Archives for posts with tag: Middle Eastern food

When I was seven my family went on vacation to Cairo before going to see relatives in Pakistan.  I guess my parents wanted to enrich our childhood by taking us to see some of the wonders of the world – the pyramids.  Being seven, I didn’t appreciate or understand the greatness of what I was seeing.  I don’t remember much about this trip, but I do remember some highlights.  I’m sure my sister, who was four at the time and I were probably complaining about the heat and continually asking when we would see Mickey Mouse.  My parents were probably kicking themselves for taking their two little brats see these ancient landmarks.

My dad is infamous for telling us stories from our childhood.  Stories we usually would not like every random stranger to know.  Regardless, my dad is always ready to share that he had to carry my crying sister on his back inside the Great Pyramid at Giza and how I complained that the pyramid had a weird smell to it.  As you can see, my sister and I really savored our experience there.  But I do remember bits and pieces of this trip.  We went to the Egyptian Museum, I relished the thought of telling my classmates that I had seen the mummy of King Tut.  We had a guide too, who helped us weave our way through souks and also showed us the famous Tahrir square.  I also recall that we stayed at the Shepheard Hotel, a hotel that my father told me that my grandfather had stayed at during a visit to Cairo.  In that hotel my sister and I feasted on mango ice cream and salade Niçoise.  Out of all the choices of food we had, these two were on our daily wish lists.  At the Shepheard hotel, I recall watching an Egyptian marriage procession in amazement.  I heard ululation for the first time, I did not know whether these high-pitched voices indicated happiness or sadness, whatever the case, I stood there in awe.

Amongst all of these memories, my father always highlights one story in particular.  Looking back, we laugh about the incident, but at the time I still remember my childhood panic.  It was nighttime and after a long day of sightseeing we were back at the hotel.  My sister and I were hungry and requested what we called “Egyptian Pizza,” which was available on the street close to the hotel.  My parents decided to get us some of this Egyptian pizza while they explicitly told my sister and I that they would be back in 5 minutes and we should stay in the room.

A few minutes after they left, I panicked.  I told my sister I was going to look for them.  I went down to the lobby in my nightie and untied Keds sneakers.  Because it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing your Rainbow Brite nightie as long as you’ve got sneakers on – the logic of a child. Anyway, I hustled around the lobby looking for my parents.  I couldn’t find them so I went back up to the room.  My sister was gone.  Apparently, she had also panicked.  I went back down and saw her crying and sitting with an Egyptian man.  He asked us where our parents were and my sister said they left us.  He looked puzzled.  I at seven was slightly more mature and said they were coming back and went to get us pizza.  I don’t remember much else except that within a few minutes my parents arrived and saw us in the lobby with the man and my sister full of tears.  They must have realized that they shouldn’t have left us alone.  This is a story that is repeated practically every time I go to see my parents.

All that commotion was for this flatbread.  I think you can find this in Levant cuisine as well as Turkish cuisine known as Lahmajoun and Lahmacun.  I suspect this Egyptian version might have been Armenian because of the large Armenian population in Egypt.  I recreated it here, with a different crust.  I love adding flax and chia seeds to my dough.  They had a lovely nuttiness and texture as well.  The spicy and smokey ground meat is delicious and the bell peppers minced in shine through.  I made this and was reminded of that trip to Cairo.  I guess my parents did the right thing by taking us to Egypt.  If anything, I have this story to tell.

Spicy Beef Flatbreads

makes 4

Ingredients

for the whole-wheat, flax, chia dough:

1 1/4 teaspoon dry active yeast (or half a sachet)

2 teaspoons sugar

1/2 cup warm water

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon champagne vinegar

3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling

3/4 whole-wheat four

1/4 cup ground flax seeds

2 tablespoons ground chia seeds

1/2 teaspoon salt

for the beef:

1/2 lb ground beef (you can also mix ground beef and ground lamb, or just use lamb)

1/2 an onion, chopped

5-6 mini bell peppers, red, orange, yellow, or 1 large bell pepper, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 green chili, chopped (seeds removed, if you like)

1/2 cup chopped parsley, mint, and cilantro

2 scallions, chopped

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon, red chili flakes, use less for less spicy

1 teaspoon ground cumin

kosher salt, to taste

olive oil

fresh parsley, mint, labneh, olive oil, olives, and fresh lemon wedges, for serving

Method

First, make the dough by combining the yeast, sugar, and water in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Let the yeast bloom for 10 minutes.  Next, add in the olive oil, champagne vinegar, and salt.  Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl.  Attach the dough hook to the mixer and put the bowl on the mixer and turn it to low-speed.  Gradually add the dry ingredients into the bowl, once the dry ingredients are all in the bowl, turn the speed to medium and let the dough knead for 2-3 minutes.  If you need extra water or flour, add it tablespoon at a time.  It should be a smooth dough.  Once kneaded, drizzle some olive oil over top so that it doesn’t form a skin and leave the dough to rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours.

