Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Middle Eastern Baharat, My Version

Baharat is the Arabic word for spice. This seasoning mixture is used in many Lebanese dishes but I have never found one to my liking.Growing up, my Mother would just season her Lebanese meals with a mixture of the individual spices, and since some were not always available in the Caribbean, the predominant notes were cinnamon, allspice, and black pepper. The simplicity of this spice mixture could also have been due to the fact that her family originally came from a small mountain village in Lebanon so the spice mixture might not have been as complex as that used in Beirut. Bear in mind that this is not an "all-in-one" seasoning mix as it does not contain salt. You will always have to add that to suit your taste.

The Baharat mixture varies according to the country, the region in the particular county, and even among families living in the same country. The good thing about this mixture is that it lends itself to that level of variation, and so may be customized to suit ones taste quite easily. This is my version. I like a spicy Baharat so this is what I use. I lightly toast the spices in a wok before grinding. This releases the essential oils and intensifies the flavor. I use this mixture in my spiced Lebanese eggs, and pretty much in all my Lebanese meat recipes on this site.

¼ cup black peppercorns

¼ cup allspice berries

1/4 cup coriander seeds

¼ cup cinnamon

¼ cup cloves

1/3 cup cumin seeds

2 teaspoons cardamom seeds

4 whole nutmegs

¼ cup ground sweet paprika

¼ cup cayenne pepper
2-3 dried Moroccan Lemons (Loomis)
1. Lightly toast the ingredients in a wok until you can smell the fragrance. Be careful not to burn them
2. Grind in a spice grinder to a fine powder. Sieve to remove unground pieces. Store in an airtight jar.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Banana Chayote Squash (Cho-Cho) Bread

The Caribbean island where I grew up, like any other island in that region, has an abundance of bananas, chayote squash (called Cho-Cho in Jamaica, Christophene in other Caribbean islands), tamarinds, and limes (not many lemon trees). This is a tropical version of an American favorite, Banana Zucchini Bread. I have tried to keep the other ingredients as “Caribbean” as possible e.g banana, cho-cho, limes, tamarind, and molasses. I have also added suggestions for substitutions in case some of the preferred ingredients are not available in your part of the world. Other names for chayote, according to Wikipedia include cidra (Antioquia, Caldas, Quindio and Risaralda regions of Colombia), sayóte (Filipino languages), guatila (Boyacá and Valle del Cauca regions of Colombia), centinarja (Malta), sousou or chou-chou (chow-chow) (Mauritian Creole), sousout (Seychellois Creole), chuchu (Brazil), pimpinela (Madeira), pipinola (Hawaii), tayota (Dominican Republic), mirliton (Haitian Creole), pear squash, vegetable pear,chouchoute (Vanuatu), choko (Australia), güisquil (Guatemala, El Salvador), pataste (Honduras), piskot or sikot (Meghalaya), is-kus (Nagaland), dashkush (Manipur), iskut (Mizoram), is-Kush (Nepal)  su su (Vietnam). Its tuberous and edible root is called chinchayote or chayotextle in Mexico and ichintal in Guatemala

Dates are not widely cultivated in the Caribbean. The botanical gardens in my island had a couple of date palms, probably planted during British colonial times. The British did this throughout their colonies where the climatic conditions were similar (I doubt that a lot of thought went into thinking about possible introduction of pests, environmental damage etc, in those days.)  So, Breadfruit plants were brought from Tahiti as a cheap food for slaves, Mango plants from India, and a host of other fruit and vegetables as well. The palms no doubt came from one of their far-flung possessions in the Middle East, probably Egypt. However, occasionally the unripe fruit from the trees in the botanical gardens would end up in the hands of people who knew what they were, and how to use them. I remember as a child growing up, one of my aunts would hang the unripe fruit in her kitchen, and let them ripen over the course of a few days. That was my first introduction to fresh dates that we did not have to buy in a box from the local Lebanese grocery!  I got 12 slices from the loaf, and cut each one in half to a total of 24 pieces. The bread is dark, dense, and very moist. It’s not super sweet! The nutritional information using an on-line calculator was 3 grams of sugar, and 10 grams Carbs/piece. If you want it sweeter, increase the sugar by an additional 1/4 cup.

Some of the more exotic ingredients:
Tamarind Concentrate


Chayote Squash

3/4 cup bread flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup Scottish oatmeal
¼ cup desiccated coconut, unsweetened. Freshly grated coconut may also be used.
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoons cinnamon
18 teaspoon ground allspice
18 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
¼ cup water
1/2 cup coconut or palm sugar
2 tablespoons coconut or vegetable oil
1/4 cup Greek Yogurt
1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate or paste
1 tablespoon molasses
1 medium overripe banana, mashed
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Zest and juice of one Lemon or large lime (if substituting yogurt, see note)
1 cup peeled, shredded Cho-Cho (chayote). One chayote will be enough.
1/4 cup dates, finely chopped
Substitutions for items not available
Scottish Oatmeal: Use a small food chopper to finely grind the equivalent amount of rolled oats to the consistency of fine bread crumbs
Greek Yogurt: Use ¼ cup full fat milk but mix with the lime (or Lemon) juice, zest, and ¼ teaspoon vinegar to “curdle” the milk
Coconut or palm sugar: Use light brown sugar
Tamarind concentrate: This is tedious to make from the fresh fruit so it’s best to just use the tamarind concentrate/paste bought in stores or on-line. If unavailable (unlikely in a tropical country as it grows in all of them), it may be omitted as the lemon/lime will be enough.
Dates: Use equivalent amount dried banana (the soft, chewy chunks, not the hard “chips”)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line the bottom of a 9”x5” loaf pan with parchment paper. Grease and flour the sides.
  2. Whisk together flours, desiccated coconut, oatmeal, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and salt.
  3. Peel and shred the chayote (cho-cho) squash. Mix with the mashed banana. Grate the lemon zest over this mixture, and add the juice to it as well.
  4. In a small saucepan, add the water, coconut oil, sugar, vanilla, chopped dates, tamarind concentrate and molasses. Gently heat over medium heat until the mixture looks dark and syrupy. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  5. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs.
  6. Add the sugar syrup mixture to the beaten eggs, mixing slowly. Mix in the yogurt at this stage, beating with a whisk.
  7. Mix in half of the chayote, mashed banana mixture. Follow with half of the flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Add the remaining quantities of both mixtures, ending with the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Do not over-mix.
  8. Pour into the prepared loaf pan
  9. Bake for one hour to one hour twenty minutes, depending on your oven or until a wooden skewer or cake tester comes out clean. You may have to decrease the temperature to 325 degrees Fahrenheit during the last 20 minutes of baking if the edges of the bread start to burn. You’ll know it's ready when the heady aroma of the baked banana hits you as soon as it’s out of the oven!