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.

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

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

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

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!

Simple Basbousa

Simple Basbousa

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Simple Basbousa is an easy version of this beloved Levantine sweet treat. This recipe requires no special equipment and because no eggs are called for, it can easily be veganized.

There are many versions of this delightful dessert, including one on my blog with pistachios and coconut. However, all of the recipes for basbousa utilize semolina and a sugar syrup. This means that the cake flavors intensify over time and remains incredibly moist even after several days. Because the Simple Basbousa is dense and sweet from the sugar syrup, a little goes a long way. But it is the perfect complement to well-spiced foods and strong coffee fragrant with cardamom.

I did make a few tweaks to the original recipe, but the changes do not make this Simple Basbousa any more complicated. Generally baked in a rectangular pan. I made mine in a 10-inch square pan because that was what I had on hand.

For Americans who are unfamiliar with basbousa, this Simple Basbousa version reminded both me and my husband of a moist cornbread with honey. Nothing fancy to see here. Just a delicious, simple cake. And in the summer, who wants to slave over dessert?

For more delicious semolina cakes:

Orange Semolina Cake

Lemon Semolina Almond Cake

Simple Basbousa

Recipe

Yield: 25 squares

For the cake

2 cups of coarse semolina (My so-called coarse semolina proved to be only slightly less refined than my fine semolina, so don’t fret if you can’t find both.)

1/4 cup of fine semolina

1 cup of plain whole milk natural yogurt OR plant-based such as coconut

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup of unsalted butter or a plant-based vegan “butter,” melted

1/4 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon each of pure almond and vanilla extract

25 whole blanched almonds

For the syrup

2 cups of granulated sugar

2 cups of water

4 to 5 cardamom pods

1 teaspoon of orange blossom or rose water (I used orange blossom as my husband is not a fan of rose water)

Simple Basbousa

Directions

For the cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix together the sugar and melted butter. Then add the yogurt and mix until smooth and well combined.

Combine the semolina, salt and baking soda and then add to the yogurt mixture. Stir well. The mixture will be fairly thick.

Place the batter into a greased pan (9 X 12 or 10 X 10). Smooth out the mixture using the back of a spoon or an off-set spatula. Score the basbousa with a knife into the squares that you see above.

Add an almond to the center of each square, pressing down gently into the batter.

Bake 35 minutes or until golden brown. Ovens vary so it may take longer or shorter.

Meanwhile, make the syrup. Bring the water, sugar and cardamom pods to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 8 to 10 minutes. Then remove the syrup from the heat, discard the cardamom pods and mix through the orange blossom or rose water.

As soon as the basbousa comes out of the oven, pour the syrup gradually over the top. It will be absorbed almost immediately. Allow the basbousa to cool and then cut through the score lines and enjoy!

Libyan-Style Fish (Chraimeh)

Libyan-Style Fish

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Libyan-Style Fish (Chraimeh) is to Libyan Jews – and many Israelis – what gefilte fish is to Eastern European Jews. And while my family origins are strictly the Pale of Settlement, I am a bigger fan of chraimeh than gefilte fish. This sweet and savory (sometimes fiery) dish is bound to become a tradition in your house too.

Normally made with a firm-fleshed non-oily white fish such as sea bass or amberjack, salmon steaks are more readily available where I live and also more affordable. You can also make this with thicker fillets of a white fish with the skin still on. I have even eaten made from catfish.

There are as many recipes for Libyan-Style Fish as there are people who originated from Libya. And each family prides itself on its version. While comparing recipes (and I must have looked at at least 6) it seems that all have in common: garlic; paprika, caraway seeds, cumin and chiles. The recipe I finally landed on comes from Jerusalem a Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. But, of course, with a few tweaks by me.

Whether you choose to use this recipe or some other, just be sure to have plenty of good bread on hand for dipping into the sauce. The sauce is what this dish is all about! While normally served as a starter to the Shabbat or holiday meal, my husband and I ate it as our main course on Shabbat.

