11 December 2008

Mediterranean Inspiration

I've been cooking more lately, especially soup. I love making soup! Ever since I started (and re-started, and re-re-started) the South Beach Diet, I've come to appreciate the genius that is Soup. There's something really filling about a hot bowl of thick soup, and it doesn't have to contain potatoes or rice or other SBD Phase 1 no-no's to keep me satisfied.

When we were in Tunisia last week, I fell in love with Mediterranean/North African flavors. Our friend made a feast for us one night of leblebi (spicy chickpea soup), brik (similar to an egg role, but with more egg inside), tagine (similar to quiche) and some other things.

Of course, everything was tres delicious. Like how I added in that bit of French? They speak French there, in addition to Arabic. I'll stop pretending now that I really speak anything other than English.

So back at home, I stood in front of our miniscule european refrigerator taking stock of what I could make soup out of. I had 6 tomatoes that needed using up post haste, a bunch of parsley that came free from Enrique the Friday produce market guy, and an onion. I also had a jar of turmeric & some other spices. I had never used turmeric in cooking before, but our friend used it in several of her dishes. So, being the Expert Soup Maker that I am (read: sarcasm), I decided to make up a recipe of my own. I actually liked it, and so did the man. When I just now asked him for a quote about my made up soup, he looked at me funny, but then came up with, "This soup made my tastebuds realize why they are alive & attached to me." Yes, a bit over the top. I will not include a photo of this soup because 1. I didn't take one and 2. it's not really a very pretty soup, as soups go.

Erin's Made-Up Mediterranean/North African Inspired Soup
(all measurements completely guessed & up for debate)

1 onion, diced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ground corriander
2 teaspoons turmeric
1/2 Cup finely chopped parsley
1 liter chicken broth
2 Cups water
6 small tomoatoes, diced
1 Cup dry lentils
1 bulb roasted garlic, cloves removed (optional)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

Heat oil in the bottom of your soup pot. When it's shimmery, saute onions until transluscent. Add cumin, corriander & turmeric. Saute with onions for about a minute. Add the broth, water, tomatoes, lentils, garlic cloves, salt & pepper. Bring to a boil, then simmer covered for about 30 minutes, or until the lentils are soft. I like puree soups, so at this point I used my immersion blender to make the soup almost smooth. Garnish with a sprig of parsley & serve. Parsley makes just about any dish pretty-ish.

Served with:

Erin's Made-Up Mediterranean/North African Inspired Grilled Chicken Breasts

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
big pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
big pinch of teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Mix together all ingredients except chicken in a bowl that's big enough to marinate the chicken in. Poke some holes in the chicken with a fork, then add it to the bowl. Make sure the chicken is coated well, then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Then just grill. I have a big Foreman style grill in my kitchen that works great for grilling chicken. Serves 2.

It was revolutionary for me to think of making up a soup recipe. I don't know why I think everything has to be "tried-and-true" before it's acceptable for me to try making. I make up how to do projects around my house all the time, it's about time that spilled over into cooking! However, I probably will not be blogging about other failed & mutated recipes that made us reach for the pizza delivery number. At least not now. I want to enjoy my soup.

08 December 2008

Land of Christian History & Star Wars

We returned late Thursday night from an incredible week in Tunisia with friends. Wow! Let me just say...Wow! We absolutely loved it there. After a rather upsetting change of flight (there was a mix-up in communication with the place we bought the tickets from, and we didn't find out until we were AT THE AIRPORT standing in line that our flight had been moved to Thursday evening instead of Tuesday). I was mad, but I got over it, and Thanksgiving turned out to be magnificent. Our friends & their friends all agreed to celebrate one day late so we could be there. Yay for friends!

The next 3 days we went on a road trip that in included the Sahara desert, a Roman Amphitheater & a Mediterranean beach, among other things. Not bad. Not bad at all.

In the Sahara, we saw one of the sets for Star Wars. We found out that the Jedi & Jawa robes were not made up costumes for the movies. They are outerwear actually worn by Tunisian men. We saw them everywhere! While we were in the desert, we paid a guy to let us film him & his camel while he watched an iPod. We needed the footage for a video we're doing. The scene was not too far from reality, as his cell phone rang while w were out in the middle of nowhere. Then I got to sit on the camel, who was really not in the mood. I think he looks like he's singing blissfully with his eyes closed. In reality, though, he was hollering to be left alone.

The paradoxes for us were rather startling. After the road trip, we returned to our friends' house & put up Christmas decorations. Tunisia is a Muslim country, with very few known believers. The women veil only if they want to, but sharing your Christian faith & converting a Muslim is illegal. So the culture is most definitely Muslim. The clarity of cultural & religious differences came to us while putting up the Christmas tree & listening to Silent Night, while the Muslim call to prayer is broadcast loudly in the neighborhood around. Or driving in the car with Nat King Cole singing about chestnuts roasting on an open fire, while the view out the window shows a relatively warm day, skinned sheep carcasses hanging from butcher hooks, and veiled women walking down the sidewalk. Not the Christmas scene we grew up with!

But while America seems to dominate as a "Christian nation", I was enlightened on this trip as to the rich Christian heritage in Tunisia. The ancient city of Carthage is just on the outskirts of Tunis. This is where Scripture was canonized. It is also where the first female Christians on record were martyred. You can read about Perpetua & her maid Felicitas here. In Carthage, you can visit the ruins of the Roman amphitheater where they and other Christians were martyred. Their story, although ancient, is not too far off of the present day stories of believers in Muslim cultures today.

It was difficult to leave Tunisia! We made new friends & saw & did SO many things while we were there! Definitely one of my favorite vacations ever.