Iraqi Eggplant with Garlic & Mint Yogurt Sauce

Baraka’s Culture Kitchen Kit will surely feed an army, but what if you wanted a few more pieces to fill out your diningroom table?  Then you have to have Baraka’s Eggplant with garlic and mint sauce.  A staple recipe in Baraka’s home, here at Culture Kitchen, and soon we hope your home too.  Get the recipe below and get cooking!

Ingredients:

2 Large eggplants
1 handful of mint
2 cups yogurt
salt
Corn oil (for frying, feel free to use your standard high burning point oil)

Tools Needed:

Measuring cups and spoons, a medium-sized mixing bowl, and a large fry pan (Note: if you do not have a large fry pan, you can use a smaller one, but you will need to fry the eggplant in smaller batches).

Instructions:

Wash the eggplants and cut off the tops. Using a knife, peel the skin in stripes from top to bottom. The end result should have a white and purple stripe pattern.

Cut the peeled eggplants in half horizontally and again lengthwise into slices, about 1/3 inch thick.

Lay out eggplant slices in a large dish and sprinkle them with 3-4 tablespoons of salt. The salt pulls the water out of the eggplants, which helps them brown while frying. Move the eggplant around every 10 minutes to evenly distribute the salt and remove as much water as possible. Drain the water as it collects in the bottom of the dish. Allow the eggplant to sit for up to an hour.

While the eggplant is sitting, wash and pick off all the leaves of mint. Reserve the flowering buds at the top of a stem for garnish. Roughly chop the larger mint leaves.

Peel and mince 4 to 5 cloves of garlic. You want to make the pieces as tiny as possible to mix throughout the sauce.

Combine the yogurt, mint, and garlic and mix thoroughly.

Once the eggplant has had a chance to sit for about an hour, heat 1/4 cup corn oil in a pan over medium to high heat until very hot.

Using your hands, squeeze as much water as possible out of the eggplant pieces.

Slide the eggplant slices into the oil at a shallow angle to prevent splattering and fry in batches until golden brown, flipping once (about 2 minutes on each side).

Depending on how high the heat and how hot the oil, the eggplant may cook more quickly or slowly. Also, the eggplant will continue to “cook,” deepening in color even after it has been removed from the oil.

Remove the eggplant from the pan and set aside to cool completely before topping with the yogurt.

Do not drain oil from the eggplant on a paper towel as you need the oil from the eggplant for the correct flavor and texture.

Once the eggplant slices are fully cooled, arrange them flat on a serving dish and spread the yogurt sauce on top. Garnish with the reserved mint buds and serve.

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Chocoflan- Delicious Mexican Treat

So most of you know what Flan is, the lovely vanilla custard with caramel sauce that makes your mouth water.

Now how could such a thing get better? Add chocolate.

Paloma is sharing a sweet dessert her children love at home, and a great pairing option for your Mexican Mole Fiesta.  Now fret not if you are just making a little mole for you and one or two others, the Chocoflan is well worth the addition cooking, and somehow I bet no matter how big your crowd is you will all be members of the clean plate club.

Ingredients:

12 oz. Can Evaporated Milk
14 oz. Can Condensed Milk (Paloma loves La Lechera)
6-7 eggs (3 for flan and 3-4 for cake)
2 Tbs Vanilla Extract (pure is best)
1 Standard box cake mix (or your favorite chocolate cake recipe- one that makes a light fluffy cake)
1/4- 1/2 cup veggie oil (depending on your cake recipe)

Tools needed:

Blender, spatula, can opener, measuring cups and spoons, a mixing bowl, foil and 1 deep 9-10 inch round cake pan. (Alternatively, you can use 2 shallow 8-9 inch round cake pans as Paloma did in these pictures, depending on whether you prefer 2 short cakes with thin layers or 1 tall cake with thick layers.)

Instructions:

Preheat over to 350 degrees.  Create a water bath (baño de María) by filling a large pan (large enough to fit your cake pan inside it) half full with water and place in the oven on a middle rack. You want the water to be roughly half the height of your cake pan.

Follow the instructions on the back of your standard chocolate cake mix to make the chocolate cake batter, set aside.

In a blender, pour the evaporated milk, condensed milk, 3 eggs, and 2 tablespoons vanilla. Blend until fully combined.

In a skillet on the stove over medium heat, add a 1/2 cup of sugar and stir continuously. You want the sugar to melt but, not burn. When the sugar is melted and a light golden brown color, it is finished. Immediately pour the melted sugar into the cake pan. Swirl the caramel until you have completely covered the bottom on the pan, let harden.

Pour the contents of the blender (the flan) into the cake pan with caramel. Pour the chocolate cake batter into the same pan on top of the flan mixture. Don’t worry if the two batters mix a little, as they will separate in the oven.

Cover the cake pan with foil and place into the shallow pan of water in the oven. You want the water level to be slightly higher than your flan layer. Once you have set the pan in the water, make sure the water level is low enough that no water enters the cake pan. Cook for 60 minutes.

Check the cake by piercing with a toothpick of knife. If it comes out clean, it is ready. If the cake needs to bake longer, continue to bake without the foil cover for an additional 5-8 minutes and then check again.

When the cake is done, remove the pan from the oven. Cool for at least 10 minutes before platting.

Place a serving dish over the top of the cake pan. Holding the serving dish against the pan with oven mitts or pot holders, flip the serving dish and cake pan at the same time, and gently remove the cake pan from the chocoflan.

Serve immediately or let the cake sit for 40 minutes to cool completely and then serve. You can eat Chocoflan either warm or cool, but Paloma prefers her chocoflan chilled.

We <3 Substitutions: A World of Poblano Mole

That secret mole recipe…every Mexican family has one.

