Posts Tagged ‘appetizers’

Double Cabbage Salad travels well and is so satisfyingly crunchy! This pic shows the salad naked, but it travels well when dressed. Love that.

I love salads. Yes, I’m quite aware that some people might not believe me when I say this. That’s understandable. In too many instances, salads are a lame side dish or something to be “gotten through” en route to the main meal.

Let’s take a moment, though, to open our minds to the possibilities. Salads can be so creative, so colorful, and satisfying enough to serve as a meal. Plus, they’re so energizing–full of vegetables and whatever other goodies your imagination can invite to the party. I eat a large salad for lunch several times a week. I do this for many reasons–it’s healthy, filling, and, assuming it’s the right kind of salad, the meal can be made ahead and travel well.

Yes, salads can travel well. Today’s salad, for instance, travels like a real champ. With the right kind of container, you can take the Double Cabbage Salad on the road already dressed. In fact, the cabbages are so sturdy that they hold up well to dressing, and even taste better after having soaked in the dressing for awhile. It’s like a bit of marination on-the-go.

Get creative with the ingredients and toppings for this salad. I love to chop up an avocado right before serving and top the salad with it.

My Yoga amiga Renee inspired this dish. She brought her own cabbage salad to a raw food dinner party some mutual friends threw recently. We all raved at the crunch and amazing taste. Once home, I created my own spin on this salad.

Today’s recipe is deliberately imprecise. Feel free to get creative with the ingredients. I sure do! Every time I make this salad, it’s a bit different. Today, for instance, I was out of celery, so I left it out. But I did have red bell pepper on hand, so I tossed in a few pieces for a sweet flavor and gorgeous color. Ok, here we go with a basic template for a Double Cabbage Salad. Feel free, by the way, to post your ideas on what  you’d add in the comments section.

Double Cabbage Salad With Tahini Lemon Garlic Dressing

For the Salad:

Equal parts chopped savoy and purple cabbage

1/2 small onion, finely diced

1/2 bell pepper, chopped

1/4 cup walnuts (toasting optional)

Few tablespoons chopped herbs of choice (the salad pictured uses cilantro, parsley)

Optional topping ideas: Avocado chunks (right before serving!), tempeh, fava beans or chickpeas.

Salt and pepper to taste


1. In a large bowl, toss all ingredients together. Season to taste with salt and pepper, if desired.

2. Dress with dressing of choice. Cover tightly to store.

For the Tahini Lemon Garlic Dressing

1/4 cup tahini sauce (if you don’t have, try a nut butter like almond butter)

Juice of one lemon

2 garlic cloves

Salt and pepper to taste

Filtered water to thin dressing if needed.

Directions: Blend all ingredients together in a blender, adding filtered water as needed to thin dressing to desired consistency.  Store dressing or use immediately on top of salad of choice.


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In my memories, halva looked like this, and tasted amazing--like a milder, drier peanut butter with a warm sweetness. I've since learned that there are many flavors and styles of halva. All delicious, I'm sure! Photo courtesy of http://de.academic.ru

One of my Yoga students and I were talking recently about found objects. He was rocking a sweater that he’d lost for two years. He’d come across it recently, buried deep in a closet. He was slightly thrilled to have pulled it from the abyss. It was there waiting for him all along, it seemed, even though he’d long ago written it off as lost.

“Finding something like that is kind of like finding an old friend, isn’t it?,” I asked. He agreed.

The same concept can certainly apply to food, I think. One of my most precious lost-then-found foods? Halva.

Years ago, as a kid visiting family in Iran, I remember eating this pasty, thick, energizing treat with breakfast. As a kid with not too many culinary points of reference, I remember it reminded me of a mild peanut butter, with a drier texture. One of the many things I liked about it, even then, is the way it was sweet, but not too sweet.

Turns out I was right–it was indeed a nut butter, and one that was sweetened, but not aggressively so. Well, technically, the one I remember was a seed butter. Of sesame seeds in particular. . .But let me not get ahead of myself.

The type of halva I remember from childhood was made from a sesame see base. In Arabic, it's called halawa. It's all based on an Arabic root word, halwa, that means sweet.

Many years passed, and I sometimes was reminded of that amazing food, but never thought to ask anyone what it was, or even where I could find it. I’d only had it a few times, but I’d find myself missing it from time to time. But halva was somehow locked away in a time warp, a part of my past I’d allowed to slip away.

More time passed, and one day, after moving to New York, a friend casually shared some with me. At first, I didn’t think it could possibly be the treat I’d enjoyed so many years ago at my aunt and uncle’s house, eating a breakfast spread out on a tablecloth on the floor, surrounded by cups of steaming tea and chattering  family and love.

But it was. “What is this stuff called?,” I asked. Because you see, I’d never known its name.

Halva,” he replied.

Pistachios are one of many types of nuts that can dress up halva.

