This time two years ago, Cory and I were in Turkey. I never got around to writing about the trip in depth here, and I can’t quite do that now. Faces are now blurred and names have been forgotten, but there are still some things fresh in my mind: endless baskets of bread, kaymak (similar to clotted cream, and devoured with copious amounts of honey and bread), the winding streets of Cihangir, showering every street cat ever with love, using locals as shields when crossing busy streets (sorry guys), and stopping at juice stands at least twice a day for fresh pomegranate juice.
One of my favorite things to do as a kid was to look through my mom’s photos, which she kept in a bag in the closet. I’d take it out every few months, dump the photos on the floor, and spend at least an hour looking at every one of them. I was endlessly fascinated by my parents’ lives before me a – my mom the babe, my dad’s facial hair, unfortunate perms, their early life together traveling across the country (they were carnies and left when I was about 2), faces of friends and relatives I never got to meet or didn’t remember.
I still do this with my own photos, but with hard drives and memory cards instead of a bag of photos tucked in the closet. I decided to not share the same ol’ photos of the Sultanahmet Mosque and Hagia Sophia, but to mix things up a bit with a series of photos of people holding/carrying things. Fascinating, right?!
Simit (bread rings with sesame seeds).
The tram on Istiklal street carrying a gaggle of boys.
Bread. And a man wearing a confederate flag t-shirt.
Ok, let’s mix things up a bit with some non-carrying things photos. Approaching Galata tower.
The derpy Hagia Sophia cat, who I later discovered has her own Tumblr.
Ephesus, once home to 250,000 people. Now home to just about as many cats.
I loved the Saturday market in Selcuk. I still have some paprika, chili pepper, and sumac left from our visit.
Persimmons, quinces, chestnuts, pomegranates, apples, and squash. I’m pretty much over the moon for fall produce. It’s a little like being reunited with old friends — except uh, I get to eat them. Squash has been a mainstay in our kitchen the last few weeks. My little kitchen cart has been overflowing with pumpkins, acorn squash, butternut squash, and I can’t seem to get enough of delicata squash. Delicata squash is similar to butternut squash, but smaller and the skins are thinner. No need for peeling, just slice them in half, scoop out the seeds, let them roast for a half hour, and before you know it you’ll be eating creamy and delicious winter squash.
For the most part, I’ve just been roasting squash with butter or olive oil and a little salt and pepper. Here though, I’ve roasted delicata squash into little crescents and tossed them with pearl couscous and chickpeas, all coated together in a fragrant slightly sweet and spicy olive oil dressing. It’s like autumn in a bowl. Kale can be tough to chew, so I massaged it with my hands with just a little olive oil for about 30 seconds until it softened.
Roasted Delicata Squash with Pearl Couscous
1 delicata squash, halved and sliced into 1/3″ crescents
1 cup pearl couscous
1 cup chickpeas
8 kale leaves, torn into small pieces and massaged with olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon dried mint
2 teaspoons harissa or hot sauce
2 teaspoons maple syrup
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
2 tablespoons cranberries
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash and pat dry the squash, lay on a cutting board, cut in half, scrape out the seeds, and cut into crescents that are about 1/3″ thick. Lay on a roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper in place in the oven. Set the kitchen timer for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the couscous. Bring a pot of salted water to boil. It should take about 10 minutes for the pearl couscous to be ready, but will vary depending on the size of the couscous, so check the package directions. Once done, drain and set aside. Measure out one cup of cooked chickpeas and set aside.
While the pearl couscous is draining in a colander, take the pot you boiled the couscous in, and add the kale. Drizzle just a little bit of olive oil over the kale and massage gently with your hands until the kale softens.
Check on the delicata squash and turn the pieces over.
Prepare the dressing by mixing together coriander, dried mint, harissa, maple syrup, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Add the dressing to the pot with the kale, along with the chickpeas and couscous. Mix thoroughly.
In a small frying pan, add walnuts over medium heat and turn a couple times, until browned. I don’t recommend leaving the kitchen when toasting nuts. Whenever I’m toasting nuts and leave the kitchen, even just for a moment, they burn. Remove from heat and let cool. Once cool, chop the walnuts into small pieces.
