Watermelon with Za’atar

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A summer treat that’s cold and sweet.

Some will like it, some will not
But do, at least,  just give it a shot.

Lemony, salty, nutty too,
And really, really good to chew. :)

For those who are adventurous, this combination of flavors is really delicious!  The sweet watermelon goes perfectly with the salty and tangy flavor of za’atar. You can find za’atar at any mediterranean market or you can always make your own.

Za’atar Recipe

1/4 cup sumac

2 tablespoons thyme

1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds

2 tablespoons marjoram

1 teaspoon coarse salt

In a pan, lightly roast sesame seeds until they are light brown. To a mortar, add all spices including sesame seeds and salt and grind them down with a pestle. The consistency should be slightly grainy, not powdery.  Sprinkle on the watermelon and serve.

Makloube (Upside Down) Lebanese Chicken & Rice

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Years ago, I lived in Fresno.

Spent many a day, in a special cafe.

Ate only one dish, to vary no wish.

Home in each bite, the flavors so right.

To my dismay, the chef went away.

The doors were locked, I was truly shocked.

No bye declared, no recipe shared.

My palate bereft, just a memory left. :(

I made this dish today mostly from memory.  I know the chef used shredded turkey, but I had chicken on hand.  The tahini is also something I added because I have been trying this dish for years and have never been able to recreate the “sauce” if you will.  It was not laban or labne, although both would be delicious as well.  I also got a few ideas, like the eggplant, from Greg and Lucy Malouf’s, “Saha – a chef’s journey through Lebanon and Syria.”

This can be prepared in individual bowls but for a dinner party, turning it out onto a large platter makes for a spectacular presentation.

CHICKEN & RICE

FOR THE POACHED CHICKEN

3 Bone-In Half Chicken Breasts

1 large Onion, quartered

2 stalk Celery, cut in thirds

1 Lemon, cut in half

1 tsp. Cinnamon (optional)

2 tsp. Allspice (optional

2 sprigs Thyme

FOR THE RICE

1 Eggplant, peeled and sliced

1/2 cup sliced Almonds

1/ 2 cup Olive Oil

2 cups Long Grain Rice

5 cups of stock

Salt (see directions below)

1/2 tsp. Pepper

1/3 cup Sumac

1 small Sweet Onion, sliced very thin

FOR THE TAHINI

1 cup Water

3/4 cup Tahini (well-stirred)

1/4 cup Lemon Juice

1 clove Garlic

1/2 tsp. Coarse Salt

For the poached chicken, place the breasts in a pot and fill with about 6-8 cups of water or until the chicken is just covered.  Add the onion, celery, lemon, cinnamon, allspice and thyme.  Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer for 5 minutes.  Turn the heat off and let the chicken sit in the hot water for 20 minutes.  Take the chicken out to cool and reserve the stock for the rice.

For the tahini dressing, place all of the ingredient in a food processor.  Mix until well blended.  Taste for salt.  Set aside at room temperature.

For the rice, begin by placing the eggplant in a colander.  Sprinkle with salt and let sit for 20 minutes.  Rinse and pat dry.  Heat the olive oil in a pan and saute the eggplant on both sides, until they are golden brown.  Place on a paper towel lined plate to drain.

In the same oil, saute the almonds until they are lightly golden. Place on a paper towel lined plate to drain.  Lightly salt.

Pour the stock into a bowl and wipe out the pot.  Measure out 5 cups of stalk and add it to the pot along with 1 tsp. salt.  Bring to a boil.  Add the rice and then turn the heat to low.  Cook the rice for at least 20 minutes.

While the rice is cooking, finely shred the chicken.

Finally, when the rice is done, take a deep bowl and lightly oil the inside.  Begin by placing the shredded chicken at the bottom, about 3/ 4 of the way up the sides.  Layer the eggplant on top of the rice.  Spoon the rice on top of the eggplant and pack it firmly.  Place the serving plate on top of the bowl and quickly turn it upside down.  The chicken and rice should come out perfectly formed.  Place the almonds around the plate.  Drizzle heavily with the tahini dressing.  Place the onions on top of the chicken and sprinkle on about 1/2 tsp. sumac per individual bowl.  Serves 6.

CHICKPEAS – NOT YOUR AVERAGE FRIES

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Chickpea Flour Fries with Dipping Sauce

These fries are not the kind from France,
They make me do the Dubke dance!

Cumin, Sumac, Seven Spice
Aromas melding to entice.

These flavors from the Middle East,
Will make you want to grab and feast.

CHICKPEA FLOUR FRIES
4 cups Water
2 cup Chickpea (garbanzo) Flour
1 tsp. Cumin (optional)
1 T Kosher Salt
2 cups Vegetable Oil
1/3 cup Sumac

Place the water in a pot with the salt and bring to a boil. Add the cumin to the chickpea flour. Pour into the water and whisk vigorously until all of the water is absorbed and there are no lumps, about 2-3 minutes. You are looking for the consistency of polenta. Take the pot off the heat.  There should be plenty of salt but now is the time to taste and make sure.  These fries are all about the salt.

