Bulgur with Beef – An Easy Kind of Kibbeh

I love things stuffed into things – babushkas of food filled with goodness. Here in Berkeley great dumplings are easy to find but brown Kibbehs, so easy to buy in Israel are nowhere to be found. Kibbeh (ball in Arabic), is a common food in the Middle East. Its essentially a dumpling, made many different ways, where the outside is made of bulgur, rice or semolina. The fried kibbeh versions come from the Iraqi kitchen.

I used to have the patience and time to make all these stuffed foods myself. These days I try to use shortcuts that recreate the taste with less work. I can use the extra time for the hundred and one things I need to do.

The Kibbeh-like the recipe here today, is the perfect example of food that I took the liberty of separating into its base ingredients and reassembling on a plate without complexities (like filling and deep frying). You can claim, justly, that the original Kibbeh recipe is much better, and clearly traditions hundreds of years old and lots of experience and respect stand behind it. But, instead of an ‘all or nothing’, I prefer this mix of taste and textures that give me pleasure – a great meal that’s fulfilling and satiating. I cook the bulgur the same way I cook rice, brown the beef and season the way they do the original recipe, and the mix of flavors on a plate is just right.

Bulgur with Beef – An Easy Kind of Kibbeh

This is my favorite bulgur, cooked but with a bit of a bite left in it. Serve it with some slices ripe tomatoes, olive oil and salt- and life will smile at you…

1 small onion – very finely chopped
2 Tablespoons oil
1 cup bulgur
2/3 cup water

For the meat:

1 onion finely chopped
3 Tablespoons oil
14 oz / 400 gr. chopped beef
2 large garlic cloves- finely chopped
1 tomato – grated without its peel
1 handful parsley leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper
a little cinnamon
a few pine nuts

For the bulgur: Sauté the chopped onion with the oil and a dash of salt. When the onion is soft and translucent, add the bulgur and water and bring to a boil. Cover and cook on your lowest flame for 10 minutes or until all the liquid has evaporated. Turn the heat off, splash a little water in the pot and cover. This will release everything that’s stuck to the bottom. Set aside.

Meanwhile, sauté onion in oil with a little salt. Add the ground beef and sauté on high heat while breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon. Add the garlic, season with more salt and pepper, mix well and add the tomato and parsley. Stir and keep cooking until slightly browned. Add a little cinnamon and pine nuts. Mix well and check seasoning.

Serve together hot!

Fresh Fava Beans In Season

Saturday 8:30 AM. I’ve barely opened my eyes when Michal and I are already on our way to the market in Tira. “It’s not a real market”, she warns me, meaning it’s not a fruit and vegetable market. I find it entirely satisfying except for the guard at the entrance telling us no cameras are allowed!On the way in we encounter an old man with a few upside down cardboard boxes. He has small oranges with faded peels that taste like heaven and beautiful fresh young fava beans. They both come home with us.

The market itself is a jumbled mix of plastic containers, pantyhose, soccer balls and slippers. We eat Turkish Burekas with lots of hot sauce and a hard-boiled egg. And then we find enough stalls of fresh fruit and vegetables to make me happy. Freshly picked produce with clumps of earth still on the roots – beautiful meaty artichokes and bunches of fresh greens. Best of all, fragrant piles of fresh garlic, heaven for garlic lovers like us.

At home, though we both have other things to do, we steal time together. We haven’t eaten for a whole hour (!) so Michal chops up some fresh cilantro with hot red chilies, adding lots of olive oil and salt. The three of us (the Man has now joined us) dip fresh pita bread in it, standing at the counter. It’s the smell of old times when we used to eat together a lot and a combination of tastes that’s worth every ounce of accumulating body fat.

And even though time is short, Michal makes us delicious pot of rice, laced with fresh fava beans and greens, just like her mother used to make for her years ago. Later, eaten with fresh yogurt mixed with fresh chopped mint it will make everyone happy!

Note: when fava beans are young and very fresh, they don’t need to be shelled before cooking! The pod is delicious.

