Eggplant Shawarma

Eggplant Shawarma

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I have never met an eggplant dish that I didn’t like and Eggplant Shawarma is no exception. Meaty and packed with so many flavors and textures. There is definitely A LOT going on with this Eggplant Shawarma. No photo can do it justice. By its very nature, the final dish is layered in an opaque pita and its wonderfully drippy and messy. This is not haute cuisine. It’s street food. And like a great falafel sandwich, if it isn’t dripping down your arm while you eat – then you just aren’t doing it right!

Each element is simple to make. And while I prepared everything the same day I ate it, you can prep the individual components a day ahead. My version is a cross between a shawarma sandwich and a sabich, that wonderful Iraqi Jewish street food. The original recipe, tweaked by me, comes from My Jewish Learning.

Origins of Sabich and Huevos Haminados

Observant Sephardic Jews will put together a dish that cooks slowly overnight to be eaten hot for the Saturday Sabbath meal. Since lighting a fire would violate Shabbat, the dafina/t’bit/ skhina must be started before sundown on Friday and be able to cook on a low heat until the noon meal the following day. It goes by different names depending on the country, but one common element is the addition of hard boiled eggs which cook slowly in the sauce from the meat/chicken and/or beans. Think of a Jewish cassoulet that is unique to every family and whose tradition goes back centuries. The slow cooked eggs become a creamy brown and are infused with the cooking flavors. Huevos Haminados can be made by themselves, however, in as little as 4 to 5 hours.

Huevos Haminados

Now some people collect stamps. I collect onion skins. I have bags of the stuff. Red onion skins, shallots, yellow onions, both sweet and not. Sometimes I have even trolled the onion bins at the grocery store, collecting the discarded papery skins. When I want Huevos Haminados, I just whip out my onion skins, some tea bags or coffee grounds and voila! Slow cooked eggs to use in Sabich or on their own. They are especially delicious with caramelized onions on top!

Onion Skins for Huevos Haminados

But I digress. To round out this meal, I added the salads from my Shabbat meal and used a quality store-bought pita. As mentioned in previous posts, each week I make at least 4 different salads and dips, which we then enjoy for the week. They are like having gold in your fridge. Add them to almost any protein or grain and you suddenly have a colorful and tasty feast.

For other shawarma options, including mixing your own spice mix (extra spice mix will keep in a tightly sealed jar for several months)

Easy Peasy Vegan Shawarma

Chicken Shawarma with Tahini Sauce

Recipe

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

Ingredients

For the eggplant steaks:

5 Tbsp olive oil or more, as needed

1 large eggplant, sliced lengthways into 5-6 1 inch-thick slices 

2 Tbsp tomato paste 

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tsp honey or agave 

3/4 tsp shawarma spice 

¼ tsp chili flakes

kosher salt 

1/2 cup water

For the parsley salad

Parsley Salad

1 medium bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, washed and dried, very finely chopped

5 or 6 fresh mint leaves, chopped with the parsley

zest of 1 lemon

1 clove garlic, crushed

juice of 1 lemon

1 Tbsp olive oil

a pinch of kosher salt 

For the pickled cabbage

Pickled Cabbage

¼ large white or red cabbage, stem removed and very finely sliced

juice of 2 lemons or limes

½ tsp dried chili flakes or to taste

3/4 tsp kosher salt 

1 Tablespoon olive oil 

2 Tablespoons freshly chopped dill

To serve:

2 pieces of fluffy pita bread

4 Tablespoons plain yogurt, Greek yogurt or dairy-free yogurt OR Amba sauce OR tahini sauce

Hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced, if using

Directions

Brush the eggplants generously with olive oil. Heat a large frying pan and add 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Add the eggplant slices to the pan. Make sure each piece is touching the surface of the pan; you may need to work in batches. Once the bottom sides have softened and become golden, turn them over. Add a little more oil if necessary. Press down on the slices with a spatula or wooden spoon to help them cook through. Transfer the eggplant onto a paper towel to remove the excess oil. 

To make the parsley salad, combine the chopped parsley with the garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, and a pinch of salt.

Combine the sliced cabbage with the lemon juice, sea salt, chili flakes, and olive oil and mix well. Set aside so it softens and pickles.

Heat 1 Tablespoon olive oil in the same pan that you used for the eggplants and add the garlic. Once it becomes slightly golden and aromatic, add the tomato paste and mix to soften it. Add a pinch of sea salt, the honey, shawarma spice, and chili powder. Add ½ cup water and mix until you have a silky consistency.

Add the cooked eggplant slices back into the sauce, coating them on all sides. Leave each piece to slightly caramelize, turning them over once the bottoms are slightly sticky and browning, about 2 minutes on each side.

Eggplant Shawarma

To serve, warm the pitas in the microwave for 30 seconds or in the oven for three minutes. Cut the tops off the pitas (don’t discard them!) and stuff each one with some cabbage, eggplant steaks, a sliced hard-boiled egg, if using, a few spoons of yogurt or tahini sauce and finally the parsley salad. Enjoy the extra pickled cabbage, yogurt, and parsley salad with the leftover pita tops. And if you don’t like that ordering of ingredients – switch it up. There are no rules. Just deliciousness.

Cabbage, White Bean, Leek Soup

Cabbage White Bean Leek Soup

The Walrus and the Carpenter

By Lewis Carroll

The time has come,’ the Walrus said,

      To talk of many things:

Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —

      Of cabbages — and kings —

And why the sea is boiling hot —

      And whether pigs have wings.’

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Nothing beats a warm and warming bowl of soup to chase away those chilly damp days of fall and winter. Cabbage White Bean Leek Soup is as delicious and comforting as they come.

Ahhhhh, the humble, ubiquitous cabbage. This cruciferous vegetable is present in almost every cuisine, in one variety or another. Cabbage can be fermented, baked into pastry, stuffed with meat or vegetables simmered in a sauce and eaten raw in slaw. Readily available and inexpensive, cruciferous vegetables are nutrient rich powerhouses. However, none of that would matter if they didn’t also taste wonderful when properly prepared.