Line a baking sheet with a silpat or wax paper. Pour the chickpea mixture onto the baking sheet and spread evenly. Set aside to firm for about 30 minutes.

After thirty minutes, take a knife and gently cut the mixture into rectangular pieces. Use your judgement as to the size.


Add the vegetable oil to a deep pan. Turn the heat to medium high. Once the oil is hot enough (you will get a nice sizzle) add some fries (about 8 at a time) and cook until they are golden brown and crispy on the outside. Take them out and place on a paper towel lined plate. Sprinkle lightly with sumac. Transfer to dish and serve immediately.

7 SPICE DIPPING SAUCE
1 Cup Yogurt (thin – not thick Greek style)
2 tsp. 7 Spice (found at any mediterranean market)
1/4 tsp. Salt
2 tsp. Shatta (Harissa or any other hot sauce will do)

I would leave out the cumin in the chickpea fries if you are using this sauce.  There is enough flavor in the seven spice mix. Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly. Place into a bowl for dipping.

YOGURT MINT DIPPING SAUCE
2/3 cup Yogurt (thin – not thick Greek style)
1 small clove Garlic
1 1/2 T mint, chopped fine
1/8 tsp. Kosher Salt

Wordless Wednesday – Fattoush

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FATTOUSH

RECIPE

3 hearts romaine, chopped

1/2 English cucumber or 3 Armenian cucumbers, peeled and sliced

2 cups grape tomatoes, sliced

1/4 cup sweet onion, chopped finely

1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped finely

1 1/2 cups crushed pita chips

1 tsp. sumac (optional)

DRESSING

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

3-4 T lemon juice (or balsamic vinegar)

1/2 tsp. garlic, mashed into a paste

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Chop the romain and place in a salad bowl. Add the cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and mint. The mint is what makes this salad so fresh. It should make 1/2 cup after it has been finely chopped. Gently toss the ingredients with the dressing. Add the pita chips and sumac and gently toss again. For the perfect, healthy meal, add canned tuna or shredded chicken. Although fattoush is well-known for its lemony dressing, I prefer balsamic vinegar. Either will do. Serves 4.

Armenian Cucumbers

Garlic Mashed with Salt

Fresh Mint

LEBNIA – An Acquired Taste?

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Labnia

An acquired taste this should not be,
This soupy flavor is heavenly.

Yogurt mixed with creamy butter,
Will set your taste buds all aflutter.

Kibbe balls spiced just right,
Spoon one up in every bite.

For density a cup of rice,
For garnishment some mint is nice.

Outside the box? Perhaps a bit,
But have a bowl and you’ll admit…

This medley is a notch above,
One you don’t need time to love.


This Lebnia recipe is from my late Aunt Margaret. She was one of the best Lebanese cooks in our family. Everything she served was fresh and home-made. I especially remember the bread she used to bake in the oven out in her garage, her delicious pie crusts and this fantastic soup. As far as I know, my Aunt Margaret was the only one in the family who made it.  For me,  her memory will always be attached to this delicious, comforting soup.

Photo Courtesy of Street Gourmet LA and Hayat's Kitchen in Los Angeles

For the Kibbe

1lb. ground London broil or top sirloin (have butcher grind for you)
1 small red onions quartered
1/2 small red bell pepper (seeded)

1/2 heaping cup #1 cracked wheat (soaked in warm water for approx. 15 minutes)
1 TBS ground allspice
1 TBS ground cumin
1/2 TBS Kosher Salt (approx.)

For the Soup

1 egg, beaten well
1 Qt. regular plain yogurt
3 1/2 cups water
1 cup white rice
1 tsp. kosher salt (or to taste)
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped and fried in olive oil

Directions

In a food processor, add quartered onions, mint and red bell pepper.  Mix until pureed.  Place meat in a large mixing bowl. Add pureed mixture,  allspice, cumin, salt and pepper.  Mix well (preferably by hand.)  Add the cracked wheat.  Mix well.  Add additional seasonings if needed to taste.  This is called KIBBE and can be eaten just as it is with olive oil, pita bread and fresh onions.

For this recipe, however, form 2 TBS of kibbe mixture into a football shape.  Stuff each piece with a pat of butter.  Place on tray and freeze.

In a large pot, add yogurt, water and egg and whisk over low heat.  Add rice and salt. When it comes to a slow rolling boil, add the frozen kibbe balls and cook on low for about 20-30 minutes. Do not cook with the top on the pot or the soup may curdle.  Garnish with fried, salted mint. Serves 6.

