Salads, Sandwiches

Lebanese Lamb Kufta Kebabs and Tabbouleh Salad

Lebanese Lamb Kafta Kebabs and Tabbouleh Salad1 (2)

I grew up with a Lebanese Mother who loved to cook.  Her Lebanese feast ranks #1 on my “If I was stranded on a deserted island with one meal, what meal would it be?” list. So, with that in mind, go grab plenty of parsley and lamb and let’s get crackin’ on a few key components of that “#1 – stranded on an deserted island” meal.

(Side note: I just got an idea for a silly/cool drawing. Me on an empty tropical beach. A giant Lebanese feast sitting on a beach towel in front of me. Me smiling.)

I’ve tried many different tabbouleh recipes. Here’s my favorite, (meaning it’s obviously the best).  This refreshing parsley salad is made with bulgur wheat, fresh mint, tomatoes, cucumbers, and scallions. It’s dressed with a lemony vinaigrette. I prefer my tabbouleh salad heavier on the parsley and lighter on the mint.

Tabbouleh SaladTabbouleh Salad1Tabbouleh Salad2

For those unfamiliar, kufta refers to kebabs made with ground meat rather than cubed. In this dish, I’m showcasing the traditional Lebanese kufta recipe that my family makes at home. Extremely easy to prepare, it makes one hell of crowd pleasing dinner staple. I make it quite often. I prefer to stuff my kufta in a warm pita along with homemade tabbouleh salad, hummus or tzatziki (or both), red onion, kalamata olives, and feta cheese. I guess I also prefer to occasionally imagine myself eating this on a tiny tropical island.

Lebanese Lamb Kafta Kebabs and Tabbouleh Salad2Lebanese Lamb Kafta Kebabs and Tabbouleh Salad1 (2)Lebanese Lamb Kafta Kebabs and Tabbouleh Salad3

LAMB KUFTA KEBABS:

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound ground lamb (or ground beef or chicken)
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, minced (I use a garlic press)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, sometimes I also add fresh mint if I have on hand
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (leave out if you do not like spice)
  • 25 bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes

Directions:

Mix the lamb, garlic, salt, pepper, onion, parsley, cinnamon, cumin, allspice, and cayenne pepper in a bowl until combined. Be mindful not to over mix. Form the mixture into 25 balls. Form each ball around the tip of a skewer, flattening into a 2 -3 inch tube.  Refrigerate at least 30 minutes and up to 12 hours.

Preheat an outdoor grill or indoor grill pan to medium heat, and lightly oil grate/pan. Cook the skewers 6-8 minutes rotating when necessary.

Serve in a pita (or on a bed of rice pilaf). Serve with tzatziki sauce and/or hummus, red onion, kalamata olives, feta cheese and tabbouleh salad (recipe below).

TABBOULEH SALAD

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup bulgur wheat
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced (I use a garlic press)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (more or less to taste)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 cups flat-leaf parsley (2-3 bunches), finely chopped -remove stems and pulse in a food processor
  • 3 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
  • 3-4 tomatoes on the vine, seeds removed and diced
  • 2 small cucumbers, peeled, seeds removed and diced
  • 6 scallions, thinly sliced

DIRECTIONS:

Combine water and bulgur in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stir, reduce to simmer, and cover for 12 minutes (OR according to package directions).  If any water remains, drain. Transfer bulgur to a large bowl and let cool for 30 minutes.

Combine lemon juice, oil, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Whisk until well blended. Add parsley, mint, tomatoes, cucumber, and scallions to the bulgur wheat. Add the dressing and toss.

Note:  Sometimes I add 1 cup of chickpeas to the salad to bulk up the protein.  Tabbouleh is best served the same day it is made.

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Appetizers, Vegetarian Recipes

Classic Hummus

Classic Hummus

 

Don’t buy it.  Make it yourself.  More fun and flavor are to be had!

If you normally read something like the above in a food blog or publication and think to yourself,  “sure, I should do that,” … but then, upon further and deeper thought, you say to yourself (honestly) … “Even though that looks great, in reality, I’m probably not going to make that any time soon,” … Let this blog post be the one to end that thought process.

You have friends or family over, you put out hummus, they love it, and you tell them you made it yourself.

