Middle Eastern Salads: Matbucha and Babaganoush

June 27, 2012

Growing up, I thought everyone's Shabbat table boasted a variety of Middle Eastern cooked salads. I got my culture shock when I went to college and got invited to various homes from different backgrounds. Some homes served the standard hummus and tahini, store-bought nonetheless. Some had nothing but horseradish. And then some had an assortment of doughy appetizers. I couldn't help wonder, what do they eat their challah with?

Taking that first bite of fluffy, airy challah smothered in a little bit of babaganoush and (a lot) of madbucha is something I look forward to every single week. The different colors and flavors, as well as the textures and spices make these salads a weekly staple on my Shabbat table.

In the next few posts, I'll share with you the recipes to some of my favorite Middle Eastern salads. From homemade tahini, to roasted eggplant and spiced beets. If you've never made them, I hope you will push yourself to. Some are easy and others more "laborious," but all are absolutely worth it.

I'll start with my favorite of all: Matbucha

and Babaganoush

What are your favorite Shabbat salads? What do you like to eat challah with?

Cherry Tomato and Green Onion Salad

June 21, 2012

This salad unfailingly makes its appearance at my table every week. Made with perfectly ripened cherry tomatoes, tightly chopped green onions and a handful of cut up cilantro, it is both refreshing and simple.

And if you're daring enough, you can kick it up a notch and add jalapeno in there to make it pleasantly picante.

I guarantee you there won't be much left over. This salad balances a harmony of flavors that burst in your mouth and leave you craving more.

See for yourself.

Make it at your next BBQ, lunch, or gathering and you'll be hooked.

How to wash and kosher lettuce

June 20, 2012

Many people assume that eating kosher means you simply don't mix meat and milk. Or eat pork, or rabbit, or shellfish.

I also find it quite amusing when people assume that kosher food has been blessed by a rabbi, thereby shifting its status from non-kosher to instantly kosher. Oh how simple things would be if that were the case. I would immediately bring my rabbi over to that quaint, hip French bakery around the corner, where the smell wafts through to the street and makes you weak in the knees, hand him a loaf of that rustic baguette I've been eyeing every time I pass by and sit impatiently as he articulates the blessing that will allow me to take a bite off that crusty goodness. I love baguette. Especially warm, fresh-out-of-the-oven with a slab butter and apricot marmalade.

But it's not that simple. And my religious beliefs are more important to me than satisfying my gourmandise. (That means glutton, in case you were wondering.)


Many people often overlook the fact that bugs are also not kosher. You're probably thinking ewww, who wants to eat bugs? Well, some people do so voluntarily. I can't see why. And some people do so involuntarily. Yes, there are many little things that are crawling around in your leafy greens and you might not even see them.

So I thought since I have a whole salad theme going on, I would show you how I wash my lettuce.
You will get a visual of how I kosher my lettuce, and thereby make sure there aren't any unwanted insects crawling around.

1. Place the lettuce in a big clear or white bowl and fill with water.
2. Add a small amount of vegetable wash or non-toxic all natural soap.
3. Let it soak for 5 minutes, making sure the bowl has enough room to allow the water to permeate.
4. Agitate. Remove the lettuce from the bowl and discard the water.
5. Place the lettuce in a second soak of fresh water and let it sit for about 3 minutes.
6. Once again, remove the lettuce and do not drain the water.
7. Check the surface of the water to make sure there are no floating bugs. (Or any dirt for that matter.)
8. If nothing is found, you should check three handfuls over a light source. If insects are found, you may repeat the process another time. If they are found again, you should discard the batch since it's most likely infested.

Now is the fun part. Get your salad spinner ready and dry the squeaky clean lettuce.
And voila, you have kosher, clean, bug-free lettuce.

  This was just a quick glimpse into how I wash my mesclun mix. There is a more extensive list compiled by the RCC (a kosher agency in Cali), that you can download here. It lists many other types of vegetables that need checking/cleaning.

Tip: make sure you store your lettuce dry and in an airtight container to keep the moisture out.

