26 January 2011

Potato Kibbeh

I'm trying to up my kibbeh quotient on this site, and given that there are a myriad types of kibbeh that shouldn't be so hard to do. (For a review on kibbeh 101, check out this post.) Though the dumpling-shape type of kibbeh is the most famous, I thought it would be good to share one of the types of kibbeh made in a tray (kibbeh b'il sayniayah). Kibbeh in a tray can be made with meat or in several vegetarian variations including pumpkin, lentil, and potato. Today we're making the potato version, which I've heard referred to as the Middle Eastern equivalent of shepherd's pie, a comparison not undeserved.


Potato kibbeh is basically a mashed potato casserole stuffed with caramelized onions and pine nuts. Meat can be added, but I often leave it out because I like to use the potato kibbeh as a side dish, especially for roast meats. The potatoes are made unique by the addition of traditional kibbeh spices and the use of bulgur, which gives the potatoes a slight nubby texture. It is very important to use the finest grade bulgur (it looks almost as fine as couscous or semolina), you may need to visit a Middle Eastern grocery for that. Potato kibbeh is a remarkably comforting dish, and unlike many kibbeh dishes that can seem delicate, fussy, or heavy with meat, it's one that you want on your table often, especially in these cold dark winter months.


Potato Kibbeh
For some extra luxury, top the dish with pats of butter before baking. Many stores sell a kibbeh spice mix but you can mix your own spices per the instructions below.

1 cup of fine grade bulgur
boiling water
4 medium size potatoes (should equal 3 to 3 1/2 cups cooked mashed potato)
2 tablespoons butter
a splash of milk, cream, or ashta if available
1 teaspoon kibbeh spices or baharat

2 large onions, halved and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 lb ground beef or lamb (optional)

For filling:
1. Heat some olive oil in a saute pan, add the onions and a pinch of salt and saute over medium-low heat. Cook they onions until they are well caramelized, this could take as long as 45 minutes. Add the sugar towards the end to enhance the onions' sweetness. Set aside.
2. If using, saute the ground meat in the pan until well-browned, add to the onions.
3. Saute the pine nuts in the butter until golden brown (watch them carefully). Add the pine nuts to the onion mixture.

For outer shell:
1. Peel and cube potatoes and set to boil in salted water until tender. Meanwhile, pour boiling water over blgur until it is just saturated (you don't want the bulgur to be drowning). Let bulgur sit for 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork, if it still feels dry you can add a bit more boiling water.
2. Drain the potatoes well and put them back in the pot. Add the butter, salt and spices and mash until roughly mashed. Add the bulgur (drained of any excess liquid) and mix together. Gradually add the milk/cream until the texture is like that of firm mashed potatoes.

1. Preheat oven the 350 F. Spread half the potato mixture evenly in an 8x8 inch baking dish. Spread the onion mixture evenly over top. Spread the remaining potato mixture over top. Use a wet spatula to press out the potato mixture evenly. If desired, use a sharp damp knife the score a decorative cross watch pattern on the surface. Place the dish in the oven and bake until warmed through and just a tiny bit golden on the top, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

20 January 2011

Lebanese Style Stuffed Squash (Koosa Mehshi)

My uncle tells this fantastic story of an acquaintance of his, a lady from Louisiana but of Lebanese descent. She was famous for her kibbeh, and was asked one time for her recipe. "Well, first," she explained, "you have to take off all your gold," she said gesturing to her fingers and wrist covered in gold baubles. Maybe you had to be there, but I love that story, how it's so Lebanese and so Southern at the same time.

In the early 1900's there was a wave of Lebanese immigrants who settled in the U.S., mainly in the South. Many were of Christian descent, and I can't help but think they found something of kindred spirits in the South, the traditional seasonal cooking, the emphasis on etiquette, gentility, and appearance. The Southern Foodways Alliance has done a nice job of collecting some of their stories here.


They also brought with them their foods, primarily kibbeh and pita and stuffed vegetables. Stuffed vegetables can be made with both vegetarian and meat stuffings, and is traditionally made with zucchini, eggplant, and bell peppers, though technically any vegetable can be stuffed, including tomatoes, potatoes, and even really fat carrots.

For a festive dinner usually several different types of vegetables are stuffed with meat stuffing and cooked in a simple tomato sauce (though they can also be served in a yogurt sauce). Traditionally, a cook would buy a whole piece of bone-in meat, then dice and grind the meat themselves, and reserve the bones for putting in the pot. Many Levantine meat dishes are made using the bones this way, including grape leaves and stews, and I don't know of a home that doesn't own their own meat grinder. However, these days, it's much easier to just buy ground beef or lamb.

I always thought this was a difficult dish to make, but the coring is actually really easy (so long as you have a good corer) and there's really very little active work time. It's a nice one pot dish, with meat, vegetables, and rice. Serve it with extra rice pilaf on the side for soaking up the sauce.


