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
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!).
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.
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!
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.
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!
I have been away for the past ten days, traveling across the West Bank. I didn’t have any internet access, so updating this blog was impossible. But I’m back, and excited to start updating again inshallah :)
My aunts really like one particular Syrian dish that has a very peculiar name. In Arabic, it’s called “7orra2 Usba3oh” – I think. Which sounds something like “his finger is burning,” or perhaps “his finger is spicy.” Every time I ask my aunts to clarify the name and its origin, they end up telling me “who knows about those Syrians.” So I’m still pretty confused. But what I do know for sure is that the dish is REALLY good. It’s a bit strange, because of the combination of macaroni and dill/cilantro, but it’s a nice, light, cool lunch for a hot day. The closest thing I can compare it to in American cuisine would be a cold casserole. My aunts say this dish is a “women’s dish;” something quick and light that women enjoy making and eating, but definitely not satisfying enough for a hungry man, apparently. I’ll let you be the judge!
250 grams of brown lentils
250 grams of macaroni, cooked al dente, any shape (shells, bows, elbows)
3-4 tbsp of flour
3-4 tbsp of tamarind paste, soaked in hot water for a couple hours
5-6 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 large onion, peeled and finely sliced
2 bunches of cilantro and dill, finely chopped
half a loaf of pita bread, torn into little pieces
Boil the lentils in a pot of salted water, then cover and let simmer until half-cooked. Do not drain! Add the macaroni to the pot of lentils.
Rub the soaked, softened tamarind paste between your fingers over a strainer, letting the juice fall through into a bowl. Extract as much juice as possible out of the paste. Add the juice to the pot of lentils and macaroni.
Dissolve 3-4 tbsp of flour in a bit of cold water, stirring till smooth. Add this to the pot of lentils and macaroni, and stir immediately. The contents of the pot will thicken. You want the consistency to be pretty thick. Add more flour-dissolved-in-water if necessary.
Add half of the crushed garlic, half of the chopped cilantro and dill to the pot, and let it simmer for another 5 minutes or so. Add salt if needed. Set the pot aside.
In a frying pan, heat some olive oil, and fry the sliced onions till crispy and golden. Take the onions out and let them drain on a paper towel.
Pour the olive oil left over from your frying pan into the pot of lentils and macaroni. Give it a good stir.
Sautee the rest of the crushed garlic and chopped cilantro and dill in another couple tbsp of olive oil. Stir while sauteeing, until the greens wilt a bit. Set aside.
Fry the torn pieces of pita bread until golden and crispy. Note: In the original dish, they do not use pita bread. The women traditionally prepare a special dough, and roll it out very thinly. They then cut the dough into little pieces and fry it. Pita bread is a much easier and equally tasty substitute.
Now, to assemble: In a baking/casserole dish, pour the lentils+macaroni mixture. Spread it out evenly. Sprinkle the crispy pita bread chips all over the top. Sprinkle the fried onions on top of that. Finally, scoop little spoonfuls of the sauteed garlic+cilantro+dill over everything decoratively.
Chill. Eat with a spoon! The tamarind juice gives the dish a bit of sourness, and the garlic with the greens is a powerful burst of flavor. I know, it looks kind of strange but I think it’s really tasty, and I am glad they introduced me to it!