If you like Baba Ghannoush or Mtabbal, you should definitely try Mtawwamit Kusa. The concept is similar, using zucchini instead of roasted eggplant, and it can work as a salad, a sandwich spread, a side to grilled meats, or a dip for a chips/veggie platter. To keep it as basic as possible, you can omit the walnuts and dill if you want, although they add a nice touch. All the ingredients can be adjusted to your own particular liking.
2 medium sized zucchini, grated (you can also use the leftover “insides” of the zucchini if you recently made mahshi!)
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 large lemon, juiced
4-5 tablespoons of tahini paste
2 tablespoons of cold water
2/3 cup of thick Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon of chopped parsley
1/3 cup of finely crushed walnuts (optional)
1 tablespoon of finely chopped dill (optional)
olive oil for garnishing
salt and pepper to taste
Saute the grated zucchini with two cloves of crushed garlic in a couple tablespoons of oil until the zucchini gets soft. Add a bit of water, turn the heat down and cover, letting it cook while checking it every few minutes, until the zucchini completely softens. Turn off heat and let cool.
In a bowl, whisk the tahini paste with half of the lemon juice until the tahini turns white. You will need to gradually add the cold water in while you’re whisking to keep the consistency creamy. Add the yogurt, the remaining two garlic cloves, and the parsley. Add the walnuts and dill at this point if you’re using them. Mix well.
Mash the cooked zucchini – you can make it as smooth as you want, but I like to leave it a bit chunky. Add the zucchini into the tahini+yogurt mixture. Add remaining lemon juice, as well as salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, then chill. Serve drizzled with olive oil.
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!
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.
So to keep with the whole stuffing theme, I’m posting my aunt Hanan’s recipe for another kind of mahshi (stuffed vegetables): stuffed eggplants. The steps are very similar to the stuffed turnips recipe, but this one calls for less ingredients.
Eggplants occupy a special place in my heart. They have the most amazing taste, and a very rich, creamy texture. The simplest way Palestinians fix eggplant is to fry slices in hot oil till they turn golden, then garnish them with crushed garlic, lemon juice, and hot chili peppers. We serve this with bread, and you have the simplest, most delicious melt-in-your-mouth meal ever. Aside from that, there is a multitude of ways to prepare eggplant, ranging from layering it between tomatoes and ground beef like a casserole, to pickling it with a stuffing of walnuts and ground hot chilis.
It is such a versatile vegetable, and an absolute pleasure to consume.
Of course, in keeping with their love of stuffed things, my Khalili relatives make stuffed eggplants at least once a month (usually more, especially if my uncle Abed happens to get a good deal on eggplants at the vegetable market and comes home with 30 lbs of the stuff, to the exasperated groans of my aunt). So here you go: Batinjan Mahshi!
Note: In Palestine and Jordan, they use medium-sized to large, round-shaped eggplants for stuffing. When I made stuffed eggplants recently and took pictures for this blog, we only had a slender, long, kind on hand that was somewhat like a Japanese variety. Worked just fine.
Ingredients (serves approx 5)
1 batch of Best Mahshi Stuffing Ever
approx 9 lbs of eggplants
2/3 cup salt
6-7 cups pureed tomatoes (puree fresh tomatoes in a blender/food processor for best taste)
2 tomatoes, sliced
1 cup of water or stock (beef/lamb/chicken/vegetable)
salt&pepper to taste
Cut the green tops off the eggplants. Using a ma’warah (coring tool), core the eggplants, removing as much of the insides as possible without poking a hole through the skin. If the eggplants are big enough, you might be able to use a spoon to help make the process faster.
As you can see, the eggplants we had on hand were this slender type that were unfortunately very difficult to core without poking holes through the skins or cracking them near the tops.
Discard the insides of the eggplants.
Next, fill a big bowl with water and add the 2/3 cup of salt, stirring until the salt dissolves completely. Take each eggplant and dunk it in the salty water, letting it become completely immersed, before removing it and putting it off to the side for stuffing.
Stuff the eggplants with the rice stuffing, making sure to leave about an inch worth of space at the top for the rice to expand upon cooking. Insert slices of tomato to plug the mouths of the eggplants so the stuffing doesn’t fall out.
You will need a large pot to cook the eggplants. When making mahshi, always remember that you have to make a protective layer at the bottom of the pot to keep the actual vegetables up off the direct heat. Some people slice up a potato and layer the slices at the bottom of the pot, others use soup or chop bones – this is definitely the best option because it gives the dish a lot of extra flavor, and the meat fans at your table can munch on the little bits of meat amid bites of eggplant and rice. If you don’t have bones on hand, and don’t want to cut up a potato, you can wash the green tops that you cut off the eggplants, and layer those down instead. (Just remember to fish them out of the pot later and not accidentally serve them!)
