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 entreĆ© of lebanese broiled chicken over rice:

marinated broiled chicken served over brown rice, topped with sauteĆ©d 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!