29 December 2009

p e a c e

Wishing You All Happy Holidays.

Here's some yummy reading to browse through while we all recover from our holiday indulgences.

Shwarma in Amman

Why You Should Make Stuffed Grape Leaves

Choice Tables Beirut

The Best Salad I've Made All Year

See you in the new year!

22 December 2009

Finnish Coffee Braid

You may have heard that the East Coast got a bit of snow this weekend. I don't think it's snowed more than an inch since I've lived in DC, and then I woke up one morning to find this outside my door:

At which point, I promptly shut my door and decided to stay inside baking and catching up on all the television I've missed in the past three months. Although, even that gets old after awhile, and there's nothing like a good walk in the snow to get your cheeks rosy.

I also wished I had been one of those crazy people buying milk on Friday as I gazed at my sparse refrigerator contents. No bread, no cheese, and very few green things. I flipped through my favorite bread cookbook looking for something to make, and settled on a Finnish Cardamom-Orange Bread. The recipe calls it coffee cake, but it's what we know as a sweet yeast bread.

I was a bit skeptical about the amount of cardamom, which can be unpleasant if overpowering, but the breads came out very subtly spiced. I baked the breads for the 45 minutes the recipe called for, but found that the bread was a bit drier and darker on the bottom than I would've liked, so I've adjusted the time below.

The recipe makes two ample braids, perfect for gifting this holiday season. I also have to give a plug to Menu for Hope, which has great gifts of foods around the world and benefits the UN World Food Program (my previous employer). There are a lot of good causes out there but this is one I can speak for personally. Then again, I'd be perfectly happy with a batch of cookies.

Finnish Coffee Braid

2 1/4 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
3 tablespoons warm water
1 cup milk
6 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
grated peel of 1 orange
about 5 cups all-purpose flour
for glaze: 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon milk

1. Place yeast and water in the bottom of a large bowl and let sit.
2. Place milk and butter in a saucepan or microwave-safe bowl and heat until the butter is melted and milk is scalded but does not boil. Let cool to lukewarm.
3. Add the eggs and milk mixture to the bowl with the yeast. Add the sugar, salt, cardamom, and zest and stir to combine. Gradually add the flour to make a fairly stiff dough. Turn out onto a floured board and knead until the dough is smooth.
4. Place dough in a greased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.
5. Punch down and divide into two portions. Divide one portion into thirds and form each third into a rope about 18-24 inches long. Braid the ropes, pinching together the ends. Repeat the braiding with the second half of the dough. Twist braids into rings and pinch together to seal.
6. Place wreaths on a greased baking sheet, cover and let rise until almost doubled 1-1 1/2 hours.
7. Preheat oven to 350 F. Brush each loaf with the beaten egg/milk mixture. Bake 35 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool on wire racks.

13 December 2009


It is time, my friends, for that time of year. The time for cookie baking. There are currently boxes for 3 pounds of butter and 2 pounds of powdered sugar sitting in my recycling bin. The time for powdered sugar to fly and to use butter as a moisturizer, hand salve, packing material, and maybe for all those baked goods.

I've got bourbon balls and of course my mom's sugar cookies, and currently sitting on my counter are a lovely batch of ma'amoul. Ma'amoul are one of the most traditional of Middle Eastern cookies, made of a buttery semolina exterior and a date filling, they are shaped by pressing them into decorative molds. They are traditional for both Ramadan and Easter, and great for Christmas too.

The recipe comes together very quickly, with a dough with those whiffs of rose water and spices. The problem, at least in my case, was the molds. The first four or five cookies came out perfectly, and then they started to stick. I mean really stick, and fall apart, and there was a lot of damning and cursing and things that should not be said in the spirit of baking. Eventually I figured out that forming a ball of dough, filling it with the stuffing mixture, and then pressing it into the mold was the best technique. And if you don't have molds, you can always just use mini-muffin cups or simply do without.

So in addition to the family traditions, the requisite doses of chocolate and alcohol, my cookie assortment with have a little Middle Eastern flair this year.

While dates are traditional, you can experiment with different dried fruits. In this particular batch I used a mix of dates, dried figs, and hazelnuts for some added texture.

