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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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The Veggie Burger Re-invented – Kibbeh style!

November 12, 2014

Have you checked the ingredient list of store-bought veggie burgers lately? Many of them are teeming with GMO soy, GMO canola oil, funky fillers, and chemicals I cannot pronounce ((gasp)) The human body would recognize an organic, grass fed beef burger more than the frozen veggie monstrosities you see in the supermarket frozen section. It really isn’t difficult to make your own veggie burgers, and store the leftover patties in your freezer for later enjoyment. I love Middle Eastern flavors in my burger, so I thought why not transform the meaty appetizer called “kibbeh” into a veggie burger?

Kibbeh is a Levantine dish made of bulgur or cracked wheat, minced onions and finely ground lean beef, or lamb. Lebanese varieties use chicken and even fish instead of meat. The word kibbeh in Arabic means “ball,” popular in Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and Syria. The best-known variety is a football-shaped fried croquette stuffed with minced beef or lamb.

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Other types of kibbeh may be shaped into balls or patties, and baked or cooked in broth. When the kibbeh is baked casserole style, there is usually a layer of brazed lamb, onions, and pine nuts in between the layers of kibbeh:

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There is also the “Kibbeh Niya” variety, which is raw kibbeh, the Middle Eastern equivalent to steak tartar. Spread on a plate with a drizzle of olive oil, this plate of goodness is popular as an appetizer.

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Kibbeh is considered to be the national dish of many Middle-Eastern countries and usually contains some kind of meat. I have found that lentils do a fantastic job of mimicking a hearty, meaty flavor when ground in the food processor. You can split this recipe in half. One half dedicated to the “Niya” style, or “raw” as a dip with crackers. The other half can go to those mouth watering veggie patties. You can even prepare this kebab style, molding the mixture onto skewers, and brushing with olive oil. Freeze the patties for later use if you made too much for one sitting. Regardless of your serving method, you won’t miss the meat, and neither will your meat loving friends (just ask my brother) Cucumber yogurt sauce makes a fine condiment, as well as a cucumber, garlic and tomato salsa. Subscribe to my youtube page at http://www.youtube.com/blanchetv for dip and salad recipes. And now, here is my latest video for this treat, leave your comments below if you think you will give this a try or want to see more veggie recipes. One warning about the video, at around 6 minutes things got a little crazy off camera, and my brother makes me laugh so much I cannot control myself. Such is the crazy dynamic of my family. :D

Fasoolya – Green Bean Stew with Lamb and Tomato Broth (In a Crockpot!)

September 24, 2014

Forget falling leaves, autumn is the most frenetic time of year for me. Perhaps mothers reading this can relate. Okay inhale: now dive into days packed with working, writing, bill paying, prepping school lunches, cleaning, grocery shopping, laundry, soccer practice, Zumba teaching, ballet rehearsals, swimming lessons, piano lessons, school volunteering, fundraising for charities, and cooking…now exhale. Regardless of all of these tugs on my time, cooking takes a back seat and my pots and pans seem to give me attitude like they’re saying “Wanna piece of me?” How do I squeeze in easy, healthy dinners without relying on processed food or take out? The crock pot, one of the best inventions ever (sorry pots and pans.) I have to admit when I first used a crock pot I went to work with this paranoia that the pot was going to explode while I was gone. (I even asked a fireman once if crockpots ever caused a home fire and he looked at me like I was a crackpot myself). I like to think of my crock pot as my little personal assistant, making sure my ingredients are playing nicely with each other while I am gone. Now fasoolya is one of the most traditional weeknight meals in the Middle East, popular in the Levantine region, which includes Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Jordan. This one pot meal features an aromatic tomato broth with the addition of either lamb or chicken, and green beans, usually served over rice.

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The traditional method uses a regular pot, but the crockpot is my twist adapted for today’s busy lifestyle. Crockpot cooking allows the lamb to cook slowly, so once done it’s fork tender and falls of the bone. For the green beans, you can use fresh in the summer, or frozen in the winter. My favorite type of green bean are the skinny haricot vert, because they have few if any “strings” on the beans. You can use any leftover garden tomatoes for the tomato puree, or you can use canned tomato sauce in the winter. The reason why I take the extra step to sear the meat and saute the onions is to give the dish a richer flavor and appearance. Placing any kind of meat in a crockpot without searing it first will result in gray looking meat, not very appetizing in my book. I also use very simple spices–basically salt, pepper, and allspice. However, Jordanians add a dash of cumin, and Palestinians add coriander to this dish, so you can experiment with flavors that you prefer. Serve this over rice, quinoa, couscous, or with no starch at all if you are watching your carbs. Regardless of how you serve it, fasoolya is a satisfying meal for the whole family. So here’s the video of how to make this hearty and satisfying dish. Leave me a comment–I would love to know what you think!

