In Pictures: Boiled Jibneh

There are a few variations of how to make this particular kind of cheese. I’m sure the cheese we have available to us in the U.S. isn’t quite the same as it is back home. We opted to use a panela cheese instead. Basically, you take a few wheels of the panela cheese and place them in boiling water with a small muslin bag filled with both gum arabic and mahlab (a fragrant spice made from the seed of the St Lucie Cherry). I know that once the cheese is boiled some choose to store in jars with additional spice and more of the gum arabic and mahlab. It is reboiled before serving.  A couple of my aunts just freeze individual wheels in plastic and reboil when they feel like eating it. Either way – this cheese tastes incredible and is so good with fresh baked bread, olives, zaatar, and cucumber.
Cherry Pits & Gum Arabic

Panela cheese waiting for its fate...

Care to guess what this is??

Boiling cheese

Jibneh. Ready to consume before being put into jars of salted water.

Recipe of the Week (well, last week): Semnah

Oh, blog.  How I’ve missed you.

It’s been a little while since I’ve been able to sit and write here. My days were consumed with a pretty awesome event and I’m now in the process of recovering and attempting to do a little thing called RELAX.  It would appear that I’m not very good at relaxing, as evidenced by the very long list I made this afternoon of stuff I just absolutely must do.  I sincerely welcome suggestions and encouragement for learning how to take a break. Seriously. See the comment box down there? Go for it.

So, week before last I didn’t cook anything because I had the previously referenced awesome event to occupy my time. This past week, I just didn’t feel like cooking. I believe exhaustion is finally starting to kick in and I had no desire to shop, and prep and cook something – so I didn’t.

I did manage to flip through my mama’s cookbook and find a couple of things I wanted to make sooner than later and I noticed that they all required the use of semnah (clarified butter). I’d never made semnah before, so I decided to make that my recipe to try. Semnah isn’t a terribly involved process, but you still have to have a couple of hours to dedicate. The good thing is once you make it and jar it up, you should have enough to last you for several months without needing to refrigerate.

I never really understood what the purpose of semnah was and my dad explained to me that the rendering process draws out a lot of the water and salt from the butter. Doing this allows you to store the semnah unrefrigerated for longer periods of time and it also allows you to cook/bake at higher temperatures than if just regular butter was used.  It’s very similar to ghee and I now have a huge jar of it chilling in my pantry. I guess I have no choice but to start making more sweets since semnah is a staple in many of those recipes.

Semnah

5 lbs. of butter or margarine ( You can adjust this depending on how much you think you’ll need. This renders one large jar of semnah. Also you can opt to use 50/50 butter to margarine, just butter, or just margarine.)

1/4 – 1/2 cup coarse burghul – rinsed (but don’t soak!)

Melt butter under low-medium heat until melted. Do not stir. Add the burghul once the butter has melted and allow the butter to render out. A heavy foam will form on the top while cooking/boiling.  Keep heat low and allow about 20 minutes or so for the melted butter to turn clear. Remove any residual skin/foam on the top and set aside to cool. Once cool, use a coffee cup to pour only the melted butter into a glass jar and seal tightly with a lid. Make sure to leave the burghul at the bottom of the pan.  Store in a cool, low-moisture environment and use as needed.

In addition to the semnah, my dad made his shortcut version of the mahshi that I’d cooked a few weeks ago. Mahshi is a very laborious dish to make and my pops found a way to make it just as yummy without all the work.

Basically, refer to the recipes from my mahshi post . You take the stuffing (in this case it was about 3/4 cup ground beef to 2 and a half cups of rice with allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and salt to taste) and cook it up with about 3 lbs. of thinly cut yellow squash and a small can of tomato sauce and I’m sure some water – though I don’t know how much. I’m sure my dad will read this post and comment to correct whatever I’ve missed – so keep a look out.

It’s a great way to enjoy something I love to eat, but don’t have the time to make. Thanks, Dad!

Stay tuned. Pictures to come!

It Takes A Village…

…to figure out how to pickle.

This week, I decided to try my hand at pickling. After failing to find a pickle that even remotely measured up to my mama’s, I took it upon myself to try to recreate the flavors I remembered so long ago. After looking at her recipe(s), I realized that this process of perfection is one that’s going to take awhile. My mama had at least 4 variations of the recipe alone. From her recipe, as well as from advice from my dad and aunt, I discerned that salt wasn’t a huge factor in this recipe. So, I went with 4 cups of water to one cup of white vinegar and added a couple of small handfuls of salt. We (my awesomely kind cousin Susan helped out this week since my pops was out of town this past weekend) boiled that up and poured them over the medium-sized (though I’d venture to say they were more on the large side) pickling cucumbers and sealed up the jar. There isn’t much to the actual process, it’s just finding the right ratio of salt to vinegar.

