lebanese lamb in yogurt sauce

It’s been a while friends, and believe me it has been as painful for me to be away as it has for you. Of course I’m only kidding, there are far better food blogs to whet your appetite. Martin was away for a month and I began with ambitious plans. I was ready to cook things that he would not enjoy. Soups and beans, and … more soup. But I failed, I only made soup once and by the time I was done with that heaping pot, I was ready to be done with soup for a while. I also didn’t care to be creative or experiment. It’s easier to cook when you have an audience. For the rest of the month I ate eggs, beans, guacamole, and cauliflower (not all at once though). All this time I kept hearing about all the delicious Turkish food Martin was eating. As hard as I tried to imagine my cauliflower to be borek, it was not. Making something so extravagant for myself was also out of question. As Martin was preparing to come home, I was preparing my pantry. While he wanted no fuss salmon, I wanted lamb – fatty lamb!

I found this recipe on the Taste of Beirut blog. When I first saw this recipe my mouth was watering. When I read this recipe for the second time (after all the ingredients were purchased) I realized it was like a Pakistani Pulao. This was unfortunate because I don’t really care for pulao. I pressed on and made this and wasn’t disappointed. It was warm, comforting and delicious. While it has some of the same tones as pulao, the creamy texture is what set it apart.

Lebanese Lamb in Yogurt Sauce
1 lb lamb shoulder
1 cup yogurt
1 egg white
1 tbsp cornstarch diluted in water
6 cloves garlic
1 onion halved
1 bay leaf
pepperforns
allspice berries
.

Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a heavy pot. Begin by browning the lamb shoulders. Brown the shoulder pieces in batches, without overcrowding the pan. Once brown, transfer shoulders to a plate. After all of the pieces have been browned return the shanks to pot and immediately cover with water. Be sure that the shoulder pieces are completely submerged. Add the bay leaf, allspice berries, peppercorns, and onion.

Bring the stock to a simmer and skim periodically. Cook the shoulders for 1-3 hours until the meat is falling off the bones. Gently pull the shoulder pieces out of the stock and onto a clean work surface. When cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and discard the bones. Continue to boil the stock down. The onion should be soft, and easily broken apart with a wooden spoon.

In a separate skillet, quickly saute the garlic cloves in a tablespoon of olive oil until fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside.

Whisk the egg white lightly and mix with the yogurt and cornstarch. Strain the stock to remove large spices and return to heat. Slowly add the yogurt mixture to the meat stock and reduce the heat to a simmer allowing the mixture to thicken. Add the meat pieces back into the yogurt mixture as well as the garlic. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with rice.

Recipe notes: As I said, this recipe reminds me of pulao but what you end up with is a very creamy lamb dish. It is also lamb, so be prepared for your food to taste and smell like lamb. I used lamb shoulder steaks, but you could also use shanks. For those of you who are stocked with South Asian spices, you could always just toss in a heaping spoon of whole garam masala in place of the spices I listed in the recipe. I strained my stock, because I don’t care for large spices in my food, but not a necessary step. Also, boiling down the stock will allow you to skip out on the nearly ½ cup of cornstarch suggested in the original recipe (yikes!). If you end up with about 4 cups of stock, you could use 1 cup of the stock to prepare your rice (YUM!) and remainder in the yogurt sauce.

Advertisement

boeuf bourguignon

I feel left out. I keep hearing about this dish, it’s simplicity, rich flavors, and basic technique. However, the sheer quantity of wine in this French classic has left me feeling like an outsider. As someone who doesn’t drink alcohol the copious amount of wine that goes into this dish is far beyond justifiable. One can’t even hold to the half-truth of alcohol “cooking off.” This isn’t just a glug of red wine, it is a luxurious alcohol bath. The beef is practically inebriated! Also, I don’t know how to pronounce “Bourguignon.” Tired of being left on the sidelines, I decided to try it. Of course I replaced wine with a mix of broth and grape juice, although with trepidation. I mean grape juice meat doesn’t sound all that awesome.
I have always been hesitant of making dishes at home that are wine heavy. It is hard to know whether your homemade grape juice concoction will really be an adequate replacement and if the flavors work in the end. Fortunately they did. I was amazed at how just a handful of ingredients could end up tasting so rich and delicious.

Boeuf Bourguignon

1 lb beef shoulder (don’t remove the fat!)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp flour
1 cup grape juice
1 cup chicken or beef stock
1 clove garlic
a tied bundle of thyme

Season the meat with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven or heavy pan. Add the meat in batches and sear on all sides until brown. Try not to overcrowd the pan, set the meat aside once it is all browned. Lower the heat and add the onions to the pot and cook until soft and translucent, roughly 10 minutes. Sprinkle flour over onions and cook for an additional 4-5 minutes. Add the grape juice and stock to the pot, scraping up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Bring the liquids to a boil.

