Tuesday, August 31, 2010

meatballs and spaghetti

This has to be one of the great American classics, Italian spaghetti and meatballs. It's really not that hard to do. And it's a great staple for a ramadan dinner, or any other meal. The meatballs have bread crumbs, meat, egg, parmesan cheese and are cooked in a homemade tomato sauce. Like any good italian sauce, it doesn't have to be too saucy. But the right amount of olive oil, along with the evaporated juice of the tomatoes, coat the pasta just right and leave almost nothing on the plate.

Friday, August 27, 2010


When I make a nice roast, I always make sure I make enough for the meal itself and a lot extra for leftovers. That goes for the gravy as well.

There's nothing I like more than nice toast, some sliced roast, a bit of shredded lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise, dijon mustard and a good amount of gravy. Also, sometimes some cheese is nice. Classic sandwiches are classic for a reason. Like they say, if it ain't broken, don't fix it. Make sure you have some extra gravy to dunk the sandwich in.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Also known as celery root, this is a vegetable I've seen used in many sources. When you first look at it, you'll find it kind of ugly looking, verging on the grotesque. But don't be fooled. It's a staple in french cooking in simple dishes such as shredded celeriac-mayonnaise salads to being using as a root vegetable in stews. It has a taste and aroma very much like celery but deeper and more mellow. It also works as a great element to add to mashed potatoes, giving it a nice mellow sweetness that gives great contrast to a nicely roasted joint of meat.

Celeriac has a very rough outer layer that has to be cut off... it's too thick of a skin to peel. On the inside, you'll find the edible mass of the vegetable. Be careful, though, as it browns fairly quickly. so if you don't return it to a ziplock bag as soon as possible, just rub with some lemon slices. It's got the consistency of a potato, but a bit more stringy. As soon as it's cooked, the stringy quality goes away. However, it can be eaten raw or cooked.

This is a simple beef stew I tried to make with the celeriac. I put the mirepoix, i guess, with the celeriac substituting for celery. I braised the stewing meat cubes along with the vegetables for a couple of hours and this is the stew I got. I may have put in some potatoes, since the celeriac, carrots and onions all became sweet after cooking in juices for a while, caramalizing nicely. I did offset with thyme and some cayenne pepper. It was a satisfying meal.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I learned about bagels when I lived in the states. It was a perfect breakfast to grab at 7:30 am, just before getting into work in the summer. sesame bagel with spinach cream cheese, with a really good iced late. it was perfect. I could almost eat it every day. Some days I was more hungry, so I would have a bagel with scrambled eggs; today I would add hollandaise sauce to the eggs, maybe with small tomatoes. Or I would stuff it with hummus, grilled vegetables, blanched bean sprouts and onions... the possibilities are almost endless.

A good bagel, to me, holds well and tastes best when fresh and warm. I would slice it in half and put it in the toaster. There are many recipes for bagels out there, but I like the simple ones, without the potato starch and other unnecessary elements. I like simple things... and bagels are definitely some of the things I like the most.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

iron chef battle sushi

Iron chef plays a huge role in my understanding of food. From ingredients and their creative combination to composition of plates and meals, I owe a lot to the cumulative information I gained after watching almost every battle that took place in kitchen stadium. I keep on referring to the show when i come across new ingredients available to me - such as chinese taro potatoes that I saw in the chabra the other day. I do have to say that I do not like the american implementation of iron chef where the chairman of the gourmet academy's 'nephew' takes over as MC. The japanese show does not require the chefs to produce five dishes - sometimes too much is too much... the food is the focus in the japanese version, not as social as the american version.

This sushi battle represents a dichotomy between the challenger's traditional edo-style sushi and iron chef morimoto's modern sensibilities. From the way the eel is flavoured to the way kelp is used, the fundamental essences of the food, and what works best for and with them, are maximized by using modern techniques and flavours. The you tube video is part one of five.

Monday, August 16, 2010

strawberry shortcake

At this time of year, we all develop a habitual sweet tooth. There's nothing wrong with it, in fact it's a great way to end the meal. Yesterday, we experimented with strawberry shortcake. It's really not that hard to make, and simple recipes are usually the most delicious.

