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Vegetarian Kibbeh الكبة النباتية 0

Posted on August 31, 2015 by Sahar

Kibbeh is ubiquitous throughout the Middle East.  If you know anything at all about this dish, you know it is usually made with meat – beef, lamb, or, rarely, goat. It can be baked, fried, or eaten raw.  It is essentially a meat feast with a little wheat thrown in.

However, during Lent, many Christians throughout the world – including the Middle East – give up eating meat.  So, a vegetarian version was created (most likely in Lebanon) so they could still enjoy Kibbeh throughout Lent.

I came up with my version of this dish about 15 years ago when my husband was still a practicing vegetarian.  He’s since come back to the dark side, but I still like to make this version on occasion whenever we are having a vegan week here at Chez Ray.

 

A few notes:

  • I use pine nuts in this recipe, like I do in traditional Kibbeh.  However, if you can’t find, afford, or don’t want to use them, you can substitute slivered almonds.
  • If you want to add some additional flavoring or bulk, you can also layer in along with the filling, sliced boiled potatoes, sautéed squash, sliced tomatoes, or fried eggplant slices.
  • If you are making this for someone who is allergic to nuts, then you can use vegetables (see above) or seitan or tempeh.  However, if you decide to use either of these, be sure that either of them aren’t highly seasoned (like many commercial ones are – especially seitan).
  • I like to use fine bulghur wheat for this dish (#1 grind) because the crust holds together better with the finer grind.
  • If the crust mixture is too dry, add a little water; if it is too wet, add a little whole wheat flour.  However, make sure that you have everything well mixed before you begin adding any additional ingredients.  If you do have to add anything, adjust the seasonings accordingly.
  • A traditional accompaniment to Kibbeh is a cucumber-yogurt salad.  If you want to keep this completely vegan, then use a soy-based or coconut milk-based yogurt (however, check the label to make sure there’s no casein in the yogurt).

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

1 c. fine bulghur wheat

The wheat. Try to use a #1 grind. You can generally find it at any Middle Eastern market.

The wheat. Try to use a #1 grind. You can generally find it at any Middle Eastern market.

2 med. onions, diced

1 c. chopped parsley

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 c. walnuts, chopped

1/2 c. pine nuts or slivered almonds

Walnuts and Pine Nuts. You can substitute slivered almonds for the pine nuts. However, the walnuts are a must.

Walnuts and Pine Nuts. You can substitute slivered almonds for the pine nuts. However, the walnuts are a must. Most other nuts are going to be too sweet.

3 tbsp. olive oil, total

2 tbsp. pomegranate syrup (molasses)

1 tsp. cinnamon, or to taste

2 tsp. allspice, or to taste

Salt & pepper, to taste

Clockwise from top: pomegranate syrup (molasses), salt, pepper, cinnamon, olive oil, allspice, garlic

Clockwise from top: pomegranate syrup (molasses), salt, pepper, cinnamon, olive oil, allspice, garlic

Additional pine nuts or slivered almonds for garnish

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 375F.  Either spray or oil a medium baking dish (about 7″ x 11″) and set it aside.

 

2.  Rinse the wheat in a fine mesh strainer until the water runs clear.

Rinsing the wheat. You want to be sure to get off as much of the dust as possible. Processing methods are better than they once were, but some dust is still present.

Rinsing the wheat. You want to be sure to get off as much of the dust as possible. Processing methods are better than they once were, but some dust is still present.

Then, put the wheat into a bowl and cover with 1″ of water.  Set aside and allow the wheat to soak until it is “al dente”, about 20 – 30 minutes.

Soaking the wheat. Start testing it after about 20 minutes. It should still have some chewiness to it, but it shouldn't be crunchy.

Soaking the wheat. Start testing it after about 20 minutes. It should still have some chewiness to it, but it shouldn’t be crunchy.

Once the wheat is ready, drain it through the strainer again. (There’s no need to squeeze out all of the water; just be sure the wheat is well drained.)  Set aside.

The soaked, drained wheat. You just want to be sure that excess moisture is drained away; it doen't need to be squeezed dry. You'll need that moisture when you make the crust.

The soaked, drained wheat. You just want to be sure that excess moisture is drained away; it doesn’t need to be squeezed dry. You’ll need that moisture when you make the crust. (In other words, make sure it’s not dripping, but it’s not dry either; just nice and damp.)

 

3.  Make the filling:  Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Sauté the onions until they become soft, about 5 – 7 minutes.  Stir frequently.

Sauteing the onions.

Sautéing the onions.

Take half of the onions out of the skillet and place them into a bowl.  Set aside.

This half is waiting to be made into crust.

This half is waiting to be made into crust.

Place the skillet back on the heat and turn down the heat to medium and add the garlic to the onions.  Sauté for 2 – 3 minutes.  Stir frequently.

Adding the garlic.

Adding the garlic.

Add the pine nuts and the walnuts and cook for another 3 – 4 minutes, or until they have toasted (be sure not to burn them).  Again, stirring frequently.

Be sure not to let the nuts burn. You just want to get a nice deep golden brown on them.

Be sure not to let the nuts burn. You just want to get a nice golden brown on them.

Add in 1/2 teaspoon of the cinnamon, 1 teaspoon allspice, the pomegranate syrup, and salt and pepper to taste.  Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Take the skillet from the heat and taste for seasoning.  Allow the filling to cool slightly.

Mmm... This is what you're looking for - a deep maple color.

This is what you’re looking for – a deep maple color.

4.  Make the crust:  Take the other half of the onions and place them into a food processor along with the parsley, and the wheat.

The wheat, onion, and parsley in the processor.

The wheat, onion, and parsley in the processor.

Pulse a few times to begin mixing the ingredients, scrape down the bowl and add the other half each of the cinnamon and allspice, and a good pinch each of salt and pepper.

Adding the spices.

Adding the spices.

Process the mixture (scraping down the sides and pulsing as needed) until it is well mixed and has almost a paste-like consistency.  It should still have some texture, but the mixture should hold together.  Taste for seasoning.

The finished crust mixture. Try to resist the urge to adda any ingredients like water or flour. If the ingredients are well mixed, you shouldn't have to add anything.

The finished crust mixture. If the ingredients are well mixed, you shouldn’t have to add anything to adjust the texture.

5.  Assembly: Take half of the crust mixture and spread it evenly over the bottom of the dish.

The bottom layer. Be sure it's spread as evenly as possible.

The bottom layer. Be sure it’s spread as evenly as possible.

Spread the filling evenly over the bottom layer.

The filling. This, of course, is where you would add any additional filling if you wanted to.

The filling. This, of course, is where you would add any additional filling if you wanted to.

Carefully spread the top crust over the filling, smoothing it down as you go. (You may have to do this in sections.)

Eseentlially, this is ready to go into the oven. The top layer is a little thin because I used too much on the bottom layer. If that happens to you, just very carefully spread out the top as much as you can.

Essentially, this is ready to go into the oven. The top layer is a little thin because I used too much on the bottom layer. If that happens to you, just very carefully spread out the top as much as you can. It does smooth out; it may not be pretty, but it will work.

6.  Cut the assembled Kibbeh into serving-size squares; or, if you want to get fancy, into diamond-shaped pieces (it’s more traditional).  Press a few additional pine nuts on each piece for garnish. Spread or brush the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the top. (See above photo)

7.  Place the Kibbeh in the oven and cook until the top crust is slightly browned, about 30 minutes.  Serve hot or at room temperature.

Sahtein!

Sahtein! صحتين!

