Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Unappreciated Ingredient: Yogurt

One of my favorite ingredients is yogurt. And I love it with my other favorite ingredient, garlic. Yogurt & Garlic. A match made in heaven. Why haven't all those T.V chefs discovered yogurt yet? Its the most amazing ingredient ever. Syria has the best yogurt ever. It's kind of sour, creamy, and delicious. It's perfect for cooking. Most yogurt here on the other hand is watery and sweet, and falls apart completely when you try to cook it. I remember when I was younger my mom would spend hours making her own yogurt. Do I really want to do that? No. So I found an alternative. I discovered Greek yogurt. Its thick, creamy, and slightly sour. PERFECT for cooking. Today I'm making one of my favorite dishes, Greek yogurt pasta. It's similiar to shish barak, but easier.


1) One container of greek yogurt ( usually found @ trader joes or other organic stores)
2) Box of shell shaped pasta ( the small one not the kind you stuff)
3) 1 lb of ground beef
4) 2 finely diced onions.
5) Minced garlic ( you have to determine how much you want, just add it to the yogurt and keep tasting until you get the flavor you want.)
6) 2 Tablespoons of ground coriander.
7) 2 teaspoons of cracked red pepper ( also, add as much as you want, whether you want a hint of flavor or spicy.)
8) 2 tablespoons of butter

Get a pot of water boiling, and add ALOT of salt but no oil, because you want the pasta to remain starchy so that the sauce will stick to the noodles.

Add the onions and saute them in some olive oil in a skillet, and add the ground beef. Brown the beef till its done.

In another pot, dump the greek yogurt into it and add as much garlic as you want. Put it on LOW heat and stir until it becomes a liquid and is warm. You have to stir non stop or else the yogurt will fall apart. If it does fall apart, put it in a food processor or use a hand mixer. This takes about 10 minutes, or longer, and is the most labor intensive part of the meal.

Finish cooking the pasta, drain it and put it in a large bowl. Add the ground beef mixture and yogurt.

Take a frying pan and melt the butter, and add about two tablespoons of olive oil. Put it on medium low heat, and add the coriander. Let it sizzle for a minute or two, until you start smelling it. Then, Lift the frying pan off the heat and add the red pepper flakes. They burn reallly fast, so just leave it for 30 seconds and then dump all of it on top of the pasta and mix it. And your done!!! =)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Cilantro Nastiness

Since I got married, I have turned my kitchen into a laboratory. Ever since I was younger, I had an urge to cook like no other. When I was 13, my parents went away for two weeks, so I decided to make a green bean stew for my siblings. I made a long distance call to Syria to get the recipe from my grandma, the Queen of Syrian cuisine, and started cooking. Due to my lack of experience in the kitchen, I dumped in whole tomatoes into the sauce without chopping them up. My grandma told me to add tomatoes, so I assumed to just dump them in. I did not factor in that she has been cooking for 40 years and has developed a short hand way of giving recipes. ( Note to self, do not follow nana's recipe's word from word.) To this day, anytime I mention cooking to my brother and sister they recall the green bean stew.

Now my cooking has improved significantly ( although for some reason my green bean stew still isn't that great) and I have made great strides in the kitchen. My husband hails from Damascus, and their food is slightly different then food from my city, Aleppo. One major difference --> The use of cilantro.

I hate cilantro. My Mexican restaurant visits are always a disappointment because of their love of this herb. Unfortunately for me, my husband loves cilantro. To him, okra stew is inedible without it. Here's the recipe for it:

Okra Stew

1) 2 lbs beef stew chopped
2) 1 bag of chopped frozen okra
3) 6 whole tomatoes ( large ones, not vine)
4) 1 teaspoon of butter
5) 4 tablespoons of olive oil
6) One onion roughly chopped
7) Two cloves of minced garlic
8) teaspoon of tomato paste
9) 3 freshly squeezed lemons
10) Teaspoon of sugar
11) Optional ingredient: chopped cilantro

Ok I know what your thinking, it looks like a lot of ingredients, but it's really not. You have most of this stuff in your kitchen.

Now, first things first. Take the frozen okras and put them in a strainer. Run some hot water on them, and sprinkle them with salt. Let them sit out for an hour or two, until you cook the stew. This prevents the okras from getting mushy.

Take the tomatoes and put them in some boiling water. Let them boil for about 10 minutes till they are soft. Remove them and let them cook. Once they are cool, remove the skin and the hard white part inside the tomato. Then, put them in a food processor and puree them. ( I usually just use my hand mixer in a bowl, b/c it's amazing. Best kitchen tool ever.)

Voila! Move over Julia Child, you now have fresh tomato sauce. Whenever I make it I truly feel gourmet and organic. Take the stew meat and onions, and saute them together with olive oil and butter till the stew meat is browned in a large pot. Then, add about 5 cups of water, tomato sauce, tomato paste, sugar, and lemon juice. Let it come to a boil, and then lower the heat to simmer. Beef stew needs to cook slowly in order for it to become tender, so I usually leave it slowly simmering for about an hour and a half, two hours. Then near the end, dump in the okra and minced garlic and let it cook for another half hour, and add salt and pepper. And there you have it, Okra stew. Oh ya, and if you want, you can add the nasty cilantro at the end too. =) This tastes good with rice or bread.