Monday, December 7, 2015

Salad in Winter: Citrus Spinach Salad with Pomegranate Arils

The season of tomatoes is over.

I feel quite lost.

I miss our simple tomato-cucumber salads of the summer.  I grew up eating salads almost every night (my father was the salad and dressing maker), but they almost always had a little chopped tomato in them: cabbage salad with tomato, lettuce salad with tomato, cucumber, carrots, or a basic chopped tomato and cucumber salad.

When I first came to this country, I would still buy tomatoes year round because I just couldn't imagine my kitchen without fresh tomatoes.  Those piles of tomatoes in the grocery store in December, January, February - I didn't realize how far they had traveled and how little they tasted like real fruit.  I just bought them because I had never, ever, ever in my life lived in a house where there were no tomatoes.

A few years ago, I finally broke down and admitted:  I am not in Palestine anymore.

I am in Northern Virginia.  And here, the winter tomatoes are the worst.

Once I admitted that, I found I could stop buying them.  I walked right past the display case of mealy tomatoes.

Is there still salad after tomato season?  I was wandering in new territory here.  I tried apples and pears, cucumber and feta, cabbage and spinach, bacon crumbles, walnuts, sourdough croutons.   They were good, but they didn't taste quite like home.

A few weeks ago, I was pushing my cart through the grocery store, and my baby squealed with delight and said, "BALL."  He was pointing at a pomegranate.   That's not a ball, honey, I said.  It's a pomegranate.  He didn't believe me, and clutched it in the cart for the rest of the ride.

We brought the pomegranate home, and looked at it for a while, on the counter.  It was so pretty, in a bowl with the baby oranges and the pears and apples, that it seemed a shame to break it open.  I found a video tutorial by Martha Stewart on how to de-seed a pomegranate, and the older children and I followed her instructions and were soon rewarded with a beautiful mound of pomegranate seeds.  (It's not a very elegant video - but it was fun to follow!).

For breakfast, I sliced up oranges and sprinkled them with pomegranate arils.  The children picked up the pretty gems-like seeds, the baby ate them by the fistful, and my daughter studded the center of her orange rounds with the ruby red seeds.

And I suddenly saw my new winter salad: a bed of baby spinach leaves, sliced rounds of baby oranges, and a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds.

Oranges and spinach are a classic combination, but the tart little pomegranate seeds add crunch and a tart burst of juice into each bite.  I drizzled a homemade citrus dressing, with a little Dijon mustard and pomegranate molasses stirred in, to complement the salad.

Unforeseen result:  My salad is in the holiday spirit!  Wouldn't this be lovely to bring to a Christmas party?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Bone Broth: My Two Secrets for Making Beautiful, Abundant and Affordable Bone Broth

So, in my last post, I confessed my bone broth craze.

I've put into baby's cups.  I make soups and stews with my homemade broths all winter long.  I cook it into my rices and my noodles, I cook it into rice porridge.  Bone broth is a staple in my kitchen.

Here in the United States, Thanksgiving is around the corner and everyone is  comparing notes on their turkeys, whether they are going to deep fry or roast them, and whether they are buying frozen or fresh, local or organic.  Whatever you choose to buy, I'm begging you:


Don't throw away those bones.

Nothing breaks my heart like the sight of bones in the trash.  It makes me cringe to think of all of the beautiful soups and broths that could. have. been. 

So, today, I'm going to give you a step-by-step plan so simple that it will take just a few minutes, and you will be rewarded with days of delicious brothy soups in December.  So do yourself a favor and put aside that turkey frame, and after the festivities have died down, and everyone has recovered from their pie-and-turkey coma, come back here and follow my steps to making easy and delicious bone broth.

Over the years of making broth, I have been able to save time and money using two simple broth "secrets." I have shared these tips with many of my friends and even my mother! Here is how I streamline this practice in my kitchen so that I have a steady and simple way to keep an abundant supply of beautiful bone broth.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Bone Broth: Why I Turned My Kitchen into a Bone Broth Factory

I wanted to share with my readers something that I am passionate about.