1/2 cup solid shortening (preferably a non-hydrogenated variety)
8 tablespoons or 4 ounces butter
1 cup flour, all purpose
2 cups semolina
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking power
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon rose flower water and
1 teaspoon orange flower water
7 tablespoons water

1 1/2 cups chopped dates (or other mixed dried fruit)
4 tablespoons butter

1. Prepare crust: Melt the shortening and butter in the microwave in a large bowl. Add the flour, semolina, salt baking powder and sugar and stir to combine. Add the rose and orange flower waters and gradually add the water, stirring to make a crumbly dough. Put the dough in the fridge to rest while you make the filling.
2. Place dates and butter in a saucepan and cook over low heat, mashing the dates with a fork. Cook about ten minuted, until dates are soft and mashed together. If the pan gets dry then add a splash of water.
3. Preheat oven to 325 F. Flatten a tablespoon of the semolina dough in the palm of your hand. Add a small amount of date filling. Fold up the semolina around the filling, adding a little more dough to enclose the ball. Roll into a ball and press into a mold, or simply place on a greased baking sheet and decorate the top with the tines of a fork.
4. Bake 12-15 minutes until solid but not darkened in color. Let cool, then shift powdered sugar over top.

06 December 2009

Shish Barak (Lebanese Meat Dumplings in Yogurt Sauce)

A friend called me yesterday to ask me why I haven't updated the blog? Oh dear, that is bad isn't it? I have a good explanation though- you see, I went to Texas for a lovely Thanksgiving, got home on a hectic Sunday and dumped my smelly jeans and farm boots into the laundry, refilled my suitcase with a couple suits and linen trousers, and headed to the Middle East for a work trip. Work trips being what they are, there was a lot of flying, a lot of meetings, and very little fun time, other than some good food and vodka-mint-lemonades.

But I'm happy to be home and I've had this recipe in my queue, eager to share it here. It's the Lebanese version of meat dumplings, called shish barak. Really, who doesn't like dumplings people? Especially dumplings filled with warm cinnamon and cumin spiced beef and bathed in warm yogurt sauce.

I've eaten shish barak before, but this was my first time making them. As I stirred the beef and onions, the dish just smelled right. Have you ever had that feeling, recreating a dish you've had before, when it just tastes like it should?

Traditionally the dumplings are made with a homemade flour dough and then baked. However, some people fry the dumplings, and I went with the slightly alternative method of steaming the dumplings. It's not as traditional, but I like the lighter texture it yields. Also, I have terrible dumpling forming skills. I need to go to dumpling remedial school. But if you're more talented than me, you can form the dumplings with little woven seams.

I shouldn't have needed any prompting to share this dish here, after all it's pretty tasty, but sometimes we all need a little encouragement.

Shish Barak (Lebanese Meat Dumplings in Yogurt Sauce)
Cheaters tip: if you don't want to make the dough yourself, you can use wonton wrappers instead. If you do use wonton wrappers you cannot bake the dumplings but must steam them.

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup cold water
1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon butter or ghee
1 lb ground beef (or lamb)
1 onion, minced
1/4 teaspoon each cinnamon, allspice, and cumin
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

yogurt sauce:
1 quart plain yogurt (not fat-free, not Greek style)
1 egg white
1 tablespoon cornstarch

1. Combine the dough ingredients in bowl until combined, knead lightly. Let rest 1 hour (while you prepare the filling). Roll out the dough as thinly as possible, then cut into 3" rounds and flatten with a rolling pin.
2. For the filling, heat the butter in a skillet. Add th eonions and saute until translucent. Add the ground beef spices, and cilantro and saute, breaking up the beef, until nicely browned and cooked through.
3. Form dumplings with the dough and filling, run a little water along the edge of the dumpling so you can pinch them closed in whatever manner works for you.
4. Bake dumplings at 350 F for 10-15 minutes, or until dough is firm and lightly golden, or steam them over boiling water for about 10 minutes, until dough is cooked through.
5. For yogurt sauce: Beat together egg white, cornstarch, and 1 tablespoon water until combined. Combine egg white mixture with yogurt in a saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until yogurt mixture is slightly thickened and warm.
6. Combine yogurt mixture and dumplings on a platter. Garnish with chopped cilantro or mint or sauteed pine nuts. Serve immediately.

22 November 2009

Avocado Enchiladas

There is something I love about when it starts to really get cold. When you wake up in the morning and the heat is keeping the house toasty warm but you know, looking out the window at the crisp sharp sunlight and the bare branches, that it's cold out there. When your barefeet hit the cold kitchen floor as you go to make that cup of coffee. It's how I know that coats and boots and turkey and stuffing and carols will be fast arriving.

And while I'm sure every cook out there is already pre-cooking for the big feast day, we also still have to make something for dinner. This year, my only holiday duties will involve getting on an airplane and perhaps a bit of sous-chefing at my destination. I'm looking forward to it.

But in the meantime, I wanted something quick and satisfying and green for dinner. Enchiladas come in a million variations, with green and red and all-kinds of bean sauces, and a myriad of fillings, but this one is one of my favorites. This does involve dirtying a few pans, but it's not terribly complicated and a great dish for brunch, lunch or dinner. The filling contains avocados, cheese, and cilantro, wrapped in salsa verde and corn tortillas and covered in more cheese. Of course, you can always doctor up the filling as you like, adding shredded chicken or white beans or some roasted green chile peppers.

