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:
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.
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)
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.
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.
Try it. You might just change your mind about innards.
* In Palestinian Arabic, gizzards are called awaniss, livers are kibdat, and hearts are qlub.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Remove from pot, strain. Separate the leaves out. Cut out any large, tough stems from each leaf. Do not discard!
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.
Place a small amount of stuffing onto each leaf, and roll it up like a cigar. Layer the rolls quite tightly in your pot.
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.
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 ;)
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
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.
I love pasta, and was really excited when I first had pasta the way a lot of Palestinians make it: with yogurt and nuts! It might seem strange to a lot of people for a pasta sauce to be made using just plain yogurt, but it makes for a really light dish. We especially like it in the summer because it is served cold. It’s also super easy, and my brother and I had fun whipping it up quickly.
Note: everyone I have seen uses spaghetti for this dish, but we didn’t have any, so I just used penne pasta. It worked just fine :)
1 package of pasta (any kind you like)
half a kilo of ground meat
vegetable oil to brown the meat
1 tablespoon each of pepper, cinnamon, allspice + salt to taste
1 large onion, finely chopped
4-5 cloves of garlic, finely crushed
1 large container of yogurt (more if you like the pasta more yogurt-y!)
half a bunch of parsley, finely chopped
3/4 cup of almonds (halved and skinned or slivered) and 1/4 cup of whole pine nuts
oil for browning the nuts
salt to taste
Boil the pasta in well-salted water. When it’s cooked, drain off the water.
In a big bowl, mix all of the yogurt and garlic. Add salt to taste. Stir in the cooked pasta. Combine till the pasta is well coated. If you like more yogurt or garlic, add more!
Lay the pasta with yogurt in a casserole/baking dish. It needs to be somewhat deep, so you can layer the ground meat, nuts, and parsley on top. Chill the dish of yogurt+pasta in the refrigerator.
When you’re ready to eat, heat some oil in a pan, then add the chopped onion, cooking until it becomes very soft and just barely starts to turn golden. Add the ground meat, and break it up with your spatula as it cooks. Cook it thoroughly, adding the pepper, cinnamon, allspice, and salt to taste. After it cooks, turn up the heat just a bit and let it brown till it gets a bit crispy, if you like. Spread the layer of cooked meat on top of the chilled pasta+yogurt. In the picture below, I had already started layering on the nuts..
In another frying pan, heat some oil and brown the pine nuts, then the almonds. You want them to be a nice golden color. Stir them constantly as they brown, because they burn easily. If you don’t have pine nuts, just use more almonds. That’s what we did! Layer the browned nuts on top of the layer of meat.
Finally, spread the chopped parsley in a layer on top of the nuts. This is the final step, and makes the dish look so pretty!
Bonus Recipe: Another way some Palestinians make pasta is by mixing crushed, dried mint, crushed garlic, and salt to taste in a small bowl. Then mix about a quarter cup of buttermilk into a large container of plain yogurt till you get a thick, saucy consistency (use less buttermilk if you like it thicker). Add the mint+garlic mixture to the yogurt sauce. Heat this sauce in a saucepan if you’d like to serve it hot; otherwise, it’s great cold too. They serve the sauce by spooning it over spaghetti, then sprinkling each serving with browned pine nuts. It’s fantastic and great if you don’t like meat!
While I was walking through the market in the old city in Jerusalem, I overheard an Arab tour guide explaining what grape leaves were to the tourists he was showing around.
“Papers,” he said, in English. “You can stuff them with rice and meat or vegetables…Grape papers.”
In Arabic, leaves are literally “papers” (actually, it’s vice versa: papers are leaves, but anyway…). Later that day, the family I was staying with made “Meat on Leaves/Papers” for lunch (“la7meh 3a wara2”). Different from regular stuffed grape leaves, these ones are filled with meat only and then roasted in the oven till tender. Because the grape leaves are not boiled before being used, they hold up to the cooking and still have a bite to them, which was a really interesting textural experience for me. This dish was also ready in under 20 minutes, a big plus. It was my first time having this traditional dish from Jerusalem, and I loved it!
Fresh, green grape leaves (the fresher the better, because they’ll be more tender)
500g of ground meat
6-7 cloves of garlic (more if you like), crushed
1 bunch of parsley, very finely chopped
1 onion, finely grated
2 medium potatoes, finely sliced
2-3 tomatoes, sliced
1/2 a cup of lemon juice, or a pinch of”lemon salt” (ie citric acid), or some sour unripened green grapes (called “husrom” here); this is to make the dish sour
1 cup of chicken stock, optional; if you don’t want to use stock, use the same amount of water
Note: If you live in a country where you can get “kuftah” meat ready-made from the butcher, substitute the ground meat, parsley, and onions for half a kilo of ready-made kuftah. Then crush the garlic and add it to the kuftah, kneading till well-combined.
First, make your own kuftah meat. Combine the ground meat, parsley, and onion in a mixing bowl and knead well. Add salt&pepper to your liking. This is kuftah.
Add the crushed garlic, and continue to knead well. The more garlic the better!
Now for the grape leaves!
Take a grape leaf and lay it flat in your palm, with the shiny side facing down. Place a bit of meat in the middle of the leaf, then fold the edges of the leaf over it. It’s like wrapping up a package!
Place the wrapped leaves face down in a baking dish.
When you’re done with the leaves, layer the slices of potato and tomato on top. This is optional by the way; if all you want are leaves, just do leaves! But the veggies do give the dish a nice bit of extra flavor.
Drizzle a good amount of olive oil over everything. The more, the better! Add salt&pepper to taste also.
Pour your chicken stock over everything. If you don’t want to use stock, you can just use water (same amount). Also add the lemon juice/sprinkle of citric acid/sour, green unripened grapes at this point.
Cover (you can use foil) and put the dish into a medium oven until the potatoes get tender, and the meat in the leaves cooks through.
After it’s cooked, you can put it under the broiler for a few minutes so the vegetables blacken a bit. I liked it this way!
Serve with fresh bread, yogurt, pickles, and fresh sliced veggies. When I was eating this, I felt like I was consuming a really wholesome meal; you get a bit of meat and a lot of vegetable all in one convenient package! The grape leaves were fresh, sour, and not too soft. (My great aunt, who has false teeth, did not eat the leaves. She picked the meat out of them and left the leaves off to the side. Sorry if that’s gross.)