It isn't beautiful.

It isn't a shows-stopper.

But it is a game-changer in the kitchen, and for your health.

I'm talking about broth.


Yes, broth.  Bone broth, that magical stuff, nourishment in a bowl, made from nothing but bones and water.  If you have never made your own broth, this kitchen routine might seem elementary, but really, it is the backbone of your kitchen.

See what I did there?

I promise to stop.  Maybe.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Twenty Years Later, I Remember: Rabin's Assassination

I don't have a recipe for you today.  I hope you don't mind.

Just a little story.

It's about a day that feels so far away.

It was twenty years ago, today.  Twenty years ago, I was a teenager, a high school senior, worried about things like SAT scores, college applications, friendships, boys, and whether my clothes were right.  

I also lived in Jerusalem.

I went to an international school, filled with people from all over the world, some staying in Jerusalem for a year, two years, ten years.  I went to school with a few other locals, Palestinians and Jews who were also connected to the foreign expat community in some way.  But I also went to school with children of traveling professors, and missionary kids, embassy brats, journalists' children, UN kids, and the list went on and on.

It was a richly layered place, this school, politically and culturally tangled, so that sometimes it seemed a million miles from the West Bank checkpoints, a serene island in the midst of war.  And other times, the pain pierced the stone walls of the school.

Some of us were, after all, the children of the first Intifada.  Some of us grew up in the first wave of uprising, breathed the air of burned tires and tear gas, ducked behind the strikes and the check points, the occasional rock smashing our car.  Our first inhalation of politics was on our own streets, as we ran from the army jeeps.  We came of age in the first Intifada.

But now, we were seniors.  High school was ending, and it felt like new things were happening in our world, too.  Our tenth grade year had brought the Oslo Accords, and, at fourteen, I wept in joy when I saw the Prime Minister Rabin and Yasser Arafat shake hands. And the accords were marching on. We breathed a little easier, walking a little freer, and I thought, we have overcome.

My eleventh grade attempt at the SAT had been a mild disaster, so I was gearing up nervously for my second round.  I was going to have to make the trip to Tel Aviv on my own, since my father was out of the country.  A new American friend kindly offered to let me travel with her and her mother; we would leave the night before, spend the night at an acquaintances' home, and take the exam early in the morning.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Lamb Kefta Meatballs in Tahini Gravy

If you are looking for a rich, savory, satisfying meal, I have one for you today. Spiced lamb meatballs, browned up in a skillet, and then served with a simple tahini and lemon gravy, has all of the classic flavors of the Levant, and all of the comfort of a traditional meatball. Just as in other cuisines, the same seasoned ground meats can become meatloaf or meatballs, kefta can become a kefta meatloaf, when spread flat in a pan to bake, or kefta kebabs, when formed into ovals and grilling over charcoal, or meatballs. In Palestine, butchers often grind orders of beef and lamb together, to save the cooks one step. That's because there is something magical about combining a little lamb with your beef. The flavor deepens, becomes richer and a little more savory. These little lamb meatballs, stuffed with parsley, onion, allspice and cinnamon, will perfume the entire neighborhood as you are frying them up, so be careful: if your neighbor smells it, she will knock on your door!  You might want to have some toothpicks handy!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Red Lentil Soup with Sourdough Sumac Croutons

This ancient soup is the stuff of stories.

Maybe you've heard this one before:

A long time ago, a woman carries two babies inside of her belly.  They wrestle in her womb, each longing to be first-born, until her labor pains come and one baby boy emerges, ruddy-fleshed and with a full head of hair.  The second is longer, leaner, and grasping the heel of his now older brother.

The ruddy one becomes tall and strong.  He hunts for game, bringing home limp animals slung over his shoulder, ready for the fire.  The ankle-grasper stays by the fire, seasoning and stirring pots of stew.

