4:34 pm - Thu, Apr 17, 2014
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Gastropost

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Rebecca Steckham and Duncan Clark

I am a Gastroposter, I participate weekly (most) in the Gastropost, part of the National Post Newspaper.

The Gastropost is run by National Post Labs which was set up two years ago as part of the Post’s continuing innovations in media.  The Labs’ goal is to: transform our cities by inspiring people to share their expertise. That’s exactly what Gastropost does.

Every week a Food Mission is assigned and photos are submitted on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or directly to the website.  The submissions, food from restaurants or prepared at home, are posted online and a select group is chosen to be printed in a two page spread in every Saturday’s Weekend Post section.

Gastopost started two years ago and just celebrated its 100th mission.  I have been posting photos almost right from the beginning.

There are now more than 20,000 Mission participants who have participated in the Gastropost, and it has expanded from Toronto to Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary.

To celebrate, they held a party at Osteria dei Ganzi in Toronto.  This was the first event I have attended and I was excited to meet the staff and fellow Gastroposters, both newcomers and original members.

It was a fun party, filled with foodies being plied with great drinks and food.

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Adam McDowell

The staff at the restaurant were really happy to have a restaurant filled with food people. They even gave me a prop to take a photo of a Tequila Caesar, one of the special drinks designed by National Post Drinks columnist, Adam McDowell.  He explained to me that the Tequila helps give unami (flavour) to the drink.  It did, and it gave me something to think about, unami and beverages. (New post idea, thanks Adam.)

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Tequila Caesar

I also was able to meet the charming Chef Corbin Tomaszeski, who was there to help publicize the Kitchen Aid Cook for the Cure Culinary Showdown, November 29, 2014, and encourage Gastroposters (including moi) to participate.

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Chef Corbin Tomaszeski and Me

It was fun meeting the Gastroposters whose work I admire every week.  We have common bonds, our families know to wait until photos are taken before they can touch their meals, and have to be careful what food they are allowed to touch in the refrigerator in case it is needed for a Mission.

The staff behind the Gastropost are, bright, hard working and most of all have a good time doing their work. They are meeting the challenge of the enormous changes technology is having on print media, and hopefully they will continue to innovate and keep the Gastropost going. 

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4:56 pm - Thu, Apr 10, 2014
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Memories of Passover: Matzah Balls

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My Grandmother and Mother 1945

The Seder, is a special meal that occurs on the first night of the Jewish holiday Passover.  (Many Diaspora Jews also celebrate a second Seder on the second night.)

Passover is a Festival celebrating the escape of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, and their journey across the desert to Israel.  The Israelites had to flee Egypt so quickly they didn’t have time to let their bread rise.  As a result they ate unleavened bread, which is what we eat on Passover, called matzah.  

There are many complicated rules of what to eat on Passover, and special foods to be eaten at the Seder. The Seder is a time for families to get together and have a feast, and remember the history of their people.  A special book called the Hagaddah is read, which tells the story of the escape from Egypt.  Many of the foods eaten are symbolic of this story.

Part of the meal usually includes chicken soup, with matzah balls, (knaidlach in Yiddish) which are dumplings made from matzah meal, which is crushed matzah. 

Every family has their traditions with their matzah balls (knaidlach), some like them large and fluffy and others prefer them firm and small.  Today many women use ready made mixes to make their matzah balls.

I have always made mine from scratch; my family has been making them for generations, so why stop a good thing?

My great-grandmother Ruchel Raiza, was reputed to have been an amazing cook.  After moving to Canada in the first decade of the twentieth century with three young children, she helped support her  growing family by cooking for a delicatessen.

Ruchel Raiza loved cinnamon and added it to foods in unusual ways.  She even added it to matzah Balls.  She took some of the batter, added cinnamon to it, rolled it into a little ball and stuffed it into the matzah ball.  She called the filling the Neshama, which means soul.  My grandmother continued the tradition, and so did my mother, who was very proud of this family recipe.  

I’ve never come across this recipe anywhere else, but I did find out that stuffed matzah balls with cinnamon are a Litvak (Lithuanian tradition) which is where my great-grandmother came from. Hers were the simplest version of it.

In Tablet Magazine Professor of Yiddish folklore Dov Noy tells us that the cinnamon “is like the secret sweetness within the spice box at the Havdalah service that ends the Sabbath”.  So while thinking the cinnamon was just a flavoring, I now know that there was true symbolism and meaning to it.

I started making Seders after I got married, taking over from my mother.  My husband used to always talk about a food that he liked called Knoedel.  I didn’t know what he was talking about.  My husbands’ parents were from Germany, and they never spoke or understood Yiddish.

