Kubbeh Hamousta

Kubbeh hamousta (sour kubbeh in Kurdish) is one of the better known Kurdish classics. It was also one of my grandmother’s signature dishes. When she wanted to make sure we’d come visit, she would make kubbeh hamousta and call all her children to let them know. Not that we didn’t go see her anyway, but it was certainly a great pleasure to enjoy her kubbeh and see how happy it made her. Even when she got very old and could barely use her broken, aching hands, my grandma still insisted on making kubbeh hamousta for us. That was only one of her many ways to show her love to her six children, twenty-two grandchildren, and forty-four great grandchildren.

I had the privilege to spend many precious hours with my grandma, and learn from her the art that is Kurdish cuisine. The recipe below is my grandmother’s version for kubbeh hamousta. Although there are other versions out there, I wanted to remain true to her flavors and techniques. This way I feel I can pass on her legacy and continue my old world tradition.

For the filling:
2 tbs vegetable oil
1 medium onion
1lb fatty meat (like chuck), cut into ½ inch cubes (I buy it pre-cut as Carne Picada)
Salt (to your liking)
½ tsp Black pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup celery leaves, chopped very thinly

For the soup:
1 large onion, chopped
1 celery bunch with leaves, rinsed and cut into ½ inch strips
1 Swiss chard bunch (6-7 leaves), rinsed and cut into 1 inch strips
3 leeks
1 head garlic, cloves peeled and sliced
8 cups water
½ tsp. citric acid or juice from 2 lemons
2 heaping tbs. chicken soup powder
Black pepper

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large sauté pan. Add the chopped onion and sauté until onion is translucent. Add the meat, salt, and pepper, and sauté over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the meat is crispy and well browned.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the celery and the garlic. Mix well and set aside to cool. The filling can be made in advance and kept in the refrigerator.

To make the soup, cut off the dark green part of the leeks and use only the white and light green parts. Cut the leeks lengthwise, then rinse under running water to remove all dirt and sand, inside and out. Slice the leeks into ½ inch strips.

In a large soup pot, heat the oil and sauté the onions.

Add the celery, Swiss chard, leeks, and garlic and sweat to extract the flavors of the veggies.

Add water and spices and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer on medium low heat for about 30 minutes.

* Be very cautious when using citric acid. It is very strong and powerful when added to food. A tiny bit goes a long way, so be super careful with the quantities. The soup needs to be sour but in a pleasant way. You may want to adjust the amount of the citric acid to your liking.

While soup is simmering, make the Kubbeh dumplings following the picture step by step recipe in my blog.

Once done, you’ll have a tiny adjustment to make for the hamousta recipe. The shape of the kubbeh is slightly different. After you’ve created perfect balls, place each ball between the palms of your hands and slightly press to flatten it.

hamousta uncooked

Very gently, add the kubbeh dumplings to the soup, moving them gently occasionally, using a wooden spoon, to make room for more kubbeh dumplings to be added. Once you have all the kubbeh in the soup, cover the pot and simmer for 45 minutes.

Beef and String Bean Stew

The following dish is one of the dishes I grew up on. Both my Kurdish grandma (my mother’s side of the family) and my Persian aunts (my father’s side of the family) used to make this stew. They each had their own methods and they used different spices, so the dish tasted a little different, but the result was always great. My mother used to make this stew a lot at home, usually substituting chicken or turkey for the beef. Again, the end product came out tasting different, but still always delicious.

If you chose to substitute the chicken or turkey for beef, you do not need to cook the meat separately. Put all the ingredients in the pot at the same time, bring to a boil, lower the heat and cook for an hour.

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, diced
3 lb beef shanks, bones removed
2 lb fresh green beans
2 tbs tomato paste
3 cups fresh or canned pureed tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 tsp cinnamon (optional)
½ tsp turmeric (optional)

In a large pot heat the oil on high heat. Add the onion and sauté until onion is translucent.

Cut the meat into 2 inch cubes and add to the pot. Seal the meat stirring it occasionally. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook for 30 minutes.

Trim the ends of the string beans and cut them in half. Add to the pot together with the pureed tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, and the spices. Stir well.

Cover the pot and cook for an hour and a half.

Every once in a while, stir the contents of the pot and make sure the stew has some liquid to cook in (not a lot). Add a little water if needed, so the stew doesn’t get burned.

Serve over white rice or mashed potatoes, or just dip some good bread in the sauce and enjoy!

Stuffed Vegetables Kurdish Style

Last week I felt a huge urge to make one of my belated grandma’s dishes – stuffed vegetables Kurdish style. My beloved grandma passed away 3 years ago, and I’ve been missing her ever since. Sometimes I feel she comes to visit me. I can really feel her presence near me. And then I usually end up cooking one of her amazing dishes that I miss so much, which is what happened last week.