 

 

 

Mujadarah مجدرة 0

Posted on October 17, 2014 by Sahar

In the ongoing informal series of foods from my childhood, today, I’m going to introduce you to Mujadarah.

Admittedly, this wasn’t my favorite dish growing up.  I usually picked at it or ate it with lots of salad so I could get it down.  But, as happens with most of us, my palate changed and discovered that I, even if I don’t love Mujadarah, I like it.  It must have been the lentils.

The first record of mujadara dates back to  1226, in the Iraqi cookbook Kitab al-Tabikh by al-Baghdadi. It was known as “peasant food”.  Mujaddara is the Arabic word for “pockmarked”; the lentils among the rice resemble pockmarks. Generally consisting of rice, lentils, sometimes burghul (#3 or #4 coarse grind), and, very occasionally, meat, it was served during celebrations. Without meat, it was a medieval Arab dish commonly consumed by the poor. Because of its importance in the diet, a saying in the Eastern Arab world is, “A hungry man would be willing to sell his soul for a dish of mujaddara.”

Arab Christians traditionally eat mujaddara during Lent.  The dish is also popular among Jewish communities of Middle Eastern origin, in particular those of Syrian and Egyptian backgrounds; it is sometimes nicknamed “Esau’s favourite”. Jews traditionally ate it twice a week: hot on Thursday evening, and cold on Sunday.

(Some information from wikipedia and Rose Water & Orange Blossoms)

If the recipe looks somewhat familiar to you, I’ve made a dish similar before, Koshari.  The biggest difference is that Koshari has chick peas and pasta and is generally served with a tomato-cumin sauce.

 

A few notes:

1.  You can make this dish with white rice, brown rice, or burghul wheat. If you use burghul, be sure to use a #3 (medium coarse) or #4 (coarse) grind. If you use burghul, it will be the standard 2:1 ratio you would use for white rice.

2.  You can use either brown or green lentils.  Don’t use red.  They cook too soft for this dish.

3.  My mom uses just cinnamon as the spice (other than salt & pepper).  Play with the spices and come up with a combination you like.

4.  While some do make this dish with meat, I’ve always eaten it as a vegetarian meal.  If you want to add meat, follow the meat cooking instructions for Kidra.

 

The ingredients

The ingredients

The lentils. Use brown or green.

The lentils. Use brown or green.

From top left:

From top left: cumin, allspice, olive oil, black pepper, salt

 

1 c. brown or green lentils

2 c. white or brown long-grain rice

2 lb. onions, cut in half and sliced thin

4 c. water or broth (5 c. if using brown rice)

2 tsp. allspice

1 tsp. cumin

2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 tsp. pepper

1/4 c. + 2 tbsp. olive oil

 

1.  Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the rice and saute for 1 – 2 minutes.

Sauteing the rice.  I used brown in this post.

Sauteing the rice. I used brown in this post.

Add the salt, pepper, allspice, and cumin.  Cook until the spices begin to give off a fragrance, about 1 minute.

Adding the spices. As you cook, the oils in the spices will come out and flavor the oil and rice.  Be sure to stir constantly so the spices don't burn.

Adding the spices. As you cook, the oils in the spices will come out and flavor the oil and rice. Be sure to stir constantly so the spices don’t burn.

Add the water or broth, bring to a boil, cover the saucepan, and turn down the heat to low.  Cook until the rice is done – 25 to 30 minutes for white, 45 to 50 minutes for brown.

2.  Meanwhile, heat the 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat in a large, deep skillet.  Add the onions and a pinch of salt.  Stir occasionally, until the onions are soft and begin to take on color.

Cooking the onions. When you get to this point, make sure you watch them closely.  You want caramelization, not burning.

Cooking the onions. When you get to this point, make sure you watch them closely. You want caramelization, not burning.

Once the onions begin to brown, watch them more closely and stir more often; you want the onions to brown, not burn.  Cook them down as far as you like. (I prefer them to be fully caramelized.)  Depending on how dark you want the onions, it could take anywhere between 20 – 30 minutes to cook them.

I like my onions well caramelized. This took about 30 minutes.

I like my onions well caramelized. This took about 30 minutes.

When the onions are done, take them off the heat and set aside.

3.  About halfway through the rice cooking time, place the lentils in a medium saucepan, cover with water to at least 1″ above the lentils, and bring to a boil over high heat.  Cook the lentils, adding water as needed, until they are done, about 20 – 25 minutes.

Boiling the lentils.  Be sure to keep them covered with water so they don't dry out.

Boiling the lentils. Be sure to keep them covered with water so they don’t dry out.

4.  When the lentils and the rice are done, mix them together (I usually do this in the pot I cooked the rice in).  Mix in the onions.  Taste for seasoning.

5.  Mujadarah is usually served with either yogurt or a tomato-cucumber salad (basically tabouleh without the bulghur wheat).

Sahtein! صحتين!

Sahtein! صحتين!

 

 

Kidra قدرة 4

Posted on October 06, 2014 by Sahar

I’ve been feeling sentimental lately thinking about the foods from my childhood years.  I’d forgotten how good some of them were and still are.  It must also come with the realization that I’ve hit middle age and how I really need to eat healthier.

Kidra is another one of those dishes from our childhood that my sisters and I remember fondly.  It was an every-once-in-a-while dish; it was never one of Mom’s favorites, so we didn’t have it too often. But, when we did have it, my sisters and I would gorge.

Traditionally, it’s a recipe that is baked in a large narrow-necked clay pot called a tanour (التنور).  The pot was filled with the ingredients, sealed with a flour and water paste, and buried in an oven built into the sand where it was left to cook for hours and up to overnight.  Once cities started growing, people would send not only their bread to the bakeries, but their tanour pots as well.  In some very remote areas, the Bedouin still cook Kidra this way.

Now, many families have tanours made of lined copper that can be placed in the oven or on the stove (my parents have one) and it generally takes less than an hour for the Kidra to cook.

This is dish cooked all through the Palestinian regions and families in the Middle East, but it is most popular in Gaza, where, from what I can tell, the dish originated.

 

A few notes:

1.  If you don’t have a tanour, don’t worry.  I don’t either.  I used my Dutch oven.  It works well.

2.  Lamb is the most traditional meat to use in this dish.  You can use beef if you prefer.  Either way, be sure to use a stew meat (shoulder, round).

3.  Some people will use saffron or osfour (the stamen of the safflower) to give the dish a yellow color.  It is totally optional.  My parents never used either of these in this recipe, so I don’t either.

4.  Another traditional ingredient in this recipe is whole heads of garlic that are added just before the tanour goes into the oven.  My parents never used garlic in their Kidra.  After doing some research, I decided I wanted to add garlic in my own recipe.  However, instead of whole heads of garlic, I use peeled cloves. I like it.

Again, this is completely optional.

5.  If you don’t have whole cardamom pods for this dish, it will be fine without them.  However, you do miss out on some of the traditional flavor if you don’t use them.

6.  While white rice is most commonly used, you can use brown long-grain rice (brown basmati works well).  Just add an additional 1/2 cup of liquid and add 15 -20 minutes to the cooking time.

7.  You can make this vegetarian by using vegetable broth or water, omitting the meat, and adding more chick peas and/or fava beans.  If you’d like to add some green, use fresh green beans (not haricot vert) and saute them at the same time as you would the chick peas.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Clockwise from top left:

Clockwise from top left: ground cardamom, cardamom pods, black pepper, salt, ground cumin, ground allspice. Center: olive oil

If your garlic cloves are large, cut them down to make the cloves more equal in size.

