Experiencing Food Tourism – at the Comfort of your Own Home

For me, traveling is synonymous with FOOD. Food is the vital representation of any culture. I’m sure many of you would agree with me; if you visit a new place and don’t get to taste their local cuisine, then you missed out a whole lot of your tourism experience at your destination.

Or it could be vice versa! Or can it be?

Like, I feel I have traveled some parts of the world (not literally) just by trying out their local food without visiting the country itself. Or how I would put it : “Get the Slice of Spice from Everywhere Nice!”

What if you can’t visit that country or simply can’t afford to? That doesn’t mean you can never know what their local favorites taste like! Thanks to all those websites and lovely food bloggers who zealously share the recipes which are readily available on internet.

But sometimes there comes a catch: you see a really tempting Google image of the food you want to cook but unfortunately, the recipe you are looking for is written in a foreign language you can not decipher.
I follow few Facebook pages or websites related to Arabic cuisine, but since English is not yet a common language in many Arab countries (particularly Saudi Arabia), I often end up just drooling at the picture as the recipe mentioned is in hardcore Arabic. Unfortunately, even the automated translator fails to translate the technical key words/ingredients properly. Such a bummer!

For sites that don’t use translation software, I wish they would come up with a translating app for consumers that is much more smart and would be more diverse verbally so I could experience ‘food tourism’ in a much better way… all that WHILE being at home because cooking new stuff does not intimidate me at all!

Flying Experience – Saudi Arabian Airlines

So many reasons I can put forward to explain my blogging hiatus. Don’t know about YOU but it would definitely bore me doing so. ( Don’t want to come off as a Whiner 😛 )

To be quick, here is a peek at one of the things I had done during this unforgivable long looong gap: Traveling!

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Good Ol’ Saudi Arabian Airlines hardly disappoints. Nothing is too lavish, neither unpleasant or uncomfortable. To be honest, I’m not the person who loves flying. Yes, I do love visiting places but certainly NOT being in a confined space in air, be it even for an hour. It could get worse if the person seated in front or behind or anywhere nearby does not mind their ‘stinky business’. And not to forget some noisy passengers like kids!

Luckily, I’m one of those few who have this gift of falling asleep in awkward positions (neck tilted, no head-rest) so I get to pass those crawling hours somehow.

Saudi Airlines has nice seating even in the economy class, footrest is a plus! Flight-attendants are nice, polite and certainly are helpful unlike the ones I encountered in other flight. There was this time I was traveling alone in an airline I don’t want to mention here, I had to load my hand-luggage in the overhead locker but I just could not because of course my luggage wasn’t that light for me to carry up that high. It was twice that despite of explaining the reason it wasn’t physically possible for me to load, that rude airhostess kept on pressurizing me to do it myself because “we are just too cool to help you”. Anyway, it was nice of one passenger to help me with that.

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So yea, I have never had an unpleasant experience with SA. However, last time I got this great opportunity to travel in the business class which was obviously an even better experience. For me, one of the few perks of flying apart from games and entertainment is anticipating the in-flight meals and snacks! I like how SA always provides hot towels to sanitize our hands before meals. I really dig that as I’m a hygiene freak!

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In business class, before the plane took off we were first refreshed with dates and Saudi kahva (coffee) with refills. Then when it was meal time we were furnished with the business class in-flight gourmet menu. It was a three-course with delicious options. And when the meal was served, my little table was a sight of delight!

And oh yes, I got my hands on the free issue of the fantastic “Sayidaty” in English – a Dubai based women’s magazine which normally costs SR 10 in KSA. 😀

Spanakorizo – Spinach Rice

Spinach.
Many of us might have childhood memories of scowling at the name in response to our anticipating question: “What’s in for dinner?”.
Watching Popeye The Sailor Man did us no better and the term ‘rich in iron’ spelled nonsense to us – we would still look at the green glop disapprovingly. Luckily, for me it became different as I grew up and let my tastebuds discover how yummy spinach can be.

Frozen spinach is abundantly available in Saudi Arabia all year round. And frozen form makes cooking easier and quicker as you don’t have to go through the process of cleaning, chopping, washing and blanching, etc.
I recently tried this recipe which is inspired from traditional Greek cuisine, called Spanakorizo. Typically, has ingredients like onions, dill, pepper and lemon, besides spinach and rice.

