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Archive for the ‘garlic’ Tag


A sauce that goes with everything

I just got back from Aleppo last week and have already made this sauce twice. I had it for the first time alongside grilled chicken, but I’m convinced this sauce goes with everything. It’s that good. I’m not even kidding you.

I would classify this sauce as a mayonnaise of sorts, but not really. It’s not as overwhelming as a mayonnaise. On a side note, I find mayonnaise to be overwhelming; store-bought mayonnaise at least. It’s too rich, flavorless and, to be honest, its texture is too wobbly for my liking. This sauce is different. It’s not as wobbly — velvety would a good word to describe it, but it has its secrets.

mise en place

Most Arabs call this sauce toum (ثوم) or creme toum (كريم ثوم). Toum is also the word for garlic in Arabic. That’s because the sauce is loaded with garlic. Loaded. I have some Lebanese friends that will make this sauce with so much garlic that it will make a grown man cry and smile, all in one bite. My version isn’t so strong, relatively.

very, very slowly

There are different ways to prepare this sauce. Purists will make it with just garlic, lemon juice and oil — no egg white. And it emulsifies. I know it sounds like magic, and maybe there’s a little food magic at play, but it works. Fouad from The Food Blog makes his this way. According to Fouad slow and steady is the trick — 10 minutes to be exact.

Some home cooks will prepare creme toum with an egg white. That’s how I’ve been making mine. The emulsion happens quicker and the protein in the egg white will also help keep the sauce from breaking. It also lets you get by with using less oil. In the Middle East, you’ll find that restaurants and street vendors will start the emulsion with a tiny bit of cornstarch slurry or boiled potatoes to help stabilize the sauce for a longer shelf life. Either way you decide to go, as long as the garlic is prominent, this sauce will knock you off your feet.

toum sauce (كريم توم)

Garlic Sauce

Makes 3/4 cup

Components

  • 5-7 cloves of garlic
  • 1 egg white
  • 3/4 cup, canola oil
  • 1-2 tsp. lemon juice
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. In a small food processor (or a large one fitted with a small bowl), pulse the garlic and the egg white until you can’t see the garlic anymore.
  2. With the food processor on, slowly begin to add the oil in order to start the emulsion. Make sure that the stream of oil going in is no more than a thin thread, or you risk the possibility of your sauce breaking.
  3. Once all the oil has been added, add the lemon juice while the food processor is still running.
  4. Season the sauce with a little salt and refrigerate until ready to use.

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Video of Shawerma place in Aleppo, Syria. Notice the creme toum spread on the pita bread:

Roasted Potatoes and my trip to Aleppo

I don’t know where to begin. This is the problem with neglecting a blog for more than a week. It really is. If you have a blog, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Carelessness quickly turns into neglect and finally begins to fringe on complete abandonment. I would never let it get to that.

The last time I signed off, my camera was broken and I was eating gelato — lots of gelato — to diffuse the pain. It worked. Actually, my mom says that if there’s anyone who could get through to insurance companies, it’s me. I wasn’t about to abandon my camera. I called almost daily. In the end, after plenty of hoop-jumping and legal rigmarole, the hotel’s insurance settled and reimbursed me for the damages. It was a relief, sure, but there’s more.

Originally, my plan was to keep this next thing a secret. It was going to be a surprise, but I’m too excited not to blog about it. A couple weeks ago, I finally bought my plane ticket to go to Aleppo. My grandmother is there now, visiting her sister, and I will get to join them in just a few days. I promise to return with plenty of pictures, recipes and maybe even a few videos.

On that note, I will keep this post short. I’ve been strategically trying to use all my produce and perishables for the past couple of weeks. A lot of times the dishes that result from this don’t make it to be photographed, but my roasted potatoes are different. I realize I’ve never written about them before, but my roasted potatoes have gotten me through some difficult times.

mise en place

Preparation is simple. It makes a big difference to scout out good potatoes for this dish: small, firm and tight skin. I prefer reds simply because they have a higher sugar content, so they tend to caramelize better than other potatoes in the oven.

a quick rinse

Since potatoes grow underground, you’ll want to give them a quick rinse before you roast them. Make sure to pat them dry so that the outsides crisp up.

room to breathe

It’s also important not to crowd the potatoes in a pan, otherwise they will still steam, regardless of how well you’ve patted them dry.

my secret weapon

Although I usually use Spanish paprika, or pimentón, it’s a lot easier to find the Hungarian variety at my local grocery store. My inspiration for using paprika in my roasted potatoes came from patatas bravas — a classic tapas made from fried tomatoes covered in a spicy pimentón-base sauce. If you can’t find Spanish paprika near where you live, Amazon is where I usually buy from.

oven roasted red potatoes

Once they come out of the oven, they can be eaten hot or at room temperature. Enjoy!

