Month of July: “Purple Citrus Sweet Perfume” Recipe: Suzme Rolled in Za’atar, Sumac and Pistachios and Syrian Bread with Thyme Flowers

July 25th is a day for those of us who know Abby to remember and celebrate her would be 55th year. Happy Birthday my sister wherever your spirit resides! I have a delicious lunch prepared for us today. I know Abby would have preferred fish tacos with avocado, papaya, pineapple and mangos but this month we are not doing Mexican dishes. We are in the Eastern Mediterranean region so we will have to settle for suzme, which is a twenty four hour drained yogurt mixed with goat cheese and rolled in spices. We are serving this with homemade Syrian bread and a side salad of greens with lemon and pomegranate molasses. Above is a freshly picked bouquet of thyme from my garden and any bouquet of flowers often reminds me of Abby. She loved flowers and she was brilliant at arranging and growing them. Thyme is derived from the Greek word thymus which means courage. This is so fitting and I swear these things just play out without any planning. Abby was courageous in a myriad of ways, it’s one of the characteristics of her personality that drew me to her; she was fearless. So on this summer day in the sign of Leo, I humbly offer her this floral symbol in her honor. Thank you for knowing me…I love you eternally.

Suzme Rolled in Za’atar, Sumac and Pistachios

Ingredients: 1 quart whole milk plain yogurt, not Greek style, 7 ounces of goat cheese, 1/3 cup finely chopped pistachios, 2 tablespoons Za’atar (recipe in previous post) 2 tablespoons crushed sumac, sea salt and pepper, 2 pieces of cheescloth, wild greens for serving, warm crusty bread for serving.

  1. One or two days in advance make the suzme by placing the yogurt in the center of the cheesecloth. Standing over a sink, twist the muslin around the yogurt until you have a tight ball and tie it to the tap overnight. You will end up with a thick consistency which is know in the Eastern Mediterranean as suzme. You should have about 1 1/2 cups. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.
  2. On the day of serving: Place the suzme in a bowl with the goat cheese and combine until mixed and smooth. Shape the mixture into ovals. Roll 1/3 into za’atar, 1/3 into sumac and 1/3 into pistachios.
  3. Arrange on a platter and serve.

Syrian Za’atar Bread with Thyme Flowers

Ingredients: 3/4 cup warm water (105-115F), 1 tablespoon active dry yeast, 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm milk, 4 2/3 cup all purpose flour, 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, 2 tablespoons za’atar, scant 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon sea salt, 2 tablespoons thyme flowers

  1. In a bowl combine yeast with warm water and let sit for 10 minutes. Add the warm milk. Sift flours into a large separate bowl and make a well. Add the liquid to the flour and combine. Knead into a soft sticky dough.( I found the recipe needed less flour so I added the flour a little at a time.) Shape into a ball and place in a flour dusted bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise for an hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 475F. When the dough has risen punch it down once with fist to knock out air. Cut the dough into 16 pieces rolling each piece into a ball. Using a rolling pin flatten them into disks, 5 inches in diameter. Arrange with disks on baking sheets, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise another 20-30 minutes.
  3. Miz the za’atar with olive oil and drizzle over the risen disks. Press the disks down with your thumb and season liberally. Bake for about 4-5 minutes until they puff up, keeping an eye on their progress. as this bread can burn very easily.
  4. Sprinkle with fresh thyme flowers and serve warm or cold.

Month of July: “Purple Citrus Sweet Perfume” Recipe: Saffron and Pistachio Helva

A helva is a sweet semolina Ottoman dessert recipe centuries old, like fifteenth century old. Nowadays it is made on religious events or births or deaths.

It’s funny how this cooking experiment brings up such corresponding insights. I feel like I have been grieving for centuries. Not just about Abby but about so many things in my life. I am tired of carrying this heaviness. Even in writing this my stomach feels heavy from the sweet semolina. Yet surprisingly I never seem to give up hope that one day I can release the hold it has on my heart. I try. Lord knows I try.

