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Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Crushed Hot Pepper, Sumac, and Chives

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Okay, so a couple things about this recipe. One is that it is so simple and delicious you’ll wonder why you haven’t made these before (and over and over), and the other thing is that you’d better make more than the recipe calls for because they will disappear quickly. On a technical note, don’t be dismayed by a couple of the ingredients. The seasoning listed as “magic seasoning” is simply granulated onion, garlic, black pepper, and salt (the recipe can be found here). As for the sumac it does add a truly interestingly tart flavor; it can be purchased online or at some of the larger supermarkets. If, though, you are unable to procure sumac simply do without. As with all my recipes this is a suggestion and not a blueprint carved in stone.

Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Crushed Hot Pepper, Sumac, and Chives

 

½ pound quarter sized potatoes

3 tablespoons olive oil

½ teaspoon magic seasoning

½ teaspoon sumac

½ teaspoon crushed hot pepper

1 tablespoon minced chives

Place the potatoes in a small pot and boil them for 10 minutes, or until the are cooked but not mushy. Train them and allow to cool for a few minutes, then gently press them (“smash” them) with your fingers or the palm of your hand. Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet large enough to hold the potatoes. When the oil is hot add the potatoes; they should sizzle when placed in the pan. Cook them for a few minutes, then sprinkle with the magic seasoning, sumac, and crushed hot pepper. Turn the potatoes over then season them again. Cook the potatoes for 5-10 minutes, or until crispy. Sprinkle the chives in the pan, shake the pan to coat the potatoes, the remove the pan from the heat. These are delicious, hot, at room temperature, and also chilled.

Fasoulia!

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So a couple things. One is that I haven’t posted in more that a month, one of the longest stretches since starting this blog. My apologies; it has been a hot and busy summer. Thus said, here’s a very simple but really delicious and nutritious recipe for a Lebanese-style bean stew. This normally does not have greens in it, I added kale simple because I like it.

It seems like every culture has some sort of rice and beans recipe in their repertoire, the Middle East is no different. This recipe is often eaten for breakfast (I am told) with a fried egg on top, not unlike Mexican huevos rancheros, I suppose. Tonight I ate this for dinner over basmati rice. Lastly, two words of interest here. The word fasoulia is simply the Arabic word for beans, and the word baharat, means spices. If you do not have or do not feel like making baharat, use what you like or have, and the beans can be interchanged to your liking as well. Enjoy.

Fasoulia
(Lebanese Spicy Bean Ragoût)

Serves 3-6

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon baharat (7-spice mix), see below
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon crushed hot pepper
2 (15 oz) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 cup vegetable broth
5 ounces baby kale, washed

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a heavy pot, then add the onion. Cook the onion while stirring for about 5 minutes or until it begins to brown. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two while stirring. Stir in the baharat, soked paprika, and crushed hot pepper; cook for just a minute while stirring. Add the beans, tomatoes, broth, lemon juice, salt, and kale. Bring to a boil then lower the heat to a very low simmer. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Baharat
Lebanese Seven Spice Mix


Makes about ¼ cup

1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger

Mix the spices together and store in an airtight container, or use as needed.

Maghmour v2 (Smokey and spicy eggplant and chickpea stew)

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 “If my cuisine were to be defined by just one taste, it would be that of subtle, aromatic, extra-virgin olive oil.”
~Alain Ducasse

So I’ve posted another version of this recipe a while back, but this one is more adapted to the summer months using fresh tomatoes instead of canned. This version is also a bit smokier and spicier (I increased the amount of smoked paprika and chili flakes). Anyhow, this is a really delicious and nutritious, but simple-to-prepare, vegetable stew. Eat it on its own, with bread, or over rice, it is delicious and filling (I had it for dinner over turmeric-infused basmati rice). Make a double batch because it tastes better the second day. For additional Lebanese inspired recipes, click here. The simple recipe is below.


Maghmour v2
(Lebanese Eggplant and Chickpea Stew)

Serves 4-6

¼ cup olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 small bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium eggplant, diced
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoons crushed hot pepper
1 teaspoons whole cumin seed
1 cup water
4 cups diced tomatoes (about 4 medium tomatoes)
1 (15oz. can) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 small bunch mint, chopped (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot over medium-high heat and add the onion and bell pepper. Cook for a few minutes while stirring, until the onion just begins to brown.

Add the garlic and the diced eggplant. Initially the eggplant will absorb the oil and begin to stick to the pan, it is for this reason you should stir nearly continuously for a couple minutes.

Once the eggplant softens, begins to brown, and releases the oil, add the smoked paprika, salt, hot pepper, and cumin seed. Cook the spices for a minute or two.

Stir in the water, tomatoes, and chick peas, and lemon. Bring the stew to a boil, then lower to a slow simmer. If it is too thick add additional water. Simmer the stew for about 30 minutes.

Stir in the mint and remove the stew from the heat. This can be eaten hot, room temperature, or even chilled in the summer months.

