Rawia Bishara’s new cookbook, Olives, Lemons & Za’atar, keeps the family in mind. Like so many home cooks I know, it’s clear through Bishara’s stories and recipes that her food comes from a place of love for feeding family.
Though the finished dishes are foreign and exotic, they ring with notes of familiarity. She builds flavors using ingredients you already know and love (and probably already have in your pantry) as the foundation, then dresses them with a Middle Eastern finish you can’t resist.
Maybe that’s the elegance of well-written international cuisine: At the root of every dish you can find something fairly familiar. Eggplant, an American farmers-market favorite, takes on new life in Eggplant Salad, Eggplant Napoleon and Stuffed Eggplant in Tomato Sauce. Chickpeas prove they’re good for more than just making hummus. Try them in her Chickpea and Fava Bean Breakfast. Though, if we’re being fair, Bishara’s hummus recipes are exquisite as well. She gives readers recipes for everything from stocks and sauces to the larger dishes you’ll use them in, like the vibrant and fresh Lamb and Vegetable Soup. Ease yourself into Middle Eastern food slowly, with a recipe that feels familiar to you and your family, then build your repertoire from there. Give the Brussels Sprouts with Panko (below) a try to begin, and watch your culinary world open right up.
Brussels Sprouts with Panko
Makes 6 to 8 servings
Corn oil for frying
4 pounds Brussels sprouts, outer leaves removed, cut in half
1 cup Thick Tahini Sauce (recipe below)
1 cup low-fat plain yogurt
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 cup panko (Japanese-style breadcrumbs)
Pinch sea salt
Brussels sprouts were not part of the Palestinian kitchen when I was growing up. I discovered them here in the States and very eagerly tried to push them on my children. To that end, I did what any good mother would do — I pumped up their flavor by adding a little tahini sauce and sweet pomegranate molasses. It worked! In fact these Brussels sprouts were so delicious that they made it onto the original Tanoreen menu and I’ve never taken them off.
Pour 1/4 to 1/2 inch corn oil in a large skillet and place over a high heat until hot. To test the temperature, slip half a Brussels sprout into the pan; if it makes a popping sound, the oil is hot enough. Working in batches, fry the Brussels sprouts, turning occasionally, until they are browned all over, 2 to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sprouts to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
Meanwhile, whisk together the thick tahini sauce, yogurt and pomegranate molasses in a medium bowl. Set aside.
In a small skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the panko and stir constantly until the crumbs are golden brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in the salt and remove the breadcrumbs from the heat. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to cool.
Place the Brussels sprouts in a serving dish, drizzle with the sauce and top with the panko crumbs. Serve immediately.
Thick Tahini Sauce
Makes 2 1/2 cups
1 1/2 cups tahini (sesame paste)
3 to 4 cloves garlic, crushed
Juice of 5 lemons, or to taste (about 1 cup)
1 teaspoon sea salt
Chopped parsley for garnish
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the tahini, garlic, lemon juice and salt and process on low speed for 2 minutes or until thoroughly incorporated. Turn the speed to high and blend until the tahini mixture begins to whiten. Gradually add up to 1/2 cup water until the mixture reaches desired consistency.
Transfer the sauce to a serving bowl and garnish with the parsley. Leftover tahini sauce can be stored, tightly covered in the refrigerator, for up to 2 weeks.