A Not so Middle Eastern Adventure- Smoked Beef Ribs and Chicken Thighs!

Getting the Coals Hot

In every persons journey through life there is always a detour or twelve. Today we are taking a slight detour from our feast of middle eastern foods and venturing into the world of BBQ! Not the most logical of steps when you have a blog on Middle Eastern foods but every now and then Andrew and I will man the BBQ and great things happen. Now, first things first, when I say BBQ I do not mean slapping a piece of meat on a grill with a flame under it. I am talking about smoking meat for hours on end. The process is pretty labor intensive but it really is worth it if you do it right! So without further ado, I give you a MiddleFeast Journey into the world of smoking beef ribs and chicken legs!

What You Need:

  • A Smoker
  • Meats – beef ribs and chicken thighs
  • Rub for the meats
  • Charcoal
  • Wood chips
  • Spray bottle
  • Apple juice
  • A meat thermometer
  • A charcoal chimney
  • Beer or whiskey (this is optional and for personal consumption)
  • A lot of patience (the beer and whiskey help trust us)

Eugene with the BBQ rubTHE RUB!

Andrew and I have scoured the Internet for various recipes, some are good and some are awful. What we like to do is take the best of what we see and make some adjustments. So what we did was this

The Beef Ribs Rub

 For the Beef:

  • 2 1/3 cups -Dark Brown Sugar
  • 1.5 cups- Kosher Salt (must be Kosher salt, if you put other salts you will over salt –  so use less if you do!)
  • 1 ½ TBSP Cumin
  • 2 cups ground espresso beans
  • ½ cup black pepper
  • 1TBSP cayenne Pepper
  • 1/3 cup garlic power
  • 1/3 cup of adobo spices

For the Chicken:

  • 2 1/3 cups -Dark Brown Sugar
  • 1 cups- Kosher Salt (must be Kosher salt, if you put other salts you will over salt so use less if you do!)
  • 1 ½ TBSP Cumin
  • ½ cup black pepper
  • 1TBSP cayenne Pepper
  • 1/3 cup garlic power
  • 1/3 cup of adobo spices

It’s the same rub but a bit less salt and no Espresso for the chicken.

Beef Ribs and Chicken Ribs

We made the salt mistake and had to adjust our measurement so we didn’t over salt the food. Also, the adobo is a little salty so if you like it less salty using less of that is a good call.

For the chicken we also made a simple brine of apple cider vinegar, salt, and apple juice.  We let the chicken brine for 3 hours.

Also, you want the meat to be as close to room temperature as possible so we had everything out for an hour so it could get close to room temperature before putting it in the smoker

Applying the Rubs

The best method to get a healthy layer of the rub on the meat is to pour the rub into a big tray or pyrex then place the meat or chicken in the pan and start to apply a healthy layer all over it making sure you are covering it as evenly as possible. I had a lighter layer on the chicken because I did not want to overpower the actual taste of the chicken. The beef looked like this all the way around:

Meat Smoking

The Smoking Process:

The smoking process is relatively simple: 1. Get the water tray in  your smoker filled up with water 2.  Get the coal hot (burn the coal in the charcoal chimney so that it is as white as possible when you are ready to use them)  3. Add them to base of the smoker (or where you will be maintaining the heat) 4. Add the wood chips – we bought mesquite wood chips and soaked them in water for 30 minutes before we started the actual process.  And then viola – with the wood chips that you soaked, it should create a lot of smoke pretty immediately and over time as you cook the meat.

Eugene with meat

We also place the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the beef ribs so that we can get a good reading for the internal temperature of the meat, which we want to be at 195 degrees. Once the smoker has starting working, then you want to add the meat onto the trays and place the lid on the top. You want the smoker to be about 225 degrees. Try and keep the temperature of the smoker as consistent as possible, for us that means adding new coal every hour and spraying everything with the apple juice to make sure it stayed moist. We cooked the beef ribs for approximately 7 hours adding coal every hour and we started spraying it with apple juice after about three hours.  We smoked the chicken for about 3.5 hours and because the crowd got resltess we ended up throwing the chicken in the oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes to finish it off. My guess is that it would have been another 1.5 hours to completely cook the chicken in the smoker.

