Mon10202014

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Feast in the Middle East: Holiday dinners with a twist: Add international spice to a seasonal spread

Let’s face reality – Thanksgiving is not the ideal time to go low carb.

The holidays are the ideal time to put away the protein shakes, the sprouted tortillas and the egg-white omelets and celebrate togetherness by reveling in some luxurious carbohydrates.

Perhaps some of you are searching through dog-eared recipes in old cookbooks for a tried-and-true stuffing recipe or browsing the Web for a new dish to spice up your holiday table. The following two Middle Eastern recipes celebrate both old and new traditions in my family in the form of carbs. After all, if you’re going to splurge, why not make a side dish using high-quality ingredients with maximum flavor?

 

Hashwa

Hashwa is the Arabic word for “stuffing.” This Palestinian recipe is more than a century old, yet still very versatile for today’s palate.

For Thanksgiving, my mother would stuff Cornish game hens or turkey with Hashwa instead of traditional bread stuffing. This meat-and rice-based dish is great as a side or stuffing for game or vegetables like tomatoes, squash, zucchini or even grape leaves simmered in a tomato-kissed broth.

The addition of aromatic spices – allspice, turmeric and nutmeg – sets Hashwa apart from other rice-based dishes, as do the crunchy, pan-fried nuts that go on top. Pine nuts are the traditional topping, but my mother used slivered almonds when pine nuts weren’t available. Middle Eastern home cooks traditionally like to use Uncle Ben’s or converted rice because the rice turns out fluffier, but jasmine or even basmati rice will do.

For an added change of pace, Couscous with Glazed Figs and Feta is my modern interpretation of vegetarian-friendly Hashwa. If you’re really carb-conscious, replace the couscous with quinoa for a tasty alternative.

I use whole-wheat couscous for a dish that is sweet and savory, chewy and crunchy all at once. The addition of pomegranate molasses makes a beautiful glaze with the figs. Pomegranate molasses is relatively inexpensive and readily found in Middle Eastern and Indian markets.

I also use a high-quality olive oil, adding it last so that the flavors are more robust. To determine whether the olive oil is of good quality, check the harvest date. The more recent the date, the fresher and more flavorful the olive oil.

Hashwa and couscous are great dishes, either as additions to the holiday table or as entrées with a side of leafy salad.

Hashwa

• 1 1/2 pounds lamb, finely diced

• 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter

• 1 onion, finely diced

• 4 cloves garlic, minced

• 1 teaspoon salt

• 1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper

• 1 teaspoon ground allspice

• 1/2 teaspoon turmeric

• 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

• 2 cups converted rice (such as Uncle Ben’s)

• 3 1/2 cups chicken broth

• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

• 1 cup pine nuts or slivered almonds, or mixture of both

 

Pour enough water to cover rice and soak for approximately 30 minutes. This will make rice fluffier.

Brown lamb in butter in large pot.

Add onion, garlic, salt, lemon pepper, allspice, turmeric and nutmeg.

Cover and cook until onions are soft. Add a little water if needed to prevent burning.

When meat is cooked, add chicken broth and heat until boiling.

Strain rice from water and add to boiling mixture.

Add salt to taste.

Once mixture begins to boil again, cover and reduce heat to low.

Let it simmer for approximately 25 minutes or until liquid is absorbed by rice.

In separate skillet, add 2 tablespoons olive oil to nuts and sauté until golden brown.

Top rice mixture with nuts.

Serves 12.

Couscous with Glazed Figs and Feta

• 2 cups couscous

• 2 tablespoons butter

• 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth

• 1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon fresh thyme

• 1 cup dried figs, sliced

• 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

• 2 tablespoons honey

• 1/3 cup water

• 1 cup green onions, thinly sliced

• 1 cup crumbled feta cheese

• 1/2 cup roasted almonds, chopped

• 1/2 cup slivered almonds

• 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

• Salt (optional)

 

Place broth, butter and thyme in saucepan until boiling, then add couscous and cover for 5 minutes. Fluff with fork and set aside.

In saucepan, add figs, water, molasses and honey.

Cook on medium heat until figs are plumper and water turns into a nice glaze, approximately 10 minutes.

Add fig mixture to couscous, along with feta, chopped almonds, optional salt and 3/4 cup of green onions. Add olive oil to cut dryness.

Garnish with slivered almonds and remaining green onions on top.

Serves 12.

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