Recipe: Morroccan Chicken Tagine

The other day, someone who I had met at a food festival asked me for the recipe for this Moroccan Chicken. They had eaten it at an event I had catered in Philadelphia a couple of months ago though my catering company, J2Food, and loved it. I don’t always give out some of my more secret recipes, but since she was so nice, I decided to write it up and post it here for all of you 🙂 This Moroccan Chicken dish isn’t actually cooked inside of a “tagine” pot, but it echoes a lot of the flavors that I love when I ordering tagines at Moroccan restaurants — a little bit sweet, salty, sour, savory and the protein is always fall apart tender. It’s very comforting in this winter weather, and is also great to make in the slow cooker! Let me know how yours turns out.

Ingredients:

  • 1 package of boneless chicken thighs
  • 1 large yellow or sweet onion
  • 5-6 carrots chopped into chunks
  • 2-3 medium onions chopped roughly
  • 1 cup of pitted green olives
  • 1 cup dried apricots
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • Spices: smoked paprika, turmeric, salt, pepper, cumin, cinnamon, coriander
  • Saffron, 2-3 threads
  • 3-4 cups of chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup lemon juicephoto-nov-20-6-45-21-pm
  • 2 preserved lemons, chopped — can substitute 2-3 regular lemons, juices and zest grated. Can buy preserved lemons at most specialty food stores
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro (optional)

Cooking Directions:

  1. Blend the spices and any other spices you like into a rub and divide in halfphoto-nov-20-5-52-19-pmphoto-nov-20-5-54-06-pm
  2. Mix one half of the rub with olive oil to form a loose paste and Coat the chicken on all sides with itphoto-nov-20-6-17-19-pm
  3. SautĂŠ chicken in olive oil in a hot Dutch oven or deep pot on both sides until browned but not fully cooked throughphoto-nov-20-6-40-23-pm
  4. Remove chicken and set aside. You’ll come back to it
  5. In same pot add garlic and onions and cook until starting to brownphoto-nov-20-6-40-05-pm
  6. Add carrots and onions and keep cooking
  7. Add more of the same spice mixture to the pot with the vegetables and heat until fragrantphoto-nov-20-6-40-39-pm
  8. Add preserved lemon, lemon juice, saffron, (zest) and cook for a couple of minutesphoto-nov-20-6-45-06-pm
  9. Add broth and make sure to scrape bottom of the pot for flavor bits — add just enough broth so that the liquid covers the ingredientsphoto-nov-20-6-45-51-pm
  10. Add olives to the pot and make sure to give everything a good mix!photo-nov-20-6-56-01-pmphoto-nov-20-6-47-16-pm
  11. Add the chicken back in and stir all together — taste the liquid and adjust seasonings to your taste. Maybe add more lemon, salt etcphoto-nov-20-6-47-16-pm
  12. Heat on medium high for 5-10 minutes, then cover and lower heat to medium low and simmer for about 45 min – 1 hour
  13. Add parsley and simmer for another 5 minutes on high uncovered photo-nov-20-7-52-16-pm
  14. Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro then spoon over couscous or serve in a bowl with sides of your choosing

I served this dish with some braised collard greens, herb roasted tomatoes and some crusty bread to mop up the sauce. It was a big hit!

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Middle Eastern Night at Home

Photo Oct 15, 9 01 35 PM

The other night I was thinking about what to make for dinner on my way home, when I passed by one of the ubiquitous Halal carts. I don’t know why, but whenever I pass a Halal food cart, I always take a big sniff…it just smells so good! It immediately made me think of Middle Eastern flavors with lots of spices, citrus, and conversation. That night I made chicken shawarma for dinner with fixings, and instead of using store-bought dips, I decided to make my own–and it was so easy! Rustic lemon hummus consists of a quick trip to the pantry for most of the ingredients, and roasted eggplant babaghanoush will make your fellow diners think you’re a spice savant! Try these Middle Eastern spreads at home and you’ll never feel the need to head to the grocery the next time you want to eat some hummus.

Rustic Lemon Hummus

  • 1 can of chickpeas—canned chickpeas are super easy and always in my pantry, but dried chickpeas that you soak overnight are really the best for this recipe and will give you a cleaner flavor
  • 3 tablespoons of tahini paste
  • 2 lemons—juice of both, and the zest of one
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons of ground cumin
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of paprika
  • Olive Oil
  1. Rinse the chickpeas off under cold water until you get rid of all of the gunk from the can off of the chickpeas
  2. In a food processor or blender–I only had my KitchenAid mixer available, so that’s what I used–add the chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice and zest, salt and pepper4
  3. Start to mix all of the ingredients on low to slowly break up the chickpeas until it becomes a thick paste5Photo Oct 15, 7 45 21 PM
  4. Add in the rest of the spices, and gradually add the oil as you increase the speed to mediumPhoto Oct 15, 7 47 05 PMPhoto Oct 15, 8 17 59 PM
  5. The hummus is done when it gets to your personal consistency preference—I like mine a bit chunky—great for pita chips!Photo Oct 15, 9 01 48 PM
  6. Spoon out into a bowl and eat with chips, pita, or use it was a topping for your favorite falafel. Hummus is also delicious as a spread or used in place of mayonnaise or mustard on sandwiches

