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Pistachio Macaroons (Recipe Included)

July 5, 2015

If you haven’t guessed by now, I REALLY adore the pistachio nut. It was one of my mama’s favorite flavors, so it was a major component in the cuisine I grew up eating. Thankfully, unlike many other foods that did not make the cut, pistachios scored big with my taste buds.

During one of my recent baking adventures, I decided to search around for cookie recipes that included pistachios. I happened upon one that was labeled as a Flourless Pistachio Cookie, but looked suspiciously like a variation on a traditional coconut macaroon to me. A happy discovery it was! Coconut and pistachios were a staple of my childhood and macaroons are one of my favorite treats.

I had never thought to make macaroons before this recipe came into my life. I know, like with everything else baking-related, there are hundreds of variations on this very simple concept; and we all know I like to keep things sweet (very!) and simple. The thing I like most about this particular recipe is that it allows the rich flavors of both the pistachio and the coconut to take center stage. There are only four ingredients in these little guys, and the other two make way for the bold flavors and textures of the star players.

The original recipe didn’t do much in the way of specifying the type of coconut or pistachios to use, so that’s where my preferences come into play. I opted to use roasted and salted pistachios because they have a greater depth of flavor. The salt gives a nice balance to the sweetness from the coconut and the powdered sugar. I probably would have added an extra tablespoon or so of egg white, but as is, this recipe is pretty solid. I also used a combo of dessicated (medium grate, unsweetened) coconut and shredded, sweetened coconut to help with texture and the level of sweetness. You can use whichever you desire, but I like things a bit on the sweeter side.

I’ve linked the original recipe above, and would be curious to hear feedback if you give them a try!

Pistachio MacaroonsPistachio Macaroons

* 1 cup of finely grated pistachio, aka pistachio powder. (I used salted, roasted pistachio nuts.)

* 3/4 cup powdered sugar (Plus about a tablespoon+ for making the pistachio powder)

* 1/2 cup dessicated coconut

* 1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut

* 1 egg white from a large egg, room temperature

Directions

Note: I haven’t been able to find finely grated pistachio in any of the supermarkets in my area, so I make my own. Simply take about a cup of shelled pistachios and place them in a food processor. Add about a tablespoon of powdered sugar to help prevent the pistachios from forming a paste. Pulse away until you achieve the desired consistency. This takes a minute or two. You want a fine powder, though it really is up to you how fine you want to grate them. I like a little crunch so I pulse to an ALMOST fine consistency.  Set aside. (This can be done in advance and kept in an airtight container in the freezer for months. Just use when needed!)

1. In a medium metal mixing bowl, pour in your coconut and pistachio powder and mix together by hand until well combined. Add the powdered sugar and combine well. Lastly, add the large egg white (whisk the egg white slightly in a cup or small bowl before adding) and mix gently by hand until the egg white is fully incorporated and sufficiently sticky. It might not seem like the egg white is enough, but somehow it manages to bind just right. If it doesn’t,  just add small amounts of slightly whisked egg white until everything comes together.  To test, you should be able to break off about a 1/2 tablespoon to tablespoon piece and roll into a cohesive ball. If that happens, you’re good to go.

2. Place mixture in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least two (2) hours.

3. Preheat your oven to 340F. I use a convection oven, so I baked them at 320F.

4. Using a large baking pan, place parchment paper down. (Don’t skip this step!)

5. Using your (clean) hands, take about 1/2 tablespoon to a full tablespoon (I wouldn’t go much larger than this) and roll them into balls. Place on baking sheet. You don’t have to worry about placing them too far apart as they don’t (shouldn’t) spread.

6. Place in the oven and bake for 7-9 minutes depending on your oven. Mine took 8-9 minutes. I like mine a little more baked, but watch for slight browning on top to know they’re good to go.

7. Take out of the oven, and let sit for a minute or two before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Wait until they have fully cooled before eating (they taste better this way, in my opinion).

Note: This makes roughly 15-16 macaroons, depending on how big/small you roll them out. As with most baked goods, store in an airtight container and enjoy for up to a week or so!

Sahtein!

Follow me on Instagram to get updates on what I’m baking next!

