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.

Happy Birthday, Mama.

My Mama

The Fancy Birthday Cake from the French Gourmet Bakery c. 1980something

Although this project is meant to be dedicated in equal parts to cooking (and writing about said cooking) and the memories of my mother, I have found it much harder to write about her than I have about the recipes and the food. While I struggle, to an extent, with the fickle friend that is my kitchen, I have found it even more difficult to share my history, her history, with strangers. I’m not sure why that is, exactly.  Though 19 years is a long time to be apart from someone, I quickly learned that the loss of a mother is one that defies all conventional sense of time.  I don’t think there has ever been a time in my life, since her death, that I haven’t felt that loss. I sometimes feel silly for still being so emotionally raw about something that happened so long ago. I’ve decided that today, the day of what would have been her 56th birthday, I am going to give myself all the time in the world to miss her the way I need to miss her.

In recognizing my extended vacation with grief and mourning, I have come to realize that I have failed to also focus on the good times. Not too long ago, I was at a gathering and one of my friends, in the context of the event, asked me to recount some of the happiest moments from my childhood – and I couldn’t think of any. I just sat there trying to find something to share and all I could do was shrug my shoulders and try to change the subject. But,  I know I have plenty of good memories from being a kid and I decided to share one of them with y’all today.

Cake.

I seriously don’t know what it is with my family and baked goods but when I went rummaging around for old pictures to share, I found so many pictures of cake.  There are pictures of random tables just covered in all sorts of cakes; birthday cakes; children with frosting on their faces; children gathered around cakes waiting for candles to be blown; smiling faces awkwardly facing a camera whilst also trying to cut a slice for posterity.  The lesson you will most likely walk away with today is: we love cake!

My mother baked her share of sweets. And while Arabic sweets were high on her sweet-toothed agenda, she also loved baking cookies (especially of the M&M variety) and bundt cakes. Her absolute favorite cake was carrot cake and so I decided to make her recipe for a  bundt version of that cake to celebrate her birthday.  I think my mama would have totally appreciated this gesture.

I remember one Christmas (well I remember it because we have documented footage of the event) she baked a birthday cake for Jesus.  I want to say it was in the shape of a Christmas tree, but I’ll have to get back to you on that. We have video of my family standing around our kitchen table – a table that was covered in, you guessed it, cake, and singing happy birthday to Jesus. I’m pretty sure that is the first and only time that ever happened. It still amuses me to no end.

So, I’m sharing her recipe with y’all and hope that you’ll make it for someone you love someday – even if that someone is only with us in spirit.

Carrot Cake of the Bundt Variety

1 1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 1/2 cups sugar

4 egg yolks unbeaten

1/4 cup hot water

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour – sifted

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ground clove

2 1/2 cups freshly grated raw carrot (about 3 large carrots)

1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

4 egg whites

Glaze

1 cup powdered sugar

tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Directions:

Mix oil and sugar together and beat in one egg yolk at a time. Add the hot water.  ( Although not in the recipe, I added about a tsp. of pure vanilla extract to the oil/sugar/egg batter for extra flavor)

In another bowl, add all the dry ingredients into the sifted flour.

Slowly add the flour to the wet ingredients and whisk until smooth. Slowly add the carrots, nuts and egg whites to the mixture until complete.

Grease a bundt pan with oil, non-stick spray or butter and pour the mixture into the pan. Preheat the even to 350 and bake for 60-70 minutes depending on your oven.

The glaze can really be anything you want. You can opt to use a more authentic cream cheese frosting, but my mom went with a simple glaze that I ended up sprucing up a bit. If you go the simple route, just add a little lemon juice and a splash of water to a cup or so of powdered (confectioner’s) sugar and drizzle over the cake when it’s finished baking.I did that but also added a little vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg for an extra kick and to tone down the lemon a bit.

It’s a simpler, but still yummy, way to enjoy a classic cake recipe. Plus, I like saying the word bundt.

Recipe of the Week: Harisseh

Sugar:  the lovely white crystals of sucrose that I crave almost obsessively.  See, some people are addicted to the hard stuff like booze or pills or reruns of The Golden Girls. Me? I’m addicted to sweet things and savory things. Things that require lots of butter and milk fats and mmmmm…sugar.  Things that will inevitably make my butt bigger and my cholesterol levels soar.  I am an eater. And when I was a kid, despite the fact that I ate pretty much anything I could to keep my roly-poly prepubescent figure intact, my major weakness was, and still is, sweets. (I’m eating a box of Reese’s Pieces as I type this. No lie.)

