Saturday, February 25, 2012

Recipes for Middle Eastern food

One more post of the 'uploading it to link to in the future' variety.

As a rule, I treat every recipe as a recommendation and a place to start from, and not a plan set in stone. Food making is all about improvisation, if you ask me. That being said, this is the general outline of how I make these things- if you think you have a better recipe for any of them, feel free to send it to me. I'm always glad to learn something new.



3-4 cups of chickpeas (it’s best to buy the smallest kind available).
About a cup Raw Tehina (I like Jamal from Nablus - 
the white one with the red camel - best)
1-1.5 lemons
3-4 cloves of garlic
Some cumin, paprika, salt, any other condiment you think will fit. I like to use the falafel spice mix they sell in condiment shops in many markets in the middle east.

[If you’re a rational human being, who doesn’t have too much time, you could just buy a pre-cooked can of chickpeas and skip the first steps. Then again, it’s much cooler and cheaper to do it from the dry beans. I usually soak and cook a whole Kg of beans, use whatever I need and freeze the rest. That way I save time and cooking gas, and always have some precooked chickpeas ready to defrost and be made into hummus. 1 Kg of dry beans should be enough to make hummus with the quantities listed above at least 5 times.]
Soak the beans in water for 1-2 days, changing the water every 12 hours or so. If you’re not against bicarbonate, and are against long waits, you can put in a spoon of baking soda in the water for the first soaking. Afterwards, cook the beans in water that is at least 1.5 times their height- and add a spoon of baking soda here, too- until they’re extremely soft (the softer, the better). At the beginning of the cooking, foam will form above the water- remove it. The cooking should take 1-2 hours if you’ve used baking soda, or 3-4 if you didn’t.
After the beans are soft, strain out all the cooking water into a bowl. Add the tehina, lemon juice, crushed garlic and the condiments to the beans, add some of the cooking water, and mash it all up (a stick blender, a food processor or even a potato masher should do the job). Add more water if you feel the consistency is not right- remember it’s always better to add too little at first and then add in more than adding too much from the get go. Taste it and see if there’s any adjustments needed.
Put 2-3 spoonfuls in a small plate, add some olive oil and maybe a leaf of mint or parsley for garnish, and it’s ready to serve. Recommended "toppings" include some cooked chickpeas, roasted pine nuts, onion, Indian bean, sautéed mushrooms or even minced meat. Oh, and s’hug (see below) for you spicy eaters, of course.


2 cups of chickpeas (for falafel it’s better to get the bigger kinds)
2 pieces of dry bread
A big handful of cilantro, and half that amount of parsley and mint leaves
A small onion
4-5 cloves of garlic
Some paprika, falafel spice mix (it's mostly cumin, if you can't find this spice mix), salt, ground chili pepper
Sesame seeds

Soak the chickpeas for 2-3 days, changing the water every 12 hours or so. Do not add baking soda, and definitely don’t cook them. Before starting the preparation, strain out all the water.
Dice the onion and cut all the leaves, crush the garlic, break apart the bread, and add put them all in a bowl with the chickpeas. Add the condiments and the sesame seeds. Blend them all together into a more or less even, brown-greenish mix. I use a meat grinder, but a stick blender will work as well. Be careful though- you have to use it for a long time, and the little motor might not handle it. I've had times when the stick blender ended up smelling a bit burnt after 5 minutes of continuous use...
Let the mix sit and settle for about an hour.
Heat up some cooking oil for deep frying. Add a teaspoon of baking soda to the mix (it’s supposed to make the falafel more airy) just before you start frying. Make little balls out of the mix (if they’re too big, the outside will get burnt and the inside will not come out cooked enough). Try to keep the oil hot, but not too hot, so that the balls have enough time to get 
entirely cooked. Once the outside is brown and crispy, take them out.
Falafel can be served as is, in a pita with hummus, salad, tehina, French fries, with s’hug, etc.


A cup of raw tehina
Juice from half a lemon
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
Some salt
A handful of parsley, if you want to make green tehina

Put all the ingredients in a bowl, add in some water, and mix long and hard, until you get a viscous, even paste. If you want it more runny, add more water and mix again. If you want to make green tehina, better dice the parsley very thin in advance (you can use a blender for this). Serve over baked eggplant, in a pita with anything, on top of hummus, etc. etc.

Extra tehina recipe: mix a cup of raw tehina with a spoon or two of silan (date syrup), a tiny bit of vanilla extract and some water. Mix it until you get an even paste. Add more water to fix consistency- it shouldn’t be too runny, though. It’s great to eat straight up with a spoon or to spread on bread or pita. 

You can substitute the silan with honey or molasses.


[I should say that this is not really a traditional labane recipe, but that's how I call it. If you object, just treat it as cream cheese, or spreadable white cheese with additions, or whatever you want to call it]

Around 2 cups of Yoghurt (I usually use 4.5% one. Also, goat milk yoghurt is recommended).
2 cloves of garlic
Juice from half a lemon
The leaves of your choice (I highly recommend mint. Dill, thyme, parsley all work. Onions and olives are a good addition, too. Even a bit of silan and/or dates or raisins work. In short, go wild).
Some salt.
A cloth diaper (unused…), a white keffiyeh, or any other white cloth that is thick enough to not let solids out but thin enough to strain out liquid.

Take a big bowl and put the cloth so that its middle is on top of the bowl. Then, quite simply, mix in all the ingredients (it’s better to cut leaves, onions or olives pretty thin beforehand), and tie the cloth into a sack. Hang it over the sink or above a bowl for at least 24 hours, and then take it down. You will get a creamy cheese, condimented to your liking.

