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Archive for the ‘Arabic’ Category

Harissa sauce, or paste, can range in color from relatively light, like my orangey spread, to a much deeper red.

My homemade harissa is a fast, simple, saucy paste of red peppers, walnuts, garlic, and any number of optional spices. It can be as fiery or as mild as you wish, but it tastes fantastic pretty much any way you put it together. It’s a super flexible recipe, so ingredient amounts don’t have to be exact.

So where exactly does this stuff come from? Well, according to Wikipedia:

Harissa is a Tunisian hot chilli sauce commonly eaten in North Africa whose main ingredients are Piri piri chili peppers, serrano pepper or other hot chillis and olive oil. It is a standard ingredient of North African cuisine,[1] most closely associated with Tunisia and Algeria[2] but recently also making inroads in Morocco according to food expert Paula Wolfert.[3]

Recipes for harissa vary according to the household and region. Variations can include the addition of cumin, red peppers, garlic, coriander, and lemon juice. In Saharan regions, harissa can have a smoky flavor. Prepared harissa is also sold in tubes, jars, and cans.

I have a feeling this versatile sauce, which can be used as a dip, condiment, pasta sauce, soup topper, meat marinade, and more, will make an appearance at my upcoming Upstate New York Yoga retreat. I’m so excited about the retreat. I’m planning all sorts of fun activities, like a meal made on the grill, a farm tour, and lots of great Yoga classes and downtime.

Looking for a more immediate use of harissa? It’s a key part of another my North African-influenced sweet potato stew.

Harissa Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 jar roasted red bell peppers
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 3-5 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper (you decide how big or small)
  • 1/2 teaspoon each (or more) of any or all of the following: cumin, coriander, caraway seeds, cardamom, allspice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Rinse and drain jarred bell peppers.

2. Put all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth, adding a bit of water if needed to get/keep things moving.

3. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste, if desired. Add more of the other spices if you wish. Re-blend. Taste, and serve immediately, or jar it in an airtight container and put it in the fridge.

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Spicy Winter Tea with cookies.Yes, tea served in a coffee mug. I have so much tea, I don't have space for actual tea sets. 😉 Plus a student gave me these mugs, and I happen to really like them.

Nothing warms my heart quite like a cup of hot tea and a plate of cookies on a cold winter’s afternoon.

Have I ever told you guys about my tea collection? No joke, I have about fifty, as in 5-0, different types of tea. taking up a fair amount of precious real estate in my kitchen. This is even more ridiculous when you consider that I’m rockin’ a cramped New York City Prewar galley kitchen that, outside of the appliances,  hasn’t seen an update since the Nixon administration.

Quality tea deserves quality cookies. I didn't make these. I let the experts at my fave Middle Eastern pastry shop, Laziza in Astoria, NY, do that.

Percentage wise, tea takes up a huge amount of my storage space, but I’ve no regrets. That’s because I’m the type of person who sometimes looks forward to the post-meal cup of tea more than to the meal itself.

Yes, Persians love their tea, and I’m no exception, as my dedication to my collection shows. My fam might consider my stash of all sorts of teas–from green jasmine, to chocolate mint, to Tiramisu–a bit weird. In Iran, the teas I remember were always black teas brewed to a beautiful dark amber, served with cubes of sugar and savored often.

The way the cookie crumbles. . .when it crumbles in my tea, I love it. Love to drink up those little cookie bits. Ha!

A quality black tea, maybe an Earl Grey, is where it’s at when we’re chatting about Persian tea. P.G. Tipps brand works for me, but even good ol’ Lipton will do the trick.

About the only bad memory I have about tea is the time in Iran when I knocked over my uncle’s tea cup and got a blister on my foot. Whoops! That taught me a valuable lesson: awareness of hot beverages!

Today’s tea is super simple. You just brew the black tea of your choice, and add in a few chunks of fresh peeled ginger, a cinnamon stick or two, cardamom pods, and a shake of rose or orange blossom water. That’s it.

Afternoon delight!

If you’re hot where you are now and want a cool tea option, try my Persian Iced tea with a Rose Water and Cardamom Infusion, which was featured on Saveur Magazine’s “Best of the Web” a few months back. For now, the hot pot:

Warming Winter Spiced Tea

Brew black tea of your choice according to package instructions. For each cup of tea, add in the following:

  • A chunk of fresh, peeled ginger
  • A cinnamon stick
  • Up to 3 cardamom pods
  • A splash of either rose water or orange blossom water

Serve with cookies (or “biscuits”) of your choice, and enjoy.

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I almost always have lemons on hand at home. I feel sort of lost without them. Photo courtesy of stock.xchng.

When a dish is quick, easy, and healthy, what’s not to love? I threw this chicken dish together with ingredients I had on hand one recent cold day: boneless, skinless chicken thighs, lemons, pre-sliced mushrooms, zatar, and scallions. It was comforting, flavorful, and simple to make. I’ll be making it again!

I call it “Lazy” because that was how I was feeling that day: lazy, but in need of a home-cooked meal nonetheless.  In the true spirit of laziness, I snapped a pic of the final recipe with my Blackberry, but then didn’t bother to upload it. Oh well, I forgive myself. I hope you can find in it your hearts to forgive me too 😉

I'm so into mushrooms. Even the plainest, most basic mushrooms have such a beautiful flavor. Photo courtesy of stock.xchng.

Time saving tip: While your chicken is cooking, you could make your starch and/or salad/veggie side. What I did this time was make a couple of portions of this brown rice couscous to go with the meal. I had some pre-made tabouli on hand, so with a little fresh dressing of lemon and olive oil,  the tabouli served as the vegetable side.  The dusting of za’atar herbs on top of the finished dish gives the chicken and ‘shrooms a subtle herbal finish.

