Tag Archives: vegan

Abuhamad’s Mujaddara (mmm,jeddarah!)

10 Mar

Time definitely flies when you’re having fun. It flies even faster when that involves getting engaged, promoted, married and 15 pounds lighter. While I haven’t been writing, I’ve been digging right in and helping myself to the incredible changes life has served me.

One of the most amazing things about the past few months has been the welcome with open arms from my new family.  Lucky for my me, my husband and my faithful handful of dear readers, my amazing father-in-law lives just blocks away and has also welcomed me with an open kitchen. Since our wedding, I’ve had the pleasure of  spending Sunday nights peering over his shoulder into a giant stockpot simmering with crackling olive oil, a generously fragrant fistful of minced garlic, fresh vegetables carried up from the farmers’ market and  stewed lamb falling softly from its lovingly butchered bones.

Baba in his kitchen.

The cooking I’ve grown up with and so from which have felt most comfortable to experiment tends to involve a lot of “a la minute” sauteeing (clearly, I’ve been watching Top Chef while I plug away on PR plans this week). Watching my mom from across our granite counter at home, this coordination of colorful sides is casually but carefully timed. In my own closet of a kitchen, it’s frantic, leaving a trail of overturned prep bowls in its too-tiny wake. But the Middle Eastern cooking my Abuhamed has shown me is elegant, leisurely, leaving us time to put up our feet while the rice steams away, he smokes a forbidden cigarette and I try to memorize, fascinated, the lips of the characters on Arabic TV.

Moh and Baba "resting" while rice cooks.

It’s clear where my husband’s love of food comes from. One of my first and most distinct memories of talking to Abuhamad (“father of Mohammad”) is the way he described the flavor of the olives from the trees where he grew up in Nablus in the West Bank, when you would wait all year for them to come into season. “There is no olive oil in the world that tastes like where I come from,” he said wistfully. I struggled not to tear up as I witnessed this gentle man recount such a visceral memory of a place he will never again see in his lifetime. Even if he were to return, it wouldn’t be to the place he describes as he skillfully slices onion after onion – one of simple people who never had much, but were content.

One of the traditional dishes they ate there was “Mujaddara.” Some quick Googling reveals variations across the Middle East largely because it meets that universal jackpot of being delicious, healthy, filling, cheap and easy. Comprised primarily of ingredients you always have in your pantry – lentils, rice and cumin topped with onions and served alongside a quick salad of tomatoes, cucumber and lemon – mujaddara is comfort food at its simplest, guilt-free best.

Diced veggie salad to accompany mujaddara.

Mujaddara

Weight Watchers Points Plus: 2 per 1/4 cup (so divide into 6 servings for 8 points+, or 8 servings for 6 points+)

My camera phone photo is insulting to this dish. There’s a beautiful photo that looks like this version on Avocado Bravado.

  • A cup of brown lentils
  • Double the  rice for lentils  (2 cups will be enough to serve at least 6 people, or 2 people with many, many leftovers)
  • A heaping spoonful of cumin
  • An onion
  • Oil (olive if watching that weight, corn or canola if not)
  • Optional, but better: A dollop of Greek yogurt to serve with (1 WWP+ for 1/4 cup lowfat)

For salad:

Weight Watchers Points Plus: 1 (for every tsp. of olive oil you use)

  • A tomato
  • A cucumber
  • Juice from a fresh lemon
  • Part of a jalapeño
  • Any other veggie you want to use up (like red cabbage)
  • Olive oil (natch)
  1. Soak rice.
  2. Wash lentils (no need to soak them). Pick out and get ride of the uglies.
  3. Put lentils in a big stockpot and cover them with water. Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 – 7 minutes after it does so; you want the lentils to be just barely cooked, but it’s important that they not get soft yet or they’ll be mushy later.
  4. Rinse rice and add to the pot.
  5. Add cumin.
  6. Adjust water level so it’s where you’d want it if you were cooking rice – just covering it by about a half inch. You might have to add a little water, you might have to scoop some out.
  7. Stir everything. Add a generous pinch (or a small spoonful) of salt.
  8. Just like you would with rice, bring to a boil over highish heat, then cover and bring to a low simmer until rice is cooked.
  9. Meanwhile, slice onion into thin strips.
  10. If serving traditionally/not calorie consciously, fry the onion in corn or canola oil over high heat and dry on paper towels. Or, for my Weight Watchers friendly variation, caramelize the onions. I like to start them in a teaspoon or two of olive oil over fairly high heat, then bring them down to low and cover, stirring occasionally. Let them go until the rice is done.
  11. Prepare the salad. Dice tomatoes, cucumber and whatever else you’re using. If you like heat, cut off the top of the jalapeño and get rid of the seeds and ribbons. Dice into tiny pieces. Add all or part, depending on how spicy it is (and you are).
  12. Squeeze juice of a lemon over the top, toss with a small amount of olive oil, and S&P.
  13. Serve mujaddara with the onions on top, alongside the salad and yogurt.

