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Tag Archives: middle eastern

Moroccan Carrot Soup

I have always been a huge fan of soups and it’s made round the year in my home. But during winter, the frequency increases manifold. After all, what can be more comforting than a steaming hot bowl of soup on cold, wintry nights!

While I make a lot of soups at home, many of the recipes do not make it to the blog. But with increasing requests from readers, especially during this season, I have decided to update the blog with more recipes, both vegetarian and non vegetarian. Starting with this delicious Moroccan Carrot Soup….

Moroccan Carrot Soup - thespiceadventuress.com

Carrot is a much loved vegetable in our home. It’s one I can get Sam to eat without any fuss and as for Adi, he behaves like Bugs Bunny around it. Even though I have made carrot soup plenty of times, I have never tried the Moroccan style before. But the memory of having it at one of our favourite Middle Eastern restaurants has always stayed in my mind. The spices used to flavour the soup make it a standout and really intensifies the sweetness of the carrots.

Then I came upon a carrot soup recipe by Rebecca Katz, which calls for saffron as a special ingredient. Now that was interesting and I really wanted to give it a try to experience what saffron adds in terms of flavour to a soup like this.

And it turned out beautiful. A tiny pinch of saffron is enough for a dish like this or it will overpower the flavours completely and totally ruin it. But in the right amount, it works magic along with the other spices to make this the best carrot soup ever.

Kept the garnish simple and traditional, with sourdough croutons, coriander leaves and a pinch of paprika.

And before we get on to the recipe, here are five of my all time favourite soups….

Potato and Parsnip Soup

Beer and Cheddar Soup

Scandinavian Pumpkin and Potato Soup

Butternut Squash Soup

Chicken Noodle Soup with Brown Mushrooms

Moroccan Carrot Soup - thespiceadventuress.com

Ingredients:

  1. 1 kg carrot; cut into chunks
  2. 1 onion; diced
  3. 1 celery stick; diced
  4. 3 tbsp olive oil
  5. 1 tsp ground cumin
  6. ½ tsp ground coriander
  7. 1 tsp chilli flakes (optional)
  8. 1 dried bay leaf
  9. Salt, to season
  10. A pinch of saffron (soaked in 2 tbsp warm milk)
  11. 1 litre vegetable stock
  12. 1 tsp lemon zest + lemon juice

To garnish:

  1. Sourdough croutons
  2. Sweet paprika
  3. Coriander leaves

Method:

  1. In a large pot, heat oil and add the onions, celery and carrots. Cook on high heat for 5 minutes with regular stirring.
  2. Then add the bay leaf, cumin powder, coriander powder, chilli flakes, saffron with milk and vegetable stock. Season with salt and mix well to combine.
  3. Bring to boil and then simmer gently till the carrots are completely cooked (takes about 20-25 minutes).
  4. Cool slightly and add the lemon zest. Blend into a soup like consistency using a stick blender. If using a mixer, blend in batches.
  5. Return to heat and add half of the lemon juice. Taste and add more if necessary. Also add water to get the desired consistency if the soup feels too thick.
  6. Serve warm garnished with croutons, fresh coriander leaves and a pinch of sweet paprika.

Moroccan Carrot Soup - thespiceadventuress.com

 

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Moroccan Lamb Chops + Snippets from my Early Easter Party

It was an early Easter party for us this year. Actually totally unplanned; it was meant to be a barbecue party with a few friends which eventually turned out to be sort of an Easter lunch.

Succulent - thespiceadventuress.com

Before we get to the party and the recipes, let me share with you the story of my Weber and how it came into our lives. Way back in 2013, when I had just started blogging, I came across a giveaway hosted by Kikkoman in association with Weber. The prize pack was the new Kikkoman condiments being released that year along with a Weber Q200.

And on a lark I participated (I enter a lot of giveaways guys and its pretty common knowledge amongst my friends) and won!

The prize pack arrived and the interesting bit is that we were living in an apartment at that time where the Weber could not be used. And it stayed in a box for the longest time till we moved homes late last year. So finally the Weber that I got in 2013 was inaugurated in 2016 for a Christmas party. So naturally we are very excited to use it after waiting all these years that every party planned eventually ends up as a barbecue themed one.

There were a few recipes I had scheduled to be developed and photographed for the blog as well as clients and two of these fit in perfectly for the party menu. So the idea of a casual get together turned into an early Easter party. And coupled with other dishes, we soon had a feast on our table.

So here’s what I had on the menu for the day…

For starters, we had Cajun sausages and grilled corn.

The recipe for Cajun sausages has been there on the blog for the longest time and is a favourite in our home. It’s quick to put together and hence features regularly on our weekend entertaining.

No barbecue would be complete without grilled corn and we had it the classic way, rubbed with butter, lemon and chilli powder (substitute with paprika for less heat).

Cajun sausages, a delicious party starter - thespiceadventuress.com

Grilled corn with butter, lemon and chilli - thespiceadventuress.com

For mains, we had two meat dishes – Moroccan lamb chops and the Middle Eastern style beef kofta platter.