Whether it has an extra cinnamon stick, multiple types of peppercorns, a carrot, or extra peanuts, the one common thing among all these mole recipes is the large quantity of spices, nuts, seeds, and chilies that comprise that special sauce, which sometimes totals 20 different ingredients! No matter where in Mexico you travel, you will find some variation of Mole, but one state holds the crown for the tastiest and rumored home of mole, Puebla.

This month, we are debuting Paloma’s incredible family recipe for mole taught to her by, of course, her grandmother. This Mole Poblano is rich and sweet and full of layered flavor. Now, the box contains all the dry ingredients that make famous mole, but there are still a few ingredients that may be a little harder to find if you don’t have access to a Mexican or Latino market. Fear not: our team of recipe developers and testers have tested a plethora of substitutions to make for a tasty mole even if you can’t make it to the Mexican Market.

Bolillos are Mexican rolls. These rolls are dry, crunchy and are often used for Mexican sandwiches because they are known for not being too sweet.  Bolillos aren’t commonly found in regular bakeries, but they are a staple at any Mexican market or bakery. Can’t find a bolillo? Here is a common substitution to make sure you have a tasty, thick sauce.

French Bread/Roll

French bread worked well as a substitution, as it is the most similar to Bolillo bread, only with a rougher crust. Using french bread produced a richer and sweeter mole compared to Paloma’s recipe. The sweet flavor highlights the cinnamon, though, so beware!

Bimbo White Bread 

Do not be fooled: all white breads are not equal. We know it might be tempting to just swap out your bolillo for sliced white bread, but from our experience, we advise you to resist the urge.  We used the commonly found Bimbo sliced white bread and it was much too sweet for the mole! Instead of helping to bring out the mole flavors, it overpowered it. Most importantly, the mole lost its spicy kick!  Take our advice and avoid the sweet, soft sliced white breads.

Plantains are in the banana family but aren’t quite the peelable lunch variety. In mole recipes, plantains act as a thickening agent to help create a deeper flavor of the nuts and chocolate.  Plantains come in a few varieties and stages of ripeness. They are common in Mexican and Latino markets, but if you can’t find them at your local grocer, feel free to use these one of these two substitutions.

Unripe bananas

Using unripe bananas produced a flavor closest to Paloma’s mole. The consistency of this mole was slightly sweeter, creamier, and had a bit more kick at the end of every bite making for a nice finish.

Sweet Potato 

Using sweet potato definitely thickened up the mole sauce compared to Paloma’s mole, which produced a slightly grittier and less pureed mole that left us tasters with the occasional spicier bite. While the flavor wasn’t too far off from Paloma’s mole, make sure to add more chicken broth and blend for longer if substituting sweet potato for plantains, as they proved to be tough to blend!

Peanuts–to shell or not to shell? 

There are so many steps to making mole that we attempted to shortcut one, the shelling of roasted peanuts. Instead, we used pre-shelled peanuts. While the flavor wasn’t too far off from Paloma’s mole recipe, it did produce a slightly sweeter, thicker and creamier mole lacking the more full-roasted flavor when shelling peanuts yourself. If you want the real deal, set aside to the time to crack all the shells from those peanuts!

We hope this informs your grocery shopping efforts and saves you some time when looking for those less available mole ingredients that we can’t ship you in your CK Box!

Happy Mole-making!

The Culture Kitchen Team

Culture Kitchen Behind the scenes: How we develop and test recipes

Have you ever watched an incredible cook prepare a dish you’ve never seen made before?

A dash of this, a handful of that, and a sprinkle of this–the ingredients all magically come together into the best thing you have ever eaten.

Now, try to recreate that at home.

I have done it, and let me tell you, it wasn’t pretty. Tofu goes flying, something turned orange instead of green, and my poor refrigerator is left with the remnants of the meal for days. We have been there and felt your pain. We know we need to capture all of our master cooks’ recipes with precision and make their recipes approachable to any cook. Check out how we do it in our five-step process below!

Party in the kitchen!

To start, we all step into the kitchen together.  We believe that cooking with the expert is key, as that is when we first measure all the ingredients and learn more about the tools that were used to make the meal. We document all the steps and, more importantly, the stories of our cooks. This is what we translate into palatable recipes, cooking tips, and tricks with stories throughout the process.

First line of defense
A recipe can look great on paper, but step into the kitchen and things can go a little haywire. We believe in sending our team straight into the fire to get cooking. Before any recipe goes live on our site or in a Culture Kitchen Box, our core CK team cooks it, following the recipe to understand when things got confusing and what issues arise in a typical home kitchen with differing tools and different types of stoves. This is where the red pen comes out and the rewrite begins.

Test variations
We want to bring these amazing dishes to the plates of anyone anywhere. But that can be a little tricky knowing the challenges of ingredient accessibility and various dietary constraints. Unfortunately we can’t make every recipe vegetarian and give alternatives for every hard-to-find ingredient, but we do work hard to bring key substitutions to the table. Of course, we first consut with our Master Cooks about any known substitutions. Then we head back to the kitchen to perform trial after trial until we get it right. Check out one of our posts for alternative tools and methods for perfectly steamed sticky rice here.

Ambassadors across the US in full force
After our team has tested and approved a recipe or menu, we have a fleet of Culture Kitchen Ambassadors testing our recipes out in their homes and letting us know how it went, including which ingredients were hard to find, how a substitution worked, where things got confusing in the steps, and of course, how the heck it all tasted!  Anyone in the US can be an Ambassador, so keep an eye out for our ambassador recruitment posts on Facebook!

Final tweaks & revisions
After all this learning, we make additional revisions to the recipes to make sure they are clear and easily understood. We’ve been there in the kitchen when something goes askew and know what a disappointment it can be. This is why we make sure to put our recipes through the ringer to provide you with the confidence to make a successful recipe at home and have fun doing it!