Serve Libyan-Style Fish (Chraimeh) warm or at room temperature. I did tone down the heat a bit to suit our tastes. This can get pretty fiery in some versions. But the beauty of making these foods at home is that you are the boss. YOU control the heat. Because the spices make the dish, I encourage you to only use the freshest dried spices. Better yet – grind your own. And the end product should be a perfect balance of sweet and savory.

Libyan-Style Fish (Chraimeh) is a great make-ahead dish and can easily be doubled or tripled to serve a crowd. Fish cooked in a sweet or savory tomato-based sauce is ubiquitous across the Mediterranean and North Africa. The Moroccan version is a bit more subtle in its flavorings but not terribly dissimilar. While served year-round, it is a perfect summer make-ahead meal. Add some rice or couscous and you have dinner!

For another great Shabbat and holiday fish starter, try my Egyptian Ground Fish Balls in a tomato-based sauce. My family loves these for Passover. And if you truly cannot live without gefilte fish (And who says you have to choose?!) try my Gefilte Fish Loaf.

Recipe

Yield: 3 to 4 servings as dinner. About 6 servings as a starter

Ingredients

Libyan-Style Fish

About 5 Tablespoons of neutral oil (I use canola)

2 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, coarsely chopped OR 1 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes

3 to 4 salmon steaks (about 1.5 to 2 pounds), rinsed and patted dry

6 large cloves of garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped

2 teaspoons sweet paprika

1 Tablespoon of caraway seeds, dry toasted in a pan and then ground

rounded 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1.5 teaspoons of ground cumin

rounded 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (preferably Ceylon cinnamon)

1 green chile, coarsely chopped with or without seeds depending on the level of heat you are looking for

About 2/3 cup of water

3 Tablespoons of tomato paste

2 teaspoons of granulated sugar (I actually used Demerara)

1/3 cup diced roasted peppers ( I had homemade, but jarred are fine)

Juice of 1/2 of a lemon plus 1 lemon cut into 4 wedges

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or flat-leafed parsley

kosher salt and Aleppo pepper (or freshly cracked black pepper) to taste

Directions

Place the garlic, spices, 2 Tablespoons of oil and chile in a blender or food processor (Mortar and pestle would also work) and blitz to a thick paste. I needed to add another Tablespoon of oil to get the right consistency.

Libyan-Style Fish

In a large, heavy, flat-bottomed pan with a cover, add remaining 2 Tablespoons of oil and heat to shimmering. Add in the garlic spice mixture and stir for 30 seconds until fragrant.

Garlic Spice Mixture

Immediately add the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, roasted peppers, fresh lemon juice, water and sugar and stir well. Bring to a simmer and cook partially covered for about 10 minutes or until the tomatoes have softened and the sauce has thickened some. Taste and add more salt as needed and Aleppo or black pepper.

In the meantime, rinse and dry your fish. Liberally salt and pepper both sides of the fish and set aside.

When the sauce has melded, add the fish steaks, pushing them gently into the sauce. The sauce will not cover them. My salmon steaks were quite thick, so I simmered them for 9 minutes on the first side, spooning sauce over them occasionally and then turned them over to cook for another 8 to 9 minutes. Depending on the thickness of your fish you may not need to turn the pieces over. You want to cook the fish to the flake stage. Spoon sauce over the fish.

Allow the fish and sauce to cool down to warm before serving. Garnish with chopped fresh herbs. Libyan-Style Fish can be served warm or at room temperature. Serve over rice or with LOTS of delicious bread like fresh challah. Left-overs can be refrigerated and gently reheated.

Hummus with Meat and Eggplant

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Hummus with spiced meat (Hummus im Basar) is a meal. Hummus with Meat and Eggplant is a feast. And while this dish is clearly not one of my vegan options, it can be made with one of the many meat crumble substitutes available.

I cannot urge you strongly enough to make your own hummus. It does require an overnight soaking of chickpeas but is a simple enough process. And while I have been known to buy a good ready-made brand on occasion, the difference of home-made is substantial. I especially love hummus freshly made and still warm. Hummus with Meat and Eggplant deserves nothing less than the best.

