September 30, 2013 by
One of the great things about having a parent, or parents, who were born and/or grew up in another country is getting to learn and experience mores, manners, customs, and, yes, food that are different than what you might experience daily in the wider world.
My sisters and I grew up with just such a parent. Our father is Palestinian. He’s originally from a town called Nablus. When he was born, it was a part of western Jordan. Now it is in the Occupied West Bank under the supervision of the Palestinian Authority. Dad came to the US in 1960 to go to college. Eventually, he met and married our mom, graduated from college with an engineering degree, co-raised three girls without losing his mind, worked for the same company for 40 years, and happily retired.
Along the way, Dad did impart in us some of his old-world wisdom. Or, at least tried to. And while we didn’t always appreciate the lessons he tried to teach – especially Arabic, which I’m still struggling to learn – we always appreciated the food.
And while my sisters and I certainly ate with glee the kibbeh, sayadieh (fish with rice), mjudarah (lentils and rice), mishi waraq (stuffed grape leaves), and knaffeh (sweet shredded phyllo dough with cheese) our parents made (Mom and Dad each have their specialties), we especially enjoyed breakfast with unrestrained glee.
Breakfast at my aunt’s home in Jordan
Breakfast in the Middle East isn’t necessarily a rushed thing. Well, it isn’t unless one has to rush off to work or school. Breakfast usually starts about 8 or 9 with a nice long chat over coffee. Then, the food comes out. It can be as simple as some jam, bread, and cheese on up to dips, za’atar (spice mix made with thyme, sumac, sesame seeds, and salt), fresh fruit and vegetables, olives, pickles, eggs, and occasionally leftovers from the night before.
Unlike in the West, coffee isn’t drunk at breakfast. It’s used as an aperitif, digestive, at social gatherings, and with the desserts the Middle East is so famous for. Juice, water, or hot sweet tea is drunk at breakfast.
Just to make you hungrier, here’s a picture of my family at the restaurant my cousin Salam owns with her husband. Tarweea. It serves breakfast 24 hours a day. And it’s amazing.
The family at Tarweea. Damn good food. And company.
So, welcome to my version of Arabic Breakfast.
The recipes I’m showing you are ubiquitous throughout the Middle East. Like anywhere else, there are regional variations for each dish. That being said, I’m going to show you the way I grew up eating these dishes and the recipes I learned Palestinian style.
I will be making several recipes in this post: Ful Mudammas (Fava Bean Dip), Baba Ghannouj (Eggplant Dip), Tomatoes and Garlic Poached in Olive Oil (not sure if this is authentic, but my dad makes it on occasion), and Hummous (which I’ve already made for you, http://www.tartqueenskitchen.com/?cat=63).
Click on the above link to get the recipe.
The additions will be some lovely olives and turnip pickles:
Clockwise from top: Persian cucumbers, turnip pickles (the red color comes from a beet put into the brine), Moroccan Oil Cured Olives, Lebanese Green Olives
Plates of olive oil and za’atar.
Olive Oil and Za’atar
Bread is dipped in the olive oil and then the za’atar. It has a wonderful savory-slightly tart flavor. Some people will also make a paste of the two, spread it on bread and toast the bread until the top is nice and bubbly. It’s divine.
We also have some lebneh. It is essentially yogurt cheese. A lovely, delightfully slightly sour treat. Try it spread on bread with some tomato. Oh. Yeah.
Lebneh in olive oil. This stuff is the bomb.
Some farmers cheese is always essential on the table. Jebne Nabulsi (Nablus Cheese) is our cheese of choice. Farmers cheese is used in both sweet and savory dishes. For sweet dishes, it’s usually boiled to remove the salt. The cheese we get in the US is always packed in brine. If you’re able to buy it in Jordan, it’s much fresher. The difference is striking.
My favorite brand of Nabulsi Cheese. it’s not too salty and cooks well.
The first recipe I’ll show you is for Ful (pronounced “fool”) Mudammas (فول مدمس). It’s a breakfast dish made with fava beans. It’s a dish that’s been traced back to ancient Egypt and is still a very popular breakfast choice throughout the Middle East and parts of Africa.
Now, I use the canned ones. However, if you want to use fresh or used soaked dry beans, it’s up to you.
The ingredients for Ful Mudammas.
1 can fava beans, drained, liquid reserved
1/4 c. onion, finely minced
2 cl. garlic, minced
2 – 4 (depending on size and heat level) tabasco or pepperoncini peppers, minced
1/4 c. parsley, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Lemon to taste
additional minced parsley for garnish, optional
1. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, mix together the fava beans, onion, garlic, peppers, about 2 – 3 tablespoons of the reserved liquid from the beans, and a pinch of salt & pepper.
Beans in the pot.
Beans, onion, garlic, and peppers ready to make magic.
Heat the mixture slowly, stirring occasionally. Cook about 20 minutes. Add more liquid if the beans become too dry.
Cooking the beans and vegetables. Be sure to not let the beans get too dry.
2. Once the mixture is cooked, taste it for seasoning and some lemon to taste. Remove the saucepan from the heat and mash the beans, leaving some texture. In other words, don’t make them a smooth mash.
