Musings about Food & the Politics of Food.

TartQueen's Kitchen

Berry-Mint Lemonade 0

Posted on June 22, 2015 by Sahar

I love a good glass of lemonade.  Real lemonade. Not the powdered stuff.

And, with summer lasting about 8 months in Texas, it’s almost a necessary staple, along with water, iced tea, and beer, to power through the heat.

The basic lemonade recipe consists of three things: lemon juice, water, sugar.  The flavor all depends on how you personally prefer it – sweet or tart.  Personally, I like it more on the tart side.

Of course, since it is such a basic recipe, it leaves lots of room for interpretation and experimentation.  You can add just about any herb or spice that goes well with lemon – mint, basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano, tarragon, ginger, pepper – for example; or, even add other fruits or juices to the mix – the list on that is pretty much endless.

My personal favorite is probably one of the more obvious ones – mint and berries. I think it’s because during the summer, when berries are truly in season, I like to find as many ways possible as I can to use them.  And, mint is a natural affinity flavor for lemons and berries.  It’s a win-win.

So, here is my recipe for Berry-Mint Lemonade.

A few notes:

1.  Yes. I have used lemon juice from the green plastic bottle. I know fresh squeezed is better, but I don’t always have a bottle of the fresh-squeezed juice around.  If you really want fresh squeezed and don’t have any or can’t find it, you can either squeeze it yourself (a pricy and time consuming prospect), or just go for the green bottle. It’s fine and most people won’t know the difference. I will say the one distinct added plus to the green bottle lemon juice is that the flavor is consistent.  Fresh lemons can vary in tartness and yield.

2.  You can use all of one berry in this if you like.  I just always happen to have a large container of cut berries in my fridge during the summer as Husband Steve’s & my go-to fruit.  Bear in mind, however, that the color and overall flavors will definitely change.  As it is with anything completely natural, there are always going to be differences in flavor – either more sweet or tart.

3.  You can use either white or raw sugar in this.  I prefer the raw because it’s a little less sweet than the white.

4.  If you don’t like or don’t have mint, you can use another herb in this.  Most herbs & spices that go with lemon work well with berries, too. You may want to experiment on the amount you want to use. Some are definitely stronger than others (i.e. rosemary, ginger, oregano), so you want to be sure what you’re using won’t overpower the other flavors.



The Ingredients

The Ingredients

1 c. sugar (either raw or white)

1 c. water

1/4 c. lightly packed mint leaves

2 heaping cups mixed berries

1 1/4 c. lemon juice

3 c. water


1.  In a small saucepan, combine the water and sugar over high heat.  Stir frequently to make sure the sugar is dissolved.

The simple syrup.  Since I made this with raw sugar, it is obviously going to be darker than with white sugar.  A simple syrup made with white sugar will be clear.

The simple syrup. Since I made this with raw sugar, it is obviously going to be darker than with white sugar. A simple syrup made with white sugar will be completely clear.

Bring the syrup just to a boil, take the saucepan off the heat, and add the mint leaves.  Allow the mint to steep in the syrup until it has cooled, about 1 hour to 1-1/2 hours.

Adding the mint.

Adding the mint to steep.

2.  Meanwhile, puree the berries.  With a food processor running, drop the berries either through the feed tube. (Adding the berries in while the machine is running guarantees that all of the berries will be pureed.  You won’t be left with any large pieces.)

Adding the berries to the food processor.  I like to wear gloves to keep the berries from staining my hands.

Adding the berries to the food processor. I like to wear gloves to keep the berries from staining my hands.


Let the berries process until they are pureed.

The pureeing the berries.

The pureeing the berries.

Place a small strainer over a large measuring cup (at least a 4-cup), large bowl, or a pitcher.  Pour half of the pureed berries through the strainer and, with a rubber spatula, work as much of the liquid out of the pulp through the strainer as possible, leaving behind the seeds and pulp. Be sure to scrape the outside bottom and sides of the strainer. Dump the leftover seeds and pulp into a small bowl and repeat with the other half.

