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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.




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!


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!





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!


To E-book, or not to E-book?

February 10, 2014

Finally, we get some much needed rain here in Northern California after a severely dry winter. For me there is no better time to start experimenting in the kitchen than on rainy, overcast days, when the oven and cooking smells fill up the house with warmth and comfort. Lately I have been adding recipes at a rapid rate to my cookbook, which I have been writing now for 3 years.  With our digital era, I am thinking of publishing Feast in the Middle East as an e-book, so that people can have access to the recipes anywhere at anytime. I would love to get subscriber input, as ultimately what you think is very important to me. Does the thought of a Feast in the Middle East e-book sound appealing to you? Eventually, when I get the capital I need, I would love to publish a hardcover book, but I really want to explore every option and share these recipes sooner rather than later. I would love your feedback in the comment section below. Meanwhile, I have an example of a lovely e-book that came to my attention that I thought would share with all of you. The e-book is called Modernist Cuisine At Home, and the author is offering a free chapter preview if you visit this link: The book is filled with simple techniques and approaches to comfort foods like roasted chicken, creamed spinach, and macaroni and cheese. Here is an enticing page on grilled cheese sandwiches: s9Sig=40166f69e82d626ddf6fff1a7cb1baf7feda3289&expires=MzI1MDM3MDg4MDA%3D&s=11c46cd145320660343c23c8e5aa7e6b6e9fdb51  The publisher of this book asked me  to share a preview of these recipes complimentary to my subscribers, so enjoy! And please give me your feedback below!

Mini Middle Eastern Pockets With Savory Filling (Sambousek)

January 27, 2014

With the arrival of all of the big sporting events and awards shows, I thought I would share a fancy appetizer recipe that would add some flair to your snacking tray. Sambousek is basically the Middle Eastern version of  Latin American empanadas, tiny turnovers of buttery flaky dough enveloping a flavor burst of savory filling on the inside. These morsels were always served during special occasions at my house when I was a child. I remember when I was around 5 years old  I would steal about 5 or 6 of these from my mom’s serving platter before guests arrived. Then she always wondered why I was too full for dinner! Traditional sambousek was always deep fried, however I think baked sambousek tastes just as delicious without having to deal with the mess of splattering oil. I also modernized this recipe by adding a little twist–roasted chestnuts. Sambousek can be made with ground beef or lamb or even chicken, but the addition of roasted chestnuts adds nice nutty texture and earthy flavor. They are selling vaccum packed chestnuts everywhere these days, from Costco to Trader Joes. You can omit the chestnuts and use all meat, but I always like to surprise my guests with something different. I also have a cheese version if you don’t eat meat. You can also omit the cheese and use about 4 ounces of sauteed mushrooms instead for a veggie filling. 



For the dough:

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 1/2 cup cold butter, cut into small cubes (you can sub 1/2 the butter with sunflower seed oil if you wish)

  • 2 eggs, divided

  • 1/3 cup cold milk

  • 1 tbs white vinegar

  • For the meat filling:

  • 4 ounces ground beef, lamb, chicken 

  • 2 ounces vacuum packed precooked and shelled chestnuts, diced (optional)
  • ½ medium onion, diced finely

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 tsp allspice

  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg

  • salt to taste

  • 2 tbs pine nuts

  • 1tbs plus 1 tsp olive oil

  • For Cheese filling

  • 4 ounces cheese of choice (I use feta or halloumi
  • 1 half small onion
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1/4 cup parsley minced finely or 1 tbs of zaatar spice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sift the flour. Mix the sifted flour, salt, and butter in a food processor, pulsing until the butter is the size of small peas. In a separate bowl, beat together one of the eggs, milk, and vinegar then pour  into the flour mixture. Pulse until the mixture forms a ball of dough. Place dough into the bowl, cover with a towel, and let sit for an hour. While the dough sits, start preparing the filling. In a saucepan,heat up the olive oil. Add the onion and saute for about 6 minutes or until soft. If using a meat filling, add the garlic and saute another minute. Then add the meat and saute until the meat is browned. If using chestnuts add them and saute another 2 minutes. In a separate skillet saute the pine nuts in the additional tsp of olive oil until lightly browned, about 2 minutes, then add to the meat mixture. Set mixture aside. If using a cheese filling, then saute onion in 1 tbs of olive oil until soft. Take off the burner, and add cheese, parsley, and or zaatar.  Roll out the dough on a floured surface until it is about 1/8 of an inch  thick. Cut into circles about 4 inches in diameter (use a small drinking glass for this). Take a tsp of the meat or cheese mixture and place in center of each circle. Fold each circle in half and seal with fingers. When done, take the second egg and whisk in a bowl. Using a pastry brush, brush each sambousek with the egg wash, to give it a golden finish when baked. Place the samouseks on a greased cookie sheet and bake for about 18 minutes or until nicely browned. Serve immediately. .


