Since Egypt is currently having a rebirth of sorts, I thought I, too, should venture into uncharted waters for this stop on the tour. Instead of putting my usual keywords in search, I googled ‘dessert’. Yes, folks, FOODalogue decided to tackle dessert…but, alas, it wasn’t meant to be. I couldn’t find a recipe that sufficiently appealed to me and was worth expending unwanted calories. To illustrate, I found one called “Halawa Sweet”. “You can eat it, and you can use it as Hair Removal”. I don’t think so…in either form.
I went back to my well-traveled path called ‘savory’. I decided on Egyptian Lamb Tagine because I’ve had a hankering for lamb shank for a while now. You’re probably thinking the “tagine” style of cooking is Moroccan and it is…but I guess, being on the same continent, they share this dish because I found it on lots of Egyptian websites.
However, what at first seemed like an easy one tagine (pot)-dish turned into an all-day, 4-burner-plus-oven event! And thus begins my story.
The recipe for this dish is long and slow cooking. It seemed to call for company so I invited 3 people to join me.
An onion shared with a friend tastes like roast lamb. (Egyptian proverb)
Not having a tagine did not phase me at all. I googled and learned that “the process of cooking that a tagine gives you is a combination of baking, frying and steaming. So your replacement probably needs to combine these.” I wound up using practically every deep, heavy and lidded pot that I owned because:
• After the meal was planned, one of my guests informed me she didn’t like lamb so I rushed out and picked up 2 chicken breasts. I thought I’d prepare both lamb and chicken separately, but with the same recipe.
• I began by preparing the Ras el Hanout, a 9-ingredient spice blended with grated onions to marinate the meat.
• I rubbed the chicken and set it to marinate in its own bowl in the refrigerator (bowl #1).
• Then I pulled out the 2 packages of lamb shanks (2 to each package, vacuum-sealed and shipped from Australia). They looked beautiful.
• I dressed the first 2 with the marinade and set them aside in bowl #2 while I opened the second package.
• I will be polite here and just say there was something wrong with the meat. Very wrong. I could not get it out of the house fast enough, so off I went…back to the market to return the spoiled meat and get a replacement.
• My nostrils, kitchen and car would not soon forget that olfactory assault so instead of more lamb shanks, I picked up a chuck roast steak which I knew would lend itself well to slow cooking.
• Once home again I prepared a marinade for the beef and set it in the refrigerator (bowl #3).
At this point, after 2 unplanned trips to the market, I was behind schedule and somewhat off script. There’s lamb, chicken and beef (I don’t even know if Egyptians eat beef)…AND, I felt I had to marinate (and cook) the 3 proteins in separate vessels. That explains 3 burners, the 4th was used for one of the side dishes. I used the oven to roast the vegetables.
The faux tagines cooked for close to 4 hours resulting in ‘no-knife-needed’ meats and flavors that melded beautifully to create a thick sauce that was both sweet and spicy.
Then the piece de resistance…my beautiful Egyptian-looking platter that was supposed to be layered with pilaf and topped with the 4 shanks was still appropriate to serve the large chuck roast. It was to be a ‘ta da’ moment. But, though the food was savory and the meat fork tender, it was sadly not photogenic. (So much yellow which I could not seem to balance, even in edit.)
Clearly, the old adage of ‘all’s well that ends well” certainly applies as evidenced by the shank bones.The troubles encountered with this Egyptian-flavored dinner had nothing to do with the basic recipe. It was really delicious and will be enjoyed multiple times (leftovers). If you try it, I highly recommend adding the FOODalogue finishing touches.
A teachable moment. Years ago when I lived in NY, I created and operated a catering company called “The Pleasure of Your Company”. In those early days, I learned how important it is to be able to think standing on one foot…that is to say, one needs to think – and react – quickly and imaginatively in the kitchen. Things don’t always go according to script (or recipe). To be a successful cook, don’t be afraid to improvise. Don’t be afraid to go off-script. At any point in this story, starting from not having a tagine to spoiled meat, I could have been thwarted from sharing a delicious dinner with friends.
Blogger Round-Up: February 23
Final Stop: Nigeria, on or about February 27.