I have been dying to try out Noha’s beef kofta recipe for the longest time and this seemed to be the perfect occasion for it. No adaptations or tweaks; just followed the recipe as such. And yes, good quality beef mince with a bit of fat is highly recommended.

If you aren’t already following her, please do for all the deliciousness she puts up on her space.

Middle Eastern beef kofta platter - thespiceadventuress.com

Coming to Moroccan lamb chops, I had to share it with you guys because it’s simple, tastes awesome and everytime I have made it, it’s been a big hit.

Lamb chops with a bit of fat attached is recommended especially while grilling because it helps keep the meat moist and tender. The marination is simple and is best done a day ahead. I have frenched the lamb chops because it looks nice and pretty that way but you don’t strictly need to.

Moroccan lamb chops - thespiceadventuress.com

Moroccan lamb chops - thespiceadventuress.com

Our choice of wine for the day was the Yering Station Pinot Noir 2015, a really balanced wine on the palate with hints of cherries, dark berries and savoury forest floor spice. I loved the fact that the tannins are not overpowering and has a delicate finish, thus pairing beautifully with grilled Moroccan lamb chops.

Yering Station Pinot Noir 2015 - thespiceadventuress.com

Moroccan lamb chops - thespiceadventuress.com

Recipe adapted from Cooking with Alia

Ingredients:

  1. 1 kg lamb chops; frenched
  2. ½ cup fresh flat leaf parsley; finely chopped
  3. ½ cup fresh coriander leaves; finely chopped
  4. ½ cup fresh mint leaves; finely chopped
  5. Salt; to season
  6. ½ cup olive oil
  7. 3-4 garlic cloves; grated
  8. 1 tbsp paprika
  9. 1 tsp red chilli powder
  10. 1 tsp cumin seeds; crushed

Method:

  • In a bowl, mix the herbs and spices with olive oil.
  • Add the lamb chops; season with salt and allow to marinate for at least 6 hours, overnight if possible.
  • Grill on high heat on both sides till done.
  • Enjoy!

And finally it was time for dessert. I had created an Easter themed icecream cake as a guest post for Stuff Mums Like. Since it was a warm day, the icecream cake made the perfect dessert to end our happy meal.

Easter themed icecream cake with chocolate nest - thespiceadventuress.com

An extremely simple one, this cake consists of three different icecream layers on a base of cookie crumble. Store bought icecreams were used; saves time and great for parties. Choose whichever flavours you prefer and the number of layers too. A totally customizable cake, it’s great for birthday parties too especially if you are hosting one at home for children.

The addition of the chocolate nest and chocolate filled Easter eggs add that special touch of festivity.

So hop over to their website for the full recipe.

Easter themed icecream cake with chocolate nest - thespiceadventuress.com

ARZ Lebanese Cuisine, Dandenong (Melbourne) – a Review

ARZ was first recommended to me by a senior official at the Dandenong council. Knowing my extreme fondness for Middle Eastern cuisine, she suggested the place and wanted to know what I thought of the food. While this conversation took place almost a year ago, I somehow never managed to visit ARZ till 2 weeks ago.

ARZ has changed ownership recently (we had a great conversation with the head chef post dinner) so I cannot do any comparison between the old and new.

ARZ Lebanese Cuisine, Dandenong (Melbourne) – a Review - thespiceadventuress.com

On arriving, we realized that there was a private party happening and since it was in the main dining area, we were not sure if the restaurant was open for public. Within seconds, the staff came out to greet us and informed that the restaurant was open to all as long as we don’t mind the extra bit of activity and music that was happening. She also suggested that we could sit outdoors if we felt that it was noisy inside.

We were quite glad to be seated outdoors because it was a beautiful evening and the weather was just perfect for an outside dining experience. Must say that the dining space inside the restaurant is beautiful with textured walls, low lighting and plush seating and outside, it’s rather basic with plastic chairs and tables but that did not deter us one bit.

Moreover my husband had also noticed that many people sitting outside were using the sheesha/shisha. And on enquiring, the staff said that the sheesha could only be used outdoors which reinforced our decision to sit outdoors.

ARZ Lebanese Cuisine, Dandenong (Melbourne) – a Review - thespiceadventuress.com

ARZ has a really good menu to give you a glimpse into traditional Lebanese cuisine. Instead of a-la-carte, we decided to go for the banquet option so that we could have a taste of many dishes. The banquet we chose has no dessert options but a range of savoury dishes as outlined below;

The first to arrive at the table was the cold mezze which included a trio of dips – hummus, garlic tahini dip and beetroot dip along with bread and tabbouleh. Classics done well but that beetroot dip deserves extra mention because it was really delicious.

ARZ Lebanese Cuisine, Dandenong (Melbourne) – a Review - thespiceadventuress.com

Soon arrived the hot mezze…Lebanese sausages grilled to perfection (really delicious), chicken livers cooked with onions and spices (another fabulous dish) and a platter of falafels, fried kibbeh, pickles, onions with sumac, all served on a bed of lettuce. While all the dishes were excellent, the sausages and falafels stood out to me personally as the most delicious.

