Saturday, September 15, 2012

Dolma Technique 101


This is the recipe that inspired this blog.

You see, when I was a brand-new baby bride (the new harse), unschooled in the ways of crafting the dishes that were becoming my comfort food, Auntie Seta came over to our Burbank apartment, walked me to the Armenian grocery store on the corner and guided me through an introduction to the mysteriously labeled products with which I needed to become familiar (What's a Tukas? It's a brand of tomato paste, Dear.).

Together we whipped up a batch of the most drippingly luscious dolma I'd ever been blessed to eat. Ok, it took 3 hours, it was hardly 'whipping'. And it made enough to freeze and enjoy for 4 months. Quite a batch! But that day I understood 3 very important things:

1. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have an auntie who may or may not have time to spare, but who lovingly makes time for you.
2. It's important for people to know their food (particularly brides married to delicious American-Arab-Armenian super-studs).
3. I could fill the void in the internet where step-by-step dolma instructions belong. By now this has surely been done famously by lots of knowledgeable people, but this is a sentimental recipe: it was my first mysterious Middle Eastern dish, and I'm so happy to finally share it today, with gracious permission from Auntie Seta Thomasian!


Make the filling
4 lbs. ground beef (20-22% fat)
4 cups jasmine or basmati rice, rinsed
4 tsp. salt
4 tsp. shwarma seasoning*
4 tsp. 7 spice*
*Can be purchased in international markets. A brand I commonly use is Sadaf. You can certainly add more of the spice blends if you prefer, but the amounts above are a good place to start.

dmrice dmmix2

Prepare the vegetables to stuff, fill and roll
1-2 16 oz. jars grape leaves (depending on how many other vegetables you fill)
5 yellow onions
Any combination of the following:
4 finger-length eggplant
4 finger-length squash
4 mini sweet peppers
4 roma tomatoes

dmstuffers dmwashleaves

Slice the onions from one side to the core, but not beyond. You'll wrap the onion layers around filling later. Boil the onions over high heat until they're tender but not mushy, checking every 4-5 minutes until they're ready. Drain them completely and allow them to cool before attempting to fill them.

dmonion1 dmonion2
dmonion3 dmonion4

Slice off and reserve the tops of the eggplant, squash and tomatoes. You'll replace the little hats before cooking. Core the veggies with a paring knife and/or spoon, leaving about a 1/4 inch or less of the outermost layer. Reserve the innards because they're really good food! Sautee them up with some spices and any leftover meat you may have...delicious! Stuff the veggies with filling (see below for grape leaf tutorial).

dmonion5 dmonion6
dmonion7 dmonion8

Pour 2 Tbsp. corn oil in the bottom of each pan. Layer the stuffed vegetables into the pans. The bottom layer of vegetables in the pan should be onions, because the direct heat will caramelize the skins. The onions are less prone to scorching than the other veggies.

The next layer should be any peppers, squash or eggplants you may have filled.

The top layers should be filled grape leaves, arranged in concentric circles.

Actually, the tippy top layer should be tomatoes if you are using them, because they are the most delicate.

Place two plates on top of the stuffed veggies and grape leaves. The pressure from the weight of the plates will prevent the leaves from unravelling as the dolma boils.

Make the sauce
1 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup pomegranate molasses (more to taste)
2 Tbsp. tomato paste (more to taste)
2 tsp. salt

Barely cover with water, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses. Bring to a rolling boil, reduce heat and remove plates. Add water if needed. Re-boil.

Taste, adjust for salt and pomegranate molasses.

Keeping the water level high enough to thoroughly cook the rice but low enough so that when you're done, you have a nice reduced sauce and not a soupy mess is a bit of a dance. Keep your eye on the water level.

Tips for grape leaves: 
The jarred grape leaves should be thoroughly rinsed before use.
If a leaf is too large, just slice it in two pieces...waste not, want not.
Slice off the woody stems before rolling as they're not pleasant to bite into.
Roll them somewhat loosely as the rice in the filling will expand while cooking.
Smaller rolls are considered daintier and most fit for company. On the other hand, life is short and you are likely if you want to save time and make larger rolls, I won't judge!

Dolma Demo3.roll Dolma Demo5.model Dolma Demo4.fold Dolma Demo6.fold more Dolma Demo7.lil cig Dolma Demo10.dolma pot

Friends, the brands here are the ones we like. Please use what you like and have access to; don't get hung up if you can't get the brands I've listed here. I can't even get them all the time, depending on where I live, but the last thing we want to do is not make this dolma! Remember: everyone who cooks has the right to do so according to their family's taste!


