Israeli food is good for heat waves

It’s hot here in Greece.  Yes, I knew it would be hot when I moved here.  But… honestly, it’s hotter than I bargained for.  It’s been so hot that I’ve already been swimming in the sea six times.  (If you know me, you might know that I never swim before the end of July because the water is too cold.)  It took me 13 years before I finally broke down and started wearing shorts here in Greece (Greek women don’t usually wear shorts because “shorts are for 8 year old boys” and since Greek women are my style icons, I stuck to this rule) but this past week, I’ve been wearing shorts every day.  Shorts I stole from my husband, of course.

And I just hate cooking in the heat.  I even hate eating in the heat, and that’s really saying something.  But we invited some friends over for dinner, and that meant that I had to make something for them to eat.  Considering the fact that lately we’ve been eating tomatoes and cucumbers while fanning each other, I knew I had to make some food that wouldn’t heat up the house, or me, or the people eating it.  So I decided on Israeli food.

Israeli food is perfect for Greece because it uses ingredients that are readily available and cheap in Greece – both are eastern Mediterranean countries so they have similar crops – and Israel is hot too.  (None of these dishes are particular to Israel, by the way.  I’m calling them Israeli because I learned them from Israeli people, sites, and books.)

I decided to stick to the big classics for two reasons:  our guests are very new to Israeli food, and we had all the ingredients for all this stuff on hand.  (That’s an extremely important consideration for me at the moment.)  I made a classic tabouleh, which is great because at no point is any part of it cooked, and it’s served cold.  It’s a refreshing and cooling food perfect for heat waves.  I made classic Israeli hummus, which we all love so much – really, is there anyone who doesn’t love homemade hummus?  And of course my pillowy pita bread which was taught to me by an Israeli friend.  And finally a couscous and chickpea salad.  A great thing about couscous is that it also barely needs to be cooked.  I cooked the chickpeas for the hummus and the salad at the same time in the pressure cooker – quick and very little heat in the kitchen.  If you have canned chickpeas, you can avoid cooking altogether – except for the pitas.  There’s no way around that one.  The pitas need to be in the oven.  Sorry.

Our guests loved these dishes, and they’re so simple that you can make this spread on a weeknight – even the pita isn’t that time consuming because, if it’s hot outside, you can put the dough outside to rise and it only takes half the time!

First, soak the chickpeas.  This whole spread is to feed four people, but I made a lot of everything so that we could eat leftovers for a few days.  This will make a lot of food.  I used 500g of chickpeas.  Just put the chickpeas in a bowl with water in the morning before you go to work and when you come home, they’ll be ready.

I used 150g of bulgur wheat.  It’s a lot… trust me.  It might not look like much but once it plumps up, you get a huge bowl of tabouleh.  Cut the tomatoes directly into a large bowl.  This is important:  don’t use a cutting board!  Try to cut them into very small pieces.  It’s not easy because of the bowl but do the best you can.  The reason for this is to keep all the tomato juice in the bowl.  Stir in the bulgur and mix well.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside while you make the pita bread dough.  The reason I do it this way is so that the bulgur absorbs all the tomato juice.

The end result is that the bulgur is perfectly softened and there is no extra water.  (Many tabouleh recipes say to cook the bulgur or to soak it in hot water – this is not necessary if you do it this way.)

After about an hour, add the mint, lemon juice, onion, and parsley to a large bowl.  Stir in the tomato and bulgur mixture.  Add some salt and the olive oil.  Stir well and cover.  I don’t refrigerate it because I don’t like the taste of refrigerated tomatoes.  It’s cooling enough without being refrigerated.

To make the hummus, drain and rinse the soaked chickpeas.  Cook them in the pressure cooker covered by about an inch of water for about 10 minutes or until soft.  Reserve about a cup of the cooking water.  Drain and rinse. It’s not necessary to remove their skins.

In a food processor, combine 3/4 of the chickpeas (the other 1/4 will be used in the couscous salad) with the lemon juice, garlic, tahini, salt, and cumin.  Process until smooth.  Add a bit of the cooking water if it’s too thick.