Note: every time the lid is lifted on the smoker it is like adding another 20 minutes to the cook time because the heat escapes!

Ribs all done

IMPORTANT: Once you are done with the beef, any beef, make sure you let it sit for at least 10 to 20 minutes! This is crucial! If you cut into it right away you lose a lot of the flavor in the meat! The juices continue to circulate and settle down so it is worth the wait! Remember I said patience is key when doing this! Pour yourself a nice glass of whiskey or crack another beer open!

So cut into the meat and try and hold off the starving masses (they will come back for 3rds and 4ths) long enough  to have a few pieces for yourself!

The meat and the smoke ring

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Peas

Pea Stew

One of my favorite dishes growing up was a simple dish that was just called Peas. My mother knew it was my favorite growing up and to this day it’s one of my favorite dishes in her arsenal of amazing meals. I decided I would take that stroll down memory lane and attempt this simple yet delicious dish. I did what any 29 year old man does and called his mother and asked her how to make her amazing Peas.

My mom kept explaining that it was a simple dish that I should be able to make in about 30-45 minutes. What I needed for this trip down memory lane is:

  1. 3-4.5 lbs of beef steak – I used a beef chuck
  2. small can of tomato paste
  3. 2 lbs of peas
  4. basmati rice
  5. bullion cube
  6. sugar
  7. olive oil
  8. onion
  9. salt
  10. 10. pepper

The first thing I did was cube the steak and then brown it in the pot with a few table spoons of olive oil.  Once the steak had a nice sear to it I added water to the pot (just above the level of the meat) so the meat cooked  all the way through. One thing I have learned is that there is not such thing as “medium rare”, “rare”, or even “medium” when it comes to steak with my parents. They know “raw” and “cooked”. So most meats are thoroughly cooked all the way though in dishes like this. Once the meat was almost fully cooked and there was still a bit of water in the pot I added the bullion cube and let everything simmer until the bullion cube was fully dissolved. Next I put a tablespoon of the tomato paste into the pot and added about a cup of water. Then I added the peas into the pot along with a tea spoon (or two depending on your taste) of sugar and a half tea spoon of salt and pepper to taste. Lastly, I let the pot simmer down to thicken the sauce up.

While the pot is simmering down it is time to prepare the rice. I usually put two cups of water for every cup of rice I cook.  When I add water to the pot I also add a tea spoon of salt and a table spoon of olive oil. Next I bring the water to a boil, then add the rice, and make sure I’m maintaining the 1 to 2 rice to water ratio. Once you add the rice to the water bring the flame to a simmer and stir occasionally with the lid off for about 12-15 minutes.

By the time the rice was almost ready, the peas had thickened up. I also like to cut up some raw onion for a garnish on this dish. So, I put some rice in a bowl, added a scoop of the peas making sure to get some meat and sauce in the mix and then I added the raw onion to the top. After that I proceeded to eat more than I probably should have because it was delicious!

Pea Stew with Onions

Lunch with (Great) Uncle Will

Middle Eastern Food - Hummus, Bami, Baba

Today I had a wonderful lunch with my Aunt Linda, my Great Uncle Will and his wife Loraine as well as our distant cousin Helen and her son Zyad.  In addition to the great compay and the good stories we had some amazing Lebanese food from Sally and George’s in Bay Ridge.  My favorite was the Okra (pictured) which had delicious tender morsels of lamb.  My family was calling it Bami, which I guess I hadn’t heard before.  The Baba Ganoush was also quite tasty.  I suppose we’ll have to make an *Official* Middle Feast trip to Sally and George’s one of these days.  Stay tuned!

New Middle Eastern Cookbook

Middle Eastern Recipes

A Middle Eastern cookbook with a camel. Real original right?

Look what we found – another old cookbook! How do you like that camel?  This is the real deal, am I right?  You thought the one I found at Christmas couldn’t be topped?  A magic lamp?  Ya, well, we went and found one with a camel. So there.

Anyway,  leafing through the pages, its easy to see that there will be many many delicious recipes.  We are planning our next meal soon!  Stay tuned.

