Middle Eastern food

Matbucha

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Spring has sprung and for me, that means more salad.

So I got to thinking about that word salad, which I realize means so many things that I was never able to fit all of my salad recipes into a file folder simply marked “salad.” I had to sub-categorize them into files such as “grain salads,” “tomato salads,” “fruit salads” and so on.

Over the years I’ve made salads of all sorts. Some based mostly on greens and some that had no greens at all.

I’ve made beet salads, dinner salads, fish salads and quinoa salads.

I could go on. But really, there is no one way to describe “salad,” even though a dictionary might say something like “a mixture or raw and cooked vegetables served with dressing.”

No.

Because recently I prepared some Matbucha, which is in an entirely different salad category.

Matbucha is a “salade cuit” — that is, “cooked salad.” In fact the word Matbucha, is an Arabic word that means “cooked salad".”

Cooked salad may seem odd to Western thinking except for the fact that most of us actually eat lots of cooked salads, such as potato salad and egg salad too. We just don’t think of them as “cooked salads,” but that’s what they are.

Matbucha is a Moroccan dish, especially popular in the Moroccan Jewish community, which was once large and thriving in North Africa. When good numbers of Moroccan Jews migrated to Israel, they brought their love of this dish with them and it is now wildly popular in Israel too.

For good reason: Matbucha is vibrantly tasty, easy to cook and is ideal for Shabbat because, even though it’s cooked, you can serve it at room temperature. Use it as a salad course or as a side dish with dinner. I’ve always served it with hors d’oeuvre, as a topping for crackers or pita wedges (it works well with other Middle Eastern nibbles and dips such as hummus, raheb, baba ghanoush and so on).

You can make Matbucha 3-4 days ahead. That’s handy isn’t it?

Matbucha

  • 2 large red bell peppers

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1 serrano pepper, deseeded and chopped

  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

  • 6 medium tomatoes peeled and finely chopped

  • 1-1/2 teaspoons paprika

  • 1 teaspoon sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste

Preheat the broiler. Place the peppers under the broiler, about 4-6" away from the heat, and broil for 2-3 minutes, until the skin has blistered. Turn the peppers and repeat this process until the entire surface is blistered and lightly charred. Remove the peppers and place them in a paper bag. Let rest at least 10 minutes. Remove the peppers from the bag, peel off the skin and discard the stem and the seeds. Cut the peppers into pieces. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the peppers, serrano pepper and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, paprika, sugar and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cook for 30-35 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is thick.

 Makes 1-1/2 to 2 cups

 

Hawaij Chicken

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People send me all sorts of press releases about different foods and ingredients. But one that recently caught my attention was about Pereg’s new Hawaij spice combos. I was intrigued enough to say “yes” when samples were offered. I love trying out new spice blends and experimenting with them in recipes.

Of course Hawaij is not new — just new to me. It is a traditional Yemenite seasoning, the word in Arabic translates as “mixture.”

In fact there are two such mixtures: savory Hawaij for soups, meats, vegetables and so on, and sweet Hawaij for coffee. The Pereg savory blend includes ground cumin, turmeric, coriander, black pepper, cardamom and cloves, a flavorful combination of warmth and spice, an aroma that’s magical. The coffee-blend contains ginger, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom.

The company sent me both, so — I got cooking.

The first recipe was so good I have made it several times already: braised Cornish hens in a coconut milk based curry-type sauce, served with cooked rice and a green vegetable. I have since made this recipe a few more times using chicken wings and bone-in chicken breasts.

The coffee spice? I used it to season homemade honey muffins. I added some to my afternoon coffee (a middle-eastern counterpart to American pumpkin-spice latte). And I couldn’t leave it at that so I made some Hawaij-coffee-spice ice cream.

I see more to come in the future of this fabulous spice blend.

Chicken or Cornish Hen with Hawaij Spice

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 2 cornish hens, split down the back or 4 large pieces of chicken

  • 1 large onion, chopped

  • 1/2 lemon, sliced

  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped

  • 1-1/2 teaspoons hawaij

  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

  • 1-1/2 cups coconut milk

  • 3 cups cooked rice

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Dry the surface of the hens or chicken, place them in the pan and cook them for 4-5 minutes, turning once or twice, to brown the surface. Remove the pieces to a dish and set aside. Add the onion, lemon slices and garlic to the pan. Sprinkle with hawaij and salt and pepper to taste. Stir to coat the ingredients evenly. Return the hens/chicken to the pan, spoon some of the onion mixture on top. Pour in the coconut milk and stir to blend it in. Cover the pan. Place the pan in the oven and cook for 30-35 minutes or until the meat is tender and cooked through. Place the rice on a serving platter. Remove the hen/chicken pieces from the oven and place them on top of the rice. Keep the platter warm in the oven. Place the saute pan over high heat on the cooktop. Bring to a boil, then simmer the pan juices for about 4 minutes or until slightly thickened. Pour over the hen/chicken and serve.

