Arabic Potato Salad

I don’t have anything against mayo. I just really don’t like store bought potato salad. I think it’s more about the fact that despite potato salad being a savory food, the store bought kind is just too sweet. I just can’t understand it. I’m telling you, my taste buds get confused. Does anyone else find it odd that a lot of foods in America, as compared to Europe and the Middle East tend to be on the sweeter side. It’s like they add sugar to everything. Have you ever had store bought three-bean salad? It’s sweet! Completely mind-boggling to me. That’s why I prefer that homemade too. Europe and the Middle East do it right. They keep savory foods savory and completely separate from any sweetness. That’s the way I think it should be.

One of my favorite family BBQ is staples is Arabic Potato Salad. Yea, that’s what we call it. The recipe is something my Tayta taught my mom and it’s just kind of stuck. It’s a no-mayo alternative and has no sweetness included.

Summer Sundays were the best when I was in elementary and middle school. After an Arabic tutoring session with my aunt, we’d either have a huge Arabic-style brunch, or a family BBQ. Dad was master of the BBQ. Since then, my brothers have taken over. It was the best! Mom would prep the meats, usually marinated chicken, or steaks and some sides. Green salad, Arabic Potato Salad and corn on the cob. Everyone got together including my aunt and Tayta.

Arabic Potato Salad

Side note: Another favorite fan favorite is the Brazilian Potato Salad.

Arabic Potato Salad

 

Arabic Potato Salad

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 russet potatoes
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped Parsley
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

Instructions

  1. Peel, wash and cut the potatoes into cubes
  2. Place the potatoes in a medium pot and cover with lightly salted water.
  3. Bring the water to a boil and cook until tender, about 15-20 minutes. Check for tenderness by piercing a cube with a fork.
  4. Drain the potatoes and place into a large bowl
  5. Mix in the chopped parsley, garlic and green onions
  6. Mix well, then add olive oil, vinegar and salt
  7. Toss to coat
  8. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving
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Middle Eastern Stuffed Potatoes [Batata Mahshiyeh]

Middle Eastern Stuffed Potatoes

It’s Ramadan and I’ve been beating the long days and boredom (especially on the weekends) by cooking. The first weekend, I may or may not have gone on a complete cooking spree and I just haven’t been able to stop myself since then. If you’re interested in seeing what I’m up to, follow along on my Instagram story. I’m always sharing photos and videos of my goodies. Currently, I’m waiting my Pink Pickled Turnips to set. Only about a week and a half or so left before they’re ready to be devoured.

I made Middle Eastern Stuffed Potatoes not once, but twice over the last week. The first time for a weeknight iftar at a friend’s, and the second to actually take photos (and feed my family).  Here’s the deal with coring vegetables in general; first, you have to use a thin corer. Generally, you can find them at the Arabic store. Also, unless you’re a professional vegetable corer, it’s almost impossible to figure out if you’ve dug your holes too deep (that is, unless you poke through the other end of the vegetable). It’s part practice, part luck. After coring two bags of potatoes, I can proudly call myself a self-proclaimed professional potato corer.

Middle Eastern Stuffed Potatoes

I can offer some advice when it comes to making stuffed potatoes:

  1. The smaller potatoes are, surprisingly, easier to core than the large ones. I found that with the smaller ones, you have a better sense for how much to hollow out before hitting any of the sides. With the larger potatoes, it’s a little harder to figure out.
  2. When you fry the potatoes, make sure the oil is hot before you put the potatoes in. This way, it’ll only take a couple minutes on each side to get slightly browned.
  3. Cover the potatoes when they bake in the oven. This way, they don’t dry out.

