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Archive for the ‘mint’ Tag


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

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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refreshing pasta

A few days ago, when I wrote about my grandfather, I was touched by the support I received in the form of emails and comments. I called my grandmother actually, and read her a few of the messages bloggers and non-bloggers had left describing their personal relationship between food and family. At the expense of sounding sappy, it made me realize how much I enjoy blogging. I really do. As for my grandmother, she said I ought to cook a nice dinner for everyone. Since we’re all scattered around the world, however, I thought I’d share with you the next best thing, a post on one of my favorite refreshing pasta dishes you can enjoy all summer. 

mise en place

This dish takes approximately 11-13 minutes to put together – depending on the time it takes to cook your favorite kind of pasta. For this dish, and most others in fact, I go with farfalle. I like how they look on the plate; butterflies or bow ties, they have a simple elegance to them. Perhaps I can also argue that the perfectly-pinched middle creates deep nooks ideal for the yogurt sauce to settle in, but this dish isn’t that fussy, in fact, any pasta shape will do – and if you want more sauce, go ahead and eat with a spoon, no one’s looking.

garlic paste

For this dish you’ll want to mince, or pretty much smash, the garlic into a smooth paste. If you add salt to the garlic while you’re mincing, the friction will help break down the cell walls of the garlic and also help create a smooth, paste-like consistency. 

yogurt sauce with dried mint & garlic

The sauce is the what makes the dish special. Throughout the Middle East, Greece and the rest of the Mediterranean, yogurt is predominantly used for savory dishes. The yogurt has a cooling effect that helps counteract the spicy heat of the raw garlic and also acts as a smooth, creamy sauce for pasta.

Pasta with Mint Yogurt Sauce

approx 4-6 servings

Components

  • 1 lb pasta
  • 24 oz plain, whole milk yogurt (3/4 large container)
  • 1 1/2 – 2 tbsp dried mint
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • salt, to taste
  • extra-virgin olive oil, optional

Putting them all together

  1. Make sauce by mixing together yogurt, garlic and mint. Set aside at room temperature.
  2. Bring water to a boil, season with plenty of salt (1-2 tbsp), and cook pasta according to instructions on the box.
  3. Once pasta is done cooking, drain very well and mix with yogurt sauce that has been sitting at room temperature.
  4. Season with salt and drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil.

notes: If you want a thicker sauce, try using a combination of Greek (strained) yogurt and regular yogurt. I prefer mine to be more on the light refreshing side, so I only use regular yogurt. 

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pasta with refreshing yogurt sauce

a twist on an all American classic

I have no clue what it is about a couple slices of bread, some good quality cheese and a dab of fat that enables the humble grilled cheese to stand a chance in today’s culinary colosseum, but it does. As much as I consider myself a foodie and lover of all things gourmet, sometimes I don’t want fois gras topped with caviar and doused with fancy white truffle oil – no, thanks. Give me a couple grilled cheeses, a big bowl of soup and a Law & Order marathon (SVU or CI, of course) and I’m a happy camper. The star of this post is the ubiquitous grilled cheese and all the ooey, gooey, mouth-burning goodness that it brings to this world. 

Judging from the loads of fall recipes overflowing our RSS feeds, and by the mere fact that it’s no longer sunny all the time, fall is here. I’d be remiss as a food blogger not to share with you one of my ultimate culinary gems: Middle Eastern grilled cheese sandwiches.

mise en place
mise en place

Before you click away frustrated because you don’t know where to find Armenian string cheese, don’t fret. These days you can find it in most major grocery stores, usually hidden away in their cheese department. Middle Eastern stores will also carry some if you happen to have any around your neighborhood. Some perfectly suitable substitutes also include Halloumi (Greek cheese), Queso Blanco (Spanish “white cheese”) or any semi-firm white cheese.

Middle Eastern/Armenian String Cheese (جبنة مشلشلة)
Middle Eastern/Armenian String Cheese

Now for those who are lucky enough find this cheese locally, this is what you’ll likely get; a pearly white braided cheese studded with Nigella seeds, or حبة البركة in Arabic, which translated literally means “seed of blessing.” In the Middle East this seed serves medicinal purposes and is even considered an anti-parasitic, hence its name. But its unique flavors alone are enough to win me over.

dried mint
dried mint

The second component of this Middle Eastern grilled cheese is the dried mint, which of course, also serves medicinal purposes. If anyone ever got a tummy ache, signs of a fever or any such symptoms in my house growing up, my mom would be there to make them one of these sandwiches alongside a mug of warm chai (Middle Eastern Tea). In short, these grilled cheeses are nothing short of amazing.

olive oil instead of butter
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

As most of you know, after Executive Culinary Order 2924-5, it is against the law for the preparation of a grilled cheese sandwich to go over the 5-minute prep mark. This variation is no exception. From the time your craving strikes to the time you’re screaming in blissful pain because you anxiously bit in too soon, is less than 5 minutes – 4 if you practice.

perfect with hot tea
Middle Eastern Grilled Cheese

You absolutely do not need a panini press to make these sandwiches. Any method you’ve used in the past will probably work perfectly. Just be sure to make it under 5 minutes and don’t burn your mouth.

