Jan 20, 2013

My big fat Middle Eastern dinner...

I don't know what it is about "themes", but I seem to love them.  I enjoy theme parties and dinners and even decorating.  Last night, by special request from my brother Don, I served a (belated) birthday dinner for my sister-in-love Marcie that consisted of simple Middle East inspired dishes.  This kind of cooking is not complicated at all, but it does take a little investment of love and time.  For now,  I'm happy with these easy-to-make and tasty recipes which I've collected from several sources.  Perhaps sometime I will expand my knowledge and expertise to include some of the more "mysterious" dishes.

My first introduction to this kind of food came 42 years ago when a friend I worked with, who happened to be Lebanese, would bring yummy spinach pies for her lunch and share them with me. She gave me her grandmother's recipe and I've enjoyed making these myself from time to time.

Fatayer (Spinach Pies)

Two handfuls flour
salt, sugar, yeast, warm water

(I used about 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 tsp. salt, and dissolved 1 pkg. yeast in 1 c. warm water.)

Add yeast & water mixture to dry ingredients, stir together, then knead.  Roll into small balls and put on cookie sheet, covering with a towel and let stand for at least an hour.

In a bowl, mix chopped fresh spinach, chopped fresh parsley, 1/2 tsp. dried mint, 2 Tbsp. lemon juice, 2 Tbsp. oil, salt & pepper, and 1 small onion (grated).

Roll out balls into a flat circle, and put about 2 tsp. of spinach mixture in the center.  Fold dough over to form a triangle shape and pinch edges.  Bake on ungreased cookie sheet.  Brush with a little oil. Bake @ 375 degrees until a golden color.

Dolmades (Stuffed Grape Leaves)

These are a favorite of ours.  We eat them hot or cold and love them.  I've made them about once a year for the last 20 years or so, having been given this recipe at a church event.  

1 jar (8 oz.) grape leaves 
1 # ground meat (beef is fine) * If you would rather make these "meatless", simply double the amount of rice, and use vegetable broth instead.
1 cup cooked rice
1 cup finely chopped onions
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup tomato puree
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh dill
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. salt
2 cups beef broth

Carefully remove leaves from jar, drain in colander, and remove stems.  Set aside.  Combine other ingredients, except the beef broth.  Mix well.  Lay grape leaves on work surface, shiny side down, and place about 2 tsp. mixture on each leaf, close to the base.

Fold the sections of leaf around mixture and roll to completely enclose, making a neat roll.  Line casserole dish with some of the leaves and layer rolls on top.  Cover layers with a few more leaves and repeat until all mixture is used.  Pour beef broth over rolls.  Cover dish with foil and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour.

Note: Do not be intimidated by the $40/# price of pine nuts! I made a double recipe of these and that translated to 1/8 of a pound, or about $5 worth of pine nuts, and made over 50 dolmades.  You can buy these in very small quantities.  They are the essential ingredient in these delicious treats!

I serve them drizzled with olive oil and crumbled feta cheese


I always feel like I'm eating really healthy when I have Tabbouleh.  The main ingredients are bulgur, a whole grain and high fiber wheat, and fresh parsley.  A friend gave me this recipe years ago and it is the only one I use.

1 cup bulgur wheat, soaked in 2 cups cold water for 1 hour, then drained with a sieve.
1 chopped fresh tomato
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 bunch of fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. fresh chopped mint

Mix the above and set aside.

1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 c. lemon juice
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
dash cinnamon

Mix dressing ingredients and combine with Tabbouleh mixture.  Note: I use this same dressing recipe for a tossed romaine lettuce salad with cucumbers, tomato, kalamata olives, and feta cheese.  It is delicious!


This recipe came from cooks.com.  I was looking for something quick and easy that tasted like the hummus from our favorite Middle Eastern restaurant, Aladdin's.  This fills the bill!  I made this in my food processor but you could also use a blender.  I like it very creamy and smooth and it is easy to make up ahead of time and refrigerate.  Serve with pita bread.

