All posts by Leslie

Iraqi comfort food for a rainy California day.:-)

Okay so we don’t have a lot of these blustery cold rainy days like today (Feb. 29th) but when we do it’s great to have some good comfort food and maybe a good Foreign movie or two.  In that spirit here is a perfect dish for a cold day.:-)

Iraqi Bulgur Pilaf  (great comfort food for a cold day!)

Bulgur vermicelli mix (If you can’t find these together buy them separately—and get medium to large sized bulgur from a Middle Eastern market;  don’t buy the bulgur  from a health food store–it doesn’t hold up as well for this dish.)

A little bulgur goes a long way 1- ½ cups is good for 2-3

A few handfuls of Mushrooms (optional) and one onion

Use equal proportions of water and crushed tomatoes

(The exact type of tomatoes aren’t important-as long the tomatoes are well blended in a chunky or smooth sauce type consistency.)

Olive oil



Maggi (optional and/or a chicken bullion cube—also optional)


Cook onions in a little olive oil until almost brown

Add mushrooms and continue to saute´

Add bulgur and stir around in onion mixture for a minute or two and then add the equal proportions of tomato mixture with water.

I like to put in just enough mixture to cover the bulgur by about ¼-1/2 inch—in other words it should look like a thick chunky soup)

Bring to a boil and then Cook 25 minutes or so or low heat. Check every few minutes if it is sticking to the pot; just add more tomato sauce or water if necessary Soooo good!!

It even looks kind of fancy if you mold it a little and then serve it.

What do cupcakes, and chicken in a chili and marmalade sauce, have in common?

They are the perfect ingredients to a quick, easy and delicious Mexican flavored dinner.

We learned the recipe from a friend of a friend many years ago and cook it all the time for crowds.  It’s a definite “go to” if spending all afternoon in the kitchen isn’t an option.


The ingredient list is short…

Three-four chicken breasts

Enough American chili powder to dredge the chicken breasts through–1/3-1/2 cup

2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of oil

The juice from one or two limes

4 or 5 tablespoons of  marmalade

and a little salt to taste

Put the chili powder on a plate and dredge both sides of the breasts through the spice.  It may seem like it’s going to be overwhelmingly spicy because of the copious amount of  chile powder, but surprisingly it isn’t.  (Of course don’t make the mistake of using cayenne or the chile powder from an Indian market –then your mouth would be on fire. :-) )

Saute the breasts on medium heat in the heated butter and oil until browned on both sides–a few minutes.

Then mix in the marmalade and lime juice and heat until the chicken is thoroughly cooked–15 or 20 minutes. That’s it!  We usually  add more marmalade if we’re serving a large group and we want a bit more of the delicious sauce.

Serve  with plain white rice, black beans and some  *queso fresco.

And for the sweet part, if you live in San Diego you can go to Pure Cupcakes on Garnet Ave. (near the Vons) and pick up either the Mayan Chocolate cupcakes,Bunuelos flavored cupcakes or even the Mango-Chili speciality! (For a non-Mexican flavored dinner try the Pecan Pie cupcakes–they are the best cupcakes in San Diego, seriously!)

PURE Cupcakes
1772-A Garnet Ave.
San Diego, Ca 92109

858.274.CAKE (2253)

*Go to the community section on this web site to check out the location of the Mexican grocery stores to pick up some great fresh queso fresco!

Good news: our former Iraqi chef opens his own restaurant!

Those of you who had the good fortune to take some Culture and Cuisine cooking classes with Mazin Majeed will be happy to hear that he just opened his own restaurant in El Cajon! So, if you enjoyed his cooking classes you’ll now have the good fortune of being able to enjoy  his cooking all of the time.:-)

My family dined in their casual sit down restaurant yesterday and feasted on Beef Kabab, Chicken and Beef Bryani, Beef Shawarma, my favorite Iraqi Falafel sandwiches with Amba, as well as  some Hummus and Avocado Salad, and loved it all!

(You can see some pictures of chef Majeed under our Iraqi food and music section.)

