Category Archives: Middle Eastern Cuisine

Luscious Late Winter Salad

This is a wonderful salad. It kind of visually symbolizes the hope of spring with sweet, juicy orange pieces and the still remaining bite of winter with arugula. Next time I make it, I promise I will take a photo and post it. It is tangy and sweet and bitter and juicy and soft and salty and crunchy! Delightful. Makes a great lunch.

  • 1-2 navel oranges, peeled and sectioned (see directions following red onion instructions
  • 1/4 red onion, peeled, sliced and wilted (see instructions following list of ingredients)
  • 4-6 cups of washed arugula (2-3 big handfuls)
  • 2-3 large romaine leaves, washed and sliced or torn into pieces
  • 1/2 c. feta cheese, chunked or 3-4 T. parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2/3 c. coarsely chopped walnuts
  • salt
  • sumac to taste (optional but very nice)
  • 1/4 c. Pomegranate Vinaigrette

Red Onion preparation: This is a good way to prepare any kind of yellow, white or red onion but it is especially good for red onions, in my opinion. I cannot eat raw red onions unless they are prepared this way. The easiest thing to do is to prepare the whole onion, use what you need and save the rest for a few days in the fridge. Peel the onion, cut in half and slice into very thin half moons. Place all the onions in a small bowl and liberally sprinkle salt over the sliced onions. Mix with your hands. Set aside for 15-20 minutes. When ready to add to salad, squeeze the salted onions several times and rinse carefully in water, squeezing while rinsing. Take what you want to add to the salad and refrigerate the rest in a closed container or sealed baggie.

Orange preparation: Do this over the salad bowl so that you can capture the juice. Using a sharp paring knife or a special fruit knife if you have one, cut away the outer peel of the orange, down past the membrane just to where the fruit appears. Once you have the peel cut away, go around and loosen with your knife each of the sections. Then, you can use the knife almost as a tiny spatula and flip into the salad bowl.

Pomegranate Vinaigrette

  • 1/4 c. pomegranate molasses (available at Middle Eastern groceries (you could substitute 1 T. honey and add 1 T. of lemon juice)
  • 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1/2 c. good quality olive oil
  • 1 T. Dijon mustard
  • 1 t. salt

Mix all ingredients together. Blend in a blender or shake like a crazy person. Use what you need and refrigerate the rest for another salad in a day or two.

Clean and prep the arugula and romaine. Add the orange sections. Sprinkle the wilted red onions over the mix. Add the feta cheese or parmesan. Put the walnuts on top of everything. Drizzle with dressing (start with 1/4 cup and add more if necessary).

Enjoy!!!!

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One recipe, 4+ different meals

I like to cook, but sometimes I am not in the mood to cook, do not feel inspired, and just want to get meal preparation done quickly. Something that saves me a significant amount of time is to prep ingredients common to several foods we like all at the same time, then pull out of the freezer as needed. An example makes it clearer.

We like soft tacos or burritos, chile, spaghetti and stuffed eggplant. All of those dishes can start with a ground meat, onion, green or hot pepper, and tomato mixture. So, to save time in a large skillet, spray with Pam or drizzle a small amount of oil and saute:

  • 2 lbs. ground beef (we use organic, grassfed, preferably local which will wind up being very low fat ~ 93% lean)
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1-2 medium green bell peppers, diced or 1 green bell pepper and 1 jalapeno
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onions and meat together, until onions wilt and meat loses its redness and is cooked. Break up large pieces of meat. Stir in the peppers and cook for a few minutes. Add the canned tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer a few minutes and add a little water if needed to keep the dish from becoming too dry.

Now you are ready to divide into about four containers. Freeze three of them and save out the one you are using today.

To make chile, just add chili powder, beans, cumin, more heat if needed.

To make spaghetti sauce, stir in tomato sauce, pureed tomatoes or tomato paste and water, along with crushed garlic and oregano.

For burritos, add some chili powder and cumin, wrap in a soft tortilla with cheese, salsa, light sour cream, etc.

For stuffed eggplant, basically you make a lengthwise slit in the center of Japanese eggplant and then lightly saute the eggplants in a small amount of vegetable oil until softened. Remove from pan and let cool enough to handle. Gently open up the eggplant using the slit and stuff the opening with the filling mixture to which you may have added chopped parsley. Set all the eggplants in an oven safe glass dish and pour some tomato juice over everything. Cover with foil and bake at 350 F. for about 35 minutes. A more detailed recipe can be found in Turkish Family Favorites.

The possibilites are numerous but in each case if you have the meat mixture ready to go, you are significantly reducing your prep time.

Lentils: Ezo Gelin Soup

When people see “lentil”, probably the first thought for most of us is lentil soup. There are dozens of types of lentil soups, one of which I’ll share with you today.  Lentils are one of my favorite ingredients because they are healthy, inexpensive (at least for most of them) and very nutritious. For all of my adult life, we have always had lentils in our pantry. In the beginning of our life together, my husband and I went through some very lean years. Frugality became and remained a cornerstone of our life. Eating lentils provided us with good nutrition at an affordable price. We could always eat lentil soup and enjoy the meal. In many cultures, particularly those of the Middle East, there are countless lentil soups.  In subsequent posts, I plan to share some other really terrific lentil recipes including additional lentil burgers (see my Mushroom Lentil Burgers that taste great post from 2016) https://honeyandyogurt.com/2016/04/12/mushroom-lentil-burgers-that-taste-great) as well as lentil taco filling, lentil salads, lentil curry and stews.

Lentils are also a mainstay of plant-based eating, which is becoming increasingly popular for a variety of reasons. Plant based eating can be very healthy as well as very tasty.  Some reports indicate it can actually make a positive difference in saving our planet. See the recent articles in The Guardian for more on that. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/16/new-plant-focused-diet-would-transform-planets-future-say-scientists; https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/31/avoiding-meat-and-dairy-is-single-biggest-way-to-reduce-your-impact-on-earth

For today, however, I want to share with you my recipe for Ezo Gelin Soup.

  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1/3 c. rice
  • 1 big spoonful tomato paste
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 T. oil
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 7 cups water or vegetable stock
  • 3 T. butter
  • 1 T. dried mint
  • red pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, heat the oil and saute the chopped onion. Stir in the tomato paste and add the stock/water; the lentils, rice, and salt.  Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and let simmer until the lentils and rice are tender, probably about thirty minutes. If using an Instant Pot or pressure cooker, follow the directions with your pot (using the pressure cooking feature) and this part will be finished in probably 10 minutes. At this point, if you want a very smooth soup, use an immersion blender to puree the mixture. Add in the lemon juice and garlic and let simmer a few minutes more. Just before serving, in a small pan melt the butter until sizzling, stir in the dried mint and red pepper and let fry just half a minute before stirring the butter/mint/pepper mixture into the soup. Stir well and serve.  Enjoy

This is such a delicious soup. (This recipe and others can be found in my cookbook, Turkish Family Favorites . (https://www.amazon.com/Turkish-Family-Favorites-Helen-Akinc/dp/1519376979)

Zucchini Fritters for Meatless Monday

I LOVE zucchini fritters, called “mucver”  in Turkish. They are just a delightful meal, side dish or tea snack. Delicious. Beautiful green zucchini, a few green onions, a little white or yellow onion, dill, eggs, feta cheese, pepper, a few spoonfuls of flour and you are good to go. The recipe I adapted from Ozlem’s Turkish Kitchen is here:  http://ozlemsturkishtable.com/2010/04/zucchini-courgette-fritters-flavored-with-feta-and-dill-mucver/

I changed a couple of things. While fresh dill would definitely be ideal, I used dried because I didn’t have fresh and didn’t feel like going to the store. I also used generous heaping tablespoons of flour. I think it is best to taste one fritter before adding salt. The feta may be sufficiently salty that you don’t need to add more. Finally, and this is really important, is that yes, you need to drain the grated zucchini. But after draining the zucchini, dump the drained squash onto a clean kitchen towel. Bring the ends of the towel together. Holding over the sink, twist the towel so that it wrings out more of the zucchini juice. It makes a big difference in how well the fritters hold together. I also think it makes them less greasy since the mixture holds together better, forms a crust and then you have a nice crisp exterior with creamy savory inside. As for all frying, use vegetable oil that you get hot enough so that the fritters cook properly. If the oil is hot enough, but not too hot, you will actually use less oil than if the temperature is too low. And, take my advice here. I tend to multi-task when I cook. Do NOT multitask when you fry. Just stop the other jobs and focus on frying. It will not take much longer and you will have much better results.

Enjoy!!

One of the best and easiest chicken dishes ever!!!!

I wish I had encountered this recipe years ago. It would have saved me and my family from some boring, blah, tedious (you get the picture) chicken dinners. OMG this is so good. Thank you, thank you, thank you Sam Sifton!!! And the NY Times! Head over there or just click this link for the details:

Oven-Roasted Chicken Shawarma Recipe – NYT Cooking

I want to share that I made a couple of changes, based on what I had on hand. I used chicken breasts. As one of the commenters recommended, I reduced the roasting time to about 30-35 minutes, removed it from the oven, and let it rest.  After about 10 minutes I sliced the chicken, drizzled a little oil over the top and then broiled it for 2-3 minutes. I didn’t want to fry the meat although I am sure that is tasty. I had guests and wanted to keep the process a little simpler, plus I would use less oil that way. One of our guests was an internationally known cholesterol research scientist, so I try to be on reasonably good behavior. ! Anyway, this is a delicious recipe and very very easy. Make sure you marinate the meat for a few hours. The leftovers are also awesome, so make plenty and you will be set for a few days.

Adaptation of Amanda Hesser’s Spicy Orange Salad

No wonder this recipe appealed to me- it seems that my taste buds may be similar to Amanda Hesser’s. I looked for orange salads, but something with a bit of pizzazz. Amanda’s recipe is on the NYT cooking blog website. https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1013107-spicy-orange-salad-moroccan-style

It is also the fact of this time of year and all of the political unrest all over the world. I am so unsettled and the grayness and cold, although the sun is making kind of a feeble attempt to show her face today. So, we are having friends over tonight for a Turkish meat and bean stew, some pilav, some dessert, crusty bread, etc. and we needed an interesting salad.

My husband will probably protest the sweetness of the oranges being in the salad. ( Did you know that sweetness is only for dessert?) No, I didn’t either. But the combination of flavors in this salad, as Amanda Hesser of Food52 created it, is delightful, interesting, and delicious. I’m going to add in some spinach, some toasted pinenuts, and if I had a pomegranate, I would add in some of those beautiful red jewels. I know there is a special name, arils, but I like red jewels better. If I had some parmesan I might consider adding a few shavings. But regardless, you need to try Amanda’s recipe. Add the spinach or baby kale if you want more greens. Jazz it up however you want. Or not. I never would have put oranges and olives together, but they are made for each other.

Do yourself a favor. Go to the recipe on the NYT page. Also, check out Amanda’s blog ( https://food52.com/) and consider following her.

Kisir-A Light, healthy lunch

Kisir is essentially tabbouli with extra pizazz. I like to make a batch and then we eat it for lunch or supper during the hot summer days. It keeps in the fridge for a few days and the flavors meld together beautifully. Here is how to make it:

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. fine grain bulgur
  • 2 3/4 c. (or more) very hot water
  • 1 T. tomato paste
  • 1 T. pepper paste (available at Middle Eastern markets)
  • 1 bunch Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch green onions, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 1 ripe tomato, finely chopped
  • 1-2 fresh hot peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 1 T. dried mint or 1/2 bunch fresh mint, chopped
  • 1-2 T. Pomegranate molasses (available at Middle Eastern markets)
  • lemon juice to taste- at least 4 T.
  • 1/4 c. fruity olive oil
  • 1 T. sumac, optional
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 t. cayenne pepper or 1 T. red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • optional: toasted walnuts, 1 chopped onion sauteed in olive oil, chopped cucumber

Place the bulgur in a bowl with room enough for the hot water. Add the minimal amount of water first, along with the tomato paste and pepper paste (if using). Stir well and let rest for 20-30 minutes or until the water is completely absorbed. If the water is gone in 10 minutes, add more hot water. After 20-30 minutes all the water should be absorbed. If you add too much water, you will need to drain it off or add a spoonful or more bulgur.

While bulgur is soaking, chop the parsley, fresh mint, tomato, peppers, and green onions and place in serving bowl. MIx together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, cayenne pepper or hot pepper flakes, allspice, cumin and sumac. Pour over the mix. Stir in the soaked bulgur and mix well. Can serve immediately or refrigerate for a few hours. Serve by itself or with romaine lettuce leaves to make kisir-romaine wraps.

8-10 servings

Adapted from Turkish Family Favorites by Helen Akinc.

Turkish Family Favorites

Turkish Family Favorites is the name of my newest book. It is a cookbook, a compilation of family recipes from Turkey, adapted for the Western kitchen. Some of the recipes are familiar to people who like Middle Eastern food. Others are very regional, even in Turkey, so they may not be as familiar. The project began as an attempt to get all the recipes I used into one place so that my kids would have them. As I continued, I realized that our friends and others were interested as well.  Once started, the project grew larger and larger until I had to scale it back again. If you want to buy it, it can be purchased from CreateSpace or Amazon.com.

Follow this link for CreateSpace:

https://www.createspace.com/5876974

Rose Water: a flavoring used in Turkish cooking

Rose water, a flavoring made from unsprayed rose petals, is used in some Turkish desserts, especially asure, a cold, sweet, non-dairy pudding traditionally served on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. The pudding is made from a wide assortment of rehydrated dried fruits, mixed with nuts, pomegranate seeds, chickpeas, rehydrated grains, and water and flavored with rose water. It is also used to flavor some varieties of lokum, the traditional Turkish gelled candy, cut in squares and dusted with powdered sugar or coconut. Rose water has a light distinctive flavor, which is often refreshing but also a bit surprising, especially to those unfamiliar with the taste.

Using Sumac

Sumac is a spice I’ve used for many years, but recently have become quite a fan. Sumac is a tart, purply red spice that adds tartness, much like lemon, and a beautiful color to food. It is made from the fruit of some types of the sumac plant, but I do not know which species so please don’t experiment on your own. It can be purchased online from a number of spice merchants and from many Middle Eastern markets.

Most recently, I tried a recipe using sumac in the mix for making kofte. It was terrific. It is also one of the key ingredients in making zaarter, a wonderful spice blend. I used that to make a marinade for grilled chicken thighs. There are several recipes online for that. There are also a number of recipes for zaarter online. The simplest calls for sumac, oregano (or thyme), salt and sesame seeds.

Sumac is indispensible in many Middle Eastern salads. A very simple salad consists of slicing an onion very thinly, sprinkling it with salt, letting it rest at least 15 minutes, then squeezing the onions well with your hands and rinsing off. Add to that finely chopped parsley and sumac and you have a delightful accompaniment to kofte or fish.