Textured Soy Protein (TSP)

Textured soy protein (TSP) is a by-product obtained from extracting soybean oil. The pulp is separated from the oil and is extruded in the form of dehydrated chunks of fiber with a spongy texture that slightly resembles meat texture. TSP is made of soybeans but it may also contain wheat and gluten. It contains 50% protein in its dry form, and 16% protein after rehydrated, and is therefore considered a great substitute for meat.

Textured soy protein can be found in the shape of nuggets, flat strips, or flakes. Its flavor is pretty bland. Given that its texture is dry and spongy, it can absorb a lot of liquid and take on the flavors added to it, so it can imitate beef, chicken, pork, fish, or any other flavor you wish to add to it.IMG_7794

The recipe below is a pretty successful attempt to substitute soy nuggets for beef. My traditional recipe for beef croquettes calls for ground beef, but since we have become vegan in my family, I decided to recreate the recipe with non-animal products. Soy nuggets seemed like the best way to go.  They can be found in Asian and Indian grocery stores, and in health food stores.

To prepare it for use, TSP should be rehydrated. It needs to be soaked in hot liquid (water, soup) for about 30 minutes, then drained, and all liquid should be squeezed out of it. Then it is ready to be used in a dish. For the following recipe, I soaked my soy nuggets in boiling water.IMG_7724


Soy Croquettes

2 cups dry soy nuggets
2 tbs ground flax seeds
8 tbs water
1 cup parsley leaves
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
3 cloves garlic, peeled
4 tbs all-purpose flour
2 tbs chicken flavored soup powder
Salt and pepper
Oil for frying

After soaking, draining and squeezing all liquid out of the soy nuggets, place them in a food processor and pulse to create crumbs resembling ground meat. Move to a large bowl.IMG_7725

In a small bowl mix the ground flax seeds with the water and let rest for a couple of minutes, until it becomes eggy in texture. Or, if you eat eggs, you may lightly beat 2 eggs.

Place the onion, garlic and parsley in the food processor and chop thinly.IMG_7726

Transfer to the bowl and add the flour, the spices, and the flax seeds (or the beaten eggs).

Using your hands, mix all the ingredients to a cohesive mixture.

Form croquettes the size of a ping pong ball and flatten them a little.IMG_7730

Heat oil in a large skillet and fry the croquettes for 3-4 minutes on each side, until golden brown.


I tried adding the fried croquettes to a Persian stew that I made (something I used to do with beef croquettes). The stew came out delicious, but the croquettes fell apart. So I think it’s better to just eat them fried with some other things on the side.




Fenugreek is a plant believed to be originated in the Middle East. It is used as a fresh or dried herb and also as a spice, using the seeds. Fenugreek seeds are rich in protein, dietary fiber, B vitamins, manganese, and iron. In their raw state, the seeds are very bitter and need to be roasted or soaked in water for an hour to remove most of the bitterness. The smell and the flavor of fenugreek seeds are pungent and dominant, and for most Westerners it is an acquired taste. You either love the flavor and the smell, or you can’t stand them. When eating large amount of fenugreek, the odor may be secreted in perspiration (I’m talking from personal experience), so make sure that you or people around you don’t mind the smell 🙂

Some people may be allergic to fenugreek, so please make sure you are not susceptible before attempting to experiment with this great plant.

The plant in all its forms is widely used in the Indian subcontinent. The leaves are used in curries and are also served as fresh herbs in salads. The seeds are used ground in spice mixes, pickles and chutneys.

In Persian cuisine, the leaves are called Shambalileh and this is probably the name you’ll find them under when looking for them in Middle Eastern stores. They are used in khoresh Sabzi, kukus (quiches), and fresh as part of sabzi (fresh greens served on the table).

Fenugreek seeds are used in Yemenite cuisine ground in spice mixes (Hawaij) and in Samnah – the Yemenite version of ghee. The seeds are also used to prepare a condiment eaten by Yemenite Jews called Hilbah (see recipe below) which is served with soups and stews. Hilbah is considered very healthy as it is believed to strengthen the heart and lower cholesterol and blood sugar.

