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Archive for the ‘ground beef’ Tag

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


  • 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.


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.


yields 14-16 kabobs


  • 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.


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


  • 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.


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.


approx 4-6 servings


  • 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.


fateh (فتة)

This is how I roll

With winter quickly approaching, everything gets pushed off to the back burner. Getting out of bed, hopping out of the shower – the basic tasks that were once a drag begin to feel even more impossible. I had originally intended on writing this post last night, but I failed. I was laying in bed, snuggled under my warm blankets with my powerbook perched over a pillow, typing away. The arrangement seemed perfect… except, I woke up the next morning to the annoying sound of my alarm, my laptop around my arm and a blog post that was complete rubbish. Needless to say, I’m writing at my desk today. 

Stuffed grape leaves were a treat growing up. Mom, grandmas, and aunts would always gather around the same square table, each with their own pile of grape leaves to roll, while my cousins and I ran around getting into all sorts of trouble. When we were exhausted we would offer the grown ups our finest grape rolling services, but they always kindly declined. The adults sometimes handed us a few leaves to entertain ourselves with; but beyond that we were instructed to play more in order to get hungry and eat more later on. If you’re familiar with Middle Easterners, or most Mediterranean cultures for that matter, you’ll notice that the more you eat, the happier mom is, and the better off you are. 

This past weekend I decided to make mom proud and make my own stuffed grape leaves. They’re different from the Greek or Turkish dolmas in that these are thinner and are served hot after slowly simmering in a garlic-lemon broth. They’re a staple in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan and have different names depending on where you’re from: يبرق (yabraq)، ورق عنب (waraq a’nib)، ورق عريش (waraq a’reesh) are some of the more common ones.

mise en place

Traditionally you won’t find pork chops used in this recipe. Instead, lamb chops or beef ribs are used to keep the stuffed leaves from burning. I couldn’t find beef ribs and the lamb chops looked kind of shady, so I opted for the pork chops.

just keep rolling, just keep rolling

Rolling the grape leaves is where some technique is involved. It takes time to get used to, but you’ll have plenty of tries to perfect your skills. The trick is not to roll them too tight (or you end up with a dry dish) and not to roll them too loose (or the broth floods the leaves and you end up with mush).

halfway there

Although this amount is certainly child’s play  for a veteran cook like my grandma, it was a major feat for a newbie like me. Luckily for me though, I had my mac and the wonders of youtube to get me through the mission. **Bonus for whoever can name that very famous Lebanese singer that is on my computer screen. 

you can never have to much garlic

Another important part of the dish is aligning the rolled grape leaves into the pot. This will ensure even cooking and safe unveiling when you go to flip the pot after cooking. Once you line the bottom with the meat and any leftover/torn up grape leaves, you want to carefully position your rolled leaves in a circular fashion. I suggest positioning them in the 3-6-9-12 (clock) position first and start filling in the gaps accordingly. Halfway through you’ll want to throw in the garlic cloves that will become soft and sweet after cooking. 

yabraq (يبرق)

At the end, your hard work doesn’t go unrewarded. This, my friends, is what it’s all about. صحة و هنا … saha w hana (bon appetit in Arabic).

Stuffed Grape Leaves

approx 6 servings


  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 lb rice
  • 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb of grape leaves
  • pork or beef ribs
  • salt, to taste
  • 2 tsp allspice
  • 15-25 cloves of garlic (to taste)
  • 1 cup lemon juice
  • 3 cups water

Putting them all together

  1. Soak rice in water for 10-15 minutes, then drain water.
  2. Mix rice, ground beef, olive oil, salt, pepper and allspice together until well mixed.
  3. Fill and roll all the grape leaves with the meat mixture as displayed in the picture.
  4. Season the pork or beef ribs with salt and allspice.
  5. Line the bottom of a large pot with the meat, followed by any unused/torn up grape leaves – this prevents the rolled leaves from burning.
  6. Carefully align half the grape leaves on top in a circular fashion.
  7. Distribute garlic cloves over the top.
  8. Finish layering the rest of the rolled grape leaves.
  9. Mix the lemon juice and water with some salt and pepper to make the “broth.” 
  10. Pour the broth over the grape leaves, making sure the liquid reaches the top layer of the grape leaves. 
  11. Cover with a medium plate and bring to a boil. 
  12. Once at a boil, cover the pot with a lid (leave the medium plate inside to serve as a weight) and cook on the lowest heat for 1 and 1/2 hours.
  13. Turn off the heat and drain the broth.
  14. Flip the cooked leaves onto a large decorative platter and enjoy.

note: You can find grape leaves at any Middle Eastern market and some specialty supermarkets.