Seasonal Pantry: How to make a Middle Eastern feast
Sonoma County Meat Company almost always has merguez, a Moroccan-style lamb sausage. Preserved lemons and harissa are tucked onto the shelves of local specialty shops and good supermarkets.
The menu at Petaluma’s Pearl offers Moroccan rice pudding, braised rabbit with sumac, shakshuka and an Israeli breakfast that includes green hummus and za’atar pita.
Not that long ago, if you wanted to prepare a North African or Middle Eastern feast, you pretty much had to make every item, including the condiments and the merguez, from scratch. Now it is easy to assemble even a casual dinner fragrant with authentic flavors.
The foods of the region are among the most delicious in the world. With spices such as caraway, coriander, cumin and lemony sumac layered with thick, rich yogurt, dates and other dried fruit, generous amounts of garlic and more than a little heat, from both fresh and dried chilies. There is much that the cuisines of the various countries that ring the southern and eastern Mediterranean have in common, but there are differences, too.
You’ll find savory (not sweet) yogurt and, say, chickpeas and lentils everywhere but in some places, such as Lebanon, the level of heat is milder than you may find in Morocco, where fiery harissa is part of nearly every meal.
Today’s recipes comprise a menu, one ideal for dinner or Sunday supper.
Unless you are feeding a crowd, there will be plenty of leftovers, and if you want dessert, a few apricots, plums or oranges make a perfect way to end the meal.
To deepen the authenticity, make a simple tea using fresh spearmint leaves, served hot if its cool outside and chilled if we’re in another heat wave.
It is typically sweetened, but I’ll leave that up to you; the mint itself is lovely and I enjoy it with just a few drops of fresh lemon juice.
These beans are remarkably fragrant and delicious.
The recipe is adapted from one in “Taste of Beirut” by Joumana Accad (Health Communications, Inc., 2014, $18.95), which is an interesting exploration of the flavors of the region.
Rancho Gordo beans are readily available locally, and if you can’t find these specific ones, use any Rancho Gordo bean.
I like to serve these beans with a yogurt salad alongside; the one here is adapted from the same book.
The steamed rice is not traditional, and you don’t have to serve it; however, I enjoy the way it soaks up all the delicious juices from the beans.
Think of it as Lebanese beans and rice.
Lebanese-Style White Beans in Fresh Tomato & Onion Sauce
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1 pound white beans, such as Rancho Gordo’s Marcella Bean
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 bay leaf
For cilantro relish:
1 garlic bulb (10-12 cloves), cloves separated, peeled and crushed
3/4 cup olive oil
2 cups, packed cilantro leaves, chopped
For onion/tomato mixture:
3 white or yellow onions, diced
— Kosher salt
3 pounds Roma tomatoes, cored and diced
6 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
1-2 pinches ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons double-concentrated tomato paste
— Black pepper in a mill
— Steamed white rice (from 2 cups raw rice), hot
— Pita bread, hot