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Building a Middle Eastern Kitchen: The Essentials

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I’m often asked where to get started when delving into Middle Eastern cooking, so I’ve put together a list of essential items in a new series called The Middle Eastern Kitchen. Most of these items can be picked up on sale, or second hand, so you can focus funds on the most important part: the food!

1. Tagine or a good stew pot in general. Rich, braised stews are a prized part of Middle Eastern cuisine. Look for heavy-bottomed pots with tight-fitting lids. Cast iron is great, and can often be found on sale online. If you’re buying a tagine, just make sure it’s fit for cooking and serving, as some of them are purely decorative.

2. Multipurpose baking/roasting pans, for everything from roast lamb to baklava. Try a rectangular baking tin for sweet dishes like syrupy semolina pie, and oval dishes for casseroles and roasts, for a bit of variety. Ceramic and metal are both great.

3. Food processor. Some may say this is a luxury item, but for me it’s a necessity. Hummus would never happen without it! Most food processors also come with blade attachments, which makes slicing large quantities of vegetables a breeze. I also use the processor to mix bread dough and quickly pulse herbs for marinades and rubs.

4. Cookbooks. I should probably be telling you to only ever come to this blog for Middle Eastern inspiration! But it would be unjust not to mention the chefs and writers that I find most inspiring: Anissa Helou, Claudia Roden, the Ottolenghi & Tamimi duo, and Greg & Lucy Malouf. There are many more, but these writers are the gold standard.

5. Ibrik (Turkish coffee pot). Strong, cardamom-laced coffee was a staple in our home growing up. My uncle Suhayl brewed a pot at each family get-together, taking our individual sugar orders (1 for me, 2 for others, 3 sneaky spoons for those who shall not be named). Turkish coffee can only be properly brewed in the ibrik – learn how to do that here. I have a large one that makes six (small) cups of coffee, and multipurpose it to boil eggs, too. You can pick these up for $5 at Middle Eastern stores.

6. Metal skewers, for shish kebab! And, of course, myriad other kebabs of the Persian variety. Try experimenting with cubes of fish and vegetables, as well. No need for an outdoor barbecue – grill pans and ovens work beautifully.

7. Fresh herbs and spices. Eating Middle Eastern food is a sensual experience that draws on layers of flavors from herbs and aromatics. Fresh mint is a great place to start. Brew it into tea with hot water and honey or a cinnamon stick. Or, if you’re feeling fancy, tuck it into a grilled halloumi and pita sandwich. Buy it pre-cut from the supermarket, or pick up a mint seedling from your hardware store and place it in your windowsill or garden. Mint is a prolific grower and with a little TLC, it’ll keep giving back.

I hope that helps get you started. What do you think – have some of these items already? Any more you’d like to add?

Marzipan-filled Easter cookies from Malta

Marzipan-Filled Maltese Easter Cookies (Figolli)

Marzipan-filled Easter cookies from Malta

Tender crumbed, lemon-scented shortbread, filled with homemade marzipan with a hint of orange blossom. A smudge of royal icing and a surprising touch on top: a foil-wrapped milk chocolate egg. That’s how you make figolli, a traditional Easter cookie from Malta.

Malta is a tiny Mediterranean island positioned between Sicily and Tunisia whose cuisine is as wonderfully motley as its collaborating cultures. My darling mother-in-law is Maltese (she came to Australia with her family on a ship at age 16), and since the language is a mix of Arabic and Italian, we often throw words at each other: “hey, do you say koursi for chair in Arabic?” and “hey, do you say tayyara for plane in Maltese?”

In years past, I’ve made ma’amoul for Easter, the traditional Arabic date-stuffed semolina cookies. This year, I wanted to try something a bit different. [Read more...]

Slow-roasted Cumin Lamb Leg for Easter | Wandering Spice

Slow Roasted Cumin Lamb & A Middle Eastern Easter Menu

Cellophane-wrapped baskets brimming with pastel-hued eggs and Cadbury bunnies, sneakily positioned on my dresser mid-slumber. Usually a little card signed by the Easter Bunny himself. That was Easter for me as a kid. My family’s festive nature made an impact on me, and to this day, I like making something of each holiday season – cooking, of course, being the main event.

