Category: Appetizers

Tayta’s Pink Pickled Turnips

Pickled Turnips

Pickled Turnips, or Tayta’s Pink Pickled Turnips, as I like to call them, are a staple at our house. Usually, pickled turnips are served alongside olives and green pickles at the dinner table. They’re added to chicken and beef Shawarma sandwiches, falafel, and (like us) placed in a small dish at the table to be eaten with just about anything. If you haven’t had them, you are in for a serious treat!

After I took down rough notes of my Tayta’s recipe, I scoured the internet looking to see what other people have done. Some recipes call for garlic and bay leaves, another even suggested adding a chili pepper. But why change something that is so simple and so good? I may be a little biased, but my Tayta’s Pickled Turnips are the best pickled turnips.

Pickled Turnips

Measuring Cups Optional was created on the premise that great cooking in my family doesn’t depend on traditional, standard measurements. My mother learned to cook from the best cook in the world, my Tayta (Grandmother) and I have never gotten a recipe from Tayta that included standard measurements. I grew up watching her and my mom add handfuls and sprinkles of ingredients. So it was no surprise when I asked for her pickled turnips recipe and she gave me — you guessed it — non-traditional measurements. And I quote “1/2 coffee cup vinegar” to which I had to get clarification. Was she referring to an American Coffee mug? Or did she mean a Turkish coffee cup? Don’t mugs and Turkish coffee cups come in different sizes?! How am I supposed to quantify this to my readers? You can see my draft notes below, which include a mix of English and Arabic text, in addition to out-of-order instructions.

Pickled Turnips

Don’t worry, I did my best to quantify each measurement for the final recipe. A few notes from Tayta:

  • Boil the beets before placing them in with the turnips, so that they soften up with the turnips. If they’re not boiled ahead of time, they don’t ripen as fast as turnips do. Side note: This is the ONLY time I actually eat beets. I’m not a huge fan.
  • Use apple cider vinegar.
  • Measure out the amount of water you need by filling the jar up with water, and pouring it into a volume measuring cup/jug.
  • DO NOT, I repeat, do not open the jars before the 2 week wait period is over. Store the jars out of sight, set a calendar notice on your phone and forget about them until then.

Pickled Turnips

Pickled Turnips

Tayta’s Pink Pickled Turnips

Yield: Fills about 2 13oz Jars

Ingredients

  • 1 beet, peeled and washed
  • 2 Turnips
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 heaping tablespoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 4 cups water

Instructions

  1. Start by boiling the peeled and washed beet in 4 cups water. Boil for about 10 minutes, then turn off the heat
  2. Meanwhile, peel, wash and cut the turnips into wedges or slices. I cut mine into slices (about the thickness of French fry)
  3. Remove the beet from the boiling water, but do not discard the water.
  4. Cut the beet the same way you cut the turnips. Then divide in half.
  5. Fill up your jars with turnips and beets, making sure to use about 1 turnip and 1/2 of a beet for each jar. Don't be shy about squeezing as many turnips in there as possible.
  6. Separately, mix the beet water with vinegar, salt and sugar and stir until the salt and sugar have dissolved.
  7. Pour the mixture into the jars, leaving about 1/2 inch from the mouth of the jar.
  8. Close tightly and store at room temperature for 2 weeks. DO NOT OPEN THE JARS UNTIL THE TWO WEEKS ARE UP.
  9. After two weeks, place the jar in the fridge for consumption and storage.

Notes

I boil the beets so that they can be eaten with the turnips. If they're not boiled ahead of time, they don't ripen as fast as turnips do.

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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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Creamy Artichoke Spread

Creamy Artichoke Spread

Remember that week I spent in Rome I’m still eating my way through all the goodies I brought back.

While in Rome, I stopped at the local grocery store The Coop. It was perfect because that’s where I bought my 25oz bottle of extra virgin olive oil, that I’m still using. I also made my way to the spreads section of the store. There, I found black olive tapenade, capers in chunky salt and it’s also there I discovered Artichoke Pate. While the jar and ingredients were in Italian, I managed to google translate my way through. I wish I had brought a jar back home with me. Since I wasn’t able to, I decided to make my own artichoke spread with fresh ingredients.

Creamy Artichoke Spread

Don’t get me started on the fresh Italian ingredients in Rome. At one of the restaurants we went to, they served whole fried artichoke. It wasn’t covered in batter or anything. Not the way you think of fried vegetables, at least.  The artichoke was served whole and the leaves were browned and crispy. A perfect combination with a plate of bread and cheese. I just can’t wait for the farmer’s markets to open up in May. I’ll be eating fresh fruits and vegetables all summer long.

So what the heck would you use Artichoke Spread for, right? That’s probably one of the first questions you asked yourself when you got to this recipe. Well, Artichoke Spread is actually pretty versatile. If you love sandwiches, use Creamy Artichoke Spread instead of mayo or mustard, then pop in the panini grill. Use it as an appetizer for dipping bread, or add a small bowl of Artichoke Spread to your charcuterie board. I even challenge you to be creative and use it as a light pasta sauce in lieu of pesto. It’s amazing what you can do with a little bit of Artichoke Spread. 

