Archives for posts with tag: Appetizer

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.  🙂

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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!

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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.

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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.

I’m a big-time snacker.  Little bites of cheese, bread, and veggies is what I call deliciousness.  When my husband is on-call for work, I relish in the thought that I don’t have to cook a proper meal for dinner.  I can eat whatever I want.  What I want usually involves me raiding my always stocked cheese drawer in the fridge and picking up some nice crusty bread.  It’s not the healthiest of dinner options, but it’s my kind of meal.

This spread was inspired by those awful (actually, not so awful) premade onion dips you can buy at the grocery store.  They are full-on 80’s food nostalgia.  Back in the day, we would pop open some “helluva good” onion dip and some ruffles chips and we were set.  Those neon orange cheese curls would complete the picture of my favorite foods circa 1989.

Let’s fast forward 20 some odd years and though I would like to say I don’t like cheese curls – I still love them.  But, my overall taste palate has evolved beyond neon orange junk.  I used leeks in this version of onion dip.  Classy, I tell you. 😉  Instead of just sour cream I added goat cheese, because I love its tang combined with the sweetness of the caramelized leeks.

*I just wanted to say sorry for my lack of posts, I hope to be more frequent.  Sometimes we get writers’ block and need to find our way back. 🙂

Caramelized Leek and Goat Cheese Spread

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

olive oil

2 cups sliced leeks, white and light green parts, washed throughly

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 jalapeño, de-seeded and finely chopped

scallions and chives chopped, about 1/4 cup

zest of 1 lemon and 2 tablespoons of its juice

5 ounces softened goat cheese

2 tablespoons sour cream or Greek Yogurt

salt and black pepper, to taste

Method

In a sauté pan, heat some olive oil on medium low-heat and add in the leeks with some salt and black pepper.  Cook slowly for about 20-30 minutes, or until the leeks caramelize.  Allow the leeks to cool down to room temperature.  Meanwhile whip together the goat cheese, sour cream, and lemon juice with an electric mixer or with a whisk.  Fold in the scallions, chives, jalapeño, and lemon zest.  When the leeks have cooled down add them in as well.  This spread can be eaten right away or chilled.  Serve with bread, crackers, or vegetables of your choice.

I am the worst blogger ever.  My last post was in February.  I’m not even going to try and explain why I haven’t posted because there’s no real reason.  As a matter of fact, I photographed this recipe three weeks ago. Just. Plain. Lazy. Anyway, during my unplanned hiatus my husband and I took a much needed vacation.  We visited Thailand and had a fabulous time.  We went to Bangkok and Koh Samui.  Thailand was so different than what I had pictured in my mind.  It was the first time my husband or I had been there and we both loved it.

I pictured Bangkok to be a hectic city.  In some ways it is, but I mostly saw it as controlled chaos.  Traffic without beeping or honking.  Everything was beautifully orchestrated.  I can still hear the lovely greeting, “Sawadee kha”  echoing in my head.  I loved the Thai people.  They were so friendly.  I saw so many smiling faces in Thailand that I began to smile for no reason at all.

I could picture myself living in Bangkok.  I do say that for a lot of cities I visit, but Bangkok appealed to me very much.  Koh Samui was also fantastic.  The hotel we stayed at was super quirky and really fun.  The Island had some rundown parts and also some parts that were absolutely spectacular.  Beautiful ocean, like I’ve never seen before.  All in all I have fond memories of our trip to Thailand.

Let me discuss the food!  We ate and ate.  I got so used to eating lavish breakfast spreads that when I got back home a bowl of cereal and fruit in the morning was not cutting it at all.  We enjoyed spicy curries and surpassed our quota of seafood for a year.  I miss all the softshell crab dishes with lots of red chilies, Thai basil, and lemongrass.

We ate gargantuan river prawns, simply grilled and served with a refreshing fresh chopped vegetable relish.  This was one of my favorite dishes in Thailand.  We don’t get prawns like that here.  The week after we returned I was craving the grilled prawns so much that I had to make them.  I had no real recipe, but with some trial and error I got it right.

