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Makdous لمكدوس‎‎ا – Stuffed & Preserved Eggplant 1

Posted on September 15, 2017 by Sahar

As I have stated before in this blog, I’m not a fan of eggplant.  I don’t care for the taste, texture, and several bad experiences as a child have all left me wary of this particular nightshade.  However, over the years I have come to appreciate eggplant in two – YES! – two dishes; Baba Ghannouj and Makdous.

Makdous is ubiquitous all over the Middle East. It can be eaten for breakfast (the most common way) or as a mezze.

I’ve been searching for an actual origin story for this dish, but haven’t been able to find one.  No doubt it came, like most preserved foods, out of sheer necessity to get people through until the next harvest.

There is an odd alchemy that happens with Makdous during the preservation process. While it is generally known that you don’t store raw garlic in olive oil, especially at room temperature, it seems to work just fine in this recipe.  It could be the mixture of the nuts, salt, and pepper along with the alkaline nature of the eggplant.  You can store Makdous in the refrigerator or at room temperature in the pantry (as I’ve always seen my dad do).

There are several ways Makdous can be prepared.  One constant is the eggplant should be blanched and drained before stuffing. Some drain the eggplant by stuffing it first, placing it in the jar, then turning the jar over to let the liquid drain out; others will cut a slit in the eggplant, lay it slit side down, then let it drain overnight.  I use the latter method. (There is only one time I’ve seen a recipe that simply salted the eggplant and let it drain without cooking.)  Always use small or baby eggplant.  The baby eggplant will be more tender, sweeter, and less apt to be bitter.  You’ll be able to find baby eggplant in abundance in any grocery that caters to the Middle Eastern community or, if you’re lucky, at the local farmers market or farm stand during the growing season. (In central Texas, we have eggplant from roughly June through the first frost in late October/early November.)  There are also, of course, ingredient variations.  Some will use pepper paste (like harissa), a combination of sweet & hot peppers, cayenne, parsley, lemon, chili powder, Feta cheese (although they don’t last as long), cilantro (coriander), pecans, and pomegranate seeds.  The constants are always eggplant, walnuts, and salt.

This recipe was written in consultation with and advice from my dad.  He is a Makdous connoisseur and, along with my mom, has made Makdous in the past. I just hope he likes this batch once I get a jar to him.

 

The ingredients.

Japanese Eggplant.

“Dancer” eggplant. This is what I used in the recipe. I got the smallest ones I could find.

2 lbs. baby eggplant or small Japanese eggplant

3 1/2 c. walnuts, chopped

15 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp. red pepper flakes, or to taste

1 tsp. Kosher or sea salt, or to taste

Olive Oil as needed

2 – 3 ea. quart-sized Mason ® jars with lids & rims, cleaned

 

Trim the tops of the eggplant, leaving the caps on.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add the eggplants to the boiling water, turn off the heat, and let the eggplant sit in the water for 10 minutes. (I like to put a small plate on top of the eggplant to keep it submerged.)

Weighing down the eggplant.

After 10 minutes, drain the eggplant.  Once it is cool enough to handle, cut a slit in one side (not all the way through and try to leave about 1″ at each end uncut).  Lay the eggplant on a rack, cut side down, and let drain overnight.

The cut eggplant. Sadly, no. It doesn’t keep its color.

Draining the eggplant. Some people will weigh the eggplant down at this point to drain out as much liquid as possible. I generally don’t; it’s up to you.

The next day, mix together the walnuts, garlic, pepper flakes, and salt.  Taste for seasoning and adjust as you like.

The stuffing. It’s almost like a nut pesto.

Fill each eggplant with some of the stuffing.  You want to get as much as you can in the eggplant without splitting them.  (You may have some stuffing left over; that’s OK.  It actually goes great on pasta or spread on a good crusty piece of bread.)

The (over) stuffed eggplant.

Place as many of the stuffed eggplant as you can in a Mason Jar with minimal crushing.  Slowly add the olive oil to cover the eggplant.  Set the jars on a rimmed baking sheet lined with a thick layer of paper towels or a dish towel you don’t really care about.  Place the lid (only!) on the top of the jar.  Place the baking sheet with the jars in a cool, dark place and let sit for 1 week.

The Makdous ready for preserving. Note how it’s just the lid on the jar, not the rim. You want to allow the moisture to escape.

There will be some overflow from the jars.  This is due to the moisture (mainly water) escaping and overflowing the jar.  Simply check to be sure the oil is covering everything in the jar.

After 3 days. Notice how yellow the towels are. That’s the excess moisture and some olive oil escaping the jar. You may also see some bubbles. This is from the water and air escaping and it’s normal.

After 1 week, carefully clean off the rim of the jar, tighten the lid with the rim, and wash off any oil residue off the jar.

I believe this is after 10 days. (We went on vacation.) I cleaned off the rim of the jar, put on the lid rims, then washed the residue off the jars.

The Makdous is now ready to eat.  You can store it in the refrigerator (just let it come to room temperature before eating) or in a cool, dark pantry for up to one year as long as the contents are always covered in olive oil and the lid & rim are sealed tightly.

I personally like Makdous on a good cracker.

 

Sahtein! صحتين!

 

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)

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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.

 

 

 

 

2nd Annual Viva Big Bend Food Festival Daily Dispatch: Day 3 0

Posted on April 18, 2014 by Sahar

A little late. But here it is…

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Friday was my busiest day and it dawned early for me. Too early.

