As I've shared before, in high school I was the pickiest eater in the entire world. If it was good for me, I wouldn't touch it. If it had a strange texture, I wouldn't look at it. If it was green and leafy? Oh no. Down right 'fahgettaboutit. This weekend, however, I tried it all from Kibbeh to Tabbouleh. I even tried making two new cupcake recipes-- from scratch!
My first night in town, my gracious Syrian hosts decided it would be perfect to treat me to a traditional Arabic style feast. Little did I know I would be getting a foreign language lesson while eating dinner. I still don't know all the names and pronunciations of everything off of the top of my head, but hey, that's what Google is for, right? Anywho, we each ordered a sample platter with different dishes so I could taste the differences in each. Here is what they included:
- Hummus, a dip made of blended chickpeas, sesame tahini, lemon juice and garlic. I absolutely love hummus, so it was a treat to get to try some that was homemade. The kind you get in the grocery stores is mighty tasty, but nothing compared to the full, rich flavor you get when it's made from scratch.
- Baba ghannouj, a grilled eggplant that is mixed with tahina, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic puree. Much like hummus, it's great for dipping pita bread into. I loved the rich texture and intensity yet simpleness of the flavors in the dip.
- Kibbeh, a fried dish made of bulgur (basically a type of wheat) and chopped meat. They are commonly shaped much like a crouquette. It was delicious and reminded me of a potato ball, or something we have in Spanish culture called a moyette.
- Tabbouleh, a diced parsley salad with burghul, tomato and mint. I think you're supposed to eat this much like an American salad, but I just mixed it with my hummus and ate in top of a pita.
- Dolma, or stuffed grape leaves. I had mine meatless and dipped them in yogurt. They were a bit too salty for my taste, but the flavors were interesting and I was surprised by how refreshing they could be when paired with the light yogurt.
The strangest, yet sweetest, dish came late Sunday afternoon. Although I sat in the kitchen and watched them make it, I was still taken aback when I took my first bite. Kenafeh is one of the most popular Arabic sweets made of shredded pastry dough, sweet white cheese and syrup. Yes, I said cheese.
The dish was layered with cheese and dough and popped into the oven for just a short time. When it arrived at the table, the top dough was crisp and the cheese was melty and gooey like warm taffy. The texture of the dish was completely different than anything I have ever tasted. Crunchy yet doughy, sugary yet cheesy, this walking conundrum of a dish has found a sweet spot in my heart.
I forgot my cookbook at home, but check back later on tonight for the two cupcake recipes I tried this weekend. I whipped up some banana cupcakes, as well as dark chocolate raspberry cupcake confections. They're easy, delicious and you can make them at home, too!