Appetizers || Meze

SIMPLE yet FLAVORFUL Kofta Pizza

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I first posted this recipe over at Eazy Peazy site a while back.  It's such a fun, simple yet super flavorful dish.  The combination of the feta, the fresh bread, and the flavorful kofta really make it a winner! 

This Kofta Pizza will elevate any summer party and the best part is of course, its SO EASY and tastes SO good!  Kofta is basically meatballs or dumplings from the Middle East and Southeast Asian region.  They are formed into either balls or cigar shaped and are used in hundreds of variations of dishes.

The meat is first ground up so finely that it becomes a smooth paste and then mixed with various spices depending on the region.  Most common spices used are cumin and cardamom and also with onions and parsley.  The Middle East and Southeast Asian region is so vast, so depending on where you are the kofta could taste quite different.  Some bake it, grill it, roast or fry it, either way, the flavors of the spices in the meat taste amazing.

In parts of the Middle East it is served in a pita bread as street food, in other parts it is cooked in with various sauces.  In fact, the word Kofta is derived from the word “koftan” and in Farsi that means to “beat” or to “grind” because it is ground so much to create the smooth consistency.

I recently discovered an amazing little bakery that bakes baguettes fresh daily and even writes the time the bread came out of the oven!  The inside of the baguette is so soft it felt like I was biting into a cloud.  Because Syria was occupied by the French for quite some time, there is a huge French influence in the region, one of which is baguettes.  Thank you France!  I immediately dreamed of a kofta baguette sandwich with all the trimmings.

When I decided to make this though, I took it one step further and bought garlic bread from my local supermarket and that just gave it the perfect garlic touch.  I added spaghetti sauce on top of it, placed the baked kofta on top of that, added slices of feta cheese and garnished with parsley.  We devoured it in minutes!  This is definitely going to be what I will make for my family at our next BBQ

THE BEST Lebne Garlic Dill Dip

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This is the best dip ever for everything.  That's quite a bold statement but I stand by it.  And I'm sure some of you are wondering if I think its better than Muhammara, since I'm so passionate about that.  To that I say, it's like a mother of multiple children, her love for each child is different and cannot love one over the other.  And that's how I feel!  But all jokes aside, I am obsessed with this dip.   Usually I serve it with roasted baby potatoes and it's usually all done before I even officially set it on the table.  I have also served it with baked salmon, also a hit.  I've made it with chicken wings, a hit again.  So clearly, the winner is the dip although I'm sure the potatoes, salmon and chicken were great too haha. 

This is another one of those dips that I'm pretty sure my mom invented because I think she invented everything.  Quite a culinary genius that one.  The genius of mixing fresh dill with dried dill creates such a unique flavor, combine it with the garlic and creamy lebne makes it a winner.  Be warned, the dill flavors need a few minutes to really settle and release their flavor.  Thank me in the comments below! :) 

Turkey Shawerma Nuggets

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Okay okay, I know what you're thinking.  Shawarma by its nature means sliced so a shawarma nugget is basically an oxymoron.  But, luckily for us, the culinary world is a creative space and there are no food police so technically I can do what I want.  

This of course goes against everything my mom believes in.  I think I mentioned in the past that my mom, a culinary genius, but when it comes to Middle Eastern dishes she is absolutely by the book.  She grew up eating shawarma in a pita wrap, with garlic sauce and pickles and you absolutely cannot convince her to eat shawarma in nugget form.  She'll eat the nugget, she just won't call it shawarma.  It's unorthodox and she doesn't want to be a part of it. But with any other cuisine she will explore, create and run free. 

And just to be clear, these nuggets are not going to replace your shawarma wrap craving but they do taste amazing and they're perfect for your kids or for entertaining and thats what matters.  Anything and everything in mini form right?

 

Shawerma is one of those things that you have to have in the Middle East.  I have yet to find a place in the US that makes a shawarma sandwich like the way they make them in Damascus.  Don't get me wrong, I've had a ton of great tasting shawarma sandwiches but none that are similar to the ones from the street vendors or shawarma cafes in Damascus.  They are made different in various parts of the Middle East and Turkey but in Damascus they are made small and simple.  Fresh warm bread, juicy flavorful chicken shawarma, garlic sauce and green middle eastern pickles.  Thats it.  Simple but perfect.  

But back to the recipe at hand.  I have been trying hard to think of different ways to feed my child.  She sure likes to challenge me.  These were perfect because she approved of their shape (she decides what to eat based on the shape and color of the dish)  and they tasted amazing.  I actually had to "taste test" about 4 of these as I was taking pictures!

Muhammara pull apart wreath

This dish looks so impressive and looks so difficult to make but it's actually super easy!  I did semi cheat though (didn't make my own dough and used already made muhamamra) BUTT the idea is that the technique is what looks impressive and that part is not difficult at all.  You can make your own dough or use store bought, it's up to you.  You can also spread anything you want inside, it doesn't have to be Muhammara obviously.  I've made it with olive oil and zaatar, a variety of cheese, and also pizza sauce and mozzarella.  You can get as creative as you want!

For the Muhammara, you can make some and keep it stored in the fridge to use as a dip, spread on sandwiches or as a sauce.  That's what made this so simple, I had some already made and ready to go.  I posted the recipe for the Muhammara here

Since it only takes 10 minutes in the oven, I assembled it at home and wrapped it.  Once I got to my guests house I popped it in the oven for 10 minutes and it was fresh, warm and yummy!


