And Now For Something Completely Different: Bedouin Spiced Coffee

All I want is to spend the rest of my days drinking this and blowing up trains.

Two years ago I went to Israel.  I have been trying desperately to get back there ever since.

This is largely because of the coffee.

On the last day of our tour we stopped for a final dinner at Abu Ghosh, a little Arab town about halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.  Unfortunately I cannot remember the name of the restaurant, but it stood out for several reasons.  The first was that I finally got yogurt sauce with my kebabs (Perhaps I shall some other time discuss the experience of inadvertently keeping kosher for several weeks).  The second came in tiny paper cups at the end of the meal, and tasted of cardamom and Paradise.

At the time I was finishing up Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and till the end of that meal I had been somewhat puzzled by Lawrence’s favorable impression of the region’s coffee.  I had had Turkish coffee before, and found it fairly deadly.  It may have been because I was a wee lass of ten years with no great fondness for coffee, or it may have been that I wasn’t expecting the grounds at the bottom, or it may have been that I’m a die-hard tea person.  This coffee overcame my prejudice in no time.

My fellow travelers were surprised when I reached my third cup.  They became alarmed when I asked to speak to whoever it was made the coffee.

Fast-forward a year: I’m at sea in the North Atlantic aboard a little square-topsail schooner, circa 1918 (It is recognized that I have a funny sense of fun).  The crew consists of fifteen damp, grouchy, woefully under-caffeinated women.  Whatever it was that Captain bought when we sent her coffee-hunting in the last port is truly dreadful.  The night watches can barely keep their eyes open.  Not even Engie will drink it, and we’re reasonably confident that Engie subsists on diesel and Monster.

I subjected Captain’s apocalypse coffee to the treatment the restaurant owner had described, and nobody fell asleep on watch for the rest of the passage.

Nobody really slept for the rest of the passage at all.

  • 2 cups cold water
  • 1 cup unflavored coffee, finely ground
  • 5 tbsp cardamom, finely ground
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Turkish-style coffeepot

If, like me, you are without a proper pot, this can be prepared adequately in a small saucepan, but you will lose the foam that forms at the top as it boils.

Grind the coffee-beans and cardamom to a powder either with a grinder or by hand in a mortar if you’re feeling particularly authentic.  Add sugar to the grounds in the pot and pour the cold water in over the other ingredients.  Cover pot.  Bring to a boil.  Immediately remove from heat and let stand for five minutes.  Slowly return to boil.  Remove from heat and let stand again.  Add cinnamon and slowly return to a boil.

A variation for Dune fans: swap the cardamom for cinnamon and the cinnamon for cloves.  I don’t think it will turn your eyes blue but it never does to assume.

Unfortunately, I have neither the knowledge or the leisure to go into Bedouin coffee etiquette, but it is fascinating and worth your research time.  For us, it will do to serve it immediately in demitasse cups if you’re a civilized person or in enormous mugs if you’re a tall ship sailor like me.

Somewhere Auda abu Tayi is crying.

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Nakji Bokum, or, Old Ones in the Sink

I dismembered, cooked, and ate a baby animal today. What worthwhile thing have you done with your life?

Scaring my mother with groceries is something of a guilty pleasure of mine.  It’s one of the few avenues of resistance left to a humble citizen of the People’s Republic of Food.  I’m also a big fan of the works of H. P. Lovecraft.  So when I passed the frozen fish section this week and spotted a package of baby octopus, I couldn’t resist.

I perhaps should have mentioned that I’ve got a gold medal in leaping before looking.

A few internet searches later, I knew a few things.  One: baby octopus is better than full-grown octopus (apparently the adults are a bit stringy).  Step ahead, as usual.  Two: either way they’re tough little sods and have to be tenderized.  The best way to do this is freezing them.  Step ahead again.  I mucked about on the Googles for a bit until I found the dish I was looking for.  One of the Korean restaurants in our neighborhood serves this dish, and I altered the online recipe somewhat to match what I recalled eating there.