Unfortunately, too many people have memories of smelly, over-cooked cabbage permeating school cafeterias and hesitate using it. But if you are one of those people, please give cabbage another chance. The shredded cabbage and leeks soften and just melt into the broth, resulting in a flavorful bowl of comfort and yumminess. The leeks and cabbage take on a sweetness when cooked this way, so adding a grated hard cheese with some saltiness to it like a pecorino or asiago is the perfect accompaniment. I know that vegan cheese options have come a long way in recent years, so if making this as a vegan option, I would strongly encourage adding a vegan cheese when serving.

We eat soup all year long. Hot soup in the spring, fall and winter and cold in the summer. Sometimes as a starter to a larger meal and more often as a meal in itself. My Cabbage White Bean Leek Soup recipe should be viewed as a starting place. Made exactly as written, the end product will be wonderful. But, if you don’t have leeks, use onions or shallots. Not into cooking your own beans, use canned. More carrots? Sure, why not? No farro? No problem. Use potato, peeled and cubed or wheat berries or leave it out. Going vegan with the recipe? Use all oil or a vegan “butter” substitute, add two to three rounded tablespoons of nutritional yeast and leave out the parmesan rind.

In other words – don’t get bogged down in exactness. And don’t get too precious with the soup. While I eat with my eyes as well as my taste buds, this soup will still be delicious even without the large handful of fresh herbs that I have added at the end. Instead, just add a drizzle of a good, flavored olive oil when serving up this delicious soup.

So when you are ready, give Cabbage White Bean Leek Soup a go. You won’t be disappointed.

Recipe

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Ingredients

Cabbage White Bean Leek Soup

2 pound green or white cabbage, trimmed and cut into shreds

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 large leeks, washed, trimmed and thinly sliced

2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced

2 large carrots, trimmed and sliced into thinnish rounds

1 good hunk of parmesan rind with some cheese attached (optional but recommended) OR 2 rounded Tablespoons of Nutritional Yeast

2 bay leaves

6 whole cloves

3 cups cooked white beans of choice (cannellini are my personal favorite)

8 to 10 cups (2 to 2.5 quarts) of veggie or chicken stock, preferably unsalted (or bean cooking liquid plus stock)

kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

3/4 cup uncooked farro, potatoes, wheat berries or barley

a large handful of fresh herbs (I used dill, parsley and thyme, but almost any will do) for serving

Cabbage White Bean Leek Soup

Directions

In a large stockpot, sauté leeks in the butter/oil on medium heat for 6 to 8 minutes or until softened.

Cabbage White Bean Leek Soup

Add in the sliced carrots, garlic and one teaspoon of salt. and sauté for 3 more minutes. Next in is the shredded cabbage. Sauté to soften, adding in about 1 cup of the liquid to help move things along.

Finally, add in the cooked beans, bay leaves, cloves and parmesan rinds, if using. Stir everything through and pour the stock and/or the bean liquid, if using, over all of the ingredients in the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium high heat. Then cover the pot, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 to 40 minutes.

Cabbage White Bean Leek Soup

Uncover the pot, add in the farro and give a good stir to everything. Bring the mixture back to a boil, recover the pot and turn the heat down to a simmer. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes more or until the farro or potato is tender and cooked. Taste the liquid and adjust your seasonings adding in the black pepper at this time.

When you are ready to serve, ladle soup into a bowl and top with lots of fresh, chopped herbs and a drizzle of a good olive oil. I love the Sciabica Mediterranean Medley. But any good olive oil that you like will do. Warm up a nice, crusty bread and dig in!

Shallot Mushroom Tarte Tatin

Shallot Mushroom Tarte Tatin

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I wanted to make something a little special to ring in the New Year with my husband. But while I was looking for something new to make, I didn’t want it to be overly complicated. And I wanted a dish that would look and taste rich, but not actually be rich. This Shallot Mushroom Tarte Tatin was everything that I was looking for – once I had made a few tweaks.

Full disclosure – I didn’t actually make the Shallot Mushroom Tarte Tatin for New Year’s Eve – or at all. We ended up eating left-overs and ultimately my husband made the tarte with my suggested changes for New Year’s Day dinner. However, this riff on a Tarte Tatin did not disappoint. Originally devised as an accompaniment with drinks, it makes a perfect romantic dinner for two with a lovely, crisp white wine and accompanying arugula and fennel salad. So if you are looking for a Valentine’s Day dinner to share with that special someone, definitely consider this Shallot Mushroom Tarte Tatin.

Don’t be put off by the number of shallots in the recipe. The way they are bathed in the balsamic reduction results in a sweetly caramelized shallot that simply melts in your mouth.

While we did use an all-butter puff pastry (from the freezer section of our grocery), there are vegan puff pastry options. And except for the small amount of cheese added just before serving, the tarte is also vegan. The cheese could be skipped but a vegan cheese option is also possible – and frankly, desirable, in my opinion. The original recipe called for burrata, a cheese that always seems unappetizing to me. I feel the same way about burrata as I do about undercooked egg whites. Ewwww. In any event, I thought the slight tang of a creamy goat cheese was a better foil for the richness of the caramelized shallots. But you do you.

Recipe

Yield: 2 servings as dinner

Ingredients

1 tablespoon pine nuts or slivered blanched almonds

6 to 8 shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

¼ Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided (Use a vegan buttery solid if you are keeping this vegan.)

1 package frozen puff pastry, thawed according to the instructions on the box (I used Dufours brand which is all butter)

All-purpose flour (for surface)

8 ounces mixed mushrooms (such as maitake, oyster, and/or shiitake), torn into bite-size pieces. [While any mushroom would taste good, these mushrooms tend to not hold as much moisture as button, baby bella, cremini or Portobello mushrooms and, therefore are less likely to lead to a soggy bottom.]