Red Snapper stuffed with Mediterranean Goodies

January 14, 2014

Hope everyone is having a wonderful New Year so far! I know that the month of January is the healthiest time of year for many people, vowing to start fresh and detox from continuous holiday indulgences. Out with the stuffing, in with quinoa. Out with the pumpkin pies, and in with the protein shakes.But that can get pretty dull after a while. By the time Valentine’s Day comes around, some people abandon their resolutions to dive head first into big heart shaped boxes of chocolate. Then they have to deal with the aftermath–trying on swimsuits in the mall, thinking “oh crap why are these suits so freakin tiny and why did I binge on chocolates again??!!”  Ok so I exaggerate. A little. My point is, I love to eat healthy food that feels like an indulgence so I don’t feel deprived. The less deprived I feel the more I can fend off the junkfood siren call like Wonderwoman with her magic cuffs. So, enough babbling and let’s get on with the food! My red snapper stuffed with Mediterranean goodies tastes so rich yet has so many health benefits–lean protein, good fats like Omega 3s, and aromatics like garlic and parsley that help detox the system. However–this fish is far from “diet looking” I mean look at this photo–almost looks like a dessert!

My New Year's Indulgence

My New Year’s Indulgence

I use red snapper, but you can use salmon or any other white fish. I use walnuts, but you can sub pecans, pistachios, or any other nut of your choice. Notice I go pretty light on the cheese in this recipe for a couple of reasons. 1) Italians get mad at me when I mix dairy and seafood, and I am afraid of the Italian temper 2) The stubborn person inside me adds it anyway, knowing that a little cheese will go a long way in terms of adding flavor, as well as binding the filling of the fish together.  


1 pound wild snapper, bones removed and cut into 4 fillets

1 tsp garlic powder

salt to taste

½ cup finely chopped walnuts

1 tbs Olive oil, plus more for brushing the fish and the pan

1 /2 cup parsley that has been rinsed and finely chopped

3 cloves of garlic, finely minced

1/3 cup goat cheese or any other creamy cheese you prefer

garlic powder

1/3 cup tahini sauce
salt to taste
2 tbs lemon juice.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a skillet, heat the olive oil, and saute the garlic for one minute, add the parsley, and walnuts, and saute until the parsley is slightly wilted. Take off the heat, and mix in the goat cheese. Cut a slit into each snapper fillet to make a pocket. Spread the nut and cheese mixture into the pocket, then brush the top olive oil and sprinkle with salt and a little garlic powder. Place into a pan brushed with olive or avocado oil, and bake for about 15 minutes, or until the fish flakes with a fork. Take the tahini paste, and whisk with the lemon juice, adding a little salt to taste. Drizzle on top of fish when done.

My latest video: a Cheesecake in time for Christmas and New Years!

December 21, 2013

During this festive time of year it’s always fun to surprise friends and family with something new. Don’t believe Christmas is festive? Mariah Carey would have to disagree:

I love adding a new twist on an old favorite, like cheescake! Back in April I first posted my recipe for Lemon Labnah Cheesecake with Ginger Almond Crust, a cheese cake that uses a kefir yogurt “cheese”  instead of cream cheese. The response was so positive I decided to make a video to show you how truly easy this dessert is to make! For recipe details, go to:  Notice this recipe doesn’t call for gobs of butter and sugar. I want you to enjoy the dessert, not wear it on your jeans! ;)  Please give the video a like if you want more videos in 2014!

Get your freekeh on–the new supergrain from the Middle East in a post Thanksgiving soup!

November 27, 2013

There is nothing freaky about freekeh. Freekeh is an ancient grain mentioned in Middle eastern cookbooks as far back as the 13th century. Popular with Lebanese, Egyptians, Iraqis, and Palestinians, Freekeh is actually wheat that has been harvested while still young and green, then sun dried and rubbed together to ensure uniform flavor, texture, and color. As a matter of fact the word freekeh is derived from the Arabic word “farik” which means rubbed together.  I consider freekeh to be an untapped superfood with superior nutritional value. Just a ¼ cup of dried freekeh has 21 grams of fiber! So, not only is this grain low on the glycemic index, but it also has a respectable amount of protein, iron, and potassium. Make sure you rinse freekeh before using to remove any bitterness. The most popular treatment for this grain is in soups because freekeh lends a unique nutty flavor and hearty texture. This particular soup recipe is a hit with my family after Thanksgiving, when the weather is cold, I’m squeezed for time, and the leftover turkey is calling my name. You can however eliminate the turkey and sub veggie broth for chicken for a vegetarian option–which would make it a great post holiday detox! Because I use ready made chicken stock for this recipe, I try to add extra flavor with aromatic herbs, onions, and garlic. The finishing touch of lemon juice is optional, but is quite popular in the Middle East and adds another fresh surprising flavor. You can make this soup anytime of year, and use any kind of meat or beans instead of the turkey for extra protein. Hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and enjoy your leftovers!


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