(To reduce the calories drastically, you can omit the oil altogether and use PB2 peanut butter powder instead of the tahini.  You will probably need considerably more of the cooking water to reach the right consistency.  If you make it this way, it won’t be authentic and it’s not as good as the real thing (I’m just being honest!), but you can eat the hummus completely guilt free in pretty massive quantities.  I’ve been making low calorie hummus that way for years and years.)

Stir a few tablespoons of the remaining cooked chickpeas into the hummus and put on a plate.  Sprinkle fresh parsley over the top.

To make the couscous salad:  in a frying pan sprayed with olive oil, quickly saute the onions, garlic, and curry until golden.  Add in the chickpeas and stir well.

In a small saucepan, bring the stock to a boil.  Stir in the couscous, rehydrated raisins (to rehydrate raisins, soak them in very hot water for about 10 minutes, then drain), and sundried tomatoes.  Cover, remove from the heat, and let stand for 5 minutes.  Fluff the couscous with a fork, and stir in the contents of the frying pan, along with the lemon zest and mint.    Season with salt and pepper, and a bit of lemon juice.  This can be served cold or warm.

I love this couscous.  It was handmade by the 87 year old woman who lives in the house next-door to where S grew up.  Although no longer neighbors, he still drives out to see her at every possible opportunity.  She offered to teach my mother-in-law and me how to make it this summer.  I’m very excited about this!  It doesn’t sound easy.

And that’s your Israeli feast!  We enjoyed it quite a lot … for several days!

Classic Tabouleh

150g bulgur wheat
2 medium tomatoes
1 small onion (or 1 green onion, including green part), chopped
1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley, rinsed, chopped
2 tbsp fresh mint, rinsed, chopped – or 2 tsp dried mint
3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
pinch cinnamon

1.  Working in a large bowl, cut the tomatoes into very small pieces.  Stir the bulgur into the tomato and its juice.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for an hour.

2.  Stir in the onion, parsley, mint, olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, cinnamon, and salt.  Cover again and set aside until ready to serve (at least half an hour).

Classic Israeli Hummus

300g dried chickpeas
1/2 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup garlic olive oil (or 1/4 cup olive oil + 4 garlic cloves, pressed)
1 tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp salt
several sprigs of parsley, chopped

1.  Soak the chickpeas for at least 8 hours in water.  Drain and rinse.  Place in a pressure cooker and cover with 1″/2cm water.  Bring pressure cooker up to pressure and cook for 10 minutes or until chickpeas are soft.  Reserve the cooking water.  Rinse chickpeas with cool water.

2.  In a food processor, combine almost all the chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, garlic olive oil, cumin, and salt.  Process, adding cooking water in small amounts as needed, to reach a smooth consistency.

3.  Stir in the reserved whole chickpeas.  Arrange on a serving plate.  Sprinkle the parsley over the top.  (Optional:  drizzle additional olive oil over the hummus.)  Serve warm or cool.

Pillowy Pita Bread
click for recipe

Couscous & Chickpea Salad

170g couscous
200g dried chickpeas
1 cup chicken stock
2 cloves garlic, pressed
24g raisins (or currants)
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp dried mint or 1 tbsp fresh mint
2 slices sundried tomato, chopped
1 medium  onion, chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice

1.   Soak chickpeas for about 8 hours in water.  Drain, rinse, and place in pressure cooker.  Cover by 1″/2cm with water.  Bring pressure cooker up to pressure and cook for 10 minutes or until chickpeas are soft.  Drain and set aside.

2.  In a small saucepan, boil the chicken stock.  Stir in the couscous, raisins, sundried tomato, and mint.  Cover and remove from the heat.  Allow to sit for 5 minutes.

3.  While the couscous is resting:  in a frying pan sprayed with olive oil, saute onion, garlic, curry powder, and turmeric briefly with the chickpeas.

4.  When the 5 minutes have passed, fluff the couscous with a fork and add it to the frying pan.  Stir well and move to a serving plate.  Drizzle on the lemon juice, toss, and serve.  Can be served warm or cool.

