Saturday, 25 June 2016

Middle Eastern Sweet Potato Kibbeh

The theme for Refugee Week  for 2016 is Welcome.  Refugee Week is a collective acknowledgement across the world to raise awareness  of the plight of refugees and asylum seekers across the world.   As my blog is a vegetarian food blog my Simple Act was to Cook A Dish from Another Country and try and raise some awareness that way among some of my readers.
Kibbeh is a popular dish from the Middle East, especially in Aleppo in Syria.  It is made from bulgar wheat, meat, onions, spices and then deep fried.   It often comes in torpedo shape croquettes which I have yet to master and many variations.  In Aleppo, Syria there are many varieties including those made with vegetables.  Some of you may remember me mentioning a Middle Eastern cookbook I found at my local library a little while back called Classic Vegetarian Cooking from the Middle East and North Africa (2000) by Habeeb Salloum which shared a a number of Kibber recipes, including one made with Pumpkin.  
Kibbeh is the national dish of many countries in the Middle East where refugees have fled from such as Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria respectively.  In 2011, an estimated 9 million Syrians were forced to flee their homes because of the outbreak of the Civil War.  This is perhaps the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War.

The first time I heard of kibbeh was from a Scottish mature student at the University.   It was in her home on the Southside of Glasgow when she cooked for me that I was  introduced to kibbeh and tabbouleh, tabbouli.  She told me she was of Armenian diaspora. She said her family had come into the UK after the Second World War.  I was completely fascinated as I knew nothing about the Armenian people.  We do forget how many people around us have refugee heritage and ancestry, even the UKIP leader Nigel Farage's ancestors were refugees from Huguenot background fleeing to England from France to escape religious persecution (The Guardian, May 10 2013).  Some of us are able to assimilate and change our names because of our skin colour.  Some of us who have been in this country for decades, born and bred will always be seen as immigrants; 'the Other' because of our skin colour.  
Anyway, it was only after graduating from University that I  attempted to make Kibbeh  from scratch , I have to admit I was not happy with the final dish, it was gritty.  Hence, I am glad to be given the excuse through Refugee Week to make it again. It was much lovelier this time. Its very much like a falafel that you stuff it in a pitta bread and munch.  Enjoy!

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Eritrea Recipes for Refugee Week

Refugee Week is often celebrated between 2- 26 June. It is a unique event as it brings people from all backgrounds together to highlight and celebrate the contributions that asylum seekers and refugees make to the U.K.   

The theme for Refugee Week for 2016 is Welcome.  Throughout this week, my Simple Act through my blog has been to Cook A Dish from Another Country and try and raise some awareness of that particular country through its cuisine.
Today I will share some vegetarian and vegan Eritrea plates, but before I share the recipes, I'd like to begin by admitting that I had never heard of Eritrea until the refugee crisis.  Eritrea's neighbour Ethiopia had been imprinted on the memories of many thanks to Bob Geldof's  'Feed the world' campaign; but Eritrea a small country in the Horn of Africa was to come to our attention in the mid 1990s when many vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees from Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan and  Eritrea were being dispersed across the U.K.  

The UNHCR estimates that 5,000 people leave Eritrea every month and account for the largest group of people applying for asylum in the UK.

An asylum seeker is " A person who has left their country of origin and formally applied for asylum in another country, but whose application has not yet been concluded ."

Sadly I have met more Eritrean asylum seekers and refugees in my life than from any other background; and many have made the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean.  

One of the reasons Eritreans are fleeing is forced military conscription, not just young men, but also the elderly and this often results in forced labour.  What should last 18 months is indefinite, lasting decades.  If you do not uptake, then the consequences are arbitrary detention and often torture for the individual and his family.  Many Eritreans have described Eritrea as a Totalitarian state comparing it to North Korea.  Amnesty International are calling on Eritrea to end the system of indefinite conscription into national service and to recognise it as a human rights violation.  

