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!

 

Home is Where the Heart Is

Happy 2016, everyone!

I have been baking away since the holidays and working on getting a little more creative with my cookie recipes. I’m finally getting to a place where I feel much more confident in my abilities as a baker, and that means there’s more room for adventure in what and how I bake.

I’ve also been thinking a bit about cooking in general. I don’t cook savory dishes as often as I used to, and I’m finding that I miss it a great deal more than I realized. I think I’m missing it because I miss being a more nurturing person. Food is a really authentic, heart-centered way to share your love and compassion with others. I certainly do that with my baking, but I just miss cooking. People always have to eat whole foods; they don’t necessarily always have to eat a cookie. (Though, I’m happy to argue the latter point ’til the cows come home.)

Thanks to a recommendation from a friend, I started watching episodes of “The Mind of a Chef” on Netflix. It’s a FANTASTIC show on PBS that follows the philosophies and work of some of the most inspiring and talented chefs in the country. And I am HOOKED. You are transported to a world where you can watch people cook, listen to their stories, delve into the whole world of farming, history, food science, and innovation. It’s utterly fascinating to me. It teaches you, once again AND if you’re listening, how interconnected we are in this world. Food, literally, is life. And for those of us who are passionate about it, food speaks stories, fuels bodies and minds, and serves as a medium for expression and revolution.

The third season (Episode 5 to be exact), takes you to Kentucky, where Chef Edward Lee lives and cooks. I was most struck by a conversation he had with another local chef, Chef Ouita Michel as they cooked together a dish with local ingredients. They discussed the idea that newer chefs that only have restaurant experience versus learning the tricks of the trade from home cooks and incorporating that into their culinary narrative are at a disadvantage. Chef Michel eloquently stated that, “Restaurants don’t define the food community in the United States.”

Now, I had been binge-watching this series all day while I baked for a client and those words made me stop what I was doing, sit down, and listen to the conversation with intent. Being the person I am, I struggle with the fact that I am not a professionally-trained maker of food and desserts. And while I honestly have no interest in being a world-renowned pastry chef, I feel like other people NEED me to be one in order for my work to have real merit. But, her words gave me freedom and reminded me that food is home and it doesn’t really matter where good food gets made.

One of the major threads I see woven into each one of these chef’s stories is how the food they grew up eating influences the food they cook today. I suppose it’s hard to separate the two. The food of your family is where you learned what you liked and what you didn’t like. If you were fortunate enough to come from a family where at least one of your parents, probably your mama, was cooking real food, you probably have a strong memory connection to the foods of your childhood. Use that. Don’t ever let those memories go. Use them to learn more about the food you grew up eating. Use it to comfort you in the moments when you need a hug from someone you love, but don’t, in that moment, have access to them for whatever reason. Food almost always tastes better when someone you love is cooking it for you, but there is immense comfort in being able to cook it for yourself, too.

I didn’t appreciate this enough when I was a kid, but I am SO unbelievably grateful that my mother (and father) inadvertently taught me the value of shopping for and making a meal. I get it now and it has fueled every aspect of this blog and my cooking/baking journeys.

So, I think I’m going to get back to trying out new savory recipes and documenting those experiences here. I have a few ideas in mind, but nothing concrete yet. I’ve just been studying and reading the topic of food for so long now that I want to get out of the theoretical and into the kitchen.

Stay tuned!

Birthday Wishes

mama

There’s no recipe sharing today, y’all. I wanted to take a few minutes to ramble away about this day and the woman that inspired this blog project and my future livelihood.

Today would have been my mama’s 61st birthday. My dad and I were reminiscing earlier today, and we both wondered aloud about what kind of woman my mother would have become had she been given the opportunity to beat cancer for good and live a more authentic life – one that wasn’t filled with fear and holding back.

She was an absolutely beautiful woman. I don’t say this because I have half her DNA and she gave me life; my mother was truly stunning. I’m not sure she realized her beauty, but her lack of awareness in that area didn’t change the fact that she was genuinely beautiful – both inside and out. She was incredibly hard on herself – a trait I picked up and haven’t quite been able to let go of just yet.