1 garlic clove, crushed or grated

2 to 3 ounces of a creamy goat cheese (the kind found in a log), crumbled

2 Tablespoons grated parmesan or pecorino cheese

1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, plus more for garnish

Sprinkling of flaked Maldon Sea Salt for garnish (Optional)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place the pine nuts or almonds on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast the nuts until golden, about 4 minutes. Transfer the nuts to a small bowl and set aside. Do NOT turn off the oven.

Roll out the thawed puff pastry on lightly floured parchment paper to smooth out any creases. The Dufours puff pastry came in one large sheet. If the pastry was in two sheets, place them on top of one another and roll the sheets out together. Cut out a circle that is one inch larger than the top of your skillet. [So my skillet was a Lodge cast iron skillet that measured 10-inches across the top and 9-inches across the bottom. Therefore, my pastry was rolled out to 11-inches.] Once the desired circle is cut out, prick the pastry all over with a fork. Cover the pastry round with another sheet of parchment or plastic wrap and stick it in the refrigerator while you prepare everything else. Using cold pastry will help prevent shrinkage.

Toss the shallots in the vegetable oil on the same baking sheet that you used to toast the nuts. Season the nuts with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Roast the shallots until tender and with some browned spots – 20 to 25 minutes. Allow the shallots to cool.

While the shallots are roasting, bring the vinegar and sugar to a simmer in a 9 or 10-inch ovenproof skillet. Swirl the pan occasionally until the vinegar has reduced some and become syrupy, about 5 minutes. Stir in 1 Tablespoon of unsalted butter and remove the pan from the heat. Arrange the roasted shallots, cut side up, in the skillet with the vinegar syrup, overlapping them slightly, if needed. Set aside.

Using a medium skillet, melt the remaining 2 Tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat. Cook the mushrooms and garlic, tossing often, until the mushrooms are tender and browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper and 1 Tablespoon of the thyme leaves.

Add the cooked mushroom mixture, nuts and grated parmesan to the pan with the shallots, filling in any gaps between the shallots. Any extra mushrooms can just be scattered evenly on top of the shallots. Up to here, this can all be done ahead, if desired. Just don’t forget to preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. before the next step!

When you are ready to bake the tarte, take the pastry out of the fridge and drape it over the shallots and mushrooms, tucking the edges down inside the skillet. Bake until the pastry is golden brown, puffed and will not sink if gently pressed with your finger – 25 to 30 minutes. Ovens vary so it could even take a bit longer.

Allow the tarte to sit outside the oven for 10 minutes. Take a plate or cutting board that is larger than the pan and carefully invert the skillet onto the plate. It should release from the pan without any trouble. Scatter the goat cheese, a few more thyme leaves and the Maldon Sea Salt, if using, over the top. Serve with a lovely, crunchy green salad with a slightly acidic dressing and some crisp bread. Now enjoy!

Chocolate Orange Pistachio Shortbread

Chocolate Orange Pistachio Shortbread

Due to the unprovoked, continuing brutal war of annihilation against Ukrainian civilians by Vladimir Putin and his army and the worsening humanitarian crisis, please consider helping by following the link below. There are a number of reputable aid agencies from which to choose. Many of these agencies will also help flood and tornado victims suffering the effects of climate change.

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Buttery rich with bittersweet chocolate, candied orange and pistachios! Chocolate Orange Pistachio Shortbread is one great cookie. Not too sweet, and with melt-in-your-mouth goodness, these lovely shortbread cookies are perfect to adorn any holiday table.

I love a good shortbread cookie. [See below for links to other shortbread options.] These surprisingly sturdy cookies are naturally festive. They come decked out with green from the pistachios, orange from the candied peel, with chocolate chunks all embedded in a golden cookie. Chocolate Orange Pistachio Shortbread are wonderful on their own, but also make a perfect counterpoint to other sweeter cookies that may make up your holiday cookie box.

One of the first things I ever baked on my own were cookies. I would send them to brother in college to share with his roommates. And one holiday I baked about 100 gingerbread men/women to share with the doctors and nurses in the recovery room where I volunteered. I still find it difficult to believe, but I actually stayed up late lovingly decorating them to resemble the different hospital staff. And maybe that’s what pushed me over the edge! But I didn’t make cookies for years after that.

Since the pandemic, though, I have gotten back into making cookies. If you are doing them all by yourself, there is no getting around that it can get a bit tedious. If, however, you can break up the task, it’s not too bad. So I prepared the dough for five different cookies over a single day. Then I refrigerated them and am now baking them up over a couple of days.

Even though I may not make certain things, I’m always on the lookout for new recipes. It’s a wonderful antidote to the relentless bombardment of bad news! I came across the recipe for Orange, Pistachio and Chocolate Shortbread and knew immediately that this was one recipe I would actually make. Of course, I made a few tweaks to “improve it” as my maternal grandmother would have said.

My version of Chocolate Orange Pistachio Shortbread follows. Shortbread keeps very well in an airtight tin, so are perfect for gifting. These are soooooooooooo good that you should be sure to save a bunch for yourself!

But as we are starting the Festival of Lights (Hanukkah) Sunday night, I will likely take a break from cookie baking in order to make latkes, sfenji, sufganiyot and beignets. Of course, I will need to give most of these away or my husband and I won’t fit through our front door!

As I have discovered rather late in my cooking game, doing all of your measuring and setting of your ingredients out before actually assembling (known as mise en place) makes for a much less stressful baking experience.