Memory has a funny way of distorting things. It’s easy to idealize or demonize the past. In the many times I’d wondered about  halva, I’d also thought, in the very next moment, that there was no way it could possibly be  as delectable as I remembered.

I was so, so wrong. It was even better than I remembered.

Ok guys, don’t laugh. I have to admit that tears sprang to my eyes when I ate that first bite of halva after so many years. It was like being reunited with a long lost friend. With a past that still lives in my heart and with the family I haven’t seen in so very long. With my childhood memories. Unbelievable.

The fact that I could walk down memory lane via halva? Kinda crazy, I know. That I can walk to a nearby store and actually buy this stuff still boggles my mind. For that reason, I don’t eat it all the time. It seems too precious for that, somehow. So I buy it occasionally, and really savor every rich, dreamy bite.

I suppose I could learn how to make it, but I haven’ t yet bothered. I’ve since learned that one could have an entire department store devoted to halva. The kind I had was only one of many versions. There are flour and semolina-based versions. There are halvas based on lentils and even vegetables like pumpkin.  Every country and region and probably even province from Greece to Afghanistan seems to have its own take on halva, with the spelling variations to match 😉 . Which is wonderful, and I hope to try as many as possible.

For now, though, I’m content with the minor miracle of having halva back in my life in the first place. And yes, I sometimes even still tear up a bit at that first bite. Which I suppose is somehow appropriate–Only as an adult did I learn that halva is a traditional food at funerals in Iran. Passing into the next life with something sweet, nourishing, and light for those left behind to enjoy? There could be worse things, I suppose.

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Zatar. Not many of my friends have heard of this wonderful stuff, so I often serve it as an app at dinner parties to spread the good word. So what is it?

It’s generally a mixture of toasted sesame seeds. . .

Sesame seeds.

. . .and very finely ground dried herbs and spices.

Herbs in their dried and finely ground form are another key ingredient in zatar.

There are probably as many iterations of zatar as their are towns in the Middle East. (For that matter, there are several different ways to spell it: zatar, zahtar, zaa’tar, and so on). Herbs like thyme, oregano, sage, and rosemary, to name but a few, can find their way into the mix.

The most fun place to buy zatar? In my opinion, it’s at the spice market or a specialty foods store with spice bins. You can find it online, of course. But as for spice markets, here’s a pic of one in Istanbul:

A spice market in Istanbul. Not Constantinople 😉

So here’s the lore on zatar. It’s filling, but won’t weigh you down. (Wow, that sounds kinda beer-ad-sloganesque!) Students often eat it before exams for energy and alterness. It’s cleansing and aids digestion, which is why some people swear by it as a weight loss aid. It can help you out if you’re feeling unwell. (Again, the whole cleansing thing).

There are many ways one can use zatar. For example, a popular way to enjoy it is as a topping on warm pita. I like to sprinkle it on salads and roasted vegetables. Most often, though, I make a quick zatar dip. It’s simple.

Zatar, just before I chopped and added a clove of fresh garlic to the dip.

This is how I make the dip: I pour some zatar in a small, shallow bowl. I pour olive oil on top of the zatar, and mix well. Then I put fresh pieces of chopped garlic bits on top. Yes, I eat raw garlic sometimes. I happen to really love it. Don’t knock it–it’s a very good immune system boost. Just make sure to enjoy it with like-minded people. Or alone!

Call this dip a triple threat: I’ve eaten this dip as an appetizer, as part of brunch or breakfast, or alone for dinner. Well, not completely alone–with some pita for dipping.

Some people like the dip more oily, and less pasty. My personal preference is to let the zatar stand out, while the olive oil binds it all together. Otherwise, you have an olive oil dip flavored with zatar, not a zatar dip with some olive oil. Of course, adjust the thickness of the dip to your preference. If you end up with too much oil, add more zatar. If you end up with too much zatar, simply add more oil.

One very important note: Many zatar mixes are pre-salted, so keep this in mind if you’re adding it to recipes.

Have fun! Feel free to share some of your zatar uses with me in the comments.

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Persians love dried fruit and nuts.Dried fruit and nuts are the basis for most trail mixes. Ergo, thought yours truly, there ought to be a Persian Trail Mix.

The vibrant flavors always taste festive to me, reminding me of socializing with family and friends, snacking as we chatted and sipped chai. It’s kind of the best of East meets West. Take the unhurried pastime of chilling with friends and fam over snacks and tea, and marry it with the nutritious and portable reality of trail mix, and voila! A snack that feels both luxurious and smart.

Plus, trail mix is a healthy and satisfying snack that can be enjoyed on the go. I personally love it. It’s not too sweet, perfectly crunchy, and a bit salty, too.  It’s ridiculously easy to put together. No cooking needed! So onward, to gather ingredients. . .