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Whole Wheat Bread


This recipe has its roots in my American upbringing. It is quite different from the flat Middle Eastern bread that best accompanies many of the dishes on this blog, and I'm proud to include it here as one of the many delicious and healthy foods my mom made for us. It also marks a significant shift in the direction of this blog. My curiosity about and need for more Iraqi and Middle Eastern family recipes has not abated, and I will continue to both refine previously posted recipes and blog new ones. Nonetheless, I find myself longing to juxtapose and meld them with the food I loved as a child, and which I am now working to include in my family's day-to-day routines. So now I will be including the best and most enduring of my American family recipes, too. This is exciting to me because it more accurately reflects a marriage as the melding of two pasts into one present, with the daily endeavor of embodying one's best and (hopefully) shedding of one's worst.

My mother, who is a fantastic cook and surely the reason I am so curious about food today, got this bread recipe from a friend, adapted it to our family's preferences, and made it often. I've changed it, too. It was an important staple in our home during a vegetarian (and nearly vegan) phase in our history. It's a stacked deck of very good stuff, and becomes a bigger winner as fresher ingredients are used. Lately for convenience I haven't used freshly milled whole wheat flour, but I know from first-hand experience that doing so bumps the flavor up a major notch. As many of the seeds and nuts called for are expensive and prone to go rancid quickly, why not be choosy? Include only your favorites and freeze what's left for later.

It's worth noting that I prefer this bread toasted unless it is made with fresh milled whole wheat flour, making it an ideal breakfast choice. As it's already full of rich ingredients, rather than slathering on butter (which is not a bad idea, by the way), we smash a banana or a couple of strawberries into the bread after toasting for a fresh and delicious taste surprise. Almond butter is another very nutritious spread (although densely caloric) that pairs well here. The Scientist favors white bread so this isn't a favorite for him, but our baby loves it, and I feel good giving it to her.

So, with pleasure and without further ado...the first American recipe of the new Marriage of Taste, Whole Wheat Bread.


Whole Wheat Bread
Makes three loaves
(8.5 x 4.5 x 2.5 pans)

2 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. very warm water
1/3 cup oil
1/2 cup brown sugar or honey
1 Tbsp. salt
2 Tbsp. yeast
1 cup either uncooked quick oats or cooked old fashioned oats, cooled to lukewarm
1/2 cup rye flour

Bonus optional ingredients (use the absolute freshest possible)
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds or pine nuts
1 Tbsp. poppy seeds
1/2 chopped walnuts or pecans

Obviously not optional
7 cups total whole wheat flour and/or white whole wheat flour, freshly milled if possible.

Butter the bottom and corners of pans, sprinkle some cornmeal over the butter. Tap out the excess cornmeal.

In a large bowl on a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment on the lowest setting, mix the first 8 ingredients well. Add the nuts and seeds and combine. Add the flour 1 cup at a time, switching to the dough hook after the 4th cup. Continue on the lowest setting for 1-2 minutes longer. The dough at this point will be dense, sticky, and difficult to handle, and the gluten strands will be clearly visible and clinging to the sides of the bowl. Form into 3 loaves, place into pans and let rise for 70 minutes in a warm location. The dough will have expanded to the edges of the pans and domed prettily.

20 minutes before baking time, pre-heat oven to 350°F. Bake for 35 minutes, rotating pans after 25 minutes to promote even browning.

Remove bread from pans right away and cool on racks to allow air to circulate all around the loaves. It's best to allow bread to cool completely before slicing.

-In the wintertime I place the loaves in the oven to rise, turn it on for just a minute or so, then turn off the oven and let the bread rise for 50 minutes. I remove the loaves to the stove top to rise the last 20 minutes while the oven pre-heats.
-I use whatever yeast I find at Costco in the enormous bag (currently Red Star), because it's super economical and works beautifully.
-My bread pans are not all the same size, but I've never had a problem with the loaves coming out over- or under-baked, although it does affect the height of the slices.
-I do like to rotate the pans part-way through baking to brown all sides equally.
-Once it's cooled completely, I slice the loaves and freeze them in Ziplocks (awkward but effective), then remove and toast up a slice whenever the baby needs a quick bite.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Creamy Shallot Dip from Sevan


As a kid, sour cream and onion potato chips were one of three absolute favorite grocery store snacks, beef jerky and dill pickles being the other two. As I got older, I was gradually awakened to the deflating reality that those powdery green-flecked slivers of potato-esque goodness weren't as transcendent as I had once believed. Fast forward through 20 years of relative snacking disappointment until last year when The Scientist's cousin-in-law made us this dip. Sour cream n' onion is back, only now it's genuinely tasty. Of course this recipe isn't Iraqi, but it is a family favorite, so enjoy!


Creamy Shallot Dip from Sevan
2 cups plain strained yogurt (Greek or lebne)
1-2 Tbsp. finely diced shallot, to taste
1/2 - 1 tsp. kosher salt, to taste

Stir to combine and refrigerate 1-4 hours before serving to allow flavors to develop. It's good the next day, too!

