Tandoori Chicken

Indian meal

Here you will find information on tandoor clay ovens and a delightful tandoori chicken recipe, which I first made in one of my cooking classes in the early 1980’s.

Tandoor Oven Described

If made authentically in India, this chicken dish (which originated in the Punjabi region of the Indian subcontinent) is cooked in the bell-shaped tandoor clay oven; this oven is also used to make the Indian flatbread naan.  This is a cylindrical clay oven, which sets in the earth and is fired with wood or charcoal; it may also rest above the ground.  1

Where the Tandoor Oven Is Used and Its Origins

The tandoor oven is used for cooking in the following Asian regions: Southern Asia (including India), Central Asia (including some former Soviet republics), and Western Asia (thirteen of the twenty countries-fully or partly located here-are of the Arab world) and the South Caucasus.  2

In India and Pakistan, tandoori cooking became popular, when the Punjabis (from the northern part of the Indian subcontinent) embraced their traditional tandoori cooking on a regional level;  this can be seen, after the 1947 partition, when Punjabi Sikhs and Hindus resettled in such places as Delhi.   Therefore, Indians and Pakistanis traditionally associate the tandoor with the Punjabis.  3

In Azerbaijan, the tandoor oven is called a tandir, while in Armenia, it is known as a tonir, which is underground here.  4

How a Tandoor Oven Works

Burning grasses, charcoal, or wood produces the heat in the traditional tandoor oven.   Smaller electric tandoors, however, are found in some homes, especially in America; larger electrical tandoors are used commercially (see https://www.puritandoors.com/ for purchasing).

These fires within the traditional, cylindrical ovens produce a combination of live fire cooking, radiant heat cooking and hot-air, convection cooking, as well as smoking-caused by the fat dripping on the charcoal or wood.  The temperatures soar to 900 degrees F (480 degrees C); these temperatures are maintained, by the fires left burning for long periods of time.  5

The tandoor design makes the transition between a makeshift earth oven and the horizontal-plan masonry oven.  Earth ovens were communal long ago, being pits dug in the ground with smoldering wood, cooking all the family’s meals within the community.  These earth ovens were eventually lifted out of the ground, and with time, they became masonry-brick or stone-ovens.  Initially in Asia, they, however, transitioned into the tandoor ovens, which being made smaller were used by individual families.  In this way, the tandoor was created, using grasses and wood to generate the heat to cook meat and vegetables within, while flatbreads were slapped directly on the hot clay walls.  6

The heat within a tandoor is generated, by a convection current created inside, as cold air is taken in through a hole at the bottom of the tandoor. As the cold air hits the fire, it warms up, and becomes less dense, circulating up inside the cylinder.  The air previously at the top has cooled down some, and it falls back to the fire.  This convection heat is energy transferred through currents, or in this case air currents.  In turn, a process known as radiation takes place, with the clay of the oven slowly beginning to absorb and emit some of this ambient, circulating, insulated heat.  7

Etymology of the Word Tandoor

According to Wikipedia, the English tandoor comes from Hindi/Urdu tandur, which in turn comes from Persian tanur; all these names mean (clay) oven.  The Dehkhoda Persian Dictionary states that this Persian word was derived from the Akkadian word tinuru, and that this word tinuru consists of the parts tin, or mud, and nuro/nura, meaning fire.  8

Making Your Own Tandoori Oven

There are numerous versions for making your own tandoor oven found on YouTube.  Primitive Life Reborn has a great video on how to make a primitive, mud tandoor-see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSCNQ0bGolY  A less traditional, but easier design, is given at https://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Tandoor-(Clay)-Oven

Background of My Recipe

My original 1980’s receipt included red food coloring, as the spicy hot tandoori chicken in Southern, Central, and Western Asia was reddish in color, due to the abundant spices in it (cayenne pepper, red chili powder, etc.).  Along with the optional food coloring, my milder recipe from the early eighties, included instructions for the barbecuing, broiling, or baking of the poultry, as tandoors were not in abundance in the U.S. back then, as they are today.

In America, “Indian summer” meals are highlighted with barbecues; you may, however, have this prized electric appliance in your home, or even a home-made tandoori oven, thus providing the option of making this receipt the traditional way.  If not, try barbequing, broiling, or in a pinch, baking it-all these instructions are below.

Applied Lesson

A few of the restrictions brought on by Covid-19 may seem to have settled some.  Back in the spring, life appeared to be drastically changed, but now things may no longer appear to be ‘hot as an oven’-and tandoori ovens get up to 900 degrees F (480 degrees C).

A semblance of order seems to have been restored, since the early March outbreak of this virus and all its complications.  Nevertheless, we take nothing for granted, but remain alert.  The word of God instructs us:

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.”    1 Peter 5: 8, 9.  (King James Bible)

To be sober is to be clear-headed, or alert, while vigilance requires circumspection, or being cautious about what we say or do.

We know that our thoughts form the basis of our spoken words and actions; thus, it is imperative that we tend to our thought life carefully.  If we do not, we can unknowingly give Satan access to come into our lives with his destructive ways; this can take place as we let our thoughts play out in words and actions that inadvertently lead to damage.

Through his mercy and grace, our Redeemer Jesus aids us in this, when we ask him to; therefore, we do not mistakenly commit sins of ignorance, or worse yet those of commission, which have consequences of destruction in the natural.

In this way, hell’s heat cannot touch us!

Enjoy my hot-from-the-oven tandoori chicken recipe below.

