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Archive for February, 2018


Aleppo’s Omelette

Growing up, weekend breakfasts meant frying aajeh in the kitchen. Aajeh is a delicious parsley-rich omelette popular across the Middle East. Unlike the classic French omelette, parsley is the star of the show; the eggs are there to hold everything together. Aajeh are fried, simple, and delicious. I love aajeh so much, I stole convinced my mom to give me her traditional aajeh pan from Aleppo. The pan has small dimples/craters that allow you to make individual aajeh fritters. As far as I’m aware, no other city in Syria (or the Middle East for that matter) prepares aajeh this way. Most recipes call for frying the aajeh as a large disk in a non-stick skillet.

Today I’m going to feature the Aleppan variation that I learned from my mom. If you want to prepare individual fritters, but your mom doesn’t have a special aajeh pan you could steal, you can make free-form fritters by carefully ladling spoonfuls of aajeh mix into a non-stick skillet lined with oil. Alternatively, the Danish/Dutch have popular pancake (aebleskiver/poffertjes, respectively) that are cooked in a similar pan. You can find them on Amazon.

mise en place
mise en place
fresh eggs
fresh eggs
whisked
whisked
aajeh fix-ins
aajeh fix-ins: featuring parsley
Mom’s aajeh pan
Mom's aajeh pan
weekend mornings
weekend mornings
aajeh عجة
aajeh عجة

Aajeh

yields ~6 servings

Components

  • 6-8 eggs
  • 1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, grated
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • 1 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • olive oil, for pan-frying
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Grate the onions making sure to squeeze out some of the excess water.
  2. Lightly whisk the eggs until the yolks and egg whites are combined.
  3. Mix all the ingredients together.
  4. Place an aajeh pan or a non-stick skillet over medium heat.
  5. Line the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of olive oil.
  6. Once the oil barely begins to shimmer, begin ladling spoonfuls of the aajeh mix.
  7. Cook 2-4 minutes on each side (depending on how big you made your aajeh and how high your heat is. Repeat until aajeh mix is finished.
  8. Transfer the fried aajeh to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the excess oil.

Note: The Danish/Dutch have popular pancake (aebleskiver/poffertjes, respectively) that are cooked in a similar pan. You can find them on Amazon.

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Alan’s Syrian-Inspired Lamb Chili

On October 26, 2011, a few months after I got back from my Fulbright in Syria, I noticed a new email in my inbox. From: Alan Janbay. Alan is Syrian American. He has extended family in Venezuela. And, like me, is also a food blogger. The coincidences seemed uncanny. I remember thinking, this guy is my digital doppelgänger!

We exchanged emails for about a year until we finally met in person in 2012. Alan was born and raised in the southern city of Sweida, Syria (السويداء), approximately 100km south of Damascus and 450km south of Aleppo. His birth name is Alaa’ (علاء), which is short for Aladdin (علاءالدين) in Arabic. While our stories are similar, there are fascinating differences between our food cultures. Dishes in Sweida incorporate plenty of yogurt, specifically dried yogurt or jameed (also known as kitha in Sweida). Jameed is yogurt that has been salted and dried into a rock, which helps preserve milk through the long winters in the Hauran mountains, where Sweida is located.

Alan and his Nana Nadia in Sweida
Alan and his Nana (Grandma) Nadia in Sweida
Alan and his mom in Sweida
Alan and his mom in Sweida

Alan learned how to cook from his grandmothers, Nadia (“Nana”) and Raeefeh. He recalls sitting at the kitchen counter while Nana prepared his favorite dish, vegetarian stuffed grape leaves called yalanji. She often tasked him with the simple jobs like peeling potatoes and fetching utensils. This exposure to cooking influenced his perspective on food. Before moving to the US, he lived with his grandparents for four years. He woke up every morning to the aroma of Teta Raeefe’s Arabic coffee brewing in the kitchen and his grandfather’s BBC Arabic radio station playing loudly in the background.