A layer of buttery homemade shortbread lightly brushed with a strawberry glaze is covered by fresh strawberries. Before serving, more of the glaze and some freshly whipped cream are applied. Each of the elements are distinct yet harmonized, the best bite is the one that is not missing a strawberry that may have slipped. I'm sure commercial bakeries put some gelatin into the jam to let it set and also would stop it from soaking the shortbread.

Sometimes, the ingredients are only best the moment when they are meant to be combined, so if you attempt a similar dish, eat it on the spot and leave no leftovers. Trust me, it's worth it.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

magical drinking potion by heston blumenthal

I was watching Discovery Science one day and saw a very interesting show, Kitchen Science. Its presenter, Heston Blumenthal, is the owner and chef of what is considered one of the top restaurants in the world, The Fat Duck. In that show, he discussed various ingredients and provided several examples to illustrate the effectiveness of the ingredient in various aspects, from mood to molecular composition that pertains to structure of the food, its taste, its texture and so on. Over the years, I have watched everything he has produced for television and read one of his books several times. As he named the show on which the book was based, Heston is always "In Search of Perfection" in the food he creates. A researcher in what many call molecular gastronomy, Blumenthal uses his technological advantages to make apparent the gesture that is the true spirit of the dish. In the following video, a magical potion that appears in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. Notice how he uses several key processes to recreate something that Lewis Carroll probably never thought would be realized.

chabra jumla visit


The "chabra" is a universe of its own, a principal institution of Kuwaiti culinary development since 1976. Located in Shuwaikh industrial area, off the charcoal roundabout, this campus of fresh fruit and vegetable vendors supplies Kuwait with a great variety of local and imported materials.

My aim with this post is to start a monthly visit to the chabra in order to assess seasonality as well as interesting products and trends in the market.

My trip to Shuwaikh started at about 10:00 am and took me to a surprisingly active scene, for a Ramadan weekend morning. Once we found our way around, we came upon the "jumla," or bulk, section. It is connected to the indoor market, right after it on your right, after you come in from the main entrance. It is a world of fairly similar vendors selling fairly similar products. Quite similar to the way shops usually are in specialized shopping centres, they seem to be owned by a key vendors who simply have a plethora of small vendor shops, related to the modules established by the authorities that built the building at its establishment. Out of the similarity, however, you will find that one vendor cares more about his products and you buy from his because his product simply looks better. It's important to take a look around first then choose; eventually, you will train yourself into knowing which product to buy upon first glance. Apparently, the best time to go to the chabra is at 5 or 6 in the morning so that you can catch the latest deliveries from the chilled trucks. Especially in the heat of the summer and its natural ventilation into this chabra space, freshness of the products must always be considered. Professional vendors recommend that all ripened fruit and vegetables should be stored and handled at 4 degrees C until a maximum of two hours before final cooking or eating. Quite honestly, I would not recommend that you buy the eggs that are displayed on the periphery of the jumla section, facing the street, as they are directly exposed to and heated by the intense sunshine. I would hardly assume that these eggs are safe to eat.

One of the first things we noticed was the monopolization of garlic by chinese products. Not only are they dry, but they are also a lot more costly than before. Vendors had heaps of boxes of these sub-standard products. This is worrisome as we have to wonder where all the other choices went. I am afraid that this reduction in quality will become the standard.

Summer fruits were everywhere, mostly from Turkey, Lebanon and Syria. I remember in previous years how we used to get really nice fruit from Iran, including forms of melons that I'd never seen before, to which I still have fond memories. In the picture above, notice the prickly pears, the grapes and the figs. I purchased some of the prickly pears and the figs and I was quite impressed by their quality. However, I have to note that in most of the vendors' displays, much of the fruit was not properly ripened and required further storage until the right time. I assume this is a standard in the "jumla" trade. I will have to investigate the other market, where products are available at much higher per-unit costs, intended for individuals.

These Saudi lemons impressed me because they were rough, unpolished and contained various sizes. To me, this looks like a genuine effort of a natural farm. I appreciate the natural finish of agricultural products - they have let nature take its course and have not tried to industrialize the agricultural process by means of chemicals, waxes and forced growth periods. These sun-flushed lemons will work well, I hope. I was inspired to conduct two tests in the near future on lemons. I hope to collect a sample of at least three or four popular lemons in Kuwait while making lemon sorbet and lemon curd. I will also preserve the lemons, a process that takes 2-3 weeks, which I will document and submit to you upon completion.

