Thanks to Melissa, I found out the Silk Road Gourmet. The blog is beautifully written and extremely informative, and a peak into the recipe’s list convinced me I needed to own the cookbook as well. I found the layout by countries very interesting, because I could quite easily find out that some of the spices and flavours combinations are very distinctive for a country’s tastes, even though many of the ingredients are common. I discovered quite quickly which are my favourite countries along this part of the road, possibly because it is easier to find good quality ingredients here, or for me to reproduce the original techniques, who knows. I already knew I love Iranian cooking. I unfortunately never had the chance to eat at an Iranian restaurant or to be invited for food at an Iranian house; the knowledge I have comes from books and blogs, of course. I’d love to have the chances to try the originals sooner or later, maybe in Iran itself, but I am quite happy with my home tries so far. I discovered I particularly liked Afghan cooking, also thanks to a delicious Afghani restaurant in my neighbourhood. The restaurant owner, and the unique waiter and cook I have seen so far, is a beautiful man in his … forties? fifties? He behaves like a real gentleman and makes every guest feel warmly welcome. The food is always very good and home style. The restaurant is a simple, cheap place in one of the ugly working class streets just off the city center. It is a large room and when you enter you forget immediately the post industrial grayness outside. With a clearly limited budget he manages to make the place look warm, welcoming and far away. The man has a real talent for it. And you just need to taste his divine soup, made with dill and garlic and chickpeas and chicken and I still don’t know what else, to be blown completely away.
Another country whose food I enjoyed immensely is Pakistan. I had the chance to try (possibly?) authentic Pakistani food only once. One of my dearest friend is Pakistani. He is an extremely intelligent, well learned man, and I could quite frankly say he is more western-oriented than I am. He is also totally chaotic in his daily life and resisted my pestering from some recipes of his home land without effort, claiming he is totally unable to cook. Then once we invited him over for a barbecue and made him promise he’d bring some food. He came at last, two hours late. He apparently spent hours at the phone with his mother, she painstakingly dictating every single of the many ingredients for the meat’s marinade and trying to find a viable substitute for unripe papaya, impossible to find in the UK. In the end he brought the food, we grilled it, and it was delicious. Thanks to a far away mum :)
Anyway, all this to say that maybe Pakistani recipes are the ones I repeat more often from the book, and in particular this one is a favourite.
It tastes like a real treat, and like a much more complex dish than it actually is. Once you become familiar with it you can have it baking in half an hour, less if you start with already cooked ingredients. I made a few minor tweaks to the original recipe to simplify and make it even lighter: for instance I found out that baking takes off a lot of mess because you don’t need so solid a kebab as for frying, and you can just forget them for 20 minutes in the oven while they cook, instead of devoting the attention full span needed for frying (and consequent cleaning). They are very good also when cold though I prefer them warm.
If you take the time to make them smaller, they are great party finger food. Otherwise, I usually serve them as a pretty starter or as a light ‘secondo’ after a pasta course, with a little green salad on the side.
Chicken, feta and potato kebabs
3 medium floury potatoes
100 gr feta
150 gr chicken breast or tight meat (leftover chicken, however cooked, is perfect)
1 small bunch coriander
1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
pinch chilli flakes, to taste
breadcrumbs for coating
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable (olive?) oil
Peel and cut the potatoes into chunks. Boil them in water until tender. If you have leftover boiled potatoes, you can use them. If you have any leftover cooked chicken you can use it as well. Just cut it into small chunks, or, if feeling very lazy, chop in a food processor. If cooking chicken from scratch, I usually use a pan with a little oil or grill it, then mince it.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. When you have boiled potatoes and minced or chopped cooked chicken, mix them in a bowl with an egg , ground coriander, salt, chilli flakes and chopped coriander. Crumble the feta roughly and mix it in carefully, trying not to break it too much. Form balls the size of a golf ball with the mixture and shape the kebabs with them. Pass the balls in breadcrumbs. Shake off the excess. Accommodate on a baking sheet covered with non stick paper, drizzle with oil and cook in the oven turning around once, until well golden on both sides.