Meal 130: Palestine

Palestine isn’t a full UN member, but has been a “non-member observer state” since 2012, which is good enough for us. Politics aside, Palestinian food is distinctive in its own right. Particularly notably for a region where much of what’s eaten is characterized by regional variations on a theme — note how it’s common to refer to a restaurant as “Middle Eastern” — the West Bank claims a distinctive dish as the core of their culinary corpus, a layered dish of bread, oily onions, chicken and sumac called musakhan.

While the food of the West Bank gets the lion’s share of attention among those looking, there’s an argument to be made that the million-plus people of the Gaza Strip have perhaps even more to distinguish their style of cooking, particularly with their particular use of spices. Online information on Gazan food is very slim, but fortunately the library had the one book I found that’s focused on it.

Unfortunately, by trying to cook two cuisines at once, I made about one dish too many and the attention to detail suffered, in particular with the grape leaves and the upside-down rice. I think if we’d skipped the labor-intensive flatbread and instead stuck to store-bought pita, we’d have had a better meal even with the slight decline in bread quality.

Our guests for this culinary expedition to the holy land, on a fine summer evening, were Dita, Levi, Julie Mary, Kalah, Justin, Melia, Mike, Marty, Alley, Tim, Conor, and Chelsea.

Salata arabiya | Arabic salad | Recipe

This salad is hardly unique to Palestine, but it’s super common and delicious. You hardly need a recipe: chop up tomatoes and cucumbers and parsley, throw on some lemon juice and olive oil and salt, toss and serve. (For excitement, add onion and/or mint.) As we were in the height of summer, the tomatoes were juicy, the cucumber crisp, the flavors alive.

Duqqa | Grain and spice blend | Recipe

From the Western culinary perspective, duqqa has come on the scene like a latter-day zaatar, a more complex spice blend that adds complex base tones from the spices, and a toastiness from nuts. But that’s the Egyptian version. This Gazan duqqa is more than simply a seasoning, it’s actually mostly roasted grain and legume by volume, intended in large part as a way to add substance to olive oil when you dip your bread. Or, in this case, to oranges.

I love the concept, but wasn’t thrilled with our execution. As the recipe notes, you can use all sorts of spices in various permutations, perhaps I hit the wrong blend. I also can’t decide if I like the texture and bulk from the non-spice parts, or if they got in the way. But I can’t deny that orange segments are a fantastic vehicle for spices!

Waraq inab | Stuffed grape leaves

Grape leaves are stuffed all over this region, and while you can find them preserved in brine in a jar, we had the good fortune of an abundant grape vine spilling over from the neighbor. The leaves were just on the tail end of proper tenderness about two weeks before the meal, so I picked, blanched, and froze them at that time to keep them at their best.

I decided to try to follow a Gazan recipe with flavors like allspice. Kalah and Justin spent a good long time carefully filling and rolling each leaf with the mixture of rice and ground beef and whatnot, and it took a good long time to simmer. Then we were disappointed by two major factors: the filling was bland and underspiced, and our diligent laborers are vegetarian! I think in my haste I forgot to double the spices while doubling the recipe.

Musakhan | Sumac-roasted chicken with oil-poached onions on bread | Recipe

A few ingredients, a ton of olive oil, a bunch of steps, and it’s all worth it. The chicken part is easy, just get it cooked somehow. The onion part is like nothing I’ve ever seen, you cover chopped onions entirely with olive oil and then cook gently, so brown but get super soft rather than crispy. And the sumac with a hint of cardamom makes it feel like you’re in the right part of the world. It’s a bit of a to-do to assemble it just in time for eating, with a two-step bake, so keep that in mind when pacing out the meal.

If you chafe at using a few cups of oil for this dish, keep in mind that you don’t come close to eating it all (thank goodness), and you can reserve the remaining onion-scented oil in the fridge for several months. Keep it in a wide-mouthed jar because it’ll become semi-solid and you’ll need to spoon it out, and use for just about any sautéeing. You’re welcome.