You can easily dress this hummus up to look fancy. You can just as easily spoon it into a bowl and attack it with your dipping vessel of choice.  Either way, It’s delicious and obviously better than anything you can buy in a store.  Trust me. I wouldn’t let my Lebanese heritage down by steering you wrong on this one. You’re going to love both eating this delicious hummus and making it.

Classic HummusClassic Hummus

 

Ingredients:

  • 30 oz can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed (or 2 15oz cans)
  • 1/3 cup tahini paste
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, use the good stuff!
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • A drizzle of olive oil, smoked paprika and fresh parsley, for garnish

Directions:

  1. First you want to peel your garbanzo beans.  Take a garbanzo bean with the index finger and thumb and pressing slightly at the point closer to either edge of the garbanzo bean, squeeze into a bowl and discard the skin.
  2. Reserve 15-20 garbanzo beans for garnish.
  3. Add grabanzo beans, tahini paste, garlic cloves, lemon juice, 1/4 cup olive oil, water, cumin and salt to a food processor.  Blend for 3 minutes.  Scrape down the sides, and blend again for 1 minute or until smooth and cramy.
  4. Taste for seasoning and consistency.  Add additional salt, lemon juice, or water as you see fit.
  5. Spread hummus on a serving plate.  Drizzle with olive oil, top with reserved garbanzo beans, and sprinkle with smoked paprika and fresh parsley.
  6. Serve with carrot sticks, pita or pita chips.

Note: Hummus can be stored in air-tight container in the refrigerated for up to 7 days.

 

Main Course Recipes

Lebanese Meat Stuffed Grape Leaves

Lebanese Meat Stuffed Grape Leaves

 

Grandma never measured anything out.  Mom learned from Grandma.

The best family recipes aren’t documented.  There’s no written recipe to reference when daring to recreate those most nostalgic childhood meals.  A little bit of this, a little bit of that…and somehow it always turned out perfect.  As is the case with my mom’s stuffed grape leaves…until now.

My mom knows the grape leaves are seasoned just right by giving the filling a little taste.  Yep, she tastes the raw meat.  She doesn’t actually swallow the meat.  Like tasting a fine wine in Napa Valley, she puts the meat mixture on her tongue, tastes for seasoning, then adjusts.  This isn’t something I would have a problem with (tasting the raw meat).  I trust our butcher and always buy organic.  But, unlike Mom, I do not possess a sommelier-esque palate so as to be able to just taste when the seasoning is perfect.  More cinnamon? More allspice?  More salt?!?! Ah!

So Mom and I devised a plan to finally figure out a written recipe.

Lebanese Meat Stuffed Grape LeavesLebanese Meat Stuffed Grape LeavesLebanese Meat Stuffed Grape Leaves

 

At first glance, this recipe looks complicated.  Don’t let that complicated appearance get you flustered.  It really is simple once you get rolling.  Invite friends and family to help with the process. It’s more fun to do this as a group, and it gets everyone more connected to the delicious meal they’re about to consume.  Pour some wine and make a fun afternoon out of it.

This is one unwritten family legend that was begging to be uncovered.  Thanks for letting the secret out, Mom!

Lebanese Meat Stuffed Grape LeavesLebanese Meat Stuffed Grape Leaves

 

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs ground lamb
  • 3 1/2 cups long grain white rice (I prefer Uncle Ben’s Original), uncooked
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper, finely ground
  • 16-oz jar California grape leaves (I prefer Orlando), you will need approximately 60 for rolling and 20 for lining your double boiler
  • 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
  • Equipment: You will need a large stockpot with a pasta or steamer insert and lid.  I use this one.

Directions:

Remove grape leaves from their jar and drain in a colander.  Rinse well with running water and drain again.  With a paring knife, remove the stem from the base of 60 grape leaves.  There is a small stem at the base (about 1/4 inch) that needs to be trimmed.  Set aside the 60 trimmed and cleaned grape leaves while you prepare the filling.

Combine lamb, rice, cinnamon, allspice, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.  Mix until well combined.  I find using my hands to mix the ingredients works best.  Reserve filling.

