Friday, June 25, 2010

Tabouleh, another gateway food to vegetarianism

The origins of tabouleh (spelling varies depending on transliteration system used) are decidedly Middle Eastern.  Exactly where is up for debate, although Lebanon is claiming the titile.  If a restaurant serves mezes (appetizers or small dishes), then they serve tabouleh.  Tabouleh is a lovely and refreshing salad that is perfect for the hot desert climate.  I remember as a teenager making tabouleh out of a box (gasp!).  In NYC, tabouleh is plentiful at falafel or fast food type spots that serve Middle Eastern and Israeli cuisine.  What I love about the tabouleh in the Kingdom is that the focus is more on the fresh herbs - the mint and the parsley is the star of the show and not the bulgur wheat.

Serves 8 (if you are serving it as a meze)

1/2 cup of bulgur wheat
1-cup water
2 tomatoes, diced
1-cup of fresh parsley, chopped (stems and all)
1/4-1/2 cup of fresh mint, chopped (leaves only) - optional
1/2-1 lemon
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 of one red onion (finely chopped) or some scallions (whites and greens, chopped)
Fresh ground black pepper
  •  Heat the water and pour it over the bulgur wheat.  Cover and let sit for 15-30 minutes.  All of the water should be absorbed and the wheat should be tender.  If it is too watery, drain the excess water.
  • Squeeze half a lemon and the olive oil into the prepared bulgur wheat, stir.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients, stir.
  • Taste!  If the salad needs more acidity, add the other half of the lemon.  More olive oil can be added if necessary.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

What you can buy with 10SR

It's Thursday morning, the first day of the weekend. At 10:30am the temperature is already at 108ºF. I'm set on making a couscous salad today and need to run out to get a few more ingredients. Raisins could not be found at either of my local small grocers [which actually is quite fine since I really don't like raisins and was thinking of eliminating them from the salad to begin with].

I walk into the local vegetable store and did not immediately see the shop keeper, as he was sitting on the floor surrounded by beautiful bouquets of mint that were about 2-3 feet in length. As he was smoking a cigarette, he was gathering and tying mint bunches together for smaller bags for sale. The smell of the shop was quite nice and not very strong - the mint was actually overpowering the cigarette smoke. After Arabic pleasantries were exchanged (good morning, how are you, I'm fine, how are you, I'm fine, thank you, thank you, your Arabic is very good, thank you and thanks to god, etc.), it was time to get down to business.

All in all, a bag of radishes (roots only), 7 lemons, 5 tomatoes, a large bunch of mint, and a large bunch of parsley were all purchased for 9SR (Saudi Riyals), which is equivalent to $2.40. Perfect - with one riyal left I could get my fix of fresh bread. I walked to the bakery next door and had to make a difficult choice: whole wheat or white, large or small? After staring at the recently packed bags of bread that were still hot, I choose the small sized whole wheat khubz. Seven pieces for 1SR.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Radish Radish

I am amazed by the quality of produce available here.  I mean, I am in the middle of the desert and can find beautiful, fresh and tasty produce for less than half of what I used to pay and in much greater quantity.  As in most mega marts in The States, the produce in grocery stores here are usually not as good as the produce found at smaller fruit and vegetable stands or street markets. 

The curse/blessing is that when buying vegetables you get a lot of vegetables for a two-person household.  And because of extreme heat, they do not stay fresh for very long.

I had a beautiful bunch of radishes – so spicy and crisp.  What to do?  And the leaves were in tact as well, which were looking leafy and ready to be eaten.  After a brief internet search, I found that radish greens could be braised similarly to any other greens. 

First, I made a simple salad with the root part of the radish.  I like to use my secret weapon with radishes, which I refer to as my “Secret Indo Salt”.  It is a combination of sea salt ground in a mortar and pestle with toasted cumin and coriander seeds.  I tossed the sliced radishes with the salt, then added a dash of sesame oil and some acid (either lemon juice or a vinegar).  Throw in a bit of fresh coriander (also known as cilantro), and you have yourself a fresh salad.

After washing the greens, I roughly chopped them and put them in a pan that already had some garlic toasting in sesame oil.  Some dried red chilies, and maybe I even threw in an onion or some scallions.  After tasting, I knew it needed a bit more something, so I added some store bought black bean sauce.  Perfection!

It was a last minute decision to try putting the greens in some fresh bread made by our local Egyptian baker.  I don’t remember the name of this bread, but the closest thing it looks like to the western eye is a hot dog bun.  But please, it is nothing like a hot dog bun in taste – only in shape.  The taste is delicious and fresh.  After my first bite, I reminisced about having bánh mì in Hawaii.  At first glance, the combination seems odd, but when together it makes so much sense.