Moroccan Red Stew

This was absolutely delicious, and the reason there was no picture the first time I made this is that it was gobbled up before I had the chance! Good thing I remembered to take a picture the second time. It comes out a very vivid and appetizing shade of red, because of the tomatoes and the beets, and can be served over mashed potatoes, rice, couscous, or quinoa.

1 large red onion, thinly sliced
2 leeks (just the white parts), thinly sliced
7-8 garlic cloves
splash of vodka
1 cup vegetable broth
1 little basket of cherry tomatoes
1 carrot, sliced into thin rounds
1 beet, chopped and thinly sliced
3/4 cup yellow lentils, dry
1 cup chickpeas, cooked
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp baharat
2 tsp ras-el-hanout
salt and pepper to taste

Heat up a Dutch oven on the stove until a drop of water at the center looks like mercury. Then, add onion and leeks and cook until the bottom of the pan begins to brown and the onions are translucent and a bit golden. Add a splash of vodka to deglaze the bottom, add the garlic, and cook for another 30 seconds. Add broth, tomatoes, carrot, beet, lentils, chickpeas, and spices. Place lid on Dutch oven and cook for about 25 minutes, or until the dish is fragrant and the lentils are soft.

Labaneh

Cooking food from countries affected by the travel ban gave me a wonderful feeling of inner peace–both as a private person with people of all nationalities who love to cook and eat good food, and as someone who tries to contribute a little bit to more compassion in the kitchen. Imagine my joy, therefore, when I heard about Kifah Duski’s new book Peace in the Kitchen, which features vegan Arab cooking.

Kifah is originally from the village of Faradis, which is very close to where my parents live; she moved to Tel Aviv for university and, from there, to Prague, where she currently lives. The book is divided into three parts, each for each transition in her life. The Faradis recipes are homey, the Tel Aviv recipes are quick and appropriate for a student kitchen, and the Prague recipes a bit more elaborate and haute-cuisine-ish.

Some of the recipes are not new to me, as I’ve been cooking Middle Eastern food for a long time. But some are completely new, and some feature new forms to make stuff I’ve been making forever. For example, Kifah’s version of shakshuka doesn’t feature thin tofu slices (which is how I’ve been making it) but “egg whites” made of soy and “egg yolks” made of chickpea flour, all layered to look like real eggs.

The book is written in both Hebrew and Arabic. I really wish it came in an English version, because many of my non-Middle-Eastern friends will find stuff there that will dramatically expand their horizons beyond what’s served here in Arab restaurants.

The most impressive recipe in the book, for me, is the labaneh, because I’ve been craving this sour, fermented soft cheese for a very long time. Here it is, in its vegan splendor:

1 cup blanched almonds, soaked overnight
1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked overnight
1/2 cup soy beans, soaked overnight
1/4 cup olive oil
juice from 2 large lemons
water
salt

Place all ingredients except water and salt in food processor and process. Gradually add water until achieving the desired consistency (I like it kind of robust, like fromage blanc) and salt to taste. The original recipe calls for refrigeration, but I left my batch out of the fridge for the night to culture, and it greatly improved its taste and resemblance to the dairy original. Serve with a sprinkle of za’atar.

Middle Eastern Summer Dinner

Our friend Daniel is staying with us for a couple of days, and we were very happy to host him and his son for dinner. It was a nice summery affair–corn on the cob, roasted eggplant with tahini, salad, green beans in tomato sauce, whole wheat pita and hummus–and it was quickly gobbled up before I had a chance to take a photo.

A few fun tips:

  • After lightly cooking fresh corn on the cob, it’s nice to give it a rub with a bit of vegan butter (thank you, Miyoko Schinner!) and Dipping Herbs. 
  • Take a big eggplant. Use a knife to make about ten slits in it, and stick half a garlic clove (sliced lengthwise) in each slit. Wrap in foil and bake for 45 mins. The garlic melts inside the eggplant and lends it an amazing flavor. Slice lengthwise and serve whole with tahini on top or on the side. The guests scrape out the eggplant goodness.
  • The wonderful spicy tomato sauce used in khreimeh (a Libyan fish dish) can be used to sautee green beans. Lots of taste, none of the suffering.

Homemade Hummus

Just finished making hummus for the week ahead! It’s delicious and not too difficult. Here’s our home recipe:

3 cups dry chickpeas
boiling water
1/2 jar raw tahini
4 small lemons
for garnish: paprika, parsley, olive oil, pine nuts

Place chickpeas in pot or slow cooker (we prefer the latter, as it saves a lot of time if you start in the evening and make the hummus the next day.) Soak them in boiling water, about a couple of inches above the chickpeas, for a couple of hours. Then, turn on the heat or the slow cooker and cook until the chickpeas are tender. Remove the foam a couple of times and add more water if necessary.

Place chickpeas, water, and tahini in blender. Add juice from lemons and blend slowly until creamy. Garnish with olive oil, pine nuts, paprika and parsley, or save a handful of chickpeas to garnish. Serve warm or cool.

Home Hummus Production


As we get ready to leave, in a few months, and head off to the States again, we are confronted with the prospect of terrible hardships in the form of hummus deprivation.

I know Americans think that they get “hummus” when they go into one of those Middle-Eastern places and order “hummus” off the menu. The truth, my friends, is they don’t. What they get is what an Israeli friend of mine once referred to as “a fun garlicky spread, but no resemblance to Hummus”. Part of what comes with culinary diversity is that some of the production methods of stuff disappear as they emigrate across the seas. Also, stuff gets adjusted to foreign palates and loses its original taste.

(I suspect the same is true for ethnic cuisines I’m less familiar with, and a Japanese friend assures me that sushi served in America tastes nothing like Japanese sushi. Now I’m curious).

Anyway: one thing that holds true for many Israelis is that we sure love our hummus, and therefore have to decide what to do when away from adequate sources. One solution is to adopt the “no hummus outside Israel” rule. Another is to adjust to the local varieties and give a fair chance to the strange designer dips (roasted pepper hummus, pesto hummus, and other travesties). We, as usual, are taking the third path, and Chad is specializing in making hummus at home. Here’s how he does that.

1 kg garbanzo beans
juice from one lemon
1 garlic clove
1 cup raw tchina
1/4 cup olive oil
Possible garnishes: ready tchina (with lemon juice, parsley and garlic); leftover cooked garbanzo beans; ful; hard boiled egg.

Let garbanzo beans soak in water for at least a night. Discard the water.

Cook them in a lot of new water until very, very tender. While they are cooking, periodically remove the foam from the surface of the pot. To see if they are ready, try squeezing one and see if it becomes mush. This is not a time for haste. They really have to get very soft.
Then, place them in your food processor with the tchina, some olive oil, a bit of lemon juice and – only if desired – the garlic clove. Add some of the cooking water to reach desired consistency. Process until smooth or semi-smooth (we like it a bit chunky).

Use a large spoon to “coat” a serving plate with hummus, then, in the middle, add a little mound of tchina, whole garbanzo beans, ful, or an egg cut in half.

Quinoa Tabouli

Extremely easy recipe, and a good substitute for burgul, or, as Americans call it, “bulgur”. True, not the traditional main ingredient, so probably not for purists; but very tasty nevertheless. Simply mix the following ingredients:

2 cups cooked quinoa
1 fresh cucumber, chopped into teeny-tiny pieces
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
juice from 1 lemon

optional:
1/2 chopped tomato
1 tbsp chopped onion
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds and/or pine nuts

Then, put salad in fridge and let marinate for a while.

The Magical Study Aid Lentil Soup

So, the nice person brought us carrots. And tomatoes. And celery stalks. And celery root. And, I had to do some work over the weekend. So I recalled my very favorite culinary study aid.

Lentil soup.

Yes, it’s not a mistake. I work well with lentil soup. I don’t drink coffee – not any more – and while I am an obsessive consumer of herbal teas of all sorts, lentil soup is one of my foods of choice for times when I have to work. This is mostly due to nostalgia.

When I was a student in Jerusalem – living next door to the mythological Frida – my life was full of study-related stress. The well-known method of filling myself with black Turkish coffee would leave me jittery, irritable and, well, quite tired once the effect wore off. In addition, we were all encouraged to work in groups on our assignments. A typical assignment, in law school, would be a story, about half-a-page long, resembling a soap opera or a nonsense stand-up comedy, starring demented people with funny names like Mr. Mean and Mr. Belligerent, who incur the most improbable mishaps and complications in their personal and professional lives. We were expected to solve the mess and say who would win the case, and who would argue what. Some of us were quite good at this, and others found it difficult to dig all the important points out of the story. Me, I was often so fascinated with the crazy plot that I found it hard to focus on the legal issues it included; my mind would run wild, thinking about those people and why their lives had gone awry.

The solution to this problem was to invite my three or four favorite pals from school to my 1970s apartment and work on the assignment together, figuring that four brains were better than one. And it was Jerusalem in the winter, and folks would ride two buses to get to the fun-but-slummy neighborhood where I lived, and they would be cold, and wet. So I would feed them soup.

I had several lentil soup recipes, and they all served me well; this one, I think, is a combination of two different recipes. Naturally, this works really well with many sorts of vegetables one might have in one’s house, and it becomes even better after a day or two. Give it a try; it’s really good stuff. And who knows, perhaps if we fed it to Mr. Mean and Mr. Belligerent, they’d stop arguing, cancel the lawsuit, and we could all sleep in peace.

Magical Study Aid Lentil Soup

Ingredients
Olive oil
5-6 Garlic Cloves
1 large yellow onion
3 tomatoes
3-4 carrots
2 cups of black/green lentils
3 celery stalks, preferrably with the leaves
2 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp curcum (Middle Eastern yellow spice – optional)
a handful of coarsely chopped parsley
water, or vegetable broth
grated good quality goat cheese (optional)

You could soak the lentils beforehand, and it is preferrable, but not essential. If you decide to do it, simply place them in a bowl with water; they’ll swell up. Discard the water.
Start with a large soup pot. Heat it over the stove a bit, then pour some olive oil in. When the oil is hot and nearly smoking, chop in garlic cloves and onions, and add cumin, curcum and some of the parsley. Stir until the vegetables are golden and the onions begin to brown.
Then, add the lentils, and chop in the tomatoes, carrots and celery stalks. stir in a bit and mix with the garlic, onion and spices. After everything seems mixed and warmed up, add water or broth to cover. Bring to a boil, then put the lid on and cook for another, say, forty minutes, or until the lentils are very tender. If you make this recipe with red lentils, they’ll all dissolve and become puree by now, but black and green lentils tend to retain their shape even when they are tender. Sprinkle the remaining parsley and, if you so wish, the goat cheese, and serve in deep bowls or in large mugs.

There’s an interesting twist to this soup. If it’s made with less water, you basically end up with a lentil dish which can be served, cold, as a salad. Also yummy, but I find that, to serve this cold, you need to slightly inrease the amount of each spice.