References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tandoor and https://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/tandoori_chicken/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tandoor
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. http://www.renegadekitchen.com/blog/diy-tandoor-oven
  7. Ibid.
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tandoor

­

tandoori chicken

Tandoori Chicken  Yields: 6 servings.  Active prep time: 1 hr/  Cooking time: 30 min/  Inactive prep time for marinating: 9 1/2 hr.

6 thigh/leg parts  (Our local Fred Meyer sells seasoned thigh/leg pieces at the meat counter, but you will want to ask for unseasoned ones, for $1.29/lb.  They also carry a pre-packaged Heritage Brand, with 4-5 pieces in a package for $1.09/lb.)

2 tbsp lemon juice, divided

1 1/2 tsp salt, divided

8 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped fine

2 tbsp grated fresh ginger

1 tsp ground cardamom, or 1 1/2 tsp seeds

1/2 tsp garam masala

1/3 tsp ground cumin, or 1/2 tsp seeds

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp red food coloring, optional

2 c plain, whole milk yogurt  (I prefer Sierra Nevada Grass-fed, Whole Milk Yogurt, as it is thick, rich, and most healthy; another option is plain Greek yogurt.)

  1. cutting five to six gashes in chicken

    If frozen, thaw chicken two days ahead in the refrigerator.

  2. Nine and a half hours before serving, or better yet a day ahead, remove skin from chicken and cut five to six deep gashes in each piece, cutting all the way through the meat (see photo above).
  3. In a small bowl, mix 1 1/2 tbsp of lemon juice and 1 tsp salt.  Rub each piece with this mixture and place in a pan, covering loosely with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for one and a half hours.
  4. cover thigh/legs with sauce

    With a mortar and pestle, food processor or blender, pulverize: garlic, ginger, cardamom, garam masala, cumin, cayenne pepper, and remaining 1/2 tbsp lemon juice and 1/2 tsp salt.

  5. Mix yogurt, spices, and optional food coloring.  Spoon sauce over the front and back sides of each piece of chicken, covering well; lay in a pan and spoon more sauce on top of these thigh/legs.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and marinate in refrigerator for eight hours-or overnight.  See above photo.
  6. finished product

    Cook over charcoal, in tandoori oven or BBQ.  May also cook under a broiler for 25-35 minutes, or until done.  A final option is to bake this in 400-degree oven for 30-45 minutes, or until there are no red juices present, when a knife is inserted in center.  See photo.

  7. Enjoy!

Riso Pilaff (Italian Braised Rice)

Below are many rich details concerning the history of rice, along with the final recipe in my Italian dinner Riso Pilaff.

Rice Domestication Dated as Early as 5000 BC

Though the date of rice domestication remains doubtful, it is thought that wet-field cultivation began in the river valleys of south China-an independent country at the time-about 5000 BC, but most dates concerning this, in China, as in India and southeast Asia, are closer to 3000 BC.  1

Rice Not a Basic Grain in Early North China

In 3000 BC, the basic grain in north China was not rice, but millet, a dry land crop.  It, however, is common today to think that rice was a main food in all of China, almost to the exclusion of anything else.  This is partly due to a Victorian misapprehension.  2

China kept itself at arms-length from the rest of the world, until the mid-nineteenth century; one result of its exclusivity was that foreigner traders, confined to the southern port of Canton (now Guangzhou), falsely believed that Cantonese food, which was based on the wet-farmed rice of the early south China, was representative of China as a whole.  This Victorian misconception was later reinforced by Cantonese emigrants taking their rice dishes to Britain and America; this resulted in Chinese and Cantonese cooking to be thought of as virtually synonymous, during the early days of our understanding of Chinese food in the West.  3

In The Rituals of Dinner, Margret Visser states that the staple grain in China was originally millet, which was eaten with a spoon.  Chopsticks seemed to evolve in the East specifically for the use of rice, with Chinese rice being moist, not loose and dry like that of Indians, Arabs, and Africans, who prefer eating it with their hands.  4

The Origins of Rice

Likewise, there is also uncertainty about its exact origins. The wild plant is found over a huge area of land, from the Gangetic plain of India across Upper Burma, then stretching to north Thailand and Laos, and to North Vietnam and into southern China.  5

It is believed that it could have been domesticated almost anywhere, especially since it lends itself to different methods of cultivation.  Records show that early users were ingeniously growing it in superficially unlikely conditions.  We can assume that rice was a late-starter, due to the known dates, in relation to the domestication of other grains; this indicates that it could have been domesticated independently in several places.  6

Song Times in China (960-1279 AD)

By Song times, most of the Chinese population were relying on bowls of rice and bean curd soup, which had replaced soy beans and water.  These rice bowls and bean curd soup were simple foundations, on which the common extras were added, as availability decreed.  These extras were spring onions, bamboo shoots and beans, with soy sauce, sweet-sour plums or fermented black beans, which added savor; pork, chicken, and fish were occasional luxuries.  7

Marco Pollo saw China before the glory of the Song had time to fade; its capital Hangzhou appeared to him to be like a Chinese Venice.  Ships brought spices from the Indies and took away silks for the Levant, while Arabs, Persians, and Christians haggled over the deals being made with paper money, which was unknown to Marco.  Admits all this, specially selected varieties of rice were being imported daily and sold to the rich.  Pink rice, white rice, yellow rice, mature rice and winter rice were among these varieties-each with unique characteristics and some with an almost flower-like fragrance.  8

The Presence of Rice in India

From about 2000 BC forward, rice was being cultivated in India, beginning in the Ganges Delta, in the northeastern Bengal region of the Indian subcontinent.  On plains with natural or artificial irrigation, it was a staple, in place of millet in other locations without irrigation.  9

During the first millennium AD, rice, vegetables and fish came to form the bases of south Indian cooking; these were cooked with an abundance of spices.  On the Malabar and Coromandel-southwestern and southeastern-coasts, Indian food was subjected to many outside influences, through trading with both the Arab world and China-there was much trade in spices, both through exports and imports.  10.