Fresh Fava Beans and Rice

Can be made with brown rice: 1 1/4 cups rice + 2 cups water + 55 minutes cooking time

1 ½ cups jasmine rice
2-3 cups fresh fava beans, cleaned
olive oil
fresh salt and pepper
2-3 garlic cloves – sliced thin
1 bunch cilantro
a handful of fresh mint
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 – 2 ½ cups water

Prepare the fava bean pods: If they’re young and thin slice them between the beans. The older thicker pods need to be peeled and you only use the beans themselves.

Heat the coriander seeds in a pan, until you smell a mild coriander scent. Remove from heat. Be careful not to burn them! Crush using any method you want.

Chop the cilantro and fresh mint.

In a pot, heat the garlic and fava beans in a generous serving of olive oil. Cook for a minute or so and add the rice, spices and herbs. Cook for a couple of minutes. Add the water, bring to a boil and continue cooking, covered, on low heat. It’s best to start with 2 ¼ cups of water and add more if needed. It should take about 20-30 minutes. The rice should be soft and fava bean flavored when done. Letting the pot stand wrapped in a kitchen towel at the end of cooking always improves flavors and textures.

Brown Rice Majadra

Lots of lentils are passing through my kitchen these days. They come, get fussed over, pamper in return and disappear. All the talk about how good they are for you is influencing me – rich in protein, low in fat, full of vitamins, calcium and magnesium and they even help mitigate evils like high blood pressure and cholesterol. Really, after all that, can anyone ignore them?

Majadra is a Mediterranean dish that combines lentils with rice or bulgur and lots of sautéed onions. This nice little dish is the kind of dish that makes me wonder every time I make it why I don’t do so more often. It’s moist, full of flavor and texture, and lots of sautéed sweet onions. It’s great as a side dish to meat and can stand alone with a finely chopped salad and some yogurt.

This last version of mine, which will seem ultra-modern to some, contains a mixture of brown and wild rice and black lentils (instead of the traditional green ones) which I find perfect for this dish because they keep their firm texture even after cooking. Aside from those, you add some spices to jazz it up, lots of chopped scallions that give the dish a fresh color and lots of sautéed sweet onion. A big bowl of this in the center of a large table will bring joy to both vegetarians and meat eaters.

To make this dish even healthier, I have a great trick for sautéing onions without a huge amount of oil. You start with a slow and gentle steaming of sliced onions with a dribble of oil and a dribble of water in a covered pan. When the onions are soft and sweet you turn up the heat and let the natural sugars in the onion brown and caramelize. You get wonderful sautéed onion! You’ll never miss the extra oil.

Brown Rice Majadra Recipe

This can be made a day in advance and reheated well before serving.

¾ cup mixed wild and brown rice
¾ cup black lentils
1 ½ cups water
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon cumin
Salt and freshly ground pepper
5-6 scallions – green part only – finely chopped
2 sliced onions
2 tablespoon oil

Wash the rice and lentils well and transfer to a pot with the water and the spices. Add salt and bring to a boil. Cover and cook on low heat for 50 minutes (depends on the rice) until all the water has been absorbed and the rice is ready. Remember the final texture of whole or wild rice is quite hard. You can always add more water if needed and cook until fully absorbed. Cover the pot well with a dish towel and set aside for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile – transfer the sliced onions to a wide pan; add oil, a little salt and ¼ cup water and steam covered, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft. When all the water is gone turn the heat up and continue sautéing while stirring. You can add a few drops of water if necessary. Continue until perfectly browned, but be careful not to burn and remember to stir occasionally. This is not a good time to leave the kitchen!

Ready?! Mix the onions (both sautéed and green) with the rice and check seasoning.

Chocolate Cheese Brownies

An email from my Israeli editor reminded me that Valentine is approaching, and requested a romantic post this week. The truth is, when you live in the U.S. it’s hard to forget the approach of any holiday with all the marketing and buying going on. But it seems Valentine’s is no longer the holiday for romantic lovers. Instead, we have sugar-filled class parties with cards. Lots of cards.

