Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Feast of the Levant

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a constitutional monarchy located in the Levant region of the Middle East. The cuisine of Jordan is similar to other Levantine cuisines. A mezze of many different appetizer dishes is often served before the main meal. Food is a central social event to Jordanians, and they can spend hours snacking on mezze platters before enjoying an extensive, drawn-out meal. I know why. With food this good, I would want to eat all the time too!


For Jordan I made a mezze plate of Labneh (strained yogurt cheese), Moutabel (a spicy eggplant dip), feta cheese, and Manaqish (za’atar spiced flatbread). Alongside this I made a thick lentil soup called Shorbat Adas. The main event happened to be Jordan’s national dish, Mansaf. Layers of flatbread, rice, a creamy yogurt sauce, and then lamb or chicken are topped with fried pine nuts and almonds. Drooling yet? Let me share the recipes.



 
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Moutabel is baba ganoush's spicier cousin. Baked eggplant is blended together with spicy chili peppers, tahini, garlic, and lemon juice. Basil and mint are also sometimes added. It's all topped off with more herbs and olive oil. Be warned, though. It is spicy. If you are sensitive to heat, tone down the chili pepper a bit, especially the first time you make this.
 
Moutabel
1 eggplant
1 clove garlic (I microwaved mine for 30 seconds to give it a better flavor.)
½ tsp dried basil, plus more for topping
1 tbsp tahini
½ - 1 hot green chili pepper
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with tin foil. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise, place skin side up on the baking sheet, and roast for 30 minutes, or until tender. Allow the eggplant to cool. Meanwhile, use a food processor to process the chili pepper, garlic, tahini, lemon juice, and dried basil together. Add the eggplant and process until it is still slightly chunky. Season to taste and serve topped with more dried basil and the olive oil.



 
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Manaqish is a popular Middle Eastern flatbread pizza-like thing topped with za'atar seasoning. It is often served as a mezze dish, and can have many different toppings. Za'atar is the most common flavor, but cheese, ground lamb (which changes the name to sfiha), and spinach can be used. I actually made the Bahraini version of this for breakfast back in 2012.
 

Manaqish
makes 4
1 cup wheat flour
½ tsp sugar
½ cup warm water (100 degrees)
¼ tsp salt
1 ¼ tsp active dry yeast
3 tbsp za’atar spice blend
2 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp lemon juice

Mix together the yeast, sugar, and water. Let it sit until the yeast starts to froth, about ten minutes. Mix in the salt and flour. Knead for 10 minutes until a pliable ball has formed. Cover with a damp towel and allow the dough to rise in a warm place for 90 minutes, or until doubled in size. Preheat your oven to 435 degrees, and mix together the lemon juice, olive oil, and za’atar. Divide the dough into 4 balls, and roll them out into about ¼” thick spheres. Spread the za’atar mixture on top, and bake for 8-10 minutes until lightly browned.

 

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This delicious soup could be a meal in itself. I loved the flavor and thickness of it. You could easily make it vegetarian by using vegetable broth to create a wonderful meat free meal. This soup is even mentioned in the Bible. Jacob buys Esau's birthright by giving him a bowl of lentil soup and bread when Esau comes back hungry from starving. It must have been some pretty good soup to trade your entire inheritance for plus the position of being the oldest son.
 
Genesis 25: 29-34
29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.[d])
31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.
32 “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”
33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.
34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.
So Esau despised his birthright.
 

 
Shorbat Adas
1 cup red lentils
6 cups chicken broth
½ cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp oil
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp turmeric
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a small pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté until the onion is translucent. Stir in the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 40 minutes. Stir occasionally and season to taste.



 

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Jordan's national dish is a plate piled high with delicious goodness. Mansaf literally means large tray or dish. It's a Friday night or special occasion family meal for obvious reasons. (The cooking process would not make it in Rachael Ray's 30 minute meals category.) You can make it with lamb or chicken. Lamb is more traditional, but a little too expensive for my budget. I was happy when I read that chicken is often used as well. The thick yogurt sauce is made from jamid, a fermented and dried yogurt. Thick Greek yogurt is a good substitute.
 
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Mansaf
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs or lamb, cubed
½ an onion, chopped
1 cinnamon stick
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp paprika
¼ tsp cardamom
¼ tsp allspice
salt and pepper, to taste
2 cups Greek yogurt
1 egg white
1 cup reserved boiling water
1 tbsp corn starch
¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup blanched and slivered almonds
olive oil, as needed
1 cup dry basmati rice, cooked according to the directions on the package
khubz, or other flat Middle Eastern bread

Heat a tablespoon or two of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add your meat of choice and brown each side for about a minute. Remove the meat to a pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, sauté the onion in a little oil over medium heat until translucent, but not browned. Add the onion and cinnamon stick to the simmering chicken once it has been cooking for 30 minutes. Cook for an additional 30 minutes. Add extra water if needed, and reserve 1 cup of the broth at the end.

To make the yogurt sauce, whisk the yogurt, reserved broth, spices, egg white, and cornstarch together. Bring this to a boil, stirring constantly. (I read that you are only supposed to stir to the left to prevent the yogurt from curling. I don’t know if this is legit or an old wives’ tale, but I did it anyway.) Boil for one minute, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Continue to stir until the sauce has thickened up. Add the meat and cook for 2 more minutes.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan over medium heat and fry the almonds and pine nuts until golden brown. Remove them from the pan immediately to prevent burning.

Place the bread on a plate, top with the rice, and then drizzle on some sauce. Next layer on the meat and sprinkle the nuts over everything. Serve from the platter family style with no utensils for an authentic Jordanian experience.

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Wow, Jordan blew me away! Absolutely delicious. The worst part was waiting for it all to cook. I definitely will be making the lentil soup again. It was delicious! I cannot complain about anything else, either. My roommate is applying for an internship in Jordan this summer, and I just may have to join her.

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