Tabbouleh & Hummus

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Okay, snickerdoodles not what you wanted to start your 2013 resolutions off properly?

Well, don’t worry! I’ve got healthy stuff too!! Delicious, healthy stuff.

I grew up eating Lebanese food on special occasions. Mostly family gatherings, especially Easter. Grandma prepared most of it when I was younger. My cousins and I would sneak into the fridge at night during family reunions to steal the fatayers! We’d sneak a few, thinking we’d be satisfied, and then go back for secret seconds. I loved almost everything grandma made, but tabbouleh was never my favorite. Probably because it’s chock full of parsley and I’m not really a huge fan. But it’s been growing on me in the last few years and now I love it. Well curly leaf more than flat. Especially drenched in lemon juice. Probably thanks to Stephen… who adores Middle Eastern & Mediterranean cuisines. He loves when we make tabbouleh, hummus, pita, grape leaves, or fatayer. And any chance we get to eat it somewhere else. He once “confessed” he loved me because I could make such good Lebanese food. I was flattered!

Tabbouleh & Hummus are an especially great combination. They’re both quick & simple and require no cooking (if using canned beans). They’re also an extremely healthy combo. Chickpeas are full of protein, fiber, Manganese and Iron. While parsley is an excellent source of antioxidants as well as Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Calcium, Folate, Potassium and even Iron. Most importantly, they’re delicious together – the flavors and textures are perfectly complementary.

So go ahead, indulge. In fresh, wonderful food that you can feel good about.

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Tabbouleh

2 bunches curly leaf parsley
1/2 cup bulgur
1 large cucumber
1/2 small red onion
juice of 2 lemons
several tablespoons olive oil
1/4 tsp cinnamon
salt, to taste
chopped mint, optional

Chop parsley finely. Chop mint finely if using (between a couple tablespoons & 1/4 cup).
You can use the food processor if you want, but that’s one more thing to clean!
Peel cucumber, seed & dice. Finely dice red onion.
Add the bulgur wheat to a small saucepan with 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil, stir & remove from heat. Let sit for at least 15 minutes or until water is absorbed.
Combine the parsley, bulgur, cucumber, and onion.
Pour olive oil & lemon juice on top & stir thoroughly.
Refrigerate & nom!

Hummus

1 can chickpeas
2 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp olive oil
juice of 1/2 a lemon (or more)
1/4 tsp salt

This one is easy. Add all ingredients to food processor & blend until completely smooth!
Top with paprika, sumac, or zaatar, and olive oil. Or nothing. However you like it.
Many of my family members prefer it drenched in olive oil.
Refrigerate & nom!

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Stuffed Grape Leaves

I love food so much it’s ridiculous. Especially eating it. But making it can be pretty fun too. Especially when I’m not just a full-time veggie chopper. Especially, when you get to cook with family or friends, for special occasions, or particularly exciting dishes.

Every year, as per tradition, our family makes the same Middle Eastern dishes for Easter (and family reunions). My great grandfather, Sam Bitar, and my great grandmother came from the Middle East in the early 1900s. Technically he was Syrian and she was Lebanese… they came over just before the post -WWI French League of Nations Mandate that divided the Ottoman Empire (Contemporary Middle Eastern History with Dr. Saffran filled my brain with far too much knowledge). Thus we consider ourselves Lebanese & Syrian. We make grape leaves, fatayers, hummus, tabbouleh, and kibbe. Kibbe nayyi (raw) for particularly special occasions. And for dessert mahmoul & ka’ak cookies. Hummus & tabbouleh are the only two vegan dishes. So I’ve been developing vegan recipes based off of the traditional ones.

But back to the grape leaves, if you’ve had grape leaves you’ve probably had the lenten version… vegetarian (and maybe you called them Dolmas… which are technically Turkish – it gets complicated). But traditionally, my family stuffed their grape leaves with beef & rice. I think lamb is actually the most traditional (at least according to the cookbooks) but probably becomes rather expensive when you’re churning out huge batches for the entiiiiire family.

The gist is, I grew up watching my mom makes these for significant family gatherings. And I tried to help make them… sometimes. And I definitely helped eat them. Straight our of the pot… when no one was looking. Grape Leaves are absolutely a unique flavor but they’re a bit gooey and very tangy (from the lemons & leaves) and definitely delicious. They’re especially wonderful vegan & dipped in hummus or baba ghanoush.

A Lebanese cookbook my grandmother gave me (she had 2 copies!) has “lenten” variations for many of the usually meat-laden recipes. In other words, during the 40 days before Easter, people eat vegetarian cuisine. Needless to say, the “Lenten” chapter of my cookbook is my favorite.

I checked out the listed recipe for lenten grape leaves before deciding to make up my own. The measurements below are a rough estimate. Because honestly, I kept just throwing more of one ingredient into the 4 cup measurer when I thought it looked like it needed more red or green.

The only tedious part of making Grape Leaves is the stuffing part. It’s actually pretty simple though.

Stuffed Grape Leaves

  • 1 Cup White Rice
  • 1/2 Cup Sliced Grape Tomatoes
  • 1/4 Large Onion, finely diced
  • 3 Tbsp Dried Currants
  • 1/3 Cup Fresh Flat Leaf Parsley, chopped
  • 3 Tbsp Mint, Chopped
  • 1 Tsp Cinnamon
  • 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • 1 Jar Grape Leaves (You’ll only use about 20 – 30 Leaves)
  • 2 – 3 Lemons, sliced thin

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir thoroughly to combine and coat rice.

Remove a hunk of grape leaves from the jar. They usually come in portions… they roll up about 20 – 40 leaves and shove them in the brine. Rinse the hunk of grape leaves under cold water, just to get a bit of brine off.

