IMG_2104     We had frozen “Limonana” (Lemonana) at Dizengoff in Philadelphia recently and I was struck by the herbal flavor of it, and by how well it went with their very excellent hummus.  Lemonana is basically lemonade with a generous dose of mint, and it’s been called the national drink of Israel.  This aint your Grandma’s lemonade–it’s assertively tart with a divine herbal edge.  It can be made in a good variety of ways, but I know they make a mint syrup at Dizengoff, and they choose to serve it frozen.  I looked at a bunch of Lemonana online and developed this easy recipe, which tastes a lot like the one at Dizengoff.  I’m convinced, however, that Dizengoff uses a secret ingredient–some savory herb or something.  I’ll be trying that in future, but in the meantime, this is so good and refreshing that I’m satisfied.


Serves:  2 to 3

Mint Syrup
1 Cup water
1 Cup sugar
1.5 oz. fresh mint
Combine water and sugar in a very small saucepan and simmer on medium heat, stirring frequently until sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat and wait 10 minutes for the syrup to cool slightly.  Stir in fresh mint, cover and let steep for 15-30 minutes.  Remove and discard mint leaves or strain syrup through a mesh sieve and allow to come to room temperature.  Store in a sealed glass jar or bottle in refrigerator for up to one month.

1/2 Cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 Cup water
2/3 Cup mint syrup
2 drops orange blossom water  (optional)
20-30 ice cubes

To a blender, add lemon juice, water, mint syrup and orange blossom water, and stir.  Add ice and blend until frozen, adding a little more ice if necessary.  Taste.

Notes:  My ice cubes are those smaller crescent-shaped ice “cubes” that come out of an ice dispenser in my freezer.  You may need more ice than this, unless you’re using the old-fashioned, big rectangular ice cubes.  Any leftover mint syrup can also be used in iced tea, of course.  To save time, make mint syrup ahead and have it well chilled.  Two photos of Dizengoff below.  Dizengoff has a cult following for their hummus and their pita bread.

Chickpea Zucchini Fries with Sumac and Lemon

IMG_1104    Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, this is my riff on Mario Batali’s Chickpea Fries.  We found his version too bland, so these have been spiced up a bit, and this recipe below is halved.  I didn’t bother wringing out the zucchini, just left it to drain longer instead.  Packed with fiber and protein, these golden fries are addictive when served with wedges of fresh lemon and sea salt.


Serves 4

1 large zucchini, partially peeled and grated  (approx. 3 cups of grated zucchini)
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 Cups water
1.5 Cups chickpea flour  (also called garbanzo flour)
1.5 teaspoon ground sumac
1 teaspoon Shallot-Pepper  or any other spice(s)
1/4 Cup all-purpose flour for dredging (optional)
1/2 Cup peanut oil
2 lemons, cut into wedges
sea salt or other finishing salt

Place grated zucchini in a bowl and sprinkle with the 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and stir to mix well.  Transfer grated zucchini to a colander set over a bowl, and set aside to drain for 30 minutes or so.  Occasionally, gently stir and press it with the back of a spoon.

Grease a baking dish and line the bottom with waxed paper or parchment paper.  I used waxed paper and a Pyrex dish of approx. 11×7 inches.  Set this prepared baking dish in the refrigerator while you work.

In a medium mixing bowl, dry whisk the sumac and shallot-pepper (or other seasonings) into the chickpea flour.  In a medium saucepan, simmer the water over medium heat.  Pour in the seasoned chickpea flour and stir constantly for one minute, making sure heat is not too high.  Add zucchini, stir well and remove from heat.  Pour zucchini mixture into prepared baking dish, and gently press and smooth it out with the back of a spoon.  Chill for at least one hour, or overnight.

Onto a large floured cutting board, turn out the set chickpea mixture.  Peel off and discard the waxed paper.  Cut into fries approx. 3″ x 1/2″.   In a heavy-bottom pot, heat the oil.  Dredge fries lightly in all-purpose flour (this step is optional but it’s the only way I’ve ever done it).  Working in batches, cook the chickpea fries until golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes.  You’re going for golden brown here, not too dark.  Drain on paper towels and serve immediately with plenty of lemon wedges,  and sea salt for sprinkling.