ARZ Lebanese Cuisine, Dandenong (Melbourne) – a Review - thespiceadventuress.com

ARZ Lebanese Cuisine, Dandenong (Melbourne) – a Review - thespiceadventuress.com

ARZ Lebanese Cuisine, Dandenong (Melbourne) – a Review - thespiceadventuress.com

To be pretty honest, we were quite full already and didn’t mind the fact that the next course took a while to come out. And while we were waiting, we decided to order for a Sheesha and chose the double green apple flavour…our first Sheesha experience in Melbourne. While I do not smoke or encourage smoking of any kind, the Sheesha was more of a fun experience than anything else.

ARZ Lebanese Cuisine, Dandenong (Melbourne) – a Review - thespiceadventuress.com

And then it was time for the grilled meats to arrive…a platter laden with chips, chicken skewers, lamb seekh kebabs and beef skewers topped with more of the sumac spiced onions. The skewers were pretty similar to many others I have had at other Middle Eastern restaurants. The lamb kebabs were really good but the beef was not tender enough to be enjoyed. And while the chips have become standard fare in Australia, I would have preferred a salad instead.

ARZ Lebanese Cuisine, Dandenong (Melbourne) – a Review - thespiceadventuress.com

Desserts are not a part of the banquet; would have been nice to have a traditional one included to complete the meal experience. But there are a few on the dessert menu that you could try out.

The hospitality and service at ARZ is commendable; the staff are attentive and make you really feel welcome. We also got the opportunity to have a good chat with the Chef and hear about his passion for the cuisine.

Will I go back? Yes, most definitely….

ARZ Lebanese Cuisine

Shop 2, 78 Cheltenham Road
Dandenong
Victoria 3175

Phone no: 03 8743 3929/03 9799  0999

Website: http://www.arzlebanesecuisine.com.au/

ARZ Lebanese Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Disclaimer – Not a sponsored post!

Grilled Chicken Skewers (with Fresh Herbs and Chillies)

I have a small balcony garden at home, not too many plants but I do grow most of the herbs and a few leafy greens. And the hailstorm that we experienced last week was not very complimentary to my gardening efforts. Since I do not have too much space inside my apartment to move all the plants, I decided to be selective and move in only the curry leaves and basil along with a few other ornamental ones. But with the wind raging all day, all my herbs took a real beating. And then the hail started!

Hailstorm in Melbourne - thespiceadventuress.com

Since I wasn’t sure if the plants were going to survive, I cut off all the herbs and thus ended up with a huge amount of parsley and a bit of coriander, mint and some rosemary too.

I didn’t want the herbs to just wilt off in the fridge especially the parsley so decided I must do something delicious with it. Chimichurri came to my mind immediately especially since I have made it before. I had some chicken thigh fillets stocked too so the decision was made; I will grill the chicken and have it with the chimichurri. But tweaking is something I love to do and what I finally ended up with was these absolutely gorgeous Grilled Chicken Skewers with fresh herbs and chillies.

Herby and delicious - Grilled Chicken Skewers (with Fresh Herbs and Chillies) - thespiceadventuress.com

Veered away from the traditional chimichurri as I was thinking of a marinade and not a sauce. So I wanted more flavour which is why the fresh red chillies and ginger ended up in it. Along with the freshness from the parsley, coriander and basil, this marinade has the depth of flavour from the aromatics and that mild kick from the chillies. Long red chillies which are not very fiery are best for this style of marinade.

Herby and delicious - Grilled Chicken Skewers (with Fresh Herbs and Chillies) - thespiceadventuress.com

Herby and delicious - Grilled Chicken Skewers (with Fresh Herbs and Chillies) - thespiceadventuress.com

The chicken skewers turned out so good that I decided to share it with all of you. An extremely easy dish to make, hardly any prep work except for chopping up some herbs and a very affordable one too especially if you grow herbs. Perfect for an easy and healthy weekday dinner.

We had these grilled chicken skewers Middle Eastern style served up on my trusted wooden board. So pita bread, chicken skewers, garlic dip, tzatziki, olives and a green salad. Even better the next day to take to work….just put it all into the pita and roll it up for a delicious wrap for lunch. Winner, isn’t it!

Herby and delicious - Grilled Chicken Skewers (with Fresh Herbs and Chillies) - thespiceadventuress.com

Hope all of you enjoy these grilled chicken skewers (with fresh herbs and chillies). And if you make it, I would so love to see it so please tag me in all your pictures using #thespiceadventuress. Have a great weekend folks!