Nevertheless, the effects of foreign contact were more profound in the north-west of the country.  Over a period of 2000 years, there had been a succession of infiltrations and invasions, through  the passes of the Hindu Kush, bringing Aryian, Persian, Greek, and Central Asian ideas, attitudes and techniques.  All this became woven into the culture of the area of the former Indus Valley civilization.  Along with these foreign influences-either nomadic or highly civilized-there also was fertile land; these two features caused meat to be consumed here more than anywhere else in India.  11

What took place in north-west India varied greatly from its heartland. where the very poor probably ate stale, boiled rice with half-cooked gourds or other vegetables.  There may have been a grain porridge mixed with mustard stalk, and perhaps they drank rice-boiling water left to ferment-this unidentified alkaline liquid reputedly tasted like water from a salt mine.  12

In the heartland, the less-poor began meals with one or two pieces of ginger and salt; then, there would be boiled rice and bean soup, this with a hot butter sauce.  Small cakes with fruit and more butter followed; next they chewed on a piece of sugarcane, finishing everything off by chewing spices, for digestive purposes and to sweeten the breath.  Their drinks varied from water to whey or buttermilk or gruel.  13

The rich here followed this same basic pattern in their meals, but with additions and finer quality, such as shining white rice and rich, golden broths.  In the southern heartland, curds and spicy meat sauces were used instead of ghi, and drinking water was perfumed with camphor from Borneo; they had mango syrup and lime juice for drinks as well.  In their highly varied diet, these Indians made use of dairy, which the Chinese generally ignored, and of fruit, which the Europeans were intractably suspicious.  14

As a rule, it, however, isn’t really possible to talk of ‘Indian food’ as a whole, for there is so great a diversity in its regional foods.

As an aside: Roman traders brought back rice from India to ancient Rome, at the time of Christ, before the fall of the Western Roman Empire-which happened at the hand of Germanic leader Odoacer, in 476 AD.  Romans, however, used rice in their cooking only as a starch, for thickening sauces and such.  15

The Arabs Introduced Rice to Europe

Under the banner of Islam, the Arabs rose up out of the desert and conquered the Persian Empire, during the Tang period in China (618-907 AD) and while the Rashtrakuta dynasty was ruling in India (between the 6th and 10th centuries).  16

During the medieval period, rice became fairly common in Europe, as the Arabs had brought it from Asia to Europe via Persia, where they had learned to grow and cook it.  Rice was first grown in large quantities, by the Moors, in 8th century Spain; somewhat later they brought it to Sicily.  Still later in the 15th century, northern Italians first produced rice in the Po River valley and the Lombardy plain-the home of risotto.  17

Europeans Brought Rice to the Americas

In the 1500’s and 1600’s, the Spanish and Portuguese introduced rice throughout the Americas, with South Carolina being the home of the first commercial American planting, in 1685.  Here the rice-growing expertise of the native African-Americans was most valuable.  (Presently, most of America’s rice comes from the lower Mississippi region, Arkansas, Texas, and California.)  18

Indeed, Europeans introduced numerous things to the Americas, though that which was imported by them was less than what was exported.  As mentioned, rice was among the treasures they brought.  Some other important commodities were vegetable seeds, wheat, chickpeas, sugarcane, bananas, citrus fruits, yams, cowpeas, coconuts, breadfruit, and coffee.  In addition, dairy products and beef  arrived, when Columbia’s second governor introduced the first cows there.  19

Starting in the 15th century, the Americas, however, provided Europe with far more, adding up to a formidable list with such things as: the potato, tomato, maize, avocados, pineapples, haricot, kidney, and butter beans, Lima beans, scarlet runners, ‘French’ beans, chocolate, peanuts, vanilla, red peppers and green peppers, tapioca, chewing gum, and quinine-not to mention gold, silver, tobacco and rubber.  20

Lesson Applied

For a long time, rice has been a world-wide commodity.  It is a principal food for about half of the world; while in countries such as Bangladesh and Cambodia, it provides nearly three-quarters of the daily energy intake.  21

As we can see, rice is an essential world staple.  Likewise, the Word of God is our necessary food; the Bible proclaims that it is more necessary than food itself!  (See Job 23:12.)  It often refers to the Word as the bread of life, for it feeds our bodies, minds, and souls, in ways beyond our knowledge.

The word is Jesus himself; the apostle John writes:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.”  John 1:1, 14, King James Version.

The Word, which is Jesus, provides us with solutions; it is a most practical tool.  As it is written, when trouble comes, the Holy Spirit will recall to our remembrance what Jesus has said; in this way, we can resolve situations in our lives and nations.

The living Word nourishes us, just like rice does, only better.  A steady diet of the Word brings abundant life and more abundant life, when we apply his blood to our sins as needed (see John 10:10 and Romans 5:9).

Please enjoy this memorable, Italian rice pilaf recipe, given below.

References:

  1. Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1968, 1973), p. 40.
  2. Ibid., pp. 39, 40.
  3. Ibid., p. 40.
  4. Margret Visser, The Rituals of Dinner (New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991), p. 179.
  5. Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York, Three Rivers Press, 1968, 1973), p. 40.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid., p. 135.
  8. Ibid., p. 137.
  9. Ibid., p. 113.
  10. Ibid., p. 114.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid., p. 141.
  15. Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa, A Taste of Ancient Rome (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), p. 12.
  16. Reay Tannahil, Food in History (New York, Three Rivers Press, 1968, 1973), p. 141.
  17. Harold McGee, On Food in History (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 472.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Reay Tannahill, (New York: Three River Press, 1973, 1988), 114, 115.
  20. Ibid., p.220.
  21. Harold McGee, On Food in History (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 472.

