Lebanese Meat Pies – Lahm Bi 3ajeen – Sfeeha

Lahm bi 3ajeen or sfeeha are delicious and savory meat pies that are eaten all over Lebanon, usually as part of a mezze spread, a side dish, or just as a snack.  What makes them so mouthwateringly tasty is that the raw lamb (more traditional) or beef cooks inside the dough, not separately from it.  This allows all the flavorful meat juices to be absorbed by the dough, yielding an amazing flavor.  For me, making and eating these exquisite meat pies takes me back to when I was young in my mother’s kitchen.  Whenever she made these meat pies, the intoxicating aroma filled the house, as we all gathered to devour them.

LEBANESE MEAT PIES – LAHM BI 3AHEEN – SFEEHA

Recipe yields about 36 to 40 small Lebanese meat pies.

BASIC DOUGHrecipe below
2 lbs ground Lamb (or beef)
1 large yellow Onion – finely chopped
6 large Garlic cloves – grated or finely minced
2 tablespoons Italian Parsley – finely chopped
4 Roma Tomatoes – finely chopped and drained
1 tablespoon Tomato Paste
1/4 cup Tahini
1/4 cup Labneh or Greek style yogurt
3 tablespoons Pomegranate Molasses (optional)
1 tablespoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
1/2 tablespoon Allspice
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
2 teaspoons Sumac
2 Lemons – juiced
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil – for brushing pies

LEMON WEDGES – to serve with the finished Lebanese meat pies

In a large bowl, combine the lamb, finely chopped onion, grated garlic, finely chopped parsley, finely chopped and drained tomatoes, tomato paste, tahini, labneh, pomegranate molasses, salt, black pepper, allspice, cinnamon, sumac, and lemon juice.  Cover the lamb mixture with plastic wrap, and allow to sit in the refrigerator until the dough is made and has risen.

Make the dough and allow it to rise.

Now that you are ready to make the pies, roll out the dough on a lightly floured clean surface.  Using a round cookie cutter of your choice, cut the dough into rounds.  Remove the lamb mixture from the refrigerator.  Scoop about one tablespoon of the mixture into the middle of the dough rounds.  Do not overstuff the dough.  Pinch the two opposing ends of the round dough, making sure the stuffing stays in the middle.  Then pinch the other two opposing ends, forming an open square.  Repeat until all the dough is stuffed with the lamb mixture.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place all the meat pies on a lightly greased baking sheet.  With a pastry brush, lightly brush all the pies with extra virgin olive oil.  Place the meat pies in the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the meat is cooked and the pies are golden.  Serve warm or at room temperature with lemon wedges or yogurt.  Enjoy!

BASIC DOUGH

3 cups all purpose Flour – plus a little extra for dusting
1 teaspoon coarse Salt
1 teaspoon Sugar
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil – plus a little extra for finished dough
1 – 1 1/2 cups warm Water – depending on humidity
1 pkg rapid rise Instant Yeast – about 2 1/4 oz

*You may use regular active dry yeast, but you will have to proof the yeast in the warm water and sugar before you add it to the flour, salt, and olive oil.  I like using rapid rise, because it is much easier and takes less time for the dough to rise.

Combine the flour, salt, yeast, and sugar in a stand mixer, and turn it on low.  Add the extra virgin olive oil, and slowly add in the warm water.  Start with a cup; should you require more, add a little drizzle at a time.  If your dough is too moist, add more flour.  Turn the stand mixer to medium low and keep kneading the dough for about 10 minutes, until it is smooth and pulls away from the bowl.

On a clean board, sprinkle some flour and transfer the dough to the floured board.  Roll into a ball and place in a greased bowl.  Drizzle a tiny bit of extra virgin olive oil to coat the dough.  Cover with plastic wrap and leave it a warm dark place to rise for about an hour to an hour and a half.