Maqluba | Upside-down rice and eggplant casserole | Recipe

If you’ve ever seen a properly executed maqluba, you’ll be aghast at this soupy mess in a bowl. I must have gotten the liquid ratio wrong, because I was aiming for something that in the best case emerges as a cake-shaped masterpiece, or at least something mostly solid with some chunks of rice crumbling off. I at least got it true to its name, though: because the veggies were on the bottom of the pan, upon inversion they ended up on top, and maqluba means upside-down.

Knafeh | Syrup-soaked cheese-filled sheet pastry | Recipe

None of our guests reported any adverse affects, so we can confess the story of why we didn’t have enough of this really tasty dessert.

First, to explain what it is, it’s like a baklava but instead of flat filo dough you have a similar pastry called kataifa that’s shredded, and instead of a sweet walnut filling you have a bland, kinda squeaky cheese that’s sweetened up. Upon baking, the kataifa crisps up, the cheese softens, and like a baklava, after cooling it’s doused in a warm scented syrup and then topped with finely ground nuts. Then it’s cut into diamonds, and left to sit and cool.

After the main course, Laura asked me if I’d already plated the dessert, which I’d left to cool in the living room while we dined outside. I hadn’t, so I walked in to see why she’d asked. Half of the tray was missing! Then we remembered that just a few minutes ago we’d been wondering why our mutt Reba was so gleefully rolling around in the grass…

We swore the other guests who were inside to secrecy, put one modest piece on each plate — thankfully we had just enough — and meekly apologized when guests asked for seconds. Which they did, because it was so tasty

Meal 116: Morocco

I love spices. I love meats cooked with sweet flavors. I love Moroccan food. This was one of our very most anticipated meals, and I went pretty overboard with all the dishes and condiments. But with all the meats and flavors, how could I have cut back? The house smelled fantastic, we all got super full, and there was so much food going on that I even left one whole dish uncooked to be enjoyed later. Thank goodness for mint tea that helped our digestion.

Our guests for a lovely summer evening were Andrew, Laura, Craig, Laura, Tennessee, Alley, Amos, Nik, Deena, Bengt, Tim, Kristine, Haley and Mary.

Baghrir | Pancakes | Recipe

A semolina-heavy pancake that puffs up quite similarly to an American-style pancake, but this one you don't flip over. We had it with two toppings: goat cheese with honey (yumm) and fermented butter (yumm to some).

Smen | Fermented butter | Article

I've read that in some families, it's tradition to bury a container of smen when a daughter is born, to be unearthed and eaten for her wedding. By comparison, the version I made hung out in my cupboard for about a month. Even still, it had a distinctive, but not unpleasant, funkiness, which made for a really intense sensation in combination with all that butterfat. If you're intrigued, read the article! And if you make some, enjoy it with those pancakes.

Harira | Lentil stew | Recipe

This stew is classically made with lamb, but I went the vegan route due to some guests' dietary needs, as well as the abundance of meat on offer in other dishes. We hardly missed the meat, as it was plenty rich in terms of flavor, heft, and mouthfeel, but also bright with fresh herbs and a squeeze of lemon. A great simple, healthy dish for a cold evening.

Seafood bisteeya | Savory seafood pie | Recipe

Bisteeya is Morocco's contribution to that great list of foods that includes empanadas, pierogi, bao, and börek best summarized as savory pies. The crust is fillo dough, the filling is typically based around poultry, and it's topped off with powdered sugar. Sugar with chicken? You bet.

Anyway, as with the harira, to make the meal more accessible to more people I went with this seafood-based version. I made the rookie mistake of not defrosting the fillo overnight, and my rushed method led to the sheets breaking in half. Worry not, because I just made two smaller ones.

In the rush of all the cooking and the huge excess of food, I didn't end up baking off these pies for the dinner. But my goodness, they were so delicious later! Also, they freeze really well, just throw them straight into the oven without defrosting.