My mama, and the rest of my family for that matter, definitely played her part in enabling my addiction. My mother had a pretty sizable sweet tooth as well and our house was always full of cookies, bundt cakes or some sort of 70s-inspired JELL-O/Cool Whip concoction. Not to mention the hoards of Arabic desserts that lived in our spare freezer waiting to be consumed when nothing else was readily available.

Oh, yea.

My mom would keep tupperwares full of baklava or mamoul– the kind with dates or  cinnamon-sugary walnuts. If she ever made katayef (a sort of pancake filled with the aforementioned cinnamon-sugary walnuts that was shaped into a half-moon, baked and doused in simple syrup), she’d make enough to freeze for later enjoyment.  The funny thing is – I never really loved Arabic desserts when I was younger. I had a couple that I couldn’t live without, specifically ghraybeh, but mostly I thought they were all kind of boring because none of it was covered in chocolate, stuffed with cream or oozing hydrogenated oils.

And though I still love sweets dunked in chocolate and injected with sugary lard, I’m learning to expand my palette in order to embrace desserts like the one I made this week. Desserts that are simple and straightforward and made with ingredients you can pronounce – mostly. Harisseh is basically a semolina cake – a little dense and perfectly sweet when you add simple syrup.

Harisseh

3 cups smeed (semolina flour)

1 1/3 cup whole milk (warmed)

1 cup sugar

1 cup semnah (clarified butter) (warmed)

2 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

tbsp. of tahini

handful of slivered, blanched almonds or pine nuts

Mix the sugar, warmed semneh, baking powder and baking soda together until smooth. Slowly add the smeed and warmed milk to the mixture until evenly mixed. I use my hands for mixing because you get a better sense of how much it needs to be worked.

Line the bottom of a cake pan (a little bigger than 9 x 13. Make sure it’s not too deep or too shallow) with the tahini and pour in the mixture. Top with slivers of blanched almonds (or pine nuts) in such a way that each square gets one almond and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Attir

3 cups sugar

3 cups water

tbsp. lemon juice

Pour sugar and water into a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Once the mixture comes to a boil, add the lemon juice and let it reduce for another 7-10 minutes. Take off the fire and let cool while harisseh is baking. Once it’s finished baking, let the harisseh  cool for a bit, cut into squares and pour the warm attir over the cake.  Let it soak  in all the syrupy goodness for a bit and enjoy!

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)!

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!

Recipe of the Week – Fatayer bi Sabanekh & Sfeeha

Don’t let these phonetically spelled titles for this week’s recipe overwhelm you.  It’ll be okay. They are just fancy Arabic words for spinach (sabanekh) and meat pies (sfeeha).  I am actually used to a different term for the spinach pies, I just have no clue how to spell it out phonetically.  It’s something along the lines of khrawseb sabanekh – but Google isn’t loving that term, so I’m just going to let my OCD fester for a bit and move on!

My mama used to make these pies in bulk and store them in big Tupperware containers that lived in our freezer for months. It’s just easier to make a bunch of them and take a few out whenever the mood strikes. The hardest part of this recipe really is getting the dough right. I’ve never, ever made bread or dough of any sort, so I think I’m going to have some frozen dough on reserve just in case.  I know – way to set myself up for failure, right? I’m actually excited about trying to make dough and making these pies because there is just something so comforting about a good spinach pie. We have plenty of Middle Eastern bakeries and restaurants that make pretty yummy versions of this recipe, but I want to be able to do this on my own.

Basic Dough For Pies

(This is from Sahtein since I couldn’t find my mom’s dough recipe – only the recipe for the fillings)

2 lbs. flour

2 tbsp. butter or shortening

1 envelope of dry yeast

1 tbsp. salt

2 cups lukewarm water (approx.)

1/2 tsp. sugar

Dissolve yeast into 1/4 cup of warm water. Sprinkle with sugar. Cover and let rise.

In a large pan, mix flour and salt. Add the yeast mixture and butter/shortening.

Gradually add the lukewarm water, mixing and kneading until the dough is smooth and tender.

Cover with a blanket and put in a warm place for 2 hours or until dough rises.  ( I remember my mom used to use heavy duty white table covers or big pieces of felt that my dad would bring home from his store.)

Cut dough into pieces 2″ to 2 1/2″ in diameter. Form into balls by tucking the dough underneath the balls to make them round and smooth. Let rest for 30 minutes between the blankets.

