North African Wedding Soup

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This is another one of the recipes that we decided to make this blog for… It’s one of my favorite Pinterest finds, from what’s become a favorite blog – Little Spice Jar. We always tweak our recipes a little bit and this was no different. But, per usual, we’ve forgotten the changes we made from the last few times we made it. So this time, we’ll cross our fingers that it turns out to be the best version we’ve ever made and actually write it down.

These little meatballs are so full of flavorful spices, and the meatballs actually flavor the soup broth itself. This broth has such depth, and the aromas floating through your kitchen are so enticing. The flavors build and build the more you eat. And actually, this is one of those soups that is so much better as a leftover. Do what we did and eat it for dinner, but then enjoy the leftovers for lunch for the rest of the week. Feel free to tweak the spices based on your personal preferences, but keep it spice-heavy! It is not super spicy, so if you want it that way, go ahead and increase the spice level. You may have noticed if you’ve read our blog a lot that we love the flavors of the Middle East and Northern African. No exception here. If you’re not familiar with or unsure of the cuisine from this part of the world, please let this soup be your gateway drug. You won’t be disappointed!

Why is this called North African wedding soup? Well, every time we make it, it makes me think of Italian wedding soup – the small meatballs, couscous in place of the orzo, and of course, North African spices in place of Italian flavors. Even more confirmation for this name? Tomorrow is our wedding anniversary! North African wedding soup it is! (I have no idea if there is actually a traditional North African wedding soup – if there is, this is not it!)

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One of my favorites from our wedding ❤  Photograph by Lauren D. Rogers Photography

Mini Meatball Spiced Soup

(Adapted from Little Spice Jar)
Ingredients: 
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups of chopped carrots
  • 1 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 8 cups beef broth
  • 1 1/2 cups pearl couscous
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a bowl, mix together the beef, tomato paste, and spices through nutmeg. Combine well.
  3. Then form into small meatballs and place on a lined cookie sheet. Bake for ~10 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  5. Add the garlic, onions, and carrots to the pot and top with several turns of black pepper, the Aleppo pepper, and the fresh thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are fragrant/browning and carrots have begun to soften, ~10-12minutes.
  6. Pour beef broth into the pot and adjust heat to a light simmer.
  7. Add the meatballs and the couscous, partially cover if needed, and continue to lightly simmer for ~15 minutes, until the couscous is soft and tender.
  8. Taste and adjust for salt as needed, then serve.
Serves 6-8
Quick response to a question I’m anticipating. Why bake the meatballs, won’t they cook in the broth? Yes, they would. Baking them briefly allows for two important things in my mind – 1) it helps the meatballs hold their shape and 2) allows the meat to leech some of its fat somewhere other than your broth. Yes the fat tastes delicious and yes, you’re losing some of the spiced flavors, but it can definitely make your soup cloudy and oily. 
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Braised Balsamic Pork with Grapes

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We’re not really a picky couple when it comes to meat. We pretty much like it all. Our weekly routine usually consists of two nights of fish or other seafood, a night of beef, and pretty much the rest of the nights with chicken of some variety. We also love lamb, goat, duck, and all kinds of game meat, but get our grad-school-budgeted hands on those a little less often. But somehow, I feel like we always forget about pork. Every time we make pork, we always wonder why we don’t eat it more often. Fall and the cooler weather we’ve (finally!) been having made me think about doing a braised dish and this time, my mind went straight to the other white meat! I initially wanted to braise the pork in cider, with apples and potatoes on the side, a dish I make pretty much every fall. But then I realized that would end up being pretty darn similar to the Cider Chicken with Savory Fall Fruits that we made just two weekends ago. So I browsed our two favorite culinary magazines (Bon Appetit and Food & Wine) for some inspiration. Turns out, everyone braises pork in cider in the fall… But working back a few years, I came across the recipe we adapted this dish from – a different flavor profile that was exactly what I was looking for!

