Posts Tagged ‘Middle Eastern’
So, things have been going. Some more than others, but everything’s been going. I’m in the midst of a deadline for the first draft of my thesis—which! I have promised myself not to whine on about on here because really, I can barely stand the endless amount of lamenting from my peers regarding their theses and academic pressures and figuring out which one of their many life options they should pursue following graduation blah blah blah and I’m one of them, so I can only imagine what it must seem like to any “outsiders.” (And in case you’re wondering, by outsider I mean irrelevant normal people in the real world, obviously.) But, seeing as that thesis and those other life worries have basically been swallowing my life whole in periodic cycles throughout this semester, I’m sure all of that is bound to make it’s way on this blog in some way. Like it just has in this whole paragraph.
Another way it’s going to show up: through this photo that can accurately be titled both “As a break from writing on a Saturday night I tried to clean my room” or “I have too many books/magazines”—depending on how you want to look at it.
In other news, I’m thinking I should start a new feature on this blog: Mushy Humble Peasant Dishes that Make Me Feel Frugal and Satisfied. I’m joking, but it certainly feels like I’ve already started something like that, doesn’t it? I’m still in the mode where, when I head to the store, all I feel like grabbing from the shelves are vegetables. The only thing I feel like doing with them when I get home is cooking them is either roasting them or cooking them on the stove top until they’re mushy enough to puree in a soup, or in this case, spoon over a big pile of rice.
I think I’ve mentioned it briefly once before, but my boyfriend’s going to school in Beirut, Lebanon right now. Because he knows it makes me happy, during our nightly chats he’ll often tell me what he cooked for dinner or ate at a restaurant out with friends. For example, he’s already mentioned to me four times now how delicious crushed up mint leaves are in green tea (it gets all cloudy and delicious, he says), and he loves describing the mezze plates he shares with friends. One night, he praised a dish his roommate had made to share between the two of them. He described it as green beans “with the stems ripped off” (ha ha) stewed with onions and spices and tomatoes. He called it loubieh, and apparently it’s a pretty big dish there. Coincidentally, I had had this Saveur recipe for green beans stewed with chickpeas and tomatoes for quite a while.
It’s easy, really, and the process is not much more than how Waylon described it. I liked the idea of adding in chickpeas, as as the Saveur recipe indicated, so I went along with it. But seriously, not much more is going on than some vegetables bubbling away in a pot for about an hour. Season well, use good spices, good olive oil—and don’t be stingy with it—and you’ll end up with a plate of good things going on. It’s things like this meal, or the sun that has been peeping through clear skies in the morning, that have been the ones that are “going.” But I guess when you’ve got a good plate of food for dinner and a little sunshine, the other things don’t feel so overbearingly idle, at least momentarily.
One Year Ago: Juicy Blood Orange Cake
Lebanese-Style Stewed Green Beans with Chickpeas (Loubieh Wa Hommus)
Adapted from Saveur
Serves 4 to 6
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspons cumin seeds
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon paprika
1 1/2 pounds green beans, cleaned and trimmed
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 (28-ounce) can whole, peeled tomatoes with juice
In a Dutch oven or large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add in cumin seeds and cook, stirring often, for about 1 minute. Add the garlic and onion, season liberally with salt and pepper (talking about at least a teaspoon of kosher salt), and cook, stirring freqently, until the onions are soft and lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the tomato paste and paprkia and cook, stirring often, until the tomato paste is slightly caramelized and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the green beans, chickpeas, 2 cups of water, and the tomatoes, making sure to crush the whole tomatoes with your hands as you add them. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cover the pot mostly with a lid (leave room for steam to escape). Simmer, stirring about every 10 or 15 minutes, until the beans are very tender, about 50 minutes to 1 hour. Turn off the heat and let sit for at least 15 minutes to let the flavors “meld.” Serve over rice or bulgar, with a drizzle of olive oil on top.
