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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Fetteh - Moroccan Chick Pea with Crispy Flatbread

Ever since hearing about, and then dining at Morrocan Soup Bar not long ago, I have been wanting to try my own Fetteh.  The dish is affectionately known as "the chick pea thing from Moroccan Soup bar" - you can even succesfully Google that phrase, believe it or not.  I had a look at many a blogger's posts on their takes and wondered why I had never come across Fetteh before.  Well the secret's out - and I'm telling everybody, well, anyone who reads this blog, mostly!  The dish is called Moroccan Chickpea Bake but only baking done in my version is to crisp the flatbreads (still tasts pretty good though!)
In a nutshell, Fetteh is crispy flatbreads topped with spiced chickpea and seasoned yoghurt, finished with a garnish of burnt butter and almonds - in a word "Delish"  
When creating my version of Fetteh I decided that it called for the very best ingredients and I would somehow have to traverse the globe for these (cue the adventure theme music).    
My foodie friend and certified taste tester, Miss A was kind enough to source some very fine yoghurt - and she went all out.  The end product used was from Schulz Organic of Timboon in Victoria's south-west, (click on the name to find out more) and it was a delicious creamy yoghurt that just oozed "specialty".  
Next, the tahini was a product Lebanon, and I found it was oiler and runnier.  This is essential for combining with the yoghurt, as the harder the tahini, the more cumbersome the task of mixing.
The burnt butter came courtesy of the neighbours across the Tasman Sea - New Zealand.  It is a nutty and salted butter with a very creamy taste and just finished superbly when drizzled on this dish.
And finally, I would have to mention the sweet paprika hails from none other than, Hungary, and it's fragrance is one of my favourites.  
Of course you do not have to be as pedantic as me (I am a bit nuts when it comes to food!).  Source the best ingredients your budget allows, and most of these ingredients are readily available at supermarkets.  Thankfully, I have friends like Miss A - who is well versed in yoghurt culture (pun intended!), and access to European delicatessens and Middle Eastern groceries - it all makes my food journey more authentic.  The local supermarket, however, does have a few surprises these days, stocking their shelves with international goods that were a rarity to find not long ago.
I really liked how this dish turned out and especially how simple it was to prepare.  I am looking forward to a return visit to Moroccan Soup Bar to compare once again - but I think I hit the mark here with "My Rockin' Fetteh" (cue bad joke theme music).       
Ingredients, to serve four as a main
4 x Lebanese flatbreads 
Olive Oil
Grind of Salt
2 x Bay leaves
1 Stick X Cinnamon
3 x Cloves
2 x 400g tins Chickpeas, washed and drained
3 tsp x Baharat (see note)

250ml x Stock (Chicken or Vegetable if you want to keep this strictly vegetarian)½ tsp x Garlic powder
3 tbsp x Tahini paste
5 tbsp x Natural Yoghurt, (the best you can find)
50g x Butter, chilled and sliced (this assures even melting)
3 tbsp x Slivered Almonds, toasted
1 tsp x Sweet Paprika
Fresh parsley
Preheat the oven to 180C
Brush a little olive oil on the flatbread and bake till crisp (this can take up to 15 minutes)
Remove from oven, allow to cool, then break into shards and reserve

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a deep pan and add the bay leaves, cinnamon and cloves
Fry for 30 seconds then add the drained chickpeas and stir in the baharat  

Pour in the stock and bring to a gentle boil
Cook on medium heat for 10 -15 minutes or until the liquid reduces to a third
Sprinkle in the garlic powder and stir to mix through
In a small bowl beat the tahini and yoghurt together to a smooth mix
Remove the chick peas from the heat and discard whole spices
Fold through 2 tbsp of the tahini and yoghurt mix

When you are almost ready to serve prepare the burnt butter garnish
Heat the butter heating gently until it is is evenly melted, stir or shake the pan to assist
Once the frothy bubbling subsides then the butter will go from golden to brown very  quickly
Remove the butter from the heat when the colour changes to brown and it has a nutty fragrance
Stir in the toasted slivered almonds and reserve to a small bowl 

To assemble the dish, place the broken flatbread shallow serving dish 
Top with the warm chickpea mix followed by a drizzling of the remaining tahini and yoghurt mix
Sprinkle the paprika over the dish
Finally use a teaspoon to distribute the almonds 
And evenly pour on the burnt butter 
Add a final garnish of parsley and place in the centre of the table for everyone to dig in.