So what about you, what do you cook on the eve of a holiday? Do you have a pre-holiday tradition? Give up and order pizza? Relay on pantry staples like pasta? Let me know in the comments.

Avocado Enchiladas

grapeseed, peanut, or canola oil
12 corn tortillas
1 1/2 cups salsa verde (store-bought or homemade)
2 avocados
splash of lemon juice
optional additions: white beans, shredded cooked chicken, roasted poblano peppers
1 lb of monetery jack or mozzarella cheese, grated (you probably won't need all of it)
1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped

1. Lightly oil a casserole dish. Preaheat oven to 350 F.
2. Slice avocados and splash lemon juice over them along with a pinch of salt. Have ready the grated cheese and chopped cilantro and any other filling you want.
3. Place the salsa in a saucepan and bring to a low simmer. Heat about 1/4 inch of oil in a saucepan and heat until hot.
4. Place 1 tortilla in oil and cook on both sides until warm and supple, do not brown. Using tongs, transfer tortilla and dip in salsa to lightly coat.
5. Transfer tortilla to workspace and place some avocado, cheese, and cilantro in the middle. Roll up and place seam side down in the prepared pan. Repeat the process with remaining tortillas, until the casserole is completely full.
6. Spread some of the remaining salsa verde over top of the enchiladas. Top with a thcik sprinkling of grated cheese.
7. Bake until heated through and cheese is melted, about 10-15 minutes.
8. Sprinkle with some cilantro and serve. Sour cream is nice accompaniment.

16 November 2009

Chocolate Cranberry Rolls

I've been a bit on a yeast bread kick lately. Maybe it's the fall weather, or maybe it's simply my desire to not go to the store when I need bread. Hey, I've got flour and yeast and such, I'll see what I can make.

Often when I'm in this mood I turn to one of my many bread cookbooks, and one that I love is Homebaking by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. If you aren't familiar with their cookbooks, I recommend them immensely. I want to be these people. They travel all over the world, collect recipes and stories, and publish them in these gorgeous coffee table-size books full of pictures and inspiring recipes. They are, in many ways, anthropologists first and cookbook authors second.

The recipe I made this time was cranberry chocolate rolls. I may not big the world's biggest fan of chocolate, but these are excellent. They remind my a bit of babka, only without the labor intensive egg rich dough. And while chocolate has a sweet role, I think the dark chocolate here also shows its savory side, deeply flavorful and warm as you might find chocolate in a mole sauce.

While these rolls can be a bit firm when cool, they are perfect when sliced and toasted with a dab of butter, or simply quickly warmed in the oven.

Chocolate Cranberry Rolls
Though the original recipe called for chilled chocolate chips, I prefer using chopped chocolate, which gives nice swirls of chocolate throughout the dough. The recipe also cuts in half nicely if you want only one small pan of rolls.

2 cups milk, heated until lukewarm
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
About 5 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into very small pieces, plus a little butter for shaping the buns
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups roughly chopped semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup dried cranberries, plumped in hot water for about 5 minutes
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
For egg wash/topping:
1 egg, whisked with 2 tablespoons warm water, for egg wash
About 3 tablespoons granulated or pearl sugar

1. Place the milk in a medium bowl and stir in the yeast. Let stand for several minutes, then stir in 1 cup of the flour. Add the butter, sugar, cinnamon, egg and salt and stir to incorporate. Add 2 more cups flour and stir, always in the same direction, until smooth. Add the chocolate and cranberries, together with 1/2 cup more flour, and stir to incorporate.

2. Turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and knead gently, folding the dough over on itself and incorporating flour as needed until the dough is only slightly sticky, about 4 minutes.

3. Place the dough in a clean greased bowl, cover with a plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.

4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut in half, then cut each half into 8 pieces, and lightly cover them. Lightly butter two 9-by-5 inch bread pans or two 8-inch round cake pans.

5. Place rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

6. Grease your palm with a little butter, then roll one piece of dough lightly under your hand to shape it into a rough ball. Place the ball in one of the pans and continue with the remaining dough. Cover with cloth or plastic and let rise for 30 minutes.

7. Just before baking, brush each loaf with the egg wash. Sprinkle the sugar over them and bake for 30 to 40 minutes (the timing will vary with the shape of the pans; they usually bake more quickly in cake pans), until puffed and golden brown. Immediately remove from the pans; let cool on a rack. These are best after they’ve cooled almost to room temperature. Tear off rolls, or slice like a loaf if you prefer.

11 November 2009

Stuffed Acorn Squash with Cranberries and Pecans

A few weeks ago we put on a "practice Thanksgiving." After all, who says roast turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and gravy should be made once a year? I think not. And what if you want to test out a new dish without the pressure of the big day, or celebrate with someone who won't be around for the actual holiday.

So practice Thanksgiving it was, only on a Thursday where I actually had to work all day and come home and host 8 for dinner. Daunting to some, but somewhat thrilling to my inner-entertainer. I put pumpkins and squash all around the house and decorated the table with kale and sorghum and sparkleberry.

A few weeks later, and I decided those acorn squash should go from decoration to dinner. I hollowed them out and roasted them filled with what I had on hand- bulgur, cranberries, pecans, and cinnamon. A friend commented that my recipe sounded Lebanese, after all they were vegetables stuffed with bulgur. And though I pointed out that cranberries and pecans are about as American as you get, perhaps she's right in that I've cooked so much Middle Eastern food now, it's sort of stuck in my bloodstream, no matter what ingredients you use.

These are lovely single-serving one meal deals, and as you eat them you scoop the squash flesh into the bulgur mixture, mixing it all together. If you don't have bulgur, I imagine cooked wild rice would be excellent as well.

Stuffed Acorn Squash with Cranberries and Pecans
Obviously you can increase this number to however many you'd like to serve. Be sure to use small acorn squash so that it's a true one serving size.

2 small acorn squash, tops removed and centers hollowed out
best quality olive oil
2/3 cup bulgur
1 1/2 cup boiling water
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
salt to taste

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Place bulgur and cranberries in a bowl and pour boiling water over top. Let sit 15 minutes, or until fluffed.
2. Meanwhile, toast the pecans.
3. Rub the insides of the squash with olive oil and rub in some salt.
4. Combine the bulgur, cinnamon, pecans, parsley, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and season with salt to taste.
5. Stuff the squash and place the lids back on top. Place on a baking sheet and bake for about 50 minutes, or until the squash or completely soft when tested with a knife and they appear slightly collapsed. Let cool slightly before serving.

03 November 2009

Jordanian Seven-Spice Veal

There's someone up there I'd like you to meet. No, not that tender meat, but the hand stirring the meat. That there is the boy who spends a lot of time in my kitchen, who gives me encouraging hugs when I'm sad, who happily eats seconds of the bread pudding I thought was just ok, and who makes one mean pear-walnut pie.

It is always a little awkward introducing boyfriends in the blogosphere. What if they disappear, what if you have to write about it online, what if, what if. But all relationships are gambles, and I'm not saying I know how this one is going to turn out. I do know that this one is worth betting on, that he makes me immensely happy, and that I want him to be my regular recipe tester, kiss-giver, and pie-maker for some time.

Paul was in Jordan over the summer, and in between drinking delicious mint lemonade and asking me how to order a mixed grill, he became enamoured of a dish at a local restaurant. The dish involves veal or lamb sauteed with onions and tomatoes and with a traditional Middle Eastern 7-Spice mixture. It's a very simple dish but it really shows off the magic of seven spices- allspice, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, nutmeg.

Paul talked about this so much he decided to replicate it at home. We used veal, though lamb would be good also (and before you start yelling about veal, you can check this out). The only step I changed was to saute the tomatoes and onions separately, so that you can cook the tomato juices down and the dish won't end up too runny.

So here's to discovering new dishes, and traveling, and to having people you love in your kitchen. May they stick around for a while.

Jordanian Seven-Spice Veal
You can find seven-spice mixture at your local Middle Eastern grocery, or make your own per the recipe below.

1 onion, diced
2 medium, or 1 1/2 large tomatoes, seeded and diced
3 veal cutlets, cut into small pieces, or 12 oz lamb
olive oil
about 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons seven spice mixture
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

1. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a wide skillet. Season the veal with salt and pepper and add the skillet, cook until lightly browned, a few minutes. Remove veal to a plate.
2. If the pan is dry, add a bit more olive oil. Add the diced onion and saute until translucent. Add the tomato, season with salt, and cook over medium heat until the tomato reduces and is thick and no longer runny. Return the veal to the pan and sprinkle the seven spice mixture over top. taste for seasoning. Cook until the veal is heated through and tender.
3. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle pine nuts over top. Serve, preferably with rice and some good plain yogurt and diced parsley to go alongside.

Seven Spice Mixture

2 tablespoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons ground allspice
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

30 October 2009


I was baking at a young age.

