Friday, April 20, 2012

Lahma Mashshiya or Beef Rolls with Onion Gravy

The traditional Egyptian dish Lahma Mashshiya calls for flattened beef or veal, rolled up around cheese and herbs, tied with string, marinated, pan-fried, covered with an onion gravy and then baked till tender. It's absolutely delicious and, since the beef is pounded flat and tenderized, it can be make inexpensively with a cheaper cut of meat.

If you have ever been a new parent at a school that encourages involvement, or a newly arrived member of an association that needs volunteers, I can guarantee you that some old timer there has looked you over with raised-eyebrow interest and thought “Fresh meat!”  I did it.  We all do it.  (And if you look particularly intelligent and amenable, we practically knock each other over after the event to sucker you in talk to you first!)  I have learned over the years to tread lightly when entering a PTA meeting or association coffee morning for the first few times.  My advice is to get the lay of the land, so to speak, before looking like you might have some skill or talent to offer.  And definitely DO NOT raise your hand.  You may just be asking a question, but that looks way too much like interest and the next thing you know, you are in charge of their magazine.  Or sitting on the executive board.  Or both.

I have been in Cairo three months now and laying low.  But I do want to get involved and make friends.  So when the sweetest lady, with grey hair that flips up endearingly at the ends in the most Mary Tyler Moore of ways, invited me to join what she called the Benevolence Committee, I said yes!

We met in one of the rooms at St. John’s Church (which shares the premises with the Maadi Community Church) on Wednesday and sorted out bags and bags of donations into boxes labeled by size and gender:  infant, little girl, big girl, women, little boy, big boy and men.   Then, according to the master list and some algorithm which made my math phobic soul cringe, we divided the boxes into piles dedicated to each orphanage/organization/home for the mentally or physically disabled it would go to.  Some have little girls, some have big girls, some have both, etc.  The label might read La Providence – 1 BG, 2LG – which means they got one box of clothes for pre-teens and teenage girls and two boxes of clothes for smaller girls from ages 2-10.

Here is the incredible thing.  When we had finished dividing it all up, I counted 34 piles of two or more boxes!   Then we added 15 kilos of pasta and 10 kilos of beans to each pile, plus two more.  (Two homes didn’t request clothing, but they still received the food.)  

As the representatives came to pick up the donations, they were invited to enjoy some home-baked goodies and soft drinks.  There were also cash donations towards summer camp expenses for those who had requested them.  

As you can imagine, there were smiles all round.  But hardly any broader than those of the volunteers.

In the spirit of being small part of the Egyptian community Wednesday, I’d like to share with you a traditional recipe, another one I have adapted from Apricots on the Nile by Colette Rossant.  I am serving two here but this could be easily doubled or trebled.

1lb or 450g beef or veal, sliced thinly into four pieces
2 good handfuls of fresh parsley or cilantro (coriander) or a mix of the two
3/4 oz or 20g of Kashkaval or cheddar cheese
3/4 oz or 20g of crumbled goat cheese
Black pepper
Sea salt
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/2 cups or 360ml beef stock (made from a stock cube if fine)
Olive oil
1/8 cup or 15g flour

Use a flat-sided mallet or the bottom of a frying pan to flatten the meat out even thinner than it already is.  Putting it between two pieces of plastic keeps the mess to a minimum.  Some butchers will do this for you.  Mine did a little bit but then I flattened it some more at home.

Grate/crumble your cheese and chop your herb of choice.   Using a light hand or a fork, mix the herbs and cheeses.  Add a good couple of grinds of fresh black pepper. 

Divide the cheese/herb mixture between your pieces of meat and cover somewhat evenly. 

Roll the meat up and secure with some kitchen string and a knot at either end.  Continue till you have done all four meat rolls.

Chop your onion and garlic put them in a bowl just big enough on the bottom to hold your meat rolls.  Add in 1/2 cup or 120ml cup of the beef stock, the lemon juice and the grated nutmeg.

Put the meat rolls in the marinade and spoon some juice and onion over their tops.  I used veal so I only marinated it for an hour but you could leave the rolls in the marinade up to two hours for beef.   

Turn them over occasionally and redistribute the onions over their tops.

When marinating time is almost up, preheat your oven to 350°F or 180°C.

Heat a non-stick skillet and give it a little drizzle of olive oil.  Brown your rolls on all sides and remove to a small baking dish.

Add a couple of more tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and then the flour.  Stir this around until all the lumps are gone.

It's a roux, folks. 

Turn the heat down to a low simmer then add in the marinade.  

Add in the remaining beef stock, whisking if necessary to avoid lumps.  Stir until the onions are a little cooked and the gravy thickens.

Spoon this over the meat rolls and then bake them in the oven for 20-30 minutes.  

Your gravy should darken slightly and be really bubbling and then, the meat rolls are ready.  

I drizzled the meat rolls with a little olive oil.  The gravy really isn't oily.  And then
I completely COVERED the potatoes with more onion gravy.  After the photo was taken.  Divine. 


N.B. If you live in Cairo, we will be collecting used clothes again in the Fall, but if you are moving away this Summer, please let me know.  The church has storage room for donated goods, including clothes, small household items and shoes.  I can assure you that your things will find needy homes.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Parmesan and Brie Topped Baby Zucchini in a Semolina Crust

Zucchini is caramelized on the stovetop then added to a golden baked semolina crust and topped with Parmesan and Brie for a lovely vegetarian main course, perfect for brunch, lunch or dinner. 