Ethiopian cuisine also uses fenugreek, called Abesh. The seeds are incorporated in various dishes and are also used as a natural herbal medicine to treat diabetes.

Georgian cuisine is another cuisine that enjoys fenugreek in its dishes. They use a slightly different type of fenugreek, known as blue fenugreek.

I’m sure there may be other cultures using fenugreek in various degrees in their cuisines, and I apologize in advance to all of those I unknowingly omitted.

At home we use both the leaves (we can only find them in their dry form) when we cook Persian dishes, and we use the ground seeds in spice mixes and to make Hilbah which goes great with Yemenite soup.

Hilbah is a frothy condiment with a slightly slimy texture. When whisked with lemon and water, the seeds change their color from yellow to creamy white. Yemenite people eat Hilbah with soups, salads, and breads. Hilbah was brought to Israel by Yemenite Jews and is now widely eaten by other ethnic groups in Israel.

2 tbs ground fenugreek seeds (found in Indian and Middle Eastern stores)
¼ cups water
Juice from 1 lemon

Place the ground seeds in a bowl, cover with water and soak for at least an hour in the refrigerator. The seeds will soak most of the water and will double in size.

Discard of the water by tilting the bowl gently (don’t spill the jelly-like seeds themselves).

Add lemon juice, 2 tablespoons water and salt, and using a whisk or a mixer whisk the hilbah until it becomes thick and frothy. Add a little more water if necessary. The consistency should be fluffy but not watery.

It is best eaten when freshly made. You can keep leftovers in the fridge in a closed container. Hilbah tends to turn dense and lose its foam after a while. You can either add it to foods as is or add some lemon and water and re-whisk it to recreate the original texture.

Not All Rice is Created Equal

In 2012 Consumer Reports and the FDA published some findings about the existence of organic and inorganic arsenic in rice. Organic in this case refers to organic matter (i.e. soil and water), not the organic growing process. Inorganic refers to pesticides and fertilizers used on the rice. The arsenic content of rice varies depending on the type of rice and where it is grown. 

  • Basmati rice is the safest to consume. It absorbs the least amount of arsenic, compared to other types of rice.
  • Brown rice has 80 percent more inorganic arsenic on average than white rice of the same type, due to the accumulation of pesticides and fertilizers in the outer layer of the grain.
  • Rice grown in India, Thailand, Pakistan and California contains less inorganic arsenic, because it is treated with none or less chemicals than in other parts of the world.
  • All types of rice grown in the U.S, with the exception of Sushi rice and rice grown in California, have the highest levels of pesticides and fertilizers. Consumer Reports states that rice from California has 38 percent less inorganic arsenic than white and brown rice from other parts of the country.
  • Rice that’s grown organically, may not have inorganic arsenic content, but it takes up organic arsenic from the soil and water, the same way conventional rice does.

Did I get you freaked out? Before you start panicking, let’s put things in proportions. Rice has been eaten for centuries all around the world, and in some cultures it is a staple item. Yet, people are alive and are generally healthy. Additionally, there is some arsenic in everything we eat due to environmental conditions and the way we grow our food. But we are still around, aren’t we? So no need to stop enjoying rice. Just eat it in moderation. I’m certainly not giving rice up. I love it! 

Here are some tips on how to minimize the amount of arsenic you get from eating rice and products containing rice:

  • Avoid processed foods that contain rice syrup, especially brown rice syrup. Processed food is not that great for you to begin with. Now you have yet another reason to stay away from it.
  • Look for imported rice from India, Pakistan or Thailand. California rice is also good. Avoid rice that was grown in Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana and Texas. Same goes for rice flour.
  • Try, if possible, to purchase white basmati rice (Indian or Pakistani) or white Thai Jasmine rice. Brown rice is also an option, but since it contains more arsenic, eat it in smaller quantities.
  • Soak the rice in water for 20 minutes before cooking it. Rinse well and then cook it according to your recipe. Some of the vitamin B in the rice may be lost in the rinsing process, but some of the arsenic will be washed away as well.
  • Some minerals such as selenium, magnesium and zinc, can help our body rid itself of arsenic, so if you are a rice eater, consider adding these minerals to your daily food consumption. 

