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Archive for July, 2009


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

Stuffed Eggplants and Seattle

As I write this, I’m sitting in O’Hare International Airport, debating whether or not I should give up my seat on my flight to Seattle for a free round-trip domestic ticket (not valid to Hawaii or Alaska, non-transferable & non-refundable).  The representative from United said I would be able to sit in first class on the next available flight, which is not scheduled to depart, however, for another 12 hours. Yes, 12 hours! Since I’ve never been to Seattle, and plan on visiting Pike Place Market as soon as I arrive, literally, I kindly declined.

Although Pike Place Market is supposed to be a lot of fun, the main reason I’m going to Seattle is for the annual Web Design World conference. This is my first time going, but from what I’ve heard from friends, it’s an awesome place to go if you’re into all the web 2.0 technologies. If any food bloggers are attending the conference, or are in the area, shoot me an e-mail!

Before the flight starts boarding and I get left behind, I should tell you about these stuffed eggplants. I made these with my mom when she came up to visit me last weekend.

mom being a good sport: pomegranate molasses

I think the most difficult concept for my mom to get used to was all the photos. “Do you really have to photograph every step,” she asked.

The broth that these eggplants are cooked in, in my opinion, is what makes the dish really special. It is flavored with lemon juice, dried mint, some tomato paste and, one of my favorite ingredients, pomegranate molasses. Pomegranate molasses, or  دبس رمان , is a dark, tangy, slightly acidic molasses made from fresh pomegranates, which are extremely abundant throughout the Middle East, especially Syria. You can probably find it at your local Whole Foods, specialty store, or definitely in any Mediterranean/Middle Eastern market. note: do not try and use the regular molasses for ginger snaps, for instance, it won’t taste the same.

mise en place

The mise en place for this dish is pretty simple, but note that the eggplants I used here are tiny. The smaller the eggplants are, the less bitter they will be, but also, proportionally speaking, the better they are for stuffing with rice and meat.

the smell of freshly ground allspice makes me happy

If you’ve been following the past couple Middle Eastern recipes I’ve posted, you’ll notice each of them is flavored with a bit of freshly ground allspice. As I mentioned in those posts, allspice among of the most common spices used in Middle Eastern cooking, second probably to salt.

prepping eggplants for stuffing

Nothing in this dish, except maybe the stem of the eggplants, goes to waste. You can use an apple corer to create the cavities in the eggplants and then keep carving out any excess flesh with a small knife. Some people will leave a little more flesh than I did in the photo, but that becomes a matter of personal preference.

meat & rice mixture go in

When you’re stuffing the eggplants make sure not to pack the rice and meat mixture because once the rice cooks, it will expand. I leave about 1 inch from the opening of the eggplant empty, and then squeeze the eggplant lightly so as to distribute the meat filling equally.

use carrots to prevent the eggplants from burning

The carrots on the bottom will provide the perfect protection to keep your hard work from turning into charcoal. They’ll also add flavor to the broth, and a beautiful color for presentation.

mahshee (محشي)

I should clarify that the term mahshee, in Arabic, literally means “stuffed.” In this case I used eggplants, but that’s only one example. In the Middle East (and throughout other parts of the Mediterranean, like Italy, Greece and Turkey) this preparation is common with other vegetables as well, like peppers, zucchini, grape leaves, swiss chard leaves, and the list goes on from there.

a peak inside

I actually did not beat the clock and had to board the flight before finishing the post. I am now in my hotel room in Seattle, but will make sure to post post the recipe for mahshee once I get back to DC.

Stuffed Eggplants

yields 4-6 servings

Components

  • 6-8 baby eggplants
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 lb rice
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 tbsp tomato paste, divided
  • 2 tsp allspice
  • 1-2 tbsp ice-cold water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 3 tsp dried mint
  • 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • water, to cover eggplants
  • carrots, thickly sliced

Putting them all together

  1. Wash rice in plenty of water and set aside.
  2. Mix rice, meat, 2 tbsp of tomato paste, butter, allspice and salt together. Sprinkle in some ice-cold water to keep the mix from sticking to your hands. You want it to remain somewhat fluffy.*
  3. With an apple corer and a paring knife carefully hollow out the eggplants, making sure not to puncture any of the sides or the ends of the eggplants (save the eggplant “meat”).
  4. Stuff the eggplants with the rice and meat mixture, stopping about 1 inch from the top. Lightly squeeze the eggplant to remove any excess meat mixture that pours out from the hole.
  5. Scatter the sliced carrots and carved eggplant “meat” across the bottom of a large pot. This prevents the eggplants from sticking to the bottom and burning.
  6. Neatly position all the stuffed eggplants inside the pot.
  7. Mix the lemon juice, dried mint, pomegranate molasses, minced garlic, the two remaining tbsp of tomato paste and an extra sprinkling of salt (to taste) to make the broth. Pour over the eggplants and cover what’s left of the eggplants with water.
  8. Set a heavy (heat-resistant) plate over the eggplants to weigh them down.
  9. If you have any left over filling, set it on aluminum foil and crimp the edges lightly to form a small pouch. Set the pouch over the place and make sure that the pouch is at least half-way covered in the broth (if not, add more water).
  10. Place the lid over the pot leaving a little hole for steam through vent through. Cook over medium, medium-high heat for 45-60 minutes and enjoy.

notes: Mix the meat and rice mixture with the tip of your fingers to avoid compacting the mixture – you want to mix, not knead.

