Archives for posts with tag: Side dish

Things are hectic lately.  We’re about to move, which is always a stressful time. Yes, finally, I am moving to a big city, Toronto. My husband used to live there, so it won’t be too hard adjusting.  Despite all my complaining about where I live now, I am going to miss it.  My apartment feels so homey, anyone who visits says the same thing.  I’m getting sentimental about leaving.  There are so many things I’m going to miss, which I will post about later.

This was the first city my husband and I lived in together, where we moved past the newlywed stage of marriage and have come into our own.  We have our own routine here, it’s not the most exciting life or in any way cosmopolitan, but we managed.  But there’s always a time to move on, I guess.  I don’t want to sound like a downer, I am very happy we’re moving.  I’m just the type of person who gets attached to places.  I lived in the same house until I was 21.

Anyhow, my main point was that things are hectic around here.  When things are hectic, shami kebabs are a lifesaver, emergency food, if you will. They freeze so well and last for months.  I must admit, the process of making them is somewhat grueling, but it’s not so bad.  I try to always have them on hand because it never hurts to serve an extra dish, especially for a last-minute gathering.

I am smiling right now, thinking about in Pakistan there are always unexpected guests, an occasion where shami kebabs come in very handy.  This concept would not really fly in North America, people showing up unannounced and expecting to be served something substantial to eat. Someone usually has to rush to the local bakery to get samosas, various biscuits, and puff pastry patties.  Then, all the food is placed on a special trolley for guests and then it is rolled out with a teapot covered in a tea cozy and all the bakery goodies.  Meanwhile, shami kebabs are frying up in the kitchen because they are ready in the freezer.

Whether or not you eat shami kebabs as an emergency food, they are delicious and one of my all-time favorites.  Since we’re going to be moving and there will be little time to cook, we’ll be eating a lot of shami kebabs.  All the hard work is worth it, trust me.

Chicken Shami Kebabs

Makes about 25-30 kebabs

Ingredients

for cooking the chicken:

water, as needed

2 1/2 pounds boneless chicken thighs, in large chunks*

1 medium sized red onion, roughly sliced, no need to be precise, just in chunks

half a bulb of garlic, peeled

2 inch piece of ginger, roughly chopped

1 cup yellow split pea lentils (chanay ki dal) soaked overnight and washed

2 teaspoons coriander seeds

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon whole cloves

3 black cardamoms

5 green cardamoms

10-12 dried red chilies, use less for less spicy

1 cinnamon stick, broken in half

2 bay leaves

salt, to taste

after cooking the chicken you will need:

1 cup chopped cilantro

1/2 cup chopped mint

2-3 green chilies, chopped

1/2 a red onion, chopped

4 scallions, white and light green parts, chopped

2 eggs

oil for frying

Method

First, cook the yellow lentils in plenty of boiling water until soft, after 30-45 minutes.  Set aside.

In a large pan, add the chicken, a little oil (if necessary), and all of the items listed (including spices) under the “for cooking the chicken” ingredients.   Also, add a little water, about 1/2 a cup.  Cook the chicken on medium heat for 15 minutes and then turn the heat to medium low and continue cooking for 45 more minutes, or until the chicken is very tender and all the water has evaporated.  You may need to add more water to the pot if it evaporates too quickly, just make sure you cook until the chicken is tender and the onion, garlic, and ginger are very soft.  Remove the cinnamon stick, black cardamom, and bay leaves, all the other spices will grind in the food processor.

Once the chicken is cooled, allow it to cool for 15-20 minutes.  After it has cooled slightly, transfer it to a large food processor with the cooked lentils and pulse until they are combined. Transfer the chicken and lentil mixture to a large bowl and add in the chopped cilantro, mint, scallions, green chilies, and red onion.  It’s time to get messy and crack in the 2 eggs and mix it all together with your hands.  Once everything is combined, form the chicken into round kebabs, about 3 inches in diameter.  You should end up with about 25-30 kebabs.

Next, in a frying pan heat some oil on medium heat and fry the kebabs until browned on both sides, about 3 minutes per side.  Cook as many as you want and you can freeze the kebabs that are not fried for up to 3-4 months.

