Lebanese Flavored Brown Rice with Chickpeas and Vermicelli

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This is a recipe that is not unlike moudardara, I suppose, and it is a good example of how a recipe is basically a thought or an idea and not necessarily a blueprint or carved in stone. Anyhow, this is really delicious and easy to make, and it’s also a one-pot recipe so cleanup is easy. This can be eaten as a side dish or a main. It’s also delicious with a fried egg on it. To make it vegetarian simply replace the chicken broth with vegetable broth.

Lebanese Flavored Brown Rice with Chickpeas and Vermicelli

Makes about 4 servings

3 tablespoons cup olive oil

1 small onion, diced

2 ounces vermicelli, broken into 1-inch pieces

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon allspice

¾ cup brown rice

½ teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups hot chicken broth

1 (15 oz.) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Heat the oil in a heavy pot over medium-high heat and add the onions. Cook the onions—while stirring—for about 10 minutes, or until they begin to brown. Add the vermicelli to the onions and continue to cook until the pasta begins to change color as well. Add the garlic and cook it for a minute or so, then stir in the turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, and allspice; cook for a few seconds, then stir in the rice, salt, and broth. Bring the liquid to a boil then lower it to a simmer. Stir the rice once, then cover the pot. Simmer the rice for about 30 minutes then add the chickpeas without stirring. Re-cover the pot and cook the rice another 5 minutes minutes. Check the rice, if it is still hard and needs additional liquid and another ½ cup broth or water. Cook the rice 5 more minutes, then remove the pot from the heat and allow it to rest for 5 minutes. Just before serving, gently stir in the chickpeas and fluff the rice.

Urban Simplicity.

Rice with Fish and Other Good Things…

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Okay. So this is good. Really good. Delicious, if I do say so. It’s also relatively easy to make. And of course this recipe–like most that I post here–is not carved in stone. It’s intended to be more of a guide. Interchange, add, or delete ingredients or seasonings that you like, don’t like, or happen to have on hand. It’s more of an idea of how to make a really delicious one-pot meal. Anyhow, if you like fish, try this. You wont be sorry. Did I mention it was delicious?



Tilapia and Brown Rice with Asparagus, Black Beans, Hot Pepper, Lemon, and Saffron


Serves 4

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, diced

1 small carrot, diced

2 ribs celery, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon crushed hot pepper

1 pinch saffron threads

1 cup brown rice

2 ½ cups simmering chicken broth

½ cup lemon juice

½ teaspoon sea salt

1 (15oz can) black beans, drained and rinsed

1 ½ pounds tilapia, diced

1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot over medium-high heat, then add the onion, carrot, and celery. Cook the vegetables for a couple minutes while stirring, then add the garlic and cook another minute or so. Stir in the hot pepper and saffron, cook for a minute, then add the rice. Stir the rice to coat it with the oil and seasonings, then stir in the simmering broth, lemon juice, and sea salt. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid, and simmer the rice untouched for about 30 minutes. After thirty minutes check the rice. It should be nearly done. If it is not add additional broth. Then layer the beans, tilapia, and asparagus on top of the rice without stirring and re-cover the pot. Cook the rice for another ten minutes and remove from the heat. Allow the pot to sit for five minutes. Gently fold the beans, asparagus, and fish into the rice just before serving.

Urban Simplicity.

Seven is the lucky number…

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This is one of my favorite loaves of bread and it is so easy to make. The beauty of it is that it only has seven ingredients, and–unlike most supermarket breads–all of the ingredients are easily recognizable and understandable. If you want to get real bare-bones you can pare this recipe down to just four ingredients (click here for that recipe) but with the addition of honey, olive oil, and gluten the yield is much more to my–and likely your–liking. Anyhow, the easy and delicious recipe is below.

100% Whole Wheat Bread

Makes 2 loaves


6 cups whole wheat flour, divided


2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten


3 cups water, divided


4 teaspoons instant yeast, divided


2 teaspoons kosher salt


1/4 cup olive oil


1/4 cup honey



Separate the ingredients in two bowls using this ratio: In one bowl combine 4 cups of flour, the vital wheat gluten, and 2 cups of water. Stir it just until combined; cover with plastic wrap and set aside. In a second bowl, combine the remaining 2 cups flour and 1 cup water and 2 teaspoons of yeast. Stir it just until combined; cover with plastic wrap and set aside. Allow the bowls to rest for at least an hour. After the ingredients have rested and have begun to ferment, combine the contents of both bowls to an upright mixer that is fitted with a dough hook. Also add the remaining ingredients: the salt, olive oil, honey, and remaining two teaspoons yeast. Knead the dough on medium speed for about 8 minutes, then cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for one hour. Transfer the dough to a work surface, cut it into two pieces, gently shape it into loaves, and place them either on a baking sheet or in loaf pans. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 45 minutes. Preheat an oven to 425F/218C. If making free-form loaves, slash them with a razor just before they go into the oven. Bake the bread for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on. As the bread bakes rotate the loaves in the oven once or twice to ensure even baking. Remove the bread from their pans and allow to cool for 10 minutes before slicing.


Urban Simplicity.

A well educated beet…

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This is a really simple recipe that is really bursting with flavor…it’s basically a sweet-and-sour vegetable recipe. The beets, after being peeled and sliced or diced, are cooked in a water-vinegar-sugar solution, and then the liquid is thickened with cornstarch. There’s a couple interesting theories on the name of this recipe. One is that it was a common New England recipe and that the deep crimson color of the dish resembled the color of the jerseys of the Harvard football teem.Another is that it is a dish that was served by a Russian immigrant in his tavern outside Boston during the mid-1800’s. The name of his tavern was Harwood’s, and this recipe was so popular that they became known as Harwood’s beets, but with his thick accent they may have come across as sounding like Harvard Beets. Whatever the story, they are easy to prepare, nutritious, and delicious. The basic recipe is below.

Harvard Beets

Peel as many beets as you’d like to prepare, then slice or dice them. Place the beets in a pot with just enough cold water to cover them. Bring the liquid to a boil then lower it to a simmer. Add a small amount of sugar and vinegar to the pot along with a pinch of salt. Taste the liquid and adjust the sweet/sour flavor to your liking. Simmer the beets for 15 minutes or so, or until they are soft. In a small bowl, dilute a small amount of cornstarch in cold water, then stir it into the simmering beets. The liquid should thicken shortly after the starch has been added. If too thin, ad additional starch; if too thick, dilute with more water/vinegar. Simmer the beets another couple of minutes and taste/adjust seasoning as necessary.

Nearly Night (Fastnacht Kuecheles…recipe and lore)

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For the first time since starting this blog some six or seven years ago (or is it eight?) I am re-posting a post in its entirety (which was originally posted two years ago). I post this recipe (my late mother’s recipe) every year but often too late…as these delectable doughnuts are traditionally made the day before Lent. I’ll make them on Shrove Tuesday but by the time I post the recipe it is too late if you want to stay within tradition. Nonetheless, they are delicious any time of the year, and I feel this post is still relevant, so here it is…

This is a recipe that I post every year just before Lent. I usually post it on Shrove Tuesday–the traditional day these doughnuts are eaten–but thought I’d post it a day earlier in the event anyone would like to make them (and I hope you do). I was lucky enough to be brought up with food traditions on both sides of my family. I had mentioned in an earlier post that I was Lebanese-American on my father’s side, well my mother’s side of the family is of German-French ancestry. The recipe below I received from one of my sisters, who learned it from our mother, who learned it from our grandmother, and so on.. The name of these doughnuts in German is fastnacht kuecheles and they are very similar to the French or New Orleans biegnet. They are traditionally eaten the day before Lent as a (now mostly symbolic) act of using up all the rich, luxurious, and fatty foods before spending the next 40 days in introspection (living lean). The names of the day may change from one tradition to another but they all basically mean the same thing. The English name is Shrove Tuesday…shrove is the past tense of shrive, loosely meaning to offer confession or penance. In French, Mardi Gras translates literally as Fat Tuesday…the last of the “fatty stuff” for 40 days. And Carnival, translates loosely as “farewell to meat,” or “farewell to flesh,” meaning goodbye to meat and/or carnal pleasures for a while. What I find interesting is something new I learned about the German version of these doughnuts, not so much the recipe itself but its etymology. I have been fascinated with languages my entire life but know almost nothing (fast nichts) about German. Anyhow, I always thought that the word for these doughnuts–fastnachts–meant fast night, or the night before the fast…Lent. And this still may be true. But when I did some electronic translating and broke the phrase into two words–fast nacht--I’ve come to see that it translates literally as almost night, likely making reference to the somber darkness that shrouds the next 40 days of the Christian Calendar. Unrelated but still related to this recipe, the word kuecheles, is likely a variation of küchle, meaning fritter. Anyhow, these are very simple to make and super-delicious. The one thing that’s not shown in the photos but is included in the recipes (and is the best part) is that they are tossed in powdered sugar while still warm. And I can still hear my mother’s voice from when I was a boy and tossing the kuecheles with eager anticipation (just as I do today)…”Joey,” she would yell while standing in front of her frying pan, “You’re getting sugar everywhere.” And I likely was.

Fastnacht Kuecheles

Makes about 3 dozen

1 cup water (room temperature)

1 cup milk (room temperature)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

4 tablespoons yeast

6-7 cups all-purpose flour, divided

3 large eggs

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

1 teaspoon salt

powdered sugar

Combine the water, milk, sugar, yeast, and two cups of flour in a large bowl. Allow to rest for 1 hour, or until the yeast is fully active. Transfer to an upright mixing bowl with a dough hook. Add the eggs, melted butter, salt, and 4 cups of flour. Run the mixer on low for 1 minute (if the dough seems too sticky add the remaining cup flour) then turn to medium and knead for 5 minutes. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rest at room temperature for about an hour, or until double in size. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and cut into three pieces. Shape into balls, cover, and let rest 20 minutes. Roll into large circles about 1/4 inch thick, then cut the dough into diamonds 2-4 inches wide. Cover the diamonds with a cloth and let rest 10 minutes. Preheat a couple inches of vegetable oil to 350F in a heavy skillet. Carefully fry the fastnachts in batches, cooking them for a couple minutes on each side until they are puffed and golden-brown; drain on absorbent paper. Allow them to cool for a few minutes, then toss a few at a time in a paper bag with confectionery sugar.

Urban Simplicity

Taboulé d’hiver

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Okay, so yup…this is as refreshingly delicious as it looks. Sometimes I need the brightness of summer in the middle of winter. Anyhow, this is a variation of traditional tabbouleh recipe but with more heartier ingredients…mainly lentils and turmeric-poached potato; tomatoes were omitted because of the season and I opted for canned roast peppers for the same reason. Anyhow, this is really easy to make and super delicious and healthy (and if you close your eyes while eating you might just remember summer).

Taboulé d’hiver

(Winter Tabbouleh)

Makes about 3 quarts

1 cup lentils (about 8 ounces)

1/2 cup bulgur wheat

2 potatoes, peeled and diced

1 teaspoon turmeric

4 bunches flat-leaf parsley, washed and chopped

2 bunches mint, washed and chopped

1 can (28 oz) roasted red peppers, rinsed and diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 small red onion, diced

2 teaspoons sea salt

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 lemon juice

Cook the lentils in boiling water, drain them, and set aside to cool. Soak the bulgur in warm water for for about 30 minutes to soften it, then squeeze it dry and set aside. Cook the potatoes in boiling water with the teaspoon of turmeric, then drain them and set aside to cool. Once the previously mentioned ingredients are cooked, drained, and cooled, combine them—along with the remaining ingredients—in a large bowl. Using two spoons gently toss the ingredients to combine.

Urban Simplicity.

Spicy, Baked, and Cheesy (Yum!)

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So here is another recipe that is super easy to make but bursting with flavor. It’s really just a sort of Mediterranean-style macaroni-and-cheese. The key flavor techniques are browning the vegetables (making a sort of sofrito), reducing the chicken broth for concentrated flavor, and allowing the pasta to finish cooking in the sauce so it absorbs flavor as well. If you want to make this vegetarian you can replace the chicken broth with vegetable broth. This makes a great main course or side dish. Anyhow, here’s the recipe in words and pictures.

Spicy Baked Whole-Wheat Macaroni with Caramelized Vegetables, Sun Dried Tomatoes, and Two Cheeses

Makes two large portions or four side dishes.

1 cup whole-wheat macaroni (about 4 ounces)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, diced

1 small carrot, diced

½ green bell pepper, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

½ teaspoon crushed hot pepper

8 sun dried tomatoes, diced (about ½ cup)

1½ cups chicken broth

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

½ cup shredded white cheddar cheese (about 2 ounces)

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces)

Preheat an oven to 425F.

Cook the pasta al dente in a pot of salted water, then drain it and set it aside.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, then add the onion, carrot, and bell pepper. Cook the vegetables, while stirring or tossing, for about 5 minutes, or until they begin to brown.

Add the garlic and cook for another minute, then stir in the hot pepper and sun dried tomatoes; cook for another minuter or two.

Stir in the chicken broth and salt, bring it to a boil, then lower it to a simmer.

Cook the sauce for about 5 minutes, or until it has reduced by about half.

Add the cooked pasta to the skillet and cook it in the sauce for a couple minutes while gently folding it with a spoon to allow flavors to absorb. Fold half of the cheddar and Parmesan into the pasta and sprinkle the remainder over the top. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake for about 10 minutes, or until the top is crispy and lightly browned.

Vegetable Broth!

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I’ve been experimenting with vegetable broth recipes for a while now, for days when I choose to not eat meat, which has been becoming more and more frequent. This is not meant to be a vegetarian substitute or imitation of a meat-based broth because nothing can substitute the richness of a well made chicken or beef broth. But it is meant to be a replacement, and a really delicious one at that. The key to it’s full flavor is using a lot of vegetables in relation to water, slow simmering, and also the cooking and browning of the onions and carrots which brings out their natural sweetness.

And when making traditional—or should I say animal based—broths, which are usually made with bones and unusable scraps, when the broth is strained the solids are most often discarded. But in the case of this vegetable broth this would seem a waste on many levels. The remaining solids can be added to a soup, pasta dish, mashed and eaten as a side dish, or mashed and mixed with a bit of flour and a few eggs for burgers or patties (or even mixed into your dog’s food). There really are plenty of options. And the finished broth can then, of course, be used in any recipe that calls for stock or broth. Anyhow, I hope you enjoy this as it is simple to make and really flavorful. The recipe can be multiplied or divided, and the finished broth can be portioned and frozen as well.

Vegetable Broth 

Makes 3-4 quarts

4 tablespoons olive oil

4 medium onions, peeled and diced

4 medium carrots, peeled and diced

6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

1 small head celery, diced

8 plum tomatoes, quartered

24 medium mushrooms, sliced

4 quarts cold water

2 teaspoons sea salt

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a sauce pan, then add the onions and carrots. Saute the onions and carrots for about 5 minutes, or until the begin to brown, then add the garlic and cook them for another minute or two. Then add the celery, tomatoes, and mushrooms; stir to combine. Then stir in the cold water, along with the sea salt, bay leaves, and peppercorns. Bring the broth to a boil, then lower the heat to a slow simmer. Simmer the broth—without stirring—for 1-to-2 hours. Strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer, pressing the vegetables with a ladle or the back of a large spoon to extract as much broth as possible. Discard the solids or incorporate them into another recipe.


Urban Simplicity.

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