Grilled Chicken Avocado and Radish Salad

June 17, 2012

I can't say that this is a well-thought out salad. It was born most likely out of convenience or maybe even happenstance. One of those moments when you open the fridge and take out whatever fresh vegetables you have and chop them up nice and crisp. You then proceed to stand back and observe the color palette to make sure its balanced, not too much green, adding a little red and orange and wishing you had bought yellow bell pepper to round it all off. Yes, I eat based on how my food looks. Salads need to be fun, colorful, and vibrant. Pretty. And pretty appetizing.

This one didn't disappoint.

I didn't expect to like it so much that I would blog about it. But when you're on a Clean diet, salads are exciting.

This concoction is a perfectly healthy, satisfying lunch. Or dinner. Or breakfast. (Who made up these arbitrary rules appointing certain foods to varying times of the day, anyway?)
It combines different textures and flavors: from the crunchiness of the lettuce, to the softness of the ripe avocado. From the nuttiness of the seeds, to the tanginess of the green onions. You'll find it quite gratifying.

Crunchy. Soft. Nutty. Tangy. You're really off to a promising meal.

Just so you know, this salad is packed with protein: those little black dots aren't cracked pepper, they're chia seeds. You also have some sunflower seeds hiding somewhere in there. I topped it off with cast iron-grilled chicken breast and a generous sprinkling of fresh herbs. Yum, if I should say so myself.

Enjoy making this and sharing it. You can easily use your leftover meat from the BBQ you were enjoying with your dad yesterday. (Happy father's day, by the way, for those who celebrate it.)

And anyway don't we all need to get back into sensible eating after overindulging at the dessert table? Just saying...

Summer Fun and Summer Salads -- A new theme begins

June 14, 2012

I just came back from a pleasant vacation visiting my family in Montreal. It's quite special going back to where you grew up with your own family. You get to share what has shaped and nurtured you with those whom you are shaping and nurturing.

That means, my close friends and relatives, my comfortably unchanging neighborhood, and lots, lots of meals that smell like home. More about those irresistible, comfort foods later.

Montreal is really a beautiful city, which I wholly underestimated. We spent time visiting it's natural splendor, watching some animals roam in their natural habitat. You know, things I wouldn't do if I actually still lived there.

They even posed for me.

We also went strolling through the old port. A historic neighborhood in downtown Montreal, that makes you feel, even just for a second, that you're in Europe. The city has a deep history, charming architecture, and eclectic shops. All of which, coupled with pleasant weather, made for delightful afternoons.

But you're probably wondering about the food. Rest assured, we worked the restaurant scene. We frequented Pizza Pita more times than I care to admit. We made our rounds between Chez Benny, Chops, and Sprinklez. I know, I'm terrible, I should have taken pictures to share with you. But for the most part, I spent meals at my mother's table.

My mother, she's a very traditional cook, preferring fried schnitzel and fish bathing in deep oily sauces (think corbina filet in tomato lemon sauce, a Libyan dish). And so, I couldn't resist the smells that permeated my mother's cozy orange-walled kitchen. The smells I grew up inhaling, and the ones that trigger those cozy, homey feelings inside. Naturally, I saluted my Clean diet farewell and dug deep into the dishes that remind me most of home. (With time, I'll share a few.)

Reality hit when I landed back in LA. I missed the healthy habits I had been slowly integrating into my life. So I thought I would start a theme. Yes, a fun theme to get me back to munching on greens. My next few blog posts will feature some of my favorite salads. You have to admit, there's no better time than in the summer to enjoy the lightness and crispness of a big bowl of fresh, colorful vegetables (and fruits!).

The first in this small series is a Pineapple Lentil Salad. I first came across the idea of putting lentils in a salad in the recipe section of the Clean book I mentioned here. Initially, I thought it was weird. Lentils pair up well with rice, couscous, and even mushrooms, but with lettuce it seemed like an odd match. To me, at least. I tried it anyway, for the sake of stretching my comfort level. I added pineapple, and it was perfect. Such a balance of sweet, salty and crunchy. I also threw in a sprinkle of seeds to boost its nutritional value and voila, a perfect lunch or dinner that left me undeniably satiated. The high protein content combined with the healthy fat will keep you surprisingly full for longer than you think. 


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Happy Summer! 

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