Notes:  You can find ground sumac in any Middle-Eastern grocery.  These are worth getting out your best salt for.  Feel free to change up the spices.  I’ll try using black pepper and rosemary next time, to go with the lemon and sea salt.  These are called panisses in France, and panelle in Italy.  Here’s a video of Mario Batali making these.  More photos below.

IMG_1098 Zucchini draining into a bowl.
IMG_1100  Water drained from the zucchini.

Vegan Moroccan Bisteeya (aka Bastilla or Pastilla)


This recipe comes from the March/April 2012 issue of VegNews magazine.  I could not find an online link for it though.  Bisteeya is also called Bastilla or Pastilla, and is a favorite Berber dish from Morocco, served at the beginning of special meals.   It’s often made from pigeon, chicken, eggs and chicken fat (yuck).  Our recipe here is a clean, fragrant dish that could be the centerpiece of any festive meal.  Even though this vegan version is a lot quicker (with no dead animals or secretions to cook),  this is still somewhat time-consuming,  maybe it took me a couple of hours all together, including washing some dishes.  This would be good served alongside some Persian RiceMore photos below.
Moroccan Bisteeya,  Vegan Bastilla or Pastilla

Serves 6 to 8
2 15 oz. cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed, divided  (instead of chickpeas, I used one rounded cup of Soy Curls, hydrated for 10 minutes in some broth)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 Cup vegetable broth
tiny pinch saffron (to flavor broth)
1 Cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 Cup frozen green peas, thawed (or other vegetables)
1/2 Cup dried apricots, chopped
1/2 Cup golden raisins
1/2 Cup pitted prunes, chopped
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
juice of one lemon
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 sheets vegan puff pastry, thawed
1/2 Cup toasted, slivered almonds  (this is a key ingredient)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Mash half of chickpeas thoroughly, and set aside.
In a large skillet over medium heat, heat oil.
Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
Stir in garlic and ginger, and cook one minute.
Reduce heat to low, stir in coriander, cumin, allspice and cayenne, and continue to cook for a few minutes, or until onion is very soft, stirring in saffron vegetable broth as you cook.
Stir in mashed chickpeas, coconut milk, peas, raisins, apricots and prunes.
Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally until mixture thickens, about 5 minutes.
Remove from heat, stir in remaining chickpeas, cilantro, lemon juice, lemon zest and salt, and set aside to cool completely.
In a 9-inch springform or cake pan, press one sheet of pastry.
Spread cooled filling mixture evenly inside the pastry.
Sprinkle the toasted almonds on top of the filling.
Arrange the second sheet of pastry on top, tucking in the sides.
Using a sharp knife, cut slits in the top of the pastry, creating your serving lines (see photo below).  In other words, if you will cut your pie into 8 slices, cut those slice lines into only the top of the crust, marking out your slices and creating vents at the same time Be careful not to cut into the bottom crust.
If using a springform pan, place it on a baking sheet,  to prevent leaks.
Bake until golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes (mine took 40 in my electric oven).
Dust the top ever so slightly with cinnamon (my addition, since it’s traditional).
Cool for about 8 minutes before removing from pan and cutting into wedges.
Serve immediately.

Notes:  The key to this dish for me, is prep, prep, prep.  I measured out all the spices into a little cup and stirred them together.  I pre-mixed the lemon zest, lemon juice and salt, etc.  I threw in some green bell pepper and cooked sweet potato chunks that I had on hand, instead of the peas.  The toasting of the almonds added a lot to both the flavor and texture of this dish, and I just did mine in a dry skillet on top of the stove, on medium heat.  Traditionally, powdered sugar would be sprinkled over the top of the  crust, and some cinnamon too.  I’m guessing this is best re-heated in an oven, due to the dough.  I used a 9-inch Kaiser springform pan.  Any other vegan meat would work here, TVP, TSP, chopped seitan, etc.  This is one of those times when a Springform pan really comes in handy.

