Anyone who knows me well knows that I love the process of cooking AND most especially, I love a good party. So when my friend Charlie recently took a trip to Jordan to visit his son and was lucky enough to attend a Bedouin wedding ceremony, I saw the opportunity and did what any self respecting cook and party lover would do. I promptly said, “You should have a party and cook Jordanian food. I can help.” In other words, I invited myself and all our friends over to his house so he could spend the day cooking an elaborate meal for all of us while I “helped.” Luckily, Charlie is a great sport and loves a good party just as much as I do. In other words, he got on board right away in spite of my rather pushy ummm . . . “request.”
So the party was on and Charlie went in search of ingredients. Each morning when the group of us walked our dogs, he would keep us updated as to how the search was going. The sumac had to be ordered online as none was to be found locally. The finely ground Bulgar and fresh pita had to be purchased from an authentic Lebanese bakery. Some items (Jameed and Bakleh and PLEASE don’t ask me what they actually are) couldn’t be found and Charlie had to be creative with substitutions.
Finally, the day of the party arrived and I made plans to arrive early. Charlie began cooking shortly after our 7:00 AM walk and was incredibly patient with my frequent ”I’m stuck at work and can’t get there until . . . ” texts. Finally around 4:30, I arrived and discovered Charlie and his dog Obi happily installed with knife, martini and food. Who was handling what I still don’t know the answer to. So, I opened a bottle of wine and proceeded to become a nuisance. While Charlie finely chopped veggies for the Fatoush, I snapped photos and generally got in the way.
Around 7:00 PM, everybody started to arrive and the cooking got down to the wire. Charlie had to smoke the rice for the traditional lamb wedding dish (Mansaf). THAT was fun to watch and we all gathered round to see if Charlie would burn his hand off in the process. He burned a piece of charcoal over his gas stove and placed it in the center of a covered bowl of rice. The smoky flavor it imparted was amazing. What was I doing during all of this? Taking photos, drinking wine and generally getting in the way. There’s a theme here. Some helper I was!
The meal was served in a screened in ”mini-house” in Charlie’s backyard at sunset. We all gathered round as Charlie explained each dish in detail and I took videos (I’d actually post some of them on this blog but I haven’t figured out how to do that on WordPress yet. I am sooo not a techie!). Charlie donned a traditional Keffiyeh (a Bedouin head scarf) but deviated from tradition a bit when he let us use utensils to eat. If we were to be truly authentic, we would have used our right hand to dip pita into the dishes and eaten our food Au naturele. Our left hand would be left free to hold a cup of rosewater sweetened tea since Bedouins do not drink alcohol. Clearly tradition could not be followed in this case. We all happily sat with plate, knife, fork and an alcoholic beverage (or two) of choice.
The dishes were amazing and everyone asked for copies of the recipes. My favorites were the Mansaf (lamb wedding dish), the Moutabal (eggplant dip) and the Fattoush (vegetable and toasted pita salad). By the end of the night, everyone was stuffed and the party was declared a complete success. Thanks again, Charlie!!!!!!
Now, as much as I want to eat like that everyday, those dishes are time consuming and a pain in the arse to make. The easiest and most addictive is the Moutabal. It has a smoky flavor that is truly unique and people were raving about it all night. I could eat a vat of it and still go back for more.
Clearly, I would have to learn how to make it since it’s not only yummy, but healthy as well. Nobody likes dips more than me and eggplant happens to be a personal favorite. So, I pestered Charlie for the recipe and proceeded to give it The Risky Kitchen spin.
- 1 large eggplant
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 cup tahini
- 2 Tbsp. plain greek yogurt
- 2 Tbsp. cilantro
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 Tbsp.chopped cilantro and 1 Tbsp olive oil for garnish
- If you have a gas stove or grill, turn a burner on low and place eggplant on grate. Rotate the eggplant frequently until the skin is completely charred and the flesh is soft. If you are using an oven, put your broiler on low and do the same thing
- Once the eggplant is done, remove it from the flame and let it cool for about 10 minutes.
- Once cool enough to handle, peel the eggplant under cold running water and remove the stem portion.
- Place the eggplant and all of the remaining ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
- Let mixture sit in refrigerator for at least two hours and then garnish with olive oil and cilantro. Serve with pita and a nice white wine.
It was a huge success! I made it for the same group of friends at Andy’s party and they all seemed to like it in spite of the doctoring. I deviated from the traditional recipe by cutting the amount of lemon juice by 3/4. I found that with traditional two cups, it was was too tart a dip and all you could taste was lemon. I tried it with only 1 cup but it was still too strong. 1/2 cup seems just right.
I also used a blender instead of grinding everything with a mortar and pestle. This made for a finer texture and is also much less time consuming to make. I do prefer the coarser texture that Charlie’s had but I’m just not that ambitious.
Since the party, I have made this dip no less than half a dozen times. I even use it as a sandwich spread now in place of mayo. I never would have known it existed if Charlie hadn’t traveled to Jordan. Charlie—Can you ask your son to have you meet him in some other exotic locale next year? By then, I’ll need a few new recipe ideas!