Look for compact heads of cabbage that are heavy for their size. Whether red or green, the leaves should be crisp and deeply colored. Check the stem to make sure it has no cracks around its base. Avoid discolored heads with wilted outer leaves.
Italian Sausage Stuffed Cabbage
1 lb cooked Italian hot (rope) sausage
8 savoy cabbage leaves
2 cups Marinara Sauce
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Oil an 8×12 baking dish.
Blanch the cabbage leaves in boiling water or, as I do, freeze the leaves and then defrost them overnight in the refrigerator. Remove the bottom part of the stem on each leaf. Place the leaves on a kitchen towel.
Cut the sausage into 8 equal pieces. Place one piece of sausage on each cabbage leaf. Roll up the leave into little packages. Spread some Marinara Sauce in the bottom of the baking dish and arrange the cabbage rolls in the dish. Cover the rolls with Marinara Sauce. Cover the dish with foil and bake the cabbage rolls for 1 ½ hours.
Garlic and Herb Rice
1 1/2 cups uncooked long-grain white rice
3 cups low-salt chicken broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, chives, cilantro, mint, or tarragon, or a combination of many
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
Bring broth to a simmer in medium saucepan.
Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic; sauté until tender, about 1 minute. Add rice; stir 2 minutes. Add hot broth and 3/4 teaspoon salt and bring to boil.
Reduce heat to low; cover. Cook until the rice is tender, about 25 minutes. Turn off the heat; let stand, covered, 10 minutes. Add herbs to the rice; fluff with a fork and serve with the cabbage rolls.
Asparagus with Lemon Vinaigrette
1 bunch thin asparagus spears, tough ends trimmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 ½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Adjust oven rack to uppermost position and heat broiler.
Mix the asparagus with the 1 tablespoon of oil and salt and pepper to taste, then lay the spears in a single layer on a heavy rimmed baking sheet. Broil about 4 inches from the heat, shaking pan halfway through to turn spears, until the asparagus are tender and lightly browned 8 to 10 minutes.
Cool the asparagus for 5 minutes and arrange them on a serving dish.
Whisk the shallot, lemon juice, lemon zest, thyme, mustard, and 2 ½ tablespoons of olive oil in small bowl; season to taste with salt and pepper. Drizzle over the asparagus and serve.
Most major scientific organizations encourage healthy adults to adopt a style of eating like that of the Mediterranean diet for prevention of major chronic diseases. Why? Because the Mediterranean diet incorporates the basics of healthy eating — along with the addition of olive oil and a glass of red wine — and other components that characterize the traditional cooking style of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Most healthy diets include fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains, and limit unhealthy fats. Fatty fish — such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon — are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Fish is eaten on a regular basis in the Mediterranean region. Be sure to add it to your diet on a regular basis.
Oven Baked Fish
2 cod, haddock or salmon fillets, about 6 oz. each
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 garlic clove finely grated
2 plum (Roma) tomatoes, seeded and chopped
8 green olives, sliced
2 sprigs fresh oregano sprigs
Sea salt and black pepper
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Make the fresh bread crumbs from several slices of bread by processing in a food processor
Pat the fish dry with paper towels. Coat the bottom of a small baking dish large enough to hold the fish in a single layer with 1 tablespoon of the oil.
Place the cod in the dish. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Season the fish lightly with salt and pepper.
Place the tomatoes, olives, garlic and oregano leaves on top of the fish.
Combine the crumbs with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and use a spoon to sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over the fish and vegetables.
Bake until the topping is golden brown and the fish is cooked about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.
Lemon Rice Pilaf
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 sweet onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups long grain white rice (uncooked)
1 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
½ teaspoon salt
1 large lemon to yield 1 teaspoon zest + 3 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
Heat oil over medium heat in a saucepan. Add garlic and onion. Cook for 5 minutes or until tender.
Add rice, stir and cook about 2 minutes. Add broth, salt, and water. Place lid on, bring to a simmer then turn the heat down to low.
Cook for 12 minutes or until the water is evaporated. Remove the saucepan from stove and rest for 10 minutes with the lid on.
Remove the lid. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, parsley and black pepper to taste. Stir well and serve.
1 tablespoon butter
1 small shallot. finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (10 oz) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained or equivalent fresh
1-ounce cream cheese
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
Saute the garlic and shallot in the butter in a medium saucepan. Mix in the spinach and cook on low heat, covered about 5 minutes. Remove to a bowl and keep warm.
Add the cream cheese, heavy cream, and parmesan cheese to the saucepan. Cook on medium heat until the cream cheese is melted. Whisk until smooth.
Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the spinach mixture and mix well. Reheat over low until the spinach is hot. 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 and Israel. This series continues with the country of Egypt.
The Arab Republic of Egypt is located in the northeastern region of the African continent, bordering both the Mediterranean and Red Seas. The climate is arid and dry and most of the country receives less than one inch of rainfall each year. However, Egypt’s northern coastline can get up to eight inches of rainfall each year and the year-round temperatures are cooler here than inland. Egypt has no forests and only 2 percent of the land is arable (land that can be farmed).
The well-known Nile River, the longest river in the world, runs north and south through eastern Egypt and empties into the Mediterranean Sea. The Nile River Valley, which includes the capital city of Cairo, is the most fertile land in Egypt. Approximately 95 percent of the country’s population lives alongside the Nile River.
Egyptian cuisine is characterized by dishes such as stewed fava beans; lentils and pasta and okra stew. Egyptian cuisine shares similarities with other Mediterranean countries, such as rice-stuffed vegetables, grape leaves, shawarma, kebabs and kofta. The cuisine most often utilizes legumes, vegetables and fruits from Egypt’s rich Nile valley and delta. Although entrees in Alexandria and the coast of Egypt tend to use a great deal of fish and other seafood, the Egyptian cuisine is based on foods that grow in the ground. Meat has been very expensive for most Egyptians throughout history, so a great number of vegetarian dishes have been developed.
Easy access to various spices due to Egypt’s many seaports has, throughout the years, left its mark on Egyptian cuisine. Cumin is the most commonly used spice. Other common spices include coriander, cardamom, chili, aniseed, bay leaves, dill, parsley, ginger, cinnamon, mint and cloves.
Egyptians are known to use lots of garlic and onions in their everyday dishes. Fresh garlic mashed with other herbs is used in a spicy tomato salad and also in stuffed eggplant. Garlic fried with coriander is added to soup and sometimes to chicken or rabbit. Fried onions can also be a popular addition.
When meats are on the Egyptian table, they are usually rabbit, pigeon, chicken or duck. These are often boiled to make a broth for stews and soups and the meat is served separately. Lamb and beef are the most common meats used for grilling.
The local bread is a form of hearty, thick, gluten-rich pita bread called eish baladi. This bread is made from a simple recipe that forms the backbone of the Egyptian cuisine. It is consumed at almost all Egyptian meals; a working-class or rural Egyptian meal might consist of little more than bread and beans.
Although many rural people still make their own cheese, notably the fermented mish, mass-produced cheeses are becoming more common. Cheese is often served with breakfast, it is included in several traditional dishes, and even in some desserts.
Despite the country’s dry climate, Egypt grows a variety of fresh fruits. Mohz (bananas), balah (dates), burtu’aan (oranges), battiikh (melon), khukh (peaches), berkuk (plums) and ‘anub (grapes) are grown.
Tea is the national drink in Egypt, followed only distantly by coffee, prepared using the Turkish method. Egyptian tea is uniformly black and sour and is generally served in a glass, sometimes with milk. Tea packed and sold in Egypt is almost exclusively imported from Kenya and Sri Lanka. Egyptian tea comes in two varieties, kushari and sa‘idi. Vendors also sell a variety of asiir (fresh-squeezed juices) made from fruits like banana, guava, mango, pomegranate, strawberry, from sugar cane, and even hibiscus flowers.
Egyptian desserts resemble other Eastern Mediterranean desserts. Basbousa is a dessert made from semolina and soaked in syrup. It is usually topped with almonds and cut vertically into pieces, so that each piece has a diamond shape. Baqlawa is a sweet dish made from many layers of phyllo pastry with an assortment of nuts and soaked in a sweet syrup. Ghuriyiba is a sweet biscuit made with sugar, flour and liberal quantities of butter, similar to shortbread. It can be topped with roasted almonds or black cardamom pods.
Dining customs vary throughout the country and between different religions. When invited to be a guest in an Egyptian household, it is polite for guests to bring a small gift to the host, such as flowers or chocolate, to show their appreciation for the meal. Before dinner, cocktails (usually nonalcoholic) are frequently served. This is a time for socializing and becoming acquainted. Mezze (salads and dips) would also be served at this time. When dinner is ready, usually between 9 P.M. and 10 P.M. , guests seat themselves and food is placed in the middle of the table. Bread will almost always accompany meals, which may include vegetables, rice dishes, soups and meat dishes. Following dinner, guests will move into another room and enjoy coffee or mint tea. Guests should always compliment the cook.