Note: Baharat translates to “spices” in Arabic and can be purchased from Middle Eastern grocers. For the Westerners it is packaged as the product Baharat spice which literally translates to “Spices Spice”. Since I have a well stocked spice cupboard, I make my own. See the recipe below. Baharat can also be used to flavour burger patties or even as a rub on lamb chops before they are grilled or barbequed.
2 tbsp x Black peppercorns
2 tbsp x Cumin seeds
1 tbsp x Coriander
1 tbsp x Cloves
½ tsp x Cardamom seeds, ground
1 stick x Cinnamon
2 tbsp x Sweet Paprika
1 tsp x Nutmeg powder

Place all whole spices into a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and grind to a fine powder then mix in the paprika and nutmeg
Store in an airtight jar

Monday, May 21, 2012

Review: Hutong Dumpling Bar

HuTong Dumpling Bar on Urbanspoon
What to say about Hutong Dumpling Bar…except…just go and experience it for yourself.  That’s it! This post should end here.  But before I go let me tell you that if you are used to the usual run of the mill dumplings that get served up around Chinatown then do not expect them here.  

For start the Shao Long Bao, which is traditional East China fare, is truly exceptional.  For those that are not privy to the nature of these dumplings, proceed with caution – they contain a soupy liquid that will explode (in a good way!) when bitten into.  So much so, you have to approach with care and pierce a small hole in the dumpling, from which you can slurp the juice out .  Trust me it is delicious – I was immediately hooked.    

A fellow foodie got me onto the Szechuan style - Wontons in Chilli Sauce, and once again these little gems were fantastic.  The chilli oil is just right and doesn’t blow your head off, and the wontons are tender, thanks to the perfectly cooked thin skins.  Ahhh satisfaction…I found a new dish to add to the list of favourites at Hutong.  

And vegetarians need not despair as the delightfully green Boiled Dumplings Stuffed With Spinach, are sure to please – even this carnivore loved it!  To get a little bit more veg on your plate you cannot go past the Claypot Eggplant in Szechuan Sauce – (“Eggplant” how could I resist)

I read somewhere (probably on someone’s blog) that there are not too many places where they serve good fried rice – well sadly, you can add Hutong to that list.  The vegetarian fried rice, although donned with “wok breath” still fell short of hitting the mark, with terribly undercooked rice.  Don’t even bother with the “special” fried rice, as there certainly is nothing special about it.  Stick to steamed rice, if you must, as it definitely appears that Hutong’s strengths are in their dumplings and other dishes – after all it’s not called Hutong “Rice” Bar.

The service is a little better than expected with waiters frequently topping up your pot of green tea and hovering around the fairly busy lunch time crowd.  If you have time stop and have a look at the open dumpling station, where the experts turn dough and filling into edible works of art.  As mentioned it does get busy so be sure to book ahead.
Oh, and apologies for the lack of more photos...I was too busy feeding my face and the pictures that I did take were blurry!!!  I will put more on next time I go there - which will no doubt be soon!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Review: Flavour Town Hotpot, Melbourne CBD

Flavour Town Hot Pot 滋味堂 on Urbanspoon

Blink, and you might miss the entrance to Flavour Town Hotpot. A tiny doorway at the bottom of a staircase leads you up to the restuarant on the first floor of 202 Bourke Street. (You could take the elevator if you feel so inclined, but be warned - its slow) You enter the pretty modern-esque looking restaurant with a bar up front, where you are greeted and taken to your seats - big groups up to twelve would need to book ahead for a large round table and there are plenty of booth seats for four to six people.
As you are seated you are given the printed out order sheet that you make your selections from. Begin with your choice of broth base: choose from bases of spicy chicken broth partnered with a mushroom one or a spicy Sichuan on one side and pork bone broth on the other. For those less tolerant of chilli and spice, the standard non-spicy broth is recommended.  The big wok is brought out first and the tabletop stove is lit and you anxiously wait for it to boil.

