Meat-on-Sticks Photo of the Month: Meet Mr. Kebab Hand

Meat on sticks. It remains one of the most popular street foods, which is why there is a whole chapter of the stuff in Snackistan. And the business of cooking over fire makes for some great images.

For this month’s photographic offering, we chose this dude, who is obviously proud of his handiwork…even if giving Edward Scissorhands a run for his money.

Mr. Kebab Hands is actually a street vendor in Uzbekistan, as captured by xoque and borrowed with thanks under the Creative Commons Licence on Flickr.

Matzoh Ball Soup

comfort food for 4 – perfect for this jolly old weather we’re having
Chicken soup with added dumplings: what’s not to like? This soup is an Israeli street and home favourite, and whilst my knowledge of Jewish food is far from extensive, I have fond childhood memories of enjoying the dish at friends’ houses when I was growing up.
For the uninitiated: matzo are crackers made from a number of different grains, matzo meal is smashed-up-crackers, and matzo balls are dumplings made from matzo meal.
for the matzo balls:

  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 tablespoons sparkling water (or soda)
  • ¼ teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in boiling water (optional, unauthentic, but pretty)
  • 100g matzo meal
  • ½ bunch fresh parsley, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground white pepper

for the soup:

  • 1 fat or 2 skinny joints chicken, skinned (+ any leftover bones)
  • 2 sticks celery, chopped
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
  • big handful fresh dill, roughly chopped
  • 2-3 kaffir lime leaves (optional, unauthentic, but scrummy)
  • salt and pepper

Firstly make the matzo balls: beat the eggs in a bowl and then whisk in the butter, water and saffron. Next fold in the matzo meal, parsley and seasoning, stirring until the ingredients are just combined. Cover and refrigerate for an hour or so while you make the ‘soup’.
You don’t need much chicken to make good matzoh ball soup stock: one fat leg will do, or a left over carcass… Rinse the chicken and put it in a pan along with the vegetables, dill, lime leaves and seasoning. Cover with water (around 1½-2 litres) , bring to the boil and simmer, conveniently also for around an hour. At the end of this time, strain the stock into a fresh pan, retaining the veg and chicken. Most purists would discard the veg, but I like to return it to the pan with the stock. Pick the chicken from the bones and add this too to the stock, and then bring the soup to a rolling boil.
Mould the chilled matzo mix into walnut-sized balls and drop them carefully into the soup. Bubble the soup and matzo balls for a further 40 minutes, and serve piping hot with lemon wedges/juice on the side.

Image by bluelemniscate, borrowed under the Creative Commons Licence for Commercial Use on Flickr.

Happy Christmas 2013 from Snackistan!

Just a quick post to wish you all a snack filled Happy munchy Christmas and a jolly New Year.

Watch this space from January onwards for lots of new recipes, more of the book’s out-takes and bloopers, and plenty of Snackistani trivia.

Image of the Al Hariri Mosque in Beirut as captured by robertinbeirut, borrowed under the Flickr Commercial Commons Licence.

The Snackistan Sound

Normally books don’t actually talk. Of course, books do get recorded, and these are known as talking books. But the book itself remains silent. Imagine then one’s surprise when Mr. Shopkeeper firstly found the Snackistan actually describing itself on Youtube: freaky, huh? Following that discovery, he then discovered this spectacular offering, called Groove Snackistan, from DJ Saint Hubert. How trendy are we? How many other cook books have an accompanying club track? You can now get your best moves on while you are cooking. Well, after a fashion.
What was actually going through my head when I was writing Snackistan (in the back room of the shop) was in all truth something a bit more like this little Kurdish number from the inimitable Jalal Hemati Who he? A sort of Iranian Flanders and Swan with added silly outfits… Enjoy. Go on – have a little dance around the kitchen. No-one’s looking.

