Sunday, November 22, 2009

Meurav Yerushalmi = Divine Street Food

Two of my best friends bought me a subscription to my favorite cooking magazine: Saveur. Not only are the recipes and photos stellar, but they really make an effort to find real, authentic, world cuisine. When I saw they had an Afghan recipe in their collection I knew it was true love.

My first issue arrived and had a mouthwatering set of recipes from Jerusalem (which means basically a mixture of Arab cuisines) , including this recipe for "Meurav Yerushalmi" (Jerusalem Mixed Grill). I didn't have chicken livers or hearts on hand, but breast tenders did the trick!

The cast-iron pan is essential to get the real "charred" feel of the street griddle and get the onions golden and crispy instead of soggy.

Instead of the livers and hearts, I modified the recipe a bit and added fried eggplant slices, a mixed tomato-onion-basil relish and tahini sauce! The result was a rich, oily, but decadent dish that was lightened by the lemony tomato relish. (It's tough to avoid oily when you're cooking with eggplant, but you could bake them for a healthier, al beit drier option.) I served it on Trader Joe's frozen naan instead of pita.

I think the tahini and eggplant really put it over the top - the meat & onion mixture recommended by the recipe would have been a bit drier, but still delicious.

The result blew my mind. It is indescribable comfort food. And fun to boot! It's fast, and you feel like a real street chef with everything cooking so quickly in the smoking hot pan.

It's messy, and that's the way I like it.

Meurav Yerushalmi
Griddled chicken breast with crispy fried onions and spices, served on naan with fried eggplant, lemon-garlic tahini sauce, and mixed tomato relish

On an interesting note, it's incredibly similar to an Afghan dish I've featured here before, Do Piaza, but is quicker since it doesn't simmer the meat at all.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Baklava Recipe

I was typing this recipe up for a friend, so I figured I'd post it here! You may remember the Baklava I made in November. Enjoy!


Recipe from Afghan Food and Cookery by Helen Saberi

Makes about 30 – enough for a large party.


  • 1lb filo
  • Vegetable oil
  • 2 cups ground almonds (can sub. walnuts)
  • 1 cup ground pistachio (this is a big part of the flavor, so try not to sub.)


  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp saffron (generous pinch)
  • 2 tbsps rosewater (A neat variation might be orange blossom water though.)
  • 1/2 tsp ground green cardamom seeds


  • Preheat the oven to 325.
  • Oil an approximately 14x8x2 baking tray (really you can do a lot of shapes).
  • Reserve one quarter of the ground pistachio, and combine the rest of the nuts in a bowl.
  • Lay down one layer of filo, brush it with oil, then layer the next sheet on top until you have 6 layers of filo. Now spread one third of the combined nuts on this layer.
  • Repeat twice so you have 18 total layers and have used all the nuts except the quarter of reserved pistachio.
  • Brush the top layer with oil.
  • Cut strips about 1 ½ inches wide lengthwise, then cut about 45 degrees diagonally across these strips to make diamond shaped pieces.
  • Bake for 35-45 minutes until golden.


Note that you may want to not start this until the pastry is done and cooled.

  • Put the sugar, 1 cup of water, lemon juice, and saffron in a saucepan and bring to a boil slowly to dissolve the sugar.
  • Boil gently until mixture becomes syrupy and sticks to the back of a spoon.
  • Now add the cardamom and rosewater and simmer for another couple minutes.
  • Remove from heat and keep warm.

Combining and Serving:

  • Allow the pastry to cool to room temperature then carefully spoon the prepared syrup all over the pastry. (This reputedly avoids soggy Baklava, though I'm not 100% sure yet.)
  • Add the reserved pistachio on top, let cool again, then serve with good tea.

*Note that Afghans pronounce it with a "w" sound instead of "v".

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Variety Hour: Hummus bi Tahini, Kebab, Sabzi Pilau, and Coffee!

Warning - this is going to be scatter-brained as I'm finally updating with all the things blog-worthy that I've cooked in, wow, over a month! Which has been unfortunately not been a ton =(. School is kind of time consuming, ya know?