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I went with a little desi (indo-paki) approach since we like our food a bit spiced up.  Here are the ingredients:

    • 2½ cup Basmati Rice
    • 400g Frozen Spinach – thawed
    • ¼ cup fresh Dill- chopped
    • 2 Onions – chopped
    • 2 tbsp Garlic Ginger – crushed
    • 3 sticks of Green Chillies – chopped
    • 2 tbsp Lemon juice
    • Salt
    • Olive Oil
    • Water

Spices

  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 1 stick Cinnamon
  • 2 pc Star Anise
  • 1 Black Cardamom
  • 3 Green Cardamoms
  • 5-6 Black Peppercorns
  • 1 tbsp Cumin
  • 1 tsp Fennel seeds

 

Method:

  1. Boil rice with some salt until half-cooked. Drain. Set Aside.
  2. Heat oil slightly. Add all the spices except cumin and fennel seeds. Fry for few seconds.
  3. Add onions, ginger and garlic. Sauté lightly at medium heat.
  4. Now add cumin and fennel seeds and fry for few more seconds.
  5. Add spinach and mix well. Cook for 5 mins. Keep stirring. Pour in lemon juice and some salt.
  6. Add dill. Mix.
  7. Stir in the half-cooked rice. Mix well. Now cover and let it sit on steam for 5 mins at very low heat.

Spinach and rice make awesome combo! The addition of spices makes the dish even more aromatic. I served it with yogurt dip which went great with it. But I have even seen Feta cheese being served with it in traditional recipes.

 

Flavorful Casserole Baked in a Toaster Oven

Hi ya all! It’s been a while I know.. my full-time work won’t let me be regular.. uhh..

Anyway, I want to share this awesome trick of using a toaster oven for baking. Yes, if you are like me – the idea of using gas oven intimidates you and you can’t accommodate another large appliance like electric oven at your home – then this one is for you!

It was one of those days when I was making red sauce pasta (my whole family LOVES that) when I got this sudden craving for having cheesy, crispy, slightly burnt Lasagna. Then I had this idea of trying out my toaster oven which I never tried for baking purpose before. I didn’t have the pasta sheets though that time but I knew I could make-do with things already available for pasta casserole and still have the wholesome-ness of Lasagna.

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So here are the following steps with which I made this toaster baked casserole:

I don’t usually go by the book, so I have no strict measurements. but I will still try my best to recall with proximity.

SAUCE

  • Fry until golden.. 5-6 garlic cloves (crushed) and the diced white part of green onion..  in 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Add 3 tomatoes chopped, fry until they turn into a smooth puree
  • Add a little water according to the consistency requirement, just don’t make it too runny
  • Sprinkle in some dried oregano, basil and salt
  • I also finished it off with ready-made pasta sauce with artichokes
  • Top it with green onion  in the end

 

PASTA

  • Until the desired tenderness has been obtained, boil some pasta ( I prefer different shapes) along with few spaghetti strands (optional)
  • Add some salt and butter while it’s boiling
  • Strain

 

CASSEROLE

  • In a small casserole dish, make a layering with the following steps: sauce, pasta, sauce, mozzarella cheese and repeat
  • I like the last layering of cheese to be very dense
  • In a preheated toaster oven, let the casserole bake for 15 mins, you will see the topping has got the nice toasted look
  • Dash a little more mozzarella and bake for another 5 mins… this will melt the cheese but won’t completely toast it – gives a little “creamy color” which goes well in contrast with all the reds and golden
  • Before serving, garnish with some more dried oregano, a dash of paprika and some fresh thyme leaves

TIP

  • You can even include in bechamel sauce for a more creamy taste.. I didn’t have time to make that so I skipped it but would surely do it next time

 

It was really scrumptious with all the flavors of herbs blended in. I just wished it was a bigger dish so that my family could have it heartily.

Okay, one important thing I learned through my online research is that it is better you use ceramic or aluminium bakeware because I read some cases of glassware or Pyrex shattering in toaster oven!
Also, not all dishes can fit into the small capacity of toaster oven, so if you have this appliance then a bakeware dish that can fit into this oven is a MUST! There are so many easy dishes you can make with this little guy, I’m still exploring.

Have you tried using toaster oven for baking purpose?