Zucchini Soup {Koosa Soup}

ALERT.  This. tastes. so. good!  And Ayla, my 2 year old loved it and we all know how she's a little food snob!  Don't try to feed her something that doesn't taste amazing or any leftovers.  Sigh.

So it's been a little chilly in Southern California, you know 60 degrees haha.  Sorry, everyone living in cold places :) There was light drizzle the other day and its as if I iimmedietly forgot that I was raised in New Jersey and my body is supposed to be able to handle all types of cold weather conditions being that I dealt with rain, snow and freezing weather.  But nope, my body pretended it was the first time experiencing rain and I immediately pulled out my umbrella, winter jacket, boots, forgot how to drive in the rain, and made soup.  It actually felt quite nice and cozy! 

Every time I make another dish from my childhood I am amazed at how healthy and well rounded the dishes are.  The core of every dish is vegetables, vegetables and more vegetables.  And this is no exception.  Zucchini and eggplant might be tied in Middle Eastern cuisine as the most commonly used vegetable.  Let me know if there is another one.  We do so much with zucchini, most famously core it and stuff it with rice and meat and cook it in a tomato broth called Koosa Mahshi which translates to stuffed zucchini, so original right haha.  Among the many things we make with zucchini, this might be one of my favorites even though I'm not really a soup kinda girl.  But the flavor of the zucchini as it caramelizes with the onions and simmers in the chicken stock is just so good!  My mom never made it with chicken but I happened to have some cooked chicken so I threw it in there at the end and it automatically made the dish dinner worthy.  

 I didn't intend for the milk drizzle to look like a strange looking Pac Man, but hey, art at its finest :) 

I didn't intend for the milk drizzle to look like a strange looking Pac Man, but hey, art at its finest :) 

Stuffed Onions

Like I mentioned on my instagram (@sweetpillarfood), I'm so excited to have finally tried this after so long!  Growing up I was very accustomed to stuffed grape leaves; 2 kinds, one with meat and one more lemony  (yabraa and yalangee we called them), stuffed zucchini, eggplant, cabbage, artichoke hearts etc.  It always seemed so difficult and time consuming, and it was, time consuming more than difficult.  Especially that the dishes were being made to serve so many people.  There were special coring utensils to use to core the zucchini and a particular way to roll the grape leaves.  It was a full neighborhood affair and it happened frequently.  In fact, I just got off the phone with my mom who said her two friends were over rolling grape leaves together and she's planning on making stuffed grape leaves tonight, hours before she has a flight to catch to come visit me!  I was shocked she was even cooking let alone making grape leaves but she insisted she had fun with her two friends as they talked and caught up, they finished rolling the grape leaves before she knew it. 

Anyway, so here I am, living in my own little stuffed vegetable world, thinking I've tried every vegetable that was to be stuffed when I meet an older Chaldean Iraqi lady that spoke wonders of all these other vegetables she was stuffing.  Chaldeans for those that are not familiar have an extremely rich history that dates back to before Christ.  They are descendants of the Babylonian and Assyrian civilizations and the Aramean legacy or Mesopotamia.  To this day they speak in addition to Arabic, Chaldean which is essentially Aramaic, a slightly different dialect than that spoken by Jesus Christ.  How amazing is that?? To speak the same language Jesus Christ spoke!

So she told me they stuff carrots, onions and potatoes to name a few.  I was so intrigued that I looked more into it and found a recipe floating around the internet that I unfortunately couldn't find again of a Syrian Jewish recipe of stuffed onions with dried apricots.   Syrian Jewish cuisine is slightly different then traditional Syrian cuisine mainly because of religious dietary restrictions.  For example, in Jewish cuisine, dairy and meat are not to be combined so that eliminates some dishes that are common amongst other Syrians. 

I finally decided to give it a go and mixed together my knowledge of stuffed grape leaves and just started creating.  It turned out to be much easier then stuffing any of the other vegetables because the onions were so easy to peel.   In Damascus, it is not common to mix dried fruit in savory dishes so the result of this dish did not taste like any of my mom or grandmothers dishes.  But in other parts of the Middle East, including other parts of Syria like Aleppo for example, mixing dried fruit is very common.  I happen to be a big fan of sweet and savory so I thought it tasted amazing.  The sauce thickened and became a glaze like sauce.  The onion was so soft and tender full of flavor.  I urge you to try this and please let me know how it turns out!!

