All that talk from Donna Mejia in our interview got me kind of hungry. And when she discussed collecting global cuisine recipes in her travel as souvenirs, it inspired me to consider adding some variety to my cooking.
Let me back up a bit and let you know the truth about my cooking. I hate cooking. I sustained most of my adult life on heating up ramen noodles or Easy Mac and hot dogs. Fortunately for my health and my waistline, my husband came into my life bringing a passion for cooking (and eating healthy). I found a journal entry not long ago where I set forth a New Year’s Resolution in 2014 to “cook at least three times per month.” PER MONTH?! Yeah, let’s just say that my husband did most of the cooking in our household.
These days my routine involves cooking 3 meals per week, so I’ve come a long way. Yet, I’ve NEVER tried my hand at Middle Eastern cuisine. I eat the hell out of it at restaurants and kebab shops, but it always seemed way out of my reach in the kitchen.
Thanks to my discovery of MidEATS.com, I’m issuing a challenge to myself and any other tribalistas out there willing to give it a go. MidEATS is owned by Brenda, an Egyptian-American who has created a beautiful place online to share the recipes and stories of her Egyptian family, as well as those she has learned throughout life from friends and colleagues.
I know that it isn’t just the food that makes Middle Eastern food so great: it’s the ingredients, history, and preparation that turns any good food into a truly delicious meal. -Brenda of MidEATS.com
So I’ve scoured their pages to bring you three traditional Middle Eastern recipes that even the least experienced in the kitchen can make and enjoy. Whether you’re in charge of the buffet at the next dance hafla or simply want to harness the warmth and flavor of Middle Eastern culture, here is an appetizer, entree, and dessert to try:
Salatat Hummus (Chickpea Salad)
Hummus is made from chickpeas which are abundant in Egypt. When you head to the grocery store though, keep in mind that they also go by the name garbanzo beans – same thing! This simple salad is perfect on pita bread wedges (most grocery stores carry pre-made pita bread in their bakery section!) and making it is as easy as 1-2-3:
PREP TIME: 10 min + an hour in the fridge
- 1 can chickpeas drained
- 1/4 cup lowfat plain yogurt
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1/4 cup parsley chopped
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice about 1/2 lemon
- Rinse the chickpeas
- In a large bowl, combine ingredients. Toss lightly, and add salt to taste.
- Refrigerate. That was easy, huh?
Rice with Spiced Beef (Ruz ba Lahma)
If there is any recipe that I always get requests for, it is this one. This recipe was made infamous by my mother, as any time we had a dinner party, this was how rice was served. Well, the apple did not fall far from the tree, and every time I have guests over, this is the rice that I make. I only associate this rice with guests, so I very rarely make it for a regular weeknight dinner for the family. I should just call it “ruz lil 3zooma”, which means rice for house guests! -Brenda
PREP TIME: 30 min
- 1 1/2 cup white rice
- 3 cups water or organic chicken broth
- 1 tbsp butter or ghee
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/3 lb stir fry beef (or lean ground beef)
- 1 tsp seven spice
- 1/2 tsp garlic salt
- 1 tbsp butter or ghee
- 1 tbsp sliced almonds
- 2 tbsp pine nuts
- 1 tbsp butter or ghee
If you have never used seven-spice, then you haven’t lived
Seven spice is a delicious combination of nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cinnamon, black pepper, coriander and cloves. Every brand has a different ratio, but for the most part the predominant flavor is the nutmeg and cinnamon. – from midEATS.com
Wash the rice and drain. You should repeat this 2 or 3 times until the water runs relatively clear. This removes excess starch preventing the rice from clumping.
In a medium size pot, heat the butter or ghee over medium-high heat. Once it melts, add the rice. Mix well with the butter.
Add the water or chicken broth. Once the liquid begins to boil, add the salt, cover and reduce the heat to the lowest setting.
Cook for exactly 20 minutes. Perfect rice every time!
- If using stir fry beef, wash and rinse the beef. Cut the beef into mini cubes. If using ground beef, you can skip this step obviously.
- In a bowl, add the garlic salt and seven spice to the meat. Mix well.
- In a small saucepan, heat the butter or ghee. Once melted, add the beef and stir until cooked. Be sure to drain any excess fat. It should take about 5 to 7 minutes to cook thoroughly.
- In the same saucepan the beef was cooked in, add a bit more ghee or butter to medium-high heat until it melts.
- Add the nuts, and stir frequently. Once they start to slightly turn brown, they will cook very quickly, and you dont want them to burn, so watch carefully!
Cardamom Pear Crumble
According to Brenda, crumbles aren’t really a thing in the Middle East. “But as someone born and raised in the Midwest, we ate them a lot for dessert. We would go to the orchard in the fall, collect bushels of apples, and then come home to make a crumble. I wanted to make a Middle Eastern version. I wanted to stay away from the typical rose water and orange blossom water. I saw someone once poach pears with cardamom – aha! Perfect – combine pears with cardamom for the perfect Middle Eastern crumble! The white chocolate was a random addition, but it works. You can omit it if you don’t have any on hand.”
Estimate at least 1 pear per person when making this. This recipe serves 4.
- 4 bosc pears peeled and diced
- 1/2 stick butter
- 1/2 cup organic sugar
- 1/2 tsp cardamom powder cardamom extract works well too
- 1/4 tsp vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean pod
- 1 1/2 cups oats
- 1 cup gluten-free flour
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 stick butter
- 1/2 cup chopped white chocolate discs (or chips) (optional)
- In a saute pan, melt half of stick of butter over medium heat.
- In a large bowl, combine the diced pears, sugar, and cardamom. Make a long slit in the vanilla bean, and, using the tip of your knife, remove the inside of the vanilla bean, and add it to the bowl. Add the entire contents to the melted butter on your stovetop. I usually throw in entire vanilla pod into the pan for good measure. Stir well so the pears are coated in the butter and sugar.
- Let the pears cook over the heat for approximately 15 minutes. Stir the pear mixture periodically. Remove the vanilla pod at the end and discard.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the crumble ingredients, except the white chocolate. Mix well with your hands until the mixture is dry, but clumpy and damp. If it is too wet, you can add some more oats and flour. If too dry and crumbly, add a little water.
- If you like, add some white chocolate into the crumble, and mix well again.
- In a lightly buttered pan, add the pear mixture. Top with the crumble.
- Bake in the oven for approximately 25 minutes. Serve warm, and, if desired, with vanilla ice cream. ENJOY!
HAPPY COOKING! Be sure to share your photos and stories from the kitchen over at Facebook or Instagram – that’s where I’ll be posting mine as I complete my cooking challenge!
Quotes, recipes, and photos are courtesy of Brenda at MidEATS.com
*This is not a paid or sponsored blog