Let's start this post in our typically seditious fashion by watching this video of a Cote D'Ivoire cacao farmer who has never tasted chocolate though he has spent his life growing cacao beans. Two takeaways for me: one, profound sadness over the fact that due to colonization and oppression, many (most?) people all over the world will never get a chance to benefit from the fruits of their labor. Much akin to the construction workers in Mumbai who literally live in the construction sites of luxury buildings they will never set foot in again, too many people are ground up in the machine of consumption. On the other hand, this also brought a smile to my face if only in the sense of that despite the hardship, they were still able to smile and enjoy this, albeit small, sensory experience and smile about it.
Food for thought, literally.
Since this entire post is North African in theme, let's continue by listening to this:
mulukhiyah. Mulukhiya is the Corchorus plant, or jute, whose leaves are used in North African cooking. A bitter plant, it grows rather mucilaginous when cooked. If you had to look that word up, bone up on your GRE vocab, boys and girls :) While on dictionary.com, look up masticate, macerate, and mucus. Good :) Basically, the plant becomes slimy, like okra, when cooked--you will even see slime trails when you stir it with your spoon. Appetizing, I know. But you don't care about that! Why!? Because it is incredibly good for you! Health over everything--the leaves are rich in betacarotene, iron, calcium, Vitamin C and more than 32 vitamin and minerals! Heck, you feel healthy just looking at it. Stop whining and eat your greens!
As my friend Erin says, the Tunisian mulukhiya is "the best-tasting motor-oil-looking food I have ever had."
Now, usually, mulukhiya is prepared with a lot of meat, oil, or generally non-vegan-friendly ingredients. I took it upon myself to fix that.
Toni's Kidney Beans and Mulukhiya
The mulukhiya is sold frozen and for a whopping bank-breaker of $2. Gasp!
The way I came up with this version is from constantly making rajma. The process in this case actually matters a lot. I use a pressure cooker. You should really consider investing in one--saves a lot of time.
Soak kidney beans overnight, changing the water a couple of times. On the next day, in a pressure cooker, put both the kidney beans and the solid frozen rock of the mulukhiya inside with some water. Cook for maybe 5-10 minutes. In another pan, start caramelizing/browning very thinly-sliced ribbons of onions. Add some garlic after they have caramelized. Add cumin and coriander powders. Also, see if you can find some Aleppo pepper or what Whole Foods calls the "tagine spice blend." Another crucial ingredient--dried small lemons, often used in Persian cooking. If you cannot find those, use some lime--rind and juice. Some salt.
Once the kidney-mulukhiyah mix is ready, add the onions, etc. to it and cook all of this on a low temperature for a good while. This will definitely get rid of any sliminess, I promise.
Next, time to make some bulgur! You see, there is bulgur, and then there is bulgur...and well, then there is also Bulgar, like me, and vulgar too :) The bulgur in question is a Turkish bulgur. It is definitely not the kind used to make tabbouleh salad--the grains are significantly bigger and fatter. Now that you are at the Middle Eastern store, go ahead and get that too (see how I did that. Heh). It, too, is a whopping $2.69.
Saute shallots in olive oil. Add turmeric and fresh thyme. Add the bulgur and let the grains brown a little bit. At this point, you could put in some mushrooms or some red pepper paste or ajvar or roasted garlic or truffle powder (if you fancy) or really experiment with anything extra. Add water enough to cover the bulgur by at least two fingers of depth (very scientific measure, I know). Put on a really low heat and cover with a lid. It will be done when all the water has been absorbed.
All I can say about this is that even the pickiest eaters (and there are many) love this--I am talking skateboarders, graffiti artists, both... :) So, bulgur--for the Banskies in your life. :))
Finally, end with a sorghum-date cake. You would probably say, "Toni, this does not look appetizing!" My retort would be, "Umm, what do you expect for a gluten-free, vegan, low-fat and low-sugar dessert!" But in all seriousness, for being ridiculously healthy, this is not half-bad. I "invented" it because I love sorghum!
2 cups sorghum flour
5-6 dates (chopped)
a splash of orange blossom water
1-2 tsp. cardamom
the rind and the juice of one Meyer lemon (sweet lemon)
about 1/2C almond milk (unsweetened)
If the mix is a little too dense, add a little water. Bake at 375 until the top is set.
On the side, have some home-made bread with zaatar. Will tell you about how I always make my bread from scratch next time :)