Flavors of Palestine

Sunday Dinner – 10 June 2018

Palestinian Food

This week’s Sunday Dinner was a classic from the Middle East, Maqloubeh.

The passing of Anthony Bourdain prompted feelings of sorrow, followed by a binge of Parts Unknown. One of the first episodes I revisited was his trip to Jerusalem, which also included a segment in Gaza with his Palestinian host, Laila El-Haddad. He was treated to Maqloubeh, a dish of rice, spices and other delicious goodies.

“Maqloubeh” is the Arabic word for “upturned” or “upside-down.” Although family recipes vary greatly, the main ingredients seem to be long-grain rice, eggplant, cauliflower, onions, garlic and lamb (or sometimes chicken). I reviewed seven or eight recipes online, and tried to get to the essence of the dish.

While we were cooking the main course, Claudia served some roasted red-pepper hummus that she’d made earlier, along with crudités and pita chips. I’ll try to goad her into adding the hummus recipe here at some point, but it is basically chick peas, fresh lemon juice, tahini, garlic, a roasted red pepper and some other seasonings. If you’ve only ever had store bought hummus, you are missing out. She also roasted some chick peas with spices in the oven on a cookie sheet. Those were super tasty and surprisingly crunchy.

We had a lot of help from Aunt Pat in the kitchen this week, as usual. The prep work on these dishes was pretty time consuming, so it was great to have another capable pair of hands at the cutting board all afternoon.

مقلوبة

Maqloubeh Recipe

Ingredients:

  • Chicken Pieces
  • 2 Eggplants, Cut Into Cubes
  • 2 Cauliflower, Quartered Then Pulled Into Florets
  • 2 Yellow Onions, Rough Chopped
  • Several Cloves of Garlic, Smashed
  • 2 Tomatoes, Sliced
  • 2 Cups Basmati Rice
  • Toasted Almonds
  • Yogurt with Mint and Seasoned Salt

Seasonings:

  • Coarse Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Cinnamon
  • Cloves
  • Cardamom
  • Coriander
  • Cumin
  • Turmeric
  • Garlic Powder

Although the ingredients are usually either fried or roasted, I decided to cook them on the Weber Genesis. After seasoning 4 leg quarters, they went on the indirect side of the grill for 40 minutes, then were moved directly over the burner for another ten minutes to finish. Internal temperature was between 175° and 185° F when I took them off. The boneless, skinless chicken breasts got the same treatment, except for a shorter length of time (and more time over direct heat) until they registered 165° F. We covered them with a tent of foil until time to serve.

The eggplant and cauliflower pieces received the same seasoning, and were grilled with a little olive oil on a veggie sheet for a bit, just to soften them up and get a little charred flavor into them.

We hit a 6 quart pan with olive oil spray, and Claudia placed a layer of tomato slices on the bottom. At this point, the traditional version of the dish would get a layer of meat, but we had so many vegetables that we decided at the last minute to keep the chicken out and serve it alongside. We added some of the grilled cauliflower and eggplant, and some onions and garlic that Claudia had sautéed. Then a cup of brown Basmati rice, the rest of the veggies, and one more cup of rice went into the pot, and finally 4 1/2 cups of stock with a little Turmeric mixed in. We covered it and boiled it for ten minutes and then simmered for another thirty.

I was nervous when it came time to invert the pot.

Mqloubeh

As you can see from the photo, it did collapse a bit on one side. Next time I’ll do my best to leave it sit awhile longer once inverted before removing the pot. I think I would also heat the stock before adding it to the pot next time, to give the boil a head start. Otherwise, there isn’t a single thing I would plan to change.

I toasted some almond slices in a dry skillet, and sprinkled them over the top. We served the Maqloubeh and chicken with some Greek Yogurt (I’d stirred in some dried mint at my friend Mazen’s suggestion, along with a little Lawry’s). It was a delicious combination. Claudia also made a traditional Arab salad to go with.

