Category Archives: Middle Eastern food

Choose your filling

minimized-hamantaschenHamantaschen are three-cornered treats stuffed with many favorites—prune, apricot, poppy seed or cream cheese fillings. The traditional pastries of Purim, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the defeat of the villain Haman, taste great any time of year. Make hamantaschen and test a triangle or two before curious neighbors smell the delicious aroma and drop in with an appetite.


Companion Crops

When savoring good company — with friends, family or even pets — we all benefit. The same goes for favorable food match-ups, from eggs with bacon to soup and salad. Even though a fine panini capably stands alone, a marriage comes together when a sandwich joins a side dish. Burgers with golden fries may not make the wisest nutritional coupling, but there’s a little love trying to breathe through all that cholesterol.

minimized-roasted-root-vegetables-with-quinoa-copyWhen a serving of noodles looks deserted on a plate or halibut needs a partnership, consider winter’s survival foods: an array of root crops. As plate companions, they turn a solo helping into a harmonious meal. Mashed, baked, roasted or even pickled, these seasonal staples keep us going when temperatures dip. With December’s first measurable snowfall recorded, winter offers a generous choice of main course and side vegetables.

Along with a host of other farmers at the Cold Spring Farmers’ Market, Cheryl Rogowski of Rogowski Farm grows a range of crops to carry the community through springtime’s arrival. Since 1955, her family has grown heirloom vegetables in Pine Island in the black-dirt region of Orange County. The area consists of thousands of acres of fertile organic soil, turning out cool weather vegetables like sweet potatoes, turnips, carrots and parsnips.

minimized-cheryl-rogowski-with-parsnips-copyAs Rogowski arranged baskets of vegetables flecked with that rich black dirt, she helped a shopper select a pound of bright orange carrots. Like many of her customers, she relies on root vegetables for family meals in cold weather. “I love roasting root vegetables,” Rogowski said.

And what this farmer serves at home, she offers at the market. “We’ll have carrots all winter long,” she said. “We’ll also have turnips through winter and we’ll have parsnips probably through February.”

Carrots stay in play throughout the year, but other root crops like rutabagas and turnips are sometimes overlooked during their peak season.

As for parsnips, they add a dash of spice. “I call them the elegant carrot,” Rogowski said. “They also make an insane parsnip cake, and I just substitute them for carrots.”

Parsnips, which resemble carrots in shape, have tan-colored skin and creamy flesh. They boast a woody texture and taste spicy while producing a honeyed aroma when roasted.

When selecting parsnips, look for firm choices with no cracks or blemishes. Rogowski recommends roasting them as you would prepare baby potatoes (425 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes), tossed with a generous amount of oil and seasoned.

“I let the vegetables do the work,” she said. “With potatoes, I’ll add some rosemary, but with the others, they just need a bit of olive oil and sea salt and I finish them with fresh parsley. Come January and February, you need that burst of green.”

Root crops call for little else save a toss or two during roasting. If properly scrubbed, carrots and parsnips don’t necessarily need peeling, though peeling away a thin outer layer encourages a crisper charred finish.

Turnips roast nicely but also serve as constant companions as a ubiquitous pickled side on Middle Eastern menus. I can’t bring turnips home without pickling a few to produce lifit. While my husband lived in Syria during his doctoral studies in 2010, he ate lifit nearly every day alongside a serving of stewed beans. Around our home, the bold pink slices serve as a faithful companion to beans, rice or grilled lamb but lately as a reminder of life itself and the fragile world in which we live.

As 2017 begins, may you enjoy roasted, mashed or pickled root vegetables and share a plate with those you cherish most.

minimized-lifit-pickled-turnips-two-copyQuick Lifit (Pickled Turnips)

1½ to 2 pounds turnips (peeled and sliced)
1 small beet
1 mild pepper pod
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup water
½ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup white vinegar

Boil beet in small saucepan of water until tender. Cool, peel and quarter. Mix water and vinegar and set aside. Place turnips in sterilized quart jar. Add beets, pepper pod and teaspoon of salt. Pour vinegar mixture into jar to completely cover vegetables. Seal jar, label with date and refrigerate seven days, agitating jar for a minute every other day. Lifit will turn bright fuchsia, thanks to the beet.