First off, I'd like to give credit to Desert Candy's blog for the inspiration for this new attempt at hummus. Reading her blog, I finally realized you have to cook the beans until they are very soft (skins falling off) in order to get that delicious silky-smooth texture that "real" hummus has. The texture was what I always felt my hummus was missing. I guess that's what I get being an Afghan cooking Arab food ;)

Hummus bi Tahini
pureed chickpeas, tahini, garlic, and lemon juice, topped with unfiltered olive oil, sumac, whole chickpeas, and kalamata olives

Definitely leaps and bounds better than hummus I've made in the past! It still needs some tweaking - it could be even more silky...mmm

Unfortunately I made the following dish on a different day - they would have been delicious together!

Kofta Kabob-e-Gusht-e-Gow
Minced beef kabobs flavored with onion, garlic, cilantro, and savory spices, grilled over charcoal and served in flatbread with sliced lemon-juice-marinated red onions, lemon tahini sauce, and spicy yogurt sauce

The grill jockey himself. Aka my buddy Nate who stepped in to help grill =)

Sabzi Pilau
Basmati rice parboiled and baked in the juices of a chicken, spinach, blackeye pea and caramelized onion stew, served with a cherry tomato, cilantro, and red onion salad.

This was a yummy AND cheap meal for the week which kept very well. The method is very similar to all Afghan pilaus - caramelize onions, then add in and sautee meat (typically lamb). When meat is done, add spices (coriander, cardamom, cumin, and cloves or so), then add spinach and blackeye peas. Simmer for half an hour, then pour over parboiled rice and bake for 45 minutes!

This time I tried something a bit different, using black cardamom instead of green. They are actually very different in flavor, but it is commonly used in parts of Afghanistan so I figured I'd give it a shot! It has a really distinctive smoky flavor, and I'm still not sure I liked it in this dish, though I can imagine it growing on me.

In other news, I've become increasingly addicted to coffee.... It really doesn't help that my roommate is a master percolator barista. One of his recent creations, one with milk, one without.

We've also tried grinding up a bit of (green) cardamom and tossing it in with the grounds. Yum. Arab-Italian-Latin American fusion, here we go.

Cafe con Leche y Cafe "Negro"

Really we just liked the colors.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Two Onions....

...and the only thing watering was my mouth. Okay that just sounds awful, but you get the idea? I wasn't drooling into the food, I swear!

I was hungry for a good Afghan treat, but I didn't have a lot of time, so here is an adaptation of a classic rustic Afghan dish:

Do Piazeh (lit: "Two Onions")
Breast of chicken fried with caramelized onions, blackeye peas, turmeric, coriander, cloves, and cardamom, then tossed with fresh red onion soaked in lime juice, served over a bed of mushroom, cilantro, and cinnamon scented couscous and drizzled with lemon-yogurt sauce.

My father actually typically made this dish very similarly - sans the blackeye peas. And of course, no couscous! (Afghanistan does NOT make couscous, but you'll see me use it since it's so easy and tasty.) Traditionally this is served over bread, but we eat it with rice as well.

I was thus a bit confused when I found a recipe for it in my Afghan cookbook, which stated that the meat (lamb) was actually boiled with the red onion first and a bit of split peas, then lifted out of the water when tender and placed on bread with vinegar-soaked yellow onion. I didn't have the time or the lamb to try it this way, but it sounds lovely and very different than the typical Afghan rices and qormas. In any case, this is a kind of quick version that I think is very tasty.

The dish derives its name from the way the "two onions" in the recipe are used - one is cooked (either caramelized in my version or boiled with the meat in the traditional version) and the other is added raw at the end (with a bit of acid to cut the bite).

