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Recipes from Old Arabia

August 19, 2014 - Radio Kitchen - Recipes from Old Arabia

One of the best aspects of Maryland's locally produced food is that it supports a wide variety of cuisines.  Classic French, check; Indian curries, check;  Mexican, check.  And how about the cuisine of Medieval Arabia?  Well, Chef Jerry Pelligrino of Waterfront Kitchen, I happen to have a wonderful little book called Scheherazade’s Feast by Habib Saloum (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013) and friends, and it actually researched ancient cooking ideas from the Middle East and adapted them to the modern kitchen.

Here is a recipe that seems to be the source for the modern baba ganoush.    It's called seared eggplants with walnuts.  

                    Seared Eggplant with Walnuts

1 large eggplant, peeled
2 tsp salt
1 cup finely ground walnuts
3 tbs vinegar
3 tbs olive oil
1 tsp ground carraway seeds
1 large onion, peeled, finely chopped, sweated in olive oil until translucent

1.  Cut the eggplant into eight pieces.  Boil eggplant in salted water.  Reduce heat, cover and cook for about 10 minutes.  Drain eggplant, cut it into small pieces, and then drain in a colander for about 30 minutes, gently pressing down to force out excess water.

2.  Put the eggplant in a bowl and add the walnuts, vinegar and olive oil.  Mix well.  Remove the eggplant mix to a flat surface and form into a flat disk, about 8 inches wide.

3.  Heat the olive oil in a frying pan until it starts to smoke.  Place the eggplant patty into the pan and sauté for several minutes on one side, then turn it over and sear the other side.

4.  Remove the cooked eggplant to a cutting board, allow it to cool, then cut into small pieces. Sprinkle the carraway seeds and the onions over the eggplant and serve.  It can be spread over bread, or used as a condiment.    


If there is any question whether our ancestors knew how to eat healthy, the book has an ancient recipe for yogurt and cucumber soup.  

                Yogurt and Cucumber Soup

2 cups plain yogurt
1 tsp salt
2 cups vegetable broth
2 tbs finely chopped fresh mint
1 tsp finely chopped fresh tarragon
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fennel greens (carefully washed)
1 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
1 medium cucumber, peeled and diced into 3/8" cubes
2 tsp high quality olive oil
1 tbs minced garlic
1 tsp lemon juice

1.  Mix the yogurt, salt and broth in a mixing bowl, thoroughly blending the yogurt.  Add the herbs and cucumber and refrigerate overnight.

2.  When ready to serve, add the oil, garlic and lemon juice, mixing well.


Swiss chard is one of those tempting ingredients that can leave you wondering, what do I do with it?  Well here's a great recipe for a lentil stew made with lamb and Swiss chard, although I think the ancient Persians didn't know about Switzerland.  
                Swiss Chard, Lamb and Lentil Stew

1/4 cup olive oil
1 lb. lamb, cut into 3/4" cubes
1 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp cumin
2 tsp ground coriander seeds
10 cups water
1/2 lb. Swiss chard, stems separated, leaves well rinsed and retained
1 cup split red lentils, well rinsed
2 tbs minced garlic
salt and pepper
1 1/2 tbs lemon juice

1.  Heat olive oil in a skillet, over medium heat.  Brown the lamb, about 10 minutes.  Add the salt, cumin and coriander to the pan juices and cook over reduced heat, stirring constantly.

2.  Cut the Swiss chard stalks into 2 inch lengths.  In the skillet, add 6 cups of water, bring to a boil and add the Swiss chard stalks.  Cook until tender.  In a separate pan, bring 2 cups of water to simmer, and blanch the leaves until they are limp.  Remove and set aside.

3.  Add the remaining water to the skillet, bring to a boil again and add the lentils, stirring.  Boil for a minute, then reduce heat to simmer.  Cover the skillet and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until lentils are tender.  Add the garlic and cook for about 10 more minutes, uncovered.  The lentils will absorb some, but not all of the water, which will form a rich broth.

4.  Place a bed of Swiss chard leaves on a plate, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.  Ladle the lentils and lamb onto the Swiss chard leaves, including a bit of the broth.  Drizzle the lemon juice over the dish, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.