A Yin Yang of deliciousness - Spicy Sichuan and Pork Bone broth (including the bone)

Next, choose a from a variety of sauces that are added to your broth to add more depth of flavour.  We chose three most distinct sauces - Sesame paste, which was like tahini but only much more mellow and thinner; Hot chilli and garlic, because too much chilli is never enough. Finally an umami sensation thai style sauce.  While we didn't add the sauces to the main broth in the yin yang wok, we added them by the spoonful to our own serves.  Each sauce added a different character to the final dish and surprisingly, they worked well together to deliver a flavour punch as well as on their own.

There are some entree choices available too and some of them, like the taro wrapped prawn, do not require a dunking in the broth. Other popular choices for starters are pork and chive dumplings and also fish dumplings (although the do not look like dumplings) Be warned, the dumplings are suspiciously the store-bought, frozen kind. However, what they lack in freshly-made quality, they more than make up for when boiled in the broths - almost like a very very flavoursome won ton soup.

Now you can be very selective when ordering the ingredients that will be added to your broth to make it into a unique hotpot.  Thinly sliced meats, like pork, lamb, beef and chicken are a must at this carnivore's hotpot meal, but I recommend venturing into seafoods, like prawn and calamari.  Whole baby octopus is also quite a treat.  In the vegetable section you can put a tick against classics like tofu, enoki mushroom, bok choy and water spinach.  And if you need a carbohydrate hit, then there are couple of rice and noodle choices - the potato noodles are well worth a try.  One thing to be aware of, I found was that meats, seafood and veg all take different times to fully cook and be at their best in a boiled dish like this.  Definitely do not, leave the thin slices of meat in the broth for more than a couple of minutes, and prawns are done when they turn orange.
Getting Steamy!!
Flavour Town  Hotpot was a nice way to warm the insides on a cold, cold autumn night, and as long as you do not mind cooking your own food then you are in for a good meal.  The restaurant staff were very hard to get a hold of for extra items, and even requests for a fork seemed to fall on a number of waitresses'deaf ears.  There was no rice available that night (they apparently ran out), but I only found this out when I inquired about it well in to the meal after we had ordered a bowl.  The manager was very apologetic and said that they would work on providing better service in the future.      

The tasty broths and combination of the flavour full sauces are what made the meal so good.  Hotpot seems like an easy concept, but it would be very easy to fail to please by producing tasteless broths.  At Flavour Town, they got it right and while I haven't been to many hotpot places, I couldn't imagine them being too different...I may just have to try some more to see for myself...don't mind if I do!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Four Dips Worth Double Dipping

