Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

This winter has been rough on me, and I’m sure it’s been tough for a lot of you too.  I check the weather on my phone and see no hope for days.  Temperatures lingering well below freezing seem to be the norm now.  Of course, there are snippets of beauty amongst this snow and ice.  Scenes that would rival any tropical paradise in their splendor.

IMG_5166

On the positive side, I do love me some winter fashion.  I love chunky knits, boots, pom-pom hats, and huge scarves wrapped around a thousand times. I’ve gotten to wear crimson and berry-toned lip colors, which look out-of-place in the warmer months.  I have also been loving  goth-inspired nail polishes - very moody and a far cry from the fuchsias and tangerine reds I wear in the summer.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

There have also been cozy times I get to share with my husband.  Him and I exploring the city and finding a new café.  I will get a latte and he will get a hot chocolate because he has an abhorrence that stems from childhood towards coffee.  We’ll share a cookie or a croissant or both and discuss things in the world that we don’t understand or can’t wrap our heads around, future vacations we want to take, or whatever may come up.

We’ll also laze around at home more often on the weekends.  In the summer I like to be out and about.  This winter I’m enjoying staying in more. Usually I’m the type of person who gets in a very bad mood if we don’t have weekend plans.  But this winter I’ve been happy to stay-in on a Friday night and cook a nice dinner for just the two of us.  Of course friends are always welcome, but rather than going out, sometimes it’s nice to stay snug and comfortable at home.  When Sunday morning comes around I’m also skipping the usual restaurant brunches and opting for an omelet or pancakes or French toast at home.  I’m not big on sweets for breakfast, but sometimes a nice french toast satisfies like nothing else.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

When making French toast I don’t really measure anything out.  It’s an effortless dish that will come together if you have the basic ingredients.  That’s why I love making it.  I paired it here with ruby-toned fruits: blood oranges, pomegranates, and raspberries.  And I always use cinnamon and vanilla in my french toast.  You can add other spices like cardamom or ground cloves.  But the combination of cinnamon and vanilla is my favorite and will make your whole kitchen smell very welcoming.

Processed with VSCOcam with f1 preset

Cinnamon and Vanilla French Toast with Ruby Colored Fruits

I am providing a loose recipe here, because I really feel French toast is foolproof unless you burn it in the pan. ;)

Ingredients

oil or butter for frying

bread of your choice, sliced a little thicker than usual and day old is best.  I usually have whole wheat or sunflower toast, but brioche and challah are optimal.

eggs, use 1 egg for every 3 slices of toast

milk of your choice, use about 1 cup for every 3 slices of toast

sugar, to taste – I like to use raw sugar or sugar with larger crystals so that it caramelizes nicely on the toast.

vanilla extract or a vanilla bean scraped, start with 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon for 3 slices of toast, you can  adjust the amount according to your taste

a pinch of sea salt

an array of fruits or your choice, I used blood oranges, pomegranates, and raspberries. (fruit combination inspired by @thedelicious on instagram)

chopped nuts, for serving (optional)

to serve: whipped cream or sour cream or crème fraîche or yogurt, orange zest, cinnamon, and pure maple syrup

Method

Beat eggs with milk, add in sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and a pinch of salt in a wide rectangular dish.  Soak the bread until the egg custard is absorbed on each side.

Heat a large frying pan with oil or butter on medium heat.  Add the soaked toast pieces in the pan.  Cook for about 2-3 minutes per side or until golden.  Top with the blood oranges, pomegranates, raspberries, nuts, and other topping of your choice.

IMG_2793

I am a clean freak.  Honestly, I have a problem.  I cannot tolerate any dishes in the sink, any sort of mess.  I get grossed out way too easily.  It’s funny because as I’m getting older the less tolerance I have for uncleanliness.  The reason I mention this is because it is getting increasingly difficult for me to eat street food.  My husband and I went to Thailand and I couldn’t bring myself to eat ANY of the street food.  I look at photos of Thai street food and it looks so delicious.  But in the moment I failed myself!  This is such a pity because I love street food and hole in the wall places wherever they are in the world (as long as they are clean).

