Happy Mardi Gras (Carnival, Shrove Tuesday, etc)! Here in the US, we associate Mardi Gras with New Orleans’ celebrations alone. But this week I reminded myself that not everyone celebrates with beads, King Cake, Cajun food, and exposed breasts. So I looked into worldwide traditions, with the hopes of picking a different dish to make tonight. (I wanted a surprise for Selim when he came home from work, so I was looking for his favorite foods and flavors!) I learned so much – pretty much every country with healthy Catholic or Orthodox Christian traditions has their own celebrations. In my browsing, I decided I should definitely have been born in Cyprus. There, Carnival is a two week celebration – the first week is “Meat Week,” or Kreatini, which is the last week eating meat is allowed until Easter. The second of the weeks is “Cheese Week,” or Tyrini, which leads right up until Ash Wednesday. Cheese week!? A whole week for eating cheese?! How did I not know about this until now?
Tonight we made these Cypriot sweet fried cheese pastries called bourekia. (I’ve also seen the spelling pourrekia, I’m not sure the difference, other than just translation into the Latin alphabet?) To be truly authentic, they should have Cypriot anari cheese inside, but given that isn’t entirely readily available in the US, the internet assures me that unsalted ricotta is an acceptable substitute. The rosewater and cinnamon take the cheesy filling and make it sweeter and full of the flavors of the greater Middle East and Mediterranean. I’m still mildly terrified of frying things, despite our recent forays into frying (Southern Fried Chicken & Shrimp Beignets), but we jumped head-first into our first fried treat tonight! Good thing we have our Culinary Bucket List to keep motivating us.
I’m not going to lie, these were good, but not perfect. I’m happy enough with the result to share, but I need to work on the dough. I’m not 100% content with that. The filling however… Perfect! Sweet, but not overly sugary, with a delicious blend of flavors. The hint of rosewater is excellent!
Cypriot Carnival Bourekia
(Adapted from this publication from Toni Buxton & the Cyprus Tourism Organisation)
- 4 cups AP flour
- 1 cup neutral oil
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup cold water (+ more if needed)
- 1 1/2 cups unsalted ricotta cheese
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp rosewater
- Powdered sugar, for dusting
- Oil, for frying
- Mix together the four, oil, and salt. Knead together, adding small bits of a cold water if needed to create a smooth dough ball.
- Wrap and let sit for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, stir the cinnamon, sugar, and rosewater into the ricotta cheese.
- After the 30 minutes, roll out the dough and cut out circles. Use the base of a glass to stamp them out. You want the dough to be fairly thin – mine were somewhere between 1/8th & 1/16th of an inch.
- Spoon a small dollop of the cheese mixture into the center of each circle. Brush water on the edges of the dough circles and fold over into half-moons. Crimp edges together.
- Heat the oil in a heavy, tall-sided pot to 365 degrees. Fry the bourekia in batches, taking care not to crowd the pot, for 3-4 minutes.
- Remove them to a paper towel to drain and dry. Dust with powdered sugar prior to serving!
Here in Richmond, we’re lucky to have been spared the worst of Hurricane Florence. Earlier in the week, Florence’s path was supposed to curve up through central Virginia, so Richmonders did the mad dash to clear water and bread off of grocery store shelves, buy every generator available, and stock up on candles. I was getting gas on Tuesday and pseudo-patiently waited in line for about 15 minutes, since everyone else was getting gas too, only to pull forward when it was finally my turn and immediately get cut off by an elderly woman who laughed at me as she flipped me the bird. So that was ridiculous. But luckily for us and not so luckily for the Carolinas, Florence stayed south, so we’re just getting some drawn out gray days with a little more breeze than normal and on & off rain through the weekend.
Since it’s not really nice enough outside to do much of anything, but it’s certainly safe to travel in this area, we’re having a New Orleans style feast at Ally’s aunt and uncle’s house. Aunt Lori is making gumbo and cornbread, so we decided to make an appetizer that matched her theme. I think we all (sub-consciously or not), associate New Orleans with hurricanes since Katrina, so there’s that too I guess. Ally loves Emeril, so of course we turned to him for our appetizer inspiration. Crawfish beignets are a classic New Orleans festival treat, so we went with that – adapting our recipe from Emeril’s recipe for crawfish beignets, substituting shrimp for the crawfish, plus a few other little tweaks. Ours are a little spicier than Emeril’s too! If you were in New Orleans, you’d probably have these with remoulade on the side, but we decided to whip up a Lemon Aioli. Our Super Garlic Aioli would probably be delicious too!
As we were making and eating these, the question came up… Why are these beignets? A couple people remarked that they reminded them of the conch fritters you get in the Caribbean. So why aren’t these ‘fritters’? I googled it and literally the first line of the Wikipedia page on beignets says, “Beignet, synonymous with the English ‘fritter’…” So there we have it! These are beignets because they’re from French-Creole New Orleans!
Stay safe Carolina friends – we love you 🖤🖤🖤
- 2 tsp neutral oil
- 1 small red bell pepper, finely chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 10 oz fresh shrimp, coarsely chopped
- 1 tsp salt
- 8 turns fresh ground black pepper
- ~3/4 cup green onions, finely chopped (white & light green parts)
- 3 eggs
- 2 1/4 cups flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 cup milk
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 2 tsp cayenne
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- Vegetable or peanut oil, for frying
- Heat the 2 tsp of oil over medium heat in a medium sized pan. Once hot, add the garlic and bell pepper. Cook for 3-4 minutes until softened a bit.
- Now add the chopped shrimp and season the pan with the salt and pepper. Cook for another 2-4 minutes with the lid on until shrimp have lost their translucency. Remove from heat.
