Quinoa Mjaddarah (recipe included)

Mjaddarah is a very popular dish in the Middle East. It’s incredibly easy to make, inexpensive, and the perfect vegetarian/vegan option for folks. My mama made it often because it took very little effort to make and an hour in the kitchen generated enough food to feed 20 people for a week. That fact was a huge selling point for my mama. For me? Not so much. I didn’t enjoy eating the same thing five times a week, but boy do I appreciate leftovers now!

Mjaddarah is usually made with rice and lentils, but I don’t eat white rice much these days and I’m not a fan of brown rice. That being said, I have been without my (now) beloved Mjaddarah for quite awhile. It has become one of my favorite comfort foods over the years. Where once I turned my nose to this dish, demanding instead something terrible for me like a cheeseburger or boxed mac and cheese, now I crave Mjaddarah often.

quinoa mjaddarah

My dad came up with the genius idea of switching out the rice for quinoa. While I love quinoa, I was initially skeptical of the healthier substitution. I gotta say, the starchy yumminess of the  rice in this dish is what makes me feel so warm and cuddly when I indulge. I wasn’t sure quinoa would have the same effect. Rest assured, my dad’s recipe is just as comforting as my mama’s. And this one is better for you!

Ingredients
8 oz. (1/2 bag) brown lentils
1 1/3 cups dry quinoa
2 cups of water (plus more for cooking)
2 tablespoons of finely minced onion
1 tablespoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
A pinch of curry powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Directions
1. Using a shallow pan or bowl, rinse out lentils to clean any excess dirt or unwanted debris.

2. Put quinoa in a very fine sieve and fill up a large bowl with mildly hot water and place the sieve inside the bowl. Change the water in the bowl every five minutes. Do this two or three times over a 15-minute period to get the quinoa cleaned. It is, more importantly, used as a method to par-cook the quinoa before mixing with the lentils.

3. Meanwhile, pour two cups of water into a medium pot and add the lentils. Cook on high heat until it starts to boil. Once boiling, switch to medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
4. Take the sieve with the quinoa out of water and let it drain before adding to the lentils. At this stage, add all other ingredients. Also, add either water (or reduced-sodium chicken broth for added flavor) until it just covers the lentil/quinoa mixture and turn up the heat until it boils.

5.Once boiled, turn to low-medium heat. Simmer for 12-15 minutes. Check at 10 minutes to see if water has absorbed. Turn off heat once absorbed and leave lid on until ready to eat. Serve with fried onion and cucumber-tomato salad.

You can find the traditional recipe for Mjaddarah, as well as recipes for the fried onions and cucumber-tomato salad,  here.

Comment below and let me know what you think of this healthier version! If you make the recipe, feel free to tag me on Instagram (@yallasweets) and share your food pics and thoughts!

 

Recipe of the Week: Kifta My Way

Many months ago, I used my mama’s recipe to make one of my favorite meals – kifta wa batata in tahini sauce.  Kifta is a kabob/meatball-like dish that’s made with either ground lamb, ground beef or a combo of the two. It’s mixed with onions and parsley and baked with potatoes and sauce (either tomato or tahini) and served over rice. I’m sure there are hundreds of variations of this dish, but that’s how I grew up eating it and how I enjoy it most.

Well, over the last several weeks, I’ve been a little burnt out on cooking Arabic food. I was still cooking, but I opted to cook food I’d been craving instead. I needed a little culinary inspiration to get back into the kitchen and back to my mama’s recipes. I tried out a few salad ideas and discovered I need some serious help with dressings. I have an unhealthy addiction to vinegars – particularly the balsamic variety – so I tend to overdo it with the acid.  I had no idea making salad dressing from scratch could be so difficult.   Any pointers on a full-proof vinaigrette?

Thankfully, all of the impromptu cooking I did over the last few weeks was exactly what I needed to jump start my desire to get back to basics.  One of the things I hoped to learn from this project is the confidence to take my mama’s recipes and add my own flavor to the classics. I am a timid chef and tend to try to follow the letter of the law when it comes to measurements and ingredients.

