When I decided to make surprise Hanukkah dinner tonight, I knew I wanted to make latkes and dessert, but what to make for a main dish…? I’ve never made brisket before, but I don’t live under a rock. I know that this cut of meat is beloved by Jewish bubbes and Texas pit-masters alike. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever made a brisket before, but tonight seemed like the perfect night to give it a whirl!
This recipe is an interesting mix of sweet and savory. The honey and balsamic add sweetness that balances out the meat and onions. The meat comes out so tender, but the sauce and vegetables really make it. I’m not going to lie – I think I actually liked the onions and the carrots even better than the meat.
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!)
In a bowl, mix together the beef, tomato paste, and spices through nutmeg. Combine well.
Then form into small meatballs and place on a lined cookie sheet. Bake for ~10 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
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.
Pour beef broth into the pot and adjust heat to a light simmer.
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.
Taste and adjust for salt as needed, then serve.
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.
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.
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!
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!
We eat massive salads for dinner many nights. We never share them, because usually they’re not all that organized – it’s usually a look in the fridge, pull out some vegetables, and top them with a protein kind of adventure. Since it’s Monday and the beginning of the week, we were a little more coordinated. Also, we accidentally created a gorgeous plate of colors! Nutritionists have been telling us to “eat our colors,” and we have you covered here! This salad, while not exactly low calorie, is healthy and filling. The way this is written makes two large salads, meant to be eaten as a stand-alone meal. Don’t worry – you’ll be so full, you even notice that you only ate salad for dinner.
Southwest Steak Chopped Salad
Mixed greens, ~1 1/2 cups per plate
1/2 cup carrots per plate
1 ear of corn, divided between plates
1 can of black beans, divided between plates
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp chipotle powder (substitute smoked paprika for less heat)
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cumin
3/4 lb steak
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp honey
3 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of salt & a few turns of fresh black pepper
Optional additional toppings
Cook corn in boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove to cool when complete.
(Heat black beans if you prefer. We just rinsed and ate them cold.)
Stir all steak seasoning together. Liberally coat both sides of the steak.
Prepare steak as you normally would – we like to broil it briefly on both sides, for a medium-rare finish – but we know many people prefer their steak on the grill.
Whisk together all of the salad dressing ingredients.
Assemble salad with a base of chopped greens and topped with chopped carrots, chopped bell peppers, black beans, and corn, sliced off the ear.
Add your dressing over the vegetables and top with your steak, sliced. Finish with any additional toppings you desire!
I’m learning things today. That’s one of the best things about writing this blog – because I want to actually have something to say in my post, I frequently dig deeper into the history or other technical details of recipes where I might not have otherwise. Take today’s recipe… I knew I wanted to make homemade pasta for dinner and change it up from the usual Homemade Pasta Carbonara. (We may or may not be a little bit addicted to the carbonara recipe – Selim looked at me like I had an extra head when I said I was thinking about making pasta with a different type of sauce.) Then I remembered the time I learned that all meatsauces weren’t created equally – I was at dinner with friends at a restaurant in our old home of Charlottesville, VA, when someone (my cousin Emily I think) ordered the bolognese. I’d never ordered anything similar off a menu because I always thought… 💭 Meat sauce? I can just buy a jar of that off a shelf 🤷 And then I tasted her dish – it was amazing, delicious, and nothing like meatsauce in a jar!
I wanted to recreate that experience tonight. But what recipe to follow? What technically is bolognese and how is it different from ragu? I feel like I see those words on menus used interchangeably. Well, I finally put some effort into learning the details. I now know that a ragu is an umbrella term for meat-based Italian sauces, under which bolognese falls. (Technically, a bolognese sauce is ragù alla bolognese.) A ragu is different from what I was thinking of as “meatsauce” in that the meat is truly the focus, not tomatoes or tomato sauce. It is thicker and less liquidy. And it turns out, while under this umbrella, bolognese sauce is incredibly specific – it has actually been registered in exact detail. The Italian Academy of Cuisine registered it in 1982. The recipe must include the following ingredients to be an official bolognese: beef, pancetta, onion, celery, carrot, tomato sauce, whole milk, dry wine (red or white), and salt & pepper. We aren’t going to stick to that particular formulation, so the sauce for tonight’s dinner is a ragu!
In a dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
Add both types of meat, removing the sausage from casings if needed. Season liberally with pepper and a pinch of salt. Cook until browned and then remove to the side, retaining a coating of fat in the dutch oven.
To this, add the diced onions and carrots. Cook for 8-10 minutes, until well softened.
Now add the minced garlic, tomato paste, and thyme. Stir frequently, cooking for 3 minutes.
Pulse the tomatoes in a food processor. [Yielding ~2 cups]
Return the meat to the dutch oven. Stir in the wine and tomatoes. Increase heat slightly to a vigorous simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid has reduced by half and thickened.
Lastly, add the beef broth and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat and cover. Check to ensure there’s a light simmer. Braise for at least two hours, checking and stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, prepare the pasta dough. On a clean, dry counter-top, mix together the flour and salt and form it into a volcano (a mound with a crater scooped out in the middle). Crack the eggs into that center well/crater.
Using a fork, slowly mix the egg into the flour. Try to keep the eggs within the crater, pulling in more and more flour. (If you fail, don’t worry, life will go on.) Once the egg is mixed into the flour enough that it’s not trying to run away anymore, switch to use your hands. Fold together until well combined. [You may need an extra dusting of flour if the dough is wet and sticky, or to wet your hands if it’s a bit dry.]
Continue kneading the dough, stretching and folding, for at least 5 and up to 10 minutes. By this point, the dough should be smoother and elastic, so that you can form into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes, and up to two hours.
Once the dough has set, roll out and divide into quarters. Using the pasta roller attachment on the stand mixer, flatten out (to #5 if using KitchenAid’s model). Let the flattened dough rest on a floured surface.
Using a sharp knife, slice into 1 inch wide noodles. Cover with parchment paper if still waiting on the sauce.
Remove the lid from the dutch oven and increase heat to return liquid to a fast simmer. As the last bit of liquid is being soaked up, turn off the heat and stir in 2oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Cook pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente – it will only take a minute or two with the fresh pasta.
Top pasta with sauce and additional Parmesan cheese!