Arab immigrants began coming to the U.S. in sizable numbers during the 1880s. Today, it is estimated that nearly 3.7 million Americans trace their roots to an Arab country. Arab Americans are found in every state, but more than two-thirds of them live in California, Michigan, New York, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Los Angeles, Detroit, and New York are home to one-third of the population.
Arab Americans are as diverse as their countries of origin, with unique immigration experiences that have shaped their ethnic identity in the U.S. While the majority of Arab Americans are descended from the first wave of Christian Arab immigrants, Arab American Muslims represent the fastest growing segment of the Arab American community.
Contrary to popular assumptions, the majority of Arab Americans are native-born, and nearly 82% of Arabs in the U.S. are citizens. While the community traces its roots to every Arab country, the majority of Arab Americans have ancestral ties to Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and Iraq.
Arabic-speaking immigrants arrived in the United States in three major waves. The first wave between the late 1800s and World War I consisted mainly of immigrants from Greater Syria, an Arab province of the Ottoman Empire until the end of World War I. Following the breakup of the Empire, the province was partitioned into the separate political entities of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Transjordan. The vast majority of immigrants in this wave were members of Christian minorities. Although some writers claim that these immigrants left their native countries for religious or political reasons, the evidence suggests that they were drawn to the United States by economic opportunity. Like many economically motivated immigrants during this period, Arabs came to the US with the intention of earning money and returning home to live out the remainder of their lives in relative prosperity. The major exception to this pattern was a small group of Arab writers, poets, and artists who took up residence in major urban centers such as New York and Boston. The most famous of the group was Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931), author of The Prophet and numerous other works.
Unlike the earlier influx, the second wave included many more Muslims. It also included refugees who had been displaced by the 1948 Palestine War that culminated in the establishment of Israel. This period also witnessed the arrival of many Arabic-speaking professionals and university students who often chose to remain in the United States after completion of their training. Immigrants of the second wave tended to settle where jobs were available. Those with few skills drifted to the established Arab communities in the industrial towns of the East coast and Midwest, while those with professional skills headed to the suburbs around the major industrial cities or to rural towns.
In the mid-1960s, the third wave of Arab immigration began which continues to the present. More than 75 percent of foreign-born Arab Americans identified in the 1990 census immigrated after 1964, while 44 percent immigrated between 1975 and 1980. This influx resulted in part from the passage of the Immigration Act of 1965 which abolished the quota system and its bias against non-European immigration. The third wave included many professionals, entrepreneurs, and unskilled and semi-skilled laborers. These immigrants often fled political instability and wars engulfing their home countries. They included Lebanese Shiites from southern Lebanon, Palestinians from the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and Iraqis of all political persuasions. But many professionals from these and other countries like Syria, Egypt, and Jordan, and unskilled workers from Yemen also emigrated in search of better economic opportunities. Had conditions been more hospitable in their home countries, it is doubtful that many of these immigrants would have left their native countries.
Arab Americans have a distinctive cuisine centered on lamb, rice, bread, and highly seasoned dishes. The Middle Eastern diet consists of many ingredients not found in the average American kitchen, such as chickpeas, lentils, fava beans, ground sesame seed oil, feta cheese, dates, and figs. Many Arab dishes, like stuffed zucchini or green peppers and stuffed grape or cabbage leaves, are labor-intensive but delicious and healthy.
Arab Americans are probably most known for their restaurants and cuisines found across the country. Many classic dishes coming from the Arab World have become popular dishes for Americans. The dish most famous, of course, is hummus. This simple puree of chickpeas, tahini, lemon, and garlic is served as an appetizer or as a side to grilled meats and vegetables. Sometimes called “street meat” in the U.S., shawarma is another national hit thanks to Arab Americans. Wrapped with garlic and pickles in Arabic bread (pita bread), shawarma has become a great alternative sandwich. Tabbouli, falafel, grape leaves, and kebabs are part of the American cuisine today.
Stuffed Grape Leaves
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 1/2 cups long grain white rice
1 medium onion, minced
1/2 cup fresh minced dill
1/4 cup fresh minced mint
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 3/4 cups vegetable broth
50 large jarred grape leaves
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Fresh mint leaves, lemon slices, and olives (for garnish)
Place the pine nuts into a skillet and lightly toast them over medium heat until golden brown. Set aside.