24 October 2009

Swedish Limpa Bread

I remember picking up the first care package in the dingy basement of my college dorm. Sure, I'd been to summer camp before, but now I was on my own, taking the subway with my roommates, dashing across the traffic of Seventh Avenue, pretending like was a real New Yorker, and hoping I would really be one someday soon. And a few weeks went by, and there was that box, with my mom's handwriting on the top, and I opened it and all these colorful things just spilled out. Polka dotted tissue paper and cards and a little stuffed animal and brochures from the last art exhibit my mom went to and extra bobby pins. And right in the middle was a big round loaf of bread, all swaddled in plastic wrap and pink plastic cellophane like you wrap cookies in at Christmas.

In the seventies, when it was trendy to make everything from scratch, my mom knitted blankets and pressed homemade paper and cooked yogurt in little cups and she baked bread. She had the Sunset Book of Breads, and over the course of a year she made every single recipe. Even the danishes, she'd always tell me. But her favorite was the Swedish Limpa bread, the thick crumbed bread flavored with dark rye, molasses, cumin seeds, and orange peel. She loved it because it made great toast, crusty and warm and swathed in butter.

I had had mom's Limpa bread before, but sitting on the floor of my dorm room holding that loaf up to my nose it was as if I was smelling for the first time. And tasting each bit of rye and caraway and orange with each bite. And like mom, it's still one of my favorite breads, perfect for those first cool days of autumn, when the leaves are falling and turning on the oven is just what you want to do.

Swedish Limpa Bread

1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup cracked wheat (aka bulgur)
1 teaspoon crushed fennel or anise seed
1 teaspoon crushed cumin seed
1/4 teaspoon crushed caraway seed
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest
2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup molasses
3 tablespoons butter
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) dry active yeast
1/4 warm water
1 cup milk
2 cups unsifted dark rye flour
about 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (sift before measuring)

1. Place cracked wheat, fennel, cumin, caraway, orange zest, salt, molasses and butter in a very large bowl and pour boiling water over top. Let sit about 5 minutes, until cooled to lukewarm.
2. Meanwhile, dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let sit until foamy.
3. Add the yeast mixture to the cracked wheat mixture and add the dark rye and the milk. Add enough flour to make a moderately stiff dough. Turn the douh out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. Yes, I sad 10 minutes.
4. Place in a large greased bowl, turning to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm place to rise for 2 hours, until nearly doubled in bulk.
5. Punch down the dough and form 1 large or 2 medium size loaves. Place on a greased baking sheet and allow to rise until almost doubled, about 1 hour.
6. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes for the large 12 " loaf, or 35 minutes for the smaller 9" loaves.

18 October 2009

Musakhan - Bread-Wrapped Roast Chicken

There is a chicken carcass simmering in a pot of water on my stove and my house smells wonderfully of burgeoning chicken stock. But the cause of this smell is something even more excellent and tasty - bread-wrapped roast chicken. This is a Palestinian dish found across the Levant called musakhan. Musakhan, which literally means "warmed," consists of chicken pieces and caramelized onions wrapped up in swaths of of flatbread and baked until the chicken falls off the bone and the bread absorbs all those good chicken juices.

You'll see many different versions of this across the Middle East, including fast food versions that include flatbread dough with onions and chicken baked on top. But the traditional version wraps the chicken in a kind of bread called marquq, a very thin flatbread made on a saj grill. A good Middle Eastern grocery will have marquq, but other thin flatbreads, like shraq or lavash will also work.

When I once described this dish to a friend, she exclaimed, "bread-wrapped roast chicken, that sounds like a dream!" And indeed, it is excellent. The bread, which is soft and full of chickeny juices on the bottom and crisp and crackly no top, the deep flavor of caramelized onions, the fleck of sumac, the tender meat. It's the sort of weeknight comfort food you can eat all week long.

While you can include the chicken wings in the pan, I find the wings are boney and take up too much space in the pan, so I usually set them aside from another use. I like to double or triple the bread on the bottom, so that it absorbs chicken and onion juices, but I like only one layer of crispy bread on the top.

1 chicken (about 3 1/2 lbs), butchered into 2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 breasts
good quality olive oil
2 large sweet onions, or 3 medium size ones
1/4 cup sumac
3-4 sheets marquq bread
salt, pepper

1. In a large, wide skillet, heat a small glug of the olive oil, then lightly brown the chicken on all sides over medium heat, removing to a plate as they brown. Remove and set aside. Add some more olive oil to the skillet and cook the onions until translucent, about 35 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the sumac and cook for 2 minutes to mix.

2. Preheat the oven to 325F. Grease an 8x8 inch baking dish or large casserole, then line with two or three stacked sheets of marquq bread, or two halves of Arabic-style bread. Spoon half the onions over each, then arrange the chicken on top of the onions and cover with the remaining onions and the juices from the casserole. (You want the chicken and onion to be crowded in the pan, this prevents the bread from burning.) Cover with a single sheet of marquq bread or halves of Arabic bread, tucking in the sides crusty side up and sprinkling some water over top. Place into the oven.

