Layali Libnaan with Strawberries

 

I recently made some Layali Libnaan, an incredibly tasty dessert with a semolina pudding base, topped with fresh cream, pistachios, and fruit, then drizzled with sugar syrup to taste. Because the pudding and cream are not sweetened, this recipe is great for people who are trying to control their sugar intake. I originally posted the recipe here. This is probably the easiest dessert I know how to make, and it looks so pretty :)  

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Mtabbal: Easy Roasted Eggplant Dip

It’s been almost a year since I posted a recipe on this blog, during which I got engaged, then married – much sooner than was initially planned! -, and moved to Turkey to pursue a masters degree in Turkish Studies. It’s been a hectic but rewarding chapter of my life, and I’ve really missed posting new recipes throughout.

I finally decided to make the commitment to try and update the blog regularly again, even if the interval between posts is longer than I would like. I’ve received comments and feedback from family, friends, and readers, who have both asked for more recipes, and have given me useful suggestions on how to improve my posts!

To start off, I’m sharing a very simple recipe for mtabbal (sometimes spelled mutabbal), a creamy roasted eggplant dip that makes a great appetizer or a side to grilled meat dishes. A lot of non-Arabic speakers might be familiar with the term Baba ghannouj, which is basically very similar. I hope you enjoy it!

 

Mtabbal 

Poke a few holes with a fork into two whole eggplants and roast in oven until the skins start to blacken. Peel them, discard skins, then mash up the insides in a bowl.

Add a spoonful of crushed garlic, some chopped parsley, three spoonfuls of tahini paste, the juice of two lemons, a bit of cold water, olive oil, and salt to taste. Mix well until all incorporated. Mix in some diced tomatoes if desired.

Serve drizzled with olive oil, and decorated with diced tomatoes or fresh pomegranate seeds.

 

 

(If you don’t want to turn on your oven, you can roast the eggplants over a gas stove by placing the eggplant directly on the burner, and turning it every few minutes until cooked through.) 

Pasta for Dessert?! Egyptian-style Sweet Couscous

Couscous is one of those foods that is automatically associated with Morocco in most people’s minds. It is, in fact, consumed widely all across North Africa. Most interestingly, Egyptians eat couscous as a sweet item: for breakfast, a light supper, or dessert!

This recipe uses couscous, sugar, cinnamon, coconut, raisins, and nuts, to make an incredibly simple, yet very surprising dish.

A little info on couscous, for those of you who have never had it or don’t know much about it: Couscous is simply a pasta that is shaped into tiny little balls, but is much more versatile than the kind of pasta most Americans usually think of.

In Palestine, we have a variation of couscous that is called maftool. Maftool is also shaped into small balls, but they are slightly larger than those of North African couscous; they resemble little pearls. Ever heard of “Israeli Couscous?” Yeah. Maftool is about as Israeli as falafel or hummus, i.e it’s not.

For maftool, we make a tomato sauce with chickpeas and onions to serve with the pasta; it is one of my favorite traditional Palestinian dishes, and I will post a recipe for it sometime soon, inshallah!

But for now, it’s sugar time:

Ingredients:

2 cups of couscous (usually comes in a box in the Middle Eastern section of your grocery store)

1/4 cup of melted butter

Toppings: whatever you like! Mix it up:

White sugar/brown sugar/powdered sugar/honey

Cinnamon

Raisins (any kind you like)

Coconut

Walnuts/Almonds/Hazelnuts

Sweetened condensed milk

Method

Put the dry couscous in a bowl.

Uncooked North African couscous..

Pour the melted butter over it, and mix in so that the butter coats all the couscous. Then, pour enough boiling water over the couscous to cover it by about half an inch.

Cover the bowl of buttery couscous and hot water and let it sit for about ten minutes. (I like to let it sit in the microwave because it’s insulated.) The couscous will absorb all the hot water and cook.

Fluff the couscous with a fork, then top with any combination of toppings you like!