Couscous | Preparation

That little pasta's really easy to cook, right? Just a bit of boiling water, a few minutes, and ready to go? Sure, but how about adding a lot more effort and an hour more for a moderately improved texture? If you want to do it right, which involves three separate rounds of steaming interspersed with breaking up clumps by hand, then follow the link above. The cool thing is that this is efficient with energy and stovetop space: you do it right on top of the tagine!

I suppose if I were from the region and grew up with couscous made this way, I'd appreciate it being done right. But frankly, I didn't feel like the improvement was worth all the effort. Unless somehow we messed up.

Lamb with prunes Recipe

As far as I'm concerned, this is the Platonic ideal of Moroccan food. Rich meat, sweet fruit, haunting spices, and a long slow simmer combine to make the sort of food that you just can't stop eating. I'm practically smelling the dish as I type. You should cook it so you can smell it too. Make a lot, freeze the leftovers, and enjoy them many times.

Chicken tagine with preserved lemon and olives | Recipe

This dish covers the other direction of Moroccan meats: brighter and tangy. The meal will still be great if you make it with fresh lemons, but it just won't convey the appropriate depth and intrigue unless you use preserved lemons. (I anticipated the meal several months prior, and made them myself from Meyer lemons from my parents' tree. It takes like five minutes to make them, but you do have to wait at least a few weeks for them to mature.)

Vegetable tagine with tfaya | Stewed vegetables with caramelized onion and raisins | Recipes: Tagine andsauce

We made this the vegetarian way, and it was still quite tasty. Make sure to cut the veggies big enough that they hold up, both for presentation and texture.

The real star of the dish was the topping. It has nearly as much of that rich savory-sweet-aromatic as the lamb tagine, but to me the real high point is the floral note from the sprinkle of orange blossom water at the end. I'd really better make this tfaya again.

Khobs kesra | Bread | Recipe

It looks pretty, but was kind of disappointing, just not very flavorful and a weak crumb. I'm going to assume it was our own failure, but all the same I'd maybe seek out a different recipe, or just buy the fluffiest pita you can find.

Harissa | Spicy paste | Recipe

There are many harissa recipes in English, but it's worth running this obnoxious all-caps Courier-font French one through Google Translate for this one. The secret is the mint, which adds a lovely second sort of tingle to the predominant fiery chili one. (Also, consider cutting this recipe in half or even a quarter, unless you plan on going through a lot of it in a month or two.

Ghoriba | Almond cookies cake | Recipe

An accident that turned out great! These are intended to be cookies, but when we put everything together the batter was just too slack. So instead of dolloping

Meal 112: Monaco

Another beachside birthday party, another meal from a tiny, rich European country! The principality of Monaco is a Central Park–sized nugget on the French Riviera, whose Italian-sounding name is a giveaway of a linguistic, cultural, and culinary heritage that’s more closely connected to northern Italy than southern France.

For such a small place, there’s a surprisingly thorough culinary heritage, which is far better documented online than those of countries several orders of magnitude larger. Of course, it’s squarely within the Mediterranean flavor realm, though with its own twist.

Barbagiuan | Chard turnovers | Recipe

Nobody knows why these are called “Uncle John” in the Monégasque language, but these tasty, stuffed-dough, fried nuggets are the national dish. They’re stuffed with chard, which almost makes you think they’re healthy. Quite tasty, a great accompaniment to sparkling wine or rosé. Thanks to Ellen for prepping and folding the dough!

Oignons monégasques | Stewed baby onions | Recipe

This one was the crowd favorite. Small onions — you should probably use pearl onions but all I could find were little cipollini, which seemed to work too — are first sautéed, then gussied up with tomato paste, vinegar, and, intriguingly, raisins. A delicious sweet-and-sour appetizer.

