Syrian-inspired roasted figs and grapes

Syrian-inspired roasted figs and grapes

Before we started cooking for my brother’s engagement party, I made this platter to try later on after the dinner was over and everyone had gone home.

It was an idea for a recipe I had for awhile, playing with flavors we use for stuffed grape leaves, with zero intention of making it part of the dinner (especially if it were a fail). I figured why offer it to such a picky crowd, anyway? I already heard my brother from another room ask, “what the hell is this? Who roasts grapes? Such a weird-ass thing to do.” I rolled my eyes, as I forever do when my ownly sibling’s goal in life is to annoy his big sis.

I stepped out of the kitchen after cakes and coffee were served. My introvert butt needed a moment. When I returned, everything but one damn fig on the platter was left.

So, I guess it’s a weird-ass keeper.

Preheat the oven to 400.

You’ll need a sheet pan covered with parchment and:

-8 figs, halved or quartered
-2-3 bunches of grapes (I used tiny Tim’s), on their stems

for the dressing

-1 tbs pomegranate molasses
-1 tbs fresh lemon juice
-1 tbs walnut oil or olive
-1 tsp allspice
-pinch of cinnamon and salt, pepper too

Whisk all together and brush the dressing onto all sides of the figs, and whatever grape is exposed. Pour the rest over everything and pop them into the oven for about 20 minutes, or until surfaces have caramelized a bit. Feel free to broil for a couple of minutes to get it extra browned on top.

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for serving

-toasted almonds or walnuts, eyeballed
-feta, to taste

Feta is not optional. I loooooove the saltiness that comes with sweet and tart fruits, made even sweeter from getting roasted.

Syrian Meatball Stew with Baby Zucchini

When a friend goes out into his garden to harvest seeds just for you, the gratitude is unreal. I happily carried a small jar of fresh coriander plucked right before my eyes from their cilantro-flowers, from Corona to the Upper East Side, thinking of all the dishes I’d love to add them to.

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This Syrian stew, for starters. Even though the seeds are not something you have to have to make this stew happen, it’s something I did have and it made beautiful, floral sense to use them alongside orange peels and fresh tomatoes and delicately spiced meatballs.

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Let’s not act surprised to see orange peels in this pot. The combination of spiced tomato broth with citrus and floral undertones will always be my thing. You can omit them if you’d like, but why not give it a try? I’ve seen you over there skipping that part in 90 percent of my recipes (I’m laughing). And as for the zucchini, I usually stuff them with this meat and rice mixture (hashu), but look at how tinyyyy these are.

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Baby zucchini is not only adorable, but they are adorable, less watery, less seedy, less all-the-things I don’t really like about zucchini, and sometimes they come with their blossoms attached. You don’t even have to core them! What? But please, using the full-grown guys is also okay for this recipe if you’re not stumbling upon the babies at your local farmers market. I actually found some packaged at Trader Joe’s the other day, and see them often at organic grocery stores. Now on to the recipe:

for the Hashu (spiced ground meat with rice)

-1 pound grass fed ground beef
-1/4 c dill, chopped
-1/4 c parsley, minced
-1/3 c basmati rice
-1 spring onion/scallion, sliced then chopped, or 1 sm onion finely chopped
-3 garlic cloves, minced
-1 tsp allspice or baharat
-1/2 tsp aleppo pepper
-1/4 tsp cinnamon

for the stew

-1 tsp cumin seeds
-1/2 tsp fresh coriander seeds, crushed (optional)
-olive oil, enough to lightly coat pot
-1 1/2 cup fresh tomatoes, chopped
-3 long strips of zest from an orange
-fresh sprigs of oregano (optional)
-1/2 tsp tomato paste
-8 oz can tomato sauce
-about 2 1/2 cups water or stock*
(this thickens into a stew-like consistency so if you’d like a loose broth, add more water)
-baby zucchini or core larger ones and slice
-1 large potato, peeled and diced

1. Make your spiced meat mixture, being careful not to overmix.

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2. Shape them into small balls, which will give you about 25-28. Set aside while you start up the sauce.