3. After the first 20 minutes, cover the dish with aluminum foil. Bake until the chicken is very tender and almost falling off the bone, a total of about 1 1/ 2 hours. Keep an eye on the bottom of the pan, if you see juices bubbling in the bottom of the pan add some water to the bottom of the pan so they don't burn.

3. Let rest a few minutes, then serve. Makes good leftovers.

Note: The size of marquq bread varies, so use common sense.

16 October 2009

Currently Cooking:

Swiss-Chard and Walnut Ravioli in Lemony Homemade Pasta Dough

I made a batch of pasta dough (per the Babbo Cookbook basic recipe), and flecked it with lemon zest. The ravioli filling was slivered swiss chard with I cooked quickly in a skillet until wilted, then I tossed in a handful of walnuts and a pinch of chile flakes to toast. Put the chard and walnuts in a food processor with salt and parmesan and pulse until finely chopped. Use the mixture to fill cut out ravioli squares, form raviolis, boil them 3-5 minutes in water, toss with a little browned butter in a skillet. Voila, dinner.

08 October 2009

Writer's Block and Margaret's Eggplant

Every time I sit down at the computer in the last month, it seems I can't figure out what on earth I want to tell you. It probably doesn't help that I've been home approximately 6 of the last 30 days, traveling for work and pleasure, packing and unpacking suitcases. But that's not the excuse, really. Words come into my head on the airplane or often while I'm driving, but as soon as I go to put them on paper (or laptop, more likely), they vanish as quickly as they came. I carry a Rhodia notebook everywhere, but it seems to collect random phone numbers and half-thought-out sentences more than anything else.

I am sad to hear of Gourmet closing, and frustrated with the lack of strategy in the Afghan war, and I've even been doing a decent amount of cooking in the few days when I have a chance. We had a dinner party with whole grilled rockfish and raspberry souffles with peach creme anglaise (ooh, how wonderful they were), and I made chocolate chip cookies to take on the road with me. But when it comes to writing and sharing with you all, well I'll admit I'm coming up empty.

I sold my mom's house a few weeks ago, and have a sudden feeling of homelessness. The house is mainly cleaned out, but I left mom's recipe cabinet for last. Everyone says how hard it must be to clean out mom's house, but frankly a lot of the stuff in there is just stuff to me. I'm not as attached to objects as some people. But the recipe cabinet is a different story.

My mother clipped every Sunday NYTimes recipe since about 1975. I'm not kidding. I went through every single one- great stuff from the times of Craig Cliaborne and Patricia Wells. And that's all on top of the other clippings, the Times and the Post, and Gourmet, my grandmother's recipe box, and at least 30 recipes for pulled pork barbeque. My mother was a great cook, but after I left home she didn't cook much,with just herself to feed. But she kept clipping, and she'd always say that when she retired she'd make every single one of them. Going through them, it made me terribly sad that she never got the chance.

We went to Baltimore last weekend, to harvest grapes at a vineyard and stroll around the Walters and eat excellent Afghan food at the Helmand. We stayed with a friend Margaret, who is an excellent cook. When my mom was staying with her, she would often make this fried eggplant dish- they loved it so much the two of them would eat a whole eggplant in one sitting. I totally understand, this stuff is addictive. I made the recipe, simple pan-fried panko-crusted eggplant, for my last dinner party, and 3 whole eggplants were devoured in minutes. You could add some plain yogurt as an accoutrement, but this dish can really stand alone.

I don't know if this writer's block will continue, or what all do with that big stack of mom's recipe, or how much longer I'll feel that accute stab of orphanhood on a daily basis. But I know I'll keep cooking, because it's as intrinsic to me as sleeping and breathing, and I hope I'll figure out how to share that here as well.

Margaret's Eggplant

peanut or canola oil, for frying
2 eggplant, about 3" to 4" inches in diameter at the widest point
2 eggs, beaten with 1 tbl of water
panko for crusting

1. Slice the eggplant very thinly and spread on paper towels. Sprinkle throroughly with salt on both sides, then leave eggplant to drain for 20-30 minutes. Press the eggplant well on both sides to absorb moisture and brush off any excess salt.
2. Meanwhile, place the beaten egg mixture in one wide bowl and the pank in another shallow bowl or plate.
3. In your widest skillet or pan, heat about 1" of oil, enough for shallow frying, until shimmering.
4. Dip the eggplant slices in egg, then in panko to coat. Add the eggplant slices to the pan a few at a time (do not overcrowd) and fry until golden brown on both sides. Transfer to paper towels to drain. It will take several batches and you will probably have to replenish the oil in the pan.
5. Serve immediately.

