Tag Archives: Middle Eastern

Recipe: Baklava

8 Feb

I have a thing for baklava. But I’m particular about it–though I’ve seen (and tasted) many, many versions of it, this recipe has always been my absolute favorite: made with walnuts instead of pistachios and with rose-scented sugar syrup (known as atr) instead of honey. Baklava is a bit labor-intensive, but in the past I had eager young assistants to help cover and uncover the filo dough, and to watch this sweet, crispy, buttery, nutty confection unfold–and then, to help eat it in no time at all. This time, I lacked the assistants but had guests willing to do the honors, so the baklava disappeared just as quickly. Unfortunately, I realized far too late that I had not taken any photos of just one piece of baklava on a plate.  I hope the other photos can do it some justice in conveying its deliciousness. The recipe is adapted from Lebanese Cuisine by Madelain Farah.

B9

Baklava

Sugar Syrup
2 c. sugar
1 c. water
squeeze fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. rose water

Baklava
1 pkg. filo dough, thawed
2 c. chopped walnuts
1/3 c. sugar
1 tbsp. rose water
3 sticks butter, melted

Preparation

Syrup
1. Combine sugar, water, and lemon juice in sauce pan. Boil over medium heat for about 10-15 minutes, or until slightly viscous. Add rose water, remove from heat, and let cool completely. When cool, put in the refrigerator. The syrup must be cold when used later.

B1

Baklava
1. Combine nuts, sugar, and rose water; set aside.

B2

2. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Spray a 9×13 (or 10x 14) baking pan with cooking spray. Unwrap the filo sheets (seen below split into in two packages), keeping unwrapped filo covered with a piece of plastic wrap and a slightly damp kitchen towel. Have melted butter ready. (Note: some recipes call for clarified butter, but this one does not–and the results are equally delicious.)

B3

3. Remove two filo sheets from the stack, place in baking pan, and brush with melted butter. Repeat with more filo sheets, until you have used half of them. Do not brush the top two sheets with butter. Spread walnut filling on top of the unbuttered filo sheets, in an even layer.

B4  B5

4. Continue topping with remaining filo sheets, brushing every two sheets with butter, except the last two. Using a very sharp knife,  trim any bits of filo that hang over the edges of the pan, then carefully cut the top of the baklava into a diamond pattern, going only as deep as the walnut layer, not all the way down. Brush butter into the cuts, and across the baklava pieces. This will require a steady hand.

B6

5. Bake the baklava until golden brown–about one hour. Immediately upon removing from oven, spoon cold sugar syrup all over baklava. It’s important to use cold syrup, or the baklava will get soggy. Let cool completely before serving, then cut pieces all the way through and serve.

B7

Recipe: Walnut-Pomegranate Dip (Muhammara)

31 Jan

In the world of dips, hummus reigns supreme–but there is another Middle Eastern dip that also has lots of protein and lots of tang, and is equally easy to make. Although, now that I think of it, I realize it’s been a while since I made my own hummus; my local grocery store now devotes entire refrigerator sections to it and I have gotten lazy. This is a sad state of affairs–because hummus is really incredibly easy to make…. But back to the Muhammara. It gets its protein from the walnuts and its tang from pomegranate molasses, which you can find in Middle Eastern and Indian grocery stories and at a certain national, upscale grocery-store chain that shall not be named. Roasted red peppers also add to the slightly sweet undertones of this dip, which deserves a spot on any appetizer palette. This recipe comes from Bon Appetit magazine.

Muhammara
Walnut-Pomegranate Dip (Muhammara)

1 c. walnuts
½ c. roasted red bell peppers from a jar, drained (reserve the liquid)
1/3 c. panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. pomegranate molasses
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. dried crushed red pepper

Preparation
1. Blend/process all ingredients until coarsely ground. (Add a bit more panko or walnuts if too thin, or roasted red pepper liquid or molasses if too thick.)

Food processor
2. Place the dip in a serving bowl. Drizzle some olive oil over the top–or for extra tang, mix together a bit of olive oil and pomegranate molasses and drizzle that instead.

Note: This is what pomegranate molasses looks like, if helpful.

PM

Recipe: Easy Lahm bi Ajin (Lebanese Lamb Pizza)

5 Oct

In Arabic, lahm means “meat,” and ajin means dough or pastry. Many cultures pair meat with pastry, and while I like just about every iteration of that theme, this Lebanese version is one of my favorites. This recipe is slightly easier and quicker to make than some traditional versions because it uses a pita-bread base instead of one requiring home-made dough. These Lahm bi Ajin are pretty hearty, and go quite nicely with Tabouli or other salads.

lahm bi Ajin3
Lahm bi Ajin
Serves 4

1 lb. ground lamb
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/8 tsp. chilli flakes
1/3 c. tomato paste
1 tbsp. pomegranate molasses, or juice of 1/2 a small lemon
1/4 c. yogurt
salt and pepper to taste

1/4 c. pine nuts (optional)
extra 2 tbsp. olive oil
4 medium-sized pitas, unopened
1 tbsp ea. fresh mint and parsley, or 1/2 tsp. dried mint and dried parsley

