Sunday, January 31, 2010

Labna bi Zayt (Yogurt Balls Marinated in Olive Oil)

Labna (alternately spelled labneh,labne,and laban) has been a basic food of the Middle East for centuries.It usually accompanies or is an ingredient in many Middle Eastern dishes.Labna bi Zayt is the result of yogurt that has been drained until it is quite firm and dry and is manually shaped into small balls and marinated in oil.Labna bi Zayt can be enjoyed as part of a mezze or as a popular snack called arus "the bride", which is a warm pita bread with labna and sprinkled with zaatar.

Labna bi Zayt is easy to make but is very time consuming and once I show you the recipe you'll see why.If you prefer, you can purchase it at any well-stocked Middle Eastern grocer or as I did this past weekend at an Armenian market.Mine was imported from Syria.Below is a 2 part recipe for Labna bi Zayt.

Recipe for Labna(Yogurt)
5 c whole milk
1 Tbsp. plain yogurt(starter)

1.Bring the milk to a boil in a large saucepan. Then, as the froth rises, turn off the heat, then allow to cool where it is slightly warm.

2.Put the plain yougurt (starter) in a small bowl and stir 2-3 Tbsp. of the warm milk into it. Beat this mixture into evely combined and then pour back into the milk in saucepan.

3. Stir the milk for about 1/2 a minute then pour it into a bowl and cover with a paper towel.

4. Put bowl in a warm place and leave overnight (8+ hours) to rest.

5.After the 8+ hours, transfer the bowl to the refrigerator and it's ready to eat or be used for another recipe.

Recipe for Labna bi Zayt (Yogurt balls Marinated in Olive Oil)
4 c full-fat plain yogurt
1 tsp. salt
extra-virgin olive oil
2 Muslin bags
large glass jar

1. Mix the yogurt with salt and stir to remove any visible lumps.
2. Put the 2 muslin bags together and scoop the yogurt into the center of it and tie an the ends and suspend over a large bowl overnight(8+ hours) letting the whey drip out.Scrape the contents of the bag every so often to facilitate draining.
3. After the 8+ hours are up, remove the cheese from the muslin bag and crumble unto a paper towel-lined baking sheet or tray.
4.Refrigerate yogurt until it feels firm and dry.
5.When desired texture is reached,lightly oil your hand with olive oil and roll yogurt into 1"diameter balls.
6. Put the labna inside a jar when finished and cover fully with olive oil.Refrigerate before and after opening.
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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Salatat Halloumi wal Einab (Halloumi & Grape Salad)

Halloumi alternately spelled hallumi,haloumi,and hallum is a salty,semi-hard white cheese made with either sheep or goat's milk.Originally made by the bedouin of the Middle East , it's popularity spread to neighboring Greece and Cyprus where now Cyprus is the largest producer.Halloumi is usually eaten grilled. It is cooked in a hot pan with olive oil until the outside becomes a golden brown color and the inside is soft.

In Lebanon,it is known as kebab cheese because it is cubed and grilled on skewers and eaten as a quick street snack.It is also part of mezze where it is eaten as part of a salad or with khoubz,the Arab flatbread sprinkled with nigella seeds.The Cypriot version is flavored with dried mint.


4c mixed salad greens with fresh herbs (romaine lettuce, raddichio, purslane,etc.)
60z. seedless red and/or black grapes,sliced in half
9oz. halloumi cheese,sliced into cubes
5 Tbsp. oil & lemon juice

1. In a mixing bowl, toss together the salad greens with the grapes.

2. Heat a non-stick pan and coat lightly with olive oil. Thinly slice the halloumi cheese and cook briefly, turning until it becomes a light golden brown.Remove from heat.

3. Put salad greens in a serving bowl. Place halloumi over salad greens.Drizzle with oil and vinegar.Serve immediately.
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Friday, January 22, 2010

Beid bi Toum (Fried Eggs with Garlic)

6 eggs
2 Tbsp. butter
3 cloves og garlic, crushed
1 tsp. ground sumac
a pinck of dried mint
salt, to taste

1. Melt the butter on a skillet over medium heat.Add the garlic and sumac and stir.Break the eggs into a bowl.
2. Once the onion begins to become transluscent,add the eggs. Fry the eggs, then add the mint.
3.Once cooked, remove from heat and sprinkle with salt.
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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Saudi Desert Truffles (Kamaa or Faqa')

Known by the classical arabic name of kamaa or the saudi name faqa', desert truffles are a distant cousin of the European truffle. A desert crop, it is found throughout North Africa, Syria,Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf Arab States.Within each of these countries, they are known by several names.In Morocco, they are known as terfezia, in Egypt as terfas,in Kuwait as fagga,in Oman as either faqah or zubaydi, and in Iraq,Syria, and KSA as kamaa.

Unlike European truffles, kamaa do not require much rainfall to grow and thrive.Bedouins believe that truffles grow and appear when there are thunderstorms and lightning hits the ground.Bedouins also prize them for thier medicinal properties as it is believed that they possess special curative powers for eye ailments.

