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Posts Tagged ‘Side Dishes’

flower on stone“We have come into this exquisite world to experience ever and ever more deeply our divine courage, freedom and light!” — Hafiz

What a perfect quote to embody New Year. Persian New Year, that is, aka  Nowruz!

To me, it just feels right and natural to have a new year start with the promise, rebirth, and blossoming of spring.

Spring is a reminder of the inner light within each and every one of us. That’s worth celebrating!

Persian Card_New_YearsScroll down below for a roundup of highly celebratory (and symbolic) recipes from fellow Persian food bloggers. 

Thanks to the fabulous Sanam, of My Persian Kitchen, for putting this together!

Oh, technically the big day of the Persian New Year is always the spring equinox, which falls on Thursday, March 20, this year. Now’s as good a time as any to spread the happiness and to prepare for a fresh new season.

At the moment, I’m in a bit of Spring Cleaning Mode. (Oooof, those closets needed every ounce of attention I gave them last weekend. Ha!) I’m also prepping to host another yoga retreat, in upstate New York/in the Hudson Valley area.  March 14-16—perfect timing to get us ready for spring.

Looks like 2014 is a year of new beginnings for me in many ways. I’m headed to India at the end of the month. This trip has been a dream of mine for many years. At just the right time,  the stars aligned, the Universe and those I love are shining their support and approval on me, and I’m flying off on the night of the new moon. It’s happening!

As for Spring Cooking:

This is a classic clip for my (somewhat limited) TV archives. Here I am cooking kuku sabzi on live TV for Nowruz. This was on Good Day New York a.k.a Fox 5 a few years back:

More blogger Persian New Year goodness:

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At my recent Yoga retreat, quinoa was on the menu, but we ended up not making it. We had so many other delicious things, so it fell out of the rotation. I didn’t miss it, because I thought I didn’t really like it. Until now. You will, too, I bet. You could even take this to any Fourth of July festivities you might be celebrating this weekend. It’s easy to make and travels well.

I used white, also known as yellow, quinoa in my recipe. Look for it in the rice/grain section part of your store. Technically, it's not a grain. It's a seed. And it's gluten-free and very high in protein as well. Photo via wikipedia.

Back to my quinoa breakthrough. Imagine, cooking quinoa according the package directions, and it turning out awesome? Who’d have known? Certainly not me, as I’m not always one for following directions. I can barely make my own recipe the same way twice, much less another person’s. Ha!

I stumbled upon this recipe the other night when “shopping in my cabinets.” I decided to do something novel for me and made the quinoa according to the package directions (fry a cup of quinoa for 20 seconds in butter or oil, add two cups of boiling water, cover, simmer for 20 minutes, covered, over a low heat).

Happy Birthday, America. You're 235, you say? Well, you're forever 21 to me.

As it cooked, I chopped up a bunch of veggies that were hanging around unused: some roasted red peppers, celery, a couple of artichoke hearts. I added a can of (drained) white beans. Then I mixed this all into the fluffy quinoa, along with a couple of drizzles of olive oil, some ground cumin, and some Trader Joe’s 21 Salute seasoning (salt-free and very versatile!) I threw in some nutritional yeast, too.

It was a hit, and a new summer staple was born. It tastes lovely hot, cold, or at room temp. It travels well, and it’s light yet filling. It’s a flexible recipe: vary the veggies and spices and come up with  your own combos. Plus, quinoa is high in protein; along with the beans and veggies, you have a balanced one-dish meal or side.

Quinoa, I’m sorry for my past indifference and for leaving you out of the retreat festivities. I promise I’ll make it up to you somehow, someday!

Fluffy Summer Quinoa Salad

Ingredients to serve 4 as a side, 2 as a main dish:

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • oil or butter of choice
  • water
  • veggies of choice (such as peas, peppers, onions, artichoke hearts, asparagus, olive chunks, scallions, whatever you desire/have on hand)
  • 1 can of bean of choice, drained (I used white beans)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • spice blend of choice (I used Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute)
  • ground cumin (couple of pinches)
  • nutritional yeast or parmesean cheese, grated (optional)

1. Cook quinoa according to package directions.

2. As quinoa cooks, chops up veggies, drain beans, and gather spices.

3. Once quinoa is done (takes about 20 minutes), remove from heat.  Fluff with a fork, add spices. Lightly stir. Add oil. Fluff a bit again. Add veggies and beans and stir again. Taste and adjust seasoning, oil, and veggies amounts if   needed. That’s IT!

