Archive for the 'Middle Eastern / Mediterranean' Category


Moroccan Vegetable Stew with Couscous and Mint Gremolata

The plan Saturday was to get through a gigantic to-do list: a jewelry party, playing with Gabi, getting Gabi’s haircut, running three miles, cleaning the kitchen, exchanging a shirt, and replacing the dead pansies in one of the window boxes. I accomplished half of it — no small feat when you have a scrumptious and distracting toddler.

Amazingly, she went down for a morning nap (we thought the morning naps had ended), so I took advantage of the quiet and made this stew. I’d intended to make it last weekend. But the sun was out and we spent hours at the park instead. But this past Saturday was dreary — perfect cooking weather.

Now about this stew. I come back to it year after year, and for good reason. It’s an aromatic combination of tomato, leeks, carrots, chickpeas, green peas, spinach and couscous. It’s the first thing that comes to mind when I need to throw something together for someone who doesn’t eat meat or dairy. It’s fairly quick to make, but has layers of flavor. It’s incredibly healthy. It’s incredibly hearty. It’s nothing short of amazing.

It calls for saffron, a warm spice commonly found in Spanish and Mediterranean dishes. Saffron is pricey, so good thing that a little goes a long way. The additional combination of cinnamon, ground ginger and red chili flakes is what makes this stew so wonderful. The gremolata — finely chopped garlic, parsley, mint and lemon zest — adds freshness. Don’t skip it.

Moroccan Vegetable Stew with Couscous and Mint Gremolata
Simple Meals by Organic Style, Summer 2003

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, washed and sliced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch diagonals
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
Large pinch saffron threads
1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 cup peas, frozen or fresh
1/2 pound spinach, washed, stemmed and roughly chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup plain couscous
1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest

To make the stew:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, 5 quarts or so, over medium heat. Add the leeks and saute, stirring frequently, until softened, about 7 or 8 minutes. Watch so they don’t burn.

Add the tomato paste and cook for another 3 or 4 minutes. Stir in carrots, tomatoes, saffron, crushed red pepper, cinnamon, and ginger. Simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

Add the beans, salt, pepper, and 1 3/4 cups of water. Cover the pan and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until carrots are tender, about 5 minutes.

Add the peas and spinach, and cook uncovered for another 2 minutes, just until the spinach is wilted. (Can be made a few hours ahead of time. Anything more than that, the peas and spinach will not be bright green.)

To make the couscous:

Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the couscous and stir until lightly browned, about 4 minutes.Meanwhile, bring 1 1/3 cups of water to a boil. Sprinkle salt over couscous. Pour water over couscous and cover. Let the couscous stand for 5 minutes, until the water is absorbed.

Make the gremolata:

Combine the finely chopped mint, parsley, garlic and lemon zest in a small bowl.


Divide the stew evenly among 4 shallow bowls. Dish couscous into the center of each bowl (a half-cup measure works wonders). Sprinkle gremolata over each bowl of stew.

Serves 4


Roasted Duck Breasts with Pomegranate-Chile Sauce

We’re out of the woods as far as winter goes. Our first daffodil bloomed three days ago. My chives are peaking over the lips of their flower pots. And today it was too hot for sweaters, or even jeans. But I’m still in winter mode when it comes to cooking. Something roasted and warm with a little heat is what sounds good right now.

This duck recipe is a fusion of  sweetness and heat: the Middle East meets Mexico. This sauce is seriously amazing. It’s a little like barbecue sauce. It would be amazing with pork. It’s one my favorite finds this winter, so I really smothered the duck with it. Jeff deserves full credit for finding this one — he first made it for dinner a few weeks ago. I made it again because it is so delicious.

The beauty of this: the sauce requires the most work, and it can be made well in advance. Searing and roasting the duck takes no time at all. It’s elegant and fairly easy. Definitely a show stopper.

Roasted Duck Breasts with Pomegranate-Chile Sauce
adapted from Bon Appetit, Dec. 2009


1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 cups refrigerated pomegranate juice (such as Pom)
1 3/4 cups low-salt chicken broth
4 large dried California chiles,* stemmed, seeded, torn into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons adobo sauce from canned chipotle chiles in adobo**
1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
Coarse kosher salt

8 5-to 6-ounce boneless duck breast halves, skin and fat trimmed to size of breast
Coarse kosher salt
Ground coriander
Fresh pomegranate seeds (Trader Joe’s sells them packaged)

For sauce:
Stir sugar and 1/2 cup water in heavy large saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; boil until syrup is deep amber color, swirling pan occasionally, 6 to 8 minutes (watch closely). Add juice, broth, and  chiles to the pan. Boil until sauce is reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat; cool. Puree in tightly covered blender until smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer to bowl. Whisk in adobo sauce, vinegar, and cumin. Season to taste with generous amount of coarse salt and pepper. The sauce can be made 1 week ahead. Cover and chill. Rewarm over low heat before using.