Variation: Instead of adding the egg inside the kebab mixture, before frying you can dip each kebab into beaten egg and fry the kebabs with an egg coating.  Another slight variation, is that you can grind all the spices that you cook with the chicken i.e. before adding them to the pot grind them all in a spice grinder and cook the chicken with the ground spices.  However,  I just grind them in the food processor with the chicken after it has cooked, removing the black cardamom, cinnamon stick, and, bay leaves.  I find that the other spices grind easily, as they have become soft after cooking.  It’s a personal preference.

To reheat frozen shami kebabs: leave frozen kebabs out at room temperature for 30 minutes and fry as usual.

You can serve the shami kebabs as a snack or a side dish with green chutney /chili garlic sauce or with dal and basmati rice.  I also like to eat them with parathas.  A popular street food in Pakistan is bun kebab, which is also made with shami kebabs.

*I usually use beef stewing meat, which you can use, just cook the yellow lentils with the beef rather than separately and adjust the cooking time and water according to the meat you use.  Beef will take longer.  I used chicken thighs here because I had some in my freezer.  I imagine you could also use chicken breast as well.  Some people also cook the meat and lentils in a pressure cooker, but I don’t have one so I can’t give instructions on that method.

Shami Kebab recipes on other sites:

Chachi’s Kitchen

Passionate About Baking

Journey Kitchen

Fauzia’s Pakistani Recipes

Epicurious

Sometimes they are recipes that you want to try and you just don’t for whatever reason.  This is one of those for me.  I first saw this recipe about a year ago in Food and Wine magazine and deemed it as an easy weeknight meal.  But the recipe used roasted eggplant instead of the fennel I used here.  I have been obsessed with fennel this winter.  I have been making a fennel and mushroom soup weekly.  When my husband asks what I made for dinner and I reply, “fennel mushroom soup,”  I get a grunt, a big one.  If my husband wants this to change he can step into the kitchen and make it happen.  Until then, or until I tire of this combination, either of which doesn’t look like anytime soon, I will keep making it.

But back to the recipe at hand, the eggplant and lentils fennel and lentils.  Well, it was really going to be eggplant and lentils.  I even bought an eggplant for this purpose and went as far as roasting it.  Then at the last-minute I opened the fridge for some herbs and there I saw my fennel.  Looking at it with longing eyes, I cheated on the eggplant with fennel.  The roasted eggplant is still in my fridge, oops.  Don’t worry, I will use it.  I’ll make baba ghanoush or eggplant bharta or something, who really cares, I’m talking about fennel right now!

Fennel and lentils, I can’t say I’ve heard of this combination before, but it works.  I gobbled down two platefuls.  Another thing that works brilliantly with fennel is smoked paprika.  I didn’t cook with it much before a few months ago, and now I quite enjoy it.  Initially, I was turned off by the overly smoky smell, but that’s not the case any longer.
Another plus to this dish is that I enjoyed it even more because my husband was out-of-town, well not for that exact reason, but  I didn’t have to deal with any grunts or disgusted faces because he is not a fan of French lentils (or at least the way I make them.)  Notice a pattern here.

Anyhow, I never got around to making the original recipe, maybe another day.

Fennel and Lentil Salad

inspired and adapted by Food and Wine (Eggplant-Lentil Salad) February 2010

Serves 2, as a main

Ingredients

2 cups sliced fennel, fronds reserved

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

kosher salt, to taste

2 garlic cloves, finely minced

2 shallots, finely minced

1 cup French Lentils (du Puy), washed

2 1/2 cups water

zest of 1 lemon and its juice as well

1 jalapeño pepper, minced finely, seeds removed, if you like

5-7 mint leaves, chopped

1/4 cup chopped parsley

some fennel fronds, chopped, optional

plain yogurt, for serving

Method

In a medium sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil and add half of the smoked paprika to the oil and let it infuse the oil for a minute.  Next, add in the fennel and the rest of the smoked paprika.  Season with salt and allow the fennel to caramelize and soften for about 15 minutes.  Once it is ready set aside.

Heat a saucepan on medium heat with the remaining olive oil.  Add in the cumin seeds and crushed red chili flakes.  Allow the cumin seeds to crackle a bit and then add in the shallots and allow them to soften.  Once soft, add in the garlic and allow the garlic to get to the point where it is beginning it brown, but do not burn it.  Next, add in the lentils, water, and salt.  Cover and allow to come to a boil.  When the water starts to boil, remove the lid and and turn the heat to medium low and allow the lentils to simmer for about 40 minutes, or until all the water has evaporated and the lentils mash when you press them between your fingers.

