Feb 162013
 

Seville Orange Marmalade from bibberche.com

We did not celebrate Valentine’s Day in Serbia  when I was growing up. So my first February on the new continent, I strolled through the aisles of the grocery stores in a western suburb of Detroit, and gazed in amazement at the piles of chocolates, pink and red hearts, red roses, and enormous helium balloons. I felt like Bugs Bunny in that cartoon where he imagines he has a weird disease whose symptoms include multicolored dots dancing in front of his eyes. I was dazzled by the exhibit of commercialized romance, wondering where all the pink and red ended up.

I worked at a small family restaurant that Valentine’s Day and a few minutes before closing, a white teddy bear holding a huge red helium heart-shaped balloon appeared at the door. I chuckled and shook my head, amused by the utter silliness of the moment. But the balloon was heading in my direction and I froze when I saw my husband’s bearded face behind it, smiling from ear to ear, his eyes sparkling in anticipation of my mushy and tearful response to this oh-so-very romantic gesture.

Seville Orange Marmalade from bibberche.com

Everyone around me was oohing and aahing, and I wished that I could wave my magic wand and disappear; or at least have the teddy bear and the balloon disappear. I should have known that Don would pull something like that. After all, he took me to see Howard the Duck on our first date after I arrived to the U.S. And he was extremely excited when an old Gypsy sold him Huey, Dewey, and Louie wall ornaments silhouetted in wrought iron at the market in my home town in Serbia. I did not have the heart to tell him that I really thought all the kitsch I saw around me was meant for high school kids.

Throughout the years I got accustomed to seeing men in suits and ties logging behind them big red heart-shaped balloons and stuffed animals, bedazzled crimson boxes filled with chocolates too sweet for my taste, and cards brimming with tasteless and sappy poetry. I overcame my cultural shock and learned to accept these funny expressions of affection that came my way on the Day of Love.

Seville Orange Marmalade from bibberche.com

Pits and pulp are full of pectin

I feel pretty domesticated on American soil after more than two decades of domicile. My second marriage is in its terminal and final phase and Valentine’s Day ambushed me this year. It would have snuck by unnoticed had my girls not insisted on making some red velvet cupcakes for their BFFs. I don’t want to infect them with my grumpiness and disdain for this holiday when they are so enthusiastic and eager to offer the world their small share of red, sweet, and chocolatey. It only seemed appropriate for me to let them take the center stage.

Oh, I participated in the madness, too, but in an unorthodox and weird way. My contribution this year is Seville orange marmalade whose seemingly contradictory nuances of flavor perfectly describe my life at present: it is slightly bitter, bright, sweet, and fresh, with a hint of exotic and mysterious. And it is the bitterness that I look forward to, as it seems to only bring out and accentuate the sublime taste of the preserves in all its complexity.

Seville Orange Juice from bibberche.com

After I take the kids to school in the morning, I make a strong cup of Turkish coffee, spread some good butter on a piece of crusty Tuscan country bread and grab a small jar of marmalade. It has become a ritual I anticipate with glee. I wait patiently as the sweet orange jam slowly oozes from the spoon onto the bread, welcoming the bitterness that lingers for a few seconds. This marmalade is not comforting and mellow. It is bold and assertive. It does not coddle and caress, but most definitely reminds me that life is, indeed. bitter and sweet and exciting and unpredictable.

I don’t know how many teddy bears, chocolate boxes, and big, red, hear-shaped helium balloons are in my future. I’d prefer to avoid them if possible, but even if I see them approaching me from the distance, I won’t be embarrassed and I won’t roll my eyes in disapproval. After all, I know that there would be someone’s huge smile hiding behind them and that’s all that counts. In the meantime, I’ll bid Valentine’s Day goodbye, with my fingers sticky from the marmalade.

*****

Seville oranges originated in China and Arab explorers brought them to Europe, where they reigned for the next few centuries, before their sweeter cousins took over. The first orange marmalade was made from Seville oranges, as they are high in pectin. Inclement weather made a ship carrying them take shelter at the Scottish harbor of Dundee, where a local grocer bought the whole cargo cheaply. His wife used a few sacks of sugar sitting in the store to make marmalade and soon after, they started a jam-making business.

Seville Oranges from bibberche.com

Fragrant Seville Oranges from Melissa’s Produce

Seville oranges are hard to peel and have too many seeds. Their juice is sour and tart, but abundant, which makes them perfect for juicing, marinades, and dressings, as they are not especially good for eating fresh. Their slightly bumpy skin is fragrant and rich in essential oils, and when zested adds a fresh citrusy punch to a salad, a bowl of wilted greens, or grilled fish.