I haven’t really been feeling like meat lately. I’ve never been a vegetarian before and I highly doubt that I will ever become one, but it’s funny how I can go weeks without preparing meat in my home or even ordering it at restaurants. It’s probably even sillier how this has come about in the dead of winter, when all people can go on about are “rib-sticking,” hearty meals. You know, the ones with meat. Sure, there’s the cost and convenience part (vegetables and grains are very cheap and they aren’t going to poison you no matter how you cook them), but I think most of all it’s just my mood lately.
And yes, I think it has something to do with that winter mood I’ve gotten in the past week or two. I’ve been walking a lot lately, more and more each day just to listen to music or hear the news. (And, I have to say, I just got this little app on my phone that tracks how many steps I take each day and I have gotten very personally competitive with increasing the amount every day. I’m not ambitious or competitive in any means when it comes to grand-scheme-of-life things, but if it’s a tedious, absolutely useless thing that has no real implications on my life, I get pretty into it. Rationality has never been a strength of mine.) After I get home from walking a very long route from my school’s campus, I feel like cooking, but those heavy meals give me no appetite. So turn to soup.
I ended up on Smitten Kitchen’s carrot soup with crisped chickpeas, tahini, and crisped wedges of pita with za’atar. Simply because have you seen the ingredient list for that soup? It’s simple, really simple, and that really appealed to me at the time. But as Deb even admits in her post, the soup, good and nourishing though it is, is not of the most dynamic kind. That’s quite alright though, in part because I don’t think every meal can be a revolution, but more importantly because what goes on or with the soup more than makes up for it.
There’s the spiced, slightly-crunchy chickpeas, that get roasted in the oven with some olive oil, a hefty couple pinches of salt, and some spices. Deb calls for cumin; I used garham masala just because it includes cumin, is delicious, and I have way too much of it (I think it was a good call). I think the idea of using them in place of croutons is pretty genius—I love croutons or something crunchy to contrast smooth soups, and using chickpeas adds a dimension I probably would have never thought of. Then there’s the tahini drizzle, which is the basic, all-purpose sauce of tahini, lemon and a little bit of water. It’s awesome on this soup. I dolloped some full-fat yogurt on the first bowl of soup I had but thereafter quickly realized: tahini sauce > yogurt, at least on this soup. And! Let us not forget the wedges of pita, baked with olive oil and za’atar until crunchy. I used them to scoop up piles of the soup and chickpeas, but they can also be crumbled over the top to form a type of crouton. When it comes to the garnishes, it all goes and they’re all good.
I think these garnishes are a nice reminder that any meal can become special by the addition of a few thoughtful details. Because although I haven’t been into heavy meals, I have been into flavor. And obviously not like duck-fat flavor, but like tangy-sour-bitter-sweet-texture flavor. (Perhaps this is why I have been particularly inspired by Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s Jerusalem lately.)
To get the recipe for the carrot soup and all the garnishes, I’ll just direct you over to the original recipe. Deb does a really nice job of organizing the recipe, much better than I could, into making everything from start to finish in about 45 minutes to an hour. But! One thing I would urge you to do is really layer the olive oil and za’atar on the pitas. She calls for it sprinkled on the pitas, but the middle eastern restaurant I go to makes a paste of the oil and spice mixture, and spreads it on thick. I didn’t do that, but I definitely had a heavy hand with the za’atar. Do it; the spices taste great scooping up the soup.