Before starting this blog, I had had Ethiopian - Eritrean cuisine twice in my life.  The first time ever was in 2000, when I went to see my best friend Leah in America.  She took me to an Ethiopian restaurant.  The second time was when I lived in Scotland and I cooked the entire Ethiopian-Eritrean Menu that was featured in Celia BrookWorld Vegetarian Classics cookbook (2005).  I was inspired to make everything from scratch, the Berbere Ethiopian Hot Spice Blend, the Nitteh Kibbeh - Spiced Clarified Butter and the Injera - Sourdough Flatbread,  following the whole fermenting process that took a days.  On the menu wasYe'atakilt W'et - Spicy Mixed Vegetable stew, Yedifin Miser Alicha We't - Mild Lentil Stew with Basil and Yeshiro We't - Stew of Spiced Powdered Chickpeas. 
In the same cookbook that I stumbled upon Eritrean Zigni Spaghetti - Noodles with Hot Sauce.  I wasn't quite sure about it assuming it was more of a recent fusion recipe, but a few years later when I was volunteering for Venture Scotland on a camping trip to Glen Etive, Scotland I asked some of the participants who happened to be from Ethiopia and Eritrea about Zigni Spaghetti , they confirmed to me that this pasta dish indeed actually existed. Spaghetti Zigni hails back to the 1930s when the Italians tried and failed to colonise Ethiopia, however they did  leave behind culinary influences.  Zigni Spaghetti was one of those influences. 
Zigni is essentially pasta coated in a deep rich tomato sauce enhanced with the highly spiced Berbere blend.   Berbere in Amharic means hot.  Berbere is a Hot Chilli Spice Blend that is essential to many Ethiopian and Eritrean dishes .  Its become one of my favourite spice blends. 
I followed a recipe for Spicy Lentil Misir W'et (Stew). that came from Ethiopian cook, Alemtshaye Yigezu.  For the recipe, follow this link. The only thing I did in addition was add both sweet potatoes and chickpeas to the dish, nothing more. 
 D'ba Zigni 
Ethiopian Supper of Tibs 'Soya Beef' with Berbere and Cherry Tomatoes and Caramelised White Cabbage, Carrot and Potatoes. adapted from Mazi Maz in The Guardian
Not authentic, but as I had some Injera - Sourdough flatbread left over from a meal, so made some Injera crackers.  I am still waiting for an Eritrean acquaintance to show me how to make Injera from scratch, watch this space!

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Zimbabwean Squash Stuffed with Pulled Jackfruit 'Pork"

One of the aims of Refugee Week is to promote positive encounters between asylum seekers and refugees and members of the receiving communities, as well as raising awareness.   The theme for Refugee Week for 2016 is Welcome.  As my blog is a vegetarian food blog my Simple Act is to Cook A Dish from Another Country and try and raise some awareness that way among some of my readers.
Today I will share a vegetarian Zimbabwean Butternut Squash recipe.  But before I share the recipe, I would like to shine a little light on Zimbabwe.  Since 2000, the scale of state violence, the political instability and economic deprivation  in Zimbabwe has seen the UK receive refugees from there. 

A refugee is someone whose asylum application has been successful and who is allowed to stay in another country having proved they would face persecution in their homeland.
Zimbabwe's human rights record under Robert Mugabe has been criticised by the international community, including the European Union, UN, US and other countries. Mugabe's authoritarian regime has used force and torture to oppress political opposition. But not all Zimbabweans in the UK are refugees.  The NHS has attracted many Zimbabwean doctors and nurses, so it is important to recognise and embrace the positive contributions made by Zimbabweans too. 
Zimbabwean cuisine is heavily meat based.  However there are some crucial vegetable based dishes, but they are staples and are often served as accompaniments such as covo, maize and sadza.   Sadza is made from maize.  It is described as a across between mashed potato and rice. Covo is a green vegetable similar to spring greens and is often served with sadza, meat and sauce.  

After speaking to two of my colleagues, both of Zimbabwean heritage, they both recommended a Pumpkin dish, a change from the traditional Peanut Stew known as Haku ne dovi, but like true African men neither cooks.  One relying on his mothers cooking ;and the other on his wife's, neither were not able to give me a recipe.  I did a little research and got their approval on the authenticity of a vegetarian dish made with Gem squash.  The only comment was that they had had this dish, but it wasn't filled up so much with additional ingredients.   I went ahead and adapted the recipe with the more readily available butternut squash in the UK.  The roasted butternut squash was really delicious.  It was cooked well that you could literally spoon it from the glossy skin like mash lifting upon your fork popping sweetcorn and melty cheesy goodness.  The original recipe states that you could make it with your choice of protein, instead of some cooked beans like kidney beans, I decided to add Jackfruit.  It was truly one of the best dishes I have made without the addition of spices, just some fresh herbs and seasoning.  This is made with cheese, but is very easy to veganize.  I am sharing this with Cindy for Gluten Free Fridays.