Bukhara

When I told friends I want to make my own bread they all thought I am crazy – bread making is a craft in itself, it is a combination of accurate chemistry and adaptability, it takes up a lot of time and kitchen space, and a lot of heart. That is probably the reason so few restaurants make their own bread. But I really think a restaurant should have a signature bread, baked fresh on the premises every day( preferably for every service)

File:Kalon-Ensemble Buchara.jpg

The question is what kind of bread – the obvious choice would be flat bread, which I love and is easy to make, but as the idea is to distinct myself from other middle eastern eateries, Pita bread won`t do.

The bread I need should be spongy enough to mop up sauces but thin enough to eat with your hands, and have a very thin crust. something between a pita bread, focaccia and sponge cake.

I remember something that fits the bill: we used to get it from a little family bakery at the entrance to the market in Jerusalem, and they called it Bukhara bread – A big golden brown round loaf, about an inch thick, dotted with Nigella seeds, the crust shiny and sweet, the bread soft and yielding and just a tiny bit chewy –  just what I am looking for.

I looked it up:  Bukhara is in Uzbekistan (where that is you can check yourself), it was a major trade center on the silk road, and it is sister city to Rueil Malmaison  (again, you can check yourself) and Santa Fe. Wikipedia doesn’t mention anything about bread.

A bit more research and I found a mention of something called `Bukhara obo non`, a bread scented with Nigella seeds, I could not find any recipes but I ended up watching an 8 min video on Uzbek food. fascinating, if you’re into this sort of things.

And than I found the wonderful website uzbekcuisine.com with a whole page on different bread recipes, most of them require mutton fat and contain the phrase `make a pattern with a chekish` and end with the phrase `cook in the tandoor`- which I don’t have, nor do I have a chekish, whatever that may be.

So I got the basic dough recipe,  olive oil instead of mutton fat, and took it from there.

Aren`t they pretty? quite delicious as well, even without the tandoor and mutton fat, but it needs more tweaking, more flavour. next attempt will be with sourdough starter and spelt, as soon as I get rid of these two loaves

http://wn.com/uzbek_cuisine


Cheap thrills

I love Sardines, and I love people who love sardines.

A lot of people have an aversion to them in their fresh form, maybe they had a bad encounter with a less than fresh fish, or maybe is the little bones you cant get rid of, but the  people who clocked on to how good they are, they are the smart ones, in my book.

 Sardines, with all the other little oily fish – herring, anchovies, have the same taste apeal as oysters – the briny, mineral sea flavour, but with a firm bite and buttery texture. And the are cheap – for the price of a single oyster you can buy a pound of them.

I got these at the Portugese fishmonger on market row, brixton market. I must admit, most of the fish stalls in the market (and butchers, for that matter) are quite disgusting, but these guys are ok, if you know what your`e looking for. The ones on Atlantic Ave. are not bad either. I didnt plan on getting anything, but when you see sardines as fresh and nice as this, you just buy them.

And when they are as fresh and nice as this, they need as little intervention as possible. After they are cleaned and trimmed thouroghly,  they get a good sprinkling of salt, and are left to cure with vine leaves, a bit of lemon and a tiny bit of garlic.

               

After a few hours the fish will have changed colour slightly, and it is ready to eat. It can be left to cure for longer, but I think that it should be as close as possible to raw. Cover it now in oil and you can keep it in the fridge for a week or longer, but I rarely do – on a plate with some olive oil, a bit of parsley and a squeeze of tomato, and I doubt you ever got that much joy out of £2.30.


Not Kidding

Still havent sign the lease. My lawyer has taken a long weekend and I won`t have any news untill tomorrow. The estate agent is not returning my calls and I am that much closer to a complete meltdown.

But there is some progress – I have finally opened a bank account for the business and oddly enough, I bought the chairs. I know its strange, but at least now I have something tangible, an evidence that one day there will be a restaurant. That or I will have 22 chairs at home.