Pour ¼ cup of olive oil into a medium pot and heat it. Add the minced onion and sauté until soft. Add the rice to the pot and stir to combine. Sauté for another minute. Pour in ¾ cup of vegetable broth and lower the heat; simmer the rice uncovered for about 10 minutes until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is half cooked. Remove the pot from heat.
Add the minced dill, mint, toasted pine nuts, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice and lemon zest to the pot of rice. Stir until all the ingredients are well combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.
Fill a large pot with salted water and bring to a boil. As the water is heating, trim the grape leaves by cutting the stems off flush with the leaves. Trim any large, hard veins from the leaves. Place the leaves in the boiling water and let them soften for 3-5 minutes until they become pliable. Drain, then cover the leaves with cold water. Drain the leaves again and pat them dry.
Place a grape leaf shiny (smooth) side down, vein (bumpy) side up, on a flat surface like a cutting board. Place 2 tablespoons of rice filling at the base end of the leaf, near where the stem was. Fold the stem end up over the filling. Fold the edges of the leaf inward. Continue rolling the leaf till it forms a neat rolled package. Squeeze the roll gently to seal.
Repeat the process with the remaining leaves until all of the rice filling is used.
Place the stuffed leaves in the bottom of a deep saute pan. Pack the leaves snugly; as this will help keep the leaves intact as they cook. Make a single layer on the bottom of the pan. When the bottom of the pan is full, make a second layer on top.
Pour 1 cup of broth, ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil, and ¼ cup of fresh lemon juice over the stuffed grape leaves. Heat the pan over medium until it begins to simmer (don’t boil, or the leaves will start to fall apart). Cover the pot. Let the grape leaves cook for 30-40 minutes. The leaves are finished cooking when they are fork-tender.
3 cups (200 grams) cooked chickpeas, drained
1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced
3 to 4 ice cubes
1/3 cup (79 grams) tahini paste
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Juice of 1 lemon
Hot water (if needed)
Extra virgin olive oil
Add chickpeas and minced garlic to the bowl of a food processor. Puree until a smooth. While the processor is running, add the ice cubes, tahini, salt, and lemon juice. Blend for about 4 minutes. Check, and if the consistency is still too thick add a little hot water. Blend until the mixture is a silky smooth consistency. Spread in a serving bowl and add a generous drizzle of olive of and a sprinkling of sumac.
1 pound lean ground lamb or beef
3 tablespoons minced onion
2 cloves garlic, grated
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Olive oil, for brushing the grill
Flatbread or pita, for serving
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup grated cucumber squeezed dry
1 clove garlic, grated or minced
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh mint or dill (or ¼ teaspoon dried)
Pinch of kosher salt
To make the tzatziki sauce, mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
For the kofta: Mix the beef, onion, garlic, parsley, coriander, cumin, salt, and pepper together in a large bowl. Divide the mixture into 6 roughly even balls. Mold each ball around the pointed end of a skewer, making an oval kebab that comes to a point just covering the tip of the skewer. If using wooden skewers, soak them in water for 15 minutes before threading them.
Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat or prepare an outdoor grill. Brush the pan or grill grates lightly with olive oil. Grill the kebabs, turning occasionally, until brown all over and cooked through about 10 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter and serve with tzatziki sauce and flatbread.
Fattoush is a salad of crisp lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, toasted pita bread, and a sumac dressing. Since I was serving pita with the kofta, I did not include it in my salad.
Serves 4 people
2 large pitas
1/4 cup olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
1 clove garlic minced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice about 1 lemon
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon sumac
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or more
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 head romaine lettuce torn into bite-size pieces
1-pint cherry tomatoes halved
1 English cucumber halved and thinly sliced
1/2 medium red onion thinly sliced and separated into 1/2 circles
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves torn into small pieces
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Cut pitas in half. Separate the top from the bottom and tear into bite-size pieces. Transfer to a bowl and drizzle with olive oil; toss to coat. Spread on a baking sheet and season with kosher salt. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, tossing once, until crisp and golden brown. Remove from oven and transfer to a bowl to keep from over browning. Set aside.