Urban Simplicity.

Shorbat Addis! (Syrian-Lebanese Red Lentil Soup)

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So I’ve posted this recipe (or variations of it) a few times in the past but not in quite some time, so I thought I’d re-post. It is so easy to make, really delicious, and nutritious, too. And it’ll make your house smell delicious as it simmers. This recipe makes 2 quarts, but it tastes better the 2nd or 3rd day and it freezes well also. The recipe I use contains chicken broth, but it is just as delicious when made vegan/vegetarian using vegetable broth as a substitute. A bowl of this soup along with a piece of bread and maybe a piece of fruit is complete and filling meal. If you enjoy soup, I hope you make this. You won’t be sorry.

For additional Lebanese inspired recipes, click here.

Red Lentil Soup with Spinach

Makes about 2 quarts

4 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons whole cumin seed

2 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon crushed hot pepper

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 (15 oz. Can) diced tomatoes

2 cups red lentils

8 cups chicken broth

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

4 cups (4-6 ounces) fresh spinach, chopped

¼ cup lemon juice

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper; saute slowly until caramelized. Add the garlic, cumin, turmeric, hot pepper, and salt; cook another minute or two. Add the tomatoes, and cook them until the juice reduces and everything forms a sort of paste. Add the lentils and broth; bring to a boil then lower it to a simmer. Cook the soup for about 30 minutes, then add the potatoes and simmer another 30 minutes or until the soup thickens and the lentils become very soft. Stir in the spinach and cook another 5 minutes. If it becomes too thick, add additional broth or a little water. Stir in the lemon juice and remove from the soup from the heat.

Maghmour!

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So before I begin discussing this recipe I have to mention my usual mantra that is common to most of the recipes which are posted on this blog…this is so delicious but also nutritious and incredibly simple to prepare. Also, this is simply a suggestion, not a blueprint. Meaning add or delete ingredients and seasonings as you like. It is, after all, your food.

That said, this is a Lebanese eggplant and chickpea stew. Some refer to this as a Lebanese version of moussaka but personally I don’t see the connection. This recipe is sort of large but it is one of those foods, like soup, that actually tastes better the second day. What I really like about this recipe–besides everything–is that the eggplant melts into the sauce giving it a sort silken quality. In this recipe I used canned tomatoes but in the summertime I would likely use fresh. This is also a chameleon of a recipe in that not only can it be eaten as an appetizer (on toast points or with flat bead), as a side dish or part of mezze table, but also as a main course over rice or with a fried egg on it (as I ate it the other night). 

For additional Lebanese-inspired recipes, click here


Maghmour
(Lebanese Eggplant and Chickpea Stew)

Serves 6-8

¼ cup olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 small bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium eggplant, diced
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons crushed hot pepper
2 teaspoons whole cumin seed
1 cup water
1 (28oz. can) crushed tomatoes
2 (15oz. cans) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 small bunch mint, chopped

Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot over medium-high heat and add the onion and bell pepper. Cook for a few minutes while stirring, until the onion just begins to brown.

Add the garlic and the diced eggplant. Initially the eggplant will absorb the oil and begin to stick to the pan, it is for this reason you should stir nearly continuously for a couple minutes.

Once the eggplant softens, begins to brown, and releases the oil, add the smoked paprika, salt, hot pepper, and cumin seed. Cook the spices for a minute or two.

Stir in the water, tomatoes, and chick peas. Bring the stew to a boil, then lower to a slow simmer. If it is too thick add additional water. Simmer the stew for 15-20 minutes.

Stir in the mint and remove the stew from the heat. This can be eaten hot, room temperature, or even chilled in the summer months.

Urban Simplicity.

Spicy Kibbet Batata with Broccoli (yum!)

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Ok, so first of all…these tasty little nuggets are addictingly delicious. The recipe may look like a lot of steps at first glance but this is really easy to prepare. This is, of course, a vegetarian version of the famous Lebanese dish, kibbeh. I have posted other versions or variations of this recipe here, and also variations of kibbeh here. And yes, before you ask, these can be baked rather than pan-fried, but they wouldn’t be as crispy-crunchy. They are delicious as is, dipped in yogurt, over rice, or as I ate them, over a salad. The dough can be made and cooked when you need it. These really are simple to make, bursting with flavor, and nutritious as well. For additional Lebanese-inspired recipes, click here.

Spicy Kibbet Batata with Broccoli

Makes a couple dozen patties

2 potatoes, peeled and diced

1 onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced

1 head broccoli, chopped

1 bunch parsley, washed and chopped

1 bunch cilantro, washed and chopped

1 cup bulgur wheat

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon whole cumin seed

1 teaspoon whole coriander seed

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon crushed hot pepper

2 teaspoons kosher salt

½ cup whole wheat flour

oil for pan-frying

Boil the potatoes until soft, then drain them and set aside.

Combine the onion, garlic, and jalapeno in a food processor and process until finely minced, then set aside.