Riso Pilaf  Yields: 6-8 servings.  Active prep time: 20 min/ Braising time: 25-40 min.  (Inspired by a recipe in a cook book put out by the Denver Art Museum in the 1980’s.)

1 qt chicken broth  (Organic, free range broth is available reasonably at Trader Joe’s.)

1 small bay leaf

1 clove garlic, peeled

Scant 1/8 tsp loose saffron threads, crumbled  (Trader’s carries an inexpensive Spanish saffron.)

1 tsp salt, or to taste  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is important for optimum health; a fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco for $4.95 for 5 lbs.)

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

1 med yellow onion, chopped small

6 tbsp butter

1 1/3 c rice

1/4 c grated Parmesan cheese

  1. sweating onions

    Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

  2. In a medium saucepan, heat the broth with the bay leave, whole garlic clove, crumbled saffron, salt, and pepper.
  3. Over medium heat, sweat-cook until translucent-the chopped onion in 3 tbsp of butter, in a casserole (a 3-quart, stove top/ovenproof pan with a lid). See photo.
  4. cooking rice grains until opaque

    Stir in rice, coating grains well with the fat; continue to cook until rice turns opaque, stirring constantly; see photo.

  5. Stir hot broth into opaque rice. Bring to a boil and cook this mixture for 5 minutes, uncovered, over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  Fit heavy foil over pan; then, cover tightly with lid.  See photo below.
  6. pan covered with heavy foil

    Bake in a preheated oven for 45-50 minutes, or until moisture is absorbed.

  7. When finished, fluff rice with a fork, stirring in Parmesan cheese and remaining 3 tbsp of butter; see photo of finished product at top of entry.
  8. Note: this may be made ahead of time, by braising it for about 35-40 minutes, or until there is about an inch of liquid left in the bottom of the pan.  Remove from oven and set aside; then, 45 minutes before serving, preheat oven to 250 degrees and place the casserole in oven, until rice is warmed.  It is even possible that the rice may be completely cooked-except the final addition of butter and cheese-the day before and stored in another saucepan, if casserole is needed for another recipe.  Be sure to remove rice from refrigerator in the morning; then, heat this room temperature rice over medium heat on stove top, adding about an inch of water to the bottom of saucepan.  When hot, stir in last 3 tbsp of butter and cheese and serve.

1950s’ Lemon Bars

1950s’ lemon bars

Here I give details concerning the known history of tantalizing lemons-dating back to before Christ-as well as a time-tested receipt for lemon bars.

In the 1950s, my mother often made these great bars, using a then popular recipe probably derived from a magazine, to which I have added my touches to make them simpler, tastier, better!

There are many variations of fruit that grow on trees in the genus Citrus, and these are prone to form hybrids with each other, making it hard for scientists to work out family relationships.  Today it is believed that the common domesticated citrus fruits all derive from just three parents: the citron Citrus medica, the mandarin orange Citrus reticulate, and the pummelo Citrus maxima.  1

Lemons, so valued for their acidity-often 5% of the juice-are widely used in cooking and are highly revered in the making of beverages, pectin, medicines, and beauty products.  This fruit may have originated as a two-step hybrid, in which both steps were citron-crossed with lime.  It is proposed that the first step of this hybrid arose in the area of northwest India and Pakistan, while the second took place in the Middle East, where the citron, crossed with lime, was crossed additionally with pummelo.  2

In Food in History, Reay Tannahill postulates that people may have been eating lemons and limes as early as 2300 BC, when the cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Dato, of the great Indus civilizations, were at their peak.  3

Around 100 AD lemons arrived in the Mediterranean via Arab traders; by 400 they were planted in orchards in Moorish Spain.  Presently they are mainly cultivated in subtropical regions, with many varieties of true lemon, as well as a couple of further hybrids, such as the Ponderosa and Meyer lemons; the Ponderosa is large and coarse, probably a lemon-citron cross.  The Meyer, probably a cross between the lemon and either orange or mandarin, however, is thin-skinned, with less acid, and a distinctive flavor due in part to a thyme note (from thymol); this later came to California in the early 20th century.  4

“Curing” promotes longer shelf life of lemons.  Being picked green, they are held in controlled conditions for several weeks, allowing their green skins to yellow, thin, and develop a waxy surface; curing also promotes enlargement of the juice vesicles.  5

Epicures appreciate the preserved lemons of northern Africa as a condiment; they are made by cutting and salting lemons and letting them ferment for several weeks.  (Up to a month may be required, as suggested in the great recipe at https://nourishedkitchen.com/morrocan-preserved-lemons/.)  This process allows for the growth of bacteria and yeasts, which softens the rind and changes the aroma from bright and sharp to rich and rounded.  6

Often attempts are made to shorten the steps with many in-depth cooking procedures today.  Such has occurred with these preserved lemons-for example they are frozen and thawed to speed salt penetration, then salted for a few hours or days.  This will bring some of the needed chemical changes as the oil glands are disrupted and their contents are mixed with other substances, but without fermentation, full flavor development will not occur.  7

In On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee writes that lemon comes via Arabic from a Persian word, reflecting the route these Asian fruits took as they made their way to the West.  8

Enjoy the explosion of great flavor in this proven lemon bar recipe!