We also added a couple of large Serrano peppers to the cucumbers before we added the brine. The peppers are supposed to be red vs. green in color, but those suckers are a lot harder to come by than I thought. So, I opted for the few that I found that were on their way to turning red eventually.  We’ll see if that makes a difference at all.

I also made turnip pickles by chopping up fresh turnips in thinnish, half-moon shaped pieces and adding a little sliced beet (fresh) and the brine mixture I used for the cucumbers. The beets are what give the pickles their hot pink color – obviously.

I’m still unsure of the time frame for when the pickles will be ready. I’m assuming somewhere in the two week mark, but I’ve not been able to get an answer on that yet. Check back!! I’m sure you’ll be bursting with anticipation.

This week made me really aware of how important it can be to have knowledgeable cooks around to help you figure things out. I called a friend about the hot pepper dilemma (we weren’t sure which ones to use) and an aunt about the ratios. I consulted my dad about both. I’m sure I would eventually figure all this out on my own, but why should I go at something alone when I have people willing to help? It’s something I’m still working through, but it apparently does take a village to make me a decent cook.

I was sans a functioning camera this week, so pics are compliments of my phone. 🙂

Beet It.

What Falls Off the Turnip Truck?

Recipe(s)!

Chop, Chop, Chop

Perspective.

An Inside Look.

You're Screwed Now, Cucumbers.

Before.

Recipe of the Week: Pickles!

Yes. Pickles.

I will never be able to adequately express how excited I am to have found my mother’s recipe for pickled cucumbers. As I am sure I mentioned at some point in this blog, I’m always on the hunt for anything dumpling related. In addition to my dumpling obsession, I’ve also actively been searching for just the right store-bought version of the pickles my mother and grandmother used to make when I was younger. Why I never thought to just make them myself is beyond me.  Perhaps it was the fact that I didn’t think I had a recipe for it or that I didn’t have the ability to do justice to my memory of those pickles. Either way, I have the recipe in my possession and I am going to pickle my happy little heart out.

These pickles are what cultivated my taste for tart, spicy food. What I should be aiming for is a more vinegary pickle with a nice kick from the pepper. The salt should be underwhelming at best.

In addition to the pickled cucumbers, I am also going to take a stab at making pickled turnips. I bought a jar recently from a specialty market and found them to be really salty and mushy – the opposite of the way they are supposed to taste. Pickled turnips, like the cucumbers, should also offer a nice tart, crisp compliment to sandwiches and snacks.

A couple of things I need to figure out:

1. Once they are jarred, how long before the veggies are ready to eat?

2. What hot peppers work best?

3. Where to go in Houston to get the best pickling cucumbers?

Pickled Cucumbers

For medium sized jars:

4 cups water

pickling cucumbers (small to medium in size)

1 cup white vinegar

handful of salt

2-3 red hot peppers

Wash cucumbers and place in clean jars with the peppers. Mix water, salt and vinegar in a pot and bring to a boil. Pour over the pickles leaving a little room empty at the top and seal immediately. Note: You will know when there is enough salt when place a raw egg in the water and it rises to the top.

Pickled Turnips

Turnips, washed, peeled and cut into thin half moon wedges

1 beet (don’t need the whole thing, just using the beet for coloring)

7 cups of water

3 cups vinegar

3/4 cup salt

Wash turnips. Peel, slice and sprinkle with 1/4 cup salt. Leave for an hour.

Rinse, drain and place in clean jars with the sliced beets.

Mix water, rest of the salt and vinegar and bring to a boil. Pour mixture into jars over turnips and seal immediately.

Simple, Savory and Satisfying…

That is exactly what Imjudarah is to me. I am so glad I got over thinking this meal was bland and boring. It is such an easy, inexpensive way to feed your family and friends. It’s vegetarian/vegan friendly and did I mention it was easy to make?