You want to use the larger grape leaves. About 6 inches in diameter or so. If you want to be a pro and happen to find a bunch of smaller leaves tucked in there, you can overlap them to make “one” larger grape leaf.

On a cutting board, spread grape leaf with the veins of the leaf facing up. Fill center with about 2 Tbsp of rice filling. Mom always makes hers longer & thinner but I’ve always liked mine shorter & fatter so you can spread the filling to your liking. I do about 2.5 – 3 inches long.

Next, you must rolllllll the grape leaf. Which is just like making a burrito. Which, anyone who’s worked at a Chipotle has mastered… unless you’ve worked in State College – your grape leaves may fall apart, much like your burritos. (Okay, some of their staff are definitely professionals, I’m only teasing).

1. Fold the end closest to you up over the rice.

2. Fold in the left & right sides over the top.

3. Roll the filling up the leaf until the top is sealed. You want to make sure they’re rolled well, snug but not “tight.” You don’t want them to fall apart in the simmering water but you want a bit of room for the rice to expand when it cooks.

If my directions make absolutely no sense because I am completely incompetent at explaining kitchen techniques… I’m more of a teach by show kinda gal…. there is a wonderful series of pictures at SouSou Kitchen that show the steps to rolling a grape leaf…. I suggest you visit the site since I don’t even think I understand what I’m explaining. Maybe it’s because it’s really quite simple  – I swear!

Line a large-ish pot with the grape leaves to make a single bottom layer. Squeeze them in snug. Layer the slices of lemon on top of your bottom layer of grape leaves. Now, make a second layer of grape leaves in your pot. Mine didn’t quite fill a second layer, which proved to be slightly detrimental to the whole… grape leaves staying together thing. Or maybe I just didn’t make them “snug” enough. Doh! Top with more sliced lemon. Then fill pot with water until grape leaves are JUST covered. My mom says it’s as simple as cooking rice… which is essentially what you are doing. But I wasn’t that calm. Bring the water to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until most of the water is absorbed and the rice is thoroughly cooked (aka act like you’re cooking rice, because you are). Some liquid will remain. I like to call this the “juice.” It’s lemony and helps the grape leaves stay moist & flavorful so don’t throw it away… unless you’re going to eat them all immediately. Which is fine by me!

 

Mini Zaatar Pizzas

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this but my ancestry is part Middle Eastern. My grandfather’s parents came from Syria & Lebanon. And that side of my family is HUGE. We have family reunions at the beach where 100 of us are trying to have dinner in 2 apartments. We have big feasts of stuffed grape leaves, hummus, baba ganoush, kibbe, kibbe nay, meat fatayers, spinach fatayers, pita, tabbouleh, baklava, mjadra, and more.

When we were growing up my cousins & I coveted the meat fatayers my grandmother made. Fatayers are little triangle shaped pies… sort of like the British pasty, except the fatayer dough is softer. We’d sneak into the kitchen at night and steal them out of the refrigerator. Clearly, I don’t eat them anymore, but there are so many great “beef crumble” substitutes that they’re practically the same when I make them today.

Though my grandmother is not of Middle Eastern descent (English all the way) she learned how to make all of the family recipes. She also raised 7 children while granddad honed his entrepreneurial skills to support his family. Last year she gave me one of her Lebanese cookbooks (she had 2 copies!) and I looked through it cover to cover over and over again. Since then, I’ve been trying to broaden my horizons to make more middle eastern dishes. I’ve also figured out how to make the perfect (in my opinion) Tabbouleh, which I shall post next time I make it.

Zaatar is a traditional Middle Eastern blend that usually contains a combination of the following: thyme, cumin, anise, coriander, fennel, salt, sesame seeds, lemon, pomegranate molasses, and sumac. I love sumac. It has a tart kick about it that is just so tasty. The first time I had Zaatar it was spread over pita bread with olive oil. I toasted it and ate it by itself. I ate all of it. It was so good – definitely comfort food.

Mini Zaatar Pizzas

For the Dough: (Makes 4)

  • 3/4 Cup plus 2 Tbsp Warm Water
  • 1 Pkg or 1 Tbsp Yeast
  • 1 Tsp Brown Sugar
  • 1 Tsp Honey
  • 1 Cup Bread Flour
  • 1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1/2 Tsp Salt
  • 1/2 Tsp Sumac

For the Topping:

  • 1/4 Cup Zaatar (the more, the better!!!)
  • Black Pepper
  • 3 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1/2 Medium Onion, finely sliced

Preheat your oven to 400 Degrees Fahrenheit.

I made the dough a little bit sweet since the Zaatar is salty & a little bit tart. I just really like the contrast but you can change the dough recipe how you like in terms of saltiness or sweetness.

Combine warm water & yeast. Add sugar & honey. Let sit for about 5 minutes until the yeast are activated and the water begins to look foamy. Add the salt & sumac. Add the flour one cup at a time. If using a dough hook, keep on low speed. Otherwise, stir with wooden spoon to combine. My dough was a little bit tough. Make sure not to over mix. The dough should pull away from the sides of the bowl and form a smooth ball. Separate into 4 evenly sized balls, cover, and let rise in a warm spot for about an hour. I always microwave something (like water for tea) and then stick my dough in the microwave afterwards. My dough was ready in about 30 minutes and it looked much prettier after rising. It should double in size. With extra flour (dough will become sticky after rising) shape the balls into discs for your pizzas. The thinner, the crunchier.

Combine the Zaatar, oil, and black pepper to make a paste. Spread on top of the dough and top with onion slivers. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the crust turns golden brown and the onions start to brown.

Let cool before eating so you don’t burn your tongue!