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.


Blue Cheese, Tomato & Thyme Tarts

As I mentioned in my previous post, I made these tarts for a brunch my husband and I hosted last weekend.  They are some of my favorite tarts to make and to serve during a fun gathering.  They go best with an arugula salad, tossed in a lemon vinaigrette. To be featured in my next post.

BLUE CHEESE, TOMATO, AND THYME TARTS
Makes 15 – 20 tarts

1 sheet Puff Pastry (preferably Dufour brand)
6 – 8 oz Blue Cheese
2 Shallots
1 cup Cherry Tomatoes
1 tablespoon fresh Thyme
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
15 – 20 grinds Black Pepper

Thaw the puff pastry according to the package instructions.

Begin by slicing the shallots and cherry tomatoes, and placing them in a bowl with the salt.  Allow them to soften by sitting at room temperature for about 15 minutes.  In the meantime, sprinkle a little flour on a clean surface, and roll out the puff pastry.  With a round cookie cutter, cut out individual round tarts.  You may want to prick each tart with a fork to keep the pastry from rising in the oven.  I, however, don’t prick them, as I like the way they look when they rise.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

After you crumble the blue cheese, place about a teaspoon of it on each tart, followed by a couple of tomatoes, a few shallots, some fresh thyme, freshly ground pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil.  Place the tarts on parchment paper and into the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes.  When they are done, take them out of the oven and allow them to sit, until they reach room temperature.  Plate them and serve them with whatever you would like, preferably an arugula salad with a lemon vinaigrette.  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!


Oven Roasted Shrimp w/ Cocktail Sauce

My daughter, Amanda, loves shrimp and cocktail sauce!  Actually, she loves all kinds of shellfish, cooked in all kinds of ways.  It makes me smile to watch her face beam with excitement, every time I make her a shellfish dish she loves.  I personally think there is nothing too special about boiled and bland shrimp dipped in store bought cocktail sauce.  So, I set out to make her a slightly better version of the bland classic … or so I think.

COCKTAIL SAUCE

1/2 cup organic Ketchup
1 tablespoon hot creamy Horseradish
1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
1 tablespoon Chili Sauce or Sweet & Sour Sauce
1 tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 teaspoon Salt
6 grinds of Black Pepper

In a bowl, mix all the ingredients together, then set aside in the refrigerator.  Now, for the shrimp … If  you are making this dish for adults or guests, I highly suggest buying your shrimp with the tail still unpeeled, and instead of the 27 – 30 count, I recommend the 10 – 12 count.  

OVEN ROASTED SHRIMP

1 lb uncooked Shrimp 27 – 30 count
2 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 teaspoon Salt
10 grinds Black Pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Rinse and dry the shrimp very well with paper towels.  Place them in a bowl.  Add the olive oil, salt, and pepper, and combine them.  Place the shrimp on a sheet pan; make sure to place them far enough apart for them to roast properly.  Roasting them instead of boiling them gives, the otherwise bland shrimp, a much better flavor.  Put the sheet pan in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the shrimp are pink and cooked through.  Remove the roasted shrimp and plate them, along with the cocktail sauce, or leave them in the refrigerator, if you prefer them to be cold.  I choose to serve them straight from the oven, as my daughter hovers around me like a 12 year old vulture waiting to strike.  She wants them the minute they are out of the oven.  Since I made them for her, why not?  I hope you enjoy them as she did.


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.


Mushroom, Shallot & Thyme Tart

My family loves mushrooms, all kinds of mushrooms cooked in all sorts of ways.  And to be truthful, I love making things with mushrooms, as my family can tell you.  When we host our friends or family for brunch, I love to make mushroom and shallot tart with thyme.  It can also serve as an appetizer, but I prefer it as part of a brunch.

MUSHROOM, SHALLOT, AND THYME TART

8 Cremini Mushrooms
2 1/2 tablespoons organic Butter – unsalted
1/4 cup Spanish Sherry – medium
1 Shallot – sliced
1 cup Pecorino Romano – grated
1 teaspoon fresh Thyme
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Pepper – freshly ground
1 sheet Puff Pastry

Allow the puff pastry to thaw at room temperature for about 40 to 45 minutes, or follow the directions on the box.

