Showing posts with label Traditional Food Methods. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Traditional Food Methods. Show all posts

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Baked Apricots with Honey and Orange Blossom Water, and a Language Lesson.

Aywa, aywa, fil mishmish, I would hear the adults say, with a grin and a shrug, when discussing a time frame for when the city would fix the road, when the plumber would fix the toilet, when peace would come to Jerusalem.  

Yes, yes, in the apricot?  I could translate the phrase literally.  I knew what the word mishmish meant: apricots.  It was an Arabic word that my English tongue found playful and satisfying to say. What do apricots have to do with the road?  With the toilet?  With the peace process?  I never knew, and I never asked, because really, how many times a week, a day, an hour, can you ask your mother, but what do you mean? before you both grow weary of the question.

Growing up in my half-Arab half-American home meant living on the shore of understanding, but never venturing into deep waters.  My Arabic was spotty.  I could understand words, phrases, simple sentences.  My exposure to the language began in earnest when I was nine, when we moved to the West Bank.  Even though Arabic was my mother's mother tongue, she did not pass it on to me, and our years in and out of America, in France, where I became fluent in French, and then in Cario, where I become fluent in a British accent (from British schools!), meant that I was nine before I had a serious encounter with my mother's mother tongue.  

I learned Arabic by listening to my mother speak on the phone, or to the taxi driver, to my aunt and cousins.  I learned it by sitting through family dinners that I could not fully understand, by listening to song lyrics that I couldn't follow, by listening to living room small talk, over pistachios and mint tea.  

My mother usually spoke to my sister and to me in English, or in partial English, enough so that we understood.  We were used to sentences that began in one language and ended in another, and when my grandmother lived with us, we became used to the musical layering of English into Arabic, switching halfway, switching with each breath.  

But there were some things that eluded translation:  insults, proverbs, food.

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.

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 27, 2014

Middle Eastern Cabbage Salad

Looking for a new cabbage slaw recipe to take to this summer's picnics?

Check out this classic Middle Eastern salad, which is as pretty as a rainbow, mayo-free, and as easy as it is delicious.  Dressed lightly with lemon and olive oil, and with a sprinkle of mint, parsley and green onion, this salad is a refreshing break from the classic coleslaw.  

Find the recipe over at MidEats!

And if you need other picnicking ideas, be sure to check out my last post, a Middle Eastern picnic recipe round-up.  


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

All about Milk Kefir + A Step-by-Step Tutorial on How to Make Milk Kefir at Home

Milk what?

Milk kefir (keh-feer) is a fermented milk drink, similar to a drinkable yogurt.  Thick, creamy, tangy, with a slight effervescence, some describe it as the "champagne" of dairy because of the lovely light fizz in this creamy drink.  When homemade, its flavor changes with the seasons, becoming thicker and milder in the summer, and yeastier in the winter. A living food, kefir is cultured with wild yeasts and bacteria, and depending on the milk, fermenting practices, and strains of microorganisms, its taste ranges from mild or pungent, tangy or sour.

What is Old is New Again

Kefir originates from the ancient the Caucasus region, where it was lauded as a gift from the gods, a traditional elixir for health and longevity.  Traditional kefir was made from fresh raw animal milk, and hung from skin bags near the doorways, so that the family's movements in and out would agitate the grains and the milk.  Today, you can find kefir just about anywhere in the world, but it remains popular in eastern and northern Europe. I remember sampling it when we traveled through Europe, and loved it immediately. I also remember seeing it on the shelves of the Jewish supermarkets in Jerusalem, which is why I had the impression for a long time that it was an Israeli drink. Arabs also drink it (my mother tells me that families in her childhood neighborhood in Nazareth brewed it) and it is often strained into a thick cheese, very similar to yogurt cheese, or labaneh. It is also rising in popularity in the United States, and you can find it in pasteurized forms in most natural food stores or in larger markets.

Milk is transformed into kefir when it is mixed with "kefir grains," usually left at room temperature, and left to ferment until it has thickened. "Kefir grains" are live active cultures, forming a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY).  These small, gelatinous particles develop into complex cauliflower-like structures. My toddler, who likes to help me make the kefir, describes the grains as "wet popcorn," which is a very apt description.

While this all sounds exotic, obscure, and (perhaps a little terrifying?) making kefir is very simple. All you need is a couple of grains, add them to milk, and leave them on your counter to ferment until thickened. If you are lucky, you can inherit some from a kind friend, or join a free culture-sharing Facebook page, where people mail them off or give them away freely. Otherwise, purchase them online.

Drink to Your Health

I am in love with this drink.  Have you ever tried something for the first time and you were instantly hooked? This tangy, fizzy, creamy, thick drink, just won me over at first swig. But it wasn't just the taste that drew me in.  It made me feel good.  Happy.  Relaxed.  And I thought that this was strange until I read that the word "kefir" is thought to derive from the Turkish word "keif" which means "good feeling." It turns out that kefir is rich in tryptophan, that amino acid that raises your feel-happy seratonin levels in your brain. After just a cup, I do notice that I feel slightly calmer and more relaxed.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Fertility and Traditional (Middle Eastern) Diets - Part Two

In my last post, I shared my fertility story, and described the impact that changing my diet had on my fertility.