References:

  1. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 373.
  2. Ibid., p. 377.
  3. Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three River Press, 1973, 1988), pp. 38, 39.
  4. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 377.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid. and https://nourishedkitchen.com/morrocan-preserved-lemons/
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.

finished product

1950s’ Lemon Bars  Yields: 16 small bars.  Total prep time: 55 min/  active prep time: 20 min/  inactive prep time: 10 min/ baking time: 25 min.  (There was a note on Mom’s recipe to add more lemon to this original 20th century recipe; thus, I increased both the lemon juice and flour to 3 tbsp each.)

1 c plus 3 tbsp unbleached white flour  (Bob’s Red Mill organic is high quality.)

1/2 c butter, softened

1/4 c powdered sugar  (Organic is best; available at Trader Joe’s.)

2 lg eggs

1 c sugar  (Coconut sugar is ideal, in place of the white; may also use turbinado, raw cane sugar.)

Zest of 2 small lemons  (Organic is very important, in order to avoid the taste of pesticides; available inexpensively at Trader’s.)

3 tbsp lemon juice, fresh squeezed

1/2 tsp of salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)

1/2 tsp baking powder

  1. golden crust

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  2. Spray lemons with a safe, effective, inexpensive produce spray (combine 97% white distilled vinegar with 3% hydrogen peroxide).  Let sit for 3 minutes and rinse well.
  3. With a fork in a medium bowl, blend 1 c flour, butter, and 1/4 c powdered sugar, until mealy like a pie crust.  Pat mixture firmly into an ungreased 8” x 8” pan and bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown (see above photo).  Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes.
  4. frothy filling mixture

    Meanwhile zest lemons, then juice them.

  5. Slightly beat the eggs in a bowl with an electric mixer; blend in your choice of 1 c white, coconut, or turbindo sugar.  (For info on coconut and cane sugars, see Zucchini Bread-2017/07/24-and Pear Pie-2016/10/31-respectively.)
  6. Mix in remaining 3 tbsp flour, salt, and baking powder; add lemon zest and juice, beating until frothy (see photo above).  Set aside.
  7. bars at end of baking

    Spread lemon mixture evenly on top of slightly cooled crust.  Return to oven and bake for 25 minutes more, or until golden brown.  Note: this will firm up more with cooling.  See photo.

  8. Dust with powdered sugar and cut into 16 pieces, while bars are warm.  Refrigerate leftovers.

1960’s Josephines (a great hors d’ouvres)

Join me on a journey to the mysterious wonder-world of childhood foods with these josephines. which boast of green chillies.  At the end of this entry, I will explore the historical Pakistani  and Indian applications of chillies in their respective cuisines.

We can all relate to the thrilling memories of our particular favorites from mom’s best; these captivated our young hearts with taste thrills in our mouths, as well as simultaneous, soft sensations in our stomachs.  When faced with like foods today, we instantly return to these initial impulses from the treasuries of our early experiences.  Such comes to me double-fold, for not only did my mother supply these rich impressions, but my father-also a great cook-left indelible culinary marks on my soul.  Mom applied her expertise to the hosting of dinner parties, while Dad skillfully prepared food in our family’s restaurant-it was here we ate all our daily meals, while I was growing up.

Both parents were self-taught.  My mother lacked the normal advantages of learning cooking from her mother, who died of cancer when Mom was 11 years old (her father passed on two years later).  Hence being raised by nuns at a boarding school, she didn’t receive the normal, gracious “passing-down” of womanly skills; rather these were hard-won for her.

josephines

Everything Mom put her hand to, however, she mastered, for she knew the importance of “pressing-in” ardently-a trait I learned first-hand.  This included cooking in which she particularly excelled.  I grew up amidst the flurry of her entertaining many guests with gourmet foods.  She was always baking Irish oatmeal bread to go with her many feasts, often with foreign themes; this at a time when America was eating Spam, jello, canned vegetables, and the perpetual, “miraculous” Crisco.  (The history of shortening is in 1880’s Ozark Honey-Oatmeal Cookies, while that of canning can be found at Bean, Corn, and Avocado Salad.)

On the other hand, my grandparents, on my father’s side, lived in a small house just behind our home, allowing for their constant, close presence.  Grandma was a fantastic cook, accomplishing all by a sense of feel, with no recipes needed-a handful of this, a pinch of that.  Nevertheless as with Mom’s maternal experience, Dad didn’t learn his methods from her, but rather his schooling was provided by a gigantic industrial cook book, brought to our restaurant by a traveling salesman in the early 1960’s (see Buzz’ Blue Cheese Dressing).

These heart-imprints, established as a result of my father’s disciplined efforts, literally soar when I presently encounter light buttermilk pancakes, exceptional potato salad, or a good doughnut, for these were institutions in his establishment; thus, such soul foods provide me with a quick transport back to the mid-twentieth century.

For me these Mexican-inspired Josephines carry this same weight, with recollections from Mom’s culinary domain.  Hors d’ouvres were always a part of her feasts; this being one of our favorites.

As mentioned, 1960’s cooking employed lots of canned foods, with this recipe being no exception, as it calls for canned green chillies; originally this vegetable made its way from America to Europe, and beyond, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Chilli peppers were first introduced in India by the Portuguese, where they added heat to curries.  Curry is actually an English name, derived from the Tamil word kari, meaning “sauce”; thus, our English word indicates the basic Indian method of preparing food, utilizing their ever-present sauces.