Mashing the beans. Leave some texture. Don’t make too smooth a mix.
3. Place the ful on a plate, drizzle over some olive oil and additional parsley.
The finished dish. Enticing, isn’t it.
The next dish I’m going to show you is Baba Ghannouj (بابا غنوج.). It’s a smooth dip made with eggplant. It can be served as a mezze, a salad, or a side dish. It is sometimes served with sliced or finely diced vegetables on top. Some will use parsley or mint. In some parts of the Arab world, particularly Syria, pomegranate seeds or syrup are used as well.
Traditionally, the eggplant is grilled over an open flame until it’s soft and charred. However, I’ve found the oven is an excellent alternative cooking source.
When buying eggplant, look for ones with a smooth unblemished skin and no soft spots.
3 cl. garlic
1/4 c. tahineh, more if needed
Salt and lemon juice to taste
Olive oil for garnish
Pomegranate seeds or syrup for garnish, optional
Parsley for garnish, optional
1. Prep the eggplant. Heat your oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with non-stick spray. Drizzle some olive oil on the bottom and spread to cover.
Take the eggplant, cut off the top, then cut in half lengthwise.
The eggplant. You want the flesh to be white to off white. and firm. And not too seedy. A lot of seeds can make the eggplant bitter.
Place the eggplant cut side down on the baking sheet. Drizzle to top with a little more oil and put in the oven. Bake the eggplant until it’s soft, about 20 – 25 minutes.
Eggplant ready for the oven.
2. Meanwhile, if you are using pomegranate seeds, time to get the seeds out.
When buying a pomegranate, make sure there are no soft pots, the skin is smooth and free of blemishes, and be sure to check for pinholes in the skin. That’s a sign of infestation or spoilage. If you open a pomegranate and any of the seeds are brown or dried out, discard them.
Cut around the equator of the pomegranate just until you break through the skin. Don’t cut all the way through or you’ll lose some seeds.
Pull the halves until they separate. This takes a little doing, but it will happen.
An excellent pomegranate. The seeds are bright, red, and juicy. The membrane is firm and a nice creamy color.
I suggest wearing gloves for this next part. It is now time to separate the seeds from the membrane. It’s really not difficult. Just time consuming. if you can remove the seeds in clusters, all the better. The trick is to break as few seeds as possible and not include any of the membrane (edible, but very bitter).
Removing the seeds from the membrane. Not difficult, but time consuming.
You will be rewarded for your hard work.
Your reward. They look like jewels.
3. Check the eggplant. Give it a quick poke with your finger or a fork. If it feels soft, it’s ready to come out of the oven. Take the eggplant halves off the baking sheet and set aside until cool enough to handle.
The baked eggplant. You want the char. It adds a smoky flavor to the final dish. However, be sure not to let the eggplant burn.
4. when the eggplant is cool enough to handle, carefully peel off the skin and discard.
Peeling the skin off the eggplant.
Place the peeled eggplant in a small bowl or dish. Set aside.
5. With a food processor running, drop the garlic cloves down through the feed tube and chop them.
The chopped garlic.
Add the eggplant, tahineh, and a little salt.
Ready to mix.
Puree the ingredients until a smooth consistency is achieved. Add a little lemon juice through the feed tube while the machine is running. When the lemon is mixed in, taste the baba ghannouj for seasoning.
6. Place the baba ghannouj into a bowl and garish with a little olive oil, some parsley, and a few of the pomegranate seeds.
This is delicious. And I don’t like eggplant.
As for the Poached Tomatoes and Garlic, I really don’t know if it’s an authentic part of the meal. However, I remember my dad making this dish from time to time, so I do, too. My husband and I like this dish, so I make it for that reason as well.
4 large tomatoes, quartered, core (blossom end) cut out, and seeded
10 – 12 cloves garlic, smashed
3/4 c. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1. Place all the ingredients in a large skillet or shallow saucepan over low heat.
The ingredients ready to be poached.
2. While the ingredients cook, you can mash them a bit if you like. Just cook until the tomatoes have completely broken down, about 30 minutes.
Cooking down the tomatoes and garlic.
All done. Yes, it’s a lot of olive oil. It tastes lovely.
Fried Nabulsi Cheese
1. Take a few pieces of the Nabulsi cheese and cut them into smaller pieces (I usually cut them in half crosswise and then again lengthwise). Place them in a bowl and rinse with water several times until it runs clear. Let the cheese soak in the water to remove some of the salt.
Some of the cheese. The shape and saltiness of the cheese depends on the brand.
Soaking the cheese
Before you get ready to fry the cheese, take it out of the water and drain on paper towels.
2. In a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Once the butter starts to foam, place a few pieces of the cheese in the skillet to cook. Cook until each side is golden brown.
Frying the cheese. Not the most healthy way to cook it, but hey, why not?
Drain the cooked cheese on paper towels and eat while still warm. It doesn’t really keep once it’s cold.
Believe it or not, this is excellent on warm pita bread with a little jam.
Of course, the one indispensable ingredient for the whole meal. Bread. Khubuz خبز
The bread. The most indispensable ingredient of all.
And, here is the final table.
The final table. Invite a few friends.