Showing posts with label Yogurt. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Yogurt. 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, 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.

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. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Cultured Cream, or My Approximated Shemenet

One of the first foods that I fell in love with, when I was three years old, was fromage blanc.  Fromage blanc is a French white cheese. It's a soft, spoonable cheese, a little like sour cream, a little like cream cheese.   I remember it as creamy and decadent, and that I couldn't stop eating it.  This was exciting for my mother, because I was a poor eater, one of those children who just can't be bothered to eat.  But this, I ate. 

Then we moved to Egypt, and I wept for my fromage blanc.

Later on, we moved to Jerusalem, and there my mother found another dairy product that was similar to  fromage blanc.  Rich, creamy and slightly tart, we bought this yogurt-like cultured cream from the Jewish side, and it was sold in small plastic cups, right next to the yogurt.  It was called shemenet.   It was so thick that when we inserted a spoon into the cup, the spoon could stand straight up.  Shement came in several varieties, with higher fat versions (30 percent or higher), and lower fat versions, (I think 18%).  My mother used it as a substitue for sour cream and stirred it into sauces and spread it on top of her cheesecakes.  While we did sometimes eat it straight, it was so rich that we usually only had a few tablespoons at a time, and would spoon it over fruit, or mix it up with a little jam for a special treat. 

And now that I no longer live in Jerusalem, I miss my shemenet.

Last summer, while in the midst of one of my shemenet laments, my mother said to me, you know, you can make shemenet.  Just turn cream into yogurt.  So, I tried it. I simply cultured some cream with a little yogurt.   And it is so, so good.  If I had known how easy this was to make, I would have started making this years and years ago. 

Is this shemenet?  I am not sure.  I can't seem to find any information on what shemenet actually is.  But it tastes similar to shemenet, creamy and full bodied, just a little less tangy, possibly due to the difference in the yogurt culture.  Still, I'll take it. 


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How to Make Yogurt Cheese, or Labani

In the fridge, at the breakfast, lunch or dinner table, in any home in Palestine and you will find a bowl of this tangy spread made from two simple ingredients:  yogurt and salt. We always had bread and labani in the house.  Stores closed because of a political strike?  Bread and labani.  No time to cook?  Bread and labani for dinner.  In a hurry for breakfast?  Bread and labani and a cucumber.   

Simple as it is, it is delicious and nourishing.  This spread holds all of the goodness of yogurt, high in protein and probiotics, but it is even more concentrated and more portable. 

Labani (also labaneh, labneh, labane) is from the Arabic word laban, which means yogurt.  I have seen it described in English as "yogurt cheese."  Technically not a cheese, this is similar to Greek yogurt, but with the consistency of cream cheese. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How to Make Yogurt, or Laban

Tangy, cool, and poured from a one liter jug.  Or sometimes from a bucket.  That was the laban, or yogurt that I grew up with. 

When we ran out of our store-bought jug of yogurt, my mother would often make yogurt.  I always knew when she had a batch of yogurt going because I would come home to a find a blanket-swaddled mass in my parent's bedroom (the warmest room in the house?).  Do NOT touch those blankets, girls, my mother instructed us.  So, we dutifully stayed away until she was ready to peel back the warm layers of flannel quilts and open up the pot to reveal the miracle:  milk into yogurt.  We always had to taste spoonfuls of warm tart warm yogurt, even though it would be better after a few hours in the refrigerator. 

In Palestine, where I grew up, yogurt is savory, never sweet.  Spooned next to spiced rice and ground lamb, or stirred with cucumber and garlic or mint.  Yogurt is how you eat rice, really.  Rice and lentils with yogurt.  Rice and meat stuffed vegetables with yogurt.  At almost every dinner table, we had a bowl of yogurt on the table.  My American father sometimes sprinkled sugar on his yogurt and my mother allowed us to stir home-made strawberry jam into our yogurt for an occasional treat, but other than that, we ate it like Arabs:  plain.