Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Bounty of Fresh Herbs and Spices Creates a Summertime Mediterranean Feast

The countries around the Mediterranean produce an abundance of fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables that has been the basis for healthy eating for centuries. Chef Joumana Accad specializes in bringing Mediterranean food to American tables. Through her popular food blog, www.TasteofBeirut.com, she has shown thousands of home cooks how healthy and delicious the cuisine of her native Lebanon is.

“Lebanon is a beautiful Mediterranean country with very few natural resources. As a child, learning to cook from my grandmother, I grew to appreciate and take full advantage of what nature provided,” Joumana explains. “I have modernized some traditional Lebanese recipes that take advantage of summertime ingredients.”

The results are recipes that are light and fresh, and not hard to achieve. Bring the Mediterranean sunshine to your kitchen table this summer with these recipes from Chef Joumana Accad.

Dilled Crêpes with Fava Bean and Rice Salad
Makes 8 Crêpes serving 4

The fava beans in the salad can easily be substituted for diced zucchini or peppers or peas or any fresh vegetable.

• 1/2 cup of finely minced dill (equivalent to one bunch) (dill can be substituted with parsley)
• 3 large eggs
• 1/2 cup of cake flour
• 1/2 teaspoon of salt (or to taste)
• 1/4 teaspoon of ground cumin
• 1/4 teaspoon of ground white pepper
• 1/2 cup of finely chopped onion (or shallots)
• 1 cup of water
• 3 tablespoons of olive oil

For the rice and fava beans:
• 1/2 cup of rice (sushi or any medium-grain such as Turkish, Egyptian or Italian)
• 1 cup of boiled fresh fava beans, shelled and peeled
• 1 small bouillon cube (optional)
• 1 1/2 cups of yogurt
• 2 cloves of garlic, peeled, minced and mashed in a mortar with 1/2 teaspoon of salt
• 8 long pieces of chives or leek greens to tie the crêpes


Fry the chopped onions in one tablespoon of olive oil until soft and translucent; cool and place the onions, the eggs, flour, spices, dill, olive oil and water in the bowl of a food processor, blender or mixer. Mix until the mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes. Let the batter rest for 30 minutes. When ready to make the crêpes, whirl the batter a few seconds to combine all the ingredients evenly.

Heat a crêpe pan or small skillet, spray with some oil or butter and when hot, drop about 1/3 cup of batter into the skillet. Swirl to cover the skillet and cook for one minute, until the edges are golden-brown. Flip the crêpe and cook 15 seconds on the other side. Remove and proceed with the others, spraying the pan each time. Lay each crêpe on a plate on top of each other with a square piece of wax paper in-between each crêpe.

3. Make the stuffing: Soak the rice in lukewarm salted water for thirty minutes or longer; bring the water to a boil, adding a dash of salt, the bouillon cube (if using it, don’t add salt), a tablespoon of olive oil. Lower the heat, cover and cook the rice. Cook the fava beans by boiling them for a couple of minutes and drain. When the rice is cooked, cool and transfer to a bowl. Add the fava beans and mix. Mash the garlic and mix with the yogurt and add to the rice mixture, tossing to combine well. Taste and adjust seasoning. Place a couple of tablespoons of the rice mixture in the middle of each crêpe, fold the crêpe and tie with some blanched dill sprigs or scallions. Serve at room temperature with extra yogurt on the side.

Keshké Salad
8 servings

The word keshké refers to keshek, a traditional staple in the Lebanese larder made up of yogurt mixed with bulgur, fermented in the sun and ground into a powder. In rural areas especially, keshek is made at home and is considered an essential food. Bulgur and yogurt are combined until fermentation and left to dry out on large sheets on straw rugs on the flat roof of village homes. When the bulgur and yogurt paste is completely dry, it is ground through a sieve and kept in jars to be used throughout the year; keshek will sustain for the long days out in the field. In addition, keshek has many health benefits, a long shelf life and is incorporated to soups, stews, sauces and as a topping on flatbreads or a filling in savory pastries.

Keshké salad evolved from the traditional keshek; the difference is that here the bulgur and yogurt are combined, not fermented and not ground, simply eaten fresh as a salad with herbs. I have modernized this traditional salad of yogurt and bulgur by adding some fresh produce and legumes gathered from the farmer's market: Zucchini, fresh fava beans, Italian parsley, green onion and green pepper are dressed with a yogurt sauce spiked with garlic paste and a touch of tahini and drizzled with some olive oil. This hearty and rustic salad can be eaten as a main dish.