Lebanese Lentil Soup w/ Lemon & Swiss Chard – 3adas Bil Hamod

Every time I think of this Lebanese lentil soup, I am transported to the distant past, when I was little, and my mom would make this delicious lentil soup for me, my dad, and my sister.  I remember coming home from school, starving.  I would walk into the kitchen, and the scent was just intoxicating!  Onions, garlic, and cilantro sautéing in extra virgin olive oil.  It was such a lovely treat, especially, on a cold afternoon.  Even though, my mom has made it many times since, my most vivid memories are from the days of my childhood.  Now, it is up to me to create those vivid food memories with my own family.

LEBANESE LENTIL SOUP WITH LEMON AND SWISS CHARD 

1 small yellow Onion
1 large head of Garlic – minced
2 large Yukon Gold Potatoes
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 bunch Cilantro
1 1/2 cups brown Lentils
3 quarts Water
1 bunch Swiss Chard
1/2 to 1 Lemon per bowl – juiced

Start by rinsing the lentils.  In a large sauce pan over medium heat, simmer the lentils in water, until they are soft.

Finely mince the onion and garlic, and finely chop the cilantro.  In a large pot or dutch oven, sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil over medium heat, until they are translucent.  Add the cilantro, and sauté for another few minutes.

Wash the potatoes, and cut them into small cubes.  Sauté them along with the onions, garlic and cilantro mixture for about 5 minutes.  Add the cooked lentils and all their cooking liquid to the dutch oven.

Wash and chop the swiss chard.  Make sure to remove the very bottom part of the stems, and discard them.  Add the swiss chard to the pot, cover, and simmer over low heat for 3o minutes.

Now that the soup is ready, juice about half a lemon per bowl of soup.  As I am Lebanese, I squeeze one whole large lemon for a bowl.  I hope you enjoy this deliciously healthy soup.

 


Mna’eesh Bi Za’atar – Breakfast Wild Thyme & Olive Oil Flat Bread

Mna’eesh bi za’atar make up a very important and essential part of a Lebanese breakfast.  In Lebanon, most people buy them from their local bakery, as they are made fresh daily.  When I was a kid, I remember that on the weekends, some people send their kids (as I was sent a few times) or go themselves and take their own za’atar mixture to their local bakery.  They have the baker use his dough and their za’atar to make the mna’eesh.

In the US, it is not easy to find already made mna’eesh, so most Lebanese tend to make them at home.  One of my favorite things about visiting my parents are my mom’s freshly made mna’eesh that she bakes very early, every morning of my visit.   She gets up around 5:30 am to begin the process.  When she starts baking her addictive mna’eesh between 6:30 and 7:00 am, the intoxicating aroma fills the house and seeps into my room, gently awakening me.  They always smell so good!  Why is everything tied to our mothers so amazing?  I guess, it just is …

THE DOUGH

3 cups all purpose Flour – plus a little extra for dusting
1 teaspoon coarse Salt
1 teaspoon Sugar
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil – plus a little extra for finished dough
1 – 1 1/2 cups warm Water – depending on humidity
1 pkg rapid rise Instant Yeast – about 2 1/4 oz

*You may use regular active dry yeast, but you will have to proof the yeast in the warm water and sugar before you add it to the flour, salt, and olive oil.  I like using rapid rise, because it is much easier and takes less time for the dough to rise.

Combine the flour, salt, yeast, and sugar in a stand mixer, and turn it on low.  Add the extra virgin olive oil, and slowly add in the warm water.  Start with a cup; should you require more, add a little drizzle at a time.  If your dough is too moist, add more flour.  Turn the stand mixer to medium low and keep kneading the dough for about 5 – 8 minutes, until it is smooth and pulls away from the bowl.

On a clean board, sprinkle some flour and transfer the dough to the floured board.  Roll into a ball and place in a greased bowl.  Drizzle a tiny bit of extra virgin olive oil to coat the dough.  Cover with plastic wrap and leave it a warm place to rise for about an hour to an hour and a half.