Combine the parsley and cilantro in a food processor and process until minced, then set aside.

Place the chopped broccoli in a food processor and process until finely minced, then set aside.

While the potatoes are still warm, combine them with the bulgur wheat in a bowl and mash and stir them until thoroughly mixed, cover the bowl and let rest while preparing the rest of the ingredients.

 

 

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or shallow pot, then add the onion, garlic, jalapeno mixture; cook until it just begins to brown. Add the cumin, coriander, turmeric, hot pepper, and salt. Cook the spices for just a minute, then add the broccoli. Cook the broccoli, while stirring, for a few minutes, until it is softened. Add the spiced broccoli mixture to the bowl with the potatoes and bulgur; mix to combine. Add the parsley and cilantro; mix to combine. Then add the flour and mix that in as well. All the mixture to rest for about 20 minutes.

After the resting period, knead the dough for just a minute, then shape into small patties (if the mixture is too loose add additional flour; if it is too crumbly add a small amount of water). Heat about 1/8th inch oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the patties in batches on both sides until golden brown and cooked throughout.

 

 

Urban Simplicity.

Spicy Sweet Potato Hummus with Caramelized Vegetables…

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Firstly, and you may already know this, but I didn’t list the ingredient, chickpea, in the title of this recipe because it is actually already listed…the word hummus is the Arabic word for chickpea. Anyhow, I’ll say my recipe mantra again…this recipe is so easy and delicious you’ll wonder why you haven’t made it before (but maybe you have). The sweet potatoes offer not only a bit of sweetness to the recipe but also a certain creaminess. I also topped this with a good dollop of plain yogurt, and vegetables (onion, squash, sliced Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and a bit more garlic) which I caramelized in olive oil in a hot skillet. And rather than using proper utensils, I went slightly feral and used sliced and toasted whole wheat bread (click here for whole wheat bread recipes). Anyhow, and just to be a bit redundant, this recipe is really easy to make, packed full of nutrients, and super-delicious.

Spicy Sweet Potato Hummus

Makes about 3 cups

2 medium sweet potatoes (about 1 pound)

1 can (15 oz.) chickpeas, rinsed

6 tablespoons tahini

4 cloves garlic

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon sea salt

4 tablespoons cup lemon juice

6 tablespoons cup water

4 tablespoons Frank’s hot sauce

Preheat an oven to 325F. Using the tip of a sharp knife, pierce the sweet potatoes a few time, then place them on a baking sheet. Bake the sweet potatoes for about an hour, or until very soft. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool. When they are cool enough to handle, peel and dice them. Place the cooked and diced sweet potato, along with all of the remaining ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. If the hummus is too thick add additional water or lemon.


Urban Simplicity.

Red Lentil Soup with Potato and Spinach…

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I’ve posted a recipe for this before (a few times no doubt) but each time is slightly different. This soup is so easy to make but at the same time bursting with flavor and super-nutritious. What’s different about this version is I used a sort of slow-cooked sofrito to bring out the flavors of the vegetables and spices. And a sofrito is really as simple as that…cooking vegetables and spices very slowly until they caramelize, the liquid evaporates, and the result is an intense flavorful paste. Anyhow, here it is…

Red Lentil Soup with Spinach

Makes about 2 quarts

4 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons whole cumin seed

2 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon crushed hot pepper

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 (15 oz. Can) diced tomatoes

2 cups red lentils

8 cups chicken broth

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

4 cups (4-6 ounces) fresh spinach, chopped

¼ cup lemon juice

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper; saute slowly until caramelized. Add the garlic, cumin, turmeric, hot pepper, and salt; cook another minute or two. Add the tomatoes, and cook them until the juice reduces and everything forms a sort of paste.

Add the lentils and broth; bring to a boil then lower it to a simmer. Cook the soup for about 30 minutes, then add the potatoes and simmer another 30 minutes or until the soup thickens and the lentils become very soft. Stir in the spinach and cook another 5 minutes. If it becomes too thick, add additional broth or a little water. Stir in the lemon juice and remove from the soup from the heat.

Urban Simplicity.

Falafel!

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I’ve posted variations of falafel various times on this blog (click here to see them), but they all empoyed the use of cooked chickpeas in the recipe. I’ve seen recipes making this recipe where the chickpeas are not previously cooked, but simply soaked. And I’ve watched my friend Emad, who is from Bagdad, make this version. What’s different about this version and Emad’s is that he seasons in the Iraqi fashion with ground star anise, whereas I used the Lebanese spice mix known simply as “seven-spice,” or baharat in Arabic. what I like about making this with the chickpeas simply soaked rather than pre-cooked, is how crunchy they are. The recipes for baharat, along with taratoor (lemony tahini sauce), are both listed at the bottom of this page. If you do not have the seven spices, or don’t have the initiative to make it, simply substitute with 1/2 teaspoon cumin and a 1/2 teaspoon allspice. Also, while I made my son a traditional falafel sandwich in rolled flatbread for lunch, I ate mine on a salad…sliced summer tomato, avocado, sliced raw onion, feta cheese, and drizzled with taratoor, hot sauce, and virgin olive oil (yum!). Anyhow, the easy and super-crunchy recipe and pics are below. If you’ve ever wanted to make restaurant or food-truck quality falafel in your home kitchen, this is it. To see other Lebanese-inspired recipes, click here.

Falafel 

Makes about 2 dozen small patties

1 cup dried chickpeas

3 cups water

½ small onion, diced

½ bunch Italian parsley, washed and chopped

½ bunch cilantro, washed and chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon crushed hot pepper

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon Lebanese-style baharat mix

½ teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon baking powder

4 tablespoons whole wheat flour

vegetable oil for pan-frying

Combine the chickpeas and water together in a bowl overnight and leave them at room-temperature to reconstitute. 

  Drain the chickpeas, discarding the water, and combine them with the onion, parsley, cilantro, garlic, hot pepper, salt, baharat, turmeric, and baking powder. Mix thoroughly.

Transfer the ingredients to a food processor (in batches if necessary) and process until a mealy consistency. Return the falafel mix to a bowl and mix in the flour by hand. Cover and refrigerate for about ½ hour.

 

Shape into patties, preheat about a half-inch of oil in a skillet, and pan-fry (in batches) on both sides until golden and cooked through. Transfer to absorbent paper and serve with Taratoor sauce.

Lebanese Seven Spice Mix 

Makes about 4 tablespoons

1 tablespoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon ground allspice

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Mix the spices together and store in an airtight container, or use as needed.

Taratoor 

Makes about 1 cup.

1 cup tahini ¼ cup fresh lemon juice ¾ cup cold water 2 cloves garlic, minced ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper ¼ teaspoon sea salt. Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl and whisk until smooth. If too thick or too thin, adjust the consistency with water or tahini.

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Employee Meal 4.27.15

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One of the great things about being a chef is not only being able to cook for others but also for one’s self. And on slower days–such as today–I do just that, so today I served food that I like to eat. There was salad, of course, and (labneh) thick yogurt, but also moudardara (rice and lentils), and kabees el lift (pickled turnip colored with beet). Yum.

If you would like to make your own yogurt, click here for a recipe.

For the moudardara recipe, click here.

And for the fermented turnip pickles, click here.


Urban Simplicity.

Lebanese-Style Pickled Turnips…

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A few turnips, a beet, some water, and a little salt. That’s it. That’s all you need for this really healthy and bursting-with-flavor recipe. The classic recipe (below) also includes a hot pepper and possible some onion, but I didn’t want that in this one…I wanted the brightness of the vegetable itself. 


It’s interesting in that as I was slicing the beets and turnip I was listening to The Splendid Table with Lynne Rossetto Kasper and one of her guests today was Maureen Abood, the Lebanese-American author discussing her new book of Lebanese food (it’s also on my personal book list). Serendipity, I suppose.


Anyhow, the image above is of the vegetables just added to the saltwater brine; they are not fermented yet. They were just added to the crock, and with warmer temps they should only take about a week to ferment. The single beet will color everything a lovely magenta; I’ll post a pic of the finished recipe. 

Anyhow, if you would like more Lebanese-inspired recipes, click here; for more recipes that are fermented, click here; and if you would like to read an article on fermentation, click here.

Lebanese-Style Pickled Turnips

8 turnips, peeled and sliced

1 beet, peeled and sliced

1 small onion, peeled and sliced

2 jalapenos, peeled and sliced

4 cups water

2 tablespoon kosher salt

Combine the turnips, beets, onions, and jalapeno in a container that is wide enough to fit a few small plates. Press down on the vegetables with your hands to release some of their juices. Combine the water and salt in a bowl and pour over the vegetables. Weight the vegetables with plates; they should be completely covered in salt water. Cover and leave at room temperature. Small bubbles will appear within 2 or 3 days, after about a week or so it will begin to smell and taste distinctively sour. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen the turnip will take between one and three weeks to sour completely. Taste it as often as you like and when the flavor is to your liking transfer the container to the refrigerator to slow its fermentation. 

Shakshouka!

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So first of all, I have to come clean about something. You may be wondering what a guy like me (one who tries to shop relatively seasonally) is doing with fresh peppers and tomatoes in February…sorry, I had a momentary desire for warmer months and sought it through food…it’s about this time of the year that the constant snow and grey begins to get to me. Thus said, you can use canned diced tomatoes for this, which I have in the past.

Shakshouka is a Mediterranean egg dish that is simple to make, nutritious, and really delicious. There are no hard and fast rules for the recipe other than it usually contains tomatoes and peppers, but one can also add other things they like, such as potatoes or beans (just to name a few). The sauce itself can be a sort of salsa-y type sauce, such as this recipe, or it can be more of a smooth tomato sauce (such as this recipe which I posted last year). It can be either cooked entirely on the stove-top (such as the recipe posted here) or it can be finished in the oven (as with this previous recipe). It is a recipe that is suitable for breakfast, lunch or dinner. By now you likely get the picture…it’s really up to you how you want to make this and in fact eat it. Anyhow, the recipe which I made today, and the one pictured, is below. 

Shakshouka

Serves 2

3 tablespoons olive oil

½ small onion, diced

½ green bell pepper, diced

1 jalapeno pepper, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ teaspoon oregano

¼ teaspoon whole cumin seed

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

2 medium tomatoes, diced

½ cup water

4 large eggs

heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion and bell pepper; saute for a few minutes, then add the jalapeno and garlic. Cook for a few minutes longer, until the vegetables begin to brown slightly, then add the oregano, cumin, and salt; stir for a just a minute to release the flavor of the seasonings, then add the tomatoes and water. Bring the liquid to a boil then lower it to a simmer. Cook the sauce for about five minutes, or until it reduces and becomes somewhat thick. Lower the heat to a very slow simmer, then crack the eggs into the sauce. Cover the skillet with a lid and cook the eggs for about 5 minutes, or until they are cooked to your liking. Serve with crusty bread.

Urban Simplicity.

Two Chickpeas; Two Recipes

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I have posted variations of both these recipes before but these are two recent additions. Both are really simple to make, super delicious, and healthy…chickpeas are really good for you. And yes, the falafel can be baked rather than pan-fried but they would lack the crispy outer shell.

Spicy Avocado and Roast Garlic Hummus

Makes about 4 cups

¼ cup olive oil

8 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper

1 teaspoon whole cumin seed

1 teaspoon whole coriander seed

2 ripe avocado, peeled

2 cans (15 oz. ea.) chickpeas, rinsed

½ cup lemon juice

1 cup tahini

¼ cup water

¾ teaspoon sea salt

Combine the olive oil and garlic in a small skillet and place over low heat. Simmer garlic in the oil until golden brown and soft, turning it as necessary. Add the Aleppo pepper, cumin, and coriander to the skillet and remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. 

Transfer the olive oil with the cooked garlic and spices to the bowl of a food processor along with the avocado, chickpeas, lemon, tahini, water and sea salt. Process the hummus until very smooth. 

Spinach and Feta Falafel

Makes about two dozen falafel

1 (15oz) can chick peas, rinsed and drained

1 cup cooked spinach, squeezed of excess moisture

1 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped

1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

½ small onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 jalapeno, minced

4 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons 7-spice mix

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

1 teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon baking powder

¾ cup whole wheat flour (more as needed)

½ cup crumbled feta cheese

sesame seeds for garnish

oil for frying

Combine the chickpeas, spinach, cilantro, parsley, onion, garlic, jalapeno, lemon juice, 7-spice, salt, turmeric, and baking powder in a food processor and process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the first the flour then the feta cheese by hand, keeping small pieces of cheese visible. Allow the mixture to rest for 10 minutes; if it feels too moist add more flour. Shape into small balls, then flatten them slightly while pressing them into sesame seeds. Preheat a skillet with about ½ inch of vegetable oil and fry the falafel about two minutes on each side, or until crispy and golden on the outside and cooked throughout. Remove the falafel from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent paper. 

Lebanese Seven Spice Mix

Makes about ¼ cup

1 tablespoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon ground allspice

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Mix the spices together and store in an airtight container, or use as needed.

Taratoor

(Tahini-Garlic Sauce)

Makes about 1 cup.

1 cup tahini

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

¾ cup cold water

2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

¼ teaspoon sea

Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl and whisk until smooth. If too thick or too thin, adjust the consistency with water or tahini.

For additional Lebanese inspired recipes, click here.

On Starting Anew over a Bowl of Soup

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And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust in the magic of new beginnings.”

This year began differently for me. Not by choice, but it did. Normally I enjoy having New Years Day off of work to contemplate the year just past and the one ahead. In all the years working as a cook I cannot remember working this day…the private club of which I’ve been employed for more than a decade is closed on this day, and all the restaurants I’d worked prior were closed on this day. And even when I did a short stint at a whole foods co-op as kitchen manager I arranged the schedule so I had off. But this year—on New Years Day—I worked, not at any of the jobs aforementioned; I worked my part-time job which I started just a few weeks ago. Initially I didn’t want to do this but my supervisor asked if I would and I said yes. I’m trying to say yes to more things in my life these days, but I’m jumping ahead as I often do.

The night prior I had a date with my two pugs, Netflix, and a bottle of red wine and hoping to make it until midnight (I did). I made lentil soup for dinner, and in trying to live more in the moment (something else I’m attempting to do lately), I really focused on what I was doing. At my full-time job, where I am in charge of a full kitchen, this is often difficult for me because of multi-tasking (which is actually an illusion). But at home I can really focus on just one thing and really appreciate the moment. So as I slowly sauteed the vegetables and garlic in olive oil I was fully aware of all of my senses. And when I added the fragrant spices they filled the air with an aroma that I remember from my youth.

I’ve mentioned a few times in this blog prior that I am partially of Lebanese decent; my dad’s family was from the “old country.” I have very fond memories of my youth and on this evening as the spices tickled my nostrils I was transported back to the smell of my sitto’s (grandmother’s) house. It was the same aroma I would smell when we would enter her house on a winter’s day and the windows would be steamed up and sitti and my aunts—who were busy in the kitchen—would stop long enough the hug and kiss me and my sisters and pinch our cheeks. And on this evening—the last night of 2014—as I stood my tiny home kitchen with my pugs at my feet while I made lentil soup—I was not alone, at least not entirely…I could feel the presence of my ancestors as if they were standing before me in the flesh. I felt comforted, and I thanked them aloud. I thanked them for all the hard work they did and all the love that they gave, and for making me the person that I am.

The next morning, on New Years Day, I awoke pre-dawn to the sound wind. My old Allentown house shook and creaked as the wind and snow howled outside. Ugh, I thought…I really wished I could just climb back under the covers. But I bundled up and rode the smaller of my two cargo bikes to work, the one fitted with studded snow tires. And it was to my fortune that the wind was to my back…I was quite literally pushed to work. What a gift. And in an attempt at being present I welcomed the wind rather than dread it (this no doubt would have been more difficult if the wind were at my face rather than my back). And as I blew past the new and half-built medical campus on Main Street the tarps billowed and howled and the outstretched arm of the crane swayed as if waving to the clouds. There was not a car or person in sight and it was beautiful, it really was.

My part-time job is working in a home where people have nowhere else to go. The juxtaposition to my daily full-time job is easily apparent. And it is humbling on so many levels. It’s just a few hours a week and I work alone in the kitchen, so rather than having a full staff to do things for me I do it myself (which I enjoy). But the best part is being able to serve people a good meal who may need it the most. Food can nourish far more than the physical body.

So what does any of this have to do with soup and a new year? Nothing and everything, I suppose. I, like a lot of people, had a whole list of resolutions—things to give up and things to take up—most of which will be forgotten by the end of the month. And as I rode to work just after dawn on the first day of the new year it came to me that changing my thoughts changes my reality, and that my resolution(s) can be distilled into that one thing. The wind howled and at points almost pushed me off my bike, but by welcoming it—being in awe of it—I enjoyed the ride rather dreaded it.

It is a proven fact that when one changes their thoughts they change their outlook, and that happiness truly can be a choice, even in the most difficult situations. I personally know this, but that alone does not always make it easy. When I remain positive I have positive things happen in my life; and living positively also means (for me) living compassionately. And when I live with a compassionate heart the world blossoms before me. Inversely, when I live in fear (or with negative thoughts) it’s as if I have blinders on and can only see my own problems (which seem paramount but in reality are not problems at all when it comes right down to it).

So after serving lunch I sat down to my own lunch of another bowl of soup, flat-bread, and an orange which I carried with me to work that morning. Again I thought of my ancestors and how when they came to this country they likely and nothing but the clothes on their backs and a few things that they could carry. And as I sat and ate to the hum of the refrigerator, I thought to myself that while I may not have everything I want I most definitely have everything I need…way more than I need, actually. And as I sat there I banished the list of resolutions that I had planned and just stuck to one…to change my thinking. Because if I do this I know that everything will work out. Will it be easy. Nope. Not likely. But is it possible? Yes, without doubt…I can start over everyday if that’s what it will take, not just New Year’s Day. And if I do this I know that I can be of more service to others—even if it is just little interactions throughout the day—because isn’t that what we are really here for, to help one another along in this journey we call life.

And I don’t know if I was imagining it or not, but as I ate the soup it tasted good…really good. Better than the night before, in fact. And this is what I thought about while eating lentil soup in a large kitchen lined with stainless-steel while the wind whistled and howled outside on the first day of the year.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world be be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Red Lentil Lentil Soup with Spinach

Makes about 2 quarts

4 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, diced

1 medium carrot, peeled and diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

4 tablespoons tomato paste

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon crushed hot pepper

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 cups red lentils

8 cups chicken broth

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

4 cups (4-6 ounces) fresh spinach, chopped

¼ cup lemon juice

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and carrot; saute for a few minutes, then add the garlic and saute another minute or two. Add the tomato paste, cumin, turmeric, coriander, hot pepper, and salt, then cook and stir the tomato and spices for a minute or so. Add the lentils broth, bring to a boil then lower it to a simmer. Allow the soup to cook for about an 30 minutes, then add the potatoes and simmer another 30 minutes or until the soup thickens and the lentils become very soft. If it becomes too thick, add additional broth or a little water. Stir in the spinach and simmer for just a couple minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and remove from the soup from the heat.

For additional Lebanese-inspired recipes, click here.