Needless to say, it was delicious, quick, and has a lot of interesting textures and the contrasting bright flavor from the red onion really lightens the heavy caramelized onion flavor.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Vancouver BC Foodventure

See, I'm not dead...I've just been busy! I haven't cooked anything new lately, but I did get the chance to head up to Vancouver, BC for a day with one of my good buddies, Kirk, for a "foodventure"! While the best food we (probably have ever) had, at Vij's unfortunately couldn't be photographed, our delicious lunch and 4PM dessert were fantastic as well!

Go Fish Ocean Emporium
- probably the best fish and chips I've had (though granted I'm no connoisseur). We both couldn't resist getting the salmon - crispy and delicate, lightly seasoned breading, perfectly flaky moist salmon inside, accompanied by some delicious fries that were nicely crunchy and nothing to laugh at, along with an interesting sesame (think asian fusion) coleslaw. Everything was crisp and refreshing rather than heavy and food-baby inducing!

The only downside was I couldn't resist taking a bite before the picture =)

At about 3PM, walking through Stanley Park in the sunshine, we couldn't help but be a little enticed by the teahouse restaurant on a cliff overlooking the water, just 30' above the beach. We were hungry, but all they had was dessert and beer...and well, that was just fine by us too!

We split an AMAZING Belgian Dark Chocolate Truffle Cake, complete with a chocolate dipped gooseberry (!) on top, drizzled with raspberry sauce. We really weren't expecting much, but we were both blown away! One of the best slices of cake I've ever indulged in, and certianly the most beautifully presented. You can only see the edge, but there is a white and dark flecked chocolate "fan" - I'm not sure what it's called really - on top as well. It's a really thin piece of chocolate with lots of holes in it, shaped like a fan.

We both thought the gooseberry was an heirloom tomato and were very confused but intrigued. I ate it and was still uncertain, but upon asking the waitress found out its true identity - as well as the fact that the gooseberry is related to the tomato, so we weren't so far off!

And of course Kirk got a beer!

I promise more of my own cooking soon =)


If you've never been to Vij's restaurant in Vancouver, you MUST go when you're up there! (Frankly I would almost drive the two hours there just for dinner.) The best modern Indian food I've ever had, and frankly probably my favorite restaurant yet. It is very likely one of the best, and certainly most unique, Indian restaurants in North America. The ambiance is perfect, the service impeccable, and the food still manages to outshine it all. Think Pacific Northwest local ingredients with authentic Indian flavors and cooking techniques. Vij destroys any stereotypes about what "Indian food" has to be; he really elevates it to near haute-cuisine, all while keeping it approachable, with an emphasis on sharing and somehow managing an unpretentious, but (dare I say) sexy vibe in service and decor. There's no "chicken tikka masala" on the menu, nor is there a menu with 90 variations on the same curry base. Everything is delicious, and wholly unique. The menu changes frequently, but he might face mutiny if he took a few favorites, like "Wine Marinated Lamb Popsicles" and "Mutton Kabobs with Bengali style curry" off the menu! By the way, the mutton kabobs are my favorite food. Ever.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Spicy Lamb in Almond Milk

Last night I was free to really cook for the first time in what felt like ages of finals and other my buddy Nate and I whipped this together for a group of hungry friends:

Badami Elachi Gosht (Spicy Lamb in Almond Milk)
Leg of lamb braised in a rich and spicy almond cream sauce, steeped with cardamom and cinnamon, topped with slivered almonds, a sprinkle of Aleppo pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

(doesn't the Hindi name sound so much more "exotic" than it's translation?)

We served it with a traditional tomato-onion relish and...

Saffron and Golden Raisin Chalau
topped with ground pistachio

Yum! The curry was deliciously rich and an interesting change from my usual psuedo-healthy Afghan qorma. Afghans (as far as I have experienced) never use cream in their "curries", which they call "qormas". The typical base is tomato or sometimes yogurt. "Quoroot" (pronunced "Koo-root") is a favorite delicacy I have never gotten a chance to try: salted yogurt set to dry in the sun into small pebble size balls. These are then reconstituted in soups and qormas! Really it was never a delicacy, but merely a method of food preservation, but like the French "confit" and Italian-American "sun-dried tomatoes", the ancient necessary technique becomes an expensive modern delicacy. Though I also have no idea where I could buy "quoroot" in the US...