Truffles can be eaten and cooked in many ways.They can be eaten raw,boiled in camels milk, sauteed in butter,roasted (in campfires),or added to other dishes such as stews or stuffings.

There are two types of truffles that are available in Saudi Arabia, the khalasi and zubaidi.The khalasi is characterized by having an oval shape with an outer black skin and a pinkish/ivory interior.The zubaidi is cream-colored inside and out and is the most sought after and expensive.

Currently, kamaa cost $720 SAR($192 USD) a kilo.Desert Delicacies

Group of Emirati men in desert searching for & cooking desert truffles
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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hawayij (Yemeni pepper spice mix)

Hawayij alternately spelled hawaij is a peppery spice mixture from Yemen.It is a mixture made up of black peppercorns, caraway seeds, cardamon,saffron, and turmeric and is used in many Yemeni dishes particularly in soups, grilled meats, and vegetable dishes.

6 tsp. black peppercorns
3 tsp. caraway seeds
1 tsp. saffron threads
1 tsp. cardamon seeds
2 tsp. turmeric

1. Using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, combine all the ingredients together and pound until ground.
2. Store in an airtight glass jar and in an dry, dark place.Will last for 6 months.
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Friday, January 15, 2010

Hummus bi Tahina (Chickpea Puree with Tahina)

Hummus is the Arabic name for chickpeas.It is also the name given to the popular Middle Eastern mezze dish.Hummus is a chickpea puree that is flavored with tahina,garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil.It is a very simple dish usually eaten simply with Arab flatbread as an appetizzer or snack or as a filling for sandwiches like felafel.Hummus is also eaten in Israel, Turkey,Greece, and Cyprus.It is so popular througout this region ,that several countries have claimed credit for its creation Hummus Wars

Though hummus is readily available in most supermarkets, nothing beats the taste of homemade and it is worth going through the extra effort to make it.Its fairly easy, the only difficult part is the soaking of the chickpeas.

1 1/4c soaked in cold water at least 8 hours, then drained
juice of 2 lemons
3 garlic cloves, mashed
4-5 Tbsp. tahina
olive oil, for drizzling
fresh parsley, for garnish

1. Bring four cups of water to a boil and cook the chickpeas for about 1 1/2 hours or until they are soft.
2. Remove from heat then drain.Blend the chickpeas with the remaining ingreddients in a food processor till it has a puree texture.Taste.Adjust seasonings, if necessary.
3. Pour into a serving dish and drizzle with olive oil and fresh parsley.Serve with Arab flatbread(khoubz).

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Chai (Tea)

As with coffee, tea is also another drink of social importance in the Middle East but unlike it , there isn't as much ritual surrounding it.Tea is popular in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, but especially in Iran.This is believed to be traced to the Circassians who introduced it there. Tea seemed to gain a foothold in Iran somewhere between the 17th and 20th centuries as a result of governmental authorities believing that the coffeehouses were centers of religious and political dissention.Finally, the 1920's saw the baning of coffee in Iran.This in turn led to tea being the official drink of Iran.

Like coffee, tea is always offered to a guest as a sign of welcome and also like coffee is served while conducting business in the office or in the souks.Traditionally, tea was prepared using a samovar, a russian-type tea serving dispenser but nowadays a regular kettle is used.It is served in small glasses served atop saucers with a cube sugar on the side. Any type of tea may be used but preferably Darjeling.Milk or cream is never used or served.There are teas made with special infusions of lime flowers or rose petals but these are usually drunk for medicinal purposes or to cure ailments.
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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Baba Ghanoush( Eggplant & Tahini Dip)

Photo courtesy of Lebanese Recipes

Baba Ghanoush also known as moutabal in certain parts of the Middle East is a smoky eggplant & tahini dip.It is a popular mezze dish throughout the Arab world that is served with Arab flatbread.In parts of Syria, yogurt is used in place of the tahini.
Sevings:1 1/2c
2 lbs. eggplants, broiled
2-3 garlic cloves, mashed
salt, to taste
3 Tbsp. tahina
juice of 2 lemons or more to taste
2-3 Tbsp. olive oil, for garnish
2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, finely chopped, for garnish

1. Peel the skin off the broiled eggplant and discard it.Put the eggplant in a colander with very small holes and mash it with a fork till all the juices run out.

2. Put eggplant into a mixing bowl, and add the garlic, salt(to taste),tahina, and lemon juice.Mix together to combine.Adjust seasonings if necessary.You can also use a food processor if you want a more smooth texture.

3.When evenly combined, put the baba ghanoush in a serving bowl and drizzle with olive oil and garnish with fresh parsley.Serve with arab flatbread.
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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Qahwah (Arab Coffee)

Nothing defines Arab hospitality more than the offering and taking of coffee.Coffee is the main drink in the Arab world. Though the Ottoman Turks embraced and spread it throughout thier empire giving it the name "turkish coffee", it actually has its origins in Yemen.The cultivation of coffee began in Yemen sometime around the 16th century.It first became popular with the dervishes in Yemen where it was said it helped them perform thier religious ceremonies then muslim spread it throughout the Middle East.

