
1 onion
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup couscous
Chicken broth
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp paprika
2 tsp garlic
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne
2 cups cooked garbanzos

Saute onion in 2 T olive oil. Steam couscous over chicken broth (or prepare according to package instructions, or just boil it in some chicken broth till done). While the couscous is cooking, combine 1/4 c oil (use more or less oil if desired-I usually use less) with garlic and spices. Combine warm garbanzos, onions, couscous, and sauce. I like this with plain yogurt. Serves 4.

Red Lentil Soup
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
5-6 c beef broth
2 c red lentils
16 oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp coriander
1 Tbsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large pot and saute the onions for a few minutes. Add everything else, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 40-50 minutes, adding more beef broth if needed. Serve with plain yogurt, if desired. Serves 6.

Chilaquiles (not from the Middle East, but oh so good)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned
1/2 Tbsp dried oregano leaves
2 cups cooked black beans
1 tsp salt
Crushed red pepper to taste
6-9 corn tortillas, torn into bite-sized pieces and fried in a bit of oil till golden
Plain yogurt

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, then add onion and saute till soft, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, tomatoes, and oregano. Simmer 3-8 minutes (longer if your tomatoes were fresh). Add beans, salt, red pepper, and fried tortilla bits. Heat through and serve warm, topped with yogurt. Serves 4.

Koushari
I don't have a real recipe for koushari. We ate it on the street in Cairo all the time. Layer equal parts of cooked rice, lentils, and macaroni in a bowl. Top with a spicy tomato sauce with plenty of garlic, vinegar, and red pepper.

05 February 2007

Story of the World

Lots of classical homeschoolers use the The Story of the Worldseries (link just goes to the first volume; there are four) for world history. We've been using it for nearly 4 years now.

There are lots of good things about this series. It's generally neutral- not Christian, but not anti-religious (I don't like either viewpoint when you're studying history- focusing on one religion's interpretation or ridiculing religion in general is a useless way to study history). It's appealing to children and a good introduction of world history. It has a lot of fun activities and is excellent for homeschooled or afterschooled children. In short, it really is the best world history curriculum for elementary children .

But this is not an unbiased view of history (it's not in depth either, but it shouldn't be when it's designed for children ages 6-10). Despite spending more time on places like Australia, India and Africa than your public school teachers probably did, it's still unquestionably Eurocentric, especially after the first book. For example, well over half of the second book is specifically about Europe, the "Age of Exploration" is almost entirely from a European perspective, Bauer seems to use European sources when writing about a lot of Asia (for example, the only view of medieval Central Asia we ever see is from Marco Polo's eyes), etc. It is impossible for any author to write any kind of history without at least some of her biases coming through and SOTW is no different.

It's interesting that most of the complaints about this series are about specific chapters or time periods- Muslims complain about the chapter on Muhammad, Catholics are uncomfortable with the chapter on the Reformation, lots of people complain about the fourth book, etc. In my mind this is because people see the weaknesses in SOTW when it's discussing the history they are most familiar with. The complaints about the fourth book (1850-1991) are largely a result of parents' familiarity with modern history. Muslims are going to write the history of Muhammad differently than someone who isn't as sympathetic towards Islam.* But the point is that these differences in interpretation are throughout the entire series, but few parents (myself included) can pick them all out because few parents are well versed in every aspect of world history.

Don't get me wrong. I use and will continue to use these books. This just isn't the definitive version of children's history that it is sometimes touted to be (and any parent who relies on these books only for their knowledge of world history is not doing themselves a favor). What I'd really love to see is a series like this written by a wider variety of authors. Authors who have specific expertise in a give area and who also are good at writing for children. That wouldn't be easy to produce, but I'd buy it if it were out there.

*I think the Muslim complaints are valid. Bauer unquestionably tries to be unbiased, but we didn't use the chapters on Islam at all. Instead, I used a few of my own books to discuss the Muhammad and the founding of Islam from a more Muslim point of view. I also find that I am often correcting what we listen to on the CDs (when I read out loud, I do a lot of rewording in every single chapter). But I think this is useful because I want my children to understand that history isn't an exact science. There is no history book I could buy that I would agree with on every point.

04 February 2007

The Riddle of the Compass


The Riddle of the Compass: The Invention that Changed the Worldby Amir D Aczel was a marginally interesting little book and no more. It felt a lot more like reading a high school term paper than anything else- quoting lots of sources with no references, big margins, and lots of repetition. I didn't feel that I learned much of anything from the book.

The subject was interesting enough, and the first 50 pages weren't too bad, but then it went downhill quickly. Not really recommended even though it was a very quick read.

And what is it with popular fiction leaving out any kind of citation because it "ruins the flow of the story?" I can't stand this trend. Endnotes are a good compromise if an author or editor thinks that footnotes are a bit much (I like footnotes), but leaving out citations almost completely assumes that most readers will take an author at her word if it was in the non-fiction section no matter what the sources are. This book was an example of this, but it's certainly not the only one.

03 February 2007

A House for Mr. Biswas

Still plugging away on Reading Across Borders. Plugging away isn't the right phrase though; I'm very much enjoying it. And I liked A House for Mr. Biswastoo (not loved it, but you can't love them all). I particularly liked the glimpse into the Indian community of Trinidad; you felt like you really knew Mr. Biswas and all his various friends-and-relations- even though I never managed to really like Mr. Biswas.

It wasn't a quick read, and it took me longer to read than its nearly 600 pages should have taken. I got a bit bogged down in the middle and considered not finishing, but I did and was glad because it picked back up. This isn't necessarily a book you have to read, but if you're looking for something different, but still a little familiar, this is a good choice.

I'd write more, but I have to make dinner. I'll do another review this evening, maybe.

02 February 2007

Choi Sum

1/4 c chicken broth
1 T fermented soybean paste
1 T soy sauce
1 tsp rice vinegar
Pinch of sugar
1 T oil
1 T minced garlic
3 green onions, chopped
1 lb greens, like baby boy choi
2 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 1 T cold water

Mix the first 5 ingredients, mashing the paste into the liquid. Heat a wok over high heat, then add the oil. Heat for 20 seconds, then add the garlic and onions. Stir-fry briefly, then add the greens. Stir-fry 2 minutes, add the sauce, and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 3 minutes, then add the cornstarch and cook 15 more seconds and serve.

01 February 2007

Empanadas

I learned how to make empanadas from a friend of ours while we lived in New Jersey. She was from Argentina and made wonderful empanadas. The instructions aren't quite as exact as they would be from a cookbook, but they're pretty detailed for getting a recipe from someone who'd never written it down.
  • 2 lbs beef
  • Onion powder (lots)
  • Garlic powder (lots)
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp cumin
  • 1-2 Tbsp paprika
  • 1 Tbsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Salt as needed

Brown the beef with all the spices and set aside to cool (or chill in the fridge).

  • 5 c flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • Water- at least a cup
  • 4 oz butter, softened
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • Butter for brushing


Mix flour, salt, and baking powder. Add butter, then add enough water to make a stiff dough and knead till smooth and shiny. Roll out the dough, brush with butter, and fold in half. Continue rolling out and brushing with butter and folding, then let sit for about 15 minutes. Roll out and butter again, then let sit again so you have a dough with lots of buttery layers.

Roll the dough out again and then cut into circles, then fill with meat, seal the edges well, and deep fry.