Monday, April 20, 2009

My mother and Deena's waraq 3enab (stuffed grape leaves)

I love the waraq enab or stuffed grape leaves(also known as waraq dawali) that we have at home.  It is lemony, with just the right amount of everything.  It took my mother and Deena (who helps my mother with the housework) years to perfect and now I don't think that it can get any more perfect than this!  It is so popular among our extended family members that sometimes I'd come home to Deena stuffing some grape leaves for one of my Aunts who has an 3azeema (dinner party) that night.  

A few days ago, I was craving our house's waraq enab so I gave my mom a call and asked her for the recipe.  As usual, she didn't give me very specific instructions (she cooks by intuition) so I had to try my best to get all the details needed from her.  Here is the recipe I made. It is not as amazing as my mothers but is still pretty good!  I can't believe how long rolling the grape leaves took but it was worth it at the end.  There is this grape leave roller that they sell in Bahrain which apparently cuts the rolling process by half.  I'll get myself one of those the next time I go.

A bit of background on stuffed grape leaves.  Stuffed grape leaves are a Mediterranean dish specifically from Cyprus, Greece, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Egypt.  However, they are popular all over the Arab world.  Each country, or each cook for that matter has there own specific combination.  I've even heard of a recipe that uses burghul instead of rice (although I've never tried it).   They can be eaten hot or cold but most often, grape leaves that are eaten cold do not contain meat and the ones that are eaten warm contain meat.  My mother makes both the meat and the meatless versions at home, but the meatless version is the one that she is famous for.    We call grape leaves waraq 3enab at home (3 = the gutteral ayn sound) which translates to grape leaves .  But others, such as my husband who is Palestinian calls them waraq dawali which translates to vine leaves.

Anyways here's the recipe:

  • 2 cups of egyptian rice.  You can use other short grain rice varieties such as sushi rice if you can't find egyptian rice.  Never use basmati rice or other long grain varieties.  You don't want to feel each rice grain when eating the stuffed grape leaves.
  • 2 cups of finely chopped onion.  (Approximately 1 large onion)
  • 5 cups of chopped parsley
  • 5 cups of chopped mint
  • 3 cups of chopped tomatoes 
  • 2 cups of lemon juice (around 4 large lemons)
  • 1 1/4 tablespoons of salt, or more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon of pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Sliced potatoes
  • sliced tomatoes (optional)
  • sliced onions (optional)
  • Grape leaves (I used Orlando grape leaves)
  1. Soak the rice in water of 15 minutes (you can chop the other ingredients while waiting).
  2. Mix the onion, parsley, mint, tomatoes and rice together
  3. Add 1/4 cup of lemon juice (around 2 lemons) and around 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  4. Season with salt and pepper
  5. Mix everything thoroughly making sure not to break the rice
  6. Grease the pot with olive oil
  7. Line the bottom of the pot with some grape leaves.  
  8. Add a layer of tomatoes, and then a layer of sliced onion and sliced potatoes if you wish.  Many cooks only use sliced potatoes
  9. Line a colander with some grape leaves before you begin stuffing.  Add more grape leaves to the colander as needed.  You are doing this because you want the excess brine to drain out.
  10. To stuff.  Take a grape leave.  Sniff the stem off.  Spread the leave out on a plate or a chopping board stem end facing you and shiny side facing down.
  11. Take one heaped teaspoon of the stuffing and place it in the middle of the grape leave next to where the stem begins.  Take the bottom of the leave and bring it over the stuffing.  Then fold in the sides of the leave and begin rolling the leave away from you.  Repeat until you are done.  
  12. As you finish stuffing each grape leave, place it in the pot, open side down, arranging all the grape leaves in rings.  Make sure the stuffed leaves are tightly fit next to each other.
  13. When you are done with a layer in the cooking pot, repeat the process starting on top of the first layer.  Do not fill the pot completely.  Leave around one inch or more of space.
  14. Mix the remainder of the lemon juice with some water.
  15. Pour the lemon-water-mixture into the pot to reach the bottom of the top layer of rolls.
  16. Invert a heatproof plate over the rolls.  This will keep the rolls from opening up.  Cover the pot.
  17. Bring liquid to a boil over high heat.
  18. Reduce to low and simmer for around an hour.  Taste.  If the rice is done, then its done.
  19. You can eat then hot or store them in the fridge for up to two weeks (make sure you drizzle a lot of olive oil on them though so that they do not spoil.
I would love to hear of your version of stuffed grape leaves if you make them.  My blog also contains my sister-in-laws version which is really good too.  I love stuffed grape leaves.  Just the other day, my sister and I were wondering who came up with such a smart idea!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Cooking While Working

I finally got a job a couple of weeks ago so I don't have the time I usually do to cook.  I always have wondered how working women here balance cooking with working.  It's definitely not an easy task!  In Bahrain its much easier because many working women have maids or depend on their mothers for cooking.  Here, I wake up at around 7:30 am every day and come back home at around 7:00-7:30 pm.  I have a pretty long commute (slightly less than an hour) so I come back exhausted!  This has made me obsessed with finding fast, easy yet still delicious recipes.  I've been calling my mom a lot and visiting a lot to find these recipes.  I want to cook more substantial meals on the weekends that I can freeze for a few days of the week at least, but so far I've either had the flu, or gone to work during the weekend.  Hopefully next weekend I'll make something though.  I can't imagine what Ramadhan is going to be like!