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3. Under low heat, gently toast the cumin seeds for about a minute, then add a long drizzle of olive oil. Turn up the heat to medium and add your chopped tomatoes, orange peels, tomato paste, fresh coriander seeds, oregano, Aleppo pepper, and saute for a couple of minutes before adding your tomato sauce and water/stock. Let simmer for 5 minutes.

4. Add your meatballs, gently stirring occasionally. After about 15 minutes, add your potatoes. 5 minutes later, before you turn off your pot, you’ll add your baby zucchini. The meatballs cook through within 30 minutes, any longer and they’ll be tough.

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The sauce thickens with time and I think a piece of bread to sop it all up would be magic. Add some fresh herbs and enjoy. Let me know if you end up cooking with orange zest so I can hug you from here. It doesn’t take much to make my day. ❤

Roasted Cheese-Stuffed Spiced Tomatoes

Roasted Cheese-Stuffed Spiced Tomatoes

There’s a roasted caprese I love to make for the family: campari tomatoes stuffed with ciliegine, basil, and topped with seasoned bread crumbs. While I was craving them last weekend, I was also craving sambousak, a buttery, sesame pastry filled with muenster cheese. Lori serves them whenever she cooks a Syrian feast. In fact, it’s how we begin one. While she works the stuffing, I am usually put on sesame seed duty. Dipping and pressing each pastry into a bowl of seeds, then lining them up on a baking sheet and popping them into the oven. The aroma of that moment is what I’m after.

In a perfect world, I would’ve made both. But it’s finally truly warm out and I wanted to fully embrace “less is more” on a Sunday afternoon. The only solution was this: stuffing tomatoes with muenster cheese, leaning more towards Syrian cuisine by using familiar spices, swapping out the basil for parsley, and then topping each tomato with sesame and nigella seeds before they get popped into the oven and, 20 minutes later, right into my mouth.

Guys, I should triple this recipe. I mean, look at that pre-bake and imagine cheese melted, tomatoes fragrant with spices and tasting sweeter, even bolder, than ever. The aroma of toasted seeds fills your kitchen. Or don’t imagine and just peep that after shot.

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You will need:

– 2 lb campari tomatoes, or other similar-sized variety, about 18-22
– drizzle of olive oil
– 1/2 tsp allspice
– 1/4 tsp cumin
– 1/4 tsp Aleppo pepper
– 1/4 tsp salt
– couple of pinches of cardamom
– 7 oz muenster cheese, small diced
– 2 tbs parsley, finely chopped
– 1 tbs sesame seeds
– 1/2 tbs nigella seeds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Core each tomato and take a sliver off the bottom of each one so that they sit up nicely when ready to roast. While you’re working on everything else, have them lined up on paper towels, upside down, so that any excess liquid is drained.

Meanwhile, put all spices in a small bowl and whisk them together. In another small bowl, add both seeds and whisk together.

In another bowl, toss your diced muenster cheese with parsley and a 1/2 tsp of the spices, reserving the rest for later use.

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In a large bowl, drizzle a little olive oil onto the cored tomatoes and sprinkle the spices inside and outside of each one, gently tossing them to make sure they are each seasoned equally.

Stuff each tomato with the seasoned muenster cheese and place them in a cast iron skillet. You’ll want to see cheese peeking out of the tomatoes. When they melt, they get real snug into each one.

Top each tomato with a generous amount of seeds.

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Roast for about 20 minutes. Serve immediately. Enjoy your Sunday.

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Spring Greens Kibbeh

Spring Greens Kibbeh

Guess what? I have never had an all-veggie-and-herb kibbeh before. Nor a very flat one. It is the hefty oval-shaped classic stuffed with meat that I’m used to; with it’s outer, crispy shell made of bulgur wheat and even more (but very delicious) meat. In Lori’s kitchen, all that’s needed is a fresh squeeze of lemon over them and each bite is heaven. But it’s spring and I want to do the following: see green, eat green, maybe not spend too much time in the kitchen if there’s a shortcut I can live with. I also really want to eat less meat.