Oven Roasted Potatoes

yields 4-6 side dishes

Components

  • 2 lbs baby red potatoes
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp dried rosemary (double if fresh)
  • 2 tsp spicy paprika
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Wash potatoes and them pat dry.
  3. Cut potatoes into equal sized pieces (I usually quarter them, if they’re small enough).
  4. Mix together all the ingredients on a large baking sheet. Make sure the potatoes are not crowded so that they crisp evenly.
  5. Cover with foil and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until potatoes are slightly cooked.
  6. Uncover and continue baking for 30-40 more minutes, or until potatoes are golden brown and cooked all the way through.

notes:Sometimes the potatoes tend to stick to the tray because of their natural sugar content. I recommend lightly tossing them with a spatula a couple times while cooking.

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the secret to a greener pesto

Seattle was beautiful. It was refreshing. It was sunny the entire 5 days I was visiting – a miracle, considering it rains roughly 80% of the time out there. I did get back to Annapolis about two weeks ago, but less than 24 hours after my plane landed, I was back at the airport to pick up my parents. My mom had been here before, but this was my dad’s first time at my new place. That means I put everything aside, my blog included, and showed them a good time.

my friends and I in Seattle

(left to right: Me, Charles, Paul, Andy and Nick)

I was in Seattle for the 2009 Web Design World Conference. If you’re into web design and development and ever get the chance to go, I highly recommend it. The speakers were all leaders in their respective fields and gave engaging presentations; these were a few of my favorites: Jared Spool (UI mastermind), Shawn Henry (Queen of Accessibility), Dan Rubin (CSS ninja) and Cameron Moll (design guru).

if only I had a kitchen in my hotel room

Pike Place Market was probably my favorite place to walk around in Seattle. It somehow manages to embody the small town feel of a local market, but on a large scale. The vendors, although swarming with clients, had conversations with you, jugglers and singers entertained small crowds, and best of all, the quality and selection of local produce was unbelievable – it was a fun place to be.

rockin’ local veggies

The market stands were filled with beautiful local vegetables, and the competing venders kept prices pretty low – always a plus.

my lunchtime view of the bay

Most of the lunch venues at the Market have a gorgeous panoramic view of the bay. It was the perfect sight to stare into while I enjoyed my grilled halibut sandwich.

I miss Seattle

The trip back to the east coast was ambivalent. Although I wanted to stay in Seattle forever, and visit Pike Place Market everyday, it was time to go back. I stayed staring out the airplane window for most of the flight back, thinking about what I can blog about once I get home. This pesto, for sure, was at the top of my list.

mise en place

I’ve always been a fan of the arugula-lemon combination. It’s one of those things in cooking that just works – like figs and blue cheese or chocolate and mint. Pesto, however, starts to get dark shortly after it comes together. This can be a problem if you’re dinner party starts in a couple hours or if you’re banking on some leftover sauce to give as gift or enjoy the next day. My good friend Michelle, who is quite the amazing cook, shared with me the secret to keep the vibrant green color in pesto, even days after it is made.

herein lies the secret – blanch your greens

The secret to keeping the gorgeous green color on the leaves is by blanching them in boiling water for 10-15 seconds. This process actually enhances the color of the chlorophyll, but since it is done quickly, it does not break down the greens either.

shock in ice bath

In order to preserve the bright green color the leaves turn, you need to immediately stop the cooking process after 10-15 seconds by plunging the greens into a bowl of ice-cold water. Make sure you drain and dry the greens before adding them to the pesto so as to not water down the sauce.

lemon zest for zing

Lemon zest, similar to salt, heightens the flavors of a dish without adding too much acidity.

extra virgin olive oil to combine

Once you have all the ingredients ready, you’ll want to bring them all together in the food processor with a little bit of extra virgin olive oil.

some acidity to make the flavors pop

Adding lemon juice is a matter of personal preference. I do it because I like how that little touch of acidity cuts the fat from the oil and cheese in the pesto. You can play around with different amounts and textures, but in the end you want the lemon flavor to be a subtle note in the background and not overpower the sauce.