You might also like:
Afghani orange pilaf
Fennel seed kebabs with yogurt sauce on pita
Pork gyros with everything


spinach & chickpea salad

This recipe is from a Greek cooking magazine that came with a newspaper in 2010.  The author of the recipe is Ilias Mamalakis, one of the most famous cooks in Greece.  I made almost no changes to the recipe, and I’ve made it many times and we always love it.  It’s easy, frugal, delicious – and colorful!

Soak the chickpeas 8 hours or overnight.  Drain and rinse.  Stem and wash the spinach.

Chop the green onions and divide in half.

Dice an onion, and chop the rosemary.  You can use either fresh or dried.  I used fresh.

Spray or drizzle your pressure cooker with olive oil, and saute the onion with the rosemary until transparent.  Add the chickpeas with the turmeric and enough water to cover barely.  Stir and bring up to pressure.

Spray or drizzle a skillet with olive oil.  Saute half the green onion for a few minutes.  Add the spinach in bunches and allow to wilt.  After a few minutes, add the tomato paste and dill.  Stir gently until wilted.

Put the raisins in a bowl with hot water for a few minutes to rehydrate.  Divide the spinach between the plates.

Drain the chickpeas.  Top the spinach with them.

Layer on the remaining green onions, drained raisins, and crumbled feta.  You can add pine nuts here if you like.  I don’t, because they’re so expensive, but they’re part of the original recipe.  If you use them, toast them lightly first.  The original recipe also calls for several tablespoons of olive oil but I never use that.  It is a salad after all….

Salt and pepper at the table.

Spinach & Chickpea Salad
recipe by Ilias Mamalakis
serves 2 as an entree

1 colander full of spinach
180g dry chickpeas, soaked 8-24 hours
1 small onion, chopped
3 sprigs rosemary or 2 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp turmeric
2 green onions, chopped, divided
2 tsp dried dill or 2 tbsp fresh dill
1 tbsp tomato paste
30g raisins, champagne raisins, or currants, soaked in hot water for a few minutes, and drained
60g feta cheese
2 tsp olive oil or olive oil sprayer

1.  Drain the soaked chickpeas and rinse.  Saute the onion and rosemary in a little olive oil in the pressure cooker.  When translucent, add the chickpeas, the turmeric, and enough water to cover everything, but just barely.  Bring up to pressure and cook until chickpeas are tender (about 8-10 minutes).  Allow to release pressure naturally.  Drain.

2.  Stem and wash the spinach.  Saute half the green onions in a little olive oil in a skillet.  Add the spinach in bunches and allow to wilt partially.  Add the dill and the tomato paste and continue wilting.

3.  Divide the spinach between plates.  Layer on the ingredients:  chickpeas, then remaining (uncooked) green onions, raisins, and feta (crumbled).

Nutritional Information
per serving (i.e., 1/2 of the total recipe):

497 calories
13g fat (5g saturated, 8g unsaturated)
76g carbohydrate
21g dietary fiber
26g protein
27mg cholesterol (9% DV)
445mg sodium (19% DV)
1,629mg potassium (47% DV)
Contains significant amount (+10% DV) of the following:
vitamin A (126%), calcium, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B-6, phosphorus, selenium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin C, iron (56%), riboflavin, food folate (182%), manganese (157%), and copper.

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Baked spanakoryzo
Greek okra

turkey & navy bean chili with apples

Sometimes a recipe just jumps out to you and you want to try it right away.  I have lists and lists of recipes – both my own original ideas and from blogs – that I want to try, but when I saw this one on Ambition’s Kitchen, I decided to make it right away.  I loved that it used a bunch of ingredients that I either had on hand, or could substitute for.  In the end, it turned out that I substituted practically all of the ingredients and changed almost everything about the recipe, but the inspiration is clear!

I’m not a navy bean fan; I only make two other navy bean dishes, and that very rarely, so a chance to use some of the navy beans languishing in the pantry is welcome.  I substituted turkey for chicken, because it’s what I have (thanks to a sale last Halloween).  And of course I played around with the method and spices and basically all the rest of the ingredients too, but the point is that it was really good and we loved it and maybe you will too.