Herby and delicious - Grilled Chicken Skewers (with Fresh Herbs and Chillies) - thespiceadventuress.com

Herby and delicious - Grilled Chicken Skewers (with Fresh Herbs and Chillies) - thespiceadventuress.com

Ingredients:

  1. 500gms chicken; cubed into even sized pieces
  2. 2 heaped tbsps herb marinade
  3. Salt; to season
  4. Juice of half a lemon
  5. Bamboo skewers

Herb Marinade:

  • 1 cup parsley; finely chopped
  • ½ cup fresh coriander leaves; finely chopped
  • ¼ cup fresh basil; finely chopped
  • 3 medium garlic cloves; grated
  • ½ inch ginger; grated
  • 1 ½ fresh red chillies (long variety); seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 ½ cups olive oil
  • Salt; to season

Method:

  • Soak the bamboo skewers in water for 15 minutes to prevent burning.
  • To prepare the herb marinade, place all the ingredients in a bowl and add the olive oil. Season with salt.
  • Place the cubed chicken pieces in a bowl and add the marinade, salt and lemon juice. Mix well to combine.
  • Skewer the chicken pieces and allow to refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  • Heat a grill pan (or frying pan) to high and place the skewers on top. Since olive oil is already added to the marinade, no extra oil is required.
  • When grilled on one side, turn over, baste with more marinade and cook. Repeat till you get good caramelization all over and then finish off in the oven (another 2-3 minutes). You can continue to baste with the marinade as required.
  • Serve warm with dips, salad and pita bread.

Note – The marinade can be prepared in bulk; stays well in the refrigerator for upto 3 days and upto a month if  frozen.

Herby and delicious - Grilled Chicken Skewers (with Fresh Herbs and Chillies) - thespiceadventuress.com

Herby and delicious - Grilled Chicken Skewers (with Fresh Herbs and Chillies) - thespiceadventuress.com

 

 

 

 

 

Feast of Merit, Richmond – a Review

Enter Swan Street and you are spoilt for choice when it comes to food.

There are so many cuisines to choose from, interesting looking cafes and restaurants, quirky spaces, hot spots…plenty to choose from which can be a bit daunting. But if you are willing to take a chance and follow your instincts, then you are likely to end up with some great food and equally great experiences.

That is exactly what happened last week while we were out shopping in Richmond. Seeing the number of choices, our first instinct was to pull out our phones for the Zomato app and check for good restos which we did too. But then it got a bit overwhelming because of the vast number of choices so we decided to do our random test. Walk into a place that catches our fancy, an experiment of sorts guided by our instincts.

And that’s how we ended up outside Feast of Merit; a quick look at its front door and we decided that this was the place for us.

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Stepping inside Feast of Merit was like stepping inside another world. From the din and bustle of the outside world, the ambience of this restaurant offers you an escape into a relaxed, peaceful and content atmosphere. There is a distinct charm to the place that comes collectively from the décor, service, food and drinks.

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We came to learn that Feast of Merit is a communal dining space and a YGAP initiative. YGAP is a social organization that focuses on education and youth programmes in several different countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ghana, Rwanda, Malawi and Australia.

The concept of a communal dining space was inspired by a practice called ‘Feast of Merit’ practiced in Nagaland, a state in North East India. There is a beautiful hand written board inside for the readers to understand more about this concept and what it means.

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Since we walked in early evening, the staff informed us that lunch time was over but there was a small snacks menu that we could choose from. We were comfortably seated though we would have preferred a larger table; when the dishes eventually came, there was a fair bit of juggling happening.

There is a well stocked bar with a really good mix of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks; also on the menu were healthy options like smoothies (for breakfast) and kombucha.

The menu is predominantly Middle Eastern with a touch of Modern Australian; a delicious combination I must say.

Sam opted for the Bicycle Beer while I chose a glass of ’14 Alta ‘for Elise’ Pinot Noir Rose. The wine was refreshing, light and went beautifully with the snack menu while Sam couldn’t stop raving about the beer.

Bicycle Beer, ’14 Alta ‘for Elise’ Pinot Noir Rose

Bicycle Beer, ’14 Alta ‘for Elise’ Pinot Noir Rose

From the snacks menu, we opted for a couple of dishes since the portions were small. The first to arrive was za’atar flatbread with hummus and beetroot dip. Oh my! Delicious is the word. I fell in love with the bread which was soft, generously spiced with za’atar and olive oil. I make a great hummus myself so was impressed with the quality of this one too. But it was the beetroot dip that stole my heart. Luscious, sweet and spiced just right to bring out the sweetness of the beets.

za’atar flatbread with hummus and beetroot dip

za’atar flatbread with hummus and beetroot dip

The next dish we ordered was the soup of the moment (like the surprise factor!), again served with the delicious za’atar flatbread. The soup turned out to be a delicious carrot soup, yet another dish to fall in love with. Luscious, creamy, sweet and spicy, I totally recommend this one if you are a soup lover.

Carrot soup with za'atar flatbread

Carrot soup with za’atar flatbread

Next was the Makaneh sausage with tahini labneh and pickled onions. Absolutely delicious, this one took me back to my childhood, the aroma of old Dubai. There is a fair bit of spice in the sausage which goes beautifully against the labneh; another great dish to sample.

