Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Out of sight, out of mind

Morro da Providência, the oldest favela in Rio and our neighbors

I don't know if this happens to you, but I'll often forget about an ingredient that I love-- for years-- and then, prompted by who knows what-- an article online, a conversation, astrology (jk, definitely not astrology)-- all of the sudden pick it up one day and use it in absolutely everything for the next month or so. For Felipe's sake hopefully its something that he likes as well, something other than eggplant-- that was a rough two months for him awhile back. 

More eggplant, with tahini

In this case, I actually know exactly why I started buying tahini again. It's because of Yotam Ottolenghi's Jerusalem cookbook. Roasted squash with tahini, fried cauliflower with tahini, sabih (why oh why is this not sold as street food here?)...and that's before I even hit the dessert chapter, my preferred section of cookbooks. Ottolenghi and co. included a recipe for the popular Israel tahini cookies, which are really quite similar to peanut butter cookies but a bit more interesting for those of us who grew up happily bathed in peanut butter. Because of how much I liked the tahini cookies (made without cinnamon, because yuck) I started thinking about including tahini in other desserts outside of the typical halvah, which I do also love dearly. I started thinking about a tahini tart, and then Google led me to Turkish tahini cake, which led me to promptly baking it and Felipe telling me that we really needed to get more tahini "so that we can make like 10 more of these cakes." 

So, we made a bunch more of the cakes, and I started fiddling with the recipe-- replacing some of the oil with butter, upping the baking powder (I suspect there's a translation error in the original recipe), and replacing the crunchy outer sesame seed crust with my beloved demarera sugar when I was out of the seeds. The last time I made the cake, I realized that the original recipe calls for beating the eggs and sugar for 5 minutes, "until foamy," which makes me wonder if what this really is supposed to be a modified chiffon cake. Being that I don't have an electric mixer and that I reserve my arm "muscles" for things like merengue and buttercream frosting, my theory will have to go untested for now. Besides, we are 100% happy with this present, non-beat-your-arm-off iteration, slightly dense with tahini, not too sweet, and positioned to stick around even when/if the tahini craze abates. 

Turkish Tahini Cake
     adapted from Hayrire's Turkish Food and Recipes

6 oz. (1 c.) sugar
2 eggs
2.5 oz. (1/3 c.) vegetable oil
2.5 oz. (1/3 c.) butter, melted and cooled
2.5 oz. (1/3 c.) whole milk, cold from the fridge
6 oz. (1 1/3 c.) flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
2.5 oz. (1/3 c.) tahini
3 Tbsp. sesame seeds or demarera sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter a 9 x 5 in. (8 x 4 in. should be fine too) loaf pan, then pour in the sesame seeds/demarera and tilt the pan around so the seeds/sugar stick to the buttered sides relatively evenly. 
In a large bowl, mix the sugar and eggs with fork/mixer until foamy. Add in the oil, melted butter and cold milk. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour and baking powder. Finally add the tahini, and stir well to incorporate all the ingredients.
Pour the batter into the pan and sprinkle the top with additional sesame seeds/demarera sugar .
Bake for ~45 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cake cool in pan. 
The cake will keep a couple of days well wrapped in plastic. Serve it plain alongside cafe con leche or black tea, or you could probably serve it with some lightly sweetened whipped cream if you like (I mean, you can do that with pretty much any cake, can't you? It's not ever really a bad idea. But I don't think it's particularly necessary here, unless you need to dress it up.)

Tahini-- o pasta de sesamo/ajonjolí-- le da un sabor muy rico a esta torta que es muy rápido y fácil de hacer. 

Torta de Tahini Turca
     adaptada de Hayrire's Turkish Food and Recipes

170 g. (una taza) de azúcar
2 huevos
70 g. (1/3 taza) de aceite vegetal 
70 g. (1/3 taza) de mantequilla, derretida pero tíbia (dejala enfriar unos minutos después de derretirla)
70 g. (1/3 taza) de leche entera, fria de la heladera
170 g. (1 1/3 taza) de harina de trigo 
1 1/2 cucharita de polvo de hornear
70 g. (1/3 taza) de tahini (pasta de sesamo/ajonjolí)
3 cucharadas de semillas de sesamo/ajonjolí o azúcar demarera/azúcar morena gruesa

Precalienta el horno a 180ºC. Amanteca un molde de pan, después echale el ajonjolí/azúcar demarera e inclina el molde para que las semillas/el azúcar se peguen a los lados uniformemente. 
En un bol grande, bate el azúcar y los huevos hasta que esté espumoso. Echale el aceite, la mantequilla y la leche, batiendo para incorporar. Con una cuchara de palo, incorpora la harina y polvo de hornear. Echale el tahini, revolviendo bien para incorporar todos los ingredientes.
Echa la masa al molde y salpica la superficie con ajonjolí/azúcar demarera adicional.
Hornea durante ~45 minutos, hasta que la torta esté dorada y un cuchillo metido al centro salga limpio. Deja la torta enfriar en el molde y sirve cuando ya esté fria.
Guarda la torta envuelta en plástico.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Rumba Tipo Colombia Turns 1!