Middle Eastern Stuffed Potatoes

Middle Eastern Stuffed Potatoes

Middle Eastern Stuffed Potatoes [Batata Mahshiyeh]

Ingredients

    For the stuffing
  • 1 lb gound beef
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons Seven Spice
  • Salt
  • 1 teaspoon Nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon Cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons Pine Nuts
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • For the Potatoes
  • 1 bag Yukon Gold or Butter Potatoes (about 12-15 potatoes)
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 3 cups tomato sauce + 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon Seven Spice
  • 1 cube Maggi

Instructions

    For the Stuffing
  1. In a large skillet heat 1 tablespoon olive oil
  2. Sauté the onions until translucent
  3. Add the ground beef and cook until browned
  4. Season with seven spice, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg
  5. Remove from heat
  6. Heat one tablespoon oil and cook the pine nuts until lightly browned. Keep an eye on them! Pine nuts fry quickly. Remove from oil onto a blotter.
  7. For the Potatoes
  8. Peel and wash the potatoes
  9. Using a thin vegetable corer, carve out the middle portion of the potatoes making sure not to puncture the potatoes
  10. Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat
  11. Once hot, place the potatoes in the oil and fry on all sides until a light golden brown
  12. Remove and place on paper towels to absorb additional oil
  13. Once the potatoes have cooled, stuff the potatoes with the ground beef mixture leaving 1/8 inch space from the top
  14. Place in a single layer in a baking tray
  15. Use 1 tablespoon olive oil to saute garlic
  16. Add tomato sauce and water
  17. Bring to a boil, add in seven spice and Maggi, then turn heat off
  18. Pour the tomato sauce over the potatoes
  19. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 50 minutes on 375 F
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Strawberry Eshta Cream Tarts

Strawberry Eshta Cream Tart

I really love the idea of going to an orchard and picking your own fruits and vegetables. There’s an orchard out in Maryland that has pick your own fruits and veggies almost year-round.  A few weekends ago, I went with a couple of friends, and one friend’s three kids to pick strawberries. It’s the perfect activity for kids. It’s outdoors, they can play in the dirt, and they really feel a sense of accomplishment when they pick out the perfect strawberry. While the kiddos filled up little blue cartons, I went ahead and picked enough strawberries to last at least 6 months. I may have gone a little overboard. All I could think about were all the strawberry desserts I was going to make with all these strawberries. Needless to say, I ended up freezing most of them before they started to go bad… but not without making Strawberry Eshta Cream Tarts.

Strawberry Picking

Eshta is a sweet thick cream known to most middle eastern households. Lots of people use eshta in desserts such as qatayef, warbat, basboosa, and many others. While eshta is absolutely delicious in desserts, it’s a great compliment to honey. Sunday breakfasts at our house included lots of little dishes filled with labaneh, zaatar, foul (fava beans), and two mall dishes one with honey and one with eshta. I remember the excitement of dipping bread into the eshta first and then the honey. Honestly, I thought I could live off eshta and honey forever. That was … until dinnertime when I wanted nothing more than rice and stew.

So after spending the afternoon with my friends and the kiddos, I went straight home to wash and dry the strawberries, and test out my dessert of course!

Strawberry Eshta Cream Tart

The trick to these tarts was figuring out how I was going to thicken the eshta enough to hold strawberries on a slab of puff pastry. I admit, I had a couple failures. At first, I tried beating the eshta in my stand mixer, hoping it would magically fluff up. It didn’t. Then I got to thinking about how I thicken up milk for Muhallabiyeh. Idea! Why not add corn starch?! The genius in me added corn starch to cold eshta. That didn’t quite work out the way I had imagined. Then it dawned on me (oh yea, and I read the instructions on the corn starch package) that I needed to heat the eshta with the corn starch and stir to get the consistency I wanted. Ladies and gentlemen, it worked and I couldn’t have been happier! Now my dreams of making Strawberry Eshta Cream Tarts was coming true.

It just goes to show you that, even as a food blogger, I have my fair share of almost and complete fails. No one’s perfect, but I can definitely whip up a near-perfect dessert.

