Muhammara

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We’re having an impromptu New Year’s Eve “party” tonight. I put party in quotations because we’re not exactly a wild bunch. We’re having food, alcohol, and friends on NYE, so I feel like it qualifies as a party, but we’re doing a lot more playing of board games than dancing on tables.

I’ve wanted to make muhammara for awhile now and tonight seemed like a good night! It’s really pretty easy to make, especially if you have a decent food processor. I mostly followed the recipe of my old faithful, Yotam Ottolenghi, for this one. If it’s any type of food from the greater Middle East, I feel like he makes it and makes it well! Muhammara originates from Aleppo, Syria, so the use of Aleppo pepper in the dish just feels important and necessary to me. Unfortunately, the civil war in Syria has greatly decreased world-wide supply of Aleppo pepper.* (*Obviously, this is not the most important negative impact of the Syrian civil war.) But with that in mind, if you don’t have any/can’t find any, you can substitute a smaller quantity of crushed red pepper flakes. (Aleppo pepper isn’t quite as spicy and has a deeper depth of flavor + a slight sweetness as compared to crushed red pepper. Some suggest a mixture of sweet paprika & cayenne/crushed red pepper is a okay approximation.) This spread is popular from Syria through Turkey and the Caucasus, with some regional variations.¬†The main ingredients always include red pepper and walnuts (the basis of the dip), Aleppo pepper, and olive oil.

Also, for your party hosting pleasure, this recipe would be very easy to scale up. This yielded ~ 2 cups.

Hope you enjoy!

Happy New Year!! ūüéČūüéáūü•āūüĖ§

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Muhammara

(Adapted slightly from Ottolenghi)
Ingredients: 
  • 3 red bell peppers
  • Olive oil
  • 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs [I actually used cracker crumbs – crushed matzoh from our¬†Potato Latkes¬†the other night]
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp Aleppo pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2/3 cup walnut pieces
  • Salt to taste
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice bell peppers in half, removing the stems & seeds, and place on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and roast until blackened and blistering, ~30-35 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, grind up the walnuts in a food processor. You want them to be fairly finely ground, but still have some texture. Set to the side.
  3. Peel the skin off of the red peppers once they are cool enough to handle.
  4. Place peppers, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, bread crumbs, cumin, Aleppo pepper, and garlic in the food processor. Pulse until well-combined. Again, don’t over-process and destroy all of the texture.
  5. By hand, stir in the walnuts into the rest of the ingredients.
  6. Add salt to taste.
  7. When serving, top with a drizzle of olive oil. Serve at room temperature.
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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.

Spinach & Feta G√∂zleme

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What’s the first thing people think of when they think of Turkish food? Kofte is the first thing for most people, but there’s so much more! Don’t worry, we’re going to keep cooking our way through them and sharing with you here.¬†G√∂zleme¬†is one of the many great Turkish street foods. (Lahmacun¬†is another that if you haven’t tried from our blog, you should soon!)¬†So good in fact that it has spread from Turkey to the rest of the world. In Australia, there’s a fast food place, called G√∂zleme¬†King, devoted to making different types of g√∂zleme.¬†This spinach and cheese preparation is a fairly traditional one, but g√∂zleme can contain pretty much anything! In the future we’re definitely going to throw in some sucuk (Turkish sausage). But as is, this dish is amazing. The dough is soft, light, and just a bit crispy on the edges. And it essentially goes without saying that the warm feta brings it all of the flavors together perfectly.

*So speaking of feta… Let’s talk about feta. I know so many people who¬†loooove¬†feta. I’m one of them, obviously. We could form a fan club if y’all want? But here’s the thing, a lot of people I know have only ever had the pre-crumbled, standard grocery store feta. I used to be one of them. As with many other things, when I started dating Selim, my narrowly bounded world of feta expanded. If you think feta only exists in its pre-crumbled form and you love it anyway, please go out and find some block feta in brine. Your world will be changed forever, I promise. (Mine was!) The flavor and texture are so much better – you’ll never go back. Sadly, not all of your standard grocery stores will have feta like this. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods usually do, but if yours doesn’t, try an international grocery store, a halal market, or a Middle Eastern specialty shop. While you’re there, try all the different types of feta and Middle Eastern cheeses, your cheese-world will be forever changed.