This time around, I decided to spice things up and give kifta and batata (potatoes) a makeover. I opted for grilled kifta vs. baked. I roasted up the potatoes separately and opted to make a cold couscous salad instead of plain white rice. I also made a refreshing cucumber-yogurt dipping sauce to accompany the kifta kabobs. I didn’t have recipes for anything but the kifta and just took a chance on creating dishes based on flavors I thought might work well together. Feel free to ignore the less-than-mouthwatering names I came up with for these side dishes. : )

Kifta

See this post: Kifta

Roasted Potatoes

2 cups of baby yellow potatoes

couple of tablespoons of semneh (clarified butter)

cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste

Coat the potatoes (leave skin on for texture) with the semneh and the spices to taste. I think I went with a tsp. of everything but the salt. I added a bit more salt.  Spread out onto a cookie sheet and bake in the oven on 450 for roughly 20 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.

Cold Couscous Salad

1 package of plain couscous cooked according to the directions given. I used chicken stock vs. water to give some extra flavor.

Let cool and add:

1 tomato, chopped

variety of olives, chopped (kalmata, green, etc.)

marinated artichoke hearts, chopped

couple handfuls of feta cheese

1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil

juice from half a lemon

tsp or so of fresh black pepper

Mix it all up and there you have it!

Cucumber-Yogurt Dipping Sauce

1 english cucumber, chopped

3 cups plain yogurt

half a lemon

tbsp. olive oil

7-10 fresh mint leaves, chiffonade

2 cloves of finely chopped garlic

salt and pepper to taste

Chop cucumber into small bites and mix into the yogurt. Add lemon juice, olive oil and pepper. Chop garlic and chiffonade fresh mint leaves and add to the mixture.

I tried to keep the flavors consistent to the ingredients you see throughout the meals I’ve cooked. I just tried to use them in different ways. It was fun being a culinary “rebel”!

sneak peek
sneak peek

Recipe of the Week: Sabanekh Bel Ruz

Many months ago, I made my mama’s recipe for a dish called Mulukhiyah. Mulukhiyah is a leaf that has a really distinct flavor to it. It’s bitter, but not the familiar bitter of something like a  mustard green. Additionally, cooked mulukhiyah leaves have the same kind of slimy consistency that cooked okra does, only about 100 times slimier. I have never been a fan of the leaves themselves, but have always enjoyed the broth that accompanies the dish. It’s a nice balance of  pungent savory with the lamb (or beef, depending on which you prefer to cook with) stock to bursts of tart with the addition of lots of lemon. It’s the perfect soup to pour over a bowl of rice – assuming you’re able to render the soup down to a manageable consistency that is mostly devoid of the glue-like thickness made possible by the mulukhiyah leaves.  My mama’s version of this dish was always pretty spot on. I, on the other hand, was not able to escape the goo, and so I opt to love a less adventurous version of leafy goodness over rice.

Sabanekh Bel Ruz  (Spinach with Rice) isn’t a dish I recall my mother ever making. She very well might have, but if it was green and limp and served over rice, it was all the same recipe to me.  This is actually a dish my tata used to make  for my dad and one he still enjoys. I find it to be a much more palate-pleasing option to serve. Spinach has such a comforting sweetness to it. I absolutely adore the way the leaves embrace the spices that get added to a spinach dish. It’s like the leaves know exactly how to absorb the right amounts of flavor in order to enhance their natural yumminess.

Sabanekh Bel Ruz is a very straightforward recipe. There’s nothing fancy about this meal, making it the perfect contender for comfort food.  The added bonus is how much better the dish tastes the next day and the day after that. And coming from a family that made enough food to feed a small country, that added bonus is a gem. Rarely did a meal get made in my house that wasn’t intended to feed us for multiple days, so it was vital that the dish only get better with age.