The first time I made matzah balls for chicken soup my husband exclaimed “That’s knoedel!”  I said they were knaidlach, we had been talking about the same thing, but didn’t realize it until that moment.  I always like to make knoedel/knaidlach/matzah balls for him when I make chicken soup.

I make my matzah balls, without the Neshama in it.   But I like them light and fluffy, just like my mother and grandmother did, and although they don’t have a Neshama (soul) within, I hope they are made with Neshama.

This is exactly how my mother wrote out her recipe for me.

Knaidlach With Neshama

Save fat from soup (not scum) which should be about ½ - ¾ cup liquid.  (May take 2 days to collect this amount of fat.)  Beat this liquid into 2 eggs and egg whites.  Add salt, then gradually stir in matzah meal until thick.

Neshama:

2 egg yolks

Heaping tablespoon schmaltz

Salt

Cinnamon

Heaping tablespoon matzah meal

Stir these ingredients together.

Allow 2 mixtures to stand in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.  Make knaidlach one half hour before eating.  Boil pot of salted water.  Wet hands, pat some of knaidlach mixture in hand, then put about a teaspoon of Neshama mixture in middle.  Wrap knaidlach around this Neshama, and drop into the boiling water.  Cook for one half an hour.

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3:58 pm - Tue, Apr 8, 2014
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La Carnita

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Tortilla Chips and Guacamole

My husband and I boldly entered hipster territory taking our daughter to her favourite restaurant La Carnita.  This successful Mexican restaurant is located in downtown Toronto in an area known as Little Italy.

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Bicycle hanging upside down from ceiling

Arriving early at 6:00 pm we were told there was an hour wait and we immediately got seats at the bar to wait.

The decor is cool, with a bicycle hanging from the ceiling, Edison light bulbs, and the requisite dark interior. The music level was High.

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Edison Light bulbs

We started off the evening with excellent margaritas and house made tortilla chips and guacamole. I asked what made their margaritas so good and was told they use high quality Tromba Blano Tequila which is very smooth.

In less than an hour we moved on to our table and ordered from the menu, which is small and focused, mostly on Tacos.  It is recommended you order about two or three per person.

We started with an avocado and mango salad, with a lime dressing. The use of perfectly ripened avocado and mango makes it special. It is such a pleasure to be served perfectly ripened fruit.

Street corn Mexican style is grilled corn, dressed with crema, cheese and chili powders.  In the summer when the corn is local and fresh it will reach even higher heights.

We shared the tacos, which were ceviche, beef cheek, fish, and chicken and a very spicy empanada.  It is amazing how much flavor they pack into each taco. They use good quality, fresh ingredients, showing us what Mexican food really is all about.

Desserts were also shared, churros, tres leches cake in a jar, and lime pie paletta.  The churros were very fresh and perfectly seasoned with cinnamon, not too sweet. The tres leches cake was filled with fresh pineapple. The paletta, a Mexican popsicle was perfection, lime ice cream on a stick, coated with crushed house made Graham crackers.  Cool and refreshing, it was a perfect ending to a spicy meal.  

Service is efficient and the dishes come out quickly.

This is a fun restaurant that has its craft down perfectly.

La Carnita has just announced that it is opening up a new branch in The Beaches area of Toronto in June. They will have a take-out counter for ice cream and palettas.  Yes, I will be planning on checking it out, and you should too.

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1:24 pm - Sun, Apr 6, 2014
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Clarissa Dickson Wright

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Clarissa Dickson Wright, the surviving half of The Two Fat Ladies, died recently in a hospital in Scotland.  She was 66 years old.

She came to fame, along with Jennifer Paterson in the BBC cookery series The Two Fat Ladies, which ran from 1996 to 1999, ending when Jennifer Paterson, a lifelong smoker, died from lung cancer. 

You couldn’t have found two more unlikely women to not only star in a cooking show but turn it into an international hit.  Unglamorous, overweight, and very politically incorrect; they traveled around the UK in a Triumph motorbike with sidecar, cooking, and most of all having a good time and laughing. 

Clarissa was born into a wealthy family, and originally was a barrister.   She became an alcoholic after the death of her parents, left the profession, and lived in the Caribbean for 10 years blowing her large inheritance. She returned to England, became a private chef, then ran cookbook stores in London and Edinburgh, and became a celebrity.

She was an avid supporter of hunting, and the rural life. 

While managing Books for Cooks on Portobello Road, London, Clarissa is believed to have known the contents of all the 3,000 books the stores sold. Her knowledge of food, both current and historic was vast.

