Offal That Isn’t So Awful At All

 

Too cheesy? Fine. But really, this recipe is delicious. So far, everyone who is open-minded about offal and has tried it ends up liking it. I’m quite sensitive to meats that have a strong taste or smell, so the fact that I like this also says a lot. I’m excited about posting this recipe because I consider it a pretty big accomplishment to be able to make innards that actually taste good. I don’t know how to cook things like lungs or tripe, but for livers, hearts, and gizzards, this is definitely my go-to method.*

A note on how I clean these things: in most countries, when you buy gizzards they come with a little piece of weird-looking yellowish brown skin on them. I don’t have a picture of it, but you’ll spot it instantly. To clean the gizzards, just peel this bit off. Then wash the cleaned gizzards in cold water, pour the juice of a lemon on them, and let them soak in the lemon juice for 10 to 15 minutes. Rinse with cold water again, and they’re ready to use. Here’s what they should look like after the cleaning process:

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For hearts, I make little slits  in them and remove any congealed blood that’s inside. An easier way to do this is to just cut each one in half, but if I have the time, I like to try and maintain their shape by keeping them whole. Just like with the gizzards, I rinse them in cold water, soak them in lemon juice, and re-rinse.

For livers, you don’t need to do any kind of special cleaning. Just do the rinse, soak in lemon, re-rinse thing, and handle them carefully because they’re delicate.

Also, I usually cook gizzards separately, and hearts and livers together. The gizzards take longer to soften, so the cooking technique is slightly different. You can also cook each item separately if you want. And as usual, all the ingredients listed here are adjustable to taste; these are just approximations of how I tend to prefer them. Add or decrease any spices or herbs as you wish :)

And did I mention this recipe is literally done in 20 minutes? Major plus.

 

Gizzards:

Ingredients

1 pound of gizzards, cleaned and cut into bite-size pieces

1 tablespoon each of chopped garlic and chopped fresh ginger (you can use garlic ginger paste if you have it)

3 teaspoons each of black pepper, ground red chili pepper,  and mixed baharat (can substitute Seven Spice mix or allspice)

pinch of yellow curry powder (optional)

3 tablespoons of fresh rosemary, chopped (can substitute dry rosemary if you don’t have fresh, but using fresh is best!)

2-3 mild green chili peppers, chopped (increase if you like it hotter)

salt to taste

oil for cooking

chopped cilantro for garnishing (optional)

 

Method

1. Heat a skillet or frying pan, preferably nonstick. Put in your gizzards and let them cook on medium heat until all the liquid they release dries up.

2. Then, add about half a cup of warm water, cover, and let cook on medium heat until tender. Check on them frequently, adding more water if they get too dry before cooking fully. Once they are cooked to desired tenderness, either add or cook off the liquid in the pot depending on how much sauce you want. I prefer the dish a little drier, but it’s your call.

3. Turn up the heat under your pan, add a couple spoonfuls of oil, and get them sizzling. Add the garlic and ginger, your spices, the chopped chilies, and the rosemary. Keep frying them until they get nice and crispy, and the liquid in the pan thickens up a bit. Add salt to taste, then garnish with more chopped green chilies or chopped cilantro. Serve hot with bread and french fries or steak fries.

 

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Hearts and Livers:

1 pound combined of hearts and livers (livers should be cut into bite sized pieces)

The rest of the ingredients are exactly the same as above. To cook, follow the same steps for gizzards but skip step 2.

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Try it. You might just change your mind about innards.

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* In Palestinian Arabic, gizzards are called awaniss, livers are kibdat, and hearts are qlub. 

 

 

 

Mtawwamit Kusa: Tahini and Yogurt Zucchini Dip

 

If you like Baba Ghannoush or Mtabbal, you should definitely try Mtawwamit Kusa. The concept is similar, using zucchini instead of roasted eggplant, and it can work as a salad, a sandwich spread, a side to grilled meats, or a dip for a chips/veggie platter. To keep it as basic as possible, you can omit the walnuts and dill if you want, although they add a nice touch. All the ingredients can be adjusted to your own particular liking.

 

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Ingredients

2 medium sized zucchini, grated (you can also use the leftover “insides” of the zucchini if you recently made mahshi!)

4 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 large lemon, juiced

4-5 tablespoons of tahini paste

2 tablespoons of cold water

2/3 cup of thick Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon of chopped parsley

1/3 cup of finely crushed walnuts (optional)

1 tablespoon of finely chopped dill (optional)

olive oil for garnishing

salt and pepper to taste

 

Method

Saute the grated zucchini with two cloves of crushed garlic in a couple tablespoons of oil until the zucchini gets soft. Add a bit of water, turn the heat down and cover, letting it cook while checking it every few minutes, until the zucchini completely softens. Turn off heat and let cool.