Here’s my mama’s recipe for Sabanekh Bel Ruz with some additional pointers from my pops:

1 lb. cubed beef steak (or lamb)

3 10 oz. packages of frozen, chopped spinach

1 medium onion

3 tbsp. olive oil or semneh

salt

pepper

nutmeg

cinnamon

allspice

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

5 cups of water

Saute the onion in the oil or clarified butter until brown. Add the meat and brown for several minutes before adding water and spices. Boil until the meat is tender and then add the spinach. Add additional spices to taste and simmer for 25-35 minutes. Add the lemon juice near the end and cook for a couple of minutes longer. You want the meat super tender and the spinach to almost melt in your mouth. Serve over rice.

Recipe of the Week: Makloubeh

Well hello there!

In case you hadn’t noticed, I haven’t been cooking as regularly as I have in the past.  I just kind of hit a lull and found it hard to get back into the swing of things. I love cooking – more than I thought I would actually. I guess I just thought this project would bring me some sort of enlightenment or connection to my mother in a way nothing else has so far. And, so far, it hasn’t.

But, you know what? I’m done worrying about all that. Instead of focusing on the “feelings” I’m apparently not getting from this endeavor, I’m opting, as of now anyway, to focus on the fact that what I have gained from learning how to cook over these past several months is the chance to spend more time with my dad, to learn about the food I grew up eating and to reconnect to food in a more holistic way.

Let’s hope that’s the last time I’ll be revisiting this subject. On to the food!

So, this week I decided to make a dish I have grown to love over the years – Makloubeh. Until recently, I thought there was only one way to make Makloubeh. My mom’s recipe included rice with cauliflower, potatoes,  onions and chunks of lamb or beef.  Since I was a kid who wasn’t very fond of cauliflower or onions, I had to pick my way around the pot until I emerged victorious with a plate full of rice, meat and potatoes.

My taste buds are different now and I’ve learned over the course of several months that Makloubeh isn’t limited to cauliflower. It can be made vegetarian with veggies like eggplant, tomato, potato and even carrots. My dad is allergic to eggplant and I just don’t care for the taste much, but eggplant with this dish is supposed to be pretty tasty. I have an unhealthy love of carrots, so I’m wondering how this would work with a carrot/potato combo.

Anyone ever tried it like that?

The recipe below was pieced together from my dad’s recollection of the dish and some pointers from my mama’s recipe.

Makloubeh

3 cups of rice (I used parboiled though I think my mom used long grain)

1 lb. beef steak (I used a cut of angus beef that was pre-cut for use in stews)

1 large head of cauliflower

1 large onion

3 large potatoes (I used white potatoes)

Light olive oil for frying

7 cups of water

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. allspice

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. ground pepper

3-4 tsp. salt

couple cloves of garlic – sliced

Cut the meat into smaller pieces and boil in a pot of water (go with about 4 cups of water for this). Skim the froth that collects at the surface of the pot and after several minutes add the spices (but only half the salt at this point), reduce heat and cover until the meat is tender. Strain the broth and set aside the broth and meat separately for later use.

Cut cauliflower, potatoes and onions into bite size pieces. Cut the potatoes into flat, half-moon wedges, the onions into strips and the cauliflower florets into manageable chunks. Throw into a big bowl and sprinkle with salt.  Preheat a large, flat skillet with 1/2 – 3/4 cup of light olive oil for frying. Fry up the veggies (including the garlic)  until they are golden brown and place each batch on a plate with paper towels to absorb the excess grease. (Note: If you want to make a healthier version of this dish, you can coat the veggies in a little olive oil and spices and pop them in the oven to roast up versus frying.)

Sprinkle each batch of fried vegetables with a little cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg and add to a large pot that will be used for cooking the makloubeh. Bottom layer is the meat, then layer the fried veggies on top. Once all the veggies are in the pot, add the 3 cups of rice (make sure to rinse thoroughly before cooking) the broth and an additional 3 cups of water to cover the rice and veggies thoroughly. Add salt to taste and bring to a boil. Reduce to low heat after boiling, cover and cook for 30-40 minutes or until rice is tender.

