Showing posts with label Main Dish. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Main Dish. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Fried Curried Eggplant with Pomegranate Molasses

Summer is slipping into fall around here, and I couldn't let it slip quite away before I shared with you a simple-as-summer recipe.  I keep finding myself standing in front of my stove, frying up cubes of eggplant, because as often as I make it,  I never seem to get enough of it.

My blog has been quiet, as it usually is over the summer months, because my home has been full of toddlers and children (some of whom belonging to me) running in and out the front door, trips to the pools (with requisite snacks), and a generous handful of trips to visit family, see new places, try new food.

Of special note, was a trip to Pittsburgh's Conflict Kitchen, were my husband and I enjoyed a delicious Iranian lunch.  The Conflict Kitchen is a take-out restaurant with a walk up counter, that serves a rotating menu from countries with which the United States is in conflict.  This month, they serve a beautiful selection of Iranian dishes.  About a year ago, in a controversial move, they rotated their menu to cover dishes from Palestine.  If you are ever in Pittsburgh, do try to find it.

Back in my hot and humid Virginia, my kitchen is overflowing with luscious summer vegetables - zucchini, tomatoes, corn, eggplant.  The summer months, though, bring more ambitious cooking projects to a halt.  I crave simple, light meals, salads and simple cuts of protein, meals that keep me out of the kitchen and at the pool.  On this particular day, I had several eggplants that needed some love, but I was far too hot to fire up the grill for eggplant dip, and far to lazy to contemplate a batch of eggplant bake, or menezali, so I found myself creating this simple eggplant dish.

One spoonful, and I was hooked.  I've always loved eggplant, especially fried eggplant cubes, with its lovely velvety and luxuriant richness.  This time, I added a drizzle of pomegranate molasses to cut through the richness and brightens and sweetens the dish. Add a sprinkle of toasted nuts, and suddenly this plate of vegetables, for me, becomes utterly crave-able.

I've served this over a bed of basmati rice, for a simple, meatless main dish, or as a warm side dish, with grilled chicken.  Either way, you are in for a treat.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Sticky Pomegranate Drumsticks + Tahini-Lemon Brussels Sprouts

Yesterday's flavors, today's food.

That has been on my mind the last few months, as I've been pondering what to do next on this blog. Since I don't always have the time to cook traditional recipes, but my kitchen is always stocked with the basics of a Middle Eastern pantry, when it's time to cook dinner, I often find myself staring at cuts of meat, and a whole lot of blank slate.

That's when I throw open my pantry and reach for The Secret Weapon of Arabic Meat Dishes:  pomegranate molasses. And when I need to add more flavor to a roasted vegetable, I reach for one of the basic Arabic sauces - tahini and lemon.

It's really funny, if you think about it, because Arabs are dead against mixing sweet and savory, and yet, they use pomegranate molasses, a syrup made of cooked down pomegranate juice (recipe here). My mother tells of her tongue's culture shock when she first came to American and was served chicken cooked with pineapple, pork cooked with apples, lamb served with mint jelly.  Sweet, fruity with meat?  It just didn't make sense to her palate.

And yet:  pomegranate molasses. This remarkable tart-sweet syrup is a miracle worker in the meat department. Arabic cooks drizzle in a little into their meat stuffing, or over roasts or chickens.   Pomegranate has that tart acidity that the Arabic palate enjoys, and only a very slight sweetness, so I imagine that is what they enjoy.  In this recipe, though, I play up the pomegranate's slight sweetness, and bath the chicken in pomegranate molasses, to create a barbecue-like flavor that my more Western tongue enjoys.

(This marinade also makes a divine glaze for a pork roast.)

I paired this dish with a side of roast Brussels sprouts, a vegetable that my children enjoy immensely, and that I love, even though I never had it when I was growing up in the Middle East.  To make it feel a little more at home next to the tray of chicken, I added the tahini-lemon sauce, and a sprinkle of pine nuts on the sprouts.  And just like that, I think we have a new family favorite way to eat our Brussels sprouts.

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, 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.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Making "Fawaffles": An Experiment with Arab and American Cultural Identity

Last week, I ran across this post from the blog Food Republic, describing a collision of two of my favorite foods:  waffles and falafels.   

Enter the fawaffle.  


Really?  Fawaffle?  Make falafels in your waffle iron?  

I jumped right up on my soapbox, and began to mentally enumerate all of the ways that this dish was just.  plain. wrong.  Leave it to Americans, I thought to myself, to take a perfectly good falafel and squish it into a waffle iron.  Always innovating.  Always trying to change things up.  Always trying to improve on perfection.   


