Mufaraket Batata

Mufarakeh is another one of these generic names of various vegetable dishes. They share very little between them some are vegetarian like Mufaraket Kusa (courgettes mufarakeh), some use eggs, and some are cooked with ground meat like today's dish Mufaraket Batata (Potato Mufarakeh). The only common factor I could think of is the simplicity of these dishes. They are usually easy to make, quick, simple and filling making them a perfect students and single men food.

The word Mufarakeh could be roughly translated to Rubbed or Massaged. Like Mnazaleh, the name doesn't make much sense especially non of the dishes called mufarakeh I could think of contains any rubbing or massaging of the ingredients.

Mufarakeh is not a modern Syrian word.
Muhammad bin Hasan Al-Baghdadi described a dish called Mufarakeh in his book Kitab Al-Tabeikh (The Book of Cooking) in 1226. The dish he described is a scrambled egg-like dish made from chopped chicken livers, egg yolks and spices.

Potato Mufarakeh is a simple dish of potatoes, onions and minced meat. Traditionally the potato is cut into small cubes, fried and cooked with the meat in a pot. The result is a yummy dish but not great looking. I made some adjustment to the recipe mainly to make it more presentable. It is in a way a deconstructed version of the original dish.

Here is my Mufaraket Batata recipe:
Potatoes 800g
Minced lamb 400g
One large onion
Ghee clarified butter 1tbs
Vegetable oil
Chicken stock 250ml
Pine nuts 50g (optional)

Pre-heat the oven to 200 C.

Start by preparing the meat mixture. Finely chop the onion and fry in the Ghee butter on medium heat till soft. Add the meat and continue to cook till fully cooked. Season with salt and pepper and add the pine nuts towards the end when all the water has evaporated from the meat mixture. The meat need to be well seasoned as it is the main flavouring ingredient.

Peel and slice the potatoes into 5 mm thick slices. Fry in vegetable oil till almost done. Drain on a kitchen towel.

In a deep roasting dish, arrange a layer of the potato slices and sprinkle some salt. Spoon the meat mixture into a thick layer. Arrange the rest of the potato slices on the top. Pour the chicken stock carefully. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper and bake in the oven for 30 - 40 minutes till the surface is golden crisp.

Serve with a generous squeeze of lemon, Arabic bread and salad on the side.

7aki7aki cooking videos

Last night I stumbled upon some of the most original cooking videos I have seen. They are made by 7aki7aki a Syrian student in France somewhere, may be Paris judging from her other videos. She is originally from Homs a small nice city north of Damascus. She posted recipes of some Syrian classics cooked Homsi style. The cooking and the filming takes place in the most basic and tiniest kitchens. True student pad.

The videos are silent with French and Arabic (in Homsi accent) titles. All the video are fast forwarded with some nice music background. There is a great humorous tones to the videos partly due to the fast movements and partly due to the comments she put on the screen.

I thought I should share these videos with you. Here is a sample.

By the way, 7aki7aki means Talk Talk.

Mnazalet Zahra

Just a quick post today to share with you a recipe I didn't cook for years and years. It wasn't one of my favourite dishes growing up but I have been craving it for the last two weeks. Finally I managed to cook it yesterday.

Today's dish is
Mnazalet Zahra. Zahra is Syrian for cauliflower (we use the same word, zahra, for flowers). The word Mnazaleh is still a mystery for me. It is used as a generic name for few vegetables based dishes one of them is my favourite Aubergine Mnazaleh. It is very difficult to translate the word to English. The best I could do is "taken down". It doesn't make any sense, I know, but it doesn't make any sense in Arabic either.

I cook this dish with meat but it works perfectly well as a vegetarian dish. Cook it in the same way without the meat and use vegetable stock.

Here is my Mnazalet Zahra recipe:

One large cauliflower
Minced Lamb 250g
Chicken stock 200mls
Coriander large handful
Garlic one clove
Vegetable oil

Start by cutting the cauliflower into florets. Fry the florets in vegetable oil. The oil needs to be quite hot so the cauliflower gets a nice colour but remain firm as they will be further cooked later. Drain on a paper towel.