We have two go-tos when it comes to making Turkish recipes. The first is Ozcan Ozan’s cookbook that I’ve referenced on here before. But the second is a blog called Ozlem’s Turkish Table. Tonight’s recipe is adapted from there. It is a wonderful resource for all things Turkish food!

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Spinach & Feta Gözleme

(Adapted from Ozlem’s Turkish Table)
Ingredients: 
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp active dry¬†yeast
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp + 2 tsp olive oil + more for brushing
  • 1 tbsp plain greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup¬†water + more
  • 1/2 small onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 4 cups (loosely packed) spinach, roughly chopped
  • 6oz feta*
Instructions: 
  1. Begin by making the dough. Take 1/2 cup of warm water and stir in the pinch of salt and yeast. Allow to sit for a few minutes until it begins to bubble.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, yeast mixture, yogurt, and 1 tbsp of olive oil. Add additional water by the tablespoon. (I used an additional 2-3 tbsp).  Using your hands, form into a big ball of dough.
  3. Once you have a ball of dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for several minutes.
  4. Divide into 4 similarly sized smaller balls. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rest for ~30 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Pour 2 tsp of olive oil into a pan over medium heat.
  6. Once the oil is hot, add the garlic and onions. Sprinkle with the spices and stir.
  7. Cook just for 4-5 minutes until soft and fragrant, but not starting to brown.
  8. Add the spinach and a couple drops of water to the pan and cover. Leave covered for just a minute or two, until the spinach has wilted just a bit.
  9. Remove the lid and stir together well. Allow to cook for another minute or two with the lid off to get rid of any excess moisture.
  10. Remove to a bowl on the side. Mix in the feta.
  11. Now roll out the dough balls into large, thin, rectangular segments.
  12. Divide the mixture from the pan among the dough segments, placing in the middle of each piece of dough. Make sure to leave plenty of room around the edges for folding.
  13. Fold the dough around the mixture as pictured. (You want to end up with a little rectangular envelope.) Brush the edges with olive oil to help them stay together.
  14. Now, bring a large pan, preferably a griddle one, up to medium heat. [Don’t start until the pan is hot!]
  15. Brush both sides of each g√∂zleme with more olive oil. Once pan is hot, place them on the pan. (You can do one at a time or if you’re more confidant in your skills than I am, as many as will comfortably fit in your pan.) Cover the pan and do not touch for three full minutes. At this time, flip to the other side, re-cover, and again, do not touch for three minutes!
  16. After this point, you may flip back and forth a few times, cooking another 4-5 minutes until dough is cooking and the outside crisped to your liking.

Braised Chicken Thighs with Middle Eastern Spices

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Given all of the turmoil in the news these days, I need a break! So let’s focus on one of my favorite and non-political aspect of the Middle East – the food! If anything can bring us all together, food just might be it. Maybe if we all get together and cook for and with each other, we’ll be more focused on delicious flavors and new friendships than differences of politics, religion, and all the rest. One of my favorite authors/bloggers is Sasha Martin, who created the site Global Table Adventure says this: “…cooking has the power to help families bond, empower, and heal. What‚Äôs more, setting a global table creates compassion and understanding ‚Äď which¬†helps the world¬†heal…” I’ve mentioned this beautiful site before… you should all go take a look. Ever since I stumbled upon her site (years ago!), I’ve been inspired by her.

The flavors of the Middle East are amazing. This recipe isn’t based on a traditional recipe that I found, but was instead developed based on delicious spices/flavors and the ingredients I had at home. The chicken comes out nice and moist, and surprisingly, the carrots might be my favorite part of the whole thing! When you eat your chicken, spoon a little bit of the braising liquid on top so you get as much flavor as possible ūüôā

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Braised Chicken Thighs with Middle Eastern Spices

Ingredients: 
  • 4 large bone-in chicken thighs
  • 2 tbsp neutral oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken stock
  • 20+ baby carrots
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Salt & pepper the chicken thighs on both sides.
  3. In a dutch oven (or similar stove/oven-proof dish), heat the 2 tbsp of oil over medium heat.
  4. Once the oil is hot, place the thighs in the dish, skin side down. Leave to sear for ~6 minutes. Then flip and brown on the non-skin side for another 4-5 minutes. Once the chicken is browned on both sides, remove to the side briefly.
  5. Lower the heat just slightly and toss the onions and garlic into the remaining oil. Cook stirring occasionally until just beginning to brown, ~10 minutes.
  6. At this point, if there is significantly excess oil, drain it off.
  7. Add all of the spices to the onions and garlic. Cook an additional 3 minutes.
  8. Deglaze the dish with the chicken stock, scraping all the delicious brown bits from the bottom.
  9. Return the chicken and the carrots to the dish.
  10. Cover with the lid and place into the oven. The chicken will braise for 45 minutes.
Serves 4.