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There wasn't much of this Persian Eggplant Dip left to photograph, but I did my best.

Sometimes the best recipes are the simplest. Here’s a recipe my dad shared with me verbally on a recent visit. It was inspired, in part, by the eggplants then growing in the family garden.

Our conversation went something  like this:

Dad: “You know what you can do with this eggplant? Take a whole eggplant and roast it in  the oven.”

Me: “Do you have to poke holes in it? You know, to let the steam escape?”

Dad: “No, just let it roast really well until it starts to cave in on itself. You might have to turn it over once.

Then cook some onions in a pan on the stove for a few minutes. Then you add in some garlic. . .”

Me: “Do you add any spices to the onions and garlic?”

This is the type of eggplant growing in the family garden, and this is the type I used back in New York to make the Persian Eggplant Dip recipe my dad had shared with me on a visit this summer. Photo courtesy of Stock.xchng

Dad: “No, just salt and pepper. Anyways, you cook the onions and garlic until they’re soft. Then you can add in a little bit tomato and cook that for a minute.

Then you cut the eggplant, take out everything, and mix it in with the onion and garlic. Cook it until. . .let it get warm.

You can eat this like a dip with some cheese and bread [My dad loves cheese and bread. To the point that they make their own].

Or you can even have this as dinner. You can eat it cold, too. “

Me: “Wow, that sounds really easy and healthy. But like it would be really satisfying too. “

Dad nods in agreement, and I’m thinking, “New blog post. Score!”

So yes, that’s the recipe. I suspect that second to leaning recipes by doing, the verbal passing down of recipes is historically the second most common way recipes are passed down through the generations.

More specs:

Oven roasting temp? 400-425 F worked well for me.

Length of roasting time? For 2 medium eggplants, start with half an hour. Turn them over at 15 minutes.

Goats on the farm. There's only one goat who my dad milks, because she is no longer nursing but still producing milk. That one goat yields about a gallon of milk a day. Udderly ridiculous. They use the milk to make yogurt and goat cheese.

How long to cook the onions? 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic in the last few minutes so that it doesn’t get bitter or burn. Alternately, you can smash is pre-roasted garlic at the last minute if you have some on hand.

Optional Extras? Garnish with fresh herbs of your choice. I mixed in a few dollops of goat cheese in a fromage homage to the goats my fam keeps. They make their own goat cheese from their milk.  I avoid dairy for the most part, but definitely enjoy a few smidges of goat cheese when I visit the fam. It’s sooooo good and fresh!

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Baby eggplants stuffed with lean ground chicken, pine nuts, scallions, and walnuts. Topped with a warm sour-cherry pomegranate sauce.

Maybe I”m too easily amused, but a trip to the farmer’s market is one of the highlights of my week. I’m quite obsessed with farmer’s markets, really. To the point that I’ll always try to hit up the local markets when I travel. It’s a cool way to get a feel for a city or town. The vibe, the people, the types of food that grow there. It’s informative, fresh, and chill.

Mini eggplants at my neighborhood farmer's market. A steal at $1.50 per pound.

Right now, eggplant is in season in my corner of the world. In particular, those precious baby aubergines, with hues ranging from lavender to deep purple. They were just begging me to buy them and stuff them silly.

Full disclosure moment: Today’s recipe is a total riff on something Joumana of Taste of Beirut did recently.  Her Eggplant in Walnut and Pomegranate sauce was too tempting to pass up. The first time around, I honored her recipe and it was fabulous. Then I decided to experiment and make a meat-stuffed eggplant with a sour cherry pomegranate sauce.

Fairytale eggplant, to the left. Yes, they're really called that. These petite beauties are delicious stuffed.

The eggplants are left unpeeled, then baked, and finally stuffed with a mixture of ground chicken, ground walnuts, scallions, and pine nuts. Then they’re sauced with a simple mixture of sour cherry preserves (or juice), pomegranate paste, and chili pepper. It’s a meal that’s satisfying without being heavy, and it’s pretty darn good for you too.

So thank you, Joumana and to my local farmers market for providing the inspiration for today’s dish.

So delicious, so healthy!

Stuffed Baby Eggplant with Sour Cherry Pomegranate Sauce

If you can’t find small eggplants, you can use bigger eggplants instead. Adjust cooking time accordingly. Sour (tart) cherry or pomegranate juices/jams can be used interchangeably for the sauce. Good to know in case you don’t have easy access to one or the other.

