Freekeh pilaf with bulgur

June 22, 2022  •  Category: ,

I noticed this recipe for a freekeh pilaf in a cookbook by Lebanese food writer Nadia Saleh, Splendours of the Levant. She had it listed in the Turkish section. She mentions it as a specialty of Southeastern Turkey. I started researching it a bit online and found out it is from Gaziantep, a city I have always wanted to visit in Anatolia, for its famed marketplace and foodie scene. This dish which combines freekeh and bulgur reminded me of a similar dish from Aleppo, which also layers freekeh, bulgur and rice! Considering the shared history of the two cities and their geographical proximity, this is not so unusual. There were migrations  and displacement of peoples back and forth between the two cities over the years and the cuisine in Aleppo is strongly influenced by the cuisine in Gaziantep and vice-versa.

In any case, the dish combines my two favorite grains, freekeh and bulgur, is easy to make and tastes delicious, the grains are a bit chewy and moist and the flavor is nutty, slightly spicy.  I adapted the recipe, adding black beans instead of chickpeas and  a couple of Mexican chilies. The pilaf is fragrant,  earthy and tastes like pure comfort food; in addition, it is HEALTHY and vegan.

 

 

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Amardeen and milk pudding

May 23, 2022  •  Category:

This is a super easy and super yummy pudding with Arabic flavors. The amardeen is one of my favorite snacks and it takes me back to childhood when we would suck on it after school (this was before the world was inundated with chips and candy bars). It is also a happy reminder that Syria is still here as the apricots are sourced  in the Ghouta region near Damascus.

Get yourself a standard 400g package of amardeen (either order it online or at a Middle-Eastern grocer or even in the international section of the supermarket. Rip the package and tear it into large pieces. Soak them in water (to cover) overnight. The next day, heat it up a bit and add some extra sweetness if desired (I added a tablespoon of honey). Get the mixture as soft as possible then transfer it to a blender and purée it. The idea is to get it as thick as possible, so if you used too much water, it is a good idea to simmer it for a while to reduce it by one half or at least one third. The reason for this is to intensify the flavor of the apricot. Set it aside to let it cool for a while. Taste it to adjust the level of sweetness to your liking. You can also (I have done it before) add some fresh orange juice to the apricot mixture to add some tanginess and citrusy/sweet flavor.

The milk pudding is a straightforward muhallabiyeh and I always like to flavor it with mastic gum (love that flavor); be sure it is the real deal, imported from Greece from the isle of Chios. If not available, then any kind of flavoring would work, from the traditional rosewater or orange blossom water to just vanilla or almond extract.

 

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Carrots and peas stew

March 17, 2022  •  Category: , ,

Carrot and peas stew

This is an emblematic comfort food on the Lebanese table; the carrot and peas stew simmers gently in a tomato and meat-based broth, the vegetables are added halfway through, and finally the  cilantro pesto (to give the stew a spark of flavor)is thrown in the last minute. This stew (aka yakhneh) can also be made vegan,  tastes light and delicious and would be great for a warm weather lunch, whereas the meat-based version is better suited for cold days…

The meat used for this stew (and all the other stews) is usually lamb shanks, cut into chunks with the bone. However, substituting beef shanks is more economical and works fine. The cilantro pesto can be substituted for mint pesto (see note, same technique). The rice pilaf that is served with the stew (to pour the stew on top of the rice pilaf) always consists of long-grain rice (usually Uncle Ben’s or a similar variety) and fried vermicelli noodles.

We used to eat this stew at home when we were kids when we’d get home from school during lunch break ( a long, long time ago). It is also one of the traditional stews on menus of cafeterias or mom-and-pop eateries throughout Lebanon.

As is always the case with traditional Lebanese cooking, this is slow-cooking; to speed things up, there are two things that can be prepared ahead: the meat broth and the cilantro pesto. Both can be safely stored in the freezer for several weeks. Having these two ready to go will allow you to get that stew done in less than 30 minutes, especially if using frozen peas in a bag instead of fresh peas and carrots. I prefer the fresh veggies if they are available, of course, but the frozen peas work fine.

I usually like to make a large quantity, because this stew freezes well and I can divide it up into small 12-ounce portions to grab anytime!

Carrot and peas stew

 

 

 

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Damascus Lentil Soup

February 23, 2022  •  Category: , ,

Damascus Lentil Soup

This is a traditional lentil soup from Damascus, made with extra refinement as befitting a dish coming from the Syrian capital, former capital of the Umayyad Caliphate. 

It is a delicious soup and combines some sweet/sour flavors. It can be served at room temperature or warm with garnishes such as fresh cilantro, pomegranate arils, fried pita croutons and caramelized onions.

It is called harak esba3o in Arabic Syrian dialect which literally translates into “he burned his finger”, presumably describing someone who burned his finger when he dipped it into the soup while it was still boiling hot.

The soup is vegan and some of its ingredients include tamarind juice (for sourness), pomegranate molasses (for fruitiness), garlic, cilantro and caramelized onions (for sweetness) as flavorings. It uses  brown lentils and handmade pasta, aka reshta. My grandmother used to handmade her pasta, called reshta, but in her later years opted for boxed pasta. Today, I am using boxed organic whole-wheat spaghetti, mainly to save a bit of time. 

What can be prepared ahead?

  1. The cilantro pesto can be cooked and stored in the freezer several weeks ahead.
  2. The pita croutons (for garnish) can be fried (or baked, but frying tastes better!) a few days ahead and stored.
  3. The pomegranate can be seeded a couple days ahead and the arils kept in the fridge.
  4. The caramelized onions can be panfried a few days ahead as well and kept in the fridge.

ingredients lentil soup

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