Tomato Lentil Soup

When I think about poor’s people foods from the Middle East, one of the first dishes that come to mind is lentil soup.

As I said before, in my Lemony Lentil Soup recipe, lentils, in all their varieties, are abundant across the Middle East and the Mediterranean regions. They are a great source of protein and fiber, and are rich in folate and manganese. Their very low cost and high nutritional value make them a favorite among many poor people around the world, which explains the vast variety of lentil dishes in places like India, and other countries in the Middle East.

I’m not sure about the geographical origin of the recipe below. It could probably be Iraq, Syria, or any of the neighboring countries. Like many other lentil soups, this soup is thick, hearty and so delicious, and is sure to satisfy any soup lover, like me.

Ingredients:
2 cups red lentils
8 cups water
¼ cup olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
6 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 tomatoes, diced into small cubes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons chicken soup flavor powder (optional)
¼ teaspoon dried chili flakes (optional)
Salt and black pepper

Preparation:
In a large saucepan, combine the lentils, and the water. Cover and bring to a boil. Remove the lid, skim the foam on top, and cook for 20 minutes on medium-low heat, uncovered.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a sauté pan, and sauté the onion until golden. Add the garlic, and sauté for an extra minute. Carefully, transfer to the saucepan with the cooked lentils.

Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and spices and cook for 20 more minutes.

Serve with good country style bread.

lentil soup

My Autumn Kubbeh Soup

Kubbeh – one of my favorite foods ever! There are many different kinds of kubbeh, and they are all delicious. I don’t think I’ve ever had kubbeh that I didn’t care for (and I’ve tried many kinds).

The following recipe was created in my kitchen, inspired by classic sweet, savory, and sour kubbeh soups, and is perfect for the fall and the Jewish High Holidays season. I came up with a sweet and sour vegetable soup to which I added a quince (used a lot in Persian cuisine). I used the same techniques as the ones for traditional kubbeh making and cooking, but the ingredients and the flavor are a little different than the classic kubbeh dishes.

mish mash koube

Doron, my hubby, says this kubbeh version is his favorite. unfortunately for him, here in Florida I don’t make it very often. It’s too hot here for this kind of food. If you live in colder areas around the globe, though, you may want to give it a try. Just make sure you give yourself enough time. If you are a novice, it will probably take you some time to get good at filling and rolling the kubbeh dumplings. But even if you are a pro in the kitchen, it will take you about 30 minutes to fill and roll the dumplings. Not to mention you still have to make the soup and the filling for the dumplings. My advice – plan to make this recipe during the weekend when you are not in a rush to eat or to do something else. Another option is to make the filling ahead of time and keep it frozen or refrigerated until you are ready to make the dumplings. You may also save time by chopping the vegetables for the soup the day before and keep them refrigerated. Then all you have to do the day of is assemble the soup and roll the dumplings.

Ingredients:
For the filling:
1 tbs vegetable oil
1lb ground beef
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon baharat for cooking (also found in Middle-Eastern stores)

For the dough:
2 ½ cups (500g) coarse semolina (found in Middle Eastern stores)
1/2 cup (100ml) vegetable oil
3 slices of bread without the crust
1 cup (240ml) water
1 teaspoon salt

For the Soup:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion chopped thinly
2 medium carrots diced into ½” cubes
1 large quince diced into ½” cubes
2 celery stalks sliced into ¼” slices (add some chopped leaves as well)
6 cups water
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon chicken soup powder
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ – ½ flat teaspoon citric acid, or lemon juice from 1 lemon

Preparation:
Put one tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large sauté pan.
Add ground beef and cook until meat is almost fully cooked. Use a wooden spoon to break any meat lumps.
Add the spices, mix well and cook for 5 more minutes.
Remove from the heat and set aside. The filling can be made ahead of time and kept refrigerated.

Make the dough according to the recipe Kubbeh – Middle Eastern Dumplings, and let it rest before making the dumplings. In the meantime, make the soup.

In a large soup pot, heat the oil and sauté the onions.
Add the celery, carrots, and quince and sweat to extract the flavors of the veggies.
Add water, tomato paste, and spices except the citric acid.
Bring the soup to a boil, than lower the heat and simmer on medium low heat for about 30 minutes.

While soup is simmering, make the kubbeh dumplings, using the step by step instructions shown in the recipe Kubbeh – Middle Eastern Dumplings.