She was a good mother. And it has taken me a really long time to say that again. I spent a whole lotta years focused on the hurt and anger and frustration surrounding her illness and her death, and it took away from my ability to see my childhood in a more objective way. Though, I suppose childhood memories are one of those things that are meant to be a bit more subjective…

Anyway, a significant reason why I started this project all those years ago was to reconnect with the memories I had of my mama that were positive and nurturing and loving. Her cooking and baking have always provided comforting memories for me. I remember how hard she’d work to make us nourishing meals and I thought that if I taught myself how to cook her food, I’d be able to let go of the pain and the hurt and live my way into loving and appreciating her again.

Well, I’ve learned to make lots of yummy Palestinian food over the years, and I’m really in love with the fact that I am able to make the dishes I grew up eating. I still wish my mother was here to make them for me on occasion, but the next best thing is putting my love and soul into cooking and baking the food of my family, for my family.

It’s been 24 years since I lost my mother, and I am finally, FINALLY, in a place where my love for her outweighs my grief for her. Instead of focusing on the loss, I’m able to remember once again why I was so lucky to have her in my life for the brief 13 years that I did.

Her name was Nawal. She had a soul more vibrant than most people I know. She had one of those deep belly laughs – the kind that let you know she meant it when she laughed out loud. Her eyes sparkled with love, but, if you looked deeper, you could see there was a whole other person waiting inside of her to come out. She didn’t get the chance to reach her potential as a human being; as a woman; as a mother; a wife; a friend. I know, from the depths of my soul, my heart, that had she been able to live more freely, without the fear and anxiety of life, of family bullshit, of illness, she would have been unstoppable.

I understand now that I can’t live her unlived life. I can’t pick up where she left off or mend for her all the things she needed to sort out before she left this world. I tried, but it just isn’t my story to end.

My story is just beginning. At almost 38, I am finally beginning to understand what it means to live my best version of a life. It looks a lot like my kitchen does after I bake something – a complete and utter mess. (Have I mentioned I’m not exactly the tidiest of bakers?) But, that mess serves a valuable purpose. It’s one part of a whole. It’s the precursor to something sweet and satisfying that was made with my two hands and a little bit of my soul. It’s my way of reconnecting to my capability to love and nurture others. It’s one of those full circle kinda things, ya know?

So, with all these ramblings aside, I just really want to say: Happy Birthday, Mama. I love you.

Yalla Sweets (and Hi! I’m Back!)

YS-FbcoverHi y’all!

I know it’s been a couple of years since I’ve posted on this site, but I’m thrilled to see that it’s proven to be a useful resource for folks interested in Palestinian cuisine. Though I haven’t been documenting my culinary adventures, rest assured that I’ve been working away in my little kitchen.

One of my biggest dreams, and one I’ve pushed aside for years and years, has always been to work with and create sweet treats that people can’t help but crave. I started baking in college because I was broke but still wanted to give thoughtful gifts to friends during the holidays. I figured tins of homemade cookies were the way to go, and I was right!

When I started this project oh so many years ago, I was more focused on the savory side of Palestinian cooking. I still learned to cook a few signature sweets, but my goal was to learn to cook meals the way my mama made them. It was a life-changing project and I’m so thankful that so many of you connected with the stories and memories. I hope some of you had success making a meal or two from this blog and I hope you and your families enjoyed every bite.

These days, my focus is solely on all those lovely desserts my mama and aunts made when I was a kiddo. You can find Middle Eastern sweets a lot more readily around Houston than you can home-style Palestinian (or Middle Eastern cuisine in general, really) food, but I honestly haven’t found a dessert I just can’t live without. So, I decided to teach myself how to make a handful of my mama’s recipes.

Over the last several months, I’ve been immersed in learning how to make namoura, ghraybeh, yansoon cookies, katayef, and loads more. I’ve been baking cakes and cookies and tarts and pies. And I have loved every darn minute of the learning process. I’ve been experimenting with butters and flours, textures and flavors and I THINK I’ve finally figured out my oven’s sweet spot. I’m interested in keeping the traditional recipes from my family alive and well, but I also want to take those base recipes and make them my own. And I have.

What does all this mean? It means I’ve gotten pretty okay at churning out tasty little sweet things and I want to share them with you all!