Speaking of different flavor profile… I was a little skeptical about the grapes. I thought the grapes might make the whole dish too sweet. I was happily wrong! While they do add a little bit of sweetness to the final product, it isn’t overwhelming. Even more interestingly, the grapes take on some of the savoriness of the pork. When you see them after they’ve braised for half the afternoon, you’ll notice that they’ve lost a lot of their color. I thought that might mean that they would’ve leeched out all of their flavor too. Not the case! As it turns out, the grapes ended up being my favorite part of the dish, so I’m glad I didn’t trust my first instinct to get rid of them!

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Braised Balsamic Pork with Grapes

(Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine)
Ingredients: 
  • 3lb boneless pork loin
  • 2 tbsp neutral oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • ~1lb black or red grapes (~3 cups)
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cups vegetable or poultry stock
  • 4 large fresh sage leaves
  • 2 springs of fresh rosemary
Instructions: 
  1. Season the pork loin with salt & pepper on both sides.
  2. In a large dutch oven, heat 2 tbsp neutral oil at just above medium heat (#6). Once hot, sear the pork on all sides, 3-5 minutes per side.
  3. Remove the pork to a plate on the side and lower heat to medium-low.
  4. After allowing a few minutes for the oil the cool slightly, add the garlic and onions to the dish. Cook, stirring occasionally for 3 minutes. Then add the grapes and top with the brown sugar. Cook for another 5 minutes.
  5. Pour in the vinegar and simmer for about 3 minutes.
  6. Add the stock and fresh herbs to the dish. Now also return the pork. Nestle the meat down into the dish (the top should still be exposed).
  7. Bring the liquid to a boil and then immediately reduce to low heat. Cover and cook at a very low simmer for 45 minutes.
  8. Flip the pork loin, re-cover, and cook at the same low simmer for another 30-45 minutes. [We suggest checking for doneness at the 30 minute mark, especially if you prefer your pork less than well-done!]
  9. Remove the pork loin from the dish and ensure it is cooked sufficiently with a meat thermometer (the FDA recommends a minimum safe temperature of 145 degrees for pork).
  10. Meanwhile, increase the burner heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil. Boil vigorously until the liquid has reduced and thickened. While the sauce is reducing, intermittently skim fat/oil/debris off the top. Also, remove the sprigs of herbs.
  11. Serve the pork sliced, topped with sauce.
Serves 8-12

Zoodles in Mediterranean Tomato Sauce

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Gosh, it’s been awhile since we’ve made zoodles. For awhile there we were making, eating, and sharing zoodle recipes every week it seems like. We took a little bit of a hiatus it seems, but don’t worry – the zoodles are back! This time, they’re topped with a deliciously spicy sauce that makes you think you’re on the Mediterranean coast.

Even better news? This meal is simple to make – it only takes a few minutes of active preparation. Even more better news? This vegetarian dish is healthy and pretty darn low calorie. A great meal to sneak in to your weekly meal rotation.

Zoodles in Mediterranean Tomato Sauce

Ingredients: 
  • 2 large zucchini
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp brine from kalamata olives
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • ~10 kalamata olives, sliced
  • 2 oz feta cheese
Instructions: 
  1. Prepare the zoodles – see our instructions if needed!
  2. Heat olive oil in a small pan over medium heat.
  3. Once heated, add the garlic and cook for just a ~2 minutes until beginning to be fragrant.
  4. Now lower heat to low-medium and stir in the tomato paste, vinegar, olive brine, red pepper flakes, and several turns of fresh ground black pepper. Stir to combine into a thick, saucy paste.
  5. After a couple minutes of letting the sauce ingredient meld, toss in the zoodles and olives. Stir to coat the zoodle in the sauce, then cover for 5 minutes.
  6. Once the zoodles are heated through, you’re ready to serve, topped with the feta cheese!
Light meal for 2

 

Cider Chicken with Savory Fall Fruits

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We may have mentioned it once or twice, but we’re big fans of wine in general and Virginia wine in particular. We used to live in Charlottesville, the de facto capital of Virginia wine country. There are many perks to living in Charlottesville, but definitely one of them is the proximity to the many wines of the Monticello AVA. There are dozens of wineries and vineyards, as well as breweries and cideries within easy day-trip distance from the center of town.

