Archive for the ‘middle eastern’ Category

today i met my friend jason for lunch at taboush– a lebanese restaurant on hawthorne. as usual, i forgot to take a picture before we ate, so all you can see is the fallout.

we split a fatoush salad and a mezza plate, which was great. their baba ganoush was fantastic, as was the humous. the falafel was probably good, jason ate all of it so i don’t know. i’ve had other dishes there that are great– their  homemade soujouk sausage is a favorite of my friend bek.

tarboush has a happy hour from 2 to 6 every day and is open for lunch and dinner. they have beer, wine, and a bar. it’s in an old portland foursquare that has been the home to many restaurant establishments before. they are not busy enough; hopefully they won’t disappear…

jason brought his 11 month old son august who is exhibiting his father’s defiant character already…



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This is my favorite lentil soup. Beginning when I was a teenager in Michigan, we visited almost weekly a small Lebanese restaurant. To this day I have not had Lebanese food as good as we had there. Many of my Middle Eastern dishes I develop are aimed to taste the way they did at this small family restaurant. What makes this lentil soup unique is the fresh lemon and the greens. I prefer to use swiss chard, but many people use spinach or just parsley. I think the chard holds up better. What makes this soup really extraordinary is the fresh lemon juice. You’ll never make lentil soup another way…

Begin by chopping a small yellow onion [I used half of a large onion], 2 carrots, and 2 stalks of celery and sauté them in a few tablespoons of olive oil in a medium size soup pot. If you want, you can sauté the onion alone until it’s brown, and then add the carrot and celery; this makes for a richer broth. I like the soup light, I think it’s nicer with the lemon. I leave the veggies in medium size chunks so they don’t disappear into mush when cooked.

After the veggies have sautéed, add about 2 cups of dry green lentils that have been rinsed and looked over. As with beans, you will sometimes find small stones amid dry lentils. Rinsing them washes away any contaminates and any lentil dust that might thicken or cloud the soup liquid. Add the lentils to the veggies and sauté for a few minutes to let the flavors absorb into the lentils.

Add chicken stock and water. Homemade stock is of course the best, but I use a 1 qt. container of organic, low sodium chicken stock and 4 cups of water. I don’t think it’s as good if it tastes too much like chicken. To make vegetarian or vegan use vegetable stock or just water. You can add more liquid as the soup cooks to maintain the consistency you like; I don’t like it ultra thick and always end up adjusting the liquid. Add a bay leaf, 3 [or more] large cloves of garlic peeled and whole, about 1 T of [preferably white] whole peppercorns, and a small cinnamon stick. I prefer the peppercorns whole, as I enjoy biting into them unexpectedly, but you can omit them or put them with the garlic in a bouquet garni with some parsley stems. Let the soup simmer for about an hour, skimming the top when needed, until the lentils are tender.

When the soup is ready, cut the ribs out of two or three large leaves of chard. Cut the ribs into small pieces [I like to cut them on the diagonal– they’re pretty] and sauté in olive oil or coconut oil in a skillet. I pretty much keep an iron skillet on a burner constantly that I cook greens in. When the chard stems start to soften, add the leaves that have been cut into small strips. When the leaves are wilted, add them to the soup. If you’re using spinach you can just throw it in the soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with a large wedge of lemon [I like Meyer lemon, the flavor is less acidic and richer]. You can add the lemon juice to the pot, and if you add a little it keeps the greens fresher looking; but I like the fresh juice squeezed when served. I don’t like the taste of lemon juice after it’s been sitting in food.

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i’m still working my way through the middle east and yes, i realize this photo looks a lot like the kefta photo. i could put yogurt on everything and be totally content forever…

in college i used to buy the middle eastern falafel mix, and honestly, i don’t think i could have told you what was in it. this recipe is from scratch, and it’s almost an entirely different food altogether. i looked around for different recipes, and created this one taking what i thought were the best aspects of all of them. most of the recipes used only chickpeas, but a couple used chickpeas [garbanzo beans] and fava beans. i used the combination of the two, the fava beans are a little softer and give the falafel an overall softer, more delicate texture.

the first thing i noticed when i finished was the lack of salt. either by mix or from a restaurant, the falafel i have had has been a lot more salty. i liked the less salt, but if you are expecting the more salty taste, adjust the seasoning.