Arrange the eggplants in the pot.
Combine the pureed tomatoes, the cup of water or stock, and salt&pepper to taste, then pour the mixture over the eggplants in the pot. Place something heavy, such as a plate or bowl, on the eggplants to keep them pressed down, so they don’t float around in the liquid.
Cook on high heat until the tomato mixture starts to boil. Let boil for two minutes, then turn the heat down to medium-low. Cover the pot, and let it cook for about an hour to an hour and a half.
To serve: Arrange the eggplants on a serving platter; serve the tomato sauce in individual bowls too, for dipping the eggplants in. Also serve fresh yogurt on the side.
Yes, the stuffing begins … and I don’t mean turkeys.
(I don’t do Thanksgiving.)
Since I just posted my recipe for the Best Mahshi Stuffing Ever, I thought it would be appropriate to follow it with an example where you could actually apply the stuffing recipe.
Stuffed turnips are the perfect choice right now, as the fall root vegetables are at their prime. Although the recipe is a bit labor-intensive, the end result is really worth the effort. (Also, Palestinian cooking is usually labor intensive in general, so you just have to deal with it!)
I find the use of both sumac and pomegranate molasses for acidity in this recipe really unique – I actually think this dish is on the more “creative” end of the spectrum when it comes to traditional Palestinian food, just because of how the vegetable is treated, as well as the strange flavor combinations that bring out the best of the spicy turnip. Most importantly, the turnips end up turning pink from the sumac, and nothing can possibly be better than pink turnips.
My “Lift Mahshi,” or stuffed turnips, are a must-make!
Ingredients (to serve 5)
1 batch of Best Mahshi Stuffing Ever
9 lbs medium sized turnips
3 cups vegetable oil, for frying
6-7 cups pureed tomatoes (puree fresh tomatoes in a blender/food processor for best taste)
1 cup water
2 cups of good quality sumac (should be quite sour)
1/3 cup pomegranate molasses
salt to taste
I like to divide the tasks of preparation up in my head so that it’s easier to tackle. I’ve divided them up here as: Coring, Frying, Stuffing, and Cooking.
With a knife, cut off the rough tops and bottoms of each turnip, then peel them. Rinse them off.
With a “corer” (ma2warah), core out the insides of the turnips, scraping the tool around inside to hollow them out.
You don’t want the hollowed-out turnips to be too thin though, or they will fall apart upon cooking, so be careful. If you accidentally poke a hole through them, don’t worry; I will address how to fix t hat below.
Important: Do not throw away the insides of the turnips! Keep them in a bowl to the side, because you will be using them later.
Heat the oil for frying in a pan. When hot, fry the turnips on all sides till they’re golden brown. The vegetable will start to form bubbles on its exterior as it fries; it’s kind of neat to watch.
When the turnips are fried, take them out and put them on paper towels or newspaper to absorb some of the oil. Let them cool.
Once the fried turnips have cooled down, they’re ready to stuff. Fill each turnip with the stuffing, and use the tip of your pinkie finger to measure when they’re good to go: there should be about the tip of your pinkie’s worth of space between the stuffing and the “mouth” of the turnip. Don’t worry about being accurate; the basic idea is that you need to allow space for the rice to expand inside the turnip when it cooks.
Finally, close the mouths of the turnips with some of the turnip insides you have sitting off the side. This should prevent the stuffing from spilling out of the turnips.
Holes: If you accidentally poked holes through your turnip while coring, patch them up by putting some of the turnip insides back into the turnip and covering the holes with them. Then, you carefully put the rice stuffing in over the patches, and continue on as above.
In a large bowl, combine the tomato puree, the cup of water, the sumac, the pomegranate molasses, and salt to taste. Stir to blend well.
Put a few tablespoons of oil in a large pot, then add a few handfuls of the turnip insides you have waiting off to the side. You want the layer of “insides” on the bottom of the pan to be about an inch thick.
Next, carefully place the stuffed turnips in the pot, with the mouths facing upward. When you layer them on top of each other, try to be gentle so they don’t fall over.
Pour the tomato puree mixture over the turnips. The puree should just barely cover the turnips; if you don’t have enough to cover the turnips, just add some water to bring the liquid up to the tops of the vegetables.
Put the pot uncovered on the stove on high heat, until the tomato puree mixture comes to a boil. Let it boil for 2 minutes, then turn the heat down to medium-low, and cover the pot. Let the turnips cook for about an hour to an hour and a half, until the turnip is tender and the rice inside is cooked and soft (after about an hour of cooking, you can take one out and cut it open to see how far cooked the rice is, and based on that, decide how much more cooking time the pot needs).