And now to my favorite part – recipes. There are many ways to cook rice, either on its own as a side dish, or as part of a whole dish. At home we eat a lot of both. As part of my Persian and Kurdish heritage, I grew up eating rice very often, so for me it is a staple item in the kitchen.

The best tasting white, plain rice, in my opinion, is basmati rice cooked the Persian way, such in this white rice recipe. If you’re looking for ‘all in one pot’ try Halebibi – Persian Pilaf.

The easiest and fastest way, though, and what we usually do at home on a regular basis, is the following recipe. You could use Jasmine rice, or any long grain rice, but the best result in texture and flavor is when you use basmati rice.

If using whole grain rice use 2 cups water for every cup of rice. Cooking time will be longer as well, and the texture will be closer to cooked wheat or oats.

Everyday White Rice
4tbs oil
2 cups white basmati rice
3 cups water
1 tbs salt

Place the rice in a bowl and rinse well, two-three times, to get rid of the starch and any potential arsenals. If you have the time, it is even better to soak the rice in water for half an hour and then rinse it. Drain.

Heat the oil in a medium pot. When oil is hot, add the drained rice carefully, and stir lightly. Be careful not to break the rice grains.

Add the water and salt. Give the rice a stir to prevent it from clumping. Bring to a gentle boil, then lower the heat to low, cover the pot and cook on low heat for 20 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and let stand covered for 5 more minutes, then remove the lid and fluff the rice.

Enjoy with your favorite chilis, stews, soups, or just eat it with a spoon strait from the pot.

Omani Lime

Omani lime, also known as dried lime or Persian lime, is a very unique spice, used abundantly in Arab Gulf countries, Iran and Iraq. It is used to add citrusy sourness to meat and fish dishes.

The limes, the size of key limes, are harvested and sun dried. The drying process of the limes allows for the fermentation of the inner part of the limes, thus creating a complexity of rich sour, sweet, bitter, and fermented umami flavors.

There are two kinds of Omani limes: black and white. In fact, as I’m writing these lines I’m thinking of a great comparison to another unique spice – truffles. Both the limes and the truffles are harvested in a very specific geographical area and are exported to the rest of the world. Both have two varieties – black and white, the black being the stronger in flavor and the white the milder. Both spices are relatively rare, though, while that makes truffles an expensive commodity, Omani limes are cheap.

Omani limes haven’t gained much exposure in the American culinary world, and their use in the U.S is pretty much restricted to the cuisines they originate from. They can be used whole, crushed, or as a powder. When using whole limes, they need to be pierced to let the flavors from inside the lime mix with the food. When crushed, the seeds have to be removed before adding the lime to the dish, as the seeds are very bitter.

As much as I love Omani limes, they are definitely an acquired taste. You either love them or hate them. I grew up with them, as my father is from Iran, and we use them in many delicious Persian dishes such as Khoresh Sabzi, Persian style stuffed cabbage, Tas Kabab, and many more.

Interested in trying this unique ingredient? You may find it online or in Middle Eastern stores. Do not be overwhelmed by the amount of limes in the bag. First of all, since they are dried, they can last years in your spice cabinet without going bad. Second, for one dish you will probably need 3-4 limes for a pronounced flavor. Third, Omani limes are cheap. If you decide you do not like them, at least they didn’t cost much.

How to Grill Eggplants and Bell Peppers

Eggplants and bell peppers are very popular vegetables in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. They can be either fried or grilled first and then used in main dishes as well as appetizers.

The best way to grill eggplants and peppers to get the most flavor, is to grill them on open fire, either on a grill, or over a burner of a gas stove. However, as easy as it sounds (and it really is), not many people I know in the U.S. know how to do it right, let alone do it at all.

So for all of you who would like to try this grilling technique, here’s how you do it:

On the grill –

Set your grill to high heat.

Pierce the eggplants in several spots, using a sharp knife. That will allow steam to come out of the eggplant when grilling and will prevent the eggplant from exploding on the grill.