The name of their restaurant  is  Alazayem.  It means something akin to gathering place.  It will certainly be a happy gathering place for my family, as I hope it will for many others in El Cajon and San Diego! The street address is 550 East Main Street, El Cajon, 92020.


An Afghan inspired linguine dish–delicious!

Afghan Linguine cropped (3)If you have ever had aushak/ashak, the Afghan ravioli dish,  you know how delicious it is.   It’s the flavor combination of tomato sauce with coriander and cayenne combined with a yogurt and lebne topping  and dried mint  that make this pasta dish a need-to-have-it-at-least-once-a-month dish!

You might not always have time to assemble a couple of dozen raviolis for Ashak, but if you have time to boil some pasta you can achieve this same delightful flavor combination.

Instead of assembling raviolis just try some  linguine. It’s delicious with Spinach and Chive Linguine Pasta from Trader Joe’s!

You’ll need:One eight ounce bag of this pasta

A large can of diced tomatoes,–or five or six fresh tomatoes

Yogurt and lebne/labnah or if you live near a Middle Eastern market buy a jar of refrigerated Khask. If you can’t get your hands on Khask use Greek yogurt.

Dried mint

The tops of green onions

4-5 cloves of garlic

Dried coriander–freshly ground is preferable and cayenne

Olive oil; those are the essential bits.  If you want to cook some ground beef and/or bell peppers thats a  good and authentic addition too.

Blend a large can of diced tomatoes (or the 5 or 6 fresh tomatoes if available) in the food processor. Heat some olive oil for a few seconds; add the tomatoes and spices–2 tablespoons ground coriander, 1 teaspoon cayenne–or more cayenne if you like it really hot, a few cloves of smashed garlic and salt to taste, and cook over medium/low heat for 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, boil the pasta per directions and whip  the yogurt/labnah mix or khask/labnah mix. Two parts Greek yogurt to one part labnah/lebne works well–or 1 part Khask to 2 parts Labnah/Lebni.

Add 1 teaspoon of smashed garlic/garlic paste to the yogurt mix.

If you are cooking beef do that now,  throw in the green onions and cook for a few minutes after the beef has browned. (Cook the meat thoroughly.)

If you aren’t using meat just saute the peppers and the tops of the bunch of scallions in some olive oil.

Then drain the pasta when done and assemble with the pasta on the bottom; the tomato sauce with either the meat/scallion or  pepper/scallion mixture next, followed by  dollops or drizzled yogurt on top with a generous sprinkling of dried mint.

It’s even better if you have some good hot-from-the-oven Persian Barbari bread to wipe the plate.:-) 

Super simple international appetizers and snacks

Some great international snacks or appetizers for the holidays or any time.:-)

If you’ve ever tried Ethiopian Berbere you will understand why so many bloggers and cooks try to  sort through every food combination in their imagination to concoct new recipes that call for this special spice mix! This one works perfectly and  adds a twist to that well known cereal snack recipe.  Here is a link…  I have tried it without the soy sauce, Siracha sauce and green peas and it is still delicious.  It’s the combination of the Berbere and the honey that make it truly addictive.  Add  whatever amount of Berbere you can handle; one teaspoon might be better for those who can’t handle the heat, more for those who can. Bowls of this mix go  quickly.:-) Although the recipe here calls for microwaving the mix; baking the cereal mixture on a cookie sheet or cooking the ingredients in a large saute pan work just  as well.  Add the honey after it has been removed from the heat.

Another easy and addictive snack is the well known Chivda/Chevda snack very common in India.  There are many recipes on line for this delicious snack.  In India the ingredients used are slightly different, but the idea is the same–it is a cereal like snack.  The combination of citric acid or amchur/mango powder, tumeric, mustard seeds,cayenne and sugar is the essence of this flavor combination that makes this snack so delicious.   Who knew that  Corn flakes, Rice Krispies, and Chex cereal  could be so flavorful?