Ingredients: 2 cups milk, 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, 1 cup sugar, 6 tablespoons of butter, 1 scant cup of semolina, 3/4 cup lightly roasted and ground pistachios.

  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of milk and add saffron and let soak for 30 minutes.
  2. Stir sugar into remaining milk over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Keep warm. In a separate saucepan melt the butter, add the semolina and stirring constantly over low heat for 20-25 minutes watch for semolina to brown.
  3. Stir the saffron infused milk into the warm sugar milk mixture and add to the semolina stirring vigorously. Add a little at a time to get the right pudding like consistency. Turn off the heat and let stand for 15 minutes covered in a warm area.
  4. Serve at room temperature with sprinkled pistachios and garnish with a few saffron threads.

Month of July: “Purple Citrus Sweet Perfume” Recipe: Mahluta – Lentil, Rice and Lamb Soup

This lentil based soup, a mahluta, comes from Al Halabi, Four Seasons, in Damascus. Silvena Rowe writes “to call this soup delicious and fragrant doesn’t begin to do it justice.” The longer I try her recipes, the more I realize… the woman doesn’t lie! It’s more like a meal than a soup and it’s protein packed. By the time I got to the bottom of the bowl I was stuffed. Comfortably stuffed full of deliciousness. Not a bad place to be. I think I’ll linger here for awhile.

Ingredients:1/1/4 cups red lentils, 1/4 cup Arborio rice, sea salt and pepper, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 grated onion, 2 cloves minced garlic, 2 tablespoons ground cumin, 5 ounces ground lamb, coconut (fresh) or garnish with sprig of oregano

  1. Place the lentils and rice in a saucepan, add 6 cups of water and season. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
  2. Gently heat the olive oil and saute the onion, garlic and cumin for a few minutes. Add the lamb and cook for 5 minutes until browned. Add the lamb to the lentils and rice and cook for about 30 minutes, until the lentils and rice tender.
  3. If using fresh cocount, shave and toast until golden. (next time I think it would be easier to just add coconut flakes.)

Month of July: “Purple Citrus Sweet Perfume” Recipe: Smashed Cucumber, Mulberry and Pistachio Salad

OK, I cheated. This recipe, this only one, I did make before. But it highlights so many summer flavors I just had to make it again. It’s the easiest thing to put together and it’s a beautiful salad to showcase your cucumbers, dill and mint. For me, the ingredient that puts this over the edge is the pomegranate molasses. Please if you make this recipe do not eliminate the molasses!! It gives depth of sour sweetness and contrasts so well with the cucumber, pistachios and herbs.

There is a national heatwave happening this week and things are growing fast in the fields and in our yards. I thought about my Garden of Eden that I had a few years back when we were living in the city. I miss that garden. Currently our very nice tenants enjoy it and that’s fine, realizing now it was a template for gardens to come. I learned volumes working on that postage stamp plot. We planted peach trees, cherry trees, currants, black raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, herbs and vegetables. It truly was a heavenly space. We hired landscapers to lay red brick out into a circular quad with pebble gravel walkways. I grew cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, fennel, purple string beans, rainbow chard, mint, dill, basil, white eggplant, rhubarb, kale and arugula. We hauled in cement benches and hung whirligigs that spun in the wind. It was a labor of love and it makes me happy to know that Abby was able to see it on one of her visits. At that time, she had created a business painting silhouettes of birds and animals onto reclaimed barn boards that her son had collected. I asked her if she would paint a sign for the entrance of my garden which I called, Le Potager, which translates to kitchen garden. And being the ever generous soul she was, she did! I still have it and it is hanging in my new garage, waiting for the next and hopefully final garden creation. Every time my eye catches sight of it, I smile. She will forever be remembered in my garden then and in ones to come.

Ingredients: 4 small Persian cucumbers peeled, 1/2 cup Greek style yogurt, 1/2 cup pistachios lightly toasted, 20 fresh mint leaves, 1 tablespoon chopped dill, sea salt and pepper, 1/4 cup pomegranate molasses, 8 fresh mulberries, blackberries or black raspberries

Place cucumbers onto a large board and using a rolling pin smash them into large chunks. Put the broken pieces into a large bowl with the yogurt, pistachios, mint and dill. Gently toss to combine and season. Spoon into serving plates and drizzle with pomegranate molasses and top with berries.

