Recipe of the week: Spaghetti with lamb

Ah, yes. This week we’re going to explore the ancient Arabic secret of spaghetti. This dish was one of my favorites growing up and I have to say that my paternal grandmother’s recipe of saneeya (baked) spaghetti gave my mom’s a run for its masaari (money).

I, sadly, don’t have my tata’s recipe for this dish. I thankfully do still remember when she would make it for me though. I spent many a Saturday hanging out at my tata’s house. She lived in this awesome house that sat right at the corner of Hawthorne and Mandell in the Montrose. It had red shag carpet, bars on all the doors and windows (one can never be to careful, yo)  and a huge kitchen where she would make me food. Interestingly enough, she also had like three freezers. She kept one unplugged and used it to store, well, everything imaginable; spices, cash and  crinkled brown bags filled with randomness to name a few.

She knew how much I loved this dish in its pre-baked phase and she’d always cook it for me when I asked for it. It’s so simple, but something about the way she spiced it was perfect. It was the right ratio of tomato to pasta to spice. It had a slight kick to it that definitely set the tone for my love of spicy vs. sweet tomato-y-based dishes.

My mom was a pro at making this dish, too. But, when I think about saneeya, my memory always takes me back to my tata and how much she loved cooking this for me. I’ve tried several times over the years to duplicate her sauce, but it’s never worked. I always did it by memory vs. a recipe – mainly because I never had access to one.

So here’ s my mama’s version. I can’t wait to try it out.

Spaghetti with lamb

Boil 2 12 oz. packages of spaghetti until it gets tender, strain and leave aside.

In another pot, brown chunks of lamb with butter and diced onions (to taste, I guess) then add water and salt and let boil until the meat is done.

Add to the meat and cook until it’s thickened:

2 cans of tomato paste

pepper

allspice

cinnamon

Then, in a large pan, add the soup and the spaghetti and put in the oven at 500 degrees for 15-20 minutes until it gets golden brown (almost burnt) and crisp on the surface.

Thank You!

The idea for this project has been a long time coming. I mulled it over in my head for months. I told people I was going to do it for months after that. Then, I did nothing. After the nothingness, I bought a domain name, started a new blog, wrote one touchy-feely post and then…nothing.

I’m not sure if it was timing, a momentary burst of courage, or the memory of my mama that helped me get from point A to point B, but I’m beyond happy that I found the motivation to kick this idea into high gear.

And it paid off, because last week, this lil’ old blog was featured in a post by the Houston Press food blog, Eating… Our Words.

And though I went through a range of emotions that included everything from elation to anxiety, I was reminded by one of the closest people in my life to remember the major purpose of this project and now I’m calm.

I just wanted to take a moment to thank the Houston Press and all of you who decided to join me as I figure this cooking/personal journey thing out.  Y’all are awesome.

New recipe coming tomorrow as soon as I can figure out what the heck I’m in the mood to make.  Stay tuned!

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.

: )

Recipe? I Don’t Need No Stinking Recipe!

Well, I mentioned in my last post that I wasn’t 100% sure if the recipe I had for Mulukhiyah was the right one. My dad’s recollection of the dish was pretty different to what I had recipe-wise. He said he didn’t recall my mother or his mother making Mulukhiyah with onions or by boiling the raw meat first and marrying the two major ingredients together.

I haven’t been feeling well the last few days and didn’t have the energy to investigate alternate recipes, so we made adjustments to the recipe I had based on his memory. Though the ingredients were the same, the way in which it was cooked was very different to what I had.

I get that you have to be open-minded when it comes to cooking. You need to be willing to steer away from the recipe – to create a spin off that fits your tastes and your personality. I really do get that concept. I was just hoping that literally recreating my mom’s recipes would bring me back to simpler times – before she was gone – before I stopped feeling like a kid.  I was hoping it would help me remember her better because  nineteen years is a long time.

Anyway – I couldn’t find a decent cut of lamb that wasn’t overpriced, so I opted to use beef instead.  We sautéed the beef chunks in olive oil before boiling in water. It cooked on medium high heat for about 10 minutes. The beef was cubed in pretty generous pieces, so the cooking time may vary depending on size.

Dad also mentioned that mama and tata (his mother)  never used onions in their Mulukhiyah – which is fine by me. I like the taste of onions, but I can’t deal with them in their raw state. I’m slowly getting over this phobia – but we’ve got a long way to go with that. : )

We boiled the sauteed meat with a tsp. of salt, pepper and about ¼ tsp. of  allspice in about 6 cups of water and boiled for about 15 minutes before adding two 14 oz. packages of thawed leaves. I sautéed garlic in a separate pan with olive oil and a pinch of ground coriander.  It’s important to note here that we ended up buying frozen leaves from a different local market that didn’t carry dried Mulukhiyah leaves.  I don’t think I’ll try this dish again with fresh or frozen leaves.