Lebanese Style Stuffed Squash (Koosa Mehshi)

12-14 small thin zucchini (or small thin eggplant or bell peppers)
1 cup medium grain rice
1/2 lb ground beef or lamb, at least 85% lean
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 sprig mint, leaves finely minced
1/2 teaspoon baharat*
salt, pepper
olive oil
4-5 cups diced tomatoes with their juices, fresh or canned
1 small onion, diced
meat bones (optional)
yogurt and rice pilaf for serving (optional)

1. Using a corer, core the zucchini, being careful not to pierce the outer shell. Discard cores.
2. Mix together the rice, ground meat, parsley, mint, baharat, and season with salt and pepper. Smush together to mix well.
3. Stuff the squash 3/4 full with the meat mixture (no more, the rice needs space to expand!).
4. Heat some olive oil in a large pan. Add the onion and saute briefly, until translucent. Place the bones in the bottom of the pot, if using, then pour the tomatoes over top. Nestle the stuffed squash in the pan, so that they are about 3/4 covered in the liquid. Try to arrange them so that the open ends stick up and the stuffing won't fall out of them. Bring to a simmer, partially cover the pot, and simmer for 40-45 minutes. Turn the squashes half-way through so that they cook evenly. Test the rice for doneness before serving.
5. Serve warm, with rice pilaf and some thick yogurt on the side.

15 January 2011

Persian Jeweled Rice


Since we started off the new year with an Iranian stew, I thought it would make sense to continue with a classic Persian rice recipe, shireen polou. Two years ago I posted a photo of Persian rice and several people asked me for the recipe, so it's about time to follow up with another polou recipe.

If you have ever inadvertently burned a pot of rice, then Persian style rice is for you. I'm kidding, but the most delicious part about Persian rice is the delicious golden crust, called tah-dig, that is carefully formed on the bottom of the pan. "Crusty rice," is a technique found all over the world, from Korean bibimbap to northern Indian Biryani to crunchy fried rice. If it were up to me, crunchy rice beats out plain fluffy rice anytime.


The technique for Persian polou is the same whether you are just making plain rice (rice with butter), or a fancier rice stuffed with everything from sour cherries to chicken to pistachios to vegetables. First, you par-boil basmati rice until it is half way done, about 10 minutes. Then you drain the rice and mix with whatever additions you want to add, whether its spices, herbs, meat, or fruits and nuts. Then you melt a lot of butter (or ghee) in the bottom of a heavy bottomed pot. You add a little bit of rice and stir it in to coat in the butter and pat it down on the bottom of the pot. Then you pile in the rest of the rice in a loose conical shape, and poke a few holes in the rice with the handle of a wooden spoon. Sprinkle a bit of water over the top of the rice, wrap the lid of the pot with a towel, and cook on medium-ow heat until a beautiful crust forms on the bottom of the pan.


Now today we're making one of the fancier forms of polou, "shireen polou," or jeweled rice. Traditionally made for weddings, this rice is filled with chicken, pistachios, almonds, barberries or cherries, candied orange peel, and saffron. Though sour cherries are usually used for different dish (albalu polou), I love them and happened to add them on hand instead of barberries. The rice is studded with colors and textures, sweets and savories, all mixed with bits of rice both crunchy and sweet. You'll never want to eat boring old steamed rice again.


Jeweled Rice
You can always play around with different dried fruits and nuts for this dish, and if you don't have candied orange peel a bit of fresh orange zest will do in a pinch. Making polou is a delicate act, if the heat is too low you don't get the crispy crust, and too high and it burns. It may take a bit of practice to get it right, but even the "ugly" versions will be delicious.

6 chicken drumsticks (or 4 chicken breasts)
salt, pepper
2 cups basmati rice
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup shelled blanched pistachios
1/2 cup pitted sour cherries (or rehydrated barberries* or dried sour cherries)
1/4 cup golden raisins or diced dried apricots
2 tablespoons finely diced candied orange peel
1/4 teaspoon each allspice, cinnamon, and cumin
1 pinch of saffron mixed with 2 tablespoons hot water
6 tablespoons butter or ghee

1. Sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper. Heat some olive oil in a pot, add the chicken and lightly brown on all sides. Add water to cover chicken, bring to a simmer, and simmer about 45 minutes or until chicken is tender and falling of the bone. Remove chicken to cool and set aside broth.
2. Bring broth to boil, if there isn't much broth add some extra water so that there is at least around 5 cups liquid. The rice should be able to cook freely in the liquid, bouncing around the pot. Add the rice to the boiling broth and let the rice cook 10 minutes, it will be under-done. Drain rice immediately and place in a bowl.
3. Meanwhile pull apart the cooled chicken, discarding skin and bone.
4. Season the rice with salt and add the allspice, cinnamon, cumin, and saffron, stirring well to mix. Fold in the nuts, fruits, and chicken, folding gently to combine.
5. Melt the butter over medium-low heat in the bottom of a deep heavy pot. Scoop out about 1/2 cup of the rice (preferably without any big chunks of chicken or fruit or anything), and add it to the pan, mixing with the butter. Pat this buttery rice layer down to cover the bottom of the pan. Pile in the remaining rice in a loose conical shape. Poke a few holes in the cone with the handle of a wooden spoon. Sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons of water over the rice. Wrap the pot lid in a dish towel, tying it at the top with rubber band. Cover the pan with the lid and let cook undisturbed for 35-45 minutes. Start checking the rice after about 30 minutes, you want the rice at the bottom to be golden brown but not the burn.
6. When the rice is done, remove from the heat and immediately dunk the bottom of the pan in a sink of cold water (this will help the crusty rice release). Wait a moment, then carefully invert the rice onto a platter. If the rice sticks to the pan (as mine always does), just crumble the crusty bits decoratively over the top. Serve immediately, with some plain thick yogurt on the side.

