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.

5 Minute Homemade Hummus

I have to start by saying that the day I wrote this post, after I took the pictures to add to it, I came across a different blog with exactly the same recipe with the same title, referring to the same chef I do in my post. It was unreal. So bizzare! I was a little upset and even felt defeated, as if I was competing against someone and they beat me. And I kept my post unpublished. But after a few weeks I’ve come to change my mind and decided to post it anyway. After all, not everyone visits every blog, and I’m sure that there are people who can enjoy this recipe, who wouldn’t come across it otherwise.

We make hummus at home frequently, and eat it in sandwiches and as a spread served with our Israeli dinner which is usually composed of vegetable salad, some kind of egg, homemade bread, and some spreads like canned tuna or sardines, cheese, avocado, tahini, or hummus. There are many other dinner options as well, and I’ll write more about them in a different post.

In the home I grew up in, we never bought ready-made hummus. We always made it at home. It was good and we liked it and this is how I made my hummus in my own house, until I came across a recipe by chef Michael Solomonov of Zahav Restaurant in Philadelphia. I fell in love. And this has been our hummus recipe for over 10 years.

The only problem with the recipe, though, is that you have to plan ahead of time. You have to soak the chickpeas in water overnight. And then you have to cook them for about 40 minutes with garlic cloves. After that the recipe is a breeze. But sometimes, we want to have the hummus made at the moment we think about it, so we can eat it right away. For that to happen we made a few small changes to Solomonov’s recipe. And we love it.

1 14 oz can cooked chickpeas
1/4 cup liquid from the hummus can
1/4 cup raw tahini paste
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/2 tsp ground cumin
Salt to taste

Drain the chickpeas, and keep the liquid on the side. Place the drained chickpeas in a food processor equipped with the blade feature.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the food processor and process until the mixture becomes a cohesive paste. You can adjust the smoothness to your liking. The longer you process, the smoother the hummus becomes.

That’s it. 5 minutes work and you end up with a delicious hummus. Serve it fresh with some good bread or as a condiment. It can also be refrigerated up to a week.

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.

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.

Khoresh Sabzi

Khoresh Sabzi, which means fresh herb stew in Persian, is one of the staple dishes in Persian cuisine. You will probably find this dish in every Persian restaurant. The unique flavor of this wonderful dish comes from the large amount of various greens and Omani lime which is a prevalent ingredient in Persian cuisine. Omani lime, also known as dried lime, can be found in Middle Eastern stores and online.

Khoresh sabzi represents the kind of food I consider perfect in every way. Besides the fact that it reminds me of my childhood and my father’s side of our family, it is delicious with very rich and unique flavors, and is satisfying in a way that only slow cooking food can satisfy. It is also super healthy and guilt free, so you can enjoy it anytime, even when on a diet.

1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
6 tbs oil
2 lb beef shank or chuck roast, or boneless chicken thighs, cut into 2 inch pieces
6 cups water or broth
1 cup red kidney beans, soaked in water for 5 hours
5 Omani (dried) limes, crushed coarsely and seeded
½ tsp ground turmeric
Salt, Black pepper
4 cups parsley finely chopped
4 cups cilantro finely chopped
2 cups scallions finely chopped
2 cups leek (green part), chopped
1 cup celery leaves and stem chopped
1 cup dill finely chopped
Juice from one lemon (optional)

Place the beans in a pressure cooker and cover with water. Cook according to instructions until the beans are barely soft. When cooked, drain the water and set the beans aside.

Heat 3 tbs oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until golden. Add the meat and brown it for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Add the broth or water, the limes, the beans, turmeric, salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and cook for 45 minutes over medium heat.

In a separate pan, heat the remaining 3 tbs oil over medium heat, and sauté the vegetables for about 5 minutes. The greens should be wilted but still retain their bright green color. Add the greens to the pot with the meat. If you like the khoresh to have a pronounced sour tone, add the lemon juice, as well .

Cover and cook over medium low heat for 30 – 40 minutes longer, until the beans and the meat are cooked and are tender.

Serve in a soup bowl, together with white basmati rice.

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

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.