While in L.A., my friend Nedarah and I hit Larry’s Produce. I find visiting local markets when I’m traveling fascinating. It gives you a bit of insight into where you are, and the culinary culture of that particular place.

Larry's Market SoCal

Larry's Market field trip time!

As for Larry’s, it’s a well-known market run by Persians, and specializing in all manner of Persian goodies, plus other great foodstuffs popular in the Middle East. The prices and quality of their products, by the way, are excellent.

Which brings up an important point: Don’t let the fact that a market is “specialty” food you. Explore. Specialty markets often have hard-to-find items at hard-to-beat prices. And so it was with Larry’s.

A bit about Nedarah. She’s an amazingly talented R&B singer. Don’t let her petite stature full you. This young lady has a big, beautiful voice and a healthy appetite. You’d never guess either just by looking at her. She’s as much of a foodie as I am, if not more so! She’s also an excellent cook and a lot of fun to hang out with.

Dried fruits and nuts at Larry's.

Rows upon rows of dried fruits and nuts at Larry's. Lovely 🙂 They were cool with Nedarah and I sampling a bit of everything. Yay!

So we hit the market, and I went to town buying fresh fruits and veggies for the rest of my stay with Nedarah and company. For the road, I bought some dried fruits, nuts and seeds for my very own Persian trail mix.

Like any trail mix, there are many variations. This one just happens to have a Persian flair, thanks to the addition of dried cherries, Persian pistachios (the world’s best) and dried mulberries (toot, as they say in both Arabic and Persian).

No measuring is needed for this recipe. I’d say to make the ratio about 3 to 1. As in three parts nuts and seeds to one part sweet dried fruits. Experiment. Find a mix that works for you. Here’s what’s in my mix:

Bria’s Persian Trail Mix

Handful of cashews

Handful of walnut halves or pieces

Handful of dried chickpeas

Handful of toasted squash seeds (sunflower seeds could also work)

Handful of almonds

Small handful of dried cherries

Small handful of plump golden and black raisins

Small handful of dried mulberries

Sprinkling of high-quality pistachios. Leave the shells on for presentation, but make sure to remove shells before eating.

Mix all ingredients together. Store in an airtight container or put in a pretty bowl to enjoy with friends and family.

Persian Trail Mix

Persian Trail Mix. So easy to put together. Plus, it's pretty and portable, too.

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The weather is cooling down where I live, and when this happens, I generally prefer that my food have a nice roasty and toasty flavor. Which makes now the perfect time to post the other version of muhamarra dip–the much-loved red bell pepper, walnut, and pomegranate dip popular throughout many countries of the Middle East.

In a previous post we explored the taste of Raw Muhammara by making the dip with all raw ingredients–bell peppers, garlic, walnuts, and so on. The raw version looks something like this:

Raw muhammara dip

Raw Muhammara dip has a lighter color than the cooked version of the dip. Both are beautiful!

For today’s version, you can roast your own bell peppers (not the best idea if you have, as I do, a tendency to walk away from the stove in an effort to multi-task). Or you can grab some jarred roasted bell peppers. Just make sure to rinse them well before using, and leave any brand that includes corn syrup in its ingredient list on the shelf. Here’s the jar I currently have on hand:

Roasted jarred bell peppers.

If roasting bell peppers by hand isn't your thing, pick up a jar at the store. Make sure to rinse well before using.

I’ve also included an optional ingredient that can really boost the smokey flavor of the dip. Personally, I like a smokey flavor in this dip. It reminds me of evenings in front of the fireplace when I was growing up. The ingredient? Liquid smoke. It’s pretty cool. Or should I say, warm? The brand I prefer is, and I quote

all-natural. . .Vegan, contains no animal byproducts, and is gluten free.

How do they make it?

Colgin Liquid Smoke is not a chemical or synthetic flavor – but genuine wood smoke “liquefied.” The wood is placed in large retorts where intense heat is applied, causing the wood to smolder (not burn).

I swear this isn’t a shameless product endorsement. The folks at Colgin haven’t greased my palm for mentioning their product. Here’s what it looks like.

Yummy liquid smoke.

Liquid smoke. All natural, believe it or not! A little of this goes a long way, so one bottle will last quite awhile.

For the record, there are many other great brands of liquid smoke on store shelves. It varies from region to region. Look on the aisle of your local store where spices and extracts are sold.

Now for the recipe.

Muhamarra Dip–Lightly Cooked Version

3-4 Large pre-roasted bell peppers (from a jar), rinsed thoroughly

11/2 Cups walnuts pieces or halves. Unsalted is best.

2-3 Tablespoons freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, or paste or molasses

2-3 garlic cloves

1 Tablespoon of fresh lemon juice

1/2 Teaspoon of ground cumin

Pinch of salt (to taste)

Drizzle of olive oil (a Tablespoon or two)

Dash of Liquid Smoke (optional)


Lightly toast the nuts and the whole garlic cloves on the stovetop in a skillet over medium low. Turn the nuts and garlic frequently so they don’t burn on one side. When their color deepens and the nutty fragrance begins to come through, they’re ready. Remove them from heat immediately.

