The cuisine of the Middle East is an exotic and colorful as the people themselves. It is indeed a traditional and deeply-rooted way of eating with recipes handed down from mother to daughter or daughter-in-law.
Some of the ingredients in these recipes date from civilizations that go back to earliest known history. The simple foods of the desert and oasis – lamb, milk turned into yogurt and dates – merge with what was available in the maze of food stalls or souks in the markets of towns and cities. Here, olives of brown, green, red, and black, rice, dried beans of all color and varieties, wheat, peppers, onions and garlic were added.
The results of this merging are creations that are as appealing to the eye as well as the palate. Beautiful vegetables are hollowed out and filled with seasoned combination of meat, rice, nuts, fruits, and spices. Generous hospitality is the most important phenomenon in the Near east and no one is ever turned away. Whether you stop for a visit in the morning or afternoon, a long-handled pot of fragrant coffee, platter of sweets, and a bowl of fruit would appear. This hospitality would also be found at dinner. Although the dishes were often easy to create, they were made with the utmost care. Once of my favorite dishes is Harira, a Moroccan soup. It’s a rich and delicately spiced soup-stew of beef, vegetables, and chick peas. It makes a meal in a bowl or is perfect with a light main dish.
1 lb beef cubes (1/2 inch)
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp crushed saffron or ground turmeric
1 tbsp butter
1 cup beef broth
1 cup minced tomatoes or 1 small can of tomato paste
2 cups of water
1/4 cup of barley
1 lb of chick peas (equal to one can (drained) or 1 lb soaked chick peas)
1 cup diced tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped parsley
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp fresh lemon zest
In a large pan, brown beef and cook carrots, celery and onion with seasonings in butter until tender. Add broth, tomato paste, water and barley. Cover and cook over low heat for an hour and 15 minutes. Add chick peas, tomatoes, parsley and lemon juice. Cook 15 minutes more or until done, stirring occassionally. Sprinkle a pinch of lemon vest over each bowl served. Make about 9 cups.