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A Taste of The Middle East


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As an American of Sephardic heritage, I was raised on the mouth-watering delicious foods that define Middle Eastern fare. For as far back as I can remember the kitchen has been my comfort zone. Whipping up culinary creations to please the palates of an Ashkenazic husband, Sephardic kin, fussy kids, and guests who frequent our dinner table can be quite challenging, but at the same time tremendously satisfying.

Two all-around favorite appetizers – Laham Bajeen and Sambusak – are yummy Shabbat staples that can actually be enjoyed on Pesach as well, with some modification.

 

Laham Bajeen are flavorful mini pizza-like meat pies that are both tangy and sweet. They can be prepared beforehand as they freeze well in raw or cooked form. This recipe yields 24 pieces.

 

Ingredients:

Frozen mini pizza dough (substitute round mini tea matzos on Pesach)

1 lb. lean ground beef

1 med onion grated and squeezed

1 6-oz. can tomato paste

1 tsp lemon juice

1 c tamrahandi sauce (purchase in any middle eastern grocery store)

1 tsp allspice

1½ tsp salt

½ tsp pepper

1/8 c sugar

Combine ground beef, onion, tomato paste, lemon juice, tamrahandi sauce and spices. Mix well.

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place dough (or matzah) rounds on sheet and top each with a tablespoon of the meat mixture, pressed firmly onto dough.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.

 

Sambusak can actually be enjoyed as a dairy appetizer by filling with a luscious cheese mix in place of meat.

 

Dough ingredients (for Pesach):

2 c matzah meal

¼ c cake meal

3 tbsp potato starch

3 tbsp oil

1 tbsp salt

cold water

 

Mix by hand with wet fingers; add water to mixture as needed to form dough. If the mixture becomes too wet, set aside to dry out a bit. If dough consistency is too dry, add water accordingly.

 

Meat filling:

1 lb. ground beef

1 onion

1 tsp salt

1 tsp allspice

Sautee chopped onion in 2-3 tbsp oil. Add ground beef and cook until browned. Drain liquid, add salt and allspice and mix well.

 

Cheese filling (for dairy use):

Beat one egg with a dash of dried mint and 1 tsp each of salt and black pepper; add 1 lb. grated mozzarella cheese and mix well.

Form little-larger-than-walnut size portions of dough, flattening each one in a circular shape. Spoon meat (or cheese mixture) on to each circle of dough and fold over into a half-moon shape, pressing moistened edges together.

Deep fry in oil until golden brown. (Ideal oil temperature: 350°)

 

Dough ingredients (not for Pesach):

2c flour

1c semolina flour

2 sticks margarine (at room temp)

1 tsp salt

½ c water

Mix by hand. Follow instructions for filling above, but instead of deep-frying, place on cookie sheet, brush lightly with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired. Bake at 350° until golden brown (approximately 20 minutes). Yields 40 pieces.

Remember to fry them on Pesach and bake them for chametz. (The reverse for either one is not an option due to the nature of the dough.)

 

Eggplant Salad

This spicy eggplant salad – not of the garden-variety type – is another flavorful appetizer that can double as a dip or a side dish. Leave it on the table for the duration of dinner and don’t bank on any leftovers.

 

Ingredients

1 large eggplant, unpeeled and cubed

1 onion, diced

6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 6 oz can tomato paste

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

1 tsp red pepper flakes

Water

Sauté onions until translucent. Add garlic slices and cubed eggplant; cook for 7-10 minutes on medium heat. Add tomato paste, salt, pepper, pepper flakes, and about 1cup of water. Bring to a boil, then let simmer for about 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

 

Another hot food item that’s an international palate pleaser and finds a place of prominence on our dinner table at festive occasions all year round: Dips. Seriously hot. No, no, not the over-the-counter variety. These are homemade and a big hit – with those who like it hot, that is.

If you plan to prepare one or more of them for the second days of Pesach, make sure to have enough matzah to go around to satisfy all the dippers at your table.

These are also great accompaniments to the various dishes on the Shabbat/Yom Tov table, fish, meat or vegetarian.

 

Matbucha

Ingredients

1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes

1 3 oz can tomato paste

3 jalapeno peppers, diced

6 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tbsp olive oil

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As an American of Sephardic heritage, I was raised on the mouth-watering delicious foods that define Middle Eastern fare. For as far back as I can remember the kitchen has been my comfort zone. Whipping up culinary creations to please the palates of an Ashkenazic husband, Sephardic kin, fussy kids, and guests who frequent our dinner table can be quite challenging, but at the same time tremendously satisfying.

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