So bring on this quicker version of kibbeh packed with fresh herbs, chickpeas, spring peas, and beautiful spices. Kibbeh-meets-falafel, almost! Use whatever greens you fancy.

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While you can use fresh English peas that are already pre-packaged for you, I’ve come across spring’s sugar snap peas plump enough to shell and use for this recipe. No steaming necessary! They are currently in season. They are sweet all over and you can make a simple salad out of their tender shellings.

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Add some fresh herbs and toss them in lemon juice and good quality olive oil, and season with salt, pepper, cumin, and sumac. And yes, it goes perfectly with kibbeh!

Spring Greens Kibbeh – makes 12-14 thin patties

– 1/2 cup fine bulgur, rinsed and drained completely in a fine mesh strainer
– 3 spring onions, sliced thin
– 3 garlic cloves, minced or 3 ramps/garlic scapes, chopped, if you have
– 1 cup variety of herbs, tightly packed, chopped (parsley, cilantro, dill)
– 2/3 cup cooked chickpeas, gently smashed
– 1/3 cup + 1 tbs fresh spring peas (frozen is ok)
– 1/2 cup flour
– 1 heaping tsp allspice or baharat
– 1 heaping tsp Aleppo pepper
– 1 tsp fine sea salt
– 1 tsp cumin
– 1/4 tsp coriander
– vegetable oil, for frying

In a big bowl, add all ingredients together, tossing so that everything looks fully incorporated. Then knead til big, slightly sticky clumps form.

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Cover and leave in the fridge for about 15 minutes. When ready, knead a palmful of the mixture into a ball and press it down to create a flat disc. Do this til the mixture is gone. No worries if some of the peas run loose. You can always press them gently down onto a patty after you form them.

Heat a cast iron skillet and drizzle vegetable oil onto it. Not too much! We’re just searing each patty on both sides til they’re golden, about 1 1/2-2 minutes a side. For each batch, drizzle more oil onto the pan. Place them on a plate lined with paper towels, sprinkle with salt while they’re still hot. When ready, plate them however you wish, though stacking them is fun.

Serve with lemon wedges and/or pomegranate molasses. And that shelling salad!

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If you’re serving more than 3 or 4 people, you can easily double the recipe. This is a great appetizer, lunch, or snack, or side dish.

Last night I served it with this beauty of a red snapper with even more beautiful cauliflower and everyone was so silent at the table, enjoying every moment of molasses dripping onto this and onto that.

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If interested in making this super easy one-pan meal, just season the fish with za’atar, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Toss the cauliflower in olive oil, salt, pepper. Roast for about 40 minutes. Heat up the kibbeh for about 6 minutes in the oven if it cooled down. The crunch of these patties completed the meal! Between the 3 of us, there were only a few left. And I enjoyed those few cold the next day.

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A Syrian Menu for Two (with leftovers)

A Syrian Menu for Two (with leftovers)

Do you love sweet and sour dishes? I didn’t til I sat at my love’s Syrian-Jew-But-Also-Italian table.

Traditionally made with apricots, I noticed how Dan’s mom, Lori, would also add an equal amount of prunes to her Yebra (stuffed grape leaves), which are smothered, gently, with a tamarind sauce. It’s a beautiful, vibrant-tasting dish. When I decided to challenge myself by making these for my love (or making these at all–I didn’t want to ruin a gorgeous recipe!) a light-bulb struck. Why not use another dried fruit that I adore?

Figs.

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Let me tell you. Eating this made me want to buy fresh figs and roast them in this sauce–which actually might be a recipe coming soon–but I digress.

