A Culinary Tour Around the World: Mongolia

Kudos to Mongolia’s Betsy Ross. Isn’t this an attractive looking flag? Wikipedia notes the current flag dates back to only 1992 when they removed the socialist star. The right-side red band with yellow figures is ‘soyombo“, the national emblem, which depicts fire, sun, moon, earth, water and Tajitu or the Yin-Yang symbol. Interestingly, for a country that not too many people know anything about, Mongolia is the world’s largest landlocked nation and the 18th largest country. In 2006 the population count was 2.8 million and more than 50% were under age 30. They have a literacy rate of 98%.

Food and Culture Facts
• Mongolian people are big meat eaters…beef, lamb, mutton, marmot, boodog and, yes, gazelles.
• The marmot is cooked whole but from the inside out because they stuff the animal (whatever a marmot may be) with hot rocks.
• Historically nomadic herders, Mongolians have relied on a meat diet as fuel to stave off their cold climate.
• They also have a diet heavy in dairy and use the milk of all domestic animals: sheep, camels, goats, cattle and horses.
• Dairy is the base for Mongolia’s 2 alcoholic drinks: Nermalike, a vodka-like drink made from yogurt, and Airag made from fermented horse’s milk.
• For the tea-toters among you, try Suutei Tsai, said to be a salty tea made from water and mare or yak’s milk, butter, rice, salt and tea.
• And, while I could not find the Mongolian equivalent of “cheers”, I did find this proverb which kind of says it all (in any culture). He who drinks, dies; he who does not drink, dies as well.”

Recipe Development
Research into traditional Mongolian recipes rendered instructions like quarter the goat or an ingredient list that included 1-half medium sheep. I think not. Anyway, I wanted to do Mongolian Beef and found this PF Chang* recipe (not a cop out, well, maybe a little) but it is purported to be as good as the original. 

While the Himalayas are a bit south of Mongolia, they are close enough to imagine some mixed marriages. And as with every mixed marriage, a little of the culture from both sides goes into the melting pot. 

So maybe a male descendant of Chinggis Kahn met a sweet young gal from the Himalayas…and their ‘offspring’ was Mongolian Beef & Himalayan Red Rice.
The Himalayan Red Rice comes from Marx Foods, a fine online purveyor of interesting and exotic foods and spices. I chose to try it as an accompaniment to the Mongolian Beef. It was a perfect blending of counterpoints…the nuttiness of the rice balanced the sweet layer in the beef sauce.

Recipe Critique/Tweaks
Mongolian Beef: For my palate, I would have preferred some ‘heat’ to balance the ‘sweet’ in this sauce. The recipe did not call for salt and I thought perhaps the soy sauce would give it what it needed. It didn’t and I had to add salt at the table.

Red Rice: Very nutty, great texture and bite, and pretty on the plate. I did, however, find that it needed a little more than the recommended 35 minutes cooking time.

And I LOVED, LOVED what I did with the Leftovers!

Himalayan Red Rice with Black Beans and Pumpkin Puree
Pumpkin Puree: Sauteed a garlic clove in some olive oil, added a little bacon bits, a can of pure pumpkin, some chipolte powder, smoked paprika and  drizzle of cream.

Rice & Beans: Mixed leftover rice with black beans, minced garlic, cumin, chili powder and sauteed. Once again, I was very pleased with the rice which held up well to a second cooking.

This meal was delicious! If Mongolian Beef and Himalayan Red Rice was a good pairing, this was a marriage made in Heaven!
Mongolian Steak Salad

Just what I needed! Some ‘heat’ and fresh greens to counteract the ‘sweet’. I topped my current favorite greens – curly endive – with quickly pan-heated leftover steak, a drizzle of Hot Pepper Sesame Oil and Red Pepper Seasoned Rice Vinegar and a sprinkle of toasted almonds.

*For international readers, PF Chang is an upscale Asian bistro popular in some areas of the U.S.A.

Round-Up: March 18. 
Next Stop: The Philippines on or about March 23.

A Birthday Story of Fried Turkey and Sides

Back Story: For Christmas Day dinner, my son wanted a fried turkey and went out and purchased the fryer. But we had a rain-out. Fast thinking and successful surgery to de-bone the carcass to get it cooked quickly followed and we ate a very delicious (though not conventional) roast turkey.

Fast Forward: March 8 is my son’s birthday. In our family, the birthday person chooses the dinner…the person closest by blood ties does the cooking…and everyone else shows up to eat and celebrate.  My son was still hankering for that fried turkey so that was his dinner choice. Thankfully for me, because that also meant the party would be at his house and that he would be handling half the dinner which was a big help since we were going to be 21 people.

Cell phones in hand to dial 911, his cousins and friends stood a good distance behind him cheering/jeering(?) as Jim lowered the turkey into the boiling hot oil.
45-minutes or so later, he pulled out a beautifully golden 20+ lb. bird.

It didn’t take long after that for the birthday turkey to look like this:

For me dinners like this are all about the sides. However, not wanting to go the traditional Thanksgiving menu route since we were cooking outdoors, I made 4 side dishes that could be served at room temperature. Two had a decidedly Mediterranean theme and two had a Southwestern twist.
From my Spanish and Italian roots, I conjured up a pasta that was made with long-simmering garbanzos, chorizo, tomatoes, green olives and dressed with olive oil and lemon.