For duck:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Score skin of duck (don’t cut into flesh) with 5 cuts in 1 direction; repeat in opposite direction, making diamond pattern. Sprinkle duck all over with coarse salt, pepper, and ground coriander. Place 2 large ovenproof skillets over medium-high heat. Add duck, skin side down, to skillets, dividing equally. Cook duck until skin is crisp and deep brown, about 7 minutes. Turn duck over; cook 1 minute. Pour off fat. Transfer skillets to oven. Roast duck until cooked to medium rare, about 5 minutes.

Transfer duck to cutting board. Let rest 5 minutes. Thinly slice each breast crosswise on slight diagonal. Arrange slices on plates. Spoon sauce over. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.

* Available at some supermarkets and at specialty foods stores and Latin markets.

** Dried, smoked jalapeños in a spicy tomato sauce called adobo; available at some supermarkets and at specialty foods stores and Latin markets.


Turkish Lentil and Spinach Soup

I’m absolutely smitten with this soup. It’s the perfect cold-weather food, the kind that infuses your soul. It can cure whatever ails. At least, that was our hope last weekend. The three of us have had colds since October it seems. Gabi’s friends at daycare share with her, and she shares with us. It’s about to drive us mad. On Saturday, Jeff suggested a big batch of lentil soup and I couldn’t have agreed with him more.

I found this recipe about 10 years ago in Sundays at Moosewood — a cookbook I bought in college. Some of its pages are splattered.  Notations throughout the book mark my first experiments in the kitchen.   I’ve adapted the lentil soup here and there, adding more spice, more zing, and replacing fresh tomatoes with canned (it is winter, after all). The result is a thick, almost stew-like soup. The combination of onions, garlic, lentils, bulghur, tomatoes, parsley and spinach is truly addictive. I use a lot of rosemary here. Use more or less, according to your taste. A squeeze of lemon at the end enhances it all.

I made a double batch of this on Saturday. I’ve been known to triple the recipe and put half of it in freezer bags. My freezer and I have become best buds this past year. I’ve come to learn that good food doesn’t have to be made TODAY. It could be made last month. In the case of this lentil soup, it could be made six weeks ago, thawed, heated, and inhaled.  If you make one thing from this blog, make this soup.

Continue reading ‘Turkish Lentil and Spinach Soup’


Moroccan-Style Roast Chicken with Spiced Couscous

Thanksgiving is 10 days away. Ten days! I’ve come to realize that we need to clear space in the freezer. This is no small task at our house.You can hardly squeeze a sack of frozen corn in there due to the amount of hording I did over the summer. See, we get meat every other week in our Fair Shares CSA box. Jeff and I aren’t big meat eaters in the summer. We end up pounds and pounds of frozen chickens, lamb, bison, you name it, taking up freezer space.

About a week ago, I thawed one of the chickens and rubbed it with this spiced honey butter. It crisped up nicely in the oven. The house smelled like butter, honey and cinnamon for hours. The meat was deliciously juicy. A drizzle of honey butter sauce  amplified the flavor . And guess what? It was hardly any work.

As you can see, though, the ankles (do chickens have ankles?)  did get a little too brown. I should have put foil over the chicken earlier than I did.  The rest, though, roasted perfectly.

The couscous is about as essential to this meal as the honey butter. Please do make the couscous. The raisins, almonds, cinnamon and saffron are sooo good in it.

Continue reading ‘Moroccan-Style Roast Chicken with Spiced Couscous’


Israeli Couscous with Roasted Eggplant

I was waiting to get my haircut this afternoon when I came across this recipe, or a variation of it, in Bon Appetit. Once again, I had eggplant on the brain. We leave for Colorado in three days, which means  a cooking blitz to use the fruit and veggies that were in our Fair Shares CSA box: eggplant, sweet peppers, sunchokes, pears, figs, tomatoes and watermelon. I’ll probably give away the watermelon.

This would take care of the eggplant, and it looked delicious. I happened to have all of the ingredients, though I wasn’t 100 percent sure of the Israeli couscous. What is it? It’s larger than standard couscous, and similar to orzo. The texture reminds me of tapioca. After my haircut, I stopped at a hoity-toity market around the corner to pick some up just in case.

