March 29, 2011

Recipes - Lebanese Feast!

I had the urge to cook a big meal on Sunday and knew that I wanted to veganize some of my favorite Lebanese dishes from old family recipes. Lebanese food takes a considerable amount of work, but it's so worth the effort. I remember my mom, aunt, great aunts, and grandma cooking for literally DAYS prior to big holidays. They'd diligently make hundreds of afthiad (little meat pies) by hand, roll many dozen "grape rolls" (grape leaves stuffed with ground lamb, rice, tomato and garlic), and knead dough to make mahmool (cookies filled with walnuts, dates and orange blossom water) for hours at a time. The cooking itself was a social event where the booze flowed freely and the gossip and laughter could be heard for miles. If there is one type of food that gets straight to my heart, it's Lebanese food.

My menu started with my version of afthiad which are small "pies" usually stuffed with meat, pine nuts, onion and lemon juice. My version has spinach, pine nuts**, onion and lemon juice surrounded by flaky, crispy Filo dough - sort of a spanikopita without the feta. I also made Lebanese-style green beans based on a dish called lubiyeh (but I left out the lamb shoulder, obvs). I love green beans this way, they are tangy, tomato-y, tender and so good! I wanted another small side dish, so I decided to make roasted red potatoes which I've made before. This time I took some tips from a recipe by VeganYumYum and they were honestly the best potatoes I've ever made! The fresh rosemary gets a little crispy when it's roasted and it just adds to the overall crispiness of the potatoes. When eaten together, this meal is low in calories and fat, has no cholesterol (as with all vegan foods), and gives you a ton of Vitamins A and C! For added protein, fiber, and iron serve with a salad topped with chickpeas.  

Check out those potatoes... FOOD PORN!

Quick note on my dessert FAIL: I tried to make Farina Cake. As soon as I started making the filling (walnuts, sugar, and orange blossom water) I was immediately transported back to my mom's kitchen! There is something so magical about orange blossom water, it has a scent and a taste that is distinctly Spring to me. You can find it at any ethnic food market (Kalustyan's in NYC is amazing and Caravan in Tucson has it), I highly recommend getting a bottle and experimenting with it in dessert recipes. Sadly when I halved the recipe I forgot to half the baking powder and my cake was ruined! BOO. Nothing worse than a ruined cake! I am still not convinced the other measurements in the recipe I have are correct, so I am going to experiment with this one a bit more before posting it.

Johnny's reactions? He loved the afthiad even though he is not a fan of cook spinach, he actually liked it in these (I love it when I can change his mind about something, it's like a tiny victory!). He agreed that the potatoes were the best ever and was sad there weren't more. He wasn't a big fan of the green beans which is weird because I made a similar dish a few weeks back and he liked that. He has a cold so he said his taste buds might be off.

I definitely came out of this meal with a few dishes that I will make again and again!

**I interrupt this blog-entry with a word about pine nuts. Most of you know that I suffered a strange phenomena last year when I ate a bad batch of pine nuts and was afflicted with... PINE MOUTH! What in the world is PINE MOUTH you ask? It all started on a warm, August day... (cue harp music)

I had decided to make an avocado pesto that called for pine nuts, as most pestos do. I purchased a small jar of pine nuts from a gourmet store near our apartment and went to work making the pesto. The day after eating this delicious meal, I awoke to find that everything I ate tasted horribly metallic and bitter! It lasted all day and into the next day. I was horrified! Could I be dying? I felt like the world was collapsing in around me!

I did a search on the internet to see if I could unravel this mystery. I quickly discovered that others had suffered the same fate as me... PINE MOUTH! According to Wikipedia, "The Nestle Research Centre has hypothesized that a particular species of Chinese pine nuts, Pinus armandii, is the cause of the problem. The suspect species of pine nuts are smaller, duller, and more rounded than typical pine nuts. This finding has recently been confirmed. Metallic taste disturbance, known as metallogeusia, is typically reported 1–3 days after ingestion, being worse on day 2 and lasting typically up to 2 weeks. Cases are self-limited and resolve without treatment."

Damn Chinese pine nuts! I had no choice but to go on, tasting the bad end of a battery every time I ate or drank anything. After about a week it simply wore off and I went back to my regularly scheduled life. Needless to say, it gave me pause to use pine nuts in my afthiad recipe, but those little morsels just add so much to this recipe! Luckily, I was able to find some that were imported from good old Italy. I am happy to report that there was no recurrence of PINE MOUTH this time! And now on to the recipes...

Afthiad in front, green beans on the right, and potatoes in the back. Yum!
Vegan Afthiad
Serves 4

3 cups frozen chopped spinach, thawed
¼ cup pine nuts
1 tsp dried mint
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt & Pepper to taste
6 sheets thawed Filo dough
Canola or Olive Oil Spray

Preheat your over to 400 degrees. Place your spinach in a colander and squeeze it until you’ve gotten as much juice out of it as possible. Place it in a bowl. Toast your pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium-low heat until browned, being very careful not to burn them. Transfer to the bowl with the spinach and add in the mint, lemon juice, and salt & pepper. Mix.