I was up late into Thursday night starting prep for my cooking class and was exhausted by the time I fell into bed.  However, even after 16 years of teaching cooking classes, I never sleep well the night before because I tend to worry too much about everything that might go wrong.

So, long story short, I laid there in bed for another 2 hours trying in vain to go back to sleep.

Then, the alarm went off. It was time to get up and head to the Cowboy Breakfast at Fort Davis.

It was a chilly, overcast morning and perfect for a nice hearty chuck wagon breakfast.

Chuckwagon time.

Chuck wagon time.

Mr. Moreland's pantry.

Mr. Moreland’s pantry.

The chef that morning was Glenn Moreland, a champion amongst chuck wagon cooks.  And, after eating his food, I can see why. Breakfast was scrambled eggs, Dutch-oven Biscuits, and cream gravy with sausage.

Perfect.

Oh… Yeah…

Let's not forget the Cowboy Coffee.

Let’s not forget the Cowboy Coffee.

While we all agreed that while the eggs were very good, but nothing special, the biscuits and cream gravy were the best we’ve ever had.  And, after living in Texas for as long as Mom, Dad, Steve & I have, that’s saying something. It wasn’t greasy, flour-flavored wallpaper paste; it was a lovely, not-too-thick, flavor balanced amalgamation of sausage, flour, and milk.  There are many restauranteurs who should take cream gravy-making lessons from Mr. Moreland.

Then, there were the biscuits.  Fluffy as a new pillow.

Buscuits ready for the campfire.

Biscuits ready for the campfire.

Baking biscuits.

Baking biscuits.

And, of course, our scenery made everything go down easy.

The view from the chuck wagon.

The view from the chuck wagon.

The view at breakfast.

The view at breakfast.

After breakfast, Steve & I drove back to Alpine while my parents went with Mom’s friend Betty (we happened to run into at the breakfast) to her home and then took a trip into Marfa for lunch.

I had to get back to the hotel to prep for my class.

On Thursday night, I cut & marinated the meat for the kebabs and cooked the eggplant for the Baba Ghannouj; Friday, I did everything else.  My class was on Middle Eastern Mezze. The menu consisted of:

Hummous

Ful Mudammas

Baba Ghannouj

Fatoush

Shish Kebabs

I taught a very similar menu last year that proved popular, so Stewart & I decided that it would work again.  And, while the prep was easy (especially since I’ve done all these recipes dozens of times), it took me about 4 hours to get everything ready to take to the hotel. So, yeah. I was just a little stressed.

Prep. Whew.

Prep. Whew.

Because I didn’t have any hard-and-fast numbers, I had no idea how much food to make.  So, I went with a triple batch of each recipe.  I figured, if nothing else, I could leave the extra food for the kitchen staff at the hotel.  Actually, my biggest fear was no one except Steve and my parents showing up.

Well, my fears were unfounded. More than 3 people showed.  By Steve’s estimation, I had 25 – 30 for my class. And, I made just enough food.

A few members of the class.

A few members of the class.

A few more students watching me behind the counter.

A few more students watching me behind the counter. I can’t remember what I was making at this point. Either hummous or baba ghannouj.

From my vantage point. And my mess.

From my vantage point. And my mess. Looking at al the food that was already on the counter, I must have been talking about the kebabs.

Stewart joining me at the end.

Stewart joining me at the end.

It was a good group.  They listened, took recipes, asked thoughtful questions, and seemed to enjoy the food.  I admit I felt a strong sense of relief.

Overall, I think the class went well.  There was just enough food for the class with a little left over for the kitchen staff. Except for the kebabs. Those were gone.

I must give credit to William Paynter, the Century Grill General Manager, who was a great help. I couldn’t be more grateful to him and his staff.

At the end of class, after Stewart & I announced the gin-and-oyster party in the Holland Loft Courtyard, I cleaned up and cleared out as quickly as possible so I could get some oysters and put my feet up for a while.  I didn’t really care about the gin drinks. Although I did have a few sips of Mom’s and Steve’s drinks.

Lots of gin.

Lots of gin and mixers.

Oysters. Lots of oysters.  I think I  had 10. I didn't want to seem greedy.

Oysters. Lots of oysters. I think I had 10. I didn’t want to seem too greedy.

The party was actually just outside Steve’s & my room, so we and my parents were able to get our food and drinks and hide out inside.  If we wanted more, we could just walk two steps out the door and partake. Since I hadn’t eaten since the breakfast, I was grateful for the snack.

We chatted for a while, I got cleaned up, and then we headed to our next event: The Tito’s Vodka Cocktail Dinner at the Granada Theater.

The whole event was, in a word, incredible.  The food was catered by the Saddle Club by Chefs Stephen and Jonathan Wood.  The cocktails were mixed by David Allen, whose book “The Tipsy Texan” was an event at the festival in itself.

The dinner started out with a “passed app” of Slow Roasted Cabrito with Avocado Mousse, and salsa on flour tortilla cups.  The cabrito was perfectly cooked – a lovely shredded melt-in-your-mouth treat. The mousse was simple and the salsa added just the right amount of heat.

