Archive for the 'Middle Eastern' Category

Garbanzo Burgers with Muhammara

A few days ago I found out I won a trainer from a giveaway on Frayed Laces

Within 10 minutes of the Fed Ex man placing it on the front porch, I had it set up and was happily pedaling away.

It is SO MUCH BETTER than the exercise bikes at the gym! Aero position isn’t going to happen while I’m pregnant (it only took about 15 seconds to figure that out), but I’m completely in love with this thing already, and I think it’s going to make squeezing workouts in a ton easier when I have an infant around.

Speaking of workouts… if you ever need motivation to get on your bike/into the pool/out for a run, this video is the key. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but my sister showed it to me about a year ago and it ALWAYS gets me in the mood to work out. These days it also makes me cry, but that’s probably just pesky pregnancy hormones…

Or click here

After my nice little trainer ride, I was craving something with plenty of protein (and plenty of flavor). I made these burgers a few years ago (back when my photography skills were truly stunning…) and loved them.

This time I left out the sprouts, made them a little smaller (about 2 1/2″ across; the recipe yielded 20 that size instead of 12), and baked them in the oven instead of frying them on the stove.

Instead of filling them with lettuce and tomato, I put them on a pita with some thinly sliced lettuce and muhammara, which I don’t make often enough. It’s a Syrian dip made with walnuts, roasted red pepper, and pomegranate molasses (which should be available at your nearest Middle Eastern grocery store). I’ve seen versions that include tomato paste, lemon, and garlic, but I kept mine more simple.

thinly sliced lettuce
Garbanzo burgers” (about 3 small patties per person)
muhammara (below):

1 dried chile de arbol or 1-2 tsp ground aleppo pepper
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted and cooled
1/4 cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 red bell pepper, roasted until soft, then peeled
1/2 cup warm water
salt to taste (usually about 1/4 tsp)

Combine everything except the water in a blender and pulse until well-mixed. Add the water gradually until the mixture is slightly thinner than hummus (add extra water if needed). Add salt to taste


My family has developed a tradition of going out for Middle Eastern food at a certain place in Portland that keeps hot, fresh-from-the-oven pita coming to the table. Every time we go, we order nothing but the mezze, because who needs an entree when you can tons of amazing tabouli, hummus, and baba ghannouj (scooped up with that fresh, amazing pita)?!

If I had known that it would be pouring and freezing during my 10 mile run today, I probably would have planned a different dinner that involved something warm and comforting like soup, but mezze was on the calendar and all the ingredients were ready, so I went with it.

By the way, it’s not very fun to run into the rain with a strong head wind in the dark (just in case you were wondering) but Mike and I powered through it in an hour and 24 minutes and then I was ready to get into the kitchen!

First up was pita.

Step 1: water + yeast + sugar = foamy goodness

Step 2: Mix with flour and salt…it will make a nice smooth dough

Step 3: Let it rise for an hour.
Step 4: Divide up into small pieces and roll them out on a floured surface.

Step 5: Bake on a pizza stone. Get excited when it puffs up!

Also involved: Tabouli (I added some diced cucumber), hummus, and Baba Ganouj, which is fun because you get to char an eggplant under the broiler until it’s nice and shriveled. It gets all soft and smoky-tasting…mmmm.

Last time I made this I cooked the eggplant directly over a gas burner, but I definitely prefer the broiler method. You just put the eggplant in a pan and flip it every 10 minutes or so. I pricked the skin with a fork because it seemed like a good idea at the time, but I’m not sure it’s essential.

I garnished the hummus with a little olive oil and some sumac. I LOVE sumac for it’s pretty color and almost lemony flavor!

Mezze is served!

Arab Table Lentil and Chard Stew

Lentil. Chard. Stew. Three words that tend to induce reactions varying from mild disgust to gagging, and I threw them all together in the title of this recipe. But please give lentils and chard another chance, because this stuff is really, really good.

I think the reason people hate lentils (or think they do) is because they usually eat them when they aren’t cooked enough (and there’s not much worse than chalky lentils). That was definitely my problem for a few years. Here, they’re nice and tender, with chunks of potato, and great flavor from the cilantro, cumin, garlic, and lemon. The chard is also completely benign here because it just blends right into the background of the soup, so no in-your-face chard flavor, which I always used to hate.

When you have a crowd to feed or want leftovers for days, and don’t want to spend a ton of money but still feel satisfied, give this stew a try! I found the recipe in a book from the library called The Arab Table and I’m definitely excited to sample more of the recipes in it.