to make falafel from scratch you need to reconstitute the garbanzo and fava beans. add 2 cups of water to 1 cup of dried garbanzo beans, and 1 cup of water to 1/2 cup dried, skinned fava beans. soak overnight. the next day rinse and drain the beans.


put a pan with about 1″ of canola or vegetable oil on low to heat.

chop the fava beans and garbanzo beans in a food processor until they are finely ground. move them to a large bowl. put 1/2 cup each cilantro and parsley in the food processor with 1 small, cut- up yellow onion, and 4 cloves of garlic. add the parsley and onion mixture to the ground beans along with 1/4 cup unseasoned bread crumbs, 4 T flour, 1/2 t sea salt [1 t for more traditional flavor], 3/4 t baking soda, 1/4 t baking powder, 1/2 t paprika, 1/4 t turmeric, 1 1/2 t ground coriander, 3/4 t ground cumin, 1/8 t ground cardamom, 1/4 t cayenne pepper [optional], and ground black pepper. mix well, and add just enough water so that the mixture sticks together well when patted into a ball. if you are making the mixture in advance, do not add the baking powder and baking soda until 10-15 minutes before cooking as they will lose their activity.


take a handful of the mixture and form it into a small patty with your hand. smooth out the surface, if it is too crumbly, add a bit more water; you want it wet but not soggy. gently drop the falafel into the hot oil. you can add a tiny bit of the mixture into the oil to check for temperature. the falafel will absorb too much oil if it is not hot enough. when brown, flip over and continue to cook until brown. remove with a slotted utensil and drain on paper towels. we ate ours with plain yogurt seasoned with cumin, salt, lemon juice, and chopped parsley and had chopped tomatoes on the side. i had three; they were amazingly crunchy on the outside and soft and fragrant on the inside.

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my love affair with middle eastern food continues… kefta is a classic middle eastern dish of spiced lamb and beef [or just lamb or beef], and is found in countries all over the middle east. variations occur in north africa, the mediterranean, central europe, asia, and india. kefta can be prepared as burgers and cooked with olive oil in a pan, or it can be patted onto skewers and grilled. i made burgers, since although it would have been great to pat the ground meat mixture onto skewers, it would have been difficult to photograph alone. i mixed my own seven spice blend from whole spices which i roasted then ground, it made a huge difference in the depth of flavor. often kefta is served in pita bread as a sandwich with a yogurt sauce and tomatoes; we had it as small burgers with a cucumber yogurt dressing and sliced tomatoes.


the seven spices in this blend are allspice, cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, fenugreek, ginger, and nutmeg [this is different than chinese 5- spice]. to make the spice blend, combine equal amounts of the whole spices [allspice, cloves, black pepper, and fenugreek] into a pan and put on medium-low heat to toast. i used 2 heaping tablespoons of each. the fenugreek is smaller and heavier by volume and will sink to the bottom. it also burns quickly, so watch it closely and stir constantly. when it starts to get hot it will smoke a bit; remove from the heat immediately and pour spices into another bowl that is not hot and stir to cool the spices. put the spices into a spice grinder; a small, dedicated coffee grinder is perfect. grind spices until they are very fine. put back into the bowl and add the ground ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg [2 T each]. mix well and put into an airtight container. keep in a cool dark place.


to make the kefta, combine one pound each ground lamb and 90% lean ground sirloin. you can use varying amounts of lamb and beef, some use 1/3 lb lamb to 1 lb. beef. i like more lamb. add 3 T finely chopped parsley, one very finely minced *very small* yellow onion [or 1/2 normally small onion], 2 finely minced cloves of garlic, 1 t of the 7- spice blend, 1/2 t sumac, 1/4 t ground nutmeg, 1/2 t sea salt, and ground pepper to taste. mix well with your hands. you can refrigerate the meat at this point if you are not ready to cook.

when you are ready to cook, shape the meat mixture into oblong burgers. if you want to grill on skewers, a traditional preparation, take each oblong burger and squeeze it around a wood or metal skewer. squeeze the meat at the bottom, moving it little by little up the skewer until it is evenly distributed in a long cigar shape. i stole the photo below from another blog.