 

Apricot “Truffles” (Recipe Included)

June 28, 2015

Growing up, my family and I used to snack on a large, sticky sheet of something called Dried Apricot Paste (see photo below). We used to purchase it from a place named Droubi’s (a local Middle Eastern grocery store of sorts) and it has always been one of my favorite snacks. It’s essentially fruit leather, but much more substantial than those little strips you get for fifty cents from your local Whole Foods. This stuff is thick and chewy, tart and sweet, and just so addictive.

apricotThe other day, when I was chomping on square after square of this delightful paste, I started getting some ideas. Well, mostly I got the idea to look for recipes using apricots and pistachios. What did I find? About a bajillion recipes for something called an Apricot “Truffle.” I was intrigued, so I did some research and found that no two recipes for this concept were the same. Some used (a lot) of condensed milk, some used lemon, some used honey, some used different kinds of dried apricots and opted for pecans vs. pistachios. Some called for sweet vs. unsweetened coconut, while other just threw a bunch of stuff into a food processor and called it a day.

Now, I tend to get VERY overwhelmed when faced with too many options. If I can’t find one specific recipe that speaks to my sweet tooth, I find it’s best just to create my own based on the best bits and pieces I’ve found from ALL the recipes and make adjustments as I go along.

So, that is exactly what I’ve done with Apricot “Truffles.” These guys are essentially lovely little balls of apricot paste flavored with anything from lemon juice to sugar to nuts and brown sugar. I wanted my truffles to be healthier, so I kept things simple. I really like the final product this recipe yielded, but I still plan on making other variations and will be sure to post standout combinations here or on Instagram in the future! Please post a comment below or tag me on Instagram if you make them!

IMG_9900

Apricot “Truffles”

1 1/2 cups dried apricots, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Zest of one small lemon

1 tablespoon honey (I used a local clover honey. This gave the truffles a significant undertone of sweet and floral flavors)

1/2 cup dessicated coconut (in other words, medium, finely shredded unsweetened coconut) – for rolling

2-3 Tablespoons finely chopped pistachios (we’re talking powder consistency almost) – for rolling

15-17 mini cupcake liners/cups/etc.

Directions

Chop up the dried apricots and put them into a food processor. Pulse until the apricots forms a thick, sticky paste.

Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, and honey and pulse until combined.

Using your hands, take about a tablespoon-sized amount of the paste and roll into a ball. You can make these whatever size you want – bigger or smaller. It’s up to you!

Take the balls and roll them in either the coconut or the pistachio (or both if you’re feeling adventurous) and put them in your mini cupcake liners.

Place them in an airtight container and put them in the fridge for about an hour before serving. You can keep these at room temp, but I find they taste better cold.

Sahtein!

(*Note – This recipe yields a very tart “truffle”. If you want yours sweeter, I’d opt to cut about a 1/2 tablespoon of the lemon juice. You can replace it with a little more honey if so desired. You can also roll these guys in any nut or topping you choose. I think they’d be good with cashews, pecans, or macadamia nuts!)

The Process of Trying Something New

June 23, 2015

So, one of the reasons why I love baking so much is that there is so much opportunity to create amazing flavors. I hear so often from people that they love to cook but can’t get down with baking because there is less room for error. If there is anything I’ve learned from these last many, many months, it’s that baking has PLENTY of room for error, and it is in the grey area that you discover some pretty tasty flavor combinations.

Once I finally felt comfortable enough with the traditional versions of some of the sweets I was learning, I decided to start dreaming up other flavor ideas to try out. I tried dipping my ghraybeh cookies in dark chocolate and sprinkling chopped pistachios on top. I’ve added chopped up cinnamon sugar candied pecans to my ghraybeh batter in the past and I highly recommend doing that with pretty much any cookie you make.

At the moment, I’m working on trying to merge traditional Middle Eastern flavors with flavors and textures I enjoy in other types of sweets. If you haven’t guessed by now, I have a massive sweet tooth. I LOVE sugar, but as I get older, I’m not able to eat it all the time the way I wish I could. What that means for me, and ultimately you guys, is that I have to work extra hard to create desserts that are worthy of the extra sugar intake. Palestinian desserts weren’t my favorite thing ever growing up because I wanted chocolate and hydrogenated oils in my sweets. Nuts and syrups and pastries and doughs were just not on my radar when I was a kiddo. Don’t get me wrong; I ate them anyway. And I ate them often. I just dreamt about eating an Oreo while I shoved a dozen pieces of Burma in my face hole.

IMG_9788

Coconut + Katayef-inspired baby Namoura cakes

These days, Namoura is proving to be my favorite thing ever. Even more than cookies and cake. And that’s saying something. Since the batter for namoura is pretty bland pre-baking and syrup pouring, there is a lot of room to work with new flavors. This past week, I experimented by adding shredded, unsweetened coconut to part of the batter. With the other half, I decided to make a batch of cinnamon-sugar walnuts (the same you find in desserts such as katayef, baklava, and kaak) and throw them on top of the namoura before baking. Both tasted great, but need tweaking in terms of texture and amount. I’m very excited to try the other ideas I have floating around in my head. I just need more taste testers!

I also tried out a recipe I found that married pistachios and chocolate together in cookie form. I threw in some brewed coffee and cardomom to up the flavor factor. Not a bad pairing of flavors, but the cookies themselves were just a bit too flat and heavy for me liking. I enjoyed the flavors though, so I just need to find a better medium to bring them together.

Dark Chocolate & Pistachio Brown Butter Coffee Cardamom Cookies

Dark Chocolate & Pistachio Brown Butter Coffee Cardamom Cookies

Overall, I’m having a lot of fun working with different flavors. I got a small bottle of lemon-infused sea salt flakes and can’t wait to find a reason to use them. If you know anyone in the Houston area who is willing to taste test in exchange for feedback, send ’em my way!

History & Mission of Yalla Sweets

June 13, 2015

Hey all!

Yalla Sweets is a project that means a lot to me. Its origin is rooted in my love of sweets and my heartfelt desire to share my family’s recipes. They mean a lot to me and they also happen to taste pretty fantastic. I’ll let the mission statement speak the rest.

YS-history

Yalla Sweets (and Hi! I’m Back!)

June 13, 2015

YS-FbcoverHi y’all!

I know it’s been a couple of years since I’ve posted on this site, but I’m thrilled to see that it’s proven to be a useful resource for folks interested in Palestinian cuisine. Though I haven’t been documenting my culinary adventures, rest assured that I’ve been working away in my little kitchen.

One of my biggest dreams, and one I’ve pushed aside for years and years, has always been to work with and create sweet treats that people can’t help but crave. I started baking in college because I was broke but still wanted to give thoughtful gifts to friends during the holidays. I figured tins of homemade cookies were the way to go, and I was right!

When I started this project oh so many years ago, I was more focused on the savory side of Palestinian cooking. I still learned to cook a few signature sweets, but my goal was to learn to cook meals the way my mama made them. It was a life-changing project and I’m so thankful that so many of you connected with the stories and memories. I hope some of you had success making a meal or two from this blog and I hope you and your families enjoyed every bite.

These days, my focus is solely on all those lovely desserts my mama and aunts made when I was a kiddo. You can find Middle Eastern sweets a lot more readily around Houston than you can home-style Palestinian (or Middle Eastern cuisine in general, really) food, but I honestly haven’t found a dessert I just can’t live without. So, I decided to teach myself how to make a handful of my mama’s recipes.

Over the last several months, I’ve been immersed in learning how to make namoura, ghraybeh, yansoon cookies, katayef, and loads more. I’ve been baking cakes and cookies and tarts and pies. And I have loved every darn minute of the learning process. I’ve been experimenting with butters and flours, textures and flavors and I THINK I’ve finally figured out my oven’s sweet spot. I’m interested in keeping the traditional recipes from my family alive and well, but I also want to take those base recipes and make them my own. And I have.

What does all this mean? It means I’ve gotten pretty okay at churning out tasty little sweet things and I want to share them with you all!

Yalla Sweets is the result of a lot of hard work and a lot more hard work to come. It’s where you can go to get mini namoura cakes in all sorts of flavors (traditional namoura is ready to go; flavor variations are in the works!), ghraybeh, rock cookies, pistachio butter cookies, and lots more. My mama had a fantastic recipe for M&M cookies and I’m quite fond of Rice Krispie Treats (and other marshmallow-y cereal treat variations). It’s heart and soul and while I know eating tons of sweet, sugary things all the time isn’t the greatest plan, when you do make the choice to treat yourself, I hope you’ll consider splurging on something I’ve made.