Did I eat more figs than grape leaves? Probably. But mostly because I wanted their to be enough of the leaves themselves for Lori to try. When I told her I was making Yebra, I received a stream of expected texts, “did you rinse them first? Dry them? Did you soak the rice? Make sure you lay them vein-side up.” I didn’t have much time to reply (because..yes..I was doing all those things!) I have made these a few times with her and my confidence in the kitchen that morning sang through the window on the 5th floor of my mom’s tiny UES kitchen. Upon the first bite (I swear it!) my guy teared up. All I heard was “…babe.” And he then came at me for a bear hug and a hundred kisses. Next day, I received a text from Lori that said it tastes just like Aunt Sara’s. Which, BTW, is the ultimate compliment. For as long as I’ve sat at their table, Dan has always said “Please make it taste like Aunt Sara’s.” I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting her, but here’s to you, Sara.

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Stuffed Grape Leaves with Figs and Apricot in Tamarind Sauce

1 lb hashu, recipe follows
8 oz jar of grape leaves (about 30-36)
10 dried mission black figs
8 dried California apricots (do not use Turkish here)
juice of large lemon, plus more to taste
5-6 tbs tamarind concentrate
pinch of brown sugar
pinch of salt
4 cups water (plus more)

Hashu (Meat and Rice filling)

1 lb beef
1/3 cup basmati, soaked for 15 minutes, drained
1 small onion, finely diced
1 heaping tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cardamom
1 tbs vegetable oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt

1. In a bowl, gently mix by hand all the ingredients and spices for hashu and set aside. *Set oven to 350 degrees unless you plan on cooking these babies on the stove from beginning to end.

2. Drain grape leaves, carefully taking them out of the jar. In a large pot, bring water to a boil and add the grape leaves, carefully turning them with tongs, for about a minute. Then quickly get them into a big bowl of ice water. Pour them over a colander and begin to dry each one, while cutting off their stems. Make sure you lay them vein-side up when done.

3. Take a heaping teaspoon of hashu (more or less, depending on the size of the leaf), and place the spoonful at it’s center closest to the stem. Fold in the sides and roll them semi-tightly.

4. In a dutch oven or pot, drizzle a little vegetable oil on the bottom and start arranging your stuffed grape leaves and dried fruit, creating about 2 or 3 layers of them, depending on how many grape leaves you were able to stuff. (Some come torn up in the jar). My pot ended up with only two layers–about 32 grape leaves.

5. On med-high heat, cover the pot and let steam for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, make your sauce. In a medium bowl, add your lemon juice and tamarind. Whisk in about two cups of water and a pinch of brown sugar and salt. Pour over the grape leaves. Add another 2-3 cups of water so that it almost reaches the top layer of grape leaves, about 3 quarters of the way. A lot of the liquid will decrease as it cooks, and you’ll want some later. It’s the good stuff. You don’t want it soup-like, though.

6. Place a heat-friendly plate directly on top of the leaves to keep them from unraveling (or don’t. I didn’t. But if you’re making a lot it might be wise to.) Simmer up to 45 minutes on the stove or in the oven, covered. Spoon sauce over the top leaves occasionally. When some leaves have caramelized, turn them onto a platter and serve with all the things.

Syrian Menu for Two (with leftovers)

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Yebra served with homemade Za’atar Flatbread.

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And hummus topped with warm chickpeas that simmered in it’s own broth with toasted cumin seeds, then got tossed in an olive oil and lemon dressing, topped with za’atar and Aleppo pepper.

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And a very fresh, colorful market haul salad made of very finely chopped parsley, red cabbage, scallions, cherry tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. I suppose all that’s missing is the bulgar!? (There was bulgar, guys. But since it was so fine (I bought it to make kibbeh), it turned to mush.) Kitchen fails are welcomed here. This salad was beautiful and simply wanted to be without.

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On the table, which is actually the gorgeous cheeseboard my guy got me years ago sitting atop a radiator by the windowsil (because good lighting!), is a precious tea towel Tory gave me recently. It has a Syrian recipe of anise bread printed throughout. I love it so!

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I sent over a grape leaf question to Kathryn from Cardamom and Tea the other day, and she responded with absolute kindness. I might have an opportunity to learn how to forage for fresh leaves and I do hope to meet this amazing woman whose food speaks to my soul. Lori already said she’s coming with! A day out with new friends and family in spring sounds like just the thing.

