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Tuesday, 31 July 2012

A Palestinian Menu - The flavours of Tradition & The Love For It's Land's Produce

A Palestinian Menu that springs from the love of  Palestine's produce

"You may say I'm a dreamer, but I am not the only one. I hope one day you'll join us, and the world will be as one."   - John Lennon

Oh! What can I say about Falasteen (the Arabic and original name of Palestine)? I can start by saying, I am Palestinian. But despite the fact, I only got to visit Falasteen once in my whole life! That one time, I went to Falasteen, I made sure to tour the whole country, because I knew I might never get the chance to visit again! And tour, I did - in the country where I come from - I took it all in! I visited the enchanting gated Old Town in Al Quds (Jerusalem), where you can find all kinds of small shops to buy all kinds of goods, including the beautiful produce of Falasteen, from which I vividly remember beitinjan battiri (which are the narrow long eggplants). I had these delicious eggplants, stuffed and cooked in tomato sauce, at my Dad's aunt's house who happens to own a beautiful and ancient house inside the Old Gated City of Al Quds. In the afternoon, and passing through the monumental Al Aqsa mosque, you watch the prayer, and your heart can't help but feel peace.

Old Town Souq - Jerusalem

Out to hustle and bustle of the city, moving on to the beautiful beaches along its costs, from Heifa, Yafa, and the almighty Akka, whose waves roar and shower you with salty rain even when you are way up on the rocky hill! I also remember very clearly, how my grandma took me to visit the famous Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani's home in Akka.
Amongst the cities I visited, is the city of Nablus :) I say this with a huge smile, because my soul mate happens to be Nabulsi! The beautiful Nablus, with its Old Souk, of narrow passages, where the walls are low, making you feel like you are taken to a secret place, in which you unravel layers upon layers of goods. From spices, to produce, to the all famous Knafeh Nabulsyeh (dessert, otherwise known as Knafeh), to Warbat and Kullaj (both desserts). Goodness, Gracious do these Nabulsis have a sweet tooth?! But one that knows goodness of desserts.

The Old Souq - Nablus
Of course, no visit to Falasteen is complete without visiting the charming, the ancient and the soul soothing Beit lehem (Bethlehem)! Every time I think of Beit lehem, I can still hear the chants of the priests and the church visitors; until this day! I remember visiting the home of an old lady, the acquaintance of my Grandma's, and at one point while everyone was consumed with conversation, she said: "Shhhhh... Listen to the chants.... like medicine to the soul."
Then there is the very social, out and about city of Ramallah. From which I remember Booza Rukab (literally meaning ice cream kneas!). Basically, hand pushed strollers selling home-made ice cream in specialty mixes, the most delicious of which are the Arabic ice cream with Pistachio and the Mistka Icecream! Heavenly, creamy slatherings of frozen goodness!

The enchanting Bethlehem

I cannot fit all the cities, the surrounding villages and all the fabulous details about Touring Falasteen, in this post. I will however do in a later post. But for today's post I will mention the city where my family comes from. The beautiful, the hilly city of Al Khalil (Hebron), where the ancient monument of Abraham is. Food wise, Al khalil is the city of vine trees: therefore its people are known for Wara Dawali as we call it stuffed vine leaves and Mahashi (Stuffed vegetables). This city is also known for growing some of the best goats and sheep: therefore known for making Idreh (a dish of rice and chickpeas cooked in meat broth, including pieces of lamb meat on the bone, created to showcase the goodness of the lamb meat). Because in Al Khalil sheep and goats are grown, they are also known for dairy products and the cooking of Mansaf. Even their stuffed vegetables, which are otherwise cooked in a tomato-based sauce, are in Al khalil, usually cooked in a yoghurt sauce as in the Stuffed Zucchini recipe in Minted Yogurt sauce.  This explains to you, why I cook a lot of foods in a yogurt-based sauce. Khalilis do however also mix in a little tomato with the yoghurt sauce, creating dishes utilising the best of both worlds. This is the city of Hebron, the one also known for bringing good humour to Palestine lol ;) All the Nabulsis reading this are grinning right now...
(sorry, insider joke) :))

Vineyards - Al Khali
The Flavours of Tradition Palestinian Menu
On The Menu...

Menu Rationale

Palestinian Musakhan

Today's menu celebrates the best loved Palestinian Musakhan as its main focus. Musakhan is a Palaestinian dish that is made all over Falasteen, but is the specialty of the Northern Region of the country, where the olive trees grow. This dish was created to - and is still made to - test the Olive Oil of the season. Musakhan is mainly made by creating a confit of onions and sumac in olive oil, to which chicken broth is added and then cooked slowly to infuse all flavours. Chicken pieces, traditionally on the bone, are roasted on the side to later on be added to the finished rounds of Taboon Bread. Traditionally, the special bread is dipped in the brothed olive oil mixture, placed on a serving tray, topped with a spreading of the onion mixture and all are then topped with the chicken pieces, toasted nuts and garnished with chopped parsley. For best results, Palestinian homes use a traditional oven for making the Musakhan and roasting the chicken. However the recipe had been modified for home ovens, without compromising on the final outcome: flavour or texture. The more modern presentations of Musakhan include, Musakhan rolls, Musakhan pizzas and Musakhan canapes. Follow this link for the recipe and more info about Musakhan.

Stir fried Chicken Giblets

Stir fried Chicken Giblets, is one very old and traditional concoction of Palestinian Cuisine. Many view this as old and not trendy, therefore the young don't like to cook it and seem to think that they don't like it! I have tried some terrible versions of this dish, that tasted like a nightmare to say the least. But when giblets are cooked right, they taste heavenly. This recipe of giblets, with the tanginess from the Pomegranate Molases and the squeeze of lemon, together with the onion and garlic infusion, make it super fresh and extremely good. You have got to try it to know. And if you think the concoction is not attractive looking, and not modern, just follow this link and look how I transformed this appetiser into not one, but four preparations that are not short on presentation or flavour! Give it a try you will be happy you did.