This recipe is a welcome and additive-free addition to party trays. Serve with potato chips (of course) or cut veggies such as carrots, celery, sweet peppers, broccoli, cherry tomatoes or mushrooms, as a sandwich spread, on baked potatoes or chili, or anywhere you'd like a cold and creamy punch of rich oniony flavor.

The richness of this dip can be adjusted easily by which yogurt you choose. I prefer whole milk Greek yogurt, but 2% or fat-free could be subbed in. The texture and mouth feel would be affected, but if you'd like to reduce fat content, they are acceptable alternatives to whole milk yogurt.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tabbouleh: Better, Faster, Stronger


Recently I re-read my tabbouleh recipe from back in the day. While heartfelt, it was verbose, unnecessarily long, replete with strange suggestions and unimportant details. That was the first recipe I ever blogged, and while I am certainly not the world's authority on recipe writing, I'm starting to do things differently. And as the photo suggests, these days I need things to be faster, more reliable, and less fussy.

So, take two. But much better tasting, for our money. The Scientist likes his tabbouleh bracingly acidic, so this recipe tends to be quite lemony. Sometimes I serve extra lemon wedges alongside so those who wish can turn up the tart even higher!

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp. water
1/3 cup #1 bulgar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 dashes cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. ground coriander (my optional 'secret' ingredient)
1 tsp. dried mint or the leaves from 3 stems of fresh mint, finely chopped
4 cups finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, packed (about 2 big bunches)
2 medium-sized vine-ripened tomatoes, diced, about 1 cup
1 cup white onion, finely diced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, the best you have (I like California Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Trader Joe's)

Squeeze the lemons and pour juice and water over the bulgar and seasonings. Stir. Set aside for 10-15 minutes until the bulgar softens.

Meanwhile, triple-wash the parsley and place in a colander to drain for a few minutes.

Chop parsley, onion, then tomato and place in a medium/large salad bowl.

Once the bulgar has softened and absorbed the lemon juice, add it to the parsley mixture and gently toss to combine.

Finish with olive oil. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Most importantly, enjoy!


-It's a matter of personal taste whether to use flat or curly-leaf parsley. We've tried both, and as it never lasts long enough at our place to get soggy (a common complaint about flat-leaf), we prefer Italian.
-I used to carefully remove the stems from the parsley leaves before chopping it up. Since then, my eyes have been opened to the crunchy deliciousness of finely chopped parsley stems in tabbouleh. So while I don't include all the stems, I do chop the bunches all the way from the leafy tops to the point where there are no more leaves left, inevitably getting plenty crunchy bits of stem.
-It's important to slice through the parsley only once so the leaves don't get chewed up by the knife. Which also means the food processor is not ideal here (sorry).
-The parsley doesn't have to be completely dry before use. The water droplets left on the leaves after washing help cut the acidity of the lemon juice.
-Bulgar #1 can be found in some international and all Middle Eastern groceries. Larger grinds of bulgar will take much longer to soften.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Fetteh Badinjan

All the separate components of this are so good, the finished product can't fail. Right now I'm waiting for my dear sweet husband to come home so we can mix this all up and dive in.


1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce or diced tomatoes
1-2 Tbsp. pomegranate molasses
1 tsp. dried mint
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tsp. salt

3 cups plain yogurt
3-4 cloves garlic, to taste
1/4 teaspoon salt, optional

1 eggplant, peeled and cut into 1 1/2" cubes
1/2 to 1 tsp. salt
1 cup canola oil

1/4 cup pine nuts

1 lb. ground beef
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

Chopped flat-leaf or curly parsley (I prefer flat-leaf)

Pita chips, store bought or homemade. I like Stacy's, but if I'm not in a hurry, homemade pita chips are divine. See recipe for fatoush for instructions.


First, prepare the peeled and cubed eggplant by sprinkling the salt over it, tossing well to coat, then allowing it to rest in a colander while you prepare the sauce.

To make the sauce, saute onion over medium/high heat until translucent, then reduce heat and add tomato, mint, pomegranate molasses, pepper and salt. Adjust seasonings to your taste. Simmer on low while you prepare the other ingredients.

Before you fry the eggplant, rinse off the salt and gently squeeze excess moisture from the eggplant with your hands. Pre-heat canola oil 1/4 cup at a time over medium-high heat in a non-stick skillet until hot but not smoking. Carefully fry the eggplant in two batches to avoid overcrowding in the pan, turning when brown bits start appearing on the bottom of the pieces. You will notice that the eggplant absorbs quite a lot of oil, so after turning the eggplant, add another 1/4 cup. I know what you're thinking...just keep it to yourself. :o) Fry until golden brown, then transfer to a paper towel.