 

The "Passed App"

The “Passed App”

The cocktail was a mason jar full of the “Little Miss” made with Tito’s (as all the cocktails were), roasted pineapple juice, lime, cinnamon/clove syrup, and bitters.  I only had a small taste of the Little Miss.  Wow.  If you weren’t careful, these could be dangerous.  They tasted almost like a spicy lemonade. (Full disclosure: I’m allergic to cinnamon. So, I only had a small taste of this cocktail and the dessert.) Mom and Steve enjoyed it.  Dad sipped.

This tasted like a slightly spicy hard lemonade.

This tasted like a slightly spicy hard lemonade.

My alternate cocktail.  Basically vodka and ginger beer.

My alternate cocktail. Basically vodka and ginger beer.

The first course was a Pork Belly Carnitas with Marinated Grilled Artichoke Bottom, Pickled Watermelon Radishes, and Bacon Creme.  (For those of you unfamiliar, carnitas is basically pork that’s been braised or roasted then pan fried.)

Wow.  All I can say is wow.  Artichokes aren’t my favorite vegetables, but I’d eat them every day if they could taste like this. The carnitas had just the right amount of flavor, richness, and textures.  And the creme; well, everything’s better with bacon.  The pickled radishes added just the right amount of contrast to the rest of the dish and cut right through the richness.

First Course

First Course

The paired cocktail was “Southern Days”.  It was made with vodka, watermelon, mint, and sugar.  A very refreshing summer-sipping-on-the-porch cocktail.

Refreshing

Refreshing

The main course was Jalapeno Rubbed Beef Tenderloin, Bacon & Pepper Jack Hominy Cassoulet, Chayote Squash, and Fire-Roasted Jalapeno Cream.

This was my favorite course, hands down.  The tenderloin was at least 4-5 ounces of Chateaubriand cut cooked to a well-rested medium rare.  While I don’t believe the tenderloin is the most flavorful cut of beef (or any animal for that matter), Chef Stephen found a way to make its grass-fed goodness shine.

I think I found a new way to make chayote squash – a vegetable I rarely use.  I should’ve asked him how he made it, but it seemed to me to be very simply pan seared.  It still had some crunch to it.

One of my favorite foods is hominy.  And by pairing it with bacon and cheese, it was moved to new hights of possibilities.

And the Bacon Creme? What do you think?

Main Course

Main Course

The paired cocktail was “Tito’s Martinez”.  Made with vodka, Carpano Antica (a sweet vermouth), Luxardo Maraschino (a cherry liqueur), and bitters, it acted as a digestif to help counteract the richness of the course.

Dad didn’t like it.  Mom & I split it.

Strong.

Strong.

Sadly, I didn’t get to try to much of dessert: Sopapilla Cheesecake.  It looked like a wonderful amalgamation of creaminess with a cinnamon brulee crust.  I did try a couple of bites of Dad’s portion and detected coconut as well.  However, no one else could confirm this.

Steve's dessert. I just managed to get a photo before he finished.

Steve’s dessert. I just managed to get a photo before he finished.

The final cocktail more than made up for my lack of dessert experience: the “Iceberg”.  Made with vodka and frozen Cremes de Menthe and Cacao it tasted like melted chocolate chip mint ice cream.  I was only sorry they served it to us in shot glasses.

Yum.

Yum.

After the meal and some well-deserved applause for Chef Stephen and his crew, we made it back to our room in a relatively straight line.

After discussing meeting up at the Farmers Market the next morning and relaxing a bit, Mom & Dad went back to their hotel.

Steve & I were in bed by 10.  We’re old.

 

Day 4.  Soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Arabic Breakfast فطوري العربية 3

Posted on September 30, 2013 by Sahar

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 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.

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.

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

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).

Hummous. Mmm... Click on the above link to get the recipe.

Hummous. Mmm…
Click on the above link to get the recipe.

The additions will be some lovely olives and turnip pickles:

olives, pickles, cucumber

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

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.

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.

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.

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

Olive oil

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 in the pot.

Beans, onion, garlic, and peppers waiting to make me happy.

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.

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.

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 finished dish. Enticing, isn’t it.

 

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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.

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

1 eggplant

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 not too seedy.  A lot of seeds can make the eggplant bitter.

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.

Eggplant ready for the oven.

2.  Meanwhile, if you are using pomegranate seeds, time to get the seeds out.

Hello.

Hello.

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.

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.

Removing the seeds from the membrane. Not difficult, but time consuming.

The remains.

The remains.

You will be rewarded for your hard work.

Your reward. They look like jewels.

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 smky flavor to the final dish.  However, be sure not to let the eggplant burn.

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.

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.

The chopped garlic.

Add the eggplant, tahineh, and a little salt.

Ready to mix.

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.

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.

The ingredients

The ingredients

 

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.

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.

Cooking down the tomatoes and garlic.

All done.  Yes, it's a lot of olive oil. It tastes lovely.

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,

Some of the cheese. The shape and saltiness of the cheese depends on the brand.

Soaking the cheese

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?

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.

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 indespensible ingredient of all.

The bread. The most indispensable ingredient of all.

And, here is the final table.

The final table. Invite a few friends.

The final table. Invite a few friends.

Sahtein!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arabic Style Savory Pies 6

Posted on September 30, 2012 by Sahar

Just about every cuisine in the world has it’s own version of savory pies.  The Latin World has empanadas; Austrailia has Meat Pies;  Great Britain has Pasties and Scotch Pies; India has Pakora.

