Tabbouleh with a Twist

Tabbouleh is an Arabic dish comprised of bulgur and fresh herbs and vegetables. It is served as part of a mezze (Middle Eastern appetizers) and can also accompany many dishes as a refreshing side dish. I decided to give the classic tabbouleh a small twist, by omitting the cucumber and combining it with a salad that my grandmother used to make to accompany heavy meals. The salad included roasted eggplant, parsley, tomatoes, lots of garlic and lemon juice. Combining these two dishes together worked very nicely. The dish has some bright flavors of garlic, lemon and salt, and I love it!

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Ingredients:
1 cup coarse bulgur
2 medium eggplants
2 large tomatoes, diced
6-8 small cloves garlic, minced
½ cup parsley leaves, chopped
Juice from 1 large lemon (or 1 ½ if you are me)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt

Preparation:
Place the bulgur in a medium bowl. Cover with boiling water, about 3 inches above the bulgur, and let sit for 20-30 minutes. Drain to remove excess water.

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Place the eggplants on a baking sheet and roast under the broiler or on the grill. Poke the eggplant with a knife in several places to prevent it from exploding when on the grill. Let the skin get charred, then turn the eggplant 90 degrees and roast until charred. Repeat the process until the eggplants are well charred all around. Remove from the heat and leave on the side to cool.

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When cool enough to handle, scoop out the meat of the eggplants, using a spoon. Chop the meat on a cutting board. I also like to chop a little bit of the charred skin. It adds a great smokey flavor to the eggplant.

In a large bowl combine all the ingredients and mix together. Let sit for 30 minutes to allow the bulgur to absorb the flavors.

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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.

Bracing for a Hurricane

In the eight years we’ve lived in Florida, we were exposed to several hurricane season scares, and not knowing what to even expect we were stressed and scared and even slightly panicked every time. We’ve only been here through one serious hurricane though, Irma. Like everyone else, we stood in lines for water, food, and gas. We cleaned up the garage so that we could bring the cars in. We brought in all the planters, furniture and equipment we had in the patio and in the yard. We took pictures of the house and yard from all angles in case we would get hit. And we mounted all the hurricane shutters. But the reports about the eye of the storm hitting us directly were so scary, that we decided to leave Florida and go pay a surprise visit to grandma in New York.

When we got back, we discovered that the house remained intact, including the patio screen, which was amazing. And if that wasn’t good enough, some of the whitefly infested hedge between our house and the neighbors was knocked down (it belonged to the neighbor and he had refused to replace it) and our sick lemon tree that we had wanted to get rid of for years, was knocked down and unrooted as well. So, we actually had a very positive experience with hurricanes so far.

This time, with Dorian upon us, we decided to stick around. As insane as it sounds, I’m looking forward to the storm. I love storms. There is something exciting about them. If only they weren’t so destructive and dangerous.

Now that we’ve been pretty much prepared with almost everything we need, we feel a little less intimidated. I’m more worried about Tamar, though. Only two weeks in Gainesville, without a car, and no clue what to do to prepare for a hurricane. I gave her some instructions over the phone, and hope that the university will instruct her better if they are about to get hit.

Ok, now that I got that off my chest, I have to go and fill up the car with gas, just in case…

In the meantime, here are some dishes that I’m about to make today to save the frozen meat we have left in the freezer, just in case the power goes out for days. These things can be eaten at room temperature and do not need heating:
Turkey Meatloaf – can be thinly sliced and eaten like sausage on bread with some mustard. Yum!
Beef Croquettes – we eat them like a snack but they are certainly a main dish.
Fish Croquettes – LOVE them! I will post the recipe in the near future.

And now…got to go!

Zucchini Mint Latkes

Chanukah – the Jewish holiday of lights (and oil) is two days away. I heard a woman lament the other day that Christmas smells so good and cozy, with all the spices and the pines, and all we Jews get is the smell of oil around the house, because of all the frying we do around Chanukah. To me, though, the smell of fried Israeli jelly donuts (soufganiot) brings back pleasant memories of passing many fun hours with my mom in the kitchen, helping her to prepare soufganiot and levivot (latkes) for the evening.

In our house, the soufganiot are a much bigger deal than the latkes, but because I don’t think I will get to make them this year, I chose to represent Chanukah with a latke recipe. The recipe, invented in my kitchen, is different than the usual potato latkes that are so familiar in American Jewish cuisine. This recipe captures the freshness and flavors of the Mediterranean. The combination of zucchini and mint is well known in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines, and I’m sure there are other versions of this recipe floating around the Internet.

The secret in the recipe is the mint. Don’t try to skimp on it. If anything, go the other way – the more, the better.

When grating the zucchini, don’t discard of the zucchini ends (the bottom end of the zucchini). Check out my recipe Zucchini Ends in Garlic to learn what you can do with them.

