Saturday, November 26, 2011

Sultan's Delight

I have been having some seriously amazing food days lately.  This is partly due to the fact that I lost control recently and have bought a whole bunch of cookbooks, mainly omni cookbooks whose styles aren't at all what I've been used to cooking, so I'm in a veritable froth of eagerness to try every single recipe in every book, with various veganizing challenges to give spice to the process; and partly because I recently discovered a Middle Eastern grocery store within easy walking distance of my house.  When I lived in Montreal many years ago, my apartment was in the neighborhood called Outremont, at a sort of ethnic hub of Arabs, Hasidic Jews, North Africans, and Greeks.  The grocery shopping was heaven, but my favorite place by far was the Arab store.  This one in my Edmonton neighborhood now has been there for years, in a crappy little strip mall, and the reason I never went in before was that its name is Halal Meats.  So I figured it was a butcher shop.  And it partly is, but that part is tucked away out of sight at the back.  Recently the mall was bought by a big company that's been doing renovations, and Halal Meats for some reason has replaced whatever was in its windows before with giant appetizing pictures of vegetables and naturally that sucked me in like electromagnets.  And the name of the store is actually Halal Meats and Grocery.  And lo, inside is all kinds of wonderful stuff, plenty of which you'll be seeing on this blog in days to come.  Zatar, sumac, fereek, split hulled fava beans, Turkish "pale" style bulgar, oh my good lord!

And to top it all off, Claudia Roden's The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.  Once again, I have discovered the true cuisine of my heart!  Every single recipe makes me want to cry with joy when I read it, the way some of Blake's poetry does, or Shakespeare's.  And it's got stories, it's got explanations of ingredients, it's got medieval recipes and quotations from personal histories, it's got a bibliography, for pete's sake.  I love it.  Family, I want all of her other books for Christmas except the one on Spain, because I bought myself that one too--in fact it was the first one I bought, so enchanted by it in the bookstore I paid full price instead of waiting to get it discounted online.

A near-random picture of some clementines, to break up the monotony of all this text
Today's offering is the veganization of a Turkish dish called Hunkar begendi, which is in its omni form a lamb stew with a creamy eggplant bechamel.  There are large salad and vegetable sections in The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, and I'll be cooking from them a lot, but today I wanted to spend time in the kitchen and make something special with ingredients I had in the fridge, and/or needed to use up and/or wanted to try, and picked this one mainly for the intriguing eggplant sauce.  I ended up following the recipe for the sauce but running more with my instincts for the stew.  The original recipe is pretty much exactly the one given here.  What I did for the stew was cook up the onion/garlic/tomato part (with some finely chopped mushrooms just because they were in the fridge and/or needed to be used up and/or I thought they would add a nice flavour), along with just a dusting of cumin, coriander, and nutmeg for spices, then adding large TVP chunks.  This was actually the first time I've ever cooked with the chunks, and I was pretty impressed.  Here's the stew shortly after tossing them in, in their dry unrehydrated state--like the TVP crumbles, you might as well just add them to what you're cooking so they can absorb those flavours:

And this was okay, but it was looking a little meh to me, so I added a big handful of red split lentils to thicken things up a bit and add more flavour.  I had to add quite a bit of water, a little at a time, and then ended up cooking it down into a wonderful silky softness:

Very, very tasty, and quite beautiful too, in its way.  You serve this on a bed of eggplant puree added to a thin bechamel flavoured with nutmeg and a little finely grated cheddar-type cashew cheese:

...and that may not sound superfantastic, but believe me, it was.  The only thing that kept me from scarfing down the entire potful was that I want to try it cold tomorrow.

The whole meal is shown at the top of this post: the stew on its bed of eggplant puree, roasted beets, a baked purple yam that I had no idea whatever would be purple inside until I cut it open after it was cooked but what a thrilling colour bonus, some steamed snap peas, a cucumber salad with mint, lemon juice, and orange flower water, and a cute little clementine. 

I have three pounds of clementines.  They were like kittens, too adorable and little and helpless to leave in the store.  Any ideas?  Seriously, especially for savory dishes...?


  1. You genuinely do eat the rainbow, don't you? Another beautiful meal and a great book review. I love Middle Eastern food, too, but tend to get caught up with the usual hummus, baba ghannouj, and such, instead of branching out to dishes that need veganizing.

  2. This one was a little over the top. That potato! What a colour. Who knew? But I will, ahem, certainly be adding it to my repertoire. The vitamin Purple is an important part of a balanced diet, and this makes a nice alternative to beets--the combination of purple yam and beets wasn't planned and I had to add the clementine at the last minute so as to get my daily dose of Orange.

  3. The stew looks orange but counts as red.

  4. What a lovely description of your attraction to the book and cuisine. Anything that's up there with Blake and Shakespeare is worth a look. The eggplant beschamel sounds out of this world. Gorgeous plate of food.

  5. Oh my, this sounds great. Despite loving it while travelling in Turkey, I had given up on having it again. I have never tried the large TVP but glad to hear it gets your nod of approval.

  6. I must be weird. The plainest-colored thing here (the eggplant) is really calling out my name!!

  7. ps I was poking around on this website for beet recipes and found this (WRT your interest in savory citrus recipes):

  8. beautiful colors!! A real feast for the eyes, as they say!

  9. That purple yam is awesome; what a great plate! I have some TVP chunks; I usually use them for "beef" stew, but this looks really good - I think I'm going to have to try it.