NY Times Article on “The Syrian Colony” from 1904

My Grandma’s Specialty – Kousa (Stuffed Zucchini)

Taita, Eugene and me - ready to eat !

One of my favorite memories of my Taita’s cooking (Taita means Grandma in Lebanon) was Kousa.  Kousa is squash stuffed with lamb and rice.  If you read our  grape leaves post you might be sensing a trend here.  Anyway, this is a really tasty dish that is fairly easy to make, except for one step.

Ingredients:

1. 1 standard jar of plain tomato sauce (feel free to get saucy with this ingredient though)

2. 1 pound of ground lamb

3. 1/2 cup of rice

4. 10 small zucchinis

5.  3 tablespoons of garlic

6. Salt to taste

 The Hard Part

Scooping out the zucchini

So the part Taita always talks about is scooping out the insides of the zucchini.  They make a special tool for this, Eugene’s mom had one.  We borrowed it.  It was long and thin and allowed you to scoop the insides out without breaking through any of the sides.   If you can’t get the exact scooper, a peeler like this will do.  Anyway, cut off one end of the zucchini and then hollow it out to make room for the lamb and rice.  Keep the other end closed.  Taita likes to save the zucchini meat for eggs the next morning.  She says it’s delicious.  While you mix the lamb, place all the hollowed out zucchinis in a big bowl of garlicy water (2 cups 2 table spoons of garlic.  It will soak the goodness into the zucchinis.

Much like the grape leaves, you add about 1/2 cup of rice for every pound of lamb.  We also added a tablespoon of garlic to the mix and then mixed it all together.  If you like garlic, feel free to add more.  Once the lamb and rice is ready, take the zucchinis out of the garlic water and start stuffing in the lamb and rice mixture.  Make sure not to stuff it all the way to the top because the rice will expand.

Taita stuffing the lamb and rice into a zucchini

Cooking the Kousa

Once you have all the zucchinis ready, place them in a pot.  You can add some zucchini innards if you don’t want the zucchinis to stick to the bottom of the pot.  Then, dump the tomato sauce into the pot and fill the rest of the pot up with water.  The water should almost cover all the zuchinnis, but not quite.   Then cook   it on medium/low heat on the stove for about 45 minutes after the water has come to a boil.  You’ll probably want to take the top off 10 minutes before you are done to thicken the sauce.  Also, be sure to rotate the zucchinis periodically so all sides are covered in water at least part of the time.  This will keep it all moist!

The kousa cooking (we snuck in some stuffed onions too SHHH)

Yogurt Cucumber Salad

We also made a yogurt cucumber salad.  Slice up Persian cucumbers thinly and mix with yogurt and salt and garlic to taste.  Some people like to add mint as well.

Thats it ! As Taita said, “I don’t think you can go wrong with this.  No matter what happens it will be edible.”   Good call Taita, I’m going to rely on that line a lot when I’m cooking for my friends.  If those aren’t words to live by in the kitchen, I don’t know any that are!

Mom gives the kousa and salad a thumbs up !

~The Journey of Red Wine, Meat and Eggplant~

Eggplant and Meat oh yes !

Most people do not appreciate their parents cooking until they have moved out of their house. For me this was not really the case. I knew that my family had a lot of great cooks in it, but the one thing my sisters and myself would never eat was eggplant. For some reason no amount of money was enough to convince us to eat it. I’m not sure if it was because my older sisters didn’t eat it or if  it was because I tried it once and hated it but regardless we had a strict no eggplant in our mouths policy. It wasn’t until I was in college that my Mother told me to, “Shut up and eat it, or make your own dinner” that I decided to give this particular dish a whirl. That’s when I started my journey into the wide and purple world of Barney……..I mean of eggplant or batinjan.

For this meal Andrew and I decided to take advantage of being at home in San Diego where our wealth of cooking knowledge lives and have my mom (Najat) teach us how to make a meal. When I brought up the idea of a live cooking class and not a Skype class this time, she was excited.  After brainstorming a fun and delicious dinner meal to cook she came up with the idea to cook Kafta Bil Batinjan or meat wrapped in eggplant in sauce with rice.