To make the dressing. In a small bowl combine the first 6 dressing ingredients (garlic through black pepper); whisk until combined and honey has dissolved. Add olive oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until emulsified. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Combine all salad ingredients in a large bowl and toss gently to combine.
Drizzle dressing over the salad and gently toss to coat evenly. Sprinkle pita over the top and serve.
The Mediterranean countries include France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal along the north; Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel on the east; the African countries of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco on the south and the Mediterranean Island Countries of Cyprus and Malta. The Mediterranean countries utilize many of the same healthy ingredients but each country has a unique way of creating recipes with those same ingredients. So far in this series, I have written about Mediterranean cuisine in general and about the cuisine in the countries of Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria. This series continues with the country of Morocco.
Morocco is located in the northwestern corner of Africa and is slightly larger in area than California. The country has three different regions: the northern coast along the Mediterranean Sea is made up of fertile land that rises to elevations of about 8,000 feet (2,400 meters), the Atlas Mountains run between the Atlantic coast in the southwest to the Mediterranean Sea in the northeast and the semiarid area in the south and east known as the Western Sahara .
Morocco has to deal with desertification. Desertification is the process where fertile land becomes barren and desert-like over time. It may be caused by a lack of rainfall or drought, the clearing away of trees for farming or allowing livestock to graze too long in an area. These practices leave no plants to hold the soil in place so wind and rain can carry away the fertile topsoil. Morocco also has a problem with water pollution from oil spills, poor sewage treatment practices, and the use of strong pesticides.
Nomads called Berbers were the first inhabitants of Morocco over two thousand years ago. They used local ingredients to prepare lamb and poultry stews. Over time, traders and conquering nations introduced new food customs. Among them were the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Romans. However, the strongest influence on native cooking was the Arab invasion in the seventh century A.D.
They introduced spices including cinnamon, ginger, saffron, cumin, and caraway. They also introduced sweet-and-sour cooking, which they had learned from the Persians. Moors from Andalusia in southern Spain also influenced Moroccan cooking. The pastilla, or bisteeya, a popular pigeon pie in Morocco, was originally a Moorish dish. In modern times, the French and the British made contributions to Moroccan cuisine.
Morocco, unlike most other African countries, produces all the food it needs to feed its people. Its many home-grown fruits and vegetables include oranges, melons, tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, and potatoes. Five more native products that are especially important in Moroccan cooking are lemons, olives, figs, dates, and almonds. Due to its location on the Mediterranean Sea, the country is rich in fish and seafood. Beef is not plentiful, so meals are usually built around seafood, lamb or poultry. The Moroccan national dish is the tagine or stew. Common ingredients may include chicken or lamb, almonds, hard-boiled eggs, prunes, lemons, tomatoes, and other vegetables. The tagine, like other Moroccan dishes, is known for its distinctive flavoring, which comes from spices including saffron, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, ginger, and ground red pepper. The tagine’s name is taken from the earthenware dish with a cone-shaped top in which it is cooked and served. Another Moroccan dietary staple is couscous, made from fine grains of a wheat product called semolina. It is served in many different ways, with vegetables, meat, or seafood.
Flat, round Moroccan bread is eaten at every meal. Moroccans eat their meals at low round tables, sitting on cushions on the floor. They eat with their hands instead of silverware, using the thumb and first two fingers of their right hands. They also use pieces of bread to soak up sauces and carry food to the mouth. Small warmed, damp towels are passed around before the meal to make sure everyone’s hands are clean.
Most meals consist of a single main dish, often a stew, a couscous dish, or a hearty soup. It is served with bread, salad, cold vegetables, and couscous or rice on the side. A typical breakfast might include bessara (dried fava beans stewed with cumin and paprika), baghrir (pancakes), and bread. Two breakfast favorites that may sound exotic to Westerners are lambs’ heads and calves’ feet. Although Moroccans love sweets, they are usually saved for special occasions. With everyday meals, the most common dessert is fresh fruit.
The sweetened mint tea that comes with every meal is served a special way. It is brewed in a silver teapot and served in small glasses. When the tea is poured, the pot is held high above the glasses to let air mix with the tea. Tea is served not only at home but also in public places. In stores, merchants often offer tea to their customers.
