Not all Middle Eastern dishes require several days to prepare, mysterious ingredients found only in the suqs of Baghdad, or equipment resembling a rebec or an iron maiden. Here are a few recipes from Turkey and the Arab world that can easily be whipped up in a split-level kitchen with ingredients from the corner supermarket, or at least the nearest Syrian, Greek or Armenian grocery.
The Turks are said to have brought yogurt from the Asian steppes to the Arab world, and hence to the West. If so, they deserve a hearty thanks for providing one of the few adult meal-time drinks of the world—not alcoholic like wine or beer, not a stimulant like tea or coffee, not sweet like coke or milk shakes, not childishly bland like plain milk. A fine invention. The Arabs call it laban shrab, the Persians musd, the Indians lassi. The preparation is simplicity itself: for each person, beat one cup of yogurt with ¼ cup of iced water and add a little salt to taste. Some people like a hint of garlic.
Cucumbers in Yogurt
A simple, refreshing salad on its own, or a cooling sauce with hot meat or stuffed vegetables. White and pale green, like new grass under snow, it is served in summertime in Turkey, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon.
2 cups of yogurt
1 clove of garlic
½ teaspoon of salt
pinch of dried mint
Mash garlic with salt in bottom of a bowl. Mix in yogurt. Peel cucumbers and slice thinly. Fold them into the yogurt. Transfer to a clean bowl and chill. Just before serving, crumble a pinch of dried mint between your fingers and sprinkle on top. (Dry your own mint by spreading the leaves on a plate and leaving them several days in a dry place till crisp.)
Lentils and Rice
Nutritionists in the West have recently discovered that lentils and rice eaten together are good for you; each helps the other to do its best by the human digestive system. The Arabs knew this all along. Mujaddara is a dish for the poor, especially in Palestine and Jordan; but even those who have made it big like to eat it too.
1 cup of lentils
¾ cup of rice
½ cup of olive oil
5 or 6 onions
1 tablespoon of salt
Soak lentils overnight. Drain, boil in two quarts of fresh water without salt until tender (about half an hour). Add washed, uncooked rice and the salt and boil another 20 minutes. Brown the sliced onions in olive oil. Add onions and half the oil to lentil-rice mixture and cook another 15 minutes over low flame until water is absorbed. This can be cooked ahead and is eaten at room temperature.
Vegetable Hash with Eggs
A heart-warming supper-dish served from Tunisia to Saudi Arabia. Similar to a Basque piperade.
2 green peppers
½ cup of olive oil
1 clove of garlic
Heat oil in saucepan with garlic. Throw out garlic. Brown thinly sliced onions lightly in the oil. Then add half a cup of boiling water and the rest of the vegetables cut into bite-size pieces. (The potatoes can be par-boiled, or omitted entirely. In fact, almost any vegetables can be used in this dish, such as carrots, cauliflower, green beans, though onions, peppers and tomatoes are basic. The proportions don't matter either. A very accommodating dish.) Add salt and pepper to taste, cover and simmer until vegetables are half done. Break four eggs on top of the mixture, spacing them evenly as if frying them sunny-side-up. When the eggs are cooked, serve each person a portion of the vegetable hash with one egg on top.
Dips are an Arab specialty. When it is said that the desert Arab eats with his fingers, what is often meant is that he tears a bite-size piece of bread off a flat Arab loaf, makes a little scoop of it, and dips into the common dish. Dips like baba ghannouj ("father of greediness") and hummus (chick pea dip) are ideal for cocktail snacks.
1 large round eggplant (not the long kind)
2 cloves of garlic
4 tablespoons of tahini (sesame seed oil; can be bought in small cans from Arab grocers)
4 tablespoons of lemon juice salt
Char the eggplant in a hot oven or on a fork over the flame of a gas stove. When the skin is blackened, douse in cold water and peel. Mash two or three cloves of garlic to a paste with about the same volume of salt. Mix tahini, lemon juice and garlic paste. Mash eggplant pulp to a smooth consistency and blend in the garlic sauce. Serve in a bowl with a little olive oil on top and garnish with chopped parsley or a dusting of red pepper. Serves five.
Cracked Wheat Pilaf
Burghul—bulgur, cracked wheat—can be found at Arab or Greek grocers or in health-food shops (it's very healthy). It is parboiled, so can be eaten uncooked in salads or cooked alone or with ground meat. Alone it makes a nice change from rice.
1 cup of burghul
2 tablespoons of butter
Wash the burghul. Heat butter till it bubbles, stir in cracked absorbed. Pour 2 ½ cups of boiling water over burghul, add salt, and allow to simmer in covered saucepan for about 20 minutes, or until grains are tender and liquid is absorbed.
