Author Archives: Ahaubenstock@gmail.com

Tabbouleh

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Thank goodness that Thanksgiving is over.

Don’t get me wrong — I love Thanksgiving! Coming together with family and friends to express thankfulness for all of the happy moments and important lessons and miraculous happenings of the preceding year is a beautiful tradition. And, hey, the food isn’t too shabby either. But sometimes it gets to be bit much.

The problem is that Thanksgiving food is just too good. After my umpteenth serving of buttery mashed potatoes and turkey doused with gravy and creamy green bean casserole, all I want to do is curl into a ball and hibernate until spring.

But unfortunately, finals have thwarted that plan.

Since I am not hibernating, I might as well take full of advantage of this time of year. Between Thanksgiving and the winter holidays, these few weeks are “the eye of the storm” — the time to make light, delicious recipes before the seemingly eternal food coma commences.

This means salad galore. Luckily, I have just the recipe! Tabbouleh is a lovely Mediterranean salad consisting of diced tomatoes and onion, tender cracked bulgur wheat, mint, and loads of chopped parsley, tied together with a deliciously tangy lemon-and-olive-oil vinaigrette. This salad is light. refeshing, and incredibly satisfying. Served with a light fish or grilled chicken breast and some warmed homemade pita, there simply is no better food for this holiday meal oasis.


 

Tabbouleh

December 6th, 2014


 

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups bulgur (I use Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch mint, finely chopped
  • 1/2 yellow or red onion, finely diced
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp peper
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp salt (to taste)

 

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Pour the chicken broth and water into a large saucepan and bring to a simmer.
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Dump the bulgur in, give it a good stir, and turn off the heat. Move the saucepan over to another burner to let it cool.
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Leave the saucepan uncovered for 30 minutes to an hour, until the bulgur soaks up all of the delicious, flavorful broth and takes on a paradoxically chewy-and-tender texture.20141124_174009

While your bulgur is soaking in the chicken broth Jacuzzi, go ahead and be proactive by washing and chopping the parsley, tomatoes, green onions, mint, and onion.

And while you’re at it, please do the parsley and mint some justice by chopping them properly. That is, use a rocking motion with a very sharp knife (as you should always do with knife work) to keep the herbs crisp and prevent them from browning at the chopped edges.

Trust me, it makes a huge difference!

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When your bulgur has cooled completely and looks dry, you know it’s ready!
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In a large bowl, collect the bulgur, parsley, tomato, green onion, mint, and onion.

Grab your fancy salad tongs too.

You’ll need ’em.20141124_181139

In a small bowl, whisk the lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, salt, and pepper together.

As a general rule, oil should always be the last ingredient added to a vinaigrette to promote optimal emulsion.

Drizzle in the oil, and give it another whisk. Taste to make sure it is as delicious as you know it is.
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At first, pour only 3/4 of the vinaigrette into the dry salad ingredients. Toss to combine, and taste. If the tabbouleh needs it, add the rest of the vinaigrette in.

The purpose of adding the vinaigrette in stages is to prevent soggy tabbouleh. Really, nobody wants that.
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Look at you! You just made tabbouleh from scratch! Give yourself a pat on the back, and, most importantly, enjoy!

Notice: The winter season starts on December 21st, which means that there are only 15 days left to reach The After School Special’s fundraising goal for UNICEF’s Children of Syria fund. If you like what The After School Special is doing to help support children in need in Syria, please consider donating to the fundraiser by clicking the button below:

Syria Donate Button

Thank you so much for your generosity!

Tahini Cookies

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It is officially cookie season.

As the brittle leaves gently flutter to the ground in vibrant reds and yellows and oranges, and a slight chill whispers down every street and under every door (well, maybe not here in sunny California, but one can pretend), there is one thing on everyone’s mind — the holidays.