But.  I kinda wanted to do it.  My leftover falafel mix in the fridge beckoned me.  It would be so easy, I thought, so fast.  And who knows?  Maybe it will also taste all right.  Even if it doesn't, won't it be fun?

I walked around the house for a while, taking care of this and that, and listened to the two competing voices in my head.  One voice, calling for tradition and authenticity.  The other voice, calling for playful innovation.  And as I listened, I really heard these two voices clearly, maybe for the first time.  One, the collective voice of the neighbors, relatives and friends from my childhood in Palestine, extolling the virtue of authenticity, the beauty of tradition, vying between them to produce the best versions of classic dishes, laughing at strange variations. The other voice a quieter one, Western and pragmatic, but just as compelling.  It just shrugged and said, seductively:  what if it's great?  

What if?

I can't believe I'm about to do this.  

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Turkish Onion Salad + Shortcut Grilled Lamb Kefta Burgers

Turkish onion salad - or Arabic salsa, as my mother likes to describe it to foreigners - is an easy way to bring a sense of adventure to your mezze spread. Mildly piquant with the bite of onion, this smokey-sweet salsa has tomato, honey and cumin, but you can spice it up with other add-ins, like parsley and a kick of hot pepper. There is really no wrong way to eat this simple onion salad.  Drop a spoonful onto a platter of hummus.  Top your chicken kebabs or lamb burgers with a spoonful.  Scoop some up in a loaf of Arabic bread.  Spread a little on a slice of grilled bread.  Or, if you're really crazy (like me), mix it right into your ground lamb patties destined for the grill.  I promise, you won't regret it.

So . . . I'm basically eating onion, I asked my mother, when I watched her make this dish for the first time. We were in her glossily tiled kitchen in Bethlehem, and I watched her mince the onion finely, and then salt it, and drain away the liquid in a sieve.  Yes, she laughed, this is just onion.  But here is the secret.  You have to salt the onion and drain away the onion juice, so that it becomes mild instead of scaring away the neighbors.  Still, she said.  You don't eat much.

Onions occupy a comedic role in the mind of the Arab.  Though we love to eat them and fry them up for many of our dishes, they don't have much, well, honor.  Meats, nuts, spices--these are the jewels of the kitchen. The lowly onion, or bussul, which my mother and father always pronounced in an exaggerated, throaty manner, is the butt of jokes and insult.  Take, for example, this colorful little Arabic insult, which my mother translated for me a few months ago:  Why don't you take your idea and go plant some onion with it?

Maybe it has more acridity in the Arabic?

So, yes, we insult with onions, and also save with onions.  There is a lovely story from the first intifada, the Palestinian uprising, of a Palestinian woman who tossed onions down from her window whenever the Israeli army tear-gassed her street, so that demonstrators could use onions to counteract the effect of the tear gas. As the story goes, several people escaped the tear gas only to be hit by onions.

If you can't cry anymore, you might as well laugh, they say.

And so, we laugh, especially when we eat bussul salad.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Leftover Saver: Curried Lemon Chicken Pieces

There are two kinds of people: those who love and those who hate leftovers.

My mother insisted on cooking huge batches of food, so we ate leftovers regularly.  But we didn't have a microwave.  Everything had to be reheated on the stove-top.  Ever tried to reheat roasted chicken pieces on a stove top?  It can be a bit challenging.  The chicken can come out very dry and tasteless. And since we did not grow up in the land of boneless skinless chicken breasts, all of our chicken was cooked on the bone, usually roasted.  Then the next day, my mother would pick the bones clean, save the bones for stock, and fry up the meat a second time, seasoning it generously with her stash of Middle Eastern curry powder and finish it with a splash of lemon juice.

So I grew up to love leftover chicken.  I think I may even love this more than the original meal of roast chicken.  I just can't stop picking at the bowl of juicy, caramelized chicken pieces, flavored with the sweet and mildly spicy curry powder.  The final squeeze of lemon juice brightens up the whole dish, balancing out the flavors of the curry.

If you have leftover chicken, this whole dish will take you five minutes, start to finish.  If you don't have any leftover chicken, I do like to use boneless chicken thighs here for a very quick dish.  For a fabulous sandwich, serve this tucked into a loaf of pita bread.  Otherwise, serve it next to rice, a plate of green beans - really, whatever you have in your kitchen.  It is as forgiving as it is delicious.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Palestinian-Style Stuffed Cabbage Rolls, or Malfouf

Sometimes a little time produces a lot of joy. 