Seville Orange Marmalade from bibberche.com

SEVILLE ORANGE MARMALADE

Ingredients:

  • 1 dozen Seville oranges
  • 3 Meyer lemons (mine were from my neighbor’s tree)
  • 4 cups water
  • 7 cups sugar

 Directions:

Prepare the jars and lids. Heat a big pot of water and when it boils, submerge the lids and the jar inside and boil for 5-10 minutes. Invert them on a clean paper towel to dry.

Scrub oranges and lemons and cut them in half. Squeeze the juice and strain it. Reserve the pits, the pulp, and the membranes and tie it in double layer of cheesecloth (this is where all the pectin resides).

Using a grapefruit spoon scrape as much of the white pith as possible, as that’s what makes the marmalade bitter. Cut the skins in thin strips and then in smaller pieces.

Boil the skins for an hour to make them softer and drain. Add the squeezed juice (I had about 3 cups), water, and cheesecloth with pits and pulp.

Heat until it boils, and then turn the heat down to low and simmer for 1 hour. Add the sugar and continue simmering for another hour, until the skin is soft and translucent. To check if the marmalade is ready, place a small plate in the freezer for 5 minutes. Drip a few drops on it and swirl it around. If it barely moves, it’s done. If it runs, it needs to cook a little bit longer.

Turn the heat off and let it cool slightly. Carefully fill the jars and close the lids tightly. Keep the marmalade in the fridge for a month.

Thanks Robert from Melissa’s Produce for the gift of this beautiful citrus!

Feb 022013
 

It’s been several weeks since Casey of Kitchen Play instigated Cookbook Tour to promote An Edible Mosaic, a brand new book by one of our own, Faith Gorsky Safarini. The six of us embarked on this exciting ride, trying to approach the task from various angles. We wrote a review of the book; we cooked one recipe each for an interesting prix fixe meal; we had a Twitter party where we all prepared the same dish, cooking and tweeting at the same time; we promoted Faith and her book on Facebook; and we posted photos on Cookbook Tour board on Pinterest.

Our project is slowly winding down and I wanted to ask Faith a few questions about her culinary adventures in a Middle Eastern kitchen. As an expat, I was curious to learn about her experiences and observations. I hope you will enjoy the interview. Thanks, Faith for allowing me and my readers a glimpse into your life!

Faith Gorsky

1. What types of food were your favorites before you met your Syrian husband? What did you grow up with? What kinds of food did you like to prepare previously?

My mom was a pretty great cook and I grew up eating classic American meals like roast chicken, beef stew, and spaghetti and meatballs. When my husband (Mike) and I met, I was very young and still in law school (and I was in undergrad right before that), so I only had access to small kitchens and minimal ingredients and equipment, and very little time to cook. When I had spare time, I was cooking a few Indian dishes that my friends in undergrad had taught me, along with a few classic American recipes that I had learned from my mom. My cooking really blossomed after marrying.

2. What was your initial response to Syrian food? How adventurous were you?

I was very open to Syrian food, and I always tell myself I will try anything once. Overall, I immediately loved the food, of course with a few exceptions (like Yogurt Soup and Jute Mallow Soup). But even those few dishes that I didn’t enjoy right away have come to grow on me over time.

3. What was the first Middle Eastern dish that warmed your heart? 

Fried Eggplant with Garlic and Parsley Dressing, because of the story around it.

My most treasured food memories all revolve around family; because of the deep emotional connection linking the food with the feeling, eating the food always conjures up happiness. This is perhaps my favourite food memory.

A few years ago I was in Zabadani, a rural area north of Damascus in Syria. My husband and I were staying with his family in their country home for a few days, and another family had come to visit. Of course a feast was in order.

My mother-in-law and the other ladies were busy all day making a variety of many different dishes. Out of all the foods served that day, a very simple fried eggplant dish with garlic and parsley dressing was by far my favorite. I had tasted eggplant before, but this was the dish that made me fall in love with it, and it was at that moment when my mother-in-law realized that my husband and I truly were perfect for each other. You see, my hubby hates eggplant in any form and my mother-in-law has always hoped he’d marry someone who loves it!

As I sat there ignoring almost every other dish on the table and gushing about this simple eggplant dish, Sahar sat there beaming. Reliving that memory in my mind every time I eat this dish is what makes it so meaningful for me.

4. What was the first dish that you mastered?

Fried Kibbeh. My mother-in-law loves to tell the story of when she first showed me how to make this dish-she and I were working in the living room at a coffee table as we shaped the kibbeh, relaxed and chatting happily as best we could; remember, she speaks Arabic and I speak English, and although we both know a little of the other’s language, it is oftentimes a challenge, but surprisingly we understand each other more than you might think! She formed one perfect torpedo-shaped kibbeh and after I saw her shape the first one, I joined right in. Of course my kibbeh wasn’t nearly as perfect looking as hers, but I soon improved and she said I was able to make kibbeh after seeing it made only once, which is something no one else that she has taught has been able to do. Here’s how she describes it: I’ve tried to teach many Arabic women how to make Kibbeh Mekliyeh; it takes several times before they can do it, and some never even master it. Faith saw me make it once and the next time she made it herself. As we say in Arabic, laha nefus ala el ekel (literally meaning, she has breath that is good for food, which means she has a deep passion for cooking).