Hareeseh or Namoora

This Hareeseh Recipe will have you drooling any time, any where! It is semolina drenched in sugar syrup oozing of sweet goodness, melting in your mouth and tasting just angelic! In my recipe I do not use eggs, or samen, which some recipes use. Instead I use yogurt for the wet ingredients. The outcome is light, fluffy and never overly filling, which allows you to have more of this goodness. Follow this link for the recipe.

Then there are the Eggplant Mutabal and the Cream of Vegetable Soup, which in Palestinian cuisine are made to celebrate the goodness of the produce. The vegetables there are seasonal, fresh and with unmatched flavours. They have not seen a day of refrigeration or cross-country transport, are not bruised nor abused. They are fresh, good vegetables that taste like vegetables should! Good and fresh. follow the links for the recipes.

A historic picture of a peasant family from Ramallah

Falasteen is a beautiful country. A place that is magically enchanting. A rich soil, inhabited by generous people. People who love its land, and its produce. People whose foods are reflective of how they celebrate their produce. With foods created merely by the seasons and the offerings created by the geography. Foods that celebrate a love for life and good taste. This menu is made to give you an introduction into the flavours of the land and its produce, and one that also celebrates the traditions.

Wouldn't the world be so much nicer if we could just go anywhere?
If we could just get in the car and go borderless
road trip?! 
Hope you have enjoyed today's post, and best yet that you will give this menu a try. Let these flavours show you their goodness and tell you the tales of Palestinian produce, its generous people and their love for life and good food. A Palestinian family is one that appreciates family, extended family and everyone who crosses paths with this family. We appreciate family gatherings, and are raised to understand the importance of each family in our community. It is very common to be called by your family name, and even more common to be called as the grandchild of so and so... People know each other there, and if they don't know you personally, they still know your whole family history. When it comes to food, every family has their specialty and secret recipes, that they pass generation to another, and it is common to say something like she cooks good food, because her grandma cooked good food. It is in a way true! Our grandmas, and mothers are our biggest resource when it comes to cooking. These are the recipes passed down in my family, and I hope you enjoy them with yours.

Don't forget to take photos of recipes that you carry out from this blog, and send them to me to qualify for the draw - part of Dima's Kitchen Ramadan Special. Do let me know what you think of these traditions, of Palestinian food, and of today's menu; so leave me a comment before you go.

Don't forget to get in touch with your family this Ramadan and to enjoy their company
Ramadan Kareem

Monday, 30 July 2012

Dates 3 ways: Stuffed, Chocolate Dipped & Rolled

Dates can be rolled in any topping, there is no limit to what you can choose.
From Nuts, to sprinkles, to chocolate shavings... anything goes, so be creative :)

"Be Kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle."  - Plato

From the Saharas of the Middle East, the lands where the most vital nourishment - water - is very scarce. Despite the heat and the harsh conditions, and from the quiet of the desert, a sweet and nurturing life springs. One that is only made to give, one that hardly depletes the almost non-existent resources. One form of life, that centuries ago gave hope to the merchants who, underestimated the desert, found themselves lost in the middle of nowhere. The Date Palms, offered a beam of hope that these doomed lost travelers might still make it. That they will find food, water and shelter in an otherwise vast, orange, hot and lonely place! 
If the nutritious dates can come out of such deprived environment, from such harsh conditions, and turn out so sweet, then there is hope for everyone.

It is the tradition to break fast with dates. Dates are believed to be very healthy (in moderation, not to exceed 3 pieces a day), supplementing your body with all the nutrients lost during fasting. Dates also have a slow sugar release property that helps your body regain energy, without the harsh crash caused by fast sugar releasing foods. Besides the useful chemical composition of dates, they are extremely delicious. They chew, melting slowly as you chew, releasing sugar, oozing of sweetness, somewhere between a soft gummy and a soft fruit texture. The flavour is deep, touching on caramel and at times like toffee, with a distinct flavour utterly sweet, you hardly want to let go. Dates are delicious, and can be used in many different ways in the making of food and desserts. For instance, you can add dates to the Tagine of lamb and Prunes. You can also use dates in the making of some rice dishes, just like we use raisins. You can even, chop dates very finely, and use them to garnish large rice platters, such as Kapseh, Freekeh, Hashwet Kharoof...etc.

In today's post, dates are the stars

But today, instead of using dates to compliment a recipe, I am celebrating Dates! In today's post, Dates are the stars. I am showing you how to create mouthwatering, beautiful, gem-like date desserts that will please every single person to walk through your doors. In many Arab homes you will find these gems in arrangements on the table. Most of the time purchased from stores. Some of which are decadent, and some of which unfortunately not so much. The dates vary in quality, and therefore in price. The chocolates used also have different qualities and different flavours. The freshness of the ingredients, such as the nuts and fruits. The older these ingredients, the staler and less flavoursome they are. Therefore when purchasing these dates from the stores, make sure to ask about the quality. Don't be shy to ask for a taster. Taste, if they don't taste good, don't buy them. If they taste good, look good and fresh, then you are in for a real Sahara Treat :)

There is nothing like making foods at home! I know, I always say that. But I cannot emphesise it enough! Trust me, there is a whole different flavour to foods made at home. The same recipe to the exact measurement carried out at home, and that made in a store come out completely different. At stores there is the issue of cost and profit, which eventually determines the quality of the product. At home, you buy the best quality products and you carry out the recipe (when it is a proper recipe) and you find the flavour, texture and whole experience to be amplified in goodness. If this thought appeals to you, then you are going to love these home-made goodness fortified Stuffed, Chocolate Dipped & Rolled Dates. Not only for just the outcome; but the process of making these - very similar to making Shishbaraks - very mechanical, very therapeutic. Listen to some gorge tunes to keep you company, or better still, gather up your besties and make these together.

A Delicious Assortment of Dates

This recipe can result in 3 different types of dates.

Plain Stuffed Dates  Where the dates are pitted and dried fruits, nuts, chocolate pieces...etc are placed in the place of the pit. Then the dates are served.

