Wednesday, December 8, 2010

douma recipe featured in beirut restaurant!

a recipe from douma my family village is featured on the website of a beirut restaurant,'s a fun layout

with a recipe of a lebanese mountain version of gnocchi, maakroun, or macaroni!! in writing this, the history of this word begins to intrigue me—did the arabs get it from the italians or vice versa. so after only a few minutes of internet research, i find this from noted food historian and writer clifford wright, excerpted from an article which you can read in its entirety by clicking on the link:

The origin of macaroni lies not with the Etruscans, Greeks, Romans, or Chinese, but apparently with the Arabs.

so we can add this to the long list of arab inventions, which food-wise includes the following words with at least arabic and persian origins: sugar, coffee, alcohol, artichoke, alfalfa, apricot, candy, caraway, jasmine, lemon, orange, safflower, saffron, spinach, sumac, syrup, sherbet, sorbet, soda, tahini, tarragon, and tuna. and of course the ice cream cone is purported to have been invented by an arab-american, as described by

Syrian immigrant Ernest Hamwi rolled up some of his “zalabia” (a waffle-like pastry) from his pastry cart into cones and gave them to Arnold Fornachou, who had run out of paper dishes to serve his ice cream. Word spread quickly though the Fair and many other vendors began selling ice cream in waffle cones. These edible ice cream cones became so popular that everyone wanted to take credit for there invention and many did.

the lebanese restaurant semsom is located in beirut and is franchising out into the wider world! here are the current locations:

Sassine plaza, Ashrafieh, Lebanon
Tel: +961 (0)1 - 20 04 32
+961 (0)3 - 46 66 46
CityMall, Seaside, Level 1, Dora, Lebanon
Tel: +961 (0)1 - 87 37 25
+961 (0)3 20 26 29
Le Mall, Sin El-Fil, 1st Floor
Bin Suaiman Center,Prince Sultan Road
Jeddah, KSA
Opening soon!

here's your chance to open a lebanese restaurant, with a great philosophy of combining lebanese traditional with lebanese modern cuisine!

semsom also had a recipe competition open until january 31, 2011 for your best lebanese recipe!
do you, my beloved readers, think i should submit one from alice's kitchen?
if so, let me hear from you and which one do you suggest?!

also, please let me know how you like this diversion with words from my more typical blog entries!
with love and holiday blessings,

Monday, November 29, 2010

mhammara—lebanese grilled red pepper and walnut dip—divine holiday appetizer straight from lebanon!

i discovered luscious mhammara dip on a bus tour of monasteries my mother and i took with the Greek Orthodox church choir from our village of douma in 1998. before sunrise we joined the initially quiet small group on the bus as they picked us up at Hotel Douma where we were staying...the lovely circular building in the area at the edge of town that used to be called snobar, or the pine tree grove, which you can see still surround the hotel in the photo. the hotel reminds me of the capitol records building in hollywood near where i grew up. 

okay, the douma hotel is not as tall! but they are both built in the round! and it is a great place to stay when visiting douma!

the aroma of arabic coffee perfumed the bus, and a darbuka was tucked silently next to a young man in the front of the bus. mama and i were strategically placed next to the driver, who, once the sun energized the group was clapping with both hands (not on the steering wheel) to accompany the singing and drumming, while manuevering beirut traffic, which as we descended from the mountains, thickened much like the bottom of the arabic coffee pot into a dense mass.

and this is how the day began. mama soon joined in the singing in arabic of the lebanese national anthem, which she remembered from her childhood!

we stopped for ghadda, the main meal of the day at 1 or 2 in the afternoon, at an amazing restaurant in the mountains, after having visited two wonderful monasteries full of icons and mosaics and relics. the long table spread with a beautiful feast of appetizers included mhammara, mounds of fresh vegetables, dozens of little plates, and entrees that were mouth-watering delicious!

