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Why I hid Zucchini in Your Pancakes

August 7, 2014

When you hear the word pancakes, you might conjure up an image of a mile high buttermilk stack of fluffy goodness oozing with maple syrup. I love pancakes as much as the next person, but all the sugar makes me crash and burn hard. Instead of feeling energized, I get sleepy! I still don’t want to give up on pancakes, and when I crave something savory instead of sweet, I whip up a batch of zucchini pancakes otherwise known as a’ajeh. This dish is popular throughout Levant part of the Middle East. The recipe for these pancakes came from  a need to conserve every part of the vegetable. For instance, one very popular dish is kousa mahshi, or zucchini stuffed with rice and meat. Once you take the pulp out of the zucchini, what do you do with it? Hence these pancakes were born.

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Actually, the traditional preparation for these require deep frying, more like fritters to be exact. In order to keep these healthy (they are veggies after all) I use the pancake method, which retains flavor without all of that oil. These pancakes also require a bit of flour. To give these pancakes a low-glycemic twist, I used chick pea flour instead. Chick pea flour gives these pancakes a flavor similar to felafel, which I love, plus it is made out of legumes, so overall it’s a less processed,  healthier choice. Have fun with these–make them mini style and serve with creme fraiche and salmon with a spig of dill. Slather on my tzatziki sauce from my last post.. Tex mex them up with some salsa and sour cream. Use them as a veggie substitute for chicken parmigiana–add marinara and mozzarella cheese and broil till bubbly. Eat them plain! With all of the fresh herbs you won’t even miss the sweet style pancakes, if you try them let me know what you think! here is the video!

As you can see these are all simple ingredients, taking something familiar to western cuisine, like pancakes, and adding a bit of snazz to turn them into something more exotic. Even the most novice cook can make these, and get the flavors of the middle east on a plate in minutes.

Eggplant, the black sheep of the Veggie family, but that’s gonna change!

July 7, 2014
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More often than not, when I mention how much I love eggplant to friends or acquaintances I get negative comments or puzzled looks. “How the hell do you cook it so that it tastes GOOD?” ‘It’s so bitter and tough” “THAT is my least favorite vegetable” “One veggie I would never order in a restaurant.” Even raw food enthusiasts reject this vegetable, because frankly, have you ever tried raw eggplant? “Raw eggplant is delicious!” Said no one, ever. At first, I got kinda bummed out that this glorious purple vessel was treated like camel dung… but then, a thought hit me. I could be part of an eggplant revolution! I can show eggplant newbies an easy method to show them how truly rich, chewy, and even crispy this veggie could be. Plus, eggplant makes a fabulous replacement for meat in dishes because it’s rich in: vitamin B1, copper, manganese, vitamin B6, niacin, potassium, folate, and vitamin K. This vegetable is also rich in anti-oxidants and can even lower your cholesterol! Take that steak! So, that is why I made my latest video on eggplant. Now feast your eyes on this eggplant sandwich.

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Then watch my video so you can learn how to make this vegan tower of deliciousness (keep in mind the thinner you slice the eggplant, the crispier it will get:

And don’t forget to chop up any leftover eggplant in your salad the next day! Here is my favorite combo, spring lettuces, eggplant, pita croutons (which you can get from my fattoush salad video) dried cherries, roasted pistachios, carrots and tomatoes with a vinaigrette consisting of pomegranate molasses, olive oil, a little honey, and some apple cider vinegar.

Tasty next day salad

Tasty next day salad

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Tzatziki: The Ranch Dressing of the Middle East

May 24, 2014

They call me condiment queen in my house. I have been known to scoop gobs of dijon from the jar to accessorize my turkey sandwiches. Actually as a kid I thought, screw the sandwich, just gimme the mustard, all by itself. From the jar. As I got older, I explored every condiment imaginable to go with my chicken, fish, or salads. Tapenade? Oh hell yes. I never met a pesto I didn’t like. BBQ sauce, ketchup, garlic aoli, Syrian muhamarra, hummus, lebnah, and peanut sauce all are daily staples for my lunches. Then, there is cucumber yogurt sauce, ohhh yeah: tzatziki. Notice I gave the Greeks credit for this one, simply because they gave it the most interesting sounding name. (Shout out to the Greeks yo)

 

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Although cucumber yogurt sauce is used liberally all over the Arab world, they just call it labnah mah khiarra, or cucumber yogurt sauce–which doesn’t sound nearly as seductive as tzatziki. I really think this dip is the equivalent of ranch dressing in the Middle East, only the ingredients are far more pure, tangy, and fresh tasting than any old bottled ranch. These days I notice they are selling vats of the stuff in places like Costco, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods. But I wondered…do people really know how easy this sauce is to make? I think not. That’s why I felt it was my duty, or calling to spread to the masses how incredibly easy and delicious it is to make your own. Use this ranch in your tuna sandwich, as a salad dressing, in your felafel or shawarma sandwiches, with your kebab and rice plates, as a dip for veggies, as a chilled soup, or as a facial (just wanted to make sure you were paying attention :). There are really so many uses for this dip! Now if you decide to make this sauce for your Memorial Day BBQ, it would make me tremendously happy. Have a wonderful weekend everyone, check out my video below, share it, make it, eat it–comments welcome ;)