Nice aren’t they? Second hand, so I bet they have some stories to tell, not quite the `jubillee banquette at Buckinham palace` type,  more like the `staff lunch at ASDA Croydon` type, but so what? ASDA provides excellent value shopping, and plenty of nice things came out of Croydon, though none come to mind at the moment.

No progress on the bread front, but I did make goat stew.

 It was disgusting.

Eating goat, or kid, is an excellent idea: It is tasty, it is lean, it is cheap and because it’s not an industry, it is usually free range.

And it is very middle eastern – or used to be – and also very Brixton.

The first time I tried goat meat was in east Jerusalem, cooked with wild sage on hot coals, it was magic. I had it again  in St. John, Shared a whole shoulder of kid with friends and that too was magic – the meat was braised in a delicate stock and was buttery and full of flavour. I cooked kid once before, in Melbournes` excelent MoVida, where I worked for a day – Cooked with onion, carrots and vermouth but mostly with its own juices, it was again, magic.

I thought I was on to a winner, but as we know, nothing good comes easy – I bought this meat at a Brixton butcher, it was labeled ` curry goat`. I braised it with garlic, onion, spice and potatoes for over six hours, expecting an eat-with-a-spoon kind of thing, but it didn’t happen.

Dinner time came, my in laws came over, I ended up serving this tough and leathery affair.

 It was a very quiet, very tense evening.

So what went wrong? Before I take the blame I like to try again with kid from a different butcher. Judging The quality of a type of meat your`e not overly familiar with is tricky, but this is the reason I experiment before the restaurant opens. 

I feel really bad  about the  In laws though, I`m affraid they took it personally.


Half baked

The difficulties of setting up a restaurant? where to start; Still trawling the UK banking system in an attempt to find some loose change to fund my restaurant with.

My lawyer, a sweet but super scary lady, has taken over negotiation from me,  and the gap between how by-the-book she is and the estate agents` ghetto ways  leaves me  in constant fear that something will go wrong. They have exchanged 4 e-mails trying to establish the property number. I had to go down there and count houses.

I would love to post pictures of the place, but not untill the lease is signed. Bad luck you see.

Had a design meeting with my designer friend, who came up with some really important insights, and some great ideas. It was great fun talking to someone professionally about how to realize all these notions I had, and to see the beginning of a floor plan forming. Exciting stuff.

But the one thing I can’t seem to nail,  the biggest hardship so far has been the issue of bread –  I can’t decide what sort of bread I want to serve in the restaurant.

 I know the obvious choice for middle eastern food is flat bread or pita, but I really want to avoid the obvious, and there are so many types of bread that can work, But getting it right takes a while: you can only taste the result when the loaf is ready, and then you have to start from scratch, adding 10 gr. of yeast or half a teaspoon of salt. And if something goes wrong, It goes horribly wrong. This was meant to be a beautiful loaf of spongy type bread I thought will work beautifully, and I really hoped to have a golden-crusted-crown-of-bread  picture for the end of this post.

That won`t be the case. I will spare you the details, and myself the embarrassment  but due to a unique combination of cold weather, lethargic yeast, oven malfunction and incredible stupidity on my part, this loaf did not provide the Kodak moment I was hoping for, and was quite disgusting to eat as well.

tomorrow is designated bread day, hope to do better than this.


And so, to work…

The lease has been agreed, I hired a lawyer to go through the details, hope it will all go smoothly. Now that it’s all happening I realize that I havent done as much as I could these last few months: I still don’t know where to get all the equipment, which bank offers the best rates, what the place is going to look like, and to my shame, even the recipes are not final (on the plus side, I am the holder of the spider solitaire house record, and have mastered the dish `linguini marmite`). Not much I could do over the weekend except cook.

Cooking in olive oil is a very turkish thing to do; In any restaurant in Istanbul you are more than likely to get at least one vegetable cooked this way, usually as mezze. I don’t mean frying in oil, but actually submerging  a vegetable in oil and aromatics and gently simmering – somehow it accents the flavor of the main ingredient, and gives it a unique buttery texture.

of course, cooking in olive oil is not cheap, but you can use the same oil again three or four times, and the result will actually be better for it. In fact the oil that remains has so much flavor, it makes for amazing seasoning.