One Year Ago: Challah
I know there’s been a lot of chatter about Jerusalem. (And yes, I know I’m late to the game on it (typical)). But as Tim commented in his earlier post today, all the chatter is for good reason: it’s an incredible cookbook. I wouldn’t be exaggerating when I say it’s the most beautiful cookbook I’ve ever owned—or seen, for that matter—and I don’t think it’d be too early for me to say that it’s also already become my favorite. It’s the type of cookbook that you keep very close with you in the kitchen because of the type of flavors and cooking it inspires, but it also is the type that you read every night before you go to sleep, glazing over the beautiful photography and all the little snippets and stories. I think those little stories are my favorite—I love how before each recipe there are notes not only about the technicalities of the flavors and ingredients, but also some really eloquent anecdotes and observations on food and life in Jerusalem and its surrounding areas. Under the heading of a humble recipe of fried cauliflower with tahini, for example, is this little note:
“For Jerusalemites, Arabs and Jews alike, the idea of dining alone is abhorrent. Eating is a celebration, a feast, it is about breaking bread and about conviviality, it is about abundance and sharing. As no one is particularly fussy about decorum and good table manners, the meal is always destined to turn into a lively gorge, with everybody sharing everything, happy to dig into one another’s plates, to grab and move plates around until truly satisfied. It is not a particularly orderly or calm way to eat, but it is certainly a very happy one.”
Oh! Doesn’t that comment just make you feel so good and happy with the world? It’s these little comments, I think, that make this book so special to me. Seriously, my twin sister Lindsey is considering buying it as a coffee table book for its commentary and photographs. I hate to over-do the shower of praise on this book, but I guess my main intention here is to make you feel guilty if you haven’t bought or looked it at yet. So get it.
Anyway, of all the recipes to choose from, I picked the one that is cheap to make, simple, and of which I had most of the ingredients on hand. In this case, I had a bunch of sweet potatoes to use up, so I substituted them for the butternut squash that was originally called for. Besides, a few days earlier I had made baked sweet potato fries for dinner and a tahini-honey dipping sauce to go with them and that combination was good, so I knew the substitution wouldn’t be too out of line here. But if I were to be honest with you, I’m guessing the butternut squash would be better in this (and really, who was I to question Ottolenghi and Tamimi in the first place?). I still really, really liked all of these flavors together. Imagine sweet-savory caramely-roasted sweet potatoes and red onions, with the creamy but bitter tahini and za’atar, and just a sprinkling of oily pine nuts and parsley. It’s quite the dish.
A word about the ingredients: as I’m sure most of you are aware, za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend that combines dried thyme, sumac, and roasted sesame seeds. There are some different (really delicious) variations of this, but the classic one looks like a strikingly deep-green powder. I bought mine at a Lebanese grocery store in my city that imports it in from Jordan, but Heidi just did a post on making homemade za’atar. It’s an awesome spice mix to have around though; I personally just like it by itself with some olive oil and warmed pita.
One Year Ago: Quiona, Arugula and Roasted Broccoli Salad with Feta
Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Red Onions with Tahini & Za’atar
Adapted slightly from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem
Serves 4, more or less (I made two main-course meals out of it)
The original recipe calls for butternut squash, which I think would be ideal in this, but sweet potatoes are what I had on hand so that’s what I used. I peeled my potatoes, but I think next time I’d leave the skins on–that goes for the butternut squash, too. Also, as you’ll notice in the photos, I used two different pans to roast the potatoes and onions in. My baking pan wasn’t big enough to include them both and I thought it’d be easier to have them separated in case the onions cooked faster (in my case, they didn’t). Something to keep in mind, though, if you don’t have a pan large enough to accommodate all the vegetables.
2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 2-3), cut into 3/4 by 2 1/2 inch wedges
2 red onions, halved through the root and cut into 1 1/4 inch wedges
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, separated
3 1/2 tablespoons light tahini paste
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1/2 a juicy lemon)
2-4 tablespoons water
1 small clove garlic, crushed and minced
3-4 tablespoons pine nuts
1 tablespoon za’atar
small handful coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Preheat oven to 475 degrees F. Place the squash and onion on a large baking sheet, or two–you should have enough space to be able to spread out all the vegetables evenly. Drizzle 3 tablespoons of the olive oil evenly over the vegetables, and season liberally with about 1 teaspoon kosher slat and some black pepper. Toss everything together to coat. Roast in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked through and edges begin to darkly brown. Take care to check the onions and potatoes separately, as they might be done at different times. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
Meanwhile, prepare the tahini sauce. Whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of the water, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt in a small bowl. The consistency should be that of honey–you may have to add a tablespoon or two of water more to dilute it, or even a tablespoon or so of tahini to thicken it. Set aside until ready to use.