IMG_2715

IMG_2808

In Toronto we have a small section of the city called Little India.  I have not been too much, because Pakistani or Indian food is something I can eat at home.  But there is a whole experience to going and sitting on a plastic chair or a picnic table and eating foods like papri chaat, gol guppay, tikkas, and naan.  My husband and I ventured to Little India to get some chaat a few years ago and I really think we went on a bad day because the places we found were not very good.  I’ve heard good things from friends about some places there so I don’t want to be a meanie and bash any place in particular.  :)

IMG_2723

IMG_2765

After that trip, I decided to make chaat at home.  The ingredients are readily available and it’s actually quite easy to make.  I’ve also made chaat at my inlaws’ house many times when they have guests over and not to boast, but it’s always a hit. I like to make it fresh (otherwise it gets soggy) so I make it in batches and people have no patience to wait for me to finish the next tray of chaat.  While I am making a new batch they start reaching into the serving dish.  In situations like this I just zip my lips. But despite this slight annoyance I should take this as a compliment.  My chaat is just THAT delicious.  ;)

IMG_2804Papri Chaat

Ingredients

(this is a loose recipe and can be adapted to your taste)

Papri (can be found in South Asian grocery stores)

Bhel Puri (can be found in South Asian grocery stores)

1 cup cooked chickpeas

boiled potato, peeled and cut into small cubes, about 1 cup

Tamarind Chutney*

Green Chutney**

Yogurt***

Chaat Masala (can be found in South Asian grocery stores)

chopped red onions

chopped tomatoes, optional

chopped green chilies

chopped cilantro

chopped mint, optional

Method

*Tamarind Chutney is made by heating 3/4 cup of tamarind pulp, 6 pitted Medjool dates, 2 tablespoons chaat masala, 1/2 teaspoon cumin powder, 1 teaspoon red chilli powder (or to taste), 3/4 teaspoon, 1/4 cup sugar on medium heat for 15 minutes and then reducing the heat to low for 45 minutes.  Allow it to cool and then blend in a blender until the consistency is smooth.  Serve chilled.

**Green Chutney is made by placing 1 cup cilantro leaves and stems, 15 mint leaves, 1 long green chilli, 2 tablespoons water, salt, and black pepper in a blender until very finely chopped.  This should resemble a pesto.

***For the Yogurt, take 1 cup of plain yogurt and thin it out with 1/2 cup of water.  Add 1 teaspoon chaat masala and salt to taste.  Whisk until it looks like thick cream.

To assemble the chaat:  Place the papri (wafers) on a serving dish and top with chickpeas, potatoes, yogurt, tamarind chutney, green chutney, red onion, cilantro, chopped tomatoes, mint, green chilies, and sprinkle the dish with chaat masala.  Finally, top with some bhel puri.  It is best to serve this right away.  You can prepare everything in advance and assemble before serving.

photo(7)

Labor day weekend has just passed and I didn’t want to go back to work!  I’m sure this is a dilemma many of you are had.  I had a four-day weekend to just chill, enjoy, and of course eat yummy food.  Autumn is approaching and as much as I love it, summer is just summer.  Lots of long weekends, beautiful weather, and beautiful food.

IMG_2817IMG_2849

I’ve been cooking lots this summer, not as many desserts or baking as much as I wanted to, but that’s ok – fall is for baking cozy and comforting desserts.  Plus, technically summer isn’t even over yet!  That is why I wanted to share this Lime Curd Tart with Mangoes with all of you.  It oozes summer and bright flavors.

IMG_2857

I’ve always been inspired by beautifully arranged fruit tarts.  Mine always look a little homemade and don’t have that professional touch, but that’s okay!  We will leave the immaculate and perfect tarts for the pros.  I’ve made citrus curd tarts many times, but I never put so much effort and precision into arranging the fruit as I did for this one. I wanted it to look like a blossom.  Let me tell you, it was tedious work, the fifteen minutes or so I took arranging the mangoes (never mind the thinly slicing part) seemed to take forever.  But when it was done my blossom bloomed to the best of my ability.