Moroccan Stuffed Acorn Squashes

These Moroccan Stuffed Acorn Squashes can be made ahead to save time before dinner.  This protein-packed dish would be lovely for any Autumnal meal, or even Thanksgiving.  The Middle-Eastern ingredients are lightly spiced, and the raisins add chewy sweetness as a foil against the savory broth.  Instead of ground beef, I used chopped walnuts.  Walnuts provide not only extra protein and omegas, but a rich meatiness that pushes this into the main-dish arena.  For those who are avoiding gluten, you could easily substitute quinoa for the bulgur.  You could also add a cup of Beyond Beef Crumbles, or other vegan protein, if you want to.  Vegan Mofo 2012.
Moroccan Stuffed Acorn Squashes

Serves 4

2 small Acorn squashes
1/2 Cup bulgur wheat  (or cooked quinoa)
1 Cup vegetable broth  (I used Better Than Bouillon)
1/3 Cup golden raisins
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 Cup flat-leaf parsley, stems removed, chopped fine
1/2 Cup raw walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Heat one Cup of vegetable broth.
Put bulgur in a small bowl, pour in only 3/4 Cup of the steaming broth over the bulgur, and cover and wait 30 to 45 minutes.
Pour the remaining 1/4 Cup of hot broth over the raisins and set them aside to plump.

You will now pre-bake the squash so it’s easy to cut into.
Wash acorn squashes and set them in a baking dish with 1/2 inch of water.  Find the place where you will cut each squash in half and then pierce along that invisible line several times, to let steam escape.
Bake squashes for 35 minutes.
Remove from oven and carefully slice along your previous perforations with a sharp knife to create a continuous slit.
Bake 30 more minutes and then remove from oven to cool.

In a pot, heat oil and add onion and cook about 5 minutes.
Add garlic, spices and salt, and cook another minute or so.
Add hydrated bulgur and cook until any excessive moisture (if there is any) is gone, maybe 3 to 5 minutes.
Remove from heat, add parsley and walnuts and stir well.
Drain raisins and fold them into the bulgur mixture.
Scrape out the cooled squashes, forming squash bowls, and fold the squash meat into the bulgur mixture in the pot.
With a spoon, mix gently but well, and fill each squash bowl with stuffing.
You can now refrigerate these to bake later, if you want to.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place stuffed squashes side by side in a baking dish and bake until warmed through and tops are browned, about 20 minutes or so.  If squashes have been chilling, it might take longer.

Notes:  I used Bob’s Red Mill 100% Whole Grain Quick Cooking Bulgur.  All I had in the house were regular raisins, so the photo reflects that.

Armenian Lentil Apricot Soup

IMG_1948    This easy soup has had a little food buzz lately, and I was intrigued because the idea of lentil soup had never appealed to me before.  I found three recipes online, one being from The Armenian Kitchen.  I took what I wanted from each recipe and the result is really good.  I switched out the green bell pepper for a red bell pepper, but this soup is very versatile and you can do whatever you like.  The key here is the sweet and chewy dried-apricot flavor and texture, in contrast with the heat and spice and hearty lentils.  The bonus is that lentils are so nutritionally dense; very high in protein, fiber, iron, folate and other goodies.  And Red Lentils are hulled (decorticated), so they cook relatively quickly.  I added the turmeric just because it’s an anti-inflammatory, and it gives a golden glow, but you don’t really taste it (it’s optional).   This is a pretty soup for Vegan Mofo 2012!
Armenian Lentil Apricot Soup

Serves 6

1.5 Cups dried red lentils
6 Cups water
2 teaspoons Better Than Bouillon  (or some other bouillon)
1/2 Cup chopped dried apricots
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 medium to large onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon coriander
1/8 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon turmeric (optional)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 Tablespoon paprika

Add water and bouillon to a stock pot.
Rinse lentils, add them to the pot and bring to a boil.
Skim off any foam.
Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
Watch the pot, because mine almost boiled over!
Meanwhile, in a skillet, saute the onion in the oil until it’s translucent.
To the onion, add the bell pepper, spices and salt, and cover and cook for 10 minutes.
Stir the sauteed vegetables and the chopped apricots into the lentil soup and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.
Taste the soup to make sure the lentils are done.
Garnish with any of the following:  croutons, toasted almonds, a drizzle of vegan cream, finely chopped mint, etc.

