Category: Arabic Food Made Easy

Middle Eastern Puff Pastry Meat Pies

Puff Pastry Meat Pie

I’m all about simplicity. Mainly simplicity when it comes to cooking. Because really, who wants to spend more time making delicious food, like let’s say middle eastern meat pies, when you can cut that time in half? This girl right here. That’s me! I have no patience. I openly admit it. It’s something I’ve been actively working on for 30 years. However, the truth is, patience does not come easily to me. I have a hard time waiting for just about anything. So it’s no surprise that bread making is a serious test of my patience. I have made various breads in the past. I tested out some sesame bread that didn’t make it onto the blog, as well as Zaatar Bread, and Irish Soda Bread

If you’re familiar with middle eastern meat pies, you know that traditionally, they’re made with a flat dough — usually homemade. That’s the time consuming part. And then topped with a minced meat mixture (either lamb or beef). A fair number of my friends actually make their dough from scratch–they must have a ton more patience than I do – and it’s absolutely delicious. If you’re simply impatient like me, or just don’t have the time to whip up some of your own dough, then puff pastry is the dough of your dreams.

Puff Pastry Meat Pie

I’m going to be honest, puff pastry is actually really great for large tarts, both savory and sweet, and can be used as a substitute for pizza dough too. Puff pastry is really fluffy once baked. The hardest part is trying to figure out when it has defrosted enough for you to pull the sheets open without breaking them apart.

Puff Pastry Meat Pie

Middle Eastern Puff Pastry Meat Pies

Yield: 18 pies

Ingredients

  • 1 package Puff Pastry
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons Seven spice
  • 1 tablespoon Cinnamon
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons of pomegranate molasses
  • 3 tablespoons yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts

Instructions

  1. Remove the puff pastry from the packaging and place on a lightly floured surface
  2. Allow the puff pastry to defrost (no more than 40 minutes), until the dough is easy to pull apart
  3. Flatten out the puff pastry dough and cut each sheet into 9 squares and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. You can follow the creases already showing in the dough (you'll need two baking sheets)
  4. Heat the oven to 425 F
  5. Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet
  6. Add the onions and sauté until translucent
  7. Add the ground beef and cook over medium-high heat until cooked about 3/4 way through
  8. Mix in the seven spice, cinnamon and salt
  9. Stir in the pomegranate molasses until the ground beef is coated
  10. Stir in the yogurt, then transfer to the food processor
  11. Pulse the meat mixture a few times until the ground beef is minced
  12. For the pine nuts, place the pine nuts in an even layer on a baking sheet and broil for 5 minutes, until very lightly browned
  13. Use a large spoon to make small indents in the middle of each puff pastry square -- think of it as the space you'll put your meat filling
  14. Spoon the meat mixture into the middle of each square and top with pine nuts
  15. Transfer the baking sheets to the oven and bake for 10 minutes
  16. Serve warm
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One Pan Middle Eastern Roasted Chicken and Vegetable Bake

Middle Eastern Roasted Chicken and Vegetable Bake

Middle Eastern Roasted Chicken and Vegetables is one of my favorite comfort foods. Comfort food by definition is, ” food prepared in a traditional style having a usually nostalgic or sentimental appeal.” For most, that means lots of carbs and lots of sugar. For me, comfort food really does fit the Merriam Webster definition, that is, a traditional dish that brings back childhood memories. So what is it about One Pan Middle Eastern Roasted Chicken and Vegetable Bake that makes me nostalgic? I have so many childhood memories of being at my Tayta’s around dinner time. She’d whip up her chicken and vegetable bake. She always had a way of making even the hardest dish seem easy to pull together. It must be all her years of cooking for 8 children. Yes, eight. The apartment always smelled amazing. It was wafting with aromas from a mix of garlic, onion and Arabic spices that made me practically drool as I waited not-so-patiently in the family room watching TV.

One Pan Middle Eastern Roasted Chicken and Vegetable Bake

My mom learned to cook Arabic dishes from my Tayta. And I’m so happy she did. I grew up eating vegetables, stews, beef, chicken and lamb. You name it, I grew up eating it. I’m pretty sure my baby food consisted of full Arabic meals smoothed out in the blender and served in plastic Barbie bowls. And for that I’m thankful. There is no other comfort to me than cooking with Arabic spices, lots of garlic, lots of onions and lots of olive oil. I know I’ve done something right when my dishes look and smell like my mom and Tayta’s dishes.

