Category Archives: the middle east

Leek and Feta Fritters

leek and feta fritters

Leek and Feta Fritters

Related to garlic and onion, leeks are native to the Near East and have been prized by gourmets for thousands of years. The Roman Emperor Nero believed leeks would improve his singing voice and is said to have eaten large quantities to that end.

Prized for its soothing properties and refreshing fragrance, the ancient Greeks and Romans used mint to scent their bath water, stuff their cushions, and wore mint as banquet wreaths. The ancient Roman physician Hippocrates believed that frequent eating of mint diluted sperm, hindered erection and tired the body. It is reported that Aristotle advised his student Alexander the Great to forbid his soldiers to consume mint during their campaigns because he believed it would lessen their aggressiveness.

2 tablespoons of olive oil, plus avocado or grapeseed  oil for frying
2 pounds leeks, chopped, white and light green parts only
5 eggs
1/2 cup flour
salt and pepper
6 sprigs of mint, stemmed and chopped
6 springs of dill, stemmed and chopped
one pound feta cheese, mashed with a fork

Sauté the leeks in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat until very soft.

In a bowl, beat the eggs with the flour until well blended. Add a pinch of salt and some pepper. Add the chopped herbs and mix well. Fold the mashed cheese and leeks into the egg and flour mixture.

Film the bottom of a nonstick pan with avocado or grapeseed oil and pour in about 2 tablespoon of the mixture to make a few fritters at a time. Turn each over once and cook until both sides are golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve hot or at room temperature.

Serves 6

Olive, Walnut and Pomegranate Tapenade

olive, walnut and pomegranate tapenade

Olive, Walnut and Pomegranate Tapenade

Native to Iran, the pomegranate has been cultivated since antiquity and it appears in many myths and legends around the ancient world.

1 pound firm green olives, pitted and chopped
seeds of one pomegranate
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup ground walnuts
½ cup pomegranate molasses
3 tablespoons olive oil
handful of fresh mint, chopped
salt and pepper

In a medium-sized bowl combine the chopped olives, pomegranate seeds, garlic and ground walnuts. Pour in the pomegranate molasses and the olive oil. Add fresh mint and mix thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve cold or at room temperature with flat bread.

Serves 6

Tomato and Pomegranate Salad

tomato pomegranate salad

Tomato and Pomegranate Salad

This recipe is adapted from one of my recent favorite cookbooks, Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty More.

The pomegranate has ancient connections to love. When Hades, the king of the underworld, fell head over heels for Persephone he tricked her into eating pomegranate seeds so she’d have to spend a portion of each year as his queen. When Persephone was with him in the underworld, her mother, Demeter, the goddess of harvest, went into mourning causing all the plants to die and thus creating fall and winter. When Persephone went home to her mother, their happiness created spring and summer.

2 pounds cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 small red onion, finely diced
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 ½ tablespoons pomegranate molasses
¼ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
seeds of one pomegranate
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon mint

Mix together the tomatoes and onion in a large bowl and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cinnamon, vinegar, pomegranate molasses, olive oil, and ½ teaspoon salt until well combined. Pour this over the tomato mixture and gently mix.

Gently toss the pomegranates seeds with the tomato mixture and arrange on a platter. Sprinkle with the fresh herbs, drizzle with a little more olive oil and serve.

Serves 6 to 8

photo by Audrey Chan

Lentil Soup

lentil soup

Lentil Soup

Native to the Near East, lentils have been cultivated in Egypt since antiquity. Inexpensive yet filling and nutritious, they have been used as a meat substitute for centuries.

1 ½ cups French lentils
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 celery stalks, diced
6 carrots, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
¼ cup fresh dill, chopped
salt and pepper
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 teaspoon Balsamic vinegar, or more to taste

In a large stockpot on medium heat, sauté onions until soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic, celery and carrots and continue to sauté until tender, about 10 minutes more.

Add the stock, tomato paste, lentils, dill, salt and pepper. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 1 hour, until the lentils are cooked through.

Add the vinegar. Taste and adjust seasoning. Ladle into bowls and serve hot.

Serves 6