Trying to spread the love anyway, I turned to the army of small people populating my house and asked ‘What should I make for Valentine’s?’ ‘Chocolate!’ was the immediate reply, ‘Chocolate with hearts!’. Actually, to be precise, the answer was ‘pink chocolate with hearts and marshmallows’!

So dutiful mom that I am, I made chocolate with hearts. This one, like the American classic, combines dark chocolate with cheese, which adds a pleasant light sourness. One of the most important things about baking brownies is to make sure not to over bake them, so that you leave them moist and melting.

And the hearts? Not just for valentine but all year long. The trick to making hearts that I’ll share below can be easily used on tarts, cheese cakes or even in decorating soup.

Chocolate Cheese Brownies

If you want to skip the hearts you can swirl the cheese mass around like in a pound cake.
When in doubt- bake less, not more.
On a happy note: most brownie recipes contain equal amounts of butter and chocolate. Here I’ve managed to reduce the butter to only 3.5 oz / 100 grams!

3 eggs
1 cup light brown sugar- not tightly packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
9oz / 250gr bittersweet chocolate
3.5oz / 100gr butter
½ cup flour
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder

For the cheese:

100 gr. cream cheese- at room temp.
1 egg yolk
1 ½ Tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Start with the cheese. Mix all the ingredients together until you get a smooth mixture. Transfer to a squeeze bottle, syringe or plastic bag.
Oil a 10”x8” baking pan and line the bottom with baking paper.

Beat eggs and sugar in the mixer, on high, for 6-8 minutes until the mixture is thick and light in color. Meanwhile, melt the butter and chocolate together. Cool a little. Sift the flour and cocoa powder.

Transfer the chocolate mixture into the mixer and mix until smooth. Add the flour and cocoa powder and mix shortly, just to incorporate.

Transfer to a pan and smooth the top.

Now for the hearts:

In order to successfully make hearts, the cheese and brownie mixtures need to be equally thick.

Squeeze cheese circles into the brownie mixture – from the bottom through the top – spaced slightly apart. With a thick toothpick draw a line through each circle’s center, from one side to the other (see pictures above) so that hearts are formed.

Bake in an oven preheated to 350f / 180c for 20-25 minutes. Don’t bake too long. When you check readiness with a toothpick, you must see a few wet crumbs.

Cool, remove from the pan and cut into squares.

Middle Eastern Ground Chicken Meatballs

The car in front of me at the traffic light had a bumper sticker:

The Things That Matter the Most in Life Aren’t Things

Yes, true, the person who wrote this was smart and righteous but for sure hadn’t seen the things I got last mother’s day, things no woman can do without:

No woman should live without an entire book about her – listing all her great qualities and containing illustrations showing she’s super-model thin with angel wings.

Every woman must have a stylish canvas bag with a heart ‘that goes with everything to anything’.

And most important, no one should live without a set of painted rocks. Don’t ask why, just trust me.

I didn’t just get wonderful mother’s day gifts that week. The Man decided to work from home one whole day! I like it when I can pop in to his office to chat, and I absolutely love eating lunch together.

When I imagined our lunch together that day, it had spiced soft chickpeas, yellow from traces of turmeric. There was spinach and squash, and moist juicy meatballs. Reality was a dish good enough to tell people about, people being you. So here you go.

Middle Eastern Ground Chicken Meatballs

The meatballs could be any meatballs you have in the house. What makes this dish are the spices.

For the meatballs

makes about 16

1 pound / ½ kilo ground chicken thighs
1 peeled potato
1 peeled small yam
2 celery sticks
1 zucchini
1 onion
a bunch of parsley- cut off thick stems
1 thick slice challah bread or soft white bread
1 egg
salt and freshly ground pepper
*1 teaspoon of each: cumin, turmeric, coriander, sweet paprika

For the stew

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 cup dried chickpeas – soaked overnight in lots of cold water and strain well
2 large fistfuls of baby spinach
½ butternut squash – a peeled and roughly chopped
*Mix the spices together

Grate finely (can be done in a food processor): potato, yam and zucchini. Make sure you squeeze the excess water out of the zucchini before you add it to the mixture.

