Category: Free Inquiry

Bon Appétit Podcast

Bon Appétit is one of my forever favourites. The magazine, website, their facebook page, the youtube videos. It’s just the best food content that I could soak up all day long. I only recently discovered they have a podcast as well (of course they do!). I took a quick browse and found that episode 102, from March 2017 was “All About Middle Eastern Food (Perfect Rice! Man’oushe! Rose-Water Brittle!)“.

In this episode, Reem Assil, a first generation American chef talks about  her business. Then BA Senior Food Editor Andy Baraghani talks about creating a feast for the Persian New Year. These are my notes from listening to this podcast. I tried to focus on what the two chefs were saying about Middle Eastern Food in general, and I got a lot out of it.

Reem Assil is a community organizer turned restaurant owner 2011

  • Her restaurant is Reem’s Wraps (now Reem’s California I believe)
  • She was inspired to make a career change because of the connection of food and community
    • Restaurants, bakeries, and food in general can create a sense of home for immigrants
    • A place to gather with people you relate to
  • She is Syrian and Palestinian
  • She sees a cross over between food and activism
    • Food can bring people in, to build trust and to engage them in real issues
  • Their signature dish is Levantine flatbread x California cuisine
    • It’s called Man’oushe and flavoured with za’atar
    • Za’atar is wild thyme, sumac, sesame seeds, salt, and  olive oil. It’s like a pesto
    • Bread is cooked in a high heat oven or griddle called a saj
    • Topped with fresh veggies – tomatoes, cucumbers, and fresh mint
    • Also, labneh (thick strained yogurt) and avocado
    • Or with shakshuka sauce – roasted peppers and tomatoes and aleppo-style pepper
    • Other flavours are sumac, parsley, turmeric, pomegranate molasses, pine nuts, cardamom, and orange blossom
  • Levantine region of the middle east is a temperate climate
    •  mountains, ocean and woods all in driving distance

Then, Andy Baraghani, a resident chef at Bon Appétit, frequent video host, talks about the menu he put together for Persian New Year, Nowruz, that came out in that month’s magazine.

  • Nowruz is a 13 day holiday
  • For the gig meal, rice is the most important dish
    • Before cooking, basmati rice should have a golden hue
    • Rinse the rice until the water is clear, then soak for hour at least
    • Parboil it in salted water, then drain
    • Add fresh herbs – cilantro parsley dill, a little fenugreek, tarragon, mint
    • Put in back in the pot, piled up like a mountain. Poke holes in the top. Cover with lid and towel to absorb the steam. Cook on low heat for 25-35 mins
    • Add butter 3/4 way through. More butter than you think
    • Then, could invert the pot on a plate. This isn’t a tadig though, but it does retain its shape.
    • Need lots of salt and butter
  • All the food on table at once
  • For the main dish – fish. Either a smoked whitefish (from store) or baked fish. Andy’s mom always made baked salmon with saffron, tumeric, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil
  • There’s a cecipe for whitefish in March issue
  •   Also, Kuku Sabzi – Persian frittata
    • This has LOTS of herbs – parsley, dill, cilantro. 4.5 cups total and only 5 eggs
    • Fenugreek – bitter celery tasting leaf – just a sprinkle
  • And a special yogurt with cucumber, somewhat similar to a tsaziki. With garlic, chopped and toasted walnuts, golden raisins soaked and chopped.
  •  Barbari Bread – a very thick flat bread. 4-5 feet long traditionally.  With ridges on top from finger tips
    • Topped with sesame and nigella seeds, sea salt.
    • Brushed with a flour x hot water x baking soda mixture to help brown the top
    • Serve with a platter of feta, herbs, and radishes
  • After dinner, table games and brittle
    Sohan brittle  – made with corn syrup, butter, saffron, rose water and topped with fresh pistachios, rose petals and sea salt. Mmmmmm

I found this podcast really interesting and will definitely be subscribing to more!



Ingredients: Halloumi

When I was looking through the Zaitoun cookbook, I saw an appetizer recipe for halloumi. We happened to have some halloumi cheese in the fridge, and this weekend was the spark I needed to make it. It was Thanksgiving and we were headed to some friends’ house for dinner. When I checked the recipe out again, it seemed super quick and easy, and the ingredients were simple/things we mostly had. It was also perfect because it used Pomegranate molasses which is now the flavour of the week I guess.

