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!

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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 sautéed 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.

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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.

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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!

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 soufflé. 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