Check on the delicata squash, and if it’s soft and beginning to brown on both sides, it’s ready. Add the squash, walnuts, and cranberries to the pot and mix thoroughly. Turn the heat on low, and serve when the mixture is warm.
My CSA share this week included a monstrous pile of parsley. Half of it was frozen into ice cubes for future soups, some of it went into a frittata, a handful was stirred into a tomato sauce that was served with polenta, but I wanted to make sure the rest of it a chance to shine on its own. I set out to make tabbouleh, but things did not go according to plan once I went shopping. I passed on the tomatoes for a gorgeous pomegranate and bulgur was nowhere to be found, so I went home and made something that wasn’t quite authentic tabbouleh, but sort of a transition into fall tabbouleh. Tabbouleh is a Lebanese salad, made primarily with parsley and a handful of mint, with flecks of bulgur (cracked wheat), chopped tomatoes, and coated with a lemon and olive oil dressing that begs to be sopped up with copious amounts of bread. It’s not uncommon to see tabbouleh recipes that use couscous, quinoa, or millet instead of bulgur, but I used crushed walnuts here. Since discovering pomegranate and walnut stew a few years ago, I’ve learned that pomegranates and walnuts make a great pair.
This makes a good side dish to just about any Middle Eastern meal, but it’s especially delicious with a little tahini sauce or hummus rolled up in a piece of flat bread. I’d say this serves 6 to 8 as a side dish, but I keep sneaking into the kitchen several times a day to take bites out of it straight from the container, so who knows. It’s almost gone and I’m already itching to make another batch.
Pomegranate Walnut Tabbouleh Note: to avoid soggy tabbouleh, let the parsley and mint dry before chopping. This can be done with a strainer and paper towels, but a salad spinner will be your best friend here.
2 cups flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/4 cup mint, chopped
1/2 red onion, diced
seeds (arils) of one pomegranate
1/3 cup walnuts, crushed
3 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 tablespoons of lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sumac
1/8 teaspoon allspice
salt and pepper, to taste
Chop the parsley, mint, and onions with your sharpest knife. De-seed pomegranate. Place the walnuts in a mortar and crush them with a pestle (or give them a whirl in your food processor). Juice lemon. In a large bowl, mix together the parsley, mint, pomegranate, walnuts, olive oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, sumac, allspice, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper until fully incorporated. Give the mixture a taste and add more lemon juice and salt, if necessary. Serve with your favorite Middle Eastern dish or as part of a mezze. Delicious both at room temperature and cold.
When I originally posted my mujaddara recipe 4 1/2 years ago, I was pleasantly surprised when it became one of the most popular recipes on the blog. Mujaddara is a rice and lentil pilaf and very near and dear to my heart. When I decided that once and for all I would learn how to cook at the age of 22 (!), it was the first thing I set out to make. All you need is an onion, rice, lentils, olive oil, and salt. How hard could it be? Not very, it turns out, but it took several attempts and fine tuning to get it just where I wanted. In the years since I posted the recipe, I usually don’t make it “as is” unless I’m serving it as a side dish.
On those nights when the pantry and fridge are looking scarce and I don’t know what to make, mujaddara is a reliable friend since I almost always have the ingredients handy. The base recipe remains the same, but I like to dress it up as much as possible with whatever I can scrounge up. You know those forlorn jars that live in the fridge door? That jar of red bell peppers? Sundried tomatoes? Hearts of palm? Old hot sauce? Harissa? That almost empty bag of frozen peas? The remaining bits of cashews shoved in to a corner of the cupboard? This is their time to shine, along with any other odds and ends in your fridge, freezer, and pantry that you may have forgotten about. Feel free to play around with spices, too. A little bit of coriander or pinch of cardamom work well here. It’s a truly everything but the kitchen sink kind of dish.
The recipe below includes my latest version of mujaddara deluxe as I call it, along with some ideas for other variations. While I prefer to caramelize one onion per serving when making mujaddara, I only had one here.
What’s your go-to pantry meal?