 For this meal you will need:

  1. 9 eggplants (we had small Italian ones)
  2. salt
  3. pepper
  4. 3 cloves of garlic
  5. 2lbs of lean ground beef
  6. white vinegar
  7. olive oil
  8. water
  9. bullion cube
  10. tomato paste
  11. rice

My mom started out the meal by cutting the end off the eggplant and then peeling one strip, about an inch wide (an inch of the skin) of the eggplant all the way around it long ways. She then cut the eggplant into ½ inch slices . (See picture below for better idea)

Najat cuts eggplant

Then she took a baking tray and put a coat of olive oil on the bottom of it, laid the eggplant out and brushed the tops of the eggplants with some olive oil (olive oil helps them not to stick and turns the veggies golden brown in the oven). Next she put the tray into a convection oven on 400 degrees until one side was golden brown.  Then she flipped the eggplant so both sides were golden brown.

While the eggplant was in the oven she took the 2lbs of lean ground beef and added

  1. 1tbsp of black pepper
  2. 1 tbsp of salt
  3. and the three finely chopped cloves of garlic (or 1tbsp of garlic powder)

Then she mixed the ground beef until the spices were evenly distributed throughout the meat. Yum

Once the eggplant was golden brown on both sides (soft and easy to roll), we took it out and let it cool.  Andrew burned himself because he wanted to try the eggplant immediately.  While the eggplant was cooling, we took the meat and made little 2 to 3 inch elongated football shapes out of it.  Then we wrapped the cooled eggplant pieces around the meat footballs and laid them on the folded end facing down in a Pyrex pan. After this was done all the meat and eggplant filled the tray and we were ready to make the sauce and the rice.

Rolling the meat footballs

Rolling the meats in eggplants

The Sauce

  1. 5oz Tomato Paste
  2. olive oil
  3. tsp salt
  4. tsp pepper
  5. glass and a half of water
  6. bullion cube
  7. tbsp of white vinager

For the sauce my mom put the 5oz of the tomato paste into a pot and fried it for 2 minutes with a tbsp of olive oil. She then added a cup and a half of water, salt, pepper, bullion cube, white vinegar. She brought it all to a boil then took it off the stove as soon as it started to boil.

Making the sauce

We then poured the sauce all over the Pyrex pan with the meat and eggplant rolls. We covered the pan with tin foil, and put it into the oven at 400 degrees for 30 minutes with the aluminum foil on. Then we cooked it for about 15 minutes with the foil off to thicken the sauce.

Pouring the Sauce

Its ready !

While the food was in the oven we made the rice.  My mom makes rice effortlessly, sorry I can’t be of more help on this step.  She poured 3 cups of rice into a pot and then filled it with water until the water was about one inch higher than the level of the rice.  Then she put about 3tbsp of olive oil into the rice, covered it and cooked it on high for about 20 minutes.

My mom also made a traditional salad of cucumber, tomatoes, onions, dried mint, with a lemon olive oil and salt dressing.  So damn good. (my sisters and I use to get into real deal wresteling matches over who got to eat the last of the salad and drink, yes drink the rest of the liquid! I never said we were a normal and well adjusted bunch!)

We had had about 7 people at this dinner party and by the end of the meal, everyone’s plates were completely cleaned off! Needless to say it was a lot of fun to have my mom teach us all how to cook a dish that tasted so awesome!

So ready to EAT !

I know what you’re thinking, and yes, my sisters and I love this dish now. We needed to grow up sometime right?

Oh yea, and as for the wine, we forgot to mention cooking with it.  Well, we didn’t really cook with it.  We just drank a lot of it and caught a nice buzz.  Thank goodness someone was paying attention.  Maybe next time we’ll make my special rendition of Mangria?

Everyone thought it was terrible. No one ate any of it.

Mysterious Lebanese Cookbook

Middle Eastern CookbookApparently my great grandmother (my mom’s Taita) wrote the majority of this book while living with my mom’s family in Pasadena in the 1960’s.  How cool is that lamp?  We’ll be posting a recipe from it soon!

The Great Stuffed Grape Leaf Feast!

They taste so damn good!