Although Ramadan is a month of fasting for Muslims in Egypt, it is usually a time when Egyptians pay a lot of attention to food variety and richness, since breaking the fast is a family affair, often with the entire extended families meeting at the table just after sunset. There are several special desserts that are served almost exclusively during Ramadan, such as kunafa and atayef. during the Ramadan month, many Egyptians prepare a special table for the poor or passers-by, usually in a tent in the street, called Ma’edet Rahman which literally translates to “Table of the Merciful”. Observant Christians in Egypt adhere to fasting periods according to the Coptic calendar; these days may extend to more than two-thirds of the year for the most observant. The more secular Coptic population fasts only for Easter and Christmas. The Coptic diet for fasting is essentially vegan. During this fasting, only vegetables and legumes are eaten and all meat and dairy products are avoided.
Egyptian Recipes To Make At Home
Gebna Makleyah (Oven-Fried Cheese)
Serves 4 to 6.
1 cup firm feta cheese, crumbled or traditional Egyptian cheese, such as labna or gebna
1 tablespoon flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Lemon wedges and pita bread cut into triangles, for serving
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Place the cheese, flour, egg, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix well.
Roll the mixture into 1-inch balls.
If the mixture seems too loose to hold the ball shape, add a little more flour.
If the mixture seems too dry, add a bit of lemon juice, vinegar or water.
Pour 2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil onto a cookie sheet to grease.
Arrange the cheese balls on the cookie sheet, rolling them around to coat thoroughly with the oil.
Bake 5 minutes.
Wearing an oven mitt, open the oven door and shake the cookie sheet to prevent the cheese balls from sticking, then turn them over.
Bake 5 more minutes, until golden brown.
Remove with a spatula and drain on absorbent paper.
Serve warm with lemon wedges and triangles of pita bread.
Ful Mudammas (Broad Beans in Sauce)
Serves 4 to 6.
2 cans (15-ounces each) cooked fava beans
6 cloves garlic, or to taste
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
¼ cup olive oil
1½ tablespoons parsley, minced
Garnish, such as radishes, hard-boiled eggs, chopped scallions, pita bread (toasted and cut into wedges)
Press the garlic cloves through a garlic press into a medium bowl.
Mash the garlic and salt together.
Next, add the lemon juice, olive oil and parsley to the garlic mixture and combine thoroughly.
Drain the beans well, rinse and put the beans into a large pot over low heat.
Add the garlic mixture and stir with a wooden spoon to combine thoroughly.
Serve warm with the garnishes arranged on a platter.
Each person is served a plateful of Ful Mudammas and adds the garnishes of his or her choice.
Koushari (Lentils, Macaroni, Rice, and Chickpeas)
Serves 4 to 6.
1 cup lentils
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup elbow macaroni
1 cup rice
1 can (15-ounces) chickpeas (also called ceci beans)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup canned tomato puree
¼ cup olive oil
1 garlic clove, or to taste
To prepare the lentils:
Place the lentils in a sieve and rinse thoroughly. Place them in a large saucepan with 3 cups of water and 1 teaspoon salt.
Heat until the water begins to boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 1 hour or until the lentils are tender. Drain and set the lentils aside.
To prepare the macaroni:
Fill the same saucepan with water (add salt). Heat until the water begins to boil.
Add the macaroni and boil about 12 to 15 minutes, or until the macaroni is tender. Drain and set the macaroni aside.
To prepare the rice:
Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the same saucepan. Add the rice and cook for 2 or 3 minutes, thoroughly coating the rice with oil.
Add 2 cups of water and heat until the water begins to boil. Cover the saucepan and simmer until the rice is tender, about 15 minutes.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool for about 5 minutes.
To assemble the koushari:
Drain the chickpeas and rinse them in a colander. Add chickpeas, lentil, and macaroni to the cooked rice and toss very gently with a fork.
To make the sauce:
Peel the onions and cut them in half lengthwise. Slice each half crosswise into thin slices.
Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a skillet. Add the onions and cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon until the onions are golden brown.
Add garlic clove and cook 1 or 2 more minutes. Stir in the tomato puree and heat until bubbly.
