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  • Writer's pictureNick Clarizio

Experimenting (Menu #8)

Updated: Oct 8, 2023

Dear Friend and Reader,


This past week-or-so of cooking, I've been focused on experimenting. These experiments haven't been wild and wacky like something you might find in a 3-Michelin-star restaurant. Instead, I focus on changing one or two parameters at a time to be able to precisely understand how my changes affect the final product. Not only is this a good scientific method approach, it also ensures that most of my meals are still edible. As eating is quite important to me and my survival, I appreciate this secondary effect of my approach. In the following sections, I'll detail some of the small experiments I tried this week,



Muhammara محمرة + Muhammara-Fried Chicken (Translation from wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammara):

Muhammara is a paste or dip made primarily from roasted red bell peppers, walnuts, and pomegranate molasses (Karadsheh 2020). (Here's a fun note on the etymology: "The word muhammara is from the Arabic word ahmar, which literally means red" [Karadsheh 2020], which is fitting since it's a red dip.) According to a few online sources, it originated in Aleppo, Syria, then spread to the rest of the Levant (Mouzawak 2021, Karadsheh 2020). I think the first time I came upon it was in a middle-eastern restaurant in Marseille. It struck me as a wonderfully complex and fruity dish. After having now made and eaten it several times, I would describe its flavor profile in the following way: fruity and a tad sour - like a good fruit punch - with nutty and warm notes in the body and spicy notes on the back end. It's a tongue tantalizer for sure. One thing I like to do is to use it as a dressing/marinade for other things. In this case, I applied it as a chicken coating. I found it gave a crisp, slightly sour crust to the chicken while also imbuing it with plenty of depth and complexity.


Tahini-Pomegranate Eggplant:

For this new experimental recipe, I fried up chunks of eggplant, then doused them in tahini and pomegranate molasses. The tahini lent depth and a nice bitter-sweetness that created a sweet and sour effect when paired with the pomegranate molasses, which also perked up the dish with its acidity.


Fry-Bread Rolls:

This experiment was rather straight forward. I took the fry bread recipe I've mentioned on here and stuffed them with a cheese and yogurt mixture, taking inspiration from a Bulgarian bread my friend's mom once made. Once the rolls were ready, I popped them in the oven for 20 or so minutes. Some of them leaked the mixture, and the ratio of bread to filling wasn't perfect, but they were still yummy. One positive effect of making them in the oven rather than on the stove was that they gained a fluffy texture rather than a more crumbly one. I think this is because the oven traps more steam in them, causing them to poof up like balloons, whereas the pan allows that moisture to evaporate more readily. But I'm not (yet) a food scientist.


Harcha حرشة (Abitbol 2022) :

Harcha has long been a favorite bread of mine. The name itself means 'rough' - supposedly because you sprinkle it with semolina before baking, but also ostensibly because of the coarse, crumbly texture of it (Abitbol 2022). It gains this texture from the use of semolina flour, which is the same flour traditionally used to make couscous (Abitbol 2022). Semolina itself comes from durum wheat that has been "moistened and then ground to obtain grains that are more or less fine" (Abitbol 2022). Harcha are typically cooked in a pan and served as part of breakfast or on festive occassions (Abitbol 2022, Benlafquih 2021). I find that their subtly sweet, nutty taste and crumbly texture makes them the perfect accompaniment to stews or mezzas for lunch or dinner as well. (I agree with Christine Benlafquih (2021) that they are reminiscent of cornbread.) I experimented with harcha this week by trying to cook them in the oven. Unfortunately, this had the same steam effect as with the fry bread. So, I ended up with fluffy harcha instead of crumbly ones. Luckily, I often freeze them in batches, and when I defrosted one in the toaster, it took on its usual crumbly, cookie-like texture.




I think that's enough on my experiments for the week. But I wasn't the only one experimenting in the kitchen this weekend! This weekend, my dad ventured to make Neapolitan pizza on the grill. I have to admit, it was one of the best pizzas I've ever had the joy of consuming - up there with the ones I ate in Italy. It was so good, I almost ate two of them - oops :)


Anyway, enough talk. Without further ado, here's the menu for the week of July 24.







Bibliography


Abitbol, Vera. 2022. “Harcha.” 196 Flavors (blog). December 15, 2022. https://www.196flavors.com/harcha/.

Benlafquih, Christine. n.d. “Make Moroccan Harcha, a Semolina Pan-Fried Flatbread.” The Spruce Eats.

Karadsheh, Suzy. 2020. “Muhammara Recipe (Roasted Red Pepper Dip).” The Mediterranean Dish. May

Mouzawak, Kamal. 2021. “Muhammara.” Bon Appétit. September 8, 2021. https://www.bonappetit.com

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