One Pan Middle Eastern Roasted Chicken and Vegetable Bake

A note on “thirds of an oven.” You may have read in some of my recipes, or in other recipes a reference to cooking something in the top or bottom third of an oven. If you’ve baked sweets, you’ve definitely read baking in the middle rack. So here’s the deal with thirds of the oven. Different recipes require direct, medium or indirect heat. Most sweets are safe in the middle rack, where you’re ensured that the bottom won’t burn. While, other recipes, such as roasted vegetables, may require more direct heat to get that roasted and charred flavor.

One Pan Middle Eastern Roasted Chicken and Vegetable Bake

Open up you oven and take a look. Visually divide your oven into thirds. You’ll see there is a Top third, Middle, and Bottom Third. Keep that in mind when reading recipes. For the One Pan Middle Eastern Roasted Chicken and Vegetable Bake, I mention baking in the bottom third of the oven. When I refer to the bottom third, it means place your rack in the lower half of your oven, closer to the heat.

One Pan Middle Eastern Roasted Chicken and Vegetable Bake

 

One Pan Middle Eastern Roasted Chicken and Vegetable Bake

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 4 Chicken Thighs, skin on
  • 2 tablespoons Seven Spice (found at your local Arabic store)
  • 2 tablespoons Sumac
  • Salt, to taste (I used about 1 tablespoon)
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Yellow Onion, cut into wedges
  • 1 cup Carrots, chopped
  • 3 Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into wedges
  • 1/4 cup Chicken Stock

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Prepare the chicken and vegetables
  3. In a small bowl, mix together the seven spice, salt, sumac and garlic
  4. Using your hands, rub the chicken generously, back and front and all over, with the spice mixture, then set aside
  5. Next, toss the potatoes in the spice mixture and set aside
  6. Heat a large cast-iron skillet (or oven safe skillet) over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil
  7. Once the oil is hot, carefully place the chicken skin-side down in an even layer, and the potatoes
  8. Cook the chicken for 2-3 minutes, until the skin is crispy, then remove and set aside
  9. Cook the potatoes until crispy on the outside, about 2-3 minutes on each side
  10. While the chicken and potatoes are being sautéed, toss together the carrots and onions with the spice mixture.
  11. Remove the potatoes from the pan and add the carrots and onions, cooking for about 5 mins (or until slightly charred)
  12. Turn the heat off
  13. Using tongs or a spatula, arrange the vegetables in your large oven-safe skillet (or in an oven-safe baking dish), then nestle in the chicken, skin-side up.
  14. Pour in 1/4 cup chicken stock
  15. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in the bottom third of the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the carrots are tender and can be poked easy with a fork
  16. Serve warm

Notes

Your oven is divided into thirds. Visually imagine the thirds as: Top third, Middle and Bottom third. When I refer to the bottom third, it means place your rack in the lower half of your oven, closer to the heat.

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Labaneh Rounds

Labaneh Rounds If you haven’t had labaneh (لبنة) then you’re in for a savory treat! I grew up on labaneh, as did most Arab-American kids. It’s a staple in most Arab-American households. There’s always a container in the fridge. Breakfasts and brunches include some form of labaneh with olive oil and zaatar for dipping, usually alongside olives, freshly slices cucumbers and tomatoes, and in most cases boiled eggs.

When we were kids, my mom used to make us labaneh sandwiches on Arabic bread (that’s what we call pita bread at our house). It’s, hands-down, my favorite dairy product. I still make myself labaneh on toast in the mornings.

So what is labaneh? It’s savory cream cheese … of sorts. According to Wikipedia, labaneh is:

yogurt that has been strained to remove its whey, resulting in a thicker consistency than unstrained yogurt, while preserving yogurt’s distinctive, sour taste.”

That description doesn’t do labaneh justice! Comparing it to savory cream cheese is so much more appetizing. My favorite kind of labaneh is the rounds. Admittedly, I casually refer to them as labaneh balls. But that doesn’t sound as appealing. Maybe I should refer to them as labaneh truffles, just to give off that exotic vibe.

In all honesty, the labneh rounds and the dip taste just about the same. The process for straining yogurt into Arabic cream cheese is essentially the same. It’s how long you strain and what you do after the yogurt has been strained that really defines the difference between the two. I’m not really sure why I get so much more excited about the labaneh rounds. Maybe because they’re perfectly portioned? That would be a great reason if I didn’t eat four rounds … or more in one sitting.