Makaneh sausage with tahini labneh and pickled onions

Makaneh sausage with tahini labneh and pickled onions

And finally came the triple cooked spiced lamb croquettes with whey dressing….yet another delicious dish to complete the meal. We also got a plate of pickled vegetables to accompany this amazing feast. The croquettes were crispy with a delicious lamb filling and spiced just perfectly.

triple cooked spiced lamb croquettes with whey dressing

triple cooked spiced lamb croquettes with whey dressing

Overall, an amazing experience. We thoroughly enjoyed the food and drinks making it a point to visit again for lunch or dinner. The prices are on the slightly higher end but with a good cause being supported, we were only glad to contribute. A place I would totally recommend to all those who love Middle Eastern flavours.

And an event to attend if any of you are interested;

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My rating – 8/10

Feast of Merit

117 Swan Street
Richmond
Melbourne, Victoria

Phone no. 03 9428 8480
Website: http://www.feastofmerit.com/

Timings:

Monday: 7.30am to 3.00pm
Tuesday to Friday: 7.30am to 11.30pm
Saturday, Sunday: 8.00am to 11.30pm

Click to add a blog post for Feast of Merit on Zomato

Disclaimer – Not a sponsored post; all the food and drinks were paid for by me.

Baba Ghanouj with Minced Lamb and Pine Nuts

As I have always said, food can be a glorious medium to break barriers and make friends from around the globe.

Such is my friendship with Feda Queen (isn’t it a beautiful name!). I have never met Feda or know much about her except that she hails from Lebanon and lives in Sydney. I also know that she is an amazing cook, willing to share her wealth of knowledge about Lebanese cooking to all those who wish to learn.

I ‘virtually’ met Feda on Facebook and was instantly drawn to her honest, down-to-earth, style of cooking. Soon, she became my window into the world of everyday Lebanese cooking. It was an eye-opener, really – my experience of the cuisine so far was based on memories of childhood tastes and a bunch of cookbooks.

Feda enjoys cooking for her family and she takes great pride in it in spite of having a full time banking career. She runs a small Facebook group, just a bunch of us who really want to learn Lebanese cuisine. No marketing, no unnecessary chit chats; just food in all its honesty for a bunch of us hungry souls.

Most of us would have heard of Baba Ghanouj – the eggplant and sesame seed dip which comes a close second to hummus in terms of popularity. This dip which is often a part of the mezze platter originated in the regions of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

I have made Baba Ghanouj plenty of times. In spite of being a ‘non-eggplant’ lover, I love the smoky, charred flavours that the eggplants lend to this creamy, slightly tangy dip. But Feda introduced me to a different version of eating Baba Ghanouj – topped with spiced minced lamb and toasted pine nuts.

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My instant reaction on seeing this dish was WOW! That’s a complete dinner….some freshly baked pita and a fresh salad would make a great weekday dinner. This dish hardly takes much time and is a great way of bringing the family together. Don’t bother with individual plates; you have to eat it the Middle Eastern way. A big platter of Baba Ghanouj with the lamb and nuts, a bowl of salad and pitas on the side – all the family members coming together and sharing from a single plate, amidst plenty of talking, giggling and smiles. It’s such an enriching and happy experience.

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Now this is a dish for both the vegetarians and non vegetarians. If you eat lamb, you can enjoy the whole dish but if you don’t, then you still have the Baba Ghanouj – a deliriously flavoursome dip with the smokiness of the roasted eggplants married with the creamy nuttiness of the tahina (sesame seed paste), some tanginess from the yoghurt and a good drizzle of olive oil and lemon. And top it off with some gently spiced lamb mince and toasted pine nuts.

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Ingredients:

To make Baba ghanouj:

1. 2 large eggplant/aubergine/brinjal (purple variety)
2. 1 big lemon
3. ¼ cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
4. 2 garlic cloves
5. Salt, to season
6. 1-2 tbsp natural yoghurt
7. ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

To make the minced lamb topping:

8. 500 gms of minced lamb
9. 2 medium onions, finely chopped
10. 1 hot red chilli, finely chopped
11. 2 large tomatoes, finely chopped
12. 1 tbsp tomato paste
13. 1 tbsp chilli paste/sauce
14. Salt, to season
15. Freshly milled black pepper, to season
16. 2 tbsp ghee/clarified butter
17. 2-3 tbsp pine nuts, toasted

Method:

To make the Baba ghanouj:

• Grill the eggplant till the outsides are really charred and the flesh inside has become soft. (I do it on the stove top but you can use an oven or a charcoal fire). Cover with a cloth and keep aside for 2 minutes.
• Peel the skin off while still warm; cut and chop the flesh roughly.
• Place in a mortar and pestle, food processor or grinder and add garlic, tahini, yoghurt and half of the lemon juice. Blend for a minute or two.
• Season with salt and check the taste. Add more tahini or lemon juice if necessary.
• Transfer to a large serving plate and drizzle the olive oil on top. If you prefer a creamier consistency, add the olive oil and blend again.
Note – Some households add parsley too though I didn’t.