 Make an incision before boiling them so they're easy to separate

Make an incision before boiling them so they're easy to separate

Sumac Cumin Crusted Salmon

Ok so confession, I didn't necessarily love salmon until recently.  Anyone else feel this way? Anyone?  It used to always taste kinda bland to me.  For a while the only way I would make it, (and the only reason I only did make it is because I knew of the health benefits), was with a touch of olive oil, lemon juice, and rosemary baked in the oven.  It was good but I needed more.  I then did a little Asian switch it up and started adding vegetables and soy sauce and some other flavors and that was good.  Salmon was on its way up for me. BUT then my husbands cousin, who happens to be a male foodie that loves to cook and experiment in the kitchen (lucky wife) told me about this recipe and this has been my go to salmon recipe ever since!  The combination of sumac, cumin and yellow mustard seeds creates this super flavorful crust that is the perfect crunch texture contrast to the melt in your mouth salmon.  It's so good, and it's so easy.  Seriously.

 Sautee the kale in the same sumac, cumin, honey mustard rub for a few minutes

Sautee the kale in the same sumac, cumin, honey mustard rub for a few minutes

Today was a particularly long day for me.  I'm in the middle of production for one of the Sweet Pillar products (can't tell you which one yet :) and there is just so much that goes into producing a product that it's so non stop.  It's like conducting an orchestra, every piece has to be played correctly at the correct time in order for it all to work smoothly and successfully together.  But I digress.  I can talk about this stuff all day I worry I bore people with this food production talk haha. 

I was almost going to pick up take out as it was such a long day AND it was drizzling in Orange County, which means everyone was panicking and it was extra chaotic and busy.  I'm so glad I didn't order take out and made this instead.  I always get my salmon from Whole Foods and it tastes amazing and dinner in its entirety ends up taking 10 minutes from start to finish.

This particular dish is not a Middle Eastern classic that I grew up with although the sumac and cumin are very much staple spices in any middle eastern spice cabinet.  If you're feeling fancy but don't have the time, this is what you should make. 

 Yellow mustard seeds

Yellow mustard seeds

 Ground up yellow mustard seeds

Ground up yellow mustard seeds

 Sumac

Sumac

 Sautee in a tablespoon of olive oil

Sautee in a tablespoon of olive oil

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!


The easiest sugar cookies for 2

How cute are these cookies!! I've been wanting to do this for a while but couldn't find the proper letter stamps anywhere except online and they finally came in the mail! Just in time for Valentines Day.  I had all these ideas of what to make and what to write but I thought I'd keep it simple and give you a recipe for a super small batch of sugar cookies.  It's the worst when you make cookies and the recipe makes such a large quantity that most of them go stale because your body can only handle so much sugar.  So this solves that problem. 

The hardest part about this whole process was cutting those little letters and making sure I placed them in a way that didn't imprint them backwards.  I bought the stamp from amazon by a company called "Blinkeen" and so far I'm pleased.  I noticed that there are a bunch of different options and the biggest issue is making sure the company includes enough double letters so you can write things like "Hubbi" and have two B's.

So everyone by now knows "Hubbi" my last name means "my love" so of course I had to include that haha.  From my experience, Habibi which also means "my love" but directed to a male is probably the most commonly recognized Arabic word amongst non Arabs.  "Albi" means my heart is also a very commonly used word in everyday language, similar to how babe or honey is used in the US.  Remember Middle Easterners are very passionate people and it seems like they speak poetry in common everyday language. 

I was almost going to not include "Ro7i" which means my soul because my mom and I kept debating over how it would be spelled in English.  There is a sound in Arabic language that sounds like a deep H and the sound projects from the depth of ones throat.  That letter does not exist in the English language.  The letter in the Arabic language looks like the number 7 so nowadays there are a lot of people that write "Araglish" which is Arabic using the English letters and 7 is always what is used for that particular letter.  I wanted to write "Rohee" but my mom said I was butchering it so "Ro7i" is what we agreed on.