In a bowl, whisk the tahini paste with half of the lemon juice until the tahini turns white. You will need to gradually add the cold water in while you’re whisking to keep the consistency creamy. Add the yogurt, the remaining two garlic cloves, and the parsley. Add the walnuts and dill at this point if you’re using them. Mix well.

Mash the cooked zucchini – you can make it as smooth as you want, but I like to leave it a bit chunky. Add the zucchini into the tahini+yogurt mixture. Add remaining lemon juice, as well as salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, then chill. Serve drizzled with olive oil.

 

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Rushtayeh: A Traditional Dish of Lentils and Noodles

Even though spring is nearing and the weather is starting to warm up a bit, there are still some very cold days that pop up once in a while, and that’s when I want a simple and warming dinner that doesn’t require buying or preparing a lot of ingredients. This easy lentil dish is perfect, and can be altered to your specific dietary requirements (substitute gluten-free pasta, use vegetable broth instead of chicken, and so on). Admittedly, the end product may not look like much, but it tastes fantastic!

Traditionally, rushtayeh is made with homemade noodles. Since that can be quite time-consuming, I substitute regular packaged pasta and it works excellently. However, I’m including the recipe for the noodles at the bottom of the post, in case you’d prefer to make them yourself :) And again, most of the quantities here are approximations; I always eyeball all the ingredients when I make it.

Rushtayeh (serves 2)

2 handfuls of brown lentils, washed and picked over

1 medium onion, thinly sliced in half-circles

1 chicken or beef bouillon cube or stock base

4 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 tsp each of allspice, black pepper, cumin powder

3-4 tbsp of sumac (substitutes: pomegranate molasses or tamarind)

2 handfuls of wide egg noodles

salt to taste

Method

Put the lentils in a pot and add water to cover them by about three inches.  Let the water come to a boil, turn the heat down and cover the pot, and cook till the lentils become tender.

As the lentils are cooking, fry the onions till they start to get golden and crispy, then add them along with all of their oil to the pot of lentils.

To the pot, add half the chopped garlic, the bouillon cube, the cumin powder, allspice, and black pepper, then check the salt. Finally, add the sumac; you can increase this to your desired sourness.

Once the lentils are cooked, put in a couple handfuls of noodles. I use these wide egg noodles, called erişte in Turkish (coincidence? I think not!).

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Add some water to the pot if needed so it’s not too thick. Let the noodles cook, stirring frequently so they don’t stick to the bottom. Once cooked, the texture of the dish should resemble a thick, soupy porridge. You can keep it thick, or thin it out with water if you prefer.

Finish it all off with the typical ‘ad7ah: fry the remaining garlic in some oil until it starts to turn golden, then pour it with all the oil into the pot of lentils and give it a stir. Garnish with fried onions and chopped cilantro or parsley. I like to serve this dish with a simple salad and fresh yogurt.

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To make the noodles yourself: measure out two cups of flour, and mix in a teaspoon of salt. Gently add in water and mix until the dough comes together and can be rolled out. Roll it out as thinly as possible, then cut lengthwise into four or five sections, each about three inches wide.  Sprinkle with flour, then stack the sections on top of each other, and slice across the width so you have a lot of shorter noodles :) Add them in according to the recipe above.

Oh, and the lovely salad bowl in the photo is handcrafted by my cousin-in-law Humna Mustafa, Creative Director at Diya Studio. Check out her website and Etsy page to see and purchase her beautiful pieces!

Malfuf Mahshi: Stuffed Cabbage

It’s snowing for the first time this winter in Istanbul, and as I sit here watching everything become buried under a layer of thick, white fluff, I think of winters in Minnesota: the crisp air, cold feet, wearing a million layers, frozen nose hairs, peppermint mochas, shoveling the driveway, baking cardamom cookies, my sister’s leg warmers, stinging red cheeks, lemon-ginger tea, slippers, and obviously, the snow.

Sometime around the beginning of last year, I was making stuffed cabbage in Minnesota during a beautiful snowfall just like this one. Stuffed leaves of any kind are great in all weather, but winter is when things like cabbage, collard greens, kale, and chard are at their prime. These kinds of leaves are much easier to stuff and roll than grape leaves (which are best made in the spring anyway), because they tend to be larger, and you don’t have to worry about folding in the edges to keep the stuffing from falling out during cooking.