On the left, a strainer; the right, a colander. They do a lot of the same things, but a strainer is used for finer work (i.e. sifting, straining purees, etc.). Don't confuse the two.

On the left, a strainer; the right, a colander. They do a lot of the same things, but a strainer is used for finer work (i.e. sifting, straining purees, etc.). Don’t confuse the two.

Pressing the pureed berries though the strainer.

Pressing the pureed berries though the strainer.

If you like, take the remaining seeds and pulp, put them back into the blender or food processor and puree again.  You’ll be surprised how much more liquid you can get out of them. (If you are fine with a more “country style” lemonade, you can skip this step and simply pour the pureed fruit into the pitcher without straining.)

The final leftovers after two sessions in the food processor and straining. You want to get as much of the juice as possible out of the berries.  I generally just put this in the compost.

The final leftovers after two sessions in the food processor and straining. You want to get as much of the juice as possible out of the berries. I generally just put this in the compost.

3.  Once the syrup is cooled, pour the syrup through the strainer so it can catch the mint.

Straining the syrup.

Straining the syrup.

I like to leave the strainer on so I can pour the lemon juice and water over the mint as well. This way, you can get as much flavor out of the mint as possible. Mix thoroughly.

Lemon juice.

Lemon juice.



4.  Place the lemonade in the refrigerator and let chill.  Mix it again before checking for flavor.


Lemonade.  This also makes a great mixer, by the way.




Fattoush فتوش 1

Posted on June 24, 2014 by Sahar

Fattoush is another one of those Middle Eastern salads can be as simple or as complex as you like.  It is ubiquitous throughout the region, including Turkey.  While it can contain different ingredients, the base is always stale toasted or fried bread.

The word Fattoush comes from a mix of Arabic (fatt فت – meaning “broken”) and Turkish (ush).

The chief ingredients are generally tomatoes, cucumber, onions, parsley, mint, olive oil, and lemon.  Other ingredients can be radishes, lettuce, cabbage, bell peppers, pickled chiles, olives, sumac, garlic, and pomegranate syrup.


A few notes:

1.  While I have given some measurements here, there are no hard and fast rules other than the bread.

2.  English (hothouse) or Persian cucumbers are preferable.  They have less water, fewer seeds, and don’t need to be peeled.  If you need to use the more familiar salad cucumber, then you will need to peel it (the skin is tough and usually waxed) and scoop out the seeds.

3.  If you use large tomatoes, be sure to seed them.  If you use cherry tomatoes, don’t bother with seeding.  Just cut them in half.

4.  Curly parsley is more traditional.  However, flat leaf (Italian) is fine.

5.  If you use garlic, use less than you think you need.  Raw garlic is powerful stuff and can easily take over the rest of the salad.

6.  You don’t need to cut the vegetables fine.  They can simply be chopped.


The Ingredients

The Ingredients


2 loaves pita bread, preferably day-old

1 cucumber, preferably hothouse (English) -or- 2-3 Persian cucumbers, cut into large dice or sliced roughly 1/4″ thick

2 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped -or- 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half

3 scallions, thinly sliced

1 bunch parsley, chopped

1 bunch mint, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

Juice of 2 lemons, or to taste

1/4 – 1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil

Salt & Pepper to taste


1.  Prepare the bread: If you are toasting the bread, preheat the oven to 450F.  Split the loaves around the outside edge.

Splitting the bread. A serrated knife is especially helpful with this task.

Splitting the bread. A serrated knife is especially helpful with this task.

Don’t worry if the loaves aren’t split cleanly.  You’ll be breaking them up after they’ve been toasted.

The split loaves. if they;re not perfext, don't worry. They're going to get broken up anyway.

The split loaves. if they’re not perfect, don’t worry. They’re going to get broken up anyway.

Place the split bread directly on the oven rack and let toast until it is a golden brown.  Try not to let the bread get too dark or will add a bitter flavor to the finished salad.  It should take about 2 – 3 minutes for the bread to toast.

The toasted bread. Once it's cooled, break it up into bite-sized pieces.

The toasted bread. Once it’s cooled, break it up into bite-sized pieces.