Drain any excess oil from the pan and toast the pine nuts until golden brown, watching carefully to make sure they don't burn. Remove to a separate dish, then saute the ground beef, seasoning with salt and pepper.

Fold the eggplant into the tomato sauce.

Now, layer!
Bottom: In a large, shallow dish, layer 3-4 cups pita chips.
Next: Spread the tomato/eggplant mixture over top.
After that: Yogurt mixture
Finally, decoratively arrange the ground beef, chopped parsley, and pine nuts on top 'cause it's purty and because then people can help themselves to their favorites.

Good cooks'll tell ya
My sweet mother-in-law says the proper way to do the eggplant is to really deep-fry it until brown, but I wimped out. But you can try it!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Kubba Hamuth


This is my husband's second favorite kubba, keeping in mind that the entire kubba genre is his overall favorite food of all time. That translates to some pretty good stuff.

This recipe could also use some tweaking to fit the original purpose of the blog: detailed recipes that anyone could expertise needed. But it could be a while before I make this again, so I'm publishing, and that's final. At least until I post a revised version, as I am wont to do.

I've seen vastly different recipes in books and on the internet, and have talked with different fantastic cooks, including my sweet mother-in-law (my go-to expert). This recipe combines my favorite elements of each version, while still staying true to the basics...lamb broth, turnips, lemon juice and mint. I admit, however, I prefer mine less tart than the Scientist I serve it with an extra half of lemon on the side so he can pucker it up to his liking. This strategy works for us since one can always make this more sour according to taste, but it's trickier to reduce the acidity. Note: he still says that's cheating...if it's not sour, it's not kubba hamuth, 'cause hamuth means sour! Sorry, Baby. I love you!

serves 4

1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 T. vegetable oil
2 lamb shoulder chops, with bone, about 3/4 lb. each
salt and freshly ground pepper

3 turnips, peeled and cut in bite-sized pieces (I like 3/4")
9 cups water, plus more
1/4 cup tomato paste (Tukas brand, if possible)
3/4 tsp. dried mint, or to taste
the juice of 2 lemons
salt and pepper, to taste

12 kubba

In large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat oil, then saute onions until lightly browned. Meanwhile, salt and pepper both sides of the lamb shoulder chops. Push onions to the side of the Dutch oven and brown the meat on both sides.

Add water, turnips, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes, or until the turnips are tender and the flavor of the broth has deepened. Taste and adjust salt and pepper frequently. The turnips absorb a lot of salt, so don't be afraid to adjust the seasonings more than once.

Stir in tomato paste, then add mint and lemon juice. These go in towards the end because their flavors are more delicate and the long boiling affects their flavor.

Drop kubba into boiling sauce and cook on medium-high heat until they float to the top, about 10 minutes or more.

Serve with rice and a green salad.


Friday, September 26, 2008



Serves 4

This Lebanese gem is my absolute favorite salad ever. I jokingly call it "Fat Tush", but all the ingredients are very healthy. I actually like it even better than my other favorite, Tabbouleh, which is more classic in my husband's Muslawi cuisine. This recipe is my own adaptation of countless recipes I've read on the internet and versions I've tried in friends' homes. I actually copied this recipe from my other blog. Try it and enjoy!


1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
a pinch of sea salt
1/2 tsp lemon pepper
1/4 tsp granulated onion
1/8 tsp celery seed
1/8 tsp sumac (optional)
1/4 teaspoon fresh garlic, smashed into some sea salt
1/4 extra virgin olive oil
15 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh cilantro

Combine all ingredients in a jar and shake, shake, shake! This can be made up to a day ahead, but if you do, add the mint and cilantro just before serving so they'll be at their freshest when you eat.


2 cups torn romaine lettuce hearts
2 medium tomtoes, chopped (chopped cherry tomatoes are great, too, due to the intensity of their flavor)
2 Persian cucumbers, chopped (about 1 cup, if you're not using Persian)
1/4 - 1/2 cup finely chopped green pepper
1/3 cup finely chopped white onion
1/4 cup chopped parsley

Resist the temptation to use anything but the hearts of romaine on this salad...all the flavors should be fresh and toughness or bitterness allowed. Marriage metaphor, hmmm?

Pita Chips

2 whole wheat pita rounds, cut into chip-sized pieces
extra virgin olive oil for frying
Sea salt

Immediately before serving, heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Place pita pieces into the skillet. Fry over high heat until browned and crispy. Watch carefully, as oil will be near the smoking point. Salt to taste. Transfer to paper towels.


Pour dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Keep everything cold until ready to serve. Fry the pita chips immediately before serving and serve the pita chips on the side so people can garnish with how much they like. This is also preferable to adding the chips directly to the dressed salad because they stay much crispier.

Serve as an appetizer or side salad and enjoy!

Posted to My Other Blog by me! on September 9, 2007