 

 

Shakshouka– Eggs Turned Up Fancy Style for Mother’s Day or Any Day

May 10, 2014

“Good morning mamma here is your breakfast in bed!” I would say as a beaming 10 year old, presenting her breakfast on one of her big silver trays . At that age I learned how to make scrambled eggs in olive oil, thinking that this was a totally normal thing to do in the United States.  I didn’t realize until I got older that basically no one outside of Middle Eastern people scrambled eggs in olive oil. Yeah eggs fried in butter is mighty delicious, but not exactly a heart healthy way to start the morning. Even if you are a butter enthusiast, butter doesn’t offer the same complexity of olive oil to eggs. A good robust olive oil can make eggs taste slightly peppery, bold, and fruity in a rich savory way.  I would also give her a side of labnah (or kefir) cheese dusted with zatar spice, apricot jam, some fresh strawberries, and toasted pita bread for dipping. To this day my mom says wistfully that she always missed my breakfasts in bed since I moved out of the house. To be honest I miss seeing her excited face in the morning, with her plush floral bathrobe and that familiar perfumed mommy smell that so comforted me. Now that I am older and a mommy myself, I still can treat my mother to a special brunch, but in a slightly more extravagant way, with shakshouka.

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Shakshouka is an egg dish originating from Tunis, but hugely popular in Egypt, Libya and Morocco as well. Growing up I remember my mom always liked sauteed garlicky tomatoes next to her eggs, but with shakshouka, you actually cook the eggs on the tomatoes, so you get a nice blend of flavors that you can lavishly sop up with fresh bread. Traditionally this dish contains onions, red bell peppers, and cumin, but my variation is different. I leave out the onions and add garlic (just how my mother likes them). Then I add kalamata olives on top of the eggs, along with a garnish of parsley or green onions. This dish is simple, easy, and even economical–but impressive and indulgent at the same time. If you use good quality olive oil, pastured eggs, tomatoes in season, and fresh baked bread, you will have reached breakfast nirvana–what I envision to be the breakfast of ancient Egyptian gods. Just make sure that you pile on a little bit of everything on each bite of toasted bread before taking that mouth watering bite–low carb be banished from this Egyptian kingdom! And now with summer around the corner this is a great way to use the sweet tomatoes in your garden. My family jokes that I have a black thumb (each new plant in my house becomes a victim no matter how hard I try) but I still manage to grow an impressive batch of tomatoes every year. Tomatoes are indestructible, sort of like the Aaaaaaanold Schwartzenegger of the fruit and veggie world.  To all of you mother’s out there, Happy Mother’s Day, I hope your loved ones treat you to an unforgettable day that will give you treasured memories for days to come! Hope you enjoy my recipe tomorrow, or any day of the week, and let me know what you think in the comments. ;)

 

Easter Recap 2014 (And Mother’s Day Ideas to Spoil Your Momma!)

May 3, 2014

I know it’s kind of late to post an Easter recap of my menu, but I wanted to give some general entertaining ideas that you can make all year round (Mother’s Day is just around the corner folks!). I always get a little nervous when I have vegans coming over–but enjoy the challenge of making fancy vegan dishes that even meat lovers enjoy. Let’s start with the appetizer. I love Indian naan bread because it’s so versatile, and toasts up really nicely. I topped the bread with a light spread of fig jam, some thinly sliced pear, smoked gouda cheese (can use almond cheese for a vegan version). I toasted it in the oven at 400 for about 20 minutes. Then topped them with fresh arugula, some balsamic vinegar I cooked down in a sauce pan to enhance the sweetness, and fresh pepper.  I then chopped these up into four pieces each: 

 

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Next up, a vegan dish I made up on the fly, farro salad with roasted vegetables. Cook the farro in veggie or chicken broth according to package directions. I got the quick cooking kind from Trader Joes. Meanwhile, chop up some eggplant, zucchini, and cherry tomatoes, and coat with  2 tbs of olive oil, and 6 minced cloves of garlic, salt and pepper. Roast in a 425 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until nicely browned. Add the veggies to the farro, along with 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil. You can add goat or parmesan cheese if you like. Then add a dressing of 2 tbs of balsamic vinegar, with 1/3 cup olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. I was ecstatic I had leftovers of this, because I ate it for lunch the next two days! Nom nom nom.

