Category Archives: Lebanese

Lebanese Falafel

Lebanese Falafel served with Cucumber Tomato salad and Lemon Tahini dressing

Lebanese Falafel served with Cucumber Tomato salad and Lemon Tahini dressing

I am addicted to falafel. I judge a city by it’s falafel offerings, and can be quite picky. I have lived in two cities with sub-standard falafel, and during that time I honed in on the craft of making my own and demanded that my first meal back in my hometown was falafel. I am a walking example of the Canadian fusion girl: craving Middle Eastern cuisine with the physique of a Scandinavian.

I have tried many versions of this staple, making an effort to write down every tweak and change. Some batches were fit only for the garbage; some made me yearn for the sub-standard offerings. But through dedication and perseverance, I found The Falafel Recipe. The trick: do not cook the beans. This is true throughout the Middle East: In Lebanon and Israel, chickpeas are used. In Egypt, the chickpeas are replaced with fava beans or a combination of fava beans and chick peas (I call this garfava, because it’s fun to say). To make the falafel more Egyptian, the amount of fresh herbs should be doubled, to the point where the falafel looks green. Of course, you could also use a green such as spinach or Swiss chard to get the same effect. Lebanese falafel is the “Canadian” version of Egyptian and Israeli: enough fresh herbs for significant speckles of green, but enough cumin and spice to remind you of Israeli falafel. The uncooked beans give you the classic falafel texture. Not smooth, but grainy (about the size of uncooked quinoa seeds), with a firm bite. For a true classic version, these should be deep fried or pan fried, but I am well aware of my kitchen limitations, and know that hot oil and a stove is a recipe for disaster. Baking is much safer 🙂

To serve these falafels, I have made the traditional falafel pita, made a deconstructed pita including a cucumber-tomato salad and tahini-lemon dressing (1:1 for tahini to lemon juice, mixed well. Add water for consistency as necessary, and some cayenne for spice) and pickled red onions, and eat them plain as snacks. These are by far the best falafels I have ever tasted, and well worth the cravings! (Note: I have not travelled to Israel, Lebanon, or Egypt. But when I do, one of my first stops will be a falafel stand!) Simple, easy, minimal dishes, freezer-friendly, and delicious, these falafels are worth their exalted status in my kitchen.

 

Lebanese Falafel

2 cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in water

1 small onion, chopped OR ½ cup chives, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped

½ cup fresh parsley, chopped

2 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. ground coriander

½ tsp. paprika

¼ tsp. black pepper

4 tbsp. lemon juice

½ tsp. salt, or to taste

 

Directions:

1)      Drain soaked chickpeas. Rinse well and set aside.

2)      In food processor, add all ingredients. Process until reaches a consistency between couscous and hummus. *Note: Depending on the size of the food processor, may have to do this in batches

3)      Place 2 tbsp. of mixture in your hand, and roll into a ball. Place falafel on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat until no mixture left.

4)      Bake at 350oF for 20min. Carefully flip over falafel and bake an additional 10-15min, until falafel golden brown.

5)      Serve as a deconstructed falafel pita, as a topping for a salad, or plain!

 


Mujadara – Lentils and Rice

How can something so simple be so delicious? So delicious in fact, it disappeared before a picture could be taken!

Inspired by my Kushari recipe, I recently found myself craving lentils and rice. The parameters of Kushari (multiple pots, more than 45min to cook) however did not apply: I wanted food, and I wanted it fast. The solution was this lentil and rice dish which was so simple I almost feel like writing about it is redundant. Words cannot describe how delicious this is! Packed with protein and carbohydrates it’ll keep you full for hours. Think of the lentils and rice as a canvas for your seasonings de jour: vinegar and red pepper flakes for the Kushari feel, thyme and rosemary for an Italian take, cumin/curry powder and turmeric for an Indian flair – whatever your spice cabinet is telling you!

This dish can be prepared in less than 30min, and requires minimal supervision. If you’re feeling fancy, sauté some onions and garlic in the pot before adding the rice and lentils. Else sit back and be amazed at this brilliant weekday dish full of flavour! And did I mention that the total dishes required are one pot, a measuring cup, and a spoon?