And, in the Middle East, they have Fatayer (فطاير), Sfeeha (صفيحة), and Sambousek (سمبوسك).  They can be eaten as mezze or as part of a main meal (the way I like to do it).

 

A Primer:

Fatayer are baked triangle-shaped pies that are usually filled with cheese or spinach.

Sfeeha are open-faced pies usually with a meat topping, but other ingredients can be used as well.

Sambousek are essentially half-moon shaped pies that can either be baked or fried.  They usually have meat or cheese filling.

And they are all delicious.

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For my post, I’ve made the Fatayer and Sambousek.  I used spinach in the Fatayer and lamb in the Sambousek.  No frying, though.

And now, on to the recipes.

The Ingredients

The spices. (L – from top clockwise) Black Pepper, Allspice, Cinnamon, Salt;
(R) Sumac

 

The pies in these recipes use a yeast dough.  I generally don’t proof my yeast (although I probably should).  I just pay attention to the expiration date on the package and use my yeast quickly.  However, if you want to proof, here’s how you do it:

Fill a measuring cup with 1/4 cup of warm (95F – 105F) water.  Mix in 1/4 teaspoon of sugar, then 1 package of the yeast. (Yeast loves warm temperatures and food.  Hense the warm water and sugar. It’s basically a fermenting process.) Let the yeast dissolve in the water (you may have to do a little stirring to accomplish this).  Set the measuring cup aside in a warm place and let the yeast do its thing.  If it begins to bubble and rise, then it’s good.  If the yeast does nothing, then either your water wasn’t the correct temperature or your yeast was bad.

There is a spice I use for the spinach filling that you may not be familiar with: Sumac.  Sumac can generally be found growing wild throughout the Middle East.  It’s “berry” has a thin skin and flesh surrounding a very hard seed.  These “berries” are ground down to make a powder.  Sumac has a tart, slightly astringent, almost lemony flavor.  Look for sumac that is brick red to dark burgundy  in color and is an even grind.  You want it to have a bright scent.  If it smells like dirt, don’t buy it.  It’s old.

Don’t go and pick berries off a sumac plant if you see one.  It’s most likely “poison sumac”.  Just buy the dried ground in the store.

Sumac is used for Zaatar (a spice mix that also has thyme, sesame seeds, and salt), in kebabs as a seasoning, on vegetables, eggs, in meat dishes.  It’s a ubiquious spice in the Middle East.

Sumac.

 

Pastry Dough

6 c. all-purpose flour

1 package yeast

1 tbsp. salt

1 tsp. sugar

1/4 c. olive oil

2 c. warm water (95F – 105F), more if needed

 

I prefer to mix my pastry dough by hand.  However, if you like to use a mixer or a processor, by all means, do so.

1.  In a large bowl, mix together the flour, yeast, salt, and sugar.

Dry pastry ingredients

Add the olive oil and mix it in.

Adding the olive oil

Add the water.

Adding the water.

 

Now, mix throroughly.  You want to have a dough that is slightly sticky.  I’ve found that it’s all right if it isn’t perfectly smooth.  However, you want to work the dough as much as possible without having to add any additional water or flour if you can.

Trust me, it will come together.

(Apologies for the following photos. I didn’t stop to “pose” while Husband was taking them, so they’re a little blurry. But, I think you’ll get the point.)

Mixing the dough.

Mixing the dough. In the beginning there will be a lot of dry compared to wet. Keep working the dough.

The dough is coming together. I haven’t added any additional flour or water.

The dough has come together and the bowl is fairly clean. Which is what you want.

2.  Knead the dough for about 5 minutes. You can do this in the bowl or turn the dough out onto a flat surface. Or, if you’re using a mixer, use the dough hook.

3.  Pour a little additional olive oil to grease the bowl.  Place the dough back in the bowl and rub a little olive oil over the top.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it in a warm placce to rise.  About 2 hours.

4.  Meanwhile, make the fillings:

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Spinach Filling for Fatayer

1 1/2 lbs. spinach (I like to use baby spinach.  I don’t have to trim the stems or chop it)

1/4 c. sumac, or to taste

1 tbsp. salt or to taste

1/4 c. lemon juice, or to taste

1/4 c. olive oil, more if needed

 

1.  In a very large bowl, mix all the ingredients together.  Taste and adjust the seasonings.

The spinach filling mixture.

2.  Pour the spinach mixture into a large colander and place the colander over the large bowl.  The spinach will basically (chemically) cook as it sits and release moisture.  The colander allows the excess moisture to drain away.

Toss the spinach occasionally.  Because it’s essentially cooking, it will wilt.

The colander sitting in the bowl. This will allow any moisture to drain off as the spinach sits.

The excess moisture from the spinach mixture after about 2 hours.

 

And you may ask the questions: Well, why do this in advance then? Why not wait until just before making the pies before mixing the spinach?

Because, wilting the spinach and allowing it to drain will get rid of any tannins in the spinach and will make it easier to fill the pies bacause you don’t have to contend with leaves flying all over the place.

 

Meat Filling for Sambousek

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 lbs. ground lamb or beef (I like to use an 80/20 grind. I find it has more flavor)

1 sm. onion, minced

2 cl. garlic, minced

2 tsp. salt, or to taste

1 tsp. black pepper, or to taste

1 tsp. allspice, or to taste

1/2 tsp. cinnamon, or to taste

 

1.  Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and garlic and saute until the onion has softened, about 3 – 5 minutes.