pan- fry in some olive oil or grill the kefta until medium. i like it medium- rare, but it is traditionally cooked more to medium.

i served the kefta with sliced tomatoes, and a cucumber yogurt condiment [below].

combine 1 cup of plain yogurt with 1/4 cup sour cream [i used low fat]. you can use just the yogurt, but the sour cream adds a little depth and richness and mellows the sour taste of the yogurt. add about 5″ of an english cucumber, diced, zest from 1/2 a lemon [wash it], 1 T of lemon juice [about 1/4 lemon], chopped parsley or cilantro, 1/4 t sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

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i love, love lebanese food. this is one of my favorite salads made with tomatoes, cucumbers, and toasted pita bread. i’ve had it many places, and it is always different. the traditional way to make it is with sumac, it gives it a very burnt red color; i have never prepared food with sumac and honestly should look it up. the way i make it is the way it was introduced to me in a little restaurant 30 years ago. the italians make a similar bread salad, panzanella.

the following recipe makes enough for two people to have it as a main course:

rip one large piece of pita bread in half, then open up the pocket and split it apart. put it on a cookie sheet and toast it under the broiler until it is well toasted. take the pan out and turn over the bread occasionally, the edges curl up and will burn before the rest of the piece is toasted.

cut up about 2 cups of tomatoes; i used about 7 – 1 1/2″ salad tomatoes on the vine. i’ve said this before, but especially in winter, smaller tomatoes have much better flavor. add about  6″ of a seedless english cucumber, diced; i like the skin left on. add about 1/3 cup chopped mint, and about 2/3 cup chopped italian, flat leaf parsley. you can also add dried mint. some people use only dried mint, but i love the fresh mint or fresh and dried together. add the juice from one lemon, about 1/3 cup olive oil [to taste, really], and 1/2 t sea salt [also to taste]. press one large clove of garlic through a press and finely chop. mix well, then add the toasted pita, broken up into pieces. i leave the garlic out to serve my daughter, then add the clove to what is left, essentially having double the garlic. if you love raw garlic, add two cloves; it fights cancer. so i hear.

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tabouli made with quinoa [traditionally made with wheat bulgar] is so great. i would be hard pressed to find a single dish that had more fiber and nutritional value for your fork- full. quinoa is very high in protein and complex amino acids for a vegetarian source, and parsley and raw garlic are two of the best foods you can eat.

measure 1 cup of quinoa into a pan with 2 cups of water and 1/2 t of sea salt. cover and let simmer, 10-15 minutes, until the water has been absorbed. let rest. while it is still a bit warm, squeeze the juice of one lemon into the quinoa. add one large bunch of chopped italian, flat- leaf parsley, chopped tomatoes [this time of year, the smaller ones have way better flavor], and about 1/4 cup of good olive oil. press 2-3 cloves of garlic through a press, chopping off the garlic as it is extruded in 1/16″ increments with a sharp, but disposable, knife [don’t use a good knife metal on metal]. taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

i have made this with wild rice before. i try not to eat too much wheat because of it’s inflammatory effect, and quinoa has a much better nutritional profile. i never get tired of parsley, garlic, and olive oil.

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i love tabouli, but don’t always want to eat a lot of wheat. make this classic middle-eastern dish with wild rice instead, it’s SO good.

prepare wild rice by the instructions on the package, you want about 3 cups cooked rice [tip: trader joes has a packet of pre-cooked wild rice that is great, put it in a covered bowl and warm it in the microwave for a minute before next step]. while still warm, squeeze one whole lemon  onto the rice, stir well, then ad about 1/2 cup really good, fragrant olive oil. i love spanish olive oil, i think it has better flavor than italian or greek. cool rice.

when cool or room temp, add:
2 bunches of italian parsley, chopped
3 medium- size ripe tomatoes
2 cloves of finely minced or pressed garlic
another lemon, juiced
salt and pepper to taste

this is great with lamb, or sometimes i just eat it out of the bowl standing in front of the refrigerator. also, i’ve had it with a heap of homemade guacamole  and a handful of blue corn tortilla chips. corn makes me feel crappy, but it’s the best vehicle for guac. i served it the other day with grilled flank steak, and the beets with cheese and nuts and grilled asparagus [see below].


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