MJUDDARA – Lentils and Rice

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Mjuddara is but lentils and rice,
And caramelized onions to be precise.

So how do you pronounce this crazy word?
It seems so foreign and absurd.

The ‘M’ says “mmmm” like the soup company,
The accent on the ‘jud,’ you see?

The ‘da’ says “duh”
The ‘ra’ says “ruh.”
Say it now, “Mmm-JUD-duh-ruh!”

More simple a dish I know of none,
Have one taste and come undone.

If deep pockets you have not,
Don’t despair if coins you’ve got.

Just one plate on which to sup,
That’s all it takes to fill you up.

Or pair it with a chicken fried,
A piece of fish or yogurt side.

Texture is a thing subjective,
Pilaf? Risotto? What’s your objective?

What I wish to get across?
Dry or creamy, you’re the boss!

Don’t hold back, have seconds, thirds,
There is no fat, in other words.

Oh hail thee lovely rice and bean,  
There is no finer type cuisine.

One thing that I know for sure,
They’ll eat this in Kuala Lampur.

‘Cuz Lebanese you need not be,
To love this dish, I guarantee!

MJUDDARA RECIPE

1 Large Onion – Sliced

1 Cup Lentils

1/2 Cup Rice

1/4 Cup Olive Oil

1 Quart Chicken Stock or Water

1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt

1/4 Teaspoon Pepper

Sautee the onion in olive oil until golden brown or caramelized. Set aside. Add stock and lentils to a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 20 minutes. Add rice. Simmer another 20 minutes, or until rice is well-cooked. Add the onion, salt and pepper. Continue cooking over low heat another 5 minutes. Let stand for 5 more minutes. Serve as a side dish alone or with Lebanese yogurt. Serves 4.

I’d Rather Eat The Leaves

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WARAK ENAB – STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES

Stuffed Grape Leaves with Hummus

Stuffed Grape Leaves with Hummus


I often wonder of the vine,
That grows the grapes that make the wine.

Around the world we share this juice,
It tastes so good. It makes us loose.

Of this drink I do partake,
But wake up with a great headache.

To shun this vitis all together,
Would make me sad, under the weather.

So I don’t remain dejected,
To this stem I stay connected.

Outside I go, roll up my sleeves,
Get right down and pick the leaves.100_0787

Not for display or pretty bouquet,
These go on my dinner tray.

I would not mind to eat alone,
But before you judge or throw a stone,
Try one stuffed with meat and rice,
You might think it tastes quite nice.

Soaked in a bath of lemony stock,
A little tart but it won’t shock.

There really is no good excuse
Grab one, dip it in hummus.

No longer will you be polite,
For them you will gladly fight.

And you will find out just like I,
Both  fruit and leaf can make you high.

RECIPE FOR STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES

100 fresh grape leaves or 2 jars of grape leaves

1 1/2 lbs. ground top sirloin

1 1/2 cups rice

1 medium sized onion (quartered)

1 cup fresh mint leaves, washed/dried & loosely packed

3 Yukon Gold Potatoes, sliced rounds 1/4 inch thick

2 garlic cloves, whole

1/4 red chile pepper

1 TBSP allspice

1 TBSP kosher salt

2 TBSP Butter, cut in small pieces

2 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 tsp black pepper

1/2 cup lemon juice

3 1/2 cups chicken stock

In a food processor, add the onion, mint and red chile pepper. Mix until pureed.  Place meat in a large mixing bowl.  Add the pureed mixture, uncooked rice, allspice, salt and pepper.  Mix well (preferably by hand.)  Place in refrigerator.

For fresh grape leaves, give them a rinse in cold water and pat dry.  Cut off all stems.  For jarred grape leaves, soak them in cold water for ten minutes.  Drain the water and soak again for another ten minutes.  Take them out of the water and pat dry.  Cut off all stems.

Take the meat mixture out of the refrigerator.  Lay a leaf in front of you, vein side up so that the shiny part of the leaf is on the bottom.  Put about one tablespoon of meat at the stem part of the leaf.  Roll the bottom part of the leaf up to encase the filling.  Next, fold in the sides of the leaf.  Finish it off by rolling upward. (See photos below)

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Once the leaves have been rolled, add the olive oil to the bottom of the pot. Line the bottom with the sliced potatoes and add a pinch of salt. Then start layering the leaves on top of the potatoes, starting from the outside and working your way inward. Once you have completed one layer, begin another on top.

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When the grape leaves are all in the pot, add the chicken stock, lemon juice, whole garlic cloves and butter. Place a plate, face down, on top of the grape leaves to keep them from unwrapping while they cook. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Once the liquid is boiling, bring the heat down to low and simmer for 45 minutes. Let stand for another fifteen. There should still be a little liquid at the bottom of the pot. Pour it over the leaves once they have been served, or sop it up with a piece of pita bread!