Soak some navy beans in water for a while.  I soaked mine for about five hours.  Drain and rinse and put them in the pressure cooker with water; cook under pressure for about ten minutes or until tender.

While the beans are cooking, cube the turkey (or chicken) and stir fry it with a spritz of olive oil and the spices, which are:

ground cumin, Spanish smoked paprika, hot paprika, taco seasoning, and rosemary.  Why taco seasoning?  Because I can’t buy things like chile powder here and I figure it helps cover my bases a little bit.  Throw in something spicy.

While those are stir-frying themselves (this is why it’s good to have three or more hands), prepare the pearl onions by chopping off the ends.  Crush a chicken bouillon cube and pour boiling water over it (or get out your chicken stock).   When the turkey is pretty well cooked, put it in a bowl and fill the very hot pan with some water; it will come to a boil pretty quickly, especially if you pour the extra boiling water from the chicken stock into the pan (not the chicken stock itself).  Put the pearl onions in the pan and let them bubble away for a few minutes.  Then drain them and rinse with cold water.

Pop the skins off the pearl onions and add them to the turkey.  Core and cube the apples.  Around this time, your beans will probably be ready.  Drain them and spritz the pressure cooker bottom with olive oil.  Add the apples and saute them in the olive oil for a few minutes with a little salt.  When they’re soft, add the flour and stir really well for about half a minute; then pour in the chicken stock while stirring vigorously.  Be careful of the steam – stand back a little as this can be a very steamy activity.

When you’ve stirred in the chicken stock, add in the turkey and the onions, stir and add about a liter of water to the pot; stir again, and cover the pot.  Bring it back up to pressure for 10 minutes, then release naturally.

Stir in half the yogurt and serve with a little yogurt and tabasco sauce (I used the green Tabasco) on top.

Turkey & Navy Bean Chili with Apples
inspiration recipe here
Serves 4

300g navy beans, dried; soaked for 5-24 hours
300g turkey breast (or chicken), skinless, boneless
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp Spanish smoked paprika
1/2 tsp hot paprika
1/2 tsp taco seasoning
1/2 cup pearl onions, ends chopped off (or diced onion)
2 medium apples, cored and cubed
1 tbsp all purpose flour
1 chicken bouillon cube
1.5 L water
1 cup plain Greek yogurt, divided
Tabasco sauce for serving (green or red)

1.  In a pressure cooker, cook the navy beans covered by 1.5″ water until tender.  Use natural release method.

2.  While beans are cooking, dice turkey and stir fry with a spritz or a few drops of olive oil.  Stir in all spices and continue stirring for several minutes until turkey is mostly cooked.  Transfer to a bowl.

3.  Crumble bouillon cube in a bowl.  Add 500mL boiling water and stir.

4.  Put another 300mL boiling water into the hot pan (from cooking the turkey).  When it boils in the pan, add the pearl onions.  After a few minutes, drain and rinse with cold water.  Squeeze on end to remove skins.

5.  Drain navy beans and set aside.  Spray or drizzle pressure cooker bottom with olive oil.  Saute apple pieces with a pinch of salt.  When they are soft, stir in flour; stir for 30 seconds.  Add the chicken stock carefully, stirring.

6.  Add the chicken, onions, and navy beans.  Stir; add the remaining 1 L water.  Cover the pot and bring up to pressure for 10 minutes; release pressure naturally.

7.  Stir in 1/2 cup Greek yogurt.  Portion into bowls; top with remaining yogurt and a drizzle of Tabasco sauce.

Nutritional Information
per serving, i.e., 1/4 of total recipe, excluding Tabasco sauce

356 calories
4g fat (1g saturated, 3g unsaturated)
48g carbohydrate
33g protein
10g dietary fiber
50mg cholesterol (17% DV)
227mg sodium (9% DV)
941mg potassium (27% DV)
Contains significant amount (+10% DV) of the following:
calcium, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B-6, phosphorus, selenium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin C, iron, riboflavin, folate, vitamin B-12, manganese, and copper.