Here is a  link to give you the basic idea, but many kinds of  cereal and nuts work just as well…

Another super easy snack  to make is a simple Persian plate full of Lavash bread, French Feta, and herbs like tarreh or green onions, fresh dill,  tender green baby lettuce and other greens…Here is a link to a wonderful Persian food blog that gives you more information about this delicious and healthy appetizer.  If you live near a Middle Eastern market ask for the French Feta; it isn’t as salty and goes beautifully with these herbs….

An Iraqi breakfast combination  offers a great snack  throughout the whole day.  Get some Date syrup–Moomtaz is a good brand, although  there are many others, and Sarshir/Gaymar cream–it’s known by either name in Middle Eastern stores, and smother a piece of good warm Persian Barbari bread or warm round Arab flat bread.  And drink it down with some black tea with a hint of freshly ground cardamon and your day is complete! If you live in San Diego you can buy Barbari bread at some of the Persian markets; if you live in El Cajon head over to Valley Foods and go to the back of the store and ask for the large round freshly baked bread!

For a great Afghan snack try serving a  *Rote with green tea and cardamom.  Rote is a dry sort of snacking cake with Kalonji seeds.   A flavorful  green tea and a pinch of freshly ground cardamom makes a welcome afternoon treat!

*If you live in San Diego Rote is available at Balboa International Market; I’m not sure about it’s availability in other markets.


 Ethiopian and Persian inspired Meatball appetizers.

Use your favorite recipe for small cocktail size meatballs, but omit the seasoning (or purchase frozen meatballs and cook according to package directions), then fry them in a little vegetable oil until cooked and add one of the two sauces below.

For Ethiopian meatballs add the following ingredients to the cooked meatballs: 1/2 or more diced onions and  one small can of tomato paste and 1/2 cup of water and as much *Berbere as you can handle.  Maybe 1 teaspoon for people who don’t like  their food too spicy and more for those who do.  Continue to warm cooked meatballs in sauce for 20-30 minutes.  Remove from heat, cool for a few minutes then place in refrigerator and cool for several hours.  Then reheat for a minute or more in the microwave right before serving.  These meatballs are better when they have had time for the flavors to meld together while cooling in the refrigerator.

*I’ve never made my own Berbere spice mix, as the Berbere mix for sale at  Awash Market/2884  El Cajon Blvd. in San Diego, is so delicious.  But for those who don’t have a Berbere outlet in their city (how sad) here is a link to a Berbere recipe by Marcus Samuelsson, the well known Ethiopian born chef. (Once you start using Berbere you’ll want to sprinkle it on everything.)


Persian inspired cocktail sized meatballs

Use your favorite recipe for small cocktail size meatballs, but omit the seasoning (or use  frozen purchased cooked meatballs and cook according to package directions), then fry them in a little vegetable oil until cooked.  Add a few handfuls of chopped parsley and dill to the meat mixture if making your own meatballs.

To the cooked meatballs add 1 small can tomato paste, 1 teaspoon tumeric, juice from 1 lime (or more), 1/3-1/2 cup water,2-3 strands of Saffron–optional, and 2 teaspoons of *Adiveh. (I used this recipe minus the rose petals as I didn’t have any handy.) Continue to warm meatballs in sauce for 20 minutes.  Then remove from heat, cool for a few minutes, then cover and place in refrigerator for a few hours.  Like  the Ethiopian inspired meatballs above these meatballs are better upon reheating after they have cooled for several hours in the refrigerator;  they are  even better heated up the next day.

* Go to this blog of a well known Persian chef for a great Adiveh recipe as well as other wonderful Persian recipes.