Place the eggplants on the grill, no need to wait for the grill to be hot.

When the bottom of the eggplant is nicely charred, turn it a notch, using tongs, and grill until charred. Keep turning the eggplant until all sides are well charred.

Place the eggplant up-side down in a strainer over a bowl and cut the tip slightly to let all the liquid out. Leave to cool.

Place the peppers on the grill, no need to wait for the grill to heat. When bottom side of peppers is burned, turn them a notch, and grill until burned. Repeat this step until peppers are burned on all sided, including the top. Remove from the grill, using tongs, and place in a pot covered with a lid. Leave all the peppers covered in the pot for 30 minutes. The steam created in the pot will make the skin separate from the flesh and peel off easily.

On the stove –

Turn the stove burner to medium.

Place the eggplant or pepper on the burner grate directly above the burner. When the bottom is charred, turn slightly until all sides are well charred.

Remove from the burner and continue as specified above.

Both the eggplants and peppers can be used chopped or pureed to make different salads and spreads, mostly of the Mediterranean, Balkan, Middle Eastern type. They can also be used as an ingredient in some other dish.

Tahini – The Middle Eastern Super Food You Want to Get to Know


One of the staple ingredients in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines is tahini – a velvety, earthy paste made from ground sesame seeds. Tahini is rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, lecithin and iron, and is high in vitamin E and B1, B2, B5 and B15. It has 20% complete protein, which is more protein than in most nuts.                             

It can be enjoyed either in its raw form or combined with other ingredients to create savory dips, condiments, salads, or desserts.

In it’s raw form, tahini has a consistency that is a little thinner than almond butter. It can be eaten with a spoon or as a spread on a piece of bread. Mixed with some honey or date molasses it yields a halvah-like sweet spread – the Middle Eastern version of peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Halvah, in case you’ve never heard of it, is a Middle Eastern sweet delight made of tahini, usually in the form of large slabs. Persian halvah has a softer, smoother consistency. Basic halvah is made from raw tahini, sugar, and vanilla and can be found in supermarkets and in Middle Eastern stores in the U.S. Some other traditional halvah flavors, such as marble (chocolate swirl), chocolate, and pistachio are mostly found across the Middle East and in some Mediterranean countries. In recent years in Israel, halvah, like many other traditional and local specialties, has become a gourmet item sold in boutique and specialty stores. The number of halvah variations you can find is enormous. Nuts, chocolate, coffee, dried fruit, spices, candies, etc. are just some of the creative variations you may come across. The picture below, showing a large selection of halvah blocks, was taken at a halvah store in the Machaneh Yehuda market in Jerusalem.


At home, we like to drizzle raw tahini on vanilla ice cream. It makes it taste like halvah ice cream. Another Middle Eastern dessert we love making at home is Halvah Cookies. It’s a real treat saved for special guests.

In the U.S, tahini is known mostly in its savory form, as a Middle Eastern dip that is sometimes combined with Hummus. But good tahini dip doesn’t need the hummus in order to shine. It is delicious on its own and can be served with raw vegetables, or as a savory spread in sandwiches (with or without hummus). It may also be drizzled over cooked meats and veggies. Tahini is also a key player in baba gahnoush spread. In Middle Eastern cooking, tahini is sometimes added to meat, chicken, and vegetable dishes and baked in the oven. Stay tuned for some of my favorite recipes that feature tahini. But in the meantime, here is my recipe for tahini dip

½ cup raw tahini paste (found in health food or Mediterranean/Middle Eastern grocery stores)
Juice from 1 lemon
¼ tsp salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ cup water

Combine all the ingredients together in a medium sized bowl, and mix well until a smooth paste is formed. You may also choose to use a blender to mix the ingredients.

tahini making

In either case, the consistency should be that of a dip. If the paste is too thick, add more water and stir. If too loose, add a little more of the raw tahini. You can keep the prepared tahini in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a week. The dip gets thicker the following day and is better used as a spread. If you want to thin it out, add a little bit of water and mix well.

tahini made