Heart Healthy Mashed Potatoes

Any time I do not know what to make for the restaurant or for dinner, I know I fall back on the potato.  Potatoes are the ultimate comfort food.  This simple root vegetable that you can find in every kitchen is blamed for causing obesity and heart problems, but this vegetable is innocent from all these accusations.  Potatoes are high in B6, manganese, potassium and vitamin C. It is part of a plant-based diet used to help lower blood pressure.  It’s the frying and loading the potato with butter, cheddar cheese or loads of salt gives potatoes the bad wrap.

So, you’re asking “What about your heart healthy mash potato?” Well, I am glad you asked. This mashed potato dish includes turmeric, garlic, ginger, peppers and almonds. It is like you are taking dose of brain and heart food, and it looks great in the center of any dinner table.

Heart Healthy Mashed Potatoes

serves 4-6

5        Medium size russet potatoes

1        bay leave

1        teaspoon turmeric

4       cloves of garlic

1       teaspoon freshly ground gingerFresh ginger

1/8  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2  cup olive oil

1/2  red onion, chopped

1       red bell pepper, seeded and diced into 1/4-inch pieces

2      jalapeño peppers, seeded and diced into 1/4-inch pieces

salt and pepper to taste

1/2   cup slivered almonds

-Peel the potatoes and cut in halves.  Place the potatoes in a pot, cover with water and place on the stove.  Add the bay leave, the turmeric and slat.  Bring to a boil.  Cover and cook over medium heat until the potatoes are soft but not mushy.  Remove from the stove.

-Heat 1/4 cup olive oil and saute the onion the onions for couple minutes.  Add the chopped peppers, stir and cook for extra minute.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

-Place the garlic with little salt and mash.  Add the potatoes, little of the boiling water and mash into smooth paste.

-Add the ginger, the cayenne pepper, the rest of the olive oil and pepper.  Mix well.  Add the cooked vegetables and fold.  Spoon the potatoes into shallow baking dish.  Arrange the almonds on tops.

-Bake in 395 F degree oven for 25 minutes or until the almonds are golden.  Remove and serve. Yummm.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE POTATO DISH? I would love to hear from you and share your recipe with my customers and readers. Stay healthy.

Easy Black Olive and Jalapeño Spread for Your Next Brunch

Have you ever heard of forced party?. As I get more and more busy with my business and daughter’s activities, I lament the days gone by when my mom had her Istekbal.  Growing up in Syria, I used to tease my mom about her Istekbal. She use to tell me that was a way for her and her friends  to force themselves to have at least couple hours a week to get together, visit, eat, laugh and relax.

Istekbal, is a tradition that started about 200 years ago in Damascus when men and women did not socialize together. My mother and her women friends liked the freedom of not having men in this special meeting.  They  inforced the” No Male Zone “even though they mixed and socialized as couples on other occasions.

Each woman would have a designated day in the month to have her friends and relatives visit her.  For my mom it was the first Monday of each month.  She would chase my dad to the coffee shop, and order my brothers to go to there room or visit friends.

The hostess of the day would have wide variety of savory appetizers, salads and sweets.   The guests were served apricot juice with rose water and pine nuts, hot black tea, and Turkish coffee. The visit could last 3 hours.  The ladies would dance, sings,  comfort each other and of course gossip. Talk about total therapy.

This spread is similar to one that my mom used to make except I make it finer and more spicy.

Black Olive and Jalapeño Spread

serves 6

2        cups pitted kalamata olives

2        cups salted shelled pistachio

1/2    cup chopped scallions

1/2    red bell pepper, diced

1        jalapeño, seeded and chopped

1/4   lemon, chopped with the skin

1/4   cup lemon juice

1/4   cup olive oil

1       teaspoon oregano

-Place the olives, the pistachio, the scallions, the red pepper, the lemon and the jalapeno in a food processor and using the on and off bottom coarsely chop.

-Add the oregano, the lemon juice and the olive oil and process until finely chopped paste.

-Serve this spread with sliced tomato, good bread for great healthy breakfast.  Spoon couple spoons over a salad for color, taste and texture.  If you still have some left, mix it with cream cheese or Labneh –drained yogurt– and you get new spread.

Unique and Healthy Mediterranean Potato Salad

The other day someone asked me why I am so funny in person and so serious in my blog. Well, here is the truth.  English is my second language and I still struggle with sentence structure. So, I always takes the easy way out.  I do an extensive amount of research, then go beg my teenage daughter to proof my post. Having her edit them usually  costs me either a trip to the mall or her favorite sushi restaurant. However, worst thing is that I need her help. Darn it!  Of course, I will never ask my husband.  He is an English fanatic–”there no excuse for bad English.”  He would delete the entire blog and rewrite it. I hope I do not have to explain how that makes me feel.

Now, if you are asking yourself what English has to do with potato salad. Well, nothing. I just thought that you should know.  If you don’t care about my English, don’t take it out on this salad!  This salad is simple, refreshing and heart healthy.

Mediterranean potato salad

serves 6

5        russet potatoes

2        red bell pepper, seeded and diced

6        scallions, chopped

1        punch Italian parsley

1/2   cup capers

zest of one lemon

1/2    cup chopped fresh mint or 1 teaspoon dry mint

1/4   cup olive oil

1/4   cup lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

-Boil the potatoes until done but not soft.  Remove from the heat, cool and then peel the skins.  Dice the potatoes into 1/2-inch cubes.

-Add the vegetables, the parsley, the caper, the mint  and toss gently.

-Whisk the olive oil with the lemon zest and the lemon juice.  Drizzle over the potatoes, season and toss gently.

If you have left over, add couple eggs and you will get great omelet.

Sweet Peas, Carrots and Artichoke Stew

I just got few artichokes and for me it is hopeful sign that spring is coming.  Food historian maintains that the artichokes originated in North Africa and from there moved to east Mediterranean, where the Crusaders picked it up and spread it through Europe, including Italy.  Other food historian claim that artichoke originated in Italy and that the Crusaders took it Syria and Lebanon.

Whatever the case, they are a very popular vegetable around the Mediterranean and are used in a variety of ways.  My favorite is the marinated artichoke that one finds in restaurants in Rome.  They are cooked, then left to soak in olive oil, lemon and garlic.  They are so tender that one eats every part of the artichoke -stems, leaves and the choke.

The Roman marinade works only with tender baby artichoke which are hard to find and have very short season.

The artichoke give this stew great flavor, texture and color.  If you use fresh artichokes, remove the leaves, the choke and steam the cups before using them in this dish.  If you can not fine fresh artichoke, use either frozen or canned artichoke cups or bottom.

Sweet Peas, Carrots and Artichoke Stew

serves 4-6

1/4      cups olive oil

1          medium onion, chopped

1         pound white mushroom, sliced

1        16-ounce can diced tomato

3        tablespoons tomato paste

1        pound frozen sweet peas and diced carrots, thaw

6        artichoke bottoms

6       cloves garlic, sliced

1        jalapeño, cut in half

1       cup chopped fresh cilantro

salt and pepper to taste

-In small frying pan, heat couple tablespoons of the olive oil.  Sear the garlic for a minute.  Add the jalapeno and the cilantro.  Stir and cook for another minute.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

-In heavy stew pot, heat the rest of the olive oil and sauté the onion for few minutes.

-Add the mushrooms and saute for 5 minutes.  Add the diced tomatoes, the tomato paste, 8 cups of water, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil.

-Spoon in the garlic cilantro mixture and bring back to a boil.  Adjust the seasoning, and then add the peas, carrot and artichoke.  Cover and simmer for ten minutes.  Remove from the heat and serve with rice or mashed potatoes.

Easy Breezy Eggplant and Walnut Salad

Ok, I’ll admit it. I love eggplant. Now I know that it  has very little nutritional value, but it is  high in fiber, low in calories, and  a has great flavor. Eggplant is also versatile as it can be used in appetizers,  main dishes,  soups, salads, and desserts.  If you have not tried candied baby eggplant, you especially do not know what you are missing.

Before you begin cooking eggplant, slice it in the shape you want for the dish you are preparing. Then, sprinkle the slices with salt and let them sit for thirty minutes.  That establishes two things; it takes out a lot of bitterness, and when you cook it, the salted eggplant absorbs much more oil than if you did not salt it.  After salting, gently squeeze out the excess water, place the slices on a cookie sheet, and lightly brush them with olive oil. Broil the eggplant until they are dark brown. Always broil, don’t fry. Once they are done allow them to cool then use them in whatever you dish you planned for the meal, like this one!

This eggplant salad tastes better when it is one day old.  It is almost like you are marinating the eggplant overnight, making the flavors much more intense.

Eggplant and walnut recipe

serves 4

2       medium size eggplants

1       cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

4       scallions, finely chopped

1       red bell pepper, finely chopped

1       jalapeño Pepper, seeded and finely chopped

1/2   cup pomegranate seeds for cranberries

1/2  cup chopped cilantro

1/4   cup pomegranate molasses

2       tablespoons tahini paste

1/4   cup lemon juice

1       clove garlic, mashed

1/8  teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional

salt to taste

-Cut the eggplants into 1-inch thick slices.  Place the slices in a colander, sprinkle with salt and allow them to sit for 30 minutes.  Gently pat the slices to squeeze some of the water.  Place the slices on a cookie sheet, brush with olive oil and then broil until golden.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

-Dice the broiled eggplant slices and place in a bowl.  Add the rest of the vegetables, the cilantro, the walnuts and the pomegranate seeds.