MNA’EESH BI ZA’ATAR – WILD THYME AND OLIVE OIL FLAT BREAD

1/2 cup green Za’atar – preferably Lebanese za’atar
1 tablespoon Sumac
1/4 cup Grapeseed Oil
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Pinch of Salt (optional)
Previously prepared Dough

Allow me to begin by stating that this will be the easy way to make mna’eesh.  Instead of taking the time to make them beautifully round, as tradition dictates, I am going to make one large rectangle; after which, I will cut said rectangle into individually sized small squares / rectangles.

Now that the dough has risen, very lightly oil a sheet tray, and gently spread the dough with your fingers to cover the full surface of the sheet tray.  In a small bowl, mix the za’atar, sumac, grapeseed oil, and extra virgin olive oil together.  Taste the za’atar mixture to make sure that it is seasoned well.  If you are making your za’atar mixture fully from scratch, you will need to add salt and sesame seeds.  I, however, get my za’atar imported from Lebanon for the most part, or Jordan, if the Lebanese variety is unavailable.

Scoop the za’atar and oil mixture onto the dough, and spread it all over.  Allow the za’atar covered dough to sit for about 5 – 10 minutes, as you preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place the man’ouchi (singular for mna’eesh) or za’atar flat bread in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until you achieve the desired crust color and texture.

Now that your man’ouchi is out of the oven, cut it into individual squares using a knife or a pizza cutter.  Plate the mna’eesh and serve them with a plate of freshly cut tomatoes, white onions, cucumbers, fresh mint, and olives.  I always make some Earl Grey with my mna’eesh; they go so well together.  But when I visit my parents, my dad always has Ayran on hand that he has made himself.  Ayran is a cold plain yogurt drink with salt that is thinned out with some water.  It is the drink of choice for most, when having this breakfast … Unless you have some freshly picked tomatoes.  A tall cold glass of freshly juiced tomatoes goes even better with the mna’eesh.  Whichever you decide on, ENJOY!


Traditional Lebanese Hommos – Hummus

Here we are again, discussing a traditional Lebanese food that is becoming very popular in the West.  I have blogged about the Lebanese mezze / mezza quite a few times in the past (tabboulehftayer bi sbanekh, baba ghannouj, and kibbeh).  As Lebanese cuisine becomes more and more popular in the United States, more and more people are finding out about what constitutes a traditional mezze spread.  There are so many Lebanese restaurants popping up all over Dallas.  This is very exciting to me!  However, the only area of concern is do these restaurants cater to the masses, or do they remain true to the traditional cuisine of Lebanon?  I have to say that for the most part, most cater to the masses … to my slight disappointment.  Hommos is one of those foods that people seem to make into many variations.  Interesting as that may be, there is nothing quite like the traditional and original version.  Authentic and traditional Lebanese hommos does not vary from the following ingredients: garbanzo beans, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and extra virgin olive oil.  For to us, traditional hommos is king of the Lebanese mezze.

TRADITIONAL LEBANESE HOMMOS (or HUMMUS)

1 cup dried Garbanzo Beans (or 3 cups canned)
2 cloves Garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons Salt
2 large Lemons (about 8 tablespoons)
1/4 cup Tahini (Sesame paste)
1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil – plus more for garnish
2-4 tablespoons cooking liquid (optional)
1 tablespoon finely chopped Italian Parsley – for garnish
1/2 teaspoon Paprika – for garnish

Begin the night before by soaking the dried garbanzo beans in cold water overnight.  The next day, place the rehydrated beans with 6 – 8 cups of cold water in a large pot, and cook them until the beans are soft.  Drain the beans, reserving some of the cooking liquid, in case you need to thin out the hommos later.  If you are using canned garbanzo beans, make sure to rinse them thoroughly in cold water, and drain them.

Place the beans in a food processor, along with the salt.  Grate the garlic with a microplane, or mash it with a mortar and pestle, then add it to the beans.  Run the food processor to roughly chop the beans.  Add the tahini and lemon juice to the chopped beans, then run the food processor again.  While it is still running, drizzle the extra virgin olive oil, until everything is thoroughly combined.  If the hommos is too thick to your liking, add a couple of tablespoons of the cooking liquid and process, until you reach the desired consistency.


