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Help with a dinner menu using limited equipment and ingredients

I am in Cairo with a pretty poorly furnished kitchen, and I am having several people over to dinner on Friday. All the pots and pans (2 frying pans - one small one large-ish, two pots one medium, one large-ish) are the cheap aluminum kind that burn things really quickly. I have two pryrex flat bakers (but I haven't tried the oven yet), a small cookie sheet, and that is it. There will be four of us at dinner, and since the a/c is currently not working, I need to be able to prepare as much ahead of time as possible so I'm not dripping with sweat at the dinner table. One guest is Egyptian, so no pork and he does not like spicy or Indian food. The rest of us will eat most things. The meat here tends to be very fresh and very tough, so I am thinking of sticking to chicken. I have parmesan and romano cheese, basmati and aborio rice (but no checken stock --only "cubes" seem to available). Some things seem to be in the markets, but other things are strangely absent. This is the first time in 8 days I've had access to the internet and I did not bring any cookbooks with me. I would appreciate all help and suggestions!

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  1. What about a chicken risotto? You could make a few side dishes without cooking...like a tomato caprese, squash carpaccio or a variety of local items (maybe blanched)....artichoke, asparagus, peppers, olives, etc and a nice dip (cheese based, hummus, etc). A white bean dip is nice with blanched veggies.

    6 Replies
    1. re: sedimental

      The chicken risotto is interesting. Can you get skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts? I would poach the chicken ahead of time in water with whatever aromatics you can track down. Remove the chicken, take the meat off the breast, and set aside. Return the bones to the poaching liquid and cook longer to make a broth. Then, use that broth for your risotto. You could then serve the risotto with slices of poached chicken across the top, drizzled with whatever sauce you can hunt down the ingredients for - roasted red pepper sauce? Pesto?

      1. re: katecm

        I could probably do that, but I am afraid that the chicken itself wouldn't be that interesting. I don't have a bender or anthing that could make a pesto or a roasted red pepper sauce. It is interesting how unavailable so many ingredients are. I have not seen whole chiclen breasts but I have seen whole chickens and boneless chicken breasts as well as legs and thighs. Vegetables are suprisingly iffy,-- sometimes you can't get parsley- but then you have things like preserved lemons in jars in the supermarket...

        1. re: roxlet

          look for harissa paste, either in a tin or tube. very standard mid-eastern condiment of red pepper paste and it's delish with chicken. rub the chicken parts with it and let marinate for awhile (overnight if you can.) sauté and chill. serve it sliced over cous cous or greens (if you can get them!) with preserved lemon, chopped almonds, cilantro/parsley/mint (whatever you can get) bits of dried fruit. you could also cook the rice ahead in the bouillon and make a rice salad finished with lots of citrus, cheese and olive oil.

          do a mezze plate of cold foods to start, olives, meats, fish like sardines, sliced cukes, tomatoes, hard-cooked eggs, hummus...

          this way no cooking while anybody is there, no oven dilemma, and no prolonged time sweating over the stove.

          1. re: hotoynoodle

            I love harissa and I use it all the time at home, but one of my guests doesn't like spicy food. Also, although it is a very typical Middle Eastern condiment, I've yet to see it here. Egyptian food is weird -- it's Middle Eastern, and yet it's not. They talk a lot about Lebanese food being Middle Eastern food here, but they don't consider themselves either Middle Eastern or Arabs. They are Egyptian and will tell you if you chance to confuse things. I am finding it extremely difficult to shop here.

            1. re: roxlet

              didn't mean to trample on national food sovereignty.

              coat the chicken in crushed nuts or sesame seeds for texture. you could also coat in olive tapenade. i frequently marinate chicken in yogurt and lemon for about 3-4 hours before cooking.

            2. re: hotoynoodle

              I would say harissa is a very standard North African condiment or ingredient, not Middle Eastern, and as roxlet says, not Egyptian.

      2. Or what about a traditional cous cous with chicken and lamb sausage? I imagine you can get great spices for such dish. Maybe someone else knows a good online recipe?

        1 Reply
        1. re: Procrastibaker

          That's a great idea! You don't really have to "cook" cous cous either. Since one guest doesn't like spicy food, the cous cous could be more plain- with a few meat toppings (one more spicy, one not).

        2. I was trying to think of something with eggs -- quiche, frittata, Spanish tortilla -- but that might not be substantial enough. Wish we knew if your oven worked.

