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Archive for the ‘salads’ Category


Marlene’s White Bean Salad

Lately, I’ve been reading The Aleppo Cookbook by Marlene Matar. The book has a permanent spot in my living room. When I’m feeling nostalgic, I pick it up and read through some of the recipes. It’s a beautiful tribute to Aleppo’s legendary cuisine. The photography is simple and elegant, with a focus on the natural beauty of ingredients and the finished dishes. The cover is a wonderful close-up shot of pomegranates, which are quintessentially Aleppan. It reminds me of the day trip I took to Basouta, a Kurdish farming village outside of Aleppo. Basouta is famous for its pomegranates.

Basouta, Syria–outskirts of Aleppo (November 2010)
pomegranates in Basouta

Tucked away on page 103 of Marlene’s book, under salads and vegetable side dishes, is a simple recipe for a white bean salad. I almost missed it had it not been for the reference to red pepper paste, which makes everything taste amazing! Red pepper paste, which is made from Aleppo peppers, is another quintessential Aleppan ingredient. A couple weeks ago, after an intense workout and with no energy left to cook, I remembered Marlene’s salad. I decided to give it a try. I always have cans of cannellini beans stashed away in my pantry for situations like this. The combination of creamy cannellini beans with the spicy red pepper paste dressing and earthy cumin is sublime. Best of all, the salad comes together in less than 10 minutes and can be made the day before. In fact, it’s one of those dishes that tastes better the next day once the flavors have had a chance to marry. I know because I photographed this dish yesterday and I’m enjoying a bowl of the leftovers as I write this post.

mise en place
mise en place
simple prep: parsley, lemon juice, and garlic
simple prep: parsley, lemon juice, and garlic
lots of olive oil <3
love of olive oil
white bean salad (سلطةفاصوليابيضاء)
white bean salad (سلطة فاصوليا بيضاء)

White Bean Salad

yields approximately 6 servings

Components

  • 2 15oz cans white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 Tbsp red pepper paste
  • 1.5 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds, optional
  • 1-2 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. In a bowl, combine the beans with the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Mix well, taste, and adjust seasoning. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Notes: Slightly modified from The Aleppo Cookbook by Marlene Matar.

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bright flavors
bright flavors

Zaalouk, a Mashed Moroccan Salad

Zaalouk (زعلوك) is an incredibly delicious Moroccan salad prepared with fresh eggplants cooked with ripe tomatoes, roasted peppers, and warm spices. It’s a celebration of spring and all the delicious vegetables that are right around the corner. I can already begin to feel the rays of the sun stretching further and the days getting warmer.

When I visited Morocco in 2016, I ate zaalouk everywhere I went. It was printed on every menu at every restaurant. I was obsessed. You could eat it cold or hot, but I prefer it cold on a hot spring/summer day. It’s very light and refreshing. It’s one of those dishes that tastes better the next day. Think along the lines of picnic dip, sandwich spread, or straight up, digging in with your fork. You can’t go wrong with zaalouk.

mise en place
mise en place

Although Moroccans and Syrians speak Arabic, the dialects couldn’t be more different. Moroccan Arabic is influenced by Berber, French and Spanish. It’s so different than the Syrian dialect that it was often easier to chat with locals in English than it was to try to use Arabic. Sometimes we opted for Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), the standard Arabic reserved for the press and news broadcasts. It’s rarely spoken by locals. MSA sounds awkward in any context that isn’t the news. It’s like walking into a bakery and ordering a croissant in Shakespearean English.

In the Syrian/Levantine dialect, the root za-aa-la (زعل) means to sadden. In Modern Standard Arabic, za-aa-la means to anger. By extension, I thought zaalouk would be the word used to describe when someone saddens/angers you (3rd person). Not in Morocco. The word zaalouk comes from the term, m’zaalak, which is used to describe a mashed texture. It is an apt description for how the eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers, mash together to create an incredible burst of flavor. The only way zaalouk could be sad is if you missed out.

salt eggplants
salt eggplants
eggplants coated in olive oil
roast eggplants in 400 degree oven
roasted eggplants
roasted eggplants
fresh tomatoes
fresh tomatoes
cooked tomato puree
cooked tomato puree
everything together
everything together
zaalouk (زعلوك)
zaalouk (زعلوك)

Zaalouk

yields ~4-6 servings

Components

  • 2-3 medium eggplants/li>
  • 2 roasted red peppers, diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, optional
  • 1 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil plus more for pan-frying
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Wash and remove the stems of the eggplants. Cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
  2. Season the eggplants with a little salt. Line a baking sheet with a layer of paper towels. Scatter the seasoned eggplants on the paper towels and cover with another layer of paper towels. Press down on the paper towels to draw out the excess moisture.
  3. Toss eggplants in olive oil. Scatter on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until cooked through.
  4. Cut tomatoes into 1/2 cubes. Line the bottom of a large sauté pan with olive oil. Add tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the tomatoes are soft and have lost their shape.
  5. Add the roasted eggplants, diced peppers, cumin, Aleppo pepper, and garlic to the cooked tomatoes.
  6. Cook for another 7-10 minutes until the eggplants have broken down into a chunky paste.
  7. Mix the chopped parsley (and chopped cilantro). Serve hot, cold, or at room temperature.