Makes 4 servings

Best Hummus

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Despite the fact that hummus is the most popular snack and you can buy dozens of different kinds in every supermarket, I still make my own. And every time, a different recipe, always trying for perfection.

I served a version seasoned with zatar and garnished with toasted pine nuts once for an election night get-together.

I've made hummus using dried chick peas and canned.

One year the guests at my annual Break-the-Fast declared that year's hummus the best they ever tasted.

But apparently last year's Break-the-Fast version topped even that! 

So here is the recipe: easy to make, terrific for entertaining, for snacks, as a sandwich spread. Perfect all year, perfect for break-the-fast.

 

Lemony-Garlic Hummus

  • 1 can chickpeas (about one pound)

  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

  • 1/2 cup tahini

  • 2 large cloves garlic

  • 1 teaspoon paprika

  • 1/2 teaspoon zatar

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • cayenne pepper to taste (I use 1/8 teaspoon)

  • chopped parsley, optional, about 2-3 tablespoons

  • zatar, optional

  • pita bread or chips

Drain the chickpeas but reserve the liquid. Place the chickpeas, lemon juice, tahini, garlic, paprika, zatar, salt and cayenne pepper in a food processor. Process until you reach the texture you like, adding 3-4 tablespoons of the reserved chickpea liquid if you prefer it smoother and softer. Spoon into a serving bowl. Sprinkle with optional parsley and zatar. Serve with pita bread or chips.

Makes about 1-1/2 cups.

Tahini Turmeric and Mjadra

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I have made mjadra (mujadara) so often I can't even count the ways. It's a family favorite that I serve on special occasions (the #1 item at my Yom Kippur Break-the-Fast), at somber times (the Nine Days), for holidays (my Thanksgiving vegetarian entree) and sometimes just for any old meatless meal. 

I've made mujadara using bulgur wheat and brown rice, barley and kaniwa

But I never made it with wild rice or with white rice. In fact, I hadn't even thought about that possibility until I got Vicky Cohen and Ruth Fox's new cookbook: tahini & turmeric; 101 Middle Eastern Classics Made Irresistibly Vegan.

This is one gorgeous book, stuffed with recipes that anyone who loves good food, or who is kosher or a vegetarian or even a hearty carnivore and even a vegan-skeptic would find -- yes -- irresistible.

There were (still are) so many recipes I want to try. I've followed Vicky and Ruth's blog for years and have cooked many of the dishes in their posts, every one of them a winner.

But when I saw the recipe for Mjadra, I knew that had to be the first from the book.

It was as delicious as any version of this dish I have ever tried. The addition of pomegranate molasses to the onions gave the dish a faint, lush tang. The authors suggest one of two sauces to accompany the grains. I prepared the (vegan) Cucumber Yogurt Sauce (which is also paired in the book with Zucchini Fritters -- a delicious-sounding recipe that I will try next to see how the taste compares with my own, non-vegan version).

Every recipe sounds and looks tempting. Over the summer I will try my hand at the Tangy Roasted Carrot Hummus -- a quick and easy hors d'oeuvre for the company I am sure to have. And because I love all versions of Shakshuka, I will definitely try the interesting Chickpea and Pepper Shashuka -- with rounds of polenta taking the place of the traditional eggs! (It's the recipe on the book cover.) Before the High Holidays I am going to try the spectacular-sounding Creamy Tahini Cheesecake with Pistachio Crust and Fresh Pomegranate. 

I could go on and on. I rarely post about cookbooks, but this one is special, and comes in handy particularly this week, when the Nine Days begin and observant Jews will be eating meatless meals. 

Good luck with the book Vicky and Ruth!

WILD RICE MJADRA

Our take on this classic Middle Eastern dish incorporates wild rice and sautéed on-ions, as opposed to fried, for a healthier version. We also cook the rice, lentils, and onions separately, and then mix them together right before serving. This is a fool-proof method to prevent the mjadra from becoming mushy.

Traditionally, this dish is served topped with a cucumber yogurt sauce, which we made using nondairy yogurt (see Zucchini Fritters with Cucumber Yogurt Sauce, page 26). While we were growing up, our dad always ate it with his favorite Spicy Israeli Salsa (page 62), made with freshly picked tomatoes and cucumbers from his garden.