IMG_2883IMG_2884

My in-laws came over that night after a delicious Thai meal.  I was glad they did because it would be me and a fork tackling this dessert if they hadn’t come over.  I was happy when people asked for seconds.  I think they also enjoyed this tart because it was cooling and refreshing after our spicy Thai meal.

IMG_2894

Take that extra effort and add a few edible flowers on top as well and this tart will bring a smile to people’s faces and on the plus side it feels so light that they will ask for seconds and maybe even thirds!

IMG_2897

Lime Curd Tart with Mangoes

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

1 recipe of this lime curd ( you can you key limes or regular limes and also chill it for several hours)

5-6 mangoes, sliced thinly*

1 graham cracker crust (I used my cheesecake recipe crust, but substituted graham crackers here instead of amaretti cookies and baked it for 20 minutes)

1 1/2 cup heavy cream whipped in a mixer with 1/4 cup sugar and the seeds of one vanilla bean

edible flowers, for garnish, optional

lime zest, for garnish, optional

Assembly

Allow the graham cracker crust to cool for 1 hour after it has baked and leave it in the spring-form pan.  Once cooled, spread the chilled lime curd over the crust in an even layer.  After that, use a spatula to spread the whipped cream over the lime curd in an even layer.  Top with the mango slices starting row by row from the outside of the tart, slightly overlapping each layer, as to form a blossom.  Complete each layer row by row until you reach the center.  In the center you can made a mango rosette, if you would like.  If you do not care to be finicky arrange the mangoes however you like.   Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

When serving, top with lemon zest and edible flowers.  Serve chilled.

*The slicing of the mangoes is a little tricky.  Cut the mango along the seed lengthwise on all sides.  Then take those mango slices and lay them flat on a cutting board and slice thinly.  The slices should resemble long half-moons.

IMG_2589

Sometimes cooking becomes the daily grind.  You have no creativity and don’t feel like cooking very much.  I was in that place for a little while, a funk, if you will.  I think we all go through phases like this.  I was cooking dinner and just getting by and not expanding my culinary repertoire much.  And then one day I just felt upset, upset that I’ve let something go that I’m so passionate about.

IMG_2541

IMG_2553

I thought to myself, I used to go to the Farmers’ Market every Saturday and get inspired, I used to think of how I could start something with food.  I felt sad and felt as though I let myself down.  Why must I doubt myself — why must I get into these phases where I am uninspired?  I’m sure this happens to everyone.  I’m sure I’m not alone in this.  Something that helped me get out of this strange aura I was living in, in regard to cooking was that  my friend Christy asked me to participate in a program/class she is involved with on the first 3 Thursdays of every month called the ELLICSR Kitchen.  This is a remarkable program that works with cancer survivors and patients and introduces them to healing, holistic nutrition.

IMG_2558

IMG_2578

When Christy asked me to participate I felt a little apprehensive and scared.  I didn’t know how I could speak ON CAMERA.  When I got there I felt much better – the environment was so warm and friendly and I was a little more at ease (still nervous, though!).  Christy Brissette is a Registered Dietician and Nutritionist who explains nutritional components to dishes and Chef Geremy Capone is a wellness chef who expertly prepares all the dishes.  They chose two dishes from my blog and one new dish I created for the workshop and we prepared them together and I shared a little about myself.  Once I got going I was comfortable and I don’t think I fumbled!  The best part was interacting with the lovely audience.  They were so eager to learn and gave me to positive reinforcement I needed.

IMG_2597

IMG_2684

I remember one older lady in particular.  She is living in the hospital and wheelchair bound. She is a regular at the ELLICSR kitchen.  She was the the first to arrive so she could get a prized front-row seat.  She is from India and was excited to talk about the spices we had on display. We made a Potato Radish Salad with a Tarka and she throughly enjoyed it because as she explained to me, she loves raw vegetables over cooked ones.  I’m sure she is over 80 years old and she told me about when she was a child in India.  She would accompany her mother weekly to the fruit and vegetable vendors – she would wait all week for this outing.  She loved all the fresh vegetables and would be in awe of all the activity in the market.  There were other mothers and their children at the market, she told me.  They didn’t seem to enjoy the experience as much as she did.  She plucked fresh peas from the overflowing baskets and ate them raw.  She laughed when she said, “my mother used to call me a goat because I loved to graze on green vegetables like a goat and that I was definitely a goat in my previous life.”  I was amazed at how her memory was so vivid.  She talked about her mother as if she was still a child.  She took my email and told me when she goes home she will get in touch with me.  I hope I hear from her soon.