To prepare the garnish, heat the remaining 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add the pine nuts and a good few pinches of kosher salt and cook, stirring often, for about 2 minutes or until the nuts are golden brown. Remove from heat immediately.
To assemble everything, spread the roasted vegetables onto a serving platter. Drizzle the tahini over it, followed by the pine nuts (and any oil left over), the za’atar, and the parsley.
Tired of my fascination with Lebanese cuisine yet? No? Oh good! Because I would hate for you to get bored, especially right now. Pictured above (and below) is fattoush, a classic lebanese salad that has the flavors of sumac—an awesome fruity-lemony spice that’s derived from some sort of fruit off of some sort of shrub—parsley, mint, scallions, garlic, tomatoes, cucumbers, and toasted pita bread. And in case you haven’t realized it yet, that combination of ingredients also happens to make for a salad that is my favorite yet in texture. Crunchy, juicy, crispy, toasty. All good things.
I ate this with Waylon alongside some grilled ribeye over last weekend. Waylon says it’s one of his favorite things I’ve ever made (!), and I have to say, it was pretty, pretty good. Our judgment was probably influence though, just a little bit, by eating outside on the deck, with the view of the water, on a beautiful warm night. I’m sure you know how those things go—I think I’m especially susceptible to my surrounding environment when I have meals.
But what also made this especially good was how it seemed to fit so well with that night. This salad, with the small yet delicious exception of toasted pita pieces, is literally a bunch of chopped vegetables and herbs thrown together with a simple vinaigrette. Which yes, sounds like almost every other salad in the world. But somehow this one really feels different. (And this is coming from someone who eats salads as a meal at least a few times a week. Not that you’d be able to tell from the content of this blog.) Maybe it has something to do with the vibrancy of the herbs, or the contrast of the fresh lettuces and vegetables. All I know is I’ve never tasted anything that tasted so fresh. Bon Appetit featured it as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Food World,” and calls it the “original chopped salad.” It’s the original, and I’m pretty sure nothing has ever come along that can parallel it.
One Year Ago: Rosemary Focaccia
I understand that there is a lot of flexibility in terms of what composes this salad. But, in my opinion, you cannot substitute or go without the sumac, pita bread, parsley, and mint. You can find sumac in spice stores and middle eastern markets. Also, like most salads, this one should be served immediately to prevent any wilting of the herbs and lettuce and to preserve the texture of the pita.
4 teaspoons ground sumac, soaked in 4 teaspoons warm water for 15 minutes
juice of one lemon, at least three tablespoons
2 small garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 8-inch-diameter pita breads, toasted until golden brown
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped, or 4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cucumber, quartered lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise
6 scallions (green parts only), thinly sliced
1 small head romaine lettuce, trimmed, cut crosswise into 3/4-inch strips
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, stems removed
1 cup fresh mint, stems removed
ground sumac, for garnish
First, prepare the dressing. Combine the sumac in the water it soaked in, lemon juice, minced garlic, and vinegar in a medium bowl. Gradually add the oil in a small stream, whisking constantly, until it’s all blended and emulsified. Season with few good pinches of salt, and taste for salt, lemon, and vinegar.
Using your hands, roughly break up the toasted pita bread to be in bite-sized pieces. Place the pieces in a medium bowl and drizzle the 1/4 cup of olive oil over and toss to coat. Season the pita well with a good pinch or two of kosher salt. In a separate large bowl (largest one you can get your hands on), mix
Place pita pieces in a medium bowl; pour oil over and toss to coat. Season pita to taste with salt.
Mix tomatoes and next 6 ingredients in a large bowl. Add 3/4 of dressing; toss to coat, adding more dressing by tablespoonfuls as needed. Season with salt. Add pita; toss once. Sprinkle sumac over, if desired.