One of the reasons I didn’t like Mulukhiyah as a kid was due to how “slimy” the leaves would make the stew. Think okra. Making it with fresh leaves doesn’t help that slimy consistency one bit. To top it off, it turns out two bags was way too much. So,  we added two more cups of water and adjusted the spicing by adding about 2 more tsp. of salt, ½ tsp.  more of pepper and a dash more of allspice.  We added the garlic at about the 10 minute  mark. After adding the garlic, we cooked everything for another 20-25 minutes for a total of about 30-35 minutes of cooking time WITH the leaves.

We finished the stew by adding about 3 tbs. of lemon juice – then another cup of water and some salt and simmered for another 5 minutes. I usually add more lemon juice to my bowl because I like tart flavors – this is up to your discretion though.

Final verdict: I don’t care for Mulukhiyah. My dad seemed to really like it and that made me happy. It could have used more spicing, though.  It’s been a long time since either of us had eaten it – which seems to be the case with at least half of the recipes I plan on cooking.  I’m willing to give it another try with the dried leaves because I do think that will make a difference in the consistency of the broth. I’d also opt to use smaller cuts of meat to ensure optimal tenderness. I think it might also taste better with chicken or lamb vs. beef.

This week made me realize that even if I don’t feel well and don’t like the food I’m making, I still enjoy the act of cooking and being able to make food my family likes – or, well, pretends to like. : )

Mmmm...boiled meat
Garlic!
Yep. That's Mulukhiyah alright...
Mulukhiyah over Rice - Actually looks pretty good, yes?

Recipe of the Week: Mulukhiyah

I would love to see the looks on people’s faces as they try to pronounce this week’s recipe of choice.It may be a tough one to pronounce but I’m hoping it proves to be easier to make than I am anticipating.

Mulukhiyah is very much like a stew, though I grew up eating it over rice vs. on its own like a stew or soup. The dish consists of  the mulukhiyah leaves cooked in the broth of whatever meat you use plus spices and lemon juice.
Up until very recently, I thought mulukhiyah was made with dried grape leaves – turns out I was totally wrong about that. You can cook this with lamb, beef or chicken. I vaguely remember eating this with bone-in chicken, but I think my mom stuck to using lean cuts of lamb or beef instead.

My mom had lots of random things growing in the backyard of my childhood home. I remember our fence was overrun with grape leaves and I loved helping my mom pick them. I guess I just assumed that was also what she used to make this dish. We had a big, sturdy cloth bag that sat at the bottom of our pantry that was filled with dried mulukhiyah leaves and she would cook this stew more often than I cared to eat it.

The leaves are a little bitter tasting and according the the wiki article I just skimmed, they also have a natural thickening agent. The leaves apparently come from a jute plan and there is a good chance that was growing in our backyard too.

Isn’t it lovely how clueless we were as children?

Although we have since moved out of the house I grew up in and no longer grow random leaves and veggies in our backyard, I am saved by the fact that many of the local Middle Eastern markets sell imported boxes of dried mulukhiyah.   I was actually mesmerized by this very discovery last week when I went to pick up a few things to make my mom’s kifta recipe.

To be honest, this wasn’t one of my favorite dishes to eat when I was a kid.  That being said, I’m curious to see how my taste buds have matured.

Mulukhiyah

3 1/2 cups of dried mulukhiyah

1 onion finely chopped

1 lb.  – 1 1/2 lbs. lamb meat ( you can use chunks or lamb shanks)

4 cloves of garlic

7 cups of water

salt, pepper, allspice and lemon juice to taste

Boil meat in water with salt and spices.  Cover and simmer until the meat is tender.  Once the meat is tender, remove from water and saute with chopped onion in a bit of olive oil or butter. Add the mulukhiyah and cook it a bit before adding the stewing broth to the mixture ( at least 6-7 cups). Simmer for 15-20 minutes. Add lemon juice to taste at the very end. * Serve over rice.

(*I have a feeling slight adjustments will be made to this recipe. The translation was a little vague – so we’ll see how it goes!)

My Mama’s Version of Meat and Potatoes

This week’s culinary adventure was a bit more complex than weeks past.  I went all out, people. That’s right – I cooked an actual meal.  Granted, it wasn’t the most nutritionally balanced of meals, but it was surprisingly easy to make and a meal nonetheless.