Don`t judge this dish by this picture, It is really delicious and special, and my favorite way to eat fennel. About the pictures, I really thought I would get better at this, but the picture quality of this blog seems to be going down by the post. Drastic action must be taken I know. If anyone has some entry-level food photography advice or links, I would be very grateful.

Supposedly, This week should see me setting up a business account, starting to work on finding equipment and on the design,  finding builders to do the place up, and to work on bread and dessert recipes, a task I was dreading to tackle. Again, any advice from readers of this blog who are not married to me is most welcome.


Through the grape vine

 

Whats with the puns? I can`t shake it! I think it`s to do with Evening standard Overexposure. Hope I`ll get it out of my system soon, and these pages wo`nt be so painful to read anymore.

The phrase `Overexposure` also comes to mind looking at this picture. I still like it though.  

Everybody tried stuffed vine leaves. Or so they think. I thought I had stuffed vine leaves.In  fact, I even thought I make quite good vine leaves. I learned of my mistake at a food fare in the basement of a shopping mall in Tel Aviv. This guy had a stall there, pots  full of bubbling broths, dumplings and stews, all looking and smelling gorgeous. His mother and Father cooked it all, he boasted,  hand-made and fresh Iraqi food. I saw a Claudia Roden quote somewhere, saying that Persian cuisine is the last undiscovered secret in middle eastern cooking. No disrespect to that great lady, but I think she forgot their neighbours; In Israel, with its huge community of Iraqi jews, their cooking is very highly regarded.

I bought some kibe from this guy, and he was upselling hard. I wasn`t having it, so he gave me these vine leaves to try, and said `you havent tried vine leaves till you tried these` and I had to reluctantly admit, the pushy little man was right, I never had anything even remotely similar; warm and slightly sticky rice, bursting with minty freshness, lemony but not sour, wrapped in soft silky leaves…of course I bought as many as I could, trying to remember every bite so I can recreate them.

And indeed I did – took a lot of trial and error, but I got there finally - I am using risotto rice, for that sticky texture of the grains, cook it slightly with equal amount of chopped onion to rice, season with turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne and ridiculous amounts of mint, fresh and dried. 

After the leaves are rolled they are cooked in lemon juice and olive oil with  leeks and grapes for a couple of hours.

The results are so good I don`t think there is a limit to how many of them I can eat. If they weren’t so time-consuming  to make, I would have it every day, and so would my wife, but these are special affair treats, at least untill the restaurant opens, which seems very near now, I think I am going to close the deal on the location today.


Big Monday

Quick update for readers that are not married to me (according to my stat chart there is one, but I think its my friend Kuskusul) ;  meeting at the bank turned out to be a business start-up seminar attended by the deluded (me) and the elderly(everybody else). It was all flow charts and brochures, but there was free tea and coffee so it wasn`t  a complete waste of time. On the finance front I am back to square one. Square Zero, rather.

Still waiting to hear about the property I put an offer on, In the meantime I am going there again today with my celebrity chef friend, to see what he thinks, and to measure it again as I keep thinking that I got it wrong. I hope to be wiser by the end of the day.

On Sunday we had a few people (14 of them) over  to celebrate the birthday of my previous head chef, An incredible guy with incredible taste and talent. He just moved to his new 5 bedroom home, so I was a bit embarrassed about inviting him to our little run down shoebox, but I wanted to invite him over for a while now. Also, It was a good opportunity to try a few recipes for the restaurant, and take a few pictures for this blog. 

 I don’t think I mentioned this but my wife is a chef as well, and is now setting up a very big restaurant that is opening very soon. We know that we are not going to see much of each other in 2011, with me setting up  a restaurant and her running what will probably be one of londons` busiest kitchens, So we spent a day together cooking at home  which we havent done in a while  (maybe because our kitchen space has shrunk since we moved here, in opposite relation to our bodies) so the chubby little hands you see in the pictures are hers. The lady with the dinosaur hands they call her at work. It was great, cooking together again, it’s the one place I can criticize what she does without her going mental and vice versa. We cooked a lot and I intended to get at least 6 posts out of it, but we didn’t end up with as many pictures as we should have, and I blame it on Poland, and on vodka.