When I brought said little sods out of the freezer this afternoon and left them into the sink to thaw, the Gastronomic Gestapo threw a hissy fit.  What the hell were those horrible tentacle monsters in her sink, get them out of there, oh god, o god, there were horrible tentacle monsters in her sink.  “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn,” I gurgled as best I could, but I don’t think the reference went through.

I had assumed when I bought the suckers (sorry) that they came cleaned.  Oh how wrong I was.  Now, mind, I’m not squeamish in a general way.  I’ve gutted many fish, squirrels, and other sundry critters without turning a hair.  But I hate eyeballs.  Eyeballs freak me out.  Octopus eyeballs are apparently worse than other sorts of eyeballs.  I gritted my teeth and cut around them.

My father, to my surprise, begged to try it when I brought it to the table.  I guess it provided a persuasive alternative to the bean soup we seem to live on most of the time.  I’ve been expecting my mother to yell “This! Is! Sparta!” any minute for a year.  He liked it, even though he’s no great seafood eater.

Mum wouldn’t touch the stuff with the bow of a steam yacht.

Here you can actually see the octopus.

      • 1 lb baby octopus, frozen (about six of the buggers)
      • 1/2 yellow onion
      • 2 fresh green chilies
      • 1 small red bell pepper
      • 4 to 6 shiitake mushrooms
      • 1 tablespoon sesame cooking oil
      • 2 1/2 tbsp gochujang (Korean chili paste)
      • 1 tbsp soy sauce
      • 1 tsp sesame oil
      • 5 cloves fresh garlic or 2 tbsp crushed garlic from a jar
      • 1 tbsp sesame cooking oil (usually a mixture of sesame oil and some kind of vegetable oil)
      • 1 tbsp sesame seeds
      • 2 green onions

Prep Time: 30-40 minutes

Thaw the octopuses by running water gently over it and then letting it sit for a few minutes in a lukewarm bath. Cut tentacles from head.  In the center of the tentacles will be the beak.  Pop it out and take care not to cut your fingers.  Cut tentacles into two-tentacle sections. Open head and remove the insides.  Discard guts, beak and eyes. Cut head into equal sized strips (quarters or eighths).

Cut onion in half from top to bottom, then thinly slice (about 1/8 inch thick). Remove stem from chili/jalapeño peppers, cut in half from top to bottom, and slice into thin slivers. Cut bell pepper in half from top to bottom, then thinly slice into strips. Thinly slice mushroom caps.  Discard stems. Crush or mince garlic into a medium mixing bowl.  Add soy sauce, sesame oil, and gochujang.  Mix well.  Let stand at least fifteen minutes. Add octopus to sauce and let stand for fifteen to twenty minutes.

Heat a stir fry pan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium.  Quickly add sesame cooking oil, onion and peppers.  Stir fry for one minute. Add all other ingredients and stir fry for about five minutes.  Octopus sections should curl up when thoroughly cooked.  Garnish with sesame seeds and sliced green onions.  Serve with rice.

Serves 2 with rice.  Riceless, I devoured the whole shebang myself.

In his house in my stomach dead Cthulhu lies dreaming.

Miso #2: Awase and Ginger

Going to the Asian grocery is always an exercise in memory loss.  When it comes time to buy a new carton of miso, I can never recall what kind I had last.  It doesn’t help that none of the packaging is in English.  Usually, I pick something at random.  The most recent result of the soup lottery is awase miso, or mixed miso.  It’s about equal parts shiro miso and aka miso, and it combines the best qualities of both.  The one I got has barley in it as well as soy and wheat, and it’s really tasty on a cold winter day.  This particular recipe came about from an otherwise bare refrigerator.  It was unexpectedly toothsome.

  • 1.5 tbsp awase miso
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup dashi stock
  • 8 button mushrooms, sliced
  • handful julienned carrots
  • 1/2 cup purple onion, diced
  • 2 tbsp minced ginger

Cook the vegetables and the ginger in two parts chicken and one part dashi stock.  As always, if you want to add some sort of noodle, cook it separately and add when the rest of the ingredients have cooked.

In a separate bowl, mix the miso with lukewarm water.  Add to soup just before serving.

Serves 1-2.