A Middle Eastern feast was in the horizon. The Epicurious Kids wanted to celebrate the late spring harvest and early summer delights. What better choice that an exotic take on a Middle Eastern ratatouille Libyan-style – Chakchouka, light and airy arabic pizza and tasty grill of Simsim Daj.
To each his own veggies
Lahma Bi Ajeen is the United Arab Emirates version of an arab pizza. What kid can resist any local take on the beloved pizza? This meal had many steps for different dishes and Inigo was up for the challenge. “Tristan you prep the veg while I begin working on the dough.” Surprise, surprise. The chicken legs were marinated in a mix of home-mixed zatar spices with a squeeze of lemon and chopped coriander. “The spices need time to marinate the chicken.” explained Tristan.
Pizza with a twist
The exotic Chakchouka was Tristan main task, He patiently cut, sliced, diced 3 colours of bell peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplants, green beans and onions. Inigo mixed the meat mixture for the Lahma Bi Ajeen. He pre-baked the dough to prevent a soggy bottom, and threw in chopped tomatoes and coriander onto the pizza. After a few hours of marinating, the chicken and chicken merguez were thrown onto the grill. Quick and easy!
Chakchouka and Yellow Rice
Timing had to be perfect, with the Arabic pizza coming fresh out of the oven, the succulent grilled meats piping hot and the crunchy Chakchouka and fluffy pilaf just ready for hungry mouths. “It´s funny how the flavours taste exotic, spicier, but there is something so familiar with all these dishes!” remarked Tristan.
Aye! Aye! captain!
Crazy for Calamari!
A Middle Eastern feast was in the cards for Epicurious Kids. They invited their neighbor Hussein for dinner and were excited to impress him with their cooking skills. The dinner was going to be exciting with many dishes to prep for, cook and plate all at once. “It´s like we are in Iron Chef, mom,” Inigo says excitedly “We have 1 hour to make all these dishes…
The daily curry grind
The curry was time-consuming with many steps, toasting of the spices on the pan, grinding it by hand while adding the garlic. Tristan was not completely convinced it would make a difference. “This is not easy, grinding it is hard!” he complained. “But it smells awfully fragrant!”
This is how I stir my curry
To each his own dish
The Tunisian dish Mantiq Hammer was the favourite to prepare, it was simple. The sheer idea of calamari was making the Epicurious Kids´tastebuds tingle. They quickly agreed to divide cooking tasks to get the dishes done faster. “You finish of the curry sauce and bake the fish, and I will flash fry the calamari in the turmeric mixture.” instructed ever-focused Inigo to his big brother.
Check out my wrist action
Hurry with the curry!
Once the fish curry was out of the oven, the delicious smell of spices filled the kitchen making Inigo´s mouth water. “I can´t wait to taste the delicious fish curry!” Tristan beamed proudly, “it smells like heaven, and it was worth all the grinding and extra steps!” The doorbell rang, “It´s Hussein!” they both chorused. Dinner served.
Kuwait Fish Curry
Patience is the key ingredient!
Another dish to make for the Gulf and the Epicurious Kids were feeling goofy today. “What should we cook for Oman?” asked Inigo. Tristan was checking out some recipes and settled for the region #2 protein, lamb. “What about the appetizers?” asked Inigo. Bourek from Algeria was Inigo´s dish of choice. Menu decided.
Trimming off the fat
Brown onions? Not good!
The marinade was easy enough with baharat, turmeric, coriander and onions. Inigo had the bad luck of getting some rotten onions which he immediately discarded. “Gross, this is brown and mushy!” Tristan kept his focus and continued on the serious task of trimming off the fat and sinewy tissue off the lamb leg. After massaging the dry rub onto the leg of lamb, Tristan popped it in the oven for 45 minutes in 175 degrees Celsius.
mixing in some brotherly love
Then Inigo insisted on getting the ground beef cooked and cooled before wrapping up in the phyllo dough for the Bourek. Tristan added some spices to the sautéed onions, and then added the meat. After browning the mixture, Inigo started the arduous task of prepping each thin layer of phyllo dough with olive oil and creating the layer for the meat mixture.
Layer by layer
Bourek and roll
Inigo was concentrated in his Bourek task. Layer by layer, he brushed and folded the phyllo dough before finally spooning in the meat mixture. A nice fresh mint leaf was layered on the meat mixture before sealing the phyllo parcels. Then the phyllo pockets baked golden brown for approximately 25 minutes. “Everything taste better when cooked from scratch!” exclaimed Inigo. Tristan nodded his head between bites of Bourek.
