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Friday, April 24, 2015

Mamuniyeh: Brown Butter and Mozzarella Cream of Wheat




I'm excited to share another classic Syrian breakfast dish with you guys. When we were kids my mom would call this 'candy' and we were thrilled to eat candy for breakfast...we gobbled it right up and I really appreciated the sweetness in the meal. As an adult my mouth waters at the salty and cheesy complexity that the mozzarella adds. Serve this hot and fresh as soon as its ready and you'll watch with giddy anticipation as the cheese stretches from the serving dish all the way to your plate.

Mamuniyeh is a decadent dish that will warm you up in the morning. Making it involves a bit more butter and sugar than how I normally start my day so when I make this its either for a brunch or a treat for the kids. This dish's saving grace in terms of health is that Semolina is a fine wheat...so hey, complex carbs and all ;) It's quick and easy and the last time we ate it a few days ago my 10 year old made it from A to Z with minimal assistance. The sizzle of the toasted semolina when it hits the sugared water is fun to hear and it literally goes from a soupy mixture to smooth and creamy perfection in about a minute.


Serves 4

Ingredients
--------------
-5 cups water
-1 1/4 cup sugar
-4 tablespoons butter
-1 cup semolina
-1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, to be divided
-1 tablespoon cinnamon powder

optional:
-any salty cheese to be eaten on the side

To make
-----------
-In a saucepan combine water and sugar on medium heat until the mixture boils. Stir to help dissolve the sugar into the water.
-While the water and sugar are heating, place butter and semolina in a skillet on medium heat. (**OPTIONAL: Brown the butter before adding the semolina for a hint of caramel in the Mamuniyeh. To do this, melt the butter over medium heat and whisk until it turns brown and releases a nutty fragrant smell. Immediately lower the heat and add the semolina to toast.**) Move the butter around and melt it while gently stirring it with the semolina. Continue to saute the mixture until the semolina has browned into a golden color instead of the pale yellow it was. Keep stirring it around to avoid burning it! You may need to lower your heat as it starts to color.
-When the semolina has browned and the water/sugar mixture has come to a roiling boil, carefully add the toasted semolina into the boiling water. It will sizzle as it drops in and may slightly foam up, I love this part!
-Reduce the heat to low and stir in 1/2 cup shredded cheese. Turn off the heat and mix it for a minute, it will thicken up into a porridge.
-Place into a serving bowl and top with extra shredded cheese and sprinkle with cinnamon powder.
-Serve hot with a cup of tea and enjoy!

I buy the semolina from Middle Eastern markets

Perfectly toasted semolina and ready to be dropped into the sugared water!
 Looking for more sweet breakfast recipes? Here are a few of my personal favorites!
PB Chocolate Chip Oat Cookies



Vegan Orange Poppy Seed Muffins





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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Asparagus and Zesty Lemon Grain Salad



I created this salad as a challenge to myself to go beyond simple grilled asparagus. Every time I buy the green stems I feel like I cook then in the same manner...which although is delicious has gotten a little boring for me. I didn't want to waste their integrity and puree them into a soup or lose them in a pasta. Asparagus represents the Spring season...refreshing, breezy and bright...and that's exactly what you'll get from this salad!


We've had this as dinner, I've taken it to potlucks and it's been my go-to lunch whenever I've had it in the fridge. I LOVE IT. I love the way I feel when I look at it with the bright green from the asparagus and the red from the tomato, I love all the textures going on in here from the crisp of the asparagus to the crunch of the walnut and the chewiness of the barley. Don't even get me started on the explosion of flavors...you're going to have to find out for yourself on that note, but I will tell you that stiring the lemon zest into the hot cooked barley will release the natural oils in the zest and let the barley absorb all the flavor...yum!


