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Muhammara-The Famous Dip of Syria

April 12, 2016

It’s so sad that people now associate Syria with war, death, mayhem, and destruction. Prior to the war Syria was a veritable culinary mecca, known mostly for its gorgeous desserts displayed like a Dubai skyline of confections.

 

 

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Another culinary delight originating from Syria is the fiery red Muhammara dip, which is unlike anything I had ever tried before. This dip is sweet, savory, tangy, nutty, spicy, and sexy all at once (yes I said sexy, I couldn’t help it–the red color is reminiscent of a boudoir salon). I first tried this dip in college at my friend Samar’s house. Her parents immigrated from Syria decades ago and thankfully still upheld their traditions–this dip was always in their refrigerator. I looked forward to study sessions at her house, the dip was the snack her mother offered us, and I was immediately hooked. Back then I didn’t even ask what was inside the dip, as studying took up all of my time and I was lucky if I was able to bake a batch of brownies or two all year. I just knew that mouthfuls of this dip during intense study sessions made the world a happier place.  Fast forward to now and I had to recreate this dip, even though I haven’t seen Samar in ages. With enough trial, error, and research over the span of two years, I finally achieved the flavor I was looking for.

 

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And hot damn there are so many nutritional benefits! Loads of anti-oxidants, Omega 3s, vitamin C, fiber, protein, and it’s vegan to boot! So, do yourself a favor and try this dip. Try it with crackers or pita chips. Spread it on some chicken. Use it as a sandwich spread. Top your vegan quinoa bowl with it. Once you go Muhammara, there is no going back, and I will help you get there. Check out my latest video below and I will show you how it’s done.

 

 

 

Thank you–nearing 10,000 subscribers on Social Media!

March 28, 2016

This has been a crazy journey. What started off as a seemingly far fetched idea of creating a cooking show out of my kitchen has now transcended any expectations! As of now I have over 5000 subscribers on YouTube and approaching 4000 on Facebook!  I keep getting photos from folks seeing my cooking videos on Virgin America (thank you friends) and getting stopped by other foodies as I run my errands because they are seeing my food columns in the paper. If you told me 6 years ago that my career would take a culinary direction I would never believe it! But here I am, and here you all are, and my life is that much better being a part of this global community:)

 

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I appreciate every single one of you that has subscribed to this blog or my other social media pages, because you all keep me going (and sane)  even during personally challenging times, when my free time and resources were low and I felt like quitting.  Coming from a television background, it was always my goal to create good quality videos, even though they were going to cost more. I wanted to put quality over quantity. This year I want to do both, churn out good quality videos with more frequency. Having a solid subscriber base of awesome people will help me achieve that in the long run. So thanks to all of you again, I am hoping to create a sustainable model where I can increase my creative output…or in other words, create more kick ass videos on a regular basis!  If there are any recipes or ideas that you are interested in me covering, please leave it in the comment section below. Also I would be happy to do a question and answer video to reach out to you all, so if you have questions, leave those below too!:)

 

 

On another note, if you celebrate Easter I hope you had an awesome holiday! I gave my Mamoul Cake an Easter twist by covering it with pink coconut, reminiscent of those pink marshmallow snowballs I used to eat as a kid. To dye coconut this color naturally, beet juice works great!  Just in case you missed the video tutorial, I have posted it below. Have a wonderful spring, and I look forward to sharing more recipes with you!

 

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Ma’Moul Cookies for Easter!

March 22, 2016

Although mainstream media seldom talks about Arab Christians, there are millions of us all over the world, from Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. Easter is huge for us, and there are many traditions we participate in to prepare for this big holiday. Palm Sunday masses tend to be massive processions where everyone is holding palms, flowers, or ornately decorated candles. The mass is usually read in Latin, and everyone wears their Sunday best. There are no Easter bunny or chocolate eggs in sight, but eggs are colored with natural dyes like onion skin boiled in water (which gives the eggs an orangy color)  or beet juice. Food traditions are very important too, and ma’moul cookies, or ka’ak bajwa (date cookies) are fundamental to the food preparation. Ma’moul is not the type of cookie made by one person, unless that person has a ton of time to spare. The cookie has many steps which an require assembly line. This requires the whole family to participate which is great because everyone feels like they are a part of this big holiday. Generally one person rolls the dough into balls and the date paste into cylinders, another shapes the cookie, and another decorates the cookie. And of course everyone loves to eat the cookie right out of the oven, when the dates are soft and almost chocolaty in flavor, and the buttery dough just melts in your mouth.