To make the minced lamb topping:

• In a large pan, heat ghee and add the minced lamb; fry for a couple of minutes till it has browned lightly.
• Add the diced onions, followed by the rest of the ingredients except pine nuts. Fry till the tomatoes have broken down and the moisture absorbed.
• Toast the pine nuts taking care not to burn.
• Cool slightly and spoon over the baba ghanouj.
• Garnish with the toasted pine nuts.

Though a tabbouleh would have been a good accompaniment to the meal, I made an avocado salsa along with Lebanese pita breads to complete the meal.

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Shorbat Adas – Arabian Lentil Soup

The past week was a busy, hectic and demanding one with the new blog and other writing commitments. I also went into a ‘cooking overdrive’ trying out and experimenting with different types of dishes and cuisines. And the result - thoroughly burned out by Friday, desperately needing a weekend break from the kitchen.

All I wanted to do was put my feet up with my favourite book and a glass of wine. Cooking was the last thing on my mind and I could see the ‘poor us’ look on my son’s and hubby’s face. With winter attacking us in full force (Melbourne witnessed one of the harshest winter with temperatures dropping sub-zero last week), going out to dinner was not the best idea either. Only the ‘takeaway God’ could help us!

We live in a highly multicultural suburb and there are plenty of eateries and restaurants specializing in all kinds of cuisines. But it is a pity that most of these do not offer home delivery and if they do, the minimum price is set so high which makes the whole process way too expensive. Fast food seems to be the only affordable choice here and honestly, I am tired of the burgers, pizzas and pastas.

Well, the takeaway turned out to be pizzas as always but to lift my spirits; I decided to have a long chat with one of my girlfriends who reside in Mumbai (India). My bestie is a chronic takeaway eater; she spends half of her life inside the Mumbai local travelling to and fro from work and cooking is the last thing on her mind when she reaches home. As I started to complain to her, she asked me if there aren’t any online food delivery systems like Foodpanda out here.

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Naturally, this piqued my interest and after some Google hopping, I realized that this online food delivery system operates in more than 40 countries with a large presence in India as well. Pity, they haven’t entered the Australian market or I am sure, I will be one of their first customers. My friend said she loved the fact that the site also offers a ‘cash on delivery’ option as she is not too keen about online payments. And of course, the discounts and offers only add more appeal making takeaways an affordable option. Foodpanda operates in many Indian cities including Mumbai, so do visit the site to find out if your city is covered. And if you are using a smartphone, you can even download an app for the same.

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Is this post going on and on? Guess so….ok, let’s jump over quickly to today’s dish.

Shorbat Adas or Arabian lentil soup is a dish very close to my heart because it is from my childhood. While living in Dubai, one of our favourite takeaway joint (see, I go off to takeaways again!) was Al Usman restaurant; they sold the most ah’mazing tikkas and kebabs. But my favourite was this sweet and sour simple lentil soup.

I have searched this recipe for years; I had no clue of its name or ingredients except for the taste of this soup which I had cherished forever in my taste buds’ memory. And now, I have found it.

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Shorbat adas is very famous across Middle East and is often served free of cost. There are several different variations; some add pieces of leftover lamb or use meat stock for added flavour. In Morocco, you can find a thicker version using only red lentils and lamb. Here, I have used homemade chicken stock to add that extra body of flavour but you can keep it vegetarian by using vegetable stock or just water.

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The sour tanginess of the citrus paves way for the sweet smokiness of the caramelized onions ending with the robust simplicity of cumin spiced lentils. In culinary heaven!

Recipe Courtesy - Traditional Arabic Cooking by Miriam Al Hashimi

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Ingredients:

1. 250gm lentils (soup mix), you can use just one type of lentils also
2. 2 red onion, sliced finely
3. ½ tsp roasted ground cumin
4. 2 tbsp lemon juice (variable)
5. vegetable oil, to fry the onions
6. salt, to season
7. freshly milled black pepper, to season
8. 1 cup homemade chicken stock
9. water

Method:

1. Soak the lentils for at least an hour (it really helps to cook the lentils faster) and cook till mushy.
2. Meanwhile, sauté and caramelize half the onions and keep aside. Fry the remaining half onions till crispy brown but not burnt.
3. Once the lentils get cooked, mash well and add the caramelized onions, ground cumin, chicken stock and cook on low heat for another 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. The consistency of this soup is quite runny but you can add less stock/water and thicken it up.
4. Remove from heat and add lemon juice. Add one tsp, taste and keep adding till the right balance of sour, salty and sweet has been achieved. I like the tang and used about 2 tbsp but it might vary according to your taste preferences.
5. Garnish with crispy fried onions.
6. Serve hot with bread.

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I served this simple yet flavourful soup in my new Akasuzki bowls which I won in a giveaway hosted by Nami of justonecookbook (the blog to be if you are interested in Japanese cuisine). Yes, it is a Japanese brand and sells beautiful Japanese products but I have used it for my Arabian lentil soup. It’s a small world, isn’t it!