Cook the meat in a table spoon or so of oil till fully cooked. Add the chicken stock and the fried cauliflower. Season with Salt and pepper and cook for ten minutes. Chop the coriander leaves and crush the garlic clove. Add to the pot with some hot water if required. Cook for further five to ten minutes till the cauliflower is fully cooked.

Serve with vermicelli rice and a generous squeeze of lemon at the end.

Weekend Breakfast

In the traditional Syrian households, kitchen is the woman territory. Dad brings the food, mum cooks the food. I like to believe that this family module is changing. More and more family are breaking this rigid structure, may be very slowly but continuously. May be it is just my liberal brain convincing me that things are changing. I don't know!

Regardless of how traditional, liberal, backward or progressive a family is, two meals remain the father duty. First is, no surprises there, barbecue. Lighting a huge fire, grilling big pieces of meat and filling the place with smoke brings the cave man out of all of us men. We just love it.

The second father's specialty is Friday's breakfast. Friday as many of you know is the day of rest for Muslims so the weekend across all of the Arabic and Islamic countries will be Friday with either Thursday or Saturday. In Syria people will have a lie-in on a Friday morning and the breakfast will be served in late morning, more like a brunch, before people head for Friday's prayer around midday. The Friday's meal will feature the usual breakfast items olives, white cheese and labneh. But it will not be a proper weekend breakfast if it didn't include Hummus Fatteh or Ful Mudamas.

Ful is Arabic for Fava beans or braod beans whichever way you want to call them. Ful Mudamas is a vegetarian warm broad bean salad dish eaten as a filling breakfast or a nice supper. Although Ful Mudamas is the official name of the dish we hardly ever use this name. We simply refer to it as a generic Ful or we call it by the name of its two variations, Ful bi Laban (youghurt Ful) made with a youghrt sauce or Ful bi Ziet (oil ful)which looks more like a salad and uses more olive oil.

For this recipe you can use home cooked dry broad beans as in my Ful Nabit post but to be honest with you the skins remains tough unless you cook them for long time with plenty with Sodium Bicarb. You wouldn't do that in Syria and you will buy your beans ready cooked from the Ful and Hummus shop. Here in London you can buy tinned ful. There is a huge variety in any Middle Eastern supermarket. Some of the tinned ful comes in a variety of flavours and different Middle Eastern recipes. I like to buy a plain ful and chickpeas tin and I do the flavouring myself.

Here is my Ful bi Laban recipe:

Ful (or Ful and Chickpeas) tin
One large tomato
Garlic 1-2 cloves
Greek style yoghurt 200g
Tahini 2-3 tbsp
Olive oil

Heat the beans with water in a pot or simply empty the can contents into a bowl, cover and microwave for two minutes. Drain the beans and let cool down . They need to be warm but not too hot as the yoghurt will curdle.

Mix the youghrt, tahini, crushed garlic, salt and squeeze of a lemon and mix together. The mixture will stiffen because of the tahini. Add a little bit of water at a time and whisk. You need a fairly loose consistency. Adjust the quantities according to taste. I like more tahini and less lemon but try till you get the taste you like.

Chop the tomato and add to the yoghurt sauce. Add the warm beans and mix together. Transfer to a large bowl or individual portions.

Decorate with paprika, chopped parsley and a generous drizzle of olive oil. Serve with warm bread, a quartered onion and some pickles.

One Hundred and One Mezze: 19. Fried Aubergine

Before I posted my fried cauliflower recipe I was sure if I should post it or not. I didn't think people will be that interested in some fried vegetables recipe. Because I liked that dish so much I decided to go ahead and post it. I will have to say I was pleasantly surprised with the response. Nineteen comments in total, some loved it, some never heard of it, it was taste of home to some and some put links to the way they make their cauliflower.