When it comes to parties or anytime snacking really - one of my favourite foods to make is the humble Dip.  Now, granted, you can go to the supermarket and pick up a tub of processed, preservative laden, not-so-natural dip, and you could eat it to your heart's content.  But I can really vouch for home-made dips as nothing is as fresh, or for me, tasty. I must confess that I do buy the ocassional pesto every now and then, though. The sundried tomato and cashew kind is my favourite and even though I have made it at home it just seems to taste better from a delicatessen - I am yet to perfect that! 
But on to four dips worth double dipping. These are four of my favourite dips in no particular order and each of them have different elements guaranteed to please your hungry guests, or to satisfy that craving for something good. 
French Onion Dip
This is by far one of the best dips I have made and tasted, and it was loved by all who's palettes acquire a taste for sweet caramelised onion, and even some whose don't.   (Probably why I featured it first!)
1 large x Brown Onion, finely diced
2 cloves x Garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp x Olive Oil
½ cup x Stock x Beef or Chicken works well
2 tsp x Dark Soy
1 tsp x Balsamic Vinegar
½ tsp x Dried Thyme
300ml x Sour Cream
2 tbsp x Whole Egg Mayonnaise
Heat oil in a heavy pan and gently fry the onions for 5 minutes
Add the chopped garlic and cook gently for a further 5 minutes
Pour in the stock, soy, vinegar and thyme and reduce liquid to almost dry
Remove onion mixture from heat and cool in the fridge
When chilled fold in the sour cream and mayonnaise and stir well to combine
Dip is ready to eat right away, but it tastes better after standing for some time. (If you can wait!)
Olive Dip
I feel bad posting a recipe for this dip since it is so easy to make.  The first time I tasted an olive dip was from a supermarket shelf - but it was surprisingly tasty and seemed quite complex to even attempt at home. This was until I actually paid attention to the ingredients and realised that it was basically just two ingredients that made up this dip - so here goes, this will be the easiest dip you make.
200g x Mixed Olives, pitted and preferably in an oil based marinade rather than a brine.
½ cup of Whole Egg Mayonnaise
Chop the olives into small diced pieces and reserve some of the marinade
Stir through the mayonnaise, folding to combine the olives and their marinade
Dip is ready to serve. (Told you it was easy!)
Crab Dip
This is a bit of a cheat as it does not contain an abundance of crab.  You could substitute all the seafood extender for cooked crab meat and you would get a more smoother dip.  For the sake of time, convenience and budget I used canned crab meat with the fake crab stuff from the supermarket and found that it wasn't too shabby.
250g x Seafood Extender (or alternatively 350g x fresh cooked crab meat)
1 small can x Crab Meat (omit if using the above)
200g Cottage Cheese
½ tsp x Garlic Powder
1 tsp x Dill 
½ tsp x Cracked Pepper
½ tsp x Cayenne Pepper
1 tsp x White Wine Vinegar
Combine the cottage cheese with the spices then mash with a fork to a smooth consistency
Fold in the crab meat and/or seafood extender mixing well to combine then a splash of the vinegar
Allow to stand for an hour before serving
Cannellini Bean with Roasted Garlic Dip
Now, I love my garlic a little bit more than the next guy.  I love its sharpness in usual suspect dips like Hummus and Tzatziki, but when it comes to this bean dip, it is the mellowness of the garlic, when it is roasted that really takes centre stage - it is unlike any garlicky flavour that I am normally accustomed to.
4 whole bulbs x Garlic
Olive oil 
1 tsp x Dried Rosemary
1 Onion, finely diced
400g can x Cannellini Beans, drained  (Any white bean would work in this dip)
2 tsp x Cumin powder
4 tbsp x Sour Cream
½ tsp x Salt, extra for seasoning
Cracked Pepper, to season
Preheat oven to 190 C
Peel the outer paper from the garlic while still keeping the bulb intact
Use four sheets of aluminium foil big enough to wrap the bulbs in 
Drizzle each garlic bulb with a little olive oil and sprinkle with rosemary and salt and pepper then seal the foil tightly
Roast in the oven for 45 minutes then remove and allow to cool slightly
Meanwhile, saute the onions with a little olive oil until softened and transclusent
In a large food processor bowl place the onions, beans, cumin and sour cream.
Press the soft roasted garlic flesh out of the cloves and into the bowl
Add the salt and cracked pepper to season
Blend to a medium coarse paste and adjust seasoning if required 
Serve at room temperature         

Notes:  Where possible I have used home-made Mayonnaise and the dips are a lot creamier than the store bought variety.
Most fresh dips will keep in the fridge for up to three days after which time I would recommend a smell test (just in case!) 
One of my favourite things to dip is baked pita bread that has been brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with a little sea salt - the wafer thin crackers in the pics are also another favourite

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Review: Moroccan Soup Bar

On a rather deserted strip of St Georges Rd in North Fitzroy, lies a real treasure of a vegetarian restaurant.  I probably would have never even considered this place (partly because I am too much of a carnivore), had my colleagues at work not told me about it.  I did some quick review reading on Urbanspoon and was convinced that I had to try it out for myself.  Moroccan Soup Bar get's frantically busy every night and a lot of reviews tell of diners queuing for hours because there is no booking facility for anything under a party of 6, apparently.  There were also tales of being disappointed with the meals and above all - the service.  I had to put these negative opinions aside, and instead, rest my expectations on the good wrap that my colleagues had give the restaurant - and I am glad I did thanks A and J.
Opening time for dinner is 6:00 PM and it pays to get there early.  We got there at 6:15 and there were no tables for two available.  We were seated at a table for six, which had a booking in an hour, so we had to be finished in an hour - no probs!  The owner greeted us with a hot cup of sweet Mint Tea and proceeded to tell us about the menu.  "It a spoken menu" she said.  That means nothing to read and mull over.  The $20 banquet seemed to be the order of the day (and apparently every other day too!) and for an additional fiver the banquet would include a variety of Moroccan tapas - this was definitely worth it as it meant we would get to sample more dishes.  I haven't had much Moroccan to date and this was a great place to venture into it's culinary delight.
Within minutes of placing our order, a large plate of dips and curried vegetables accompanied with a big stack of pita bread was "plonked" on the table.                           
The share plate contained a sample serve of humus, labne, an interesting brocolli dip and equally delicious dishes made from potatoes, cauliflower and eggplant.  The dips were extremely fresh and hit the spot on taste.  The pita bread could have benefited from being heated, but their polygamous marriage with the concoctions on that plate, more than made up for it. 
The tapas style dishes joined the party on the table and these were little bowls of pure delicious.  A humus style paste that was drizzled generously over crisp pita triangles, had me licking my fingers.  And a fresh tapas sized salsa made from tiny cubes of haloumi cheese, diced tomato, onion and parsley all dressed in tangy lemon juice.  The bowl below was our favourite - best described as a spicy harissa paste with toasted almonds and olive oil - we love us some chilli!
The next bowl consisted of what seemed like really crispy felafal balls with a dollop of yoghurt.  They were extra crunchy which was a contrast to the softer variety at Turkish and Lebanese eateries.  They almost had a meaty feel about them (shhhhh!)