Fresh diced veggie salad to accompany mujaddara.

Summer Tour, Part I: These are my confessions

13 Jul

Ahh, Los Angeles. City of angels, bleached Santa Monica blondes, David Hockney blues, perpetual freeway*, deceptively endearing man-boys in Dodgers caps (yes, it’s a weakness), and of course, the biz.

Lucky for those of us who shun the limiting, reductive and superficial stereotype of the toned, tan fit and ready for which this great state is famed (OF COURSE on purpose due to highly evolved moral ground and DEFINITELY NOT as a byproduct of our natural Irish coloring and propensity for carbohydrates),  there are purportedly more entertainers living here than in any other city at any time in history. This not only means lovely eyecandy is scattered about readily availalable for all to enjoy, but more importantly that the eyecandy need dayjobs. I think the abundance of LA restaurants comes from supply of waitstaff, not demand for feeding. 

Because the eyecandy are also patrons, menus at hotspots like Hugo’s are filled with fare more dressed to leave less impress on the figures of the diet-concious than to satisfy the appetitites of us happily impervious visitors. Well, when in Rome, I always figure.  In this case, Rome involves a penchant for kombucha (maybe for the secrently high alcohol levels that recently led Whole Foods to snatch the elixir from its stores – gawd, thanks for nothing, LoHo) and veganism that probably has more to do with the human than the animal body. So, on my most recent surprise visit to shenanigan the Telanor Kousman, as engineered by his equally handsome and accomodating brother Petros K, I “indulged” myself with this gem:

“GO GREEN FRITTATA: This wonderful breakfast full of protein, minerals, and iron will keep you going and going. Made with egg whites, chard, beet greens, kale, spinach puree, broccolini, zucchini, asparagus, quinoa, garlic, extra virgin olive oil. Topped with alfalfa sprouts and an apple-mango-mint sauce.”

It looks a lot more interesting than it tasted, which was a lot like it sounds – righteously bland. Oh well. At least it was a caloric wash. Plus, I saw the adorable Ben from Big Love (Douglas Smith). I mean, what’s a trip to LA without a spotting of a psuedo-celebrity whose real name you definitely didn’t know before you were then obviously forced to stalk them?

OK, so here’s my real confession. I come to love LA a little bit more everytime I visit. There is a freedom in the understanding that what’s on the surface is a shared cultural value. Elsewhere image is a dirty little secret – here it’s accepted currency.

Of course the real reason it grows on me is I love seeing my friends growing in fabulous ways, like Telanor and Petros settling in their gorgeous vintage apartment, complete with verandas and a black and white checkered kitchen floor. Or near-future breakout sensation Joel Perez, California-bronzed and beaming, about to leave on tour with the smash In the Heights and meeting up with his new castmates for an impromptu Musical Monday bar performance.

The Kousman in his kitchen, my favorite of his many natural environments.

Before hitting the 5 back to the Bay, the Unsinkable M, Joel and I join the Kousaki for a lovely dinner at the authoritative heavy woood table in their very adult dining room. Whole wheat pasta tossed with a light white white and garlic sauce, goat cheese, a florally juicy fresh-squeezed SoCal lemon far sweeter than sour, greens and a few shreds of basil, sea salt and cracked pepper.

Light, easy, delicious. Much like, maybe against my better judgement, I’m quickly coming to regard  this sparkling, sprawling complexity of a city.

*A city of contradictions, Los Angeles had the largest public transit in the country before GM bought it, poured kerosene on the street cars and burned them so that Henry Ford could “solve the city problem [the problem being THE entire POINT OF THE CITY, you a-hole] by leaving the city”. Although if you’re still reading this blog at all you’re aware I’m an unabashed proponent of rambling tangents and tenous connections, even I decided this bit of knowledge must be shared but relegated to a footnote. Also, footnotes feel fancy.

Meals with Friends: Cause your job’s a joke, you’re broke…?

29 Jun

Monday evening. Far, far south of here, at 16th and Guerrero to be exact, I have to imagine that the Chinese man with whom I share a weekly struggle  to communicate through a fairly significant language barrier and the far more maddening craptastic hunk of plastic that calls itself my Blackberry, is bewildered.