Lebanese-Style Lentil Soup (another variation)

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This is one of my favorite soups. It is so easy to make, really good for you (lentils are a really healthy food), and it is of course really delicious. There are a few variations in this recipe compared to previous ones that I’ve posted (click here for other versions). The biggest being that I used French lentils (but any lentil will suffice for this recipe), which are a little firmer, or they at least hold their shape when cooked. And also I used tomato paste rather than fresh tomatoes, which gives it a thicker and richer flavor and consistency because of the concentrated tomato. And I also used baharat, or Lebanese 7-spice mix rather than individual spices (because I have a large batch of it at work–where I made this soup–but a manageable sized recipe is listed below). Lastly, I added Aleppo pepper, which can be substituted with another crushed pepper or omitted, and also a bit of turmeric because I like the golden hue that it offers. For additional Lebanese-inspire recipes click here.

Middle Eastern Style Lentil Soup (variation)

Makes about 2 quarts

4 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, diced

1 medium carrot, peeled and diced

1 bell pepper, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

6 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon Lebanese 7-spice mix

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 cups French lentils

8 cups chicken broth

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

¼ cup lemon juice

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot, and bell pepper; saute for a few minutes, then add the garlic and saute another minute or two. Add the tomato paste, 7-spice, turmeric, Aleppo pepper, and salt, then cook and stir the tomato and spices for a minute or so. Add the lentils broth, bring to a boil then lower it to a simmer. Allow the soup to cook for about an 30 minutes, then add the potatoes and simmer another 30 minutes or until the soup thickens and the lentils become very soft. If it becomes too thick, add additional broth or a little water. Stir in the lemon juice a couple minutes before removing from the heat.

Lebanese Seven Spice Mix

Makes about ¼ cup

1 tablespoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon ground allspice

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Mix the spices together and store in an airtight container, or use as needed.

Lebanese Chicken-and-Rice (variation on a theme)

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Okay. So I’ve posted this recipe–or variations of it–a bunch of time prior on this blog, but I enjoy it so much–and am convinced that you will, too–that I had to post it again. And, yes…this is yet another variation. I made this for staff lunch yesterday and what I did slightly differently is that I added a pinch of saffron to give the rice and chicken a beautiful yellow hue, and I also used a couple tablespoons of baharat, or 7-spice mix instead of those listed in the recipe below (the spices in the recipe are very similar to the seven spice mix, but I had some baharat on hand at work). I also used brown rice (both versions are listed in the recipe below) and organic chicken breast with the wing bone still intact. Anyhow, try this recipe…you won’t be sorry. It’ll make your house smell delicious as it cooks, and you might want to make a double batch because leftovers are just as good. For more Lebanese-inspired recipes, click here.

Lebanese Chicken-and-Rice

Makes 4 servings

4 tablespoon olive oil

4 chicken breasts or boneless thighs

1 medium onion, diced

2 ounces vermicelli or spaghetti, broken into pieces

¾ pound ground beef or lamb

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon allspice

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup rice (white or brown; see below)

2-3 cups hot chicken broth (depending on which rice you use)

1 small bunch parsley, minced

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed pan. Sauté the chicken on both sides until golden brown, then remove it from the pan and set aside. Add the onion and vermicelli to the pan and cook until golden; using a slotted spoon remove it and set aside. Add the meat to the pan (and a little water and/or oil if necessary) and cook until the meat begins to brown. Drain any excess fat, then add the garlic and cook another minute or two. Add the cinnamon, cumin, allspice, and salt; sauté two minutes while stirring. Add the onion and pasta back to the pan along with the rice, stirring to fully coat it with with the oil and spices. Then add the chicken breasts to the pan, pushing them gently into the rice. If using white rice, add two cups of broth to the pan; if using brown rice add three cups of broth to the pan, then cover the pot with a lid. Bring the broth to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 18 minutes if using white rice and about 30-40 minutes if using brown rice. Remove the pot from the stove and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with minced parsley.


Urban Simplicity.

Spicy Avocado and Black Bean Hummus

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This is just another variation of the seemingly endless theme of hummus recipes. And this one–if I do say so myself–is not only equally delicious but also really simple to make…put everything in a food processor and process until smooth. But technically this is not a hummus after all (I can be such a stickler) because the Arabic word hummus translates as chickpea. This would be ful or fool (beans). Anyhow, this is really good, and really healthy, and really easy to make.

Spicy Avocado and Black Bean Hummus

Makes about 4 cups

2 ripe avocados, peeled

2 cans (15 oz. ea.) black beans, rinsed

1 cup tahini

4 cloves garlic

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon sea salt

½ cup lemon juice

¼ cup water

¼ cup hot pepper sauce

Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth.

Urban Simplicity.

Smokey Roast Red Pepper Hummus (yum!)

