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SHAWARMA!

June 15, 2015

My most epic sandwich moment happened near Petra in Jordan, years ago. I was determined to hike around this ancient city  with my tour group  in 100 degree heat. One of my friends on this trip, John, was perpetually  hungry, regardless of the blistering hot weather. He saw a lonely shawarma stand off the side of the road, and made our taxi stop so he could buy a few wraps. Seeing that the stand sold 3 shawarma wraps for about 1 dinar (under 2 American dollars) I decided to buy 3 wraps as well to fuel my impending  hike.  The wraps were on the small side, about the circumference of a Mexican  flauta. Nestled inside the soft flatbread  was  some spiced tender lamb, crispy cucumber yogurt salad, pickled onions, and a nutty creamy tahini sauce. I didn’t realize I was hungry until I took my first bite, and then I just couldn’t stop myself, devouring all three wraps in one swoop.  Hence, my  obsession with shawarma began. Even now whenever I see a shawarma stand my mind gets flooded with blissful memories of that day in Petra. Fast forward to today, and this sandwich has reached cult status in nearly every Middle Eastern country and beyond. Shawarma is timeless, globally popular, and vogue, sort of like the Madonna of wraps. I knew I had to recreate shawarma at home so I could have it anytime I wanted–with ingredients I could feel good about.

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The word shawarma comes from the Arabic word “shawi” which means to grill. Usually lamb, chicken, or beef are placed on a vertical spit roaster and can be slow cooked for as long as a day. Hard working dudes shave the meat off the block, and the remainder of the meat is kept heated on the rotating pit. The plus of making shawarma yourself is you can customize how you serve the meat to your specific dietary needs. For instance, you can serve the meat on a salad for a low carb option, on a plate with rice and salad for heartier fare, or in a wrap as a fast food or picnic lunch. And for vegans out there ( I never forget you :)  sub out the meat all together if you’re a vegetarian, using the same marinade for tempeh, seitan, or even portabella mushrooms.  You can get really creative with the wraps. Feel free to use any kind of flatbread–like  pita, tortilla (flour, sprouted or low carb), Armenian lavash,or Persian Sangak bread.  For roasting the chicken, I realize  most people don’t have a vertical spit roaster, so you can either roast  the meat in the oven–or just grill the chicken outdoors for an extra smoky flavor. The tahini sauce for the shawarma is called “tarator” sauce, which has no relation to American tartar sauce. Instead you have a tahini based sauce spiked with lemon and garlic.  If you’re doing some summer  entertaining, trying making a shawarma bar. Guests can assemble the meats, wraps, condiments and sauce as they wish to make a customized wrap. You can marinate the meat, marinate the onions,  and make the tahini sauce the day before. All you have to do the day of your party is grill the meats and assemble the cucumber tomato salad. How easy is that? For  the tutorial video check out the link below, and please subscribe if you haven’t already!

Here is a Shawarma Shopping list, now you can watch the video and work your magic, drop me a line to tell me how it went!

Spices:

Coriander

Allspice

Cumin

Salt and Pepper

Sumac

1 pound Chicken thighs

Wraps (low carb, gluten free, wheat, whatever you like)

onions

vinegar (rice or red wine)

tahini sauce

5 cloves garlic

Olive Oil

One lemon

1 large tomato

1 Persian cucumber

How to get a luxurious dinner on the table in under 5 minutes: Mediterranean Garlic Shrimp!

May 20, 2015

Shrimp always feels like an indulgent food, a luxurious protein reserved for special occasions. However, if you buy a bag of wild shrimp for under 20 bucks you can easily feed a family of four with some veg and a starch of choice. I really love to make shrimp on those super busy days when I barely have time to brush my hair in the morning let alone make a family meal. Shrimp only takes a minute each side to cook, a big plus over chicken or other meats. I do think it is important if you live in the U.S. to buy local shrimp. American farms are under strict environmental laws, making them a much better choice than imported, farmed shrimp. If you really want to get your hands on the best shrimp around, the pink shrimp fishery in Oregon is as wild and as good as it gets. Now to make this recipe you will need a food processor and a pan, and that’s about it! I tried to make this pic as drool worthy as possible. If you are salivating, read on and you can make this too!

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In the video below, I show you how easy it is to make the zesty shrimp, which I place on a bed of freekeh pilaf. For more information on this supergrain with a funny name, check out my blog on Freekeh soup.