I asked: is it possible that eating a more traditional diet, particularly a diet that has produced generation upon generation of Palestinians, supports fertility?  After looking at some of the recent research on fertility diets, here is what I found.  Here are some common components to fertility diets, with a short explanation of their benefits, and how they fit into a Middle Eastern cuisine.

{Disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist or a medical professional, so please consult a medical professional if you have any concerns about your fertility.  Not all fertility issues can be resolved through diet.  Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health who have studied this topic have concluded that diet can have a positive impact on those who struggle with some infertility (ovulatory dysfunction and possible endometrial problems), but other causes of infertility do not respond to dietary changes. To read more about their findings, find the link at the bottom of the page.}

1.  Eat and Drink Full-Fat Dairy

Do you know that skim milk and other low-fat dairy products actually promote infertility? Modern studies agree: full-fat dairy increases fertility, but low-fat dairy actually decreases fertility!  Women who ate two or more servings of low-fat dairy foods had an 85% increased chance of adulatory infertility problems.  (Listen to an interview with these Harvard researchers here, see another study here.). So even though the American public has been warned repeatedly about the dangers of natural saturated fat, and urged to drink low-fat or skim milk, women who wish to become pregnant are now encouraged to consume one serving of full-fat dairy every single day.

Why is this? Researchers are not sure, but they posit that fat-soluble hormones in the milk play a role in ovulation. We do know that since we need an ample supply of vitamins A, D, E and K to achieve pregnancy, and since these vitamins are fat-soluble, it is extremely important that you have a good source of fat for your body to be able to absorb them.

If you are on a low-fat diet, I think that this is the first change that you should make.  Ditch all of the low-fat dairy products and opt for high quality, full fat diary foods every day. Organic, hormone-free, whole, grassfed milk products will give you the most benefits, and if you can find a source for raw or low-temperature pasteurized dairy, that is even better.  Opt for butter, not artificial spreads, whole milk and whole milk yogurt and cheeses, real cream, and homemade, naturally-sweetened ice cream.  When I was growing up in the Middle East, we drank whole milk, ate full fat plain yogurt at most meals, and ate whole milk yogurt cheese (labaneh), and whole milk farmers cheese (jibneh baida) regularly, and even enjoyed cups of cultured cream (shemenet). 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Rice Tabbouleh {Gluten-Free}

Fresh and verdant, light and lemony, there is so much to love about tabbouleh, the classic Middle Eastern salad.  And as much as I enjoy the well-known parsley and bulgur version, today I am sharing a recipe for a rice-based tabbouleh, which is just as lovely as the original, but even easier and gluten-free!

Today, I am blogging over at the beautiful Middle Eastern food blog, MidEats.  To find my recipe for rice tabbouleh, click here!


Related Posts:

Saturday, February 22, 2014

How to Make Fluffy, Flavorful Rice (Like an Arab)

Sticky rice, fluffy rice, gummy, gluey rice, bland, wet or crunchy rice.  I have made all of these things.

I remember rice as my first culinary challenge out of college.  If I can just cook rice, I thought, I can feed myself.  And while the instructions on the sack always seemed so simple, so straight forward, the results were rarely good.  My Chinese roommate had a little electric rice cooker that she swore by, and I loved the beautifully steamed rice that she produced, but even that little gadget alluded my attempts.  For a while, I gave up and accepted half-soggy, half-crunchy bland rice.

It was very sad.

Because we Arabs love our rice!  Like our friends farther east, from India all the way to Japan, we love our rice.  Our rice style is more similar to Indian rice, and every time I dig into a vibrant dish of biryani, it reminds me of home.  Arabs pride themselves in producing light, fluffy rice, with a nutty and rich flavor, well seasoned enough to stand on its own.  We love to serve mounds of fluffy white rice, warmly spiced with the flavors of allspice, turmeric, cinnamon or nutmeg, topped with buttery pine nuts or almonds fried in ghee.  For a simple childish favorite, we serve this with just a scoop of fresh plain yogurt, and we call it rooz ma' laban.  Please, mama, we would beg my mother, can we skip the sauce and just have rooz ma' laban?

Can you blame me?

After watching my mother, badgering her with questions, and then (this was the hard part), actually doing what she told me to do, I learned how to make a decent pot of rice.  If you want to make delicious rice that will wake up any basic fish, chicken or steak meal, look no further.

Monday, February 3, 2014

How to Make Arabic Coffee, or Boiled Coffee with Cardamom

Nothing takes me home like the sight of my father standing over the kitchen stove, making a pot of Arabic coffee.  He stands over the stove, heating water in a small metal pot, waiting for the right moment to spoon in the mounding spoonfuls of coffee.  Then he stirs the boiling coffee down, and lifts the pot, stirring again, then returns to the pot to the flame.  It's a little dance, to boil the coffee without overflowing the pot.  The rich smell of coffee fills the house, scented lightly with the sweet aroma of cardamom.  He pours the little cups, as small as a child's play teacup, and carries one to my mother. They sit and sip in the afternoon sun, reaching for a bowl of chocolates.This is the daily afternoon ritual in my family home, and it is a ritual repeated all over the Middle East.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Jewel of Middle Eastern Pastries: Honey-Walnut Baklava

Crispy, crackling layers of paper-thin dough, soaked in butter,  stuffed with a rich nutty filling, and then drizzled with a honey-sweet syrup, baklawa is the crown jewel of Middle Eastern pastries. 

