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Archive for the ‘soups’ Category


Mloukhiyye at the digital dinner table

I’m back.

The situation in Syria has gone from bad, it skipped worse, and plunged straight into bleak. I needed time to wrap my head around the events of the last seventeen months.

Syria has been on my mind since the day I evacuated, April 26, 2011. My friends Bassel, Zaki, and Karam drove me to a bus station in the outskirts of Aleppo where I boarded an almost empty bus to Lebanon at 2AM. I never imagined things would get this bad. I read newspaper articles, blogs, Facebook posts; I watch videos on YouTube, listen to news reports; I follow vetted Twitter users who are inside Syria; I call friends and relatives on a weekly basis — and still, it is difficult to know exactly what is happening inside the country. My heart aches for all the Syrians who have lost their lives and livelihood during this bloody conflict. And my thoughts and prayers go to all those who remain trapped inside.

The reason I decided to write a blog post today, however, is not to discuss politics — at least not directly. I’ve always described my food blog as part of my home. It’s the dining room table where I invite readers to pull up a chair. I share stories, photos, and recipes and start a conversation around food and culture. People from around the world can chime in with a simple comment. I almost let myself forget how incredible that feeling is. The feeling of connecting with another person — of breaking bread across the internet. With that, I want to open my door once more and invite you to my digital dinner table. Please, come in. Let me get you something to drink.

Tea with friends by the historic citdael in Aleppo
tea
Arabic coffee
Arabic coffee

Part of the inspiration for today’s blog post came from the book, Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love and War by Annia Ciezadlo. The book was published February 1, 2011, while I was still in Syria, but it wasn’t until I arrived to Lebanon that I was able to find a copy at a book store in Beirut. If you haven’t read it already, add it to your summer reading list. Annia writes about the conflicts in Lebanon and the war in Iraq through intimate stories of people living their lives in a war-torn region. She puts faces to part of the world that can often seem distant and disconnected. Annia writes, “if you want to understand war, you have to understand everyday life first.” I agree.

Lunch in the darkness
lunch

This is a photo from a friend on Twitter, @HumanGraces. She lives in Aleppo and tweets (mostly in Arabic) about everything from politics to food and family, including random musings from her brothers. On February 5, 2012 she tweeted this image with the caption, غدا اليوم عالعتمة, meaning, today, lunch in the dark.

Electricity in Aleppo (at that time) used to get cut eight hours each day; usually four hours in the early afternoon and four hours in the evening. When @HumanGraces tweeted this image my mouth watered, but I also felt a strange sense of nostalgia. There was kibbeh (a classic Levantine meat and bulgur patty), mloukhiyye served alongside rice, and a big bowl of house salad that completes every meal in Syria. That’s when I noticed something else that was interesting, hidden in the shadows of the frame. Those were legs and hands of people sitting together around a dinner table. In the middle of a war. I sent @HumanGraces a Direct Message (DM) on Twitter to ask what the meal was like. Was it quiet? Did politics dominate the conversation? Any resentment or anger? @HumanGraces described the emotions surrounding the meal as a blend of helplessness and joy. They laughed and, she confessed, one of her aunts even ululated. If you only follow the politics and conflicts of the Middle East, or any region, you can easily glance over moments like this; the story of a family that gathers for lunch, clinging to any sense of normalcy in a world that seems to be falling apart.

There is a popular saying across the Middle East that says, يوم عسل ويوم بصل (yom a’asal w yom basal), which means, “one day is like honey, another is like an onion.” This is the expression Annia used as part of the title to her memoir. It’s a saying that captures perfectly the blend of emotions: helplessness and joy; an optimism for a better tomorrow. An expression that swallows pain and allows life to continue. In conflicts like the one in Syria, a better tomorrow is usually the most any family can pray for. When I speak with friends and relatives in Aleppo, a lot of them will use the expression, “الله يستر” (Allah yestor) or “may God forbid/protect us.” This means, forbid the bad from happening to us, and thereby protect us from evil. As the conflict in Syria progresses and the country continues to crumble, I understand how this is the best any person, on either side of the conflict, can hope for.

One of the dishes @HumanGraces had at the table is a classic leafy broth called mloukhiyye (ملوخية). This dish originated in Ancient Egypt where it is said to have been a meal prepared for kings (or pharaohs?). The idea being that mloukhiyye (ملوخية) evolved from the word mloukiyye (ملوكية) (with a k instead of kh), which shares the linguistic tri-literal root ma-la-ka (ملك) — the Arabic word for king. Whether or not this etymology is accurate, I can certainly see why a king would love this meal. According to this Wikipedia article on Mloukhiyye, “the leaves are rich in betacarotene, iron, calcium, Vitamin C and more than 32 vitamin and minerals and trace elements.”

mise en place
mise en place

Mloukhiyye leaves can give off a slimy texture, particularly when they’re used fresh or frozen. The mloukhiyye I had in Syria was prepared at home from whole, dried mloukhiyye leaves. The cook explained to me that her kids, who are around my age, would not eat it any other way. This was my first time eating mloukhiyye and I loved it. There was barely any slimy texture to the leaves. In Egypt, however, traditional mloukhiyye recipes call for the fresh leaves to be finely chopped, which tends to release more of the mucilaginous texture, resembling that of okra.

simple seasoning: cumin & garlic
cumin and garlic

Once you are able to find mloukhiyye leaves, the dish comes together fairly easily. Start off by heating up some ground coriander and garlic in a medium pot. This will remove some of the edge from the garlic and it will also bring out the essential oils in the ground coriander. You’ll know when it’s ready; the scent of coriander and garlic will perfume your kitchen. If your nose is stuffy that day, set your timer for 5 minutes, making sure to stir regularly so the garlic does not brown.