 Ayla caught redhanded.  And when she ate it she said "mm deeeelicious" and proceeded to bounce off the walls because of the sugar intake

Ayla caught redhanded.  And when she ate it she said "mm deeeelicious" and proceeded to bounce off the walls because of the sugar intake

 The evidence

The evidence

I had so much fun with this, I already have a bunch of ideas that I want to implement using these letters. Happy Valentines Day!  Let me know if you end up making these cookies and what message you wrote on them!

MIDDLE EASTERN INSPIRED VALENTINES DAY

Here it is!  My Middle Eastern inspired Valentines day spread for a little get together or a party of 2:)   Another excuse to celebrate and get together and make heart shaped sandwiches!  The heart sandwiches are a must for me every Valentines day, but this year I added Muhammara as a spread with mint, basil, smoked Turkey and muenster cheese on Dave's Killer Sliced Bread.  It's the only sliced bread I get because it has 21 whole grains and you can literally see the seeds and grains plus they have a great mission for change.  I haven't been able to get any other sliced bread since I discovered this one. (btw, this is not an ad lol)

I think the key to a successful spread is to have a variety of color because people feast with their eyes.   Add raspberries or strawberries for an easy instant pop of Valentines day colors.  In addition to making your spread colorful, another trick is to make sure your table has dimension.  Laying every plate just flat on the table tends to look unappealing to the eye.  Using height by either using cake platters or using wrapped boxes and placing the plates on top of them is an easy and inexpensive way to add dimension.  

Buttery popcorn with sumac seasoning elevates regular popcorn to a middle eastern gourmet item.  The tartness of the sumac and the savory butter are a perfect combination.  They can be served in cute small batches or in one big bowl to watch with a movie after dinner.

I remember in Damascus we would have limononana (lemon and mint) drink every.single.day.  Maybe multiple times a day.  It's the most refreshing drink ever and for this Valentines Day spread I added raspberries and sparkling water to it for a little addition of pink.   {The recipe is posted in my archives just substitute sparkling water for regular water and add raspberries at the end)

Instead of tea or coffee, I served Arabic coffee which I just brought back with me from my recent trip to the Middle East.  It's so aromatic and filled with flavors of cardamon and cinnamon.  I have to do a separate post on Arabic coffee and Turkish coffee because it's so interesting and so different.  Turkish coffee is actually the preferred coffee in the Levant region (Syria, Lebanon, etc) while Arabic coffee is consumed in the Gulf states (Dubai, Kuwait etc)  But back to Valentines Day.

I actually spent 2 or 3 Valentines Day in Damascus as a teenager and I remember how big of a deal it was.  Literally the entire country would become pink and red and hearts galore.  I even remember they used to sell little baby chicks at the farmers markets and actually spray painted all the chicks pink and red.  Keep in mind Damascus is a city, not country, so people don't have backyards.  But every home had a balcony and thats where the pink and red chicks would be raised. 

The amount of love and romance that is in the Middle East, and I speak specifically of Damascus and Beruit only because I know those two the most.  Arabic songs are sooo romantic and oozing love.  They're such passionate people and you can feel it.  In Damascus its a city so everyone lives in buildings and like I mentioned they all have balconys.  It is verrryy common for people to fall in love with the neighbor and have a "balcony love affair".  If a girl is on the balcony watering the flowers and the neighbor in the adjacent building catches a glimpse of her and they exchange a smile, that's the beginning of a love relationship.  I remember my cousin was in love with the neighbor for years, constantly peeking out the window just to catch a glimpse of him.  They exchanged numbers by putting their fingers up and would then signal to eachother when it was a good to call.  I remember she would listen to Arabic songs and would blast a song whose words delivered a message that she wanted him to know so he could hear it.  Songs with messages like "i'm thinking of you" and "you're on my mind" It was a thrilling time for the both of them, all the hiding and sneaking around.   They eventually married and have 3 beautiful children.

Times have changed now but I remember a decade ago having a boyfriend in the less conservative areas of Damascus was present but not "allowed".  The fathers were protective of their little girls and the brothers the same.  If a guy wanted to have a relationship with a girl he would have to talk to the family and ask permission to get to know her.  They would talk and have chaperoned dates.   Every boy was a Romeo and every girl was a Juliet.  They loved love and passion and Valentines Day was the perfect way for everyone to express that. 

