Sunday, April 19, 2015

Fatteh - Eggplant & Yogurt Casserole


What did you picture when you heard the name eggplant as a child?  Probably something similar to what I did - and I thought eggs came from chickens!  When I understood that plants and eggs could share the name, I was still hesitant, suspecting that the vegetable tasted of rotten eggs - why would it be purple?  No way I was going to taste it and since it was not served or even mentioned in my home, it wasn't a problem.  As an adult, I was offered aubergine - what a delightful name for a lovely shiny slender vegetable, and before I knew it I had been tricked into love!  An aubergine by any other name would be as delicious.
When returning to Jordan after years away, the first dish I bought from a Lebanese cook we had once frequented, was Fatteh, (fe-tay) not to be pronounced "fatty" as in what you will become if you eat too much of it. In Arabic the work "fatteh" means "crushed" or "crumbs", as in bread crumbs, or croutoned bread. I don't remember when I first had it or who first served it to me - I will admit it doesn't look nearly as appetizing as it tastes - but it is in my top three favorite Arab dishes. As I brought the aluminum container aboard our small tourist bus and was about to partake in this romantic reunion, the aroma bumped about the bus as we did and there were others who wanted to help me eat it.  As hesitant as I was to share - after all we had forgotten to bring spoons - it was wrested from my hands and passed down the bus, as creative tasters devised eating implements of yogurt lids, emory boards and credit cards to scoop out samples of the casserole.  
The very nature of eggplant succumbs silkily to oil when fried and this dish, topped with fried bits of Khoubiz, (pita bread), and pine nuts is succulently smooth and richly velvetized   It has such a depth of flavor; smokey, garlicky, lemony, meaty,  ---all those flavors that make you pause and say, "I want to remember this."  There is also a chickpea, yogurt version that is also very popular though less complex in flavors.  
Thin small eggplants like the variety sold in the Middle East are recommended as they are more tender than larger ones. Few recipes for raw eggplant exist owing to the fact that the toxin solanine, which raw potatoes contain as well, can cause intestinal distress, but once eggplant is cooked it complies beautifully with digestion. The raw product is also cursed with a bitter flavor which can come through in the cooking, though more modern hybrids are said to be less bitter. To avoid the bitterness, salt the eggplant well after slicing or cubing it and let sit for about 30 minutes. The salt causes the flesh to weep and draws out the bitterness.  Rinse well, blot dry with paper towels and use as described in your recipe.  Give this eggplant recipe a try and if you, like me, pictured boiled eggs growing among foul smelling leaves, this dish will wipe away those childish misconceptions!



Fatteh with Eggplant:
1 1/2 pound ground beef or lamb
4 small eggplants
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup tomato sauce
2 1/2 cups beef stock
1 tab. grenadine molasses 
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup plain yogurt
5 cloves crushed garlic
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
2 loaves pita bread
chopped flat-leaf parsley

-Toast pine nuts in dry saute pan until lightly browned; set aside  Cut bread into 1 inch squares and fry in 3 tab. butter until browned; set aside.  Combine sour cream, yogurt, 1 tsp. salt and crushed garlic in bowl; set aside.

-Chop eggplant into 1 inch chunks, place in large bowl and sprinkle liberally with salt and toss.  Let sit for 15 minutes.  Drain and rinse eggplant and fry lightly in 3 tab. oil in large saute pan until golden and starting to soften.  Remove eggplant from pan and set aside.

-In same saute pan, melt 2 tab. butter. Place ground beef and onion in pan with salt and pepper, cinnamon, allspice and fry, stirring frequently until meat is browned. Drain off any extra fat. Stir in beef stock, tomato sauce and molasses then bring mixture to a boil.  Add eggplant and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until eggplant is tender and sauce is thickened.

-In an oven-proof casserole dish, pour the eggplant/meat sauce on the bottom and then cover with the yogurt sauce.  Place the toasted pita aqures on the top.  Bake in 350 oven until just warmed through, about 15 minutes.

-Garnish with pine nuts, chopped parsley and sprinkle sumac on top.  Serve warm.  Serves 8.

Persnickety P.S.:
**The original recipe has you place the bread squares on the bottom of the casserole dish, then cover with meat sauce and finally the yogurt sauce.  I, however, like my croutons to stay crispy so I place them on top.
**Sumac is used in the Middle Eastern diet to add a lemony pop to soups, salads and meat dishes. It is made from the ground fruit of a species of sumac bush and is a dark red/purple color.  Can be purchased on Amazon or at Middle Eastern groceries.
**Grenadine Molasses:  This molasses used in Middle Eastern and Persian cooking, is a thick syrup made from pomegranate seeds, sugar and lemon, is dark purple in color and adds a tangy, sweet zest to dishes.  It is available in Middle Eastern Groceries.  (To substitute in this recipe use 2 tsp. regular molasses and 1 tsp. lemon juice)