Some times the simplest things in life give us most joy!

This positive response encouraged me to share with you another favorite of mine, Fried Aubergine. As with its cauliflower counterpart it usually forms part of nice summery Ma'ali (fry up) lunch. Served along a bowl of fattoush, some mutabal and chips. Alternativly it could be served as part of mezze spread.

Here is my recipe:

One large aubergine
One tomato
Garlic 5-6 cloves
Salt 1tsp

Slice the aubergine into thin slices, 8 - 10 mm roughly. Deep fry in hot vegetable oil. When nice and light brown remove to kitchen towel to absorb the extra oil.

Slice the tomato and chop the parsley.

In a mortar and pestle, crush the garlic cloves with the salt till you get a white smooth paste.

To eat, spread a tiny amount of the garlic paste on a piece of Arabic bread with a slice of aubergine and some parsley. Wrap and enjoy with the tomato slice.

Ful Nabit, Damascus favourite snack.

I went to a boys only high school back in Damascus. I had a great group of friends, ten of us, stuck together like conjoined twins. If one wants to buy a jeans all ten of us went to buy that jeans. If one needed a haircut we all went for a hair cut. One of the greatest characters in that group was Issam. This guy lives his life in slow motion. He talked slowly, laughed slowly and responded slowly but he had an edge to him. He was completely care free. He didn't care about school, didn't care if he gets in trouble, didn't care about teachers and didn't care about his family. Nothing on Earth seems to worry or trouble him.

In our tenth grade as part of biology studies, we had to keep a notebook. We did home work, extra curricular activities, biology drawings and stuff like that. You work on this book all through the year and you hand it towards the end of the semester to be marked. Our friend Issam didn't keep one and the day before the books were due to be handed he decided to borrow Abed's (another friend) book to copy it.

We left school and Issam decided to stop at the food seller on the corner to eat some
Ful Nabit. Loads of kids were gathered around the Ful cart, somebody played a stupid joke, scuffle broke out and, true to form, my friend Issam dropped Abed's book in the large simmering ful pot.

We had such a good laugh the following day when we saw the hard crispy pages of the book. Even our biology teacher was in stitches when he heard the story. The only one who was not laughing was Abed especially when the marks came out few days later.

One of the best features of Damascus food scene is the endless number of street sellers offering all kinds of delicious snacks. On every corner of every street a man pushing a cart full of delicious grub. Food on offer changes according to the season. Mulberry juice, green almond, green plums, grilled chestnuts, corn on the cob boiled or grilled, Ma'arouk (sweet filled pastry), sugar cane, Tamari (thin rolls with grape molasses spread), prickly pears, and the list goes on and on. One snack in particular out-sells all others and is available all year round,
Ful Nabit.

Ful is Arabic for broad beans or fava beans. I had a long think on how to spell it in English. I would have chosen "fool" as that how we pronounce in Syria but I usually stick with wikipedia spelling. They used "ful".

Ful Nabit is boiled fava beans served with salt and cumin. The seller cart will have huge pot with the beans slowly simmering. The beans are served in a
proper glass or china bowls rather than paper wrap or a plastic plate, which I find adds a nice touch. to the experience. You usually get a glass of the cooking stock and half a lemon to accompany your ful. The cooking stock flavoured with salt , cumin and a squeeze of lemon makes a delicious (but not at all pretty) side drink.

Here is how to make Ful Nabit:

Dry fava beans 300g
Ground cumin

Soak the beans in plenty of cold water over night. Drain the beans and add to a pot with more cold water. Bring to boil then lower the heat and let simmer for about 90 minutes.

Cooking time will vary depending of the beans size and type so make sure you check the beans every once in a while. If you can squeeze the flesh out of the skin like a paste then you are ready.

To eat, bite the tip of the bean off and dip in salt and cumin. Squeeze the flesh into your mouth and discard the hard skin. It is not very sightly but it is delicious and truly addictive.