Bookshelf

In the Mezze

A Middle Eastern bounty of shared small plates, mezze is more mood than menu

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TM_BK_OLIVLEM_AP_001In Olives, Lemons & Za’atar, Rawia Bishara takes you on a culinary journey from Nazareth to New York, with dishes that honor and expand on her mother’s unique approach to Middle Eastern home cooking. In this excerpt, Rawia discusses mezze, the assortment of nibbles and drinks that lead off a large Middle Eastern meal. The book is available now on Amazon and at your local bookstore from Kyle Books.

The Italians have antipasto, the Spanish tapas, the Americans appetizers, the Chinese dim sum. In the Middle East, there is mezze, small plates of food served all at once, before the main course, to provide a bounty of tastes and textures. That said, one or two plates can comprise a snack, while a few more can add up to a whole meal. Mezze is invariably served with arak, an anise-flavored spirit, to sip in between swipes of creamy dip on Arabic bread, forkfuls of fried or raw kibbeh and bites of spicy meat pies.

The simplest mezzes are made up of whatever is on hand in the garden and the pantry. When I was growing up, this meant makdous, labneh, olives, hummus, Arabic bread, cucumbers and tomatoes.

At its core, though, mezze is a mood. In Arabic, the verb for mezze is, mezmiz, which loosely translated means “eat, talk and drink” — all at once. Imagine friends and family sitting around a table, passing heaping plates of hummus, baba ganouj, falafel and za’atar bread, and laughing, talking — and of course debating heatedly — amid the clang of glasses and plates. Mezze is a ritual about sharing — not just bites of delicious food, but stories, experiences, laughter and opinions.
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Cooking School TM_CS_SIMMER_FI_001

If you ask James Feustel and Jonathan Deutsch, the way we learn to cook is all wrong. Faculty and students at the Drexel University Center for Hospitality and Sport Management have embarked on a project to create a new type of culinary text. Rather than teaching classic French recipes, the book teaches proper cooking by method, and then applies the learned method to a variety of dishes from around the world. Each installment will bring a new technique to master, and new recipes to enjoy and perfect. Welcome to Cooking School.

We all have that relative or friend who, after presenting yet another flawless dish, claims to have no idea how to cook. “I just followed the recipe,” they’ll say, as we devour their jams, macarons, or pickles. When you learn cooking by recipe, you risk becoming a step-following technician. First do this, then do that and voila! We think there’s a better way. By starting with culinary techniques – digging into what’s really happening when you braise or sear – you can develop a deep understanding of how to cook. Once you understand that, you can get to what to cook (with or without a recipe) later.

We begin with what is arguably the simplest of methods. Simmering requires only a pot, heat, some liquid, and some food, but is too often done poorly by cooks watching the clock rather than the food.
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First Person TM_FP_BBQ_AP_005_1

Every morning at 4:30 AM, riding or walking past Tar-Heel-Q off of Old Highway 64 in Lexington, North Carolina, the smell and crackle of fired-up hickory chips and logs fill the air for about a mile. No one minds the enormous amount of smoke that is being produced by this Mom-and-Pop Southern barbecue joint, especially because of the rich, warm and comforting smell. It’s the smell of Lexington, some people might say.

It takes a full tractor-trailer load of hickory wood to get Tar-Heel-Q through a month of making some of the best lip-smacking, finger-lickin‘ barbecue in all of the Piedmont Triad. It’s the only kind of wood that can smoke a 25-pound brisket to perfection.

I moved to North Carolina about five years ago to go to college, and one of my favorite hobbies (naturally) became eating at different barbecue restaurants around this beautiful state. I quickly found that the best places to visit weren’t searchable on the Internet. No websites or Facebook pages are necessary for these hole-in-the-wall joints – just word-of-mouth and a reputation for good old Carolina barbecue crafted by recipes handed down from generation to generation. MORE

Ingredient TM_FP_SCRAPPLE_FI_001

When I was a child, no breakfast was better than a scrapple breakfast. I preferred a plateful of the crispy, savory mystery meat to any bowl of Lucky Charms or stack of chocolate chip pancakes. But then, when I was 10 years old, I learned what scrapple really was.

Honestly, I could have lived happily without ever figuring out what constituted one of my favorite breakfast foods. Surely, most of us could. In case you’ve lived into adulthood in blissful ignorance, this is how scrapple is made: Pork scraps — everything from skins and hearts to livers and tongues — are combined with flour, cornmeal, and spices, then molded into a one-pound brick. It’s not the best food for people who insist on knowing exactly what is in what they’re eating, and certainly isn’t for those that are particularly health-conscious.

I always wondered if there were many scrapple lovers who appreciated it as much as I did. MORE

Kitchen Hacks TM_KH_MUFFIN_FI_001

I hope the giddiness I get from not following the rules anymore never fades as I go further into adulthood.

For example, I slept perpendicular-ly on the bed last night. Why? (Well, partially because I’m pretty short). BECAUSE I CAN. Deal with it.