Anyway, back to the curry! It was from a recipe in my Cooking With Herbs and Spices cookbook. It was also interesting in the way the base of the sauce was blended together first, including the onions and almonds, and then reduced in the pan over a medium flame, which means the onions never were explicitly sauteed, a shocking shift for me. The result was a clean, nearly white sauce. The lamb made it a bit brown but the cream lightened it once again. The pictures have a yellow tint, but that has more to do with the lighting - the final product was just off-white.

The chalau was a simple concoction based on what I've cooked before, but I really like the use of golden raisins rather than regular since the color fit better with the white curry. I was restrained with the saffron, so it left only a mild speckle of yellow and a subtle flavor rather than an explosion of saffron. I wanted to complement the curry, not overpower it.

For dessert, we had delicious mango sorbet from Trader Joe's - if they have it at your local TJ's, pick it up, it's amazing! We blended frozen berries together with cream and drizzled it over for an added effect - Nate's very delicious idea!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Climate change and the unfortunate fate of foods we love

I've heard this idea before - it's really sad to think about losing your favorite foods to climate change (among other factors). There was a great article in Gastronomica a while back about the future of various foods in a climate changed of the total losses was true Basmati rice. India would no longer be able to grow the crop, and it is difficult to replicate the flavors growing it elsewhere, if I remember the article correctly. I don't know what I'd do without Basmati rice!!

In a way, this is the kind of effect of climate change that really hits home; it actually affects your children's dinner table.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

"Creme caramel"...Flan!

I have always been fascinated by the idea and silky golden appearance of flan, yet I can't recall ever seriously getting a chance to try it, that is until I made it! So while I can't say how it compares, I did receive a lot of positive feedback. It's a great recipe!

Cinnamon & Vanilla Flan

The trickiest part is really just caramelizing the sugar. You have to be careful not to burn the sugar, but if you leave the heat too low it simply won't caramelize and will just become a hard, white blob. But by far the coolest thing about it was watching the sugar literally melt. I know this might be obvious to some, but I really didn't expect it to actually do that! And Tyler (the food network host who created the recipe) specifically says not to stir but instead to swirl which actually works fantastically well, and if you try to stir you'll see what happens: not only does it all stick to the spoon, but it is almost impossible to work through the thick goop.

The caramelization occurred almost instantaneously. One second it was white, then another second it turns a beautiful amber color. Be sure to let it continue to caramelize for a minute or so after it starts to change color - this deepens the final color and flavor. When we made this for the fundraiser we didn't caramelize quite enough and it came out closer to yellow. Amber is so much more alluring.

I didn't have a vanilla bean but instead tossed in a bit of vanilla extract in the cream. The cinnamon flavor and vanilla were both almost unnoticable in the final product. Since I love cinnamon, I sprinkled on some mixed with cane sugar at the end. It changes the texture but really brings out the cinnamon!

All in all, it was delicious - rich, silky, and a nice level of sweet.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Rugelach & Persian Party

I find it mildly ironic that two days after having a "brown party" with all my Persian (Iranian), Uzbek, and fellow Afghan friends, I settled on creating my next dessert: Rugelach, one of the most famous Jewish cookies. Ahmadinejad can say what hate he will, but Jewish people know how to eat just (well almost...) as well as we Persians and Afghans - these cookies were fantastic. I've had them quite a number of times at the house of one of my best friends. While I can't say they are quite as good, for a first try they were flaky, crunchy, and moist.

cream cheese pastry rolled with apricot jam, golden raisins, walnuts, dark chocolate, and a hint of cinnamon

Variation: rolled with strawberry jam, dark chocolate, walnuts, coffee bean nibs, and a hint of cardamom

The dough is a cream cheese base and would probably be good on its own! But I made two versions: one almost traditional, stuffed with apricot jam, raisins, chopped walnuts, dark chocolate, and cinnamon. The other version was an experiment, with strawberry jam, chopped walnuts, lots more dark chocolate, coffee bean nibs, and cardamom. They were both quite good, but the coffee nibs were a bit too coarsely chopped and the cinnamon was really yummy in the fruitier traditional version.