Green S’hug
2-3 hot green peppers, diced
3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed
A handful of cilantro
A spoon of olive oil

Clove and cardamon as condiments.

Blend all the ingredients together in a blender or food processor. You can add in a tiny bit of water and some salt, too. You’ll get a green hot sauce that goes well with many dishes.


And least 1 egg for each person that is going to eat, maybe 2-3 extra
2 tomatoes for every egg.
Tomato concentrate (if you feel you must…) or a can of diced/crushed tomatoes
Some red peppers, diced.
Some carrots, peeled thin or grated. 
(Optional. Some people are horrified when they see me put carrots into a shakshuka)
Onions and garlic.
A few hot peppers, or crushed chili.

In a deep frying pan or a small pot, make a tomato sauce. I like frying the onions and the garlic, adding in half the tomatoes grated, and the other half diced, then adding the peppers and the grated carrots. You should make a regular, but fairly thick, tomato sauce (or ragu, if you wanna be sophisticated about it). Adding tomato concentrate gives consistency and colour, but I try to avoid using it (at least the cheap kind, that doesn't strike me as very close to actual tomatoes...).
After the sauce is ready, break the 2-3 extra eggs into it and scramble them in. After that’s done, break the rest of the eggs into the sauce, so that they eggs are bathed in the sauce, sunny side up (this is why you need the deep frying pan- you want the eggs to be immersed in the sauce). Cover up the pan/pot, and give it a few minutes until it’s ready.
A real shakshuka should be spicy, so add in the hot peppers or crushed chili generously (unless you have to be all considerate and stuff towards somebody who doesn’t like spicy food. In which case, well, sucks for you… but of course you can add spicy condiments after serving).
A good shakshuka, IMO, is served with the yolks a bit runny, and with good dark bread next to it.


[First non-vegetarian recipe here... Middle eastern food is quite vegetarian and vegan friendly, I would say.]

500g of ground beef
3 fairly large eggplants
4-5 tomatoes or a can of diced tomatoes
1-2 large onions, diced
3-4 cloves of garlic, diced
25g butter or olive oil
About a cup of flour
1L milk
Grated cheese- whatever hard and yellow cheese you would put on a lasagna, emmental for example. 
Nutmeg, salt, pepper

There are three stages you need to prepare separately, so you can choose the order in which you do it or do them all at once somehow. 
1. Make bechamel sauce. I heat about 25g of butter, stir in about half a cup of flour, and then add and stir in aotuch of nutmeg and heated milk, stirring until the right consistency is achieved (creamy, neither too solid or two runny, and trying to avoid lumps). The quantities are estimates, I never bothered to measure them, instead going by feel. And using olive oil instead of butter will make the recipe better and healthier, but of course more expensive.
2. Making the meaty filling. Fry the onion and garlic, then add the ground beef and tomatoes and cook for a while. It's similar to making a bolognese sauce, with a bit less tomatoes.
3. Cut and roast the eggplants. Cut thin layers of eggplant, as if you're going to make eggplant steak. You could fry them, but that would make the moussaka extremely oily, so I prefer roasting them. Just heat up a frying pan, and put the eggplant slices straight on it, moving them around once in a while so they don't stick, and turning them over when the first side looks brown and cooked.
Put everything together in a buttered or oiled oven pan. Make a layer of eggplants that covers the entire pan, then a layer of meat filling, then another layer of eggplant, another of meat, and on top on everything add the bechamel. I suggest adding the meaty filling bit by bit with a spoon, so you can spread it evenly without moving the eggplants. Cook in the oven at 180C for about 30 an hour, take out and add the grated cheese on top so it covers everything, then put back for 5 minutes, until the cheese is nice and melted. 
Give it 5 minutes to cool down before eating.

[This isn't the way I like to make it, but many people add a bottom layer of mashed potatoes.]

Two serving ideas (I don't consider them as recipes per se):

Yoghurt and mint salad: tomato, cucumber, and onion salad cut really thin, with a bit of yoghurt and a handful of diced mint leaves added in, and condimented with some sumac, salt and black pepper- it’s tasty and refreshing.

Sabich: a sabich consists of a pita filled with hummus, baked eggplant and a diced hard boiled egg. You can obviously add in more stuff, like tehina,
 some (again, if you like spicy food) s’hug or salad, for example, but the bare minimum is hummus-eggplant-hard boiled egg.

And for dessert: tehina cookies!

One cup of raw tehina.
3/4 cup of sugar.
3 cups of flour.
12g of baking powder (in Israel baking powder come in little packs of 12g, and I use a whole one for this recipe. It should be around 2.5 teaspoons, I think).
150g of butter.
10g vanilla sugar (again, in Israel it comes in 10g packs, so I use one of them. It's about 2 teaspoons).
Nuts or almonds to put on top.

Melt the butter and mix all the ingredients into a homogeneous dough. Make little balls (be sure not to make them too big), the quantities should be good for about 30-40 that should fill two oven pans (the ones that are the size of your whole oven- ovens are pretty standard size everywhere, I think...). Flatten them out by pushing down- you can do this with a fork for decoration purposes. Put an almond- if you can get halved almonds, then putting it with the peel side up is best - or nut on each one, and push it a bit into the dough. Bake for about 20 minutes 180C (if you use fahrenheit, then it's your own problem- time to get in touch with the modern world...), until the cookies are golden and crispy.

Enjoy, bete'avon, saha wa-afia, afiyet olsun, kali orexi, bon appetit, etc.

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