 

 

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The cookie is actually meant to symbolize the crown of thorns worn on Jesus’s head. The reason why no sugar is added to the dough is Jesus’s death was bittersweet. The dough is sugarless, because during Lent many fast from sugar to respect the crucifixion. The sweet date interior reflects the sweetness of Jesus’s resurrection. But people of all denominations enjoy this cookie, which is also made by Muslims during their big Eid holiday. People make the cookie more festive with a dusting of powdered sugar for Easter.

 

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These cookies can be frozen, which many like to do to enjoy the cookie all year round without having to make it again!

As a thank you to you, my subscribers, here is my latest vlog which shows you how to assemble these cookies, followed by ingredients and instructions. And for all of you that celebrate, have a very Happy Easter!

 

 

Ingredients:

3 cups semolina flour

1 cup clarified butter (or ghee, at room temperature)

1/4 tsp mahlab or ground cherry kernel powder (optional found in Middle Eastern stores)

1 packet yeast

3/4 c warm water

1 tsp sugar

1 pound pitted mejdool dates (make sure they are really soft)

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp cinnamon

 

Directions

Combine the semolina flour, mahlab and clarified butter. Cover and leave overnight (don’t worry it won’t spoil as clarified butter has no cheese curds left). The next day combine the yeast with the water and sugar and stir vigorously, cover with a towel. Wait 10 minutes before adding to the semolina mixture. Add a little bit of yeast /water  mixture to the semolina at a time, combining with the dough with your fingers (so wash your hands!). You want the dough to be pliable and easy to work with, and not crumbly. Depending on the type of semolina you buy, you might need all of the water or a fraction of it. For the dates, make sure they are very soft, and whirl them into a large food processor along with the nutmeg and cinnamon until it forms a paste. You can also buy ready made date paste (sold in middle eastern markets and health food stores)  and combine with the spices for a shortcut. Roll the date paste into long logs about 1/4 inch thick. Now to assemble, look at the video above, which will show you step by step how to assemble. Bake on a cookie sheet for 12 minutes (or until tops are browned) at 400 degrees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vegan Cabbage Rolls: MALFOUF!

March 13, 2016

The word “malfouf” in Arabic means both “cabbage” and “rolled.” So in Lebanese and Palestinian culture, cooks must have felt that it was only natural to roll up the cabbage around rice, and the popular dish malfouf was born.

Stuffed cabbage leaves are popular in so many countries, from Russia to Poland and Sweden. But for some reason, Middle Eastern people feel the need to stuff every vegetable imaginable – eggplant, squash, tomatoes, bell peppers, potatoes and, of course, cabbage all get the rice-filling treatment.

As a child growing up, I didn’t think there was any other way to eat cabbage, because to me, malfouf was the ultimate comfort food. Tender leaves filled with aromatic rice, herbs and either lamb or chickpeas was one of my favorite afterschool snacks.

 

 

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I attended an Irish Catholic elementary school growing up, so St. Patrick’s Day was a huge celebration with heaps of corned beef and cabbage served to all at fundraisers. While I enjoyed the corned beef, the Middle Eastern in me thought the plain steamed cabbage on the side looked kind of lonely compared with the stuffed cabbage I grew up with.

So one day I brought some malfouf to my Irish friends at school to show them a new way with cabbage. They loved it so much that they were willing to trade their mothers’ homemade Irish soda bread for some malfouf rolls. I absolutely loved those cross-cultural food swaps – to this day I still crave that soft Irish soda bread.

 

 

 

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While malfouf is not a St. Patrick’s Day staple, it’s a dish I enjoy making this time of year to bring back that those great childhood memories. To make this meal vegetarian and Lent-friendly, my mother, Vera, created her own version of malfouf using chickpeas rather than the traditional cubes of lamb for the filling. There are so many herbs and spices in this recipe that I guarantee you won’t miss the meat. This dish is also fun to assemble with children – the bonus is kids are more apt to try new foods they help prepare in the kitchen.

 

 

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Malfouf rolls make a pretty and elegant presentation for Easter as well. You can either invert the pot like an upside-down cake or line up the rolls individually on an oblong serving platter.

FOR THE VIDEO TUTORIAL, CLICK BELOW!!

 

Shopping List:

Green cabbage

Rice

Garbanzo beans

Parsley

White onion

Scallions

Tomatoes

Cumin

Allspice

Olive oil

Lemons

Garlic

 

 

 

Feasting in the Friendly Skies….

March 2, 2016

Hello Fellow Feasters!

