Cooking in the Time of COVID – A Mediterranean Melange

Instagram Post 5/30/2020

 
👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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A Mediterranean mélange in the service of using up the last bits of saladworthy candidates from the pantry and fridge. Of primary significance, I’ve finally finished off the last of the dried chickpeas! 🙌

The slightly smaller spheres are Lebanese moghrabieh which are similar to their more diminutive Israeli couscous cousins. These wonderful starchy pearls deserve far better than the short shrift I’ve given them here – I almost wish I had left them in the pantry to star in some future culinary legerdemain. There’ll be a next time. In this case, I toasted them first to bring out their latent nuttiness; toasted almonds and currants made a considerable contribution as well.

From the refrigerator, I exhumed some jarred red pepper strips, Italian fried green peppers and agrodolce sun dried red peppers along with Moroccan pickled eggplant, Greek black olives and creamy feta cheese. Plated the medley over baby arugula and dressed it with olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, za’atar and sumac.

Tasted so much better than it looked!
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Al Raouche Restaurant

Instagram Post 2/29/2020

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Brain and brain! What is brain?

This is brain, lamb brain to be precise, one of the mezza (you might see meze) available on weekends at Al Raouche, the Lebanese restaurant at 169 Crooks Ave, Paterson, NJ. Boiled and marinated, possessing a texture that was yielding but with the tiniest bit of resistance, naturally mild in flavor and not at all gamey, it was so fantastically garlicky that you wouldn’t know you were eating lamb. That, plus a generous drenching of olive oil and lemon juice provided the dominant character of the dish. And that’s a good thing, Miri.
 
 

Alsalam Restaurant

Instagram Post 1/8/2019

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Did you know that Fifth Avenue is in Manhattan and 5th Avenue is in Brooklyn? The Bronx and Queens have their own as well, but Brooklyn’s is in our sights today – more specifically, Alsalam Restaurant & Meat Market at 7206 5th Ave in the Middle Eastern Bay Ridge neighborhood. Their awning tells it all: gyros, BBQ chicken, shish kebab, falafel, meat pies, and zaatar “pizza” along with grocery items like cheese, olives, nuts and halal goodies in general – just what you’d hope for and expect ’round these parts.

Here’s their lamb shawarma, a tasty treat enjoyed a few months ago when the weather was more like that of Lebanon – juicy lamb, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, graced with a creamy yogurt sauce (and yeah, I added my own hot sauce! 😉).
 
 

Karam – Spinach Pie

Instagram Post 11/30/2018

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I’m usually not a fan of Middle Eastern spinach pies. Yes, I know, heresy. But they’re generally seasoned carelessly if at all, the dough is too tough particularly where the edges are pinched together, and when the spinach excretes its bitter juice, they turn into something that resembles wet cardboard with a filling my mother would have insisted was “good for me”. So when this plate appeared, I snapped a pic thinking I probably wouldn’t venture beyond that – but I would have missed out on a great treat. Karam, the Lebanese restaurant at 8519 4th Avenue in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn succeeded in changing my opinion of this ubiquitous snack. The filling was herbaceous and delectable and the dough was tender and supple, little pillows of delight that won my heart. Get these.

The second photo shows za’atar pita crisps, there for the asking.
 
 

Karam – Falafel

Instagram Post 11/29/2018

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Falafel are customarily made from chickpeas or fava beans, ground, compressed and deep fried. The Lebanese restaurant Karam crafts theirs from a combination of both which, in the company of a proper balance of onion, garlic, parsley, cumin and other spices, is probably what makes their rendition so tasty. Served with tahini and pickled turnips, it’s one of the best versions of the crunchy treat in this Middle Eastern neighborhood. Located at 8519 4th Avenue in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, Karam has earned its phenomenal reputation rightfully; head over there and see for yourself – they’re a cut above the rest. (See photo 2 for the inside scoop!)
 
 

Karam – Chicken Shawarma

Instagram Post 11/6/2018

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The Arabic word shawarma has its roots in the Turkish word çevirme, turning, which describes the pirouetting conically-stacked slabs of marinated chicken as they inch past the searing glow of the vertical rotisserie. Karam, at 8519 4th Avenue in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, offers two variations on the popular street food: beef & lamb and chicken, and prepares one of the very best in this Middle Eastern neighborhood (which probably should have earned the moniker Little Levant, but didn’t).

Shown here is chicken shawarma; packed with deftly-seasoned succulent meat, lettuce, tomatoes, and dressed with a yogurt based sauce, it was one of the finest delicacies we enjoyed that day.
 
 

Karam – Za’atar and Tomato Pie

Instagram Post 11/3/2018

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There are numerous Middle Eastern restaurants in Bay Ridge but there is only one Karam. Many of these restaurants make flatbread pies that go by many names like manoush, manoushe, manousheh, mankousheh, manakish, manaqish, manaeesh or manakeesh, not to mention specialized versions like lahmacun or lahmajoun, and each of these many names goes by many spellings.

Karam calls them simply “pies”. And that’s all you need to remember because they are far and away the best in the neighborhood in my opinion. The bread is fresh and supple, the toppings bright and flavorful, the aroma intense and intoxicating.

Here’s our tomato and za’atar pie, one of their many varieties. Za’atar (which itself goes by many spellings and regional recipes) is a blend of thyme and sesame seeds (the mandatory pair) and other herbs and spices like sumac, hyssop, oregano, and savory. Za’atar can be overpowering if applied with a heavy hand, but the sweet tomatoes mitigated any attempt to commandeer our palates. Try this pie.

That’s not all we enjoyed that day, of course; I’ll post more from Karam, the wonderful Lebanese restaurant, soon. In the meantime, I recommend that you experience their delicious food for yourself at 8519 4th Avenue in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
 
 

The World’s Fare – Wafa’s Express

Instagram Post 5/7/2018

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Here’s another World’s Fare delight, this time from Wafa’s Express, 812 Grand St, Brooklyn. I like it when there’s a brick-and-mortar restaurant that anchors a festival vendor because it means we can indulge in their goodies pretty much any time we want to. Wafa’s features Lebanese cuisine, represented here by mujaddara and falafel.
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Mujaddara is a combination of bulgur wheat and lentils, but the caramelized onions on top are as important to the dish as the other components, not merely a garnish, and serve to make it something memorable. Those are crunchy turnips pickled in beet juice coddling the mujaddara.
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The falafel, artfully drizzled with tahini and hot sauce, were delicious as well and yes, I fell for their falafel!