However, this time, things got really weird. As I was working on preparing the stuffed vegetables with my daughter, my phone kept ringing with the notification ring that I have for our cousins’ group on WhatsApp. I didn’t look to see what it was about because I was busy cooking and my hands had food on them. After I put the pot on the stove to cook, I went back to the phone to catch up on the conversation, and the first text that came up was from my sister and read “I’m so in the mood for grandma’s stuffed vegetables”. I was stunned!!! The following texts from my cousins were in the same spirit, and they all lamented the yummy food they miss, and how they all missed grandma. I immediately took a picture of my stuffed veggies and posted it in the group. The feeling that maybe grandma was trying to communicate with us didn’t leave me for days…

Anyway, last week, making the stuffed vegetables, I only stuffed the vegetables I already had at home. I skipped the eggplants and the grape leaves from grandma’s original dish. Although they add tons of flavor and a gorgeous look to the dish, I didn’t feel like going food shopping.

For this reason, I’m not using the name grandma used. The combination of vegetables doesn’t really matter, but I feel that I would like to use the real name when I make the full rich version of my grandma’s amazing recipe.

As was expected, the stuffed veggies came out delicious, but not as delicious as when grandma made them.

Hope you get inspired and try to cook this dish yourselves.

4 medium tomatoes
2 large onion, peeled
8 small courgettes for stuffing (light skin version of zucchini)

For the filling:
1 small onion
2 tbs oil
2 cups rice
½ lb ground beef
I small tomato, diced
½  cup thinly chopped celery
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons tomato paste
¼  cup oil
½  teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon citric acid
salt, pepper

Preparing the vegetables:
Trim the stems off the courgettes. Using a small teaspoon or a corer, scoop out the flash, leaving a wall ¼ inch thick. Keep the extracted vegetables flash in a separate bowl to use in another dish.

Cut the top of the tomatoes, and using a spoon, scoop out the seeds and the inner flash. Leave the flash of the outside wall intact. Keep the extracted flash in a separate bowl to use in another dish.

Cut the top and bottom of the large, peeled onions. Make a cut along the length of the onion all the way to the center. Place the onions in a pot with boiling water for a few minutes, until the onions soften, and the layers start separating. Remove the onions from the water and set to cool. Pull apart the layers into individual leaves.

Preparing the filling:
Chop the medium onion thinly. Sauté in a saucepan with two tablespoons oil, until golden brown. Transfer the onion to a large bowl. Add the rice, meat, celery, tomato, tomato paste, garlic, parsley, oil and spices. Mix everything well. The filling should be very salty and sour. The flavors dissipate and balance during the cooking process.

Stuff the emptied courgettes and tomatoes with the filling, about three quarters of the capacity, to leave room for the rice to swell. Arrange the courgettes tightly on their side in a large saucepan. The tomatoes should be standing with the opening facing up.
Fill each layer of the onions with a heaping tablespoon of the filling and wrap the onion around it loosely to allow the rice some room to swell. Place tightly in the saucepan, with the opening facing down, to prevent the onions from opening while cooking.

Place a plate, face down, on top of the vegetables.
Fill the pot with water, just enough to almost cover the vegetables and cover the pot with a lid. The vegetables themselves will extract more liquid during the cooking process.

Bring the pot to a boil, lower the heat and let cook covered on low heat until most of the liquid is gone, and there is a small amount of thick sauce remaining on the bottom of the saucepan.

Another option is to bring the pot to a boil and then transfer it to a 275 F preheated oven, and bake covered for 3 hours. Whichever cooking method you choose, check the pot a couple of times, to make sure there is some liquid in the pot. If there is no liquid left and the rice is not yet fully cooked, add a little bit of water, cover and keep cooking.

My Mother’s Shefteh

One of the dishes I remember fondly from my childhood is what we called at home shefteh. Shefteh in Persian, like kofta or kofteh in Indian, Arabic, Turkish, and Greek means ‘meat balls’

I always thought shefteh was another Persian dish that my mother learned to cook from my father’s side of the family, but I don’t remember ever seeing it anywhere else but in our home. I just learned this morning when talking to my mother, that this dish is actually her own creation.

She remembers that my Persian grandmother used to make a dish called shefteh which consisted of meatballs and potatoes in some yellow turmeric sauce. My mother, who didn’t want the potatoes, created her own version of the dish which actually turned into a soup.

It consists of meatballs in tomato broth, with carrot, zucchini, and herbs. The main spice in the soup is hawaij, a Yemenite spice mix for soups and stews that can be found in kosher and Middle Eastern stores or could be easily made at home.

I remember my mother making shefteh every once in a while, and for me it was always a treat of the comfort food kind. In fact, I took so much liking to this dish that after I got married shefteh became the dish I’ve made every year for the meal that precedes the Yom Kippur fast.

And here I am again, right before Yom Kippur, making that wonderful dish that I always wonder why I forget about all year round. My shefteh though, never comes out as good as my mother’s. So, I feel very fortunate this year to have my mother over from Israel, so she can cook the shefteh and work her magic on it. I’m sure there are some dishes out there that may resemble this dish in some ways, but this shefteh is apparently unique to our family, which makes me even more eager to share it with the world.