Creamy Artichoke Spread

Creamy Artichoke Spread

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Artichoke Hearts
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cloves Garlic

Instructions

  1. In the bowl of a food processor, place the artichoke hearts, garlic, parmesan cheese, lemon juice and 1 tablespoon olive oil and pulse until smooth.
  2. Depending on the consistency, add the second tablespoon of olive oil.
  3. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a month.
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Italian Inspired Garlic Olive Oil Bruschetta

Italian bruschetta

I just got back from a four day trip to Rome, Italy where I ate, walked, ate, visited some historic sites, ate, shopped, did tons of work for my real job, and ate some more. I enjoyed every minute of Rome. For a full recap of my week in Rome with photos, videos and my own commentary, check out last week’s This Week on Instagram post.

Italians know how to live, and most importantly, they know how to eat. At restaurants, you never feel rushed. The waiters don’t stop by your table every five minutes to take your plates away and offer you the check. In Italy, mealtime is a laid back time with flowing table wine, a starter, main course, dessert and dessert drinks (at the very least). The waiters give you space to enjoy your meal and conversation. They check up on how your dish– likely one they recommended– tastes. They definitely don’t rush the check. Most of the time in Rome, we had to explicitly ask for the check. I loved the food in Rome. I ate my weight in pizza, pasta and gelato, and drank wine like it was water. I’m almost positive the wine was cheaper than water.

Italian bruschetta

At most of my sit-down meals, I ordered a bruschetta starter. Bruschetta, pronounced broo-ske-tta, is made up of thick slices of grilled Italian bread, rubbed with garlic and topped with olive oil and salt. Popular to contrary belief, classic bruschetta doesn’t actually come with tomatoes. Tomatoes are an add-on. Other toppings could include veggies, cured meat or cheese. Another notable difference between our “Americanized” version of bruschetta and true Italian bruschetta is the use of grilled, thick, Italian bread, as opposed to small French bread rounds or even hardened baguette rounds.

Italian bruschetta

Every single bruschetta I had in Rome was delectable. I always ordered mine with tomatoes — except that one time a group of us went to dinner and ordered “bruschetta classico.” After waiting 10 minutes or so for the missing tomatoes, our waiter explained that we had ordered “classico.” Classico does not include tomatoes, it’s basically grilled garlic bread with olive oil. Luckily for us, he was very kind, and brought us new Roma tomato-topped bruschetta. The tomatoes! The Roma Tomatoes! They’re the most delicious tomatoes I’ve ever had. Packed with flavor, and not too hard or too soft, they were so perfect. Since leaving Rome, I’ve been dreaming about those ripe tomatoes over grilled garlic bread. I had to make some at home. Of course, I don’t have access to the same Roma tomatoes like I did abroad, but I made due with Roma tomatoes from Wegmans . Pro tip: the bread tastes so much better if you can grill it on an outdoor grill. 

Italian Bruschetta

Italian Bruschetta

 

Italian Inspired Garlic Olive Oil Bruschetta

Yield: 6 Bruschettas

Ingredients

  • 6 Roma Tomatoes
  • 1-2 tablespoons Olive Oil + 2 tablespoons for brushing
  • 2-3 tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
  • Salt, to taste
  • 4 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 6 Slices Pane Italian Bread, sliced
  • 1 whole Garlic clove, for rubbing the bread
  • 1/2 cup Baby Arugula

Instructions

  1. Prepare the tomatoes by cutting a small slit at one end of each tomato
  2. In a medium pot, bring water to a boil
  3. Meanwhile, prepare a large bowl with ice water for blanching
  4. Once the water boils, carefully place the whole tomatoes in the water. Cover and boil on high for 2 minutes then turn heat off.
  5. Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the tomatoes and place them in the ice water. Wait about 2 minutes, before removing the tomatoes from the ice water onto a paper-towel lined plate.
  6. You'll notice that the skin has started to peel. Peel the tomatoes, then cut into small cubes
  7. In a medium bowl, mix together minced garlic, olive oil and red wine vinegar then set aside
  8. Place a grill pan over high heat (or use an outdoor grill)
  9. Cut the Pane bread into 1 1/2 inch slices
  10. Place Italian bread slices on the grill, cooking each side for 5-7 minutes (until slightly charred), then flipping over to grill the other side for another 3-5 minutes. Watch the bread carefully, especially if using an outdoor grill.
  11. Remove bread from heat. While still warm, use the whole garlic clove to rub one side of each piece of bread, then brush liberally with olive oil.
  12. Top each bread slice with the tomatoes and baby arugula
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How to Build the Ultimate Charcuterie

Ultimate Charcuterie

As you all know, I’ve been recipe testing and planning my dinner party menu for over a month. Partially because I’m an over-planner and partially because I was really looking forward to wowing my friends with my culinary abilities. I’ll admit, I kind of wowed myself with my main dish – Seafood Paella.  Dinner party planning takes a lot of thought, and I learned so many things from my mom and all her dinner parties. She sets timers on her phone the day of to keep her on a timeline for food prep. That’s dedication. I’m not quite at the mom-level of dinner party planning and execution, but I’m sure in time I’ll get there. I did inherit some of her organization skills.