the mhammara dip wasn't something i grew up with that mama made, but i fell in love with it, and when i returned to the states, devised a recipe which is in alice's kitchen: traditional lebanese cooking on page 175 to replicate what i remembered and loved. my recipe is a simple and quick one, that is a hit whenever served—and is quickly made up in my mini food processor.

the basic ingredients are sweet red peppers, walnuts, sesame seeds, garlic, salt, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses (dibbis rimman)—a favorite of northern lebanese for tartness in fattoush instead of lemon juice, some chili paste, and bread crumbs to absorb the juices if it's too runny.

starting out with fresh red peppers, just like the eggplant in baba ghannouj—see my previous post—these beauties get roasted right over the flame until the skin is blackened, which is a much quicker process than for the eggplants. immediately they're popped into a paper bag that is closed to retain the flavors and to slowly cool. while they are on the stove top charring, i add chopped garlic and salt to the processor and pulse them together.

next, i carefully and easily peel all of the charred skin and discard, rinsing the pepper under cool water to remove any bits of black. i then cut out and remove the stem, membrane, and seeds. any liquid inside the pepper can be added to the food processor, along with fresh garlic, salt, the red peppers, walnuts, sesame seeds, lemon juice, sesame seeds, pomegranate molasses, and chili paste. 

i pulse this very quickly so as not to make a pureé, as i prefer this to be a bit on the chunky side, rather than creamy. it tastes great both ways, only a matter of preference.

garnish with a walnut half, and serve with pita chips, arabic bread, or any type of crackers!
a great complement to hommus and baba ghannouj for a holiday party!

sahtein, happy cooking, and happy holidays!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

daddy's fabulous tomato mint garlic salad!

i cannot let summer go by without presenting photos of this fabulous salad that was my father's recipe. when mama was gone on a summer afternoon, daddy would prepare this for our lunch. created only with garden-ripened tomatoes, this garlic-laden salad, spiked with fresh spearmint and a drizzling of olive oil is simple to make and exciting to taste. typically we scooped little bites of tomato salad with snippets of arabic bread, using the bread to soak up the juices.

this summer portland was so cool that my lebanese mountain tomatoes from seeds my friend josephine brought from lebanon, really didn't ripen; only the little orange sun-gold cherry tomatoes were small enough to ripen and graze on. but the farmer's market tomatoes were excellent substitutes for my home-grown mostly green tomatoes that are in the basement waiting to ripen in the dark, or are being used in soups and in plates that do not require sun-drenched flavor that only sun-ripened tomatoes provide.

the few ingredients for this salad are: tomatoes, spearmint, garlic mashed into a puree with salt, and olive oil. of course, you'll find the complete recipe in alice's kitchen: traditional lebanese cooking on page 64.

just mix everything together and chill for about 15 minutes before serving, allowing the flavors to meld and the juices to marinate it all. serve with pita bread or french bread. excellent left over, should you have any left!

although my father did not spend much time in the kitchen, when he did it was great!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

baba ghannouj! secret to the best ever!

baba ghannouj—the fabulous lebanese eggplant dip that my little doggie is named after—can be sublime or it can be dull. to make it sublime, there is a secret which is, of course, shared in my cookbook, alice's kitchen: traditional lebanese cooking

here are some photos that show the secret for fool-proof-to-live-for baba ghannouj! people who have tasted our recipe swear it is the best they have ever eaten—even uttered from the mouths of those who don't like eggplant. this version has a smokiness and a garlic base that sings in your mouth!

first, we begin with one or two big, firm, and beautiful in-season eggplants; but wait till you see what we do to them!

if you have a gas stove, like i do and like mama did, the best way is to put the eggplant directly on the flame for about 15 minutes on one side and then gently turn it so as not to pierce the skin and release the juices by using two wooden spoons to hold the ends of the eggplant. three turns will char the entire eggplant and it will look like this when done and placed on a wooden cutting board to cool.

if you are not fortunate to be cooking with gas, you can broil the whole eggplant, or better yet, put it on the grill, which will achieve the same smoky result.

the next step is to butterfly or filet it like this when it has cooled enough to handle:

and carefully open it up so it looks like this:

carefully scoop out the tender eggplant with a spoon, leaving the charred shell and any bits of burned skin behind.

transfer it directly into a bowl of the food processor that already has garlic and sea salt pulsed and minced in it. pulse the eggplant well with the garlic and sea salt.

next add fresh squeezed lemon juice and tahini (sesame seed puree) and pulse.

and the last touch, a bit of dried spearmint—this addition came from fellow doumanians, the haddads, and is not something mama did, but has become my preference—mix, taste, and adjust seasoning, adding more lemon, salt, or tahini. the haddads sometimes add a bit of yogurt to theirs, and i've only done this when i needed to stretch my recipe for unexpected guests.

spread on a lovely serving dish, garnish with dried and fresh spearmint and a drizzle of olive oil! wallah!—the best baba ghannouj you've ever had! 

if you require more details, the precise recipe can be found in alice's kitchen: traditional lebanese cooking, on page 161. when i was growing up, mama didn't have a food processor and made this the traditional way, by pounding and pulverising first, the salt and garlic, and then the eggplant.

and baba ghannouj fans will be pleased to know there's an alternate version to this without the tahini, called called batinjan mtabbal. in lebanon, it is garnished with pomegranate seeds, giving it a colorful, tart edge. be sure to let me know how yours came out and which you prefer!

my computer died a couple of months ago, and i'm so delighted to finally be back to my blogs—i've been cooking and photographing all summer, so there's lots more to post! stay tuned and sahtein!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

birthday cake for baba & murphy's birthday!

well, it's not lebanese, but my little doggie whose name is lebanese, baba ghannouj, turned 2 so we had a delightful summer birthday garden doggie party for baba and murphy! these photos are courtesy of baba's buddy clancy's folks, joann and kurt.

the cake—a coconut cream cake i made with a recipe from capprial's desserts topped with raspberries and strawberries from the garden—is full of LOVE! 

here's baba watching his buddies kai and lucy partaking in the festivities (e.g. sweets) when they weren't being chased by lambeau, baba's brother murphy's housemate!

clancy giving murphy a "birthday kiss" with lambeau barking all about it! baba hurrying up the path to see what he's missing!

we can't forget baba's girlfriend, bridget, who made him very jealous as all the boys fell in love with her!
the photo of her with our senior citizen, otto, is still in my camera. 

lucy, chased by lambeau, with kai close behind!

all in all it was a very fine day! and the eight doggies loved it as much as the fifteen adults! summer has finally arrived in portland!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

NY TIMES "top chefs are drawn to beirut" article

a recent article in the NY TIMES features what a wonderful food scene continues to thrive in beirut since the end of the war. here's a link to the article that is accompanied by great food photos by lebanese food photographer and writer barbara massaad.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

fattoush—the "other" favorite authentic lebanese salad

although tabbouli is probably my favorite lebanese salad and is so popular and well known, not to mention super nutritious, fattoush is a close second. mama said this arabic word comes from the arabic word "fatte" meaning "broken up" or "pieces", which in this salad refers to the broken pieces of arabic bread that are crisped and added to the salad just before tossing.

it had been too long since i made fattoush, so i made it for a small dinner party recently and it was so fabulous that i keep making it. it's much easier to make than tabbouli, which i often crave at this spring time of year, when the parsley and mint in my garden are thriving in oregon rain. both salads include these two herbs along with green onions and a dressing of fresh squeezed lemons and olive oil. no garlic! recipes for both are in alice's kitchen: traditional lebanese cooking, of course!

the ingredients for alice's fattoush are: romaine lettuce, cucumbers, green onion, parsley, spearmint, sumac (optional), purslane (when it's available in the summer just shows up as a weed! and known by latinos as verdolaga), tomatoes, and toasted arabic bread.