If you want to get an idea of the kinds of things I make, feel free to follow my accounts on instagram for more info:

@YallaSweets

@BrigitteZ

I’ll be posting a bit more often with updates, new menu items, and stories from my kitchen. I hope you’ll enjoy this new project as much as the journey that brought me here.

Sahtein!

A Fruit For Every Occasion

February 7, 2013

orange

I love fruit. I don’t eat it as often as I should, but there is very little fruit out there that I don’t genuinely enjoy eating (I’m looking at you, cantaloupe). So, over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been bringing a combination of fruits with me to work so I can snack on them throughout the day. Oranges have been making a frequent appearance – mostly because they are in season and really cheap to purchase as a result.

I have convinced myself that the vitamin C in these little guys is going to be my main resource for fighting off all the germs and keeping that flu nonsense the hell away from me. And I probably just jinxed myself by typing that – so there’s that.

Anyway, my point in writing to you about oranges isn’t to discuss their nutritional value as much as it is to share with you some of the memories I have of fruit and my family. The moment that sparked this idea happened recently during an interaction at work. I’d just finished peeling a rather fragrant orange and one of my coworkers came over to my desk to snag a couple of wedges. During this dialogue, he also shared a really sweet exchange he and his father used to share during the times when his father would peel an orange for him to eat. I love these moments with food – the times when something as simple as a piece of fruit can bring about cherished recollections of brief but profound moments in our personal timelines.

This made me think about all the things that fruit symbolizes for me. One of the very first memories that came to mind involved the ritual of hosting. When I was a kid, my immediate and extended families used to open their homes as a way to stay connected. I loved weekends because it meant I would get to hang out with my cousins and drink Coca-Cola out of fancy glasses and eagerly await the passing around of a box of See’s chocolates. (If you’re from Ramallah and live in Houston, it was standard protocol to have a box of See’s in your house. I’m sure it still is for many to this day.)

The most memorable part of these visits for me, however, involved the evening’s menu and how each course symbolized one pumpkin seed shell closer to calling it a night. The evening started with drinks (alcohol for the adults and soda for the kids) and small, fancy bowls of various nuts and seeds. Ashtrays were put out to collect the various shells from pumpkin or watermelon seeds, pistachios or turmous. The adults would crack things between their teeth whilst discussing various topics and the kids would be off playing video games or getting into some kind of trouble. After an hour or two, cups and bowls would be taken away and replaced with plates and a huge platter of fresh fruit. Back in the day, my mom and aunts used to spend a significant amount of time going to farms, farmer’s markets, and grocery stores to pick the best fruit. I remember the time it would take her to pick the just-right pieces for stuffing or pickling or chomping away on. It’s a neurosis I’ve carried with me into adulthood. It’s just unfortunate that I don’t currently have children of my own to stand next to me at the grocery store while I fondle every apple in the joint until I find one that doesn’t have a scratch, dent or bruise.

The fruit course also meant that we were getting dangerously close to the last service of the night and that meant, of course, that we all had to part ways. This was usually the point in the evening where elaborate plans for asking about sleepovers were drawn up. The fruit course wasn’t terribly exciting unless grapes or watermelon were involved.

The final offering for any given visit included coffee and sweets. The coffee was sometimes standard coffee (think Folgers), other times it was the much more fragrant and delicate Arabic coffee being served. My level of excitement over the sweets varied between zero when it was baklawa or ma’amoul to a hundred when it was ghraybeh or kanafeh. There was also much jubilation, from me in particular, when Pepperidge Farm apple turnovers made an appearance.

The evening would end with someone’s kid crying because of exhaustion or because someone got smacked or because the dream of spending the night away from home got squashed before one of us could finish sharing our proposal for why a sleepover was the best idea ever. The parents would say goodbye in stages – starting in the living room, and then again at the front door, and then one last time outside by the car. Brevity is not a thing my family has ever done well.