For the soup:
3 tbs oil
1 onion, diced
1 ½ heaping tbs tomato paste
1 ½ heaping tbs hawaij
3 heaping tbs chicken soup powder
8 cups water
3 medium zucchinis, cut into 1inch cubes
3 large carrots, cut into 1inch cubes
4 stalks celery, sliced
1 cup parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
1 cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

For the meatballs:
1lb lean ground beef
1 tbs salt
½ tsp black pepper
½ cup plain breadcrumbs
1 onion, diced
½ cup parsley and cilantro leaves, chopped

Heat the oil in a large pot and brown the onion on medium high heat. Add the tomato paste and the hawaij and stir well for 30 seconds to enhance the flavors but be careful not to let it burn.

Add the water and the chicken soup powder, stir well.

Add the zucchini, carrot, and celery and bring the soup and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and cook for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, in a medium sized bowl, mix the meat with salt, pepper, breadcrumbs, onion and leaves. Form oval or round meatballs of about 2-inch-long and add to the soup.

Add the cilantro and parsley. Adjust the salt and pepper and cook for 30 more minutes.

The shefteh can be served as a soup on its own or served over rice or couscous.

My Grandmother’s Cheek Meat Stew

Sephardic (Middle Eastern) Jews celebrate Rosh HaShanah a little differently than Ashkenazi (European) Jews. We have a whole Seder (ceremony) with different foods that correspond to wishes and blessings for the new year. One of the wishes is recited over the head of fish or meat (basically the cheek meat), to wish that we will be the head and not the tail, in shedding light, goodness, and wisdom upon the world.

Every year on the eve of the Jewish new year, my grandmother would cook her special stew, made from the cheek meat of a cow. It was delicious and special, and we only had it once a year, on Rosh HaShanah, so it gave us something to look forward to.

This year, I am very fortunate to have my parents here with us for the Holidays, and I asked my mother to recreate her mother’s cheek meat stew so we could have it at our Holiday table.

And since there was no written recipe or any approximate quantities to rely on, she kind of winged it. Luckily, it turned out very similar to the flavor we remembered, so we are both very happy. And we even wrote down what my mother did, so now we have a recipe. And I’m sharing it with you all. Enjoy!

By the way, I found prepackaged cheek meat at Walmart. It’s by ‘Rumba’, a brand that sells different cuts of meats that you wouldn’t find on the regular meat shelves. If you can’t find the meat in a store near you, you may be able to order it online.

Also, don’t get alarmed by the large amounts of meat. Part of the meat is fat and part of it is connective tissue. Over whole, the recipe feeds about 8-10 people. Of course, you can always buy only half the amount of meat and adjust the recipe accordingly.

7 lb cheek meat
1 large onion, sliced
6 dried bay leaves
1 tbs whole allspice seeds
½ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp ground nutmeg

Cut the meat into large pieces (about 4 inch), and place in a medium size pot.

Add the onion and the spices and cook on medium-low heat, until the stew starts to boil, then lower the heat to low and cook covered for 2 and a half hours.

Adjust the seasoning as necessary.

The meat should be very tender, and it falls apart, so be careful when you remove it from the pot.

We like to cook the stew in advance. Once it gets to room temperature, we chill it in the fridge for a couple of hours, so we can easily remove most of the fat floating on top. Then, we either freeze it, or heat it up and serve immediately.


Apple Khoresh

Apple stew or Khoresh-e-sib in Persian, has a fun flavor. It has a gentle sweetness to it but it’s also sour. It has a flare of cinnamon and other spices, but none of them is dominant, so the result is a balanced, mild, but very interesting dish.

As in all Khoreshes, the dish is not about the meat. The meat is just one of the ingredients that help contribute to the combination of flavors and to the final result. For this reason, the amounts of meat in khoresh are less than you’ll find in other stews.

1/3 cup yellow split pea
3 tbs oil
1 large onion, chopped
1lb boneless chicken thighs (or beef, lamb), cut into thin strips
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
½ cinnamon
1 cup water
2 tbs lime juice
3 tbs brown sugar
½ tsp turmeric
5 tart apples, peeled and cored
2 tbs oil

In a small saucepan combine the split pea with 2 cups water and cook for 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a medium pot, heat the oil and sauté the onion until translucent. Add the chicken and sauté for 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the salt, pepper, and cinnamon.

Add 1 cup water, lime juice, sugar, and turmeric. Simmer for 15 minutes over low heat.

Cut each apple into 8 wedges. Heat two tbs oil in a skillet and fry the apples, turning them until they are golden brown on all sides.

Preheat oven to 350F.

In an ovenproof dish place the cooked chicken. Pour the split pea on top and arrange the apples on top of the peas. Cover and bake for 30 minutes.

Serve over white basmati rice.