I was so excited that I was upset my husband wasn’t at home to try them hot and fresh.  When he got home and tried them, I sat next to him eagerly and kept looking at him to say, “these taste just like the ones in Thailand!”  After I finally asked him, he agreed and continued to watch the TV un-phased, typical.  Here’s the recipe and I hope you try them.  And if you’ve been to Thailand and find they taste THE SAME, do let me know. 😉

Grilled Thai Prawns with a Fresh Vegetable Relish

serves 3-4, as a starter, can easily be doubled or tripled

Ingredients

for the shrimp

1 pound large-size shell-on prawns/shrimp, de-veined

2 tablespoons neutral vegetable oil of your choice

2 tablespoons tamarind pulp

2-3 cloves garlic, mashed

1 inch piece of ginger

1 stalk lemon grass

zest and juice of 1 lime

1 long red chilli, roughly chopped, de-seeded if you like

1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon red chili flakes, or to taste (this much will make it spicy)

sea salt, to taste

for the Fresh Vegetable Relish

2 shallots, finely chopped

1 radish, finely chopped (I used a watermelon radish for color)

1/2 cup cucumber, finely diced

1 red chili, de-seeded and finely chopped

1/2 stalk of lemon grass, roughly chopped

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

1 teaspoon sesame oil

juice of 1 lime

fresh chopped herbs like cilantro, Thai basil, or mint

salt, to taste

Method

Place the shrimp in a bowl.  Combine all the ingredients except the shrimp in a blender or food processor.  Pulse ingredients in the blender until pureed and well combined.  Pour the marinade over the shrimp and toss with the shrimp.  Marinate the shrimp in the fridge for 1-2 hours.  After 1-2 hours, heat a grill pan or use an outdoor grill and grill the shrimp on each side until cooked.  it should take about 2 minutes per side.  If you would like you may grill the shrimp on skewers.

While the shrimp is marinating prepare the relish by combining all the ingredients in a bowl and allow it to sit in the fridge for 30 minutes before serving.  Serve with the shrimp after it is done on the grill.  I also like to serve red chili paste on the side for some extra spice.  Serve with lime wedges as well.

I’ve totally lost touch with my blog.  I’ve been trying to write a post for ages, but something was stopping me.  I have no idea what it was, but I put my foot down finally and decided I really want to resume my posts.  They are fun for me and I love the interaction with all of you!  I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but my resolution this year is to get back into blogging and stop making excuses about why I’m not, because there’s no valid reason except my own laziness.  I’m so silly, I will buy things thinking I’ll use them for my blog and they sit untouched.  I’m sure some of you with blogs know what I’m talking about.

I didn’t really fall off the wagon from cooking, but I haven’t been as enthusiastic about it as I used to be.  It’s slowly coming back and I’m ready to start up again.  Maybe it’s the winter – winter blues, I guess.  I know there’s lots to cook during the winter, but until recently I was totally uninspired.  Summer produce and colors inspire me.  This is probably also probably why I’ve been thinking once my husband is done residency we NEED to move somewhere warm.  It’s been on my mind for a few weeks now.  I’m craving sun and warmth.

Despite my love for summer, I do have a few winter produce favorites.  Most notable are beets.  I almost always have them on-hand.  Must have something to do with the color, I suspect.  As I’ve said before I’m a sucker for vibrant colors.  To the same effect, I buy watermelon radishes ALL THE TIME, not because I love thetaste, but more that I love the way they look.  For this dish there were no watermelon radishes, unfortunately.  But this tart is good with whatever you have on hand: mushrooms, spinach, caramelized onions – you name it.  I used to be daunted by making dough, but now I’ve formulated my own proportions and it works every time like a charm.  This sort of tart is one of my go-to dishes.  Although it does take some time, it is by no means difficult to make.