Preparation
1. Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, and cook the lamb until it is no longer pink, breaking it up as finely as possible. Remove the lamb from the pan, drain in a colander, and set aside.
2. Wipe the skillet, add the 3 tbsp. of olive oil, and when hot, add the onion and cook until translucent and slightly golden.
3. Add the garlic and spices, and cook for a few more minutes. Return the lamb to the pan along with the tomato paste and the pomegranate molasses/lemon juice; mix well to combine. Cook the lamb mixture for 5 minutes over low heat, mashing periodically with the back of a wooden spoon.
4. Turn off the heat, and add the yogurt to the lamb mixture in two batches, incorporating well after each batch. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set the lamb mixture aside.
5. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Take out one large (or two medium) rimmed baking sheets–to accommodate the four pitas.
6. Toast the pine nuts in a small skillet until they start to turn golden; remove from skillet.
7. To assemble: pour the extra 2 tbsp. olive oil into a very small bowl; brush the top of each unopened pita with the olive oil. Place the pitas on the baking sheet(s).
8. Divide the lamb mixture among the four pitas, patting it down and spreading it to the edge of each pita. Sprinkle each pita with the mint, parsley, and pine nuts, pressing the pine nuts into the lamb mixture. Drizzle the pitas with any remaining olive oil from the small bowl.
9. Bake in the oven until the edges of the pitas start to get crisp and the lamb topping begins to brown, about 15 minutes.
10. Eat immediately.

Recipe: Stuffed Grape Leaves

13 Feb

I would be hard pressed to come up with a last meal. I like so many foods, that I’d want something more along the lines of a smorgasbord. But one dish that would certainly be part of that smorgasbord would be stuffed grape leaves — the warm, simple, and oh so heavenly Lebanese version made with a lemony lamb and rice filling. In my very biased view, the versions of stuffed grape leaves that are meant to be eaten cold (usually meatless) cannot compare with their fragrant, hot-out-of the pot counterparts.

For a sublime gastronomic experience, dip these grape leaves in plain yogurt. The cool, smooth tanginess complements them perfectly. See photos below for step-by-step instructions on how to fill and roll grape leaves.

Stuffed Grape Leaves

1 (15-oz. ) jar grape leaves in vinegar brine
1 lb. ground lamb
1 c. white rice, such as jasmine
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. allspice
1 tbsp. salt
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice

Preparation

1. Open the jar of grape leaves, pour out the brine, and carefully ease the grape leaves out of the jar. (They will be tightly packed, in rolls.)
2. Put the grape leaves in warm water and let soak while making the filling.
3. For filling, combine lamb, rice, cinnamon, and allspice in a medium bowl, and mix well. Set aside.
4. Gently swish grape leaves around in the warm water, and slowly begin to separate as many as possible, taking care to not tear them. When most have come out of their rolls, drain the water.
5. Line the bottom of a medium saucepan with a layer of grape leaves (this is a good way to use any that are torn or too small).
6. Select a grape leaf and shake to remove any excess water that may be clinging to it. Place it on a cutting board glossy side down (veiny side up).  If there is a bit of stem still attached, cut it off (see photo below).

7. Take a bit of filling and shape into a small roll; lay horizontally across grape leaf, just above where the stem was.

8. Fold the bottom part of the grape leaf over the filling.

8. Tuck in each side, as if making a burrito.

9. Continue to roll the grape leaf, folding in the sides as you go.

10. Place the rolled grape leaf seam side down in the sauce pan, tucking tightly against the side of pan.

11. Repeat the process until you have run out of filling. Depending on the size of the saucepan, you should have about two layers of rolled grape leaves. Be sure to tuck them in tightly; you do not want them to unroll while cooking.
12. Sprinkle the 1 tbsp. salt on top of the grape leaves. Add enough water to the pan to just cover the grape leaves. Place an inverted heat-proof ceramic plate on top of the grape leaves (you can also use the lid of a smaller saucepan–you will need something that fits inside the main saucepan and can lay on top of the grape leaves to keep them from shifting while cooking). Cover the saucepan with a tight-fitting lid.
13.  Cook, covered, over medium heat for 15 minutes. Lift the lid, and pour in the lemon juice (you can pour it around the sides of the plate; it will seep underneath). Replace the lid, reduce heat to low/simmer, and cook for 15 more minutes, checking periodically to make sure the water has not completely dried up. Ideally, the water will be absorbed by the end of the cooking period, but you don’t want to run the risk of burning the grape leaves.
14. After 15 minutes, gently pour out any water that might remain, holding the grape leaves in place with the plate (or small lid).
15. Invert the sauce pan onto a serving platter, discard the grape leaves that lined the pan, and serve the stuffed grape leaves immediately, with plain yogurt as an accompaniment.

Adapted from Lebanese Cuisine, by Madelain Farah.

Recipe: Lamb Kafta Kabobs

8 Sep

In the United States, we tend to use cinnamon mostly in sweet dishes. But in other parts of the world, cinnamon has long been used in savory dishes, too, where it adds an extra layer of flavor and warmth. It is an ancient aromatic spice that was worth more than gold and was considered an appropriate gift for royalty.

These lamb kafta kabobs, which feature the traditional Lebanese flavor combination of cinnamon and allspice,  will make anyone who eats them feel like royalty, too. At our house, we put them in pita bread with hummus (and/or plain yogurt mixed with diced cucumber, garlic, and mint) and lettuce and tomatoes.  I usually make Tabouli as an accompaniment, and some of  us also add that to our pitas for a full flavor experience.

The traditional method of preparation involves shaping the kabobs around a skewer, but it is far easier (and faster) to make them without the skewer. If using wooden skewers, soak them in water for 30 minutes before assembling the kabobs.

Lamb Kafta Kabobs
Serves 4

1 lb. ground lamb (can use half lean ground beef if preferable)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 c. finely chopped parsley
3/4-1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. allspice

Preparation
1. Mix all ingredients well.
2. Take a small handful of the meat mixture and mold into a roughly 4 ” cylindrical shape around a skewer, or just mold into cylindrical shape without the skewer.
3. Grill and enjoy.

Source: Lebanese Cuisine by Madelain Farah