2.  Add the meat and continue cooking until it is cooked through and there is no pink left.

3.  Add the spices and cook another 2 – 3 minutes.  Taste for seasoning.

Cooking the meat filling.

4.  Put the meat filling into a large strainer or colander and allow any fat to drain off.  Set aside and allow to cool.

The fat after the meat has been drained. Gross, but, there it is.

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5.  Prepare several large baking sheets (I usually do 4) for prepping and baking.  Line the baking sheets with heavy duty foil (saves on clean-up later) and then line the bottom with parchment paper.  Set the pans aside.

The prepared baking pans

6.  After 2 hours, the dough should be ready for forming.

The dough after the first rising.

Punch down the dough and knead it until it forms a smooth ball.

Punching down the dough to start releasing the excess air. Plus, it’s fun.

Folding the dough over on itself. I’m kneading and releasing the excess air.

The dough after kneading. Almost back down to its original size.

 

Now, take the dough and pinch off roughly golf ball -sized pieces and shape them into balls.

Pinching off the dough to form smaller balls for the pies.

Take each piece of dough and begin tucking under the edges to form a smooth ball of dough.  Well, as smooth as you can make it.

Forming a ball of dough.

Tucking under the ends.

 

Lay the balls of dough on one of the baking sheets as you finish them.  I generally keep them about 1″ apart.

Laying the dough on the tray.

Cover the try with plastic wrap and set aside to let the dough rise again.  About 30 minutes.

A finished tray of dough.

The dough 30 minutes later. This is the reason you keep them 1″ apart.

7.  Preheat your oven to 400F.  Have a rack in the center of the oven.

8.  Now, to form the pies.  Lightly flour a flat surface and a rolling pin. (Don’t over-flour.  It will make the dough harder to work with when you form the pies.) Take one of the balls of dough and place it on the board.  Roll out the dough into a roughly 4″ – 5″ circle.

Rolling out the dough.

Rolling out the dough.

Rolling out the dough.

Not exactly round. More like an amoeba shape. But, you get the point.

Fun tip:  I have also used my tortilla press to make the dough circles.  Just line your press with plastic wrap first.

 

9.  Fill the pies.  For the fatayer, place roughly 2 – 3 tablespoons of the spinach filling in the center of the dough (you’ll basically need to eyeball this measurement).

Placing the spinach on the dough.

The spinach on the dough. I like to spread it out a bit. Make it into, normally, a rough triangle shape.

Now, to form the pies:

Begin by taking the left side of the circle and folding it over at an angle towards the center, forming a partial peak at the top.

Folding over the dough to form the pies.

Take the right side and repeat the process.

Folding over the right side

Fold the bottom side over towards the center, forming the triangle.

The final side folded over.

Now, pinch the seams closed.

Pinching the seams closed.

The finished pie.

Lay your finished pies on a baking sheet.

Many finished pies.

Note:  As you get further down into the colander, you’ll want to squeeze some of the excess moisture out of the spinach.  While the spinach on top may not have as much moisture, gravity is doing its work and drawing the moisture down and, of course, the bottom will have more than the top.

 

To fill the Sambousek:  Roll the dough out as you would for the Fatayer.

Spoon roughly 2 tablespoons of the meat filling over 1 side of the dough.  Be sure to leave about 1/4″ of dough uncovered on that side for sealing.

Filling the Sambousek.

The meat filling for the Sambousek.

Fold the empty side over the top and cover the filling.

Folding over the dough.

Press and then pinch the seam closed.

Pressing the seam closed.

Pinching the seam closed.

The finished pie.

Lay the finished pie on the baking sheet and continue with the rest of the dough and filling.

Many finished pies.

10.  To bake the pies:  Bake the pies for 15 – 20 minutes or until golden brown.  I like to bake mine for 10 minutes, turn the baking sheet, and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Now, especially with the Fatayer, some of the pies may come open during baking.  It happens to me all the time.  Don’t despair. Consider them a cook’s treat.  Also, even though you have do doubt worked diligently to remove as much moisture as possible from the spinach, some will remain.  Occasionally, the moisture will cause the spinach to break through the bottom of the Fatayer.

To remedy this,  either make larger balls of dough when you form them after the first rising (roughly somewhere between golf ball and baseball-sized; the dough for the pies will be thicker, but you will have fewer pies); or, simply roll the dough thicker to make smaller pies.

Otherwise, don’t worry about it. It’ll still taste great.

Hey, it’s homemade.

The finished Fatayer.

The finished Sambousek.

 

The pies can be eaten either warm or at room temperature.

 

Enjoy! Sahtein!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kibbeh – Arabic Comfort Food 1

Posted on August 24, 2012 by Sahar

For my next blog post, I decided to make a dish that is near and dear to my heart; one of my ultimate comfort foods – Kibbeh.  My sisters and I grew up eating this dish.  Rather ravenously, I might add.   It’s part of our heritage.  Putting it together was a collaborative effort for our parents.  Mom always made the filling, Dad put it together – whether as little footalls for the fryer or in the baking dish for the oven.  It was always a much appreciated treat.

Kibbeh (كبة‎) is a popular and much-loved dish throughout the Middle East.   It is generally made with cracked wheat (burghul), spices, minced onion and ground  meat, gnerally beef, lamb, or goat, or a combination.