"Quick, let me have some of that red stew!  I am famished," said the ruddy one, throwing down his burden, and thrusting a bowl towards his brother.

"First, sell me your birthright," said the second-born, with a little laugh, stirring the pot.

"Look, I am about to die.  What good is a birthright to me?"

And so the ankle-grasper poured his ruddy brother a bowl of this ruddy lentil stew.  He gave him some bread.  And the older brother ate and drank, and then got up and left.

A humble, simple pot of soup sits in the middle of this ancient, Middle Eastern story of two brothers, Esau and Jacob.  This isn't fancy food.  This isn't feast food.  It isn't the wild game, dripping with fat, roasting over the fire, that the older brother brought home.  This is just simple, every-day fare, the kind you eat for lunch most days, the kind that you find waiting for you when you get home.

And yet, it is delicious.  If you have never cooked with red lentils before, they are a little revelation.  Bright red in the bag, they look like little chips of a legume, but when cooked down, they yellow, soften and melt into the soup.  Smooth and creamy, when this soup cools a little, it sets up into a thick and stodgy stew.  Yes, I said it:  stodgy.  Palestinians like to keep this soup very simple:  a little onion or garlic, maybe, a few spices from the cupboard, lemon squeezed on top.  It is a humble, everyday sort of soup, but it sings until you scrape down the bottom of your bowl.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Chicken, Sumac and Onion Flatbread, or Musakhan

I have been sitting on this recipe for a little while.  I wanted to get it just right.

After all, musakhan is as important to Palestinians as deep-dish pizza is to Chicagoans.  A girl has to tread lightly here.  I have to hit all the right notes:  the soft, pillowy bread doused in broth, and then broiled crisp, the tangy sumac-spiced sauteed onions, toasted pine nuts and roast chicken, with just a drizzle of peppery olive oil to finish.

Musakhan is one of those traditional recipes that has breathed with the generations of Arabs who have birthed, lived and died in Palestine. It is one of our signature dish - the wild sumac, the pine nuts, the olives from our groves - and born from our ancient clay taboon ovens. These communal ovens served as a gathering spot for villagers, where families brought their trays of rolled out loaves of bread, proofed and puffy and ready for the oven. Taboon ovens are made of clay, and filled with hot stones, and then placed over a fire. Taboon bread, unlike regular pocket Arabic bread, is baked directly on the hot, smooth, rounded rocks, giving the bread its characteristic puff and char.

Palestinian village taboon oven.  Photo taken 1898-1914, by the American Colony, Jerusalem.

The word musakhan (or msakhan)  means heated up. All of the ingredients are precooked, assembled on taboon bread, and then reheated. Similar to other flatbreads, such as our za'atar breads (mana'eesh) or spiced meat pies (sfiha), these dishes were economical and practical since they used the dough from the villager's daily baked bread and turned the dough into a  meal.  In this case, the bread was soaked in broth, topped with sauteed onion, chicken and nuts, and then returned to the oven to finish.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Middle Eastern Lemon Herb Potato Salad

Many years ago, I had a summer job in a grocery store deli in the rural Wisconsin. It wasn't a glamorous job. I rode my bike to the grocery store, pulled on my hair net (ugh), and disappeared into the kitchen. When I wasn't on frying chicken duty, I was on potato salad duty. On those days, I would spend the day making my actual body weight in potato salad. I washed and peeled buckets of potatoes, added in another bucket of preboiled eggs, glopped in giant vats of mayonnaise. Of course, I wasn't allowed to veer from the given recipe. I remember bending over the massive tub of potato salad, mixing and mixing the potato salad by hand, because there was just too much to mix with a spoon. I was literally up to my elbows in mayonnaise. At least it's moisturizing, I told myself.

Customers said that the potato salad was really good. Maybe it was. I, for one, could never bring myself to taste it.

