Monday, March 12, 2018

Diwan at The Aga Khan: Middle Eastern Cuisine

North America’s first museum dedicated to Islamic art and culture, The Aga Khan Museum offers visitors a window into worlds unknown or unfamiliar: the artistic, intellectual, and scientific contributions of Muslim civilizations to world heritage across the centuries. Created as a pillar for global pluralism, the Museum’s permanent collection of more than 1,000 artefacts includes masterpieces that reflect a broad range of artistic styles and materials, including portraits, textiles, miniatures, manuscripts, ceramics, tiles, medical texts, books and musical instruments that represent more than ten centuries of human history from a geographic area stretching from Spain, Sicily, Africa, the Balkans, Central Asia, China, India, and Southeast Asia. Special exhibitions are held throughout the year, such as 'The World of the Fatimids' which bears witness to a remarkable dynasty that built one of the world’s oldest universities, compiled one of its greatest libraries, and fostered a flowering of the arts and sciences. At its height in the 10th and 11th centuries, the Fatimids established one of the greatest civilizations in the world, influencing knowledge and culture throughout the Mediterranean, Europe, and the Near East. 

Taking advantage of our museum membership, we were able to enjoy a sneak preview of the exhibition before lunch at Diwan, which means 'spiritual room', the museum's elegant and refined signature restaurant, handsomely decorated with original panels from an 18th-century Damascus Mosque bought at auction in London by the Aga Khan. Few museums offer as beautiful a dining space as the one at the Aga Khan Museum, a culinary destination in its own right. Executive Chef Mark McEwan and Chef de Cuisine John Kovac's menu highlights the great cuisines of Turkey, Iran, North Africa, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, and includes dishes such as Mercimek Corbasi, a Turkish-inspired red lentil soup with dried mint, Sweet Onion Bhaji with tamarind chutney and Ali Nazik, a smoky eggplant purée with spiced lamb, yogurt and served with flatbread, a specialty of the Gaziantep province of Turkey. Entrées are equally enticing, including Grilled Octopus with Chickpea Salad, Moroccan olives, stewed sweet peppers and Aleppo aioli, and Chicken Biryani with Basmati rice and cashews served with warm naan. In the summer months, the restaurant opens its doors to a sunlit patio with fabulous views of the Aga Khan Park.

Diwan, which means 'spiritual room', is the Aga Khan Museum's signature restaurant

Original ceiling panel and lantern from an 18th-century Damascus Mosque evokes the luxury of a private 19th-century Syrian home, and was purchased at auction in London by the Aga Khan

Diwan's winter lunch menu

A glass of bubbly on a snowy afternoon

Mercimek Corbasi, a Turkish-inspired red lentil soup with dried mint

Sweet Onion Bhaji with tamarind chutney

Diana offers a short wine list including this lovely Argentinian Rosé

Grilled Octopus with Chickpea and Arugula Salad with Moroccan olives, stewed sweet peppers and served with an Aleppo aioli

Chicken Biryani with Basmati rice and cashews served with warm naan

A warm and comforting café au lait, the perfect balm on a cold snowy afternoon

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Honey Streusel and Figs
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of chef Mark McEwan

3 leaves gelatine
2 cups 35% cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean

Honey Streusel Topping:
1/2 cup cold butter
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp honey
3/4 cup flour

Port wine and fig sauce:
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup red port
1/2 sprig rosemary
1/2 vanilla bean
2 fresh figs, quartered

2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 vanilla bean
3 fresh figs, halved lengthwise
1/4 cup sugar

Fold a 12-inch sheet plastic wrap in half. Place a ring mould at its centre, lift the plastic wrap up around the edge, and secure it tautly in place with an elastic band to create a ramekin. Repeat with the remaining ring moulds. Arrange the ring moulds on a small baking sheet.

Submerge the gelatine in a bowl of ice-cold water. Place the cream and the sugar in a saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the cream, and then add the pod. Gently bring to a simmer, stirring so the sugar dissolves. Discard the pod. Pour the mixture into a stainless steel bowl. Remove the gelatine leaves from the water, squeeze gently, and add them to the cream mixture. Whisk until dissolved. Place the bowl over a second, large bowl of ice. Whisk gently until the cream mixture cools and thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Divide the mixture among the 4 ring moulds or ramekins, cover with plastic wrap, and chill overnight.

Preheat oven to 325ºF. For the streusel, cut the butter into cubes and let it sit on the counter for 10 minutes. Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with a paddle. Add the sugar and honey; mix on low speed. Once smooth, add the flour, mixing just until it attains a crumbly texture (do not mix further to form a dough). Scatter the crumble on a baking sheet, passing it through your fingers to break up any clumps. Bake, stirring now and then with a spatula, until golden and crisp, about 15 minutes.

For the sauce, combine the honey, port, and rosemary in a saucepan. Scrape the vanilla seeds into the pan and add the pod. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer and add the figs. Reduce the liquid by half. Strain through a sieve, pushing with a wooden spoon to force through the figs’ seeds. Set aside at room temperature.

To finish, heat the oil in a skillet on medium heat. Add the vanilla bean. Dredge the cut side of the fig halves in the sugar, and then place them in the pan, once again cut side down. Cook until caramelized on that side, about 4 minutes. Remove from the pan, reserving the vanilla oil. Meanwhile, invert the moulds of panna cotta carefully onto 4 chilled plates. Remove the plastic wrap, pass the blade of a knife around the edge of the moulds, and then lift them away. Scatter a band of streusel across the top of the panna cotta. Halve the figs again, and place 3 segments on each plate. Drizzle lightly with the vanilla oil, follow with a spoonful of the port-fig sauce, and serve.

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