Add the meat to the pot along with the garlic and thyme. If your meat isn’t submerged in the stock/juice add some water until the meat is covered. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer for about 2 hours, or until fall-apart tender. Stir every 20 minutes and remove any scum, oil that may accumulate. When done, remove thyme and serve.

Recipe notes: I found this pretty enjoyable, especially the second day (it’s also easier to remove the solidified oil). It is a solid stew base that can be adapted and modified. I ended up cooking mine much longer, the meat just wasn’t as tender as I wanted it. I added baby bella mushrooms in the last 15-20 minutes of cooking, but carrots, peas or other veggies are just fine. We ate this with a loaf of bread, but this stew over a bowl of buttery egg noodles sounds pretty awesome too. Was it authentic? I will probably never know.

Chicken Kibbe Pie

I had the good fortune of visiting Lebanon this summer. We took a quick stop in Beirut before heading off to Istanbul. It was hard to make sense of Beirut. It was dizzying. After a long flight and thinking I was about to die because my tongue was black (apparently pepto makes your tongue black!) I found Beirut difficult to understand. I would continuously seeing bullet ridden buildings and crumbling structures standing not to far from new and shiny yet eerily uninhabited buildings reshaping the skyline. Everywhere we went I could see the presence of passed powers in Beirut – most notably French and Ottoman. It was a hard place for me to figure out.

But sometimes the best learning is through eating, and boy was I schooled. Beirut had some of the best food that I have ever had. The richness, and complexity in flavors and textures was just amazing. I would go back just for the food. More than just the incredible foods, the food culture in Beirut rivaled that of major cities worldwide. In my own ignorance, I didn’t even know that the Lebanese had such appreciation for local and organic produce. While browsing a few English books in a bookstore I saw a cookbook with recipes based on local ingredients for regions of Lebanon! REGIONS in a country smaller than Connecticut, and Whole Foods tries to sell me tomatoes from New Jersey calling them local! Needless to say I was blown away. Oh, and the weekly food markets, put farmers markets to shame.

Though there is more to Beirut and its inhabitants than food, I didn’t take much for me to realize that despite the crazy circumstances these are still some pretty cool people. In an attempt to recreate some Lebanese cuisine I tried a chicken kibbe pie.

Chicken Kibbe Pie

Chicken “dough”
1 lb chicken thigh meat
1 cup fine bulgur
1 large egg
½ bunch cilantro, leaves chopped and stems discarded
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp sumak
1 tbsp cumin
pinch cinnamon
pinch allspice

Onion “stuffing”
1 large onion
¼ cup olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 jalapeno pepper chopped, seeds removed
⅓ cup pine nuts
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tbsp sumak
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 tsp sugar
pinch cinnamon
pinch allspice

1. Begin by pulsing onions in the food processor.
2. Heat olive oil and butter in a skillet and add the onions, peppers and spices
3. Toast the pine nuts in the oven or in a small skillet and add to the onion mixture
4. Cook until the onions are soft. The mix will be a little runny.

1. Place bulgur in a bowl and rinse with warm water. Discard the water, being sure to drain as much water as possible.
2. Cut the chicken into large pieces and place in a food processor and pulse until ground.
3. Add the bulgur, spices, cilantro and egg and pulse until the mixture is well combined.
4. Place the chicken mixture in a bowl and divide into two parts
5. Place half of chicken mixture into a well greased pie pan. Using wax paper gently press the chicken mixture flat to cover the bottom of the pan.
6. Place the onion mixture onto the first layer of chicken and spread evenly
7. Place the remaining chicken mixture on wax paper, using a second piece of wax paper gently press chicken mixture into a circle. Remove top layer of wax paper, and gently slide chicken mixture onto pie, creating the top layer.
8. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until cooked through

Recipe Notes:

Despite my love for Lebanese food I was intimidated by this recipe. Words like “jam” and “pomegranate molasses” kinda scared me, as did the abundance of nuts. When I made this I went easy on the molasses, sugar and nuts though I probably didn’t need to reduce the proportions. The flavors came together so well and I can’t wait to make it again. As for the self-ground chicken, you can probably save yourself a good deal of time if you buy ground chicken or have a butcher do it for you.

homemade taco truck

It’s been a while! I’ve missed you, and being here and cooking! I’ve been a bit sick and my body just hasn’t been at its best. I had a small surgery in mid-September and now I am finally, FINALLY starting to feel like myself again! To my surprise, as I slowly emerge from my bedroom-converted-medical center, I realize that summer has passed me by. It’s freezing outside. I missed it all shuffling from doctor to doctor to surgeon. Yet here we are, ready for fall.

