Bookmark this page. When you’re ready to make a Middle Eastern feast, you’ll have five great recipes and they will all be a hit.
By Cinda Chavich
Before You Start:
The Essential Ingredients For a Middle Eastern Pantry
RECIPE #1: BOUGATSA
Here’s a recipe from Fig Deli, where you’ll find this rich pastry baked daily. Fig also stocks the ingredients you’ll need to make it at home.
• 6 eggs
• 2 lemons, zested (save juice for another dish)
• 8 cups homogenized milk
• 2 cups granulated sugar
• 1 cup semolina flour
• 2 boxes phyllo pastry sheets, defrosted if frozen
• 1 1/2 cups melted butter, cooled
• 2 tbsp ground cinnamon
• 2 tbsp icing sugar
To make the filling, whisk the eggs until frothy in a saucepan, and then stir in the lemon zest and milk to combine. Heat over medium heat, whisking, until mixture is near boiling. Add the sugar and semolina flour, stirring until the custard thickens and begins to bubble. Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl and cool completely.
Preheat oven to 350°F and brush two baking sheets with butter or oil.
To assemble pastries, unfold the phyllo pastry and remove one sheet. Place on a dry counter (keeping remaining phyllo covered with a damp towel to prevent it from drying out while you work). Lightly brush the phyllo sheet with melted butter. Place about
3 tablespoons of cooled filling in the centre of the pastry, along the top edge, then roll like a cigar, folding in the pastry along the sides after the first few turns to form a rectangular packet. Place the pastry on the prepared baking sheet and repeat the process, making about three dozen rolls.
Brush the top of each bougatsa with additional melted butter. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, until nicely browned and crisp. Remove to a rack to cool.
Combine the cinnamon and icing sugar and dust over the warm pastries.
RECIPE #2: KUSHARI
This is my version of the savoury one-pot lunch dish you’ll find from street vendors throughout Egypt — a classic use-it-up combination (you can even add crumbled leftover pita bread). You can find it at Fig Deli, but you can make it at home too. The tomato sauce is traditional but optional.
• 1 cup medium green or brown lentils (Canadian Laird lentils), rinsed
• 5 cups chicken or vegetable stock, divided
• Bay leaf
• 1 tsp cumin
• 1 clove garlic, crushed
• 3 to 4 tbsp olive oil
• 1 cup small pasta (orzo or broken spaghetti or linguini)
• 2 large onions, sliced thin
• 1 cup basmati rice
• 4 large garlic cloves
• 1 tsp salt
• 2 tbsp olive oil
• 2 cups tomato purée
• 1 tsp harissa (or more to taste)
• 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
• 1/2 tsp ground cumin
• 3 tbsp minced Italian parsley
In a saucepan, combine the lentils, 2 cups of stock, bay leaf, cumin and garlic. Bring to a boil over high heat, cover, reduce to low and simmer until lentils are tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let steam, covered, for 10 minutes longer.
In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat until sizzling. Add the pasta and stir for a minute or two, just until toasted and browned. Remove from the oil and set aside.
Add the sliced onions to the pan, with a little additional oil if necessary, and caramelize over medium heat, stirring often, until nicely browned and crispy. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Meanwhile, cook the rice and pasta. In a large saucepan, heat the remaining 3 cups of stock to boiling. Add the rice and browned pasta, cover, reduce heat to low and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until rice and pasta are done. Stir in the reserved lentils and half of the onions and heat through. All of the liquid should be absorbed.
To make the sauce, mince the garlic, sprinkling it with the salt as you mince, to form a fine purée.
In the pan you used for frying the onions, add the olive oil and heat until sizzling. Add the garlic purée to the pan and cook quickly for about 30 seconds, then add the tomato purée and harissa. Reduce heat and simmer the sauce until thick, about 15 minutes. Stir in the vinegar and cumin and reduce further. You want a nice thick sauce. Remove from heat, season with additional harissa to taste, and stir in the parsley.
Remove the bay leaf from the kushari and serve at room temperature, topped with a dollop of the hot tomato sauce and some fried onions.
RECIPE #3: MUHAMMARA
Set out some pan-fried pita, hummus and this addictive Syrian red pepper spread to start your feast. Pomegranate molasses is the secret.