Once the dough has risen punch it down and knead slightly and put it back in the bowl for the second rising, about 30 minutes.  Once the dough has risen again knead it for a few minutes and separate it into four balls.

Next, in a food processor, add in the onions, garlic, peppers, green chili pepper, and herbs.  Pulse a few times until finely chopped.  Next, squeeze out the excess water from the vegetable mixture in a kitchen towel or strong paper towel.  In bowl, combine the vegetable mixture with the ground meat and spices.  Mix it together with your hands.  Set aside

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Next, roll out the dough to 8-9 inch diameter circles, like individual sized pizzas.  dust with flour to prevent the dough from sticking.  Drizzle the dough circles with olive oil. Place the dough on a flat baking tray and then spread the meat mixture over the dough evenly and drizzle with olive oil again.  Bake for 10-15 minutes until the dough is golden brown.  Serve with fresh parsley, mint, labneh, olive oil, olives, and fresh lemon wedges.

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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.

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.

My younger sister and I are practically in constant contact.  She is half a world away from me in Dubai, but we use all forms of communication whether it is Blackberry messenger, MSN messenger, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail chat, and Skype to keep in touch.  Sometimes we have multiple conversations going on at the same time through these various messaging programs.  We are even known to chat with each other online while in the same room.  When we all come to my parents’ house we call our dining room table the “IT Center.”  My sister, my husband, my sister’s fiancé, my cousin, Henna, and myself all have our laptops open  on the table doing our own thing and also chatting with each other.  If anyone else ever walked in, I’m sure they would think we were not completely “normal.”

The reason I mention these vast forms of communication is because my sister has been asking me to make a Middle Eastern platter, so my husband and I can eat the same sorts of things she is enjoying in Dubai.  For the past few weeks, she has been messaging me about labneh (thickened yogurt cheese) and if I bought it yet.  My answer is always no, because I can’t get any in Kingston.  So, she told me to make it.  My attempt to make it failed miserably, because I went to the only kitchen supply store in Kingston to get  cheesecloth to drain the water out of yogurt and they were sold out and would not be getting any more for two weeks.  I told her this and she was quite upset.  As you can see, we are extremely passionate about food.

Shanklish Cheese- a semi soft sheep's milk cheese popular in Syria and Lebanon. The cheese balls are rolled in sumac, chili, oregano, and spices.

The first thing we ask each other everyday is what did you eat so far today.  Notice, the “so far” because we are never really done eating.  You can imagine my sister’s joy when I told her we were going to Toronto for the weekend.  The first thing she said was if I was going get the things for the Middle Eastern platter.  I got reminder after reminder, just in case I could ever forget.  My husband tells me to shut the sound off on the BB because of all the alerts I get from my sister’s chats.  When I finally was able to go to the Middle Eastern market, I was on BBM with my sister.  Mind you, I am not the type of person who is constantly on my BB, it’s not even mine, it’s my husband’s and I borrow it when I want to talk to my sister.  I actually get annoyed when people are out with you and spending more time with their phone than you.  Eating my own words, I became that person in the Middle Eastern Market.  I wasn’t paying attention to anyone around me and just in search of what my sister was telling me to get.

I love Middle Eastern food, so I enjoyed this “quest .”   I have not travelled extensively in the Middle East, only to Egypt and the UAE, though I would love to. I went to Dubai recently and the food there was just amazing.  Ever since my return from Dubai, I have been hooked on it.  My husband also grew up in Saudi Arabia, so he has the taste for Middle Eastern food as well.

As I mazed through the market, I filled my cart with all sorts of different foods.  I stocked up because some things are hard for me to find here.  My sister, half way across the world was content with my purchases and satisfied with the incognito pictures I was taking of the cheeses, olives, nuts, and sweets.

The thing I love about this food is that it is fresh and easy.  I didn’t do much cooking at all, it was all just assembly.  A platter like this is fun to serve as an appetizer when you have people over because it is like a bounty of food in the middle of the table for everyone to share.  Individually plated formal dinners can be nice too, but there’s nothing like breaking bread together and enjoying fresh delicious food.

Middle Eastern Platter

There are no set rules here.  Use whatever you suits your taste-buds  This time I used a bunch of radishes, Lebanese cucumbers, mint, tomatoes, lemons for squeezing, grilled sujuk sausages, labneh topped with za’atar olive oil and pine nuts, Lebanese black olives, shanklish rolled in thyme, sumac, and oregano, crusty grilled bread drizzled with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Other options could include herb roasted nuts, dried fruits such as apricots and dates, phyllo pastries, hummus and other dips, salads such as fattouch, tabouleh, halloumi cheese, manakeesh, roasted vegetables, mixed greens.

Use a large platter and bunch the different items together in clusters and arrange everything in an attractive manner.  Let it be messy and organic.  I do not like a platter to look too perfect.