Ever since he was little, Alan was fascinated by planes and airports. When Alan moved to the US in 2001, he pursued a masters degree in Aviation Management and was able to realize his dream. Upon graduation, he started working for Delta Airlines in Oklahoma City. Before the war broke out in Syria, he used to surprise his family in Sweida. Without them knowing, he’d hop on a last-minute flight on Delta to Amman, Jordan and take a short cab ride across the border to Sweida. Sadly, he hasn’t been able to visit since the war broke out in 2011.

Alan has since moved to Atlanta, where he works at Delta’s Global Offices. He is passionate about sharing his Syrian heritage with friends and colleagues. His delicious food offers a glimpse into Syria’s rich culture. This is what prompted today’s post. Alan recently developed a unique recipe for Syrian-inspired lamb chili that incorporates ingredients from his childhood. He seasons ground lamb with a mixture of aromatic spices and creates a delicious chili base using reconstituted jameed, the dried yogurt traditionally used in dishes like mansaf.

There is no such thing as “chili” in Syria, but Alan does an amazing job of marrying the concept of American chili with the flavor profile of his culinary heritage. If you love lamb (and even if you think you don’t think you like lamb), you need to try this recipe!

mise en place
mise en place
jameed (جميد)
jameed (جميد)
reconstituting jameed in hot water
reconstituting jameed in hot water
beautiful colors
diced peppers
potatoes for richness
diced potatoes
Alan’s Syrian-Inspired Chili
Alan's Syrian-Inspired Chili
ground lamb + spices
ground lamb + spices
blending jameed
blending jameed
creamy jameed sauce
creamy jameed sauce
bay leaves, cilantro with reserved spices and garlic
creamy jameed sauce
cannellini beans #beanchili
cannellini beans #beanchili
Syrian-Inspired Lamb Chili
Syrian-Inspired Lamb Chili

Syrian-Inspired Lamb Chili

yields ~6-8 servings

Components

  • 2 pounds ground lamb
  • 28oz cannellini beans, rinsed
  • 100g jameed*
  • 6 cups of hot water
  • 2-3 yukon gold potatoes, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp red pepper paste
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
  • 2 tsp cumin, ground
  • 2 tsp Aleppo pepper, ground
  • 1.5 tsp turmeric, ground
  • 1.5 tsp cinnamon, ground
  • 1 tsp allspice, ground
  • 1 tsp coriander, ground
  • 1 tsp black pepper, ground
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Roughly chop the jameed. Cover in a bowl with 6 cups of hot water. Set aside.
  2. Mix all the spices in a bowl. Reserve roughly 3/4 for the meat and 1/4 for the broth.
  3. Preheat large large dutch oven (or heavy bottom pot) over medium high heat.
  4. Coat the bottom of the pot with olive oil and sear the lamb with the spices (do not add salt because the jameed has plenty of salt).
  5. Set aside 1 teaspoon of minced garlic. Add the remainder of the minced garlic, red pepper paste, and tomato paste to the seared meat. Mix until well combined.
  6. Add the diced potatoes. Coat with lamb fat and cook for 6-8 minutes or until potatoes are cooked halfway through.
  7. In the meantime, pour the soak jameed (along with the soaking water) into a blender and blend until smooth.
  8. Add the diced peppers to the potatoes and meat mixture. Cook for 1-2 minutes then add the blended jameed. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly.
  9. Add the bay leaves, chopped cilantro, remainder of the spices, and reserved teaspoon of minced garlic to the pot. Mix until well combined. Lower heat to medium low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.
  10. Gently mix in the rinsed cannellini beans. Cover until ready to serve.*

Note: You can find jameed at your local Mediterranean market. If you don’t have jameed, you can substitute greek (strained) yogurt, but be sure to adjust the salt/water accordingly. Jameed is preserved with salt, so does not require (much, if any) additional salt. This dish tastes better the next day.