Try these other wonderful shortbread options:

Lavender Mint Shortbread Cookies

Tehina Shortbread Cookies

Gateau Breton – French Shortbread Cake

Recipe

Yield: About 40 cookies, depending on how you form and cut them

Chocolate Orange Pistachio Shortbread

Ingredients

3 cups/419 grams all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal)

1¼ cups/284 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature

¾ cup/175 grams granulated sugar

1 large egg yolk (save the white for a different cookie or to add to an omelette)

1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract

2 teaspoons orange blossom water (readily available online and in Middle Eastern grocery stores)

½ cup/76 grams roughly chopped candied orange peel

½ cup/76 grams shelled unsalted pistachios, roughly chopped

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Directions

Step 1

Whisk together flour and salt in a medium bowl. Combine butter and sugar in a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using an electric mixer (fitted with the paddle attachment if using a stand mixer), beat at medium-high speed until the mixture is pale in color, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula, as needed. Add egg yolk, almond extract and orange blossom water and blend until combined.

Chocolate Orange Pistachio Shortbread

Step 2

Add flour mixture in two batches and mix on low until barely combined. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the orange peel, pistachios, chopped chocolate and remaining bits of flour. The dough may appear crumbly. If necessary, gently need the mixture with your hands until you have a smooth dough with everything well distributed.

Step 3

To form the cookies, cut the dough into 3 even portions. Roll each portion into a log with a flat bottom, top and ends. This can be pretty easily handled if you roll the dough using plastic wrap and a dough scraper pushed up against the sides to even out your log. Chill the dough 8 hours or for up to 3 days before cutting and baking. When you are ready to bake, remove the logs, one at a time from the fridge for about 15 minutes before cutting. If the dough is too hard, the pieces will break and too soft and they will just squish. Dough can always be remolded into a new log, so don’t worry if the first slices aren’t perfect!

Step 4

To bake the cookies, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Place one log at a time on a cutting board and using a sharp, large knife, cut slices about 3/8-inches thick. Any pieces that aren’t perfect can be mushed together and rerolled.

The cookies do not spread much so you can place them about 1.5 inches apart on the cookie sheet. Ovens vary, as will the thickness of dough etc. Mine took about 18 minutes to bake, but just watch them after 15 minutes until you see how they are baking in your oven. You can always add time but once they are overbaked, there isn’t much you can do.

If you don’t have a convection oven (I DON’T) turn the trays once halfway for more even baking. And if some are darker than others, remove those to a cooling rack and put the others back until the desired golden color. These cookies are pretty forgiving.

Step 6

Remove from the oven, allow cookies to cool completely on cooling racks. The cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for at least 1 week.

Kale Butternut Squash Stew over Polenta

Kale Butternut Squash Stew

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Kale Butternut Squash Stew over Polenta checks every box for a delicious fall dinner. This vegetable forward meal is bright with the beautiful orange of the butternut squash, the bright green of the kale and the pale yellow of the creamy polenta. The small amount of pancetta is just the right amount to add a salty, crunchy topping to this thoroughly delicious meal. If, however, you wish to keep the meal vegetarian/vegan, I would make some mushroom “bacon” or crispy shallots as a topping instead.

I served this over a creamy, slightly cheesy polenta, but it would be equally delicious over millet, rice or your grain of choice. The polenta added just the right contrast – and color – for me. And if you are going vegan, nowadays you can find vegan cheeses at many mainstream grocery stores. And an unsweetened plant-based “milk” and “butter” would substitute well for the dairy versions.

It always pleasantly surprises me when I come across a recipe that seems almost an afterthought to a magazine that I’m checking out. This one was in the November 2022 issue of Chicago. The recipe by Sarah Grueneberg from her cookbook Listen to Your Vegetables is served as a Thanksgiving side dish. However, after reading it, I thought that by playing around a bit with proportions, and serving it over polenta, Kale Butternut Squash Stew would make a satisfying main meal. And I was right!

This is such a happy dish. Just looking at the beautiful colors makes me smile. And with just a few simple ingredients – and a glass of a nice red wine – we ate well and felt great doing it. The only ingredient that proved a little tricky to find was an Italian pancetta. The grocery stores all sold “pancetta” from Wisconsin. Finally, after a visit to Eataly, I was successful in sourcing the real thing. A good thick-cut “bacon” of any variety would also produce a delicious result, but I was determined to use pancetta.

Kale Butternut Squash Stew

It was amazing how a such a small amount could impart so much flavor. If you choose to leave it out, then I would definitely use EVOO with some minced garlic and sage thrown in at the beginning. In addition, I would serve the dish with a flavorful topper like a mushroom “bacon” for just the right amount of punch.

Kale, Butternut Squash Stew is an uncomplicated dish to make. But I have found that some of the best meals I have ever eaten are simple dishes made well. This dish encompasses everything I love about autumn in one dish. And my husband raved about it. The next time I make this, I think I’ll make an apple pie for dessert….

Recipe

Yield: 4 generous portions with polenta or other grain

Ingredients

1/2 cup pancetta or thick-cut bacon, diced

2 teaspoons EVOO

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into large dice

1 medium red onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

1.5 Tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (I used Lemon Thyme)

1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes in juice

2 large bunches of Tuscan (also called Lacinato or Dino) Kale, washed, stems removed and torn into 3-inch pieces.

2 cups of vegetable or chicken stock

Directions

In a large, heavy pot or deep, wide pan (cast iron is great here) cook the pancetta in the EVOO over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the pancetta is golden and crispy. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Do NOT wipe out the pan!

Return the pan to medium heat and add the squash and onion. Season well with salt. Start with 1 teaspoon. You can always add more. Mix through coating the vegetables with the oil and fat from the pancetta, if used. (If you chose not to use pancetta or bacon, then add 2 more teaspoons of EVOO to the pan before adding the squash and onion.) Cook until the vegetables are softened and beginning to caramelize. This will take about 10 minutes.

Add the thyme and stir through with a wooden spoon, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pot.

Kale Butternut Squash Stew

Pour in the tomatoes and cook until thickened and the liquid has reduced – about another 10 minutes.

Stir in the kale and cook just until it begins to wilt. Add the stock, reduce the heat to medium low. You’ll want to cook the mixture for about 20 more minutes or until it has thickened and everything has had a chance to make friends and meld. Taste and adjust your seasoning and add lots of fresh, cracked black pepper.