Let cool and then invert into a large, cylindrical baking pan for serving.

Note: If you use the long grain rice, the makloubeh has a better chance of staying in tact and may make for a lovely presentation.

Serve with plain yogurt (laban) and a simple salad (lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper)!

Mother’s Day: The Outcome

Mama & Me - c. A Long Time Ago

This past Sunday was Mother’s Day (Yes, I know you all knew that. I just like stating the obvious. It’s fun.) and I had a heck of a time trying to come up with a recipe to make to commemorate a day that celebrates the inspiration for this blog – my mama.

I know I was stressing myself out, and subsequently my family, trying to come up with an idea. If I am being really honest with myself here, I guess I was so stressed because I hoped cooking the just-right dish would bring me some sort of clarity.  I hoped that all those things that are supposed to align would and I’d get a chance to feel her presence in my life again. Silly, I know.

Aside from my family, not many people knew my mother. I’m not sure I’d call her shy, but she definitely was wary of strangers, I guess.  She had an enormous smile and a laugh ten times bigger than that smile. You couldn’t ignore her presence and she wasn’t even trying to be noticed. She had an annoying habit of bursting  into song whenever a word or a phrase or a moment reminded her of a tune. I inherited this habit, but I keep the song-bursting on the inside. You’re welcome.

She laughed as much as she yelled. She hugged as much as she pinched. She loved as much as she fought. And, she cooked the kind of food that kept me pudgy, but satisfied throughout most of my childhood.

So, maybe now you can see why it was so imperative to me to cook something that spoke to the soul of who she was as my mama and as the individual who nurtured me through food. Hey, we’re Arabs. Food was at the heart of well, our hearts. When I finally settled on making Kousa Mahshi, I had to mentally prepare myself for how long this dish would take to cook. I failed to take into consideration how hard it would be to find the staple ingredient – yellow squash.

I learned a valuable lesson on Saturday. I spent the morning getting a lovely sunburn at the Art Car Parade, and the afternoon scouring the city for squash. I went from one side of town to another and eight grocery stores later, I arrived home empty-handed. I learned how much I take for granted that things will just be there waiting to be purchased when I want or need something. I never took into account which foods are in season. I didn’t take into consideration the myriad of reasons why squash or tomatoes or meat might be in short supply. The experience was humbling. It made me wish I knew how to garden. It made me ashamed to realize that I don’t pay enough attention to where my food comes from and what I eat.  My mama put a lot of effort into making sure the quality of the food we ate was the best she could find, and doing so takes a great deal of time and patience.

Making mahshi turned out to be  a rather relaxing experience overall. (Yes, Dad. I know you would beg to differ.) Once Once I stopped spazzing, I found the carving of the squash and the tediousness of cutting the lamb into tiny little pieces to be kind of calming. It was the first time in ages that I was able to focus solely on the task at hand and tune out my normal, obtrusive inner dialogue.  Mahshi entails carving and cutting and stuffing and boiling and waiting and it’s all worth it. It took us four hours worth of prep work and cooking to get from Point A to Point B and I loved it.

I felt like I accomplished something real and tangible. I completed a task that resulted in something that could be consumed and enjoyed and discussed. I created something that can be recreated at another time, only better and with less anxiety and more precision.  Let’s hope so, at least!

Mother’s Day: The Recipes

Happy Belated Mother’s Day to all my mamas out there!

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I was really struggling to find a dish to make that really represented my mama – or at least the memories I had of her cooking. After flipping through her cookbook over and over again and talking to anyone I could who might have remembered, I got a phone call from my dad.

Kousa Mahshi.

Now, I’d thought about making this dish. I had planned to tackle it at some point, I was just apprehensive because it is so time consuming. But, mahshi seemed to come up more often than any other meal I considered, so it won!