 

Simple Olive Couscous

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This side dish has a great flavor that belies its simplicity and ease of cooking. I could eat this as a meal (I really love couscous), but it’s perfect as a side dish with pretty much any dish with Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, or North African flavors. I made it tonight with these braised chicken thighs!

Simple Olive Couscous

Ingredients: 
  • 2/3 cup pearl couscous
  • 1 1/3 cup chicken stock
  • 8 kalamata olives, chopped
  • 2 tbsp juice from olive jar, divided
  • Fresh-ground black pepper
Instructions: 
  1. Place the couscous, chicken stock, and 1 tbsp of olive juice to a small pot. Bring to a boil.
  2. Lower heat to a light simmer. Cover and cook for ~12 minutes. (Cooking times and liquid amounts may vary by brand – check your cooking instructions.)
  3. At the very end, add the olives and other tablespoon of olive juice to the pot. Stir well and re-cover.
  4. Once all the liquid is absorbed, top with a bit of fresh ground black pepper before serving. See, simple!
Serves 2-3.

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Zoodles with Roasted Chickpeas

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Have all you food-blog-readers out there heard of Yotam Ottolenghi? He’s an Israeli-born British chef who I absolutely love! He has restaurants in the UK, at least five cookbooks, a website full of traditional & inventive Middle Eastern recipes, and a weekly column in The Guardian. He also has one of the best, most gorgeous, most mouth-watering Instagram feeds to follow out there (@ottolenghi) – you probably want to start following him!

As your average American who doesn’t dine out in London often or subscribe to The Guardian, I hadn’t heard of Yotam Ottolenghi until a few years ago when my sister gave me one of his cookbooks for Christmas. I think I’ve mentioned it a few times on here, and if I haven’t I should, as it’s one of my favorites. It’s called¬†Jerusalem and was authored by Ottolenghi and another chef named Sami Tamimi. I love this cookbook for its delicious recipes, gorgeous photography, random stories interspersed with the recipes, and the fact that it features recipes based on both chef-authors’ heritages. Both grew up in Jerusalem, but Ottolenghi is of Israeli-Jewish heritage, while Tamimi is of Palestinian-Arab descent. Throughout the cookbook, they show the similarities and pervasiveness of recipes traditional to both groups. Maybe my favorite section of the cookbook frames the struggles of Jerusalem’s various residents like this:

“Alas, although Jerusalemites have so much in common, food, at the moment, seems to be the only unifying force in this highly fractured place. The dialogue between Jews and Arabs, and often among Jews themselves, is almost nonexistent. It is sad to note how little daily interaction there is between communities, with people sticking together in closed, homogenous groups. Food, however, seems to break down those boundaries on occasion… It takes a giant leap of faith, but we are happy to take it – what have we got to lose? – to imagine that hummus will eventually bring Jerusalemites together, if nothing else will.”

I love the sentiment, and if anyone has the unifying hummus recipe, it’s probably these guys.

As I mentioned, Mr. Ottolenghi’s instagram feed is great, and I see posts from him (or his surrogates probably…) nearly every day. Said posts make me want to whip up his recipes, nearly every day. I must have seen something inspiring in recent days, because when confronted with my zoodles for tonight’s dinner, I felt an overwhelming desire to use some tahini. The tahini sauce I coated the zoodles with tonight is a scaled-down and warmed up version of the recipe in¬†Jerusalem.

