Cook Like An Egyptian!
November 14, 2009 6:01 PM   Subscribe

I need to flatter and impress my favorite Egyptian...What dishes would you consider Egyptian high-end cuisine? I want to make something "fancy" for his birthday! Bonus Points: He's from Alexandria (think: seafood!) and a Francophile!

His birthday is next week. Thanksgiving is the week after.

I've sourced A-grade Foie Gras (imported from France, secret chef hook-up) and gorgeous Merguez sausage.

I'm planning a Duck Cassoulet for this week (from a whole duck - I'll render all the skin for fat (Thanksgiving) reserve the breasts, use the carcass for stock for the cassoulet, legs in the pressure cooker, odd bits & bones saved to zip up a poultry stock for TG) I'm doing lobster bisque for TG (already have have extra lobster bodies in the freezer.)

I don't want to duplicate menus between His Birthday and Thanksgiving. I'm thinking the Foie can only be one or the other. Ditto the Merguez.

If I had a main planned for the Birthday - I would be set. I could then figure out what dish goes where. Help?

Sorry folks - Ful Medames won't cut it! I'm looking for a new idea, something so surprising and elegant, why, he'd marry me again!!

Google is woefully unhelpful on initial searches. If you grew up in Alexandria - then what is your favorite expensive restaurant dish? What did your Mom make for special occasions??

Recipes are not necessary, unless there is on regional ingredient or technique I must not not not leave out.

I'm trying to keep my evil plans a secret -- Thanks so much for any help!!
posted by jbenben to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Go to the library and check out From the Land of Dates and Olives - it has a slew of recipes that might fit the bill. I used to have it, lent it to a friend of mine from Tunisia and never saw it again... :)
posted by patheral at 6:31 PM on November 14, 2009

I don't suppose you live somewhere you can get pigeon, or as fancy folks call it, squab. Stuffed with rice and herbs, it is quintessential Egyptian, and it's what my mother-in-law in Egypt serves me when I go to visit (considered a special occasion, I believe).

I also have not figured out how to replicate mulukhiyah with rabbit on this side of the pond - Mulukhiyah is kind of like spinach but not quite. But I haven't tried very hard to figure it out so you might have some luck.

Either can be accompanied by mahshi - vegetables (zucchini and cabbage leaves mainly) stuffed with a rice and beef/lamb mixture.

Also, not my thing, but Alexandria is known for it's liver - made with chicken liver usually in this rich yummy gravy. I don't like liver, but Alexandrian liver is the closest I've come to changing my mind.

mmmm..... Egyptian food. I have an Egyptian cookbook if you need more suggestions. MeFi me.
posted by scrute at 7:01 PM on November 14, 2009

Could you get a mutual friend to find out his very favorite food - foods he's missing from home? You could fancy it up if you wanted to, but by itself it would be really cool.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:14 PM on November 14, 2009

@ scrute - I will MeFI.

As a culinary aficionado - I'll post my response here for future interests...

Squab sounds perfect - I'll research recipes and techniques - thanks!

As a former chef, I have crazy hook-ups - but mulukhiyah is not one of them!!

Ironically, the Mr.Jbenben repeated to me just last week that he thinks rabbit tastes like cat. We have cats. This would not be appetizing, I bet! (when I ask him to elaborate, he declines to explain. Thoughts?)

You're right - liver. He's talked about it. I wince.

Any ideas for obscure seafood dishes? I have access to crazy importers -- if there is an obscure favorite local fish, I'd LOVE to serve that!

Keep it coming!
posted by jbenben at 7:48 PM on November 14, 2009

I actually had mulukhiyah with turkey once - it was really good. Kebab Halla is another favourite of mine, but not quite so fancy.

Most of the fish I had was grilled with lemon and olive oil and served with tahina. The most common kinds were sea bass and snapper. Prawns were simply cooked as well, and were amazing quality, so only go that route if you know you can get top grade.

You have got to have Umm Ali for desert at some point - it's delicious.

I would also recommend pickling things if you have time - Egyptians are always eating pickled carrots, turnip, lemons, etc. as a side dish.

This is making me miss Egypt!
posted by scrute at 8:24 PM on November 14, 2009

I don't know where you live, jbenben, but mulukhiya is reasonably easy to find in Middle Eastern markets here in Boston (as are Egyptian pickles of all sorts).
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:32 PM on November 14, 2009

Hijack: what is Umm Ali and how do I make it?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:44 PM on November 14, 2009

Umm Ali is a delicious baked dessert made with puff pastry, cream, raisins, and pistachios. Just google it and you'll get a bunch of recipes. Rice pudding is another popular dessert as is mahalabiya (a smooth pudding) but I doubt either of these is uniquely Egyptian. Umm Ali is though.

You could make fattah, which is a personal favorite: it's rice, meat (usually lamb), yogurt, and tomato sauce layered over pita-style bread and baked. Again, you'll be able to find recipes online.