Morocco is famous for its street food that includes shish kebab, roasted chickpeas, and salads. Both full meals and light snacks are sold.
A favorite purchase is sugared doughnuts tied together on a string to carry home.
Moroccan Mint Tea
1½ Tablespoons green tea (or 2 teabags of green tea)
3 Tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
2 Tablespoons of fresh or dried spearmint leaves
Put the tea in a 2-pint teapot and fill it with boiling water.
Let the tea steep (soak) for 2 minutes.
Add mint leaves and sugar to taste.
Chicken Tagine with Almonds and Prunes
6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon powdered cinnamon
¼ teaspoon powdered ginger
½ teaspoon powdered saffron
3 short cinnamon sticks
4 ounces butter
2 large onions
½ cup sugar
1 strip lemon peel
1 pound dried prunes
Combine the oil and ground spices in a large bowl.
Cut the chicken into cubes and chop the onion finely. Put the chicken and onion into the bowl with the oil and spices. Combine well and let stand for 30 minutes.
Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the chicken, searing (browning) them lightly on all sides.
Add any remaining marinade and enough water to cover. Simmer until chicken is tender (about 30 minutes).
While the chicken is cooking, put the prunes in a small saucepan, cover with water and bring the water to a bowl. Remove the pan from the heat and let them stand for 20 minutes.
Drain the prunes, return them to the pan, and ladle a little liquid from the meat pan over the prunes. Simmer the prunes for 5 minutes.
Add the lemon peel, cinnamon sticks, saffron and half the sugar to the prunes.
Stir the remaining sugar into the meat.
Arrange the meat on a serving platter. Add the prunes to the meat, and pour the sauce from the prunes over the meat and prunes.
Boil the remaining liquid from the meat rapidly to reduce it by half and pour over the meat and prunes.
Melt a small amount of butter in a saucepan and brown the almonds lightly. Garnish the tajine with the almonds and mint.
Serve with rice or couscous.
Fried Baby Carrots
1 pound baby carrots
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon sugar
Grated rind of 1 lemon
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons fresh mint, roughly chopped
Sprigs of mint, to garnish
Heat the oil in a skillet large enough to hold the carrots in a single layer.
Add the carrots and cook gently 15 minutes, shaking frequently.
Add the garlic and cook 10 minutes more until the carrots are tender and spotted with brown.
Add the sugar and cook 2 minutes.
Stir in the lemon rind and juice and season with salt and pepper.
Stir in the chopped mint and transfer to a serving dish.
Garnish with sprigs of mint.
Ingredients for salad
2 cans (15-ounces each) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
5 ounces feta cheese, cut into cubes
8 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes
2 ounces pitted black olives
4 Tablespoons flat leaf parsley
Lettuce or other salad greens
Ingredients for dressing
5 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
Salt, to taste
Place the chickpeas in a bowl and add the feta cheese cubes.
Cut the tomatoes in half if necessary, to make them bite-sized.
Add tomatoes to the chickpeas and feta cheese mixture. Add the black olives, parsley, and lettuce.
Combine dressing ingredients in a small bowl.
Pour over chickpea mixture, toss gently, and chill. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
The Mediterranean countries include France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal along the north; Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel on the east; the African countries of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco on the south and the Mediterranean Island Countries of Cyprus and Malta. The Mediterranean countries utilize many of the same healthy ingredients but each country has a unique way of creating recipes with those same ingredients. So far in this series, I have written about Mediterranean cuisine in general and about the cuisine in the countries of Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, and Libya. This series continues with the country of Tunisia.
Tunisian cuisine is a combination of French, Arabic, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors. Seafood is eaten in the coastal communities and features recipes like fettuccine with fresh seafood and a green harissa dressing, grilled mullet with lemon and celery salad, and fricassee salad with grilled cedar plank salmon. The spicy paste harissa is a staple side to every Tunisian meal. It’s made from chilies, garlic, lemon and a combination of caraway, cumin and coriander seeds. Tunisian sweets are also impressive. Their doughnuts, called “yo-yos”, are soaked in honey, lemon syrup and orange blossom water.