Lentils and Rice

½ cup green, brown, or French lentils
½ cup brown rice (Note: white rice, quinoa, millet, or buckwheat could be substituted as they have similar cooking times)
4½ cups water (Measured using the dry ½ cup measuring cup)
Seasonings of choice (anything goes!)

Directions:
1) In large saucepan, add all ingredients. Stir to prevent rice from clumping.
2) Cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to a simmer and cook until lentils and rice al dente and water absorbed, ~30min.
3) Optional: Stir occasionally while simmering**
4) Remove from heat and let sit covered for 5min before serving.

**I have frequently over/under-cooked, burned, turned to mush, and basically ruined lentils and grains more than once. I also overflow the pot frequently, and thus opt for the biggest my kitchen has to offer. Thus I am a nervous lentil-and-rice cooker, and the stirring solved all these problems! If you’re an old pro, you can skip this step.


Pumpkin Kibbeh with Chard and Chickpea Filling

Kibbeh (kibbe) is another Middle East culinary offering that is infinitely adaptable, with slight regional differences abound. I have seen reference to eggplant kibbeh, walnut kibbeh, ‘plain’ kibbeh, thin kibbeh, stuffed kibbeh, kibbeh shaped like eggs, stuffed, and deep fried … really if you can dream it up it can be made! The constant seems to be a dough made of bulgur and stuffed with whatever strikes your fancy. This particular kibbeh is what I call Lebanese lasagna. It is a layered casserole with the base of a bulgur and pumpkin mixture and a stuffing of chard with chickpeas and pine nuts. I found the crust recipe on Terry Hope Romero’s blog “Viva Vegan!” way back in October when I found myself with some extra pumpkin. I changed the stuffing to be similar to that of the Fatayer Kolokithopita, because I liked it so much! The result is a mushy casserole that holds its shape with a surprise stuffing element. You get used to the pumpkin bulgur and then a burst of bright green-lemony chard hits you and keeps you on your toes! It’s a very easy recipe to throw together, and would make a great holiday side dish for something different. It is extremely filling, and goes well with some baba ganoush and fresh vegetables for a complete Lebanese dinner. If you decide to go all out, I would start with a Lebanese Lentil soup, which is a nice refreshing dish (and will be posted when I make it again with pictures!)

The complete recipe that I used is below. To make the casserole thinner, you could use two 9×13″ pans and double the stuffing amount. Another thing I may try is split the pumpkin mixture into four, double the stuffing, and make two complete layers. This would make it more like lasagna, and the tangy stuffing would be more vibrant on the palette. If someone tries this, let me know how it turns out!

Note: It took me a very long time to fund sumac, which is red in colour and brings the lemon flavour to the stuffing. If you can’t find it, lemon juice is a great substitute. Also, the pine nuts in the stuffing are a great addition, but they are not the highlight of the dish. As they are so expensive, nothing will be lost if you decide to omit them this time!

Pumpkin Kibbeh with Chard and Chickpea Filling

Filling:
1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
¾ of 1 red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large bunch Swiss chard or 2 bunches spinach, chopped
1 (15oz.) can chickpeas (1½ cup cooked chickpeas)
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. sumac (can substitute lemon juice)
¼ cup pine nuts or chopped walnuts

Directions:
1) Sauté onion and garlic until golden brown
2) Add chard. Cook until wilted
3) Add chickpeas, salt, and sumac. Smash chickpeas a bit with back of spoon.
4) Stir in pine nuts. Turn off heat and set aside.

