27 March 2011

Artichokes with Meat and Tahini Sauce

This is my quick and dirty version of a more classic stuffed artichoke dish. The traditional version takes artichoke bottoms and stuffs them with a rice, meat, and herb stuffing. The artichokes would then be layered in a dish, topped with broth or a bechamel type sauce and baked.

Pre-prepared artichoke bottoms are very common in the Middle East and readily available frozen in a Middle Eastern grocery. They are, in my opinion, the best way to enjoy artichokes, much meatier and richer than those stringy artichoke hearts. My simple version just involves sauteeing a bit of ground meat or lamb and tossing it on top of the artichokes with a tahini sauce and toasted pine nuts and herbs. You can eat it with a knife and fork, or if the artichokes are small enough, you can eat them with your hands. This dish makes for a great quick lunch, along with some good pita bread, or you could serve it as part of a larger mezze meal.


Artichokes with Meat and Tahini Sauce

8-10 prepared artichoke bottoms, frozen or fresh
1/2 lb ground lamb or beef
salt and fresh black pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon each cumin, allspice
1/4 cup tahini
2 lemons
2 tablespoons thick yogurt (labne)
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
scallions or chives, diced

1. Place tahini in a bowl and add in a pinch of salt and the juice of 1 lemon. Stir to combine, the mixture will become very thick. Gradually add water to the tahini, stirring, until it is a thick but pourable consistency. Add in the yogurt. Taste to see if it needs more salt r lemon.
2. Bring a pot of water to boil with the juice of 1 lemon. Boil the artichokes until tender (just a few minutes for frozen, 15-20 minutes for fresh).
3. Meanwhile. Saute the ground meat in the pan with salt, pepper, cumin, and allspice until nicely browned.
4. Arrange the artichokes on a platter. Sprinkle the meat over top, trying to get the meat in the artichoke cups. Drizzle the tahini sauce over. Sprinkle the toasted pine nuts and scallions over top. Serve while still warm.

25 March 2011

Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemon and Olives

No one welcomes day light savings time more than me. The dark poorly lit pictures you see here, walking to and from work in the dark, it's time for them to be over. The lighting in our little kitchen is terrible, and in the winter the photos I can manage are less than inspiring. A breath of light and some Moroccan cooking are just what we need.


This is the most classic Moroccan dish I can think of- chicken with preserved lemons and green olives. It's cooked in a tagine with a bath of Moroccan spices, herbs, and onions. The chicken is slow cooked until it's tender and moist and a velvety lemon sauce is pureed until smooth. The preserved lemons are available in many stores, or you can make your own the classic way or the fast way.

Lemons and olives are a classic combination that you often find in Morocco and in Spain. Here, the lemon and olive aren't added until the end of cooking to preserve their bright flavor. The technique used here of grating an onion on a box grater is a very common one in the Middle East, and I rarely implement it in my recipes here. The truth is, it makes your eyes water like crazy and it's a big pain in the butt. But in recipes like this the slightly pureed slightly chunky texture of the onion makes for a perfect sauce. Don't skip the step of pureeing the sauce, it seems a bit fussy but it makes a big difference.

Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemon and Olives
To make a quick version of preserved lemons do the following: trim offf the rind of two lemons (use flesh for juice or simply discard). Dice the thick lemon rind. Bring 2 cups water to a boil with 1/3 cup salt. Boil diced lemon until they are just soft when pierced with a knife. Drain and set aside.

Go easy on the salt while cooking because the lemons and olives added at the end are quite salty. Serve this recipe with couscous or rice.

1 chicken, cut into pieces
4 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

olive oil
1 large onion, grated
1/4 teaspoon pulverized saffron
1/2 cup mixed cilantro and parsley, chopped
1/2 cup ripe green olives, pitted
2 preserved lemon, diced
2 fresh lemons

1. Bash 4 cloves of garlic with 2 teaspoons salt in a mortar and pestle. Add in the spices to form a paste. Rub over the chicken pieces and marinate, covered, overnight.
2. Heat some of the oil in the tagine. Add the chicken pieces (marinade and all) to the pot so that they start to turn golden on the outside, about 5 minutes. Add in 2 cups water, the grated onion, and saffron. Cover and simmer 45 minutes, turning chicken occaisionally. You may need to add water to the pan if it gets dry.
3. Add the diced herbs, preserved lemon, and olives. Simmer 10 minutes for the flavors to combine.
4. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken, olives, and preserved lemons to a platter.
5. Squeeze the juice of the two lemons into the sauce. Let the sauce boil for about 5 minutes until nice and thick. Using an immersion blender, puree the sauce until smooth. Pour the sauce over the platter of chicken and serve immediately.

17 March 2011

Ingredient Spotlight: Shirsh el-Halaweh

The first few weeks of spring always seem to be busy ones. Everyone at work has finally realized it's no longer holiday break nor summer vacation and my calendar is suddenly packed. It's a good time to visit family and see the first blue bonnets spring in Texas. It's warm enough to clean up the yard and my seedlings (beets, mache, parsley, penstamon, nastrutium, spinach) are growing rapidly.

We also have a few new additions to the Desert Candy kitchen. Today we're talking about shirsh el-halaweh, also known as soapwort root or bois de panama. The guy in the spice shop held the root up and asked, with a puzzled expression, "is for cooking, no?"

Yes, indeed it is. The root is used to make a marshmallowy white foam called natef. It's very thick and creamy and almost like marshmallows. Natef can be used for all kinds of desserts but its most common usage is for a cookie called karabeej, which is dipped in natef cream. To make the cream the root is washed and boiled in water, then the root is discarded and the water is whipped into a thick foam sweetened with sugar. Stay tuned for a recipe.

01 March 2011

Currently Eating: Manoushe bi Kishik

This is manoushe bi kishik, or a flatbread with kishik. Kishik is made by mixing yogurt and bulgur and letting it ferment. Kishik can be served fresh (mixed fresh and only a few days old, which you'll find in Middle Eastern cheese shops). Or kishik can be dried completely in the sun, and then ground to a powder. This powder is then rehydrated as a soup or sauce and has a very distinctive sour taste.

Pictured is a very traditional kishik flatbread, where kishik powder is mixed with tomato paste, olive oil, and sesame seeds and spread on bread. It's very mild and quite delicious.