While the stew is cooking, make your polenta, according to your preferences and the package instructions. I like to cook mine in a mix of milk and water and I add plenty of butter and black pepper. At the end of the cooking time, I stir in some freshly grated Pecorino or Parmesan. For this dish, you want the polenta to be soft and creamy.

Top the servings with the bits of polenta or mushroom “bacon.” A nice red wine and some flatbread or other crispy bread is all that is needed to have a small feast.

Pumpkin Coffee Cake

Pumpkin Coffee Cake

Due to the unprovoked, continuing brutal war of annihilation against Ukrainian civilians by Vladimir Putin and his army and the worsening humanitarian crisis, please consider helping by following the link below. There are a number of reputable aid agencies from which to choose. Many of these agencies will also help flood and tornado victims suffering the effects of climate change.

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Spicy, sweet, moist and fragrant, Pumpkin Coffee Cake says autumn bliss in every bite. Warming cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg and cloves and sweetened with brown sugar and maple syrup. With toasted pecans in a streusel topping covered with just the right amount of sweet, vanilla icing. Can you smell how it perfumes the whole house?

I can easily resist the siren call of “pumpkin spice latte” and “pumpkin spice” scented candles and room sprays. Don’t even get me started! However, I am a sucker for the real thing. And this lovely coffee cake actually contains real pumpkin and not merely “pumpkin” spices.

When I was searching for a recipe for a pumpkin cake or muffin, I came across this from Sally’s Baking Addiction. Initially I meant to make the recipe exactly as written – truly, I did. However, I immediately started thinking of ways to make it more my own. It’s safe to say that my version of Pumpkin Coffee Cake is only “inspired” by Sally’s.

My Pumpkin Coffee Cake gets its spicing from my Pumpkin Pie. I like a really well-spiced pie. It means adding a few cracks of fresh black pepper to my spice mix. This is a trick I learned a number of years ago. It isn’t enough to notice on its own. But it just enhances the spicy nature of the ginger, allspice and cloves.

I’m not sure why using the word “moist” to describe a cake has become a dirty word. For me, it means that the cake will melt in your mouth and the crumbs will stick together on the fork. It also means that the cake will likely be delicious even after a couple of days. So, yes, this Pumpkin Coffee Cake is beautifully and unashamedly moist! This, of course, also means that you can slice off mere slivers of the cake every time you happen to pass on by. No crumbling here.

Lately, I’ve noticed a curious correlation between bad news and my sweet tooth. The worse things are in the world, the more I crave quality sweets. So for me, the amount of icing was the perfect balance for the spiced cake and the streusel topping. But if you prefer the Jackson Pollack look of lacy lines or even no icing at all, that’s okay too. This is a humble coffee cake – not a fancy pastry.

Pumpkin Coffee Cake

The coffee cake was baked in a 9-inch springform pan. However, it could easily have been baked in an 8-inch springform or a 9-inch square pan or loaf pan. It just means that the baking time will need to be adjusted depending on how deep the cake is.

Pumpkin Coffee Cake uses ingredients that most of us have in our pantry. It’s always nice when my urge to bake doesn’t require an extra trip to the grocery store. But using fresh spices is always important for optimal flavor. So don’t get seduced into buying spices in bulk. Unless you are running a bakery or restaurant, most of us cannot use up these bulk spices quickly enough before the flavors are lost. Of course, the more whole spices you buy and grind yourself, the longer the spices will last. And the flavors will be more intense.

As with most coffee cakes, you can eat this from breakfast until dessert following dinner. And the cake can be frozen. I simply wouldn’t add the glaze until just before you are ready to use it.

But enough talk – let’s bake!

Pumpkin Coffee Cake

Recipe

Yield: One 9-inch cake

Ingredients

Streusel Topping

1/2 cup (63g) all-purpose, unbleached flour

1/2 cup (100g) packed dark brown sugar

1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 cup chopped pecans

1/4 cup (4 T or 59g) unsalted cold butter

Pumpkin Coffee Cake Batter

2 cups (250g) all-purpose unbleached flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon double acting baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon each: ground allspice, nutmeg and cloves

1 teaspoon ground ginger

3 good cracks of freshly ground black pepper

1 cup (230g) pumpkin puree

1 large room temperature egg

1/2 cup (100g) packed dark brown sugar

1/2 cup (120ml) canola or other neutral vegetable oil

1/4 cup (82g) pure maple syrup

1/4 cup (60ml) dairy or non-dairy milk

Vanilla Icing

1 cup (120g) confectioners’ sugar

2 to 3 Tablespoons of milk or half & half

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C). Grease a 9-inch non-stick springform or square baking pan. If you are using a square pan, you can line it with parchment leaving a 2-inch overhang. This will make it easy to remove the cake from the pan. You could also choose to serve it directly from the pan. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the streusel ingredients using your fingers, a fork or pastry blender. Mix just to create clumps and large crumbs. Set aside.

Place all of the dry ingredients (flour and spices) in a large bowl and whisk them together. Then add in the pumpkin, egg, brown sugar, maple syrup, oil and milk. Stir just until everything is smooth and combined. Do not over mix. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly. Add the streusel topping across the batter, gently pressing it in slightly.

Ovens vary as do the pans used. I baked mine in the springform pan for 40 minutes. I then turned the oven off, cracked open the door and left the cake in the oven for 10 more minutes. The center didn’t sink and the cake was perfectly baked. You can also check with a toothpick in the center to see if it comes out dry with a few crumbs attached. I find that less reliable. I go by smell and how the cake looks. By turning off the oven and keeping the cake in there for a few additional minutes, I know the cake will be just done without risk of over-baking.

Remove the cake to a wire rack to cool. If necessary, run a thin knife or spatula around the inside edge of the pan before releasing the outer ring of the springform pan.

Once the cake has cooled to warm, you can prepare the icing, if using. Depending on how thick you like the consistency of the icing, will determine how much liquid you use. You can always add a little more sugar if you went too far with the liquid. How you choose to ice the cake is up to your inner artist. You can also choose to spread it across the top and allow it to run down the sides. This is a cake that can be eaten warm.