This composed pastry dish actually harkens back to the Ottomon empire, so you will find variations on baklava throughout the Mediterannean, from eastern Europe to the far reaches of the Middle East.  The word baklava, then, is of Ottomon origin, but Arabs have adopted and adapted it to their tongue, so I grew up calling this pastry ba'lawa.

Ba'lava is a layered pastry made from phyllo dough.  Phyllo dough is an unleavened paper-thin dough, made with flour, water, a little oil and vinegar.  You can purchase this in the freezer section of your local grocery story, but I am sure that with a little elbow grease, you can make it yourself.  The ba'lawa is built with layers of buttered phyllo dough, and then a couple of thick layers of crushed nuts.  The pastry remains unsweetened until after baking, when a sweet syrup is poured over top, and allowed to soak for several hours or overnight, to set.

Friday, December 20, 2013

My Palestinian Grandmother's Orange Chiffon Cake

Pictured with my grandmother's hand-crocheted lace.

Teta, can you make a cake for me

Yes, habibti, yes, my dear.  Let's make cake.  And into our kitchen we would go, where my grandmother would pull out eggs, oranges, flour, sugar, yogurt.  With a little twinkle in her eye, she would tell me that brandy would make the cake delicious. 

My mother learned how to make American-style cakes, chocolate cakes and yellow layer cakes, cakes that looked like bunnies and cakes that were frosted and sprinkled with coconut.  My mother read English cookbooks, studied them, jotting down her notes in the margins in Arabic. 

But my dear grandmother, my teta, who as far as I know never read a cookbook in her life, only knew how to make one cake:  orange cake.  Why can't you make another flavor, I would ask her.  This is the cake I know how to make, she would tell me.  She would pull out a bowl, a spoon, and a mug.  A mug!  No measuring spoons?  No measuring cup?!  She used a clear glass mug to measure out her flour, her oil, her sugar.  And so she beat the egg whites, and stirred the yolks into the sugar and the yogurt.   I watched in awe, wondering how she knew what to add, and how much to add, and would this cake really turn out?  I kept watching, and waiting, and was gifted with witnessing the miracle:  the cake baked, the heady fragrance of orange slowly blossomed in the kitchen until the cake swelled and browned, slightly crispy at the edges. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Returning to the Old (Arab) Ways: Why I Soak My Grains

Here is what I remember about my mother's kitchen: no matter what kitchen, whether we lived in Mundelein, outside of Chicago, or Beit Hanina, outside of Jerusalem, you could always find on tje counter top a bowl full of water with something or other soaking in the liquid.  If I looked into those bowls in the morning, I could see my future:  the hummus I would eat tomorrow, the rice I would have for dinner, the lentil soup my mother would make later on that day. 

It was all a part of the mysterious rhythms of Rhoda's kitchen, first do this, then do that, and as a child I just followed the contours of my mother's movement, eating at her table, and sometimes even pouring rice into a bowl and covering it with water for her.  She taught me to let the rice soak, then rinse it several times until the water ran clear before cooking it, so that each grain would cook just right, tender, but still firm and fluffy. 

But then I grew up.  I moved across the world.  I graduated, I inherited her old pots, and bought my own bag of rice.   And when I started cooking, I asked her questions, such as why do I have to soak the rice?   Her answers were always the same - because it will cook faster.  Because it allows the grains to open up, to taste better.  Because that is the proper way to do it. 

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. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Returning to the Old (Arab) Ways: Why I Ferment Food

I have been asked many questions recently about traditional foods, and particularly why I chose to follow so closely to the traditional food methods of preparations.  So, this is the first in a series of posts in which I will attempt to talk about a few topics related to traditional foods and health. 
 * * *
I grew up in a pretty dirty part of the world.  We lived in Cairo when I was in elementary school and as much as I loved it (and I was pretty passionate about defending its beauty), I have to say that it was dirty.
Did I say dirty?  I meant filthy. 
The air pollution was so bad that when my father had a physical exam after he returned to the States, the doctor said that his health was fine, but that he really needed to lay off of the cigarettes.  That's right.  My father isn't a smoker. 
It wasn't just that the air was dirty.  We had to be very careful about drinking water and food.  We had to worry about hepatitis, parasites, amoebic dysentery.  My mother was extremely diligent and went to great lengths to keep our water and food safe, and all without the help of little bottles of antibacterial soap or wipes.  Yet, we all stayed healthy (although others who traveled with us were not as fortunate), and when we moved away, we left in good health. 
Now, I wonder:  did my time in Egypt actually improve my health?  After all, when I travel abroad now, even though others are often stricken with various, ahem, gastro-intestinal issues from the food or the water, I am fine.  This makes me wonder what those years in Egypt did for me.