The diverse blend of flavors in Tunisian cuisine is representative of the country’s past and location. While the cuisine varies by region, Tunisian food usually combines French and African flavors with spicy seasonings. Couscous, the main staple in Tunisian dishes, is often topped with fresh seafood or hearty lamb depending on local availability. A melting pot of cultures, Tunisia doesn’t just feature local food but all types of international cuisine can be found in the country’s larger cities.
Though the country’s Mediterranean climate and rich soil make it an ideal location for wine production, it’s often overlooked as a wine region. But Tunisia has a rich wine history and a modern cultivation of numerous grape varietals. Tunisians first began producing wine over 2,000 years ago, but Arab control in the eighth century nearly eliminated the practice. French colonization brought winemaking back to Tunisia in the late 1800s.
The Foods of Tunisia
Couscous is derived from semolina and is present on nearly every dinner table in Tunisia. Couscous is prepared in endless ways across the country. In coastal regions, cooks prefer to serve it with fish, while interior regions opt for lamb and dried fruit. A local favorite, Sfax Couscous, is named for Tunisia’s second largest city, which is filled with freshly caught seafood.
Briks are another staple and can be found in little shops throughout the country. Similar to a samosa, a brik is made from wrapping pastry dough around a variety of fillings, including potatoes, eggs, or tuna. The packets are then fried in grapeseed oil and served piping hot with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
A thick, spicy paste made from hot chili peppers and garlic, harissa is a condiment for grilled meats and fish or stirred into soups and stews for added flavor. It is often served as a dipping sauce alongside bread. Harissa’s heat level varies depending on the number and type of chili peppers used. The peppers are typically smoked to add a complex, deep flavor.
While typically a breakfast dish, ojja is often considered fast-food by Tunisian standards. Traditional ojja combine eggs and merguez, a spicy lamb sausage, in a savory tomato sauce for a hearty, filling meal. Ojja is served with a side of grilled bread in place of a spoon or fork.
Tunisians take dessert seriously and they are routinely served after a large evening meal and accompanied with mint tea. Some local desserts include sweet cakes, fried almond pastries, and ice cream. But the Tunisian doughnuts, YoYos, are the favorite.
The melding of many cultures and flavors is apparent in Tunisia’s most popular drink, sweet mint tea. Served hot or over ice, this beverage is topped with pine nuts, a twist of flavor and texture, especially for those not accustomed to nuts in their tea.
Tunisia has seven distinct controlled designation-of-origin regions known locally as AOCs (for their French name, appellation d’origine controlee). The naming of wine regions is modeled after the French, with whom Tunisia shares many of the same grape varietals, such as Muscat.
Sidi Saad is a wine blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Produced using traditional methods in the Gran Cru Mornag region, Sidi Saad is corked in a distinctively shaped bottle.
Gris de Tunisie
Gris de Tunisie, or grey Tunisian wine, is the country’s most famous and unique wine. The wine is a dusky rose in color and tastes like a fruity rosé. It is best served on hot days paired with a spicy seafood dish.
Chateau Mornag Rosé
Chateau Mornag Rosé is the country’s most popular. Produced in the Mornag area in Northern Tunisia, it is light, crisp and tastes best with the region’s Mediterranean-influenced cuisine.
Make Some Tunisian Recipes At Home
100 g dried long red chilies, seeded
½ teaspoon caraway seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
100 ml extra-virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Soaking time 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Place chilies in a bowl and pour over enough boiling water to cover. Place a small plate directly on top of chilies to keep them submerged then set aside for 1½ hours or until very soft. Drain well.
Meanwhile, heat a small frying pan over medium-low heat, add the spices and fry, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Finely grind spices in an electric spice grinder or a mortar and pestle. Combine the drained chilies, spices, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper and the remaining ingredients in a small food processor. Process to a smooth paste, occasionally scraping down the sides. Push mixture through a food mill, extracting as much purée as possible; the solids should be dry. Transfer mixture to a sterilized jar and seal. Harissa will keep for up to 1 year stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Tunisian Chickpea Soup (Lablabi)
Tunisian breakfast. Capers, chopped almonds, chopped olives, yogurt and some mint can all be added at the end, and the soup is commonly served ladled over cubes of day old bread. Tuna is often added also.