Chocolate Dipped Dates   Where the stuffed dates are dipped in tempered chocolate, left to set (with or without topping), and then served.

Rolled Stuffed Dates   Where the chocolate dipped dates are immediately rolled after dipping in any desired topping like: crushed nuts (any nuts or mixture of them), sprinkles (chocolate or edible mini rice wafer stars), Chocolate shavings or crushed cocoa nibs...etc.

When I make these I usually make a selection from all three types, each type with a selection of toppings and end up with a fabulous platter of date that can appeal to all palates. There are the basic steps that you need to follow. Otherwise, it is all up to you what topping, what combinations to go for. So be creative, and the sky is not even the limit, it is just a horizon!

Tip  You can make nice assorted platters from these, and give them to friends or visitors as Gifts from the Kitchen :) back in the day when I was catering, these platters used to sell like hot bread! So if you own a food store or even a small home-based food service, then you can add these to the menu of offerings ;)

Yalla people, let's do this....

Ramadan Recipe 10
Stuffed, Chocolate Dipped & Rolled Dates
You can make any quantity you like in any variation you like. This is a basic quantity recipe, but feel free to double, triple or even quadruple the quantity! They are very good and will be consumed.

You Need
1Kg good quality Royal Dates
1Kg good quality dark chocolate (60-85%), do not use baking chocolate or commercial grade eating chocolate, go for good quality chocolate
A few dried apricots, cut into strips, the size of the date pit

Filling Options
whole raisins
whole pistachios, toasted
whole blanched almonds, toasted 
halved walnuts or whole pecans, toasted
cashews, toasted
Dried cherries or cranberries ...etc

Topping options for rolling
Crushed toasted Almonds
Crushed, toasted pistachios
crushed, toasted walnuts
Desiccated coconuts
Assorted Chocolate shavings
Chocolate Sprinkles
Colourful Sprinkles for kids
Crushed Mistka
A mixture of crushed mistka and cardamom powder ...etc

For Plain Stuffed Dates, cut a slit at the side of the date, remove the seed and place your choice of filling in the place of the seed. Press the sides together to seal. Place on serving platter and serve.

For the Chocolate Dipped Stuffed or plain dates, carry out the step above. you can either fill the date with a filling or you can keep it plain but seed removed. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Cut the chocolate into 1 inch square pieces. Place 850g of the chocolate pieces in a large heat proof bowl. Keep 150g for seeding. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler.

Tip never allow the water in the bottom pot of the double boiler to touch the bottom of the bowl holding the chocolate. The water should be just 1/4 of the bottom pot, and only the steam will get in contact with the bottom of the bowl containing the chocolate. Also never allow water to get in contact with the chocolate, be organised and neat as you work, or you will have to discard the batch and start new.

Once all the chocolate has melted - do not over heat the chocolate or you scorch it - remove the bowl from the simmering water pot, place on a kitchen towel atop the work surface. Gradually add the remaining 150g of chocolate pieces. Mix well after each addition. Stop adding the pieces when the pieces added (the seeds) stop melting and the chocolate appears shiny and smooth. Your chocolate is now in temper and ready for dipping.

Individually dip each date into the tempered chocolate, roll to coat, then lift using a fork. Tap the fork gently at the side of the bowl to remove excess chocolate. Place the chocolate dipped date on the lined baking sheet. Repeat until all quantity is finished. You can top with slithered nuts or sprinkle with a crushed topping or you can leave it plain with only the chocolate coating. You can also drizzle melted chocolate in a contrasting colour over the top. Unleash that creativity :)
Leave the dipped dates to set overnight in a cool dry place.

For the Rolled Dates, Follow the two previous steps. right after dipping the dates in chocolate and removing excess chocolate, place the dipped date in a bowl full of crushed nuts - or desired topping - and roll them to coat. Place on the lined sheets, and leave to set overnight in a cool dry place.

Rolled Dates

Give a gift from your kitchen to your friends
It is a beautiful gesture
The next day, you will find trays upon trays of tempting assortments of dates. Don't eat them! Ok then, have only one! Place them on nice looking platters in the arrangement that you like and cover with plastic wrap until you are ready to serve. You can use wooden trays, silver trays, cake stands, tiered platters...etc any nice looking platter would do. I personally like to shop at Tavola for cool serving platters, and have for years been an avid shopper there, you can see from photos on this blog lol. And I am not just saying this because they are sponsoring giveaways to this blog's readers. Visit their shop, you will understand why. They have a really cool and very stylish selections of serving platters and trays that you will love :)

Gift from the Kitchen  Wrap your assorted platter with cling film. Place a little card with a message and gift to your friends, neighbours, visitors... As good as store bought. Actually, even better!

Hope you liked today's post and these little jewels of goodness. I have posted so many savoury recipes this Ramadan it is only time to go for something sweet, and only fitting to start with dates. Do let me know what you think, and leave me a comment before you go. Please sign your comment with your name and let me know the country to determine giveaway. Don't forget to take photos of the recipes you carry out from this blog and share them with me for a chance to win cool giveaways. Follow this link for details on how to enter for winning giveaways :)

Be Kind to others this Ramadan, it only brings Kindness back to your life
Ramadan Kareem

Sunday, 29 July 2012

The Old and forgotten story of Sohoor - Arabic Spinach Pastries (Moajanat Sabanekh)

Spinach Pastries bring appetite to any Buffet, and make for a perfect Sohoor option

"Be slow to fall into a friendship, but when you are in, continue firm and constant."   - Socrates