- In a large bowl, whisk the eggs together. Stir all of the remaining ingredients, except for the flour (and the ‘oil for frying,’ obviously), and the shrimp mixture into that bowl. Add the flour last, stirring as you go. Add the last 1/4 cup slowly, stopping if your mixture gets too thick.
- If you have deep fryer, whip that out, otherwise fill a tall-sided pot no more that 1/3 full with oil. Heat to 365 degrees.
- Once oil is hot, drop dough by spoonfuls into the oil. Do this in batches – don’t over-crowd the pot! Fry for ~3 minutes until golden and crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon to a wire rack or a paper towel lined dish. (Try to maintain the temperature of the oil – if it’s too hot the outside will crisp (burn) very quickly and the inside will remain raw.)
- When cool enough to handle, enjoy!
Makes ~ 2-3 dozen depending on size
Holy *^%$ yall! We made fried chicken! We took advantage of this gorgeous summer day and went on ahead and conquered another culinary fear… homemade fried chicken. Prior to making this tonight, I typed out: “I’m 99.999% certain that we can’t best KFC or any southern back road gas station’s fried chicken, but we’re going to try!” Well, we succeeded! I’m a little shocked actually… It even looks like the gorgeous, crispy-skinned chicken you might see when you’re out picking up a bucket!
After we decided to do this, I thought, who better to help us than Paula Deen…? If you google “southern fried chicken,” her recipe is the first recipe that shows up. I’m not going to lie… I don’t know that I’ve ever cooked Paula Deen before… her devotion to butter is slightly overwhelming. But it just seemed to be the right thing to do when learning to fry chicken. (Confirming our decision to try the Queen of Southern Cooking’s recipe was an article from Food52, where they tested the recipe.) We did tweak her recipe in a few places, which luckily worked out well. The main difference between our recipe and hers is the brine. We’ve been convinced by our reading to brine chicken prior to frying. I definitely think it helped to keep our chicken moist and flavorful!
Southern Fried Chicken
- ~2 lb bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces
- 1 gallon water
- 1 cup salt
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 eggs
- 1/3 cup water
- 2/3 cup hot sauce (we like Frank’s Red Hot)
- 2 cups self-rising flour (or 2 cups AP flour + 1 tbsp baking powder + 1/2 tsp salt)
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 15+ turns fresh ground black pepper
- Oil, for frying (we used peanut oil)
- Bring the ingredients for the brine to a boil to dissolve the sugar. Then remove from heat and let cool – all the way!
- Once the brining liquid is cool, submerge the chicken pieces and refrigerate for 12-24 hours. (We did a full 24h).
- Once ready to cook, remove chicken from brining liquid and pat dry. Let sit out until room temperature.
- Meanwhile, make two dishes of wet and dry dredging ingredients. Whisk together eggs, water, and hot sauce. In another bowl, sift together the flour, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.
- Pour oil into the pot you’ll use for frying. Don’t fill the pot more than 1/2 full of oil, but add enough to cover the chicken pieces. Heat to 350 degrees.
- Dredge the individual chicken pieces first in the wet bowl, then in the dry bowl. Repeat, dipping again in the wet, then dry bowls.
- Fry in batches until brown and crispy. [Paula says it should take 8-10 minutes for white meat and 13-14 minutes for dark meat.] Don’t crowd the pot!
Zucchini season may be over, but we can usually find decent looking ones in the fall around here. Sorry for not eating exactly seasonally, but you know what is perfectly fall-appropriate? A big bowl of soup! And what perfectly accompanies a nice big bowl of soup? Zucchini fritters. So in a roundabout way, zucchini fritters = fall food? Ok, maybe not, but we enjoyed them tonight anyway.
It’s easy to think of zucchini as a boring vegetable, zoodles excluded. (All the cool kids eat zoodles now ok? Including us – see “Chicken Lo Mein” Zoodles, Zoodles with Roasted Chickpeas, Caliente Chicken & Zoodles, French Onion Chicken Zoodles, & Mediterranean Cucumber-Zoodle Salad) They get mushy when you bake or sautee them too long, and no one likes mushy vegetables. Fritters are a lot easier to make than you think. Start to finish, less than 30 minutes, and you end up with a delicious side dish to any main course – we chose soup, but these would go great with roasted chicken or turkey. Try changing up the spices and herbs and see what you like best. This combo – onion, garlic, paprika, chili powder – isn’t spicy or overwhelming, but makes for a great dish with nice flavor.
Note: They way we made these, they’re browned and slightly crispy on the outside, but remain soft on the inside and a bit fragile. That’s because we wanted these to stay vegetable-heavy and to save a few calories. If you’d like a less fragile fritter, use more flour and/or bread crumbs and an additional egg to bind the mixture together more tightly.
- 2 medium zucchini
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsp flour
- 1 tsp granulated garlic
- 1 tsp granulated onion
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1/4 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar
- Salt & pepper
- 3 tbsp neutral oil
- Grate the zucchinis into a large bowl.
- Sprinkle with salt and allow to sit for 10+ minutes.
- Squeeze water out from the zucchini (you’ll be amazed at how much water you can get rid of!)
- Whisk up the egg and stir that in with the zucchini, along with all of the rest of the ingredients (using just a pinch of additional salt and a few grinds of black pepper), except for the oil.
- Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.
- Once oil is hot, form balls of the zucchini mixture in your hands, slightly smaller than the palm of your hand. Smush them into patties and drop into the hot oil.
- Fry on each side for 2-3 minutes until browned on both sides.
- Remove from pan to a paper-towel lined dish before serving to soak up a bit of the excess oil.
Makes 6 fritters