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 ;)
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.
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.
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 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!
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
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.
Don’t get me wrong; I love mahshi, or “stuffed” things (usually vegetables), of all shapes and sizes. Our family is from the city of Khalil, and trust me, Khalilis will stuff anything they can get their hands on. Khalilis have stuffed eggplants, turnips, tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, grape leaves, cabbage leaves, “tongue leaves” (I don’t know what they’re called in English), cucumbers, carrots, and even eggs. Yeah. So I’m programmed to love mahshi. And I do.
But sometimes, the stuffing just gets really boring.
Today I’d like to share a recipe for stuffing that is way better than any stuffing you’ve ever tasted. You can use it for stuffing pretty much anything. Once I post the recipe for the stuffing itself, I can then follow it with different kinds of mahshi variations, because each vegetable has its own particular method of preparation.
So here it is! And yes, I’m using American weight measurements today!
To 3 cups of washed, short-grain American or Egyptian rice, add:
1/2 cup of washed basmati rice
1/2 lb ground lamb or beef
1 large onion, grated
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tbsp salt – or more, if you prefer
2 tbsp curry powder
2 tbsp allspice (or “mixed bharat” if available)
1.5 tbsp turmeric
1.5 tbsp ginger
1.5 tbsp black pepper
1 tbsp coriander
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp cardamom
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
Mix it all together! Done! This is your way better than anything you’ve ever tasted stuffing. Trust me.
By the way, you can always add more or less of any of the spices above, based on your personal preference.
I always like to read menus at restaurants here in Amman and look out for the English typos. It’s funny when you see items like “pananas and milk”, “eggplane”, and my most recent favorite, “salvers”. My lit.- major friend thankfully pointed out that salver is an actual English word, albeit a bit archaic. The item itself, however, is a popular favorite among the people of Amman. The basic idea is to roast any combination of meat and vegetables in the oven to then be eaten with fresh bread. These roasts (or “salvers”! – called sawani in Arabic) are considered lighter to eat and easier to make compared to tabeekh – literally, “cooking.” My aunt Hala always reminds me that she and her husband much prefer these sawani, and as such she is a pro at making them. I’d like to post a recipe for one of her most simple roasts: meat and potatoes.
approx. 500 grams of cubed lamb or beef – you can also use your favorite cuts of chicken instead of red meat
approx. 500 grams of cubed, peeled potatoes
approx. 500 grams of cubed tomatoes
2 red onions, halved and finely sliced
1 green chili pepper, chopped (optional)
1-2 bell peppers (optional)
salt&pepper to taste
1-2 tablespoons of allspice
1-2 teaspoons of yellow curry powder
a pinch of cardamom and cinnamon
approx. 2/3 cups of hot water
approx. 1/4 cup of vegetable or olive oil
Preparing the vegetables outside in Aunt Hala’s garden!
Toss with your hands so that the spices combine with all the other ingredients thoroughly.
Arrange the ingredients in the roasting pan such that the meat is on the bottom, and the vegetables are on top.
Pour the hot water and then the oil all over the ingredients in the pan, and then cover the pan with aluminum foil. Roast in a medium oven for approximately half an hour or until the meat is cooked thoroughly. If you want, you can uncover the pan at the end and turn on the broiler for a few minutes, so the vegetables blacken a bit on top.
Serve with fresh bread and a salad.
One thing I love about Palestinian cuisine is its wide variety of simple yakhani (“thick stews;” sing. yekhen) featuring seasonal vegetables. Many of these yakhani are cooked following a basic pattern: cook meat and obtain broth, add featured vegetable and tomato sauce, then let cook. I love these dishes because I can savor the freshness of the vegetables, and it makes me feel like I am connected to the earth in which they were grown. I always end up pushing the chunks of meat off to the side and eating all the vegetables! Some of my favorite yakhani are yakhnit green fava beans, yakhnit tomato with ground meat, yakhnit white beans, yakhnit okra, and yakhnit spinach. You can eat most of these yakhani with bread or rice (or both, like my Taita does!).
Today we made Palestinian bamyeh, or okra, and I was really happy at the chance to take pictures so I could post the recipe here. The okra that Palestinians know and like best is the small, short kind. I really do not know what variety this is called, but it’s not usually what I have seen sold back in Minnesota. Even in the frozen foods section, it’s easy enough to find chopped frozen okra or long, thin okra, but those don’t work very well for the Palestinian okra dish. I’ll explain why in a bit.
Two things about our bamyeh:
1) We’re going to be cheating a little bit in this recipe, by using frozen okra. If you have fresh okra, all the better, but frozen works just fine when you can’t get fresh.
2) There are several Palestinian dishes that taste even better the next day (actually, they seem to get better day after day :p). Bamyeh is the best example. If you can, I really suggest making this dish a day before you actually want to have it. I’m serious; sitting in your fridge overnight just enhances its flavor, somehow!
500 grams (aprox) of small cubes of beef or lamb
500 grams (aprox) of frozen okra – if using fresh, wash and cut off the stems
8 tbsp of vegetable oil
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 cube of chicken or beef bouillon
1 small green chili pepper, chopped (optional)
3 large ripe tomatoes, quartered
salt and pepper to taste
Wash the cubes of meat. Heat two tablespoons of the vegetable oil in a pot, then add the meat and brown it. Add enough water to cover the meat, then add 2 more cups of water. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and leave it until the meat is just cooked.
Remove the just-cooked meat from the pot and set aside. Remove the broth from the pot and set aside. Keep the pot with the bits of meat for later use!
In a small bowl, empty your package of frozen okra and add 4 cloves of the chopped garlic, the chopped chili pepper, and the bouillon cube.
In the pot used to cook the meat earlier, heat two more tablespoons of the oil. When hot, add the okra (+ stuff), and brown it for a bit.
Now add the cooked meat…
Crush the tomatoes in a blender with about half a cup of water. If it’s still very thick, add some of the broth from the meat cooked earlier.
Pour the crushed tomatoes through a strainer into the pot of okra and meat. Add enough broth from the meat cooked earlier until you get the stew to your desired thickness. I like it a bit on the thicker side. (Use the rest of the broth for making soups!) Let the stew come to a boil, then taste and adjust salt if necessary. Let it gently simmer for about 10-15 more minutes, or until the okra is cooked.
The final step is the most fun part! In a small frying pan, heat the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil well. Add the remaining two cloves of chopped garlic, and fry the garlic until it is “sha’rah” (“blond,” or golden brown). Then quickly pour all of the oil with the fried garlic into the big pot of bamyeh and meat. It should make a sizzling sound as the hot oil hits the surface of the stew. Mix into the stew. This hot oil + garlic technique is called ” ‘ad7ah,” and is used to add a final layer of flavor to several different yakhani.
Serve your bamyeh with Egyptian or American short grain rice, or with fresh bread for dipping into it. Bamyeh is also commonly accompanied by a simple soup, and mlokhiyyeh, two great dishes for which I will be posting recipes soon insha’Allah :)
(Note on why chopped bamyeh doesn’t work well for this dish: Okra by nature has a “slimy” feel to it (in a good way!), and the “slime” is increased by cutting the vegetable open. If you use chopped okra, the stew itself will become very thick and slimier than it should be. )
Recipes coming soon for: