Seasonal Pantry: How to make a Middle Eastern feast

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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

— Yogurt Cucumber Salad, optional (recipe follows)

Put the beans into a large container, cover with two quarts of water and soak overnight.

Drain the beans, put them into a large pot or clay bean pot, add the coriander seeds and bay leaf and cover with 1 inch of water.

Set over high heat, bring to a boil, reduce the heat so that the water simmers gently and cook until the beans are tender, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, make the cilantro relish. To do so, put the garlic into a suribachi or mortar, add about a teaspoon of salt, and use a wooden pestle to grind it into a paste.

Put 1/4 cup of the olive oil into a small sauté pan set over medium heat. Add the garlic paste and sauté for 1 minute. Add the cilantro, stir, and cook for 1 minute more. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Pour the remaining olive oil into a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the onions and sauté, stirring now and then, until soft and fragrant, about 12 to 15 minutes; it’s okay if they take on a bit of color, but don’t let them brown. Season with salt.

Add the tomatoes, garlic, and cinnamon, stir and cook for about 5 minutes, until the tomatoes are heated through and beginning to soften. Season with salt.

When the beans are tender, stir the tomato and onion mixture and the tomato paste into them and cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Taste, season generously with black pepper and remove from the heat.

If serving the yogurt cucumber salad, make it now.

Stir the cilantro relish into the beans, cover and let rest for 15 minutes or so.

Enjoy hot or at room temperature, with rice, pita bread and yogurt cucumber salad, if serving, alongside.

Variation: Although it is not traditional, I like to add one of two whole serranos to the beans.

Before adding them, I cut through the body of the chile, leaving the stem end intact. As the beans cook, they absorb the flavor of the serranos and some but not all of the heat.

Use tongs to remove them just before serving and either top the stew with them or discard them.


Yogurt Cucumber Salad

Makes about 3 cups

8 garlic cloves, peeled, seeded and crushed

— Kosher salt

4 large cucumbers, preferably English or Armenian, cut into small dice

6-7 spearmint leaves, minced

16 ounces plain whole milk yogurt, such as Strauss

— Fresh mint sprig, for garnish

Put the garlic cloves into a suribachi or mortar, add about a teaspoon of salt, and use a wooden pestle to grind the garlic into a paste. Set aside.

Put the yogurt into a medium bowl and whisk well for about a minute. Fold in the garlic paste and mix well. Add the cucumbers and minced spearmint and stir again. Taste and correct for salt.

Transfer to a serving bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to use. To serve, garnish with the mint sprig and enjoy right away.


The best carrot dishes I’ve ever tasted come from North Africa, especially Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria.

This one is inspired by a recipe in “Cooking At the Kasbah: Recipes From My Moroccan Kitchen” by Kitty Morse (Chronicle Books, 1998, $22.95).

Caramelized Carrots with Sweet Paprika

Serves 6 to 8

1 1/3 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into very thin rounds

5 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon sweet Spanish paprika

½ teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika

1 teaspoon sugar

— Kosher salt

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro leaves or Italian parsley leaves

Put the carrots, garlic, paprikas and sugar into a small saucepan and add a 1/2 cup of water.

Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook for about 10 minutes.

Uncover, turn the carrots and continue to cook until they begin to caramelize around their edges.

Season with salt, add the vinegar and cook for 2 minutes more. Taste, correct for salt, transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle with the cilantro or parsley and enjoy hot or at room temperature.

Michele Anna Jordan has written 24 books to date, including “The Good Cook’s Book of Salt & Pepper.” Email her at

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