Cooking with the Best

I might be just a little biased when it comes to cooking Arabic food, not because I cook it, but because it’s one of my favorite types of food to eat. I love a smooth, garlicky hummus, fried kibbeh, fresh pita, and the lemony flavors that embody Middle Eastern cuisine. It was one of the first “ethnic” foods I’d ever eaten and I’ve enjoyed it ever since.

Needless to say, I was thrilled to sign up for the cooking class hosted by Meet the Middle East and taught by Amanda Saab, a MasterChef contestant. I didn’t even know what exactly would be on the menu for the night, but I knew I’d enjoy it.

Over fifteen of us showed up eager to learn from Amanda and indulge in the Middle Eastern flavors spread out before us.

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Our Chef, Amanda Saab

We began by watching Amanda char (that’s right, char) eggplant over the gas stovetop. Not necessarily a cooking technique I’ve ever attempted before (especially since I don’t have a gas oven), but she executed it brilliantly. Once she charred the eggplant until it was tender, bursting and bubbling on all sides, it was ready to be turned into Baba Ganoush.

(During this time, Amanda asked me a question that I still don’t know the answer to, read all the way to the end to find out what she asked and why my head keeps swirling about it!)

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Sampling the Baba Ganoush

Ironically, despite my love for Middle Eastern food, I’d never eaten Baba Ganoush before. Every time I heard its name an image of an old man conjured up in my head, which definitely met it was some weird salad that I probably wouldn’t enjoy. When I realized it was a dip or spread, very similar to hummus, I couldn’t have been more excited to try it. Who knew eggplant could turn into a spreadable plate of yum. Little pieces of fresh pita were sliced up for as all to sample, and my palate was definitely pleased, especially since the taste of garlic lingered in my mouth afterwards pleading for me to return for a second helping.

After the demonstration and tasting of the Baby Ganoush was complete, we all selected our dishes to prepare. I eagerly chose hummus, believing it to be simple, yet most likely a dish I could make on a weekly basis. Others split into groups to create chicken shish tawook (chicken marinated in yogurt), tabouli, and a cucumber yoghurt salad.

I joined the hummus table and Amanda immediately said to me, “You guys get the fun job, you get to peel the chickpeas.” Peel the chickpeas? Was she kidding? But indeed she wasn’t. Peeling the skin off the chickpeas insured a smooth texture for the finished product and a step that can’t be skipped when using the canned variety. It took six of us over twenty-minutes to peel four 20 oz. cans of chickpeas, so it was quite the task! I joked that our hummus group could easily be the last one to finish and plate their food. Turns out in the end, we were, hummus wasn’t as nearly as fast as I thought it would be.

The other groups worked into a frenzy, quickly completing their recipes and even frying up chicken in a pan, while my hummus-making-tribe struggled to get the texture and consistency out of a thick-chunky paste and into a rich, smooth, spread. After lots of “more garlic,” “more salt”, “more oil,” “more lemon,” and finally “WATER”, we succeeded. We found just the right flavor combined with just the right thickness to make an amazing hummus! We all felt proud!

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A second batch of Baba Ganoush was prepared for our dinner
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The Tabouli making station
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Cooking the Chicken Shish Tawook
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Time for plating!

Once the teams each finished their respected plates, they were all joined together in a lavish Middle Eastern feast for us all to enjoy!

My plate was piled high with all of our homemade food, but also some other favorites that were added to our dinner as well, including dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) and baklava.

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My plate!
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Our spread, part 1
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Our spread, part 2
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Our beautiful, and scrumptious, hummus!
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Baby Ganoush, Round 2
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Cucumber Yoghurt Salad
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Baklava
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Dolmas
Chicken Shish Tawook
Chicken Shish Tawook

We all indulged in the feast before us and it was truly a delight, each dish offering its own unique flavors, but with a thread of garlic and lemon (as Amanda joked about earlier) that permeated our plates. Everything turned out phenomenally well, and what I loved most about each, was that none of the recipes were too complex that they couldn’t be easily recreated again at home.

I highly encourage you to check out Amanda’s blog and find some of her great recipes for your own use as well. http://amandasplate.com

Also, follow what Meet the Middle East is doing here locally in Denver and perhaps join them on one of their upcoming international trips to the Middle East. http://www.meetthemiddleeast.org

Me, Amanda, and friend Alexis Newton
Me, Amanda, and friend Alexis Newton

So, what did Amanda Saab ask
me during her cooking class?

Well, it may not FEEL like a big deal to YOU, but it actually was a big deal to ME. It was one of those questions that stopped and made me go hmmm.

While prepping the eggplant for the Baba Ganoush, Amanda turned to the group and said, “So, tell me who’s in here? Do we have foodie’s, cooks, or what?” One woman responded that she loved to eat. I responded that I both love to cook and eat.

“What do you like to cook?” Amanda prodded.

“Just about anything,” I replied.

“Well, what’s your go-to-dish, your signature dish?” she asked further.

Signature dish? Huh?! Me?

I was stumped me. I am a cook. I cook a lot. I bake a lot too. But for some reason, I have never found a signature dish in all that pot clinging, measuring, and countless hours in the kitchen.

It made me think… what dish can I leave behind as a legacy? And why don’t I already know this answer? 

While the question may seem insignificant, it spawned something in me. I’ve realized I’m a melting-pot-cook, I love to cook and eat just about anything, constantly seeking out and trying new recipes. I rarely cook the same thing twice. Now, I’m on a personal quest to create my signature dish. I know it’s there; I’ve just got to find it in there somewhere.

Upon leaving the class, I immediately text my sister, “What’s my signature dish?” She said the one and only thing that I thought of as well, pizelles (an Italian waffle cookie, made with a recipe and an ancient pizelle maker that I received from my grandmother). So perhaps, it’s the pizelle, but perhaps it’s something else too. I’ll be sure to keep you in the loop as I discover this for myself.

Do you have a signature dish? If so, please post and share about it here!

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