Those weekend nights were some of the best times of my life and I honestly hadn’t thought about them in ages until that random incident with the orange. It’s not a thing we do much anymore unless it’s associated with something specific. I really hope I’ll get the chance to resurrect them someday with my cousins as we begin to build our own families.

I know this post was more memory based than food/recipe based, but I did want to leave you with a very simple fruit dish that I grew up eating and still really love. I know fancy restaurants offer a variation on the watermelon/cheese idea – but the way I  learned to appreciate this combination was with huge wedges of ripe watermelon paired with a little salt and boiled white cheese. You can find more information about the boiled cheese here. I prefer using the boiled cheese versus pairing it with feta or any of  the other variations of salty white cheeses. Using a salt of your choosing (I stick with regular ‘ol Morton) allows you to better balance the sweet with the the salty. Plus, the chewy texture of the boiled cheese combined with the crisp crunch of the watermelon is a really delightful bonus. 

 Hope you enjoy if you decide to give it a try! 

Soup’s On

January 7, 2013

Red Lentil Soup

 

We’re just going to gloss over the fact that I haven’t written a damn thing about food or cooking in over a year. I haven’t cooked much in that time but when I do, I remember how much I miss this project and miss cooking and sharing it with you all.

To be honest, I’m kind of floored by how much people enjoy reading my words. Though, I do very much understand the power of connecting with others through family history and food. Each day that passes shows me just how amazing food really can be. I recently sat down to answer a handful of questions to help me reflect on this past year and one of those questions asked me to list five things that make me good and truly happy. Food/cooking made number three on that list.

Cooking is one of the few things in my life where I am able to completely immerse myself in the process and not worry about all the other millions of things I normally worry about. Yes,  I can be a little rigid about following recipes, but I attribute that less to my Type A personality and more to the fact that I am still in the beginning stages of this process. I think I show a lot of promise though and I believe that my genuine passion for food will more than likely guide me through this hobby.

So, what inspired me to finally sit down and write after so many days of not writing? The answer is many-fold:

1. My health. I have a sizable amount of weight to lose and I’d like to learn to cook interesting, healthy meals instead of burning out on chicken, salad, and canned soup.

2. I am on a limited budget but I am convinced there is a non-complicated way to eat nutritious, flavorful meals and I’m determined to figure out how to do that.

3. I just miss this. A lot.

The recipe I tried out today was not my own nor one from my mama’s cookbook. I was on the search for soup recipes that looked yummy but weren’t packed with all that unnecessary sodium. One of the biggest issues with canned soup – whether you buy high-quality organic or not – is that their cup runneth over with sodium. I was looking at the nutritional information on a can of Amy’s soup and the sodium in one can would use up my recommended sodium intake (which is 1500mg for those who have high blood pressure or certain other health concerns) for the day. That is absolutely ridiculous.

So, I searched the internet and found loads of interesting lentil soup recipes to try. Lentils are great because they are chockfull of dietary fiber and protein without the fat, cholesterol, or sodium. And they are cheap and very easy to find unless you are the red lentil. I had to go to SIX different grocery stores before I found them.

Anyway  – the recipe I used was one I found in the NY Times Fitness & Nutrition section of their online site. It’s a simple recipe for a Red Lentil Soup. My dad helped me make it and we went with adding 1 quart of chicken stock and 1 quart of water. I’d like to try it with just water or a veggie stock to make it vegan/veggie friendly. And while the recipe suggested adding cayenne to add some spice toward the end of the cooking time – we went with a few pinches of berbere that my dad brought back from Ethiopia. It added a subtle dimension of heat that was a welcome treat. We topped it off with fresh cilantro and plain yogurt and it made for a very filling meal on a cold night.

And that’s why I love cooking. It offers you the chance to take tried and tested recipes and make them your own. You can explore and learn and begin to understand the beauty of other cultures through the complexity of spices and a meld of ingredients. There is passion and history and stories behind these meals and I love that it’s such an accessible thing for all of us. All of the ingredients for this soup totaled less than $10 and could feed at least six people with a hearty bowl. It was healthy, inexpensive, cooked with love and brought together culinary gems from several different regions. Plus, this gave me a chance to cook with my dad again and feed my body a meal it deserved.

Do you have a favorite lentil soup recipe? Want to share the recipe with me? I’d love to try it out!

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