Middle Eastern Grilled Cheese

makes 1 sandwich

Components

  • 1 pita bread, with pockets
  • Armenian String Cheese*
  • dried mint
  • extra virgin olive oil

Putting them all together

  1. Place the slices of cheese inside your pita.
  2. Sprinkle with dried mint and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
  3. Grill/broil/panini press until golden brown and cheese is melted.

notes: Whole Foods, Wegmans and other major grocery stores should have the Armenian string cheese. You can also look for it online or at any Middle Eastern market.

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it’s not a grilled cheese without stringy cheese
string cheese

Med LOVE

Glasses filled with wine, bursts of laughter, plenty of food to nibble on – this, to me, is the Mediterranean way of life. Even though there is no way I can convince my boss to let me take a siesta in the middle of the day, I can still lead a Med lifestyle vicariously through the food I make. This month I’m entering Jenn’s popular Royal Foodie Joust, where bloggers have to strategically incorporate three featured ingredients into their entries. Kittie, last month’s winner, chose to feature whole grains, ginger and citrus. YUM!

mise en place
mise en place

I decided to make a traditional Middle Eastern salad called Tabbouleh alongside citrus-marinated swordfish spedini (Italian word for skewers).  I snuck some grated ginger into the swordfish marinade, used bulgur wheat in the salad and incorporated citrus into both dishes.

parsley bouquet
parsley bouquet

In order to get most of the leaves from the parsley (and not a lot of the tough stems) you want to bundle little bouquets of parsley and mince the leaves ultra fine with your sharpest knife. I remember for large social events and holidays, all the women in my family would gather in the kitchen to chop mountains of parsley and exchange juicy gossip. 

lemon juice + olive oil dressing
tabbouleh dressing

Now that we’re on the subject of Tabbouleh, I want clear up the common misconception that Tabbouleh should have only a tiny bit of parsley and a TON of bulgur wheat – NO! The only reason many (non-authentic) restaurants go heavy on the bulgur is because it’s a lot cheaper and quicker than chopping up all that parsley. And don’t try to whip out your fancy food processor here… nope, it’ll only make parsley pesto and that’s a totally different post.

swordfish skewer
swordfish skewer

When it comes to fish, I don’t like to overdo it with too many harsh herbs and spices. I purposefully chose a combo of clean flavors – specifically, basil, mint, lemon & orange zest, ginger, olive oil, salt & pepper. Let them all mingle in the fridge for a couple hours before throwing the fish on the grill. 

swordfish spedini, tabbouleh & olives
swordfish spedini, tabbouleh & olives

Next time you want to take a break from life and jet off to the Mediterranean, invite friends over for some tapas, mezze, antipasti, whatever you want to call it (small food?) and open a nice bottle of wine. It’s lots of fun and definitely my preferred way to host. Spread the Med LOVE!

tabbouleh salad
tabbouleh salad

Tabbouleh

yields approx 10 small servings

Components

  • 3 cups parsley, finely minced
  • 2 tbsp bulgur, fine-ground*
  • 2 tbsp water, lukewarm
  • 1 cup scallions, finely chopped
  • ½ qt. cherry tomatoes
  • 100 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 100 ml lemon juice (approx 1/2 cup)
  • ¼ cup mint, minced
  • pinch of allspice
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Soak the bulgur in lukewarm water (until all the water is absorbed).
  2. Finely mince parsley with a sharp knife (make sure parsley is completely dry before chopping)
  3. Prepare the rest of the vegetables by chopping them as well (they don’t need to be as finely minced as the parsley). 
  4. At this point you could store everything in the refrigerator (well covered) for up to a day.
  5. To assemble, toss soaked bulgur wheat, minced parsley and prepped vegetables in a large bowl. Whisk olive oil, lemon juice and spices together and pour over salad.
  6. Wash some hearts of romaine to serve alongside the tabbouleh and enjoy!

* My supermarket carries fine-ground (aka #1 ground) bulgur in the bulk and ethnic isles, but if yours doesn’t, Dayna’s Market will gladly deliver.

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swordfish spedini
swordfish spedini

Swordfish Spedini

yields approx. 10 small skewers

Components

  • 1.25 lbs swordfish
  • 1 lemon, zest
  • 1 orange, zest
  • 2 tbsp ginger, grated
  • basil, chopped
  • mint, chopped
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Soak bamboo skewers in water.
  2. Cut swordfish into 1 inch cubes
  3. Marinade with the rest of the ingredients in the fridge for a couple of hours.
  4. Skewer the cubes and grill (or broil) for a couple minutes on each side.  Until the inside is no longer translucent. 
  5. Serve with lemon wedges

notes If you can’t find swordfish, you can make this dish with any hearty fish that can hold up being skewered and grilled. Tuna is a great fish that comes to mind.  Measurements for the marinade don’t have to be exact, just use what you’ve got.  

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