Meatless Meals: Mujaddara

IMG_0898Mujaddara, a dish of rice, lentils and carmelized onions, is popular throughout the Middle East. This is my version, cobbled together over years of eating mujaddara prepared by Palestinians, Lebanese, Iraqis, Syrians, Egyptians and Israelis. My seasoning is probably idiosyncratic and not representative of any national cuisine by this point. This recipe will make enough for four to six bowls.

Ingredients:

1 cup lentils (sorted, rinsed and drained)
½ cup olive oil
1 ½ tsp cumin
½ tsp crushed black peppercorns
3 good-sized onions
¾ cup rice (I use whole-grain Basmati)
3 cups water
Salt to taste
½ tsp cayenne pepper or dried chili flakes
2-3cm stick of cinnamon

Preparation:

First cook the lentils until just tender by putting them in a pot and covering with water (a couple of centimeters above the level of the lentils). Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.

While the lentils are cooking, slice the onions thinly. (I like to slice each onion lengthwise and then slice the halves across the width.) Heat the olive oil, 1 tsp of cumin and the peppercorns and then add the onions and salt lightly. Cook, stirring from time to time, until caramelized. If they stick, add a little water. Be careful once they start turning golden because they will burn very quickly from that point. The finished onions should be a dark walnut color, only starting to become crisp. Use a slotted spoon to remove about half of the onions and put them on paper to drain. (This will be garnish.)

Now add the rest of the cumin, the cayenne or chili flakes and the cinnamon stick to the onions and sauté for a minute or two. Then add the uncooked rice and continue to sauté until the rice takes on an opaque appearance. Add the drained lentils and  3 cups of water, stir, bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for about half an hour, until all the water is absorbed. When done, turn off the heat and leave covered for a few more minutes.

To serve, top with the reserved caramelized  onions.

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Meatless Meals: Potato-Cheese Bake with a Middle Eastern Twist

This one has many great qualities, among which are that its cheap, filling, tasty and easy to make. It might seem odd to post a baked dish in August of one of the hottest summers on record (for those of us in the northern hemisphere), but here in Jerusalem evenings are getting cooler. You can also refrigerate the leftovers and eat them cold as a sort of potato salad.

Ingredients

Potatoes, cut into chunks

Onions, diced

Cottage cheese (I use the 3% fat kind.)

Labneh OR Greek yogurt OR Sour Cream (I use 5% fat labneh.)

Salt

Ground black pepper

Cumin

Ground cardamon (known locally as hel)

Flour (Just a spoonful or two. I use whole wheat flour.)

….

Combine the potatoes and onions in a suitably sized baking dish with a cover and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine cottage cheese and labneh (or substitute). Season to taste with salt, pepper, cumin, and hel. I use about 2 parts salt, 1 part pepper, 3 parts cumin and one part hel. Mix well. Add the flour and mix well again. This will thicken the mixture so it doesn’t separate or get watery when cooked with the potatoes.

Add the cheese mixture to the potatoes and mix until evenly distributed. Cover and cook in the oven or microwave for 30-40 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. About halfway through the baking, remove and turn the mixture a few times before covering again and returning it to the heat.

Mix with chopped broad-leaf parsley before serving. (Not shown because I don’t have any at the moment.)

Enjoy hot or cold.

If you make this, I’d love to know how it worked out for you, and what variations you tried.

Meatless Meals: Moroccan-style Carrots

I made Moroccan carrot salad the other day – I’d forgotten how good that is! I learned the dish from the Polish-American wife of a Turkish-Israeli and because I’m an inveterate improviser when I cook, I’m sure I’ve changed the recipe by now, but I don’t actually remember. All that’s to say that this dish might more accurately be called something like

Moroccan-style carrot salad

After washing and scraping the carrots, cut them into rounds. Heat a little olive oil in a pan and cook the carrots to the desired degree of tenderness. Transfer the mixture to a heat-proof bowl.

Toss with lemon juice, then season with crushed red pepper (or hot paprika), sweet paprika, cumin, cinnamon and coriander. Use the spices in proportions of your choosing, but do use all of them. (If you are not used to Middle Eastern food, the combination might seem strange; just give it a try!) Let the salad marinate for a while. Before serving, add chopped, flat-leafed parsley and toss again.

That’s it. Quick and easy to prepare and the result is consistently deliciously. I serve it at room temperature as a salad or warmer as a side dish.

Meatless Meals: Spicy Red Beans and Rice

If you follow my Twitter feed (@knotellin – there’s a follow button over in the right sidebar), you’ll know that I’ve been tweeting “today’s Lenten meal” every now and then. A few people have encouraged me to talk more about them here.

The thing is – I love meat. I could eat meat three times a day – but I don’t. If fact, during most of the year, I only eat meat on special days – Sundays and holidays – but I do eat fish. Now, this brings me to a bit of a problem during Lent, when my Church encourages us to abstain from meat. In keeping with the spirit of the thing – in order to do a little bit more during this special time of year – I abstain from fish during Lent. This makes me a vegetarian for the duration.