I found heart shaped pasta at a little Italian shop and thought it would be perfect.  Unfortunately, after I boiled it the colors faded and the pasta lost its shape.  It still tasted amazing tossed in a garlicky cream with basil, mint, parsley, and arabic cheese. 

The tulip flowers is another item that I made in the past that's easy and always a fun hit.  Cherry tomatoes stuffed with any kind of cheese, I used Nabulsi cheese this time, but usually I use goat cheese.  I used chives for the stem and used a toothpick to create a hole in the tomato so it was easy to insert the chive.  It's so easy you can put your 2 year old to work.  #toughboss #mylittlehelperJust kidding, she was a great helper but none of the ones she attempted to make turned out presentable lol but still edible. 

I hope this Middle Eastern inspired Valentines Day spread inspires you to have fun this holiday.  Don't get caught up in the "rules" of Valentines Day, you don't need to have a boyfriend or husband.  You just need love in your life, and that comes in a lot of forms.  Celebrate the love of friends, family, neighbors, life, or love. 

xoxo

Valentines Day Semolina sponge cake aka Namoura || Basbousa || Hareesay

What is everyone doing for Valentines Day??? I have such a love hate relationship with this holiday and let me explain why.  Despite the fact that my last name means love in Arabic, so I believe everything love and hearts and pink and frills is in my blood because c'mon obviously my name is indicative that either my great grandfather was cupid himself or worked very closely with him.  So I love love.  But I hate feeling forced to celebrate something just because I'm a consumer, and I am very much a sucker consumer.   I buy something just because they're giving out samples (to be fair, I usually like it and  I like supporting small business and usually they are small businesses), or the packaging is pretty (again, to be fair, I'm a huge packaging fan).  I love the holiday itself, I love celebrating love.  I also love an excuse to throw a themed party, and make everyone wear red or pink.  But I don't want to be told to.  I don't want to go out to a restaurant on Valentines Day with my husband just because its Valentines Day.  I much prefer to go out the day before or after Valentines Day just to be rebellious.  On Valentines Day I prefer to stay home or have friends over and make a home cooked meal, something special and celebrate love the way I want to, on my own terms.  

 Use a Turkish/Arabic coffee "dolay" {coffee pot} as a decorative piece

Use a Turkish/Arabic coffee "dolay" {coffee pot} as a decorative piece

This year I wanted to make a middle eastern style Valentines Day get together and reinvent fun middle eastern dishes and desserts.   I'm going to post them in stages because it takes so much time to write up a post and I don't want to keep you waiting as I get it all together!   

Semolina yogurt sponge cake is known as Hareesay in Syria, Namoora among Palestinians and Lebanese and Basboosa in Egypt and North Africa.  It's the equivalent of brownies and is commonly consumed with tea or coffee.  But then again, in the Middle East they drink tea and coffee all day everyday so pretty much everything is consumed with coffee haha. 

This is yet another thing my mom used to make that I always thought was sooo impossible to make and again I'm surprised that it's so easy! The only downfall is I found out how much sugar is in it and that was a little scary.  But there is yogurt in it so that's good, right?

Moving on.

The way to make this dessert is by mixing all the ingredients and then letting it sit for a little while it all rises.  Then incisions are made, usually in the shape of diamonds so it bakes into the shape of diamonds and its easily cut off.  Almond halves or pistachios are usually used to top each diamond for a nice little crunch but mainly decoration.  To make this Valentines Day appropriate, I thought to make heart incisions instead of the diamonds but that seemed wasteful because there would be so much extra cake.  So, I purchased little candy lips from the supermarket and topped each one off with that instead of the almond or pistachio. 

 My daughter Ayla is in the phase of wanting to "help mommy" So everything is "I help mommy" "mommy I do it" " Ayla help".  So she threw these cookie cutters on top as I was taking pictures and I actually liked it.  She was so proud of herself too haha.

My daughter Ayla is in the phase of wanting to "help mommy" So everything is "I help mommy" "mommy I do it" " Ayla help".  So she threw these cookie cutters on top as I was taking pictures and I actually liked it.  She was so proud of herself too haha.


