Musings about Food & the Politics of Food.

TartQueen's Kitchen



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!

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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!

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.

 

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

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mole Rojo 0

Posted on October 30, 2012 by Sahar

Now that the weather is finally beginning to cool off and the Central Texas version of Autumn is beginning to take hold, it’s time to pull out the comfort foods in earnest.

As I said in my post on Mole Verde (Oct. 9), Mole is one of my favorite comfort foods as well as one of the things I love most about living in Texas.

**********

My version of this recipe may have mole purists askance.  Well, perhaps not so much the dish itself, but the fact that I have made this dish with ground rather than whole chiles.  I give the equivalent whole chile amounts as well.

I feel slightly guilty about this because I’m such a purist about Arabic food.  But, I do honestly feel if you can at least keep the spirit and flavor of the original dish, experimentation isn’t a bad thing.

Admittedly, using the ground chiles does save time in the preparation.  And, to me anyway, makes no difference in the flavor of the dish.

You should be able to find the whole dried chiles in any grocery with a good produce department.  If you live in an area with a large Hispanic population, there will likely be a grocery/supermercado and, most likely, there will be dried chiles available.  If not, they’re available online.

Try it both ways, and see which way you prefer.

Now, to the recipe:

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

Mole Rojo (Red Mole) is a slightly sweet, moderately spicy mole.  You can certainly adjust the heat as you like.

The Ingredients

4 c. chicken stock, pork stock, or water

3 lbs. pork shoulder or butt, cut into 2″ pieces (if you get a bone with the shoulder, keep it)

-or-

4 – 4-1/2 lbs. chicken (whole chicken or leg quarters)

 

6 ea. ancho chiles

-or-

3 tbsp. ancho chile powder

 

6 ea. pasilla chiles

-or-

3 tbsp. pasilla chile powder

 

1 ea. chipotle chile

-or-

1 tsp. chipotle powder

 

1 lg. white onion, peeled, stem end left on, cut into 1/4’s

6 cloves garlic, peeled, stem end removed

3 ea. tomatillos, papery skin removed and rinsed

3 ea. Roma tomatoes, rinsed

1/4 c. vegetable oil

1/2 c. whole raw almonds

1/4 c. raisins

2 tbsp. tomato paste

1/2 tsp. ground cloves

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon (canela)

1 tbsp. brown sugar

1 disk Mexican chocolate, chopped

Salt & pepper to taste

1/4 c.masa

Clockwise from top: Raw Almonds, whole Garlic Cloves, Raisins

Clockwise from top: Ancho Chile Powder, Pasilla Chile Powder, Chipotle Chile Powder

Clockwise from top: Mexican Chocolate, Pepper, Brown Sugar, ground Cinnamon, ground Cloves, Salt

 

1.  Heat the meat and stock or water in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Once the stock comes to a boil, turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer until the meat is tender:  for chicken, about 60 – 75 minutes; pork, about 1-1/2 – 2 hours.

Cooking the pork. If you get a bone with a shoulder cut, use it in the broth. If you’re using chicken, make sure you use the bones & skin. You’ll add more flavor to the stock.

Once the meat is done, take it from the stock and set it aside until cool enough to shred.

Meanwhile, while the meat is cooking, prep the other ingredients.

 

2. If you’re using whole dried chiles, remove the stems and cut the chiles open (a pair of kitchen scissors will work best) to remove the seeds. (The dried chiles should still be somewhat pliable.  If they’re dry and crumble easily, then they’re too old.  Also, it is a good idea to wear kichen gloves to keep your hands from becoming sticky, stained, and keep the capsaicin off your fingers.)  Open the chiles flat  and dry roast them in a heavy skillet over high heat for a few seconds on each side (you’ll need to do this in batches) until they become soft and begin to blister.  Take the chiles off the heat and put into a bowl.  When you are done heating all the chiles, cover them with boiling water and weigh down with a small plate.  Let the chiles sit for 30 minutes. (If they sit for a little longer, it’s all right.)

After 30 minutes, drain the chiles and discard the soaking water (it will be bitter).  Puree the chiles in a food processor or blender (you’ll need to do this in batches) until you make a paste.  Set aside.

3.  If you’re using chile powder (like I am in this example), mix them together and dry roast the powder in a heavy skillet until it just begins to release a scent.  Stir constantly to be sure the powder doesn’t burn.

Toasting the chile powders.

 

Pour the toasted powder onto a plate and allow to cool.

Cooling the toasted chile powder

 

4.  Wipe out the skillet.  Dry roast the onion quarters, garlic, tomatillos, and tomatoes.  You want black spots, but doen’t over-brown or burn the vegetables.

Browning the onions.

Browning the tomatoes

Browning the tomatillos and garlic cloves

 

Once you’ve roasted the tomatoes, remove the seeds and stem ends.  Cut the stem end off the onion.   Set the vegetables aside.

 

5.  Take the skillet off the heat and let it cool slightly.  Add the oil and let it heat.  Lightly fry the almonds, about 2 – 3 minutes.

Frying the almonds.

 

Remove the almonds from the oil and drain on paper towels.  Let cool.

Now, lightly fry the raisins in the oil until they just begin to puff, about 30 – 60 seconds.  Remove them from the oil and drain on paper towels.

Frying the raisins.

 

Turn off the heat under the oil.  Add the masa, dissolve into the oil, and make a roux.  Pour the roux into a small bowl.  Set aside.

 

6.  In a small food processor, blender, or, with a lot a patience by hand, grind or chop the almonds until they make a fine meal.  Set aside.

Toasted chile powder, fried raisins, ground almonds

 

7.  Turn the heat back on under the stockpot and heat the stock over medium-high heat.  Mix in the chile paste or powder, onion, garlic, tomatoes, tomatillos, ground almonds, raisins, tomato paste, brown sugar, cloves, cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon each salt and black pepper.

Mixing the ingredients into the stock.

Bring  the mixture to a boil, lower the heat to medium-low, and cook for 45 minutes.  Stir frequently.

If the mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the stockpot, take it off the heat,  pour it into a clean stockpot, and place it back on the heat.  Don’t scrape the bottom of the stockpot.  You don’t want any of the burnt mole sauce.

The sauce after 45 minutes. It will thicken as it cooks.

 

8.  While the sauce is cooking, shred or chop the meat.  If you’re using pork, discard any bone, gristle, and excess fat.  If you’re using chicken, discard any bone, gristle, excess fat, and skin.  Set aside.

Chopped pork ready for the sauce.

9.  Remove the stockpot from the heat and let cool slightly.  Puree the mole sauce with an immersion (stick) blender, or in a blender or food processor. (You’ll need to puree the sauce in batches if you use a blender or processor.)

Pureeing the mole sauce.

I like some texture in my mole sauce; but, if you prefer a smoother texture, strain the sauce through a fine strainer.

 

10.  Put the mole sauce back on the heat and add the roux and chopped chocolate.

Adding the roux and chocolate.

 

Cook for 5 minutes, then taste for seasoning.  Add the meat back to the sauce.  Cook for another 15 minutes, stirring frequently.

Mole sauce after adding the roux and chocolate.

11.  Serve the mole with rice and corn tortillas.

¡Cena delicioso!

The finished mole.

 

And, as with most sauces, stews, chilis, and soups, this is better the next day.

I also like to take the leftover mole and heat it up with some eggs poached on top.  Great breakfast.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)

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

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

 

***********

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)

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

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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