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This is another one of those recipes that is so easy to make and so delicious that you’ll wonder why you don’t make it more often. You can use fresh peppers—as I did for this recipe—or jarred ones which you rinse. I cooked the peppers over the grate of my stove at work, but this time of year it is fun (and flavorful) to cook them outside on a charcoal grill. And as with most my recipes, this is just a suggestion…add whatever flavorings or seasoning you would like. You’ll also note that when I say this is easy to make, it truly is one step. Once the peppers are roasted you simply combine everything in a food processor and puree it. The hummus will keep for about 5 days in the refrigerator…but it is so delicious it will likely be eaten straight away.

 

Smokey Roast Red Pepper Hummus

Makes about 4 cups

2 (15oz) cans chick peas, drained and rinsed

2 roasted red peppers

1 cup tahini

¼ cup lemon juice

¼ cup hot pepper sauce (optional)

4 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons smoked paprika

1 teaspoon sea salt

 

Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor and process to a smooth puree.

 

How to Roast a Pepper

Remove stickers from the pepper. Place the pepper directly on the grate of your gas stove with the flame adjusted to medium. Using a set of tongs turn the pepper ever couple of minutes until the entire outside is completely black. Immediately place the pepper(s) into a small paper bag and seal it closed. Allow the pepper to rest for a couple of minutes. The steam that naturally occurs loosens the skin. Remove the pepper, and while holding it under cold running water gently rub of the blackened skin (it’s wise, but not essential, to do this over a small colander to catch the skin, which may clog the drain). After the skin is removed gently tear the pepper in two and remove the stem and rinse the seeds.

Urban Simplicity.

Lebanese-Style Chicken-and-Rice (yummm!)

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So yes, I have posted this recipe before, but not in quite a while. Personally I have not actually eaten meat in about two months, but then I started craving this…it’s a recipe that is derived from one my sitti (grandmother) used to make. It is really (really) delicious, and simple to make, too. One of the differences with the recipe that I grew up with and the one I make for myself today is that I generally make it with brown rice (both brown and white rice are reflected in the recipe). I also (sometimes) add a pinch of turmeric, as I did this time, which gives it a lovely yellow hue (which is not reflected in the recipe below). Nonetheless, the smell of the sweet aromatic spices will fill your house as it cooks. This recipe can easily be multiplied into larger batches (leftovers taste just as good). And did I mention how delicious this is…

Lebanese-Style Chicken and Rice

Makes 4 servings

4 tablespoon olive oil

4 chicken breasts or boneless thighs

1 medium onion, diced

2 ounces vermicelli or spaghetti, broken into pieces

¾ pound ground beef or lamb

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon allspice

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup rice (white or brown; see below)

2-3 cups hot chicken broth (depending on which rice you use)

1 small bunch parsley, minced

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed pan. Sauté the chicken on both sides until golden brown, then remove it from the pan and set aside. Add the onion and vermicelli to the pan and cook until golden; using a slotted spoon remove it and set aside. Add the meat to the pan (and a little water and/or oil if necessary) and cook until the meat begins to brown. Drain any excess fat, then add the garlic and cook another minute or two. Add the cinnamon, cumin, allspice, and salt; sauté two minutes while stirring. Add the onion and pasta back to the pan along with the rice, stirring to fully coat it with with the oil and spices. Then add the chicken breasts to the pan, pushing them gently into the rice. If using white rice, add two cups of broth to the pan; if using brown rice add three cups of broth to the pan, then cover the pot with a lid. Bring the broth to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 18 minutes if using white rice and about 30-40 minutes if using brown rice. Remove the pot from the stove and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with minced parsley.

Black Bean-Cheddar Falafel with Avocado Taratoor (yum)

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So this is just another version of the classic Middle Eastern chickpea fritters known as falafel. You likely know by now that when I enjoy a particular recipe I end up with multiple versions of it (for other variations on this recipe, click here). Anyhow, this is just a suggestion…interchange any bean or cheese you like; herbs and spices as well. And for the taratoor sauce I included a couple avocado which not only accented the flavor nicely but enriched it a bit as well. These are really simple to prepare, but be forewarned…they are super addicting.

Black Bean and Cheddar Falafel

Makes about two dozen falafel

2 (15oz) cans black beans, rinsed and drained

4 ounces shredded cheddar cheese (about 1½ cups)

1 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped

1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

4 tablespoons lemon juice

4 tablespoons Frank’s hot sauce

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

2 teaspoons baking powder

¾ cup whole wheat flour (more as needed)

sesame seeds for garnish

oil for frying

Combine everything except the flour in a food processor and process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the flour by hand. Allow the mixture to rest for 10 minutes; if it feels too moist add more flour. Shape into small balls, then flatten them slightly while pressing them into sesame seeds. Preheat a skillet with about ½ inch of vegetable oil and fry the falafel about two minutes on each side, or until crispy and golden on the outside and cooked throughout. Remove the falafel from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent paper.

Avocado Taratoor Sauce

Makes about 4 cups

2 ripe avocado, peeled

1 cup tahini

¾ cup water

½ cup lemon juice

¼ cup hot pepper sauce

3 cloves garlic

½ teaspoon sea salt

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.

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