Red and green chilies have long been present in both Hindu Indian and Muslim Pakistani cuisines.  These social groups existed together in Kashmir for most of the 400 years prior to the 1947 formation of Muslim Pakistan; here both cultures relied on the basic dish of rice and either kohlrabi or a vegetable similar to our spring greens, which was flavored with red and green chilies.  The Muslims enhanced this with garlic, while the Hindus added hing (asafoetidfa), distinguishing the two styles of preparing this food.  A more marked difference in their diets, however, resided in the ratio of meat to vegetables, with Hindus eating far more vegetables than meat, while Muslims did the opposite.

This American receipt calls for chillies, long present in world cookery; not being fresh, these reflect the popularity of canned goods in the 20th century.  Enjoy the ease of this hors d’ouvres with its great taste.  Note: my niece Cammie retains our family’s fond memory, by creatively using goat cheese and gluten-free bread here, to meet her dietary needs.  One way or the other, you will never forget this taste-treat!

References:

Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), p, 271.

James Trager, The Food Chronology (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1995), pp. 87, 88.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chili_pepper

https://cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/65202/what-was-indian-food-like-before-the-arrival-of-the-chilli-from-south-america

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kashmir

finished product

Josephines  Yields: about 1 1/2 dozen.  Total prep time: 45 min/  active prep time: 20 min/  baking time: 25-30 min.  Note: may make cheese/mayo mixture ahead, to have on hand in refrigerator.

1 c aged, grated cheddar cheese  (It is preferable to not use packaged shredded cheese; Mom always grated Sharp Cracker Barrel; I use imported, aged cheddars.)

1 c mayonnaise  (Best Foods is of high quality.)

1-7 oz can diced green chillies

easy grating of cheese in food processor

Tabasco sauce, about 8 vigorous shakes, or to taste

3/4 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is so important for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)

1 loaf French bread  (Trader Joe’s sells an ideal, organic 11.5-oz baguette for $1.99; this spread is enough for 2 baguettes.)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grate cheese by hand, or with grating attachment for food processor (see photo above).
  3. Mix cheese and mayonnaise in a bowl; may store this in refrigerator in a sterile container for months.
  4. Add drained chillies, Tabasco, and salt to cheese mixture; set aside.
  5. bread spread with cheese/mayo mixture

    Split loaf of bread in half lengthwise, place halves on cookie sheet split-side up, and evenly spoon cheese spread on these surfaces (see photo).

  6. Bake in hot oven for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown (see photo at top of recipe).
  7. Cool slightly, cut,  and serve.  These are dynamite!

Laban Bil Bayd (Lebanese eggs baked in yogurt/garlic/mint sauce)

laban bil bayd and tabbouleh

This last of my Middle Eastern receipts laban bil bayd calls for eggs, baked in a thickened yogurt, which is seasoned with mint and garlic cooked in ghee.  This delightful dish is commonly used as part of the mezze, or the first course of appetizers.  Great recipes follow, for both the ghee and laban bil bayd.

Butter vs Vegetable Oils

Vegetable oils are almost 100% fat, while butter is an emulsion of 80% fat, 15% water, and 5% milk solids; vegetable fats are most commonly used for sautéing, due to their high smoke points, or temperatures at which they burn.  It is misinformation that adding oil to butter raises butter’s smoke point.

Ghee a Form of Clarified Butter

The flavor of butter is important in this recipe; thus, it calls for ghee, with the smoke point of about 400 degrees F (200 C), as compared to 250 degrees F (150 C) for regular butter.

Ghee is a form of clarified butter; ghee and what we typically call clarified butter differ in that the first is heated just a little longer, browning the milk solids.  This produces a subtle nutty flavor and aroma, with great resistance to rancidity.

Clarified Butter Made in Resteraunts

The most common form of clarifying butter, the one used by most restaurants, varies from the more efficient method suggested here for home use, which is actually the preparation of ghee, rather than clarified butter.

Because such large quantities of butter are clarified in commercial kitchens, it is easiest to gently heat the butter to the boiling point of water; the water then bubbles to the surface, where the foaming milk proteins form also.  The water eventually evaporates, the bubbling stops, and the froth dehydrates, leaving a skin of dry whey protein; this skin of dry milk solids is next skimmed off the top.  Finally, the pure butterfat is ladled out, to remove it from the dry casein particles, which have sunk to the bottom of the pan.

Clarified Butter-Ghee-Made at Home

This above technique, however, brings much wasted product when preparing small quantities, because this means of  separating the fat from the top and bottom milk proteins also scoops up the butterfat.  Therefore it is best to follow this quick, traditional method for making ghee, when clarifying little amounts of a pound or less of butter at home.

This takes the above process a step further, by raising the final heat and browning these sunken whey proteins, then separating them from the pure butterfat by straining.  In this way, the resultant clear fat is completely isolated by easily pouring it through a coffee filter, or layers of cheesecloth.

History of Ghee in India

The word ghee in Sanskrit means “bright”.  In India, it was traditionally made from butter churned from soured, whole cow or buffalo milk, known as yogurt-like dahi; this preliminary souring improved both the quantity and flavor-quality found in this clarifying process.  Today, Indian industrial manufacturers usually start this procedure with cream; nevertheless, it is said that sweet cream produces flat-tasting butter, which affects the character of the ghee.

Ghee in World Cuisines

Ghee is prevalent both in South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines.  My first encounters with it were in my early catering and teaching days during the 1980’s, when I was preparing East Indian foods, such as curries and dal (lentils).

How Best to Prepare and Use Ghee

Presently I like to make large batches of it, for storing in my refrigerator where it keeps for months.  Thus, it is readily available for frying eggs, searing meats and vegetables, making sauces-such as hollandaise-and popcorn, as well as using it as dips for lobster, crab, and artichokes.  It greatly enhances the taste of all these foods.