Sadly, we can’t say the same about SC, but we are lucky enough to remain wine club members at one of our favorites, King Family Vineyards, and receive a shipment of Virginia wine every quarter. In our package of wine from them, there’s always a newsletter with vineyard updates on one side and a seasonal recipe on the other side. When we received our shipment last week, this quarter’s recipe caught our eye! Tonight’s dish, with its fall flavors of cider and apples, is inspired by the one they shared with us.

{Relatedly, hit us up if you want to plan a long weekend or a day trip to Virginia wine country! We have lots of suggestions!}

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Cider Chicken with Savory Fall Fruits

Ingredients: 
  • 4 slices of bacon, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, sliced & halved
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 8 chicken thighs
  • 2 persimmons, chopped
  • 1 large tart red apple, sliced
  • 1 12oz bottle hard cider
  • 2 tbsp whole grain mustard
  • 1/2 tsp fish sauce
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme, chopped
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 bunch of spinach
Instructions: 
  1. In a large, high-sided skillet, cook the chopped bacon over medium heat. As soon as the bacon begin to release its fat, add the onions and garlic to the pan.
  2. Cover and sweat for 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then remove to the side.
  3. Now increase heat to medium-high, brown the chicken thighs on both sides in the remaining bacon fat. Once browned, remove these to the side as well.
  4. Add the fruit to the pan with the bacon and chicken drippings. Cook for just 2 or 3 minutes, tossing once or twice, to get the fruit slightly browned. And then remove these to the side as well.
  5. Now, deglaze the pan with the cider. Stir in the mustard, fish sauce, herbs, and a few shakes of salt & pepper.
  6. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, return the chicken to the pan. Cover and cook for 6-8 minutes.
  7. Remove lid and flip the chicken. Keep the liquid boiling and allow some to cook off for the next few minutes.
  8. Return all of the rest of the ingredients that were sidelined to the dish. Continue cooking for another 5 minutes.
  9. Serve the chicken, topped with fruit and onions. Spoon some of the cider mixture overtop.
  10. Once the skillet is emptied of these ingredients, place the spinach in with the remaining liquid. Cover and lower heat. The spinach will be ready to serve on the side once wilted, just another two minutes longer.
Serves 6-8

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Syrian Mini Meatballs (Dawood Basha)

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Today is World Food Day. I’m not going to lie, when I saw that name, I thought – “Yesssssss, a day dedicated to my favorite thing, food! Let’s eat tons of food in the name of this brilliant holiday!” Well, I guess that’s sort of true, but come to find out, there’s a lot more behind this holiday than my original superficial thoughts. World Food Day was created by the United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization to commemorate the founding of that branch of the UN. Their goal for this day and its events around the world is to “promote worldwide awareness and action for those who suffer from hunger and for the need to ensure food security and nutritious diets for all.” Check out their website for more information and details.

Each year, World Food Day has a theme, usually reflective of the geopolitical issues of the world. The theme relates back to one of the organization’s overall goals – #ZeroHunger by 2030. For example, 2016’s WFD concentrated on climate change, 2011’s on food pricing, 1998’s on women, and 1987’s on small farmers. The theme for 2017 focuses on the vast numbers of migrants and refugees through the lens of food. Their focus is on mitigating the need for migration through increasing food security. Of course, many migrants and refugees don’t have the option of remaining in their homes, and are at incredibly high risk for hunger and food insecurity.

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For us and this blog, this day turned out to be even more of an inspiration for our dinner (and blog post, obviously) than I originally anticipated. In honor of the day and this year’s theme, I decided to use our dinner to pay homage to the incredibly devastating humanitarian crisis coming out of Syria. The last statistics I saw stated that there are 5.1 million Syrian refugees and 6.6 million internally displaced people. I think sometimes, whether it’s because of the sheer volume of the negative news barrage or perhaps even personal biases, we don’t think about the individual people behind the buzz phrase “refugee crisis.” What would we do if we were in their shoes? Certainly our dinner and little blog aren’t going to improve the lives of any refugees, but it can’t hurt. Food is a great equalizer; we all need it and most of us love it. I like to think that food can be the bridge and shrink our large, scattered world, one meal at a time!