Pomegranate Molasses: 1 quart bottled 100% pomegranate juice, 2/3 cup of sugar, 1/3 cup lemon juice.

In a large uncovered saucepan over medium heat stir all the ingredients until the sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for roughly an hour or until the juice has a syrupy consistency and has reduced to about a 1 cup. Pour into a jar and cool. Store in refrigerator for up to 4 weeks.

Month of July: “Purple Citrus Sweet Perfume” Recipe: Shrimp and Blood Orange Charmola Salad

A charmola is a spice and herb paste with cumin and cilantro being the common denominator. It is a seasoning that is applied to seafood and its influences are inspired by the Ottomon rule of North Africa during the Middle Ages. It’s easy to make, it’s super flavorful and makes a great summer salad.

Some of the seasonings of our personal story, Abby’s and mine, was the strong desire to communicate with each other. After her death I went out to Wisconsin with my husband and son for her memorial. The day before the service her daughter handed me a recently found shoe box crammed full of handwritten letters I had penned to her over the years before emailing and texting became the faster way to correspond. We straddled a different time. One letter I read was dated November 14th, 1995. I had taped a Salada teabag wisdom to the top of the paper. It read, “A friend is one who knows all about you and loves you just the same.” Then I wrote “Corny but true. Our last phone call was a high! Can you believe we can talk 4 hours on the phone and still have so much more? A mystery. I love you so much Abby. I have always loved you. I can not imagine life without you. You are worthy of this kind of love (life with acceptance, love and understanding)- don’t ever forget this.” And then below it in a box I wrote, “me too.” Of course I teared up reading this. And later I thought, not a new thought, why is it so damn hard to truly love ourselves? It was for us, that I know for sure, and it caused a whole lot of self induced suffering throughout our lives. Decades later we still talked and connected over our seemingly never ending struggle to understand it. Even now, it’s still an elusive mystery that slowly, slowly unravels as life moves on and ironically, grief appears to be the ever present guide lighting the way to reveal…….yes….. the love is for me too.

Ingredients: 12 jumbo shrimp shelled and deveined, 2 large blood oranges peeled and segmented, 8 sun dried tomatoes soaked in warm water for 30 minutes and drained, 2 large shallots chopped, 1 garlic clove chopped, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon sweet paprika, 1 inch fresh ginger peeled and chopped, sea salt and pepper, chopped cilantro

  1. Cook the shrimp in a large saucepan of boiling water for 3-4minutes until they turn opaque. Drain and cool, Place the shrimp and oranges in a bowl.
  2. Combine the sun dried tomatoes, shallots, garlic, ginger, spices and oil in a food processor and blend into a smooth paste. Add the paste to the shrimp and oranges. Toss and season. Add cilantro and serve with a crusty bread.

Month of July: “Purple Citrus Sweet Perfume” Recipe: Crimson Beet Falafel

I started a 21 day on line meditation with Deepok Chopra centering on miraculous relationships. So last night, in the quiet of the evening, on day one, stopping and starting the audio, I wrote word for word his introduction. Here it is:

“By the common definition of miracles they are rare and supernatural occurences. But in reality the very existence of love is miraculous. Love is unpredictable even improbable from a rational and survival of the fittest point of view. But love not only exists, it is the basis of all human relationships. Miracle comes from the latin root miraculum, which means to behold with rapt attention. That’s exactly how love works. It involves our capacity to behold with rapt attention, to embrace another completely in our awareness.”

Beautiful, isn’t it? If only we could stay in this awareness! But we can’t. Well… I can’t. As I was making these falafels I was struggling with this recipe and getting tired. It was a challenge to deep fry and retain the red color while ensuring they cooked thoroughly. A few got tossed and wasted along the way. I thought about love and how hard it is at times. Love IS miraculous, yes, but it is also not easy. Love never goes smoothly, it comes to us with ups and downs, happiness and heartbreak, chaos and contentment, always two sides of one coin. For me, at this time in my life, I aim for the sweet spot, to look up to the miraculous, to keep looking up, but not without losing sight of my feet planted firmly on the ground. One with the other. That’s the deal.