• 1 cup of coarse bulgur (#4)
• 1 cup of packed minced flat-leaf parsley
• 3 green onions, minced fine
• 1 cup of boiled fava beans
• 1 1/2 cups of diced zucchini, sauteed in olive oil till tender but still crunchy
• 3 cloves of garlic mashed with a dash of salt in a mortar
• 1 1/2 cup of yogurt, drained in a mesh sieve over a coffee filter or paper towel for one or two hours
• 1/4 cup of olive oil
• 1 or 2 tablespoons of tahini
• 1 tablespoon of pomegranate molasses (optional)
• 1 teaspoon of ground cumin (can replace with paprika)
• salt, pepper to taste
• juice of half a lemon and 1/4 cup of olive oil
• 1/2 cup of toasted and chopped pecans or walnuts or pine nuts


1. Bring a quart of water to a boil; place the bulgur in a bowl and pour the boiling water on top of it. Let it swell for fifteen minutes or longer until soft. Drain the bulgur of its water, squeezing to remove excess water. Add to the bulgur the diced and sautéed zucchini and boiled, peeled fava beans as well as chopped parsley and minced green onions.

2. In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, tahini, garlic paste, lemon juice, olive oil, pomegranate molasses, cumin and salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to the bulgur mixture and combine. Serve at room temperature.

World's Healthiest Brownie
Makes 12 servings

Tahini is the "fat" of choice in the Lebanese kitchen and is used daily; it is mixed with fresh lemon juice and (or) Seville orange juice, spiked with garlic and slathered on falafel, kafta trays and shawarma sandwiches; made into a rich sauce with kibbeh balls, baked with fish or served with boiled vegetables.

In the pastry kitchen, however, tahini is only used sparingly; I wanted to use it in an iconic American cake: The brownie. Here, tahini replaces butter; and a most traditional Eastern mediterranean food, grape molasses, replaces white refined sugar. Grape molasses was the sweetener of choice in Lebanon before the widespread distribution and availability of sugar. It is made in the rural areas today in the communal village press, where it is extracted from the sweetest grapes; the juice from these grapes is filtered and boiled and the resulting thick and sweet molasses is fragrant and filled with all the concentrated nutrients of the grape. Grape molasses or debess al-enab is used in hundreds of rural recipes, from puddings, to dry cookies, to porridges made with bulgur or chick peas.

Even though there is a dramatic difference in taste and quality between one's family production of grape molasses made in the villages and the commercial kind available in stores or online, it is still worth using in lieu of white refined sugar which has been proven to be toxic for the body.

In this version of brownie, tahini provides Omega 3 and 6, calcium, vitamin Bs, fiber and many other nutrients; fresh orange juice is loaded with antioxidants, potassium and vitamins. The grape molasses is full of minerals, such as calcium, potassium and iron, as well as vitamins and antioxidants. As for the dark chocolate and the whole wheat pastry flour they supply nutrients and protein.

This brownie has a soft and velvety crumb, a deep chocolate flavor with undercurrents of a dark nutty caramel.


• 60% chocolate chips (125 g.), melted in the microwave for one minute
• Tahini (light-colored, 150 g.), stir the jar first and pour
• Whole-wheat pastry flour (150 g.)
• 2 teaspoons of baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon of salt
• Grape molasses (or date or carob molasses) (150 g.)
• Freshly-squeezed orange juice (150 g.)
• 2 Tablespoons of orange rind (20 g.)

One-bowl method, no need for a mixer.

1. Assemble all the ingredients. In a bowl, transfer the tahini, add the orange juice and orange rind, melted chocolate and the grape molasses and stir.

2. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt. Transfer into the brownie bowl through a sifter. Stir until the flour mixture is no longer visible. Transfer the brownie batter into a pan lined with parchment paper. Bake in a preheated 350F oven for about 23 minutes. Check by inserting a toothpick into the cake; if dry or almost dry, it is done and the cake will be cakey; if you like it fudgy, check after 20 minutes and see how wet the batter is; it should be thick but moist. Cool a few minutes and serve.

This brownie can be served with a Lebanese caramel topping, which consists of mixing 1/2 cup of tahini with 1/4 cup of grape molasses.

NOTE: The grape molasses can be substituted for carob or date molasses or raw brown cane sugar.

Recipes: Copyright Joumana Accad

To create other traditional Lebanese dishes using fresh, locally grown foods visit www.TasteofBeirut.com.

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