Category Archives: the middle east

Tunisian Tuna Brik

tuna brik

Tunisian Tuna Brik

For centuries, every civilization, empire, religion, trade route has some sort of filled pastry including but not limited to empanadas in Latin America, samosas in India, and spring rolls in China. A brik is the Tunisian version.

This recipe was prepared at the Getty Villa in my recent classes, The Eclectic Empire, inspired by the special exhibition, Roman Mosaics Across the Empire.

2 7-ounce cans tuna packed in water, drained and flaked
¼ cup finely chopped scallions
3 tablespoons capers, drained and chopped
¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
¼ cup olive oil
juice of two lemons
salt and pepper to taste
6 sheets phyllo dough

1 egg, beaten
vegetable oil for frying

In a medium bowl, combine the tuna, scallions, capers, parsley, olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning.

On a work surface, make 2 stacks 
of 3 phyllo sheets each. Cut each stack into four 4×12” strips. Keep the phyllo dough covered with 
a damp kitchen towel.

Place 2 to 3 tablespoons of the tuna filling at the end of the strip closest to you. Brush the edge of the other end with the beaten egg. Fold the corner of the phyllo over the filling to form a triangle. Continue folding the triangle up and over itself until you reach the end of the phyllo strip. Press to adhere. Repeat with the remaining phyllo strips.

Heat oil in a deep-fryer or large saucepan to 350° F.

Fry the brik in the preheated oil in batches until golden brown and crispy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate and serve hot.

Makes 6




A flatbread is any dough made into a thin cake before baking on a griddle. This recipe was prepared in my recent Eclectic Mexico class which featured Mexican-Lebanese food. The version of flatbread is leavened but many, such as the Mexican flour tortilla or the Jewish matzo, are not.

5 cups bread flour
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 ½ cups lukewarm water
4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Sift and combine dry ingredients. Combine water and yeast and let it sit till it bubbles. Gradually add yeast/water mixture and oil to dry ingredients in a stand mixer until they become incorporated. Knead on low and turn slightly faster for 1 minute.

Put in bowl with olive oil and let rise 1 ½ – 2 hours or until doubled. Punch down dough, form into log on a floured surface, make equal balls (4 for thicker, 8 for thinner), and flatten into a disk with rolling pin about ¼ inch thick and 10 inches across.

Let rise 5 minutes. Flatten again.

Cook on a griddle over medium high until golden brown on bottom and bubbly on top.

Makes 16 thin or 8 thick flatbreads
(recipe by Stephanie Parra)

Kibbeh with Lemon Pickled Red Onions and Yemeni Hot Sauce


Kibbeh with Lemon Pickled Red Onions and Yemeni Hot Sauce

This dish made of bulgur, minced, onions, finely ground spiced meat is considered to be the national dish of many Middle Eastern countries. The word kibbeh is Arabic for “ball”. It is a popular dish in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, which has a large Lebanese population.

There are three species of cultivated chiles in ancient America, one of which was found in Mexico, wild, in cultural deposits in the Tehuacan valley dating from 7200 to 5200 BC. The use of chiles in the New World was not confined to food. Chile smoke was used as a fumigant, as a means of chemical warfare, and the Aztecs disciplined their children with it!

Christopher Columbus introduced chiles to Europe after his first trip to the Caribbean and called them peppers because he likened them to the peppercorns he was familiar with, though they are from a different family. Shortly thereafter they were cultivated around the globe and were quickly assimilated into the foods of other cultures, including those of Asia and the Middle East.

For the Lemon-Pickled Red Onions:
1 red onion, small dice
2 large lemons, juiced (preferably Meyer lemons for their sweetness)
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
salt to taste

For the Yemeni Hot Sauce:
2 to 3 dried hot red chiles
2 to 3 roughly chopped, stemmed, fresh green serrano or jalapeño chiles, or more depending on how spicy you want it)
⅛ teaspoons ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1 bunch fresh cilantro, stems trimmed off
3 peeled garlic cloves
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt to taste

For the Kibbeh:
1 pound lean ground beef
1 ½ cups fine bulgur
½ yellow onion
about 30 leaves fresh mint
about 10 leaves fresh marjoram or oregano
2 teaspoons allspice or Lebanese 7-spice
2 teaspoons salt, to start off, then can season to taste
2 teaspoons pepper
vegetable oil for frying

Make the lemon-pickled red onions. Dice the red onion and place into a bowl. Pour lemon juice over the onion until it is submerged. Add vinegar and salt to taste. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for at least an hour or until ready to serve as a garnish for kibbeh.

Make the hot sauce. Soak red chiles in a bowl of warm water for 30 minutes, then drain. Remove and discard stems from chiles, then put in the bowl of a food processor. Add green chiles, cardamom, cloves, and cumin, and process until finely chopped, scraping down sides as needed. Add cilantro and garlic cloves. Process. It will not be a fine paste, but more like a thick relish. Season with salt to taste.

Prepare the kibbeh. Rinse bulgur in water then steep in until it becomes soft, about 30 minutes. Once it has softened, drain and squeeze out excess water as much as possible.

Meanwhile, put the onion in a processor and pulse. Add the beef, herbs, spices, salt and pepper until mixture looks homogenized and onion has been incorporated. Take meat mixture out and place into a bowl. Add the drained bulgur and combine with hands. Form one small pattie and fry in oil until crispy and brown, flip over, drain on paper towels and taste for seasoning. Adjust seasoning and form the remaining meat into thin, round patties about 3 ½ inches across. Fry in oil until crispy and brown, then flip over. Drain on paper towels and serve with Lemon Pickled Red Onions and Yemeni Hot Sauce.

Makes 12 or more patties
(recipe adapted from Stephanie Parra)

Za’atar Meatballs with Fresh Herbs and Yogurt Pomegranate Sauce

zatar meatballs

Za’atar Meatballs with Fresh Herbs and Yogurt Pomegranate Sauce

Lately I can’t get enough of za’atar. An aromatic spice blend of oregano, sumac, cumin, thyme and sesame seeds, it has been eaten in the Middle East for centuries. The 12th century philosopher Maimonides is said to have prescribed it to his patients to treat a variety of ailments.

I love it tossed into roasted vegetables or mixed with olive oil and spread over warm bread or feta cheese, but the flavor it gives to these meatballs might be my favorite use for it yet.

For the meatballs:
1 pound ground beef
½ small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons parsley, minced
3 tablespoons fresh mint, minced
1 tablespoon za’atar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon pepper
lettuce leaves

For the pomegranate yogurt sauce:
seeds of one pomegranate
2 cups plain whole Greek yogurt
2 scallions, finely chopped
juice of one lemon, or to taste
½ teaspoon salt

Make the yogurt sauce. In a medium bowl, combine the yogurt, scallions, lemon and salt. Gently fold in all but 2 tablespoons of the pomegranate seeds. Transfer to a bowl and garnish with reserved pomegranate seeds. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Light a grill.

In a medium bowl, gently mix the ground meat with the onion, garlic, parsley, mint, za’atar, salt, cumin and pepper. Form the meat into 1 1/2-inch balls and flatten them to 3/4 inch thick patties. Grill the meatballs over medium high heat until cooked through, about 2 to 3 minutes per side.

Wrap the grilled meatballs in lettuce leaves and serve with a dollop of the pomegranate yogurt sauce.

Serves 4