The holiday season holds a very special place in each of our hearts for one reason or another. For some it is the family reunions, the warm and fuzzy sweaters, the sparkling menorahs/Christmas trees/kinaras, and the Starbucks holiday drinks that are so attractive (hello, pumpkin spice latte). For others, the endless list of excuses to embrace the consumer within and the overall holiday cheer that take the cake. No matter what we love most about this time of year, just about everyone can emphatically argue that the holidays are a great time to be a human being on Planet Earth.

To me, the holiday season means many things. Near the top of that list lies one of the greatest manifestations of human innovation in all of history — the cookie. Gingersnap, snickerdoodle, chocolate chip… what more could one ask for than a classic, time-honored American cookie?

I’ll tell you. How about a classic, time-honored, non-American cookie? For decades, Americans have been laying out the same kinds of cookies for Santa. He simply must be tired of them. I say that it is time that we branch out to the far corners of cookiedom in search of cookies that we have not tried before. After all, one can only eat that dry sugar cookie so many times before they loses their appeal. So how about baking  something new?

Let us begin our cookie exploration with a famous treat from the Middle East — the tahini cookie. These delectable, melt-in-your mouth cookies are nutty, buttery, and addictively sesame-y. As for categorization, they are probably best described as something between peanut butter cookies and pecan sandies. So come on and give this recipe a shot! I promise that these simple-yet-delicious cookies will soon be a mainstay of your famous holiday party cookie platter.


 Tahini Cookies

November 20, 2014


Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 stick softened butter
  • 1 1/4  cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup well-stirred tahini
  • 1/4 cup shelled pistachios (or almonds, chocolate chips, pine nuts, etc.)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt

 

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Turn the oven to 350F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the softened butter and powdered sugar.20141118_170404-001

Using a whisk attachment (or a fork), cream the butter and sugar together until the mixture is light, fluffy, and smooth.20141118_170458Drizzle in the tahini, and fold it in with the butter and sugar until the mixture is completely homogenous.

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In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Proceed to mix the dry ingredients in with the wet.20141118_171403

The resulting dough should be neither wet nor dry; however, it should be some what harder and more play-dough-like than your average cookie dough.20141118_171602Pinch off a large-olive-sized piece of dough. Roll the dough between your hands until it forms a smooth ball, then gently squeeze the ball on two sides, flattening it until the dough is about 1/2 inch thick. Repeat with the rest of the cookie dough.

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Lay the cookies two inches apart in a staggered pattern on a greased baking tray. Lightly press one shelled pistachio piece into the middle of each cookie.

Slide the tray into the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, until the cookies reach your desired level of brownness. Bake for around 10 minutes for golden brown, soft, chewy cookies. Bake for 15 or more minutes for richer, crispier cookies with caramel and brown-butter undertones. Or, chose a baking time somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes for the best of both worlds!

20141119_070011When the cookies have reached your desired level of doneness, let them cool on the pan for 10 minutes, then remove them and allow them to cool more thoroughly on a rack.

20141119_070446Once the cookies have cooled (or before that if you are impatient), it is time get your munch on! These tahini cookies are a phenomenal mid-morning snack — especially alongside some strong Turkish coffee (accentuated with a dash of cardamom, if you want to take the experience to a whole new level)! I am sure that these delightful treats will soon hold a cherished spot in your holiday cookie repertoire. Please let me know what you think!

Enjoy!

And don’t forget — if you like this recipe, please donate to The After School Special’s fall season fundraiser for UNICEF’s Children of Syria charity! There is only one more month left to reach this season’s donation goal! Together, we can make a difference in the lives of children in need.

Syria Donate Button

 

{click the UNICEF button to donate to The After School Special’s fundraiser for children in Syria}

Hummus Heaven: The Best Hummus Recipe Ever

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It doesn’t get much better than good hummus.

Sadly, even with a simple ingredient list of chickpeas, sesame, lemon, garlic, oil, and spices, hummus is surprisingly hard to get right. Most variations of this quintessential Middle Eastern dip are not bad, per se, but they do seem to miss the mark ever so slightly. Be it too raw-garlicky, too sour from a heavy-handed squeeze of lemon juice, too bitter because of tahini-overload, or unappealingly thick and chunky from undercooked chickpeas, there are just so many ways to go wrong.