New Middle Eastern Street Food

new.streetIt’s all kinds of awesome that both Veggiestan and Snackistan have been published in the US of A.
The lovely people at Interlink Books are distributing both tomes – but under different names. So PLEASE NOTE that New Middle Eastern Street Food IS just Snackistan with a different cover and title. Similarly, The New Middle Eastern Vegetarian is Veggiestan in disguise. It’s kind of confusing, especially if you are shopping on Amazon where it is not really clear that they are one and the same. And much as we’d like you to buy multiple copies of the books (they make such very very good Christmas presents – LOOK! you can buy signed copies here), we’d rather you did it knowingly…

Cheese Sambosic

Mr. Haddad’s Secret Recipe for Cheese Sambosic
To make around 15
These are very similar to the Levantine pastries in the Snackistan book, but slightly softer, with a wonderfully moreish cheese filling.
Mr. Haddad is our Lebanese baker; his company, Dina Foods, is one of the best known producers of sweet and savoury pastries and bread in South East England. Trouble is, he cooks for about five thousand people a day, and he is very busy, so eliciting a recipe from him requires patience, and a calculator to downscale the thing for domestic use. We also had to blackmail his (very lovely company accountant) wife by bringing our account up to date (not that it is ever very much behind) before she would allow us to have the recipe. The things you have to do to write a book.

    For the dough:

  • 7g sachet dried yeast (or use about 12g fresh)
  • pinch of sugar
  • 150ml lukewarm water
  • 500g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 100g margarine, softened
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
    For the filling:

  • 200g feta cheese
  • 200g ricotta cheese
  • 1 bunch spring onions, washed and finely chopped
  • 1 small onion, peeled and chopped
  • ½ bunch fresh coriander, washed and chopped
  • 2 teaspoons thyme
  • 2 teaspoons corn flour
  • juice + zest of half a lemon
    For the glaze:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk

Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water and put it aside for ten minutes. Sieve the flour and salt into a mixing bowl and make a well in the middle. Now add the yeast water combo, mixing with a wooden spoon: once the ingredients come together, add the margarine, working it in with your hands. Form the dough into a ball, and roll it in a little oil to keep it moist. Cover it with a damp cloth and leave somewhere warm for a couple of hours to prove.
Assemble the filling by crumbling the cheese and then mixing in all the other ingredients together with a wooden spoon. Set aside until ready.
When the two hours are up, knead the dough on a floured surface for a good five minutes, and then divide it into fifteen balls. Leave it to rise for a further quarter of an hour, then pull them into small flat rounds with your hands and spread them out on one or two oiled baking trays. Spoon a little of the cheese mixture on to one half of each of the pastry circles, and then fold the other half over, crimping the dough with wet hands to seal it. Beat the egg with the milk and use a pastry brush or piece of kitchen paper to glaze the pastries.
Heat your oven to gas mark 5 (200˚C), and when it is hot cook the sambosic for 15-20 minutes, or until they are lightly browned. These will keep in the fridge for several days, and can be eaten hot or cold. This bread/pastry is kinda soft, and so can also be warmed in a microwave.

Little Arabshire: On the Edgware Road

Every big city in the world has its special quarters, areas where birds of one nation’s feathers flock together, whole streets where all the shops and restaurants are strangely similar (and yet strangely alien to the surrounding streets), serving just one national community. In London, if you want Greek and Turkish stuff, you head to Haringey; if you’re looking for Indian culture then Southall’s the place; and if you want Arabia, then it’s all on the Edgware Road.

Arabs have been settling in London since the end of the 19th century, but the process accelerated in the 1950s, 70s and 80s following various wars and political routs. Why they chose to colonise the Edgware Road is not entirely clear, but it only takes one or two successful businesses to prompt a whole load more to jump on the bandwagon (this is a very Middle Eastern trait: if you run a busy shop, before too long you can guarantee your compatriot will come and open something more or less identical next door).

