Middle Eastern


This recipe was inspired by my half-full jar of tahini in the fridge, begging to not be turned into hummus yet another time.  After looking through every single recipe in my Middle Eastern cookbook and not finding anything besides hummus and baba ghanouj variants, I almost gave up.  I started thumbing through Rachael Ray’s Big Orange Book, uninterested in the pasta dishes and casseroles.  Blah.  Then all of a sudden, I was in the burger section!  Oooh, I thought.  I don’t have a real grill, but I have a George Foreman grill.  I kept flipping, more and more interested by the second.  And then I saw it: falafel burgers.  I scanned the ingredients list, and lo and behold: tahini!!  A tahini dipping sauce!  My mind was made up. (more…)

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In keeping with my bread-making ambitions, this week I made whole wheat pita bread along with some hummus.  I haven’t really baked too much with whole wheat flour before, but I bought a bag a few weeks ago to try out some new bread recipes.  I must say, I absolutely love the texture and bite that it gives to these pita breads!  They are much more flavorful and fresher than store-bought whole wheat pita breads.  Granted, it took me almost three hours to make them- but the recipe made a lot (8 large pitas) which will mean I get to freeze some.

The hummus recipe is pretty basic, but it is the best I have ever made.  Ever.  I attribute it to using tahini, instead of just olive oil as I have previously done.  I think this is definitely a case where the cost of a bottle of tahini is worth it, especially considering it still cost me less to make this recipe than buying a container of hummus at the store.

Hummus (Epicurious)

Ingredients Cost
3 garlic cloves, minced and mashed with 1/2 tsp. salt $0.10
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained $0.76
1/3 c. tahini, well-stirred $1.89
2 T. fresh lemon juice $0.79
2 T. olive oil pantry
1 tsp. cumin pantry
3 T. water
Total cost (4 servings) $3.54
Cost per serving $0.89

In a food processor blend together garlic paste, chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, oil, and cumin, scraping down side, until smooth. Add water, salt and pepper to taste and pulse until just combined.

Whole Wheat Pita Bread (Epicurious)

Ingredients Cost
2 1/2 tsp. yeast $0.30
1 tsp. honey pantry
1 1/4 c. warm water pantry
2 c. flour pantry
1 c. whole wheat flour pantry
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil pantry
1 tsp. salt pantry
Total cost (8 servings) $0.30
Cost per serving $0.04

Stir together yeast, honey, and 1/2 cup warm water in a large bowl, then let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. While yeast mixture stands, stir together flours in another bowl. Whisk 1/2 cup flour mixture into yeast mixture until smooth, then cover with plastic wrap and let stand in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled in bulk and bubbly, about 45 minutes. Stir in oil, salt, remaining 3/4 cup warm water, and remaining 2 1/2 cups flour mixture until a dough forms.

Turn out dough onto a floured surface and knead, working in just enough additional flour to keep dough from sticking, until dough is smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes. Form dough into a ball and put in an oiled large bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise in draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Punch down dough and cut into 8 pieces. Form each piece into a ball. Flatten 1 ball, then roll out into a 6 1/2- to 7-inch round on floured surface with a floured rolling pin. Make 7 more rounds in same manner, arranging them on baking sheets. Loosely cover pitas with 2 clean kitchen towels (not terry cloth) and let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.

Set oven rack in lower third of oven and remove other racks. Preheat oven to 500°F.

Transfer 4 pitas, 1 at a time, directly onto oven rack. Bake until just puffed and pale golden, about 2 minutes. Turn over with tongs and bake 1 minute more. Cool pitas on a cooling rack.

If you’re living pretty much anywhere in the eastern half of the U.S., you’ve been experiencing the same things I have over the past few days: blizzard-like conditions keeping you house-bound, stir crazy, and pining for spring.  So, what better to do than spend all day cooking, right?  That’s exactly what I did this weekend when my boyfriend came into town and our ski trip got canceled.  Saturday we made an Indian eggplant-tomato dish as well as some nan and baba ghanouj.  Sunday we tackled a dish from Kuwait: kebab al rubyan (shrimp balls).  Now, let me emphasize, this dish is not for the time-pressed or the budget-constrained.  It is for those who are snowed in and happen to have 3 pounds of shrimp in their freezer or live within walking distance of a grocery store (I am the latter).

There are three different components to this dish (which is what makes it so demanding): an onion/shrimp/spice stuffing, an outer shrimp paste covering, and a tomato/onion/tamarind sauce.  The shrimp paste is wrapped around the stuffing and formed by hand into balls, and the balls are cooked in the sauce.  Let’s just say that our shrimp balls ended up more like one big shrimp mess.  They completely fell apart while cooking in the sauce, and they looked nothing like the picture in my cookbook where they are dark brown on the outside.  I’m not sure if anything could fix the falling apart problem- a little flour?  Egg?  Well, if you can get past the fact that you’re not going to actually get a ball-shaped end result, this recipe is pretty tasty.  It’s slightly spicy, a little acidic from the tamarind sauce, and has a good texture from the chopped up shrimp.  So, if you have excess energy or three hours to kill, here’s the recipe!

Kebab al rubyan (shrimp balls)

Shrimp paste Cost
2 lb. 3 oz. shrimp, shelled and deveined $15.29
1 c. cooked rice $0.84
3 T. fresh cilantro, chopped $0.75
1/2 tsp. turmeric pantry
1/2 tsp. salt pantry
Stuffing
1 T. butter pantry
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped $0.64
7 oz. shrimp, shelled and chopped $3.06
1 tsp. baharat spices* pantry
1 tsp. dried lime or grated rind of 1 lemon $0.79
1/2 tsp. salt pantry
2 T. raisins $0.15
Sauce
1 T. butter pantry
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped $0.64
2 T. cilantro, chopped $0.50
2 medium tomatoes, chopped $1.35
1 tsp. baharat spices pantry
1/2 tsp. salt pantry
2 T. tamarind, soaked in 2 c. warm water pantry
Rice for serving $0.84
Total cost (6 servings) $24.01
Cost per serving $4.00

Shrimp Paste In a food processor, process the shrimp, rice, cilantro, turmeric, and salt until thoroughly blended.  Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Stuffing Melt the butter in a pan and sauté onions until tender.  Add the chopped shrimp, baharat spices, dried lime or lemon rind, salt, and raisins.  Cook until the shrimp is tender.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Tamarind Sauce Melt butter in a pan and sauté onions and garlic until tender.  Add cilantro, tomatoes, baharat spices, and salt and cook for 2 minutes.  Strain the tamarind liquid and add it to the sauce.  Cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes.

Preparing the shrimp balls take a piece of shrimp paste the size of an egg and flatten into a 4-inch patty.  Place a tablespoon of stuffing in the center of the patty, then close the paste around the stuffing, shaping it into a ball.  Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Gently drop the shrimp balls in the simmering tamarind sauce.  Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.  When cooked, remove balls from sauce with a slotted spoon and serve over rice.  Pour some of the sauce over the rice.

*baharat spices: Mix together 1/3 tsp. black pepper, ¼ tsp. coriander, ¼ tsp. cinnamon, ¼ tsp. cloves, 1/3 tsp. cumin, 2 tsp. cardamom, ¼ tsp. nutmeg, ½ tsp. paprika, ¼ tsp. dried limes, ¼ tsp. curry powder