Store in the refrigerator for up to four days.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 50 minutes

Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

WILD RICE:

½ cup uncooked wild rice

½ teaspoon salt

LENTILS:

1 cup dried French green lentils,

picked over and rinsed well

½ teaspoon salt

WHITE RICE:

1 cup uncooked basmati rice

1 teaspoon salt

SAUTÉED ONIONS:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, sliced

¼ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses

            (see page 132 for homemade)

Cucumber Yogurt Sauce (page 26) or Spicy Israeli Salsa (page 62), to serve

Prepare the wild rice: Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium-size saucepan over high heat. Add the wild rice and salt. Bring again to a boil, lower the heat to low, and simmer, covered, for 40 to 45 minutes, or until tender. Remove from the heat, drain well, and set aside.

Prepare the lentils: Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add the lentils and salt. Lower the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the lentils are soft but not mushy. Remove from the heat, drain well, and set aside.

Prepare the basmati rice: In a medium-size saucepan, bring 1½ cups of water to a boil in a separate medium-size saucepan over high heat. Add the basmati rice and salt. Return to a boil, lower the heat to low, and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, until the water has been absorbed and the rice is tender. Remove from the heat and set aside, covered.

Prepare the onion: Heat the olive oil in a large, nonstick skillet. Add the sliced onion, salt, and pepper, and cook over high heat for 5 minutes, stirring often. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook for 15 minutes. Add the pomegranate molasses and continue to cook for another 5 minutes, or until the onion turns dark golden brown.

Assemble the mjadra: Combine the cooked wild and basmati rice, the cooked lentils, and the onion in a large bowl, and toss well. Serve warm, topped with Cucumber Yogurt Sauce or Spicy Israeli Salsa.

Referenced recipes:

CUCUMBER YOGURT SAUCE:

½ cup plain unsweetened coconut or CASHEW YOGURT

1½ teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

¼ teaspoon salt

1 small cucumber, peeled and cut into small dice

SPICY ISRAELI SALSA:

1 pound assorted colored tomatoes, diced small

5 to 6 Persian cucumbers, diced small

2 to 3 jalapeño peppers, diced small

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

¼ to ½ teaspoon salt

HOMEMADE POMEGRANATE MOLASSES:

6 cups pomegranate juice

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the temperature to a low boil and cook, uncovered, for 2 hours, or until the liquid has reduced to about one third. Keep an eye on it, so it doesn’t overflow.

Remove from the heat, let cool, and transfer to a glass jar with a tight lid. The molasses will thicken once cooled.

Store in the refrigerator for up to six months.


Excerpted from Tahini and Turmeric: 101 Middle Eastern Classics—Made Irresistibly Vegan by Ruth Fox and Vicky Cohen. Copyright © 2018. Available from Da Capo Lifelong Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Haroset with Pistachios and Pepper

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Charoset (Haroset) is more than a blob of stuff that sits on the Passover Seder plate. Sure, we talk about it during the Haggadah reading. It’s there to symbolize the mortar used between the bricks that Jewish slaves used to build the pyramids for the ancient Egyptian pharaoh.

But it’s also food. In our family, another fabulous side dish, more like a relish, that we eat plenty of during the meal.

None of us ever really loved the old fashioned apple-wine mixture that most of us Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern European descent grew up with. It always tasted a bit sour and it got brown and ugly and besides, my daughter Gillian can’t eat walnuts and somehow almonds didn’t taste right in the mixture.

So, years ago I experimented with lots of recipes and found one I liked. It was a “Persian” recipe that I changed over and over until I got it the way I liked. At first my kids refused to eat it saying they would rather eat real mortar than this new charoset. But over the years they gradually came to love it and now insist they always did or at least can’t remember when they didn’t.

I double the recipe I am going to post here because it’s so good we eat a lot of it and besides, this relish lasts a while in the fridge so you can keep on having it all during Passover.

Haroset with Pistachios and Pepper

  • 1 cup chopped dried apricots

  • 1 cup chopped dates

  • 1/2 cup raisins

  • 1 cup shelled pistachio nuts

  • 1 cup chopped almonds

  • 2 tart apples, peeled, cored and chopped

  • 2/3 cup sweet red Passover wine

  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh orange peel

  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger

  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 1/2 cup orange marmalade

    Combine the apricots, dates, raisins, pistachio nuts and almonds in a bowl and toss ingredients to distribute them evenly. (You can prepare this much a week ahead). Add the apples, wine, vinegar, orange peel, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne and marmalade and mix ingredients. Let rest at least 4 hours before serving. May be made 3 days ahead.

Makes about 6 cups.