Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I'm taking with me when I go.Spices and herbs are, and have always been an integral part of my cuisine. I intensely treasure them and cannot imagine living without those precious and irreplaceable condiments which not only enhance, complement and balance the flavors of a dish, but also benefit our health (they can be used as natural preventive medecine). A marvelous source of gratification and well-being!
- Erma Bombeck
There is something incredibly sumptuous about the food of the Middle East. It is steeped in history and mystery, teasing the palate with exotic and tantalizing flavors. Delicate and spicy, aromatic and fragrant, scented and syrupy-these are some of the words that come to mind. The tastes are rich and pleasing, the images romantic, airy and ancient. Rose petals and orange blossom, tamarind and dates, figs and apricots, mulberries and melons, saffron and orchid root, almonds and pistachios, olives, coriander and cumin-a myriad of flavors and dishes that are intricately entwined in the fascinating history of this vast and exciting region.
- Ghillie Basan, The Middle Eastern Kitchen: a Book of Essential Ingredients with over 150 Authentic Recipes
It is one of the main reasons why I am irrevocably attracted to the glorious gastronomy of the countries situated at the crossroads of the Mediterranean basin and the Arabian hinterland. If you want to make my eyes twinkle, my mouth salivate and receive my total attention, then I recommend you to pronounce those three simple words: "Middle Eastern Food" and I'll come running like a worshipful dog on amphetamine.
In my opinion, there is nothing quite as varied, refined, intriguing, dazzling, exhilarating, dreamlike and worthy of "The Thousand and One Nights" than the gourmet fares served at Lebanese (my favorite), Iranian, Palestinian, Syrian, Israeli, Jordanian, Omani, Kuwaiti, Iraqi, Quatari, Saudi Arabian, Yemeni or Emirati tables.
So, you can imagine my excitement when the talented Faith Gorsky of "An Edible Mosaic" (her headquarters are in upstate New York) kindly proposed to send me her cookbook "An Edible Mosaic - Middle Eastern Fare With Extraordinary Flair". There was no way I was going to decline her generous offer and pass the opportunity of reviewing this wonderful publication entirely written and illustrated a web friend and colleague whom I respect and have been following for the last three years (I first came across her site in 2009, if my memory does not fail me...).
Having been born and raised in America, nothing predestined this blogger to become a specialist on the subject of Middle Eastern food. As a matter of fact, before she tied the knot with her Syrian husband in the Middle East and lived there for the first six months of her matrimony, she barely had any knowledge of the specialities prepared by the people populating this part of the Arab world. Everything changed the day Faith married her life companion; she discovered and embraced a whole new culture.
During her stay in Damascus (the capital of Syria), she had the opportunity to explore and experience firsthand the magic of the cuisine of this region of the globe and even more so when her mother-in-law, who happens to be a master cook, took her under her wing and gave her a thorough course in Middle Eastern cooking that resulted in the creation of "An Edible Mosaic".
Over the past six years, this passionate young lady has visited the Middle East four different times, each trip contributing to deepening her love as well as expanding her enthusiasm for the culinary traditions and civilization of this fascinating land of contrasts. As a result, Faith's travels helped enrich her increasingly successful blog and build a devoted readership, thus ultimately leading her to writing the book I have the honor of introducing to you this Friday.
The Ultimate Communal Meal "Generally, one could say that Near and Middle Eastern and North African cooking and nutrition are healthy. As in other Mediterranean gastronomies, meat is rare and vegetables often used. The religious purity rules also have consequences for the kitchen, which is important for the health of the people.With its ten chapters (Basic Recipes, Breads and Pies, Salads, Vegetables and Rice Side Dishes, Appetizers and Light Meals, Beans and Lentils, Chicken and Seafood, Beef and Lamb, Desserts & Drinks), four useful sections (Cooking Tips and Techniques, Basic Cooking Tools, Buying the Right Middle Eastern Ingredients and Middle Eastern Grocery Stores) and many (over a hundred) easily reproducible, inspiring, meticulously detailed, carnivore as well as vegetarian/vegan-friendly, authentic and elegant recipes, "An Edible Mosaic - Middle Eastern Fare With Extraordinary Flair" will rejoice both beginner and experienced cooks. Each entry, side dish, main or dessert presented within the 144 pages of Faith's manual will make your mouth water and nudge you into the kitchen to prepare scrumptious delicacies that are vibrant, remarkably toothsome and nutritionally harmonious.