• 3 tbsp virgin olive oil
• 1 small onion, minced
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• 2/3 cup ground walnuts
• 4 sweet red peppers, roasted and peeled (jarred peppers are fine)
• 2 hot red peppers, roasted and peeled
• 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (1 lemon)
• 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
In a saucepan, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic, cover and sweat for 15 minutes until very tender.
Add the ground walnuts to the pan, increase the heat and toast for three minutes, stirring constantly.
Place the roasted peppers, ground walnut and onion mixture, lemon juice and pomegranate syrup in a food processor and purée until smooth.
Chill the purée overnight. To serve, spoon into a bowl, drizzle with more virgin olive oil and dust lightly with cumin powder if desired. Serve with pita bread or chips.
Makes 2 cups.
RECIPE #4: TUNISIAN CARROT HUMMUS
Fresh carrots give this dip an exotic sweet note and a lovely orange colour. Serve as a starter to scoop up with pita chips or roll it up in wraps with slivered cucumbers and bell peppers.
• 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (rinsed well and drained if canned)
• 2 lbs organic carrots, peeled and sliced
• 4 cloves garlic, chopped
• 1/4 tsp ground coriander seed
• 1/4 tsp caraway seed
• 1/4 tsp anise seed
• 1 tsp dried mint
• 1 cup water
• 1/2 tsp ground cumin
• 1/4 cup tahini (sesame paste)
• 1 tbsp lemon juice
• 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
• 2 tsp harissa or Asian chili paste
• Sea salt to taste
• Pita chips for dipping
• Extra virgin olive oil and black olives to garnish
In a saucepan, combine the drained chickpeas, sliced carrots and garlic. Place the coriander, caraway seed and mint in a spice bag or spice ball and add to the pot. Pour in the cup of water.
Cover and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, until the carrots are very soft.
Cool slightly, drain any excess water and remove spice bag. Transfer to a food processor, or purée with a hand-held blender until smooth. Stir in the cumin, tahini, lemon juice and half the harissa. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Season to taste with salt and add some or all of the remaining harissa if you want it spicier.
Transfer to a covered container and chill. Return to room temperature to serve. Spread the dip on a plate, drizzle with extra olive oil and serve with pita chips and olives.
RECIPE #5: LAMB TAGINE
Serve this exotic lamb stew over couscous — boil large Israeli-style couscous in chicken broth for 15 to 20 minutes, or use fine couscous, rehydrated in boiling broth for 5 minutes.
• 1 tsp each: ground cumin, cinnamon, ginger, sweet paprika and coriander
• 2 tbsp olive oil
• 2 large onions, chopped
• 4 cloves garlic, minced
• 3 lbs lamb shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes
• 1 lb fresh lamb merguez sausage, cut into 1-inch chunks (optional)
• 2 tbsp flour
• 2 cups chicken stock
• 19-ounce can whole tomatoes, puréed
• 1 cup dried apricots, chopped
• 1/2 cup dried currants (or dark raisins)
• 1/2 to 1 tsp garlic chili paste or harissa (or hot paprika to taste)
• 19-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
• 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
• Preserved lemons to garnish (optional)
Combine the spices and sprinkle about one teaspoon over the lamb to season. Set the rest aside.
In a stovetop-style tagine or heavy Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and sauté the lamb and optional sausage in batches, until nicely browned on all sides. Remove meat and set aside.
Add the onions and garlic to the pan, reduce heat to medium and cook until the onions are soft and beginning to brown. Add the garlic, then stir in the remaining spice mixture and cook together for a minute. Stir in the flour, then add the chicken stock slowly and bring to a boil, stirring until thick.
Purée the tomatoes in the food processor or blender, then add to the pot along with the chopped apricots, currants and chili paste. Return the browned lamb to the pot and stir to combine.
If using a clay tagine, transfer the mixture to the tagine (otherwise bake in the Dutch oven). Place into a 300°F oven and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Spoon any excess fat from the surface of the stew. Stir in the chickpeas and heat through. Add the chopped cilantro and garnish with slivered or finely chopped preserved lemon. Serve directly from the tagine or on a platter, over couscous.