Ingredients:

  • 24 baby eggplants
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2/3 pound of ground chicken (can use turkey, lamb, beef if you prefer)
  • 1 Tablespoon Arabic spice blend
  • 1 Tablespoon sage
  • 2 Tablespoons za’atar (optional)
  • 1/2 bunch of scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or even grated
  • 1/2 cup ground walnuts (optional)
  • 1/4 cup of pine nuts
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Sour Cherry Pomegranate Sauce

  • 2 Tablespoons sour cherry preserves OR 1/2 cup tart cherry juice
  • 2/3 cup pomegranate juice
  • 1/2 dried chili pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
  • pinch turmeric

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 425. As oven preheats, wash and pat dry baby eggplants. Line your baking pans or dishes with foil. Place baby eggplants on baking sheet or dish. Do not overcrowd. Bake for 30 minutes on the middle oven rack, testing for doneness at 25 minutes.

2. As eggplants roast, make filling. Warm olive oil in a skillet. Once it’s shimmery, add chicken, breaking up the ground chicken as you move it around the pan. When chicken is approximately half cooked (you’ll be able to tell parts of it are still raw), add in spices, including za’atar, if using,  plus scallions and garlic. Cook chicken until done. Next, add in scallions, pine nuts, ground walnuts, and stir. Add in tomato paste and splash of water if mixture is getting dry. Stir again, taste, and adjust seasoning to taste. Cook another minute or two more, then turn off heat.

3. Remove eggplants from the oven. With a fork or knife, test for doneness (fork or knife should slide easily through the eggplants). Place eggplants in a safe place and allow to cool.

4. As the eggplants cool, make the sour cherry pomegranate sauce. Simply mix all of the ingredients together, and cook over a LOW heat for 5-10 minutes, until desired consistency is reached. (If you want the sauce syrupy, feel free to cook for more than 10 minutes).

5. Now split each baby eggplant down the middle. Stuff each with a spoonful of the chicken mixture. If you have leftover scallions, use them for garnish. Or garnish with fresh chopped parsley. Spoon sauce over eggplants, plate, and enjoy!

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A quick snap of the quick veggie curry I enjoyed for dinner recently.

So you guys know that I mainly focus on Middle Eastern cuisine here on this blog, with an emphasis on Persian food and also Arabic food of the Levant region. Or, if you’re new to this blog, now you know ;-)

That being said, a little bit of curry never hurt anyone. So let’s take a detour, just for today. Today’s quick curry is fast, fresh, and useful. Useful? Yes, especially if you have an abundance of summer vegetables around and you’re wondering what the heck to do with them all.

That’s exactly what happened to me recently. A friend hooked me up with not one, but two big batches of organic farmer’s market veggies. Verdant emerald zucchini, sunny yellow squash, lavender hued eggplants, ruby red sweet peppers, and more. I was grateful, excited, and nervous, all at the same time, because I wanted to make excellent use of the goodies, and not let anything go to waste.

Eggplants were part of the haul of fresh summer produce gifted to me.

I made a few dishes–grilled veggie subs, pesto with pasta and fresh veggies, chickpeas with, you guessed it, more of the fresh veggies. I dipped the raw veggies in hummus and smeared sunflower seed butter on them, too. Then one night, I was in a big hurry to get dinner on the table (who am I kidding–that’s every night!) I remembered a fast curry my friend Erica once showed me when I visited her in Florida.

Coconut milk is the base. Don’t worry, the fat in coconut milk, while saturated, is GOOD for you.  You dump in the veggies and spices of your choice into the silky coco milk, and heat everything up for just a few minutes. The variations are endless. For added flavor, cook the onions, fresh ginger, and spices together for a moment. You can garnish as you wish, swap out the veggies to your heart’s content, and play around with the spicing. Here’s what I threw together the other night:

Curry in a Hurry (Quick Summer Veggie Curry)

Coconut milk is the base of this simple curry. Feel free to get creative with the veggies, the spicing, and the garnishes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tablespoon coconut oil, or neutral cooking oil of choice
  • 1/2 of a medium onion, sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons freshly grated ginger
  • Curry spice mix of choice (I used Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie spice, plus 2 teaspoons of turmeric, and a half teaspoon each of cardamom, coriander, and cumin)
  • 1 14-16 ounce can coconut milk (can use light)
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 2 pounds veggies of choice (I used zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, and mild red peppers)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Heat oil over a low heat in a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven. As oil heats, clean and chop all veggies into chunks. Leave the peels on if you like to save time and add fiber.