Roasted Eggplant Babaghanoush

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon of smoked paprika—this goes well with the roasted and charred eggplant, but regular paprika works just as well
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon of cumin—add the extra teaspoon if you don’t have smoked paprika. The cumin has a natural smokiness that can compensate
  • 4 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt
  • 2 teaspoons of black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fo fresh parsley, chopped
  • Olive Oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons of tahini paste
  • 1/4 of an onion, grated
  • Hot sauce (to taste)—I like mine spicy, but this dip is delicious mild as well
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit1
  2. Cut your eggplant in half lengthwise—Resist the urge to peel it at this point! The peel will not only help keep moisture in the eggplant flesh, but also hold it together in the oven.
  3. Use a fork or sharp paring knife to poke holes into the eggplant skin all over2
  4. Rub the flesh side with olive oil and season with 1/2 tablespoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of pepper, 1/2 tablespoon of paprika and 1/2 tablespoon of cumin
  5. Roast the eggplant for 20-25 minutes until the skin is charred and the flesh becomes slightly creamy and the outside if browned—you want the skin to get black10
  6. Once the eggplant has cooled a bit, but still hot, use a knife or fork to remove the charred skin—it should come off very easily
  7. Discard the skin and spoon the flesh into the bowl of a mixer or food processor11
  8. Pulse together the eggplant with the remaining ingredients until it comes together in a thick dip—feel free to blend it as much as you’d likePhoto Oct 15, 8 21 40 PM
  9. Serve similarly to the hummus, and garnish with a squeeze of lemon juice and extra parsley, and enjoy—One of my favorite ways to consume the eggplant is to make sabich, an Iraqi sandwich that consists of hard boiled eggs and fried eggplant on fresh pita bread. Babaghanoush would be a wonderful substitute for the traditional fried eggplant, and maybe add some salty feta cheese to give the sandwich a rich umami flavor22

All I know is that both of these spreads are absolutely delicious, and are perfect for any dinner party or even an afternoon snack. You can also feel free to customize your hummus and babaghanoush—substitute cilantro for the parsley for a more Mexican version, top your hummus with some mushrooms sautéed with zhatar spice, or make a festive zucchini version of babaghanoush and spread it on some thick toast and top with avocado. Yummy! I love to simply serve them with some homemade pita chips!

Recipe: Braised Lamb Shanks with Moroccan Lemon Couscous

I recently attended the 2015 International Food Bloggers’ Conference in Seattle, organized by Foodista. Until I actually got on the plane, I was waffling back and forth on whether to actually go. I kept thinking to myself—will they like me? Does my blog have a relevant and unique voice? Will I learn anything? As a matter of fact, I had an amazing time and learned so much. So much so, that you should expect to see a major uptick in the frequency of blog posts 🙂

2015-09-19 16.37.06One of my favorite sessions was all about lamb. We got to hear all about the versatility of lamb, the variety of cuts available, insider cooking and butchery tips, and even got to sample some delicious lamb pate, lamb’s cheese and cold smoked lamb loin. Yum! So, when I got home, I was inspired to put my own spin on a lamb dinner. While lamb chops and rack of lamb might be more prevalent, and often seen on your favorite steakhouse’s menu, lamb shanks are the unsung hero of the lamb family. All they need is a little TLC and time, and they become tender, succulent and out of this world delicious. My version of braised lamb shanks is great for entertaining guests at an elegant dinner party, impressing that special someone, or even cooking for your family—perfect for the slow cooker! I serve mine with Moroccan inspired, lemon couscous and homemade pita chips (see recipe here), but feel free to substitute mashed potatoes, creamy polenta or any number of sides. Enjoy!

DSC00271DSC00209Ingredients:

  • 4 medium to large lamb shanks—you should be able to find these in the meat section of your grocery store, but if not, then you could just ask your butcher. Short ribs could be a good substitute, but they won’t have the same presentation
  • 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon of AP (all-purpose) flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sliced onion—minced onion works fine too
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 6 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 1 bunch of fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 package of fresh mint
  • 2 large Spanish onions, chopped
  • 5-6 large carrots, cut into chunks
  • 5 medium garlic cloves (or 4 large cloves), chopped
  • 1 can of chickpeas, drained
  • 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 lb. package of cherry tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups of red wine—use something you’d drink, since the flavor will end up concentrating as you cook out the alcohol
  • 4 1/2 cups of chicken, veal or beef stock—I only had chicken broth, but veal or beef is really the best to use in this recipe
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 teaspoon of paprika
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 2 cups of couscous
  • 1/4 cup of slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup of dried dates, halved or quartered