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Award-winning Syrian-inspired Lamb Chili
lamb chili bite

Sautéed shiitakes for the perfect ski weekend

I’m writing this blog post remotely, from my brother’s house in Vermont. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have seen the amazing snow conditions we’ve had this weekend. The night before I arrived, the ski gods delivered a snow storm that covered the mountains with about 15″ of fresh powder. It was perfect timing! All the evergreens were covered in snow. The views from the chairlifts were stunning. I spent all day Friday and Saturday skiing. My body is sore, but it’s the good kind of sore. The satisfying kind. And when your body is aching and you don’t want to move a muscle, you should have simple and delicious recipes in your back pocket. Because no amount of aching is reason not to eat well.

15″ of fresh powder
fresh powder
Vermont evergreens
Vermont evergreens
this view <3
this view
chairlift
chairlift

I grew up not liking mushrooms. Something about the texture and flavor didn’t appeal to me. It probably didn’t help that in school we learned that mushrooms are a type of fungus. I was missing out. At one point, my taste buds had a revelation and now I can’t get enough! My favorite preparation for most kinds of mushrooms is sautéed in a bit of butter, with minced garlic, fresh thyme (or in this case leftover marjoram from Melissa Clark’s Tarragon Chicken), and finished with a splash of vermouth. If you don’t have vermouth, you can substitute a dry white wine.

mise en place
mise en place

The preparation is simple. If you start off with great quality fresh mushrooms, you don’t have to do much to them. I got these beautiful shiitakes from my local farmers market in Baltimore. Shiitakes are famous for their wonderful meaty texture and an earthy and slightly smokey flavor profile. They’re great for a hearty side.

mushroom prep
mushroom prep

You don’t want to rinse fresh mushrooms under water. They’ll inevitably absorb some of that water, which will make it more difficult to achieve a nice sear on the surface. Searing mushrooms triggers the Maillard reaction, which helps draw out the rich, smokey, and earthy flavors of the shiitake mushrooms. Shiitake stems can be tough. If the mushroom is big or the stem is particularly dry, I recommend cutting it off. If the stems are small and feel tender to the touch, I generally leave them on and only cut the tip, where the mushroom was attached to the soil.

garlic & marjoram
garlic and marjoram
light brown garlic
light brown garlic

This step is important. If you look away for one second, you run the risk of burning the garlic, which is no good. You can’t recover from burnt garlic. If that happens to you, toss out the garlic, wipe the pan, and start over. As the first specks of garlic barely begin to turn golden brown, you want to add the mushrooms and toss them in the garlic butter. The mushrooms will absorb all that garlic-infused butter, which is what you want. You also want to hold off on seasoning the mushrooms at this point. Adding salt will draw out the moisture of the mushrooms, which will make it more difficult to get a nice sear on the surface.

a splash of vermouth
a splash of vermouth
sautéed shiitake mushrooms
a splash of vermouth

Sauteed Shiitake Mushrooms with Vermouth

yields ~4 appetizer servings

Components

  • 1 lb fresh shiitake mushrooms
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 bunch fresh marjoram, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbsp vermouth
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. With a sharp knife, remove any tough stems from the larger shiitake mushrooms. With a damp paper towel, wipe any specks of dirt from the surfaces.
  2. In a large skillet over medium low heat add butter, olive oil, and garlic.
  3. Cook the garlic until barely golden brown and add the shiitake mushrooms. Coat the mushrooms in the garlic-infused butter then allow them to sear by not stirring too frequently.
  4. Add the chopped marjoram, the vermouth, and season with salt. Stir to mix everything together and enjoy.

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Melissa Clark’s Tarragon Chicken

If I make a dish three times in two weeks, it merits its own blog post. Melissa Clark’s Tarragon Chicken with Sherry Vinegar Onions is delicious.

If you skip today’s post and scroll through the pictures to the recipe, I would understand. For those who just ate or are browsing food blogs at work without access to a kitchen, I’ll try to use my words to do this recipe justice. Think French countryside. Think homey. Think simple, yet assertive. Think onions cooked in chicken fat. Think happiness. It’s not often a dish makes me feel this way.