I say that it is time to do hummus some justice.

After a good deal of research, I can say with confidence that my hummus recipe is the best I have ever tried. This is not your run-of-the-mill, Average Joe bean paste in a month-old tub. No, this homemade hummus is worlds beyond anything you can buy in a store. It is perfectly balanced, velvety-smooth, and mouthwateringly savory. And on top of that, it is infinitely customizable! Like the sound of roasted red pepper? Sun-dried tomato? Or how about roasted garlic and freshly-cracked black pepper? Hummus is your blank canvas.

You can serve the hummus warm or chilled with anything from baby carrots and celery to multi-seeded crackers. Or, go the extra mile and make some homemade pita for a truly authentic appetizer platter. You really can’t go wrong with this hummus.

So, what are you waiting for?


Hummus Heaven: The Best Hummus Recipe

October 31, 2014


Ingredients:

  • 2 cans of chickpeas, or about 4 cups of cooked chickpeas, with the cooking liquid reserved
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice (the juice of about one lemon)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp butter or ghee
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt

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Empty the chickpeas and liquid into a microwavable bowl. Stir in the baking soda until it has fully dissolved. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and microwave for 2 minutes. When time is up, leave the bowl in the microwave with the cling wrap still attached to steam the beans even more.

You may be wondering what baking soda is doing in a hummus recipe. You see, as I was researching techniques to use in my perfect hummus recipe, I came across multiple sources swearing by the addition of baking soda to the cooking liquid. The idea is that the baking soda makes the water less “hard,” which yields beans that are creamier and significantly less starchy on the inside.

Upon testing this method, I found that the gritty, starchy canned beans quickly became soft and smooth, which is exactly what we want to keep our hummus velvety-smooth.

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Pull out your food processor or blender. I find that the food processor delivers smoother, more even results.

As the chickpeas are cooking in the microwave, blend the tahini, garlic, and lemon juice together before adding beans. The acidic lemon juice “loosens up” the tahini, which helps it integrate into the hummus better. And blending the garlic early helps to break it down completely, which means that you won’t end up with a bites of hummus with unwelcome raw garlic punches.

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Toss in the chickpeas, leaving the cooking liquid behind in the bowl. Blend until the chickpeas are completely broken down into paste.

If you are making some kind of variation like roasted pepper hummus or caramelized onion hummus, blend in the ingredients for your variation now.

1/4 cup at a time, add in the leftover cooking liquid until the hummus is completely smooth. I used about half of the reserved cooking liquid, but this can vary. The dip should be able to stand on its own, but it should also be very easy to spread. Somewhere between pasty and drippy is what you are looking for.
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Now, add in the spices. Smoked paprika and cumin are my spices of choice because they complement the chickpeas’ earthiness and the tahini’s nuttiness perfectly. However, feel free to add whatever spices you please!20141027_170503 20141027_170721

Fats are an integral part of hummus. While somewhat unusual, I opt for a combination of olive oil and cold butter (or ghee). I find that some takes on hummus are, quite frankly, too heavy-handed with the olive oil, which leads to a drippy, loose texture and a greasy mouthfeel. So instead of using 4 tablespoons of olive oil, I substitute 2 of the tablespoons with cold butter. I take the butter directly from the refrigerator and blend it right into the hummus. This creates a lovely “whipped texture”, which is slightly lighter than what you may be used to. And the creaminess is unparalleled.

Now is the time to taste the hummus for salt. I usually add anywhere from 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt, depending on how salty the chickpeas originally were. Definitely don’t be shy with the salt, as it truly brings out the layers of flavor that this dip has to offer.

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Dig in and enjoy! Or, if you are feeling fancy, plate the hummus with a variety of toppings. Here I used toasted pine nuts, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a few dashes of smoked paprika (sprinkled over the tines of a fork to create the stripes!), and one or two pinches of dried oregano that I have rubbed between my fingertips to release the aroma. Feel free to top the hummus however you want, with anything from caramelized onions to roasted peppers to a dusting of cracked black pepper! Or, keep things simple and serve this delectable hummus on its own!