By Mary Ann Ebner, first published by The Highlands Current


Spicy devotion

20140303-203501.jpgI thought I was I lucky enough to have a friend who keeps me well stocked with my favorite Middle Eastern blend of allspice: She knows what’s cooking in my kitchen. Then I received a spicy gift box of Penzeys from my gardening inspiration. That welcome surprise was followed by a spice selection by mail from my favorite spice girl in St. Louis … more Penzeys including the kicky Balti seasoning. And the fresh zahtar that recently found its way home here in the Hudson Valley was hand carried from Lebanon and shared by one who can quickly identify zahtar wannabes. Thanks to all that, I’m on a new flavor trail with friends who know how to share the simple formula for preserving food and friendships. Keep those fresh spices on hand.

Urgent coffee break – Serious in Syria

Coffee holds a place of honor in some cultures, and The Cookery appreciates a flavorful cup of Arabic coffee. Make this coffee on the stove top, tune out the day’s noise, and tune in to serious matters.

Serious matters

There must be countless ways to brew the perfect cup of coffee, but this is not that cup. If you don’t have a small Middle Eastern coffee pot, ubiquitous in the region, try a small sauce pan. Bring two cups of water to a boil. Add two heaping tablespoons of pure ground Arabic coffee to boiling water. Stir. Bring back to a full froth, bubbling boil. Some purists may remove from heat and bring to a boil yet again, but we’ll keep these directions easy to navigate. A spoonful of sugar per person will set the tone for your coffee break and leave you with something to savor.

Bread of hope for Syrians

Back in 2010, I shared an image of bread along the streets of Syria and the value of this daily sustenance. It’s certain that the scene has changed since I broke bread in Syria, and people throughout the country are experiencing loss beyond belief. If you’re able to gather these modest ingredients and fire up an oven, you’re living a life that not everyone has access to but deserves — one with access to healthy food without hostility.

Basic bread from the ovens of Syria

2 cups water (warm)

1 package rapid rise yeast

6 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons sugar

Place flour in mixing bowl. Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water. Add salt to yeast mixture. Pour yeast mixture into center of flour. Mix thoroughly and knead until smooth. Cover bowl with a moist towel and let rise two hours. Punch dough down and let rise for an additional hour.

Divide dough into miniature rounds.

Place small rounds of dough on baking sheet.

Bake in hot oven – it’s difficult to achieve the same result that fiery-hot commercial ovens produce, but try setting a conventional home oven to 450 degrees and bake on top rack for 6 minutes.

Makes 10 generous servings.


Spice the rice

Putting a favorable meal together gets easier when the ingredients matter. When it comes to The Cookery’s rice and spice dish, go with a traditional basmati if you can work it into the food budget. It’s certain that basmati adds up more quickly than alternatives, but you’ll appreciate the results. 

Rice and spice

1 cup basmati rice

2 cups water

1 pound ground beef (not too lean)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, diced

2 tablespoons ground cumin

3 cups diced tomatoes

1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

salt and pepper

If you have a rice cooker, put it to work. Steam rice in water with a rice cooker or on the stove top. (I get the rice going before I begin chopping.) Warm olive oil in large frying pan. Add onion, cumin, and ground beef. Brown evenly, and don’t drain unless you need to carefully mind the menu. Fold in tomatoes. Stir and cook over medium heat five minutes. Add steamed rice to pan ingredients. Salt and pepper to your liking, and add chopped cilantro just before serving.

Yield: 6 generous servings.    

Meat pies in Baghdad

Our forwarded mail is catching up to us in New York, with the July issue of National Geographic resting on a stack of incoming magazines last week. Note . . . . for great reading throughout, see this issue, with a look at Lynsey Addario’s striking photographs in the “Baghdad After The Storm” feature by Brian Turner. Meat pies help illustrate the story with “lahm bi ajeen.”