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Hashwa-Arabic Style Dressing for your Thanksgiving Feast!

November 19, 2015

Let’s face reality – Thanksgiving is not the ideal time to go low carb.

The holidays are the ideal time to put away the protein shakes, the sprouted tortillas and the egg-white omelets and celebrate togetherness by reveling in some luxurious carbohydrates. My mother is known for putting everyone out into a sleepy stupor after her lavish dinners. Here is a photo to give you an idea of what I mean:


Perhaps some of you are searching through dog-eared recipes in old cookbooks for a tried-and-true stuffing recipe or browsing the Web for a new dish to spice up your holiday table. The following two Middle Eastern recipes celebrate both old and new traditions in my family in the form of carbs. After all, if you’re going to splurge, why not make a side dish using high-quality ingredients with maximum flavor?

Hashwa is the Arabic word for “stuffing.” This recipe is more than a century old, yet still very versatile for today’s palate.

For Thanksgiving, my mother would stuff Cornish game hens or turkey with Hashwa instead of traditional bread stuffing. This meat-and rice-based dish is great as a side or stuffing for game or vegetables like tomatoes, squash, zucchini or even grape leaves simmered in a tomato-kissed broth.

The addition of aromatic spices – allspice, turmeric and nutmeg – sets Hashwa apart from other rice-based dishes, as do the crunchy, pan-fried nuts that go on top. Pine nuts are the traditional topping, but my mother used slivered almonds when pine nuts weren’t available. Middle Eastern home cooks traditionally like to use Uncle Ben’s or converted rice because the rice turns out fluffier, but jasmine or even basmati rice will do. So if you are feeling adventurous, here is your ingredient list and and instructions, now grab your grocery bag to get the easy to find ingredients, and let me know how it goes!  Check out my latest video to give you step by step instructions:


3/4   pounds lamb, finely chopped  

1 tbs butter  

1/2   onion, finely diced  

3  cloves garlic, minced  

1   teaspoon salt  

1/4   teaspoon nutmeg

1   teaspoon ground allspice

dash turmeric

1  cups rice (like Jasmine)

1 3/4  cups chicken broth  

1   tablespoons olive oil  

11/4  cup each pine nuts, slivered almonds or a mixture of both  

To make stuffing:

Soak rice  for about 30 minutes. This will make the rice fluffier.  In the meantime, brown the lamb in  olive oil.  Add onion, garlic, salt, nutmeg and allspice. Saute until lamb is browned.  Set aside. Now time to prepare the rice. Add the butter to a saucepan, and stir in rice, salt to taste, and a dash of turmeric.  Then add the chicken broth. Once mixture starts boiling  cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for about 25 minutes or until liquid is absorbed by the rice.

In a separate skillet, add 2 tablespoons olive oil to nuts and sauté until golden brown.  To serve as a side dish, plate the rice, and top with the meat, then the nuts. To stuff a bird, mix everything together so the flavors and textures are evenly distributed.

From my family to yours, hope you all have a fantastic Thanksgiving! Drop a comment below or subscribe to my channel for more easy yet adventurous recipes!



My Latest Mini Documentary on the Lebanese Festival

November 13, 2015

If I want to submerge myself into a different culture without getting a plane ticket I just hit my local ethnic food festival. I feel so grateful to live in the San Francisco Bay Area where these food festivals abound–from Greek and Filipino to Polish and Portuguese. One of my favorites is the Lebanese Festival in Redwood City, California attracting 10,000 people every year. This festival is most definitely a foodie paradise, where the advice on their brochure says ” Plan your meals–avoid an angry stomach by taking a breather between meals, and remember we have take away containers to continue your feast at home.” Good advice, because with all the juicy shawarma, felafel fried on the spot, tabbouleh and kibbeh it’s easy to get carried away. Here I am annoyed cause my phone starts blowin up right before I wanted to dive head first into my feast.

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A close up of my chicken kebab, tabbouleh, hummus and rice with housemade pickle–this is the comfort food I grew up on–the mac and cheese substitute of my childhood.


I even tried a new drink particular to Lebanon called Sharab al-kharroub, which means “carob drink” The mildly sweet beverage had notes of date and cocoa, which was so refreshing in the hot California sun. I loved the addition of pine nuts on top, which added a nutty flavor and fun crunchy texture. Made me think–why don’t we top beverages with goodies like this more often?

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And the Lebanese fest people were right, my eyes were more hungry than my stomach, so all the excess desserts had to be packaged to take home. Here are slices of buttery rich kenafe, a mamoul bar (shortbread filled with dates) and basbousa, or yogurt, honey and semolina cake.

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But even more than the food, the Lebanese volunteers that put this festival together really made this event shine. Over 100 volunteers from the Christian Maronite Church called Our Lady of Lebanon put countless hours into hand making every felafel morsel, every marinated shred of beef, and every pastry. The Lebanese have always been known as the most fun loving people of the middle east–when people of other Arab nations want to party they travel to Lebanon. When they want to watch the latest and greatest music video, game show, or films they watch Lebanese television. The Lebanese resilience is so legendary that they even have underground bomb shelters that have been converted into discotheques!  But underneath it all, they are a people that have been through a lot of upheaval and pain from war throughout the decades. In this mini-documentary, it was my intent to capture the spirit and essence of the Lebanese people, I hope you enjoy watching it and I would love your comments and feedback!