2. To the oil, add the onion pieces and fresh ginger. Cook to soften over the low heat for about 2 minutes. Then add in the curry spices of your choice, mix well and cook for another 30 seconds to 1 minute (you should smell the spices).

3. Immediately add in the coconut milk, veggies, and water. Stir thoroughly. Add in a bit of salt and bring to a boil. As soon as the curry begins to boil, drop the heat to low and cook for 2-5 minutes, until veggies reach the desired texture. (You can test veggies with a fork or knife). I don’t like mushy veggies, so I cook mine around 3 minutes. Depending on your preference, you may shorten or extend the cooking time. Taste, and adjust the seasoning.

4. Serve over cooked rice or other grain of  your choice, with garnish if desired. Some garnish ideas: fresh cilantro, fried onions, raw scallions, a red hot sauce.

Serves 4.

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This fast, fresh, and delicous avocado tabouli salad is a snap to make on the go. Take the avocado with you and mix the tabouli salad and avo together.

Hey Guys! I’ve been totally MIA, I’m well aware of this. For me, so-called “Summer Hours” involve working two jobs, so it’s not like I’ve been living a life of leisure in, say, the Caribbean. I WISH.

A random snap of morning glories in Harlem. Hmm, "Morning Glories in Harlem" sounds like the name of a play or something. Pic snapped this past weekend on a long walk.

So for days when I’m on the go, this avocado tabouli salad is a quick solution. It’s so simple, I’m not gonna even write out a full recipe. I just pack the avocado with me, keep the tabouli salad in an airtight container (after I’ve bought if from my fave Middle Eastern deli/falafel shack). When it’s time to eat, I bust out a butter knife, cut and slice the avocado, scoop it out, and mix the tabouli and avocado together. Sometimes I sprinkle with all or some of the following:

  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • fresh lemon juice

That’s it! A fast, fresh, and mostly raw meal. I’ll be posting my own tabouli recipe at some point down the line–full of parsley, mint, and a surprise secret ingredient or two, but first, let me get to the point where I can actually make tabouli again. Not gonna lie–it’s a bit of a process, and I don’t have time at the moment.

In the meantime, enjoy this energizing and filling recipe, and I’ll see you all around again soon. Xoxo!

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Green Herb Hummus made with Great Northern beans, fresh farmer's market basil and garlic, plus Celtic sea salt and olive oil.

Today’s recipe isn’t so much a recipe. It’s more of a template, that you can adjust and re-configure to your liking. Motivated by hunger but de-motivated by the heat to cook, I ended up making a really great hummus with what I had on hand, and figured I’d pass along my results to you. By the way, if hummus plus bread sounds too heavy, ditch the bread and dip raw veggie slices into this dip. That’s what I do and prefer.

If you’re bothered by the non-traditional ingredient list and the fact that I’m calling it hummus, feel free to rename it as a bean dip or whatever other moniker rocks your world.

Love this stuff! I like to dip raw sticks of summer squash, zucchini, carrots, and celery in it instead of the traditional pita bread dip.

Keep things flexible when making this. Since I didn’t have chickpeas handy (not to worry, I’m properly re-stocked now!), I used Great Northern beans, a white bean I happen to really like.  I was also fresh out of tahini, so I used olive oil as the fat instead. There was a small bunch of farmer’s market basil I needed to use, plus some fresh, pungent garlic picked up recently from that same market that had yet to be put to work. A couple of fat cloves of that garlic really took this dip up a level in my opinion, but if garlic isn’t your thing, feel free to leave it out.

Green Herb Hummus

Ingredients:

1 14-16 ounce can of Great Northern beans (or chickpeas or cannellinis) Basically, choose the light-colored bean of your choice

2 fat cloves of garlic

1 small bunch of fresh basil (or other herb of choice such as cilantro, parsley, sage)

1 Tablespoon (or less) of olive oil

Salt of choice to taste (I used Celtic sea salt. Full of minerals and has a robust flavor)

Water (if needed)

Directions:

1. Drain and rinse beans.

2. Add all ingredients except for basil and water to a blender or food processor and mix, starting on a low setting, gradually increasing to a higher speed.