Serves 3-5

Ingredients
---------------
-2 cups water
-1 cup rinsed barley
-1/2 tablespoon salt
-1 teaspoon oil
-1 tablespoon lemon zest (about 2 lemons)

-1 bunch fresh asparagus
-2 cups chopped tomatoes
-1 cup chopped walnuts
-1 cup chopped parsley
-3 tablespoons lemon juice (about 2 squeezed lemons)
-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
-1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
-salt to taste

optional:
-1 cup valbreso feta cheese
-1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
-1 large chopped avocado

To make
-----------
-Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a pot and drop in rinsed and drained barley, salt and oil. Reduce your heat to medium low then cover the pot and cook about 20-25 minutes or until the water is absorbed and your barley is soft and fluffy. Remove from the heat, uncover and add lemon zest and stir. Leave your barley to cool completely before adding other ingredients.
-While your barley is cooking, heat another pot filled with water and bring to a boil. Lightly salt your water and rinse asparagus. Gently snap off the bottom of your asparagus and drop into the boiling water. Cook for 2 minutes then immediately remove and drop asparagus into a bowl filled with ICE and water. This is called an ice bath and is done to stop the cooking process and shock the asparagus into retaining its vibrant green color. Leave the asparagus until it has cooled and then remove from the water and pat dry with paper towels. Roughly chop at a diagonal angle into 1 inch pieces.
- When your barley has cooled, place it into a bowl and  layer chopped tomatoes, asparagus, walnuts and parsley. You can now add optional toppings. Squeeze lemon juice and sprinkle black pepper on top. Drizzle the olive oil around the edges of the bowl.
*If you are making this ahead of time cover and place in your refrigerator until ready to use.
-Mix when ready to serve and taste to adjust lemon and salt content. Place into a platter and serve.
-Enjoy!


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Looking for more salad inspiration? Try some of my favorites here! I especially enjoy
Mexican Bean and Corn Salad
Pomegranate + Green Bean Lentil Salad

Middle Eastern Tabbouleh 
Arugula and Roasted Beet Salad




Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Kishkeh Khadra: Yogurt, Whole Grain and Walnut Spread



Kishkeh Khadra is a protein and fiber packed dish that is a traditional breakfast item in Syria. I love preparing it because it comes together very quickly, can be made in advance, has versatile uses and is HEALTHY. I make a batch of this right before the weekend and we enjoy it for SavvyChef's legendary Sunday brunches and then as quick sandwiches throughout the week.

Traditionally the preparation process was lengthy and had to be planned for in advance. Fine bulgur (cracked whole wheat grain) would soak on a counter top for a few days until the bulgur had softened and the yogurt had soured. Then the "green" ingredients (onions and parsley) would be added and the toppings (Greek kalamata olives, walnuts and olive oil) would complete the meal.


Around these parts I've condensed the process into as little as 30 minutes...without compromising flavor or authenticity! I've done this by providing an optional hot water soak of the bulgur to soften it before adding to the yogurt and by adding a splash of lemon juice to achieve the sour tang to the yogurt that typically takes a couple days to accomplish.  Most days I'll quickly mix the yogurt, bulgur, salt and lemon juice the night before and pop it back into the fridge until I'm ready to add the rest of the ingredients. This is a handy meal for entertaining because of its "make-ahead" qualities.


Kishkeh Khadra always finds a place on my brunch displays and most people who haven't grown up eating it still love it and request the recipe. I can't tell you how many times I've texted it to friends or sat around a table as the hostess verbally shared the steps involved. Everyone's way varies slightly. Some people replace the yogurt with sour cream (don't try this, its not good) but here I'm going to give you the quickest and most authentic method. Warm pita bread and a sweet cup of tea take this this dish to higher levels of bliss :)

I go out of my way to expose my children to foods that are out of their comfort levels and to treat wholesome eating as a way of life, not as an effort that needs to be made. Knowing that my children are consuming high amounts of protein (yogurt and bulgur), whole grains and fiber (bulgur), healthy fats (walnuts and olive oil) and iron (parsley) really encourage me to keep this option available. This also makes a great post workout snack with some carrots, cucumber or celery sticks!