the reddish-brown sprinkling on the bread is ground sumac berries that give the fattoush a zesty tart flavor. often used instead of lemon juice, sumac is typically used in fattoush especially to marinate onions, removing the sharp edge of raw onion.

using leftover, dry bread in pieces is the arabic version of adding croutons to a salad. you can see i've used a very flat bread instead of thicker pita bread, which would be fine, but i prefer the thinner bread: khoobz markouk or an armenian lavosh. the bread is toasted lightly to crisp it up and is added to the salad just before dressing and tossing, as it will get soggy if it sits too long, so timing is everything in this recipe. sorry the photo is fuzzy! i was in a big hurry to take blog photos as my little dinner party was just about to begin. thanks to my dear friend, pam, who took a couple of photos and made the fantastic deviled eggs, here's the table without the main entreé of lebanese broiled chicken over rice:

marinated broiled chicken served over brown rice, topped with sauteéd nuts—a mixture of slivered almonds, pine nuts, and pistachio nuts—then sprinkled with cinnamon, and served with a dish of homemade lebanese aioli (garlic mayonnaise—toum ou zeit) is a classic lebanese favorite from alice's kitchen.

the salad before adding the broken arabic bread using canned organic diced tomatoes...

...instead of out-of-season tomatoes trucked north from south of the border is a new discovery that has been surprisingly delicious and is more sustainable. what convinced me most about using canned organic tomatoes is that they are picked when they're sun-vine-ripened, so they're very sweet and tasty. 

this dinner included the colorful beet salad and hommus featured in a recent blog post. watch for an upcoming blog enty about making the garlic mayonnaise, which is divine and a little tricky, but sooooo worth it!

a follow up note about my fava beans planted in february: they're blooming beautifully! will add a photo soon! 

happy cooking and sahtein!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

mama alice's 100th birthday is today!

today is mama's 100th birthday. in this photo of her she was 92 years young. she lived from may 22, 1910 vivaciously until october 13, 2006. her spirit lives on, and today i celebrate her birthday by writing about her here, and by replanting some gladiolus bulbs she gave me in a little circular memorial garden i planted for her. along with her love of cooking, handwork, and crafts, she was a splendid gardener and she taught me to love gardening and all creativity. her lush garden grotto with statues of the Blessed Mother Mary and St. Francis was shaded by two loquat trees she planted from seeds no doubt brought over from lebanon by friends.

seeds from her tree were shared with her brother, my uncle edmond, whose tree graciously provided the fruit and seeds of a loquat tree that continues to grow in my portland garden. too far north to fruit, viewing it's deeply grooved leaves from my living room window takes me right to family and our roots in lebanon, where the loquat—akkidine—originally from china has become a traditional early spring fruit. i remember seeing carts piled high with loquats for sale in lebanon on my first visit in early spring—huge, bulbous, deep orange, juicy, and the sweetest ever. their smooth large seeds, taking most of the fruit's  interior space, rolled easily around my mouth.

gardening was mama's "therapy" along with cooking, making art, jewelry, and all kinds of crafts. mama lived her life to the fullest. along with her mantra "If you make it with love, it will be delicious!", she often repeated "dear, life is how you make it." she took full responsibility for creating a rich life for herself and her family. here is a photo of her at age 94 in my studio proudly displaying the mandalas she had just drawn.

mama was willing to take risks and stayed open minded—qualities that she embodied throughout her life. she amazingly cooked a huge lebanese lunch for 36 guests two months before she passed away—something that would be challenging for me to do even today. when i told this story to an elderly lady from florida who ordered the cookbook, she asked if mama did the dishes, too. no, she had help, but she was very organized to be able to pull this off so gracefully at her age! she continued to work on her beading projects almost until her last days on earth, finding joy in each moment, and making things to give as her generous spirit guided her.

in order to pay proper tribute to alice, my beloved mother, i am setting up a page either here or on my website where people can comment about the cookbook and what it means to them, and about alice, who has touched so many lives in the almost 100 years she lived. 

just recently i was told two stories about mama and food that are quintessential in exemplifying how generous she was, and how food was truly her gift offering of love. i hope that readers will share their stories, and comments on this page for others to read. very consistently i am blessed with praise about alice's kitchen, and i invite readers to please share their stories and thoughts with others, if you're so inclined. i know mama would approve and be honored. 

with love to mama, from your number 5 daughter, linda! 

here we are signing cookbooks at capitola book cafe in 2005!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

lebanese beet salad and hommus from alice's kitchen lebanese cookbook

last weekend's tasting at bale's thriftway from alice's kitchen: traditional lebanese cooking was a great success—served over 300 samples of lebanese beet salad and hommus; and sold and signed lots of cookbooks! here's a photo of the beets used: gold and red—prior to boiling them.

mama's recipe that i grew up eating used typical red beets, but i recently experimented using a mix of chioggia beets (with red stripes) or this time, gold beets along with the red, since chioggia beets weren't available. the result: a very colorful and festive salad!

these are the gold and red beets diced after boiling them in different pots and removing the outer skin after they cooled. i cooked the two colors separately so the gold beets would not get dyed before tossing the salad and reserved the colorful stock for soups.

chopped green onions (scallions) are added to the chopped beets in a cobalt bowl. then our garlic, lemon, olive oil dressing tossed all together to create a truly festive and beautiful salad that can be served warm, at room temperature, or cold. great leftover should you have any!

people loved this salad and as i told them, it's very easy to make. the quintessential lebanese dressing of garlic mashed into a paste with sea salt, lemon juice, and olive oil can be used on spinach, asparagus, broccoli, chard, as a dip for artichokes, on cabbage or potato salad...on and on! you can see how the gold beets become dyed by the red beets. the garlic/lemon dressing provides a tart balance to the sweetness of beets.

the other lebanese recipe i sampled from alice's kitchen is almost everyone's favorite: hommus! the cookbook has mother and sitto's original old-country way of making this starting with dry garbanzo beans (chick peas) soaked overnight, and then boiled until tender. i remember mama mashing the beans into a puree by hand with a big wooden mallet. 

well, times have obviously changed and i certainly don't have time for this method, so included in the book is my five minute hommus food processor method: first pulse the garlic and salt, then add a can of drained garbanzo beans and pulse; pour in the fresh squeezed lemon juice, pulse; and add tahini and pulse. a bit of warm water smoothes it all out! taste and adjust seasoning and presto...almost-instant hommus, as garlicky and lemony as you like! so much better than store bought and much cheaper, too!

spread into a lovely serving dish, sprinkle with paprika, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, and add a final touch of a sprig of parsley. serve with pita chips (easily homemade), crackers, pita bread, or veggie sticks and you have a nutritious appetizer that even children love! bon appetite! sahtein!

Friday, April 23, 2010

food tasting and cookbook signing saturday april 24 at Bale's Thriftway in cedar mill and some lovely readers' comments!

if you're in the neighborhood of cedar mill between 3 and 7 pm, stop by to taste some samples of lebanese food from alice's kitchen: traditional lebanese cooking! it's a last minute thing, and i don't know what i'm making yet! lebanese surprise! you can also pick up a signed copy of the cookbook for yourself, family, and friends! a great mother's day gift, as some recent correspondents wrote (and how blessed am i to get this kind of feedback so often!) thank you to all!

I received my copy of Alice's Kitchen today. The way it is written and the personalized notes make it feel like a gift. It is such a pleasure to read!
Thank you so much for all of the work you put into this book. Thank you for the special touches that make it feel like a gift. Thank you for writing about cooking in a way that makes it feel like something wonderful instead of like a chore or a complicated burden. Thank you for writing about food in a way that makes it feel like something valuable and important instead of something to worry about or fear.
I have already found some wonderful new things to try with my lentils and rice. The chickpeas I had soaked for tonight's dinner will be extra special now. Thank you!—U.