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Iftar with Roz ma mucasarat (Arabian Rice with Nuts and Saffron)

Before I start off about this delicious, fragrant rice dish, I have a serious bit of news for all my readers. Due to copyright and legal issues, I am forced to change the name of my blog. It has been an emotional past one week ever since it was bought to my notice that my blog name resembles a company which has trademarked the term ‘skinny chef’. And so, I am left with no choice but go for a complete name change.

After a lot of brainstorming, I have shortlisted a couple of names and will soon be deciding on one. But this is going to be really difficult; it is almost as if I am having an identity crisis wondering if it is going to affect all the hard work I have put in the last one year. But then I think – my readers are here for the food, the recipes; not because of my blog’s name. And this thought gives me a lot of confidence to go ahead with this task. Please do let me know all of your thoughts on this; every opinion would count and mean a lot to me.

So, don’t be surprised to see a new blog name popping on your screen soon; it’s still me!

Ok, let’s talk of happy things now like today’s dish – Arabian rice with nuts and saffron.

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A rich, decadent rice dish but an extremely simple one to make which makes it a beautiful way to break your Ramadan fast (if you are following it) and embrace Iftar. Roz ma mucasarat is a traditional Arabian rice dish which dates back several centuries as nuts were used in cooking long before agriculture cultivation took off. This is a rice dish that is usually prepared during celebrations, special days and weddings but I could eat it just about every day.

You can use just one type of nut but the indulgence of this dish comes from using a medley of nuts like I did. A pinch of saffron ties in the flavours adding a hint of sweetness to lift off the nutty flavours. A truly beautiful rice preparation which goes well with just about anything – be it a well spiced curry, roasted meats or all by itself.

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Recipe courtesy – Traditional Arabic Cooking – Miriam Al Hashimi

And here, you can read a review of this cookbook.

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Ingredients:

1. Rice – 2 cups
2. Almonds – ¼ cup
3. Cashewnuts – ¼ cup
4. Walnuts – ¼ cup
5. Pine nuts – ¼ cup
6. Pistachios – ¼ cup
7. Saffron – a pinch dissolved in warm milk
8. Salt – to season
9. Ghee – 2 tbsp
10. Vegetable oil – 1 tbsp.

Method:

Since there are many who seem to struggle with cooking rice perfectly, here’s how I do it;
1. Wash the rice 3-4 times with plenty of water. Soak the rice for at least 30 minutes prior to cooking. For 2 cups rice, boil 6 cups of water, season with salt and add the rice. Cook on high heat till the rice is 3/4ths done. (Add more water if you need to as some types of grains absorb more water than others). Switch off flame and keep covered for 5 minutes. Drain into a colander and keep aside for non-sticky, fluffy rice.
2. While the rice is cooking, blanch the almonds and pistachios to remove the skin easily. (Blanching the pistachios in salted water helps to retain the green colour of the nut). Chop all the nuts roughly.
3. Once the rice has drained well, heat oil and ghee in a pan and add all the nuts in together. Saute on low to medium heat for 2-3 minutes taking care not to burn the nuts.
4. Add the saffron soaked in milk and cook for another minutes. Add the rice and mix well to combine. Since the rice is cooked with salt, you wouldn’t really need extra salt, but do taste and season more if required.
5. Serve hot with accompaniment of choice.

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Sayadiah (Arabian Fish with Rice)

It is quite interesting to trace the origin and journey of a dish. Not only can you learn a lot of historical tidbits, you also get to appreciate the evolutionary process and how each region adapts and changes the original dish or technique to suit their tastes, climate, availability of ingredients and lifestyle.

The name of today’s dish is ‘Sayadiah’ or in simpler terms, fish with rice. This is an Arabian dish, especially common along the coastal regions of Yemen. A variation of this dish can be found in Lebanese cuisine where the fish is grilled or fried and then layered with yellow saffron rice.

The first thought that would enter any Indian’s mind after reading this recipe is that, ‘this sounds very much like our biryani, but much simpler.’ And now that thought’s totally justified because; a) biryani is a Persian/Arabian dish and b) the Indian biryani is a ‘spicier and masalified’ version of the original biryani.

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This is a layered rice dish similar to the pukki type of Indian biryanis like the Malabar biryani. The fish is marinated in harissa paste and then shallow fried. Harissa is a commonly used Middle Eastern spice paste which is easily available these days but if you cannot find it, replace it with a marinade made from red chilli powder, turmeric powder, olive oil and salt. Kushna or the sauce is a classic made from onions, tomatoes and spices. Cook the rice separately and finally layer and bring together the whole dish.

What I liked most about this dish is that it is very simple to prepare, requires very few ingredients and is not loaded with spices. Flavourful yet subtle, Sayadiah can be a perfect weeknight meal or when you have guests over. The dish showcases the Middle Eastern flavours and the fish is the hero of the dish so make sure you get the freshest produce possible. Any type of fish would suit this preparation but the best would be varieties with firm flesh and can be filleted easily.