Italian Apple Cake

Italian Apple Cake

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Autumn and the Jewish New Year always mean sweet/tart/crisp, juicy apples and cinnamon to me. I can’t get enough of them in every and any iteration. My blog has several apple cake examples and you could be excused in thinking that are many more really needed.

But when I came across this recipe for an Italian Apple Cake, I knew I would try it right away. Of course, I tweaked it a bit! The result is a beautiful, fragrant, appley cake that is even better the second day. Every time I lift the lid on the cake plate, I am hit with a waft of apple scent. It’s delicious before I even taste a bite!

Most of the ingredients are always on hand so I was able to pull it together without a trip to the grocery store. There is nothing fancy here or cloyingly sweet. Every bite is chock full of apple chunks and the flavor is clean and apple-forward with a hint of lemon and cinnamon.

While I did use a hand mixer for beating the eggs with the sugar until airy and light, this cake can be made by hand if you have a strong arm. Other than that one task, no special equipment is required. And while I chose to lay some additional apples on top, dotted with butter and sprinkled with Demerara sugar, you could opt to leave that off and simply dust the cooled cake with confectioner’s sugar for presentation. I did also brush the finished cake top with a light coating of apple jelly for a bit of shine.

Italian Apple Cake

With so many varieties of apples available, choose one (or a variety) that is tart/sweet and will hold its shape when baked. No applesauce here!

The holiday of Sukkot begins Sunday night and lasts all week. This is a perfect treat for the coming 8 days. But you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy this Italian Apple Cake. Perfect as is, a dollop of freshly whipped cream or crème fraîche would not go amiss, however. And the cake cuts beautifully.

And if you are like me, and can’t get enough of apples, consider some of these other delicious recipes:

Italian Apple Cake

Apple Cake – Take 2

Whole Wheat Apple Cake

Vegan Dessert to die for – Apple Frangipane Tart

Apple Bread Pudding

Tarte Aux Pommes – Apple Tart

Apple Walnut Bread with Rum-Soaked Raisins

Caramelized Apple Pancake

Apple Pecan Bourbon Bundt Cake

Apple Cinnamon Noodle Kugel

Spiced Apple Cake

Amish Apple Pie

Plum (or Apple)and Almond Paste Tart

Vegan Apple Raisin Cake with Applejack Sauce

Apple Tarte Tatin

Apple Crumble

Apple pie with cheddar cheese crust and hard sauce

Recipe

Italian Apple Cake

Yield: One 9-inch cake

Ingredients

Italian Apple Cake

2.5 to 3 medium apples, peeled, cored and cut into small chunks (I used 2.5, but I could have even had a few more chunks)

1 large apple if using the decorative topping, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

Zest of one small lemon

2 cups (240 g) unbleached, all-purpose flour

3 teaspoons (14 g) double acting baking powder

1 rounded teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt

1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar

1 cup (245 g) whole milk plain yogurt

1/2 cup (113 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 large eggs at room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon unsalted butter for dotting apples on decorative top, if using

A light sprinkling of Demerara or sanding sugar for decorative top, if using

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a non-stick 9-inch spring form pan with a vegetable spray.

Rub the lemon zest into the sugar and set aside while you measure out your other ingredients.

In a medium bowl, mix together the dry ingredients and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, using a hand mixer, cream the lemon/sugar and eggs until they are light in color and VERY fluffy. This takes between 5 and 8 minutes.

Stir in the yogurt, butter and vanilla extract until smooth. Do this by hand with a spatula. Do NOT use the hand mixer.

Add the dry ingredients and stir through gently until everything is well combined. Then add in the apples and gently stir through.

If you are using the optional decorative topping, layer the apple slices in an attractive over-lapping pattern. Then sprinkle the apple slices with the sugar and dot with the butter.

Place the spring form pan on top of a baking pan to catch any oozing from the bottom of the pan. Bake until nicely browned. Ovens vary as do apples. So start checking after 45 minutes but don’t be surprised if the cake takes at least an hour. I always then turn off my oven, leaving the door ajar with the cake inside. This will ensure that the cake really is done and won’t sink. The apples and yogurt will keep the cake moist.

Allow the cake to cool on a wire rack for about 15 minutes. Using a thin spatula, carefully run it around the inside of the pan’s rim to make sure that nothing stuck anywhere. Then you can open the ring and remove it. Cool the cake fully. The cake should easily come off of the bottom of the spring form pan. However, you could also leave it on it and serve from there, just being careful not to cut into your pan.

Place the cooled cake in a covered cake plate. Italian Apple Cake is even better the next day, making it a great do-ahead recipe. Now enjoy!

My Best Oatmeal Cookies

My Best Oatmeal Cookies

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There aren’t too many things that beat a great cookie. And My Best Oatmeal Cookies are a truly great cookie! Chock full of flavorful dried fruits and nuts and seasoned with just the right amount of sugar and spice. Lumpy and bumpy – just the way an oatmeal cookie should be.

My Best Oatmeal Cookies are simple to make, but do use fresh dried fruit for maximum flavor and chew. And please, please, always toast your nuts before adding them to the mixture. For years I would just add nuts straight from the fridge or freezer without toasting them first. What a difference a little bit of toasting makes. Since your oven is already heating up for the baking, just toss your nuts on a baking tray and toast for about 12 minutes or until fragrant while you are prepping the cookies. The nuts go in last so the timing is perfect.

While you could just go with cinnamon and nutmeg in this recipe, I strongly urge you to make up a batch of Sweet Hawaij. I’ve begun using it in most recipes that call for cinnamon. Included below is a recipe for Sweet Hawaij from the cookbook Shuk by Einat Admony and Janna Gur. This Yemeni spice blend is magical. I often use it to replace anywhere you might use cinnamon, pumpkin or baharat spices. It will take coffee and roasted vegetables to the next level. Try it in pumpkin pie. I guarantee you will be converted. I make up my own but it is also available online and at spice stores.