3. Once ingredients are fairly well-mixed, add in basil leaves and a tiny bit of water if needed to help facilitate the mixing process. Blend until smooth and creamy. Check  and adjust seasoning and serve (or store, airtight, in the fridge.)

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Vintage Bollywood poster. Bollywood movies are popular in the Middle East.

I adore dinner parties. Love giving them, love attending them, and love, of course, all of that wonderful eating and socializing. Dinner parties are such a civilized way to re-connect in our GO GO GO world. But let’s face it–dinner parties can be WORK.

My friend Khat and I at her brother's traditional Afghan wedding in April. She will be at my Bollywood dinner party. Her dress is a traditional Afghan getup, while mine's a more Bollywood style outfit.

I’m having one in a few days, and this time, I’ve resolved to let it come together in the most chill way possible. A little pre-planning will go a long way. I hope ;- )

It will be a Bollywood Night, complete with a campy Bollywood movie and optional glittery costumes (if anyone is so inclined to go there, wardrobe-wise. I know I am, having a couple of shimmery Bollywood style outfits I’m eager to debut).

In the spirit of keeping things chill, I have to say, “Sorry, guests, but no homemade cheese and bread from this kitchen, at least not this time.”  To combat the summer heat, our spread will be seasonal, with invigorating and cooling recipes and  influences from both Persian and South Asian cuisines.

Why South Asian specifically, besides the obvious Bollywood theme? Well, first of all, I just love the cuisines of India, Pakistan, and the many other countries in that whole amazing part of the world. Middle Eastern cuisine and South Asian cuisine have many elements in common, and have exerted their respective influences on one another for centuries. Plus, these cuisines have many wonderful recipes that are cooling. Perfect for steamy summer heat!

Plus, we happen to have a very fun Desilicous dance party to attend after our Civilized Dinner Par-tay. A Gay-Themed Bollywood party, if you will, all in honor of Gay Pride Week. Yes, love my gays. They kinda own my heart :-)

Here’s what I have planned for our menu:

My Watermelon and Mint Cooler. Like a slushy, but much better for you, and better tasting.

A pre-dinner Cocktail (and Mocktail) Hour with my Watermelon Mint Cooler as the star.

A to-be-determined app, for which one of my friends has signed up to provide. (Key component of dinner parties: let others share in the fun, by either contributing an item of food or drink, or, if they’re so inclined, helping with light food prep or selecting music or lighting candles, etc. Keeps things interactive and who knows, it’s interesting to see what novel ideas our guests have about music or lighting or how to slice a scallion).

Salad of roasted golden beets on a bed of arugula with cucumbers and whatever goodies look appealing that day. Perhaps a yogurt or tahini based dressing. Something very simple, elegant,  and cool.

A summery Chilled Avocado Soup I haven’t tried this recipe out, but I simply can’t wait, as I’m in love with avocados and no longer afraid of the good fat they so generously provide!

Summer squash kuku sabzi, an Iranian omelette. Love this Persian souflee sans drama!

My Summertime Squash Kuku (Perfect for dinner parties, because it tastes great at any temperatures. Any late arrivals will feel well-fed, not deprived.)

Dessert will be So Delicious coconut-milk based ice creams. Because I’m seriously addicted to this stuff, it has that cooling, South Asian vibe thanks to the hint of coconut, and the company was nice enough to send me coupons to sample some of their product line. Thanks, So Delicious. You’ve just made my dinner party a heck of a lot easier, creamier,  and tastier.

I’ll be sure to snap some pictures of our festivities, and report back. Don’t wait up, my loves!

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My portable spinach pies are easy to make, healthy, and travel quite well.Yep, not the best picture. Took it with my BBerry on an overcast day. I'll try to swap it out with a beauty shot of the pies very soon.

Sometimes recipes come together in the oddest ways. And so it goes with my Portable Spinach Pies. I’ve made spinach pies before, but never really committed to making them a staple of my cooking repertoire. I have no idea why, now that I’ve made them again. They’re delicious, nutritious, and highly portable. Bonus: They taste great at any temperature: hot, warm, and even cold.