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Syrian Rice: Bizeh b’Jurah

Syrian Rice: Bizeh b’Jurah

“Let me make you guys a nice, Syrian dinner on Sunday” was really my way of saying, I need a day in the kitchen. An entire day, please and thank you. One beginning with an early morning trip with Lori to a couple of Middle Eastern markets where rose petals, olives, barrels of legumes, Syrian cheeses, jarred tamarind, freezers stocked with homemade kibbeh and sambousaks, still-warm jelly and custard donuts, are aplenty. (Y’all know I came out with allll the donuts. And cheese.)

It’s the first day of Hanukkah, guys, and I needed to do something I love for people I love, and I needed to slow everything down so I could enjoy every second of it. That includes hugging the wonderful woman who brought out her freshly made donuts. If I couldn’t do any of this, a meltdown in the very near future would occur LET. ME. TELL. YOU.

It’s been over two months since I shared something with you. I get up in the mornings to cook something quick for dinner, then run out to work. I get home at 9pm. I’ve been feeling a disconnect in my kitchen and will like to borrow yours on the weekends. Let me feed you!

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Bizeh b’Jurah is Syrian rice with peas and meat. I made it a couple of years back on Rosh Hashanah after having seen the recipe in Lori’s copy of Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews. I LOVE THIS BOOK. It feels most family to me. Every month or so I crack it open for inspiration. This recipe is simple and hearty. It could be a side dish but it could also be a main. I made a few changes to the original recipe. Where she uses coriander seed, I use cumin. Where she uses water, I prefer a rich beef stock. At some point you’re supposed to create a paste with garlic and seed but I omit that part because I adore the wholeness of sliced garlic and seeds. For color and texture, grated carrot or shredded purple cabbage, a variety of fresh herbs and/or spring onions. I turn to the season for this one.

Bizeh b’Jurah, 6-8 servings

  • 4-5 garlic cloves, sliced
  • olive oil, enough to coat pan
  • 1 tbs tomato paste (optional)
  • 1 pound flanken, cut in 2-inch cubes, seasoned with salt n pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon allspice (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 cup long grain rice or basmati (rinsed)
  • 1 cup of frozen peas
  • 4 cups beef broth/stock (or water, or vegetable stock)
  • fresh herbs, chopped (any green that you love)
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced purple cabbage or grated carrot (optional)

In a medium saucepan, sear the flanken on both sides and set aside. Add a little more oil if needed, then add cumin seeds, garlic, and tomato paste if you’re using, saute for about a minute. Add meat back into the pan and pour the stock over it. Cover and simmer for about an hour and half, til tender.

Using a strainer to catch the meat, pour the liquid into a measuring cup. Measure out two cups of the broth because that is all you’ll need. Return the broth and meat into the pot and add the rice and peas, giving it a quick stir. Cover and let simmer til liquid is absorbed, about 15-20 minutes.

Toss in any herbs or crisp veggies you’d like, or leave as is! Chickpeas make a nice addition.

In keeping true to what I needed that day, I took my time with everything. I learned how to make Syrian stuffed grape leaves (Yebra) and enjoyed rinsing, drying, and trimming each small-to-enormous leaf. Adding meat and rice to each one and rolling them, sometimes sloppily, was fun. I eventually got the hang of it. In this recipe, also found in Aromas of Aleppo, you get a tanginess from lemons and tamarind (ou), and added sweetness from dried apricots and prunes.

Even tearing a part Syrian cheese was done slowly. I can eat a whole bowl of this (okay, I actually did eat a whole bowl of this.) I love the addition of nigella seeds.

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I hope that we all take a moment to self-care this winter. I always find getting through the cold and all the holidays pretty difficult, but HEY, for Christmas and New Years I’ll be on the beach away from New York, and that is MAJOR self-care. If you can’t get away, please do something you love. Take your time in doing it. It’s that necessary.