Use a food processor to chop and mix: parsley, celery, onion and slice of bread/challah. Mix together with the grated vegetables, egg, ground chicken and breadcrumbs. Add 2 teaspoons of the spice mixture. I recommended frying a mini meatball at this point to check seasoning.
Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Create about 16 balls and either fry them lightly in hot shallow oil or roast them in a very hot oven. Meanwhile, in a wide pot that can be placed in the oven, heat the oil and sauté the chickpeas with the remainder of the spices (2 teaspoons), while stirring. After 1-2 minutes add the spinach and mix well. Add 3 cups of water, season with salt and pepper, cover and cook on medium heat for 15 minutes.

At the end of this time, assuming you’ve finished frying the meatballs, add the squash, stir and gently place the meatballs in the pot. One by one push them halfway into the vegetable and sauce mix. If you’re feeling indulgent drizzle a few tablespoons of the frying oil on top (I saw a grandma do that once). If not, salt a little and cook covered for 15 minutes.

Transfer to an oven preheated to 300f / 150c for 1 hour. After that you can set the table and dig in!

Orange Cake and New Beginnings

This season, where everything seems quiet and empty is misleading. If you look closely you see small signs of big changes on the way. Like many things in life, the before is almost as exciting as the event itself.

In keeping with the season, I used the last oranges of winter.

Since falling in love with olive oil in baking, I’ve been experimenting with it a lot. There is something in this oil that gives cakes more character and moisture than canola oil, and it also doesn’t have the aftertaste that canola sometimes leaves on the tongue. You have to choose fresh, young oil * as the bitter ones won’t work well in a cake, I’m afraid.

I made this cake a few weeks ago and it’s absolutely lovely. It contains different parts of the orange: juice, peel and candied peels. If you don’t have the last one on hand the cake will be just fine, except the result will be a little simpler.

* I like using Arbequina extra virgin oil

Lovely Orange and Pear Cake

Note that the cake is small!

2 eggs
1 cup loosely packed brown sugar
½ cup mild olive oil
½ cup almond flour
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
zest of 1 orange
juice from 1/2 orange
a handful of candied orange peel, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Grand Marnier
1 large pear, grated with peel ( ~1 cup)

Preheat oven to 350f / 180c. Oil a 6” round pan (or similar) and cover with a thin layer of sugar. Line the bottom with baking paper.

Beat eggs and sugar for 5 minutes until light and fluffy. Add the oil and beat for another 2-3 minutes. Add all forms of orange, grated pear and almond flour and mix well. Add flour and mix only until mixture is even. Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool and take out of the tin.

For the Icing:

Make about an hour after the cake comes out of the oven, when it is completely cool as the mixture hardens quickly:

~ ¾ cup powdered sugar
juice from an orange or blood orange

Add a few drops of juice into the sugar and mix well until completely smooth. The goal is to get a spreadable mixture. The more moisture it has the longer it will take to harden. If you’ve added too much juice add some more powdered sugar.

Freekeh: 2 Recipes

The freekeh, or greenwheat freekeh has always been popular in Arab kitchens and has lately made its way into my own personal one. It gets its very distinguished dominant taste from the smoking process it goes through, and its beautiful green color from an early picking date.

This wheat is considered a super health food, since it gets picked before developing gluten, and it contains more fiber, proteins, minerals and vitamins than any other whole grain.

Usually paired with slow cooked lamb, which tastes heavenly when cooked well. Here are two ‘meat free’ dishes from me to you.

Freekeh with Almonds and Pine Nuts

Makes 4-6 servings

To enhance its nutty flavor and unyielding texture, I added almonds and pine nuts to this lovely dish, but any nut will work just as well. Note that freekeh grains love oil, so don’t spare here.

Can’t find freekeh? You can use regular wheat or barley.

1 cup freekeh grains– rinsed, drained and dried
1 large onion – finely chopped
2 garlic cloves – finely chopped
generous amount of olive oil
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ cup almond slices
a handful of pine nuts
¾ cups water

In a deep pan, slowly sauté the onion and garlic with some olive oil . When golden, add the freekeh, season with the cinnamon, salt and pepper and stir well. Add the water, almonds and pinenuts, bring to a boil and cook covered on low heat for about 20 minutes. Stir, taste and correct seasoning. Cover again, wrap in a towel and let it absorb steam and soften for 10 more minutes.