Here is the recipe I used for the freekeh pilaf, but you can sub out any vegetables you have on hand:

Veggie Freekeh Pilaf

Ingredients

1 cup freekeh

2 tbs olive oil, divided

2 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth (or more as needed)

2 shallots, minced

1 large carrot, chopped finely

1 large zucchini, chopped finely

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/4 tsp lemon zest

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup chopped toasted nuts or seeds of choice, like almonds, pumpkin seeds, or pine nuts

Directions:

Rinse freekeh in cold water. Put broth in a sauce pan, and wait to boil. Add freekeh and olive oil. Stir, reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and freekeh is tender (you might have to add a bit more water, keep an eye on it). While cooking, heat another tbs. of olive oil in a pan, start sauteing shallots. Then add the carrots. Saute carrots for about 5 minutes, then add the zucchini and saute for another 5 minutes. Add veggie mixture to cooked freekeh, along with lemon juice, zest salt, pepper, and toasted nuts or seeds. Now you have a beautiful bed for your happy shrimp to lie on :)  Check out the video, I welcome any comments and feedback!

How To Travel The World in Your Own Neighborhood….

April 23, 2015

Recently Travel Channel asked, what is your travel specialty, or what does traveling mean to you? To be honest in this increasingly hostile and poverty stricken world, paradoxically I think travel is more necessary than ever. In all of my travels, the memories I treasured most were of people rather than monuments. Experiencing  different ways of life other than my own surpassed taking beautiful scenic pics. I will never forget one particular day in Paris, as I walked past the River Seine at 3:00 pm, on my way to a museum. I saw some scarf embellished French people, gathered around a cafe table, splitting a French baguette and a bottle of wine. Five hours later, I made the trek back to my hotel room, and I saw the same people, still talking, with just a little bit of bread and wine left at the table. It occurred to me that they were having a fabulous time, taking small sips of wine and savoring every bite of crusty bread goodness. Eating a 5 star meal was not necessary, it was the company they seemed to relish the most. When I flew back to the states, I wanted to channel the French lifestyle. I ate my meals very slowly, savoring every bite. I wore a scarf everyday in every color, just because.  I made an attempt to connect with long lost friends at cafes, to catch up with their lives. I made sure to walk instead of drive if a destination was under 5 miles away. To me, that was the experiential souvenir that kept thriving well past my trip. This photo captures my joy climbing the Eiffel Tower:

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Another travel memory I cherish took place in Haiti. I saw these beautiful Haitian women doing a native dance at the beach at sunset. The shades of crimson sky was a crown over these Haitian princesses, wearing vibrant colors, their glee emanating from their pristine white smiles  Having been passionate about dance all my life, I stood to the side, trying to copy their choreography, mesmerized by the beat of the tribal drums. The ladies saw me and invited me to join them, and I was more than happy to do just that. In the video below you can see how I made that travel memory last well past my arrival home, even though I didn’t have any pictures to capture this spontaneous moment. When there are language barriers, the use of our senses can fill in the communication gaps. Appreciating cultural music, dancing together, sharing a meal–all of these sensorial experiences can bring people together in meaningful ways. So back to my original thought, how can people travel when they barely have enough money to cover their expenses? One can do some research at their local library, then seek those experiences in their neighborhood, or venture a few miles beyond their comfort zone to experience something new. Sometimes the most simple experiences can be the most life changing ones. I think there is too much hostility in the world because people aren’t able to step outside their comfort zone to step into and experience another person’s lifestyle. I like to think if people like John McCain for example, had dinner with a family in Yemen, or went to a Syrian wedding, or visited a museum in Iraq, he would not be so keen to support bombing campaigns on these people. Maybe I am being naive, but thinking about these possibilities can’t hurt. And with that said, here is my video, about what traveling means to me. I would love to hear about your travel experiences as well! Hugs– B

Listeria Hysteria –Not in My Hummus!

April 17, 2015

Now here’s a big reason to make your own hummus–possible listeria in store-bought varieties. Recently Sabra hummus recalled 30,000 cases of hummus for possible listeria. What is listeria? It’s a bacteria that can cause a serious or even fatal infection. Symptoms include fever, nausea, abdominal pain and headaches. Would you like some dysentery on those carrot sticks? Honestly, I think it is sacrilege to buy hummus for many reasons other than listeria. First, the ingredients are ridiculously cheap, and you can make a batch for under 2 dollars that can last you a week. Secondly, most store bought varieties use cheap GMO canola oil instead of good quality olive oil and leave out the tahini– the heart and soul of hummus. Why? Because it costs less to make hummus without tahini. However, a small jar of tahini can easily make about 6 batches of homemade hummus. Third, store bought hummus cannot reproduce the flavor of fresh lemons and garlic, essential to authentic creamy, heavenly hummus. And lastly–have you seen how easy it is to make this dip? I am making this hummus in real time in this video in 5 minutes! So go ahead, empower yourself, get that food processor out and whip up a batch of this silky dip and you will never need to buy it again. Just do it!

Quinoa Lasagna and Thoughts on Multitasking….