IMG_2660

Since that day, I decided I wanted to reach out more and hear more stories like this.  We all have something to share and we all have memories that will last for decades and need to passed on.  Just lend an ear and give someone some time and without expectation you can gain invaluable insight.

Back into the kitchen I went.  Cooking more and eating out less.  I recently started to make ricotta cheese at home.  So easy and so good.  I made this pasta because these are flavors I love – sweet corn, fruity red chilies, fresh basil, and creamy ricotta.  It’s summer on a plate and the sunshine colors make it all the more appealing.  Share it with friends or family and learn something new about each other.

Some quickly shot photos from the ELLICSR Kitchen Event:

Image-2

Image

Image-1

Sweet Corn, Red Chili Linguine with Fresh Ricotta and Basil

Serves 4

Ingredients

linguine, or pasta of your choice

olive oil

sea salt

4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly

3 mild red chilies, chopped

1/2 teaspoon crushed red chilies (red chili flakes), optional

2 cups fresh shucked corn, or frozen kernels

fresh ricotta, for serving I used this recipe.

fresh basil leaves in a chiffonade

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

2-3 tablespoons heavy cream

Method

In a large sauté pan heat about 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil on medium-low heat.  Add in the sliced garlic and the fresh red chilies.  Allow them to caramelize and almost confit for about 15 minutes.  Meanwhile cook the linguine according to the package instructions and reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid.  Add in the crushed red chilies with the garlic and red chilies, if you are using.

Turn the heat up to medium and add in the corn.  Cook the corn for about 5-7 minutes.  Season with salt, to taste and add in the heavy cream and parsley.  Toss in the linguine and add 1/2 cup of pasta cooking liquid and sauté until it all comes together, about 1-2 minutes.  Add in more pasta cooking liquid, if necessary.  Serve hot and top with a dollop of fresh ricotta and the basil leaves in chiffonade.

Image

I hope everyone’s doing well – I just wanted to say that I will be at ELLICSR Kitchen on Thursday, July 11 from 12:15 pm – 1:15 pm at Toronto General Hospital (200 Elizabeth Street, Toronto, Ontario M5G 2C4 -ELLICSR Kitchen in the basement).  Chef Geremy Capone will be preparing a few of my dishes and I will speak about food blogging.  It would be great to meet anyone in Toronto and I will be back to food blogging soon!

http://ellicsr.ca/content/virtual-ellicsr/nutrition-health-wellness/kitchens-corner

IMG_2441

It finally feels like Spring is around the corner.  The days are getting longer and the sun is shining a little brighter.  I can’t wait until we’re basking in the sun of summer and eating al fresco and drinking some refreshing mint lemonade.  I felt winter was long and brutal this year.  Not much exciting went on in my kitchen.  Just cranking out dishes for the daily grind – a few moments of deliciousness, but overall I can’t recall anything very special.

IMG_2369

IMG_2373

IMG_2374

Sometimes you feel the same way about life, you get in the doldrums.  I’ve felt this way this winter so I am very excited about the onslaught of spring.  By doldrums I mean that I felt stagnant – not going anywhere – in the same place.  That is not always a bad thing, but I wanted more.  I started a new job, which is fun and interesting.  I’ve also stepped back in the kitchen a bit more.  I’m glad about that because I’m always so inspired by cooking, recipes and food.

IMG_2381

Additionally, there are times I wish my sister lived close-by.  We are quite similar and love to cook together.  I always say “if” we lived close we “could” do something together, a business or catering or anything…I need that push and support from her.  We always talk about what-ifs and never follow-through.  Sometimes you have to just take that leap.  Sometimes you weren’t meant to succeed and that’s the scary part.