Lamb Shanks:

  1. Pat the lamb dry, this will help them stay moist when you cook itDSC00218
  2. Mix the flour, cinnamon, pepper, salt, turmeric, dried parsley, dried onion, cumin, and a teaspoon of chopped rosemary (about 1 sprig) in a medium-sized bowl
  3. Coat the lamb in the seasoned flour mixture—this will do double duty for you by helping make a crust on the lamb, and also thicken up the braising liquid into a sauce later on
  4. In a dutch oven or heavy bottom pot heat oil—use a neutral oil since you’ll require a very high cooking temperature to sear the outside of the meatDSC00220
  5. Add the lamb shanks—in batches if necessary—and brown for a few minutes on all sides. Contrary to popular belief, the sear does not “lock in the juices,” rather it helps make a great crust and caramelizes the spices on the outside of the meat DSC00223 DSC00224 DSC00225DSC00226
  6. Once the shanks have browned take them out and put aside on a plate—don’t clean out the pot. All of those delicious drippings and brown bits on the bottom of the pan = flavor!DSC00227 DSC00228DSC00229
  7. Add a bit more oil and add in the chopped carrots and sautĂŠ for another couple of minutes, then add the garlic and one onion to the potDSC00230
  8. Cook for a few more minutes, and then add the chickpeasDSC00232
  9. Once the veggies have started to brown, it’s time to deglaze the pan—deglazing means you add liquid (in this case tomatoes, wine and broth) in order to scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pot
  10. Add the crushed tomatoes, and bring to a simmer
  11. Add about 1 1/2 cups of red wine and 1 cup of the stockDSC00239
  12. When it starts to bubble slightly, it’s time to add the lamb back in, and don’t forget the meat juices DSC00235Add the roasted tomatoes, as well as a few sprigs of rosemary and parsley to the pot and give it a big stir
  13. Let the pot simmer on medium for about 20-25 minutes uncovered—this helps cook out the taste of raw broth and wine. Give it another big stir and move the lamb and veggies all around the pot
  14. Cover with a tight-fitting lid, reduce the heat to medium low and let it braise for at least 2 hours—you should stir the pot every 25-30 minutes, but don’t mess with it too much. This is important spa time for your meaDSC00263
  15. After a couple of hours, the meat will super tender and following off the bone—In fact, your shank bones should look like they’ve been frenched, which means the end of the bone is cleaned of meat so you can hold it like when you order rack of lamb at a fancy restaurant DSC00265
  16. Remove  the lamb shanks, and crank the heat back up to medium to medium high for another 5 minutes uncovered. The sauce will continue to thicken a bitDSC00267
  17. Plate the lamb shank with the bone prominently displayed, and smother the meat with the braising liquid that’s chock full of carrots, herbs, onion, garlic, chickpeas and meat that’s fallen off the boneDSC00269
  18. Garnish with the gremolata, and serve alongside some couscous and some homemade pita chip for dipping

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Gremolata:

  1. Mix together about 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley, 1 teaspoon of chopped rosemary (about 2 sprigs), and zest of a lemonDSC00245 DSC00254
  2. Use as garnish for heavy dishes, and add when it’s still hot—the gremolata will not only help cut through the richness of the dish, but also perfume the plate as the heat slightly cooks the herbs and lemon peel

Couscous:

I like my couscous a little more moist and stuffing-esqe as opposed to many recipes that like each of the couscous pearls to be separate from each other. Try it my way, and if you don’t like it, then go back to the other way next timeDSC00255

  1. In a medium-sized pot, add some oil
  2. Add the remaining onion to the pot and start to sweat the onions
  3. Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprikaDSC00258
  4. Saute the onion until it starts to brown and caramelize
  5. At this point, add 3 1/2 cups of chicken stock and the juice of both lemons to the pot. Increase the heat to medium or medium-high
  6. Bring the liquid to a boil, and then add the couscous. Stir to make sure all of the couscous is covered, and not sticking together
  7. Turn the heat off and cover the couscous
  8. After 4 minutes, add the dates, slivered almonds, as well as the remaining parsley and mint
  9. If the couscous seems dry or not soft enough for you after 5 minutes, add some more stock or lemon juice, stir and cover again for a few minutesDSC00261 DSC00262
  10. Serve the couscous garnished with some lemon slices and a squeeze of lemon over the top

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Recipe: Mediterranean Inspired Lamb Flatbread

The other day I was in the mood to make some fish tacos at home, but the local market I went to only had these small onion flatbreads. So, I decided to scrap the idea for the night. The  flatbreads actually turned out deliciously for my “new” tacos—or really chalupas maybe—and I ended up having a few of them leftover. So I thought of what I could do with a flatbread and was feeling in a very Mediterranean mood. I felt this was a very appropriate recipe since I’ve dedicated the last couple of weeks of blog posts to my recent vacation in the Middle East, and decided to do a fusion of Greek and Israeli cuisines.