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Stoved Howtowdie With Drappit Eggs

I made two of her recipes, Stoved Howtowdie with Drappit Eggs, stuffed poached chicken with poached eggs on a bed of spinach. This bland sounding dish was surprisingly full of flavor. The recipe came from the cookbook, Cooking with The Two Fat Ladies Gastronomic Adventures (With Motorbike and Sidecar).

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Isabella’s Chicken (Spanish Style One Pot Chicken)

The second recipe was Isabella’s Chicken, a Spanish one pot recipe of chicken, rice, artichokes and red peppers.  It was very easy to make, great tasting, I would make it again. It came from the book Potty! Clarissa’s One Pot Cookbook.

I enjoyed looking over Clarissa’s cookbooks, and watching videos of her shows on You Tube. I found myself laughing out loud at the irreverent humor.  

Clarissa’s cooking was very rich, each dish seems to have at least 4 to 6 tablespoons of butter to start off with.  You can easily lower the amount of butter if you cook her dishes.

 I recommend you look at some of their work. Here are 98 of their recipes from the Cooking Channel. You can either get their videos out from the library or check them out on You Tube. 

When asked why there was no photo of a dish in her cookbook, Clarissa answered that it didn’t matter, it was up to the cook to determine how the dish looked. She wasn’t interested in any fancy styling.

I can imagine Clarissa and Jennifer reunited in heaven, looking down upon us, laughing and making fun of all the new diets and food trends.

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5:22 pm - Wed, Apr 2, 2014
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Maple Syrup

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Bruce’s Mill Conservation Area

It is maple syrup time in parts of North America.  From the late winter until the first buds appear on tree branches, sap is flowing in the maple trees and can be harvested to be turned into maple syrup. 

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The best trees for maple syrup are sugar, black and red maples.

It takes 40 buckets or litres of sap to make one litre of maple syrup.  The sugar maple sap contains 2% sugar and has to be boiled down until it reaches a level of 66% (Brix scale) sugar.  That’s why it is so expensive.

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Maple syrup was one of the original foods produced by the aborigines in Canada, who then taught the settlers how to tap the trees and make the syrup. 

It is much more complicated to make than just boiling the sap.  The sap has to be harvested at the right time before the weather gets too warm, and the boiling process has to be done properly so the sap doesn’t burn or crystallize, and the sap turns into a proper syrup.

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The early settlers developed the industry. Sugar maple farms are called the sugarbush, and the cabin where the sap is boiled down is called the Sugar Shack.  In Quebec, Canada’s largest producer of maple syrup, people flock to the Sugar Shacks, (cabane a sucre) in March and April for festivals, food and sleigh rides.  Sugar Festivals are also celebrated in Ontario such as at Bruce’s Mill, where pancakes are served with maple syrup of course.

Maple Syrup is graded by color, with the medium color being the most popular one.  Maple syrup in Canada has to be 100% pure to be labelled maple syrup, but in the United States it has to be almost pure.  The popular supermarket breakfast syrups are made out of corn syrup and food coloring.

The real maple syrup contains antioxidants and minerals.

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Canadian chefs interested in local foods are finding new ways to use maple syrup.  Quebec chef Martin Picard’s award winning cookbook  (Cookbook of the Year 2012 - Gourmand World Cookbook Awards) is called Au Pied du Cochon Sugar Shack.  His Montreal restaurant is called Au Pied du Cochon, and he runs a popular fully booked Sugar Shack every year outside Montreal.  While exploring new ways to work with maple syrup his book also has very traditional recipes such as one for squirrel.

So don’t just think of maple syrup as just something you pour on pancakes, appreciate it for the wonderful product it is and try different brands (make sure it is the real thing!), see if you can tell the differences in quality and flavor. Of course with the little bit of time left in the season, visit your local sugarbush.

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4:27 pm - Mon, Mar 31, 2014

Giada de Laurentiis Feel Good Food Part II

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Detox Broth

I’ve broken up reviewing Giada de Laurentiis’ new book Feel Good Food into two parts, first meals, and now beverages and snacks.

Nearing the end of a ten day trip when she was in Toronto, Giada told us that she often does a short detox when she returns home from travel.

The Detox Broth is a chicken broth flavored with ginger, shallots, thyme, peppercorns, cloves, bay leaf and cinnamon.  It would be a dinner for her, with the boiled chicken included in the broth. Giada freezes it in ice cube trays to have it readily available to drink anytime.

I didn’t like it, just my personal taste,  I would stick to traditional chicken soup.  (Jewish Penicillin).