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mom blogs about kabab

When my mom came to visit me last weekend, she had only one thing in mind, that is, to hang out with her son. That made things pretty easy for me: I showed her around Annapolis, took her to the new Whole Foods in town, and when we got hungry, she mentioned she wanted to blog about something. Did she just say she wanted to blog? I couldn’t help but chuckle a bit, but she was serious. My mom is an avid a cook, like me – as is her mom, the matriarchal chef, so to speak, of the family.

As we walked through the produce section at Whole Foods, taking in doses of visual inspiration, my mom must have suggested at least five different things to blog about (now you see where I get my passion from). We needed to focus, so we started by shopping for the kababs: we picked up a bunch of parsley, some onions – but then my mom saw the “cutest tiny eggplants.” How could you say no to that? We added a few baby eggplants to the cart for mahshee (stuffed eggplant) and proceeded. Then my mom said we needed something green to go with our kababs, so that’s how fattoush (traditional Lebanese salad) made it on the list. I’ll post about those other recipes (hopefully) this week, but for now, lets start with the kababs.

mise en place

Kabab (كباب) or kebab, like hummus and baba ganoush, has found its nook in the growing, ethnic dining niche. The kababs I usually find at restaurants consist of some sort of meat, be it chicken or beef, skewered with onions, tomatoes, or other eye-catching vegetables. While these exist in the Middle East, my mom and I wanted to show a different type of kabab today.

These kababs take on a similar shape, but are made with ground beef and are flavored with chopped parsley, onions and allspice. All those flavors aside, my favorite part is the fiery-red layer of pita bread they’re traditionally served on. The bread is smeared with a tomato paste based sauce, spiked with hot red peppers, and laid as a base for the grilled pieces of meat.

that may or may not be a tear

The first step to making the kababs is probably most painful. It involves grating 2-3 medium onions for the meat mixture. I’m sure some people could get by with a mince, but I find that grating the onions releases more of the juices, which keeps the meat from drying out. You can also get by doing this step in your food processor, just make sure not to turn it into onion puree – you want small chunks.

ready to mix

It took my mom a while to get used to photographing each step. I had to stop her before she mixed the meat ingredients together so that I could snap a quick shot of all the different colors. She laughed at me for this, but I figured the food bloggers out there would understand.

forming the kababs

You’ll notice that with these kababs, the skewer is only used to pierce a hole through the center of the meat. This, I suspect, helps with even cooking as it allows heat to enter through the hole and cook the inside of the meat while the outside sears.

the amazing sauce

To make the sauce, you’ll want to drizzle a little bit of olive oil onto some regular tomato paste. Then, sprinkle a dash of any spicy red pepper – I used hot Hungarian paprika for this – and mix. You might want to season it with a tiny bit of salt, but make sure not to go overboard because the paste already has an intense flavor.

kabab (كباب مشوي)

If you have an outdoor grill, use it. Since I recently moved into my new place and don’t have any of that set up yet, I went with my cast iron grill pan for this. You could also use your broiler for this, but whatever you use, make sure that it’s really hot. This will help develop a nice sear on the meat.

kabab

yields 14-16 kabobs

Components

  • 1 kg, ground beef (or lamb)
  • 1 bunch of parsley, minced
  • 2-3 onions, grated
  • 2 tsp allspice
  • 2-3 tbsp ice-cold water
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp Hungarian paprika
  • pita bread
  • skewers, for shaping

Putting them all together

  1. Mix grated onions, minced parsley, allspice, salt and pepper into the meat. Break down the meat by massaging it with your fingers, but make sure not to compact it too much. If necessary, add some ice-cold water to make the mix come together.
  2. Once the meat comes together, use a skewer to form its shape (shape it around the skewer) and carefully remove it – making sure to preserve the hole that runs through the meat. Set the meat on a plate or baking dish to be grilled.
  3. Prepare the sauce by mixing together the tomato paste, olive oil and Hungarian paprika* in a bowl, and mix well.
  4. Smear the sauce on pita bread and place, face up, in a large plate.*
  5. Grill the kababs and pile them over the bread as they cook. If serving family style, add another piece of the pita bread with sauce on top to keep the kababs warm while eating.

notes: Traditionally they use regular spicy, ground red peppers, but since I only had hot Hungarian paprika, I used that. If using pita bread with pockets, I like to open them up and smear the sauce on both sides of the bread. The more sauce, the better, in my opinion.

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It’s also common to see these kababs served with fresh tomato on the side, drizzled with a little olive oil and sprinkled with salt. My mom and I saw this monstrous heirloom tomato and couldn’t resist. I should’ve put something next to it for comparison, but trust me, it was huge (and delicious).

huge heirloom tomato

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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