-Whisk the molasses with the tahini, the lemon juice, the garlic, the cayenne pepper and the salt.  You can add little of water if the sauce very thick. Drizzle half of the pomegranate dressing over the salad and toss gently.

-Allow the salad to rest, spoon into serving dish and drizzle with the rest of the dressing.

-I spooned the salad into large biscuit mold to shape it for the photo.

Unique Vegan and Gluten Free Corn and Sour Cherry Kibbeh

As any chef, I face many challenges and inspirations.  Coming from the Middle East, kibbeh is always a favorite dish.  Kibbeh consists of fine bulgur mixed with ground beef, lamb or chicken made into dough, stuffed and then baked, fried or grilled.

When I opened my restaurant I wanted my vegan and gluten sensitive customers to be able to experience kibbeh. So, I faced the challenge, and that is how this dish came to be. All I have to say is that this dish quickly became a favorite in my restaurant, for vegetarians and meat-lovers alike.

Corn and Sour Cherry Kibbeh

serves 4

1 1/2   cups coarse yellow corn meal

6         cups water

1         cup sticky cooked white rice

4         cloves garlic, mashed

1         teaspoon fresh grated ginger

1/4    teaspoon turmeric

1/4    teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4    cup olive oil

2        medium onion, chopped

1 1/2 cups pitted and dried sour cherry

2        tablespoons pomegranate molasses

1/2    teaspoon ground coriander

1        clove garlic, mashed

salt and pepper to taste

1/2    cup slivered almonds

-Place the cooked rice in a food processor and puree into paste.  Spoon the pureed rice into large mixing bowl.

-To make the stuffing: Heat the olive oil, except of 1 tablespoon, in frying pan and cook the onions over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the dried cherry, the coriander, the garlic and salt.  Stir and cook for couple minutes.  Remove from heat and add the pomegranate molasses, the salt and the pepper.  Stir and set aside.

-To make the corn dough: Heat the water in heavy sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Add the corn slowly and stirring continuously until you have smooth sauce and the mixture thicken.  Remove from the heat and spoon into the pureed rice.  Add the mashed garlic, the grated ginger, the turmeric, the cayenne pepper and salt.  Mix into smooth dough.

-To assemble: Spoon half of the dough into greased 8 X 14 baking dish or any other shape you would like.  Spread the stuffing evenly over the dough.  Grease your palms and start to take handful of the rest of the dough, flatten it into 1/2-inch thick patties and place on top of the stuffing. Repeat until you covered the stuffing.  Moist your palms with water and smooth the top layer into smooth surface.  Sprinkle with the slivered almonds and gently push into the top dough.

-Bake in 395 F. degree for 35 minutes and the almonds are golden.

Lentil Stew with Dumpling and Crispy Caramelized Onions

Harak bel-usba-o or “Burn Your Finger” is a popular dish in Damascus.  I think the name came from women burning their fingers trying to drop the dumpling into the boiling lentil stew.   This dish can be eaten hot, room tempreture or cold. My mom used to serve it cold.  She would make it a day before serving and would sprinkle  the onion just before serving the dish.  The dish has great flavors but also give you complete protein and your daily need of fibers.

Serves 6-8

1       cup olive oil

4       medium onion, julienne

1       pound lentils

6       cloves garlic, mashed

2       cups chopped cilantro

1/4  cup lemon juice

1/4  cup pomegranate molasses

salt and pepper to taste

1      loaf bread

1/2  cup pomegranate seeds, optional

-Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil and saute 1/4 of the onion and saute for five minutes.  Wash the lentils and add to the onions.  Add 10 cups of water, salt and pepper and bring to boil.  Cook the lentil cooked but not mushy.  Remove the lentil from the stove and set aside.

-In a frying pan, heat the olive oil and fry the onions until caramelized.  Line a tray with paper towels.  Using slotted spoon, remove the onions from the oil and place over the paper towel.  Remove the pan from the stove and allow the oil to cool.  Place the frying pan with the oil on top of the stove.  Add the garlic and the cilantro and saute for couple of minutes.  Add the garlic and cilantro mixture to the lentils.

-Place the lentils back on the stove, add the lemon juice and the pomegranate molasses.  Bring back to a boil.  Adjust the seasoning.

-By hand, cut the dough into 1/4-inch balls and drop into the boiling lentils.  Cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes.

-Spoon the lentils into deep serving platter.  Sprinkle with the caramelized onion and the pomegranate seeds.