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Archive for April, 2009


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

Ma’moul Cookies

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. My grandfather passed away last month and that took a lot of my blogging energy away from me. I knew I wanted to dedicate a post to him as he was as much a foodie as I am, but my words escaped me. In my failed attempts to write, I would stare blankly at my computer screen as memories of him streamed through my thoughts.

When I slept over my grandparent’s house as a kid, I would often hear my grandfather poke around in the kitchen, usually around dawn, well aware that my grandmother could sleep through anything. I, of course, would get up from bed to find him alone in the kitchen, happily stirring a hefty pot of homemade jam (his specialty) or preparing some sort of sweet treat without my grandmother there to convince him against it. When he noticed me watching he would let out big a smile, and allow me to stay and help so long as I didn’t wake up anyone else.

mise en place

Since I haven’t yet perfected my grandfather’s rose petal jam (مربة الورد), his claim to fame, I decided to make one of my favorite cookies I grew up eating called ma’moul (معمول). If you’re Arabic, these cookies need no introduction as they’re popular all around the Middle East, where they’re stuffed with either walnuts, pistachios, or pureed dates.

a stream of butter

The cookie itself tastes a lot like butter cookies, but these also have more of a crumbly, shortbread texture because of their semolina base.

the secret is in the mahlab: محلب

The secret ingredient that makes these cookies so special is called mahlab, which is an aromatic spice obtained by extracting the seed kernels from inside the cherry stone of the St. Lucie Cherry. It’s very popular in countries like Greece, Turkey and all around the Middle East.

note: Since I won’t be able to host this month’s A Taste of the Mediterranean, I want to give away some mahlab to three randomly chosen commenters on this post (by May 1st). If you’d like to share, I’d love to know how family plays a roll in your cooking since it is something I have given a lot of thought to this month. Thank you for your support and understanding.

finely ground mahlab

The mahlab gives these cookies a subtle nutty flavor that you won’t pick up on immediately, but you’ll certainly notice if it’s missing. Mahlab is also very popular in Turkey and Greece for flavoring egg-rich breads similar to challah in Jewish cuisine.

ma’moul in four steps

As with most Middle Eastern dishes, these cookies take some patience. If you don’t have Middle Eastern cookie molds laying around, you could use any circular molds, or you could even free-hand them like Kate from Aaplemint did. Anyway you form them, they’ll look beautiful and taste amazing.

miniature ma’moul (معمول)

Funnily enough, I wish I had a pair of pantyhose when I ventured to make these cookies. While visiting the Middle East last winter I learned that some women have a pair of clean pantyhose set aside that they use especially for removing these cookies from their mold. That way you don’t spray the mold with anti-stick spray or bruise your hand in the process, like I did.

ma’moul

yields approx 50-60 small cookies

Components

  • 300 g farina (cream of wheat)* 
  • 100 g fine semolina
  • 125 g pitted dates
  • 1 stick + 1 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1/2-3/4 cup of milk, hot
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp + 2 tsp orange blossom water
  • 1 tbsp mahlab, ground
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • powdered sugar, for garnish

Putting them all together

  1. Mix 1 stick of the melted butter in with the farina and semolina and knead until well mixed. Cover and let sit over night.
  2. To make the filling process the pitted dates with the remaining tbsp of melted butter, 2 tsp of orange blossom water, and half of the ground mahlab in your food processor until it becomes a smooth paste.
  3. Once the butter has soaked into the semolina add the remaining of the ingredients, except the hot milk.
  4. Pour half cup of the hot milk and mix well to form a dough. The dough should be smooth and moist; if it feels a bit dry continue adding more milk.
  5. Form each cookie with a mold or freehand as shown in the photo above (by hiding a ball of the date filling inside the dough).
  6. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake in a 325 degree F oven for 25-30 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown.
  7. Cool the cookies on a cookie sheet and sprinkle with powdered sugar for garnish.

notes: Cream of Wheat (aka Farina) should be available at all major supermarkets. For these cookies I use the red box that says 2 1/2 minutes.

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dedicated to my grandfather