On a counter, spread out one sheet of Filo dough. Spray it with canola or olive oil spray, then place another sheet of Filo on top. Repeat until you have three sheets stuck together with oil. Using a knife, cut the Filo into 9 equal rectangles. Spoon about 2 tbsps of spinach mixture into the middle of each rectangle. Fold into triangles by folding the bottom edge up toward the filling, then folding each top corner down diagonally toward the opposing corner. Transfer to a baking sheet that has been sprayed with canola or olive oil, then spray the tops of the afthiad.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown, flipping halfway through for even browning. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Nutrition info per serving: Calories 149; Total fat 6.7g; Saturated fat 1.2g; Trans fat 0g; Cholesterol 0mg; Sodium 159mg; Carbohydrate 15.6g; Dietary Fiber 2g; Sugars 0.6g; Protein 3.7g; Vitamin A 38%; Vitamin C 2%; Calcium 6%; Iron 8%

Lebanese-Style Green Beans
Serves 4

3 cups fresh green beans
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium white or yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 15oz. can diced tomatoes (or you can puree a can of whole tomatoes)
Salt & Pepper to taste
Juice of ½ lemon

Rinse the green beans and snap off the stems and ends, then snap the beans in half so they are bite-size. In a medium pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat for several minutes, then add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until translucent but not browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Stir in the green beans, tomatoes, and salt and pepper. Allow to come to a boil, reduce heat to low, then cover and continue simmering for 25 minutes, or until green beans are tender. When finished cooking, add the lemon juice and stir before serving.

Nutrition info per serving: Calories 95; Total Fat 3.5g; Saturated Fat 0.5g; Trans Fat 0g; Cholesterol 0g; Sodium 56mg; Carbohydrate 15.4g; Dietary Fiber 5.6g; Sugars 7.4g; Protein 3g; Vitamin A 21%; Vitamin C 42%; Calcium 6%; Iron 7%

World's Best Roasted Potatoes
Based on this recipe from VeganYumYum
Serves 4

3 cups small, thin skinned potatoes, rinsed and scrubbed
2 tbsp olive oil
Parchment Paper
2 tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
Salt & pepper to taste

Place potatoes in a large pot with water to cover. Boil over high heat for about 25 minutes, or until a fork can easily pierce through an entire potato. Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper and brush it with about 1 tbsp olive oil. Spread the potatoes out on the baking sheet evenly and cut an “X” into each with a small knife. Use a potato masher or the back of a fork to gently press on each potato until it splits open. Drizzle another 1 tbsp oil over the potatoes and sprinkle with s&p and rosemary. Bake for 30 minutes or until parts of the potatoes have browned.

Nutrition info per serving: Calories 367; Total Fat 7.6g; Saturated Fat 1.1g; Trans Fat 0g; Cholesterol 0mg; Sodium 28mg; Carbohydrate 67.8g; Dietary Fiber 6.3g; Sugars 5g; Protein 8g; Vitamin A 1%; Vitamin C 73%; Calcium 3%; Iron 14%


  1. Great job Hal! Kudos for making a Lebanese meal sans meat. I actually pondered using Filo dough for uftiad before, but wasn't sure how it would work. They do sound like little Spanikopita. Yum! I'm thinking of doing a mini version as apps for the wedding. There really is no Lebanese finger food that I know of. The potatoes are similar to a recipe I adore as well. I use my convection oven to get them nice and crisp. Sorry about the farina cake not turning out, but its hard to make it work even with the right measurements. I've only made it once, and the top turned out rock hard and basically inedible. I'm glad the curse of the pinemouth did not return, though. Keep on cooking sweet sis! I love to read about your adventures. I'm thinking of starting a blog about refining the Lebanese cookbook recipes too. Or just one about cooking in general. You have inspired me!!!

  2. What a wonderful feast! Everything sounds perfect. How bizarro about the pine nuts! I'll keep buying mine from Trader Joe's because so far so good with those ones ;)

  3. Hi Breeb! I think the filo afthiad would be a perfect app! I even rolled some into little "cigar" shapes and they are a great finger food. You could make some with feta and some without to give options. You should totally start a blog! I used your cookbook for some inspiration and recipes and I was again astounded at how beautiful it is! The Farina is definitely tricky... I might try preparing the Farina (adding boiling water or whatever) and then adding the flour, etc. The wet/dry ratio seems WAY off. Mine was rock hard, too, so maybe it wasn't just the extra baking powder to blame.

    Hiya Sarah! The pine mouth incident was *horrible*, I have seen a few other blogs talk about it as well (like Vegan Eats & Treats). Striking vegans right and left! Trader Joe's is definitely a reliable source for pine nuts and a good price. Let me know when voting beings for the NYC contest so I can vote for you!

  4. I forgot about pine mouth! I had some in a Safeway-brand hummus this weekend, and luckily avoided pine mouth.

    This food looks amazing, though. Everything is always better when it's roasted with rosemary! I do the same with butternut squash.

    Also... have I mentioned that I love the Daily Puppy? Always makes my day.

  5. Ooooh butternut squash with rosemary sounds divine! I love the Daily Puppy too, they found the cutest puppies to feature. We should try to get Tiny & The Kid on there!

  6. Very yummy! I've found any root vegetable + rosemary + a little salt and olive oil is just one of my favorites. I may have told you this before, but I think I didn't like some veggies as a kid because my folks didn't know how to prepare them properly. Roasting not boiling!

  7. Yeah, we had a lot of frozen veggie mixes prepared in the microwave when I was a kid. Blech! No wonder kids would rather be punished than eat the veggies on their plates! lol

  8. Hey Hal. I just found another amazing potato recipe for you. I made these puppies a couple of nights ago and they were deeelish!! The cumin seeds make these. Instead of cooking these on the stove top, though, I baked them in my convection oven for 40 minutes at 325, stirring occasionally. They were fabulous!