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Best Qatayef (Kateyef) Recipe EVER!

July 13, 2016

One recipe request I have received most often lately, is that for Katayef, also known as Qateyef. These fluffy little pancakes are filled with either nuts or cheese then drizzled with a rose and lemon scented syrup.  If you go to any Arab country during Ramadan, you will see bakeries churning out these pancakes by the hundreds each day– the dessert of choice after a late night Iftar  or Eid feast.   I only wanted to post a video after my mother and I perfected the recipe, and we had a blast taste testing along the way.

 

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As kids my sister and I literally gorged on this dessert until how shall we say– we got really sick? As kids we didn’t really have a reason to stop eating, so I remember sneaking and inhaling at least a half a dozen of these confections during one of my mother’s parties. Let’s just say now as an adult I know better– I can now stop at eating just two. Yay for self control! (though I ain’t gonna lie it’s really hard!)  For this latest video I experimented with one filling that was so rich and creamy I had to harness a willpower of steel.  Can you guess what that filling might be?

 

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In any case, feel free to experiment with any kind of  filling you like–from walnuts and pecans to pistachios and chopped cashews. Not a nut fan? Try any kind of fruity jam–and if you don’t have farmer’s cheese, you can also use ricotta or cottage cheese.  This dessert is the Arab answer to Italian cannoli or Eastern European blintzes.  Are you ready to try this treat? Grab the items from your pantry or store from the list below and check out the video!  Be sure to click on the on the box on this page  to the right that says “Sign me up!” to subscribe to my blog. That way you can get my latest recipe videos, for free of course. Also if you haven’t already you can check out my Instagram posts for almost daily recipe ideas.  Let me know what you think–if you tried the video, send photos my way on my Instagram or Facebook page and I will share them with fellow feasters!

 

 

Shopping list:

Sugar

Flour

Yeast

Lemons

Baking soda

Orange blossom or rose flower water (optional)

Walnuts

Cinnamon

Mexican farmer’s cheese (or ricotta cheese)

Baking powder

 

Sometimes it’s so hard to keep a secret…

June 24, 2016

But I did. As I sat there interviewing iconic Chef Hoss Zare of Fly Trap Restaurant, he revealed to me a big secret that would change the course of his life after a more than 25 years in the restaurant business.  But now that the information is public, I can reveal that he will leave Fly Trap Restaurant to go and document the culinary world in Iran and bring his knowledge back to the United States. Part of me was super excited for him, yet I was also sad that he would leave this legendary restaurant that he built with cuisine  no one else really offers in the San Francisco Bay Area. He not only created a restaurant, but a family like community of loyal patrons who come to get their regular dose of “Hossy Hugs” as well as a bite to eat. 

 

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 I was also surprised that underneath  his optimism, warmth and hospitality was a lot of pain that he had suffered with his own health and family.  He suffered unimaginable pain and loss  back in 2007, which he revealed in this interview.  Between his tragic loss and the stress of managing a successful and fast paced restaurant, Chef Hoss also suffered a heart attack just three years later in 2010.  He revealed how he managed to heal in this interview–the power of cooking is real. So, I know this is a departure from my regular cooking videos, but I hope to leave you all inspired.  I look forward to seeing what he will share when he gets back. He gave me a hint on what culinary focus he is going to take, but I guess I will just have to keep it a secret until he gets back. :) 

You can check out the interview below, and let me know if you want to see any more chef interviews in the future.

 

 

 

Vegeterian Koofteh (Meatball) with Chef Hoss Zare

June 15, 2016

Mainstream media paints the people of Iran with two extreme brushes: either they’re Islamic fundamentalists in beards and  dark cloaks fantasizing about nukes or ….half naked, binge partying, yacht driving,  drunk on Patron, flamboyant rebels on Bravo’s  Shahs of Sunset. From meeting and knowing Iranian Americans thoughout my life, I have to say my impressions don’t match that of my descriptions above. One thing these people consistently are though is  hospitable, polite, usually well dressed and highly educated people. Out of my Iranian friends, one is a psychiatrist, another an engineer, another a renowned doctor, another a real estate developer. Heck, even my dentist that I adore is Iranian.  There is one particular Iranian chef in San Francisco I have kept in touch with for years, and I always admired his culinary genius. That chef is Hoss Zare.