IMG_2390

IMG_2398

But at the end of the day what’s important is that you have a passion for something and you can share it with your loved ones.  I consider my blog readers my loved ones and I really enjoy sharing recipes with you.  Sometimes I need a little push to get myself posting, but at the end of the day I always feel satisfied sharing a little of my kitchen with you all. :)  I wish we could have one long table dinner party and eat, talk and celebrate for no reason.  :)

IMG_2430

IMG_2442

I want to share this phyllo cigar appetizer with you all because it is really tasty!  I find it quite easy to make as well.  Phyllo can be annoying to work with, but I just keep it covered with a damp cloth and fudge any mistakes I make and it all comes together alright in the end.  It’s just food, it doesn’t have to be perfect!  I’ve made these a few times now and people always enjoy them.  I love them hot out of the oven – flakey, crunchy and savory.  If you’re bored on a weekend, make a bunch and freeze them for later.  You’ll be glad to have them on hand when a sudden hunger pang comes upon you!

IMG_2452

Feta, Dill and Red Chili Phyllo Cigars

Makes about 8 rolls

Ingredients

1/4 cup olive oil, for brushing the phyllo and 1 tablespoon for the feta mixture

1/2 a 16 ounce package of phyllo dough, thawed if frozen

6 ounces of feta cheese

2 long red chilies, chopped, seeds removed

1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped

2 scallion, white and light green parts, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

zest of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon nigella seeds

salt and black pepper, to taste

Method

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a food processor, add the feta cheese, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, red chilies, dill, scallions, lemon juice, salt and pepper and pulse a few times until everything is combined.

Each roll will require 6 sheets of phyllo, so layer 12 sheets of phyllo and brush each sheet with olive oil.  Keep the sheets stacked on top of each other and cut the sheet into four equal-sized pieces.

Next, take about a tablespoon of the feta mixture and drop it into the quartered 6 phyllo sheets.  Roll the phyllo like a thin burrito, fold the long ends over the feta mixture and roll the rest like a cigar..  Repeat with the rest of the feta mixture and the remaining 7 quarters of phyllo dough.

Place the cigars onto a cookie sheet seam side down and top brush with a little extra olive oil and top with the lemon zest and nigella seeds.  Place in the hot oven and back for about 15 minutes, or until the cigars are golden.  Serve hot.

IMG_1483

I wanted to wish everyone a belated Happy New Year.  It’s still January so it’s not *so* late.  I wanted to post this recipe up around New Year’s because it’s a nice winter dish.  Lentils are also supposed to be a lucky food for the New Year – so eat up!  Well, as far as I can see it’s still winter and spring isn’t going to make its appearance for another month or two.  It’s still freezing cold so this rice will help feel you warm, cozy and satisfied.

IMG_1435

IMG_1459

I didn’t post because I got sick.  It wasn’t the flu, just a very bad cold.  It took me about three weeks to fully recover and now I’m back to normal.  This year everyone is getting sick, or at least it seems that way to me.  Nourishing foods are the key.  Even though you don’t exactly feel like scarfing down food when you are sick – foods with chicken stock and healing spices can most certainly lift your spirits.

IMG_1609

I don’t know what to call this dish – I can’t say it’s particularly South Asian or Middle Eastern, but to be honest it doesn’t really matter.  I often make this dish as a side to chicken skewers.  I also made it in the summer for my sister and she loved it.  I love it because I always have every ingredient on hand.  I just marinate some chicken and make a nice salad and a perfect dinner is ready.

IMG_1575

IMG_1608

Even in the depths of winter and believe me when I say that this year it feels especially long, we can still enjoy our favorite foods.  As much as I love fresh summery foods, the comforting feeling you get from some cold weather foods can’t be beat.

IMG_1526

Lentil Basmati Rice with Crispy Onions

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

vegetable oil of your choice

2 cups basmati rice soaked for at least 30 minutes and then washed with water a few times until the water runs clear

1 cup lentils of your choice, here I used Puy lentils

2 small to medium-sized onions, sliced

1/2 dried cranberries

4 cloves garlic, chopped finely

1 inch piece of ginger, grated

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon ground coriander

2-3 dried red chilies

2 cloves

4 black peppercorns

1 bay leaf

1 small cinnamon stick

2 green cardamom pods

7-8 cups cups chicken stock

salt, to taste

1 lemon, zested

parsley and cilantro, or any herbs or your choice

toasted pine nuts

Method

First wash the Puy lentils and place them in a medium-sized stick pot with the chicken stock and cook on medium cook for about 30-40 minutes, or until they are cooked, but still firm, about 85% cooked.  The chicken stock should be almost entirely evaporated.