19 September 2009


We returned from a lovely (if hot) vacation in Malta, spent a day in DC, and then left the following evening for Seattle for a wedding, plenty of good food, and some kayaking. And then I came back to DC and went back to work, and I'm still trying to sort through the massive pile of mail, catch up on bills and emails, and mainly just figure out what time zone I'm in.

Oh, and I need to update the blog.

And of course the one recipe I want to tell you about, the recipe just waiting in the queue wondering when, oh when, will she finally get home from vacation so I can get posted? Well, what happened is what often happens, I made the recipe for a party, everyone loved it and devoured it, and I forgot to take a picture of it until the next day, when all was left was this measly little dab. See:

So, pathetic pictures aside, that's muhammara up there, and you should really get to know her. Muhammara, the word coming from the Arabic for red, is a spicy dip made of roasted red peppers, walnuts, and chile flakes. It has this sort of amazing dense nutty texture that comes from the walnuts and the handful of breadcrumbs that are added to the dip. Muhammara is a specialty of Aleppo, Syria, which is unique among Middle Eastern cuisines for it's use of fiery spices, especially the famous Aleppo pepper. If you don't have Aleppo pepper I'd really recommend you seek it out, as it is both spicy and subtly smoky. But if you don't have any, a mix of half paprika, half red chile flakes will do in a pinch.

The nice thing about muhammara is that while it's excellent spread on bread, it has a myriad of other uses too. Add it to a sandwich with some sliced avocado and baby lettuces, slather it on top of pan-roasted chicken, or use it as a sauce for fish.

So, at least I've gotten you this recipe, and I've also figured out today is Saturday. I hope to get around to telling you about the delicious eats of our trips, as soon as I figure out what time zone it is again.

Pomegranate molasses and Aleppo pepper are available at Middle Eastern groceries.

1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
2 tbl tomato paste
1 1/2 tbl pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
2 medium or 3 large roasted red peppers
1 teaspoon cumin
3/4 cup bread crumbs
pinch each sugar and salt

1. If you are roasting the peppers yourself, roast them, then peel off the skins, core and remove the seeds. You can also use jarred roasted peppers
2. Pulse the walnuts in a food processor until the resemble the texture of coarse meal. Add the tomato paste, pomegranate molasses, Aleppo pepper, roasted peppers, and cumin and process until yo achieve a relatively smooth mixture. Add in the bread crumbs and season to taste with sugar and salt. Pulse everything to combine.
3. Refrigerate at least two hours before using to allow the favors to meld and the red crumbs to soak into the dip. Serve at room temperature with pita bread or as desired.

09 September 2009

A Pause...

We've been in Malta on holiday, eating good Gozitan cheese and bread and nougat and ice cream, going to the beach, sightseeing, and drinking good wine. We're now off to Seattle for a few days but I will get back to posting as soon as we're home!

26 August 2009

Mango Pie

We're taking a break from our usually scheduled Middle Eastern fare for something quite deserving of your attention: Mango Pie! I'll admit that I would not have thought of this myself, but a certain someone I know is quite obsessed with pie, and rather enamored of mangos, and using the five-year-old logic that things you like must go well together, thus begat mango pie.

And though mangos may not be traditional in pie, they certainly stand up perfectly to the short-crust treatment. They were soft and sweet without being runny or mushy. Looking at the price and labor of using fresh mangos, I decided to go for frozen, which turned out the be an excellent economical choice. The only thing I would say about frozen mangos is to thaw them and check them over for under-ripe pieces. Our bags had a few firm pieces that never softened up in baking, so I wished I had gone over the fruit first. Of course, fresh mangos would be even better I imagine. The pie is spiked with a bit of rum ad ginger, and we served it with an excellent homemade coconut ice cream for the a la mode treatment.

Mango Pie
If using frozen mangos you'll need 2 bags of frozen. Thaw them, check over for any too-firm pieces, and slice in half any of the larger segments. Then use as below.

dough for a double-crust pie
4 1/2 cups cubed mango
2/3 cup brown sugar
3 tbl cornstarch
2 tbl dark rum
1 tbl diced crystallized ginger
optional:1 egg for egg wash

1. Preheat oven to 425F. Roll out pie crusts and refrigerate.
2. Combine filling ingredients (mango, sugar, cornstarch, rum, ginger) in a large bowl.
3. Fit pie crust into pan, add filling, top with second pie crust and trim edges. Cut slits for vents on top crust. If desired, beat egg with a tablespoon of water and brush over crust.
4. Bake for 20 minutes at 425F, then lower oven temperature to 375F and bake for 30 minutes.