If your garlic cloves are large, cut them down to make the cloves more equal in size.  Also, be sure to cut off the stem end because it doesn’t cook down and has an unpleasant texture.

1 lb. lamb or beef stew meat, cut into 1″ cubes

1 1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. allspice

1/2 tsp. cumin

1/4 tsp. ground cardamom

2 tbsp. olive oil, more if needed

1 med. onion, chopped fine

1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled, larger cloves cut in halves or quarters

1 1/2 c. long grain rice

1 15-oz. can chick peas (garbanzos), drained

6 – 8 cardamom pods

3 c. chicken broth or water, more if needed

 

 

1.  Preheat the oven to 325F.  In a medium bowl, toss the meat with the spices.

Spiced lamb.

Spiced lamb.

2.  In a Dutch oven, or, if you’re lucky, you have a tanour, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Brown the meat in batches; you want to get a good sear on the meat.  If you crowd the pan, they will simply steam.

Browning the meat.  Don't crowd the pan or instead of a nice brown crust, you'll end up with grayed steamed meat.

Browning the meat. Don’t crowd the pan or instead of a nice brown crust, you’ll end up with grayed steamed meat.

After each batch of meat is browned, take it out of the Dutch oven and set it aside.  Repeat until all of the meat is done.

The finished (so far) meat.  I just put it in the overturned Dutch oven lid. It's a Dad thing.

The finished (so far) meat. I just put it in the overturned Dutch oven lid. It’s a Dad thing.

3.  Saute the onions and garlic in the Dutch oven, about 5 minutes.  If you need to keep the brown bits on the bottom from burning, add about 1/4 cup of water or broth to help deglaze the pan. (It doesn’t have to be an exact measurement. Just eyeball it.)  Stir frequently.

Cooking the onion and garlic.  If you need to, like I did here, add a little water or broth to deglaze the pan to keep the lovely browned bits from burning.

Cooking the onion and garlic. If you need to, like I did here, add a little water or broth to deglaze the pan to keep the lovely browned bits from burning.

4.  Add the rice and cook for another 2 – 3 minutes.  Stir constantly.

Adding the rice.

Adding the rice.

Add the chick peas and cook another 2 – 3 minutes.  Again, stir often.

Adding in the chick peas.

Adding in the chick peas.

Then add back in the meat, cardamom pods, and the water or broth.

Adding the meat, cardamom pods, and broth.

Adding the meat, cardamom pods, and broth.

5.  Bring the water or broth to a boil on the stove.  Cover the Dutch oven and place it on the middle rack in the oven and bake for 30 – 45 minutes, or until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is cooked.

In the oven.

In the oven.

Alternately, you can cook this fully on the stove (especially of you don’t have an oven-safe pot) on low heat for about 45 minutes, or, again, until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is cooked.

6.  Serve with plain yogurt or cucumber-yogurt salad.

If you use cardamom pods, be sure to let your guests know.  The pods infuse a wonderful flavor but aren’t great to bite into.

Sahtein! صحتين !

Sahtein! صحتين !

 

 

Lentil Soup شوربة دس and Artichokes with Coriander اضيوكي مع الكزبرة 2

Posted on September 28, 2014 by Sahar

I am now going to introduce you to two more dishes from the Middle East – one from my childhood and one I discovered more recently.  Lentil Soup and Artichokes with Coriander.

Lentil Soup (Shorbat Adas) is a very popular dish during Ramadan. Soup is a traditional way to break the fast and the heartiness of this soup is perfect for that.  Some people will put cooked ground beef or lamb in the soup, others balls of Kefta (basically, ground meat with onion, parsley, and spices).  Some will also use dried bread and puree it into the soup to thicken it. Sliced radishes are also a popular addition.

The Artichokes with Coriander (Ard al-shokeh ma’kuzbara) is a more recent discovery for me. It’s a dish popular in Jericho in the early summer when artichokes are in season.  Here, I’ve used frozen artichokes.  This way, I can eat this dish at any time of year.  Mainly, though, because I really don’t like to clean artichokes.

 

A few notes:

1.  The soup is really best with the red lentils.  They have a lighter, slightly sweeter flavor that’s best for the soup.  They’re much more readily available than they used to be.

2.  Be sure to wash the lentils.  They’re generally dusty when they’re packed.  While processing methods have become better, sometimes, especially if they’re from a bulk bin, they may also have small rocks or dirt. So, be sure to check them carefully.

3.  As with most soups, this is even better the next day and freezes well.  When you reheat the soup, be sure to add a little broth or water because it thickens up as it sits.

4.  If you want a smoother soup, then you can puree it.  However, I prefer a little texture in the soup.

5.  You can easily make the soup vegan by using either vegetable broth or water.

6.  Don’t use marinated artichokes packed in olive oil.  Be sure, especially with canned or jarred ones, that they are packed in water.  Or, if you’re using frozen, they’re unseasoned.

7.  If you don’t like cilantro (coriander), you can use parsley.  It obviously won’t taste the same, but it will work.

 

The ingredients

The ingredients

The lentils. Red lentils work best in this soup. They're much more readily available than in the past.

The lentils. Red lentils work best in this soup. They’re much more readily available than in the past.

From the top:

From the top: salt, pepper, olive oil, flour, cumin

Lentil Soup

1 1/2 c. red lentils, washed and drained

4 c. broth (chicken, beef, lamb, vegetable) or water

1 med. onion, minced

3 cl. garlic, minced

1 tbsp. flour

1 tsp. salt, or to taste

1 tsp. black pepper, or to taste

1 tsp. cumin

2 tbsp. olive oil

Juice of one lemon, or to taste

 

1.  In a large saucepan, place the onion, garlic, lentils, and broth or water.

Lentils, onion, and garlic in the saucepan awaiting the broth.

Lentils, onion, and garlic in the saucepan awaiting the broth.

Cover and bring to a boil.  Keep the saucepan covered, turn the heat down to medium-low, and simmer for 45 minutes.  Stir occasionally.

The boiling pot.

The boiling pot.

2.  Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the flour, salt, pepper, cumin, and olive oil.

The oil, flour, and spices mixed together. It smells lovely.

The oil, flour, and spices mixed together. It smells lovely.

Add the mixture to the lentils after the first 45 minutes of cooking.

 

The soup after the first 45 minutes of cooking time.  Sorry, the lentils don't stay red.  They turn to a dull gold-yellow.

The soup after the first 45 minutes of cooking time. Sorry, the lentils don’t stay red. They turn to a dull gold-yellow.

After adding the oil-spice mixture.

After adding the oil-spice mixture.

After you add the oil & spices, cook for another 15 minutes, uncovered.  Stir occasionally.

3.  Add the lemon juice and cook another 5 minutes.

My old-style lemon reamer. One of my favorite things I received from my mother-in-law.

My old-style lemon reamer. One of my favorite things I received from my mother-in-law.

Taste for seasoning.  Serve with a drizzle of olive oil over the top and some extra lemon on the side.

The finished soup.

The finished soup.  Perfect.

 

 

 

The ingredients

The ingredients

Salt, pepper, olive oil

Salt, pepper, olive oil

The artichokes.  I used frozen ones in this recipe. If you do get jarred or canned, bue sure they aren't marinated ones.

The artichokes. I used frozen ones in this recipe. If you do get jarred or canned, be sure they aren’t marinated & flavored  ones.