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Zoodles with Roasted Chickpeas

Ingredients: 
  • 2 large zucchini
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 can of chickpeas, drained, rinsed, & dried
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp tahini paste
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp lemon juice
  • Black pepper
  • 2 tbsp water
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Toss chickpeas in 1 tbsp olive oil + paprika, cumin, turmeric, and salt. Spread out on a cookie sheet and roast for 20 minutes. Stir up once about halfway through cooking time.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare zoodles. See here if you need a little help with that!
  4. Next, warm the other 1 tbsp of olive oil into a pan over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and cook for just about 3 minutes.
  5. Now lower the heat of the burner to a low. Wait a minute or two, then stir the tahini paste into the olive oil.
  6. Add the lemon juice and a turn or two of black pepper. Whisk together until well-combined. Add water by the tablespoon. (Don’t use all the water – or use more – if you’re happy with the consistency of the sauce.)
  7. Add the zoodles to the pan. Toss with the sauce. Cover and increase heat back to medium for 5 minutes.
  8. Portion out the zoodles into individual bowls. Top with the roasted chickpeas.
Serves 2.

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Lahmacun

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What is lahmacun you ask? Let’s start with pronunciation. If you’re American (or not Turkish, really), I can almost guarantee your guess is wrong. In Turkish, the pronunciation of ‘c’ as we English speakers¬†know it, doesn’t really exist. If you see a ‘c’ in a Turkish word, think of it as an English¬†‘j.’ Easy enough? But wait! If you see this letter:¬†√ß, forget what I just said.¬†√á = ‘ch.’ The ‘c’ in lahmacun doesn’t have a tail on it, so it is pronounced as a ‘j.’ Therefore:¬†“lah-mah-june.”¬†

Now that we can all say it, what¬†is¬†it? Well it’s the epitome of delicious Turkish street food. It¬†originates from Southeastern Turkey (although that is debated by some, as is the origin of pretty much every beloved food I’ve ever heard of…), and is popular in Turkey, Syria, Armenia, Lebanon, and other surrounding areas.¬†It is essentially a meat-topped flatbread. In the US and Europe it is sometimes referred to as a “Turkish pizza.” That’s a reasonably¬†accurate description I suppose, although to me the biggest and most obvious difference is that lahmacun isn’t covered in cheese as your traditional¬†pizza is. Lahmacun can have a variety of toppings and therefore recipe variations, but at its core it is pita¬†dough, baked with spiced meat on top. When purchased from a street vendor, they are commonly rolled up around a salad of sorts, but can also be eaten flat as we did tonight. Lamb is more traditional than beef, but since I had beef at home, that’s what we went with today.

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Lahmacun

(Recipe adapted from¬†Sultan’s Kitchen: A Turkish Cookbook, by¬†√Ėzcan Ozan)
Ingredients: 
  • 1 tbsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups hot water, divided
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • Olive oil
  • 12oz ground beef (or lamb)
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 can (14.5oz) diced tomatoes
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp crushed red pepper
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 10 turns fresh ground pepper

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Instructions: 
  1. First, prepare the dough. In a small bowl, stir together the yeast, sugar, and 1/2 cup of warm water. Let sit for ~10 minutes until frothy.
  2. Add 1 cup of flour to a larger bowl. Pour the yeast mixture over top and stir. After combined, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes.
  3. Now add the remaining flour, remaining water, and salt. Mix with a spoon in the bowl until you have a well-combined ball of dough. Then turn out onto a lightly floured, clean, dry counter-top. Knead the dough for 10+ minutes. The dough should be firm and elastic.
  4. Pour just a tiny bit of olive oil onto a paper towel and swipe around the bottom and side of a large bowl. Place the dough in the bowl and cover with a damp towel. Allow to sit for 1 hour or until dough has doubled in size.
  5. While your dough is rising, prepare the meat topping. Combine all of the rest of the ingredients. (Note: the ground meat used by Turkish cooks for this dish is more finely ground than how it is generally sold in the US. I used the back of a fork and smashed the meat a little bit to make it a bit finer.)
  6. After the dough has risen, roll it out on your floured counter-top, so it is a long log. Using a sharp knife, cut into 8 equal chunks. Meanwhile, preheat your over to 450 degrees.
  7. Smash each chunk of dough with the heel of your hand so it is fairly flat. Then roll out with a rolling pin. The dough should end up slightly smaller than the size of an average dinner plate.
  8. Top the dough with your meat mixture, leaving ~1/2 inch edge.
  9. Place on a pizza stone or a flat cookie sheet. Bake on top rack for 10-12 minutes. The meat should be browned and the edges of the dough golden and a bit crispy.
This makes 8 large pieces.

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