Lemon infused, Basil Arugula Pesto

Lemon Infused, Basil Arugula Pesto

yields approx 1.5 cups

Components

  • 4 oz basil leaves, (approx 3 cups, lightly packed)
  • 2 oz arugula leaves, (approx 1 cup, lightly packed)
  • 3/4 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 3 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1-2 tsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Boil water in a large pot and prepare an ice bath in a separate bowl.
  2. Salt the boiling water. Add the basil and arugula leaves for 10-15 seconds and immediately plunge in ice bath to stop the cooking and preserve the bright green color in the leaves.
  3. Strain the leaves and pat dry using a clean towel. Combine all the ingredients in the food processor (or blender) and blend until well combined.
  4. Taste for seasoning. Enjoy with pasta or refrigerate with a sheet of plastic wrap on the surface to preserve the green color for up to a week.

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a peak of what’s coming up next!

a meal perfect for catching up

Desi, one of my closest friends from high school, was my first official guest in my new home. After her, my mom came up for the 4th of July weekend. And now, everything is back to the way it was, but I do have lots of photos to share from all the cooking that ensued. First, Desi:

After a 3-year gap without seeing each other, we seamlessly picked up right where we left off. It was beautiful; we were laughing and joking as though we had seen each other the night before.

One of the things I forgot to mention about Desi is that she is also quite the lover of food. Her only request for dinner that evening was that we make some kind of fresh pasta. No big deal; in fact, it was brilliant. Ever since I read my friend Afaf’s Sheesh Barak post, I’ve been meaning to blog about it myself. If you’ve had this Middle Eastern pasta-like dish before, you know perfectly well how delicious it is. Sheesh Barak (شيش برك) is essentially meat-filled dough slowly cooked in a refreshing yogurt sauce infused with garlic and mint. It takes time, it takes patience, but when you’re making it with people you love, none of that matters.

Caboose (the dough that could)

basic semolina pasta recipe: 1 egg for every 100 grams of semolina flour, a pinch of salt, to taste, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil is optional. Mix the ingredients together and knead until a smooth ball of dough is formed (if too firm, add a little bit of luke warm water; if too soft, dust with a little more flour). Cover the dough in plastic wrap and allow to rest for 30 minutes. The dough is then ready to roll and be used as desired.

I guess you could, theoretically, use Won Ton wrappers if you were craving sheesh barak and were running short on time; but, for the sake of delicious food and a good time, I suggest opening a bottle of wine, inviting some friends over and going through the wonderful sheesh barak experience.

mise en place

The ingredients for this dish are pretty standard. Nothing you wouldn’t be able to find in your local market. I’m convinced, however, the gossip that goes on while Middle Eastern women crowd around a table to make these types of involved Middle Eastern dishes adds something special to the dish.

Middle Eastern Gold

Allspice has got to be one of the most commonly used spices in Middle Eastern cooking. They sprinkle it over hard-boiled eggs, use it to season their poultry – they even add it as a garnish for some of their dishes. Because of how often I use it myself, I keep a large jar of whole allspice in my pantry and grind it small batches to preserve its freshness.

meat & onion love

The meat filling couldn’t be simpler. You’ll want to chop the onions finely and cook them in a little olive oil until translucent. After five minutes or so, add the meat, salt and allspice and cook until most of the moisture in the pan evaporates. My dad is notorious for sneaking into the kitchen at this point and helping himself to some of this meat mixture, which he’ll scoop into a warm pita pocket and sprinkle with some of the toasted pine nuts my mom reserves for garnishing.

filling the dough

You can shape your sheesh barak a different number of ways. I personally like the tortellini shape because it creates a perfect little nook for extra yogurt sauce to sit in. Desi went so far as to cross the arms, which make them look even cuter, but I’ll leave that detail up to you.

plan for leftovers

For the sauce you’ll want to mix together a tiny bit of cornstarch, an egg, the yogurt and place the mix over medium heat. Add the sheesh barak and slowly bring the sauce to a simmer. The egg and the cornstarch are there as stabilizers so that the yogurt won’t separate, but to be on the safe side, make sure not to apply high heat as it could ruin the suace. In a separate skillet you’ll want to quickly sauté the garlic and dried mint in some extra virgin olive oil and add it to the sheesh barak.

Sheesh Barak (شيش برك)

For garnish I like to use some more of the dried mint, a bit of spicy ground red pepper and toasted pine nuts. Saha wa hana (صحة و هنا) bon appetit!