          You could make crepes a day ahead. Poach a whole, cut-up chicken with bouillon cubes if that's all you've got. Do a creamy chicken filling with something green, whatever you can find, from peas to spinach to matchstick zucchini or even just some chopped herb. White sauce can be made the day before as well. Mix, roll, sauce, and reheat before service. Could you rig up a double boiler with the saute pan and a pot in case the oven doesn't cooperate?

          1. Either roast or poach a chicken and shred. Make a final dish by making a pan sauce of your choice and adding the chicken. The sauce an range from "Egyptian" to something based on your cheeses. Serve with plain basmati rice. Back it all with luscioius platters of chilled fresh and dried fruit. Super simple - and should be good.

            1. You need to find out where the food souks are. Local fresh veggies should still be plentiful in Cairo. Also, Egypt boasts an amazing variety of fish -- find out where to buy them. A huge salad, fresh bread from the neighborhood baker, and poached or fried fish with a yogurt/tahini/garlic/lemon sauce would be easy and delicious.

              1. if you can get the ingrediants, the first thing that came to my mind was spanikopita. Also if you can get ground meat or find some way to grind it yourself something like kefta might be a good option.

                1. People are suggesting Middle-Eastern/Egyptian food just because you're in Cairo. With limited equipment and ingredients, I'd keep it all as simple as possible.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    Yes Sam, I think I am going to stay away from middle eastern food since I am pretty inexperience in the genre. So wish I had brought Ana Sortun (sp) book, spice, that riffs on M.E. food. I actually now think that I am going to make spaghetti and meatballs for the main. I wanted to do a salad, but I have been unable to find any lettuce. I have tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant, but I don't think a ratatouille would work with this menu either before of after the pasta. Since I have a homesick American guest, and I found a pyrex pie plate, I am going to make an apple pie for dessert. Here's hoping the oven works! I will test it today, since my a/c is back on...

                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                      I'd had the same thought. We're in Rio with not AS limited a kitchen but still.... I opted for pasta and salad and bread. They loved it ---exotic to them :)

                      1. re: c oliver

                        Yes, having tasted "Italian" food in Egypt, I thought that this would be a good choice. The only thing to do when it's time for dinner is to cook the pasta. Anyway, it's really not Italian food -- it's more Italian-American and thus different!

                        1. re: roxlet

                          Yes, ours too was I-A. I'd been able to buy oregano, fennel seed and some hot peppers at a farmers market so jazzed it up a little.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            I finally got some lettuce -- albeit iceberg -- for a salad. I think lettuce is hard to come by here because of the heat. I think it bolts really quickly. I have not been able to find vanilla extract (it finally occurred to me that it's because of the alcohol), but today I scored some vanilla beans and I got vodka from duty free so I guess that I will be making my own. It's an adventure, let me tell you, especially when the only wine is locally made, which I guess is better than getting locally made gin or rum, which they do have here. Funny thing -- with the whole proscription against alcohol, the duty free (you go to it in town up to 24 hours after you arrive) was filled with Muslims of all types buying as many bottles of Chivas as they were allowed. According to some Egyptians here, the Saudis come to Egypt so that they can misbehave without getting thrown in jail!

                    2. roasted chicken with roasted vegies - all in one dish. I saw a recipe recently that looked fantastic with fennel I believe (let me see if I can find it) - you could add couscous as someone else mentioned to hearty it up more.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: lexpatti

                        Will try that just for dinner tonight, but I haven't seen any fennel here...

                      2. If the oven worked, you could make macaroni cheese? Does it have a grill?
                        Let's see...
                        You could make pizza, by reducing down the tomatoes, make a simple pizza base, and add some cheese. I guess you could lay cooked/cold toppings on the table?

                        You could make a mild, creamy curry - that will taste even better if you leave it and reheat.

                        I think you can make quite a lot really. Oh, and if you make curry, you could cook some flat bread in the pan.

                        Just saw this as I saved my post: http://www.chow.com/recipes/25641 Can you get zuchini?

                        1. When my mother was living in Teheran 60 years ago she once wowed a fancy crowd by serving roast chickens with a couple of cans of American chili con carne with beans poured over each chicken. They thought it was some exotic American dish.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Querencia

                            LOL, but that wouldn't work for me since one of my guests is an American. The dinner went off without a hitch, but interestingly, my Egyptian guest didn't eat his meatballs! Wonder why. Maybe he thought I put pork in them or something ;-)

                            1. re: roxlet

                              That could be! When I lived in Turkey and served "hamburgers"...no one wanted to eat them because they thought they had ham in them :(

                              I had a dickens of a time convincing them it was just beef.

                              1. re: sedimental

                                Yes, here they call them "beefburgers!"