For the ultimate platter, serve this hummus with warm, homemade pita! Enjoy!

And don’t forget, if you like this recipe, please consider giving back to the Syrian community by donating to The After School Special’s fundraiser for UNICEF’s Children of Syria charity, which helps Syrian children in need. Thank you so much!

Syria Donate Button

{click the UNICEF button to donate to The After School Special’s fundraiser for children in Syria}

Breaking Bread — Homemade Pita

Bread is arguably the most important food on Earth.

At the dawn of civilization, humans started grinding grain into flour, mixing the flour with water, letting the dough ferment over time to develop flavor and improve digestibility, and forging the dough into hearty loaves to sustain their families through another day.

Since its conception, bread has played a vital role in the rise and fall of tribes and kings and empires. Bread is the bare minimum that a family needs to survive, and thus, throughout history, whenever people have not been able to attain their daily loaf, uprisings surely followed suit. In fact, bread is so important to the people that it serves as the the cornerstone of the Magna Carta and the French Revolution, both of which paved the way for the democracy of the modern world.

It is safe to say that without bread, society as we know it today would not exist.

Because bread is so important to daily life, there is a never-ending list of idioms and sayings that pertain to the subject. One of the most common is the simple phrase of “breaking bread.” This phrase means so much more than simply tearing a loaf of bread apart. “Breaking bread,” at its simplest, means to share life. Especially in today’s world, some people are far more fortunate than others. This is why it is important that whenever anyone physically breaks bread, that person should think about how fortunate he or she is to have the blessing of life and consider how to share that gift with others in need.

This is why I want to share this recipe for homemade pita, the main type of bread in Syria as well as the rest of the Middle East. Many people have never baked bread before, which is truly a shame. Baking bread is nothing short of magical. And luckily, Pita is a perfect place to start! This bread is soft and delicious, and each piece has a large pocket in the middle, making it an excellence choice of bread for a light sandwich or wrap. Pita is also wonderful brushed with olive oil and baked into chips to dip into hummus, baba ghanoush, or any other spread of choice.

The best part about making pita is that it only takes about two hours, most of which is idle time. And the smell and taste of fresh bread is truly incomparable! Enjoy!


 

Homemade Pita

October 26, 2014


Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 – 1 1/4 cup water
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp granulated sugar or honey
  • 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp salt

 

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In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt. Then drizzle in the olive oil and pour in 1 cup of water. Stir until all of the flour is moistened. If the mixture is too dry, add in the extra 1/4 cup of water.

Once the dough is neither wet nor dry, knead it for five to ten minutes to mix the ingredients evenly throughout the dough and to work the gluten.

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When you are done kneading, the dough should look something like this. Not completely smooth, but it should hold together and stretch well, and it should not stick to your hands.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, and cover the bowl with a towel dampened with warm water. Let the dough rise for 90 minutes.
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After 90 minutes have passed, the dough should have doubled in size, and it should look puffy and shiny.
20141023_183610Scrape the dough out onto a well-floured surface.

Look at that gluten development! Thats what creates the large bubble in pita.
20141023_183858Cut the dough into eight roughly even pieces.20141023_184117(0)

Shape the pieces into balls. Be sure not burst the bubbles in the dough too much. Cover the balls with the damp towel and let them rest for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, set the oven at 400F.20141023_185804After 20 minutes, the dough will puff up again.

Isn’t it just so beautiful?
20141023_190330Using a rolling pin, roll each piece of dough out until it has a diameter of five to six inches and a thickness of about 1/4 inch.
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Transfer four disks at a time to a parchment-covered baking tray. Bake for three to five minutes until the pita puffs up and starts to look golden brown.20141023_193404

Nice and puffy!
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If you time the recipe perfectly, you’ll serve the pita nice and warm as a dinner side, and your family or guests will call you a hero for the rest of your life.
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But if you aren’t making the pita to go with a big meal, or if you have some leftover, pita makes for great toast. My favorite way to eat toasted pita is with a light smear of tahini, a drizzle of honey, a sprinkling of finely chopped pistachios and a pinch of flaky sea salt.