For us, this is a dish of joy.  Palestinians are known for their love of stuffing things with rice and meat, and if you are ever so fortunate to find yourself in a Palestinian's home, chances are good that you will be invited to share a meal like this. Garlicky and lemony, these tender rolls of cabbage filled with spiced meat and rice play a special role in the cast of dinner dishes that rotate through the Palestinian kitchen.

Behind us are the days of cousa mahshi, or stuffed summer squash; now, the cabbage beckons.  I had one last beautiful one from our final delivery of our CSA, and I considered its destiny.  It took some time for me to build up the gumption to create this meal, but once I did, I discovered that while this stuffed dish takes time, it is actually less fussy and easier than most of the other stuffed dishes. Malfouf, (or malfoof), is the Arabic word for cabbage, and this dish is so ubiquitous that if you way you are having cabbage for dinner, everyone will understand that you are referring to this dish.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Welcoming Autumn: Hummus with Spiced Lamb, or Hummus bi Laham

The leaves are piling in drifts around my house, forming crunchy alleys for my children to march through. 

It is time to pull blankets more snugly around our shoulders, to wrap our fingers around warm cups of tea, to dip our bread into something a little warmer, a little more substantial.

Here is a way to "spice up" your hummus:  serve it topped with warm, spiced minced lamb and toasted pine nuts. Add a pile of hot Arabic bread and some fresh cucumbers and tomatoes, and you have a hearty spread, guaranteed to satisfy and delight.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Middle Eastern Spiced Meat Pies, or Sfiha

These Middle Eastern savory meat pies, topped with toasted pine nuts, are a traditional Arabic dish, popular throughout the Levant  (and also in parts of South America, where there is a significant expat Arabic community).  They are small, hand-held "pizzas," made with ground lamb or beef, seasoned with lemony sumac and allspice.  Tahini, pomegranate molasses and lemon juice add a complex flavor and a creamy texture to the meat, and for the more adventurous, a little zing of hot peppers finishes the effect.  Dip the warm pies into plain, sour yogurt, if you want to eat them like an Arab. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

End-of-Summer Zucchini Omelettes

Summer is on its way out, here in Virginia.  In the mornings, we button up cardigans and light coats, and clutch mugs of warm tea.  But by the afternoon, we shed them all and run in the bright golden sunlight, kicking aside the first yellow leaves in the grass. 

While my thoughts are turning to pumpkin spice and warm apple cider, my kitchen is still full of the end-of-summer abundance:  fresh heirloom tomatoes, summer squash, bell peppers, peaches.  If you have zucchini still showing up in your garden or CSA box, here is one mighty tasty way to serve them up this week:  rounds of fried onion-scented egg fritters, full of fresh zucchini and herbs.


Friday, August 16, 2013

Cousa Mahshi, or Stuffed Baby Summer Squash



Cooking is a communal activity in traditional Palestinian culture, and when you read this recipe, you will see why.  Whenever families gather together to share a meal, you will find aunties and tetas (grandmothers) gathered around the kitchen table, rolling these delicate grape leaves and scooping out the soft flesh of the cousa.  Time flies quickly when many are gathered to do the work, while sharing jokes and family gossip, and passing cups of hot mint tea. Aunties teach their nieces how to roll the grape leaves hayk, like this, nice and tight, so that they don't unravel in the hot pot.  Grandmothers cluck their tongues and roll, and re-roll the grape leaves until every one is just right, and then pop them all into the pot.  Rolling grape leaves and stuffing cousa is an art form, one that can be learned in an hour, but mastered over years.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Stuffed Sweet Peppers and Tomatoes: An Easy Introduction to the Arab Art of Stuffing Vegetables

I adore peppers.  My love affair started when I was old enough to sit in the front of a shopping cart.  My mother tells me that my favorite treat from the market was a green pepper, which I would clutch in my arms until we got home.  She would put me in my high chair while putting away the groceries, and then slice it up for me and give me a little homemade vinaigrette to dip it in.  This was such a favorite snack that my mother claims that she used slices of green pepper to reward my potty training efforts.

(In case you're wondering, this hasn't worked on my children.)

A Love Affair with Stuffed Vegetables

Now Palestinians love to stuff vegetables.  They love to stuff zucchini, eggplant, cabbage . . . any vegetable that can be turned into a conduit for a rice and meat stuffing has indeed been stuffed by an Arab woman.  Menu-planning, if you are Palestinian, is pretty simple:  keep a supply of meat and rice on hand, and then go to the vegetable market and bring home several boxes of seasonal vegetables.  Stuff the vegetables with rice and meat, cook it in one big pot, and dinner is done.  One day it is stuffed cabbage, another day it is green beans and meat over rice, another day it is stuffed squash, and then the last day might be a stuffed chicken.  Serve all of this with yogurt, a fresh salad, a little bread, and dinner is done. 