As an homage to my previous post, I thought this wall of onions very interesting and combines my two main fields of interest: food and the physical environment.

By the time I came back to the herbs area, most of the vendors had gone to pray and so we decided to curtail our visit and return to investigate them in the future.

The economy of buying bulk vegetables showed its worth as we were leaving. 30 KD worth of vegetables could barely be squeezed into the boot of the car. We thanked the man who rolled around around our purchases as we perused the available products. I subsequently decided to visit a food outlet that contrasts completely with my chabra experience. I spent 37 KD on items that I could carry in one hand, although in 4 paper bags. I asked myself if it was worth it. For the most part, yes. While some vital items can easily be purchased at the chabra, others cannot. I have to indulge myself every once in a while by getting some of my favourite cheeses, breads, condiments and meats. Life is about balance, isn't it?

I must say that I was inspired by my chabra visit. I found some items that will be the subject of discussion and study in the coming month. I will have an updated chabra post this month that will cover the fresh greens - perhaps I will make a nice marag shabzy soon - and a search for better garlic. Although I was surpised and impressed by the chioce of three apparent types of potato, I was expecting more out of my critical discovery of the place.

A typical government-built building from the 70's, I quite like that the design of the shed, which is the literal translation of "chabra," relies on natural lighting and ventilation - the structural beams become light diffusers, bringing a harmonic and socially relevant demarcation of the public space.

Who monitors the products and who demands their quality? Why do I have distinct memories of much better fruit and vegetables in the past? I would like for a group of people to be interesting in raising standards in Kuwait. This really applies to all aspects of civic life in Kuwait, from our streets, the programmatic functioning of space to the food we eat on our tables. I feel as though if we continue to eat chinese garlic and humdrum tomatoes, we will be losing out on the potential of food in the regional market. Also, do we have any kind of independent markets of local farms, like a farmers' market of Kuwait? I am not aware of this, and I was hoping that I would make interesting discoveries at the chabra. But I was slightly disappointed.

Friday, August 13, 2010


Onions are used in so many of our dishes. We often take them for granted and use them out of customary practice. I, for one, am a big fan of onions. Whether cooked, raw or to give an accent, onions just work. There are four major types of onions that I commonly use on an almost daily basis: the common bulb onion, the shallot, the spring onion, and the leek. Each offers a unique set of chemicals that do their job well.

Today, I will focus on the applications of onions more and name just a few key examples that rely on the onion to create one of the fundamental, but subtle, overtones.

As a solution to remove the edginess of onions, they should be cooked. If you want the most minimal amount of cooking, then blanch them for about 20 to 30 seconds and use them in salads, sandwiches and other applications when you need near-raw onions.

Onions have a natural sugar that caramelizes when heated. In the photo above, I quickly charred the cut ends of these small onions before putting them in a stockpot with other ingredients in order to give the stock a browner colour. It also seems to enhance the overall flavour of the stock.

I also like onions as a side dish to a steak. Sliced into large rings and cooked very slowly for a minimum of half an hour with some butter, with salt and pepper, this to me is a perfect dish on its own.

Leeks are also great to use. As above in this leek and taleggio pie with sprigs of fresh rosemary, the subtle sweetness and milder onion hints maintain their strength against the velvety cheese and softness of the homemade pie crust. Leeks can also be used successfully in soups and many other dishes.

Much of Western cooking uses a mirepoix, the "holy trinity" of onion, carrots and celery, as a core flavour. This is also the mix of vegetables I use under a carcass if roasting in the oven, later to be used to flavour the gravy. In this case, they hoist the ribs of beef and allow for the fat to be drained prior to incorporating the vegetables into the gravy.