No sweet and sour meatless chicken? No basil meatless chicken? Not even cold sesame NOODLE?!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen (all three of you), it’s true. I’ve put my foot down. If on the hands-down worst day of the week I’m going to go so far as to brave poring myself into a sports bra and spandex only to spot the only two people on the planet who make me want to rip out my own hair and feed it to them (another story for another day), then I can absolutely find the strength to dig deep within the depths of my willpower, my freezer and Jenn’s pantry to make a nutritious, delicious meal on which I spend not one additional dollar. Certainly not the customary $27, including two Diet Cokes, plus tip, my roommate and I fork over weekly to Big Lantern.

<Mini-Review Tangent: Big Lantern is by far my favorite Chinese take-out in the city. The sesame cold noodles, though deceptively simple enough to trick you into thinking you can take a trip to Richmond for supplies and make them yourself (oops), are delicious. Just enough tang, with sweet shreds of carrot and crunchy wisps of bitter lettuce nestled into the thick, floury noodles. Spinach dumplings are crunchy without being greasy. The basil meatless chicken is the best entree I’ve had, with spicy red pepper dotting a dense but never syrupy garlic sauce, big green broccoli chunks and crisp green pepper slices. Of course, it comes with enough to stuff your face with half while watching Friends reruns in your bathrobe, then finish the rest for breakfast. I mean, eww, who eats cold Chinese food for breakfast?! Lunch, I meant lunch. I’m lying. It’s absolutely breakfast. Deal with it.>

Anyhoo, the new and improved healthy, affordable options comes about with a little help from my real-live friends, of course. The contents of the fridge she has to clear out by Wednesday in tow, The Lovely Ms. Rosen, Future Esq., arrives, and after a glass of wine – details to follow Wednesday – we set to cooking the most simple, cheapest feast of nutritional value to happily feed six I’ve yet found.

Thanks to the one, the only, Telanor Kousman for your unwavering inspiration. Keep it raw, my friend. Keep it raw.

schexy schweat in schports bra

The Monday Medley

  • 2 avocados (or however many you have)
  • 1 tomato
  • 1 lemon (or lime)
  • a few garlic cloves
  • about 1 cup (cooked; about 5 oz. uncooked) of brown rice per person – we used 1 whole package of Trader Joe’s organic brown frozen rice ($3.49), but you could use any kind
  • lotsa spinach (however much you got), chopped
  • some red onion (we used probably 1/6 of a giant weird one. so giant you have to wonder. but no matter. i already ate it.)
  • can of beans (we used giant white beans in tomato sauce from TJ’s. In the past, the Kousman used drained black beans. I’m sure whatever you paid 89 cents for currently collecting dust in your cabinet will do just fine.)
  • optional: cheese, whatever type you’ve got (we used cheddar and gouda. feta would be great.)
  • Salt and pepper, obv. Do I really have to specify this? I think from now on we’ll dispense this step. Thanks.
  1. Make gaucamole. Cut each avocado in half, slice it still in the shell across both ways, and use a spoon to scoop the good stuff into a bowl. Dice a quarter of the tomato and throw that in. Chop up a garlic clove very finely and toss that in too. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze it on top, salt and pepper that ish (avocado loves salt) then mash everything together with a fork and your spoon. Very fun. Eat some with your fingers (I won’t tell) and then stick it in the fridge.
  2. Cook ya rice. Ya know, follow the package. Although I’ll admit – I find brown rice very tough to make well. I’m going to invest in a rice cooker one of those days. In the meantime, I’d highly recommend dumping your frozen TJ’s brown rice into a saucepan (a term I find confusing – it’s the spaghetti pot, yes?) with a sliver or butter or two or some olive oil if you want, putting your burner on medium-low, covering, and stirring every so often. It will probably take about 15 minutes.
  3. Chop yer fixins. Dice up the remaining tomato. Chop up your spinach. Dice a bit of onion and a couple cloves of garlic.
  4. Milk a cow. Just kidding. But if you want to, grate some cheese.
  5. Shake it like a polaroid picture. Top off your wine glass. Dance it out a li’l. When the rice is ready, toss in your tomato, spinach, garlic and onion. Empty out that can of beans. Squeeze the remaining lemon half over the top. Salt and pepper to taste (a tricky topic: more on this to come).
  6. Serve yourself. Make those bastards line up in your kitchen and let them add their own gauc and cheese. Offer them red wine and Bud Light. They’ll love you forever.

NOTES: This could easily be served with a simple salad or tomato soup for an indisputably complete meal. Because we were also playing kitchen clean-out, we served with TJ’s frozen chicken dumplings for those partaking in animal. On the other hand, this meal can easily, and with complete satisfaction, be completely vegan – a rarity for yours truly.