Cream-filled baklava

December 28, 2021  •  Category: , ,


These pastries are very popular in Beirut and Damascus, where they are called warbate or shaybyate. These warbate (the word refers to the gesture of folding the phyllo dough to enclose the filling) can be filled with two things: Ashta which is a clotted cream or nuts (usually pistachios) chopped coarsely and  held together with syrup. The ashta can be pure and authentic, (like the one sold in Iraq made from water buffaloes ) or, as is usually the case, a pseudo ashta made with milk and a thickener like cornstarch or semolina. The milk used needs to be full fat, as it should contain as much cream as possible, and is first clotted with an acid, like vinegar or fresh lemon juice. The resulting clotted milk is called areeshe, and has a consistency similar to cottage cheese. This areeshe can be consumed on its own with honey to sweeten it (or grape or date molasses) as a dessert; this is considered a very traditional dessert and is often served in eateries in the mountains and rural areas  in Lebanon. Here however, we are using it as a filling and we combine it with some “cream” ( created  by thickening more of the same milk with cornstarch). The resulting ashta is creamier than areeshe, stable, and can last a week refrigerated; it can be used as a filling/topping  in a number of pastries, like the osmalliyeh, the maamoul bars, the pancakes (atayef), the cheese pastries aka halawet al jiben, etc.

The recipe for ashta in this post will yield an amount of ashta that will give you plenty of leftovers. So I would advise making half of this quantity (halve the ingredients ) or plan on using the leftover for another batch or more OR use the leftover ashta for another dessert or to eat plain with a topping of honey and nuts as is done in Lebanon.

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Kabuli pulao

December 17, 2021  •  Category: , ,

I am a big fan of Persian cuisine with their refined pilafs and stews but I was always curious about the cuisine of their neighbor, Afghanistan, of which I knew nothing. The opportunity came up one day in Dallas, when an Afghani restaurant opened up not far from where I lived. I ordered this Kabuli Pulao, and liked the addition of carrot sticks and raisins and the subtle sweetness it gave the dish.

I searched online and found recipe and video on Humaira Ghilzai’s website, Afghan Culture Unveiled; Kabuli Pulao is the national dish of Afghanistan! I tested her recipe in my kitchen as her technique was identical to the Iranian method of parboiling the rice and steaming it later with the other ingredients. I was happy with the results, but was hoping to streamline the recipe while keeping the taste intact.

Finally, after a few tries, I settled on my last version of this dish in which I simply cook the rice in the spicy stock. This version is easy and the rice comes out very fragrant after getting soaked-up in the rich stock. In my version, there is no need to layer the rice and the other individual ingredients. I happily noticed that my Kabuli Pulao was enthusiastically received when I served it.

I hope you try it someday, it is a wonderful pilaf to share with your friends or family!


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Halal Meatballs with tahini dressing

November 12, 2021  •  Category: ,

Halal meatballs

Here is a delicious meal that can be prepared in a short amount of time and (although rich) is very healthy. The classic Lebanese Kafta is shaped into meatballs, quickly pan-fried and smothered in a tahini sauce (aka tarator in Lebanon) and served with a traditional rice pilaf made with toasted vermicelli and long-grain rice.

I recently discovered a fabulous new  Knorr Halal Beef Flavored Seasoning and Knorr Halal Chicken Flavored Seasoning. The seasoning contains a medley of spices giving the food subtle and umami flavor in one swoop. I used it for both the meatballs and the rice pilaf with great results. KNORR also makes recipe ideas (including mine) available online through their website.


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Beet Hummus

October 25, 2021  •  Category: ,

This is not technically hummus, since in Lebanon hummus is the word for chickpeas and this dish does not contain one gram/ounce of chickpeas; it is just the Americanized title, that I am adopting here, instead of the more authentic name mtabbal al shmandar.

Mr Kameel Abu Hatoom, a gentleman I met in Beirut  gave me this recipe AND a facetious nickname for it, coining it mama dallou3a; the nickname means “cuddly mamma” and is meant as a counter for baba ghannouj meaning sugar daddy! So both dips should be served at the same time and named Mama dallou3a and baba ghannouj~

This is also a mezze dish;  it is lighter than a classic hummus with chickpeas provided one goes easy on the tahini (which adds calories and heaviness). The other great advantage of this dish is the fact that one can savor the beet juice as well, which is simply the beet-infused water in which the beets have been boiled. It is sweet, and very nutritious, and super healthy as well.

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