Because this dish is all about the hummus, please only prepare it if you are willing to make your own hummus. Even using a good quality canned chickpea instead of working from dried beans, is preferable to store-bought hummus. Okay, I’ve had my rant.

All this dish needs for the perfect meal is some fresh pita (home-made if possible) and some salads. This time I charred some peppers and made a quick salad with garlic, pickled lemons and cilantro. There is the ubiquitous baba ghanoush, my version of a Jerusalem salad along with Moroccan carrots and herbed olives. I’m lucky that my husband has learned to enjoy making fresh whole wheat pita. If you have access to a good fresh store-bought pita or other flat-bread like naan, go ahead and use that. (Lucky you!)

Salatim

Once your hummus is made, the rest of the dish really is ready in under an hour. If you follow my blog, you will know by now that I adore eggplant in all of its varieties. Eggplant is so versatile. I am using it here to enhance the depth of flavor and add a velvetiness to the meat. And while it is doing this, the eggplant also allows me to use less meat, something I am always looking to do. If you are using vegan “meat” crumbles, the eggplant will add great flavor and texture as well.

This recipe for Hummus with Meat and Eggplant will easily feed 6 to 8 people with bread and salads. Leftovers are possible, but I would store the topping and hummus separately for best results.

I have chosen to not include a recipe for standard hummus here. (However, do be sure to check out my Spinach and Avocado Hummus for a great variation on a classic.) There are literally dozens of recipes available online and you very likely are already making one of them. One isn’t necessarily more “right” than the next. I like mine with garlic and lemon. Choose the one that you like. They will all work here.

My starting point for the meat topping comes from Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavors From My Israeli Kitchen: A Cookbook by Adeena Sussman. I then made it my own. Don’t get too bogged down in exact amounts. We each like things a particular way – sweeter, more tart, spicier etc. Also different brands of tamarind paste may be more tart than others and some of my spices may be fresher – or less fresh than yours.

It may seem as if there are a LOT of ingredients. However, if you do Middle Eastern or South Asian cooking, you should have most things on hand. And there are absolutely no fancy techniques here. It’s basically chop, mix and cook. Oh yes – and enjoy!

Hummus with Meat and Eggplant

Recipe

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

4 Tablespoons EVOO

1 pound ground lamb or lean beef or meat substitute

1 medium eggplant (about 1 pound), cut into 1-inch dice

1 large onion (any variety), peeled and finely chopped

4 large cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed or grated

2 teaspoons kosher salt or to taste

2 teaspoons dried, ground cumin

rounded 3/4 teaspoon ground sumac

1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper

3 Tablespoons Tamarind paste or to taste

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

15 ounces of tomato sauce

Freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 of a juicy lemon

1 to 2 Tablespoons date syrup, agave or maple syrup to taste

1.5 cups of chopped fresh herbs – cilantro, flat-leafed parsley, dill or a mixture

1/4 lightly toasted pine nuts or blanched, slivered almonds

About 4 cups of fresh hummus

Hummus with Meat and Eggplant

Directions

Add the oil to a large, heavy flat-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven. Heat it to shimmering and add the onion, eggplant and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are softened and the onions begin to brown. This will take about 10 to 12 minutes.

Make a well in the middle of the vegetables, pushing them to the side. Add the ground meat and break it up, allowing it to brown. When it is almost finished browning, add in the chopped garlic. Give the whole pan a good stir. I like to use a flat wooden spatula to left everything up and move it around.

Add in the tomato sauce and paste and spices. Give everything a good stir. Next add the tamarind paste and lemon juice. Stir through, taste it and adjust the seasonings to taste. My tamarind was pretty tart so I added in about 1 Tablespoon of date syrup to “soften” things a bit.

Continue cooking, covered on a low heat for about 10 more minutes to allow everything to meld. This can be done ahead and then reheated when you are ready to eat.

Just before serving, add about 1 cup of the chopped herbs to the mixture and stir through.

Hummus with Meat and Eggplant

To serve if you plan on eating everything in one sitting: arrange the hummus on a platter and smooth it out, making the sides a bit higher than the center. Spoon the meat (or meat substitute) filling into the center and garnish with remaining chopped herbs and toasted nuts. Now dig in!

