Friday, August 27, 2010

Ramadan Kareem

We are half way through Ramadan, a month of fasting during the day and feasting in the evening.  The eating of fresh dates is traditional when breaking the fast in the evening. 

Dates have many nutritional benefits and are absolutely delicious.  Most readers are probably familiar with dried dates.  In the US, there are limited types of dried dates that are imported.  However, in California, the infamous Shields Date Garden provides lots of information about dates, including a provocative video.  They farm a variety of dates and serve up a mean, thick, rich date shake. 

Here, in Saudi Arabia, the variety of dates is mind numbing - in the most wonderful way.  There are many stores dedicated to dates and grocery stores have special sections for dates and date related treats (date maamouls, dates covered in honey and sesame seeds, chocolate covered dates, etc.).  Lucky for us in the Kingdom, fresh dates are now in season.  We are still going through our first box of fresh dates that we bought a few weeks ago from a man selling them out of the back of his truck in our neighborhood.

Fresh dates are a unique experience.  Look at the photograph of the lovely box of dates.  See the ones that are half yellow and half brown? Those are the very special ones.  The brown part is sweet and melt-in-your-moth soft.  Tastes like a dried date, but more so, like date X 1000.  The yellowish portion is surprisingly crunchy and tart.  At first, we were put off by the combination and would only go for the all brown, sweet dates.  Do not worry, we eventually saw the error in our ways and tried the half sweet/half raw dates again.  The texture and flavor combination is one that we have never had before and we fell in love with them.  Now we only have all sweet dates left in the box because we ate all the half-and-half dates up.

Eating fresh dates with qawah is a treat, especially after fasting all day. But with such a big box, we wanted to do more.  Inspired by our trips to Shields, we've been experimenting with different date shakes - some with yogurt, some with various types of non-dairy milks, and some with vanilla ice cream.  So far, the vanilla ice cream version is the winner.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Just Say No to Frozen Veggie Burgers

I've been a vegetarian (ok, a reluctant pescetarian) for 20 years. At first, I was completely appalled by the idea of eating any type of "fake" meat. Why would anyone choose to eat fake meat and be a vegetarian? If I wanted the taste of meat, I'd rather have the real thing. Well, as time went on, I went to the dark side and indulged in all sorts of things found in the frozen food isle and refrigerated sections - "bacon", "hot dogs", and "burgers" were the ones most purchased.  The funny thing is, these were items that I didn't eat much of even when I was a meat eater. It started out with the kitsch factor, and then it was about convenience.

After learning more about what was in these prepared food items (and by learning, I mean simply reading the ingredients on the box) and going on an elimination diet to find out what foods may be exacerbating my hay fever symptoms, I swore off veggie burgers.

But what is one to do when there is a BBQ to attend? There are many options, like grilled vegetables or tofu. Yet sometimes, a burger type food, something that can be eaten with your hands between two pieces of bread product, is the only thing you desire.

Mark Bittman to the rescue! I tried one of his base bean burger recipes and made some for tonight's BBQ. Although we didn't make it to the BBQ, we did cook them on the stove in a pan with olive oil. Simply delicious, ridiculously easy, and so much cheaper than buying pre-made. And the best part of all, you know every ingredient that went into your tasty burgers.

photo credit, DG
 1st Try at a Home Made Veggie Burger (Mark Bittman saves the day!)
  • 2 cups cooked lentils (I cooked mine with a dried lime in the water)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 small red onion (quartered)
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • sea salt + fresh ground black pepper
  • hand ground cumin + coriander seeds
  • cayenne pepper
  • handful of parsley
  • handful of mushrooms
  • some feta cheese
Put everything in your food processor. Pulse until it comes together nicely (don't over do it!) - must be a nice balance of wet and dry or else it will fall apart when you cook and/or the texture will be all wrong. After it's all burger like, let it rest for a few minute. Then shape into patties with dampened hands. Let chill until ready to use. We cooked ours on the stove in some olive oil - 5 minutes per side. You can also bake or grill.  For our next BBQ, I think we will pre-cook our burgers, freeze them, and then grill on-site for easier handling.