Let me tell you a little story about an old old tradition, that seems to have gotten lost in the folds of history. A story about generosity and giving selflessly. One about community, which was always brought to the forefront throughout Ramadan and during the early hours of the morning. Let me tell you the true, old and forgotten story of Suhoor.
I rememeber being very young, back at a time when in the city of Amman there used to be what we call 'Msaher'. Msaher is the guy who goes around the streets of a neighbourhood an hour before Sunrise prayer, calling out to the sleeping people to wake up and eat before the prayer is out and the fasting starts. The same voice everyday, goes around the streets, with a drum in hand, in a selfless act, in an act of kindness, calling out and beating on the drum to wake you to have a bite. I mean, who wants to wake up so early and walk around sleep ridden streets only to wake people to eat and pray? I remember that if I did not hear the guy, which was very seldom, mum or dad would gently wake us to have breakfast together. Although I was too young at that time to fast, and I didn't; at our home we still gathered at the table to eat together. I remember I used to get very excited about waking up, only because mum would have a table of delicious simple foods spread out for us to eat. At those times, things were simple. It was Ramadan, people ate, prayed fasted and did good to others for nothing in return. Those were days when food was given out in Ramadan to those in need. Times, when a bakery would be open for Suhoor to give out bread for free, although ironically people could afford it back then! Times when the community was a friend, making sure its members are taken care of. In my very humble understanding, I find that those were days when we had beautiful traditions that made ours a very distinct culture and a very unique community. And what I remember the most, is that food was delicious! 
Recipe was requested and I didn't have
the time to make these for photos
so went with a sketch instead lol

I always find myself thinking about the Msaher every Ramadan. I think of the guy who used to walk our streets, and think of how he could be doing. I also find myself thinking about why this tradition hardly exists any more?! Suhhor these days is mostly a Buffet in a hotel, or the equivalent of a coffee morning! Even at home, it seems everyone is either living in another country or having a quick sandwich before they sleep. Options are always good and change is always fine, but the Msaher tradition was profound! It should have never died, it was beautiful!

My mum's table is always busy with good food. She always has stuff in the freezer, ready to take out when needed. And she would always have freshly made foods which she would place at the table with a grin on her face like: "Surprise!". Then of course, there's the leftover fatteh, hummus, mutabal, tabouleh... Gosh, to think that was a breakfast! Only in Ramadan :)

One of the many delights we used to enjoy for Suhoor is Spinach pastries; Ah! What can I say about these soft, chewy, salty, spinachy parcels with the sour tones from the lemon and Sumac? What can I say, other than I ate them like they were going to disappear from the face of earth! I popped one after another, and dipped them in yogurt, then had them plain and then realised, I had too much! They are that good :)
I had planned to post this recipe during Ramadan, because I ate lots of these during Ramadan. I have received many requests for these pastries recipe, especially by the very sweet ladies @Jamie Cooks, and @SarahM. So I have sped up the post and decided to post it now although I never got to make them for photos to show you exactly how the pastry is folded. This explains why I have gone for a very humble sketch just to demonstrate how the pastry is shaped. Now I ain't LeoDaVinci sketch material, but you will get the drift I hope. With that said, I found the sketch to be in spirit of the theme, as it looks like a thing from the past lol, handmade and not rendered on some 3D programme lool. So read on and enjoy...

Ramadan Recipe 9
Feryal's Spinach Pastries
Serve these as an appetiser, a side to soup or for Suhoor. Or you can eat them any time :) These also make a very good lunch box item for your kids. This recipe should make around 60 pastries but feel free to reduce the quantity. 
I got this recipe from my mum, who wrote beside it my aunt's name, which am guessing means its my aunt's recipe... I named it as such anyway :)

You Need
For Pastry
6 cups all purpose flour
1 cup vegetable oil
3 tbsp yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
6 tbsp milk powder
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp salt
enough water to make a slightly sticky dough

For Spinach Filling
2Kg fresh Spinach
500g white onions, finely chopped
2 tbsp Summac
1 tbsp prepared red chili paste (Shata) optional but recommended
1/4 cup lemon Juice
Salt to taste

Start by placing the sugar and yeast in a cup with the warm water. Mix well, cover and let sit for 10 minutes.
In the meantime, place the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and milk powder in a large bowl. Stir all to mix well. Add the oil and to the flour mixture and rub between palms to incorporate. Rub until the flour looks like very fine crumbs. Add the yeast mixture and mix with the flour mixture to combine.
Gradually add a little water at a time and mix until you achieve a sticky dough. Don't add too much water, the end result has to be ever so slightly sticky. Knead the dough to reduce stickiness adding more flour if needed.
Once the dough becomes slightly sticky and almost elastic, roll it into a large ball and place in a slightly greased large bowl. Cover and let rest for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling.
Separate the spinach leaves from stems, and roughly chop them. Place them in a fine sieve and wash them thoroughly with water, until all the water comes out clear. Squeeze all the water out of the spinach and place the squeezed dried spinach in a large bowl.
Many people cook the spinach with the onions, but I don't. Instead I sweat the chopped onions in a little bit of olive oil, and then add it to the raw squeezed spinach. I find the texture to be nicer this way, and the taste to be better. Add the half cooked onions to the raw spinach, and add the rest of the ingredients. Mix all together well, until all ingredients are well combined. Taste to check seasoning and readjust if necessary.

This picture is from the Shishbarak post, I am using it for demonstration
Spinach pastries will be thicker
Divide the dough into 6 equal portions. Work with one portion at a time, keeping the rest covered. Roll out on a slightly floured surface, and cut using 3 inch round cookie cutter for minis as in picture, or bigger size as desired. (check out the tips for rolling dough in the making Shishbarak post).

Place a little bit of filling in the centre as shown in sketch 1 above. Don't let the filling touch the edges as they won't seal and will open up. As in sketch 2, lift both left and right sides and bring towards the centre. Pinch the edges together to lock. Your parcel should be looking like sketch 3 now. Lift the bottom part of the dough upwards and pinch with the dough edges to form a triangle as in sketch 4 above. Go around the edges pinching again to make sure they are all locked. Now you have a spinach filled triangle. Repeat the process till all quantity is consumed.

When finished, and ready to bake. Preheat your oven to 370F. Line baking sheets with baking paper, place the spinach pastries on lined sheets. Brush the pastry tops with either egg wash or milk. Bake each sheet for 10-20 minutes depending size. Bake until the bottoms are firm and golden and the tops are slightly browned. Remove from heat and cool on wire rack. Serve warm for best results.