- Peter Heine, Food Culture in the Near East, Middle East, and North Africa
Since I am somewhat knowledgeable about Middle Eastern cuisine and already possess a certain number of bestsellers on the topic, I had my doubts on whether or not this cookbook would help me broaden my gastronomic horizon. Well, I am pleased to inform you that I was not deceived at all by it.
"An Edible Mosaic - Middle Eastern Fare With Extraordinary Flair" is far from being boring or uninteresting. Actually, it is an extremely enjoyable read as it is chock-a-block full with delectable ideas for healthy, irresistible and lip-smackingly good dishes (some of which I have never even tried or concocted and plan on testing soon) ranging from "Thyme Spiced Flat Pies", "Tabbouleh", "Fried Eggplants With Garlic And Parsley Dressing", "Fried Cauliflower With Sesame Parsley Sauce", "Saffron Rice With Golden Raisins And Pine Nuts", "Spiced Cheese Balls", "Creamy Chickpea And Yogurt Casserole", "Fish Pilaf With Caramelized Onion", "Chicken Kebabs", "Roasted Green Wheat With Chicken", "Fried Kibbeh", "Scrambled Eggs With Meat And onions", "Upside Down Rice Casserole", "Sweet Cheese Pastry (Knafeh)", "Coconut Semolina Cake (Harissa)", "Creamy Hot Sahlab Drink" to "White Coffee". Plenty enough meals to keep you busy for several months!
As you can imagine, choosing a recipe to showcase on "Rosa's Yummy Yums" wasn't an easy task (especially if you are a tergiversator named Rosa). It took me a while before I could make up my mind. Anyway, after a week of intense delibaration, I selected a hearty meat-free dish called "Mujaddara Burghul" ("Lentil And Bulgur Pilaf" in English) which is traditionally savored with cramelized onions and accompanied by plain yogurt, tomato, cucumber and/or onions slices (mine was served with some cooked beetroot since it is soon winter here in Switzerland and I disapprove of buying out of season vegetables).
The outcome was highly satisfying and the legume, cereal and spice addicts that we are were totally seduced by this main course's unique combination of bulgur, lentils and seasonings. Each element composing this magnificent one-pot mingled together perfectly, thus causing an exclamation of delight and a sigh of bliss after every forkful.
An economical, filling, fit, comforting and exquisite pilaf. One of life's simple pleasures!
Mujaddara Burghul (Bulgur And Lentil Pilaf)
Recipe by Faith Gorsky of "An Edible Mosaic".
1 1/3 Cups (275g) Dried brown lentils
6 Cups (1.5 liters) Water
2 Tbs Olive oil
2 Tbs Butter
2 Large Onions, quartered and thinly sliced
1 Bay leaf
2 Pods cardamom, cracked open
2 Tsps Ground cumin
1/2 Tsp Ground cinnamon
1 1/2 Tsp Fine Sea salt
1/4 Tsp Freshly ground black pepper
1 Cup (185g) Coarse-ground bulgur wheat
1 1/2 Cups (300ml) Boiling water
Thick plain yogurt (optional, for serving)
1. Sort through the lentils to remove any small stones or pieces of dirt, and then rinse with cold water in a colander.
2. Bring the rinsed lentils and the water to a boil in a lidded medium saucepan. Cover the saucepan, turn the heat down to a simmer, and cook until the lentils are tender but not mushy, about 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more water as necessary so that they’re always immersed; strain and set aside.
3. While the lentils cook, heat the oil and the butter in a large skillet over moderately-high heat; add the onion and sauté until completely softened but not yet browned, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Transfer half the onion to a small bowl and set aside. Continue cooking the remaining onion until deep caramel in color, about 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding a splash of water as necessary if the onion starts to get too dark. Set aside.