Back to the soup, add ¼ tsp of the citric acid and taste the soup. The flavor should be sweet and sour, but not overly sweet nor sour. If needed, add ¼ additional teaspoon of the citric acid.

Word of caution – citric acid is very dominant and powerful when added to food. You only need a tiny bit of it, so be super careful with the quantities.

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

IMG_1090

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

tehini

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.

halvah

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

Ingredients:
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

Preparation:
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

Homemade Shawarma

Yesterday, I took out some boneless chicken thighs from the freezer, to cook for lunch today (lunch at our house is the main meal of the day). This morning I looked at the meat for a while, debating if I wanted to marinate it in something, but couldn’t come up with anything that didn’t involve a bunch of dirty dishes.

Then, out of the blue, I was thinking that boneless thighs are the perfect meat for shawarma, a Middle Eastern street food originated in Turkey. Shawarma is basically a sandwich composed of meat (chicken, turkey, or lamb) that is grilled and then eaten shredded in pita bread. The traditional way of making shawarma requires a special skewer, on which the meat is layered together with fat and spices. The skewer is positioned vertically in front of a grill that slowly cooks the meat, while the skewer turns. The meat is then sliced thinly as it cooks, and put in pita bread with different vegetables and condiments.

Shawarma is not one of the dishes people usually make at home, although shawarma spice mix is something you can find in every supermarket in Israel. I’ve tried to make it at home a few times, or more accurately, I used the right meat and the right spices, but that’s where the resemblance ended. I would sauté a lot of onion in a pan and then add the meat that I cut into little cubes and the spices, and let is cook covered on very low heat. The result was very yummy, but it wasn’t real shawarma.

This morning, though, I had an epiphany. Real shawarma requires chicken thighs, some animal fat, and shawarma spice mix. Well, I had chicken thighs that were super fatty with all the fat on them. And I had the spice mix. But this time, I wanted to try and roast or bake the thighs, so that they become like the real deal.

I sprinkled the thighs with shawarma mix (you can make on your own ahead of time) and salt, and placed them on a baking sheet covered with tin foil. I preheated the oven to convection bake at 375F, and baked the thighs for 30 minutes on one side. Then flipped them over and baked for 5 more minutes. Perfection!! This is exactly what I was hoping to get!!

img_1414
img_1429

I got so excited that I decided to go for it all the way. I sliced each thigh thinly, warmed up some frozen pita bread, made fresh tahini (takes 2 minutes to make), sliced some tomatoes, onion and parsley, and called everyone to the table. The kids couldn’t believe how authentic it tasted and finished everything to the last bite.

img_1437

Doron also enjoyed it very much, in his paleo way.

img_1439

Homemade Shawarma

Ingredients:
2 lb boneless chicken thighs, fat on
Shawarma spice mix
4 pita bread
Tahini paste
2 tomatoes, sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
4-5 sprigs flat parsley, leaves only
Sumac for sprinkling

Preparation:
Cover a baking sheet with tin foil, and preheat oven to 375F.

Coat the chicken thighs with the shawarma spice and sprinkle some additional salt if needed.

Place the thighs in one layer on the baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Flip the chicken over and bake for another 5 minutes. The chicken should look roasted and dry. If there is still liquid in the pan, keep baking for a little longer. Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes.

Slice the baked thighs into thin strips.

Composing the sandwich:
Cut each pita bread in half, spread with tahini paste, and fill with as much chicken as desired. Top with sliced tomato, parsley and onion. You can also sprinkle some sumac on top, to make it even more authentic.

Yum!!!

Shawarma Spice Mix

Originally, this spice mix is used for shawarma, but it can be used for any grilled, roasted, or braised meat, to give that Middle Eastern flair (one of a few).

This spice mix is easy to make and it uses spices that are easy to find in any supermarket, so no reason for being lazy and not making it at home. In fact, it makes life very easy, because all you have to do is sprinkle the meat with the spice and cook it any way you want. No mess, no time waste, no effort, and delicious – what more do you want?

Ingredients:

2 ½ tablespoons ground cumin
2 ½ tablespoons ground coriander
2 ½ tablespoons garlic powder
1 ½ tablespoons sweet paprika
2 ½ teaspoons ground turmeric
½ teaspoon black pepper
Salt

Mix all spices together and store in an airtight container.

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.

eggplant-frying

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.

eggplant-ready

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.

eggplant-cubed

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.

cubed-eggplant-cooked

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

And have a great weekend!