 There is a reason we decided to have vodka instead of wine: Our Polish friend B is famous, amongst other things, for the vodka-and-polish-canapes nights she hosts in her Dalston flat, and it is always tremendous fun. We usually end up at Mangal, topping ourselves up with flasks of vodka that we hide under the table, so the notion of middle eastern food and Polish vodka is tried and tested and is great. But than again, few things aren’t great when you’ve had a pint of vodka in you. She brought us a bottle of my wifes` favorite brand, and we supplemented with some stolli

Needless to say, 15 minutes and two drinks  into the evening and I was not thinking of pictures. Or anything for that matter. At first I was still trying to play host, but I soon gave up the pretence, and just plonked the ice bucket in the middle of the room, for all vodka fiends to help themselves.

 Ourselves, I should say.

It was a  good night, even though I didn’t get all the pictures I wanted, And today is a big day with plenty to do. It’s a good thing vodka doesn’t leave me hung over 


Preserved lemon and mint chicken

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This one is inspired by  one of the best chef I know, a woman called Margaret Tayar who cooks in her restaurant, on a terrace by the  beach in Jaffa.  not a fancy place –  concrete floor, the furniture is old white plastic and the tablecloth is clearly made out of old curtains. She is around 60 I guess. with crazy black locks, beautiful blue eyes and a constant smile that was showing braces last time I was there.If she is not in the kitchen she is sitting at the entrance on a manky wicker chair, bare feet up, vegetables piled up around her that she would prep with her cousin, or sister, who are also the waiting staff. the food she cooks is based on north african traditions ( I think her family are Tunisian or Algerian), but is a thing all of its own – `mediterranian magic` might be a possible title. she is famous for her mezze salads, grilled fish, couscous dishes and her magic touch – some people, very few, have such an instinct for food, an instincts that guides them when they choose ingredients, decide when it is ready to cook, how to cook it and with what, and these are the people whose food you want, time and again, to come back to.

 But it’s not only the food - she is one of the happiest people I know contaigiously happy, and always seconds away from laughing.I never heard her complain about anything (except  the fish monger who tries to rob and cheat her every day for so many decades now) and she would always say that it’s the restaurant that keeps her happy, just making food for people.

I thought about it now, when the idea of a restaurant is actually getting a bit more real, and I am starting to freak out and ask myself if I really want this - the constant anxiety, the  18 hour workdays, miss seeing movies,  friends and wife (in order of importance). If I will become even a bit more like Margaret, I would consider my efforts well spent.  Still Waiting to hear about the property.

Back to business – her preserved lemons are amazing. Rumor has it she gets truckloads of special lemons from the Sinay desert in egypt – tiny and fragrant, and so flavoursome, and she pickles them for the year. She makes this sauce using those lemons, mint and garlic, and serves it with grilled fish, burnt aubergines, roasted peppers. Whatever she puts it on explodes with freshness.

This is my version of it, I hope she would approve. In the restaurant I will use it with boned chicken thighs on the grill, as a marinade and  a sauce ( here I used whole little chickens that I butterflied and roasted). the recipe requires a lot af mint, fresh and dried, garlic, and preserved lemons, which  Normally I’d  preserve myself, but as they take at least a month to cure I sent my wife to the market to get some, and some dried mint. These lemons she got from the portuguese deli on Atlantic road and they were great – it’s a great deli. As for the mint, well when someone comes back from Brixton market with a bag of dried leaves looking like this, you know you are in for a treat, whatever it is.