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Minnesota snowfall, 2011: the Mississippi and our backyard

I can see the snow still falling endlessly outside my window, and it seems like a good time to post my recipe for stuffed cabbage in a simple broth. You can use it for other winter greens as well, and you can always mix tomato sauce into the cooking liquid if you’d prefer, since some people don’t like plain broth. This recipe is best served hot, although I’ve included a vegetarian variation at the end of this post that is delicious as a cold side or appetizer.

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Malfuf Mahshi

1 medium sized cabbage

half a batch of my stuffing recipe

approx. 4-5 cups of good quality meat or chicken broth seasoned to taste with salt and pepper, although you can use vegetable broth if you like

two tablespoons of allspice or “mixed baharat”

10 cloves of garlic, peeled

5-6 lamb or beef chops/ribs or any kind of bone-in meat (optional but adds good flavor) – I know some people use oxtails

Method

Core your cabbage. You can do this by either hollowing out the center with a knife, or by quartering the cabbage and cutting out the core. The cabbage I used here was quite small, so I just hollowed out the center, although with bigger ones it can be pretty difficult to do.

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Boil the whole cabbage or the quarters in water until the leaves become tender and pliable. I like to add a spoonful of cumin powder to the boiling water.

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Remove from pot, strain. Separate the leaves out. Cut out any large, tough stems from each leaf. Do not discard!

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Put a few spoonfuls of oil in the bottom of a large cooking pot, then use the stems you just cut out to line the bottom of the pot so the cabbage leaves don’t stick and burn. Also layer your meat pieces on top, if you’re using them.

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Place a small amount of stuffing onto each leaf, and roll it up like a cigar. Layer the rolls quite tightly in your pot.

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Combine the allspice with the broth, then pour it over the cabbage. The liquid should just surpass the top layer of cabbage, so make sure to add enough broth or top it up with water if necessary. Sprinkle in the garlic cloves.

Put the pot on high heat and let the broth come to a boil, then turn the heat down, put a heavy plate directly on top of the cabbage to ensure that it’s all pressed down, and cover the pot with a lid. Let it cook on low heat for about an hour to an hour and a half. The cooking time will vary, so test a cabbage roll by cutting it open and checking if the rice inside is fully cooked. If not, let it cook more.

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Serve steaming hot with plenty of lemon wedges and fresh yogurt.

Yalanji: a vegetarian alternative

Mix up a stuffing of rice OR bulgur; chopped mint, parsley, and dill; very finely diced tomato, cucumber, and carrot; grated onion, pine nuts, salt, pepper, allspice, a pinch of cumin, cinnamon, and coriander, and a few tablespoons of olive oil.

Use this to stuff the leaves, then cook them just like in the recipe above, using vegetable broth or water for cooking mixed with a quarter cup of olive oil.

Fun fact: yalancı (pronounced ya-lawn-juh) is Turkish for liar. I guess the vegetarian stuffed leaves are lying because they’re pretending to be proper mahshi but they don’t actually have meat in them ;)

Ramadan Desserts: ‘Atayif

Ramadan is almost over and we’re ending it this year with a sweet treat called ‘atayif (really spelled qatayif), which are special little pancakes filled with a variety of stuffings, then deep-fried and sweetened with sugar syrup. In Jordan, this dessert is only made during Ramadan. There, you can buy the pancakes ready-made, and all you have to do is stuff them and fry them yourself. I have not been able to find the pre-made cakes around where I live in Turkey, so I made them from scratch. They’re surprisingly easy to make, and very delicious. Although I received a lot of diverse recipes and recommendations from friends and family when I asked around about how to make the pancake batter, the particular recipe I’m sharing here is one that I’ve found to be generally standard in Palestinian households. It incorporates semolina and mahlab spice* into the batter, two things I really love (major credit goes to Khalto M. for recipe help)!

*Mahlab spice, made from the ground seed kernels of a particular variety of cherry, is used in lots of Middle Eastern cuisines to give baked goods and desserts a special flavor. For me, the signature smell of mahlab always conjures up memories of baking date cookies for Eid. If you can’t find it in the Middle Eastern section of your grocery store, you can omit it from the recipe below.

‘Atayif

In a bowl, combine 1 cup each of flour, semolina, water, and warm milk, as well as one teaspoon of yeast, and one teaspoon of mahlab spice. Mix well.

Cover and let rise for a couple of hours. When ready to make the pancakes, uncover and give the batter a stir. You can add a bit of water if it’s too thick. It should have a slightly runny consistency.

Heat an ungreased, non-stick griddle or frying pan on medium-low heat. Ladle out some batter onto the griddle and spread it around in a circle to your desired size (mine were about 2.5  inches in diameter).