Artichokes with Coriander

2 lb. artichoke hearts (2 bags frozen-thawed or 6 cans drained)

4 tbsp. olive oil

3 cl. garlic, minced

1/2 c. coriander (cilantro), chopped

1 tsp. salt, or to taste

1 tsp. black pepper, or to taste

1/4 c. lemon juice, or to taste

 

1.  In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 – 2 minutes.

Cooking the garlic.

Cooking the garlic.

Add the artichokes hearts and cook another 5 minutes.

Adding the artichokes. Be sure to continue stirring frequently to keep the garlic from burning.

Adding the artichokes. Be sure to continue stirring frequently to keep the garlic from burning.

Add the coriander (cilantro), salt, and pepper.  Cook another 5 minutes. Stir frequently.

Adding the coriander (cilantro).

Adding the coriander (cilantro).

2.  Add the lemon juice and cook another 2 minutes.  Remove the skillet from the heat and taste for seasoning.

The finished artichokes.

The finished artichokes.

3.  You can serve this either warm or room temperature.  This dish can also be made a day in advance.  Warm it slightly or let it come to room temperature before serving.

Sahtein! صحتين

Sahtein! صحتين

In this post, I served the soup with toasted split pita bread to make a sort of cracker.  You can also serve with warm pita or a cracker of your choice.  The plainer the better.

 

 

Fattoush فتوش 1

Posted on June 24, 2014 by Sahar

Fattoush is another one of those Middle Eastern salads can be as simple or as complex as you like.  It is ubiquitous throughout the region, including Turkey.  While it can contain different ingredients, the base is always stale toasted or fried bread.

The word Fattoush comes from a mix of Arabic (fatt فت – meaning “broken”) and Turkish (ush).

The chief ingredients are generally tomatoes, cucumber, onions, parsley, mint, olive oil, and lemon.  Other ingredients can be radishes, lettuce, cabbage, bell peppers, pickled chiles, olives, sumac, garlic, and pomegranate syrup.

 

A few notes:

1.  While I have given some measurements here, there are no hard and fast rules other than the bread.

2.  English (hothouse) or Persian cucumbers are preferable.  They have less water, fewer seeds, and don’t need to be peeled.  If you need to use the more familiar salad cucumber, then you will need to peel it (the skin is tough and usually waxed) and scoop out the seeds.

3.  If you use large tomatoes, be sure to seed them.  If you use cherry tomatoes, don’t bother with seeding.  Just cut them in half.

4.  Curly parsley is more traditional.  However, flat leaf (Italian) is fine.

5.  If you use garlic, use less than you think you need.  Raw garlic is powerful stuff and can easily take over the rest of the salad.

6.  You don’t need to cut the vegetables fine.  They can simply be chopped.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

 

2 loaves pita bread, preferably day-old

1 cucumber, preferably hothouse (English) -or- 2-3 Persian cucumbers, cut into large dice or sliced roughly 1/4″ thick

2 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped -or- 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half

3 scallions, thinly sliced

1 bunch parsley, chopped

1 bunch mint, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

Juice of 2 lemons, or to taste

1/4 – 1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil

Salt & Pepper to taste

 

1.  Prepare the bread: If you are toasting the bread, preheat the oven to 450F.  Split the loaves around the outside edge.

Splitting the bread. A serrated knife is especially helpful with this task.

Splitting the bread. A serrated knife is especially helpful with this task.

Don’t worry if the loaves aren’t split cleanly.  You’ll be breaking them up after they’ve been toasted.

The split loaves. if they;re not perfext, don't worry. They're going to get broken up anyway.

The split loaves. if they’re not perfect, don’t worry. They’re going to get broken up anyway.

Place the split bread directly on the oven rack and let toast until it is a golden brown.  Try not to let the bread get too dark or will add a bitter flavor to the finished salad.  It should take about 2 – 3 minutes for the bread to toast.

The toasted bread. Once it's cooled, break it up into bite-sized pieces.

The toasted bread. Once it’s cooled, break it up into bite-sized pieces.

Let the bread cool and then break it up into bite-sized pieces.  I generally like to accomplish this by putting the bread into a large zip bag and breaking it up. No mess and the bag can be re-used.

If you decide to fry the bread, heat your oil to 375F.  A mix of vegetable and olive oil works well for the flavor. (use pure olive oil, not extra virgin.) Cut the bread into bite-sized pieces and separate them.  Fry the bread in batches until golden brown.  Drain on paper towels and set aside.

2.  Place all of the prepared vegetables in a large bowl.  Add the bread and toss.  Add the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and toss again.  Taste for seasoning.

The vegetables ready for the bread and seasonings.

The vegetables ready for the bread and seasonings.

Let the salad sit for about 15 minutes, then serve.

Sahtein!

Sahtein!

 

The salad will keep for a day or two in the refrigerator, but it’s really best the day it’s made.

 

سحتين!

 

Tabouleh تبولة 1

Posted on June 06, 2014 by Sahar

Tabouleh (or Tabooly, Tabouley, Tabouly, Tabboole, Tabbouleh) is one of those ubiquitous Arabic dishes that has entered the Western diet along with Shish Kebabs, Baba Ghannouj, Hummous, and pita bread.  Few people really give any of these dishes much thought about where they originated, but what they do know is with the ever-popular Mediterranean Diet, these dishes have become almost de rigeur to the Western palate.

Tabouley did originate in the Middle East, namely Syria, and has been eaten since at least the Middle Ages (and quite likely further back than that).  The word tabouleh comes from the Arabic word taabil (توابل) meaning “seasoning”.  There are, of course, regional variations.  In  Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine, it is usually served as part of a meze (appetizer), with romaine lettuce. In Lebanon, cooks use more parsley than bulgur wheat in their dish. A Turkish variation of the dish is known as kısır, while a similar Armenian dish is known as eetch.

(some information from www.wikipedia.org)

********************

There are no real hard-and-fast rules to making tabouleh.  Every region, every household, has its own version.  The most common ingredients are:

Bulghur Wheat

Tomatoes

Cucumber

Parsley

Mint

Onion (yellow or green)

Lemon Juice

Olive Oil

 

Some of the variations include:

radishes

lettuce

couscous

garlic

oregano

thyme (za’atar)

 

I’ve also seen recipes that include:

olives

corn

cilantro

bell peppers

vinegar

 

For me, I like to stick to the classic preparation, with the inclusion of garlic.

The ingredients

The ingredients

So, in my tabouleh, I have (from l-r)

Mint, minced

Parsley, minced

Green Onions, sliced very thin

Cucumber, diced

Lemon juice, to taste

Tomatoes, seeded and diced

Garlic, minced

Olive Oil

Burghul Wheat, rinsed, soaked and drained

Salt to taste

 

A few notes on the ingredients:

1.  If you use cucumber, use either English (hothouse) or Persian cucumbers.  They have a lower water content and fewer seeds.  Plus, they don’t need peeling.  However, if you must use the standard cucumber, you will need to peel them (the skin is tough and usually waxed) and scoop out the seeds.  I cut mine into a roughly 1/4-inch dice.

2.  Tomatoes will need to be seeded and diced.  Unless you’re using cherry tomatoes.  Just cut them in halves and don’t worry about seeding them.

3.  The traditional parsley used in tabouleh (or any Arabic dish, for that matter) is curly.  However, if you have flat-leaf (Italian), that’s fine.  I happened to already have some on hand, so that’s what I used here.

4.  If you use green onions (scallions), use both the green and white parts.  If you use yellow onion, use a fine mince.  Don’t use red onion – the color will leach out.

