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Sep 30, 2009 08:48 AM

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 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.