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.  

the BEST Nutella Cookies

Okay so I know my last post was a little rebellious in that it wasn't a modern middle eastern recipe necessarily and now I'm posting a Nutella cookie recipe and everyone knows Nutella is very much an Italian spread.  Let me just take a moment and explain my train of thought and why I felt this post was not only acceptable to post on my "modern middle eastern" blog but necessary.  If anyone has ever been to Syria or Lebanon and I'm sure any of the other Middle Eastern countries then you know Nutella is as much part of the culture as falafel and hummus are.  To describe the modern middle eastern culinary world as I know it and to not include Nutella would not be a fair account of the cuisine of this region.   

Pita bread with Nutella spread and bananas is a very normal breakfast in Damascus.  I've had this recipe hand written for over 10 years and I'm not sure where I originally got it from but I can almost very confidently say I got it from one of my cousins in Damascus.   "Almost" and "confidently" in the same sentence seems like a contradiction haha.  Without further delay I give you my most favorite Nutella cookies ever.  Plus these stack so perfectly on top of each other that they make the perfect little gift for the holidays or just because.


"Eggplant Upside down" Rice, Eggplant, & Tomato dish called "Ma'loubay Betinjan"

Upside Down aka Ma’loubay

The name of this dish, ma’loubay literally translates to “upside down” because of the way it is served by first flipping it upside down like a beautiful cake with layers of rice, meat and vegetables.  

Think about it, isn’t everything better upside down.  I actually can’t think of anything else thats better upside down.  Maybe headstands.  But is that really better?  Okay moving on.

I DO know that a rice, meat and vegetable dish IS better upside down because the flavors all marry each other and the best of the flavors fall to the bottom and when flipped upside down it brings the best of the bottom to the top.  #started from the bottom now we’re here haha

There are many variations across the Levantine (Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, parts of Turkey) which include mainly a variety of vegetables usually eggplants, cauliflower, potatoes, and carrots.    I’ve seen tons of images, but of course I can’t find a single one to post now, of 2-3 women and men all holding a ginormous pot trying to carefully flip it over.  They’re usually served with yogurt or a simple Middle Eastern salad which includes tomatoes and cucumber.  

I had to experiment with a few pots I own and found one that works perfect for my measurements and I just stick with it.  Usually, every Middle Eastern home has a special straight edged pot that makes it easier for flipping.

This dish could be time consuming because of the prep work required but it is NOT difficult.  Once everything is prepped, its just a matter of layering them together.  Do not be intimidated by how pretty it looks!  And even if your ma'loubay flops when you flip it over it will still be an amazingly tasting and aromatic dish!

Feeds 3-4 people (or just the three of us with just a little bit of leftovers haha)

INGREDIENTS

  1. 1 large eggplant sliced
  2. .3 pounds ground beef
  3. 1/4 diced tomato
  4. 2 tablespoon pine nuts (or substitute almonds)
  5. 1 1/2 cup jasmine rice
  6. 1 1/2 cup chicken stock
  7. 3 tblspoon tomato paste
  8. oil for frying or for brushing eggplants for broil
  9. salt & pepper to taste

 

INSTRUCTIONS

1. peel and slice the eggplants 

Lay them on a paper towel and salt them.  

Let them sit for 30 minutes

2. Put the jasmine rice in a bowl and cover with water

Let it sit for 30 minutes

3. Meanwhile, brown the meat with salt and pepper

Sauté the pine nuts with 1 tbl vegetable oil

Combine with meat and set aside

4. On low heat add chicken stock, tomato paste and salt and pepper to taste 

Whisk it all together until paste completely dissolves

5. When the eggplants are done straining wash them off with water and pat dry

Heat up oil and fry eggplants (OR the healthier version is to skip the initial part about straining them and just brush the eggplants with oil. sprinkle with salt and put in a preheated broiler until they are brown on each side).  

6. When the 30 minutes is over for the rice, sauté for 1-2 minutes in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and mix in 1 tablespoon tomato paste (this is optional but I feel it gives the rice a little more flavor and makes the rice more moldable and easier when flipping upside down).

Now that everything is prepped all we have to do is assemble.

  • Start by placing the diced tomatoes at the bottom
  • Add the meat and pine nuts
  • Layer the eggplants (see image)
  • Add the rice inside the eggplants and carefully pour the tomato stock on the rice
  • Bring to a quick boil then lower heat and cover for 15 minutes.  
  • Keep it covered for an additional 5 minutes
  • Uncover, place plate on top of pot, say a prayer and flip that bad boy

This picture was taken right after I flipped it and a lot of the tomato and meat were still stuck to the bottom of the pot.  I fixed that problem by just scraping the pot and putting them back on top.