5.  If you use garlic, make sure it is finely minced.  And, remember, raw garlic is powerful stuff.  Begin by using less than you think you should use.  Once the salad is finished, taste.  You want the garlic to compliment, not overpower.  Remember, you can always add, but you can’t take away.

The same can be said for any of the seasonings.

 

I don’t include any measurements in this recipe because, like I said before, there are no true hard-and-fast rules.

That being said, The ratio I prefer of bulgur-to-vegetables is about 1 cup (soaked) bulghur to 2 cups vegetables.

 

As for the bulghur, I like to use is a medium-coarse grind.  I prefer the chewiness of it, which is especially nice after the tabouleh has been sitting for a while, like overnight.

Bulgher Wheat. Medium coarse.

Bulgher Wheat.  It’s basically wheat that has been parboiled, dried, then cracked. It’s also known as “cracked wheat”.

There are four different grinds of bulghur:

#1: very fine – usually used in kibbeh

#2: fine – usually used in stuffings and tabouleh

#3: medium coarse – can be used in tabouleh, but is also used in soups and pilafs

#4: very coarse – usually used in pilafs, stews, and as a rice substitute

 

You will need to wash and soak the bulghur before adding it to the vegetables.  There is a lot of dust left on the bulghur during the manufacturing and packaging.  The best way to accomplish this is to place the bulghur in a fine sieve (or a colander lined with cheesecloth) and run it under cold water until the water runs clear.

Rinsing the bulgur.

Rinsing the bulgur.

Once you have rinsed it, transfer the bulghur to a large bowl and cover with water (about 1″ above the surface of the wheat).  Let the bulghur sit for at least 20 minutes (depending on the grind) or until it is al dente.  The wheat will increase in volume by 50% – 100%, again, depending on the grind.

Soaking the wheat.

Soaking the wheat.

While the wheat is soaking, prepare the vegetables & herbs and place them in a bowl large enough for you to mix in when all the ingredients are ready.

The vegetables and herbs ready to go.

The vegetables and herbs ready to go.

When the wheat is ready (taste some to be sure it’s to your liking), drain it thoroughly in a fine sieve or colander lined with cheesecloth.  There shouldn’t be too much water left.  If there is very little water, you can simply squeeze the bulgher in your hands and add it to the vegetables.

The soaked bulghur.  It's hard to see in this photo, but there is a real difference in the volume.

The soaked bulghur. It’s hard to see in this photo, but there is a real difference in the volume. (Compare to the one above.)

Adding the bulghur to the vegetables and herbs.

Adding the bulghur to the vegetables and herbs.

Now, carefully mix together all of the ingredients until they are fully incorporated.  Add the olive oil, lemon, and salt to taste.  Mix again.  Taste again.  If you can, let the tabouleh sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Sahtein! سحتين

Sahtein! سحتين

The real beauty of this dish is it can be served with anything or alone.  It can be served cold or at room temperature.  And, anyone can eat it – omnivore and vegan alike.

It will keep in the refrigerator for 3- 4 days.

 

 

 

 

Stuffed Grape Leaves محشي ورق عنب 3

Posted on May 28, 2014 by Sahar

Stuffed Grape Leaves. In Arabic, محشي ورق عنب, or, spelled phonetically, mishi waraq ‘einab.  It was another one of those dishes my sisters & I ate gleefully growing up.  When Mom would make stuffed grape leaves, it was cause for great rejoicing. Especially for Dad.

Many know the Greek word, Dolmas.  Dolma comes from the Turkish word “dolmak” meaning “to be stuffed”.  In Arabic, “mishi” means “stuffed”.  There are literally dozens of variations of stuffed grape leaves all over the Middle East, the Mediterranean, the Balkans, Central Europe, and Central Asia.

Probably the most common way to make the grape leaves is to cook them in an olive oil – lemon juice based-sauce.  However, the way I was taught to make grape leaves was the way my grandmother made them; with a tomato-based sauce.

I was talking to my mom about this one day.  She said the first time she ever ate grape leaves, the sauce was made from sour grapes.  She said it was awful.  The next time she had the dish, my dad had made it the way he preferred and the way his mother made them – with tomatoes.

I like to call it Palestinian-style.

**********************

If you would like to make this dish vegetarian/vegan, substitute an equal amount of roasted eggplant for the meat, vegetable broth for the beef broth, and add 1/4 cup tomato paste to the stuffing (this will help the filling bind together).

If you would like to use brown rice in place of the white rice, be sure to add 20 – 30 minutes to the cooking time.

**********************

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

The spices clockwise from right:

The spices clockwise from right: Cinnamon, Black Pepper, Allspice, Salt

The grape leaves. be sure to rinse them thoroughly after remaoving them from the brine.

The grape leaves. Be sure to rinse them thoroughly after removing them from the brine; otherwise, the end result will be like a salt lick.

 

1  jar grape leaves

1 lb. ground lamb or beef

2 c. long-grain white rice

2 tsp. salt, or to taste

1 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste

2 tsp. allspice, or to taste

3/4 tsp. cinnamon, or to taste

Lamb shanks, lamb chops, or beef short ribs, optional

1 large can (22 oz.) whole tomatoes

2 c. beef broth

 

 

1.  Take a large saucepan or stockpot and place a rack on the bottom. If you don’t have a rack, use a steamer that sits in the saucepan. (I like to use my pasta pot with the insert.)  This is done not only to keep the grape leaves off the bottom to keep them from burning but to help steam the stuffed leaves as they’re cooking.

If you are using shanks, chops, or ribs, place them on the rack or steamer.  Set aside.

My dad always used chops or shanks in the bottom of the steamer.  It adds a lot of flavor to the final dish. Plus, it's an extra treat.

My dad always used chops or shanks in the bottom of the steamer. It adds a lot of flavor to the final dish. Plus, it’s an extra treat.

2.  Carefully take the grape leaves out of the jar (take care not to rip the leaves) and rinse thoroughly.  You want to be sure that the brine is rinsed off. Usually, you will need to separate the leaves when rinsing.  I’ll also fill a large bowl with water and let the leaves soak for a few minutes, then drain.  You want the water to be as clear as possible.

3.  Parboil the rice:  In a large saucepan, place the rice and cover it with 1″ of water.  Over high heat, bring the water to a boil, stirring frequently to keep the rice from sticking.

Parboiling the rice. Be sure to stir occasionally to be sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot.

Parboiling the rice. Be sure to stir frequently to be sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.

Boil the rice until it is about halfway cooked (take some rice out of the water and test it; it should be slightly chewy with a very crunchy center).  Drain the rice in a colander and set aside until it is cool enough to handle.

The finished rice.  Let this sit until it's cool enough to handle.

The finished rice. Let this sit until it’s cool enough to handle.

4.  In a large bowl, mix together the meat and rice (it’s best to use your hands for this).  Add the spices and mix thoroughly.

Starting to mix together the rice and meat. It's best done with your hands.

Starting to mix together the rice and meat. It’s best done with your hands.

After adding the spices. My mom says she knows when it's seasoned right because of the smell.  I've not yet mastered that technique.

After adding the spices. My mom says she knows when it’s seasoned right because of the smell. I’ve not yet mastered that skill.

To taste for seasoning, take a small amount of the mixture and place in a hot skillet to cook (the flavor will be closer to what the finished dish will taste like). Adjust the spices to your taste.

Cooking a small sample to taste for seasoning.  I also consider this cook's treat.

Cooking a small sample to taste for seasoning. I also consider this cook’s treat.

