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Doro Wat

Ethiopian food is a treat for us locally. Although Seattle based Ethiopian restaurants can't hold a candle to those in the other Washington (D.C.) they're still pretty decent and it's hard to argue against Ethiopian food in general. However, none of the local restaurants are very near me meaning I need to get in the car and face traffic to have Doro Wat. Now that I can get Injera from Amy's Mercato (http://www.yelp.com/biz/amys-merkato-seattle-2) I don't have to do the hard part - make Injera (or source Teff).  To save time/energy I also picked up about half pound of Berbere spices from a local African market. These two time saving measures make Doro Wat possible at home. 
 
Naturally making both at home would cut the cost of this dish substantially but even buying my Injera/Berbere from local stores this ended up costing about $1 per person per meal.  Following is the preview recipe for Doro Wat. It's not hard but don't get impatient as it takes quite a while. Later I'll formalize it into a real recipe for the recipebook section of Recessionchef.

Pistachio's on a budget

I like to share my tips on saving money when I can and recently I was working on a Pistachio Cream sauce (in a word - heavenly) and in my research I found that on average I'm only getting 5 ounces of nuts from one pound of Pistachios. At my favorite discount stores (Trader Joe's and Winco) I paid $5.99 for a 1 pound bag. After shelling them I had just over 5 ounces. Quick math shows I paid $19/lb. Pistachios without shells usually sell for $10-11/lb. Yes that's right, buying them with the shells removed costs LESS than shelling them yourself. 

 

This brings up a couple of points related to my upcoming Pistachio Cream recipe

  1. The flavor of pistachios is directly related to the quality/age of the nuts
  2. In theory, nuts in shells will be higher quality because they're more protected
  3. It's hard to determine the quality of nuts in shells because they're more protected
  4. Half of all commercial Pistachios are not fresh enough to use in my sauce
  5. Nuts without shells cost HALF as much per pound so it's easier to toss the ones that are old

So... I'm finding that in theory shells in nuts SHOULD be higher quality but in practice they're a lot like breaded shrimp, the lowest quality shrimp can hide under breading. So far after sampling 4 brands I haven't seen any quality difference between shelled and unshelled Pistachios. Also if they don't have shells you can better eyeball the nuts themselves, something that's very difficult to do with the shells on. 

In conclusion, I've found that eyeballing pistachios without shells is fairly easy and since they cost half as much I can toss out the brown ones. The attached photo shows that half the nuts in a bag are old (brown) and half are fresh. The end result is the remaining pistachios are stong flavored and bright green for exactly the same price I would have paid for nuts with shells.

My last tip for having great flavored pistachios is to blanch for a couple of minutes and peel them, then dry them in the oven at low temperature. The skins are bitter and from 5 oz's of nuts the skins make up half an ounce. Why eat the skins if they don't taste good. Naturally if you're just enjoying a quick snack you aren't going to do this but for anything that needs a nice pure pistachio flavor and a bright green color this step is a necessity.

 

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Fesenjan - a rich stew poor people can afford

I love rich food and I've come to love the mix of a rich sauce with meat over rice. You get this a lot with Thai curries, Indian Curries, Persian Korescht, and Afghan Quormas. This seems to be a very good format and economical too. Spices cost a lot but you don't need many and rice is cheap. Add meat of some sort and you have a great meal for a decent price. Living in the Pacific Northwest means that we have very limited selection of Persian restaurants and even when you do find one it's probably overpriced and low on quality. When I'm in Orange County I always eat at the Caspian Restaurant in Irvine not only for the environment but for the Fesanjoon. 

 

Fesenjoon (slang for Khoresht-e Fesenjan) is a "stew" made up of a sauce from walnuts and pomegranate syrup/juice. It's wonderfully tart and deep. You add chicken and serve over Basmati rice. Not everyone likes it but it's one of my favorite things to eat.

 

 I've eaten Fesenjoon at many restaurants and tried making it on many occasions. I've been somewhat successful but my Fesenjoon doesn't taste like the Caspians which is wonderfully smooth without being too sweet. Last week I ran across kshar.net, a site run by man determined to bring Persian culture to the masses. What brought me to his site was a three part series on Fesenjoon. His cooking style is a bit loose so you have to pay close attention to what he's doing to get similar results. He also doesn't argue about what SHOULD be, it's your food make it how you like it. He seems to be intent on letting a few ingredients talk as apposed to having many ingredients fighting for attention - I agree with this philosophy. 

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Garlic and Rosemary Roasted Chicken


Chicken is probably the most boring tasting animal on the planet, that's why when we don't know what something tastes like we say it tastes like chicken (meaning it has no strong flavor). However, chicken doesn't have to be boring at all and with a little work we can pick a good chicken, keep the flavor by cooking it right and even add to it using some specially selected herbs and vegetables.

This recipe's purpose is to molest the chicken as little as possible and add subtle other flavors. The chicken also contributes by giving up a certain amount of it's juices and the runoff from the garlic and rosemary paste which drizzles down into the potatoes and shallots making for a very nice accompaniment.

This time around I waited about 20 minutes into the roasting and added sliced Sweet Potatoes which was very nice. Also instead of using just Yukon Golds I found a bag of mixed tiny potatoes at the store comprising of Yukon Golds, Purple and Red Bliss. The best tasting out of these three in this recipe is the Yukon Golds so this mix doesn't add to the quality of the meal however it does make it pretty. Yukon Golds just have the right amount of waxy texture and the right amount of starch to soak up the chicken's juices and yet hold themselves together.

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Easy Flatbread for 4 cents each

We just had a discussion on Google+ about eating on a budget. Seems I need to write that book afterall. One of the strategies I've always employed is food subsidies. That just means that a cheap food subsidizes an expensive one. Restaurants do this all the time, that's why you have starches (potatoes, rice, bread) with your meats. The price of a starch is a fraction of the price of herbs, spices, aged cheese, wine and meats. Next on the ladder is most vegetables. It's a rare occasion for vegetables to cost more than $1 per lb. When was the last time you bought meat for $1/lb?

So with that in mind I'd like to focus on breads. Now if you buy the budget American white bread you may be able to get it for a dollar for a 24 oz loaf. You can make it cheaper but it's really the yeast that costs so you have to commit to buying a block of yeast to make it worth the trouble. Then there's the rising time etc.. Usually these hurdles are too much and people avoid saving money by buying bread and understandably so. However, flatbread can be easy to make and dirt cheap. Pita usually costs about $3 in the store for 10 ounces. That's a starch for the price of a meat. Pita is fairly easy to make too and I have a Wheat Pita recipe that I like a lot here at The Man, The Myth, The Legend.

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