Let the bread cool and then break it up into bite-sized pieces.  I generally like to accomplish this by putting the bread into a large zip bag and breaking it up. No mess and the bag can be re-used.

If you decide to fry the bread, heat your oil to 375F.  A mix of vegetable and olive oil works well for the flavor. (use pure olive oil, not extra virgin.) Cut the bread into bite-sized pieces and separate them.  Fry the bread in batches until golden brown.  Drain on paper towels and set aside.

2.  Place all of the prepared vegetables in a large bowl.  Add the bread and toss.  Add the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and toss again.  Taste for seasoning.

The vegetables ready for the bread and seasonings.

The vegetables ready for the bread and seasonings.

Let the salad sit for about 15 minutes, then serve.




The salad will keep for a day or two in the refrigerator, but it’s really best the day it’s made.




Tabouleh تبولة 1

Posted on June 06, 2014 by Sahar

Tabouleh (or Tabooly, Tabouley, Tabouly, Tabboole, Tabbouleh) is one of those ubiquitous Arabic dishes that has entered the Western diet along with Shish Kebabs, Baba Ghannouj, Hummous, and pita bread.  Few people really give any of these dishes much thought about where they originated, but what they do know is with the ever-popular Mediterranean Diet, these dishes have become almost de rigeur to the Western palate.

Tabouley did originate in the Middle East, namely Syria, and has been eaten since at least the Middle Ages (and quite likely further back than that).  The word tabouleh comes from the Arabic word taabil (توابل) meaning “seasoning”.  There are, of course, regional variations.  In  Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine, it is usually served as part of a meze (appetizer), with romaine lettuce. In Lebanon, cooks use more parsley than bulgur wheat in their dish. A Turkish variation of the dish is known as kısır, while a similar Armenian dish is known as eetch.

(some information from


There are no real hard-and-fast rules to making tabouleh.  Every region, every household, has its own version.  The most common ingredients are:

Bulghur Wheat





Onion (yellow or green)

Lemon Juice

Olive Oil


Some of the variations include:






thyme (za’atar)


I’ve also seen recipes that include:




bell peppers



For me, I like to stick to the classic preparation, with the inclusion of garlic.

The ingredients

The ingredients

So, in my tabouleh, I have (from l-r)

Mint, minced

Parsley, minced

Green Onions, sliced very thin

Cucumber, diced

Lemon juice, to taste

Tomatoes, seeded and diced

Garlic, minced

Olive Oil

Burghul Wheat, rinsed, soaked and drained

Salt to taste


A few notes on the ingredients:

1.  If you use cucumber, use either English (hothouse) or Persian cucumbers.  They have a lower water content and fewer seeds.  Plus, they don’t need peeling.  However, if you must use the standard cucumber, you will need to peel them (the skin is tough and usually waxed) and scoop out the seeds.  I cut mine into a roughly 1/4-inch dice.

2.  Tomatoes will need to be seeded and diced.  Unless you’re using cherry tomatoes.  Just cut them in halves and don’t worry about seeding them.

3.  The traditional parsley used in tabouleh (or any Arabic dish, for that matter) is curly.  However, if you have flat-leaf (Italian), that’s fine.  I happened to already have some on hand, so that’s what I used here.

4.  If you use green onions (scallions), use both the green and white parts.  If you use yellow onion, use a fine mince.  Don’t use red onion – the color will leach out.

5.  If you use garlic, make sure it is finely minced.  And, remember, raw garlic is powerful stuff.  Begin by using less than you think you should use.  Once the salad is finished, taste.  You want the garlic to compliment, not overpower.  Remember, you can always add, but you can’t take away.

The same can be said for any of the seasonings.


I don’t include any measurements in this recipe because, like I said before, there are no true hard-and-fast rules.

That being said, The ratio I prefer of bulgur-to-vegetables is about 1 cup (soaked) bulghur to 2 cups vegetables.


As for the bulghur, I like to use is a medium-coarse grind.  I prefer the chewiness of it, which is especially nice after the tabouleh has been sitting for a while, like overnight.

Bulgher Wheat. Medium coarse.

