recipes of the week: syrian food, smoothie, and pork

Not all at once, mind you.

First, the Syrian comfort food, and the food of my childhood: Squash and Cheese. Just for fun, now that I have a New Mexican husband, I’ve taken to adding roasted green chiles to the casserole. But that’s not traditional. My friend Leila, who is Lebanese and knows a lot about food, Middle Eastern and otherwise, calls this recipe Kusa bi Jibneh.

Squash and Cheese / Kusa bi Jibneh

1 lb zucchini
1 lb cheese — muenster, or muenster mixed with a low-fat medium-soft cheese (light havarti, or Heini’s yogurt cheese if you can get it.)
5 eggs
1 large yellow onion
roasted green chile (optional)

Slice zucchini into thin rounds and simmer in enough water to cover for 20 minutes or until soft. Drain. Set aside to cool. Chop onion. Sauté till golden brown. Grate cheese and mix with eggs. (Mom’s original recipe had 3 eggs. I upped it to 5 at some point. Then again, I like to go over the 1 pound limit on the cheese too.)

In a 9 x 12 Pyrex dish: Mix together the onions and zucchini, then add 2/3rds of the egg/cheese mixture in small batches, mixing quickly, so the eggs don’t cook in the warm squash. If desired: add chopped roasted green chile. Dot the top with the remaining 1/3 of the egg/cheese mixture.

Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes — till top is browned. Let cool a few minutes, cut and serve.

Traditionally, this casserole is accompanied with lentils and rice. Frankly, I’m not sure what the correct transliteration of the name would be. When my mom says it, it sounds like Enjedreh. So that’s what I call it, though I’ve often heard it called Mujadrah. Whichever.

Lentils and Rice

1/2 cup brown lentils
1 cup long grain white rice (or Basmati is also nice)
1 large yellow onion, chopped and sautéed till caramelized
pat of butter

Bring to boil 1/2 cup lentils in enough water to cover generously, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes or until soft. Drain lentils and reserve boiling water. Add more water to make 2 cups. Return lentil water to pot with lentils, add 1 cup rice, and 1/2 of the caramelized onion to pot. Add salt and butter. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and steam for 45 minutes.

Stir in remaining half of sautéed onion. Top with chopped tomatoes, cucumber, and plain yogurt.

* * *

So that was supposed to be my recipe for the week, but then today I made this really yummy smoothie, off the top of my head. A pregnancy craving of sorts. No picture because I drank it already.

Quick Almond-Berry Smoothie

Handful of strawberries, handful of blueberries, one cup milk, one heaping spoonful almond butter, dash of vanilla. Whizz in blender. Yum!

* * *

And then I thought I should share with you what might be my all time favorite way to cook and eat pork, which we are having for dinner tonight. (Yes, I’m Jewish, but clearly I don’t keep Kosher.)

This recipe is from

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
10 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons coarse salt
1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon dry white wine (I used white basalmic vinegar instead)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (6-1b) boneless pork shoulder Boston roast

Preheat oven to 275°F. Blend together sage, rosemary, garlic, fennel seeds, salt, and pepper in a food processor until a thick paste forms. With motor running, add wine and oil and blend until combined well. (Or pour both in and then whizz a bit. Not sure it makes any difference)

If necessary, trim fat from top of pork, to leave a 1/8-inch-thick layer of fat. Make 3 small incisions, each about 1 inch long and 1 inch deep, in each side of pork with a small sharp knife, and fill each with about 1 teaspoon herb paste. Spread remaining herb paste over pork, concentrating on boned side. (I’m deleting notes about tying with string as I didn’t do that. Too much work.)

Put pork, fat side up, in a roasting pan and roast in middle of oven 6 hours. Transfer roast to cutting board and let stand 15 minutes.

Cut pork roast into thick slices. (They recommend an electric knife. Gotta get me one of those.)

If I have any energy left, I may make potato porcini soup and broccoli rabe to go with this. Or not.

9 comments for “recipes of the week: syrian food, smoothie, and pork

  1. July 14, 2007 at 10:24 pm

    My God, Woman, you are a turbo-charged wonder in the kitchen! Squash-n-cheese, lentils-n-rice, AND a smoothie? And pork? Wha-a-a? I am so impressed.

    I love the idea of chiles added to the squash-n-cheese. Now Claudia Roden, my source on foods Arabic, Jewish and Middle Eastern, says that the Jews brought back foods like peppers, tomatoes etc. from the new world to the Mediterranean and traded them around after 1492. So putting chiles (New World) with a Sephardic squash-n-cheese dish seems historically appropriate.

    Looks great. Love that you got linked to by that other site. My email chopped up the links so I haven’t figured it out yet but I will visit. Isn’t the internet cool?

  2. July 14, 2007 at 10:27 pm

    By the way – I think it’s Claudia Roden who calls it Kusa bi Jibneh, which means in Arabic, her first language: squash with cheese.

  3. July 15, 2007 at 8:18 am

    Re: Claudia:

    Yes — You’re right. I’d only looked in her Jewish food book, where she’d used the Spanish name “Kalavassika kon Keso” and suggested feta cheese. In Middle East cookbook she calls it “Kousa bi Gebna” and uses cheddar (???-ick).

    My Aunt Renee adds cottage cheese to hers, I think, and sometimes mushrooms, and Aunt Elaine likes to include garbanzo beans.

    I’ve been known to mix in red onions and yellow squash, for fun and color.

    I guess it’s like the Sephardic version of pizza: As long as you have zucchini and cheese of some kind, it qualifies.

  4. PapaStork
    July 15, 2007 at 8:43 am

    The pork was AMAZING. Life doesn’t get any better…

  5. Pop Pop
    July 15, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    Wow, all these made me drool! The pork looks awesome!

  6. July 15, 2007 at 9:43 pm

    Leila’s translations are probably more accurate than mine. Although the differences in pronunciations could just be differences in dialect… relatives were from east Lebanan and hers were from the west. Who knows? Anyway I never saw the Arabic written out in English. In putting down what I heard…..well I could be mistaken.

    Anyway it all tastes delicious and that’s what is important.

  7. July 18, 2007 at 11:29 pm

    Oh, transliterating from Arabic – fugedaboutit, everybody knows it’s totally a mess. Gebna vs. jibneh – that’s definitely Egyptian dialect vs. Lebanese. But there are no universally accepted ways to transliterate the vowels in Arabic. For one thing, they sound different depending upon the country of origin (Palestinians always say jibnah, tabboulah, qahwah, whereas to my ear Lebanese say jibnee, tabboulee, and qahwee –cheese, tabbouli and coffee)

    So don’t worry about how you spell/pronounce Arabic into English, and please don’t make me the expert! ‘Cause I ain’t!

  8. July 19, 2007 at 7:33 am

    How about this one? My grandma Esther called baklava “BA-la-wa” — with a kind of accent on and inhale after the “ba” like she was being punched in the stomach… and let’s not even get into the chopped walnuts vs. pistachios for the filling debate! ;+)

  9. October 23, 2007 at 12:10 pm

    Re your grandmother’s ba’lawa – that’s exactly how my people say ba’lawa. The “qaf” is a glottal stop in urban Arabic dialects of the LEvant. There is no V in Arabic – it’s a W. The Turks could not say “q” correctly (Ashkenazi Israelis generally can’t either) and the Turks also didn’t do the glottal stop. They changed q to k and W to V.

    By the way, that’s how Arabic qahweh (‘ahweh in dialect) became kaveh which morphed to cafe and then coffee.

    I got a referral to my blog today from this post which is why I noticed your comments so many months later…

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