1 onion, sliced
3/4 cup rice
3/4 cup lentils
salt and pepper, to taste
Dried or fresh herbs: thyme, rosemary, parsley, basil, mint
Spices: cumin, coriander, cardamom, paprika, sumac
Nuts: hazelnuts, almonds, pine nuts, walnuts
Vegetables: carrot, bell pepper, jalapeno, cucumber, zucchini, radish
Fragrant things: dash of rosewater or pomegranate molasses
Hot things: hot sauce, harissa, sambal
Canned things: artichokes, hearts of palm, beets, red peppers
Sauce: yogurt, tahini
Heal oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium low heat. When hot, add the onions. Add the onions and a few dashes of salt, stirring every few minutes, for 30 minutes. Turn the heat up a bit and continue cooking until the onions until they are a deep, golden brown, another 15-20 minutes or so. Set skillet aside.
In the meantime, prepare the lentils and rice according to their package directions. Some people prefer to cook the lentils and rice together in the same pot, but I find that this results in overcooked lentils, so I always cook them separately. About 30 seconds before the rice is ready, drop in the frozen peas. When the lentils and rice are ready, pour them into a colander to drain out the water.
Mix together the lentils and rice in a big pot. Add salt, pepper, a couple glugs of olive oil, most of the caramelized onion, parsley, pickled sweet peppers, sundried tomato, and almonds. Heat until the mujaddara is warm, add more salt and pepper to taste.
Serve in bowls and garnish with the remaining caramelized onions. Serve warm and gobble it up!
This year, I’m determined to right the wrongs from last Thanksgiving and Christmas. Just 10 minutes into Thanksgiving dinner prep, I sliced off a chunk of flesh from my finger. The rest of my afternoon consisted of bleeding and watching the Forsyte Saga and Quantum Leap (yes, I’m a very cool person) while Cory took over dinner. Dinner was still delicious, but it put a damper on the day I hadn’t experienced the likes of since Thanksgiving ’95. That was the year my dad thought it would be a great idea to show my extended family a home video of me singing, dancing, and pretending to be the great Cornholio from Beavis and Butthead. These days, embarrassing myself is one of my favorite hobbies and you can find a clip from that video on YouTube. I think it’s adorable now, but at age 10? Mortifying. As for my homemade Christmas gifts, all but the buckeyes ended in disaster. We didn’t even get to visit family due to a power outage. So here I am, many moons later, gearing up to shower friends and family with tasty homemade treats.
First up, coffee liqueur! When I was a wee one, having Kahlua in the house was a rare and very special thing that my parents would use for making White Russians. Those are nice and all, but I also recommend using coffee liqueur almost anywhere you would vanilla. It’s a simple way to give baked desserts and goods a little bit of “ooh, what’s in this?”. Adding just a small amount can go a long way. We’ve been putting coffee liqueur in smoothies, coffee, hot chocolate, chocolate milk, cookies, popsicles, and drizzling over ice cream. Your coffee liqueur will be ready in about 4 weeks. Technically, you can pop it open whenever you’d like, but it’s best to allow the vanilla to infuse for 4 to 6 weeks. It’s so worth it.
Damn girl, where did you got those bottles?
I love swing top bottles. The bottles pictured above are from World Market. I must’ve bought them on sale because they’re a little more expensive on the website, but Amazon sells the same bottles for about twice as much. If you’re in Portland, Kitchen Kaboodle has a huge selection of glass bottles on the cheap. Want a really large bottle? IKEA sell 34 ounce bottles for just $4. Maybe keep that one for yourself and give the smaller ones away? That’s what I’m doing!
I actually doubled this recipe so I could keep some for myself and give away to others. If you don’t really care for vodka, try this with rum or bourbon. Admittedly, I’ve only used vodka but I’ve had a lot of success making vanilla extract with both bourbon and rum.
2 1/2 cups white sugar
2 cups water
3/4 cup instant or ground espresso
2 vanilla beans, split and scraped
3 cups vodka
Heat sugar and water in a large pot over medium heat. Stir often until sugar is completely dissolved. Then, add the espresso and stir until it has been fully dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside. Mix in vodka, bourbon, or rum.
Split and scrape the vanilla beans and stir the seeds into the coffee mixture. Drop vanilla beans into your bottle or jar (cut them in half if using multiple jars or bottles). Then carefully funnel the mixture into each jar(s) or bottle(s). Give each bottle a shake every few days. The liqueur will be ready in 4 to 6 weeks. Enjoy!