Big Girls Global Kitchens

Make-Your-Own Dukkah

Posted by on Monday Jul 29th, 2013

I’ve always been a very obedient student. When I took on this journey to learn all about Middle Eastern food, I knew I’d follow directions. Unlike everything else that I ever cook–ever–I’ve been going by recipes and formulas from Yotam Ottolenghi, Claudia Roden, Louisa Shafia so far. You can’t break the rules ’til you know them.

Yet I believe that cooking, like life, is about a billion times more fun when you get to break rules. Small rebellions. And dukkah, though a new-to-me Middle Eastern condiment, asks for you to break the mold and make the mixture your own from the moment you open any recipe, because customizing to your tastes is part of the recipe. Dukkah suits me.

The mix contains nuts and seeds, toasted until fragrant and then ground together in a food processor or mortar and pestle. I first ate, then made, Ana Sortun’s version from her cookbook, Spice. I love the crunchiness. It’s addictive.

A few weeks ago, I took a cooking class at Haven’s Kitchen with the folks from NY Shuk. The theme was a Middle Eastern Shabbat dinner. I enrolled because of a mounting interest in Middle Eastern cuisine (you can read all about my Sargento-sponsored flavor journey in these posts), as well as a desire to expand what I think of as Jewish cuisine. I grew up on a strictly brisket-and-kugel holiday diet–what my great-grandparents ate in Eastern Europe and what my grandparents continued to eat in New York City. Recently, I’ve encountered Jewish New Yorkers from Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Morocco–their matbucha and stuck-pot rice. I’ve been wanting to know more about their cuisine.

Here’s what was on the menu:

NY Shuk is run by a couple who recently moved to Brooklyn from Israel. They sell hand-rolled couscous with different toppings every Saturday at Smorgasburg, and I have a feeling that they’re going to be expanding their business in one way or another soon.

As you can see, this homemade couscous was on the menu. Indeed, it was the highlight of the evening.

See, when it comes to couscous, we’ve been doing it wrong. At NY Shuk, they hand roll couscous. The process goes something like this.

First, you spritz semolina with water. The idea is to gently rehydrate the coarsely milled flour. Semolina is made from wheat, but it sometimes has the look of polenta. As you spray in the water, you also run your hand through the grain, hydrating it evenly.

We all took a turn, but none of us had quite the skill of Ron Arazi, half of NY Shuk, who makes couscous in serious quantity.

You pour the moistened semolina into a steamer set over boiling water and stir it for a few minutes, until it no longer clumps. Then you put the lid on the steamer and let the couscous cook for about half an hour or so.

Sabich Sandwich

Posted by on Tuesday Apr 30th, 2013

Do you ever go to a falafel joint and not order a falafel? Me neither. It’s too hard, like going to Shake Shack and skipping the ShackBurger. As a happy medium, at the falafel place I’ll occasionally add an extra ingredient to my sandwich: fried eggplant.

I love eggplant, always. When fried, the slices adds a lusciousness to the sandwich, as if the smooth tahini sauce and rich falafel weren’t enough.

Were you to scroll your eyes down the menu at a falafel joint and squint at the listings below the main event, you might notice an option called “Sabich Sandwich.” An Israeli alternative to the falafel, the sandwich is made of egg, eggplant, and tahini sauce.

It has has a murky origin but a bright future in my life: it’s easy to make at home if you bake rather than fry the eggplant, healthful without being austere, and satisfying because it’s still plenty rich. Here’s my version, which fits into my brown bag lunch routine beautifully.

(I make the eggplant and hard-boiled eggs in advance, then whip together the herby tahini sauce and assemble the sandwich when I want to eat or pack lunch.)

Smoky Red Lentil Burgers

Posted by on Monday Apr 8th, 2013

Have you ever kept a dinner journal? Even though this blog is technically an account of what we’ve eaten, I don’t capture all of our humble everyday meals here–that’d be a repetitious and poorly lit project. But I love the idea of writing down what we’ve had for dinner. Not because I’m some insanely sentimental type. Nor do I want to obsess over every last morsel I’ve ingested. It’s that I develop amnesia about recent dinner triumphs at exactly the moment when I’m trying to figure out what we should eat on a given night.

There’s always pasta. There are bowl dinners. Recently, we’ve been making soups and eating them with salads (my choice) or sandwiches (his). Neither of us is all that picky, and one of us is a food blogger. But still, the dinner idea well runs dry. When it does, we rack our brains.

“We had something last week that we liked, right?” he’ll say.

“What did we used to eat?” I’ll ask.

When we rack our brains especially hard, we’ll often happen upon one answer: bean burgers. We do like bean burgers, I’ll remember. They use cheap pantry ingredients and no meat and are particularly amenable to incorporating whatever ingredients are on hand–canned beans, already cooked dry beans, or quick-cooking red lentils.

And that single limp scallion in the vegetable drawer.

Have you developed a system for remembering favorite meals on nights when you don’t know what to cook?

I’ve been cooking a lot of lentils recently, as I explore the food of the Middle East, and that’s where I turned last week when we decided to make bean burgers for dinner.

This post begins and ends with muhammara. Muhammara is a Middle Eastern dip that’s rich, sweet, spicy, and tangy. I’m always looking for unusual dips, preferably one whose ingredients come from the pantry, and muhammara fits the bill.

Looking to other cultures is one of my tried-and-true ways of branching out in the kitchen. For dips, one of the most fertile culinary traditions has got to come from the Middle East.

Like: picture a mezze table, loaded with hummus, baba ganoush, oils, cheeses, herbs and try not to salivate.

Most of the ingredients in muhammara are everyday items: nuts, chile flakes, tomato paste, olive oil. But one – pomegranate molasses – is a little harder to find. I’ve seen it at some Whole Foods, but I traversed Atlantic Avenue and made a stop at Sahadi’s, a quintessential Brooklyn shopping experience. The pomegranate molasses lends the dip its signature sweetness as well as its tang. I can imagine using the rest of my bottle of pomegranate molasses in dressings and marinades.

My Peruvian Feasts

Posted by on Thursday Jan 12th, 2012

Two glorious weeks in Peru bridging 2011 and 2012 brought Alex and me into close contact with (in alphabetical order): alpaca meat, Arequipa, Cusco, Jenga, juice, La Mar, Machu Picchu, markets, not ordering cuy, overnight buses, pan con huevo y mantequilla, pollo a la brasa, potatoes galore, soup, steak, and trekking. We had adventures in about five different places, met nice Peruvians and adventurous backpackers, saw cities and small towns, hiked at high altitude, endured strong sun, pounding rain, and snow, and woke up more than once at the very crack of dawn.

Starting in Cusco, we took …

I never realized that my tendency to overbuy at the farmers’ market was a hereditary condition. If you open my mother’s refrigerator at any given time, you’ll probably find a bunch of chard, just waiting to be turned into a green soup. But just one bunch. Not three. It wasn’t until I visited my aunt and uncle in Los Angeles that I saw my own habits reflected in someone else’s refrigerator, and on their countertops.

Back in October, after Steph and Rodrigo’s Santa Barbara wedding, I decided to milk my West Coast trip for all it was worth, …