Oatmeal cookies happen to be a favorite of my husband’s. The last recipe I tried was for a pumpkin bread that didn’t work the way I had hoped. So I really wanted to make something he and I would love. While I am a huge chocolate lover, everything does not need chocolate to be great. A tendency I have noticed is that people put chocolate chips in EVERYTHING. Please just leave these cookies as is and enjoy them with a glass of milk or a cup of coffee or tea.

You can enjoy My Best Oatmeal Cookies, still slightly warm from the oven or they will keep for days in an airtight tin with a slice of bread in it.

My Best Oatmeal Cookies

Recipe

Yield: About 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

1.5 cups of unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons of sweet hawaij

1/4 teaspoon of kosher or fine sea salt

1 large egg, well beaten

1/2 cup melted butter or vegan butter

1/2 cup melted solid vegetable fat (I like Crisco)

1.75 cups “Old Fashioned” Rolled Oats

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1 Tablespoon dark molasses

1/4 cup dairy or non-dairy milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup toasted chopped pecans

1/2 cup toasted chopped walnuts

1/2 cup moist raisins

1/2 cup moist medjool dates, coarsely diced

1/2 cup moist dried sour cherries

Directions

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Line 3 baking sheets with Silpat or parchment. Set aside.

Sift the dry ingredients (first 4 ingredients listed) into a large bowl. Add all of the remaining ingredients and mix through until everything is distributed evenly.

Using a 1.5 Tablespoon cookie scoop (or a spoon) place dough on the prepared baking sheet. The cookies do not spread a great deal but I still keep them about 2 inches apart. I do not flatten the scoops. This keeps the centers chewy and the edges crisp-ish.

My Best Oatmeal Cookies
My Best Oatmeal Cookies

Bake, turning half-way (unless you are lucky enough to have a convection oven) for about 16 to 18 minutes. Ovens vary but the cookies should have flattened out somewhat and are brown around the edges. Allow the cookies to cool for about 3 minutes (more is fine) on the baking sheet before removing them to a cooling rack.

Sweet Hawaij

Yield: About 1/2 cup

1 Tablespoon ground cloves

2 Tablespoons freshly grated nutmeg

2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon

2 Tablespoons ground ginger

1 Tablespoon ground cardamom

This will last in a cool, dark place kept in a small glass air-tight jar for up to a year. Mine gets used up waaaaaay before that!

Persian Red Lentil Tamarind Soup (Dal Adas)

Persian Red Lentil Tamarind Soup

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Persian Red Lentil Tamarind Soup bursts with warming spices and the fruity tang of tamarind. Eat it as a satisfying soup with naan or over rice as a stew. While it may not be traditional, add some torn kale, spinach or chard for extra flavor and nutrition. This hearty vegan one-pot meal is perfect as we enter into fall.

While many of us are still facing summer temperatures thanks to climate change, the shorter days and some cooler nights are harbingers of the autumn and winter that really will finally arrive. We love soup anytime of the year and when it contains beans, lentils or pulses – so much the better. These perfect little nutrition bombs that come in so many guises are a superfood that we all can enjoy. Everything from creamy cannellini beans to dal in colors of the rainbow, runner beans, pinto, black-eyed peas…. I could keep going – and likely have tried most of them.

Persian Red Lentil and Tamarind Soup

Some legumes, like the masoor dal (or split red lentil) used here, cook up in under 30 minutes. You may see some in your stores that are much brighter, orangey red. This is because of added food coloring. Try to always buy organic dried beans.

These days I mostly cook from dried beans. They store beautifully in an airtight container and even older beans will revive with a long soak and slow cooking. They define comfort food, are budget friendly, nutritious and appear in almost every culture in one form or another. Everything from a cassoulet to frank and beans, Hoppin’ John and chili. South Asians wouldn’t think of a meal without some form of dal. And if you are trying to eat more vegetarian or vegan meals, there is no single food that packs a more nutritious power. So when I came across this recipe, I knew that it would be added to my regular rotation.

Now I’ll admit, that it can sometimes be challenging to take food-porn worthy photos of cooked lentils. This is especially true if they are the main ingredient without the benefit of other colorful produce. However, once you give them a taste in one of the myriad ways that they can be prepared, I think you’ll come to agree that delicious things occasionally come in slightly less attractive packages. What the French might refer to a person as “jolie-laide” or beautiful-ugly.

Persian Red Lentil Tamarind Soup

So whether you call these Nature’s gifts lentils, dal, pulses, or legumes, be sure to incorporate them into your diet.

For two other delicious red lentil soups that will give you dinner in under an hour:

Red Lentil Soup With North African Spices

Greek Red Lentil Soup

Recipe

Yield: 6 Servings

Persian Red Lentil and Tamarind Soup

Ingredients

3 Tablespoons EVOO

8 cups of water or broth

1 large yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped

6 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

A 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

About 12 to 15 fresh cilantro stems, finely chopped

1.5 teaspoons kosher salt (Diamond Crystal preferred)

2 rounded teaspoons ground cumin

1 rounded teaspoon turmeric

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo Pepper or cayenne

1 Tablespoon tomato paste

2.5 cups split red lentils (masoor dal), rinsed well and drained

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 Tablespoons tamarind paste (more or less depending on brand) or fresh lime juice

Directions


In a large pot, heat the ghee or oil over medium-high. Add the onion, reduce the heat to medium and cook the onion, stirring occasionally, until golden and a little browned around the edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, add the garlic, ginger and cilantro stems. Add a little more ghee or oil if your pot seems dry. Season with a pinch of salt and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and softened, 3 to 5 minutes.

Stir in the cumin, turmeric and cayenne and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and cook in the oil to take off its raw edge and deepen its color, stirring frequently and taking care not to burn the paste, about 1 minute.