*Barberries and jarred sour cherries are available at your local Middle Eastern or Persian grocery store.

09 January 2011

Iranian Herb Stew for the New Year


The longer I stay away from this space, the harder it seems to return. Not because I've stopped cooking or because I've stopped writing, but because I've stopped doing this thing called blogging, which turns out to be a whole different animal altogether. But I must return, just like I have to keep cooking, because there's always a new recipe to try, because people are hungry, because I like what this space, this blog, brings to my life.

It probably didn't help that our fridge broke in December, with horrible rattling sounds and leaking water. And what should have been an easy fix, because we rent from an absentee landlord, became a nearly twenty-day saga of fridge-less-ness. One can only live off their favorite local pizza place for so long, but thankfully it was fixed just in time to host our annual Christmas party (latkes with caviar, mini pulled pork sandwiches, stuffed grape leaves).


In better news, I received a tagine for Christmas (!!!!!), and can't wait to delve into more Moroccan recipes in the future, and I also received a macaron cookbook which I can't wait to try out.

Probably the best thing we've discovered in the last month are the kifflie cookies Paul made many batches of this holiday. But it seems rather cruel to offer a cookie recipe in January. Instead, we've made ghormeh sabzi, a delicious Iranian stew made of all the green things you can think of. And green things are virtuous, aren't they?

I was introduced to this dish many years ago by Iranian friends of mine, who always swore by it's deliciousness, and though I'd eaten their version I'd never tried it myself. I was surprised to find that other than a lot of chopping, this stew of complex flavors was relatively easy to make. You chop up all the green things you can get your hands on, lots of spinach, but also leeks, parsley, cilantro, dill, and scallions. You cook it with lamb and kidney beans (probably the best use of red kidney beans I've ever come across), for hours until it becomes not unlike a dark green sludge. It's not the prettiest thing, but it's delicious. And if you're feeling too virtuous, you can top your whole bowl with a traditional sizzling of melted clarified butter.


The recipe does call for one special ingredient: dried limes (also called omani limes, or noumi basra). The dried lime is such an essential flavor in this stew that I would say you really can't make the dish without it. It just won't taste right. But you can get dried limes from most Middle Eastern groceries, or order them online (whole is best, but the powdered form is also acceptable).

Here's to a good start to 2011, and many more recipes to come.


Ghormeh Sabzi (Persian Herb Stew)
Adapted from my friends and a recipe clipped from the Boston Globe long ago. I've heard you can make this using frozen spinach, but I've never tried it myself.

1/2 pound fresh spinach, stemmed and coarsely chopped
1 bunch fresh dill, stemmed and coarsely chopped
1 bunch fresh Italian parsley, stemmed and coarsely chopped
1 bunch fresh cilantro, stemmed and coarsely chopped
4 leeks, thinly sliced
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound beef or lamb stew meat, cut into cubes
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
Generous pinch crushed red pepper or Aleppo pepper
1 dried lime or 1 tablespoon dried lime powder (available at Middle Eastern markets)
4 cups water
1 can (15 ounces) red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (optional)

1. In a large flameproof casserole, combine the spinach, dill, parsley, cilantro, leeks, and scallions. Cook, stirring constantly, over high heat until the excess water evaporates. (There is no oil added at this point.)
2. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil. Cook, stirring often, for 15 minutes or until the vegetables start to brown. Remove the pot from the heat. With a rubber spatula, remove the mixture from the pan and transfer to a bowl.
3. Wipe out the pan. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and when it is hot, add the meat, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes or until it starts to brown. Add the onions, turmeric, and red pepper. Continue cooking, stirring often, for 8 minutes or until softened.
4. With a knife, poke a hole in the dried lime and add them or the powdered lemon to the pot. Add 3 cups of the water and bring to a boil. Let the mixture bubble gently, partially covered, for 15 minutes.
6. Add the spinach mixture, turn the heat to medium-low, and cook, partially covered, for 1 hour. Add the remaining cup of water if the pan seems dry. Stir in the beans and continue cooking for 30 to 60 minutes or until the meat is tender when pierced with a skewer (total cooking time is 1 1/2 to 2 hours). Remove the dried lime from the pot.
7. Taste the mixture for seasoning. Add more salt, red pepper, or the lemon juice, if you like.