Perfection.

Don’t forget, if you like this recipe for homemade pita, please consider “breaking bread” by donating to The After School Special’s fundraiser for UNICEF’s Children of Syria charity. Your every donation, small or large, makes a big difference a child in need. Thank you so much!

Syria Donate Button

{click the UNICEF button to donate to The After School Special’s fundraiser for children in Syria}

 

 


Halva Studded With Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

Halloween is on my mind.

I’ve always loved Halloween. From the scary stories to the cool costumes, Halloween is arguably the best time to be a kid. What kid wouldn’t want to run around with friends, sporting the costume of his or her favorite fictional character or real-life idol and collecting a lifetime supply of free candy?

Nowadays, however, Halloween doesn’t seem to carry the same magic for me. Maybe I’m just getting older. Honestly, at 16 years old, dressing up as someone else is probably the least appealing thing I can think of — I’m trying to figure out who I am after all, let alone act like someone else. Especially with college lurking right around the corner.

The only thing that holds that last glimpse of Halloween magic for me is the candy. With a sweet bite, I can take myself back to the days when I could go out and celebrate the holiday without worrying about studying for the following day’s tests.

And let it be known, not all Halloween candy is created equal. I have always been partial to the chocolaty candies, as the fruity ones tend to be cloyingly, tooth-achingly saccharine. Anything from Twix to Rolo to 3 Musketeers will do, but my all time favorite, however is Reese’s. The secret to this candy lies in the ratio — a perfect combination of smooth milk chocolate and salty, slightly gritty peanut butter. Yum.

Yesterday, the idea hit me that hit me that I should combine my favorite Halloween candy with a Syrian confection to feature on my blog. I realized that Syrian halva, which is a deliciously nutty, sweet, creamy-yet-crumbly sesame fudge, would go perfectly with Reese’s. Halva traditionally comes either studded with nuts or marbled with chocolate, so I thought that the peanut butter cups might just provide the best of both worlds to create a mind-bogglingly delicious dessert.

Boy, was I right.


 

Halva Studded With Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

October 21, 2014


Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lb tahini (sesame paste, can be found at most grocery stores)
  • 1 1/4 lb granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 cup chopped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (or a combination of Reese’s, chocolate chips and peanut butter chips)
  • 1/2 Tbsp kosher salt


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Grease two 9×5 loaf pans.

Measure out the sugar, water, and salt, and mix them together in a large pot.
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Stir the sugar-water-salt mixture and scrape down the sides until the liquid reaches a boil, after which do not stir at all. Use a candy thermometer to make sure that it gets up to exactly 248F.

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Meanwhile, measure out your tahini and microwave it for 1 minute.

(is my tahini tub big enough???)

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Pour the warmed tahini into a stand mixer or large, sturdy metal bowl. Cover it to keep the tahini warm until the sugar comes to temperature.

Now is also the time to chop up the Reese’s.

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Once the sugar reaches 248F, turn off the heat and carefully pour it into the warm tahini.
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With the cover off to release steam, mix the tahini and boiled sugar on very low speed. It will look like a gloopy mess at first.

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This is how the mixture should look after about thirty seconds. You can start to see clear lines, but it is still very gloopy.

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After about a minute, the mixture will look crumbly but still moist, just like good cookie dough. Immediately stop mixing! If you mix more, your final product will be crumbly and not creamy.

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Working quickly, spread 1/4 of the mixture into each loaf pan, and cover the rest of the mixture so it doesn’t dry out.

Sprinkle the chopped Reese’s on top (as you can see, I opted for a combination of Reese’s, chocolate chips, and peanut butter chips because that is what I had on hand. Just using Reese’s is absolutely fine).