Though none of us can believe it's already been a year since this ridiculousness started, I'm very happy to announce that we'll be having our 1 year anniversary Rumba Tipo Colombia party in June.

If you happen to be in Rio de Janeiro and want a break from all the Portuguese to come dance salsa and eat empanadas, come find us next to the Arcos da Lapa on June 7th.

And in case you were wondering, no, Colombia is not actually homogenous to the point that you can have one true Colombian-style party, as you can imagine might be the case with any country of almost 50 million people with mountains running between the big cities. But absolutely everyone loves to rumbear (party) and dance, and at our parties the people in charge of the music are from four different regions (Cali, Bogotá, Pasto and Medellín) so we end up with a pretty diverse mix. And at the end of the day, everyone just ends up goofing around anyway, like Felipe in the video below:

Thursday, May 2, 2013

On technology

In Cali, there's a restaurant called "El Arca" (The Ark) that specializes in plantains. That sounds a bit funny to say given that most Colombians eat plantains at least once a day, but they are generally eaten as a side to the main dish or as a snack instead of being the focus of a meal. The menu at El Arca is divided according to the three general stages of ripeness of plantains-- green, yellow/green, and yellow/black, a.k.a. verdepintón, and maduro. Green plantains are turned into giant patacones piled with all the toppings your little heart could possibly desire, and the sweet yellow/black plantains are split and stuffed with cheese and other luscious melty things.  And they have canastas de plátano pintón, fried plantain baskets made with the "in the middle" stage plantains, which are a little bit sweet but have still retained much of their starch. Stuffed with cheese and stewed vegetables or shredded meat, they are damn tasty-- and not very common, in Colombia at least, as this was the first time I had ever run across them.

Luckily, last December in Colombia Felipe's mother gave me a plantain press used to make the baskets and I kind of really love it, even if my (Colombian) friend Gabriel's reaction when I pulled it out was to rant about how Colombian "technology" is limited to wooden plantain presses, which, ok, fair enough (sort of), but my iPod is not helping me get fed anytime soon, and I don't think it's a mutually exclusive proposition anyway. 

And other than medical stuff, when it comes to "technology", I'm not sure there's much I value more than knowing how to feed oneself well, which at the end of the day is not unrelated to medicine and which much of the U.S. is pretty incompetent at. Hell, I thought I knew how to cook when I left the U.S., and I couldn't even make decent rice (good oatmeal cookies, though).  

I've veered way off topic, because what I mainly wanted to say is that if you are a fan of plantains, well, do I ever have a recipe for you. And even if you don't have a fancy-shmancy plantain press, you can make mini baskets using a citrus press-- just cut the plantains into smaller pieces before frying, and line the press with plastic wrap so the plaintain doesn't get stuck in the crevices. It's kind of a nice party trick, don't you think? And you can leave your iPod at home.

Plantain Baskets

For the plantains:

4 yellow-green plantains (ask for plátanos pintones if you're at a latin market)
vegetable oil for frying

For the filling:

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil (sunflower or canola or the like)
1 lg. onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1 lg. red pepper, deseeded and deveined, quartered and thinly sliced
3-4 scallions, chopped
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 c. cilantro leaves, chopped
8 oz. mozzarella cheese, sliced thinly

Line your press with plastic wrap or a clean plastic bag. Heat at least 3 in. of oil in a medium pot over medium-low heat. Peel plantains and then and cut in half horizontally. Fry them slowly (lower the heat if they begin to brown immediately, you need low heat so they will cook all the way through) until you can pierce them easily with a fork. Remove with a strainer and immediately place one plantain half in the press. Close the press gently, exerting slow force. If the plantain breaks roughly it may not have been cooked all the way through (don't worry about it, but it's good to know for the next batch). Remove the pressed plantain gently to a clean plate and immediately continue with the rest of the cooked plantains-- you have to press them while they're still hot. Once pressed, the plantains will keep a couple of hours at room temperature, or you can even freeze them to use later in the week (not much longer, though). 

In a medium skillet over medium-low heat, heat the vegetable oil and onion together until the onion is translucent (add in a pinch of salt and stir), then add in the red pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then cover the skillet and let the onion and pepper stew together for another 10 minutes, stirring every now and then and adding a tablespoon of water or two if the bottom begins to burn.  The peppers should be soft and sweet. Add in the scallions, turmeric and another pinch of salt. Cook another minute or two, cover the pan and turn off the heat.

Right before you're ready to eat, heat up the oil again until very hot, then fry the plantain baskets, one or two at a time (if you add too many the temperature of the oil will drop and they won't crisp up). Turn them once or twice so they brown evenly, then remove them with a strainer to a paper-lined plate and fill (and consume) immediately.

Stir the cilantro into the pepper mixture. Fold and roll a slice of cheese so that it fits into the bottom of a plantain basket, then cover it with the pepper mixture. Repeat with the rest of the baskets. Serve hot or warm.

Canastas de Plátano Pintón

4 plátanos pintones

aceite para freír

Para el guiso:

una cucharada de aceite
una cebolla grande, partida en quatro y cortada
un pimentón rojo grande
2 tallos de cebolla larga
1/2 cucharita de cúrcuma
1/2 taza de hojas de cilantro, picadas
225 g. (1/2 libra) de queso mozzarella