Toss in the fennel, herbs, jalapeño, lemon juice, and zest.   Serve warm or at room temperature. The Food and Wine recipe suggests topping this with yogurt, which I did and serving it with naan, which I did not.

Growing up, my family was all about food.  My parents would drive us 3 hours to New York City to eat “real” Pakistani food.  On the weekend, we were travelers in search for the next delicious meal.  My sister and I would be ever so excited to explore new places and see the hustle and bustle of different cities.  Our eyes were always wide-open, ready for these experiences.  Whether, we went to Newport for fresh, straight from the ocean seafood, or to a little hole in the wall Mexican restaurant that we still frequent to this day, we were set to feast.  We learned about other cultures this way, too.  What better way for parents to expose their children to different cultures than through their food.  Food welcomes you into a new culture.  The tastes of the cuisine transports you to a new place, somewhere less familiar than what we are used to, but at the same time we are ready to embrace the novelty.

Tucked away in the back seat, my sister and I would peer out of the  windows with utter enthusiasm waiting for a new exploration.  If you remember, we were the two sisters who played in the woods and pretended we were pioneers, Indians, French, you name it-we pretended it (the joys of childhood!).  These excursions took our make-believe world into reality.

I have very fond memories of attending the Greek Orthodox festival in Rhode Island.  As many of you are probably aware, Greeks (like most of us) are completely immersed in their cuisine and take great pride in hospitality and serving their traditional dishes to others.  There was food galore.  Souvlakis would be sizzling on hot coals, my sister and I would stare in awe at the roast lamb spinning on a spit with the juices dripping down and coating the lamb with deliciousness, and flaky phyllo pastries such as baklava and spanakopita.  This festival was overflowing with sensory delight.  We would also watch the Greek dancers in amazement.  My sister and I would “choreograph” Bollywood dance skits at home, so the Greek dances piqued our interest as well.

We would walk around just take it all in and we loved every minute of it.  Our main purpose was eating, of course.  Our favorite thing to indulge in were the spanakopitas.  To this day I love them, no matter how introductory they are to greek cuisine.  The flaky and paper-thin phyllo layers were (and still are) so fun to break off layer by layer and in the middle you would meet the spinach filling full of feta, parley, and olive oil.  This is one way to get your kids to eat spinach.  I make spanakopita from time to time and each time I do I am reminded of the Greek Orthodox festival and every time I think it would be so nice to go again.

Spanakopita with Kalamata Olives and Pine Nuts

Serves 8

Ingredients

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

crushed red chili flakes, to taste

2 shallots, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

12 ounces spinach leaves, stems removed and chopped

4 scallions, sliced

2 tablespoons chopped dill

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 tablespoon chopped mint

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

pinch of freshly ground nutmeg

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/4-1/2 cup grated kefalotyri cheese

1 tablespoon sour cream

2 eggs, beaten

1/3 cup kalamata olives, chopped

2 tablespoons roasted pine nuts

salt and black pepper, to taste

16 ounce package of phyllo dough, if frozen defrosted overnight in the refrigerator

Method

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a sauté pan on medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the shallots.  Allow the shallots to cook for 2-3 minutes or until they become to soften and add in the garlic and red chili flakes.  Once the garlic perfumes the oil, add in the chopped spinach.  Let the spinach wilt and cook down.  Add some salt, black pepper, and the pinch of nutmeg.  Once the spinach is all cooked, set it aside and allow it to cool slightly.  In the meantime, grease a 9″ by 13″ baking dish.

Once the spinach has cooled, add in the remaining ingredients (except the phyllo and remaining olive oil), there is no rhyme of reason to the order.  Mix to combine all the ingredients, make sure they are well incorporated.

Next, take the phyllo dough (make sure to cover it with a damp kitchen towel so that it doesn’t dry out) and cut the sheets so that they would fit into the baking dish.  I had to simply cut the sheets in half.  Once the sheets are the right size, divide the phyllo into two equal stacks.  One stack will be for the bottom layer, one will be for the top layer.

Take the phyllo dough two sheets at a time and layer into the baking dish.  Every second sheet should be brushes generously with olive oil.  Once the first stack of phyllo is finished layer all of the spinach mixture over the phyllo.  Then, repeat the process so that the spinach is covered and in the middle of the two stacks of phyllo dough.  Make sure the phyllo layers are well oiled so that they become crispier.