Divide the rest of the tahini-sugar mixture in half, spreading each half over the top of the Reese’s layer. Don’t worry about the candy melting, it actually creates a lovely marble effect.

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Spread the top layer evenly and press it down to make the halva nice and compact.

Cover the halva with plastic wrap and let it cool for at least an hour.
20141020_082406Once the halva is cool, cut it into cubes and serve! Or, for an even more decadent treat, try tipping the halva in tempered chocolate to create a sort of “Reese’s inside a Reese’s” effect.

Enjoy!

And don’t forget, if you enjoy this recipe, please consider donating to The After School Special’s fall season charity for UNICEF’s Children of Syria fund below. Thank you so much!

Syria Donate Button

 {click the UNICEF button to donate to The After School Special’s fundraiser for children in Syria}

Samak B’Kamuneh: Baked Sole in Spiced Tomato Sauce

With a beautiful coast along the world-famous Mediterranean sea, Syria has no shortage of fresh, delicious seafood. As a result, Syrian cuisine includes a long list of amazing seafood dishes that truly bring the most out of its ingredients.

One of such dishes is samak b’kamuneh, or baked fish in spiced tomato sauce. This dish uses a myriad of spices and herbs from the heart of the spice trade to marry the freshest seafood with the rich bounty of the earth. The result is a mouthwatering dish with a perfect balance of impossibly clean, tender sole and addictively complex sauce in every bite. Served over Syrian rice, samak b’kamuneh is a standout seafood meal that is sure to make the list of your all time favorites.

If you like this recipe, I encourage you to give back to Syria by donating to The After School Special’s fundraiser for children in Syria. Every donation makes a big difference to a child in need.

So without further ado, the recipe:


Samak B’Kamuneh: Baked Sole in Spiced Tomato Sauce

October 16, 2014


Ingredients:

  • 1 lb sole fillets (or any other mild-flavored white fish)
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cups chopped fresh parsley + extra for garnish
  • 2 + 2 Tbsp olive oil, separated
  • 3 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme (I grind it so it isn’t hard to chew, but some like it unground)
  • 1 tsp paprika/piment d’Espelette
  • 1/2 tsp salt (or more to taste)


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Preheat the oven to 375F.

Roughly chop the tomatoes (I leave the skins on), and sautee them in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium high heat.

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When the tomatoes soften, gently mash them with a fork or wooden spatula until you have a thick tomato sauce. Keep the sauce simmering until you can trace a line on the bottom of the pan without the sauce filling back in for an entire 20 seconds.

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Meanwhile, while the tomato sauce is still simmering, grind the paprika/piment d’Espelette, cumin, thyme, and coriander together. Mix with the water to form a sort of spice and water mixture.

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Add the parsley, garlic, onion, lemon juice, spice and water mixture, salt, and 2 remaining tablespoons of olive oil to the simmering tomato sauce. Stir to combine, adding more water as needed to keep the sauce from burning and sticking to the pan.

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Continue to simmer the sauce at medium heat until the onions are just tender. Adjust salt to your taste (it should be just a teensy bit on the salty side, since the fish itself is not seasoned). Turn off the heat.

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Oil a 9×9 baking dish. Rinse the fish off and pat it dry with paper towel. Line up the fillets in the dish.

Try to use the freshest fish possible. It really makes a difference in flavor and texture. Look for fish that looks clean and bright (not dull), and smells more like sweet scallops than a fish market.

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Spoon all of the sauce over the fish. By the time you have used all the sauce, the fish should be completely covered.

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Tent the dish with aluminum foil and place it in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes. Even though your house will smell amazing, refrain from lifting the foil up in the middle of the baking time! The foil locks in steam, keeping the fish supremely moist.

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After 15 minutes, remove the foil. Test the fish for doneness by gently swiping some sauce to the side and making a small incision into the fish with a butter knife. If the fish looks white throughout, it is done.

Carefully place one fillet on each plate, garnishing with parsley. This dish is traditionally paired with Syria’s specially-seasoned rice. Enjoy!