Falafel Burgers

I never thought I liked falafel, until I made them at home and realized how light, tender and flavorful they could be.  Maybe you have a good falafel restaurant near you, but if you don’t, this recipe is easy and well worth the effort.  I decided to make falafel burgers instead of falafel balls because this takes some of the time and work out of it.  Serve with this excellent vegan Tzatziki sauce.
Falafel Burgers

Makes six burgers

1 cup dried chickpeas (or 1 can chick peas)
¼ C bulgur (optional)  or cooked quinoa (optional)
juice of one lemon (for soaking the bulgur)
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 tablespoons flour
1 onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley, stems removed (or 2 teaspoons dried parsley)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon fine sea salt (not kosher salt)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (if you like it hot, double it)
1 teaspoon onion powder
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3 more Tablespoons of flour
peanut oil, or other oil for frying
Chopped tomato for garnish (only if in season)
Tahina sauce, or hummus, or vegan Tzatziki sauce
Burger buns, or pita pockets

Put dried chickpeas in a glass bowl and add enough cold water to cover them by at least 2 inches. Let soak overnight, and then drain. Or use 1 can chickpeas, drained.

If using, put bulgur into small bowl with lemon juice, and let rest for 45 minutes.

Mix baking powder into 4 Tablespoons of the flour.
Place all of the drained, uncooked chickpeas in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, and chop until coarsely ground.   Remove processed chick peas and put them into a large bowl.

Into the food processor add the onions, parsley, cilantro, salt, cayenne, onion powder, garlic, cumin and flour-and-baking-powder mixture.   Process until blended but not pureed.

Add the onion mixture and the hydrated bulgur (or cooked quinoa) (if using) to the ground chickpeas in the bowl, and stir with a wooden spoon.
Add last three Tablespoons of flour and mix again with wooden spoon.
Turn this mixture into a container and refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight.

Make burger patties, using a half-cup measure, making sure to use level cups, so you  get six burgers.  In a large, non-stick skillet, heat 2 Tablespoons of oil on medium-low heat.   Place burgers in skillet, and let them cook on one side for about 5 to 10 minutes.  You’ll  know if the burgers are ready to flip when you give the skillet a little shake and the burgers move.  If the burgers do not move, don’t flip them yet or they will fall apart.Drain on paper towels only if necessary.   Dress your burgers with sliced garden tomatoes, grated cucumber, etc.   Drizzle with tahina thinned with water, hummus, or my favorite cool and creamy vegan Tzatziki sauce.   Note: These also freeze well.  I tried substituting rice flour one time but did not care for it.

Vegan Tzatziki Sauce

Being October, I had no fresh dill in the garden, so I used dried dill weed, and it still tastes great.  The sprig in the photo is actually fennel, just to make it pretty.  This quick and easy recipe uses vegan sour cream, for a rich texture, and it came out better than my try with soy yogurt a while back.  I’m not crazy about garlic in delicate cream sauces, so I omitted it.  For me, it’s brighter and fresher without it, and the cool, crisp cucumber and the dill can come through cleanly.  Besides, I already put plenty of garlic in my falafels.  I also added fresh lemon juice to this vegan tzatziki sauce.  p.s.  I made this recipe specifically to go on my Falafel Burgers.
Vegan Tzatziki

1 good sized cucumber, peeled and seeds removed
12 ouncesTofutti sour cream
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon fresh dill, chopped fine (or 1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed)
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons lemon juice

Take vegan sour cream out of the fridge and let it warm up some.
Grate cucumber, put it in a small bowl and set it aside while you work, to let the cucumber juice accumulate in the bottom of the bowl.
With the back of a spoon, press the cucumber and drain the juice out of the bowl.
Drink the cucumber juice, don’t waste it!
Mix all the ingredients together and stir well.
Chill in the fridge.