Serves 4-6

Ingredients
--------------
-2 cups plain yogurt (Full fat really makes a difference in the creaminess and flavor)
-1/2 cup fine bulgur (cracked wheat, labeled as #1)
-1/2 tablespoon salt
-1 tablespoon lemon juice (optional)
-1 cup chopped parsley
-3/4 cup diced greed onions
-1/2 cup chopped walnuts

**If using 30 minute preparation method you will need 1/2 cup boiling water**

Garnish:
-kalamata olives
-chopped walnuts
-extra virgin olive oil

To make
------------
-Mix together yogurt, bulgur, salt and lemon juice in a container. Return to fridge and leave overnight (or up to 1 week). QUICK OPTION: Soak bulgur in boiling water for about 25 minutes (or until soft) then mix together with yogurt, salt and lemon juice.
-When you are ready to serve stir in chopped parsley, green onions and walnuts. Taste and adjust salt and water content. If the mixture is too stiff add water or yogurt 1 tablespoon at a time until you have the consistency of a chunky dip or something resembling hummus.
-Spread mixture on to a serving platter or bowl and top with kalamata olives, chopped walnuts and a drizzle of olive oil.
-Serve with pita bread and tea, veggie sticks or as a spread in sandwiches.
Enjoy!



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Looking for more brunch items? Try my other go-to dish: A delicious yogurt, pita and garbanzo bean dish called Tisi'yeh!


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Grape Leaves stuffed with Meat and Rice



Grape leaves are one of the most delicious, traditional and complicated Middle Eastern dishes out there. This dish is lovingly referred to as yabraa, yabraq, waraq einab, dawali, dolmadas...each country calls it something different but everyone agrees that it is AMAZING. In this post I have tried to simplify the process as much as possible, and although this meal does not conform to the SavvyChef mantra of simple meal prep, its just too yummy not to share :) Luckily the ingredients are fairly simple, and the actual effort comes in the preparation.


This post has been almost a year in the making because I needed to cook it AMPLE times to ensure my ratios are absolute perfection before I encourage you to spend hours on preparation. There are almost no proper measurements available for exactly how much rice/meat/grape leaf ratio to prepare so you are not left with extra filling, and in this recipe I have finally accomplished that. My family thanks all the readers who have been urging me to complete a post on this recipe because of all the times they've eaten the tester meals ;)


There are many varieties for grape leaves, and each country in the Middle East (as well as Turkey, Greece...) prepares them differently. I am biased to the Syrian way, specifically the Damascene method. These grape leaves are succulent and juicy, stuffed with a seasoned rice and meat filling and then cooked until the leaf is fork tender in a tangy lemon and garlic sauce. This is my all time favorite meal, and I would eat it everyday if I could.


I highly recommend you read through the whole post before you begin to let you know what to expect as you go along.


Tips to ensure a smoother experience:
1. Have all of your spices and ingredients out and ready before you begin. Once you start mixing the filling with your hands it will be difficult to open cabinets and reach for things.
2. Block off a span of 2-3 hours (hopefully it won't take 3 hours) to complete this project, especially if it is your first time. I realize this is a large amount of time and it is difficult to do this with work/little children/other commitments, but if possible it makes a difference.
3. If it is your first time attempting grape leaves, either start in the morning or have a back up for that night's dinner. Plan on wrapping the grape leaves on one day and cooking the next (especially if you are going to slow cook them). This is what I do and it reduces the stress involved with needing to finish quickly.
4. Do not be discouraged if yours are not all the same size or if they look messy. The important thing is to keep the meat and rice mixture inside the grape leaf so it does not get out while cooking, and you will get the hang of it as you go along. You will get faster and your wrapped grape leaves will be neater with experience. There is a huge learning curve for this dish.
5. If you can get others in on this project it will add speed and fun! Traditionally people sat around together to wrap grape leaves and talked and shared jokes as they did so, which takes the tediousness out of the process and provides a fun experience.


