Lebanese Flair 08/25/2010
 
When I became a vegan I assumed I would forever have to avoid some of many kinds of cuisine I'd become so accustomed to eating.  With time, I learned how wrong I was and I also found that the flavors and foods that I craved shifted as well.

More than ever, I've come to enjoy Middle Eastern fare, especially as it fits so perfectly into my lifestyle.  Despite the use of nuts or tahini (a creamy sesame paste) and good quality olive oil, the fresh ingredients and variety of grains make these dishes flavorful, not to mention far healthier than fat-fearing dieters would assume.  Below are some of my recent favorites ~ I'm sure more will make their way to these pages soon.  

This first dish is one I made for company last week.  I omitted the hot peppers (simply forgot to buy them) and the lemon zest (not my thing) and it was still delicious.  Serve it with flatbread crackers, sliced celery or toasted pita brushed with a little olive oil and cumin.

Muhammara
(Courtesy of the Food Network)

1 pound red bell peppers, charred, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
1 to 2 small hot red peppers, charred, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
1 cup walnut pieces, about 5 ounces, toasted
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin, from freshly toasted seeds
Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses**
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1/2 lemon, zested and juiced

Put all of the ingredients, except the lemon zest, in a food processor and process until a smooth paste forms. (Start with 1 hot pepper, taste, and then add more if you want it hotter.) If the mixture is too thick, drizzle in a little more olive oil. Stir in the lemon zest by hand. Taste and add more salt if desired. **NOTE: If you can't find pomegranate molasses, use 1 TBSP regular molasses and 1 TBSP pomegranate juice.

Tabouleh ~ a colorful and refreshing bulgur salad
(Courtesy of the Food Network)
 
1/2 cup medium grain bulgur
1 1/4 cups water
4 cups loosely packed, roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley, about 3 bunches
1 1/2 cups peeled and diced Roma tomatoes
2 green onions chopped, white and some of the green
1/4 to 1/2 cup loosely packed, roughly chopped mint leaves  

Bring water to a boil, pour in bulgur, stir, cover, and turn off heat. Let stand 20 to 25 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed and bulgur is fluffy and tender. Pour off any remaining liquid.  In a large salad bowl, toss the bulgur together with the parsley, tomatoes, green onions and mint. 

For the dressing:
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
Pinch kosher salt
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil  

In a small glass or wooden bowl, whisk together lemon juice, garlic, salt and oil. Taste and adjust seasonings.  Pour dressing over salad, toss to combine. Add salt, pepper or additional lemon juice to taste.

Fattoush Salad
2 cups shredded romaine lettuce
2 small cucumbers, diced
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup chopped parsley, leaves only
1 green pepper, diced
3/4 cup green onions, finely sliced
1/2 teaspoon sumac (you can use 1/4 tsp paprika and 1/4 tsp cumin instead)
2 pieces of pita bread (whole wheat preferred) toasted until golden brown, broken into bite-sized pieces   

Dressing:
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch of pepper  

In a small bowl mix all dressing ingredients well. Put all salad ingredients in a large bowl and toss with 1/2 to 1 cup dressing. Serve immediately.

Tahini Salad Dressing ~ goes well with chopped tomatoes and cucumber, blanched bok choy, salad greens...you'
1 tablespoon of tahini    
Juice of 1 lemon    
2 medium sized cloves of garlic, grated or crushed    
2 teaspoons of fresh ginger, grated or crushed    
1/2 TBSP tamari or soy sauce    
1/2 TBSP sesame oil (optional)    
2 TBSP water    
salt & pepper to taste
 

Veg and the City