Notes:  If I had fresh dill on hand, I would have added more of it, and fresh dill is preferable over dried. Some Mediterranean restaurants use sour cream for their tzatziki, so that’s what I did.  It’s better than the one I made previously with soy yogurt, and has a richer texture too.  If you have to have the garlic, I would try 1 to 2 cloves crushed and chopped.

Vegan Baked Kibbeh

Kibbeh is eaten in many Middle Eastern countries, such as Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Territories and the Arabian Peninsula.  I adapted this recipe from one I found on epicurious, and then I read a recipe in another cookbook to make sure that kibbeh really is sometimes baked, and that the spices were right.  There’s a good Wikipedia entry on kibbeh too.  Kibbeh has two textures; the looser, “meatier” interior, and the finer, bulgur-laced shell.  It can be made in individual deep-fried balls, or baked in a pan, which is quicker and less fatty.  In order to achieve these two textures, I used two different analog meats; Boca Crumbles and Yves Meatless Ground, and it’s amazing how well they worked together to make authentic Kibbeh textures.  I was originally inspired to create a Middle Eastern section on this blog because I read an article about Conflict Kitchen.  It’s sad that a good concept blows it by promoting the violent killing of innocent beings, but I embrace the peaceful part of the intentions behind Conflict Kitchen.  So, I’m creating our very own, truly peaceful Vegan Conflict Kitchen, right here, for all of us.  I’ve already posted Persian Rice, and Spicy Lebanese Potatoes, and they’re both excellent.  Before I went vegan, I tried kibbeh at restaurants; those little fried footballs that were pretty bland and unhealthy.  So, this Vegan Baked Kibbeh was a pleasant surprise, because it’s light, delicately flavored and versatile.  We had flatbread sandwiches out of it, and I even made Kibbeh Pasties (see photo below), or Kibbeh Empanadas, if you will.  And, they were both superb.  As a side note, I once again missed out on the sign-up for Vegan Mofo (Vegan Month of Food), but am going to dedicate all recipes for the rest of October to Vegan Mofo.  Man, I just can’t get no love from Isa and Terry.  p.s.  There are more photos of this dish done in different ways, below.  And, this recipe looks long and involved, but active time is really less than an hour, and it makes a lot.

Vegan Baked Kibbeh

Active time:  40 minutes  (2 hours including cooking time)

Makes approximately 8 servings (or ten?)

For filling
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 lb. Boca Crumbles
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup pine nuts plus 2 tablespoons for garnish, toasted

For bulgur mixture:
1 cup bulgur  (I used Arrowhead Mills Organic regular bulgur)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 package Yves Meatless Ground
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

Special equipment: a 9-inch-square baking dish, or a 10-inch cast-iron skillet.

Make filling:
Cook onion in oil in a heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes.
Add Boca Crumbles, allspice, salt, cinnamon and pepper, and cook, stirring, about 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in 1/3 cup pine nuts.

Make bulgur mixture:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a bowl, cover bulgur with cold water.
When dust and chaff rise to surface, pour off water and then repeat this rinsing two more times.
Cover rinsed bulgur with cold water and let stand 10 minutes.
Drain in a very-fine mesh sieve, and quickly press and shake gently to remove excess liquid.  Set aside.
In a food processor, pulse onion until finely chopped.
Add Yves Meatless Ground, allspice, salt, cinnamon and pepper.
Pulse until mixture is finely mixed and somewhat smooth.
Add bulgur to food processor and process to blend all.

