Thursday, February 13, 2014

Bulgur and Lamb Kofte with Harissa Yogurt


As I write this post, I'm looking out my front window, enjoying the view of our historic neighborhood blanketed in pure white snow. Other than a few USC students drinking beer on the front porch, it's completely silent. Columbia, SC is all but shut down with the 3 inches of snow and ice on the ground.

I love the snow. I love to see our furry mountain dogs playing in their element. I love hot chocolate on the front porch. I love the extra day at home with my husband. What I don't love, however, is being cold, which unfortunately is quite necessary for snow.

I'm such a baby.  When I go outside, I look like a toddler, bundled up in 9 layers of unmatched, oversized winter apparel. Having lived most of my life in the South, I never built a tolerance for the cold.  These freezing temperatures are making me nostalgic for the hot sun, specifically, the Mediterranean sun.





When the temperature dips, I find myself reminiscing of our week sailing the Turquoise coast. I'd love to hop on a plane and go back, but I'm settling for bringing a little bit of Turkey to my kitchen. Somehow, I feel a little warmer sitting down to a plate of creamy eggplant, herbed rice stuffed peppers, or this spicy lamb kofte.

After the breakout popularity of the cookbook Jerusalem, Middle Eastern cuisine has entered the mainstream. I'm pretty excited about this, as Middle Eastern food is not only delicious, but healthy too. Actually, it could be considered a subset of Mediterranean cuisine, with it's well known health benefits.  Middle Eastern food has the same elements - plentiful amounts of seasonal vegetables, small amounts of meat, a little bit of cheese and yogurt for flavoring, lots of nuts and fresh fruit, often as dessert. Some common ingredients are lamb, figs, phyllo, eggplants, dates, honey and of course, olive oil.  What sets Middle Eastern cuisine apart from standard Mediterranean food are the unique spices and condiments, often used judiciously.




Sumac

The berry of the sumac plant is dried and ground, making a reddish spice with a flavor reminiscent of lemon.  It is often used to make tabbouleh and fattoush, and is used in the spice mix za'atar.  Try it in my eggplant, chickpea and wheat berry salad, heirloom tomato caprese or sprinkled over plain hummus.

Pomegranate molasses

Made by boiling down pomegranate juice until it forms a thick syrup.  It has an intense, sweet tartness. I admit, the last time I had this in the house, I ate more of it by the spoonful than I incorporated into recipes. Also delicious drizzled on hummus, use it to make a sauce for grilled meats, stir it into Greek yogurt, or make muhammara, a dip made with roasted red peppers, walnuts and pomegranate molasses.




Harissa

A Tunisian spice paste made from roasted red peppers, chilies, garlic and spices.  Toss it with roasted root vegetables, use it in a marinade for grilled meats or stir a little into a tomato sauce for a unique heat.

Tahini

Tahini is a paste made from ground sesame seeds.  It's a crucial ingredient in hummus and baba ganoush.  I commonly use tahini in salad dressings, like my most epic salad dressing of all time.



Za'atar

Za'atar is a spice mix made with sesame seeds, sumac, thyme, and salt.  Sometimes other spices, like marjoram or oregano are added.  If you can't find it at the store, it is simple to make a batch at home. Sprinkle it on toasted pita, roasted winter squash or use it to make crunchy chickpea snacks.

Aleppo Pepper

A medium heat chili powder commonly used in Syrian and Turkish cuisine.  It is both smoky and fruity at the same time.  Mix it with yogurt, olive oil, and garlic to create a marinade for chicken or sprinkle it in a pineapple or watermelon fruit salad.



Bulgur and Lamb Kofte with Harissa Yogurt

Serves 4
Adapted from Serious Eats      

Bulgur, which is cracked wheat kernels, is a whole grain common to Middle Eastern cuisine.  I love to use it in meatloaves and meatballs to stretch the amount of meat, as it keeps a similar texture.  I served this with a simple tomato and cucumber salad, which provided the perfect amount of crunch and softened the spiciness of the dish.  To recreate it, simply toss diced cucumbers and halved cherry tomatoes with lemon juice, olive oil and spices.  I used an olive oil spice from Turkey, but you could also use a little sumac or za'atar.

3/4 cup plain yogurt
3 tablespoons harissa
4 garlic cloves, grated on a microplane grater
1 cup mint, chopped
1/2 lb organic ground lamb
1 1/2 cups cooked bulgur
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red chili flakes
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 small onion, grated on a large holes of a box grater
4 whole wheat naan or pita, toasted
Thinly sliced red onions, soaking in cold water
Handful of arugula

Set oven to 400 degrees.

Mix yogurt, 2 tablespoons harissa, half the garlic and mint in a small bowl and set aside.

Mix the lamb, bulgur, egg, 1 tablespoon harissa, the remaining half of the mint and garlic, spices, and grated onion.  Season with salt.  Mix by hand until well combined.  Form 12 golf ball sized meatballs and space evenly on a baking sheet.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden and cooked through.

When the kofte are cooked, spread the naan with a layer of harissa yogurt.  Top with sliced onions, arugula and 3 meatballs.

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