Ingredients:

5 large zucchini (about 2lb)
2 cups chopped mint leaves
1 medium onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs
1 cup flour
salt, pepper
½- 1 cup oil for frying

Preparation:

Grate the zucchini using a food processor or a grater. Place the grated zucchini in a colander. Take a handful of grated zucchini and using the palms of your hands squeeze well to extract all the liquid.

Place the squeezed zucchini in a large bowl.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.

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Cover the bottom of a large pan with oil and heat.

Using your hands, make patties out of the zucchini mix and place in the preheated oil. Alternatively, use a spoon to spoon the zucchini mix into the pan and flatten it lightly.

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Fry for 1-2 minutes until edges are golden brown, then flip and fry the other side.

Remove from the pan and place on a tray covered with paper towel to absorb extra fat.

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Serve warm or at room temperature together with Tzatziki, or Greek yogurt mixed with minced garlic.

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Happy Chanukah!

Food Recycling is Fun (and economic, and responsible, and environmentally conscientious, etc…)

I don’t cook every day. I cook about twice a week, enough for 3-4 days. Sometimes, when I have time, I decide on a cooking day. I make many different dishes, divide them into family size containers, and freeze them. This saves my life when I’m super busy, and don’t have time to cook.

Once a week, I go over the food in the fridge and pantry to check on the food situation in the house. This way I make sure that, God forbid, we do not run out of food (not that we are even close to being in such danger with the amount of food I keep in the house). In fact, our pantry is so well stocked that we are prepared for the hurricane season all year round.

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Sometimes, though, the fridge seems to be filled with food, but when I start opening containers, most of them are almost empty (some are totally empty!!! Oh, these kids…). Most of what I find are leftovers that are not enough for a whole meal. I also come across fruit or veggies that nobody wants to eat anymore, because they are overripe or wrinkled. I love when that happens, because that gives me the opportunity to wrack my brain, be creative, and somehow turn all these leftovers into something yummy. It’s like being on one of those TV cooking shows; only I don’t have to compete with anyone 🙂

Usually, we lick our fingers with pleasure and deplore the fact that it was a one-time dish that we can’t easily recreate. But every once in a while I mess up, and either I end up eating it all myself (throwing away perfectly good food is a big NO!), or if it’s really horrible, I bid it farewell and reluctantly dump it in the garbage can, while thinking of all the hungry kids around the world who would not be as picky as I am and enjoy every bite. Ok…maybe they wouldn’t.

When you wonder what you can make out of leftovers, think soup, omelet, or a mish-mash stew. Then it becomes easy. All you really have to do is throw some leftovers together in a pot or pan, and add a little twist to create something new. I know, I know, It’s easy when you know what to do…

So what kind of leftovers are we talking about? Anything from rice, potatoes, pasta and other starches, to cooked fish, meats, chicken, and cold cuts. Vegetables, raw and cooked, are always good candidates for recycled food. Even overripe fruit, whole or cut, can be used creatively.

To get in the groove, understand the possibilities, and get some ideas, here is a fun, easy recipe, using the discarded ends of the zucchini. I learned this recipe over Thanksgiving weekend, from my mother-in-law who is a great cook.

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Zucchini Ends in Garlic

2- 3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic
1 fillet of anchovy (optional)
20 zucchini ends (bottom part only) cut in half
salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a pan. Mince the garlic and add to the oil. Sautee until garlic is starting to turn golden. The original recipe (the one I got from my MIL) also calls for 1 fillet of anchovy to be added with the garlic, but since I ran out of anchovies, I used some salt instead.

Add the zucchini, salt (if you did not use anchovy) and pepper, and sautee for 1 minute.

Lower the heat to low and sautee the zucchini until cooked but not mushy, and the garlic is fried and crunchy.

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Eat it as a side dish or add to a good Caesar salad instead of croutons.

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For other trash to treasure recipes, check out the following recipes:
Kompot
Easy Japanese dinner
Beef croquettes – Leftover version

Chestnut Pumpkin Soup

I don’t always plan our family meals in advance, and sometimes I find myself having to make dinner at the last minute, with whatever I have at home. Luckily, I love improvising when it comes to cooking, and I’m also very good at it (if I may say so myself). But to be totally honest, I have a well-stocked pantry, so I have options to play with.

This delicious soup was born in my kitchen, a while ago, without planning in advance, just like many other dishes…and I just realized that it happens to be a perfect dish for Thanksgiving. Enjoy!

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion diced
2lb pumpkin (that I had cut into cubes and froze) defrosted
1 bag (5.2oz) of peeled and roasted chestnuts
1 hipping tablespoon chicken flavor soup powder
Black pepper and salt to taste
1teaspoon sugar
8 cups water

Preparation:
In a large pot, heat the oil and sauté the onion until golden brown.

Add the pumpkin, chestnuts, and spices and stir well.

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Add the water and bring the soup to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and cook covered for about 45 minutes. Turn off the heat.

Using a hand blender, puree the soup in the pot. The texture should be smooth and creamy.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

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