Parsley and Cracked Wheat Salad
A Lebanese dish. Green as a wet springtime, but better for you (think of all that niacin!)
½ cup of burghul
4 bunches of parsley (about 3 cupschopped)
1 bunch fresh mint (about ½ cupchopped)
3 green onions or 1 small onion
1 big tomato
6 tablespoons of lemon juice
4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 Romaine lettuce (optional)
Wash burghul and squeeze out water. Wash and chop parsley, mint and green onions very fine. Dice tomatoes. Combine all ingredients including burghul. Add salt to taste, lemon juice, olive oil and mix. Serve in bowl lined with lettuce leaves and stick the heart of the lettuce upright in center of the salad. This can be eaten with a fork, but the traditional way is to scoop up a bite of the mixture in a lettuce leaf and pop it into the mouth.
The Arabs' answer to steak tartare. That's all right—lots of Arabs won't eat it either. Very popular among the mountaineers of Syria and Lebanon. In Aleppo they add as much red pepper as the human palate will bear—perhaps on the principle of counter-shock.
½ pound of lean lamb
½ cup of burghul
½ teaspoon of salt
½ teaspoon of allspice
1 small onion bowl of water with ice
Wash burghul and squeeze out water. Grind lamb with finest blade of meat grinder, then pound it in a mortar to a fine paste. Chop onion very fine and pound it with salt and allspice. Put onion and meat through grinder together. Knead mixture with burghul, dipping hands in ice water as needed for smoothness. Mould into a cake on a plate, garnish with sprigs of parsley and serve with Arab bread, radishes, green onions, hot peppers, etc.
This is one of those stuffed vegetable dishes that are served as a main course and make the Fertile Crescent a vegetarian's paradise. Other vegetables stuffed in the same manner are tomatoes, green peppers, onions, potatoes, or the leaves of lettuce, cabbage or grape-vines. For those with carnivorous tendencies, ground meat can be added to the stuffing, or the whole can be cooked in meat stock instead of water.
1 cup of rice
salt and pepper
water to cover
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tomatoes medium size
1 onion medium size
3 tablespoons of olive oil
½ tablespoon allspice (optional)
Choose medium size zucchini. Wash, cut off stem but do not peel. Core with apple-corer or short knife. (Don't throw away the cores, they can be used in Leila's "Falafil", below.) Make stuffing by mixing uncooked rice, chopped tomato, chopped onion, parsley, pine nuts, salt and pepper and spices. Stuff each zucchini loosely as the rice will swell. Lay stuffed vegetables in pot, cover with water, drizzle a little olive oil and bake in 350 degree oven for an hour. Serve with plain yogurt on the side.
Real falafil is made of ground fava beans and is usually bought from street vendors. This dish is made from the cores left over from kussa mahshi and is much lighter than the bean falafil.
12 cores of zucchini
2 heaped tablespoons of flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons of chopped parsley
1 tablespoon of chopped mint
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 medium sized onion, chopped
salt, and pepper to taste
Boil the zucchini cores in salty water (you can start with whole zucchini if you like). Drain, squeeze, and chop. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix thoroughly. Drop by spoonfuls into about one inch of cooking oil. Remove when golden brown. Serve hot or cold.
"The Rosary of the Dervish"
2 big onions
1 pound ground lamb
1 teaspoon of butter
6 long eggplant
1 teaspoon tomato paste
Slice all the vegetables rather thinly. Fry each separately till half done. Make small balls or patties of the ground lamb and fry until brown. In a large saucepan, lay down a layer of onions, then a layer of potatoes, then of meat, zucchini, eggplants, tomatoes in that order. Pour in water to cover, add salt and pepper and butter. Place in medium oven and allow to cook just below boiling point for one hour.
DRIED FIG JAM
The Arabs make many kinds of jam, all more or less resembling those in the West. This one is different and well-worth trying. The mastic, or gum arabic, is available at drugstores or Arab grocers.
5 pounds of dried figs 5 pounds of sugar
1 tablespoon of aniseed (powdered)
1 teaspoon of cinammon
1 tablespoon of mastic (pounded)
5 tablespoons of lemon juice
½ cup of sesame seeds
2 cups of water
Clean, chop, wash and drain figs. Put sugar and aniseed with the water on heat, add lemon juice and stir till sugar is dissolved. Add the figs and boil over high heat for ten minutes; lower heat and boil another half hour. Brown sesame seeds lightly in frying pan without fat. Add sesame and cinnamon to figs while still over heat. Mix in mastic and take off heat. Put up in clean jars.