This may be most exciting with food choices. Want to have Nutella for (not with) lunch? You’re allowed. And even if your idiosyncratic cravings don’t flout nutritional wisdom, it’s liberating just to know that nobody’s watching what you do anymore. (Things I have eaten as meals in the past month include: a chicken finger wrapped in a slice of plastic American cheese; a tub of hummus; a batch of miniature donuts; a carrot; wine; a jar of sun-dried tomatoes I got free from work; and a bag of popcorn drizzled with hot sauce.) Again, deal with it. MORE

Oktoberfest Preview TM_OK_NEWGRM_FI_001

Bratwurst. Spätzle. Sauerkraut. Weisswurst. Schnitzel. These are the classic German foods we can all readily identify. But there’s more to the cuisine than the traditional hearty, meaty dishes that we’ve been conditioned to expect.

Consider the pilzstrudel — a strudel stuffed with wild mushrooms and smoked barley — which is entirely vegetarian-friendly and served with roasted carrots. Yes, you read that correctly: a completely meatless German dish devoid of any sauerkraut on the side. Or how about a fresh salad with forelle (smoked trout), asparagus, and radishes tossed in a horseradish dressing? While it might sound a bit farm-to-table, German cuisine is no stranger to seafood or salads.
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Bookshelf

East Meets South

Korea meets Kentucky in Edward Lee's Smoke and Pickles

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One of the things I’ve learned over my long career as a cookbook appreciator (I started buying cookbooks with my allowance when I was eleven) is that some cookbooks feature terrific stories and lousy recipes. Others offer the reverse. They are bursting with highly usable, carefully written recipes, but offer very little in the way of personality and humanity.

It’s a rare cookbook that manages to walk the line between good storytelling and an accessible recipe collection that truly works. Smoke & Pickles, a recently released volume by former Top Chef “cheftestant” Edward Lee, straddles that line with ease. MORE

The Larder TM_TL_BURGR_FI_001

For the last 11 years, I’ve lived in an apartment without a single square inch of outdoor space to call my own. Most of the time, this isn’t a hardship, as it means no leaves to rake in the fall and no snow to shovel in the winter.

Really, there’s just one thing I miss about having a patch of the outdoors and that’s having the space in which to set up a grill. However, I’ve found that there are even ways to work around my lack of outdoor space. Thanks to a sturdy grill pan, a countertop griddle, and generous friends with backyard Webers, I always manage to get my warm-weather grilling fix.
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Dispatches TM_DI_HORSE_FI_001

A few weeks ago I ate horse. On purpose, while a scandal erupted in Europe regarding the presence of horse DNA in frozen meals and processed meat products. Traveling in Mongolia, my husband, Garrett, and I wanted to eat like locals. So we ponied up to a table in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital, scanned the restaurant’s menu, and ordered horse meat soup.

Our first bite of the thin broth wasn’t bad—slightly salty, with a hint of pepper. Not four stars, but serviceable. We stirred, and up popped hunks of yellowish fat, goopier than Vaseline, meant to bestow some flavor. Then we found the meat.
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The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_SPATCH_FI_001

For this month’s Whole Chicken Project, we’re going to talk about spatchcocking. Go ahead, giggle. It does sound like an impossibly dirty thing to do to a poor bird. The first time I heard the word, I conjured
up mental images of a raw chicken being trussed up and given a
firm rub-down.

In reality, you spatchcock a bird by taking a pair of sturdy kitchen shears and using them to cut out the chicken’s backbone. It can take a little persistence to convince your scissors through the bones, but once you remove that one-inch strip, a world of quick-cooking options opens up.
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First Person

Wedding Cows

Giving the gift of humanely-raised beef

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Usually, when I go to a wedding I bring a check as my gift. But one Saturday morning in November, I found myself trying to explain in my neatest small penmanship inside a sparkly wedding card that my present for the bride and groom was waiting for them in my basement chest freezer.

I bought them a fraction of a cow.

It was 20-some pounds of local, grass-fed, CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation)-free beef to be precise. This may not at first seem like the ideal wedding gift. But hear me out:

These two are some of my closest friends, and moreover, they are probably my favorite couple to eat with. They’re the rare pair with no real food hangups, weird picky preferences, or dietary restrictions. At least they were until recently, when the groom became increasingly educated and concerned about the realities of factory farming and the meat that makes up most of the conventional food supply. Disgusted, he practically stopped eating meat.
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Issues

High Steaks

That $40 filet mignon is about to get even pricier

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A few months ago, Garth Weldon made a tough call. As the managing partner at Philadelphia’s The Prime Rib, he saw rising beef prices eating up his already narrow margins. He tried to cut back everywhere he could, but ultimately he did what restaurateurs hate to do: he raised prices. The full prime rib went from $49 to $53, and the restaurant’s annual “15 for 15” promotion, where customers could get 15 ounces of prime rib for $15, went up by $5 to become “15 for 20.”

And that was before the Midwest drought.

Now, after the drought has decimated the corn crop used to feed most of the US beef supply, the United States Department of Agriculture is predicting beef prices will rise by at least 5 percent next year. For steakhouses like The Prime Rib, that means even more overhead, which means another menu price hike could loom on the horizon.

“Restaurateurs are always reluctant to raise prices,” Weldon says, “but you have to.” MORE