To serve individual portions because it will not all be eaten in one evening: arrange individual plates as if they are mini-platters.

Spinach Avocado Hummus

Spinach Avocado Hummus

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These days any bean spread or dip is called “hummus.” It used to bother me because hummus is such an iconic dish in the Middle East. It just seemed disrespectful. And then I thought – “loosen up! Get a grip.” So while this Spinach Avocado “Hummus” definitely includes chickpeas and tahini, it also includes spinach and avocado to create a vibrant green deliciousness. This wonderful riff on a classic just might become a new favorite.

The seemingly long time in the food processor creates a beautifully fluffy spread with every element well blended. This almost light-as-air hummus practically melts in your mouth.

And while I had never seen nor tasted this Spinach Avocado Hummus before, when I went searching for recipes to compare, there were about a dozen. All were pretty similar and I have no idea which one came first. For me, I became aware of it here.

The measurements given should be viewed as a starting place. Obviously, you can fine tune things to suit your personal tastes. I changed up a few things to suit my tastes, adding more spice and lemon juice. So definitely don’t get bogged down in having exactly 200g of baby spinach or one cup of onions etc.

One thing I do feel pretty strongly about is that whenever possible, I like to cook my own beans. If I am making soup, the cooking liquid is a great base for the broth. (The liquid can also be used as aquafaba.) But while the beans do honestly taste better (just ask my granddaughter!) this Spinach Avocado Hummus will also be quite good if you only use canned chickpeas. However, if you must use canned beans, please use a good quality organic bean. This is especially important if you are vegan or vegetarian where beans may be a big source of daily protein.

This gorgeous dip will brighten up any table. As I have written before, we always have at least four or five salads, dips or spreads for Shabbat that we then enjoy all week. It is a habit that I picked up after living in Israel for almost a year. There and throughout the Middle East, salads are served at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Unlike my traditional hummus, which I prefer to eat still warm, the Spinach Avocado Hummus tasted best after refrigeration. I thought that the flavors had more time to meld and enjoyed it even more the second day.

Just be sure to have plenty of fresh pita, naan or challah to scoop up the Spinach Avocado Hummus. Of course, crispy veggies or pita chips work well too.

Spinach Avocado Hummus

Check out some of my other salads and spreads:

Salads for Every Meal

Garlicky Beet Spread

Moroccan Beet and Orange Salad with Pistachios

Beet and Chickpea Quinoa Salad

Moroccan Beet Salad (Barba)

Beet Caviar

Moroccan Carrot Salad

Orange and Radish Salad

Farro Salad

Get your Freekeh on – with this lemony, herbed salad

Twice-Cooked Eggplant Salad

Eggplant Pâté (Bharta)

Eggplant Raita Middle Eastern Style

Greek Eggplant Dip: Melitzanosalata

Recipe

Yield: About 8 servings

Spinach Avocado Hummus

Ingredients

2 cups (340g) cooked, drained chickpeas

2 T EVOO plus more for serving

1 cup (52g) thinly sliced yellow onions

¾ cup (177ml) tap water

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

53.3 oz. (200g) baby spinach

Juice of 1.5 lemon or to taste

3 Tablespoons tahini paste

Flesh of one ripe avocado (avocado weighing about 6 oz. (170g)

2 large garlic cloves, crushed

1.5 teaspoons ground cumin

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (Optional)

1.5 teaspoons kosher salt or to taste

Directions

Place 2 T EVOO in a med. large saucepan and heat on medium. Add the onion and fry until brown (about 8 to 10 minutes.)

Add the drained chickpeas and water to the pot. Bring to a rapid simmer. Then reduce the heat to medium low, cover the pot and cook for about 10 minutes or until the chickpeas begin to breakdown.

Add the baby spinach and stir through until wilted. Remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool somewhat.

Spinach Avocado Hummus

Place everything (including any liquid) in a food processor along with the flesh of the avocado, lemon juice, tahini and spices. Process for about 5 minutes, scraping down the bowl occasionally. The hummus should be creamy and fluffy. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but is even better the next day.