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Recipe Courtesy – Traditional Arabic Cooking

Ingredients:

For the fish:

1. Fish fillet (any type with firm white flesh) – 1 kg, cut into medium sized pieces
2. Harissa paste – 3 tbsp
3. Salt – to season
4. Vegetable oil – for shallow frying

For the sauce/kushna:

5. Red onion – 3, finely chopped
6. Garlic cloves – 2, crushed and chopped
7. Cardamom – 3
8. Turmeric powder – ½ tsp
9. Ground cumin powder – 1 tsp
10. Green chilli – 2, chopped
11. Tomatoes – 4, skin removed and chopped
12. Vegetable oil – 4 tbsp.

Other ingredients:

13. Long-grained rice – 3 cups
14. Potato – 2 large, cut into slices lengthwise
15. Coriander leaves – to garnish

Method:

• Marinate the fish pieces with harissa and salt. Refrigerate for at least one hour. Shallow fry in vegetable oil and keep aside.
• Place baking paper in a tray and add the potato slices. Season with salt and oven roast till ¾ ths done (200°C for 20 minutes). Alternately, you can also shallow fry the potato slices, drain and keep aside.
• To prepare the sauce, heat oil in a pan and add cardamom pods. Add the garlic, green chilli and chopped onions. Saute till onions are light brown and then add turmeric powder and ground cumin powder.
• Add the tomatoes and sauté till the saucy consistency is achieved. Season with salt and add a little water if necessary but ensure that the sauce is thick and not runny.
• Cook the rice in boiling water seasoned with salt, drain and keep aside. Make sure that the rice is just cooked so that the grains remain separate and not mushy.
• In a large pot, add one layer of rice followed by a few fried fish pieces, potato slices and sauce/kushna. Continue the process by adding and building up the layers of rice, fish, potato and sauce. Finally garnish with chopped coriander leaves.
• Enjoy!

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Hummus Bi Tahina (Middle Eastern Chickpeas Dip)

This is the Holy Week and for every Christian including me, this is the time for silent reflection, a time for praise and thanksgiving. A time to reflect on your inner self, your spiritual self. I am not a regular church-goer but I am deeply religious though my idea of religion does not always conform to today’s society and its perceptions of Christianity.

For me, religion is not something to be practiced on a weekend – it is a way of life. It is who I am….my identity, my character, my personality…..

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My religious non-conformity has always made it difficult for me to find the right place of worship/church. I feel lost in the big ones which are run more like corporate organizations than places of worship. I prefer going to a church where I can sense and feel the presence of God even if I am sitting amidst many others, a place which allows me to pray from deep within, a place I feel happy in and a place with a strong sense of community. After coming to Melbourne, we were in search of such a church and have finally found one – a 150 year old church which has stood strong and proud, celebrating the life and passion of Christ. Feeling blessed!

Well, let’s get back to today’s recipe which is a world away (or is it?) from Christianity and the Holy Week. A Middle Eastern staple – hummus bi tahina or hummus is perhaps the most famous Arabian dish that is made and relished around the globe.

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There is no dearth of recipes for hummus and though my mum has been making this one for years, I decided to follow the recipe outlined in the cookbook, ‘Traditional Arabic Cooking’.

The literal translation of hummus bi tahina is chickpeas with sesame seed paste and so the base for a hummus is chickpeas/garbanzo beans and tahina (or tahini/sesame seed paste). Chickpeas is the native or indigenous food of the Levants (Levant is the Eastern Meditteranean region comprising of Israel, Cyprus, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and parts of Turkey). It is believed that this protein rich beans was used to feed the Arab armies sent out to conquer North Africa.

Hummus is served as a dip and as part of the mezze platter and it is best eaten with pita bread. But these days, it has become a healthy dip that can be paired with vegetable sticks, bread sticks, crackers, meat skewers and even as a spread in sandwiches.

An extremely healthy dish, hummus is also very simple to prepare and can be stored for upto 2 weeks refrigerated in an airtight container.

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Ingredients:

1. Dried chickpeas – 225 gm; soaked, drained and boiled (you can use canned chickpeas also)
2. Tahina (sesame seed paste) – 5 tbsp
3. Garlic – 2 cloves
4. Lemon juice – 3-4 tbsp
5. Salt – to season
6. Olive oil – ½ cup
7. Black olives – to garnish
8. Paprika – to garnish

Note – Tahina is available commercially and is easily found at Middle Eastern food stores.

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Method:

• If using dry chickpeas, soak for at least 4 hours or overnight, rinse and cook till soft and mushy. Drain and reserve some liquid.
• Puree the chickpeas along with garlic.
• Cool and add tahini and lemon juice. Taste and adjust sourness with lemon juice and season with salt. Add the reserved liquid to loosen up consistency if necessary.
• Garnish with olive oil and black olives.

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