Roasted Beet and Carrot Tart

Serves 4-5

Ingredients

for the crust:

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup walnuts

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons butter, frozen

up to 1/4 cup ice water

filling:

6 ounces goat cheese, softened

1/2 cup ricotta cheese

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence

salt and black pepper, to taste

for top:

2 golden beets

2 carrots

1/4 cup chopped parsley and chives, or any herbs of your choice, for garnish

Method

Roast the beets in the oven (at 350 degrees) in a foil pouch on a baking tray drizzled with some olive oil, salt, and pepper for 45 minutes or until cooked.  At the 30 minute mark add in the  whole carrots, also tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Once cooked, slice the beets and carrots into thin slices.

To make the tart dough: in a food processor, add the walnuts and pulse until they turn into a fine grind, add in the flour, sugar, and salt and pulse until combined.  Grate the frozen butter and add it to the flour.  Pulse until the mixture forms pea-sized clumps.  Next, through the top, stream in the ice water, one tablespoon at a time until the dough forms a ball.  Once the dough comes together, cover it in plastic wrap and refridgerate for at least an hour.  After the dough has chilled, roll it out and fit it into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and blind bake (cover it with foil and use pie weights or dried beans to weigh down the crust, so that it doesn’t puff up while baking) it in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.

For the filling: whisk the goat cheese, ricotta, and egg together.  Add in the salt, pepper, and herbes de Provence.  Pour it into the partially baked crust and bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees.  After 15 minutes, take it out of the oven and arrange the cut beets and carrots over the goat cheese and ricotta and bake for another 10-15 minutes.  Garnish the tart with chopped parsley and chives, or any herb of your choice.  You can also sprinkle the final product with some flaky sea salt and drizzle with olive oil, if you like.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

I’m all about quick bites lately.  I’m a woman on a mission.  The mission is to get a job and get my career rolling again.  Now, that we’re in a bigger city, I’m more than ready to jumpstart my career and this has been my main focus.  I’ve been cooking, but I really haven’t made anything that could warrant a blog post, or even if it could, I have too lazy to get my camera out and start shooting.

Excuses, excuses.  Just a few days ago, I realized I was becoming a laptop zombie in the vortex of job postings.  Suddenly, the sun began to stream into the room so beautifully and I thought I would be a fool not to take advantage of the sunlight.  It was ethereal and glowing.  When you’re in the zone on your laptop, you don’t take the time to notice the small things.  I’m glad I snapped out of the twilight zone and I instantly went into the kitchen and started to make something.  A lunch for myself.  Why not, I thought.  My husband has been working at all hours of the day, so I’m usually eating cereal for dinner.  Who is this person?  It’s so not me.

Anyway, I started roasted some figs, caramelizing onions, grilling halloumi – getting back into my element.  It was truly fun for me, how can it not be fun when you’re working with such beauties.  When I look at figs I’m amazed, the color, shape, the little seeds, they’re all just perfect.  Griddled, golden and salty cheese, sweet and savory onions – that’s why I love cooking.  Sometimes you just need a refresher.

Sugar-Roasted Figs, Caramelized Onions, and Halloumi Plate

Serves 3-4, a snack or starter

Ingredients

olive oil

6-8 figs, cut in half

1/4 cup caramelized onions*

halloumi cheese, cut into 1/4″ slices, as much or as little as you want, I used about 1/4 lb

1/4 cup brown sugar

a few sprigs of thyme

2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

2 tablespoons chopped mint leaves

sea salt and black pepper

flatbread, for serving

Method

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking tray with parchment paper.  Line the figs on the tray and sprinkle with brown sugar, salt, pepper, and thyme.  Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until they begin to caramelize and become candied.

In the meantime, in a medium-sized sauté pan on medium heat with a tablespoon or so of olive oil, grill the halloumi on each side until both sides are golden, about 1-2 minutes per side.  Set aside.

To assemble: you can either serve everything separately or combine everything on one platter.  Use your own creativity and arrange the figs, halloumi, caramelized onions, pine nuts, and mint.  Serve with bread of your choice.