Add the lentils and stir to combine. Add 8 cups of water and season with salt (about 1½ tablespoons) and black pepper to taste. Partially cover, raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Cover completely, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot, until the lentils soften, about 15minutes.

Reduce the heat to low and stir in the cinnamon. Add the tamarind paste or lime juice, 1 tablespoon at a time, tasting as you go to ensure it hits just the right bright and tangy notes to balance the heat. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed, then cover and simmer for 10 minutes more, until all the flavors meld.

Garnish with the reserved cilantro leaves and serve with flatbread or rice, if desired.

Lamb Merguez and Chicken Tagine

Lamb Merguez and Chicken Tagine

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Lamb Merguez and Chicken Tagine is aromatic, visually striking and oh so satisfying. Served with a whole wheat couscous with barberries and nuts, the dinner was ready in about an hour. While the couscous may not have been steamed over the tagine as a traditional couscous would be, it had the virtue of being ready in about 6 minutes. Here’s how this flavorful tagine came about.

So Shabbat was coming – as it does every week – and I had nothing planned. Feeling a bit lazy, I didn’t want to go to the grocery store again to pick something up. These days we pretty much only eat meat on Shabbat and later in the week if there are left-overs. It seemed like a good time to check out my freezer. It’s mostly filled with nuts, frozen fruit, ice cream and veggie sausages so I wasn’t very hopeful. However, in the very back under some bags of fruit, I found one pound of chicken tenders and some lamb merguez sausage. Hmmmmmm….

I always have plenty of grains, legumes, olives and veggies around as well as great spices, so I figured I could come up with something. After spending a bit of time Googling and deciding that I wanted to make a tagine, I found one that used both merguez sausage and chicken. I made some tweaks and the resulting Lamb Merguez and Chicken Tagine exceeded all of my expectations.

While the end result was absolutely delicious, when I make this again – and I will – I would choose boneless chicken thighs instead of breast meat. Not only do the thighs have more flavor, but they stay juicy and are more forgiving than breast meat. But if the pandemic taught me anything, it is that we make do with what’s on hand.

I eat with all of my senses. While I may sacrifice aesthetics on occasion for flavor, ideally a meal is attractive as well as delicious. It is an extra treat if my apartment is permeated with lovely spices. There is just something so comforting. While this dish as made is well-seasoned, it is not spicy. Frequently a tagine will be accompanied either by zhug or harissa for those who desire more heat.

Although I only used a little over a pound and a half of meat, the meal, with side salads and dips, could easily feed six people. Four people if my son is one of them! As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I always have four to six salads and dips for shabbat, which we then enjoy throughout the week.

This wonderful Lamb Merguez and Chicken Tagine does not require a tagine to successfully make this dish. I use my favorite Staub enameled cast iron dome-covered every-day pan – well, every day. You do want to use a heavy pan with a wide bottom.

Definitely give this a try. It makes for a delicious meal any time. But remember, it is the spices that make this dish. So be sure to use fresh ones.

For some salad and dip ideas

Salads for Every Meal

Spinach Avocado Hummus

Moroccan Beet Salad (Barba)

Moroccan Beet and Orange Salad with Pistachios

Garlicky Beet Spread

Twice-Cooked Eggplant Salad

Mushroom Walnut Pâté

Moroccan Carrot Salad

Recipe

Lamb Merguez and Chicken Tagine

Yield: 4 to 6 generous portions depending on sides

Ingredients

Spice mix

1 rounded teaspoon ground cumin

1 rounded teaspoon paprika (sweet or smoked)

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

3/4 teaspoon ground coriander

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon cayenne or Aleppo pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the tagine

1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2 to 3-inch pieces

8.5 ounces of lamb merguez sausage, cut into 3-inch pieces (See photo above)

1/4 cup good olive oil

2 large carrots, peeled and cut on an angle into 2-inch pieces (See photo above)

1 large zucchini, cut on an angle into 2-inch pieces (See photo above)

1 large yellow onion, peeled, halved and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices

1 15.5 ounce can of chickpeas, drained (I cook up my own chickpeas and then used the cooking liquid in the tagine instead of broth.)

1 rounded Tablespoon garlic ginger paste OR 4 cloves of garlic minced and 1.5 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

1.5 cups of salted chicken or vegetable broth OR the cooking liquid from home cooked chickpeas

1/2 cup of pitted green olives (I like Castelvetrano olives)

1/2 of a preserved lemon, the peel only sliced into julienne (I make my own, but these are available nowadays in many stores and online)

For the couscous

2 cups whole wheat or regular couscous (Not the Israeli couscous which is bigger and takes longer to cook)

1/2 cup dried barberries, raisins or dried cranberries

3 Tablespoon EVOO

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

4 cups of chicken or vegetable broth

1/2 cup toasted coarsely chopped pistachios or sliced almonds

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh parsley

Directions

For the tagine

Mix together all of the spices for the spice mix. Pour 2 Tablespoons of the olive oil into your pan over a low heat. Add the spice mix and cook for 2 to 3 minutes in order for the spices to bloom and become fragrant.

Once the spices have bloomed, add the garlic ginger paste (OR the grated ginger and garlic) carrot, zucchini and onion and bathe with the oil and spices. Cook for a few minutes or just until the vegetables begin to soften.

Now add the chicken, merguez sausage and chickpeas. Gently toss so that everything is coated with the spices and oil. Next add in the preserved lemon and the olives and then add the broth over everything. Increase the heat to bring everything to a boil.

Cover the pan and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 40 minutes or until the chicken and sausage are cooked through.

For the Couscous

Place the couscous, barberries, cranberries or raisins, olive oil, turmeric and salt in a glass or ceramic serving dish Stir through so that everything is evenly distributed. Bring the broth to a boil and pour over the couscous mixture. Cover tightly with a lid, foil or plastic wrap. Leave covered for 6 to 8 minutes or until all of the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is fluffy. Add the chopped nuts and parsley and stir through. Now enjoy!