After the lentils have cooked, in a large pot on medium to medium-high heat, heat about 3-4 tablespoons of vegetable oil and add in the onions.  Cook until golden.  Take out about half the onions and set aside and reserve for garnishing.  Next, add in the garlic and ginger and let them fry for about a minute.  Add in the cumin, coriander powder, dried red chilies, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, peppercorns, cloves and salt.  Let all the spices toast and add in the lentils and dried cranberries.

Pour in 3 cups of chicken stock and bring to the boil.  Add in the washed and soaked rice and let the stock boil again.  Once the stock boils again turn the heat down to medium-low and cover.  After about 7-10 minutes the water should be evaporated and the rice should be al dente.  Turn the heat to very low and drape a paper towel or kitchen towel over the top of the pan and put the lid on and let the rice steam for 20 minutes.

Open the lid after 20 minutes and garnish with parsley, cilantro, the reserved fried onions, lemon zest, and the toasted pine nuts.  Serve with yogurt, if you like.

IMG_0766

I realized I don’t bake very much anymore.  I don’t know how this happened.  Several nights a week after dinner I scour through my cookbooks and online to find something to bake.  I always feel like eating something sweet after dinner and trying to satisfy my sweet tooth with fruit is essentially fruitless (hehe).  But after dinner I want quick satisfaction, so I head over to the cupboard and snack on a few chocolate chips.

IMG_0644

IMG_0667

IMG_0682

I want to bake marvelous cakes and pastries.  I could look at baking recipes for hours, but when it comes down to the actual execution I’m always hesitant.  I think it has something to do with me the fact that me baking always yields a tornado-like scene in my kitchen.  I have enough counter space and yet without fail I manage to make a huge mess to cleanup and that leaves me feeling bitter.  But of course if my baking project comes out as planned, I guess the tornado-scene is just the collateral damage to an otherwise successful (and delicious!) feat.

IMG_0717

IMG_0734

Back to my laziness, these vermicelli squares are a godsend for the ultimate lazy sweet satisfaction seeker like myself.  It’s an easy recipe with just a handful of ingredients and not too many bowls and most importantly — no flour dust storms in the kitchen.  It also looks like you spent hours making it, when in actuality these squares require no effort at all.  My sister-in-law makes these and I never saw them before she made them one day.  At first I thought they were some sort of baklava, but they’re just Pakistani vermicelli with sweetened condensed milk, cardamom, butter, and nuts.  When she told me the recipe, I was shocked that it wasn’t something more complicated.  Either way, it’s a win-win situation and those post-dinner sweet cravings will be thoroughly satisfied with these sticky and sweet squares.

IMG_0723

IMG_0736

IMG_0793

Sweet and Sticky Vermicelli Squares (or Diamonds!)

Makes an 8″x 8″ pan

Ingredients

4 tablespoons butter (unsalted or salted, doesn’t matter)

1 packet (about 200 grams) of Pakistani or Indian Vermicelli (found in Pakistani or Indian grocery stores)

1 (scant 2 cups) can of sweetened condensed milk

1 cup milk

2 cardamom pods, seeds removed and crushed slightly in a mortar and pestle

pinch of salt

1/2 cup crushed almonds and pistachios, you can add more or less

Method

Grease an 8″ x 8″ baking dish and line it with parchment paper.

Heat a large pot on medium heat and add the butter and allow it to almost get to the brown stage (about 2-3 minutes).  Watch the butter closely because you don’t want it to burn.  Add in the cardamom seeds.  Next, tear the vermicelli into the butter and cardamom and allow the vermicelli to toast a little.  Keep stirring until the vermicelli begins to soften.  Add in a 1 cup of milk and let the milk evaporate, stirring constantly.  Pour in the sweetened condensed milk and lower the heat to medium low.  Mix in the sweetened condensed mik, until combined and keep stirring occasionally until the vermicelli is soft, but still has a little bit of a bite to it, about 20-30 minutes.  Allow the vermicelli to cool for 5 minutes.