100 ml extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
Large pinch saffron
1 tablespoon harissa
2 liters (8 cups) chicken stock
4 (400g) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 tomatoes, cut into large pieces
2 tablespoons white vinegar
4-6 eggs (depending on the number of servings)
Large handful coriander leaves
Slices of baguette, extra harissa, and lemon wedges, to serve
2 tbsp baby capers, drained
2 tbsp chopped blanched almonds
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, for 6 minutes or until softened. Add the cumin and coriander and saffron and cook, stirring, for another 3 minutes. Stir in the harissa then add the stock and chickpeas and bring to a simmer. Cover the pan then cook for 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook for another 3 minutes or until the tomatoes soften.
Bring a large saucepan of water to a simmer and add the vinegar. Crack each egg into a saucer then add them, one at a time, to the simmering water. Cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes or until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny. Carefully remove each using a slotted spoon to a tray lined with kitchen paper to drain excess water.
Divide the hot soup among large bowls. Place an egg in each bowl. Scatter over the coriander, capers, and almonds. Serve with the baguette, extra harissa, and lemon wedges to the side.
Broiled Red Mullet with Celery Salad
4 red mullets, cleaned (each 340 g net)
12 g mixed fresh bay leaves, rosemary, and thyme
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, crushed using a mortar and pestle
1½ tablespoons olive oil
1½ teaspoon salt
Lemon and Celery Salad
4 long, thin green capsicum (peppers), or 1 regular green capsicum (pepper) (140 g gross)
50 ml olive oil
1 lemon, peeled, seeded and cut into 1 cm dice (35 g net)
3 tender celery stalks, cut into 1 cm dice (120 g net)
10 g tender celery leaves, finely chopped
15 g parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
30 g black olives, pitted
½ teaspoon dried red chili flakes
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sumac
To make the salad, place the capsicum in a baking dish. Drizzle with 2 teaspoons of the oil and roast in a 400 degree F oven for 10 minutes ( or longer for regular capsicum), or until the skin is blistered and the flesh is soft. Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Once cool enough to handle, peel, cut into 1 cm dice and place in a large bowl. Add the remaining olive oil, the lemon, celery, and leaves, parsley, garlic, olives, chili flakes, and salt. Stir well and set aside.
Score the red mullet 2–3 times on each side in parallel lines at a 45-degree angle to the fish. Slice the bay leaves into fine strips and stuff into the incisions, followed by each of the other herbs. Place the fish on a baking tray lined with foil. In a small bowl, mix together the cumin, olive oil and salt. Drizzle or brush this over the fish.
Preheat a broiler on high. Once hot, place the fish underneath and cook for about 6 minutes on each side, or until the flesh is firm and cooked through. Serve the fish with the salad on the side, garnished with sumac.
Tunisian Doughnuts (yo-yos)
7 g sachet dried yeast
1 tablespoon white sugar
60 ml (¼ cup) orange juice
1 orange, zested
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus extra, to deep-fry
300 g (2 cups) plain flour, sifted
2 tablespoons lemon juice
110 g (½ cup) white sugar
360 g (1 cup) honey
2 teaspoons orange blossom water, optional
Place yeast, sugar and 125 ml (½ cup) lukewarm water in a bowl and stir to combine. Set aside for 10 minutes or until the mixture bubbles. Add orange juice, zest, and 2 tablespoons oil, and stir to combine. Place flour and a pinch of salt in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Pour yeast mixture into the well and stir until combined.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic. (Alternatively, use an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook.) Place dough in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm, draught-free place for 2 hours or until the dough doubles in size.
To make the honey syrup, place the lemon juice, sugar and 250 ml (1 cup) water in a pan over medium heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to high and bring to the boil. Add honey and orange blossom water, if using, then reduce the heat to low–medium and cook the mixture for 35 minutes or until the consistency of a runny honey; watch syrup to make sure it doesn’t boil over. Transfer to a large bowl and cool.
Fill a deep-fryer or large pan one-third full with oil and heat over medium heat to 180°C (or until a cube of bread turns golden in 15 seconds). Working in batches, tear off a piece of dough about the size of a plum and flatten slightly with your hand. Tear a hole in the middle and stretch the dough to make a 12–15cm ring. Gently drop the dough into the oil and deep-fry, turning halfway, for 4 minutes or until crisp, golden and cooked through. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
Using a skewer, pierce yo-yos on both sides, then soak in honey syrup for 4 minutes on each side. Serve immediately.
