cooking

Cleansing the palate: Parsley & barley salad

Me & Tabbouleh (A Love Story): My older sister Elena is responsible for introducing me to countless awesome things (and way too many to go into here!). One of those things is tabbouleh. The year was approximately 1993 and the setting is some hippie cafe in Austin where Elena was attending the University of Texas. Elena insisted I try tabbouleh. Being a kid, I loved the word ‘tabbouleh’. It just rolls off the tongue so nicely. Since I had (and still have) a serious love of sourness, the first thing I noticed when I tried it that first time was the lemony bite. No two tabboulehs are ever the same, and some are much more lemony than others. This one is not over-the-top with its lemon but it does a nifty job of highlighting the freshness of the parsley. Ok, even though according to the authors it’s not “technically” tabbouleh [see below], it’s pretty close. Since I can never resist tabbouleh, I was pretty excited to taste the finished product.

(Not) Tabbouleh: At first glance, this parsley and tabbouleh salad looks curiously similar to what you might think is tabbouleh. But, the authors explain, people in Jerusalem and the surrounding region feel very strongly about the names of dishes and even though this is definitely tabbouleh inspired, many would not consider it such.

parsley&barley prepped ingredients

The ingredients

Ingredients (click here for the full recipe!)

  • pearl barley*
  • feta cheese
  • olive oil
  • za’atar
  • coriander seeds
  • cumin
  • flat leaf parsley
  • green onions
  • garlic
  • cashews, lightly toasted
  • green pepper
  • allspice
  • lemon juice, freshly squeezed (and don’t you DARE think of using that crap out of a yellow bottle!)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper

*Extra Credit for the Hard Core Health Nuts: I just read in the January issue of Bon Appetit magazine that pearl barley is less nutritious than the other varieties since the hull, the most nutritious part, has been removed. I don’t really care about that too much in this recipe since everything else is pretty stinkin’ healthy. However, the authors advise that you can substitute the pearl barley with spelt, farro, or wheat berries, all of which are more healthful.

What Does 3 oz of Parsley Look Like? I have no idea. Nor have I shelled out the money for a fancy digital kitchen scale (for now…) to weigh the parsley to know exactly. I pretty much just chopped up the two bunches of parsley I bought in groups and kept mixing the little piles in with the other ingredients until what I had before me resembled the photo in the cookbook.

toasted cashews

Toasted cashews

Bro, I’m So Toasted: Not that I am complaining about this recipe taking too long to prepare, because at about 1 hour of prep time, it’s actually one of the faster recipes in the book, but sometimes I get mildly annoyed for thinking something’s only going to take half an hour to prepare because I didn’t pay attention to some of the little details. With this recipe, those little overlooked details included the time it would take me to toast the coriander seeds (good luck not letting those little jerks roll all over your counter) and the raw cashews.

feta marinating

Feta marinating with dry herbs & olive oil

Cleanse Your Palate: The cookbook recommends this be served with a rich dish, such as the Chicken with Carmelized Onion and Cardamom Rice. I have already made that dish and just you wait until I make it again and write about it here! Until then, feast your eyes on this food porn video of it being made from the good people of The New York Times’ Dining section. This salad is so refreshing and a great palate cleanser so it will go well with any rich, fatty, meaty dish.

parsley & barley salad

Parsley & barley salad

A Study in Contrasting Textures: Something I have to say about the recipes from chef Yottam Ottolenghi and his crew are that they’re pretty much always a study in contrasting textures. This salad is no exception. The parsley intermingling with the al dente barley plus the salty little chunks of beautifully seasoned feta—it’s a serious party in your mouth, folks. Go ahead, go back up to the link above and cook it yourself!

Comfort from the Levant

Everyone Needs A Little Comfort Once in a While: When I lived in Germany, one of the things I missed most was the comfort food from back home. Coming from south Texas, that food was Mexican food, but more specifically, rice and beans. None of the dubiously named “Mexican” restaurants in the area where I lived served food tasting even remotely like what I was used to so I would cook my own and never be disappointed.

Warm Comfort: In Jerusalem: A Cookbook, author Yotam Ottolenghi discusses how he and his co-chef and co-author, Sami Tamimi, can easily waste many hours arguing over what makes the best comfort food and why but they can always agree that mejadra is true comfort food. Mejadra, a lentil and rice dish elevated with the addition of fried onion, is popular throughout the Arab world and after tasting it I know exactly why. Pure comfort. I have a theory that one of the most common ingredients found in the various dishes that people think of as comfort food is rice.

Simple Ingredients, Simple Process: None of the ingredients are super exotic or difficult to find. The only thing I didn’t have on hand or find at my local grocery store were the cumin seeds, but I just substituted ground cumin. 