5. Put half a kettle of water on to boil. Transfer the sautéed onion (not the caramelized onion) to a medium saucepan. Add the bay leaf, cardamom, clove, cumin, cinnamon, salt, and pepper and cook 1 minute.
6. Add the bulgur and cook 1 minute more, stirring constantly.
7. Give the bulgur a stir, then cover the saucepan, turn the heat down to very low, and cook until tender, about 10 minutes (do not open the lid during this time).
8. Turn the heat off and let the bulgur sit 10 minutes, then ﬂuff with a fork and gently stir in the lentils. Taste and add additional salt, pepper and olive oil if desired.
7. Transfer to a serving dish and top with the caramelized onion.
Instead of making this dish with dried brown lentils, you can prepare it with the same amount of green lentils or 2 cans of brown lentils, rinsed and drained.
For an easy variation of this dish, use white or brown rice instead of bulgur wheat.
Serve with plain yogurt (to spoon on top) and accompany by sliced tomatoes, cucumber and/or onions.
Mujaddara Burghul (Pilaf Au Bulgur Et Aux Lentilles)
Recette par Faith Gorsky de "An Edible Mosaic".
Pour 6 personnes.
275g de Lentilles brunes séchées
2 CS d'Huile d'olive
2 CS de Beurre
2 Gros oignons, coupés en quartiers et tranchés finement
1 Feuille de laurier
2 Gousses de Cardamome, écrasée
2 Clous de girofle, entiers
2 CC de Cumin en poudre
1/2 CC de Cannelle en poudre
1 1/2 CC de Sel de mer fin
1/4 CC de Poivre noir fraîchement moulu
185g de Boulgour concassé en gros grains
Yaourt nature épais (en option, pour servir)
1. Trier les lentilles pour enlever les petites pierres ou les impuretés, puis rincer à l'eau froide dans une passoire.
2. Dans une casserole, porter les lentilles rincées et l'eau à ébullition. Couvrir la casserole, et baisser le feu. Laisser mijoter/cuire jusqu'à ce que les lentilles soient tendres mais pas molles (remuer de temps en temps et ajouter plus d'eau si nécessaire afin qu'elles soient toujours immergées), environ 20 à 30 minutes. Egoutter et mettre de côté.
3. Dans une grande poêle, faire chauffer l'huile et le beurre à feu vif, ajouter l'oignon et faire revenir pendant environ 10 minutes (remuer de temps en temps), jusqu'à ce qu'il soit mou et translucide mais pas encore doré.
4. Transférer la moitié de l'oignon dans un petit bol et mettre de côté. Poursuivre la cuisson de l'oignon restant pendant environ 5 à 10 minutes (remuer de temps en temps et ajouter un peu d'eau si l'oignon commence à devenir trop sombre), jusqu'à ce qu'il ait caramélisé. Mettre de côté.
5. Dans une casserole de taille moyenne, faire bouillir les 300ml d'eau. Ajouter, l'oignon cuit (pas l'oignon caramélisé), la feuille de laurier, la gousse e cardamome, les clous de girofle, le cumin, la cannelle, le sel et le poivre. Faire cuire pendant 1 minute.
6. Ajouter le boulgour et faire cuire encore 1 minute suplémentaire, en remuant constamment.
7. Couvrir la casserole, baisser le feu à très doux et laisser cuire pendant envirion 10 minutes, jusqu'à ce qu'il soit tendre (ne pas ouvrir le couvercle).
8. Baisser le feu et laisser le boulgour reposer pendant 10 minutes, puis l'égrainer avec une fourchette et incorporer délicatement les lentilles. Goûter, puis saler et poivrer selon votre goût et ajouter un trait d'huile d'olive si désiré.
7. Transférer dans un plat de service et garnir avec les oignons caramélisés.
Au lieu de faire ce plat avec des lentilles brunes séchées, préparez-le avec des lentilles vertes ou 2 boîtes de conserves de lentilles brunes, rincés et égouttés.
Pour varier un peu, le boulgour peut être remplacé par du riz blanc ou brun.
Servir avec le yaourt (versé sur le dessus du plat) et accompagner de tranches de tomates, de concombre et/ou des rondelles d'oignons.