Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Cooking Divas - A Middle Eastern Feast

Yesterday was the second cooking session for the Cooking Divas, an all-girl cooking club that I'm a part of and that meets once a month or so. Our theme was Middle Eastern food, which was a welcome change from the food that we eat on a daily basis. While we were familiar with sporadic parts of this meal, none of us knew about it all and therefore we were excited to learn.

Our Middle Eastern feast consisted of:

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus - This recipe, courtesy of my friend Kimberly is as easy as it could get. We were slightly intimidated to make it in the beginning, but once we got the food processor set up, it was super simple. There was a huge difference between the taste of this and store bought hummus. First off, it produced double the amount a big tub of store bought hummus would and secondly, it tasted a lot fresher, as it was enhanced by lemon juice and parsley. Just to prove how easy it was, I made it again today, the whole process taking about 10-15 minutes. I strongly recommend making this for guests or just for an everyday snack.

Lamb Shawarma - I was curious to cook lamb because I've never yet done that. My fellow Cooking Divas were new to it as well and through our experience, we saw how approachable and delicious lamb could be. Although this recipe is uncomplicated, it requires a lot of patience, as the meat has to marinate for a couple of hours in the lemony-yogurt sauce--it's worth the wait though. Next time I think that I'd use a full fat or low-fat yogurt to avoid a watery consistency in the sauce--we used a fat free yogurt this time and I don't think that it was thick enough.

Lemon/Garlic/Parsley Rice - This was a simple side dish that we improvised while cooking the lamb. We made a cup of Jasmati rice and while it simmered, we added two big cloves of halved garlic, a handful of fresh parsley and two slices of lemons. These ingredients helped infuse freshness and flavor into the plain rice without overwhelming it. We ended up drenching the rice with the yogurt sauce from the lamb but it was still nice to have it lightly flavored by the lemon, garlic and parsley.

Roasted Veggies - Sue took the lead on this dish and while it was once again simple, it was ultra flavorful, consisting of peeled and sliced root veggies such as fennel, turnips, carrots and onions. These were dressed with good olive oil, salt, pepper and cumin and placed in a 375 degree oven for 40 minutes. We served them alongside the lamb and rice, which was just perfect--once we took a bite, we were astounded by how slow roasting could flavor ordinary vegetables.

Tel Kadayif - Yana had the idea of making this typical Turkish dessert. It used special ingredients such as shredded dough, which resembled angel hair pasta, as well as crushed pistachios. I've seen this type of dessert in traditional Greek bakeries in Astoria, which is no surprise, as the two cultures overlap.

The preparation was fussy, as we had to use the food processor quite a bit to shred the dough further. The simple syrup, which was poured on top wasn't so simple to make and we had a hard time getting it to a syrupy consistency. The trick was to turn off the heat after it reached its boiling point and let it congeal slowly.

Once the dish was in the oven, it was hard to gage when it was done, as it took a while for the dough to turn golden brown. However, the end product was very good--the simple syrup soaked into the dough, making it sticky, gooey and very rich. Although it was on the sweet side, I loved the flavors and especially enjoyed the crunchy pistachio middle and topping.

Key Learnings:
1. Hummus is super easy to make at home--you get double the quantity for half the price of store bought hummus
2. Lamb is delicious but you have to treat it with care--and be careful not to overcook it
3. Simple veggies could taste like the biggest treat, if seasoned properly
4. Traditional Middle Eastern desserts with shredded dough are temperamental in preparation but so delicious in taste

Try a Middle Eastern feast of your own. Enjoy!


  1. go Foodista go!! embrace your inner food processing urges and many dips can be yours :)

  2. I love homemade hummus! I must experiment with it some more - thanks for teaching me the way :)

  3. most could also add sundried tomato, olive tapenade...the possibilities are endless :)

  4. Judes! Quite the spread!! I'm so sorry I missed it, everything sounds and looks wonderful - sounds like you ladies had a lot of fun :) Let me know if you do it again! I'm totally with you and Kimberly on homemade hummus... so delicious!

  5. yay! we'd love to have you!



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