TIP If you are going to freeze some for later use, and want them to taste freshly made, then bake for 3-5 minutes, remove and cool completely, then place in freezer containers separated by parchment or wax paper. Freeze till needed. When ready to bake, take them from freezer and bake in 400F oven for 20 minutes or until done.

Now don't get too excited and go drumming in the streets at 4 AM. People will freak out and you will most probably get in trouble! Read my blog instead before you start your fast, while you nibble on some of these heavenly pastries :) I hope you enjoyed today's post and recipe. Give it a go, and take pictures to share with me for a chance to win with Dima's Kitchen Ramadan Special.

I will be online to answer all your food related questions live on Twitter and Facebook Page everyday from 1 - 3 PM Dubai Time. We can even Skype if you have a group of questions or an emergency in the kitchen. My Skype name is Demzae. I am suggesting menus on twitter, and sides to main that bring out the flavour. So don't miss out and keep the conversation alive, send me what you need, and I will help you out. Also leave me some comments here, you know how I like to hear from you :) you might also win some Giveaways check this link for details on how to enter the giveaway draw :))

Remember to help those in need this Ramadan, there is nothing better than a silent good deed.
Ramadan Kareem

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Sfeeha (Arabic Meat Pastries) & Giving Back This Ramadan with Fabulous Giveaways

For this Recipe in Arabic, follow this link

The best snack ever and a perfect Suhoor option

"With this blog, everyone is a winner. You learn how to cook, you learn techniques and new recipes, you find menus to please the fussiest of palates, you read about fabulous eating experiences, you learn about culinary destinations, you find out about premium products and what's new in the food market, you learn about the cultural aspect of food and you win fabulous giveaways from time to time. Not hugely terrible!! Don't you think?"   - Author of this blog

This post is mainly to announce Ramadan giveaways, but don't let all the giveaway excitement distract you from today's delicious recipe - Sfeeha (Arabic Meat Pastries). 

I am extremely grateful to all of the readers who make this very demanding blogging business all worthwhile. Thanks to all of you lovely people, my blog readings are doing fantastic, and any blogger knows that readings are the most important thing. After all, we blog to be read. What is even better than readings is the interaction! It is hearing from you, listening to how this blog has either inspired, helped or even as much as kept you company is the softest tune to my ears. I am always happy to hear that you have tried the recipes, and most importantly that everyone loved the food and that YOU were a star :) At the end of the day, this is what this blog is about. It is for you to build a relationship with cooking, it is about creating your own kitchens, with some love from mine.

As you know and part of Dima's Kitchen Ramadan Special, I have promised you some giveaways. Today I am announcing some major giveaways and following soon, I will be announcing some more giveaways. You know how I like to keep it exciting, add spices here and there, aromatics towards the end and serve up a fabulous meal at the end of it all :) 

It's a Cook Off & Dima's Kitchen is firing hot right now :)

Sponsored by Tavola

Everybody is aware of my love for cast iron pots and pans. I find that they tremendously improve the quality of your cooking. The food always comes out more deeply flavoured, more tender and properly cooked throughout due to the even heat distribution quality of cast iron. You can find more information about cast iron pots and pans on this link including how to season and care for cast iron cookware.

Therefore, I am ever so excited to let you know that TAVOLA have offered 3 fabulous giveaways to give to the lucky Dima's Kitchen readers. 

  • One lucky winner is going to win the beautiful Cherry Red Staub Cocotte (26 cm, picture on the right top) and another lucky winner is going to win the super cool Staub Grill Pan ( picture on the right middle), which can be used both stovetop and in the oven (up to specified temperatures). 

  • If you haven't cooked with cast iron before, you are going to be amazed at how much cast iron can improve the cooking results and enhance the flavours of food. You are going to love it. If you have tried cast iron before, and know the brand Staub, then you know what am going on about and why I am so excited :)

  • The third lucky winner will win the fantastic Fissler Pressure Cooker (10L Capacity), (picture on the right bottom). I always use a pressure cooker for making broths, soups and speedy cooking. I can never live without one in my kitchen. So I am extremely happy that a lucky winner will get this fabulous giveaway. Large pressure cookers are hard to come by, so with this giveaway the winner is really super lucky.

Sponsored by Dima Sharif

I am also giving away this Ramadan :)
  • One lucky winner will win participating for free in the full course of 'Chocolate Truffles' *, where you will learn the art of making real chocolate truffles in all their variations. 

  • Another lucky winner will win participating in Part 1 of the delightful course 'High Tea' * where you will learn the traditions, history and food of Afternoon Tea. 

  • Since a big chunk of this blog's readers are internationally based, and for no one to miss out on this fabulous Giveaway fever. I am also going to give away a cash prize of US$200 for one lucky international reader ;)

*Conditions apply

Sponsored by CitrussTV

  • One lucky winner will win the state of the art ThermoChef Machine, which cooks, chops, blends and mixes all in one machine.

  • Another lucky winner will win this multi functional Express Grill, that grills, bakes and even cooks foods in just one machine.

  • And another lucky winner will win a Turkish Coffee Maker. Yes that is right, a Turkish Coffee Machine is now a reality, and long gone are the days when we have to stand over a boiling pot of Turkish coffee!

Sponsored by KENWOOD

  • One lucky winner will win this very practical 4-bladed food chopper/ mini blender.

Meanwhile, and in order to qualify for the draw you too have to give some love back
These are the conditions to qualify for these giveaways:

  • You must be a follower of this blog. Keep reading the blog posts and commenting on these posts. I do love to hear from you, so the more you comment the more the chances to win. Comments sent to email are not included. Please sign the comment with your name so I know who you are and also add which country you are from to determine cash prize or giveaway.
  • You must be a fan of our community's Facebook Page 'Gastronomy by Dima Sharif'. Just follow the link and press like.
  • You must be a fan of the Sponsor's page in this case TAVOLA. Just follow the link and press like.
  • You must take part in this activity by carrying out any recipe from Dima's Kitchen blog, photographing the outcome (don't worry about magazine quality photography, any photo you take will do). Send this photo to I will upload these photos to the album 'Made by Fans'.
  • Tell as many people as you can to join this activity, they will love you for it.
That's all you need to do... lol! Then once Ramadan is over, I will announce the winners and give out the Giveaways and we can all be happy and continue cooking :)) Good luck!