I have an exciting announcement to make! You will now be able to see my Feast in the Middle East cooking show as part of the in flight entertainment on Virgin America Airlines! This means my videos will be seen by 1 million people every month:) This has been a roller coaster of a  journey so far, and I want to thank all of you subscribers for joining me for the ride! My shows are featured under the channel under “Curious Eats.” So if you any of you fly on Virgin regularly and see my videos please let me know, as I am not flying anytime soon. Fortunately my dear friend Heather sent me the pic below during her flight. I will be back soon with a brand new video just in time for Lent and St. Patrick’s Day!  Again thanks for all of your support, which inspires me to keep creating everyday. Best, B

 

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Valentine’s Day Recipe RoundUp!

February 12, 2016

 

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I am not into froofy cheesy displays of Valentine’s affection, but I do like my desserts! Here is your one stop shop for Valentine’s recipe ideas that you can give to your loved ones–and two of the recipes don’t even require any baking!

Let’s start with my most popular video for my no-bake Lazy Cake! I made this one a while back when I was inspired by Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding. Lazy cake is a chocolate biscuit cake popular in Jordan, Palestine, and the Gulf states–and it tastes sort of like a cookie, candy, and cake all in one! I kicked it up royal pompous style for my video:

 

 

Next, another no bake recipe for cocoa date truffles that taste super fudgy and chocolaty while being vegan! The creaminess comes from heart healthy almond butter. Just take a few ingredients and a food processor and watch the magic happen–this makes a great gift!

 

 

If you are in a breakfast in bed kind of person, how about a homemade pastry, made easier with store bought puff pastry? I gave this a middle eastern flavor by using fig jam and almonds, with a mascarpone filling.

 

And finally, if you are entertaining a crowd, you won’t let them down with my lemon lebne cheesecake with ginger almond crust! Lebne is a soft kefir cheese similar to Greek yogurt loaded with probiotics –easy to find in specialty supermarkets these days.  I use a gluten free crust made up of almond meal and spiked with ginger. Whenever I make this there is always NONE left over!

 

 

So there you have it, if you decide to make any of these recipes let me know how it went for you, and Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

 

Popular Hot Beverage of the Arab World: Sahlab

February 10, 2016

For many, drinking coffee is a ritual that comforts all of the senses, especially on a cold, wintry day. The sound of the percolating espresso machine triggers excitement for the energizing drink to come. The warmth of the coffee cup defrosts brisk fingertips. The flavor is tailored to each person’s preference – rich cream, a sweetener of choice, perhaps a touch of cocoa or spicy cinnamon. The elements of sound, smell, touch and taste work in tandem to transform a simple drink into an all-encompassing experience that many require to start the morning.

While Arabic coffee is popular in the Middle East, there is a hot, sensuous beverage that gives coffee serious competition – sahlab (also known as salep). A cup of sahlab is sweet, warm, spicy, creamy, crunchy, chewy and fragrant all at once.

 

 

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The word “sahlab” refers to a white, starchy powder ground from the dried roots of wild orchids found in Morocco, Afghanistan, Greece, Cyprus and, most abundantly, Turkey. Not surprisingly, it was the Ottoman Empire that introduced sahlab to the Middle East, where it has been a staple in cafes and street stalls in Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, and Syria for centuries.

The sahlab root powder gives warm beverages, puddings and even ice cream a thick, almost fluffy texture with an intoxicating floral scent. The root is rich in protein and calcium, and has a thickening quality like cornstarch to make the drink as white and creamy as whole milk. The drink has been touted to improve circulation, cure stomach ailments, strengthen bones and teeth – and, dare I say, act as an aphrodisiac. Here is a photo of the orchid used for traditional sahlab:

 

 

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Sahlab powder is difficult to find, as the flower is in danger of extinction – importing true sahlab is illegal. However, I have found that combining rose flower water with milk mimics the flavor of sahlab very well, with similar nutritional benefits. Rose flower water is relatively inexpensive and easier to find, with the modern supermarket giving us many choices of milks to suit our dietary needs. I have made sahlab with almond, hemp, flax, coconut and even cashew milk with great results.

While most sahlab recipes call for 1 cup sugar, I find that 1/3 cup is plenty to impart a nice, sweet flavor. Feel free to use any sugar substitute you wish. What really makes sahlab stand apart from other beverages such as coffee are the toppings – coconut, pistachios and cinnamon. Sahlab is a drinkable dessert that you can enjoy guilt-free.

My mother’s favorite memory as a child was enjoying a cup of sahlab in a cafe in Bethlehem after attending Palestinian Christian Mass at the Church of the Nativity. I may not be able to travel that far anytime soon, but I can certainly create my own memories with my customized cup of sahlab. Here is my easy video tutorial, so you can enjoy some sahlab tonight with your family!

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