Bake the spanakopita in the oven for 45-50 minutes, or until the phyllo is golden brown.  Once slightly cooled, cut into squares or diamonds.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

IMG_8111When I moved to Montreal for my Master’s degree I was introduced to Persian and Afghani restaurants.  The flavors were familiar yet different.  They were not spicy like traditional Pakistani fare but indeed quite flavorful and had many layers of subtle spice.

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Coming back to my Persian Chicken Kebab story, I needed to make some to go alongside it and I was reminded of the Afghani rice I used to eat quite often in Montreal.  Recalling its flavors I pondered on how to go about making it.  A challenge if you will.  I could have easily gone on to Google typed “Afghani Pulao” and instantly a recipe would appear.  But, I wanted to use my palette, my sense of taste to decipher the ingredients of this dish.

We often take our sense of taste for granted.  What would we be without it?  It’s like being blind or deaf, it is the lack of a vital sense.  Loving all things food related, I could not even begin to imagine what it would be like not to taste.  This brings me to to Grant Achatz, the chef at Alinea in Chicago.  He was diagnosed with Stage IV tongue cancer yet persevered through this “death sentence.”  He survived but lost his sense of taste, to him dying might have been a better option.  Nevertheless, his fearless spirit brought him back into the kitchen and he used his non-existent palette to continue his culinary pursuits and now slowly his sense of taste is returning to him.  But imagine, food brings us joy, unites us all and without this vital sense human bonding would not be the same.

IMG_8087

Okay, had enough deep conversation yet?  *Snicker*   Where was I?  Oh yes, my self-inflicted challenge!  I know how to make a traditional Yakhni Pulao, so I used this as my starting point.  From my the remaining bones that I had butchered off of my chicken breasts I made a stock.  A simple stock comprised of onion, garlic, carrots, parsley, black peppercorns, cloves, salt, basically whatever you feel like adding to it.  The base was going to be simple, onions and garlic but what else could I add for the aroma and flavor present in Afghani pulao?  Another pantry raid!  Cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaves, saffron, cloves, nutmeg, peppercorns, dried red chilies, dried cranberries, pine nuts, almonds–all at my disposal!  Overflowing with excitement, I was ready to tackle this dish.

Afghani Pulao

Serves 3

Ingredients

1 cup basmati rice, soaked and washed

2 1/2 cups chicken stock (low sodium, free-range, homemade is best, but a good quality boxed one is fine)

1 medium red onion, sliced

3 garlic cloves, minced

3-4 tablespoons oil (I used a combination of Canola and Olive Oil)

1 cinnamon stickIMG_8104

1 bay leaf

2-3 cardamom pods

4 cloves

5-6 black peppercorns

pinch of nutmeg, ground

1/2 teaspoon crushed red chilies

1/2 teapsoon saffron threads

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon orange zest

2-3 carrots, grated

1 tablespoon each, blanched slivered almonds and pine nuts (add extra for garnish, if desired)

1/4 cup dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, golden raisins, apricots, currants–I had dried cranberries on hand)

cilantro leaves, for garnish, optional

1-2 tablespoons butter, optional

Method:

Add the oil to a pot.  Let it warm on medium heat add the onions allow to sweat.  When the onions are almost golden, add the garlic.  Next add all the whole spices including the crushed red chilies, salt, and nutmeg but not the saffron.  Toss in the dried fruit and nuts.  Let the nuts toast and the dried fried reconstitute.  After a minute or so add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.  When the stock is boiling add the saffron.  Let the saffron steep for 30 seconds.  Next, pour in the rice.  Allow to cook in the stock for about 15 minutes or until just undercooked.  At this point add the carrots and orange rind on top.  Turn the heat to low.  Use a kitchen towel and cover it over the pot tightly.  Then put the lid top and let the carrots sweat and the orange rind lets its oils perfume the rice.  Let it sit on very low heat for 10 minutes.  Uncover and fluff with a fork.  You may add butter for some extra richness at this point.  Place in serving dish garnish with extra nuts and cilantro leaves.

*I always serve Kachumbar or chopped salad with Pakistani rice dishes.  It is simply chopped onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, green chilies, cilantro leaves,  a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, salt, a pinch of red chili powder, and a pinch of cumin.

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