Bulgher Wheat.  It’s basically wheat that has been parboiled, dried, then cracked. It’s also known as “cracked wheat”.

There are four different grinds of bulghur:

#1: very fine – usually used in kibbeh

#2: fine – usually used in stuffings and tabouleh

#3: medium coarse – can be used in tabouleh, but is also used in soups and pilafs

#4: very coarse – usually used in pilafs, stews, and as a rice substitute


You will need to wash and soak the bulghur before adding it to the vegetables.  There is a lot of dust left on the bulghur during the manufacturing and packaging.  The best way to accomplish this is to place the bulghur in a fine sieve (or a colander lined with cheesecloth) and run it under cold water until the water runs clear.

Rinsing the bulgur.

Rinsing the bulgur.

Once you have rinsed it, transfer the bulghur to a large bowl and cover with water (about 1″ above the surface of the wheat).  Let the bulghur sit for at least 20 minutes (depending on the grind) or until it is al dente.  The wheat will increase in volume by 50% – 100%, again, depending on the grind.

Soaking the wheat.

Soaking the wheat.

While the wheat is soaking, prepare the vegetables & herbs and place them in a bowl large enough for you to mix in when all the ingredients are ready.

The vegetables and herbs ready to go.

The vegetables and herbs ready to go.

When the wheat is ready (taste some to be sure it’s to your liking), drain it thoroughly in a fine sieve or colander lined with cheesecloth.  There shouldn’t be too much water left.  If there is very little water, you can simply squeeze the bulgher in your hands and add it to the vegetables.

The soaked bulghur.  It's hard to see in this photo, but there is a real difference in the volume.

The soaked bulghur. It’s hard to see in this photo, but there is a real difference in the volume. (Compare to the one above.)

Adding the bulghur to the vegetables and herbs.

Adding the bulghur to the vegetables and herbs.

Now, carefully mix together all of the ingredients until they are fully incorporated.  Add the olive oil, lemon, and salt to taste.  Mix again.  Taste again.  If you can, let the tabouleh sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Sahtein! سحتين

Sahtein! سحتين

The real beauty of this dish is it can be served with anything or alone.  It can be served cold or at room temperature.  And, anyone can eat it – omnivore and vegan alike.

It will keep in the refrigerator for 3- 4 days.





Kibbeh – Arabic Comfort Food 3

Posted on August 24, 2012 by Sahar

For my next blog post, I decided to make a dish that is near and dear to my heart; one of my ultimate comfort foods – Kibbeh.  My sisters and I grew up eating this dish.  Rather ravenously, I might add.   It’s part of our heritage.  Putting it together was a collaborative effort for our parents.  Mom always made the filling, Dad put it together – whether as little footalls for the fryer or in the baking dish for the oven.  It was always a much appreciated treat.

Kibbeh (كبة‎) is a popular and much-loved dish throughout the Middle East.   It is generally made with cracked wheat (burghul), spices, minced onion and ground  meat, gnerally beef, lamb, or goat, or a combination.

It can be shaped into stuffed croquetes (basically little footballs) and deep fried for mezze or made into layers and baked for a main dish. Some folks also eat raw kibbeh. Like Arabic Steak Tartare, minus the quail’s egg and capers.

In Israel, Kubbeh matfuniya and kubbeh hamusta are staples of Iraqi-Jewish cooking. Kubbeh soup, served in many oriental grill restaurants in Israel, is described as a “rich broth with meat-stuffed dumplings and vegetables”.

A Syrian soup known as kibbeh kishk consists of  stuffed kibbeh in a yogurt and butter broth with stewed cabbage leaves.

Fried, torpedo-shaped kibbehs have become popular in Haiti, Dominican Republic and South America – where they are known as quipe or quibbe – after they were introduced by Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian immigrants in the early 20th Century.

(some historical information from


Now, on to the recipe.

I make this with a combination of beef and lamb.  You can use all of one or the other if you like.  Goat is also very popular (in the Middle East, anyway) in Kibbeh as well.