Maybe it was the Phyllo Factor that kept me away so long? Or the simple fear of the unknown? Before we get into the recipe itself, here’s a quick slide show of a recent day trip I took to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. What does this have to do with spinach pies? Well, spinach pies were my lunch that day. In fact, the very spinach pie recipe I’m sharing with you. Please forgive the fact that some of the pics have captions and others don’t. I’m still learning how to work this cool new WordPress slideshow feature.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Those scenes were lovely, weren’t they? Ok, now back to cooking:

So I made and odd and wonderful time-saving discovery when making this pie. The first time I made the filling, I was going out of my way to saute plenty of onions and the perfect amount of garlic, to spice it “just” so, adding fresh lemon zest, and so on. I kept having to taste and adjust the seasoning. Was it good? Yes, it actually was, but it wasn’t quite perfect.

The second time I made the pies, I was super short on time–needed to leave within the hour. By this point, I had a pretty good idea of what the pie needed to have inside to taste good. But I didn’t have time to zest a lemon, to snip sun-dried tomatoes into bits, or to play around with getting the spices just right. In other words, this is what everyday life is like for a lot of us.

All of a sudden, I remembered that I had some fresh homemade salsa in the fridge that I’d made earlier in the week.  I thought, “I wonder if it would work? After all, it has onions, garlic, cumin, lemon, and even tomato. Yeah, there’s some cilantro in there, but not that much. Uhhhh, what time is it? Uh ok, wow, I gotta get outta here. Let’s just do this and pray.” So that’s exactly what happened.

I threw in a few spoonfuls of the salsa, along with some Arabic Spice Mixture, a few bits of chopped black olives, and sauteed it all together, adjusting the salt and pepper as it cooked. Bingo! It was perfect and took less than five minutes. The tomatoes added a richness to the pie, but you’d never know they’re in there unless you made them yourselves. The cilantro didn’t overpower. And the beautiful flavors of the onion and garlic were liberated the second they hit the hot olive oil. Luckily I’d made the salsa mild, so the jalapeno pepper taste didn’t even register. Amazing stuff!

Sometimes stumbled-upon shortcuts are just okay. I can honestly say this shortcut improved the recipe significantly.

So while it might seem tedious to make a fresh salsa just to use a few spoons of it in a spinach pie, please flip that script and think of it in a more positive light. The salsa is so excellent in many other contexts: as a snack, as topped for veggies and/or meats, mixed into beans as they simmer. Basically it’s magic, because it boosts and rounds out the flavor of pretty much anything it touches.  So we’ll start with that salsa recipe, then move on to the pie.


Magical Mild Homemade Salsa

1 28 ounce can of whole tomatoes and juice

1 medium onion, cut into large chunks

4-6 large garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half

1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed

1/2 cup cilantro leaves (or parsley leaves if you have the “I hate cilantro” gene)

Juice of one lime or lemon

Dash of cumin (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Add all ingredients to a blender or food processor and pulse once. (Resist the urge to just let it rip and whip all of the ingredients together at once). Pulse one or two more times (or more if preferred) to get desired consistency. I like my salsas to have quite a bit of chunkiness to them, but you may prefer a smoother blend. Either way works.

Highly Portable Spinach Pies

Ingredients:

Olive oil

1 pound bag of frozen spinach, thawed and drained of excess water

1 tablespoon of Arabic Spice Blend ( or a few dashes of whatever spices you like, such as cumin, coriander, etc)

1/2 tablespoon fenugreek powder

1/4 cup fresh homemade salsa (recipe above)

3-4 Tablespoons of black olives cut into chunks (optional)

2-3 sundried tomatoes, snipped into bits (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 275 F. Then start with a couple of teaspoons of olive oil. Heat it over medium heat in a large skillet or saute pan. Once the oil is shimmery and a drop of water skitters across its surface easily, add the spinach. (If you feel you need more oil, add it as needed).

2. As spinach sautes, keep it moving with your cooking tongs or a wooden spoon. Add the spices to the spinach. Stir and cook for 30 seconds to one minute, until spices’ aroma begins to bloom. Then add in the salsa, sundried tomato piece, and the olive chunks. Cook for one minute more.

3. Remove the filling from the heat and let it cool as you prep the phyllo dough.

4. Wrap 2-3 tablespoons of spinach mixture  in 2-3 sheets of phyllo dough. I like to wrap mine like burritos–I place the filling in the middle, fold the short edges upwards on each side, then wrap the rest of the dough around the pie. Click here for some visuals.