   

 

When I ate this I was transported to that balcony by beach, and I could almost hear Margaret saying to her cousin – why didn’t you tell me it’s for them? I would have used the good fish! (that really happened once, it’s that kind of place), so I was worried it might be sense memory that make me enjoy this dish so much, but my friend Ben enjoyed it as well, enough to eat with his fingers, which is the biggest complement an Englishman can offer a chef. Than again, maybe it wasnt dried mint after all… Read the rest of this entry »


say it with cauliflowers

Again, excuse the cheesy pun. It was that or  ‘cauliflowers in the attic’ but as it is my wife’s birthday, and she is so far the only reader of these lines, I opted for something more romantic (Maybe I should have stuck with it, she does have a creepy relationship with her siblings).

This salad is another contender for the mezze section of the menu. The pairing of tahini and cauliflower  is very common in Palestinian cooking and is as simple as it is delicious – you simply deep fry, or in this case roast the vegetable, plate it and  spoon some plain tahini (this brand is amazing! from green valley off Edgware road) and to cut the richness squeeze a tomato or lemon on top, and some herbs – I thing spring onion rounds it off nicely.

 instead of squeezing the tomato I tried this simple tomato sauce made with fresh grated tomatoes, chillies and olive oil, as I`ve seen done in a few places.A nice touch but as this is such a good dish, it can do without.

On the business plan front, my friend Ben, star that he is, came through and mailed me some very good work, or at least I think its good, as I really am clueless about these things, and I don’t speak a word of corporate( note to self - make sure no potential investor reads this blog).

But I still have a lot of work to do before my Wednesday meeting, which I will have to do on Tuesday because as I said, it is my wife’s birthday today.We are not doing much, as our birthday budget was blown  on anti aging face cream made of pearl dust and mashed up babies  that costs like a ski holiday, and a sunday roast at Hix oyster and chop-house( which was meant to be amazing but was actually pub grub quality at thrice the price. Such a shame, when there are so many nice places we could have gone to in this town) so with no money left for a present, I promised her a poem, and I only do Haiku, so here goes -

I want to give you all I have

all I have

is you

So to my only reader and the love of my life, my beautiful, fat, white swan - Happy birthday.


Let the beet rock

I wonder how many food bloggers have used this pun. For me it was this one or ‘let the beet go on’. so cheesy.

I had this salad as a mezze dish on the menu of my imaginary restaurant since forever. it is based on something a mother of a childhood friend of mine used to make – I think it  is Algerian or Tunisian but I`m not sure –  she would dress boiled beetroot with oil and orange juice, fresh ginger, currants and coriander.

 Combining beets and oranges makes perfect sense, as both are winter things and the fresh ginger, that somehow combines the beets earthy notes and the oranges` sharpness really  brings it all together.

 Years later, when I tried to make it, I couldn’t get the orange flavour to come out enough unless I added buckets of juice,and it would overpower. I ended up making a sauce with whole oranges, vinegar, honey and chilli, like a spicy marmalade, and leave it quite chunky, so you get a big hit of orange every now and then. I didn’t think the currants were very useful there, and the coriander was replaced with sweet, fragrant basil, and the result, I think, is quite special, and delicious.


There are a few ways of cooking beets – you can boil them in water, but then you dilute the flavour and sweetness. I would always roast them in the oven whole, which concentrate their flavor, than just squeeze them out of their skin, but I recently saw a friend chef of mine peel the beets before roasting them, which seems like a lot of unnecessary effort, as peeling them after they are cooked is so much faster and a lot easier. but he said that this way you get a far better result, with the added flavor of the roasted, slightly charred surface of the vegetable.  I had to try it  but I really didn’t want it to work. it goes against my grain to do things in a certain way when there is an easier, more efficient way to go about it. I had visions of myself  doing nothing but peeling bags of beetroot, walking around with stained hands all the time… bit of a drama in my head. but you can glean from that something about the person I am, and also how busy I think the place will be. Got the beets in the oven, sauce cooking, camera cleaned of beet stains and cleaned again after this picture was taken

 There is no comparing the amount of flavour in these beets compared to anything I had before.they were so sweet and earthy, so intense and just a bit smokey, completely worth the extra effort that ,dramas aside, is not that much of an effort after all.

Dice the beets, dress with olive oil, fresh ginger and salt, orange sauce and basil on top, and wish my photographic skills will one day be able to this beautiful dish justice


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