When discussing onions, the topics are almost limitless, as they are such versatile root vegetables that have stood the test of time and are still as popular globally as they ever were. Also considered a healthy vegetable, the onion seems to be effective in this regard when eaten or used raw.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

review: pataya beach restaurant

Pataya Beach Restaurant
Thai Food 


Pros: excellent, freshly prepared food; good menu selection; convenient; relaxed and casusal
Cons: early closing time; location needs updating (dining area)
Timings: daily, 10:30 am to 8:00 pm - last order at 7:30
Contact: 22408052
Dine-out options: pick-up only, no deliveries
Location: Mezzanine level, Duwaliya building, Kuwait City, accross from Muthana Complex. 29°22'3.72"N  47°57'58.90"E 

Recommended: Yes
Vegetarian Friendly: Yes
Recommendations: #19, #21, #30 beef, kailan - but everything is good
Mood: Casual

What I usually look for in a place to eat is a comfortable setting and really good food. Pataya beach restaurant, located on the mezzanine level of the Duwaliya building, across the street from Muthana Complex, behind Rakan tower, is a favourite of mine. I remember it being around for many, many years, and it has maintained a quality of fresh ingredients and flavourful dishes.

A great respite from the bustle of the city, this hidden treasure is a bit of a diamond in the rough. It is very relaxed, the service is efficient and friendly but isn't over-engaging, until you become a regular and they memorize your typical menu selection based on who you're with. What can I say, I go to this place very often. I have given the service a rating of 4 because it is more relaxed and social, not formal like an upscale restaurant that imparts a deliberate sense of service.

It's appearance both from the outside and the inside is nothing special. In fact, it shows its age, with metal chairs, mirrored surface and thai tourism posters everywhere. Unless to you, appearances really do matter, don't be deceived, the kitchen is clean and the food is excellent. They don't play music at Pataya, but rather they keep the television playing thai channels - and this is perfectly acceptable. Years ago, they used to play karaoke videos. I miss those days, but with time things are bound to change.

There really isn't much more to say about this place apart from a more detailed discussion on the food. Their menu has a broad range of dishes, ranging from soups, salads, curries, and I have to say that I've been happy with everything I've ordered. However, I am not much of a seafood eater, so I haven't tried everything available. I know that many of the ingredients are flown in once a week directly from Thailand, and this affects availability of certain dishes sometimes (see the curry section below).

Pictured above is one of the appetizers I order without fail, glass noodle salad with chicken. The balance between sour, spicy, sweet and salty is so well maintained. Glass noodles, minced chicken, coriander and shallots swim in an abundant spicy citrus-based sauce. No matter what you've eaten before that day, this dish reawakens your appetite, or calms you down if you walk in ready to eat a horse. It works really well in summer and winter.

The phad thai is really good, but is a bit more moist than it is served in other thai restaurants in kuwait. It seems as though the peanuts are crushed very finely and incorporated into the tamarind and fish-sauce sauce. I really don't mind this at all, and is a nice non-spicy dish you can use to offset the spicy ones.

The red curry with coconut milk is honestly one of my all-time favourites. With steamed rice, this fulfills me on so many levels. I could eat this dish every day and be happy. If you're lucky enough for the restaurant to have kailan (kale) in oyster sauce available, which they usually do, then you will have the perfect accompaniment to this curry. 

The beef-pepper-garlic dish is an excellent choice if you're not in the mood for something too spicy. It wafts with fragrant overtones of garlic, soy sauce and other spices. It is a mellow dish that is a great example of comfort food.

I know that sometimes I sound as if I have been paid to review this restaurant, but I am honestly a great fan of this restaurant. Sure, the interior and tableware could be improved, but I like it the way it is. There really aren't too many places that serve food you know was prepared only for you. I like not caring about anything but eating good food when I go to Pataya.

I cannot recommend this place more. I remember this place with fondness and hope that they keep on going for as long as they can. To me, this is definitely one of the best restaurants that I never get tired of in Kuwait.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Composition isn't only something visual. There is composition of textures, of tastes, of aromas... what works with what? While dealing with visual art, composition can be easily defined and understood; does an object or field successfully define a context or arrangement, and how does it do it? does it rely on the use of shape, colour, form and texture? does it appeal to the viewer and does it mean anything? 