Here is a picture of the bowl I made for myself this morning. My favorite toppings for Sweet Couscous are brown sugar, powdered sugar, almonds, coconut, and cinnamon.

It’s kind of like oatmeal, but definitely a lot more interesting. Try it!

Perfect Rice Every Time

From my notebook:

During my trip to Palestine last spring, I stayed with my great aunt, Imm Tayseer, and her husband in Khalil, my family’s city of origin. I took the opportunity to ask her husband, Hajj Misbah, about what Palestine was like back when he was young. Sitting next to the window on his porch overlooking the neighborhood, hands clasped on his lap, his head wrapped in a traditional black and white hattah, 88-year old Hajj Misbah described how families used to hold weddings when he was young, inviting the entire town or village. Although serving meat to guests is considered the prime symbol of hospitality, not all families could afford to provide meat for their wedding guests. If that were the case, he explained, they would instead serve huge platters of steaming hot rice, seasoned with salt and drizzled with delicious, melted samneh baladiyyeh (clarified butter/ghee).

“The guests would come to the wedding, celebrate, eat. The women’s side of the wedding would always have many more people than the men’s, because each lady would bring all of her children with her. A lot of people were hungry back in those days, so a wedding was a chance for people to have a satisfying meal,” he recalled. “The guests would dig their fists hungrily into the hot, buttery rice. It was an excellent meal, that warmed you through, and curbed your hunger.”

***

(Apologies for the length of this post!)

It’s kind of silly of me to not have posted a recipe for rice yet. Rice and bread are the two staples of Palestinian cuisine, and no meal can be eaten without one of the two.

Although rice is always deemed the easiest thing one can possibly make, my experiences have proven quite the opposite. It took me many failed attempts, and eventually combining a bunch of different techniques, before I finally figured out the best way to make it.

And true to real Arab cooking style, this recipe has no quantities. Sorry!

—-

The most common variety of rice we eat is a type that resembles American medium-grain. The second most popular variety is Egyptian rice, which is similar to a short-grain Spanish variety, like Arborio or Baldo. Egyptian rice is stickier than American medium-grain, and is absolutely delicious eaten just plain!

Basmati rice, although popular in the Gulf states, is not really commonly found in Palestinian cuisine. We use it to make Kabsa, and other Gulf-inspired dishes, but that’s about it, generally.

I have used the recipe below to make Egyptian, American short, medium, and long-grain, and Basmati rice.

You can do a lot with rice. You can make it plain, or add a variety of noodles, vegetables, meats, or spices to jazz it up, but:

The Basic Concept Behind Most Rice Recipes is:

i. Saute Ingredients

ii. Add Water

iii. Cook

—-

Plain White Rice:

Prep: Wash desired quantity of rice, then drain. Add fresh water to cover rice completely, and let soak for 15 minutes, then drain. (If using Egyptian rice or another short-grain rice like Arborio, you do not need to soak after washing.)

In a pot, melt several tablespoons of butter, vegetable oil, or samneh. The more fat, the better, although your arteries might beg to differ.

Saute the rice in the fat for a few minutes. Add salt to taste.

Pour in enough hot water to cover the surface of the rice by about half an inch. Bring to a boil, then cover and turn the heat down to medium-low.

Check the rice after ten minutes or so. There should be little holes all over the surface, and most of the water should be absorbed. Using a fork, pick at some grains, and test to see if they are tender. If so, leave the rice on the fire, uncovered, just enough to boil off any excess water.

If the rice is still tough, add a few more tablespoons of water, cover the pot, and let cook, checking back on it again after another 5-10 mins.

Basically you want to just keep coming back and checking the rice, adding small amounts of water and leaving to cook, until the rice is as soft as you like. Using small amounts of water and checking it constantly allows you to really control the process; much safer than putting in too much water and getting soggy mush, or using too little and getting burnt or brittle rice :(

When your rice is cooked and the moisture absorbed, fluff the rice with a fork before serving. Don’t use a spoon, otherwise it will get all mushy.

Rice with Vermicelli

Very popular and delicious, best made with Egyptian rice:

Wash and soak rice (don’t soak after washing if using Egyptian rice).