The first time we delivered to our wholesale customers in this little patch of Central London, I was, frankly, gobsmacked (this does not happen very often). It was mid-Summer, when the population of the area more than doubles, as extended families of Arabs from Saudi, the Emirates and to a lesser extent the Levant, rent apartments and come to enjoy the best that the West End has to offer. Every shop featured (neon-lit) bi-lingual signs, and the pavements were heaving with promenading Arabs in full national dress. Armani-clad boy racers revved impotently in the heavy London traffic, hoping to attract the attention of, well, anyone really. Brightly lit restaurants replete with fountains and gold chandeliers rejoiced in exotic names such as Maroush IV or Ranoush XXV. In the shop windows bling jostled with technology and swanky health preparations. The air was thick with the fruity smell of shishe smoke, the waft of too much expensive perfume, and the aroma of shawarma kebabs turning in the windows of the many, many takeaway joints. It really did feel as if we had left London, especially when later I witnessed a group of five ladies in full hijab haggling with the cashier at Woolworths.

Tell you what: if you haven’t visited it before, or are coming to London soon, the Edgware Road is well worth a detour – and it is certainly the best place to sample some of Snackistan’s finest.

With a bit of luck and a following wind we are hoping to organise a Snackistan street food walking tour based on the Edgware Road later on this Autumn – watch this space!

Photo sourced under the Creative Commons Licence on Flickr: image taken by timmiles2007.

Boulfaf: Moroccan Liver Kebabs

Ah: the Jemaa el Fna. You know what? When I first laid eyes on it by day I did that silly hand-flappy thing that girls do when they get over-emotional/excited. And, even more embarrassingly for the step children, my eyes filled with tears. It is the most awesome living film set on earth (although I have, admittedly, still got quite of lot of the earth left to see). So you can imagine my excitement when we visited it at night… Even the normally placid Mr. Shopkeeper was impressed (there he is in the picture: give him a little wave). For by night it is just the biggest street food fest: stall upon stall upon stall of grilled meats and fresh breads and freshly squeezed juices competing in a riot of colour and spectacle and sound and aroma. It was possibly out of this brief-but-wonderful visit that the (roasted and salted) seeds of Snackistan were planted. It was certainly where we got to try boulfaf.

This lovely dish is mostly eaten during Eid-al –Adha, or the ‘Feast of Sacrifice’, one of the big Islamic festivals which celebrates both the end of the month of pilgrimage, or hajj, and the sacrifice that Abraham was prepared to make (ie that of his son) in the name of his love of Allah. Rich families across the Muslim world buy and slaughter sheep (just as Allah provided a sheep for Abraham to kill in place of his own son) to share with their relatives and the poor of the neighbourhood: in Morocco a number of dishes are traditionally made from the sheep, and this is perhaps the simplest and tastiest.
It is hugely popular street and souk food.

Ingredients (to serve 4):

  • 500g lambs’ liver (assuming you will not be slaughtering your own)
  • 1½ teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1½ teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon ground chilli (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 lump of sheep caul fat* (around 200g should be more than enough)

Firstly fire up the barbie. You can cook this under a regular grill – but pop your extractor fan on as the melting fat produces smoke. You can also ditch the skewers and bake the liver instead.
‘Peel’ the liver i.e. remove the outer membrane, and cut it into 3cm cubes. Mix the spices and seasoning together, and then shake half over the lamb cubes, turning them to attain even distribution.
Stretch the caul fat out and then cut it into 6-7cm squares roughly commensurate with the number of cubes of liver that you have (left over liver should be given to the cat). Sprinkle the rest of the seasoning over the fat, and then place a lump of liver on top of each square. Pull the fat up around each cube: you will find that it sticks to itself (would that gifts were that easy to wrap).
Thread 4-5 lumps of liver on to a skewer and repeat until all the meat has been used up (you’ll need around eight skewers, or you can just wash and recycle them a bit sharpish). Grill for around 5 minutes a side: the liver should be just a little pink in the middle. If you are baking your boulfaf, about twenty minutes at gas mark 5 (190˚C) should do the trick.
Serve with loads of lemon wedges and warm flat bread. Moroccans reckon the best accompaniment for this is mint tea, and who are we to argue?
*Not worked with caul fat before? It is just so very useful (albeit weird) as it stretches seemingly endlessly, and is more or less self-sealing, like a kind of edible cling-film. It is a great way of keeping loose meat ingredients together (sausages, minced meat), and is also handy for barbecue aficionados, as it seals and bastes delicate meat as it cooks. It is readily available from good independent butchers, both halal and otherwise.