Note: it is especially helpful to utilize high grade butter-such as Kerry butter from Ireland-in making ghee for a hollandaise sauce or dip for shellfish, as the flavor will be better.  This is due to the higher butterfat content in European butters (82-86%), contrasted with 80-82% in that of its American counterpart.  (For more on the health qualities of fats and grass-fed ghee, see Balsamic Eggs .)

Join me in the great discovery of cooking with ghee, by first making this simple, seemingly innocuous egg dish that surprises with it powerful pleasure!

References:

Harold McGee, On Food History (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 36, 37.

https://www.seriouseats.com/2015/08/how-to-clarify-butter.html

https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2015/08/clarified-butter-recipe.html

https://altonbrown.com/clarified-butter-and-ghee-recipes/

finished product

Laban Bil Bayd (Lebanese eggs baked in yogurt/garlic/mint sauce)  Yields 6 servings.  Total prep time: 45-60 min (the length of time depends on if you prepare ghee with recipe)/  active prep time: 25-40 min/  baking time: 20 min.

Note: may make third of the recipe to serve two, using a 5-oz carton of plain Greek yogurt.

 

1/4 c ghee, or clarified butter  (Prepared versions are available at Trader Joe’s and Costco; may follow step 2, to quickly make your own, out of grass-fed butter-in 15 minutes.)

2 lg cloves garlic, minced

finished ghee

1/4 c fresh mint, chopped  (May substitute 2 tsp dried mint.)

2 c plain Greek yogurt  (Greek yogurt makes this recipe great; it is important that milk products are whole and organic for optimum health.)

1 lg egg white, beaten to froth

2 tsp corn starch

1 1/2 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)

White pepper, to taste

6 eggs

  1. foam subsides, after initial rising

    Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

  2. May use a prepared version of clarified butter (an 8-oz jar is available for $3.99 at Trader Joe’s, but this is NOT grass-fed).  Better yet, for a homemade ghee: prepare a strainer, with a coffee filter in it, and place in a heat-proof dish.  Set aside.
  3. Over medium heat, shaking pan, melt 8-16 oz of high quality, unsalted butter (grass-fed Kerrygold is important-available most reasonably at Costco).  Note: 8 oz has less wastage.
  4. When melted, cook until an even layer of white whey proteins forms on top (see photo below).
  5. Continue cooking until milk solids break apart, and foam subsides (see above photo); temperature will be about 190 degrees-it is not necessary to have a thermometer though.  At this stage you have clarified butter.  Note: if foam is starting to brown deeply and quickly, your pan is not heavy enough to make ghee; remove from heat and immediately strain this clarified butter in a coffee-filter-lined strainer.
  6. To proceed with ghee, cook butterfat until a second foam rises high in pan, and there is just a hint of golden color at edge; bubbles will have become dense and small (see photo in list of ingredients).  This will take 2-3 more minutes, and temperature will reach 250 degrees.  Watch carefully as dry casein particles, settled on bottom of pan, will brown quickly.
  7. Immediately gently strain butterfat into a heat-proof dish, through a coffee filter placed in a strainer (see photo at very bottom).  Transfer into an airtight container to keep out moisture.  This lasts for months, when stored in the refrigerator.
  8. ghee at first rising of foam

    Chop mint-if using fresh-and garlic.

  9. Measure ghee (samneh) into a small saucepan, heat on med/low, add mint and garlic, and cook until garlic is golden brown.  Stir this frequently, watching carefully so as not to burn.  Meanwhile proceed to next step.
  10. Beat egg white until frothy (see photo below); an electric mixer hastens this process.
  11. Place yogurt in a heavy saucepan, adding salt, cornstarch, and foamy egg white, to which a final beat is given (if making a smaller recipe of only two servings, be sure to use just one third of whites).  CAREFULLY STIR IN THE SAME DIRECTION, until thoroughly combined.
  12. egg whites beaten to froth

    Continuing to stir in the same direction, cook over medium heat until it starts to boil.  Lower heat and simmer gently until thick, about 3 minutes.  Greek yogurt thickens more quickly than regular yogurt; if making a smaller portion, this will thicken very fast!

  13. Pour hot yogurt in an oven-proof dish (or evenly divide into

    separated browned milk solids, along with golden butterfat

    individual oven-proof bowls).  Spread out to completely cover the bottom of dish.  Break eggs on top of this mixture, spacing them evenly if using a larger dish.  Pour flavored ghee over eggs.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, until eggs are hard (see photo of finished product at top of recipe).  Serve immediately for an incredible palate-pleasing experience!

1950’s Pear Pie

Fresh pear pie

fresh pear pie

The history of sugar is intriguing, spanning the continents.  Here we will examine the major turning points in the background of this substance.

My mother gave her children the choice of birthday cakes.  I was hard put to choose between banana cake-see 2016/08/08-and fresh pear pie.  My soul still thrills with the beautiful taste of baked pears, rich crumb topping, and the best of pie crusts.

I am so health conscious; thus I have experimented with using sugar alternatives here.  Coconut sugar or sucanat (evaporated cane juice) can not compete with cane sugar in this receipt. Only sugar insures the right texture and flavor in pear pie.