Choosing the right Tahini is crucial to the flavor of your hommos.  Most tahini brands have a little bitterness to them, which I do not like.  If the one you have tastes good to you, then use it.  If not, see if you can find a good tahini without any bitterness to it.  I always use a Lebanese brand, Tarazi, that I buy from my local Middle Eastern store.  I love it!

Now that you made the hommos, place it in a covered container and in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.  This will allow the flavors in the hommos to marry, and will make it easier to plate.  Once you are ready to plate, remove the hommos from the refrigerator, and place it in a bowl or a shallow plate.   Garnish with some paprika, finely chopped Italian parsley, and a little extra virgin olive oil.  Serve with Lebanese pita bread as part of a mezze, an appetizer, or a side dish to a lovely meal.


Lebanese Kibbeh – 2rass

Kibbeh is one of those very versatile dishes in Lebanon that can be served as part of a mezze / mezza or for dinner with yogurt, many lemon wedges, tabbouleh, hommos, French fries, or anything you wish.  It can be made with different ingredients and utilizing various different applications and techniques, as in lamb kibbeh, beef kibbeh, fish kibbeh, potato kibbeh, pumpkin kibbeh, raw kibbeh, grilled kibbeh, fried kibbeh, baked kibbeh, etc.  I love it all, but for this occasion, I am making lamb kibbeh for one of my favorite people and wonderful longtime friend, Phillip Anderson.  Phillip LOVES kibbeh!  He orders it every time he goes to a Lebanese restaurant.  The version of kibbeh I am making is traditionally deep fried and served as part of a mezze; however, I am oven “frying” it, or baking it, for a slightly healthier approach and serving it for dinner.

LEBANESE KIBBEH – 2rass

THE FILLING

1 1/2 yellow Onions – finely diced
1 1/2 lbs ground Lamb
1/2 cup Pine Nuts
4 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 tablespoon organic Butter
1/2 tablespoon Salt
1/2 tablespoon Allspice
1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg – freshly grated

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a small sauté pan over medium low heat.  Add the pine nuts and toast, until they are golden brown.  Please pay close attention to them, as they tend to brown very quickly.  Put them to the side.  In a larger sauté pan, brown the lamb in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter on medium high to high heat.  Remove the browned lamb from the pan, and place in a bowl to the side.  DO NOT clean the pan.  In the same pan that was used for the lamb, add the onions with 2 tablespoons of butter and the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Sauté the onions on medium low, until they are caramelized.  Add the browned lamb to the onions, while still on the stove.  Add the salt, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and toasted pine nuts.  Stir to combine.  Tilt the pan to allow the filling to drain a little, so the residual fat can separate.  Do not discard that fat, as it can be used in the place of olive oil in the crust*.  Allow the filling to get to room temperature.

*This is a very delicious thing my mother taught me.  Using the residual fat from the filling in the crust, will yield a much tastier kibbeh.

THE CRUST

2 large yellow Onions – puréed
2 lbs ground Lamb
1 1/2 cups Bulgur – very finely ground
1 tablespoon Salt
2 teaspoons Allspice
3/4 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg – freshly grated
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil – or 1/4 cup residual fat from filling
1 cup Water
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil – for brushing the kibbeh

Begin by rinsing the bulgur a few times, then draining most of the water.  Make sure to leave some excess water to allow the bulgur to absorb it, as it site for a few minutes.  Place the ground lamb in a large bowl.  Roughly chop the onions, and place them in a food processor.  Purée the onions, then add them to the bowl, along with the moist bulgur.  Add the salt, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and olive oil.  Mix the ingredients until a paste is formed.  Allow to sit in the refrigerator for about an hour, to help the flavors integrate together.