Kibbeh Layer:
2 cups bulgur wheat
1-1½ lb. pumpkin or winter squash, peeled and shredded or 1 (32oz.) can pureed pumpkin
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp. dried oregano
1¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
1¼ tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. ground coriander
½ tsp. ground mace or nutmeg
½ tsp. ground black pepper

Directions:
1) Cook bulgur. Set aside.
2) In food processor, puree onion.
3) In large bowl mix pumpkin, onion, bulgur, olive oil, parsley, oregano, and all spices
4) Optional: For a smooth batter, process mixture in food processor until thick, even paste.
5) In greased 9×13” pan spread ½ of the dough mixture evenly
6) Spread chard-chickpea filling on top of base evenly
7) Add remaining dough, spreading evenly
8) With a sharp knife, score top with 1” diamond pattern
9) Brush surface with olive oil
10) Bake at 375dF for 35-40 min., or until golden and firm
11) Let stand for 10 min.


Fatayer Kolokithopita

Lebanese spinach pies meets Greek pumpkin pies in one tasty bundle!

Fatayer Kolokithopita: Lebanese spinach pies meet Greek pumpkin phyllo triangles in one tasty package!

Inspired by the fatayer at a local Lebanese restaurant, I immediately wanted to re-create the dish at home. However, I had some ideas to tweak the inspiration to better suit my pantry. First, the fatayer in the restaurant came in these cute dough square parcels, which seemed like a LOT of work. I am an old hand at empanadas and perogies, but these parcels made me pause. I thought that this would be a good opportunity to use up that spare box of phyllo dough that was hanging out in my freezer instead. The phyllo thought made me think of Greece, which led me to spanikopita. However, I already had the spinach component covered in these fatayer, so I researched other things Greeks do with phyllo. Turns out quite a lot! One such item is kolokithopita, which is a pumpkin phyllo pie that can be either sweet (think pumpkin pie) or savoury. Looking at the ingredients from the recipes I found, I quickly discovered that the list of ingredients for the kolokithopita was almost the same as that of the fatayer. Limited by my supply of phyllo pastry, this seemed like kismet. So fusion fatayer kolokithopita was born!

I baked the triangles instead of pan-frying them which is why they appear pale in the picture. I like them better this way because when reheating you can just stick them in a frying pan that has been lightly sprayed with cooking oil and re-brown the sides. This makes the leftovers nice and crunchy, and just like if they were made fresh – in 5min or less! They are extremely tasty and addictive. Be forewarned however – due to the onion in the recipe you will be chasing away vampires for a long time after eating! Bring some mints if you’re going to eat them at work.

The original fatayer recipe is from Food.com, and I added 1c. of pumpkin puree to the mix. The original fatayer recipe can be found here if you don’t have phyllo lying around for experimentation and feel the urge to challenge your dough-parcel making abilities – I won’t stop you! Lebanese Spinach Pies. My adapted recipe is below, for those of you who have had a box of phyllo dough staring you in the face for the past six months. 🙂

Fatayer Kolokithopita

4c. fresh spinach, stems removed and chopped finely

0.5t. salt

3 large red onions, diced

0.5c. lemon juice

1 pinch fresh black pepper

1c. natural pumpkin puree

1 package phyllo dough, thawed

Directions:

To make filling:

1) In large bowl, mix spinach and salt together until spinach appears ‘bruised’ (darker in some spots). Let sit while you prepare the onions.

2) Dice the onions and add to bruised spinach.

3) Mix in lemon juice, pepper, and pumpkin puree.

To make triangles:

*Note* There are various ways to do this, and everybody has their preference. I was going to explain it, but some things are just better in pictures! Here is the most comprehensive step-by-step guide: How to make phyllo triangles. I put in ~1 tbsp. of filling for each triangle.

If that process seems daunting but you want the goodness of Fatayer Kolokithopitas, no worries!

Take one sheet of phyllo dough and lightly spritz with cooking oil (or brush with butter, if that’s how you roll). Overlay another sheet of phyllo dough on top of the first, and lightly spritz with cooking oil. Continue until you have a stack of four sheets. This is your pie ‘base’.

Place your pie base in a lightly greased 9″x13″ pan, and dump the filling on top. Smooth out the filling so it’s reasonably even.

Make another pie crust of four layers of phyllo dough, and set on top of filling. Tuck edges in however you like.

Regardless of how the filling gets into the dough, bake at 350dF for 20-25min (40-45min for casserole method), or until tops nice and brown.

Enjoy!


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