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Spinach, Ginger, and Apple Smoothie

She recommends the Spinach, Ginger and Apple Smoothie as an afternoon pick-me-up. You need a powerful blender or juicer for this recipe.  Apple, celery, fresh ginger, baby spinach leaves, and parsley on ice is a very refreshing afternoon drink.  Once you’ve made a fresh juice yourself with a high powered machine, you will never want to drink bottled juices again.

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Mini Carrot-Apple Cupcakes

This small batch (12) recipe uses only 1/2 cup of flour which makes for very light and tender cupcakes.  It called for 2 tablespoons of apple concentrate, I didn’t have any so I grated in about 1/2 of a small apple, and added 1 tablespoon of maple syrup for sweetening.  The topping is simply sweetened yogurt. If you like carrot cakes, then these little gems are for you.

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Sugar Fixes - Frozen Banana Slices and Chocolate Chips

Giada’s tip for when you have sugar cravings is to freeze the treats, which melt in your mouth and so you can savor the sweetness longer.  This is a tip anybody can do, no cooking involved!

This is a good cookbook if you are trying to eat healthier, with a variety of recipes following different current diet trends.  The healthiest thing you can do is cook your own food from scratch, and if you have tasty recipes from this cookbook then you are more likely to get cooking.  

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6:50 pm - Wed, Mar 26, 2014
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Eat Like Giada de Laurentiis - Giada’s Feel Good Food

In February I had the privilege of attending a press conference that Giada de Laurentiis held.  She was in Toronto to participate in a charity fundraiser for Mount Sinai Hospital, The Chef’s Challenge, and also took the opportunity to promote her new book Giada’s Feel Good Food.

Giada explained that she is constantly asked how she stays so slim and what she does to stay healthy with her hectic schedule.  So she wrote this book, letting us have a glimpse into her private world.

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Her bright smile says it all, this unique, dynamic woman is enjoying her life, and loves sharing it with people.

Instead of trying out one or two recipes from her cookbook, I thought I would cook a day’s worth of recipes, from meals to snacks to beverages.

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Chia Seed Pudding - Breakfast

I tried to make them using ingredients I had at home, making a few substitutions along the way. 

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Chicken Chopped Salad in Butter Lettuce Cups - Lunch

Rather than just focusing on one diet trend, this cookbook covers many of the popular ones such as low glycemic index, gluten free, vegan, vegetarian and dairy free.  There is no scientific jargon, these are simply her tips for feeling and looking good.

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California Turkey Chili

It is Giada’s first cookbook that contains a nutritional breakdown of each recipe.

This is good tasting food that happens to be healthy and easy to make. I could substitute ingredients without negatively affecting the recipe.

The Chia Seed Pudding lets you have great fiber from the chia seed and shows how to make a vanilla yogurt that isn’t too sweet. You can make it the night before and have it ready to grab in the morning.  Her recipe calls for fresh strawberries, I didn’t have any so I used frozen mixed berries which were fine.

The Chicken Chopped Salad in Butter Lettuce Cups would be a good lunch salad any day.  I made a few changes, used cherry tomatoes instead of sundried, iceberg lettuce instead of butter (Boston), and omitted the avocado because I didn’t have a ripe one. You can use the leftover chicken from the Detox Broth (see upcoming post) to make the salad. 

Giada’s use of spices gives the lighter taste of the turkey in the California Turkey Chili (I used minced chicken) the boost it needs without making the dish too heavy.

I would make all these recipes again.

The book also has tips on her lifestyle, such as make-up, even her purse contents and how her healthy lifestyle doesn’t just encompass food, but healthy attitudes.  Love of family, mindfulness, yoga, all help keep her going.

Next post I will juice, make a detox broth and end on a sweet note with dessert.

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11:10 am - Sun, Mar 23, 2014
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Unleavened Wholewheat Bread

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This unleavened bread is one of the earliest types of bread made.  Made with few ingredients, it could easily be baked by a fire on a hot stone, or in an early form of earthenware oven.

It’s hard, cracker-like consistency means that it will stay fresh for a long time.

This is the type of bread the Israelites took with them when they escaped from Egypt, not having time to let the bread rise.  

Bread was one of the basic foods of biblical times and it was very labor intensive to produce. Each family would have to grind their own wheat by hand, using a stone mill, a process which could take up to three hours a day. Then of course the bread had to be baked.

Honoring the spirit of this ancient food I have made a very rustic version of it.  No perfection allowed here, no rolling pin and cutters for perfectly round breads, just make them by hand. This would be a good project to do with children.

You can add Biblical flavorings to it such as hyssop, minced onion, minced garlic, finely chopped parsley, or sesame seeds.