Sunday, April 5, 2015

Lemon Drop Bread

On occasion, I have been known to magnanimously do some volunteer pruning, when so inspired - pine branches from a forested area in Jordan for Christmas swags which included a volunteer roving-eyed lizard (doesn't everyone have a Christmas lizard?), rose petals from a ridiculously abundant blooming rose bush next door for the garnish for a 1920's recipe of Chicken a la Rose, and lemons from a lemon tree branch dangling precariously low over a public sidewalk in Israel - someone could have been injured!  (and besides, I was out of lemons). My noble and selfless efforts are only employed that vegetation might thrive.  May the lemon be among them - Live on, oh mighty Lemon! Live long lemons, and prosper! A child's expression the first time they taste them, makes you wonder which ancient Asian child kept tasting them until they discovered this puckery fruit was just waiting to meet sugar to zing into the forefront of culinary taste! The luxurious smell of the blossoms in spring, would make you think that the fruit is as sweet as promised, but the result packs a walloping tart and sour surprise but is yet a dose of the Renaissance itself to flavor and color, little orbs of the sun that give vibrant life to foods that would otherwise be drab as a winter's day without them. And shaped like those little orbs are a candy we call Lemon Drops, created in Britain in the1800's, though they may be harder to find today than Lemon Heads but they pack a punch to this exquisite bread and say, "Pucker up"! (Available at Walgreen's) A delicious variation is the suggested version with blueberries, or bluebs as my family calls them.  Due due to their tendency to sink to the bottom of the batter as they bake - Blue Bottom Lemon Bread it became! 



Lemon-Drop Bread
1/4 cup soft butter
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
grated rind of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup sugar
8 - 10 crushed lemon drops

-In large mixing bowl, cream together shortening, butter and sugar for about 3 minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.  Stir in milk.  Add flour, salt, baking powder, and grated lemon rind.  Mix until just combined.


-Grease or spray with non-stick spray, a regular sized loaf pan.  Pour batter in pan.  Bake at 300 degrees until a knife inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean, about 1 hour.


-Meanwhile, mix lemon juice, 1/2 cup sugar and crushed lemon drops in a small bowl.  Set aside.


-Remove the bread from the oven and allow to sit 5 minutes in pan.  Score the bread with a serrated knife to a depth of about 1 inch in 3 lengthwise cuts.  Forcing the slits slightly apart drizzle the glaze into the slits and over the top of the warm bread.  Let cool in the pan for about 30 minutes.  Then run a knife around the edges and gently remove from the pan.  Let cool completely before slicing.  Cut into slices and serve.  Makes 8 - 10 slices.


Persnickety P.S.

**Coarsely mash the lemon drops in a mortar and pestle or place in a plastic bag and mash with a rolling pan or the bottom of a heavy saucepan.

**Grate lemon with a microplane, one of my "can't do without" kitchen implements, a long thin micro-grater that allows you to grate right over whatever it is going into, easily held by a long handle.

**A combo of butter with shortening creates a softer bread than using just butter alone (similar to what the less popular margarine produces.)


**I sometimes make half again as much glaze when I want the bread very moist and popping with lemon flavor.


**When making the Blue Bottom Lemon-Drop Bread,  mix the batter as directed above, pour into the prepared loaf pan and then scatter 3/4 cup fresh blueberries on the top of the batter, patting down gently with a spatula. Bake and glaze as directed.

Let cool completely before slicing or it will crumble apart.



Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Rice Krispie Spring Nests

Admit it - you love Rice Krispie Treats!!  There are just some universal truths where taste is concerned and foods that make anything taste good - cream cheese frosting, caramel sauce, raspberry puree, melted marshmallows - this elite group of toppings that would make even wood chips delicious.  (Glad that someone was inspired to combine marshmallows with cereal instead of wood chips).  Following is a Spring Nest version that is such fun for the kids to make for an Easter craft and treat!  I would imagine even birds would opt for this medium to build their nests!  The kids can melt the marshmallows, stir in the cereal, add the green food dye and shape the nests - a children's activity that requires just the ingredients and a little supervision!


Rice Krispie Spring Nests:
8 cups Rice Krispies type cereal
1 package (40 large) marshmallows
1/4 cup butter
2 -3 drops green food coloring
extra butter for hands
parchment or waxed paper
large colored jellybeans or Cadbury Mini-Eggs (preferred)

-In large saucepan, over medium heat, melt 1/4 cup butter. Add marshmallows and stir frequently until marshmallows have melted and mixture is smooth.  Stir in food coloring.

-Place Rice Krispies in large mixing bowl.  Pour marshmallow mixture over the cereal and stir until well combined.  Let mixture rest and cool for about 5 minutes.

-Place a sheet of paper on work surface.  Rub a small amount of soft butter on clean hands and take a tangerine-size handful of mixture.  Shape and push into a ball and then flatten onto the paper, making an indentation in the center for the bird "eggs".  Arrange 3 - 5 mini-eggs in each nest.  Let sit and set up for about 20 minutes as children lick off their fingers and what remains in the bowl.  Makes 12 - 14 "nest" treats.

Persnickety P.S.:
-You'll win the "favorite grandma award" when you help the grandchildren make these!!