 Moving on to main dishes and desserts…

For a great and speedy main dish idea…try putting the  ingredients for a Persian stuffed dolmeh/dolma into a lasagna instead!  It is easier, can be made more quickly and is still delicious–because  of the outstanding Persian flavor combination of tumeric, tomato paste,  and herbs! This dish can be made as a vegetarian or non-vegetarian dish!  This should work for almost any dolmeh recipe that uses a tomato base for the sauce: Persian, Iraqi or Greek! (One of the Iraqi/Palestinian versions  uses a few pinches of citric acid in the tomato base to give the flavor just the right amount of zip.:-)  Just chop the cabbage in half and boil first until tender–about twenty minutes; then separate the leaves and use them for the lasagna base, just as you would with noodles. Try putting a little  sauce on the bottom so the cabbage leaves don’t stick; then cook  with the rest of the sauce covering the cabbage and rice and/or rice, meat and split pea layers  if making the Persian version. Cover with foil for about twenty minutes; then cook uncovered for another twenty minutes at 350 degrees.

Thanks again for a wonderful year!

Thanks again to everyone for such a wonderful year of cultural and culinary exploration!  I hope that everyone enjoyed the classes as much as we enjoyed teaching them!  It was quite fitting that we ended a great year with a holiday celebration, thanks to Anita! Her Indian series cooking classes offered such a wealth of culinary and cultural information and inspiration.



During this last class I gave everyone a little pop quiz; here it is if anyone else is interested in learning a smidgen of what we learned this year..

What’s the difference between Berbere and Barberries?  The Berbere is the Ethiopian spice mix.  The Barberries are the nice tart berries from Iran that go on the rice.

What is one of the similarities, and one of the differences, between Indian and Afghan food? Some of the spices in the tomato sauce base in Afghan and Indian food are the same: coriander, cumin, cayenne, and turmeric; but in the Indian food recipes we learned the yogurt is always mixed with the tomato sauce and spices, while in the Afghan recipes the yogurt is added as a separate individual flavor element.

What are some different ingredients that can be used to thicken soups and sauces?  Cashews, almonds, oat bran or oatmeal and of course cream.

What can you use tamarind paste with? It can be used as a chutney accompaniment  for a potato chaat, snack, or rice dish.  And it’s really good to have around to flavor other non-Indian dishes like a lentil taco—take cabbage that has been slightly marinated in lime juice and a pinch of sugar and salt for twenty minutes, then add it to some cooked brown lentils stuffed into a good corn tortilla topped with some tamarind chutney—delicious and healthy. (If you don’t live near a tortilleria the “handmade” corn tortillas at Trader Joe’s are good. I had never thought of lentil tacos until I read Chelse Wagner’s food blog– such a good idea.  …

What is a good accompaniment for mango chutney? Fig bread from Bread and Cie with thin slices of gruyere cheese.

What is a good herb to add to spinach to make a really tasty  Afghan spinach dish?  Tarreh.  You’ll never go back to creamed spinach after tasting this combination.

What is a really simple addition to potatoes that makes a simple but delicious potato dish? A northern Chinese dish of matchstick type slices of Ginger cooked with matchstick type slices of potatoes and green onions.

What made Mazin’s hummus so delicious?  He blended it for much longer than most people would ordinarily say to blend it—at least 10-15 minutes in the food processor and he always added cold water and/or ice to the mixture.  And he was a hummus artist, of course.:-)

What are some of the simple ingredients that perk up a tomato sauce that some of our cooks added to their sauces?  Citric acid, vinegar and nutmeg, lemon omani and last but never least Berbere.

What was the secret ingredient that Mazin’s wife put on the Iraqi pizzas?  Pomegranate molasses.

What is Niter Kibbeh?  Ethiopian spiced/clarified butter; the smell of it cooking makes everyone swoon with happiness.

What is one distinguishing characteristic of how the onions are cooked in Ethiopian recipes?  The recipes we learned always call for dry sweating the onions for several minutes before adding the olive oil. (And Lemlem always used red onions.)

What makes a tahdig on the bottom of a Persian rice dish so good?  Yogurt or potatoes, sometimes mixed with a smidgen of crushed saffron soaked in warm water or milk.

How do you cook the chicken for Chicken Tikka Masala? Grill outside, or inside on  a grill pan or broil.

What made the “My father’s salad”/Vietnamese salad so deliciousThe very thinly sliced pieces of Top Round beef and quickly grilled onions.