Pour the sauce over the lentil mixture and heat over very low heat for about 5 minutes, until completely warm.
Serve with pita bread.
1 cup dried prunes
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup dried small figs, halved
1½ cups raisins
1 cup sugar, or to taste
2½ cups boiling water
Nuts for garnish
Place all the fruits in a bowl and mix together gently.
Sprinkle the sugar on top of the dried fruits.
Carefully pour the boiling water into the bowl, cover and allow to cool to room temperature.
Refrigerate for several hours or overnight if possible. ( Khoshaf is best when allowed to marinate overnight or for several hours before serving.) Garnish with nuts and serve.
Preparing appetizers that can be made ahead or serving quickly prepared appetizers make entertaining for the holidays much easier. Here are a few of my favorites.
This stuffed bread recipe can be made ahead and reheated just before serving time.
2 (one pound) pizza dough balls, at room temperature
1/4 pound thinly sliced Genoa salami
1/4 pound thinly sliced capicola
12 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
½ cup marinara sauce
1 egg lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. and line two baking sheets with parchment.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out one of the dough balls to a 15 x 10 inch rectangle.
Spread half the marinara sauce over the dough.
Sprinkle with half the shredded cheese.
Layer half the meat over the cheese on the dough, leaving a 1/2 inch border. Drizzle with a little olive oil.
Roll the dough up into a log and brush the seam edges with beaten egg.
Leaving the seam at the bottom and pinching the ends closed, brush the seams with the beaten egg mixture
Place the Stromboli on one of the baking sheets. Complete the other dough in the same manner.
Cut four small slits in the top of the log. Cover the Stromboli with kitchen towels and let rise for 45 minutes.
Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Cool 10 minutes before slicing.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for cooking
2 shallots, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
16-20 small fresh mozzarella balls (about 6 ounces)
2-3 cups cold risotto
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups panko or traditional bread crumbs
Marinara Sauce, for serving
In a medium saute pan, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add in the shallots and cook for 3-5 minutes until softened. Add in the oregano and basil and stir until the herbs are wilted. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Add the herb mixture to the mozzarella balls and stir to mix.
Take approximately 2 tablespoons of cold risotto in your palm and flatten slightly. Add one mozzarella ball covered in the herb mix to the center. Cover the cheese with the rice and roll into a ball form. Dip the ball into flour, shaking slightly to remove any clumps, then into the beaten eggs, and finally, roll the ball in the bread crumbs. Place the coated balls on a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining risotto until all of the risotto and/or cheese balls are used.
Pour enough olive oil in a deep skillet to just cover the bottom of the pan. Heat the oil and add the arancini. Cook on all sides until lightly brown all over. Drain on paper towels.
Note: I usually make them in advance and then reheat before serving in a 375 degree F oven for about 15 minutes.
For the bread crumb topping:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
½ teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
For the calamari:
1/2 pound cleaned squid cut into rings, dry on paper towels, air dry and then move to a plate
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon olive oil plus 1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
Make the bread crumb topping:
Heat the 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small skillet and add the garlic and Italian seasoning. Saute for a minute. Add the breadcrumbs and stir until lightly brown. Set aside
For the calamari:
Heat a medium skillet and add the olive oil. Then garlic, butter and chili flakes. Add calamari, salt and pepper and parsley and cook 1-2 minutes Squeeze lemon over the fish and sprinkle lightly with the toasted bread crumbs.
Note: It is important not to overcook calamari or it will become tough. A minute or two is all it needs to cook.
Serves 6 as an appetizer. This also makes a good spread for bruschetta.
1 1/2 pounds eggplant (1 large)
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for the baking pan
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely diced
1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cups chopped Italian tomatoes
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon agave syrup
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and chopped
8 chopped pitted Kalamata olives
1/4 cup minced jarred roasted red peppers
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise and score once or twice with a knife (not hitting the skin on the bottom.)
Roast face down on foil lined baking sheet that has been sprayed with oil, about 20 minutes or until tender. Let drain on a paper towel for 10 minutes, cut side down.
Scoop the eggplant out of the skin and finely chop.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil (or substitute vegetable broth) over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet. Add the onion, celery, garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for 5 minutes.
Add the Italian tomatoes, vinegar and agave and cook for 5 minutes more. Add the remaining oil, eggplant, capers, red peppers, olives and parsley and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes or until thickened.