It can be shaped into stuffed croquetes (basically little footballs) and deep fried for mezze or made into layers and baked for a main dish. Some folks also eat raw kibbeh. Like Arabic Steak Tartare, minus the quail’s egg and capers.

In Israel, Kubbeh matfuniya and kubbeh hamusta are staples of Iraqi-Jewish cooking. Kubbeh soup, served in many oriental grill restaurants in Israel, is described as a “rich broth with meat-stuffed dumplings and vegetables”.

A Syrian soup known as kibbeh kishk consists of  stuffed kibbeh in a yogurt and butter broth with stewed cabbage leaves.

Fried, torpedo-shaped kibbehs have become popular in Haiti, Dominican Republic and South America – where they are known as quipe or quibbe – after they were introduced by Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian immigrants in the early 20th Century.

(some historical information from www.wikipedia.org)

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Now, on to the recipe.

I make this with a combination of beef and lamb.  You can use all of one or the other if you like.  Goat is also very popular (in the Middle East, anyway) in Kibbeh as well.

As I stated in my Hummous post (3/19/12), I’m pretty much a traditionalist when it comes to my Middle Eastern food.  The one thing I have in the traditional recipe I’ve changed is the amount of onion I use.  Most recipes can call for up to 4 onions.  I use 1 medium-sized one.  Otherwise, it’s pretty authentic.

 

The ingredients

Spices (clockwise from right): Black Pepper; Kosher Salt; ground Allspice; ground Cinnamon

Pine Nuts. These are not inexpensive. They can go for upwards of $20 per pound depending on where you shop. If you decide you don’t want to go to the expense, slivered almonds are a good substitute.

 

Kibbeh Filling

2 tbsp. clarified butter

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 medium onion, minced

1 1/2 lbs. ground lamb or beef (use 90/10 ground)

1/2 c. pine nuts or slivered almonds

1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste

1/2 tsp. black pepper, or to taste

1/2 tsp. ground allspice, or to taste

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon, or to taste

 

Raw Kibbeh (the top and bottom layers)

2 lbs. ground lamb or beef (use 90/10 ground beef)

2 cups cracked wheat (burghul)

1 tsp. salt, or to taste

1 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste

1/2 tsp. ground allspice, or to taste

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon, or to taste

 

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In this recipe, I call for clarified butter.  I don’t use much, but it’s a necessary traditional flavor component.

A note on clarified butter:  I always like to have it on hand.  It has a much higher smoke point than regular butter (450F vs 350F) so it doesn’t burn as quickly.  Plus, it’s delicious. There are some chefs who deep-fry in clarified butter.  You can buy it off the shelf in Indian and Middle Eastern Groceries (Ghee and Samneh, respectively).  When buying, make sure the container indicates that the clarified butter was made with milk.  If it says “vegetable” anywhere on the container, it’s essentially margarine.

However, clarified butter is very easy to make at home.  It keeps for several months and tastes a whole lot better.

Here’s a lovely essay on clairfied butter from the New York Times (5/6/08): http://tinyurl.com/bobsuje 

Basically, clarified butter is butter where the milk solids have been removed.  It can be made with either salted or unsalted butter. (I prefer to use unsalted. I can control the amount of salt in my recipes.)  It’s always best to use European style butter.  It has a lower water content and a higher butterfat content.  Not only will it taste better, you’ll end up with a higher yield.

To make clarified butter, slowly melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. (I usually do 2 pounds at a time. I recommend doing at least 1 pound.)

Melting the butter.

 

Once the butter has melted, take it off the heat and, with a large spoon,  carefully begin skimming the milk fat off the surface.

Milk solids on the surface of the melted butter.

Skimming off the milk solids.

I generally discard the milk solids, but some people do use them for other things.  Like spreading on toast or pancakes.  It’s certainly up to you.

After skimming off the milk solids.

Carefully pour the butter into a storage container or into a measuring cup.  Leave any residual milk solids and water in the saucepan.

About 3 cups clarified butter is my yield from 2 pounds of butter.

What’s left in the saucepan is mostly water and any residual milk solids.  Go ahead and discard.

The water and residual milk solids left over.

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

Now, time for the Kibbeh.

1.  Make the Kibbeh Filling:  In a large skillet,  heat the butter and olive oil.  Add the onion and saute until it begins to soften, about 3 – 5 minutes.  Add the meat (in this illustration I used lamb) and cook until it is no longer pink.  Add the pine nuts or almonds and cook another 2 – 3 minutes.  Add the spices and mix thoroughly.  Cook another 3 – 5 minutes.  Taste for seasoning. Remove the skillet from the heat and allow the filling to begin cooling. (There may be some extra fat in the skillet. If there is, go ahead and drain it off.)

The completed Kibbeh filling. Yummy. I have a hard time not standing there with a spoon over the skillet eating.

 

2.  Make the Raw Kibbeh: Put the bulghur in a fine-meshed strainer and rinse it off under cold running water.  Do this until the water runs clear.  Let it drain.

Close-up of bulghur wheat. I like to use a medium sized grain. Too fine a grain will give the kibbeh too soft a texture.

Rinsing off the bulghur.

Put the bulghur in a medium bowl and cover with water.  Let the bulghur soak until it begins to soften; about 20 – 30 minutes.  Drain in a fine sieve, pressing out as much of the water as possible, and set aside.