I’ve spent the past few weeks in a daze, and cooking hasn’t been a top priority around here. Fortunately, Martin (as always) steps up and takes over what I physically (and mentally – hello pain killers!) can’t do while recovering. Once we ate through the stock of food my mom left us, we settled into a simple prep, simple food routine. Once I felt I could raise a spatula and resume my place in the kitchen I too started with some of our simple go-to recipes. Soft tacos are one of those favorites.

Serves 4

12 soft corn tortillas
1 lb ground meat (I’ve used beef and turkey before)
taco seasoning (recipe for my own blend is below)
4 ounces queso fresco
1 large tomato diced
1 small bunch cilantro
2 limes
hot sauce of your choice
.
taco seasoning:
1 tbsp chili powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp paprika
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
.
1. In a medium saucepan, cook meat until brown.
2. Mix in taco seasoning and remove from heat
3. While the meat is browning, chop the tomato, and cut the limes into quarters
4. Heat tortillas, I prefer to heat them in a cast iron skillet until warm and starting to brown
5. Assemble tacos by filling with meat, tomatos, and top with queso fresco, cilantro and a drizzle of lime.
.
Recipe notes: Of course tacos can take about a million modifications, chicken instead of beef or any number of awesome toppings… guacamole, peppers, etc. However, I always keep the cilantro and lime – the flavors always make for a tasty taco.
.
What the heck is queso fresco? Apparently this is the real and authentic mexican cheese. It is sold in blocks, similar to feta, with a similar consistency and crumble as feta. I had read that it is a salty cheese that is usually used in chili relleno or quesadillas. I found the cheese a bit bland, I wish it had just a touch more flavor. I should however mention that this may just be the brand that we bought. That said, I bought a rather large amount, so look out for more recipes containing queso fresco!

Iftaar 2011

Once a year, Martin and I throw an Iftaar party. Friends from all over the North East come, eat and have fun. It’s really one of the few times a year friends actually venture out to Connecticut to visit us. This year our furthest guests were from Rhode Island. Like in previous years, we had such a wonderful time. Even after cleaning up and finally sitting down to relax around 2 am we kept talking about our evening with our friends.

The only thing that fell short, in my opinion, was the food. Which makes me sad, I had higher expectations for how things should have turned out. Unlike previous years, we decided on a mostly non-Asian menu. We also decided to order some food so that I wouldn’t have to be cooking for 30 people on my own.

The appetizers of crab rangoon, scallion pancakes and fruit salad were a hit! I thought the scallion pancakes would have been better with their dipping sauce, but I decided not to risk having cups of soy sauce spilling over. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos to share (I know I know! I’ll remember next time. It was just too hectic getting everything ready).

The dinner menu was fried chicken (from Kennedy’s) meatball subs, and lasagna. Martin reported that the fried chicken was hit or miss, the fresher pieces were better. The lasagna was also good, and I was happy with how it turned out. The meatball subs fell a little short. When I usually make the subs, the meatballs are much softer, so soft they almost fall apart. For some reason the meatballs I made at the iftaar were a bit tougher than I had hoped. I followed the recipe I always use, except that I had to increase the serving size. But still. Just not as good. Perhaps it was the the meat itself? I’m not sure.

Either way, these meatballs are usually really awesome. And probably one of my favorite discoveries this past year of cooking. Hopefully you’ll have better luck than I did!

Makes 30ish meatballs. When I make it for just us I use 1/2 lb ground beef.

Recipe:

2 pound ground beef (although, chicken would work well too)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 small garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 large egg
Olive oil
3 slices of white bread crumbled
4 cups prepared tomato sauce (plus extra if you like a lot of extra sauce)

Place the fresh breadcrumbs in a large bowl with 3/4 cup warm water and all of the meatball ingredients except for the olive oil and tomato sauce. Combine with a fork, breaking up clumps of meat until the ingredients are evenly distributed. Form mixture into 2-inch meatballs are arrange on a tray.

Heat a generous slick of oil (few tablespoons) in a large saute pan with a lid. Brown meatballs in batches, being careful not to crowd the pan or nudge them before they are nicely browned or they will stick. Transfer meatballs to a paper towel-lined tray and continue until they are all browned.

Discard the oil and heat your tomato sauce in the pan. Add the meatballs, cover the pan and simmer them on the lowest heat possible for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through.

Arrange meatballs with sauce in the hollowed-out roll(s) and sprinkle with cheddar cheese.

Recipe notes: I tired to be an overachiever and baked baguettes too, but store bought ones work just fine. If you buy a baguette, cut it in half and scoop out a channel for the meatballs to sit in, otherwise meatballs will spill out. You can use the scooped bread instead of the sliced bread.