5. Place pies, seam side down,  in a well-oiled baking sheet. Slather the top of pies with olive oil. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, flipping once. Pies should be light golden brown when removed from the pan. The low heat is a key element of this recipe, so please don’t blast that oven to save time. It doesn’t work. I know; I’ve tried.

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A simple Arabic-influenced okra stew quicky cookly when you use frozen, pre-chopped okra and ample spices. In Arabic they cal this bamiyeh.

Hey guys! I’m finally back with a recipe post, as promised. Today it’s a quick Arabic-inspired okra stew. Growing up in Texas, we used to always eat okra stir fried.  Honestly, I don’t even know if this is the right term. All I know is that  my mom would grab some emerald green pods from the garden, chop them into disks, and pan fry them with a bit of onion, tomato, oil and corn meal.

Beautiful okra pods! Image courtesy of FotoSearch.com

Sometimes simple things are the best, and this okra method was no exception. Magically, the orka would take on a texture somewhere between crunchy and soft. It was never slimy, and so much healthier than the deep-fried okra so popular in the South.

It wasn’t until moving away from home and doing some traveling in the Middle East that I was introduced to stewed okra. At first I didn’t think I’d like it–figured the slimy texture would put me off– but I was wrong. Stewed okra is just another way to love this versatile veggie. Especially over a big pile of basmati rice. Sign me up now, ya’ll!

An Arabic spice blend and a tomatoey broth gives this stew a lovely flavor.

Regarding okra, I used to be a bit of a purist. Only freshly picked pods from the garden (if we had one that year) for this girl. Farm stand okra is popular in Texas, and it would do  in a pinch. If we did buy it from the regular grocery store, we’d always take our time to pick out the smallest, most flavorful pods. The bigger the pod, the higher the odds that it’d be tough and maybe even bitter. Now that I live in the big city, where gardens are in short supply and farmers’ markets in high demand, I’m a bit more flexible.

Since okra’s technically not even in season yet, this time I took the plunge and bought a bag of frozen okra that had already been cut. It was on sale for $1.50. I wasn’t sure if I’d like the result of a quickie okra stew with Arabic spices, but I was pleasantly surprised. Now I’m wishing I’d bought a second bag of the frozen okra, so that I could play around with some different flavors. Next time for sure!

A closer view of this simple, fast Arabic Okra Stew.

This super simple okra stew recipe took all of 20 minutes. Now if you want a softer, more tender okra, cook it until it reaches your desired tenderness. For all the purists out there, this isn’t the exact classic Arabic style okra. It is a quick approximation. I’ll post a more traditional recipe as okra comes into season in the coming months. For that matter,  a Persian take on okra stew will get its moment in the sun as well. For now, with the bargain-priced frozen okra, here we go:

20 Minute Arabic Inspired Okra Stew (Bamiyeh)

Serves 2-4. Doubles easily.

Ingredients:

1-2 teaspoons of good olive oil

1 16 ounce bag of frozen, sliced okra

1 medium onion

2 large garlic cloves

Arabic Spice Blend-a scant teaspoon each of powdered cumin, coriander, cardamom, allspice, nutmeg, cloves. Plus 1/2 teaspoon each of powdered cinnamon and ginger.

1 Bay leaf

1 14-16 ounce can of whole or chopped tomatoes (low sodium, please!)

1-2 cups of vegetable stock or chicken stock (low sodium again, please!)

Salt and pepper to taste (not giving exact amounts, because this will vary depending on your taste and the amount of salt in your tomatoes and/or stock)

Directions:

1. In a medium Dutch oven, heat olive oil over a low flame.

2. As oil heats, chop onion into a small dice. Finely mince garlic or cut into pieces. (If mincing, I prefer to use a grater)

3. Add onion to oil, and cook over a medium low heat for five minutes.  Add garlic and all spices, and cook for another 30 seconds to one minute, just until spices’ aroma starts to bloom. Turn off flame and remove from heat.

4. Add okra pods and tomatoes. If using who canned tomatoes, use the back of your cooking spoon or spatula to break them into pieces. Mix everything well. Add in about one cup of stock, and salt and pepper to taste.

5. Place back on the burner, crank up the heat to high, and get the mixture to a boil. As soon as it comes to a boil, drop down the heat and simmer ten minutes on a very low flame. After ten minutes, check the spices and tenderness of the okra. If you desire a more tender okra texture, continue to cook until that desired texture is reached, adding in stock or water as needed if the mixture starts to dry out.

6. Serve over basmati rice and enjoy!

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