Delicious Zucchini and Eggplant Orzo Gratin

This pasta dish is a meal of its own.  It is good year-round, but it is truly the best in the summer when you go out to your garden and pick up couple zucchinis, few tomatoes and one eggplant. I always make two trays, one to eat now and one to eat on a cold day in winter when I long for my garden’s vegetables.  So, go on and give this dish a try! I’m sure it will become the new favorite healthy, vegetarian recipe in your home.

Zucchini and Eggplant Orzo Gratin

serves 4-6

1        pound orzo, or any small pasta

1/2   cup olive oil

3       medium zucchini, diced into 1/2-inch cubes

1       medium eggplant, diced into 1/2-inch cubes

5      cloves garlic, mashed

5      medium ripe tomatoes, or 1 16-ounces can crushed tomatoes

1/2  pound small balls of fresh mozzarella or large piece of fresh mozzarella cut into 1-inch cubes

1/2  cup chopped fresh basil

salt and pepper to taste

-Heat the oven to 395 degree F.

-Heat half of olive oil in shallow frying pan.  Sauté the vegetables over medium heat, stirring often, until the vegetables are cooked but not mushy.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

-To make the tomato sauce: Drop the tomatoes in boiling water, bring back to a boil and boil for one minute.  Remove from heat, cool and then remove the thin skin.  Place the tomato in food processor and puree.  Heat the rest of the olive oil in saucepan and sear the mashed garlic for few seconds.  Pour the crushed tomatoes, salt and pepper and bring to a boil.  Cove and simmer for 5 minutes.  Stir in the basil, remove from heat and set aside.

-To prepare the orzo: Bring salted water to a boil, drop the orzo and cook until the orzo is cooked but not mushy about 6 minutes.  Remove from the heat and drain.

-To assemble:  Pour half of the tomato sauce on the bottom of 6 X 11 inch baking dish.  Spoon the orzo on the of the sauce.  Spoon the vegetables on top of the orzo.  Spoon the rest of the tomato sauce and then dot with the mini mozzarella balls.

-Bake in the oven for 10 minutes and then broil for couple minutes.  Remove and serve with hot garlic bread and you are set.

*If you assemble the dish the day before, bake for 25 minutes or the dish is hot through,.

Rice, Pistachio and Apricot Salad

By now, I am sure you know  I am fan of salads. Any salad.  Well, most salads.  Everyday, rain or shine, I sit down at 3:30 pm for a moment total pleasure and meditation that only broken by the sounds of fresh vegetables and nuts.  Which brings me back why I don’t like all salads.  I always feel like the salad police whenever I see a person eating a salad drenched with bottled salad dressing or mayonnaise.  Even though they have different names, some salads all look alike masked with mayo making them baby soft, as if we don’t have teeth.  I have teeth and I would like to use them and that is why all my salads include a plethora of fresh greens, grains and nuts.

I like nuts and seeds in salad not just for flavors or texture but also for nutrition value.  Nuts and seeds are especially good ingredients in vegetarian and vegan diets.

Rice, vegetable and nut salad

serves 4

1        cup brown rice

1        cup wild rice

1/2    cup  lemon juice

Zest of two lemons

1/2     cup  olive oil

4       scallions, chopped

1       red bell pepper, seeded and diced

1       cup chopped dried apricot

1/2  cup  roasted shelled pistachio

1/2  cup coarsely chopped walnuts

1/2   cup toasted sunflower seeds

1/8  teaspoon crushed pepper

salt and  to taste

-In a bowl, whisk the  olive with the lemon juice, and the lemon zest.

-Boil the wild rice and the brown rice separately until soft but not mushy.  Drain and mix together, and then toss in the lemon dressing.  Set aside.

-Add the vegetables, the pistachio, the walnut, the sunflower seeds, the apricot and the seasoning.  Toss well.

-Adjust the seasoning.  Serve cold or room temperature.

Healthy and Easy Vegetable Quinoa Salad

This salad has it all. It has great flavors, amazing texture, full of nutrients and best of all it tastes better when it is couple days old.

Healthy and Easy Vegetables Quinoa Salad

serves 4-6

1          pound broccoli florets

1          red bell pepper, seeded and diced

2         celery stalks, chopped

2         cup chopped red cabbage

1         cup cranberries

1/2     cup slivered almonds

3        cups quinoa

zest of two lemons

1         teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger

1         cup lemon juice

1/2    cup olive oil

salt to taste

-Place the vegetables in large bowl, add the cranberries and the almonds.

-Whisk the lemon juice with the olive oil, the lemon zest and the ginger.  Drizzle the dressing over the vegetable and toss well.

-Place  the quinoa in a pot, add 4 cups of water and little salt.  Bring to a boil.  Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes or until water is absorbed.  Turn off the heat and allow the quinoa to rest for 5 minutes.

-Spoon the hot quinoa over the dressed vegetables and toss well.  Taste the salad and adjust the dressing.  I found that the quinoa takes a lot of lemon juice.

-Allow the salad to cool before serving.

