Showing posts with label Bread. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bread. Show all posts

Friday, October 2, 2015

Red Lentil Soup with Sourdough Sumac Croutons

This ancient soup is the stuff of stories.

Maybe you've heard this one before:

A long time ago, a woman carries two babies inside of her belly.  They wrestle in her womb, each longing to be first-born, until her labor pains come and one baby boy emerges, ruddy-fleshed and with a full head of hair.  The second is longer, leaner, and grasping the heel of his now older brother.

The ruddy one becomes tall and strong.  He hunts for game, bringing home limp animals slung over his shoulder, ready for the fire.  The ankle-grasper stays by the fire, seasoning and stirring pots of stew.

"Quick, let me have some of that red stew!  I am famished," said the ruddy one, throwing down his burden, and thrusting a bowl towards his brother.

"First, sell me your birthright," said the second-born, with a little laugh, stirring the pot.

"Look, I am about to die.  What good is a birthright to me?"

And so the ankle-grasper poured his ruddy brother a bowl of this ruddy lentil stew.  He gave him some bread.  And the older brother ate and drank, and then got up and left.

A humble, simple pot of soup sits in the middle of this ancient, Middle Eastern story of two brothers, Esau and Jacob.  This isn't fancy food.  This isn't feast food.  It isn't the wild game, dripping with fat, roasting over the fire, that the older brother brought home.  This is just simple, every-day fare, the kind you eat for lunch most days, the kind that you find waiting for you when you get home.

And yet, it is delicious.  If you have never cooked with red lentils before, they are a little revelation.  Bright red in the bag, they look like little chips of a legume, but when cooked down, they yellow, soften and melt into the soup.  Smooth and creamy, when this soup cools a little, it sets up into a thick and stodgy stew.  Yes, I said it:  stodgy.  Palestinians like to keep this soup very simple:  a little onion or garlic, maybe, a few spices from the cupboard, lemon squeezed on top.  It is a humble, everyday sort of soup, but it sings until you scrape down the bottom of your bowl.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Chicken, Sumac and Onion Flatbread, or Musakhan

I have been sitting on this recipe for a little while.  I wanted to get it just right.

After all, musakhan is as important to Palestinians as deep-dish pizza is to Chicagoans.  A girl has to tread lightly here.  I have to hit all the right notes:  the soft, pillowy bread doused in broth, and then broiled crisp, the tangy sumac-spiced sauteed onions, toasted pine nuts and roast chicken, with just a drizzle of peppery olive oil to finish.

Musakhan is one of those traditional recipes that has breathed with the generations of Arabs who have birthed, lived and died in Palestine. It is one of our signature dish - the wild sumac, the pine nuts, the olives from our groves - and born from our ancient clay taboon ovens. These communal ovens served as a gathering spot for villagers, where families brought their trays of rolled out loaves of bread, proofed and puffy and ready for the oven. Taboon ovens are made of clay, and filled with hot stones, and then placed over a fire. Taboon bread, unlike regular pocket Arabic bread, is baked directly on the hot, smooth, rounded rocks, giving the bread its characteristic puff and char.

Palestinian village taboon oven.  Photo taken 1898-1914, by the American Colony, Jerusalem.

The word musakhan (or msakhan)  means heated up. All of the ingredients are precooked, assembled on taboon bread, and then reheated. Similar to other flatbreads, such as our za'atar breads (mana'eesh) or spiced meat pies (sfiha), these dishes were economical and practical since they used the dough from the villager's daily baked bread and turned the dough into a  meal.  In this case, the bread was soaked in broth, topped with sauteed onion, chicken and nuts, and then returned to the oven to finish.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A New Lease on Baking Bread: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day


If you are ready for a quick and easy overhaul of your bread baking, I have found the book for you!  Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, and its follow-up book, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes A Dayboth by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, will teach you how to make gorgeous, artisanal bread in your house in just minutes.  And if you are not a bread-baker, look out.  This book might just convert you. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Grilled Lamb Shawarma with Cucumber Mint Yogurt Salad

Just in time for Father's Day, here is an easy but festive meal that is great on the grill and will warm any father's (and mother's!) heart.  Well-seasoned leg of lamb, grilled and sliced, folded into fresh warm bread, topped with a cool minted cucumber yogurt sauce - now that's enough to entice me to dust off our grill and sweep off our patio. 

My mother still tells the story of her first encounter with lamb in America.  As a young bride, she spent several months in her mother-in-law's house, and learned to eat American food for the first time.  For some special occasion, my American grandmother served her lamb with mint jelly.  My mother said that she tasted the lamb and it was good, but she couldn't figure out what the green gel on the side of her plate was.  She tasted it and found it very unpleasant, and so bizarrely sweet; for Arabs love lamb, and love mint, and even lamb with mint, but never sweet with savory.

This meal is a nod to that mint-and-lamb combination.  Both the lamb and the yogurt salad are traditional Palestinian recipes, but Palestinians would serve the yogurt salad on the side and use this tahini-lemon sauce on the shawarma. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Musakhan: Roasted Chicken with Carmelized Onions and Olive-Oil Drenched Bread

Put away your forks and knives, friends.  This is finger food. 

Now, this is a favorite Palestinian feast.  Tender chicken pieces, seasoned with lemony sumac, roasted with loads of sweet caramelized onions and olive oil, baked onto soft bread that absorbs the juices of the chicken, and topped with buttery pine nuts . . . I think of it as the Palestinian version of fried chicken, because of the generous amounts of olive oil used here, which soak into everything and transform a simple chicken and onion dish into a rich, melt-in-your-mouth experience.  Plus, this meal is traditionally eaten with your hands. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Zayt-and-Za'atar Sourdough Crackers

Zayt (olive oil) and za'atar is to Palestinians what peanut butter and jelly is to Americans. Zayt-and-za'atar - they just belong together.  We love to dip fresh bread into olive oil, and then into a bowl of za'atar.  I thought:  Why not make a cracker that does it for you?

Zayt-and-za'atar crackers!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Za'atar Bread, or Mana'eesh

Salty, lemony-herbed, olive-oil soaked flat bread.  Add a hot mug of sweet mint tea, a fried egg, some oil-cured olives, ripe tomatoes and cucumbers, maybe a little white farmer's cheese, and you have yourself a proper Palestinian breakfast.

Mana'eesh, or in more classical Arabic, manaqeesh, is a flat, round loaf of bread - the same dough used for basic Arabic, or "pita" bread - topped with olive oil and za'atar, a thyme, sumac and sesame seasoning blend (click here to read more about za'atar).  The word mana'eesh is actually the plural form of the word, so one loaf is called mana'oush, which means to carve out.  Instead of puffed bread that forms pockets, this bread is flat, pressed down by the weight of the toppings.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sourdough "Pita" Bread, or Khubiz Arabi


Bread is the staff of life in the Middle East.  Though we eat rice abundantly, rice is actually the new kid on the block, relatively speaking.  Our ancient fathers ate bread as their main sustenance and nourishment.  Give us this day our daily bread, Jesus taught his disciples how to pray.

Bread is the vehicle for all other foods - we scoop up vegetables, salads, meats, cheeses, eggs - everything can be folded into a piece of bread.  Bread is also the utensil, the way our food is carried to our mouths.  There is ceremony - how to tear off a piece, how much to tear off at a time, where to dip in the common bowl, how to hold the bread so that it doesn't drip.  And yet bread is so common place that it is rarely remarked upon, rarely experimented with, it is simply there every morning when you wake up, and at every table that you sit down to.