As for today's recipe, I am sharing with you one of the best snacks ever. I will show you how to make the delicious Sfeeha. Sfeeha is Arabic meat pastries. Usually atop a very fluffy dough disk, we place a heap of meat mixture, then bake them to perfection. The outcome is a soft, cloud like pastry and a mixture of tangy, salty, meaty topping. A delicious experience that will make you pop them like TicTacs! These pastries are also a very good option for lunch boxes. 
If you are cooking a recipe from this blog that includes Arabic Meat Stuffing in its ingredients, and you find that you have leftover meat stuffing, then Sfeeha is a very good option for using up the leftovers. Just mix the meat stuffing with the tahina mixture and the pomegranate molasses and your meat topping is ready to go.

Ramadan Recipe 10

You Need
For making the Dough
4 cups all purpose flour
3 tbsp milk powder
2 tsp dry instant yeast
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup olive oil
1 - 1 1/2 cups warm water extra
1 tsp salt

For the Meat Topping
1 recipe Arabic Meat  Filling
1/2 cup Tahina
Juice 1 lemon
3 tbsp Pomegaranate Molasses
3 ripe red tomatoes, peeled, seeds removed and finely chopped

Start by making the dough,
Place the yeast and sugar in 1/2 cup warm water, stir to incorporate and let stand at room temperature for 5 minutes. In the meantime, place the flour, salt and milk powder in a large bowl, and mix all together well. Add the olive oil and rub between your two palms well, until the mixture looks like tiny crumbs. Add the yeast mixture and incorporate into the dough.
Gradually add enough water to reach a slightly sticky and elastic dough. (see tips in Making Shishbarak post). Do not over work your dough, knead only until it comes together to a slightly sticky elastic dough, then gently roll into a ball and place in a slightly greased bowl. Cover the dough and let it rest in dry place for 2 hours.

Tip Overworking and over kneading the dough will result in tough pastry. For fluffy pastry, gently work the dough and for as short a time as possible.

Half an hour before resting time is up, make the Meat filling. Once the meat is finished cooking, place in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, mix together, tahina, a pinch of salt and the lemon juice. Stir to combine. If the mixture is too thick, thin it slightly with water. We are after a slightly runny consistency (ribbon), not a soup consistency.

Mix the tahina mixture, the chopped tomatoes and the meat filling together to incorporate. Drizzle the pomegranate molasses and mix well.

Preheat your oven to 350F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Remove dough from bowl, place on slightly flowered surface, knead twice to prepare, then cut the dough into 4 equal parts. Cut each part into 10 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, then flatten against your palm to form a disk shape. Place the disks on the lined baking sheets. and brush with egg wash. Top each disk with 1 tsp of meat filling, pressing the filling down gently against the dough.

Bake each tray 10-15 minutes, or until the bottoms are slightly golden and the tops slightly browned. Be careful as , if the bottoms are brown dark brown, that means you have over cooked the pastries.

When done remove from heat. carefully transfer to a wire rack and cool for 3-5 minutes. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

Hope you like today's recipe, and that you are as excited about this Giveaway Fever from Dima's Kitchen Ramadan Special. Looking forward to all your comments, photos and wishing you all Good Luck ;)

Drop by again tomorrow for the Fabulous Arabic Spinach Pastries, which you are going to adore :))

Remember to express appreciation to the fabulous people in your life, everyone loves to hear it
Ramadan Kareem

Friday, 27 July 2012

A Moroccan Menu to tickle your taste buds and awaken your imagination

Moroccan Cuisine is flavoursome and truly heart warming

"The more you let yourself go, the less others let you go."  - Friedrich Nietzsche 

I am just foolishly happy with your excitement about me posting menus. I am getting all these requests for all types of Menus and I will be posting more of these for you to enjoy :) You know that I am also posting daily suggested Menus on Twitter, so make sure to find them there too. The links to all the recipes in the tweeted menus are included in the tweets to spare you the trouble of looking for them. So I am hoping this would help with all your requests. I do however want to ask you to please post your requests here in the comments section rather than in an email. Because due to the ridiculous amount of emails I am receiving, I find it hard to keep up and reply to all of you. It is easier to do that here.

These days it seems that every time I am asked what I would like to have for Iftar, I am always suggesting Moroccan Food! I feel like it is a change from the everyday same foods that we keep on having. Moroccan food is brilliantly falvoursome. The foods are always super tender, melt in your mouth kind of texture. The meats are extremely tender, the vegetables whole yet almost melting, and the depth of the flavours of Moroccan foods is never matched in any other cuisine! I love it, and these days more than ever I appreciate the thought behind every dish that comes out of a Moroccan kitchen.

I have therefore decided to go for a Moroccan menu, that includes the most brilliant and best loved Moroccan concoctions. I have included 2 tagines to cater for different palates. Many people haven't discovered the goodness of lamb and believe they don't like lamb. Therefore a chicken tagine allows them to enjoy this menu too. You would want to cater to different guests needs, and this menu helps you do that.

Ramadan Moroccan Menu
On this heavenly menu...
Almond Flakes Studded CousCous (recipe Below)

Menu Rationale
At times you would want to change and serve a menu that you do not usually cook. At times you want to impress your guests with new dishes they are not used to you serving them. Other times, you want to serve a wave of comfort food, tuck in with your family to the aromas, the textures and flavours of comfort. This is a menu that is good for any of those times. It is one that is packed with flavour, warm, welcoming and comforting. It is one I would serve when welcoming someone new as my guest. Because through this menu, I hint warmth, comfort and good taste.