Beet Greens and Kamut Pilaf

My dad was a small farmer in Syria.  His hard labor paid for my and my siblings’ education that ventured to the four corners of the globe.  He was an exceptional man and father; I think about him everyday and miss him every minute.  He had passion for farming and a love for his trees. One time, he was chasing a wild dog only because the dog chewed on a fresh olive tree seedling. However, my father’s greatest love was for his children. He always lit up when me or any of my siblings worked with him on the farm. My dad passed his passion for nature to me, and I got a degree in agriculture engineering. Even though I went on to become a chef, caring for my herbs and vegetables in my backyard brings me absolute pleasure. I find it to be soothing.

My father used to plant fava beans or wheat between his olive trees. This was not for the crop but rather for enriching the soil and keeping the ground and trees healthy. When I read DAN BARBER‘s article  What Farm -to-Table Got Wrong in The New York Times, I thought about my father and the struggles he and many other small farmers deal with.  Chef Barber encourages us to support local farmer by buying not only what is familiar to us, such as cucumbers, but also to buy the peculiar, like mustard greens or millet.  Chef Dan explains the farmer’s specific sequence when rotation farming. Rotation planting enriches the ground and makes it more resistant to certain diseases and insects, without using the harmful pesticides and chemicals.  So, the farmers has to plant his cash crop but also other crops to enrich the soil, just as my father had done.

After I read the article, I decided to use grains and greens I have never used before into my cooking, and then share the recipes with you.  This is the first recipe, and there will be more to follow.

Beet green and kamut pilaf

serves 6

2       cups kamut grain

1/4   cup olive oil

1       medium onion, chopped

2      seeded and diced jalapeño pepper

2      medium size beets, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch cubes

4      cups chopped beet green

1      clove garlic, mashed

1      cup coarsely chopped walnuts

1      teaspoon freshly ground coriander

salt and pepper to taste

2     tablespoons lemon juice

-Place the kamut in a bowl, cover with water and allow it to soak in the water overnight.

-Heat the olive oil and saute the diced onion until golden.

-Add the jalapeño peppers and the diced beet.  Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.  Add the chopped beet greens, the mashed garlic and the seasoning.

-Drain the grain and add to the vegetables.  Stir, adjust the seasoning and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

-Add the walnuts and the lemon juice.  Cover and turn off the heat.  Allow the pilaf to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

The Best and Easiest Vegan and Gluten Free Pita Bread

You have been asking for  my  vegan and gluten free pita bread recipe for a long time.  After deliberation,  I decided to share it with you all. It was a hard decision to make. On one hand I wanted to accommodate you and give you the recipe to make your own bread, but on the other hand I thought this bread recipe is going to make me famous! Oh well, the angel on my shoulder persuaded me over my business side.  Although, I will still wait patiently for a call, hopefully from Ellen Degeneres. Here is the recipe:

I will first have tell you that I make my own savory gluten free flour mixture that I use for all my gluten free savory baking.

Sanaa’s gluten free flour mixture for savory baking:

1        cup white sorghum flour

1        cup potato starch

1        cup potato flour

1        cup brown rice flour

1        cup tapioca flour

-Mix well and place in tight container.

Vegan and Gluten Free Pita Bread

Makes 12 loafs

3       cups Sanaa’s gluten free flour mixture for savory

1/2   cup cooked and pureed white rice*

1       cup cooked white quinoa **

1       cup warm water

1       tablespoon yeast

1       tablespoon sugar

1       teaspoon salt

3      tablespoons olive oil

-Mix the yeast with the warm water and the yeast.  Let it rest and allow the yeast to rise and double in size.

-Place the pureed cooked rice with the cooked quinoa in bread mixer and mix using the hook until you have smooth paste.

-Add the GF flour mixture and mix well.  Add the yeast mixture, the olive oil and continue on mixing until all the flour is incorporated.  Sprinkle with couple tablespoons of warm water on the tough dough and mix.  Repeat this step until you have smooth dough and the dough start to pull away from the ball.

-Transfer the dough to flat surface dusted with GF flour, of course,.  Dust your palms with the flour and cut the dough into 2-inches size balls.  Place on the dusted flour surface.

-You can flatten the bread to 1/8-inch thick circle using bread rolling pin or, do like me, I use tortilla maker to flatten the dough.

-Line trays with parchment paper and then place the flatten bread on the paper and allow it to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

-Slides the parchment paper on the hot baking stone and allow the bread to bake.  It takes about 3-4 minutes for the pita bread to pop.  Take the bread out and allow it to rest before wrapping it.

*Take 1 cup short grain rice cover with 4 cups of water, bring to boil.  Cook until the rice is over cooked and mushy.  Allow the rice to cool slightly and puree in a food processor into smooth paste.  I use this rice as my sticking agent that hold every thing together.  You can freeze what you don’t need and use it later.

**Take 1 cup of white or red quinoa, cover with 3 cups of water and bring to boil.  Cook until the water almost evaporated and the quinoa mushy and over cooked.  The quinoa give the bread the texture of whole wheat bread.