These (not so mini!) lamb flatbreads were an experiment, but I knew the flavor combinations would mesh well together. The spicy lamb mixture, the creamy and tangy feta sauce, the briny pickled red onions and the soft, chewy onion flatbreads make a killer combination for dinner, appetizers or even to entertain!

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. of ground lamb
  • 8 oz block of Feta cheese–I’m going to echo the Barefoot Contessa by saying that you should make sure to use a quality feta in your dish—preferably Greek or Bulgarian
  • 1/2 cup of lemon juice
  • 1 cup of Greek yogurt, plain
  • 1 teaspoon of mint, dried
  • 6 large garlic cloves (or 8-9 small cloves)
  • 2 teaspoons of black pepper
  • (optional) Balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Oregano
  • 7-8 dried red chilies
  • 1/2 can of pitted Black olives
  • 1 teaspoon Olive oil
  • 1 large red onion
  • 1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 tablespoon Sugar
  • 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes

Feta sauce:

  1. In the food processor, add the 3/4 of the feta cheese, lemon juice, yogurt, mint, 1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, and 1 teaspoon of black pepper
  2. Whir it up until the feta is completely broken up, but the sauce still has some consistency to it—I like my sauce to still have some body to it, but blend to your own preference
  3. Taste for seasoning!—I don’t add any salt since the feta is already so salty, but everyone has a different palette.

Pickled red onions:

  1. Peel and slice the red onion thinly and place into a sieve or pasta strainer with small holes
  2. In a jar or bowl—whatever canister you’d like to use to make your onions, I use a mason jar for my leftover—pour the sugar, tablespoon of salt and crushed red pepper
  3. Cover with water and fill the jar, but leave enough room for the onions as well. Stir to dissolve
  4. Add the vinegar—plain white vinegar is alright as well. Even rice wine vinegar could make these delicious for a banh mi sandwich
  5. Boil a few cups of water in a kettle or on the stove, and when the water comes to a boil, pour over the onions
  6. Place the par-blanched onions into the sugar-salt bowl. There should be enough water/vinegar mixture to cover all of the onionsPhoto May 18, 11 48 35 PM
  7. Leave for at least one hour, but I left mine most of the dayPhoto May 18, 11 50 55 PM.jpg

Lamb mixture:

  1. In your food processor—no worries if it has residual sauce, it’s all going on the same dish—finely chop the olives, chilis, and remaining garlic
  2. Mix together the lamb, salt, cumin, oregano, chile-olive-garlic mixture, olive oil, and the rest of the pepper in a bowl—use your hands to really get the meat to absorb the marinadePhoto May 18, 8 42 24 PM.jpg
  3. Don’t mix the mixture too much or you might make the meat tough when it eventually cooks
  4. Let the meat sit and absorb the spices and marinade ingredients for at least 30-45 minutes and up to overnight

To assemble the flatbreads:Photo May 18, 11 33 11 PM.jpg

  1. Lay flatbreads flat on a baking sheet—a pita or even naan bread would be a good substitute. Just make sure you use a bread that has a large flat surface and has some heft to itPhoto May 18, 11 35 25 PM.jpg
  2. Spoon some feta sauce on the bread and spread around the surface with a spoon to almost the edge—I put a good amount of sauce, but don’t use it all!Photo May 18, 11 38 00 PM.jpg
  3. Using your hands, spread the equal amounts of the lamb mixture onto each flatbread and form into semi thick layer—at first I was going to cook the lamb first, but actually ended up forgetting to. By the time I remembered, it has already started cooking and the fat from the lamb ends up absorbed by the bread and flavored the whole dish amazinglyPhoto May 18, 11 38 40 PM
  4. Sprinkle some feta over the top of the lamb, and slide these babies into the ovenPhoto May 18, 11 47 18 PM
  5. Bake in the oven at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes—some ovens vary so if your oven tends to get super high, maybe stay on 350 insteadPhoto May 19, 12 05 53 AM
  6. Remove from oven and let rest for a couple of minutes Photo May 19, 12 05 55 AM
  7. Scatter some picked red onions all over the flatbreads after it comes out of the ovenPhoto May 19, 12 07 49 AM.jpg
  8. Crumble some fresh feta over the top, as well as a few dollops of feta sauce
  9. This last step is purely optional, but I thought it gives it a wonderful fruity afternoon and a bit of panache. Pour a little bit of thick balsamic vinegar over the top to garnish. I used a deliciously thick grapefruit, white balsamic that I had in the pantryPhoto May 19, 12 09 44 AM.jpg
  10. Slice with a pizza cutter and enjoy! Απολαύστε το γεύμα σας!