But this potato salad is something else entirely. If you are used to the thick, creamy, heavy potato salad, this one is a revelation:  this is bright, lemony, herbaceous, and instantly addictive. I have always known that potatoes need fat - think baked potatoes and sour cream, or mashed potatoes with butter - to balance the flavor and your blood sugar. My most recent revelation is that to make potatoes really sing, you need to add an acid - think of the British and their malt vinegar potato fries. In Middle Eastern cuisine, that acid is usually lemon. Here, in this classic Arabic dish, the lemons make the potatoes sing, and when you throw in the trifecta of fresh herbs - mint, parsley and scallions - oh, and a tiny hint of crushed garlic - the salad just about gets up and does the dabkeh!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Everybody Cooks Rice

Not long ago, I shared an  article on Indian food with my Facebook friends. What ensued was a lively discussion about Indian and Middle Eastern food - which spices are used, why they are so delicious. There may have been just a teensy little bit of good-natured rivalry between me and a dear college friend, who hails from India. In the end, there was only one way to end the discussion:  take it to the table. So, a few weeks ago, we gathered up our families, and converged on one home to enjoy a potluck luncheon of food from all of our cultures.

As I ran out the door to the luncheon, balancing platters of food, I grabbed a children's book that I had picked up at the last library book sale a few weeks earlier.

Everybody Cooks Rice, said the book.

Yes, I had thought.  Of course, they do.

It was the perfect book to bring to such a luncheon, for child and adult alike to peruse.

Everybody Cooks Rice is a gentle story about a little girl who lives in a very diverse urban neighborhood.  Her mother asks her to run outside and find her brother; dinner is ready. So, off this little girl runs to find her brother, and in doing so, pops her head into many of her neighbors' homes. In each home, someone is cooking a pot of rice - from Creole-style Haitian rice to fancy Indian biryani. As the girl flits from home to home, we, the reader, get to peek into each pot, each family and each culture. The book ends with recipes for all of the rice dishes described.

It was a simple story, but a sweet one.  To my surprise, my friends were already familiar with the theme of the book, for they had a copy of a similar book, Everybody Bakes Bread.  Still, as we lunched on kofta and coconut rice, mnezzali and allspice and cinnamon rice, and laughed and proclaimed that these dishes were absolutely delicious, I chewed on the words:  everybody cooks rice.

I thought about our own little multicultural gathering, and my own multicultural street, and all of the pots of rice served in each house.

I thought about the way rice sustains entire populations around the globe.

I thought about how my mother taught me how to make rice. How to do it, just so: soak, rinse, spice, simmer.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Passing Oranges in the Park (and other Distressing Cultural Encounters)

I sat in a park this week, my two older children digging wildly in the sand, and the baby in my lap, cooing and twisting my necklace. It was a brightly sunny morning, with whipped clouds, and the northern Virginia park, often desolate on a Monday morning, was filled with children running free on spring break.

I found a shady spot and sat on the cool, damp ground and nursed my baby. A little girl plopped down on the grass next to me. I noted her thick hair, her hot-pink sparkly baseball cap, her white long-sleeved shirt and too-short purple pants. She didn't say anything, just sat next to me as I nursed my baby. She spread out her sweatshirt as a makeshift picnic blanket, took out a sandwich. I was charmed. Soon, a little boy joined her. He was sturdily built, with curly brown hair peaking out from under his hat. As he darted back to the playground, the thought flitted through my head:  I think that they are Israelis.

Anywhere in the world, I can always pick out the Arabs, and the Israelis. It's something you learn how to do, when you are living a blurry, line-crossing life in Jerusalem. When you are an American and an Arab and an Israeli and a Palestinian, you learn to read the fine print.

I was right. A woman came over from the nearby picnic table, to sit cross-legged in the grass with the little girl. She spoke to the little girl in Hebrew. As I nursed my baby, along came two more women, the little boy, another little girl. The circle grew wider and wider, closer and closer to me.  A little girl in stretchy pants frog-hopped all around me. I smiled at the woman and said, in English, She is so cute. She smiled back.

