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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Turkish Salad

In Israel, this salad is known as Turkish salad and is sold in every supermarket under this name. I’m not sure that this salad actually originated in Turkey, since I haven’t found any supporting evidence for it when looking for recipes. However, I don’t know what else to call it, so I’ll just go with the name I know.

We make many different salads at home on a regular basis but Turkish salad wasn’t one of them. For no good reason, really. But we did eat it every time we dined in Middle Eastern grill restaurants in Israel. And my kids loved it. So I decided to look for the recipe and make it at home. As I’m sure you know, as with any recipe, there are so many different versions and I wasn’t sure which one to try. And then I met this Israeli woman who owns a bakery/grocery store in Boca Raton, where I buy really good pita bread. She also makes her own salads, one of them was this Turkish salad. When I asked her how she makes it, she gave me the recipe without hesitation, which I thought was very nice of her. And this is the recipe I use. It tasted pretty good to us, so we stuck with it. It is a salsa-like salad, and is a great accompaniment to main dishes or on sandwiches. We especially enjoy it with good pita bread or a fresh homemade challah. Hope you like it, too.

Ingredients:
4 tbs oil
3 red bell peppers, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can tomato paste
½ cup water
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp sweet paprika
½ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup thinly chopped cilantro
½ cup thinly chopped parsley

Preparation:
In a medium saucepan, heat the oil and sauté the peppers for 3 minutes on medium high heat.

Add the garlic and keep sautéing for 2 more minutes.

Add the tomato paste, mix it in well and cook for 1 minute contently stirring it so that it doesn’t burn.

Add the water and the spices, lower the heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes.

Add the onion, cook for 2 more minute, then remove the pot from the heat.

Add the cilantro and parsley and mix well.

Eggplants and Bell Peppers in Vinegar

This dish is a Moroccan salad served as part of a mezze table. It is one of my favorite salads ever! The combination of eggplants (my favorite veggie) and peppers with garlic and vinegar is divine! In our house we eat it as a side dish or on a sandwich. It is best to make it a day before you plan on serving it, to let the flavors combine.

Ingredients:
3 eggplants, cubed
oil spray
4 bell peppers, grilled
5 sprigs parsley, chopped thinly
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup white vinegar
3 tablespoons oil
Salt

Preparation:
Preheat your oven to 400F.

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Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray it with oil spray. Spread the cubes of eggplant on the baking sheet in one layer and spray on top with the oil. You may need more than one baking sheet to accommodate all the eggplant. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, until eggplant is turning golden brown. Remove from the oven.

Peel the grilled peppers, discard of the stem and the seeds, and cut the flesh into ½ inch strips.

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In a large bowl, combine the strips of peppers, roasted eggplant, parsley, garlic, oil, salt and vinegar. Mix well and let sit for a few hours to a day before serving. This salad tastes best the following day, after all flavors are absorbed.

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Baba Ganoush

Baba Ganoush is a Middle Eastern spread/appetizer that has made fame in the U.S, following its better known relative, the hummus. Baba Ganoush is a spread made from pureed roasted eggplant and tahini paste. In Baba Ganoush, the eggplant is literally burned on the grill, which gives this dish its special smoky, burned, distinctive flavor. You may also grill the eggplant in the oven, but burning them on the grill gives them the burned aroma from the fire, which makes a big difference.

2 medium grilled eggplants
½ cup raw tahini paste
1 clove garlic, crushed
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ – ½ cup water
salt

Use the grilled eggplant when it is at room temperature. Scoop the meat out of the skin onto a cutting board and chop very thinly to a puree consistency.

In a bowl, mix the eggplant puree with the tahini, crushed garlic, lemon juice, salt and ¼ cup water. If the spread is too thick, add a little bit more water and mix well.

I like to add chopped parsley to my Baba Ganoush, for additional brightness.

Moroccan Carrot Salad

This cooked carrot salad is a staple in our home. We eat it as a side dish or as part of a mezze spread (Middle Eastern tapas). It goes very well with meats, eggs, legumes, and Middle Eastern foods.

One of the things I love about this salad is that I can make a large quantity of it, and keep it in the fridge for up to a week (not that it lasts this long…)

To get the full authentic Moroccan cuisine experience, use 1 tbs of chopped pickled lemons (found in Middle Eastern stores) instead of the lemon juice in the recipe.

Ingredients:
8 medium carrots, peeled
½ cup cilantro leaves, chopped thinly
6 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ cup olive oil
2 tbs white vinegar
1 tsp harissa or sriracha
1 tsp ground cumin
salt
Juice from ½ lemon (optional) or 1 tbs pickled lemon

Preparation:
Place the carrots in a large pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Cook for 5-10 minutes, until carrots are just tender. Drain and let cool.