One of the most common questions I get is whether I cook complicated meals all the time, every day. I don’t. Sometimes I’m just hungry and crave something simple and delicious. Melissa’s tarragon chicken is perfect for those days. While it’s simple, it does take a little bit of preparation the night before. You should marinate the chicken overnight for optimal tarragon flavor. Fresh herbs, unlike their dry counterparts, have a subtle flavor. You need to give the flavor time to permeate into the chicken. Once the chicken is marinated though, the dish comes together in no time.

The first time I made this dish, I prepared it just as Melissa described in her recipe: I thinly sliced the onions, I used plenty of tarragon, I finished it with a splash of sherry vinegar—it tasted amazing. The supporting role of the onions should not be understated. The onions cook down in the herb-infused chicken fat and developer a rich, caramelized flavor profile. That splash of sherry vinegar at the end cuts through the chicken fat so that your palate can discern the flavor of the herbs and chicken.

The second time I prepared this dish, I wanted to double down on the anise flavor of the tarragon. I added thinly sliced fennel to the bed of onions. The texture of the roasted fennel blends perfectly with the melt-in-your-mouth onions. Roasted fennel imparted a caramelized anise flavor that pairs perfectly with the tarragon.

The third time I prepared this dish, I didn’t need to change anything. For fun, I decided swap out the thyme for marjoram, which tends to have a grassier, sweeter flavor profile. It was perfect. That’s the variation I present to you today. It’s a keeper. Bookmark this page and make this for your friends and family. You can thank me later.

mise en place
mise en place
tarragon leaves
tarragon leaves

Tarragon leaves are long and slender. Remove any tough stems so that you’re left with the fragrant leaves and some tender stems.

chopped herbs: tarragon & marjoram
chopped herbs

When you’re chopping herbs, make sure you use your sharpest knife and the herbs are relatively dry. This will help prevent the herbs from bruising.

simple marinade: herbs, garlic, olive oil, salt & pepper
simple marinade: herbs, garlic, olive oil, salt & pepper
chicken marinating
chicken marinating

The marinating step for this dish is important. Fresh herbs have a subtle flavor and need time permeate the chicken.

best supporting role: sherried onions & fennel
best supporting role: sherried onions and fennel

The onions and fennel make this dish. Slice them thinly so that they can develop a rich, caramelized flavor profile.

chicken thighs nestled in onions
chicken thighs nestled in onions
tarragon chicken
tarragon chicken

Tarragon Chicken with Sherry Vinegar Onions

yields ~6 servions

Components

  • 3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped tarragon (leaves and tender stems), plus 4 whole sprigs
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped marjoram (leaves and tender stems), plus 4 whole sprigs
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
  • 2 medium onion, peeled and sliced (about 4 cups)
  • 1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, more as needed
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, more as needed

Putting them all together

  1. In a large bowl or a large ziplock bag, stir together the chopped tarragon, chopped marjoram, garlic, oil, salt and pepper. Add chicken thighs and toss to coat. Cover with plastic wrap (if using a bowl) or seal (if using a ziplock bag) and chill overnight (or last least for six hours).
  2. Heat oven to 425 degree. Spread thinly sliced onions and fennel out on a rimmed baking sheet. Make sure the onions form a thin layer so that they caramelize, not steam.
  3. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Nestle the chicken thighs on the baking pan so that the onions and fennel surround the chicken. Add the marjoram and tarragon sprigs on top.
  5. Roast, tossing the onions and fennel after 15 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the onions are tender, 30-35 minutes.
  6. Turn on the broiler for 1-2 minutes at the end so that the chicken skins get crispy and the onions and fennel caramelize further.
  7. Place chicken on a platter. Drizzle onions with sherry vinegar and more salt and pepper if needed. Spoon onions around the chicken and serve.

Note: Recipe adapted from NYTimes: Tarragon Chicken With Sherry Vinegar Onions.

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juicy tarragon chicken
juicy tarragon chicken