Use about 3/4 cup of vermicelli noodles for every two cups of rice.

Fry the noodles in hot oil, stirring constantly, until golden. Drain off the rice, then add to the pot, and fry with the noodles for about a minute. Add salt to taste.

Pour hot water into pot to cover rice by about half an inch. Allow to come to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium, and cover.

Let cook, checking constantly to see if it needs more water.

Fluff with a fork just before serving.

Ma’karonah Bil Bechamel: Baked Middle Eastern Pasta with Bechamel Sauce

Ma’karonah Bil Bechamel is a very popular and easy to prepare, baked pasta dish. Egyptians are known for their Ma’karonah Bil Bechamel, but Palestinians make it too. Bechamel is simply a white sauce that is thickened with flour.

There are so many different ways people make Ma’karonah Bil Bechamel. I’m posting what I find to be the easiest recipe, and will provide two variations on making the actual white sauce.

For a slightly healthier and lighter version of this dish, try Koosa Bil Bechamel, where zucchini is used as a substitute for pasta. It’s equally delicious, and you won’t feel as bad eating it :)

Ingredients

approx 2 lbs of ground beef or lamb (for ~8 people)

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons of vegetable oil

1 tsp each of allspice (or “bharat” spice), black pepper

1/2 tsp each of cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric

salt to taste

large package of elbow macaroni (or penne, or any other medium-sized short-cut pasta)

For the Bechamel sauce:

5 cups of cold milk

4 tablespoons of flour

1 egg, whisked

3 tablespoons of butter

Method

Start by boiling your pasta until it’s just cooked. Drain.

In a pan, saute the chopped onion until soft, then add the ground meat. Cook the meat thoroughly, breaking it up so you don’t end up with any large clumps. Season with the allspice/bharat, pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, and salt to taste.

Coat the bottom of a large baking dish with a few drops of oil. Using half of the cooked pasta, make an even layer of pasta in the bottom of the baking dish. On top of that, add all of your cooked meat, spreading it out to make an even layer.

On top of the meat, add another layer of pasta using the remaining half.

Set this aside while you make the Bechamel sauce:

Method 1 (easier, less likely to clump):

Pour one cup of the cold milk into a saucepan. Add the flour and egg, and whisk until smooth. Add the rest of the milk, the butter, and salt&pepper to taste, and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. After it boils, keep cooking for approx. five more minutes, then remove from the heat.

 

Method 2 (more difficult and likely to clump, but richer tasting):

In a saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour and stir constantly, letting it cook for about a minute and turn golden brown (basically making a roux). Add the cold milk and whisked egg to the pan slowly, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. When it boils, cook for a couple of minutes, then remove from heat.

Pour the Bechamel all over the top of the pasta.

Spread it to even it out, making sure to cover the pasta entirely. Set it aside for a few minutes to let it cool and set a bit.

Finally, bake in a hot oven (~450 dgrees) until the top of the Ma’karonah Bil Bechamel browns. This usually takes about an hour. You can put it under the broiler for a couple minutes at the end to make sure the top is perfectly golden, with some darker patches here and there (the best part!).

Alternatively, when I’m in a hurry, I don’t even bother baking it since all the components are already cooked. I simply broil the top, which takes about ten minutes; this method is good for when you’re in a rush, but the layer of Bechamel will have a slightly runnier consistency. If you chose Method 1 for the Bechamel sauce, I highly recommend you bake the dish thoroughly.

Delicious Chicken Soup, Palestinian Style

I love this simple, delicious chicken soup that stands out because of the distinct flavor of cardamom. If you love a bowl of steaming hot chicken soup but want to try something new, this is the recipe for you.

Orzo or risi pasta is used to give the soup body. In Arabic, this small, rice-shaped pasta is called lsaan 3asfour, or “bird tongues,” because of its shape. I remember eating this excellent soup at my Taita’s house in Egypt, amazed at the thought that I was consuming tiny bird tongues!