Prepare your stockpot.  Add 2 inches of water in your stockpot, place pasta insert or steamer insert into your pot.  Make sure the water does not touch the bottom of the insert.  If it does, reduce the amount of water.  Line the insert (both bottom and sides) with grape leaves, ensuring all holes are covered.  Note: Do not use the grape leaves you trimmed the stems from for this, use the additional grape leaves you have leftover.  Use 10-15 grape leaves for the lining.

You are now ready to start filling and rolling the grape leaves.  Working with one grape leaf at a time, place grape leaf on your work surface stem side up.  Place 1-2 tbsp of meat mixture (1 tbsp for small grape leaves) near stem.  Fold in the sides and roll grape leaf starting from the stem and moving away from you.  Repeat with the additional grape leaves until all of the meat mixture is used.  If you run out of the 60 cleaned and trimmed grape leaves, prepare more as needed.

Line rolled grape leaves in the prepared pasta insert or steamer insert.  Alternate direction leaves are pointed with each layer until you’ve used all of your rolled grape leaves.  Top your rolled grape leaves with crushed tomatoes, and add another layer of the leftover grape leaves on top (just as you did for lining the insert) to make a seal, you will use 6-8 leaves.

Put the lid on the stockpot, turn heat to high and bring water to a boil.  Once water comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and steam for 2-3 hours or until grape leaves are cooked through.  (Note: I always check to see if they are cooked through at the 2 hour mark.  The last thing you would want to do is overcook them.)  The grape leaves will be done when the meat is cooked through and the rice is fully cooked.

Note:  Throughout the cooking process, be sure to check the boiling water.  You want to make sure the water is steadily boiling and that the water level is just right.  It should not touch the bottom of the insert, or drop too low and boil away.  If the water is touching the bottom of the insert, remove some water.  If the water level drops too much, add more.

Serve with pita bread, and traditional Lebanese mezza dishes (hummus, olives, fattoush, tabbouleh) and plain yogurt.

Yields: Approximately 60 stuffed grape leaves.  Recipe can easily be halved.

Pasta Recipes, Salads, Vegetarian Recipes

Tabbouleh Pasta Salad

Tabbouleh Pasta Salad

 

When Autumn arrives, I find myself eating chili, soup, or a rich pasta sauce.  Maybe something slow cooked or braised in my oven.  All  perfect to eat in the fall … all foods we love.  With that said, I was in need of a slight flavor change this week.  Something fresh, and light.

I checked my refrigerator for meal options.  “Tabbouleh!  Tabbouleh will be perfect!” (I don’t go long between my Lebanese cravings).   All of the ingredients were calling out to me, ready to be used.  (Tabbouleh is the traditional Lebanese salad made of bulgur wheat, tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, finely chopped parsley and mint, tossed together with a lemony garlic vinaigrette.)  I went to the pantry to grab my bulgur wheat, and to my surprise, it wasn’t there.  No bulgur wheat!? (Insert frowning face icon here).  I scanned the pantry again and found the answer… rotini noodles!  Time to make my own spin on Tabbouleh.

Fresh tasting Tabbouleh produce mixed with the hardiness of the pasta, and burst of protein from garbanzo beans, and feta cheese.  A match made in heaven.

So, on Monday night, a wonderful spin on a classic Tabbouleh salad was created in my kitchen.  Tabbouleh Pasta Salad (with garbanzo beans and feta)!  A happy addition to my rotation and a lovely change for my taste buds!

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups whole wheat rotini pasta, uncooked
  • 1 large bunch fresh parsley (Italian or curly, your choice), leaves removed from stems
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, diced
  • 1 cup seedless cucumber, diced
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 15 oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 oz feta cheese, crumbled

Directions:

Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil.  Add rotini pasta and cook for 9 minutes (or according to package directions).  Drain, rinse under cold water, and reserve.  Note: You will want to add a small amount of oil to the noodles to keep them from sticking together if you are not going to toss the noodles with dressing right away.

Meanwhile, add parsley to food processor and pulse until finely chopped.  If you do not have a food processor, this can be done by hand.

In a large bowl, combine cooked and cooled noodles, parsley, tomatoes, cucumber, scallions, and garbanzo beans.

Make dressing by whisking together lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Add dressing to bowl and toss to combine.  Top with crumbled feta cheese.

Note: Consume salad within 2 days.  I discovered that if the salad sits in the refrigerator for too long it becomes watery.

Servings: 9 (Service size: 1 cup)