As I stated in my Hummous post (3/19/12), I’m pretty much a traditionalist when it comes to my Middle Eastern food.  The one thing I have in the traditional recipe I’ve changed is the amount of onion I use.  Most recipes can call for up to 4 onions.  I use 1 medium-sized one.  Otherwise, it’s pretty authentic.


The ingredients

Spices (clockwise from right): Black Pepper; Kosher Salt; ground Allspice; ground Cinnamon

Pine Nuts. These are not inexpensive. They can go for upwards of $20 per pound depending on where you shop. If you decide you don’t want to go to the expense, slivered almonds are a good substitute.


Kibbeh Filling

2 tbsp. clarified butter

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 medium onion, minced

1 1/2 lbs. ground lamb or beef (use 90/10 ground)

1/2 c. pine nuts or slivered almonds

1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste

1/2 tsp. black pepper, or to taste

1/2 tsp. ground allspice, or to taste

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon, or to taste


Raw Kibbeh (the top and bottom layers)

2 lbs. ground lamb or beef (use 90/10 ground beef)

2 cups cracked wheat (burghul)

1 tsp. salt, or to taste

1 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste

1/2 tsp. ground allspice, or to taste

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon, or to taste



In this recipe, I call for clarified butter.  I don’t use much, but it’s a necessary traditional flavor component.

A note on clarified butter:  I always like to have it on hand.  It has a much higher smoke point than regular butter (450F vs 350F) so it doesn’t burn as quickly.  Plus, it’s delicious. There are some chefs who deep-fry in clarified butter.  You can buy it off the shelf in Indian and Middle Eastern Groceries (Ghee and Samneh, respectively).  When buying, make sure the container indicates that the clarified butter was made with milk.  If it says “vegetable” anywhere on the container, it’s essentially margarine.

However, clarified butter is very easy to make at home.  It keeps for several months and tastes a whole lot better.

Here’s a lovely essay on clairfied butter from the New York Times (5/6/08): 

Basically, clarified butter is butter where the milk solids have been removed.  It can be made with either salted or unsalted butter. (I prefer to use unsalted. I can control the amount of salt in my recipes.)  It’s always best to use European style butter.  It has a lower water content and a higher butterfat content.  Not only will it taste better, you’ll end up with a higher yield.

To make clarified butter, slowly melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. (I usually do 2 pounds at a time. I recommend doing at least 1 pound.)

Melting the butter.


Once the butter has melted, take it off the heat and, with a large spoon,  carefully begin skimming the milk fat off the surface.

Milk solids on the surface of the melted butter.

Skimming off the milk solids.

I generally discard the milk solids, but some people do use them for other things.  Like spreading on toast or pancakes.  It’s certainly up to you.

After skimming off the milk solids.

Carefully pour the butter into a storage container or into a measuring cup.  Leave any residual milk solids and water in the saucepan.

About 3 cups clarified butter is my yield from 2 pounds of butter.

What’s left in the saucepan is mostly water and any residual milk solids.  Go ahead and discard.

The water and residual milk solids left over.


Now, time for the Kibbeh.

1.  Make the Kibbeh Filling:  In a large skillet,  heat the butter and olive oil.  Add the onion and saute until it begins to soften, about 3 – 5 minutes.  Add the meat (in this illustration I used lamb) and cook until it is no longer pink.  Add the pine nuts or almonds and cook another 2 – 3 minutes.  Add the spices and mix thoroughly.  Cook another 3 – 5 minutes.  Taste for seasoning. Remove the skillet from the heat and allow the filling to begin cooling. (There may be some extra fat in the skillet. If there is, go ahead and drain it off.)

The completed Kibbeh filling. Yummy. I have a hard time not standing there with a spoon over the skillet eating.


2.  Make the Raw Kibbeh: Put the bulghur in a fine-meshed strainer and rinse it off under cold running water.  Do this until the water runs clear.  Let it drain.

Close-up of bulghur wheat. I like to use a medium sized grain. Too fine a grain will give the kibbeh too soft a texture.

Rinsing off the bulghur.