When ready to serve, spread out the hummus on a plate. Garnish with finely chopped pepper, chives, scallion or cilantro and drizzle all over with a good quality olive oil.

The hummus can be refrigerated for several days.

Chickpea Spinach Fesenjan

Chickpea Spinach Fesenjan

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Like many people these days, my husband and I are eating more plant-based meals. Maybe you are choosing to eat less meat for your health or because it is better for the planet. Perhaps you are making this choice for ethical or moral reasons. With so many wonderful options for meat substitutes now readily available, it has never been easier to try making this transition.

Not too long ago, my niece gifted me a beautiful cookbook called I Cook in Color by Asha Gomez. Based now in Atlanta, GA, Ms. Gomez originates from Kerala in Southern India. The dishes are visually striking with fresh flavors, lots of herbs and spices and fruit/vegetable forward.

Chickpea Spinach Fesenjan is her take on a famous Persian stew or khoresh. It is generally made with some kind of ground meat or poultry. Redolent with walnuts, cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, cardamom, orange zest and pomegranate molasses, it is rich without being heavy. Following Ms. Gomez’s suggestion, I served the vegan Chickpea Spinach Fesenjan with a Dilled Red Onion Basmati Rice. For a bit of extra richness and umami, the rice cooks in coconut milk.

Dilled Red Onion Basmati Rice

Since it is not really pomegranate season here, I was unable to garnish my dish with that beautiful pop of red jeweled fruit. But the resulting dinner was nevertheless amazing and I would be proud to serve it to guests. I accompanied my tangy, sweet fesenjan with some ripe cantaloupe as a starter and the Saffron Pistachio Blondies for dessert. Meat? Never missed it!

However, if you really aren’t ready to go meatless, you can try this more traditional version of fesenjan.

Recipe

Chickpea Spinach Fesenjan

Servings: about 6

Ingredients

2 cups lightly toasted walnuts

3 Tablespoons neutral vegetable oil

1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced

4 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

2 teaspoons ground turmeric powder

1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1 teaspoon cumin seeds’1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

2 cinnamon sticks

2 Tablespoons light brown sugar or jaggery

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1.5 teaspoons kosher salt

3 wide strips of orange zest from a navel orange

2 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1/4 cup pomegranate molasses (readily available these days, but a recipe is linked)

4 cups of cooked chickpeas (I like to cook my own, but canned are fine too)

4 cups torn fresh spinach leaves (About 2 big handfuls)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. (This can also be done in a dry pan on the stove if you are not using your oven for anything else.) Spread the walnuts on a sheet pan in a single layer and place them in the oven for about 5 minutes. As soon as you begin to smell the walnuts, immediately remove them from the heat and allow them to cool.

Chickpea Spinach Fesenjan

Once cooled, pulse the walnuts in a food processor until almost a fine powder. Be careful not to turn them into a paste.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pan with a lid over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally until they are golden (about 8 minutes). Next add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute more.

Now add in the spices and roast for about 30 seconds to help them bloom. Once they are fragrant, add the brown sugar and salt and give everything a quick stir.

Once combined, you are ready to add the orange zest, stock, pomegranate molasses and walnuts. Simmer for 2 minutes, mixing everything through. Then lower the heat to medium-low and add in the chickpeas. Cover the pan and cook for 20 minutes. The fesenjan can be prepared ahead up to this point. When you are ready to serve, add the torn spinach leaves. Give everything a good mix and remove from the heat.

While the fesenjan is cooking, you should prepare your rice, if using. Of course, this would also be delicious with naan or some other flat bread.

Falafel

Falafel and Pita

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Falafel is a ubiquitous Middle Eastern food adopted by the world. Delicious, budget-friendly, vegan and nutritious. Made from chickpeas with lots of fresh herbs and fragrant spices, these crunchy, moist nuggets are a go-to street food that I was first introduced to on a trip to Israel. Stuffed into fresh pita with pickled vegetables and tahina sauce and/or Amba, it is enjoyed standing up chatting with friends. If the juices don’t drip down your arm as you eat then you aren’t doing it right! Veteran falafel eaters learn to adopt a stance when eating where you arch your body a bit back and lean over the falafel.