(adapted from The Arab Table by May S. Bsisu)

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cups brown lentils
8 cups water
2 tsp salt
2 medium potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 pound rainbow chard, coarsely chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3-4 tbsp fresh lemon juice
thin slices of lemon, for garnish

Heat the 2 tbsp olive oil in a large soup pan over medium-high. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until soft (about 5 minutes). Add the lentils and the water, bring to a boil, then cover, turn the heat to low, and simmer for about 45 minutes. Stir in the potatoes and salt and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the chard and cook for about 10 minutes. The chard should wilt and the potatoes should be tender.

Heat the 3 tbsp of olive oil in a small skillet. Add the garlic, cilantro, cumin, and coriander and saute for about 5 minutes. Stir into the stew along with the lemon juice, adding water if it seems too thick. Stir well, then taste and add more salt and lemon juice if necessary. Serve garnished with thin slices of lemon.

Mediterranean Couscous and Lentil Salad

I always forget how much I hate the process of moving. During our almost-three years of marriage Mike and I have lived in four different places just in California, not to mention our two apartments in Chiang Mai, one in Bangkok, and one in Seoul (Asia was easier because we were living out of backpacks, though). I get so irritated with packing, cleaning, unpacking, not being able to find anything in millions of boxes, having to map new runs and get used to a new kitchen that cooking usually falls by the wayside and I find myself not wanting to do more than mix up a bowl of oatmeal for about a week after moving.

Now that we’ve been moved in for about a week, things are finally starting to come together. Our cupboards are organized, the pantry and fridge are stocked, and I’m in the mood to cook!

This salad looked amazing when I first saw it in my Google Reader, but I wanted to make it more of a main dish, so I added some couscous. I also replaced sundried tomatoes with roasted red peppers, and loved the salty-sweet contrast between them and the olives. If you have time to let the lentils and couscous cool a little before you mix everything together, then let the whole mixture stand at room temperature for about an hour, I think the flavor will be outstanding. I, on the other hand, was tired and hungry from a long day of shopping in San Francisco so I just mixed everything together hot and it was still really good!

(adapted from Elly Says Opa)

1 1/2 cups lentils
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup couscous
1/2 cup sliced roasted red pepper
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1/3 cup chopped parsley
2 tbsp minced shallot
4 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 tsp. dijon mustard
3 Tbsp. good quality extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring a pot of water and the bay leaf to a boil. Rinse and pick over the lentils, and then add them to the boiling water. Cook until soft, about 20-25 minutes. While the lentils are cooking, bring the broth to a boil in another saucepan. Turn off the heat, stir in the couscous, cover, and let stand for about 10 minutes. Remove the lid, fluff with a fork, and transfer to a large bowl to cool.

When the lentils are tender, drain them and set aside to cool slightly. Toss with the couscous, then add the roasted red pepper, olives and parsley.

Whisk together the shallot, red wine vinegar and dijon. Slowly add the olive oil, whisking constantly until the dressing emulsifies. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the couscous and lentils, and mix to combine. Let stand for about an hour before serving to allow the flavors to combine.

Manaqish (Bread with Zaatar)

OK we’re taking steps in the right direction here…away from desserts and back towards (moderately) healthier things. These aren’t perfect, but with half whole wheat flour, they’re much better than Wonder Bread, and I really can’t resist anything with zaatar. If you normally serve pita with Middle Eastern food, this is a nice change and it makes a great appetizer!

I love that these only rise an hour, and bake in 15 minutes. I served mine with labne (which is SO easy to make – just dump a quart of whole milk yogurt into a strainer lined with cheesecloth and let drain for 8 hours or overnight), cucumber, and tomatoes and it was a perfect light lunch. If you have trouble finding zaatar you can make your own or order it online.

(adapted from Alice’s Kitchen)

makes 8 6″ breads

1 1/2 cups warm water
1 1/2 tbsp active dry yeast
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp sugar
2 cups white whole wheat flour
2 cups bread flour
1/2 cup zaatar
1/4 cup olive oil

Put the water in the bowl of a stand mixer and stir in the yeast. Add the sugar and let stand for about 5 minutes, or until the yeast has foamed up. Stir in the flour, one cup at a time, then the salt. Mix with the dough hook for about 5 minutes, gradually working up from low to medium speed. The dough should be smooth, elastic and just slightly sticky – you may need to add a little water or flour to get the right consistency, but it should not stick to the bowl and all the flour should be absorbed.

Divide the dough evenly into 8 pieces. Roll them each into a ball and let rise on a floured counter, under a towel, for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 F (put a baking stone in the oven if you have one). Mix the olive oil and zaatar together.