Now comes the challenging part, forming the crust / paste into 2rass.  Find an open surface, such as a kitchen island or a table, and place the bowl with the crust / paste, the bow with the filling, a small bowl filled with 1 cup of water, and a large plate for the kibbeh balls or 2rass on said surface.  Make sure to grease the plate with a little olive oil, to keep the kibbeh from sticking.

Making the 2rass:

You must wet your hands with water EVERY time you start making a kibbeh ball (2ors).  After you have wet your hands, take some of the paste, depending on how large or small you want the 2rass to be, and form it into a round ball.  Push your index finger gently through the center of the ball, to form a tunnel of sorts for the filling.  With a spoon, take some of the filling, and place it in the tunnel you just formed.   Close the opening with the inside of your thumb and the outside of your index finger.  Mold the oddly shaped, stuffed oval into the shape of an American football by smoothing the paste with your fingers.  If you see some cracks forming, wet your fingers with water, and smooth out the crack.  If this process proves to be too lengthy and challenging, then roll them into balls instead.

If you choose to make these the traditional way, bring 2 quarts of grapeseed or vegetable oil to 365 degrees Fahrenheit, and fry the kibbeh until golden brown.  When you remove them from the oil, place them on a rack to drain and cool a bit.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Lightly grease a baking sheet and place the kibbeh on it.  Gently brush the top of every 2ors or football with olive oil.  Place in the oven for 45 minutes or until golden and delicious.  Remove from the oven and plate.  Kibbeh is always served with yogurt and lemon wedges.  Eat up!


Baba Ghannouj – Fire Roasted Eggplant Dip

Baba ghannouj is one of my favorite mezza / mezze platters that adorn the Lebanese table.  Its smokey flavor and creamy texture make it unique among the other spreads.  Though it takes some time to make, at least for me, it is all worth it at the end.  I remember the very first time I made it for Kevin; he was not so keen on trying it, as he was not an eggplant fan at the time.  I asked him to try it; he did.  As they say, the rest is history.  These days, I am asked to make it quite often.

BABA GHANNOUJ – Fire Roasted Eggplant Dip

2 large Eggplants
2 Garlic cloves
2 tablespoons Tahini
1 – 1 1/2 teaspoons Salt
1 1/2 large Lemons – juiced
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tablespoon Italian Parsley – finely chopped

It is very important to pick the right eggplant to ensure the good quality of the baba ghannouj.  The eggplant must be smooth and shiny, without any blemishes, bruises, or wrinkles.  The stem must be green, and it should feel heavy for its size.  If the eggplant feels light for its size, do NOT use it.  The smaller the eggplant, the less bitter and less seeds it has.  However, the larger variety is needed to make this Lebanese dip.  I suggest picking the smaller of the large variety.

Once you have picked out the eggplants, roast them on an open flame over your gas stove.  You may also choose to roast them over a charcoal grill for amazing results.  However, if you do not have either option, you may roast them in the oven.  **If you choose to do the latter, you will not have the distinctive smokey flavor for which baba ghannouj is known.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Turn one of your gas stove burners on to medium heat, and place the eggplant on it.  Flip the eggplant on all sides to ensure each side gets charred properly.  Once you are finished with roasting one, place it in an oven proof dish and cover it with foil.  After you have charred both eggplants, and placed them in the oven proof dish covered in foil, place the dish in the oven for 30 minutes to completely steam and roast the eggplants on the inside.

Now that your eggplants are ready, gently peel the skin off and discard.  Cut each eggplant down the middle to inspect for seeds.  If your eggplant has large seeds in it, you MUST remove them, as they will turn bitter.  If a few seeds are left after the removal process, do not worry about it.  You just don’t want a dip full of eggplant seeds.  Take all the flesh of the eggplants and place it in a strainer or cullender for an hour or two.  The eggplant flesh must drain, as it is full of water.  That water will turn your baba ghannouj to a bitter, watery mess.

