Wisteria and beet salad

blog beet saladOne of the highlights of Spring was this giant wisteria fearlessly climbing fences, loaded with its lavender clusters of flowers. That was in Dallas, off the main road. In Lebanon, in the mountains, wisterias explode that time of year as well. I would snap shots of them every year, hoping that somehow the blooming period would last longer than just a few weeks. 

Did you know that wisteria petals are edible? It appears that they are!  (Cuisinons les Fleurs, Pierrette Nardo and online on this site). The leaves and seeds are however toxic. In China, I hear they are steamed and eaten with soya sauce or as fritters, sweet or savory. In Pierrette Nardo’s book on edible flowers, her recipe was a salad of hearts of palm, wisteria petals, soy sauce and Chinese chives. 

My version is a simple salad of roasted or boiled beets, some fava beans and a cider vinegar and olive oil dressing. The taste of these petals is as delicate as the flowers, but delicious, almost sweet. 

To see how they are plucked, click here. 

grab wisteria & eat them!

INGREDIENTS:

5 or 6 wisteria clusters 

2 large beets, boiled or steamed or roasted and peeled

1/2 cup fava beans or butter beans or peas

Dressing: 1 tablespoon cider vinegar, 3 tablespoon olive oil, salt and black pepper to taste

1. Pluck the flowers and discard the seeds, stems and leaves. Slice the beets thin. Place all the salad ingredients on a plate. Whisk the vinegar and oil and add some seasoning. Pour over the salad. Serve. 

wisteria salad

wisteria in garden chouf

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Quiche

fg quiche aux champWas it in the eighties that quiche were in vogue? I can’t pin-point the exact date, but I remember everybody being enthralled with quiches, and a slogan “real men don’t eat quiche”; or was it real men eat quiche? Anyway, now it seems we are back into depriving oneself of certain types of food, depending on what they contain, be it gluten or starch or carb or whatever. Has the world gotten complicated or what? 

Quiches are wonderful if made properly and so versatile. I am starting this post with a mushroom and zucchini quiche (I think I even snuck some salmon bits at the bottom). I figured if one is going to go through the trouble of making the crust, might as well make several and freeze them. So the next quiche is with broccoli and cauliflower. 

no w quicheINGREDIENTS: 

CRUST: one large 10 to 12″ quiche

  • 2 1/2 cups AP flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes 
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

1. Place the flour, salt and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor or mixer. Run the machine 30 seconds. Now add the butter and run the machine until the mixture looks sandy. Add the egg, then the lemon juice. The dough should be lumpy; transfer to a counter, and with firm gestures of your palm or knuckle, shape it into a firm and moist dough. Cover in wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to one hour (or longer). 

2. Prepare the filling. For the mushroom and zucchini quiche or the broccoli and cauliflower, boil or steam the veggies (except the mushrooms, they need to be sliced and pan-fried gently in a bit of oil or butter) for 3 minutes or so until tender. Drain and cool then cut into small slices or pieces or florets. Set aside and prepare the custard. Mix all the custard ingredients and set aside. Prebake the quiche: Roll out the dough into a greased and floured pie pan. Roll out the dough on the counter between two sheets of wax paper and gently flip over onto the pan. Set in place and prick all over. Cover with plastic and let the crust firm up in the fridge for 30 minutes. Line with foil and at least 2 cups of assorted beans or beach pebbles. Bake in a preheated 375F oven for 30 minutes, removing the beans after 20 minutes to continue baking the entire crust till light golden. Fill first with the veggies, then the custard and continue baking for about 30 minutes or until set. Serve.lay veggies on crust

pour custard inCustard: 

  • 6 eggs, slightly beaten with a whisk
  • salt, a dash of nutmeg or pepper
  • 1 1/2 cup of whipping cream or whole milk
  • 2 cups of shredded cheese, such as mozzarella

Veggies: 1/4 head of cauliflower and 1 bunch of broccoli, florets only *use the stalks for a soup or 2 cups of sliced zucchinis and 1 basket of mushrooms sliced and cooked in 2 tablespoons of oil or butter. dup Deir view

The Lebanese mountains in the Spring.

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Oatmeal stew (Shoofan wlahmeh)

dup oatmeal stewMaybe you share my love for old books, especially cookbooks. One of my favorite places to spend a Saturday afternoon is this giant used bookstore in Dallas with every book imaginable under the sun (and a huge cooking and art section); it also has the required coffee shop inside, lots of seating and a casual atmosphere conducive to reading.I have made countless trips there, either buying books or selling my old ones. 

In Beirut, I walked into this little hole-in-the-wall used bookstore and it had only one cookbook on display, a Dictionary of Authentic Cooking (Kamoos al-tabekh al-saheeh). The book turned out to be chockfull of information, with Egyptian, Iraqi, Syrian, Lebanese and Old-Arabic (as in 10th-century) recipes for every single ingredient; two black and white photos and a few scattered etchings  in the entire 575 pages book. 

While reading, I found out that Arabs used to eat oatmeal (shoofan) savory. We never had it growing up, and I sampled it in the US for the first time, sweetened for breakfast. Arabs apparently would grind it (jreesh al-shoofan) and simply boil it in meat stock till tender with a few spices. 

Here is my version, a bit heartier, with meatballs and carrots, using flakes. This dish could be made after Easter, if there are lamb bones leftover.