2 (15 1/2 oz.) cans chick peas (garbanzos), fully drained
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. sesame oil
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
olive oil to drizzle on top

Lebanese Chicken
(I didn't get a good photo of this, but you can see 
it in a photo toward the end, on the far right)

This recipe also came from cooks.com.  It is the simplest way I've ever made chicken and oh so tender and tasty.  Place boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a shallow baking dish, sprinkle with fresh ground pepper and sweet basil (be generous!) Do not salt the chicken, as the lemon juice makes it unnecessary.  Fill the baking dish to about 1/2 inch deep with lemon juice.  Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.


My daughter-in-law, Ellie, passed this recipe on to me.  It is very good, but I have to admit I need a little more practice.  The first time I fried these, I think I used to much oil and they tended to fall apart.  The second time I just put a small amount of oil in a fry pan, but I think I let it get too hot as they were frying a little too fast.  Next time I will try a combination of less oil in the skillet and medium high heat.  But these are very yummy, especially eaten with the tahini-lemon sauce.

Two 15 oz. cans chick peas (garbanzo beans)
4 medium closed garlic, minced
1 tsp. tumeric
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup finely minced onion or 6 scallions, minced
1/4 cup packed minced fresh parsley
1/4 cup water
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
a few dashes of cayenne pepper
1/3 cup flour
oil for frying

Rinse the chick peas and drain them well.  Combine all ingredients except flour in a food processor or blender.  Add flour and stir until thoroughly combined. Cook right away OR store in refrigerator for several days in tightly covered container.  When ready to cook, heat a heavy skillet and add about 3 Tbsp. oil.  Drop batter by tablespoons full into the pan, flattening each slightly, like a small, thick pancake.  Saute` for about 10 minutes on each side, until golden and crisp.  Add small amounts of extra oil to the pan as needed throughout cooking.  Place the cooked Felafel on a plate lined with paper towels and if necessary, keep warm in a 300 degree oven until serving time.

Left: lemon/olive dressing (see "Tabbouleh", above)
Right:  Tahini-lemon sauce, especially good with Felafel

Tahini-Lemon Sauce

3/4 cup sesame tahini
5 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 small to medium clove garlic, minced
3/4 ~ 1 1/2 cups water (depending on desired thickness)
1/2 ~ 1 tsp. salt, to taste
a handful of very finely minced fresh parsley
optional:  dash cayenne pepper, to taste

Place tahini, lemon juice, and garlic in food processor (or a blender). Begin to process.  Slowly drizzle in the water, checking every now and then to monitor the consistency.  When it is as thick/thin as you want it, turn off the machine.  Transfer to a small container and season to taste with salt, parsley, and cayenne.  Cover tightly and refrigerate until ready for use.  This recipe also came from Ellie.  I can't wait to try it as a dip for fresh veggies.  It will keep for several weeks stored in the refrigerator in an air tight container.

Tzatziki (cucumber dip)

This is one of the better known Greek recipes, used for fresh vegetable dips or on pita sandwiches.  I copied this from a magazine some years back.  This is a fairly large recipe, and it can be halved if desired.

2 mini cucumbers
8 scallions 
2 cloves garlic
4 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
salt & pepper to taste
large carton of plain yogurt

Blend all together in food processor or blender.  


Last but not least, I use this Baklava recipe I got from my sister Barb many years ago.  I only tweaked it slightly to accommodate the size of the box of Phyllo. This is so easy to make, I don't know why I don't make it more often.  On second thought, yes I do.  It is full of butter and nuts...but well worth a special treat now and then! And there will be plenty to give some away!

1 1/2 # finely ground walnuts (use food processor)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 cup sugar
3 sticks butter, melted
1 # package Phyllo sheets at room temperature

Mix ground nuts, sugar, cinnamon, and cloves in a bowl and set aside.  Grease cookie sheet with sides with melted butter.  Layer sheets of Phyllo one at a time and brush on melted butter between each. After 10 sheets, spread one half of walnut mixture, then layer balance of sheets in the same way.  After laying 10 more sheets, spread balance of walnut mixture on. When finished layering all the sheets, cut diamond shapes through top layers only.  Bake at 325 degrees for about an hour, but don't burn.  

