Monday, June 25, 2012

Petra Kitchen: A Jordanian Cooking School

The Treasury, Petra, Jordan
The Treasury, Petra, Jordan

The ancient stone city of Petra, in Jordan, was proclaimed one of the 7 Wonders of the World on an updated 2010 list. Rightfully so, I’d say. The sprawling 400-acre complex overwhelms the senses and is truly one of those places you have to experience for yourself.  

Anticipation builds as you walk through the Sig, a mile-long pathway snaking through 250-foot salmon colored boulders.  I imagined ancient traders as I traced their steps over the route; a ravine that narrows to a few feet and occasionally opens to broader sunlit expanses.   

My heart rate rose when I finally spied a corner of the Treasury, a facade whose beauty is more breathtaking than imagined, better than any IMAX film could ever capture.  I stood awe-struck with my mouth agog in humble reticence to the massive achievement. 

The ruins of Petra encompass many more buildings, tombs and an amphitheater; my twelve exhausting hours were not enough.  If you get a chance to visit Jordan, include at least two days in what is often called, “The Red-Rose City half as old as time.”

Petra Kitchen
Petra Kitchen
If you extend a stay, you can participate in a cooking class in the Petra Kitchen.  I recall this class as one of the most memorable activities of my trip. A traditional Jordanian meal is prepared and then enjoyed.   

Students work at tables under the direction of Chef Tariq Nawafleh and local assistants. They chop and mix ingredients for soup, hot and cold mezza, salads, plus the main course.  The evening I attended the menu consisted of Shourbat Adas or Lentil Soup, Baba Ganuj, Tahini salad, Fatoosh (a name we enjoyed saying) or cucumber and tomato salad, Galaya Bandura, Salat Khyar or cucumber and yogurt salad and Bedouin Pizza, the bread.
Working in the Petra Kitchen
Working in the Petra Kitchen

Students work under a watchful eye, Petra Kitchen
Students work under a watchful eye.

We also enjoyed sipping wine during the preparation and dinner, something not the norm in Jordan.

Uncovering Magluba, Petra Kitchen
Uncovering the Magluba
Our entrée was Magluba, a meal described as “company’s coming, but not for a grand special occasion.” The dish is a combination of roasted eggplant, cauliflower, chicken pieces (including the bones), rice and spices. The cooking pot is inverted onto a serving tray just before serving which makes a memorable presentation.  Magluba is usually eaten by mixing a portion of the rice with a dollop of yogurt and a spoonful of Arabic salad.

The cooking class produced many laughs, wonderful camaraderie, a better understanding of Jordanian meals and methods… and way too much delicious food. Although we didn’t bake baklava, we somehow found room to nibble pieces served along with Bedouin tea at the end of the feast.
Students enjoy a Jordanian meal at the Petra Kitchen
Students enjoy a Jordanian meal at the Petra Kitchen

Recipe: Magluba or Upside Down Meal
From: The Petra Kitchen

3 lbs. large round eggplants
3 lbs. cauliflower
2 lbs. chicken meat on the bones
1 ½ cup long grain rice, soaked
¼ cup butter
½ teaspoon turmeric
1-teaspoon cumin
4 cups water
1-teaspoon salt
½ cup pine nuts
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2-½ cups vegetable oil
1-teaspoon black pepper

1.      Peel and dice the eggplants.
2.      Cut cauliflower into cubes using both flowerets and white stalks.
3.      Fry eggplant and cauliflower in hot oil until golden brown.  Drain.
4.      Wash meat. Place in a cooking pot and add water.  Bring to a boil.
5.      Simmer on low heat for 40 minutes.
6.      Wash the rice several times and drain well.
7.      Remove meat from the pot.  Strain the meat stock.
8.      Cover the bottom of a soup pot with 2 teaspoons uncooked rice, and arrange the meat over the rice.
9.      Arrange eggplant and cauliflower over the meat cubes and along the sides of the pot.
1.     Add the remaining rice over the eggplant and cauliflower.
1.     Slowly pour in the hot meat broth, without disturbing the layers of ingredients.
1.     Cover and cook over low heat 40 minutes.
1.     Invert the pot over a large serving dish to empty contents “upside down.”
1.     Carefully remove the pot to preserve shape of dish.
1.     Serve hot, garnished with pie nuts.

For further information: 

Monday, June 18, 2012

7 Reasons I Love Vidalia Onions

Beautiful Vidalia onions

Yes, Virginia,

Georgia has an official state vegetable: the Vidalia onion.  By law, Vidalia onions can only be grown in a 20-county area in the southeastern part of the state, rather like champagne from France. In fact, only about one hundred farms produce the entire crop of the prized culinary treat.

Yumion, the Vidalia Onion Mascot
So why  do I love  Vidalia onions?

11.     Vidalia onions don’t have a harsh taste or strong flavor. They are sweet due to the low sulfur levels in the Georgia soil.  

22.     Vidalia onions won’t leave you with onion breath. They are mild, not hot.

33.     Vidalia’s are uniform in size with flattened tops and bottoms, so cut slices match in size and shape--perfect for hamburgers and onion rings.   

44.    Vidalia onions don’t make you cry.  Well now, if you peel enough you’re likely to shed a tear, but if I slice one Vidalia, I don't need a tissue.

55.     Vidalia onions are easy to peel. They are shipped with just a thin layer of skin.

66.    Vidalia onions are an annual crop and sold when fresh.  When the crop runs out, Vidalia’s are gone until next year. But, they will keep for a while in a cool, dry place.

77.     Vidalia onions can be served raw or cooked in a variety of  recipes from onion soup to sweet onion strudel. Think relishes, salsas, hot sauces, seafood sauces, salads and salad dressings, dips, baked, caramelized, fried, grilled, sautéed.

The Georgia only Vidalia crop typically becomes available in mid-April and is shipped nationwide to all 50 states.  
Caramelized Vidalia Onions

Here's a short video on Vidalia onions in the processing plant.

For more information:

Vidalia Area Convention and Visitors Bureau
100 Vidalia Sweet Onion Drive
Vidalia, Georgia 30474