The Ant and the Grasshopper


First published in The Cordova Times, 9/28/2012

 

We have a tough job here in the North during summer. It’s like we have to play both sides of Aesop’s fable of the grasshopper and the ant: we must play while the sun shines AND save enough food for winter. With a summer like the one we just had, it seems like the harvesting has been plentiful, but the play was lacking—the ant won. It’s a good thing we find ways to keep the grasshopper playing in the winter too.

Here in Juneau, there’s not an annual moose hunt the way there is in Cordova, and I’ve been watching the results of this year’s hunt in Cordova with interest. It’s great so see so many successful women hunters and their helpful teams of men and women putting up the meat that will feed many families for the winter. Last year, I was on the periphery of a moose butchering team when James helped harvest a moose that had been donated to a local food bank. I helped by keeping James and his buddies supplied with butcher paper, coffee, and snacks. It was amazing to watch that huge volume of food get processed in record time. Back in Cordova, I hear that moose fat can be rendered and used as a delicious replacement for shortening. Erica Thompson says it smells awful while it’s rendering, but tastes just great in baking once it’s done. (On hearing of Erica’s experiments, Becca Dodge mentioned that she and Mark once rendered bear fat that was a lovely shade of blue due to the bear’s generous blueberry diet.)

When you have delicious fresh roasts, back strap, and other choice cuts of moose, there’s really nothing fancy that you need to do to prepare it, is there? I just hope for leftovers so I can make one of my favorite childhood dishes: Imfarakat, which might just be Arabic for “let’s use whatever we have left to make something new.” I can’t find it in a dictionary, but it is fun to say. It sounded like “mmmfudakey” when Sitto, my grandmother, said it. Essentially, it’s moose hash. I sauté an onion, and add enough thinly sliced potatoes for whoever’s eating, frying until the potatoes are crispy and cooked through. Then I add chopped up leftover moose steak or roast and some steamed green beans. When everything is hot, I add one beaten egg per person and fry until the egg is cooked through. Salt and pepper are the only seasonings you’ll need, and it’s great for breakfast or dinner served with buttered toast and hot coffee.

Since I stopped eating meat in my early twenties, and didn’t come back to it until we had plentiful wild game and fish here in Alaska, I often look to my childhood, and my Syrian grandmother’s recipes for inspiration. When I was little, one of Sitto’s family meals wouldn’t be complete without kibbee—spiced ground meat mixed with cracked wheat, then served raw, baked, or fried.  I love my grandmother’s baked kibbee with it’s creamy, nutty filling. It tastes delicious made with ground moose.

To begin the kibbee, I rinse some fine cracked (bulgar) wheat, then let it soak in clear water for about ten minutes. Drain the water with a sieve, and squeeze out any excess liquid. Add two pounds of ground meat (minus a half cup set aside for the filling), a large onion diced fine, a teaspoon of salt, and some freshly ground black pepper. I divide the meat mixture in half, and press the first half into the bottom of a greased 9×13 glass baking dish. To make the filling, I brown the reserved meat and add a half cup of pine nuts (my grandmother disliked pine nuts and always used chopped pecans. I like it both ways). To the browned meat, I add a package of cream cheese or a cup of yogurt cheese (yogurt that’s been strained overnight through cheese cloth). I season the filling with dried mint, salt and pepper to taste. Spread the filling over the first layer of meat, then press the other half of the meat mixture gently on top of the filling layer. This is hands-on work, and I find that dipping your hands in water makes it easier to smooth the meat mixture without having it stick to your hands. I use a sharp knife to make diagonal cuts in perpendicular lines across the dish creating diamond shaped pieces of kibbee. Pour a half cup of melted butter over the top of the kibbee, then bake at 350F for about 15 minutes or until the meat is cooked through, and kibbee is browned. Kibbee is delicious hot from the oven, and makes a great cold lunch the next day.

This weekend, I was the grasshopper. I danced with friends at the fall’s first square dance and found on Sunday afternoon I had to scramble to pull something together for supper. While we had our quickly made dinner of bean and rice burritos we planned for next Sunday’s meal to be something warm and inviting. We’ll be ants this week, planning and foraging, and I’m guessing moose will be on the menu.

 

Baked Moose Kibbee Ingredients

2lbs ground moose meat (less 1/2 cup reserved for filling)
1 1/2 cups fine cracked (bulgar) wheat
1 large onion, diced fine
1 teaspoon salt
Pepper
1/2 cup melted butter

 

Filling:

1/2 cup ground meat
1 package cream cheese or 1 cup yogurt cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried mint
1/2 cup pine nuts or chopped pecans
Salt and pepper to taste

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