Serves 6 as main entree

Ingredients
---------------
-2 1/2 cups calrose rice (short grain)
-2 1/2 tablespoons safflower threads (similar to saffron)
-1 pound ground beef or lamb, a higher fat content will yield better flavor (2 cups)
-1 tablespoon salt
-1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
-2 tablespoons all spice
-2 tablespoons oil or clarified butter (ghee)
-up to 1/4 cup water (if your meat is of a higher fat content you will need less water)
-16 ounce jar of grape leaves, drained and rinsed

-2 pounds lamb or beef steaks (preferably bone-in and with a layer of fat)
-1 tablespoon lemon pepper (optional)

-1 cup peeled whole garlic cloves
-1 cup lemon juice
-4 cups water
-1 tablespoon salt
-2 tablespoons lemon pepper (optional, this provides an extra tang)

Optional:
-2 cups frozen artichoke bottoms
-11 ounces frozen green broad/fava beans
-1 cup sliced potato rounds
--Drizzle of oil or ghee

To make
------------
-Open the jar of grape leaves and carefully remove leaves. Place them in a large bowl with water to soak and rinse out any lingering dirt. I leave these for about an hour then rinse them in a strainer.
-While the grape leaves are soaking, fill another bowl with water and soak rice for an hour. Drain, rinse with WARM WATER and set aside.
-Using the same bowl used to soak rice (I hate extra dish-washing) place the strained rice and add the safflower threads, grinding them with the palm of your hand to break up. Mix them into the rice mixture to give your rice a yellow color. Add the remaining filling ingredients (ground beef/lamb, salt, pepper, all spice, oil and water) and using your hands, thoroughly massage all the ingredients together until they are well mixed. You want your mixture to be slightly "wet" either by oil or water. When adding the water add slowly and use what you need until the mixture clumps together and doesn't stick to your hands.
-Set up a clean work station and remove any large stems from your grape leaves. I use kitchen shears to quickly snip the tips off large stems.
-Arrange an assembly line of grape leaves, with the stem facing towards you and the pointy part of the leaf facing away (the smooth part of the grape leaf is what lays on the table, and the rough side with all the small stems is facing upwards).
-Place about 1 teaspoon to 1 1/2 teaspoons of filling (depending on the size of your leaf) onto the lower middle half of each grape leaf and arrange into a thin line. Place the filling about 1/2 inch from the bottom of the stem and 1/2 inch in from the left and right of the edge of the leaf, leaving more space between the filling and the top of leaf for when you will fold it up.
-Fold over the bottom of the leaf to cover the rice mixture, then bring in the left and right sides of the leaf in over the rice mixture as well. Then slowly wrap the grape leaf towards the tip of the leaf (rolling away from your direction), tucking in the edges as you go along. (SEE TUTORIAL PICTURES AT THE END OF THIS POST)
-Repeat the process until you have wrapped all of your grape leaves. You will get the hang of it as you go along. Place the grape leaves on a platter as you work, keeping the smaller grape leaves separate.
-Sprinkle your steaks with lemon pepper (or just salt and pepper) and sear them in a skillet until a browned layer forms, about 2 minutes on each side. If you are using a pressure cooker to make your grape leaves use that pot to sear the steak and leave them inside. If you are using a slow cooker after you have seared the steaks transfer them to the slow cooker pot and arrange in a flat layer.
-Sprinkle about 1/4 of your garlic cloves over the seared steaks. Layer your optional toppings over the steak . I place the green broad beans first and then the artichoke bottoms, alternating with more garlic after each layer, leaving only a few cloves.
-Carefully arrange the grape leaves, placing the smaller grape leaves first and working your way around the pot in a tight layer. Pack them firmly and end with your largest grape leaves. Sprinkle any remaining garlic on top. Sprinkle the salt and optional lemon pepper, then pour the lemon juice and water evenly over the top. You can add an optional drizzle of oil or ghee if your steaks are not fatty enough.
-Place a flat HEAT-PROOF plate over the grape leaves and a heavier object to weigh down the leaves and keep them in place. Years ago a friend of mine went to the beach and found a bunch of well sized flat and heavy rocks that were perfect for this. I still use mine every time even though I have the 'proper' heavy plate from Syria. Get creative with what you can use, you are looking for anything that will prevent the wrapped leaves from floating around the liquid and opening up as they cook.
-Cover your SLOWCOOKER and cook the grape leaves on high heat for 8 hours. If cooking in a PRESSURE COOKER you will cook on medium heat for about 2 hours after the pot is pressurized. If cooking in a REGULAR STOVE TOP pot you will cook anywhere from 2 1/2 to 4 hours on medium heat.
-The grape leaves have finished cooking when their leaf gets tender and the rice is cooked and fluffy on the inside. If your water dries up feel free to add a little more and adjust the lemon/salt content.
-Once tender and cooked through, uncover your pot and carefully tilt over a shatter-proof bowl to drain the liquid.
-Once the liquid is drained place a large platter over your pot (use something that sits flat on top of the pot) and quickly flip the pot over so the contents come onto the plate. Wait a moment to make sure everything has come off from the inside of the pot and remove your pot, taking care for the steam that will emerge as you do so.
-Serve with the extra liquid on the side, yogurt and warm pita bread.
-ENJOY! You deserve it after your hard efforts!