I sat and listened to them speak to each other, listened to the sounds of my home wash over me. For a second, the ground tilted, and I was sitting on the lawn of Independence Park, in West Jerusalem.

I wanted to ask them where they were from, what they were doing here, in the park, and tell them that, I, too, was from Israel. We've eaten the same tomatoes. We've browsed in the same shops on King George's Street. We've hiked the same wadis. Our feet have pressed into the same soil, eaten the same olives, poured the same water.

And yet.  I stared straight ahead at my children.

It really wouldn't do, would it?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Baked Kibbeh, or Kibbeh bi Saniyeh

In the Middle East, meat is sacred food, feasting food, celebratory food.  And while every day dishes are often vegetarian or feature vegetables, when it is time to celebrate, it is time to slaughter the fattened lamb.

So get ready:  we're serving meat today.  And by that I mean that meat stuffed with more meat.

On the outside, a glorious, buttery, crispy crust, laced with the savoriness of rich meat. Inside, sweetly spiced ground meats, tender onion.  A few stray buttery pine nuts tumble out.  This platter, cut deftly in the traditional diamond pattern, is enough to make any meat-lover swoon.  It isn't a party until a platter of kibbeh shows up at the door.

I imagine that without refrigeration, and in the hot, arid climate of Palestine, my grandparents and great-grandparents ate their meat quickly.   When it was time to slaughter the fattened calf, lamb or goat, everyone was invited to the feast, the dishes were served quickly, and any leftovers were eaten at the very next meal.

Kibbeh, (also kibbe, kubbeh, kubbi), is the steak tartare of the Arab world.  Immediately after the animal was slaughtered, my ancestors prepared this dish with choice cuts of fresh, extra-lean meat. The meat was minced finely, and beaten with burghol and spices, drizzled with fruity green olive oil and dressed with herbs, and served as a luxuriant raw appetizer.   If this seems strange, remember that most every traditional culture has a raw animal protein delicacy, from steak tartare to sushi, carpaccio to ceviche.

Today, while raw kibbeh (or kibbeh nayyeh) remains the darling of the Arab world (and I'm sorry, but for a good giggle, you just have to watch this ode to kibbeh nayyeh) it is most often cooked, formed into patties or a torpedo-shaped ball, stuffed with the meat filling, and then deep fried.   Fried kibbeh's less fussy sister is kibbeh bi saniyeh, or baked kibbeh.  It is just as tasty, but faster to pull together and perfect for feeding a crowd. Today, I'll show you how to make this baked version.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

How to Fry Eggs like an Arab: Crispy Fried Eggs in Olive Oil

Smooth or Crispy?

As a young newlywed, my husband's Pennsylvania-Dutch father taught me:  heat the pan gently, melt a pat of butter, crack the egg and wait.  Flip once, if you like.  Slide out of the pan.

I was amazed.  I had never had a fried egg like that.  The whites were tender, with a homogeneous texture, and the yolks were smooth, smooth, smooth, with all of the comfort of a diner breakfast.   My husband and I ate these gently butter-fried eggs since we were newlyweds, perfecting our technique on leisurely weekend mornings.

And then, recently, I remembered.

I remembered the crispy olive-oil fried egg of my Palestinian childhood, with all of its dramatic sizzling olive oil, the writhing whites boiling up and puffing, and the technique my own father showed me:   tilt the pan and spoon olive oil over the yolk to help it set.  I wondered, after all of those years of  tender buttered whites, would I relish the crisped, laced bottom of an oil-fried egg?

Only one way to find out.

Frizzled Whites, Crispy Bottoms, Runny Yolks: Yes, Please.  

The verdict?  YUM.

This fried egg has a completely different personality than those buttery-smooth eggs.  The bottoms are crispy and caramelized, like the bottom of a good grilled cheese sandwich, with the whites perfectly set on top and the ooey-gooey goodness of a runny yolk.