Cooking lessons are given from mother to daughter, so no one follows recipes.  They simply mix up the rice filling, scaling quantities up or down depending on the number of mouths to feed, and then start stuffing vegetables.  If they have leftover filling after making their main dish (usually stuffed cabbage rolls or stuffed cousa, a summer squash), then they use up the leftover filling by stuffing a few tomatoes or peppers, which they always have on hand.  So stuffed peppers and tomatoes are a convenient use-up, not the star of the table.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Grilled Lamb Shawarma with Cucumber Mint Yogurt Salad

Just in time for Father's Day, here is an easy but festive meal that is great on the grill and will warm any father's (and mother's!) heart.  Well-seasoned leg of lamb, grilled and sliced, folded into fresh warm bread, topped with a cool minted cucumber yogurt sauce - now that's enough to entice me to dust off our grill and sweep off our patio. 

My mother still tells the story of her first encounter with lamb in America.  As a young bride, she spent several months in her mother-in-law's house, and learned to eat American food for the first time.  For some special occasion, my American grandmother served her lamb with mint jelly.  My mother said that she tasted the lamb and it was good, but she couldn't figure out what the green gel on the side of her plate was.  She tasted it and found it very unpleasant, and so bizarrely sweet; for Arabs love lamb, and love mint, and even lamb with mint, but never sweet with savory.

This meal is a nod to that mint-and-lamb combination.  Both the lamb and the yogurt salad are traditional Palestinian recipes, but Palestinians would serve the yogurt salad on the side and use this tahini-lemon sauce on the shawarma. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Lamb in Yogurt Sauce, or Mansaf for Beginners

Palestinian mansaf is not humble food, served just to your family, like mujjadara and fasoulia and shorabat addas.  This is celebratory food, kill-the-fatted-lamb food, the centerpiece of a feast, and often served at weddings, graduations, or prepared for an honored guest.

And this meal is as ancient as the land.  It tells a story of the land and how people used to eat long ago, how they preserved and cared for their foods.

Mansaf is boiled lamb, served in a rich sauce made of yogurt.  Today, it is served over a bed of rice, but since rice is a relative newcomer to the Middle East, it was probably originally served with bread.  It is often eaten by hand, served from a communal dish.  What makes this dish distinctive is the sauce in which the lamb is simmered, a sauce made from a traditionally prepared hardened yogurt. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Musakhan: Roasted Chicken with Carmelized Onions and Olive-Oil Drenched Bread

Put away your forks and knives, friends.  This is finger food. 

Now, this is a favorite Palestinian feast.  Tender chicken pieces, seasoned with lemony sumac, roasted with loads of sweet caramelized onions and olive oil, baked onto soft bread that absorbs the juices of the chicken, and topped with buttery pine nuts . . . I think of it as the Palestinian version of fried chicken, because of the generous amounts of olive oil used here, which soak into everything and transform a simple chicken and onion dish into a rich, melt-in-your-mouth experience.  Plus, this meal is traditionally eaten with your hands. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Maqlouba, or Upside-Down Dinner

Mmmm . . . ma'loubi. 

The mouth-watering flavors of lamb, rice, and cauliflower, all simmered in cinnamon and allspice-seasoned broth was enough to make my children and their little friend all yelp "yum" when they walked in the door after playing outside.  When I inverted the steaming pot of food onto a platter and then sprinkled toasted almonds on top, they said excitedly, It's like a cake!  I allowed them to pick as many almonds off of the top as they wished.  Served with mounds of fresh plain yogurt, which of course, they could also not keep their fingers out of, this dish made for a very happy children dinner party.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Lemony Lentil Soup, or Shorabat Addas

Winter is flirting with spring here.  One day we need parkas, the next day my children are gleefully flinging off their mittens.  It is a good day to make this winter-meets-spring soup, with its warming heavy lentils and olive oil, lightened up by a burst of lemon. 

I am not shy about my love of lentils, and my love of soups, so I have eaten and made many different lentil soups.  This particular soup is so simple, so easy to pull together, and yet has such lovely flavor.   I love the play of smokey cumin against the fresh lemon, and the flavor of lentils simmered in broth.  Since married, I have grown used to the heavier sausage and lentil soups, with plenty of red wine and Parmesan, which is also tasty.  But this soup is lighter, fresher and put a smile on even my toddler's face.