Ingredients: 4 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 large onion finely chopped, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice, 3 medium beets, 3 tablespoons of chick peas, scant 1 cup milk, scant 1 cup chickpea flour, sea salt and pepper, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, vegetable oil for frying

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil and saute onions with cumin and allspice for 3-4 minutes. Set aside in a large bowl.
  2. Cook the beets in plenty of water until 3/4 cooked, roughly 20 minutes. Drain, cool, peel and coarsely grate.
  3. In a medium nonstick pain, bring the milk to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Little by little, whisk in the chickpea flour until you have a smooth paste. Keep the mixture moving to avoid lumps. Season and then add remaining olive oil and cook over low heat for 8 minutes, stirring all the time with a wood spoon. (this part was tricky) Like cream puff dough, as the mixture heats, it will come away from the pan and shape into a ball.
  4. Cool the paste and then mix in with onions, chickpeas, lemon juice and grated beets. Using your hands mold into gold ball sized balls and arrange on a baking sheet. Refrigerate for a couple of hours.
  5. In a large saucepan pour 2 inches of vegetable oil and heat to 350F. Carefully place the falafel into the oil and cook for 3-4 minutes until golden brown (this was tricky too). Remove with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain.

Month of July: “Purple Citrus Sweet Perfume” Recipe: Smoked Eggplant and Hibiscus Salt

When I was 20, my boyfriend and I signed up to be tree planters for Georgia Pacific. Our plan: to plant loblolly pine trees. Our pay: hard work in the fresh air, 3 cents a tree and living free! So we loaded up a Jeep Cherokee, the one with the wooden side panels, and hitched a camper to its tail and headed south to Texas. Buna, Texas to be exact, an area with a low population, low elevation and oodles of poisonous snakes! One day while planting alone, spring sun shining, eyeballing how to mark 10 ft. rows, I suddenly saw a young girl heading in my direction. A lioness personified with a thick blonde mane and a confident swagger, hoedad in one hand and a tree bag strapped to her hips. ” Do you have a Newport by chance?” she asked. I did. And that is how I met Abby. We became fast friends and by the end of our contract she invited me to spend a summer with her at a cabin in the woods of Wisconsin. She lured me with talk of living like Thoreau: no electricity, artesian water to collect, planting gardens, unregretfully sucking the marrow of life. She told tall tales of Kickapoo characters and salt of the earth Amish neighbors. In other words, an adventure! The boyfriend and I did not last the season but Abby and I did. I said yes to the offer and it turned out to be just as magical as she claimed. Looking back, that summer was one of the happiest times of my young adult life, a time where I cannot recall one single regret.

Ingredients: For the hibiscus salt: 1 tablespoon dried hibiscus flowers, 1 tablespoon flaky sea salt such as Maldon. For the salad: 2 medium eggplants, 3 sweet red peppers, 1 ripe tomato, juice of 2 lemons, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 3 garlic cloves minced, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, sea salt and pepper, 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, 3 tablespoons skinned and chopped hazelnuts

  1. Two days in advance place the hibiscus flowers in a food processor and pulse to a rough powder. Mix with the salt and allow to infuse for 2 days before using.
  2. Place eggplants directly on a stove burner over medium heat, gas or electric and keep turning until they are evenly blistered, blackened and soft. This will take 10-15 minutes. Once cooked, place the eggplants in a sturdy plastic bag and let cool, this will make them easier to peel. Peel the eggplants and discard the skin. Slice the flesh into very thin strips and place in a large bowl. Any bits of eggplant that have not cooked should be discarded.
  3. Repeat same process above for peppers. (I used the oven for the peppers).
  4. Add the tomato, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and cumin. Season to taste.
  5. Sprinkle with the parsley, hazelnut and hibiscus salt.