A Culinary Tour of Machane Yehuda Market (Part IV: What I Ate On My Israeli Vacation)

I would be very remiss if I were to only focus on restaurants in Israel. Throughout the small country, there are many, many outdoor markets or “the shuk.”

Photo Jun 04, 10 30 05One of the most well-known markets in Israel is Machane Yehuda in Jerusalem. The market has over 250 vendors and sells everything from fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, spices, meat, fish, cheese, breads, pastries, and more. It’s a cornucopia of smells, textures, flavors, sights, and beautiful food scenery—food porn really.

Photo Jun 04, 11 25 51Photo Jun 04, 11 47 06Photo Jun 04, 11 20 13Photo Jun 04, 11 47 27My trip was lucky enough to go on a culinary tour of Machane Yehuda, and have a fabulous guide—or madrich in Hebrew. Residents of Jerusalem come to this market from all over the city in order to do their shopping for the week, and on Thursdays and Fridays it gets super crowded with all the people doing their shopping for Shabbat. In fact, on Friday afternoon there is a bugle that plays to signify the market is closing for the Jewish Sabbath. Our guide gave us a funny anecdote on the market as well: How do you know if a woman is married, has children, etc., in the market? On Wednesdays the grandmothers shop since they have lots of requests from their grandchildren for special treats, on Thursdays it’s the mothers since they cook all day Friday, Friday morning it’s the married women, so they can cook Friday afternoon, and Friday afternoon it’s the single women since they forget to cook until the last minute 😉

Photo Jun 04, 10 16 47 Photo Jun 04, 10 16 49 Photo Jun 04, 10 16 51 Photo Jun 04, 10 16 53To start off our culinary tour, our guide went into the market and brought out some traditional appetizers and snacks sold throughout the shuk. Kibbeh, also sometimes known as kubbeh are football-shaped croquettes made of bulgar wheat, stuffed with minced lamb or beef, and baked. It has a thick skin that keeps the meat inside moist and delicious. It is often served with tahini to dip, and a staple dish in many Middle Eastern countries. The next treat for us to sample were cigars, which are not tobacco, but get their inspiration from it—they somewhat resemble cigarettes and consist of ground meat or potatoes rolled inside phyllo dough that’s then deep-fried. Though it sounds very heavy, it’s actually light and delicious. They have a nice kick of spice as well. The final pre-tour sample was stuffed grape leaves. The grape leaves are a vegetarian option and are filled with a mediterranean rice mixed with herbs, lemon, garlic, and other spices. They have a briny quality, very acidic and has a wonderful cleansing quality for the palette.

Photo Jun 04, 10 32 24 Photo Jun 04, 10 34 15 Photo Jun 04, 10 35 44The next stop on our tour was for the #1 food of Israel—Hummus! Waiting for us at a small cafe across from one of the entrances to the market  was a table filled with a variety of hummus and hummus-themed dishes. One of the plates had sautĂŠed mushrooms, one with fresh chickpeas, one studded with roasted garlic, a bowl of tahini and a plate of fresh, hot, crispy falafel and more. The falafel balls, especially, were fresh from the fryer and even though they burnt the roof of my mouth a bit, they were soft and pillowy on the inside and a crunch while biting into the outer coating.

Photo Jun 04, 10 58 22 Photo Jun 04, 10 58 23 Photo Jun 04, 10 58 56We next stopped at an Eastern European cafe further into the market area for some khachapuri. Khachapuri is a traditional Georgian (the country, not the state) snack of cheese filled bread. This dish is so popular among Georgian people that it is sometimes believed to be more popular than pizza, and is, at times, used to measure inflation—similar to the butter and guns model in Keynesian economics. The stuffed bread is cooked in a pizza/laffa oven, which makes it chewy, but also slightly charred with a nice crisp crust. We also sampled a khachapuri filled with beans as well. While not as popular as the cheese version, it was tasty as well.

Photo Jun 04, 11 16 42 Photo Jun 04, 11 22 07 Photo Jun 04, 11 23 13 Photo Jun 04, 11 23 18We then spent some more time walking around the market and had the opportunity to taste delicious, fresh juices and smoothies, homemade spice blends, zahtar flavored flatbread and also buy some fruit, cookies, and more gifts to take home.

Photo Jun 04, 11 18 18 Photo Jun 04, 11 19 59 Photo Jun 04, 11 22 31 Photo Jun 04, 11 23 57 Photo Jun 04, 11 24 09 Photo Jun 04, 11 24 16

Photo Jun 04, 11 45 48 Photo Jun 04, 11 14 04Photo Jun 04, 11 38 22 Photo Jun 04, 11 38 31

Photo Jun 04, 10 50 50 Photo Jun 04, 11 09 50Photo Jun 04, 10 51 03 Photo Jun 04, 10 51 07

Photo Jun 04, 11 19 48One of the interesting place we passed towards one end of the market was Casino de Paris. It’s a new project that developed from an entrepreneur that already opened another coffee shop in the market and has been very successful in transforming parts of the market into modern, chic hotspots. Casino de Paris is open after the market closes, and there are other locations, including in London and Paris.