Pat each ball of dough into a 6″ circle and top with a spoonful of the zaatar mixture. Spread it to within 1/2″ of the edges. Bake on the stone (or a baking sheet lined with parchment) for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Cut into wedges to serve.

Kushari (Egyptian Rice and Lentils)

I consider myself decently well-traveled, but I know there are thousands of people out there who’ve been far more places than I’ll ever go. I used to be really competitive about it but now I’m just grateful to have had the opportunity to travel as much as I have. Although I’m not as feverishly collecting passport stamps these days, I still have a long list of places I hope to visit.

One of the places I am still dying to get to is the Middle East. Until that happens, I’ll be okay with cooking from my Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cookbooks, because I keep coming across amazing recipes like this one (and buying a few lentils is definitely cheaper than flying halfway around the world). The tomato sauce alone is absolutely amazing, and when combined with browned onions and mixed with rice and lentils, you end up with a filling, delectable meal.

I had to add quite a bit of water to the rice as it cooked – probably about half a cup. I also noticed too late that a lot of it was sticking to the bottom of the pan, so keep an eye on the level of liquid while the rice and pasta are cooking!

(adapted from The Essential Mediterranean)

1 cup lentils
5 cups vegetable broth
3 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup fideos pasta (or very thin pasta broken into 1″ piecies)
2 large onions, thinly sliced
1 cup medium-grain rice
6 coarsely chopped garlic cloves
2 tsp kosher salt
1 16-ounce can tomato puree
1 or 2 chiles de arbol, crushed (omit if you don’t like spicy food)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
black peppers
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Put the vegetable broth in a large saucepan with a lid. Bring to a boil, then add the lentils and turn the heat down to medium. Simmer with the pot partially covered until the lentils are tender but not falling apart, about 20-45 minutes (depending on the age and type of lentil).

While the lentils are simmering, heat 3 tbsp olive oil in a wide skillet. Add the pasta and cook, stirring, for a few minutes or until evenly golden-brown. Leave as much oil as possible in the pan, but transfer the noodles to a small bowl.

Add the onion slices to the oil and turn the heat down to low. Cook, stirring every few minutes, until they’re very soft and golden (it should take about 45 minutes). When they’re finished, transfer to a bowl and set aside.

After the lentils are done, strain them but reserve the broth. Put it back in the pan, and add the rice. Boil for about 15 minutes, adding water if the pan appears to be getting dry. Stir well, then add the noodles and simmer for another 10-15 minutes, or until the rice is tender. Add the lentils and remove from the heat.

To make the tomato sauce, pound the garlic and salt together with a mortar and pestle. Add to the pan the onions were cooked in and heat, stirring, until just golden (don’t let it burn!) Stir in the tomato puree and the crushed chiles and cook over medium until thickened slightly, about 10 minutes. Stir in the vinegar, some black pepper, the cumin, and cook another 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and stir in the parsley and more salt if necessary.

To serve, put some of the lentil and rice mixture in a bowl, then top with a generous spoonful of tomato sauce and a few of the caramelized onions.

Cucumber-yogurt Soup

Reading The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber has made me crave Middle Eastern food in a way I never have before. It’s a memoir about growing up with an American mother and a Jordanian father (who loves to cook and eat), and I can’t read a chapter without wanting to make all the recipes she includes. This doesn’t happen to be from her book, but it’s from a great Middle Eastern cookbook that Mike checked out along with the memoir (I should just send him to the library for me from now on – I think he’s better at picking books I’ll like than I am!)

This recipe comes from Iran, and it’s perfect to make as the days get hotter. It’s incredibly quick and simple, and would make a nice light dinner with the addition of salad and bread.

(adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden)

Serves 2-3
2 cups plain yogurt (I used nonfat)
1/3 cup sour cream (I used low-fat)
1/3 cup cold water
salt and pepper
1/2 English cucumber, grated
2 finely chopped green onions (green parts only)
a few mint leaves, chopped, for garnish

Beat the yogurt and sour cream together until smooth, then stir in the water, cucumber, and green onions.
Season with salt and pepper to taste, and garnish with fresh mint to serve.


Although I love falafel, deep frying is not something that occurs in my kitchen. I just don’t like dealing with the mess, and vast quantities of hot oil kind of freak me out. I still wanted to try and make some of these addictive chickpea patties myself, but I was wondering if it would even be worth it since they weren’t going to be fried. It was!