TUTORIAL PICTURES:

Step 1: Prepare the filling. The color of the rice when washed with WARM water and mixed with safflower (before meat and other spices are mixed in)

Step 2: Lay out your grape leaves and arrange the filling

Place the filling in the center

Step 3: Fold the edges of the grape leaf up from the bottom

Step 4: Fold the edges of the grape leaf in from the left and the right

Step 5: Start rolling the grape leaf upwards, away from you

Step 6: The finished product, with all the filling tucked tightly into the grape leaf


Step 7: Sear the steaks until you get a nice color

Step 8: Layer the steaks in your pot and add the optional fillings (these are artichoke bottoms)

Step 9: Layer the grape leaves, making sure to pack them tightly to each other and sprinkle the garlic around

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Oat Cookies



Oatmeal cookies are often deceptively high in fat, because oats tend to yield a dry and unappetizing lump of dough. Swapping out the butter for peanut (or any other nut) butter makes these soft, moist and chewy. These cookies are perfect when you want a peanut butter cookie that tilts to the healthy side. I LOVE that NO CHILLING is required since there is no flour! The oats give them a nice chewy texture and the slight amount of cinnamon is delicious with the peanut butter and chocolate chips. Use the best chocolate you have access to. I typically use Guittard chocolate chips or I chop up some creamy milk chocolate from the 1 pound sized bar found at Trader Joe's.


Get creative and add your own touch: dried fruit, m&m's, nuts...the flavor combinations are endless. I'm providing a base recipe that is easily adaptable, but I recommend staying within the measurements given.


Get yourself a cold cup of milk and get ready for a healthy and sweet treat! You're one bowl, a couple ingredients and 30 minutes away from something delicious ;)


Makes 20 cookies

Ingredients
-------------
-2 eggs
-3/4 cup creamy peanut butter, if using salted pb skip the salt addition below
-2/3 cup brown sugar
-1 tablespoon vanilla
-1 teaspoon baking soda
-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
-pinch of salt
-2 cups rolled oats
-1 cup chocolate chips (this is a generous amount, you can use 1/4 cup less)
-1/2 cup shredded coconut
-2 tablespoons flax or chia seeds (optional)

To make
-----------
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
-With a spatula or in a mixer, stir together eggs, peanut butter, brown sugar and vanilla until smooth.
-Add baking soda, cinnamon and rolled oats and mix until well incorporated.
-Stir in chocolate chips, coconut and flax/chia seeds.
-Place rounded tablespoons onto a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes until the tops look a little dry but the cookie remains soft. Remove from the oven and let cool.
-Store leftover cookies well sealed at room temperature for up to 1 week.
-Enjoy!


I'd love to connect with you! Like SavvyChef on facebook and follow Savvy_Chef on instagram. Tag @SavvyChef in your creations  :)





Try these other healthy sweets!

Banana Oat Muffins


Raspberry Oat Bars