This is the first meal I’ve managed to make without too much help from my dad and that makes me just feel super. I adjusted the recipe a bit to make more so we’d have leftovers. I used 1 1/2 cups of lentils and 3 cups of rice.  I boiled the lentils in just enough water to cover the lentils. It cooked over high heat for about 10-15 minutes and then I added 3 cups of pre-soaked rice, 6 cups of water, salt, pepper and about a tbs. of ground cumin.  I boiled it for about 5 minutes and then reduced the heat and covered it until the rice was cooked and the water had evaporated – figure 15 minutes or so.

My dad cooked up some onions while I made the tomato-cucumber salad. I ended up added both fresh and dry mint and I chose to use two large hot house tomatoes and one huge cucumber.  I substituted the traditional onion you are supposed to use for the salad with a small clove of finely chopped garlic.

After a long day, this was the perfect meal to make. I can understand now why my family cooked it so much. I just wish I’d appreciated it more. I also wish I had appreciated how much time and attention my mom and my aunts put into buying the freshest, most affordable ingredients to feed us. I honestly had no idea how much work went into making a meal when you do it with quality in mind. I have a whole new respect for the art of cooking. I was with my family early today and it my heart was so full being able to talk to several of my aunts and cousins about this project. They gave me helpful hints about the different dishes I want to make. They shared their suggestions for the best places to buy lamb or cucumbers. It reminded me that cooking doesn’t have to be a singular activity. The whole point of food really should be community. I’ve already seen the potential impact this project can have on the people I love and I can’t wait to see how that potential grows as the dishes I cook grow more complex in execution.

Drop me a line on Twitter or leave a comment and let me know about the dish you love to make to bring your loved ones together!

Look! Lentils!

Imjudarah - Mmmmmm...

The Start of Something Goooooood

A Salad of Champions

Simple. Savory. Satisfying.

Recipe of the week: Imjudarah

There were a handful of dishes that my mom made that I considered her default meal for a given week. If she just didn’t feel like cooking, she would make one of maybe five meals at the beginning of the week and we’d be stuck eating it for days. To be considered a meal of default status, it has to be fairly easy to make and easy to make in massively large proportions. We used to have these huge tunjaras (pots) that she would fill to the brim with all sorts of stuff I bitched about eating.

Imjudarah was one of those dishes. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t like the taste of  Imjudarah. I was kind of neutral about it, really. It was more that I found it a. less exciting than say fried chicken or mac and cheese and b. I hated the salad she used to make that accompanied the dish.  Traditionally, Imjudarah is eaten with either laban ( which is essentially homemade plain yogurt – just more tart in my opinion) and/or a tomato-cucumber salad. For some reason, I hated any salad that used olive oil and lemon; probably because it meant there were raw onions included and we all know how I feel about raw onions.  I was actually just having dinner with a cousin of mine tonight and she  asked what I was making this week. When I told her, said she just doesn’t get why you would put cold salad on top of hot rice. Up until very recently, I totally agreed.

Either my taste buds have changed or I’m willing to be more open minded about the food I eat because I love Imjudarah now. And once I altered the tomato-cucumber salad to include fresh garlic vs. onion, I even love it with the salad.

I’ve actually made this dish before. My dad and I had a trial run a few months back where he tried teaching me how to cook. I spent a really long time typing out his recipe for everything while we cooked and I can’t find that damn Word document anywhere. I’m going to make it this time with my mom’s recipe – obviously. I’m actually really excited about making it this week because my confidence in cooking rice has grown a great deal since I started this blog. Making rice was such an elusive thing to me. I don’t know why I was so apprehensive.

Imjudarah

1 cup of lentils “washed”

2 cups rice “soaked for 30 minutes”

Salt, pepper and cumin

Cook over medium heat one cup of lentils in four cups of water for about twenty minutes.  Add rice and spices and continue to cook over medium heat for about 15 additional minutes. Lower heat and cook until all the water is absorbed.

Garnishes:

Fried Onion

1 onion

4 tbs. olive oil

Cut and slice onion and fry in the oil until a dark brown – almost burnt. Serve on top of the rice.

Salad

Tomatoes

Cucumbers

Onion ( I love how my aunt put “optional’ next to this. I have no idea if my mom really had that written in her recipe)

Salt

Pepper

Lemon

Oil

Fresh mint – finely chopped ( you can probably use dried mint, but it won’t have the same pow to it)

All of this is to taste and portion depends on how much of the rice you choose to make. Chop up the veggies into small,  uniform bites and add salt, pepper, lemon and oil to taste. The mint is optional, but really does make a difference. Serve over rice.

: )