And, instead of trying to fit a million thoughts and images into one post, I’m going to break things up a bit over the course of this week. There is a lot I want to say and I need time to process it all out into words that aren’t all sappy and sentimental. There is a lesson somewhere in all of this; I just have to find it.

Today’s post will include the recipes for the kousa mahshi (Stuffed Squash) and this dessert I used to love when I was a kid. I didn’t have a recipe for it, so I went off of my hazy memory. If anyone, ANYONE has a recipe for this dish, please share. I think we (family/friends) all kind of deduced that this dessert recipe probably came off the back of a Jello pudding box. Gotta love the 70s!

Kousa Mahshi

4-5 lbs of yellow squash (about 15-20 pieces of about medium size)

1 1/2 -2 lbs. of lamb (preferably leg of lamb, but you can use shoulder)

3 1/2 rice

2 8 oz. cans of tomato sauce

Water

salt, pepper, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg to taste ( I think we did 1 tbsp. salt, tsp. pepper, 3/4 tsp. of allspice, tsp. of cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. of nutmeg)

Wash the squash and cut off the tips just enough create a hole large enough to core the squash. Save the tips to cook along with the mahshi. Use a vegetable corer and core out the squash until it is a thin, but sturdy shell. Wash and rinse the cored squash in water and salt.

The meat for this dish can be done one of two ways. If you don’t have the time to cut meat, you can use ground lamb or beef that is more coarse (as if using for a chili). If you do have the time, prepare the meat by cleaning the leg of lamb (removing fat, skin, etc.) and cutting into small, pea-sized pieces. This is really time-consuming, but the difference in taste and texture is worth the effort.

Once meat is cut, add it to the rinsed rice and mix. Add spices and a little butter if the meat is really lean – say 1-2 tbsp.

Fill the squash about 3/4 of the way. Don’t pack the mixture down inside the squash and don’t overfill. Lay side by side inside a large pot in stacks. Add the squash tips and the cans of tomato paste. Fill the rest of the pot with water and let it come to a boil and boil for about 5 minutes before reducing heat and cooking on medium for about an hour.

(Make sure to save the the squash pulp to make Lub Kousa – see recipe below)

Lub Kousa

Squash Pulp (from squash you carved)

Onion

Olive Oil

Salt, pepper, lemon

Saute the onions in a couple of tbsp. of olive oil until. Add the washed squash pulp and cook together for another couple of minutes before adding the spices (we added a serrano pepper, whole just for some additional flavor). Mix everything together and cook on low heat for about 30 minutes or so. The squash needs to be really soft – almost like mush. Serve hot or cold as a side with the Mahshi.

Pudding Dessert (because I have no clue what the actual name of this dessert is!)

1 large box of Cook and Serve Chocolate Pudding (should make 3 cups)

2 small boxes of Instant Pistachio Pudding (should make 4 cups)

Tea Biscuits(about 3 packages)

Make the puddings and while you are waiting for the chocolate pudding to cool, roughly crush the tea biscuits and place the crushed biscuits at the bottom of a glass pan. Just enough to coat the bottom and make a crust of sorts.

Add the chocolate pudding and then another thin layer of the crushed biscuits.

Add the pistachio pudding and sprinkle a little bit of the crushed cookie on top and some crushed pistachios for garnish.

Put in the fridge for a couple of hours to set and then serve like cake.

In Pictures – Kibbeh

Here are some of the pictures we took on Sunday while we were cooking.

Sahtein!

Burghul - Let It Soak

The Main Ingredients

When Meat Meets Burghul

Who Knew Meat Was So Spreadable?

Let the Stuffing Begin!

Beef, Pinenuts, Onions, Spices and Lots o' Love

Meat On Top Of Meat. Genius Idea.

Cutting Those Diamond Shapes Ain't Easy! Pre-Baking.

Fresh Outta The Oven - Golden Brown Yumminess

Best Salad Ever.

YUM