The Mediterranean countries include France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal along the north; Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel on the east; the African countries of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco on the south and the Mediterranean Island Countries of Cyprus and Malta. The Mediterranean countries utilize many of the same healthy ingredients but each country has a unique way of creating recipes with those same ingredients. So far in this series, I have written about Mediterranean cuisine in general and about the cuisine in the countries of Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Egypt. This series continues with the country of Libya.
Food in Libya is a very important part of family life. A well-known Libyan saying is “one must eat well”. Libyan cuisine is based on the traditions of the Mediterranean, North Africa, and Berber cuisines. Tripoli is Libya’s capital, and the cuisine in this city is especially influenced by the Italian cuisine. Pasta is common, as are many seafood dishes. Fruits, most often served, include figs, dates, oranges, apricots, and olives.
The sand in Libya gets so hot in the summer that walking on it with bare feet becomes unbearable. As a result, the Tuareg way of baking bread is to bury it in the hot sand, which is as effective as baking in an oven. The technique can also be used to bake potatoes and eggs by burying them whole in the sand and leaving them there for several hours.
Olive oil is the main ingredient of nearly all Libyan dishes. Its use in North Africa goes back thousands of years, and its life-prolonging properties were well-known to the ancient Libyans and Egyptians.
There are four main ingredients in the traditional Libyan cuisine: olives (and olive oil), palm dates, grains, and milk. These are very ancient foods and they have been in the Libyan cuisine since Neolithic times when humans first began to make use of their natural surroundings. Grains are roasted, ground, sieved and used for making bread, cakes, soups, Bazin, and other dough-based dishes. Dates are harvested, dried and stored for the rest of the year. They can be eaten as they are, made into syrup, fried or eaten with milk for breakfast.
Garlic is also one of the most important Libyan foods, as it is usually added to most dishes that involve sauces or stews, especially those served with couscous and pasta.
One of the most important social occasions in Libya is getting together for tea drinking. This activity brings families together, to chat, laugh, discuss and gossip about the highlights of the day and about life in general. Talking in Libya is a very important social activity and it firmly bonds the family. Libyan tea is a very strong, thick, syrup-like black tea. After boiling water in a traditional teapot, a handful of red tea leaves are added, and the leaves are boiled for a long time (about twenty minutes).
Bazin is the most well-known Libyan dish. It is made by boiling barley flour in salted water to make a hard dough and then forming it into a rounded, smooth dome that is placed in the middle of a serving dish. The sauce around the dough is made by frying chopped onions with ground lamb, turmeric, salt, cayenne pepper, black pepper, fenugreek, sweet paprika and tomato paste. Potatoes may also be added. Hard-boiled eggs are arranged around the dome. The dish is then served with lemon and fresh or pickled chili peppers, known as amsyar. Batata mubattana (filled potato) is another popular dish that consists of fried potato pieces filled with spiced ground meat and covered with egg and breadcrumbs.
Make A Libyan-style Dinner In Your Kitchen
Recipes adapted from http://libyanfood.blogspot.com/
Lentil Soup With Fried Onions
2 cups lentils
5 cups water
2 garlic cloves
1 medium carrot
1 large tomato
1/2 -1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon salt
2 medium onions
Oil for frying
For the Topping
Toasted bread, cut into cubes or triangles
Wash and drain the lentils; wash and cut the carrot; chop the tomatoes and onion. Put the onion, tomatoes, carrot, lentils, garlic cloves, salt and cumin in a soup pot.
Add 5 cups of boiling water. Cook, until the lentils, become mushy. Let cool, puree, and add more boiling water if a thinner soup is desired, stir well.
For the topping: Cut the 2 onions into thin slices and fry in a little olive oil stirring constantly until dark brown.
To serve: Place a handful of toasted bread in the soup bowl before ladling on the soup. Then add a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of cumin to each bowl. Top with a tablespoon of fried onions.