Photo Jun 04, 11 26 09 Photo Jun 04, 11 26 25 Photo Jun 04, 11 27 17 Photo Jun 04, 11 27 24 Photo Jun 04, 11 30 51 Photo Jun 04, 11 38 00The final stop on our gastronomic journey was at Kingdom of Halva or Mamlechet Ha’Halva in Hebrew. Kingdom of Halva has multiple stalls around the market and is known as the place to buy halva in Jerusalem. Halva is a traditional, Jewish dessert usually made with some sort of nut butter, and most Israeli halva is made from tahini or sesame paste. Kingdom of Halva makes all of its halva varieties homemade, and uses a blend of 90% sesame paste made from whole grain, Ethiopian sesame seeds and 10% sugar. They have over 100 flavors available including, but not limited to: pistachio, Belgian chocolate, pecan, coffee, nougat, piña colada, and more. The halva here is so delicious. It has a nutty taste from the sesame, a non-cloying sweetness, and a slightly grainy texture that melts in your mouth. Another great thing about halva is that it can be stored at room temperature for most of the year and last for months. Kingdom of Halva also makes many varieties of tahini that can be used to make delicious falafel or hummus, as a condiment on Mediterranean sandwiches, as a dip for bread, or even eaten on its own.

Photo Jun 04, 12 04 42 Photo Jun 04, 12 04 45Although our tour of the market was over, our guide surprised us with another treat to end the afternoon of Marzipan rugelach. Marzipan rugelach—as often assumed—do not actually have any marzipan in them, but rather are named since they were first made at the Marzipan Bakery in Jerusalem. These rugelach cookies differ from traditional rugelach, often flavored with cinnamon or raisins, with a flaky exterior, as they are filled with chocolate. In addition, marzipan rugelach are sticky, fudgy, intensely chocolatey, and have a cult following in Israel (and among many Jews around the world as well). They are super decadent with a wonderful richness, doughy and exceedingly sweet. They are almost like crack rugelach—they are that good and worth a trip to Jerusalem just to try these treats. What a perfect way to end our afternoon at Machane Yehuda market.

Photo Jun 04, 11 16 13

Photo Jun 04, 11 54 41So I hope you’re inspired to go out and eat some tasty Israeli treats, or even take a trip to Jerusalem and visit the market yourselves! B’Teiavon and stay hungry!

What I Ate On My Israel Vacation

I recently returned from a visit to Israel. The trip was amazing and we did so many great activities – rafting in the Galilee River, riding ATV’s in Golan Heights near the Syrian border, partying and relaxing on the beach in Tel Aviv and much more. However, my favorite part of the trip was the delicious food that we had. Everyday there was a big spread at breakfast of salads, breads, fish, cheeses, yogurts, bourekas, and juice. The large Israeli breakfast is well-known and filled me up for lots of activities throughout the day. Yet it wasn’t just the breakfast that filled me up. Israel has become hotspot for a growing food scene.

IMG_2689FullSizeRender-1Nowhere is the growing culinary movement more prevalent than in Tel Aviv—the cultural capital of Israel. Tel Aviv is part beach town, but also had a big downtown area that is reminiscent of San Francisco. Plenty of young chefs come there to cut their teeth and open some amazing restaurants.

FullSizeRender-12One such restaurant that I had the pleasure of dining in was Branja, in Tel Aviv’s super trendy Sarona complex—a blend of historic Tel Aviv architecture, modern urban green space, and a mix of stores, cute cafes, and hip restaurants right in the middle of the city. Even better, many of the restaurants, bars and cafes are open on Shabbat (Friday night/Saturday day). Branja is a Spanish-Mediterranean inspired restaurant, housed in a two-story Templar building that allows for a vibrant first floor restaurant, and a night bar and private dining space on the second floor. Since I was part of a big group, we had rented out the upstairs area, which was a treat—especially the wonderful terrace.

IMG_2692 IMG_2693 We started the night off with a wonderful happy hour—waiters offered flutes of effervescent champagne, glasses of spicy red wine, and mugs of crisp, cold beer. There was a cute lounge bar in the salon with drink refills and they were very accommodating for our large group size. The dining room had a very rustic chic feel to it, with large, rectangular wooden tables set simply with ceramic plates and glass cups. IMG_2700IMG_2701Our meal began with a simple salad of peppers, tomatoes, feta cheese, and cucumber in a light dressing made with fruity olive oil. Not only was the salad fresh and light, but also so pretty to look at with bold colors. There were also big baskets of freshly baked bread—white or wheat—served with creamy butter and house made schug, a traditional, spicy Israeli condiment made from hot peppers. The mix of the slightly sweet yet salty butter and the spicy schug spread on the bread made for a wonderful pop of flavors in my mouth. It was complemented nicely by some briny olives.