Put the bulghur in a medium bowl and cover with water.  Let the bulghur soak until it begins to soften; about 20 – 30 minutes.  Drain in a fine sieve, pressing out as much of the water as possible, and set aside.

Soaking the burghul.


3.  Take the meat and put into a large bowl. (In this illustration, I used beef for the Raw Kibbeh.).  Add the bulghur.

The meat and burghul. Getting ready to mix together.


Now, time to use your hands.  Dig in and mix the ingredients together.  You want them to be thoroughly mixed.  Add the salt, pepper, cinnamon, and allspice.  Mix until the spices are well incorporated.

The meat, burghul, and spices all mixed together.


Now, you need to taste for seasoning.  For me, the best way to taste for seasoning is to take a small amount of the mixture and give it a quick fry on the stove.  That way, I’ll get a better idea of how the finished dish will taste once it’s been completely cooked. Plus,  I won’t be eating raw ground beef.

Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat.  Add a little of the clarified butter.  Take a small amount of the mixture and form it into a roughly quarter-sized patty.  Once the butter is hot, add the patty to the skillet and cook.  It should take about 2 – 3 minutes.  Take the patty out of the skillet, allow it to cool for a minute, then taste.

Adjust the seasonings as needed.


Cooking the mixture to taste it for seasoning.

Or, you could be like my mom or my Arab aunties and just know by smell when the seasoning is right.  I’ve not ever been able to master that skill.

4.  Once you’re happy with the raw kibbeh, prepare a baking dish.  (In this illustration, I used a 12″ x 18″ dish, and it was a little large.  Use something closer to an 11″ x 15″.) Give it a quick spritz with non-stick spray or grease it with butter or olive oil.

Take half of the raw kibbeh and spread it over the bottom as evenly as you can.  It’ll take some doing, but you’ll get there.  If you wet or grease your hands, it’ll help make the process a little easier.

Begin preheating the oven to 375F.

The raw kibbeh spread in the bottom of the baking dish.

5.  Take the Kibbeh filling and spread it evenly over the bottom layer of the Raw Kibbeh.

Kibbeh filling added to the baking dish.

6.  Time to put the top layer on.  Because of the filling, you won’t be able to spread the top layer the same way as the bottom.  So, a different method is needed.

Take small amounts of the raw Kibbeh and flatten them out into thin pieces and lay each piece on top of the Kibbeh filling.

Putting on the top layer.

Be sure to fill in any little gaps as needed.  I know that it will seem like you’ll not have enough for the top layer; but, if you persevere, you will.

7.  Once you have finished completing the top layer, cut through the layers in diamond or square shapes approximately 2 inches each.  This will help with even baking and make cutting the finished Kibbeh easier.

Cutting the Kibbeh.


If you like, take some extra pine nuts or almonds and press one into the center of each diamond or square.  Drizzle a little clarified butter or olive oil over the top.

Kibbeh ready for the oven.

8.  Put the Kibbeh in the oven and bake for 35 – 40 minutes, or until it is well-browned.  If you like, turn on the broiler for about 3 – 5 minutes after the initial cooking time to make the Kibbeh golden brown.

The Finished Kibbeh. De-licious.


Let the Kibbeh sit for about 10 minutes before serving.


9.  It’s a good idea to serve this dish with a bit of yogurt on the side.  It will help cut the richness of the dish.

However, I prefer to make a quick salad with the yogurt.  I’ve based this on a recipe very similar that Mom always made.

The salad ingredients.

1 cucumber (If you can go with Hothouse [English] or Persian. If you use standard cucumbers, peel and remove the seeds)

1/4 c. fresh mint, chopped

3/4 c. plain yogurt (I like to use full fat Greek yogurt)

Salt & black pepper to taste


Cut the cucumber into whatever size pieces you like. Mix all the ingredients together in a medium bowl.  Adjust the seasonings if you like.

The finished salad.


10.  Serve.

Dinner is ready. It tastes much better than it looks in this photo. I promise.


Enjoy! Sahtein!


p.s.  If you like this, I’m teaching even more classic Eastern Mediterranean dishes on Sunday, September 16, at Central Market, 4001 N. Lamar Boulevard.












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