I chose my mom’s recipe for Kifta wa batata in tahineh. This dish roughly translates to meat and potatoes.  Kifta, as mentioned previously, is an oblong meatball seasoned with finely chopped parsley, onion and spices. You throw it, figuratively not literally, into a big pan with chopped potatoes and the sauce variation of your choice. I opted for a tahineh-based sauce this time around.  You can eat this alone or make it a true carb-festival and serve over rice.

Guess which version I chose?

I mentioned in my last post that I was looking for a recipe for the rice that included sharieh. Sh’arieh is vermicelli noodles browned in either butter or oil before adding the rice. Not everyone loves rice this way, but I think the added texture makes it a lot less bland. I didn’t find one (please share if you have your own), but my dad walked me through his take on it – fairly simple and probably a lot healthier than what I had in mind.

He coated the bottom of the pan with a little olive oil and added about 4 tbs. of the sh’arieh. Once browned, we added 4 cups of white rice and about 8 and a half cups of water.  We brought the rice to a slow-rolling boil and let it bubble away for about 5 minutes before reducing to low heat and covering. According to my pops, you can tell  the rice is ready when you lift the lid and hear nothing but silence.  Huh. Who knew?

I also learned something many of you seasoned chefs probably know – the varying intensity of spices. Specifically, the three main spices used in this dish: allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon. Apparently allspice is the most pungent of the three and should be used most sparingly. Nutmeg is less potent and cinnamon follows closely behind. This was a great lesson to have learned because the spicing on the meat and potatoes was pretty dead on.

I was really surprised to learn how easy this dish was to make. I have more memories of eating kifta and batata than I have of watching my mom make it. I gotta say, it was a pretty amazing feeling to make something like this and have it come out so well.  There’s much room for improvement, obviously, but it was a much-needed reminder that cooking takes time and patience more than it needs inherent skill. One added bonus I wasn’t expecting  – being able to cook something for my family that they haven’t eaten in years. It was nice to have old, familiar smells wafting through our house the way they used to when we were munchkins.

Raw Meat!!
Into the oven we go!
Potatoes!
A Meeting of the Minds - Pre-Sauce
A Meeting of the Minds - Sauced
Kifta + Batata + Tahineh = Yummy
Kifta + Batata + Tahineh + Rice = Yummy + Carb Overload

Recipe of the Week – Kifta wa Batata in Tahineh

I decided to be a little more adventurous this week and try to make an actual meal.

Eek.

I have to admit, sadly, that the most anxiety-provoking aspect of this dish is making the rice. I don’t think I’ve ever, successfully at least, made real rice before. What do I mean by ‘real rice’? Well, I don’t think I’ve ever made rice that wasn’t instant rice. I’ve never made rice that wasn’t held hostage inside a plastic bag that required nothing more from me other than throwing  it into a pot of water and watching it come to a boil.  Shameful. I know.

Considering that like 95% of the food I hope to make include rice, I figured now would probably be as good a time as any to get over the anxiety of rice-making.  Ooooh, this should be fun!

So, getting back to the actual dish I picked. I decided to make Kifta wa Batata with Tahineh this week. Kifta is basically an oddly-shaped meatball. It’s shaped more like a football than a meatball and is spiced with cinnamon vs. garlic or oregano. You can make kifta with either ground lamb or ground beef. My mom’s recipe calls for beef, but I haven’t decided which I’d rather use.  The kifta is cooked with wedged potatoes (batata), and I’ve chosen to make this in a tahineh (sesame seed paste) sauce vs. dry or with a tomato-based sauce.

This is my favorite way to eat Kifta. It’s one of the few dishes I actually got excited about eating when I was a kid.  It’s meat and carbs – how could you not love that?

Kifta wa Batata in Tahineh

To make the Kifta:

2 lbs. finely ground lamb or beef

Onion chopped finely – (to taste – she suggested 1 small onion)

1 cup parsley – finely chopped

Around 2 tsp. of salt  – might need a little more depending on which meat is being used

1-1 1/2 tsp. of ground pepper

1 tsp. allspice (probably use a little more)

Cinnamon to taste

Mix all ingredients together well and mold into roughly 3-4 inch rolls. Think – half version of a kabob almost.

Once molded, put kifta into a circular, greased baking pan and bake alone for 10 minutes. (She didn’t give me a temperature to cook it at, but Sahtein says 400 degrees).

While kifta is cooking, peel and wash a handful of potatoes. (more or less depending on taste and size)

Cut potatoes into wedged slices – cut to desired thickness (just keep in mind, not too thick since it doesn’t cook super long)

For Tahineh mixture:

About a 1/2 cup of tahineh

Salt and pepper (not too much)

Lemon juice (to taste)

2 cups of water

Mix (blend if necessary) to thin out the sauce

Add potatoes and tahineh mixture to the kifta  and continue to bake for another 35 minutes or until done.