Don’t forget, if you like this recipe, please spread the word about The After School Special and donate to the charity of the season:

Syria Donate Button

{click the UNICEF button to donate to The After School Special’s fundraiser for children in Syria}

Attar: Citrusy, Floral Simple Syrup

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Attar is the Arabic name for rose/orange blossom-flavored simple syrup. Attar is used as a major ingredient in many Middle Eastern dessert recipes. It adds a floral, citrus-y sweetness to baked goods, and also prevents them from drying out. Two classic desserts that use attar are harissa, which is a popular semolina cake, and the world-renowned baklava.

Fortunately, attar is incredibly simple to make. Start by mixing 2 cups of sugar with 1 cup of water, and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Add in 1 Tbsp of lemon juice (or zest) and 1 tsp rose water or orange blossom water, and lower the heat to medium-low. Let the mixture simmer for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the syrup cool, stirring every once and a while to prevent crystallization on the surface. Only use the syrup after it has cooled completely. Store the attar in a jar in the refrigerator.

Harissa: Syrup-Drenched Semolina Cake

20141011_185020Before you call me crazy, let me clear something up: no, this dessert has nothing to do with harissa, the spicy North African chili paste. You see, harissa is also the Arabic name for a deliciously fragrant cake consumed all throughout the Middle East, particularly in Syria.

This cake, also called basbousa, was an extremely popular treat throughout the reign of the Ottoman Empire, and rightly so — the semolina flour adds an addictive nubby texture and sunny flavor while a douse syrup, called attar, keeps the cake moist while permeating it with fragrant sweetness. Although traditionally served with breakfast, harissa is definitely decadent enough to stand up against any dessert. This recipe will become a mainstay in your kitchen — unique enough to impress guests and delicious enough to keep them coming back for more!

The first step to make harissa is creating the attar, just like many other Middle Easter dessert recipes. The recipe for attar is incredibly simple, and can be found here.

If you try out this recipe for harissa and enjoy it, please consider donating to The After School Special’s fundraiser for children in Syria, or spread the word about it to friends and family!

Without further delay, the recipe:


Harissa — Syrup-Drenched Semolina Cake

October 13, 2014


Ingredients:

  • 2 cups fine semolina flour
  • 1 cup butter or ghee, melted
  • 3/4 cup milk or yogurt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup + 1 cup attar (rose simple syrup, recipe here), separated
  • 1/4 cup raw almonds (optional)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt (if using unsalted butter)

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Preheat the oven to 400F.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the semolina, sugar, baking soda and salt together.

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Stir the melted butter in until all of the dry ingredients are moistened. The clumpy mixture should look and feel like wet sand.

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Stir the milk and 1/4 cup of attar into the mixture to make a batter. Add more milk as necessary until the batter takes on the loose consistency and sunny, golden color of polenta or thick grits. Pour into a greased 9×9 baking dish. At this point, you can decorate the cake with almonds (or pistachios, coconut, etc) if that suits your fancy.

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Place the baking dish in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the cake takes on a beautiful golden brown hue and passes the toothpick test.

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While the cake is still hot, pour the remaining attar all over, using a spatula to smooth the syrup over every square inch and into every nook and cranny. The cake will absorb all of the syrup, becoming plump and just perfectly sweet (as the cake itself contains but a small amount of sugar).

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Wait for the cake to cool completely before cutting. The inside will then have set itself up completely, and a crunchy sweet crust will have formed on the surface.

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The final product: a rich, dense, moist cake with a distinct cornbread-like crumb and a sunny, golden yet nuanced flavor. It is no wonder that Syrians are so fond of harissa.

If you enjoyed this recipe, please consider donating to my fundraiser for children in Syria and spreading the word. Together, we can make a difference!

Syria Donate Button

 {click the UNICEF button to donate to The After School Special’s fundraiser for children in Syria}

Quick Turkish Delight With Pumpkin Spice Variation

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Many people have never experienced the magic of Turkish delight. Tragic, I know.

