Macaroni Pie

I was first introduced to Macaroni Pie when I met my husband.  It is one of those comfort foods that is part of most Sunday dinners and  holiday dinners in Barbados.  I fell in the love with the spicy undertones and the tangy bites of the cheese sauce and the firm yet tender texture of the pasta.  Its like snuggling into a quilt fresh and hot from the dryer on a cold, snowy day; heavenly!!  Over the last 26 years of our marriage, I’ve developed my own version of the Macaroni Pie.  Adding and tweaking things until it has become a family classic!

A mixture of olive oil and butter is a great combination that adds depth and flavor. It’s a great base for the vegetables to saute in and for the sauce!

After the vegetables are sauteed add flour to make a roux.  A roux is basically a way to thicken a sauce using a starch (in this case flour) Don’t worry if it looks slightly lumpy because as you add the milk and keep stirring it turns into a smooth thickened mixture.

Add the flour into the sauteed mixture and stir it in quickly to avoid lumps.

After the milk mixture begins to thicken add the cheeses and stir in.  It will melt and turn into an amazing and delicious sauce.

Add pasta into the sauce and pour into a 9″ x 13″  in pan and top with Parmesan cheese and Panko breading.  I love Panko because it becomes crunchy and delicious when baked without adding any additional fat.  If you decide to use regular bread crumbs add a couple of tablespoons of butter to the bread crumbs before spreading it over the top of the pasta.

Wish you could smell this.  It’s the perfect crunch on the top with cheesy goodness on the inside.

Nothing like the perfect comfort food!

Here’s the recipe:

Macaroni Pie

1 16 oz box of mini Fusicili or elbow macaroni

½  yellow onion, finely chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

5 green onions

1 ½ tsp kosher salt

4 tablespoons butter

¼ cup olive oil

1 clove garlic , minced

1 tsp Chili ( like Shiracha)

1/4 tsp fresh cracked pepper

1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard

3 tablespoons all purpose flour

4 cups whole milk

1 cup grated Sharp cheddar

1 cup grated mozzarella

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Topping

¼ cup Japanese bread crumbs (Panko)

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan Cheese

Preheat over to 350 degrees.

In a large 6 quart pan bring water to boil.  Liberally salt the water (2-3 tablespoons) add pasta and cook about 7 minutes until pasta is al dente. Drain.

In a sauce pan heat butter and olive oil together.  Add green onion, yellow onion and red bell pepper and stir fry 2-3 minutes.  When onions are translucent, add the garlic and stir fry an additional minute.  Add salt, fresh cracked pepper, mustard and chili sauce. Stir together another minute or so and add flour to the mixture, quickly stir in all the flour, when its incorporated, slowly begin to pour in the milk and keep stirring.  Mixture should start to thicken.  Add Mozzarella, Sharp cheddar and Parmesan  stir until cheese is melted.  The sauce should be flavorful and smooth.  Add pasta to the mixture and pour into a sprayed 9 x 13 baking pan.  Sprinkle Panko and Parmesan cheese evenly over the pasta and bake for 20 minutes.  Serve warm.

Bengali Style Green Beans

Panch Puran (pronounced “Phoron”) is one of the quintessential Bengali spice mixes. It is a mixture of five different spice seeds.  “Panch” means five and “Phoron” loosely translated means to put over high heat.  Each one of the spice seeds when toasted on a hot, dry skillet begins to jump and skip across the pan.  The flavor is fantastic.  In colloquial language that jumping and skipping of spices on a hot pan is also used to describe people in dicey situations!  A great visual don’t you think?  When life gets hot, we do tend to do a bit of jumping and skipping!

This is simple yet delicious recipe very common in everyday Bengali cuisine.  I hope you like it as much as I do!

Five seeds are: Mustard, Cumin, Fennel, Fenugreek and Kalonji

Serves 2-4

1 16oz package frozen French cut green beans

1 tsp salt

2 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp Panch Phoron (Bengali 5 spice)

4 tbsp oil

½ onion, chopped

1 serrano chili seeded and chopped

In a  frying pan heat oil and add panch phoron and salt and stir fry until the seeds begin crackling, jumping and skipping (you can enjoy the show for about 2 minutes).  Add onions and green Serrano chili and stir fry until onions are soft and translucent.  Add turmeric and stir fry a few more minutes so flavors meld together.  Add green beans and stir fry until beans look well coated.  Cover and let cook over medium heat stirring occasionally until green beans are tender.  Serve warm with rice.

North African Style Couscous

Couscous is a semolina pasta made out of durum wheat.  It is a staple food in pretty much most of North Africa (Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya).  It’s cooked plain or in a wonderful salad type dish and usually eaten with meat stews that are slow cooked.  This dish goes wonderfully with the Tajine style Moroccan Chicken or just by itself as a refreshing salad or side dish.

Start by boiling

2 cups chicken stock (because it gives it such a depth of flavor but if you’re trying to make it a completely vegetarian dish then use vegetable stock or plain water) and ½ tsp kosher salt together.

Add  1 1/4 cup of couscous and  take off the heat.  Cover and let sit for 5-6 minutes.  Fluff with fork.