Socca | Chickpea flatbread | Recipe

I’m figuring it’s a North African influence that brought chickpea flour to this corner of the world. With it,street vendors in the area whip up a sort of crêpe that’s eaten as a snack. Frankly, I found it pretty bland and thin, and I clearly did something wrong because I then had it at a restaurant and it was thicker and fluffier and a whole lot better. Also, I left the big heavy round skillet I used to bake them at the rental house, so it was frankly a doubly disappointing dish. (Maybe choose a different recipe to avoid my fate, but even that won't help you keep track of your cookware.)

Fougasse | Focaccia bread | Recipe

The fougasse for which Monaco is known is actually a dessert covered with sprinkles and studded with various dried fruits and spices like fennel. I didn't make that. Instead, I made this lovely herb-y bread, which all went very quickly toward sopping up the onion sauce.

Stocafi | Salt cod stew | Recipe (scroll to "Le Stockfish")

I saw a few different variations on the name, but all are local adaptations of the English work stockfish, which itself is a misinterpretation of the Scandinavian term for white fish dried on a stick. It’s not even true stockfish that’s used, but rather bacalao, or salt cod. (Stockfish traditionally has no salt, it’s purely the passing wind that dries the fish-on-a-stick into eternal preservation.)

Anyway, stocafi is a seafood stew with a very Provençal assortment of ingredients: tomatoes, olives, potatoes, plenty of garlic, and a generous dose of olive oil. The dish was nice, though nothing special. We didn’t do the optional anchovy-garlic-basil puree at the end, perhaps we ought to have.

Pogne au fruits | Fruit cake | Recipe (scroll to "Le pogne au fruits")

Laura wanted cherries, so cherries she got. This is a fairly simple dessert, just fruits pressed into a fairly rich flat yeasted dough. And tasty!

Meal 100: Luxembourg

Food from this little Grand Duchy bordering Belgium, France, and Germany is for sure Germanic, with pork and potatoes, but also with a surprisingly strong showing from fresh beans. It’s also one of the most northerly wine-growing areas in Europe — just about all of which is white — and we Noshers bring our A-game when wine is culturally appropriate. Or preserved meats.


For a relatively simple meal from a little country, Luxembourg turned out to be a big occasion! It was our first Nosh in Brooklyn since moving nine months ago, and a nice round Meal 100 to boot. Michael and China were super-generous in hosting us in (and renting a second table for!) their ample Park Slope apartment, so we had a grand crowd of 16 for really fun evening with friends old and new. And I really enjoyed heading back up to Astoria to do the shopping.

Among the attendees were our friends Jessica, Miriam, Lisa, Kirsty, Anna, Eli, and Sarah-Doe!

Wäin | Wine

The wines of Luxembourg are similar varieties to those grown in the adjacent German Mosel and French Alsace regions: Müller-Thurgau and Auxerrois (very similar to Chardonnay) top the list, along with pinot gris and riesling. Alas, we couldn’t find any wines from the Grand Duchy, so we substituted with said neighbors. Generously.

Bouneschlupp | Green bean soup | Recipe

If schlupp isn’t an onomatopoeia for the slurping of soup, I’d be shocked!

Don’t be fooled by the simple recipe and lack of a stock, or dismayed at how long the green beans are simmered. Instead, focus on how you start by sautéing bacon in butter as an indication of this being a recipe 100% devoted to flavor.This is one rich, delightful soup, where every ingredient’s flavors shine through. Accordingly, make sure you’ve got what it calls for, particularly with smoked bacon and dried savory. Maybe you could make a good soup with unsmoked bacon or some other choice of herbs, but I doubt it’d have the particular richness of flavor we enjoyed.

Judd mat Gaardebounen | Smoked pork collar with fava beans and potatoes | Recipe

While this is given as one recipe, it’s really three dishes, all held together by a common ingredient: salty, smoky, meaty stock.

It starts with a smoked pork collar/neck, soaked for a few hours and then gently simmered with a generous assortment of the sorts of vegetables that make for a rich broth. (You could perhaps substitute another body part, but it’s gotta be smoked pork.)

