Okay, I’m finally getting down to business. As mentioned in an earlier post, last Thursday I had the pleasure of spending the evening – the ENTIRE evening! – with my friend Nadira. A while back we cooked together for the Byzantine choir, and she also invited me to her house blessing and the meal that followed. She is an excellent cook, and promised to teach me how to make her tahini cauliflower dish. But of course, the cauliflower by itself doesn’t make a meal and so we spent a good two to three hours make various things to go with it.
I’m afraid I can’t go through and show you how to cook all of these dishes at the same time, like we did – anyway, that would be confusing! So I’ll go through one dish at a time. I believe most things were baked at 400, but check the comments below in case Nadira reads this and corrects me : )
Now, this is an Arab woman we’re talking about, so even though I came over to cook, she had a snack already waiting for me when I got there. Hospitality, folks. Most of us could stand to learn something about it.
Now, you know how much I love tahini, so with this giant bowl of ful we’re already off to a good start. I believe the ingredients are fava beans, tahini, lemon, garlic, salt, fresh parsley, cucumber & tomato, sprinkled with paprika (or sumac?) and drizzled with olive oil.
Now, while that was baking we got started on the tahini sauce.
We made a huge batch because we used it for the cauliflower and for a similar eggplant dish…I’m not sure how much tahini we used, but I’d guess at least half a cup. You’ll need plenty of lemon juice, so I’d have at least a few lemons on hand, and about 4 cloves of finely minced or grated garlic.
Next we did the eggplant. Nadira had already peeled it and cut it into 1″ thick rounds, then salted it and left it to drain in a colander. Wipe the salt off unless you want yours really, really salty.
Give it a squeeze to get any excess liquid out
If you guessed the eggplant gets bathed in the remaining tahini sauce, you are correct! Now back into the oven, same bake time as the cauliflower – until the sauce thickens to your liking. Both the eggplant and the cauliflower will be nice and creamy when they’re done.
Cover it with whatever liquid you’re using, then cook the rice according to the instruction on the bag (generally, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook, covered, until liquid is absorbed). Now get some more olive heating in a large skillet.
Our other grain is cracked wheat, special because it’s been burned and has a smokey flavor. You should be able to find it at your local Middle Eastern market. Once again, Nadira already had it cleaned and waiting. She said it really takes a lot of rinsing because they bury it when they burn it and it gets covered with dirt. Since it already has a strong smoked flavor, we just added salt, pepper and garlic with a little turmeric to give it color. Hmm…I think we started cooking it in the oil first like the rice, but now I can’t remember. Sorry! Then we covered it in vegetable stock, and again it needs to cook until the liquid is absorbed.
This may seem like a lot of food, but we’re not finished. Let’s make a filling for veggie burritos…
Up to this point Nadira was teaching me how to make everything, and it was coming together so well and everything looked and smelled beautiful. But the burrito was my baby. It was a little intimidating! But Nadira was very encouraging and gave me access to every ingredient in her kitchen.
We used white mushrooms instead of meat. I cut then in half lengthwise, then crosswise.
While I was cooking the filling for our burritos, Nadira was making a syrup for the other thing she made ahead of time, our dessert. This is a simple syrup of sugar and water, with rose water added for flavoring.
There was some debate about the English word for this dessert and for the main ingredient used to make it. After some googling, I think this might be basbousa made with semolina. The syrup is poured over the cake, which was already scored into diamond shaped pieces before baking. After it sits a few moments, it’s cut all the way through and left until after the meal. We’ll come back to this. We still have to put the finishing touches on our dinner.
Just like you’d do for mjuddara made with rice, caramelize some onions to garnish the lentils & wheat. Traditionally they are actually cut thin and fried in oil until they start to turn black and somewhat bitter. Do it however you prefer. If you really love onions, you might do one batch to mix into the mjuddara, and another to garnish.
This is where I usually get lazy, especially if I’m just cooking for myself. But adding a garnish, besides adding texture and, in this case, a nice flavor, makes the meal feel extra special. By that I mean it feels extra special to the people eating it, but it must do more than that because Nadira looked over each dish and asked aloud, “What we gonna do to make this guy happy?” And then decided on the garnish for each dish accordingly. They did look happy when we were finished.
Oh yeah, back to the burritos. I didn’t get a picture of it with everything inside before I folded it up, but we added a couple spoonfuls of ful to the mushroom filling. I also added the lentils & cracked wheat to mine.
We even sat at the dining room table and started our meal by making a toast with our beer & wine (and a little prayer, of course). Not sure if you can see it in this picture, but our lentils & wheat are covered with those caramelized onions.
There wasn’t enough room on my plate for the cauliflower, I had to eat something else first to make room. We had tons of leftovers, about half of which my coworkers and friends gladly helped me eat the following day…and then I still had some left for dinner.
The filling is coconut, walnuts and raisins. DELICIOUS. We decided this works both as a dessert, and as a morning snack with coffee. All the good stuff in it makes for a well-rounded breakfast, actually.
And besides all the great food, I had all the fun and happiness that comes with cooking with a friend. It’s amazing how much people can bond over food, and such a gift. Although I enjoy solitary cooking, slow and methodical – sometimes spending the same amount of time on one dish as Nadira and I spent on five – I never regret cooking with a friend. Wellll…almost never. But that’s another (unrelated) story!