Whenever I've had fish in Alexandria, it's always been very simply prepared - usually just fried or grilled; however, I've had a fish tagine referred to as "Fish Sayadeya" in a popular restaurant in Cairo. I think this is a similar recipe.

Hope this helps.
posted by anonymous78 at 9:23 PM on November 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

I love fattah as well, just wasn't sure if met your criteria.

Sayadeya is actually Jordanian, although there are places in Egypt that serve it - I can't remember if I've ever seen it in Alex. But regardless, it is quite delicious so it depends on how strictly you're defining Egyptian.
posted by scrute at 9:35 PM on November 14, 2009

When I was in Alexandria we ate a lot of things that were apparently a local specialty. They were sort of like crepes but crispier, like the texture of a quesadilla tortilla, but made with batter like a crepe. I think they were cooked on a griddle. They had lots of different fillings. I wish I could remember what they were called because they were so good! Does anyone know what it might be?

Umm Ali is a delicious treat!
posted by apricot at 10:25 PM on November 14, 2009

apricot: Sounds like you're thinking about fiteer.
posted by mumkin at 12:24 AM on November 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think the basics done well go a long way - maluchyiah - as mentioned - with chicken - fresh leaves - never dry - chopped by hand not by machine - mafrum - the stuffed vegetables in all their glory - spicy fish in red sauce and the assorted salads and pickles with the mandated freshly baked bread. You can't go wrong when you put your heart and soul into the preparation and the ingredients are super fresh. Good luck.
posted by watercarrier at 3:12 AM on November 15, 2009

PS If you can't score the Molokhia leaves, you can substitute spinach in a pinch.
posted by watercarrier at 3:18 AM on November 15, 2009

I don't know how fancy it's considered, but I made Nigella Lawson's Om Ali a.k.a. Egyptian "Bread" (Phyllo) Pudding a few months ago for my wedding shower. It's super easy; the hardest part is the hassle of finding phyllo dough ahead of time. You just brush the sheets of phyllo with butter, crumple like wet rags, and put a bunch of yummy things like sultanas and pistachios and almonds on top. Pour sweet custard-y stuff over that, and keep layering, then toast it up in a hot oven. Here are some photos I took of the one I made, if you'd like a visual sense of it. If you're interested and need conversions from the metric ones posted online, let me know and I can MeMail you or something, if you don't own How To Be a Domestic Goddess that is.
posted by ifjuly at 10:21 AM on November 15, 2009

PS If you can't score the Molokhia leaves, you can substitute spinach in a pinch.

Or maybe the Indian leafy green methi? Which is available in most Indian markets.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:08 AM on November 15, 2009

OK! I am convinced - Molokhia is definitely invited to the party:)

Does anyone know where might I source Molokhia in LA? (I'm willing to drive anywhere.)

I 'll post the final menus once I figure out where to source certain items and settle on a plan.

Once more... Thanks everyone for you help!
posted by jbenben at 1:04 PM on November 16, 2009

Hi - this thread from another forum should be helpful. Good luck!
posted by watercarrier at 8:30 AM on November 17, 2009
posted by watercarrier at 8:31 AM on November 17, 2009

OK. For the folks who want to substitute spinach for molokhia - the recipes I found that seemed most authentic added a few chopped okra for gelatinous texture. This is RIGHT.

I found molokhia frozen in these neat little packages at the Jordan Market on Westwood Blvd - but I bet you could find them anywhere.

I used this recipe after MUCH research - it had the most complexity and the best technique -- the Husband said it was spot-on! I did drop the amount of stock a bit, my frozen package of minced molokhia leaves (gelatinous!!) was only 400 grams, so I proceeded accordingly.

I made white rice to mix with the Molokhia soup from Calrose grain - I fucked that up a bit, as per usual. I can only make sushi rice really well. Oh, how disappointed my Chef Papa from culinary school would be!

After extensive research on the Squab issue, I went with Wild Game Hens. The Squabs were small, and all sources had them frozen. Ditto for Pidgeon. The Squabs often come with talons and heads - apparently you can suck the brains out if cooked properly. It didn't seem appetizing.

I went with a Squab spice mixture detailed in The French Laundry cook book - quatre epices + extra corriander, cloves, and cinnamon. Quatre epices is black pepper + nutmeg and either/or ginger/cinnamon/corriander/clove/allspice seed. I made a big mix of all seven from scratch.

I brined the birds in sea salt, a little raw honey, apple cider vinegar (a touch) and fresh thyme. Birds stuffed with regular bread stuffing enhanced with garlic, chopped onion, chopped celery, walnuts and raisins. If I had dates, they would have been chopped and added instead of raisins.

I roasted the hen bits +heart and enriched a chicken stock, reduced, and eventually made that into gravy. I think I deglazed w/ brandy.


Thanks to all. I appreciated the encouragement!
posted by jbenben at 10:47 PM on November 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

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