There are many varieties and words for stuffed grape leaves: it can be served hot or cold, with lamb, beef or vegetarian style. Stuffed grape leaves are made in various ways and with different names within the different regions of the Mediterranean. Some of the names are dolma, yaprak, calque, and waraq inab to name a few. Although stuffed grape leaves is the most common variety, this dish can be mixed and matched with literally be any vegetable that is stuffed with a mix of rice, meat, and spices.

Our adventure began with a special request from Andrew’s Aunt Linda for us to make waraq inab at our first hosted dinner party. Knowing we bit off much more than we could chew, I did what any middle eastern boy would do and ran straight to my mother for help!

After arranging to have Mom (Najat) tell me what we needed to buy, we set off to our local stores. Our journey included a stop at Marshall’s for a large cooking pot (an essential in ALL Middle Eastern houses), Trader Joe’s for groceries, a local Middle Eastern butcher shop on Atlantic Avenue and the legendary Middle Eastern Market called Sahadi’s in Brooklyn NY.  Here’s what we picked up food wise:

Ingredients:

  1. Ground Lamb- 4 Lbs
  2. Cuts of Leg of Lamb
  3. Lemons- 6 to 7
  4. All Spice- Table Spoon
  5. Grape Leaves- One Large Can (we only used one of the two bundles in the can)
  6. Big Onions- 5
  7. Garlic- 2 cloves
  8. Jasmine Rice- 3 Cups
  9. Salt- Table Spoon
  10. Pepper
  11. Olive Oil
  12. More Lemons- depends on how lemony you like your Stuffed Grape Leaves.  Don’t be shy though, nobody we know has ever said or thought, “these grape leaves are too lemony”

Other Things we got at Sahadi’s:

  1. Spicy Humus (yum)
  2. Baba Ganoush
  3. Pita

The Preparation:

With all our ingredients we were ready to get to work! Knowing there was a lot of prep work to do with this meal, we decided to get started a good 5 hours before the guests would arrive. We decided to use Skype to have both my parents help explain the proper ratios and how to mix the meat properly. Also, we needed oversight on how to prep the grape leaves and onions to be stuffed. The only problem with this was that my mom and dad do not agree on many little things, so why on earth I thought they would agree on something as important as this is beyond me! After listening (and laughing hysterically) to them argue over how much rice to mix with the lamb and how much lemon should be use, the universe decided to do what it always does, and have my mom win.

Eugene spicing the lamb mix with help from Mom

The Step by Step Break Down

  1. Mix 4 lbs of ground lamb, 3 cups of rice (2.5 cups would be ideal), a table spoon of salt, some pepper, a tea spoon of All Spice, and a whole diced garlic head (many cloves) until the ingredients are evenly mixed.
  2. Cut the top off the onions, then at the bottom cut a small cone to get the root all the way out of the onion. Make a horizontal cut from the center of the onion down ONE side only to make a slit. Boil onions in water for 5-10 minutes (depending on size) to make onions soft and easy to spread apart without the layers tearing.
  3. Soak bundle of grape leaves in a bowl of water (this is done because we used grape leaves that were soaking in a salty brine and we did not want the dish to be too salty).
  4. Line the bottom of the large pot with the cuts of the leg of lamb
  5. Take individual layers of the onion, put a table spoon of the Lamb mix in it and roll it closed and place the stuffed onions on the bottom of the pot. Make sure to pack the onions in tightly next to each other. Also, it is a good idea to leave let gravity work here, so put the end of the roll (flap) facing down so the onions don’t open during cooking.  Do this until you have no more onions to stuff or until you feel you have enough stuffed onions.
  6. Take a table spoon of the lamb mix and put in the middle of the grape leaves, fold sides over the lamb and roll the grape leaf tight “like a burrito!” as my mom was yelling at us via Skype. Make sure the grape leaves are on top of the onions and laying flap down compactly in the pot.

Mixing the lamb, rice and spices

Onions in the pot, now time for making grape leaf burritos!