Labaneh isn’t hard to make. It just takes time – idle time, mostly while the yogurt is being strained. Now, don’t go out and buy a strainer and some yogurt. That’s not exactly what I meant. The straining takes place over a 24-hour period using cheesecloth. I have vivid memories staying overnight at my Tayta’s and waking up to find a white, damp, bag hanging from the kitchen sink. That’s how she strained her yogurt—overnight, hanging from the kitchen sink. My Tayta seriously makes the best homemade labaneh. It’s tangy and savory and I know she adds a little extra salt, just the way we like it. Those nights, I’d go home with a Tupperware full of Tayta’s fresh labaneh.

 

Labaneh Rounds

 

Labaneh Rounds

Labaneh Rounds

Labaneh Rounds

Yield: About 20 Rounds

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Plain Whole Greek Yogurt (I used Fage Total Plain)
  • 1 Cheesecloth
  • 2 cups Olive oil (maybe a little more depending on the size of your jar)
  • 1-2 tablespoons Salt
  • Herbs (dried or fresh mint, dill, rosemary, etc.), optional

Instructions

  1. Line a large strainer with cheesecloth, folded over once
  2. Set over a deep bowl
  3. In a separate bowl, stir the salt into the Greek yogurt until combined
  4. Spoon the yogurt into the middle of the cheesecloth
  5. Gather the cheesecloth around the sides to cover the yogurt and fasten (I used a rubber band)
  6. Suspend the cheesecloth from a stationary object, like the faucet of a sink, or a stick draped over the sink, and allow it to drip drain into a bowl underneath
  7. Keep the cheesecloth suspended 24 hours
  8. After 24 hours, fill a glass jar (with a secure lid) ¼ way with olive oil
  9. Rub your hands together with some olive oil and begin rolling small balls out of the labaneh and placing them into the jar
  10. Add optional herbs
  11. Once, you’ve filled the jar, pour olive oil into the jar until the balls are covered
  12. Keep refrigerated for up to 2 months.
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Karawya [Sweet Caraway Pudding]

Karawya

My coworker’s wife just had a baby. Everyone in the office had been counting down, waiting for their precious bundle of joy to arrive. A few months ago, we combined his birthday desk decorations with a guessing game of whether they’d be having a boy or a girl – complete with a chalkboard tally. When we found out they were having a girl, everyone had some advice to give. As a father, I can only imagine the excitement and some of the fear of having a daughter. As a mother, I’m positive his wife was ecstatic to have a mini-me. I have to say, she is the most adorable little nugget. Their lives changed overnight and in the most incredible way.

As a matter of Arab tradition, when a baby is born, the family holds a Mubraka where friends and family come over to visit the mother and new baby. I’ve seen very small gatherings, and very large gatherings. It’s a way to meet the new baby and wish well for the family. A special dessert is served called Karawya كراوية. The reason they serve karawya is pretty good, actually. Despite it being a dessert, it has nutrients and energy that are supposed to be good for a nursing mother.

Karawya

 

I never liked Karawya, I admit it. I did, however, like to eat all the mixed nuts and sweetened shredded coconut off the top and give back the rest. So I’d go to these Mubarakas with my mom, they’d hand me my single-serving dish of Karawya, I’d eat off all the toppings and hand it back. I think when I was younger, it was a little more accepted. I remember one woman made a comment that it was alright that I didn’t like it because I was still young – I’m still trying to decipher that particular statement.

Of course, I couldn’t miss meeting the new baby. And being the traditionalist that I am, in some aspects, I took some Karawyawith me, my tayta’s recipe. Please note, the measurements are Tayta’s measurements. [Read Turkish coffee cups as: literally fill a Turkish coffee cup with the ingredient.]

 

Karawya_2

Karawya [Sweet Caraway Pudding]

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Rice Flour
  • 2 Turkish Coffee cups Ground Caraway
  • 2 Turkish Coffee cups Granulated Sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Cinnamon
  • 6 cups Water
  • Crushed Unsalted Pistachios
  • Chopped Unsalted Walnuts
  • Shredded Sweetened Coconut
  • Slices Unsalted Almonds
  • Raw Pine Nuts