Assemble and bake kibbeh:
Lightly grease pan or skillet with 1/2 tablespoon olive oil (I just used cooking oil spray).
Press half of bulgur mixture evenly onto bottom of pan.
Spoon filling evenly over bulgur mixture.
Spoon remaining bulgur mixture over filling and spread to cover, smoothing top.
Brush top with remaining olive oil, or melted Earth Balance, or spray oil, and score in a crosshatch pattern with a knife.
Bake kibbeh in middle of oven until cooked through, 35 to 40 minutes.

Preheat broiler.
Broil kibbeh 5 to 7 inches from heat until top is golden brown and crusty, 3 to 5 minutes.
Garnish with reserved 2 Tablespoons of toasted pine nuts.
Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Serve with sumac spice, vegan yogurt sauce, etc.
Can be made into flatbread sandwiches, stuffed into pita pockets with shredded lettuce, made into hand pies, etc.

Note:  I served mine with my Turkish Yogurt Coriander Sauce, and it was killer good.  You could also serve it with plain vegan yogurt.

This photo shows the baked kibbeh in a pan.  Apparently some Middle Eastern moms will baste the top with butter, and you could do that with some melted Earth Balance, but I just sprayed mine with canola oil to give the top a bit of crunch.  This slices nicely due to the scoring, and you can easily lift pieces out with a dinner fork.  Keep going, there’s one more photo below.

OK, this last photo shows a Kibbeh Pasty.  Or it could be a kibbeh empanada, or  kibbeh hand pie, whatever you want to call it.  I made them with my buttery, flaky, vegan French Pate Brise, and man, it was absolutely delicious!  I drizzled them with the Turkish Yogurt Almond Sauce and sprinkled them with toasted almonds, and they were gorgeous.

Turkish Yogurt Coriander Sauce

There are many variations of this Turkish Yogurt Coriander Sauce, but I’ve never seen a vegan one.  These sauces are used on roasted Middle Eastern foods, so would be great with veggie kebabs, Iranian vegan Kubideh sandwiches, etc.  I created this from a traditional recipe to go with some vegan Kibbeh that I made today, and I have to say the whole meal rocked.  This quick, easy, creamy sauce was so refreshing on the “meaty” kibbeh.  It would be great with any Middle Eastern dish (Persian, Moroccan, Lebanese, Syrian) calling for a cool, creamy sauce.  I’m even thinking of falafels.  Or anything Indian or Pakistani that would call for raita, or anything Greek calling for tzatziki.  I love the Trader Joe’s frozen cilantro cubes because they save me from buying a bag of cilantro (coriander leaves) when I know I’m only going to use a little bit of it, and the rest will go bad.  In closing, this sauce is easy, quick, cool and delicious.  A keeper.

Vegan Turkish Yogurt Coriander Sauce

Keeps for 2 days in fridge.

Makes: 1.5 cups approx.

½ of a small garlic clove,  pressed, or crushed and minced
3 Tablespoons of onion, very finely chopped (sweet onion is sometimes preferred, but it’s not critical)
2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar (or distilled white vinegar)
1 Cup almonds, chopped or sliced
a pinch of sea salt
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/8 teaspoon fine black pepper
1 Cup plain vegan yogurt  (I used a 6 oz. So Delicious Cultured Coconut Milk Yogurt, Plain flavor)
1-2 Tablespoons fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves, chopped fine (I used instead 3 teaspoons of Trader Joe’s frozen cilantro cubes, thawed)

Put chopped or sliced almonds in a small skillet and toast lightly with a pinch of fine sea salt, and stir.
In a serving bowl, combine garlic, onion and vinegar, and let stand for 10 minutes.
Beat in the olive oil, until the sauce is creamy.  I use my café latte frother.
Add salt, pepper, coriander/cilantro, and yogurt, and then whisk or froth to blend well.
Add almonds just before serving, to keep them crunchy.

Spicy Lebanese Potatoes – Batata Harra

According to Wikipedia, Batata Harra can also be a Syrian dish if made with red peppers, coriander and chili.  There’s an Indian version as well, but here we have a Lebanese dish.  Since the cilantro is briefly sauteed, it’s milder in flavor, and so might even appeal to those who have not yet acquired a taste for cilantro.