A Middle Eastern Easter menu – a bit of a mouthful, that one, but of the best kind. This year, our favorite cumin and turmeric-rubbed lamb leg will be the main event. The method we use is a variation of Kalofagas’ slow roasted leg of lamb with Middle Eastern spices, and is a failsafe recipe for the most succulent, fork-tender lamb roast imaginable.

[Read more...]

Learn how to make colorful naturally-dyed crackled Easter Eggs using beets and turmeric

How to make Colorful, Naturally-Dyed Crackled Easter Eggs

Learn how to make colorful naturally-dyed crackled Easter Eggs using beets and turmeric

The other day, I was strolling through Melbourne’s Chinatown on my way home from work, when I spotted vibrant, marbled tea eggs in a snack shop window. I marveled at a the hues – turquoise, purple, and rich browns. It turns out these crackly eggs have taken the blogosphere by storm this Easter, so I decided to make some myself, swapping food dye with all-natural ingredients.

I thought of all those occasions I’d cooked with beets and turmeric – and had stained fingertips to show for it – and figured if they could tattoo my hands, surely they’d work on egg whites. I boiled up a few beets to go with dinner, reserved the cooking water, and grabbed the golden turmeric from the spice drawer.

Dying the eggs couldn’t be easier, and I bet it would be a lot of fun to do with kids. Here’s how it works:

  • Simply hard boil your eggs – however many you want. While they’re cooking, fill two small bowls or containers with your dying liquid: I used reserved beet water for pink speckled eggs, and a mix of 1 cup water + 2 tsp dried turmeric for golden ones.
  • Once they’re cooked, remove and pat them dry. Use a spoon’s edge to tap the shell gently until it is cracked all over. Plunk the eggs into the dye and let them sit 30 minutes for a pastel effect, or up to a few hours for a richer color.

Voila!

Vegetable and Herb Frittata| Wandering Spice

Baked Vegetable, Dill & Feta Frittata

Skinny Vegetable Frittata | Wandering Spice

I am a person plagued by food cravings. Citrus cakes and salty cheese top my list, so when the craving for something healthy strikes as fervently as one for the aforementioned, I act on it immediately.

Lately, frittatas have been on the brain: the caramelized potato and onion-filled tortilla that my Basque brother-in-law makes, and my dad’s barbecued omelettes, filled with vegetables and herbs.

They come in all shapes and sizes – I make mine quite thin, like this one, which allows me to stack slices neatly in sandwiches, and cut bite-size squares for salad. I’ve eaten one too many quiches promising spring vegetables, only to find a scarce leaf of spinach lost in a sea of yolks. So as much as I love eggs, I prefer them to act primarily as a binder in these types of dishes, hugging the vegetables snugly together, letting the produce take center stage.  [Read more...]

Rooibos chai tea that helps with iron absorption

Cheat’s Iron-Friendly Rooibos Chai

Rooibos chai tea that helps with iron absorption

As some of you may know, I am severely iron deficient. This means I am always learning sneaky ways to get more iron into my diet (a quest to wean myself from the 2x/day liquid iron shots I take – not pleasant), and concocting strange dinner combinations such as lean steak with a side of orange juice (since Vitamin C helps absorb iron).

I am also a true lover of tea, but since learning that both black tea and dairy prohibit iron absorption, my morning chai is out. So, I set out to find my fix. [Read more...]

semolina and phyllo custard pie

Syrupy Phyllo and Semolina Custard Pie

I present to you my Achilles' heel; the one dessert in which 'no' is never an option. My Seedo calls it namoura, which I always knew to be this dessert instead (which is also called basbousa, … [Read More...]

Healthy lunchbox: quinoa, spinach and feta "bourek" salad | Wandering Spice

Healthy lunchbox: quinoa, spinach and feta “bourek” salad

Our lives are busy these days - very busy. With a new business and a writers festival to plan, down time is elusive to say the least. Though I'd love to paint a picture of nutritional idealism, the … [Read More...]

French Tomato and Dijon Tart

Francois’ Tomato and Dijon Tart

We became fast friends after meeting Stephanie and Francois last year. Stephanie is American like me, and met Francois while hopping around Europe, eventually landing on his couch in Paris (he was her … [Read More...]

Smoky Vegan Split Pea Soup | Wandering Spice

Smoky Split Pea Soup (Vegan)

As a kid, pea soup was the subject of my nightmares. It was gloopy and green; hardly as interesting as the cinnamony Middle Eastern stews I so vastly preferred. Luckily, times and tastebuds change, … [Read More...]