IMG_2702Next up was a plate of thinly sliced Sirloin Carpaccio. The beef was flavored with aged balsamic vinegar and pistachio to give it a nice punch of acidity, as well as an earthy flavor, and garnished with some peppery arugula that helped balance the richness of the meat.

IMG_2703IMG_2704To follow, we had some fried red mullet with a crispy coating, served with a Tzatziki and a tomato salsa reminiscent of a cocktail sauce. The fish was moist, and the bones were so small that you were able to bite right through them and eat the fish whole if you like. A plate with a large potato and cheese pancake arrived as well, which was tasty but didn’t strike me as super Mediterranean in nature.

FullSizeRender-4My favorite appetizer of the night were the lamb pierogies. The pierogi were pan-fried with a nice crust and a savory, slightly smoky lamb filling. They were garnished with a pan sauce and plated on a black plate which made them look even more enticing.

FullSizeRender-9We had finally arrived at the main course, and had a choice of gnocchi, chicken or ram–which many of us assumed was lamb at first. The gnocchi was served in a white butter sauce that was mild in flavor, but was nicely garnished with long pieces of Parmesan. The mini-dumplings were cooked al dente as to maintain a good bite without being mushy. They were also tossed with some asparagus that really woke the flavors up and helped cut through the richness of the sauce. My only complaint would be that I wish the potato in the gnocchi was incorporated a bit more.

FullSizeRender-6 FullSizeRender-8The second option available was for a chicken kabob, which was marinated in Middle Eastern spices, including cumin, garlic, za’atar, and harissa. The chicken was skewered and cooked perfectly. It was moist, and the chicken had a spice crust that helped seal the juices in the meat. It was plated with roasted eggplant and tahini. A popular cooking method for eggplants in Israel is to cut the vegetable in half lengthwise, then roast it until the flesh becomes super creamy and delicious. This eggplant was dressed with tahini sauce–made from sesame–and was a nice contrast in flavor to the bold poultry meat.

IMG_2714The final choice of entrees was ram steak on a stick. This was actually my first time eating ram, and, although we had to wait a little extra time for it to be prepared, it was very tasty! The meat wasn’t too chewy and had wonderful grill marks and was cooked somewhere between medium-rare and medium. It was plated with spicy, peppers, a generous amount of roasted potatoes, and demiglace.

FullSizeRender-13After our large meal we, of course, needed a delectable dessert, and Branja did not disappoint. We were presented with a trio of desserts. The creamy, mini cheesecake almost had a key lime pie flavor. It was not too tangy or sweet, and absolutely refreshing–especially following such a heavy meal. The lime crumbs on top were a nice touch. The plate also included some wonderful churros that were crisp on the outside and fluffy in the middle. They emitted an amazing cinnamon aroma and were served with a bittersweet, dark chocolate dipping sauce. The final pastry of the trip was a dense chocolate cake square with nougat. The cake was intensely chocolatey, but not super sweet. It was delicious, but my favorite part was actually the house made whip cream.FullSizeRender

Overall, dinner at Branja was absolutely delicious and such a great taste of the local, Tel Aviv food scene. We followed up our meal with a wonderful wine tasting at Tasting Room, also in the Sarona complex, and went back to our hotel that night with our bellies full and having had a wonderful night. Check back for posts on “What I Ate On My Israeli Vacation.”

Branja
15 Rav Aluf David Elazar Street,
Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel

An Israeli Feast in Philadelphia’s Historic Old City 

Zahav

I finally went to dinner last week at Zahav restaurant in Philadelphia, a raincheck due to a reservation mixup from the week before. The wait was worth it though, since the anticipation built. The menu at Zahav is broken up into many smaller dishes and sharing is encouraged.

 We debated ordering cocktails, but instead opted for a pitcher of the Limonana ($16)–a freshly squeezed lemonade steeped with mint leaves. They also make an alcoholic version that has whiskey, and is available by the glass or pitcher. The Limonana was refreshingly tart, slightly sweet and delicious. It made me think of going to the beach in Tel Aviv, especially since all the coffee chains in Israel make their own version of this drink.

  

Since we were at an Israeli restaurant, we knew that ordering hummus was essential. We went with the large Tehina Hummus ($12). The hummus was made with lemon, parsley, cumin, garlic and sesame. It had a great salty bite and was super smooth, with an amazing moth feel. The next thing to hit my palate was the garlic and parsley flavors with a backbone of sesame from the tahini, a classic ingredient in hummus. The lemon made it pungent, but there was no aftertaste–just hummus flavor. The hummus was paired with a couple of big laffa, a traditional Middle Eastern flatbread that they bake in their wood-burning oven. The laffa was hot, chewy, crisp, and huge. It had a great char from the wood-burning oven, with a light sprinkling of za’atar seasoning on top. It was clear that the za’atar went on after baking, which showed a definite refinement of technique and knowledge of spices–I think that cooking za’atar often makes it lose its bold flavor. The hummus appetizer was a great start to our Middle Eastern meal.   