5.  Once you have finished mixing the filling, it’s time to stuff the leaves. Which I will explain in the following photos. (My husband took these photos across from me.  I rotated them so you could see them from my perspective. So, admittedly, they may look a little skewed. Apologies.)

The most important thing to remember is to not wrap the leaves too tight.  You want snug, but not tight.  The rice will continue to expand when the stuffed leaves are cooked.  If you wrap them too tight, they’ll burst.  Conversely, if you wrap them too loosely, they’ll fall apart.  A happy medium is preferred.

Cut off the stem with a sharp knife.

1. Cut off the stem with a sharp knife.

2. Lay the leaf flat with the vein (rough) side up facing you.

2. Lay the leaf flat with the vein (rough) side up facing you.

3.  Take some of the stuffing (this was a large leaf, so I used about 2 tablespoons stuffing), press it together loosely into a sort of log shape.  Please it on the bottom 1/3rd of the leaf.

3. Take some of the stuffing (this was a large leaf, so I used about 2 tablespoons stuffing), press it together loosely into a sort of log shape. Please it on the bottom 1/3rd of the leaf.

4.  Take one half of the bottom and fold it over the stuffing. ( I usually go right to left.)

4. Take one half of the bottom and fold it over the stuffing. ( I usually go right to left.)

5.  Repeat with the other side.

5. Repeat with the other side. The stuffing should be covered.

6.  Now, fold the sides over the filling.

6. Now, fold the sides over the filling.

7.  Repeat with the other side.

7. Repeat with the other side.

8.  Now, finish rolling the leaf until the stuffing is fully enclosed.

8. Now, finish rolling the leaf until the stuffing is fully enclosed.

8. Done!  You want to be sure that the amount of filling you use is proportional to the size of the leaf.

9. Done! Now, do this another 40 times or so.  You want to be sure that the amount of filling you use is proportional to the size of the leaf.

6.  As you make each roll, place it in the pot.  When you are about halfway through, crush a few of the tomatoes with your hands and lay them on the finished leaves.  Pour on some of the tomato juice. Finish stuffing the remaining leaves.   Crush the remaining tomatoes and place them on top.  Pour over the rest of the tomato juice and the beef broth.

The grape leaves in the pot ready to cook.

The grape leaves in the pot ready to cook.

7.  Cover the pot and bring the liquid to boil over high heat.  Lower the heat to low, keep the pot covered, and cook until the rice and meat are cooked, about 30 – 45 minutes.  You’ll need to take one out to test.

8.  When the grape leaves are cooked, place a serving on a plate, carefully pull out one of the shanks or ribs, and spoon out some of the broth to pour over the leaves on the plate.  You can also have some yogurt and pita bread on the side.

Sahtein!

Sahtein!

 

Admittedly, this is a dish that does take some time to put together.  But, the results are well worth it.

 

Sahtein!

Namourah نمورة 1

Posted on March 30, 2014 by Sahar

When I was (much) younger, I have to admit, I really didn’t like Arabic sweets.  They tasted strange and were too sweet (even for my sweet tooth).  Of course, as I’ve grown older and my palate has become more sophisticated, I’ve come to appreciate their flavor, complexity, and their place in my own heritage.

Namourah is a perfect example of a dessert I loathed as a kid but love now.  In fact, I take it to parties sometimes and it’s usually one of the first items to be devoured (and there is a lot of food at the parties I go to. Food people, you know).

Namourah is a dessert that is ubiquitous all over the Middle East.  The basic recipe (which I’ll be showing you in this post) is made with a simple syrup flavored with orange or rose water.  However, it is also made with honey and some recipes add coconut.  I like to keep it simple.

This recipe is a classic Arabic dessert in that it’s very sweet and rich.  It’s meant to be eaten in small doses with a group of friends and family with small cups of Arabic coffee.  In a typical Arab home, these types of desserts are served only when there is company over.  Otherwise, fresh fruit is generally in order.

 

This is an eggless cake made with semolina flour.  As a result, this is a very dense cake (especially after the syrup is poured on). And, what leavening that takes place (and there isn’t much) happens when the baking soda and baking powder react with the acids in the yogurt.

You can make this cake vegan is you like by using soy or coconut yogurt and vegan margarine.  However, I can’t guarantee your results will be quite the same.

Traditionally, the baking dish is greased with 2 tablespoons of tahineh.  However, I prefer to use regular pan spray.  I find the ease of cleaning outweighs tradition in this case.

This recipe also uses clarified butter and qatr (simple syrup).  To see explanations of how to make these, please see my post from October 31, 2013, Knafeh (http://www.tartqueenskitchen.com/?p=1973).

This recipe is an adaptation from what is, to me, my holy grail of Arabic cookbooks, “Sahtein”.  It was originally published in 1976 by the Arab Women Union of Detroit.  It was my first Arabic cookbook and still my first go-to for many recipes despite my now 20-book Arabic cookbook library.  My mom’s original 1976 printing is held together with rubber bands now.

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Semolina. Yes, the same flour used to make pasta. Also known in Arabic as "smeed" سميد

Semolina. Yes, the same flour used to make pasta. Also known in Arabic as “smeed” سميد

 

2 tbsp. Tahineh or use pan spray

4 cups smeed (Semolina سميد )

1 1/4 c. clarified butter

1 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1 1/4 c. laban (yogurt لبن) (I prefer to use full-fat yogurt; I prefer the flavor and texture)

2 tbsp. yogurt

3 c. Qatr (simple syrupقطر)

1/2 c. whole blanched almonds

 

1.  Either grease with the tahineh or spray an 11″ x 17″ baking dish.  Set aside.  Preheat the oven to 400F.

2.  In a large bowl, mix together the smeed (semolina), sugar, and butter.  Set aside.

Smeed, sugar, and butter ready to be mixed.

Smeed, sugar, and butter ready to be mixed.

Mixed.

Mixed.

3.  In a small bowl, mix together the yogurt, baking soda, and baking powder.

Yogurt, baking soda, and baking powder ready for mixing.

Yogurt, baking soda, and baking powder ready for mixing.

Mixed. Watch for a few seconds and see how the powders, especially the soda, react to the acid in the yogurt.

Mixed. Watch for a few seconds and see how the powders, especially the soda, react to the acid in the yogurt.

4.  Add the yogurt mixture to the smeed mixture.  Blend well.  It will be a little crumbly and dry-looking.

Getting ready to mix. The yogurt just keeps growing.

Getting ready to mix. The yogurt just keeps growing.

Mixed. The batter will be dry and crumbly-looking. But, it will stay together and spread easily.

Mixed. The batter will be dry and crumbly looking. But, it will stay together and spread easily.

5.  Take the mixture and spread it in the baking dish as evenly as possible.  Use your hands if necessary.

The cake batter spread in the pan.  Be sure the batter is as evenly as possible in the pan.

The cake batter spread in the pan. Be sure the batter is as evenly as possible in the pan.

6.  Spread the remaining 2 tablespoons of yogurt evenly over the top of the cake.  With a very sharp knife, cut the cake into roughly 2″ pieces either in diamond or square shapes (this is necessary so the syrup will soak evenly into the cake after baking). Top each piece with a blanched almond.

Yogurt on, cake cut, almonds placed. And, yes, I'm terrible at cutting evenly. Go figure.

Yogurt on, cake cut, almonds placed. And, yes, I’m terrible at cutting evenly. Go figure.

7.  Bake the cake in the oven for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, rotate the cake and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until the cake is a golden brown.