That’s all it takes to make the pork; the rest is just taking that broth and using it to make the other parts really yummy. Fava (aka broad) beans trade one enrobing for another: peel-blanch-peel those notoriously well-protected beans, then smother them in a velouté made of roux, white wine, and some of that pork broth.

And the potatoes are par-boiled, skillet-fried until getting crisp, and then doused with a healthy dose of more broth which they happily absorb. (I recommend making quite a bit more potatoes than the recipe calls for, because in the worst case you end up with leftover salty-pork-broth-laden potatoes. And by worst case I think I mean best case.)

Yum! Pork so tender that it succumbs to a plastic knife, potatoes at just the right texture to be speared with a plastic fork (you’re getting the idea of what we ate with!) without falling apart, and creamy-salty sauce balanced by fresh-firm favas. Luxembourg, your national dish may be oddly specific, but you figured out a darn good thing.

Quetschentaart | Plum tart | Recipe

A quetsch is a damson plum, a tart variety best cooked into jam or pie. It’s also only available in the fall, and not exactly the sort of thing that’s popular enough to be shipped fresh from the Southern Hemisphere, so I had to get creative. One market I stopped into had both regular ripe plums (thanks, Chile!) as well as the sort of sour plums used to make those weird and wonderful Japanese preserves (who knows where they came from), so I got some of both in a vague hope that the combination would resemble a quetsch.

I’m not sure if I was successful in attempting the original with that combination, but it was tasty! China played the role of pastry chef, working together a really nice and solid crust. I think the egg in there helped. It’s an extremely simple recipe, but with a little whipped cream I think it turned out just fine. If I ever see damson plums at the market, I’m now intrigued enough to try making something with them.

Big thanks again to Michael and China for being so generous in so many ways for this special occasion, our 100th Nosh and return to New York! This feast couldn’t have happened without you.

Meal 82: Iraq

Look beyond the horrible news coming out of the country these days, or the past few decades — way, way beyond, because agriculture and civilization in the lands that now comprise Iraq goes back at least ten thousand years. The soils along the Tigris and Euphrates river are fertile and relatively moist, and the surrounding lands held forth wild grasses that became such staple grains as wheat and barley, and soon after domesticated animals, and writing, and even beer.

The cuisine of Iraq has transformed a whole lot over the millennia. While wheat and barley are still to be found, rice is the grain of choice — so beloved that it goes by the word timman, from the now-extinct Akkadian language, rather than the standard Arabic ruz. Beer can be found, but indications are that it's not so great. And other crops have emerged too, with Iraq now the world's largest producer of dates.

While many of the classics of Middle Eastern cuisine are very common on the Iraqi table, such as hummus, baba ghannoush, and kebab, I narrowed the focus to what is, as far as I can tell, most distinctive to the country. In particular, I found abundant reference and a huge variety of recipes for kibbeh, a general term for grain stuffed with meat, and there was no doubt that the "national dish" is a fish split open, rubbed with spices, and slowly grilled, or that I should make a cookie with a nearly savory dough but a very sweet filling for dessert.

Our guests for the evening were Molly, Stephen, Steve, Yali, Sarah and Shana.

Loomi | Dried lime tea | Recipe

Most things when dried are seen as a fairly equivalently flavored, if sometimes inferior, substitute for the fresh version, like spices or mushrooms or stone fruits. But a very few foods transform into something altogether different after spending some time in the sun: sundried tomatoes have a concentrated richness, it's hard to believe a raisin was once a grape. Limes go through perhaps an even greater metamorphosis: they shrink, turn nearly black, the insides crumble into almost nothing, and they take on a haunting aroma that's smoky, tart, bitter, and perfumey, all in one.

While they can also be used whole in a stew, or ground up into a powder and added to a spice blend, you'll enjoy them in their purest form as an exquisitely refreshing tea. The hardest part of making loomi, as it's known, is finding them, but any Middle Eastern store or a good-enough spice shop will carry them. (Kalustyan's in Manhattan has several varieties of different darkness and size, shades of subtlety I have yet to explore.) Once acquired, it's as simple as poking a few holes in them with a fork, steeping them in water with sugar added, straining, and chilling.