Batata Harra – Lebanese Spicy Potatoes

6-8 medium-to-large red potatoes, or fingerling potatoes to equal
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Cup washed, chopped fresh cilantro, with stems removed
4 cloves garlic, pressed, or crushed and minced
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Line baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat.   Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Do not peel potatoes.   Chop potatoes into small cubes, maybe 1/2 inch dice.
In a large bowl, toss potatoes with only 2 Tablespoons of the oil, and half of the salt.
Spread potatoes onto lined baking sheet, and bake for about 20 minutes, stirring them halfway through, until golden.
In a frying pan or wok, sauté garlic in remaining Tablespoon of olive oil for a minute or two.  Add potatoes and stir and saute for another minute or two.  Add in cilantro, remaining salt, cayenne and freshly ground pepper, and stir in pan before serving.

Notes:  Some cooks deep-fry the potatoes.  If you’re using potatoes with thicker skins, such as russets, you could mostly peel them.  Best served hot, but fine at room temperature too.

Vegan Persian Rice with Dried Fruit

I grew up eating “sticky rice” but I love the aroma and taste of Basmati rice–to me, it’s exotic.  Come to find out, Persians eat a lot of Indian Basmati rice, go figure.  And this recipe is amazingly delicious;  delicately flavored, but with a bit of toothsome chew.  It’s practical but frivolous, and pretty enough to evoke oohs and aahs.  And the scent of it is so fine–this is when you want your house to smell like dinner.  Adapted from this epicurious recipe, I only changed a couple of things.  Substituting the Earth Balance vegan butter, of course, and I added a pinch of turmeric to amp up the golden color, and the tiniest pinch of saffron, just to make it even more divine.  There are quite a few videos on youtube about preparing Persian Rice, and they’re fun to look at and provide good comparisons in cooking methods to this one.  Keep in mind that the measurements below are halved from the original, which you can link to above.  I used a smaller stock pot with a very heavy bottom on it, like it’s a half inch thick or something.  I think I did not have the rice sitting on a hot enough burner, but we did get some crusty bits described and next time I’ll go for slightly higher heat.  Either way, it was super delicious.  I served it with Tasty Bite Channa Masala and it was so good that Lars went back for seconds,  AND commented twice on how good it all was.
Notes from Gourmet Magazine:  Here, you only boil the rice briefly before combining it with the dried fruit and cooking it without water.   This recipe is adapted from a Persian method that yields a buttery crust (called tah-dig) on the bottom of the pan — later the crust is served with the rice. Usually you have to dip the pot in cold water at the end of cooking to release the crust, but a happy kitchen accident occurred when we tested this recipe. Food editor Ruth Cousineau let the rice stand for almost an hour (things can get hectic when you’re preparing a holiday meal), and the crust came right out without the dipping. Using HEAVY-bottomed pot helps keep the rice hot, too.

Jeweled Rice With Dried Fruit

Makes about 4 servings

Active Time: 25 min.
Total Time: 1 1/2 hr (includes standing time)

1.5 cups basmati rice
2 qt water
1 tablespoon sea salt
1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped into 8ths (or smaller)
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup dried cranberries
4 Tablespoons Earth Balance vegan butter
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
Less than 1/16th tsp saffron threads in one Tablespoon water
1/3 cup coarsely-chopped shelled unsalted pistachios (not dyed red)
Sumak spice for sprinkling on top (optional, but so good)

Rinse rice in at least four changes of cold water in a large bowl until water runs pretty clear. Set to drain in a fine sieve.

Please note that I tried cooking this in a Revere-ware copper bottomed pot and burned the bottom of the rice.  A stock pot with a heavy bottom is necessary.

Bring water and salt to a boil in a HEAVY-bottomed pot, then add rice and boil, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes from time water returns to boil. Drain rice in sieve.

