Certainly one does not go to Egypt to eat. There are France and China for that. The excitement of the pyramids, Karnak, Lucor and the Valley of the Kings leaves little room to think of one's stomach.
Now that I am back from Egypt, however -- one of the more fabulous trips of my life -- I find that next to my memories of the wonders wrought by the ancient pharoahs, I treasure the recipes packed up in the kitchen of an Egyptian friend. I did not find these succulent dishes in the hotels or restaurants at which we ate.
They have an additional virtue -- low cost. While Americans will find these Egyptian foods a little unusual, the flavors are familiar enough to appeal to our plates. EL-HAG-RAZ (Decorative Rice Dish) (6 servings) 1 1/2 cups short, fat-grained rice 2 1/2 to 3 cups chicken stock or bouillon 2 to 3 tablespoons butter or margarine 1 ounce pine nuts 1 ounce slivered almonds 3/4 cup raisins
Wash and drain the rice. Spread therice on a pan or platter and allow to dry. Heat 1 tablespoon of butter and sute the nuts and raisins for 2 to 3 minutes; remove from the pan and set aside. Add remaining butter to the pan and saute the rice until the grains are transparent and well coated with butter.
Put the rice into a very heavy kettle; pour on the chicken stock. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer gently,tightly covered until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender. This takes about 20 minutes.
Stir in half of the sauteed nuts and raisins. Grease well a rice mold or other mold of proper size. Sprinkle the bottom of the mold with the remaining nuts and raisins and then fill with the rice, pressing it down firmly. Up to this point the dish may be made in advance.
Before serving put the mold in a pan of hot water, bake until thoroughly heated, about 20 minutes. Run a knife around the edge and carefully invert onto a round serving platter. Serve with mousaka, messaa or roast chicken, lamb or pork. EGGPLANT "MESSAA" (Egyptian Mousaka) (6 servings) 2 pounds eggplant tablespoons oil, butter or margarine 1 large onion, finely chopped 1 pound lamb or beef, ground or minced 3 ounces pine nuts 1/2 teaspoon allspice 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1 tablespoon tomato paste salt and pepper to taste 2 cups bechamel sauce 3 ounces grated parmesan cheese
Slice the eggplant thinly; spread it on a large pan or plate and sprinkle with salt and allow the bitter juice to exude for at least 1/2 hour. Squeeze the slices between the palms of your hands and then pat dry. Heat the oil or butter or margarine in a skillet and saute the slices lightly. Drain them on absorbant paper.
In the same pan, adding new oil as necessary, fry the chopped onion until pale gold, add the ground meat is well browned. Stir in the pine nuts, allspice, cinnamon, tomato paste and salt and pepper to taste. Stir the mixture and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until well blended. Prepare the bechamel sauce according to the recipe set forth below.
Grease a large, 10-inch-long by 2-to 3-inch-deep, baking dish. Arrange in the dish, alternate layers of sauce, eggplant slices, parmesan, and the ground meat mixture. Start and end with the bechamel sauce.
Bake, uncovered at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes, until a brown crust has formed on top. Serve hot, straight from the dish, accompanied with rice pilaf. The entire dish may be made ahead and even frozen. Bechamel Sauce 3 tablespoons butter 3 tablespoons flour 2 cups hot milk 1/4 teaspoon salt, pepper Dash nutmeg 2 egg yolks, beaten 2 ounces grated parmesan cheese
Melt the butter in a heavy sauce. With the aid of a wire whisk stir in the flour.Let it froth up for about 2 minutes then gradually pour in the hot milk, continuing to stir with the whisk. When the sauce is thickened and smooth remove the pan from the fire and stir in the salt, pepper, nutmeg and the beaten egg yolks that you have warmed by stirring into them a bit of the hot mixture, and the cheese. HOT STUFFED VINE LEAVES (6 servings) 1/2 pound canned or preserved vine leaves 2/3 cup long grain rice 1/2 pound ground lamb or beef 1 medium onion finely chopped 3 tablespoons chopped parsley Pepper 2 cloves garlic cut into slivers 2 teaspoons tomato paste 3 tablespoons melted butter Juice of 1 lemon
If the vine leaves have been preserved in brine put them in a large bowl and pour boiling water over them, allow to soak for 20 minute, drain and soak in fresh cold water, drain again.This will remove excess salt.
Soak the rice in boiling water for 5 minutes, drain and mix in a large bowl, with the meat, onion, parsley, pepper, a little salt, half the butter and tomato paste.
Place a vine leaf on a plate vein side up, Mound 1 heaping teaspoon of the filling in the center of the leat near the stem edge. Fold the stem end up over the filling, then fold both sides toward the middle and roll up like a small cigar. Squeeze lightly in the palm of your hand. Fill the rest of the leaves in the same way reserving enough leaves to cover the bottom of a large saucepan.
Line the bottom of a large saucepan with a layer of flat vine leaves. Pack the stuffed leaves in tight layers on top, pushing the slivers of garlic here and there. Sprinkle melted butter and lemon juice between the layers. Pour on about 1 cup of water. Place a small plate over the rolled leaves to prevent them from coming undone and cover the pan with a lid.
Cook over very gentle heat for an hour, adding water from time to time as it becomes absorbed. (For a nice variation in the flavor, add a tablespoon of crushed dried mint for the last 20 minutes of cooking.)
To serve turn the leaves out onto a serving dish accompanied by a bowl of yogurt sauce: The leaves may be made in advance and reheated. Yogurt Sauce 1/2 pint plain yogurt 1 to 2 cloves garlic, crushed Salt and pepper to taste 1 tablespoon crushed dried mint of 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
Mix the ingredients together until well blended. Taste for seasoning. Pour into a serving bowl and let diners sauce their own leaves.