While the Baklava is baking, make the syrup.  In a saucepan on the stove, boil 1 cup water, 1 lemon slice, 1 Tbsp. lemon juice and 1 whole clove for about 20 minutes.  Discard lemon slice and clove and add 1/2 cup honey to mixture.

When the Baklava is finished baking, pour 1/2 of the above syrup over the top.  Wait 20 minutes, then pour remaining syrup on top.  

I prepared all the food ahead of time except for the chicken.  Toward the end of the cooking time for the chicken, I put the Fatayer and Felafel back into the oven to reheat, as well as some foil-wrapped pita bread.

We had some hot mint tea with our meal which I simply brewed with natural peppermint tea bags. And I'll let you in on a secret.  While preparing these recipes, I ran out of fresh mint and so I opened a couple tea bags and used the dried mint and it worked just fine.

And now I'm happy that I have all my favorite Middle East recipes in one place.  Tell me if you try any of them, and let me know if you have some that you would like me to try!

Jan 4, 2013

Filling in the blanks..

I've been missing in action in the blogosphere for 3 months! I've been busy living life without any leftover  time or energy to write about it! But it's a new season and a new year, and with the rest of the world, I've turned a new page on the calendar.  

Before proceeding I just wanted to briefly fill in the blanks...

*For the first time in as long as I can remember, I am happy to say that I fully embraced this past Fall season.  I love summer so much that I usually slip into a little self-pity party when it's all over ~ something like being told to put all my toys away and go to bed.  I don't know why this past year was different.  Perhaps it was a good fruit from my earlier resolve to live each and every day intentionally and to the fullest.  I loved decorating my home more than ever with pumpkins and leaves and good smelling candles, and I also busied myself in my kitchen more than ever, enjoying fall soup making, baking, and just nesting in general. We were thrilled to have the opportunity to have our three SC grandboys stay with us for several days in early November while their parents celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary with a trip to NYC!

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

*My brother Don finally had his stem cell transplant in mid-November.  We are all thrilled that he is recovering well and gaining strength every day.  His numbers are good, and he is back to work on a part time basis again.  PRAYER CHANGES THINGS!

*Thanksgiving was way different for us this past year.  For the first time ever, we had no kids or grandkids around our table.  It was just us and our two mothers.  I still did the traditional Thanksgiving meal, just on a somewhat smaller scale.  We were able to talk in complete sentences, as I like to say when there aren't children around, so it was a special time with our moms.  A highlight of the season was our participation in our church's Thanksgiving basket outreach.

My mom came over the day before Thanksgiving to help bake pies and make the turkey dressing~a longstanding tradition of ours!

*Our Christmas season was merry and bright! So many wonderful things to do in the month of December that have become traditions for us: The annual Christmas tree display at the Knight Center; the presentation of The Nutcracker at the Civic Theater; The Tuba Christmas concert at The EJ Thomas building; our church's annual Christmas concert...Hubby and I took an evening to do a craft together (small "blackboard" signs with names of Jesus to decorate three small pencil trees); much baking and crafting with the grandchildren...I hosted a small but fun afternoon Christmas Tea for my new swapping friends; Hubby played Santa to five families that I chose from among new friends as well, blessing 12 children on one snowy night!  Our annual Lichi family Christmas party was a huge success, with four generations being present; church on Christmas Eve, my favorite day of the year...  And to top it all off, our South Carolina family was here to spend a week with us, and we had 14 here for Christmas Day dinner and festivities. 

*My heart is full, my body is tired, my mind is spinning with thoughts of the new year and all the opportunities, challenges, and possibilities that lie ahead.  I am grateful for God's provision and care of us in the past year.  And I'm looking forward to reconnecting with you here, my friends!  Happy New Year and God bless us, everyone!