Dinner Party: Middle Eastern Feast

Stevie, Alexxa, and I are attempting a bi-coastal book club. While we haven’t actually talked about anything yet, I read the first book on the list: Annia Ciezadlo’s Day of Honey. It’s an American woman’s memoir of her time in Iraq and Lebanon during the conflicts of the past decade, told from the perspective of the people she met and the food she ate amidst the bombs, checkpoints, and other dehumanizing aspects of war. I loved the book and found it so inspiring and challenging. Especially when it came to my palate.

I have very little experience eating Middle Eastern food–outside of the occasional shawarma and falafel–and even less cooking it. So, why not cook a feast dedicated to the subject for ten people? That seemed like the most logical way to me to understand more about this cuisine. I spent one entire weekend sourcing ingredients (thank you Sahadi’s); soaking lentils, beans, and bulgur; cooking onions so long that they puffed up like Rice Krispies; and creating some of the most interesting, at least texturally speaking, dishes of my life. Who knows how authentic everything was, but in the end, it was all delicious.

My Middle Eastern Feast Menu
Homemade Hummus, Babaganoush, Labne Cheese served with Croatian Olive Oil, Stuffed Grape Leaves, Leftover Caponata (I threw this in there, since I had it in my fridge and Sicilian cuisine is heavily influenced by Arabic culture)

 The bulgur and greens dish shown here was one of my favorites, perhaps because the texture was one more familiar to me… it reminded me of cous cous.

Main (served family-style):
Lebanese Wheat Berry and Dried Corn Soup with Yogurt
Bulgur and Greens with Pistachios and Yogurt
Slow-Roasted Tomatoes with Rosewater and Sesame Seeds
Mjadara (Red Lentil Stew)

 These roasted for 4 hours in a 250-degree oven, dressed with a mixture of turbinado sugar, coarse salt, and cinnamon, then were topped with toasted sesame seeds and rosewater.

Greek Semolina and Yogurt Cake
Rice Pudding

The semolina cake was delicious and moist, topped with a lemon sugar syrup. 

I’ve been doing some research on Lebanese wines, so we tasted a few bottles from the portfolios of Massaya, Chateau Kefraya, and Chateau Musar.

We washed the meal down with a series of Lebanese wines,
including the 2003 Hochar Pere et Fils featured here.

Many recipes inspired by and adapted from Paula Wolfert‘s Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking and Ciezadlo’s recipes in Day of Honey. Photos by Anique Halliday.

Food Adventure: Rice Pudding

I have had rice pudding on the mind for over a year, but I have somehow never gotten around to making the dish, despite having bought all of the ingredients. So when I read about mighli in Annia Ciezadlo’s Day of Honey and started to plan a Middle Eastern dinner party, I thought it might be the perfect time to try out the dish.

Mighli is a rice-based dish served throughout the Middle East for a variety of occasions, according to the culture. In some places, like Lebanon, it is the dish of celebrations, such as the birth of a child. In others, it is a dish of sorrow, perhaps to commemorate a death. Regardless, it is a dish that gathers people together to acknowledge the cycles of life, so it seems like a wonderful thing to have in one’s culinary repertoire.

I tried my hand at the dish, drawing inspiration from a variety of sources and from my own pantry. Warning: this makes a LOT of rice pudding.

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cup basmati rice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon rosewater
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Bring water, rice, and salt to a boil; simmer, covered, until water is absorbed. Add the remaining ingredients, being sure to scrape the seeds from the bean. Return heat to medium heat, stirring occasionally as the mixture comes together, about 30 minutes. When it achieves a thick, creamy, pudding-like texture, remove from heat. This can be made ahead of time, refrigerated, and kept for up to a week.

Friday Cocktails on SAVEUR.com

I got into sherry a few years ago at a tasting party at Stevie’s house. Recently, I revisited the experience recently at The Noble Rot, a traveling wine club which hosted its own sherry party recently. Along with the lovely tastes provided by Kerin Auth of Spanish wine shop Tinto Fino in NYC, I greatly enjoyed a sherry martini that started the night. Check out my piece on SAVEUR.com to learn more!

 Courtesy of Anna Stockwell, SAVEUR.com

Quick and Easy: Citrus-glazed Salmon with Potatoes and Brussels

My friend Anique asked what she could do with salmon, brussels sprouts, and fingerling potatoes, and the combination made me recall one of my favorite go-to dishes, one I first tasted at cube in LA last year. I decided to recreate it myself for a quick and easy dinner tonight.

Citrus-glazed Salmon with Smashed Potatoes and Shaved Brussels Sprouts

  • Boil the water and add the potatoes.
  • Thinly slice the brussels sprouts. Once the potatoes begin to boil, place the sprouts over low heat in a steamer. 
  • Dress the salmon with olive oil, salt and pepper. Broil the top side for 4 minutes, then flip for an additional two minutes on the skin side.
  • Drain the potatoes and smash them with salt, pepper, and some butter. 
  • For the final presentation, arrange brussels sprouts on top. Lay the salmon gently over the greens and potatoes and top with freshly squeezed grapefruit juice and bits.

I ate this with a 2009 Musar Jeune, a Lebanese dry white wine with slight apple notes on the finish that complemented the meal nicely.