Deftly folding phyllo
Enjoying Bourek between brothers
Omani lamb and grilled eggplants
In the Gulf countries, chicken is the king of protein. Epicurious Kids decided to pay homage to this famous fowl by preparing Djej Mechou for their Yemen soujourn. To accompany their main dish was a simple spinach dish with chickpeas – Houmous Ye Esfenaj.
massaging in the spices
The steps were simple: a dry rub mixture of turmeric, cumin, coriander, baharat and dried mint was massaged into the chicken. Inigo gently separated the loose skin from the flesh to rub the dry spices directly onto the chicken. This makes the taste penetrate directly onto the meat.
Tristan was charged with slicing tomatoes for the Djej Mechou. After the prep, the chicken was left to marinate for a few hours. Inigo and Tristan weren´t too pleased for the long wait. The chicken was then put in a clay pot for maximum moisture for 1 hour. Fo the last 10 minutes, Tristan took the lid off for the chicken brown and crisp. With a side of arabic bread, the Djej Mechou and Houmous Ye Esfenaj was ready for the table!
Esfenaj is Spinach in arabic!
Epicurious Kids´culinary trip to Israel was going to be a quick dish. The week was filled with sports activities, homework and various errands. Tristan found an easy, healthy dish to complement their hectic schedule. Dag Bitanoor was a simple dish of grilled white fish, whole with onions, lemons and tomatoes to complement the fresh fish.
Prepping fish dish
Mini Iron Chef Inigo
Both Inigo and Tristan were quick in splitting up kitchen duties. Tristan volunteered for fish clean-up and prepping while Inigo deftly began slicing and dicing the veggies: onions and tomatoes. The fish salted and peppered was placed in the grill and voilà, after 15 minutes on the grill, the meal was done! Be’te-avon
Syrian food is very similar to other Levant country dishes. Rich in grains, nuts, aromatic spices and vegetables, it is an abundance in ingredients. The Epicurious Kids wanted to do something different than the traditional Kabob dish, grilled meats and mezze platters. They were saving these for Lebanese and the other Middle Eastern countries.
And with the end of the school year around the corner, I was eager to make something quick and easy. Daoud Pasha, meatballs in tomato sauce and aromatic spices seemed to fit the bill. Inigo started massaging the spices into the ground meat, while Tristan slowly simmered the tomatoes in aromatic spices.
The more hands the merrier
The perfect meatballs
After the quick movement of rolling the meatballs into perfect round globes, the meat was quickly fried and mixed into the sauce. No messing around here. The sun was shining outside, after a week of rain and the boys only had one other ball in mind: football! I couldn´t blame them. This will be quick and easy Syrian food. After a short simmer, and stir, the meatballs was served over brown rice and gone in seconds!
Syrian meatballs --- fast food middle eastern style
Jordanian cuisine has its roots in Bedouin cooking. Simple preparations and common dishes with other Middle Eastern countries like mazza to start a meal (mezze in other Levant countries) is not uncommon. The Epicurious Kids were excited to venture into the tradition rich Jordanian kitchen and it was quickly decided to prepare the most important dish in a Jordanian culture: Mansaf or Mensef. The preparation was simple enough, lamb pieces cooked in yoghurt and served over rice on a flat bread.
Deboning the lamb
Big boys don´t cry...
The national dish of Jordan, feasting on Mansaf is taken seriously and hours are spent in its preparation. Mostly the cooking time requires slow and gentle heat, taking over an hour of careful mixing. Preparing the ingredients was simple enough, the Epicurious Kids were only stumped by the jameed, dried yoghurt on the list, even I have never heard of this. So we improvised and thanked technology for refrigeration and picked a regular greek yoghurt instead.
Mixing in the yoghurt
Whenever onions need to be sliced, chopped or cut, Tristan decided it would be his teary task to take over. “This would only make me immune to all the crying, mommy,” he bravely stated. “And I will be in-charge of the cutting and peeling,” declared Inigo usefully. At this point, the kids have honed certain kitchen skills in their short time going through their challenge. I told them that they need to master all aspects of the kitchen, they need to be good at everything.
After some quite concentration, and dedicated gentle stirring, the meat was done. “This was easy!” declared Inigo. Tristan said that it probably was because they had to cook it moving from one place to another, like nomads. “But it is better than sandwiches on the road!” insisted Inigo.
Bedouin workers slave over Arabic bread and Mansaf sauce
Nuts from a nut
A large serving plate was then covered with a doughy flat Arabic bread and dampened with yoghurt. On top of this, Inigo heaped a layer of rice. The meat is then piled on top. Tristan then sprinkled almonds and pine nuts over the dish. Ready to serve!
A meal fit for a King!