It was an incredible feeling that night when we sat down to dinner and my mother-in-law pointed out to the family the kibbeh that I had made.

Photo by Faith Gorsky

5. Is there a dish you did not care for no matter how many times you tried it?

Surprisingly, no! The few dishes that I didn’t like at first have now become favorites and are regularly made in my kitchen. I think the only reason I didn’t like them to begin with is because I didn’t grow up eating them, and some dishes come as quite a surprise the first time around! (For example, Jute Mallow Soup, which has a slimy texture and earthy flavor that is brightened with garlic and lemon.)

6. How did the differences in language influence your cooking?

The main influence that the language barrier had was that it necessitated me getting in the kitchen alongside my mother-in-law and watching everything she did. But really, I would have had to do that anyway; as with any old-world cook, she doesn’t write down cooking times, steps, or ingredient measurements. She knows how to do things based on her senses, how much spice to add to meat by looking or tasting, how long to knead dough by its feel.

7. How big a role did love for your husband play in your desire to master Middle Eastern cuisine? (I drew the line at cooking squirrel (and other rodents), but mastered biscuits, chicken and dumplings, fried buttermilk chicken, gumbo, and NC BBQ ribs.)

Wanting to make my hubby happy played a huge role in my desire to master Middle Eastern cooking, especially at first when I wanted to make sure that I’d be able to cook his favorite dishes. He’s quite a picky eater in general, even when it comes to Middle Eastern foods; he often talks about how growing up his mom would make one dish for the entire family and a separate dish just for him because of how picky he was. So, this meant that there wasn’t a huge array of dishes that I had to learn in the beginning to keep him satisfied; however, as time went on my own desire to learn more about the cuisine because of my own love for it took over.

Roasted Chickpeas – Photo by Faith Gorsky

8. Did you teach your MIL some American dishes? (I know how hard my mother resisted.)

Yes, which was great fun! To name just a few, I taught her my favorite chocolate cake (which is my mom’s recipe for Crazy Cake, which also sometimes goes by the name of Wacky Cake), roast chicken with gravy, lasagna, and oatmeal. These are foods that my in-laws have heard about and have wanted to try for years, but didn’t know how to make. My mother-in-law was very willing to try anything I made, and luckily everything was a hit with the whole family.

9. What are some of your husband’s favorite dishes, Middle Eastern and American? Did you manage to make him a meal to equal his mother’s?

Middle Eastern foods: Shawarma, Mujaddara (Lentil and Bulgur Wheat Pilaf with Caramelized Onion), Molokhia (Jute Mallow Soup), Shakreeyeh (Lamb & Yogurt Soup), and of course Hummus and Falafel.

American foods: Spaghetti, tacos, roast chicken, beef pot roast, and battered fish fry.

It’s funny, Mike is so incredibly picky about his food, which was one of the main factors that drove me to learn how to cook his favorites from his mom. Once I started learning all his favorite dishes and eventually mastered them, he starting telling me all the time how he doesn’t have to miss his mom’s cooking because mine is every bit as good. Of course I give his mom the credit for this – she is the one who taught me, after all!

10. What would be the advice you can give home cooks who would like to get their feet wet with Middle Eastern food?

The best advice I can give is not to be intimidated just because a recipe, ingredient, or cooking method might be unfamiliar. For example, take my chicken shawarma recipe. I marinate chicken in a blend of seasonings and yogurt, and utilize a two-step cooking method that yields incredibly moist, flavorful chicken. I had an American cook tell me she was leery to use yogurt as a marinade for chicken, saying it sounded “weird” to her. (What she really meant was that she had never done it before and so she had no idea what to expect.) She ended up making the dish and not only has it become a favorite for her and her family, but it has also become a regular dinnertime staple. If you keep an open mind, you never know what new favorite you might discover.

Pickles – Photo by Faith Gorsky

I enjoyed being a part of this group. An Edible Mosaic is a gorgeous book filled with flavorful recipes that can instantly transport you into a Middle Eastern souq. I hope you check it out – I know you will love it! Thanks, Faith and Casey! And thanks to my friends and fellow bloggers for such a pleasant company!

Heather of Kitchen Concoctions

Laura of Spiced Life

Jennifer of Savory Simple

Stephanie of 52 Kitchen Adventures

Amanda of Maroc Mama