سلطة خيار الطماطم

Cucumber Tomato Salad

  • 3 cucumbers, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • grape tomatoes, cut into halves
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • several cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons crushed dried mint
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of 1-2 lemons
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Mazen suggested that we add thyme to the salad, but it slipped my mind, so we’ll have to try that next time. This was one of the most vibrant, fresh-tasting salads I’ve ever eaten. Just delightful.

We served a couple bottles of my favorite bargain wine, Yellow Tail Shiraz, with the meal. It was a perfect compliment.

بسبوسة

Basbousa

When we were planning the meal, Claudia asked “what’s for dessert?” This is something I always seem to neglect. After a little research we settled on Basbousa, which is a yellow cake made from Semolina flour. She used this recipe for the cake, and topped it with a cinnamon simple syrup and coconut shreds as described here. It turned out just lovely as well.

Basbousa

The music stream for the day was a traditional Arabic and Andalusian station from Pandora, which added a special dimension to our gathering.

We eat to live, we eat to remember, but we also eat to learn. One of the things that has always impressed me about Bourdain is the way he seemed to foster such deep connections with people wherever he traveled. He wasn’t just a journalist conducting an interview. He was a friend, sharing a meal and some conversation.

We see our own Sunday Dinners as opportunities to celebrate cultures, times and places that we likely might not consider or examine otherwise. It was particularly nice to approximate and experience the aromas and tastes of a Palestinian kitchen this week. We’d not delved much into the food of the Eastern Mediterranean. Now that we have, I’ll be anxious now to find other dishes typical of the region.

Long live Palestine.

Perfecting Eggplant Parmigiana

One of the things we like best about the Weber Genesis is the ability to cook a quick meal outdoors on a summer evening, and we delight in finding ways to adapt recipes that we would usually cook inside. Eggplant has turned out to be one of our favorite vegetables to  take to the gas grill. The charring and smoke add a depth of flavor to dishes like Eggplant Parmigiana without the mess and added fats of the traditional fried cooking method.

We’ve been refining this recipe for nearly three years now, and finally have it more or less perfect. The eggplant gets sliced into rounds about a quarter of an inch thick, salted on both sides and placed on a wire rack to sweat for an hour or so. This step is less about seasoning and more about drawing out some of the moisture and bitterness. We wipe off the salt, and then each slice gets a quick dip in some beaten egg before getting dredged in a mixture of seasoned Italian and Japanese breadcrumbs. The Panko crumbs add some additional crunch to the breading, which is important since we’re not frying.

Then the eggplant goes on the plancha on the pre-heated Genesis, after a little olive oil spray. It only takes a few minutes to get them nicely charred on the outside and fairly tender throughout. Then they go into a foil pan with cheese and sauce, and back out to the Genesis to finish cooking and warming through over indirect heat. We serve them with whatever pasta strikes our fancy.

The whole family agreed that this last batch we cooked was the most delicious we’d ever tasted.

Charred Eggplant with Curried Chickpeas

I ran across this recipe idea in The Wall Street Journal last week, and as it happened my wife had just brought home a couple eggplants.

I split the eggplants in two, lengthwise, scored the skins and put them on the grill over medium burners for 15 to 20 minutes, turning occasionally, after hitting them with a little olive oil spray and kosher salt. Also charred a red pepper at the same time.

Then I sautéed a chopped red onion and several cloves of garlic, diced the roasted pepper and added it. After a few minutes I poured in some white wine vinegar, then added the can of (drained) chickpeas and a tablespoon or so of curry powder. Once everything was combined and heated, I spooned it over the Eggplant halves, topped with a little chipped cilantro, hit it with olive oil and salt again, and then put it all back on the grill in a foil pan to finish. Mrs. Noe cooked the quinoa on the stovetop.

This turned out really delicious, and was a nice departure from our usual fare. It’s also prompted me to review an old cookbook titled Curries Without Worries that my wife gave me years ago and I’ve never cooked from. I think that a lot of the recipes seemed too intricate and intimidating when I was younger. Hoping that I’ve grown as a cook since then and can find some treasures in its pages.

Grilled Melanzane Alla Parmigiana

Eggplant Parm On The Grill

Served with pasta and red sauce, or simply as a side, eggplant has become one of our favorite grilled dishes.