Strawberry Eshta Cream Tart_2

Strawberry Eshta Cream Tart

Yield: 6 tarts

Ingredients

  • 1 sheet puff pastry
  • 2 lbs strawberries, stems cut off
  • 4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cup water
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 4 cans Eshta
  • 2 tablespoons Corn Starch
  • 2 tablespoons Rose Water
  • 4 tablespoons crushes pistachios
  • Honey for drizzling

Instructions

  1. Thaw Puff Pastry
  2. Cut the puff pastry sheet into three smaller pieces
  3. Place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes at 400 F
  4. Once cooled, cut each puff pastry piece in half length wise, making 6 tart shells. Set aside
  5. Wash and dry the strawberries. If using small strawberries, you can use them whole, otherwise, slice your strawberries
  6. Glaze the strawberries by combining the sugar, corn syrup and water in a medium pan over medium-high heat
  7. Bring to a boil
  8. Once boiling, immerse the strawberries in the sugar and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes
  9. Use a slotted spoon to remove the strawberries and place on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet, sprayed with cooking spray
  10. In a small saucepan, mix together the eshta, rose water and cornstarch until combined. Heat over low-medium heat and stir constantly until the eshta thickens, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
  11. Slice the puff pastry in half
  12. Spoon the eshta onto the puff pastry and use a spatula to make an even layer
  13. Then carefully arrange strawberries on top of the eshta, placing each piece as close as possible to the next without overcrowding
  14. Top with crushed pistachios and drizzle with honey.
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Mom’s Favorite Whole Wheat Banana Nut Pancakes

Whole Wheat Banana Nut Pancakes

For as long as I can remember, every time my family and I went to IHOP, my mom always swapped out the plain old buttermilk pancakes for harvest grain and nut and topped them off with pecan syrup. That’s just the way it was. IHOP = Harvest Grain and Nut Pancakes. We don’t, however, go to IHOP regularly. Mostly because mom and I are usually on a diet or health kick, and walking into any IHOP means we’re definitely overeating. How can you not overeat when you can get a whole omelet with crispy hash browns and a side of pancakes?! It’s almost impossible. So we reserve IHOP for rare occasions.

Whole Wheat Banana Nut Pancakes

This year for Mother’s Day, I treated mom to my own version of her favorite pancakes, Whole Wheat Banana Nut Pancakes. I’ve fully accepted that as the oldest with two brothers, I’m wholly responsible for coming up with the plan, and consequently executing said plan and allowing the boys to take some credit. I was pleasantly surprised when this year, T took it upon himself to pick up cards for both he and my other brother, oh yea, and the newest four-legged addition to our family, Leia.

Whole Wheat Banana Nut Pancakes

Every family has its own traditions. Ours happens to be reading cards. I’m not really sure when it all started. We kind of forewent the gifts, and decided that Hallmark says it best. We each generally pick out a card that represents our individual personalities. Hallmark’s gotten really good at figuring people out. How is it that one becomes a greeting-card writer anyway? Hmmm .. I guess that’s another discussion for another blog post.  In any case, we gather around the table and hand over our cards and, then the tearful reading of the cards begins. Year after year, I somehow find a way to pick the sappiest card. But this year, I didn’t want us to cry. I wanted us to just be happy and grateful for our amazing mother.

So as I started reading through the daughter-to-mother cards, I picked one up and straight up started crying in the middle of the store. Before I got to the end, I closed the card up, looked around to make sure no one saw my outburst, and put it right back on the shelf. I still ended up with a heart-felt card, just not a tear-jerker.

And so, we enjoyed our Whole Wheat Banana Nut Pancakes with butter pecan syrup and ended breakfast with our traditional card readings.

Whole Wheat Banana Nut Pancakes

 

Mom’s Favorite Whole Wheat Banana Nut Pancakes

Serving Size: 6 Servings

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups Oatmeal, ground in a food processor
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon Cinnamon
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1 cup Milk
  • 1 cup Buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup Pecans, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Walnuts, chopped
  • 4 medium bananas, sliced

Instructions

  1. Heat griddle or skillet over a medium-high heat
  2. Meanwhile place all dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix until combined, then add wet ingredients and whisk until smooth
  3. Spray the griddle or skillet with cooking spray
  4. Pour batter onto the griddle/skillet and cook until the outer edges are dry and bubbles start to form. I use a ¼ cup measure to make the perfect size.
  5. Using a spatula, flip the pancake over and cook until golden brown ( 1-2 minutes)
  6. Remove from the heat and set aside
  7. Repeat until the batter is finished
  8. Top with sliced bananas and butter pecan syrup
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Candied Orange Semolina Cake