Halloumi is a cheese associated with Cyprus, and eaten throughout the eastern Mediterranean (the Levant). It is a semi hard, unripened cheese with a high melting point, making it ideal for frying and grilling (see right, photo from Wikipedia). Traditionally halloumi was made with sheep or goats milk, or a combo, but as it becomes more popular, cow’s milk is also used. I’ve eaten halloumi in restaurants a lot of times but never cooked it myself.

It was a great recipe to take to a friend’s because I could prep most of it beforehand, there was only one cooked element (the cheese!) and the rest was just topping. Basically the recipe is orange segments, chopped dates, and fresh mint sprinkled on top of crispy, browned, fried halloumi, drizzled with pomegranate molasses and olive oil. I fried the cheese at our friends and assembled it in front of everyone. Not only did it look like a showstopper, it was unbelievably delicious. One of our friends hadn’t even heard of halloumi, so it was a fun dish. They asked several times for me to send over the recipe too. I know this one will be made again.

My friend took the top photo with portrait mode which seemed to help a lot. But I’m still working on this!

Flavours: Pomegranate molasses

Pomegranate molasses is a thick syrup made by reducing pomegranate juice. It becomes a sweet, tart and tangy syrup. (It’s not actually molasses at all). It is regularly used in middle eastern cooking, particularly in Iran, Turkey and Lebanon. I bought the Cortas brand again, which it turns out was recommended here. It can be used in many different ways – marinades, salad dressings, even in cocktails when mixed properly.

After looking through the Zaitoun cookbook (on cloudLibrary of course!), a recipe that caught my eye for a relatively simple weeknight meal was Lentil, eggplant and pomegranate stew. I made it tonight (with some characteristics omissions). I swear that before I got groceries on the weekend, I checked and I had brown lentils, but when it came time to cook, I could only find red. And somehow I completely forgot to buy sumac (another ingredient on my flavours to explore list). So anyway, red lentils and no sumac, I forged ahead.

The recipe was pretty simple: lentils, spices, eggplant, pomegranate molasses, shallots and garlic. Served with basmati rice. For a simple meal, it really packed a punch. Pomegranate molasses has a really complex flavour which came through well in this dish. I added extra to my bowl to play around with the flavours more too. It’s a very tangy, sweet and rich flavour overall. The combination with the smooth flavours of the shallots and eggplant balanced perfectly. My 1 year old liked it too, but my three year old stuck with her macaroni.

My photo of this really did not turn out well (note to self, learn to take better food photos). Here is what I’m going to pretend mine looked like:

Lentil, eggplant and pomegranate stew from Zaitoun

In researching pomegranate molasses, I have also found this recipe for pomegranate glazed chicken from Bon appetit which I now want to try next!

Top photo from here

Rosewater Take Two: Once is Not Enough

After the ghraybeh (Lebanese butter cookies) didn’t show off the rose water very well, I knew I wanted to try again. We were going for Sunday dinner at my dad’s house so I said I would make dessert. I had been perusing the Zaitoun cookbook by Yasmin Khan and Sweet by Ottolenghi and there were a couple cakes in them that were calling me.

My original plan was to make the Semolina and rose water slice cake from Zaitoun (the picture to the right), but I got a bit confused when it came down to starting. I blame cloudLibrary somewhat here because it is way too easy to flip back and forth between books and lose track of whats happening. So I prepped the ingredients for the Lemon and Semolina syrup cakes from Sweet instead before I realized what had happened. The problem was this recipe said in the introduction that it could be flavoured with rose water syrup (or orange blossom), but only gave the directions for a citrus syrup instead. So I took some of the measurements from the Zaitoun recipe to try to approximate the rose water amounts.

The recipe was super simple to follow and the batter mixed up quickly. It makes 8 mini cakes using a muffin pan. Making parchment collars was a new skill for me, and not one I have totally mastered yet but I am not afraid to try again! The batter has lemon zest in it and each mini cake has a thin lemon slice on top. I had to trim the edges of the slices to get them to fit.

My oven always runs a little cool so I would bake these at 350 rather than 325 next time, but that’s probably different for everyone. It just took a little extra time to back and I never got the caramelization on the lemons that the recipe called for.

When it came to making the syrup, first I followed the ‘Sweet; recipe (1/4 cup each of sugar and lemon juice) and added just a 1/2 tsp of rose water. But the lemon was so strong and really over powered everything. My kids were going to be eating this too so I didn’t want it to be quite so strong with lemon flavour. So I added a 1/4 cup of water and another 1/2 tsp of rose water. Then even more rose water just by eye! The flavour of the syrup at that point had a perfect balance (to me) of lemon, sugar and rose water. Just enough floral to give that turkish delight style magic. Then the syrup just gets brushed on as soon as the cakes come out of the oven, with the cakes still in the pan. They really soaked it up!