Dried Lebne Balls

Dried Lebne Balls are SO EASY TO MAKE I'm still shocked and excited at the same time.  Gearing up to eat lebne balls for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

Lebne is basically strained yogurt also known as Greek yogurt or greek style yogurt in the US.  In Damascus and other parts of the Middle East, it is served meze style the same way hummus, baba ghanoush, and muhammara are served.  It's spread on a small plate, drizzled with olive oil with warm fresh pita bread handy.  The type of yogurt used; sheep or cow and the type of olive oil used will affect the taste.  I heard in the Gulf countries they even use camels milk, but I personally have never tried camel anything. 

These dried lebne balls, sometimes simply called lebne in olive oil are basically strained even longer than traditional lebne, formed into balls and then stored in jars filled with olive oil.  I remember in my grandmothers kitchen in Damascus she would store jars and jars of these in her kitchen attic which is called "s'eefay".  Her "s'eefay" was just above her kitchen and wasn't like the east coast attics that required you to pull down a ladder.  It was just 6 or 7 steps that led to a pantry type space where you had to duck the entire time because of the low ceiling.  That's where she stored all her dried items like lentils, various types of rice, dried mint, dried apricots etc and jars of lebne in olive oil, jam, makdoos ( eggplant stuffed with walnuts in olive oil, more of that later) among other items.   

One of my earliest memories as a child visiting Syria from New Jersey was of the kitchen attic.  I remember my mother telling us all about our cousins our age that lived in the same building as my grandmother.  Damascus is a city so none of the homes in the city are stand alone individual homes like they would have in the suburbs.   Very common like what my grandparents arrangement is, my grandparents own the building and they live on one floor and my uncle lived on another floor and my other uncle lived above him on another floor.   The homes are not small either.  My grandparents home was a full 3,500- 4,000 sq ft home, 4 bedrooms with a separate formal guest room, large dining room and living room and wrap around balconies and kitchen attic =).    

I remember our flight arrived late at night and everyone was asleep but we were so excited to meet our cousins for the first time.  The first thing we asked our grandmother was where our cousins are and she said upstairs sleeping, implying upstairs in their own home which was completly separate.  But we happened to be having this conversation in the kitchen with our eyes locked on the stairs leading to the attic. 

We waited for everyone to sleep and then we snuck into the kitchen in search of our cousins.  It was dark so I remember starting to get creeped out.  When we got upstairs and found all the food and jars we were so confused.  We decided to go back to bed and wait for the morning.  It still had not occurred to us that our cousins did not sleep in a pantry next to rice and lebne balls in olive oil.  For a day or two, I remember feeling so bad that our cousins slept in such conditions and thinking how different and weird the Syrian culture is haha.  It wasn’t until we went to play with our cousins dolls in their room that we had realized what happened. 

My mom called me the other day and said she made lebne balls and for the first time I asked her how to make them.  I made sure I was sitting down ready to write down a long complicated step by step.  She said get yogurt, salt and a cheese cloth and strain the yogurt and salt.  That was it.  And she was right, that literally was it.  The only “difficult” part is that you have to wait for a few days for it to be fully strained.  Before I went to bed a few days ago, I poured the yogurt in the cheese cloth in a colander on top of tuberware and went to sleep.  Literally took two seconds.  The next day a ton of water was in the tuber ware (see picture above).  I threw that out, put it back in the fridge and waited another day.  It actually tasted amazing after day 1 but I waited for the full 2 days.  I formed them into balls and laid them out on a paper towel and waited another day.  AND THAT WAS IT.

I decided to deconstruct the meze platter and instead of serving the lebne balls and zaatar and olives separate I thought why not put them in one jar.  I realized as I was doing this why they make them into balls and not just just a spread.  My guess is that more liquid is drained out when they are separated.  But anyway, I decided none the less to put them in a jar because the lebne tasted amazing at this point even without the extra straining.  So I put zaatar at the bottom, lebne in the middle, and olive oil, lemon and fresh tarragon at the top.  It was so cute!  Everyone I know is going to get a jar from me for the holidays!  You. Are. Welcome!