Fish the turnips out of the pot, and serve them on a platter or in a large bowl. Ladle out the tomato sauce into small, individual bowls to serve with the turnips, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot to get that layer of turnip insides. This sauce is the best part; you drizzle it over your turnip after you cut it open – or, if eating with your hands (the best way!), dip the turnip into the bowl of sauce as you eat! Also serve the stuffed turnips with little bowls of fresh yogurt and some slices of lemon/lime.
Extra: If you still have turnip insides left over, fry them like a hash brown in a frying pan with some oil until golden. Add salt and pepper; this stuff tastes amazing.
I have been waiting for a looong time to post a recipe for kabsa, because I absolutely LOVE it. Kabsa combines fragrant, spiced hot rice with tender meat/chicken, and a very exciting (and spicy!) tomato chili sauce on the side. I can’t get enough kabsa! It’s also incredibly easy to make, and is a great dish to serve if you have a lot of people to feed. Serve it piled high on a huge platter, decorated with raisins and toasted almonds, and you’ve got a serious feast for your guests. We serve fresh yogurt, a simple salad, and a hot tomato-chili sauce on the side to complete the meal.
Kabsa is known as being a traditional Saudi Arabian dish, although some say it originated in Yemen. Other Gulf countries, like Kuwait and the UAE, make a variation of kabsa but they call it machboos. In Jordan, Palestinian families have started making it, and it has become very popular, especially for people who like their food with some heat in it! It is most commonly made with meat (usually lamb), but I like it a lot with chicken. My aunt Hanan makes absolutely amazing chicken kabsa, and I’m very happy to share her recipe with you now :) I know a lot – most? – Saudi recipes don’t add tomato to the stock that the rice is cooked in, but my aunt does, and it tastes very flavorful this way. I’ve made this recipe many times and it’s perfect! Make. This. Dish.
A couple notes:
Kabsa is usually made with basmati rice. I have found that for my aunt’s recipe, American long grain seems to work better. Basmati just ends up being a bit dry for my taste, but you can use basmati if you prefer it.
Kabsa requires a special mix of spices. If you live in an Arab country, just ask for “kabsa spice mix” at the spice market/spice section of store. In the US, most Arabic/Middle Eastern grocery stores sell prepared kabsa spices, but I think making your own mix is just as easy and is definitely more fresh.
Here is how to make a kabsa spice mix (the spices will differ from household to household):
Process equal parts of the following spices in a spice grinder/food processor:
ground red pepper or red pepper flakes
also, 2-3 small dried black lemons
also, a lesser amount of ground cinnamon
Alternatively, you can just combine all of the above ingredients if you buy them each ground and ready to go. Also, lessen the amount of peppers used if you like it less hot.
And now, for Unbelievable Chicken Kabsa:
1 chicken, washed properly and cut up into 4-6 pieces (or you can use a package of thighs or whatever cut you like best)
1 large onion, finely chopped
4-5 tablespoons of vegetable oil for browning the onions in
5-6 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons of tomato paste
Kabsa spice mix
extra teaspoon of turmeric
extra cardamom pods for extra flavor (crack each pod open slightly with your teeth so the flavorful seeds can get into the food)
4 bay leaves
salt to taste
approx 2 pounds of American long grain rice (wash it, soak for about 15 mins, then drain off the water)
Sautee the onions in the vegetable oil until soft and transparent.
Add the pieces of chicken, and let them brown. Add the chopped tomatoes, the spices, the tomato paste, the cardamom pods, the extra teaspoon of turmeric, the bay leaves and salt to taste to the pot.
Pour in warm water until the chicken is just covered, and give it a stir. Turn the flame up to high. Let the contents of the pot come to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium-low and cover the pot.
Let the chicken cook – about half an hour.
When thoroughly cooked, scoop the pieces of chicken out of the pot and put off to the side. Pour the rice into the pot of spiced tomato-chicken stock. Turn up the flame, let it come to a boil, then cover the pot and turn the heat way down to very low. Add some more salt here if you want. Let the rice cook for about 15 minutes, then check it, picking at it with a fork. If it’s dry but is still not cooked, add some more water and re-cover. If it’s cooked, you’re done!
To serve: (reheat the chicken pieces in the oven upon serving)
We pile the rice high on a large serving platter, then arrange the pieces of chicken on top. Sprinkle fat yellow raisins and golden toasted almonds on top for garnish (I don’t like raisins so I always leave them out).
Sides you must serve with kabsa:
Simple green salad: diced tomato and cucumber mixed with chopped lettuce and parsley, dressed with lemon juice, salt, and a bit of olive oil.
Our version of Daqous: a spicy tomato chili sauce. To make our version of Daqous: in a blender, puree 2 large tomatoes, 4 large cloves of garlic, one hot green chili pepper, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Serve immediately.
Yeah. Chicken Kabsa. Must eat now.