Candied Orange Semolina Cake

The last month has been an absolute whirlwind. I went from planning and celebrating my 30th birthday – which was amazing, by the way – to hoping on a plane straight to Dubai for a week then Amman for a second week. I was able to spend just enough time in my own kitchen to whip up a not-too-sweet Candied Orange Semolina Cake, before jetting off to Lyon for a work trip filled with meetings (and lots of chocolate croissants). Unfortunately for me, I came down with the flu for the entirety of the trip, so I wasn’t able to fully appreciate the food capitol for all it has to offer. For those who follow Measuring Cups Optional on Instagram, my stories offer a first look at all my food and travel adventures.

I successfully ate my weight in delicious food everywhere I went. In Dubai, there was barely time to sleep between site seeing, indulging in a lavish Turkish Bath, spending afternoons catching rays at the hotel pool. With little effort, I came back a few shades darker. Baking for a few hours in 102F temps has that effect on my pale skin. Mom and I spent an afternoon walking through the gold and spice souks… and the malls are–as imagined– bigger, better and 5 star. Of course, the tourist in us couldn’t resist the desert safari, where I rode an ATV and we went dune bashing in an air-conditioned SUV, stopping just in time to catch the sunset.

Candied Orange Semolina Cake

Amman was more laid back. I finally caught up on some sleep, discovered a handful of hipster restaurants/cafes and took in endless views of the city — and shopped, of course, for all the Arabic-inspired things I wanted to take home. Mom and I treated ourselves to a day at the Dead Sea, where we scheduled simultaneous salt scrubs, mud wraps and massages.  By the end of the trip, I needed a vacation to recover from my vacation. Especially since I knew I’d have hundreds of messages waiting for me in my work inbox. The inbox did not disappoint.

A week later … I was off to the food capitol of the world, Lyon. As much as I wanted to fit in restaurant hoping between work meetings, my body decided to give up on me. I came down with the flu and had to settle for chocolate croissants, baguette sandwiches and the occasional dinner out (when I could actually keep food down).

I’m finally back in my own bed, and in my own kitchen… for a while at least. And now that I’m the road to recovery (I’m still dealing with the remnants of a raspy voice), I’m so looking forward to sharing some new recipes over the next few weeks.

Candied Orange Semolina Cake

Saint Augustine said it best “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”

Until the next adventure …

Candied Orange Semolina Cake

Candied Orange Semolina Cake

Yield: Makes two 9" cakes

Ingredients

    For the Cake
  • 3 cups fine Semolina
  • 3/4 cup Unsalted Butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup Sugar
  • 1 cup plain Greek Yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 2 cups Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice
  • For the candied Oranges
  • 2 navel oranges cut to 1/8 inch slices
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • Extra sugar for sprinkling
  • For the Syrup
  • 1 tablespoon orange blossom water
  • 1 cup syrup from candied oranges
  • 2 cups fresh squeezed orange juice