Let it cook on one side; bubbles will start to appear all over the side facing up. Once the entire surface is covered with bubbles and cooks through, remove the pancake from the griddle. Do not flip over and cook on the “bubbly” side!

Cover the cooked pancakes with plastic wrap as you continue to make the rest, so that they don’t dry out and become difficult to work with later on.

To stuff, place a little bit of filling in the middle and fold the pancake over, pinching the edges with your fingers to close tightly. The cakes should be moist and the edges will glue together easily. The traditional fillings are:

1) crushed walnuts mixed with cinnamon and a bit of sugar syrup, to sweeten

2) sweet dessert cheese – we used unsalted mozzarella because that is what was available here, but you can use ‘akkawi cheese if you have it, or even ricotta (mixed with a little bit of cornstarch to keep it held together)

My husband likes combining cheese and walnuts in one – not very traditional but tasty :) !

Once folded up, fry them in oil on medium-low heat until golden brown on each side.

Take them out, and quickly drizzle with sugar syrup to taste. Serve hot!

Some people prefer to bake them instead of frying them for a healthier alternative. I always fry :D

Sugar Syrup: in a saucepan, combine one part sugar with half part water. Stir then heat up until it starts to boil, then add a squeeze of lemon juice. Let boil for about a minute, then remove from heat and let cool. It will thicken to a proper syrup once it cools completely.

Variation: to make another type of ‘atayif that does not require deep-frying, make the pancakes following the recipe above, but make them smaller in size (about half the size). Once cooked, fold each pancake in half, and start pinching the edges together 3/4 of the way up, leaving an opening at the end. Spoon a bit of fresh cream (gaimar or clotted cream or kaymak) into the opening to fill the cake, then dip the open part into crushed pistachios and arrange on a plate. Drizzle with cooled sugar syrup when ready to serve. These are called ‘atayif ‘asafeeri.

Refreshing Ramadan Drinks: Hibiscus

I wanted to try and get at least one Ramadan post written before the month ends, especially because it’s been a long time since I last updated! During Ramadan in Jordan, my aunts and grandmother make several special Ramadan drinks that are both refreshing and healthy, including tamarind, sous (licorice root), khushaf (an apricot juice with nuts and dried fruits), and karkadeh (hibiscus). When I was in Jordan this summer for a few weeks, I made sure to buy some hibiscus flowers with which to make hibiscus drink for when I came back to Turkey.

These are what the hibiscus flower petals look like dried…

Often referred to as “hibiscus tea,” the drink itself is very easy to make, and is known to have various health benefits. Its antioxidant properties, for example, help strengthen the immune system. It also helps your body flush out toxins, and is beneficial for lower blood pressure and diabetes.

I know a lot of people who like to boil the hibiscus petals in water, but simply letting the petals steep in hot water preserves the health benefits of the flower, and renders a fresher tasting drink. This is how we make karkadeh:

Put two cups of karkadeh petals in a teapot or heat resistant container.

Boil 4 cups of water, then pour boiling water over the petals.

Let steep until it cools, then strain, discarding the petals and keeping the liquid. This is your karkadeh concentrate.

Chill the concentrate, and then dilute with cold water to taste. I prefer it a bit more concentrated, but some people like it much more diluted. It is very sour, so add sugar or honey as desired.

You can also drink it hot, which is especially nice during the winter. Unfortunately, my family only makes karkadeh during Ramadan, but I think it should be made all the time :D

 

Safsouf: Lebanese Bulgur Pilaf

I love bulgur; it has great flavor and texture, is extremely easy to cook, and is very filling. Today’s recipe is for a Lebanese dish called Safsouf, that makes a delicious and healthy vegetarian pilaf to serve hot, or a great salad that can easily be packed for lunch.

The method of preparation varies from family to family, as well as regionally; the recipe below is how I prepare it. You can easily alter the spices to your tastes. Also, the quantities are very flexible.

Note: bulgur generally comes in three grades of coarseness. The medium or coarse bulgur works best for this recipe.

Safsouf

Saute crushed garlic, thinly-sliced onions, and cabbage in olive oil until soft. Add a handful of slightly-chopped walnuts or pecans, plus a teaspoon of tomato paste (optional). Add chopped parsley. Add equal amounts of allspice, cumin, coriander, and cinnamon to taste.

Add coarse bulgur, stir until well-incorporated. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour in enough water or stock to just cover the bulgur. Let come to a boil, then reduce heat and cover. Cook until bulgur is tender.

Serve hot or cold with yogurt and plenty of fresh lemon.
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