Toss together dried fruit in a bowl.  In cleaned and dried pot, melt 3 tablespoons butter with cardamom, turmeric, pepper and saffron threads/water, stirring to combine.  Then alternately layer rice and dried fruit over it, beginning and ending with rice and mounding loosely. Make 5 or 6 holes in rice to bottom of pot with round handle of a wooden spoon, then cover pot with a kitchen towel and a heavy lid. Fold edges of towel up over lid (to keep towel from burning) and cook rice over moderately low heat, undisturbed, until tender and a crust forms on bottom, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from heat and let rice stand, tightly covered and undisturbed, at least 30 minutes.

Heat remaining Tablespoon butter in a small skillet over moderate heat and cook pistachios, stirring, until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes.

Spoon loose rice onto a platter, then break crust into 1-inch pieces and scatter over rice. Sprinkle with pistachios.  I just put a plate over the pot of rice and flipped all.

Cooks’ notes:   Rice can be parboiled and drained 4 hours ahead and transferred to a bowl. Keep, covered with a dampened kitchen towel, at room temperature. • Rice can stand off heat up to 1 hour. • If you’re short on time, you can skip letting the rice stand after cooking: Spoon loose rice onto a platter and then dip bottom of pot into a large bowl of cold water for 30 seconds to loosen crust.

Pita Bread

My best vegan girlfriend, Piliki, sent me this fabulous little cookbook for Christmas.  It’s called The Vegan Family Cookbook by Chef Brian P. McCarthy, whom you can see cooking on EverydayDish TV.  This is the first recipe I’ve tried out of the book, and it came out great.  I did reduce the oven temperature to 475 degrees Fahrenheit, and cut the recipe in half because there’s no way we’re eating 12 pita pockets.  Other than that, I followed the recipe.  What I like about this cookbook is that the recipes are all written very simply and have the least amount of ingredients.  This book is only 8 inches tall and many of the recipes only take up half the page!  So I made the pita pockets, and they were easy and actually better than the ones I get from the Lebanese restaurant in Annapolis.  Tender and forgiving, and they open easily into a nice wide pocket.  These would be perfect for stuffing with falafel, hummus, tabouleh, Better-Than-Tuna Salad, etc.  I don’t own a pizza stone but I do have a vintage cast-iron skillet, which worked wonderfully for baking the pita in the oven  (the recipe does say you can also use a cookie sheet).  Among the other recipes I’ve now got sticky notes on are: potato latkes, baked beans, blueberry crepes, spanakopita, curry baked tofu, watermelon agua fresca, banana bread, banana pudding, tapioca pudding, Grandma’s caramel corn, etc., etc. 

Preserved Lemons

     Preserved Lemons have been used in the Middle East  and North Africa since forever. Think of Moroccan tagines, the warmth of a relentless sun and olive groves.  I use this recipe from epicurious.com and I keep them in my fridge for about a year.  I did not soak the lemons to soften the peel, figuring they’ll soften in the jar anyway.  I did sterilize the jar by dipping it into boiling water, and I did dip the lemons for a minute or less in the same water.  I even put a little boiling water in a ramekin and dipped the whole spices in that.  I use two 3-inch cinnamon sticks, and sometimes one bay leaf.  I prefer not to use cloves or cardamom because I don’t want any medicinal flavor with the bright lemon.  The spices call to mind the souks of the middle east and I’ve always liked cinnamon in savory dishes anyway.  I don’t know if the lemons I used were Meyers, but they were organic, which was most important to me, since we’re going to consume the skins.  Making the lemons is easy.  Now to decide upon a myriad of dishes to make with them. I see Israeli couscous with roasted butternut squash and preserved lemons in my future, and lemon risotto.  And in the Spring, a compound lemon butter with Earth Balance for the new potatoes and asparagus and artichokes.  Lemon vinaigrettes and lemon tea cookies, etc.  It’s important to scrape the flesh from the underside of the already-preserved lemon and rinse the bit of peel you are using under cold running water, before chopping and mincing very finely for your dish.  And, a little goes a long way.  It will add some salt to your dish (despite rinsing) so adjust your recipe’s salt accordingly.
  I like these tongs, and wrap some rubber bands around the ends, which helps grip the jar.