After all of the lamb mix is done, and your large pot is full of the stuffed onions and grape leaves, you are ready to cook! Cooking time takes about an hour to an hour and twenty minutes, and before you begin cooking you need to do the following:

  1. Squeeze lemons into the pot (we used about 6 lemons and could have used more) to your liking, but we recommend a lot of lemons.  If you bring lemons from the Hapke family tree across country in your backpack, even better.
  2. Salt: put about a tablespoon full of salt on top of the grape leaves, and do not worry about getting it mixed through out the pot. It will all get mixed together by the end.
  3. Pepper: a decent covering of pepper is needed, just be mindful that this is not supposed to be overpowering.
  4. Olive oil: drizzle olive oil over the grape leaves, get a good covering of the olive oil, we probably used about 4 tablespoons of olive oil.
  5. Water: fill the pot until it is about an inch below the top of the grape leaves.
  6. Put a heavy plate on the grape leaves and cover the pot.

Trust us, don't be shy with the lemons!

Cooking:

Now, we needed about 4 phone calls to my mother to understand how the actual cooking process went (I got 4 versions of how she does it, I am just not sure she knows it was 4 DIFFERENT versions). In between the shouts of “It is so simple, how do you not understand?” and “Hey Stupid!, like this!” Andrew and I did crack the code (And you thought the Di Vinci Code was an edge of your seat thriller that you couldn’t put down, eh? Not even close compared to this!).

Oh right, back to cooking, so we put the covered pot on the stove on high for twenty minutes or so until the mixture of oil, water, lemon, salt and pepper is boiling. Then once the mixture is at a boil, reduce the  flame to medium for another 40 minutes. After about 40 minutes you will see the grape leaves have expanded.  That is why we have the heavy plate on top of everything, to keep things under control. Then we removed the lid to reduce the liquid. After the liquid mixture reduced down to a level you could barely see through the grape leaves, and the smell had completely overtaken the house, we removed the pot from the stove and let it sit for about five minutes.

Stuffed grape leaves, onions and hunks of lamb on top!

Serving:

Serving the dish: this is a fun and potentially dinner-party-shattering part of the preparation. The way this dish is transferred to a serving tray is to place the tray on top of the pot, then flip the whole thing over. If this is done correctly you won’t drop everything on the floor (which would be the time to promptly pick up the phone and order chinese food, or if you are like me just use the 10-300 second rule and pick up the food and yell “Game On!”), and you end up with the grape leaves on the bottom the onions on top and the bits of lamb sitting on that with the juices running throughout everything.

The dish should be flavorful, a bit tart and the flavors should be strong but not overpowering.  No single element of the complexity of  the ingredients should really jump out at you. We had some good wine (both red and white work) and we made a simple salad of romaine lettuce, mixed greens, finely cut onions, and tomatoes. For the dressing we used the traditional lemon, olive, and salt mixture.  Also, we put the Humus, and Baba Ganoush into two different bowls and drizzled olive oil on top of both of them. When the guests arrived we heated up the Pita in the toaster, and cut the pita into nice triangles and served it as appetizers.

The Result: SUCCESS !

Here is the table all set for our hungry guests!

I would say the whole dinner party was a rousing success. Aunt Linda loved the food and so did the rest of our guests, a few of whom had never tried this version of grape leaves before. It was also a success because we had a good amount of left overs and as my mom says, “The best Dolma is next day Dolma.” This is when all the lemon and juices get soaked into everything (especially the onions) and they taste amazing!

There you have it, the maiden voyage of MiddleFeast! Now, we challenge you to step up to the plate and share a cooking experience of your own or comment on how this one could have been made tastier.  Even better, have you tasted a different versions of this meal?  Better still, have you dared to attempt the “Great Grape Leaf Feast” for yourself? Tell us how it went!

Welcome !

Welcome to our blog !

Welcome to Middlefeast, a place where people can come together and share different middle eastern recipes, fun dinner ideas, dinner party triumphs and defeats and above all the joy of a great meal with friends and family.

In many middle eastern households there is a simple code for cooking, the code is to cook with love and make enough for 3 to 4 times the residents in your house! Because as all middle eastern Moms have said at one point or another, “You never know who is going to stop by, and they can’t leave with an empty stomach!”

Having many fond memories of amazing dinners and dinner parties growing up and little idea how to make those meals, we have learned it is important to carry the tradition on and share our cooking with the world.  So without further ado, we give you Middlefeast! Dig in!