March 30, 2015

I know we are all up to our noses in quinoa–but is that necessarily a bad thing? Quinoa is still a protein and fiber powerhouse as far as seeds go, taking only minutes to cook, and easy on the wallet. The texture is not for everyone though, especially children, who tend to shy away from anything “grainy.” So, I set out to take a dish that was a familiar favorite with my kids like lasagna, and quinoize it (yeah that’s my new word) After experimenting with several variations, this lasagna got two thumbs up from both of my children.

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Since quinoa is also a complete protein, there is really no reason to add meats. In the lasagna I usually make, I hide at least 5 veggies in the casserole, because my kids are not big fans of salad. I figure this way they get the salad and entree all in one.  In the following video, I use onions, zucchini, mushrooms, and fresh basil with an organic marinara sauce. Check the sugar on your marinara sauce–if it’s above 6 grams that is tomato jam, not tomato sauce-no need for that much sugar.  Now for you multitasking parents out there who say you never get the time to work out…how about fitting in some exercise while your food bakes? I invited my fitness instructor cousin Mouna aka Moon Doggie Dog to do just that with me. Just pick 5 body weight exercises, like burpees, bicep curls, tricep kick backs, kettlebell swings, or planks, and do 5 sets of 10 each exercise. Then before you know it, your food is done baking and you can enjoy your dinner that much more. You might be able to get your kids in the exercise mix too if they are driving you mad with will all of their extra energy. Once you settle down for your well deserved dinner, you will soon learn that this vegetarian lasagna is very filling. There’s extra protein from the cottage and mozzarella cheeses, and an egg which will help bind the layers together. If you decide to try this recipe please let me know what you think in the comments section!

Barazek: The Cookie Worth Taking a Flight for

February 11, 2015

Some cookies have the power to take you to distant lands with one bite. Whenever I travel to other countries, I love to visit their local bakeries, where I can experience the taste, smells, and traditions of that particular culture. Usually on the last day of my trip, I like to buy a little box of sweets to take home with me–the last taste of that country that I share with family. Middle Eastern sweet shops are filled with sensorial experiences: baklava dripping with nuts and honey, shredded  filo layers filled with custard or cheese, buttery semolina shortbreads, and….barazek. Barazek cookies have elements of baklava, shortbread, and biscotti all in one. The base is a buttery crispy cookie, painted generously with honey, then dipped into salty pistachios on one side, and nutty sesame seeds on the other.. The result is an overload of taste and texture–sweet, salty, crispy, crumbly, and nutty all in one bite.

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While these addictive cookies originated in Turkey, they can be found all over the Levant, (Jordan, Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon) where people enthusiastically dunk them into strong cups of tea. On my last trip to the Middle East, I made sure to stock up on these cookies in my carry on baggage. The flight attendants even became my friends after I gave them a sample. After I was down to my last cookie I knew I had to recreate these at home, so that I could continue to share this taste of the Middle East with friends and family–especially around the holidays. These cookies are meant to be thin and crispy, but if you prefer chewy cookies just make them thicker. As for the pistachios, you can use salted, or unsalted depending on your taste preference. The unexpected benefit of making these at home is you can create a kid-friendly cookie assembly station. One can use the cookie cutters, one can paint on the honey, and one can dip it in the nuts. There’s my sister’s hand helping out with the cookies, though she is too camera shy to appear in my videos:

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 So why not give these cookies a try this Valentine’s Day? Would love to hear your feedback if you try them. Here is a how-to video of these delights, to get you started :)

Give Feast in The Middle East to a loved one, and get a free gift for yourself!

December 5, 2014

Hello dear subscribers–I hope you are all doing great during this fast paced and busy time of year! As each year goes by, I get more wary about buying unnecessary stuff, collecting stuff and giving stuff, especially in an age when we need to be more green. I try to buy fair trade gifts to support populations that really need the money to survive, and often their products are one of a kind and beautifully made. However, a gift can be something not necessarily tangible, but highly useful regardless. Enter https://Curious.com/ –a company that makes learning easy, accessible and affordable. From cooking and photography, to learning a new language or how to play an instrument, Curious has learning capsules for every interest you can imagine. I was thrilled when they approached me about having a cooking class package as a holiday gift idea. What sets my cooking classes on Curious apart from standard youtube videos, is the student gets more ingredient and recipe information, and more interactive elements in a classroom format. They would have access to these classes forever, (so if youtube implodes their recipe stash remains safe with Curious) If you are interested in giving the gift of Middle Eastern cooking lessons to a loved one, just click on this link: https://curious.com/feastinthemiddleeast/series/traditional-middle-eastern-dishes/gift-it and fill out the simple form. And here’s the cool thing, after you buy my course as a gift, a little elf will put $14.99 into your Curious account! You can use it for this course or to purchase any course on Curious for yourself! Please allow up to 3 business days for processing and you will be all set. It’s been a pleasure sharing my cooking journey with you, wish you memorable moments with friends and family and happy shopping!

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