While we might be able to consider the visual arrangement of a plate, this is not the kind of composition of food that I am talking about here. As shown above, dinner consisted of nice steaks, seasoned only with salt and pepper, a plain risotto flavoured simply with grana padano cheese and a simple spinach salad, which had shavings of the same cheese, but in raw form. These things, put together, made me happy. I felt content. Considering that what's on the plate is only a temporary arrangement, the memories of the eating experience are what lingered. The steak, risotto and salad formed a harmony: protein, gel and something of contrasting texture. 

LIke the composition of music, patterns of various elements make up the experience of the meal that is remembered after the fact. When you're listening to music, at any one static point, all you will hear is one or a few overlapped, layered elements. Sustain that static sound and you will get a headache, but when you unravel the elements and patterns, you will discern the various components that are composed to form the track or song. Similarly to music, each element in a meal or dish should stand on its own - the eater will try each element alone and then try various combinations. The intricacies of each of the elements should have markers that will relate to other elements. What I mean is that the interplay between the elements should have some aspects of balance as well as, at more minute scales, episodes of self-referenciality.

So is composition necessary or vital? To me, it is. I can't go to a restaurant any more and order one dish by itself. I need the variety, the complexity of the eating experience in which i traverse some kind of journey. When i say complexity, I do not mean that 10,000 different elements should be put on one plate, but rather it relates to the clarity and independence of each of the elements. Each element should be prepared on its own merits. The meat should be cooked perfectly, the risotto should be just slightly al dente and the salad should be crispy and fresh. Now, these are all elements that are naturally well coordinated. But imagine a dish made of potatoes, for instance. I would try to express the natural flavours in its various forms: I would think about how I can put together various textures and tastes that would complement each other. Out of the potato, how can i create instances of mushiness, crunchiness, glassy states, greenness (raw flavour), and how would I put them together? This process indicates my thoughts about the ingredient(s) I am using. Otherwise, if i were to have a course of small dishes, each of which are focused on a theme ingredient, such as potatoes, how would i distinguish each plate so that it is remember in the sequence that it was presented in? how would i form the beginning, middle and end of the experience? this is the consideration that goes into planning a meal.


Sometimes I want to eat what's fresh and seasonal. Sometimes modern agricultural technologies provide me with autumnal vegetables in the summer and, you know what, sometimes it's great.

Mushrooms are, I find, one of the more controversial vegetables, or rather fungi. Seems like people either really like them or don't like them at all. I wouldn't be discussing them if I didn't like them. There are so many kinds of mushrooms that I like, and i appreciate them all. In Kuwait, our selection is a bit limited because we don't have the woods nearby where these great undergrowth-dwellers reside. Instead, we get them flown over from Holland usually and are given the selection of white mushrooms, portobellos or crimini (baby portobellos.) From some small markets downtown, I can sometimes find inoki, oyster and a variety of dried asian mushrooms. Given this lack of selection, we have to be creative in how to use them.

The photo above is of portobellos that i served with steak once. For me, the goal is to get the mushrooms cooked to the best texture. Here, i cooked the mushrooms very slowly in olive oil, worcestershire sauce, honey, soy sauce and chili flakes. Using the same kind of marination, the best results I've reached were through smoking the mushrooms whole at a low smoke temperature - that imparted a nice smoky taste from the wood chips i used. I also like these giant mushrooms very basically marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and garlic and grill them on the barbecue.

Another great application is a mushroom risotto - and I could actually get away with making a vegan version of this risotto by making sure that i put as much mushroom flavour into the dish and using as many different kinds of mushroom to give the variety of flavours and textures that make the dish interesting. And here is a recipe for that:

  • about 2.75 litres of water
  • a mix of dried and fresh mushrooms - make sure to rinse them first to remove the gritty grains of soil. But especially with the dried ones, don't soak them - you want to retain the mushroom taste for the stock.
  • a big leek, a carrot and a stick or two of celery
  • a few black peppercorns
  • Combine the ingredients in a pot. Bring to a boil then reduce to just simmering, or slightly bubbling. cook for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened. Drain and reserve the stock. Keep warm for the risotto cooking process in a separate pan.
  • stock (above)
  • 400 g carnaroli or arborio rice
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • one large white onion chopped very small - so that the pieces are the same size as the rice
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar (wine substitute)
  • about 750 g of a selection of mushrooms, cut into various sizes. this is variable and will depend on your preference and available kinds of mushrooms.
  • a handful of parsley, chopped. 
  • salt and pepper - to taste
The mix of mushrooms you choose will depend on what you have on hand or could manage to find. Note that the different mushrooms will have different cooking times - so if the mushrooms are tough, like trumpet mushrooms, then they should go in early, while frail mushrooms should go in a bit before the end. However, be careful that you watch out for the moisture of the dish as you cook it - mushrooms release quite a bit of moisture content - you don't want soup, you want risotto. Since this is a vegan dish, you want more mushrooms. There will be no parmesan and butter to give creaminess to the dish. the stock should be kept warm on a burner next to the one you will use to cook the risotto. have a ladle ready to transfer some stock incrementally through the cooking process.
  1. in a heavy-based pan, sautee the onions in the olive oil over a moderate heat. continue for 6 or so minutes until the onions are softened but not coloured. 
  2. add the rice and continue to heat until the rice is crackling and ready to drink the stock. maybe 2-3 minutes. again, make sure no colouring goes on.
  3. add the rice vinegar and 2 ladles of stock. they should boil furiously upon contact. i usually add some diced white mushrooms at this point.
  4. keep stirring the risotto and add a ladle of stock as it dries out. However, never let the rice dry out. you want a nice thick sauce to always surround your rice. keep this up for about 15 minutes or so - until the rice is done but still has a little bit of a bite. As you go, throw in a handful or two of your sliced mushrooms. I like to add them as I cook to have a variety of textures.
  5. Once you've finished your rice, and there is still a nice sauce around it, turn off the heat. let it rest a couple of minutes, then add the parsley, salt and pepper and serve. 
It's as simple as that.

dried limes

I don't like a marag (tomato-based stew) if it isn't sour. Not a strong sourness, but an element that heightens the aromas of the tomatoes and spices and brings a more profound harmony to the dish. Lemons are too sweet, dried limes work perfectly. Their essence is more than just that of limes, though - it also has a slightly mulled aroma which is so subtle but is such a pivotal undertone to this ingredient.

Wash them well and puncture a few holes on the surface and allow the dried limes to steep in a warm liquid for a while. This works well in teas, soups, stews... I even tried adding them to some lamb that i braised in the oven. Excellent results again. I have to reiterate how much I really like this ingredient.

Another way to use them is to break them up into a powder - just make sure you remove the bitter seeds from the inside of the dried lime before you pulverize them in a grinder. Add to some oil with some other spices to use as a rub. Good for all kinds of meats, fowl and seafood and grill.

I would also consider using them in some kind of sauce to go with Vietnamese spring rolls. But i'd have to make sure that there's some sweetness as well. If i were considering a regional inspiration, I wonder how it would taste with puree of dates and soy sauce. The thai concept of harmony in food is a great one. sweet + salty + sour + spicy (+ umami.)

Dried limes were invented in Oman and have spread throughout the region and northern india.

a start

Dear readers,

Welcome to my blog. Here, i will focus on eating and cooking mostly in Kuwait. The content is not simply related to dining experiences, which I will cover, but it will also include discussions on ingredients, seasonality, cooking techniques and other issues both local and global that emerge.

Food is obviously essential to our existence, but when we say "this food is good" and "i'm not eating that," we are imparting our judgment, which is one of the most subjective and personal opinions that we form. There are various levels of judgment related to one's opinion on food, most of which are formed by contextual socialization and personal point of view (the classic nature vs nurture dilemma.) We all have our limits - it is true that each of us has a unique set of taste receptors and that our equally unique body chemistry may dictate what we like and what we don't. Some of us will say that something is too salty while others will say that it needs more salt; some like coffee, others like tea; some like seafood, some don't.

so what is good food? I'm not quite sure that I can define it from the onset, I hope a notion will emerge as a culmination of our discussions. But this is my blog and I will assure you that I will try to approach my postings and reviews with a critical point of view, leaning towards what i think good food is. My criticisms usually draw out both the good and the bad. Also, my interests in food are very deep and wide. I enjoy eating it, I enjoy cooking it then eating it, i like to read and study about it and I am very interested in what others have to say about it. I hope that this effort can be fruitful for us all.