Mutabbal | Eggplant salad | Recipe

Pretty straightforward: roast an eggplant, dice it up and put over chopped veggies, drizzle with olive oil and pomegranate molasses. Really quite tasty.

Kubba halab | Lamb-stuffed rice croquette | Recipe

Iraq offers an astonishing variety of meat-stuffed grain. With a few exceptions, such as the Mosul variety which is two thin layers of bulgur with a meat layer in the middle, they are shaped somewhere between a torpedo and an American football, a coating of starch enveloping a meaty core. I chose this one, with a shell of rice and potatoes, in homage to the predominance of rice in the Iraqi cuisine and psyche. (Though, oddly, its name refers to the Syrian city of Aleppo.)

This was a labor-intensive dish. The meat isn't so hard to make but for all the breaking-up of the ground lamb in the frying pan. The outer shell requires cooking both rice and potato, then passing through a meat grinder, before forming into balls that you poke a hole into and smush in just enough lamb but not so much that it bursts. Then you have to freeze the balls to get them firm enough so they don't break apart when being fried in the pan, but even then they sometimes break and a fair amount of the crispy bits stick to the pan rather than the food. It's tasty enough, but maybe I'd recommend the easier Mosul variety!

Masgouf | Grilled butterflied fish | Recipe

Masgouf is a freshly-killed carp from the Euphrates river, butterflied, rubbed with turmeric and tamarind, and splayed out vertically, its insides exposed to the nearby flames of slowly burning apricot wood. The memory of this dish, languid in the cooking, inspires such wistfulness for better days that it's been the topic of dozens of articles and even a widely distributed fictional book. But now the Euphrates is so polluted that it's a serious risk to eat a carp pulled from it, and the hours of leisure the live-fish-to-smoky-flesh preparation require are too far a luxury to Baghdadis of recent times.

My reasons for not making a true masgouf are purely logistical: I don't have the space or equipment to build such a fire, and none of the shops I went to in Chinatown had carp, so I used tilapia instead. Thankfully they took care of the butterflying for me, and I did my best to replicate a slow smoky fire by using hickory chips on the gas grill and very slowly and indirectly cooking the fish. You know what? It turned out super tasty. The smoke definitely came through, and the odd combination of spices paired nicely with the sweet flesh.

Timin shreya | Vermicelli rice | Recipe

Just like their Eastern neighbors, Iraqis love a crispy crust on their rice. Unlike the Persians, though, Iraqis don't go through an elaborate process of soaking and parboiling the rice and then exaggerating the crust with a layer on the bottom — they just use a bit of fat and a very long, slow cook to get a crispy crust the straightforward way. While putting vermicelli, little strands of pasta, in with the rice isn't necessarily the absolutely most typical presentation, it sure looks nice and adds variety to the presentation. If making this dish, it's really important to make sure the heat is well-diffused. I use a cast iron heat diffuser, but in a pinch you could just place your pot on top of a (not-non-stick) frying pan to make sure the heat really spreads, otherwise you'll get a burnt spot where the heat hits.

Kleicha | Date cookies | Recipe

Back when Iraq was a place of diverse religions, Jews and Christians as well as Muslims all would make this dish as a symbol of celebrations both religious and personal. It's not exactly what passes for a cookie in the West — the yeasted dough is decidedly unsweet and it's the filling that makes it dessert, and the whole thing is haunted with spices like generally un-sweet flavors like fennel and nigella — but the crispness and finger-food nature make for a sufficiently apt comparison. While they can be many shapes and filled with many things, the classic filling is dates and the roll-up cookie seems the most common.

These were actually really fun to make. The dates come together nicely, and the dough is so buttery that it's actually a pleasure to work with. And oh, the eating experience! A haunting combo of spices, a delightfully flaky cookie that gives way to a firmly chewy interior, and the perfect size for eating in two nibbles. Goes great with cardamom tea!