Sheesh Barak

yiels 4-6 servings

Components

  • 1 lb ground beef or lamb
  • 1-2 medium onions, finely diced
  • 2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp allspice, ground
  • 300 g fresh pasta dough
  • 24 oz plain yogurt
  • 1/2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp dried mint
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • salt, to taste
  • pine nutes, toasted for garnish

Putting them all together

  1. Make pasta dough and set aside (recipe in post).
  2. Cook the onions in extra virgin olive oil over medium heat until translucent, approximately 5-7 minutes. Add meat, allspice and salt and cook over medium high heat until most of the liquid in the pan has evaporated.
  3. Once the meat mixture has cooled, roll out the dough. Make tortellini, ravioli or your favorite pasta shape.
  4. For the sauce, mix the yogurt, cornstarch, and egg in a large sauce pan. Add the sheesh barak and place over medium heat. Stir occasionally to make sure the sauce does not separate.
  5. In a separate pan, sauté the garlic and dried mint until fragrant. Mix into sheesh barak.
  6. Garnish with some more dried mint, a little spicy ground red pepper, and toasted pine nuts.

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No such thing as ‘just coffee’

Last month, if you recall, was essentially dedicated to moving to my new place. I was also finishing up school, going to work and trying to keep up with my blog, with an emphasis on the word trying. My friend Marianna, however, made things slightly easier for me because she, her husband and adorable baby girl recently moved a new house and didn’t need their old moving boxes anymore.
On a Tuesday afternoon, after work and without notice, I gave Marianna a call to see if I could swing her place by for the boxes. She responded with a quick “of course – اهلا و سهلا” and then asked how far away I was. I should mention that Marianna is a true Lebanese and could not possibly live with herself if I didn’t walk out of her home weighing 5 lbs heavier – so, I lied about the fact that I was right around the corner, and told her not to go through any trouble, that just coffee would be fine. My request, of course, made no difference.

mise en place

By the time I got there, Marianna had already prepped the tomatoes, mint and cucumber for fattoush (فتوش), was defrosting pita bread for some manaqish (مناقيس), had ground beef and minced onions cooking on the burner, all while in high heels and keeping an eye on her daughter playing with her toys on the counter. As soon as I walked through the door she kissed me three times on alternating cheeks, asked me if I wanted anything to drink and instructed me to make myself at home – so I followed her to the kitchen and watched her as she prepared the fateh (فتة).

toasted pita, garlic, hummus water & lemon juice

Fateh is a traditional, layered Middle Eastern dish that can be done a variety of ways: with chicken, cow’s tongue, or how we were having it, with ground beef. The layering starts off with a thin coating of traditional hummus on the bottom of a casserole dish. The second layer is a mix of toasted pita bread, minced garlic, a splash of lemon juice and a drizzle of some of the hot water leftover from boiling the chickpeas. The point of this step is to give the toasted pita some flavor and make the traditionally stale bread slightly soft, but not soggy.

hands are the best tools for this

Once the bread is fully coated I give it another toss with the cooked chickpeas. You could do it all in one step, but I don’t like how the shells come off the chickpeas when you toss them too much. This way the chickpeas get coated, but also preserve their shape at the same time.

fateh (فتة)

The third layer is the ground beef cooked with the onions, allspice and a pinch of cinnamon. Finally, you’ll want to top everything with a healthy spread of plain, whole milk yogurt and garnish the dish with toasted pine nuts and usually minced parsley – but I didn’t have the latter.

Fateh

approx 4-6 servings

Components

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 cup hummus, classic
  • 1 cup chickpeas, cooked
  • 2 yellow onions, diced
  • 1 tsp allspice, ground
  • a dash of cinnamon, ground
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1-2 tbsp, lemon juice
  • 2 cups pita breads, cut into small triangles
  • a splash of hot water (preferably from boiling chickpeas)
  • 3 cups plain yogurt, whole milk
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 3 tbsp flat leaf parsley, minced for garnish
  • salt, to taste
  • extra virgin olive oil, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Start by cooking the ground beef over medium heat with some olive oil, minced onions, allspice and salt Cook for at least 15-20 minutes.
  2. If you’re using canned chickpeas, rinse them and boil them for 5-10 minutes to heat them up and also remove the canned taste they sometimes have.
  3. Reserve some of the chickpea water and drain the rest (regular hot water, or hot stock also works if you accidentally drain out all the chickpea water).
  4. Toast pita bread with some olive oil and salt in a 400 degree oven for 5-7 minutes or until golden brown.
  5. As soon as they’re toasted, toss the bread with the garlic, lemon juice and splash of the hummus water until well-coated and soft (but not soggy). Gently mix in the hot chickpeas at the end to preserve their shape.
  6. Layer the hummus, bread mixture, ground beef, yogurt and garnish with toasted pine nuts and minced parsley.

notes: Make sure no layer has excess water so that the casserole doesn’t get overly soggy. You’ll want to cook the meat and onions for at least 15-20 minutes for that reason – so that the liquid from the onion evaporates.

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fateh (فتة)