Begin by cleaning the mushrooms with a brush or a damp paper towel.  Slice the mushrooms as thick or thin as you like them; I prefer a thicker slice in this particular case, as the mushrooms need to stand out.  In a sauté pan, melt 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat, and sauté the mushrooms until they caramelize.  Pour in the medium Spanish Sherry, and let cook out.  After that you may salt and pepper them.  Immediately, remove the mushrooms from the heat and place in a bowl.  Allow them to cool down.

*It is very important to NOT salt the mushrooms, until they caramelize.  If you salt them before, they will yield much water and end up steaming, instead of caramelizing.*  

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  In the same pan, melt the rest of the butter on medium heat, then add the sliced shallots.  Allow them to caramelize, then remove them from the heat to cool.  Since I am using Pecorino Romano, which is a salty sheep’s milk cheese, I will not salt the shallots.

Lightly flour your board and open up the folded and thawed pastry.  Use a rolling pin to roll it out a little more. Using a fork, you may want to prick the dough to keep it from bubbling up.  Start by placing the grated Pecorino Romano evenly on the pastry, followed by the caramelized shallots, sherry mushrooms, and topped with fresh thyme.  Place on a baking sheet with a little non-stick spray and in the oven for 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow to rest for a few minutes before cutting it up into squares.

Cut the mushroom tart into 9 squares and place on a serving plate.  Again, you may use it as part of a brunch spread or an appetizer before your main meal.  I hope you like it as much as my family and I do.  Enjoy!


Basil Pesto + Crostini Appetizer

Have you ever stopped to smell the amazing fragrant aroma of sweet basil?  For the Italians, it is the king of herbs.  For the Lebanese, aside from using it with our cheese, deli, and vegetable & herb platters (to be shown in a future post), we plant it outside our front doors and run our hands through it on the way in and on the way out.  Then we smell that amazing scent for the next few hours.  These days, every time I smell that intoxicating scent, I am taken back through time to my childhood, where I would run my fingers through those beautiful fragrant leaves …

BASIL PESTO

6 cups sweet basil leaves
2 large Garlic cloves
1/3 cup toasted Pine Nuts
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tablespoon Lemon juice
1 tablespoon Salt
1 teaspoon black Pepper freshly ground

Toast the raw pine nuts in a wide pan over low heat, as they tend to burn very easily.  Do not add any oil or butter to them.  Put the basil leaves, garlic, toasted pine nuts, salt, and pepper in a food processor.  Pulse it until everything is chopped finely.  Drizzle in the olive oil, then add the lemon juice.  Take the pesto out of the food processor and put in a bowl.  Gently stir in the grated Parmesan cheese.  You may use Asiago for a nuttier flavor or Pecorino Romano* for a sharper cheese flavor.

*Pecorino Romano is a very salty, yet delicious sheep’s milk cheese.  Should you choose to use it in this recipe, please omit the salt.  Only salt the pesto to your liking AFTER you have added the cheese and tasted it.

It would be noteworthy to mention that traditional pesto is made in a mortar and pestle.  However, for convenience’s sake, I use the food processor; it is much faster.  You may enjoy this freshly made basil pesto on pasta, bread, as a dip,or as a condiment in a sandwich / panini.  If you are not going to consume it within a couple of days, top it off with extra virgin olive oil to cover it, then leave it in the fridge.  It will keep for up to 2 weeks.  You may always freeze it to be used as a marinade much later.

CROSTINI – Bruschetta*

1 pint cherry Tomatoes
2 cups Basil Pesto
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive OilSalt and Pepper to taste

Mix the sliced tomatoes, basil pesto, and olive oil together in a bowl.  Season to taste.  Serve it with gently toasted crostinis.  When I made it last, I kept the crostinis and the tomato basil pesto mixture separate to keep the slightly toasted bread from being soggy.  And since we had some friends over for brunch, this deviation from the traditional bruschetta made the meal a bit more interactive.

*Bruschetta is a crostini topped with tomato, garlic, basil, olive oil, and of course, salt & pepper.