Next, transfer the vermicelli to the 8″ x 8″ baking dish and press it down with a spoon, so that it is evenly pressed into the baking dish.  Press in the nuts over the vermicelli and leave it at room temperature for an hour or two.  Put out the parchment paper and cut the vermicelli into squares or diamonds.  Serve at room temperature.

It was my dad’s birthday last month and my mom and sister organized a fabulous cocktail party for him.  It’s almost a month later and I’m still thinking about the spread they put together.  I wasn’t even there to taste anything, but the pictures of the food I saw have left a lasting impression. My sister and I brainstormed a menu together.  I think I can attribute that session of feeding off each other and coming up with ideas to my push to be more active on my blog again.  While we were discussing I became inspired,  I came up with some pretty good appetizer ideas if I say so myself!

While my sister went shopping for the ingredients I would be on Whatsapp receiving pictures of everything and giving my feedback.  If was a lot of fun and it would have been even more enjoyable if we could have done it together.  See, my whole family is obsessed with food and eating.  We always have been and always will be.  We take pride in having people over and entertaining them.  It’s our goal that people remember the food, ambiance and company.  I’m not being a hater, but I’ve been to way too many gatherings where food is just plopped into foil trays with no thought and no presentation.  I would rather curl up and retire in a cave than serve anything in such a manner.

I think it might have something to do with my upbringing.  If somebody comes over at the last-minute I get super stressed out if I don’t have fresh flowers in the house, if I don’t have anything to feed them.  I will go into panic mode and clean my already clean place and get everything I need as quickly as I can.  I’m sure my guest wouldn’t have noticed, but when I have people over I like to entertain in a certain way .  I also wish more people were into it, but when I see all these beautiful blogs and websites I get really happy inside to find people who think the same way as me. :)

As I was saying, my sister and mom did a fabulous job at arranging the birthday party.  One of the appetizers we all came up with was  Moroccan meatballs.  My sister and I made a variation together when I visited my family over the summer and they were delicious.  So I suggested she make a cocktail party style meatball.  Apparently they were a hit and everyone loved them.  I have been thinking about making them since the birthday party, but I made a dinner version with a tomato-based sauce.  My husband being my husband (not one to pick up on details!), thought they were Italian-style meatballs at first, but when he tasted them he said that they were just like the ones we had on our trip to Marrakesh.  Score.  :)

These meatballs are lovely with some crusty Moroccan bread, couscous, or rice.  Enjoy!

Lamb and Harissa Meatballs

Serves 4

Ingredients

for the tomato sauce:

2 tablespoons olive oil

28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes

1/2 onion chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tablespoons of harissa paste

1/4 teaspoon crushed red chilies, optional

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

salt and pepper, to taste

for the meatballs:

oil for frying

1 pound ground lamb

1/2 a red onion, finely chopped

2 gloves garlic, minced finely

fresh parsley and cilantro, about 1/2 cup, chopped

1 Serrano chili, chopped and deseeded, if you like

1/4 cup dried golden raisins and dried cranberries

1 egg

1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs

1/4 cup harissa paste (you can find it in most grocery stores or Middle Eastern markets, if you want to make your own you can use my friend Sara’s recipe)

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

salt and black pepper, to taste

for garnishing:

fresh parsley, scallions, cilantro (or whatever you like)

toasted almonds

lemon wedges

olive oil, for drizzling

Method

To make the tomato sauce:

Heat the olive oil in a pot on medium heat and add the onions and allow them to get translucent, about 5-7 minutes.  Add in the garlic and let it cook for 2 minutes.  Add in the harissa, ground coriander, ground cumin, and crushed red chilies (optional) and let them cook for a minute.  Add in the crushed tomatoes and stir so that everything is combined.  Season with salt and pepper and after 10 minutes turn the heat down to low and leave the sauce to cook for about an hour.