At my dad’s house the cakes were a major hit. The recipe suggested serving them with yoghurt or creme fraiche, but we went with whipped cream just to be a crowd pleaser. I found I like the cake plain though to really let the rose water flavour come through. The tops of the cake, which had the most syrup were the best part. My dad, granny, cousin and husband all loved the cake. The kids were a little more fond of the whipped cream.  But the adults even gobbled up the lemons from the top.I will make these again, or probably try the Zaitoun recipe first, but this is definitely worth a repeat. I would like try it as a round cake though rather than the minis. I would use parchment on the bottom of the pan too because  I had a lot of sticking even with liberal butter on the pans. I would make double the amount of syrup to make sure the cakes were drenched all the way to the bottom with syrup. Yum!

Yottam Ottolenghi also made a version of this cake for Bon Appetit (my forever fav website) which you can find here. This version has slightly different measurements than the one from Sweet but from a first glance I think it might just be for a larger batch. This recipe also doesn’t have lemon slices on top. But I recommend giving it a try! (The featured photo up top is from this recipe)

Exploring digital cookbooks

In July, Helen Rosen (@hels), a food writer that I follow on twitter (starting to realize that I love to read about food), wrote an article about the top 10 cookbooks since 2000. One of the books mentioned was ZAHAV by Michael Solomonov, with an honourable mention for the books by Yottam Ottolenghi. I checked the Greater Victoria Public Library site and eagerly put them on hold. Ottolenghi Simple came in first and I devoured it. I read it like a book and quickly made several recipes which I will recap in a later post. When ZAHAV came in I read all the introductions and immediately went out and bought a better quality tahini. I had to return the book before I got a chance to dive in further so I hope to get another chance with that book again soon.

Recently I went to check the books availability again and some of the Ottolenghi books are available as ebooks. There are a lot of different way to view their digital content, so I chose and  downloaded the app for cloudLibrary. I was immediately able to borrow Simple and start rereading it.

At first using cloudLibrary seemed weird because I couldn’t see the entire pages. But once I figured out how to change the text size, it pretty conveniently shifts the spacing across the pages around to make it easy to read at various sizes. The headings can get a little bit messed up when you navigate through the book but overall it’s not too hard to figure out. The tables of contents are clickable so it’s very convenient for navigating through something like a cookbook where you may not read it straight through from the beginning. And the search function is amazing for finding different ingredients being used throughout the book. Not only can you use cloudLibrary to view ebooks, but you can browse the digital catalogue for the GVPL and check books out right there. I do prefer to read most books in hard copy, but for cookbooks, and especially ones that are often unavailable it’s a pretty nice resource.

Yottam Ottolenghi has many cookbooks, so far I like “Simple” because it seems a little more achievable for my life right now. Browsing on cloudLibrary, I also found Zaitoun, a Palestinian cookbook by Yasmin Khan, and I am loving the recipes and reading about different parts of the country. Even though they are ebooks the library only has so many licenses for them, so there are still waits for books that are in demand. But you can make lists of interest and put things on hold the same way you would for a hard copy. Unfortunately there’s no digital version of Zahav yet so I will have to get myself on the hold list again asap.


Flavours: Gimme gimme more Tahini

Tahini, also called tehina and tahina, is used through the eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East, the south Caucasus and North Africa. Basically, it’s an oily paste made from ground sesame seeds, like sesame butter. It has a nutty, earthy flavour with a bit of bitter. It’s commonly used in hummus, baba ghanoush, as a sauce for vegetables and falafel and a marinade for meat.Pour it on anything really, you can’t go wrong.

Something I learned from the ZAHAV cookbooks is that you need a good quality tahini. I used to buy tahini from my regular grocery store, and it would be fairly dry and non-pourable. From my reading in Ottolenghi Simple and Zahav, I learned that all tahini is not made equal, and there are strong regional differences. They recommend Lebanese, Israeli and Palestinian brands, for the creaminess and pour-ability. I went to Fig on Cedar Hill Cross Rd and got one from the Costas Brand. Pourable, creamy and delicious.