 

 

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Hoss has this disarming smile and teddy bear persona that immediately makes one feel at home in his landmark restaurant called Fly Trap   in San Francisco.  He gives patrons of his restaurant “Hossy Hugs,” invites children to the kitchen to participate in cooking and show off their creations, and interacts with his fans from all over the world on his  Instagram Page. His trademark dishes include pistachio meatballs with red harissa, honey, and pomegranate, as well as lamb shank stew with turmeric and preserved lime. Hoss and I have kept in touch through Facebook over the years, and I immediately thought of him when I wanted to give Feast in the Middle East viewers exposure to Persian cuisine. When I asked him to come up with something vegetarian for the show, he did not let me down. He took such simple ingredients and whipped them up into a crunchy, chewy, zesty, meaty…vegetarian koofteh.

 

 

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Koofteh is spelled a hundred different ways, and prepared a thousand different ways, but it’s  basically a Middle Eastern meatball. In the Arab world, koofteh is made with meat and onions, in the Tabrizi region of Iran where Hoss is from, it usually has meat with grains in it. I have provided a shopping list below, but I can’t emphasize enough–don’t worry about exact measurements. If the mixture is too watery to make patties, add more panko crumbs. So here is Part I where Hoss shares his easy crowd pleasing recipe. Check back next week for Part II, where Hoss shares his personal story of tragedy, loss, hope, and inspiration. I have provided a shopping list for you below. Please leave me a comment if you would like to see more chef exclusives like this!

 

Shopping list:

Pinto beans (or chick peas)–about a cup

Black beans (or any other kind of beans)– about a cup

Salt and Pepper

Bulgur wheat (or quinoa, or any other grain)–about a cup

Panko breadcrumbs –about 1/3 cup

Za’atar–about 1 tsp

Cumin– about 1 tsp

Cilantro–some chopped, some set aside for roasting

For sauce:

Garlic–1 head

1 onion

1 Tomato

1 Egg (optional for Vegans)

1 large Tomato

Jalapeno

 

 

8 Tips To Know If You Are Invited to a Middle Eastern Home for Dinner…

May 21, 2016

 

Hello Feasters,

How are you all doin? I always love getting feedback from you, so when I got A LOT of questions from people on what to expect in a Middle Eastern home, I decided to make a video about it. There was a myriad of reasons people wanted answers. 1) Some people had significant others that were Arab and wanted to impress the family 2) Some had no idea what to expect and even had some fear because their only perception of Middle Eastern people came from network media (not good) 3) Some wanted to show their gratitude for the dinner invitation in a meaningful way, so hopefully they could get invited again lol.

So here’s the funny thing about all this. Generally I have been posting well thought out cooking videos that take many many hours to make. From the personal investment to make it happen, to ingredient hauls, recipe experimentation, to shooting, wardrobe, make up, presentation, editing, music, lighting–each 6-10 minute video has countless hours of prep behind it. When I made this latest “tips” video, I was winding down from my work commute and really didn’t have to put much thought into it, I was basically reflecting my life experience. And do you know what happened? According to my YouTube analytics, this video got more views in the first 3 days than any other video I put out in the last 6 months! Which makes me think, are viewers more interested in hearing me vlog than watching me cook? Would love to hear your opinions in the column below!

So with that being said, here is the video. And I just want to let you know I was driving super slowly like a granny cause there was tons of traffic. I basically treated my cellphone like a front passenger in my car, only it was better because I never had to turn my head to the right, I could just look straight ahead.:)

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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