And if you had to pick a new meal to try, this would be a great one! The flavors are delicious and a quite a bit different than your average American meatball. We served it over rice and were thinking that the only thing that might make this better, would be a sprinkling of feta cheese on top!

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Syrian Mini Meatballs (Dawood Basha)

(This recipe is slightly adapted from this one from syriancooking.com)
Ingredients: 
  • 1lb ground beef
  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley + more for garnish
  • 2 tsp bharat, divided [I made this mix myself, following these proportions]
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 3 medium fresh tomatoes
  • Salt & pepper
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together ground beef with chopped parsley, 1 tsp bharat, 1/2 tsp salt, and a few turns of fresh ground black pepper.
  3. Roll out mixture into small, ~1 inch meatballs. Lay out on a cookie sheet lined with foil.
  4. Bake meatballs for 20 minutes so they have begun to brown.
  5. Meanwhile, in a pan with high edges, heat the oil. Once warm, add the sliced onions. Top with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
  6. Cook, stirring occasionally, for at least 15 minutes until onions are nice and browned.
  7. Puree the tomatoes in a food processor (or dice by hand).
  8. Add the tomatoes puree to the pan with the onions. Cook for 20 minutes over medium-high heat, still stirring occasionally, as some liquid burns off and the sauce thickens.
  9. Add the meatballs to the pan. Continue to simmer the tomato sauce, lowering heat slightly, for an additional 20 minutes, coating the meatballs with the sauce.
  10. Five minutes prior to serving, stir in the remaining 1 tsp of bharat and additional salt & pepper if needed.
  11. Serve garnished with additional parsley if desired.
Serves 3-4.

Dijon Beef Stew

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If you’re glancing at this recipe (and skipping over this section of commentary like I usually do until I’m sure the recipe and its ingredients interest me!), you might be a little concerned about ALL THAT MUSTARD. It certainly does seem like a lot, but don’t worry! While dijon mustard is definitely the most prominent flavor in this dish, it does not taste like you’re squirting a bottle of mustard into your mouth. If you think about the ratio of mustard to beef, you’ll realize it’s about a tablespoon per 1/4 pound serving, that’s not too much.

Finding the right mustard to use might be the hardest.  Our Kroger didn’t have whole grain Dijon, so we bought regular (smooth) Dijon. Since we always go to Trader Joe’s when we go shopping, we of course then discovered that TJ’s had whole grain mustard. Now, I think we have 4 types of mustard in our house.  Feel free to substitute smooth Dijon mustard for the whole grain stuff if you think you’ll have picky eaters or just can’t find any.

Now, Cognac vs Armagnac

What exactly are Cognac and Armagnac? What’s the difference? Why cook with either one?  Both Cognac & Armagnac are French brandies distilled from white wine grapes.  Cognac is from the Cognac region of France (70miles or 115km north of Bordeaux) and Armagnac is from the Armagnac region of France (10miles or 15km east of Bordeaux). Both are great wine regions in their own right, but both are more known for their liquor (brandy). I think the main difference between the two, besides location, is that Cognac is twice distilled, while Armagnac is only distilled once, giving it a more unique taste and nose since it has a higher concentration of those great congeners (impurities – flavorful, yet hangover inducing molecules) due to the single distillation process.  Both are then oak barrel aged for anywhere from 2-6+ years.  Cooking with either of these is different from cooking with wine. They have a higher alcohol content (but that’s almost always cooked off) and less wine flavor since they’re distillates of wine. Plus there are the smoky, oaky, whiskey-like notes that the barrel aging process imparts on them.  Cognac & Armagnac can be inserted where wine or whiskey would normally be used, to change, ever so slightly, the flavor profile of your dish.  Give it a try and experiment with these often overlooked French liquors.