  • Brown or green lentils
  • Basmati rice
  • Onions
  • Oil (for frying)
  • Water
  • A little flour, sugar, salt and pepper
  • Allspice, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin and coriander seedsMejadra ingredientsSimple but not Quick: When I say that it’s a simple recipe, I’m not saying it’s a quick one but nor is making it going to take up half your day. Boiling the lentils is quick and painless but I can’t say the same for slicing all of those onions and then frying them in three separate batches. But it is worth it because the onions really make the dish sing!

Lentils boiling

Sliced onions 2

I might have cried a little in the process of slicing these onions.

Onions frying

One of the three batches of onions frying.

Bringing it All Together: Once I cooked the lentils and fried the onions, I toasted the spices before stirring in the rice, lentils, and water then covering it to let simmer after bringing it to a quick boil. After that, I lifted the lid briefly to cover the whole pot with a tea towel and then quickly placed the lid back on and waited for ten more minutes before getting to stir in half of the fried onions, plate it, and top it with the remainder of the onions.

The Finish Line: The chefs advise serving it with a dollop of Greek yogurt. I ate mine with it and the creamy tanginess complemented the mejadra beautifully. I had the same problem I always have when eating legumes and grains: I couldn’t stop. The good news is that this is healthful dish so I didn’t feel any quilt about grabbing seconds (or thirds). The warm, generously spiced flavor of mejadra is addictive.

Make It Yourself! You can find the recipe to make mejadra here. Warning: Unless you are lucky enough to have a spice kitchen, your house will smell of the toasted spice for a day or two!

Beet me up, Scotty

Introducing Jerusalem Syndrome
My husband and I were on a road trip a little over a year ago listening to one of my favorite podcasts, America’s Test Kitchen. The episode featured an interview with Yotam Ottololenghi discussing his new cookbook, Jerusalem. I was captivated by the way he spoke so lovingly of the cuisine of his birth city.

This was clearly a man man who took Middle Eastern food seriously and was totally passionate about cooking and eating it. I wanted to get my hands on the cookbook fast and was pleased when my husband gifted it to me as an early Christmas present a few weeks later.

Jerusalem Syndrome is a condition characterized by psychotic episodes and religious delusions spurred by a visit to the city of Jerusalem. When I received the cookbook, I became completely infatuated and cooked numerous recipes from it within days. Completely enthralled by its delectable dishes, beautiful photography and prose, I began to exhibit symptoms of a different type of Jerusalem Syndrome. Apparently I’m not the only one “suffering” from this condition.

By my count, the cookbook contains roughly 127 recipes. So far, I’ve cooked/prepared about 11 of them. Join me as I work my way through more!

Props to Julie Powell of Julie & Julia fame for this blog’s concept!

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Photo from IMDB.com

Beet me up, Scotty
I love beets. Earthy, slightly sweet, and so versatile. Middle Eastern cuisine makes excellent use of them, but they’re not uncommon as both the featured and complementary ingredient in numerous international cuisines. Recently, NPR’s The Salt blog reported that Sochi Olympics organizers anticipate serving 70,000 gallons of the classic beet-centric Russian soup borscht.

According to Jerusalem-bred, London-based chefs and authors of Jerusalem, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, “the beet is one of very few vegetables with a strong presence in the cuisine of almost every group in Jerusalem.” Beets appear repeatedly in all three of their cookbooks, and the recipes I have tried so far are delicious—better than any beet dish I’ve been served in restaurants.

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Not Your Average Beet Dish
The beet has been one of the trendiest vegetables in the last few years and I’ve yet to eat a dish featuring it that I don’t like. Beet salads recipes abound but I’ve never prepared a beet dish where the beets are puréed. That’s where the Puréed Beets with Yogurt and Za’atar recipe from Jerusalem comes into play.

Since I am not interested in infringing on the cookbook’s copyright, I will not print the recipe* but here’s a partial list of the ingredients involved that aren’t mentioned in the recipe’s name:

  • garlic
  • za’atar (a common Middle Eastern spice)
  • date syrup
  • hazelnuts
  • goat cheese

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Put ‘em together and whady’a get, bippity boppity BEET PURÉE! Delicious beet puree, at that. Not that I mind following more complicated recipes, but preparing this was simple and it came out swimmingly. After roasting the beets, I used a food processor to blend them with a few of the other ingredients and then transferred that to a bowl to mix it in with the others. The authors advise serving it with bread or as part of a meze plate. I ate it alone but it was so good it didn’t need a date for the party!

pureed beets

* Buy it from Amazon
* Buy it from Barnes and Noble
(I am not affiliated with the cookbook authors or publishers in any way but I love this book and wholeheartedly recommend its purchase!)