November 3, 2008

The Holidays

Whether it's Halloween, Christmas, The Eid, Winter Solstice, New Year's Eve, or any which one of the holiday celebrations in the Middle East, you can be sure that you will get to savor a delicious array of special-occasion food.  Just like the rest of the world, the people of the Mediterranean are willing to go to great lengths to impress others with their food, and that is especially true during the festive season.

Now, I was a fat kid, and fat kids are constantly thinking about food. I remember, I used to sit in church on Christmas Eve, dreaming of the meal that was to follow that never-ending Mass!

Of all the special-meal occasions of the year, Christmas Eve's dinner was by far the most sumptuous and memorable dinner event at our house.  The worst thing about that night is that dinner did not begin until after we come back from Midnight Mass. I don't know why they don't just call it "Christmas Morning Breakfast" instead. Believe me, though. It was worth the wait.

Upon returning home, a really grand meal awaited those who were patient!  From Zucchini Fritters to Shish Barak, an intensely flavored dish of very small meat-stuffed turnovers, smothered in a rich yoghurty gravy and so much more.  And for dessert, the traditional Christmas Log Cake, fashioned after the French holiday dessert by the name of "Buche de Noel".  I'd stuff myself with all that is savory, sweet and delicious, to the point of delirious content.   Nothing bad could happen to me after that meal and I would sleep like a baby in anticipation of the gift opening bit the following day!

I wish you a wonderful time cooking this fun, festive season and I hope that you get to make some of your favorite recipes, as well as try out new ones.

Happy Holidays!


Zucchini Fritters

1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon salt
4-6 yellow onions
1 pinch pepper
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 cup zucchini pulp, mashed
5 eggs
3/4 cup self-raising flour
3/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint or 1 teaspoon dried mint
olive oil

Crush the garlic in a bowl with salt. Mix in the onions, pepper and allspice. Add the mashed zucchini and the eggs. Beat well with a beater, and then thoroughly mix in the flour. Add parsley and mint.

Spoon the mixture into a pan of hot oil and fry until the fritters are golden brown on both sides. Repeat this procedure until all the mixture is used.
Makes 8-10 appetizer servings

Shish Barak


2 Large Onions
3 Tablespoons of Sunflower oil (or vegetable)
75g (2.5 oz) Pine Nuts
500g (1.10 lbs) Lean minced Beef/Lamb
Salt and Black Pepper to taste
2 Teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1-2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses*
*click on the previous blog for a list of grocers that carry it, its bottle is pictured there too.


6 sheets of filo pastry(about 170g)
85g (3 oz) Butter, melted

Sauce & Garnish

700g (1.5 lbs) Plain Yogurt
2-3 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon of crushed dried mint

For the filling fry the onions until golden. Add the meat, salt, pepper, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, then pomegranate molasses and cook for a couple of minutes. In a small pan fry the pine nuts in a drop of oil for a short time then add the meat and let cool.

Cut the filo pastry sheets into half, into 2 rectangles approx 30×24cm (12x9.5 in)and pile on top with long side nearest to you. Brush the top sheet with melted butter. Put a line of filling about 3-4 tablespoons, along the long edge, to about 2cm (3/4 in) from each end, and roll up into a long thin roll. Then shape the roll into a tight coil, creasing it a little as youo do, so the pastry does not tear, and place it on a piece of foil (not greased) on a baking tray. Repeat with the remaining filo and the filling, placing the coils next to each other so that they are held tight. Brush the tops with melted butter.

About 30 mins before you are ready to serve, bake the pies in an oven pre-heated to
(200 c) 400f gas 6 for about 25 mins until golden.

For the sauce, beat the yoghurt with a little salt and the garlic, for the garnish, mix the olive oil and the dried mint. Serve the pies as they come out of the oven. Pour about 3 tablespoons yoghurt over each, and dribble a little of the minty olive oil.
Makes 6 main-course servings