In a large skillet heat  ¼ cup olive oil and add 1 small chopped onion and 2 cloves of garlic minced into small pieces.

Saute  for 3-4 minutes or until the onions are translucent and the garlic is very fragrant then add the couscous and toast for 8 minutes or so, couscous should get slightly brown.

Take it off the heat and pour into a large bowl and while still warm:

Add to couscous:

½ cup feta cheese

Chopped bell peppers

Chopped avocado

½ cup flat leafed parsley

Cucumber

Toasted almonds

Flat leaf Parsley, Curly leaf parsley and Cilantro

Dressing:

¼ cup oil

1 large lemon, zested

¼ tsp salt

Pepper (fresh cracked if you can)

Juice from lemon

Whisk to make dressing.  It will become a delicious opaque golden colored dressing. Pour over couscous and toss together.  Enjoy right away as a side dish or with any Moroccan style stew!

Preserved Lemons

You will need a quart sized Mason or canning jar along with lid and band.  Make sure you sterilize the jar by either boiling it in water for about 5 minutes or running it in the dishwasher.

8-10 large Lemons scrubbed and cleaned well and the visible stems cut off the ends

3/4 cup of Kosher Salt

Put about 2 tsp of kosher salt in the bottom of the mason jar.  Cut each lemon into fourths but don’t cut completely into quarters.

Rub each section of quartered lemon liberally with kosher salt and squeeze juice into a glass bowl.  Place salted lemons inside the mason jar and pack them in tightly.  Pour all juice into mason jar and add 2 tsp kosher salt on the top.  Screw lid and band on tightly and turn jar upside down a few times.  Leave jar on kitchen counter for about 3 days then refrigerate for 30 days before using.  Lemons will soften and become tender.  Preserved lemons can be stored for 6 months.  Make sure to rinse well before using.

Kitchuri

Kitchuri is a very Bengali dish.  Made with rice, lentils, vegetables and sometimes even some meat thrown in.  It’s  the South Asian version of a casserole.  The variety of “kitchuri” is as limitless as each cook’s imagination but two things remain a constant, rice and lentils.  Growing up in Bangladesh, eating Kitchuri was a delight because we usually ate it at picnics or outings, sometimes cooked over an open fire.  Often the kitchuri would have seasonal vegetables, or leftovers from the day before added to it.  I knew whenever I smelled Kitchuri cooking that good things were going to happen that day.

On a recent trip back to Bangladesh, Kitchuri took on a new meaning.  We visited Child Sponsorship Programs and villages where lives were literally being saved.  Children ate one meal a day during school, often it was their only meal.  The meal always consist of Kitchuri because of the high nutrient content and an additional source of protein such as eggs or chicken or fish.  Cooked in a giant pot, the humble Kitchuri had taken on a super hero role!

2 cups Basmati Rice

1 cup red lentils

1 whole spanish onion, chopped

3-4 serrano chillis, chopped

2 whole cinnamon sticks

3 bay leaves

4 cardamom pods, crushed

3 whole cloves

2 tsp turmeric

2 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp red chili peppers

4 fresh garlic cloves, finely minced

1/4 cup oil

salt to taste

4 cups water

1 1/2 cup Assorted chopped vegetables , such as zucchini, shredded carrots, English peas, yellow squash

Wash rice and lentils thoroughly until water runs clear and set aside.  Heat oil in a large 5-6 quart pan and add onions and Serrano chilis.  Saute 2-3 minutes.  Add cardamom, cloves, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks and stir fry another 3 minutes or so until all the flavors are released.  Add 1 tsp of salt, turmeric, cumin and chili powder along with garlic and stir fry another 2 minutes.  Add all vegetables and 1/2 cup of water and stir fry for a minute or two before adding the rice and lentils and the rest of the water.  Bring mixture to boil, stir then turn down temperature to low and cover pan.  Let simmer and cook until all water is absorbed about 10-13 minutes.  When all water is absorbed, rice and lentils should be nice and tender if additional water is needed, add it at this point and cover pot for another 5-6 minutes until liquid is absorbed.  Take out cinnamon sticks and bay leaves before serving.

Spinach Pakora

16-20 fresh spinach leaves washed and dried well

1 cup of Besan (chick pea flour)

½ cup of rice flour

½ tsp  Hing or asafetida powder

1 tsp cumin powder

1 – 2 tsp chili powder (to taste)

½ tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp salt

¾ cup water

¼ tsp baking soda

Oil for deep frying

Mix together all dry ingredients and add water.  Batter should be the consistency of pancake batter with no lumps.

Heat a small pan with oil for deep frying.  Temperature should be about 350 degrees if you’re using a thermometer otherwise add a small drop of batter into the oil if it floats to the top fairly quickly, the oil is ready.  Use medium heat so oil does not start to smoke.  Dip spinach leaves one at a time into batter and scrape most of it off by dredging it along the side of the batter pan.  The leaf should be coated but not heavily covered.  Gently place into the hot oil.  Fry for about 2-3 minutes on each side until a nice golden brown color.  Take out of oil with a slotted spatula and place into a platter lined with paper towels to absorb extra oil.  Serve warm with tamarind or cilantro Chutney or even ranch dressing if desired.