Remove the cake from the oven and cut along the original cut lines, if necessary (and it usually is).

The baked cake. I like it a little on the darker side. I think he flavor is better. Just take care not to let it burn on the bottom or sides.

The baked cake. I like it a little on the darker side. I think he flavor is better. Just take care not to let it burn on the bottom or sides.  As you can see, I had to cut the pieces again along the original cut lines.

8.  Pour the qatr over the cake and let it soak in (trust me, it does).  When the cake warm to room temperature, it’s ready to eat.

Pouring over the qatr. Do this as evenly as possible so the whole cake gets an even soaking.

Pouring over the qatr. Do this as evenly as possible so the whole cake gets an even soaking.

Yes, please.

Yes, please.

 

 

Bean & Lamb Stew (Fasoulia فاصوليا) 2

Posted on December 13, 2013 by Sahar

As comfort foods go, Fasoulia was another one my sisters & I were rewarded with as we grew up.  It is a delightful stew consisting of (at least in the Palestinian tradition) of lamb, tomatoes, and green beans.

In fact, the word “fasoulia” in Arabic literally means “bean”.

Fasoulia is a dish that is found in several versions throughout the Middle East, Turkey, North & Sub-Saharan Africa, and southern Europe. There are versions that use white beans (Syria & Lebanon), red beans (Lebanon), with carrots (Ethiopia), and with olives and greens  (Greece).

The version I’m making is the one we grew up with (and the one I learned from my mom – who makes the best Fasoulia I’ve ever had, by the way).  It’s in the Palestinian style, with lots of tomatoes.

 

A few notes:

1.  You can make this dish vegetarian/vegan by simply omitting the meat and using vegetable broth.

2.  This dish is always served over rice.  I like to serve over saffron rice (because that was the way my sisters & I grew up eating it).  However, if you want to use plain white rice, or even brown rice (especially if you’re making the vegetarian version), go for it.

3.  If you don’t like or can’t find lamb, you can use beef.  Use chuck.  It’s meant for stewing and braising.

4.  Use regular, fresh green beans for this dish.  Don’t use frozen or haricot vert (French green beans).  They won’t hold up to the cooking time.

5.  This is generally served with browned pine nuts sprinkled over the top as garnish.  However, if you don’t want to go to the expense of or can’t find pine nuts, browned slivered almonds are an excellent substitute.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

The lamb. Be sure to trim it of most of the fat.  Keep some, but get rid of any really large pieces.

The lamb. Be sure to trim it of most of the fat. Keep some, but get rid of any really large pieces.

The beans. Use regular green bean; not haricot vert or frozen. They won't stand up to the cooking.

The beans. Use regular green beans; not haricot vert or frozen. They won’t stand up to the cooking.

Clockwise from top: salt; black pepper; allspice

Clockwise from top: salt; black pepper; allspice

 

1 med. onion, finely chopped

2 lbs. lamb, trimmed and cut into 1″ cubes

2 lbs. green beans, trimmed and cut into 1″ to 1 1/2″ pieces

3 tbsp. olive oil or clarified butter

1 28-oz can whole tomatoes (try to buy without basil; if you do get basil, pick out the leaves)

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. ground black pepper

1/2 tsp. allspice

2 c. beef or chicken broth

 

1.  In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil or butter over medium-high heat.  Add the meat and cook, in batches if needed,  until it is browned.

Browning the meat. If you get the bone, use it. It adds a lot of flavor.

Browning the meat. If you get the bone, use it. It adds a lot of flavor.

2.  Add the onions to the saucepan and cook until they are softened, about 5 – 7 minutes.

Adding the onions.

Adding the onions.

3.  Add the beans and cook another 3 – 5 minutes.  Stir frequently.

And now for the beans.

And now for the beans.

4.  Add the tomatoes, spices, and broth.  Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to medium-low.  Cook until the meat is tender, about 1 hour.  Taste for seasoning.

With the tomaotes, spices, and broth. And away we go.

With the tomatoes, spices, and broth. And away we go.

5.  Serve with rice with a few browned pine nuts or slivered almonds on top.

Perfect meal for a cold night.

Perfect meal for a cold night.

 

Sahtein!

Knafeh كنافة: The Nabulsi Treat 5

Posted on October 31, 2013 by Sahar

Go anywhere in the Leventine and you will be presented by one of the greatest amalgamation of shredded phyllo, farmers cheese, and sugar known to humankind: Knafeh.

This sweet traces its origins back to the Ottoman Empire and can still be found in various forms all through the former empire’s dominion.

However, all through the Middle East, the city of Nablus is the place where everyone knows the best knafeh is made.  An entire knafeh culture exists there and Nabulsis take great pride in their craft (http://tinyurl.com/knlv2zh).  In fact, the World’s Largest Knafeh was made in Nablus in July 2009 (http://tinyurl.com/jw83r29).  (Videos from YouTube)

And, wherever Palestinians have settled, they have taken the art of Knafeh making wherever they go.

Trays of knafeh in Amman, Jordan. I could've sat there all day eating this.

Trays of Knafeh in Amman, Jordan. I could’ve sat there all day eating this.

Now, I have to honestly say my dad and ‘Amto (aunt) Siham make the best Knafeh I’ve ever tasted.  I don’t know what they do, but it’s simply etherial.

However, I think my recipe is pretty good, too.  And, now, I’m going to share it with you.

******************************

A few things about Knafeh:

1.  The cheese:  This uses a farmers cheese called Jebne Nabulsi (literally translated “Nablus Cheese”).  Here in the States, it is always packed in brine.  Of course, this is done for preservation.  But, it also makes the cheese semi-hard and salty rather than young, soft, and either unsalted or lightly salted in the Middle East.  To rid yourself of the salt and to somewhat soften the cheese, you have to soak and simmer it.  A good alternative is fresh mozzarella.  However, if you can’t find unsalted mozzarella, you’ll need to soak it as well.

2.  Buy the dough already shredded.  Don’t try to shred sheets of phyllo yourself.  You’ll never get them as fine and it’s a huge hassle.  Any good Middle Eastern market will have the dough in the freezer section.  Let it thaw overnight in the fridge before using.

3.  Coloring the top of the knafeh a bright orange color is traditional.  However, Knafeh coloring isn’t necessary.  There is a powdered coloring available in Middle Eastern markets especially for Knafeh.  However, unless you plan on making a lot, don’t buy it.  Some people use gel color (for coloring icing).  Don’t use regular food coloring, however.  It’s not fat soluble.

4.  Using Rose or Orange water is up to you.  I prefer the orange.  Others, rose.

5.  Don’t skimp on the syrup.  I know that when you first begin to pour it over, it looks like too much.  Believe me, it’s not.

6.  Clarified butter is absolutely necessary to this dish.  Regular butter will burn.  See the end of the post on how to make clarified butter.

 

The ingredients

The ingredients

The Nabulsi Cheese and orange Blossom Water.  These are my two favorite brands.  The cheese isn't too salty and the Cortas, along with being and excellent product, is readily available in upscale and Middle Eastern markets.

The Nabulsi Cheese and Orange Blossom Water. These are my two favorite brands. The cheese isn’t too salty and the Cortas, along with being and excellent product, is readily available in upscale and Middle Eastern markets.