A few shots of the Persian potluck (not pictured: lamb qorma, saffron basmati rice)-

Boulanee Kechalu
shallow fried turnover stuffed with potato, leek, green onion and spices, served with mint-garlic sauce

One of my Afghan friends brought this dish - this is the more traditional form of Boulanee - the picture I have from my last Afghan party is of a deep fried, smaller version my mom used to make. This version, while not as bite size and crunchy, is actually in some ways tastier, as you get more filling per bite.

Burani Bonjon
fried eggplant slices braised in garlic, chopped heirloom tomatoes, and spices. Served on a platter of mint-garlic yogurt sauce and garnished with cilantro.

You may be wondering why I keep making this dish and Boulanee - it's because they are such crowd pleasers! Afghans are famous for Burani Bonjon especially. One of my friend's mothers was in shock and awe (that phrase is forever ruined) after first trying it at Kabul, Seattle's only Afghan restaurant.

This was probably the best rendition I've ever made. The key is to dry the eggplants well before frying, like a steak, then drain them well of oil afterwards. My mother's tip also helped immensely - cut them into semicircular slices and they don't fall apart! Also, I put in some dried heirloom tomatoes from the farmer's market - OH MY GOD. If you can find them at your local farmer's market BUY THEM NOW. They are the most delicious tomatoes I've ever eaten after they puffed up in the steam of the braise. Better than fresh, I swear. I actually need to go buy some more right now...!

Traditional Afghan custard with rosewater and cardamom, topped with ground pistachio and served in individual glasses.

We're planning to serve this one in cocktail glasses if we can for the fundraiser...sexing up Afghan food is no small task. It's rustic and delicious by nature. But we can be hoity-toity if we need to. =)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Breakfast at Dinnertime

A couple weeks back I decided to have breakfast at dinnertime...but "breakfast for dinner" just doesn't quite sound right.

I'm still working on french toast - it's tough to get it perfectly balanced - crunchy and moist, not too much or too little's deceptively simple.

Essential Baking Co. Raisin Pecan Loaf Orange-Cinnamon French Toast
served with orange slices, powdered sugar, and a drizzle of decadent vanilla and dark brown sugar caramel sauce

It was pretty yummy, but by far the best part was the vanilla caramel sauce - deliciously rich. I'm not too experienced with making caramel, but I winged it based on a similar sauce from the Walnut Gateau I made just a few days prior. I caramelized the sugar in butter, then added in whipping cream until the consistency was just right. A splash of vanilla and bam! Done. Healthy? No way. Yummy? ohh yes.

It's a work in progress to be sure, but it is a great use for day old bread. This loaf thanks to my buddy Nate, who knows the ins and outs of the bread dumpster!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Baking 101 for Ali Baba

Baking 101

For Engineers Without Borders UW Chapter's famous Dessert, Wine, and Cheese fundraiser, I've been practicing baking along with a couple other culinarily inclined members. We're getting ready for the weekend before the event, where we will each take on about 10 different desserts (and probably multiple of many of these) and try to pump them out with bakery quality and speed, with a few helpers. I volunteered myself, even though I had barely ever baked in my life before the past few months. Sure I'd helped a few friends make cookies or something of the sort, but my mother rarely baked, and so by extension, neither did I.

Needless to say, it's been a quick education! But one that has given me an excuse to fill in a sad gap in my techniques. Typically I would shy away from the unhealthy and unnecessary nature of desserts, despite how delicious they are. However, now I have a good reason to fatten up my roommates and myself...and learn a thing or two in the process. ;)

The below recipe was out of my friend Nate's Seriously Simple cookbook.

