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!

 

Apricot “Truffles” (Recipe Included)

Growing up, my family and I used to snack on a large, sticky sheet of something called Dried Apricot Paste (see photo below). We used to purchase it from a place named Droubi’s (a local Middle Eastern grocery store of sorts) and it has always been one of my favorite snacks. It’s essentially fruit leather, but much more substantial than those little strips you get for fifty cents from your local Whole Foods. This stuff is thick and chewy, tart and sweet, and just so addictive.

apricotThe other day, when I was chomping on square after square of this delightful paste, I started getting some ideas. Well, mostly I got the idea to look for recipes using apricots and pistachios. What did I find? About a bajillion recipes for something called an Apricot “Truffle.” I was intrigued, so I did some research and found that no two recipes for this concept were the same. Some used (a lot) of condensed milk, some used lemon, some used honey, some used different kinds of dried apricots and opted for pecans vs. pistachios. Some called for sweet vs. unsweetened coconut, while other just threw a bunch of stuff into a food processor and called it a day.

Now, I tend to get VERY overwhelmed when faced with too many options. If I can’t find one specific recipe that speaks to my sweet tooth, I find it’s best just to create my own based on the best bits and pieces I’ve found from ALL the recipes and make adjustments as I go along.

So, that is exactly what I’ve done with Apricot “Truffles.” These guys are essentially lovely little balls of apricot paste flavored with anything from lemon juice to sugar to nuts and brown sugar. I wanted my truffles to be healthier, so I kept things simple. I really like the final product this recipe yielded, but I still plan on making other variations and will be sure to post standout combinations here or on Instagram in the future! Please post a comment below or tag me on Instagram if you make them!

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Apricot “Truffles”

1 1/2 cups dried apricots, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Zest of one small lemon

1 tablespoon honey (I used a local clover honey. This gave the truffles a significant undertone of sweet and floral flavors)

1/2 cup dessicated coconut (in other words, medium, finely shredded unsweetened coconut) – for rolling

2-3 Tablespoons finely chopped pistachios (we’re talking powder consistency almost) – for rolling

15-17 mini cupcake liners/cups/etc.

Directions

Chop up the dried apricots and put them into a food processor. Pulse until the apricots forms a thick, sticky paste.

Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, and honey and pulse until combined.

Using your hands, take about a tablespoon-sized amount of the paste and roll into a ball. You can make these whatever size you want – bigger or smaller. It’s up to you!

Take the balls and roll them in either the coconut or the pistachio (or both if you’re feeling adventurous) and put them in your mini cupcake liners.

Place them in an airtight container and put them in the fridge for about an hour before serving. You can keep these at room temp, but I find they taste better cold.

Sahtein!

(*Note – This recipe yields a very tart “truffle”. If you want yours sweeter, I’d opt to cut about a 1/2 tablespoon of the lemon juice. You can replace it with a little more honey if so desired. You can also roll these guys in any nut or topping you choose. I think they’d be good with cashews, pecans, or macadamia nuts!)

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!