Instructions

    For the Cake
  1. Mix the semolina, the sugar and the butter in a large bowl. Use your hands to corporate the butter with the other ingredients until mixed well.
  2. In a separate bowl, stir together the yogurt and the baking soda
  3. Wait a few minutes until the yogurt doubles in size, about 5 minutes
  4. When the yogurt has doubled, pour the yogurt on top of the semolina mix
  5. Use your hands to work the yogurt in the with semolina
  6. Press the batter into 2 greased 9" cake pans
  7. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes until it's a light brown color, but not burnt
  8. Remove the cakes from the oven onto a cooling rack
  9. Pour the syrup over the cake while its hot so it can absorb all the way though.
  10. Cool for 1-2 hours before serving
  11. Top with candied oranges
  12. For the candied Oranges
  13. Wash and dry oranges, then slice into 1/8 inch slices
  14. In a medium skillet, stir together the water and sugar. Continue to stir until the sugar is no longer stuck to the bottom of the pan.
  15. bring to a boil over high heat.
  16. Once the water is boiling, carefully place the orange slices in an even layer and boil for 20 minutes over medium-high heat, making sure to flip the slices throughout the boiling process. You'll notice that the water will turn into a thick syrup.
  17. Remove from the syrup, and place on a cooling rack. Sprinkle both sides with granulated sugar to prevent sticking
  18. Cool the candied oranges for at least 1 hour before using or storing in an airtight container
  19. Repeat until you've candied all the orange slices.
  20. Reserve the syrup for the cake
  21. For the Syrup
  22. In a volume measuring cup (or medium pitcher), mix together 1 cup of the reserved syrup from the candied oranges with 2 cups fresh squeezed orange juice and 1 tablespoon orange blossom water. Combine well.
  23. Once you take the cake out of the oven, pour the syrup over the cake, making sure to cover the entire surface. The semolina cake will absorb the syrup.
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Triple Berry No Added Sugar Sorbet

Triple Berry No Added Sugar Sorbet

Happy Warm days of summer …. almost. Alright, Happy Warm days of Spring!

Let’s celebrate with Triple Berry No Added Sugar Sorbet. As much as I wanted to call the sorbet sugar-free, the truth is it isn’t. Fruit contains natural sugars, sugars I don’t have the capability or desire to process out. According to US Food and Drug Administration guidelines (FDA for short) , food has to have less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serving to be labeled “sugar free.” Fresh and frozen fruit have well over 10g sugar per serving. But it’s all natural sugars. With that said, I did not use any additional processed sugars.

Triple Berry No Added Sugar Sorbet

I learned some valuable lessons making sorbet.

  1. Apparently when you use a blender, you generally need to use soft foods, or a substantive amount of liquid to be able to blend contents properly. I learned that real quick when I dumped frozen berries directly into the blender and expected it to work its magic. Pro Tip: if you’re working with frozen berries, defrost them or soften them up before putting them directly into the blender.
  2. You don’t need an ice cream machine to make sorbet. It just takes a little extra work. If you’re only making ice cream or sorbets a handful of times a year, and you don’t want to invest in in an ice cream maker, I have a solution for you. Actually, Taste of Home has a solution for you. It worked really well for me, even though I was making sorbet vs. ice cream. You’ll see in the instructions, you’ll need to stir up your sorbet vigorously every 30 or so minutes for a couple hours, just to keep it from icing over. If it does ice over, put the sorbet into the fridge and it’ll soften up.
  3. Red foods get EVERYWHERE. I should have already known this. I’m talking dishes, counters, hands, clothes, everywhere.
  4. Taking photos of sorbet takes an immense amount of patience. Sorbet melts, scoops don’t come out perfectly every time, and red gets everywhere (see #3), among other things. I was so lucky to have an audience when I took my photos. My brother had rushed through the house with a friend, and instructed his friend to hangout with me while I worked on my sorbet photo shoot. I instantly put the kid to work, and distinctly remember him making the comment, “I’ve never been to an ice cream photo shoot before.” Well, that made two of us. Having him around to help out got me to thinking that I need assistants more often during food photo shoots. His hard work did not go unnoticed. I rewarded him, and my brother with a couple scoops of my Triple Berry No Added Sugar Sorbet.

Triple Berry No Added Sugar Sorbet

Triple Berry No Added Sugar Sorbet

 

Triple Berry No Added Sugar Sorbet

Ingredients

  • 4 cups mixed berries (I used frozen and de-frosted them slightly. You can also use fresh, washed berries)
  • 2-3 tablespoon Lemon juice, from concentrate
  • 1 ripe banana

Instructions

  1. Place the mixed berries and ripe banana into a blender with lemon juice.
  2. Blend until very smooth
  3. Pour the mixture into a freezer-safe container
  4. Chill in the freezer for 30 minutes, then stir by hand with a spatula or whisk and return to the freezer
  5. Continue to stir the sorbet every 30 minutes for about 4 hours.
  6. Store in a closed freezer-safe container until ready to serve.
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