*To caramelize onions: Slice 2 small onions (I used red).  Heat a sauté pan on medium-low heat and add in a good drizzle of olive oil. Add the onions to the pan with a tablespoon or so of brown sugar and gently cook them on for about 25 minutes.  Season them with a sprinkling of sea salt.

Summer’s bounty is in full swing and I’m taking full advantage of it.  I think August is the best time at the farmers’ markets.  You find all sorts of gorgeousness there.  But this August it’s Ramadan and the fasts are longggg and you don’t feel like making anything elaborate because of your lack of energy.  I’m trying my best to keep as many as I can, but to be honest it’s hard.  I know complaining is very shallow, but I love my food.

This year we’ve only had one proper Pakistani fast-breaking meal and that was at my in-laws’ house.  Maybe these last two weeks we’ll make a more a bigger effort.  After all, who doesn’t love opening their fast with pakoras, chaat, samosas, and other fried goodness.  I hope to make some Ramadan speciality for my next post.  This one could be seen as a pseudo-pakora.  Not really, but at least I tried.  Potato pancakes are definitely a favorite with me.  You can be a purist and keep them basic or the sky is the limit with options you can add to them.

Since corn season is in full swing, I decided to add corn to them.  When the sweet corn slightly roasts while frying in the potato cake, it’s a beautiful thing.  I also took inspiration from an older post of mine where I made cornmeal cakes and added jalapeño and queso fresco into these potato pancakes.  They’re a perfect appetizer or fast-breaking snack.  Add some mashed avocado on top and you’ll be a very happy person.

Potato Pancakes with Corn, Jalapenos, and Queso Fresco

Ingredients

neutral-flavored vegetable oil of your choice, for frying

2 cups shredded potatoes, I used Yukon Gold (squeeze excess water from them using a kitchen towel)

1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels

1 jalapeño pepper, minced finely, seeds and ribs removed if you like

1/2 cup shredded queso fresco or Monterey Jack cheese, you can add as much or as little as you like

1 egg

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup chopped chives

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

zest of 1 lime

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste

optional: smashed avocado mixed with some lime juice and salt, for garnish

Method

Combine the potatoes with the corn, jalapeño, herbs, cheese, and lime zest.  Mix in the flour and crack in the egg and combine.  Season with salt and black pepper.

Heat a large frying pan with oil on medium heat and add about a 1/4 cup of the potato mixture and form into a free-form patty and put it into the pan.  Fry on each side for 2-3 minutes, or until golden brown on each side.  When cooked, drain excess oil on a paper towel.  Serve warm with smashed avocado, and  garnish with jalapeño rounds, cilantro, and chives, optional.

*Be careful when frying the potato cakes, the corn might pop slightly.  You may have to reduce the heat slightly.

Things are hectic lately.  We’re about to move, which is always a stressful time. Yes, finally, I am moving to a big city, Toronto. My husband used to live there, so it won’t be too hard adjusting.  Despite all my complaining about where I live now, I am going to miss it.  My apartment feels so homey, anyone who visits says the same thing.  I’m getting sentimental about leaving.  There are so many things I’m going to miss, which I will post about later.

This was the first city my husband and I lived in together, where we moved past the newlywed stage of marriage and have come into our own.  We have our own routine here, it’s not the most exciting life or in any way cosmopolitan, but we managed.  But there’s always a time to move on, I guess.  I don’t want to sound like a downer, I am very happy we’re moving.  I’m just the type of person who gets attached to places.  I lived in the same house until I was 21.

Anyhow, my main point was that things are hectic around here.  When things are hectic, shami kebabs are a lifesaver, emergency food, if you will. They freeze so well and last for months.  I must admit, the process of making them is somewhat grueling, but it’s not so bad.  I try to always have them on hand because it never hurts to serve an extra dish, especially for a last-minute gathering.