Spinach Stuffing

2 lbs. spinach ( you can use fresh, I’m going to use frozen)

1. Thaw the spinach and then cut up and wash it and make sure to drain it very well

2. Add chopped onion (since I’m not a huge onion fan, we’ll go with 1 large onion, maybe a little more)

3. Add lemon to taste ( I prefer it tart, so aim for 1 large lemon per lb. of spinach = 2 lemons for this)

4. Add about 1/2 cup vegetable oil to the mix

5. Add salt, pepper and a little bit of sumac

Meat Filling

2 lbs. meat ( you can use coarse ground lamb or ground beef – I’m going to use beef)

1/2 to 1 large onion finely chopped

1/2- 3/4 cup pine nuts that have been lightly browned in a pan

salt, pepper, allspice

Juice of 2 lemons

Tahineh

Cook meat until done and then add onions and seasoning. Lower the heat and let the meat brown a little and then add maybe a tbsp. of tahineh with a little water. Then add lemon juice ( 1 lemon per lb. of meat) and then the pine nuts.  Mix together and let cook for a few minutes more before using.

For Spinach Pies:

Pinch off about 2 1/2″ balls of dough and roll out into a 4″ circle.

Put a heaping tablespoon of the spinach filling in the middle of each circle. Fold up from the bottom to the middle and bring in sides to the center to form a triangle. Press down on the seams firmly and pinch ends together. ( From Sahtein)

Place the pies on a cookie sheet that has been brushed with butter or olive oil and place the pies on the tray. Brush the tops with oil and put in a preheated 500 degree oven for 15 minutes or until a little brown.

For Meat Pies:

Instead of making into triangles, the meat pies remain in circular shapes. Just add a tablespoon of the mixture to the middle of the circle of dough and make a little bit of an edge to hold the meat. Put on a greased cookie sheet and bake on 500 for 15 minutes.

I can’t wait!!

Food, Film and Moving Forward

May is proving to be one busy month!  This past weekend, I had the privilege of working with a group of local activists, organizers and artists on a project that I’ve been involved with for a couple of years now. We organize a local film festival that offers “an honest and independent view of Palestine and its diaspora’s society, culture, and political travails through the art of film.”

It’s a very intense thing to organize and I’ll admit that in my journey to ‘find myself’,  or whatever you call this period I’m going through, I seriously considered making this year my last year of involvement.  Sometimes, when I get too consumed by the voices in my head, I forget all the struggles that still need to be fought. This past weekend, I was reminded of those struggles and reminded of the responsibility I have in helping to make the world we live in a better place to inhabit.

Over the past several days, I have met women who had more strength, courage and beauty than I could ever hope to have. They are artists, musicians, filmmakers, mothers, daughters, photographers, engineers, organizers, friends, family, social workers, and writers. They are the inspiration I prayed for and found. I hope you all are reading this and I hope you know what an impact you’ve had on my life in such a short period of time. Even those of you I’ve known for awhile – I was able to see you in a different light.  I hope you all know how amazing you are and how lucky those of us who know you are to have you in our lives. Thank you.

And even though my intense weekend was a rather time consuming one, I did manage to make a little something to keep my culinary aspirations in working order. I decided to try my hand at hummus because I’ve never made it before and it seems like one of those recipes that everyone should learn to perfect at some point.

My mom and my aunts made hummus in a very specific way and I’m still working on trying to get that down. I happen to really love the way my dad makes hummus so I think my take on it was somewhere in the middle.  My mama’s hummus was thick and creamy with just the right balance of tart to tahini.  My dad’s recipe is a little more coarse in texture with a lot less tahini and a lot more garlic and lemon juice. There’s a hundred different ways to make hummus and you’d think it would be pretty easy to make. While it’s easy to make, it’s also equally as easy to screw up. I honestly don’t think you need to get all fancy with hummus. When you find the right combination, a simple hummus is perfection.

I have to admit, my favorite way to eat hummus when I was a kid was with Doritos. My mama was a big fan so we always had a bag or two on hand to eat with pretty much everything you could imagine. I’d make a big bowl of hummus and plant myself in front of the television for as long as it took to lick the bowl clean.

Here’s the recipe I used. How do you make hummus? Got a recipe I should check out?

Hummus

1 lb. (1 large can) of garbanzo beans

1 1/2 – 2 tbs. of tahini

2  large cloves of garlic – whole

3-4 tbs. of lemon juice

dash of salt

olive oil, paprika and parsley for garnish

Bring garbanzo beans to a boil. Once boiled, transfer to a mixing bowl and add the garlic, lemon, tahini and salt and mix together with a handheld blender (or throw it all in a blender if you have one) until smooth. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with a few whole garbanzo beans, dashes of paprika, a little olive oil and parsley.

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.