What can you use to make Aushak? Gyoza/Dumpling wrappers and tarreh/tarey–  I found the Hong Kong brand to be the best for these dumplings.  Some recipes out there substitute the white parts of green onions for tarreh. This is good, but it’s much much better if tarreh is used.  It has a really nice delicate taste that isn’t quite as strong as green onion tops.  Tarreh can be found at North Park Produce in San Diego and most international markets like Balboa International market and Sahel.  And although Aushak is great made, as it should be in raviolis, if you don’t have enough time you can also use cooked lasagna noodles instead!



Thank you to Anita for another wonderful class on some of the varieties in Indian food.  Here is another one of Anita’s dessert recipes and the Sambar paste that was also added to the Toor daal.

Date fudge
A cup of assorted nuts: pine nuts,cashews,pistachios, or other variation.
A cup of diced pitted dates
1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom.
Grind the nuts and dry roast them on slow heat for two or three minutes. Add the diced dates and mix them well. The dates will start melting and the whole mixture will form into a ball. This may take 20 or more minutes.  Add a few tablespoons of water if necessary. Turn off the stove and transfer the mixture into a dish and spread it out to a desired thickness.
Sambar paste
About 2 tsp of tamrind paste
Cayenne pwd to taste
Coriander pwd1/4 tsp
Turmeric pwd, a pinch
Salt to taste
Fenugreek pwd
1 tablespoon of store bought  Sambar powder to taste
1 or more tablespoons of lime juice to taste.
Shahi Tukara (The wonderful dessert)
2 cups of whole milk
1 cup of whipping cream or one small can of condensed milk
3/4 cup of Sugar if not using condensed milk
2-3 strands Saffron
4-5 pieces toasted Raisin bread
Boil the milk until it is reduced by half. Then add the sugar, nuts and cream or 1 small can of condensed milk.
Cool the milk and then add your bread of choice.
Serve it chilled a few hours later!!!  :-)


Mumbai is a city with millions of train stories.  Everyone, it seems, has a story about a quirky, interesting, tragic,or humorous incident on a local Mumbai train.  This  humorous short film (created for a film competition) creatively brings to life the irony of one such incident  reported in the local media. Apparently a man, who realizes he is on the wrong train  is told, by an old friend trying to be helpful, that he can  remedy the situation by simply jumping off the train at the next station as the train slows down. Moments later, the people in the next train compartment, also trying to be helpful, see the man running and assume he is trying to  catch the train and  pull him back on!


Here is a link to a description of 40 Mumbai street foods.  We’re only making two of them; but, this article gives you an idea of breadth of choices out there if you want to cook your own version.:-)


We made three great Vietnamese salads for our Vietnamese cooking class!  And we’re using an ingredient some people might not be familiar with –aren’t we always?  In case anyone wants the skinny on this ingredient we thought we’d share a few  posts from other blogs about what this ingredient is and how it’s made.:-) The ingredient–for those who are wondering is Tofu skins! There is even a video of how The Hodo Soy Beanery in Oakland makes Tofu Skins!






Thanks everyone! We’ve had a great year of learning about cuisines and cultures from around the world. Here is a sampling of just some of the meals we’ve prepared and enjoyed together!

Chicken Biryani, Hummus tahini and Hummus with cilantro and jalapenos, Fattoush, Koozi sham, Lebanese Lubiya, Dolma, Iraqi Pizzas, Bulgur Pilaf, The famous Ethiopian Doro Wat, Miser Wat, Kosta, Lentil Alicha, Kik Alicha, Beef Tibs, Ethiopian Fossolia, Cabbage with Berbere, Zereshk Polo, Zaferon Chicken, Mast-o-Khiar, Persian Dolmeh, Soup-e-Joh, Ashak, Meva Polo, Aloo Gobi, Chicken Tikka Masala, Tamarind Potato Chaat, Vegetable Biryani, Firni, Mango Chutney, Tamarind Rice, Cabbage with Mung Bean Vadi and more….

And we’re just getting started!