Yesterday I made tabbouleh.  I didn't plan to make it or anything.  I realized that we had a lot of left over parsley from last week and I had no idea what to do with it.  I didn't feel like being creative so the first thing that came in mind was tabbouleh.  It is a really simple dish, so the end result is all about the quality of the ingredients used and their proportions to one another. Use the best quality and freshest ingredients that you can find. I thought my tabbouleh was okay. I wasn't wowed by it but I didn't hate it either. Here are my observations:

Things I liked:

  • We didn't have any green onions at home (I don't like using the regular onions for tabbouleh) so I didn't add onions at all. I really liked the tabbouleh without the onions. Next time I'll either omit the onions or add green onions but much less than usual.
  • I hate tabbouleh where the burghul has expanded too much. I like my burghul to be crunchy so I didn't soak it for too long. I soaked the burghul for maybe 10 minutes (used the whole wheat fine variety) in a mixture of lemon juice and water. This gave the burghul a slightly lemony taste. I haven't decided whether I like whole wheat burgul yet. It has a nuttier flavor than regular burghul. It gave the tabbouleh more flavor but changed its taste slighly. By the way - unlike many Americans here, I make my tabbouleh the authentic middle eastern way, which means not adding a lot of burghul.
  • Since we didn't have a lot of parsley left, I added more mint than usual so then mint to parsley ratio was around 1:1. I loved the extra mint. It gave the tabbouleh a lot of flavor and I will definately add a lot of mint next time.
  • My tabbouleh didn't take as long as it usually did because I used a food processor. Most purist are completely against the use of a food processor for chopping the parsley and mint in tabbouleh arguing that this will bruise the parsley. I guess that would be true if you processed it for too long. However, I used the pulse button and would literally pulse for a split second, stop and pulse again. The results were excellent so if you have a pulse button on your food processor, I highly recommend using it to make your tabbouleh. It'll save you a lot of time and energy! 
Things I didn't do too well:
  • I used goya extra virgin olive oil. Tabbouleh is all about the quality of the olive oil and goya olive oil isn't that great. Next time I make tabbouleh, I will try to use the best olive oil I can find. I think a fruity or peppery olive oil suits tabbouleh more than a grassy one
  • I used curly leaf parsley because thats what we had left over. It wasn't that bad but I prefer the flat leaf type for tabbouleh because it has more flavor
  • The tomatoes I used were a little soft.
  • The parsley wasn't that fresh but I expected that because it was a week old.
Tabbouleh is a highly personal recipe. I suggest experimenting with the ingredients and the proportions so that you can find the perfect tabbouleh recipe for you. Here are a few guidelines to get you started:
  • Tabbouleh isn't tabbouleh without these key ingredients: Parsley (lots of it), Burgul and Tomatoes. Don't attempt to make tabbouleh without these ingredients.
  • Most people add mint to their tabbouleh. Since I absolutely love mint, I would never make my tabbouleh without it.
  • Many but not all add onions to their tabbouleh. Experiment with different types of onions but stay away from the regular yellow onions. Try green onions, scallions or red onions. Make sure to mince the onion very finely
  • Some people add coriander and/or cucumbers to their tabbouleh. The cucumbers should be chopped the same size as the tomatoes and the coriander should be chopped the same size as the parsley. I personally don't like coriander in tabbouleh.
  • Ratio of Parsley to Burghul: Everyone likes a different ratio. But for an authentic middle eastern tabbouleh, make sure that the burghul you add is equal to or less than the parsley. In other words, the predominent ingredient should never be the burghul.
  • Make sure you dry the ingredients well after washing them. I usually shake the parsley and mint after washing and then place them between two paper towels. For the tomatoes, either use plum tomatoes or de-seed the tomatoes before adding them to the tabbouleh. Make sure you squeeze out all excess water from the burghul.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Spinach Pie

This is my mother's version of Spanakopita.  It is slightly different that the traditional greek recipe in that she uses sour cream as a cheese and substitutes puff pastry for the phyllo dough.  I find that puff pastry is much easier to use than phyllo dough and it tastes much better.  The recipe I've given is the basic recipe.  It is my favorite.  At the bottom you'll find suggestions for things to add to the dish.  You can follow all the suggestions or just some.

