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Archive | February 14th, 2010

‘Cardamom and Lime’ a Taste of Arabian Gulf Flavors

‘Cardamom and Lime’ a Taste of Arabian Gulf Flavors

If recipes for cardamom- and saffron-scented cake, or rose-scented rice pudding pique your interest, Sarah Al-Hamad’s cookbook, “Cardamom and Lime; Recipes from the Arabian Gulf” (Interlink Books, $26.95) should go on your bookshelf.

The countries of the Arabian Gulf include Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab emirates and Saudi Arabia. In these countries, says the author, “families are large and food sharing is central to local life.”

In the 1960s, Al-Hamad points out, the area, once relatively poor, grew into a land of opportunity.  An influx of South Asians affected the dietary habits in the regions. Cuisines merged and cooks exchanged information about local dishes, Continental dishes and their own ethnic cuisines. Cooks became valuable assets to families and were sometimes “loaned out.”

Rice is now the staple food, but in the past, coarse wheat and lentils were used, cooked with vegetables for several hours then beaten to a savory porridge, she says. Whole-grain dishes are often eaten, and sweet and savory flavors combined.

Dates are a valued staple, and many of the region’s dessert dishes feature this nourishing fruit. The juice from the date palms, called “dibs,” is also used for baking and cooking .  The lime that is consumed in the region is called “lumi” and is dried, offering a particular sour flavor to stews and soups.

To leaf through “Cardamom and Lime” is to take an armchair journey to one of the world’s most exotic regions.  Dishes such as Milky Rice Pudding (laced with green cardamom and rosewater) are enough to send me to the kitchen. The  Green Bean Stew recipe is anything but mundane, as the vegetable is cooked with garlic, ginger root, turmeric and curry powder.

The photos certainly have an appetizing effect, and the author’s skills with a camera bring the local scenes to life. Also, the recipes are relatively simple, including one for Milky Rice Pudding.

Let the book take you away, but you’ll want to come back soon to start cooking.

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A Nutty Valentine’s Day Tale

A Nutty Valentine’s Day Tale

This is a story of castration and cuisine.

The food in question is calf fries, which, in polite parlance, is what you’re left with after a bull has been transformed into a steer.

Since many are not willing to waste any part of a cow or pig (think barbacoa, for one of many examples), the severed parts are converted into what is also marketed as Rocky Mountain oysters.

Strange as it may seem, calf fries have become a favorite snack of many, especially during A Night in Old San Antonio, where they have been a hit for more than 40 years. Shortly after Frontier Town was created in 1966, the breaded and fried jewels have been a fixture eventually being served alongside other favorites, such as Texas Bird Legs and Cowboy Klopse (a deep-fried meatball in jalapeño batter).

NIOSA is still months away. This year’s dates are April 20-23. But work on the calf fries and many other food treats to be served is well under way.

A group of volunteers met with chairman Nancy Avellar and several food providers, including Opa’s of Fredericksburg and Labatt’s, to sample everything from K.C. Wild Wings (a pork shank with an easy to handle bone) to sausage.

Richard Bolner of Bolner’s Meat Market, 2900 S. Flores, was on hand to serve his calf fries, which he provides each year. The demand has grown through the years, he says, and he now has to provide 1,000 pounds a year. That translates into about 1,800 or so orders over the course of the four nights.

“People come (to Frontier Town) just to get them,” he said.

It’s true, you’ll find some who raise their nose at such a delicacy. Others have to have a few beers and a couple of dares before they’ll partake. But the majority of people standing in line, and the lines can get long, are there because they like the flavor.

Whether they know it or not, they’re grateful Avellar and her crew are working year-round to ensure everything served at NIOSA is on the ball, if you’ll pardon the pun.

For more information on NOISA, click here.

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Milky Rice Pudding

Milky Rice Pudding

Milk desserts are very popular in the Middle East, and this one is enriched with cardamom seeds, rosewater and chopped pistachios.

Milky Rice Pudding

6 ounces basmati rice
4 cups whole milk
6-8 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon green cardamom seeds, crushed
3 tablespoons rosewater
Handful of shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped

Wash the rice and leave to soak for 30 minutes. Rinse until the water runs clear, then drain. Put rice and 1 cup cold water in a blender and process for about 3 minutes, or until the liquid becomes milky and the rice turns paste-like (this may take a few minutes depending on the variety of the rice).

Warm the milk in a casserole dish, then add sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon over high heat until bubbles form at the side of the pan, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 1 minute. Add the blended rice and cook for about 20 minutes; as you stir, the mixture will thicken and you will feel resistance. Test the rice to see if it is cooked — it should be al dente.

Add another 1 cup boiling water, stir in the cardamom seeds and the rosewater, and simmer over lowest heat for a few minutes more.

Remove from heat. Pour into bowls and allow to cool to room temperature before chilling in the refrigerator. Serve the rice pudding sprinkled with the chopped pistachios.

Makes 6 servings.

From “Cardamom and Lime; Recipes from the Arabian Gulf,” by Sarah Al-Hamad

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