Moving to a new country is all about learning.  Learning the culture, learning the language, trying to find familiar in the unfamiliar and somehow easing into it to create a life where you can be comfortable.  It means readjusting expectations and acknowledging reality, no matter how uncomfortable that may be. 

We always thought we were doing the right thing, this moving around.  First of all, the wide world is where the job was.  Secondly, what an experience for our family, our daughters!  And, I think they both get that.  But what I am not sure they get is that the moves don’t stop when they leave home.  Lately I have been getting a little push back about coming to Cairo to visit.  It seems they are prepared not to like it.  It’s not home.  Yeah, I know that.  And for them it will most likely never be home.  (Heck, I’m still working on that feeling myself!)  I know they objected to every move we made as a family.  I was not prepared for resistance to a move that didn’t technically include their having to adjust to no friends and a new school. 

What I have learned from experience is that the last place is always my favorite because of friends and familiarity and all the little attachments we take for granted when we are there.  It takes a long time for the new place to get like that.   But you have to be willing to give it a chance.  When I had elder daughter, I could never imagine loving another human person as much as I loved her sweet little self.  And then precious younger daughter came along.  And my heart stretched to more love.  I think homes are that way.  You don’t have to love just one.  You can grow to love them all.  But you have to open your mind and heart and risk the hurt of someday leaving, to revel in and relish the place where you are.  So I am working on that.

Yesterday was a holiday in my new home.  I have learned about Sham el-Nessim,  which began as an ancient rite, to celebrate new life and creation.  Nessim means "zephyr," the spring breeze, and sham means "to breathe in."  The date is set to coincide with Easter Monday on the Eastern Orthodox Church calendar, but all Egyptians take part by getting into the great outdoors to picnic on the Nile, in parks or the zoo, and apparently eat salted, fermented fish, while breathing in the Spring air.  While I love a good picnic, this holiday was about faffing about in the kitchen for me, while dear husband got on with his outdoor projects of repairing his dartboard and small barbecue table, which had been damaged in the move.  I did open the windows wide and the zephyr blew through most refreshingly.  And, in honor of Spring, some of my seedlings are sprouting!

For the crust:
1 1/2 cups or 360ml vegetable stock
 3 oz or 85g semolina
3/4 oz 20g Parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (if substituting dried thyme, use half that amount)
1 egg
Olive oil

For the filling:
1 1/2 lbs or 680g baby zucchini (if substituting bigger zucchini, cut out the soft, fluffy inside part where the seeds are)
Sea salt
Black pepper
3/4 oz 20g Parmesan cheese, finely grated
4 1/4 oz or 120g Brie or other soft full fat cheese
1/4 cup or 20g breadcrumbs

Preheat your oven to 350°F or 180°C.

Place the stock in a large saucepan and bring to the boil.  Add the semolina in a steady trickle, stirring continuously.  Keep stirring for three to four minutes until the mixture is thick and fairly solid.  Set aside and leave to cool slightly.

Add the thyme, egg and half of all the Parmesan cheese to the semolina mixture.  This will require a few minutes of turning and pressing with the back of your stirring spoon to incorporate.  Just keep on mixing till it’s smooth again. 

That is a whole egg.  You just can't see the white.

Oil a normal pie plate with a drizzle of olive oil.  Spread your semolina dough on the bottom and up the sides of the pan.  Wet your hands slightly to stop the dough from sticking to you.  Drizzle on a little more olive oil and spread it around gently with a pastry brush.

Pop this in the oven for about 25-30 minutes or until you have some browning around the edges.

Meanwhile, wash your zucchini, cut the tops and tails off and cut them lengthwise into quarters and slice your garlic.

Heat a non-stick skillet up on the stove and when it is roasting hot, dump all the zucchini into the pan.  No oil yet!

Cook on high, stirring or tossing frequently, until the zucchini get lots of nice brown bits all over, which takes about 5-8 minutes.  

Sprinkle with salt and pepper and then add in the garlic.  Turn the heat down to medium.

Give the whole thing a liberal dose of olive oil and toss or stir the zucchini and garlic around in the pan for another minute or two.  Turn the fire off.

Chop your Brie or other melty cheese into little pieces.  Take off the outside rind if you want to.  Mine was hard and dried in a couple of places, so I removed that and left the rest. 

Add the breadcrumbs which will help the Brie pieces stop sticking all together. With your hands, gently mix the Brie with the Parmesan and the breadcrumbs.

When your pie crust is done, take it out of the oven, but leave the oven on.  Tip the zucchini and garlic into the crust and then try to arrange them somewhat neatly. 

Cover the top with your cheese and breadcrumb mixture and pop the pie back in the oven.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the cheese is melted and it is lightly browned.

Here’s where my husband wanders in, his projects finished, and says “Whatcha cooking?”  And when I answer "baby zucchini baked with Brie," his eyes light up and I laugh out loud with the man who loves my cooking.  And dotes on his daughters.  I know they will come around to see why visiting Cairo is a good idea.  Because we are here and we are trying to make it a home.  Just doing our best with open hearts. And, at least yesterday, open windows.