Lazy Lemon Mushroom Chicken with Za’atar

Ingredients

Time: Start to Finish, 30 Minutes

  • Olive oil
  • 1 to 2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 1 Lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • Scallions, sliced (use kitchen scissors to slice them)
  • Zatar for garnish (optional, even though the ingredient is in the title 😉 )

Directions

1. In a saucepan or Dutch oven, warm up to a tablespoon of the the olive oil over a medium low flame. When the oil is shiny, add in the sliced mushrooms.

2. As the mushrooms cook, make a quick marinade for the chicken. In a ceramic or plastic bowl, toss in a few splashes of olive oil, the zest and juice of the lemon, and salt and pepper to your taste. Add the chicken, turning to coat well. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes as mushrooms cook.

3. As the chicken marinates, turn the mushrooms; let them cook on the other side for 3-5 minutes.

4. Remove mushrooms and set aside.  Add chicken to pan, pouring in about half of the marinade. Discard the rest of the marinade. Cook chicken thighs on one side on medium heat, browning, for 3-4 minutes.  Flip the thighs and cook on the other side, about 3 minutes more.

5. As the chicken browns on the second side, add in the scallions. Cook for another minute, then add in about half a cup of water. Add in the mushrooms. Cover and reduce heat to low. Let the liquid reduce by about half, about 5 minutes more of cook time.

6. Taste the sauce and add salt and/or pepper if needed.

7. Sprinkle with zatar as a garnish. Serve with side dishes of your choice and enjoy.

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Mission (black) figs make an excellent jam when cooked with warming spices such as cardamom and cinnamon.

Canning and preserving has always both scared and fascinated me. On the one hand, it seems so practical, nourishing, and creative. It conjures up images of pantries full of summer’s bounty that can be enjoyed on cold, snowy nights.

On the other hand, it strikes me as highly technical and like there’s all sorts of specialized gear involved. I am sooooo not a technical person. I’m the type of person business concepts like Geek Squad are created for!

There’s something so primordial and elemental about fig leaves.

Luckily, jam and preserve-making needn’t be complicated. Rooting around online, I recently discovered that a quick fruit jam can be made on the stovetop, and stored in the fridge for a couple of months. Taste of Beirut featured a wonderful fig jam recently. Inspired, I chose figs as my fruit of choice for my first preserve making experiment. This beautiful fruit brings back wonderful memories of a fig tree we had at one point growing up. More on that in a moment.

I added in some vanilla extract and warm fall spices to give the figs a autumnal fragrance and taste, and am happy to report that the results were quite delicious!

The way the figs just soaked up the spices so well got me thinking about how versatile they are in general. For example, figs get shout-outs from numerous world religions :

  • Figs are the fruit that’s mentioned most in the Bible – They are prolific in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament Jesus uses figs in his parables.
  • Zamakkhschari, an Arabian interpreter of the Koran, reported that Mohammed said, “If I could wish a fruit brought to paradise it would certainly be the fig.”

  • While sitting under a fig tree, Siddhartha Gautama had the revelation that formed the foundations of Buddhism, and for Buddhists, the fig tree is revered as the tree of wisdom.
  • In the Hindu tradition, Siva, the Supreme Being, tempts Brahma with a blossom of the sacred fig-tree, dropped from heaven.
  • The Roman Bacchic cult used figs in their fertility rituals. Most ancient cultures actually believed they were an aphrodisiac.
  • The above factoids are all found at:  http://www.nutrafig.com/cheetahbar/story.html

Concentrating on this blog. Notice the big hair. Like they say down South, “The higher the hair, the closer to God.”

Back to that long-ago fig tree in the yard. My mom used to preserve figs off of that tree in the traditional manner every spring and summer. Those preserves were delicious, and one day I plan to get Mom to teach me how how to make them. Then I can store them in jars for cold winter’s nights and give jars of jam away as gifts. A taste of summer will only be a jar away.  For now, I’ll settle for quick preserves. Which, judging by this recipe, isn’t actually settling at all.

Mission Fig Jam with Warm Fall Spices

I used fresh Mission figs because they were what was available. Use the fresh fig type you have ready access to.

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds fresh figs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar (I mixed white sugar and brown sugar, approximately equal parts of each)
  • 1 or 2 Tablespoons pumpkin or apple pie spice powder
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • Enough water to cover the fresh figs (start with a cup and work up from there if needed)

Directions

1. Wash figs. Mix sugar, water, vanilla extract, and spices together. Submerge the figs into this mixture, adding more water if more is needed to just barely cover the top of the figs.  Let the figs sit overnight, up to 24 hours. (It might be okay to let them sit longer than 24 hours, but I’d be careful, because the sugar will start to soften the fruit and break it down).

2. When you’re ready to make the jam, place the contents of the bowl, including any unmelted sugar, into a non-reactive Dutch oven (like a Le Creuset). Add in the lemon juice and simmer on low until a froth forms on top.

3.Gently stir and allow to simmer 45 minutes to one hour over a very low flame.

4. Test a fig for doneness. Enjoy some right away, because they’re seriously good warm,  but then let the rest cool and store in an airtight jar in the fridge.

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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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Several people have sent this link to me. Thanks for thinking of me, guys. I can relate to a lot, though not all, of what writer Porochista Khakpour relates in this thought-provoking New York Times piece:

“My Nine Years as a Middle-Eastern American”

When she gets to the part about debating people on blog comment pages and on Facebook, I have to laugh. Not at her, but at myself. I generally avoid commenting on political matters and lurking on political forums a lot precisely because I get so angry. The stupid, it really HURTS sometimes.

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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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