Soaking the burghul.

 

3.  Take the meat and put into a large bowl. (In this illustration, I used beef for the Raw Kibbeh.).  Add the bulghur.

The meat and burghul. Getting ready to mix together.

 

Now, time to use your hands.  Dig in and mix the ingredients together.  You want them to be thoroughly mixed.  Add the salt, pepper, cinnamon, and allspice.  Mix until the spices are well incorporated.

The meat, burghul, and spices all mixed together.

 

Now, you need to taste for seasoning.  For me, the best way to taste for seasoning is to take a small amount of the mixture and give it a quick fry on the stove.  That way, I’ll get a better idea of how the finished dish will taste once it’s been completely cooked. Plus,  I won’t be eating raw ground beef.

Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat.  Add a little of the clarified butter.  Take a small amount of the mixture and form it into a roughly quarter-sized patty.  Once the butter is hot, add the patty to the skillet and cook.  It should take about 2 – 3 minutes.  Take the patty out of the skillet, allow it to cool for a minute, then taste.

Adjust the seasonings as needed.

 

Cooking the mixture to taste it for seasoning.

Or, you could be like my mom or my Arab aunties and just know by smell when the seasoning is right.  I’ve not ever been able to master that skill.

4.  Once you’re happy with the raw kibbeh, prepare a baking dish.  (In this illustration, I used a 12″ x 18″ dish, and it was a little large.  Use something closer to an 11″ x 15″.) Give it a quick spritz with non-stick spray or grease it with butter or olive oil.

Take half of the raw kibbeh and spread it over the bottom as evenly as you can.  It’ll take some doing, but you’ll get there.  If you wet or grease your hands, it’ll help make the process a little easier.

Begin preheating the oven to 375F.

The raw kibbeh spread in the bottom of the baking dish.

5.  Take the Kibbeh filling and spread it evenly over the bottom layer of the Raw Kibbeh.

Kibbeh filling added to the baking dish.

6.  Time to put the top layer on.  Because of the filling, you won’t be able to spread the top layer the same way as the bottom.  So, a different method is needed.

Take small amounts of the raw Kibbeh and flatten them out into thin pieces and lay each piece on top of the Kibbeh filling.

Putting on the top layer.

Be sure to fill in any little gaps as needed.  I know that it will seem like you’ll not have enough for the top layer; but, if you persevere, you will.

7.  Once you have finished completing the top layer, cut through the layers in diamond or square shapes approximately 2 inches each.  This will help with even baking and make cutting the finished Kibbeh easier.

Cutting the Kibbeh.

 

If you like, take some extra pine nuts or almonds and press one into the center of each diamond or square.  Drizzle a little clarified butter or olive oil over the top.

Kibbeh ready for the oven.

8.  Put the Kibbeh in the oven and bake for 35 – 40 minutes, or until it is well-browned.  If you like, turn on the broiler for about 3 – 5 minutes after the initial cooking time to make the Kibbeh golden brown.

The Finished Kibbeh. De-licious.

 

Let the Kibbeh sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

 

9.  It’s a good idea to serve this dish with a bit of yogurt on the side.  It will help cut the richness of the dish.

However, I prefer to make a quick salad with the yogurt.  I’ve based this on a recipe very similar that Mom always made.

The salad ingredients.

1 cucumber (If you can go with Hothouse [English] or Persian. If you use standard cucumbers, peel and remove the seeds)

1/4 c. fresh mint, chopped

3/4 c. plain yogurt (I like to use full fat Greek yogurt)

Salt & black pepper to taste

 

Cut the cucumber into whatever size pieces you like. Mix all the ingredients together in a medium bowl.  Adjust the seasonings if you like.

The finished salad.

 

10.  Serve.

Dinner is ready. It tastes much better than it looks in this photo. I promise.

 

Enjoy! Sahtein!

 

p.s.  If you like this, I’m teaching even more classic Eastern Mediterranean dishes on Sunday, September 16, at Central Market, 4001 N. Lamar Boulevard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hummous. The real thing. 1

Posted on March 19, 2012 by Sahar

Hummous (Arabic: حمّص), or as it’s known by it’s full name, Hummous bi Tahineh (حمّص بطحينة),  is one of the most well-known and popular Middle Eastern dishes known to the Western palate.  This is in large part due to Middle Eastern immigration, marketing, and expatriates.  Plus, it just tastes really good.

It’s a dish that ubiquitous all over the Middle East.  It’s eaten for breakfast, lunch, with dinner, and as simply a snack.  It’s cheap, filling, and packs a lot of protein.

Hummous is also a very healthy dish.  It is high in iron, vitamin c, folate (B9), and B6.  The chickpeas make it an excellent source of protein and dietary fiber.  Tahineh paste is ground sesame seeds, which are an excellent source of amino acids. And, depending on the recipe, hummous has high amounts of monounsaturated fat. Hummous is also a compliment for vegetarian and vegan diets.

This is a dish that my sisters & I grew up with.  We had it often enough that we learned to make hummous from a very young age.  While this is a dish that is part of my father’s cultural background (he is Palestinian), Mom makes a mean hummous as well.