Cool to room temperature. Drizzle with remaining olive oil and serve with your favorite Italian bread.
Be sure to purchase US wild caught shrimp for this dish.
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
14 -16 extra-large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Heat the butter and oil in a saute pan.
Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the wine, salt, black pepper, red pepper and cook for 2 minutes.
Add the shrimp and cook 2–3 minutes or until lightly pink. Turn the shrimp over and cook for another minute.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the parsley, lemon juice and lemon zest.
(2 large side-dish portions)
1 cup Arborio rice
2-3 cups chicken stock
1 cup mushrooms, rinsed and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the chicken stock in a saucepan over medium-low heat, to keep warm.
Drizzle the olive oil over the bottom of a heavy bottomed pot, and place it over medium heat. Add the butter and allow to melt.
Add the garlic, onion and mushrooms and sauté until all are soft.
Add the Arborio rice and mix to coat with oil, allowing to cook for about one minute.
Ladle 1 cup of chicken stock over the rice, stirring until it is absorbed by the rice.
Continue adding chicken stock and stirring until the risotto is creamy and the rice grains are al dente – soft but a bit firm on the inside.
This will take about 15-20 minutes. Before serving, stir in Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste.
Baked Zucchini with Parmesan
1 medium zucchini, washed and trimmed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 garlic clove, minced
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise. Cut each half in half again lengthwise. Then cut each piece in half crosswise for a total of 8 pieces.
Arrange the zucchini in an ovenproof dish large enough to hold them in a single layer. Lightly brush with the olive oil.
Season with the salt and pepper. Mix the Parmesan and garlic together; then sprinkle over the zucchini.
Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the zucchini are tender and the cheese is browned.
The Mediterranean countries include France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal along the north; Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel on the east; and the African countries of Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia on the south. The Mediterranean countries utilize many of the same 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 countries of Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Turkey. This series continues with the country of Syria.
Think Mediterranean diet and Italian and Greek food comes to mind. But the Mediterranean coastline spans thousands more miles throughout the Middle Eastern countries like Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Israel. The Middle Eastern Mediterranean diet emphasizes healthy fats, lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and red wine. However, it also offers delicious and different flavors not found in southern European food, such as unique spices, tangy fruits and healthy seeds, some of which include pomegranate juice, mint, sesame and yogurt.
Syrian cuisine mainly uses eggplant, zucchini, onion, garlic, meat (mostly from lamb, mutton and poultry), dairy products, bulgur, sesame seeds, rice, chickpeas, wheat flour, pine nuts, fava beans, lentils, cabbage, cauliflower, grape leaves, pickled turnips or cucumbers, tomatoes, spinach, olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, mint, a spice mixture called “baharat mushakkaleh” (Arabic: بهارات مشكّلة), hazelnuts, pistachios, honey and fruits.
One of the many highlights of Syrian food is mezza, the tapas of the Middle East. Mezza refers to a generous spread of small dishes, mostly eaten without cutlery, using flat bread, lettuce or grape leaves to scoop up dips or to wrap portions of salad. Baba ghanouj and hummus, both well-known in the West, are key elements of a traditional mezza. Another favorite in Syria is muhammara, a spicy pepper and walnut dip made with pomegranate molasses. Salads include tabbouleh, a parsley and bulgur mix; fattoush, a crunchy cucumber, radish, tomato and herb salad topped with toasted pita; and fateh, a salad with chickpeas, yogurt, tahini and garlic. Other finger foods include baked pastries filled with meat and spices called sambusic or spinach and baked lamb pies called sfeeha. Kibbeh is the national dish and comes in many varieties with the core element being cracked wheat and fresh ground lamb or beef that is seasoned with spices.
For Syrians, presentation is everything. Making the food look appetizing and setting the table appropriately are very important. Everything, even the simplest dishes, are garnished with fresh herbs.
Syrian Recipes To Make At Home
Syrian Stuffed Grape Leaves
Adapted from a recipe from Mary Sanom
2 lbs. ground lamb or beef
1 lb. long grain white rice, uncooked
1 small onion (finely diced)
1 small green pepper (finely diced)
1 clove minced garlic
8 oz can tomato sauce
8 oz of tomato paste
10 cups water
2 teaspoons salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper to taste
Grape leaves (16 oz jar hold about 60 leaves)
Place the rice in a large bowl, pour boiling water over to cover it and let soak for 1 hour.Drain well.
