It’s already the end of the year and I can’t frickin believe it! One year ago, though it seems like yesterday, I was starting research for my thesis here with gleaming eyes and high aspirations as I took my first steps in the unknown yet exciting world of academic research. I wanted to write a paper that would change the world and uncover some kind of shattering truth (as it so often happens when you study smallholder agriculture right?), go on the field and bring back ground-breaking data, roll up my sleeves and argue with top researchers, basically do all those crazy things that hot, glamorous academic scholars do. Twelve strenuous months later, the only ground-breaking truth I discovered is that probably no-one will have the slightest interest in reading 200 pages on how to create commitment in buyer-supplier relationships linking private multinationals to smallholder farmers in Brazil (I know, crazy!) and the only arguing I saw was a tepid discussion on the premises of game theory between a Danish scholar and an Argentinean economist. I also discovered the less than glamorous reality of “no-that-person-that-you-emailed-three-weeks-ago-and-who-is-a-key-informant-for-your-topic-does-not-give-a-rat’s-ass-about-your-research” and “it’s-been-a-month-since-you’ve-submitted-it-and-your-advisor-still-hasn’t-opened-your-thesis”. After all of that, and loving almost every second of it regardless, I am proud to say that I have finished my thesis, submitted it, defended it and been approved. Yay! I’m officially done with my master’s and it’s as much a relief as it is scary. There are so many things happening and changes coming, and I can’t wait to tell you about them, but I need to leave some suspense for future posts.
Actually the exciting thing happening TODAY is that I’m flying to France for a couple of weeks to see my family. Freddy would kill me if he saw me blogging instead of packing right now. I tend to repeat the same mistake every time I travel which is to 1) leave packing for the last minute and 2) become hysterical because I’ve left things for the last minute. Last year, at this exact time, on the day we were going to fly off to spend the Holidays with my parents, I had a melt-down in the middle of the street because I couldn’t get some pictures framed on time before leaving. Since then, Freddy has learned that he needs to stay as far away from me as possible at least three days before I take a plane as my stress levels build up and reach their grande finale outburst on D-Day. I’m actually surprised I’m not feeling more stressed right now, since I not only need to pack a suit case for France but also put the rest of my stuff in boxes since we’re switching to a new place while I’ll be away. Should be fine, my flight is at 9pm and it’s only midday. And I don’t have that much stuff anyway. Ok I do, but I’ve actually planned to throw out a good chunk of crap that I don’t need to be carrying around… I’ll update you tomorrow whether I made it to Paris or not. Right now, I’m excited to share this delicious recipe. It’s so good it couldn’t wait a minute more to be posted.
I’ve already talked about how much I love Ras-el-Hanout, a North-African spice blend that, I kid you not, will make anything taste amazing. I love to sprinkle it over veggies before roasting them in the oven or on sauteed chicken. It means “top of the store” in Arabic because it was made using the best spices available in the shop, including ground coriander, cumin, cardamom, turmeric, paprika, ground peppercorns and chili. I spiced these burgers with Ras-el-Hanout, added some golden Sultana raisins, some fresh cilantro and mint leaves and topped them with a thin pistachio crust – the result was divine. What I was most pleased with was the result of cooking the burgers in the oven rather than in a pan. They came out perfectly cooked through, golden on the outside, juicy on the inside and “together”, whereas every time I cook burgers in a pan, I always feel they crumble a little and don’t pack the same consistency or flavor. I definitely recommend the oven method for these as it will allow the flavors from the spices, herbs and sweet raisins to incorporate more into the meat. This is a perfectly healthy recipe and you can use either ground lamb or ground beef, I’ve tried both and both are amazing!
Recipe: Moroccan Spiced Burgers with Pistachios
Makes 6-8 medium Burgers
1 medium red onion, thinly diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/3 cup (10g) fresh cilantro, chopped
Handful of fresh mint (about 10 leaves), chopped
1 1/2 tbsp of tapioca flour or arrowroot
1 tbsp Ras-el-Hanout spice blend
1/3 cup (50g) golden Sultan raisins
1/2 cup (50g) pistachios, chopped
Salt and pepper
1. Preheat oven to 400°F (205°C) and line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminium foil. Place a wire rack over the baking sheet leaving about 1 inch of space between them for optimal air circulation. Cooking the burgers this way will allow for them to cook evenly on all sides without the need to flip them over, all the while staying juicy on the inside, and the baking sheet will catch any drippings.
2. In a large bowl, season the ground meat to your liking with salt and pepper (I generally put 3 teaspoons of table salt for 1 lb of ground meat, but I have a rather weak tasting salt – depends on the salt you use and your preferences). Add the onion, garlic, cilantro, mint, spices, raisins, egg and tapioca (or arrowroot) and combine gently using your hands without overworking the meat.
3. Shape into medium-sized patties (should yield 6 to 8) and place them on the wire rack. Sprinkle chopped pistachios over each patty to make a top “crust”.
4. Cook the burgers in the oven for about 12-16 minutes, depending on how you like them done. If you have a meat thermometer, check for 130°F for medium-rare, 140°F for medium and 160°F for well-done. Serve.