We served this over delicious homemade pasta, but would be wonderful over rice, potatoes, lentils, or whatever starch you would like to use. Selim even thinks he’d like this on a hoagie bun with some hard cheese grated on top!

 

Dijon Beef Stew

(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen blog)
Ingredients: 
  • 1/4 lb bacon, diced
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 pounds beef chuck (any cut of stewing/braising beef you’d like)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup Cognac, divided
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 1/2 cup whole grain Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp smooth mustard of choice (we used spicy brown)
  • 4 medium carrots, sliced
  • 2 bay leaves
Instructions: 
  1. Place a dutch oven on the stove over medium heat. Once warmed, add the bacon and cook until fat is rendered.
  2. At this point, add the onions and garlic. Stir to coat in the bacon fat. Cook for several minutes until softened and fragrant, but not browned. Remove to the side.
  3. Increase heat slightly, to a medium-high. Add 2 tbsp of butter and allow to melt.
  4. Cut beef into ~ 1/2 inch, uniform cubes. Dust with flour. Saute the beef in the butter, until all sides are browned and beginning to crisp.
    • (May need to do this in batches so as not to crowd the dish. Remove the first batch to the side with the onions and garlic if so. We did, and used the second 2 tbsp of butter for the second batch.)
  5. Deglaze the empty dish with 1/2 cup cognac. Scrape up any delicious stuck on bits!
  6. Now add the remaining 1/4 cup of cognac, mustards, and beef stock. Whisk together.
  7. Once liquid is well-combined, return the beef, onions, and garlic to the dish, along with the bay leaves.
  8. Bring to a light simmer and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour.
  9. After that hour, add the carrots. Return cover to dish. Cook for additional hour to hour & half.
Serves 6-8.

 

Charred Corn Flatbread

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If you’ve been watching the news recently, you know all about Hurricane Irma. I swear, that’s all we’ve been talking about for the past week or so. We live in South Carolina, which flipped in and out of the hurricane strike zone, through a week of changing predictions. Luckily for us, the worst of missed us here. Sadly, the pictures from the Caribbean, Florida, and the southeastern coast of Georgia and the Carolinas show that those areas weren’t so lucky. Hopefully, the worst was mitigated by the week plus of warning and preparation.

In our house, we were mostly worried about losing power and/or water. I filled water bottles and sinks with water, set out candles and flashlights, and most relevantly to this post – begin working on eating perishable things out of our fridge. Glancing around the kitchen while waiting for Irma’s arrival, I saw 2 aging ears of corn, a drawer full of cheese, and 2 pieces of naan. And voila, the charred corn flatbread was born. It’s a great dish, probably even more suited for a sunny summer evening than the clouds and wind of a hurricane! 🌪️ It’s very corn-centric, but think of it as a new alternative to your average side of corn.

Charred Corn Flatbread

Ingredients: 
  • 2 ears of corn
  • 3 tbsp smoked olive oil, divided (or regular olive oil if you don’t have smoked)
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2 pieces of pre-made naan or other flatbread (we prefer Trader Joe’s naan)
  • 2 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 oz brie
  • Several leaves fresh basil
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper
Instructions:
  1. Peel the ears of corn and rub with 1 tbsp the smoked olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper on all sides.
  2. Set oven to broil. Place ears of corn under the broiler, rotating every 2-3 minutes, until all sides are charred. [Alternatively, grill in a grill pan or on an actual grill.]
  3. Once charred, set corn aside until cool enough to handle and lower oven heat to 350 degrees.
  4. Stir the minced garlic into the remaining 2 tbsp smoked olive oil. Brush over the two pieces of naan.
  5. Top, evenly divided between two flatbreads, with chunks of brie, followed by corn, sliced off the ears. Sprinkle a pinch of crushed red pepper over each flatbread.
  6. Place in the oven for 15 minutes.
  7. After removing from the oven, top with torn fresh basil.
Makes 2 flatbreads