I am smiling right now, thinking about in Pakistan there are always unexpected guests, an occasion where shami kebabs come in very handy.  This concept would not really fly in North America, people showing up unannounced and expecting to be served something substantial to eat. Someone usually has to rush to the local bakery to get samosas, various biscuits, and puff pastry patties.  Then, all the food is placed on a special trolley for guests and then it is rolled out with a teapot covered in a tea cozy and all the bakery goodies.  Meanwhile, shami kebabs are frying up in the kitchen because they are ready in the freezer.

Whether or not you eat shami kebabs as an emergency food, they are delicious and one of my all-time favorites.  Since we’re going to be moving and there will be little time to cook, we’ll be eating a lot of shami kebabs.  All the hard work is worth it, trust me.

Chicken Shami Kebabs

Makes about 25-30 kebabs

Ingredients

for cooking the chicken:

water, as needed

2 1/2 pounds boneless chicken thighs, in large chunks*

1 medium sized red onion, roughly sliced, no need to be precise, just in chunks

half a bulb of garlic, peeled

2 inch piece of ginger, roughly chopped

1 cup yellow split pea lentils (chanay ki dal) soaked overnight and washed

2 teaspoons coriander seeds

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon whole cloves

3 black cardamoms

5 green cardamoms

10-12 dried red chilies, use less for less spicy

1 cinnamon stick, broken in half

2 bay leaves

salt, to taste

after cooking the chicken you will need:

1 cup chopped cilantro

1/2 cup chopped mint

2-3 green chilies, chopped

1/2 a red onion, chopped

4 scallions, white and light green parts, chopped

2 eggs

oil for frying

Method

First, cook the yellow lentils in plenty of boiling water until soft, after 30-45 minutes.  Set aside.

In a large pan, add the chicken, a little oil (if necessary), and all of the items listed (including spices) under the “for cooking the chicken” ingredients.   Also, add a little water, about 1/2 a cup.  Cook the chicken on medium heat for 15 minutes and then turn the heat to medium low and continue cooking for 45 more minutes, or until the chicken is very tender and all the water has evaporated.  You may need to add more water to the pot if it evaporates too quickly, just make sure you cook until the chicken is tender and the onion, garlic, and ginger are very soft.  Remove the cinnamon stick, black cardamom, and bay leaves, all the other spices will grind in the food processor.

Once the chicken is cooled, allow it to cool for 15-20 minutes.  After it has cooled slightly, transfer it to a large food processor with the cooked lentils and pulse until they are combined. Transfer the chicken and lentil mixture to a large bowl and add in the chopped cilantro, mint, scallions, green chilies, and red onion.  It’s time to get messy and crack in the 2 eggs and mix it all together with your hands.  Once everything is combined, form the chicken into round kebabs, about 3 inches in diameter.  You should end up with about 25-30 kebabs.

Next, in a frying pan heat some oil on medium heat and fry the kebabs until browned on both sides, about 3 minutes per side.  Cook as many as you want and you can freeze the kebabs that are not fried for up to 3-4 months.

Variation: Instead of adding the egg inside the kebab mixture, before frying you can dip each kebab into beaten egg and fry the kebabs with an egg coating.  Another slight variation, is that you can grind all the spices that you cook with the chicken i.e. before adding them to the pot grind them all in a spice grinder and cook the chicken with the ground spices.  However,  I just grind them in the food processor with the chicken after it has cooked, removing the black cardamom, cinnamon stick, and, bay leaves.  I find that the other spices grind easily, as they have become soft after cooking.  It’s a personal preference.

To reheat frozen shami kebabs: leave frozen kebabs out at room temperature for 30 minutes and fry as usual.

You can serve the shami kebabs as a snack or a side dish with green chutney /chili garlic sauce or with dal and basmati rice.  I also like to eat them with parathas.  A popular street food in Pakistan is bun kebab, which is also made with shami kebabs.

*I usually use beef stewing meat, which you can use, just cook the yellow lentils with the beef rather than separately and adjust the cooking time and water according to the meat you use.  Beef will take longer.  I used chicken thighs here because I had some in my freezer.  I imagine you could also use chicken breast as well.  Some people also cook the meat and lentils in a pressure cooker, but I don’t have one so I can’t give instructions on that method.