Or, alternatively:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit.

Spread walnuts and the garlic cloves  in a single layer on a baking sheet, and toast until lightly browned and fragrant. (The scent will tell you when they’re ready). To be on the safe side and avoid burning, you can set a timer for 5 minutes and check them, turning them at this time.

Optional step for an extra smokey flavor–mix in the ground cumin and toast for 30 seconds before removing the skillet from the heat or the pan from the oven.

Add all ingredients to a blender, and blend until smooth and silky. Adjust seasoning, lemon, and olive oil to taste.  Re-blend if needed. That’s it!

The dip will thicken if refrigerated. Serve with pita bread and/or raw or roasted veggies.

NOTE: You might be tempted to add more liquid to get the ingredients to meld and blend. If you choose to do so, just go very slowly. You can always add more liquid, but it’s hard to get the dip to thicken up if it’s become too watery. Hey now–Don’t toss it if you find it too watery. Give it a chance to thicken up in the fridge. Or use it as a sauce, sandwich spread, and/or salad dressing.


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I love dips. They’re such fun. Great for sharing, great for eating alone. And hey, eating them alone means it’s okay to double dip! They’re wonderful for an energizing and tasty snack and perfect as part of a meal. Sometimes the ingredients that make up a dip are truly beautiful together. Separate them, and perhaps they’re lovely in their own way. Maybe. . .

Today we’re making a Raw Muhamarra dip recipe. (More on that later). First, confession time: I’m generally not a huge fan of one of today’s dip’s main ingredient. Bell peppers.

Beautiful, but not always my fave

Beautiful, but not always my fave

To me, their flavor tends to dominate a dish. If I order a veggie pizza or a salad, for example, I’ll ask them to leave bell pepps out of the mix if at all possible.  Even bell peppers that aren’t organically grown seem to have that dominating taste fully intact.

So why then, do I love them so much in today’s dip, Muhammara? Maybe because they marry so well with fresh walnuts, pomegranate, and a dash of cumin. Perhaps the other ingredients bring out the best in the peppers, and maybe even vice versa. What can I say? Life is full of mysteries, no?

An aside. It’s funny to think of how strong that bell pepper flavor can be, especially when you consider how other garden goodies often lose their taste completely when they’re mass-produced. True story: Until visiting Syria, I was under the impression that I hated apricots. To me, they were flavorless, mealy, and bland. A total waste of time! A season of locally grown Syrian apricots disabused me of that notion. They were similar in texture to a ripe peach or nectarine, and so fragrant and juicy! But back stateside, such tender and tasty apricots are nearly impossible to find, at least in my experience.

So this is my convoluted way of saying: Bell peppers must be pretty darn strong to resist the forces of mass production. Other produce isn’t so lucky. Paging tomatoes and store-bought apples!

The one place where I truly LOVE bell peppers is in Muhammara dip. Today’s version looks something like this. Google around, and you’ll see that some recipes are darker in color.

Muhammara dip. A great use of bell peppers.

Muhammara dip. A great use of bell peppers.

This dip is a staple in countires like Syria, Lebanon, Jordan. Here’s my recipe for a fully raw Muhamarra dip. I’ll post the (lightly) cooked version soon, so that you can compare and decide which one you like best. For the record, this dip makes a fantastic salad dressing when thinned out with a bit of water.

Bonus: Bell peppers are in season now, and I got mine from the farmer’s market. They were so sweet and almost too beautiful to eat!

Raw Muhamarra Dip

3 Cups red bell pepper chunks (usually from about 2 large peppers, or 4 smaller ones)

11/2 Cups raw walnuts

2-3 Tablespoons freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, or paste or molasses (if using the paste or a store-bought, jarred pom juice, it’s not strictly raw, just FYI)

2-3 garlic cloves

1 Tablespoon of fresh lemon juice

1/2 Teaspoon of ground cumin

Pinch of salt (to taste)

Drizzle of olive oil (a Tablespoon or two)

Instructions: Add all ingredients to a blender, and blend until smooth and silky. Adjust seasoning, lemon, and olive oil to taste.  Re-blend if needed. That’s it!

The dip will thicken if refrigerated. Serve with raw veggies. Slices of fresh zucchini are my favorite.

NOTE: You might be tempted to add more liquid to get the ingredients to meld and blend. If you choose to do so, just go very slowly. You can always add more liquid, but it’s hard to get the dip to thicken up if it’s become too watery. Hey now–Don’t toss it if you find it too watery. Give it a chance to thicken up in the fridge. Or use it as a sauce, sandwich spread, and/or salad dressing.


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