This year I decided to make a special effort with my Lenten meals. I wanted to make them nutritious, tasty and attractive. The principles: only whole grains, a variety of vegetables, quick cooking and minimum prep time. The meals should be colorful and the spices chosen carefully.

Not all my experiments succeeded. You won’t be seeing those here. But I’ll post a couple of the ones that did. The quantities are for one person, with leftovers for another meal.

Spicy red beans and brown rice, green salad, apple baked with cinnamon and ginger 

Soak 1/2 cup dried red beans overnight. (For best results, I pick through the beans first then cover them with about three times their volume of water and place it in a covered dish in the refrigerator.)

About an hour before eating:

Drain and rinse the beans, and pick out anything that got missed the first time. Rinse again.

Heat about one and a half teaspoons of olive oil in the pot you’re going to use for the beans. When it’s hot add 1/4 cup chopped onion, 1 diced tomato, 1 chopped or crushed garlic clove, 1/2 red chili pepper, chopped (or about 2 teaspoons dry).* Add the rinsed and drained beans and pour in 2 cups of boiling water. Add one large bay leaf, salt and pepper to taste. (I prefer freshly and coarsely ground black pepper.) Bring to a boil, cover tightly, reduce heat as low as you can, and simmer. Check from time to time to be sure the beans are covered with liquid. The beans should be tender and ready to eat in about an hour.

Meanwhile, prepare the rice. I used whole grain Persian rice, which is long-grained, but for a special flavor and fewer calories, try whole-grain Basmati. This is how I prepare it for one person:

Pick through and rinse 1/3 cup of rice, put it in the pot. Add 1 tsp of olive oil and mix well. Add a little salt. Pour on 1 cup of boiling water,  stir and bring to the boil. Cover tightly and simmer on the lowest possible heat until just before all the water is gone. (This takes some practice.) Remove from heat. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and put the lid back on top of that so that the remaining water steams into the towel and the rice is fluffy.

The green salad is just the usual. I dress it with olive oil, lemon juice and salt, Israeli style.

Now, the apple is really cheating. I use Granny Smith apples. Wash and cut into chunks or slices. Mix in crushed ginger or dust with powdered ginger. Add powdered cinnamon to taste. Put it in a covered, microwave-safe container and nuke on 100% for two or three minutes, depending on your machine. That’s it. This is also lovely on ice cream, if you are so inclined.

So. Your turn now. How would you improve this recipe? What is your favorite way to cook beans and rice?

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*These are the amounts for normal people. When cooking for myself, I amp up the hot stuff.

Meatless Meals: Tuscan white bean soup – Jerusalem style

Well, actually at the polite request of a popular blogger, here is the Tuscan white bean soup I made the other night. It was delicious. This version is vegan (though I am not) but I’ll show  variations at the end. It is quick, easy, and I found it delicious. Prep time, 10 or 15 minutes; cooking time, an hour. “Jerusalem style” does not refer to local cuisine this time; it means without the canned and packaged ingredients you can get it in places like North America and Europe. This quantity made two bowls of creamy, delicious soup.

Soak 1/2 cup of dry white beans overnight. The next day, pick out the yuckies and rinse well once or twice. Drain.

Chop 1 small onion and cook in 1 tbsp of olive oil until soft. Add one large or two medium cloves of garlic, chopped finely, and continue to cook. Dice 2 carrots and slice 1  or 2 stalks of celery. Add the vegetables to the onion and garlic and cook until everything is soft.

Add 1 liter of vegetable broth and mix in the soaked, rinsed, drained beans. Bring to a boil. Add a couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary or 1/2 tsp of dry. Salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer for one hour.

Make sure the beans are fully cooked, but they should be done after an hour. Remove half the soup and spin it in the blender to puree the beans and vegetables. Return the puree mixture to the pot. Bring to the boil one more time, then serve hot.

Basic Ingredients:
1/2 cup dry white beans
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
2 carrots, diced
1 or 2 stalks of celery, sliced thinly
1 liter vegetable broth
Rosemary (2 sprigs fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dry)
Salt, coarsely ground black pepper
Soak, rinse and drain the beans. Saute the onion until soft, then add the garlic. Add carrots and celery once the garlic is soft. Add the broth and the beans and bring to the boil. Add the rosemary, salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat and simmer for one hour. Remove half the quantity and puree it, then return to the pot and mix. Bring to the boil one more time and serve.

A nice serving suggestion for non-vegans is to ladle into bowls, then brush olive oil on the soup and top with grated parmigiana cheese.

Variations include adding tomatoes and/or kale to the soup. Meat eaters can try adding diced smoked meat to the soup or using chicken broth instead of vegetable.

Now it’s your turn – what winter soups do you like? Let’s keep warm together!