Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Meatless in the Middle East


Like the West Bank, Gaza is another disputed Palestinian territory that I have decided to include in my Meals Around the World Project. (Why pass up an opportunity to have even more delicious Middle Eastern food?) The Gaza Strip was accorded non-Member Observer State status by the UN in 2012. Israel has direct external control over Gaza, and they also control many of their airways, waterways, and roads. Officially, Israel does not have direct control of the nation/ territory, but considering their economic and governmental power, it seems that they are still pretty influential. 1.82 million people live in the 141 square miles that makes up Gaza, and the population is rapidly expanding. Recently, Gaza has been in conflict with Israel. Over 2,200 people have died. A cease fire was declared last August 26th, but hostilities still persist. Pray for this area of the world. They really need it.

 

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Gaza’s cuisine is a blend of Levantine and Mediterranean. Fish and other seafoods are common due to Gaza’s proximity to the ocean. Rice is a staple, and salads and dips are common accompaniments to most meals. I chose to make a simple meal of a lentil-based dish along with a fresh salad.

 

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My main dish is a lentil and rice one-pot dish served topped with fried onion slices. “Mujaddara” means “pock-marked” in reference to the lentils that stand out like pock-marks in the rice. Recently, the dish has gained a lot of popularity in Middle Eastern restaurants here in the United States. There are variations of mujaddara served all over the Middle East. Some use bulgur instead of rice, others use green lentils instead of brown. Any way you serve it, mujadarra is sure to be a filling vegetarian meal fit for any occasion.

 
Mujaddara
1 cup brown lentils
2 cups chicken broth (preferably homemade)
1 tsp cumin
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup rice
1 cup water
2 onions, thinly sliced
olive oil, for frying

Bring the chicken broth, lentils, cumin, and seasonings to taste to a boil in a large pot. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Add the rice and water. Bring the mixture back to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 40 minutes, or until all the liquid has been absorbed. Allow the pot to stand with the lid on it for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Fry the onions until golden brown (about 30 minutes). Drain off the excess oil. Scoop the rice mixture onto a plate and top with the onions to serve.

 

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Salads and vegetables are an integral part of Palestinian cuisine. Bakdoonsiyyeh uses Italian parsley topped with a tahini dressing to create a lovely and flavorful side. In Gaza, you can find this dish served alongside fish. I think this would make a great pair, but the salad also went well with my mujaddara.

 

Bakdoonsiyyeh
1 bunch Italian parsley
2 tbsp lemon juice
¼ cup tahini
water, as needed
salt, to taste

Mix together the tahini, lemon juice, and water to produce a thick dressing. Salt to taste. Toss the mixture with the parsley and serve immediately.



 
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The Gaza Strip yielded great meal. I really like lentils, so the mujaddara was right up my alley. I was also a big fan of the tahini dressing on the salad, but I think the parsley was a bit much. I would really like to make the dressing again to pour over some butter lettuce with a grilled chicken breast and some feta. My only other complaint was that the mujaddara was a bit under seasoned. If I make it again, I will be sure to add some garlic and maybe a bit of spice to jazz it up a bit. (I do love my spices!)

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