Just as we felt like we were close to our belly's limit, along comes the mains.  Obviously, the first couple of courses were somewhat supposed to be starters, but they were so huge that they may have well as been mains.  Nevertheless, here was the dish that everyone raves about "the chickpea and yoghurt dish at Moroccan Soup Bar" - seriously, you can Google search that string and get this dish - it's that popular.  
I have a habit of taking restaurant dishes (the really good ones!) and trying to replicate them in my own kitchen.  My strike rate is not so bad, so far, and this is to be the next challenge.  Crisp pita bread shards - almost tasted like they were deep fried - layered with lightly spiced chickpea amidst a tahini spiked yoghurt and topped of with a garnish of toasted almonds, paprika and a secret spice - I am yet to determine - stirred through burnt butter - Wow! That's all I can say! Let's look at another close-up pic of it!
The chickpea was soft and melted in your mouth.  The yoghurt had a welcoming mellow taste and was not as tart as I had expected.  The pita gave the contrasting crunch that just belonged in this melange.  The burnt butter topping is what I think set's this dish apart from anything I had tasted before.  The flavour resonates through the entire dish, you get a hit of it with every mouthful - In it's entirety, this dish just works.  There's nothing missing and nothing overpowering and excessive but the richness of all that butter and yoghurt - but it's oh so good!  
But wait, there's more.  As if the chickpea delight wasn't enough, along comes another platter consisting of a couple of rice dishes, a lentil stew and more of the very wholesome labne.  And because good things come in threes, don't disregard the third main dish - Mixed vegetable tagine on a bed of cous cous - now that was my typical Moroccan stereotype dish right there.  This had been a monster of a meal and definitely more than enough for two people.  Our tables were cleared as the next and final course was about to be served.   
You end the meal with a selection of sweets and a short black coffee which was sweet enough to be dessert on its own.  By the time you've gotten through your baklava you will find yourself immersed in memories of that "chickpea and yoghurt dish from Moroccan Soup bar".  My taste buds were undoubtedly satisfied - and this can be a rarity.  

I have nothing but praise for Moroccan Soup Bar.  The venue is bright and gaudy, but I loved the clashing of colour as you dine between an orange wall to your right and a yellow one to the left (or reverse depending where you sit?).
There was now written menu and nothing matched, at least not that I saw in the way of cutlery or crockery, this had its own quirky charm about it.  As did, the decor` - lamps hanging from the ceiling, the shisha pipes sitting atop the blue shelves and the variety of colourful cookery ornaments.  The waitresses were well spoken and polite despite being constantly run off their feet.  When it came to the food, it was a remarkable experience that I highly recommend.  
To those that have reported bad experiences - I guess I didn't have one so I can't compare.  Don't expect to walk right in on a Friday night at 7:30 - expect a wait - possibly a long one.  The queues are testament alone to the success of Moroccan Soup Bar.  Get in early if possible. 6:00 PM on a cold winter night isn't too early for dinner - the alternative is waiting in the cold.  At $20 - $25 a head it's well worth it for the amount of food served in the banquet.  Quality and taste is certainly to be found here - just be prepared to use your hands mainly and be sure you are dining with folks who will not mind you "double dipping" Moroccan Soup Bar on Urbanspoon