Soooo, It’s Been Awhile

Hello, my people!

So, it’s been about five-six years since I’ve posted to this blog. I’ve logged in a few times over the years in an attempt to say hello, but I just stared at a blank screen and eventually gave up.

While I haven’t cooked as much over the years, I have been baking. I love cookies and baking A LOT and I turned that love into a home-based baking business. It’s been five years (I can’t believe it!) since Yalla Sweets came to fruition. And while I haven’t been as active with YS (are we seeing a pattern here??) as of late, it is always on my heart – just like this blog has been.

I know this year has been a super weird cluster of experiences many of us haven’t faced before. At the beginning of it, I baked and cleaned a ton. I figured it would be a good way for me to reconnect with my cookies and my obsession with food. And, it was for awhile until it wasn’t.

After having a conversation with a friend recently, I was reminded of Zayt and Zaatar and how much I loved this project. When I started this blog, there were only a few cookbooks that focused on Palestinian food/food from the Levant region. I’m so thrilled and proud to say that over the last decade, we have seen a number of gorgeous Palestinian cookbooks published. I love seeing the stories, memories, and recipes from other Palestinian food lovers. I especially love that our food is preserved in writing for others to learn about and appreciate.

I share all of this to say, I’m back! Zayt and Zaatar started as a personal project that allowed me to reconnect with the memory of my mama through learning and cooking her recipes. It was a powerful moment in my life and I hope that the stories resonated with those who took the time to read. I hope the recipes were made and shared with those you love (and turned out okay!).

Moving forward, I’m just going to write. I’ll write about food. I’ll write about cookies. I’ll write about baking. I’ll share recipes when I feel excited to share. I’ll write about memories around food. I’m not going to hold myself to a theme. I just want to write.

I’m going to give myself the grace to ease back into this and if there is a recipe you’d like to see or a food/baking-related topic you’d like me to touch on – feel free to leave a comment and ask!

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: Mishat

Mmmm… Mishat. I have been craving this dish for weeks now and that craving led to my decision to try out my mom’s recipe. This recipe is actually a good one to start with because it calls for only a few affordable ingredients and the overall prep/cooking time is under an hour. Mishat can best be described as  a savory cauliflower pancake/crepe concoction.

I’m going to include two recipes in this post. The first is my mom’s – translated from Arabic to English by one of my aunts. I’m beginning to learn that a lot of my mom’s cooking was trial and error. Many of the recipes didn’t include exact measurements of certain ingredients – namely the spices. I know that, at some point, I will be able to cook these meals to my own taste buds, but for the time being – I’m going to also reference the Sahtein cookbook just to make sure I don’t totally screw things up.

Sahtein (which more or less means bon appetit in Arabic – though not a literal translation)  is a Middle East Cookbook that features regional recipes from Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. I don’t know a single family member that doesn’t own this cookbook – even if they are bad ass cooks.

So – here are the recipes and I’ll be back later in the week to let you all know how it goes!

Mom’s Version: (Note: this may not be an exact translation of original text)

Put the cauliflower in boiling water with some salt and then drain it. Cut into rosettes. Chop onion – very fine –  and add some salt and pepper. Add 4 eggs to it and stir together. Add 2 cups of water and some flour to make a batter similar to pancake batter – not too thick.  Squeeze the cauliflower and put it into the batter. Using a big spoon, but some of the batter into a skillet with warm oil. Put only the batter at first and then add a couple of the rosettes  – do this one at a time. Fry until brown on all sides. Take out and place on a paper towel to absorb excess oil. Wait until the oil cools down – almost cold and then add another spoonful of the batter. Repeat until batter is done. The spices are: salt, pepper, cumin, turmeric and parsley.

Sahtein Version:

Cauliflower – “Mishat”

1 small head of cauliflower

4 eggs

2 tbsp. flour

4 tbsp. butter

salt and pepper to taste

Drop cauliflower in boiling water and leave for 5 minutes. Drain, cook, and cut into rosettes.  Mix eggs, flour, salt, and pepper in a bowl to make a batter. Drop rosettes into a batter and in the hot butter (one at a time). Cook on low heat until all sides are golden brown. Makes 4 servings.

Aside from trying to figure out why the two cups of water is necessary, I’m fairly certain my mom’s recipe is the way to go. I have to trust her instinct on this one, because Mishat was one of the best dishes she made. Wish me luck!

The History Behind Zayt and Za’atar

zandz 070
Zayt wa Za'atar

Zayt and Za’atar is a Middle Eastern snack consisting of oil (zayt) and a thyme-spice mix (za’atar) that I grew up eating as a kid. It may not sound all that appetizing, but dipping warm, fluffy pieces of pita bread into the zayt and za’atar was a source of real comfort for me growing up. It is still one of my favorite snacks – no matter what time of day it is – and it is probably even more comforting for me now than when I was young.

So, when I came up with the idea for this blog (which I will get to eventually), the concept of Zayt and Za’atar seemed like a natural fit. Two strong and savory flavors that work as beautifully apart as they do together. Two flavors that stand boldly on their own – but compliment each other in unforgettable ways.  Just like my mother and me – when she was still alive.

My parents grew up in Ramallah, Palestine. I was born and raised in Houston, Texas. I was a fat kid who loved food. My mom was a self-taught cook who used food as a way to nurture her kids both nutritionally and emotionally. So many of the memories I have from childhood include food. It’s not  just the eating of her food that remains with me, but also the time and energy my mom put into picking the best ingredients and preparing the Arabic dishes that I miss so much today.

Making traditional Arabic food – not the stuff you get in most water-downed versions of Middle Eastern restaurants – takes a lot of time, patience and skill. I was too young to appreciate just how labor-intensive cooking this food was for my mom and she died before I realized it would be something I’d miss as much as I miss her.

I was 13 when my mom lost her battle with breast cancer and it wasn’t until recently that I conceived an idea that might allow me the opportunity to connect to her memory in a way that would feed both my inner fat kid and that part of my soul that has been missing for almost 20 years.

Which brings us full circle back to Zayt and Za’atar.

Over the years, my mother taught herself how to cook using recipes from her family and from random other sources and she compiled it all into this notebook that she titled “Nawal’s Cookbook”.  A lot of the recipes are written in Arabic, so it is currently being translated by one of my aunts.

It’s important to me to learn how to make the food I grew up eating. It connects me to my culture, my personal history and to a mom I never really got to know. My hope is that as I teach myself how to cook using my mother’s cookbook, I will be able to learn more about her short life, more about me and more about the food that helped create my culinary palate.