Moroccan Hareera Soup

Hareera Soup (properly pronounced Hreera) is a delicious soup that swept over the Middle East taking the throne from the old Lentil Soup. Not that lentil soup is not good, but Hareera took lentils to another ball game. Hareera qualified lentils for the Olympics! There is depth in flavour, aromatic tones from the coriander, saffron, ginger, turmeric... There is crunch from the chickpeas and the fried onions, there is slight acidity from the tomatoes, there is goodness in every bite and imagination in every breath. This is a soup recipe that you will want to hold on to because once you make it, you will be making it lots! (Find my Hareera Soup Recipe here)

Tagine of Lamb & Prunes
I try, I really do, but I can't understand how anyone can not love lamb meat! There is something about lamb, especially when cooked slowly for long, when it pulls off the bone as soon as you touch it. There is something about the quality of an experience where the meat is so tender it literally melts in your mouth! No other meat can do what lamb does to your palate! The richness and depth in the resulting juices, which make up the stew liquids is insanely good. Lamb is the food of the heavens, because no other meat can give you so many qualities and so much flavour. When lamb is paired with the light and natural sweetness of fruits, it is just taken to another place. A little caramelisation on a piece of lamb from the prune's sugars, giving you distant breaths of fruitiness against the saltiness and tenderness of the meat... what more can I say to convince you that lamb is good?! This tagine, is my favourite Moroccan Tagine ever, and I urge you to try it. (Find the recipe here)

Chicken and Olive Tagine
On another and totally different note, this chicken tagine is ultra fresh. With the savoury sour flavours from the prepared lemons and the green olives, against the milder tasting tender chicken, this is a dish very distinctly flavoured and one that is light. This Tagine will never leave you feeling full and bothered, which is especially good in this heat. The tangy stew liquids will brighten up the blander CousCous when drizzled on top and will keep your palate asking for more, in an attempt to keep experiencing the flavours over and over and over... A dish that is very uniquely flavoured requires very unique and good quality ingredients. Otherwise don't bother making it, because with the wrong ingredients it can go sour! (Find the recipe for this light hearted and flirty dish here)

Almond Studded CousCous
In my opinion, every Tagine must be accompanied by a CousCous of sorts. The experience is not complete without the texture of the tiny individual grains of pasta. There are many ways to prepare the CousCous, I however like to serve tagines with one that will only enhance the experience without meddling with the flavour. I go for a plain CousCous which I sprinkle with black pepper a little bit of salt and a dash of olive oil then mix all together. I top the CousCous with enough water to cover it, not too much water, about 1 inch on top. Then place a heavy plate or lid to seal the water in. The CousCous cooks this way and becomes tender. Once all the liquid has been absorbed I remove the lid, and add the toasted flaked almonds, I gently fluff with a fork in order not to get the grains stuck together, and mix all this way. Place in a serving dish and serve immediately. Ah! All this talk is making me hungry now!

Pistachio Cake with Rosewater Cream
No menu is complete without at least 1 rocking desert that wins the hearts of your guests and make them always dream of your food, and jump on the opportunity to be invited over again. Dessert ends the meals, but it starts a relationship between your guests and your food. One where they will always be in anticipation for. Dessert sticks to their minds as an end to a perfect meal, and what dessert is this cake, alongside a cup of Moroccan Tea?! A food affair, a passion on the palate, or a comfort for the soul! Cakes! Cakes are pure love! Love for ingredients, flavour, heat, creaminess... Cakes were invented by angels. We must have had a taste of cake way before and kept trying in the kitchen until finally we realised perfection and created the Cake! This is one such cake, with the mystique flavours of Arabia from the rosewater and pistachio, which by the way are a match made at the doorsteps of the highest heaven. To the creaminess of the frosting, to the crunch from the cramelised pistachio bark, or the romantic aroma from the edible roses. This cake is a Ballad of flavour and texture... You have got to try it to know it! (Find this cake's Recipe here)

If you like to serve Arabic Coffee (Ahwe Sada) here is the recipe

Now that you have cooked up a storm of flavours, textures and goodness all you need to do is say a prayer for all those who need it this Ramadan and wait for the prayer to be called and enjoy the company of those you love alongside the company of this fabulous menu and its flavours. May all your wishes come true, and may all those who are in need be blessed with an angel who prays for them, and offers an act of goodness.

I hope you enjoyed today's Menu, and that you will try these mouthwatering recipes. I look forward to all your comments, and don't forget to take pictures of recipes you carry out from this blog and share them with me for a chance to win fabulous giveaways. Since a good chunk of my readers are internationally based, I am offering cash prizes for lucky winners outside of GCC and some cool foodie giveaways for those in GCC. No one will miss out, so make sure you are in! Find out more here. All part of Dima's Kitchen Ramadan Special ;)

Think of others this Ramadan, nothing like being kind
Ramadan Kareem

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Kubbeh o Shishbarak Bilaban (Arabic Tortellini and Kubbeh in Yogurt Sauce)

Shishbarak Bilaban might one of the world's most comforting dishes

"If someone thinks that peace and love are just a cliche that must have been left behind in the 60's, that's a problem. Peace and love are eternal."   - John Lennon

I have a thing for retro. I love the cross stitching of Palestinian peasants, on cushions, dresses, wallets and even table runners. I love old and used pots and pans, they look like they have been used to death, allowing the owners to have some good times. I also have a thing for old traditional recipes. The ones passed through from generation to another. Secret recipes, old recipes, family recipes the old & forgotten recipes make me excited. I can run the earth in search of such recipes. I value them and hold them close to my heart. To me, they are stories, like legacies, left behind to tell tales of a people passed, their lifestyles, their celebrations, their flavours and their values... I Love the insight. Tucking into foods of such nature is a pleasure. Just close your eyes, with every hint of coriander, with every breath of broth infused yogurt sauce and with every brushing of creamy goodness on your tongue... close your eyes, and breath... think of those people who were. Think of the simpler life they lead, the lack of TV and the appreciation of the storytelling passtime. The slower pace and a whole family even extended family gathered up at an Iftar table. Think of that mother who cooked the stew, who as she cooked thought of her children, their futures and what is to be. Take a bite, breath in the aromas, slowly, and try to imagine the streets of those times. Less cars, less noise, less modern, less fuss. Think of Iftar time, when the streets are empty, because everyone is gathered at that table to savour the hard work in the kitchen that spells LOVE... I love old recipes, traditional recipes, ones that become a definition of a relationship, a family specialty and legacy that eventually makes up cuisine. Such is Arabic Cuisine. There is a story behind every dish. A reason why this dish is important to the family. A history of a family, an area and even a social class. We might not know all the stories, but I am always amazed by those I get to find out about. There is so much simplicity, necessity, and truthfulness behind every dish. Simply amazing. 
OK, now you can open your eyes...  lol