  • 2 10 oz packets of frozen spinach
  • 2 1 lb packets of puff pastry (defrost in the fridge the day before)
  • 1 1 lb container of sour cream or ricotta cheese.  (Make sure you drain out any extra water/whey before using)
  • 2 medium onions (or more)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Nutmeg
  1. Preheat oven to 375 farenheit
  2. Defrost spinach in microwave.
  3. Squeeze out excess water.  This is a very important step because you don't want the pie to be soggy.
  4. Dice the onions
  5. Sautee the onions in olive oil.  
  6. Add spinach and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg
  7. Continue sauteeing until spinach has wilted, onions are soft and any excess water is gone.
  8. Turn off heat.  Mix in sour cream (make sure that you've removed excess liquid from sour cream if there is any).
  9. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg if needed
  10. Butter/oil baking dish
  11. Like bottom and side of dish with puff pastry
  12. Add spinach mixture
  13. Cover with another layer of puff pastry.  Or alternatively, decorate top with criss-cross strips of puff pastry (this method makes it look prettier).  
  14. Seal edges and decorate with left over pieces of puff pastry
  15. Brush puff pastry with egg, milk or butter (this will make it nice and brown when it comes out of the oven).
  16. Bake for 1/2 hour or until puff pastry has risen
  • Add 1 cup or more of feta cheese like the greeks do (step 8)
  • Use ricotta cheese instead of sour cream.  You can also try using cottage cheese but make sure you use the small curd version.
  • Add 1/2 cup of chopped parsley and/or 1/2 cup of chopped dill (sautee with spinach - step 5)
  • Add 1 egg to spinach mixture (step 8)
  • Substitute one of the onions for diced leeks or diced scallions (step 4)
  • Add sauteed chicken breast pieces (step 8)
  • Replace spinach with another green such as kale (step 2)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The difference between cooking beef for stew and lamb for stew

In most of my recipes, I use the beef method because beef is more widely available in the U.S. where I am living right now.  To cook beef for stew, use the following technique:

  •  Sautee beef cubes in olive oil, salt, pepper and spices until brown
  • Add water
  • Bring to a boil 
  • Reduce heat to low and simmer covered until beef is cooked (45 min - 1 hour)
Lamb takes longer to cook so I use the following method

  • Sautee lamb cubes in olive oil, salt, pepper and spices until brown
  • Add water
  • Reduce heat to medium and simmer covered for maybe 45 min
  • Reduce heat to very low for maybe 10 min until meat is completely tender


This is a Saudi recipe that my mother makes a lot at home.  It is really simple to make yet it tastes delicious.  I don't know the exact english translation for mudallala.  It means a spoilt girl (i.e. spoiled by her parents) except for it has a more positive connotation.  If anyone can think of the exact translation please let me know!

  • 2 cups of basmati rice, soaked
  • dried dill weed (sbint/shbint in arabic)
  • 2 chicken breasts (around 1 lb)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Cardamom
  • tumeric
  • 1 maggie cube
  • 1 lb (or more) of greek yogurt or lebnah (you can also mix sour cream and lebnah together)
  • Sumac
  1. Preheat oven to 375 farenheit
  2. Chop chicken breasts into one inch pieces.  Place in water.  
  3. Add 1 bay leaf, some cardamom, some tumeric, 1 maggie cube and some salt and pepper.
  4. Bring to a boil and then simmer on low until chicken is done.  Take chicken out
  5. Cook rice in chicken broth.  (1.5 cups of chicken broth to 1 cup of rice if using absorption method.  Ratio doesn't matter if using strained rice method).
  6. When rice is done, add a lot of dill to the rice (alternatively you can add the dill when cooking the rice).  Rice should become a greenish color
  7. Take a casserole dish.  Line with olive oil.
  8. Place 3/4 amount of rice in dish.  Press to flatten
  9. Add chicken
  10. Cover chicken with more rice.  Press to flatten.
  11. Cover with lebneh or greek yogurt
  12. Top with sumac
  13. Place in oven for 1/2 hour. 

Chicken and Vegetable Casserole

This is a quick and simple dish that my mother used to make us when we were younger.   I still make it a lot.


  • 1 packet (or can) of canned or frozen artichoke hearts 
  • Fresh or frozen broccoli 
  • 2 chicken breasts (around 1 lb)
  • 1 container low fat sour cream (1 lb)
  • Whole wheat bread crumbs (from 1 slice of bread or more)
  • 3 medium sized potatoes or more
  • 1 maggie cube (or chicken stock)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • some grated parmesan cheese (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 375 farenheit (I think thats 180 celcius)
  2. Boil broccoli and artichoke hearts in salted water until cooked but still crunchy
  3. Cut artichoke hearts into halves and chop broccoli into pieces as big as artichoke hearts
  4. Peel potato and slice
  5. Chop chicken breasts into pieces as big as broccoli and artichoke hearts
  6. Cook chicken in water until it is almost done (but not completely).  Add 1 bay leaf, salt, pepper and 1 maggie cube while cooking.  If you use chicken stock instead of maggie then omit water (obviously)
  7. Place all above into a casserole dish.  Add around 1/2 to 1 cup of the chicken stock (you can also use vegetable stock for this part)
  8. Cover completely with sour cream
  9. Top with breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese
  10. Place in oven for half an hour
  11. Remove from oven and place in broiler for 5 min (optional)
  • You can use different vegetables for this - zuchinni, carrots, spinach, brussel sprouts etc.
  • Instead of boiling the chicken, you can fry it with 1 bay leaf, salt and pepper until brown.  You still have to add chicken or vegetable stock to the casserole in step 7 though.