20 August 2009

Middle Eastern Cooking: The Saj

The saj (صاج ) is a round domed grill found across the eastern Mediterranean, particularly in Lebanon, that is used for cooking a preparing a variety of breads, sandwiches, and meats. The saj is literally a metal dome with a heat source underneath, usually a ring of gas flames. Saj's are often seen at roadside stands and cafes where they are used to prepare sandwiches.

For the sandwiches a piece of flatbread dough is quickly cooked on the saj, then one side of the flatbread is spread with toppings (za'atar with oil, cheese, diced chicken, or thick labne yogurt are popular choices). The toppings are allowed to warm and melt and then the sandwich is folded up and eaten. Crispy in some parts and chewy in others, it's the Middle Eastern marriage of a crepe and a panini. The large round surface of the dome allows multiple sandwiches to be made at once.
Numerous types of flatbreads can be made on a saj, so the term "saj bread," occaisionally seen on Middle Eastern style menus in the West, could refer to any number of breads. Probably the most famous type of bread made on the saj is marquk (markook, marquq) bread. This bread, native to the Chouf Mountains of Lebanon, a yeasted flat bread that is a very large, with the rounds paper thin in some points and thicker and chewier in others. It is also probably one of my all time favorite breads.

Meat can also be cooked on a saj, though this is less common because of the convex surface of the grill. The meat is usually very thinly sliced, marinated, and then the strips are grilled on the saj.

The easiest way to replicate the saj at home is to find an old wok you don't care about, then clean the bottom well, invert it over a gas burner, and heat it up. It worked quite nicely for me to make breads and sandwiches on a makeshift saj. Last time I was in Paris I think I saw more saj stands than in Lebanon, such was their popularity for tasty cheap street food. A friend and I always thought we could make a profitable business in bringing the saj to New York, but until we do, the U.S. may continue to be a sadly saj-less place.

13 August 2009


There are several Middle Eastern recipes that I have not yet posted here for several reasons: a) I don't particularly like the dish (ahem, sheep's feet), b) I lack the special molds, tools or ingredients to make the dish (ma'amoul, kishik), c) it makes a huge amount and I don't have a crowd to feed it to (whole roasted lamb anyone?). And finally, there is a whole slew of dishes that I haven't posted here simply because they are so common and obvious to me that I forget they might be new to someone else. Heck, it took me two years to get a baba ghanoush recipe on this site.

So, while I realize I've been absent from this site due to recent events, I hope to delve more into the both the basics and the more unusual dishes of Middle Eastern cuisine here in the future. I've got a whole bunch of ideas for postings, it's just getting them written down and uploaded. I hope you'll stay tuned.

One example of those most basic of Levantine staples is mujadara- a simple pilaf of rice, lentils and caramelized onions. I hesitated to post it here because it's been blogged about so many times before.

Like so many rice and legume staples- it relies on a simple but key combination of spices and flavors to elevate it from belly-filler to table-decorator. Every cook should know how to caramelize onions, an essential skill that mainly takes patience. Whenever my pantry is bare, leaving me only with some onions lolling in the vegetable drawer and a bit of old bread, I caramelize the onions and eat them over toast, with cheese melted on top. It's delightful.

So mujadara is just rice and brown lentils (cook them separately so they are both done just right), then cooked together with caramelized onions and spices. A simple cheap Mediterranean staple that I finally got around to sharing with you. Sahtain.

I love this dish with dollops of plain yogurt on top, even though it's not traditional it's very, very good.

2 large sweet white onions, thinly sliced
2 tbl butter
2 tbl vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups brown or green lentils (not red lentils or french lentils!)
2 cups long grain white rice
3-4 cardamom pods
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste
splash of good olive oil
optional: plain thick yogurt for serving

1. Melt the butter along with the oil and a pinch of salt in your largest skillet, and add the onions. Set heat on medium-low and stir occasionally until very soft, about 30 minutes. Turn heat to medium high and keep cooking and stirring often until deeply browned and sweet, another 20 minutes or more. Deglaze the pan with a splash of water (or more untraditionally white wine), stir and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, cook the rice and lentils separately according to the package directions. Add the cardamom pods to the rice pot while cooking, then discard when done. The lentils should be tender but not smushy or soupy, they should retain their shape.

3. Combine rice, lentils, half the caramelized onions, cinnamon, cumin, salt and pepper in a large pot. Add about half a cup of water and the olive oil and heat everything together until fragrent, warm and combined.

4. Place mujadara in serving dish. Scatter remaining caramelized onions over top. You can also decorate with some toasted pine nuts or chopped parsley. Serve, with plain thick yogurt on the side if desired.