Once the eggplant seems properly drained, finely dice it and place it in a large enough bowl.  You may use a food processor, but I prefer to finely dice it for the texture.  Mash the garlic in a mortar and pestle, or grate it with a microplane.  Add the tahini, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and extra virgin olive oil to the eggplant and stir enough combine into a paste.  Plate in a nice bowl and make a little well in the middle of it.  Top with more extra virgin olive oil and some finely chopped Italian parsley to garnish.  You may also add a small amount of paprika as a garnish for some color.  Warm up some very thin Lebanese pita bread, and enjoy your freshly made baba ghannouj.


Grilled Kafta w/ Traditional Salad & Tahini Sauce (Tarator)

Charcoal grilled meats and vegetables of all kinds are a traditional Sunday fare for the Lebanese.  Every Sunday, the grill comes out … for everyone.  Aside from the cubed and skewered garlic and olive oil marinated chicken and barely spiced lamb, kafta comes to mind.  What can I tell you about good Lebanese kafta?  It is just delicious!  You can use all lamb, or beef, or a combination of the two.  However, as lamb is much more traditionally and widely used in Lebanese cuisine, I will be using it.  Besides, to me, nothing comes close to the incredible flavor of lamb.

LEBANESE KAFTA

2 lbs ground Lamb
1 large white Onion – finely diced
2 cups Italian Parsley – finely chopped
1 tablespoon Salt
1 tablespoon Allspice
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

In a large bowl, place the ground lamb with the onions, parsley, salt, allspice, cinnamon, and extra virgin olive oil.  Don’t overwork the meat, but mix well to combine everything together.  Place the kafta in the refrigerator for a couple of hours or overnight to allow the flavors to marry.  I usually make my kafta the day before and leave it in the refrigerator; it makes for a much more flavorful and delicious dish.

When you are ready to grill your kafta, take it out of the refrigerator and shape it as you wish.  You make shape it into patties, round meatballs (great for stews), or long tubes to skewer.  I did the latter.  I always have a little bit of extra virgin olive oil on the side to “wet” my hands with, while I am shaping the kafta.  I highly suggest placing the kafta back in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes or so, since it has gotten warm from the shaping process.  This step will allow the meat to “set” on the skewer.

Now we are ready to grill.  For best results, please use a charcoal grill; however, I chose to use a grill pan, as it is much easier to photograph without all that smoke.  After you grill the kafta on all sides, which shouldn’t take long, place on a serving dish, and cover with a piece of aluminum foil, as the meat needs to rest for a few minutes.  HOWEVER, if you wish to perform this task the traditional way, then you must have a piece of Lebanese pita bread open and ready.  Lebanese pita is very very thin, unlike most other pitas found at the grocery store.  Place the grilled kafta on the one layer and cover with the other piece of pita.  All the juices that drip, should go into this delicious loaf of Lebanese bread that will be used to consume the kafta at the table.

KAFTA SALAD

1/2 large white Onion – sliced
1 teaspoon Sumac
2 tablespoons Italian Parsley – finely chopped

 

 

Slice the onion and place in a bowl along with the sumac and the parsley.  Mix well and allow to sit for a bit, while you make the tahini sauce or the tarator.  Tarator is more of a condiment that is used with anything from fish to vegetables to meat.  It is a very easy sauce to make.

TAHINI SAUCE – TARATOR

3 tablespoons Tahini – Sesame Paste
1 cup Water
1 Lemon – juiced
1 large Garlic clove – mashed or grated
1 teaspoon Salt

In a small bowl, combine the tahini, water, lemon juice, grated or mashed garlic, and salt.  Mix well.  Plate the kafta, the kafta salad, and the tahini sauce as you like and serve.  You may want to make a kafta sandwich by placing the kafta on an open pita, add the salad and some tomatoes to it, and finish with a healthy drizzle of tarator.  It is so delicious!

 


Strawberry Preserves

Homemade preserves are so much better than any store bought variety, and more economical as well.  When the preserves are spread over some freshly churned butter (I will cover in a future post) or some delicious cheese, believe it or not, the combination makes for a very tasty treat.  I love making all kinds of preserves in the summer and the fall, as most berries and stone fruit are in season.  However, living in the United States makes it much easier to still get all those kinds of fruit during any time of the year, but they taste best, when harvested during their season.