I used the heritage wheat Red Fife Flour, a organic Canadian wheat grown by farmers in the 19th century and recently resurrected.  If you want you can make them using only whole wheat flour, you may need to add a bit extra water to the dough.

This would be a good accompaniment to the Biblical Lentil Barley Soup.

Unleavened Wholewheat Bread

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup whole wheat flour (Red Fife - optional)

1 teaspoon salt

Optional flavorings:  sesame seeds, hyssop or oregano, minced garlic, finely minced onion, finely chopped parsley

2 tablespoons olive oil

¾ cup water

Mix the flours, salt and whatever dry spices you are using together, using a whisk in a large mixing bowl.  Add the olive oil, water, crushed garlic or finely minced onion and combine together with a spoon.  Knead the dough for about three minutes. 

Divide into 10 or more balls.  Place a ball on a lined baking sheet, and flatten each ball with your hand, using the palm of your hand. Then prick holes into each ball with a fork (docking).  The holes should not pierce the dough through.  Continue this process until you have about 8 balls on a baking sheet.  You can lightly sprinkle a bit of sea salt on top if you want.  Bake for about 10 minutes at 375 degrees.  You may need more time depending on how thick you make the breads.

I added 2 teaspoons sesame seeds, 1 teaspoon hyssop, and finely minced garlic to my crackers.  As one of the people who tasted it said, “I love anything with garlic in it and where is the dip?”

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4:56 pm - Wed, Mar 19, 2014
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Biblical Lentil Barley Soup

One of the upcoming food trends is that of eating historical food.  Chefs are looking into old cookbooks for inspiration.

How about going way back to biblical times instead.  

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The Land of Israel was promised to Moses as a Land with wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and honey.  These are known as the seven species, and today are still eaten as part of the Mediterranean diet.

Lentils and barley were very important, they could be dried after harvesting, and then cooked into soups, stews, or barley was made into bread.

This soup is vegan, very healthy and flavorful.  All these ingredients (except lemons) were used in biblical times, and I can imagine a cook, preparing this soup in an earthenware pot over a fire, anticipating the good meal to come.  

The lemon juice adds a great finishing touch to the soup, although in biblical times they would have used a citron, or etrog.  If you really love garlic you can press an extra garlic clove into the soup just before the last ten minutes of cooking.  If you don’t like cilantro, just leave it out.

This soup tastes better if made several hours or the day ahead to let the flavors develop.  Serve with unleavened bread, recipe to follow.

8 Servings

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large onion chopped, about 1 1/2 cups

2 cloves garlic chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

3 carrots, chopped

3/4 cup red lentils, rinsed and drained

1/4 cup pearl barley, rinsed and drained

5 cups water

1 teaspoon salt or more to taste

1 teaspoon oregano or hyssop

1/2 teaspoon cumin

2 bay leaf leaves

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1/2 cup chopped cilantro (optional)

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 garlic clove, minced (optional)

Chopped parsley, chopped cilantro for garnish

Heat up the olive oil in a medium sized pot, and add the onion and cook over medium heat until translucent.  Add the garlic, and cook stirring for a minute more. 

Add the celery and carrots, and cook for a few minutes more until softened. Stir in the lentils and barley and add the water.  Bring to a boil, stir to make sure the lentils and barley don’t stick to the bottom of the pot.  Reduce the heat to a low simmer.

Add the salt, oregano or hyssop, cumin, and the bay leaves.  Add the parsley and cilantro. 

Cook on a low simmer for about 3/4 an hour, or until the barley and lentils are soft.

After about 1/2 an hour of cooking, add the lemon juice and extra minced garlic if you are a garlic fan.  Adjust seasonings.

If it gets too thick, you can add more water.

Remove the bay leaves and serve with a garnish of freshly chopped parsley and cilantro.

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10:38 am - Sun, Mar 16, 2014
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Fattoush Inspired Salad

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Pita breads are the hot dog buns of the food world, they are prepackaged and the amount in the package never seems to match the amount you need.  You always seem to have one or two leftover.  

Pitas don’t age very well.  What do you do?

You toast them up and make a fattoush salad, a Middle Eastern Salad with toasted pita in it.  The dressing has olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and sumac is added for a bitter tang. 

I made mine with romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and thinly sliced red onions, and fresh mint. If you don’t have sumac, don’t worry. You can use whatever vegetables you like, the main thing is to use up those pitas and have that great lemon based dressing on it.   

Here is a good recipe from Vegetarian Times.

Wake up your taste buds with this fresh, healthy salad.

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