Unto the Populace of Seleone, and other fine Gentles viewing this missive, I say unto you these words of wisdom for a rich life, "May your dreams and desires be delicious, may your bellies be full and forever dancing, and may your larders be well laden with Middle Eastern delights."
I realize that many of you enjoy Middle Eastern foods more now than ever before. If all I should ask of you ,my good people ,is just one thing, it would be "Are you willing to fight for the right to continue to eat well?" Some of you may be confused as to why I have asked you this question. I want you to be fully aware that our fair land will soon become the battleground for Gulf Wars, when the two opposing Kingdoms of Trimaris and Ansteorra will fight over their indifference here in Meridies. Our Baronial Seneschal, has warned us of this coming war. Lady Xenia is also warning you to be prepared to survive the long war, with its many sieges, in every way humanly possible.
As the good mother that I am to my family; I will share with you my war kitchen preparations. How do you suppose you are going to wage a war in a pair of empty harem pants? Pull out that waistband and examine your belly. Well? Is it round and full? Flat and taut? Or worse yet, quivering and growling? Say no more. It's Xenia to the rescue! I'm here offering you private advice and etiquette, too. Take notice that what I tell you will be simple and frugal tips. I most certainly don't want you dancing off your pants at the nightly revels, trying to make some money just because your larder is low on provisions. Dancing can have its payoffs, but in the case of this cooking-column-hunger- due-to-lack-of-cooking knowledge, is absolutely uncalled for. Now, I do understand that there are plenty of opportunities for one to offer private performances in some encampments, but please, please don't have a rumbly tumbly interrupt your intimate performance. I will not be held responsible for those sorts of shortcomings! On the other hand, don't over-eat, as belching in the faces of your audience is the utmost indecency and you surely won't be receiving any large tips for a performance of this type!
Before I lecture you on how to stock your larder, may I offer you some comforting suggestions that encourage you to visit the wonderful souk (market place) at the war. When one arrives at the war, one will receive a resourceful booklet complete with a listing of vendors and maps to help you find them easily. Take note: Phil's Grill has been feeding us over the past Gulf Wars, making his stand great to place to visit (hopefully, they'll be back again this year), as he offers a full line of fresh, hot Middle Eastern foods. As always, the good folks at Odyssey Coffee entice you to join them inside their coffee house, providing you with coffee, and an open invitation for dancers and musicians to entertain you much like those in the Constantinople, Turkey.
With all these distractions. you will have to make considerable time allowance to be factored into your lifestyle for queuing into line with all the other hungry folks is no easy matter. Just think of all those other tummies growling, excessive drooling, licking of their chops, as you all watch the chefs serve someone else ahead of you, only to find they've run out when you reach the front of the line. All you've accomplished in the long wait was merely getting caught up in a foolish conversation. Considering the distance of your trek across the land to arrive at the souk, you might not be so enticed to use this method of nourishment. Fear not as I, Lady Xenia has provided you with my skillful knowledge if you read on.
Menu Planning & Shopping
Begin with reviewing the recipes in my section here. There are a variety of recipes that are healthy, handy and easily adapted for camping. Make a menu and then plan whether you will stay in camp to cook on site, reheat prepared foods or simply eat cold, ready-to-eat foods. Then, gather the supplies needed with a shopping trip to your local souk. Most of the foods I've featured for you to prepare have ingredients and suggestions where to obtain them if your local souk doesn't provide everything. When looking for durable, leak-proof containers, I suggested Nalgene plastics, which are available at outdoor camping suppliers and Marine outfitters, too. Once you have everything, you can then begin to prepare packing the items or dishes appropriately for your method of consumption at the war. Dry goods can be packed in ziploc bags, clean, empty plastic peanut butter jars, Nalgene containers (for oil and other liquids) and Mason Jars. Raw meats are best packed into double ziploc bags or heat sealed bags. Packing meat patties, I prefer to wrap each patty in waxed paper, freeze them on a tray, and then pack into ziploc bags when frozen solid. Fresh fruits and veggies keep well in paper bags or baskets. Fresh breads keep in plastic bags or plastic Tupperware containers. Fresh herbs should be packed in ziploc bags to be stored on top in the ice chest or chopped and put in Mason Jars.
Spreads and salads are your handy ready-to-eat foods. Pita bread, hummus, baba ghanoush, feta spread, tabouli, stuffed grape leaves and labani are best stored in mason jars to keep out the water as the ice melts in the cooler.
Meats and stews can be frozen in ziploc bags, or plastic containers, and kept in a separate ice chest with dry ice or frozen items with block ice. Note ~ in the case of soups and stews, when frozen in containers, they perform as blocks of ice themselves, and will thaw slowly over a few days. Gyro meatballs, sis kofte and kibbeh nuggets can be cooked and frozen to be re-heated, or frozen raw to be cooked on-site. Moroccan chickpea stew, curried chickpeas with rice and lemon yogurt soup are all great frozen and re-heated in a pot over a fire or on a gas camp stove.
Desserts, Snacks & Beverages
Pack dried fruits and nuts, Turkish delight or even poppy seed cake (muffins pack better than a whole cake) to enjoy with tea, coffee or spiced Aryan. Remember to drink plenty of water, too!
Kitchen Equipment List
2 Ice chests ~ one for beverages and refrigerated items (like olives), and the other for frozen foods that you are cooking later in the week. A gas camp stove, small BBQ grill, or just the grill top to lay over a fire pit. Do not forget necessary fuel canisters or briquettes! Matches or long handled, camp stove style lighter. Pots, pans, griddle, and aluminum foil (which may be used over fire or camp stove), long-handled utensils, large spoons, grapefruit spoon, chopping knives, skewers, basting brush, etc...oven mitts, and an apron, sieve, lemon juicer/reamer, rolling pin, cutting board, can opener dishwashing supplies (dish detergent, sponge and tea towels), disposable plates and utensils for easy cleanup.
Fresh and Perishables Dry Goods
Feta cheese, canned chickpeas, fresh fruit (lemons), tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, garlic, seasonings and spices (fresh herbs), eggplant, flour, sugar, tea, coffee, olives, olive oil, couscous, rice, tahine, pita bread, yogurt, dried fruits and nuts. For a more detailed survival guide, check out my classes in the Middle Eastern Encampment (Al-Mahala). I may be teaching this, as well as some of my favorite recipes, during the war. Have a happy war experience from your faithful belly-dancing cook!
Forever shimmying ~
Lady Xenia Hurrem