Libyan Couscous with Fish
500g couscous (ready-cooked variety can also be steamed)
1 cup of hot water + 3 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 fish heads (washed, gills removed)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 cup parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon black pepper, ground cumin
Salt, to taste
1 1/2-2 liter boiling water
1 medium onion
1 medium size potato
1 medium size aubergine (eggplant)
1 medium size squash
1 medium-size red bell pepper
1 cup cooked/canned chickpeas (or fresh/frozen peas)
1 can of chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
5 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 chili peppers
3-4 garlic cloves
For the Fish and Marinade
4-6 portions of firm-fleshed fish, grouper is the Libyan favorite
4 large cloves garlic
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 chili pepper chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 teaspoon of each salt and pepper
2 teaspoons cumin
Olive oil to brush the fish before grilling
In Libya, steamed dishes are cooked in a kaskas, but any pot with a steamer insert is fine. When steaming couscous you can place a square of cheese-cloth between the pot and steamer if its holes are larger than the couscous.
Put all the ingredients for the stock in the steamer pot. Bring to boil then reduce the heat and cook over medium heat.
Pour 1 cup of hot water and the 3 tablespoons of olive oil over the couscous, mix well. Put the couscous in the steamer, then place it above the stock pot. Lightly rake over the top layer only with a spatula a few times during the first steaming, so it gets steamed properly.
After 45 minutes, remove the steamer and put the couscous in a deep plat; pour about 5 ladles of hot stock onto the couscous.
Mix well, then return the couscous to the steamer for another 45 minutes. Stir lightly but thoroughly 2-3 times during the second steaming to break up lumps.
Put all the ingredients for the fish marinade in the food processor, then use this paste to coat the fish on both sides. Cover the fish with cling film (plastic wrap) and set aside.
Cut the onion, eggplant, potato and bell pepper into thick slices.
Prepare the vegetable sauce by putting olive oil, chopped onion, chopped chili and whole garlic cloves in a pot, then stir until they have softened. Add tomato paste and chopped tomatoes, cover and cook on low heat. Add the peas or cooked chickpeas and about 3 ladles of strained fish stock, so the liquid is just about covering the vegetables and cook for 15 minutes more.
Brush the cut vegetables generously with olive oil and grill until almost cooked. Remove the vegetables from the grill and cut them into cubes. Add the grilled vegetables to the sauce pot.
Grill the fish and keep warm to serve with the couscous.
Remove the couscous from the steamer and place in a serving dish, arrange the vegetables from the sauce on the couscous, spoon some of the remaining sauce around the vegetables. Serve with the grilled fish and lemon wedges.
Date Filled Semolina Cookies
3 cups semolina
1 cup flour
1 cup oil
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon orange blossom water added to a ½ liter of warm water
750g date paste
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoons grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 cup sesame seeds (lightly toasted)
4 cups boiling water
3 cups sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 lemon slice
2 tablespoons orange blossom water
1/2 cup sesame seeds (lightly toasted)
Prepare the syrup by simmering all the ingredients except the orange blossom water over moderate heat for 30 minutes or until a syrupy consistency is reached. Add the 2 tablespoons of orange blossom water and set aside to cool. For a richer taste, add 1 tablespoon of honey while the syrup is still warm. Set aside.
For the dough: Mix the semolina, flour, and baking powder together in a mixing bowl. Add the oil and mix. Cover and let rest for at least one hour.
For the filling: Cut the date paste into small pieces and knead. Add some olive oil if the paste is not soft enough to be kneaded. Add cinnamon, grated nutmeg, sesame seeds and knead them in. Roll out the sesame date paste with your palm into 4 long ropes or sticks.
Divide the dough into 4 portions, take one portion of the dough and add the orange blossom flavored warm water a little at a time. Knead well until the dough becomes smooth and easy to shape. The dough will also become lighter in color. Form the dough into a furrow or trench shape and place one of the date rolls in the dough. Pinch closed and smooth the dough over the date roll.
Cut the roll into small pieces and arrange on a baking sheet. Place in a preheated oven at 425 degrees F/220°C until golden, for about 12 minutes. Place the cookies in a single layer in a deep dish. Pour the sugar syrup over the warm cookies.
Turn the cookies every 15 minutes, so they soak in the syrup on all sides. Remove the cookies from the syrup and place in a sieve to remove the excess syrup. Place the drained cookies on a platter and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Let rest overnight before serving.