Street Vendor of the Week: Tired Falafel Makers in Damascus

The first of a series of portraits, sketches and postcards from Snackistan. To add a little ambience to your street food experience. This week we found this ace image of Syrian falafel vendors on a fag break. You know, catering’s a hard thing. The only reason I took up smoking (long since renounced) was because I could see all the other chefs, sous-chefs and kitchen porters have a ciggie break whilst muggins here just kept working (swear down this is a true story). This image totally captures the relief of being able to stop for a moment after a hard night of chopping, carving, frying, dipping, blending, wrapping….

*Image by Will sourced under the Creative Commons Licence on Flickr.

The Snackistan Date Agency: A Guide

Nope, sorry, this isn’t some sort of Middle Eastern lonely hearts club. It is in fact an oh-so-brief (think speed-dating) guide to the different types of phoenix dactylifera (dates to you) on the market. For dates are, after all, the original, all-healthy, all-singing, growing-on-a-tree-near-you snackeroony. And with Ramadan coming up*, Snackistani shops near you will be filling with dates of all different shapes and sizes. Well, actually they’re all the same shape – but there are vast differences in the various types on sale. Dates are seen as the ideal food with which to break fast, you see: they are packed full of nutritious stuff. Anyway, if you succumb to the urge to purchase Snackistan itself, you will see that I wax lyrical about dates at length therein…

There are literally dozens of cultivars of dates, but there are perhaps only four that are well known in the ‘West’. The swankiest one is the medjool date (centre above), grown in North Africa and California. He’s plump, sweet and usually quite expensive.

Saudi Arabian dates are extremely popular. Fresh ones are sold, still-yellow, not-quite-ripened, still on the bough in the Summer months. They are kind of bitter sweet, and an acquired taste. But dried Saudi dates (mostly known as Khudry dates) are quite different: dark and sweet and very sticky.

The best known (at least in the UK) are the ‘deglet noor’ style of date (on the left in the picture): think of your grandpa’s Christmas stocking, Eat Me dates, Christmas… These are the dates on your childhood, small, light in colour, sticky and equipped with a silly plastic spear. These dates grow widely across Northern Africa, and are usually the cheapest on the market.

My Iranian husband pays me to tell everyone that Iranian dates are the best. I happily pocket the money of course: but really I don’t need to be persuaded. Iranian mozafati Bam** dates (on the right above) are probably the best in the world. (Never did understand though why said husband refused to let me sign-write his van with the words “For the hottest dates in town, ask the driver”…) Super-soft, dark, chocolatey, indecently sweet and fairly modestly priced. They are very fresh, and unusually for dates need to be kept cool. The dried dates (top right) are also Iranian and are known as Zahedi dates: they are not so well known, but are awesome as they taste of honey (and we sell them so I may as well plug them, no?).

So now you know. Next time the conversation lags while you’re out on a (real) hot date, you can dazzle with your fruity general knowledge (whilst carefully avoiding any fnaar fnaar moments of course).

*This year it is expected to run from around 9th July – 9th August – depending of course on the sighting of the new moon.
**Bam. Yes that’s right: the town in the South East of Iran that was so badly hit by the 2004 earthquake. Although the town’s famous ancient citadel was mostly destroyed, Bam’s main source of income, its date palms, survived.