Shami Kebab recipes on other sites:

Chachi’s Kitchen

Passionate About Baking

Journey Kitchen

Fauzia’s Pakistani Recipes

Epicurious

Growing up, my family was all about food.  My parents would drive us 3 hours to New York City to eat “real” Pakistani food.  On the weekend, we were travelers in search for the next delicious meal.  My sister and I would be ever so excited to explore new places and see the hustle and bustle of different cities.  Our eyes were always wide-open, ready for these experiences.  Whether, we went to Newport for fresh, straight from the ocean seafood, or to a little hole in the wall Mexican restaurant that we still frequent to this day, we were set to feast.  We learned about other cultures this way, too.  What better way for parents to expose their children to different cultures than through their food.  Food welcomes you into a new culture.  The tastes of the cuisine transports you to a new place, somewhere less familiar than what we are used to, but at the same time we are ready to embrace the novelty.

Tucked away in the back seat, my sister and I would peer out of the  windows with utter enthusiasm waiting for a new exploration.  If you remember, we were the two sisters who played in the woods and pretended we were pioneers, Indians, French, you name it-we pretended it (the joys of childhood!).  These excursions took our make-believe world into reality.

I have very fond memories of attending the Greek Orthodox festival in Rhode Island.  As many of you are probably aware, Greeks (like most of us) are completely immersed in their cuisine and take great pride in hospitality and serving their traditional dishes to others.  There was food galore.  Souvlakis would be sizzling on hot coals, my sister and I would stare in awe at the roast lamb spinning on a spit with the juices dripping down and coating the lamb with deliciousness, and flaky phyllo pastries such as baklava and spanakopita.  This festival was overflowing with sensory delight.  We would also watch the Greek dancers in amazement.  My sister and I would “choreograph” Bollywood dance skits at home, so the Greek dances piqued our interest as well.

We would walk around just take it all in and we loved every minute of it.  Our main purpose was eating, of course.  Our favorite thing to indulge in were the spanakopitas.  To this day I love them, no matter how introductory they are to greek cuisine.  The flaky and paper-thin phyllo layers were (and still are) so fun to break off layer by layer and in the middle you would meet the spinach filling full of feta, parley, and olive oil.  This is one way to get your kids to eat spinach.  I make spanakopita from time to time and each time I do I am reminded of the Greek Orthodox festival and every time I think it would be so nice to go again.

Spanakopita with Kalamata Olives and Pine Nuts

Serves 8

Ingredients

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

crushed red chili flakes, to taste

2 shallots, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

12 ounces spinach leaves, stems removed and chopped

4 scallions, sliced

2 tablespoons chopped dill

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 tablespoon chopped mint

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

pinch of freshly ground nutmeg

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/4-1/2 cup grated kefalotyri cheese

1 tablespoon sour cream

2 eggs, beaten

1/3 cup kalamata olives, chopped

2 tablespoons roasted pine nuts

salt and black pepper, to taste

16 ounce package of phyllo dough, if frozen defrosted overnight in the refrigerator

Method

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a sauté pan on medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the shallots.  Allow the shallots to cook for 2-3 minutes or until they become to soften and add in the garlic and red chili flakes.  Once the garlic perfumes the oil, add in the chopped spinach.  Let the spinach wilt and cook down.  Add some salt, black pepper, and the pinch of nutmeg.  Once the spinach is all cooked, set it aside and allow it to cool slightly.  In the meantime, grease a 9″ by 13″ baking dish.

Once the spinach has cooled, add in the remaining ingredients (except the phyllo and remaining olive oil), there is no rhyme of reason to the order.  Mix to combine all the ingredients, make sure they are well incorporated.

Next, take the phyllo dough (make sure to cover it with a damp kitchen towel so that it doesn’t dry out) and cut the sheets so that they would fit into the baking dish.  I had to simply cut the sheets in half.  Once the sheets are the right size, divide the phyllo into two equal stacks.  One stack will be for the bottom layer, one will be for the top layer.