Yalla Sweets is the result of a lot of hard work and a lot more hard work to come. It’s where you can go to get mini namoura cakes in all sorts of flavors (traditional namoura is ready to go; flavor variations are in the works!), ghraybeh, rock cookies, pistachio butter cookies, and lots more. My mama had a fantastic recipe for M&M cookies and I’m quite fond of Rice Krispie Treats (and other marshmallow-y cereal treat variations). It’s heart and soul and while I know eating tons of sweet, sugary things all the time isn’t the greatest plan, when you do make the choice to treat yourself, I hope you’ll consider splurging on something I’ve made.

If you want to get an idea of the kinds of things I make, feel free to follow my accounts on instagram for more info:

@YallaSweets

@BrigitteZ

I’ll be posting a bit more often with updates, new menu items, and stories from my kitchen. I hope you’ll enjoy this new project as much as the journey that brought me here.

Sahtein!

Soup’s On

Red Lentil Soup

 

We’re just going to gloss over the fact that I haven’t written a damn thing about food or cooking in over a year. I haven’t cooked much in that time but when I do, I remember how much I miss this project and miss cooking and sharing it with you all.

To be honest, I’m kind of floored by how much people enjoy reading my words. Though, I do very much understand the power of connecting with others through family history and food. Each day that passes shows me just how amazing food really can be. I recently sat down to answer a handful of questions to help me reflect on this past year and one of those questions asked me to list five things that make me good and truly happy. Food/cooking made number three on that list.

Cooking is one of the few things in my life where I am able to completely immerse myself in the process and not worry about all the other millions of things I normally worry about. Yes,  I can be a little rigid about following recipes, but I attribute that less to my Type A personality and more to the fact that I am still in the beginning stages of this process. I think I show a lot of promise though and I believe that my genuine passion for food will more than likely guide me through this hobby.

So, what inspired me to finally sit down and write after so many days of not writing? The answer is many-fold:

1. My health. I have a sizable amount of weight to lose and I’d like to learn to cook interesting, healthy meals instead of burning out on chicken, salad, and canned soup.

2. I am on a limited budget but I am convinced there is a non-complicated way to eat nutritious, flavorful meals and I’m determined to figure out how to do that.

3. I just miss this. A lot.

The recipe I tried out today was not my own nor one from my mama’s cookbook. I was on the search for soup recipes that looked yummy but weren’t packed with all that unnecessary sodium. One of the biggest issues with canned soup – whether you buy high-quality organic or not – is that their cup runneth over with sodium. I was looking at the nutritional information on a can of Amy’s soup and the sodium in one can would use up my recommended sodium intake (which is 1500mg for those who have high blood pressure or certain other health concerns) for the day. That is absolutely ridiculous.

So, I searched the internet and found loads of interesting lentil soup recipes to try. Lentils are great because they are chockfull of dietary fiber and protein without the fat, cholesterol, or sodium. And they are cheap and very easy to find unless you are the red lentil. I had to go to SIX different grocery stores before I found them.

Anyway  – the recipe I used was one I found in the NY Times Fitness & Nutrition section of their online site. It’s a simple recipe for a Red Lentil Soup. My dad helped me make it and we went with adding 1 quart of chicken stock and 1 quart of water. I’d like to try it with just water or a veggie stock to make it vegan/veggie friendly. And while the recipe suggested adding cayenne to add some spice toward the end of the cooking time – we went with a few pinches of berbere that my dad brought back from Ethiopia. It added a subtle dimension of heat that was a welcome treat. We topped it off with fresh cilantro and plain yogurt and it made for a very filling meal on a cold night.

And that’s why I love cooking. It offers you the chance to take tried and tested recipes and make them your own. You can explore and learn and begin to understand the beauty of other cultures through the complexity of spices and a meld of ingredients. There is passion and history and stories behind these meals and I love that it’s such an accessible thing for all of us. All of the ingredients for this soup totaled less than $10 and could feed at least six people with a hearty bowl. It was healthy, inexpensive, cooked with love and brought together culinary gems from several different regions. Plus, this gave me a chance to cook with my dad again and feed my body a meal it deserved.

Do you have a favorite lentil soup recipe? Want to share the recipe with me? I’d love to try it out!