Garlic infused Medjool Date Creamy Brie with Zaatar Crusted Crostini

Ok I am obsessed with cheese.  Like Cheese > Chocolate any day of the week.  I don't even discriminate, I am equally obsessed; Brie, Blue, Chedder, Halloumi, Havarti, Nabulsi, Gouda, the list goes on.   This super super super easy and amazingly tasting appetizer is so perfect for entertaining.  It literally takes almost zero effort but looks impressive and taste amazing.

So Brie is not a commonly consumed cheese in the Middle East so for this interpretation of the dish I made it a bridge between modern and middle eastern ingredients.  During the holidays cheese related appetizers float all over the internet but I was inspired to make this from a post Gaby did on her site Whats Gaby Cooking.  

I first made slight incisions on top of the brie and inserted thinly sliced garlic into the incisions.  This will give a nice slight garlic taste in the cheese which taste oh my God so friggin amazing.  Okay moving on.

In order to make a perfect cut splitting the Brie into two I use this little trick that makes a very clean cut through this otherwise creamy and sticky cheese.  

I first make a slight incision all along the outside of the Brie and then I use dental floss and wrap it around and inside the incision and just pull through, and thats it. Once I have the two pieces I bottom side with chopped up Medjool Date but feel free to use any kind of jam or fruit.  I then put the two halves together and this is very important, put it BACK into the little wooden case it came in.  I tried making this once with the cheese NOT in the case because I was so paranoid about it catching fire in the oven and naturally the cheese melted and looked like a big blob.  If you want it to look presentable and in tact it must be in the oven in the wood case.  

 Feel free to top it with any other fruit or jam

Feel free to top it with any other fruit or jam

In order to make the crostinis I used fresh sourdough baguette from the local bakery.  Make sure to cut them into thin slices and top with olive oil and zaatar and bake in the oven.  It's literally as easy as that! 

Dip the crunchy crostini right into the brie and ENJOY! It's so good I literally can't even take it.  

Zaatar Crusted Shrimp with Lemon Tahini Drizzle

You have no idea the high that I get after my husband gives me the thumbs up after trying something that I "created" in the kitchen!  This was one of those highs.   

So what ha happened was, I met up with a friend, a fellow mom foodie that thinks about food just as much if not more than I do to talk about work, seriously.  We spent about 2 hours talking about the kids and food, just kidding it was pretty much all food and sweet pillar, work, you know.  Zaatar came up in the conversation.  That was that.  

I came home, saw the shrimp I got for a lemon shrimp pasta dish I was planning on making.  Lightbulb.  Zaatar from my subconscious jumped out, the shrimp was right in front of my face, boom bam, next thing I know I'm creating Zaatar crusted shrimp with lemon tahini drizzle.

I thought it tasted great and I love that it was so different.  My mom and grandmother, both the best chefs I've ever known literally make so much food on a daily basis for the family, the kids, and non stop guests it's as if they were running catering businesses.  My mom makes and experiments with food all the time and cooks every cuisine under the sun, but when it comes to Arabic food she is NOT comfortable experimenting.  If I ever consulted with her about making zaatar crusted shrimp she would have freaked out, gave me a look of confusion, and would've just said in arabic "we just don't do that.  we don't eat zaatar and shrimp.  It's just not done."  There is one way to eat zaatar and its taking pita bread, dipping it in a bowl of olive oil then a bowl of zaatar and then sipping tea.  I'll update this post and tell you her reaction once I show her the pictures and tell her what I did.  Insert emoticon of monkey covering his face here.  haha. 

 

So this is actually pretty easy to make.  The lemon tahini sauce is used for multiple dishes so it's definitely a recipe to hold on to and know how to access later.  Ayla eats this sauce with just pita bread, she loves it so much.  I made the shrimp the same way I would if I was making buffalo shrimp or coconut crusted shrimp and then I just drizzled the zaatar marinade at the end.  The challenge is making the zaatar wet enough to stick on to the shrimp.

INGREDIENTS for TAHINI LEMON SAUCE

  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup water
  • salt

INSTRUCTIONS for TAHINI LEMON SAUCE

  • whisk all ingredients together
  • As simple as that

TIP:

  • If it is too pasty, add more water until desired consistency is achieved
  • If you don't taste the lemon burst of flavor, add more
  • I tend to use a lot of garlic, so feel free to add more or less depending on how you like it

INGREDIENTS for ZAATAR CRUSTED SHRIMP

  • Egg
  • Flour
  • 8 Raw Shrimp, deveined
  • 1/4 cup Zaatar
  • 2 Tbl Olive oil
  • Frying oil (I used vegetable)

INSTRUCTIONS for ZAATAR CRUSTED SHRIMP

  • Create an assembly line by whisking egg and a little bit of water in one bowl, flour in the second bowl and shrimp in a third.
  • Start by dipping the shrimp in the egg mixture then the flour
  • Refrigerate while creating the zaatar mix and heating the frying oil
  • Once the oil has heated, fry the shrimp for 2-3 minutes
  • Remove and place on a paper towel to remove excess oil
  • Mix zaatar and olive oil 
  • Drizzle on shrimp
  • Done and Done!