To make the meatballs:

Combine all the ingredients for the meatballs in a large bowl and mix together with your hands.  Shape the meat mixture into balls (not too big and not too small) and let them marinate in the refrigerator for an hour or two.

After they have marinated, heat a large frying pan with a good amount (about 4-5 tablespoons) of oil (I used olive oil) and fry until the meatballs are golden on all sides and mostly cooked through.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the meatballs from the pan and add into the tomato sauce.  Make sure you drain most of the grease from the meatballs.

Let the meatballs simmer in the sauce for about 10-15 minutes.  Garnish with parsley, cilantro, scallions, toasted almonds, lemon wedges and finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

Serve with crusty bread, couscous, or rice.

My dad’s birthday spread prepared my my mom and sister!

There’s a cafeteria-type restaurant that I frequent because it has the best mutabbal (similar to baba ghanoush) ever.  It’s a Toronto-based Middle Eastern chain and I love it.  My husband grew up in the Middle East and it reminds him of his childhood, eating fresh and puffy pita breads out of the oven with some juicy chicken shawarma right off the spit.  I have to agree the vibe in there transports you to the Middle East.  I have been to Dubai a few times and have a lot of friends from Dubai here in Toronto and the consensus is the same — it’s the Middle East in Toronto!

My sister-in-law came to see me for a day over the summer (she lives in a small town, with no Middle Eastern food), we had lunch at a nice restaurant and shopped for a bit.  After we were done shopping she asked if I was hungry.  I’m always ready to eat, so then she suggested going to the Middle Eastern restaurant.  I’m sure it was her plan all along!  When my sister visited me it was the same scenario all over again.  We got takeout mutabbal every day of her visit!

I know I could easily buy mutabbal, but to be honest I’m kind of embarrassed going back to the same place so often.  The staff probably think, “This girl is crazy and doesn’t she every get sick of mutabbal?!!”  The answer to that is most definitely NO!  Anyway, to save one trip per week to the restaurant, I decided to start making mutabbal at home.  It’s just as good and easy to make.  But when I need a quick fix I know I can get takeout in 10 minutes.  My version tastes the same because I broil the eggplant for the last few minutes.  It gets a charcoal-y and smokey taste, which I love.  It is even better if you have a gas stove or grill where you can roast the eggplant.  The smokiness is my favorite part along with the crunchy contrast of the beautiful pomegranate seeds.  Do try to make this – don’t say I didn’t warn you when you become ADDICTED!

Mutabbal

adapted from this video

Makes a medium-sized bowl enough for 4 people, as a starter/appetizer

Ingredients

1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium-sized eggplant

1 clove garlic

2 heaping tablespoons tahini

2 heaping tablespoons full-fat yogurt

juice of 1 lemon

1/4 cup chopped parsley (I used curly parsley because the flat-leaf was out of stock and I actually liked the texture, even though it seems to be a culinary outcast!)

1/4 cup pomegranate arils (seeds)

salt and black pepper, to taste

1/4 teaspoon of hot paprika, plus extra for sprinkling on top, or to taste

Method

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Poke a few holes in your eggplant with a knife and place on a baking tray.  Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes and after 30 minutes turn your broiler on and let the eggplant broil for 5-7 minutes.  If you can roast your eggplant on a gas stove or grill – it will be even smokier.

Once the eggplant is cooked, allow it cool so that you can scoop the flesh out.  Discard any extra seeds if your eggplant has a lot of seeds.

Next, make the garlic clove into a paste by sprinkling some salt on the garlic clove and scraping the garlic on a cutting board with a sharp knife at an angle.

Add the garlic to a bowl with the scooped out eggplant flesh.  Mash the eggplant with a potato masher, fork, or pestle until it starts to become smooth.  Next add in the tahini, yogurt, and lemon juice.  Keep mashing until the mixture becomes smoother.  Add in salt, pepper, paprika, half the parsley, and half the olive oil.  Stir until the mixture is well-combined.

Place the mutabbal onto a deep plate and top with the pomegranate arils, parsley, a little extra paprika, and olive oil.  Serve with warm pita bread.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 206 other followers