Sugar has been around for the longest time.  Saccharum officinarum, sugar cane, originated in the South Pacific’s New Guinea and was subsequently carried by human migration into Asia.  Sometime before 500 B.C., people in India were producing raw, unrefined sugar.  1

Its first known reference was in 325 B.C., when  Alexander the Great’s admiral Nearchus wrote of reeds in India that produce “honey” without any bees.  The word sugar began to appear frequently in Indian literature around 300 B.C.  This Sanskrit word sarkara, meaning gravel or pebble, became the Arabic sukhar, which finally came to be sugar.  2

The use of Indian sugar cane spread.  Around the 6th century after Christ, it was planted in the moist terrains of the Middle East, where the Persians made sugar a prized ingredient in their cooking.  After Islamic Arabs conquered Persia in the 7th century, they took the cane to northern Africa and Syria; it eventually made its way to Spain and Sicily.  3

Sugar in Europe was barely known until around 1100, and it remained a mere luxury until the 1700’s.  The western Europeans’ first encounter with sugar was during their Crusades to the Holy Lands in the 11th century.  Shortly thereafter Venice became the hub of Arabic sugar trade for western Europe, while the first known large shipment went to England in 1319.  4

At first the western Europeans treated it like other exotic imports-e.g., pepper and ginger-strictly as medicine and flavoring: it was produced in small medicinal morsels, as well as preserved fruits and flowers.  These sweets or candy first began being made by apothecaries, or druggists, which were making “confections” to balance the body’s principles.  The word confection is taken from Latin conficere. meaning “to put together” or “to prepare”.  5

The medieval years brought sugary nonconfections to Europe, such as candied almonds, as well as the use of this substance in recipes for French and English courts.  The chefs of royalty employed sugar in sauces for fish and fowl, for candying hams, and in desserts of various fruit and cream/egg combinations.  Around 1475, the Vatican librarian Platina wrote that sugar was now being produced in Crete and Sicily, as well as India and Arabia.  Columbus carried the cane to what is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic in 1493, on his second voyage.  6

By the 18th century, whole cook books were devoted to confectionery, which had become an art no longer associated with medicine.  During this century, sugar consumption exploded in Europe, with the rise of colonial rule in the West Indies and the enslavement of millions of Africans, resulting in the sugar industry becoming the major force behind slavery in the Americas (one estimate holds that fully two-thirds of the twenty million African slaves worked on sugar plantations).  This industry saw rapid decline later in the 1700’s, with the abolition movements, especially in Britain; the other European countries followed, one by one through the mid-19th century, in outlawing slavery in the colonies.  7

Sugar, however, had now become a world staple.  Presently 80% of its production comes from sugar cane, while most of the rest is derived from sugar beets.  8

Wisdom and moderation are needed with this substance.  Today our nation consumes sugar in unhealthy amounts.  Personally I hold fast to the adage of Mary Poppin’s:  “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”  My standard is to substitute more beneficial sweeteners wherever possible.  However, there are times when only cane sugar will do.   My precious pear pie is one of them!

Enjoy this carefree, mess-free recipe.

References:

  1. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking  (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 648.
  2. James Trager, The Food Chronology  (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1995), p. 19.
  3. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking  (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 648, 649.
  4.  Ibid., pp. 648, 649.
  5. Ibid., p. 649.
  6. Ibid., pp. 649, 650.
  7. Ibid., pp. 650, 651.
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugarcane
Pear pie, whipped cream, and freshly ground nutmeg

pear pie, whipped cream, and freshly ground nutmeg

Pear Pie with Hot Water Pastry Crust  Yields: 1-10″pie.  Total prep time: 1 1/4 hr/  active prep time: 30 min/  baking time: 45 min.

1 1/4 c unbleached white flour  (Bob’s Red Mill is high quality.)

1 1/3  c whole wheat pastry flour  (May grind 1 c soft white winter wheat berries for 1 1/2 c total fresh ground whole wheat pastry flour, carefully measuring needed amounts.)

1 tsp salt (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; a fine grind Himalayan salt is available very reasonably at Costco.)

2/3 c oil  (Grapeseed or avocado oil is best, available inexpensively at Trader Joe’s and Costco.)

1/3 c boiling water.

1 c sugar  (Organic cane sugar id preferable; available in 2 lb packages at Trader’s, but more economical  in 10 lb bags at Costco)

1/3 c butter, softened

5 lg Bartlett pears, ripened  (May use Anjou pears as well, but Bartletts are best, must be ripened.)

1 c heavy whipping cream  (Lightly sweeten this with powdered sugar.)

Nutmeg  (Freshly ground is superb!)

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Blend unbleached white flour, 1 c of whole wheat pastry flour, and salt in a large bowl.
  3. Add oil and boiling water; mix lightly with a fork.
  4. Divide into two balls, one much larger than the other; cover balls with plastic wrap and place on hot stove to keep warm.  (You will need to use 3/5’s of dough for this single crust for a 10″-pie plate; may bake leftover 2/5’s of dough in strips with butter and cinnamon sugar.)
  5. Roll out the large ball of dough between 2-18″ long pieces of wax paper. Form a very large, oblong circle which reaches to the sides of the paper.
  6. Gently peel off the top sheet of wax paper; turn over and place piece of rolled dough, wax paper side up, over a 10″-pie plate. Very carefully peel off the second piece of wax paper.
  7. Patch any holes in crust by pressing warm dough together with fingers. Form rim of crust on edge of pie plate by pressing dough together gently, using excess dough from heavier areas to make up for areas where dough is sparse.
  8. Mix 1/3 c of whole wheat pastry flour and sugar in same bowl in which you made the pie crust.  Blend in butter with a fork, until mealy in texture.
  9. Sprinkle 1/3 of this mixture in bottom of unbaked pie shell.
  10. Fill crust with peeled pear halves.  Fill in spaces with smaller pieces.
  11. Evenly spread remaining flour mixture on top of pears.
  12. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for 30 minutes more, or until crust is golden brown.
  13. Cool, serve with whipped cream and freshly grated nutmeg.  Mouthwatering!