Why I hid Zucchini in Your Pancakes

August 7, 2014

When you hear the word pancakes, you might conjure up an image of a mile high buttermilk stack of fluffy goodness oozing with maple syrup. I love pancakes as much as the next person, but all the sugar makes me crash and burn hard. Instead of feeling energized, I get sleepy! I still don’t want to give up on pancakes, and when I crave something savory instead of sweet, I whip up a batch of zucchini pancakes otherwise known as a’ajeh. This dish is popular throughout Levant part of the Middle East. The recipe for these pancakes came from  a need to conserve every part of the vegetable. For instance, one very popular dish is kousa mahshi, or zucchini stuffed with rice and meat. Once you take the pulp out of the zucchini, what do you do with it? Hence these pancakes were born.

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Actually, the traditional preparation for these require deep frying, more like fritters to be exact. In order to keep these healthy (they are veggies after all) I use the pancake method, which retains flavor without all of that oil. These pancakes also require a bit of flour. To give these pancakes a low-glycemic twist, I used chick pea flour instead. Chick pea flour gives these pancakes a flavor similar to felafel, which I love, plus it is made out of legumes, so overall it’s a less processed,  healthier choice. Have fun with these–make them mini style and serve with creme fraiche and salmon with a spig of dill. Slather on my tzatziki sauce from my last post.. Tex mex them up with some salsa and sour cream. Use them as a veggie substitute for chicken parmigiana–add marinara and mozzarella cheese and broil till bubbly. Eat them plain! With all of the fresh herbs you won’t even miss the sweet style pancakes, if you try them let me know what you think! Here is the video!

As you can see these are all simple ingredients, taking something familiar to western cuisine, like pancakes, and adding a bit of snazz to turn them into something more exotic. Even the most novice cook can make these, and get the flavors of the middle east on a plate in minutes.

Eggplant, the black sheep of the Veggie family, but that’s gonna change!

July 7, 2014
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More often than not, when I mention how much I love eggplant to friends or acquaintances I get negative comments or puzzled looks. “How the hell do you cook it so that it tastes GOOD?” ‘It’s so bitter and tough” “THAT is my least favorite vegetable” “One veggie I would never order in a restaurant.” Even raw food enthusiasts reject this vegetable, because frankly, have you ever tried raw eggplant? “Raw eggplant is delicious!” Said no one, ever. At first, I got kinda bummed out that this glorious purple vessel was treated like camel dung… but then, a thought hit me. I could be part of an eggplant revolution! I can show eggplant newbies an easy method to show them how truly rich, chewy, and even crispy this veggie could be. Plus, eggplant makes a fabulous replacement for meat in dishes because it’s rich in: vitamin B1, copper, manganese, vitamin B6, niacin, potassium, folate, and vitamin K. This vegetable is also rich in anti-oxidants and can even lower your cholesterol! Take that steak! So, that is why I made my latest video on eggplant. Now feast your eyes on this eggplant sandwich.

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Then watch my video so you can learn how to make this vegan tower of deliciousness (keep in mind the thinner you slice the eggplant, the crispier it will get:

And don’t forget to chop up any leftover eggplant in your salad the next day! Here is my favorite combo, spring lettuces, eggplant, pita croutons (which you can get from my fattoush salad video) dried cherries, roasted pistachios, carrots and tomatoes with a vinaigrette consisting of pomegranate molasses, olive oil, a little honey, and some apple cider vinegar.

Tasty next day salad

Tasty next day salad

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Tzatziki: The Ranch Dressing of the Middle East

May 24, 2014

They call me condiment queen in my house. I have been known to scoop gobs of dijon from the jar to accessorize my turkey sandwiches. Actually as a kid I thought, screw the sandwich, just gimme the mustard, all by itself. From the jar. As I got older, I explored every condiment imaginable to go with my chicken, fish, or salads. Tapenade? Oh hell yes. I never met a pesto I didn’t like. BBQ sauce, ketchup, garlic aoli, Syrian muhamarra, hummus, lebnah, and peanut sauce all are daily staples for my lunches. Then, there is cucumber yogurt sauce, ohhh yeah: tzatziki. Notice I gave the Greeks credit for this one, simply because they gave it the most interesting sounding name. (Shout out to the Greeks yo)

 

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Although cucumber yogurt sauce is used liberally all over the Arab world, they just call it labnah mah khiarra, or cucumber yogurt sauce–which doesn’t sound nearly as seductive as tzatziki. I really think this dip is the equivalent of ranch dressing in the Middle East, only the ingredients are far more pure, tangy, and fresh tasting than any old bottled ranch. These days I notice they are selling vats of the stuff in places like Costco, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods. But I wondered…do people really know how easy this sauce is to make? I think not. That’s why I felt it was my duty, or calling to spread to the masses how incredibly easy and delicious it is to make your own. Use this ranch in your tuna sandwich, as a salad dressing, in your felafel or shawarma sandwiches, with your kebab and rice plates, as a dip for veggies, as a chilled soup, or as a facial (just wanted to make sure you were paying attention :). There are really so many uses for this dip! Now if you decide to make this sauce for your Memorial Day BBQ, it would make me tremendously happy. Have a wonderful weekend everyone, check out my video below, share it, make it, eat it–comments welcome ;)

 

 

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