Of course, Falafel also is great as an appetizer or over a salad. Chickpeas are loaded with protein, cook up beautifully and have great flavor. They are a versatile staple that should be part of everyone’s pantry. Even the cooking liquid known as aquafaba, is a wonderful substitute for egg whites and whips up to make a beautiful meringue-like substance that can be used in all kinds of baked goods.

Having tried several falafel recipes, this one has best suited my tastes. It comes from Molly Yeh with a few tweaks from me. My husband made the pita, but feel free to use store-bought. Generally I am not a huge fan of Ms. Yeh. I find a lot of her recipes very fatty, unhealthy and a bit twee. But she has made a few things that have turned out well and exactly as written, even if over time I have made some changes. This is one such recipe.

Falafel

My husband mistimed the pita, so as a consequence, I made the falafel mixture and ended up refrigerating it in an airtight container overnight. It worked out perfectly. I probably would not keep it uncooked for more than a day, however, given all of the fresh herbs and soaked , but uncooked chickpeas.

We don’t consume a lot of fried foods, but during the pandemic I treated myself to a mini-fryer. This was definitely one of those lightbulb moments. The particular fryer I bought is inexpensive and doesn’t take up a lot of space, which I don’t have. It is easy to use, clean-up is a snap and best of all – no fried food smell. The temperature is constantly controlled with almost no absorption of oil by anything you are frying. (No, I am not compensated by the company.) That said, the original recipe called for shallow frying in a pan. Either method would work well. As you can tell from my photos, I love a really well-browned outside with just a wonderful crunch. The inside is still moist and green from the herbs.

Many street vendors sell their falafel stuffed into pita with french fries on top. I have to admit that I never quite got that, especially as someone who REALLY likes crispy fries. They also have a knack, built up over time, of stuffing a simply enormous amount of stuff into a pita. I do not yet have that knack. However you decide to eat your falafel patties, you won’t be disappointed. Make them soon. They are a perfect addition to Meatless Mondays.

Falafel and Pita

Recipe

Yield: About 4 servings

Ingredients

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

2 teaspoons cumin seeds 

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked for 10 hours or overnight and drained 

1 small onion, coarsely chopped 

4 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1/4 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves with stems, roughly chopped 

1/4 cup lightly packed flat-leaf parsley leaves with stems, roughly chopped 

1/4 cup lightly packed fresh dill, leaves and stems, roughly chopped

3 to 4 Tablespoons, fresh mint leaves, torn

1/4 teaspoon baking soda 

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 

1 teaspoon kosher salt 

1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (Optional)

2 tablespoons all-purpose unbleached flour 

Fresh Juice of one large lemon

Olive oil or flavorless oil, for frying 

Falafel and Pita

Directions

Toast the coriander seeds and cumin seeds in a skillet over medium heat until lightly browned and fragrant, then grind in a spice grinder. (I grind my spices a medium amount. I think the spices are better distributed throughout if done on a medium rather than a course grind.)

In a food processor, combine the cumin, coriander, soaked chickpeas, onion, garlic, fresh herbs, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, a few turns of black pepper, Aleppo pepper, if used, flour, and lemon juice and pulse quickly, 80 to 100 times, until the mixture is combined, but still slightly grainy. If you squeeze a spoonful in your hand and it holds together, you have the right texture.

Falafel

In a large skillet, heat ¼-inch oil over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking. Form balls of falafel mixture, 2 to 3 tablespoons each, packing them firmly and then flattening them slightly. Fry on all sides until golden brown. Transfer to a paper towel.

If using a deep fryer, then use as directed with the oil set to 350 degrees F. Carefully drop the falafel balls into the fryer a few at a time. I like my balls well-browned and with a crispy outside and a just moist inside. There is no need to turn the patties since both sides get cooked at the same time. I didn’t time things but the patties cook in about 3 minutes. You want to be sure that the falafel is fully cooked since you are using raw, soaked chickpeas.