This was a rice salad made with sauteed spinach and artichokes to which I added toasted pignolis, feta cheese, a LOT of lemon, and olive oil.

A big hit with the kids was the roasted sweet potatoes that were dressed with a vinaigrette made from fresh lime juice and lots of zest, honey, a little olive oil and a little chipolte (ssh, don’t tell the kids).
Corn, avocado, cheddar cheese, black olives, capers, scallions dressed with fresh tomato salsa and extra squeezes of lemon.

It was supposed to be just these 4 sides but not wanting to waste all those gallons of hot oil, my son threw in a few pounds of sliced white potatoes after he removed the turkey. They don’t look so good but they were might tasty.
The party ended with Carvel ice cream cake…some traditions die hard!
Truth be told: (1) While the turkey was very moist, I prefer a roasted bird. (2) I’m not telling you how old my son was on March 8th. I’m not that truthful!

A Culinary Tour Around the World: India Round-Up

It’s hard to believe we’re in the home stretch. Only 4 destinations remain. I hope this event has entertained and educated you on some level. More importantly, I hope it has given you a thirst to know and embrace other cultures and to do your part, whatever that may be, to help erase world hunger. 

For food bloggers one way to do your part is to donate an unpublished recipe to BloggerAid by the end of March. Recipes will be published in a cookbook and all sale proceeds will go directly to School Meals, an effort which targets children’s well-being and education through the World Food Programme.

India was a wonderful example of embracing a different culture. There is much to learn about the history, culture and cuisine. 

Rachel, The Crispy Cook, in Schuylerville, NY made palek paneer. Like many of us it’s her favorite order when visiting an Indian restaurant. Her at-home version included curry leaves and tofu.

City Girl Lifestyle from Washington, D.C. joins us for the first time. She made a red lentil and cabbage dish from a 1983 edition of Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking.

This colorful Paneer Tikka comes from Val of More than Burned Toast in Vancouver. Once again, our arm chair travelers will enjoy Val’s narrative which provides a real insight into the country and culture.

Ivy of Kopiaste in Athens, GR made a chicken curry which she served with basmati rice — and her usual dose of social awareness causes. She is such a kind person.

Holly of El Hajji in Honolulu took inspiration from the cuisine of India but conjured up her own dish which she called Tandori flap steak with cranberry rice and curried peas.

Natalia from gatti fili e farina joins us for the first time. She blogs from Rome, IT. She made a tasty looking side dish of cauliflower, scallions and black mustard seeds.

Cindystar, who has been following and participating from her home in Lake Garda, IT, chose to make Royal Bengal Tiger Tea (with cognac), Nimki (a savory cracker) and Kela ka Rayta (a yogurt drink which, to me, if you added rum would be a Pina Colada). She also wrote an interesting post about the origins of the Indian kitchen.

Next Stop: Mongolia on or before March 16. Round-up March 18. 

A Culinary Tour Around the World: India

India to me has always been a land of mystery and contradiction. It is inviting and at once terrifying by the share dint of its population. It is beautiful (the taj mahal) and ugly (Slumdog). It is somber. It is fun (Bollywood). Its people are beautifully-garbed, mild-natured and speak English with a lovely accent…but they have funny names. It is steeped in tradition, caste systems and a culture so foreign to the U.S.; yet modernized and educated enough for U.S. companies to outsource jobs there. And, according to Wikipedia, while it is the 12th largest economy and the 4th largest in purchasing power, it still suffers from extremely high levels of poverty, illiteracy and malnutrition. Yes, it really is a land of contradictions and I chose (respectfully) to concentrate on the fun side of India.

Getting Ready for the Dinner
First stop was the India Bazaar in West Palm Beach where Katie, my friend visiting from NY and my appointed sous chef for the dinner, and I went to shop for ingredients and to ogle products. 
Strange looking produce flanks Thumbelina-sized eggplants.
“Thums Up” coca-cola and a copper water pot.

Oh, what the hell? Let’s Have Fun and “Dress Up”
I remembered our first stop in Norway when Crispy Cook showed up wearing a viking hat and I got such a kick out of it. So, momentarily infatuated by the beautiful fabrics, jewels and make-up of the Indian women, I said..(see above). I couldn’t help but to go deeper into the culture and ‘dress up’ for dinner. I also went deep into my scarf and jewelry drawers and found the perfect accessories for my dinner guests. [Along with Katie, I’d invited my sister, Mary, and her husband, Nick.]

Now, Nick is a man’s man who sat with a scotch and watched. So, no dress-up, no photo… but I imagine, he could have looked like this. (hee-hee)

Apki Lambi Umar Ke Liye (‘cheers’ in Hindi)
The dinner bell has rung and we’re ready to serve a mainly vegetarian and fragrantly-spiced dinner.

Puffed & Stuffed Parathas (onion, cauliflower, lentil) with dal makhani (a lentil chili dip), tamarind chutney, and baked shrimps.
Cholay (curried chickpeas), Palek Paneer, and Basmati Rice

We ended dinner with a traditional dessert (or so we were told when we bought it in the Indian bazaar) of Desi Rasmalai — sweet dumplings with pistachios in rose water.

To say I had fun in India is an under-statement. My kitchen is a bouquet of fragrant spices, we had a great meal and a few laughs. I salute the country of India for inspiring such a good time. I can’t wait to see what my travelmates do.

Round-Up: March 11.

Next Stop: Mongolia on or before March 16. Round-up March 18.