A couple of years ago, my husband, Kevin, and I went to Seattle for a mini vacation.  We found a wonderful little crumpet shop in downtown Seattle, where we had breakfast every morning during our stay.  They made delicious preserves to go with their cream cheese topped crumpets.  It was the preserves that made the crumpets so good.  When we returned to Dallas, we wanted to relive that delicious experience.  So, I made some strawberry preserves, and instead of the crumpets, we used toasted sprouted bread to make it a bit healthier.

STRAWBERRY PRESERVES

24 oz fresh Strawberries
1/3 cup Sugar – depending on the strawberries’ sweetness
1 small Lemon – juiced
1 tablespoon Orange Blossom Water (optional)

After washing the strawberries, dice or slice them into whatever size you like them to be.  I suggest tasting the strawberries to gauge their sweetness, in order to make sure the sugar you add is not too much or too little.  Put them in a saucier over medium low to low heat for 30 – 45 minutes, or until they break down.

Add the sugar and the lemon juice, then stir to combine.  Let the preserves cook for another 15 minutes, then turn the heat off and add the orange blossom water, if you choose to do so.  Adding the orange blossom water gives the preserves a little Lebanese flavor.  It adds a hint of orange blossoms that takes the preserves from yummy to AMAZING.  If you think that orange blossom water is just too “perfume like” for you, then please feel free to skip that step.

Allow the strawberry preserves to cool down completely, then place them in a clean and sterile mason jar or container.  Put a date label on the container and place it in the refrigerator.  The preserves will keep for a month or a little longer.  Enjoy over a piece of toasted bread, or on anything you wish to put the preserves on, for that matter.


Spinach Pies – Ftayer Bi Sbanekh

The Lebanese are known for their mezza or mezze platters; small plates full of tabbouleh, fattoush, hommos, baba ghannouj, fresh vegetables, meat and vegetable pies, pickled vegetables, all kinds of olives and cheeses, an arrangement of grilled and raw meats, etc.  Aside from the most popular salads and dips, meat and vegetable pies make up an important part of the spread.  A particular favorite of mine are small dough pies stuffed with spinach, onions, and sumac.  We call them Ftayer bi Sbanekh, and they are eaten with a healthy squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Let’s start with the dough …

BASIC DOUGH

3 cups all purpose Flour – plus a little extra for dusting
1 teaspoon coarse Salt
1 teaspoon Sugar
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil – plus a little extra for finished dough
1 – 1 1/2 cups warm Water – depending on humidity
1 pkg rapid rise Instant Yeast – about 2 1/4 oz

*You may use regular active dry yeast, but you will have to proof the yeast in the warm water and sugar before you add it to the flour, salt, and olive oil.  I like using rapid rise, because it is much easier and takes less time for the dough to rise.

Combine the flour, salt, yeast, and sugar in a stand mixer, and turn it on low.  Add the extra virgin olive oil, and slowly add in the warm water.  Start with a cup; should you require more, add a little drizzle at a time.  If your dough is too moist, add more flour.  Turn the stand mixer to medium low and keep kneading the dough for about 5 – 8 minutes, until it is smooth and pulls away from the bowl.

On a clean board, sprinkle some flour and transfer the dough to the floured board.  Roll into a ball and place in a greased bowl.  Drizzle a tiny bit of extra virgin olive oil to coat the dough.  Cover with plastic wrap and leave it a warm dark place to rise for about an hour to an hour and a half.

SPINACH FILLING

4 cups fresh Spinach – roughly chopped
1 small Onion – diced into small cubes
2 tablespoons of Sumac
1/2 cup Lemon juice
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil – plus a little more for ftayer tops
1/4 cup Pine Nuts
1 teaspoon Salt
Lemon wedges for the final product

While the dough is rising, chop the spinach and dice the onion, and combine them in a bowl.  Add the salt, sumac, lemon juice, olive oil, and pine nuts.  Stir gently to incorporate all the ingredients together and leave to the side, while you attend to your risen dough.