Today's recipe is for a traditional Levantine dish that is very famous and can be traced way back in time. Kubbeh o Shishbarak Bilaban is a concoction that requires a lot of preparing ahead. Let's say it would be quite challenging to freshly make the Kubbeh, Shishbarak and go on to cooking them in yogurt sauce all on the same day. Therefore this is one dish that you will have to make in stages. You can prepare the Kubbeh for freezing, this is a link for a detailed tutorial of how you can make the Kubbeh. Please note that the Kubbeh made for this dish is usually a smaller size Kubbeh than that made for other purposes. The same instructions, just smaller size. You can make it ahead, and freeze till ready to use. Then you need to prepare the Shishbarak. In yesterday's post I posted a step-by-step tutorial on how to make Shishbarak, here is a link. Once you have these two items ready, you will not believe how easy it is to cook this dish. It is just a matter of making the sauce and adding the Kubbes and Shishbaraks to it!
I know that the trend right now is to order or buy ready made Shishbaraks and Kubbehs, Which is fine. But you know what I am going to say: "Nothing beats the home-made fresh ones!" You have got to try them.

Recipe variations
Some lebanese recipes, will bake or fry the Shishbaraks and serve them in a separate dish on the side, leaving it up to the guests to add to their dish. Other recipes incorporate the Shishbarak with the sauce. Some like the Shishbarak pre-cooked and then added to the sauce, some like to add it raw, and prefer the chewiness and softness of its texture when poached in the yogurt sauce. Most recipes do not add any other meats, as the filling includes meat and the Kubbeh is made out of meat. Some people add cubed chicken to the recipe. A very similar concoction adds green broad beans to the whole equation creating another layer of flavour and texture. There are many versions, and many recipes, all of which just as good. And just like with anything, you can choose what you like and go for it. You can even prepare it in different ways for different occasions. I frequently do that with most of my food :) Please note that just like in the Kubbeh bilaban recipe, you can make the Shishbarak with the yoghurt sauce without adding the Kubbeh if you wish. This is the version I usually do the day I make the Shishbaraks.

Kubbeh Bilalaban Recipe here

My mother in law's recipe for Kubeh o Shishbarak bilaban is one of the best I have ever tried. She makes a Divine version of this dish. She cooks chicken cubes with sweated chopped garlic and coriander, adds water and cooks until the chicken is cooked through. The addition of water here creates a coriander infused broth that eventually flavours the whole dish. She then adds a prepared yogurt sauce to the Kubbehs and Shishbaraks and simmers till done. Heavenly!

Mum calls this dish Shorta o Haramiyeh (literally meaning Police & Thieves!!) Many people use this naming for this dish and some say Askar o Haramyeh which eventually means the same! I find the name very strange! Why thieves? Why police? Which ones are the thieves and which are the police? Very funny! Well I will share with you the version I grew up eating. I will share mum's police and thieves, the recipe which she was given by grandma, who in tern inherited it from her mother...

Photo by

Ramadan Recipe 8
Kubbeh o Shishbarak Bilaban
(Police & Thieves) lol!!!

You Need
serves 4
10 pieces Prepared Kubbeh
20 pieces Shishbaraks
2 Kg fresh Natural Yoghurt
3 tbsp corn flour or starch
1 liter Clear meat or chicken broth
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 bunch fresh coriander, finely chopped
2 tbsp Olive oil
Salt & pepper to Taste
A side dish of Cooked rice

Place the yogurt, 1 clove garlic and corn starch in the blender. Blend until fully incorporated. Heat the broth in a medium cooking pot. When it comes to a boil add the blended yogurt mixture and stir to incorporate. Bring the mixture to a boil, adjust liquid level if necessary adding more liquid if the mixture thickens too much. As the yogurt mixture heats up and comes to a boil gradually add the frozen Kubbeh and Shishbarak. Adding them all at once will decrease the temperature of the liquid which will cause the Kubbeh to fall apart. As you add and wait to heat, stir very carefully in order not to break the Kubbeh. Once all the Kubbeh and Shishbarak have been added, lower the heat and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes or until all is cooked through.

Right before serving, heat the olive oil together with the garlic cook over high heat until the garlic softens a little bit. Add the chopped coriander and cook until it is wilted. Place the stew in a serving bowl, and pour the sizzling coriander mix over the top. Serve immediately with a side of rice. Ah! Goodness!

I don't understand the concept of  'this is old, I hate it'  I hear that a lot. Old is good, new is too. There is a time and place for everything. But old is roots, grounding, stories, life and growth. Old reflects on new and new comes out of old. Don't allow these recipes to die. Keep them alive and allow your kids to experience them, and get in touch with their goodness beyond just food, beyond nutrition... Somewhere for existence of tradition, of history and of the stories they hold within; Our Culture...

Hope you like today's recipe, and that you will come back tomorrow for more. Do let me hear from you, and leave a comment before you go. Don't forget to take pictures of recipes you carry out from this blog, and share them with me for a chance to win cool giveaways, part of Dima's Kitchen Ramadan Special

A bird just told me that TAVOLA are sponsoring a very cool giveaway for Dima's Kitchen Lucky reader. So make sure not to miss out... Cook and take pics :))

Keeping it Real @ Dima's Kitchen
Ramadan Kareem