Here’s what my dinner party timeline looked like:

  • 1 month-1 week before: Plan and set menu
  • 1-2 days before: Grocery shopping
  • Night before: Prepare any make-ahead desserts or marinades
  • Morning of: Set the table, get out serving dishes, serveware and centerpieces
  • Afternoon of: Cook! Clean up, repeat as needed until you’ve made everything. Save warm dishes for setting out once guests arrive.  
  • Right before guests arrive: Set out the cold items, Turn on the lights, Burn bokhoor بخور (incense)
  • Enjoy the dinner!

The two things I was most looking forward to was making seafood paella, and setting out a GORGEOUS charcuterie board. I have been drooling over charcuterie boards on Pinterest and Instagram for months. I’m not even kidding. There are so many ways to go about it. You can stick with just cheeses, or make it a meats board, you can tailor it by season (summer, winter, etc.), make it big, make it small, keep it simple, go all-out … it’s totally up to you.  

I decided I wanted an over-the-top display with a mix of meats, cheeses, breads, spreads, veggies and nuts. Other than those broad categories, I did not have a game plan. So when I went on my shopping trip Friday night, I ended up spending two hours at Wegmans. I love Wegmans, by the way, I bought all my dinner party ingredients from there.  Generally speaking, my grocery shopping trips are a get in-get what I need-get out kind of deal. While I had my grocery list in hand (on my iphone), I still managed to spend 75% of my time in the cheese and meat sections of the store. They have an impressive meat and cheese selection.

Ultimate Charcuterie

How to Build the Ultimate Charcuterie

The ultimate charcuterie includes a selection of cheese, meat, spreads/dips, nuts, dried fruit, veggies, bread/crackers, and some (optional) extras. 

 

Cheese

If you’re going to have cheese here are a couple pro tips:

– Mix up the texture. You want to offer a mix of soft  (semi soft), (firm) and hard cheese

– Add color. While white cheeses are more prevalent, don’t be afraid to add in some yellow cheese, like cheddar cubes

– Go for different sources. Cow cheese is great, but offer up sheep cheese and goat cheese too.

Cheeses I used: Manchego, Cheddar Cheese cubes, Blue Cheese, Brie, Bucheron.

Meat

So here’s the deal with my meat selection, I was constrained by non-pork options. Really, that didn’t stop me from offering up a fun assortment. Same idea with the meats as the cheese, you want to offer a variety of tastes and textures. I featured roasted turkey slices, bresaola, beef salami and turkey pepperoni. I added in the turkey slices for color, and because everything else was beef-based. You’ll want to mix up smoky, spicy and simple flavors.

Spreads and Dips

I only had two dips on my charcuterie. I featured a sweet fig jam and plain hummus. With dips, you don’t want to go too crazy. Stick with 1-2 (3 max) and vary up sweet and savory. Great additions include tapenade, pate, apricot preserves or honey.

Nuts and Dried Fruits

For added crunch, go with smoked almonds and raw cashews. The world is your oyster with nuts (pecans, walnuts, pistachio), just be sure to check for nut allergies ahead of time! Fruit should be a mix of fresh and dried. Add cranberries, dried apricots, dates, and mix in some fresh fruit like grapes, apples or figs.

Veggies

I think vegetables really round out the charcuterie. For presentation (see presentation section below), veggies give you some color. Celery, carrots and tomatoes make for a no-fuss addition. 

Bread and Crackers

Keep the bread simple. You want to offer useful options. Sliced baguette, fresh or toasted, is always a win because its conducive to easy spreading. I added breadsticks and crackers for a crunchy option with soft cheese and spreads.

Extras

For a Mediterranean vibe, I set out small pickles as well as green and black olives fresh from Wegmans’ olive bar. Get the almond-stuffed green olives, they’re generally a hit. Don’t be afraid to get varying pickles. Pickled turnips, onions, and peppers bring texture and flavor to your charcuterie.

Presentation

Presentation is everything. Let me repeat: Presentation is everything. They say, you eat with your eyes before your stomach. It’s the truth.

You want to offer up a visually appealing board. For me, that means mixing colors and textures, as well as filling in every inch of the board. If you have a small board, add some fun trays to hold the bread and crackers. Use small jars, or unusual looking containers for spreads. Spread out meats and cheeses, but don’t be afraid to place items extremely close to other things on the board.

Now, go forth and build your ultimate charcuterie.   

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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