November 2, 2015

If this whole planet were to implode tomorrow and I had the time to eat my favorite food before that happens, I would find or make kanafeh and wolf the whole platter down. Or,  if you asked me what  you should include in your bucket list of 10 things to try before you die I would also say you must try kanafeh. Kanafeh is not just a dessert, it’s a climactic synergy of tastes and textures so harmonious that you literally want to cry after your last bite. All at once sweet, a little salty, creamy, chewy, and buttery… kanafeh is the ultimate dessert of the Middle East. There are varying ways to spell it, and many theories as to where this dessert originated. Kanafeh is a Levantine dessert, meaning it is shared equally in the traditions of the Lebanese, Palestinians, Jordanians, Syrians, and Egyptians. Basically it is a layered dessert of sweet melted cheese, sandwiched with buttery filo dough, and smothered with a sugar syrup, dusted with a little pistachios and sometimes rose flower water. The dough is usually dyed orange, using a special spice that doesn’t really impart any flavor, only color. If you ever attend a Middle Eastern Food Festival with this dessert on the menu, please try it, and give me your impressions. While at the Lebanese Festival in Redwood City, I had more than my share of kenafeh, and somehow I had to fight for the last bite with my brother, who loves it just as much. As a matter of fact the fights my brother and I have had over this sweet is legendary, involving multiple sprints around the house and even down the block while carrying the last piece in hand. One of those moments was captured right here on video. Stay tuned because this week I will have a mini-doc of the Lebanese Festival, to give you a flavor of what it’s all about :)

M’Nazaleh, A Rich Tasting Yet Healthy Eggplant Casserole

August 27, 2015

Did you know that the Greek word Moussaka comes from the Arabic word “musaqqa‘ah” which means chilled?  The reason this dish is called “chilled” is because you can eat it cold and it tastes just as delicious. Greek Mousakka is what I call indulgence food, rich meat and eggplant tucked under a bed of creamy, buttery, Bechamel sauce. Musaqqa‘ah, also known as M’nazaleh, is the Palestinian version of this dish, which trades the Bechamel in for a lighter tomato sauce with slightly different spices. M’nazaleh his one of those dishes that can absolutely wow your guests at a dinner party–the unctuous eggplant, combined with the meaty lamb and onions, sweet tomatoes, and toasted pine nuts is so rich tasting yet healthy. This dish is loaded with fiber, iron, protein, and anti-oxidants. 

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This dish is also Paleo and Whole 30 friendly, so you can have a satisfying meal like this without worrying about carbs. If you want to eat this the traditional way though, I highly recommend eating this dish over the garlic turmeric rice in the blog post below–a flavor explosion indeed! Be sure you follow the steps for salting and roasting the eggplant beforehand to take out any potential bitterness from the eggplant. You can follow along how to do that in this instructional video:

Now for vegetarians, here are a couple of delicious swaps for the meat that I have tried–instead of 1 1/2 pounds of meat, use 1 can of garbanzo beans or 2 packages of sliced mushrooms, or heck you can use both! Just sautee the mushrooms or chickpeas alongside the onions and use as the middle layer. Are you ready to try this or what? Here is the video and grocery list to get started below, give me your feedback and tell me what you think!

Shopping List:

large eggplants

1 1/2 pounds of chili cut lamb or chicken thigh

1 large onion



1 jar of marinara sauce, or 16 oz can of chopped tomatoes

Olive oil

Pine nuts

Garlicky Turmeric Rice–The Foundation of My Dishes with Mega Health Benefits!

August 9, 2015

I am not carb phobic, especially when it comes to my rice. For active people (like me) carbohydrates are metabolized by the body and turned into functional, usable energy.  Brown rice is rich in insoluble fiber that can protect against many types of cancer, containing vitamins and minerals like niacin, vitamin A, C and  D,  calcium, fiber, iron, thiamine and riboflavin. In India they use rice topically for skin care remedies, and in China they use rice to cure digestive problems. So while many might experience bloat and indigestion from wheat, they rarely experience the same with rice. Aside from all the health benefits, I just love the flavor and simplicity of rice, providing a pure foundation for all kinds of dishes.  My ancestors subsisted on diets primarily on rice and lived well into their 90s without any diseases, and I hope to follow in their footsteps!  Now there is one particular rice recipe that elicits excitement from everyone that has ever tried it from my family: Garlic Turmeric Rice.
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My parents literally make a batch of this stuff once a week, to serve next to grilled meats and  veggies, or as a bed for all of their Arabic style stews. I call it crack rice because once you start eating it, you can’t stop!  The rice has a golden yellow color from the turmeric, and is scented with plenty of garlic, shallots, and a hint of butter. Turmeric has countless medicinal properties as well, and I talk about some of the most compelling health benefits of turmeric in this video. This recipe is great for beginners, as you only need a few ingredients and the rice takes only about 30 minutes to make. You can even freeze any leftovers and use the rest for later. Hold on to this recipe because in my next video I will give you a dinner preparation idea for this rice that will knock your kicks off!  Check out my latest video tutorial and drop me a line if you gave this rice a try. :)

Grocery List:

Jasmine or Brown Rice

Chicken or Veggie Broth






Olive oil


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.


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!





Salt and Pepper


1 pound Chicken thighs

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


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


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


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!


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