Coffee is the principal social drink for men.This is clearly evident throughout the coffeehouses of the Arab world.Hours are spent in the coffeehouses socializing,playing backgammon, or smoking the narghileh(water pipe)while drinking coffee.Coffee is also consumed while conducting business or bargaining.

To make Arab coffee a few essential things are required.Mocha beans from Yemen are prefered but if these cannot be found, coffee beans from Brazil or Kenya are an appropriate substitute.Two dallahs (a coffee pot with a long, curved spout)are neededso it can be brewed in the first and poured in the second. The coffeee beans need to be freshly roasted and ground to a very fine powder.And a cardamon pod added to the pot.When serving, only about 1/3 of the cup is filled.The serving cups are small and handle-less.Milk, cream , or sugar is never added to Arab coffee instead dates may be offered.

There is a ritualized etiquette involved in the offering and consumption of coffee.First, all guests are offered coffee, not to offer it is akin to being considered unwelcomed.Once offered, it must never be refused,to do so would be a great insult to your host.Your cup will be refilled a second or third time, to accept more is considered impolite.It is always accepted with the right hand.When you have had sufficient,jiggle your empty cupslightly from side to side.There is an order to serving it.Persons of high rank or the male head of the household are served first,followed by older guests, and men before women.

Yeild:6-8 Servings


4 c water

3 Tbsp. cardamon, ground

2 Tbsp.Arabic coffee, ground

1. Bring water to a boil.

2. Add coffee to the water and bring to a boil over low heat for 5 minutes.

3. Add the cardamon and heat for another 2 minutes.

4.Remove from heat and serve 1/3 full in demitasse cups.

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Saturday, January 9, 2010

Khoubz (Arab Flat Bread)

Bread is considered a direct gift from God.Bread is held in such high regard in the Middle East that it is said that if a piece of bread is found lying on the floor, it is immediately picked up, a blessing i said, and put respectively on a table.There are many types of breads available in the Middle East:leavened and unleavened, sweet and savory but none as more ubiquituos as the flatbread khoubz or eish shami as it is known in Egypt or as is most commonly called outside the Middle East, "pita" bread.

Although widely available commercially, most people in the Middle East prefer to make their own bread.Khoubz is traditoinally baked in a clay-lined oven called a tannour.It is eaten with every meal.A meal is never complete without the presence of bread.Bread also serves a dual purpose as an eating utensil.It is used to scoop up food from a dish.If you want to make fresh Arabic flatbread below is the recipe plus I included a video showing the traditional way of making bread using a tannour.

Servings:8 flatbreads


2 c flour

2 1/4 tsp.yeast

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/4c hot water

1-1 1/2c flour

1. Combine the first four ingredients in a large bowl and mix well for about 1-2 minutes.

2.Add the remaining flour and knead making a soft, sticky dough.

3.Put the dough on a floured work surface and continue kneeding for 5 minutes more.

4.Divide into 8 equal sized balls and roll out each on by hand to about 1/4" thick and about 6" diameter.

5. Place flatbreads on lightly oiled baking sheet and let rise in a warm place for 25-35 minutes.

6.While waiting preheat oven to 450F.

7. Place flatbreads in oven for 5 minutes, then turn over for another 5 minutes.Then remove from oven.

8.Serve immeediately or store flatbreads in an airtight container till ready to eat.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Arak ( Anise-Flavored Liqueur)

Arak is an anise-flavored aperitif that is made from the fermented juice of white grapes.It is widely produced and consumed in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan though the best is said to come from Zahle in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon.Arak is the traditional accompaniment to mezze because it is said to supposedly stimulate the appetite.

Arak is 87% proof alcohol.It is served diluteed with water and ice but never straight. A little is poured into a small glass, usually 1/3 arak to 2/3 water, then a little ice is added. Arak will then turn a milky white which is usually referred to as "lions milk"because only those that are as strong as a lion can handle it.

In resataurants, arak is usually served with many small glasses on the tray than drinkers because traditionally the same glass should not be refilled with Arak.Though alcohol is strictly prohibited in Islam,arak seems to escape this scrutiny.
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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sheveed Polow (Persian Rice with Dill)

An annual plant that is native to the Eastern Meditteranean as well as Southern Russia and Western Asia, dill is known for its clean anise, lemon aroma.Dill is a very popular herb in Persian cooking where it is used in rice dishes as Baghali Polow or more simply in Sheveed Polow.Below is the recipe for Sheveed Polow.In Iran, it is often served dried, preserved salted fish from the Caspian sea but it goes well with any meat or khoresh.



2 1/2c long-grain rice

4c water

1-2 tsp. salt

a bunch of fresh dill, chopped

1. Bring the water to a boil .Add salt. Add the dill then the rice.

2.Reduce heat and let simmer until all the water is absorbed by the rice.

3.Remove from heat and fluff with a fork.Serve immediately.
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