Ingredients

approx 1/2 cup of orzo/risoni, or risi pasta

2 tbsp of vegetable oil

2 cups of excellent quality chicken stock

1 small onion or shallot

1 tsp of black pepper

1 tsp cardamom

1/4 tsp of allspice (optional)

salt to taste

Method

In a pot, heat the oil. Add the pasta and sautee it for a couple of minutes.

Add the chicken stock. Put the onion in whole. Add the spices, and salt to taste.

Let simmer for a few minutes. Before serving, remove the onion.

Serve with a salad for a light meal.

 

Variation: In pot, sautee a medley of chopped fresh vegetables (onion, carrot, zucchini, green bean, potato) in some olive oil. When slightly softened, add chicken broth, cardamom, and salt&pepper to taste. Let simmer for a few minutes then serve.

Khobbeizeh: Middle Eastern Greens

Khobbeizeh, or Malva Parviflora, is a wild green that grows throughout the Middle East and North Africa. In Palestinian culture, Khobbeizeh is a food for the common – a green that you can make a cheap, filling, and very healthy meal out of. The season for Khobbeizeh is late fall to early winter, and around this time of the year in Jordan, the markets are full of it. People even go out to large fields outside the city to harvest huge bundles of the wild Khobbeizeh. I’m not sure if you can get it in the US, so I don’t really know how useful this recipe is to people who don’t live in an area where Khobbeizeh grows, buuut because it is such a traditional dish, I definitely wanted to include it in my collection :)

Like spinach or most other greens, Khobbeizeh cooks down to very little, so you need to purchase/obtain it raw in large quantities. There are many, many ways to cook it, and the recipe that I am going to post is a combination of several different variations. Traditionally, the Khobbeizeh leaves are dropped into boiling water, then a traditional whisk-like tool called a Mifrak is used to whisk the leaves rapidly until they start to fall apart. My recipe uses a less traditional and slightly easier method. Although my family doesn’t really make Khobbeizeh that often, it is a very traditional Palestinian dish, and I highly recommend trying it if you like greens in general (or believe in eating them once in a while to feel better about your otherwise-unhealthy diet).

Only the leaves of the Khobbeizeh plant are used.

Ingredients

4-5 cups of Khobbeizeh leaves, washed, de-stemmed, and very finely chopped

2 medium onions, chopped

2-3 cups of water or stock

1 cup of fresh parsley, finely chopped

1 cup of coriander, finely chopped

5 cloves of garlic, crushed

5-6 tbsp of vegetable or olive oil

1 cup of coarse bulgur OR roasted green wheat (freekeh) OR regular or wholewheat flour

salt& pepper to taste

Method

In a large pot, heat 2-3 tbsp of oil, then add half of the chopped onion. Sautee the onion until tender, then add the chopped Khobbeizeh leaves. Sautee until they wilt and cook down.


Add the water or stock, and stir,  letting it come to a boil. Don’t use too much liquid; you want to add just enough to get a very thick, stew-like texture. Add the chopped parsley and coriander.

If using bulgur OR smoked wheat: wash the grains then drain. Soak in hot water for ten minutes, then drain, and add them to the pot of Khobbeizeh.

If using flour: put the flour in a small bowl and gradually sprinkle a couple tablespoons of cold water all over it. Mix it gently with a fork until the flour forms little balls of dough. Sprinkle on more water if needed. Then, add the dough balls to the pot of Khobbeizeh.

Leave the Khobbeizeh to simmer on low heat for a few minutes while you prepare the ‘ad7ah. Remember, ‘ad7ah is basically adding sauteed garlic to whatever you’re cooking to give it an extra layer of flavor. So, in a small frying pan or saucepan, heat the rest of your oil, then add the rest of the chopped onion and the crushed garlic. Fry until golden brown, then pour the whole thing into the pot of Khobbeizeh. Watch out; it can really splatter!

Give the pot of Khobbeizeh a stir, add salt&pepper to taste, and serve with fresh bread, sliced lemons, and green onions on the side. Enjoy!

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