Instructions

  1. Add water to a medium sized pot over high heat
  2. Add the rice flour, sugar, caraway, and cinnamon
  3. Begin stirring the mixture with a wooden spoon
  4. You must stir the mixture constantly until it boils, if you don't, the bottom of the pan will burn
  5. Continue stirring until the mixture is boiling
  6. You'll notice the consistency thickening
  7. Allow the mixture to boil for 10-15 minutes on medium-low heat, while continuing to stir
  8. Pour the Karawya into small glasses for individual servings, or one medium dish
  9. Allow the Karawya to cool, then cover with saran wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours
  10. Top the Karawya with crushed pistachios, sliced almonds, shredded coconut, pine nuts and crushed walnuts before serving
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Arayes

Arayes

We all know there are smells and sounds that take us back to a certain place or time. The minute a particular song makes it through your shuffle lineup, you’re transported back to a place, a person, an event. It’s either a good memory, or one you want to pretend never happened [in which case you next that song like it’s nobody’s business]. Or you’re walking through the mall, or outside and all of a sudden you catch the scent of perfume, or cigarette smoke, or even home cooking and someone, something, some place pops right into your mind.

The same can be said for foods. Some foods make me nostalgic for my childhood, or a place that I visited. I used to spend my summers in Amman and, of course, I ate my heart out when I was there. Among the many foods I miss, I especially miss  Arayes عرايس which is basically finely ground meat inside of thin pita bread and either baked or grilled to perfection. I love it. And it’s really good with pomegranate molasses drizzled on top.

So whenever I eat them, I’m taken back to outdoor cafes with shisha and tea or nescafe in the city or overlooking the dead sea late at night with the full moon shining off of the water, or chowing down at home with a glass of yogurt drink. It’s a place and a time that I want to freeze and hold on to.

Arayes

Ingredients

  • 2-2.5 lbs Ground Beef
  • White Pita Bread
  • 4-5 medium Tomatoes
  • 2 large Onions
  • 4 Garlic Cloves
  • 1 teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 1 ¼ tablespoons Pomegranate Molasses
  • 1 teaspoon Seven Spice
  • 1 tablespoon Salt
  • ½ cup Olive Oil

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F
  2. Put all the vegetables and the meat in the food processor and process to a very fine consistency
  3. Add Pomegranate Molasses
  4. Add pepper, salt and seven spice and mix thoroughly
  5. Slit pita bread in half and spread the meat mixture in an even layer on one side of the bread
  6. Close the sandwich by pressing the top piece of bread down over the meat mixture
  7. Using a brush, generously brush both sides of the sandwiches with olive oil and place in a single layer on a baking tray
  8. Bake for 15-20 minutes
  9. Broil for 5 minutes until browned
  10. Serve warm with plain yogurt
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Bamiya [Okra Stew]

bamiya_3

I always feel an immense sense of accomplishment when I make Arabic food and it tastes like my mom’s cooking. Likely because Arabic food only tastes good when my mom or tayta make it, in my personal opinion. So when I realized we had some fresh okra hanging out in the fridge, I decided to try a very well known Arabic dish; Bamiya. Bamiya is basically okra stew.

Don’t let the okra deter you. Most people don’t like it because it can get pretty slimy. But if you prepare the okra properly, I promise you a slime-free meal.

As usual, I like to get my taste tester’s thoughts on my food [read as: get my dad and picky brother’s comments on my fabulous cooking]. So I asked dad what he thought – more specifically, who’s bamiya he liked better, mine or mom’s, to which he answered, you’ve put me in a tight spot so I’m going to have to say your mom’s … and yours. Good save dad!

Bamiya

Bamiya [Okra Stew]

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs Fresh Okra, washed and caps removed
  • 2 tablespoons Vegetable Oil
  • 2 cans Diced Tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons Tomato Paste
  • 1 lb Lamb Stew Meat, cubed
  • 2 tablespoons Seven Spice
  • Salt, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons Fresh Cilantro, chopped
  • 4 Garlic Cloves, minced
  • 1 medium Onion, chopped

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 F
  2. Mix the okra with 1 tablespoon veggie oil [to coat] and place on a large baking sheet
  3. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the okra is lightly browned
  4. Meanwhile, in a large pot, heat the other tablespoon of veggie oil over medium-high heat
  5. Sauté the garlic and cilantro for 3 minutes
  6. Add the onions and sauté until translucent
  7. Add the lamb meat
  8. Stir in 1 tablespoon seven spice and salt and continue to cook until browned
  9. Add the two cans of diced tomatoes and the okra
  10. Mix together two tablespoons tomato paste with water, to about 3 cups
  11. Pour over the okra
  12. Add second tablespoon seven spice and salt to taste and stir
  13. Bring to a boil them simmer for about an hour
  14. Serve with rice or bread
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