You can eat this as is or over rice. I’ll opt for making it with the rice.  I haven’t been able to find my mom’s recipe for rice that is cooked with vermicelli noodles. That’s how we ate rice when she made it, so I’d like to keep to that recipe. There’s one in the Sahtein cookbook, but I think I might try to get  a hold of one of my aunts or a cousin and see if they have a better recipe.

I’ll post that recipe up either before Sunday’s attempt or with the weekly update.

Wish me luck!

B.S. – Sorry for the excessive use of the word rice. There really isn’t a suitable synonym to replace it with. I just ended that sentence with a preposition. These are the things you must get used to when reading this blog.  : )

Mmm…Mmm…Muglee

I decided to follow another craving this week and picked a simple but super yummy dessert-ish type dish. Muglee is essentially a supercharged version of cream of rice. My mom would make it often and usually during the winter time because it’s hearty and perfectly nourishing when it’s cold outside.

I realized I haven’t had muglee since I was a kid – like most of the dishes I’ll be making over the coming months. There isn’t much to the making of this dish, but I had a hell of a time obtaining the ingredients. I guess cream of rice isn’t a popular item around these parts. My dad, who really is such a trooper with all this cooking/blogging experimentation, scoured 4 different stores only to come home with rice flour vs. cream of rice.  I have no idea if rice flour could be an adequate substitute and I had no intentions of finding out this time around.

Journey number one led me to a nearby specialty market where I found a box in seconds. Excited, I got back home only to discover we didn’t have sugar (who doesn’t have sugar??) anise or caraway seeds.

Ugh.

Back home and 20 bucks poorer than when I decided to make this dish, I was ready to get cooking. There isn’t much to making muglee – you throw all the ingredients into a pot and stir until the mixture boils. What starts out as a bland-looking, watery concoction transforms slowly into a thick, aromatic hot cereal of sorts. It’s muglee’s aromatherapy that brings back so many memories for me. The combination of cinnamon, anise and caraway hit my long-term memory  in a way that transported me right back to the kitchen where my mom cooked.

I was a kid again, chubby and pumpkin-toothed, sitting impatiently at the kitchen table waiting to be fed. My mom, as  short in stature as I am, stood over the stove stirring away and most likely yelling in Arabic at either me or my equally chubby and pumpkin-toothed brother.  I remember the little glass bowls we used to pour the muglee into and the antiquated nut-grinder-funnel-thing that barely worked.  I remember waking up in the morning and grabbing one of the cellophane covered bowls of muglee to munch on for breakfast.

There’s just something really warm and nurturing about this dish and I couldn’t be happier that it turned out exactly as I remembered it – a considerably different experience from last week’s attempt.

I even got my dad’s stamp of approval!

Check out the recipe for muglee in my previous post. I’d love to know what you think or if any of you have ideas for tweaking the flavor.

The stars of the show
Stirring that pot
Guess a mortar & pestle will have to do!
Mmmmuglee!

Comfort Foods – I Heart You

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few days trying to figure out what I’d like to make next. To be honest, there’s  a lot I’d love to try, but I don’t think I have the time or the skill to tackle them just yet. For example, the other night my cousin stopped by – because I hounded her repeatedly until she did so – to drop off her mom’s shushbarak bi laban. Shushbarak is probably my favorite Arabic dish and one of my favorite meals period. It’s essentially meat dumplings swimming in a tart, creamy yogurt soup of sorts. It is an incredibly time consuming  dish to make, and I think I’ve maybe had it a dozen times over the course of my lifetime. This dish is responsible for my relentless obsession with dumplings of any kind.

I will make this dish some day. But today is not that day.

: )

This week, I’m going to cook  a simple dish – a dessert in fact. One that always reminds me of winter, comfort and my childhood home. It’s nothing fancy and every culture probably has their spin on this recipe. I figured with winter close to being over, it would be a good time to try making it.

I’m just offering my mother’s recipe this time around.  Give it a try some night when you want  the edible equivalent of something warm and snuggly. It  happens to be just as yummy when it’s cold.

Muglee

1 cup Cream of Rice

7 cups of water

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. anise seed

1 tsp. caraway seed

1 cup sugar

Garnish –

Chopped nuts (use walnuts or pistachios)

Golden raisins

Pinch of nutmeg, clove, cinnamon

Mix and stir above ingredients. Place on medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce to low heat and cook until the liquid mixture thickens slightly. Pour the pudding into small dishes and garnish with nuts, raisins and spices.

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