And one of the things we learned is that hummous is a simple dish with simple, and, yes, ancient ingredients.  The basic ingredients in hummous – chick peas, tahineh, lemon, and garlic – have been around for millennia.  The dish itself has a rather murky history.  Some culinary historians trace the dish back to the 13th Century and the warrior Saladin.  However, more recent research finds that the first known documentation of a cold dish of chick peas and tahineh comes from the Egyptian Abbasid period (1251-1516).  But, it most likely isn’t what we know now as hummous.  The earliest known documented form of “modern” hummous comes from Damascus, Syria in the late 19th Century.

(Some historical and nutritional information from Wikipedia)

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A short editorial is called for here.  This is a purist recipe.  I have seen hummous made with different types of beans, black seeming to be one of the more popular, with sweet potatoes, and, I have seen vegetables added as well.

I’m against all of that.

I’m usually not one to argue against experimentation in cooking.  It’s what keeps the culinary world fresh and exciting.  But, to me, this dish is perfect in it’s simplest, purest form.  Putting stuff that shouldn’t belong in the first place is an anathema to me.  If you do decide to make hummous, and you decide to put anything more than the recipe calls for or decide to use a different bean or legume, or heaven help me, a pureed vegetable, I really don’t want to know.

Perhaps it’s a cultural bias. Perhaps it’s because this is what I know from eating this dish for most of my life.  When it comes to Middle Eastern food, I’m very much a traditionalist, ingredient & flavor-wise.

 

Now, for the recipe.

I will say that generally, I don’t measure when I make hummous.  I go by texture and taste.  So, I had to really make a conscience effort to measure the ingredients this time around.

You’re welcome.

Also, I do see the irony in using modern tools to make an ancient dish after my stance on traditionalism.  I’m sure this dish was made originally with dried chick peas that were perhaps cooked or soaked overnight, stone-ground tahineh, and mixed with a mortar & pestle.

 

Hummous bi Tahineh

The ingredients

1 ea. 14-oz can chick peas (garbanzos), drained, liquid reserved (save a few whole chick peas for garnish if you like)

1/2 c. tahineh (The oil and the solids separate, like natural nut butters. Be sure to stir before using)

4 cl. garlic, stem ends removed

1 tsp. salt (I use kosher)

3 tbsp. lemon juice

1/4 c. pine nuts, optional

Paprika or sumac, for color, optional

 

1.  Set up a food processor.  With the processor running, drop the cloves of garlic through the feed tube.  Process until the garlic is finely minced.

2.  Stop the processor, remove the lid, and pour in the chick peas and 1/4 cup of the reserved liquid.  Process again until you make a rough paste.

Rough paste of chick peas, garlic, and liquid.

3.  Add the tahineh and salt.  Process again until smooth.  Add the lemon juice and process again.  Taste for seasoning.

The finished Hummous bi Tahineh.

 

If you prefer a thinner hummous, use more of the reserved liquid.  If you like a thicker hummous, use less.

4.  Now, there are several ways to present  hummous.  Reserving a few whole chickpeas or a little chopped tomato or cucumber as garnish (not mixed in!) are some traditional methods of garnishing.  But, my favorite way is to brown some pine nuts and serve the hummous with them.  Just like Dad does.

There are two ways this can be accomplished.  The healthier and vegan way of doing this is to brown the pine nuts in a 350F oven for 3 -5 minutes.  They brown quickly, so you need to err on the side of caution.  Once the pine nuts begin to smell like popcorn, you’ve gone too far.  And pine nuts are too expensive to waste.

The other, more indulgent way to brown the pine nuts is to cook them in butter.  Which is my favorite way.  Not healthy, admittedly, but, delicious.

Melt the butter over medium-high heat.  Add the pine nuts and stir constantly.  Once the pine nuts begin to brown, take them off the heat immediately and pour them, butter and all, over the hummous.

If you do use the butter-browning method, wait until you’re just about to serve.  Otherwise, the butter will harden and that’s pretty unappetizing.

For color, sprinkle on a bit of paprika or sumac.  Very traditional.

Browning the pine nuts in butter. Mmm...

 

The completed dish. Admittedly, I got a little crazy with the butter.

5.  Now, hummous is almost always served family-style.  So, everyone gets to dig into the plate.  If you’re in a traditional Arab home and this is a situation you find yourself in, there is a proper way to eat hummous without offending anyone and embarrassing yourself. (Of course, this applies to any family-style dish.)

To begin with, make sure your hands are clean.  I’m not kidding.  If you’re sharing a large dish with people, they don’t want to eat after someone with dirty hands.

Make sure you always eat with your right hand only.  In Bedu (Bedouin; i.e. traditional Arab) culture, the left hand is used for, well, things other than eating.  If you’re a southpaw, learn to become ambidextrous when eating.

Stick to your side of the platter.  Don’t dig into the center.  It’s rude.  Find a corner, so to speak, and stick there.  Move in as everyone else does.  Take your cues from them.

And don’t be afraid to ask if you have etiquette questions.  People will be more than happy to help guide you through the ritual.

Now, of course, if you’re moving through a buffet line and you spoon food on your plate, then the above tips won’t apply to you.  Except for the right-hand thing.

6.  Tear off a small piece of pita bread and make a scoop.

Pita bread scoop.

As I said before, take your scoop of pita with your right hand and dip into your designated “corner” of the bowl or platter.

 

Dipping the scoop into one "corner" of the bowl

And, there you are.

Ready for eating. Yummy.

 

Enjoy! Sahtein!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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