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zaalouk bite
zaalouk bite

Middle Eastern house salad

Seattle was beautiful and I cannot wait to show you pictures, but first, there’s a salad I’ve been meaning to tell you about – it’s called fattoush (فتوش).

It seems like the market for Middle Eastern salads (outside of the Middle East) is disproportionally dominated by tabbouleh, a salad, that when made right, combines ultra-finely chopped parsley with tiny pearls of fine-ground bulger wheat and other finely chopped vegetables. Fattoush is quite the opposite, at least when it comes to preparation – it can be thrown together in a matter of minutes, in a very rustic and hearty way that’s all about flavor rather than embellishments. Tabbouleh is delicious though, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes, however, I just want a quick and tasty, no-frill salad, and for moments like these I make fattoush.

mise en place

The mise en place can be overwhelming, but in one trip to the farmer’s market you can have all these vegetables laid out on your table, too. The most exotic ingredient here is probably the sumac, which is a lemony, sour spice that can be found in most specialty markets these days and certainly any Mediterranean market you know of. If you like cooking Middle Eastern dishes, this is a spice that you should always have on hand.

toast the pita with a sprinkle of sumac

This is the part where some people might disagree: the bread. Probably the best (and most traditional) way you can prepare the bread for fattoush is by pan-frying the triangles in extra virgin olive oil, but that takes a long time and makes a mess of my stovetop. I prefer to toss the pita triangles in olive oil, sprinkle some sumac on the bread (something my grandmother taught me), and throw the whole tray into the oven/broiler, on high.

shake it up

The dressing for this salad is equally simple, as promised. It’s a combination of olive oil and lemon juice, with a sprinkle of salt and sumac – that’s it. You can add dried mint to the dressing like I did, but that’s completely up to you.

Fattoush (فتوش)

Fattoush

for the salad

Components

  • 1 head romaine lettuce
  • 2-3 medium tomatoes
  • 1 bunch of scallions, chopped
  • 1/3 cup radishes, sliced
  • 1/2 cup cucumbers, chopped
  • 1/2 cup red bell peppers, chopped
  • 1/3 cup mint, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp sumac
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2-3 pita breads, cut into triangles
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt, to taste
  • dressing/vinaigrette

  • 2 parts extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 part lemon juice
  • 1 tsp sumac
  • sprinkle of dried mint, optional
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Roughly chop all your vegetables, except the radishes, I prefer to slice those.
  2. Chop the pita bread into triangles or small squares, coat with olive oil and 1/2 tsp of sumac and broil until golden brown.
  3. Prepare your vinaigrette by mixing the olive oil and the lemon juice in a jar with the sumac and a dash of salt.
  4. Toss everything together and enjoy.

notes: Joumana pointed out that traditional fattoush calls for purslane (بقلة). There wasn’t any readily available to me, but you can add it to your salad for a more authentic and tangy flavor – if not, romaine lettuce is an acceptable substitute.

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صحة و هنا – bon appetit

Memories of Italy Hidden in a Salad

While in Italy, I noticed a great deal of attention was given to the palate and the way in which food was perfectly orchestrated from preparation to consumption. Meals had an order to them; appetizers actually opened up my appetite (shocking, right?). Chicken wings swimming in a puddle of sauce or a mountain of nachos forgotten under a cap of plastic-like cheese was simply unheard of. I loved how food made sense there.

Breakfast was usually small and quick – un caffè accompanied by a biscotti was delicious and typical. Ordering a “decaf grande, half-soy, half-low fat, double-shot, marble mocha macchiato, no foam, 2 Sweet-n’-low, extra hot” was grounds for excommunication with a side of public humiliation. Lunches were equally enjoyable, and I can continue to rant about how fabulous the al fresco dinners were, but that’s not what this entry is really about. This entry is my little tribute to the Sicilian classic, Fennel and Orange Salad.

On my trip I learned that salads are not to be eaten as entrees nor are they served as preludes to a meal. A salad should be enjoyed after the main course as a palate cleanser for the sweet finale. The moment I tasted this traditional Sicilian winter salad, I knew it was worth blogging about. The fresh anise flavor that charges through each bite literally douses your taste buds with the most memorable refreshing sensation. The anise flavor is then coupled with the sweet tartness from the juice of the blood oranges, striking that perfect note in your mouth. Add a few olives for some extra tang and your fruitiest extra virgin olive oil for some balance and you’ve got yourself a phenomenal salad!

Fennel & Orange Salad

Fennel & Orange Salad

(yields 2 servings)

Components

  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 1 blood orange
  • 1 naval orange
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • a few black olives
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Prepare the fennel by cutting off the bulb. Then cut the bulb into quarters, and slice each quarter into thin strips. Rinse under cold water and set aside.
  2. Section the oranges and set aside. Then squeeze what’s left to remove as much of the juice as possible.
  3. Whisk the juice of the oranges into the olive oil to create a light vinaigrette. Season with salt and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  4. To serve, scatter fennel slices on a large platter, decorate with orange segments, black olives and drizzle with the light orange vinaigrette.

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