Freekeh Salad with Herbs and Chili

Lovely green salad made with seasonal fresh herbs
Keeps well refrigerated

1 cup freekeh
1 bunch parsley
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch mint
2-3 stems chives
a little chopped dill
a handful of chopped walnut
1 fresh red chili finely chopped (or to taste)
1 lemon
salt and freshly ground pepper
generous amounts of olive oil

Rinse, drain and set the freekeh aside to dry for 30 minutes. This will shorten cooking time tremendously. Transfer to a small pot adding an equal amount of water and bring to a boil. Cook covered on very low heat until all the liquid is absorbed and the freekeh has softened. Bear in mind that it will maintain some bite even when fully cooked.

Chop all the greens. Mix all the ingredients together while the freekeh is still warm so that the flavors are absorbed. Season with vim and vigor. Feel righteous about your healthy eating habits.

Stuffed Vegetables

When these round zucchinis started appearing everywhere it was only a matter of time until I stuffed them. Otherwise why would they be so round?!

These stuffed vegetables were baked, which is a little unusual. How does rice soften in the oven when it’s not drowning in liquid?! Well it does, it just needs a little help from you.

I found this recipe in Tessa Kiros’ lovely book , an unusual woman with unusual cookbooks.

After a few modifications and some trial and error it’s ready to share. If you follow along the steps you’ll get a wonderful pan of stuffed vegetables (that even kids like) and that are somewhat dramatic looking.

Baked Stuffed Vegetables

Makes about 15

I use brown rice but the original recipe called for white rice. The brown rice needs to be baked longer but it also retains its texture better.

This is not the right recipe to cut back on the oil – it’s there to make sure your vegetables are shiny and flavorful.

They need a little time to rest before serving so make them ahead of time, even a day in advance. Excellent lukewarm or cold – actually just excellent period.

For the stuffing:

7 oz / 200 gr. ground beef
½ cup brown short grain rice
1 large onion – grated
1 small bunch parsley – finely chopped
1 tomato – grated, no peel
1 heaping teaspoon dried mint
1 heaping teaspoon paprika
salt (generously) and freshly ground pepper
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Optional- some finely chopped zucchini meat

For the sauce:

1 cup tomato- juices and meat from the tomatoes (see below)
juice from half a large lemon
1/3 cup olive oil
~1 cup water
½ teaspoon sugar


6 round zucchinis
2 peppers
4 large firm tomatoes
3 long zucchinis
a handful of cherry tomatoes- optional

Empty the vegetables –
Round Zucchinis: Cut the tops and empty the middle with a watermelon scooper
Long Zucchinis: Cut a ‘cap’ from the length of the zucchini and carefully scrape out the flesh.
Tomatoes: Cut the tops and scoop the inside- juice, seeds and pulp. Reserve for the sauce.
Peppers: Cut away the top of each pepper and scoop out the seeds.

Heat the oven to 400 f / 200 c.

Mix together the stuffing ingredients.

Arrange all the vegetables in a large pan for stuffing. Season lightly with salt, especially the tomatoes. Fill the vegetables, about ¾ of the way full.

Mix sauce ingredients and drizzle about half of it over the vegetables. Cover with the matching caps and drizzle the rest of the sauce on top. Season again with some salt and pepper and place in the preheated oven.

While baking, it’s important to drizzle the vegetables with the sauce that accumulates at the bottom of the pan. If you’re feeling especially generous add bits of butter (1 oz in total) on top. If the vegetables are browning at too rapid a pace you can cover the pan with tinfoil.

How long? An hour and a half for regular rice and 2 hours for brown rice.

After the baking time is up , leave the pan in the still warm oven, covered with tinfoil, for further softening.

Carrots – Pickles and a Salad!