These do not have the crisp exterior and fluffy interior that fried falafel has, but they have amazing flavor and are still great wrapped up with vegetables in some pita. They’re probably a whole lot healthier than the fried variety too.

The recipe I used recommended soaking dried chickpeas overnight, so that’s what I do, but if you successfully used canned, I’d love to hear about it! I like mine really spicy so I tend to add a lot of cayenne, but of course you can leave it out if you prefer.

Also, if you’re looking for a sauce or spread to go with these in a pita, try mixing a little siracha, tahini, and plain yogurt (sadly I didn’t discover this until after I took the picture). It sounds a little weird, but it’s the perfect combination of creamy and spicy, and it goes surprisingly well with these.

(adapted from Epicurious)

Makes 18-24 patties

1 cup dried chickpeas
1/2 large onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp dried coriander
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon baking powder
up to 4 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour
Olive oil, for baking.

24 hours before you plan to make felafel, put the chickpeas in a bowl and cover with a few inches of water. Let soak overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350.

When you’re ready to proceed, drain the chickpeas and rinse. Put them in a food processor with the onion, parsley, salt, cayenne, garlic, cumin, coriander, and lemon juice. Pulse until you have a slightly chunky paste. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the baking powder. Add the flour 1 tbsp at a time, adding just enough so that you can form the mixture into a ball.

Pour about 2 tbsp olive oil into a glass 13 x 9 pan. Pat about 2 tbsp of batter (dough?) at a time into a 3/4″ thick patty. Arrange 12 in the pan, and bake for about 20 minutes, flipping halfway through (when the bottom is golden brown). When both sides are evenly browned, remove and set aside. Repeat with remaining batter. Serve on pita with lettuce, tomato, and tahini sauce.

Baba Ghannouj

I make hummus all the time. I just love having it in the fridge as an easy snack, and it’s rare that I don’t have all the ingredients on hand. Baba ghannouj, on the other had, is a little more “special occasion” to me. The ingredients are pretty similar, with smoky eggplant rather than garbanzo beans, but the process is slightly more complicated.

There’s the charring of the eggplant that has to come first, and that takes a little more effort than just opening a can of garbanzos.

Some people recommend roasting the eggplant in a hot oven, others suggest putting it under the broiler. I will stick with the burner on my gas oven, even if it makes a little bit of a mess. The most crucial thing is to make sure the skin gets very charred, and the whole eggplant is very soft. Once that’s accomplished, the rest is easy! Like hummus, you’ll want to play around with the amounts listed. Some people like a lot of lemon, others prefer more garlic. When I have fresh mint around, I love to chop up a few leaves and mix them in to add another layer of flavor.

1 large eggplant
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tbsp tahini
1 tbsp olive oil
fresh mint (optional)

Place the eggplant over a gas burner and turn every few minutes until all the skin is black and charred and the entire eggplant is very soft. Place in a bowl and cover with a clean towel. When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, scrape off and discard the skin (I like to use a paring knife to scrape it off). Put the eggplant into the food processor (if there are a lot of large seeds, throw them out, but most of the time I don’t bother).

Peel the garlic and mash it up with the salt in a small mortar and pestle. Once you have a smooth paste, add it to the food processor with the remaining ingredients. Pulse until smooth, then taste and adjust seasonings.

Serve garnished with fresh mint


I used to have a fairly major parsley aversion. Too much of it (which usually amounted to anything over about 1/4 tsp) would completely ruin a dish for me. I think it was mostly a mental hang-up though, because I’ve been known to polish off loads of tabouli in a single sitting, and what is tabouli absolutely full of? Parsley. So I’m working on being more accepting of it in dishes other than this one.

Tabouli is so healthy it’s almost ridiculous. Bulgur, a whole grain we all should love. Lemon juice, parsley, mint, green onions, and tomatoes – lots of vitamins, antioxidents, and other great stuff there (not to mention killer flavor). You can put some olive oil in yours for healthy fat but I actually prefer it without, because I think olive oil kind of gums up the texture. It comes together pretty quickly and is even better after sitting in the fridge overnight. It’s right up there with green papaya salad on my list of foods I must consume on a fairly regular basis, so I urge you to make some today!

(adapted from The New Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen)

1 cup bulgur
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
4 green onions (white and green parts), chopped
15 fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 cup chopped fresh parsley (I generally use curly parsley)
3 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced

Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. As soon as it boils, remove it from the heat and stir in the bulgur. Let stand covered for 30 minutes.

Fluff the bulgur with a fork, then transfer to a bowl and stir in remaining ingredients. Chill 20-30 minutes before serving.


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