How could someone miss out on this sweet, sticky, chewy, ethereally smooth, prominently-flavored confection? Somewhere between chic pâté de fruit and the gummy candies of your childhood, Turkish delight is a unique, not-to-be-missed treat.

Although Turkish delight was first invented in Turkey, the confection spread quickly after its conception and soon became just as popular (if not more) in Syria and the rest of the Middle East.

I highly encourage you to give this simple candy a try. The recipe is astoundingly simple, using the microwave to cut the cooking time down significantly. And the end product is beyond worth it. Turkish delight is extremely versatile; it can take on endless flavor possibilities to suit your specific taste. This time I made the traditional lemon-rose flavor, as well as a special pumpkin spice variation to celebrate the start of fall.

So if you try this recipe and like what you’ve made, please consider giving back a small amount to Syria through The After School Special’s fall season charity for UNICEF’s Children of Syria fund.

So without further ado, the recipe:


 Quick Turkish Delight With Pumpkin Spice Variation

October 1o, 2014


 3 cups water

2 1/2 granulated sugar

1 1/2 cups + at least 1 cup extra powdered sugar, separated

2/3 cup + 2 tbsp potato starch (corn starch works as well), separated

1/4 cup gelatin (or 1/4 cup agar-agar powder)

1 tsp lemon zest (or cinnamon/other spices depending on desired flavor)

1/2 tsp rose water (or other extract of choice)

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp cream of tartar

3 drops pink food coloring (or any other color!)


Turkish Delight

In a large, microwave-safe bowl, combine the water, granulated sugar, and gelatin/powdered agar-agar and microwave the mixture for a total of 14 minutes. Stir once or twice to break up the 14 minutes.

Meanwhile, sift together the cream of tartar, 2/3 cup of potato starch/cornstarch, and the 1.5 cup of powdered sugar. Stir the dry mixture in with the microwaved sugar-gelatin mixture, and microwave for 6 more minutes without stirring.

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At this point, the base jelly should be thick and shiny, but still more liquid than solid.

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Now is the time to add in your food coloring. For the lemon-rose flavored Turkish delight, simply stir in 2 drops of pink food coloring.

For the pumpkin spice flavored Turkish delight, use 3 drops of orange food coloring (or alternatively, mix one drop of red with two drops of yellow). My red food coloring was especially strong and caused for a slightly darker-than-desired finished product, so I recommend adding very little at a time to achieve the perfect color.

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Once you’ve reached the perfect color, it’s time for the aromatics. For the lemon-rose flavored confections, stir  in the rose water and lemon zest. Dip a finger in to taste for flavor, and feel free to add more zest and/or rose water to suit your tastes.

For the pumpkin spice Turkish delights, stir in 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and a rounded teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice ( equal parts ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and clove, adding up to a slightly overflowing teaspoon). Again, taste the mixture and continue to add vanilla and spice until the mixture fulfills your wildest pumpkin spice dreams.

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Spray or oil a 9×9 baking dish (or two 9×5 loaf pans if you split the recipe to make both pumpkin spice and lemon-rose Turkish delight).

Now the hardest part: pop the pan into the fridge and wait for at least four hours to enjoy the fruit of your labor.

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Four hours and significantly less patience later, slice the mass of jelly into 1 inch cubes with an oiled knife.

As you can tell, I was so excited that I forgot to take pictures before I took my first bite. Forgive me.

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Gems, I tell you.

Right before serving, sift the last cup of powdered sugar with the 2 remaining tablespoons of potato starch/cornstarch, and coat each piece with the mixture.

Devour quickly. Un-coated pieces should be left in the pan in the refrigerator, and must be eaten within a week.

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Enjoy!

And don’t forget, if you enjoyed making this recipe, please consider donating to my fundraiser for UNICEF’s Children of Syria fund. Your every donation makes a big difference for a child in need!

Syria Donate Button

{click the UNICEF button to donate to The After School Special’s fundraiser for children in Syria}