Mix ground meat, soaked rice, onion, green pepper, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper and tomato sauce in large bowl.
Place enough grape leaves in the bottom of a large pot to cover the bottom of the pot.
This will keep the filled grape leaves from sticking to the pot and burning.
To fill the grape leaves:
Lay out a grape leaf with the vein side up.
Place a small amount of the meat and rice at the bottom 1/3 of the leaf, tuck in the sides of the leaves over the meat and to roll up like a cigar.
Continue rolling the grape leaves and laying them in the bottom row in the prepared pot,
When the first layer of grape leaves has lined the bottom of the pot, start the new layer in the opposite direction, so that the rows criss-cross each other. This will allow the liquid to get to all the leaves.
Keep rolling up all the leaves and stacking the layers, until there are no more leaves/or no more filling/or the pot is ¾ full.
Place a plate upside down over the leaves. This will keep the rolls from floating during cooking and coming unrolled.
Mix together the tomato paste and water. Pour the tomato/water mixture over leaves until they are just covered.
If the leaves are not covered, add additional water until they are covered.
Add a teaspoon of salt and a squeeze of half a lemon into the pot
Cover the pot with a lid and bring the leaves and liquid to a boil, then reduce heat to medium, and cook for about 30 – 45 minutes or until the meat is cooked and the leaves are tender.
Take out a roll from the top of the pot and test it. Place the grape leaves on a platter to serve.
Retain some of the cooking liquid to reheat the leftover rolls.
Aubergine Fetteh (Fetteh Beitinjaan)
Layering food on toasted bread with a yogurt sauce is a Syrian speciality.
Olive oil, for roasting and drizzling
2 flatbreads or pitas
500g plain yogurt
2 small garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp lemon juice
Handful of parsley, roughly chopped
Handful of pomegranate seeds
50g pine nuts, toasted
Salt, to taste
Heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas mark 4.
Cut the eggplants into quarters lengthwise, slice them into 1 inch chunks and place in a baking pan.
Pour over a generous helping of olive oil and a sprinkle with salt.
Roast in the oven for approximately 40 minutes or until the eggplant is soft.
Brush the bread with olive oil and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes until crispy. Then break it up into pieces.
In a bowl combine the yogurt, garlic and lemon juice.
Take the eggplant out of the oven and allow to cool. Place them in a shallow bowl then pour the yogurt mix on top.
When ready to serve, sprinkle with the crispy bread, parsley, pomegranate seeds and toasted pine nuts.
Spiced Fish (Samaka Harra)
6 garlic cloves, chopped
2 red chillies, finely chopped
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ cup/40g walnuts, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 whole fish, such as sea bream or snapper
1 bunch of fresh coriander, roughly chopped, including the stems
1 lemon, plus ½ lemon, sliced
Heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas mark 4. In a bowl, mix together the garlic, chilies, cumin, walnuts, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper.
Stuff the fish with this mixture, reserving two tablespoons for later, then add a handful of coriander, saving some to garnish.
Squeeze the whole lemon over both fish, with a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Let the fish marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Place the fish in a large baking pan with the remaining 2 tablespoons of stuffing on top and a couple of slices of lemon. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
Milk Pudding (Muhallabiyeh)
This is a very light dessert that is simple and can be prepared far in advance. Syrians say the name of this pudding comes from the Umayyad Prince of Damascus, Al Muhallab Ibn Abi Sufra. One day, the bored potentate ordered his servants to make him something different, a special pudding, and this is what they came up with using the only ingredients they had available – milk, sugar, starch and mastic. The pudding then became known as the ‘milk of the princes’, but commoners soon caught onto how simple it was to prepare and it became known amongst them as the ‘milk of the commons’. Today, people flavor the milk with a variety of spices, depending on each individual’s taste. This pudding has a smooth texture, with the nuts on top adding a crunch, which Syrians love.
1 quart/litre milk
1 cup/200g sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch/cornflour, mixed with water
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon rose-water or orange blossom water
2 tablespoons/20g pistachios, crushed
Rose petals, to decorate (optional)
In a saucepan, gently heat the milk and sugar over low heat, stirring regularly.
Just before it boils, add the cornstarch mix and stir constantly until it thickens, then add the vanilla and rose or orange blossom water.
Once it reaches a thick consistency, pour the mix into individual bowls or trifle glasses and let cool.
Once cool, put them in the refrigerator to set for at least 2 hours.
