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
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:
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
Raisins (any kind you like)
Sweetened condensed milk
Put the dry couscous in a bowl.
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!
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 :)
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
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.
My family in Jordan eats a lot of lentil soup in the winter. They say that lentils are one of those foods that heat up the whole body, and give you a huge boost of energy. Most of the time, we make Palestinian fattit 3adas, but once in a while, my Taita will make Egyptian lentil soup for a change. It’s a bit lighter than the Palestinian version, and also differs in that it has vegetables and noodles in it. You can really cater this recipe to your tastes, and it only takes about half an hour to make. It’s an excellent soup for those cold winter evenings, and is healthy too!
2 tbsp of vegetable oil, olive oil, or butter
2 cups of yellow lentils/split peas, washed and drained
4 cups of water OR any kind of stock
1 large onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 large tomato, roughly chopped
1 carrot, shredded or finely chopped
2 tsp of cumin
1/2 tsp of turmeric
1 tsp each of chili powder and paprika (optional)
1 tsp of hot pepper flakes (optional)
3/4 cup of vermicelli noodles (optional)
salt&pepper to taste
In a pot, heat your oil or butter, then add the split peas or lentils.
Sautee them gently for a couple of minutes, then add the water or stock. Let the liquid reach a boil, then add the onion, garlic, tomato, and carrot. Cover, and let simmer on low heat until the lentils are tender. This usually only takes about 15 minutes.
Once the lentils are fully cooked and very tender, let the contents of the pot cool for a bit, then puree them in a food processor, blender, or using a hand blender. Return the pureed mixture to the cooking pot.
Add all of the spices, and salt&pepper to taste. Stir the soup, then cover and let simmer for a few more minutes, so that the flavors from the spices really infuse the soup.
If you feel like the soup is too thick, add some more stock or water to get your desired consistency.
Optional: If using vermicelli noodles, heat some more oil or butter in a small pot or frying pan, then add the vermicelli. Brown the vermicelli in the hot fat, being careful not to burn them. Once browned, add the vermicelli to the pot of lentil soup and stir.
Traditionally, this soup is served with tiny Egyptian onions on the side, or fresh green onions, as well as arugula and sliced radishes. The spiciness of the onions, radishes, and arugula contrast nicely with the full-bodied flavor of the lentils. To make this meal extra hearty and filling, we often tear up a loaf of pita bread into our bowls. You can even toast the pita bread in the oven first, then break it up into pieces like croutons!
For a non-traditional twist, add a dollop of sour cream, or drizzle some olive oil into your bowl before dipping in.
My Palestinian Taita (grandmother) grew up in Egypt, so most of the food she makes is Egyptian food. It’s a nice change when she makes things we’re not used to having, like Egyptian stuffed potatoes, zucchini with bechamel sauce, or apricot pudding.
A few years back, Taita introduced me to the Egyptian drink “Moghat,” which is a popular drink for women after they give birth as a general refresher and lactagogue. I always wondered what exactly Moghat is, because when we buy it in Egypt from the spice seller, it comes in the form of a bright yellow powder. All they could tell me was that it was a plant, and that the roots are dried and ground then mixed with a variety of spices such as turmeric, ground rose seeds, sesame seeds, coconut, and raisins. Apparently, the scientific name for the Moghat plant is Glossostemon bruguieri, family (Sterculiaceae).
When cooked with sugar and water, Moghat becomes a thick, sweet drink that warms you wonderfully in the winter (it’s also bright yellow and looks really intense :P). Taita brought some Moghat powder back with her when she visited Egypt in November, so I decided to make some tonight. Here is her recipe!
Tip: The fat used to brown the Moghat powder in is called samneh baladiyyeh. You make it by melting down a quantity of butter, then letting it boil for a while until all the little impurities sink to the bottom. When cooled, what you get is clarified butter or “samneh.” Egyptians cook with samneh all the time; it is what makes Taita’s food so flavorful – and unhealthy :S The fresher and purer the butter you melt down, the better flavored samneh (and food!) you get. If you don’t have samneh, you can use butter.
Note: I apologize for how blurry some of these photos are. It was tough taking them with one hand, bad lighting, and hot Moghat on the fire that needed constant stirring!
For 3 cups of Moghat:
3 tablespoons of clarified butter (“samneh”) or butter
3 heaping tablespoons of Moghat powder (add more if you like it even thicker)
3 cups of hot water
1/4 cup of sugar (you can add more if you like it sweeter)
In a saucepan, melt the samneh or butter on medium heat. Add the Moghat powder.
Brown the powder in the samneh slightly, stirring constantly. The powder will clump a bit, and should look like this:
After browning the powder for a couple minutes, add the hot water. Watch out, it’s loud! Stirring constantly, add the sugar.
The Moghat will thicken after the sugar is added. Cook it for about two to three minutes – keep stirring! Check and make sure it’s as sweet as you’d like; if needed, you can add more sugar and stir for a bit longer.
Pour/ladle into your serving cups w sa77ah w hana :)
So next time you go to Egypt or know someone who is going, have them bring you back some Moghat! It’s pretty tasty.