 

 

Thin Qatr (Ka-tr) (simple syrup)

2 c. sugar

1 1/2 c. water

1 tsp. lemon juice

1 tbsp. orange or rose water (optional)

 

Knafeh

1 lb. knafeh dough (kataifi), thawed

2 lb. Farmers Cheese (Jebne Nabulsi) or fresh mozzarella

1/4 c. sugar

1 1/4 c. clarified butter

1 tsp. knafeh coloring (optional)

1/4 c. chopped pistachios (optional)

1 recipe Qatr (see above)

 

1.  Make the Qatr: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, mix together the sugar and water until the sugar is dissolved.

Starting the Qatr.

Starting the Qatr.

Bring to a boil.  Let the syrup boil for 3 minutes and then add the lemon juice.  Boil for 2 more minutes.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the orange blossom or rose water, if using.  Set aside and let cool.

The finished Qatr. Once you put the orange or rose water in, the fragrance is amazing.

The finished Qatr. Once you put the orange or rose water in, the fragrance is amazing.

2.  Make the Knafeh:  Prepare the cheese – If using the Farmers cheese, you will need to soak and cook the cheese to remove the salt.  To do this, thinly slice the cheese (almost to the point of shaving it) and place in a large bowl.

The cheese. Slice it as thin as you can; almost to the point of shaving it.

The cheese. Slice it as thin as you can; almost to the point of shaving it.

Cover the cheese with water and let soak for two hours, changing the water every 30 minutes.  After you have soaked the cheese, drain it and place in a large saucepan and cover with water.  Bring the water to a simmer (do not let it boil – it will harden the cheese) and cook the cheese for 10 minutes.  Drain.  Repeat the process at least 2 more times or until the cheese is salt-free. (Taste as you go.)

If you are using fresh mozzarella, buy salt-free.  If you don’t find any, thinly slice the cheese and soak it in water for 30 minutes  – 1 hour.  Drain and taste.  Repeat if needed.

Drain the cheese on paper towels to remove some of the excess moisture.  Place the cheese in a medium bowl and toss with the 1/4 c. sugar.

The cheese after its been de-salted and tossed with sugar.

The cheese after its been de-salted and tossed with sugar.

3.  Meanwhile, take the knafeh dough and, with a very sharp knife, chop the dough into approximately 1″ pieces.

How the Knafeh dough comes out of the package. Kind of like a soft brick.

How the Knafeh dough comes out of the package. Kind of like a soft brick.

The chopped dough. Use a very sharp knife and quite a bit of caution when cutting the dough.

The chopped dough. Use a very sharp knife and quite a bit of caution when cutting the dough.

Have 1 cup of the clarified butter heating in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add the dough to the saucepan.

Stir and cook the dough until it has absorbed the butter.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and let sit until cool enough to handle.

The Knafeh dough after it's been tossed with the hot butter.  I personally use wood spatulas to complete this step.  I have literally seen my dad and aunt stick their hands into the hot saucepan to mix the dough and butter together.  If I decide to do more mixing ith my hands, I generally wait until it's at least warm.

The Knafeh dough after it’s been tossed with the hot butter. As a general rule, I personally use wood spatulas to complete this step. I have literally seen my dad and aunt stick their hands into the hot saucepan to mix the dough and butter together. If I decide to do more mixing with my hands, I generally wait until it’s at least warm.

4.  Preheat the oven to 400F.  Prepare 2 baking sheets by lining with foil and spraying with non-stick spray. (I use 9″ x 12″ x 1″ sheet pans from a restaurant supply. Invest in some. You won’t be sorry.)  Pour the remaining 1/4 c. butter in the bottom of one of the baking sheets and mix in the knafeh coloring (if using).

Mixing the coloring and butter together.  While it isn't necessary to color the butter, it is traditional.

Mixing the coloring and butter together. While it isn’t necessary to color the butter, it is traditional.

5.  Take 1/2 of the Knafeh dough and spread it as evenly as possible over the bottom of the baking sheet.

Spreading the first half of the dough over the sheet pan.

Spreading the first half of the dough over the sheet pan.

Spread the cheese over the top in an even later.  Top the cheese evenly with the remaining dough.

The cheese layer.

The cheese layer.

The final layer of dough on top. This will eventually become the bottom.

The final layer of dough on top. This will eventually become the bottom.

6.  Place the baking sheet in the lower 1/3 of the oven and bake for 25 – 30 minutes, or until the top is a golden brown.

The Knafeh after the first baking. Now, time to flip.

The Knafeh after the first baking. Now, time to flip.

Take the baking sheet from the oven, place the second sheet on top, face down, and carefully flip the Knafeh.

Getting ready to flip.  Have the courage of your convictions when you do this. Along with an apron and very good potholders.

Getting ready to flip. Have the courage of your convictions when you do this. Along with an apron and very good potholders.

A perfect flip. This doesn't happen often. At least to me.

A perfect flip. This doesn’t happen often. At least to me.

Place the new baking sheet with the knafeh, now bottom-side-up, back in the oven for another 10 minutes.

7.  Once the knafeh is done, take it out of the oven and set the baking sheet on a rack.  Pour the Qatr over the knafeh as evenly as possible.

Pouring over the Qatr. Don;t skimp on this. It will soak in.

Pouring over the Qatr. Don’t skimp on this. It will soak in.

Top with the chopped pistachios (if using).  Let cool slightly and allow the syrup to soak in before eating.

The finished Knafeh.

The finished Knafeh.

Sahtein!

Sahtein!  P.S. This is excellent with a cup of strong Arabic coffee.

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Clarified Butter

At least 2 lbs. of unsalted European or European-style butter (it has a higher percentage of fat than American butters. American butters tend to have more water.)

Basically, clarified butter (also known as ghee or samneh) is butter where the milk solids have been removed.  When butter burns, it’s these solids that burn, not the fat.

Cooking with regular butter is fine, as we all know, in most cases.  In fact, sometimes browned butter is a beautiful thing.  However, for desserts like this, or even direct high-heat cooking, clarified butter is the way to go.  It has a much higher smoke point (about 450F as opposed to 325F for regular butter) as well as a longer shelf life (I’ve had some for at least 6 months and it’s still good).

It’s very simple to make.  It just takes a little patience.

Here is a lovely essay on clarified butter written by Edward Schneider for the New York Times in 2008: http://tinyurl.com/lj6ozhr

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I generally like to do at least 3 pounds at a time and store it in the refrigerator.

To begin, place the butter in a medium to large saucepan over very low heat.

 

Starting the process.

Starting the process.

Allow the butter to very slowly melt.  This is done to help the butter separate slowly and let the milk solids settle on the bottom of the pan.

The butter almost ready for skimming.

The butter almost ready for skimming.

Remove the pan from the heat.  With a large spoon, begin to carefully skim off the milk solids on top.

Skimming off the foam.  Some people save it for using on popcorn, in dairy recipes, or on rice.  If I don't have an immediate use for it myself, I tend to just discard it. It's up to you.

Skimming off the foam. Some people save it for using on popcorn, in dairy recipes, or on rice. If I don’t have an immediate use for it myself, I tend to just discard it. It’s up to you.

The remaining milk solids and little bit of butter in the bottom of the pan.

The remaining milk solids and little bit of butter in the bottom of the pan.

Once you have skimmed off all (or most) of the solids, carefully pour them into a clean container.  Some people will pour the butter through a cheesecloth as well to be sure to get every bit of milk solid out of the clarified butter.  However, if you are fine with a few bits of milk solid, you can skip that step.

The finished clarified butter. I generally get 4 1/2 cups from 3 lbs. of butter.

The finished clarified butter. I generally get 4 1/2 cups from 3 lbs. of butter.

 

 

Enjoy!

 

 



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