  

Next up were the mezze dishes, or small plates. The Crispy Grape Leaves ($10) were a little greasy with crispy, thin as paper leaves stuffed with beef. The meat was spicy, with a smoky flavor. My first one was very meaty, and the second one had some more rice, and was almost creamy in texture. The grape leaves were garnished with a harissa tahini. Harissa is a North African–often from Tunisia–chili pepper paste. Our waitress indicated that they make their own Harissa with Aleppo peppers. The sauce was creamy and aromatic, with a smokiness that echoed the cumin in the grape leaves, and a pleasant aftertaste of building heat.

We also ordered the Fried Cauliflower ($10). The dish had a great aroma, and the cauliflower maintained a nice bite and were charred. They were rubbed with a spice rub, including cumin, and cooked tossed with some raisins. The accompanying yogurt labaneh sauce was delicious. My friend used the word “exquisite.” The labaneh was seasoned with chive, dill, mint and garlic. The tanginess of the yogurt cut through the almost heavy cauliflower, and there was a touch of acidity in the labaneh that added a nice twist.

After the mezze plates, came the Al Ha’Esh, which literally translates to “on the fire” in Hebrew, but referee colloquially to barbecue. The two proteins were served over a Mediterranean rice pilaf on the same plate, and featured  number of sides. This was to encourage sharing in a communal meal, which is the way Zahav prefers their diners approach the eating experience here. The Sirloin Sishlik ($14) had bIg chunks of meat, which were perfectly grilled, and served on skewers that were removed table side. The beef had an aromatic, grill flavor and was slightly chewy. It was seasoned to perfection with definite undertones of garlic.
 
The Salmon ($14) was also cooked excellently. The inside of the fish glistened, was juicy and white in the middle. The menu indicated that the salmon came with pomegranate molasses, and I worried that it might be too sweet, but the fish turned out very savory while still absorbing the deep flavor of the molasses. The skin was nice and crisp, which was probably helped by the molasses coating.

Along with the al ha’esh plates, came a bunch of condiment garnishes. There was a Mediterranean spiced bowl of stewed tomatoes, carrots and white beans. It had a creamy consistency and its heaviness stood up to the grilled proteins. It wasn’t exactly as light as a chutney, but not as heavy as a braise. It was especially tasty with the Schug, a spicy Israeli condiment that the chef prepared with pistachios and habanero peppers. The pistachios in the schug gave it great body and deep flavor, while the habaneros lent a serious, lasting heat. The dishes also came with some rice mixed with lentils and onions that was different from the rice on the main plate. It was almost like an Israeli version of dirty Cajun rice. Finally, there were some picked veggies that had a great tanginess that haloes cut through the richness of the meats, and some black garlic tahini. The tahini was very strong, but the garlic flavor was not super prevalent. It was actually fabulous with the pickles.
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If you knew us, then you’d know that we can’t resist dessert, especially to compete our Middle Eastern feast. The Kataifi ($9) was listed as chocolate ganache with a passionfruit soufflĂŠ. My first bite had a passion fruit punch–it was sweet, sour, acidic, and creamy. The passionfruit custard was lightly dusted with nuts, and sat in a phyllo dough birds nest. The chocolate ganache was nestled on the inside bottom of the nest. The entire dish was texturally almost a play on baklava, but visually the passionfruit looked like the egg white of an egg in a bird’s nest–very creative! The dish was very playful with textures–creamy, crispy, and chewy–and cerebral.
IMG_1926The Ice Cream Sandwich ($9) dessert came with thinly sliced, sweetened beets the outer layers of the sandwich consisted of a crumbly and chewy chocolate cake, which had an almost streusel-like texture, but fudgier. The cake was slightly weird, but a good foil for the sandwich. There were also chewy candied cumquat slices on the plate, which was sweet but still kept its bitterness. The “ice cream” was a labaneh semifredo, which differs from ice cream in that it has more of a frozen mousse consistency. The cream had a unique flavor from the labaneh and wasn’t cloyingly sweet. The melon in the middle of the plate was a nice fresh way to finish the dessert. If I had to guess, it might have been casaba melon.
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Overall, all of our food was super delicious, and we were so full after our Israeli feast. The highlight of the meal for me though, was that the chef and owner, Mike Solomonov, stopped by our table before dessert. He was really nice, and talked to us about our meal, the restaurant, and how our night was going. I loved how he made time to see how we were enjoying his restaurant. Thanks so much!IMG_1925