A splash of lemon
A splash of lemon

Once you add the broth and the mloukhiyye leaves to the pot, bring the mixture to a boil and finish it off with a splash of lemon juice. This is supposed to help cut down on the slimy texture. How much this actually helps, I’m not sure, but it does add a wonderful bright burst of flavor to the dish.

Minced onions
Minced onions

In the Levant it is traditional to serve mloukhiyye with minced onions in vinegar — like a quick pickle. The acid notes in the vinegar, like the lemon juice, help highlight the flavors of the dish.

A quick onion pickle
A quick onion pickle

At this point you’re ready to eat. Serve the mloukhiyye and rice in separate bowls alongside the pickled onions for guests to add as much as they would like.

Serve separately: mloukhiyye & rice
mloukhiyye and rice

Mloukhiyye

yields approx 4-6 servings

Components

  • 3 cups of chicken broth
  • 1 package of frozen mloukhiyye leaves (400g)
  • poached chicken
  • 1 Tbsp coriander, ground
  • 6-8 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 small onion
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon

Putting them all together

  1. In a medium pot over medium heat stir ground coriander and minced garlic in some butter or olive oil until fragrant.
  2. Add the frozen mloukhiyye leaves and boiling chicken stock.
  3. Taste for seasoning. Add poached chicken meat and remove from heat.
  4. Add diced onion to vinegar and set aside until needed.
  5. Serve mloukhiyye over a bed of rice with a side of quick-pickled onions.

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Mloukhiyye with rice (ملوخية بالرز)
mloukhiyye with rice

Thank you for everyone who wrote in with comments and emails asking about the situation in Syria. It has meant a lot. I continue to hope for a speedy resolution — الله يستر (Allah yestor).

Tant Juju’s Chicken Noodle and Rice Soup

Something came up last minute and my grandmother’s sister has to travel; everything, though, should be fine. I spent the last couple of weeks looking at apartments and finally moved a few days ago.

I unpacked my things, tested the washer, took a deep breath, and made soup. Chicken noodle and rice soup. I learned this recipe from lunch at my friend Georgette’s house. Georgette, or Juju as everyone likes to call her, is one of those people you can’t not like. Not even if you tried. She possesses that tender grandmotherly spirit that loves and cares for everyone. She can’t help it. Georgette is in her sixties, is recently-widowed, and has a heart made of pure gold.

Tant Juju
Tant Juju

Tant Juju (Aunt Juju) invited me over for lunch several times while I was looking at apartments. Aside from being an angel, she is also an incredible cook. Her style is simple and homey. She makes the kind of food that you eat with gusto, and in generous servings. Whenever I say something too polite she tells me to stop acting like a stranger; she considers me family.

Tant Juju cooks out of a tiny kitchen that barely fits the two of us. While she cooks I usually stand by the doorway of her kitchen and keep her company. We chat, but mostly I observe from a distance. There are no measuring cups or spoons; no hesitation, no fuss. Her cooking reminds me of a good dance performance. Tant Juju is graceful, but assertive in the way she cooks. This is her domain. You could tell by the way she adds ingredients with confidence that she’s been doing this for a while.

The day Tant Juju invited me for over for soup, I actually went out of courtesy. I had already grabbed a quick bite to eat in the street, but you can’t say ‘no’ to Tant Juju. She won’t have it. It’s part of Aleppan hospitality: eat, eat, eat, then eat some more. So I went. And I ate. And I loved. And ate some more. It was perfect.

In celebration of Tant Juju’s amazingly simple and delicious soup, this was the first dish I made in my new home. Try this recipe before winter is gone. Like Tant Juju, it’s impossible not to like.

mise en place
mise en place
chicken shower
rinse chicken

Before adding any of the vegetables, try to remove as much of the scum from the surface of the stock as possible. This way the vegetables won’t get in your way.

skim off scum
skim off scum
rough chop
rough chop
in they go!
add vegetables
homemade stock
homemade stock
shredded chicken
shredded chicken
toasty noodles
toasty noodles
chicken noodle and rice soup
chicken noodle and rice soup

Chicken Noodle and Rice Soup

yields approx. 8-10 servings

Components

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 5 Liters water
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2 onions, roughly chopped
  • 10 sprigs parsley, bunched
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 6-8 allspice, whole
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup angel hair noodles
  • 1 cup short grain rice

Putting them all together

  1. Rinse chicken under cold water. Make sure to remove the gizzards (they are usually in a bag inside the chicken).
  2. Fill a large stock pot with water and add chicken.
  3. Bring the water to a light simmer over medium heat and remove the scum as it starts floating to the surface.*
  4. After removing the scum, add the spices and vegetables to the stock.
  5. Continue cooking for another hour over low heat so that the stock barely simmers.
  6. Remove chicken from stock and allow to cool for a few minutes.
  7. Remove the meat from the bones, shred, and refrigerate until ready to use.
  8. Return chicken bones back to stock and continue to simmer for another 2 hours.
  9. Strain stock through a fine-mesh strainer.
  10. Refrigerate until ready to use.*
  11. Remove layer of fat from stock (optional).
  12. Toast noodles in a dry pan until golden brown.
  13. Bring stock to a simmer over medium heat, and add toasted noodles, rice, and chicken meat.
  14. Ready to serve once rice has completely softened.

Notes: Make sure not to stir the chicken stock too much since that will produce a cloudy stock. If you’re in a rush, you don’t need to refrigerate the stock. Simply strain the stock from the bones and vegetables, and continue by adding the toasted noodles, rice, and chicken meat.

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