The eggplant is cut into a 1/2-inch dice, tossed with olive oil and roasted until it’s nice a crispy. It’s tossed with golden raisins, parsley, the couscous, and an aromatic cinnamon-cumin dressing. The result was a filling, sweet and delicate dish that could work as a side or an main course. Jeff and I ate it for dinner with a mesclun salad with bacon-wrapped figs (recipe will appear in a couple of days), and a couple of glasses of crisp Pinot Grigio.

Isreali Couscous with Roasted Eggplant
Slightly adapted from Bon Appetit, via Epicurious

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2 3/4-pound unpeeled eggplants, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (8 to 9 cups)
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 cup Israeli couscous (if you can’t find this, substitute orzo and cook according to product directions(
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 450°F. Coat rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Place eggplant cubes on sheet; drizzle with 3 tablespoons oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Roast until tender, turning occasionally, about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook couscous in boiling salted water until just tender, about 8 minutes. Drain. Rinse under cold water until cool; drain again. Place in large bowl.

Toast cumin seeds in small skillet over medium-high heat until slightly darkened, about 4 minutes. Grind seeds in spice mill; place in small bowl. Add vinegar, cinnamon, and 2 tablespoons oil. Whisk to blend; season with salt and pepper. Mix in onion.

Add raisins, cilantro, eggplant cubes, and dressing to couscous. Toss to coat.

Serves 2-4 as a main course, or 6 as a side.


Lamb and Eggplant Pastitsio

A few summers ago I was obsessed with eggplant. Italian, Japanese, white — every variety appeared on our kitchen counter. I made eggplant parmesan (yum), crispy sauteed eggplant with garlic (yum), an Asian dish that Jeff and I chucked (blech!). There was a roasted eggplant dip that I would love to make again, if I could just find the recipe. And when eggplant was about to disappear from the farmers market, I made pastitsio.

Pastitsio is a Greek pasta dish which, when done right, outshines moussaka. A combination of tubular pasta, ground lamb, diced eggplant, crushed tomatoes and spices make the base. More pasta is tossed with a creamy feta cheese sauce — because what casserole doesn’t have cheese? –and spread on top. It is baked until it starts to brown and bubble. Suddenly, you’ve got something you’ll make year after year.

There are few things I like more than a fork full of meaty, pasta goodness with some sort of cheese. But truth be told, this isn’t as heavy as it sounds. It’s hearty all right, but won’t leave you feeling like you’ve had a plate of lasagna. Last year at this time, when Gabi was a bun in the oven and my ankles were canisters, I made enough pastitsio to fill two of those aluminum baking trays. I stacked them in the freezer, along with lasagna, tetrazzini and nine loaves of zucchini and bread. Yes, the nesting instinct had kicked in. And happily, we had enough pastitsio to get us through Gabi’s borderline colicky phase and part of October.

This time, I made another double batch. We ate one last week. The other went into the freezer for later this fall. I must warn you, pastitsio will make a mess of your kitchen. Pots are required for the meat and cheese sauces, and then a pot is needed to boil the pasta. The amount of active cooking time here is 40 minutes, and 2.5 hours start to finish (it’s worth it, trust me).

Continue reading ‘Lamb and Eggplant Pastitsio’


Orzo with Feta and Cherry Tomatoes

This past month is a blur. The life adjustment, the pace of getting out the door in the morning, the lack of spare time — it’s like a race. Still, I’m trying my best to make time for a few simple splurges. Long showers. Morning runs. Good food.

The past few Sundays I’ve made batch recipes that Jeff and I could eat for lunch during the week. When you’re in the news business like we are, eating out doesn’t happen often (too many deadlines), and cafeteria food in our building doesn’t always cut it. This orzo salad with cherry tomatoes and feta definitely did.

I admit that finding the time to cook while working full-time with a baby is hard. I’m pretty stubborn when it comes to food. Seasonal ingredients are a must.  Processed food — very rarely. I dig my heels in when it comes to these things. That means almost everything we eat is fresh and homemade, and making it can be time consuming.

This orzo salad is a quickie, about 30 minutes from start to finish. And it’s amazing.  The tomatoes, feta, lemon zest, parsley, need I say more? It’s tangy, salty, bursting with flavor. The pine nuts give it a nice crunch. It’s almost as addictive as the kale and bulgur from a few weeks ago.

Continue reading ‘Orzo with Feta and Cherry Tomatoes’


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