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The Story of My Egyptian Dinner • Culinary Tour Around the World

February 19, 2011 by Joan Nova in Culinary Tour Around the World, Events, Food Challenge, Meat, Travel Retrospectives | 27 Comments

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.

The chicken and lamb were plated first.

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.)

Putting it all together on a plate, however, looks much better.

Adding the FOODalogue touch:

  1. Plates with brown food are so unappealing so I added red, yellow and orange mini sweet peppers.
  2. I like to present (and eat) multiple vegetables so I roasted 3 small eggplants and marinated them with cider vinegar, garlic, honey and mint.
  3. A mint dipping oil cooled off the spicy sauce and added another level of flavor to the meal (fresh mint, olive oil, honey).
  4. And a side dish combo of orange-scented orzo and rice sopped up all that delicious sauce.

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.

NOTE: Some recipes found on FOODalogue are offered without ingredient quantities. They're meant as a guide to food pairings and techniques to be experimented with … in your own kitchen … to your own spice and taste levels … to your preferred portion sizes … and to however many people you’re cooking for. A perfect meal has multiple levels of flavor and textures, bright colors and tastes, and healthy(ish) choices. It's all about enjoyment. Enjoy the process, the presentation and the just rewards...eating!

27 Comments

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  1. What a feast! I wish I was one of those three people. Love how you always make the presentation pop.

  2. Wow, Joan! You really outdid yourself! I am sure all the dishes were delicious!

  3. What a shame about the spoiled meat! It all looks good though. You summed it up well about being flexible in a commercial kitchen environment. I’m sure there were no leftovers !

    • Joan says:

      Thanks, Peter. As you know, it applies to home kitchens as well as commercial. The message was meant to encourage people not to get flustered and to either trust their instincts or know that there is usually a work-around for any situation.

  4. bellini says:

    Wouldn’t we all have loved to be sitting aroynd the table Joan. Egypt was a challenge and you mastered the art of slow cooking resulting in succulent meat.

  5. norma says:

    I know how frustrated you were when you realized the meat was spoiled. I know you to always land on your feet and you proved it by creating this wonderful meal to satisfy all palates. Kudos to you amiga.

  6. Liz says:

    Looks like a great dinner despite the problems encountered along the way.

  7. The closer to the bone the sweeter the meat. I really believe that saying and your lamb shanks look amazing. I was laughing by the end of your post though – it sounds like the sort of thing that happens in my kitchen when people are coming round…and you know Joan, I may go off-script but I will not compromise (do you identify with this?!) Loved this visit to Egypt.

  8. Peter says:

    Is there not a closer source of lamb than from Australia? The fall-off-the-bone lamb shanks sell the dish for me!

  9. Torwen says:

    So many obstactles and you so bravely stood up to them! A really great meal, could not have been better even with a proper tajine and good lamb shanks :)

  10. Katie says:

    I think it’s a testament to your creative cooking skills that you were able to turn out such a wonderful meal in the face of adversity. Thanks for sharing your story and reminding us that it’s not necessary to give up when the going gets tough in the kitchen!

  11. Brii says:

    hahahhaah
    lovely story, and the last photo is fantastic!!
    I like the proverb too, will remember it!
    have a lovely week, Joan!
    baciusss
    brii

  12. Woww !! It is a great dish and magnificent tribute to a people that are going thru difficult times!

  13. Ben says:

    What a story! But the final result looks so appetizing. This is going to be my favorite stop of the tour.

  14. Well…despite the initial issues and the “yellow”, the dish sure looks fab! I am always going off script…some successful, some not so much but hey, that’s cooking right??

    And for me (not a lamb fan), I would have substituted beef from the start. My arrival is a bit delayed (haha, bad weather in Denver) but I am traveling this afternoon….not as brave _ Kofta Kebabs with Tzatziki and I will, of course, be subbing the lamb for with beef.

    I just love the concept for this group and wish it were not ending soon!

  15. Bren says:

    ooh wee, lamb tagine is sooo good. I’ve had it here locally and the friend i took with me was so mean he took a pic of me sucking the hell out of the lamb bone! lol! so glad you did this round up and broke out into desserts!! fabulous!

  16. Joan: You outdid yourself… such lucky friends! I can almost smell the aromas

  17. sippitysup says:

    Very exciting and educational. Great job of weaving current events into your beautiful food and blog. GREG

  18. Kristina says:

    Hello! this recipe is very delicius! I take the chicken ok? :)
    I sent an email to you to participate in this round up on Egypt. Bye bye Kris

  19. Looks like quite a feast despite the problems with the meat. Excellent!

  20. There is nothing worse than the smell of spoiled meat – and to be honest, I have seen mutton passed off as lamb. Now, while some like mutton, I find it repugnant. The smell of it raw, or cooked would be enough to turn me off of lamb, too – if I thought it was lamb. Maybe that is what happened to you.
    The dish looks spectacular.
    :)
    Valerie

  21. Bonnibella says:

    What lovely food blogger way to pay tribute to what is happening in Egypt. I wish I was as patient as you to simmer and cook all day! The shanks look sooo savory.

  22. What a great idea to showcase Egypt and to display this magnificent tagine, mishap is not a problem there are worse problems to deal with !

  23. Lori Lynn says:

    Here here to your “teachable moment.” I had one this weekend too. That’s what make us GOOD cooks! I’m certain it would be a pleasure to work in a kitchen with you Joan.
    LL

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