Unexpected Gift Aegean Flavours Turkish Cookbook Rice Pudding Recipe”

A couple years ago, I was given the chance to spend a couple weeks in Istanbul, Turkey. I traveled around the area with a few of my family and friends from Syria.  We enjoyed the sites, the history and the foods.  Since I was the only chef in the group, the restaurant choices were left to me.  We tried everything from well-accliamed restaurants to street food.  I have to say that the Istanbul food scene did not disappoint.  Our visit made me knowledgeable about the Turkish cuisine, until I got The Aegean Flavours cookbook.

According to Google, the Aegean Region is located in the west part Turkey, bounded by Aegean Sea from the west, Marmara Region from the north, Mediterranean Region from the south, and the Central Anatolia Region from the east.  This location makes the region rich with local vegetables, fruit and seafood.

Chef Didem Senol Tiryakioglu covers each area in the Aegean region in the cookbook.  It includes appetizers, salads, main dishes and desserts that are unique to each area.  The recipes are easy to follow yet unique and inspiring. The photography is so wonderful that it makes this book compete for a spot on your coffee table.

Next time I visit Turkey, Chef Didem’s restaurant will be on my restaurants to sample.

This is a rice pudding recipe that is based on Chef Didem’s own recipe.  Chef Didem uses mastic which is little hard to find, so I changed the recipe slightly.

Caramelized Rice Pudding

serves 6

1/4       cup short grain rice

2           cups water

4           cups milk

1/2       cup sugar

2           tablespoons corn stach

1/4       cup cream of rice

2           tablespoons chopped candied orange

1/4       cup almond slivers

1/4       teaspoon rose water

-Place the rice and the water in pot, bring to a boil and then cook over low heat until the rice is cooked and mushy.

-Add the milk and the sugar except of two tablespoons, stir and bring to a boil.

-In a small cup mix corn starch with 1 cup of cold water until the starch is dissolve.  Add the cream of rice and stir together. Pour this mixture slowly to the hot milk and stir continuously until the pudding is thicken.  Add the candied oranges, the slivered almonds and the rose water.

-Spoon the rice pudding into serving cups, sprinkle with the rest of the sugar and broil until golden.

The Graduation Open House Saga Continues: Mediterranean Pasta Salad Recipe

My daughter’s graduation open house is approaching, and I am trying not to freak out.  Mind you, I’m looking forward for the event and hosting our friends in my restaurant.  However, choosing to make French Macarons as one of the desserts is little out there.  The pistachio macaron turned out great, but my daughter insisted on having chocolate macarons, 400 of them.  Well, I’ve discovered or realized that the French macaron is not a dessert that you can do between jobs.   What I mean: the first thing I did wrong is that I tried to make the almond flour more fine by I placing the flour in the restaurant food processor.  When I used that flour, the macarons tasted strange. They had a peculiar flavor, then I realized what the flavor was: garlic.  I use the food processor to make hummus, and I guess that now garlic is permanently engraved into the machine.

I started making another batch while cooking for the restaurant and visiting with my customer; the egg white collapsed. With the third batch, I paid particular attention to the egg whites and meringue was perfect.  I folded the sugar flour mixture and piped the cookies.  My kitchen has three ovens, two of them being a stone oven with the temperature set to 500F. Because we are cooking all the time, the heat and the humidity prevented the macaron from drying so the infamous ridges were left unseen.  For the last batch, I placed the cookie sheets with the piped macaron on few tables in the restaurant and explained my story to my customers. Everyone thought that I am crazy for even trying to make 50 macarons, let a long 400 French macarons for the open house.  While I was in a bad mood, my daughter stopped in the restaurant to ask how the preparations were doing. I quickly snapped,  “Well, I am making eggplant tagaine and bulgur pilaf for main dishes and using the leftover Halloween candy for dessert.”  The look in her face made me laugh so hard that I had to comfort her by assuring that every thing will be fine.  I made her favorite dishes, salads and desserts.  The party was last Sunday and everyone loved the food. I made my famous quinoa salad and my Mediterranean pasta salads and both were a hit if I say so myself.

Mediterranean Pasta Salad

serves 8

1/2        pound small pasta shell

1             red onion, julienned

1/4        cup olive oil

1            clove garlic, mashed

1/2        cup sun-dried tomatoes

1/2        cup pomegranate juice

1/4        cup lemon juice

1            cup diced heart of palms

1           pound frozen artichoke heart, thawed

2           cups chopped red cabbage

1           cup pitted kalamata olives

2          tablespoons capers

1          tablespoon oregano

zest of one lemon

salt to taste

-Heat the olive oil and saute the red onion for couple minutes.  Add the garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and the pomegranate juice. Cook for couple minutes.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

-In a salad bowl, toss the heart of palms with the red cabbage, the artichoke heart, the kalamata olives  and the capers.  Whisk the lemon juice with the rest of the olive oil, the lemon zest, the oregano  and the salt.  Drizzle this dressing over the vegetables and toss well.

-Bring salted water to a boil.  Drop the pasta and cook until al-dente.  Drain well and add to the mixed vegetables.

-Spoon the cooked onion and sun-dried mixture to the cooked pasta and toss well.  Serve room temperature.