Take the phyllo dough two sheets at a time and layer into the baking dish.  Every second sheet should be brushes generously with olive oil.  Once the first stack of phyllo is finished layer all of the spinach mixture over the phyllo.  Then, repeat the process so that the spinach is covered and in the middle of the two stacks of phyllo dough.  Make sure the phyllo layers are well oiled so that they become crispier.

Bake the spanakopita in the oven for 45-50 minutes, or until the phyllo is golden brown.  Once slightly cooled, cut into squares or diamonds.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

When in doubt I turn ingredients into a dip.  I don’t know where I got this habit from, but somehow I developed it.  I think it partially might have stemmed from my childhood love for artichoke dip.  But who knows, whatever the reason is, I am now somewhat notorious for my dips.  When I visit my parents and they have people over I make a dip platter, along with a cheese platter, of course.  When I invite people over I do the same.  You can’t even imagine the attachment I have with my Cuisinart food processor and my mini food processor, which I fondly refer to as C. Junior.  These two gadgets make everything so simple, so effortless.

When I tell you I am attached, I really mean it.  Practically, every time I cook, I use either the “Senior” or “Junior” version of my food processor.  If I want to make a Pakistani dish quickly, then I throw in the garlic and ginger whiz it up and then throw in some tomatoes and within no time without all the chopping and slaving over the cutting board I have a delicious dish.

Believe me, I could go on and on about my food processors, but for the sake of the readers who might abandon me and deem me as off the wall, I will stop now.  The reason I mention the food processor was this eggplant dip I made.  You see, I had a vague idea in my mind as to what I wanted to make: eggplant with pomegranate molasses, and feta.  But, in the initial stages I was not visualizing a dip.  As I went along preparing the eggplant, the idea of a dip struck me.  Call it predictable or whatever you want, but the truth is, it worked and worked quite well I might add.  The smokiness of the spices, the creaminess of the feta, and the freshness of the herbs melded together to form one harmonious dip that was gobbled up by my husband and I in no time.


Eggplant Dip with Pomegranate Molasses and Feta

*I was inspired by this recipe, but I did not stay true to the recipe, I just used it as a jumping off point.

Serves 4-6, as an appetizer

Ingredients

Olive Oil

2 medium-sized Sicilian eggplants, peeled and cut into a small dice (or any variety you prefer), about 3 cups diced

3 shallots. chopped

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1/4 cup pomegranate molasses

1 cup crumbled Middle Eastern Feta

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup chopped parsley

5-7 mint leaves chopped

1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

salt and black pepper, to taste

for the spices:

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon dried pomegranate seeds, found in most Pakistani/Indian grocery stores

Method

First, dry roast the spices in a dry pan on medium heat until you start to smell their aromas, 5-7 minutes.  Cool them for a minute and then transfer to a spice mill or coffee grinder and pulse until they all combine into a uniform mixture.  Set aside.

Heat a medium-sized sauté pan with a nice coating of olive oil on medium heat.  When the oil comes to temperature, add the shallots and allow them to caramelize, about 5-7 minutes.  Add in the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes.   Toss in the eggplant and pomegranate molasses and allow the eggplant to caramelize as well.  Season with salt and pepper.  After 5 minutes of cooking, add the spice mixture.  Let the eggplant cook down further, until it is completely cooked through, about another 15-20 minutes.

Once the eggplant is cooked, allow it to cool for 15 minutes.  Next, take out a food processor (if you don’t have one you can mash by hand) and add in the cooked eggplant, feta, lemon juice, parsley, mint, a good drizzle of olive oil and pulse until combined.  Taste to see if any additional salt and pepper is required.  Garnish with the fresh pomegranate seeds, toasted pine nuts, parsley, mint, and a drizzle of olive oil.  Serve with toasted pita wedges or any bread of your choice.  I like to serve this slightly warm or at room temperature, but it can be served chilled.

* I decided to make a similar dip with butternut squash and caramelized shallots and posted it on food52, do have a look here.