After the dough has risen, move it out onto your floured board, cut it into manageable sections, and roll it out into a thin sheet with a rolling pin.  With a round cookie cutter or any round cup, cut out rounds, then remove and bring together the excess dough to be reused.  For an extra thin dough, re-roll the individual small dough rounds with the rolling pin to achieve the desired outcome. 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Scoop a small spoonful of the filling into a dough round.  Bring two opposing side of the round dough together, and pinch it all the way to the left to seal those two sides.  Then bring the right round side of the dough toward the already pinched part and seal it, forming a 3D triangle or pyramid.  Place the ftayer or triangle pies on a lightly greased baking sheet.  Brush each of the pie tops with olive oil, and bake in the oven for about 12 – 15 minutes.  To achieve a very nice golden color, when the baking process is almost over, turn the oven to boil.  Make sure you keep a close eye on the pies, as they will turn golden brown very quickly.  Remove from the oven when the desired color is achieved, let sit for a few minutes, then plate.  They are best served at room temperature with many lemon wedges.


Lebanese Tabbouleh

If there is a constant at every Lebanese table, it is tabbouleh.  As far as I can remember, it has been present at most of our meals.  So, what can I say about this traditional and authentic Lebanese salad?  It is amazing!  It is the center of every Lebanese table; it is what we call “queen of the table”.  It is deliciously fresh, vibrant, and healthy.  Every Lebanese woman is taught how to make tabbouleh by her mother and grandmother from a very young age.  There are many imitations or what one would call “tabbouleh inspired salads”,  but there is only one authentic tabbouleh.  You may choose to change the recipe; you may prefer to add or remove certain ingredients, please feel free to do so.  However, if you do, then it becomes just a salad to the Lebanese, or a tabbouleh like salad, if you prefer.  I am just sharing my insight of a most favorite Lebanese staple.

AUTHENTIC LEBANESE TABBOULEH

4 cups finely chopped flat leaf or Italian Parsley
1/2 cup finely chopped Mint
4 Roma Tomatoes
1 tablespoon Bulgur – very fine #1
1 small White Onion – finely diced
2 Lemons juiced
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 teaspoons Salt
1 teaspoon Allspice

Start a few hours ahead or the day before by washing the flat leaf parsley, mint, and tomatoes.  The parsley and mint need time to completely dry … or you can use a salad spinner to dry them, if you choose to wash them the same day.

Finely chop the parsley and the mint and place them in a large bowl.  Be careful not to “over chop” the mint, as it can become bitter.  Finely dice the onion; after which, sprinkle the salt and allspice on the diced onion.  You may either mix it with your hands (like my mother taught me), or you can use your knife to chop the onion a little more to incorporate the salt and allspice into it.  Place the onion in the bowl.  Finely dice the tomatoes and place in the bowl as well.  Rinse your bulgur twice or so, and drain the water very well.  Now, if you prefer a crunch to your bulgur, place in the bowl with the rest of the ingredients.  I, however, prefer a better flavor to it, so I soak it in the juice of half a lemon and a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil for about 5 to 10 minutes.

 

*Please note that Lemons are used widely and excessively on everything in Lebanon.  The amount of lemon juice in this recipe (as I use large lemons) might be too much for some and not enough for others; please adjust to your liking by using the juice of one lemon first, then add more if you so desire.  

Once the bulgur soaks up the lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil, place in the bowl with all the other ingredients, and add the rest of the lemon juice and olive oil.  Stir or mix GENTLY.  Taste it to see whether or not you need to add more salt, lemon juice, or olive oil.  You may either serve right away, or place in the refrigerator for about 10 to 15 minutes, covered with plastic wrap.  I prefer the latter, as it helps the flavors better meld together.  When you take the tabbouleh out of the refrigerator, serve with lettuce or cabbage leaves.  Enjoy!