Thanks Linda! I am adding your blog to my list now! I LOVE your recipes - they are not criptic like my grandmother's recipes!!! And everyone loves my tabouli... thanks to you. I'll pass your blog onto them too...—G.N.S.

Linda thanks so much for the wonderful cookbook and for sending them to my nephews. they called and said they loved them and were honored that you autographed the books. and letting them know they were a gift from me. they said they would always cherish it.
i also love the book. the dishes i have tried are delicious and they taste so much like my mothers cooking. i had tried making some of the dishes before and they tasted good but always seemed to be missing something. with the correct ingredients they taste delicious. thanks again. yours truly —J.A.

Friday, March 26, 2010

lebanese cooking demonstration today! at portland's better living show expo center 5 pm!

linda sawaya at portland's better living show at 5 pm today! come by if you can to get your copy of alice's kitchen signed, and taste the made-with-love lebanese vegan menu: mjaddarah, salata, and hommus!

see you there!

Friday, March 12, 2010

linda sawaya's lebanese cooking demonstration at portland's Better Living Show Kitchen Stage

i forgot to mention in my recent post on lebanese omelette (ijhee) that i did a lebanese cooking demonstration last year of this spring favorite at the Better Living Show's Kitchen Stage! hungry and appreciative folks tasted about 100 samples of it served with local goat feta cheese, cured olives, persian cucumbers (okay not perfectly sustainable, but almost), and pita bread. it was a great hit! here's the newest baby spearmint harvested from my garden for the ijhee in a shimmery green bowl.

good news—i'm invited back to cook again this year and feed the masses...and i'll be doing my vegan favorites of mjaddrah (lentils and rice with carmelized onions); salata (lebanese salad with spring greens and garlic lemon dressing), and hommus bi tahini (i think everyone knows what this is :?), right?)

if you're in portland, come to the portland expo center on friday, march 26th at 5 pm to say hi and taste this year's offerings from alice's kitchen: traditional lebanese cooking! click on this link for more details! and be sure to make the lebanese omelette and let me know how much you love it!

Monday, March 8, 2010

lebanese spring omelette—ijhee

this is the time of year when the parsley and mint are coming back to life in the Pacific Northwest, having gone dormant for a brief time of winter. i love exploring the garden to find these essential ingredients for our fabulous lebanese omelette that is perhaps more of a frittata than an omelette. it is very green, indeed, and full of nutrients with unique spicing of cinnamon and cayenne pepper. the recipe (page 141 of alice's kitchen) for ijhee is simple and easy-to-make. pictured above are ingredients: onions, both green and spanish, italian parsley, spearmint, flour, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, baking powder, and salt.

begin by chopping the spanish onion into a medium bowl; then mixing in a small amount of flour, baking powder, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and salt. next comes the finely chopped parsley, mint, and green onions. this parsley and mint are the first of this year's garden's harvest! my green onions were too tiny, so these came from the grocery store, and they're fresh enough to use all the greens and whites.

the greens are mixed well with the onion and dry ingredients, with the eggs as the last addition.

mix well so everything is covered with egg. heat up equal amounts of clarified butter and olive oil in a cast iron or non-stick skillet. when it is good and hot, the egg vegetable batter can be poured in entirely and spread evenly across the pan to make one big omelette (frittata), or drop in a 1/8 cup of the mixture forming little circles for individual omelettes that can be easily tucked into a mini pita round. when one side is golden brown, flip it over to complete the cooking. carefully lift out and onto a paper towel to absorb excess oil.

the big omelette can be quartered and makes 4 servings. this same recipe with 4 eggs makes about a dozen little patties that make fabulous appetizers, as pictured above. both versions are best served in pita pockets, with cured black olives, sheep or goat milk feta cheese, and sliced persian cucumbers on the side. besides being extremely tasty, these can be made ahead and served at room temperature. or you can make the batter ahead and cook the omelettes as needed. sahtein! and don't forget, if you make it with love, it will be delicious!