When ready to serve, sprinkle the tops of the pudding with the crushed pistachios and for extra color, rose petals.
Source: Syria: Recipes From Home by Itab Azzam and Dina Mousawi. Published by Trapeze.
This is the second post in the series Cooking the Mediterranean Countries. You can read the first post with this link.
Europe’s exploration of the world began in the 15th century and it was Portugal who pioneered what came to be known as the “Age of Discovery”. Portugal was the first to explore the Atlantic Ocean and the west coast of Africa and the first to colonize the Azores and other nearby islands. In 1488, Portuguese explorer, Bartholomew Dias, was the first to sail around the southern tip of Africa and in 1498 his countryman, Vasco da Gama, repeated the trip, making it as far as India. Portugal would establish ports as far west as Brazil, as far east as Japan and along the coasts of Africa, India and China. There were several reasons for the Portuguese to explore the world via the sea, but the overriding purpose was to discover a sea route around Africa to the east, with its rich promise of trade in valuable spices.
When Ancel Keys and his team of researchers studied and characterized the Mediterranean diet and compared it with the eating habits of most of the developed countries during that time period, they identified it as the “Diet of the Poor”. According to Portuguese gastronomist, Maria de Lourdes Modesto and Keys, Portugal was included in their observations and studies, and Keys considered Portugal to have a pure “Mediterranean” diet. However, Salazar, the leader of Portugal at the time, did not want the name of Portugal included in the “diet of the poor”.
While Portugal’s shores are technically not on the Mediterranean Sea, the country is considered to have a typical Mediterranean diet. The basics of the Portuguese diet include vegetables, fruit, good quality bread, unprocessed cereals, dried and fresh legumes (beans, chickpeas, broad beans, etc.), dried fruits and nuts (walnuts, almonds, chestnuts, raisins, etc.), olive oil as the main source of fat and seafood instead of red meat.
A Portuguese breakfast often consists of fresh bread, cheese or jam, accompanied with coffee, milk, tea or hot chocolate. A small espresso coffee (sometimes called a bica after the spout of the coffee machine) is a very popular breakfast beverage.
Lunch, often lasting over an hour, is served between noon and 2 o’clock or between 1 and 3 o’clock, and dinner is generally served late, around 8 o’clock in the evening. There are usually three main courses for lunch and dinner. Soup is usually the first course. A well-known Portuguese soup is caldo verde, which is made with potato, shredded cabbage and chunks of chouriço (a spicy Portuguese sausage) There are a wide variety of cheeses, usually made from the milk of sheep, goats or cows. The most famous are queijo da serra from the region of Serra da Estrela, Queijo São Jorge from the Portuguese island of São Jorge and Requeijão.
Portugal is a seafaring nation with a well-developed fishing industry and this is reflected in the amount of fish and seafood eaten. The country has Europe’s highest fish consumption per capita. Fish is served grilled, boiled, poached, simmered, fried, stewed (often in clay pot), roasted or steamed. Cod is almost always used dried and salted because the Portuguese fishing tradition in the North Atlantic was developed before the invention of refrigeration. Simpler fish dishes are often flavored with extra virgin olive oil and white wine vinegar.
Eating meat and poultry on a daily basis was historically a privilege of the upper classes and meat was not often on the Portuguese table. When meat is eaten it is often in a dish with other ingredients. A typical way Portuguese eat meat is in a dish is called cozido à portuguesa, which somewhat parallels the French pot au feu or the New England boiled dinner.
Typical desserts include arroz doce (rice pudding decorated with cinnamon) and caramel custard.
Some Traditional Portuguese Dishes
COZIDO A PORTUGUESA
Portuguese stew is the perfect example of the importance of using all the meat an animal can provide. This stew can include beef, pork, chicken and a variety of pork derivatives such as blood sausages and smoked pork parts.
The most traditional of Portuguese soups is simply: onions, potatoes and kale or cabbage, cooked with garlic and olive oil in a clay pot. This soup would normally be served with a slice of “linguica” ( smoked pork sausage) and cornbread (broa).
BOLINHOS DE BACALHAU
These codfish fritters can be eaten as a starter or snack or along with rice and salad as a main dish. The fritters are made of shredded codfish, potatoes, eggs and parsley and cooked until crispy.
