Posts Tagged ‘Arabic Cooking’

Rose Lemonade

August 15th, 2012 7 comments

I first tasted a rose drink at the Dubai boutique O’de Rose. It piqued my interest in rose-flavored beverages. Then I read about rose lemonade on the blog Peace of Iran. Ah, I thought: Rose syrup, that’s what I need.

Not to be confused with rose water, rose syrup is thick and sweet and often bright pink. I found two varieties at the Spinney’s grocery next door. One is a hot pink and made in India. The other is more “natural” and from Lebanon. I like them both for different reasons.

If you can’t find rose syrup in your area, you can make your own. However, if you don’t have organic rose petals handy, you can make a simple version with rose water.

Rose Lemonade

Serves 4

2 cans (300 ml each) sparkling mineral water or soda water (chilled)

juice from 2 lemons

2 Tablespoons rose syrup


Mix ingredients in pitcher and taste. For a sweeter drink, add more rose syrup. For a tarter drink, add more lemon. Add ice and serve in decorative glasses. Can easily be doubled, tripled or halved.

This is a festive and feminine beverage to serve guests at holiday time or any time.

Question: Do you use rose syrup in your cooking? If so, for what?

My Ramadan: Suhoor through the Years

July 20th, 2012 32 comments

Most people know about iftar, that pivotal meal during Ramadan that breaks the dawn-to-sunset fast. Another Ramadan ritual is suhoor, the early morning meal typically eaten in the pitch-black hour just before dawn.

My introduction to suhoor was in my husband’s family home in Bethlehem. It was my first Ramadan, and I fasted “for the experience.” At about 3:30 am, my husband’s family gathered on the floor seated around a low table in the sitting room, florescent lights on, tea brewing, eggs frying.

What I remember well was being woken by a man whose job it was to walk the streets in the middle of the night beating a drum and shouting supplications in Arabic. The whole neighborhood woke up: shops and bakeries and pajama-clad neighbors buying rounds of fresh bread.

The food at the table consisted of a protein dish such as eggs, hummus or ful. Little plates were set out: jam, leban, chunks of sesame halva, and triangles of Laughing Cow cheese—all eaten with bites of bread. Gracing the table was always tea, strong and sweet, flavored with mint, prepared in an aluminum tea pot and served in tiny tea glasses.

Back home in Washington State, as a young wife during Ramadan, I recreated a variation of this suhoor for my husband. I set out the same tea in the same pot and arranged little plates of nuts, dried fruits, jam, yogurt, and sesame halva—lots of dishes, but nothing cooked. I was aiming for maximum visual impact with minimal effort.

Some years later, I began to fast myself, this time for real. Out of fear of fainting from starvation, I woke up extra-early to serve myself elaborate suhoors—including fruit, main course, side dish and dessert (yes, it’s true), followed by American coffee and two Tums.

Then our family grew, and gradually one by one, our children began to fast. Suhoor took on a whole new importance: I wanted to fill my three kids with as many calories, nutrients and liquids as possible. My friend Rima told me about her Arab-American suhoors growing up in Michigan. In the middle of the night, the house was brimming with smells. Rima and her brothers would come to the dining table spread with an array of Arabic foods—just as her mother pulled from the oven a pan of homemade cinnamon rolls. I wanted to be that mother.

But I never was. Not even once.

Like breakfast, suhoor is a personal thing. Naturally, each kid wanted something different. The oldest wanted a bowl of cereal, the youngest, eggs, and the middle child insisted on a Nutella sandwich on white bread with no crusts (whatever). Some of these suhoors were served bedside—with me begging the child to eat a piece of fruit and drink a glass of something. Anything!

I still had this vision of us eating suhoor together. That’s when the candle tradition started. My daughter simply could not stand the lights flipped on in the middle of the night. So, we started the candle-lit suhoor.

As the kids got older, they began to wake themselves and prepare their own suhoor. For a mother, this is a revelation. Suhoor got easier. I could focus on my own meal of oatmeal with raisins and walnuts.

And last year, we had the most slovenly Ramadan ever. It was August in Dubai, the heat beastly, and the kids off school. We slept until noon (or later) and often stayed up until suhoor. We didn’t eat our typical suhoor foods, but rather a continuation of the grazing since iftar. We were shameless.

And this year, what will suhoor hold for our family? Time will tell, but I suspect it will involve Nutella and candles. The food will not be the same as those first iftars in Bethlehem; however, I hope to gather the family around the table in the same way that my mother-in-law did.

Question: What are your suhoor traditions?  

Cauliflower Soup, North African-Inspired

June 25th, 2012 13 comments

I love this soup. Pureed cauliflower is smooth, thick and surprisingly creamy—without adding any cream at all. The recipe is adapted from a soup found in Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home. I have prepared this soup many times, changing it a little bit each time. I love it because it’s tasty, healthy and keeps well for days.

The spices in the soup suit the Arab palate. Cumin, one of the indispensable spices of Moroccan cooking, along with a touch of ginger, gives this soup a distinct North African flavor. The chopped tomatoes are more than garnish; they provide a sweet, cool contrast to the creamy soup.

Cauliflower Soup

Serves 4-6

1 Tablespoon olive oil

2 medium-large onions, chopped (about 2½ cups)

2 gloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons ground cumin

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

Pinch cayenne (optional)

1½ teaspoon ground fennel (optional)

2 potatoes, diced (about 2 cups)

1 medium head cauliflower, chopped (about 5 cups)

4-5 cups hot water and/or vegetable or chicken stock

1½ teaspoons salt (or to taste)

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Juice from one lemon


2 small tomatoes, finely chopped

Chives, green onions or parsley, chopped

Lemon wedges


  1. In a large soup pot over medium heat, sauté onions in the oil for 5 minutes until translucent. Lower heat and stir in the garlic, cumin, ginger, cayenne and fennel, if using. Stir briefly, add potatoes and cook for another minute.
  2. Add 4 cups hot water and/or stock. Turn up heat and bring to boil. Add the cauliflower and return to boil. Lower heat, cover, and simmer for 12 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
  3. In a food processor or blender or with an emulsion blender, purée the mixture until smooth. If it’s too thick, add all or part of the extra cup of liquid. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper. Gently reheat soup over low heat.
  4. Serve with a generous garish of chopped tomatoes, as well as a sprinkle of parsley, green onions or chives.


Question: What is your favorite North African soup?