Once a week my sister and I meet on the beach for a ‘walk’. Really it’s for that wonderful herring sandwich in a crusty baguette and a shot of vodka you can find at the covered market at the Tel Aviv Port. But don’t tell.

I never go home without a bag of colorful carrots. They’re not always tastier than regular carrots, but they are by far more beautiful. Each carrot has a unique pattern and color combination, uncovered fully when peeling. Nature’s beauty –

And what do I do with them?! Pickles, salads and pink little cakes without a shred of food coloring.

Pickled Carrots, Radishes and Kohlrabi

Sour-hot-sweet are the extreme tastes of these pickles. Refreshing, livens up a meal and looks good on the windowsill.

* If you use these carrots the liquid in the jar will turn a hot pink that even the kohlrabi will drink up.
* Regular carrots will work just fine in this recipe and if you want some color, add in a half beet, sliced

7 carrots of any kind
2 kohlrabi
2 large radishes or several smaller ones
4 cups water
2 cups apple or citrus vinegar
3 garlic cloves – sliced
1 small chili pepper – sliced (use less if you don’t like spicy)
2-3 lemon slices – no peel, quartered
½ teaspoon salt

Peel the carrots and slice into circles. Peel the kohlrabi, cut in half and slice. Wash the radish well, halve and slice. Transfer to a large pot, add the water and vinegar and bring to a boil. Cook for one minute at a boil, turn off the heat and let the pot cool a little.

Once cooler, transfer the vegetables to a large jar using a slotted spoon and sprinkle the lemon, garlic and chili between the layers. Add the salt and cover with the cooking liquid. Cover with a thin layer of olive oil and let the contents cool completely before sealing the jar.

The pickles are ready after four days but extra time will make them taste even better. Keep on your windowsill on cool days and in the refrigerator when it’s hot. Use a clean fork to remove vegetables from the jar.

Grated Carrot Salad

A tasty, refreshing salad from my friend Ofri.

The seasoning will depend on the type of carrot and sesame oil used. I suggest you start slow and add as needed.

5 thick carrots – peeled
1 lemon
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 Tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon date syrup or honey
a handful of peanuts – roasted and roughly chopped
fresh cilantro

Grate the carrots in the food processor, or if you want to develop arm muscles, use a regular grater .

Season, mix, taste and fix until it tastes great!

Sprouted Lentil and Bean Soup

This homey stew-like soup was handed to me by my friend Michal, who is a talented cook. She said it was phenomenal and that was enough for me to run out and get all the ingredients and make it! Since then I’ve made it a few times and have loved it every one of them.

This is for all of you out there who really want to use those sprouted legumes but are not sure how. It is also for those of you who simply like a rich, deep flavored soup to warm you up on these cold winter days.

As for the sprouting, instructions abound everywhere – Google, health food stores but here’s a recap: Wash the lentil and bean mixture thoroughly, transfer to a sieve set over a bowl (so the liquid will drain and not cause rot). Cover with a moist paper towel and place in warm dark spot. After 2-3 days the mixture will sprout. Legumes need lots of moisture so rinse once a day and remoisten the towel. There are no shortcuts when it comes to sprouting…

Sprouted Lentil and Bean Soup

This is not a quick soup, note the long cooking time.

1 onion – finely chopped
some olive oil
2 tomatoes – grated, no peel
¾ teaspoon turmeric
¾ teaspoon paprika
18 oz / 500 gr. short ribs- cut into pieces
11 oz / 300 gr. mixed sprouted legumes
¼ cup French lentils
2 carrots – peeled and cubed
1 potato – peeled and cubed
salt and freshly ground pepper
fresh lemon juice

Season the meat with salt and pepper and lightly brown in a large pot with a splash of olive oil. Remove the meat to a plate and add the onion to the pot with a little salt and a dash of water. Sauté until golden and soft.

Add the grated tomatoes along with the turmeric and paprika to the onion, and cook until all liquid has evaporated. Place the meat back in the pot along with all the other ingredients: carrots, potatoes, sprouts and lentils. Add 7 cups of water and bring to a boil. Lower to medium heat and cook for roughly 3 hours, skimming the foam a few times. Taste and correct seasoning.