ALHEIRA DE MIRANDELA
Alheira is a type of Portuguese sausage made from meats that may include veal, chicken, duck and rabbit, compacted together with bread. If you have “alheira de caça” it means that it will only have game meat. This unusual sausage was created by the Jewish residents in Portugal when they were forced to convert to Christianity. Their religion wouldn’t allow them to eat pork but by preparing this sausage looking dish, they could easily fool others. The dish has become traditional throughout Portugal.
Charcoal-grilled sardines are the most typical dish served in Lisbon. You can eat it in restaurants or from a street vendor during the Santo António festivities in June. They are most often served on top of a slice of cornbread, or with a roasted pepper salad or boiled vegetables.
Cook Portuguese Style Recipes At Home
Caldeirada (Portuguese Fish Stew)
2 onions, sliced
2 tomatoes, sliced
1 bell pepper, sliced (red or green)
1 bunch fresh parsley
1 laurel leaf (bay leaf)
2 lbs (1 kg) fish ( chose from various kinds, mackerel, swordfish, tuna, skate, sea bass, monkfish, hake, haddock, etc.)
6 large potatoes, sliced
4-5 saffron threads
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup olive oil
In a large pot put layers of onions, tomatoes, fish, peppers and potatoes.
Continue to make layers until all the ingredients are used. Place the parsley, laurel leaf, saffron and salt on top.
Add the wine, water and olive oil.
Bring to a simmer over low heat and cook for about 45 minutes. Shake the pan once in a while.
DO NOT STIR, just shake the pan.
Clams With Chouriço (Portuguese Sausage)
3 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed
7 ounces chouriço sausage, sliced
1 sliced leeks or onion
1 chili pepper, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup white wine
2 plum tomatoes, diced
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Lemon slice, for garnish
In a large pan heat the oil and fry the chouriço until lightly browned.
Add the leeks, chili, bay leaf and garlic and saute for 3 minutes.
Add the wine, diced tomatoes and bay leaf and bring to a boil.
Add the clams cover the pan and steam for 5 minutes until all the clams are opened.
Throw out any that do not open. Garnish with lemons and parsley.
Serve with bread to soak up the juices.
Portuguese Cornbread (Broa)
1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 cups boiling water
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 (1/4 ounce) packages dry yeast
1 ½ – 2 cups bread flour
Grind cornmeal to a powder in a food processor. You may skip this step, but the bread will not be as smooth.
Mix 1 cup of powdered cornmeal, salt and water until smooth.
Add olive oil and cool to lukewarm.
Blend in the yeast. Gradually add the remaining cornmeal and 1 1/2 cups of bread flour, mixing constantly.
Add more flour if the dough is still sticky. Knead until firm.
Let rise in a greased bowl until double in volume.
Shape into round loaf and let rise until double.
Bake at 350 degree Fs for about 30 to 40 minutes.
Grilled Red Snapper with Parsley Sauce
1 whole red snapper (2.2 lb or 1 kg), cleaned, trimmed
2 garlic cloves, mince
Juice of ½ lemon
Sea or coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup (125 mL) extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp (30 mL) red wine vinegar
4 tbsp (60 mL) minced red onion
½ cup (125 mL) chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsp (30 mL) capers
1 garlic clove, chopped
Preheat a barbecue or broiler until hot.
Make the parsley sauce in a bowl by whisking together the oil, vinegar, onion, parsley, capers and garlic. Set aside.
Season the fish with garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper and brush or drizzle with oil.
Grill or broil the fish for five minutes on each side. Transfer to a heated platter, spread with parsley sauce and serve.
Portuguese Rice Pudding, Arroz Doce
2 1/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
Peel of one lemon cut into long strips (avoid as much of the white pith as possible)
1 cup short-grain rice (arborio is a good choice)
2 cups hot milk (you can substitute some of this with cream, if you like, for a richer consistency and flavor)
Ground cinnamon to sprinkle on top
Place the water, salt and lemon peel into a medium pan and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat to low and allow the water to simmer with a lid on for about 15 minutes.
Remove the lemon peel from the water with a slotted spoon and discard.
Add the rice to the water and bring it back up to a boil.
Then reduce it to a simmer and allow the rice to absorb all of the water (about 10 minutes).
Slowly add the hot milk, about 1/2 cup at a time, to the rice mixture. After each addition, allow the liquid to be absorbed before adding the next batch of milk.
Stir frequently and keep the heat at low, so that the rice does not burn at the bottom of the pan. This should take about 25 to 30 minutes.
Pour the rice into a serving dish. Sprinkle the top with the cinnamon.
Chill before serving.