 

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Don’t you love dishes that look like you spent hours sweating it out in the kitchen, but are so simple to prepare that you had spare time to drink some tea and read a book?!  Mussakhan is one of these dishes. Mussakhan is a regional Palestinian dish of roasted chicken, caramelized onions, and bread. Actually my very first video focused on this dish, and I got a little bit too excited–the video turned into a 5 part series!   For subscribers that have been with me for a while you know what I am talking about, but for newcomers, here is my first video–a step by step explanation you will be hard pressed to find anywhere else:

 

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For my vegan friends, I made a meatless version if kibbeh. Kibbeh is a dish that usually features ground meat (like beef or lamb) combined with onions, garlic, spices, and bulgur wheat. It’s then served casserole style, or rolled into football shapes and deep fried. As kids we would get into wrestling matches over the deep fried ones they are ridiculously delicious. I made a more figure-friendly version. Can you guess what I used instead of meat for this dish?  

 

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Finally…DESSERT! I made the lemon labnah cheesecake with almond ginger crust that I posted on this blog before, but I used a cherry topping, more New York cheesecake style. That cake was inhaled in less than 10 minutes…some comments I heard “This is the best cheescake I have ever had!” “So light and creamy” “Love that tangy flavor!”  This is the lonely last piece that was left.

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After all the guests left and I finished washing dishes, mopping the floor, wiping the countertops and vacuuming (cause I am OCD like that) I treated myself to this last piece, eating it slowly and savoring every bite. In case you want to refresh your memory, here is the video:

That’s all for my Easter recap..in my next blog, I will give you a breakfast idea that will make excellent use of upcoming sweet summery tomatoes! 

The Magic of Mujaddara…

April 8, 2014

Beans and rice have long been considered comfort food that was also affordable all over the world. You have red beans and rice in the southern United States, arroz con frijoles in Latin America, and ….mujaddara in the Middle East. While these dishes originated from a need to get maximum nutrition for very little money, these dishes are anything but poor in flavor. Mujaddara in particular, (actually lentils and rice)–is very rich in flavor brought to life from the sweetness of caramelized onions. Mujaddara is the term for this dish in Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine, but it’s also known as Mudardara in Syria, and Kushari in Egypt. My family makes this dish all throughout Lent, because not only is it vegetarian, it’s vegan! Top the mujaddara with crispy cucumber and tomato salad accented with mint. Your tummy and your taste buds will thank you as you take a forkful of warm and hearty lentils combined with the freshness and coolness of veggies. This makes a great picnic or potluck dish as it is meat free, impressive,  and tastes great hot or cold.

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So after a hiatus, here is my latest video on how to make this classic Arabic dish, bringing my talented mother into the mix. I would love your feedback–and feel free to “like” it, share it, make it, EAT it!

Directions:

1 cup lentils

1 cup rice, basmati or long grain

2 cups of water for the rice, plus additional water for the lentils

3 large onions

1 tsp salt

Pepper to taste

2 tsp cumin

½ tsp allspice (optional)

5 tbsp olive oil

For the salad

2 roma tomatoes (can use other kinds if you wish)

1 Persian cucumber

Juice of one lemon

1- 2  tbs olive oil

1 tbs. chopped fresh mint 

Salt to taste

Spread lentils out in a single layer on a white kitchen towel. Check for and discard any tiny stones. After checking through the lentils, place them in a strainer and rinse thoroughly under cold water. They are ready to cook after rinsing. Place the lentils in a large pot. Cover with water so that there is at least an inch of water over the lentils. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until tender—then drain out the water. With the lentils in the pot, add the rice, cumin, optional allspice, and salt and pepper to taste. Wait for the water to boil, and cover. Reduce heat until the rice is cooked and the lentils are tender (about 25 minutes).  In the meantime, heat the  oil in a separate skillet, and sauté the onions under medium heat until they are caramelized or deep brown in color. Pour the onions over the cooked rice and gently toss. In a separate bowl combine the tomatoes, cucumber, lemon juice, olive oil, and mint. Serve the mujuddareh in dishes and allow guests to top their own plates with the amount of salad they wish.

 

The Original Veggie Burger: Felafel!

March 11, 2014

Before there were burgers or chicken nuggets, there was falafel. These browned chickpea nuggets made the right way taste crunchy on the outside, and chewy on the inside. The word falafel is actually plural for the Arabic word for “filfil”, which means hot pepper. Traditional falafel is spicy hot, but I prefer the tamer version so I can taste the counterbalance between the nutty chickpeas and the fresh parsley. The boxed variety sold in stores do not do this food justice so don’t even waste your time with those. Making your own is a lot easier than you think!

 

 

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The falafel batter is also  very versatile. Usually they are made into small patties that you can tuck into fresh pita or sesame bread with a yogurt tahini sauce and fresh veggies on top. They are also served as appetizers alongside hummus. However, you can get creative. Make the patties larger and you have lovely vegetarian burgers. While you get the best results from deep-frying the falafel, you can make a figure friendly version by browning them in a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Most Middle Eastern markets sell the dried chick peas in one and a half pound bags labeled garbanzo, or hummus (Arabic word for chick pea). You can make a huge batch and freeze, but it’s important to not add the baking soda until you are ready to cook them. Felafel has been a food tradition in my family for generations, particularly during lent, when fasting from all meats. In this video my mother and I share insider tips on how to make the perfect felafel. Enjoy!

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