Moroccan Carrot Ingredients

Slice the carrots into ½ inch rings and place in a bowl. Add the chopped cilantro or parsley, the crushed garlic, the oil and the rest of the igredients. Stir well and let sit for a few hours, to bring out the flavors.

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The salad tastes even better the next day.

Version 2

Eggplant in Tomato Sauce – Old World Vs. New World

In Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines there is a tradition of opening a meal with an assortment of dishes in small plates scattered on the table. In the Middle East it is called Mezze. In Spain they call it Tapas. If you are a little bit familiar with the concept, you probably know that there is a huge selection of dishes that can be served as part of a Mezze, depending on the country and local traditions. Obviously, they are not all served at the same time, which makes the Mezze part of the meal interesting and slightly different every time.

This eggplant dish may be part of a Mezze. I know there are different variations on this dish (the most known to Americans is probably the Italian Caponata), but my first version (out of the two presented here) is the one I learned from my mother and my grandmother. To me, this dish is comfort food. As simple as it is, eggplant in tomato sauce is one of the dishes that make me homesick.

This dish is a great example of how I keep the spirit of an old world dish, while taking a shortcut to match it to my busy Western life. As I mentioned above, this post includes the two versions of the dish. The result is pretty similar, although it’s hard to beat the original recipe.

Eggplant in Tomato Sauce – original version

Ingredients:
1 large eggplant, sliced into 3/8 inch (1 cm) wide rings
Kosher salt
Oil for frying
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ – 1 cup water
3 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper
½ teaspoon sugar (optional)

Preparation:
Sprinkle the sliced eggplants with kosher salt on both sides. Place in a colander with a plate underneath and set aside for 30 minutes, to extract the liquids out of the eggplant. Then hold 2-3 slices at a time, facing each other, and gently squeeze them between the palms of your hands, to get more of the liquids out. Be careful not to break the slices while squeezing.

Most people think that the reason for salting the eggplant is to get the bitterness out, which may be true for some eggplants (not all of them are bitter). The main reason, though, is that after salting and squeezing the eggplant, it absorbs much less oil when frying, and it tastes better from the salt.

You may skip the whole salting/squeezing part if you have no time or patience, but know that you will end up with eggplant soaked with oil.

Heat the oil (about ¼ inch high) in a large casserole. When oil is hot, place the squeezed slices of eggplant in it in one layer. You will probably need to make 2-3 batches.

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Fry the eggplant on one side until it starts browning, about 1 minute. Flip to the other side and do the same. Remove the slices from the pan and place them on a plate covered with paper towel.

When you are done frying all the slices, set the eggplant aside. Discard of the oil in the pan, except for 2-3 tablespoon (you kind of have to eye it).

Return the pot to the stove, add the onion and saute it for one minute. Add the tomato sauce and stir it in quickly and constantly for 30 seconds, so that it doesn’t burn. Add the water, garlic and spices. Mix well to dissolve the tomato paste in the water and cook, covered, on medium low heat, for 5 minutes.

Immerse the eggplant slices in the tomato sauce, one by one. Once all slices are in the pot, shake the pot a little and twirl it to get the sauce all around the eggplants.

Cover the pot and cook covered for 15 minutes.

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This dish may be served hot, cold, or at room temperature. Serve it as a Mezze, side dish, in a sandwich, or even as pasta sauce.

And now, here is my version to this wonderful dish:

Eggplant in Tomato Sauce – innovated version

Ingredients:
1 large eggplant, cut into ¾ inch cubes
3 tablespoons oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
7 medium tomatoes, pureed in a food processor
3 cloves garlic, sliced
½ teaspoon sugar (optional)
Salt and pepper

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 400F.

Cover a baking sheet with tin foil and spray with cooking oil spray. Spread the eggplant cubes on the baking sheet, sprinkle a little bit of salt on top, and spray the eggplant again with the oil.

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Bake in the preheated oven until the eggplant starts to brown and shrink, about 20-30 minutes.

In a large pot, heat 3 tablespoons of oil and saute the onion until golden.

Add the pureed tomatoes, the sliced garlic and the spices. Bring to a boil, cover the pot, lower the heat to medium low, and cook until the eggplants in the oven are ready.

Remove the eggplants from the oven, and add them to the pot with the tomato sauce. Give a stir, cover the pot and cook for 15 more minutes.

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I’ll let you be the judge as to which version is better. Let me know…

And have a great weekend!