INGREDIENTS: 4 servings

  • ½ lb ground lamb or beef (or a lamb bone or two)
  • 2 onions, quartered
  • 2 (or more) carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 cinnamon stick, 1 bay leaf, 1 carrot, 1 celery sprig, parsley, etc
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 cups water or meat stock or chicken stock
  • 1 ½ cups oatmeal flakes (or steel-cut oats), depending on preference
  1. In a Dutch oven over medium heat, brown the meat, sprinkling it with the spices. Add the onion, sliced carrots,  water (and aromatics), bring the mixture to a simmer and cover the pot. Uncover the pot, simmer a while longer and taste to adjust seasoning. The idea is to get a flavorful broth prior to adding the oatmeal. When that step has been reached, drained the pot, remove the bay leaf and cinnamon stick.
  2.  Place the broth (and the meat) back in the pot, bring to a simmer, add the oatmeal, cover the pot to cook the flakes, adjust seasoning and serve. The consistency should be thick.

NOTE: Make sure the amount of broth is sufficient to cook the oatmeal flakes in, otherwise add more water as needed. If using steel-cut oats, add more water and allow thirty minutes to cook them. You can prepare this dish with just lamb or beef bones, discarding them at the end when they have flavored the broth. 

dup fête des rameaux

Celebrating Palm Sunday in Deir el-Qamar, Chouf mountains. 

Happy Passover to the followers of this blog of the Jewish faith.

 

 

 

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Crowns in kadaifi with nuts (Tajate)

blog crowns

This is one of those pastries that once you bite into (for a small little bite of course),  you find yourself eating the entire thing and swooning all the way. It is extra crunchy, yet light, and sweet but not too much, and nutty; in short, heavenly. They are called tajate (crowns)

These are not difficult to make but need some planning ahead. They are made with a dough called kadaifi (or shredded phyllo dough) in the US and osmalliyeh in Lebanon. In Lebanon, some shops specialize in making this dough fresh; in the US, it is sold frozen in 1-pound packages. 

The key is to get it as golden and crispy as possible; and there is only one way to do this: Soaking it in plenty of melted butter or oil (or a combo). In pastry shops, these pastries are fried, but for home use it is not necessary (and a lot less messy). 

The syrup can be prepared several days ahead or even weeks and kept in the fridge. 

INGREDIENTS: Makes 2 dozens (more or less depending on the size of the muffin tins); quantity can be halved or doubled. 

  • 1 box kadaifi dough (1 pound)
  • 2 cups melted unsalted butter or oil or a combination of both
  • 2 cups sugar syrup
  • 3 cups assorted nuts, unsalted if possible
  • 1/2 cup ground pistachio nuts for garnish if desired

1. Make the syrup and store in a jar in the fridge, covered. 

2. Unravel the pastry over the countertop;  take thin strands at a time and coil them and place them one at a time in a muffin or cupcake tin. Leave overnight for the pastry to dry out. If you have several pans, place one on top of the other. This will ensure the pastries will hold their shape while baking. 

3. The next day, douse the pastries in melted butter or oil. Set the nuts on the surface of each pastry in a concentric circle. Preheat the oven to 375F and bake them until they are golden and crisp. If the butter is oozing out, tilt the pans and drain the excess butter. Pour the syrup over the pastries. Sprinkle with pistachios if desired and let them sit to absorb the syrup for a few hours. Serve. These will keep in a tight container for several days. 

couronnes

Syrup

3 cups of sugar

1 1/2 cup of water

1 Tablespoon of lemon juice

1 Tablespoon of rose water, 1 Tablespoon of orange blossom water

  • Place the sugar in a saucepan, add the water and the lemon juice (it is OK to use bottled lemon juice). Set on medium heat, stirring from time to time. It will boil. Let it boil and don’t stir anymore. It needs to boil for about 12 minutes. If you own a candy thermometer, it will read 230F or 110C, which is one notch below softball. One minute before the end of cooking add the flavorings, orange blossom and rose water or one or the other. ( I add both)
  • Let the syrup cool and if using that day, set it aside. If not cover  and refrigerate  for a few days or weeks.
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Fava beans in the stalks with cilantro sauce (Ful akhdar ‘ateh)

fg salad fava stlaks

Fava beans, pronounced fool in this part of the world, are a much beloved vegetable. They are made into a delicious salad when still young (and their pods still tiny), using the entire stalk. They are stir-fried in a garlic and herb sauce, smothered in olive oil, then boiled till tender. The stalks turn very soft and get infused with the garlic and herb flavor. Cilantro, called kozbara, is the most popular herb used in this dish.

Salah w:foul akhdarThe image above shows Salah, a farmer of Egyptian origin, splitting open the tender fava stalk to show the baby bean. Egyptians love their fava fool very much; they make a street food with it (so do the Lebanese), called mudammas, which is a boiled fava bean soup, and the famous ta’amia aka falafel. 

The only problem with this dish is that it is not photogenic. However, its taste is just delightful and it melts in the mouth.

INGREDIENTS: 4 to 6 servings

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  •  1 head of garlic (or less, to taste), peeled and mashed in a mortar or food processor with 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 bunch of cilantro, chopped (or a mixture of fresh chopped herbs like Italian parsley and mint)
  • 2 pounds fresh fava beans in the stalks (tender stalks), cut into two-inch pieces
  • 2 cups of water (add more if needed)
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced 

1. Heat the oil in a large skillet, and fry the onions till golden. Add the garlic and cilantro and fry a few seconds till the mixture gets fragrant. Add the stalks and stir-fry a few minutes. Add the water and bring to a simmer; let the stalks cook gently for about 15 minutes or until tender, adding the lemon juice at the end of cooking. Serve at room temperature.

dup ful akhdar

NOTE: If the stalks have strings, remove them prior to cutting them. Another way to cook this dish is to boil the stalks first and add the garlic and chopped cilantro sauce at the end. 

NOTE: Personally, I like to add the cilantro and garlic mixture at the end of cooking to keep the flavors fresh and pungent. If you are like me, fry the onion, add the stalks, boil them till soft and finally add the garlic and cilantro previously stir-fried in olive oil for a few seconds in a small skillet.

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