INGREDIENTS

  • yogurt
  • salt

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Pour yogurt and salt in cheese cloth and colander

2.  Wait for 2 days for it to drain all the liquid

3. Form into balls on kitchen paper towel

4. Put in a jar with olive oil

 

 

Eggplant Salad

My maternal grandfather had 12 children, yea that's correct, thats not a typo.   All 12 were with my grandmother, so yea.  (My dad is also 1 of 10! Needless to say I have a ton of cousins lol) So there were tons of kids and grandkids which made him the ultimate Godfather of the household.  It was so fun beyond words to visit Damascus because of my parents huge families.  

In the dining room which connected to the living room there was a long table that seated over 20 people which is where everyone hung out, mainly because everyone was always eating! My grandfather, who they called Abu Sayeh (which literally translates to Father of Sayeh, his oldest sons name) would sit not at the head of the table but instead on the corner seat so he can have a better view of the living room and still be kept in the loop of what everyone is doing.  He had major FOMO (fear of missing out) haha, but seriously he did lol.  

Although my grandmother (Umm Sayeh, mother of Sayeh haha) would make so many amazing meals every. single. day. literally. my grandfather would prefer to sit on the corner of the 20 person table and eat this simple eggplant salad, which basically consisted of fried eggplant, parsley, tomato, cucumber, and tons of garlic and salt with pita bread.   Problem was, everyone loved this salad too, but I guess good thing he was the Godfather.   The way the eggplant melts in your mouth, the crunchy cucumber, the combination of parsley and garlic, just wow.  

 Baby Eggplant Salad

Baby Eggplant Salad

Usually, this dish is made using the bigger eggplants.  But I find these so cute because I'm a dork and love everything mini.  They're so cute for entertaining.  These particular eggplants are called Indian Eggplants and the striped purple and white ones are called Japanese eggplants.  I found them to be the perfect bite size.  I thought it would be so cute to add them to pre cut pita bread and serve them like a little taco. (seems I'm craving tacos, I keep talking about them haha) SEE BELOW.

 How cute are these????? I can't even

How cute are these????? I can't even

So I'm not going to claim that these are healthy because they are fried.  I'm actually even hesitant to post the picture of them being fried.  They can most definitely be made in the oven, but it just takes more time and I didn't have the time at the time when I made them lol say time five times real fast.  However, I will post a "healthy" version of this in the future because its so friggin good! 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 12 Indian eggplants (really any eggplant works)
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped tomato (I know, I didn't use tomato but honestly its because Ayla, my 2 year old, ate my last tomato as I was making them!)
  • 1 tbl minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup cucumber
  • pomegranate for garnish, optional
  • vegetable oil for frying

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Cut eggplant and sprinkle with salt, set aside
  • After 20 minutes wash eggplant and pat dry with paper towel
  • Heat oil
  • Fry eggplant and place on a paper towel when done to absorb the excess oil
  • Toss with remaining ingredients
  • Garnish with pomegranate arils, optional
  • Serve with warm pita bread

Fried Okra with Garlic Cilantro

Hi! I feel like i've been slacking on posting recipes, I'm sorry! I've been so busy with the manufacturing of our Muhammara product.  So many bumps along the way, but I'm just trucking along because I see the light at the end of this manufacturing tunnel! I CANNOT wait to have you all taste the Muhammara, its SOOO amazing I literally can't even explain.  

Butttttt, we're talking about Fried Okra with Garlic, Cilantro and Tomato.  It's that simple actually and I make it almost every single time I have guests over because they request it!  It can be eaten warm or cold with warm pita bread.  You must like garlic and cilantro though.  I just read an article and the writer was complaining about too much cilantro in her sandwich and I thought wow, I didn't know there was such a thing.  

Fried Okra w Garlic Cilantro_7390.jpg

Chop up all your ingredients (Okra, Tomato, Garlic, Cilantro)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 Cups cut Fresh Okra
  • 1/2 cup diced tomato
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tbl chopped garlic
  • 1 tbl olive oil
  • Salt

INSTRUCTIONS:

  • Sauté cut Okra in olive oil until slightly browned (few minutes)
  • Remove Okra from skillet
  • Toss with remaining ingredients (cilantro, garlic, tomato, salt)
  • Serve with pita bread
  • Cannot believe how easy it is