Israeli Chopped Salad

Greek salad seems somewhat ubiquitous as a concept – tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, kalamata olive and an oregano dressing. It’s everywhere and it’s a classic. Until last year, I never knew there were varieties of the same thing from elsewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean.  A while ago, I started experimenting with different sauces on this idea, using a lemon, yogurt, and oregano chicken marinade I love, orwith coriander, cumin and lemon. A key for me is always salting the tomatoes after I chop them and letting them sit in a strainer to help the water release and concentrate the flavours (osmosis!).

After reading the Ottolenghi Simple (more to come on this later), one of the first recipes I jumped onto was the Israeli Chopped Salad (tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, and red onion dressed with lemon, olive oil, garlic, tahini, cilantro and za’atar), it felt like this was what I had been missing. I am obsessed with the flavour of tahini and the combination with za’atar is PERFECT.

This salad is soooo easy to make and for the amount of delicious flavour, I don’t know if it can be beat. It’s one of those dishes you definitely don’t need a recipe for, once you get the hang of it you can combine everything to taste. Highly recommend!

Top photo taken by Marco Verch


Flavours: Rose Water

My husband gave me a bottle of rose water two Christmases ago (Cortas brand), but I was a little nervous to use it since I know it can be overpowering if you use too much (thank you for the info Great British Bake Off). But I know it is a traditional flavour used in middle eastern cooking, particularly in baking and desserts. So this weekend I decided to go for it.


What it’s all about 

Rose water is the liquid left over when rose petals, buds and stems are distilled. It’s used in food, cosmetics and perfume in many Middle East countries. It adds a floral flavour that makes these dishes very unique. Common dishes include: baklava, kanafeh, and many biscuits and puddings.

I wanted to make cookies, and found this recipe for Lebanese butter cookies, or ghraybeh. First I had to make clarified butter which was also new for me. Luckily its basically just melting butter and skimming off the milk fats.

I followed the recipe above for the cookies but I found my dough turned out quite dry. Maybe I measured either the butter or the flour not quite correctly but who knows. The dough still came together but I found it hard to work with and then couldn’t cut the cookies to the right shape. It’s basically a shortbread recipe with clarified butter and a floral hint. The recipe was originally written for orange blossom water, but in the comments the author said you could use few drops of rose water instead. They baked up nicely and looked nice once I sprinkled the icing sugar on top. I do think I could have gone heavier with the rose water, the floral hint is so light it’s barely there. I do like them though and will try them again soon.


Top image source

Who’s Cooking: Eden Eats

A couple years ago, I started following Eden Grinshpan (@edeneats) on instagram. She’s a Canadian celebrity chef with Israeli heritage. I found her because of her posts about being a new mom, but I was quickly entertained by her charisma and, in particular, by her food posts. Her documentation of the food she cooks both professionally and in her daily life made my mouth water. She makes Mediterranean and middle eastern food that is not fussy or too complicated. She is friends and colleagues with many other chefs. She posted some recipes created by her friends, cracked coriander chicken, and smashed potatoes with a caper-horseradish-dill sauce, and they quickly became regular staples in my rotation. Coriander and dill are some flavours I could never get sick of.

Not only does she create inspiring food, but her posts about her life in NYC are very fun and energetic. As a mom of young kids myself, her honesty and anecdotes about parenting are the content I need.

Middle Eastern Food & I

For my Inquiry project for EDCI 336 I am going to document my exploration into Middle Eastern cuisine. I’ve developed a huge love for middle eastern flavours and have recently started trying to learn more about this type of food in a more meaningful way.

When I was growing up, my family would eat Halva semi-regularly (the kind with chocolate was my favourite), and Mediterranean food, like dolmades and baklava, were often around. Several years ago a Mediterranean deli named Fig opened in my neighbourhood and it became a regular weekend stop for my husband and I to get Chicken Shawarma. The grocery section was always a treat to browse through for the best pastas and condiments. I started collecting new things to try and branching out into new herbs and flavours that I was less familiar with.

After my daughter was born, I became the predominant cook in my family and I started desperately looking for different recipes to keep myself interested in what can be a very repetitive task. I found myself drawn more and more towards flavours and recipes from the eastern mediterranean and the middle east. I looked up recipes and found books at the library. A lot of the foods I tried worked their way into my regular rotation.

Where I am at right now is that I am a mother of two and I still cook most of my family’s meals, but since I’m going to school I don’t feel as much energy to be creative. By focusing on this passion for my Free Inquiry project I hope to carve out a little time for something I love. Please follow along and see what I learn and what I make!

Top image source