Caramelized Pear and Almond Upside Down Cake
with a caramel glaze

This was absolutely fantastic! The pears were caramelized in a 9" frying pan with the butter and brown sugar, then the batter poured on top and the whole thing baked for an hour. Inverted, it looks like that! The batter had an entire cup of ground blanched almonds, which pretty much defined the flavor, but not overpoweringly. A bit of a kick comes from a quarter cup of orange mango juice thrown in! Really great, crumby texture, with a crisp, buttery crust and a moist interior, all topped with the caramelized pear slices!

Meatily Delicious Sauce

I've been slowly converted to cooking Italian dishes like one of my favorite cookbooks, Donaldo Soviero's La Vera Cucina Italiana, would suggest - with the best possible ingredients (within reason) and with simple, subtle flavors. Along this line, for one of my best friends' birthday I whipped up a dish I'd been meaning to try...

Sugo di Carne
Leg of Lamb steaks braised in San Marzano Tomatoes, Cabernet Sauvignon, and aromatics, fork shredded and tossed with Fettucine and topped with Pecorino Romano and Parsley

Kudos to my buddy and amateur chef Noam for helping me figure out the best way to present it - he says they try to "twist" the spaghetti into a spiral on the plate. Easier said than done...but I got halfway there!

The lamb steaks were on the bone, so the sauce was all the richer from the deep flavors of the long braised bone pieces. The steaks were seared after the soffritto (mire poix) of carrot, celery, and onion was sauteed. After a quick deglaze with a cup of wine, the San Marzano (canned Italian whole tomatoes with what many consider the best flavor for sauces) went in and the whole dish braised for about an hour. At the end, the lamb was shreddable with the back of a fork! Completely succulent. The sauce was very simple, but delectably illustrated by the birthday boy:

Monday, January 12, 2009

How Afghans eat...and new camera!

Let me preface this with a bit of my own history. Since I was a little boy, I would watch my mother cook for literally an entire day, or half a day frantically, whenever we had guests. The end result would be a spread of delectable Afghan dishes that would blow any buffet out of the water. I also experienced the same whenever we would visit other families for dinner. I couldn't really speak the language yet, and usually didn't like my parent's friends' kids, so really the only way they got my lazy butt to go was the food, which I would endure four hours of boredom for without missing a beat.

Maybe this explains why I almost always make ridiculously elaborate meals for guests. That, and I love to cook and am a bit of a perfectionist.

After the whole shebang was over, as I told my friend Nate, I wanted to try to make it all seem even more "effortless" next time, to which he replied, "Maybe you should just make it effortless next time." Not bad advice. But I just can't help it!

I also just got a Nikon D40 DSLR, so expect a bit better food pictures, though until (if I can afford one) I get a good macro lens, my point and shoot actually takes better close-ups.

This was a dinner party for eight.

Boulanee Kechalu
Deep Fried Spicy Potato-Leek Samosas, served with a garlic-yogurt dip (not shown)

Burani Bonjon
Eggplant slices fried in hot oil, then braised in garlic, spices, and tomato. Served with garlic-yogurt sauce (not shown)

Qorma Sabzi
Spinach stewed with black eye peas, caramelized onion, garlic, and spices, topped with fresh cilantro.

Cumin scented, turmeric colored basmati rice, with a hint of cinnamon.

For some reason I forgot to take a picture of the Kafta Kabobs and salate!

The dishes were a big hit! I attempted to lightly coat the kafta (ground beef) kabobs with besan (chickpea) flour before deep frying them, which I think added a nice crunchy exterior. However, I used grass-fed beef, which is much harder to get to come out tender, so it was a little tougher than expected. You really have to undercook it a bit - medium at most. I also (doh!) put the kabobs in the oven to keep warm and then put bread in to warm up at 300 if they weren't overcooked before, they definitely got a bit overdone then!

More pictures, from a different dinner party the day before (cooking overload! but my roommate made the curry in this one)

Dessert first - which I made.

Walnut and Date Gateau
with dark brown sugar glaze


No time for more discussion, have to check on my Sugo di Carne!